Crash & Burn (Cut & Run, #9)
This title is #9 of the Cut & Run series.
This title is part of the Cut & Run universe.
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It’s been five years since Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett first worked together to solve the Tri-State murders, and time has been both harsh and kind. Engaged now, they face the challenge of planning a deeply uncertain future together. Zane is at the pinnacle of his career with one last mystery to solve, while Ty is at sea in a world where he’s no longer the tip of a spear.
There’s just one more hurdle in the way of their happy ever after: a traitor from their inner circle who threatens to burn their world to the ground.
Squeezed between the Vega cartel, an unknown mole, and too many alphabet agencies to count, Ty and Zane must gather all their strength and resources to beat the longest odds they’ve ever faced. To make it out alive, they’ll need help from every friend they’ve got. Even the friends who might betray their trust.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
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Zane Garrett sat in his cushy chair in the Baltimore field office, staring at the frosted glass on his door. It read Special Agent in Charge, and it was the title he’d been working toward since he’d entered the academy. Aside from a post in Washington, it was the pinnacle of any agent’s ambitions. In charge of one of the fifty-six FBI field offices.
Five years ago, Zane would have been doing a Snoopy dance behind his closed door the moment he’d taken possession.
Now, though, Zane hated—no—Zane despised sitting behind this desk all day.
He tossed his feet up and clunked his heels on the corner, leaning back in his chair. Fuck this desk.
Zane glanced at his watch. It was a gift from Ty, a surprise from last Christmas. Underneath, the engraving read simply “Yours.” Classic Grady: succinct, romantic, and not at all incriminating. It made Zane smile whenever he checked the time.
He still had ten minutes to his nebulous lunch hour, so he pulled out his phone and dialed Ty.
“Grady,” Ty said after just two rings. Even though he’d resigned from the Bureau a year ago, he still answered his phone as if he expected someone to be calling him to go kill something.
“Hey, doll,” Zane drawled. “How’s your day going?”
“Pretty good, actually. What’s up?”
“I had a thought.”
“God help us,” Ty said under his breath.
“Do you think Burns was the endgame?”
On his first day in the new office, Zane had swept it for bugs. He’d only found one, which rather surprised him. He’d already known it was there, hidden beneath the desk; Richard Burns himself had shown it to Zane and Ty before he’d died. Zane had destroyed it: an opening gambit in a game of chess where pawns were people and kings lived or died on how soon they realized they were playing.
Ty was silent for a few heartbeats. “What?”
“I sweep this office every fucking day, waiting for another bug. Nada.” Zane rocked in his chair and rolled his head from side to side. “Nothing on our phones, either. Do you think it’s possible we were being watched because of our connection to Burns? That he was the target, and I’m just spinning my wheels here when I could be in bed with you all day?”
“Well. Are we still going with your chess metaphor?”
“I like my chess metaphor.”
Ty laughed, and the sound warmed Zane to an unhealthy degree. “Okay. Isn’t chess all about patience and strategy?”
Zane groaned and rubbed at his temple.
“You’re going insane, aren’t you?” Ty asked fondly.
“I feel like this must be what your brain does all the time. Squirrels juggling knives in there.”
Ty snorted. “I think, on the larger scale, it’s our move. You know? We’ve been quiet since Scotland. You’re stuck behind a desk, I’m playing Mister Fix-It. What’s there to spy on?”
“But how would they know that if they’re not spying on us?”
Ty made a clucking sound. “Maybe they are.”
When Zane hung up a few minutes later, having secured a dinner date with his fiancé, he was still frowning. Maybe they are.
Ty’s words haunted him for the rest of the day. Maybe they are. But how? He scanned the office one last time with his device, but registered nothing. He waited until most of his agents were gone for the day, until the floor was clear, and he walked through every cubicle, methodically checking every nook and cranny. He even checked the bathrooms.
Well, at least he knew the entire fucking building was clear of listening devices now.
Finding their mole was Zane’s final mission, and it was eating him alive. The mole who’d been spying on them for God knew how long. The mole whose connections and motivations were still mysteries to them. The mole who’d damn near gotten them killed in New Orleans.
The mole who’d caused Richard Burns to be murdered.
He stood waiting for the elevators, muttering to himself as he checked the batteries in the damn detector. “You’re obsessing, Garrett. You’ve been spending too much time with Ty.”
He shoved the batteries back into the thing and tucked it into his leather satchel as the elevator dinged. He glanced up, eyes wide as he realized what he’d just said.
Why the hell would anyone bug Zane at work if half of his or her interest was in Ty? It had been effective when they were partnered; they’d been together all the time. But now? Ty wasn’t here. Ty was at home.
Home. The row house.
Ty paced through the living room of the row house, listening to Zane’s voice mail greeting for the fourth time in the last hour. Zane was hours late now. He was never this late.
“Oh, I’ll leave you a message, you son of a . . .” He left a one-word message at the beep this time: “Asshole!”
He tossed his phone at the couch as he prowled by. He hated being stuck like this. And Zane knew he hated it! Zane never did anything even remotely dangerous without calling Ty first, because he knew Ty would rain down hellfire on Baltimore looking for him if he went radio silent. The cartel was still out there, lurking. And Ty didn’t have Zane’s back now.
He stomped out to the back stoop and threw himself down on the top step. This step had seen him through many of his dark moods over the years, and now he sat out here a lot, staring at his Mustang, while Zane was at work. She was Nightmist Blue, a hauntingly beautiful and historically accurate deep hue, with two thick white racing stripes going up her center and a white interior to match. She was finally done, inside and out, and Ty had stuck with vintage parts right up until he got to the electronics, when he’d found pieces online made to look vintage but that were entirely modern. She could sync with an MP3 player, keep your ass warm in the winter, and start up with the press of a button from the comfort of your home.
She was so beautiful that Ty hadn’t had the heart to cover her up since he’d finished her, even though the weather this winter had been especially harsh and dark.
Ty was fairly certain that was more about his state of mind than the weather, though. And now it seemed that Zane was going to start disregarding their dinner plans and not bother to tell Ty when he’d be late coming home.
Ty shook his head. One pass, that was all that bastard would get before Ty threw a fit of epic proportions.
He could only sit here for a few minutes before concern and restlessness got to him again and he headed back inside, going for the cabinet under the kitchen sink where he kept his new stash of Cubans.
His sharp ears caught the scratch of keys at the door before he could reach his stash. He stomped to the front door, prepared to give Zane an earful. The door didn’t open, though. Ty heard the keys jangle and a soft curse from the other side. He threw the dead bolt and yanked the door open, and Zane stumbled inside as he tried to get his keys out of the lock.
“Where the fuck have you been?” Ty shouted.
Zane waved a hand at him, and the smell of alcohol wafted off him with the cold wind.
Ty gaped. “Are you . . . are you drunk?” he asked, voice going higher.
“If I am?” Zane challenged as he leaned against the open door.
Ty opened his mouth to respond but nothing came. He stood blinking at the man in his doorway like it wasn’t the man he’d been living with for almost three years.
“God, Ty, don’t be so fucking uptight,” Zane said with an exaggerated roll of his eyes. He discarded his wool overcoat and his suit jacket and kicked the door closed. Snowflakes wafted in with him, drifting to the wood floors as Zane tossed his satchel aside.
Ty couldn’t even decide if he was awake right now, much less what to say if this wasn’t some sort of hallucination. The last time Zane had fallen off the wagon, he’d tossed Ty through a table. The time before, he’d ignored Ty’s bid for assistance and left him alone to be hung over the side of a cruise ship by two Italian goons. Zane wasn’t exactly a good person when he drank, which was why he’d been working so fucking hard at sobriety.
Zane was digging in his pocket for something, and as he scrounged around for it, he took hold of Ty’s arm and pushed. Ty moved with him more out of shock than anything else, gritting his teeth as Zane shoved him against the wall.
“God, did you swim in it? What is that, tequila?” The smell was so strong he could have licked Zane and gotten buzzed. Anger began to boil deep in Ty’s gut. After everything that’d happened, after everything that could still happen, and Zane had just . . . decided to go out for a drink? The rage came out in a shout that echoed off the brick wall of the row house. “You don’t even like tequila! What the hell is wrong with you?”
Zane pulled a piece of paper from his pocket, then brought his finger to his lips in a shushing motion. Ty growled at him, but Zane raised the paper before Ty could rev up for a retort. Ty read the note with barely concealed contempt.
House is bugged. Play along.
Ty blinked at the paper, and then Zane kissed him. There wasn’t a hint of alcohol on his lips or tongue; the scent was coming off his shirt. Ty had taught him that trick. Zane shoved the note into Ty’s pocket, then grabbed his hip and pressed him hard against the wall to deepen the kiss.
The row house was bugged? Ty wasn’t quite sure how Zane pretending to be drunk would help with that, but he was willing to play along until he could get a better explanation. Mostly because Zane had him shoved against the wall and was kissing him like he had when they’d first met: sharp and messy, mean and desperate.
Ty returned the ferocity of the kiss, pushing back. It was rare that he could convince Zane to really manhandle him, but it was fun. Zane doing it without provocation was downright legendary.
Zane ground against him, rough gasps escaping as they kissed. It was as if he were trying to eat Ty alive, a sort of passion they’d kind of forgotten about over the years.
Zane started pawing at Ty’s shirt. “Fucking buttons.” The volume of his grumbling was exaggerated, but it worked to make him sound inebriated. He shoved his hand into Ty’s pants as he rubbed himself against Ty’s thigh.
“Hey,” Ty barked, and he swatted at Zane’s hands. He lowered his voice to a bare whisper, speaking against Zane’s cheek to further muffle his words. “Careful with the goods there, Hoss, you break it, you bought it.”
“I already bought it,” Zane whispered, smiling against Ty’s lips. “You got to fight back a little if this is going to work.”
Ty scowled. Zane went to work on his neck, licking and sucking, and Ty’s eyes drifted closed as a thrill ran through him. Zane wanted a fight that sounded bad enough for Ty to kick him out of the house without alerting anyone that they knew about the listening devices. And he apparently thought a nice violent round of sex would do.
Fair enough. If there was one thing Ty and Zane knew how to do, it was abuse each other for fun.
Ty gave Zane’s shoulder a shove and sneered at him. “Go sober up! I’m not dealing with you when you’re drunk.”
Zane nodded encouragingly, looking relieved that Ty had caught on. He mouthed the words, “I love you.” Then he shoved Ty’s shoulders back against the wall. “Hold still,” he ordered in a tone he so rarely used that for a moment Ty did exactly as he’d been told rather than putting up the fight he was supposed to.
This was some next-level role-play. Ty bit his lip against a grin. Fuck, this might turn out to be too fun. They could have accomplished the same thing by throwing shit at each other and shouting, but this at least gave them a chance to whisper to each other, to get a little bit of a plan together. And hell, when had they ever passed up a chance to maul each other?
Zane pushed at Ty’s pants, then grunted in frustration when he couldn’t get the fly undone. Ty had spent most of the day at the bookstore, tearing out its insides, and he was wearing a pair of work pants stiff enough to protect him from sharp edges and hot surfaces. They weren’t exactly made for being groped in. Hell, they were more suited to being burned alive in, as tough as they were.
Ty gave Zane a taunting grin. “What’s wrong, Garrett, got butterfingers? What else is limp tonight?”
Zane retaliated by grabbing Ty’s work shirt and ripping it open. A button flew up and pegged Ty in the chin. He closed his eyes and snorted, then let out a muffled grunt when Zane’s lips met his. Zane bit him hard enough to sting.
“Ow! Jesus, Zane!”
“Get these off.” Zane tugged at the pants.
“Get them off yourself! You can’t handle a fucking zipper, you sure as hell can’t handle me.”
Zane gave him a pointed look and tugged at the zipper again. He leaned closer and whispered, “No seriously, I can’t get these off.”
Ty rolled his eyes. So much for a spontaneous mauling. He tugged at the zipper to his work pants, but they were stuck. He glanced up at Zane, his cheeks heating as he bit the inside of his lip, trying not to laugh. “Uhh.”
Zane didn’t waste more time on buttons. He pulled his dress shirt over his head, tossed it away, and slid one of his knives from its sheath at his wrist.
“Garrett.” Ty held up a hand, trying to press himself further into the wall. He didn’t have to fake the fear in his voice. “Don’t you fucking dare! Not the knife!”
“Hold still,” Zane ordered again with a hint of sadistic glee.
Ty squeezed his eyes closed and turned his head away. If he was going to lose a chunk of himself in a sex-related accident, he definitely didn’t want to watch. Zane sliced his waistband cleanly, though, the cold edge of the knife against Ty’s hip sending a shiver up his spine.
Zane shoved Ty’s pants down his hips, his fingertips gliding reverently against Ty’s skin. The knife blade was still down there somewhere, but Ty forgot all about it when he met Zane’s eyes. They were nearly black, not their usual warm shade of brown, and filled with real heat. It made Ty’s breath hitch.
His eyes flicked to the knife still in Zane’s hand. “You think you need that?”
Zane hummed and pressed his bare chest to Ty’s. He rubbed his nose against Ty’s jaw, then ran it up to Ty’s cheekbone, his lips grazing skin. Ty’s eyes drifted closed when Zane kissed his cheek.
He was peripherally aware of Zane putting his knife back into its sheath, then removing both of them from his wrists and setting them on the table next to the door where they kept their keys, badges, guns, and miscellaneous weaponry. Ty held Zane’s gaze, though, and Zane smiled warmly. How many times had they fucked and forgotten to disarm first? It had caused some odd injuries over the years.
Zane’s hand slid down the taut muscles of Ty’s stomach, fingers grazing the juncture of his hip and the base of his cock. Ty was only half-hard, but Zane would soon remedy that if he continued in this manner. He nosed his way along Ty’s jaw again and nuzzled against Ty’s neck to kiss and nip at his favorite spot right above Ty’s collarbone.
“Zane,” Ty begged. Then he remembered they were supposed to be fighting and he was supposed to be angry, not begging Zane to touch him. He grunted in frustration. This wasn’t going to work.
Zane winked at him, his eyes sparkling with mischief and lust. God, how Ty loved the man. He had to dig deep for harsh words that would sell their little act.
“It’s going to take more than a couple licks and a sloppy handjob to get me off, jackass.”
Zane raised an eyebrow, a smirk flitting across his lips. Ty mirrored the expression, offering a silent challenge. What, Zane thought they were going to fake angry sex and not get down and dirty for this one? Please.
Zane jerked open his fly and shoved the fabric out of the way. He jutted his chin out to kiss Ty, then with one last squeeze, let go and spun him around to thump his chest against the wall. Then Zane kicked his ankles apart, gasping as he curled one hand over Ty’s shoulder and shoved his hard cock against Ty’s ass, nudging between his cheeks.
“Fuck,” Zane whispered, and they both groaned. Zane rested his forehead against the back of Ty’s shoulder, their bodies pressed tight from thigh to chest, warm and hard and familiar. When he spoke, he muffled his words by pressing his lips into Ty’s skin. “We’ve got to figure out how to move this upstairs.”
Ty nodded. If they weren’t careful, they’d enjoy this too much and forget to sell the conflict. “You think you’re fucking me without lube, you’ve lost your damn mind.”
Zane laughed almost cruelly. “Can’t have you bitching because you’re sore.”
Ty shoved away from the wall, and Zane stumbled back. He barely caught himself before he tripped over his satchel on the floor. Ty kicked out of his ruined work pants and his briefs, and then yanked his shirt off his shoulders. They were never going to find all the damn buttons to it anyway.
“Go to Hell, Garrett, go sober up somewhere,” he snarled, and he stomped off toward the stairs. When he reached the foot of the steps, he glanced over his shoulder to find Zane following him, head cocked, blatantly leering at Ty’s bare ass. Zane met his eyes and winked. Ty gestured for him to come at him. They’d make another scene here to sell the charade . . . and Ty was pretty sure there was some lube stashed in one of the kitchen drawers, within reach if they wound up getting carried away.
Zane moved in front of Ty, and then trailed the backs of his fingers down Ty’s cheek, giving him a chaste little kiss before he stepped back and shoved Ty into the wall. The rough brick bit at Ty’s skin, and Zane’s body hit him a moment later, knocking the breath out of him.
Zane kissed him, silencing him, and Ty’s fingers found their way into Zane’s mess of dark, curly hair. He hitched one leg up Zane’s hip, and Zane grabbed the back of his thigh, thrusting their cocks together. They both groaned, loud enough that even a discount listening device from Walmart could have picked up the sound.
“Right here,” Zane growled, and he raised a bottle of lube he’d grabbed from somewhere.
“Where the fuck did that come from?”
“You take lube with you to work?” Ty shouted, genuinely outraged.
Zane bit his ear and whispered, “It’s from the trip to Seattle, baby.”
Ty’s body responded to the memory of that particular business trip. Zane had taken Ty with him, knowing he’d have more downtime than work to do. They hadn’t exactly spent their free time sightseeing.
Ty set one foot on the stair railing and pushed, helping Zane to hoist him up the wall. Zane was jacking himself with one slick hand, coating himself in preparation. He bit down on Ty’s collarbone hard enough to make Ty cry out, then he did it again as if the sound had spurred him on.
Zane was either actually losing control, or he was pretending so well even Ty believed him. And Ty liked it. A lot. “Come on,” he whispered, and he rose up onto his toes, pushing harder against the stair rail with his other foot.
He tried at the same time not to tense, but it was near impossible when he was holding himself against the wall. Zane shoved one slick finger into him, and Ty gasped. Yeah, this was going to hurt a little. He scrabbled against the rough brick for something to grab, then settled on grabbing Zane.
“Okay?” Zane whispered against his ear.
“Tell me to stop if you need to,” Zane bit out before jerking his finger free and lining himself up.
Ty nodded again, and Zane started to push in. He was going to leave his mark on Ty tonight, fake or not.
Then Zane stopped, his body stiffening and the head of his cock just barely breaching Ty. He shuddered in Ty’s arms, and his cock pulsed, pushing at tense muscles. He dug his fingers into Ty’s thigh and set his forehead against Ty’s neck. “Fuck, Ty.”
“Zane,” Ty gasped. Then he grinned, nipping at Zane’s ear. “Sell it, baby, come on. Fuck me.”
Zane raised his head, his dark eyes flashing.
Ty shivered with anticipation and nodded. “Hard.”
Zane huffed and snapped his hips, once, twice, forcing himself in with a low growl. Ty banged his head against the brick wall, eyes squeezed shut, gritting his teeth through the burn of the entry. “Come on, Garrett,” he taunted even as his voice trembled. “That the best you got?”
Zane thrust in again, his cock spreading Ty open further. The brick dragged against Ty’s skin, and his muscles were screaming as he tried to hold himself up with the banister. Zane’s grasping fingers found their way into Ty’s hair and yanked his head to the side as he shoved deeper into him.
“Fuck!” Zane finally shouted, sounding frustrated when he couldn’t get Ty’s body at the right angle to sink all the way in.
Ty grunted and tried to push against him, but he had no leverage. Zane was gasping with each thump. He growled and bit down on Ty’s shoulder, his teeth dragging over bone. His thrusts grew even more frenzied as he used all his strength, taking more of Ty’s weight.
Ty threw his head back and groaned wantonly. It was as close to getting mauled as he could come. Zane gripped him tight, aiming to bruise, to maim and claim, and bit down harder as his breathing went ragged.
It seemed like Zane was close to coming, and they’d forgotten to keep up their little charade. Ty’d forgotten to make even a peep of complaint over the fake abuse, and Zane had forgotten to abuse.
“God damn it,” he ground out. He kissed Ty again, the heat banking to a low simmer, his thrusts slowing until the swollen head of his cock once again pushed at Ty’s muscles until he wanted to scream for Zane to move. Zane pulled out, loosening his hold. Without the solidity of his body or his hands holding him up, Ty had to thump his foot back to the top step. His entire body throbbed with need and pain and frustration.
He swallowed hard. “What’s wrong,” he managed to ask. “Can’t even finish?”
“Get your ass upstairs,” Zane snarled.
Zane grabbed his jaw, holding his head still as their eyes met. “Or nothing,” he said, voice pitched just loud enough to be picked up.
Ty gazed into his eyes, a smile growing. “So hot,” he whispered.
Zane’s lips twitched, and he nodded his head toward the stairs.
Ty had to slide against Zane to take the first step up. The way Zane was looking at him, all fire and desire, sweat dripping down his temples, Ty sort of felt like a squirrel slipping past a big dog. He only made it two steps before Zane’s resolve apparently went up in smoke, and he tackled Ty to the stairs.
Ty grunted when he hit. Zane was on top of him before he could even try to right himself, biting at Ty’s shoulder, dragging his teeth against the skin until he could place a kiss on Ty’s neck.
Ty cursed loudly, struggling to hold back a groan. Zane had a hand on Ty’s hip, pulling Ty’s ass toward him, and his damp belly and chest were pressed against Ty’s back.
The head of his cock pushed against Ty again, his hands digging into Ty’s ribs as he held him still, and he only waited long enough for Ty to push his ass against him before he shoved inside again.
Ty cried out, turning it into an outraged scream for the sake of the bug. Zane’s hand smacked against the step beside Ty’s head, and Ty grabbed for it, holding on as Zane moved inside him, his thighs slapping against Ty’s, his free fingers grasping Ty’s flank and leaving stinging trails behind as he tried to hold Ty’s body still for those brutal thrusts.
Ty raised his head long enough to look up to the doorway where a nice cushy bed was waiting for them. Instead, he was on his fucking knees on the stairs, gripping the iron railing as Zane fucked him into the sharp corners of the steps. Then Zane’s cock hit his prostate, and he screamed.
Zane grabbed his hair and yanked his head back, forcing Ty up onto all fours. Zane kissed his neck, then his ear. “Why haven’t we fucking done this before?” he panted.
“Broken bones,” Ty whispered back, huffing a laugh as Zane buried his face against Ty’s shoulder and groaned.
“You know you fucking love it,” Zane said, voice louder.
Ty gritted his teeth, fighting off the very real pleasure to try to find the right words. “Just get off and get out, for Christ’s sake,” he finally growled.
Zane shook his head. “Not that easy.”
His hand snaked around Ty’s body, groping, lingering in the sweat forming on Ty’s tense muscles. He pulled Ty close, then shoved his weight sideways. He wound up sitting on a step, lounging with his long legs reaching the floor, and Ty straddling him.
His hand closed around Ty’s cock, and he leaned back, taking Ty with him. Ty’s USMC ring clanged when he grabbed for the railing. Zane’s cock boring deeper into him as his weight pushed him down had him close to coming.
“Move,” Zane ordered.
Ty banged his head against Zane’s shoulder. “Go to Hell. You want to get off, you do the work.”
Zane laughed, and though it wasn’t genuine, he did a good job of selling the evil chuckle. He wrapped his slick fingers around Ty’s cock, sliding them around the head and down the shaft.
Ty groaned, not even sure what sound he’d intended to come out. He jutted his hips toward Zane’s hand, moving Zane inside him. “Fuck you, Zane. Fuck you so much,” he murmured, earning a very real, gentle chuckle that he felt against his back.
Zane jacked him harder, forcing his hips to move and his body to contort. He grabbed a handful of Zane’s hair and yanked at him, begging for a kiss. When Zane curled down to deliver, he shifted inside Ty, hitting his prostate again. Ty broke the kiss by shouting Zane’s name against his lips.
“That’s it, Grady, come on!” Zane yelled against Ty’s cheek.
Ty growled for the benefit of the listening devices, and Zane’s grip tightened on his chest, nails digging in.
“Move, Ty, for God’s sake,” Zane pleaded with short, gasping breaths.
Ty shimmied his hips, then dropped down, crying out as he reseated himself. Zane lost his hold on any remaining composure, bucking his hips and pulling Ty back to lie flat with him as he came inside him. Zane’s hand never stopped moving on Ty’s cock, though, and Ty struggled against the coming orgasm. It wouldn’t really sell their fight if he got off in the end. He turned his head toward Zane, desperately seeking anything to muffle the sounds.
Zane clapped a hand over his mouth, and that was all it took. Ty bucked his hips, squeezing his eyes shut and grasping at Zane’s hips and ribs as Zane jacked him through it. He spurted over his stomach and thighs, and his toes curled as he moaned against Zane’s hand.
They were both panting and sweaty when it was over, and Zane was straining beneath him as he tried to keep them both from sliding down the stairs. Ty’s breathing was ragged against Zane’s hand, and Zane let him loose cautiously, as if releasing a wild animal.
Ty arched his back, forcing Zane out of him. They both bit back their groans, and Ty rolled to his belly again.
“Fuck, Garrett,” he said softly.
Zane put his hand to his ear as if he hadn’t heard.
Ty growled, then pushed to his hands and knees. “Fuck!” he shouted. He slammed his hand against a step, and Zane jumped. “Fuck you, Garrett!”
Zane whirled his finger in the air, telling Ty to continue, then pushed himself to his feet and darted to the front door, not making a sound. Ty watched him for a moment before taking a deep breath and starting in on a loud, rambling rant that would cover any sounds Zane made as he moved around the lower floor. He had his bug detector in hand now, moving past all the usual places.
As Ty was bitching loudly about how Zane never did the dishes anyway and fuck him, Zane signaled to an electrical outlet near the kitchen.
“Get your shit, and get out until you can fucking handle yourself, Jesus Christ!” Ty shouted.
“Whatever, Ty,” Zane said as he headed for Ty and the stairs. “Work’s hard enough. I don’t need your whiny bullshit on top of it.” He stopped long enough to grab Ty and kiss him, whispering something unintelligible against Ty’s lips. Then he stomped up the steps.
Ty followed, silent on the balls of his feet. When he reached the landing, Zane indicated the table on Ty’s side of the bed. Ty nodded, then headed back downstairs.
A few minutes later, Zane thumped down the steps, wearing sweatpants and one of Ty’s T-shirts, a gray one with stylized pink writing that read “The 3rd rule of fight club is have fun and try your best.” He had a garment bag and Ty’s go bag full of emergency supplies slung over his shoulder.
Ty pointed at it, frowning. “Mine,” he mouthed.
“Mine now,” Zane said back, smirking as he gave Ty one last kiss and then headed for the kitchen. Their little scene ended with the slamming of the back door and the revving of Zane’s Valkyrie.
Nick O’Flaherty didn’t hear the intruder until he felt someone sit on the end of his bed. He opened his eyes, trying to shake off sleep that felt unnaturally heavy. Something was wrong.
The only two people who visited him regularly and had access to the security on the harbor and keys to his yacht were his partner and his boyfriend. Kelly was sure as hell the only one who’d risk sneaking down here and crawling onto Nick’s bed to wake him. But Kelly was in Colorado, leading a group of at-risk kids from the camp where he worked through the winter wilderness.
“Good morning, darling,” a voice said in the darkness, and that British accent most certainly was not Kelly’s.
Nick reached for the gun beneath his pillow even as Liam Bell laughed and tapped the butt of his gun against his own knee. He was sitting on the corner of the bed with his legs crossed primly, the gun pointed at Nick.
“Hands where I can see them.”
Nick withdrew his hand from under his pillow and raised both palms out toward Liam.
Liam put a finger to his lips and gestured for Nick to sit up. He kept the gun on Nick until Nick was standing in the corner, far enough away that Liam apparently felt comfortable moving.
He reached beneath Nick’s pillow, pulling the gun out first, then Nick’s phone. Nick mentally cursed as Liam held it up, one eyebrow raised. Nick had managed to hit Send on his emergency contact, and the phone was ringing, Kelly’s name and photo on the display.
Liam ended the call just as Nick heard Kelly’s distant voice mail message.
“You still tell him the vibration under your head wakes you easier than the noise?” Liam asked. “To explain hiding your phone beneath your pillow? I suppose that’s better than telling him you keep it under there to call for help when I show up, hmm?”
Nick felt the blood draining from his face. “You’ve been listening to us?”
“Only key words. And not even those after the first week or two.”
Nick cleared his throat, torn between embarrassment and rage. “How the fuck?”
“You’re not as paranoid as you used to be. Slipped you a little token of my love in your water filter to make sure you’d sleep nice and hard.” Liam frowned as he jammed Nick’s gun into the back of his jeans. “One thing I didn’t hear while I was listening was the two of you talking about your engagement.”
Nick remained silent, forcing himself not to swallow against the nerves building.
“Do you remember the time after your surgery?” Liam asked, and Nick would have sworn there was concern in his voice.
“Some of it,” Nick admitted.
“But you do remember our deal, don’t you?”
“You let the Doc believe you don’t remember proposing?”
Nick’s heart stuttered. That was exactly what he’d done. Kelly had never brought up their conversation, the one where Nick had said, “Marry me,” and meant it with all his heart and soul. Kelly was waiting for Nick to say it again—to say it again sober. And Nick had remained silent.
He’d remained silent because he knew this day was coming.
“Smart,” Liam said with a nod. “My intention here is for both of us to live through this, so don’t go thinking I take pleasure in you breaking his heart or anything.”
“You can propose again when we’re done. I promise.”
Nick took a deep, calming breath. “Can we just get to the point of why you’re here and what you want?”
“Of course. Accompany me upstairs, would you? And put some more clothes on.”
Nick rolled his eyes and moved toward the closet. Liam stood back, gun on him. He grabbed a T-shirt, moving slowly, knowing despite Liam’s casual attitude that the man was on a hair trigger. He had the look of someone who’d been on the run for a while. His beard was scraggly, his blond hair a little long. His clothes were dirty, too, and his jeans had holes in the knees. He looked nothing like the man Nick knew.
Nick glanced back at him as he pulled his T-shirt on. “Do you . . . want some new clothes and a razor? Maybe a shower?”
Liam raised an eyebrow. “Is that concern for my well-being? Or for your sensibilities?”
“Let’s call it both.”
Liam grinned. “Later. Shall we talk business first?”
Nick led him up to the main deck, looking around the salon and galley, trying to figure out how Liam had gotten into the marina and onto the boat without tripping any alarms. To his horror, he saw nothing but open ocean out the windows. He forgot the gun at his back and rushed forward, searching for the docks, the marina, for land.
“Yes,” Liam said with a pleased grin. “Now. You’re wondering why I’m here.”
“Where are we?” Nick shouted.
“I don’t know, you’re the nautical one. I just piloted the boat out of the harbor.”
“Pirated! You pirated it out of the harbor!”
“Did you anchor us, or are we drifting? Do you even fucking know how to handle a vessel this size?”
“Don’t be flirty. I anchored us. I think.” Liam scowled. “Actually, you may want to go make sure.”
“You could have killed us, you fucking shitstick! How long have we been drifting?”
“Calm yourself, mate, you’re turning red.”
“There are shipping lanes that . . . shoals . . . oh my God.” Nick growled when every curse word he knew failed him, and hustled to check the yacht’s radar and make sure they weren’t drifting into dangerous waters. He also wanted to know how far away from Boston Liam had managed to get them while he’d slept.
Liam followed, obviously knowing from past association that Nick would have weapons hidden all over the boat. He wasn’t going to give Nick a chance to get the drop on him. He also didn’t give Nick a chance to do anything more than make sure they were safely anchored. Nick got a quick glance at the charts, but he still had no idea where they were, not close enough to send an SOS.
“Now sit,” Liam ordered.
Nick cleared his throat. “Okay.” He stepped back from the controls and let Liam get a good look at him, then led Liam into the salon. He gave the open ocean one last frown before he settled on a couch. Liam sat across from him, gun resting on his knee and aimed at Nick.
“What’s this about?” Nick demanded.
“What else? The only thing we have in common anymore.”
Liam smiled almost sadly. “Indeed.”
“What about him?”
“Well. I’m here to save his life. And I need your help.”
Nick blinked at him.
“Really? I was expecting something more witty.”
“Get used to disappointment,” Nick advised. “I don’t play games anymore.”
“But you used to be so good at them, darling.”
Nick took another deep breath, nodding in acknowledgment. “This is about the cartel?”
“And Richard Burns. But then, you knew that, didn’t you Nicholas?”
Panic ripped through Nick, but he schooled his expression. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Of course you do.”
Nick met Liam’s icy blue eyes for a long moment, until Liam smirked and Nick had to look away.
“We need to get Tyler to take action. We need him on the offensive. That’s his wheelhouse, and you and I both know it.”
“Valid,” Nick said. “But the Feds and Interpol are bringing heat on the cartels all over the world. The Vega cartel has been quiet for a year; they’ve even pulled their operations in the northern cities. They cleared out of Boston two years ago. You really think they’re still after Ty and Zane when they have bigger problems now?”
“Yes. In fact, I know it.”
“You know it,” Nick said, deadpan. Liam nodded. “Through your super secret government contacts, I’m guessing. Isn’t that beard a little against NIA dress code?”
“Call me a master of disguise.” Liam quirked an eyebrow as he waited for Nick’s reply. After a few seconds, he waved his gun through the air and set it on the table with a metallic thud. “Oh, come on! You used to be so good at witty banter!”
“I also used to like you. Made the witty banter easier.”
Liam’s mask broke, and he looked genuinely surprised. He covered it quickly, though, retrieving the weapon. “Well. I suppose I don’t blame you.”
“Why are you here, and what do you want me to do?”
“As I was saying, Tyler and his fiancé have all but forgotten the threat to them.”
Nick scoffed and looked away. “That’s not true.”
“Is it not? Have they made any progress on which of their allies is spying on them? Have they made any headway in building a case against the cartel? Have they done anything but restore that old building they’ll never live in and plan a wedding they’re not likely to live long enough to see?”
Nick lowered his head. He couldn’t answer any of those questions, mostly because he didn’t know the answers, but also because Liam was probably right. “So. You want to push Ty into action instead of letting him get complacent.”
“Well, for one, I want the Vega cartel to go down in flames. That’s my assignment.”
Nick snorted. “No.”
“You’re lying,” Nick spat. “That’s not the reason. You’re not on assignment. Look at you, you’re so off the grid there’s only one explanation: You’ve been burned for something. You’re being hunted, and you’re so desperate that I’m the only ally you could drum up.”
Liam cleared his throat and shifted.
“You want me to help you? Tell me the truth.”
Liam sighed like a petulant five-year-old and lounged on the couch, his foot on the table and the gun resting on his thigh, still pointed at Nick. His finger was on the trigger guard, though. Nick could have launched himself at Liam and possibly gotten to him before he could transfer that finger to the trigger, but something stopped Nick from taking action. Liam noticed him looking and smiled crookedly as he moved his finger to rest on the trigger.
Their eyes met, both men acknowledging what hadn’t just happened.
“Fine,” Liam said. “This is about revenge, pure and simple. And proving my innocence to the NIA to get me off the kill list.”
“Now that I believe.”
“I’m glad we’re on the same page.”
Nick ran both hands over his face. “You’re using Ty as a chess piece. Just like they used us in Afghanistan. Just like you used us in New Orleans.”
Liam was quiet for a long moment, letting Nick’s bitter words melt into tense silence. “You and I both know it weren’t me who set your team up in New Orleans,” he finally said.
“Oh yeah? How do you figure?”
Liam looked puzzled for a moment, his brow furrowed, his frown obvious even through his beard. “You’re the one who called them to New Orleans.”
“You’re the one who alerted the cartel. You’re the one who sent the NIA warning to be there.”
The words hit Nick with the force of a linebacker. Was Liam actually accusing him of orchestrating the shitshow in New Orleans? If Liam thought it was Nick’s doing, then they’d been wrong about him being behind it. Or was he just playing games again? Nick tried his best not to react; the more Liam talked, the more information he’d get out of him. But the shock obviously bled through to his eyes, to his expression, because Liam tutted.
“Don’t try to act your way out of this one, Irish. You called all of us there. And you were the one who switched that bullet on me. Why would you want Tyler to think I wanted him dead, by the way? I never could figure that one out.”
Now Liam was implying Nick had actually tried to kill Ty. If Nick could have thrown a table at him with his mind, he would have. But he sat silent and subdued, letting Liam talk.
Liam sat up and placed the gun on the table between them, mirroring Nick’s stance with his elbows on his knees, hands clasped together. “No matter. The reason we always got on so well, you and I, was because we both knew when to be a player, and when to be a piece. Tyler, he never even knew he was a piece. He still doesn’t. You played us in New Orleans. You lost. It’s my turn to play the board, Nicholas, and your turn to be the piece.”
It took Nick several seconds to shake off the shock of Liam’s accusations, but he nodded as if accepting the role, and the responsibility. “So what piece do I play in your game?”
“You? You’re the opening gambit.”
“We’re not exactly on the best of terms right now. Ty’s not going to listen to me if I try to convince him to take action. Especially since I know taking action is going to get him and everyone around him killed. You think I want him dead, you’ve miscalculated. You can hold a gun to my head, to Kelly’s, but I can’t convince him for you.”
“Yes. You can. Just not with words.”
Nick inhaled sharply and nodded. “With my death?”
Liam’s smile grew. “Maybe not yours, necessarily.”
Nick could feel the blood draining from his face. “Garrett?”
Liam’s smile broadened. “With a finger pointing at the cartel to blame? Tyler will be unstoppable, inconsolable, a Tasmanian devil filled with rage and guilt and mourning. He will gather every force in his artillery, call in every favor from every mercenary and killer he’s ever met, build an army to march on Miami. All for revenge.”
“You’re going to kill Zane to turn Ty into some sort of atomic bomb?”
Nick tensed as Liam reached into his pocket, but he brought out a small box instead of a weapon. “Firstly, I don’t kill my friends, it’s rude. Second, he’ll be quite useful once the game is afoot, so no, I don’t intend to kill Garrett. Or you.” He placed the box on the table and opened it. Inside was a frozen finger, bloodied where it had been severed.
“Whose finger is that?” Nick demanded.
“I didn’t catch his name.” Nick glared at him, and Liam rolled his eyes. “Does it help if I tell you he was a very bad man?”
“Well. He was. Do you have a computer aboard? Access to the internet?”
“Is it secure?”
“Secure? What are you talking about?”
“Well, after we kidnap Garrett, we’ll have to send Tyler this finger in the post. When he receives it, with Garrett’s ring on it of course for easy identification, he will instantly believe it to be Garrett’s. Others, however, will be more levelheaded. They’ll print it. I need to alter the records to make Garrett’s print match this one.”
“You want to hack the FBI with my laptop?” Nick asked, growing more flustered the more he learned of Liam’s plans. “No, my laptop is not secure enough to hack the FBI! You fucking half-wit!”
“Well. I’ll make do.” Liam stood, stuffing his gun in his holster. He closed the lid on the finger box.
“No!” Nick stood with him. “I’m not going to let you do this! I’m not putting my friends and family through that for some revenge kick! You amass your own damn army to march on Miami; leave us out of this bullshit war you’re trying to start!”
“This war has started already, and believe it or not, I was a casualty, not an instigator.”
“I have a hard time believing that,” Nick sneered.
“It’s true whether you believe it or not. My partner and I were planted in the cartel. Someone blew our cover, and she was murdered before I even made it clear of New Orleans. The NIA believes it was me who killed her. They called me a traitor, said I’d been turned by the cartel.”
Nick was silent, trying to parse the truth from Liam’s words. Everything the man said had to be taken with a grain or two of salt, but Nick was distressed to find that he believed this story.
“Now I’m being hunted. And Grady and Garrett are well embroiled in this and have been from the start. Zane Garrett? He was stealing information from the cartel. Do you know why the Vega cartel pulled stakes from Boston?”
Nick shook his head.
“Money. They were losing it faster than they could make it.”
“You’re trying to say Zane was siphoning cartel money when he was undercover?”
“Indeed. Stealing account details, to be precise. And Tyler? He killed Antonio de la Vega under orders from our dear friend Richard Burns, not to mention how many others while trying to cover Zane’s tracks. So put your conscience aside and follow the plan, and maybe all your friends will come out of it alive. If not free from jail.” He stopped suddenly, looking over Nick’s shoulder with a new light in his eyes. “Wait, you’re brilliant.”
“What?” Nick asked with dread.
“If they think Garrett’s dead, they’ll pause to mourn, have a funeral, all that. If that finger comes with a ransom, they’ll think he’s still alive! It will kick them into instant action!” Liam grabbed Nick’s face with both hands and kissed him. “Brilliant!”
Nick sputtered, trying desperately to stay calm as he wiped at his mouth. He took a step after Liam as the man turned to go find the laptop, and he grabbed Liam’s elbow to halt him. Liam turned, gun appearing in his hand so fast that Nick didn’t even realize it was sticking into his belly until Liam shoved him back a step with it.
Nick put both hands up. “I’ll help you,” he said, trying to keep his voice even. “But not if you intend to go through with your plan.”
Liam raised an eyebrow, easing the gun out of Nick’s abs just enough to let him breathe without pain. “I’m listening.”
“You want to prove your innocence. You want to cripple the cartel. We can do those things without making Ty and Zane want to kill us.”
Liam narrowed his eyes and cocked his head. “How?”
“Let me do the thinking. And you keep your fingers to yourself.”
Liam jutted his chin out, icy blue eyes boring into Nick. He finally nodded.
Nick swallowed past the tightness in his throat. “You’re playing with lives, you know.”
“Yes.” Liam grinned, his eyes sparkling. “What was it you used to tell me before missions?”
“You’re bringing a chess set to a gunfight.”
“Indeed.” Liam reached out carefully and dragged a finger down Nick’s cheek, then held it up as if he’d wiped something off his face. “And the white knight never left the board without blood all over him. Did he, love?”
Ty sat in the midst of a room full of chaos and disaster. The plywood floors were covered with scraps of wood and plaster dust, which he had been horrified to discover actually had horse hair in it. The walls were nothing but two-by-fours and exposed brick. The ceiling was letting light in through the second- and even third-story windows, and dust motes floated peacefully though the sunbeams.
Ty was cross-legged, forearms resting on his knees, lips pursed in a mixture of disgust and amusement. He’d worked on projects like this all his life, but he’d never had this many things go wrong on him. He’d spent the warm months of the summer and fall working on his Mustang, leaving the interior of the building for the cold of winter. Now, sitting in the freezing cold without heat or insulation on the first day of February, he was regretting a lot of his decisions.
At least he could be positive this building wasn’t bugged.
The front door, made of old, dirty glass covered with peeling and faded stickers, grocery bags, and duct tape, opened with a terrible creak.
“Hey, Bulldog,” Zane said as he stepped over the threshold, a box under one arm. “How’s it going?”
Ty cleared his throat and pointed up at the ceiling. “I put a hole in the house.”
Zane tipped his head back to peer up as he walked toward Ty. “What were you doing?” He sounded like he was trying not to laugh.
“I was . . .” Ty cleared his throat, blushing. “I was poking it with a stick.”
Zane propped the box on his hip and raised an eyebrow at Ty.
“It made sense in my head,” Ty insisted. “Did you bail from work early? What’s in the box?”
“I left work early, brought you lunch. Why were you poking the house with a stick?”
“I was looking for wiring,” Ty answered, blushing harder.
Zane set the box down, then carefully went to one knee before thumping to the dusty floor to sit next to Ty. “Wiring? Did you find any bugs?”
“No, so I guess it was a win.”
Zane took Ty’s hand in his and laced their fingers together, and Ty smiled even though he’d had a backbreaking, frustrating day. He squeezed Zane’s hand as he stared at the jagged hole in the second floor.
“We could have built a building from scratch, you know,” Zane said, waving at the inside of the old, three-story brick building on the edge of the harbor in Fell’s Point.
Ty gazed at the room too, seeing the architectural details beneath the years of paint, dust, and misuse. He shook his head and smiled as he cut his gaze to Zane. “Old and broken-down is more my style.”
Zane cast a glance around them, then settled on Ty again, smirking. “Whatever makes you happy, doll.”
Ty narrowed his eyes. “You’re being agreeable. What have you done?”
Zane gave him an innocent shrug. “I didn’t do anything. I’m just agreeing.” He slid his fingers along Ty’s palm to caress the inside of Ty’s wrist.
Ty turned his hand over in Zane’s. Then he sighed. “Your office is bugged, isn’t it?”
Zane laughed. “No. But it’s kind of sad that you think that’d put me in a good mood.”
“Wouldn’t it?” Ty asked with a smirk.
“Probably.” Zane sat back, seeming entirely too pleased with himself as he looked around the building again. He finally pointed to the back wall. “I think the section on horses should go right there, what do you think? Maybe a picture of you in the saddle?”
Ty shook his head, rubbing at a spot of tension between his eyes.
“Oh, I picked up the mail when I went by the house.” Zane rummaged in his box for a small package that he handed to Ty. “Did you order something? What is it?”
“I don’t know.” Ty used his pocketknife to get into it, gazing at Zane fondly as he did so. The silver feathering at the sides of his hair was getting more pronounced, and every time Ty took notice of it, he wanted to tackle Zane to the ground.
He pulled a small jewelry box out of the package and turned it over, then narrowed his eyes at Zane. “Was this you?”
Zane shook his head and reached to pluck a card off the inside of the packaging, flipping it open to read. “Says it’s from Owen.” He handed the card to Ty.
“Weird.” Ty muttered, and popped the jewelry box open.
Inside was a nickel.
Zane chuckled. “Your friends are so strange.”
“Hold on,” Ty said, a grin spreading across his face. He picked the nickel up out of the box and examined it, finding a slit near the edge just big enough for a thumbnail. When he pulled on it, a tiny curved blade popped out of the nickel. Ty laughed delightedly. “It’s a knife!”
“Oh my God,” Zane groaned.
“Looks like he found a new supplier. Secret Santa next year is going to be awesome.” Ty put the nickel in his pocket, still grinning.
“You realize most of the things you get from your friends should be illegal, right?”
“Hey, that go bag you appropriated is full of illegal things I got from my friends, so either stop judging or give it back.”
“No, I like it. And you’re not getting those boots back, either.”
Zane’s smile turned into a leer. “You coming to the hotel tonight?”
Ty laughed and nodded. The night Zane had left the row house, Ty had waited a few hours, then tracked Zane’s ass down and crawled into bed with him in the luxury suite he’d booked.
“You going to tell me how you found me?” Zane asked for perhaps the twentieth time.
Ty stole a languid kiss, then whispered, “I’ll always find you, Zane.”
Zane rewarded him with a fond smile. He kissed Ty again, humming happily. “Give me a hint.”
“Please. The Admiral Fell Inn? It’s the only hotel nearby that’s a pun; of course you headed there.”
Zane chuckled, closing his eyes as Ty nuzzled at him. He finally ducked his head, reaching over to tug the box closer. “I stopped by that deli you like so much near the office.”
Ty’s smile turned melancholy at best. He was glad he’d made his decision to quit the Bureau, but it had been a trade between having Zane at home and having him at work. And he kind of missed work. “Are you going to be happy here when you retire? Selling old books and keeping me occupied?”
Zane met Ty’s eyes. “I can’t imagine being anywhere else. Although I suppose if it becomes worrisome, we can take a trip out to Austin for a couple of weeks now and then. You know. Vacation.”
Ty frowned. “No need to be mean.” He ran his hand up Zane’s back, letting his fingers trail up the soft material of his dress shirt. He was about to zone out when he remembered what he’d wanted to show Zane. “Oh! Want to see what I found in the back room?”
Zane laughed and held out a cold bottle of water. “Sure.”
Ty took the bottle as he pushed himself to his feet. He grabbed Zane’s forearm and tugged him up. “You’re going to love this.”
Zane smoothed one hand over Ty’s ass. “Uh huh. Go on.” He was humoring Ty, but Ty didn’t care.
He led the way into the back room, which had been a kitchen in the original building but had since been turned into a storeroom with a sink and a refrigerator hookup. Ty had removed everything but a hammer, leaving the room just as bare and pitiful as the rest of the structure.
He was grinning from ear to ear when he waved his hand at one of the walls. It was covered with cheap paneling and painted a garish green, and there were several holes where Ty had taken the hammer to it.
Zane looked from Ty, to the wall, back to Ty, and back to the wall before shaking his head. “What am I missing?”
“What, you don’t see it?” Ty’s smile grew bigger. “Your finely tuned spider sense hasn’t realized that this room isn’t as wide as the front room?”
Zane frowned and twisted halfway around to check the room’s dimensions. “Someone closed in a bolt-hole?”
“Better.” Ty picked up the hammer and stepped over to the panel that had first caught his attention. He used the claw to pull the panel back, then took the flashlight from his back pocket and clicked it on. He gestured for Zane to lean closer, and he let the light shine on the wooden treads of a stairwell, hidden for at least half a century.
“Oh hell,” Zane said under his breath. “No wonder you’re giddy. The survey didn’t show a basement on this lot.”
“I know!” He’d been excited when he found it, almost excited enough to grab the flashlight and investigate. But he would never do such a thing without Zane, and he was sort of scared shitless of dark basements. “Want to check it out?”
“How long did you have to wait for me to get here so you could have me go down there?” Zane asked, a wry smile twisting his lips as he crossed his arms. “You could have called.”
“Wasn’t long before I poked the hole through the ceiling,” Ty admitted. “As soon as I found this, I left this room. Please take this and go down there so I can see what it is!” He shoved the flashlight at Zane.
Zane chuckled and took the Maglite. “Open it up,” he said, gesturing to the rest of the paneling blocking the stairway.
Ty slid the hammer back into the paneling and tugged it off the wall with ease. He set the first strip carefully aside, then tugged at the next one to open it up. The cobwebs in the old stairwell alone would have kept him on ground level if he’d done this earlier.
Zane was pulling on the pair of work gloves Ty had worn most of the day. Ty wanted to go with him and see what was down there, but he knew his limits, especially after his ordeal in Scotland. His limit was right here at the first step.
Zane moved to the landing, and Ty peered over his shoulder. “If it’s big enough down there, I might be able to handle it.”
Zane settled a hand at the base of Ty’s neck, squeezing as he pressed a kiss to the corner of Ty’s lips. “My brave bulldog.”
Ty huffed. “Just go see what’s down there!”
Zane took the first couple of stairs cautiously, testing each before settling his full weight on it, and then moving on. The stone wall along the stairway was bare, no railing, no evidence of one ever being there. Ty watched until the flashlight’s beam found the ground floor of the cellar.
Ty shivered. There were obviously no windows or doors, since no one knew the damn room was down there.
Finally, Zane called up the stairs, “I’m at the bottom.”
“Uh huh. And?”
“Stairs are pretty sturdy. The floor is paved with stone; looks like there was a wood floor over it at one point. It’s so dusty it’s hard to tell. There’s shelving along the walls, not in very good shape.” Zane raised his voice to carry up the stairs as he moved further away from them. “Broken glass. It looks like it was cleared out in a hurry.”
“What else?” Ty asked as he fought the urge to go down there and investigate.
“Wait a sec.” Zane went quiet for a long moment, and then Ty heard a crack, a whump, and a crunch that sounded like wood falling. “I’m okay!”
“Don’t make me come down there, dude.”
“So brave,” Zane called from the dark. “There’s a grate here.”
“Big-ass grate in the floor,” Zane answered, his voice a little more distant and muffled.
Ty grunted, frowning. “Might have been Prohibition era,” he called back. “Made it easy to dispose of evidence during a raid. You know, that makes sense with some of the other architecture in this place. It might have been a speakeasy at some point.”
“Would explain the shelves and boxes, anyway,” Zane said as he started back up the stairs.
“Is it usable space? Worth renovating? Or should we board it back up and pretend it’s not scary?”
“It’s usable. Pretty solid, really, stone floor and walls, doesn’t look like it’s leaked, even being this close to the harbor.” Zane emerged from the dark and joined Ty back on the main level. “Definitely good for long-term or secure storage.”
“You could make it your art studio when you go through your dungeon period.”
Zane snorted and shook his head.
“Although . . . I might be wrong, but if it was used as a storage cellar for illegal alcohol, they would have had a chute to get in there in secret. Load it from the street, right into the cellar. Maybe we can get some more lights down there and check it out better later.”
“It’s totally open down there,” Zane said, patting Ty’s arm reassuringly. “Not closed in at all. Just one big room with foundation pillars.”
“One big, dark, underground room,” Ty said with a nod. “With three stories towering over it.”
Zane set his hands on Ty’s hips. “You don’t ever have to go down there if you don’t want to. We could just board it up and forget about it.”
“That would take all the fun out of it,” Ty said, and placed his hands on Zane’s waist. “We’ll paint it white, it’ll be fine.”
“Sure it will.”
Ty kissed him quickly. “Let’s go back to the hotel, huh? I’ll tell you some ideas I’ve got for your bookshelves.”
Zane’s hands were slow to let him go. “You need a shower,” he said, brushing some dust and dirt out of Ty’s hair.
Ty’s smile grew more predatory. “That something you’d like to help me with?”
Zane’s hum of approval was nearly a purr.
Ty kissed him again, this one much more heated than the last, and then stepped away. “Let’s go. I’ve got dust caked in places it was never meant to get.”
Zane sprawled on the king-sized bed in the suite at the Admiral Fell Inn where he’d been living for the last week. And yes, he’d come here because the Inn’s name was a pun.
Every night, he would wait impatiently for Ty to come prowling in. And according to Ty, every night at the row house Ty would make a fuss about going to bed, make a commotion and grumble to himself as he got into bed, then turn out the lights and sneak out like the trained professional he was so he could spend the night with his fiancé. It made Zane laugh to think about a man like Ty, with all his training and experience, using those highly developed skills for the adult version of breaking curfew. How had it come to this?
Zane was trying to decide how they could use the bugs to their advantage. Julian Cross had once told them that if they were facing an opponent larger than themselves, the best way to beat them was to use their own strengths against them. He hadn’t phrased it that way; he’d used an inane chess analogy instead. Zane had since become pretty adept at the game, so he finally understood what the man had been trying to tell them.
The only problem was that Zane couldn’t decide how best to use bugs against their mole. They could feed them wrong information, try to get them to overplay their hand. But they didn’t even know enough about the mole’s game to do that. They were playing blind. Until one of them came up with a solution, the only way they could converse freely was at the bookstore, which they’d ultimately chosen to list in public records under the name of the Carter Garrett Ranch for the express purpose of keeping it out of the spotlight, or here in this hotel suite.
At least it was a nice suite.
The water cut off in the bathroom, and a few seconds later Ty stepped out in nothing but a towel, steam roiling behind him. Zane propped his head in his hands and stared.
The first marks of age were finally starting to hit Ty. A little gray in his scruff when he grew it out, which he did more often than not these days. Arthritis in the hand he’d broken so many times. But he was still cut and lithe, he still reminded Zane of a large jungle cat when he moved, and his mind and tongue were still as sharp as ever. Zane had never imagined himself loving a person like Ty, but now? Now he couldn’t imagine his life without him.
Ty gave him a cheeky grin when he caught Zane staring. “Want a show?” he teased, his voice a low purr.
“What, like late-night cable?” Zane asked, trying to sound innocent. “Skinemax presents?”
Ty tossed his wet towel at him, then crawled into bed and laid himself out over Zane as Zane fought to disentangle himself from the towel. Ty’s body was still hot and damp from the shower, but Zane didn’t care. He ran his fingers through Ty’s hair, grinning as he waited for some further form of punishment. But Ty remained silent, merely peering down at Zane with a slight frown marring his features.
“What?” Zane asked when he realized Ty didn’t plan on sharing what was on his mind.
Zane laughed, but he realized almost immediately that Ty wasn’t laughing with him. His grin fell into a frown. “Wait, what?”
“I’m tired of not being married, Zane. And God knows neither of us can make a decision to save our lives. Where do we have it? Do we do the whole nine yards or shorten the ceremony? Do we try to make it religious or keep it nondenominational? Do you have a best man or do you ask Annie to stand with you? Do we involve our families, make one of them travel? Does Chester get to put a corsage on his shovel? If we have to go to Texas, can I put Barnum in a bow tie and have him be the bouncer for the reception?”
Zane had to bite his lip to keep from laughing. He wished Ty were exaggerating, but those were all conversations they’d had in the last year, including Ty insisting that if he was ever made to go to Texas again he’d string Barnum the Bengal tiger along behind him on a leash until Zane let him go home.
“Screw the big ceremony,” Ty said with a snarl of his lip. “Screw what our families and friends want or think. For once let’s just . . . do it for us. They just legalized it in Maryland, we could go down in the morning and apply for a license. It’s only a forty-eight-hour wait; that’d give us time to wrangle up two witnesses to get here, and by Monday morning we’d be hitched. And it’s not like we don’t have some federal connections we can abuse. There’s a way you can get the wait waived by a judge, and I talked to Hank Freeman, you remember him?”
“The judge who always rushed your warrants for you?”
Zane laughed and he wrapped his arms around Ty to kiss him.
“He said he’d do the ceremony if . . . when you agreed.”
This wasn’t just some whim Ty had come up with in the shower. He’d researched it, made inquiries, probably even greased the wheels with Judge Freeman so he’d rush the application and perform the ceremony on short notice. Zane nodded, a little in awe as he met Ty’s shining eyes. “Let’s do it.”
“Right now. If we take the Valkyrie we can make it to the courthouse before they close and get the license. We could be married by Monday,” Zane said. If Ty wanted spontaneous, Zane could give it to him this time.
Ty kissed him messily, then rolled out of bed and scrambled for his clothes.
“Are you . . . you heard me say Valkyrie, right?” Zane asked. Ty always complained about the motorcycle.
Ty straightened, pulling his jeans on and buttoning them. He was beaming. “You’ve always wanted me on the back of that death trap, right? Here’s your chance.”
“This might be the best day of my life,” Zane said disbelievingly.
Ty crawled over him again, pressing him to the mattress and kissing him until they were both breathless. “I’ll make sure of it tonight. Now get your ass in gear, let’s go get legalized.”
Come Monday morning they were in Zane’s hotel room yet again, except this time Zane was tying his shoelaces over and over, trying to get them right as Ty paced in front of him, his phone held to his ear. They’d called Deuce as soon as they’d received their marriage license and told him to come to Baltimore and bring Livi, Amelia, and a suit. They needed two witnesses, after all, and Amelia would jump at any chance she could get to dress up and peg people with something pretty like flower petals or rice.
They’d decided not to call anyone else. Their families could wait, and this way each family could be given their own time, their own celebration, something that suited them. Understated and elegant in Texas for Zane’s mother, moonshine and shovels in the mountains for the Gradys. And they’d be able to hold off the meeting of the families for a little longer, something Zane wasn’t keen on seeing happen anytime soon.
Zane didn’t really have any friends or family he desperately needed to be with him today, but Ty . . .
Zane glanced up at him with a sympathetic frown. His brother was coming, and Zane knew that was paramount to Ty today. But Ty had more than one man he considered a brother, and blood had little to do with it.
Ty cleared his throat and stopped his pacing, squaring his shoulders as if fighting nerves when his call went through. “Hey, babe, it’s Ty again.”
His voice sounded shaky, but everything sounded shaky right now. They were just a few hours away from getting to say “I do.” He didn’t remember much from his first wedding, but these moments of nerves building up to it were familiar.
Ty coughed, closing his eyes. “Nick, I don’t know where the fuck you are, man, but I kind of need you here. Please call me back.”
Zane stood slowly, watching Ty with a frown. “Still not answering?”
Ty shook his head, not looking away from his phone.
Ty raised his head. “Little bit.”
“I thought Nick disappeared like this without telling anyone pretty often. Isn’t that why he lives on a boat, so he can go off the reservation?”
“He does, it’s just . . . he usually still checks in with someone even if he’s AWOL. He still checks his phone, calls back for emergencies. I . . . I thought he’d call me back by now, even if he’s too far away to get here. You know? I told him we were getting married. I mean . . .”
“We can do this later,” Zane offered, but Ty was already shaking his head. Zane took a step and rubbed his hands up Ty’s arms, squeezing gently. “You want him here, Ty. We can do this later.”
“No,” Ty said, and his voice wasn’t shaking any longer. “You’re the only person I care about being here.”
Zane pulled Ty in for a kiss. He was wearing the blue suit Zane loved so much, at Zane’s insistence, and Ty had demanded Zane wear his charcoal pinstriped suit tonight. Zane was happy to oblige. By the time they went to bed, Zane would be able to call Ty his husband, and both of their suits would be wrinkling on a floor somewhere.
A knock at the door saved the blue suit from Zane’s wandering hands, and Ty pulled away with a wink. He opened the door to his brother’s smiling face. Deuce was dressed sharply, and was holding a plastic container in his hand.
“I’m so going to be the favorite after this,” Deuce crooned as he stepped into the room.
“Deuce, the maid of honor died at your wedding,” Ty said.
“Well, I didn’t kill her,” Deuce argued. “Ma’s going to disown both of you.”
Ty nodded and gave Deuce a hug. “We’d have to do this in Maryland regardless of what kind of ceremony we had elsewhere. Might as well do it now.”
“Can’t wait to watch you explain that to Ma.” Deuce turned to Zane and offered him a hearty handshake. “Y’all ready?”
Ty met Zane’s eyes. The hazel was glinting in the light, and his lips curved in a smirk.
“Oh yeah,” Zane said, unable to fight his grin. “Yeah, let’s do this.”
“You nervous?” Deuce asked them.
Ty snorted and shook his head.
“That’s a yes,” Deuce said wryly.
“Shut up, I’m not nervous.”
“Yes, he is.” Zane softened the words with a fond smile in Ty’s direction.
Deuce handed Zane the container he’d brought in, then patted him on the shoulder. “Take your time. We’ll be in the lobby, ready when you are.” He squeezed Ty’s shoulder in passing and then left them alone once more.
Zane lifted the container. The plastic was clear, but fogged over from whatever Deuce had in there, so it was impossible to see the contents.
“What is that?” Ty asked.
Zane shrugged, then shoved the container at Ty. “He’s your brother . . . you open it.”
“I don’t want to.”
Ty huffed. “Well, why don’t you?”
“Because . . .”
“He handed it to you, it’s obviously yours to open.”
“But he’s your brother. You should open it.”
“I can’t,” Ty insisted.
“Because it might be alive.”
“Why would it be alive?” Zane cried, and he shoved the container into Ty’s arms.
“I don’t know!”
Zane snorted and popped the lid. They both winced away from it, but nothing fuzzy or breathing jumped out. Ty lifted the lid and stared for a second, then broke into a wide grin.
“Deacon, you sly son of a bitch.” He held up a small boutonniere and twirled it between his thumb and forefinger. It was made of a single orchid.
“Orchids?” Zane asked.
“I told him about the black market orchid thing when I first realized . . . well, that I was in love with you,” Ty admitted. Then he smiled and turned the boutonniere over. “He made fun of me because he said black market anything was not romantic. God, I can’t believe he remembered.”
Zane took the container from Ty and set it on the desk nearby. There were three more boutonnieres in there. Deuce had obviously planned for Zane to have someone at his side, but Zane didn’t need anyone else. He had everything he could have wanted today.
He took the orchid out of Ty’s hand, their fingers lingering as their eyes met.
“Come here,” Zane whispered, and dragged Ty closer, kissing him gently as his palm slid against Ty’s cheek. “I love you. So much.”
Ty had his eyes closed, his nose pressed to Zane’s. He was trembling, and it made Zane smile. He never thought he’d see the day that Ty Grady was nervous.
Ty must have felt Zane grinning, because he took a deep, shaky breath and said, “Go ahead and laugh. I feel a little like I’m going to yark all over you, though, so you’ll get what you deserve.”
Zane took Ty’s face in both hands and backed up just enough to look into his eyes. The boutonniere was still between his fingers, and he set it on top of Ty’s head so he wouldn’t squish it. He chuckled when Ty didn’t even complain.
“Tell me why you’re nervous,” he said, low and gentle. “And then I’ll tell you why I’m nervous.”
Ty took another deep breath and let it out slowly. “I don’t know. I desperately don’t want to fuck this up.”
“It’s just an, ‘I do,’ Ty. Even if you fuck it up, who cares? We’ll still be married. We’ll still be us.”
“I know. But I think . . . I think I never thought we’d make it here.”
“You thought I wouldn’t say yes?”
“No. I mean, no, I . . . I didn’t think we’d live long enough to be here. And something about today feels like borrowed time.”
Zane’s brow furrowed, and he took a tiny step closer. “Then let’s take that time and ride it hard and put it up wet, baby.”
Ty laughed, closed his eyes, and nodded. “I love you.”
Zane kissed him as warmth spread through him. “You want to know why I’m nervous?”
“You’re not nervous. You’re pretending to be so I won’t feel stupid.”
Zane was silent, a smile pulling at his lips. He kissed Ty again, lingering over the familiar taste, the scent, the beautiful fact that being able to take Ty in his arms and kiss him whenever he wanted wasn’t unique anymore.
But it was sure as hell special.
“You’re right,” Zane whispered. “You want to know why I’m not nervous?”
Ty nodded against Zane’s cheek. His eyes were still closed.
“Because there’s not a thing in the world that could fuck this up. Including you.”
Ty barked a laugh and finally opened his eyes. “Promise?”
Zane grinned. “I do.”
Ty had convinced the Honorable Henry Freeman to meet them at the harbor that evening. It was a Monday night, and the harbor front was empty. The aquarium was lit up, though, and so was the USS Constellation out on the water. Ty hadn’t intended for the nineteenth-century sloop of war and the neon waves on the side of the aquarium to act as their backdrop when they said their vows, but he certainly wasn’t going to admit that when the others started talking about how perfect it was.
Zane took his hand as they strolled toward the water and slowed him to a stop, letting Deuce, Livi, and Amelia move ahead of them.
Ty turned to meet his eyes, taking a deep breath to try to steady himself.
Zane smiled warmly and squeezed his fingers. He took Ty’s lapel in one hand and held up one of the orchids Deuce had brought them. He was already wearing one on his lapel, and he moved to pin the other one to Ty’s suit, his brow furrowing in concentration.
Ty gazed at him, loving the way Zane looked when he was focused on something. Zane glanced up briefly, meeting his eyes. There was a lot of pain in their tumultuous past. There were a lot of things they’d said and done to each other that could have broken them. They’d been able to move beyond them, though, bracing themselves with love and loyalty and trust.
Ty opened his mouth to tell Zane that he loved him one more time, but he gasped instead when Zane stuck him with the pin on the orchid.
“Shit, sorry,” Zane said, laughing breathily before he was able to curtail it.
Ty grabbed his face and kissed him.
“Not yet, you yahoos!” Deuce called from further down the water.
Zane was grinning when Ty let him go. He took Ty’s hand in his and they moved to join the others. Judge Freeman had just arrived, carrying a small leather book and a traveling mug that may or may not have contained alcohol. He shook both Ty and Zane’s hands, then handed Deuce his mug and waved his book.
“Where are we doing this?”
Ty glanced around them. They were near the edge of the sidewalk, with the water lapping at the concrete pilings and a rope that was supposed to keep adventurous sightseers from toppling into the harbor. The USS Constellation was so close they could hear her creaking. Music played from the restaurants and shops near the aquarium. Snow threatened with a few stray flakes, and the wind off the Atlantic was bracing. It was a little chaotic, to be honest, and the dichotomy of the busy harbor and the calm water were striking. Then Ty saw the massive chain on the Constellation disappearing into the depths where she was anchored, and he grinned.
“This is perfect,” Zane answered before Ty could do it.
Ty turned to him, and suddenly all his nerves dissipated like they’d been taken by the breeze.
Freeman cleared his throat, opening his book as Ty and Zane faced each other. Deuce and Livi hurried to their sides, and Amelia reached into a little box she’d been carrying and chucked a handful of dissolvable heart-shaped confetti at Ty and Zane’s feet.
“Not yet,” Livi whispered, and she managed to grab Amelia before the little girl could dump the rest of the box on Zane’s shoes.
Ty and Zane both had to bite their tongues to keep from laughing.
Freeman gave them a moment to make sure they were ready, then reached into a front pocket and extracted a pair of reading glasses. He slid them on and smiled at them, then put a finger on the page. “Here we are.”
Ty couldn’t take his eyes off Zane, who was watching him ardently in the glow of the lights off the harbor. He was certain that whatever Freeman said next, he would never remember anything beside the look in Zane’s eyes.
“We are gathered here tonight to join these two lives, these two hearts, these two souls, in marriage. If there is anyone present here today who objects to this union, please take it up with the two armed federal agents who are getting hitched.”
Zane winked at Ty, reaching for him. Ty gripped his hand, holding on to him like they were in danger of blowing away with the heart-shaped confetti swirling at their feet.
“Do you have vows?” Freeman asked.
Zane nodded, but he didn’t move to take out a piece of paper or any notes. He licked his lips instead and took a deep breath. “Ty,” he said, and the sound was almost lost in the night. “Some roads to love aren’t easy, and I’ve never been more thankful for being forced to fight for something. I started this journey with a partner I hated, and a man in the mirror I hated even more. The road took me from the streets of New York to the mountaintops of West Virginia, from the place I born to the place I found a home. It forced me to let go of my past and face my future. And I had to be made blind before I could see.”
Zane swallowed hard and looked down, obviously fighting to finish without choking on the words or tearing up. Ty realized his own eyes were burning, and it wasn’t because of the cold wind. Zane squeezed Ty’s fingers with one hand, and he met Ty’s eyes as he reached into his lapel with his other.
“I promise to love you until I die,” he said, his voice strong again. He held up a Sharpie he’d had in his suit, and pulled Ty’s hand closer to draw on his ring finger. With several sweeping motions, he created an infinity sign that looped all the way around the finger.
When he was satisfied with the ring he’d drawn, he kissed Ty’s knuckles and let him go, handing him the Sharpie.
Ty grasped the pen, but he couldn’t take his eyes off Zane. He ran his thumb over Zane’s palm. He had a set of vows he’d jotted down on a note card, folded up in his pocket, but he left them where they were and gazed into Zane’s eyes, their past flashing in front of him, their future opening up in his mind.
He took a deep breath. “I promise to never leave you alone in the dark,” he whispered.
He pulled Zane’s hand closer and pressed the tip of the Sharpie against Zane’s skin, curving the symbol for forever around it. When he was satisfied, he kissed the tip of Zane’s finger and slid the pen back into his lapel pocket.
Freeman coughed and turned a page in his book. “Do you, Zane Zachary Garrett, take this man to be your lawful wedded husband?”
Zane’s lips curved into a warm smile. “I do.”
Freeman turned toward Ty. “Do you, Beaumont Tyler Grady, take this man to be your lawful wedded husband?”
“I do,” Ty said, almost before the question was finished.
“Then by the power vested in me by the state of Maryland, I pronounce you legally wed.” Freeman slapped his little book closed. “You may now share the first kiss of the rest of your lives.”
Ty had fully expected to have the urge to grab Zane and plant one on him out of sheer impatience and joy, but as he stood staring at his brand-new husband, it was as if they were moving underwater. He touched the tips of his fingers to Zane’s cheek, then stepped closer and used both hands to cup his face with the utmost care. Zane was still smiling when they kissed, and it was slow and gentle, Zane’s hands at Ty’s ribs pulling them flush.
“Okay, now,” Livi whispered somewhere to their side, and a moment later they were both pelted with handfuls of heart-shaped confetti.
Zane laughed and finally wrapped his arms around Ty, squeezing him tight. The others continued to toss the confetti at them, even handing out bits to people passing by so they’d be sure to get covered from all sides. They laughed into the kiss, not caring. They were still locked in their happy embrace when Deuce turned the box over above them and rained little, bitty hearts down on their heads.
Ty got the key into the door just before Zane hit him from behind and pressed him against it. He grinned and shook his head. “I have a surprise for you,” he said as Zane kissed his neck.
“Oh, really?” Zane splayed his fingers against the door beside Ty’s head. The brand-new tattoo on his ring finger was still red around the edges. Ty couldn’t take his eyes off it. Zane had worn a gold one in the past, and they’d both had silver even if it had been fake. Ty had also lost or utterly destroyed two engagement rings, so Zane had refused to buy him a wedding ring, knowing it would just get crushed, cut off, or cost Ty his finger. The only solution, Zane had decided, was to tattoo it on.
Right after the ceremony, they’d headed for a local place owned by an artist friend of Zane’s, and they’d made the rings permanent. The proprietor, Tudor, had even insisted they throw an impromptu wedding reception right there in the tattoo parlor. When Ty and Zane had escaped the revelry, Tudor had been waltzing with Amelia, and Deuce and Livi had been considering getting inked.
The tattoo Ty now had on his ring finger was the simple wrapped infinity symbol Zane had drawn, but when he moved his middle finger, it revealed an anchor woven in. A hidden reminder of what Zane was to him. Zane’s was the exact same thing, only with a simplified compass incorporated in.
Zane had rambled about the symbolism as he’d added the compass and anchor with his Sharpie, about how they were both different things to each other and different people but part of the same thing. Ty had been too distracted by the utter ridiculousness of how much that tiny needle hurt on the webbing of his finger to engage in philosophy at the time.
“Ty,” Zane whispered against Ty’s ear. “Have you gotten distracted by something?”
“Yeah,” Ty murmured, then grinned. “My husband.”
Zane grabbed Ty’s arm and turned him around, pushing him against the door and kissing him possessively. “That sounds so good when you say it.”
Ty raised an eyebrow and nodded. “I’ll be sure to scream it later. After I show you your surprise.”
Zane took a deep breath. Ty got the door unlocked and shoved it open, pulling Zane into the row house. It was the first time he’d set foot in there for over a week. Their plan had been to come here to gather some clothes for Ty, but Ty hadn’t quite divulged all the information he had.
Zane was silent as he followed Ty into the living room, looking around as if he thought Ty’s surprise might be alive and need a litter box.
Ty spread his arms wide, beaming at Zane in the half-light. “It’s clear.”
“I killed the bugs,” Ty said with pride in his voice that probably wasn’t deserved, considering he’d gotten rid of the listening devices by pretending to be the clumsiest ex–special forces person ever.
“The house is clear?” Zane asked, a smile growing as he looked around the row house again.
Ty nodded. “I know we wanted to use them to seed information, but it’s been almost two weeks, and . . .”
“It wasn’t working, I know,” Zane finished for him. “That means I can come home?”
Ty sighed in relief. A part of him had been afraid Zane would be irritated that he’d acted without consulting him. “For now it does. You want to see what I’ve done?”
“What have you done?” Zane asked, dread filtering into his tone.
“Well, I needed a good excuse for destroying the furniture upstairs and throwing it out. And then . . . well, it ended up destroyed. So I got us a new bed.”
Zane perked up as he moved closer. They hadn’t even bothered turning the lights on, and his shadowed features in the dim living room sent a thrill up Ty’s spine. “New bed?”
“It’s a king-sized bed,” Ty said with a slow, crooked grin.
“I hope it’s sturdy.”
Ty shrugged. “I haven’t been in it.”
“Oh, we’ll have to fix that,” Zane said, drawing the words out as he approached.
Ty snickered. He took the few steps to close the distance between them and brushed his lips against Zane’s. “Welcome home, Zane.”
Zane smiled and kissed him gently. “Husband.”
“That’s right. Now, come on, I want to show you your new bed.” Ty took Zane’s hand and tugged him toward the stairs.
“Our new bed.”
“I thought we were going to need a forklift for the mattress. It’s one of those memory foam ones.”
“How’d you get it up there?”
“I utilized some surprise resources. John English stopped by.”
“The Snake Eater? From Scotland?”
“Yeah, he had a few hours’ layover, stopped by. I’ll tell you about it later. He helped me move the bed in. I think we got it up there on beer fumes alone.”
Zane chuckled but stopped at the base of the stairs. He took their joined hands and kissed the tip of Ty’s ring finger. “I’ll never feel the same about these steps again.”
Ty laughed and closed his eyes. Zane’s lips brushed against the nape of his neck, and he turned his head to meet the kiss before Zane could pull away. Zane cupped his cheek to keep him in place for the fervent kiss he delivered next. It was hot and wet, and Zane eventually broke it to pant for air.
“You mentioned a bed,” he said breathlessly.
“It’s a really nice bed, Zane.”
Zane nodded and kissed him again. “Maybe we should test it to see how nice it is.”
“Come on.” Ty grabbed Zane’s hand and yanked him up the first step, but Zane pulled Ty back and then took the first couple steps alone. He turned around, mischief written all over his face, then went up another step backward and started unbuttoning his shirt, trailing his fingers over the material of Ty’s favorite suit.
Ty glared up at him as he put one foot on the bottom step. “I will catch you,” he warned.
Zane smiled and licked his bottom lip while moving up and back again, undoing another button.
“Fine then, be naked by the time you get up there, less work for me,” Ty told him, and took the next steps two at a time.
Zane laughed and hurried up a few more steps before turning toward Ty again and finishing with the buttons, leaving the shirt to hang open as he started on his belt. “C’mon, baby,” he drawled. “I’ve got some motivation for you.”
“Garrett,” Ty warned as he put both hands on the railings and pushed himself up two more steps with a grin. He swiped out for Zane’s feet.
“Grady,” Zane singsonged as he moved up out of reach, the ends of his belt dangling. His fingers moved to the button of his suit pants.
“I thought we were trying to test out the bed, not the stairs,” Ty whined as he watched Zane undress halfway up to the second floor. If he caught him before the bedroom, they’d be fucking where they landed. It was too big a day for them to mess around with such niceties as mattresses.
“We’ll get there,” Zane promised. He shrugged out of his shirt and tossed it over the railing.
Ty shook his head and peeled out of his blue suit jacket as Zane watched, tongue between his teeth. Then Zane turned and was gone, leaving Ty to hustle after him. By the time Ty caught him he was standing in their bedroom, pants discarded, the black fabric of his briefs stark against his skin.
Ty grabbed his hips as he sank to his knees and kissed Zane’s belly, starting at the ridge of his lowest rib and working down toward his hip. His fingers curled under Zane’s briefs as he nuzzled against his warm skin.
Zane moaned, sliding his fingers into Ty’s hair. “Aw damn. There goes my motivation to try out that brand-new mattress,” he muttered, angling his hips toward Ty’s mouth.
Ty tugged Zane’s briefs down, leaving the elastic to hug at Zane’s thighs as he bit the tender skin of Zane’s hip.
“Baby . . .” Zane exhaled shakily. Ty grinned up at him. He took an obscene amount of pleasure in doing this for Zane. His husband.
Zane could have anything he wanted as far as Ty was concerned. He climbed to his feet when Zane urged him to, and Zane’s hands wrapped around him, holding him close as they kissed and Zane turned them until Ty’s knees were against the edge of the new bed.
Ty sat hard, dragging Zane to him before he could get away. He kissed Zane’s belly and chest as he tugged him to stand between his legs. Zane settled his hands on Ty’s shoulders, then slid a finger under Ty’s chin and tipped his head back. As Ty looked up, Zane traced the lines of his face so gently his fingertips barely touched the skin.
Ty gazed up at him adoringly, the heat banking under the intimate caress. Zane’s fingers trailed down to his throat and the compass rose he wore around his neck before pausing.
“God, I love you.”
Ty pulled him down and kissed him. He let his lips just slide over Zane’s as he guided Zane back into the bed with him. Ty rolled them into the middle of the mattress, getting Zane under him. Zane stretched out, spreading his arms over his head and pulling one knee up.
Ty stared for a moment, entranced, and Zane closed his eyes and let his hand travel down his own body, palm sliding over his inner thigh as he arched his back.
“Memory foam,” Zane purred. He moved his hand from his thigh onto the mattress. “Interesting.”
“I’ll show you interesting,” Ty promised, and grabbed the bottle of lube from the bedside drawer.
His breaths were harsh and he was hard despite the fact Zane had barely touched him. He ran his fingers up the inside of Zane’s thigh, urging him to spread his legs wider, and then he kissed the inside of Zane’s knee. Zane whispered his name.
Ty hummed as he dragged his tongue up the inside of Zane’s thigh to his straining cock. “First time as a married couple. How do we want it?” he asked as he opened the bottle.
Zane breathed hard through his nose, laid his head back, and closed his eyes, so Ty pushed one of Zane’s legs to the side, stroking himself as Zane opened up for him. And then he gave Zane what he wanted, thrusting into him, past the clenching muscles and in deep despite the resistance from Zane’s body. Zane cried out in agonized pleasure, body bowing and writhing. Heat coursed through Ty, and he grabbed at the sheets above Zane’s head as Zane pulled both knees up and squeezed at Ty’s waist, laying himself open and letting Ty take complete control.
Ty worked his hips until he was buried inside his newly minted husband, and then he stretched out over Zane to cover his hands. They laced their fingers together. “I love you,” Ty breathed against Zane’s lips.
“If you knew half the things I want you to do to me tonight,” Zane managed through an overwrought groan.
“So tell me. But this won’t last long if you do. Good God, Zane.”
“It has to.” Zane pulled his knee higher and hooked his ankles at the small of Ty’s back.
With a grunt of effort, Ty flipped them over, and Zane wound up astride him, Ty’s hands grasping his thighs.
“Now, I want to see you jack off.” Ty emphasized his point by pulling up his knees behind Zane and using the angle to thrust into him.
Zane’s back arched as he rode Ty’s cock, rolling his hips and groaning. He slid his hand up his thigh to grip himself, eyes closing and head falling back as he stroked himself with Ty rocking deep inside him.
“Open your eyes, Zane,” Ty insisted as he gripped Zane’s hips.
Zane forced his eyes open and met Ty’s gaze, rolling his hips and whimpering. Zane’s hand continued to move as he lifted up and sat down again, knowing just how to get what he wanted. He slowed his hand, either trying to stave off the orgasm or torture Ty. Possibly both.
It was what Ty wanted to see and feel and hear, that inevitable snap of intense pleasure when Zane lost all control. Zane’s body trembled over Ty’s, muscles straining, his breathing coming in gasps and pants.
Ty had to fight with every ounce of control he had not to come inside Zane as he watched.
Zane maintained their gaze as long as he could, but he closed his eyes and cried out Ty’s name when the orgasm hit him, curling over as he jacked himself. Ty held on to him as the climax ripped through him, keeping Zane in place while he thrust his hips up over and over, fucking Zane through it, jutting into those pulsing muscles until he couldn’t stand it any longer and rolled Zane onto his back again. He fucked him hard and fast, forcing him into the mattress, hiding his face in Zane’s neck, until he was yelling as well, his body jerking in Zane’s tight embrace as he came in a series of loud and entirely gratuitous moans.
Ty collapsed against him once he’d spent himself. He was careful as he pulled out, kissing Zane so he could taste Zane’s gasp when he pulled free, then rolling sideways with a plaintive huff. Zane rolled with him, still panting as he kissed him desperately. Their lips mashed and tongues got caught between teeth, but they kept at each other like they’d been starving for it. Ty finally stopped it by catching Zane’s chin in one hand.
“It’s okay,” Ty said, still gasping for breath himself. “I’m not going anywhere, I promise.”
Zane gave him a crooked smile, recovering still from the exertion.
Ty rubbed his nose and cheek against Zane, eager to just feel and smell him there so close. His husband. “I love you,” he said.
Zane kissed him again. “I will never get tired of hearing that. I love you too.” He drew Ty to him, not paying any mind to the mess of cum splattered between them.
They lay quietly for a while as their breathing calmed, and Ty felt Zane smile against his cheek. He sighed as he looked up at the ceiling, and then he rolled onto his side and pushed himself back against Zane to request he be cuddled. “Nice bed, huh?”
Zane shrugged and made an uncertain, almost negative sound as he wrapped Ty up in his arms. “I don’t know.”
“What do you mean, you don’t know? You know how much this thing weighs?”
“I’m just saying. I think we should check it out again,” Zane said innocently. “Just for some empirical data.”
I wept more buckets, laughed a ton, and reminisced all the way through this story. And I loved every word of it.
A series like this one doesn't come along every day. Nine books in and the audience is still captivated. Any Cut & Run fan is sure to devour this book as well as anyone looking for an exciting, suspenseful, mysterious, thrilling ride with a big helping of heart.
I laughed, cried, was on edge until that very end.
This book is a wonderful end to an amazing series. It took every thing I love about Cut & Run – The Action, intrigue, romance, sex, suspense, honor, humor, intelligence, and fantastic dialogue – and turned it up to eleven.
I went into the final chapter with my feels in Abi’s hands, and she did not let me down. She did so right by these guys. Perfect ending was perfect.