At last Manning stopped blabbing and disconnected. Jason hauled on his jeans, slammed out of his motel room, and stalked down the walkway to thump on Kennedy’s door.
Annoyingly, his hair, wet from the shower, was dripping down his face. Jason brushed the drops from his cheeks just as Kennedy opened the door. Terror he might look like he was weeping spurred Jason into attack.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing telling Manning I froze yesterday? You weren’t there. You have no idea what happened. I did not freeze.”
Kennedy said levelly, as though he was used to being greeted every morning by enraged colleagues, “I think you froze.”
“I didn’t freeze. You weren’t even th—”
“And I think you should stop yelling the word froze where anyone can hear you.” To Jason’s astonishment, Kennedy wrapped his hand around Jason’s bicep and drew him into his motel room.
The effect of Kennedy’s large, capable hand drawing him briefly and disconcertingly close was…confusing. Definitely confusing. Coworkers did not breach each other’s personal space unless they were very good friends—or possibly about to punch each other.
For damn sure straight male coworkers did not casually manhandle each other. It occurred to Jason to wonder if there had been another reason he had been partnered with Kennedy. Was Kennedy gay?
Ha. Could cyborgs be gay?
Cyborg? Fleetingly, he was aware that Kennedy, though also fresh from the shower, had had time to slap on too much aftershave and drink several cups of motel Brand X coffee. He was wearing those reading glasses that made him look older if not scholarly. His shirt was unbuttoned and open, revealing unexpectedly ripped six-pack abs.
Kennedy shut the door and let go of Jason’s arm with an okay-knock-yourself-out salute.
“McEnroe pulled a gun on me,” Jason said. Loudly. “That’s what happened. He had the drop on me. You weren’t there. You don’t know what you would have done in the same situation. It’s speculation on your part. And this isn’t about that anyway. This is about you not wanting to be partnered with anyone.”
“I don’t want or need a partner,” Kennedy agreed. “But if I’m going to have one, he sure as hell needs to be someone I can rely on.”
“You can rely on me!” Though maybe shouting wasn’t the most reassuring means of delivering the message. “And if you honest to God thought you couldn’t, you could have talked to me. You didn’t have to go behind my back.”
He wasn’t sure if he imagined the red tinge that appeared on Kennedy’s face. “I didn’t realize you’d been shot.” Kennedy’s tone wasn’t exactly apologetic, but there was a note of something that might almost have been regret. His gaze lowered briefly to the puckered scar on Jason’s shoulder. “Under the circumstances, I don’t blame you for being gun shy, and if I’d known the reason, I’d have spoken to you directly. That doesn’t change the fact you shouldn’t be out in the field if you’re not able to—”
“I’m able,” Jason cut in tersely. “I’m not afraid. Unduly. Of being shot. I did not free—”
“And if you can’t admit there was a problem, how am I supposed to believe you’ve got it under control?”
“Christ.” Jason turned away, raking his hand through his wet hair. He faced Kennedy. “All right. Yes. Maybe I did freeze for a few seconds. It was just the surprise, the unexpectedness of finding a gun in my face.” As he made the admission, Jason realized he had fallen for one of the oldest interrogation techniques in the world: let’s work together to fix this mess.
Yeah. Right. Busted!
He finished without hope that there would be any comprehension, “I’ve been back on the job for a month, and I’ve been fine the whole time.” He tried for a lightness he didn’t feel—and Kennedy certainly didn’t feel. “I give you my word, if we end up in a firefight this week, I’ll have your back.”
Kennedy continued to study him, flinty-eyed and unmoved. And then, to Jason’s astonishment, the powerful, aggressive line of the older man’s shoulders relaxed. He said, “All right. I’ll hold you to that.”
Kennedy said, “You’re correct. I wasn’t there. I didn’t witness the incident. You’ve been cleared for duty. You believe you’ll be ready next time. We’ll go with that.”
They…would? Kennedy would?
There was a pause—a strange moment—where neither of them spoke or moved. Jason was acutely aware of an unexpected intimacy created by physical proximity and a cautious lowering of defenses. This was probably the first honest, unguarded conversation he’d had with Kennedy. It was more than that. He was intensely, forcefully aware of Kennedy as a man. A powerful man. An attractive man. A man with shoulders like a bulwark and a full, sensual lower lip at odds with the ascetic planes of his chiseled face.
What was happening? He didn’t even like Kennedy. Did he?
Kennedy broke the spell with a crisp, “Were you planning to go bare-chested today, Agent West? I’m sure it’ll be a treat for the ladies of Kingsfield, but I suggest you grab your shirt and shoes. We need to get moving.”
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