"You really can't resist the pretty lights can you, Sully?"
Ross O'Sullivan's lips twisted into a small smile as he turned toward the sound of a familiar voice. The flashing blue lights from the half-dozen police cars and fire engines were turning the gloom of an early winter's evening into a bizarre mockery of a fair ground. It was just a pity the air was filled with the scent of smoke rather than popcorn.
But still, Ross had to admit his friend was right--he'd been completely incapable of driving past the scene without stopping to find out what was going on. Detective Sergeant Mike Shane strode across to where Ross stood at the edge of the scene, soot streaked and looking none too happy with the world.
"What happened?" Ross asked, with a nod toward all the commotion.
"Suspected arson on some sort of antiques warehouse," Mike said, rubbing at his forehead and adding more soot to it.
Ross glanced past his friend's shoulder to the burnt out building. "Anyone hurt?"
Mike shook his head. "More by luck than judgment though. There were a couple of people inside when it went up."
Ross nodded. His curiosity satisfied, he turned away before he ended up making himself even later than he already had. "Have fun. I'll see you--"
"Actually, since you're here--"
"And since I'm off duty," Ross cut in.
Mike didn't seem to hear him. "Do you owe any of the Rawlings guys a favor?"
Ross frowned as he turned back to the other man. "Why?"
"There was a Rawlings in the building when it went up." Mike flicked through his notes. "A Mr. Dane Rawlings--never been on the force. I need someone to babysit him while we work out what the hell's going on. If he wasn't a Rawlings then I'd just take him in with the other guy who was in there, but..."
Ross nodded his understanding. No cop would have needed him to finish that particular sentence. There wasn't one man in the force who'd want to explain to all the Rawlings guys why one of their relatives was in custody, unless he was at least one million percent certain the suspect he'd locked up was incredibly guilty.
Ross glanced over his shoulder toward his car. He really shouldn't have stopped. The chances of getting to the auction now were even lower than Mike's chances of surviving the night if anything happened to a Rawlings who was under his care.
Turning his eyes heavenward, Ross held back a sigh. "Okay, where is he?"
Mike grinned and pointed a little way further down the road, past the fire engines and most of the commotion to a quieter corner of the car park. "Thanks, mate."
Ross pushed his hands into his coat pockets as he made his way through the madness. The winter air had a decided nip to it now the sun had gone down. The blaze might have counteracted that while it burned, but now it was just a soggy pile of ash, and there was nothing to fight off the chill.
Running his gaze over the men before him, Ross tried to spot a likely looking figure in the crowd. Dane Rawlings...no doubt the man would be built like a Great Dane too--just like all the other men in his family. There was only one guy who looked tall, dark and reasonably Rawlings-like. Ross strode toward him. The man apparently sensed his approach. He turned just as he reached his side.
Not bad, the part of Ross' brain that was wired directly to his cock registered, wonder if he's single...
"Dane Rawlings?" Ross asked, already taking his hand out of his pocket to shake hands with him.
The guy looked completely blank. "Um...No."
Just then, he heard someone cleared their throat behind him. "Actually, that would be me."
With his hand still half extended, Ross looked over his shoulder. His gaze fell on a pretty little soot-stained blond. Ross looked from him back to the man he'd first approached, then back again. "Dane Rawlings?" he repeated.
The blond nodded.
Ross opened his mouth and quickly closed it again before he could give in to the temptation to ask if the man was sure that really was who he was.
The guy smiled as he seemed to pluck the question out of Ross' mind regardless of his silence. "I'm very sure." He dipped his hand into the back pocket of his grubby suit trousers and extracted a wallet.
Ross automatically found himself stepping forward and inspecting the proffered ID, just as he would if he was on duty and the man before him was accused of a whole string of heinous crimes. It was only when he looked up and met the other man's mirth filled eyes that he realized what he was actually doing. "Sorry, you're just..."
"Not what you expected a Rawlings to look like?" Dane finished for him. The smile still hadn't left his lips. "Yeah, I get that a lot."
Ross handed back the ID. Clearing his throat he tried to work out what the hell he was supposed to say now. "Ross O'Sullivan," he settled on, before the silence could become too long and uncomfortable.
"A pleasure to meet you, inspector."
Ross' hand wrapped around the small and surprisingly delicate hand offered to him. The guy was freezing. Snatching his hand back, Ross frowned at the pale pink shirt the other man was wearing. Neither that nor his tie were offering him the slightest protection against the cold.
Ross quickly slipped his jacket off and, without really thinking about what he was doing, wrapped it around the smaller man's shoulders.
Dane blinked up at him, big blue eyes dancing with even more humor.
"You're probably in shock," Ross excused.
"Probably," Dane agreed, pulling the garment a little more snugly around his shoulders. It swamped the little guy, making him look smaller and more fragile than ever. "Thank you. I'll make sure all the soot is cleaned off before I return it."
Retreating to the low wall he'd been sitting on when Ross first strode through the car park, Dane sat down, and nodded to the space next to him. "You were looking for me, inspector?"
Ross lowered himself to the make-shift seat, wondering just how big a hissy fit he'd be in for if he mentioned the term babysitting. "Mike said you were inside when the fire started?" he hedged.
Dane nodded. There was soot streaked across his face. His eyes looked very big, very blue amidst the dirt. "My coat's still in there. It was a new one, too..." He looked down at the rest of his clothes.
Ross followed his gaze.
"I suppose this will have to go for rags as well," Dane said, sadly, rubbing futilely at a tear on his trouser leg. He frowned for a second before shaking his head as if trying to clear it.
He looked up at Ross, blinked, cleared his throat and seemed to focus back in on the matter at hand. "I had a meeting with Brian Townsend. He's the owner of the warehouse, deals in antiques--mostly eighteenth and nineteenth century furniture. He said he had some good stock just in and asked me to come here tonight to take a look."
Ross nodded encouragingly.
"I didn't set the fire."
Ross frowned slightly, wondering if the guy had hit his head while running out of the burning building. "I never suggested that you did."
Dane chuckled. "I may not be a cop, but I've spent my life surrounded by them. Every last one of you is a suspicious bastard at heart." He paused for a second and smoothed out some of the creases in the oversized coat. "Guilty until proven innocent, isn't that right?"
"Maybe, but I'm not on duty." It was a bloody stupid thing to say. It was also completely irrelevant, but they were the only words in Ross' head that didn't have to do with wondering how the other man's lips would look wrapped around his cock. The last thing the poor little sod needed was his babysitter hitting on him.
"An inspector at your age. And you're attending a crime scene even when you're not on duty. I know the signs. You're the kind of cop who is always on the job. Quite a few of my cousins are the same." Dane's eyes sparkled as he turned slightly in his perch on the wall and looked up at Ross. "I'll make you a deal, since you're not on duty and can't actually interrogate me officially, I'll trade you question for question. I'll even let you go first!"
Ross smiled slightly. It was hard not to when Dane was looking up at him with such easy enthusiasm for his new plan. There was a particularly dark smudge of something on his cheek. Ross pushed his hands deeper into his jeans pockets as he fought against the temptation to reach out and wipe it away.
A question... While most of his mind tried to work out how the Rawlings family had produced a man as cute and sweet as Dane, the suspicious bastard part of him, which the other man had so easily diagnosed, clicked into work mode.
"Do you know if Mr. Townsend is having any financial difficulties?"
"Yes," Dane said, without the slightest hesitation. "He's deeply in debt. It's not an easy market for anyone and most of his stock is now worth half of what he paid for it. Meanwhile, may I point out, I have absolutely no financial incentive to turn firebug and am good enough at what I do to have a very healthy bank balance even in the midst of a recession. My turn."
Ross nodded once, accepting that to be the case. He couldn't help but raise his estimation of the other man a notch. A hell of a lot of cops he knew wouldn't have been able to put their case better.
"How long have you been out?"
Ross' smile froze. He met Dane's gaze and held it, but his mind was a solid block of ice. He couldn't think of a single thing to say.
"You might be able to pass as straight to a casual observer," Dane said. "But I'll have you know there are certain advantages of being camp as hell."
A burst of laughter escaped Ross. The other man's expression was like bright sunlight on the previous night's frost. Ross' mind started to work again, even if a hell of a lot of his blood was suddenly finding its way to his cock rather than his brain. "Such as?" he asked.
"For one," Dane informed him, very seriously. "It gives a man like me a really fantastic gaydar."
"It does?" Ross prompted.
Dane nodded. A lock of smoke stained blond hair fell into his eyes. He unearthed a slightly sooty hand from the folds of Ross' coat and brushed it back. "If you were straight, you wouldn't be sitting half as close to me as you are," he confided, dropping his voice very low, as if sharing a secret.
Ross leaned in to catch every word.
"And you'd have said the word 'straight', 'girlfriend', or 'heterosexual' at least three times by now, just in case the scary gay man tries to jump your bones and have his wicked way with you."
Ross met Dane's eyes for a moment. Even while he smiled at the other man's antics, he couldn't help but want to hit every straight man who'd ever carelessly hurt Dane's feelings by acting that way around him.
"And you sure as hell wouldn't have loaned me your coat--you'd have been far too worried you might catch something creepy when I gave it back."
Ross straightened up, his expression turning serious. That wasn't funny.
"Maybe something really contagious," Dane went on. "Like a preference for tall, dark and dominant men. Or the ability to give a really amazing blow job."
It was said with such a perfectly straight face it took Ross a moment to take in the actual words.
Ross shook his head at the other man, even as he smiled. Dane wasn't his type. Part of his brain still remembered that. His cock didn't give a damn what kind of man he'd made a habit of screwing in the past. It wanted Dane, and he was so hard, his shaft seemed to be damn near willing to tear its way through his jeans to get to him.
Clearing his throat, Ross shifted his position slightly on the wall and tried to make sure that his erection wasn't too obvious behind the denim. There wasn't much else he could do, short of asking for his coat back and draping it over his lap. Finally, he remembered that there was a question still waiting for an answer.
"I came out when I was twenty-four."
"And how did that go for you?" Dane asked.
Ross shrugged. "Not so bad. My parents asked if I was sure a lot. They went through a phase when they thought I might change my mind if they introduced me to enough nice girls." He smiled slightly as one of the more embarrassing encounters with one such prospective daughter in law snuck to the forefront of his mind. "What about you?"
"Sweetheart, I've been this camp since I was four. I always asked for Barbies for Christmas instead of toy trucks. I never needed to come out!"
That lock of hair fell into Dane's eyes again.
Ross reached out and pushed it out of the other man's way. It wasn't until his fingers brushed against Dane's skin he realized what he was actually doing. "Sorry."
"Don't mind me," Dane said. "I've always thought personal space is something that applies to other people--or at least that only applies to men who aren't as hot as you. How long have you been in the force?"
"It's my turn to ask you a question," Ross reminded him, mentally filing away the hot comment to be analyzed later.
Dane's smile widened. It almost seemed as if he was glad he'd been caught out. Maybe even as if he was pleased Ross had no intention of letting him get away with it. As if he liked men who had an instinct for rules and discipline and control.
"Ask away, inspector."
"How do you know I'm an inspector?" A split second after the question left his lips, Ross mentally cursed himself. That wasn't the question he wanted to ask.
Dane laughed as if he read that fact straight out of his mind. It was a light, joyous sound, but it only lasted for a moment before it gave way to a painful sounding cough.
Ross' hand was instantly on the smaller man's back. "Have you been checked out?"
Dane tried to catch his breath to answer and failed, he put his hand over his mouth as his whole body shuddered under another coughing fit.
"Just nod or shake your head," Ross ordered. "And don't even think about telling me that it's not my turn to ask you something."
"You've been checked out?"
Another nod, followed by a cough that sounded even more excruciating than the last.
Ross' eyes narrowed as he slid his arm around the smaller man's frame and did his best to support his whole body. "And they said you're okay?"
Finally Dane managed to draw a deep breath into his lungs. "The paramedics checked me out before they took Townsend to the hospital. They said I'm fine. Just a bit of smoke inhalation. I didn't stick around in there for long enough for it to be anything to worry about."
Ross rubbed circles over the other man's back with the flat of his palm. He had no idea if it was helping, but there was no way in hell he could have sat there and done nothing.
"You look like you're in your mid-thirties," Dane informed him, his voice still rough. "I'll put money on it you went into the force straight from school. Alpha male equals ambitious. Turning up off duty means workaholic--but you don't look like someone who wants to go so far up the chain of command you end up tied to a desk. Add that all up, and I'm pretty you're an inspector."
"Well, there's no doubt you're a Rawlings," he muttered. "You got the copper's genes even if you've never used them."
Dane made an unimpressed sound in the back of his throat as he straightened up. "Ever tried to track down a replacement plate for a rare seventeenth century dining service? Or prove that an unsigned painting can be conclusively attributed to an artist who died three hundred years ago. Darling, catching murders would be easy by comparison!"
"And that's what you do, is it--?"
"Dane! What the hell happened?"