Eighteen months in Cancún, he’d seen the cartel violence escalate at a rate that made his time fighting in the Afghan war look like a Sunday stroll through Kensington Gardens. Despite it all, exiled SAS operative Mitchell Edwards stayed on. Where else was a man framed for treason supposed to hide out?
Swirling margarita glasses in hot, soapy water, he kept an eye on the open doorway, nodding at the comings and goings of the patrons. A breeze off the sea rippled through the grass roof. The salty, sweet air buffeted his damp face, cooling him. The sea beckoned, tempting him to come and play.
Later. After his shift. A swim in his little alcove sounded marvelous.
Mitch set the sanitized glasses on a drying rack. He raked his fingers through his blonde hair—it still took some getting used to having his hair this long—and flipped the curled strands out of his eyes. Looking and feeling more like Robinson Crusoe than Mitch Edwards. Snorting, he grabbed another handful of bar glasses and plunged them into the hot water. That he wasn’t stranded on a deserted island in the middle of the bloody sea was a better outcome compared to his fictional counterpart.
Shadows passed over the bamboo shades, dampening the late afternoon sun that bounced off the pristine sandy beach. Three men entered the bar and paused inches inside the doorway. The lead man wore a cream-colored blazer over a brilliant blue shirt, and khaki slacks. The two flanking him wore similar styled clothing, the exception being the noticeable bulges under their blazers. Lead man pulled his sunglasses from his eyes and did a quick sweep of the bar. Seemingly satisfied by whatever he did or didn’t see, he pointed at the two with him. They stepped past and did a circular walk around the bar. Their predatory motions put Mitch at attention.
Mitch’s little, insignificant bar had attracted unwanted visitors. His quick initial assessment turned scrutinizing. These were not casual visitors, not with those bulges. No. Mitch’s blood ran cold. These three had to be cartel. What the hell were they doing here? They tended to avoid the tourists’ haunting hours, preferring to do their dirty work in the black of night.
The dapper dressed man strolled up to the bar. “El camarero, Modelo Especial, por favor.”
Giving him a curt nod, Mitch moved to the fridge. From the corner of his eye, he spotted three more men enter the bar, sporting similar bulges under their jackets to the other two, who were now stationed on opposite sides of the bar. Tension coiled through Mitch’s muscles. The place was half-full of patrons. He didn’t need or want a turf war to go down with innocents caught in the crossfire.
He retrieved the asked-for beer. The fridge door slapped shut behind him as he returned to the dapper dressed man. Mitch cranked off the metal top and held out the beer. Dapper Man flicked a ten peso across the bar top, then wandered over to a booth under one of the large open windows. Mitch stuffed the money in the cash box and picked up his cleaning cloth. The two bodyguards took position on each side of the booth.
As he swiped the white cloth over the bar top, Mitch watched the three latecomers join Dapper Man and his guards. A hushed conversation ensued.
Mitch’s instincts were revving into hyper drive. He set the wet cloth on the metal sink, then reached under the counter. His fingers brushed against the dappled grip of the 9mm Sig Sauer. He took the gun in hand; his trigger finger twitched over the cool metal barrel then settled along the trigger guard.
Another cooling breeze blew through the door, bringing with it the succulent scent of coconut oil, pineapple, and sea spray. His attention strayed to the door. He stiffened at the sight of the beauty leaning on the bamboo frame. The lavender haired woman pushed off the smoothed wood and sauntered, barefooted, across the sand-dusted floor. Mitch came to attention, his hand slipping away from the Sig.
She swayed to the flamenco guitar music piped through the sound system, her turquoise sundress flowing around her golden legs. Strappy silver sandals, hanging from a crooked finger, bumped against her leg as she sauntered up to the bar. She flung her sandals over her shoulder and leaned an elbow on the top.
“Holá, guapo.” Her sultry voice skirted along his spine and curled around his chest.
He gulped down a sudden feathering of desire. “Holá,” he croaked.
Her gaze flicked upward, and the full force of those crystal-blue eyes hit him. She smiled.
Mitch’s stomach clenched. Those eyes. God, he could drown in them. He blinked. He knew those eyes. Had spent years trying to forget them and what they did to him every time she had looked at him. It was her? The hair color was different, but...
She shifted to peer over her sandal-bearing shoulder at the bar patrons, then brought those stunning blue eyes back to him. “What do you have that a gal like myself could quench her thirst with?”
A zap of awareness struck him. Bloody hell, she knew how to wield her words and her voice to bring about arousal.
A bejeweled hand slipped between Mitch and the woman. Manicured fingers lightly danced up her bare arm. Instead of pulling away, the lavender haired beauty turned to meet Dapper Man. She smiled seductively, setting her sandals on the bar top.
“Such a beautiful woman. What brings you to a bar like this?” Dapper Man asked in Spanish.
“It must be you.” She leaned in closer, giving Dapper Man a good view of what was hidden beneath the folds of her gauzy dress. “Looks like it’s my lucky day.”
It was a part of her job, but her shameless flirting always left a bad taste in Mitch’s mouth. He backed from his spot and reached for a bottle of sparkling water. He twisted off the cap and brought the bottle to his lips, then hesitated.
As the woman’s fingers danced up Dapper Man’s sleeve, she tilted her head to the side. Her thick hair shifted away from her neck, exposing a tiny tattoo of a yellow/red flaming bird right behind her ear lobe.
It was her! That tattoo confirmed it. The Phoenix had risen.