Ball & Chain (Cut & Run #8)(15)

by Abigail Roux

Kelly was hooting and snorting and wheezing too hard to answer. He buried his face against Nick’s stomach and shook his head, holding the dripping tube of cream up.

“In my mouth! Is this shit poisonous? Am I going to die?” Nick fumbled on the bedside table for his water bottle, gulped it down and wiped at his face frantically with a pillow.

Kelly brought the tube of cortisone cream up again, and when Nick caught sight of it he rolled out of bed and thumped to the hardwood floor. “Don’t f**king come near me with that shit! I’d rather be itchy!”

Kelly tried to argue, but he still couldn’t catch his breath.

“I’m taking a shower,” Nick cried, distraught. He pulled his shirt off and wiped his face with it, then disappeared into the bathroom and slammed the door.

Zane was holding his stomach, trying to sit up and laugh at the same time. Kelly chuckled. He quickly capped the tube then tossed it toward the trash can. He looked around for something to wipe his hands off on and Ty backed away from him.

“There were so many things wrong with that,” Ty told him, close to giggling.

Kelly snorted. “What did you guys need?”

Ty shook his head. “I don’t even f**king remember.”

Zane cackled. “I feel like I just watched free  p**n .”

“Oh, look at this shit we found earlier,” Kelly said, grinning like a little boy as he hopped past Ty toward the fireplace. He reached up to one of the carved angels on its knees with its hands clasped. A chain ran through its broken wing and attached to a ball higher up the corbel. He pulled the angel’s head.

Nothing happened.

Ty and Zane shared a glance, and Ty put two fingers to his lips to indicate Kelly may have been toking earlier rather than resting. Zane snorted.

“That’s weird,” Kelly said. He tried again, tugging at the angel’s head. Again, nothing happened. He glanced over his shoulder at them. “I swear to God this thing opened a door earlier.”

Ty snickered.

Kelly looked it over with a deep frown, pushing on the wall next to the fireplace. “No, seriously.”

“We believe you, Doc,” Zane said kindly.

“No! There was a door here! The walls are hollow, and there are stairs and everything,” Kelly insisted. He glanced at the bathroom door. “Nick!”

“No!” Nick called from the bathroom. The water shut off. “No, no, no.”

Zane began to laugh again.

Kelly put his shoulder into the wall, leaning against it. He reached up to tug the angel’s head again. “Damn it!”

Nick came out of the bathroom, a towel wrapped around his waist. He watched Kelly for a few seconds before saying, “Pull its wing.”

Kelly glanced at him, then up at the carving. He pulled the fragile-looking wing and something clicked within the fireplace. The wall gave way against Kelly’s shoulder, and he stumbled sideways before catching himself.

Zane stood, and Ty took a step forward, eyes widening.

“That’s so cool!” Zane cried.

Ty took another step, peering into the dark passageway. “How the hell did you find that?”

Kelly glanced at Nick, opening his mouth and closing it like a fish.

“He, uh,” Nick said quickly. “He tripped over the wood holder down there. Grabbed at it when he fell.”

“Did you follow it?” Zane asked, his brown eyes gleaming.

Ty was struck speechless for a moment, just staring at him. Good Lord, the man was beautiful. He didn’t know if it was because he’d just missed Zane so much, but he was pretty sure Zane had grown even more attractive while he’d been deployed. The sprinkling of silver in the hair at his temples had increased, and the light in his eyes was there more often than not. He’d slimmed down, losing a little of the bulk in his muscles, but he was still trim, and his suits seemed to fit just a little better than they had. There was a weightlessness to him now as well that hadn’t been there before, like the burden of his past had finally been shed.

Not lifted, no. No one had lifted Zane’s burden for him; he had shed it himself, like a caterpillar unfolding its wings to become a butterfly. Ty would never tell Zane he thought of him like a butterfly, of course.

“We followed it a little way,” Nick answered, reminding Ty that no one else in the room was smitten and they were still talking. “Down to the study. We saw you two in there with Deacon.”

Ty pointed a finger in his face. “I knew someone was watching me!”

Nick and Kelly laughed.

“You let me think I was being stalked by a ghost, you f**k nuts!”

Kelly laughed harder. He pushed at the angel’s wing, and the opening in the wall creaked closed.

“Are there more doorways?” Zane asked.

Kelly shrugged. Ty grumbled at Nick and shoved him lightly, and Nick swatted at him.

“We can go back in later and explore,” Kelly said, grinning like the Cheshire Cat.

“I think something in there made me itchy,” Nick said.

“But you’re not allergic to anything,” Kelly argued.

“I know, but I showered and I’m not itchy anymore.”

“You got groped by a ghost,” Ty teased.

“Shut up.”

“A ghost gave you crabs,” Ty added as he hopped toward the door.

“Shut up!” Nick was looking around for something to throw, and Ty darted for the door. He and Zane made their escape as Kelly peered at the wall and the angel who was chained to the fireplace and Nick hunted for a projectile.

Chapter 3

Zane and Ty had just enough time to shower and wind down, and that was what they did. Together. When the water started running cold, they turned it off and stayed in the shower for several more minutes, until it got cold enough to drive them into the bed and under the covers. They fell asleep wrapped up in each other.

When Zane woke, he slipped out of Ty’s arms and pulled on a robe. He headed for the doors to the balcony and stood leaning against the frame, gazing out at the gardens, the cliffs, and the choppy ocean beyond.

The bed creaked, and he turned. Ty was sitting on the edge, wearing only his sweatpants, watching him. “What do you think?” he asked after another moment of silence.

“It’s gorgeous. I didn’t figure it would be so f**king beautiful. But it’s . . . rugged and captivating.”

Ty’s eyes strayed to the pristine vista behind Zane, then back to Zane. He smiled slowly.