Authors: Killer Thoughts
“Trust me. The Circs they have now police their own. But that’s a whole other discussion. We’re talking about bringing the Fixer back,”
The Fixer, Owen’s alias in wet-work—assassination—circles.
“You leaking word of my involvement, then?”
“Hell, no. We want this op to succeed.”
“But man, I miss working with you. You’re the best at this, Owen. Clean, no mess, no fuss. The guys I work with now always have issues. A bunch of prima donnas, or else they’re not right in the head.”
Owen teased, but he wasn’t quite right either. Killing because it was the right thing to do for his country had been enough of an excuse to use his dark power as a young man, but as he’d gotten older, it had been harder to justify taking a life, even as horrible as his targets had been. He didn’t take the government’s word on it; Owen researched his marks thoroughly before agreeing to eliminate them. “Let me work on this a bit. Give me his name, and once I’m satisfied, I’ll get with you to ferret out the specifics.”
Caleb knew his process. “Sounds good. I’ll bring my stuff in and get settled, then talk with your security. The Knoxes are good men. But they’re not cheap.”
“I know,” Owen said smoothly.
Caleb chuckled. “Rich bastard. Okay, I’ll leave you to it.” He withdrew a small card from his pocket and handed it to Owen, then left.
A pass code to sensitive material on a top-secret government server. Good old Caleb. Like Owen, he didn’t believe in being a tool to be used by anyone unless he allowed it—a concept Caleb had found out the hard way.
Owen sat behind his desk and tapped at the keyboard of his secure computer. And then he went to work. Two hours later, engrossed in the material he’d been reading, he found the answers he’d sought.
Morvelo DeSanta, the Animal, had to go.
* * * *
“What the fuck am I doing here with your crap?” Keegan Price asked, not very happy as he glared at Ian, then glanced up at Tim.
That Keegan had to look up at anyone made Ian want to chuckle with glee. “Thanks, buddy. I know I probably took you from something important. Like pumping up your deltoids some more. But hey, Owen ordered me to stay here for a few weeks, so I needed my stuff.”
“Why not call Chloe?”
The night manager at the gym—and the woman he liked best—should have been off today with her twin boyfriends. Or fiancés. Whatever they called themselves.
“She’s on a break right now.”
“So am I,” Keegan barked. “I have the next three days off. I was busy.”
“I’m so sorry.” Ian would have fluttered his eyelashes, but he knew Keegan wouldn’t buy it. “If I’d known, I would have asked Jack to have someone else help me out. But with Rory being Owen’s cousin, and since I knew she’d be busy working, I just thought you’d help me out.”
Keegan let out a sigh. “No, no. It’s fine. But I hate Jack taking so much damn pleasure calling my ass in to work.” He frowned.
Another reason why Ian had chosen Keegan. Jack would have had a blast, egging the big guy on. For some reason, Jack and Keegan constantly butted heads, as if Keegan continued to challenge him for a leadership position everyone knew belonged to Jack. Though Keegan had once admitted he only riled Jack for the fun of it.
“That’s Jack for you.” Ian nodded with empathy while Tim looked on, his face expressionless. “You know Tim, right?”
“We’ve met.” Keegan held out a hand, which Tim grabbed. “Still strong as a bull.”
“Please.” Ian cringed along with Keegan. “You don’t
have to call him sir.”
“Yeah, please don’t. Makes me think of my father.”
Tim grinned and stepped back from the entrance to the house. “Yes, sir.”
“Hell.” Keegan followed them inside and tossed Ian’s duffel at his feet. Then he snatched Ian by the collar and dragged him some distance away. Tim, that turncoat, grabbed Ian’s bag and walked away, leaving Ian at Keegan’s mercy.
“Ow. Let go, you big brute.” Ian loved playing with Keegan. A man’s man who happened to be in love with his wife and James Foreman. Not gay, not even bi, except that he loved James like crazy. So Ian loved teasing him about an attraction that didn’t exist. “Oh, have you finally come to your senses and realized how amazingly handsome I am? Did you come for me, cowboy?”
“Shut up. God, you’re annoying.” His twang pronounced, Keegan griped in a lower voice, “I brought that shit you asked for. Not a word, you get me?”
Ian had made the big lout bring his favorite dildo and lube, in addition to a well-used plug. “Not a word. Scout’s honor.”
“Like you were ever a Boy Scout.” Keegan snorted and let him go. “Rory wants you to take care and keep an eye on Owen. She’s worried about him.” He paused. “And Avery said to keep close too. Said Mr. Billionaire is gonna need you.”
Ian’s mirth left him. “Did he say anything else?” Did that mean Owen might get hurt? “Need me how? To help him with this case? To save his life?”
“Don’t know. But he wasn’t playin’ around. Keep Owen safe, Ian. We need him, and not just ’cause he helps fund the gym. The guy is a good man. He did a lot for Rory. You need anything, you call me. Hear?”
“I will.” Owen hurt? That wouldn’t be good for anyone. Ian tried to reason his concern away, thinking about the financial aspect of Owen’s contributions. But why did his heart sink like a stone at the idea of Owen in pain?
“Avery also said to tell you that you’re gonna fix the fixer. I don’t know what that means, and I didn’t ask. Not a word to Owen about any of this, or it’ll all come crashin’ down. He said that too. Keep your piehole shut, just like last time. His words, not mine.” Keegan stepped back when Tim reentered the room. “Now I gotta get back. Rory’s comin’ home soon.” He grinned. “And I bet James twenty bucks I get to kiss her ’fore he does.”
“Your trio is positively sickening with all that happy crap, you know that?”
Keegan slapped him on the back, hard enough to fell a tree, and Ian stumbled. “Good luck, son. You’re gonna need it. Tim.” Keegan nodded at the larger man who’d just returned and saw his way out the door.
“Are you okay?” Tim asked him.
When I get my breath back
. But it was worth making the big guy handle his toys. Ian laughed to himself, imaging Keegan’s face when he went into Ian’s nightstand to gather his things.
He spent the remainder of the day moving his stuff into Owen’s bedroom and making himself at home. Since no one had told him to go anywhere else, he figured to stake his claim. Dalton could go screw himself.
Satisfied he hadn’t seen that G-man in a while either, Ian indulged in a nice long nap, watched a few television shows he normally slept through while resting for his night shifts, then snooped through the rest of Owen’s room.
As expected, Owen had expensive clothing. Too bad they weren’t the same size, or Ian would have been more than happy to share a wardrobe. The guy didn’t have much in the way of jewelry either. A thick gold signet ring, probably his father’s, as well as a few watches and cuff links made up the bulk of Owen’s stash. Nothing impressive—well, discounting the watches. He had a Patek Philippe and a Breitling, but nothing too bling for Owen.
Unfortunately, Ian didn’t see a collection of his new lover’s sexual toys either. No doubt Owen had them, but he’d hidden them somewhere. Ian was dying to see what Owen wanted to play with…besides him.
He wore a satisfied smirk at the thought of how he’d made the sexy playboy groan his name. Ian might not have nearly the same money as his lover, but he knew how to pleasure a man. It was all in the touch. Not too hard or too soft. A caress here, firmness there, and the ability to read his partner’s pleasure.
Owen liked to think of himself as a man of mystery, but he couldn’t hold back when Ian used his lips and teeth over him. All over.
Getting revved up with no ease in sight, Ian forced himself to stop thinking about Owen and sat in a buff leather chair that had more comfort than class. He looked around him, wondering what his father would have made of his son sitting in a place like this.
Colum Burke had worked hard to find a place for himself and his ailing wife and child. When Ian’s mother died, Colum had all but gone with her. For his son, he’d done his best to support them. And then he lost his job. A cabbie in downtown New York didn’t make the same that he’d earned in Ireland, where living in a small town didn’t cost nearly as much and people often traded services for goods.
Colum had worked two jobs at a time, barely making enough to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.
Ian glanced around him, both repelled and fascinated with the sedate opulence of Owen’s wealth. Ian had only come into his abilities at the tender age of ten, but by then his father had taken sick. Cancer had eaten both his mother and his father, leaving him homeless and at the mercy of the streets in his early teens.
But he’d learned fast. And he’d never let anyone take advantage of him. Being able to see patterns applied to more than artwork and forgery. Ian often studied how others treated one another, how the law worked for those with wealth, and how to spot a con.
A master of the art, he tried to figure out how best to play Owen and kept coming up blank. He didn’t think Owen would take to the sympathy card if Ian decided to actually confide in him how hard life had once been. Though he’d worked that angle with previous lovers, he didn’t see Owen falling for a sob story. And the truth of his past made him uncomfortable enough that Owen might actually see through Ian’s veneer and feel pity for him—the
thing Ian wanted.
Sure, he wanted to con Owen. A challenge, a need to dominate a man who refused to be mastered.
“He likes the sex,” Ian muttered, trying to work with what he had.
His entire life, he’d gotten by on his looks and brains. So had Owen, except Owen had the additional benefit of millions to back him up.
Ian could try to get in with Heather, but he’d pretty much given up on using people. Good people, at least, and he could see the woman had a pure heart of gold. Hell, she’d taken to Jack. She had to be going for sainthood.
He slouched deeper into the chair, trying to work his way through the puzzle of Owen Stallbridge. What the hell power did the man possess? His energy was too much to ignore, yet Ian couldn’t grasp the nature of Owen’s power to understand. It aggravated him to be so close yet so far from the key to figuring out what made Owen tick.
“Hiding in here, eh?” Caleb Dalton stood in the doorway, his arms crossed over his chest.
Ian blew out a breath. “What the hell do you want?”
“I was looking for Owen, but I can talk to you as easily.”
Caleb grinned. Ian found the man somewhat attractive—not on the level of Owen, but his energy and strength clearly marked him as someone appealing. Too bad he played for the wrong side.
“Tell me, Ian, what are you really doing here?”
Ian looked around. “What? In Owen’s bedroom? He and I are involved.” An innocuous-enough statement that alluded to a relationship without confirming it. “Why don’t you tell me how tight
Dalton entered Owen’s room as if he owned it and walked right up to Ian, standing over him.
Refusing to be intimidated, Ian deliberately placed his hands behind his head and waited.
“You fucking the boss to get ahead?”
“That would be, fucking to get some head. But no. If I want sex, I get it easily enough.”
Dalton snorted. “I’ll bet you do. Something tells me you fleece ’em by the dozen.”
“Yeah, I’m a regular Mata Hari.”
Dalton didn’t grin, and Ian didn’t like the sudden sober expression on his face.
“Look,” Dalton growled. “Owen seems to like you. Why, I can’t say. But here’s the thing. You’re good at gathering information and staying invisible when you need to. I think Owen might need that if the shit hits the fan like I think it’s going to. How much do you know about Carl Kerr?”
“I know never to be in a room with him without a gun in my hand aimed at his forehead.”
“The asshole has had a bug up his ass about the Stallbridges for years. Owen in particular. He’s going to stretch this out, take out whatever Owen cares about, then strike when Owen least expects it. The household is at risk, and if Owen likes you more than he should, you’re at risk.”
Ian’s heart raced. “What? So Kerr will come after me? He can bring it on. I’ve faced badasses tougher than him. You were tracking me at some point, I’m sure. I survived you.”
“Yeah, but I would have just turned you in to the cops. Kerr will carve you up and spit you out, strangled on your own intestines.” Dalton paused and lowered his voice. “If you’re smart, you’ll get out while you can. Ditch this place, and don’t come up for air until you know for a fact Kerr is dead.”
“Owen told you to warn me off?”
“Owen’s a prick with an overly large ego.” Dalton sneered. “He thinks he can keep the demons at bay by locking his fucking windows. A sniper will shoot them out in two seconds flat. And don’t get me started on a telekinetic or a pyro. He’s not protected, not like he should be.”
“And I’m a distraction?” Ian wasn’t sure how to feel. Good that Owen cared about him enough to worry, or bad that he might be putting Owen’s life in danger?
“Yes, you are. I’m worried that Kerr will take you out, with you sitting here like a target. And then Owen will wallow in guilt that you died because of him. Guy has enough problems. He doesn’t need to feel guilty because of you too.”
Too? What else did Owen feel guilty about? Ian stared at Dalton, wondering how to make the man spill more information. “Why would my death be a problem? I know what I’m getting into with him.”
“Do you?” Dalton stared at him. “Do you really?”
Pressure pushed at his brain, and Ian shielded himself the way he’d been taught years ago. “Try that with a weaker mind.”
Dalton nodded, looking thoughtful. “Not a complete pussy. That’s good.”
“For God’s sake. Being gay doesn’t make me weak.”