MacKay stared at the application and groaned. The name should’ve been the biggest clue for what to expect, followed by his in-her-face prior occupation. A jarhead—just what she needed. She scanned the screen, studying his credentials. Sapper—okay, at least he knew something about explosives, but most of them were either insane, cocky or both.
From that name, she’d say both.
Trusting someone to watch your back in this business could get you killed. Trusting someone from off world who already thought they knew everything about explosives because they’d tinkered with them in the Terran Marines—well, you just didn’t do it. Plus the explosive material combat engineers used to blow things up on Earth wasn’t nearly as complicated as what the Explosives Ordnance Division found off-world and had to defuse. It took a whole different kind of personality to disarm instead of destroy.
She looked up and Boomer gave her a boyish grin.
This guy has no clue what he’s getting into.
She scooted her chair closer to her desk, which all but filled the old, windowless cell in the revamped, Trios Port City, retired asylum basement. Hell, her office might have been a speck on the corner newsstand’s tourist map—though she didn’t receive a lot of sightseers or make her money catering to them. But for some reason she’d been included on the tour. Perhaps the club upstairs that made the ceiling bounce after seventeen-hundred hours gave her the distinction of being noticeable, even if nobody partied downstairs. Who knew?
Reviewing the application again brought her molars grinding together. She wouldn’t be hiring anyone if she hadn’t been so backed up. The galaxy was a violent place, and unfortunately business had been good—so good she hadn’t been able to keep up. With the body count escalating, she had to hire help or watch more innocents die.
Mackay lifted her chin and met the Marine’s gaze. “I see you were a Sapper and have combat experience, so I’m not going to ask you if you’ve blown anything up. Any idiot with a charge and enough explosives can do that. I want to know if you’ve defused anything. Ever worked EOD?”
“Any idiot?” His eyes lit with humor, as though her question amused him.
She let her gaze slide over him and for a moment her mind wandered to places it had no business going. Not bad—if she’d been shopping for a man and not an employee.
He had hair the color of burnished gold—a recessive shade and a rarity in any sector of the galaxy. He wore it in the all too familiar flat top of a Terran Marine. Shorter than she normally liked, but it gave him that bad boy edge that so many men tried and failed to pull off. For him, bad boy seemed natural.
His eyes were also extraordinary. The color reminded her of a Terran summer, a vibrant, bottle green that brought Earth to her mind with one glance. He wasn’t visually perfect, but she liked that too. A scar trailed across his jaw, still pink from a recent injury. From the jagged edge, she’d say shrapnel. An obvious eye-catcher, but it didn’t seem to bother him.
MacKay shook off the attraction and focused on the reason he sat before her. No time to admire the view. “Well, have you defused anything?”
“Enemy threats—an angry mother-in-law.”
MacKay narrowed her eyes. She hadn’t stated single as an option in the advertisement. This job had risks too high for someone with a family. Anger surged through her and MacKay counted backward from ten before she spoke. “The ad specifically stated you must be single to apply.” The last thing she needed was to leave the galaxy with more orphans and widows.
“Excuse me. I meant angry, ex-mother-in-law.” He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. The front feet came off the floor as he tipped back and leaned the chair against the freshly-painted office wall. “Single and available.”
“And one second from limping, if you don’t get that chair off my wall.” MacKay gave him her bitchiest stare. It had taken a great deal of work to get the basement of the old institution clean and the damn mold restrained behind the very expensive, imported paint. Now black marks scuffed the cheery, yellow surface. She’d carefully chosen the color, looking for anything that would take the doom and gloom from the converted asylum cell and turn it into a comfortable office.
And why the hell did he think she cared if he was available? Arrogant jarhead.
The chair dropped back to the floor, and he leaned forward, resting his elbows on her desk. “No harm done.”
Strike two. No interview etiquette.
“Have you ever boarded a ship packed with enough explosives to take out half the galaxy or watched a station with over twelve thousand people assigned to it disintegrate because you didn’t understand the alien technology well enough to defuse the bomb?”
He shook his head and smiled. This time he exposed a glowing row of pristine, white teeth and projected enough charm to melt her to her chair.
MacKay snorted. She’d seen his type a dozen times, and he wouldn’t be sweet-talking or charming his way into this job. She stared until his smile died. “You think this is funny? There are ordnance techs out there that have seen or been in those exact situations.”
“No, I didn’t think it was.” He shifted in his seat and glanced at the clock. “I’m trying to be friendly. Break the ice.”
“I don’t like friendly.”
Actually, she hated friendly. No one had ever accused her of being Miss Congeniality, and she wasn’t about to start playing the part for this guy. Five years before, her life changed at the clip of a wire, and she had refused to let herself get close to anyone again. Too many people she’d cared about had died. When she’d stopped caring, it hadn’t hurt as much when something happened—and something always happened. It couldn’t be avoided in her line of work.
She narrowed her eyes, her gaze sweeping over his shoulders and down his chest. He looked like a walking wreck. He hadn’t even bothered to wear a suit. No, he’d come into her office looking like the next big Hollywood action hero. Khaki cargo pants, black combat boots and a T-shirt that molded to his chest sent shameful images flitting through her mind. Unmistakably Terran. Rugged. War worn. Well built…
Her heart sped up. Not her type. So not her type. The man obviously was an adrenaline junkie. His list of credentials and battle scars proved it—even if there was something sexy about his couldn’t-give-a-shit-attitude.. And God, it was sexy.
He tilted his head and studied her, as though he knew her thoughts.
Heat rushed to a part of her body she’d sworn to forget about years before. Her stomach flipped, and she shifted in her seat.
The corner of his wicked mouth twitched.
MacKay blinked and realized where her thoughts had strayed. Again. Snap out of it. You don’t need a man or the trouble that comes with one.
Time to get rid of him. He wouldn’t do. She’d have to find someone else. MacKay typed a quick note, transferring her thoughts to her digital pad. The shitty thing about it? His qualifications blew all her other applicants away.
She scrolled through the other candidates’ applications. She had a fish merchant, clothing designer, freighter mechanic, and four other various professions including a dancer. All didn’t come remotely close to what she was looking for. MacKay had called them in, hoping in an off chance she’d get lucky and they’d either be extremely quick to catch on or they had experience they hadn’t mentioned on their applications. And then there was one other candidate that had the experience she needed, but he was nearing his eighties. He might be single, but she needed him to have a little pep. She hadn’t bothered to ask him to come in.
The mechanic might work. He had a grasp on wiring and electronics, plus he knew ships, and she spent a multitude of hours crawling around in the maintenance shafts and the secondary access passages of ships . Knowledge in that area was a bonus. Disarming bombs would be a leap up from what he currently did for work, but certainly he was trainable.
The Marine—not so much. MacKay lifted her chin and studied the man across from her.
Arrogant. No, beyond arrogant. He acted as though he already had the job. And what the hell was up with that name? How did he possibly expect her to take him seriously? She returned her attention to the computer and read the name for a third time, unsure if she really wanted to ask.
MacKay looked up and eyed him again. However this time, his attention wasn’t on her, and he wasn’t turning on the charm. He seemed captivated by her clock.
She cleared her throat. “Don’t watch the time. Focus here, on me.”
It wasn’t the first time she’d caught him checking the digital readout during the interview. More than once his gaze had jumped to the numbers as though he itched to get out of the chair. Not a good sign. Fidgety equaled nervous—which equaled dangerous.
An even better reason to get rid of him.
His attention drifted back to her. “Sorry, I have a hard time sitting still.”
He’d already struck out but she’d toss in a bonus strike for that one. “Pity, because it take a great deal of patience to do this job and jittery won’t cut it. You have to have steady hands. I don’t trust anyone. I don’t like working with anyone, and I sure as hell don’t like working with someone who can’t sit still. The only reason I posted the ad is because I’m buried in jobs and I need someone good enough to handle this position without getting turned into pâté on the first assignment.”
He cocked a brow.
“This isn’t funny, and I really don’t want to be the one responsible for scraping your remains off the Novae Station conservatory ceiling.”
“I didn’t say I thought this was funny.” He tapped his fingers against the desk and glanced at the clock.
MacKay ground down on her teeth.
He must have sensed her irritation, because he turned to her and leaned closer. “Why don’t you tell me what you really think?”
He wanted to know what she thought; she’d tell him. Gladly. MacKay couldn’t fight the evil smile that crept onto her face. She leaned a little closer, getting right into his personal space. “I’ve seen your type, ex-military, combat trained. You know how to destroy, but you haven’t got any clue how to save.” She glanced back at the application. “Mr. Boomer?” MacKay rolled her eyes. “Is that supposed to be some kind of joke, or are you trying to ‘break the ice’ here too?”
Strike…what the hell number am I on?
“It isn’t a joke and it’s just Boomer.” His voice dropped, and his smile disappeared. For the first time during the interview he appeared serious.
Good, she had his attention. MacKay moved in for the kill, leaning in to meet his stare. Inches separated them, but he didn’t back down. He didn’t look away, and gods he smelled good. “I think this interview is done. The last person I want to work with is an over-confident, fidgety chest-thumper with the audacity to call himself Boomer.”
“It’s Odroxian. My mother named me that.”
“What the fuck was she thinking?” MacKay shut her mouth before she said anything else. Sometimes words escaped before she could rein them in. Straight from the speech center in her brain to rolling inelegantly off the tip of her tongue. In this case, she apparently thought his mother was a moron—and she was a moron. What kind of person named their kid Boomer?
“She wasn’t thinking. She was dying.”