If he’d learned anything in the years since his mother had introduced him to his father, Jai had learned that his pride meant nothing. Given that he was, by nature, a proud man, it was a hard lesson, and one he’d had to learn over and over again. Mostly at his father’s hand, and the edge of his tongue.
Henry Wilcox was a bastard, and Jai had never understood what his mother saw in him.
Still, needs must, and for all Joan had let him down (a trend with the women in his life, not that he wanted to whine about it), she needed him. Annie needed him, too, and he wouldn’t let her down. She was still a decent person, a rarity in their work. So for Annie, and Joan, he would do this. They needed him. If only for access to information about his father. The bastard.
As he’d expected, Henry made him beg, though he hadn’t spit his usual quantity of vitriol before giving in and agreeing to use his contacts to get the team into the hostage situation in Mexico City. On his way out of the house, Jai caught a glimpse of the dirty little secret behind his father’s unusually light punishment for daring to ask him a favor.
Sneaking out the back gate.
Now, that was interesting.
Jai was a little distracted the rest of the afternoon, but neither Auggie nor Arthur called him on it. Auggie was too busy trying to run the op with Arthur breathing down his neck, and Arthur was too busy mother-henning about Joan being in the field to notice anyone else’s weird behavior. It was kind of cute in a way. Jai had never seen Arthur actually fret. Still, it was a blessing. It gave him some breathing room.
He had to figure out what to do about this. If his suspicions were correct, and knowing his bastard of a father the way he did Jai was sure they were, Henry was committing treason.
To get back at Arthur.
For forcing him out.
What a petty, bitter little man his father was.
A petty, bitter, extremely dangerous, brilliant strategist of a little man. Which made Jai think that his initial impulse, to contact the journalist and squeeze her for information, might be a very bad idea. He couldn’t shame her into stopping. As her reporting proved, she was perfectly willing to commit treason in print every chance she got. And he couldn’t threaten her. In a threat situation, the weakest prey would always run to the biggest predator for protection, and in this scenario, that wasn’t Jai.
It was Henry.
Which would tip his hand. His father would be on to him. Liza would still be running with Henry’s leaks, and knowing how his father operated, somehow Jai would end up getting blamed for it.
Besides the fact that Jai didn’t want to commit treason and betray people he actually respected, he really didn’t want to go to prison. Honestly, while he could fight with the best of them, overwhelming numbers could still take him down, and he was too damned pretty for prison.
Choking off a laugh, resigned at how close to hysteria his internal debate was skating, Jai shook off the incipient panic, stopped his brain from gibbering like a trapped animal, and forced himself to think.
In the background, he heard an exclamation, and looked up to see the video feed had fritzed out. Arthur looked like he was about to jump out of his skin, while Auggie was telling him to trust his operative. Considering how tense Auggie was and the growl beneath the words, Jai thought he should take his own advice. Still, while part of his attention stayed on the op and did his job, the rest took Auggie’s advice and ran with it.
Trust the operative. In this case, who could he trust? Not Henry, for god’s sake. The man was a viper, and about as paternal as one. Didn’t snakes eat their young? Anyway, not Henry. Certainly not Liza. Perhaps Joan, though she’d turned on him too many times for Jai to really trust her, and her first loyalty would of course be to her husband, leaving Jai vulnerable. Absolutely not Arthur – Henry was doing this to attack the man, and if Jai gave him ammunition he could quite easily be caught in the crossfire. Not Annie, though he did trust her, because she simply didn’t have the contacts, the power, or the experience to help, and she could just as easily be mowed down… though he had a feeling Joan would be a lot more protective of her than himself. Jai had some friends, and a multitude of contacts, but few of them were in DC, and even fewer could be trusted to not be compromised by his father.
Which left Auggie.
Auggie was powerful enough within the agency to have some autonomy. He was Arthur’s golden boy, and Joan’s favorite. He commanded loyalty, and was himself both experienced and devious. He’d proven willing to run operations off the books, and capable in completing them.
Plus, he’d been sleeping with Liza Hearn.
Jai doubted Auggie knew that others were aware of his game. Jai only knew because he’d been following Annie one day, wanting to see if she knew more about the leak than she was saying, before he got to know her better, and realized she wouldn’t play that way. Liza had slipped out the back of Auggie’s building much as she’d done at his father’s, and Annie had confronted Auggie. From the ensuing eavesdropping, Jai had figured out that Auggie was running a raven on Liza, trying to seduce her into giving up her source.
Hadn’t worked out. Liza was a little sneakier than that. Jai had to admit, from the little surveillance he’d managed to slip past Auggie, it looked like the sex was damned good.
He was pretty sure Liza wasn’t with his father for the sex, which left the information.
And left Jai with Auggie.
Jai could appeal to his loyalty to Joan and Arthur to make sure the information got where it was supposed to go, and blackmail him with Liza to keep his own name out of it. Auggie could infer that the information came straight from the source. It would enhance Auggie’s reputation for information-gathering, neutralize Henry the traitor, gag the leak via Liza, and keep Jai himself far from the fallout from the inevitable explosion. A good game. Now he just had to run it, and win. The stakes were too high to fail.
The tense atmosphere around him broke as word came through that the hostages were out, their team was safe, and the extraction team had them in hand. He smiled along with the rest, and watched Auggie through his lashes as Arthur bounced out the door muttering something about dinner and a speech.
This approach would require a bit of finesse.
Taking a blunted pencil and a thick piece of paper, he began to poke dots in a specific pattern. He’d learned Braille years before, dealing with some of his mother’s patients, and brushed up on it when Auggie joined the agency. He’d known it would come in handy eventually, and so it had.
A few moments later, he walked by Auggie’s desk. “Good work today,” he offered quietly. Auggie gave him a slightly quizzical look, and Jai brushed his wrist, leaving the scrap of paper behind. Auggie stilled, so minutely one wouldn’t notice if not watching for it, as Jai was. A slight movement of fingertips, then the paper was crumpled in Auggie’s fist, and he nodded once.
They were on.
That night, after beer at the local watering hole, Auggie didn’t go home with yet another cute clueless coed. Jai showed up an hour after he got to his apartment.
It would have been sooner, but he had an itch between his shoulder blades. There was a strong possibility his father had figured out that Jai had seen the journalist leave. Of course, it could be any number of other people, or hostiles, or even bored streetwalkers, but Jai preferred his paranoia. He liked survival.
Still, he had to show, since he’d asked for the meet. Auggie met him at the door, and Jai came in without a word.
Unidirectional mikes could be in play. Yes, he was paranoid. He’d stripped clean, then checked every piece of clothing in the bathroom at the bar before he’d left. He wasn’t bugged, but he couldn’t say the same for anything or anyone else.
“Beer?” Auggie asked nonchalantly.
Jai knew the man was completely blind but that didn’t stop the impression he had that he was being watched. Judged. Close to found wanting, but he had a few minutes to redeem himself. He sighed. “Sure.”
The corner of Auggie’s mouth tipped into a smirk. Jai found himself grinning. Something about Auggie either infuriated him or made him laugh, often at the same time. As the other man came close to hand him the bottle, Jai turned his face away from the window and whispered, “I was followed,” without moving his lips.
Auggie clinked the top of his bottle to Jai’s, and took a long swallow. As he lowered the bottle, he used it to obscure his mouth as he answered, “Hostile?”
“My father,” Jai muttered back.
“So that’d be a yes, then,” Auggie said.
Jai nodded and hummed agreement. Auggie reached for a folder on the counter and pulled it over in front of them, flipping it open and tilting his head toward Jai. Taking his cue, Jai lowered his face toward the paper and continued to speak softly.
“When I went to ask him to pull strings for us yesterday, I saw Liza Hearn leaving his house.”
Auggie went completely still again. “The leak.” It wasn’t a question.
“I’ve no doubts. I can’t be the one to tell them. He’ll find some way to turn it back on me, scapegoat me.”
The smirk grew harder. “Paranoid much?”
“A lifetime of experience,” Jai shot back, then quieted his voice. “I don’t trust anyone to have my back with this.”
Auggie flipped a page over, continuing the pretense that they were working, then asked, “Why me?”
“You’re already pursuing leads. This will give you something to report back.”
Auggie tilted his head back, looking somewhat in Jai’s direction. “What do you mean by that?”
Jai gave his own smirk. “Liza’s sloppy. Last time she left you she was still buttoning up her blouse. And she left a purple thong behind.”
The stillness was suddenly predatory. Jai swallowed dryly and quickly added, “I’m just saying you have a believable source for my information, without getting me involved.”
Silently, he added a plea for Auggie not to kill him, but he had enough pride left not to whimper that out loud. For God’s sake, he was a grown man, a trained operative, and not shabby at hand to hand… but he didn’t want Auggie mad at him. That would be unhealthy.
Auggie relaxed a fraction, and Jai relaxed in turn. “You’re already involved, Jai,” he said quietly. “And nobody’s going to believe you came to my apartment to look at files. They’re going to start digging, and the whole sting will be blown before it can even begin.”
Jai took a steadying breath, then asked, “What, then?”
“We need to bring this to Joan.”
Shaking his head, Jai moved closer, murmuring, “No, no, she’ll throw me to the dogs. You know she will. I won’t be bait for this. Between Arthur and my father there won’t be enough left of me to bury.”
“Okay,” Auggie said gently, folding his fingers over Jai’s arm in a firm hold, as if he thought Jai would bolt. “We’ll give Henry another reason for you being here.” His tone changed abruptly to a command voice, though it remained quiet. “Follow my lead.”
Jai turned to him to ask what he meant, and Auggie kissed him.
Even as his eyes closed and his mouth opened, Jai thought, This isn’t what I expected.
Auggie’s mouth was hot and agile, and Jai kicked his brain into gear enough to respond. It was a good strategy, when he thought about it. Give the watcher a red herring, and if the watcher belonged to his father, distract him with thoughts of blackmail that had nothing to do with Arthur (or treason) and had no basis in fact, rendering it moot if it was ever brought into play. Then Auggie’s tongue did a little slide and push against his own that derailed his train of thought.
Holy hell, but Auggie was a good kisser. Jai, however, was no slouch, and now that he was in the game, he gave as good as he got.
Jai had the advantage of sight, but that didn’t help when his eyes were closed, while Auggie had the advantage of familiar territory, and used every bit of it. Without missing a beat or disengaging from the kiss, Auggie moved them both over to the couch, and lowered them down, lying full-length on Jai. It should have felt confining.
So much for expectations.
Doing his damnedest to ignore his erection rising between them, Jai finally got his mouth back, and whispered, “what??” in Auggie’s ear. Only to be completely distracted by the fact that his wasn’t the only erection in play.
A hot breath in his own ear nearly made him yelp, then he focused on Auggie’s words. “Gotta have a reason to meet. It’s simple. You find out what you can, bring it to me, I bring it to Joan, who takes it to Arthur. Anybody asks, I got it from Liza.”
“What about this?” Jai asked in return, then broke off a moan as Auggie sucked on the side of his throat. A nip, a lick, and an answer.
“Cover,” Auggie said distinctly, then unzipped Jai’s trousers.
A strangled yell, several moans, a mangled shirt, and all too quickly his first sexual experience with a man was complete. Auggie looked smug.
It went well with the hickey Jai left on his collarbone.
“That’ll work,” Jai gasped, and kissed him again.
The next hour passed in pillow talk, which in actuality was a coded conversation setting up the sting. It would be a complex, dangerous game they played, but the stakes were worth it. And the op, itself, would be a lot more fun than he’d anticipated.
Plus, honestly? Jai was looking forward to the expression on Joan’s face when she found out.