Accounting for Luke Excerpt:
Bryce Mann scribbled notes down on a pad of paper while occasionally flashing glances at his partner, Luke Garcia. To break up the pattern, every once in a while, he took a slow, deep breath to keep his emotions under control. He’d hidden his longing for Luke for two years now. He could do it longer… maybe forever. After their one disastrous encounter had left his heart shattered, Bryce had vowed to never get romantically involved with the gorgeous Latino again. Unfortunately, his body didn’t agree with that plan at all. His wayward heart still skipped a beat and his cock hardened at the mere sound of Luke’s voice. He knew, if he didn’t have Tim, he’d have given in to his weakness and accepted whatever terms Luke might have offered.
Thank God for Tim.
“I think Mr. Whithers is cheating on his wife,” Luke said, spying out of the window. “What kind of man would do that to someone who loves him just to get a younger piece of ass?”
Bryce gave a cynical laugh. “The fact you can still ask that after over a dozen investigations of cheating spouses is more surprising than the fact Mr.. Whithers is clichéd enough to screw his secretary. Besides, if there weren’t cheating men and women, I doubt we’d have jobs. There are only so many bodyguard positions available, and Tucker wants to make sure the agency offers a variety of services.”
Luke sighed. “I guess. It’s just depressing, you know? Is there anyone loyal out there anymore?” He continued, not waiting for Bryce’s answer. “I like it better when we get to be bodyguards instead of spies. I mean, security is way superior to spying. I always feel slimy after these stakeouts.”
“Yeah,” Bryce agreed as he popped a toothpick in his mouth, then clamped down on the wood to suck out the minty flavor.
“How’s quitting cigarettes coming along?” Luke asked.
Bryce shrugged as he slid the toothpick out of his mouth to speak. “Okay, I guess.”
“Why’re you quitting anyway? Not that I don’t think it’s a good idea, but what made you decide to finally do it?”
“Tim won’t kiss me if I smoke.” Bryce hadn’t known how forceful Tim could be until after Tim had seen Bryce smoking. The man had flat-out refused to make love to him until Bryce had given the things up. Normally, he’d tell off any guy who told him what to do. No man controlled Bryce by his dick, but Tim’s blue eyes had silently begged, even as he’d refused to bring his mouth anywhere near Bryce’s. Tim had even listed all the health reasons why Bryce should quit, his accountant brain running a mile a minute as he’d tallied up statistics faster than Bryce could understand what he’d been saying. After that lecture, which had ended with Tim close to tears, Bryce had sworn to never touch another one.
“Tim who?” Luke’s eyes widened. “Not Tim Warren. Please tell me you aren’t fucking the company’s accountant.”
Bryce scowled at his friend. “I’m not fucking him. We’re dating. I like him.” He said the last part defensively even though he knew he didn’t have anything to defend himself against.
“He’s too sweet for you,” Luke argued. “You’ll break his heart.”
Those words from Luke were almost too much to take. “I wouldn’t do that intentionally, and unlike you, I’m looking for something permanent.”
“What if you get injured on the job?” Luke persisted, brushing off Bryce’s implication.
“Then I’ll be injured. I might also get in a fatal car accident. Anything could happen, Luke—I’m not a fortune-teller. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to find some happiness,” Bryce snapped.
“Yeah, you’re right,” Luke conceded.
Bryce wondered about Luke’s attitude. After one night together, Luke had been quite clear that he didn’t want anything long-term. Painfully clear.
“Anyway, I thought you’d be happy I’m quitting smoking. You’ve been complaining about it for years,” Bryce pointed out.
Luke opened his mouth and then closed it again as if reconsidering his words. “I guess I never thought you’d quit over some guy.”
Bryce smiled. “I really like him.”
Luke raised his left brow at Bryce’s declaration. “It’s serious?”
Bryce shrugged again. “I don’t know yet. Maybe. He’s a nice guy who’s gainfully employed and amazing in bed. What’s not to like?”
“I didn’t know you were involved with someone.” Luke’s voice had an odd tone that made Bryce examine his friend more closely. Luke’s blank expression told him nothing, but the tightening around his mouth revealed his distress.
“Well, I am. So what?”
“Nothing.” Luke put the binoculars back to his eyes. “I hope it works out for you two. Tim’s a sweet guy.”
“Yes, he is.” Bryce wondered why Luke’s agreement hurt more than anything had in a while. Shaking his head, he tried to wipe out the idea that Luke cared more than he did. Luke wouldn’t mind if Bryce fucked the entire city as long as he appeared bright and early for their jobs. Luke worshipped at the altar of punctuality. “Do you think we’ll be done early?”
Luke waved a hand dismissively. “You can leave if you like. We’ve already taken all the pictures we need. I’m going to hang around and get shots of him leaving so we have enough evidence, but you don’t have to stay.” Luke’s dark eyes remained trained on Bryce. “Have a date?”
Bryce fiddled with the toothpick between his fingers. “I told Tim I’d be over for dinner.” He wasn’t going to apologize. Luke didn’t want him, and he’d found someone who did. He might feel attraction and a tinge of regret over Luke, but Bryce’s goal this year—to move on with his life—appeared to be working well.
His phone rang. Looking at the number on the readout made him smile as he answered. “Hi, Tim, I was just thinking about you. You’re not calling to cancel, are you?” Bryce might sometimes yearn for the heat of Luke’s touch, but he adored Tim’s gentle ways. For a hardened soldier, a little kindness meant everything, especially when wrapped in a sexy and slim package.
“Bryce, are you busy?” Tim’s nervous tone started alarm bells clanging in Bryce’s head.
“Not too busy for you, hon. What’s wrong?” He kept his voice low and soothing since Tim’s voice was bordering on hysteria.
“I-it might be nothing, but I think someone’s watching my house.”
Bryce gripped his phone tighter as some of Tim’s anxiety transferred to him. “Why do you think that?”
Just as Bryce began to think Tim had hung up or their call had been dropped, Tim spoke again. “You know I’m a little paranoid since my abduction, so I’ve been more careful about checking out my surroundings. There’s a guy parked across the street. I think he’s watching my place.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Because for the past hour, he’s had a pair of binoculars trained up here. I could be wrong, but he’s giving me the willies.”
Bryce didn’t care if Tim was imagining someone watching his building. If the man was freaking Tim out, he would have to be dealt with. His sweet accountant didn’t need any extra stress in his life.
“I’ll be right there, baby. Don’t do anything foolish like go talk to him or anything. You stay in your apartment. I’m only about twenty minutes away.”
After securing Tim’s agreement to stay put, Bryce hung up, stood, and grabbed his jacket. “I’m off,” he told Luke over his shoulder.
Bryce spun around to find Luke standing right behind him. “Tim thinks someone is watching him.”
“You don’t think he’s just nervous from his kidnapping, do you?” Luke’s brown eyes darkened with concern and he rubbed his chin, a habit of his when thinking something over. After five years of being best friends with Luke, Bryce could almost guess the thoughts going through Luke’s brain.
“No. He sounded pretty specific, but I’d rather he be paranoid than have a stalker.”
Luke grabbed his jacket and snatched up his keys. “I’ll clean this up later and we can fill out the report tomorrow. Let’s go.”
“What? Why?” When had this become a bring-your-partner-along trip?
A scowl crossed Luke’s handsome face. “I like Tim. He’s a nice guy. If he thinks someone is following him, we should check it out. And, if a guy is really bothering him, you’ll need backup. Nothing against Tim, but I doubt he’s armed.”
Bryce’s mouth dropped open. “I didn’t think you would want to waste your Friday night checking out what might be a false alarm. Even Tim thinks it’s probably nothing. He’s just worried, so I promised him I’d check it out.”
“You don’t believe him?” Luke frowned as if he were offended on Tim’s behalf.
Bryce ran his fingers through his hair. “This isn’t the first time Tim’s called about something like this. He’s been freaked out since his kidnapping. I’ve been going over and keeping him company—that’s how we became so close.” Sometimes, being the person to bring comfort was a powerful bonding experience.
When Luke’s jaw firmed and he showed no signs of backing down, Bryce gave a put-upon sigh to show his annoyance. “Fine, you can come.”
Damn, Luke’s smile still made his heart skip a beat.
Luke followed Bryce, relieved to be coming along. He needed to see the two men together. He had to make sure Tim deserved his best friend. Although Luke didn’t mind Bryce having a quick fuck at a club, the idea of Bryce becoming close to someone and having a relationship made bile rise up in his throat. He genuinely worried for a moment that he’d decorate the window with his swirling stomach contents. He’d blown his one shot of keeping Bryce, and now he regretted it with every fiber of his being.
He’d hoped to get a second chance over time, but Bryce didn’t forgive and forget. Telling Bryce he didn’t want a relationship had been Luke’s biggest mistake ever. At the time, he’d thought to protect his heart. Luke had stupidly realized too late that he’d already given it away to his best friend two years ago. Unfortunately, he’d never found a way to make up.
Luke remained silent as they traveled to Tim’s place. Bryce didn’t appear to want to talk, and Luke didn’t know what to say. As they pulled up beside Tim’s apartment building, a man in a black car drove away. To Luke’s surprise, instead of stopping in the street, Bryce drove into the parking garage. He noticed with a trace of panic that Bryce had a remote to open the metal gate. How serious were they?
“Do you live here now?” He hoped that Bryce didn’t hear the fear in Luke’s voice or the loud pounding of his heart. Terror gripped him over the thought of Bryce slipping away from Luke forever.
“Not yet. I hope to soon, though.” Bryce exited the vehicle and headed toward the elevator. Luke quickly fell into step beside him.
Bryce removed a key fob from his pocket and waved it in front of a sensor on the elevator keypad, then pushed the button to what must be Tim’s floor. After a short ride up and a walk down a brightly lit hall, they were standing in front of an apartment marked 533 in big brass numbers. Bryce knocked before unlocking the door and letting himself in.
He gave Luke a sheepish grin. “I don’t want to startle him.”
Fuck. How serious are they? Scenarios ran through Luke’s head, each less comfortable than the one before. They entered the living room and found Tim sitting on his couch. At the sight of Bryce, Tim gave a relieved smile. Why hadn’t Luke ever noticed how gorgeous Tim was? With his sunshine-bright hair and sea-blue eyes, Tim surpassed cute by a mile. Why hadn’t Luke noticed the competition right under his nose?
“Bryce.” Tim threw himself into Bryce’s arms.
A spike of pain impaled Luke’s heart at the sight of the slim blond in Bryce’s muscular embrace—a hold he knew from experience felt amazing.
“Are you okay?” Bryce pulled Tim back and examined him carefully as if the mysteries of the universe would be explained on his face. Luke almost hurled as he took in Bryce’s adoring expression.
“I’m fine. I just saw him drive away.”
“Black car?” Luke asked.
Tim lifted his head, his brilliant blue gaze zeroing in on Luke. “Hey, Luke, how are you?” Tim gave Luke a tentative smile, a far cry from the loving one he’d given Bryce.
Luke wondered why he cared. “I thought I’d come and see if I could help.”
The words spoken out loud didn’t sound desperate. They didn’t convey the futile wish coursing through him to stay as close to Bryce as possible. He let out a long breath in relief.
“You saw the black car too?” Bryce asked Luke before turning back to address Tim. “Did you see the driver?”
“Not much. I only saw binoculars, and once in a while, he tipped ashes from his cigarette out the window. I tried to stay out of sight, but he really creeped me the hell out.” Tim gave a little shudder, and Luke had to hold back an urge to hug the smaller man. Tim looking scared and vulnerable brought out Luke’s protective instincts.
“Have you thought someone was watching you before?” Luke asked, slipping into investigator mode. Although Bryce had told him as much, he wanted to hear Tim’s version.
Tim pulled out of Bryce’s arms, wiping his eyes with the heels of his hands. “I-I think so. But, like I told Bryce, I could be imagining things. I’ve been really jumpy since my kidnapping. I mean…logically, I know I’m not going to be snatched again, but inside, I still worry. I’m such a wimp.”
“You’re not a wimp,” Bryce soothed. “You’ve had a scare. It’s natural for you to be a little skittish.”
Tim patted Bryce’s arm. “I appreciate you coming over. Would you like some tea or a beer? I’m afraid that’s all I have except water.”
“Some tea would be nice,” Bryce responded.
Luke didn’t like the tender look Bryce gave Tim. He hoped he hid his feelings well when the accountant turned to him.
“How about you? Would you like a drink?”
“I’ll take a beer.” Luke could tell Tim needed something to do. The man fidgeted like a dog waiting for a squirrel to come down from a tree. How calm, quiet Bryce could handle that on a day-to-day basis Luke didn’t know.
After Tim left the room, Bryce spoke. “I don’t know if someone is watching him, but there definitely was a car that left when we showed up. I got the license plate.”
“No. I’ll do it,” Luke insisted. He didn’t squirm beneath Bryce’s intense gaze. It took more than that to rattle his cage. “I want to help.”
Bryce gave him a strange look. “You don’t have to. I’m sure I can handle one possible stalker.”
“Have you questioned him about why he might have someone watching him?” From their past experiences, Luke knew that often the investigators only got part of the story. He didn’t want that for Bryce. He deserved better than a half story from a man he liked.
“No,” Bryce sighed. “I didn’t want to spook him. He’s had a rough time of it lately. He still gets nightmares about his abduction.”
Luke swallowed back the lump in his throat as he thought of all the ways Bryce could calm Tim.
“Bryce is sweet to take care of me,” Tim said, walking into the room with a cup of hot tea and a cold beer.
“That didn’t take long,” Luke commented as he accepted his drink.
“I have an instant hot water tap,” Tim explained.
The three men sat in the living room. Tim and Bryce took the couch while Luke took a chair facing them. Silence reigned.
“Maybe I should just go,” Luke said to Tim. “I’m obviously making you uncomfortable.”
“No, you aren’t. I’m embarrassed,” Tim said.
“About what?” Luke asked.
“That I ruined your work for nothing. I didn’t know Bryce was on the job, and I certainly didn’t mean to pull you both away from something important just to make me feel better.”
Guilt stabbed at Luke like little daggers. He quickly tried to make amends. “Tim, you’re a friend. If someone is stalking you, we need to check it out. That’s what Bryce and I do—we provide protection against things like this. And, despite what you think, I don’t believe for a minute you’d have called if you didn’t genuinely think there was a problem.”
Tim gave him a grateful smile. “Thanks, Luke. I’ve seen this guy before. This is the third time that black car has parked outside my building. The first couple of times I didn’t see anyone inside.”
“So maybe he was walking around and checking out the building, making sure he had the right place,” Luke offered. The more he heard about this mysterious person, the less he liked it. He itched to run to the office and check out the license plate.
“Maybe,” Bryce agreed. “Do you have any clients who might have underground connections?”
Tim laughed. “Are you asking if I’m an accountant for the mob?” His blue eyes sparkled with amusement.
“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m asking. Are you?” Despite Tim’s amusement, Bryce didn’t back down.
Tim frowned. Luke could almost hear the man running his clients’ books through his head.
“Not that I know of. I recently took on a restaurant’s bookkeeping for a client. They don’t appear to have any strange accounting issues, at least nothing criminal. I didn’t see signs of double books or anything. The only other clients I have are you guys and a pizza parlor. And, unless they have unlicensed workers and are paying under the table, I don’t think they have any weird problems. At least nothing worth scaring the crap out of me for!” Tim’s voice squeaked at the end, revealing his nerves.
“I’m going to spend the night. My instincts tell me we’re missing something. You might be jumpy about being alone, but you’re not the type to invent someone following you,” Bryce said.
“No.” Tim shook his head vehemently. “I wouldn’t waste your time like that.”
“Come here.” Bryce beckoned the accountant closer.
Luke bit his lip until it bled as Tim settled closer to Bryce and snuggled in as if he belonged there. Bryce instinctively curled around the shorter man, which told Luke more than he wanted to know about Bryce’s feelings toward Tim. Bryce only became protective of those he cared about. Luke twitched with the urge to snuggle up with the pair on the couch. Weird… In his mind, both Bryce and Tim were his to cuddle next to.
“Tell us what you can about the guy in the black car,” Luke said, pulling a small notebook out of his shirt pocket.
Tim licked his lips, leaving a tempting sheen in his tongue’s wake and derailing Luke’s thoughts.
“I didn’t get a really good look at him. I think he has dark hair. The only time I saw him he was sitting in his car smoking. I only know that because he’d toss the butts out the window. I don’t know how tall he is or eye color or anything.”
“I think his car looked like a rental,” Luke offered.
“You think he’s from out of town?” Tim asked.
“Possibly,” Bryce agreed. He exchanged a look with Luke. They would figure out what was going on.
“Or he could’ve rented a car so you didn’t recognize his own,” Luke said.
Tim shuddered. “This is feeling more stalkerish by the minute.”
Bryce hugged Tim gently. “We’ll get to the bottom of this, hon. For all we know, he could be investigating someone else at your building or something. You’re not the only person on this floor.”
Luke’s heart caught in his throat as he watched the pair together. At one time, he could’ve been the one in Bryce’s arms, receiving the endearments, but Tim needed Bryce more than Luke ever did. Bryce and Tim looked good together. Luke yearned to be on the other side of Tim, reassuring him.