Ball & Chain (Cut & Run #8)(14)

by Abigail Roux

The room beyond was the gentleman’s study, decorated with heavy, rich materials rather than light, modern ones like the other rooms they’d seen. Green medallion carpeting, heavy wood, leather seating. The walls were paneled in leather, and the scent of expensive cigars lingered even over the smell of ancient wood inside the passage.

Deuce and Zane were sitting in leather club chairs near the fireplace, and Ty was perched on the arm of Zane’s chair as they talked.

Deuce was in the middle of speaking to Ty. “The Stantons are very . . . please don’t wave any weaponry or kill anything in their presence.”

Ty held up his hand. “Promise.”

“That’s the Girl Scout pledge, Ty,” Deuce observed, deadpan.

Ty looked at the fingers he’d raised and then sneered at Deuce.

“You’re not really expecting us to need weaponry, are you, Deuce?” Zane asked.

“He never needs an excuse,” Deuce’s reply was as long-suffering as his gesture at Ty. They laughed, but then Deuce grew serious once more. “The truth is, I don’t know. When we sit down tonight with Theodore, I think we’ll all learn a little more about it.”

Ty and Zane both gave worried nods.

“Thanks for bringing your friends,” Deuce added. He sounded weary.

“Always.” Ty glanced up and around the study, like he was sensing something off. He visibly shivered. “This place gives me the creeps, man.”

Deuce laughed.

“No, seriously, I feel eyes on me in here.”

Kelly snorted. Nick quickly clapped a hand over his mouth and nose, biting his own lip so he wouldn’t laugh as well.

Ty’s head whipped around and his eyes darted back and forth over the section of wall they were behind. His sharp hearing had picked up on them, and the display of his predatory senses made the hairs on the back of Nick’s neck stand up. He gripped Kelly tighter, and they both held their breath.

“Did you hear that?” Ty asked.

Deuce laughed harder.

“Yeah, Ty, the walls are talking to you,” Zane teased.

“I heard something.”

“You two go get some rest before dinner,” Deuce urged, still snickering. “Before Ty opens up some sort of paranormal investigation.”

“That’s not funny,” Ty insisted as his piercing eyes raked over their hiding spot one last time. Nick wondered how in the hell the peepholes were concealed if Ty couldn’t spot it. Ty turned to follow Deuce and Zane out, but Nick could tell he was on the alert now just by the way he carried himself. His voice trailed off as they left the room. “This place is creepy, Deacon.”

Nick and Kelly barely held in their laughter.

Kelly grinned widely. “This could be fun. Want to see where else it leads?”

Nick was grinning and nodding. “Want to go get naked first?”

“Yeah.” He took Nick’s hand and tugged him toward the stone steps.

Ty could hear Nick and Kelly arguing as he and Zane approached their room. Nick and Kelly were in the next room over from them, with a cute little wooden placard with their names carved on it. Ty laughed and pointed it out to Zane. Though the way Nick and Kelly were, it was likely neither of them cared. They’d probably be fighting over who’d get to take it home by the end of the week.

He stood at their door and cocked his head to listen, but he couldn’t make out the words of the argument. They were interspersed with laughter, though, so Ty wasn’t all too concerned about it being a real fight. He gave the door a knock, then tested the knob to see if it was unlocked and shoved it open.

He stopped short when he encountered Nick and Kelly on the queen-sized bed they were sharing. Nick was reclining against the headboard in nothing but his boxers and a worn-out Red Sox T-shirt, and Kelly was kneeling beside him holding a small tube of something.

“Was that really f**king necessary?” Nick demanded as he wiped a runny white substance off his calf.

Kelly was laughing hard. “I’m sorry, it just shot out!”

Both men glanced up when they noticed Ty and Zane in the doorway.

“Hey,” Nick said.

“What the f**k are you doing?” Ty asked in horror.

Kelly held up the tube. “First aid.”

“He’s making a goddamn mess is what he’s doing,” Nick corrected. He scratched at his calf.

“He’s scratching himself bloody, I was trying to put this hydrocortisone cream on him while I had him immobile,” Kelly explained. “But the plane ride must have made it separate or something, ’cause . . . I’ve never seen this shit do that.”

Nick laughed.

Kelly shoved at his knee to make him turn onto his side, and then he put the tip of the tube at his calf where the skin had been scratched red. When he squeezed it, though, another thin stream of opaque liquid shot out instead of the thick cream it was supposed to be.

“That’s obscene,” Zane muttered.

Kelly laughed harder and wiped at Nick’s leg before it could drip to the sheets.

“Oh my God!” Nick shouted. “What kind of janky f**king medic are you?”

“I’m sorry!”

“It’s a tube of cream, how hard is this exactly?”

“It’s separated!”

“You’re sleeping in the wet spot tonight!”

“No, it’s not my fault!”

Zane finally lost it at that. Laughing, he strolled into the room and sat on the end of the bed.

“Jesus Christ,” Ty said, moving closer. “You don’t want to know what I thought was going on in here.”

Nick glanced up, scowling as he scratched at his calf.

“I don’t understand why you’re still itching, there’s no bite or anything there,” Kelly grumbled.

“You’re not even allergic to anything,” Ty added. “Where have you been?”

“I don’t know, but I’m itchy,” Nick grumbled. “I think this place knows I’m Irish.”

Kelly barked a laugh. He placed the cap on the tube and shook it vigorously. The same persistent liquid shot out from under the tightened cap, hitting Nick in the face.

Nick howled and flopped to his side, covering his face and laughing raucously. Kelly pitched forward, cackling so hard he had to rest his head on Nick’s hip. Zane practically guffawed.

“You got it in my mouth!” Nick finally cried. He rolled to his back, pawing at his face.