The door closed behind the last customer, and the noisy bar returned to silence, a booze-fumed, tacky-underfoot silence where the small noises Alex made seemed twice as loud. His ears rang as he picked up the broom to sweep out the crap on the floor behind the bar.
The front door opened again, and his shoulders tensed. He cursed himself for not locking it when he’d shoved out the last drunk patron, distracted by the e-mail he’d received. A rookie mistake. He groped under the bar for the bat the owner had urged him to use if he suspected he needed to.
“Excuse me,” the man in the doorway said. He’d been in the bar earlier, an Asian man along with a rather bland, nondescript white guy.
Alex looked closer, not letting go of the bat. “We’re closed. Need me to call a cab for you?”
The man appeared innocuous, but innocuous-looking people could still be trouble. The instincts Alex had honed all those months on the run had stayed with him. Director Flint’s warnings about retaliation flashed through his mind.
The guy opened his mouth to answer Alex’s question, but someone shoved him from behind before he could speak, and he stumbled. Alex grabbed the neck of the bat.
“Didja ask him? Is it him?” The pushy friend pressed himself forward a few steps, far drunker than his buddy.
“We’re. Closed.” Alex threw some menace behind the authority in his voice and revealed the bat. The Asian man flinched and grabbed at his friend, who fished in his pocket for something.
“It’s him. You. Boy Blue,” the drunk man burbled.
Alex froze, shifting gears. He tightened his grip on the bat. Anger fueled his ass up and over the bar to land a few feet in front of the drunk who pulled out a phone, aimed it in his direction, and blinded him with the flash.
“You fucker!” Alex reached out to slap the phone away—too late, because the man had thrust it back into his pocket. Alex smacked the bat against the tiles on the floor. It made a sharp, solid noise, and they both looked at him with drunken, slow-motion surprise. “Get out before I call the cops!”
“Asshole!” The first guy grabbed his friend again, shoved him out the door, and slammed it shut behind him.
Alex locked it this time and leaned against it, heart racing. When it began to slow, he took a deep breath and another, and his temper faded. He had a date tonight, and if he didn’t move his ass, he’d be late. Cranking up Dropkick Murphys to exorcise the intruders, Alex cleaned the place out in record time. Once done, he grabbed his phone and clicked on the video text. Happy Birthday! The handmade sign filled the screen. Alex smiled.
Bare feet on their unmade bed. Hunter wiggled his toes, and Alex laughed. The phone camera traveled along Hunter’s shins to his knees, all dusted with brown and copper-tinged hair, and as he bent his left knee, the sheet fell from his muscular thigh. Hey, the pointed birthday hat covered his… Hunter stretched like a big cat, and the tip of the hat rocked as he adjusted his hips. Alex swallowed hard, mesmerized as the camera swept across Hunter’s hips and flat belly, up the opposite side of his body, past an erect pink nipple, the tattoo, and the hairy armpit, along his biceps, which he flexed, then forearm to wrist and the silver bracelet around it. Alex’s heart gave a little lurch, beating faster. His boyfriend had handcuffed himself naked to the bed for his birthday.
Oh, honey. Alex groaned, grabbed his wallet and keys from the cash register, and ran for the door.
He jogged out into the warm June night, the sky clear and sparkling over Delingham as he jumped into the car. He hoped to get home without wrecking the care while Hunter’s video replayed in his head. His blood boiled for Hunter.
He drove through the quiet streets. Alex hadn’t wanted to come back to Delingham at all, but Hunter’s family had made sure the rent got paid on his apartment. At least they had a safe place to go to when Hunter recovered from Dale Markham’s accidental gunshot wound. Dale Markham, former FBI agent, rotting in jail—someplace hot, Alex hoped, good practice for when he got to hell. Nick Truman, too, but a big black hole existed where he’d once been. Maybe they had put him in Witness Protection like Nick had hoped. The case against the two men who had murdered Alex’s uncle had become a nonissue, since before they could be taken into custody, someone had killed them.
Nothing like thinking about those things to defeat his raging hard-on, so he blasted out Dropkick Murphys again to fuel up the testosterone.
“Here I come, baby,” he murmured.
Not finding a parking spot near the apartment building set him seething and grinding his teeth. His lot in life had improved, but not his temper. He dropped the keys twice on the front stairs and made it through the door before he considered alerting Hunter. Alex texted—coming up now—and smiled to think again of Hunter there, waiting, naked, and handcuffed to the bed. They’d talked about playing like this but hadn’t got around to it yet. In the video, Hunter had kept the wounded leg covered; he hated the scar, the asymmetry where they’d taken part of the muscle during surgery. Doing better after a pretty deep depression before his physical therapist motivated him on the road to getting back in shape.
Yeah, we’re doing good.
Alex kicked away his shoes and whipped off his socks. “It’s me!” In the bedroom, both the music and the lights were low. Alex opened the door, grinning from ear to ear. Hunter grinned back at him, naked on the bed, the party hat on his head tipped at a rakish angle. A second set of cuffs dangled off the tips of his fingers. Alex pulled his shirt up and over his head, wrecking his hair, but he didn’t care. Hunter’s eyes were on him; Alex wanted Hunter drinking him in as much as Alex drank in Hunter. Alex had set himself up with a rigorous workout schedule to prep for the physical part of the special agent application process. He didn’t know for sure if he’d get accepted, but the real payoff lay in Hunter’s eyes.
Alex worked the zipper of his jeans. “Have you been waiting long?” He stripped off his jeans and underwear.
“I’m fine. Come and have your birthday cake.” Hunter laughed, the sexy, dirty laugh Alex loved. Hunter’s whole body moved in a sinuous, inviting wiggle, and the cuffs rattled. Alex’s cock and heart led him right into the bed like the needle on a compass pointing true north. He straddled Hunter, their legs tangling together in the sheets. He ran his hands over Hunter’s bulging biceps; he and Hunter had been working out together.
Hunter, his dream of love, impossible, unreachable. His selfishness for staying with Hunter kept him awake at night, tossing and turning, his head filled with fear. Vargas or Truman would take Hunter from him, from the world, and he’d be left to live out his days without Hunter, knowing he had been the one to cause his death.
Alex kissed Hunter to burn away his fears. When he put his hand down on the bed to brace himself, he touched the second set of cuffs. “I can’t believe you did this for me.”
“I guess you liked the video?”
Alex froze for a moment, like he had in the bar when the drunk guy had called him Boy Blue. Looking around, he found the webcam on the nightstand beside Hunter’s laptop and moved it into the top drawer.
“Ah,” Hunter said. “I thought you might want to make a sex tape, you know, for us?” He smiled cute and sexy, but Alex shook his head.
“I want my cake.” He nibbled Hunter’s neck.
“Did something happen in the bar tonight?” Hunter’s eyes were so light blue they appeared gray, but this close they were dark with concern. “You looked worried there for a minute.”
“Nothing to worry about,” Alex assured him, hoping he spoke the truth.
“Okay?” Hunter bucked his hips under his. “Come on, baby. Let’s go. I’ve been lying here thinking about you and all the things you’re going to do to me when you get home.”
“You look good enough to eat. And lick.” Alex flicked his tongue across the letters of Hunter’s tattoo. When he took a hard little nipple in his mouth, Hunter arched his body with a moan, and Alex tightened his thighs around him. Hunter pulled at the cuffs. They rattled again, the play of straining muscle in his arms mesmerizing Alex. He unwrapped Hunter like a present, pulling the sheets from them both until they were naked. As he reached for the lube, he tightened one hand around both their cocks and squeezed and stroked them together. Hunter’s groans set his blood on fire, and he strained to keep from sinking into Hunter’s ass and fucking the daylights out of him.
“So ready for you.” He moaned, arching up against Alex, the heated slide of their skin making Alex shiver. “Come on, tiger.”
Alex moved Hunter’s wrist to the headboard and cuffed his other hand to the top of the wooden frame.
Monogamy had freed them from the tyranny of condoms. Hunter’s hot and ready flesh welcomed Alex, wrapping around his aching cock like a velvet glove, and he pummeled the soft nub of Hunter’s prostate until his body fell under Alex’s control. No wrestling with his bossy bottom—Hunter took what Alex gave him, and Alex gave everything he had. He stared into Hunter’s eyes as he fucked him, the eye contact a live wire between them while he drove into Hunter, so sexy, so much love.
“Coming,” Hunter groaned out, tears in his eyes. “Oh, God…Alex…I love you.”
Alex couldn’t form words. Hunter had melted his brain. Alex stroked him until he came in Alex’s hands, crying out his name as orgasm racked his body. Alex didn’t hold back anymore and came like a rocket.
* * * * *
By noontime, Alex cracked his eyelids open for good. They’d had a little more cake earlier in the morning, without the cuffs, and his insides were glowing with sated love and lust. The smell of coffee, French toast, and bacon reached him, and he hauled his ass out of bed. He showered, shaved, put on jeans, and headed for the kitchen, unable to make himself stop smiling.
Hunter plated up breakfast, even with the crutch under his arm; he grinned when he turned to set the plate on the kitchen table. Alex sat, and Hunter put a full coffee cup down in front of him, with a kiss to his forehead. “Happy Birthday, Alex.”
He was lucky to be alive to celebrate his twenty-fourth birthday on a warm day in June with what seemed like every flower on the planet in bloom. Winter had hung on forever up north; it had even snowed in May. Somehow the bullets aimed in their direction had yet to find them.
He had more days of joy now than of the endless despair dogging him since he’d witnessed his uncle’s murder, been placed in protective custody, then been betrayed by his guardian agent Nicolas Truman. Another good man had died trying to protect Alex. He might have lost Hunter, because he’d refused to give up on Alex, taking him to his family of lawmen in the North Country for safety.
Hunter thought it odd Alex jumped at the chance when Director Flint suggested he apply to the FBI. The FBI had failed him—due to the rotten apples like Truman and Markham—who worked for Oscar Vargas, former leader of a Mexican drug cartel in Las Vegas. Vargas’s incompetent son and his friend had murdered Alex’s uncle, and Alex had been the only witness. Vargas had wanted him dead so his son wouldn’t have to go to jail.
Alex had a hard time seeing himself before it all happened; grad school so he could teach history had been derailed. Why wouldn’t he want to devote his energies to stopping men like Vargas from hurting innocent people and destroying their lives?
“What are you thinking about?” Hunter sat opposite Alex and leaned the crutch against the wall beside him.
“I’m psyching myself up to put my application into the special agent Talent Network tomorrow.” He didn’t know why he said it, because there’d been a great vibe going in the sunny kitchen up until this moment.
Hunter frowned. “You decided on applying as a linguistic specialist.”
“It’s my only chance to get in. I’m fluent in Spanish and in Mom Alice’s Mexicano—I’ve got French and Japanese for my foreign-language minor.” He said it like a mantra, as Hunter knew all this already. Maybe Alex wanted Hunter to try and talk him out of it one more time. Alex wanted this job more than anything in his life, and Hunter hated it. He didn’t say he hated it now, but he lowered his gaze and kept it on his plate, though he didn’t eat.
“You’re scary smart, mister.”
“I’m rusty. I need to pick up a couple review classes.” On top of the martial arts classes. “It’s bugging you.”
Hunter made a noncommittal sound. “It’s what you need to do. For John and because of Truman.”
“That’s not all.” Alex’s heart grew heavy.
Hunter looked up from the plate. “I get it. Why wouldn’t I? I respect you for wanting to be a part of the FBI.”
He hadn’t said it before, and Alex let out his breath. He needed to hear it from Hunter and to reassure him. “Your family puts their lives on the line every day.”
“I don’t buy the idea they’ll stick you in an office somewhere to push paper, right? Flint sees something in you, something the FBI can use.”
“You’re competitive. It’s part of the reason you survived.” Hunter poured syrup over his French toast. “It’s what they want. You’ll also be good at it because of me.”
Alex reached across the table for Hunter’s hand, and Hunter met him halfway. “I’ll be good at anything because of you. They still might not accept me.”
“You have a plan B. Getting your master’s and teaching. Or applying to the police academy.”
“I’m afraid—I don’t want this to come between us down the line.” Alex did want to protect Hunter, protect them both, and the FBI had become a place of safety now. Alex would always fear sure the fallout from his life ticked like a bomb out there.
“I hear Virginia is nice, with not much snow. I’m sure there’ll be work for me there. And it’s not like the ER anywhere is impervious to violence, considering how we, ah…met.” Hunter let go of Alex’s hand and picked up his fork. “And I’d love to prove Flint and you-know-who wrong.” He winked. “We keep talking, like we always do.”
The first time Alex had brought up the subject, Hunter, still recovering in the hospital but only days away from release. They’d fought about it, loud enough to bring a couple of shocked nurses in to check on them. Alex smiled at the memory.
Hunter sobered and put the fork down. “I understand. I do. But it’s going to change you, and I love you the way you are. The job is going to take you away from me. You’re always going to be traveling.”
“I want you to come home to. I didn’t think any of it would be easy for either of us, but you’ve been thinking about it.”
Hunter shrugged. “Who wants easy?” He nodded. “I’m with you, whatever you decide, whatever happens. I want you to be happy. Come on—we have a birthday to do. We can make the next train into Boston if we hurry our asses up.”