Stars & Stripes (Cut & Run 6) - Page 1

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  • Chapter 1

    The waitress came up to their table in the middle of an argument. “Would you like some more iced tea?”

    Zane Garrett looked from his ranting partner to the waitress and smiled. “Thanks.” He slid his glass across the small bar table so she could fill it from the pitcher she had in her hand.

    “No problem, Zane. More wings?”

    “Yeah, but just the medium ones this time. I’m not too hot on the honey barbecue kind.”

    “Bad pun penalty,” Ty Grady muttered from across the table.

    “Shut up.”

    The waitress laughed. She set a pint down in front of Ty and he pointed at her with his celery stick.

    “Designated Hitter or real baseball?”

    “I’m cutting you off,” she answered before turning away.

    “No!” Ty called out, and Zane laughed, the sound almost lost in the midst of the mid-week revelry. Ty turned a glare on him, dipped his celery into a plastic cup of ranch dressing, and then pointed at Zane with it, sending drops of dressing flying. “You know what we should do next weekend?” he asked without seeming to notice he’d sprayed Zane with ranch.

    Zane grabbed a napkin and wiped up the splatter on his shirt. These weekly outings were the only time Ty drank around him, and he seemed to make up for lost beers at them. Zane didn’t mind. After a few months of regular Wednesday night baseball viewings at the local bar, he was used to Ty’s semi-drunken antics. He had to admit, he enjoyed Ty when he was drunk. And as long as Ty stuck to beer or wine, and Zane continued his AA meetings, he didn’t even fight cravings.

    “Was that a rhetorical question?”

    “No. We should go get me another tattoo.”

    Zane loved to see Ty’s mind at work. At first blush, it seemed there was no rhyme or reason to it, but once he’d started paying attention, he could see the tracks Ty’s thoughts followed. Sometimes Ty jumped a track and surprised him, though. Like now. Ty had never mentioned getting another tattoo, had never been caught admiring anyone’s body art. The only reason Ty had gotten the bulldog on his arm was because it meant something dear to him.

    Zane watched him for a long moment, entranced by his lover just as he always was. What did people see when they looked at the two of them sitting here in the bar? Two friends, watching the game, hanging out? Maybe they sat a little closer together than some guys would, maybe their shoulders brushed more than casual friends’ should. Maybe people saw two men in love. Zane hated living in fear of what other people might see, but until he or Ty retired, that was their life.

    Zane looked at the bulldog on Ty’s arm and raised an eyebrow. “What would you get?”

    Ty threw back what was left of his beer, then set the glass down hard, rattling the unstable bar table. He met Zane’s eyes. “Ballgame’s over. I’ve been cut off by Designated Daisy. Let’s go home and look for trouble.”

    Zane swallowed hard as Ty’s purr hit a chord deep inside him that only Ty had ever been able to reach. He pulled out his wallet, picked through some cash, and tossed a few bills onto the table. “Ready when you are, Bulldog.”

    Ty slid out of his seat, and when Zane came around the table, Ty’s arm snaked around his waist. Most likely it was to keep himself from weaving as they left the bar. Over the months, Ty had grown more comfortable being demonstrative in front of strangers, and it warmed Zane to his toes every time, but it still sent a shiver of nerves through him. Ty had always been the more careful of the two of them, and even he was growing more careless as time went on. What if they were seen by someone who knew them? What if they were found out? Everyone at work knew they were living together, though no one thought anything of it yet except that they were sharing the cost of the mortgage. But they were destined to be outed eventually. The real questions, the ones that haunted him, were, would it matter, and would he even care?

    The summer heat hit them when they exited the bar, even though the sun had long ago set and a salty breeze was blowing in off the nearby harbor. Ty’s arm tightened on Zane’s waist, and Zane slid his hand around Ty’s shoulders as they headed for their row house on Ann Street. He was struck yet again by just how happy they were, despite the obstacles and worries hanging over their heads.

    There were moments when it was all surreal. He’d never expected to live with another person again, never expected to fall head over heels for someone again. For over two months now, he’d been waking to Ty’s arms wrapped around him every morning, and sometimes he wondered if he deserved it.

    Other times he pondered how many tranquilizers it would take to bring Ty down, and whether he could do it before Ty killed him, but those moments passed quickly.

    Now Ty’s body was hard and warm against him, but his movements were loose and relaxed. He was humming under his breath, and Zane knew it would soon turn into a song. He couldn’t help but smile as he pulled his lover closer. It might just be the rose-tinted color of love’s glasses, but there wasn’t a thing about Ty he didn’t find fascinating, amusing, or smoking hot. He loved it when Ty sang because Ty had a beautiful voice, drunk or not.

    “It’s funny, you know?” Ty said. “How much things have changed.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “A couple years ago, at this point in the night, I’d be back in that bar with someone in the supply closet.”

    Zane snorted and shook his head. “And now you just have to go home with me.”

    “No,” Ty said, serious as he stopped and turned to look at Zane. “I don’t have to go home with you.”

    Zane raised an eyebrow and cocked his head.

    “I can’t wait to get home with you. Even if it’s just to crawl in bed and watch that stupid-ass show you like so much, I don’t care. Whatever I do, I’m glad I’m with you.”

    Zane knew he was grinning like a fool, but sometimes Ty still managed to surprise him with his romantic, sentimental gestures.

    Ty took his arm and continued to walk. Zane watched him out of the corner of his eye, amused and warmed all over.

    “I love you,” Ty said out of the blue, his voice almost sing-song.

    Zane laughed. “You’re drunk.”

    “I loved you before I was drunk.”

    Zane stopped walking and pulled Ty around to face him. The evening was full of the noises of summer night revelry, but the sidewalk was empty. He smiled and leaned in to kiss Ty. “I can’t remember a time that I was happier than I am right now.”