Mr. and Mr. Smith
Book 1 in the Tough Love Series
Fisher Braun knows how to keep a secret. As a covert paramilitary operative, his job—and his life—depends on it. He’s at the top of his game, ready for action and always in control. No enemy has ever brought him to his knees, but one lover has: Zachary Allen, the man currently sharing his bed. The perfect package of brains and brawn, Zach is someone worth coming home to, and Fisher hates keeping him in the dark about what he does. But the lies keep Zach safe. Until the day Fisher loses everything. . . .
Zachary Allen is no innocent civilian. Although he plays the tech geek, in reality he’s deep undercover for the CIA. In a horrible twist of fate, the criminal enterprise he’s infiltrated has set its sights on the man whose touch drives him wild. Zach would do anything for Fisher—except blow his own cover. Now, in order to save him, Zach must betray him first. And he needs Fisher to trust him with all his heart if they want to make it out alive.
Mr. and Mr. Smith
Book 1 in the Tough Love Series
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The silent alarm on Fisher Braun’s watch tripped on a random Tuesday in April. Between the London tube strike shutting down public transportation and the snarl of traffic, it took him too long to get to the scene. Long enough that the actual alarm would start screaming soon.Precious minutes ticked by as he dodged cars and ran, ignoring the open-mouthed stares. His heartbeat hammered in his ears as adrenaline pumped through him. More than once he narrowly missed flying into the trash bins lined up on the street.
Two more blocks and he crossed into a quieter residential area and kept going. He turned the last corner and bolted down the narrow street. A lane ran from the center of the row of stately homes to a small cul-de-sac at the back. He targeted the building at the end. Taking out his gun, he hit the front walkway and jogged partway up the steps of the two-story townhouse. His house.
He didn’t have to worry about deactivating the impressive security measures. Someone had blown them apart. Smoke still rolled out of the entryway and singed doorframe. By the time he got there, the house’s alarm wailed, no longer silent. Neighbors stuck their heads out and a car at the end of the lane slowed down for a better look. Fisher used his cell to snap the noise off as soon as he heard it.
A shadow moved just inside the house. A second later Nathan March stood in the open doorway, shaking his head.
Fisher slammed to a stop as a raw, searing panic burned through him. “What happened?”
Nathan didn’t give anything away. His blank expression stayed in place. “Someone tossed the place. Did quite a number on the furniture.”
Fisher didn’t care about any of that. Having been shuffled around for most of his youth and choosing a matching nomadic existence in his adulthood, he didn’t accumulate things. Never put stock in them. But the enormity of something happening here, to this house, sank in hard and fast. “Shit.”
“I admit I’m confused why it looks like you’re living here, since you told me you bought this place but hadn’t moved in. Hadn’t given the office the specs on it yet so they could do a check and sweep it.” Nathan cleared his throat. “You know, the usual security protocol measures we’re required to follow.”
“Does it really matter when I moved my clothes in?”
“We both know it does.”
“I don’t . . .” Fisher couldn’t get the rest of the words out. He dealt in danger and uncertainty every day, but this was personal. Which led to the only question he cared about. “Is anyone in there?”
“Okay.” Fisher nodded.
“Yeah . . . good.” That was all he could manage as relief whooshed through him. He doubled over with his hands on his thighs as his breath escaped in huge gulps. Not the most in-control reaction, but the amount of energy pinging around inside him had him ready to shed his skin.
“Is it?” Nathan stepped down until he stood even with Fisher. “See, normally the way this works is we’d want to catch the intruders in the act.”
Fisher’s head shot up before he stood straight again. “Sure.”
“Haul them to a secret location and question them.” One of Nathan’s eyebrows lifted. “Any of this sound familiar to you?”
“I was talking about my neighbors. Innocent bystanders.” Fisher blinked a few times as his brain started to reboot.
“No you weren’t.”
Fisher knew that tone. He and Nathan had served together in the Green Berets and now worked in covert ops for the Special Activities Division of the CIA. That amounted to a lot of time side-by-side. A lot of missions they never should have survived. Not that Nathan knew everything, because he didn’t. Almost no one knew this one secret.
As the few neighbors home at this time of the day streamed into the street, Nathan holstered his gun and stepped down onto the stairs. He held up his hands. “Everything is fine, folks. A small kitchen fire, but you should stay inside until the authorities get here and give us the okay to move around.”
Through the general hum of mumbling and the shaking of heads, most people seemed to accept the guy with the American accent telling them what to do and filed back inside. A few hovered in their doorways. No one approached, and Fisher appreciated Nathan stepping in to handle the situation. He excelled at smiling and soothing and generally calming the public down. Fisher usually preferred ordering people around, but he guessed this option worked, too.
Nathan turned back and headed for Fisher with an unblinking stare. “You ready to explain?”
The tingle started at the base of Fisher’s neck. Call it instinct or nerves, his body signaled the start of fight-or-flight mode this way every single time. A telltale sign that his life was about to blow apart.
From the stiff way Nathan held his shoulders and the choked sound to his voice, Fisher knew a shit storm was headed his way. Something was going on. Something bigger than his house being ransacked and torched. “About what?”
“Denial.” Nathan scoffed. “Interesting strategy. Dumb but interesting.”
The world shifted. Went sideways on Fisher before he could spin it back under control. “What the hell are—”
“We’ll come back to that question.” Nathan reached into his pants pocket. “You have another problem to deal with first.”
“What is it?” With his friend and partner in this mood, Fisher half dreaded the answer.
“There was a message for you inside. A pretty dramatic one, what with it being stuck to the wall with a knife and all.” Nathan held out a small scrap of paper.
Knives. Notes. Fisher didn’t wait. He grabbed it out of Nathan’s hands.
Nathan nodded at the note. “Cryptic. Threatening in a trying-to-sound-conversational kind of way.”
We have him. First date spot.
Fisher read it and reread it. Adrenaline built inside him all over again. Rushed through every cell. Strategies and thoughts bombarded his brain. Rescue. Attack. He tried to push it all away because it couldn’t be happening. Not now. Not like this.
He had to force his mind to focus. The message might be only six words, but he got the intent. This wasn’t a joke. This was about the danger in his life ramping up until it snuffed out the only good thing he knew.
“This is bullshit.” He meant to think the words, but they came out in a rough whisper.
He’d been so damn careful. Nothing about this house traced back to his work or his name. He took risks on the job, but not with this place. Not ever.
Nathan hummed. “I can’t argue with that.”
Fisher fought the urge to crumple the paper in his fist. The professional side of him knew he should touch it as little as possible even though it was unlikely he’d gather any usable evidence from it.
The other side of him mentally screamed, growing wild and out of control as fear threatened to swamp him. “This place is a secret. The people in the office think I still live in that one-bedroom in South Kensington.”
He’d had to keep the knowledge circle tight. Let his superiors think he had one address. Let them plant their listening devices there and watch over the wrong place. Meet Nathan over there. All in the name of protecting his secret life here.
“That’s obviously not true, unless someone has confused you with another undercover operative in the neighborhood.” Nathan looked around. “Point out where that person lives.”
Even on the best days Fisher didn’t appreciate most of Nathan’s jokes. Today his tolerance was at an all-time low. “I need you with me on this.”
“Tell me what ‘this’ is.”
“I’m not sure.” But he knew that running to the spot by the river without a plan guaranteed death.
“And while we’re asking questions.” Nathan settled into his full hands-on-hips showdown stance. “Ready to tell me who ‘him’ is?”
“That doesn’t matter right at this second.” Fisher waved Nathan off and pivoted to go around him into the house. He could have missed something. Fisher had to check before the office’s cleaner squad arrived and took everything out, because he’d have to tell them about the house—about everything—now. Have to fess up so they could wipe out any sign Fisher had ever even been there and cover any evidence of an attack.
Nathan shifted and blocked his path. “We’re not handling the situation your way. Not this time.”
Going through him wasn’t an option. Hiding wasn’t either. Fisher was about to hit the emergency code and notify the office to send a team to the house, but he needed to buy a few hours before tackling the rest of what he needed to divulge. And he needed Nathan’s help for that. “Do we have to do this part right now?”
“We should have done it long before today. You should have told me before, but now you don’t have a choice. Just say it.”
The guy was big enough and strong enough to play this game all day. That left Fisher with few choices short of shooting his best friend.
The timing was all wrong. He didn’t have the right words to explain why he’d delayed so long. There were so many reasons not to do this, standing right there while the fire engine screamed, growing closer.
“I can’t help you if I don’t know all of it,” Nathan said.
Fisher went with blurting it out. “Okay, fine. I’m gay.” He threw his arms out to the sides. “Happy?”
A stark silence cut through the chaos. Another twenty seconds passed before Nathan talked again. “Not especially.”
Fisher hadn’t expected that . . . or maybe some part of him had and that’s why his secret stayed a secret for so long. “Sorry for not fucking who you want me to fuck.”
“What’s wrong with you?” Nathan looked ready to throw a punch. “As if I care. As if I didn’t know.”
“You actually think I didn’t figure this out before now? That anything matters to me except for the part where you never told me?”
Fisher froze. Even the frustration inside him stopped spinning. “Why didn’t you say something?”
“It seemed strange for me to tell you that you’re gay.”
“Okay, I can see that.” All of the rage building inside Fisher crumbled. He dropped his arms back to his sides. “But I don’t get how you knew.”
“I’m trained to notice things, remember?” Nathan started ticking the list off on his fingers. “You haven’t talked about going out with a woman since I’ve known you. I’ve seen you stare at waiters, not waitresses. Been in a bar with you more than once and watched some guy look at you, then ten minutes later you both disappear. I’m not fucking stupid.”
“None of that bar stuff happened recently.” For some reason Fisher needed to say that. Needed someone to know that.
Nathan nodded. “Because you have a serious ‘him’ in your life now.”
It was out there now, so Fisher figured he might as well spill it all. “His name is Zach. He’s a tech guy.”
Nathan winced. “Computers. . . . Really?”
“I like ’em smart.”
“You mean nerdy.”
“Forget this.” All of it. Zach was the focus now. Not his full name or height. Not how they met or his coding skills. Just the piece of paper clenched in Fisher’s fist.
“Okay.” Nathan nodded. “For now, but you have a lot of questions to answer.”
“They have him.” And not knowing who or why pulled and punched at Fisher until he could barely breathe.
“Jesus, it could be anyone. How many people have we pissed off over the years?”
“A lot, but as you pointed out, not many have our home addresses.”
“Someone got mine.” The “how” also was a question for another time. Those questions started stacking up, but he couldn’t think about any of that now.
The restlessness ate at him. He had to move. Plan, attack, extract. He’d performed the same trio a thousand times. It sounded simple, and he would make it be so this time as well.
Before Nathan could say anything else, Fisher started back down the steps. Forget the townhouse. He knew the ultimate destination and the rest would come to him on the way there.
“Hey.” Nathan, always cool under pressure, proved no different now. He reached out and grabbed Fisher’s arm. “Think for a second. Someone wants your attention. That person or group is trying to use this Zach to lure you there.”
“Not ‘trying.’ I’m going to be lured.”
“Okay, but we need some intel here. How would someone get to him?”
That was just it. This didn’t make sense. Fisher had been careful. So careful Zach wouldn’t even understand the shit storm that landed on him today. “I don’t know.”
“Any chance someone followed you or . . .”
There was that tone again. “What?”
“What have you told Zach about your life?” Nathan asked. “Who does he think you are?”
“He doesn’t know anything about my real life that would drag him into this.” Personal stuff that Nathan definitely didn’t want to hear. The engineer cover story. Some made-up stuff Fisher needed to add to fill in the blanks.
“Fisher, come on.”
“Not a damn thing. I’ve been lying to him, just as I’ve been trained to do.”
“Okay.” Nathan blew out a long breath. “Then I guess we’ll ask the kidnappers what they want when we rescue your man.”
“We’ll get him.” Nathan smiled. “Then I’m going to kick your ass for not trusting me enough to tell me the truth.”
“I had my reasons.”
“You can tell me all about them—and you will—but after we get Zach back.”