A Pantheon Thriller short story
Hello all! Happy Saturday before Valentine’s Day. Tonight I’m giving you a quick look at some of Limitless Logistics’ beginnings. Just like The Memo, while there are no spoilers, there’s mild foreshadowing. I highly recommend you finish reading Pantheon prior to reading as the characters and their roles will make much more sense that way.
Haven’t bought it yet? You can find it in both paperback and e-book on Amazon.
Make It Three
Hera absently brushed at the dried crust of blood on her otherwise immaculate peacock blue mini dress. She kicked one low heel irritably as she stared into a three-dollar Manhattan, silently cursing the bastard who couldn’t be bothered to remember she preferred champagne cocktails and spent outrageous amounts on a beverage she would barely sip. She pushed the drink away and caught the bartender’s eye.
“Champagne cocktail, love. Pomegranate syrup and twist of lemon,” her rich voice carried across the bar.
“Yes, miss.” The bartender glanced once, for only one moment, to a darkened corner where the only other patron sat before he went to the task of concocting her drink.
Hera absently brushed at the blood on her skirt again and pushed away the memories of how it got there. Men die every day, she knew that, but she didn’t like seeing it first hand and fumed to have been sent to Vietnam on a supply run twice in as many weeks.
The clinking sounds of serious bartending filled the almost empty bar for a few peaceful moments and Hera let her eyes close. Her morning had been – eventful – and now, at two in the afternoon Washington D.C. time, she was bone weary. Hera was starting to recognize the wearisome drag of a calorie deficit and knew she should eat, but she elected to drink her calories instead. There was still work to be done.
The sound of glass sliding across granite brought her eyes open.
“You’re in luck, miss,” the bartender told her. “I might be the only bartender in Washington that keeps pomegranate syrup on hand. We have to make it in-house, you know.”
“I know, dear. It’s why I come here,” Hera said and gave him a warm smile, basking in the glow of the appreciative smile he gave her in return. She brought the cocktail to her lips and sipped delicately with lips painted blood red, looking at the bartender through lowered lashes. “Pure ambrosia,” she told him “thank you.”
“Miss,” he said with a nod, but there was a hint of swagger in his step as he headed down the bar to polish a section of granite with the spotless white cloth tossed over his shoulder.
Hera smiled into her drink and took another sip. A flutter of lashes, a full bosom, the right siren red lipstick, and a mini dress went a long way towards getting what you wanted. God bless the fashion of the sixties, even when the world is a shit-show, she thought. Her free hand drifted to the dried blood on her hem a third time and brushed at it briskly. Realizing what she was doing, she drew her hand back and tucked an errant blond curl back behind her ear.
“Glenmorangie twelve, neat please.”
Hera eyed the young man who slid into the padded leather barstool a few seats down from her. He gave her a nod and a grin.
“Twelve, hmm? Looking for something your own age, love?” Hera asked, a sly grin catching the corner of her mouth.
He gave her an appraising look before answering. “I’d go a tiny bit older, but I’m not sure I can handle it, miss.”
Hera gave a rich, throaty laugh. “Well played. Get him the twenty-one, on my tab,” Hera told the bartender. “I’m Ada Ward,” she told him.
“John. John Page,” the young man answered.
Hera leaned forward and took him in. Dark hair the color of rich chocolate, golden hazel eyes that spoke of a certain warmth in his soul, and a charisma that was rare in someone so young.
“Hmm,” she murmured and ran a finger down her jawline, “come sit with me. You sound like you could hold up your end of a conversation.”
If her eyes glanced to the darkened corner of the bar, he didn’t notice as he moved down to sit next to her.
“So, John Page, what brings you here today?”
“I hear only the most beautiful of women come here,” he told her. “The really special ones come at two in the afternoon on a Sunday.”
A thrill ran through her. “Oh, you’re the one I hear about then?” She quirked one eyebrow and licked her lips.
His eyes narrowed briefly as they followed her tongue. “Yes, I think I am.” He took a heavy swallow of his scotch.
“It’s nineteen sixty-nine,” she said and the corner of her mouth twitched up slightly, “and I hear that in this fabulous year, men like you do extraordinary things.”
“Yes, I do, honey,” he assured her, his eyes darkening.
She bit her lip, something fierce and hot blooming in her. “Think you could show me?” she asked, her voice breathy with expectation, not all of it contrived.
He flinched back. “Here?” he asked, his voice rising in pitch. “Now?”
She dropped her head over her drink and looked up at him through her lashes. “Why not here? Why not now?”
“Wow, that’s fast but, yeah, groovy.”
The fool held out a hand and, mentally bracing herself, she took it. A flame of lust lay over the top layer of his thoughts and she tried not to chuckle. Underneath was a mélange of dominance, trepidation, and intense focus. He was precisely the kind of man she adored, even if he was wrong for her. She saw him flinch slightly at the contact and wondered what he felt form her.
“Follow me,” she said and hopped off her chair. She gave the skirt of her mini dress a tug and pulled him after her, towards the bar’s washrooms. She cast a quick glance at the bartender and gave a convincing giggle. They plowed through the bathroom door in a tangle and she snagged the door, throwing the latch to lock it against anyone following them in.
She turned to him, her face suddenly sober and serious. “Can you Jump?” she asked briskly.
“Jump?” he asked and took a step back.
“Teleport? Move from place to place in a blink?”
His brow furrowed. “Is that what this is?
Hera nodded, her crimson smile widening.
“Yes? I think so,” he said, still sounding slightly confused.
“Show me,” she said and held her hand out again.
He inhaled sharply but slapped his hand into hers. No sooner had he made contact than they appeared in another place. The granite and gold of the bar was replaced with a spacious, modern apartment. A low mustard colored gondola sofa sat on a green shag carpet and faced a low slung table, covered in a high-end record player and hi-fi speakers.
“Impressive,” she told him with a smirk. “You are what your reputation says.” She released his hand and walked to the small box of vinyl records. She idly thumbed through them, judging his taste.
Hands landed lightly on her shoulders and skimmed down her arms. “Impressed?”
“Yes, as I said.”
“Can I show you more?” John’s voice was pitched lower and held a commanding note that made a hum of lust shoot through her again.
She couldn’t see the smirk on his face but could hear it in his voice.
“No, but I think I can show you more,” she said as she turned.
His face held the hopefulness of youth; he was hopeful that he knew where this was going, but unsure if he could really talk her into his bed.
She gave his shoulders a sharp shove and they Jumped back to the bar’s bathroom. He tumbled back into the row of sinks.
“What the hell, girl!” he said as he thumped to the tiled floor. He struggled to his feet and faced her again.
“I guess I’ve done a better job keeping what I can do a secret than you. You’ll have to work on that if you come work for me. My name is Ada Ward, but I go by the military code name ‘Hera.’ I do what you do, only,” she gave him a smirk, “quieter and better. I was in Vietnam earlier this morning.” She paused; her hands straying to the bloodstain on her hem. “Their night, I suppose. But no one knows except a very small group.”
She approached him, her hands drifted to his collar, straightening it, and lingering for a moment.
“I think you’d like working for us, John Page. Come finish your drink, then you can come back and discuss business with us. Unless you can’t perform with a little liquor in you?” Her wry smirk expanded into a full grin.
He inhaled sharply. “Girl, you–”
“Don’t say anything you’ll regret, John Page!” she said. Her flashing eyes narrowed, but her grin remained. She relished his flustered muttering. Watching him go from arrogant and swaggering to unsettled and complacent ignited something in her. Hera sashayed out of the bathroom, John trailing behind her.
Their drinks lay untouched on the bar and Hera nodded once to the bartender. He nodded deeply enough that it was almost a bow.
Hera snagged her drink and held it up. “Will you join us?”
“Us?” John stammered, reaching for his own drink.
The man who sat in the darkened corner of the bar rose, buttoning his jacket as he stood. John’s eyes widened as the man unfolded himself from behind the corner booth. Even across the room, he towered, his physical presence commanding the whole room.
Hera pursed her lips as she watched him saunter up. He was a tall man and thick with muscle that pressed against the seams of his dark suit. His square cut, intensely masculine jawline had drawn her in year ago, but now she could only think of how he set his jaw when he was arguing with her, stubbornness etched into his bones.
“John Page, Morgan Ward. He goes by his military code name, Zeus,” she told John with a demure smile she didn’t feel.
John gave her a quizzical look. “Ada Ward? Morgan Ward? He’s your husband.” It wasn’t a question and he looked dumbstruck.
“Indeed,” Zeus said, his voice a bass rumble that filled the bar. “I’d like you to consider joining us at Limitless Logistics,” Zeus said and passed him a card.
“Limitless Logistics? What’s that?”
“Just like its name, a logistics company with no limits.” Zeus looked askance at Hera. “We are military, but recent,” he paused, considering his words, “shifts in politics have shown us that we need to be a separate entity. Out from under military control.”
Hera stood rigid, willing her hands not to drift to the blood on the hem of her micro-skirt. She let her face and mind go blank, refusing to let the horrors she’d seen just that day or in any of the past weeks enter her mind.
“But…” his confused voice trailed off. His brows furrowed. “Just how many people do you have in this Limitless Logistics. I can’t imagine there are that many of us.”
“You’d make it three. I do so love when there’s three,” Hera told him with a wink. She fought down a smirk when Zeus frowned at her.
“But, I already have a job–”
“With the United States Army, yes, we’re aware. You’ll still be an Army officer.” Hera looked at Zeus, who nodded. She set her jaw. “We’ve had a few problems in the past, with brass pushing us around. Our new deal allows us both leeway to recruit and the privilege of being a general officer.” She gave him a quick smile. “You would be promoted to general and a contractor as well.”
“Contractor?” he asked, voice full of incredulity.
Hera was amused and reassured that he latched on to that and not the offered rank.
“What like a mercenary?” A layer of panic lay on John’s voice.
“No, man. God, no!” Zeus laughed, hand slapping onto Hera’s shoulder as he shook with mirth.
Hera took the gesture in stride, smiling pleasantly at John. It probably wasn’t retaliatory for her flirting with John; Zeus knew that she, at least, would never stray. It was likely Zeus had forgotten her entire morning Jump to Vietnam or was deliberately ignoring the blood on her skirt so he didn’t have to listen to her weep over it. If she didn’t need him for so many reasons, she’d be tempted to wring his well-muscled neck.
“We utilize people like you, with special skills to move things. People and things, different places in the very special way we do.” He gave John’s shoulder a light jab. “Ring me up in the morning. We’ll talk it over and if you agree, I can expedite your paperwork. I assume you’d like that little incident in Mexico cleaned up as we move you over?” Zeus asked slyly.
“Uh, yes, that would, uh–” John stammered. “How did you even–”
“Not here, man. We can cover that tomorrow. Have your girl phone me in the morning. We’ll meet again.” His grin widened. “Until then.” With a wink to John, Zeus clapped a hand on Hera’s waist and they blinked out.
“Morgan!” Hera scolded him when she recognized their penthouse living room. “You really shouldn’t–”
“I shouldn’t?” he asked, cutting her off furiously. “Oh, don’t tell me what I shouldn’t do, girl! Taking the boy back to a bathroom? What were you getting at?” Zeus shot her a jealous glare which she returned with interest.
“Please, Zeus, don’t you even start trying to make me out to be the unfaithful one. Oh, and you!” She pointed a finger at his nose. “Two years of marriage and you still can’t remember that I hate bourbon? Buy me champagne next time, you ass. Maybe I’ll remember not to drag men to the bathroom like some common slut!” She stalked to the bedroom, her stride jarring her angry hands as they tugged at her mini dress zipper as she went.
“Are you coming or not you pig?” She shot over her shoulder. The fire of anger was replaced by the passionate blaze that had been growing in her all afternoon.
Zeus groaned in fury but unbuttoned his coat and loosened his tie as he followed her to their bedroom. “You’ll be the death of me, girl.”
“Hardly!” She told him, shimmying out of the mini dress and grabbing his shirt collars. “Your fat mouth and paranoia will be the death of you if a filthy sailor’s disease doesn’t get you first! And don’t you lecture me. At least I,” she stressed, “am faithful. I just get my engines revved up where I can while keeping my clothes on!” She gave him a filthy look.
“Oh, go have your own affairs, you harpy. We’re only married so you can run this company,” Zeus growled as he clamped hands on the ones gripping his collar.
“A marriage vow means something to me, Zeus, even if it means nothing to you!”
His hands released her at her words. They both knew how the other felt. Most days, the small grain of love still remaining burned more than it soothed.
“I hate how much I love you,” Zeus grumbled as she slipped his pants off.
“Same, you bastard,” she told him as they tumbled into bed.
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