Free Falling (case of 48) - Inventory Clearance Paperback!
Sometimes falling in love is the most dangerous thing of all.
Blue is a thief who lives for adrenaline and danger. And when he meets Mick, a mercenary, he’s hit with a buzz of attraction like the rush of a high-rise job without a safety rope. But after making plans to get together, Mick leaves him hanging, and Blue vows never again.
A year later, Mick watches helplessly as Blue stumbles into the middle of one of Mick’s jobs. Risking his cover and their lives, Mick saves Blue and cares for him as he recuperates, but neither man has any idea how to handle the intimacy this forces them into.
Once Blue is safe, Mick redoubles his efforts to take down the drug lord responsible—and disappears. Blue goes after him, determined to return the favor and rescue the man he loves, no matter the cost.
NOTE: This is a revised second edition of the originally self-published title. No substantive changes have been made to the story.
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Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:drug use, dubious consent, explicit violence
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
One year earlier
Blue had the hotel safe open and the necklace tucked into his palm when a big hand moved gently over the back of his neck. He stilled, barely breathing, until Mick murmured, “Caught you, fair and square.”
“Not the time,” Blue said through gritted teeth.
“I think it’s the perfect time.”
“If you fuck this up—”
“I don’t expect you to put it back. Come on, Blue—you lost our bet. Take your punishment like a big boy.” The bastard was smiling—Blue could feel it.
Unease gnawed at his gut. He never got caught. Never liked giving up control.
But for this man . . .
It would still be hard. But shit, he’d never welched on a bet in his life, and he wasn’t about to start now.
They’d been circling each other for business and for the threat of pleasure for months. And Blue was finally caught.
“Do you remember the terms?” Mick asked, and Blue glanced over his shoulder.
“So do I.” Mick’s eyes glowed, and Blue’s heart lodged firmly in his throat, even as his cock hardened. Fucking traitor.
He closed the safe, shoved the necklace into his jeans. “Where are you staying?”
Mick handed him a key card. “Cape Grace. Room four thirty-three, eleven o’clock.” And as Mick walked away toward the balcony, he called over his shoulder, “The whole night—that was part of the agreement.”
Blue slid the card in his pocket so he didn’t have to watch his hand shake. Waited a few beats until he was sure Mick was clear and then went out to the balcony as well to climb down the side of the hotel.
Blue blended in with the staff leaving from the rear exits, broke off toward the back alley. No one followed. No one ever caught him.
Maybe you wanted to be caught.
“Or maybe I just got sloppy,” he muttered to himself as he walked the two miles back to his own hotel, through the side streets of Cape Town, taking in the scenery.
There was lots of jewelry in that Bishopscourt neighborhood hotel tonight, what with the society ball being held there, but he’d only taken the piece his buyer wanted, a yellow diamond pendant, eight carats, no flaws. His mark apparently felt comfortable enough in the luxury hotel that they’d just used the room safe, not the hotel’s main safe. Didn’t matter though. For someone like Blue, both were as easy to open as a bottle of soda.
Easy always made him restless and irritable.
He made the call, watched the money go into his account, and left the package with the night clerk who really wasn’t the night clerk but rather worked for his client. A perfect exchange. As untraceable as you could get these days.
Upstairs, he ordered room service, then lay on the bed, staring at the ceiling. He figured the two hours left before his meeting with Mick would fly by, and he wasn’t sure if he wanted time to slow or speed up. That had been his dichotomy with Mick from the start.
The first time he’d met Mick was when they were both working for the same millionaire—Barry—on a job involving priceless statues that needed to be acquired and shipped cross-country.
Blue stole; Mick provided protection. My retrieval experts, Barry had called them as they stood side by side, before he’d introduced them.
Mick was huge, his face seemed like chiseled stone, the rugged kind of handsome Blue definitely got off on, and he’d simply stared when Blue extended his hand and said hello. Blue had wanted to squirm under his gaze but forced himself to pretend otherwise. He’d been hit with a surge of electricity when the man finally shook Blue’s hand.
Because of that, Blue purposely hadn’t made small talk as Mick drove them to the estate Blue would steal from. He had to keep his head in the game.
Mick parked a block away, and Blue slid out of the truck, telling Mick, “I’ll be back in twenty.”
But Mick had already turned the truck off. “I’m coming with.”
“No. I work alone.”
Mick blinked. “You don’t give the orders around here.”
“Neither do you. You’ll fuck something up. At the very least, you’ll hold me back.”
“I’m a retrieval expert, too, remember?”
“A different kind.” Mick was a hitter—he could get in and out of tight spots by forcing people to hand over their valuables, and occasionally, he might get lucky and crack a safe quietly, but he was no thief.
It was obvious Mick wasn’t used to being spoken to like that. Blue knew the man was pissed, but he stood his ground, and Mick finally said, “I’ll cover you from out here.”
“I don’t need that, either. And if Barry thinks I’m going to double-cross him, he shouldn’t’ve hired me.”
Mick reluctantly relented, and Blue suspected it was only because they were losing their window of opportunity as they stood arguing.
He also knew Mick’s relenting would come at a price.
On the ride home, with the merchandise Blue had acquired in eighteen minutes carefully wrapped and stowed in the trunk, Mick grilled him. At one point, he stared at Blue, and Blue felt like he was being memorized. “Blue is your real name?”
Mick might’ve been committing Blue’s looks to memory, but Blue would make sure it didn’t go any further. He didn’t want anyone inside his mind. “Problem?”
“I don’t like dealing with aliases.”
“Tough. I don’t live to make your life easier. My middle name is Blue. First and last aren’t up for grabs.”
“First, at least.”
Mick’s voice was low, but the command caught something in Blue’s gut, and he heard himself say, “Fine—Jedidiah,” and cursed himself immediately for giving that away. Mick smiled as if he knew that but simply asked, “Bible Belt?”
“Yes. I didn’t quite fit in.”
“Because you’re gay?”
“Because I like to steal.”
Mick had laughed, and Blue had liked that sound too much, liked making the big man smile. “Did they kick you out?”
“I left before they could. I figured I’d given them enough trouble. Haven’t been in contact since, although I’m pretty sure the police and other authorities have.” Blue could only imagine what his parents had thought when they’d heard about his exploits. It hadn’t been the happiest of households, and having a son who was both gay and a thief was a double whammy his parents couldn’t accept. Then again, his sister had been pretty much perfect and hadn’t been able to do anything right in their eyes, either.
He was quite proud of what he’d achieved, based on how little he’d known when he’d started. Now, he could pick and choose jobs as he pleased.
So why’d you pick a job in the same city you met Mick in, genius? he chided himself from the comfort of his hotel room.
He’d told himself that it was because he loved it here, but that was only a half truth. He’d been too sure of himself, picked the wrong job . . . but would end up in the right bed.
The knock on the door signaled his room service order had arrived. He accepted it, even as he realized he was too nervous to eat much of anything. After picking a little at the food, he put it out into the hallway as he left for Mick’s hotel. He’d waited as long as he could stand it, not wanting to be too late but also not wanting to appear overanxious.
He got to the room twelve minutes after the hour, and he was alone. He checked around the suite, finding complimentary fruit and champagne, and a giant bed in the other room.
Resigned, but already hard, he pulled back the comforter and found the handcuffs there—part of the agreement—but Blue couldn’t bring himself to put them on.
It wasn’t the lack of keys that bothered him—there were few cuffs that could actually hold him—but there was something intriguing about letting Mick be the one to cuff him. Or maybe it would be hot to have Mick actually standing over him, giving the orders for Blue to cuff himself . . .
Maybe he’ll punish you for being bad.
“Idiot,” he told himself but fingered the cuffs. His cheeks flushed hot as he stripped, climbed in, and lay back against the impossibly soft sheets and comfortable pillows, as the terms of their bet dictated. And yet he was very much alone, contrary to those terms he and Mick had discussed five months earlier when they’d met again on another job for Barry.
He’d been deplaning while Mick had been preparing to board and check the space for their extremely—and for good reason—paranoid client. Barry paid well, and it had been worth it for Blue to work for him again. But he hadn’t been able to shake his disappointment when Mick hadn’t been sent with him on the thieving portion of the new job. He guessed it meant that Barry trusted him . . . but he would’ve given anything not to have been trusted. And if he was reading Mick right, he was disappointed too.
“Ships in the night,” Mick murmured.
“That’s how I like it.”
Mick smiled. “One day, you won’t be so lucky. You’re not as hard to track as you think.”
“You’re hunting me?” Neither Blue’s expression nor tone belied any kind of nervousness—he made sure of it.
“Is that what you want?”
Blue felt his cheeks flush. “You wouldn’t be able to catch me.”
“You sure about that?”
Blue snorted. “No one ever has.”
“Is that a dare?”
“If you want it to be.”
“If I catch you, bed for a night.”
“Then all I have to do is keep working the way I work and I’ll win,” he said with an assurance that made Mick smile.
He was no virgin, but for him, sex was never as good as flying down an elevator shaft. Hard, fast, messy were okay, but he always expected more. Wanted to be taken harder, faster, higher, the way he felt when he was stealing. When it didn’t happen, he chalked it up to his own failure, his own oddness.
But when Mick had first touched him, just that simple handshake, the pressure had been perfect. He’d wanted the big man to touch him. Everywhere. And that scared him.
He’d assumed when he made the bet that Mick would never catch him. It seemed simple enough. All Blue needed to do was leave no trail. Aka: normal, everyday living.
Until you pushed things and got caught, he reminded himself, alone in the hotel room waiting for Mick. An hour had passed, his erection long gone, and he slammed the bottle of champagne against the wall. Let the asshole pay for any damages.
“Hope he’s getting a damned good laugh about this,” Blue muttered viciously as he dragged on his jeans. He checked the room for cameras, hoping Mick wasn’t somewhere watching—or worse, taping—his whole humiliation and thinking, Poor, pathetic Blue.
Never again would he let someone take advantage of him like this.
Figured you’d learned your lesson about trusting anyone a long damned time ago.
Bogotá. Land of opportunity. Especially for someone like him.
In an upscale bar that catered to gay and straight, Blue had a beer and tried to relax. The job he’d accepted here was worth a hell of a lot of money, and he’d demanded three-quarters of it up front. It involved a substantial amount of risk, which was why he’d given himself several weeks to complete it.
A good night’s sleep tonight, final recon tomorrow, recovery of the item, and on the plane by this time tomorrow evening, and things would be all good.
He was pretty sure the sculpture’s owner would scour the earth looking for him after he pulled the job off. And he could deal with that, since he lived for that kind of thrill.
He scanned the bar area and nearly choked. Because things had gone from the promise of all good to definitely shitty in five seconds flat.
Mick stood at the outer left rim of the bar, talking with four men, all dressed in a casual show of wealth. Their conversation was quiet, no doubt all business, although to an untrained eye they were simply men enjoying a drink after a work meeting.
Blue knew better. Mick’s stance meant this was a job, and Blue tore his eyes away. No matter how much he hated the guy, he’d never fuck up anyone’s work.
He wanted to slide off the stool and leave, but he snuck another look at the big man. Mick wore dark pants and a thin, dark-gray sweater that could easily be cashmere and made him look more powerful, like a rich man. And maybe he was, for all Blue knew about him.
Would’ve known more if he’d been there to handcuff you.
That night . . . Jesus, his whole body flushed at how Mick had humiliated him. In the last year, Blue had managed to convince himself that the man wasn’t all that handsome. But no, the bastard was even more gorgeous than Blue remembered.
Mick must’ve thought he was really pathetic. Needy.
You’re usually not that bad a judge of character.
“I guess there’s always a first time,” he muttered to himself now through clenched teeth, then took a long drink from his dark draft beer.
Concentrate on your damned job, old man Wilson—his mentor—would’ve lectured him. But Christ, he was frozen with indecision because Wilson had died so goddamned alone. So Blue remained torn between leaving and waiting to see if Mick would approach him.
To what, explain? Just leave . . .
And he’d been about to when he noticed one of the men in Mick’s group noticing him. The man with the salt-and-pepper hair nodded in his direction, raised his glass, and Blue gave a small nod and glanced back down at his beer.
Just a come-on. You can handle it. You can still get out of this, he told himself, even as his stomach tightened as Salt-and-Pepper moved toward him. Mick and the other men followed suit, and even though Blue prayed they’d just keep moving to the door, they didn’t.
The group stopped right next to him. Blue glanced coolly over them all, his gaze settling on Mick.
“I’m Erik.” Salt-and-Pepper had an American accent, and as he spoke, he touched Blue on the shoulder. It was only then that Blue dropped his gaze from Mick.
Mick, who’d looked at him with stony eyes. Blue wasn’t sure why he was surprised.
“You two know each other?” Erik asked, noting the tension.
Mick shook his head slowly, and Erik seemed to accept that, breaking from Blue for a moment to order a round of drinks.
“My private bottle,” he told the bartender, who obviously knew Erik to be a regular. He turned back to Blue, introduced him to the other men. Blue told them his name, shook each of their hands, Mick’s last, and fuck yeah, that attraction wasn’t going anywhere.
Mick pulled his hand back first, and Blue hoped to hell Erik hadn’t noticed that he’d held Mick’s hand too long.
He never fucked up like this. Never. But with Mick, it was apparently a regular thing.
“Have a drink with us, Blue?” Erik asked.
“Sure,” came out of his mouth before he could stop himself. Mick was standing close to him, almost protectively so, and took two glasses from Erik. He handed one of them to Blue as Erik put out a hand toward him.
The unease Blue felt strengthened, but Erik hesitated for a brief second, his hand hovering before reaching further and grabbing a napkin from the bar. “Sorry for the reach.”
“No problem,” Blue said, but there was a problem. He just didn’t know what it was, and to cover the fact that he’d noticed something he wasn’t supposed to, he clinked his glass with Erik’s and took a gulp.
It tasted like shit. He didn’t want to offend Erik, especially when he clinked his glass against Blue’s a second time and finished his own drink. Blue did the same, put the empty glass down on the bar, then got up.
“Leaving so soon?” Erik asked. “We were just getting started. I promise, you’re in for a very good evening.”
“Sounds great, but I’ve got an early morning,” he lied. He stopped for a second because the ground seemed to move under him. He looked around to see if anyone else registered some kind of earthquake. But everyone was business as usual, so Blue moved forward and found it hard to put one foot in front of the other in a steady rhythm.
The drink . . . had tasted funny.
“Let me help you,” Erik said, his arm snaking around Blue’s waist as a sudden surge of arousal flooded through him and left just as quickly, leaving Blue to wonder if he’d imagined it. Erik reached out to stroke his cheek, and through the ringing in his ears, Blue swore he said, “This one’s going to love it. Make sure we get it on tape.”
He shook Erik’s help off and headed to the door as fast as he could.
Outside, he took gulps of fresh air to clear his head. It didn’t help. He looked around for a cab, not wanting to wobble the walk back to the hotel. Besides, Erik would no doubt attempt to follow him.
An arm wound around his waist, and he went to jerk away when he looked up and saw a familiar, handsome face.
Mick. “I’ve got you.”
Blue suddenly didn’t care that the man hadn’t called him, although he worked his mouth to curse at him just the same. His words came out muttered, garbled, as his vision blurred.
“I know, Blue. I know. Just fucking stay with me for now,” Mick muttered, looking serious as hell, and Blue felt like such shit he had no choice.