This is a work of fiction intended for adults only, as it contains explicit scenes not appropriate for minors. By continuing to read, you are acknowledging you are of legal age to do so. All Rights Reserved. Copyright © 2012 by AJ Rose
The sheet tangled around Grady was cloying, restrictive and skimpy at the same time, covering him in all the wrong places, impeding his movement as he tossed and turned. He punched and kicked at it, growled at it, finally rising to rip it from the mattress before flopping back down and squinting his eyes shut in a desperate bid for rest. After several nights in a row of little to no sleep, his patience was non-existent, his nerves frayed, and his mind reeled in overtired exaggeration.
So Ty didn’t want him anymore. He never returned Grady’s numerous calls, and Grady kept replaying the scene of him emerging from his house with his arm around the blonde girl. Grady’s torturous imagination filled in the gaps, morphing it into more than what he saw in actuality. Ty’s brilliant smile, the sun highlighting his hair in gold frost, his eyes the bluest they’ve ever been, and all of it intended for someone else. Grady didn’t know who she was, and in his more rational moments, he told himself to be happy for Ty. After all, Grady had thrown him out. But in the small hours of the morning, when sleep was a taunting illusion, the worst thoughts came unbidden and he burned with jealousy and anger, a betrayal he felt all over again. It wasn’t enough to feel cheated on because of the bogus photos, no. He had to stand by as Ty made a life with someone new, without all the facts.
Grady gave up, getting out of bed with a heavy sigh and padding to the kitchen clad only in boxers. He made himself a cup of hot tea and sat in the dark living room, a blanket pulled around his shoulders to ward off the chill. The tea calmed him, and he deliberately pulled himself out of his own head for a minute to view the situation from a carefully objective point of view. It took considerable effort, but he kept coming to the same conclusion: he had to tell Ty what he’d discovered about the doctored photos. Beyond that, Ty could make up his own mind. But a decision based only on partial information was no decision at all. So he sat, watching the shadows move up the wall from the trees waving in the light of the street lamps, then fade as the sun kissed the horizon and began to rise.
Haggard and feeling drugged, Grady decided a shower would help him shake off the exhaustion before he headed out to see Ty, cornering him if he needed to. The steam cleared his head just as the tea had done, and it wasn’t long before he was making the sober drive through streets just beginning to show signs of life. Despite the fact that he’d done it so many times before, parking in Ty’s driveway felt odd, like he was intruding. “Jesus, Dolan. Melodramatic much?” he muttered to himself, climbing out and wiping his sweaty hands on his jeans before ringing the bell, the envelope of pictures gripped in cold fingers.
He heard a thump, a soft curse, and a very sleepy Ty answered the door, blinking at him as if seeing him standing on the stoop were the most normal thing in the world. His hair stood in riotous tufts and his stubble rasped as he rubbed at his face. Shaking his head as if to wake up, he stared as if he’d expected Grady to disappear and was astonished he hadn’t.
“What are you doing here?”
“I need to talk to you and you’re not returning my calls, so I took a chance that you won’t slam the door in my face.” Grady stood, patiently waiting for an invite into the house. Ty gaped at him. Finally, Grady asked softly, “Can I come in?”
As if zapped, Ty jumped back, opening the door wide to let Grady in. “Yeah, man. C’mon in.” He shut the door and stood there, self-consciously scratching his chest through his t-shirt. “Wait. What calls? I haven’t gotten any calls from you.”
Grady quirked a brow at him. “Yeah, I’ve called several times. Mostly get voicemail. The first time a girl answered, told me she’d tell you I called. I figured you hate my guts, and were ignoring me.”
Ty frowned. “I haven’t gotten any voicemail.” Grady wondered if he’d just stopped checking for messages long ago with the demise of all his contacts, friendly or work related. “I didn’t know you were calling.” Rubbing the back of his neck, Ty looked at the floor before peering back up at Grady through his eyelashes. “I’d have called back,” he said softly.
The look on Ty’s face, full of longing and uncertainty as well as being guarded against whatever Grady wanted, wrenched his gut into knots. Grady ran a nervous hand through his hair, blowing out a breath. “So… how’ve you been?” He hated his tentative tone, but he was scared of the answer, scared to hear that Ty was fine without him, or that he was broken because of him. He couldn’t help the assessment behind the once-over he gave Ty, noting clear eyes, sleep-mussed hair, but also fairly toned and tanned skin. He looked… healthy, and that pulled at Grady from several different directions, even if the gratitude that Ty didn’t seem hung over was the winning emotion.
“I’m uh… hanging in there. No work for awhile, but I’m hoping…” Ty’s voice trailed off, foregoing the explanation of every miserable dumping he’d suffered in his career over the last several months. Grady knew a lot of it anyway. It was then that he noticed the envelope in Grady’s hand. Gesturing, he asked, “What’s that?”
Raising the envelope to look at it, gulping at what it would do to both of them to bring the photos out, Grady hesitated. “It’s… what I need to talk to you about. Can we… uh… sit down or something?” Grady gestured to the living room behind Ty, who turned and rounded the couch, picking the chair by the window to settle into, giving Grady no chance to sit near him. I deserve that. He settled, placing the envelope on the coffee table as if it contained something very fragile or very dangerous that needed handled with kid gloves. Actually, it’s both, he thought, shifting uncomfortably, looking at his hands, taking a breath and letting it out slowly. He needs to know this.
“Ty, I’m sorry. I didn’t give you a chance to explain the photos, not that I think you could have.” He ran his forefinger along the edge of the envelope, and the second he confirmed what it contained, Ty’s eyes glued to it, as if it were a snake coiled on his table waiting to strike him for a second time if he moved.
Grady plunged ahead. “But something bothered me about it, for weeks, and I needed some distance before I could think of anything beyond the mind numbing pain.” Turning his knees toward Ty, he stared at him. “Ty…” He had so much he wanted to say, and the sadness rose in his face, his eyes beseeching. Finally, at the quiver in Grady’s voice, Ty tore his gaze from the offending intruder on the table to look blankly back at Grady. Grady’s regret was palpable in the room, a living, pulsing thing that danced and cavorted in agony and self-torture.
He cleared his throat, trying to refocus. “First, I couldn’t reconcile why these photos were taken, or sent to me. There was no note. There was no bragging. No credit taken. No threat of blackmail, nothing. Everyone we know would have talked to me about it, softened the blow. If it were someone in the media, they’d have been splashed on so many magazine covers with giant headlines screaming from every grocery store checkout line. I…” He stopped talking for a second, looking down at his hands wringing themselves in his lap. “I still don’t know why. Or from where they came. But that’s why I got them out and looked at them again, to see if I could figure it out.”
Ty’s face went white at the mention that Grady had looked at them again, and he swallowed, his throat making a dry clicking noise. “What does it matter why?” he whispered. Those pictures had ruined them. For good, Grady feared.
“It matters to me. What we… had… means more to me than anything, and I wanted to understand what happened. Needed to make sense of it. When I was looking at them, I found something.” Now or never. He grabbed the envelope and shook the pictures out into his hand, laying them out across the coffee table. When he looked back at Ty, his eyes were closed and a single tear had slipped out, tracking down his cheek. That tear went straight to Grady’s heart, a tiny thing with the impact of a nuclear bomb. He both hated that tear and loved it. It meant Ty was in pain, but it was a pain that meant he still cared about Grady. Grady’s throat closed, the lump in it rising painfully obstructive. It was a minute before he could speak again, but he squared his shoulders and carried on. He needed Ty to know what he found.
“After wondering who and why, I looked at what the pictures could actually tell me.” He picked one up. “First, the angle is weird. You’d have noticed someone in the room with you, but they’re clearly not taken through the window. The perspective is off for a window shot, and it’s too high up, like the shooter was on a chair. I tried from memory to reconstruct the corner of your bedroom it looks to be shot from, but I only remembered a picture on the wall. If you don’t mind, in a minute, I’d like to go to your room to see if I can figure it out.”
Ty was listening, wary but intent, and at Grady’s request, he nodded. Grady tentatively held the photo out for him to take. Ty didn’t move for a long moment, looking as if the paper might burn him if he touched it, but eventually, he held out a shaking hand to take it, glancing at it before closing his eyes and swallowing hard. “It does look like it was from high up on the wall. Weird.” His voice held a hint of curiosity behind the misery.
Grady picked up the other picture he intended to talk about, the one with his freckles on the torso. “This one convinced me. Ty.” He looked up to make sure he had Ty’s attention, staring into those blue eyes filled with consternation and dismay. “These pictures are faked.” He passed that one over, too. Ty, confused, took it with less trepidation than before. “I noticed, after staring at it for a long time, some marks on the… person you’re with.” He stood, moving to stand beside Ty’s chair, leaning over to point out the barely visible not-freckle-not-mole on the torso. “Ignore the chest hair, and that birthmark there. Those aren’t real. But this,” he moved to stand in front of Ty, “this is real.” He lifted his t-shirt to his nipples and pointed with his other hand at the constellation of marks on his own torso, an exact match to those in the picture, if you knew where to look. “That’s me with you in those pictures.”
Ty sucked in a breath at Grady baring his midsection in front of him, but he didn’t avert his eyes. He scooted forward on the chair, holding the picture next to Grady, comparing the marks. “I’ll be goddamned,” he whispered. “But if it’s you…” His face intent, he pulled the print back to within an inch of the tip of his nose. “Your scar on your left elbow isn’t there. The body hair is different, and…” He was studying the head in the photo, squinting.
“I had to get out a magnifying glass to see it, but once you know it’s there, you can’t unsee it. The neck doesn’t line up quite right, and there’s a very faint line.” Grady pointed it out, and Ty saw it. His head snapped up, looking at Grady’s face, his eyes wide.
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
Grady shook his head, gazing down at Ty before crouching in front of him. “Not even a little bit. You never cheated, I know that now. But this is a deliberate mindfuck from someone whose intentions can’t possibly be pure. Ty… I’m worried about you.” Grady ticked off things on his fingers. “Those drinking rumors started somewhere and someone’s been in your house to steal booze and make it look like you drank more; you were having problems with your accounts; your agent got a copy of your credit card statement from somewhere and the credit card company says the charges on that statement weren’t in their records; then these pictures. All of this, it’s aimed at you. Someone has it in for you, and … I’m scared for you.” He reached out and took Ty’s hands, the picture falling to the floor. “I think you should call the police.”
Ty snorted, but gripped Grady’s hands in return. “And tell them what, that my ex-boyfriend thinks someone’s out to get me with very little proof of anything?”
Grady’s lips set in a firm line at hearing ‘ex-boyfriend’, but his eyes were fierce. “You’re a celebrity. Even if they can’t do anything, you’d establish a history, get a report on file. They can look at these pictures forensically, something to try to keep you safe!”
Ty shook his head. “I’m not much of a celebrity anymore, but even if the police gave that any weight, until someone tries something or makes an actual threat, they can’t do shit. My career means very little in the black and white of the law. Come on, Grady, you of all people oughta know that.”
Grady let out a frustrated breath. “Well, can we go to your room and see if we can tell where camera was positioned?” Grady stood back up, pulling Ty with him. He reluctantly let Ty’s hands go when Ty stooped to pick the fallen photo from the floor.
“Okay, it can’t hurt. At the very least, I’ll know what to do about making sure it doesn’t happen again.” A look crossed Ty’s face that Grady couldn’t read. Averting his gaze, Ty stepped past Grady quickly to gather the pictures from his coffee table. When he straightened, his expression was a careful mask. Grady, to his credit, let the question that bloomed in his mind about the blonde girl die. Ty now knew that the end of their relationship had been brought about by false circumstances, and more importantly, that Grady knew it, knew he’d made a mistake. What Ty did with that information was up to him.
Grady followed Ty to the back of the house, into his bedroom, and when he walked in, saw the mussed bed, smelled the familiar scent of Ty everywhere, he slowed for a second, immersing himself in it, drinking it in through his mouth. Ty looked back at him, about to speak when he stopped short at the look on Grady’s face, the longing there, the misery. He stood stock still, unsure of what to do, until Grady’s shoulders sagged and his gaze dropped to the floor. It was apparently more than Ty could take, and he crossed the space between them in two long strides, nearly tackling Grady with the ferocity of his hug. Grady’s arms gripped Ty tight, and they stood like that for a long moment, feeling each other breathe in and out, the familiar fit of their bodies linking together like magnets.
“I miss you,” Grady whispered.
Ty simply nodded into his shoulder. After a few moments, he cleared his throat and pulled back, his arms dropping to his sides as he looked into Grady’s eyes. The last several months played out on his face, the frustration, some of the anger, the desperation of needing someone so much, only to have Grady turn his back on him. A rock of injustice settled on Grady’s heart at what they’d endured, and how frustrated he knew Ty must have been, telling the truth and being disbelieved. But instead of railing at Grady, shouting that he told him there was something wrong, Ty simply exhaled. “I miss you, too. Every day.”
They stared at each other for a minute before Grady spoke, softly, hesitantly. “Ty, is there… are we…?”
Ty held up a hand, cutting him off. “I don’t know. I’m not processing things really fast right now. I… can’t answer that. Much as I want to, much as I would love to just wipe the slate clean, forget all the bullshit and move on, I don’t know if I can. You left. You ripped my heart out. I’m only just getting it reattached and beating on its own again. I don’t… I’m not… sure I can hand it back to you.”
Grady nodded, his throat closing up as he tried to swallow, his eyes stinging. Holding his hands out, palm up, a gesture of surrender, he could barely utter the words, “I didn’t know,” before his voice stopped working altogether.
Ty looked down at the pictures in his hands, silent for a long moment before looking back at Grady. “I know you didn’t, but you should have. You should have trusted me. I just… I think I need time. To process. But for now, let’s do what we came in here to do.”
He held up a photo, climbed onto his bed and assumed the depicted location in the photo, thankfully not reenacting the position. He looked up along the wall, holding the photo in an outstretched hand, narrowing his eyes. He motioned for Grady to come over and look. Grady stepped beside the bed, eyes following Ty’s hand as he pointed to the corner, about three quarters up the wall.
“Air duct,” Ty said in a soft voice. He scooted from the bed, disappearing down the hallway to his laundry room, where Grady knew he kept a step ladder for attic access. Bringing it back, along with a screw driver, Ty stood tall in the corner, working the screws out of the wall before pulling the vent plate from the opening, his eyes widening. Grady, standing beside Ty, let out a soft expletive.
A small camera, no bigger than a pencil, rigged to a guide wire that led back into the duct, stared at them with an unblinking eye. Ty, fury on his face, reached up and yanked it out, disconnecting it from the wire that powered it. Stepping back off the stool, he held the camera in his hand, dumbfounded. He went to snap it in two when Grady’s hand stayed his.
“Ty, no. I think the police might be interested in that.”
Veronica picked a bad morning to sleep in. Normally, she was up before the sun, checking her equipment for any overnight developments, but she’d been too happy to sleep the previous evening, and the late night bled into a late morning.
Her lips twisted in an ugly grimace as she spied the figures embracing in Ty’s bedroom. “Goddammit,” she muttered. “You just don’t go away, do you Grady? You’re like a fucking worm. Cut off a piece and you regenerate.” She turned up the audio, feeling her face heat up at Ty’s non-committal rebuff of Grady’s question about salvaging their relationship.
“No! You love me. Not him. What do I have to do to get you to see it?” she shrieked at the bank of monitors.
Then ice filled her veins as she watched, Ty’s face looming way too close to her camera. Horror filled her as the cover on the wall vent came away and his hand reached up to the eye she used to spy on his bedroom. The screen went fuzzy and turned to snow as he yanked it out of the wall.
She was up and moving in a flash, throwing on a t-shirt and shorts and grabbing her keys and the little bag she’d had packed for quite some time, hoping to never need it. She was just pulling out of her driveway when her cell phone rang, Ty’s name popping up. Ah, yes. Perhaps I’ve gotten under your skin well enough. She cleared her throat before answering.
“Hey, babe! I was just about to bring breakfast.” Her voice was natural, cheery, and belied none of the pulsing panic shooting in her veins. Coolly switching her tone from happy to concerned, she listened before answering. “Sure. I’ll be right there.” Hanging up, she tossed her phone into the passenger seat, her plan flipping over in her mind. It was falling apart, but there might be a way to salvage it.
“I’m not letting you go that easy, Ty. You’re mine.”
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