Touch & Geaux (Cut & Run, #7) - Inventory Clearance Paperback!
After having their faces plastered across the news during a high-profile case, FBI Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett have become more useful to the Bureau posing for photo ops than working undercover. Just as Zane is beginning to consider retirement a viable option, Ty receives a distress call from a friend, leading them to a city rife with echoes from the past.
New Orleans wears its history on its streets, and it’s the one place Ty’s face could get him killed. Surrounded by trouble as soon as they land, Ty and Zane are swiftly confronted with a past from which Ty can’t hide—one with a surprising connection to Zane’s.
As threats close in from all directions, both men must come to terms with the lives they’ve led and the lies they’ve told. They soon discover that not all their secrets are out yet, and nothing lasts forever.
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Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:drug use, explicit violence
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
Zane Garrett glanced up in time to see Alston toss a balled-up scrap of paper across the pod of desks where their team of six sat. Ty Grady threw up his arms, signaling a touchdown as the paper skidded across his desk and into his lap.
“Garrett, Grady, in my office,” McCoy called from his door. He disappeared inside.
“What’d you guys do now?” Alston asked.
Zane rolled his eyes. “Wasn’t me.”
“This time,” Clancy chimed in.
“I hope it was me,” Ty said with relish. He stood and buttoned his suit, leaving a half-finished firearms discharge form open on his computer.
“Sometimes I wonder how far you’d go to get out of paperwork,” Alston said.
“Watch old episodes of Pinky and the Brain and you might get close,” Zane muttered, drawing snorts of laughter from their other two teammates.
“Before everything went digital, I had the Bureau docs convinced I was allergic to paper pulp,” Ty told them, dead serious. His hazel eyes were shining. “It was beautiful.”
“You’re allergic to everything else,” Zane said as he pushed out of his chair. “Come on. You know what he did to us the last time we made him wait.”
“Salon appointments,” Lassiter mused.
“PR lectures,” Alston said.
“Enforced vacation?” Clancy added.
“Christ, I don’t know which of those is worse,” Zane said. It was all part and parcel of being Ty Grady’s partner. And, Zane had to be honest, some of it was his own fault too.
Ty pointed around at each of his teammates, playfully threatening them as he trailed after Zane. He knocked on the doorjamb, peering into the Special Agent in Charge’s office. McCoy looked up from his computer screen and smirked.
A cold chill ran through Zane’s body. “Oh hell.”
“What now?” Ty blurted. They both knew that the look on McCoy’s face was a harbinger of doom.
McCoy shook his head and motioned for them to come in and close the door. Once Ty had pushed it shut, McCoy waved two sheets of paper at them. “Several weeks ago, we had a request put in. An unusual one, but it’s a reasonable step toward keeping our noses clean in the press.”
“Is this more PR bullshit?” Ty asked.
“It’s not bullshit,” McCoy had the gall to say with a straight face.
Zane sat with a deep sigh. “You’ve still got me giving a community lecture once a month as it is. The last one? The deputy mayor asked me if I’d speak to the Chamber of Commerce. How am I supposed to be a discreet, undercover criminal investigator when everyone knows who I am?”
“That’s a very good point,” Ty said.
“That’s one of the things I need to speak to you both about. Individually. Later,” McCoy added with a more somber cast to his face. “But for now we’ll deal with this one—very reasonable—request.”
“Which is?” Ty asked.
“There’s a fundraising calendar being put together by a local first responder organization.”
Ty stood up, holding his hand out toward McCoy as if to ward off evil. “Hell no!”
Zane blinked. “A calendar?”
McCoy nodded. “They’re using people from state, federal, and municipal organizations, and all proceeds are going to a fund set up to aid first responders injured in the line of duty.”
“Admirable,” Zane said.
“You’ve both been requested as . . . models,” McCoy managed to say without cracking a smile.
Zane looked from his partner back to McCoy. “You’re joking.” Ty was shaking his head, thumbing through numbers on the cell phone in his hand. Zane hadn’t even seen him pull it out.
“I never joke,” McCoy said with a hint of mischief. He looked to Ty. “If you’re intending to call Richard Burns to get you out of this, I won’t have it. The Bureau needs this and you’re the ones they want.”
Ty narrowed his eyes at McCoy, then turned his phone off and curled his lip at Zane. There was also a hint of apprehension in his expression, but he hid it quickly.
“We’ve been assured the photographs will be tastefully done,” McCoy said.
“Fine,” Zane said, pointing at Ty. “Send him. But why me?”
Ty shook his head and gestured toward Zane while raising one eyebrow at McCoy. “I think the real question is: Why do they need me when they have such a fine specimen right here?” he said, sounding like a used car salesman trying to sell a Pinto.
Zane reached out and whapped Ty on the back of the head.
Ty laughed and ducked away, still trying to sell Zane. “Little bit of eyeliner, some spray tan, I mean, come on! He’s beautiful!”
McCoy smiled, though he looked as if he was trying not to. “Am I to assume the two of you will agree to representing the Bureau in this?”
“I think ‘agree’ is too strong a term,” Zane said. “This is a bad idea. Remember when we were on TV?”
“Yes, Grady got fan mail for a month.”
“We burned it, as you should all evil things,” McCoy answered.
From Ty’s expression, he was trying to figure out if McCoy was being facetious or serious.
Zane laughed and wiped his hand over his face.
“I’m not going to force you, Garrett. But I am going to force Grady because he owes me.”
“What?” Ty shouted.
McCoy ignored him. “But I need an answer from you right now.”
Zane was still laughing over the absurdity of the idea as he glanced at Ty, weighing his options and wondering just what the punishment would be if he bowed out. Because there would be retribution from his partner. For sure. Of course, if he went along of his own free will, there might be a reward involved. A hot, naked, angry reward. Not that McCoy needed to know anything about that.
Ty flopped his hands. “I mean, hell, I have about as much say in it as I usually do, so why not? I’m game.”
Zane sighed. “I’ll never hear the end of it if I say no, will I?” Ty jerked his head to the side, raising an eyebrow higher in warning. He was a handsome man when he was annoyed. “Yeah, that’s what I thought. Fine, I’ll do it.”
“Good!” McCoy stood and clapped his hands together once. “Go now.”
“What?” Ty asked flatly.
“The crew is in the lobby to take you to a hotel for the photo shoot. Go. Now.”
Ty stood staring at him, head cocked, apparently immobilized by the prospect.
“How long have you known about this, and you’re just now telling us?” Zane asked. It was classic McCoy to sit on this for a week and then spring it on them at the last minute so they couldn’t wiggle out of it.
“They’re in the lobby waiting for you.” McCoy sat back down and waved his hand in dismissal, even picking up his pen and pretending to study a report.
Zane pushed out of his chair with an aggrieved sigh. It took two tugs to get Ty moving. As he pushed Ty out the door, Zane turned back to McCoy. “One of these days, Mac, one of these stunts is going to backfire on you in spectacular fashion.”
“But not today,” McCoy said, smug and smiling.
Zane growled and turned, only to bump into Ty, who had stopped right where Zane had left him. “Grady!”
“I changed my mind.”
“Too late.” Zane gave Ty a gentle shove toward the elevator.
Ty gave the emergency stairs a glance. He had always been an odd mix of cocksure and shy; part showman, part recluse. He loved a crowd, playing class clown or alpha dog or whatever the situation called for like a chameleon. Zane had seen videos of him from when he had been in service, dancing with other Marines, making fools of themselves to pass the time or entertain wounded companions. He was also willing to play up the sexy in person, using his good looks and charisma for any purpose he deemed fit. But as soon as someone tried to record it for posterity, Ty would freeze like he was hiding from a T. rex. He would much rather be shot at than shot with a camera.
Zane ignored the glances from their curious coworkers, focusing instead on getting Ty into the elevator. Once the doors shut, he groaned and covered his face with both hands.
“This is not my fault,” Ty muttered as the elevator whisked them toward the lobby.
“Of course it’s your fault, Ty. Look at you.” Zane dropped his hands with a huff. “And what was he talking about with the ‘talk to you individually’ thing?”
Ty shrugged his broad shoulders, shaking his head and then peering at his hands like he was examining his fingernails. He definitely knew something.
“Ty,” Zane rumbled.
Ty glanced at Zane. “I don’t know,” he insisted. His eyes were wide and sincere, but he couldn’t fool Zane. Not after a year of living together.
Zane took a step, intending to pin his partner to the wall to get some answers, but then the elevator pinged to signal their arrival at the first floor, forcing him to halt.
“We will be discussing this later,” Zane said through gritted teeth.
Ty’s lips twitched and his eyes danced, but he didn’t argue.
“You know, I might not have minded this with a little forewarning,” Zane muttered. “How I became anyone’s idea of a goddamn pinup, I have no idea.”
Ty just looked back at him, blinking innocuously. As the doors began to grind open, he smiled. “You’re my idea of a pinup,” he whispered.
Zane snorted, amused by how easily Ty could still charm him. He brushed his fingertips over Ty’s lips before turning to lead the way out into the lobby.
They didn’t even get around the corner before three women in various styles of business attire stood and hurried over to them. “Agents Garrett and Grady, thank you so much for agreeing to support our little project!”
Ty gave them a charming smile, even though his discomfort was still obvious to Zane. “We can’t really take the credit,” he said, voice smooth as honey.
A slim blonde in her mid-thirties, with every hair on her head perfectly in place, shook both their hands, lingering over Ty. “If you’ll come with us, we have a van waiting.”
“A van?” Zane asked.
“To take us to the hotel.”
Zane slid his hands into his trouser pockets and gave an uncomfortable fake smile of his own. He and Ty fell into step as they trailed after the women.
“Tell me, Special Agent Garrett,” asked a rather matronly looking woman with a smile on her round cheeks. “Did you happen to ride your motorcycle to work today?”
Zane steps stuttered as they reached the lobby doors. Ty stifled a snicker by pretending to cough.
“Ah, no, ma’am, I’m afraid not,” Zane lied through his teeth. It’d just gotten warm enough to start riding the Valkyrie again, so of course he had.
“Oh, that’s too bad.”
The other woman, dressed in a dark blue pantsuit, just laughed. “Oh, come on, it’ll be fun!”
Zane nodded, unconvinced.
“I’d rather chew on a lightbulb,” Ty said under his breath.
“That motorcycle was my favorite idea,” the short woman said from the backseat of the van as soon as they’d all piled in.
“Oh Violet, forget the bike. We want the men, after all,” the lady in blue said. “I’m Cynthia, by the way.” She reached over the seat and shook Zane’s hand, then Ty’s.
“I’m Susan,” the blonde added, her voice low and pleasant. “I’m sorry, we should have introduced ourselves before. We’re just so excited you agreed to do this!”
“Susan’s the one who saw you both on the news,” Cynthia said.
Zane smirked. “Is that so?”
“I remember watching that newscast and getting shivers,” she confided, smiling at Zane and then turning her long lashes on Ty again. “The presence you both had in front of the camera? I just knew I had to have you.”
Zane could see Ty tensing, growing more uncomfortable with the situation. Flirting was like Ty’s natural mode of communication, but recently he had grown less likely to engage in it.
“That newscast wasn’t representative of us at work,” Ty finally said.
“Oh, but it was! You were at work!” Violet leaned over the backseat. “And it’s exactly what everyone thinks. That’s what we want on the calendar. Something dashing.”
“Daring,” Susan drawled.
“Dangerous,” Cynthia added with relish.
“I . . .” Ty shifted closer to Zane, nodding and clearing his throat.
“Since we did the BPD officers in the jail cell, maybe we could use the cuffs in this one?” Cynthia suggested.
Zane glanced at her, wondering if he should be scandalized.
“Okay, we have that CIA analyst in the suit already, sort of spy style,” Violet said, pulling out a notebook. “The bare-chested firemen. The two uniformed police officers in lockup. The EMT in the back of the ambulance. We need something different.”
“So maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to go with a roughed-up, ‘not afraid to get a suit dirty in the line of duty’ look. With the guns, of course, since we’ve not used any actual weapons in a picture yet.”
Ty looked down at his suit, his favorite Tom Ford suit, and visibly balked at the mention of getting it dirty. “Maybe you could put us in civvies and have us undercover,” he suggested as he smoothed a protective hand over his lapel.
Susan gasped and grabbed his arm. “Under covers!”
“No. What? No!” Ty blurted.
“That’s brilliant!” Cynthia exclaimed.
Zane felt a real flash of panic. “I really don’t think—”
“Oh, I like this even more than the motorcycle!”
“He’ll do the motorcycle,” Ty tried, but they weren’t hearing him.
“Oh, this is perfect. I’ll call ahead and have them set up a bed.” Susan pulled out a cell phone as the ladies in the backseat chattered and jotted down notes.
Zane leaned in and hissed at Ty. “What have you done?”
Ty shrugged helplessly. “I . . . I’m . . . this is not my fault!”
Ty didn’t blame Zane for the glares he received as they rode to the penthouse suite together. He gave himself the same glares in the mirror as two makeup artists scruffed his hair. He had a napkin tucked into his collar to keep the hair product from touching the white V-neck T-shirt he was wearing. They weren’t putting makeup on him, thank God. Something about natural close-ups. Ty was trying to block it all out.
He stood when the man told him he was done, and the woman yanked the napkin out of his collar and nodded. Ty turned and headed for the other room in the suite where they’d set up all the cameras and flashing things and umbrellas and what the hell ever they were. In that room was also an artfully tousled bed dressed with charcoal-colored sheets, representing the gray world of undercover work.
Ty looked down at himself. It was close to what he would normally wear: tattered stonewashed jeans, thin T-shirt that stuck close to his frame, bare feet. They’d even left his accessories on him, deeming them stylish enough. A black rubber bracelet and brown leather string on one wrist, his black-banded silver dive watch on the other, his Marine Corps signet ring, and the compass rose on its leather cord. He still felt wildly out of place.
Then Zane walked in, shaking his head. He was dressed the same as Ty, only his T-shirt was black, and his dark jeans were even more threadbare. They’d mussed his hair, too, slicking it back and letting it curl around his ears.
Ty tried to fight down the gut reaction to seeing Zane like that, but it was impossible not to stare.
“You both look incredible!” Susan crooned as she came over and looked them up and down. She flipped her fingers through Zane’s hair, then turned to Ty and nodded approval. “Now, if you’ll both just climb into the bed, we’ll get this going!”
Ty fought back a nervous flutter and moved toward the bed, trying to relax his shoulders as he rolled onto it. Zane followed, not bothering to suppress a chuckle as he sprawled back against the headboard.
They sat side by side, long legs extended, arms crossed. Ty glanced sideways at Zane, unable to suppress the smirk. There was no denying they’d be laughing about this later. When Zane turned to meet Ty’s eyes, the camera popped and flashed. Zane shook his head, but he was smiling and his dark eyes reflected a spark when the flash went off.
“It appears you’re the good guy in this scenario,” Zane said, reaching out to pluck at the front of Ty’s white shirt.
“I think we’re in this one together.”
Zane’s jaw jumped as he fought a smile. Ty grinned and the camera went off again.
“Get it? Good and evil in bed together?” His words drew laughter, just not from Zane. “Come on, that’s funny!”
Zane rolled his eyes.
“It’s a pun!”
The cameras clicked away as they were instructed to move into various positions. Under the covers, on top of the covers, sitting up, stretched out flat, doing the same thing, doing different things. They were both repeatedly told to stop smiling, stop laughing, stop looking at each other. After a while, Ty began to feel disconcertingly okay with the whole thing, lying in bed with his partner in front of a dozen or so people who were snapping off pictures left and right. It was absurd.
“Okay, boys, time for something different,” Susan announced after a good half hour of them posing.
“Give us some last shots to finish, and we’ll have everything we need,” Susan requested. “Feel free to remove the shirts.”
Zane tipped his head to one side and shrugged, then gripped the hem of his shirt. Several people in the room tried hard not to stare.
Ty couldn’t blame them; Zane’s bare chest and muscular shoulders were definitely something to write home about. The camera continued taking pictures as Ty watched Zane strip the shirt off. Not to be outdone, Ty gave Zane a small wink and pulled his T-shirt off as well. When he tossed it toward one of the cameras on the periphery of the staged scene, Susan told the cameraman to zoom as close as he could to the scars that covered both men’s torsos.
Ty met Zane’s gaze. Zane’s eyes were drawn to Ty’s lips, and when he looked up again there was a new heat in his gaze. It stole Ty’s breath and he couldn’t look away.
“Gentlemen, keep looking at each other like that, please; these shots are incredible,” Susan told them.
Flashes continued to pop and the camera clicked away. It all faded as Ty stared at Zane.
“Well, I think that will certainly do it,” Violet finally said. Ty had to tear his eyes away before he was compelled to lean over and kiss his lover in front of all those cameras.
“Oh, definitely,” Susan agreed. “Agent Grady, come and take a look.”
Ty rolled out of bed and bent to pick up his discarded T-shirt, careful not to look back at Zane. He leaned next to her to look at the laptop. The photos taken were displayed in a grid on the screen, and Susan had the photographer go through them one by one, critiquing angles and posture, marking some as “no,” narrowing down the choices, all the while commenting on how photogenic Ty and Zane were.
“I think we’ll have to use one of the ones with the handcuffs,” Cynthia said, hesitance in her voice. “They’re cute and fit the tone of the rest of the calendar.”
Susan nodded. She pulled up one of the favorites. The picture showed Zane stretched out on the bed in the background, hands behind his head as he leaned against the headboard. He was smirking, an almost mischievous expression that was accented by smile lines and the streaks of gray hair at his temples, bare feet crossed at the ankles, biceps displayed prominently. Ty sat at the end of the bed in the foreground, leaning toward the camera, knees apart, elbows resting on them. He held a pair of handcuffs with one finger, letting them dangle. One eyebrow was arched, a sardonic expression on his face. It would probably end up being the photo used for the calendar—for the month of July, apparently, because it rhymed with FBI.
Cynthia sighed as she flipped through the rest of the shots. “These last ones . . .” She shook her head. “Those are something special though.”
Susan hummed as she looked at the last series of pictures. Ty leaned closer. They were more somber than he had thought they’d be, all black and white and gray. Zane looked pensive and melancholy, and even Ty’s playful smile seemed world-weary through the lens of the camera. The light highlighted the white slashes of scars on both their bodies. It seemed the only color in the entire canvas was the shock of Ty’s washed-out tattoo. There was nothing erotic about the picture. The sheets were barely in the frame, and it left nothing but the starkness of two warriors sharing something infinitely beyond the reach of the camera.
Ty swallowed hard, struck by the image in a way he couldn’t quite explain. “Can I get a few copies of one of those?” he asked.
Susan was already nodding before his words were out. “Of course,” she answered, eyes glued to the screen. “If you’ll just, um . . . sign the usage waivers and . . .” she waved toward a pile of papers, her eyes still on the screen.
Zane walked up to the other side of the makeshift desk, shirt back on, weapons back in hand already. “Are we done?”
Ty looked up at him, mouth gone dry. He nodded and met Zane’s eyes. “Come look at these,” he requested, voice hoarse.
Zane rounded the pile of equipment as the photographer walked over to the camera. Susan followed him, still talking. Cynthia and Violet chattered off to the side. Zane stopped at Ty’s side and looked down at the screen. Ty heard his sharp inhalation.
“Good, right?” Ty whispered.
“Yeah,” Zane breathed. “They’re not going to use . . . are they?” He pointed at the last few photos.
Ty looked over at Susan, the lines furrowing her clean brow, the look in her eyes. “No. They’re going for feel-good, not . . . not that.”
He studied the photos again, wondering what people would see in them. There was nothing sexual or even romantic there. But there was something.
“That’s us,” Zane said quietly. “Really us.”
“I asked for a copy,” Ty told him, watching him closely.
“Just one?” The corner of Zane’s mouth quirked. Then he looked up from the photo, and Ty could read Zane loud and clear. He wanted that photo, but more importantly, he wanted Ty, and he wanted him now.
“I’ll share,” Ty told him under his breath. He cleared his throat, needing to look away from the expression on Zane’s face before they really gave those cameras something to shoot. He picked up one of the waivers and signed it without reading over it, then handed the clipboard to Zane. “Did you get everything you needed from us?” he called to Susan.
They came over to fawn over Ty and Zane a little more, thanking them and praising the pictures they’d taken. One of the assistants took down some information and gave them both a card. Ty’s had Susan’s number handwritten on it. Then they were left alone to go change back into their suits.
“That was kind of fun,” Ty admitted as he stripped off the jeans in the little dressing area.
“Not too bad, I guess. Depends on how cheesy of a photo they end up choosing.” Zane changed jeans for suit pants and pulled his T-shirt off again. “I might have been less out of sorts with more warning. It was just . . . weird.”
Ty nodded as he stepped into his trousers. He glanced toward the outer room, seeing that everyone out there was occupied, and advanced on Zane even as he buttoned up his pants. He grabbed Zane’s face without warning and kissed him. Zane grunted in surprise but was quick on the uptake, hands gripping Ty’s upper arms as he joined in the kiss for the few intense seconds.
“McCoy never has to know we got done early,” Ty whispered as his hands dropped to Zane’s shoulders.
“I don’t give a shit about Mac. Let’s get out of here.”
Ty nodded and stooped to gather the rest of his clothes, tossing his tie around his neck and picking up his shoes and socks. Zane pulled his dress shirt on and did up three buttons, tucked it in haphazardly, just enough to get by, and gathered up the rest.
Ty jerked his head toward the door and headed for it. They weren’t far from the house, but they would have to get a cab. He’d rather walk than deal with the photographers and their kidnapper van again.
As soon as the door to the hotel room closed behind them, Ty looked up and down the hallway and then back at Zane with a grin.
“Let’s get a room.”
Zane laughed and shrugged. “Okay? You missing hotel bathrooms that much?”
The memory of their first time together flashed through Ty’s mind, and he nodded. Zane must have seen the hunger streaking through Ty’s eyes, because he started hurrying Ty down the hall toward the bank of elevators. Ty grinned, not even worrying about the shoes he carried or the fact that they both looked like they’d already been at it in a janitor’s closet somewhere.
Once in the elevator, everything hit the floor anyway, except for Ty, who hit the wall, pinned there by Zane’s firm body and demanding mouth. Ty could do nothing but moan and wrap his arms around Zane’s shoulders.
If someone had told him this morning that a surprise FBI photo shoot would end up with them making out in a hotel elevator, Ty probably wouldn’t have been shocked. He found it funny, anyway.
Zane pulled back for breath and set one palm flat on Ty’s chest, holding him in place while stepping backward. “Stay,” Zane ordered, pulling his hand away but still pointing at Ty.
Ty nodded wordlessly, wide-eyed and unashamed. Zane did up his buttons, smoothed his sleeves, and shrugged into his jacket, somehow managing to look mostly put together, even if his face was flushed and his hair was still mussed from the shoot. He had just shoved his feet into his dress shoes when the elevator door pinged and opened. “I’ll be right back,” he said, looking Ty up and down deliberately before growling and striding out of the elevator.
Even after all this time, the prospect of what Zane intended to do to him made Ty’s chest flutter.
The phone in his jacket began to ring. “No, no, no!” He fished it out anyway, checking he caller ID. “No!”
He looked up. Several people were backing away from the doors to find an alternate way up as he stood in the elevator shouting at his phone.
“Grady,” he growled when he answered the call.
“We’re ready here,” Dan McCoy said without further greeting.
Ty sighed. “Yes sir.”
He hung up just as Zane returned.
“No,” Zane said when he saw the look on Ty’s face and the phone in his hand. “No! How urgent is it?”
Ty shook his head. “It was Burns.”
Traffic was minimal as they made their way toward the Bureau office. Ty either wouldn’t or couldn’t fill Zane in on why they were needed, and he wouldn’t speculate as they walked together toward the elevators. Zane wasn’t surprised. Burns was pretty closed mouthed with everything he did. It was odd that they’d come here when Burns had called them. Burns worked in DC, not Baltimore. But nothing Richard Burns did was normal.
Ty punched the button for their floor and then leaned against the elevator wall, watching Zane with sidelong glances. Zane gave him a small smile. Hopefully they’d be able to get back to that hotel suite before the night was over.
The elevator lurched to a stop and the doors shivered open. Ty didn’t move. Zane stepped out of the elevator first. He looked over his shoulder at Ty, frowning.
As soon as he turned, roughly three dozen coworkers and friends jumped out of their various hiding places amidst the desks and file cabinets and cubicle dividers, all of them yelling some version of “Surprise!”
Zane’s hand went to his gun, but Ty grabbed his wrist before he could pull it. Everyone was laughing and blowing on noisemakers, and for a long moment Zane just didn’t understand what was going on. “What the hell? This is what the damn calendar thing was for?”
Ty laughed and wrapped his arm around Zane’s shoulder. “Just an unfortunate necessity we managed to take advantage of. Happy twenty years with the Bureau, partner.”
Zane groaned and rolled his eyes as people all around them started whistling and applauding. “The first eighteen were easy,” he said, deadpan, drawing laughter as he jabbed Ty in the ribs with an elbow.
“But the last two were fun.”
“Our definitions of ‘fun’ clearly vary.”
“Whatever, Zane. There’s cake.”
Zane grinned. “You realize last month was actually twenty-one years, right?”
Ty shrugged, smiling crookedly. “Wouldn’t have been a surprise if we’d done it at the right time.”
Zane rolled his eyes, fighting the huge grin on his face.
“Congratulations, Garrett,” Clancy said as she approached them.
Others began surrounding him, offering him words of admiration, some bringing him cake, a drink, or a present. Probably thirty minutes had passed before Zane looked up and realized Ty was nowhere to be found.
“Where’s Grady?” he asked, looking over at Perrimore.
Perrimore shrugged. “Skipped out about fifteen minutes after you got here.”
Zane frowned and scanned the room. Why would Ty leave in the middle of a party he’d obviously helped plan? Zane shrugged it off. Lassiter gained his attention by approaching to shake his hand and ask for advice on how to be old. He was distracted by more laughter and light ribbing, and he lost track of time again, surrounded by the men and women he’d come to call his friends.
It was Good Friday, though, so the party cleared out quickly. Some left to spend the holiday with their families. Others wandered with every intention of heading to one of the local bars to continue what they’d started here. Zane sat at his desk looking at his twenty-year certificate, which had been stolen and framed while he was gone and then presented as a gift from the rest of his team. The back of the frame was signed by everyone he worked with. In the very middle, Ty’s signature stood out. Under it was written a simple note: “You’re the best partner I could have asked for.”
Zane smiled as he read it. It was so like Ty. Short, sweet, and with a meaning that was innocuous and yet so meaningful. He turned it over and ran his thumb across the glass. Twenty years.
He was so intent on the certificate and what it meant that he didn’t realize he had company until Ty sat on the edge of his desk.
Zane smiled and gazed up at his partner. “Where’d you run off to?”
“I was here,” Ty told him. “Wanted you to enjoy your day in the sun so I made myself scarce.”
“Would’ve been just fine with you next to me,” Zane said, but he smiled and shrugged. It was a sweet thought on Ty’s part, and they’d been making a point not to hover over each other at work functions. “Maybe you could have kept them from ragging on me about my age. Apparently I’m the old man of the department, which I find hard to believe.”
“No, I’m pretty sure you are.” Ty’s voice was teasing, but there wasn’t much heart behind the effort. He reached behind himself and picked something up he’d been hiding with his body, setting it in front of Zane with a wistful smile.
Zane stared at the row of delicate white flowers stemming from a sleek black pot, nonplussed until he realized what it was.
“An orchid.” He laughed, remembering the day Ty had suggested they cut and run to start a flower shop together and sell black-market orchids out of the back. He glanced up at Ty as warmth spread through him. Anyone who knew Ty may have said differently, but Zane knew he had a knack for sentimental gestures. Of the two of them, Ty was the real romantic.
Ty was smiling, but it didn’t reach his eyes. He was fidgeting, messing with the USMC signet ring on his finger.
“Hey, what’s that about?” Zane asked, keeping his voice low as he nudged Ty’s knee.
Ty looked up at the ceiling and inhaled deeply. “I think you could call it melancholy,” he admitted. He didn’t even try to deflect it with a joke or a denial.
“About . . . me being older than you?” Zane asked.
Ty shook his head and looked back down at the ring. “It’s just . . . what am I going to do when you retire?”
Zane blinked. “Retire? I . . . can’t say I’ve ever thought about it.” The words grew more painful as they came out, as it sunk in what Ty was thinking about. Them, apart. Or not together, anyway. No longer partners.
“Well, I think about it all the time.” Ty reached out and ran his hand down Zane’s face. “You ready to go home?”
The intimacy of both Ty’s comment and touch stopped Zane’s immediate reply, and he considered his lover for a long moment before nodding. “Yeah.”
Ty slid off the desk. He reached across it to gather his keys and coat. Zane’s mind flashed back to the photograph of them in bed together and suddenly it was important for him to say something. He stood up and stepped around the desk to stand close, catching Ty’s elbow with one hand. “Hey.”
They were close enough that Ty couldn’t even turn to face Zane. He tried to, brushing his cheek against Zane’s nose. Zane whispered in his ear. “I’m not going anywhere. Not without you.”
Ty smiled, crow’s feet appearing briefly. He was staring at Zane’s hand on his arm. “Okay.”
“Okay,” Zane said, even though it didn’t feel like the subject was resolved at all. He watched Ty for a moment, wondering if it was something they’d need to bring up later or if the melancholy Ty had admitted to would pass naturally. That’s how Ty usually handled these things.
“C’mon. I’ve got a hotel room all lined up for something dirty. I also have cake,” Zane growled as he stepped back to pick up the napkin-covered plate Alston had given him when he’d cleaned up. He dropped his voice to a near-whisper and grinned. “I’ll feed it to you.”
Ty laughed breathily and turned toward the elevators, shaking his head.
Zane glanced at the framed certificate and decided to leave it on his desk. It wasn’t something he wanted to think about at home. In the reflection, he caught sight of a figure moving down the hallway. They weren’t alone, after all. He turned to look over his shoulder and saw Richard Burns stepping into the stairwell. The door shut behind him, not making a sound. Zane stared for a moment, then hurried to catch up with Ty.
“I didn’t see Director Burns here during the party, did you?”
Ty shook his head and pushed the button on the elevator. “No, why?”
“He was here.”
Ty turned and glanced past Zane at the empty floor. “Pretty sure he wasn’t.”
“I’m pretty sure he was. I just saw him,” Zane said with another look at the stairwell. “We can probably catch him if the elevator hurries.”
But Ty shook his head. “Why would Dick be here?”
“You’re the one who said he called you.”
“I just used his name ’cause I knew you wouldn’t argue when I said we had to come here.”
Zane searched Ty’s eyes for any hint of a lie, but saw nothing to indicate one. He gave the stairwell door another hard glare. He knew what he’d seen. Why the hell was Richard Burns in Baltimore on a Friday night? And why wouldn’t he come say hello? What was brewing? The elevator dinged and Ty stepped in, holding the door.
Zane nodded, eyes still on the stairwell as an uneasiness began to settle in his chest.
Ty began to laugh when the Valkyrie turned toward the waterfront instead of the row house.
“He’s actually going back to the hotel,” Ty muttered, following in his old Mustang.
By the time Ty found a spot for the car, Zane had already disappeared inside. Ty gave the front of the car a pat as he walked by. He’d intended to spend the Easter weekend working on her, since he’d only managed to restore the mechanical and interior parts so far, but he had a feeling Zane had other plans. Ty strolled into the lobby, expecting Zane to be waiting for him, but he didn’t catch sight of his partner anywhere.
“Special Agent Grady?” a woman asked from the front desk.
Ty walked over, still grinning.
“Your partner said to give this to you,” the young woman said with a polite smile. She handed him a room key.
“Thank you.” Ty turned toward the elevators as he searched for the room number on the envelope. He’d gotten a suite. “Jesus, Zane. You go all out, don’t you?”
He hadn’t even gotten through the door of the suite when he was grabbed and shoved against the wall. Hands found their way under his tailored suit and lips pressed against his.
“Zane,” Ty gasped.
“You better hope it is,” Zane growled. “You ready to be fed cake?”
Ty grinned, looking into Zane’s nearly black eyes. He dragged his fingers over Zane’s shoulder, tugging at his dress shirt, enjoying the way Zane’s eyes were drawn to his lips when he licked them.
Zane’s voice dropped. “And some cream too?”
“Bad pun penalty,” Ty announced in the deep tones of a sportscaster as he held up an imaginary red card.
Zane grabbed his wrist and pressed it against the wall. “Oh, punish me,” he said as he started unbuttoning his shirt with his other hand.
“I think I’m the one being punished.” They both laughed.
Ty tugged Zane’s shirt out of his pants and ran his hand up Zane’s belly. Zane pressed against him and dragged his lips over Ty’s. His grip tightened on Ty’s wrist and Ty’s heart sped up. This first round was going to be hard and messy, he could tell that much.
“Let’s get to the bed,” he managed to grumble. “Last time we did this against a wall, my calves cramped for a week. And my back has been killing me the last couple days.”
Zane chuckled and nodded. He put his lips against Ty’s ear, then cupped Ty through his trousers. “Tell me where you disappeared to tonight.”
Ty huffed against Zane’s cheek. “You think you can torture me for information?”
“Yeah I do.” He nipped at Ty’s ear, and a shiver ran all the way to Ty’s toes.
Ty tried to laugh, but it came out as a gasp as Zane squeezed him again. “I had to get your orchid from the car.”
Zane turned his head to brush his nose against Ty’s cheek. He was humming, as if trying to decide whether to accept Ty’s explanation. He finally chuckled, then ran his hand up and down Ty’s torso and kissed him.
“You’re lying.” Zane’s harsh whisper broke the kiss. Ty groaned. “What were you up to?”
Ty slung his free arm over Zane’s shoulder, holding on tight. “You always know.”
“You have a tell.”
Ty laughed, then sighed. “If I tell you now, you promise to still fuck me?”
“Depends,” Zane growled.
“Mac pulled me aside. He said we’re going to have to start looking at options that don’t involve undercover work soon.”
Zane took a small step back, his grip on Ty’s wrist loosening. “Well, we knew that’d be coming soon. We’ve had too much exposure.”
Ty nodded. “He said we have until November when those calendars hit the shelves. Then we’re off UC work and into strictly investigative stuff.”
Zane chewed on his lower lip, a frown creasing his brow briefly before it passed and his fingers tightened against Ty’s wrist again. “Maybe we can start talking about the afterlife then.”
A grin stole over Ty’s lips and he nodded. The afterlife. Their plans for when work no longer called them, for when they could come out and truly build a life together. That familiar warmth began to seep through Ty as he stared into Zane’s eyes. It wasn’t the blinding flare of consuming heat it had once been. The flash and bang were gone, but the desire had grown into something less glitzy and more intense. Ty would never get tired of feeling that way when Zane was close.
“I love you,” Ty said, a hint of longing in his voice that he was surprised to hear. He didn’t want to have to wait for that afterlife; he wanted it now.
Zane took Ty’s face in his hands. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Ty’s stomach flipped at the mere thought, but he nodded.
Zane huffed, then he was against Ty again, kissing his neck, holding him against the wall and murmuring into his ear. “I have something for you. Something I need to ask you.”
“Ask me anything,” Ty whispered.
Zane wrapped an arm around him. Ty could feel him trembling. His hand delved into his pocket, searching for something as he gave Ty a slow, sensual kiss. The moment held a sudden weight, something intense enough to push aside Ty’s odd sense of impending trouble.
His instincts were proven right when his phone began to ring.
“Don’t answer it this time,” Zane murmured. His lips dragged against Ty’s. “Please.”
Ty shook his head. They both knew he had to. He always answered his phone, no matter the time of day or what he was doing. Deuce was constantly complaining about Ty answering his calls during sex.
Zane stepped away with a growl. His hand was still in his pocket. “Better not be work.”
Ty’s eyes stayed on Zane as he stalked toward the large window of the suite. “Grady,” he answered, voice still hoarse.
“Ty,” Nick O’Flaherty said in a low voice, small and distorted over the phone.
“Nick?” Ty cleared his throat. It hadn’t been one of the ring tones Ty associated with the man.
“I need your help.”
The simple phrase hit Ty hard, and his stomach tumbled. “Why, what’s wrong? Where are you?” Ty demanded as he trailed after Zane. Zane returned to his side and placed his hand on the small of Ty’s back, leaning close to listen in.
“I’m in New Orleans,” Nick answered, his voice still pitched low. “I need you to come down here.”
“Why, what happened?”
“I’ve been arrested. They’re going to charge me with murder, Ty.”
Ty stood in stunned silence for a few moments before looking up and turning to meet Zane’s eyes. “What?”
Zane gestured for him to hit the speaker button, and Ty did.
“I’m in jail in New Orleans,” Nick said slowly, as if speaking to a child. “They think I killed somebody, Ty. You’ve got to help me, man.”
“What do you want me to do, come bust you out?”
“Ty, you were assigned here for almost two years!” Someone yelled something unintelligible in the background, and when Nick spoke again his voice was lower. “I’m not asking you to come get me out of jail. I’m asking you to come down here and find the real killer!”
Ty looked down at the phone and shook his head.
“They’re not looking for anyone else,” Nick insisted.
“Who did you kill?”
Ty winced. “I mean, who do they think you killed?”
“I don’t even know. But Digger and I have been together since I landed.”
“He’s in the fucking cell next to me, Grady!” Nick shouted. He regained control and whispered his next words. “Ty, please. They find out I’m a cop, I’m as good as dead down here.”
Ty narrowed his eyes. “Is this like the time you called me from Panama and said—”
“Because the ‘I’ve been arrested for murder’ gag only flies so many times,” Ty warned.
“I mean, one day I’m going to stop coming.”
“Ty!” Nick shouted, attempting to be calm and serious but clearly losing his patience. Another shout in the background caused him to hesitate. “Please. You’re the only person we know to call.”
Ty swallowed with difficulty and frowned at Zane. Zane nodded. “We’ll be on the next flight out.”
“Thank you, Six,” Nick whispered, and the nickname caused the hairs on Ty’s arms to rise.
Another voice told Nick that his time was up and the call ended abruptly, leaving Ty staring at his phone.
Zane had to say his name twice before Ty looked up at him. “Let’s get moving. I’ll go book the tickets. Should we call Mac?”
Ty shook his head. “We’ll try to fix this before we go back Tuesday. Maybe we won’t miss work.”
Better to ask forgiveness than permission. That had become their motto.
Zane grimaced as he turned to get his phone.
“Hey, what did you want to ask me?”
Zane shrugged and gave him a small smile as they headed for the door. “It’ll wait.”
It was well past midnight when Ty and Zane walked through Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans. The shops and restaurants were all closed and barred up, and very few people were walking the concourses.
Ty kept his head down, not speaking at all. He’d said maybe ten words the entire flight from Baltimore, and his barely controlled need to fidget during the 45-minute layover in Charlotte had been like watching a chimpanzee trying to figure out how to pick the lock on its cage. Zane knew all the things that had to be swirling through his partner’s mind. Nick and Digger—two of his oldest, dearest friends, brothers in arms—were in trouble down here. Trouble that Ty might not be able to help them out of.
Zane also knew Ty was concerned about showing his face in New Orleans. He’d spent almost two years in a deep undercover operation down here, and he hadn’t left on his own terms. Simply being seen by someone he’d known then could put him in a bad spot.
It spoke to Ty’s loyalty and love of his friends that he was braving the city at all. Zane couldn’t think of many people he’d head back into Miami for.
Ty was holding all of that in, though, keeping his worries to himself and storing them in the tightness of his jaw and shoulders.
They retrieved their one checked bag, which held a few changes of clothing and two hard cases with their service weapons in them, but Ty was too eager to get to the police station to take the time to get the guns out and strap them on.
“We’ll get them out in the cab,” Ty reasoned. Zane trailed after him, pulling the suitcase along.
When they stepped out of the glass doors and headed for the line of black and white United taxis awaiting fares, the humidity and warmth hit Zane like a physical blow after the long winter in Baltimore.
Ty mumbled under his breath as they walked toward the curb. “Ugh, late April. Never come here after May,” he told Zane. “October to April. Place is uninhabitable otherwise.”
“Good to know.”
The sound of screeching tires drew their attention to the end of the roadway, and a white van came tearing up the loading zone lane. The few people in the crosswalk leaped out of its way as it screamed past the line of taxis.
Ty took a step toward the curb, reaching under his suit coat where his gun usually was as the van’s brakes squealed. It rocked to a halt right in front of them.
Someone hit Zane from behind, wrapping his head up in a black cloth and restraining his arms as he was shoved forward. He could hear Ty shouting as he struggled with his attackers, but they were both overpowered and shoved into the back of the unmarked van.
The van pulled away from the curb as the sliding door slammed shut.
“Stop struggling,” a voice ordered Zane as his hands and feet were held down against a seat that smelled like Febreze. “We’ll be there soon,” the kidnapper promised with a sadistic laugh.
“Garrett, don’t kill anyone,” Ty muttered from another row seat. He sounded calm, and Zane forced himself not to thrash and struggle. They’d have a better chance of escape once the van stopped moving.
Roughly fifteen minutes and a lot of traffic later, the van came to a jarring stop. The door opened, and Zane was dragged out and put on his feet. The hood was yanked off, and Zane blinked a few times as he found himself standing in what was unmistakably the French Quarter. He saw a lamppost with black street signs for Bourbon and St. Philip. The building in front of them was ancient, with timbers and stacked brick showing through the cracking plaster. The second story had no balcony or gallery like most of the French Quarter architecture, just a few dormer windows with light shining through their shutters.
An old wooden plank sign that said Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop was hanging over one of the many open doors. And there were people everywhere. The van pulled away, leaving them standing in the middle of St. Philip with their kidnappers and dozens of drunk revelers staring at them.
The men who’d snatched them were laughing and patting him on the shoulder. He glared at them, recognizing one of the four as he finally got a good look.
Nick O’Flaherty. “You fall for it every time, man,” he said to Ty, a hand on his shoulder as Ty glared at him. If Nick was here, then Zane could only assume the identities of the other three. Their faces matched those of the photos on Ty’s walls. Sidewinder.
“Asshole,” Ty said, voice flat.
Nick grinned and pulled Ty into a hug. “You’re an asshole too,” Ty said to Digger, who gave Ty’s back a pat and stepped away.
Ty was smiling, though he was trying not to, as each of the other men greeted him in turn. Kelly Abbott was there, and Zane was surprised to see Owen Johns present. The last time he’d heard anything about Owen was after Ty had come out to his recon team and Owen had stormed off.
“Zane,” Nick greeted. He held his hand out to Zane. “Sorry about that,” he added, smiling widely.
“You’re an incredible asshole,” Zane said. “What the hell is this?”
Ty glanced at him and shook his head, starting to grin wider. “I can only assume this is a birthday party.”
“For a psychopath?”
Ty gave him a sad smile and nodded.
“Elias Sanchez,” Nick answered, and with the name, the five Marines grew more somber.
Zane inclined his head. Sanchez had lost his life not in battle, but to a serial killer in New York City. The same killer who’d almost taken Ty from them as well, the same one Zane had killed.
“Tomorrow would have been his fortieth birthday,” Kelly offered.
“No it wouldn’t,” Ty said.
“But tomorrow’s his birthday.”
“Kelly, man, he was the same age as me and Nick,” Ty said with an exasperated wave of his hand. Nick covered his mouth.
Kelly frowned and glanced around. “How old are you?”
Digger pursed his lips. “Anyway. Tomorrow’s Sanchez’s birthday. Ty’s always refused to come party in NOLA, so we knew we’d have to bait-and-switch you down here.”
“Wow,” Zane grunted. He had a feeling the Recon boys had no idea why Ty refused to come to New Orleans. They didn’t know luring him here could have put him in danger, and knowing Ty, he wouldn’t tell them now. Zane decided to keep his mouth shut.
Digger leaned toward Ty, raising his eyebrows. “And we can’t celebrate anywhere else because why?”
Ty rolled his eyes and looked at his feet, shuffling. “Because Digger isn’t allowed to leave the state for another year.”
“Because we sent a CIA kill team to his bayou and he almost blew them up.”
They all snickered, little boys in the schoolyard talking about a frog they’d stuck in the teacher’s drawer.
Zane looked around, his mouth hanging open. “You’re all insane.”
“Welcome to Recon, baby!” Digger said with a slap to Zane’s back that almost knocked him over. The man gave a boisterous laugh and headed off toward a group of women who stood drinking near the entrance to Lafitte’s. Owen drifted away with him, having said nothing to Zane and barely greeting Ty with a nod.
Zane looked around, still stunned by the turn of events. They weren’t here for a rescue. They were here for a party.
“Life with Ty, huh?” Kelly said to him. He was smiling, his hands in his pockets, just as relaxed and laid back as he had sounded the first time Zane had met him. He was an unremarkable-looking man, with hair a shade between brown and blond and eyes that may or may not have been gray. Or blue. Or green. But Zane remembered Ty talking about how capable the team’s medic had been.
Zane nodded, trying to return the smile. “You never know, I guess.”
Ty and Nick were in the middle of the street bickering again. Or rather, Ty had his finger in Nick’s face and Nick was laughing at him.
“Last time I fall for it, O’Flaherty, I swear to God! Next time you call and need help, you’re on your own.”
“Yeah, tell that to my boat!”
“You shot the holes in it!”
“Strategically! It still floats!”
“I coughed up glitter for a week after Panama, you prick!”
Nick put up both hands to fend off Ty’s ranting, but he was laughing too hard to respond again.
“Every fucking time!” Ty shouted before he smacked Nick on the side of the head and stormed off.
Nick doubled over laughing.
“So . . . how many times has he fallen for that gag?” Zane asked.
Nick gasped and held up his hand, displaying all five fingers. “This makes five!”
Zane began to chuckle. It was Ty’s one true weakness they could exploit, his loyalty to them. He had come every time they’d called, and would continue to do so no matter what.
Kelly chuckled at Zane’s side as they watched Ty disappear into the bar. They followed after him, and Zane’s mind immediately went to the last time he’d been in New Orleans, to the last time he’d followed someone he loved down one of these streets.