I NEEDED the job to be over so I could go home.
The realization was sort of amazing, because I love New York. Any reason to visit, to eat in Hell’s Kitchen, walk through Central Park, or soak up Times Square at night was good. So, the fact that I couldn’t wait to leave told me something important.
And it had everything to do with Aaron Sutter.
I thought I knew all about beautiful men. I’d slept with enough of them. Gym bunnies I screwed in clubs, twinks on their knees in alleys, and guys I took to hotels that charged by the hour. I never bothered if they weren’t gorgeous. But not one of them could hold a candle to the millionaire.
I wasn’t sure, hadn’t checked into it. He was loaded; that was all I knew. Not that I cared. It made no difference. I was already willing to take care of him, be the guy—his guy—the one he could count on. That he was in the closet too had been my big flashing neon sign that I was finally in the same place with another person. It was scary and amazing at the same time.
Whenever I met a guy someplace besides a bar or a club, they were all about having me meet friends, go for drinks with them, and basically let it be known I was gay. Thing was, I couldn’t do that. I was a police detective in Chicago; being out and proud was not an option if I ever wanted to move up. And though I knew one detective who had done it, he hadn’t stayed on the force, instead becoming a federal marshal. I kidded myself for a short time and thought that was the way I wanted to go as well, but I liked being a homicide detective, bringing closure to people’s lives, finding and punishing those responsible. I really wanted to keep doing what I was doing, and the fact of the matter was, so far, I had not found a guy important enough to pick over the job. The one long-term relationship I’d had, two years of my life, had ended over my not being an out and proud gay man.
The moment I’d met Aaron Sutter, though, a warning bell went off in the back of my head. I knew just from talking to him for a few minutes that the only way to be with him was serious. He was not a quick fuck; he was the guy you made a home with. Strangely, that didn’t scare me. My fine-tuned flight reflex never kicked in.
It didn’t hurt that he was stunning to look at. With his lean, muscled frame, sharp-angled features, and bright blue eyes, I wanted him instantly. When his turquoise gaze met mine, a throb of desire made my chest tight, and it was hard to remember my name. My whole life, I’d been such a sucker for beauty, but halfway through dinner with mutual friends, I knew the truth. It was more. I would do anything to spend some time with him, any that he would allow.
I liked the way the man talked. The sound of his voice—the resonance, the husky quality of it—decadent and sexy. His laugh was good, deep, not timid or quiet. More importantly, he was funny and sarcastic and quick with the barbs. He was smart, and brains being even hotter than looks, I was a goner.
“Wake up, Stiel,” a voice commanded through my earpiece.
Jerking out of my thoughts, I looked across the room to the entrance of the club.
“Head in the game. Evanston’s coming in now.”
I was covering the back door, so there was no way out for the mob enforcer once he came in. The two men he killed in Chicago, and the three here in New York, would put a needle in his arm if he didn’t roll over on his boss. Everyone thought he would die before he gave up any names, but I knew a coward when I saw one.
Once this was finished, I could get on a plane for home, and when I was in my own place, call Aaron Sutter and ask if I could see him.
I really wanted to see him.
AFTER the first time we’d spent the night together, I had to get on a plane the next morning. Skipping the shower before I left was my choice. The idea of carrying him around on my skin all day had been so very needed.
“You don’t want to wash up?” he teased, a lazy grin on his face, as he watched me from where he lay sprawled across his California king.
“No,” I said, my voice hoarse because just looking at him, at his skin covered in marks I’d put there, at his swollen lips and sleep-tousled hair, made my heart stop. “I wanna smell like you a little longer.”
“Oh,” he said, obviously caught off guard.
It had been wild when we’d hit the door of his place the night before. The second the lock clicked, we were wrestling off jackets and shirts.
Aaron grabbed lube and condoms off a table by the wall, and pushed them at me before his hands went to his belt. He almost lost his balance when I shoved him forward, but recovered enough to stop from going face-first into the wall.
“Hold still,” I growled as I came up behind him, grabbing his hip to make sure he didn’t move.
“Yes,” he promised, palms flat on the black-stained wood, head leaning against his bicep, his breathing rough and shaky.
I shoved my briefs and jeans to my knees, rolled on the condom, and flipped open the cap on the lube.
“Duncan,” he cried, and I liked my name all garbled with yearning.
Shucking his underwear and jeans to his ankles, I reached around and fisted his cock with a lube-slicked hand, slathering my sheathed dick with the other.
“Please,” he begged, his voice ragged and low. “I want you in me.”
The tremble that ran through him was beautiful to see, the want and trust there a gift. When I slid two fingers into him, I realized how tight he was. “Tell me the last time you bottomed.”
“Can’t,” he hissed. “Never have.”
“No-no-no,” he whimpered, arching his back, thrusting his ass out. “I want it. You have no idea how long I’ve—but it’s not in me to ask. I can’t. I won’t.”
Whoever was with him had to simply know, and mind reading was a tough gig.
I got it. He was goddamn Aaron Sutter, and scary billionaire pillars of power did not ask anyone to fuck them. Ever. Until now, until me.
But the way he pushed on my fingers, rolled his head on his shoulders, and moaned endlessly—it was too much. “Grab your cock,” I ordered.
“Just let me—I need… I want to feel you.”
I took him at his word, spread the gorgeous round globes of his ass, and lined up the head of my cock with his pretty pink hole.
I would do nothing else.
He trusted me, wanted me, and I would make the act tender and gentle. I would do for Aaron Sutter what I would have wanted.
“Duncan… I need you.”
I moved like molasses poured in winter, covering him, plastering my chest to his back, my right arm around his neck, my hand on his hip, holding him still as I pressed inside him.
“Easy,” I soothed him, behind his ear and kissing down the side of his neck. His reaction to each graze of my lips—the slow relaxing, the calm settling in his core—spoke to how much he wanted me there.
A fine sheen of sweat broke out over his shoulders, and he panted softly even as his body clenched tight around mine. I longed to be buried in him, to thrust deep, but slowly sinking inside Aaron, inch by delicious inch, was something I found I craved even more. His body opened, stretching around me, wanting me in just as much as he wanted me out. The war of it, the muscles rippling around me, was almost more than I could bear.
“You feel so good,” I growled into his skin, loving the salty taste of his sweat, sucking, licking, and finally nibbling up the side of his throat.
I didn’t. I slid farther, pushing, breaching, and then I was suddenly there, buried to the hilt, my balls against his ass. He turned his head, and I reached over his shoulder to kiss him, my tongue taking absolute possession––mauling him until I felt the last trace of fight in the man disappear.
“Could you….” He swallowed. “Tighter.”
He was so vulnerable, naked in a way that had nothing to do with clothes. I wanted him to know he could wear me, that he had me.
I wrapped him up tight so he could feel my heart beating against his back.
His hands moved from the wall to my hips, and he slowly undulated against me.
“Oh fuck,” I said and chuckled into his sweaty hair, rubbing my chin over his shoulder. “I won’t last if you keep doing that.” Every tingling, electric shiver made him jolt against me, and the muscles in his ass rippled around my shaft.
“Please.” The word was barely audible, more a shaky huff of air than a sound. His passion-glazed eyes lifted to me. “Use me.”
I couldn’t pull out a couple of inches and then plunge back inside him like they did in all the best pornos. I was too swollen with arousal and he was too tight. All I could do was make the strokes as smooth as possible.
“Duncan!” he yelled, and his muscles squeezed tight, wringing a response from me, the sizzling heat simmering in the base of my spine.
I wanted to feel my body fit into his, wanted the give and take, the slow build and the blind rush of nothing but adrenaline and the euphoric high before the crash. I wanted to fuck him so hard only I would ever do. Once would never be enough.
“I need you,” he ground out.
I knew he did.
“Don’t leave me.”
“No,” I promised and pushed into him.
He was loud, and I loved it because there was no need to guess what he wanted, and his tears were of no consequence because they were about walls breaking and nothing bad.
I curled over him; my face pressed into the back of his neck, kissing gently, before I took hold of his hips and began the rhythm of thrust and retreat.
“Harder,” he moaned.
“Come!” I demanded because I was too close, too engorged inside him, but I needed him sated first.
I shifted my angle and didn’t have to guess if I got the spot I was after. He lost his language; there was only a guttural cry before he splattered over the wall in front of him. My climax was seconds behind his, and as we stood together, aftershocks wracking through us, I realized I was probably holding him too tight.
“Oh,” I said softly and tried to ease free.
“No,” he stopped me, content within the cocoon of my arms. “Stay.”
And I had, all night, but I tried to leave with my pride intact the next morning. Telling the man I wanted to carry the smell of his sweat on me all day, that washing his dried come off my stomach from his second orgasm of the night was not something I wanted to do, was probably too much for the morning after our first date. I would scare him to death.
When he sat up and stared at me, I charged toward the door. I didn’t want to hear I was being stupid, and I was sorry I’d said it even as it had come out. I had a tendency to get attached way too fast.
I stopped and glanced over my shoulder.
“Will you call me when you get back?”
It took everything in me not to turn and bolt to the bed and kiss him until he begged me to stay. He looked so good, so tempting, so much like home, I had to swallow down my heart to not move. “Yeah,” I said huskily, “if you want.”
He nodded. “Please.”
I tried to smile but it didn’t come off, more a grimace of pain than anything else, I was sure. “Okay. I’ll see ya.”
“You don’t need my driver to—”
“Nah. I got a cab waiting outside.”
“Oh,” he exhaled.
I didn’t want to say “okay” again, so I opened the door and left.
It felt wrong to leave him. Staying seemed right, but I was too scared to tell him. And even though I had only known him for twelve hours, since dinner the night before, the thought of leaving him was physically painful.
I never stayed. I always ran the next morning. Sometimes I went home with people, but as soon as we were done, I made an excuse to bail. I had to leave. I never wanted to sleep with and hold someone until first Nate, my ex, and now, suddenly, a man I didn’t expect.
Sharing a bed with Aaron Sutter was something I couldn’t get out of my head. After a week, the desire was getting the better of me. I was dying to see him.
“HERE we go.”
Jolted back to the task at hand, I watched as two men walked into the club. The second one was familiar, but I couldn’t instantly place him.
“Visual confirmed. Everyone move.”
I watched Evanston weave his way through the crowd at the dance club and stop in front of Joaquin Hierra’s table.
“Wait—wait, new player, new player! All units hold.”
As soon as I saw the third man pushing to get through the throng, I recognized him immediately. Once I did, everything fell into place, and it was a mess.
Moving fast, I was behind Joaquin and leaned down to whisper in his ear before I had time to apprise anyone of my intentions.
“This guy with your boy is hot, Boss,” I said softly. “He’s got a federal marshal right on his ass.”
He stiffened, grabbed the lapel of my suit jacket, and held tight as he took in the sight of Evanston and Dr. Kevin Dwyer, the man I thought looked familiar. “You’re sure?”
“Yep. Right there behind him, you see?”
Joaquin leaned close, looked around Evanston, and had to see Sam Kage barging his way by people in the teeming club, dressed as he always was at work: in a suit with a top coat over it, badge on his belt, and a holstered gun on the opposite side.
“Can you get me out of here?”
“I’ll create a diversion; you go out the back with Benny and Andre.”
He fisted his hand in my dress shirt. “Is it Evanston? Is he dirty?”
I had a second to decide if I was going to be the guy. Was I going to be the one wired for sound, or would I pass the baton to someone else?
It had been so simple: I was undercover to wait for Evanston to show up. He was an enforcer for the Delgado cartel and had been sent to Chicago to clean up two loose ends. Unfortunately, Jared Gibson, 15, got caught in the crossfire. I promised his mother, when we figured out how her son died, that I would bring the man to justice. She counted on me.
Riley Evanston had been dispatched by Esau Modella who was in charge of security and enforcement for the crime family. I followed Evanston to New York because it was my priority, to bring him in so he could stand trial. It was my department’s chief concern.
In New York, where our fugitive had run to, the police there were following Arjun Ruiz and the drugs he moved into the city. They were out to bust one of the largest drug suppliers in the city of New York. We were after a killer. I understood our goals did not meet, but my captain, Lorena Gaines, had been sure Chicago homicide and New York vice could find common ground. But it was not to be.
Because no interdepartmental cooperation happened in this instance, the feds stepped in to coordinate a task force that would supposedly let us all reach our goals. Since I was already in place shadowing Joaquin, working as his muscle, I stayed, along with others I didn’t know. It was strange to think some of the men I had met were undercover, just like I was.
I had been hired by Hierra based on a faked background, and several incarcerated criminals had vouched for me in exchange for new privileges and other concessions. It had been easy to pull off, and even though I was on the fringe working for Hierra—the man himself a pawn on the vast chessboard that was the Delgado crime family—it gave me access to Evanston, who had been sent to collect payment from Joaquin for his sloppy work in Chicago. Why the higher ups had sent Evanston to get the Delgado family money from Joaquin, I didn’t know. Evanston moved drugs; his end wasn’t murder, so it didn’t make much sense. Perhaps he was being tested, groomed to move up—it hardly mattered to me. The important thing was, Evanston was in my sights. I could break cover and bust him. And that seemed like the plan until right that second.
It would take months to get another guy close to Hierra, and I was there, right there, ready to show my loyalty in a huge way, poised to become his most trusted man or simply disappear at the end of the bust.
I could go home, or I could stay and work with vice in New York. If I saved Joaquin from a federal marshal, I was in, and he would want me permanently on the payroll. Because yes, getting close to Joaquin Hierra had netted us Riley Evanston, but if I got in deep with Hierra, we could get access, eventually, to the whole operation, the big fish, the top tier of the Delgado drug cartel. Right now I was low level, but I could be in, just because he thought I was saving him from federal custody. Maybe Sam Kage showing up was not such a bad thing.
And maybe it was the worst.
I had only seconds to decide.
“He’s gotta be dirty,” I said flatly, staring back at the man with unwavering regard. “He led the feds here.”
“How do you know?”
I tipped my head toward Sam and lied. “That’s the same fed who took Javier Musa into protective custody. I saw him at the courthouse when they picked him up after he testified against Pascal.”
His eyes widened; and he stood and slipped around me. “Tonight,” he said, and then he moved away through the crowd.
“Where the hell is he going?” Evanston snarled at me.
I came around the table, Andre squeezed my shoulder as I moved by him, and Benny patted my back as I faced the mob enforcer. “What the fuck are you doing bringing a goddamn federal fugitive into Joaquin’s place?”
“What?” he gasped, head swiveling to Kevin Dwyer. “You’ve got a tail?”
“No,” Dwyer scoffed even as Sam yelled Freeze! over the driving trance music.
“You stupid fuck,” I snarled at Evanston, swinging on him.
The man had a good fifty pounds of muscle on me, and at six four, two twenty, I was not small myself. So when he blocked my throw and drove his fist into my face, I knew it was going to hurt.
It was a fight then, with yelling and screaming, stampeding for the exits, punches flying, and finally guns being drawn.
I wound up on the bottom of a pile, stepped on, kicked, punched, and cut. I had no idea who had the knife, but the diversion created an irresistible opportunity for someone looking to take out a rival. My money was on Pedro, who had never liked me. I was the one who had taken his friend Musa’s place in his boss’s circle after his buddy went to prison for trafficking in stolen goods. He had never made it a secret he didn’t trust me, and even though he did, in fact, have good reason, since I was undercover, he didn’t know that.
By the time I was pulled out from under all the other bodies, I was bleeding enough to know I needed stitches.
“This one’s gotta go to the hospital before booking,” Sam Kage yelled, pulling me to my feet fast, but more gently, I was certain, than anyone would be able to discern.
When he shoved me up against the wall, I groaned.
“Broken?” He asked, leaning in close, talking in my ear as he pinned me there.
“Bruised,” I muttered, giving him the lowdown on the state of my ribs. “Just losing blood.”
“Hold on,” he said so only I could hear.
Like I had a choice.
Ten minutes later, I was in an ambulance, on my back, looking up at Sam Kage.
“Asshole,” I barked as the EMT tried to stop the bleeding.
He shrugged his massive shoulders.
“How the fuck does your guy know my guy?” We couldn’t do names in front of the tired-looking EMT.
“Before your guy was hired muscle for the family, he worked for my guy.”
“Who’s really the doctor,” I grunted.
“Actually, the doctor is the bad guy,” Sam mocked me. “I mean, if you’re concerned about being precise.”
“How the fuck is Salcedo walking around to begin with?” I yelled, using his name before I could stop myself. “I thought he was in federal custody?”
“We had one more leak,” Sam informed me. “But we’re all good now, obviously.”
“What if you lose him again?”
“My team is on it,” Sam assured me. “Mine. You understand?”
I was quiet, the pain getting to me. “Yeah.”
He stayed with me, which I didn’t expect. As the hours rolled by in the hospital, as I got twenty-seven stitches down my left side over my ribs, as the drugs made me a little loopy, and as a full inventory of cuts, bruises, and a split lip was taken, Sam remained.
“Why are you here?”
“’Cause nobody else is,” he said frankly, one eyebrow lifting like I was stupid.
And because he’d made me feel like crap with that answer, I took a shot at him. “So, how does Jory feel about you working with your ex?”
“I’m not working with him, asshole, I’m recapturing him, and Jory’s glad he’s back in custody.”
“And that’s all?”
“He knows me, Duncan; he knows who I love and who I don’t give a shit about.”
I squinted. “Yeah, but you and that Salcedo guy, that was on like Donkey Kong in Colombia, huh?”
He was horrified. “What did they give you?”
It had to be something strong, because I was smiling like an idiot and using Nintendo references. My instinct for self-preservation was MIA.
“And no.” He shook his head.
“I heard all about it, Kage,” I huffed out. “You were with the good doctor for a year while you—”
“For your information—” Sam cut me off, his voice low and dark, making me just a little nervous. Yes, we were friends, but the man was menacing, no way around it. “I screwed the doctor for three months while me and Jory were apart. It never meant shit. If I could take it back, would I? Oh hell yeah, I would, but not why you think.”
“Why do I think?”
“I never thought of it like cheating on Jory,” he explained. “A year had gone by. He was sleeping around by that time, and so was I. The reason I wish it didn’t happen was because of how it made me feel.”
“How’d ya feel?”
“Like crap,” he barked at me. “You know when you confessed to me that you screw guys at bathhouses and places like that?”
“Thanks for bringing that shit up,” I groused.
“Just—do you remember?”
“Yes, I fuckin’ remember!” I flared.
“You know how gross you feel when you do it?”
“It’s was like that,” he confessed. “I didn’t care any more about Kevin Dwyer than you do about all those guys you fuck and forget, but—”
“Even from the little I know of Jory, I bet he doesn’t think it was nothing.”
“Because it lasted longer than one night,” he grumbled. “Jory fucked a ton of guys while we were apart, but the one he spent any time with—”
“Aaron,” I supplied.
“Yeah. Aaron he had feelings for.”
“So since Jory cared about Aaron, he figures you cared about the doctor.”
“But you didn’t?”
“No,” Sam sighed. “I really didn’t.”
“But you were together how long?”
“So, that’s kind of a dick thing you did there.”
“Yeah, I know!” he barked at me. “I told you that already.”
“Okay, so Jory thinks what?”
“Jory thinks I was as attached to Salcedo as he was to Aaron, because he thinks we have the same kind of heart. In fact, he thinks everyone’s heart works just like his.”
“They don’t,” I said sadly.
“No, they don’t. But that’s why I’m here, to protect him.”
It was funny to hear gentle words from such a fierce man.
“I’ve never loved anyone but him, and that’s why I had to get him back. When you’re faced with the truth, you have to act on it.”
It seemed like he was trying to get me to admit something.
“Did you love your professor?” he asked.
He was talking about my ex, Nathan Qells, the only man I had ever been in a real, grown-up relationship with.
“Did you love him the way I love Jory?”
“Why are you asking me that?”
He shrugged before leaning back in his chair. “Sorry, buddy; you’re the one who wanted to go swimming in the deep end.”
I studied him a minute. He was right. I had been the one to try and pry out secrets. And I knew why. I was all hopped up on drugs. If I weren’t, I would have never had the balls to talk to Sam so openly. “No.”
I cleared my throat. “No, I wasn’t in love with Nate the same way you love Jory. I chose my job over him. You chose Jory over the job.”
“I actually never had to make that decision,” he said thoughtfully. “I was fortunate. By the time Jory and I were ready for me to say what we were; I had a captain who got it and a new partner who didn’t care who I slept with. Right after that, I became a marshal.”
“Now I’m pretty much set. I do my job well and no one screws with me. If they look, they see I have a domestic partner, but why would they even look?”
“Your own little don’t ask, don’t tell, huh?”
“That’s belittling a lot of pain there.”
“I ain’t belittling anything. I just don’t have the luxury you did. I didn’t get to go off and work with the DEA for two years and switch from homicide to vice or become a marshal. I like my job. I like catching the bad guy. This is all I know how to do.”
“So do it, but don’t forget that I’ve seen how you look at Jory.”
My heart almost stopped. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Not like that, idiot.” He glared at me. “I’ve seen you look at Jory and how he looks at me, and I know you fuckin’ want that. You want a man to come home to. I get it.”
I scoffed. “So you think Jory thinks you walk on water, huh?”
“No,” he said huskily. “Jory can see every single one of my faults. He just forgives them. And I know how he looks at me. I know I’m loved. Who loves you?”
And it was a question I couldn’t answer.
AFTER Sam finally left, they moved me to another room and fixed all the reports with my fake name, Tucker Ross. Soon after, DEA agent, Derrick Chun, and his partner, Agent Maxwell Owens, were brought into my room by Special Agent Conner Wray. He thanked me, shook my hand, and cautioned me to be careful. It was nice that he gave me his card, with his cell number scribbled on the back, and said if I got in trouble, to call. The look he shot the two DEA agents was not kind. Yes, they were all working together, but it was more than obvious Wray thought they might get me killed.
“We won’t let you get killed” was the first thing Chun imparted.
It did not inspire confidence.
They left quickly, promised to be in touch, gave me an untraceable cell to hide, which was not great, considering I was in the hospital, and then I was alone to consider the state of my life. It was fucked, was what it was.