Prologue

 

 

THIS ALL started with a knock at the door, Trent thought as he paced back and forth on the tatami mats covering the floor of the small cell. An innocent knock on the door and his desire to try something new, to push himself past his usual limits. He hadn’t expected it to turn out like this. Should he have brought Reed? Reed would never have said Trent wasn’t ready for something like this, but he suspected that’s what Reed really thought.

No. Reed was wrong. Trent was ready, had been ready for a while, and it was just what he needed. It wasn’t his fault it had turned out like this.

A knock sounded on the door and a tray of food appeared through a slot in the door. He took the tray and muttered thanks.

More rice and vegetables, and a piece of fish. And some tea. A far cry from the sumptuous feast he’d enjoyed a few nights earlier.

He grabbed the teacup and gulped it down. He couldn’t stand to eat another mouthful of rice, but his stomach growled. It could be worse. It could be a hell of a lot worse. He picked up the bowl and the pair of flimsy chopsticks he couldn’t control very well. He scooped gobs of rice and vegetables out of the bowl and pushed them into his mouth. It only took a couple of minutes to finish the portions. Too small for someone his size. He hoped the nice guard was working tonight, the one who’d get him another bowl later on if he asked. Even another bowl of rice was fine when you were hungry.

It wasn’t the food, or the cell, or even that he didn’t understand most of what was said to him. The worst was not knowing what would happen to him.

Reed had been through this, only he hadn’t been in a clean cell with a sink and regular meals. Thinking how much worse Reed’s experience in Myanmar had been only served to depress Trent further. His stomach roiled, but it wasn’t from hunger.

He leaned down to put the bowl back on the tray, and then he noticed the note. A folded-up piece of paper with handwritten Japanese on the top.

He picked up the paper and lay back down on his cot. Then he unfolded it.

 

 

1

 

 

TRENT PILED out of the SUV with the others in his group. They dropped low, holding their weapons and moving as silently as possible. He kept close to the man in front of him, and they took their positions as the leader determined the best approach. There were two men inside—according to the intel—and the group was to apprehend them.

Trent kept his eyes on the leader, watching for the hand signals giving silent orders. He was to cover the leader as he approached the door, while other members of the team fanned out around the rustic shack. They thought there were drugs in there with the men, but they had to be ready for any surprises.

The group leader glanced back at Trent and locked gazes before he moved toward the door, crouching low so no one inside could see them. Trent used the suspects’ car for cover. He had a good view of the door as well as through the front window—two men sitting inside at a table in dirty white T-shirts.

The leader stood and shouted a warning. The men inside jumped in surprise. One headed for the back of the shack while the other came out of the front door.

“Hands on your head!” the leader shouted.

The man obeyed and Trent moved close, keeping an eye on the suspect while the leader trained his weapon on him and forced him to his knees. When Trent was five feet from them, the suspect leapt up and grabbed the leader’s weapon from him. Trent pointed his own weapon at the man, but less than a split second passed before the suspect turned the leader’s gun on him and the leader fell to the ground.

Trent aimed, but before he could squeeze off a shot, the suspect’s shirt erupted in a splatter of blue.

They used paint, not bullets, in these exercises, but the suddenness of the shot still shocked Trent and threw him off. He fired, but his own shot went wide. Now he heard gunfire from the other side of the house. He couldn’t worry about what was happening there—his role was covering the front door, and his partner, but he’d botched that up royally. Had this been a real suspect with real ammo, his partner would have been dead. Maybe Trent too.

The suspect dropped the weapon, and Trent’s leader stood up—as if from the dead—and turned toward him. “Copeland, what happened?”

Trent froze, uneasy in the man’s powerful glare. He shook his head. “I didn’t shoot fast enough.” It hadn’t been the first time. He’d let all but one of his partners die in these training exercises.

“What’s holding you back?” This question came from the suspect—in reality one of the FBI’s firearms and tactics instructors. By now the rest of the men and women in the training unit had come around to the front of the house. They were at Hogan’s Alley, the make-believe town where the FBI held training sessions in order to give agents a taste of real fieldwork.

“I don’t know.” Trent looked at the rest of the team. None of them had paint on their clothes—none of them had been shot or “killed.” Only the other “suspect”—another instructor—had been hit. Everyone else on the team had done their jobs correctly. “I didn’t want to shoot until I knew he was gonna shoot.”

“He grabbed the leader’s weapon….”

“I know. I just couldn’t believe that. How Marlow let his weapon get taken. It threw me off.”

The others looked at their feet as the instructors dissected the errors in the exercise. No one had gotten a perfect score, though no one else had let another man die. “Copeland, this exercise scenario was designed for the suspect to attempt to disarm one agent. The point was for the second—that’s you—to spot the danger and neutralize him before he took down an agent.”

“I didn’t know that.” Trent frowned.

“You’re not supposed to know what’s going to happen, Trent. Real life doesn’t have a script. The agents in the back of the shack faced the same scenario, but the second took appropriate action.”

Trent wanted to remind them he was just a writer, not a real law enforcement officer. But he’d signed up for this training with the understanding he wouldn’t ask for or receive special treatment. “I’ll do better next time.”

“I know you will, Copeland.” The instructor slapped Trent on the back as the team climbed into the SUV and headed back to the main FBI Academy campus for more tactical sessions.

Trent was the worst in the group when it came to these exercises. He didn’t belong here. Today had proved that to him, as well as to everyone else in the course. Why had he thought he could do this?

He knew the tactics, and he was surprisingly good on the firing range—surprising to everyone else—but he couldn’t stomach shooting someone face-to-face, even with a paint gun. Because most FBI agents used their guns in this kind of close-range combat, the FBI had redesigned the entire firearms training program in recent years to ensure agents had the skills and determination for the situations they would most likely face on the job.

“Tomorrow’s the final run in TEVOC,” Randi Boorman said as she let her dark curls loose from the tight ponytail she’d worn for the training. She punched Trent on the knee as they rode back from Hogan’s Alley. “You ready for that?”

“Yeah. I’m pretty good at it.” It was Trent’s favorite part of the training that Reed and his boss Tom White had suggested after their return from Italy six months earlier. Reed wanted to make sure Trent could at least protect himself, even if he wasn’t ready to lead a raid on a shack of suspected drug dealers.

 

 

THE FOLLOWING day the trainees—most in one form of law enforcement or another, many of whom had been in administrative roles and had let their field skills deteriorate—suited up at the start of the two-mile driving obstacle course for what would be their final exam on this portion of the training.

The goal of TEVOC—the Tactical and Emergency Vehicle Operations Center—was teaching evasive and pursuit driving tactics. Nowhere else could you race around a track, skidding and spinning, without getting hurt or into trouble. Trent had surprised himself that he had a real aptitude for these maneuvers. He never much liked driving in LA, but on the course he handled sharp turns with ease and didn’t back away from close pursuit. Helmets and race-car versions of seatbelts made him feel safe enough. And there was no LA traffic to contend with.

“Here’s the order of drivers: Chen, Boorman, Copeland, Fielder, Chavez….” The instructor shouted the full roster of names, then posted the list on a board near the edge of the track. He wore the ubiquitous dark FBI baseball cap and carried a stopwatch, binoculars, and a clipboard. Two cars stood at the head of the track, both American made and both pretty banged up. Trent wondered how often they replaced them.

“Who’s playing the suspect today?” Chen asked. During training, one instructor drove the getaway car and the other coached the trainees, giving tips and evaluating their performance, but both their usual instructors were on the track with them. Today they had brought in someone else to drive, someone whose tactics they were unfamiliar with.

“No idea.” Randi Boorman put a hand up to shield her eyes from the sun’s glare and stared at the front car—the one the trainees would be chasing. “Can’t see a thing. He’s wearing a helmet.”

“It’s probably a really hot chick, and you guys will be embarrassed when you can’t catch her.” Rita Chavez laughed as she explained her theory.

“You know, if one of us guys said that, we’d get a write-up for sexual harassment,” Bob Fielder said, and the other guys—including Trent—nodded in agreement.

“Well, if I were in the getaway car, you’d be eating my dust!” Chavez taunted. She was the best driver in the group.

Trent watched as Chen drove off after the suspect’s car. Despite some impressive moves, he never caught up, and at one point it looked like Chen might go right off the course. The training cars were modified so they wouldn’t roll over, which disappointed Chavez, who didn’t stop trying to tip one anyway. Trent was glad he never broke the law, because knowing Rita Chavez, an LAPD officer, was out on the streets of LA scared the crap out of him.

Boorman drove second, and Trent studied the getaway driver’s tactics during these first two rounds, but didn’t spot any pattern to his maneuvers. He’d be difficult to catch. Trent went over which tactics he’d use in each situation if he were driving. It made his head spin, but it kept the jitters at bay as he waited his turn. He had to do well here, since he’d fucked up all the tactical portions. He wasn’t being evaluated like the others, but he still wanted a passing score. He just might manage that if he got a good score on the track.

The instructor called out Trent’s name, and he donned a helmet and strapped himself into the driver’s seat. He took a deep breath and decided he’d push his limits today. He was going to catch the bastard in the getaway car, no matter what.

The horn sounded and the suspect peeled away. Trent floored his car and sped after it. He had to maneuver through a course of traffic cones in some sections of the track, while others were clear for passing or other pursuit maneuvers. They’d be scored on how they handled each obstruction and lose points for hitting cones. Trent found himself gaining on the suspect once he was out of the cone zone. The guy swerved sharply around a curve and Trent took a chance trying to pass from the outside.

He needed a lot more speed to make it, and he really had never tested the limits of this vehicle. He saw the quarter-mile marker—they were nearly at the end of the course—and he made a risky move on the next curve, this time skidding to the inside of the suspect’s car. The car came close enough to smash its side mirror against Trent’s passenger door. His heart stopped as he straightened out of the turn and floored it, letting instinct take over, not consciously thinking about when to brake or when to gun it. His tires screeched before he felt them lose their grip on the track, but he steered into the skid and positioned his car in a way that forced the suspect to stop or ram right into the side of his vehicle.

He’d caught the bastard! Trent’s chest hurt, and he realized he couldn’t remember breathing. He put the car in park, and before he could open the door, his fellow trainees were running to the car and shouting, pulling the door open and slapping him on the back.

“Jesus, Trent, you nearly killed me on that run, and I was just watching.” Randi slapped his helmet so hard he thought he saw stars. “Great job, man!”

Trent fought to catch his breath, beaming at the compliments from his peers and the nods of approval from the two instructors. Then the suspect’s car door opened and a man stepped out. He walked up to Trent and his buddies before pulling off his helmet.

“I surrender, Trent.”

Reed? Trent wasn’t sure he was seeing correctly. Maybe he had hit his head. “Reed? Reed!”

Trent threw his arms around Reed and pulled him into a tight hug. Then he realized what he was doing and stepped back. He could feel warmth spreading across his face. “Ah. Sorry.”

The other trainees burst out laughing. “Your boyfriend, I guess?” Randi asked.

“Yeah.”

“Gonna cuff him?” That comment elicited couple of catcalls, and had the others laughing, including the instructors. “I sure would.” That was Rita Chavez.

“Not yet. I’ll give the rest of you a chance to chase him. But he goes home with me, even if you catch him.”

“I’d say you passed this unit, Trent,” Reed said as he stepped away from Trent. “Now, who’s next?” He put the helmet back on and got back into the getaway car.

 

 

OUT OF the rest of the trainees, only two others caught Reed: Chavez and Bill Ritter, a tall, quiet man from one of the Carolinas. Trent couldn’t remember which since he always got them mixed up anyway. Chavez got the top score, but Trent came in a close second—much to everyone’s surprise.

Reed joined them all for dinner and a couple of celebratory beers. Trent’s buddies peppered him with questions, about Trent, about Reed’s missions, and about the Bureau in general. He answered what he could and kept catching Trent’s eye. Trent liked showing Reed off to his new friends and he was glad Reed had chosen today to visit—rather than the day he got three other people killed over in Hogan’s Alley. He hoped the instructor wouldn’t tell Reed and that the other trainees wouldn’t refer to it in front of him.

Finally, Trent got Reed alone back in his room in the trainee dorm. He’d never been more thankful for single rooms. But the Bureau respected its trainees and the new agents who usually used these rooms. This particular “short course” was taught between sessions of the eighteen-week-long New Agent Training. Trent had enjoyed the four weeks he’d spent at Quantico, and he’d been so busy he hadn’t had time to miss Reed except for the few moments he lay awake in bed before falling into exhausted sleep. But now he realized how long they’d really been apart. As soon as the door was shut and locked, he pounced.

 

 

REED LET Trent knock him onto the bed, noticing how he’d gotten leaner and stronger during the month of daily PT and assorted physical challenges. But he looked good. Reed admitted he hadn’t expected Trent to be so daring—and skilled—on the TEVOC. He felt some pride bubble up inside, though he didn’t have time to dwell on it because Trent rolled on top of him and began to kiss him within an inch of his life.

Pent-up desire blotted out thoughts of everything besides getting naked and reacquainting himself with Trent’s body. Reed slid his hands along familiar but firmer muscles as he inhaled the intoxicating scent of Trent he’d never gotten out of his memory. He traced fingertips across the raised scar below Trent’s right hip—an unwelcome souvenir of their trip to Italy the fall before. It had been six months, and the scar had lost its raw, red look, but seeing it brought back Reed’s fear he’d lost Trent as if it had only happened that morning.

Trent pushed Reed’s hand off the scar and distracted him by licking a hot stripe up the underside of Reed’s cock. He was almost instantly hard, and he didn’t care what Trent did to him as long as it was soon.

“Missed you so much,” Trent mumbled against Reed’s balls. The vibration sent pleasure shooting through Reed’s core, and he knew what he wanted. “Fuck me, Trent.”

“Let me just read you your rights first….”

Reed burst into laughter, ruining the moment, but the desire was too strong to stop the momentum now. He was glad he’d put a bottle of lube on the nightstand before Trent attacked.

Trent balanced on his knees, hovering over Reed, and reached for the lube. “Condoms? Why’d you bring those?” Trent wrinkled his brow. “Not sure what I’ve been up to when I’m away from you?” They’d been tested and didn’t use them at home.

“No. Just seemed less messy here in the dorm. Don’t know when you’ll have time to do laundry, and with people in and out of each other’s rooms….”

Trent appeared to process the information for a moment and then shrugged. “Okay. I’ll go with that explanation. It’s better than any of the alternatives.”

“Forget the alternatives. You’re the one who caught me today.” Reed grabbed a condom packet and unwrapped it.

“So did Rita Chavez.” Trent watched Reed roll the condom on him.

“I’m not in bed with Rita Chavez.” Reed slathered lube on Trent’s firm, gorgeous cock, getting impatient with Trent’s need to turn everything into a conversation. Any other time it was part of his charm. But not the first time they were in bed together in a month.

“Not that she didn’t try.”

“Trent, shut up and—” Trent pushed in with no warning, the generous amount of lube easing his way with just the right degree of friction. Reed let out a sigh and grabbed hold of Trent’s hips. He needed Trent in deep, needed Trent to bring his body and soul back to life. He’d been through hell while they’d been apart, and only Trent’s energy and vitality could rescue him. He opened himself wider and let Trent work his magic.

At first their movements were awkward and uncoordinated, but after a few tentative thrusts Trent and Reed fell into a familiar, comforting rhythm. Trent seemed to have more energy than ever and Reed came in thick spurts long before Trent had his fill. He maneuvered Reed into several positions before he let himself go and crumpled onto Reed in a sweaty mess.

They lay together on their sides, facing each other. Reed reached out to brush damp strands of hair from Trent’s face. Trent ran his fingers over Reed’s side, where they encountered a raised red welt. Reed couldn’t help flinching at the touch. The spot was still painful even though the stitches had been removed a week earlier.

“You gonna tell me how you got this?”

Reed shook his head. “I can’t.”

“Can’t or won’t?”

“Trent. Don’t ask.”

Trent let out a sigh. Reed hated that sometimes he had to keep secrets from Trent. “National security,” they told him. He used it as an excuse because some jobs he didn’t want to talk about. Didn’t want Trent to know everything about him, about what he’d been forced to do. About things Reed barely admitted to himself once the mission was over. He looked into Trent’s eyes and begged silently for understanding.

Trent blinked slowly and licked his bottom lip. He wasn’t happy, but Reed knew he’d let it go. The instructors had briefed Reed on Trent’s performance on the tactical exercises. He’d never bring it up unless Trent did. But a part of him was glad Trent couldn’t pull the trigger on another person—even with a paintball gun on a controlled FBI training mission. He wanted Trent to learn to protect himself, to get away from danger, but shooting someone changed a person forever.

Reed would do anything to keep Trent away from that regret. Anything.