Agent Ignacio Ritter is happy serving the CXO, the Central Xenomorph Organization, from the safety of his desk. He has good reasons for avoiding field work like the plague: his parents died in the field, leaving him to be raised among wolf-shifters. Because of his adopted family, everyone thinks he is a wolf, a lie that protects him from the ridicule he'd face if he revealed the truth.
When the charming and dangerous tiger-shifter Agent Reed Daily chooses Ignacio to help close the book on a gang threatening to tear Chicago apart, Ignacio can’t refuse. Perhaps it’s the chance to avenge his parents, or perhaps it’s the tight fit of Reed’s suit and heat Reed's smile ignites in Ignacio. When the chips are down and whole city's depending on him, will Ignacio prove himself man or ...
“All the financial and computer trickery in the world won’t help you if we’re confronted by Hanly’s goons,” Reed said. His grin inched even wider. “And you need to know the difference between the grip and the barrel.”
Ignacio flushed and turned away. He took a deep breath and put his hand out, surprised by the weight of the gun as Reed dropped it into his hand. Images flashed in his head, blood and bodies and the faces of his parents he only remembered as captured in photographs on Mama Tasha’s mantel.
“Why do you prefer working alone?” Ignacio surprised himself by asking the question. To get his mind away from the gun in his hands, from the ghosts of his parents. And the rumor mill was rather preoccupied with theories on why one of the most talented ops agents so often refused to be partnered on assignments.
Reed stepped back, his face serious a moment before sliding back into his typical, lazy smile.
“Tell you what,” Reed said, and he pointed down the range at the target that had been set up for the training. “For every hit you make on the target, I’ll answer one question. Whatever you want.”
Ignacio bit his lower lip. There were a great many people who would give a lot to get that proposition. For all that Reed was a favorite topic around the water coolers, it was all speculation, nothing definite. Taking a deep breath, Ignacio fixed the earmuffs on his head and squared himself to the target. He raised the gun with two hands, trying to remember how Reed told him to brace it to minimize recoil.
“Oh, one more thing.”
Ignacio tensed at the presence suddenly right at his shoulder, Reed’s face inches from his ear. Through the earmuff Reed’s voice was softer, more distant, but Ignacio could feel the heat of his breath.
“For every shot you miss, you answer one of my questions.”
A cold fear ran through Ignacio’s chest, a creeping suspicion he was making a mistake, exposing himself unnecessarily. And yet he didn’t want to back down, didn’t want to admit he had anything to hide. He sighted the target and squeezed the trigger, the concussion still loud enough to make him flinch, the gun jerking in his hands. A miss.
Hands appeared on both sides of him. Suddenly Reed’s body was pressed against his, eclipsing his, and Reed’s hands cradled his where they held the gun.
“You have to keep your eyes open,” Reed said.
Ignacio tried to keep his breathing steady as he felt Reed’s knee nudge his own into a wider stance, Reed’s hands bringing the gun closer to Ignacio’s body.
“Exhale and fire. Take your time. The target’s not shooting back at you. Line up your shot and squeeze.”
The voice, even through the muffs, was slow and calm, almost amused. Ignacio swallowed and sighted again. Reed didn’t seem to be going anywhere, his body keeping Ignacio’s in place even as it stirred in him desires he knew had no place on the firing range. Ignacio squeezed the trigger. A hit. He smiled and wanted to step back, but Reed kept him in place.
“Again,” Reed said.
Ignacio nodded, keeping his posture. Squeezed. Again. And again. And again. Hit. Miss. Hit. Hit. He smiled, could feel Reed’s body relax around his, then withdraw.
“Again,” Reed said, so soft Ignacio could barely hear it. The sounds of the gun firing drowned out his doubts. Miss. Hit. Hit.
“I think that’s enough for now,” Reed said.
Ignacio clicked on the safety and returned the gun as he had been taught. A stupid grin spread across his face. He’d done it. Fired a gun. He looked up into Reed’s face and saw the small smile, the confident swagger, the I-told-you-so that Reed was too polite to voice.
“Well done, Agent,” Reed said.
For a moment Ignacio forgot completely about the mission, about the danger, about even his parents and his secret. For that moment, all he wanted to do was wrap his arms around Reed and kiss him, to feel the heat of his body again. Instead he forced a laugh.
“Well, you owe me some answers, I think,” he said, and Reed’s smile was once again dangerous, reminding Ignacio that the man was also a tiger.
“And you owe me dinner,” Reed said, “and a few answers of your own. Free tonight?”