Coming To Terms

an excerpt

Chapter One

There were at least forty different kinds of cereal in the aisle. Aidan Sterling stood staring and feeling stupid. He'd been in twelve different countries in the past four years and eaten everything from croissants to MREs to rice for breakfast. Now here he was, home in the US again and incapable of picking out a box of cereal. He looked down into the basket in his hand. It contained frozen lamb vindahloo, frozen falafel, a box of sushi and a couple bottles of Grolsch. God, if that didn't show how crazy his tastes had become, nothing did. Cornflakes probably qualified as boring, but at least they were predictable. He added them to the basket along with some milk.

It only took a few minutes to check out, and then he walked out to his car. Dropping the grocery bag on the passenger seat, he slid in and started the car, or rather he tried to. It made an ominous wheezing runk and went silent. What? Damn. He tried it one more time, and the engine made a feeble noise. Crap, it sounded like the battery was dead. Aidan fumed internally. The powers-that-be were supposed to maintain his car while he was gone, as well as check on his house. They'd done a shitty job as far as he was concerned if it only started once to get him to the grocery store and then quit.

He climbed out and popped the hood, on the off chance it was something like a loose connection. Jiggling the wires and looking for any signs of tampering while he was at it, yielded nothing. He tried the ignition once more. Click. Great, just great, he was going to have to call someone to come jump him. Aidan's mouth twitched in a moment of wry humor. God…he hadn't had so much as a hook-up in the past year. Paranoia, dangerous situations and stress didn't exactly set the tone for sex, casual or otherwise, and the long hospital stint hadn't helped either.

Aidan heard someone approaching, and he forced himself not to reach for his gun as he looked over his shoulder.

"Dead battery?" asked the man coming toward him.

It took Aidan a second to make a threat assessment: male, blond hair pulled back into a short ponytail, heavily built, jeans and a gray hoodie. There was no obvious tension in the man's body, and they were standing in a supermarket parking lot in plain view of several other people.

"Yeah, I think so," answered Aidan.

"I have jumper cables. My truck's just down at the end of the row."

Aidan hesitated. Offers of assistance could lead to serious trouble…but if he called AAA he'd be waiting anywhere from thirty to ninety minutes for someone to show up. "If it's no trouble, that would be great."

"Gimme about two minutes to pull my truck around close enough."

As Aidan watched the man stride down the row of parked cars, he made himself take a deep breath and let it out. You're not on assignment, you're in the US and your life is not in immediate danger. He'd strenuously objected to being placed on extended medical leave after spending weeks in the hospital. The agency shrink had made it mandatory. Images of the nightmare-level events of his recent past fluttered at the edges of his mind, and he immediately shut them down. Okay, maybe she had a point.

A navy blue pickup pulled into the parking space in front of him, and the blond-haired man climbed out. "Did it turn over at all when you tried it?"

"A little, so it's not stone dead."

"It should start up fairly easily then," answered the man as he pulled jumper cables from the toolbox behind the cab.

When the blond man bent under the hood of his truck, Aidan was presented with a very fine view of the round, muscled ass of his Good Samaritan, and he allowed himself just a moment to admire it. The front view had been pretty nice too.

It only took a few minutes to hook everything up, and Aidan's engine turned over and caught the second time he tried it.

As they both unclamped the jumper cables, Aidan handed his end back to the other man. "Thanks. You saved me having to wait an hour for a tow truck to come do this." He stuck out his left hand to shake, and there was the awkward half second as the man changed hands.

They shook. "No problem. I know what a monumental pain it is to have your car crap out on you." The blond sketched a wave good-bye and climbed back into his truck, driving away.

Aidan got back into his car. He reached for the gearshift and pointedly tried not to look at the spot on his right hand where his pinky used to be.