CUED by the station jingle, the lights came up on the television newscast set, highlighting a slim, pleasant-faced black woman in a white blouse and green suit jacket sitting at the desk and tall, smiling man wearing a charcoal gray suit. The station logo appeared on the screen. “This is WBAL TV 11 News at 6. I’m Jeff Barns.”
“And I’m Alicia Harrison. Good evening.”
The camera focused on Harrison as a photo of a police car on fire appeared over her left shoulder. “Riots shook the city last night following the Ravens’ loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round playoff. It was the third riot since New Year’s Eve, and the violence continues to escalate. Andrea Gregg has more on the story.”
A siren cut to a night shot of a police car burning. People ran in front of it, taking photos and yelling as firefighters worked to douse the flames. The windows in the store behind them were smashed, glass scattered everywhere. A teenager was kicking in a final window in the background.
“For the third time in a month, residents of Baltimore have woken up to a city in ruins.”
The sound of glass shards crackling and dragging on concrete accompanied the shot change. An older, balding man was sweeping up glass in front of a store.
“They ransacked the place,” the man, identified by the title cards as Store Owner Steve Vilnick, said. “This is the second time this month. I’m not sure we’ll open again.”
As he kept sweeping, Gregg’s voice took over. “So far, no one has been seriously injured in the riots, but the property damage now reaches into the millions. Police say they are doing all they can to bring those responsible to justice, but tempers are beginning to fray. Today, city residents showed their frustration in a number of organized protests outside police headquarters.”
The shot changed to a demonstration outside the ugly facade of one of Baltimore’s many police district buildings.
“They aren’t doing enough,” a young woman identified as Jasmine Burke, student, said. “What have they done to stop it? Nothing. It’s getting so you can’t go around at night anymore without walking into the middle of a battleground.”
“What are we paying them for?” Roy Monroe, store clerk, said. “They’ve made no arrests, got no leads. Man, after they smashed up the store I work in, we had to shut down for a week, and I didn’t get reimbursed for that time. Why are we still paying them?”
“I am concerned. Of course I’m concerned,” Bob Smitherman, banker, said. “Places that have always been safe in the city just aren’t anymore, and public events? After New Year’s, I’m avoiding them. Too many angry people and too few police.”
The shot switched to the Baltimore police chief. “We are, of course, doing all we can to stop the instigators of these riots, but we need the public’s help to restore peace and safety to our city. We can’t stand strong when we’re divided.”
A young woman in a light blue blazer appeared on screen holding a microphone. Her title read Andrea Gregg, WBAL reporter. A number appeared at the bottom of the screen. “Police are asking anyone with information or photos of rioters destroying property to call the tip line. You can also submit tips anonymously at www.baltimorepolice.org. This is Andrea Gregg, reporting for WBAL TV 11.”
THE steaming hot water poured down over his shoulders, and Special Agent Zane Garrett groaned, drawing it out as he rotated his head to stretch the tense muscles of his neck. The shower was a pleasure after the two-hour workout this morning that had culminated in another rough-and-tumble boxing match with his partner.
Zane let his eyes flutter shut, laid his head back to soak his hair, and released a long sigh while he enjoyed the pounding water pressure. This was an old gym, a small one tucked away in the basement of the FBI’s Baltimore field office. But Zane preferred it to the newer, shinier fitness center in town that some of the agents frequented. Mostly because this old locker room had wonderfully tall shower heads and he didn’t have to stoop—one of the hazards of being six foot five—and half-wall shower stalls, which meant he could sometimes ogle his very handsome partner without too much risk of being caught.
Straightening, Zane opened his eyes, switching his attention from the water trickling down his face to the man not even three feet away on the other side of the tiled barrier.
Special Agent Ty Grady stood with his face turned toward the water and his hands on the tile wall in front of him, his shoulders hunched forward and his back arched. His dark brown hair was cut short, shorter than usual, a necessity after being bleached blond for their last assignment. The water poured over and around his defined muscles, sloughing off the remains of the soap from his body and making the dull gold of his Marine Corps signet ring shine. Winding down in the shower was one of the few times Zane ever saw his partner that still, a true novelty when it came to Ty Grady.
Although if Ty stayed in place for more than a minute, Zane could get his hands on him…. Zane growled and ducked his head back under the water, reaching to turn down the water temperature before grabbing his bottle of body wash. His ability to keep the lust in check while at work was usually better than this.
When he glanced over a couple of breaths later, Ty was leaning his arms on the partition between them, smirking at him. Zane arched an eyebrow, wondering not for first time if Ty could read his mind.
Ty looked him up and down and then glanced over his shoulder at the otherwise empty showers. “So, I had a thought,” he told Zane casually.
“Danger, Will Robinson,” Zane commented as he squeezed gel into one hand and started soaping up.
“Don’t be like that,” Ty told him, his voice sounding hurt but carrying the undertone of mischief Zane was well used to.
Zane snorted and shifted under the water as he washed off so he could look at Ty without craning his neck. “You had a thought,” he prompted with a small smile.
“No, you’ll have to work for it now,” Ty responded with another smirk as he turned back to his own stream of water.
Zane rolled his eyes and chucked his wet washcloth over the divider, smiling as he heard the wet splat against Ty’s skin. Ty’s infectious laughter, mingling with the relaxing thrum of the water running through old pipes, rewarded his effort. Zane grinned, letting the little spark of warmth spread through him as he finished rinsing off.
He was reaching to shut off the water when a shrieking alarm pierced the soothing peace of water falling.
“Fire alarm. Time to go,” Ty announced calmly as he turned the water off and grabbed his towel from the far wall of the shower stall. He didn’t even dry off. He just wrapped the towel around his hips and headed for the exit as if there were nothing unusual about it.
Zane winced as he covered one ear. “Ty!” he called out as he snatched up his towel and hurried after his partner. He grabbed Ty’s arm when he caught up. “You can’t go outside soaking wet and practically naked in the middle of goddamn January!” He started tugging Ty back toward their lockers, where they could at least grab shorts and T-shirts and running shoes.
“Cold is better than on fire,” Ty argued, though he let Zane drag him back.
“There’s no fire down here.”
“You don’t know that.”
“And the exit is twenty yards away,” Zane said as he hurriedly pulled Ty along behind him. “Now get dressed. And shoes.”
“Garrett, when an alarm starts going off, I head for an exit!” Ty shouted unhappily. He wasn’t panicking, of course. Ty never panicked unless he was trapped in the dark or couldn’t find his beloved Bronco in the parking lot. He shucked the towel, pulled on a pair of shorts, and slid his feet into his worn athletic shoes. Then he grabbed Zane’s arm and gave him a tug toward the exit, heedless of Zane trying to get into his shorts.
“Okay, damn, give me one second!” Zane exclaimed, grabbing his T-shirt and towel after shoving his feet into his running shoes, resisting Ty’s yanking as he leaned over to snatch up Ty’s T-shirt before letting his partner pull him along.
“Drag your feet later, Lone Star. Either the building’s on fire or it’s a drill and we’ll be doing paperwork until our fingers bleed if we’re not out in time,” Ty insisted as he pulled Zane along the corridor toward the emergency exit. Ty was notoriously flighty and could be easily distracted, but in an emergency, he honed in on one thing and one thing alone: survival. There was no fighting the iron grip he had on Zane’s arm or his insistence that being half-naked and outside was better than any alternative right then.
“I’m thinking we’ll get a little leeway since we were in the showers,” Zane bit off as they thundered up the concrete steps out of the basement and through the emergency door that led outside into the bitter cold and wind.
The morning sun blinded Zane as they pushed through the emergency exit and emerged onto the wet sidewalk in front of the building. The next thing he knew, Ty was ducking in front of him as if taking cover from a projectile, and Zane turned instinctively to check the threat. A shocking slap exploded across his face in a spray of ice water across shower-flushed skin.
Another immediate snap, this one on his upper arm, another on his thigh as something else hit him, and more water splattered across him in the chilled air as he spluttered and wiped his eyes with one hand, striking out with the other at something dark flying toward his face. He felt the brief sensation of rubber on his fingers and then another painful snap like a rubber band, then more water. Zane swung toward movement at his left side. Five heartbeats had passed.
By the time Zane realized he’d just suffered through a barrage of colorful water balloons, Ty was standing again and looking at the rowdy crowd being pushed back behind the snow-dotted barriers on the sidewalk opposite the FBI building. More protesters.
Protesters lobbed more water balloons across the street. Ty deftly caught one, cradling it like a football to keep it from popping. He reared back as if preparing to sling it back toward the crowd.
“Grady!” Special Agent in Charge Dan McCoy barked from somewhere near the main entrance.
Ty’s shoulders slumped, making him look like a scolded puppy who was miraculously good at dodging water balloons, and he dropped his ammunition as more landed around them.
Zane wasn’t so calm. He angrily batted down the next balloon thrown at him, and it hit the concrete with a smack and splash. The frigid wind bit into his wet skin and sucked the breath from his lungs, and Zane couldn’t suppress the shudder, still feeling the sting of busting balloons on his skin. “What the hell?”
“Quit bitching. At least they’re full of water and not something worse,” Ty shot back at Zane through gritted teeth. He folded his hands over his chest and the white words on his blue T-shirt—“Relax, I’m hilarious”—and hunched his shoulders as he turned to look up at the concrete structure behind them. “Goddammit, it’s not on fire!”
Those around them close enough to hear began to laugh, including some of the protesters across the street. Zane shook his head. How the hell did Ty manage to relate to people without even trying? It would never cease to amaze him.
Another balloon sailed through the air, landing at the feet of a man with a bullhorn who stood near the entrance to the office building. He began to inform the crowd that any further action would be considered an attack on federal property and federal agents, and that arrests would be made. When the words “up to and including deadly force” came out of his mouth, the crowd began to rumble.
Zane had read the memos. But this was the first time he had personally run into an attack. “I guess they figure we won’t arrest them for assault,” he said with a shake of his head as he watched his breath practically crystallize as he exhaled, it was so cold.
Ty looked around the crowd, his face expressionless. “Couple rubber rounds int-to them should f-fix them up,” he decided, his teeth beginning to chatter in the cold.
Zane snorted. “Into the balloons, or into the crowd?” He crossed his arms, mirroring his partner, and took a step back. He glanced at Ty. “Imagine the paperwork.”
“Garrett! Grady! Get your asses back inside!” McCoy yelled from across the lawn. “I’m not signing off on the sick leave when you get pneumonia!”
“You say that now, but I’m n-not f-filling out any f-forms!” Ty yelled back, stuttering harder. He was watching one of the agents decked out in riot gear, specifically eyeing the gun filled with rubber bullets. Another volley of balloons, yellow and green and red and blue, pulsing with freezing water, sailed through the air toward them.
If Ty had one of those rifles in hand, he could make an impressive show of those flying targets; that might clear these people out fast. Zane knew that was exactly what Ty was thinking. He also knew Ty wasn’t thinking about the PR aftermath. Even when Ty considered the public backlash of his actions, he rarely cared.
“Fuck this,” Zane growled. He took Ty by the upper arm even as Ty took an impulsive step toward the man in riot gear. Zane turned them around and started pulling him back toward the building, dismissing the people watching and jeering at them.
“Those little yellow f-forms with the rippy s-sides, and the blue ones th-that ask the s-same questions f-fourteen times, and the goddamn p-pink ones that make your fingers b-blue,” Ty rambled as he followed along without protest. He sounded like Porky Pig. “I’d f-fill all those out if I could sh-shoot someone right now.”
“This time I’m with you. It would be worth it.” Another agent swiped an ID card for them, and Zane opened the side door to the building, shoved Ty inside, and followed, pulling the solid steel door shut behind them and wincing because the alarm was still wailing.
Ty threw his arm over Zane’s shoulders and hugged him close. His skin was cold against Zane’s. “This is g-getting ugly,” he said, not looking at Zane. Zane knew he was referring to the situation at large, the unrest in the city. He continued to speak, lowering his voice until Zane couldn’t hear him above the blaring warning.
“We need to go back to the showers. Hot water,” Zane said when he shuddered, and not in a good way. “Riot team will clear those assholes out before we leave. And you know whoever pulled that fire alarm is in deep shit.”
Ty shook his head. His fingers dragged against Zane’s skin as he removed his arm from Zane’s shoulders. “Work, work, work,” he murmured, shaking his head.
“I’m s-serious,” Zane said as the cold really started to set in. “I’m too cold.” His fingers were almost numb as he tried to grasp the bottom of his wet T-shirt to pull it over his head.
“I’ll warm you up later,” Ty promised. It was a nice thought, but not helpful right now. Ty had somehow mastered the shivering and teeth chattering already. He’d once told Zane that the best way to stop the shivering was to consciously relax your body, et voilà, no more shaking. But Zane had never gotten it to work.
Zane turned and led the way back to their lockers, managed to get his wet clothes off, and rubbed himself down roughly with his towel, trying to ward off the bone-aching chill.
The alarm abruptly cut off, but the ringing in Zane’s ears still covered any sound Ty might have been making behind him. Then three fingers touched the nape of Zane’s neck and dragged down his spine, between his shoulder blades, to the small of his back and across a hip as Ty moved past him. “Eight-hour workday to go, Lone Star. Suck it up,” Ty said as he popped open his own locker.
This time the shiver skittering across Zane’s skin had nothing to do with a chill and everything to do with finding the patience to get through the day while looking forward to that night.
THE blinking light on his phone drew Zane’s attention away from the report he was trying to parse. He always muted his phone when he was in the office, especially at times like today when the whole team—like school kids at desks in a little pod shaped like the Pentagon—was stuck slogging through their casework.
He was sitting with Michelle Clancy, Scott Alston, Fred Perrimore, and Harry Lassiter, the other members of their extended Bureau assignment team. Still, it could be a call from one of the other departments, a contact, or another agent. So Zane slid the cell out from under a pile of folders and thumbed off the key lock as he looked at the screen. It was a text message. Frowning a little, Zane hit the key to open the message.
Whats proper workplace etiquette for picking up computer and tossing out window? Open window first or break glass?
Zane blinked and read the text again. Then he focused on the number and realized who’d sent the message. He sighed and set his phone down, going back to his report. It wasn’t a message that needed an answer. His partner wasn’t more than ten feet away, sitting at his desk, staring at his computer screen and repeatedly tapping the same error key on his keyboard. If Ty wanted a response from Zane, he could just open his mouth and speak. When Zane glanced at him, he saw Ty sit back in his chair and cock his head at the computer. He’d stopped typing, and he looked listless and frustrated.
Ty’s computer never worked the way it was supposed to. The team joked that he had electromagnetic pulses going through him, because no matter what he touched, the machine nearly always messed up. The computer, the printer, the fax machine, sometimes even the automatic faucets in the bathrooms. They never worked correctly for him. He also hated paperwork with unusual passion, so it made it doubly funny.
Zane looked down at the files spread across the desk in front of him. He could sit and do detail-crunching all day; it appealed to his analytical brain. Ty, however, made no apologies for being bored by paperwork. He was definitely a man of action. Zane usually tried to at least send him out on errands, but today there wasn’t even that to throw in front of him. With one last glance at Ty, Zane went back to reconciling suspected criminal bank account transfer data connected to a series of kidnappings.
Several minutes later, the light on his phone blinked again. Zane stopped typing as he looked at the phone and then across the desks at Ty. He didn’t appear to have moved, and his phone was nowhere in sight. He wasn’t looking at Zane, and there was no ghost of a smile on his lips like there would have been if he’d been up to something. Zane had seen that smile too many times to miss even a hint of it. He picked up his phone and saw the second text message. Same phone number. He’d never gotten around to programming Ty’s name into the contact list.
He debated not even looking at the text; he wasn’t sure he wanted to encourage Ty to distract him from work. Then, after a moment, Zane shook himself. There was no reason to be so seriously uptight about this. He activated the phone to read the message.
The last 3 calls on my phone are for backup and pizza and sex. In that order. Cant decide what that says about me.
Zane almost forgot to repress his smile. The night before Ty had called him to say he’d ordered pizza and that Zane should pick it up on his way over. They had intended to watch some football in front of Ty’s big-screen TV, but pointless playoff games not featuring any of Ty’s favored teams weren’t enough to hold Ty’s attention for long. After the pizza was gone, they’d wound up in front of the TV all right, doing something entirely different than watching it.
Zane sniffed. He very purposefully did not shift in his chair as he set his phone down without answering or looking up at his partner.
Maybe he’d pick up dinner tonight too.
His phone almost immediately lit up again. Zane hadn’t even picked his pen back up. This time he glanced around the desks at their team members—none of them were paying him or Ty a bit of attention—before he poked at the phone to read the message.
You realize I have free texting plan right?
Obviously, ignoring Ty wasn’t going to work. But Zane pushed away the phone, determined to do his level best. Simply because the struggle would amuse Ty, if he were being honest with himself. And keeping Ty amused was good for the rest of humanity.
The phone lit up again, and when Zane’s eyes cut to look at Ty, his partner was leaning back in his chair, feet blatantly propped on his desk as he held his phone in his hands.
Zane kept typing with one hand as he unobtrusively shifted his phone across the papers strewn in front of him so he could hit the button and read the message without drawing attention to it.
Pop quiz partner. How many letters in the government alphabet?
Biting his tongue, Zane tried to decide what the answer to that would be. It was fifty-fifty that it was a joke. He figured Ty was trying to break him now, to get him to react, maybe even to laugh. As he checked his peripheral vision, he could see Ty watching him, his head lowered just enough to make him look slightly predatory. Zane knew that look too well. Most people who didn’t know Ty were intimidated by the glint in his hazel eyes and the slightly malicious curve to his full lips. But Zane had come to learn that Ty only wore that look when he was enjoying himself. And it made his clean-shaven, heart-shaped face that much more handsome, which irked Zane to no end. Irked and aroused.
Just to egg him on, Zane ignored the message, went back to working on the reconciliation, and tried to build up the resolve it would take not to react to Ty’s next attempt to break his cool.
The phone lit up again, and this time Ty had returned his attention to his computer when Zane surreptitiously glanced at him. Zane wondered how the hell Ty typed so fast on the itty-bitty phone keypad. He would have liked to have seen it, if it wouldn’t have spoiled their game.
He made them both wait five minutes through a discussion of assets with Alston before he hit the key to open the latest text message.
Answer: 19. ET went home on a UFO and the FBI went after him.
Zane blinked several times at the screen as he kept a straight face, though by all rights, that one did deserve a laugh. Who’d have known he’d be tapping into years of undercover experience to hide that he was playing text games in the office? He tapped his pen thoughtfully on the ledger as he stared at it blankly. He was certainly distracted now. He suspected Ty knew it. But they’d both continue to enjoy it if Zane tried not to admit it. He wouldn’t have dreamed of goofing off like this at work a year ago. Hell, six months ago. But Ty Grady had done his damnedest to yank the stick out of Zane’s ass….
The little message icon in the corner of his phone’s display began to blink, indicating he had yet another message. He hadn’t even seen Ty move. Was it possible to schedule these texts ahead of time? That would take quite a bit of forethought, but it was just the kind of plot Ty would favor. Zane shifted around his stack of folders, took a drink of coffee, and checked the message.
You know you want to laugh.
Score one for Zane Garrett. He looked up slowly, face composed, raising one eyebrow.
Ty was watching him. He winked when Zane met his eyes, but he wasn’t fully smiling yet. He still wore that infuriating smirk. Instead of answering in any way, Zane sniffed and turned to his computer. That reaction would surely get another out of his partner. Besides, Zane was intrigued now to see what Ty would come up with that would be enough to get Zane to laugh despite his practiced control.
He didn’t have to wait long for Ty’s next attempt. His phone lit up, and Zane was able to catch a glimpse of Ty reaching out to set his own phone on the desk. Zane deliberately waited a couple of minutes before turning in his chair to change out files and check the message.
Did you hear about the guy downstairs who lost his left arm and left leg in a wreck? Hes all right now.
Zane stared at the little screen really hard for a long moment before he was able to shake his head ever so slightly and turn away from the phone.
He slowly looked around at the rest of the team, wondering how none of them had caught on. Did they really pay so little attention? Or was it that they weren’t at all surprised to see Ty texting someone, and they just didn’t connect him with his partner? Zane knew Ty received about half a dozen text messages from various people on a normal day, but Ty rarely checked them or responded when he was working.
Zane deliberately shoved some files into his outbox and did not look in Ty’s direction. He turned his attention to a conversation between Clancy and Perrimore about calling a judge for a search warrant, but he was hyperaware of his partner.
He heard Ty’s chair squeak as he moved. Ty’s chair always squeaked because he was so damn hard on the thing, always moving around and fidgeting. His chair stayed broken and noisy, just like his computer.
Zane’s phone lit up again, and he keyed it with his right hand while answering a question from Clancy.
When she turned away, he finally glanced down at the phone.
What do you call a monkey in a mine field? A baboom.
He had to admit: that one was funny. This time Zane had to close his eyes to keep his reaction under control. When he opened them, he deliberately turned his chin to look right at Ty in an open challenge.
Ty’s feet were still propped up, and he was leaning one arm against his desk, fingers strategically covering his mouth as he shook silently. He was watching Zane, and his hand couldn’t cover the smile lines around his sparking eyes or the slight dimples that formed when he laughed.
Damn, Ty Grady was a fine-looking man. Even more so when he was relaxed and smiling.
Zane didn’t feel the urge to laugh anymore. Instead, he found his thoughts slightly more erotic, thinking about the man sitting several feet away and just exactly how fine-looking he was, both in and out of that suit. Zane pulled himself toward his desk in the rolling chair, just to get his lap under cover. Then he offered Ty an angelic smile.
Ty shook his head and bit his lip to stop his silent laughter, though the dimples were still there as he grinned. Zane stared after him for a few moments, thinking about just how amazing it was when Ty smiled or laughed and his eyes lit up and the hard shell melted away from him.
Ty waved his hand at Zane in apparent surrender as he turned his chair to face his own desk again, still shaking his head and laughing.
Zane doubted that was the end of it and expected another text message within a few minutes, but Special Agent Scott Alston chose that moment to stand up.
“Time to meet with McCoy,” he said to Ty and Perrimore.
“Have a good time, guys,” Clancy teased as she sipped at her melting smoothie.
Ty stood with a decent amount of grumbling and fanfare, making a show of gathering his files and his suit coat and getting his gun out of its drawer to slide it into his holster. Zane tidied a file, set it aside, and opened another as he watched Ty discreetly. “Say hello for me,” he said smugly. He knew that the only thing worse than paperwork, in Ty’s opinion, was a multi-departmental meeting where he was expected to sit still.
“Don’t break anything playing solitaire,” Ty shot back as the three of them headed toward the elevators.
Zane let the smile pull at his lips as he tapped his fingers on his phone and watched Ty walk away.
TY HAD his eyes closed and massaged the bridge of his nose as he leaned his elbow on the arm of his chair, slumping slightly. He was listening. Quite attentively, to his everlasting chagrin. But he could listen with his eyes closed.
He was pretty sure he, Alston, and Perrimore had all been summoned to this meeting by mistake anyway. So far they’d been over the escalating violence in the city, in particular a nasty case of arson in which a second explosion had been rigged with the express purpose of injuring or killing firefighters. Everyone was up in arms about it, including Ty. There would be a memorial for the slain heroes next week.
But while escalating violence could possibly be in Ty’s job description, arson certainly wasn’t.
Next they hit on a bank robbery that had “professional job” written all over it. They’d caught a break publicity-wise with that one, since it had happened on the same day as the arson tragedy and hadn’t received much press yet. What’s-His-Name from Financial Crimes was told to look for similar robberies in neighboring states over the weekend. Something that organized had probably been run before somewhere and would surely be run again. Soon.
Weekend assignments. Awesome.
And bank robberies weren’t Ty’s job either.
Then the agenda moved on to the negative image the FBI was being painted with of late and several avenues the PR people had come up with to nip it in the bud.
None of which had much of anything to do with Ty, so he still wasn’t exactly sure why he was supposed to be here at all.
“So,” Special Agent in Charge Dan McCoy was saying, “we’re going to give them what they want so they’ll get off our backs for a while. And Grady, the next time you and your partner want to blow something up, at least pretend you’re sorry afterward, got it?”
“Yes, sir,” Ty said as he opened his eyes and shifted to a slightly less outwardly miserable position. He wasn’t sorry, though. That fax machine had deserved what it got. And Zane had laughed his ass off.
There were only thirty minutes left in the work day, and then he was free to go do cartwheels in the parking lot. He glanced at Alston, who was asking another question, and then Ty’s pants pocket vibrated. He actually jerked in his seat before he could stop himself, quickly leaning forward to place his elbows on the table and cover the reaction.
“Something to add?” McCoy asked.
“Nothing constructive,” Ty admitted with an innocent smile.
McCoy rolled his eyes and nodded. As he continued outlining the plan to make the Bureau more “fan-friendly,” Ty leaned back again and pulled his phone out of his pocket slowly. He kept it under the table as he slid it open and pressed the button that would open the text message he’d received. Ty was almost surprised to see that it was from Zane and not one of the usual suspects.
Baby seal walks into a club.
He pressed his lips together tightly and looked up at McCoy as he tapped out his response to Zane’s weak opening gambit.
You shouldnt club baby seals. Bastard.
It wasn’t a minute before the phone vibrated in his hand again. He quickly set it to silent so no one would hear the vibrations, and then he glanced down at it to read the new message.
Energizer bunny arrested. Charged with battery.
Ty’s lips twitched as he tapped out a quick response.
Is he being held in a duracell?
He returned his attention to McCoy just in time. McCoy slid a file across the table toward him, and Ty opened it as he massaged his left temple.
It was a proposal that outlined a plan to pull as many government and municipal service organizations as possible into a softball league and then open up the games to the public. Ty huffed in amusement.
“Think you could get the ball rolling on that if it’s the plan we go with?” McCoy asked.
Ty nodded slowly and then looked up at McCoy. “I know a guy who knows a guy,” he drawled with an easy smile.
“I thought you might,” McCoy said, sounding pleased with himself.
That was why Ty was here, then, because he’d played on the Bureau team ever since he’d been transferred to Baltimore and knew just about everyone. That had to be it, because everyone knew Ty didn’t give a shit about public opinion and had nothing to do with bank robberies or fires.
McCoy moved on to the Financial Crimes dude who still didn’t have a name but had a whole hell of a lot of opinions, and Ty surreptitiously checked the phone again. The message icon blinked at him, and he flipped the phone open to read it.
Two peanuts walk into a bar. One was a salted.
Ty stared at it for a moment before looking up and licking the corner of his mouth to keep from smiling. Why the hell couldn’t Zane have done this when Ty was bored out of his mind and not sitting in a meeting? He was probably out there Googling jokes on his computer.
“Grady, what do you think?” McCoy asked.
Ty looked at his superior for a split-second of indecision, knowing full well he had absolutely no idea what he’d been asked. “I think it’s a shit idea,” he finally answered confidently.
“Care to expound on that?” McCoy asked him wryly.
“Not really,” Ty answered, his voice not quite as steady.
“Okay, at least we’re all in agreement on that one,” McCoy replied as he took a piece of paper that probably outlined another PR proposal and tossed it over his shoulder.
Ty slowly let out the breath he’d been holding and began tapping a response to Zane.
Fuck you zane. Fuck you. So much.
The answer came back quickly. Zane had to have been sitting there waiting.
I’ll get you a salami sandwich for dinner. With extra mayo.
Ty looked up and around the table, trying desperately to concentrate on what they were saying as he jabbed at the keys of his phone to respond. Zane’s attempts at seductive innuendo were funnier than his jokes.
All Ill get from you is fired.
If you go for an interview at a rubber stamp company, try to make a good impression.
Ty fought not to roll his eyes as he looked up from the phone he was still trying to hide in his lap. He refused to let one of Zane’s bad puns have the last word.
He had to sit for a moment, searching his store of bad jokes for an appropriate answer. He hated to sink to Zane’s level, but you had to fight pun with pun….
He looked up and took the next five minutes to answer questions and try to at least appear involved in the meeting. The idea about the FBI softball team and setting up tournaments with other city and state agency teams that would be open to the public seemed to be taking root. And Ty had become the focus of the planning, so he had to pay attention.
Ty liked the plan, actually. He didn’t know if it would work, but it was never a bad thing to put a human face on the big bad blue line every once in a while. A downside, as he pointed out, was that they might get backlash if too many people wondered why cops and ambulance drivers were playing softball while the city was being ransacked. But hell, they were already taking heat, so it couldn’t hurt.
Ty jotted down a few notes, people he’d need to contact within other agencies to see if they could set something up, city fields and scheduling and things that he really didn’t have time to deal with but would anyway. Then the conversation moved on, and Ty leaned back in his chair.
He stared at McCoy listlessly as his mind began to wander again. He tapped out his response to Zane slowly, trying to get the message out and pay attention at the same time.
If a hunter can shoot a deer with either hand does that make him bambidextrous?
Have you seen eagles catch their prey? They’re really talonted.
Ty closed his eyes. The puns were too much. They were just too stupid for his brain to deal with at the end of a long day. He decided to raise the white flag and live to think another day, so he eased back in his chair and slowly punched in the last message.
You win. Ill do anything please make it stop.
It took a minute, but Zane’s answer finally popped up.
Promise you’ll scream for me tonight.
Ty stared at the phone for just a moment too long. When he cleared his throat and looked up, McCoy was watching him expectantly.
Ty smiled at him widely, the smile that said he knew he’d been caught and wasn’t McCoy glad he was so good at his job so he didn’t have to punish him?
“Care to share?” McCoy asked drily.
Ty looked around at the other people around the table and sighed heavily. Perrimore reached into his lap and grabbed the phone from him. Ty didn’t try to resist; that would just have made them even more curious. He’d never been more thankful that he rarely put real names into his contacts list, though.
Perrimore read the last message from Zane out loud, eyebrows raised. “Who’s Lone Star?” he asked with a grin as he looked at the name Ty had stored in his phone. “And does she carry a whip?”
“Everyone get out before my eyeballs explode,” McCoy ordered as he sat rubbing his temples with the heels of his hands.
Ty snatched his phone from Perrimore and whapped him in the head as they stood to leave. Alston trailed behind them, laughing the entire way.
ZANE looked up from the files he was stacking when he heard Ty’s voice, low and wry and borderline aggrieved. A smile pulled at Zane’s lips. There hadn’t been a reply to his last message of a little less than ten minutes ago.
“Hey, Garrett, have you met Grady’s latest fling? She sounds like a real piece of work,” Alston said as they arrived, chuckling. “Probably has the key to his handcuffs pierced through her tongue.”
That certainly wasn’t what Zane expected to hear when they came back from the meeting. So that probably meant Ty had been caught. He didn’t appear to have that “just outed by his co-workers” look about him, though, and Zane knew Ty nicknamed all his phone contacts, so he was relatively certain they were okay.
“Getting texts at work again, partner?” Zane drawled as he looked over to see Ty.
“Well, you know my type,” Ty responded with a saccharine smile as he passed Zane’s desk. “No self-control and loads of mental issues.” He did sound exasperated, though.
“That’s never seemed to bother you,” Zane answered as he stood up and lifted his suit jacket off the back of his chair.
Alston laughed and took off with a wave, not bothering to stick around to hear the banter the whole team had become used to. Clancy and Lassiter had departed half an hour ago, and Zane had seen Perrimore detour toward the elevators as the group came back from the meeting. So once Alston disappeared down the hall, it was just Zane and Ty as Ty locked up his desk drawers.
Ty glanced up at him darkly, and Zane grinned. Oh, he was so going to pay for his mischief tonight. The look in Ty’s eyes promised as much.
Ty looked around the nearly empty floor as he moved closer to Zane. He held his phone in his hand, overcoat draped over his arm. He stepped closer to Zane, his knuckles brushing against Zane’s stomach as he held the coat between them.
“Me scream for you, huh?” he asked in a low voice, his nearly green eyes raking across Zane’s features.
“Since you can’t take the punishment,” Zane said, feeling himself warm a little under Ty’s scrutiny.
“One more, Garrett,” Ty warned as he raised one finger. “One more and we’ll see who can go the longest in a cold bed.”
Zane frowned and huffed quietly. “Fine. You, screaming,” he reminded. “I did offer to bring you dinner.”
“Dinner later. My house. Bring clothes for the weekend, ’cause you won’t be making it home.” Ty didn’t say another word, just turned and headed for the elevator at a stroll, shrugging into his overcoat as he went.
Zane watched him go, enjoying the sight. “Score,” he said under his breath before he grabbed his phone and keys and hurried to follow.