Chapter One

 

I WAS fairly certain that the car I was sitting in, a steel-gray 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429, belonged on a show teenage girls watched on The CW, not in an undercover rescue operation in the Back of the Yards neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. Vampires drove cars like this—sneering, brooding creatures of the night—or maybe contract killers, but certainly not real-life private investigators trying to keep a low profile.

“I can hear you growling,” Kade Bosa, my fellow PI, best friend, and roommate said with a snicker as we cruised to a silent stop behind a row of parked cars buried in ice.

It had probably started out as snow, but once the plow came through and buried everything and then the freezing rain on top of that… now it was ice. There would be no digging out the cars; there would be chipping, and it would take hours. I knew if my 1978 Ford F-250 was one of the vehicles I was currently looking at, instead of it being in the shop, I’d have left it until the spring thaw and hoped for the best. It was early February now, and even another two months wouldn’t have bothered me.

“Oh, that sucks,” he scoffed, tipping his head at the entombed cars before turning to me, the sexy smirk on his plump lips almost making me forget I was irritated.

Almost.

“This is not low-key,” I chided. “This is, in fact, the exact opposite.”

Maddeningly he nodded before giving me a quick, affectionate smack on the chest with the back of his right hand. “I’ll give you that.”

“You’ll give me that?” I repeated.

“Yeah.”

“For heaven’s sake, K,” I scolded, “what were you thinking?”

“I was thinking I was following directions.”

I knew better. He never thought that for a second. He was very clever, his brain worked at lightning speed. The only time he ever got tripped up was with people he cared about. Things got cloudy if he cared. “This is really stupid.”

“You said to get a car,” he recapped from the night before.

“No,” I corrected. “I said to rent a car, as my truck, which is our only means of transportation, is in the shop and—”

“I have a car,” he reminded me.

“No, you had a car that was up on blocks in your sister’s backyard for three years until you signed it over to her husband.”

“Did I actually do that?” he baited, flicking his gaze to me as he curled his lip dangerously, sensuously, causing a shiver I wasn’t proud of because that was out of bounds in our relationship. But still, I couldn’t stop my body from reacting to him, hadn’t been able to from the first moment I laid eyes on him.

“They needed money to send the twins to that Montessori school close to their house,” I rambled, knowing I was saying the words for myself, not him, unable to stop the farce of leading him down memory lane just because I needed to keep talking. It happened a lot: I looked at him and suddenly started babbling so I wouldn’t jump him. “Is this ringing any bells?”

“You know it does,” he answered playfully, chuckling, giving me the look I knew well—that I was ridiculous. “This little recap is for you, for whatever reason. Why wouldn’t I remember? How old do you think I am?”

“I know exactly how old you are,” I volleyed. I was the one who never forgot a birthday, who made sure his day meant something.

“Well, then, why the hell would I forget?”

“I don’t know. You were dating what’s-her-name with the poodle who tried to make you a vegan. Perhaps you forgot because you weren’t getting enough protein to make your brain function.”

He scoffed.

And it had worked. I felt like I could breathe again. I could make conversation instead of just saying Kade, please get in my bed. “I’m not kidding.”

“That didn’t last long.”

“No, I know,” I agreed. “I was there, as you recall.”

“The lure of your spaghetti was too great.”

I scoffed. “Was that what did it?”

“Well, yeah,” he said, shooting me a look implying I was stupid. “She came over, and I was hoovering down your spicy sauce with those huge meatballs you make with the mushrooms and the peppers and—”

“I know what’s in the sauce,” I said, grinning. “I think you’re missing the point here.”

“I know what the point was,” he griped, shooting me a glare for good measure.

“Oh? Tell me.”

“Not the food.”

“That wasn’t very adamant. Are you guessing or stating a fact?”

“I’m stating a fact.”

“And?”

“And she had a fuckin’ meltdown!”

“This is true.” I chuckled as the memory came rushing back.

I answered the door when the doorbell rang, moved aside to let her by, and she swept in, her white poodle tucked under her arm, to collect Kade for dinner with her friends. He was at that moment midbite in the process of inhaling a plate of spaghetti fit for a gladiator. She got a bit shrieky after that. And I understood, I did. She was a vegan; the whole animal-products thing was not her bag. I had no problem with that. It was her swearing and throwing things that turned me off. Our loft wasn’t big enough to throw anything in, and my father had always taught me that you ate before you went to a stranger’s house in case you didn’t like the food. Kade was merely being proactive.

“You’ve been the reason I’ve broken up with most people since we met.”

My heart stopped right there.

“I mean, I’d rather have you cook for me more than anybody else, including my sister.”

And now it was breaking. Jesus Christ, he said all the right things for all the wrong reasons. I had tumbled into the trap of friendship that longed to be more, and he had moved forward to best friend, to work partner, to roommate, then taken not one more step. I was at the finish line, ready to gift him with my heart, and he went on a detour to get laid. The stupidity and futility of my situation never ceased to make me groan inside. If my life was a television show, I would have left the room, it was so painfully awkward.

“The only person I know who’s better in the kitchen than you is my mom, but… you know….” He finished with a shrug.

I did know. Sadly, I did. Kade lost his mother when he was fifteen, and from what his sister, Rose, told me over the years, he was the one Elaine Bosa was closest to, and he took her death the hardest. And now he’d just told me that, after his mom, I was it. I had no idea how I didn’t let out a sob or give him some other indication that he was going to be the death of me. I had to clench my jaw to keep my chin from wobbling, and I scowled to make sure the tears stinging behind my eyes did not well up and overflow. It was ridiculous. Only Kade could do this to me, turn me into a sentimental sap in a matter of moments.

“You’re all I got now, buddy,” he said with a wicked grin and a waggle of his brows.

It took several seconds for me to be able to push air out again. “So it’s my food that’s come between you and the people climbing in and out of your bed.”

“Yep,” he assured me. “But to your point about the car, you’re right. I forgot for a second that I signed that over.”

“It was a great thing you did since they’d just bought the house, but with the tuition coming due and your folks cutting her off years ago when she married Silas—”

“I was there, you recall.”

“You’re a good man, K,” I told him, as impressed with the gesture now as I was when I got home two months ago on a Thursday night and he was there with carne asada tacos from Taqueria Moran down on California, and I asked him what the occasion was.

“I gave my sister the Corvette,” he said between bites, gesturing for me to sit down and eat with him.

I had a soft spot for Rose to begin with because she stood by Kade when their family wouldn’t. The fact that she had been shunned by her family before that and Kade was the only one who continued to treat her like his sibling made him her favorite as well. Rose’s husband was black, and that was simply not acceptable in her Irish-Italian family, but the thing they all forgot when they gave her the ultimatum—them or Silas—was that Rose was not one of the boys. She was not Kade. It still hurt him like an open wound that his family, his father and all his brothers, turned their back on him. His firebrand of a sister, however, severed ties and never looked back. She was, after all, her mother’s daughter. Elaine, second-generation Irish, had done the same—become estranged from her family—when she married Kade’s Italian father, Mario, decades earlier.

Now, ten years later, Rose had a warm, loving family in Silas, two bright, beautiful seven-year-old girls, and still had one of her brothers and, bonus, me. She was really and truly happy. Not being able to pay tuition for the twins blindsided her and Silas, and they didn’t want to go to his folks, so Kade signing over the 1996 Corvette Grand Sport convertible had been a godsend.

“I should have waited,” he grumbled.

I rejoined the conversation at hand. “You had no idea Rose was going to get that job as assistant principal and that Silas was going to get a promotion as well. You did what you had to for that family at the time.”

“Whatever.”

“You did,” I insisted. “Stop playing it off like it was nothing.”

“You know he offered to pay me back for the car,” he said, clearly trying to change the subject. It made him uncomfortable when I pointed out his kindnesses.

“And you said?” I replied, as though it was a mystery instead of the foregone conclusion I knew it to be.

“I said to put the money into the girls’ college fund.”

I smiled. “You did two good things for that family.”

His grunt was dismissive.

“But back to my previous point.” I yawned because, really, there had been nowhere near the amount of required caffeine this morning. “We needed a car that could be driven around a not-so-great neighborhood that would go unnoticed, and that isn’t what you got.”

“Yeah, well, I borrowed this one instead.”

“Yes, but from whom?” I asked, my voice strained because honestly, riding in the car was going to give me hives. It was too fancy, too noticeable, too begging to be looked at and admired and commented on, none of which was my style. My mother raised a quiet self-effacing boy, not a damn rock star.

“Why does it matter?” Kade countered good-naturedly, having fun at my expense.

“Because it’s far too conspicuous!”

“Why’re you yelling?”

I took deep breaths.

“It’s fine, this is fine. Don’t be a drama queen.”

“You did not just—”

“Oh, gimme a break, you know I didn’t mean because you’re gay,” he explained like it was excruciatingly painful. “I would’ve said that to anybody I know.”

And he would have. Me being gay never gave him a moment of pause in our partnership or friendship. He was bi, yet another thing Rose knew when no one else in his family did.

“This is not fine,” I lamented. “You got us something that even Starsky and Hutch would think is over-the-top.”

Several beats of time went by before Kade turned to me, squinting, clearly confused. “Who’re Starsky and Hutch?”

It took a second for me to wrap my brain around the question. “Pardon me?”

“Am I supposed to know them?”

“Are you messing with me?”

“What?” He sounded lost.

“Did you just inquire as to whom Starsky and Hutch are?”

“Yeah. Who’re they? Guys you used to work with before you met me?”

I was certain he was kidding. “Seriously?”

“Well, yeah.”

“They’re characters on a TV show.”

“That’s on now?”

“No, it was on in the seventies.”

His eyes got big. “I was born in eighty-eight, you know that, right?”

As if him being two years younger made me a fossil.

“But you’re thinking I should’ve caught whatever this show is on reruns or something?”

“It was a show about cops, and they drove a really flashy car.”

He grimaced like it pained him to discuss this with me. “Are you kidding? All the cops on TV drive cars they could never afford in real life. Look at Miami Vice.”

“And when did you—”

“It was on USA when I was little.”

“When you were little?” I was indignant. “How old do you think I am?”

He snorted.

“Ass.” I sighed, already tired, and it wasn’t even ten yet. The coffee deficit was real, I needed more.

“So,” Kade said, grinning at me like a pirate. “Should we go in, or you wanna just go eat breakfast instead?”

“This was your idea, remember?”

“Fuck,” he whined, head back, staring up at the car ceiling.

“I clearly recall saying that perhaps chasing down a criminal informant who didn’t want to be found was a bad idea, but you told your old captain that it was not a problem.”

“I know,” came the almost whine.

“And I understand, I do, you think you owe him for—”

“I do owe him,” he said quickly, shutting me down, his voice sharp and thick with warning.

I shut up and looked out the window at the filthy snow and graffiti, boarded-up windows, and dented trash cans sitting beside the stoop we were parked in front of.

“Shit,” he muttered under his breath.

I continued to give the horrible scenery my undivided attention.

“The last time we did this, I had to go to the hospital,” he said to fill the void.

I knew that. I was the one who basically dragged/carried him down five flights of stairs. I was more than aware of what had happened to him. I didn’t need the memory jog, and I was certainly not going to respond. He didn’t get to raise his voice to me or treat me like someone who didn’t know his story.

“I—could you just… fuck.”

I pulled out my phone, but he grabbed it, so I had to turn and look at him.

“Vaughn saved my life, yeah? If it wasn’t for him, you wouldn’t have a partner.”

I’d heard all about the saintly Leland Vaughn, commander of the 4th District in South Chicago before. When Kade was drowning undercover, strung out on heroin, no longer able to tell if he was a good guy or a bad guy, Vaughn blew his cover and pulled him out, but not before Kade shot and killed drug dealer Kinsley Bale.

In the aftermath, even though the shooting was ruled as justifiable, Kade hadn’t known it was, hadn’t even known who Bale was at the time, and hadn’t been in his right mind to discharge his weapon. The fallout cost him his badge. Instead of going to prison, Kade went to rehab, but that was not a comfort as he went through the process of getting clean. No one was there to pick up the pieces, no one there to support him. Rose had children to care for as well as a job and a husband. Kade should have had the rest of his family, but his father was a cop, and so were both of his brothers, his uncles, his cousins, all his friends… and if he wasn’t one of them, he was nothing. He was a disgrace, and they couldn’t separate who he was from what he’d done.

So he lost his biological family—all but Rose—and then his brothers in blue, and drifted from security jobs to bouncing at clubs and even being muscle for a couple of bookies, which was when he and I crossed paths.

At twenty-eight, he’d already lived much more of a life than I had at my thirty, but what I was good at was providing structure, and in him, I quickly saw partner material. Ex-cop, smart, loyal to a fault, good in a fight, heart of gold, excellent at intimidation, and a man who could, when he wanted to, when he needed to, give Satan a run for his money with his insidious charm. I took one look and knew he was exactly what the doctor ordered. I couldn’t have asked for a better friend and colleague, and together, we worked. We were solid.

But he had a blind spot where Vaughn was concerned, and that worried me. The thing about Kade was he believed so completely, so ardently, in people that, when they let him down, it crushed his soul. I didn’t have the faith he did; I protected myself better than that.

“Joey?”

I’d never been Joey to anyone else, only Joseph with my family and Joe with everyone else. Whenever he used Joey, it melted me to my core and left me, for the briefest of seconds, vulnerable. I coughed to cover the ridiculous thump of my heart. “All right,” I soothed. “Now all we need to do is go into that building, find Declan Kemp, bring him out, and hand him over to Vaughn. That’s what you want to do, right?”

“Yeah,” he agreed, his voice soft, gentle, pleased that I was letting it go. “Please tell me you have your gun.”

One time without my Colt Delta Elite 1911 and I’d never live it down. “Yes, dear, I have my gun,” I said with as much sarcasm as I could muster.

Quick flashing grin. “Yeah, all right, sorry.”

“Let’s go,” I prodded, because sitting in small enclosed spaces with him for any length of time without food or binoculars, the trappings of a stakeout that would save this situation from being what it was now—just us, together, quiet, intimate—was a recipe for disaster. It was why I’d been filling my time with activities and other people. I could not, would not, be alone with Kade Bosa for any extended period. It wasn’t healthy for me or my heart.