“This is nuts, Ty. IA’s gonna be all over you if they find out you stole those drugs out of lockup. And all over some guy who you’re not even sure of his name?” The dark-haired undercover detective was confounded as he tried to understand what it was his partner had been thinking when he came up with this crazy idea, not to mention worried about what would happen when Internal Affairs figured it out.
“Borrowed,” Tyler corrected, his blue eyes dancing mischievously. “I borrowed the drugs.”
Tommy rolled his eyes in amusement at his wayward partner. “Fine. Borrowed,” he emphasized, “but why risk it?”
Detective Tyler Michaels, the younger of the two by four years and the epitome of the word “gorgeous,” was always inventing new ways to get them into trouble. At thirty-three, he still possessed a childlike sense of adventure and a daring personality, which truthfully made him excel at his job… but that didn’t stop those that loved him from worrying. His light blond hair blew slightly in the wind as he regarded his partner with an amused smile.
Detective Tommy Carmikael was the more cautious of the two, yet never more than a step behind his partner and always ready to jump in after him with both feet. They had been best friends for almost all of their lives, so Tyler’s antics didn’t faze him all that much anymore, but he still felt the need to be the voice of reason now and then.
His dark green eyes bore into his partner as he waited for his reply.
Tyler just grinned. The rational side of his brain agreed with Tommy. However, he was the more impetuous of the two and decided to forgo precaution and err on the side of impulse.
“You worry too much. It’s only a couple hours. Really, what could go wrong?”
Tommy shook his head in exasperation, a frown set in his ruggedly handsome face. “Do I have to remind you what happened the last time you uttered those words?”
Tyler just rolled his eyes in good humor as he opened the bay door to the empty warehouse they were currently standing in front of. Tommy followed him into the darkened building and palmed the light switch.
The lights flickered, a few sparked, and more than one exploded across the warehouse. The pair ducked instinctively, their hands automatically reaching for their weapons.
With a shake of his head, Tommy faced his partner, shoving his gun back into his holster and straightening his six-foot frame so that he was looking down slightly at Tyler, a mere two inches shorter. Both detectives were of average build, neither thin nor overweight, and tanned from the California sun, with Tyler’s tone deeper then Tommy’s. They worked out and trained quite extensively, and they both loved being active, so they were solid but not bulky. And they both knew how to fight—quite impressively, as they had been highly trained Navy SEALs, the elite of the Navy, before they joined the LAPD.
Not quite finished with his tirade, Tommy continued as though they hadn’t been interrupted. “Ryan spent forty minutes chewing my ass out while he stitched me up. Wanted to know how I could have let you pull such an idiotic stunt. I tried explaining that it wasn’t my idea to jump out a glass window and fall twenty feet into a tree, but he was a bit livid at the time because you were unconscious with a head injury. So since he couldn’t yell at you, he took it out on me.”
Tyler’s eyebrow rose fractionally as he listened to his partner’s rant. He remembered Ryan’s expression when he had woken up in the hospital, the relief and concern that had been etched across his lover’s face. It made his stomach flutter, and for a moment, he reconsidered his plan.
But only for a moment.
“Hey, did you want to wait and see what the Rottweilers were going to do?” Tyler asked with a knowing grin. “Besides, we got a two-week vacation out of the deal. We had a great time at the Grand Canyon. I didn’t hear any complaints.”
The mischievous tone in his voice made Tommy roll his eyes, and an amused twitch formed at the corner of his mouth. “So what’s your brilliant plan this time, partner?” he drawled, knowing when to give in. He hooked his earpiece in his ear as he watched Tyler. The tiny mike wound down to his mouth and would keep him in contact with the backup that was positioned around the perimeter, awaiting Tommy’s signal.
“You wait in the rafters. When we make the exchange, bring in backup. Then we’ll get the drugs back and go grab pancakes at the IHOP,” Tyler explained simply. His blue eyes twinkled, and his smile spoke of trouble.
It had all happened so fast that Tommy hadn’t anticipated the move. The arriving men had quickly fanned out, surrounding Tyler in a tight, threatening circle, and the leader had smirked at the blond with an all-knowing grin. Tommy had seen Tyler’s expression change the moment he realized his cover was blown.
Demanding backup in a hissed rush, Tommy struggled to climb down from his perch and rush to his best friend’s aid, hoping he’d be in time.
Tyler grimaced as he was tackled and taken to the ground the same second he reached for his gun. It was quickly knocked from his grip and sent skidding across the floor.
Swiftly regaining his momentum, Tyler twisted and rolled and sprang to his feet.
Tyler’s movements were lightning-quick, and he implemented his entire body against the dozen or so men, quickly turning the fight in his favor.
Men literally fell at his feet as he rapidly took them out with elbows, fists, feet, and even his own head, until a sudden blow to his back sent him to his knees.
Within seconds, he found himself pinned flat on the cement floor. A gun was placed to his head, and the unmistakable sound of the hammer engaging stilled his struggles.
Across the warehouse, Tommy came to an abrupt halt. The sudden image of his partner pinned to the ground with a loaded gun to his head had stopped him in his tracks. Unwilling to surge forward and surprise the man into pulling the trigger, he tried to process this new turn of events, his mind whirling to come up with a plan.
How had they known Tyler was a cop?
He watched in the shadows as his partner was jerked roughly to his feet.
The leader, a man in a gray suit, looked him over appraisingly. Tyler met the man’s stare. Calm defiance emanated from the blond cop’s blue eyes. The man in the gray suit obviously didn’t like Tyler’s insolent gaze, for he drew back a massive fist and nailed him on the jaw. The man then attempted to beat him into submission, landing several hard blows before underestimating Tyler’s abilities.
Stepping slightly to his side and twisting, Tyler broke free from the grasp that held him and knocked the gun away from his head. It scattered across the floor. Tyler’s foot landed in the middle of the gunman’s chest, and he sent him sailing. Then he quickly turned and caught another man behind the kneecap, knocking him off his feet, just as a hard blow landed across his cheek.
Stinging pain blossomed in its wake as a large ring scraped his skin. As his head whipped to the side, he could see his partner land a punch to the temple of another, dropping him to the ground.
A blow to his kidneys and then the back of his head sent Tyler to his knees, but as he went down, he twisted and threw himself to the side. With his feet, he snagged a man around the ankles and jerked him to the ground. Rolling onto his back, he slammed his arm across the man’s neck. Then he quickly rocked back and then forward and sprang to his feet.
Tommy had now reached the center of the battle. He aimed his weapon and shouted a warning, but a sudden flurry at his side had him turning. His gun up, he fired and caught one man in the shoulder just as another man slammed into him from the side, taking him to the ground. Fingers clamped tightly around his wrist, and they pounded his hand into the floor until his gun fell from his grip. Another foot kicked it across the floor just as he kneed the man on top of him and shoved him off.
Tommy sprang to his feet and slammed a guy across the temple, then twisted the wrist of another who had just thrown a punch at his head. Another landed a blow against Tommy’s cheek, but he didn’t let go of the wrist in his grip.
Tyler was there then. He rendered the man unconscious with a single punch just as the doors around them exploded inward.
“I underestimated you, Detective Michaels,” a man’s voice, steady amongst the chaos, suddenly resounded in their ears. They both turned to see the man in gray quickly retreating. “It won’t happen again.”
Tyler and Tommy sat quietly on the trunk of a police cruiser watching the scene as officers swarmed, finishing up their investigation. Red and blue oscillating lights lit up the darkness as they sat, lost in thought.
Tyler held an ice pack to his head, his mind processing the events. What had started as a simple drug bust had quickly escalated into something neither of them could quite put their finger on yet.
Tommy looked over at his partner in concern. Whoever the mystery man was, he was gone, had disappeared in the commotion of the failed bust. With him, he had taken half a million dollars’ worth of cocaine. Cocaine that Tyler and Tommy had confiscated on their last bust and had “borrowed” for this one.
IA was definitely going to have a field day, and their captain was going to kill them.
On the other side of LA, inside a large garage, a man laughed, an odd mixture of amusement and annoyance reverberating from the well-dressed man. He shut the door to the truck he had just exited with a dull clang and turned to his remaining men. Concern lit up their eyes, as though they were not sure whether things had gone according to plan, yet none of them were brave enough to open their mouths to speak to their leader.
Their boss smiled at them, and a twinkle of eagerness lit his coal eyes. He calmly smoothed his well-pressed suit with his hands and then walked away in a gait that spoke of superiority.
The four men who had also managed to escape imminent capture along with their leader followed him quietly into the rather expansive mansion and down the dark hall.
Inside his office, the slightly graying, dark-haired man opened a cherry-colored wooden box on his desk and removed a Cuban cigar. He slid it under his nose slowly, inhaling the rich scent with an appreciative sigh. Removing a silver cutter from the pocket of his gray vest, he quickly sliced the end from the cigar and placed it in his mouth, sucking slightly, cherishing the flavor. He turned to face his men. A lighter appeared under his nose, and the corner of his lips twitched up in gratitude.
Inhaling with the air of success, he serenely strode behind his desk and sat down, leaning back in his thickly padded brown leather chair.
“Well, boys,” he began, his voice deep and silky. He crossed his right leg over his left and dusted the black leather of his shoe with his hand before looking back at his retinue. “Tonight did not go exactly as planned, but do not fear, it wasn’t completely without success.” He motioned for his men to sit down in his oversized plush office.
The man took a deep drag on his cigar. His expression thoughtful, he let out the smoky breath into the air and then tapped his cigar into a crystal ashtray before he spoke again.
“I admit I wasn’t ready for the quick action the police took tonight. I had thought we had a better handle on things. However, it is only a slight setback.” His smile was malicious as he looked at his four followers. “We go forward as planned. Have no doubt, Detective Michaels will suffer immensely.”
The early morning sun was shining through the bedroom window, casting its orange glow over the occupants of the large bed in the center of the room. Dr. Ryan Douglas groaned and rolled over, pulling the pillow over his tousled brown hair and covering his face with it. He smiled as he breathed in the scent of his lover. He lifted the pillow slightly and slit an eye open to see Tyler lying on his stomach next to him, one arm over his head, the other lying alongside his body, palm up.
Ryan put his hand on Tyler’s bare back and leaned in closer, nuzzling his nose and mouth into the back of the deeply tanned neck. His fingers played with the soft blond hair behind Tyler’s ear as he snuggled into the slightly smaller body. He felt Tyler shift into him and his breathing change as he began to wake up.
“What time’d you get in last night, Ty?” he asked his younger lover softly as Tyler rolled over, stretching as he went.
Ryan frowned. “What happened?” he questioned, eyeing Tyler in concern. His fingers trailed gently down Tyler’s bruised and scraped cheek.
Tyler’s hand went to the injured cheek, and then he shrugged. “Bad bust,” he told him with a reassuring grin.
Ryan frowned again. “You okay?”
“Just great, doc,” Tyler teased. “Sorry I didn’t wake you when I got in. I think I was asleep before I hit the bed.”
“What time did you finally get in?” Ryan asked again, his hand resting on Tyler’s warm stomach.
“Four, I think.”
“You’ve got to be exhausted. That’s the third late night you’ve had this week.”
Tyler nodded. “Yeah, but I gotta get outta here by 7:30,” he said as he shifted to see the clock behind Ryan. “Cap’n wants Tommy and me in his office by 8.”
Ryan watched Tyler grimace and quickly lifted his eyebrows, knowing his lover all too well.
“What’d you do this time?” he questioned, his smile amused.
Tyler looked at him innocently, an expression he had perfected.
“Why do you always assume I’ve done something?”
Ryan chuckled. “Because normally you have. So…?” he prompted.
A smile quirked the corner of Tyler’s lips, and his eyes twinkled with amusement. “The deal that we were supposed to take down last night got a little outta hand.”
Ryan lay on his side, his head in his palm, watching Tyler, who was tucked against his body snugly.
“A little? How little?”
Tyler shook his head. “Not even thirty seconds after they came in, the buyer started yelling about me being a cop. We got into a fight, and when our backup arrived, he split and took the drugs with him. Which we had sorta borrowed,” he emphasized with a smirk, “out of lockup.”
“Tyler,” Ryan admonished with a roll of his eyes. “You in trouble?”
“That may be an understatement. But I’ve got a lead. I may know where he is.”
“How’d they know you were a cop?”
Tyler grimaced as he stretched his sore muscles. “I think we were set up.”
“By who?” Ryan’s eyes widened.
Tyler shook his head. “That there is the million-dollar question.”
Ryan’s fingers caressed the bruised cheek again. “You sure you’re okay?”
“I’m fine,” Tyler assured him.
Ryan watched him, his fingers caressing his cheek, and then he leaned over him and captured Tyler’s mouth in a slow, passionate kiss. Tyler moaned and shifted into Ryan, pressing his erection into Ryan’s hip. Smiling, Ryan ran his hand down Tyler’s stomach and over the thick, hard organ, making Tyler groan and arch into him.
Rolling on top of Tyler, Ryan cupped Tyler’s neck passionately as he deepened the kiss and slowly rocked his own hardness against Tyler’s. Tyler’s hands slid up Ryan’s bare sides and down the contours of his back as he leaned into the kiss. The dance that his tongue was doing against Ryan’s had Ryan rock-hard and desperate for all of Tyler.
He slid his free hand down Tyler’s side and shifted slightly so he could cross his belly and slide his fingers slowly down Tyler’s needy organ. Tyler moaned into the kiss and pressed up into Ryan.
His fingers wrapped around Tyler’s rigid cock, and Tyler moaned again, this time more throatily, more needy. Ryan squeezed gently and pulled. Tyler gasped, his eyes rolling up in pleasure. Ryan pulled back to watch his face, stilling his hand once again.
“You’re killing me here, Ryan,” Tyler groaned.
Ryan smiled. He slid his hand around to fondle Tyler’s balls, then slid his fingers along the warm crevice, searching deeper. Tyler arched when Ryan’s fingers brushed over his sensitive opening.
Ryan latched onto a particularly sensitive spot on Tyler’s neck, just below his ear. He suckled, and his tongue teased, and Tyler squirmed, moaning.
His fingers continued their teasing pressure against Tyler’s hole while his other hand fumbled for the lube in the bedside table. He coated his fingers and then tossed the bottle aside, rubbing the slippery jelly onto his own aching member and then onto Tyler, pushing into him gently with his fingers.
Tyler’s gasp was full of lust and need, and it went straight to Ryan’s groin. He forced himself to focus, to hold out longer, while he teased Tyler with his finger. He pushed in and pulled out, sliding deeper with each gentle thrust until he hit Tyler’s prostate and Tyler arched, groaning deeply.
Ryan loved to watch Tyler as they made love, as he teased Tyler into a heated frenzy of lust and made the usually controlled man spin out of control with need and want.
Tyler’s cheeks were red, his eyes closed in pure bliss, and his mouth slightly open. He looked sexy as hell. His head was thrown back, exposing his throat, and Ryan couldn’t help but lean forward and lick slowly along Tyler’s neck, bottom to top. Tyler shivered, as Ryan had known he would, and moaned in sheer pleasure.
With a smile, Ryan rubbed his hand over himself once more and then slowly pushed into Tyler, watching his face.
He leaned down and lightly bit Tyler’s neck, then sucked gently as he thrust into Tyler’s body.
Tyler moaned again, and Ryan thrust faster. He wrapped his hand around Tyler, stroking with each thrust. Tyler gasped again, meeting each movement, and then he threw his head back and cried out as his orgasm rushed over him.
The contracting of Tyler’s body sent Ryan over the edge. He moaned and closed his eyes as he thrust hard one more time. His entire body tingled as his orgasm washed over him in wave after wave. He collapsed down onto his lover, who wrapped him in his arms and held him.
“So how late you gonna be tonight?” Ryan inquired, taking a sip of his coffee. He was dressed neatly in black dress pants, a dark-red silk dress shirt, and a black silk tie around his neck. His lover was dressed much more casually in faded blue jeans with a white T-shirt tucked into them. Above his shirt, tucked in the black holster at the back of his jeans, was Tyler’s black nine millimeter, which Ryan could see as Tyler opened the refrigerator door.
“I dunno. Guess it depends on whether or not I get busted or my lead is any good. Don’t you work emergency tonight?” Tyler responded, pulling a Mountain Dew from the refrigerator. He turned to look at Ryan, who was leaning with his back against the counter, as he closed the door.
“Yeah, until eleven.”
Tyler nodded in response as he picked up his blue dress shirt, which had been draped over the back of a chair, and slid it on. Ryan sat his mug down and walked with him to the garage door, where he enfolded Tyler in his arms. Tyler molded against him and laid his head against Ryan’s shoulder, his nose in Ryan’s neck. At six feet, Ryan stood just two inches taller than Tyler, and his build was nearly the same as his younger lover’s, with Tyler being a bit more toned and even more tanned. The tall, dark, and handsome type, Ryan had gentle brown eyes and a kind smile.
“Be careful. I don’t want to see you in my emergency room,” Ryan half-joked. Tyler had a way of finding trouble.
Tyler smiled playfully. “Aren’t I always careful?” His eyes were sparkling with mischief.
“Hmph,” Ryan snorted, pulling Tyler in for a slow and seductive kiss, his fingers sifting through the hair behind Tyler’s ear. “Like I said, be careful,” he repeated as they parted. He cupped Tyler’s bruised cheek in his hand and looked into his eyes.
Tyler smiled again, sincerely this time, and then turned toward his car.
Ryan watched him climb into his sleek black Mustang. He always worried about his lover. Being an undercover detective in the narcotics bureau wasn’t the safest job, and today he just had an uneasy feeling. He could only hope it would go away.
“What the hell happened last night?” Captain Jack Bree growled at the two detectives, who were sitting in his office, watching as he paced in front of them. His voice was low and dangerous, but neither detective look fazed as they met the scowl.
“They knew I was a cop,” Tyler told him calmly. He was used to Jack’s outbursts, so they rarely ever bothered him—and Jack was one of Tyler’s best friends, even if he did spend the better amount of his time yelling at him.
Jack’s brown eyes narrowed in surprise, and he wrinkled his forehead in concern. “How’d they know that?”
Tyler met his partner’s gaze, who shrugged, letting Tyler make the call. Tyler sighed. “We’re not sure. An old perp,” he suggested, “or we could have a leak.” He didn’t like thinking that a fellow officer was responsible for his near-demise the night before, but he had no other answers, and the evidence was too strong to ignore.
Tommy nodded his agreement.
“A leak?” their captain repeated.
Tyler splayed his fingers as if to say, I don’t know, could be. “I hope not, but I’ve got a pretty bad feeling about this. Like we’ve only just seen the beginning.”
“I sure hope you’re wrong, Detective,” Jack said as he sighed and rubbed his head wearily. “But you usually never are.” He leaned back against his desk, and his tone changed to concern. “Look, you’d better find those drugs, and find them fast. Internal Affairs is already sniffing around, and they’re looking to drill you. They don’t know the drugs are missing yet, so I’d be quick about it.”
“Yes, sir,” Tyler and Tommy agreed as they stood.
Jack pushed himself off his desk. “Be careful,” he warned them both. Just a few years older than Tommy, and nearly the same height, the African-American captain’s eyes were concerned as he regarded his two best friends.
They both nodded, fully understanding how complicated the situation had just gotten.
“Now what?” Tommy turned to his partner as they exited the office and headed for the elevator.
Tommy groaned; he knew that look all too well. It always boded trouble.
“I have a lead.”
“What’d you do?” Tommy eyed Tyler suspiciously as they stepped onto the elevator. It was just like Tyler to come across information a bit illegally and then spring it on Tommy later.
“I questioned a suspect.”
“We already questioned the suspects together,” Tommy pointed out.
“I, uh, re-questioned one.” Tyler grinned.
“Mmm-hmm, and how’d we do that?” Tommy was looking at him skeptically.
Tyler gave him his best innocent look as they stepped off the elevator into the parking garage. “I just convinced him that he had some information that I wanted and that it would be in his best interests to tell me.”
Tommy rolled his eyes knowingly. “Yeah, you and your nine convinced him.”
Tyler just laughed.
Tommy shook his head, laughing too. “So where we headed?”
“Marty, that’s the suspect, says that the buyer’s name is Jackson. Harry Jackson.”
Tommy tipped his head slightly with a frown, his expression contemplative. “Jackson? Why’s that name sound familiar?”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought too.” Tyler shrugged it off.
“You get anything else?”
“Just an address.”
“Anybody ever tell you you’re adorable when you play innocent?” Tommy teased as he opened the passenger side door of the Mustang. His smile lit his green eyes as he looked at his partner over the top of the car.
“Yeah, Ryan tells me that all the time,” Tyler winked at him with a conspiratorial air. “And it usually leads to sex.”
They stopped and picked up lunch for the stakeout and then drove to the address that Marty had provided Tyler. Tommy whistled at the expansive property that loomed in front of them.
“I’m in the wrong business,” Tyler muttered.
Tommy laughed at that. “According to IA, you’re not.”
Tyler smirked. “They’re just mad ’cause they can’t come up with a good enough reason to throw me off the force.”
“Well, if they followed you around for a day, they’d have their reason in no time,” Tommy teased.
Tyler responded by extending his middle finger.
The sun had just begun its descent on the distant horizon when Tommy turned to his partner.
“So what’s your plan?” he asked, taking his eyes off the house.
“I thought we’d go knock on the door and ask if Jackson wants to play.” Tyler turned his head from the binoculars to grin at his partner.
Tommy shook his head at Tyler’s perfect childish expression. “I’m calling for backup,” he declared, reaching for the mike.
“You do that,” Tyler agreed, nodding. “Stay here and wait. I’ll be back.”
Halfway out of the car, Tommy latched onto his wrist.
“Tyler, get back here. You can’t go in there alone. I know how good you are, but you have no idea what you’re getting into. Besides, you don’t even have a warrant.” Tommy tried to argue with his partner, although he didn’t know why he bothered. Arguing with Tyler was like arguing with a brick wall, and even a brick wall caved more often than his partner.
“Tommy, I have to get those drugs back or my ass is going to end up in jail,” Tyler replied seriously, meeting his friend’s eyes. “And yours is going to be sitting right next to mine. You call in backup and get a warrant. I’ll be careful.” As he got out of the car, he called over his shoulder, “You may want to bring in SWAT. Just in case.”
Tommy rubbed his head as he watched Tyler go around to the back of the house. “Of all the harebrained ideas,” he muttered to himself. “Why can’t he wait for backup? He never waits for backup.”
Tommy relayed his position to headquarters, requested an expedited search warrant, and listened to the dispatch as he waited. So far, everything seemed quiet. He just hoped Tyler wouldn’t get into too much trouble before backup arrived.
He shook his head. Who was he kidding? This was Tyler.
Tyler climbed silently into a window on the lower level of the house, gun drawn and resting in his left hand. He was careful to keep to the shadows to avoid any security cameras.
He found the security office fairly quickly. It was guarded by one lone man, slouching lazily in his chair.
Tyler slid in behind him quietly and quickly rendered him unconscious. He then securely tied his hands and feet with zip ties, put duct tape over his mouth, and stuffed him into a closet where he wouldn’t be noticed for a while. Then he scanned the screens and found what he was looking for: an expensively decorated office.
He quickly disabled the camera to the office and the hallway in between and silently crept to the room.
After checking to be sure it wasn’t occupied, he made his way inside. It only took him a moment to locate the safe behind an oversized painting of a black panther. He quickly skimmed the edges of the painting with his fingers, searching for a trip wire, which he found and deactivated within seconds.
Carefully lifting the painting from the wall, he placed it on the floor and then set about cracking the safe. His eyes gleamed as the last number clicked and the door swung open.
The large office safe was filled with folders and large amounts of cash. He flipped through the folders, pausing when he got to a listing for a warehouse. He scanned the contents.
Footsteps down the hall made him look up sharply. Shoving the folders back into the safe, he pushed the thick door closed and re-hung the painting. Then he moved silently to the doorway, standing just out of sight.
In mere moments, Harry Jackson stepped through the door, followed by two of his heavily armed men.
As Jackson turned and caught sight of him, Tyler grinned smartly. “Hello, Harry.” He had his nine millimeter out, held steadily in his left hand and aimed directly between the other man’s eyes.
“Detective Michaels.” Jackson actually looked impressed. “So you figured out who I am?”
“Nah, your boy Marty told me. Not very loyal goons, are they, Jackson?”
Jackson frowned. “Apparently not.”
Tyler tipped his head slightly and asked the question weighing foremost on his mind. “How’d you know I was a cop?”
Jackson quirked an eyebrow, his expression intrigued, then thoughtful, and then he smiled, his eyes practically glowing with glee. “Aww, feeling a bit betrayed, there, Michaels? Would it make you feel better if I told you exactly who ratted you out?” He smiled viciously. “Well, I’m going to let you die wondering who it was you thought you could trust, but who was willing to sell you out for the right price. Was it your captain? Your partner? Or how ’bout that pretty brunette three desks down? Shame you’ll never find out.” His voice was grating and impudent. Tyler glared, his eyes full of hostile rage.
He heard the footsteps a moment before the men entered the room. He dropped to the floor just as the gunfire erupted.
Wood chips splintered up along the floorboards as he rolled. He returned fire, causing men to scatter and retreat from the room briefly. Sliding to his knees, he dove behind the desk, hoping his backup would arrive soon.
Suddenly, arms were grabbing him. His gun arm was grabbed tightly and yanked behind his back, and then he was lifted and thrown face-first onto the desk. His gun was removed none too gently from his hand, and he was lifted once again. He struggled as he was shoved into the wall, and just as he broke an arm free from his captors, a gun came up under his chin.
From his side, Jackson smiled triumphantly at his prey.
“I must admit, it took real balls to come in here by yourself.”
Tyler grinned impishly. “Gee, thanks, Harry. Comin’ from you, that means a lot.” He grunted as a fist slammed into his stomach. The air rushed from his lungs.
One punch after another followed. The constant blows made him dizzy, and sound and color all seemed to swirl around him. Suddenly, stars exploded behind his eyelids, and Tyler’s body sagged between the two men holding him.
A sudden blow to his cheek made his head snap back. He tasted the blood. Through his haze, he caught a gleam. He sluggishly turned his head to see Jackson unsheathing a knife and crossing the distance to stand in front of him.
His first thought was that Ryan wasn’t going to be happy.
Jackson put the tip of the blade to Tyler’s neck, his eyes gleaming dangerously. Tyler didn’t flinch as the knife bit into him slightly, refusing to give the other man the satisfaction of seeing him crack under his torment. It stung more than anything, and the trickle of blood was warm as it slid down his throat.
Jackson met his stony glare. “How long can you suffer without screaming?” he inquired, curious.
Without batting an eye, Tyler hooked Jackson’s ankle with his foot and pulled sharply, dropping him to the floor. The men sprang, but Tyler was ready.
As he fought, he heard the front door of the house being kicked in and the yell of the police as they arrived.
Tyler’s legs were swept out from under him at the same second a man tackled him from the side. They rolled him to his back while someone kicked him sharply in the side. Pain flared as the booted toe connected with his already bruised ribs. His arms were pulled above his head.
Flat on his back, Tyler struggled, refusing to cooperate in their attempts to kill him. Several more men jumped in.
Exploding pain erupted as the knife came down against his unprotected stomach, piercing layers of skin and muscle. Agonizing waves suddenly overwhelmed him. He could hear the gunfire being exchanged above his head as the room swam before his eyes. Color and sound were muffled, and the floor seemed to pitch. He groaned as a wave of nausea threatened to overtake him.
He sucked in as much air as he could, let it out slowly, and focused. Adrenaline rushed through him, and he kicked the man with the knife hard, in the chest.
The man toppled back, ripping the knife from Tyler’s stomach as he went.
Tyler groaned, clenching his eyes tightly as the knife was torn from his body, bringing a new form of agony. He rolled to his knees, forcing himself to focus.
Taking several breaths, he forced himself to move. He grabbed his gun from the floor nearby just as one of Jackson’s men was taking aim.
He threw himself out of the way at the same second several bullets pierced the wooden floor where he had been kneeling. From where he lay on his side, he fired three rapid shots, nipple, nipple, belly, his instincts from years of training taking over. Entranced, he watched the man fall, the blood loss and the adrenaline rush causing a natural high.
His head jerked up at the sound of breaking glass. He looked just in time to see Jackson jumping through a window, taking an armload of paperwork with him.
Tyler clambered to his feet and dove through the shattered glass after him.
Several steps ahead of him, Jackson jumped into a car and fired it up. He slammed into and past the police cruisers that now filled the driveway. He swung out onto the highway, and the police took pursuit.
Tyler swore under his breath. He heard footsteps running toward him from behind, and he turned, gun aimed, teetering only slightly.
“Whoa, partner, it’s me. Put it down,” Tommy urged softly. He had his hands raised slightly in a calming gesture.
Tyler lowered his weapon.
“Y’okay?” Tommy asked, getting closer to Tyler. He frowned. Blood streaked down Tyler’s face and neck, and his shirt was torn and blood-soaked.
Tyler nodded weakly but swayed sharply on his feet.
Tommy grabbed him. He eyed the blood staining Tyler’s shirt, growing with each breath.
“Let’s get you to the hospital,” his said anxiously. He held his partner upright, supporting him with his own body.
“We have to go after Jackson,” Tyler objected stubbornly. He waved off the paramedics that surrounded them. They looked to Tommy for help.
Tommy put his hand tightly over the free-flowing wound, trying to staunch the flow of blood, which slid through his fingers effortlessly as he regarded his partner wearily.
He glanced down in worry, the blood warm and sticky against his hand. He looked back at his partner, his eyes pleading for Tyler to understand. “Don’t do this to me, Ty. You won’t make it if we chase after Jackson; you’re bleeding way too hard. Let me take you to get stitched up, and then we’ll go from there.”
Finally, Tyler nodded. He looked at his watch. It wasn’t even seven.
“Ryan’s going to kill me,” he moaned through the haze of pain.