Nick’s molars were getting sore. Yet he couldn’t relax as he watched his brother, Bray, flirt with Ax. He never thought he’d lose respect for his twin, but there he was, clenching his jaw to keep the words in his throat.
“How does Sam do it?” Nick grumbled.
Nick jumped. He’d been too caught up in what was in front of him and hadn’t heard Sam walk into the gym of Hart Consulting, or, as the guys called it, HC. After leaving active duty, Nick had taken a few months off to spend time with his dad. Then, two months ago, he’d given in to his morbid curiosity and joined his older brother Mason’s consulting firm.
“How do you stand back and watch them flirt like that?”
“It bothered me at first, but then I realized they’ve built a different kind of relationship. They are more like you and Bray than me and Bray.”
Nick snorted. Sam was deluding himself. Bray and Ax had some sort of chemistry going on. Something had happened in Kiev—well, something besides Bray getting shot. Nick still didn’t have authorization to read the reports on that op, since it was ongoing, and he was still in his six-month probation period.
At first Nick had thought Bray was stupid or crazy to join up with a bunch of assholes that hadn’t watched his back and had let him get shot. Bray had just smiled and said he’d put himself in that situation, and that he’d do it all over again. What is that supposed to mean?
“I trust Bray.” Sam squeezed Nick’s shoulder.
All the guys were ex-military and most of them were queer, so Nick felt like one of the guys, sort of. He didn’t have to watch his back or hide who he was. It was a relief. He felt comfortable with everyone…everyone except Ax.
“Hey, Magnum,” Ax called out to Sam.
“Fucking call sign,” Sam grumbled.
Nick nodded. His call sign was okay until he got the inevitable questions—‘what does Dash mean?’ or ‘how’d you get your handle?’. Nick sighed. “Fucking call sign” was right.
Now that he was out of the military, the guys mostly used the monikers they’d been saddled with in boot camp—or soon after—as just a nickname. It was banter now, not about making sure Nick never forgot the stupidest thing he’d done back then.
“Why don’t you show your boyfriend how it’s done?” Ax taunted.
Nick turned in time to see a wicked grin spread across Sam’s face. Sam gave Nick’s shoulder a final pat, kicked off his shoes and sauntered onto the mat where Ax and Bray had been sparring.
When Bray noticed Sam, there was no look of guilt, just awe—and a ‘come hither’ look that made Nick throw up in his mouth a little. Bray had found his place, his tribe. He has also found the man of his dreams, apparently.
Nick rolled his eyes at himself. There was no ‘apparently’ about it. The truth was that Nick was jealous. He probably turned green when he watched them. Yet there was still something with Ax and Bray, something that had Nick’s gut tightening with anxiety.
Ax treated Bray differently than he treated everyone else and it had been that way since he and Bray had ‘bonded’ in Kiev. Sure, he teased Bray, but he was also viciously protective of him.
Maybe the feelings were all on Ax’s side. Nick was so curious about the Kiev op that he stopped what he was doing to listen whenever anyone discussed it. He was like the office busybody, yet he couldn’t help himself.
He was careful to keep his eyes on his brother and not trail Ax across the room like he was tempted to do. Ax saw right through him, and he hated it.
“You wanna spar, Nickel? I can show you how it’s really done.”
Ax’s voice was low and teasing. Nick huffed out a frustrated breath, even as the cadence of the other man’s voice had the hairs on the back of his neck standing at attention.
He worked hard to keep another part of his anatomy from standing at attention, too. Every time Ax used his nickname, Nick wanted to punch him in the face. It had been like that since they’d first met, though Nick wasn’t completely sure why.
“I already know how it’s done,” Nick said.
He turned then and had to swallow down a groan. It was like a flashback to the first time he’d ever seen Ax. The man’s entire body was glistening with the sweat of his workout. His white muscle shirt was practically see-through and glued to every dip and curve of the musculature from his chest to his waist.
His longish black hair was slicked back with sweat, though a few strands were hanging over his low-set brows. A drip of perspiration rolled down his temple and got caught in his beard scruff. Nick wondered what that scruff would feel like, what it would taste like against his tongue.
Ax’s eyes were so light that the contrast against his caramel skin and black hair was almost startling. Definitely striking.
Ax was gorgeous…and the asshole knew it. He stood with a towel wrapped around his neck, one hand grasping each end. His feet were set wide apart in a confident stance.
It was exactly the way he’d looked the first time Nick had laid eyes on him. Only then, Ax had been giving Bray the same teasing look he was giving Nick. Ax hadn’t even noticed Nick that first day, as he’d zeroed in on Bray. Nick had been jealous then as well. Was that why Ax calling him ‘Nickel’ from the start had pissed him off?
The thought left a bad taste in his mouth. No one was more important than his family. Well, the family that actually participated in his life. Mase was still a question mark.
“Not how I do it.” Ax winked.
That wink did things to Nick’s insides, but he kept his face emotionless. Ax couldn’t see how he affected Nick because Ax flirted with everyone. Nick didn’t delude himself into thinking he was special.
“I’ll pass,” Nick deadpanned with an eye-roll.
“Your loss, Nickel.” Ax smirked as he turned to walk away.
Nick whispered the word under his breath, but he apparently wasn’t quiet enough, because Ax’s laughter rang loud and clear as he sauntered away. Nick couldn’t stay and watch what was happening on the mat. On the surface, sure, Sam and Bray were practicing tactical moves, mostly Krav Maga, jujutsu, aikido and judo, but really it was foreplay.
Bray had always been the shy one. Nick couldn’t believe he was letting his boyfriend pin him to the mat and kiss him right in the middle of the gym where anyone working out could look over and see.
They weren’t even in one of the private sparring rooms. It was like Bray was oblivious to the world around him, solely focused on Sam. Nick lengthened his stride toward the locker room as if trying to outrun the green-eyed monster.
The bathroom at HC was a million times better than any gym bathroom he’d ever been in, especially in the military. There was a row of about a dozen private shower stalls along one wall. Sure, there were lockers and sinks, urinals and toilet stalls, but the shower stalls were amazing.
No big room with a million shower heads circling one big drain. No more willing his dick down and trying not to look at all the naked men around him as they soaped up. The irony was that the guys at HC would be much more understanding if he popped a boner than anyone in the army would ever have been.
Nick punched in the code to his locker and pulled out his shower stuff. He turned and headed for one of the stalls but froze halfway across the floor when he heard a groan. He swallowed to get saliva past his dry, parched throat. He knew that voice. He also knew what the slap, slap, slap of skin meant.
Tiptoeing closer, Bray tried to listen to see if Ax was alone. Was he in there with another one of the guys or was he just rubbing one out in the shower—after sparring with Bray for thirty minutes? Nick’s stomach bottomed out at the thought. Was Ax in there jacking off to thoughts of Bray?
Even that realization didn’t deflate his cock when the sound of Ax’s breaths echoed through the bathroom. Nick wondered if it was possible for his own dick to betray him as he locked the door to his private stall and began to undress. He turned on his shower to try to drown Ax out, but he didn’t finish undressing and step in. He stayed and listened.
Just as Nick dropped his boxer briefs, Ax moaned out a soft “Ah, fuck,” that had Nick strangling the base of his erection before his brain even realized what he was doing. He started moving his fist in time to the slapping of Ax’s balls against his own hand.
Nick arched at the sound, and he wished more than anything that he could see exactly what Ax was doing to himself. Was he fingering himself as well? The thought had Nick stroking himself harder, faster.
“Nnngh,” Ax moaned before finally growling out his release. The sound alone had Nick spurting right along with him. He bit his lip to stifle the gasp that slipped out of his mouth.
“Was it good for you, too, Nickel?” Ax asked as the water shut off in the other stall.
All the lust and post-orgasmic bliss shriveled and died at Ax’s words. Nick twitched with rage. Had Ax been putting on a show to embarrass him?
“Do you put on the same show every day at the same time? Was it meant for Bray or was it just first-come, first-served?”
“Why? You want a repeat performance?”
“You’re an asshole,” Nick said.
He stepped into the shower to wash away any evidence that Ax had turned him on.
“Glad you enjoyed it, but it was a onetime thing. Just needed to relieve a little tension. Enjoy your shower, Nickel.”
Ax started whistling. A locker opened then slammed shut, and the off-key tune he was whistling got farther and farther away. Nick scrubbed himself raw in frustration.
He knew damn well he was going to have to work with Ax if he wanted to stay on the West Coast and be closer to his father. He wasn’t sure they’d be able to pull off an op if they couldn’t even stand to be in the same room together.
Ax was completely immature. It was up to Nick to be professional if he had any hope of getting assigned jobs closer to home so he could always spend his R&R with his family.
Resolving to be the bigger person, Nick tried to figure out a way to smooth things over with the asshole so he could get what he needed out of the situation. What was it about Ax that had him wound so tight?