Ball & Chain (Cut & Run #8)(10)

by Abigail Roux

“How the hell does he do that?” Zane asked. Kelly merely laughed as they trailed after Nick with their luggage.

Ty and Kelly both fell asleep in the back of the sedan as Nick made the three-hour drive to the little town where they were to catch a very private boat to the Stantons’ very private island. Ty woke whenever they took an especially sharp curve or slowed for a trekking biker, and each time he did, Nick and Zane were talking companionably. Several times their laughter roused him.

Halfway through their deployment, Nick had been sent home for forty-eight hours. Ty knew he’d been sent to Maryland to deliver a message to Naval Intelligence because Ty had specifically chosen him for the mission. When he’d returned, Nick had told him that he’d dropped in on Zane and brought a letter back with him, the only communication Ty and Zane had been able to have during those six months.

From what Ty had observed since landing in Scotland, Zane and Nick had come to an understanding during that visit. He might even call them friends. The level of relief he felt at that was astronomical, given their rocky start.

The next time Ty woke, Kelly was using his lap as a pillow, and they were making their way through a tiny, crowded coastal town. Ty stretched and patted Kelly’s chest as he peered out the window. The quaint shops seemed to lean toward them as they drove past, and the cars on the wrong side of the road came way too close to the car for his comfort. He was glad Nick was driving because the roads in the UK made him twitchy.

They could see sailboats in the harbor and a great expanse of deep blue water beyond. In the far distance, the tops of gently rolling mountains were visible.

The Stantons’ private island was somewhere out there in the wilds of the Inner Hebrides, two hours away. It didn’t have a name on the map.

Ty shook Kelly awake as Nick found a tiny parking spot and turned the car off. They all climbed out, stretching and groaning. Nick rolled his neck and Kelly took hold of his shoulders, massaging them to loosen him up. It made Ty smile. It had been odd being deployed without Sanchez, without Kelly. Seeing Kelly and Nick together was like a balm on an open wound he hadn’t realized was there.

They gathered their luggage and began making their way to the private dock tucked into the picturesque seaside near the larger ferry landing. Kelly and Nick pulled ahead of them, heads bowed as they talked.

Zane took Ty’s arm and slowed him. “Is there something going on with them?”

“What do you mean?”

“They’re kind of . . . touchy-feely.”

Ty laughed. “Nick and Kelly have always been like that. Either one of them would cuddle you if they had the chance.”

Ty picked up the pace again to catch up with their companions. Zane trailed behind for a few steps.

“Huh,” Zane finally said.

When Zane climbed out of the craft, the sun was trying desperately to shine through the afternoon cloud cover. The dock seemed to be out in the middle of nowhere, with a winding dirt pathway that supposedly led up to the mansion that inhabited the small island. There were patches of snow in the shade, and the wind was frigid. The crew began to unload mail and packages from the boat, and two men piled them into a small electric vehicle.

“You’re the brother, then?” a man asked him.

Zane turned to him, eyebrows raised. The man was short and stocky, with a wild gray beard and even wilder eyebrows. He was wearing a wool skullcap and small, round glasses. His cardigan was torn and tattered, and so were his fingers, which were wrapped around a wooden oar he was leaning on like a cane.

“You’re the brother?” he said again.

“Oh! No, I’m . . . I’m the brother’s partner.” Zane took a step closer and offered his hand. “Zane.”

“Call me Mackie,” the man said. His Scottish brogue was so thick, Zane had a hard time deciphering what he’d said. “In charge of the docks. You need something to float, you come calling.”

Zane grinned and nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

Mackie left him to go supervise the loading of the packages. Zane glanced over the island, whistling under his breath. Talk about getting away from it all. This tiny island on the brittle northwestern coast of Scotland was about as far away as you could get. He shook his head and looked behind him. Ty was straddling the boat and the concrete steps that were built down into the sea off the dock. Nick was handing suitcases up to him, and Kelly was standing on the boat, giving them cheeky directions, no doubt to annoy them both.

Zane grinned at them.

Ty glanced up as he balanced on the edge of the boat, several wardrobe bags over his shoulder. “Give me a hand, huh?” he grunted. He raised up one of the bulky bags that carried the tuxedos they’d brought from Baltimore.

Zane took the garment bag and laid it over one arm before accepting the next satchel Ty shoved at him. “You make a good pack mule.”

“Shut up,” Ty grunted. He tossed Zane’s luggage unceremoniously onto the dock. Kelly laughed and held onto his side, using Nick’s shoulder and Ty’s hand to get onto the steps.

Ty helped Nick with the last two suitcases, then gave his surroundings a once-over, taking in the crimson ribbons tied to the dock and the hint of ancient ruins in the distance. “Poor Deacon.”

Zane stifled a laugh. “It’s not that bad.”

Ty was scowling, obviously not in agreement.

Nick found his feet and gave the island his own once-over, looking grim. “I’m going to die in Scotland,” he muttered.

Kelly barked a laugh. Nick reached out and grasped his forearm to pull him onto the dock.

“Let’s get this over with then,” Ty said as he bent to pick up his bags.

Zane chose the better part of valor and stayed quiet. Ty and Nick both had gotten crankier and crankier as the trip went on, but then, hours of layovers, car rides, and a choppy boat trip to an island that may or may not have power would have tried the biggest of travel lovers, especially since they were mere weeks off six months of deployment.

Zane slung a satchel over both shoulders, being careful of the tuxedo bag. When they made it to the dirt path, a golf cart broke the rise ahead and trundled their way, three familiar figures riding in it.

Ty grinned widely at the sight of his brother. He dropped the heavy bags he was lugging and jogged toward the golf cart, which stopped several yards off. Livi put Amelia on the ground, and she bounded toward Ty, who knelt and held his arms out for a hug. Amelia bypassed him, though, running right under his outstretched hand to leap into Zane’s arms. She giggled as Zane twirled her around. Ty’s shoulders drooped, and he trudged back over to them.