Zack's Zest (Heroes for Hire #24) by Dale Mayer



Prologue





Zack Higgins walked into the coffee shop, took a look around, and realized neither Levi nor Ice were here yet. So he walked to the front counter and ordered himself the largest darkest coffee he could. With that in hand, he turned to look for the most isolated table and found it in the far back right corner of the coffee shop. He headed there and sat down. He tried to get here a few minutes early just because he refused to be late for meetings. He knew the last job had been only okay as far as he was concerned, having dealt with Rebecca. And the case itself had turned out all right, but the end results left him feeling very wounded in many ways.

Even now he still felt stupid, since he hadn’t had a sexual relationship with Rebecca in a very long time, and the one that they had been left with for the last many years had been platonic and friendly at best. But because he’d always been hanging on to the wonderment that maybe her daughter was his, his emotional entanglements with Rebecca hadn’t been severed. And that was too damned bad because he was sitting here now feeling more than a little sorry for himself, and that was as unacceptable as anything.

“There you are.” Ice’s warm voice broke through his musings.

He looked up and smiled. “Aren’t you a picture,” he said, nodding toward her obviously pregnant belly.

“Wow, thanks, I think,” she said, sitting down with a hard thump. “One day the baby turned, and all of a sudden I look very pregnant. And yet the baby is somehow poking all my organs. So any jokes now are not amusing.” But her bright laugh that followed belied her words.

He smiled at the two of them, noting that Levi had come up behind him. He stood, shook Levi’s hand, and asked, “Are you ready to be a father?”

“Probably not,” Levi said amiably. “But, like everything, we learn as we go.”

“That’s a good way to look at it.”

Ice looked to the coffee in front of him and asked, “Did you order anything to eat?”

“No,” he said. “The traveling has been pretty rough. I’m here now though.”

“Right,” Levi said. “What was your analysis of the last job?”

“A shitstorm,” he said instantly. “Not the job itself but for the emotional baggage that I had to get rid of.”

“And have you now?” Ice asked. “With another month under your belt?”

More than curiosity was in her voice, and he wasn’t exactly sure what it was. “I think so,” he said with a nod. Then he grimaced and said, “I should have been. Definitely, I know so. But you don’t have relationships with people for years like I had with Rebecca and wonder just why you couldn’t leave until this stage.”

“Good,” she said with that compassionate voice he’d heard over the phone many times. “The thing is, none of us heal instantly. None of us get over anything instantly. I’m much encouraged to hear that you are realizing it’s a process.”

“I wish I could just hit a Delete button on a keyboard,” he said. “It would make it a lot easier.”

“Maybe,” she said. “But the thing is, you need to be free and clear to get your head back into the game.”

“As I learned all too recently,” he said, staring at the mug of dark brew. “It’s a little disturbing to realize just how much I did have to separate from her, when I had already thought those ties were severed.” He looked over at Ice and Levi. “What’s this meeting all about?”

“Just want to know where you are,” Ice said. “Wondering if working for us is still something you’re interested in.”

“I am,” he said, surprised. “I figured after the last job you wouldn’t want me.”

“Everybody can have a tough job,” she said, “and everybody has emotional issues they have to deal with. It’s all about how you deal with them that’s the problem and/or the solution.”

“Are you sure you need more guys?” he asked, studying the two of them, hoping this wasn’t some take-pity job. “You’ve got what? Twenty-four guys working for you?”

“Yes, but we’re setting up satellite offices,” she said. “One in England, one in Europe.”

“Oh.” He stopped and stared. “That makes sense. A jump-off point, so to speak, to get your guys’ boots on the ground faster around the globe?”