THE YOUNG man moved to the sultry beat like warm caramel, fluid and sinuous beneath the unrelenting furnace of the club lighting. Acres of luminous olive skin with nary a wrinkle in sight slid seductively over lithe muscle slick with sweat, all rolling with the slow thumping bass and catching the hungry attention of more than a few men lined against the bar.

No more than twenty, the man’s rangy body still bore the soft angles of youth, though now tempered by the mouthwatering promise of hard-muscled maturity yet to come. Dark curls lapped the nape of his neck, more than enough to offer a solid grip, and a criminally tight ass poured into a pair of painted-on black jeans that had Michael’s own denims straining in appreciation.

But that young? Hell, Michael had dental work older than that. He shouldn’t even be looking. Still, the hunger in that steamy gaze was anything but virginal, and damn, if he couldn’t pry his eyes away, glued to every undulating swell of flesh like it provided the answer to all things that ailed him. And maybe it did, for tonight at least.

His body fairly thrummed in arousal, and he became increasingly convinced the young man knew exactly what he was doing—checking out his admirers—all that freshly scrubbed youth just screaming compliance. This was a performance designed to seduce interest, and Michael was on board 100 percent. He only hoped the young man had the wherewithal to follow through on the promise his body was so damn busy throwing around.

They’d locked eyes once or twice already, including right then as the young man drilled Michael with a heated stare while running his hands across his chest and down the succulent ridges of a nicely developing set of abs. Promising for sure, and although Michael wasn’t usually one for browsing the “baby gay” section when he cruised, he thought he could make an exception in this case because, damn, this boy was all kinds of yum.

Still, first picks didn’t always pan out, and this particular fish had a partner in tow, an older man whose possessive hand never left the young dancer’s hip. Sensing the boy’s distraction, the man followed his gaze and levelled Michael with a cool stare. He slid his hand to the small of the young man’s back and pulled him tight in an unmistakable display of possession.

Well, shit. Michael blew out a sigh. He wasn’t in the habit of poaching. There was more than enough flesh to go around without complicating a simple hookup with unnecessary grief. But the young dancer’s response to the territorial claim stayed Michael’s eye a moment. It was long enough to catch the annoyed expression the dancer barrelled the older man’s way, and his accompanying two steps back. Two steps that created distance between the two of them and opportunity in Michael’s mind. And when that eager gaze locked back on Michael… well, hell yeah, game on.

Abandoning his soda, Michael threw the barman a wink and received a flirty one in return. He checked the guy’s name tag, James, and squirreled that away for future reference. The man was built like a linebacker and clearly interested, but tonight, Michael had other fish to fry.

He ripped off his shirt, tucked it into the back of his jeans, and headed for the steaming dance floor, catching a few looks of his own. He knew he was no slouch in the looks department; he ate well and worked out regularly, aiming for buff rather than ridiculous. Gym bunnies didn’t do it for him. A pair of sleek black barbells threaded his nipples and large tribal tattoos wrapped around his back and biceps. After six months in New Zealand, he’d added a stylised kiwi above his heart.

The temporary upheaval in countries had reaped benefits he was more than grateful for. He felt lighter, more comfortable in his own skin than he had in years. Yes, the gay scene was somewhat quieter in Auckland than Los Angeles, light years quieter, but he’d adjusted quickly, appreciating the laid-back approach to life that Kiwis enjoyed as some recompense for the limited club scene.

Acceptance as a gay man hadn’t been difficult, and although no country was free of bigoted assholes, New Zealand was overall a liberal gem with more legislated LGBT protection than many other countries. True, there wasn’t a lot of gay PDA on display, but then Kiwis weren’t much into PDA, period.

The change of scenery was, in a word, spectacular, and the anonymity was a godsend, providing the space he’d needed to get his career and personal life back on track. With another eighteen months left on his contract as an ER doctor at Auckland Med, he’d made it his personal mission to fuck his way through as much of the hot, eligible male population as humanly possible before that time was up.

And lucky for him, tonight Downtown G was packed to the rafters with possibilities, its dance floor tight and slick. It had become his favourite spot to cruise but had been closed for two weeks undergoing renovation. Gone were the dark booths, wooden bar, and tired décor; the club now sported an upmarket, polished-steel and leather interior, cool New York loft–style furnishings and mood lighting while retaining just enough dark corners to satisfy the carnal agenda of many of its clientele, including Michael. After a shitty week at work, a night of dancing and a satisfying fuck was exactly what the doctor ordered to get his head back in happy land again.

The thumping strains of Shihad’s One Will Hear The Other sparked his buoyant mood as he threaded through the sea of heaving bodies, angling for the young dancer who’d caught his eye—and that of about a hundred others, he mused. The intoxicating tang of cologne, male sweat, and arousal hung like a palpable haze over the crush of people, and Michael breathed it deep. Hands slid over his chest, his ass, and a few ghosted his semihard dick. Fuck, yeah.

He worked his way across the floor, stopping to dance just behind, and therefore out of view of, his target’s older partner. The young man had shamelessly tracked Michael’s approach over the man’s shoulder, sending an encouraging smirk, and when Michael arrived, they locked eyes. Bingo. Michael’s cock filled with the heavy dose of lust that spilled his way in that one sizzling glance, and his eyes drifted south to those full pouty lips that promised so much.

While Michael was still appreciating the view, someone closed in against his back, cupped his ass, and rocked an ample hard cock against him. Mmm. Keeping his gaze fixed ahead, he lifted his arms and allowed his new faceless partner to slip his hands around and over his chest. Sliding his tongue slowly across his lower lip, Michael enjoyed the responsive burst of fire in the young dancer’s gaze. And when he pushed his ass back against the anonymous guy’s dick and tilted his head to expose his neck, he swore he heard the young man groan. Yep. His partner spun and threw Michael a filthy look.

Michael grinned at the older guy, tossed the young man a wink, and made his way to the far edge of the dance floor. He didn’t bother checking to see if the dancer followed—that heated look had meant only one thing. Close to the wall, he found some space and swayed in time to the music as he waited, eyes closed. Sure enough, a few seconds later, a warm body slid up against his chest, and Michael opened his eyes with a smile.

“Not your boyfriend, then?” he asked, flicking his gaze in the direction of the older man. The young eyes boring into him were a pool of forest green edged in brown. Not a single crease marred their corners or apparently any other facial surface, further underscoring his youth. Michael ignored the curl of disquiet that rolled through his gut. He was looking for a fuck, not a fiancé, and the guy was legal. He didn’t need more than that.

The dancer ran his hands over Michael’s chest, pausing to tease the barbells in his nipples. “I’m here, aren’t I?” he answered, leaning in to nip Michael’s earlobe.

Michael wrapped an arm around the lean waist and drew the dancer close, brushing their groins together. A soft moan escaped the young man’s lips, and Michael’s body heat rocketed. “Excellent,” he replied. “Because I’d hate to break up a good thing and all.” He gripped the dancer’s ass and pulled him flush, rocking the two of them into a slow grind.

The young guy snorted. “Hardly.” He draped his arms over Michael’s shoulders and gave his body over to Michael’s direction. “He’s pretty cute for an old guy but not really my type.”

The dancer’s scent was a heady mix of spicy mint, youth, and sweat, and as Michael ran a hand up the lean frame of his back, enjoying the muscles bunch and tense beneath his caress, he had only one thought. Lordy. This one is just built for fun. His dick strained hard against his zipper. Fucking hell. If he wasn’t careful, he’d blow in his damn jeans before they even got started.

He cleared his throat roughly. “So, what is your type, then?”

Dancer boy smirked and leaned close. “Thought I’d made that pretty clear,” he whispered against Michael’s ear, then teased his tongue along the crease of Michael’s lips. But when he pressed for entry, Michael turned his head. “Sorry, sweetheart, no kissing.”

The man frowned, then shrugged. “Whatever. I can work with that. Plenty of other places to stick my tongue.” He licked a path from Michael’s shoulder to his ear.

Michael groaned. “Good news. Now, let’s dance.” He rocked them together and let his hands explore the hard young body pressed against him. They entwined in and around each other for several more songs, the heat ramping up between them, hands brushing cocks, cradling balls, teasing, probing, grinding. Twenty minutes later, when the DJ swapped in a new playlist, the young man’s dick pressed like granite against Michael’s hip.

“How about we take a walk?” he hummed against the dancer’s neck. A flirty smile and a brief nod were the young man’s only reply. Michael grabbed a hand and pulled the guy into the hallway leading to the bathrooms, the emergency exit, and a handful of semiprivate mood-lit alcoves. There was a bit of a queue for one of those prime spots, leaving time for a little making out in the hall—not that they were alone in that agenda, blending into a sea of groping hands and grinding hips.

Michael had never understood why the whole back room thing was considered such a sordid deal among his straight friends. It beat the hell out of a cramped car. Sex was sex, and back rooms of any description were just anonymous geography. He guessed women were probably pickier in that regard, but that was just another plus for being gay. He wasn’t planning sleepovers, boyfriends, or brunch the next day with the guys he fucked. He didn’t need a bed unless the guy was worth a few hours. Hell, he didn’t need a name. This was getting off, pure and simple. Catch and release.

And the young man currently plastered to his front certainly seemed to have no issue with the concept. The kid knew enough to not even offer his name, and Michael appreciated that. Backed against the wall with Michael pushed hard up against him, the dancer was a handful of eager enthusiasm, so much so that Michael considered taking the action elsewhere for a more prolonged encounter, but first things first. Clearly not shy, within seconds the guy had Michael’s belt unbuckled, jeans unzipped, and a hand down the front of his underwear, gripping Michael’s erection and stroking with some serious finesse.

Michael’s eyes drifted closed as he shut off his brain and allowed himself to simply feel. The week’s stress drifted away as his body focused and responded to the familiar sensations. A second hand slipped down the back of his jeans and into his crease, teasing his opening, but not too bold. He spread his legs slightly in approval, allowing easier access, and flirted with the idea of returning the favour, but whatever, the kid was way eager enough. Michael didn’t kiss, suck, or bottom his fucks, topping without exception. He was happy to jerk his partner off after a quick encounter, and he was a generous top in any extended playtime, ensuring his bottom got off, but that’s as far as he went. If they didn’t like it, they could leave, but he’d yet to get any complaints.

Facing the wall and lost in the mounting rhythm of the young man’s efforts, Michael was only vaguely aware of urgent voices and hurried movement behind him in the hall. That was until the music stopped, and the hand on his dick stilled, all about the same time he felt a not too gentle tap on his shoulder. His eyes flicked open, noting the young man’s were blown to the size of saucers and fixed on something over Michael’s right shoulder.


“You need to leave the club… sir.” The rich voice slid over his shoulder, a hefty dose of scorn attached to the “sir.”

What the fuck? It was a struggle to turn with the young dancer’s hands still buried deep in Michael’s jeans, but when he finally did…. Holy shit. Immune to the rush of patrons scattering for the front door, Michael couldn’t move a muscle, anchored in place by the sexy-as-sin man facing him.

Six four at least, in full police gear including stab vest with an inordinate amount of equipment attached, the guy wore an expression that radiated a whole lot of barely restrained pissy attitude, and an antsy German shepherd glued tight to his left side. The dog’s demeanour was quiet but intently focused, on Michael apparently. Aware of the dancer’s hands sliding free of his jeans, Michael turned to watch the boy’s epic ass disappear into the bar and groaned. Fuck.

Turning back to the handler, Michael noted the man’s critical gaze had also tracked the dancer’s retreat, lingering a little longer than was strictly necessary. Once it fixed back on Michael, the man’s expression could have been mistaken for polite impatience if it weren’t for the withering dismissal evident in those pretty brown eyes. Chocolate, melt-me-in-a-puddle-on-the-floor-and-fuck-me-while-I’m-there eyes. That Michael found the man scorching hot was the understatement of the century.

The dog handler flicked him a thin smile that finished light years from those gorgeous eyes. “Sorry to interrupt, sir.”

Yeah, I just bet you are. Ignoring the sarcasm, Michael refused to squirm, although he did glance down to check if his dick was still hanging semiexposed and, yeah, not awkward, much.

He slid his gaze over the officer, top to toe, as if he had all the time in the world, while casually tucking himself in and zipping his fly, leaving the top button undone in an unspoken “fuck you” to the man standing before him. It was a statement that might have carried more weight if Michael had actually managed to keep his eyes from roaming the man. God help him, the guy was delicious.

The officer smirked. “Perhaps you should run after your… date?” he deadpanned, his gaze dipping to Michael’s mouth, then lower.

Had he just been checked out? Michael didn’t know whether to preen or bristle, taking closer inventory of the snarky beauty before him. Tall and leanly muscled, he guessed the man to be in his midthirties. A few smile lines creased the corners of an eminently kissable mouth, proving against current evidence that the man did in fact laugh on occasion. There was the barest hint of a receding hairline in the otherwise short, blond hair that sprang roughly spiked from his scalp. It wasn’t styled so much as the end result of fingers being dragged through it on a regular basis.

He had an athletic build, a swimmer’s body. Wide shoulders and narrow hips, not heavily muscled but tight and fit. A beautiful man, drop-dead, eye-on-the-prize, read-’em-and-weep gorgeous, and yes, Michael was man enough to admit he was even a touch intimidated. The guy belonged on a cover wearing Andrew Christians, not on a police team in overalls. And regardless of the man’s sneering sarcasm, Michael’s gaydar was pinging at full volume. He gathered his wits and made a valiant attempt at indifference.

“I don’t run after anyone, sunshine,” he replied evenly, his gaze raking over the dog handler. “Although I could possibly make an exception for you.Ugh. Could he sound any more like a cheap romance novel?

The handler’s nostrils flared in either annoyance or attraction—pretty damned hard to tell in that otherwise irritatingly bland expression—and then just for a second, Michael thought the man might even smile. Then the officer’s shoulders tensed, his feet moved slightly apart, and his fists balled. Well, shit.

The shepherd’s ears pricked in nervous anticipation, a low growl rumbling in its throat. Double shit. Michael briefly wondered what Kiwi police cells were like, kicking himself that he hadn’t hightailed it minutes ago. Why he hadn’t didn’t bear scrutiny as the reasons started and ended with his dick.

“That’s assuming I would make one for you, which I wouldn’t, by the way,” the handler responded flatly.

Michael blinked. “Huh?”

“An exception, sir. I wouldn’t make an exception for you. Now, I need you off the premises, and I won’t be asking again.” The dog moved into the space between them, and Michael’s confused dick didn’t know whether to deflate at the pointed rejection or rise to the bossy tone, the latter option a surprise to all concerned.

The radio on the handler’s vest crackled. “Five minutes,” it spewed a disembodied warning. The handler acknowledged the call, keeping his eyes fixed on Michael.

A second, younger officer joined them from the bar, eyeing Michael curiously. “Problem, Josh?” he asked.

Josh. His cop had a name. His cop? Michael really needed to get his head in the game. Something serious was going down in the bar, and he was doing what, dicking around with a hot cop? What the fuck was wrong with him?

The handler raised a brow. “Is there a problem, sir?”

Michael finally freed himself of his stupor and raised both hands, palms out. “No problem whatsoever… Josh.”

The handler narrowed his gaze.

His colleague’s eyes flicked between the two of them. “You know this guy?”

“No.” Unmistakable irritation laced Josh’s tone. “You go enjoy your evening, sir. Perhaps you can find your young… friend. And we’ll need his name, just in case.”

The handler’s expression remained polite, but Michael wasn’t fooled. The man knew there was a good chance Michael couldn’t give a name, so Michael simply rolled his eyes, not about to give the jerk the pleasure of seeing just how royally he was pissing him off. “I don’t have that information.” He stared the other man down. “But if I do find him, I’ll make sure to get his number for you. It would appear you need it way more than I do.”

The handler’s—Josh’s lips twitched, and no way that wasn’t almost a fucking smile. Michael held the man’s gaze a second longer than necessary, and then with a nervous glance at the German shepherd who was only inches from his thigh and other related appendages, he turned and headed into the bar, sensing the heat of the man’s gaze on him every step of the way.

In the bar, Michael finally released the breath he’d been holding and blew out a sigh. The bar itself was damn near empty, the last of its patrons being herded through the door by a third officer. Michael caught the barman’s eye and raised his brows. The man shrugged. “Fucked if I know. Boss just said to do what they say.”

Michael veered to grab his coat.

“Hey, you,” the officer manning the front door called to him. “Sir, you need—”

A deafening crash thundered from the rear of the club. Michael instinctively ducked and spun into the bar front, cracking his head. Goddammit.

Risking a quick look, he couldn’t see Josh, only his dog. Frantic shouting and what sounded like a gunshot only added to the pandemonium and the shepherd went nuts, barking and pulling at his leash until Josh finally stepped into view, shouting into his radio.

More yelling and something slamming into the emergency exit door had Michael instinctively slide farther round the end of the bar and into a booth by the corner wall. Ducking down behind the table, he could still see the hallway but hoped he was better hidden. He should get out of there, but he wasn’t sure how to do that safely, and he couldn’t rip his eyes from Josh, and his dog. Yeah, call him stupid.

“Callum?” Josh shouted. “Secure that fucking back door.”

The third officer spun on his heels and headed into the kitchen. Josh waved the remaining officer to a covering position at his rear, his dog going crazy, front legs off the ground, every muscle bunched and straining for release. Resting a palm on the dog’s head, he murmured something too quiet for Michael to hear, and the dog immediately calmed. And for some bizarre reason, Michael’s dick found that sexy as fuck.

Glass shattered amid a loud tangle of shouts from the club’s rear parking lot. The dog went off again, and Josh’s radio crackled to life. He leaned over the animal as he listened, coveralls tight on his ass, his hand poised on the shepherd’s collar. The dog flicked up his gaze, awaiting instruction. Something unspoken passed between the two, and Michael’s chest tightened. It was bizarrely intimate.

Josh signalled the officer at his rear, and the man moved ahead toward the exit door, disappearing out of sight for a couple of seconds before scrambling back into position. Josh tapped the animal’s nose twice, and the shepherd’s body tensed.

Seconds later, all hell broke loose. A door slam echoed down the corridor, and a dark figure burst into view, smashing Josh head first into the wall. He grunted and slid to the floor as the intruder stumbled into the bar.

Michael sucked in a sharp breath. Shit. The newcomer now blocked Michael’s exit. He’d been such a fucking idiot not getting out of there sooner. He dipped his body deeper into the shadows and aimed for inconspicuous.

Two seconds later, freed from his lead, the shepherd lunged, teeth snapping right up in the intruder’s face. The guy froze, eyes wide, arms flailing at the attack. Something glinted in his right hand. A knife. Goddammit. Michael’s breath caught in his throat as the young officer covering Josh stepped behind the shepherd to block the man’s exit through the bar.

“Drop it,” the officer shouted, while behind him Josh stumbled to regain his feet.

The intruder ignored the warning and sliced the knife sharply through the air. The dog immediately launched itself, latching on to the man’s wrist and dragging him down. Finally on his feet, Josh was hot on the animal’s heels, cuffs at the ready, but before he could restrain the guy, a second man burst through the door and straight into the tangle on the floor, forcing the dog back into Josh’s chest and sending him once again crashing sideways.

The shepherd turned and locked on to this second intruder just as another officer rushed in from the car park to grapple him to the ground. But going after the second man had meant the dog could do nothing to stop the first as he scrambled to his feet and sliced the defensive arm of Josh’s young partner from wrist to shoulder, throwing the poor guy back against the wall with a sickening crack. He slid to the floor, a spray of bright red blood arcing up against the cream paint.

Arterial. Shit. Michael instinctively surged from under the table toward the injured young man but stopped short when he realised his movement had drawn the knifeman’s attention. They locked eyes, staring at each other for no more than a few seconds before the guy lurched toward him. Michael stumbled back against the wall just as the shepherd erupted from the corridor to his right and hurled himself at the knife once again. The guy’s arm spun in a wide arc toward the airborne animal, sending it careening into the bar, granting him just enough time to make it out the front door before the dog scrambled to its feet in pursuit.

“Paris!” Josh shouted as he got to his knees, but the dog was long gone. Then he caught sight of his colleague sprawled in a pool of blood on the floor. “Fuck.” He spoke urgently into his radio as he fell to his knees alongside the young officer. A commotion from the other side of the emergency exit broke in waves through the bar, but Josh ignored it, focused solely on his injured colleague and putting pressure on the pumping wound as he shook the man’s shoulder. “Jackson!”

In seconds, Michael was alongside Josh, dimly aware of the other man’s heat as their thighs pressed together. The wound was pumping big. “Move,” he ordered, realising his mistake too late.

Josh spun, latched his free hand on to Michael’s arm, and threw him sideways, pinning him to the floor. “What the fuck are you doing?”

Ouch. Goddammit. Michael at least had the common sense to freeze until recognition dawned in the other man’s scowl and the vicelike grip eased.

“Get the fuck away from him,” he said in a low growl, shoving Michael away. “And get out of here, now.”

The third officer appeared from the kitchen at a run, his expression turning to shock at the sight of the three men on the floor. “What the hell happened?” His gaze landed on Michael. “And what the fuck are you still doing here?”

“Get the paramedics and let the team in the back,” Josh barked. “Paris is after the little bastard who did this, and arsehole number two is being arrested back through there.” He gestured behind. “What a fucking cock-up.” He glared at Michael. “And get this dickhead out of here before I fucking arrest him.”

“No,” Michael protested. “I can help.”

“Shut the fuck up.” Josh eyeballed him. “You’re nothing but—”

“A doctor. I’m a fucking doctor, all right?” Michael snarled, their faces barely centimetres apart. The handler smelled of adrenaline, testosterone, and something maddeningly elusive. “A trauma doctor, to be precise. So how about you get the fuck out of here and go do whatever you need to and leave me to look after him?”

The man’s gaze slid over Michael’s shirtless frame in disbelief. “A doctor? You’re fucking kidding me.”

Two more officers entered through the front door, the first leading with his gun drawn. Both froze in place when they spotted Jackson on the floor. “What the fuck happened?”

Josh held up a hand. “In a sec.” He glared at Michael.

But Michael was having none of it. “He’s pumping blood. You really want to do this shit now?”

“You sober?”

“Stone cold.”

Josh’s gaze flicked to Jackson, then back up, and Michael saw the moment he caved.

“Fuck it,” he snapped. “He’s all yours.” He released Jackson’s arm, allowing Michael to take over. “One of you watch this guy like a hawk, and for fuck’s sake don’t let him leave. The other, go help Callum get that cuffed piece of shit outta here.” He threw Michael one last scowl before disappearing through the front doors, leaving him painfully aware of his fully invested dick trapped in his jeans. Christ almighty, it had a mind of its own.

Turning his attention to the injured man on the floor, he went to work, conscious of the remaining officer’s eyes on him and the rumbling voices in the hallway behind.

“I’m gonna need you down here,” he spoke without looking up.

The constable, a skinny guy, twentyish, about five-foot-seven with skittish eyes and dull brown hair held in tight curls, knelt beside him. “Right, shit, okay. What do you want me to do?”

Jackson was pale but breathing steady and beginning to rouse. His skull had taken enough of a whack on the wall to account for the brief time out. The blade had sliced a clean line up the man’s right arm, and although not too deep, it had nicked the radial artery on entry, hence the pumping blood.

“Put your fingers here and press hard.” He indicated a spot a few centimetres up from the wrist. The officer did as instructed while Michael probed the wound itself to try and stem the flow from the damaged vessel. He was dimly aware of police moving around the bar area with one or two stopping to check what was happening. A slower set of boots came to stop alongside just within sight and this time his helper offered a polite, “Sir,” by way of greeting.

“Who’s this, constable?” The owner of the boots had a deep, fluid voice laced with a comfortable authority.

“A doctor, sir,” the cop answered without taking his eyes from his fingers clamped down on the offending artery. “He was here, when it happened.” The answer was met with silence.

‘Boots’ remained another few seconds before leaving Michael to his work, and Michael appreciated both the space and the implied trust. The last thing he needed right then was a slew of questions.

More footsteps approached. “Hey, Michael. Fancy meeting you here.”

He glanced up, recognising the two paramedics heading his way. “Ah, the gruesome twosome.”

“Thought you were off this weekend, Doc?”

He snorted. “I am, can’t you tell? Hey, Peter.” He spoke to the other man. “Got any suture packs in that magic bag of yours, or is it full of all that scrapbooking shit you so love?”

“Hey, don’t knock my mad creative skills, man. And it happens to be graphic prints, not scrapbooking, dickhead,” the paramedic tossed back. “Besides, there are more than a few hot ladies that attend those damn classes. It’s the new Tinder, I tell you.”

Michael chuckled as the two medics knelt and began to set up their gear alongside.

Peter opened a suture kit and held it out. “Looks like you’ve got a spot of darning on your hands there.”

Peter’s partner, Rob, took over from the cop, allowing Peter to assist Michael to glove up and get the bleeder under control. He nodded approvingly. “Nice job. We’ll haul him back to the ER to finish up. He’s a bit groggy, yeah?”

Michael nodded. “Unconscious for a bit. Nothing major. Cracked his head on the way down.”

“Cool.” Peter set about repacking his kit while his partner put an IV in place and recorded vital signs. “Sorry it took a bit to get here. There’s another cop round back, two stab wounds to the belly. Carol’s on that one. Looks nasty. Same offender, probably. Then the other ambulance got caught at the viaduct in some damn traffic pileup it ran smack into.”

A second cop? Michael’s stomach coiled on itself remembering Josh heading out after his dog. “A dog handler?”

“Nah, regular, I think.”

An odd relief coursed through Michael for the well-being of a man he’d barely met and certainly didn’t like. Lust, maybe, but not like. Then, as he stood and watched Jackson being rolled onto a stretcher and prepped to leave, the skin on his neck prickled unexpectedly, and without even turning, he knew Josh was somewhere in the bar.

Seconds later, the man in question walked his way apparently uninjured, although the shepherd at his side sported a gauze bandage wrapped over his neck and shoulder. The dog was hyped, nervous energy rolling off him in waves, but he stayed close and attentive to his handler. Josh stopped alongside Michael, and it was all Michael could do not to lean into all that delicious body heat and simmering adrenaline, but the guy had eyes solely for his injured colleague.

“Your dog’s hurt?”

Josh turned those simmering eyes Michael’s way betraying a hint of surprise. “Just a nick. He’ll be fine.”

“Good.” Michael held his gaze for a moment before they both turned away. Fuck. The guy was beautiful.

“Is Jackson gonna be okay?” The worry was evident in Josh’s voice.

Michael opened his mouth to answer before realising Josh had, in fact, addressed the question to Peter and not him. It was hard not to take offence, and so he did.

“He should be,” the paramedic answered. “Your colleague outside is a different story, though. He’s stable with Carol in the ambulance now, but he’s not out of the woods. Doc here did a bang-up job on this one. You’re damn lucky he was here. Kid lost a lot of blood.”

Michael made a mental note to send the paramedic a Christmas card.

Rob took a few steps back to take a call on his radio, then turned to catch his colleague’s eye. “Second ambulance is heading back to Auckland Med with three major traumas on board from that crash. We need to take both these guys in our rig and deal when we get there. The bad guy from the hall has some nasty bite wounds and a foul temper but not much else—he can cool his heels and wait until the next ride.”

Michael winced. Three patients at least from the bar, maybe more, and three traumas from the crash. “ER’s gonna be swamped,” he stated. “Mind if I tag along, if you’ve got the room? Not like I had better plans, right?” He slid a glance Josh’s way and thought he almost caught the hint of a grin, almost.

Peter grabbed his bag. “The more the merrier. Could do with another pair of eyes in back anyway.”

An older man approached, no uniform but carrying an air of authority. “Boots” if he had to guess.

The guy stuck out his hand. “Detective Inspector Hanover.”

Michael accepted. “Doctor Michael Oliver.”

“Apparently you saw our knifeman, that right?”

Michael nodded. “Briefly. It happened pretty fast. Can’t tell you much.”

“I heard. Still, we’ll need a full statement at some point. If you’re heading for the hospital, we can catch you there for a brief chat tonight to start things rolling, but you’ll need to come in and make a formal one tomorrow.”

“No problem.” Michael stole a glance at Josh. “You catch him?”

The man flushed, his lips pressed together in a thin line. “Still looking.”

Hanover clapped Michael on the shoulder. “Thanks for your help, Doc. Just as well you were here by the looks.” He pulled Josh aside, but not out of hearing distance.

“Follow up at the hospital and see what you can get from our injured guys and this one.” He indicated Michael. Then he dropped a hand to rub the shepherd’s head. “A right royal fuck-up, eh, Paris?”

Josh sighed loudly. “Sorry, sir.” His ears flushed pink, his mouth set in a grim line.

The older man laid a hand on his shoulder. “You did good work tonight, you and Paris. We’ll get the man. I heard you got roughed up a bit. You okay?”

Michael frowned and ran an eye over Josh again, but he looked okay.

“I’m fine.” Josh brushed his boss’s concern aside. “Nothing serious. I just didn’t get a damn look at him.”

Hanover shrugged. “It is what it is. Don’t sweat it.”

Josh didn’t seem reassured, and Michael almost felt sorry for the jerk. Almost.

He gathered up Paris’s lead, then slid those mahogany eyes over Michael’s chest, lingering on his piercings. The heat emanating from the man’s stare could have set Michael’s chest hair on fire, even though his outward expression suggested he’d swallowed something nasty instead, but Michael wasn’t fooled. Yep. Gay, bi, curious… or just a fucking closet case? Yeah, that would make all kinds of sense.

Pondering the options, he was caught off guard when Josh leaned in and lowered his voice, his lips inches from Michael’s ear. “You might wanna put a shirt on and button your jeans before you leave, doctor. Just saying.”

Instinctively, Michael glanced down and… shit. Sure enough, his jeans were still unbuttoned, and with the fly partway down, he was lucky his junk wasn’t waving in the breeze. He lifted his eyes and cocked his head. “I’m touched you noticed. I’d offer you the honours since it appears you’re so interested, but it’s a bit crowded in here, don’t you think? I suppose a date is out of the question?” He added a wink for pure piss-off value.

Josh’s cool demeanour faltered just for a second before sliding back into casual distaste, which surprisingly stung.

“You’d be right about that,” he answered flatly, turning for the door. But he didn’t leave. Instead, his shoulders dropped with a sigh and he turned back, a softer expression on his face. “Still, thanks.”

Michael raised a questioning brow.

“For Jackson,” Josh qualified. “He’s a good kid.”

And then the arrogant fucker threw Michael a goddamn smile: a fucking sun-shining, riveting glimpse of genuine warmth, humour, and soft appreciation that shocked the hell out of Michael. Goddammit. He’d just got comfortable hating the guy and now everything he thought he knew changed in that one split second. Well, shit.

Josh stroked his dog’s head once and left without even a backward glance, leaving Michael struggling to regain his equilibrium. He blinked slowly and took a few deep breaths.

To say it had been an interesting evening didn’t even begin to cover it, but two things were certain. The handler was crazy hot, and Michael was pretty sure the man didn’t swing straight. Still, even if Michael had glimpsed a very different person behind the prickly front, the bastard was clearly a complicated bag of shit, and most definitely not worth Michael’s interest. Yeah, right. His traitorous cock was rock-hard, at full mast and waving a white flag in dispute. With a quick check to make sure no one was looking, Michael rearranged his dick, buttoned his fly, and grabbed his shirt from the floor. Nope. Not even remotely interested.