The only thing worse than undercover work was babysitting. At least when he was undercover, Henley could give himself a cool superhero name and occupation like ‘Mr. Duncan Peters, high school superintendent and nighttime vigilante’.
Some agents loved it, but they were the ones who called it ‘bodyguard duty’ and got thrills at the idea of taking a bullet for someone whose middle name was ‘rich boy’. Sure, there were some good cases out there, but for the most part, it was that rich boy in front of him.
He cast his gaze around the club, trying to ignore the way the lights made his temples throb every time they caught his eyes. The entrances were clear, with the same bouncers who had been standing guard all night. Only one had slipped away briefly and had returned red-faced with a hickey on his neck and lipstick smeared against the corner of his lips. Lucky guy.
The ceiling was solid drywall, only interspersed with two vents and the constant flashing lights. No one was getting the jump on him from above. And luckily, there was a single door, which made his job a hell of a lot easier but had him worrying about fire hazards.
The gig wasn’t terrible, but it got old fast when his charge was some spoiled brat who was high on blow and had fucked seven different chicks in the last three days.
He kinda envied the kid’s stamina, though.
Somebody didn’t. Someone had put a death threat out on the kid after Henley’s boss had apparently fucked with the wrong people. Didn’t see that one coming. Henley rolled his eyes. He’d never seen so much drama in his life.
The kid’s father had enough money and pull to get three more bodyguards assigned, along with his regular squad of four goons. The other two additional bodyguards were nothing more than glorified mercs with a bit of a conscience, but Henley?
He chuckled, shaking his head as he spied his ‘colleague’ along the far wall. He was checking the exits, same as Henley was, with his beefy arms crossed and his tattoos on display, much to the ladies’ delight.
Henley hadn’t actually been a mercenary for a long time, even if almost nobody in the world knew that. But even while in that department, people treated him as a bit of a joke. He didn’t have the size or the tattoos for anyone to take him seriously.
Nodding along with the beat, he did a little twirl, bumping hips with a lady who gave him a whoop and a smile. She was rocking six-inch heels like they didn’t even hurt, dancing with him for a minute before he gave her a wink and melted away from the crowd.
The view was decent from where he leaned against the wall, the beat shivering against his back. Tattoo guy was pretty hot, but one dropped suggestion for a hookup in the bathroom and that ship had sailed. And as nice as the ladies were, they didn’t exactly have the equipment Henley was after.
Sigh. Sometimes it was like guys didn’t expect him to be gay. It wasn’t his fault that he missed more than he hit when trying to spot a fellow nut fan.
He tried. There was a rainbow sticker on the butt of his gun and a matching pin on his fanny pack that gave him away, if anyone cared to be observant. As for the fanny pack, he was bringing the trend back, and it was a great place to store extra clips for his lethal baby.
His knife was pink—and fabulous, too—although it was tucked away where no one could see it. And he was drinking a strawberry daiquiri—a little more strawberry, a little less daiquiri…because he was working, after all.
How could I not be gay? The male body and all its intricacies was where the party was at. It was a true shame that some straight men never indulged in the pure wonder that was the prostate.
Sighing, he tried giving the goon one last look from across the room, standing on his tiptoes to see over the writhing mass. I need a fucking stool. It was like trying to spot someone in a corn field.
His phone buzzed from within his fanny pack, humming against his belly and sending the strange sensation of vibrating bullets against his skin. Tapping the line hooked over his ear, he turned away from his charge, marching to the exit and easing through the first layer of doors to where the music volume was more reasonable.
“Rosco.” He used his mercenary name to answer.
“Is he safe?” asked Mr. Martinez, his kinda-sorta boss on the other end of the line. Henley let out a huffing breath as he peered at a few flyers that had been pinned to the wall separating the club entrance from the outside world. Are’ high’ and ‘drunk’ still considered safe?
“He has a full squad with him at all times. No one is getting to your son unless he goes through every one of us first.” He pressed the speaker farther into his ear, trying to catch Martinez’s reply over the music.
“My sources tell me that the hit will be taking place tomorrow. I don’t think I need to tell you what will happen if you fail me.”
Always such a chipper guy. There was a reason that his body count was nearly as high as Henley’s—which happened to be the main reason for Henley’s undercover assignment to the case.
“He’s not making it easy. He should be underground, not in a club,” said Henley, ripping the number off one of the advertisements for car cleaning and stuffing it into his pocket. He was between vehicles at the moment, but he never knew when he would need a bit of remains scrubbed out of his back seat.
The bar was packed, and of course, the little dipshit he was trying to protect had dragged them to the same club again for the third night in a row. One more night and he would have to look up to see if his benefits covered hearing damage.
The music was so loud that it couldn’t have been legal, thrumming against his chest in a monotonous beat that made him feel way too old. He knew music and a good beat, but that shit coming out of the speakers? Gah. He’d heard the same whispered line after a siren over thirty times that night alone.
The lighting was the second issue. It was hard to tell a purse from a weapon, and he had to squint to try to catch a glimpse of his Romeo across the club. The swirling lights helped visibility a bit, unless they were shining directly into his eyes. If someone smuggled in a shotgun, he wouldn’t know until it was pressed to the back of the kid’s head.
It really didn’t explain why Henley was looking at close to forty female booties without a single interesting dangly between them. The kid’s father had cleared the bar of all male clientele after a quick phone call. They were certain that a man had sent the threat, so bring on the ladies, right?
“I’ve banned every possible assassin from that club, and, as you said, you have a full detail on him. How is that hard?” asked Mr. Martinez, his voice dropping into a growl. “Keep him safe, or you’ll wish you were dead.”
Because apparently chicks couldn’t kill.
Henley begged to disagree. The woman who’d trained him was the most terrifying person he had ever met, and she could probably still kick his ass, even though she was in her late forties and had popped out three screaming munchkins in the last five years.
“Hello?” Henley tapped his ear, but the line had already gone dead. Just what I need…another death threat. Some people collected stamps or classic dinky cars, but Henley had always liked to stay on the wilder side of things.
But death threats weren’t worth much, and he couldn’t exactly leave them for his family if he did wind up getting shot.
He popped back through the club door, shaking his head as he eyed his charge, who had a different woman in his arms and another grinding against his back. Looking off to the windows that lined the entire side of the club, he stared into the night, letting the music roll over him.
“You gonna head out soon?” asked his sexy goon as he moved closer, shouting into Henley’s ear over the music. His breath was tinted with bitter alcohol and his shirt reeked of cigarettes. Maybe Henley had dodged a cancerous bullet.
What time is it? Oh, shit. Henley glared at his watch, hoping that the numbers were wrong. There were so many exposed women on the dance floor that he must’ve retreated into himself to try to save his sexuality. Women could be beautiful, but not when they were stumbling drunk and groping the only guy on the dance floor as if he were the last dick on the planet. Henley had seen that dick unfortunately, and it was not worth the effort.
He shook out his hand, his watch shifting on his wrist but not resetting like it was supposed to. He’d been standing there for the last half hour, not even getting fucking paid. Babysitting blows.
“Yeah, and the offer still stands. Come by my place if you want a good time later,” said Henley, pulling the bodyguard down to him to whisper into his ear. The guy went tense, jerking back with narrowed eyes.
Nope, no interest at all. Couldn’t blame him for trying. He hadn’t bothered to ask the goon’s name, so his hopes hadn’t been that high, anyway.
The bodyguard shouted something, but Henley didn’t bother trying to decipher it over the thrumming beat. He’d struck out…nine times in the last week? Maybe it had been more. Either way, everyone must’ve gone straight or moved to Colorado, because it was a fucking desert out there right now.
Pushing his way through the sea of sweaty, horny and drugged bodies, he headed for the exit and the promise sweet night air. Sweat beaded over his temples as he nodded to one of the bouncers before pushing his way out of the door. The touch of fresh air was better than a power nap on a Sunday afternoon and twice as refreshing.
Taking a breath, he slammed the door behind him, cutting off the plaguing sound of yet another siren. Whoever was making club music these days needed a muse or something because that shit had been pathetic.
Or maybe it’s because anything remotely pop-like gives me hives?
The club door led directly to the street, a few streetlamps spotted over the empty plane of asphalt and concrete. The closest one flickered, giving off the same sound as a humming cricket as the bulb flashed. The smooth road was barely three steps away, the thin sidewalk the only thing separating the club from the rest of the world.
Old brick buildings surrounded him on all sides, with so many spots to hide that it was nearly impossible to cover them all. Three were multi-leveled stores, some with apartments above. The one across the road with the pale brick and the flashing sign was where he’d set up his temporary apartment when he’d taken the assignment.
Usually he didn’t like to eat so close to where he worked, but the apartment window offered a perfect view of the place, and he could see inside the club with the stretch of windows that surrounded it from floor to ceiling. He was technically on point for the assignment, so he didn’t want to let the kid out of his sight for too long.
He’d chosen that particular apartment because he’d heard a rumor that the club was a kink club of sorts, too. He didn’t care if it hosted a munch or a full-blown party, because some fresh faces were exactly what he needed, even if they weren’t the feral pups he was looking for.
Unfortunately, he had yet to see a single hint of leather making its way through the doors as he’d watched from his perch on the couch.
Henley slowed his pace as the thump of the music started to dim, pulling the sleeves of his shirt down over his wrists. The air had started to grow crisper as winter approached, although the days were still somewhat warm. If he held his breath long enough, he could almost see the steam of it under the lamp light as he exhaled.
When he’d moved to Canada, he had done it because everything he’d known about the country had told him it was supposed to be cold, with igloo houses and dog sleds and shit.
Three years earlier, during his first summer near the southern tip of the country, the air had been so thick and hot that his ice-cream cone had melted in thirty seconds flat. He’d spent most of the summers half naked by a pool since, only venturing out when he could get away with his long-sleeved T.
He had half considered moving back to… No, he was never going back, no matter how hot it got.
Luckily, the winters were ball-freezing cold, which was exactly the way he wanted them. And the kink community was thriving, even if they were more on the down-low than where he was from.
Nonchalantly reaching for his gun, he clicked the safety off, dropping his hands a moment later. There was someone standing outside of his apartment building, leaning down and inspecting the lock. The place was a little run-down, but it had decent security, and the guy didn’t look like anyone he’d seen in the video feeds he’d hacked.
He had an entire wall covered in labeled pictures with every person who had come and gone in the building since he’d set up there. He didn’t bother with their actual names on the photographs because ‘lady with nine cats’ and ‘guy who is always high’ were way easier to remember.
But the guy at the door was nowhere on his wall. In fact, it looked like the guy was either unsuccessfully trying to pick the lock, or…
Henley slowed, flexing his biceps to make sure that his knife was still securely strapped there. He couldn’t feel the one at his ankle through his sock, but he had checked on it the last time he’d taken a bathroom break. The one at his back along his waistband shifted with every move, comforting him with its weight.
Something caught the light as the man at the door dropped to his knees, leaning closer to the lock. His long hair looked nearly as dark as the night that wrapped around them, falling past his shoulders to hide most of his face from Henley’s view.
“It works better with the right equipment,” said Henley as he ducked into the security lights at the door, taking a quick glance at his ankle as he took another step. A tiny sliver of a pink handle looked back at him. It was a specialized ceramic that was sharp as fuck and tricked most metal detectors. Unfortunately, it came with the cost of single-use-only sometimes, as it would shatter if he slammed it into someone’s spine.
He’d been eyeing up a baby blue one just like it online a few days prior, and he hadn’t decided if it was going to be his birthday gift to himself or not. Then there was the gun with pink bullets, of course. Do they make pink bullets? Nah, it doesn’t matter. He would just make them himself.
The guy at the door snapped up to his feet, looking over his shoulder in surprise. “What?”
Very nice. The lock picker was taller than Henley had thought, and probably around six-one, which was just the type of challenge he usually looked for. He was thinner than he had looked from afar, packed into a thick coat that was too warm for the weather and dark gloves that hid his presumably pale skin from view. His long hair scraped against his coat as he moved, whooshing as if a breeze had picked up in the middle of the city.
The way the security lights caught his eyes made them appear almost black, highlighting the pale skin of his cheek bones and accentuating his jaw that looked strong enough to be a nutcracker.
“I just…” The lock picker trailed off as he gave Henley a once-over, flickering his gaze from the toes of Henley’s rainbow runners and pausing on his fanny pack for a moment.
One look spoke more than a thousand words. It was the same look that Henley had been seeking for weeks. Yes! There are still gays out there. Play this right.
“You were just trying to pick the lock. Let’s see what you’ve got, because it obviously isn’t working,” said Henley, crossing his arms so he could touch the blade at his wrist. It was rigid under his fingertips as he slipped down his sleeve to the handle, ready to pull it from its holster. The gun at his waist seemed to throb, exposed and visible to anyone who cared to look.
It was on display for a reason. Bad guys always seemed to wait to act until he grabbed for his gun. Watching their surprise as he pulled a knife on them instead was half the fun.
“I’m not.” The lock picker shook his head, his eyes going wide as he caught sight of Henley’s gun. Taking a step back, he let one a whooshing breath, condensation steaming against his lips. “I just… My key won’t work.”
Ah shit. Henley blinked, squinting at the guy’s hand in the low light. Maybe it was time for him to give up his stubbornness and wear the glasses his optometrist had insisted on. He hadn’t missed a target yet, but it was only a matter of time.
The guy didn’t have any equipment on him at all. No pins or picks—just a ring and a couple of funky-looking key chains attached to an array of colorful keys. If he wasn’t mistaken, the guy had gone to three different Mexican resorts and had gotten a sandal keychain at each one.
I’m getting way too paranoid for my own good.
“Heh.” Henley scrubbed the back of his head, widening his stance just in case. He’d been fooled before by guys that were half as cute. One had even managed to get a jump on him when he’d reached for his dick, leaving a scar the size of a nickel right next to the prize.
But this guy wasn’t cute, he was beautiful, with a smooth face that looked like it had never had a five o’clock shadow. Lucky bastard. Henley had a shadow fifteen minutes after he shaved, and by the end of the day, he looked like he’d been roughing it in the woods for a week. It was too bad that a beard didn’t suit him.
“I’m Henley,” he said, holding out his hand like an absolute dork. He flushed, ready to draw his hand back, before the guy clasped it, shaking twice.
Taking a moment to enjoy, Henley smiled up at the stranger. His grip was good, his wrist relaxed, so he was probably a successful interview candidate and definitely didn’t have any weapons concealed there. And his legs were too close together to have enough balance to start a fight that he would have any chance of winning.
That left two options—civilian or amateur.
“You’re supposed to tell me your name, too,” said Henley, sliding his thumb over the back of the amateur’s gloved knuckles. The leather was soft, like it had just been dipped in body butter.
Interesting. The guy didn’t look like a ‘Li’. He looked more like a ‘Damien’, or ‘Grey’, or ‘Marius’—with a little less vampirism. There was a chance it was a fake name, though.
“Can you help me get in?” asked Li, handing his keys over to Henley. “I just moved in, and the key the superintendent gave me doesn’t work. I’ve been trying for five minutes, but no luck.”
“There is no superintendent, and you look like you could save your time and kick the door down instead,” said Henley, playing with the keys in his hand. None of them felt heavier than they should have…or lighter. Companies were getting better, though, and things could be hidden in the most innocent of places. One of the keychains looked pretty suspect. No one actually kept a smiley face on their keychain, did they?
“Um, Mr. Richty? Does he have a different title? Landlord maybe? And I can’t kick the door down. That just sounds painful and expensive.” Li reached for his keys, and Henley dropped them into his outstretched palm.
“I’m just fucking with you, kid. Try the blue one, and wiggle it a little,” said Henley, leaning up against the door and crossing his arms. Li’s hand trembled as he searched for the right key, almost dropping the entire bundle before he found it at last. A flush bloomed across his cheeks, and he looked to Henley every few seconds.
Civilian it was. Booooring, unless they were kinky. Normally, Henley had no problem asking someone outright. It was a conversation starter.
“Can I put a collar around your throat and plug your ass with a tail before I chase you around my apartment?”
There could be a reason that he was striking out so often. The last goon had looked like he was about to pass out when Henley had run that by him.
“Oh,” said Li, slipping the blue key into the lock. It turned on the first try, the door clicking open with a low clunk. “Thanks, but I’m not a kid.”
Henley grinned to himself, shuddering in the cool air. Of course, Li wasn’t a kid. He was definitely legal, hence fair game. He did look a bit skittish, though.
“Sorry, Li. You said you just moved in?” asked Henley, slipping through the door as Li held it open for him like a gentleman. “You know what? I can’t call you Li. It just doesn’t suit you, and it’s just going to bother me all night.” He grinned at Li, waiting for the telltale flush that would spark any second. Fuck, he loved being right.
Li looked good to begin with, but with the beginnings of a blush, he turned downright fuckable. Henley was going to climb him like a tree…then trip him and take him the fuck down.
On that thought, maybe there was more than one reason he was striking out.
“All night?” asked Li, his voice catching with an adorable stutter that would have been cute if it hadn’t been so sexy. The breeze of the closing door caught his dark hair, throwing it over his shoulder until his pale neck was on display. It looked like it would hold his marks for days.
“Yeah,” said Henley, pulling the door shut behind him and leaning against it. The night air hadn’t done Li justice. His skin was flawless perfection, everything hard and soft in just the right way. He belonged in a penthouse suite, not a run-down apartment building with neglected flyers bursting out of the busted rectangular mailboxes.
“This is the part where you ask me to show you around, and I show you my favorite spot. I’m a gentleman like that.” Henley eyed Li up, wishing that he could see right through his thick jacket. Was he soft there, too, or hard and thick like his long legs? “Then I’ll show you your new favorite spot.” Henley leaned in, rocking up on his toes so he could get close enough to whisper into Li’s ear. It was a bigger stretch than he’d expected. “I’ll give you a hint. It’s your prostate.”