Chapter One

 

I COULDN’T control the whimper of delight. Since we were out in Elmwood, where we never were, I’d begged and pleaded with Ian to stop at Johnnie’s Beef and buy me a sandwich before we got to the house we were sitting on. I hated stakeouts; they were so boring, and I tended to use them as an excuse to eat good instead of the alternative. It could be argued that an Italian beef sandwich with sweet peppers was not, in fact, a gourmet meal, but anyone who said that had obviously never had one. Just opening it up, with the smell that came wafting out… I was salivating.

“This better be worth the long drive outta the way,” Ian groused.

No amount of grumbling was going to get in the way of my happiness. And besides, he owed me. The day before, on our way to the same stakeout, I’d stopped and gotten him hot dogs at Budacki’s—Polish with the works, just how he liked it. I’d even broken up a fight over ketchup between a native and an out-of-towner while I was there and still managed to deliver the goods. So swinging by the beef place was the least he could do.

“You wanna screw the sandwich?” he asked snidely as he started on his pepper and egg one.

I lifted my gaze to his, slowly and purposely seductive, and I got the catch of breath I was hoping for. “No. Not the sandwich.”

He had opened his mouth to say something when we heard the shots.

“Maybe it was a car backfiring,” I offered hopefully, having peeled back the wrapper, ready to take a bite. On this quiet tree-lined suburban street, the kind with white picket fences and people walking their dogs and little A-frame houses with picture windows, it could definitely be something other than a gunshot.

His grimace said no.

Seconds later, a man came flying across the street and down the sidewalk past our car that was sitting quietly on the storybook street at a little after one on a Tuesday afternoon.

“Motherfucker,” I groaned, placing the sandwich gingerly on the dash of the Ford Taurus, out the passenger-side door seconds later.

The guy was fast—I was faster, and I was gaining on him until he pointed a gun over his shoulder and fired.

It would have been a miracle if he’d hit me—he was moving, I was moving—but still, I had to make him stop. Stray bullets were bad, as we’d learned in our last tactical seminar, and more importantly, we were in a small, quaint residential neighborhood where at this time of day, women could be jogging with strollers, followed by beagles or labradoodles. I would make sure reckless discharge of a firearm was tacked on to the charges as soon as I had the guy in custody.

He shot at me a second time, missed me by a mile again, but it was enough of a threat to make me alter my course, cross into a heavily foliaged yard, and cut through two others—one with a swing set, the other with wildflowers—to catch him at the corner. Arm out, using the classic clotheslining move I knew from my days of fighting in foster homes, I had him off his feet and on the pavement in seconds.

“Oh shit, what happened?” Ian asked as he came bounding up beside me. He put his boot down on the guy’s wrist, pinning it painfully to the sidewalk as he bent to retrieve the .38 Special. I’d been the one stepped on before, so I knew the pressure hurt like a sonofabitch. “Look at this. I haven’t seen one of these in years.”

I nodded, admiring my FIORENTINI + BAKER suede boots on him, not even caring if he messed them up, loving more that what was mine, he considered his.

“This is a nice gun that you tried to shoot my partner with,” he said menacingly, his voice icy.

“I’m fine,” I reminded him. “Look at me.”

But he didn’t; instead he lifted the gun and bumped it against the stranger’s cheek.

“Fuck,” the man swore, his eyes wild as they rabbited over to me, pleading.

“How ’bout I make you eat this,” Ian snarled, much more pissed than I’d realized as he hauled the runner up off the sidewalk and yanked him close. “What if you’d hit him?”

The man was either smarter than he appeared or his survival instinct was exceptionally well honed. He correctly surmised that talking back to Ian at that moment, getting lippy, was a bad choice. He kept his mouth shut.

“Everything’s fine,” I soothed Ian as police cars surrounded us.

“Freeze!” the first officer out of the car yelled.

Instead of complying, I unzipped Ian’s olive green field jacket, which I was wearing, and showed them my badge on the chain. “US Marshals, Jones and Doyle.”

Instantly they lowered their weapons before surging around us. Ian handed off both the prisoner and the gun, and told the officers to add reckless discharge of a firearm to whatever else they were charging the guy with.

I was surprised when he grabbed hold of my arm and yanked me after him a few feet down the street before jerking me around to face him.

“I’m fine,” I assured him, chuckling. “You don’t have to manhandle me.”

But he was checking, looking me over, still scared.

“He missed me clean.”

He nodded, hearing but not listening, not taking my words in. I was about to tease him, wanting to nudge him out of his worry, when I realized he was shaking.

“Come here,” I prodded, tugging on his sweater, getting him closer, unable to hug him—not with so many people around—but able to whisper in his ear. “I’m okay, baby. I swear.”

He muttered something under his breath, his shoulders dropped, and his fists unclenched. After a second, he seemed better. “I bet your sandwich is cold,” he whispered.

“Fuckballs,” I muttered, turning to trudge back to our car.

“So what’d you learn?” he teased, normalcy having been restored with my swearing.

“Not to run after other people’s suspects when we’re supposed to be eating.”

Ian’s snicker made me smile in spite of myself.

 

 

A LITTLE more than eight months ago we were Deputy US Marshal Miro Jones and his partner, Ian Doyle, but it hadn’t meant what it did now. Then, it was us living apart, him dating women, me wishing he was gay so there would be hope that I could have him instead of comparing every man I met to my very straight, very unavailable partner. Everything changed when I finally saw what having his full and undivided attention actually meant, and when he got up the guts to tell me what he wanted and needed from me, I dove in quickly, drowning in him as fast as I could so he wouldn’t have time to think that maybe, since he’d only recently discovered he was bi, he might want to try the dating scene before settling down. The thing was, though, Ian was one of those rare guys who wanted the one person in the world who fit him like a glove, and that person, it turned out, was me.

So, yes, Ian was still technically bi, but was exclusively now Miro-sexual andwasn’t interested in trying the buffet. All Ian wanted was to stay home with me. I couldn’t have been any happier. Everything was mostly working in my life. Professionally I was in a great place, and personally I was ready to put a ring on Ian’s finger. Like really ready. Like maybe even too ready for Ian, but all in all, my life was perfect except for the grunt work we were currently doing.

After our interrupted lunch, we had to drive all the way back downtown to file a police report to be in compliance with Chicago PD—since we’d been the ones to make the collar—and then turn around to head back out to Elmwood.

“This will teach you to help,” Ian grumbled, and even though I knew he was kidding, it was still a huge pain in the ass.

We were supposed to sit on the house of one William McClain, who was wanted for drug trafficking, but I got a call from Wes Ching, another marshal on our team, asking us to help serve a warrant out in Bloomingdale instead. He and his partner, Chris Becker, were already in Elmwood on another errand, so they would take my and Ian’s crappy stakeout chore and we would take their more—in theory—interesting warrant duty.

I was not a fan of the suburbs, any of them, with or without artery-clogging food, or the hours it took to get to them from each other or the city itself. Traffic in Chicago, all day every day, was a beast, and added to that was the fact the radio in the new car didn’t get Ian’s favorite channel—97.9 The Loop—and the crappy shocks that let us feel every bump and dip in the road. Because we drove whatever had been seized in a criminal investigation, sometimes the cars were amazing—like the 1971 Chevrolet Chevelle SS we had for two weeks—and other times, I worried if maybe I’d died and gone to hell without anyone letting me know. The Ford Taurus we were in currently was seriously not working for me.

“It’s fuel-efficient,” Ian prompted me, reaching over to put a hand on my thigh.

Instantly I shifted in my seat, sliding down so I could get his touch on my cock instead.

“What’re you doing?” he asked slyly even as he pressed his palm against my already thickening shaft.

“I need to get laid,” I said for the third time that day.

It was all his fault.

Instead of getting right out of bed that morning like he normally did, he’d rolled over on top of me, pinned me to the mattress under him, and kissed me until I forgot what day it was. He never did that; he was so by the book in the morning, so on task and barky with the orders. But for whatever reason, I got Ian in languorous vacation mode, all hard and hungry, hands all over me, putting hickeys on my neck, instead of the drill sergeant I normally had to deal with until he got the first cup of coffee in him. He was ravenous and insistent, but then our boss called and Ian was up, out of bed, doing the “yessir, right away, sir” thing and telling me to hurry up and get in the shower fast.

“What?” I roared, sitting up in bed, incredulous when I heard the water running. “Get your ass in here and finish what you started!”

He actually cackled as he got into the shower and was still chuckling as I sat there in bed, fuming, before I fell back to take care of myself.

“Don’t you dare touch that!” he yelled from under the water.

I groaned and climbed out of bed and plodded downstairs to get coffee. Chickie Baby was happy to see me, mostly because I fed him. Stupid dog.

“There was no happy ending for me this morning,” I complained to Ian, back in the present. “You didn’t take care of me.”

“What?” He chuckled, moving his hand back to the wheel. “I woke you… up nice… and… crap.”

I wanted Ian, needed Ian, but he was distracted as he slowed the car, and when I dragged my gaze from his profile to the sight in front of me, I made the same noise of disgust he had. Immediately I called Ching.

“You fuck,” I said instead of hello when he answered.

Snort of laughter. “What?” he said, but it was muffled like he was chewing. “Me and Becker are doing stakeout for you in Elmwood and then following up on a lead from the Eastern District warrant squad.”

“Where the fuck are you?” I snarled as I put him on speaker.

He said something in reply, but it couldn’t really be categorized as a word.

I was instantly suspicious. “Are you at Johnnie’s Beef?”

“What makes you think that?”

“Asshole!” I yelled.

“Oh, come on, Jones, have a heart. We’re doing you a favor, right?”

“I’m sorry, what’d you just say to me?”

All I heard was laughing.

“You know we’d rather follow up a bullshit lead than serve a warrant with a task force, you dick,” Ian growled from beside me. “This is fucked up, Wes, and you know it.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Ching finished with a cackle. “You two get to work with the DEA and the Chicago PD for the second time today. That’s awesome.”

I should have known when he offered; it was my own fault.

Ian reiterated my thoughts almost perfectly, which made things that much worse. “You have no one to blame but yourself.”

After Ian parked the car, we walked around to the trunk and got out our TAC vests, put the badges on our belts, and Ian put on his thigh holster that carried a second gun. Walking over to the group, Ian asked who was in charge. It turned out to be exactly what Ian and I expected; it was a clusterfuck better known as a task force. We saw both district and regional groups, this being the latter because I could see local law enforcement as well as guys from the DEA who all looked like either grunged-out meth addicts or GQ models. There was no in-between with them. I had, as of yet, never met a DEA agent I liked. They all thought they had not only the toughest job, but also the most dangerous. They were a bunch of prima donnas I had no use for.

It was amazing how many people thought that marshals did the same things other law enforcement agencies did. They assumed we investigated crime, collected evidence, and sat in front of whiteboards to try to figure out who the bad guy was from a list of viable suspects. But that was simply not the case. Much like it was in the Old West; we tracked people down and brought them in for trial. As a result, a tremendous amount of time—when we weren’t out on loan to a joint task force, for instance—was spent running down leads, watching houses, and basically doing surveillance. It could be a little mind-numbing, and so, occasionally, when the usual was broken up by things like traveling to pick up a witness or taking part in an undercover operation, it was viewed as a welcome diversion. But neither Ian nor I ever thought working with the DEA was a good thing.

Today the task force was looking to pick up three men with ties to the Madero crime family who’d slipped federal custody in New York and were apparently hiding out with one of the guys’ distant cousins in the burbs of Chicago. That was what serving a warrant meant. It was fancy phrasing for taking someone into custody.

The plan was for us to go into the five-story apartment building like thunder with battering rams, the whole deal. The raids were my least favorite, but I understood why we were there. Normally a Fugitive Investigative Strike Team consisting of Feds, local police, and other state agencies extracted a witness, and FISTs fell under the purview of the marshals service. It wasn’t a task force without us, so our office had been tacked on.

Chicago PD went in first, the DEA douchebags following. Ian and I stayed put on the first floor until we heard shots fired in the stairwell. We went straight up while people yelled that there were men escaping onto the roof.

I yelled first to let anyone else around know what was going on, then for backup, but they’d all scattered to the lower floors, so that left Ian and me to charge up to try and head off whoever was up there.

“Do not go out that door!” I yelled after Ian, who, as usual, was in front of me. The only reason he’d been second earlier in the day was because I’d been in the passenger seat when the guy ran by the car. Nine times out of ten, I followed Ian into whatever the situation was.

He burst through the heavy metal door leading to the roof and, of course, drew immediate answering gunfire.

I ran out after him in time to see Ian level his gun and fire. Only in the movies did people yell “don’t shoot” when people were actually shooting at them.

The guy went down, and I watched another turn and run. He didn’t have a weapon that I could see, so I holstered my gun and took off after him as Ian rolled the guy he’d shot onto his back and roared at the men who had followed us up to take him.

I raced across the rooftop hard on the fugitive’s heels, churning my legs and arms to catch him before he reached the edge. He sped toward the building’s ledge, then launched himself into the air. I had no idea if there was another building there, but since there had been no scream, I pushed myself harder and followed after him into the sky.

The rooftop of the four-story building across the narrow alley was a welcome sight, and I landed easily, somersaulting over onto one knee, then pushing up into a dead sprint again. I guessed we were out of real estate when the man abruptly stopped, whirling to face me. Pulling a butterfly knife from his back pocket, he flipped it open and advanced on me.

I pulled my Glock 20 and leveled it at him. “Drop the weapon, get on your knees, and lace your fingers on top of your head.”

He was deciding—I could tell.

“Now,” I ordered, my voice dipping an octave into a cold, dark place.

He muttered under his breath but released the knife and went to his knees. I moved fast, reaching his side before he complied with the entirety of my request, kicked the knife away, and pulled a set of Plasticuffs from my TAC vest. Shoving him facedown, I waited for backup.

My phone rang and I winced upon seeing the caller ID. “Hey.”

“What the fuck was that?”

“That was the Ian Doyle special,” I teased, trying to lighten the mood.

“Oh, no, fuck you! I don’t jump off shit, Miro, only you do that!”

I did have a bit more of a history with that than he did. “Yeah, okay.”

“Are you hurt?”

“No, I’m good,” I replied, smiling into the phone. “Promise. I’ll meet you downstairs as soon as I get some fucking help up here.”

His inelegant snort made me smile.

Moments later I was swarmed by police officers ready to take the fugitive off my hands. As I was following the men down four flights, I asked the sergeant in front of me if we were transporting the criminals to their station, whichever one that was, or if they were going in our holding cell downtown.

“I think the DEA is taking custody of all three.”

That meant all three men would be questioned and the one with the best information would be given a deal. The others would be turned over to the police. It was a waste of time for Ian and me to have even been there.

“Did you hear this bullshit?” I groused at Ian as he came hurdling up to me. “We don’t even get—”

“Shut up,” he growled, grabbing the armhole of my vest and yanking me forward. His gaze ran over me and I heard how rough his breathing was.

“Oh, baby, I’m sorry,” I whispered, leaning close so he could hear me but not touching, the motion making it seem like I was relating privileged information and nothing more.

“I have faith in you, don’t get me wrong,” he said quickly. “But you know as well as I do that you leaped without knowing what was there, and that’s plain stupid.”

He was right.

“Don’t fuckin’ do it again.”

“No,” I agreed, leaning back to search his face. “So am I forgiven?”

He nodded, and I finally got a trace of a smile.

We were going to head back to file a report when we saw the people who were flushed from the apartment, three guys in all, now sitting outside on the sidewalk.

“What’s goin’ on there?” I asked the closest officer, gesturing at the men.

“We’re about to let ’em all go.”

“Why?” Ian asked, clipping the word, clearly irritated.

“Hey, man,” the cop responded tiredly, “we ran those guys through NCIC for outstanding warrants already, and they all came up clean. There’s no use keeping ’em.”

“Mind if we check?” I replied, trying to make my tone soothing.

“Only if you take custody,” he replied petulantly. “I don’t have time to stand around here with my thumb up my ass waiting on you.”

“Sure,” Ian agreed, his tone silky and dangerous. “Transfer custody to us.”

It was done in moments, and the freed officer jogged over to let his sergeant know. His superior gave us a head tilt, clearly thinking we were DEA since he couldn’t see the back of the vests. Had he known, he wouldn’t have given the go-ahead. No one ever turned people over to the marshals because with our warrant information network we could always find something extra, just that bit more and being shown up pissed them off like nobody’s business. No one ever hated asking for our help to pick someone up after the fact or on a lead that’d gone cold, but having the marshals show them up at the scene of a bust made everyone bitchy.

Ian pulled out his phone as I squatted down in front of the first guy.

“So who the fuck are you?” our first suspect asked.

“Marshal,” I answered. “We’re going to run you all for warrants again.”

No one seemed concerned.

Mike Ryan and his partner, Jack Dorsey, were on desk duty that morning, which meant they got to look up the records of the men sitting on the curb. We released the suspects one by one—Ryan and Dorsey making a note of it over the phone—removed their cuffs, and wished them a good day. “Go to hell” was the most popular response to Ian’s cheerfulness while “fuck off” ran a close second.

It turned out a warrant for attempted murder and aggravated battery came back for the last guy.

“Winner winner chicken dinner,” I announced, smirking at him.

“Fuckin’ marshals,” Dario Batista griped. “I thought this was a DEA bust.”

Ian cackled as we hauled him to his feet.

“Come on, man,” he whined. “I have information I can give you. Let’s work out a deal.”

“We’re marshals,” Ian said as the three of us began walking back to the Taurus. “We don’t make deals.”

I called in as we stuffed him into the backseat.

“What the hell kind of clown car is this?” Batista complained.

“It’s fuel-efficient,” I rationalized as I set the childproof lock on the back door before getting in.

“God, I hate this car,” Ian growled irritably.

I promised we’d check on a new one when we got back to the office.