Ball & Chain (Cut & Run, #8) - Inventory Clearance Paperback!
Home from their unexpected deployment, the former members of Marine Force Recon team Sidewinder rejoin their loved ones and try to pick up the pieces of the lives they were forced to leave behind. Ty Grady comes home to Zane Garrett, only to find that everything around him has changed—even the men he went to war with. He barely has time to adjust before his brother, Deuce, asks Ty to be his best man. But that isn’t all Deuce asks Ty to do, and Ty must call for backup to deal with the business issues of Deuce’s future father-in-law.
Nick O’Flaherty and Kelly Abbott join Ty and Zane at the wedding on an island in Scotland, thinking they’re there to assuage Deuce’s paranoia. But when bodies start dropping and boats start sinking, the four men get more involved with the festivities than they’d ever planned to.
With the clock ticking and the killer just as stuck on the isolated island as they are, Ty and Zane must navigate a veritable minefield of family, friends, and foes to stop the whole island from being destroyed.
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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.
Kelly stood at Zane’s side behind a barrier at the bus depot of Camp Lejeune. Zane didn’t know him well enough to read him, and he wasn’t interested in trying. He couldn’t get past his own butterflies to analyze his companion’s state of mind.
It had been six months since they’d watched Sidewinder walk down the gangway to their plane. Six long, lonely months of confusing feelings and dread whenever the phone rang. Zane had woken every morning expecting to hear horrible news about the men he considered friends, and not a day had passed that Ty hadn’t been on his mind.
The call Zane had lived in fear of receiving had never come, thank God. In fact he’d only received a single satellite call from Ty in all the time he’d been gone, the one telling him when they’d be coming home. It had been like a drop of water to a dying man, and coming just weeks before Christmas, the best present Zane could have asked for.
Kelly had admitted to much the same type of existence as they’d driven there from the airport. Every day a struggle to keep his mind on something besides the fact that he wasn’t there to help protect them.
“You nervous?’ Zane asked him.
Kelly took a deep breath, nodding. “I’ve never been on this side of it.”
“Is it any easier on the other side?”
Kelly glanced up at Zane, shrugging. “Not really. You sit there with all your buddies, men who’ve been your world for months, years. You think about the people at home, wonder if they’ve missed you. Pray they’ve missed you. Your mind cycles through everything that could have changed, and the nerves start building. Even the smallest thing can hit you like a hammer when you come out. I’ve seen guys break down and cry because their wives got a haircut.”
“That why you made me shave?”
Kelly grinned and nodded as the first buses began to pull in. Nerves skittered through Zane as tired Marines in rumpled uniforms began to trickle into the tented areas where family awaited. Kelly inhaled sharply. Zane’s hand began to tremble. “God,” he said under his breath.
“The first ship holds seventeen hundred men. We might be here awhile,” Kelly warned.
And they were. An hour and a half later, they were still standing behind the roped-off area, witnessing reunions, waiting. Zane was watching a man embrace two blonde toddlers when Kelly slapped his arm to get his attention. Zane scanned the crowd almost frantically, searching for whomever Kelly had caught sight of.
He only saw one familiar face, and it wasn’t the one he was desperate to lay eyes on. “I thought they’d be out together,” Zane mumbled. He glanced to his side, but Kelly was gone. He’d bolted and hopped the barrier, taking off at a dead sprint through the celebratory crowd.
Zane laughed as Kelly cut a swath toward the unsuspecting Marine. Nick was striding through the crowd of young sailors and Marines, nodding as they saluted him in passing. He looked long and lean in his uniform, hair shorn close and face clean shaven. He had more stripes on his arm than Zane remembered seeing in photos, and he walked with a change in his gait, like he might have been hiding a limp.
Zane hustled after Kelly, but he couldn’t keep up. People parted for Kelly, sliding out of his way like they knew he wasn’t going to let them slow him down just to be polite. He pushed off a few people receiving hugs, hopped around a few children too tiny to get out of the way. It was probably those erratic movements that caused Nick to spot him in the crowd.
A smile graced Nick’s tanned face, and he braced himself at the last minute as Kelly leapt at him and tackled him to the ground. They disappeared from Zane’s sight briefly, and Zane hurried to join them.
Kelly didn’t seem to care who saw them, or what anyone thought of his lack of decorum, or even what Nick thought. He hugged Nick hard. Nick flailed under him, trapped between Kelly and the seabag still on his back. He finally wrapped his arms around Kelly and stopped struggling, laughing instead.
“Jesus Christ, if that’s the welcome wagon, I think I’ll walk home,” Digger said as he approached. He shook Zane’s hand and patted him on the shoulder. Then he dumped his seabag at Zane’s feet and threw himself on top of Kelly.
A moment later, Owen appeared from the sea of faces and launched himself at the other three, wrapping his arms around all of them as they formed a dog pile in the middle of the crowd. Zane almost felt sorry for Nick being on the bottom. Almost.
He glanced up, scanning the crowd for the only person he desperately needed to see. He was searching so hard that he almost skipped right over him, standing just a few yards away and gazing at Zane with a smile.
Zane’s breath caught. “Ty.”
“Hi,” Ty said with a bigger grin. He was tanned and bearded, which was why Zane hadn’t immediately recognized him. His hair was longer than when he’d left too, obvious even under the hat he wore, and he was far leaner. But his hazel eyes still glinted like they always did.
Zane started toward him, not caring who might see or what the consequences would be. Ty jogged the rest of the distance and threw himself into Zane’s arms. Zane buried his face in Ty’s neck, relishing the warmth and solidity of the man. He breathed in his scent, even though it wasn’t the one Zane usually associated with Ty. It was still him.
“Oh my God,” Zane gasped finally. He tightened his arms around Ty, clutching at his uniform.
“I missed you,” Ty whispered in his ear. His hands gripped at Zane’s hair, and he stood on the toes of his boots so they could cling tighter to each other.
The thought of a kiss never entered Zane’s mind. He didn’t even think about stepping back so he could look at Ty’s face, the face he’d seen in his dreams and forced himself to remember every night as he lay awake. He just squeezed his eyes closed and held on to Ty like he might be taken away again, clutched at him as he would grasp for his very soul in a pit of a thousand reaching hands.
Ty held to him the same way.
“Can’t breathe!” a pitiful voice finally called out, interrupting the joyous reunion.
Ty pulled back only enough for him and Zane to glance over at the tangle of limbs and laughter that were their friends. Nick was trying to extricate himself from the bottom, with little luck.
Ty shook his head. “Don’t care,” he muttered as he finally looked Zane in the eyes and grinned widely. He took Zane’s face in his hands. “Hello, beautiful.”
Zane returned the smile, only to have it ruined as Ty pressed their mouths together, kissing him for all the months they’d missed. It was usually at this stage of a dream that Zane would wake up, alone and so heartsick he thought he might cry. But the kiss lingered on. Ty’s hands on his face were still warm and solid. His beard was scratchy at Zane’s cheek. He was real. This was real, and Zane wasn’t about to let it slip away.
He grabbed Ty and dipped him backward, kissing him for all he was worth. He heard the distant snap of a few cameras, the tears of joy from other reunions, tiny voices welcoming their mothers and fathers home, the muffled gripes from Nick to let him the fuck off the ground so he could at least try to be dignified about coming home. He felt Ty smiling against his lips and holding on to his neck so he wouldn’t fall.
It was the most satisfying rush of emotion Zane had ever experienced. Better than any high.
When he finally stood them back up and let go of Ty, they were both breathless and laughing. Zane couldn’t keep his hands off Ty, wanting to maintain contact, wanting to reassure himself that this wasn’t a dream.
Ty took his hand and didn’t let go. “You look amazing,” he said as he leered at Zane.
“So do you.” Zane ran a hand over Ty’s shoulder and the new insignia there. “Captain Grady, huh?”
“Captain.” Ty nodded, his beard almost hiding his smile. “They gave us all a bump in rank equivalent to the time we would have served if we’d stayed in the Corps. Owen and I got kicked over to officers.”
“Captain Grady,” Zane repeated. He shook his head and swiped his fingers across Ty’s chin. “Nope. You’ll always be Staff Sergeant to me. What’s with the beard?”
“Special forces. Don’t worry, it’s coming off.”
“No, I like it. Keep it for a while.”
Ty grinned. “Whatever you want.”
Zane pulled him into another hug. He was peripherally aware of the rest of Sidewinder picking themselves up off the ground and trying to straighten their uniforms, and he finally let Ty go long enough to turn toward them.
They were all grinning from ear to ear, hugging Kelly repeatedly, unable to stop laughing long enough to speak. Kelly began poking fun at their new titles.
“Mother fucking Master Sergeant O’Flaherty,” he said with a pluck at Nick’s sleeve.
Nick brushed himself off, retrieving his hat from the ground with a grunt.
“Why the new ranks?” Zane asked Ty. He did a double take, unable to keep his eyes off the only man he’d been waiting to see.
“It’s not as good a deal as it sounds,” Ty said. “The ranks came with some pretty steep responsibilities. It was the reason we were called back. That’s . . . that’s pretty much all I can say.”
“Are you out now?” Zane asked. “Is it . . . is this it?”
“Yeah, this is it,” Ty answered. “I’m out.”
“Me too,” Digger said, almost singing the words. He bent to pick up his seabag and slung it over his shoulder.
Owen laughed ruefully. “They asked me to stay on. But, uh . . . I told them to stick it. It’s back to the private sector for me.”
Zane snorted, glancing at Nick. He was looking at his feet, and Kelly was watching him with narrowed eyes.
“Nick?” Kelly asked. “Did they ask you to re-up?”
“Yeah, they did,” Nick answered without looking up.
“You didn’t,” Kelly whispered.
Nick cleared his throat. “They asked me to stay on as a drill instructor.”
“Oh, good casting,” Ty mumbled. Zane glanced at him, and Ty mouthed, “He’s scary.”
“I told them no.” Nick smiled at Kelly, then looked around before picking up his seabag again. “I’m done with carrying a gun.”
He walked off. The others stared, looking stunned and confused. After a few seconds, Kelly jogged after him.
Zane finally found his voice and turned back to Ty. “What the hell happened to you guys?”
Ty was still watching Nick make his way through the crowd, his mouth hanging open. He had to tear his attention away to meet Zane’s eyes.
Owen grunted and smacked Digger in the chest. “Let’s go get a fucking milkshake.”
“Milkshake?” Zane echoed.
Owen nodded and grabbed up his bag. “And meat.”
“Oh, meat!” Digger practically skipped after the others, leaving Ty and Zane alone.
Ty was still staring after them, frowning. “There’s something wrong with him.”
“Digger? Hasn’t he always been like that?”
Ty shook his head. “Nick. There’s something wrong with Nick.” He turned to Zane and wrapped his arms around his neck. “I missed you.”
Zane pressed his face to Ty’s neck and closed his eyes. He laughed. “Can we skip milkshakes and just go home?”
“Nope. Bad luck.” Ty kissed his cheek, then took his hand and began leading him through the celebratory crowd.
When Ty walked into the federal building in Baltimore, it caused quite a fuss. Zane hadn’t told anyone he was coming home because he hadn’t wanted to deal with all the teasing from his coworkers. But also because he’d wanted to walk out of the elevator and see all their faces when they realized Ty was with him.
The commotion started with their old team. Clancy saw them and screamed and flailed, which caused Alston to duck and cover like he was used to her smacking him. She came running over and threw herself into Ty’s arms, hugging him around the neck and letting her feet dangle. Ty was wearing a red Santa hat with a white fluffball on the end, and the fluffball hit Clancy in the head when they hugged, but she didn’t seem to care.
Alston, Perrimore, and Lassiter swiftly joined her, giving Ty hugs and handshakes. Others came over to welcome Ty home, and it didn’t take five minutes for the teasing and ribbing to start. Everyone in the office, including Zane, had had six months to get used to the idea of Ty and Zane being a couple. Zane had endured a great deal of good-natured banter, with a side helping of nasty comments and uninformed opinions. For the most part, though, it had become old news. People had gotten over it and accepted it, then mostly forgotten it the longer Ty had been away.
For Ty, though, it was all new. And from the look in his eyes, it was scary.
The uproar in the office gained the attention of the Special Agent in Charge. McCoy stepped out of his office and started to shout at them, but he caught himself when he saw Ty at the center of the group.
“Grady!” he shouted. The group broke apart and people turned to look at their boss. Everyone was silent as they waited for McCoy to continue. He pointed at Ty and then Zane. “You two, in my office.”
He disappeared back into his office.
Ty and Zane shared a glance, and Zane grinned.
“Like being home again,” Ty said as they obediently headed for the office.
McCoy was digging in his desk drawer when they came in. “I’ve got something for you,” he told Ty. He pulled Ty’s service weapon and badge out of his drawer and set them on the desk.
Ty stared at it for a moment, a smile playing at his lips. “Don’t I have to pass certification again first?”
“You’ve been living in certification,” McCoy countered. He glanced at Zane, but his smile was hesitant and a little sad. He lowered his head. “It’s good to see you back safe, Grady.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Have a seat. I’m afraid I don’t have good news from the home front.”
Zane groaned. “Please tell me you’re not putting him back on desk duty. You remember what happened last time.”
McCoy turned his chair so he could rest his elbow on the desk and prop his chin in his hand. He didn’t seem amused. In fact, he seemed downright solemn.
After a long moment of silence, he breathed in deeply. “Gentlemen,” he said as he examined a file on his desk. He tapped it as if trying to decide what else to say. “During the course of Grady’s leave of absence, a few things came to light that . . . I would have preferred to remain in the dark. Unfortunately . . .” He trailed off and shook his head.
Zane’s good humor drained away as he watched their boss through narrowed eyes. He caught himself turning to Ty and stopped.
Ty leaned back in his chair, slumping and scratching at his forehead. He pulled the Santa hat off. He’d gone pale, and his knee was bouncing. They both knew what was coming.
McCoy looked up at Ty from under lowered brows, and then his gaze shifted to Zane.
Ty held his trembling fingers over his brows, as if shielding himself from the sun.
“I need to know one thing from you both before I continue,” McCoy said grimly. “Are you now or have you ever been involved . . . romantically?”
Ty closed his eyes as the rest of the color drained from his face. Zane blinked hard over McCoy’s question and had no idea what to say. How could they reply when McCoy already knew the answer, but the truth would probably separate them?
McCoy watched them silently. Ty finally moved, sitting straighter in the seat. “Yes,” he answered, the sound barely even a recognizable word.
McCoy slammed his hand onto his desk. “Dammit, Grady! All the times you’ve lied to me over the years, and you pick now to be honest?”
There wasn’t anything Zane could add. Not really. He wasn’t ashamed of being in love with Ty. He watched his partner as Ty met McCoy’s eyes. He looked ill, but Zane knew why. They were well and truly out now. For better or worse. Ty was handling it better than expected, really.
McCoy propped both elbows on the desk and massaged his temples. Finally he leaned back and shook his head at them both. “Now, I want it made very clear that the Federal Bureau of Investigation does not give a good goddamn about who you fuck.” He kept rubbing his fingers over his chin and mouth in a nervous habit that rarely manifested. “Heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, omnisexual, transsexual . . . we don’t give a damn. As long as you conduct yourself in a manner that is dignified and discreet, you do whatever you want. We will not tell you who or who not to be involved with. That having been said, my concern here, and that of my superiors, is how your relationship impacts your job performance and those around you.”
“Romantically involved or not, we were one of the best goddamned teams you had,” Zane said.
“And now you’re his superior.” McCoy shook his head and covered his mouth again. He met Zane’s eyes; then his gaze flickered to Ty. “Gentlemen, if I could snuff this out, I would do it in a heartbeat. But you made a very public display before Grady left. While it’s not against any specific Bureau policies, it’s frowned upon, and it’s been dealt with the same way across the board in the past.”
“By sending one of us to North Carolina?” Zane asked with a bitter laugh.
“By separating you, yes.”
“This is bullshit,” Ty said.
“This is precedent,” McCoy snapped. “You’re both good agents, but neither of you have ever been above reproach. We can’t afford to have your integrity come into question in the future because you’re fucking. Especially now that Garrett is essentially your boss.”
Zane grunted. “We’re no longer partners, there’s nothing to separate.”
McCoy looked at him with true regret and sighed heavily. “You’re management now, Garrett. There’s no going back. And you can’t have your . . . your boyfriend working under you.”
Ty opened his mouth, and McCoy held up his hand. “If you make a joke, I’ll shoot you.”
“Yes, sir,” Ty mumbled, slumping further into his chair.
“I have to reassign one of you.”
Zane stared, appalled by this sudden obstacle thrown in their path. A reassignment could mean any number of things—different shifts, different departments—most of them not so conducive to him and Ty seeing each other regularly. There was no way McCoy could have any idea how serious their relationship was. He seemed to simply think they were sleeping together. Zane glanced over at Ty, who was sitting stock still and watching McCoy intently.
“We have several options,” McCoy told them, obviously uncomfortable. “One of you will be transferred to another field office. DC or Philly would be relatively close. Even Newark. Unless you’re willing to end your relationship to stay where you are?”
“No,” Ty answered immediately, his voice low and firm. Zane shook his head. He wouldn’t give up Ty now that he’d just gotten him back.
McCoy nodded as if he’d anticipated that reaction. “Well,” he said slowly. “Which one of you will it be? Grady, we could send you to Philadelphia, closer to family. Garrett, you’re already familiar with DC. You could easily go back there, where there are more chances to advance.”
Zane dropped his gaze to his hands. Yes, he’d expected them to be separated. But he’d been anticipating them working different shifts, not this.
DC was a good choice. When he’d lived there when they’d first been partnered, Ty had driven back and forth from Baltimore. But it had only been for a matter of weeks. Zane drew a slow breath, trying not to resent McCoy for what he was making them do.
Before he could speak, though, Ty reached between their chairs and brushed his fingertips across Zane’s elbow, eyes still on McCoy. Ty didn’t appear angry or upset. In fact, Zane’s usually temperamental partner looked downright composed as he pushed to his feet. He lowered his head as he reached under the lapel of his suit coat and pulled out his badge—the badge he’d just gotten back. He laid it on the desk in front of McCoy, followed by his Bureau-issued sidearm, still in its holster.
When McCoy looked up at him, his eyes were wide and his lips were parted.
Ty merely shook his head. “Nobody’s moving.”
Zane distantly wondered what the thundering noise was until he realized it was his heartbeat in his ears. He stared at Ty, unable to look away. He knew how much Ty loved and lived for his work. He was afraid to speak for fear of what would come out.
“Grady, think about this, would you?” McCoy said patiently. “I understand, okay? It’s a shitty situation, and if I could sweep it under the rug, I would. I tried.”
Ty was shaking his head, gently pushing the badge on the desk around in circles with his finger. “I know, Mac. But being separated is not an option.” Zane’s gut clenched as Ty used the one finger to push his badge closer to McCoy. “Garrett can stay where he is. Consider this my resignation.”
“No, no,” Zane finally managed to say. He stood and snatched Ty’s badge from the desk. “No, I can’t let you do that.”
Ty turned to face him.
“You’ll go insane if you’re not working, Ty,” Zane whispered. “I’m two years from retirement. Let me take the bullet on this one.”
“Exactly, you’re two years from retirement,” Ty hissed. “Two years and it’s over.”
“Gentlemen.” McCoy sighed. “If the Bureau loses either of you right now, it’s my ass they’ll come for. I can’t let either of you resign, goddamn it. That’s not a solution.”
Ty shook his head and gave him a small smirk. “It’s my way or the highway, Mac.”
McCoy began to massage the bridge of his nose.
Ty reached for Zane’s hand and gently removed the badge Zane was clutching. He set it on McCoy’s desk and pushed it toward their boss, his eyes never leaving Zane’s. Then the smirk turned into a smile—the same beautiful grin Zane had always loved. The laugh lines at his eyes appeared. His nose scrunched. But there was no light in his eyes, the sparkle that said he was enjoying life. That light hadn’t been there since he’d gotten home.
“I’ve got a rubber band ball to retrieve from my desk,” Ty said. He patted Zane’s arm. “I’ll see you at home.”
He walked out, leaving Zane and McCoy staring after him with their mouths hanging open.
“I can’t believe he just did that,” McCoy finally said.
Zane shook his head. “Give me time before you file his paperwork, okay?”
“You’re the Assistant Special Agent in Charge,” McCoy said, and he stuffed Ty’s badge and gun into a desk drawer. “You file his damn paperwork. Get out of my office.”
Ty spent the next two weeks reacclimating to civilian life. He got up early to run, relearning his old route and taking note of everything that had changed. Buildings being redone, neighbors being gone, a florist where a dive bar used to be, a martini bar where the Fosters used to live.
It all felt the same, but it was different. A car would backfire and Ty would drop and roll. A baby would cry and Ty would reach for a gun he no longer carried. Zane would knock into him in the middle of the night and Ty would grab him and roll him off the bed.
Okay, that had been kind of funny after the fact.
But it was taking Ty longer to get used to being in his own skin again than he would have liked. He didn’t hear much from the other guys, either. He supposed they were all suffering through the same sense of vertigo as he was. Sometimes it was easier to get used to real life again if they didn’t speak for a while. They’d discovered that years ago. The only person Ty had expected to hear from already was Nick, but he hadn’t even received a text message from the man. That in itself was strange, and it felt like something was missing from each day.
Not working was also disconcerting. He’d never in his life been without a job. It was driving him a little crazy already, and he knew he would have to find something else soon. A city cop position like Nick had taken up, or even private security somewhere, because as far as he was concerned, guns were the only thing he did well. But all he had to do now was work on the old Mustang in the backyard, and pore over the scraps of evidence Zane brought him about their mole.
Since their ordeal in New Orleans with Liam Bell resurfacing and the uncanny knowledge both he and the Vega cartel possessed about Ty and Zane’s movements, Ty was just as sure as Zane was that a mole had infiltrated the Baltimore office. Burns had confirmed it the day Ty’d received his orders from the Marine Corps. Someone was relaying information to the Vega cartel, and God knew who else. Enemies who would kill Ty or Zane without a blink.
The danger had always been at the back of Ty’s mind, knowing Zane was home, alone, with no one he could trust to watch his six. Kelly had spent a great deal of time in Baltimore getting to know Zane, keeping an eye on things for Ty, but Ty hadn’t known that when he’d been away, so he’d fretted at night, worried himself sick when he had the free time to do it. Nick had attempted to distract him at first, but even he had given up on trying to keep Ty’s mind off the very real threat.
Coming home and finding Zane happy and healthy, smiling and beautiful, had very nearly erased the worry from Ty’s mind. But walking out of the office the day he’d quit, the realization had come tumbling down on him again that there was still a traitor in their midst, and now he’d removed himself from the game.
So he searched. He pored over news articles and police reports about the cartel. He tried to find connections between the events of New Orleans and any of their cases, delving into everything he had at hand that wouldn’t tip off the mole. But his resources were minuscule, and there was so little to go on.
All he found were dead ends, and so more often than not he found himself just like he was now, on his back on a modified mechanics creeper—really just a plywood board he’d reinforced and put wheels on—beneath the Mustang.
He was humming along to the radio, trying to keep his mind clear as he worked, when someone grabbed him by both exposed ankles and yanked. He closed his eyes and tensed his entire body as the creeper shot out from under the Mustang, shocked he didn’t catch his head on any protruding parts. When he cleared the undercarriage, he had his gun in hand, and was shielding his eyes from the winter sun with his wrench, even though he was pretty sure he knew who his assailant was.
“Let’s go inside,” Zane said, the mischief quite clear in his voice. He didn’t even bother helping Ty off the ground, nor did he seem fazed that a twitchy war veteran had just pulled a gun on him. He headed for the door, already yanking at his tie and shrugging out of his jacket.
“What did you do?” Ty called after him.
Zane laughed, and Ty hurried to follow. He was pretty sure that whatever it was, he didn’t want to miss it.
Zane jumped Ty before he could even say hello or wipe his greasy hands off on his jeans. He dragged him through the door and slammed him against the wall, leaving Ty’s radio playing and all his tools laying out in the yard as snowflakes began to drift down.
The next kiss made Ty think he could buy new tools if they got stolen or rusted. Zane pulled at his jeans and shoved at his heavy wool shirt, growling at him to take everything off.
“Jesus Christ, what happened to you?” Ty gasped.
“I was sitting at my desk, wanting to shoot myself,” Zane said as he kissed his way down Ty’s neck. “And I remembered that you were at home, just sitting around doing nothing.”
Ty made an insulted noise, but he couldn’t even argue because it was true.
Zane kissed him again, shoving Ty’s jeans down his hips and sliding his fingers against Ty’s bare skin. Then he stopped and met Ty’s eyes with a smile that crinkled his laugh lines. “And I couldn’t fucking wait to get home.”
Ty moaned when Zane sank to his knees.
The first touch of Zane’s tongue to the soft, sensitive skin at the crease of Ty’s thigh and groin made his entire body shudder. Zane’s bristly cheek glanced along the side of Ty’s cock as Zane paused to suck hard on a patch of skin just inside the curve of Ty’s hipbone.
Ty gripped the back of Zane’s neck as he tried to catch his breath. This was the kind of ’70s porn situation he had played over and over in his mind while he’d been gone. This was why he’d continued to fight when they’d been outnumbered, continued to duck when bullets flew. Not the sex, though that was certainly a bonus. But coming home to this, to Zane.
Zane’s reply was a drawn-out hum, and he didn’t stop until he’d placed a kiss at the base of Ty’s cock.
“Jesus, Zane,” Ty gritted out as his fingers tightened in Zane’s hair. He didn’t know whether to pull Zane’s head back and ask him what the hell he was up to or hold his head there until he finished what he’d started. Because like it or not, Zane did not often come home from work ready to go at it against the kitchen wall. Ty missed working with him, missed seeing him at all hours of the day. And he hated, absolutely loathed, being out of the loop like this, wondering what the hell Zane was up to when he made advances.
Ty didn’t care what his motives were once Zane licked all the way up his cock to the sensitive head.
He called out wordlessly and grabbed at Zane’s shoulders with both hands, his back bumping against the brick of the kitchen wall. He tried to push his hips forward but couldn’t, instead settled for watching Zane. It wasn’t messy or hurried; Zane was taking his own sweet time, tonguing and kissing and tasting and rubbing every millimeter of skin his lips met. Thoroughly and repeatedly. Just the sight of his lips on Ty’s cock was enough to get Ty’s blood pumping. Ty held his breath, his entire body thrumming with anticipation and teasing jolts of pleasure.
Then Zane took Ty into his mouth and sucked gently, and tipped his head back enough to look up at Ty. Ty couldn’t take his eyes off him. “Don’t think because your mouth is full you’re not expected to explain.”
Zane pulled off Ty long enough to press a kiss to his belly. He smirked up at him, then picked up where he left off, sucking carefully but with more strength while the fingers of his free hand curled into the muscles of Ty’s hamstring.
Ty sucked in a breath and let his head fall back as his dirty fingers flattened against the rough brick behind him, and when he looked back down, the urge to sink his fingers into Zane’s dark curls was almost overwhelming. It left him grasping for anything else to hold on to because he knew what he’d do to Zane if he got a handle on him.
“Zane!” he gasped again as his knees began to go weak. He wasn’t even close enough to the stairs to grip the railing.
Zane’s answer wasn’t verbal; he simply gripped Ty’s hips and pinned him to the wall as he continued his slow and methodical approach. Ty had to give Zane points for attention to detail. Classic Garrett.
“Fuck,” Ty groaned plaintively. He banged his head back against the wall. Then somewhere close, amidst the pile of clothing Zane had yanked off him, his cell phone began to ring. He distantly recognized his brother’s ringtone. “Christ, not again.”
“Do you need to answer that?”
Ty shivered all over and shook his head. No way in hell could Deuce have anything to say to him that was more important than Zane on his knees with his mouth on Ty’s dick.
“Are you sure?” Zane drawled before licking from Ty’s balls all the way to the head of his erect cock in one wet swath. “Might be important.”
Ty’s eyes fluttered shut, and he groaned desperately. “Damn you,” he gritted out. He reached for Zane’s hair and yanked at his head so he could step away from the wall and pounce on the jeans that had been tossed aside. He grabbed at the phone, then turned back to Zane with every intention of continuing what they’d started without further unnecessary delay.
Apparently Zane was thinking the same thing, because he latched onto Ty’s hips and pushed him back against the wall. Damn, he was determined.
Ty hung his head and panted for a few frantic breaths, trying to regain control before he answered the phone. He rested one hand on top of Zane’s head, his fingers automatically curling as he answered with a curt, “Call me back in ten minutes.”
Zane’s tongue flicked over the head of his cock, and Ty bit his lip against a moan.
“Oh God. You’re either having sex or being shot at, aren’t you?” Deuce asked with dread. “Why do you answer the phone?”
“Got to go,” Ty grunted as he swiped the phone off and tossed it into his pile of clothes, letting his hand join the other one in Zane’s hair.
Muffled laughter sent vibrations through Ty’s groin, and Zane pulled back, sucking all the way until Ty’s erection popped free and rubbed through the whiskers on his chin. “Who was it?”
“My asshole brother,” Ty answered tightly.
Zane bit his lip, peering up at Ty and waiting.
“Please, Zane,” Ty begged, shameless. He slid his palm against Zane’s cheek, his fingers digging into the back of his neck. Zane nodded slightly before leaning forward, taking Ty in on his tongue. He couldn’t fit all of Ty’s erect cock into his mouth, but it didn’t matter. He wasn’t teasing anymore; he was focusing on the endgame.
Ty did his best to keep his eyes open, watching as he disappeared between Zane’s lips. He wanted nothing more than to come down Zane’s throat. It was barely a matter of minutes with the visual stimulation, and Ty was soon gasping and tugging at Zane’s hair in warning.
Zane pulled off, wrapped his fingers around Ty to pump him hard, and leaned his forehead against Ty’s belly to kiss the warm skin.
Ty gritted out Zane’s name as he came hard, watching lasciviously as it splattered onto Zane’s throat and chest, onto his pressed dress shirt. As if on cue, his phone began to ring again. Zane jacked him through his orgasm, obviously not caring about how damn debauched he looked.
Ty’s hand moved to Zane’s shoulder and squeezed harder as his legs went weak and he began to sink toward the floor. Zane slid his arm around Ty’s waist, and Ty wound up on his knees, panting hard as they kissed. The phone continued to ring, ruining the afterglow with its obnoxious tune. Ty ignored it for as long as his conscience would allow. Zane hugged him close for a long moment before he nipped at his lower lip, then he reached for the phone.
Ty grunted at him and flopped to his back on the hardwood floor, unashamed. He could hear the tinny sound of his brother’s voice through the phone. “Push the speaker button,” he said to Zane.
Zane laughed at something Deuce said before jabbing the button and holding the phone out between them. “How’s it going, Deuce?” Zane asked warmly. He wiped at his mouth and chin with the back of one hand.
“I hope he at least buys you dinner before you do that,” Deuce said to Zane.
“I don’t have to bribe my bedmates,” Ty shouted at the phone. His brother laughed heartily. Ty couldn’t help but smile. He looked at Zane and winked.
“I called to ask you a favor, Ty,” Deuce said.
“Shoot,” Ty said lazily, still lying on the floor and enjoying the post-orgasm high.
“I want you to be my best man.”
Zane grinned. “You’re getting married, finally?”
“Yep, we settled on the details.”
Ty sat up, suddenly wishing he was wearing pants. “I better damn well be your best man,” he muttered as he crawled closer to his jeans and lay back down to slide them on.
“Calm yourself.” Deuce sounded very pleased with himself. “Zane? I expect you to be a groomsman as well. We’re keeping the guest list small, and frankly, I don’t know that many people I like.”
“Sounds like a circus,” Zane teased. “You know we’ll be there for whatever you need.” When Ty glanced up, Zane raised a brow in question and leaned to tug at Ty’s jeans leg, trying to dissuade him from putting them on.
Ty narrowed his eyes in warning. “I need pants on to talk about this,” he whispered.
“You know I can hear you, right?” Deuce said, voice wavering with laughter.
“Then you shouldn’t call when we’re in the middle of things! When’s this thing going to be?”
“Well . . . it’s next week.”
“Next week?” Ty blurted. “What’s the rush, man, you already knocked her up once!”
Zane smacked Ty in the head before he could duck.
“We’re getting married in Scotland. And we thought, what better time to do it than Christmas?”
“Scotland?” Zane echoed, perking up. “Does that mean Ty has to wear a kilt?”
“Christmas in Scotland sounds . . . cold,” Ty added.
“Get a hold of yourself,” Deuce said. “A week away, all expenses paid. I’ll email you the info.”
Zane looked positively gleeful. He offered Ty the phone as he shifted to get up. Ty watched him walk away, then pressed the speaker button again and put the phone to his ear. “Deacon,” he said softly.
“Beaumont,” Deuce replied in a low voice.
“Are you happy?”
“Very much so,” Deuce said. The answer would have been clear in his voice regardless.
Ty smiled. “Good.”
“I have another favor to ask you,” Deuce said quickly, his voice losing its enthusiasm.
Ty’s brow furrowed. “Anything.”
“Can you bring someone with you to the wedding?”
“What do you mean?”
“One of your Recon buddies.”
Ty sat up, his unbuttoned jeans forgotten. “What? Why?”
“Short version? Livi’s dad is concerned about safety. His company’s been getting threats, apparently. That’s why we’re rushing it. He’s got his own private bodyguards, but I’d feel a lot better if we had someone there who could put all his attention on the baby girl if anything goes wrong.”
“You want a bodyguard for the baby at your wedding?” Ty frowned harder. He glanced up when Zane came back into the kitchen, shrugging at the questioning look Zane gave him, and Zane turned to head back into the living room. Ty’s eyes lingered on his ass as he walked away.
“I know it sounds overboard, but I swear man, the way her dad talks, it makes me paranoid. And I don’t want to have to worry on my wedding day.”
“Yeah, no,” Ty said quickly. “I got it. I’ll call someone.”
“I’ll make him a groomsman so he’ll have access to all the crap we’re going to have to go through. Pay his way, everything. And give him a guest. It’s only fair. All on us.”
Ty nodded, grinning. “Now, if you ever call me again while I’m getting head, I’ll kill you.”
“Understood,” Deuce said with a laugh, and the phone clicked off in Ty’s ear.
Ty smirked, looking down at the phone for a moment before clambering to his feet. “Garrett!”
“What?” Zane called back.
Ty found Zane in the bathroom, shirt off, wiping himself down with a hand towel. “I’m not done with you. We have to celebrate.”
Zane smiled indulgently. “Celebrate Deuce’s engagement by engaging in copious amounts of hot sex?”
Ty spread his arms and cocked his head with a grin. “Sounds like a plan, right?”
Zane left the towel in the sink and moved until they stood chest to chest. He placed his hands on Ty’s hips, his thumbs stroking the skin bared by Ty’s unfastened jeans. “You know what that wedding means, don’t you? A whole week. The two of us. On vaca—”
Ty tapped Zane’s lips with two fingers, shushing him. “Don’t finish that thought.”
Zane blinked at him, smirking. “What else did he need?”
“Later,” Ty grunted, determined to get back to business. “There was an inappropriate celebration we were getting to, remember?”
Zane chuckled, a low rumble in his chest. “You can’t distract me that easily.”
“Watch me,” Ty growled.
It took Nick a long time to talk himself into climbing the front steps of the triple-decker he’d grown up in. He glanced at the upstairs window as he stood on the sidewalk. His father was laid up in bed there, dying from all the poison he’d put into his body in the last sixty or so years. He wanted to see all his children before he passed, wanted to make peace with them.
At least, that was what Nick’s mother had told them. Nick knew there was something more going on, though. It had taken his mother two weeks to contact him after he’d returned home, and the first words from her mouth hadn’t been to say she was glad he was home safe. Just that his father needed to see him.
He climbed the front steps and knocked before he could decide against it. His mother answered the door, her smile strained and her hug stiff when she greeted him.
“I’m glad you’re here,” she said, voice quiet. “You look good, Nicholas. Your father’s been asking for you.”
Nick merely nodded, resisting the urge to glance up or in the direction of his father’s study. He was closer to forty than four, but he still felt that flash of anxiety and outright fear when he thought of walking down that hallway.
They stood in awkward silence, not really looking at each other, not really wanting to. This was the first time Nick had been in his childhood home since he’d told his parents he was bi. He hadn’t been welcome after that.
Nick cleared his throat.
“Katherine and Erin are here,” his mother said finally. “They’ve been waiting for you to get here before they go up to see him.”
Nick nodded again, shrugging out of his snow-covered coat. He and Kat and Erin shared memories the younger siblings hadn’t been subjected to.
“I know where they are,” Nick murmured, and headed for the creaky old door to the cellar.
The light at the top of the staircase didn’t turn anything on, but then, it hadn’t since Nick had gotten old enough to figure out how to cut the wires inside the switch. He descended in darkness, hoping his memory of the stairwell would keep him from breaking his damn neck. His footfalls were silent on the concrete steps. When he reached the bottom, a pool of weak light emitted from the corner, where old room dividers and screens and large concrete pillars partitioned off a piece of the cellar.
His two sisters were together on an old sofa in the corner. A battered coffee table with a duct-taped leg, braced with a broken hockey stick, sat before them. A lamp on a milk crate gave off the only light. They were flipping through a photo book, both alternately sniffling and laughing.
Nick shoved his hands into his pockets as he approached them, trying for a smile. He stood on the other side of the coffee table. “I thought I’d find you two down here.”
Kat smiled weakly and cleared her throat. “Do you remember when he’d come home drunk and you’d gather all of us together and bring us down here?”
Nick fought to swallow past the tightening in his throat. “I remember.”
“You’d tell us stories and we’d play board games or listen to the Sox play until we heard him go to sleep.” Kat wiped at her eyes.
Nick stepped around the table, and they both moved over so he could sit between them. He spread his arms on the back of the couch, and both women leaned into him.
Kat’s voice quivered when she spoke again. “I was never afraid when we were down here. Not when you were with us.”
“Neither was I,” Erin whispered. She hugged Nick close. “We knew you would protect us. You always did.”
Nick closed his eyes, his arms tightening around them.
The three of them had met for dinner the day after he’d returned to Boston, catching up after he had been gone for so long. But this was something they never talked about.
Kat began to cry softly. She shoved the picture book away and pressed her face against Nick’s chest. “These pictures . . . we never realized how young you were. My God, Nick, you were just a baby. You were younger than Patrick is now.” Her oldest son. He’d just turned ten last week. “Who stood in front of you?”
“It’s okay,” Nick whispered.
They sat in silence, listening to the house creak, to their mother moving around upstairs, to the occasional voice of one of their two youngest sisters asking where the hell they were. The young ones didn’t remember the basement, didn’t remember Nick and Kat carrying them down here in bundles of blankets and setting them in stacks of pillows or beanbag chairs and singing them to sleep so they’d be safe. They didn’t remember to look for their older siblings down here when the thought of facing their father was too much for them.
“Nicholas!” their mother called from the top of the steps. “Your father’s awake. He’s asking to see you.”
Nick took a deep breath. The three of them shared a glance. Both his sisters looked like they wanted to hang on to him for dear life, just like they’d done when they were little.
“Let’s go to tell him to kiss our asses,” Erin said as she stood.
Nick stared at the rectangle of light near the bottom of the steps. He had so many memories of sitting on this couch, his arms around Kat and Erin, their baby sisters asleep on their laps, listening to the sound of their mother crying upstairs. And waiting. He remembered the terror of watching the silhouette of his father appear in that frame of light, hoping the man would try to storm down the steps Nick had booby-trapped with his sports equipment, praying he’d just trip and break his neck on the concrete floor when he landed.
He’d never grabbed one of those sticks or bats on his way up the steps after being summoned, though. He’d always left them where they were, knowing the veritable minefield would keep his sisters safe.
That didn’t mean he’d never dreamed about taking that hockey stick and watching it crack his father’s skull. He’d grabbed a baseball bat one time, the day before leaving for Basic. It had been the last time his father raised a hand to any of them.
A shadow appeared on the floor, different than the one that haunted him. “Nick?”
“Coming,” Nick called. Kat and Erin trailed behind him as he made his way up the two flights to his father’s bedroom.
He stood in the doorway, Kat and Erin still behind him. His two youngest sisters, Alana and Nessa, sat in chairs beside the bed, where Brian O’Flaherty lay propped amongst several pillows, jaundiced and weak. All three of them looked at the doorway when they realized Nick was standing there.
“Son,” his father said. He pushed himself up, trying to sit straighter. He didn’t quite make it.
Nick moved toward the bed. Nessa stood and gave him a stiff hug. Nick held onto her, flooded by memories of running down the hall and gathering her out of her bassinet, wrapping her up in her blankets and hugging her to his chest as he and Kat scrambled to get down to the cellar before their father hit the front door.
He let her go, and she and Alana moved to let him sit beside the bed. His father’s eyes stayed on him, and Nick didn’t look away. Eye contact had always been something he’d fought for. When he’d been little, it had pissed his dad off. He’d seen it as a challenge, like a fucking junkyard dog.
It had been worth a backhand to meet the man’s eyes.
“You’re home safe,” his dad finally said. “That’s good.”
“You didn’t even tell us you were leaving. We’d have come to see you off.”
Nick snorted. “You hadn’t spoken to me in over a year. You said I was going to hell.”
Brian’s eyes hardened. “I’m too sick to fight, Nicholas.”
“That’s a first,” Nick said through gritted teeth.
“Nick, he can’t handle stress right now, why don’t you try to be civil,” Alana spat. She was standing by the door, leaning against the wall with her arms crossed.
“Why don’t you shut your mouth,” Kat snapped.
Nick glanced over his shoulder at them, then back to his father. “I’m not here so you can say a tender good-bye. What do you want?”
“I want to make my peace with you, son. We had a rough road. But now I’m dying. And I’m scared.”
Nick narrowed his eyes. He knew what sort of changes the thought of impending death could bring on a person. He’d suffered through them himself. But he knew his dad, too. The man wasn’t seeking retribution or forgiveness. He wanted something, something only Nick could give him. And it wasn’t peace.
“Cut to it. What do you want from me?”
Brian took a deep, rattling breath. “Without a new liver, I’ll be dead in three to six months.”
One of Nick’s sisters sniffed. Nick didn’t look away from his father.
“You’re close enough to my size you could be a match, son. You’re the only one who might be. You got that O blood type.”
Nick sat back and closed his eyes.
“You’ve got to be shitting me!” Erin shouted.
“Erin!” their mother cried. “Your language!”
“Stuff it, Mom!” Kat waved a hand at Nick. “How the hell can either of you ask him to do this?”
“Dad is dying,” Nessa said, her voice small and scared. “Even you can’t be so selfish you wouldn’t help him if you could. Even Nick’s not that selfish.”
Nick glanced over in time to recognize the warning signs of Kat and Erin about to blow a collective gasket.
“Everybody get out,” he said softly.
“Nick!” Kat started.
“Kat, stay calm, okay? Give us a few minutes.”
Kat held her breath but nodded. She ushered everyone out of the room and closed the door behind them, leaving Nick and his father alone.
“Temperamental women,” Brian mumbled. “They run in the family. Got to keep the reins tight.”
“The only person in this family who should be tied down is you,” Nick snapped.
They stared at each other for several long moments, neither willing to look away. Brian swallowed hard and licked his lips. Nick hated that he enjoyed seeing his father scared. He hated the fact that he wanted revenge for all the terror and pain of his childhood. But he did. He’d have to live with the kind of person that made him.
“I know you hate me, Nick, and you got the right. But do you think I’m such a horrible man I deserve a death sentence?”
Nick narrowed his eyes. “You probably don’t want me to answer that.”
“Will you consider it before you say no? For your sisters? And your mother?”
Nick began to smile. “Tell me something, Dad. How fucking terrified were you when they told you I was the only one who could save you?”
What little color there was drained from Brian’s face. “Nicholas,” he tried.
“I’ve got somewhere to be,” Nick said, and stood.
“Son, please. I’ll die without your help.”
“Probably should have thought about that thirty-seven years and fifteen broken bones ago,” Nick said as he headed for the door.
His father called after him, his voice a pale echo of the shouts that used to ring through this house.
Nick ignored him. He stalked down the hallway to the stairs, beginning to fume as he thumped down the steps. The man had no right to ask that of him. He had no right to put that decision in Nick’s hands. How many times had Nick prayed for his father’s demise over the years? And now it seemed the only way it would happen was if Nick pulled the trigger on him. It wasn’t fucking fair.
The rest of the family was gathered in the kitchen. Nick’s mother was hunched over the kitchen table, Alana and Nessa sitting on either side of her. Kat and Erin were stalking back and forth like hungry lionesses, and they pounced on him when they heard him coming.
“What did he say?” Erin demanded.
“You’re not going to do it, are you?” Kat added. “You don’t owe him shit.”
Nick’s phone began to ring before he could answer. He glanced around at the five women as he dug in his back pocket. Nessa and Alana were watching him, their expressions full of hope and fear and pain. How many times had Nick seen those eyes—frightened but not sure why, trusting him to protect them.
His mother stood. “Nick, please,” she whispered.
Nick tore his eyes away from them to look down at his phone. “I have to take this.” He grabbed up his coat and turned toward the front door without another word, leaving his family behind to step out into the freezing air. His hands were shaking and he felt like he might throw up in the bushes. The cold air helped to calm him, and he began making his way to the brand-new Range Rover parked at the curb.
“O’Flaherty,” he answered, his voice choked.
“Hey, Irish, you okay?” Ty asked. “You sound like shit.”
Nick cleared his throat and glanced at the house behind him when he got to his car. “Yeah, you just did me a solid, man. Got me out of a tight spot. What’s going on?”
“Well, long story short, you want to be one of Deacon’s groomsmen? All expenses paid.”
Nick stared at the window above him, pursing his lips. “Yeah, okay.”
“Bring a date.”
Nick closed his eyes and smiled. “Okay.”
“And a gun.”
Nick opened his eyes. “Wait, what?”
Ty’s laughter was all the answer Nick got.
“There’s not a single town name here I can pronounce,” Zane said as he peered at a map inset of the Scottish highlands and Inner Hebrides. He kept pronouncing Hebrides wrong on purpose, and it was driving Ty crazy.
Ty tossed his arm over Zane’s shoulders, leaning back in his chair. His feet were propped on a suitcase. They’d flown into Glasgow via a hellish eighteen-hour layover in Iceland, and now they were waiting at baggage claim for Nick and his date to join them. They were a little behind the rest of the Grady family, who’d chosen to take Theodore Stanton up on his offer to fly in his private jet. Zane hadn’t been able to get off work in time to do it or Ty would have been all over it.
“You don’t need to pronounce it,” Ty said. “Apparently the Stantons own the entire fucking island.”
Zane shook his head. “Private jet, private island, private security force. I’m starting to think Deuce is in way over his head.”
Ty grunted, and a sense of unease fluttered through him again. “I wish I’d been able to talk to him a little more before he left Philly. Nick’s going to be pissed that I don’t know more about what’s going on.”
“No, seriously. Nick’s going to kill me.”
Zane began to chuckle. “Maybe this date he’s bringing will make him behave.”
“Or at least keep him distracted,” Ty mumbled.
A few minutes later, Ty caught sight of Nick making his way through the crowd. He stood to go meet him, but stopped short when he recognized the man walking with Nick.
“Doc!” he cried, and wrapped Kelly up in a hug when they got closer. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“You said to bring a date and a gun,” Nick said with a crooked smile. “So I brought a date with a gun.”
Ty laughed and stepped in to give Nick a hug as well. Zane shook both their hands. “How was your flight?”
“Flight was good. Security was rough,” Kelly said.
Ty frowned. If Nick and Kelly hadn’t been able to bring their weapons along, their trip had been for naught. “They give you shit about your gear?”
Nick shook his head.
“No, no, no,” Kelly said before Nick could answer. “The guns and knives and fucking night vision goggles or whatever he has in there, those permits went through fine. It was him they wouldn’t let go through.”
Zane began to laugh despite obviously trying not to. “Why not?”
“The way the new machines are? They take a picture when you stand there, right?” Nick said, raising his arms above his head. “The fucking shrapnel in my thigh makes it look like I have something sharp in my pocket. They kept telling me to empty my pockets, and I was like, ‘I can’t!’”
Kelly began to laugh. “They made him drop his pants. He got whistled at.”
“By you!” Nick shouted.
Kelly laughed harder. Nick rolled his eyes as Ty and Zane snickered.
“Anyway,” Nick said. “How long a drive do we have to this place?”
Ty slung his arm around Nick’s shoulders. “Couple hours. You feel like driving it?”
“I’d rather me do it than you.”
Ty snickered, and Kelly jabbed his elbow into Zane’s ribs. “Never let him drive in a country with left-hand driving.”
“Okay?” Zane said with a raised eyebrow at Ty.
Ty shrugged and winked at him. Nick and Kelly headed for the luggage conveyors to retrieve their suitcases, and Ty slid closer to Zane. “They’re right, never let me drive here.”
“Noted.” Zane’s grin was a warm one. “I can’t believe O’Flaherty brought Doc instead of a real date.”
“The thought of a week at a wedding with a real date probably flat gave him a panic attack.” Ty gave Zane a spontaneous squeeze around the waist.
They gathered their luggage, and Nick and Kelly joined them to head for the rental car counters. Ty told Nick to go to the counter and handle the rental because he knew Nick’s luck. The man was fucking blessed when it came to traveling. He’d been Sidewinder’s “acquisitions specialist,” and he’d been damn good at it. But even beyond skill came luck, and Nick had that in spades.
They’d booked a compact car, but sure enough, Nick came back with a “free upgrade” to a brand new Audi A4 and the counter girl’s phone number. He handed the number to Kelly and the receipt to Ty, then waved the keys as he headed for the door to the parking lot.
“How the hell does he do that?” Zane asked. Kelly merely laughed as they trailed after Nick with their luggage.
Ty and Kelly both fell asleep in the back of the sedan as Nick made the three-hour drive to the little town where they were to catch a very private boat to the Stantons’ very private island. Ty woke whenever they took an especially sharp curve or slowed for a trekking biker, and each time he did, Nick and Zane were talking companionably. Several times their laughter roused him.
Halfway through their deployment, Nick had been sent home for forty-eight hours. Ty knew he’d been sent to Maryland to deliver a message to Naval Intelligence because Ty had specifically chosen him for the mission. When he’d returned, Nick had told him that he’d dropped in on Zane and brought a letter back with him, the only communication Ty and Zane had been able to have during those six months.
From what Ty had observed since landing in Scotland, Zane and Nick had come to an understanding during that visit. He might even call them friends. The level of relief he felt at that was astronomical, given their rocky start.
The next time Ty woke, Kelly was using his lap as a pillow, and they were making their way through a tiny, crowded coastal town. Ty stretched and patted Kelly’s chest as he peered out the window. The quaint shops seemed to lean toward them as they drove past, and the cars on the wrong side of the road came way too close to the car for his comfort. He was glad Nick was driving because the roads in the UK made him twitchy.
They could see sailboats in the harbor and a great expanse of deep blue water beyond. In the far distance, the tops of gently rolling mountains were visible.
The Stantons’ private island was somewhere out there in the wilds of the Inner Hebrides, two hours away. It didn’t have a name on the map.
Ty shook Kelly awake as Nick found a tiny parking spot and turned the car off. They all climbed out, stretching and groaning. Nick rolled his neck and Kelly took hold of his shoulders, massaging them to loosen him up. It made Ty smile. It had been odd being deployed without Sanchez, without Kelly. Seeing Kelly and Nick together was like a balm on an open wound he hadn’t realized was there.
They gathered their luggage and began making their way to the private dock tucked into the picturesque seaside near the larger ferry landing. Kelly and Nick pulled ahead of them, heads bowed as they talked.
Zane took Ty’s arm and slowed him. “Is there something going on with them?”
“What do you mean?”
“They’re kind of . . . touchy-feely.”
Ty laughed. “Nick and Kelly have always been like that. Either one of them would cuddle you if they had the chance.”
Ty picked up the pace again to catch up with their companions. Zane trailed behind for a few steps.
“Huh,” Zane finally said.