Tempest (Playing the Fool, #3)

Tempest (Playing the Fool, #3), by Lisa Henry and J.A. Rock
eBook ISBN: 
978-1-62649-223-3
eBook release: 
Mar 9, 2015
eBook Formats: 
pdf, mobi, html, epub
Print ISBN: 
978-1-62649-224-0
Print release: 
Mar 9, 2015
Word count: 
55,000
Page count: 
226
Cover by: 
Audio release: 
Apr 4, 2016

This title is #3 of the Playing the Fool series.

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Something wicked this way comes.

FBI Agent Ryan “Mac” McGuinness and con man Henry Page are on the run again. This time they’re headed back to where it all began: Altona, Indiana. Population: some goats. Henry’s not happy about lying low at the McGuinness family farm, but they’ve got nowhere else to go.

While Mac fights to clear his name and Henry struggles with whose side he’s really on, a ghost from the past threatens to destroy everything. And those aren’t the only storms on the radar. Cut off from both sides of the law, Mac and Henry must rely on their tenuous partnership to survive.

If Henry can convince himself to let Mac see the man behind the disguises, they’ll stand a chance of beating the forces that conspire against them. The course of true love never did run smooth, but for the two of them, it might be their only hope.

Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:

Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.

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Chapter One

Thunder cracked as Mac turned onto Holloway Road. A few seconds later, rain slammed the windshield.

Mac glanced at Henry, who sat rigid in the passenger seat, staring straight ahead as water poured down the glass and the wipers pushed it away.

“We won’t see the worst of it,” Mac said. “It’s heading west.”

“Thank you,” Henry said tersely. “That was Special Agent Ryan McGuinness with the weather. Over to you, Viola, for sports.” He turned to his sister. “Vi? How ’bout them Hoosiers?”

Mac stole a peek in the rearview mirror. Viola was gazing at her brother calmly. “You don’t have to be scared, Sebby,” she said.

“Oh, wow, I didn’t realize it was that simple.” Henry faced forward again.

Mac had suspected, based on past experience, that Henry didn’t do well with storms. He also suspected Henry didn’t want his fear spotlighted.

“We’re almost there.” He said it to both of them, though it was really for Henry’s benefit.

Henry leaned back and drew his left foot up onto the seat. “Or would it be former Special Agent Ryan McGuinness with the weather?”

Mac flinched but refused to echo the bitterness in Henry’s tone. “I haven’t been fired yet.”

“No. Just if you set foot in that office again, you’ll be arrested. That’s all.”

“Why will he be arrested?” Viola asked.

Mac opened his mouth to tell her not to worry about it, but Henry jumped in. “Because Mac’s been pissing off the big bosses at his work. They think renegade McGuinness has been up to all sorts of naughtiness—shooting crooks, snorting coke, hopping into bed with witnesses, going on the lam. And all because that piece of shit Remy disappeared before he could help us clear it all up!”

“Henry.” Mac didn’t know enough about Viola to feel comfortable telling Henry what he could and couldn’t say in front of her. Henry had been caring for her for years, after all, and Vi was an adult, even if her mind didn’t function at an adult level. But still.

“Mac,” Henry said, a deliberate challenge in his voice.

“Buckle your seat belt.”

Henry propped his elbow on the ledge by the window and rested his head on his hand with a sigh.

Mac wondered how much of Henry’s edginess was the storm and how much was anger at his—friend? Consort? Mac didn’t know what Remy Greig was to Henry. He told himself he didn’t care to know.

He sneaked another look in the mirror at Viola. She was facing out the window, her lip trembling. “I think you’ll like the farm, Vi. My parents keep goats. And Cory, my niece, has rabbits.” He didn’t know whether it was insulting to think twenty-five-year-old Viola would get along well with his nine-year-old niece. But Henry had said that since Viola’s accident, her mind operated on roughly the level of an eight-year-old’s. And Mac figured anyone, any age, would like Cory. She was about the only kid Mac had ever felt comfortable around.

Viola ignored him and continued to stare out the window. Mac focused on not driving them into a ditch as a gust hurled the rain harder against the windshield.

A moment later, Viola leaned forward. “Remy is not a piece of shit,” she said to Henry, her voice wavering but fierce.

Henry whirled. “He left you, Vi! He left you, and you got hurt. You could have gotten hurt a whole lot worse. He ran, the coward; he ran. And he promised me!”

Mac didn’t comment on the irony of Henry Page getting angry about someone else breaking a promise. Or running. “Cool it.”

“Stay out of this, Mac!” Henry warned. He continued to address Viola. “I know you think he’s your friend, but he’s not. He’s not a friend to either of us. Okay?”

“You’re not my friend either!” Viola flung herself back in her seat and folded her arms. She stared out the window once more, tears rolling down her cheeks.

Henry sighed and turned slowly around.

Mac increased the wiper speed.

“Old Mac-Guinness had a farm,” Henry sang dully. “E-I-E-I-O.”

Mac shook his head.

“And on that farm he had some fiber-optic surveillance cameras. E-I-E-I-O. With a whir-whir here and a click-click there—”

“No surveillance equipment on the farm,” Mac interrupted.

“Then how are we gonna know if the navy suits are coming for us?” Henry asked.

“They won’t come for us.”

“Why the hell wouldn’t they? I don’t know much about Suitland, Mac, but doesn’t the Office of Professional Responsibility have access to your personal files? Don’t you think they could probably look up your family and say, ‘Hey, the McGuinnesses have a goat farm in Altona, let’s pay a visit there’?”

“The property’s divided. There’s the main farm, and then there’s an old house about a quarter of a mile down the road. In bad shape, but discreet. OPR can search the farm all they want, but I doubt they’ll get as far as the old house.”

“You doubt,” Henry muttered.

“The old house has a good view of the road, but the road doesn’t have a good view of the house. If anyone shows up, we’ll see them before they see us.”

“What if they come disguised as goats and rabbits?”

“I don’t have a lot of other options, Henry.”

Henry shrugged. “Val.”

“She risked enough when she told us to run. Janice Bixler’s gonna be all over her now. We can’t ask Val to harbor us.”

Val was Mac’s boss—special agent in charge of the FBI’s Indianapolis field office. And Janice Bixler, OPR, was the current bane of Mac’s existence—a position Henry had recently held, until he and Mac had started sleeping together and Mac had sort of stopped thinking Henry was the most irritating person in the world.

But apparently Henry wasn’t going to give up his title so easily.

“It’s not that I have anything against your parents,” he said. “I’m sure they’re lovely people. I just fail to see how running to one of the first places OPR would think to look can be considered ‘hiding.’”

“Weren’t you hiding in plain sight the day you met me, Detective Falstaff?”

Mac had arrived outside a crime scene three weeks ago and had been briefed by a local detective, who’d told him he’d catch up with him in the house. Turned out the “detective” was actually Henry Page—sole witness to a grisly shooting and the one man Mac needed to interview in order to hold mob boss Dean Maxfield on murder charges.

By the time he’d put two and two together, Henry was long gone.

Mac had gotten him back. Eventually. And Henry had promised to stay within the FBI’s reach until he testified at Maxfield’s trial. Mac was still waiting to see how that worked out. A promise from Henry was about as meaningful as a guarantee from a used-car salesman.

It should have embarrassed him to recall his and Henry’s first encounter. But the memory of their meeting was sort of funny now. Proof that his time with Henry was messing with his head.

Another clap of thunder. Henry twisted toward the door as though he didn’t know whether to try to curl up or escape. Mac reached over without thinking and took his hand. Henry squeezed him so tightly he winced. As soon as the sound faded, Henry jerked his hand away.

Maybe Mac had been wrong about them missing the worst of the storm because the rain was lashing harder than ever. Henry’s breathing grew shallow. They would have only been about five minutes from the farm, if it weren’t for the rain slowing them down.

The tension in the car would be enough to put Mac on edge even if he hadn’t already been stressed about Janice Bixler and her arrest warrant. For years he’d prided himself on being a good agent. He’d played by the rules, and any liberties he’d taken had been rendered necessary by the circumstances. He’d never had to worry about anyone questioning his choices. He knew how to do his job.

Then Jimmy Rasnick had come back from the dead to haunt him.

Three years ago, Rasnick had made Mac a hero. The FBI had been trying to get a lead on Indianapolis’s most notorious drug lord for nearly a decade. Mac and Val had been partners at the time, and together they’d discovered Rasnick’s hiding place and organized the bust. That arrest was Mac’s greatest triumph. Val had been promoted, and Mac had started handling bigger cases. And despite the occasional death threat from Rasnick’s people, life had been good.

Last week, Rasnick had died in prison. The official ruling was suicide—though Mac, upon hearing the details, was nearly positive it had been an assisted suicide. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, but still. The same day, a file from homicide had landed on Mac’s desk. Lonny Harris, small-time drug dealer. Shot through the head and heart, just the way Rasnick used to do his victims.

Mac hadn’t had time to figure out who Lonny Harris was, because Janice Bixler of OPR had descended immediately after, throwing bizarre accusations at Mac. Telling him Lonny Harris had been preparing to testify that Mac was a customer. That Mac was tied up in the very underworld he’d been fighting for years to quash. He’d been too shocked to take the allegations seriously—at first.

But when Henry had shown up on Mac’s doorstep this morning saying Bixler was in the FBI office with false evidence and a warrant for Mac’s arrest, Mac hadn’t known what else to do but take a page from Henry’s book and run.

It helped that it was Val’s idea for Mac and Henry to go into hiding together until she could figure out who had set him up. He trusted Val’s crazy ideas more than he trusted Henry’s.

Henry was still pressed against the door with his eyes closed. Mac wished he knew what to say, what to do. But it was impossible to know with Henry.

Viola leaned forward, singing softly: “‘O Mistress mine, where are you roaming?’” She had a high, sweet voice, almost childlike—but rich too, in a way only an adult’s could be. “‘O stay and hear! Your true love’s coming . . .’”

Mac watched from the corner of his eye as Henry slowly sat up. Then, to his surprise, Henry joined Viola. “‘That can sing both high and low. Trip no further, pretty sweeting. Journeys end in lovers’ meeting . . .’”

They sounded good together, and as Mac tried to watch both of them without neglecting the road, he was struck by the eerie beauty of their identical features. Henry was a short-haired version of his twin. Mac had even seen Henry in Viola’s clothes and had marveled at the physical similarities. Henry’s body was thin and lithe, his skin smooth, and he was able to sway his hips in perfect imitation of a woman’s without it seeming like a performance, an exaggeration.

He swallowed. No need to think about that right now.

Through the rain he spotted the Kellers’ wooden house. Properties on this road were spaced far apart, but the Kellers’ meant Mac was less than a mile from the farm.

Henry and Vi finished their song. Henry looked back at his sister.

“Sorry I yelled, Vi.”

“It’s okay, Sebby. I know you’re scared of the thunder.”

Sebby.

Sebastian Hanes. Mac still called him Henry Page.

Someday, when Mac had sorted out who’d framed him, who Lonny Harris was, and who was carrying on Jimmy Rasnick’s work now that Rasnick was dead, he’d work on solving an even bigger mystery:

Who the hell was Sebastian Hanes?

And how deep did Mac’s feelings run for him?

With Henry it often seemed that no matter what Mac learned, he was only ever scratching the surface.

They finally made it to the McGuinness farm. Mac was briefly tempted to turn into the drive, run inside the house, and throw his arms around his mother. He couldn’t help believing she’d know what to do—that she’d be just as capable of giving him advice about being framed for drug use as she’d been of guiding him through his failed tryout for the junior high baseball team. But he’d better take Henry and Vi to the old house down the road. Then he could spend a few minutes figuring out how exactly to explain to his parents that he was on the run from the FBI, traveling with a con man and his twin sister, and that he needed to hide on the outskirts of the family property until he could clear his name.

When he pulled up to the old house a few minutes later, the rain had eased. He drove the car under an overhang of trees where the woods met the yard. Henry was the first out of the car. He opened the back door for Viola, then went to the trunk to get their bags.

Mac was hoping the impromptu duet had cured Henry’s foul mood, but when Henry came to stand beside Mac, he looked at the house and said, “Kind of a dump, isn’t it?”

It was, but Mac didn’t like the way Henry said it. Normally Henry would have made a joke about the peeling paint and the roof with its missing shingles. Would have teased Mac until Mac was thoroughly annoyed, but secretly amused. Right now Henry just sounded angry.

“It’s old.”

“This is a bad idea. You ought to let me go back to Indianapolis so I can find Remy and get him to spill about Lonny Harris. Oh, and kick his ass.”

He put a hand on Henry’s shoulder. “How about you go inside, get changed, and I’ll take you and Vi up and introduce you to my parents?”

Henry rolled his eyes. “You don’t know anything about going on the run, do you? Should’ve figured you’d screw this up.”

“Stop it,” Mac said. “I know it’s a bad situation, but I need your help.”

“Sebby, look! A goat!” Viola was pointing at a distant pasture. It was hazy with rain, but a few goats stood there, heedless of the weather.

Henry shrugged Mac’s hand off. “If the person who set you up knows Lonny Harris, they could be really fucking dangerous. Lonny was a piece of shit, and he knew some real losers. It’s one thing if OPR comes here and finds you, but what if there’s someone worse who’s after you? You’re endangering my family and yours.”

“Do not tell me I’m not concerned about the safety of my family,” Mac said. “Or Viola. I won’t accept lectures on responsibility from you.”

Henry’s mouth hung open. “Gee, thanks, Mac.”

“This is temporary. Okay? I’ll go back into the city tomorrow and try to get in touch with an informant of mine.”

“I’ll come with you.”

“You need to stay with Vi.”

“God, you are so—” Henry paused and sucked air through his clenched teeth. “Annoying.”

“Hey, pot. I’m the kettle. Look, we’re the same fucking color.”

“Cute.”

“We’ll talk about this later. For now, lose the attitude.”

“Uh-oh.” Henry rolled his eyes. “I’m in troooouuuuuble.”

“If you can’t quit acting like a prick for me, how about for her?” Mac nodded at Viola, who was still watching the goats. “She needs you now.”

“She doesn’t need me.” Henry’s voice was low. He wouldn’t face Mac. “I let her down. Again. I let her get hurt. Again.”

Ah. So Mac had missed the obvious when he’d been trying to figure out what was eating Henry. He’d assumed Henry was pissed at Remy. That Henry was afraid of the storm. That he disapproved of Mac’s choice of Altona as a hiding place.

But he’d failed to recognize the guilt. Henry had left Viola under Remy’s watch when he’d gone to warn Mac about OPR. Remy had bailed, leaving Viola unsupervised, and Vi had cut her hand. It hadn’t been a serious injury, but Mac had never seen Henry appear as terrified as he had at the sight of his sister’s blood on the hotel room floor.

Mac felt stupid for not understanding sooner. Henry still thought he was to blame for Viola’s initial injury ten years ago. Of course he would feel history had repeated itself with the Remy incident.

Trouble was, neither of them could afford to indulge Henry’s guilt at the moment.

“I know you feel bad,” he told Henry. “But it’s over. Doesn’t matter anymore. And you’ll be much more useful if you focus on what’s happening now.”

Wrong thing to say. He knew it the second Henry looked up. “You asshole,” he hissed. “You think it doesn’t matter that I got her hurt? It matters.”

“You didn’t get her hurt. She’s safe.”

“She doesn’t need me,” Henry repeated softly. “I need her.”

“I know.” He clapped Henry on the back. Henry ducked his head.

“Sorry,” Henry said to the ground.

“It’s all right. We’re gonna handle this. Mac and Cheese, remember?”

Henry raised his head, wonder in his expression. “Mac, did you . . . did you like my idea for our TV show after all?”

Mac groaned. “No.”

“Do you wanna hear the theme song again?”

“Absolutely not.” Mac gave Henry a quick kiss on the forehead. “Into the house.”

Henry grinned wide, and Mac was so relieved he didn’t even grumble when Henry picked up the bags and walked toward the house, singing, “Mac and Cheeeeese, always a treat—C’mon, Vi!—Mac and Cheese, can’t be beat. Delicious together . . .”

Mac shook his head and followed them in.

 

Chapter Two

Henry wasn’t sure how normal families worked. Okay, so there was probably no such thing as a normal family outside of a Norman Rockwell painting, but he had a feeling Mac’s family was a hell of a lot closer to that ideal than his own. And it was no accident he was thinking of Norman Rockwell. Mac’s mom, Ana, was wearing an apron, for fuck’s sake. She even wiped her hand on it before reaching out to shake Henry’s.

“Oh, it’s nice to meet a friend of Ryan’s,” she said, when clearly what she really wanted to ask was what the fuck was going on.

“Is Dad around?” Mac asked.

“He’s down by the back paddock, I think. Do you need me to call him?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, honey. Why don’t you and your friends take a seat in the den?” Ana opened the screen door of the kitchen. For a second Henry thought she was going to shout, then he heard the sound of a bell.

“Don’t they have phones in the country?” he asked in an undertone, which was shitty and unfair, and why the hell didn’t Mac just punch him or something? Henry had been a prick since they’d left Indianapolis. And it was more than the thunder that still rumbled every now and then in the distance as the storm moved away. Henry’s shirt was still a little damp from the walk to the house because apparently Mac didn’t believe in either umbrellas or in waiting until the rain had completely stopped.

Mac ignored the comment.

Henry followed him into the den. The den was exactly what he’d been expecting. Neat and tidy, the furniture a little worn with use, two comfy couches sagging in just the right places. A flat-screen television with a crocheted doily underneath the stand. A china cabinet full of knickknacks and photo frames. A gappy-toothed curly-headed Ryan McGuinness grinned out of one.

“You look stupid with hair.” Henry tried to lighten his tone with a smile, but it didn’t work. He just sounded petulant. “Sorry. I just— Fuck, I don’t know.”

Mac reached out and grabbed his shirt. Tugged him close. Wrapped his arms around him until Henry was suffocating on his aftershave. He didn’t even care though, because it felt good to be held like this. Felt good, just for a second, to be looked after. The second stretched into at least a minute before he peeled himself off Mac, his face burning a little.

He managed to put some distance between them before Mac’s parents appeared.

Mac’s dad was Mac in thirty years, but with hair.

“Ryan,” he said. “What’s going on?”

A little girl brought up the rear. Freckles and glasses. A Darwin fish shirt. Her face lit up when she saw Mac. “Uncle Ryan!”

She launched herself at him.

“Easy, kiddo,” Mac said, turning slightly to deflect her. He caught her under his left arm and squeezed, wincing slightly. Henry’s gaze immediately went to Mac’s ribs. The bullet wound. “It can’t be vacation time already, is it?”

“It is! And Mom and Dad are in San Francisco, so I’m staying here!”

Viola stepped closer to Henry, and took his hand.

“Henry, Viola,” Mac said. “My dad, Ian, and my niece Cory.”

“Hello,” Viola said.

“What’s going on, Ryan?” Ian asked.

Mac squared his shoulders. “Let’s sit down.”

For decent folk—and Henry had decided they were decent folk. He bet Mac’s dad had never even gotten a speeding ticket, and he said “fudge” when he hit his thumb with a hammer. And he bet Mac’s mom just clicked her tongue and shook her head when he said it—they took the news well that their son was now a fugitive from the FBI.

Surprisingly well.

But then, even decent folk could keep a few secrets.

“First thing,” Ian said, “you’ll need to hide the car. Anyone approaching the old house by foot might see if you park in those trees.”

“Grandpa’s barn?” Mac asked.

Ian sucked in a breath through his teeth. “Well, might need to clear it out first. Take the old still apart.”

“That thing.” Ana shook her head. “It should have been gotten rid of years ago. It belongs on a trash heap.”

“Belongs in a museum, more like.” Ian caught the expression on Henry’s face and smiled, unabashed. Henry was a little impressed at Mac’s family history of criminality, and a little disgusted at their hypocrisy. Disguspressed. Definitely disguspressed. “My father was a little fast and loose with the law in his day.”

Henry wondered if now was the time to speculate about that sort of thing skipping a generation.

“Nobody can know I was here.” Mac leaned back in his chair. His shirt rode up a little, and Henry tried hard not to stare. “I’m heading back into the city tomorrow, but Henry and Viola need a place to lay low.”

Henry narrowed his eyes. As if Mac had any hope of tracking down Remy and clearing his name without him.

Ana twisted her apron through her fingers. “Oh, Ryan, of course we won’t say anything to anyone. Cory?”

“Cross my heart.” Cory traced her finger over her chest, then jutted out her chin and got a stubborn look on her face that was obviously a McGuinness family trait, since Henry had seen it a lot on Mac. Mostly when he was refusing to play nice with Henry. Or refusing to play naughty.

“But you can’t stay at the old house,” Ana said. “It’s filthy, I’m sure, and damp. And there are probably spiders.”

“Mom, we’ll be fine there,” Mac said.

“I like spiders,” Viola said.

“Me too!” Cory exclaimed.

Ana didn’t seem any less concerned. “You know, maybe I ought to at least go over the place with the vacuum.”

“Mom.” Mac sighed and rubbed his head the same way he did when Henry was driving him up the wall.

Henry turned and studied the photographs in the cabinet again. They were a collection of moments, captured forever behind glass. Picnics, and weddings, and sepia-toned children in funny clothes. Mac in a baseball uniform. A girl who looked a little like Cory wearing an ugly prom dress and a bad hairdo. He wondered if this family was so perfect that the skinny boy on her arm was Cory’s dad. High school sweethearts. Norman Rockwell would have approved.

He also saw his own unsmiling reflection staring back at him.

There were no pictures anywhere of Henry as a child. Maybe in someone’s old class photo on a wall, there they were: Sebastian and Viola. Maybe when they were at kindergarten and they wore their hair the same and sometimes changed clothes in the middle of the day to play a trick on their teachers. Maybe when they were older, in a junior high yearbook, out of focus in the background of a photo featuring some popular kid who’d never known the Hanes siblings existed. Then they hit puberty, or Vi did, and suddenly she was taller than he was, with broader hips and boobs and stuff, and Sebastian still resembled a little boy. It had taken him a few growth spurts to catch up again and to finally overtake her.

Their mom had taken pictures of them when they were little, but he had no idea where those albums had gone. The ones filled with theater programs and playbills and photographs of the three of them. Later, when she was hooked, there were fewer times worth commemorating, even if she’d still had a camera.

Once in a while, johns had taken photographs of him. Never of his face though. He guessed they hadn’t wanted him tracked down if those photographs were found, hadn’t wanted him to tell the police how old he was.

The sort of photographs people had of Henry didn’t belong in any china cabinet.

“Henry?” Mac’s voice.

He turned sharply to Mac, who nodded toward his mother. He looked at Ana.

“I was just saying we were going to do chicken sandwiches for dinner,” she said. “Does that sound all right?”

He smiled. “Sounds perfect.” He cranked his smile up a couple of notches. These were Mac’s parents, after all. He’d better quit moping and play nice. “Will you let me help with dinner, to say thank you?”

Mac frowned. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. We should probably just grab some stuff and take it to the old house. The less time we spend up here, the better.”

“Oh, come on, Mac. It’d be rude not to socialize.” For all his haranguing Mac that they’d picked the worst place ever to lay low, he did feel a perverse need to show off. How quickly could he get in good with Mac’s family? He was pretty sure it’d take no time at all. He smiled again at Ana. “And chicken’s my favorite.”

She returned the smile, though it was a beat too late for his liking. “Thank you, Henry. We won’t need any help though. Ian can fix you up some sandwiches to take back to the old house, if you’re determined to stay there.” She glanced at Mac.

“We don’t have a choice. We have to stay out of sight.”

“Well,” Ian said, “at least let’s have coffee before you go.”

“I can’t drink—” Mac started, and Henry knew he was about to tell his parents he’d given up caffeine.

“I’ll help,” Henry said, standing.

“Me too!” Cory said. “Viola, you can come too.”

Ana looked skeptical. “Is that too many cooks in the kitchen?”

“It’s fine.” Ian waved.

“We’ll pour an extra big cup for Mac,” Henry said. “He’s been driving all day.”

He didn’t have to turn back to know Mac was rolling his eyes. He followed Ian, Viola, and Cory into the kitchen.

***

Alone with his mother, Mac wasn’t sure what to say.

She spoke first. “I’m glad to see you. Though I wish it was under better circumstances.”

“Mom—”

“First you get shot, now you’re on the run?”

“I’m sorry.”

She shook her head.

“Mom?”

“Yeah?”

“You know I didn’t do it? The stuff they’re saying I did?”

“What are they saying you did?” Her tone was mild. “You never told us.”

“I didn’t want to with Cory there. And I’d rather not give details now. I just . . . Do you believe me? If this gets on the news, you’ll know it’s not true. Right?”

She stared at him. “I believe you, Ryan.”

“You hesitated.”

“I hesitated because what a question. You’re my son.” She paused. “And also because of him.” She glanced toward the kitchen. Behind the door, Henry was laughing at something his dad had said. She looked back at Mac. “Who is he?”

“A friend.” He hoped she wouldn’t push.

“He’s very charming.” She put a slight edge on charming that Mac didn’t like.

He decided the truth might be helpful here. “He’s actually incredibly obnoxious and almost completely untrustworthy. But I’ve got to keep him safe.”

“Ah,” his mom said, like she didn’t quite believe him. Which was fair enough, he supposed, since maybe incredibly obnoxious was a little harsh. Completely untrustworthy, though—that might still hold. Ana’s gaze landed on the kitchen door again. “He knows all the right things to say. But I wasn’t born yesterday.”

He was secretly pleased that his mother hadn’t fallen for Henry’s act. “Good instincts. He lies for a living.”

“Uh-huh.”

“He’s not so bad though. Once you get to know him.”

“As long as you’re wise to him,” his mother said.

“Oh yeah. He’s done playing me.” Mac softened his voice. “Loves his sister. Everything’s for her. Everything. He might be a shit, but he’s a shit with a cause.”

“Worst James Dean movie ever.” She gave him a soft smile.

Mac laughed, but sobered quickly. “I’m sorry to drag you into this. I really am.”

“God knows we could use a little adventure around here.” She smoothed her apron. “Is this why you asked me about Louise?”

“Huh?”

“You called the other day to ask me about Louise Hanes. I told you she had twins. A girl and a boy. The girl was named Viola. The boy was not Henry.”

Shit.

“I know this is a cop-out answer,” he said, “but it really is complicated.”

“Well. Whatever you feel like telling me, I’ll listen.” She studied the empty feeder outside the window. It was usually occupied by at least a few finches, but the storm must have scared them off. “Viola . . . Is she . . .?”

Mac saw his mother struggling for the PC term.

“She had an accident. A few years ago. She has some permanent brain damage.”

A nod. “You know, sometimes I wish you had made it as a pro baseball player. A lot less worry for me.”

He snorted. “I was fourteen. I only wanted to try out because all the cool kids were doing it. Look at me now—I can’t even stick to a running schedule. The doctor says my cholesterol—”

Cory burst out of the kitchen, followed by Viola. They were both giggling. “Nana, I’m gonna show Viola my room, okay?”

“All right. Has your papa got the coffee done?”

“Um, almost. Come on, Viola!”

They hurried down the hall.

A few minutes later, Henry and Mac’s dad emerged from the kitchen with three mugs of coffee. And a plastic cup. Henry handed the cup to Mac. “I got you some juice.”

“How thoughtful,” Mac grumbled, taking a sip.

His dad sat on the couch opposite Mac. “So you’re going back to the city tomorrow?”

“Yep. Think I know someone who can maybe help me sort this out.” Mac glanced at Henry. He still hadn’t figured out how this was going to work. Presumably, Henry would know best where to look for Remy. Yet he definitely didn’t want Henry tagging along when he went to the city.

Except what were the odds Remy would talk to him unless Henry was there to facilitate the conversation?

Henry didn’t comment, and Mac’s dad changed the subject. He and Henry talked animatedly about tractors, and Mac wondered where the hell Henry had gained such extensive knowledge of farm equipment.

The more I learn, the less I know.

Mac’s mom eventually had to call Cory and Viola. He heard the bedroom door open and two sets of footsteps race for the living room.

“Nana?” Cory asked. “Can Viola stay in my room? I can sleep on the floor, and she can have the bed.”

His mom’s mouth fell open slightly. “Ah, honey, I think Viola—”

“Please?” Viola looked at Henry. “I’d like a sleepover.”

“Uh . . .” Mac turned to Henry too. “I think the three of us should—”

“Pleeeeaaaaase, Uncle Ryan?” Cory clasped her hands. “I won’t tell anyone she’s here. She can hide in the closet if anyone comes.”

A flash of pain. Henry was right. He shouldn’t have dragged his family into this. Now his nine-year-old niece was promising to help hide the houseguest, if it came to that.

Please don’t let it come to that.

“What do you think?” his mom asked him. She seemed calm, at least. Almost amused. “You’re all welcome to stay, you know that. I certainly wouldn’t let anyone into the house. But if Viola wants to sleep up here and you two want to stay in the old house . . .”

He was still watching Henry. “Your call. The OPR’s not looking for Viola. If they find us at the old house, it might be better for Viola if she’s not there.” Dumb thing to say, maybe. If the FBI found them and arrested Mac for the coke and Henry for fleeing and aiding Mac, it wasn’t like Viola could just stay here with Mac’s family forever, or flee on her own. And Mac doubted that after what had happened with Remy, Henry would let Viola out of his sight.

But Henry surprised him. “If that’s what you want, Vi.” His smile was tight, his voice a little tense. Just a pitch off sincere, if Mac was any judge. Which he probably wasn’t. “And if it’s really all right with—”

“Woohoo!” Viola yelled, interrupting. Cory echoed her cry. They ran back to Cory’s room.

Mac’s mom smiled. “It’s really all right with me.”

Henry looked suddenly wary. “I’ll leave you my cell. Just in case. Um, sometimes she gets . . . difficult.”

Mac’s mom got to her feet. “I’ll make up a bed for her.”

His dad stood too. “I’ll try to clear some space in the barn for the car.” He paused. “You walked up here?”

Mac nodded. They’d stayed by the tree line as much as possible. Henry had complained about the drizzle messing up his hair. Viola had taken off her shoes and walked barefoot through the mud, then had tried unsuccessfully to wash her feet in a puddle.

“You two can ride back with me.”

Mac and Henry rose at the same time, and Mac gave Henry’s elbow a surreptitious squeeze. They went into the kitchen to grab some food and supplies.

Then they got into the family truck and headed back to the old house.

 

Chapter Three

The old house was musty, damp, cobwebbed, and creaky.

Henry liked it. He’d pretended not to be a fan when they’d first pulled up, but he’d always liked old houses. They had better hiding places than new ones. And they always looked like sets. He could easily imagine staging a production of Crimes of the Heart in the abandoned farmhouse.

Now that the storm had cleared, the late afternoon light was golden. It made the old house glow. The floorboards were the color of warm honey.

He hated storms. Hated them. He always had, and if there was a reason for it buried somewhere in his childhood memories, he didn't know what it was. His fear of storms wasn’t obvious like his fear of needles—he was pretty sure he’d fostered that fear after having his mother scream at him and slap him when he’d picked up one of hers—but storms were different. Storms were primal. A quick smile and a quicker wit couldn’t deflect a storm. Couldn’t convince it to find another target. Henry liked to be in control, needed it. Even if it was controlled chaos. Storms ripped all his control away and shredded it into pieces.

He always took a little while to shake his fear of them, even once they’d passed. He would be jumpy for a while, and looking for something to anchor him.

Which was the reason he was glad to get a night in the house alone with Mac. He felt like a shit for not watching over Viola, but really, she was probably safer with Mac’s family than she would be out here with two wanted men. Mac’s parents were good people, and Viola liked Cory. And, fuck it, total strangers like the McGuinness clan already had a better track record than he did. However much he told himself he was the only one who could take care of Vi, it wasn’t true. And however much he liked to blame other people—like Remy, for the cut on Vi’s hand—that was bullshit too. It was Henry’s fault she’d gotten hurt the first time. Henry’s fault, not Remy’s, that she couldn’t even operate a pair of fucking scissors now.

So he’d left her with Mac’s family. Because they were better people than he was. Because he was dangerous. Because he was useless. And because, if he was being really honest, he was selfish. He wanted to fuck Mac.

He loved Vi too much to even begin to process the feeling. She’d been everything to him for so long. Remy, Stacy, and the rest of the Court—they meant something too. Well, except for Carson. But no one had ever meant as much as Vi. And now here was Mac. Here was someone else he . . . Loved was way too strong a word. Someone else who was a part of his life. He both craved and dreaded being alone with Mac. Mac pushed too hard, sometimes. He asked about Sebastian. Wanted to know about the man Henry had been before. That was dangerous, and it wasn’t fair. Why couldn’t Mac be satisfied with Henry Page?

And why did his traitor brain sometimes want Mac to push harder? To break the wall he had put up between the past and the present, because he sure as fuck had no idea how to tear it down himself at this point.

“You know, Agent McGuinness,” he said when they’d finished changing the sheets in the front bedroom, “you’re not innocent.”

“Oh?” Mac plumped a dingy pillow.

“Yeah.” He pulled off his shirt, then walked to Mac and undid his pants, pushing Mac onto the bed. “You might not do drugs. But you do fuck your witness.”

Mac snorted. “If I remember right, my witness fucks me.”

Henry flashed a smile, trying to hide the way those words stole the breath from his lungs. It wasn’t fair that Mac had that kind of power over him. This big, tough guy, and Henry had fucked him. He had topped Mac, even though he’d been dressed like a girl at a time, and even though he was smaller and prettier and even though nine out of ten shoppers would choose Henry as their preferred bottom . . . Well, that shit didn’t fly with Mac. Which was a shame, really, since Henry relied on a combination of disguises and other people’s prejudices to function. If he dressed as a parking attendant, a cheap whore, an insurance assessor or, that one time, an archaeologist—then damn it, he didn’t need anyone trying to look past it. He was so very good at giving people a fantasy they could believe in, that he didn’t know what to do with a guy who wanted substance instead. The only multitudes he contained were aliases.

And it was ridiculous that the guy who wanted to see through him was Mac. Mac. Bald, cranky, flappy-armed, fell-out-of-a-Rockwell-painting FBI agent Mac. So fuck him.

Yeah, fuck him.

Henry intended to do that right now.

He swayed his hips, hooking his finger through the belt loop of his pants, teasing Mac with the possibility of tugging them down. Tried to pretend that he didn’t like Mac more than any other guy, or hate him more than any other guy. Tried to play it for laughs.

“Henry?” Mac cocked a brow.

“What?”

Mac put his hands behind his head. “Well, I don’t want to criticize your moves or anything, but you’d look a little more into it if you weren’t frowning at me.”

He stared. He was frowning? Oh shit. Yes, he was frowning.

“You’ve been pissy all day.” Mac gazed back at him.

Henry straightened, ran a hand through his hair. Turned away and stared out the window at the golden light piercing the gray clouds. Something was bugging him about this place. Too quiet. He could hear every little creak in the house. Ghosts piled on ghosts. And too . . . familiar? He almost expected to hear a child’s disembodied voice, sweet and aspirate, saying, Welcome home, Henry.

“Henry?”

“I know!” He groaned. “I know I’ve been pissy, and I know I’m supposed to be the funny, sexy sidekick, and—”

“The what?” The bed creaked as Mac got up. A second later his hands were on Henry’s shoulders, turning him. Mac was frowning too. “You’re not my sidekick.”

“I know I’m not.” He shook his head. “Your sidekick wouldn’t get annoyed about going on the run with you, would he?”

“Probably not.” Mac looked at him closely. “You didn’t have to come on the run with me, though, did you?”

“Oh fuck you, of course I did.” He tried to wrench away, but Mac held him firmly. “You’ve saved my life. Twice. You asshole.”

Something uncomfortably close to understanding flickered across Mac’s face. “You’re pissed because you feel like you’re obligated to help me.”

“I’m pissed about a lot of things! I’m pissed about having to leave the city, and about Remy, and about your family, and—”

“What about my family?”

“It’s not fair, Mac. Do you know how fucking different my life would have been if only I’d had some family stashed away on a farm in the country? If I’d had somewhere I could run when everything went to shit? How fucking different Vi’s life—” No. He stopped that thought before it broke him in a way he didn’t want Mac to see. Because this, this right here was not a breakdown. Not yet. He took a deep breath and held it at bay. “And don’t think I don’t know how irrational it is to be pissed at you about that, okay? I’m channeling my inner child right now, and fair warning, he’s a whiny fucking brat.”

“Hey.” Mac sighed. He lifted his right hand from Henry’s shoulder and held it against his cheek. He sighed again.

“What?” Henry swallowed. “No touching little homily to make it all better?”

Mac smiled slightly. “Can’t think of one right now.”

Henry leaned forward. He rested his head on Mac’s shoulder and closed his eyes. “I’m sorry I’m the way I am. And, um, not just today.”

“Shut up.”

He lifted his head for the kiss he knew was coming. Met Mac’s mouth with his own, and pretended he hadn’t seen the wariness in Mac’s eyes before they closed. And there it was. If Mac didn’t know the truth about him, he wouldn’t have been wary. They could have fucked and laughed and parted as friends. Not anymore.

He slid to his knees. Got Mac’s pants and boxers down and sucked him until Mac groaned and swayed. Then he stood and urged Mac back onto the bed. Mac wanted to kiss again, but he wasn’t having it. He shoved insistently at Mac’s side until Mac rolled onto his stomach. Better. No chance of seeing any wariness this way.

He made a line of kisses down Mac’s shoulder, pausing to nip and lick at Mac’s shoulder blade. Mac chuckled softly into the pillow.

“Hey, Mac,” he whispered.

“Yeah?”

He ran a hand over Mac’s large, muscled ass. “You want me to go slow?”

“Go however you want.”

He let his thumb dip briefly between Mac’s cheeks. Mac arched. “You want me to fuck you hard?”

Mac rubbed his hips against the bed. “Yeah.” He sounded breathless, eager, a little uncertain.

He bent to kiss Mac’s tailbone. Pulled Mac’s pants the rest of the way off.

“Condom,” Mac said, turning his head. “In my pocket.”

Henry grinned. “You expected to get lucky tonight, Agent McGuinness?”

“I had to pack in a hurry. I saw the box in the bathroom, and I just—”

“Shh.” He fished the condom out of Mac’s pocket. Put it on. Spit in his hand. The whole drill.

“Forgot the lube.”

“Your family’s probably got some home churned butter or something around here, right?”

“Shut up and fuck me.”

“Be nice.” Henry reached under him, and Mac lifted his hips so Henry could stroke his cock. “Or I might not fuck you at all.”

Like that was an option. He got Mac pumping steadily into his fist, then withdrew his hand. He rolled Mac over and unbuttoned his shirt. Wanted Mac naked for this. Didn’t want to be scared of what he’d see in Mac’s eyes.

“Look at you.” His gaze slid over Mac’s bare midsection. “Is that an ab?”

“Shut up,” Mac repeated, running his hand over his stomach. He seemed pleased anyway. “Not everyone can eat shit and still look as good as you.”

“I have the metabolism of a racehorse on Chinese diet pills.” Henry leaned down for a kiss. Broke that kiss when he grinned. “Any other comparisons to horses you might want to make would be totally appreciated too.” He tilted his pelvis, rubbing his cock against Mac’s hip.

“You can’t be quiet when you’re nervous.”

Henry ran a hand down Mac’s side, feeling the wound against his ribs. The skin was barely sealed. It was too fresh to even be a scar. “I’m not nervous.”

Liar, liar, liar.

“Then be quiet.” Mac’s tone was gentle. He stroked Henry’s arm. “And get to it.”

Henry got to it.

***

A phone rang in the middle of the night. Mac grunted and rolled over, then sat up suddenly. “Whose—”

“It’s mine,” Henry said, climbing out of bed and going to the old dresser. “Go back to sleep.”

Easier said than done. Mac had years of fieldwork behind him. A phone rang in the middle of the night, and he could be showered and dressed and halfway to work before he even woke up properly. He hated that about his job. He loved it too. He wasn’t cut out for the nine-to-five thing.

He watched Henry bring the glowing screen of the phone up to his ear. “What the hell do you want, Remy?”

He willed Henry not to piss Remy off. Remy could apparently tell OPR that Lonny Harris had been lying about Mac. Had been paid to lie about Mac. And shit, it was only hearsay, but it had to count for something. It had to mean they’d dig deeper, see past Mac and figure out who the hell was setting him up. So the last thing he needed was for Henry to blow a fuse over Remy.

“I don’t trust many people,” Henry said quietly, his voice cracking. “But I trusted you.” He turned away from Mac as he listened. “No, you did more than fuck up. She got hurt, Remy.” He made a soft sound, almost a sob. “She got cut. There was blood . . .”

Mac could hear Remy’s voice on the other end, but couldn’t make out what he was saying.

“You’re just fucking lucky it wasn’t worse!” Henry’s voice rose and his shoulders heaved.

Mac stared at the line of his back. The moonlight spilled down his spine like liquid. He looked almost ethereal, angelic or something. Mac shook his head. Something. His poetry might have deserted him, but his cynicism hadn’t. Henry wasn’t just something. He was something else, in fact.

But right now, in the darkness, watching Henry as he broke—Mac thought this was the closest he’d ever been to the real thing.

“Don’t!” Henry whispered, wiping his nose with the back of his hand. “Don’t you fucking tell me how sorry you are! You know, Remy! You know how much it matters!” He ran a hand through his hair. “If you’d rather sell your ass on East Washington like the old days, then fuck you. I hope—I hope you fucking die with a needle in your arm!”

“Hey.” Mac kept his voice gentle. He stood and crossed the floor to Henry. Reached up and levered the phone gently out of his fist. Held Henry’s gaze while he put it against his own ear. “Remy, right?”

“Wh-who is this?” The voice was ragged, wary.

“Mac,” he said. “Don’t hang up, okay? Don’t hang up.”

“O-okay.”

How many times had he talked to people like this? People in crisis. And every single time he was hyperaware that they could be gone at the press of a button. He couldn’t let them hear his worry. Couldn’t let them make the choice to disconnect the call. He figured Remy knew who he was, but he also guessed he’d hang up in a heartbeat if he thought Mac was trying to play him. “Did Henry tell you about me? I work for the FBI.”

A small huff on the end of the line.

“You still there, Remy?”

“Yeah.”

“Good.” He leaned his forehead against Henry’s. Cupped his cheek with his spare hand, and swiped his tears with his thumb. “Henry’s pretty upset right now. I think you are too, am I right?”

“Y-yeah.”

“Okay.” He gave the back of Henry’s neck a light squeeze. “The important thing is that Vi is okay. And Henry’s okay. Are you okay, Remy?”

“I’m sorry!” Remy’s choked sob echoed Henry’s.

“It’s okay,” Mac said, to both of them. In his mind, Remy looked a lot like Henry. It made it easier to talk to him with that image in his head. “Nobody’s angry anymore. Are they, Henry?” He paused, waiting for Henry’s response. “He’s shaking his head, Remy. He’s not angry.”

“He’s not?” Remy’s whisper was full of fragile hope.

“He’s not. He’s gonna talk to you again now, okay?”

“Okay.”

“You take care, Remy.” He pressed the phone against Henry’s ear. He drew Henry back over to the bed and sat with his arm around him. Listened to the murmur of Henry’s voice, all the anger in it bled away now.

“Yeah, I had a bad day too.” Henry leaned his head on Mac’s shoulder. “No, we’re somewhere safe.” He snorted at something Remy said. “You know I get stir-crazy, babe.”

The way he said it, Mac guessed Henry was repeating it back to Remy, exchanging the word like it was a friendly insult. It twisted something inside him to hear it though. Something that wasn’t exactly jealousy, but was close to it. Possessiveness, maybe. Part of him thought he’d earned the right to be close to Henry, and to be the only one close to him, but of course that was bullshit. It was a petty feeling, and Mac didn’t like the way he wore it.

“Yeah.” Henry let the word ride on a drawn-out sigh.

Mac rubbed his back.

“What do you mean?” Henry’s muscles tensed. “I don’t know.” He turned to Mac. “Remy says Lonny recorded a meeting with the person who paid him to set you up. Got high and bragged about doing it. We want that recording, right?”

Mac’s head swam. His heart rate picked up. “Yeah. Yeah, we want that.”

“Yeah, we want it,” Henry told Remy.

“Give me the phone.” Mac didn’t wait before grabbing it. “Remy? Where is this recording?”

“I don’t know, exactly,” Remy said. “Lonny had a few places he stashed stuff. I could get it though—”

“No. It’s okay. Listen, I’m going to come back into the city in a day or two. I just want to get Henry and Viola settled first. And I want to meet up with you, and I want you to come to my office and tell the OPR everything you know about Lonny Harris.”

“I don’t like cops.”

“I’m an agent, not a cop. And Henry can vouch for me.”

“I . . .” Reluctance was creeping into Remy’s tone. “I don’t know . . .”

Henry sighed and grabbed the phone back. “Rem? I’ll come with him, okay? I’ll come with Mac.”

“Henry . . .” Mac realized he had no way to finish that. Henry, what? Henry, that’s not what we agreed? Henry, that’s not the plan? Well, he should have known better than to figure Henry would stick to any damn plan.

“We’ll see you soon,” Henry said. He closed his eyes. “Love you too.”

Mac stared at the wall and wondered what those words would sound like directed at him. He thought back to the hospital. “Sebastian’s crazy about you. He loooves you.” Well, okay. Mac wondered what those words would sound like directed at him when Henry wasn’t drugged out of his mind and talking about himself in the third person.

Henry set the phone aside. “Says he needs two days. He’s gonna see what he can get together.”

“Is he really gonna get something together? Or is he gonna bolt?”

Henry shook his head. “I don’t know. I don’t think he’ll run. He’s, um, he’s probably more fucked up than me, though. Just FYI.”

Mac rubbed his back again.

“I told myself, after my mom, that I’d never get mixed up with an addict again.”

“But you did.”

“We, um, we hung out on the same street. When it was cold, to keep his hands warm, he did card tricks and coin tricks. Tried to teach me the three-card monte, but I was too clumsy.”

“You? You couldn’t pull off a con?”

“I work with my mouth, not my hands.”

“Apart from the occasional picking of pockets.”

“Apart from that,” Henry agreed. “Theft is easy. You wait until people are looking the other way. The three-card monte though, people know that’s a con. They’re looking for the trick, because they think they can outsmart the dealer.”

“But they can’t?”

“Of course they can’t. It’s a classic for a reason. And, even if they can, well, Remy can run pretty damn fast.”

“You’re pretty quick when you want to be too.” He rubbed his thumb over the knots in Henry’s spine.

“Job requirement,” Henry whispered.

“Not anymore.” Mac made his tone firmer. “When this is done, you’re through running.”

“Yeah, I’m through running.”

“And conning?”

Henry stiffened. “Gotta make a living, Mac.”

His throat ached. “Well, I’m willing to date a man with a criminal history, but not one with a criminal future. So it’s up to you.”

“It’s not.”

“It is.” He tugged gently at Henry’s hair, twisting little elflocks together. “You said your life would have been different if you’d had a family stashed away on a farm. If you’d had somewhere you could go when you needed help. Well, how do you know you don’t have help, if you never ask?”

Henry turned his head to look at him. His face was pale in the moonlight. “I don’t think it’s that simple.”

“You sure?”

“I’m not sure of anything, Mac.” Henry turned away again.

from Love Bytes Reviews

I couldn’t get enough of these guys and their rather shakespearean level of bad luck and poor decisions...There is just so much about this book that I love.

from Creative Deeds

Playing the Fool was a surprising series and I loved every laugh, smile and tear that I experienced while reading it.

from The Novel Approach

So good, this novel, Tempest, just so very good. Bringing us full circle on these two delightfully needy and sweet men, the story leads us to a most satisfying ending.

from The Romance Reviews

The perfect conclusion to this amazing series....

from Crystal's Many Reviewers

Lisa Henry and J.A. Rock have a magical way of creating scenes that make you feel like your watching a television show live. The imagery of each situation is written so vividly that the emotions feel real and the scenes play through your mind like a movie you don’t want to end.

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