Story Excerpt
Tattooed & Taken

flame div

“You want what?”

“You heard me, Robby,” John Henry replied, his face clouded as if he was hiding something. “Turn in your badge and your gun.”

“But why?” Robert Peter Harrison asked as he stood there in utter shock, not sure if he should reach for his badge or punch his brother in the mouth. His stomach twisted with anxiety and disbelief at what he was hearing. “I haven’t done anything wrong.”

He was a good deputy and he knew it. He did his job to the best of his ability but with care and consideration for the people he dealt with. There were no reasons he could think of that John Henry would be demanding his resignation. He hadn’t broken any laws, been late for work, or anything else that would result in John Henry standing here demanding he give up his badge and gun.

“It’s better this way, Robby.” John Henry seemed pensive and almost hesitant as he folded his hands together and rested them on his desk. “You’re not happy here. You’ll never be happy here. It’s time for you to move on.”

What in the hell was John Henry talking about? Robby loved his job. He loved being a deputy, working alongside of his brother, and protecting the people in their county. He actually couldn’t think of anything else he’d rather do.

“I don’t want to move on, John Henry. I like it here.”

Robby knew he wasn’t going to get John Henry to see reason when he saw the man’s jaw tighten and his lips spread into a thin line. John Henry Harrison was a stubborn ass bastard when he wanted to be. It could be a redeeming quality at times.

This wasn’t one of those times.

“Robby, I’m the sheriff here, and your older brother, and—”

Robby barely contained the angry words gagging him when John Henry started talking. It was the same speech he had heard more times than he could count. And he knew, no matter what he said, John Henry’s mind was made up.

Robby had just been fired.

Robby clenched his jaw as he pulled the badge off of his uniform shirt and set it down on the desk. Next was his gun. He carefully unloaded it then set both the gun and the magazine down next to his badge before turning and walking toward the door off John Henry’s office.

Robby paused at the door with one hand on the door handle, then glanced over his shoulder at his brother, a man he had respected almost more than anyone—until today.

“You know, John Henry, one of these days, you’re going to interfere in my life one too many times and you’re not going to be able to fix what you’ve done.” Robby glowered at John Henry then turned away.

He yanked the door open and stormed out, slamming the door loudly behind him. It was better than smacking his brother. He could feel the stares of the other deputies and office personnel as he walked to the closet and grabbed a cardboard box.

It seemed almost anti-climatic that it took less than five minutes to gather all of his belongings out of his desk and put them in the box. Five years of a career and all he had to show for it was a small cardboard box full of crap.

When Robby heard John Henry’s office door open, he grit his teeth and fought for control as he grabbed his stuff and walked out, not bothering to acknowledge his brother was even in the room. If he did—if he even looked at John Henry—he was likely to punch the man right in the mouth.

Robby walked out and then dropped the box of his belongings into the bed of his pickup truck, climbed into the cab, and slammed the driver’s door closed. He took a moment to breathe, grabbing the steering wheel with both hands and resting his forehead against it. If he didn’t get himself under control, he’d march right back into the sheriff’s station and give into his urge to hurt his brother.

Robby couldn’t remember when he had ever been so angry at the man. He adored him and had for his entire life. John Henry was the very example of the man Robby wanted to be—until today.

Robby didn’t know whether to go with the anger clouding his mind or the heartache wrapping around his heart. He felt like he had been betrayed, like John Henry was taking something precious from him that Robby wanted more than almost anything in the world.

Well, almost anything.

There was still one thing Robby wanted more.

Robby held onto his control by a thread as he pulled his cell phone out and dialed a number he had memorized months ago. He tried not to call it too often but right now, he needed the voice on the other end more than he needed air.

The corner of Robby’s mouth curved up when he heard the phone connect but no one spoke. That’s how it always was. Wren never said a word until he knew who was at the other end of the line. It was just one of the man’s odd quirks.

He had many.

“Hey, it’s Robby. Want to hang out?”

They had spent a lot of time together when Wren wasn’t gone on a mission, both at Robby’s house and Charlie and John Henry’s. But most of their time together was at Robby’s place, and usually spent just watching movies or hanging out. No matter how many hints Robby dropped, Wren never crossed that line to take things further between them.

“Leaving work early?”

Robby swallowed the bile that suddenly threatening to come up as he thought about the job he had just lost. He stared down at his fingers, pulling at a loose thread on his jeans. “Yeah, something like that.”

The man on the other end of the phone—the one Robby dreamed about at night and fantasized might someday want something more from him than just a few hours together here and there—grunted.

“I’ll meet you at your place.”

And just like that, the phone went dead.

Robby snapped his phone closed and slid it back into his pocket. It felt like knives stabbing into him every time he called Wren and got the same blasé response. He didn’t know how to define his relationship with the man. He didn’t even know if they had one.

Robby called, they hung out, and then they went their separate ways. There seemed to be this wall between them that Robby had never been able to breach. He shook his head at the tears that suddenly appeared. He ached with need and loneliness and it felt like it had just quadrupled.

Robby tried desperately to give Wren the space he seemed to need so much but sometimes it was really hard—like now, when Robby wanted nothing more than to feel Wren’s big muscular arms wrap around him and make him feel like everything would be okay.

And as much as he knew he would suck up whatever attention Wren gave him, he couldn’t help but want for more. He just knew if Wren gave in, things would be explosive between them.

Wren never seemed to budge. He had made it very clear in the beginning of their friendship that there was a line that Robby wasn’t allowed to cross. Robby had tried a few times—flirted, made some passes, dropped some verbal hints—only to be rebuffed. He was starting to doubt that even walking around naked in front of the man would get him anything.

Maybe getting fired was finally making him see the truth. Wren just wanted to be friends. And no wanting for something more on Robby’s part would change that.

“God!” Robby dropped his head back against his seat and stared up at his ceiling. “I am so fucking pathetic.”