Saturday, August 20, 2016

Saturday's Series Spotlight: Marshals by Mary Calmes Part 1

All Kinds of Tied Down #1
Deputy US Marshal Miro Jones has a reputation for being calm and collected under fire. These traits serve him well with his hotshot partner, Ian Doyle, the kind of guy who can start a fight in an empty room. In the past three years of their life-and-death job, they've gone from strangers to professional coworkers to devoted teammates and best friends. Miro’s cultivated blind faith in the man who has his back… faith and something more.

As a marshal and a soldier, Ian’s expected to lead. But the power and control that brings Ian success and fulfillment in the field isn't working anywhere else. Ian’s always resisted all kinds of tied down, but having no home—and no one to come home to—is slowly eating him up inside. Over time, Ian has grudgingly accepted that going anywhere without his partner simply doesn't work. Now Miro just has to convince him that getting tangled up in heartstrings isn't being tied down at all.

How did Mary Calmes write a story and begin a new series that centers around 2 of Sam Kage's marshals and I didn't know about it?  Where was I?  Well I'm here now and Jones and Doyle may not top Sam and Jory but they definitely give the boys a good chase for that top spot in my heart.  I always love when one the pair is completely clueless and then the truth slaps them up side the head, that always makes for entertaining reading and it does here too.


Fit to be Tied #2
Deputy US Marshals Miro Jones and Ian Doyle are now partners on and off the job: Miro’s calm professionalism provides an ideal balance to Ian’s passion and quick temper. In a job where one misstep can be the difference between life and death, trust means everything. But every relationship has growing pains, and sometimes Miro stews about where he stands with his fiery lover. Could the heartstrings that so recently tied them together be in danger of unraveling?

Those new bonds are constantly challenged by family intrusions, well-intentioned friends, their personal insecurities, and their dangerous careers—including a trial by fire when an old case of Miro’s comes back to haunt them. It might just be enough to make Ian rethink his decision to let himself be tied down, and Miro can only hope the links they've forged will be strong enough to hold.

Miro and Ian return and what a follow-up Fit to be Tied makes!  Even with an established author that ranks towards the top of my favorite list, there is always a question will the new installment live up to the previous?  Well, Fit does and in my opinion surpasses All Kinds of Tied Down on all fronts, romance mystery, intrigue, and the WOW factor is off the charts.  When Miro's past comes back in the form of an escaped serial killer, the pair face their biggest trials yet.  That's all the plot references you'll get from me but it's definitely worth the read but you will want to make sure your day is free and clear because once you start you won't want to quit till you hit the last page.  Coming late to the party, I only have a month to wait for book 3 and even that seems like forever.


Tied Up in Knots #3(Coming Soon September 16, 2016)
Miro Jones is living the life: he’s got his exciting, fulfilling job as a US deputy marshal, his gorgeous Greystone in suburban Chicago, his beloved adopted family, and most importantly, the man who captured his heart, Ian Doyle. Problem is, Ian isn’t just his partner at work—Ian’s a soldier through and through. That commitment takes him away from Miro, unexpectedly and often, and it’s casting a shadow over what could be everything Miro could ever dream of.

Work isn’t the same without Ian. Home isn’t the same, either, and Miro’s having to face his fears alone… how to keep it together at the office, how to survive looming threats from the past, and worst of all, how to keep living without Ian’s rock-solid presence at his side. His life is tied up in knots, but what if unknotting them requires something more permanent? What would that mean for him and Ian? Miro’s stuck between two bad choices, and sometimes the only way to get out of the knot is to hold tight to your lifeline and pull.

All Kinds of Tied Down #1
Chapter 1

All our interactions with suspects ended the same way. I would say, hey, let’s wait for backup or a warrant. I’d mention we didn’t have probable cause, and sometimes I would even go so far as to point out we weren’t armed because it was our damn day off! Not that he ever listened. The chase was always on seconds after I spoke. The fact that he even stopped to listen to me before acting stunned most people who knew us.

“Please,” I would beg him. “Just this once.”

And then I’d get the head tip or the shrug or the grin that crinkled his pale blue eyes in half before he’d explode into action, the velocity of movement utterly breathtaking. Watching him run was a treat; I just wished I wasn’t always following him into the path of whizzing bullets, speeding cars, or flying fists. Since I’d become his partner, the number of scars on my body had doubled.

I considered it a win if I got Ian Doyle to put on a Kevlar vest before he kicked down a door or charged headfirst into the unknown. I saw the looks we got from the other marshals when we returned with bloodied suspects, recaptured felons, or secured witnesses, and over the years they had changed from respect for Ian to sympathy for me.

When I was first partnered with him, some of the other marshals were confused about it. Why was the new guy—me—being partnered with the ex-Special Forces soldier, the Green Beret? How did that make sense? I think they thought I got an unfair advantage and that getting him as a partner was like winning the lottery. I was the newest marshal, low man on the totem pole, so how did I rate Captain America?

What everyone missed was that Ian didn’t come from a police background like most of us. He came from the military and wasn’t versed in proper police procedure or adherence to the letter of the law. As the newest marshal on the team, I was the one who had the book memorized the best, so the supervisory deputy, my boss, assigned me to him. It actually made sense.

Lucky me.

Doyle was a nightmare. And while I wasn’t a Boy Scout, in comparison to my “shoot first, ask questions later” partner, I came off as calm and rational.

After the first six months, everyone stopped looking at me with envy and switched to pity. Now, going on three years, marshals in my field office would bring me an ice pack, pass me whatever pharmaceuticals they had in their desks, and even occasionally offer advice. It was always the same.

“For crissakes, Jones, you need to talk to the boss about him.”

My boss, Supervisory Deputy Sam Kage, recently called me into his office and asked me flat out if there was any truth to the rumors he was hearing. Did I want a change of partner? The blank stare I gave him hopefully conveyed my confusion. So it was no one’s fault but my own that I was running in the slushy melting snow down the forty-seven hundred block of Ninety-Fifth Street in Oak Lawn at ten on a cold Tuesday morning in mid-January.

Arms pumping, Glock 20 in my hand, I saw Ian motion to the left, so I veered off and leaped an overturned garbage can as I headed into an alley. I should have been the one on the street; my partner was better at leaping and running up walls like a ninja. Even though I was younger than his thirty-six by five years, at six two and 185 pounds, he was in much better shape than me. While he was all lean, carved muscle with eight-pack abs and arms that made women itch to touch, I was built heavier at five eleven, with bulky muscle and wide shoulders, more bull than panther. Ian had a sleek, fluid way about him; I was all sharp angles and herky-jerky motion. We were as different as we could be, though people often commented that we had a really similar irritating way of carrying ourselves when together, an unmistakable strut. But I would have known if I was doing that, if I puffed up when I walked beside my partner. No way I swaggered and didn’t notice.

The second I emerged from the trash-strewn alley, I was hit by a 250-pound freight train of a man and smashed onto the pavement under him.

“Oh!” I heard my partner yell as my spine splintered and every gasp of air in my body was trounced out of my frame. “Nice block, M!”

The escaped convict tried to lever up off me, but Ian was there, yanking him sideways, driving him down on the sidewalk beside me with a boot on his collarbone. I would have told him not to go overboard with manhandling—I took it upon myself to caution him against all manner of infractions during the course of a normal day—but I had no air, no voice, nothing. All I could do was lie on the cold, clammy cement and wonder how many of my ribs were broken.

“Are you getting up?” Ian asked snidely as he rolled Eddie Madrid to his stomach, pulled his arms behind his back, and cuffed him quickly before moving to squat next to me. “Or are you resting?”

All I could do was stare up at him, noting that he was scowling, as usual. That scowl was permanently etched on his face, and even when he grinned, the creases above and between his eyebrows never smoothed all the way. He was tense, just a little, at all times.

“If I didn’t know you were tough, I’d be starting to worry,” he said gruffly.

The fact that neither I nor Eddie was moving should have clued him in.


I tried to move and pain shot through my left wrist. What was interesting was that the second I winced, his light eyes darkened with concern.

“Did you break your wrist?”

As though I was responsible for my own bones getting snapped. “I didn’t break anything,” I groaned, a bit of air finally inflating my lungs, enough to give me a hoarse, crackly voice. “But I think your friend over here did.”

“Maybe we better get you to the hospital.”

“I’ll go by myself,” I groused. “You take Madrid in.”

He opened his mouth to argue.

“Just do what I say,” I ordered, annoyed that I was broken. Again. “I’ll call you if I can’t make picking up Stubbs from lockup.”

His scowl deepened as he took my good hand and hauled me to my feet. I went to move around him, but he leaned forward and his prickly dark brown stubble grazed my ear, the sensation making me jolt involuntarily.

“I’m coming with you,” he said hoarsely. “Don’t be an ass.”

I studied him, the face I knew as well as my own—maybe better after looking at it for the past three years, straight on or in profile as he drove. His gaze on the ground, suddenly flicking up, colliding with mine, startled me with its intensity. He was utterly focused; I had every drop of his attention.


I was stunned, and it must have shown on my face because the furrowed brows, the glower, were instant. “Holy shit,” I teased. “It’s a little early for spring thaw.”

“You’re a dick,” he flared, turning away.

After grabbing hold of his shoulder, I yanked hard, fisting my hand in the half trench he wore, stepping in close. “No, I’m happy––actually, really happy. Come on. Relax.”

He growled at me.

“Take me to the emergency room.” I chuckled, holding on to him.

His grunt made me smile, and when I squeezed his shoulder, I saw how pleased he seemed to be. “Let’s go.”

He heaved Madrid to his feet—which was interesting since our fugitive outweighed him by a good sixty pounds—threw him up against the car, opened the back door, and shoved him in. It took only moments, and then he was back to facing me, stepping forward into my space, so close I could feel the heat rolling off him.

“You should never question that I’m gonna go with you. That’s what partners are for.”

“Yeah, but—”

“Say okay.”

He never demanded things of me. Normally there was browbeating, teasing, derision—but not concern. It was strange. “Yeah, okay.”

Nodding quickly, he walked around the side of the 1969 Cadillac deVille we were currently driving. Whatever was seized during drug raids or other criminal activity was what we got. The last ride had been a 2000 Ford Mustang I was crazy about, either driving—which I scarcely ever did—or riding in. It was a sad day when it became the victim of heavy machine-gun fire. The grenade tossed through the window had been the final straw. Ian kept saying it was fixable up until that point.

The bow-chicka-bow-wow car we were in now, all whitewall tires and green metallic paint, was a little much for the US Marshals Service. But we were supposed to travel incognito, and cruising through the worst parts of Chicago, no one gave us a second look.

“Get in,” he barked.


And as usual, we were off like a rocket, no gentle merge into traffic. Ian always drove like he was fleeing a bank robbery and I had learned to simply buckle up.

“What the fuck,” Eddie Madrid yelled from the backseat, having lurched forward and then been hurled back in a whiplash maneuver. “Someone belt me in.”

I started laughing as I turned to my partner, who was swearing at the people sharing the road with them. “Even our prisoner fears for his life.”

“Fuck him,” he snarled, taking a corner like he was a stunt driver getting ready to jump out.

Eddie slammed into the partial window on the passenger side of the sedan. “Jesus Christ, man!”

I just braced for impact, hoping I’d make it to the hospital in one piece.

“LEMME GET this straight,” Ian said that afternoon as he led James “the Cleaver” Pellegrino to our car. “You’ve got a broken wrist, and you’re bitching about your shoes?”

Normally doctors didn’t cast broken bones until a few days later due to swelling. But because I had no intention of riding my desk until it mended, and because it was a clean break, the ER doctor had made an exception. He said that if the cast got too loose, I might have to return and have another put on. I didn’t care; the important thing was that I could follow Ian back out into the field.

“Yeah,” I whined, scrutinizing the plaster cast on my wrist and then, more importantly, my now scuffed-up John Varvatos cap-toe boots. Pellegrino had taken one look at me standing in the doorway when he came up from the basement, and bolted. We had been responding to an anonymous tip and found him at his cousin’s house in La Grange. To keep him from making it out the back door, I dived at him. We ended up rolling over concrete before Ian had come flying around the side of the house and landed all over the guy. “They were new last week.”

“And they were gonna be trashed by now anyway,” Ian commented. “No way around it in the snow.”

I glanced up at him. “This is why I wanted to move to Miami with Brent. Snow would be a distant memory.”

He snorted out a laugh. “That guy was so not worth moving for.”

I arched an eyebrow.

“And besides,” he said gruffly, “you weren’t gonna leave me anyway.”

“I would ditch you in a second, buddy. Don’t kid yourself.”

He scoffed. “Yeah, right.”

Apparently he knew better than to believe such an outright lie.

“You guys want me to leave you alone?” Pellegrino said snidely.

Ian threw him up against the car, and Pellegrino screamed because he landed on his chest, the same place that had recently been in contact with exposed brick.

“Shut up.”

“This is police brutality.”

“Lucky we’re not the police,” Ian reminded him, smacking him on the back of the head before his light blue gaze landed on me. “And why do you wear your good stuff to work? I’ve never understood that.”

“Because,” I answered, gesturing at him, “Dockers and a button-down and an ugly tie is not what I wanna be seen in every day.”

“Well, that’s great, but you ruin a ton of shit and then bitch about it.”

“Hiking boots do not scream fashion.”

“Yeah, but your John-whatever boots are fucked up already, and mine are still good.”

“They look like shit,” I assured him.

“But still functional,” he teased, and the rakish curl of his lip did flip-floppy things to my stomach.

It was bad. So very, very bad. Ian Doyle was my totally straight best friend and partner. I had no right to even be noticing how the half trench coat molded to his shoulders; the roping veins in his forearms; or the way he touched me when he talked to me, sat beside me, or got anywhere in my general vicinity. How he was always in my personal space, as though I had none, was not something he was even aware of, so truthfully, it wasn’t right for me to notice. But trying to pretend I didn’t was eating me up alive. It was the real reason I should have asked for a change of partner, because I dreamed of being in bed with my current one.

“No snarky comeback?”

I coughed. “No.”

He squinted. “How come?”

“You have a point, I guess. I shouldn’t wear shoes to work that’ll get ruined.”

“I can get you a new pair,” the Cleaver offered quickly before Ian could form a reply. “Please.”

Ian smacked him on the back of the head again, opened the car door, pushed my seat forward, and shoved Pellegrino in.

“You’re such an asshole, Doyle!” Pellegrino yelled before Ian slammed the door shut.

“Don’t bruise him,” I cautioned like I always did.

“Why the fuck not?”

I groaned.

“And for the record,” Ian huffed, rounding on me. “You do not go into buildings alone. What did we say about that after Felix Ledesma?”

I mumbled something because my iPhone had buzzed with a text and I was reading.


“I hear you.”

“Look at me.”

My head snapped up. “Yeah, fine, okay, shut up.”

“No, not fine. Not okay. Every fuckin’ time you take off your shirt and I see the scar right above your heart, I—”

“I know,” I soothed, leaning close to bump his shoulder with mine.

He growled.

“Oh,” I said, noticing the time. “You need to dump me and the Cleaver off so you can make your date with Emma.”

The way his whole face tightened was not a good sign, but far be it from me to tell him that his girlfriend, though wonderful, was not for him. It would have been so much easier if she was toxic and I hated her. The truth was, she was sort of perfect. Just not for him.

“What’re you gonna do?”

“When?” I was confused. “I’ll process our prisoner so you can be on time for once.”

He looked uncomfortable. “And then what?”

“Oh, I’m supposed to be playing pool tonight with some guys from my gym.”

His face lit up.

“No.” I snickered. “Bad. Your girlfriend does not want to play pool with strangers.”

His glare was ridiculously hot. “How do you know?”

“That’s not a date, Ian.”

“Well, you shouldn’t go either.”

I wondered vaguely if he had any idea how petulant he sounded. “I broke my left wrist, not the right. I can hold a cue just fine.”

“You should go home and go to bed,” Ian said, glowering as he walked around the car to the driver’s door.

“No, man, I gotta work through the pain,” I teased before I got in.

“What’re you talking about?” he asked irritably after he slammed his door and turned to me. “You broke your fuckin’ wrist.”

“But isn’t that your mantra or some shit? The Green Beret code and all? Screw the pain?”

“Playing pool isn’t work. You don’t hafta do it.”

Throat clearing from the back seat. “You know, you guys could just leave me here,” the Cleaver suggested cheerfully. “Then nobody has to do paperwork at all, and maybe you guys could double date.”

Ian twisted around in his seat. “I have a better idea. Why don’t you shut the fuck up before I get you back out of this car, take off the cuffs, and make you run away so I can shoot you.”

“Maybe you’ll miss.”

Ian scoffed.

“I’ll take that deal. What’re you carrying, a nine millimeter?”

“Again, not cops. Marshals,” Ian explained. “You ever get shot with a forty caliber?”

I couldn’t contain my chuckle at how contrite the Cleaver appeared.

“Maybe I’ll just stay put.”

“And shut up,” Ian barked.

“Yeah, okay.”

He turned around and gripped the steering wheel, and I realized how tense he was.

“Shooting people is bad,” I stressed playfully, poking Ian’s bicep.

I got a derisive sound back, but that quickly, he seemed better, the edge gone.

“Move this crate. I need to get this guy processed fast, because I really have to change.”

“At least your shoes, huh?” Ian teased, the tip of his head and the eyebrow waggle really annoying.

I did my best to ignore him.

Fit to be Tied #2
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.

Tied Up in Knots #3
Chapter Two
I WALKED through O’Hare at seven Friday morning, and I was surprised when I came through the security area and had Kohn and Kowalski there to meet me.

“The fuck?” I said by way of greeting.

“Nice work in San Francisco,” Kohn said, smiling wide. “My city is the shit, huh?”

“It’s hilly” was all I gave him. “I didn’t get to appreciate much of it running through alleys and chasing down dirty DEA agents.”

He shrugged.

“So what’s with the reception?” I asked him and his partner.

“Well,” Kowalski began, smiling smugly. “We’re here to take you to breakfast and then officially give you back custody of your children.”

I was confused, and it must have shown on my face.

“Those fuckheads, Cabot and Drake,” Kohn snarled. “Jesus Christ, Miro, that shit is a full-time job!”

I chuckled, even though I knew he was right. Drake Ford, now Drake Palmer, and Cabot Kincaid, who used to be Cabot Jenner, were two witnesses Ian and I not only took custody of, but took under our wing. A lot of it had to do with the fact that they were young, both eighteen when they entered WITSEC, and we were the ones they bonded with.

“First you ask us to watch them last year when you and Doyle were in Phoenix, and then after when you were gettin’ better from the whole kidnapping, and—”

I called him on his bullshit. “That’s crap, man. Ian and I took them back from you as soon as I was off desk duty.”

“Yeah, but then you left the boys with us when Doyle was deployed and you were sent to San Fran, and we’re here to officially give them back.”

“What’d they do?”

Kohn threw up his hands. “Drake saved a little girl who fell in the water at Navy Pier.”

I scowled. “Why is that a bad thing?”

Kowalski shook his head. “The saving was good, the forgetting to call us before he talked to a reporter… was not.”

“Oh shit,” I groaned.

“Yeah, so we’re all set to ship him and his boyfriend off to New Mexico or wherever, but they’re crying about school and jobs and mostly—I shit you not—you and Doyle.”


“I told you before, those guys are way too attached, and Kage says you have to ship them out or they’re out of the program.”

“Out of WITSEC?”

“Apparently the shit they were in for is over. They’re not considered targets at this stage.”

“You checked with the Feds?”


“And the investigation is closed?”

“He and the boyfriend are cleared, but because of the threat from Cabot’s father to both he and Drake that you noted in his file, the call can be made to keep them in the program, but just not in Chicago.”

I understood. “So they can be out of WITSEC altogether and stay in Chicago, or remain in WITSEC and move.”

“You got it,” Kohn told me.


“Kage is giving you today and the weekend to get it all sorted out. Come Monday morning he wants a status report.”

“And why’s he sending that message with you guys and not telling me himself?”

“He sent you a memo,” Kohn clarified. “And us. Do you need him to yell at you too?”

I did not, no.

“I mean, he can. We both know he’ll be fuckin’ happy to do it. I think he was just cutting you some slack until Doyle got back.”

“Which’ll be tomorrow,” I informed them.

“Good,” Kohn said, grinning at me. “So what, you ready to eat?”

Kohn wanted to take us to Jam over on Logan, but Kowalski wanted mounds of food and something closer, so we hit a diner on our way from the airport, some greasy spoon where a short stack of pancakes was six high. Just watching Kowalski eat was terrifying.

I cleared my throat. “That doesn’t frighten you?” I asked Kohn, tipping my head at Kowalski’s shovel of a fork.

“I make sure to keep my hands away from his mouth and we’re good.”

It was fun to watch sleek, metrosexual, model-handsome and manscaped Eli Kohn partnered with the belching mountain of muscle that was Jer—short for God knew what because he’d never tell me—Kowalski. Their banter was always fun to listen to, especially about fashion, but heaven help you if you threw out a dig about the other in his presence. I’d seen Kowalski put an FBI agent on the wall—like, several feet off the ground up on the wall—for quietly insinuating Kohn was more interested in his hair than in taking down a fugitive. The guy was lucky to keep his lungs.


I looked back at Kohn from my plate.

“You sleeping okay?”

I was really sick of people asking me if I was or wasn’t. I could see the dark circles under my eyes as well as anyone else—I just didn’t want to talk about it. There was nothing to say. The dreams would stop when they stopped. “Why, don’t I look all right?” I teased.

“You look like shit,” Kowalski apprised me, his raised eyebrow daring me to contradict him.

“I’m fine,” I muttered, going back to eating even though I wasn’t that hungry.

“Oh fuck,” Kowalski groaned after the bell on the door jingled, bumping Kohn with his elbow. “It’s this shit again.”

Turning in my seat, I was surprised to see Norris Cochran, along with another guy I’d never met, walking toward me.

“He can’t eat in peace?” Kohn barked at Cochran as he closed in on us.

Cochran gave him his arrogant cop grimace that didn’t hit his hazel eyes, and when he reached us, grabbed the chair beside me, turned it around, and flopped down. The man I assumed was his new partner took the seat on the other side of me so I had to lean back to keep an eye on both of them.

“The fuck do you want?” I asked my ex-partner.

“Nice,” Cochran said, forcing a chuckle. “Didn’t I tell you he loved me, Dor?”

The guy to my right nodded.

“Miro, this is Dorran Barreto. Barreto, my first love, Miro Jones.”

We didn’t shake hands. I didn’t offer and Barreto didn’t either.

“What do you want?” I asked Cochran again.

“You ain’t even gonna ask after my kids?”

“Your wife and I are friends on Facebook,” I informed him. “I know how the kids are.”

That surprised him. I could tell from the flicker of annoyance and the trace of something else crossing his face. But it had been a long time since I’d been around him, so I was out of practice reading him. Not that it mattered. We weren’t friends.

“So what, detectives stalk marshals now,” Kohn baited.

Cochran glanced over at him. “If you had just told me when he was coming back instead of giving me the runaround, I wouldn’t’ve had to do that.”

“And I told you,” Kohn replied fiercely, leaning forward, pointing at Cochran, “that we are not in the habit of giving out personal information to people who are not family or friends of members of our team.”

“I’m his ex-partner and I’m a cop.”

“And cops in the city are, of course, to be trusted,” Kohn scoffed.

“Yeah, maybe not, huh?” Kowalski rubbed salt in the open angry wound that was the ongoing Justice Department investigation of the Chicago PD. “I’m not sure any of you fuckers know what procedure is.”

Before things escalated, I got up and headed for the door. Cochran was no more than a half a step behind me.

Outside, I rounded on him, already annoyed that my food was getting cold, and he took a step back so he wouldn’t run into me.

“What do you want?” I growled, venting every bit of irritation, not caring, not bothering to filter as I would with practically everyone else.

“A gun,” he answered flatly, crossing his arms, his gaze locked with mine.

“Explain.” A demand, clipped and cold.

“It’s about Oscar Darra.”

Everyone knew the story. “The ex-mob enforcer?”


I had to think. “I thought he was dead.”

“Yeah, so did a lot of people, but he turned up last week in a routine sweep of a Turkish bath down on Cicero.”

“No shit.”

He shrugged.

“Where the hell’s he been all this time?”

“He’s been laying low down in Springfield with some cousin.”

I grunted, leaning back against the wall of the diner. November in Chicago right before Thanksgiving wasn’t arctic yet, but it was cool. I was glad I had on a hoodie under my leather jacket. The wind would have blown right through me. “What does any of this have to do with you being here?”


“Is this gonna be a long-ass story?”

He didn’t answer, just coughed and put his shoulder against the wall so he was facing me. To anyone walking by, we looked like two buddies out shootin’ the shit.

“Fine,” I sighed. “Talk.”

“Okay, so after we pick him up and get Darra back to the station, he starts telling us that if we agree to cut a deal with him, he’ll tell us where the gun is that was used to kill Joey Romelli.”

I shook my head. “You lost me.”

“You don’t remember Romelli?”

“I remember Vincent Romelli, who was in charge of the Cilione crime family, but he’s been dead awhile. Who’s Joey?”

“His son.”

“He had a son?”

“‘Had’ being the operative word, yeah.”

“And how’d he die?”

“Well, according to Darra, he was shot by one Andreo Fiore.”

“Who?” I could feel myself getting annoyed all over again. I hated playing name the thug and I especially didn’t want to do it with Cochran.

“He was Vincent Romelli’s muscle back in the day.”

“Okay, so lemme get this straight,” I began, turning to face him. “You guys pick up Darra because he’s in town for whatever reason, and when you grab him, he wants to give up this Fiore to cut a deal.”


“And you care about this why?”

“Well, we don’t at first. Barreto and I figure it’s bullshit, right? But we go to where he says he’s stashed the gun and—”

“This is already fucked up, Nor,” I said, slipping back into calling him by a nickname like we’d never been apart. It just came out. Shit. “I mean—”

“Just stop.” We stood there in silence, him staring at me and me finally looking away because I had no idea what the hell to say.

“It was good you caught Hartley.”

My eyes were back on him.

“I’m sorry we—”

“It’s not—”

“It is,” he croaked, stopping me, hand slipping around my bicep, squeezing tight. “We—I didn’t know what to do with how that went down. It would’ve been better off if you let me shoot him.”

I cleared my throat. “I know.”

“More people died because you let him live that night.”

I yanked free of his hold and took a step back. “I know that too,” I retorted, angry but quiet, feeling my body wash hot, then cold with regret and shame.

He moved forward into my space, grabbing hold of my jacket. “But it was right, what you did.”

I searched his face for clarity because he was making no sense.

“If I’d shot him, I would’ve been guilty because I had him.”

I understood like no one else could because I was there. Hartley had me in his hands, a knife shoved into my side, and Cochran was looming above us, gun in both hands, and he could have shot Hartley, killed him if I hadn’t used my body to cover the psychopath and keep my partner from becoming a murderer.

“You—” His voice bottomed out. “—did it to protect me, not him.”

That revelation had only taken close to four years. “Fuck you,” I raged, the hurt and anger over his betrayal—he’d never even visited me once when I was in the hospital—boiling over like it always did whenever I revisited that time in my life.

He had been my family, his wife and kids, his parents, his siblings, and in one moment he was gone and so were all the rest of them. His wife had come around, finally, but no one else did, and it still hurt. Mostly it was that helplessness that came from things being taken away while I’d had no control. I hated that. I was a foster kid, so I’d never had a say about any part of my life, and to have that happen again when I was older had made me gun-shy of partnership and putting my faith in anyone. Ian was the one who changed that, the only one strong enough to break through the wall I’d put up.

From the beginning, Ian had simply assumed I belonged to him, his backup, his friend, his shadow, and because he took me for granted, I had uncoiled, relented, and finally trusted. Anyone but Ian, anyone who wasn’t a battering ram, all prickly vulnerability, dangerous temper, and raw, primal heat—constantly in my space, close, leaning, bumping, touching—I would have kept at a distance. But there was no saying no to Ian Doyle. The ache that welled up in me made it hard to breathe.

“Fuck me?” Cochran yelled.

I couldn’t even be bothered to have my head in a fight. That was how much I didn’t care about Norris Cochran. After shoving him back, I strode to the edge of the parking lot. He was there fast, walking around in front of me.

“So,” I demanded shortly, meeting his gaze. “If Fiore killed Romelli, where did your guy get the gun?”

He took a breath. “Well, so Fiore shot Romelli, Darra’s sure of it. He was in the bedroom when he heard the shot, and when he came out, he saw somebody run out the front door.”

“So he followed him out to the street?”

“No, Romelli was killed in his penthouse.”

“Oh, so your guy follows this Fiore down however many stairs.”

“Yeah,” he confirmed. “And when he gets there, he follows him into an alley and watches him stash the gun in a drain.”

“Why would he do that? Why not just take the gun with him?”

“Well, I don’t know if you remember, but at that time, with his father having just been murdered—everybody was watching Joey. They found him that night like a half an hour after the shooting.”

“And this Fiore, he was a mob enforcer like Darra?”

“No, not at all. Like I said, he was just one of Vincent Romelli’s goons.”

“Then why kill his son?”

“We don’t know.”

“Does he still work for Strada?”

“No, I ran him through the system and he’s clean. He’s always been clean. He was a known associate of Vincent Romelli and he was questioned when Vincent Romelli was gunned down, but he and his buddy Sal something were the only ones who got out.”


“Oh, and Joey Romelli.”

“The son was there when his father died?”

“Yeah. Fiore was the one who got him out of the massacre.”

I needed a second. “I’m sorry, what?”

“I know!” he snapped at me. “It makes no sense.”

“So Fiore saves him and then turns round and kills him?” I was incredulous. “This is what Darra would have you believe?”


“Tell him to go fuck himself and charge his lying ass.” I was done and turned to go.

He grabbed hold of my shoulder to keep me there, and I rolled it, out of habit, instinctively, because someone I didn’t like was touching me. “Wait,” he barked. “The gun he gave us, the ballistics matched.”

“What gun? The gun he turned over to you?” I said, exasperated that I was having to stand there and listen to his bullshit.


“Well of course the ballistics match. He killed Romelli, probably on orders from Tony Strada. The last thing you fuckin’ want around when you’re the new boss is the old boss’s kid.”

“Yeah, that’s what we thought, but when we ran the DNA on the gun—there was Romelli’s on the muzzle, like the gun was shoved down his throat—and someone other than Darra’s on the grip.”

“So?” I was so aggravated. Cochran had always taken forever to get to the point.

“So Romelli was killed execution-style with a bullet in the back of his head. That’s why everyone figured it was a mob hit.”

“Then what?”

“Well, now we think whoever did it shoved his gun in Romelli’s mouth first—probably so he’d know who was pulling the trigger—and then shot him like he did to make it look like everyone would expect.”

“Okay, so lemme wrap my head around this. You have the gun, the ballistics match, so it’s for sure the one used to kill Romelli, but Darra’s DNA isn’t on it, and he says it was Fiore.”

“Yeah, plus we have Fiore’s prints.”

“You have Fiore’s prints on the weapon?”

He nodded.

“So bring his ass in.” I almost growled. “The fuck does this have to do with me?”

“We can’t.”

“Why not?” I retorted, done, at the end of my rope. I wanted to eat and go home and pass out. “You’ve got prints, DNA—get a court order and test Fiore’s DNA.”

“Yeah, we can’t get an order.”

“Why the hell not?!”

“Because we don’t have the gun.”

“What do you mean you don’t have the gun?” He was making no sense and I was a second away from walking—hoping he’d try and grab me again. I really wanted to hit him. Some of it was his fault because of our past and because he’d always been fucking irritating. But a lot of it was Ian and how much I missed him and how stretched thin with yearning I was. I needed my man home, and this close to getting it—a mere day—I was in that headspace where anticipation became panic racing around in my head like a cat scrambling after a mouse. I was scared something was going to happen and Ian would be gone again. I was taking it out on Cochran, but he was taking for-fucking-ever to get to the point. “You just said you got prints and DNA and—”

“We don’t have the gun ’cause it was transferred to the marshals by mistake,” he explained almost sheepishly.

“Come again?” I asked, incredulous, beside myself.

He cleared this throat. “My lieutenant—”

“Who’s that now?”


“Okay, sorry, g’head.”

“Yeah, so Cortez transferred three guns to your office because, like your guy said in the diner, lots of cases are being looked at by Justice right now, and lots of evidence is being reexamined. So our gun went back to evidence after ballistics and prints and DNA was run, but from there it was accidentally transferred to you.”

“What does it matter? It was tested for prints, which you got, and you’ve got the sample of whoever’s DNA was on it, so just get Fiore’s sample and match it… or not. It’s done either way.”

“It’s not that simple.”

“Of course it is. The prints will compel the DNA sample.”

He shook his head. “No.”

“No? How the hell you figure no?”

“The ASA assigned to the case—Sutter—she says that without the gun, it’s our word against Fiore’s that the prints were from the gun. She says they could’ve come off anything, and it could look like we’re trying to set him up. Fiore could make a case for tampering.”

“Are you serious?” I asked, overwhelmed with the stupidity of all of this.

“Yeah, I’m serious!” Cochran flared. “Without the goddamn gun, we can’t make Fiore give us a DNA sample.”

If I thought about it logically, that made sense. No judge in their right mind would issue a court order to compel Fiore to give them a DNA sample if the item his DNA was supposed to be on was, in fact, missing. What if it was always missing? Never found? What did that say about the police department that they’d had the weapon in their possession but didn’t anymore? What if the prints in question had come from somewhere or something completely different, and Andreo Fiore had, in fact, never even been in the room where Joey Romelli was killed? It was a mess.

“I get it,” I admitted. “You need the gun.”

“Fuck, yeah, I need the gun, and that’s where you come in.”

“How?” I could hear how icy and stilted I sounded, so no way Cochran was missing it.

“Chain of custody says it’s in your property room.”


“But your boss says the gun’s not there.”

Now I was really lost. “Okay, wait. You’re telling me that you already questioned the chief deputy about the gun?”

“Barreto and I did, yeah.”

This finally felt like the gist of it. “And?”

“And like I said, he told us that it’s not there.”

“Then what the fuck, Norris? If he says it’s not there, it’s not there.”

“But I think it is, and I think he’s lying.”

“What?” My brain was ready to explode. “How dare you fucking—”

“Calm the fuck down!”

“Don’t tell me to calm down!” I roared, drilling two fingers into his collarbone. “You don’t know shit about Sam Kage because if you did you’d never—”

“I think your boss is purposely hiding the whereabouts of that gun,” he yelled over me.

“For what reason?” I shouted.

“I have no idea.”

“Does Sam Kage even know Andreo Fiore?”

“Not that we can tell. There’s nothing at all that links them.”

“Then why the hell would you think he would lose the gun?”

Cochran cleared his throat. “You know, back in the day, his partner was dirty, and guess where that guy went—into WITSEC,” he said offhandedly.

“What are you insinuating?” I asked, feeling my skin heat under my clothes, afraid of what I would do if the words actually came out of his mouth. Irritation, annoyance, all of it was gone, replaced solely by anger. How fucking dare he.

“Dirty partner… you understand.”

“I don’t think I do,” I said flatly, my vision tunneling down to him, lost on the edges, going black, my throat dry, my heart beating so fast I wondered how he couldn’t hear it.

“C’mon, Miro, don’t be stupid.”

“That was a long time before my boss was even a marshal,” I ground out.

“Whatever. It’s not right and you know it.”

“What isn’t?” He had to be clear. I couldn’t bury his career if he wasn’t.

“Your boss is fuckin’ dirty.”

It was worse than I thought it would be, hearing his words, having them out there, the accusation making my stomach churn.

“Did you hear me?”

The rage filled me up, made me see red, and fisted my hands at my sides. Only the thought of Kage, his disappointment if I surrendered to my base instincts, kept me still. “You don’t know him at all.” I bit off each word.

“Like I said, I know of him. I know his partner was dirty and he—”

“Well, I know him,” I spat out, my voice hoarse. “And he would never, ever, tamper with evidence, any evidence! If anyone is screwing with you, it’s your boss. Who the fuck transfers the wrong guns to the Justice Department?”

“Cortez signed a piece of paper to transfer a crapton of evidence, not just one gun! Do you have any idea how many cases and reports and everything else Justice is going through? It’ll take years for them to get through it all.”

“And then they can start looking into Homan Square,” I blasted.

“Fuck you, Miro!” he yelled, shoving at me hard but barely moving me, as I was prepared for his reaction. I knew Norris Cochran; his fuse was far shorter than mine. “You know I never—”

“I don’t give a shit that you never,” I roared, knocking him back several feet. “But don’t you dare come at me with some bullshit accusation about my boss covering up a crime by tampering with evidence. For all we know, the goddamn gun was never even there in the first place!”

He threw a wild roundhouse punch that I ducked easily, and I would have tagged him right in the jaw, but someone grabbed me from behind and got my arms pinned behind me.

As I struggled to free myself, Cochran caught me in the right eye, but I managed to twist hard enough to take the next one in the right shoulder instead of the side of the face, and the last one in the gut. He was ready to hit me again; I saw the fury all over him, knew he’d been waiting years, ever since we arrested Hartley the first time, to kick the shit out of me.

Then we both heard a bellow of outrage. I was released instantly, and before I hit the gravel, I was in Kowalski’s arms.

“You better fuckin’ run!” he thundered after them. “I’ll have both of your motherfucking badges for this!”

“For crissakes, Jones,” Kohn grumbled as he reached us. “We can’t leave you alone for a second? Why didn’t you yell for us?”

“I didn’t know he had backup. How is this my fault?” I railed.

“Jesus,” he moaned, “lookit your face, man. I think we’re gonna have to get you to the hospital.”

“Fuck that,” I groused, spitting out a mouthful of blood. “Nothing’s broken. Just take me home.”

“We’ll call Kage on the way.”

I couldn’t argue with that.

Author Bio:
Mary Calmes lives in Lexington, Kentucky, with her husband and two children and loves all the seasons except summer. She graduated from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, with a bachelor's degree in English literature. Due to the fact that it is English lit and not English grammar, do not ask her to point out a clause for you, as it will so not happen. She loves writing, becoming immersed in the process, and falling into the work. She can even tell you what her characters smell like. She loves buying books and going to conventions to meet her fans.


All Kinds of Tied Down #1

Fit to be Tied #2

Tied Up in Knots #3(Coming September 16, 2016)

The Hiring Fair by Laura Strickland

Title: The Hiring Fair
Author: Laura Strickland
Series: Help Wanted
Genre: Historical Romance
Release Date: August 17, 2017
Brutally dispossessed during the Highland Clearances, Tam Sutherland comes to the hiring fair at Oban, Scotland hoping to find a job for the season. But his maimed right hand, inflicted by the same cruel factor responsible for his parents’ deaths, means he’s one of few men available when the beautiful woman makes her surprising announcement: she’s looking not for a hand but a husband, not just for the season but forever.

Annie MacCallum is under threat from a brutal factor also, back at her home farm—one who preys on unmarried women. If she’s to protect all those who rely on her, including her beloved animals, she must have a husband, if only in name. Secretly glad when the attractive Tam takes up her proposition, she doesn’t realize she’s dragging him into a situation that will trigger old demons. Nor does she expect to give him her heart.

In a low tone he asked, “This marriage you ha’ in mind, will it be legal wi’ no banns being read?”

“Father Alban is an old friend of my uncle, and I ha’ spoken to him of this. He will accommodate me.”

“Aye, and what will your uncle think o’ this scheme of yours?”

“Very little, I imagine. He is dead.”

Sutherland contemplated that without comment.

St. Lyon’s church loomed ahead, appearing all at once out of the swirling snow. Annie turned to Jockie.

“You lead Old Rake round back and join us inside where you can get warm, eh?”

Jockie nodded and clattered off.

Annie turned to Sutherland and looked into his face, only to be struck again by how handsome he looked. But that had naught to do with anything, and she could not let it sway her good sense, not when she’d come so far.

“Before we go inside, I want to be sure I ha’ your understanding. This is no’ an ordinary marriage but something more in the manner of a hiring, which is why I came to the fair in the first place.”

He inclined his shaggy head toward her slightly. “A hiring wi’out wages. That is against the law, you do ken.”

She swept him with her gaze. “And are you a man to adhere to arbitrary laws? I confess, I did no’ get that impression.”

“And,” he returned, “are you a woman who needs to hire a husband?” He echoed her. “I confess, I did no’ get that impression.” He returned her stare, slow and attentive. “You are certainly bonnie enough to snare a husband the usual way.”

To her surprise, Annie felt a wave of heat course through her. “I do no’ want a usual kind o’ husband. I want one who will tak’ my orders and stay clear o’ my bed. Be sure you are that man before we go inside and speak these vows.”

One of Sutherland’s eyebrows quirked up. “I was right at the outset; you are mad.”

“So we ha’ already determined,” Annie agreed, beginning to grow edgy again. What if he refused at this late moment? Where would she find a substitute, with the market now deserted and the snow falling? Besides, she discovered she did not want a substitute; for reasons she did not quite understand, she wanted this man and no other.

“There is a story behind this,” he said mildly. “I confess, I would like to hear it.”

“Perhaps you shall, but not now—there is no time.” Annie drew a breath and sought to deny the fear rising inside her, the fear that he might walk away from her after all.

But that curious smile crossed his lips again.

“Are you coming wi’ me?” she pressed.

“It seems a damned clever way to secure the services of a farm worker whilst paying no wages,” he said. “But aye, for all that, I will come along wi’ you.”

Author Bio:
Born in Buffalo and raised on the Niagara Frontier, Laura Strickland has been an avid reader and writer since childhood. To her the spunky, tenacious, undefeatable ethnic mix that is Buffalo spells the perfect setting for a little Steampunk, so she created her own Victorian world there. She knows the people of Buffalo are stronger, tougher and smarter than those who haven’t survived the muggy summers and blizzard blasts found on the shores of the mighty Niagara. Tough enough to survive a squad of automatons? Well, just maybe.



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