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Sounds of Love [MultiFormat]
eBook by Susan Laine

eBook Category: Gay Fiction/Romance
eBook Description: What does love sound like? If you hear it, will you heed its call? Police officer Jordan Waters is recovering from a shooting by moving to a new apartment in a new town and taking a new job. In other words, he's lonely. His first instinct is to relieve his anxiety through uncomplicated sex--until he meets a man so far out of his league and experience that he stumbles for the first time. Police volunteer Sebastian Sumner may be deaf, but his spirit, openness, and sense of humor give him the strength to get through anything--even the emotional defenses of Jordan Waters. But it's his own family history that poses the biggest challenge. Can he learn to trust Jordan with his heart, or will his upbringing blind him to the sounds of love?

eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, Published: 2012, 2012
Fictionwise Release Date: April 2012

16 Reader Ratings:
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Chapter One

Coming to a new place of business and a new place to live, it wasn't always easy to make friends. The police department, however, didn't belong in that category. First, there was your partner, whose presence was continuous and whose family became sort of your own family. They intruded in your private life and looked at you like a new pet project. One they could fix and create a dream life for. Second, there was everyone else, the department as a whole. It was ridiculous, to be sure, but right then I welcomed it.

It was good being welcome somewhere.

My new partner in the Financial Crimes and Fraud Unit of the Washington, DC, Police Department was a huge bulk of a man called Kevin Thompson. It was funny because he didn't look much like a Thompson to me. I equated the name with something soft and cuddly, like a teddy bear. And Thompson was more akin to a grizzly bear. His huge hands could've crushed entire continents. His raggedy appearance was the result of years or maybe decades spent in a local pub, always with clothes at least two sizes too small for him. His strong stubble could've caused enough friction to set a house on fire. His gray eyes struck out and cut through you like blades.

Despite his misleading appearance and unassuming name, my new partner was a good guy. Over the past month I'd gotten to know him pretty well. I mean, he wasn't a deep kind of guy. What you saw was what you got. When he smiled that lopsided grin of his, he made everybody else grin too. I liked him. Even when he first called me Jordy--to annoy me--and, right after, Detective Waters, all impassively, never using my name, Jordan. Jordy was the name of a pet dog or rabbit. Detective was a title officers didn't use with each other off duty. He did it just to piss me off. Which I kind of liked. He was hard not to like.

No, I didn't like-like him, even though I was gay. But I did like him. He was a friend and partner I knew would have my back in a tough spot. Not that we got many of those in the Fraud division. It was mostly comparing data and fact-checking and evidence inspection and endless paperwork. Which suited me fine after so many years in Robbery/Homicide in New York. After getting shot--just to the shoulder blade, thank God--I'd wanted a change of scenery. This was a welcome change.

And speaking of welcomes, as I got out of my monstrous black SUV to walk up to the door of my partner's house in the suburbs, I felt an uncomfortable chill run down my spine. I had always been lacking in certain social graces needed to make friends and stuff. Sometimes it hindered my performance as a police officer too. It wasn't nervousness, you understand. It was dislike for pretense and stupidity and small talk. I fucking hated small talk. I despised purposeful idiocy. It was so common it was practically universal. People ignoring the uncomfortable truths to hide their heads in the quicksand of their self-deception.

But I thought I'd make the best of it tonight. After all, this wasn't a family picnic type of thing. It was just my partner and some other colleagues from the department for a friendly game of poker on a Friday night. Yeah, I could do that--and keep my thoughts to myself. As I'd learned to do over the years. No one wanted my opinion, and I was fine with that as long as I didn't have to listen to them trying to convert me into the "people are ultimately nice" way of thinking.

To compensate for that splinter sticking out in my way of approaching people if given half the chance, I usually had a calm disposition. Always had been that way. Ingrained in my personality. Mellow was the right word, I guess, since people used it plenty to describe me. Yeah, I was always mellow. Rambunctious and flaunting behavior just wasn't me. And since I didn't drink, it made some social situations not only awkward but painful to bear and to witness. I'd learned to keep my mouth shut when my colleagues teased me and joked about it. I knew they didn't mean anything by it. A lot of cops drank, and those guys weren't joked about, so I let it slide.

Despite the lack of a perpetual drinking habit--I only drank with my kid brother, Jack--I didn't need to drink to be ruthlessly mellow. Because that's what I was. By that I mean that if provoked into an emotional and/or physical confrontation, I remained cool and calm and composed--in essence, mellow. I distanced myself from my own emotional responses and physical reactions, aware of them but not allowing them to control me or to dictate my conduct. I was mercilessly mellow, in the sense that I tended to go straight for the jugular when antagonized and irritated--which meant I spoke the cold, hard truth to my one-time adversaries, not holding anything back. Well, it was really just my opinion of the truths out there, but I had an annoying habit of hitting a home run more often than not when it came to knowing the hidden truths and kept secrets of people. And I rarely, if ever, backed down from a challenge.

Needless to say, that way of thinking and doing things didn't endear me to people.

I had expected that my being gay would come up eventually too--and in less than an amiable manner. But I guess the department had other gay officers on the force here besides me, since mostly they just shrugged, or told me not to stare at them in the shower room, or teased that I'd never get them that drunk. Well, it wasn't an overwhelmingly open-up-your-heart-to-your-gay-colleague kind of welcome, but it was enough of a friendly treatment. God knew I'd met with worse.

So they took it fine, and I tried my very best not to shove it down their throats. I mean, being gay wasn't my most defining characteristic anyway. Sure, it was an important part of my life and my personality, but not everything. There were days when I actually believed if I had to, I could live without sex, be celibate, without taking any priestly vows. Sometimes it felt like I was alone in bed anyway--even when I was with a guy. There was skin and warmth and cock, but one-night stands left little room for relationships or personal improvement. The few guys I met off hours I never allowed to come to the "office," and I kept my homosexual socializing confined to clubs farther away from the police pubs I also frequented. I believe it worked out well. A kind of balance was struck between my colleagues and my one-night stands, between my work and my private life--such as it was.

Which brings us up to date with my current situation. A friendly night of poker and beers and pizza and talking about women and sex and football and stuff like that. Typically a kind of night I cursed with all the seven languages I spoke and with all the fabulous cuss words I knew. No getting out of this one, though. I sighed, praying to God for patience and good will. Could never have too much of those in this crazy world.

My colossal partner opened the door with his winning smile--calling me Jordy again. Damn him. I let him walk me into his house, which was nice, typical suburban fare, if you liked that sort of thing. I didn't, but smiled anyway. I'd had a wicked loft apartment in New York, and it was the only thing I really missed from those days. My current rental was okay, I guess, but nowhere near as great as the one I'd had. I swore that if I found a guy around here with a loft and a sweet dick, I'd be his ass-slut through all the nights from here to eternity. At least when I gave it up to him, I'd not have to look at his face once.

Shaking the idea away, I was introduced to the other guys around. I tried to keep pace and remember names and faces together. Sure, they weren't on my division and it was unlikely I'd see them every day or even every week, most notably because the Washington, DC, Police Department was distributed into many buildings around town. But it was still polite to try to remember them, since this poker game apparently was a weekly occasion. And I liked the idea of doing something different at least once a week.

My partner was bigger than everyone else, taking up more space than the others in the small dining room adjacent to an open kitchen in the back of the house. A chafed, round wooden table was at the heart of the room, with the scent of fast food hovering in the air. The warm glow of the feminine overhead lamp with a flowery pattern must've been my partner's ex-wife's contribution. On the table there were icy drinks in sweaty glasses, a couple of decks of cards waiting, unopened, and some bill stacks in front of every guy in the room. Shit, these folks played for real money. Fine. I shrugged and braced myself for the inevitable outcome.

Thompson sat opposite me with two guys between him and me on both sides. On his right a tall blond guy from Sex Assault Unit--or Vice, as it was typically known--with a sleazy dark blue silk shirt. Jim. Too tall for me, and a top anyway, if he was gay. Next to him a shorter, lean man from Narcotics and Special Investigations with brown hair, a sort of beard on his chin, and a noticeable absent-wedding-ring tan line. Steven. Never did go for beards, myself. Felt weird when getting blown. Divorced, could've been a closet case, who knew. Too much trouble for a one-nighter. On my right side, a wrestler type from Robbery/Witness with long, wavy red hair he wore in a ponytail and with Armed Forces-type tattoos all over. Ben. The type who slept with a different cheap woman every night and bragged about his meaningless conquest the next day at the office.

Between Thompson and Ben stood the last guy, extending his hand in a greeting. And it was as if I were taking a quiz: who doesn't belong. He was young, maybe midtwenties. I was lavender blond by birth, but this guy was so white he was practically translucent. His snow-white skin shone like it was lit from within, which made his pitch-black hair seem oddly out of place. As though his hair and his skin didn't quite go together, just pieces juxtaposed for effect by some nameless cosmic power. Blue eyes like blue ice; man, I loved winter. He was slender but athletic, judging from the tight yet near-invisible muscles hiding underneath his skin, like a race hound. His face was remarkably open, revealing every emotion in every nuance of expression--which was definitely unusual for cops, who learned early on not to let their feelings show. He had on a pair of khakis and a natural white T-shirt emblazoned with simple black text: "You have ears but you do not hear." Odd. Maybe he was Jewish. I shrugged inwardly.

Right now he was smiling at me. I wished he'd be taken with me. That he'd take a good, long look at my emerald-green eyes and my soft platinum blond curls with lavender-hued streaks I dyed myself. That he'd find my lean yet muscular frame and my inviting dimples fascinating. That he'd admire the many tribal tattoos around my arms and neck not hidden by my faded black jeans and my dark-gray short-sleeved shirt with the top buttons open that hugged my body like a second skin. That he'd be mesmerized by the many rows of rings and earrings I wore when not on duty to get a more menacing look that was always dimmed a little by my blond hair and dimples--and yeah, I did get a lot of shit for my looks.

I took his hand and shook it, not letting go. There were definitely possibilities here.

And then he spoke. "Sebastian Sumner, very nice to meet you, Detective Waters."

I blinked a few times, confused. His obscure voice had come from somewhere so deep down in his chest it seemed to bypass his throat entirely. No sharp sounds at all. No melody or tone. More like an echo of a voice underwater than a real voice.

I didn't realize I was staring until his smile cracked and he frowned. "I'm deaf, not numb." He nodded toward his hand, which I was still holding tightly in my big, scar-ridden one. I felt embarrassed--but only for a second. I wasn't a newbie at this, after all. I'd been with all kinds of guys in my time, from the just weird to the disturbingly freaky with kinks no normal or sane person would ever be likely to encounter in their mundane life.

"Sorry." I grinned back, totally relaxed, with a wicked gleam in my eyes. "It's a nice hand to hold." As I saw the furrowed brow ease with surprise, my grin widened. Oh, I liked that look a lot. I'd have to experiment a bit to see if I could instill it in him again.

"Okay, shall we?" My partner's rumbling, low voice echoed through the room, casting away the awkwardness of the situation--though only the others seemed to perceive it so, while I felt completely at ease. I didn't turn my eyes away from Sebastian, who blinked a few times, blushed a bit, and brushed the back of his neck briefly as he sat down.

We all sat down. Beers and pizza slices were handed down in rapid succession.

"You want one, Jordan?" Jim asked with a nod toward the side table where the beers were. His greasy appearance was accentuated by his suggestive smile.

I shook my head in refusal. "No, thanks. Don't drink. Family history."

"Okay," Jim replied with a shrug. The way he was glancing in my direction, raking his eyes up and down, hinted that he was sexually omnivorous or metrosexual or whatever the current trendy term was. Nothing wrong with that, I thought. Just not my type.

Which I made clear to Jim by staring at Sebastian all through the distribution of drinks and foods, with a side dish of casual small talk about baseball or football or some other sport with the word "ball" in it. I noticed how Sebastian looked carefully at people's lips, as if studying them. So he read lips. Even better, I thought as I firmly decided to get this young man into my bed, and set out to conquer him. A plan was already forming.

With a side glance in my direction, he saw me staring. He bit his lower lip. Full and red, like ripe strawberries, undoubtedly luscious to the point of delicious. I had always been pretty damn oral. A total food junkie. Not to mention all the sexual stuff; I could eat ass all day and all night, until my tongue went numb. Sebastian's lips were meant to be kissed and sucked and licked. I couldn't wait to taste them. Yeah, I was sexually aggressive. When I saw something or someone I wanted, I went for it full steam.

But Sebastian might be more work, I figured as his brow furrowed again, nervous. All of a sudden, he just burst out with that deep voice of his. "Why don't you take a picture? It'll last longer."

The room got quiet as everyone glanced anxiously back and forth between Sebastian and me. Apparently Sebastian was as new to the poker ring as I was, judging by the way they were unsure as to how to react to his sudden outburst.

I just chuckled--and dug into my jeans pocket for my cell phone, pointing it at him and, with a grin, taking a snapshot of his stunned expression. "Thanks for the suggestion, sweetie."

Too amazed to say anything, Sebastian stared at my smiling lips to see if he'd read my words right, at which point I leaned forward over the table, tucking the cell phone back into my pocket and holding his gaze on my lips. "Yeah, you got it right. Unless you'd like me to repeat what I said." Leaning back calmly, not waiting for an answer, I looked at the others. "So, are we going to play or what?"

It was as if someone pushed a button to make a machine work. All of a sudden everyone started to move and talk at once. I grinned. I liked to make people jump a bit. It enhanced the chances of interpreting them correctly, since their responses came through more honest and with less guile when shaken with something new and unexpected. Not to mention something emotionally conspicuous and rattling. People just weren't used to getting their routines shaken. Not even those people who professed to be always on the lookout for the next new thing.

For a few rounds, we played Texas hold 'em. Not my first time. But a long time since I'd played for money--even with friends. At least they played with a pot limit and not without, which might've been construed as gambling anyway by the department, which tended to frown upon such things for good reason. Cops in debt were bad for everybody.

It soon became clear how they played. My partner played for fun, having a laugh with his mates, not caring if he won or lost. Jim played to win, not above cheating but making light of it if and when caught. Steven played poorly but didn't seem to care, as it was clear he had other things on his mind--probably with his marriage. Ben played to win with a raw fierceness--but with little to no skill at all, and was apparently an angry loser, throwing his losing cards all over the table every time the win passed him by and growling like a bear.

After a half dozen rounds, all of which Sebastian won, it was obvious he was the best player around the table. Which only made me take note of him more. I couldn't take my eyes off him. He laughed out loud so impulsively and freely, with all of his being, his unusual sound going up and down like a yo-yo from a deep low to a high pitch. His face betrayed every feeling, nothing left to hide. He simply didn't seem to have a deceitful or dishonest bone in his body--which was confusing since he played so damn well. He was so sweetly innocent my throbbing cock stood up to applaud.

"The bet's ten, Jordan," Thompson said. I heard the warning in his voice: Don't mess with Sebastian. I didn't need to look at him to know that, to sense the wave of protectiveness emanating from my partner toward the physically weaker young man. Thompson was like that, always on the prowl for someone to guard over. Sebastian took note of Thompson's face out of the corner of his eye, as was his custom, and then he looked over at me. I liked the way those light blue eyes went all wide and stupendous in their openness.

"Yeah," I replied calmly, put a ten-dollar bill on the pot, and kept admiring Sebastian with my gaze. The young man fidgeted in his seat, all too aware of my stare. He licked his lips, and I was hungry. I couldn't remember when I'd last wanted a guy this bad. It wasn't like I trotted around with a woody in my pants all the time. No one in the world was that gay--no matter what straight people thought. Not even in gay clubs, where you only went to hook up in the first place.

"Do you have a problem with deaf people?" Sebastian asked all of a sudden, his voice louder to get my attention or to prove a point but no different from before. It wasn't angrier than before. More puzzled than anything. Or was that disappointment? God, I hoped not.

I chuckled, inspecting him carefully while I gave him something to respond to. "Are you wearing contacts?" His frown disappeared again, as all he could do was stare at me, mystified, so I repeated what I'd asked, not saying it louder than before but pronouncing the words more clearly with my lips.

Bewildered, Sebastian shook his head, black strands dancing in the air. "No. I have twenty-twenty." His gaze raked up and down my frame as if he could find his answer to my mystery from my body somehow. "Why?" Suddenly he seemed annoyed at even having asked the question, and he munched the inside of his lower lip or cheek again. A nervous habit, it seemed--which I was keenly aware of and pleased about. Damn, I could've done that too. The nibbling, that is. Oh, maybe later. When he'd be in my arms.

I chuckled again with a huge grin, leaning forward coolly to rest my elbows on the table. "Because you have by far the bluest eyes I have ever seen. Like ice. Like sunny skies in the summer. Like sapphires." I shrugged but didn't look away. "Nice eyes."

Yeah, I was definitely getting to the guy. Sebastian kept blinking like his eyes were dry. I wondered in passing if he might, in fact, be straight. It wasn't impossible. Just because someone blushed while you stared at them didn't necessarily mean a damn thing, neither here nor there. Sure, gay officers in the police tended to congregate in big cities, as though seeking refuge from the world or their job. It didn't translate to fear, just to not being allowed to be yourself freely with other officers--which was kind of sad. It wasn't like all straight people were hostile or bigots, but they didn't usually rush in to take sides, either. And sometimes it was just good to know where people stood.

The poker game went on as Sebastian mumbled something obscure as sort of a reply to my statement. He brushed his neck again with his slender fingers and blushed, looking down. An honest reaction, but a nondescript one. Still didn't reveal to me if he was gay or not. Suppose I could have said it out loud, but I liked guessing a bit when it came to him. Made the chase more... exciting and challenging. If he were straight, could I turn him to the dark side? Could I tempt him? Hell, I was absolutely going to try.

Waiting for him to glance, unsure, in my direction again, which he did soon enough, I started. "So, what part of the department do you work at?"

He looked at my lips and seemed to calm down at the ordinary topic of conversation. "I'm in the Evidence Control Division now. I tend to the evidence locker. Used to take care of the Cold Cases archives and records in the basement but got transferred up this week."

Man, I loved his unmelodic voice. So deep, so profound. A bit muffled, but he moved his lips more than other people to pronounce words more clearly. His expressive mouth was hypnotic as he did so. "No one should stick someone as shiny as you in the basement. Glad you're in the Cage now. We'll be seeing each other more from now on, then." I backed my suggestive words with an equally suggestive grin.

He frowned, all annoyed, munching on his lower lip as if trying to figure out if I was only messing with him. The more uncertain he was, the more I liked it. I liked that angrily furrowed brow, that nervous lip-biting, those unnerved glances aimed at me from beneath those long black lashes. I wasn't going to give him a chance to move his attention from me, so I just kept on hitting broadsides. "You do ASL too?"

Now his expression was baffled. Okay, I had to use words, not abbreviations. "American Sign Language."

Nodding, Sebastian snorted and kept staring at my smiling lips--clearly avoiding looking up into my eyes. Interesting. "Yes, of course."

"You read lips pretty damn well," I complimented sincerely.

An unsure smile flashed on his lips. More a twitch than anything else. "Thanks...." When I didn't continue, just smiled in a friendly manner, he eased some, and his smile became more distinct, relaxed. I was going to add that I liked how he read my lips specifically, but thought maybe it was time to give it a rest with the flirtations. Talking about commonplace subjects made him tranquil enough for me to reach him. I wanted to get under his skin. On his skin. I bet he had smooth, hairless skin all over. He physically looked the type.

"How long have you been a cop?" I asked, curious, not wanting to let that gaze divert from my mouth for too long. I knew he did it to understand what came out of my mouth, but it was the most erotic form of communication I had ever participated in. A singular experience for a guy like me, who typically conversed in body language only. Hard bodies rubbing against one another. Both wanting the same thing. No room for misunderstandings. No need to talk.

Sebastian shook his head and seemed a little embarrassed, fidgeting in his seat. My partner tried to catch my eye, but I ignored him on purpose. Sebastian licked his lips, biting down again. "I am not an official cop. I'm a volunteer police officer. I have training, but I cannot serve on the streets because I'm deaf. I get paid, but... desk job only for me." He seemed a little sad about that, and I could relate. There had been a time when the thought of having myself tied to a chair 24/7 would've ripped my guts out. Of course, that was before I got shot.

"I'm sorry," I said before realizing he wasn't looking at me so he couldn't have heard it anyway. There was an Auxiliary Police in New York, and I'd had dealings with them. They had training like actual police officers, but they were strictly voluntary, as they didn't get paid and weren't allowed to carry weapons. As far as I knew, there was no Auxiliary Police in DC. I guess the reason Sebastian was paid was due to his other skills in addition to being a volunteer police officer--like him being so gifted in reading lips.

He spoke again as though the talk had never been interrupted by me. "I cooperate with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Liaison Unit too. They can always use someone like me. And I read lips so well I can help by looking at surveillance videos and stuff sometimes for several units. It's easy even with the low-quality vids. So, that's good at least."

Sebastian smiled again a little after saying that, and it was pleasant to see. For some reason I couldn't define, I didn't like seeing Sebastian sad like that. Damn rules. Always had to suppress someone for some stupid reason. Okay, sure, cops had to be able to reach other officers through the radio. But surely something could've been set up for someone as eager and capable as Sebastian. Maybe I could do research on this. Heck, at least it would give me reason to speak to him again and show him I was interested. Or maybe he'd think I was butting in where I didn't belong.

But I wasn't the shying kind, so I'd just have to see how things progressed between us.

When Sebastian looked at me to see if I was trying to continue the conversation, or just to see how I'd reacted, for the first time I was the one who lowered his gaze. "I'm sorry," I repeated. "Maybe in time...." It was a crappy token answer, and I hated saying that lame comeback the moment the words left my mouth. A cop-out. Not like me to dance around the truth so. But for some reason, I didn't want to crush anything precious in Sebastian. Like hope.

The silence between us dragged on for a minute or so while the others continued to play--and glance at the two of us warily from time to time. Finally I heard him say, "Rules are there for a reason."

That got my attention. I looked up with a wicked glow in my eyes. I'd never been one for obeying rules--even though it was my job to enforce them. Paradox, I know. "Really? You've never disobeyed, then? Always done everything by the book?" Yeah, it was a deliberate attempt to get a rise out of him.

Those eyes the color of blue ice flashed as his expressive, sensitive mouth did a little twitch, like a tickle of a smile. "Not telling."

Oh, good answer, I thought with glee. I could've tried to pull the revelation out of him, but I figured a little privacy would be better for that conversation. So I changed the subject as naturally and casually as I could muster. "Which do you prefer? ASL--I mean, sign language, or reading lips?" I asked politely.

All sedate, Sebastian shrugged. "Depends on who I'm talking to." He looked a little defiant, as if trying to arouse some kind of emotional response in me. I wondered what it was that he was after. "Most people don't sign unless they're deaf or know people who are deaf." Oh, so that's what he was getting at. He was riling me up.

"I'm pretty fluent in languages. Suppose I could give it a go." Lifting up my big hands with the many scars and calluses from my previous jobs and rowdy life, I waved them through the air in an unspecific manner. "Are they too big to do signs properly? Guess I'm not that graceful."

Sebastian's confrontational mood dissipated, and he even gave me half a smile for my troubles. "It's not size that counts--like in so many things."

Oh, he was so messing with me back. I grinned, and he blushed. "Thanks. I think." I made it clear I wasn't taking offense by grinning back, and his eyes twinkled. I swear that's what they did. I don't think I'd ever actually thought of eyes doing that. Always associated twinkling with stars in the sky, or brooding teen vampires. Nonetheless, Sebastian's blue eyes had a flashing glow that made me feel all warm inside.

In response to my words, he now bit his trembling lower lip, as if keeping back a laugh. Damn, he looked cute enough to eat. I wondered how he would take it if I just went over to him and kissed him. Well, that might not be the most prudent thing to do. Not in a hetero place like this, on an evening of camaraderie like this. Maybe I could coax him into going out to a gay bar with me--just for a friendly sort of drink. At first, that is.

For a while I let the mood simmer, and we all focused on playing the game, which we'd switched from Texas hold 'em to regular poker. I was on a losing streak. What had started out as a pile of cash was now only a few bills, none of them above fives or tens. I could feel the end of the game approaching fast.

Time to make my move.

Taking a quick gander at Sebastian again, I saw how he was enjoying himself. Hell, he had no reason not to, since he was winning. By far the biggest money mound was in front of him. He noticed me looking and winked playfully with his tongue sticking out. Childish but so fucking endearing. With that one gesture, I was practically jumping out of my pants to get to him.

"I see you're not poker impaired."

Since he was looking at me, he saw clearly what I said. His smile cracked. I assumed he was used to getting shit from strangers, but to get it from a friend and colleague.... "No, but you are socially impaired." His eyes were lit up. So he could defend himself fine. Good to know. After all, I had a solid reason for antagonizing him.

"You've got some mouth on you, sweetie." I laughed, still continuing to play but keeping my eyes on Sebastian, who munched on his lower lip again, his eyes moving between the game and me.

"Your mouth could use some soap," he declared, also still playing the game set on the table in front of us. "Or a ball gag." I laughed out loud at that remark, imagination doing the rest.

To emphasize his winning attitude, he made a huge bet for his hand on the table. One that I couldn't afford with my dwindling cash flow. I shrugged impassively and looked at everyone in turn. "How about an IOU? Can give it up next payday, fellas."

Thompson chuckled, his huge shoulders trembling like an avalanche. "Sure, I'll get the money out of you one way or another, Jordy!"

I grinned and checked with everyone else too, with just a glance, to make sure it was all right. When I got to Sebastian, he was in no position to refuse since the others had already agreed. So he just nodded. But he had half a smug smile on his lips. One by one the others folded. Until it was only me and Sebastian left--and a big pile of dough on the table between us. It was his turn to show what he'd gotten, and he did, spreading his excellent hand--a full house with jacks and fives--on the table with long, slender fingers I wanted to suck into my mouth.

"I win!" Sebastian practically screamed out loud, all zesty, and clapped his hands like a delighted child, grabbing the pile of money.

My hand landed on his so fast it left him gasping.

No matter where I went from that point onward with my life and no matter what places I saw, this suburban dining room in my partner's house was now a place of awe and magic because here was where I first touched Sebastian. Where I first felt his skin, soft and smooth, hairless and white. Where the warmth of his body radiated through his pores and seeped into my body. Where I first got to feel the hidden strength of those long, thin fingers exhibiting his other voice, which I couldn't wait to see and understand. Where a simple act of holding hands signified an unspoken promise of things yet to come.

He frowned at first, with irritation, but then he saw my wicked grin and was surprised. Without a word, I placed my cards on the table with my free hand.

Four nines.

Squeezing his hand to get his stunned gaze back on me again, I tilted my head, relishing my victorious moment, which I'd anticipated from the get-go. "Nope. I win." Lifting his hand gently from the cash, I still held him for a while--until his shock turned to frustration as he realized I had played him instead of the cards and yanked his hand free.

"You cheated!" For all intents and purposes, Sebastian growled, glaring at me from under his big, black lashes.

I chuckled with amusement as I got up on my feet and started gathering up the money from the table slowly, taking the time to clarify my position to him. "No, I hustled. Not the same thing at all."

Biting his lip nervously, he said quietly, "So, when you were looking at me and giving me a hard time...."

I grinned and winked at him, echoing his own gestures from before. "You're the best player. When I rattled you, I rattled them. Took your attention off the game. Which is why I'm pocketing their money right now." Looking at the other guys too, who had the same dumbfounded expression--except my partner, who wasn't even half as surprised as I'd thought he'd be--I winked again. "And all your money as well. Thanks, fellas."

"You're not going to give us the chance to win that money back?" Ben asked from my side, also with a growl--not because I had won but because he had lost. Not the same thing for a guy who played like him. Badly.

"Nope." I chuckled and stuffed the cash into my jeans pocket.

"Fucking asshole! Next time we'll take you for everything you got!" Jim laughed with a naughty one-sided grin that spoke to me about down-and-dirty sex. Yeah, I could have this guy--but I wanted Sebastian. Life wasn't like the movies, where everyone you were attracted to was automatically into you as well.

I turned to look at my partner to make a point to Jim. I'm not interested. "Well, I'm going to call it a night, fellas. Thanks. It's been fun."

Thompson gave me a satisfied nod with a grin. "Next time you hustle, they'll never find every bit of you to bury, Jordy."

I gave him a grin with the international sign for fuck you. As the others chuckled at this piece of nonvocal dialogue, I looked around the table. "Since I haven't had a drink and I've got a car, if anyone wants a ride, I'm game. Don't mind taking a detour, guys."

Jim yawned with all his body and shook his head. "Nah. I'm going to take a swing at the bar across the street."

"You mean down the block, don't you, idiot?" Ben grimaced before settling his gaze on me. "I'm good too. Going to go down to the local watering hole." He slapped his hand across me to hit Steven's shoulder. Steven jumped a bit at the manhandling and rubbed his arm with a low, angry sound. "And Stevie here's going to sleep here since his place has been taken over by his ex-wife and--"

"She's not an ex yet, shithead! Mind your own fucking business!" Steven practically yelled. It was obvious he'd had too much to drink. Empty beer bottles were laid next to his chair, and he still had some recent foam on both the edge and the bottom of his glass. Okay, cops with broken or busted-up marriages with severe drinking problems. Same old, same old. Some things never changed no matter what city you were in.

"Okay, okay! Jesus!" Ben lifted his arms up in the air defensively, leaning back in his chair. Apparently Ben was a bit protective of Steven for some reason. He cared even though the guy wasn't his partner. They must've been friends for a long time, I figured from the sidelines.

Personal problems tended to affect the job and the few long-lasting friendships cops held on to. If it wasn't the long hours of the job that put people off, then it was the endless diversity of dangers cops faced every day. Some units had it even worse: Narcs faced the temptation of drugs and drink, Vice the lure of sex and the debilitation of sexual depravity people engaged in, and Homicide cops saw people on their worst days and, in some way or form, brought it home with them--even without words. Yeah, the job could fuck up every meaningful relationship you ever had, as only those who did it could ever truly understand.

Okay, so no buddy rides for them. I looked over at Sebastian, who seemed uncomfortable witnessing Steven's drunkenness. I caught his attention by waving a hand in front of him--and he definitely objected to that because he frowned angrily at me. "How about it, Sebastian? Care to take a ride with the enemy?"

At first I was sure he'd refuse, he looked so pissed at me. But then he glanced at Steven, who for some reason had begun to sob into his glass of beer while the others consoled him with masculine pats on the back from a safe distance. Quietly, he gave me a nod, and I gave one to my partner, exchanging a whole conversation with those tiny gestures. Sebastian got up, and we headed out.

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