One

 

Locking down my heart

After I’m done with you

I’ve run the course of our love

There’s nothing left to do

Can’t listen to your lies

Won’t let you into my life

Gave you everything I had

Your love’s like a knife

—Lock and Stab

 

 

DEATH SLIPPED in over life in many ways, from stealing the breath from a slumbering child with a feathery touch to a shockwave of anguish of a man striking the Bay’s hard, cold water from a fall off the bridge. Miki St. John always believed Death was the most insidious, volatile, and unpredictable thief a man ever had to face in his life, an unyielding brutal force even nature could not cow or hold back.

That is, up until a few seconds ago when Miki discovered, to his amazement, pain was a greater monster than any death ever could be.

Today, pain came in the form of a forty-year-old Vietnamese woman with long, silver-streaked black hair and a face life gouged out with a hard awl. The lines on her face so deeply etched into her skin, a heavy rain would pour rivers from her jowls. Her pallor was stark, the slate gray of the sky over an icy Bay, but her cheeks ran florid with angry lesions, red constellations of flaking skin and puckering scabs. Her tongue darted across her lips, a gecko-quick daub over cracked fissures. One corner of her mouth was puffed up, or at least it appeared to be. It was difficult to tell from where Miki and Kane were standing, their view filtered through a curtain of palm fronds and mist from a nearby sprinkler. The green-yellow fans couldn’t obscure her bright clothing, a too tight, too short wrap of spandex and large eye-bleeding flowers on a sea of pink.

Miki knew Kane well enough to know that his cop was assessing the woman, judging her appearance, and every once in a while, sneaking a glance in Miki’s direction as if to check to see if he was holding up. His cop was a massive block of Celtic warrior, a slab of granite carved from a mountain who taught Kane how to be a man. He didn’t know how the woman could miss the blue-eyed, black haired Celtic warrior barely hidden behind a row of ornamental foliage, but then, Miki supposed, it could’ve just been him. His eyes always searched the shadows for Kane—hell, he searched the light for him too—there was something about his Irish cop that both calmed him down and fired him up.

Miki ached for Kane like he ached for music.

Unfortunately, he’d stopped aching for music, but his desire for Kane stayed steady and strong.

“How good are you at reading lips?” Miki strained to see around the cement planter, disliking the hitch in his hip when he shifted his weight from one foot to another. “I can’t… I can see her talking but I can’t figure out what she’s saying. We should have had Edie open her phone line or something so I could listen in.”

Kane’s midnight gaze flicked over Miki’s face, an amused grin teasing at the corner of his mouth. As he turned his attention back to the women standing near one of the garden’s tall cement signs, his sexy, whiskey-amber voice purred with hints of rolling emerald hills and ancient myths, “And here you say you don’t think like a cop. That was a very cop thing to say, Mick. If it weren’t against the law.”

“Well, if I’ve picked up anything cop-like, I got it from your father.” Miki sneered. “Considering he’s the only real cop I know.”

“I’ll be reminding you of those very words later on tonight when I have you in bed and I’ve got a pair of handcuffs nearby.”

“Is that supposed to scare me?” Miki jabbed Kane in the ribs. “For some of us, we just call it Tuesday.”

The words were out of his mouth before Miki could stop them—before he could actually hear them—and the stab of pain in Kane’s expression dug out what little guilt he had in his soul. Joking about sex was something the band did on the road, something the group fell into, a sideshow banter about the hard life they lived slogging music and their equipment across the blacktop and the stage. It said something about how far he’d come—the teasing of Kane—and how little he picked at the scabs in his psyche or contemplated the scars on his soul.

“I didn’t mean—” Kane started to say but closed his mouth when Miki shook his head. “I didn’t think. I just—”

Everyone close to Miki knew his body had been a plaything for men with little regard for him other than to be their toy. But Kane—his righteous, slightly off-white knight—had seen Miki at his lowest, at his least human. Kane had not only seen Miki’s nightmares captured by a flash of the camera and a spot of film, but still dealt with the aftermath of those memories.

“You don’t have to watch your words with me, K,” Miki reassured his lover. “Damie says shit all the time and I don’t jump down his throat. It’s just words. And if ever you actually wanted to use a pair of handcuffs, you’d tell me so I’d have a chance to tell you fuck off and die or sure, just don’t lose the key. Because if there’s one thing that I am not ever going to live through, it’s calling up one of your sibs to unlock my wrist from our bed.”

“The siblings I can handle,” Kane growled. “It’s the parents—Brigid—that I’m scared of. She’d skin me alive.”

And just because he knew Kane would shudder at the thought, Miki said softly, “Dude, you don’t think your dad’s used his cuffs on your mom? She’s got eight kids. Probably wants to change things up every once in a while, you know?”

“Thank you for that. There isn’t enough bleach in San Francisco to get that thought out of my head.” Kane made a noise that sounded like Miki’s dog swallowing a fly, and Miki smirked with satisfaction when Kane’s shoulders actually shook. “Now, if ever I do lose a handcuff key and you’re involved, I’m just going to leave you there. And no, I can’t tell what they’re saying. Next time we do something like this, I want to make Edie wear a wire. As illegal as it is, I’m wishing we’d done something.”

Miki snorted. “How the fuck many women do you think are going to come out of the gutter and say they knew my mother? Only reason I’m giving this one the time of day is because Edie said she sounded legit.”

If Crossroads Gin was Miki’s salvation, then Edie, their manager, was the mother of all things. She was a sharp-faced woman with a cutting manner only softened by her affection for the young men she herded and cared for. He’d not liked her when he first met Edie across a long conference table in a room at their record studio’s main building. She’d been aggressive, brash, and stood toe-to-toe with Damien, arguing about percentages and copyrights until the lead guitarist’s British accent was so thick with fury, Miki expected the fog to roll in and the coffee in his mug to turn to tea. Just as Damien was about to walk out of the door, Edie’s manner gentled and her tone shifted.

“Now do you understand why you need me?” she’d said to the shocked band members. “You just lost an argument with the person who is willing to go to the mat for you. Imagine how far you’ll get when you go head-to-head with somebody who wants to bleed you dry? Now, sit your ass down on the chair, Mitchell, and we can get down to making sure you hold on to every penny the four of you earn, and I am only going to charge you five percent to do it.”

Through Sinner’s Gin’s rise and then death, Edie was Miki’s rock. She’d been with him as he struggled to walk and battled every lawyer Damien’s family threw at him, bloodsucking leeches hoping to turn a quick buck on Damien’s corpse. When Damien returned, alive despite a lie his family concocted to bilk his estate, Edie donned her armor once again, ensuring their assets—and lives—were secure. It had been a no-brainer to ask her to manage the new band, but when she came to the final show of its Resurrection Tour, she’d brought with her a revelation—news of a ghost Miki never knew haunted him—and a woman who said she knew Miki’s mother.

When they agreed to meet the woman at the Yerba Buena Gardens, Edie cautioned him to remain at home. Her arguments were sound, but Miki needed to see the face of the one person who’d come forward about the woman who’d carried him but hadn’t kept him.

“Hey, look.” His cop jerked his chin toward the women. “She’s handing Edie something.”

From what Miki could see, it was one of those padded envelopes he often got ordering things online, its oddly unique but familiar brown-yellow surface wrinkled and grimy. It looked old, beat-up around the edges, and torn at the top instead of cut open, but Edie handled it as if it were treasure, carefully taking it from the woman’s hands and glancing into its depths.

Kane was moving before Miki realized his cop was no longer next to him. His lover’s hands were on him, moving him. Miki’s shoulders were turned then the sky tilted, slivers of blue dotted with clouds turning into a kaleidoscope through the leaves above them. The pops were loud, echoing booms Miki knew all too well. The screaming began nearly the moment Miki’s knee gave and he struck the ground, Kane’s heavy body stretched out over him.

It was a hellish agony when Miki struggled to get out from under his lover’s prostrate body. Kane’s forearms were up, covering Miki’s face, smearing dirt and debris into his mouth, but Miki couldn’t see, couldn’t tell if Kane had been hit. His world became a single moment, turning only when he felt Kane’s chest rise against his belly, and then the voice that murmured sweet, filthy things into his ears during sex told him to stay down.

Everything happened so fast—the gunfire, the shouting, and then the squeal of brakes coming from the road. Miki heard sobbing, but he was too concerned about running his hands over Kane’s sides, feeling for any bit of wetness or, worse, injury he couldn’t heal with a kiss. His panic must have shown on his face because Kane brushed his mouth over Miki’s lips, then rolled off him.

“Are you hit?” Kane barked, startling the shock from Miki’s belly. “Tell me you’re okay.”

“I’m fine. Edie—” But Kane stood before Miki could say another word.

“Stay here,” Kane ordered as he scrambled toward where the women met. “Call 911.”

And then he was gone, taking his warmth and comfort with him.

Kane’s long legs easily ate up the distance between the planter and where Edie lay on the ground. Her pristine, sunflower-bright power suit now bore bloodied poppies across her side and arms. A few feet away, the woman he’d watched through the palms was sprawled against the cement monolith with its maps and directions splattered with her blood. Her eyes were open, her jaw slack, and the bullet wounds on her stomach made a polka-dot mess of her clothing, but it was the shattered remains of her forehead that shocked Miki into moving.

Kane was two hundred pounds of muscle and bone, but he moved like a shark through still water, cutting through the stream of people running away from the road and into the surrounding buildings.

Edie!” Miki wasn’t as fast as Kane, but he was going to be damned if he didn’t get to Edie’s side.

There were already sirens in the air, drowning out the crowd’s murmuring shock and startled cries. Miki caught his foot on the pylon or maybe one of the stones used to decorate the mulch surrounding the trees and the palms, but he ignored the hit of pain in his hip, scaling the wide staircase to do what he could.

It was hard to kneel, but it was even harder to hold Edie’s hand as her life poured out of her. Something dug into his knee, finding the one too-tender spot he never seemed to be able to heal. He shoved the envelope aside, jerking his head up when Kane hissed at him.

“Don’t touch that. It’s evidence.” His lover’s eyes were hard, stony bits of blue marbled with an arrogant authority with no tolerance for argument. “If you’re going to be here, press down on her wounds. Ambulances are going to be here soon. Stay with her. I’ve got to see if anybody else was hurt. There’s a couple people down by the sidewalk.”

“This is Edie,” Miki spat. He didn’t know where the rage came from or, rather, maybe he did. She was a connection to his past, a life he built with her and then cobbled back together when it fell apart. “Don’t you fucking walk away from her. I need you. She needs you.”

The smile he got from Kane was resigned and bittersweet, and Miki had to blink away his tears to see it. Kane’s fingers brushed Miki’s jaw, then ran through his wind-tangled hair, pulling away before Miki could lean into his lover’s touch.

“I know you’ll take care of her, babe.” Kane’s whisper dug down deep into Miki’s love for him, hooking into every thread of every moment they’d shared. “She’ll be all right, but I have to go. This is what I do. I’m a cop, Mick, I have to go.”

 

 

IT WAS never a good thing when Captain Book called one of his inspectors into his office. Even worse when Casey, their lieutenant, was waiting with him. Book was a congenial man, someone who worked to be approachable, the kind of captain a police officer felt comfortable talking to, even when washing their hands and standing side by side in the bathroom. Kane liked and respected the man nearly as much as he respected his own father, so when his partner, Kel, tapped Kane on the shoulder and jerked his head toward the captain’s office, Kane would never have thought in a million years he would be standing in the middle of the greatest ass chewing in his life as soon as he walked through the door.

“What were you thinking, Morgan?” The beefy man’s snarl was ferocious, years of riding a desk hardly putting a dent in the street-tough cop who’d been dragged up from one of the worst neighborhoods in Los Angeles. “The DA tells me he thinks you were there for a sting of some kind and that rock star you sleep with is ass-deep in it. Tell me you weren’t there doing something sketchy.”

“No hard feelings, Morgan,” Casey assured him, patting him on the shoulder. “Internal Affairs isn’t looking at you, and I sure as hell don’t want you at a desk, but the DA is pushing it. I might not have a choice if they go up the chain of command.”

“I am the damned chain of command.” Book slapped at his desk, nearly upending a wire basket of pens. He caught it before it spilled, righting it with a scowl on his face. “If the DA wants a fight, I’ll be more than happy to give it to that bastard. He’s not going to take one of my cops off the streets because he needs to show he’s tough on anyone wearing a badge. Just explain to me, Kane, what you were doing there, and make sure that none of it includes an undercover operation I knew nothing about.”

“It wasn’t a sting or anything undercover,” Kane replied. “Do you think I would take St. John with me on something like that? His manager was meeting with a woman, one who said she had information about St. John’s mother. She’d been in contact with his management company, and they’d arranged to meet at the gardens. St. John wanted to be there, but his manager cautioned him to remain behind until she had more information.”

“So why didn’t he stay home? If she told him she didn’t want him there, why was he there?” Casey asked. “He was setting himself up for a confrontation, or worse, her attacking him.”

“Because the surefire way to get Miki St. John to do something is to tell him he shouldn’t,” he informed his superior officers, unable to keep a grin off his face, but he sobered up quickly when Book shot him a hard look. “It was supposed to be a simple meet. She was coming with the packet that was recovered on the scene and anecdotal evidence of her connection to St. John’s mother. At the most, we expected her to shake down the manager for money, precisely the reason St. John shouldn’t have been there.”

“Stop calling him St. John. We all know who he is. It’s one thing to be formal when you’re giving a report, but it’s another thing entirely when you’re talking about the guy you go home to every night,” his captain interjected. “The manager? That’s the survivor, right?”

“Yes, sir. She took a shot to the ribs, which deflected into her abdomen. She’s in surgery right now, but I was assured by the hospital she will be okay. I’m hoping that once she regains consciousness, I’ll be able to question her about—”

“You’re not going anywhere near her, Morgan,” Casey cut him off. “One, you’re too close to the case. Two, we still haven’t decided if you are going to be placed on administrative leave.”

“I’ve decided.” Book leaned back in his chair, nestling his shoulders into its padded leather cushion. “Morgan isn’t going to ride a desk, not if I have anything to say about it. We are already overloaded and down three inspectors this week. There’s a dead woman in the morgue with sketchy identification and nothing on her but a manila envelope of photos and a couple of letters. You were on the scene, tell me what happened. Was the shooter random and they were caught in the cross-fire spray, or was the manager targeted? Did it look like the woman signaled to someone?”

“No, she was fully engaged with Edie, the manager. The victim wasn’t looking at the road; her left side was facing the street and I could see her face.” Kane distanced himself from the turbulent emotions he’d been suppressing since he first heard the gunfire and shoved Miki to the ground, praying nothing struck the man he loved. Thinking back on what he saw, he parsed out the woman’s expressions and body language. “She was aggressive, a little pushy, and if I had to guess, she was trying to get something out of Edie, either money or maybe she wanted to talk to Miki. I didn’t get a chance to talk to either of them and, well, listening in on the conversation could have potentially been sticky. The meet happened quickly. I only got notification about it about half an hour before it happened.”

“Did St. John know?” Book asked. “Does he know the woman’s name?”

“He might. I don’t know if Edie shared it with him. Up until she knocked on our front door, he was adamant about not having a damned thing to do with getting into contact with the woman. I think Edie pressed it because she said she had things to give to him, things from his mother.” Kane looked down at his hands, surprised to see speckles of blood along his knuckles. “They might’ve talked before, but he didn’t want—no, he refused—to even consider meeting with her.”

“Then why did he?” Casey straightened, getting up from his perch on the credenza against the office’s long wall. “Why did he change his mind? And why did you go with him?”

“Because Edie said please. And after everything he’s been through with her, Miki will do anything if it is something she feels strongly about. He was found in the middle of the street—on St. John—covered in bruises, wearing a dirty diaper, and some asshole had put a tattoo on his arm. He wasn’t even three years old and someone tossed him out like he was trash.” Kane squared his shoulders, looked his lieutenant straight in the eye. “To answer your question, I went because I love him, and I’m never going to send him out to face his monsters without me standing right next to him. As long as I have breath in my body, I’m going to be there.”