Cain hadn’t left Tarpon Springs, Florida, for this long since he’d moved there four years ago. He’d grown up on an army base, then served in the military for eight years before retiring, and this was the first time in his adult life that he felt he had a home. After one too many fights in school, his father had forced him to enlist, to follow the path of his father and his father’s father. The Sorensons bred military men. Then his second tour ended and he didn’t want the army to be a career, so he’d gotten out, much to his father’s dismay. Right now, if someone asked him why he had signed up with IMC, International Military Coalition, as a contractor, he couldn’t answer. At the time he’d only seen the dollar bills. The pay was amazing compared to what the U.S. government had paid him for risking his life for years as an Army Ranger, and signing up to make four times the amount with a private company seemed like the obvious next step.
As soon as Cain walked out of the airport, he hailed a taxi to take him straight to the Pier. It was Friday night, and his friends would undoubtedly be there. Plus, he needed a beer . . . or seven. On the ride over, he received a text from Iggy Mitchell, another mercenary he’d met overseas. Iggy had lost a leg in a tour in Iraq a couple of years ago, and when he wasn’t on a mission for IMC, he worked as a consultant in Tampa specializing in testing firewalls and other online security threats. In other words, he was a professional hacker. The two men had quickly hit it off and sparred together during their free time. Iggy’s hard work and zest for life made the prosthetic leg a nonissue. One evening Iggy had mentioned how he loved to gamble on a series of underground fights put together by some Russians. The text Cain was currently reading was the address of a fight happening in a few days. But Cain wasn’t a gambling man, so he wasn’t interested. He slid the phone back into his pocket and settled in for the forty-five-minute cab ride to the Pier.
It was raining when the taxi arrived. He swung the big duffle bag over his shoulder and looked around the familiar town before he reached to open the front door. A hand on his shoulder stopped him. “Hey, man! You’re back.” It was Tony, his friend, sparring partner, and professional mixed martial arts fighter, whom he had helped train a few months ago.
“Cain, honey, so glad you’re home!” Tony’s wife, Francesca, threw her arms around him for a big hug. He wasn’t big on contact, and he awkwardly put his arm around her waist and patted her back.
“Come on, let’s go inside,” Tony said. “The rest of the guys are on their way. Do they know you’re back? Where were you, by the way?”
“Libya. Just arrived. No one knows,” Cain replied.
Francesca hissed. “Libya. Fuck. That’s not safe.”
“Still quite the conversationalist, I see.” Tony patted Cain roughly on the back.
“Leave the man alone. He just came back from hell, he doesn’t need that attitude tonight. By the way . . .” She poked Cain in the shoulder. “Don’t you ever fuckin’ leave again without letting us know you’re leaving or where you’re going. We were worried.” She reached in and hugged him again.
“Violet?” Cain asked when she released him.
“What about her?” Francesca asked.
“Ask her yourself—she’s here.”
Cain tried not to smile, but his lips seemed to curl upward all on their own. He hadn’t seen Violet for years until a few months ago, when she’d moved to town. He was happy he’d get to see her tonight. As had always been the case, her warm smile was the perfect salve for his shitty mood.
Cain put a hand on Francesca’s upper arm. “Wait—before we go in, are there any fights coming up? Sign me up for something. Soon.” Francesca was co-owner of Worth the Fight Academy, a mixed martial arts gym that trained professional cage fighters, which was what Cain had been doing before heading off a few months earlier.
“You just got into town. You need to take a breather. We can talk about it when you’re settled back.”
“I’m settled. I’m back. Sign me up.”
“Fine. But tonight, relax, at least for a few hours. Come have a drink and say hello to everyone. We’ll find you something tomorrow,” Francesca said.
As soon as he opened the door to the familiar laughter and smell he started to feel better.