“I don’t need a babysitter,” TJ complained loudly to his mother as he followed her down the 7th floor hallway of the Harry S. Truman Building to her office at the State Department. And not for the first time since his mother had broached the topic over dinner two nights ago.
“It’s not a babysitter,” Elaine Barrish said calmly, as if TJ wasn’t whining like a child about an early bedtime. “And it’s non-negotiable,” she added with finality as she stepped into the lavish reception area outside her office.
“Good morning, Alice,” Mom greeted her secretary.
TJ chafed at the interruption, wanting this conversation to be over. He waited while his mother held out her hand and greeted the man who’d been waiting in one of the plush chairs grouped around a low table across from Alice’s desk. TJ didn’t pay attention to him, still bitterly resentful over the anticipated loss of privacy he’d have to endure if he was being followed around by a protection detail.
Not that TJ had much of a social life these days, but it was the principle of the thing. It had been over a decade since he’d had a ghost following him around, and it would be difficult (read: a pain in the ass) to have to get used to it again. As unobtrusive as they tried to be, they were impossible to miss.
“TJ, this is Alex Logan,” Mom said, pulling TJ out of his reverie. “Mr. Logan, this is my son Thomas.”
Alex Logan held out his hand and TJ automatically took it. “Pleasure to meet you,” Mr. Logan said. His voice was soft, just like you might expect from an accountant or other form of pencil pusher, but his grip was firm.
“Likewise,” TJ said politely, even though he had no idea who the man was, and no interest in finding out. Unless he could help TJ convince his mother that he didn’t require a Secret Service detail.
It wasn’t until his mother indicated that they should both follow her into the inner sanctum that TJ began to wonder just who the other man was, and to be suspicious of why his mother had invited him for an early breakfast that had somehow led to him being at her office at just this moment.
Mr. Logan gestured for TJ to precede him into the office and then closed the door behind them. To keep busy, and to have something to do with his hands, TJ got a cranberry juice and a ginger ale out of the small, well-stocked refrigerator his mother kept in her office. He dropped a couple of ice cubes into a tumbler and then filled it about three-quarters with juice, the rest of the way with the ginger ale. His mother didn’t have a twist of lime available so he made do without.
Before walking over to the grouping of chairs in front of the fireplace where his mother had seated herself and Mr. Logan, TJ turned back to them and asked, “Can I bring either of you anything to drink?”
“No, thank you,” Mom said absently as she perused the report Alice had slipped into her hand when she’d passed her desk.
“Water, if you have it,” Logan said, and then thanked TJ when he handed off the bottle.
TJ mumbled a, “Welcome,” as he slouched in the chair near his mother and across the low table from Mr. Logan. TJ let his legs fall apart and his head fall back. His mind raced as he stared at the ceiling. He had no idea who this Alex Logan was, but he was starting to get a bad feeling about it. Logan appeared unassuming, but now that he let himself see past the obvious, TJ had met enough of them to realize that Logan carried himself with a military bearing.
“Sorry,” Mom said. She slid the paper, face down, onto the coffee table. “Mr. Logan, thank you for agreeing to meet with us today.”
“I’m honored to be here,” Logan said.
“TJ . . .,” Mom began.
“Is he Secret Service?” TJ asked without looking away from the hole he was boring into the ceiling.
“No,” Mom said, unfazed by the interruption, or by TJ having guessed the purpose of the meeting. “Alex runs a private security company.”
TJ sighed when his fear was proved founded.
“You said you didn’t want a Secret Service detail because the agents were inflexible,” Mom pointed out reasonably.
Embarrassment heated TJ’s cheeks. He’d turned down the Secret Service detail not because of any of the reasons he’d give his mother, but because they all knew just exactly how colossal a fuck up he’d been in the past.
“Alex’s team is designed to be flexible. More importantly, TJ,” Mom said, leaning forward to lay her hand on TJ’s knee and draw his gaze to her face, “I trust him with my son’s life.”
“Fuck,” TJ groaned. “Anyone ever tell you that you play fucking dirty?”
His mother smiled and patted TJ’s knee. “Don’t tell President Garcetti that.”
“You’re on his team,” TJ argued.
“Even better reason to keep him in the dark.” His mother’s grin was contagious, making TJ grin with her before he turned his attention back to Alex Logan.
“So, military?” TJ asked Logan, though he already knew the answer.
“Special forces,” Logan said, seemingly unperturbed by TJ’s directness.
“Other qualifications?” TJ asked.
“TJ, this is really unnecessary. Alex, his company, and his team have been fully vetted,” Mom said.
“Not by me,” TJ said, wanting to feel as if he’d had some say in this matter, at least.
Logan held up a hand. “It’s fine, Madame Secretary, I don’t mind answering.” He turned to TJ. “And, for the record, I don’t mind being asked. I’ve been trained on various types of handguns, assault rifles, and shotguns. I carry a Glock 19 9mm. I’m fairly good with a blade – I prefer the Gerber Mark II over the Ka-Bar – but I’m better at hand-to-hand. I’m knowledgeable in several areas of martial arts. Oh, and I’ve fired a grenade launcher. I’ve been doing security work for over a decade, so I know what I’m doing.”
“Do you think a grenade launcher is going to be needed while you’re working for me?” TJ said.
“No,” Logan said, fighting back a smile. “I just thought it was cool.”
TJ lowered his head and bit back his own smile. “Would you teach me self-defense?” he asked.
Logan raised an eyebrow, but said, “Yes, if you’re serious about it. Though I’m not a
certified instructor and there are people on my team better qualified than myself.”
“What about making sure I’m fed,” TJ said. “Would you cook for me, too?”
“TJ, now you’re just being difficult,” Mom said.
“No,” Logan answered anyway. “We’re supposed to keep you safe, not poison you.”
“Something you’re not good at?” TJ teased.
Logan ignored the question. “I should warn you that Alisha will kick you in the, uh . . .” He glanced at Elaine Barrish as if just realizing what he was going to say in front of her.
Mom waved her hand. “In the nuts. I’m familiar with them.”
“Mother!” TJ said, laughing. He’d grown up with Margaret Barrish as his grandmother, so very little scandalized him, but he could still be surprised.
“Yes, well,” Logan went on. “I wouldn’t recommend asking her.”
“Noted,” TJ said, reflexively closing his legs protectively.
“Though Brendan should’ve been a chef, so if you have a good kitchen and the ingredients on hand, he might take you up on it.”
“Good to know, “ TJ said. “What about turn-down service?” he asked, pushing.
Mom sighed, “TJ.”
“What are you, 12?” Logan said dryly.
“Depends on who you ask,” TJ said jokingly, but he filed away the hint of pink that had tinged Logan’s cheeks at the question.
“Are you agreeable to giving Alex’s team a shot, then?” Mom said, determined to pin TJ down.
“Yes, fine,” TJ said. Giving in – which, let’s be honest here, was always in the cards – didn’t feel like the huge defeat he’d expected it to.
Mom didn’t give TJ a chance to change his mind. She turned to Logan as soon as the words left TJ’s mouth. “When can you start?”
“Whenever you want us to,” Logan said.
Mom nodded. “Good. I’d like you to start immediately.”
“Of course,” Logan said.
“Do you need anything more from me?” Mom asked.
“The contract . . . ,” Logan began.
“I’ll have it signed this morning and couriered over to your offices,” Mom said. “Is there anything else?”
“No,” Logan said, standing. He apparently knew a dismissal when he heard one.
Mom stood and held out her hand to Logan. “You’ll work everything out with TJ?”
“Sounds like you’ve already worked everything out,” TJ muttered, but they both ignored him.
“Yes,” Logan said.
“Good,” Mom said. She turned to TJ and held out both of her hands.
TJ set his drink on the coffee table (using a coaster, as had been drilled into him) and stood. He took his mother’s hands and let her pull him into a hug.
“I love you,” Mom told TJ.
“I know. I love you, too.”
Mom pulled back and brushed a strand of hair out of TJ’s face. “Be safe.”
“I will,” TJ promised.
“Okay,” Mom said, all business once more. “I’ve got a meeting with the President.”
“Better not keep him waiting,” TJ said.
“I’ll remind Alice about the contract,” Mom told Logan. “The two of you . . .” She included TJ in her comment. “Can use my office while I’m gone.”
Mom straightened her jacket as she crossed the room, leaned in to hear whatever last minute updates Alice gave her and took the file Alice handed her, and then she was gone, Alice on her heels, closing the door behind them.
“My mother is a bit of a whirlwind,” TJ said. He retook his seat on the couch and picked up his drink. “What do you need to know?” TJ asked Logan after he’d also reseated himself.
This part was new to him. TJ hadn’t had a Secret Service detail after they’d moved out of the White House, and even though his parents had both had one TJ had spent much of his time after his parents left the White House at boarding school or college until he moved out on his own.
“First tell me what you’d like me to call you,” Logan said. “Mr. Hammond, Thomas . . . ?”
“TJ, please,” TJ said.
Logan nodded. “Now tell me why you don’t want a Secret Service detail.”
“I . . . what?” TJ said. He hadn’t been expecting that question.
“Your reaction when your mother brought it up, you lied to her about your reasons.”
Note to self, TJ thought, even when he doesn’t appear to be paying attention, Alex Logan is observing everything.
“Did they do, or not do, something that put your life in danger?” Logan asked urgently.
TJ huffed a derisive laugh. “No,” he said.
“Then what?” Logan said patiently, kindly, even.
“I’m sure you know my history,” TJ said. Everyone did. His exploits had been covered in even legitimate newspapers.
“I did my homework after your mother called me, if that’s what you mean,” Logan said. “But I don’t believe everything I read in a tabloid headline,” he added at the skeptical look TJ gave him.
“Yeah, well,” TJ said, staring into his drink. “They weren’t that far off. I didn’t have a Secret Service detail, but my mother did. And my dad. And they all had a front row seat to every single one of my screw-ups.”
“And you wanted a fresh slate,” Logan deduced.
TJ shrugged. “I wanted my mom to give up, but that was probably too much to hope for.”
TJ didn’t know why he was telling this to Logan, but there was something about the man that invited confidence. It would have made him a great interrogator. TJ narrowed his eyes at Logan. “When you were in Special Forces, did they train you in interrogation techniques?” he asked.
Logan raised an eyebrow and regarded TJ with an inscrutable expression. “Why would you ask that?”
“Because you’ve got me telling you things I haven’t even told my mother.”
Logan shrugged. “Sometimes it’s easier to talk to a stranger.”
“Yeah, tell my therapist that,” TJ said wryly, then threw up his hands and glared at Logan, who appeared to be biting back a smile.
“Why don’t we keep the rest of our conversation to your schedule and usual hangouts, and then we’ll check out your apartment.”
“Why don’t we,” TJ agreed facetiously.
“Is this all really necessary?” TJ asked when Logan called one of his team members and sent them to check out Baked & Wired, the coffee shop TJ liked to frequent. He went in at least once a week for a cup of coffee in a quiet corner where he could spend some time reading. They didn’t offer free wifi, so it wasn’t crowded with people on their tablets or laptops. They had outdoor seating and bike parking, but more importantly, no one recognized him (if they did, they’d been circumspect enough to not approach him), and he wanted to keep it that way.
“They’ll be discreet,” Logan promised, as if reading TJ’s mind.
Logan made a final notation in the small, spiral bound notebook he’d taken out of his inside jacket pocket, then folded it closed and stuck it and the pen back into the pocket. The suit wasn’t a brand name, TJ noticed, but the jacket had been tailored to fit over the shoulder holster TJ glimpsed. He wouldn’t be surprised if the pants had needed to be tailored for an ankle holster.
“Let’s go take a look at your apartment, shall we?” Logan suggested. “From now on you’ll be driven everywhere by a member of my team. If you drove here today I’ll have someone drive your car home for you,” he offered.
“No, I . . . rode in with my mother this morning,” TJ said. He sighed. “Convenient, that.”
TJ was silent on the walk through the familiar halls and out to the black, nondescript Chevy Tahoe double-parked on the street. Logan opened the rear passenger side door and glanced inside before gesturing for TJ to get in. Instead of riding shotgun, Logan slid into the backseat after him.
“TJ, this is Brendan; Brendan, TJ Hammond,” Logan said as he pulled the door shut behind him.
“Hi,” TJ said awkwardly to the back of Brendan’s shaved head. Brendan nodded back.
The moment the door closed, Brendan reached back over the seat with a metal lock box. Logan took the box from him, unlocked it, and removed the two handguns and one knife that had been secured inside it, sliding them into his holsters. TJ had been correct about Logan wearing an ankle holster, but he hadn’t expected the knife despite Logan mentioning that he could use one.
“We’re going to see the apartment now,” Logan told Brendan as he slid the empty box beneath the seat. “Do you have the . . .”
Brendan handed over a folded paper that looked like a map. “Ah, thank you,” Logan said.
When Logan unfolded the paper, TJ recognized it as blueprints. It took him a moment to realize they were blueprints of 3210 Grace, his apartment building. It seemed like overkill.
“Isn’t this a little excessive?” TJ asked, indicating the blueprints Logan was studying.
“There aren’t any active threats against your life, if that’s what you’re asking,” Logan said distractedly.
“Active threats?” TJ repeated. It wasn’t like he was naive about what it was his mother did, or what kind of crazies were out there (you learned that very quickly when you were outed as a teenager living in the White House), but he never though of there being ‘active threats’ against her, or Dougie, or their dad, much less himself.
Logan raised his eyes from the blueprints and looked at TJ. “All of this is precautionary,” he told TJ. “Making sure the locks on your windows work, knowing where the closest exit is, or how long the light stays red at the corner. Knowledge is as much a weapon as our guns, but it’s all just in case. Your mother is merely being cautious, but we’re going to do our due diligence as if someone had already taken a shot at you and might attempt to do so again.”
“Is she right?” TJ asked.
“To be cautious?”
“That I might be a target.”
“If you wanted to hurt a mother, what would you do?” Logan said gently.
TJ mulled that over the rest of the drive to his Georgetown apartment.
Logan had marked the exits on the blueprint, but he checked each one out personally, making additional notes in his notebook. As he’d already mentioned to TJ, he also checked the locks on his windows, as well as those on his door.
“Call the property manager,” Logan told Brendan when they were done.
“I’ve got the number here somewhere,” TJ offered.
“No need,” Logan said, and only then did TJ realize that Brendan had already dialed the number and was waiting for someone to pick up on the other end.
“You know my property manager’s number?” TJ said.
“We got it as part of a full background check on the management company,” Logan said as if that wasn’t unusual.
TJ huffed a laugh. “What’s next, background checks on all my neighbors?”
“It’s already in the works,” Logan said. “We began with the newest tenants and those living nearest to your apartment.”
“I was joking,” TJ said, but Logan was already taking the phone from Brendan.
Calmly, but firmly, Logan spoke into the phone and ordered new locks put on TJ’s door, replacement bulbs for where they’d been out in the entry for a few days now, and repairs to the emergency exit door in the rear of the building. A threat to call the management company directly facilitated that the work would be completed within 24 hours.
“What were your plans for the rest of the day?” Logan asked TJ.
“Just an online class and my meeting,” TJ said. The words were getting easier for him to say, but it was still difficult.
All Logan did was nod and say, “Where is it, and what time?”
TJ told him and Logan ordered Brendan to send someone named Cheri to check it out when she was done at Baked & Wired
After Brendan left, Logan turned to TJ. “Brendan is going to be outside, I’ll stay in here with you for now. Please feel free to go about your day, we’ll stay out of your way as much as possible.”
TJ nodded, but he didn’t really have that much to do to fill his time. He’d started taking online courses out of sheer boredom. A guy could only take so much wallowing before even he got sick of himself. And since booze and drugs were out of the question, TJ’d had to find something else to do to fill his time. He still didn’t have any ideas for what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, but he’d figured that taking a few online courses would please his mother and give him something to do besides marathoning old movies with his grandmother. Surprisingly, he was good at it. Learning had never been TJ’s problem, so much as needing to hide from his own life.
Because his other option was to watch Logan walk the perimeter of the apartment or talk on his phone with his team and take notes, TJ got out his laptop. He went to the university website and pulled up the course he was taking. TJ opened the video for the next lesson, then set the computer on the coffee table and hooked up the headphones. He glanced at Logan, who had his back to him, before putting on the headphones and starting the video. TJ leaned back on the couch, sitting cross-legged with his notebook balanced on one knee.
After the first few lessons in the first course he took, TJ had begun using the headphones to cover the ambient sounds of street traffic and the voices of other tenants. He usually had no problem concentrating on the lessons once he’d blocked out everything else, but today he kept getting distracted by Logan. At one point TJ had to lean forward and rewind the video so he could catch the five minutes he’d missed completely because he realized that he’d been staring at Logan’s hands.
TJ paused the video and got up for a drink of water. It wasn’t what he wanted – in the past when he’d felt wired like this he’d gone searching for a line or two of coke, just enough to take the edge off – but it was all he could allow himself. As a reward, TJ popped a caramel into his mouth so he had something to concentrate on that wasn’t how good he’d feel if he just let himself give in to the temptation.
TJ passed the upright piano that held center stage in his living room on his way back to the couch. He ran his hand over the cool wood. He didn’t usually play in front of strangers these days, but the keys beckoned and he needed something to quiet that prickle under his skin. TJ set his glass on the top of the case and slid onto the bench. He raised the fallboard and ran his fingers over the keys, the soft sound easing the itch.
TJ flipped through the sheet music until he found one that spoke to him. He began to play and everything fell away as he lost himself in the stretch of his fingers on the keys, and the press of the pedals under his feet, and the sound of the music he was creating in his ears. When TJ had reached a point where he no longer felt like he was going to fly apart at the seams, he let the last note fade away. Only when he glanced up at the silence in the apartment did he realize that Logan no longer held his phone to his ear.
“Sorry,” TJ said. “I interrupted you.”
“Not at all,” Logan said. “I feel privileged to have heard you play. That was beautiful.”
TJ shrugged and ducked his head. His first instinct was to dismiss the compliment, used to people saying things like that because they wanted something from him. But he didn’t think Logan was like that, so instead he said, “Thank you.”
“It’s not in my job description to feed your ego,” Logan said as if he’d read TJ’s mind again. “I wouldn’t have said it was beautiful if I didn’t mean it.”
TJ’s cheeks heated up. “What would you have said if it was awful?” he said to lighten the moment.
“I would’ve kept my lips firmly closed,” Logan replied with a hint of mirth playing at the corners of said lips.
When TJ realized he was staring at Logan’s mouth he jerked his gaze away. “I’m, uh, I’m going to finish this lesson.”
Logan nodded as if he hadn’t noticed anything amiss and TJ closed the fallboard and hurried back over to the couch where he could hide behind his laptop and headphones. This time TJ was able to get through the rest of the forty-five minute lecture and the “Q&A” period at the end.
TJ set the notebook and pen aside and wiggled his fingers. Taking notes made his fingers cramp up like playing the piano never had. His therapist suggested that he might be holding the pen too tightly because he was tense, but even after two years of therapy sessions and AA meetings, his fingers still cramped up when he took notes.
TJ removed the headphones and stood, stretching his back before heading for the kitchen to eat. He snagged the glass of water he’d left atop the piano on his way and drained it.
“I’m making a salad,” TJ announced. “Want one?”
Logan cleared his throat. “No. Thank you.”
“So, what,” TJ said as he bent to get the items he needed from the refrigerator. “You guys seriously take no lunch or dinner breaks? You just sit here and watch me eat?”
“We schedule meal breaks in,” Logan said. “Once we have a better handle on your own schedule and needs we’ll probably go to a four-hour schedule. In addition to allowing my people to eat, I’ve found that it keeps them more alert.”
TJ nodded in response as he washed the small zucchini. He made a bed of shredded lettuce mix and then sliced the zucchini and sprinkled about half of it on the lettuce. He didn’t have any mandarin oranges already open, so he used dried cranberries and added walnuts and shredded cheese. He tossed a handful of wonton strips on top and called it done.
Sometimes he sliced up a chicken breast if he wanted to make the meal more filling, but TJ already had plans to have dinner with his grandmother that evening after his meeting, since his mother, Dougie and Anne would be out at some political dinner. She’d said something about making her famous lasagna, which meant that TJ would probably get filled up on pasta and bread. Hence, salad for lunch. A boy had to keep his figure somehow once he gave up snorting coke.
Alisha and Kyung had taken over for Logan and Brendan while TJ was with his grandmother. Logan had introduced TJ to them before he left. They’d driven him back to his apartment when he was ready to leave, though he didn’t know where they’d kept watch. Neither had spent their time on duty in his apartment, but it felt weird to imagine one of them just standing out in the hallway.
TJ was woken by a knock on his door at 8am. When he peered through the peephole TJ saw a cute woman with light brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. TJ might’ve been tempted to call her ‘perky’ except for the way she glared right at the peephole as she held up her ID. Alisha stood behind her, looking bored.
TJ opened the door without taking off the security chain. “Yes?”
“Shift change,” Alisha said. “I just wanted to introduce you to the new crew before we take off.”
“This is Cheri,” Alisha said.
“Don’t ever call me Cher. Or cheri,” Cheri said, putting a French pronunciation on the last, “and we’ll get along fine.”
“Okay,” TJ said again.
“Teddy is downstairs,” Alisha told him. “Cheri’ll introduce you. See you later.”
With a mock salute, Alisha was gone and TJ was left standing there with Cheri, who wore track pants and a windbreaker over her holster. “Um . . .”
“Alex said you run in the morning,” Cheri said, explaining her attire.
“Okay,” TJ said.
“I’m ready whenever you are,” Cheri said.
“Whenever you’re ready,” Cheri repeated.
She didn’t look like she’d appreciate being kept waiting while TJ went back to bed to get another hour’s sleep. His grandmother might be getting up there in years, but she could still push the envelope when it came to staying up late. They’d both still been playing Rummy when his mother got home. She’d joined them for a few hands before heading for bed. TJ had taken that as his cue to leave, despite his grandmother’s heckling that he was the one acting like an old fogey.
“Okay, just, uh, give me a few minutes. Did you want to come in to wait?”
Cheri shook her head. “No, thanks.”
“Okay, um, I’ll be right out.” TJ closed the door and relocked it – for what good it would do – and stumbled to the bathroom. He splashed cold water on his face, then decided, screw it, and ducked his head under the faucet. TJ came up sputtering from the cold. He used his hands to squeeze out water from his hair and then ran a towel over his face and head.
Only five minutes had passed by the time he’d finished his morning routine and gotten dressed for a run, but Cheri appeared to be chomping at the bit anyway. On the sidewalk Cheri introduced TJ to Teddy, who was, to be frank, built like a brick shithouse.
“Wow,” TJ said. “Bet no one ever calls you teddy bear.”
Teddy’s smile was all teeth. “I am cuddly.”
TJ huffed out a laugh, but Cheri just frowned. “Can we get going?” she said. “I don’t like just standing out here like sitting ducks.”
TJ looked at Teddy’s suit. “Is he going with us?”
“He’s going to follow us in the Tahoe,” Cheri said.
“Seriously?” TJ said. When Cheri just looked at him, TJ said, “Okay, lets get started.”
TJ used the steps to stretch and Cheri followed his lead. Once they were both done, they headed out. TJ usually ran along the canal towpath because it was scenic and running didn’t feel like such a chore when he got to enjoy the view, but in deference to Teddy following them in the SUV, he kept to the streets. He could still stay along the waterfront, and this way he’d be able to enjoy the architecture the area had to offer.
TJ circled around so they passed Baked & Wired on their way back to Grace Street. He offered to buy Cheri a cup of coffee, but she just gave him a short shake of her head. TJ drank his coffee as they walked the rest of the way back to his apartment. He didn’t miss the covetous looks Cheri sent the cup.
“Giving up caffeine?” TJ asked.
Cheri narrowed her eyes at him. “Yes.”
“Ah,” TJ said. That explained a lot.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Cheri demanded.
“Ah,” Cheri said, giving it an emphasis TJ was sure he hadn’t used.
TJ knew that telling Cheri he now understood the reason for her crankiness would be a bad idea. “I’ve noticed the way you stare at my cup,” he said, gesturing with said cup.
“Like you want to tear it out of my hands and make sweet love to it,” TJ said.
Cheri gave a humorless laugh, then sighed. “Sorry. Doctor said I need to cut down on caffeine and it’s making me a little bit cranky.”
“Tell me about it,” TJ said. Cheri’s eyes bore a hole through him. “I just meant,” he said placatingly, “that if anyone knows about giving up things that are bad for them, it’s me.”
Cheri looked stricken at the reminder of TJ’s addiction problems. “Oh my god, I’m sorry!”
“Don’t worry about it,” TJ said. “Listen, I’ll try to keep my coffee consumption to a minimum around you as long as you promise not to snort lines of coke around me.”
Cheri stared at TJ as if he’d just said the most outrageous thing, and then she started laughing. Mostly from nerves, TJ guessed. Her laughter was contagious, though, and TJ found himself smiling, and then laughing along with her.
Cheri became his running buddy three times a week, among her other shifts. Logan mainly used a six-person, three-team rotation, throwing in a fourth team once a day to change up their shifts so they didn’t grow complacent. TJ was surprised to realize that Logan worked his shifts right along the others, though who he worked with changed since he occasionally switched up the teams for the same reason he did their shifts.
On their next run TJ stopped off at Baked & Wired and ordered two herbal teas. “Naturally caffeine free,” he told Cheri when he handed her one of the cups.
Cheri stared at it suspiciously. “I don’t like tea.”
“Try it,” TJ said. “We’re going to try every one of their herbal teas until we find one you like,” he told her.
“I hate you,” Cheri said, but she eventually relented and took a sip as they did their cool-down walk back to TJ’s apartment. She wrinkled her nose at the first taste, but didn’t throw it out.
During one of their runs TJ asked Cheri why she got all the early morning shifts when he went for runs. She gave him a strange look and said, “Because Alex knows you like to run, and I’m the best runner.”
“Oh,” TJ said. A tingle went down his spine at the comment, but he shook it off. Logan most likely tried to be accommodating for all of his clients. All part of their attempt to be as unobtrusive as possible. It didn’t mean anything.
“Were you military, too?” TJ asked Cheri on another occasion.
“FBI,” she replied.
When she didn’t appear to want to expand on that TJ let it go. He knew all about wanting to keep some things to yourself.
Once Logan’s team had vetted his apartment and his mother’s house (and hadn’t TJ enjoyed the sour looks the Secret Service agents couldn’t hide behind their bland masks when Logan insisted on checking out the house himself), TJ had his privacy back in those spaces. TJ had thought it would be annoying to have a shadow whenever he went to the grocery store or out to the coffee shop to read when he felt the walls closing in on him, but it was just the opposite – TJ discovered that he enjoyed having someone to talk to, even if they were getting paid to do it.
Though, admittedly, some of them were more talkative than others. Brendan, for example, was a listener. Unless TJ got him going about cooking. Teddy, on the other hand, loved to banter. Cheri began to open up a bit, mostly, TJ thought, due to the fact that they spent more time together one-on-one because of their runs. Alisha, however, was not a morning person. Or an afternoon person. Or an evening person. She did, however, stay after her shift one day to show TJ some self-defense moves, and said that he wasn’t “half-bad.”
TJ had walked her to the door and noticed the double-take Logan did when he saw TJ all flushed and sweating. TJ felt an answering response low in his belly, but he managed to laugh when Alisha suggested they take TJ someplace where she could throw him around on some mats to give him a better lesson. TJ was not ashamed to admit that he jerked off in the shower to the fantasy of Logan pinning him to a mat.
TJ tried to get together with Douglas and Anne once a week (though with Douglas’ schedule it sometimes turned into once a month). His first visit there after his mother hired Logan meant another house check before they left him alone. He and Douglas (and Anne when she was available) would work out in their basement exercise room and then they’d all order pizza and watch a movie, undoing all their hard work. This night when TJ arrived Douglas was once again running late, so after Alisha and Kyle left them alone, he joined Anne on her yoga mats.
Over a year ago Douglas had called to cancel after TJ had already arrived at the house, but instead of sending him home, Anne had offered to give TJ his first lesson in yoga. TJ had balked at first, so rather than telling him all of the health benefits, including reducing stress and improving mental well-being, she’d just said, “You’ll be more flexible,” and then given him a look. TJ had laughed and said he was flexible enough, thank you very much, but he’d suffered through 30 minutes of stretches and poses that would’ve been sexually ironic if he hadn’t had to concentrate so hard just to hold them. And then he’d gone back for more.
When Douglas got home later this night, TJ and Anne had finished the pizza and were eating ice cream out of the container (and not crying, damn it) as they watched the end of ‘Marley & Me.’ Douglas just shook his head and joined them on the couch, taking the spoon Anne offered him.
TJ also had a membership at Georgetown University’s Yates Field House, though he didn’t use it that much. It was better than going to a regular gym because it had less of a meat market feel to it. Some of the members were residents of Georgetown, but most were students. For once TJ was thankful for the self-centeredness of the young because no one paid him that much attention when he did venture out. More often than not, though TJ preferred to stay in and use the set of dumbbells he had at home.
TJ was not above using Logan’s reaction to seeing him all hot and sweaty to his advantage. One day when he knew that Logan was on shift and standing right outside his door, TJ opened the door after a strenuous upper body workout to let Logan know he needed to go to the grocery store after he showered. TJ took the pleased satisfaction he felt at Logan’s response when he saw TJ, though he tried to hide it behind his usual professional facade, into the shower with him.
On another occasion TJ gave Logan some cash and asked him to pay for the pizza he’d ordered when it came and bring it in. TJ had heard the exchange at the door and was in the middle of a downward-facing dog when Logan opened the door. His steps faltered when he saw TJ, and then he continued briskly to the table.
“Your pizza’s here,” Logan announced.
“Excellent,” TJ said as he moved smoothly into a dolphin pose. “I’m almost done. Stay and share it with me.”
“I can’t do that,” Logan said.
“I’m sure you’re bad-ass enough to be able to protect me even with a slice of pizza in one hand,” TJ said.
Logan snorted. “You don’t have any idea about my bad-assedness.”
“Bad-assedness?” TJ said as he stood and strolled towards the kitchen. “Is that even a word?”
TJ flipped open the pizza box as he walked past the table, and then waited for Logan’s reaction.
“That’s my favorite,” Logan finally said.
“Is it?” TJ said guilelessly as he got out the fixings for his drink. “It must be fate then. Come on, I can’t eat the whole thing. We can even give any leftovers to Brendan.”
“I can’t leave my post,” Logan said by rote.
“We can rig up a contraption and lower it down to him,” TJ suggested, earning himself a huff of laughter. “What would you like to drink?” he asked Logan when he set his cranberry-ginger-lime onto the table.
“A beer,” Logan sighed.
“Rude,” TJ said. “Here.” He set the glass near where Logan stood. “I’ll make another for myself.
“Sorry,” Logan said. “That was . . . I shouldn’t have said that. It’s just that you’re . . .trying my patience,” he finished instead of saying whatever he’d been going to say.
“I try,” TJ said cheekily as he set his glass and two plates on the table. “Sit. If you don’t want to eat because it’ll distract you from your job, then just keep me company.”
Logan sighed and gave TJ a knowing look, but he sat. He even ate a piece of pizza. TJ counted it as a win.
Things got crazier after President Garcetti announced Elaine Barrish as his running mate. Formerly forgotten once his drug abuse no longer made headlines, now TJ couldn’t step out of his apartment without someone cornering him to ask about Garcetti’s decision to choose TJ’s mother as his Vice President for his second term, effectively rendering a ‘no confidence’ decision in his current VP, Fred Collier.
TJ had never been more happy to have a security detail between him and the reporters. He started having groceries delivered, rather than fight his way through a throng of reporters just to purchase some fresh fruits and vegetables. After an incident when Cheri offered to shove a reporters tape recorder up his ass, they started taking their runs on the inside track at Yates.
TJ began to spend more time at his mother’s house. Not being able to go out for even the most mundane things made it feel as if the walls were closing in on him. Plus, he missed his damned coffee shop. His grandmother would quiz him for his tests, or watch a movie with him, or curl up on the opposite end of the couch with a book while TJ read on the other end.
When his mother wasn’t home with her own Secret Service detail, at least one of his own security team had to remain outside the house, but he could usually persuade one of them to come inside. Brendan nearly fainted when he saw the kitchen. TJ suggested that Brendan teach him how to cook something and that was all it took for Brendan to make himself at home in the kitchen.
The only concession he made was to remove his suit jacket and roll up his sleeves. Unless Brendan required help, TJ and his grandmother sat at the island and supervised. It was pretty amusing watching a man with a shoulder holster and an ear piece fussing over the stove.
Occasionally they’d play games. Alisha kicked ass at Monopoly and Teddy was the reigning Pictionary champ. Even more infrequently Grandma was in the mood to relive her showgirl glory days, and so she’d cajole TJ to play the piano for her (not that it took much convincing), and drag whoever was in the house at the time into a sing-along.
Logan showed up when they were in the middle of one such sing-along. “What is this?”
“Copacabana,” Grandma said.
TJ didn’t bother hiding his grin.
Cheri’s posture went ramrod straight. “Sir. Ky didn’t tell me it was you.”
Logan raised his eyebrows at her. “Would it have mattered?”
“I presumed it was Secretary Barrish and her Secret Service detail. Sir.”
“We don’t see you around here much, Mr. Logan,” Grandma commented shrewdly.
“I usually work the night shift,” Logan said.
“Is that right?” Grandma said. She glanced at TJ, then back to Logan. “What brings you here now?”
“Brendan had to switch his shift.”
Despite being pleased to see Logan, TJ couldn’t hide his disappointment at that news. Grandma didn’t even try to.
“Well, crap,” Grandma said. “What are we going to do with the chicken cutlets in the refrigerator? I guess it’s pizza or Chinese for supper, then.”
“I vote for Thai,” TJ said. “Call Dougie and have him pick some up. He and Anne can join us.”
“Good idea.” Grandma patted TJ’s arm gently, not dislodging his fingers from the keys.
(TJ hadn’t missed the way Logan’s gaze had gone to his hands when he’d first come in, and he was willing to milk it for all he was worth.)
“I’ll go make the call,” Grandma said. She paused beside Logan on her way to the phone. “I’m glad you’re here,” she told him.
“You are?” Logan said suspiciously.
(And with good reason, TJ thought, enjoying seeing the other man off balance for once.)
“Yes,” Grandma said. “With you and Cheri here we have even teams for Pictionary.”
Both Logan and Cheri looked after Grandma’s retreating form with shell-shocked expressions. “I have a date,” Cheri said desperately.
“Oh, yeah,” TJ said. “You should totally leave.”
“You’ll tell your grandmother for me?”
“I won’t have to.” TJ finished the song with a flourish. “You left your jacket in the kitchen.”
“Crap,” Cheri said.
Grandma came bustling back into the living room. “I told Dougie to pick up enough for about ten people.”
“Ma’am,” Cheri began.
“I told you to call me Margaret,” Grandma said. “Ma’am makes me feel so damned old.”
TJ hit a key on the piano as if to punctuate the punchline of a joke. Grandma shot him a look, but Logan appeared to be biting his lip so as not to smile.
TJ took pity on Cheri. “Cheri has a date, Grandma.”
“Invite him over!”Grandma said. “Does he like Pictionary?”
“What makes you think it’s a ‘he’?” Cheri said.
Grandma chuckled and squeezed Cheri’s arm. “You’ve got me there. Heck.” She gave Cheri a once over. “If I was a little younger, I’d take you for a ride myself.”
“Grandma!” TJ said, shocked.
“What?” Grandma said. “She’s a cutie. And she could throw me over her shoulder. That’s kind of a turn on.”
“Oh my god,” TJ groaned, folding his arms on the piano and hiding his face in them. “I didn’t need to know that.”
“Don’t forget, boy-o, there was a lot of things I didn’t need to know about your sex life when you were younger,” Grandma reminded him.
TJ jerked up. “You should’ve knocked.”
“You should’ve locked the door.”
“I thought I had,” TJ moaned.
Logan looked like he was stuck somewhere between embarrassed and amused.
“Shut up,” TJ told him.
“I’ll get the game,” Grandma said. “It’ll be me and TJ against you two security goons.”
“Nice,” TJ said after his grandmother.
Half an hour later Grandma leaned into TJ. “We were better at this when we were drunk.”
TJ laughed. “We really weren’t.”
“It was more fun.”
“We just didn’t care if we won or not.”
When he looked away from his grandmother, Logan was looking at him, an inscrutable expression on his face.
TJ was feeling out of sorts. He’d overheard Alisha mention that Logan was on a date, and now he couldn’t stop thinking about it. He was feeling twitchy, and the prickle was back under his skin. Nothing he did caused it to abate, and he felt like the walls were closing in on him. He wanted drink, or better, a line of coke, more than he wanted air right at that minute.
TJ knew he should call his sponsor and let him talk him down. He even reached for the phone to do just that. Instead he threw the door open, startling Kyung. “I’m going out.”
“Okay,” Kyung said agreeably. “Where to?”
“Cobalt,” TJ said. “I feel like dancing.”
What TJ really felt like doing was having sex. He’d learned in those first difficult months that substituting one addiction for another wasn’t a good idea, but right now he thought that sex was exactly what he needed to scratch that itch in just the right way and get Logan off his mind. Knitting certainly wasn’t going to do the trick.
Kyung looked torn. “You’re supposed to let us know in advance if you’re going to go someplace we’d need to call in extra security.”
“Spur of the moment decision,” TJ said. “I’ll be ready to leave in 15 minutes.”
TJ closed the door in Kyung’s face and went to his room. It took him ten minutes to decide on an outfit and five minutes to get dressed and finger some gel through his hair. He stared at himself in the mirror, almost as if he was seeing a stranger there. It had been so long since he’d gone out clubbing because of the temptation it afforded, but tonight TJ didn’t care about that. He slipped on his leather jacket and checked the mirror to make sure it didn’t cover his ass – these jeans made his ass look amazing and he didn’t want it to go to waste.
The ride to the club was tense. Kyung was continually talking into his radio, arranging back-up, and Teddy had been silent since giving TJ a disappointed look when he’d slid into the back of the Tahoe. TJ ignored them both and thought about how much better he’d feel after he’d gotten laid. And he definitely didn’t think about Logan doing the same with someone else.
Teddy dropped TJ and Kyung off in front of the club. Alisha was already waiting for them. TJ felt a frisson of guilt because Alisha had been looking forward to spending the evening with her daughter, but he pushed it down. TJ walked past her to the front of the line. He’d never met this particular bouncer before (there was a lot of turnover at clubs like this one, and TJ hadn’t been out clubbing in nearly two years), but the guy must have recognized TJ because he let them in immediately. TJ accepted the perk as his due and ignored the grumbling of people who’d probably been waiting in line for an hour.
TJ bypassed the temptation of the bar and went directly for the dance floor. He was immediately enveloped in a sea of writhing bodies. Men rubbed up against him. A few bolder ones put their hands on him, slipping them beneath his shirt, sliding them down over his groin to cup him through his jeans. TJ moved on before they could do much more than touch. He didn’t want to come in his pants, and he hadn’t yet found the person he wanted to fuck all thought of Logan out of his mind. Still, he was able to lose himself in the music and the groping of strangers for a little while, and that’s exactly what he needed.
It wasn’t long before TJ was hot and sweaty. He disentangled himself from the writhing mass of bodies on the dance floor and went over to the bar to order a drink of water. Alisha and Kyung kept their faces blank, but disapproval was coming off them in waves. TJ drank about half the bottle in one go and struck up a conversation with the guy standing next to him.
The guy stepped closer and placed his hand on TJ’s ass. He bought TJ a beer that TJ ignored. The guy was good looking and funny (not that it mattered), and TJ thought he might be the one he let take him out back and fuck him. As if he’d read TJ’s mind, the guy (he’d told TJ his name, but TJ hadn’t bothered to remember it) leaned into him and breathed an invitation to head out back into his ear.
Before TJ could accept, the bartender reappeared and set a glass on the bar top near TJ’s elbow. TJ glanced down at it – the drink was red and there was a twist of lime in it – then up at the bartender.
The bartender inclined his head toward the other end of the bar. “From the guy in the suit.”
TJ looked, but he didn’t see a man in a suit, and no one seemed to be paying him any particular attention. “What’s in it?” he asked the bartender before he could move on.
“Cranberry juice and ginger ale with a twist of lime.”
TJ’s stomach did a little flip. He reached for the drink, but stopped when he felt a presence at his shoulder. He looked to the side and into Logan’s displeased expression. TJ’s fingers twitched, and then he pulled them away from the glass.
“What are you doing here?” TJ asked.
Logan’s eyebrows went up as if to say, Are you kidding me? “I heard you were doing something stupid.”
“Are you allowed to say that to your clients?”
“When they do something stupid,” Logan said dryly. He turned his gaze onto the guy whose dick TJ had been this close to having up his ass. “Is this the one?”
The guy’s hand slipped off TJ’s ass and he took a step back. TJ didn’t blame him; he might’ve done the same if Logan had been glowering at him that way.
“Yes,” TJ said, even though the insistent and irritating itch he’d needed to scratch had faded significantly since the moment he’d begun to suspect that Logan was at the club.
“I’ll need your name so we can run a security check,” Logan told . . . TJ really wished he could remember the guy’s name.
“What?” the guy said.
“Why do you need a security check?” TJ said. “We’re just going out back. You can even watch if you’re that worried about me,” he offered with a sly smile.
TJ watched Logan’s face closely to see what his reaction might be. He didn’t even look away when the guy mumbled an excuse and fled into the crowd.
“Are we done here?” Logan said.
Part of TJ wanted to say no, wanted to return to the press of bodies on the dance floor and let the men feel him up, maybe even get him off, while Logan was forced to watch. Another part of him wanted to push Logan up against the nearest vertical surface and kiss the hell out of him.
TJ did neither. “Yeah,” he said, and let Logan take his arm and lead him towards the back door, where he motioned to Kyung to radio Teddy for pick up.
Logan opened the back door and stepped out ahead of TJ, stopping when he saw that the alley was empty. “Where’s Teddy?” Logan demanded, and Kyung and Alisha began speaking rapidly into their radios.
“Someone blocked the alley with a Dumpster,” Alisha said. “He’s moving it now.”
“Back inside,” Logan said urgently. “Back inside now!”
The first gunshot came as a surprise. TJ would’ve thought it was a car backfiring if Logan’s body hadn’t slammed backwards into his. Logan turned and shoved TJ back further inside the club, covering TJ’s body with his own, while Alisha tugged on TJ’s arm to get him to safety. Logan’s body jerked once more before the emergency exit door closed them in. Behind him, Kyung and Alisha had their weapons drawn and were watching the hallway.
“Shots fired!” Kyung said into his radio. “Shots fired!”
“Are you alright?” TJ said frantically, running his hands over Logan’s back, then reaching beneath his suit jacket to make sure he wasn’t bleeding anywhere.
“I’m fine,” Logan said, his voice strained. “They hit the vest.”
“Oh my god,” TJ said. “Oh my god.” He’d almost gotten Logan killed. “I almost got you killed.”
“No,” TJ said. “I’m pretty sure. There’s a lot of adrenaline right now.”
Alisha touched her radio. “Okay,” she said into it, then looked at Logan. “Teddy’s in position.”
“Any sign of the shooter?”
Alisha repeated the question into her radio, then shook her head.
“Alright,” Logan said. “I’m going first, then Alisha. You only come out when we’ve made sure it’s clear,” he told TJ before turning to Kyung. “Get him in the car as quickly as you can once we give the okay.”
The word ‘no’ tried to bubble up out of his throat, but Logan pulled out of the fingers that still gripped his shirt and he was gone before TJ could speak. TJ’s heart was in this throat until he heard Logan’s all clear through the partially opened door, and then he was rushed into the Tahoe. TJ was pressed between Logan and Kyung in the back with Alisha riding shotgun. The tires squealed as Teddy reversed out of the alley.
TJ’s throat had closed up. When he could finally speak, he said, “God, I need drink.”
No one laughed.
Logan called a contact at the Metropolitan Police Department to report the shooting, and then he called TJ’s mother. Even though Logan assured her that he was fine, his mother still wanted to speak with TJ. TJ held his hands up, palms out, and shook his head. Logan frowned, but he said, “He’s still in shock. He promises to call you tomorrow.”
The ride to Georgetown was made in silence, broken only by Logan’s clipped commands to someone named Paula, who was supposed to coordinate with the Metro Police. When they reached 3210 Grace, Alisha went up to clear the apartment and then they hurried TJ out of the Tahoe. Kyung and Alisha left him alone with Logan. TJ stared at the floor and waited for Logan to yell at him.
Logan pressed a glass of water into TJ’s hand and waited for him to take a drink before he spoke. “What the hell were you thinking?” he said gently, as if he knew that TJ wasn’t far from falling apart.
“I was thinking that you were on a date with someone else and I just wanted to get laid,” TJ said. That much honesty meant he had to be in shock. TJ closed his eyes and waited for the floor to open up and swallow him whole.
Logan ignored the first part of TJ’s admission and addressed the second. “You could’ve just told us that. We would’ve called someone to come over.”
TJ huffed a laugh. “What, you’ve got an escort agency on call?”
Logan didn’t deny it.
“You really do?”
Logan shrugged. “It comes up more often than you’d think. It was easier to vet one agency and keep them on speed dial.”
“It’s D.C.,” TJ said. “I guess I shouldn’t be all that surprised.”
“You need to call someone,” Logan said. “Your therapist, your sponsor, someone.”
TJ swallowed hard. “Yeah.”
“I need to call Paula and find out what’s going on.”
“Yeah,” TJ said again. He went into his bedroom and pulled the door shut. He sat on the bed and listened to the soft rumble of Logan’s voice in the other room. TJ pulled out his cell and stared at it. He was due to see his therapist in two days. Time enough for her to want to discuss his self-destructive tendencies. TJ called his sponsor and listened to Logan’s voice while the phone rang.
Alisha was there when TJ opened the door the next morning. He froze, then bit the bullet. “I’m sorry.”
Alisha raised her eyebrows.
“For ruining your night with your daughter,” TJ clarified.
There were other things he was sorry for – being an idiot, almost getting them all shot – but that’s the thing Alisha would care about most, he knew.
“You should be,” Alisha said, which meant she wasn’t quite ready to forgive him, but that she would. Eventually. Probably.
Brendan was waiting out front in the Tahoe when TJ and Alisha reached the sidewalk. TJ cleared his throat as he slid across the backseat so he could speak.
“Brendan,” TJ said, catching Brendan’s eye in the rearview mirror, but glad when he had to glance away to navigate traffic as he pulled out into the street. TJ stared at the back of his head, which made it easier (though not easy, despite having had to make a lot of apologies over the years) for TJ to speak.
“I’m sorry,” TJ said. “For any inconvenience. If Logan had to change your schedule around because of me.”
“The scheduling change isn’t a big deal,” Brendan said, leaving unspoken that TJ’s actions had gotten his teammates shot at.
“Yeah,” TJ said. “I’m sorry for that, too.”
TJ stared out the window, unseeing, and clenched his fingers to keep them from shaking as he recalled the overly loud sound of gunfire and the feel of Logan’s body blanketing his own, jerking with the hit. He couldn’t stop thinking about what could’ve happened to Logan if he hadn’t taken the time to put on his vest before going into the club after TJ. All because TJ had been jealous and thought sex might make him forget about Logan for a little while.
TJ’s thoughts drifted back to last night. He’d been on the phone for 40 minutes with his sponsor, telling him how on edge he’d felt, and how he’d chosen going out to a club over calling him because he was angry and jealous and hurt and wanted the escape of mindless sex. He left out the shooting because he didn’t know what Logan or the police wanted made public while they were still investigating.
Plus, he hadn’t wanted to talk about the soft little grunt Logan had made as his body jerked when the second bullet hit him. Or how TJ kept imagining that his hand was covered in blood when he pulled it away from Logan’s back. TJ was still staring at his hand when Logan opened the door and stepped into the bedroom.
“TJ?” Logan said. “Are you alright?”
TJ nodded his head. Or thought he did.
“I’ve been calling your name,” Logan said, and this time TJ heard the concern in his voice.
“You could’ve been killed,” TJ said.
“But I wasn’t,” Logan said calmly.
“What if . . . ?”
“You can’t do that,” Logan said. “You can’t think about the ‘what ifs’.”
“I can’t stop seeing it,” TJ said. He spread his fingers and stared at his palms. “Your blood on my hands.”
TJ began to shake.
Logan sat beside him on the bed and put an arm around his shoulder. “TJ.”
TJ turned to Logan, clutching at his shirt as he buried his face in Logan’s shoulder. He felt Logan tense against him, but before he could push him away, TJ said, “Please. I know you don’t . . . Please.”
Logan sighed. “It’s not that I don’t . . . ,” he began, then stopped.
TJ wanted to know what he’d been going to say, but it was more important that Logan didn’t let go of him. When TJ finally stopped shaking Logan got him into a hot shower. At first, TJ just stood under the spray, letting the hot water warm him up. Then he began to scrub himself. First his hair, getting out all the gel, then his body, as if he could wash away his memories of strange hands and gunshots right along with the fear sweat.
Logan came back in for TJ before he felt clean. TJ dried off perfunctorily and dressed in a pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt, uncaring that he was naked in front of Logan for the brief moment between dropping the towel and pulling on the sweats. Any other time he might’ve drawn that out, seen where it led, but in that moment it was the furthest thing from his mind.
Logan had made tea while TJ was in the shower. He sat TJ on the couch and placed a hot mug into his hand. TJ held onto the mug, letting the heat seep into his bones, and stared off at nothing. It took him a few minutes for his mind to put what he was seeing into focus. Logan had removed his suit jacket and the tie. His button down was unbuttoned at the throat and the sleeves were rolled up. And there was a jagged rip in the fabric at the upper right chest where a bullet had torn through.
TJ leaned forward and touched the spot. Logan reached up and gripped TJ’s wrist. “I’m fine,” Logan said again, but it made no sense through the buzzing in TJ’s ears. He set the mug down and frantically worked the buttons of the shirt. There was no blood, and Logan was sitting right there in front of him instead of in the hospital, but he needed to see for himself that the vest had stopped the bullet.
“Where’s the vest?” TJ asked desperately when all he saw was the white undershirt.
“TJ,” Logan said calmly, and somehow TJ knew it wasn’t the first time Logan had spoken his name.
“Where’s the vest?” TJ repeated, less frantically.
“I took it off,” Logan said. “It’s evidence now.”
Evidence that someone had shot at them, that two bullets had hit Logan.
“But you’re alright,” TJ said, stating it rather than making it a question, because it couldn’t be a question.
“Yes,” Logan said. “I’m alright.”
TJ moved around Logan and found the second hole in his shirt. The first bullet might not have killed him, but this one probably would have. TJ rested his forehead against Logan’s back and just breathed. He hadn’t had a panic attack in a long time, but he thought he might be having one now.
Logan somehow maneuvered so he could get his hands on TJ, and guided him back to the couch. He put the mug back into TJ’s hands and said, “Drink. And stop thinking about it.”
TJ huffed a humorless laugh. “Yeah, that’s gonna work.” He took a sip of the tea anyway, because Logan had made it for him, and had told him to.
“We need to talk about tonight,” Logan said after TJ had taken a couple more sips of the tea.
Any comfort he’d taken from the moment deserted him. “You mean about how me being a selfish jerk nearly got you killed?” TJ said with a healthy dose of self-deprecation.
“No,” Logan said gently. “About how someone took a shot at you tonight.”
TJ stared at Logan. He opened his mouth, but no words emerged. He’d been so upset about Logan getting shot that he hadn’t thought further than that, aside from blaming himself for insisting on going out in the first place.
“They were aiming at me,” TJ said dully.
“Possibly. The police have only just begun their investigation.”
“Shit,” TJ said.
“I need to ask you some questions,” Logan said.
“Shoot,” TJ said, then gave Logan a horrified look.
Logan patted TJ’s knee, and then went on as if TJ hadn’t just made a blunder. “Who knew you were going to the club?”
“No one,” TJ said. “I only made the decision to go, like, 15 minutes before we left.”
“You didn’t call anyone? Tell them to meet you?”
“No,” TJ said. “I wasn’t actually interested in running into anyone I knew,” he added with an apologetic shrug.
“Did anyone recognize you at the club?”
“I guess they might have,” TJ said. “No one said anything to me if they did. Though wait, the bouncer let me in the door without asking who I was,” he remembered.
Logan scribbled something in the notebook that appeared out of nowhere. The normality of it made TJ’s throat close up.
“This is all my fault,” TJ said.
“You didn’t fire the gun,” Logan said reasonably.
“No, but I put you in the line of fire!”
“And if you hadn’t, we wouldn’t have known that there was a threat. We got off easy, and we have intel we didn’t have before.” Logan stood up. “It was worth it if it makes you take more precautions.”
“What did you say?” TJ demanded.
“I just meant that it was a wake up call,” Logan said.
TJ dropped the mug, uncaring that the inch of tea remaining at the bottom spilled out onto the rug, and rose to his feet. “Nothing is worth you getting shot,” he said angrily. TJ hit Logan’s shoulder. “Nothing! Not me . . . nothing!”
Logan grabbed TJ’s wrists before he could hit him again.
“Please, don’t . . . ,” TJ said. “Don’t get shot because of me. Promise me . . .”
Logan let TJ drop his head onto his shoulder. “I can’t promise that,” he said. “But I do promise to be careful.”
“We’re here,” Alisha said, drawing TJ out of his memories.
TJ came back to the moment just in time to have the morning light cut off as Brendan pulled the Tahoe into the garage, which was more secure for unloading passengers. TJ took a deep breath to prepare himself for the upcoming confrontation, and then he climbed out of the SUV. One of the Secret Service agents on duty must have called in their arrival because his mother was waiting for him near the door when TJ stepped into the house from the garage.
“Mom,” TJ said brokenly when he saw her.
Mom pulled TJ into her arms and for a brief moment he felt like a child again, certain that whatever he’d done, his mother could fix it. For a minute he allowed himself to blame the tight grip she had on him for his inability to speak.
“I’m sorry,” TJ finally managed to get out, though his voice cracked on the apology. “I didn’t mean to worry you.”
“You never do,” Mom said as she put enough space between them so she could look TJ in the face. “And I always will. The downside of being a mother is never being able to turn it off, no matter how old our babies get.”
His mother looked him over. “Are you alright?”
TJ huffed. “I’m not the one who got shot.”
“But you are the one who got shot at,” Mom reminded him.
“Yeah,” TJ said. “I’m still . . . in denial about that.”
“Don’t be,” Mom said. “It sucks, but the alternative could mean you get hurt next time.”
“Next time?” TJ said.
“Just be careful,” Mom said.
“Yeah,” TJ said, remembering Logan’s comment about taking precautions.
“Come on,” Mom said, taking TJ’s hand and drawing him further into the house. “Your grandmother’s probably having a conniption fit because I got to you first.”
“I called dibs,” Grandma said as they entered the kitchen where she’d been waiting anxiously.
“I moved faster,” Mom said without the slightest hint of apology.
“You should,” Grandma said. “You’re 20 years younger than I am. Come here, you little shit,” she said to TJ, pulling him into a hug.
“Hey, Grandma,” TJ said, letting himself be drawn. “Sorry I worried you,” he told her, and then just let her hold him until she was satisfied.
When she let him go, TJ turned to his father. “Hey, Dad. What are you doing here?”
Bud Hammond snorted. “Hello, Son, and what the hell do you think I’m doing here? Tell me, what the hell were you thinking?” he said bluntly.
“Bud,” Mom cautioned.
“That I wanted to get laid,” TJ said just as baldly.
“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” Grandma said, evading the swat Mom aimed at her.
“A chip off the old block,” Dad agreed. “Come here,” he said, and TJ got his third hug of the morning.
There was an awkward moment when his father released him and TJ stepped back. He ran a hand through his hair. “It could’ve been worse, I guess,” he said.
“How do you figure?” Dad said.
“I could’ve been having sex in that alley and gotten shot with my pants down around my ankles.”
Everyone just stared at him disbelievingly before they burst into nervous laughter.
“Oh, god,” Grandma said, wiping an eye. “Black humor, I approve.”
“Yeah, well,” TJ said, feeling drained all of a sudden. “I could really use a drink.”
“Couldn’t we all,” Grandma said.
“How about some chocolate instead?” Dad said, not missing a beat.
“Chocolate’s good,” TJ said.
“Your mother’s been baking all morning,” Grandma informed him.
In most households it would have been just another bit of knowledge passed on, but in their household it was a warning.
“Are they edible?” TJ joked, noticing for the first time the apron his mother wore over her clothes.
“Watch it, buster,” Grandma said as she placed a plate of chocolate chip cookies on the island. “I hold your chocolate fix in my hands.”
TJ took a cookie off the plate and bit into it. Everyone stared at him expectantly. “What, am I the guinea pig?” he asked through a mouthful of half-chewed cookie.
“You’re dead man walking, anyway, so we figured it couldn’t hurt if you went a little early,” Grandma said.
“Mother!” Mom said, but TJ laughed, spewing cookie crumbs everywhere, and then choking on them.
“Oh my god,” TJ said after he could breathe again, and his father had stopped pounding on his back. “My days really are numbered. It’d be really embarrassing if I was done in by cookie crumbs.”
“More embarrassing than being caught with your pants around your ankles?” Grandma pointed out.
“You’ve got me there, Grandma,” TJ said as he went to the fridge for milk. “Where’s Dougie?” he asked as he got out a glass and poured.
“Your mother sent him to the grocery store,” Grandma said.
“Today’s all about comfort food,” Mom informed TJ.
“Macaroni and cheese?”
“Oh, that’s a good one,” Grandma said. “We should add that to the list.”
“Check and see if we have cheese,” Mom said. Dad ducked his head into the refrigerator while she checked the cupboards for macaroni.
“We have cheese!” Dad pronounced, coming out of the fridge with an armful of various types of cheese. “But we could probably use more milk, especially if we’re doing breakfast.”
“Pancakes?” TJ asked, the sudden memory of the five of them sitting around the breakfast table strong.
Grandma and Mom argued over how to mix up pancake batter while TJ and Dad watched and stole cookies off the plate his mother appeared to have forgotten about. Douglas and Anne came in loaded down with bags, and TJ got two more hugs.
“What the hell were you doing at a club?” Douglas said as he emptied a bag onto the counter so Anne could put the items away. TJ had seen them do the same thing at their house a hundred times.
“I wasn’t out drinking . . . ,” TJ began.
His father put his arm around TJ’s shoulders. “Thinking with his small brain,” Dad said proudly. “Just like his old man.”
Douglas gave TJ a look that said, Really, that’s what you’re aiming for?
“It won’t happen again,” TJ said.
Dad snorted. “I used to say the same thing to your mother. Didn’t I, sugar?” he asked Mom.
“Shut up, Bud,” Mom said.
TJ let his family pamper him. He realized that they needed it as much as he did. It was almost as if they’d stepped back in time to before his parents’ time was taken up by one political office or another, and TJ could almost pretend that the previous night hadn’t even happened.
Until his mother got the call from one of her Secret Service team that Logan was there to see them. “Send him in,” she told Clark. “Alex Logan is here,” she told the family gathered in the living room.
The jovial mood that covered all their concerns about the night before was sucked right out of the room.
Mom met Logan when he entered the living room and shook his hand. “Words are not enough, but thank you for saving TJ.”
“I was just doing my job,” Logan said. “But you’re welcome.”
TJ’s sentiments warred between embarrassment that he’d needed saving and annoyance that Logan seemed to think so little of his own safety and was willing to put himself in that position again.
Before TJ could say anything, though, his mother said, “Do you have any news for us?”
TJ was interested in the answer, but he found himself noticing the way Logan moved a little stiffly due to the bruises that were currently blooming beneath his suit. TJ tuned back into the conversation in time to hear that they’d collected some cigarette butts and shell casings, as well as the bullets from Logan’s vest. They would check for fingerprints and be able to match DNA when they found a suspect. Techs were also reviewing all the video from security cameras in the area.
Logan looked at TJ. “The police want to speak with you.”
“Okay,” TJ said. “But I didn’t see anything.”
“They’ll want to ask you the same questions I did,” Logan told him. “And maybe some tougher ones, like drug dealers you might have pissed off, so be prepared for that.”
TJ huffed. “Yeah, okay.”
Dad scoffed. “Because this looks like a drug hit?”
“At this point in the investigation, they’re covering all their bases,” Logan said, not reacting to Bud Hammond’s bluster.
“It’s fine,” TJ said, even though he was feeling less than fine. “Are you going to be there?” he asked Logan, not caring if it made him appear needy.
“Yes, of course,” Logan said. “I’m going to wait outside until they get here.”
Logan retreated, leaving an awkward silence in his wake.
“That was a buzzkill,” Anne said.
“I think this calls for more cookies,” TJ said. “I’ll get them.”
“Oh, sweetie,” Grandma said. “Nothing’s that bad.”
“I saw you eat a few,” Mom said.
“Desperation,” Grandma replied.
TJ left his family bantering and escaped to the kitchen, a small smile on his face. He placed his hands on the counter and ducked his head, breathed in.
Bud Hammond was a big man who made his presence known, yet he was still able to enter the kitchen without TJ noticing. “Is there something going on between you and that man Logan?”
TJ spun around, startled. “Jesus, Dad!”
“No,” TJ said, then huffed. “Not for lack of trying on my part.”
“Is he the reason you went out last night?”
“If you want to know whether I got jealous and acted like a child because I heard he was out on a date, then yes, all his fault.” TJ crossed his arms over his chest defensively, then dropped them when he realized what he was doing. He shrugged. “I’ll get over it.”
“I wouldn’t write him off just yet,” Dad said.
TJ gave his father a self-deprecating smile. “Trust me, I’ve given him plenty of opportunities to let me know he’s interested.”
“He looks like a man who takes his responsibilities seriously,” Dad said.
“What are you trying to tell me?” TJ said.
His father squeezed TJ’s shoulder. “You’re a smart boy, I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Now grab those cookies; I’m gonna get some chips. Your grandmother suggested we watch a movie and right now Dougie’s outnumbered by our womenfolk.”
Ten days later a suspect was arrested in the shooting at the club. TJ had continued to run at Yates three times a week, but they varied his schedule. He’d already cut out most unnecessary outings because of Garcetti’s announcement that Elaine Barrish was the Vice President on his ticket this year, so aside from canceling on Douglas and Anne, and staying away from his mother’s house unless she or his dad were there with their Secret Service detail so he didn’t put his grandmother in danger, TJ’s days were pretty much the same as they had been. Namely: boring. He did his lessons, and played piano, and did yoga, but all of that could only fill so much of his time.
TJ made liberal use of Netflix. During one movie that wasn’t holding his interest, TJ picked up the notebook he’d been taking notes in for class. He turned to a blank page at the back and began to doodle. He hummed while he wrote and the doodles turned into musical notes. TJ scoffed when he realized what he’d done, but he took the notebook over to the piano and played the composition. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t horrible, either. And it was a way to kill time.
When Logan brought TJ the news that they’d caught the shooter, he was relieved. The irony, though, was that TJ wasn’t even the target. Not specifically, anyway. The guy was a conservative crackpot who’d planned to take a shot at the first gay guy to walk out the back of the club. Had it been anyone else, anyone who didn’t have a security detail, they would probably be dead. TJ didn’t know whether he should feel better or worse that, instead of being targeted because of his mother’s position, he could’ve been shot for no reason other than someone didn’t like gays. It was a sobering thought.
It was frustrating, though, that his name was back in the papers. Even though he hadn’t been doing anything wrong (aside from endangering the lives of his security team), they were constantly rehashing every mistake he’d made in the public eye, and speculating about others.
It wasn’t until Logan didn’t resume taking point at any of the shift changes that TJ realized the other man was avoiding him. So much for his father’s intuition. Not that TJ had taken any hope in it. Much.
Two weeks after the shooting TJ felt that all too familiar sense of bugs crawling under his skin and the walls closing in on him. It felt like ages since he’d been out of his apartment for anything more than a run at Yates, his final exam was coming up next week, and a week after that the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, where TJ would be forced back into the public eye.
TJ didn’t want to go out clubbing, but he needed something. He called his sponsor and they spoke about the stresses he was facing and ways to deal with them that didn’t include pouring a drink or snorting a line of coke. TJ was still ansty when they hung up. He paced the apartment, mentally going over the pros and cons of what he was contemplating. TJ didn’t know whether he was trying to talk himself into or out of it.
TJ finally flung open the apartment door. Cheri startled and nearly pulled her weapon on him. “What the hell?” she said.
“Sorry,” TJ said. “Logan told me you have a number you can call if I . . . you know.”
“I don’t know,” Cheri said as she moved her hand away from her holster.
TJ rolled his eyes. “Need to get laid.”
“He . . . told you that?”
“Yeah. Why, was it a secret?”
“No, I just . . . was surprised, that’s all,” Cheri said.
“Well,” TJ said, “after last time . . .”
“Right. Yeah, okay. I’ll make the call. Any preferences?”
As different from Logan as possible, TJ thought, but he just said, “No.”
Cheri nodded and TJ went back inside to wait. He thought about changing his clothes or lighting some candles, then thought, fuck it. Whoever showed up was getting paid for their time, and they probably didn’t care if he had on his favorite jeans or had set the mood.
By the time the knock sounded at his door, TJ had put on a clean t-shirt and lit one candle. More out of nerves than wanting to put in any effort. TJ opened the door with a fake smile that froze on his face when he saw Logan standing there. He glanced at Cheri, but she refused to meet his eyes.
“What are you doing here?” TJ asked.
“May I come in?” Logan said.
TJ toyed with the notion of saying ‘no’, but he knew that was never really an option. He shrugged as if he hadn’t missed seeing Logan for the past two weeks and stepped back into the apartment, leaving Logan to interpret that gesture however he pleased. TJ stopped at the piano and ran his fingers over the fallboard. His heart skipped when he heard the door close behind him.
TJ turned around to face Logan, not entirely sure whether he’d followed him into the apartment or not. TJ felt heat in his cheeks when he noticed that Logan had followed him in and was looking at the single burning candle.
“You didn’t tell me what you wanted,” TJ said brusquely to cover his embarrassment that Logan probably knew why that candle had been lit.
Logan’s gaze slid to TJ and for a moment TJ wished he hadn’t said anything to draw Logan’s attention to him because being the object of that regard took his breath away.
“Cheri called me,” Logan said.
It took TJ a moment to remember that he’d asked a question. “Did she?” he said. TJ cocked his hip and leaned against the piano. “That still doesn’t explain why you’re here instead of the escort I ordered. Unless you’re the escort,” he added, because he couldn’t not be a smartass.
Even though TJ had said the last just to get under Logan’s skin, Logan didn’t deny it. Instead, Logan’s gaze went heated and TJ went hot all over in response. He forced his now-liquid muscles to continue to hold himself up and managed a scathing laugh. “So, what, you’re here to take one for the team?”
“No,” Logan said. He took off his leather jacket and TJ realized for the first time that he was out of ‘uniform’. Instead of a suit, Logan wore a soft-looking t-shirt with a pair of jeans.
TJ jolted forward when he realized what else was missing. He pushed out of his easy slouch and moved toward Logan. “Where’s your holster?”
“I left it in the Tahoe with Brendan,” Logan said.
“Because I’m off duty,” Logan said.
TJ’s stomach flipped, and not in the sexy way. “Vest?” he said as he reached out to touch Logan’s chest.
“Tahoe,” Logan said.
“What the hell . . . ?” TJ began angrily, but Logan took TJ’s hand and pressed it flat to his chest, then covered it with his own.
“I’m off duty,” Logan repeated.
“You’re . . .” TJ was caught between his concern that Logan wasn’t wearing his vest, and the notion that he was definitely trying to tell him something.
“Off duty,” Logan said once more.
TJ’s fingers flexed on Logan’s chest. “Then why are you here?”
Logan placed his free hand on TJ’s shoulder, then slid it down his back until it rested just above his ass.
TJ took a deep, shuddering breath. “Are you . . . ?” He had to swallow and begin again. “Is this a pity fuck?”
“No,” Logan said.
“You said you weren’t interested,” TJ said.
“That’s not what I said,” Logan corrected. “I said I couldn’t. Because it’s a bad idea.”
“Because of me?” TJ knew he was a bad investment no matter how you looked at it.
“Because you’re my client. Because it’s my job to protect you. Because I can’t do that if I’m thinking about . . . this.”
“Then why . . . ?”
Logan opened his mouth to speak, then closed it. “There’s no easy answer to that.”
TJ felt lightheaded and breathless. “Then give me the complicated one.”
“Because you make me want to break all my rules, and I couldn’t bear the thought of sending someone else to you,” Logan said.
“I wish it were that simple.”
“Nothing about me is simple,” TJ said in a sudden burst of honesty.
“I’m aware,” Logan said dryly.
“And yet, you’re still here,” TJ said, feeling some of his confidence return.
TJ shifted his hand until he had Logan’s nipple beneath his thumb. “Then shouldn’t you do something?”
Logan used the hand on TJ’s back to tug him closer. TJ’s gasp as their bodies came together was cut off by the press of Logan’s mouth against his. For a moment TJ couldn’t believe that this was really happening, and then he parted his lips. Logan accepted the invitation and dipped his tongue into TJ’s mouth. TJ moaned and went after Logan’s tongue when he began to withdraw it.
Logan took the hint and deepened the kiss. TJ pressed in closer and opened himself to the kiss. Logan turned them, but just before TJ’s back hit the door, Logan jerked them to a halt. “Not the door,” Logan said.
TJ breathed heavily and he couldn’t take his gaze from Logan’s lips, red and swollen from the kiss.
“Cheri’s right out there,” Logan said.
That caught TJ’s attention. “I have a bed.”
“Bed,” Logan repeated, as if it was a novel concept. “Let’s use that.”
Something about the fact that Logan didn’t seem quite so in control as he normally was made TJ smile. “Yeah,” he said as he leaned into Logan and brushed their lips together. “Let’s use that.”
TJ took Logan’s hand and led him to the bedroom. He’d already made sure that the bed was made and most of the mess hidden away, and confirmed that he had enough supplies in his night stand. TJ was never more glad of that fact than right now.
Logan let go of TJ’s hand and slipped both hands beneath the hem of his t-shirt. Logan raised the material slowly, revealing bare skin inch by inch. Logan’s knuckles brushed his skin and made him shiver. TJ’s body had responded to Logan the moment he’d seen him standing in the hallway, but the rapt expression on Logan’s face as he unhurriedly bared TJ to his gaze caused TJ to get even harder yet.
TJ was tempted to urge Logan to hurry, and yet he didn’t want this moment to end. Logan’s fingers brushed TJ’s nipples when he raised the shirt that far. TJ gasped out Logan’s name.
Logan ceased movement and TJ raised heavy-lidded eyes to his face. “Wha–?”
“Alex,” Logan said.
TJ must’ve looked as confused as he felt – to be fair, most of his blood had headed to parts south – because Logan quirked a smile that held a hint of smugness. “Call me Alex.”
“Alex,” TJ repeated. The name felt strange on his tongue because he’d only thought of Logan as, well, Logan. “Alex,” he said again, trying it out.
“Good boy,” Logan said, and brushed TJ’s nipple again, this time with more intent in the touch.
TJ gasped out, “Alex,” and Logan looked pleased. He lowered his head and replaced the fingers teasing one nipple with his mouth.
TJ groaned as Logan’s tongue worked his nipple. He slid his hand around the back of Logan’s neck and squeezed encouragingly as he tried to get close enough to Logan to rub against him. Logan dropped his free hand to TJ’s hip to keep him at bay, which elicited a more frustrated groan from TJ this time.
Logan released TJ’s nipple and gave him an amused look before he moved his attentions to the other. TJ was desperate by the time Logan released that nipple and lifted the t-shirt over his head. Logan tossed the shirt aside and reclaimed TJ’s mouth before TJ even had a chance to bring his arms down. He let his hands fall onto Logan’s hips and leaned into him, reveling in the soft bite of Logan’s t-shirt against his sensitive nipples, and the heat of Logan’s hand at the middle of his back.
TJ’s fingers clutched at Logan’s hips as they moved against each other. Just when TJ was ready to beg for more, Logan’s hand dropped to the button at his waistband. TJ nearly sobbed in relief as Logan opened his jeans. Logan moved his lips to TJ’s ear and splayed his fingers across his back as he slipped his hand inside TJ’s jeans.
“Shh,” Logan said. “I’ve got you.”
TJ was caught between laughing and crying out in pleasure when Logan curled his fingers around him just then. “D-don’t stop.”
“Trust me,” Logan practically growled. “I’m not stopping.”
Logan’s mouth covered TJ’s again. TJ tried to return the kiss, but most of his attention was focused on the hand stroking his dick. All he could do was moan into the kiss and scrabble at Logan’s shoulder for purchase to push into his hand.
When Logan released him, TJ’s brain was still dazed enough that his pants were pulled down to his thighs and he’d been pushed down to sit on the bed before his mouth said, “You stopped.”
Logan gave him another amused look before he went to his knees in front of TJ and took him into his mouth.
“Oh my god,” TJ said, reflexively thrusting up into the wet heat of Logan’s mouth. “Fuck . . . fuck, that’s . . . Really don’t stop this time.”
Logan’s chuckle vibrated through TJ’s dick and he would’ve thrust up again if Logan hadn’t firmly gripped his hips to keep him still. TJ lost track of time while Logan sucked him, especially when Logan took one hand off his hip and reached between his legs to play with his balls, rolling them and then tugging just when TJ was getting close, and then sucking him to near orgasm again, only to deny him once more.
TJ was so lost in the pleasure of Logan’s tongue and the frustration of withheld release that it came as a surprise when his arousal the final time built and Logan did nothing to stop it. Heat pooled in his belly and his muscles clenched, and just when TJ expected the tug on his balls to deny his release, his dick pulsed and he came into Logan’s mouth with a groan of pained pleasure.
TJ’s muscles relaxed after he’d emptied himself onto Logan’s tongue, and he fell limp and sated back onto the bed. Logan cleaned TJ with his tongue and then pulled off his jeans the rest of the way. TJ tried ineffectually to pull Logan down with him when Logan helped him further up onto the bed.
He made a sound of protest, but then watched with interest as Logan began to remove his own clothes. Logan was slim, but muscled beneath the t-shirt. TJ reached out to touch Logan’s back when he sat on the edge of the mattress to remove his shoes. TJ smiled when Logan set his ankle holster on the night stand before standing to remove his jeans.
“I’m glad to see you weren’t going completely unarmed.”
“I’m off duty,” Logan said, “not stupid.”
TJ watched avidly as Logan undid the button and lowered the zipper. “You might have mentioned it when I was freaking out about you being unarmed and not wearing your vest,” TJ said, but he was too distracted for there to be much heat in it.
“I had other things on my mind,” Logan admitted as he pushed his jeans down.
“Like what?” TJ asked, not really paying attention to whether Logan might answer as he stepped out of his jeans and stood naked before him. TJ’s gaze locked on Logan’s dick, hard and jutting from his body, the head shiny red and leaking pre-come.
“I’d wager the same thing you’re thinking right now,” Logan said wryly.
TJ licked his lips. “You wanted to suck yourself off, too?”
Logan’s eyes went dark as he climbed onto the bed. Instead of crawling up TJ’s body, though, he stretched out beside him and laid a hand on him gently, almost reverently. His eyes moved over TJ’s face until he began to feel self-conscious. Just when TJ was tempted to say something to break the tension, Logan’s gaze landed on TJ’s lips, and then he leaned in and touched his own lips to TJ’s.
TJ brought his hand up to the side of Logan’s face and darted his tongue out to encourage Logan to deepen the kiss. It had been a while since TJ had been with anyone he liked well enough to make out with. Hurried fumblings in a dark alley and hookups with strangers he found on Grindr didn’t really lend themselves to taking your time to get to know someone this intimately.
Logan didn’t seem to be in any rush to end the kissing even though TJ could feel his hardness against his hip. TJ reached down to touch Logan. “Let me . . .”
Logan let TJ stroke him a few times, but then he gently pulled TJ’s hand a way from him. He raised TJ’s hand to his mouth and pressed a kiss to the palm to remove any sting of rejection. “I have other plans for that. If you’re alright with it.”
“With me?” TJ said. “And sometime tonight?”
“Yes. And yes. Wise ass,” Logan said, eyes flashing.
“Then I’m alright with it.”
“Good,” Logan said. He kissed TJ again, then said, “Roll over for me.”
TJ’s stomach flipped, and this time it was the sexy kind. He rolled to his stomach and raised up so Logan could place a pillow beneath his hips. Logan rubbed his hand down TJ’s spine, and then back up. The touch was too heavy to be arousing, but the husky sound of Logan’s voice when he said, “You look so good like this,” went directly to TJ’s groin.
Logan’s hand, still heavy, slid over the curve of TJ’s ass and down his thigh. TJ shivered as desire built despite the heavy touch. The slide of Logan’s hand on TJ’s skin grew lighter until all TJ felt was the brush of his fingers. His skin prickled with arousal and TJ gasped, “Alex!”
“Spread your legs for me,” Logan said, as if he’d merely been waiting for TJ to reach his breaking point.
TJ spread his legs immediately, but Logan took his time kneeling between them. He touched TJ again, a light brush of skin on skin as he ran his fingers down TJ’s back to his ass. Logan spread TJ’s cheeks, and TJ went hot all over as cool air and the heat of Logan’s gaze brushed his hole.
“I . . . there’s . . . night stand,” TJ said.
“Already going non-verbal?” Logan teased vocally at the same moment the pad of his thumb teased over TJ’s hole.
TJ’s legs fell open wider, instinctively encouraging Logan to breach his body. TJ ignored Logan’s comment in favor of pushing back against his thumb. He wasn’t hard yet, but still his body cried out for more.
“I had wondered . . .” Logan said, sounding almost melancholic, before cutting himself off.
“Wondered what?” TJ said.
“Whether you’d prepared yourself for someone . . .”
TJ shook his head. “No. You know I didn’t want . . .”
TJ’s admission ended in a surprised whine when Logan’s tongue replaced his finger. “Oh, god, L– . . . Alex!” TJ corrected when Logan took a moment out of lapping at his hole to nip at his cheek.
TJ went completely non-verbal, whining and whimpering as Logan opened him up with his tongue. He shook with arousal when Logan held his hips and refused to allow him to push back, fuck himself on Logan’s tongue.
“Alex, please,” TJ moaned.
“Patience,” Logan said, breaching TJ with one dry finger that slid inside him easily on spit, his muscle well-loosened and lubed by Logan’s tongue. Logan replaced the one with two slicked fingers and TJ felt just enough stretch to burn pleasantly.
TJ began to move, then froze in expectation of Logan’s hand stilling him. Instead, Logan said, “Go ahead, fuck yourself on my fingers.”
TJ whined as he pictured himself doing just that. He pushed back in time with the thrust of Logan’s fingers, taking them deeper. TJ’s arousal built even as he chased for more. Logan, knowing what TJ needed almost before he did, crooked his fingers and touched the spot inside him that made stars explode behind his eyes. TJ cried out and shook as Logan rubbed his fingers over the spot.
“Can you take three?”
“I’m ready,” TJ said desperately. “Please fuck me. Now.”
“I will,” Logan promised. “As soon as I’m sure you can take three comfortably.”
TJ groaned at the delay, and then again when Logan pressed three fingers inside him.
“Is that okay?”
“Yes!” TJ said. “Just . . .”
Logan pulled his fingers out and teased the skin around TJ’s entrance before pushing back in.
“You fucking tease,” TJ ground out, and then all he could do was shake apart when Logan touched that spot inside him again.
Logan stopped, pulled his fingers back until they teased at the edge of TJ’s hole and waited for him to stop shaking so he could pay attention. “Show me how much you want it.”
Logan wiggled the tips of his fingers inside TJ. “Fuck yourself on my fingers.”
TJ moaned at the sensation, but braced himself on his hands and knees and thrust back. When Logan didn’t stop him, he did it again. TJ didn’t know exactly when he’d gotten hard again, but his dick ached for release as he chased his orgasm on Logan’s fingers.
TJ thought he might be getting close, and so he let out a frustrated growl when Logan stopped him and withdrew his fingers.
“Shh,” Logan soothed TJ as he bent over him and pressed a kiss to the middle of his back.
TJ did not feel soothed, especially when the head of Logan’s dick nudged at his ass. “Come on,” he demanded as he wiggled his hips. “Put it in me!”
“Wow,” Logan said wryly. “Most romantic invitation ever.”
The sound of the foil packet ripping was like music to TJ’s ears. “Hey,” he said. “I lit a candle.”
“Yeah, for someone else,” Logan said, but thankfully he didn’t sound like he was going to let it stop him from fucking TJ.
“True,” TJ said, “but if I’d known you were coming over, I’d have lit them all.”
“Sweet talker,” Logan said.
“I’m better when I’m not being kept waiting for . . . Fuck, yes!” TJ cried out when Logan finally pressed inside him.
Logan paused just for a moment before slowly pushing the rest of the way inside TJ. Once he was fully seated, Logan held still to give TJ time to adjust. As impatient as he was to have Logan inside him, TJ was now glad he’d taken the time to stretch him open with three fingers.
Logan ran his hands over TJ’s sides. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” TJ said breathlessly. “You can move, just . . . slow.”
Logan pulled out until the head of his dick teased the rim of TJ’s hole and then pressed back in unhurriedly. He set a leisurely pace, fucking TJ carefully, as if he was a porcelain doll.
“Harder,” TJ demanded. “I’m not gonna break.”
“If you’re sure,” Logan said. He didn’t wait for TJ to reply, his next thrust coming more quickly than the last, and harder, just as TJ had requested.
“Fuck, yes,” TJ groaned as Logan slammed into him. This was exactly what he’d needed, and the fact that he was getting it from Logan was a bonus he hadn’t expected. “Alex, please.”
Logan bent over TJ’s back, then pulled TJ with him when he sat back on his heels. TJ groaned at the change in angle as he sank down even further on Logan’s dick. Logan put his fingers against TJ’s jaw and turned his face so their lips could meet. TJ eagerly licked into Logan’s mouth as Logan’s hips moved against him.
TJ reached for himself, but Logan stopped him before he could touch. He raised TJ’s arms and TJ locked his hands behind Logan’s head. He deepened the kiss as Logan’s hands slid back down his arms and over his chest. TJ moaned into Logan’s mouth and started meeting Logan’s thrusts as Logan played with his nipples, sending little zings of arousal directly to his dick.
“Alex,” TJ said. He tried to make it a demanding growl, but it came out more as a plea.
Logan’s hands slid down lower, and while TJ missed the sensation on his nipples, he went taut with the anticipation of having Logan’s hands on his dick. Logan’s hands moved over TJ’s hips and to the inside of his thighs, completely ignoring the spot where TJ wanted them.
TJ groaned in frustration. “If you don’t . . .”
“You’ll what?” Logan said, a challenge, as one hand slipped between TJ’s thighs and cupped his balls while the other returned to tease a nipple.
TJ nipped Logan’s bottom lip. “I’ll do it myself,” he threatened.
“Will you?” Logan said, pinching TJ’s nipple and tugging gently on his balls.
TJ could only keen in response as he tried to fuck himself more deeply on Logan. “Please. Alex, please.”
Logan finally touched him, fingers curling loosely around TJ’s dick and stroking. “I want you to come,” Logan said against TJ’s lips as his grip tightened.
‘That’s the fucking plan,’ TJ said, or tried to say, the words cut off when Logan thrust into him and hit that spot that made bright lights go off behind his eyes at the same time his thumb found the sensitive spot beneath the head of his dick.
TJ couldn’t speak, couldn’t move, his body held taut between the pleasure Logan wrought inside and out. His lips moved against Logan’s jaw, no words emerging, not even really a kiss as he struggled to breathe through the pleasure.
“A–,” TJ tried to speak Logan’s name.
“Shh,” Logan said again, his hand twisting just right over the head of TJ’s dick. “Will you come for me?”
TJ wanted to say ‘yes, of course,’ but the ability to form a rational thought, much less the words to speak it, left him when Logan touched him inside again. There was very little notice. TJ felt the tingle in his balls, the heat in his belly, just before his toes curled. He opened his mouth in a silent cry as his body emptied itself into Logan’s hand.
Logan turned his head and groaned against the side of TJ’s face. “Good boy,” he said as he milked TJ’s orgasm from him.
TJ’s dick pulsed one last time when Logan said, “Such a good boy,” and then Logan bent forward, folding TJ over the pillow. He gripped TJ’s hips and thrust into him hard and fast as he desperately sought his own release.
TJ felt as much as heard the soft grunt against his shoulder before Logan’s body went still above him, his dick pulsing inside him. Logan groaned and pressed a kiss to TJ’s shoulder as his muscles relaxed.
TJ moaned in protest and reached back to stop him when Logan went to pull out of him.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Logan promised. “I just need to get rid of the condom.”
Logan eased out of TJ and removed the condom. He tied it off and tossed it into the basket TJ kept near the bed for such things, usually tissues he’d used to clean up after having to take care of himself. Logan rolled to his side so he wasn’t lying on top of TJ, and pulled TJ with him so they spooned.
It felt good, and when Logan didn’t seem to know where to place his soiled hand, even though most of TJ’s come was already drying on his hip, TJ took it and placed it on his stomach, effectively pulling Logan’s arm around him. He liked the feeling of having Logan holding him, and the notion of Logan marking him, even if it was with his own come.
“You should come on me next time,” TJ said, only realizing after he spoke the words that there might not be a next time.
“TJ . . .”
“Don’t say it,” TJ said.
“I think you know that it’s not because I don’t want to,” Logan said anyway.
TJ shook his head and buried his face in his pillow as if that would keep him from hearing the words.
“I can’t do anything that would interfere with my duty to protect you.”
‘You already have!’ TJ wanted to yell, but he knew that would do more to make Logan feel guilty and dig in his heels than to make him change his mind.
“What if it wasn’t?” TJ said, struck by inspiration.
“Wasn’t your job to protect me.”
“TJ . . .”
“No, hear me out!” TJ rolled so he was facing Logan. “The election’s in a couple months, I might not even need a security detail after that.”
“And if you do?”
“There’s always the Secret Service,” TJ said.
“You didn’t want to use them,” Logan pointed out.
“Yeah, but you know that had nothing to do with their ability to do their job.”
Logan studied TJ, and not for the first time TJ couldn’t tell what he was thinking. TJ looked away. “Unless you don’t . . .”
“Sometimes I get attached too quickly, and it’s alright if you don’t feel the same way.” It wasn’t, but Logan didn’t have to know that TJ was lying, or that it was breaking his heart.
“Does that mean you’ll think about it?”
“Yes,” Logan said grudgingly, but at least he said it.
“Will you stay the night?”
“Yes,” Logan said more readily.
“And will you stop avoiding me?”
Logan sighed. “Yes, alright.”
TJ smiled happily, and then he pushed Logan onto his back and worked his way down Logan’s body.
“What are you doing?”
“I didn’t get to suck you like I wanted to,” TJ said. He met Logan’s gaze. “And this time I want you to come on me.”
Logan groaned, “Fuck,” as TJ took him into his mouth.
“What are you grinning about?” Grandma said suspiciously.
TJ wiped the smile off his face. “What are you talking about?”
“You’ve been wearing that ridiculous grin since you got here,” Grandma said.
“It’s kind of creepy,” Anne said.
“Can’t a guy just be happy to be with his family?” TJ said.
“Sure,” Grandma said dryly, “if it wasn’t this family.”
TJ laughed. “Class is almost over. And you’re going to help me get an A,” he said, brandishing the stack of index cards he’d crafted over the course of the semester.
“That’s not it, either.”
“The sun is shining, the birds are singing . . .”
“Oh my god!” Grandma said. “You got laid!”
“Seriously, can’t a guy just be in a good mood?”
“He so got laid,” Anne agreed.
TJ dropped his head onto the back of the couch and stared unseeing at the ceiling. “I didn’t just get laid,” he said. “I had the best sex of my life.”
“And that’s saying a lot,” Grandma said.
“Hardy har har,” TJ said.
“I don’t mean to burst your bubble,” Anne said, “but a one-night stand cannot qualify as the best sex of your life.”
“That’s just it,” TJ said earnestly. “I don’t want it to be a one-night stand.”
Both women just stared at him.
“What?” TJ said.
“You didn’t just get laid,” Grandma said.
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you,” TJ said.
“You’re in love,” Anne said.
“What? No I’m not. Don’t be ridiculous,” TJ said. “It was just sex. I mean, really, really good sex, great even, but just sex.”
“Sex you want to have again,” Anne pointed out.
“Who wouldn’t?” TJ said. “The way he . . .”
“Eh, eh, eh!” Grandma said, covering her ears. “I already know more about your sex life than I want to!”
“I don’t,” Anne said.
TJ just smiled. “Quiz me.”
“On your sex life?” Anne said.
“No quizzing!” Grandma said, snatching up the index cards.
They’d gone through the entire stack of index cards (the ‘correct’ pile gratifyingly higher than the ‘incorrect’ pile) when Logan came in.
“Hey,” TJ said. His stomach swooped, but he bit his lip to keep the sappy smile off his face.
“Hi,” Logan said, glancing at Grandma and Anne to include them in the greeting.
“I just wanted to advise you of the shift change. Kyung and Cheri are on now.”
“Okay,” TJ said.
“Alright,” Logan said. “I’ll be heading out now.”
“I’ll walk you to the door,” TJ said.
Logan nodded. “Have a good day,” he told Grandma and Anne.
“You, too,” Grandma said.
TJ walked Logan to the door. He reached out and touched the back of Logan’s hand before shoving both of his hands into his pockets. “I’ll see you later?”
Logan’s gaze dropped to TJ’s lips, then jerked away. “Yes. Later.”
TJ’s lips quirked. “Get some sleep.”
Logan snorted. “I will. You, too.”
There was an awkward pause when TJ thought they might both be thinking that now would be the moment they’d kiss goodbye if they were allowed to do that.
Logan pulled out of it first. He touched TJ’s elbow. “Later.”
“Later,” TJ echoed as Logan pulled open the front door and left TJ standing alone in the foyer. He took a deep breath and headed back to the others, who were waiting in the kitchen under the guise of refreshing their drinks.
“That was interesting,” Grandma said.
“What was?” TJ busied himself refilling his own glass, glad for the excuse to turn away from his grandmother’s shrewd eyes.
“That . . .” Grandma waved her hand. “Whole thing.”
“They always let me know about shift change,” TJ said, hoping his grandmother would buy his innocent act. Chances were low, though, since she hadn’t bought it since he was 14.
“Do you always walk them to the door?” Anne said.
TJ shot her an irritated look before he could stop himself. “Sometimes,” he said. Even though he figured the jig was up, he had to make the attempt.
“You boned the bodyguard?” Grandma said. “Isn’t that a little cliche?”
“You weren’t being very subtle is all I’m saying,” Anne said.
“Oh, fuck you both,” TJ said. “I’m going to bury my head in popcorn and bad movies.”
“I’m in,” Anne said, hopping off the stool. “No butter on my popcorn.”
TJ watched Anne disappear in the direction of the living room, probably to queue up a bunch of movies. His grandmother came over and touched his face.
“Do you know what you’re doing?”
“Not really,” TJ said. “It kind of snuck up on me.”
“He isn’t . . . I mean, you want . . .”
“Oh my god, Grandma, no! I mean, yes! I mean, he didn’t, and I did, I . . .”
“Alright,” Grandma said. “Because I love you I’m going to stop Anne before she has us watching ‘The Bodyguard’.”
“Just be careful, TJ.”
TJ didn’t move as his grandmother went off after Anne. “I think it’s too late for that,” he said.
Logan knocked on TJ’s door at 8pm that night. “I just wanted to advise you of the shift change,” he said when TJ opened the door.
“Consider me advised,” TJ said with a smile. There was a moment of tense silence while TJ eyed Logan hungrily and Logan tried to pretend he wasn’t doing the same to TJ.
TJ opened the door wider. “Come in?”
Logan cleared his throat. “That’s probably not a good idea.”
TJ reached out and took Logan’s hand. “I promise not to attack you.” He cocked his head and tilted his shoulders in an ‘eh’ gesture. “Unless you ask me to. Real nice.”
Logan rolled his eyes, but he allowed TJ to draw him into the apartment. “No hanky panky,” he warned. “I mean it, I’m on duty.”
“I know,” TJ said. “I just want to spend some time with you. Besides, you can protect me better from right here next to me, can’t you?”
Logan didn’t answer, but he did tap his earpiece and inform Alisha of his change of location. TJ couldn’t hear Alisha’s response, but Logan’s poker face couldn’t hide the pink at the tip of his ears.
“What do you want to do?” TJ asked. “I’m serious,” he added at Logan’s look. “We could watch a movie, or play cards, or . . . talk.”
“Do you hate it when people ask you to play the piano?” Logan asked.
“Uh,” TJ stalled, wondering where the question had come from. “Depends who’s asking, I guess.”
“Would you mind if I asked?”
“Oh,” TJ said. “No, I wouldn’t mind if you asked.”
After a moment of silence, Logan said wryly, “Are you actually going to make me ask?”
TJ laughed. He squeezed Logan’s hand, only realizing then that he hadn’t released it since pulling him into the apartment, and then turned to the piano.
“What would you like to hear?” TJ asked as he settled himself on the bench and raised the fallboard.
“Is ‘Piano Man’ too obvious?” Logan said.
TJ laughed again, but he set his fingers to the keys and started playing. Logan grinned when he recognized the song.
“I can’t believe you actually know it,” Logan said. By the end of it he was humming along.
TJ just smiled. He moved into ‘The Scientist’ and then ‘Someone Like You’. And because he felt like showing off just a little bit, he ended with a small piece of Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’.
TJ raised his gaze to Logan, who was staring at him intently, his knuckles white where he gripped the edge of the piano case.
“That was . . . amazing. All of it.”
TJ ducked his head and smiled. “I’m a little bit rusty.”
Logan snorted. “Now you’re just fishing for compliments.”
TJ chuckled and shook his head. He wasn’t, or didn’t think he was. “I used to play everyday,” he said.
“Why don’t you now?”
TJ dragged his finger along the keyboard, making a discordant sound. “What’s the point?” he said bitterly.
TJ shook it off and faked a smile. “How about something to drink and we pick out a movie?” He lowered the fallboard and then moved past Logan into the kitchen, ignoring the contemplative expression on Logan’s face.
“I’ll just have water,” Logan said.
He didn’t mention TJ’s childish display, for which TJ was grateful. He got Logan a glass of water, then poured himself a glass of iced tea, brewed in deference to the August heat, and added a couple slices of orange.
They sat on opposite ends of the couch, and TJ let Logan choose the movie. Logan didn’t say anything when TJ tucked his toes beneath his leg, and didn’t call TJ on paying more attention to him than to the movie.
Logan showed up at noon the next day for a shift. He helped TJ with his flash cards and sat beside him while he took the practice exam. The next morning Logan brought coffee and pastries from Baked & Wired.
“I could get used to this,” TJ said as he sipped his coffee. “How’s a guy to repay your generosity?”
“I’m sure you’ll think of something,” Logan said dryly.
“I’m sure I will,” TJ agreed.
TJ had a meeting and a therapy session that morning, so he didn’t get to spend much quality time with Logan, who wished TJ luck on his exam before leaving him in Cheri’s capable hands. That evening Logan refused to play strip poker, though he blushed while doing so, much to TJ’s delight, so TJ forced him into a death match of Go Fish and Slap Jack.
The next day TJ toyed with an idea for how he might be able to repay Logan’s generosity, though he’d originally spoken of it in jest. And it didn’t even include getting naked. He pulled out the recording equipment that had been gathering dust for years and got started on his project.
“TJ,” Mom said when he stepped into the kitchen.
“Hey, Mom,” TJ said, hugging her.
His mother held onto his hands when they separated. “Look over my wardrobe for me?”
“Don’t you have people for this?”
“I trust your judgment.”
TJ rolled his eyes, but dutifully followed his mother to her room, where several outfits were laid out on the bed and hanging on the closet doors.
“Oh, these are new,” TJ said, heading directly to one of the ensembles hanging up.
“Yes,” Mom said. “I don’t know which one to save for my acceptance speech.”
They talked clothes for a few minutes before TJ turned to his mother. “Now tell me what you really wanted.”
“I really wanted your opinion on these dresses,” Mom said. “But I did want to speak to you about something else.”
“I knew it,” TJ said. “Am I going to need to sit down for this?”
When his mother didn’t answer, TJ moved a dress out of the way and sat at the head of the bed, leaned against the pillows stacked against the headboard, and waited.
“You’re sleeping with the man who is the head of your protection detail,” Mom said.
TJ sat up straight and demanded, “Who . . . ?” He shook his head. “Never mind, it doesn’t matter. I slept with him, once, past tense. Not that it’s any concern of yours,” he added.
“Of course it’s my concern,” Mom said. “I hired him to protect you, and he acted unprofessionally.”
“He’s not acting unprofessionally,” TJ said, “or we’d still be having sex.”
“Now is not a good time to break in a new security team,” Mom said, more to herself than to TJ, ”but once the Convention is over I’m going to fire him, and . . .”
“What?” TJ said, surging to his feet. “Absolutely not!”
“TJ, I can’t trust him to protect you if he’d get involved with you while you’re his responsibility.”
“I trust him to protect me!” TJ said. “He’s already taken two bullets for me, what else do you want?”
“TJ, I’m only trying to . . .”
“No!” TJ yelled. “No! I won’t let you ruin this relationship for me, too!”
TJ just stood there breathing heavily after his outburst, but then he had to turn away from his mother’s stricken face.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t know why I . . .”
“No, TJ,” Mom said. She came up behind him and took his hand. “Please don’t apologize.”
“I know it wasn’t your fault,” TJ said plaintively.
His mother moved to stand in front of him. “Here,” she said, touching her hand to his temple. “But not here.” She pressed her hand over his heart.
TJ couldn’t speak, and he couldn’t bring himself to look at her, so he just squeezed her hand in acknowledgment.
“That’s been festering for a long time,” Mom said.
“I hope you know, TJ . . .”
TJ felt like the lowest form of scum when she had to pause a moment to collect herself before she could continue.
“I hope you know, here.” She pressed against his chest. “That I would do everything in my power to make you happy.”
“I do,” TJ said.
“And if I could have . . . If there was anything I could’ve done, anything that would’ve made a difference . . .”
“You’d have protected Sean?” TJ said.
His mother shook her head. “No. But I would have protected you,” she said, then paused. “You know.” She wallowed hard. “I always blamed myself for . . .”
“I know,” TJ said. “It wasn’t your fault. I’m sorry I let you believe that.”
“I love you.”
“I know that, too,” TJ said, eyes burning. “I love you, too.”
TJ didn’t know who moved first, but suddenly they were hugging. It felt good to let his mother hold him, and to hold onto her in return.
“I like him,” TJ said in the safety of his mother’s arms. “And we’re not . . . We’re waiting. And if you think that was my decision, then you don’t know me very well.”
His mother snorted and pulled back to look at him. “TJ, are you sure this isn’t some kind of, I don’t know, hero worship?”
“You mean because he saved my life?” TJ said. “My interest in him didn’t start then, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“What are you waiting for?”
“Wha–, oh. The election. I figure the worst of it will be over by then, right? I might not need a protection detail at all after then, and if I do I guess the Secret Service would do.”
“Yeah,” Mom said dryly. “It’s not as if they’re trained to protect the President, or anything.”
TJ chuckled, then said, “What?” when he noticed his mother studying him.
“You always make decisions with your heart, which isn’t bad, but it seems to always lead to you getting your heart broken. This time you’re using your head, too. I’m proud of you.”
TJ shrugged. “Yeah, well, I was just trying to figure out a way to keep him in my life.”
“You didn’t consider just throwing yourself at him?”
“I did, actually,” TJ said. “But he’s stubborn. He would’ve gotten angry because I didn’t respect him, or he would’ve given in and then been angry at himself. Neither outcome boded well for me.”
“And until then?”
“Until then we take it slow and get to know each other. And suffer from blue balls.”
His mother rolled her eyes. “Nobody’s ever died of blue balls. Besides, I know your hand isn’t broken.”
Laughter burst out of TJ. “Mom!” He knocked their shoulders together. “It’s not the same.”
“No, I suppose it isn’t,” Mom said.
“So, are you going to tell me who tattled so I can kick their butts?”
“TJ, you know I can’t reveal my source.”
“It wasn’t Grandma, then. You’d throw her under the bus in a heartbeat. So it must be Anne.”
His mother shook her head. “Not Anne.”
“Your father knew?”
“Uh . . . “
“What are you working on?” TJ asked.
“Background on a potential client that Paula put together for me. I’ve got a meeting this afternoon after my shift.”
“Oh,” TJ said, setting down the knife he’d been using to make sandwiches. Logan hadn’t exactly agreed to eat meals with him when he was there, but TJ found that if he put something in front of him, he usually ate it. “Would you be . . . ?”
Logan glanced up. “Leading the team? No. This would be Paula’s client. She’d be taking this meeting if there hadn’t been a personal emergency.”
No longer having Logan’s team as his security detail meant they could pursue a personal relationship, but it also meant that Logan would have other clients. They didn’t talk about the meeting, but TJ couldn’t stop thinking about it. About Logan taking on another client and maybe being hurt on the job. He knew that running a protection detail for a high profile figure wasn’t as dangerous as being a police officer, or in the military. The agents responsible for his mother’s safety had never been shot at. Nor his father’s, and if anyone was going to have pot shots taken at them, it would be his dad.
Still, Logan had already taken two bullets for TJ, and TJ hadn’t even been the specific target – he’d just been in the wrong place, at the wrong time. The idea of Logan getting hurt on the job sat in TJ’s gut.
“What’s wrong?” Logan said a few days later when he’d arrived to collect TJ for the drive to Andrews AFB and the flight to Charlotte, North Carolina.
“Nothing,” TJ said, the lie coming easily to his tongue from years of practice. He continued to double check his carry-on, making sure he had enough to keep him busy during the down-time.
Logan took TJ’s arm and turned him around. “Talk to me.”
“I’ve just been thinking,” TJ said.
“About what, the Convention?”
“After the election.”
“Us?” Logan said, patiently drawing TJ out.
“You,” TJ said. “Your job.”
Logan’s jaw tightened. “What about my job?”
“You could get hurt.”
“Yes,” Logan said. “But I’ve told you before, I’m very good at my job. It’s my first priority to make sure that no one gets hurt. Not the client, and not anyone on my team.”
“I know,” TJ said, and he did, but . . .
“It’s not for everyone,” Logan said.
“Being in a relationship with someone who puts their life in danger on a daily basis.”
“But you don’t do that.”
“No. You’ve seen that yourself. But are you going to be able to see past the fear?”
“I don’t know,” TJ said.
Logan nodded. “Maybe you need to think about that.”
“Think about it?” TJ parroted.
“Maybe this isn’t really what you want.” Logan looked at TJ for a moment, then said, “I’ll wait in the living room for you to finish here.”
TJ felt helpless. He didn’t know what to say to make Logan stay. His gaze caught on the memory stick he’d made for Logan. He must’ve made a sound when he picked it up because Logan turned back.
“What did you say?”
TJ closed his hand around the stick and squeezed until it bit into his palm. “Nothing,” he said, and dropped it into the messenger bag with his notebook, laptop, and mp3 player.
It was just Dad, Grandma and Anne on the flight with him, along with their respective protection details. Douglas had been on the campaign trail with their mother and Garcetti, and they’d be meeting them in North Carolina. As soon as they were seated, TJ put in his earphones and closed his eyes, pretending to sleep.
His father settled beside TJ after the plane took off. When TJ didn’t acknowledge him, Dad said, “Something wrong between you and your fella?”
“He’s not my fella,” TJ said, and then immediately regretted saying it, as if speaking the words might make them true. “You ever worry about Mom?” TJ asked his father.
“Of course,” Dad said. “Her job isn’t dangerous, but she makes a lot of enemies doing it. Some hate her just because she’s a woman. Is this about Mr. Logan?”
“His job is dangerous,” TJ said.
“You knew that before you slept with him,” Dad observed unhelpfully. “‘Sides, so is walking down the street, riding a bike.” He gestured around them. “Flying in a plane.” His father reached out and squeezed TJ’s hand. “You can’t let fear stop you from living.”
When TJ didn’t respond to that bit of wisdom, Dad said, “Go talk to him.”
“He doesn’t want to talk to me.”
“Maybe you don’t want to admit you were wrong,” Dad countered. “It’s a hard thing to do, even when the whole world is telling you just how wrong you were and judging you for it. Maybe especially then. Don’t think Logan’s gonna judge you for it, do you?”
“No,” TJ said.
His father patted TJ’s leg. “I’m going to go bug your grandmother now.”
TJ didn’t return to pretending to sleep, but he couldn’t yet bring himself to look in Logan’s direction. TJ dug through his messenger bag until he found the memory stick at the bottom. He played with it as he debated his next move.
TJ stood up to go to the bathroom as an excuse to see where everyone was sitting. Since there were going to be Secret Service all over the place, Logan only brought Cheri with him for back-up. Cheri had earphones in and it appeared that she was actually sleeping, rather than pretending. Logan was reading a book, but he glanced up when TJ stood.
TJ acknowledged Logan, then hurried to the restroom. By the time he got there, he actually had to use the facilities due to nerves. On the way back to his seat TJ went to where Logan sat and held out the memory stick. Logan took it with a frown.
“That, uh, that’s for you,” TJ said, then went back to his seat and prayed for the next four days to be over. As if it wasn’t already bad enough that he was going to be thrust into the public spotlight, now he and Logan weren’t speaking. It just felt . . . wrong.
The next four days in Charlotte were a whirlwind of speeches and interviews, being whisked from the hotel to the Time Warner Cable Arena, and meeting with PR to go over how he should handle media questions about his addiction and attempted suicide, should they come up. Those topics had been put on the do-not-ask list, but sometimes the media tried to slip something past, or asked a question just so they could get your reaction on tape.
Tuesday night, TJ said, “I need to go to a meeting.”
His mother immediately called someone over and said, “Find him a meeting.”
Two hours later TJ was telling a group of strangers how much he hated being in the public eye when he was growing up, unable to just live his life, and how much he still hated it now.
Wednesday night TJ was scheduled to introduce his mother for her acceptance speech. His mother’s team had written the speech, TJ only had to deliver it. He’d never wished more for a line of coke in his life.
TJ stood backstage while the last speaker of the day finished her speech. Someone moved to stand beside him, offering silent support. TJ felt a welcome relief when he recognized Logan’s presence. They had been in the same room for most of the last few days, but they’d never had a moment alone.
“You made me a mix tape,” Logan said, leaning in so TJ could hear without him having to yell.
“It’s not a tape,” TJ said. “I didn’t know you were going to try to break up with me before I even gave it to you.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Logan said. “I wasn’t trying to break up with you. And it’s beautiful.”
Before TJ could shrug off the compliment, Logan added, “For someone who’s rusty.”
TJ barked out a laugh. “Fuck you,” he said.
Logan kept looking straight ahead, but TJ could see the smile on his face. Logan reached out and hooked his pinky finger around TJ’s. TJ held on for dear life. He almost didn’t realize they were calling for him to take the stage until Logan said, “You’ve got this.”
“Yeah,” TJ said, glancing at Logan before releasing his finger. “I’ve got this.”