Truth & Tenderness

By: Tere Michaels

“What? This way I can keep an eye on you, make sure you don’t end up doing something stupid.” Matt leaned back in the chair, folding his hands over his stomach. “But if we don’t find anything….”

Jim put his hand up. “Then it’s done.”

Matt scrutinized him like he might a perp. Jim knew that expression. “Then it’s done.”

Jim’s response was an approving smile.

MATT DROVE back to the city, taking the winding country roads slowly in the bad weather. Two texts from Elizabeth came through before he left Jim’s house; the first said she was staying at her friend Star’s house for dinner so they could work on a project, followed by news that Danny had gone to the varsity baseball practice at the batting cage to “hang out.”

No word from Evan, which meant he’d be home late. Probably another meeting with Casper, a name he was already tired of hearing from his boyfriend’s mouth.

So Matt drove slower because there wasn’t a reason to hurry.

Jim’s obsession with Tripp Ingersoll poked at him, dragged him through his own memory bank. On the force, he had felt an all-consuming need to close his cases—every single one of them, no matter if the victim was innocent or anything but.

He wanted to have an ending.

He wanted to know his efforts led to justice.

He wanted the badge to mean something all the time, for each case.

It cost him his badge in the end.

The rain beat down on the windshield, obscuring his view. Matt slowed down a little more, caught in a swamp of memories.

Chapter 3

GRIFFIN DRAKE walked on shaky legs from the idling sedan in the driveway to the house. Whatever the thing past utter exhaustion was, well, he felt about two weeks of no sleep past that. The movie had wrapped, the postproduction was underway, and Griffin could finally go home.

At three thirty in the morning.

He vaguely registered the car pulling away, focused intently on the front door with its cheery pussy willow wreath that clearly wasn’t the work of his fiancé.

Shivering in the night air, Griffin dropped his carry-on and suitcase on the front steps. He needed both hands to fumble with the key and lock, taking three tries to get his fingers to cooperate.

On try number four, the tumblers clicked and the door opened.

Jim, framed in the doorway and backlit with the foyer chandelier, smiled down at him, and Griffin tried not to burst into hysterics. Tears or laughter—he had no idea which would come out if he opened his mouth.

“Like the first time we met,” he managed before Jim reached out and pulled him into the house—and his arms.

“Luggage,” Griffin said against his chest, but Jim—big, silent, beautiful Jim, whose hands felt like a gift on Griffin’s body—manhandled him through the foyer and into the living room and then down on the couch.

“I’ll get it. Just relax, okay?” he murmured as Griffin sprawled back on the pillows and throw blanket on the long couch. Griffin realized a second later that Jim had been waiting for him here.

“Oh God.” Griffin closed his eyes and let the sound of Jim moving back to get his bags soothe him. He was here, and Jim was here, and all the distance was almost over.

Griffin woke with a start, jumping a little when he opened his eyes and realized he was home and not in a hotel room or the near-empty loft. He sat up slowly, running both hands through his wrecked hair as he twisted the kinks out of his back. It took a minute, but he realized his clothes—save his underwear and socks—were gone, the air toasty warm and the blanket from their bed laid over his legs.

And the sun was out.

“Jim?” Griffin called quietly. He moved the blanket as he swung his legs over the side of the couch.

A sound from the direction of the kitchen drew Griffin to the other side of the house.

In their gourmet kitchen—domain of the housekeeper unless you counted putting leftovers away as cooking—Jim stood over the stovetop, poking at something in a frying pan.

Griffin slid his socked feet over the smooth wood floor, making as little noise as possible. He admired Jim’s strong shoulders and muscular legs, currently on display in an outfit of gym shorts and a tank top. He revisited the back of his fiancé’s neck, so excellently built for nuzzling or biting, depending on what Griffin was doing back there.

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