“HEY, Freddy, Scott, you got to check this out,” Special Agent Michelle Clancy said as she trotted into the free weights room of the FBI’s Baltimore field office gym.
“Busy,” Special Agent Fred Perrimore grunted as he strained with the barbell. His biceps bulged as he pressed up; sweat dotted the black skin along his closely shaved hairline.
“Believe me. It’s worth it,” Clancy told them in a singsong voice. Her ponytail bobbed along behind her as she bounced on the tips of her toes excitedly, the bright red hair clashing with her freckles and the flushed pink of her face.
Special Agent Scott Alston looked up from where he stood spotting Perrimore. “What is it?” he asked impatiently. Clancy was too easily worked up for a five-year veteran, and Perrimore always took too much weight. If he dropped the bar when Alston wasn’t paying attention, there would be shit tons of paperwork to fill out.
“Garrett and Grady are beating the shit out of each other,” Clancy answered with something resembling relish.
“So?” Perrimore asked in a strained voice. His large arms trembled with the effort to raise the bar and plates. “They’re always doing that.”
He was right, but Alston’s eyes widened with the news. He began to grin even as he helped pull the bar up and hastily settle it into its cradle with a clank. No way did he want to miss this.
“What the hell, man?” Perrimore complained as he sat up and gave them both an exasperated glare. Alston was already following Clancy out of the room when he heard Perrimore protest, “But what’s the big deal? They’re always doing that!”
Clancy and Alston emerged into the main gym, where several small groups of agents had dropped what they were doing to gather around the center boxing ring. As Clancy and Alston hurried to watch through the ropes, a chorus of groans and cheers went up as one of the men slammed to the mat with an impact that actually shook the entire ring.
“Get up, Grady! You can’t take that shit from him!” one of the watching agents called out in amusement.
Alston shook his head and folded his arms, listening as someone nearby filled him in on the events that had led up to this.
The fight had started out as a simple sparring match between partners. Nothing special. Nothing for anyone to pay much attention to. Several people in the main gym had been initially impressed that the newly arrived Special Agent Zane Garrett could hold his own with his temperamental, extremely well-trained partner, but that was about it. Today’s event appeared to have started as a training session, with Ty giving Zane pointers and lessons in some particular technique.
If Zane was trying to learn from Ty, he’d gone to the right place. Unfortunately, Ty wasn’t exactly mentor material. Everyone in the Baltimore office knew that Special Agent Ty Grady was good for one thing in the ring: embarrassing the hotshot rookies. If you really wanted to spar with him, you had to handicap him somehow. Alston personally preferred the knee-to-the-nuts-in-the-locker-room-prior-to-sparring method. That usually evened up the odds a little. Usually.
Heads began to turn when the gentle sparring, quips, and teasing between partners had become slightly more heated and the jabs had become true punches that caused the combatants to stagger back with each blow. It was common knowledge how difficult it was to work with Ty Grady. It had come as no surprise to anyone when Zane Garrett arrived that they were always at each other’s throats, especially when it turned out Zane was about as headstrong as Ty, which was really saying something. There was already a pool on how long the partnership would last.
“Now, come on, Grady. You taught me that move yourself,” Zane said as he backed away a couple steps, his wrapped fists still up and ready. His plain gray cotton T-shirt was soaked through with sweat and pulled across well-defined muscles as he shifted his shoulders. Alston had to admit Zane was a big dude and saw how he could be sort of intimidating. Not that it would matter a bit to Ty.
Ty rolled to his side and pushed himself up with a low groan. He wasn’t quite as tall or broad-shouldered as his partner, but he was solid from head to toe, still a big man in his own right. Alston was of the opinion that his attitude gave him a more imposing air than his bulk. Every agent here knew Ty Grady through one avenue or another. And everyone knew he was just one twist short of a slinky.
He was wearing a white shirt with a picture of a scarecrow on it accompanied by the words “out standing in his field.” Not one of the watching agents gave it a second glance. It was, they all knew, his favorite shirt.
Ty looked up at his partner and snarled at him, seemingly unaware of the people watching and now placing bets on who would be the winner. He rolled his shoulders and began to circle again, taped fists up and close to his face. Zane moved in a mirror image, watching Ty intently.
“There’s no way Garrett can stay in too long with Grady,” Alston predicted. It wasn’t that he didn’t like Zane. He seemed like an okay guy. Maybe a little dull and straight-laced. But it was Ty he was fighting. The former Marine was on a short fuse on the best of days. When he lost his temper, there was never any telling what would be rigged to blow by the end of the workday.
“He’s been in there twenty minutes already,” Clancy said, arms crossed as she watched.
“Yeah, but it didn’t get serious until a few minutes ago,” another agent told them.
“Garrett may surprise you,” Fred Perrimore said as he joined them. While he was built heavy and barrel-chested, Alston stood three inches taller than him at six feet, and they both towered over Clancy’s petite frame. “He’s got some moves.”
“Having ‘moves’ and being trained to kill by the government are not the same thing,” Alston said with a derisive laugh.
As if to emphasize his point, Ty moved in a graceful series of feints, jabs, and an arcing roundhouse kick to send Zane to the mat with a resounding thump. He danced away lightly before Zane could touch him.
“Hands ain’t the only things that hit, Garrett,” Ty said in a low voice, a slight smirk curling his lips.
Zane rolled into a crouch and twisted as he stood, his heel connecting with the back of Ty’s knee, forcing it to collapse as he punched Ty in the kidney.
Clancy winced. “I’m thinking Garrett can kick ass just fine,” she murmured.
They watched as Ty fell to his knees with a grunt of anger and pain, and then he just as quickly rolled and struck out, taking Zane’s legs out from under him, catching Zane’s knees between his two calves like a pair of scissors. The crowd groaned when Zane hit the mat a second time, and Ty pounced on him, getting an arm around his neck and rolling him up between his knees, trying to immobilize him.
“Should we stop this before Ty snaps his neck?” Clancy asked in morbid amusement. She and Alston shared a look, Alston privately thinking that he wouldn’t put it past Ty to do it. They shrugged at each other negligently, but then both winced when Zane somehow rocked forward and pulled Ty half over his shoulder before shoving him off to one side. Ty rolled away nimbly and sprang to his feet almost instantly.
“We need walls, partner,” Zane sniped as he got to his feet. “Something for you to splat against.”
Ty shook his head and reached up to the strap of the protective headgear required in the ring. He yanked at it and ripped the padded helmet off, tossing it over the ropes to land at the feet of several of the agents watching. He didn’t say anything to Zane, just held out one taped hand and gestured for him to bring it.
“Oh fuck, we’re going to have to fill out paperwork about this too,” Alston muttered to himself.
Zane’s eyes narrowed, and he cocked his head to one side before doing the same, pulling off his own helmet and sending it skidding off the mat to thunk to the floor. “What’s wrong, Grady?” he asked ruefully, raising his fists. “Cat got your tongue?”
Everyone watching groaned at the verbal jab. They’d all heard the story of what had happened to Ty and Zane in the mountains of West Virginia. Ty merely smirked without attacking. One of the fists he held up and ready was badly scarred from the cougar bite he’d received several weeks ago and the two subsequent surgeries he’d undergone to fix the damage. Zane’s taunt was a low blow.
Without warning, Zane lunged, leading with his left shoulder to shove all his weight into Ty, propelling him toward the ropes. It seemed to be what Ty had been waiting for, though, because he planted a foot and used Zane’s momentum to lift him completely off his feet and slam him down into the mat. The entire ring shook again, and a loud groan rippled through the audience.
This time when Zane was down, Ty didn’t try to merely immobilize him. He got in four or five rapid punches to the midsection before one wicked left to Zane’s unprotected face.
Shouts of protest came from the crowd, but no one moved to stop it. Zane balled up and took the clearly painful hits, and when Ty reared back for a last shot, Zane got one knee pulled back and shoved a foot into Ty’s gut, hard, before he started scrambling away from him. Ty stumbled backward, but then he attacked again, too quickly for Zane to get away.
“I think he’s getting pissed,” Alston observed drily.
“If Ty was pissed, Garrett’d be dead already,” Perrimore pointed out in a flat voice.
Another round of pained groans went up from the small crowd of watching agents as Ty tackled Zane and straddled him, pinning him with his knees.
“That hurt, dammit!” Ty growled at his partner as he held him to the mat by his neck.
“Fuck you, Meow Mix,” Zane hissed back as he got one hand on Ty’s shoulder—the arm holding him down—having just enough arm length to keep Ty from totally throttling him. He balled up his other fist and punched Ty in the gut. Everyone heard the thump of fist hitting solid muscle, but it didn’t dislodge him.
Ty turned his shoulder, slamming his elbow against the side of Zane’s head before grabbing him by the neck again with one hand and using the other hand to fend off Zane’s attempts at retaliation.
Anyone who knew Ty knew that he wasn’t trying to kill his partner, though. Cause brain damage, maybe. But not kill him.
“Guys, this is too much,” Clancy finally objected as she raised both her hands.
“You gonna get in there to separate them?” Alston asked incredulously as he watched Zane continue to fight off Ty’s other hand while bucking under him, trying to throw him off.
Clancy shook her head, and they watched in morbid amusement as Zane finally, somehow, got some leverage. The two men rolled across the mat in a badly orchestrated tumble, each man too stubborn to release the other as they grappled.
“What the hell is going on here?” an irritated voice bellowed from the doorway of the main gym.
The crowd of agents scattered. Ty and Zane stopped mid-throttle, looking up at their superior like two kids caught roughhousing in the living room.
Alston edged away toward the weight room, stopping just behind the doorway to peer around the corner with Clancy and two other curious agents.
In the middle of the ring, Ty turned his head to look at Special Agent in Charge Dan McCoy, who was glowering at them from several yards away. “Hey, Mac,” Ty greeted innocently as he straddled his bleeding partner. “Come down to work the glutes?” he asked with a sincere cock of his head.
Zane gasped for air and rapped his knuckles hard against Ty’s chest as he finally pried Ty’s fingers from his throat.
“You two, my office, now,” McCoy ordered as he pointed his finger at them. “If you can kick the shit out of each other, then you’re ready for your next assignment,” he muttered as he turned and stalked away.
As soon as McCoy was gone, someone from somewhere in the cavernous workout room wolf-whistled at Ty and Zane and proceeded to applaud the performance they’d given.
Ty stood and took a bow as Zane stalked off toward the locker rooms. Alston snorted and looked down at Perrimore with a shrug. “Better them than us.”
“I hear that,” Perrimore muttered as he returned to the weights.
ZANE let his head loll back and lifted one hand to gently prod his split lip. “Ow.”
“Whine about it. It’ll make it better,” Ty offered as he stood in front of his locker, his back to Zane, and unwrapped the tape from his hands with jerky, irritated movements.
“Bite me,” Zane muttered as he dug into his locker for a towel before starting in on the tape on his own hands. He spared an evil glance for Ty. “Teaching me to advance in a fight is a bad idea.”
“Teaching you to fight at all is an exercise in futility,” Ty responded in a matter-of-fact tone. “Luckily for you, I enjoy things like banging my head against a wall.”
“I enjoy banging your head against a wall too,” Zane replied as he tossed the balled-up tape at a nearby trash can. He let a small smile quirk his lips as he sat on the bench to unlace his shoes.
“Shut up,” Ty grunted at him. But even though his back was still turned to him, Zane could hear the smile in his voice. “And cut it out with the damn cat jokes, huh? They’re starting to catch on.”
“Fine, fine. No reason to get catty about it,” Zane told his partner with a barely concealed grin.
“A for effort,” Ty conceded charitably.
Zane kicked his shoes into his locker before pulling his T-shirt over his head and inspecting his abs and ribs. “You had to go for the ribs, didn’t you?” he said, his voice pained. He’d had his ribs cracked so many times he figured they might as well be superglued at this point. “Bastard,” he tacked on before shucking his socks and standing with his towel in hand.
“You leave them open,” Ty informed him. “Because you cover your head and cry like a little girl.”
Zane huffed. This was one of the problems with being Ty’s partner. While they were trying to learn to live with each other without significant personal injury, that didn’t necessarily carry over to their sparring sessions. “I didn’t cover once today,” he asserted. “Backed off, hell yes. Covered, no.”
Ty glanced over his bare shoulder and smirked. “Granted,” he allowed. “Think I should shower before McCoy hands us our asses, or should I go in smelling like victory?” he posed grandly as he opened up his locker and tossed his sweaty T-shirt into his gym bag.
Zane bit the inside of his lip against the first answer that came to mind as he deliberately looked his lover up and down, and he spent a few seconds revising what he could say without risking another smack upside the head. “I don’t believe McCoy would appreciate your… expression of ‘victory’.” McCoy wouldn’t appreciate Ty’s finely tuned musculature or his ass either, but Zane was more than happy to pick up the slack in that area.
“Quit ogling me, sidekick,” Ty warned without having to turn around. He grabbed for his shower caddy and a towel, and with one last smirk and wink at Zane, he headed for the showers.
Zane spared a moment to wish the locker room weren’t so busy this afternoon. He’d reached a point where Ty’s attitude and cockiness were more turn-ons than annoyances. They were harbingers of Ty’s playful good mood, which more often than not led to copious amounts of rough, passionate sex.
Zane decided he’d wait to shower until Ty was done. He could only deal with so much bodily temptation in one day.
THEY sat at McCoy’s conference table, behaving themselves and attempting to appear abashed.
Ty figured Dan McCoy knew him better than that, though. He was probably still getting a read on Zane, though, just like everyone else in the Baltimore office. They’d only been actively assigned to Baltimore for a few weeks now. Ty was at home. Zane was still an unknown to most everyone, despite the stories that had filtered through about their past escapades.
McCoy knew enough to know they were up to no good, anyway.
“I hope you got it out of your systems,” McCoy finally said to them in annoyance.
“We were just putting on a demonstration,” Ty explained easily. “Zane calls it ‘How to Get Your Ass Kicked’. It goes over real well with the rookies,” he drawled, overly pleased with himself.
Zane just sat there looking cool and comfortable in his well-fitted suit. He had a small smile on his face as he shook his head slightly at his partner.
“Shut up, Grady,” McCoy requested flatly.
“Right,” Ty muttered. He shifted in his seat and leaned forward. “You said you had an assignment for us?” he asked eagerly. He would take anything over the “getting up to speed” deskwork they’d been doing the last three weeks. Despite one blip up in the mountains of West Virginia, the last eight weeks of Ty’s life had been god-awful boring. Even Zane couldn’t keep Ty’s wavering attention for very long unless he had something shiny to wave around. Ty needed to be doing something or he began to go stir crazy.
McCoy’s lips curved into a slow, slightly malicious smile. “I do,” he answered. “Corbin and Del Porter,” he said as he retrieved a file.
“Who?” Ty asked, unimpressed.
McCoy smiled and reached to the middle of the table for a little white remote. He turned slightly and pushed a button, causing a small flat screen to flick on. A picture of a large cruise ship appeared on the screen bolted to the wall.
“Oh shit,” Ty found himself blurting before he could stop himself.
“This,” McCoy continued as if he hadn’t heard Ty, “is the Queen of the Mediterranean,” he told them with a wave of his fingers at the ship. “It is currently docked in Baltimore, preparing for a fifteen-day cruise to the Caribbean.”
“You’re not making us take a vacation, are you?” Ty asked in something close to panic.
Zane’s chin snapped up in alarm. “Jesus, Grady, we agreed not to even think that word, much less say it.”
“Corbin and Del Porter,” McCoy said loudly to curtail any more conversation, “were supposed to be on that ship tomorrow. But we finally got enough on these two to detain them.” He slid a file toward Ty and leaned back in his seat with a grin. “There’s a laundry list of no-nos we can pin on them with a little more evidence, and we’ll get it soon enough. What we want from you is something concrete on a few of their contacts.”
Ty scratched his head absently as he looked over the file. The two men were implicated in numerous high-dollar thefts: art, antiquities, rare gems. All stuff that was hard to steal and harder to fence. It was difficult to tell whether they were collectors or middlemen, but either way, if the FBI leaned on them, it could produce a lot of information on a lot of different high-end thieves and dealers.
But Ty and Zane weren’t leaners. They didn’t interrogate suspects who weren’t part of their own investigations. They didn’t know anything about this case and would be lost if they were asked to do the interrogation. Information wasn’t why they were here. He glanced to his side, where Zane shrugged one shoulder, having obviously come to the same conclusion.
“I’m not sure I understand why we’re here,” Ty said in confusion as he gestured between himself and Zane, still looking down at the file.
“You are here because you two roughly match the physical description of the two men we now have in custody,” McCoy answered with a wide grin.
Ty looked up at him suspiciously. McCoy seemed to be enjoying himself too much for this to be good news for Ty or Zane. Zane leaned forward in his seat, frowning, though he didn’t speak up.
“We look like them,” Ty reiterated flatly.
“Vaguely,” McCoy agreed. “Same build, mostly. Zane’s coloring.”
Ty glared at the man. “I’m not following,” he said slowly. “You want us to assume their identities? How’s that gonna work?” he asked.
“Corbin and Del Porter were booked to leave on that cruise tomorrow,” McCoy said again. “We have it on good authority they plan to meet several of their buyers and sellers while on this cruise, taking advantage of somewhat lax security and customs and what have you in the Caribbean. And since this will be the first instance of the two of them ever showing themselves physically in their business dealings, their contacts only have virtual interactions to go on. They won’t know you’re imposters. We can get a lot of information out of this if you two take their places and play your cards right.”
“I’m not sure I like the sound of this,” Zane said. “We’ve not got word one on the case until today, and now we’re supposed to impersonate these guys?”
“You’ll be given a crash course. And you’re both professional bullshit artists; you’re perfect for it,” McCoy replied carelessly. Zane frowned at him.
Ty scratched slowly at his cheek. “Okay,” he said carefully. He still didn’t understand why McCoy seemed to be enjoying the prospect so much. There was a catch coming.
“You leave at nine in the morning. The rest of your team has already been put in place,” McCoy told them as he pushed another stack of files toward the center of the table.
“Our team?” Zane repeated. Ty sighed heavily and closed his eyes. There was the catch.
“You know the drill, Garrett, a team. Team leader, two more field agents, and tech support. Read the files so you don’t end up shooting one of them when you meet them. And Grady, we’ll be needing you to make just a few… alterations… to your appearance before you go,” he said as he studied Ty critically.
“What the hell are you talking about, McCoy? It’s not like he can gain fifty pounds overnight,” Zane said crossly.
“Nothing like that. Some hot wax and a little bleach, and he’ll be set,” McCoy continued, barely keeping himself from laughing now.
“Hot wax?” Ty asked in alarm. He heard Zane stifle a snort.
“Del Porter is what you would call… arm candy,” McCoy drawled with a smirk.
“Oh hell,” Zane muttered, leaning back, rubbing his hand over his face, and shifting in his chair uncomfortably. Ty glanced at him, not following.
“I see that Garrett has figured it out,” McCoy said, his voice nearly bubbly. Ty shook his head in confusion.
“I didn’t mention that?” McCoy asked in feigned innocence as he flipped through his notes as if he needed to check his information. “Corbin and Del Porter aren’t brothers, gentlemen. They’re lovers. Legally married, in fact.” He reached out and placed two silver rings on the desk in front of them. “Go ahead and put those on,” he instructed.
Zane went totally still, his eyes locked on the jewelry. Then his chin rose as his gaze shifted to McCoy. “Are you sure this is necessary?” he asked flatly.
Ty very carefully didn’t say anything in response as he stared at the shiny rings. He’d worn a wedding ring before as part of a cover. But this was different.
“The Porters are a very out gay couple,” McCoy continued, ignoring their reactions to the news. “The fact is well-known to all their contacts. It would be an alarm bell if you weren’t wearing the rings,” he said to Zane. “Corbin is what you’d call the brains of the operation. Del is… pretty.”
Ty still sat motionless, staring at McCoy with a churning in his gut as he realized what they were being thrown into. A very out gay couple amongst people who would expect them to act as such—including a team of their own people. He slowly reached out and picked up one of the rings, turning it over in his hand. It was a simple silver band, flat and wide. He glanced at Zane apprehensively. Zane still wore his own gold wedding ring on his finger. Ty didn’t know how his partner would react to replacing it, even temporarily. But Zane didn’t move a muscle, didn’t even twitch as he stared at the single ring still there in front of McCoy.
“Now understand: this may put you both in a few uncomfortable situations,” McCoy went on sincerely. “But you’ve both got UC experience, and I’m sure you’d both rather have to kiss each other than be shot at,” he joked. Ty cleared his throat and tried to restrain a smile. McCoy had no idea how right he was. “Those rings are all we’re going to provide you for this one,” he continued. “We’ve appropriated the bags they’d already packed for their cruise, so you’re set on being clothed and otherwise outfitted. Lucky for us, you two are even roughly the same sizes,” McCoy rambled as he stood. “Everything they needed for the deals they were making is in that luggage. You’ll have to smuggle weapons on board; we’ll come up with some sort of concealment for them in the luggage. The captain and head of security on board have been informed of your involvement, but you are not to break cover even with them unless absolutely necessary. Ty, if you find yourself in the brig, you stay there until they make port. You’ll have the rest of your team there if you get in trouble, but when you make land, you’re shit out of luck.”
McCoy stood at the end of his little speech, looking down at them with a raised eyebrow and a smile. Ty and Zane sat staring at him, their mouths hanging open as they listened.
Dan McCoy had been a good field agent, and he was a good Special Agent in Charge. Ty had even worked on a few cases with him before McCoy had been promoted, and they’d gotten on well—which was probably why McCoy was enjoying this so much and letting it show. Ty sort of wanted to hit him.
“Come with me,” McCoy invited with relish as he swept out the door.
A few moments after he disappeared, Zane stood abruptly with a sniff and straightened his jacket. Ty saw that he was grinding his teeth. He lowered his head and looked at the ring in his hand, not sure what to do or say about it. He supposed he would just put his on and let Zane work it out himself. He slipped it on his finger discreetly as he stood up. It was a little tight; he had to force it over the knuckle that was still a little swollen from the surgery he’d had to remove a piece of cougar tooth, but once it got on, it fit well. Ty very carefully didn’t give it any extra attention after that.
Zane reached out and plucked up the other ring, closing it into the fist of his right hand before turning on his heel to leave the room. Ty followed them out silently, dreading the hissy fit that would come soon enough.
They followed McCoy down a few floors to an interrogation room and filed into the observation half of one of the suites where an agent, Harry Lassiter, already stood at the glass. Ty and Zane nodded to the man as McCoy pointed through the two-way mirror. “Gentlemen, meet Del Porter.”
The man sitting at the table was handsome, probably about Ty’s height and build, just a little slimmer. He had short, spiky hair bleached an unnatural platinum blond that contrasted oddly with his dark tan. He wore a sleeveless vest that tied with a simple cord of leather at the crest of his ripped chest, and his entire upper body was well-muscled and toned. He was also clean-shaven and completely devoid of body hair.
He looked to Ty like he should be standing under a waterfall in a gay porno.
Zane paused in place, eyes a little wide, looking from Del to Ty to Del and back.
Ty blinked rapidly at the guy. “I’m supposed to be… him?” he finally asked in a stricken voice.
“Good thing you’re a hell of an actor,” Zane murmured as he continued comparing them.
Ty glared at him briefly and looked back at the man behind the glass. “I’ll never pull this off,” he said to the other men in the room.
Zane tipped his head to one side, openly appraising Ty’s body. “I don’t know,” he said distractedly. Ty looked back at him hatefully, feeling himself blushing under the scrutiny.
“He’s not what I’d call stupid. But he sure as hell isn’t the brightest bulb in the pack,” McCoy informed them. “He knows just enough to keep his mouth shut. But that and the fact that he’s pretty and got himself a rich husband are about all he’s got going for him.”
“Holy fuck, man,” Ty finally muttered. “I’m gonna be this dude for how long?”
“Relax, Grady. You have the easy end of this,” McCoy assured him. “Garrett’s guy is the real brains here, and no one who’s familiar with them will expect you to do anything but lay in the sun and work on your tan. Garrett? In the field, you’re the lead on this one. You’re calling the shots. Grady is just there as scenery and backup.”
Zane snorted as Ty turned to look at McCoy in outrage. Backup? They were partners; there was no lead and backup!
“Ty, we’ve booked you an appointment at some spa with a name I can’t pronounce,” McCoy went on as he handed Ty a slip of paper.
Ty reached out woodenly and took the certificate. “I’ll get on board with the hair color,” he bargained pleadingly. “You’re seriously gonna make me wax my chest?”
“You see that guy in there?” McCoy countered with a point of his finger at the man in the interrogation room.
Ty swallowed hard. He had done a lot of things he wasn’t proud of in order to assume identities that weren’t his. He’d changed his appearance, changed his behavior, treated decent people horribly to make an impression on a scumbag, prepared crack cocaine for others to smoke, taken lives, and any number of other things he didn’t care to remember. He knew how important a part the smallest thing could play when trying to convince a stranger that you were someone they thought they already knew. He looked down at the silver ring on his finger and back up at the man behind the glass with a heavy sigh.
“There’s a good man,” McCoy said with a pat to Ty’s shoulder.
Ty glanced at Zane as he felt himself blushing slowly. Though Zane’s face was composed, Ty could see the laughter in his eyes.
“I don’t know how they’ll get rid of the tattoo, but they’ve assured me they can,” McCoy added with another pat to Ty’s shoulder.
“What?” Ty cried as he looked at McCoy in outrage.
McCoy just smiled at him. “This guy was obviously never a Marine,” he reasoned. “Now, Grady, you get going,” he ordered before Ty could have a meltdown. “You’re getting the works, so you’ll probably be there all fucking day. Garrett, come with me,” McCoy said as he gestured for Zane to follow him. “I’ll introduce you to yourself,” he said wryly as they headed out the door.
Ty felt the sudden urge to beg Zane not to leave him there. He could feel the raised writing on the slip of thick, cream-colored paper in his hand. He looked down at it, thinking of all the procedures the makeover would entail. Salon Láurie… waxing, tanning, bleaching, manicures, lotions, scented mud….
Del Porter said something suddenly, complaining about being left in the room for so long. Ty turned to look at him in shock. He pointed his finger in outrage and turned to the other agent in the room. “He’s British?” Ty cried.
Special Agent Lassiter, who’d been standing there silently the whole time, covered his mouth with his hand and merely nodded in answer, unable to keep from laughing any longer.
“DO YOU realize what kind of shitfit Grady’s going to have over this when this is all done?” Zane asked McCoy as they walked down the nondescript hallway of holding and interrogation rooms.
“Oh, I’m looking forward to it,” McCoy said with relish. “I want pictures, Garrett. They’ll be great for the newsletter.”
Zane rolled his eyes. “I hope your insurance is up to date,” he said as they stopped at another door. “Grady doesn’t forget people who fuck around with him.”
“He gives as good as he gets,” McCoy said good-naturedly as he opened a door. Zane grunted and walked in.
The man on the other side of the two-way glass was as different from Del Porter as night was from day. And McCoy was right. Zane did have a general resemblance in height, build, and coloring. But Corbin Porter was definitely high-class. Or he thought he was: finely cut hair slicked back, a ruby stud in one ear, an expensive designer suit with a high-collared shirt rather than a tie, custom cuff links, manicured hands, and Italian leather on his feet. He held himself like a man accustomed to receiving respect, or possibly groveling.
“I didn’t say anything to Grady because I didn’t want to mitigate his horror. You’re going for a haircut and manicure too,” McCoy said with a twist to his lips.
Zane nodded distractedly as he studied Corbin Porter. The man was… arrogant. That was the word Zane was looking for. Arrogant. And possibly vain as well, but only to the point of knowing he was a fine-looking man.
He was also confident and controlled. He had propped one ankle over the opposite knee as he sat casually at the table, one forearm resting on the edge. He wasn’t fidgeting or twitching. He was simply waiting. What gave him away was the anger sparking in his eyes and the tightness around his mouth.
“Do you want to talk to him?” McCoy asked Zane.
Zane slowly shook his head. “I’ve met his type before.”
“He’s hardly a drug runner or a computer hacker,” McCoy pointed out.
“He’s a thug,” Zane murmured. “He’s dressed up pretty, but he’s still just a thug.”
“Explains the tattoo they’ll be giving you then.”
Zane blinked and turned his chin toward McCoy, who was grinning.
WHEN Zane and McCoy stepped back into the observation room of Del Porter’s interrogation suite, Zane had almost expected Ty to still be there, tying himself to the table and begging not to be taken to the salon.
But it was just Special Agent Lassiter, who had been joined by Special Agent Perrimore. They were standing at the glass, looking in at the prisoner with their heads cocked to the sides, like they were studying an animal in the zoo.
Zane peered through the glass as well. Ty was in there, sitting opposite Del, relaxed into the seat with his back to them, his legs crossed and his elbow resting on the table, almost like Corbin Porter had been. But Ty made it seem casual and easy, where Corbin had given off nothing but contempt and hostility. There was something different in Ty’s manner, too, but Zane couldn’t put a finger on it. He was too surprised to see Ty in there at all. He wasn’t the only one.
“What the hell is he doing?” McCoy asked in alarm.
“He said he wanted to talk to him,” Lassiter answered.
McCoy reached over and flipped the speaker switch.
“He told us not to listen in,” Lassiter told McCoy.
“Fuck that,” McCoy responded unthinkingly. “The guy’s actually talking—we might get something from him.”
“Not like we can use it in court,” Lassiter murmured under his breath, and he and Perrimore murmured quietly before snickering over the circumstances of the undercover case again. Zane ignored them in favor of watching Ty as the speakers tuned in.
“How long have you been married?” Ty was asking Del, who sat hunched and defensive, looking at Ty suspiciously.
Del didn’t answer; he merely looked down at his hands, probably studying his wedding ring. Zane resisted the urge to look down at his own. He knew, without a doubt, what sort of thoughts were running through Del’s mind. Zane squeezed his eyes shut for a moment before focusing on the scene again.
“Did you do it here in the States or did you go somewhere else?” Ty asked, his voice conveying what sounded like genuine interest.
“What the hell does Ty care?” Perrimore asked incredulously.
“He doesn’t. He’s building rapport, idiot,” Lassiter answered idly as he watched Ty closely. “We used to use him to prep suspects all the time. He’s charming.”
“You two will make a cute couple,” Perrimore drawled.
“Shut up. He also has a knack for giving off that dumb as a brick vibe, leaves them off guard.”
Ty continued, undeterred when Del still didn’t answer his queries. “My husband and I, we went to Boston,” Ty went on, picking up his hand and flashing the silver ring on his finger casually. The lie came shockingly easily to him. Del’s eyes flickered up to him, obviously surprised.
Everyone in the room turned to look at Zane.
“Ah, yes,” he drawled wryly as he felt their eyes on him. “He’s a sucker for red roses and opera.”
Perrimore and Lassiter snorted at him while McCoy chuckled and shook his head. “If there was baseball and Guinness involved, I’d half believe it,” McCoy muttered.
Zane rolled his eyes and turned his attention back to the window.
“Lots of history up there,” Ty was saying with a tilt of his head.
In the room, Del sat up straighter. “I didn’t think they liked that sort of thing in the FBI,” he said with a slight curl of his lip. Zane was surprised to hear him speak with a British accent.
Ty shrugged. “You’re thinking military. Feds don’t have any problems with it. I do my job like anyone else,” he said with another wave of his hand. Zane couldn’t place what Ty was doing differently with his body, but it made him look… gentler. Not feminine, but… not as masculine as he was apt to be. Zane couldn’t really describe the effect other than to think that Ty looked less alpha. He realized suddenly, as Ty rolled his shoulders, that he was subtly mimicking the man sitting across from him.
It hit Zane right then what Ty was really doing in there. He had no intention of interrogating Del Porter. He was studying him.
Del nodded carefully. “How long have you been with him?” he asked, his tone tentative.
“Long enough to know better,” Ty answered with a smile. All of his answers were vague. White lies that wouldn’t test Ty’s conscience, Zane knew.
Del gave him a half smile and nodded, then looked back down at his hands.
Ty was silent, watching him. From his vantage point behind the glass, Zane could see what Ty was seeing. Fading bruises around the man’s wrists, a few on his upper arms.
“He treat you right?” Ty asked suddenly.
Del glanced up at him almost defiantly and nodded again. He held up his hands to display his wrists. “I like it rough,” he told Ty with a smirk.
McCoy had to clear his throat, and Zane turned a glare on him.
Ty chuckled and nodded. “I hear ya,” he responded neutrally. He continued to examine Del Porter, and the man watched him and waited almost curiously. He looked as if he wanted to say more, but he was still wary.
Zane shook his head as he watched through the glass.
“The little hamster in Ty’s head is probably bored,” Perrimore observed.
“Thank you for your time, Mr. Porter,” Ty said abruptly as he nodded, as if having satisfied himself. He unfolded his legs and stood, heading for the door.
Del watched him go in surprise. “That’s it?” he asked in confusion. “You’re leaving?”
Ty stopped at the door and turned to look back at the man, his hand on the door handle. “I’m sorry. Did you need something else?” he asked with what seemed like honest surprise.
“You didn’t even ask me anything.”
Ty laughed and shook his head. “That ain’t my job, man,” he told Del dismissively before stepping out of the interrogation room and shutting the door firmly behind him.
Del Porter stared at the door and then looked at the mirrored glass incredulously.
“Somebody get Grady to the damn spa,” McCoy ordered under his breath as he stalked out of the room.