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Making Promises [MultiFormat]
eBook by Amy Lane

eBook Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
eBook Description: All Shane Perkins ever wanted to be was a hero. But after a career-shattering decision to go down fighting, Shane comes home from the hospital to four empty walls, a pile of money, and a burning desire for someone to miss him the next time he gets hurt in the line of duty. He ends up an officer in the small town of Levee Oaks, and, addicted to the promise of family, he makes an effort to reconcile with his flighty, troubled sister. Kimmy makes her living as a dancer, and her partner steals Shane's breath at first sight. Mikhail Vasilyovitch Bayul dances like an angel, but his past is less than heavenly. Since he left Russia, he's made only two promises: to stay off the streets and stay clean, and to take his mother someplace beautiful before she dies. Making promises to anybody else is completely out of the question--but then, Mikhail has never met anybody like Shane. Earnest, brave, and self-deprecating, Shane seems to speak Mikhail's language, and no one is more surprised than Mikhail to find that keeping promises is Shane's best talent of all.

eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, Published: 2010, 2010
Fictionwise Release Date: August 2010

113 Reader Ratings:
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Just when you think you got it down...

"Promises in the Dark"--Pat Benatar

Shane Perkins had never had a male lover before. He didn't know protocol, but he was pretty sure that two beat cops boning each other in the locker room of an L.A. precinct violated a whole bunch of it.

"No," he said firmly, when his partner--still fully clothed--wrapped his arms around Shane's naked, burly chest.

"No?" Brandon Ashford looked more like a calendar pinup than a cop. He was tall, built like a willow tree with deeply defined muscles in his chest. He also had dark blond hair, blue eyes, grooves in the side of his mouth, and a pair of dimples that men and women had probably been falling into since the day he was born.

"No" was not a word Brandon heard very often.

"We'll get caught. Don't like Top Ramen. Would rather eat hamburger."

Shane heard the puzzled draw of breath behind him and sighed. Once again, whatever came out of his mouth had jumped two sentences down in the conversation. It had made sense in his head--they get caught, they get fired. They get fired, they don't have any money. They don't have any money, they end up eating Top Ramen instead of at their favorite hamburger stand in the Barrio.

He felt Brandon's frustrated shake of his head. "Yeah--whatever, Shane." Brandon's hands came up to his shoulders and he fitted his lean form against Shane's back. "I'm not talking about lunch, man, I'm talking about, you know...." Brandon lowered his mouth to Shane's ear, and Shane loved it when someone whispered in his ear. It was, in fact, how Brandon had coaxed him into bed the first time--what had started as casual, harmless banter had gone up six notches when Brandon had whispered it in Shane's ear.

"Lunch...," Brandon whispered, and Shane sprung a boner that could have dented the locker in front of him.

"Someone's going to...," Shane whispered back helplessly. What he really wanted to do was bend over. He wasn't hung up on being a top or a bottom--it was just that Brandon was behind him, and that was easier.

"No one's going to," Brandon said, grinning. He'd won--he knew it. His hands fumbled at Shane's towel, and the thing dropped, revealing Shane's thick, blocky body. The only time in his life Shane had ever felt graceful and fine-boned had been in Brandon's bed, under the magic of his hands. Those hands were traveling the fronts of his thighs now, tickling the thick brown hair that grew at Shane's groin.

"You ever think about waxing?" Brandon purred, and Shane's head tilted back onto Brandon's shoulder.

"No," he muttered, but whether it was to the waxing question or to the "should we do this at work" question, even he couldn't tell.

"Better access." Brandon placed a gentle kiss at Shane's neck and then one on his collarbone and then one at his spine where his short, curly hair was shaved at the back of his neck. That one brought out little sharp teeth to nibble, and Shane tilted his head forward again, feeling helpless. It wasn't fair. Brandon could do this to him, and as far as he could tell, nothing he said to Brandon had any effect at all.

"Access is fine," Shane grunted, and Brandon reached around him to take hold of his cock, which was growing stiff with or without his approval, thank you very much. "It's--" His voice trailed off because Brandon had just stroked and squeezed, and his teeny-tiny brain had all but exploded. "Appro... appropria... fuck." Shane grabbed hold of his common sense and self-respect with both hands and jerked away, turning to tell Brandon he would just have to put his porn-dog on hold.

Which meant that when their captain walked in, Shane was the naked one sporting wood, and Brandon was the fully clothed one who looked like he was being sexually harassed.

Brandon smiled that winning grin and held out his hands. "Hey, there partner--nice of you to think of me, but you know I don't swing that way!"

Of course, when Shane thought back on it, all he had to do was say something witty, something that made the whole situation so wildly unlikely that the captain would just roll his eyes and assume that they were just horsing around, being buddies, whatever.

But Shane wasn't glib. He wasn't witty. Brandon had the words. Shane had an inconvenient brain that frog-jumped over the details and stuck on concepts that needed a master's thesis to explain. A wicked blush swept his body, even as his damned prick withered and drooped, and he looked up at the captain in completely helpless misery.

"Titanic," he blurted. A truer word was never spoken.

The captain just looked at them before turning and walking out of the locker room without a word. Brandon turned away in disgust, chuffing out air like a scolding parent.

"Jesus, Shane--just once could you not be such a psychopath?"

"Titanic," Shane muttered again, because sure enough, that one moment had sunk them both.

He was wrong, though. It didn't sink them both. It dragged Shane down to hell, but Brandon got off scot-free.

Shane should have guessed as soon as Brandon got reassigned. He wasn't sure if it was the captain's idea or Brandon's, but since Brand had been refusing to talk to him in the squad room or the locker room or on the phone, he assumed it was Brandon's. He spent a horrible week waiting for a call from Internal Affairs but the night he was sent out to the area surrounding USC all by himself, he realized the call would never come.

So, before getting out of the cherry top in the city's worst neighborhood by himself, with gunfire echoing between the darkened streets under shattered street lights, he placed a call to IA himself, along with the time he'd asked for backup.

Then he placed a call to his answering machine at home for double assurance.

Then he got out of the car alone, loudly identified himself and ducked behind the door to the car, and prayed.

A month later he was almost recovered from the severe internal injuries that occurred when too many bullets hit a Kevlar vest at close range. As his lawyer was wheeling him out of the hospital his friendly IA agent was there with a check to keep him quiet.

Shane looked at the check and wondered if it was his imagination or were all those zeros covered in blood?

"So what are you going to do?" Brandon asked him over the phone that night. Brand hadn't come to see him in the hospital. Shane had hated himself for hoping that he would. Nope--just this one awkward, pathetic phone call, and Shane wanted it over more than he wanted more pain meds for the surgery stitches.

"Go far away," Shane said softly. "And find someplace they'll let me be a cop again."

Brandon had been a fourth-generation cop but had always thought of the job as beneath him. He knew he was pretty, and he lived in L.A.--he had better things to do with his time. At Shane's words, he snorted with disgust. "Only you, Shane. You've got enough money there to go anywhere in the world. Do anything in the world! Have some imagination, why don't you?"

Shane had a vivid memory, one that had flashed in front of his eyes when he'd enrolled in the academy, one that had sustained him in the long hours of studying and working to make a minimum rent and buy Top Ramen on the way through. It had greeted him when he'd graduated and made the whole thing worthwhile.

He'd been eight years old, and he and his father had been in the back of the Town Car. His father had been busy working on documents, and they'd been driving through the neighborhood where Shane had gotten shot, actually. His father was president of the university at that time--it hadn't made him any more or less busy or any more or less distant, but it had made the ride to drop him off before school a little more interesting.

They were there at a stoplight when Shane saw two cops run down a guy with a gun. The guy had been hauling ass, nervous, twitchy, wearing a thousand layers of clothing. (When Shane grew up and walked the same beat, he recognized crack addiction, although by the time he came into the job, meth was the drug of choice.)

The policemen had been... extraordinary.

Shane had watched, wide-eyed, as they'd blasted through the street, not with their guns but with their commitment. The cop in front had made a solid tackle, landing on the bad guy (as Shane had thought of him then) and cuffing him efficiently and without violence. As the two cops pulled themselves up off the dirty ground and stalked away, their prisoner in their charge, Shane had been awestruck.

They had done something real

Shane was mostly a quiet, chubby kid. He liked living in his own head, in a place of knights and dragons and absolute good and absolute evil. He liked ideals. His mother was on the other side of the world, his father was distant, and his twin sister was so devoted to the world of dance that it was like they didn't even live in the same house. Those books had raised him--had, in fact, instilled within his heart every hard-earned value he possessed.

And there they were. Real life knights in shining armor, doing real live acts of bravery to slay crack-addicted dragons and save trick-turning princesses.

More than anything, Shane wanted to be one.

And now, ten years out of the academy and technically just months away from getting his detective's shield, that hadn't changed. He was still weird. He still lived more up in his head than down here on earth. He had learned that the line between good guys and bad guys was less than absolute--many of the "bad guys" were simply lost, addicted, and hungry. He had learned that many of the "good guys" were bullies, excited about using their power simply because they could.

But the basic principle was still there, clean, unsullied, and beautiful. He was a good guy. He could make a difference. All of the fanciful crap in his head could be real when he was on the streets helping people.

"It's the only thing I've ever wanted to do, Brandon," he said, now in the darkened confines of his sterile apartment. He should have something, he thought idly. If he was going to go far away, maybe he could buy a house, get a dog or something. He'd been gone for a month and hadn't had so much as a goldfish to go belly up without him.

Brandon gave a short laugh. "Only you, Shane. Let me know where you end up."

"I don't think so," Shane replied. "In fact, I'm thinking you're my object lesson for who I don't want to let into my life."

He hung up on that one. It was the best line he'd ever had.

* * * *

Chapter One

And if I build this fortress around your heart...

"Fortress Around Your Heart"--Sting

Benny Francis might have had a toddler of her own, but in this moment she was all bright eyes and excited child herself.

"You're going to the autumn Renaissance Faire? Really? Ooooooohhh.... I loved the Ren Faire... the summer one in Fair Oaks!" She turned to Andrew, the young private that her brother Crick had met in Iraq. Andrew worked for her brother's boyfriend, Deacon, on their Levee Oaks horse ranch now and was as much a part of the family as Benny or her daughter or any of the other folks who revolved around The Pulpit like planets around the sun. "Drew--you remember! You took me there in June?"

Andrew nodded soberly, only an act of will keeping his blinding white grin from erupting in his dark-skinned face. Obviously he remembered something funny about the incident that Benny wouldn't think funny at all.

Shane nodded at Benny over his slice of chocolate cream pie and tried not to be weird. He wanted to say, Oh dost thou, Lady Faire, tell tales of knights in days of yore!, complete with a hokey British accent and everything, but he enjoyed his Sunday nights here at The Pulpit and really didn't want Deacon or Crick or Benny or any of the people who gathered here for dinner once a week to look at him the way Brandon had looked at him that day in the locker room. He was sincerely trying to not be too much of a psychopath.

"Oh tell me, Lady Faire, do you swoon over knights on prancing steeds?"

The words--so close to the ones in Shane's head--were uttered in an atrocious British accent, and Shane tried not to glare at Jeff, Crick's best friend.

Jeff was so gay he made an Easter Parade look like a funeral for straight people--but he was also glib and witty and funny, and he could pull off the Lady-Faire schtick where with Shane it would merely be dumb or odd or socially backward. As badly as Shane yearned to belong here at this big, battered wooden table in this old ranch-style home, it was just not any goddamned fair at all.

Benny rolled her eyes at Jeff and said, "If I wanted a knight in shining armor, oh court jester thou, I've got Deacon or Jon or Shane here to fit the bill."

Jeff was slender and almost comically graceful. He was the kind of guy who could mince when he stepped and trill when he talked and then get totally goddamned serious, and people would take him seriously. His hair was the same lustrous dark brown as Shane's, and Shane suspected it had the same unruly curl, but Jeff's had a sophisticated cut to it and some sort of amazing hair glue that made it sit down and behave.

Jeff could get any set of friends he wanted. It just seemed unfair that he should want the same set of friends that Shane wanted, because Shane didn't have a whole lot of luck in the social department. Or the friend department. Or the family department.

But wait a second. "I'd be a knight in shining armor?" he asked Benny, and she grinned at him from around the fuzzy brown head of the toddler in her lap. The little girl was eating her mother's pie with a single-minded glee that Shane admired. He'd never seen anyone suck whipped cream out of their own tangled hair before.

"Of course you would, Shane! Look at you--you drive a muscle car for a prancing steed, you perform good deeds as a matter of course, and not a soul on the planet could doubt your good intentions. Yup," Benny finished happily, taking the second-to-last bite of pie on the plate from her daughter. "Definitely a knight in shining armor!"

"What does that make me?" Andrew asked, a little real hurt mixed in with the mock outrage. Even Shane could see that in spite of the age difference, Andrew wanted to be Benny's knight in shining armor all by himself.

Benny's grin at Andrew changed temperature and wattage, and Andrew's hurt seemed to disappear. "You're a squire--you're like a knight in training. You'll be knighted eventually."

"Will you be my Lady Faire?" Andrew asked, and Benny went from charmed girl to age-old-temptress in a heartbeat.

"Maybe," she teased and then turned to Shane before she could see Andrew put a hand to the imaginary shaft in his heart. "So, are you going to buy a costume?"

"A costume?" he said blankly, and she nodded--and Andrew rolled his eyes.

"Yeah--you know. Everyone's in costume. The actual knight costumes are usually reserved for the guys on horseback, but there are some great peasant costumes and merchant costumes and...." She looked fondly at her little girl. "We bought the basic dresses, but there were wings and hats and stuff."

She didn't say anything else, but her eyes darted to where her brother, Crick, and his boyfriend were washing dishes. Deacon--the boyfriend--actually owned the horse ranch, and Shane knew the place was in trouble. Deacon had been outed in a spectacular fashion that involved being beaten by a local police officer and a rather dramatic court case. The fallout had resulted in a loss of a lot of the ranch's local business. When Crick had returned from Iraq in May--injured and unable to go out and earn any extra income--keeping the ranch had been an iffy proposition at best.

Something had happened to give them some time. Shane knew it had something to do with Crick's decision not to go to college after his return (a thing that hurt Deacon deeply but didn't seem to bother Crick at all) but whatever had happened didn't change the fact that finances were still touch-and-go. Once a month the family--and that included Shane now, much to his honor--had a meeting where Deacon showed them how much money they had lost and how much they still had in capital and what sort of spread that could afford them in another part of the state or even the country. They all knew it would kill him to give up The Pulpit. His father had started the ranch from scratch, and Deacon loved it only slightly less than he loved Crick. But Deacon was adamant--the family came first. Benny and little Parry Angel would have the best education and the best circumstances money could buy, and if that meant moving the ranch before they lost it, that's what it meant.

That didn't mean everybody's heart didn't stop during the monthly family meetings while they waited to see if they had just a few more months for the ranch to start making money again. It didn't mean that Deacon wasn't thin and transparent from stress--his best friend Jon had instituted a "Deacon weigh-in" during the family meetings so the family could keep an eye on Deacon's health. Shane looked unhappily to where Deacon stood, his six-foot frame made to look short by Crick's extra four inches. At the last weigh-in, he'd been one-sixty. It was better than when Shane had gotten there--called out because Crick and Benny's crazy-assed family had decided it was time to share the crazy and take the baby from her young mother--but it was still not enough to make him look strong and healthy, and Shane needed him to be strong and healthy.

Shane was working for the local police force these days. He should have been the enemy after what Deacon had been through, but they'd invited him into their family as a friend. His entire life, Shane had never had a family with that much warmth. He needed the ranch to be here in Levee Oaks. He needed this family to be all right.

Shane looked thoughtfully to where Deacon was shooing Crick off from resting a pointed chin in his shoulder to try and get him to eat a slice of pie. He was six feet of scrawny, determined alpha male hidden behind a shy smile and a blush. Deacon himself wouldn't have denied Benny or Parry Angel anything. If Benny had held off on a Renaissance Faire shopping spree, she had probably not spent the money voluntarily, to do her part toward keeping The Pulpit right where it was.

Shane looked back at Benny. Her hair was bright orange this month, and her eyes--a pretty blue but still the same shape as Crick's--were wistful and dreamy. Benny could be the closest thing to a damsel in distress that Shane ever got to rescue.

"What did you want to get?" he asked, inviting conversation. He set his detective's brain on "record" then, and it was a good thing too. It turned out a sixteen-year-old girl with a beloved baby on her arm could dream a whole lot of princess after one trip to the Faire.

A few minutes later, Benny carted the baby off to her bath--which turned out to be a community event, since Deacon's friends, Jon and Amy, were there, and they decided that four-month-old Lila Lisa needed a little bathwater on her bottom as well. When the community baby-bathing event had sucked half the people out of the room, Deacon asked who wanted to bring the table scraps out to the potbellied pigs. Shane practically knocked his chair over in an effort to volunteer.

The pigpen was in the dark behind the stable, but Shane didn't mind the walk. The early October night was still warm enough for cargo shorts and a T-shirt, and the breeze that blew off the delta and through the valley was crisp enough to suggest November was coming. It was a pleasant night to be out, and that was good, because he had something to do while he was there under the stars.

He rounded the corner to the barn on the way back, found the stack of hay bales under the soda light suspended from the barn, pulled his little notepad and pen out of his pocket, and started writing. He was so intent on his task that after he got all of Benny's fanciful wishes from the Renaissance Faire down on paper, he was surprised to see Jeff had come out on the porch of the house and was standing there smoking a cigarette.

Shane put the paper and pen in his pocket, grabbed the empty plastic bowl that had held the scraps, and tried to walk back into the house like he hadn't been doing anything that needed talking about.

Jeff wouldn't let it slide.

"Did you remember the scent of the hand lotion she wanted?" he asked as Shane came up the steps.

Shane flushed. "Chamomile-lavender, with a little bit of vanilla," he said quietly, and Jeff raised his eyebrows on the inhale. "Those are bad for you," he said, trying to just go past that other thing.

"Which is why I only get one a day," Jeff said primly, blowing smoke. "The military might have paid for Andrew's new, spiffy race-specific prosthetic eventually."

Shane tried for innocence. "Why would you think they didn't?" Don't blush don't blush don't blush don't blush.

"For one thing, Benny only spent a day on the phone trying to clear up the insurance--we all know that's a children's fairy tale in itself, don't we?"

"What makes you think it was anything else?" Shane kept his face as neutral as possible.

Jeff looked sadly at the end of his cigarette and stubbed it out on the bottom of his shoe. "Mmmm... I don't know. Maybe the office buzz about the 'big hulking cop' who came in and paid for Andrew's new, spiffy black-skinned leg and asked billing to keep it hush-hush? That's always a big hint something else happened, you think? I work in the VA hospital, Shane--did you think it was going to be a secret?"

Shane grew extremely uncomfortable, and, yes, the dreaded blush swamped his fair skin. "Please don't tell them," he begged at last. "People have their pride, you know?"

"I'm not going to ask you why you're doing it," Jeff said after a moment, "because we both know it would take months the other way, and I'd probably do it too--but I don't have the money."

Shane looked down, and the silence stretched long enough for Jeff to trot down the stairs and throw the butt-end away in one of the trash cans at the end of the house. He came back, squirting alcohol on his hand from a bottle he kept in his pocket.

"You ready to tell me yet?" he asked, rubbing his hands crisply together, and Shane shrugged. "Look, big guy, I'll keep your secret, but only if I know you're not out on the streets turning tricks for the green, okay?"

Shane actually managed a chuckle on that. "Funny."

Jeff shrugged. "Yeah, I've got a mouth."

"Not your mouth--the idea that anybody would want me. They'd probably be afraid of weirdness, like some sort of STD."

Jeff pulled in a breath and peered at him in the dark. "This family loves you, Shane. In fact, I think they worry about you. If you're weird it's because you're too much in your own head, and you only have to look at Deacon to see how that can hurt a guy. Now are you going to tell me where you're getting the cash, or am I going to have to blab about your Secret Santa routine?"

Ouch. Shane glared at Jeff. "You don't even like me." It was true--Jeff had been the master of the catty epithet since he'd arrived. "Big guy" was an improvement over "Yeti," "Sasquatch," and (after he'd outed himself at the dinner table) "Shane the hairy Hoover."

"That's not true," Jeff protested without even flinching. "I like you fine. I was jealous of you, but I think you're an okay sort."

"Jealous." Blink. "Of me?"

Jeff shrugged. "You walk in to answer a call, and they invite you to dinner? Hell--I had to work Crick's arm like Christ himself with the healing touch to get that invite!"

"Jon invited me," Shane mumbled. "He was kind of a dick to me when he got here. He felt bad."

"Really?" Jeff perked right up. "So it was a pity thing? Excellent. No hard feelings, right big guy?"

Why would there be? Jeff was the one who had offered the olive branch. Shane shrugged. "Nope."

"Good, then tell me where you got the money, I can tell Deacon to stop worrying, and it can be our little secret."

Shane scowled, feeling like shit. "Deacon put you up to this?"

Jeff waved his hand. "No--he was going to do it himself. The thought of the two of you out here not talking was enough to give even the baby a case of the squirmies. So spill or this goes public to the family. They are our family, right?"

Shit. Yeah. "L.A.P.D. let me walk into an ambush. When I didn't get my queer ass blown to hell, they gave me some cash to take away the sting."

Jeff opened his eyes large and pushed theatrically on his swinging jaw. "Are you shitting me?"

Shane rubbed at his chest, where he could still feel his scars from the surgeries under his shirt. "Naw. You know, when your ribs puncture your lungs through your vest and they have to take out your spleen and shit, I guess a little joke's gone too far."

He was unprepared for Jeff's slug to his jaw--both for the connect and for it to hurt so much. He landed on his ass and looked up at Jeff with absolute amazement in his eyes.

"What in the fuck...?" He was just that befuddled.

"You still work that job!" Jeff said, upset. He was shaking out his hand--and he should have been, dammit; that hurt

"So...." Shane blinked hard. "Can I repeat? What in the fuck?"

"You asshole!" Jeff growled, and Deacon came out just then and took stock.

"What in the fuck?" Deacon stretched his hand out with the question, and Shane took it, still looking puzzled.

"Deacon, he hit me!"

And Jeff was furious at him. "Deacon--you want to know where his money comes from?"

"You promised not to tell!" There was something about this conversation that sounded... unfamiliar and familiar at once. Shane couldn't put his finger on it, but it made the moment even more surreal.

"That was before I found out you were attempting suicide-by-cop!" Jeff snarled, and Shane let go of Deacon's hand and sat down hard on the porch again.

"I'm what?"

"You get shot in L.A. because you're a big stupid queer-ass bastard, and then you come here where even the civilians get beaten for it! And you don't tell anybody here.... You just show up to Sunday dinner like you're going to be around for a while and not a soul here knows you're a walking fucking target!"

"I'm not a walking target," Shane said, coming heavily to his knees and once again taking Deacon's patiently offered hand. "And I only wish I was fucking. Something. At all."

Deacon Winters had an extraordinarily pretty face, shaped like a squarish oval with a square jaw and chin and an angel's mouth and lovely, dark-fringed green eyes. At the moment, those pretty eyes were looking at both of them like Shane had seen him look at Crick and Benny when they argued, and that's when it hit him.

He and Jeff were arguing like brothers. He looked at Jeff again. The guy was examining the manicure on the hand that had bruised Shane's jaw as though it was something precious. Okay--they'd been arguing like a brother and sister. Whatever. Siblings.

Shane flushed and spoke the truth because he owed the guy that. "It's nice of you to worry," he said quietly, and Deacon arched an eyebrow at him, as though he had more to say. "Seriously?" Shane asked Deacon, responding to the unvoiced question, and Deacon nodded.

"Fucking seriously."

Shane blew out a breath. "Okay. Fine. I'm sorry I didn't tell you all there might be a problem that way. I just didn't think it was worth your time, okay?"

"No," Deacon said judiciously. "Jeff, how bout you go inside and have Benny or Crick look at your hand. Shane and I need to have a talk out here."

"Yeah," Jeff muttered.

"Jeff?" Man, Deacon had that note of command in his voice. Shane would give his left nut to sound like that.

Shane was thirty-one, Jeff was his age or older, and Deacon was younger than both of them. Jeff turned to Deacon like a little boy would turn to his father. "Yes, Deacon?" he asked sweetly, batting the dark fringe of his brown eyes at the man.

Deacon looked blandly back. "I do believe Shane apologized."

"Fi-ine." He said it complete with rolled eyes too. "Fine. I'm sorry I hit you, you big stupid cop. Please try not to get your dumb fat ass shot off before next Sunday, okay?"

"I promise," Shane said sincerely, looking at the man in surprise. He took an awkward step in, and Jeff sneered at him. It was Shane's turn to roll his eyes. "Thanks, Jeff, for giving a shit."

"Yeah, what-the-fuck-ever." Jeff snorted and walked back in to the house, leaving Shane alone with Deacon.

He was unaccountably nervous.

Deacon looked at him for a second and touched his jaw with soft fingers, then grunted. He walked to the door and shouted, "Crick, get me some fucking ice!"

"Stop swearing in front of the baby, asshole!" came the reply through the door, but Shane had no doubt that Crick was doing what Deacon had asked.

Deacon walked to the porch rail and leaned his weight on it, just like Jeff had been doing earlier. "You got shot?" he asked mildly, and Shane shrugged.

"I... I was sent into a dangerous situation without backup," he said carefully. "The Kevlar, you know... doesn't protect you from the impact."

"No. No, it doesn't. Was Jeff right? Were you out to your department?"

Shane turned a deeper red, if that was even possible. "Not on purpose," he mumbled, and Deacon turned to him with eyebrows raised to his hairline.

"Do I want to know?"

Oh God. Anything but tell this story to Deacon. Shane honestly thought he'd rather tell his father, were the fucker still alive, than Deacon, who actually sort of liked and respected him.

"Do I have to tell you?"

Deacon looked at him gently. "Look, Shane, I can't make you. But...." The man looked embarrassed, but since he often looked embarrassed, it suited him. "Look. You go ahead and keep that locked in your chest, that's fine. But I'm the poster child for repression, and I gotta tell you, you need to tell someone. What we're worried about right now is exactly what Jeff said. Does this department know about you, and are you in danger? Because if you've got other backup out there, you haven't told us about it. And if we're it, we need to know, right?"

Shane swallowed. "I'm going to be gone next weekend. Would you feed my animals on Saturday?"

Deacon didn't even look surprised at the abrupt change of subject. "So we know to go get them if anything happens to you, right?"

"Yeah--Angel Marie eats a lot."

Deacon raised his eyebrows. "Angel Marie?"

Shrug. "If I'd known Parry Angel when I named him, I would have found another name. Anyway, I'm afraid if I don't get to him in a day or two, he'll eat a cat." Oh Christ. That came out weird. He knew it did, but he couldn't help it. Angel Marie wouldn't eat Orlando Bloom or the others on purpose, but the ginormous doofus wasn't exactly discriminating in his taste, and he weighed over a hundred and fifty pounds himself. So far, Shane counted himself lucky that the Great Dane cross hadn't eaten Shane for breakfast.

But Deacon didn't bat an eyelash at that, either. Shane felt a sudden surge of out and out love for the guy. It had nothing to do with how pretty he was or that he fed Shane once a week and invited him in on the family meetings. It had to do with the fact that he never ever made Shane feel weird.

"Okay, so you show us where you live and how to feed your animals, and in return, you promise us that if things go hinky, you'll give us a call. If you think you're going somewhere without backup, we'll give Jon a call and show up, simple as that."

"Deacon, you guys aren't cops!"

"Nope. But this is a small town. We know most of the local troublemakers, same as you. Shane, Parry Angel in there calls you her 'Unca Shaney'--you're not going anywhere without backup!"

Shane made his face as stern as he could. "Citizen," he said meaningfully, "you do not put yourself in danger--"

"Shove it, Perkins. We're all licensed to carry--"

"Vigilante-ism is a crime."

"So is discrimination. I want your word on this, Shane."

How had this spiraled out of his control like this? Shane had been in charge of his own destiny since... since... since he'd seen a bad guy taken down when he was a small child!

"Deacon! Look, this isn't safe. You have got to know the many, many things wrong with--"

"With sending a brother into danger?" Deacon looked at him with measured eyes, and Shane had to concede. There was something in Deacon Winters--some measure of fineness, of self-possession--that made it impossible to go up against him when he was like this.

Shane grunted. Great. He finally had a family, and his big brother thought he couldn't take care of himself. "Does Crick ever win an argument?" he asked bitterly and knew the sound of Deacon's laugh before he made it.

"All the goddamned time. Irritating asshole."

"Who just brought you ice!" Crick protested, shouldering his tall, broad-chested frame through the screen door. Shane wondered how long he'd been listening before he took his cue line, and then he dropped the ice pack in his hand with an oath and Shane stopped wondering.

"Did you get some for yourself?" Deacon asked, picking the pack up off the ground and taking Crick's hand in his own. Crick had come back from a two-year tour of the Gulf with souvenirs that made Shane's surgery scars look like skinned knees from childhood. The boy--he was twenty-three, maybe--rarely complained.

"It's numb enough," Crick muttered. "Don't mind me, Deacon. Ice his jaw before it swells."

Deacon raised Crick's twisted, scarred hand to his lips in a brief, tender show of affection that brought a lump to Shane's throat. It was like anything, any amount of happiness, was possible in a world where that gesture could happen.

Shane stood still as Deacon applied the ice gingerly to his jaw. He knew both lovers had been EMTs at one time, and Deacon had the professional touch to prove it.

"So where are you going?" Deacon asked quietly. "When we watch your animals, where will you be?"

"Gilroy," Shane told him. He didn't mention the Renaissance Faire--if Deacon didn't know he was going, he couldn't offer money to buy Benny the stuff that Shane had planned to buy.

Deacon looked up with a wrinkled nose and a shrug, inviting more input. Gilroy was sort of a big ol' nowhere--lots of farmland, lots of ranches, a few suburbs.

"My sister's going to be there," Shane told him.

"You have a sister?" Crick asked, plopping his ass down on the garden seat that rested against the wall. "Wow, you think you know a guy."

Shane raised a sardonic eyebrow. Fact was, he spoke less than Deacon--they all knew it. "Haven't seen her in years," he said quietly. Not since their father's funeral, actually, but they'd kept in touch once or twice a year since. She'd sent him flowers when he'd been in the hospital, along with a letter. Dammit, Shaney--find another job or learn to duck. I'm way too self-involved to get all tangled up in this grief bullshit, so you're just going to have to live. He'd gotten cards and the occasional calls since then, and he'd called back. She'd wanted him to come see her perform for the last year, and he had some time off. He figured it was time.

"What's she doing in Gilroy?" Deacon asked. Gilroy was a good three-hour drive into, literally, the middle of Bumfuck Nowhere and Left Ass Cheek of Yemen.

Shane had to smile though, because the answer was so unlikely. "Would you believe dancing?"

He couldn't wait to see her in action--she'd always been beautiful when she danced.

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