Dangerous Ground #1
Special Agents for the Department of Diplomatic Security, Taylor MacAllister and Will Brandt have been partners and best friends for three years, but everything changed the night Taylor admitted the truth about his feelings for Will. And when Taylor was shot a few hours later, Will felt his reluctance to get involved was vindicated. For Will, the team and the friendship have to come first--despite the fact that he hasn't failed to notice just how...hot Taylor is.
Taylor has been in love with his partner and best friend since they were first partnered. There isn't much he wouldn't do for Will--but he doesn't know how much longer they can stay teamed feeling the way he does. Still, he agreed to a camping trip in the High Sierras--despite the fact that he hates camping--because Will wanted a chance to save their partnership.
But the trip is a disaster from the first, and things rapidly go from bad to worse when they find a crashed plane and a couple of million dollars in stolen money. With a trio of murderous robbers trailing them, Will and Taylor are on dangerous ground, fighting for their partnership, their passion...and their lives.
Publisher's Note: This book contains explicit sexual content, graphic language, and situations that some readers may find objectionable: Anal play/intercourse, male/male sexual practices, strong violence.
Old Poison #2
Happy Birthday, Taylor! Taylor has pretty well recovered from his shooting, but not everyone is happy to see him reach his next birthday. Does a cobra pickled in a bottle of wine means someone cares enough to send the very death -- best?
Blood Heat #3
Special Agents for the Department of Diplomatic Security, Taylor MacAllister and Will Brandt have been partners forever and lovers for three months, but their new relationship is threatened when Will is offered a plum two-year assignment in Paris.
Will believes the posting only means postponing what they both want. Taylor fears that kind of separation will mean the end of their new and still-fragile relationship.
It's a bad time to find themselves in the middle of the New Mexico wilderness responsible for the health and welfare of a suspected terrorist. Especially when everyone else they run into seems determined to see their prisoner -- and them -- dead.
Dead Run #4
The boys are back in town -- and Paris is burning!
For Special Agents of the Department of Diplomatic Security, Taylor MacAllister and Will Brandt, the strain of a long distance relationship is beginning to tell after eleven months of separation. A romantic holiday could be just the thing to bridge the ever-growing distance, but when Taylor spots a terrorist from the 70s, long believed dead but very much alive, it's c'est la vie.
Now instead of sipping wine and seeing the sights, the boys are chasing a wily and deadly foe through the graveyards and catacombs of Paris.
Of course, it could always be worse -- and soon it is.
Kick Start #5
Will is finally braced to bring Taylor home to meet the folks. Unfortunately, not every member of the Brandt clan loves Taylor the way Will does. Then again, not everyone loves the Brandts. In fact, someone has a score to settle -- and too bad for any former DS agents who get in the way when the bullets start to fly.
Armed & Dangerous #1-4
Collected for the first time in print! Special Agents for the Department of Diplomatic Security, Taylor MacAllister and Will Brandt have been partners and best friends for three years. But everything changes the night Taylor admits the truth about his feelings for Will. Yeah. It's complicated...
Includes Dangerous Ground, Old Poison, Blood Heat, and Dead Run.
This is an overall review for the series. I have a special place in my heart for this series. It was the second series in the M/M genre that I read and it was the first thing by Josh Lanyon that I read. Simply put, I never looked back. Not only did it solidify my love for the genre but it was the beginning of my ongoing love affair with the writings of Mr. Lanyon. Will and Taylor are perfect for each other, as partners, friends, and lovers although there are times when it doesn't always seem like it. The characters are intriguing, the mysteries they find themselves facing are captivating, and the overall writing had me mesmerized from the very beginning. A definite must to your library.
Will was tired. Pleasantly tired. Taylor was exhausted. Not that he’d admit it, but Will could tell by the way he dropped down by the campfire while Will finished pitching their two-man tent.
One eye on Taylor, Will stowed their sleeping bags inside the Eureka Apex XT. He pulled Taylor’s Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad out of his own backpack where he’d managed to stash it that morning without Taylor noticing, and spread it out on the floor of the tent. He opened the valve and left the pad inflating while he went to join Taylor at the fire.
“Always.” Taylor’s grin was wry — and so was Will’s meeting it. Taylor ate like a horse — even in the hospital — although where he put it was anyone’s guess. He was all whippy muscle and fine bones that seemed to be made out of titanium. It was easy to look at him and dismiss him as a threat, but anyone who’d ever tangled with him didn’t make that mistake twice.
He was too thin now, though, which was why Will was carrying about three pounds more food in his pack than they probably needed. He watched Taylor feeding wood into the flames. In the firelight his face was all sharps and angles. His eyes looked almost black with fatigue — they weren’t black, though, they were a kind of burnished green — an indefinable shade of bronze that reminded Will of old armor. Very striking with his black hair — Will’s gaze lingered on Taylor’s hair, on that odd single streak of silver since the shooting.
He didn’t want to think about the shooting. Didn’t want to think about finding Taylor in a dingy storeroom with his shirt and blazer soaked in blood — Taylor struggling for each anguished breath. He still had nightmares about that.
He said, talking himself away from the memory, “Well, monsieur, tonight zee specials are zee beef stroganoff, zee Mexican-style chicken, or zee lasagna with meat sauce.”
“What won’t they freeze-dry next?” Taylor marveled.
“Nothing. You name it, they’ll freeze-dry it. We’ve got Neapolitan ice cream for dessert.”
“Just like the astronauts eat.”
“We pay astronauts to sit around drinking Tang and eating freeze-dried ice cream?”
“Your tax dollars at work.” Will’s eyes assessed Taylor. “Here.” He shifted, pulled his flask out of his hip pocket, unscrewed the cap, and handed it to Taylor. “Before dinner cocktails.”
“Cheers.” Taylor took a swig and shuddered.
“Hey,” Will protested. “That’s Sam Houston bourbon. You know how hard that it is to find?”
“Yeah, I know. I bought you a bottle for Christmas year before last.”
“That’s right. Then you know just how good this is.”
“Not if you don’t like it.” But Taylor was smiling — which was good to see. Not too many smiles between them since that last night at Will’s apartment. And he wanted to think about that even less than he wanted to think about Taylor getting shot.
“Son, that bourbon will put hair on your chest,” he said.
“Yeah, well, unlike you I prefer my bears in the woods.”
There was a brief uncomfortable pause while they both remembered a certain naval officer, and then Taylor took another swig and handed the flask back to Will.
Will grunted acknowledgment.
He thought about telling Taylor he hadn’t seen Bradley since that god-awful night, but that was liable to make things worse — it would certainly confuse the issue, because regardless of what Taylor believed, the issue had never been Lieutenant Commander David Bradley.
Taylor put a hand to the small of his back, arching a little, wincing — and Will watched him, chewing the inside of his cheek, thinking it over. It was taking a while to get back into sync, that was all. It was just going to take a little time. Sure, Taylor was moody, a little distant, but he still wasn’t 100 percent.
He was getting there, though. Getting there fast — because once Taylor put his mind to a thing, it was as good as done. Usually. When he started back at work he’d be stuck on desk duty for a couple of weeks, maybe even a month or so, but he’d be back in the field before long, and Will was counting the days. He missed Taylor like he’d miss his right arm. Maybe more.
Even now he was afraid — but there was no point thinking like that. They were okay. They just needed time to work through it. And the best way to do that was to leave the past alone.
“Warm enough?” he asked.
Taylor gave him a long, unfriendly look.
“Hey, just asking.” Will rose. “I was going to get a sweater out of my bag for myself.”
Taylor relaxed. “Yeah. Can you grab my fleece vest?”
Will nodded, and passing Taylor, took a swipe at the back of his head, which Taylor neatly ducked.
* * * * *
They had instant black bean soup and the Mexican-style chicken for dinner, and followed it up with the freeze-dried ice cream and coffee.
“It’s not bad,” Taylor offered, breaking off a piece of ice cream and popping it into his mouth.
Actually the ice cream wasn’t that bad. It crunched when you put it into your mouth, then dissolved immediately, but Will said, “What do you know? You’ll eat anything. If I didn’t watch out you’d be eating poison mushrooms or poison berries or poison oak.”
Taylor grinned. It was true; he was a city boy through and through. Will was the outdoors guy. He was the one who thought a week of camping and hiking was what they needed to get back on track; Taylor was humoring him by coming along on this trip. In fact, Will was still a little surprised Taylor had agreed. Taylor’s idea of vacation time well spent was on the water and in the sun: renting a house boat — like they had last summer — or deep sea fishing — which Taylor had done on his own the year before.
“They never did arrest anyone in connection with that heist, did they?” Taylor said thoughtfully, after a few more minutes of companionable chewing.
Taylor threw him an impatient look. “The robbery at the Black Wolf Casino.”
“Oh. Not that I heard. I wasn’t really following it.” Taylor had a brain like a computer when it came to crimes and unsolved mysteries. When Will wasn’t working, which, granted, was rarely, the last thing he wanted to do was think about crooks and crime — especially the ones that had nothing to do with them.
But Taylor was shaking his head like Will was truly a lost cause, so he volunteered, “There was something about the croupier, right? She was questioned a couple of times.”
“Yeah. Questioned but never charged.” He shivered.
Will frowned. “You all right?”
“Jesus, Brandt, will you give it a fucking rest!” And just like that, Taylor was unsmiling, stone-faced and hostile.
There was a short, sharp silence. “Christ, you can be an unpleasant bastard,” Will said finally, evenly. He threw the last of his foil-wrapped ice cream into the fire, and the flames jumped, sparks shooting up with bits of blackened metal.
Taylor said tersely, “You want a more pleasant bastard for a partner, say the word.”
The instant aggression caught Will off guard. Where the hell had it come from? “No, I don’t want someone more pleasant,” he said. “I don’t want a new partner.”
Taylor stared at the fire. “Maybe I do,” he said quietly.
Will stared at him. He felt like he’d been sucker punched. Dopey and…off-kilter.
“Why’d you say that?” he asked finally into the raw silence between them.
He saw Taylor’s throat move, saw him swallowing hard, and he understood that although Taylor had spoken on impulse, he meant it — and that he was absorbing that truth even as Will was.
“We’re good together,” Will said, not giving Taylor time to answer — afraid that if Taylor put it into words they wouldn’t be able to go back from it. “We’re…the best. Partners and friends.”
He realized he was gripping his coffee cup so hard he was about to snap the plastic handle.
Taylor said, his voice low but steady, “Yeah. We are. But…it might be better for both of us if we were reteamed.”
“Better for you, you mean?”
Taylor met his eyes. “Yeah. Better for me.”
And now Will was getting angry. It took him a moment to recognize the symptoms because he wasn’t a guy who got mad easily or often — and never at Taylor. Exasperated, maybe. Disapproving sometimes, yeah. But angry? Not with Taylor. Not even for getting himself shot like a goddamned wet-behind-the-ears recruit. But that prickling flush beneath his skin, that pounding in his temples, that rush of adrenaline — that was anger. And it was all for Taylor.
Will threw his cup away and stood up — aware that Taylor tensed. Which made him even madder — and Will was plenty mad already. “Oh, I get it,” he said. “This is payback. This is you getting your own back — holding the partnership hostage to your hurt ego. This is all because I won’t sleep with you, isn’t it? That’s what it’s really about.”
And Taylor said in that same infuriatingly even tone, “If that’s what you want to think, go ahead.”
Right. Taylor — the guy who jumped first and thought second, if at all; who couldn’t stop shooting his mouth off if his life depended on it; who thought three months equaled the love of a lifetime — suddenly he was Mr. Cool and Reasonable. What a goddamn laugh. Mr. Wounded Dignity sitting there staring at Will with those wide, bleak eyes.
“What am I supposed to think?” Will asked, and it took effort to keep his voice as level as Taylor’s. “That you’re in love? We both know what this is about, and it ain’t love, buddy boy. You just can’t handle the fact that anyone could turn you down.”
“Fuck you,” Taylor said, abandoning the cool and reasonable thing.
“My point exactly,” Will shot back. “And you know what? Fine. If that’s what I have to do to hold this team together, fine. Let’s fuck. Let’s get it out of the way once and for all. If that’s your price, then okay. I’m more than willing to take one for the team — or am I supposed to do you? Whichever is fine by me because unlike you, MacAllister, I —”
With an inarticulate sound, Taylor launched himself at Will, and Will, unprepared, fell back over the log he’d been sitting on, head ringing from Taylor’s fist connecting with his jaw. This was rage, not passion, although for one bewildered instant Will’s body processed the feel of Taylor’s hard, thin, muscular length landing on top of his own body as a good thing — a very good thing.
This was followed by the very bad thing of Taylor trying to knee him in the guts — which sent a new and clearer message to Will’s mind and body.
And there was nothing Will would have loved more than to let go and pulverize Taylor, to take him apart, piece by piece, but he didn’t forget for an instant — even if Taylor did — how physically vulnerable Taylor still was; so his efforts went into keeping Taylor from injuring himself — which was not easy to do wriggling and rolling around on the uneven ground. Even at 75 percent, Taylor was a significant threat, and Will took a few hits before he managed to wind his arms around the other man’s torso, yanking him into a sitting position facing Will, and immobilizing him in a butterfly lock.
Taylor tried a couple of heaves, but he had tired fast. Will was the better wrestler anyway, being taller, broader, and heavier. Taylor relied on speed and surprise; he went in for all kinds of esoteric martial arts, which was fine unless someone like Will got him on the ground. Taylor was usually too smart to let that happen, which just went to show how furious he was.
Will could feel that fury still shaking Taylor — locked in this ugly parody of a lover’s embrace. He shook with exhaustion too, breath shuddering in his lungs as he panted into Will’s shoulder. His wind was shit these days, his heart banging frantically against Will’s. These marks of physical distress undermined Will’s own anger, reminding him how recently he had almost lost Taylor for good.
Taylor’s moist breath against Will’s ear was sending a confusingly erotic message, his body hot and sweaty — but Christ, he was thin. Will could feel — could practically count — ribs, the hard links of spine, the ridges of scapula in Taylor’s fleshless back. And it scared him; his hold changed instinctively from lock to hug.
“You crazy bastard,” he muttered into Taylor’s hair.
Taylor struggled again, and this time Will let him go. Taylor got up, not looking at Will, not speaking, walking unsteadily, but with a peculiar dignity, over to the tent.
Watching him, Will opened his mouth, then shut it. Why the hell would he apologize? Taylor had jumped him. He watched, scowling, as Taylor crawled inside the tent, rolled out his sleeping bag onto the air mattress Will had remembered to set up for him, pulled his boots off, and climbed into the bag, pulling the flap over his head — like something going back into its shell.
This is stupid, Will thought. We neither of us want this. But what he said was, “Sweet dreams to you too.”
Taylor said nothing.
Old Poison #2
Will parked behind Taylor’s silver Acura MDX in the narrow side driveway and got out of his own Toyota Land Cruiser. Evenings were damp this close to the beach. The air smelled of salt and old seaweed -- corrupt yet invigorating.
He let Riley out of the passenger side of the SUV. Riley trotted down the driveway to the large, overgrown backyard, barking a warning to the neighborhood cats.
Will slid the gate shut. The house was an original Craftsman bungalow. It had been in terrible shape when Taylor bought it two years previously. Actually, it was still in terrible shape, but Taylor was renovating it, one room at a time, in his spare hours.
Will got his duffel bag of the backseat and the heavy, blue-and-gold-wrapped birthday present. He felt self-conscious about that present; he’d spent a lot of time and a fair amount of money on Taylor this year.
Hard to forget that Taylor nearly hadn’t lived to see this birthday.
Speak of the devil. The side door opened, and Taylor came down the steps, an unguarded grin breaking the remote beauty of his face. There was a funny catch in Will’s throat as he saw him alive and strong and smiling again.
“How was traffic?”
Will opened his mouth, but the next instant Taylor was in his arms, his mouth covering Will’s in unaffected hunger. They were safe here. The cinder-block wall was high, and the bougainvillea draping over the edge of the roof neatly blocked out the view of this driveway from the street.
“Man, I missed you,” Taylor said when they surfaced for air.
“You saw me this morning.”
“For three minutes in front of Varga, Jabowitz, and Cooper. It’s not the same.”
“No,” agreed Will, “it’s not the same.” His gaze rested on Taylor’s face; his heart seemed to swell with a quiet joy. “Happy birthday.”
“Thanks.” Taylor’s smile widened. “Hey, I got your card.”
“Oh.” Will was a little embarrassed about that card. To My Sweetheart or whatever it said. Kind of over-the-top. He’d bought it on impulse. Taylor was smiling, though, and with no sign of mockery, so maybe it was okay.
“Is that for me?” Taylor asked as Will retrieved the tote bag and parcel he’d dropped when Taylor landed in his arms.
“Nah. I’m heading over to another party after I get done here.” Will shoved the blue-and-gold present into his hands. “Yes, it’s for you.”
“Okay if I open it now?”
“You’re the most impatient guy I ever met.” Will was amused, though.
“Hey, I waited three years for you,” Taylor threw over his shoulder, heading up the stairs into the house.
“Yeah, remind me again how you whiled away the hours in that lonely monastery as you waited?”
Taylor’s chuckle drifted back.
Will heeled the side door shut and followed Taylor through the mud porch and into the kitchen.
This was one of the first rooms Taylor had renovated: a cozy breakfast nook with built-in window benches, gleaming mahogany cabinets and drawers with patinated copper fixtures, green granite counters, and gray-green slate floor. The numerous cabinets were well designed and well organized. The care and priority given the kitchen might have deceived someone into thinking cooking played a role in Taylor’s life. In fact, the kitchen had been designed to please Will -- the only person who had ever cooked a meal in that house.
There was a German chocolate cake on the table in the breakfast nook. Will’s card was propped next to it with a couple of others: To Our Son, To My Son, To My Brother, What is a Brother? Happy Birthday, Uncle. Greetings from the whole tribe. To the side of these was a wine bottle-shaped science experiment gone awry.
“What the hell is that?” Will peered more closely at the pickled contents of the wine bottle. What it was, was a fucking cobra. The cobra stared back sightlessly at him, fangs bared.
“It’s my snake. I’ve been waiting all day to show it to you.” Taylor wiggled his eyebrows salaciously.
“Funny,” said Will, glancing at him. “Where did you get it?”
“It came in the mail.”
“Who sent it?”
“You don’t know?”
“The card must have got lost.”
They both studied the bottle.
“What is the liquid?”
“Is it poison?”
“It’s not supposed to be. In fact, it’s supposed to be a cure-all -- and an aphrodisiac.”
“I bet bourbon works just as well, and you don’t have that nasty cobra aftertaste.”
Taylor’s smile was preoccupied. Will gave him a closer look.
“You don’t have any idea who would have sent something like this?”
Taylor shook his head. Will laughed and threw an arm around his wide, bony shoulders.
“Nah.” But Taylor’s brows were drawn together as he continued to gaze at the bottle. “Weird, though, isn’t it?”
Taylor had some weird friends. And weirder acquaintances. He had been in the DS longer than Will, signing on right out of college, and he’d been posted to Tokyo, Afghanistan, and briefly, Haiti. The next time he was posted overseas it would be as a regional security officer responsible for managing security operations for an embassy or for a number of diplomatic posts within an assigned area. That was one reason Will was hesitant to move in with him. Not a lot of point in setting up house when one or both of them could be stationed overseas within a year or so.
Taylor didn’t see it this way, of course. Taylor’s idea was they should move in together immediately and they’d deal with the threat of a future separation when -- if -- it happened. He’d always had a tendency to leave tomorrow to take care of itself, but getting shot had cemented his determination to live every day as though it were his last.
Will understood that. He even agreed with it, in principle, but what happened to him when Taylor was posted overseas for three-or-so years? Things weren’t as simple as Taylor liked to pretend.
He glanced at Taylor’s profile. He was frowning, and Will did not want him frowning on his birthday.
“Hey,” he said softly. Taylor’s head turned his way. “Want to open your present?”
“Sure.” Taylor started to pull the gold ribbon on the parcel he was carrying. Will put his hand over his.
“Your other present,” he said meaningfully, and Taylor started to laugh.
Blood Heat #3
Lightning flickered in the blue-black distance. Somewhere in the sultry, moonless night, a coyote yipped. Still farther away, another answered. There was no movement in the barren, walled yard. A single light burned in the second story of the pueblo-style house.
“I don’t like it,” Will muttered, ducking back from the gate to land against the thick adobe wall next to his partner.
Taylor shot him a quick look and laughed, a ghost of a sound. Taylor hadn’t liked this setup since they’d arrived in Denver to find their prisoner, suspected terrorist Kelila Hedwig, had somehow charmed her way out of police custody and was once more on the run.
Hedwig was the prime suspect in the death of Los Angeles Field Office Director Henry Torres, which was why DSS Special Agents Will Brandt and Taylor MacAllister had been tasked with escorting her back to the City of Angels. Technically, pursuing and reapprehending her was a job for the US Marshals, not the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. But Taylor, ever a cynical and suspicious son of a bitch, had suggested that the cowboys on Nineteenth Street had already had their shot and blown it — in his opinion, a little too conveniently. From the first, there had been an ugly rumor that Hedwig was getting help from the inside.
Will doubted it. He’d seen a couple of photos of Hedwig. She was a frail slip of a girl behind oversize spectacles. True, he was no expert, but he thought it unlikely she’d seduced anyone. He figured Denver PD had underestimated her resourcefulness — and desperation. It happened. It didn’t automatically follow that there was a conspiracy afoot.
If she was getting help, it wasn’t very expert help because, after fleeing Colorado, she’d headed straight back to the mountains of New Mexico and an ex-boyfriend, Reuben Ramirez.
Ramirez was Hedwig’s high school sweetheart. Not that either of them had attended high school on a regular basis. He was an ex-con currently on probation for drug-related charges. Apparently Hedwig wasn’t too much of a bad-girl superstar to forget the little people.
“It’s too quiet,” Will said.
“Nah. Ramirez is a punk. Strictly small-time. It’s not like he can afford to keep a standing army.”
Taylor’s eyes looked silver in the gloom as they met Will’s. His broad but bony shoulder was hard warmth pressing against Will’s, and Will felt a disconcerting stirring in his groin. It caught him at unexpected times, this distracting awareness of Taylor. They’d been partners and best friends for three years, but lovers for only four months. They were still adjusting.
Some parts needed more adjusting than others. He shifted uncomfortably against the still-warm adobe bricks.
“Are we doing this?” Taylor asked when Will didn’t say anything else.
Were they? It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but now as they waited outside the mud walls of Ramirez’s hacienda, listening to the crickets, the hot wind skipping across the rocks and sand, and the distant rumble of thunder, Will wondered if they shouldn’t maybe have requested backup from at least the Ruidoso Downs Police Department.
Taylor’s view, unsurprisingly, had been that local law enforcement was likely to get underfoot and complicate things. Taylor had a refreshingly direct approach to such matters. He was also, for such a deceptively graceful-looking guy, a little on the forceful side.
The thought brought a faint, self-conscious smile to Will’s face.
It was too dark to read each other’s expressions, but Taylor must have sensed the smile, because he whispered, “What?”
“Nothing. Are you sure you don’t want to bring in some support on this?”
“I don’t like the fact that it took the feebs nearly a year to track her down, and then twenty-one hours after she’s finally incarcerated, she manages to slip through the cracks again.”
That bothered Will as well. “All right. We’ll do it the old-fashioned way.”
“Rape and pillage?”
“And people say you’re the sensitive one.”
Taylor’s grin was a glimmer of white in the darkness. He turned from Will, slapping his hands against the dusty brick. “Give me a boost.”
No. Let me go first.
Will caught the words back in time. Technically Taylor was the senior member of the team. Besides, lighter and faster than Will, Taylor had always taken point on this kind of op. But four — no, nearly five — months ago on a routine investigation, Taylor had been shot in the chest and nearly died. He’d recovered and was back to full field agent status, but Will was never going to be able to erase the memory of Taylor slumped on his side, scarlet spreading across his chest as his life’s blood pumped out…
He was smart enough to keep that worry to himself, though. He linked his hands together. Taylor planted his boot squarely in the stirrup and vaulted lightly up, balancing briefly on the wall before dropping down.
Diplomacy in action. Like the slogan said.
Will heard the dull impact of his landing. A few seconds later, the wooden entrance gate was swinging creakily open.
Will slipped through the gap, the soles of his boots whispering on sand.
In the kennels behind the house, dogs were going crazy. Not guard dogs, fortunately. Ramirez fancied himself as some kind of hot-shit breeder. Over the past thirty-six hours, Will had observed that no matter how much noise the dogs made, no one from the house came out to investigate. Being a dog lover, he found himself irked by that on a number of levels — though it was a plus for their immediate purposes.
A minus was the long empty stretch of unlandscaped yard around the house. There was nowhere to hide once they were out of the deep shadow of the surrounding walls. No way to reach the house without running across several very exposed lengths of dirt and rock.
On the bright side — or, actually the not so bright side — the moon was down and there was a heavy indigo cloud cover pierced only by the occasional fork of faraway lightning. Taylor was a swift shade zigzagging through the darkness toward the garage.
Will went left, jogging for the main entrance in the portico beneath the exposed wooden beams. The familiar surge of adrenaline lent him speed, feet pounding the hard-packed earth, pebbles skittering as he ran, ears attuned to the night sounds.
He reached the heavy front door without incident and spared a quick look over his shoulder. There was no sign of Taylor. He would be in position by now — or nearly.
Will wiped his forehead with his arm — the moist air was surprisingly warm — and knocked on the door.
Will’s official knock was not easy to ignore, but there was no response from within.
He rapped again, and a dog began to bark inside the house.
Will swore under his breath. He could get a lot louder and a lot more vehement, but he and Taylor had discussed this, and their idea was to attract as little attention as possible since they were, in a manner of speaking, out of their jurisdiction.
Seeing movement out of the corner of his eye, he turned to spot Taylor sprinting across the flat top of the garage.
Now what the hell was that about? Taylor was supposed to be watching the back entrance, not playing one-man assault team. No way was he going inside without Will to back him up. Will took a couple of steps in brief retreat and sized up the front door. Kicking any door down was nowhere as easy as movies made it look, and this was a massive and rustic structure. But as far as Will was concerned, that door was kindling. He launched himself at it.
Light flared behind the downstairs windows. Will stumbled to a halt as the front door opened a crack and two suspicious black eyes peered out at him. One eye — a bleary, red-rimmed eye — was human. The other was canine and belonged to some breed of shepherd with a black rectangular muzzle and a lot of sharp white teeth.
“Who are you? What are you doing here?” growled the human.
The dog was less articulate but more convincing.
Will kept his voice low. The last thing he wanted to do was spook Ramirez’s houseguest. “Special Agent William Brandt. I’m with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.” He held his badge up so there could be no mistake. “You better hear what I have to say.”
The dog made another lunge through the opening between door and frame. Will took a hasty step back. “Hang on to that mutt if you don’t want me to shoot it.”
“He’s not a mutt. He’s a purebred Anatolian shepherd.”
It didn’t really seem like the time or place for semantics. Will opened his mouth to make himself heard over the snarling dog, but the sound of a shotgun blast from overhead ripped through the night.
A woman started screaming.
The shotgun wasn’t Taylor’s. Taylor and Will were carrying their roscoes and wearing underarmor, but that was the extent of their regulation equipment. Which meant Taylor was under fire.
Will grabbed the edge of the door. Ramirez, if it was Ramirez, let go of the dog, which lunged through the doorway, nails scrabbling on brick as it tried to get to Will.
“Shit!” Will twisted left, then right, like a bullfighter dodging a set of razor-sharp horns. He flung himself forward, bursting through the entrance in the opposite direction of the charging dog, almost simultaneously slamming the door behind him. His heart drummed in his chest as he slumped back against the uneven wooden surface. Shit, shit, shit. Their plan, such as it was, was already crumbling away like sandstone.
The snarling dog threw itself against the door. It sounded like a bear clawing the timbers.
Will had other, more immediate concerns. There was another blast from overhead. The shotgun’s second barrel — definitely not Taylor’s .357 SIG. Taylor was not firing back. There were plenty of reasons for that and none of them meant Taylor was in trouble, but Will still had to fight that instinctive and all-consuming rush of fear.
Ramirez had already fled the tile entryway and was running barefoot for the wooden staircase. His feet slapped the tiles, the tiny, desperate sound carrying oddly down the hallway. Will tore after the man and managed to tackle him three stairs up. Ramirez fell back, and they tumbled down the steps to the tile floor below.
Will’s forehead grazed the edge of one step; his elbow and knee connected sharply with the floor. A goddamned disaster was what this was. He grunted and wrestled his way on top of Ramirez, who was short but muscular, compact and pumped up on adrenaline and possibly other things.
Ramirez flailed with arms and legs. He jabbed at Will’s throat with a move unapproved by the WWF. Will blocked and grabbed Ramirez’s hand, bending it back in a maneuver also frowned on by most wrestling associations. He followed it up with a knee in the groin that would have ended the fight then and there if it had connected as intended.
Ramirez screeched and began kicking with renewed energy — if not accuracy.
Upstairs the woman was still screaming, which Will distractedly registered as a positive sign. If she was screaming, chances were Taylor was still a threat to her, and that meant he was likely unhurt. In fact, over Ramirez’s gasps and curses, Will could just make out Taylor’s muffled tones.
Will got his handcuffs out and half dragged, half wrangled Ramirez over onto his front side. Straddling his quarry awkwardly, he snapped the cuffs around thick tattooed wrists.
Ramirez yelled. “What the fuck do you want?”
“I tried to tell you. You’re harboring a fugitive, asshole.”
“You’re no cop!”
“If you don’t stop resisting arrest, you’ll find out how much of a cop I am.”
Ramirez tried to rear up and throw Will off. “I’ll fucking kill you if you hurt her.”
“Nobody’s going to get hurt if you shut up and settle down.” Will checked the cuffs and jumped up from Ramirez, avoiding one of his wilder kicks.
“You’re dead. You’re a dead man!”
Ramirez’s curses and the barking of the Anatolian shepherd outside followed Will as he took the stairs two at a time. His footsteps pounded on wood, the staircase shaking beneath him.
He reached the second story and scanned the unlit hallway. At the end of it, light pooled from an open bedroom door. The woman had stopped screaming. The sudden absence of sound was nearly as jarring as the shrieking had been.
Will heard Taylor say quite clearly, “Oh fuck.”
Will drew his weapon, holding it at low ready. “MacAllister?” Something in the tone of Taylor’s voice had raised the hair on Will’s nape. It brought to mind too many alarming — though as yet unrealized — images: Taylor looking down to see he’d been mortally wounded, Taylor realizing he’d just pulled the pin on a grenade, Taylor —
“Brandt, you’d better get in here.” Taylor’s voice interrupted Will’s alarmed speculations.
Will was already on his way down the hall.
Taylor blocked the doorway. He was holding a shotgun in one hand and his weapon in the other, but neither was trained on the room’s occupant.
There was no noise from within the room at all. Jesus. Was it not Hedwig? Had Hedwig been shot in the altercation? Or worse, had someone who was not Hedwig been injured in the altercation?
Will came up behind Taylor, trying to see past him into the room. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
Taylor retreated another inch — actually stepping on Will’s toes. Will manfully managed not to yell. In their entire three years of partnership, he had never known Taylor to retreat so much as a centimeter. From anything.
He put a steadying hand on Taylor’s back. “What’s the matter?”
Taylor jerked his head as though it should be obvious what the matter was. Will stared past him. There was a chunk of plaster on the floor where one of the shotgun blasts had taken out a section of the ceiling. The woman was not dead. She didn’t even appear to be injured. She was sitting on the foot of the bed. At first glimpse, Will thought it was not Hedwig. She’d dyed her long, lank hair blonde again, but that was her only effort at disguise. She looked older, her face was a little fuller, and she was not wearing her glasses, but it was unmistakably Kelila Hedwig.
Will threw Taylor a quick, questioning look. Taylor’s profile was grim.
Will turned back to their prisoner. Studied her more closely. She was wearing a big, white, voluminous nightgown, and her skinny arms were wrapped protectively around her midriff. Around her basketball-sized midriff.
“Oh shit.” Will turned back to Taylor. Taylor was shaking his head, repudiating what was only too obvious. “She’s pregnant?”
Dead Run #4
The sign at the entrance of the catacombs read Arrête, c’est ici l’empire de la Mort. Stop, this is the empire of Death.
The creak of body armor, the thud of riot boots, the jingle of dog tags, and the dying gurgle of a hidden aqueduct were the only sounds as Will and the gendarmes descended a narrow spiral stairwell.
The ghostly lighting was dispelled by the white-hot lights of the police torches flitting across the walls of carefully arranged bones. Wet glistened and dripped from the ceiling that was only about six feet high. Will had to stoop to keep from braining himself. In some areas the limestone domes had been reinforced to keep sections of the cavern from collapsing.
“I always wanted to see this place,” Arthur said under his breath to Will.
Gee, how nice that someone was having a good time. For Will it brought back way too many memories of patrolling IED Alley.
Damp gravel crunched underfoot. A radio crackled. Overhead the water continued its drip-drip-drip to the ground. They moved slowly, meticulously, room-by-room, searching for explosives but finding nothing.
The next tunnel made a ninety-degree turn to the right and then, a short way on, to the left. More yellowed, cracked skulls gazing with empty eye sockets into the abyss.
The rich, the poor, the great, and the humble, all stacked like firewood, like bricks in a wall.
Sixty million Frenchmen can’t be wrong.
In fact, there were only supposed to be six million interred in the tunnels; even that number was unfathomable — three times the number of those living in the city above.
The commander whispered into his radio, “Espace libre. Déplacement à la prochaine section.”
They shuffled on a few yards. The dogs whined, tugged at their leads, and they moved to investigate another of the many tunnel offshoots. In the parts of the catacomb not open to the public, the bones were not arranged in designs. They were not arranged at all. They were simply dumped like Pick-up Sticks. To cross some of those galleries meant crawling over the scattered bones. Will told himself it was just like climbing over rocks.
He wondered how Taylor was doing. This was a very tight fit. Many of the tunnels were not even eight feet across. Usually no more than two hundred sightseers were permitted in the catacombs at one time. There had to be double that many law enforcement officers moving through the shadowy passages now.
“How far do you think we’ve traveled?” Arthur whispered.
Will shook his head. He checked his watch and was startled to see they’d been underground for over two hours. It really didn’t feel anything like that long, but this was tiring, painstaking, and stressful work. They had to check every possible hiding place, every indentation in the earth, every mound of bones, and every bit of debris that looked a little too artistically placed.
The smell was strange. Mold, damp earth, something funky — not death, or at least the smell of death that Will knew — and the chill was pervasive.
Another hour went by. Then another.
The patrol began to be convinced there was nothing here. No bombs. No Helloco. Not even the usual kids hoping to party undiscovered by the catacomb security.
In Iraq rarely a day had gone by that they didn’t come across a lollipop, and the patrols had consisted of hours poking and prodding every suspicious-looking lump or dip in the ground. IEDs were the second greatest threat to Americans in Iraq. Will still had nightmares about those truffle hunts.
Now here he was in Paris hunting for explosives again.
And so was Taylor.
Up ahead a radio crackled, and an urgent voice said something in French that Will couldn’t follow.
“Did you get that?” he asked Arthur. Arthur had a better grasp of the language.
“I think they’re saying they’ve found something.”
“Who found something?”
Arthur shook his head. It was impossible to hear over the voices speaking excitedly in front of them. Everyone had stopped walking. One of the sniffer dogs suddenly sat back on its haunches and let out a long, bloodcurdling howl.
“What the hell?” Will looked at Arthur. Arthur’s face was pallid and alarmed in the faded light.
Arthur shook his head quickly.
In all his experience in Iraq, Will had never seen a sniffer dog react like that.
The thought no sooner registered than the ground began to shake. Bones clacked as they spilled like dominoes; people began to shout. Sand and water and bits of rock rained down from above.
“What’s happening, Brandt?” yelled Arthur.
“Retreat!” Will ordered. “Go back now.”
The men behind them began to fall back. The last thing Will saw before the lights went out was a grinning, hollow-eyed skull caught in the glare of his flashlight.
Kick Start #5
One minute everything was fine. The next minute the job was going south. Fast.
The limousine with Dragomirov hurtled toward the mouth of the alley where Taylor waited. Not unprepared -- Taylor was never unprepared -- but unsuspecting. Taylor would be occupied watching for threats to Dragomirov. It would not occur to him that Dragomirov was now a threat to him.
So Will reacted, he responded to the threat to Taylor. That’s what partners did, right? Even as Will dropped down onto the top of the limousine, he was mentally justifying his decision to Taylor -- justifying it because before he ever hit the roof, he knew he had made a mistake.
Problem Number One: There was nothing to hang onto. Had the car windows been rolled down…maybe. But the windows were not rolled down, and Will began to slide. The instant the limo braked or turned the corner, he was going to go flying -- at thirty-plus miles an hour. Problem Number Two: Problem Number One was moot, because even if Will didn’t go flying, which he would do any minute now, he had no way of stopping the vehicle. And Problem Number Three: If he did survive, MacAllister was going to kill him.
The rush of garbage-scented air blasted against his face, blurring his vision. The alley was nicer than some alleys in Los Angeles, meaning there were no bums to run over. Orange and green and purple graffiti bled into a long smear of chain link fence topped by coils of barbed wire, old brick walls and metal roll up doors. A couple of phone poles with sagging lines flew by, interspersed with several dumpsters. The alley opening -- and the busy cross street beyond -- was coming up fast. With only seconds to spare, Will wrapped his arms around his head and rolled, launching himself at a fast-approaching blue dumpster.
There was a sickening moment of flying through thin -- very thin -- air, and then he crash-landed on a mountain of cardboard boxes and black and white garbage bags.
It wasn’t like the movies. Will landed hard and heavily, the bags giving way, the boxes not so much. It hurt. It hurt a lot. But without the boxes and bags, he’d probably have been killed. He reflected on that for a stunned second or two while he listened to the screech of tires fading into the distance, the pound of approaching footsteps.
“Brandt?” Taylor splashed through a puddle and skidded to a stop. He sounded winded, though the entire alleyway was only a block long. “Will?”
Will opened his eyes as Taylor bent over him. Taylor’s eyes were black in his white face, his jaw set. Ready for the worst.
“Right here,” Will said.
Life came back to Taylor’s face. “Oh, you bastard. Don’t do that to me!” He expelled a long, shaken breath, and began to check Will over with swift, anxious hands. “What the hell was that supposed to be?”
Will gave a weak laugh and raised his head. “Everything still attached?”
“Shut up. Don’t move.”
“I’m fine.” Will waved him off. “I’m fine! Oww!” Yeah, fine was possibly overstating the situation. But he was alive and, miraculously, he seemed to be in one piece. One black and blue piece, probably. “Shit.” Painfully, he crawled out of the stinking, slimy nest of garbage. Taylor moved to help him, removing a shoebox that had gotten stuck on Will’s elbow. Will climbed -- and it did feel like a climb -- to his feet.
“Jesus Christ, Brandt. You want to explain to me what you thought you were doing?” Taylor, sounding much more like his normal ornery self, punched him in the shoulder, and Will toppled back into the trash bags.
“Goddamn it,” Will said slowly and with feeling.
“Sorry,” Taylor muttered, hauling him out of the garbage bags once more. He brushed eggshells off Will’s shoulder. “But what just happened? Explain to me. Why would you act like somebody in a goddamned movie?”
Will shook his head.
“Dragomirov tears out of here like a bat out of hell. With you on the roof of his car. His asshole driver nearly runs me over --”
“We’ve been laid off.”
“Fired. Without the severance package, I’m guessing.” Will brushed orange peelings and what looked like -- and pray to God was -- raspberry jelly from the front of his leather jacket. The seat of his Levi’s felt soaked with something he hoped wasn’t caustic. Or toxic.
Taylor looked stunned. “What are you talking about? After ten days? What the hell happened?”
It was a fair question. Will was trying to figure that one out himself. “Gretchen Hart is what happened.”
“Gretchen Hart. New Mexico. Two years ago?” Will prodded. “You remember Victor and Victoria?”
Taylor blinked. “Yeah, but…are you telling me…? What are you telling me?”
“Gretchen Hart apparently now works for Glukhov. She walked into that meeting, recognized me, and gave Dragomirov her version of what happened in New Mexico.”
“Which was what?”
“Pretty close to the truth,” Will admitted.
Taylor opened his mouth but couldn’t seem to find the words. Will knew the feeling. He said wearily, “As predicted, Dragomirov doesn’t like feds. A lot. Even ex-feds. So we’re off the case. I guess he thought we were trying to set him up in some kind of sting operation.”
“What sting? We’re doing low level security work. Mall cops could have handled this gig.”
“I never said Dragomirov was a genius.”
Taylor was silent. Then he said, “How the hell would that bitch recognize you?”
Will shook his head.
Taylor’s face screwed up in anger. “Fuck!” He turned and kicked a white and blue, half-deflated child’s ball that had rolled out of the pile of trash bags. The ball shot to the left, bounced off a green brick wall and landed on the pitted pavement with a flat, angry smack.
Will said nothing. What could he say? Taylor had not wanted to take this job in the first place. But they had needed the money and Will had talked him into it. End result: they had put in ten days working a bodyguard detail for a guy who, though maybe not a crook, was certainly a scumball -- and they would not be getting paid for the privilege.
He opened his mouth to apologize, but no. He was already on defense over the Paris thing; not smart to further weaken his position. Anyway, he wasn’t going to apologize for being a realist. They were not in a position to pick and choose clients. How was he supposed to have known their arch-nemesis would show up? He hadn’t realized they had an arch-nemesis until he’d watched Gretchen Hart freeze in recognition and then morph into the Borg Queen.
Taylor turned back to face him, fists planted on his narrow hips, eyes glinting the same shade as a Mojave Green. “Fuckin’ A. What now?”
“Find a new client, I guess. Shower. Sleep.” They were short on sleep these days. It wasn’t helping.
Taylor bit back whatever he started to say. This unusual restraint was almost worse than hearing him voice his feelings.
“Look,” Will said. “I couldn’t predict this. Nobody could predict this. We’re independent contractors now, and sometimes things are going to go wrong.”
“Does that mean sometimes they’re going to go right?” Taylor inquired. “Because so far…not so much.”
Now it was Will’s turn to hold his tongue. He said shortly, “We’re done here, let’s grab our gear and get the hell out of Dodge.”
Dead Run Trailer:
A distinct voice in gay fiction, multi-award-winning author JOSH LANYON has been writing gay mystery, adventure and romance for over a decade. In addition to numerous short stories, novellas, and novels, Josh is the author of the critically acclaimed Adrien English series, including The Hell You Say, winner of the 2006 USABookNews awards for GLBT Fiction. Josh is an Eppie Award winner and a three-time Lambda Literary Award finalist.
Dangerous Ground #1
Old Poison #2
Blood Heat #3
Dead Run #4
Kick Start #5
Armed & Dangerous #1-4 Paperback