Home > Shades of Gray (KGI #6)

Shades of Gray (KGI #6)
Author: Maya Banks

CHAPTER 1


P.J. Rutherford cocked back her chair and flung her boot on top of the table in front of her. She adjusted her straw cowboy hat so her eyes were barely visible and stared over the smoke-filled room to the band setting up along the far wall.

The waitress thumped a bottle of beer on the table next to P.J.’s boot and then sashayed away, her attention reserved for the male customers she flirted with and chatted up.

P.J. wasn’t a chatter. She’d never spoken to anyone in all the time she’d been coming here. She couldn’t be called a regular, but yet, in all her irregularity, she was.

This was her place to unwind between missions. It wasn’t what most would consider a place of rest and relaxation, but for P.J. it worked to throw back a few beers, inhale some secondhand smoke, go deaf from listening to bad cover songs and watch a few bar fights.

She winced when the guitarist riffed a particularly bad chord and then ground her teeth together when the mike squealed. These guys were amateurs. Hell, it was probably their first live gig, which meant she was going home tone-deaf and popping ibuprofen for the headache she’d be sure to have.

But it beat spending the evening alone in her apartment with jet lag. Although she wasn’t even sure it could be considered jet lag. She’d been three days without sleep, so truly she could sleep at any time, but she was wired and still buzzed from adrenaline the last mission had wrought.

She was wound tighter than a rusted spring and there was no give in her muscles tonight.

The big, happy mush fest that had gone on at the Kelly compound, complete with double weddings and enough true love and babies and bullshit to make her green around the gills, hadn’t helped.

Not that she was a cynic when it came to romance. She had her romance novels and she was fiercely protective of them and against anyone giving her shit over reading them.

But sometimes the Kelly clan was a little overbearing in the sheer sugary sweetness of all that unconditional love and support. Did no one ever get pissed off and start a fight?

The truth was, she just felt out of place, which was why she’d rather stick to her own team, let Steele take the orders from Sam or Garrett Kelly and she’d follow her team leader. The day Steele became embroiled in all that happy, bubbly shit was the day she hung up her rifle and called it quits.

She liked Steele. She knew where she stood with Steele. Always. He didn’t sugarcoat shit. If you fucked up, he called you on it. If you did your job, you didn’t get any special accolades. Not for doing your fucking job, as he put it.

And she liked her team, even if Coletrane was one giant pain in her ass. But he was a cute pain in the ass and he was harmless. Plus he was a perfect target for cutting jokes and egging on. Easy. Too easy. He rose to the bait on too many occasions for her to count.

She was the better marksman. She knew that without false modesty. But it didn’t stop a healthy rivalry between her and Cole when it came to sniper duty.

It pushed them both, made them better at their jobs and made the relationship between them easygoing and casual. Just the way she liked it.

The current song ended, and she sighed in relief. The band looked to be taking a short break, but her ears were still roaring from the deafening sounds of just moments earlier.

She was reaching for her beer when she saw a group of three men walk through the door. Her hand shook, nearly knocking the bottle over. Her stomach plummeted like a rock, and she briefly considered making a break for the restroom.

Just as quickly, anger replaced the sudden panic. What the hell was she contemplating hiding for? She hadn’t done anything wrong. Her ex-lover and his buddies had hung her out to dry. Not the other way around.

She forced her gaze away, pretended interest in an object across the room and hoped they wouldn’t notice her. From her periphery, she saw the moment Derek looked her way and recognized her.

He went completely still and then he nudged Jimmy and Mike and pointed in her direction.

Fuck. They were walking this way. Just what she goddamn needed on a night she just wanted to be left alone.

She was still staring ahead when Derek stepped in front of her, blocking her vision. She slowly looked up, making sure her expression was cool and unruffled.

“So is this where you’re hanging out now, P.J.?” Derek drawled. “Didn’t figure you one for trolling this kind of place.”

The insulting tone grated on her nerves.

“Get out of my space, Derek.”

He lifted an eyebrow and quirked the corner of his mouth up in a sneer. “That’s not what you used to say. Of course that was before you decided to shit on your team. Where are you working these days, P.J.? Surely not here. You don’t quite have the body to pull this gig off.”

The old P.J. would already be in his face and would have knocked him on his ass. The new P.J. . . .

Fuck it. There was nothing wrong with the old P.J.

She rose from her chair, tipped back her hat and leveled a cold stare at the three. Back in the day they’d been tight. All four of them. She and Derek had been lovers for two years. They’d hooked up almost immediately after P.J. had joined the S.W.A.T. team and they’d managed to keep their relationship a secret, hiding behind friendship. Friendship they genuinely shared with Jimmy and Mike.

Derek smirked, almost as if he figured she’d turn and walk out. Because that’s what she was good at. Running.

Not this time.

She pulled her hand back and slugged him right in the nose.

His hand flew up as his head whipped back and he staggered backward several steps.

His fingers came away bloody and he charged forward. She held her ground, refusing to be intimidated by the asshole.

“What the fuck was that?” he roared.

“Something I should have done a hell of a long time ago,” she said calmly. “Listen up, pencil dick. I don’t have time for your bullshit. I don’t give a shit about you or your lame sidekicks, so do us both a favor and leave me the fuck alone.”

“Once a bitch always a bitch, huh, P.J.?” Mike said with curled lips.

“You think what you want, Mike,” she said in a calm, measured voice. “I walked away with a clear conscience. Can you say the same?”

He flushed red, and anger bristled visibly from him. He started toward her but Jimmy stuck out his arm.

“What the fuck, Mike? You going to start a fight in a public bar with a woman?”

“Feel free,” P.J. said sweetly. “I’m more than happy to kick his ass.”

“What happened to you?” Derek demanded. “You didn’t used to be so cold.”

“Forgive me for not rolling over and taking the ass fucking you gave me so well. I wasn’t the one who was dirty. That’s on you and your buddies. You expected me to look the other way, and when I didn’t, you hung me out to dry. Fuck that and fuck you. Now get the hell out of my space.”

She was so focused on her former teammates that she didn’t notice the newcomer until a strong arm wrapped around her waist and hauled her up against his side.

“Sorry I’m late, darlin’,” Cole drawled. “Who are your little friends?”

She stiffened in shock, her mouth falling open. Cole covered her lapse by pressing his lips to hers and giving her a long, lingering, toe-curling kiss.

She was so flustered and flabbergasted over his sudden appearance that she could do little more than stand there while he ravished her mouth.

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