samanthahirr: (Diptych)
[personal profile] samanthahirr
Title: Diptych
Pairing: Kris Allen/Adam Lambert
Genre: Romance, Action, Criminal AU
Word Count: 42,000
Rating: NC-17
Warnings: stalking, violence, language


Chapter  1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6



Brad's blessing wasn't very comforting when his Dolce & Gabbana wingtip boots were getting ruined. Adam tipped up the edge of his umbrella and was momentarily distracted by the way the rain softened the hard lines of reality, turning the world into a moving Monet, the trees and statuary, grass and concrete blurring into each other under the steady downpour.

An elderly couple walking a German Sheppard strolled into the park, the only civilians willing to loiter in the rain on a Friday morning. He snapped back to reality and checked his watch. It was 10:05; he'd been waiting in South Cove Park for ten minutes, so where the hell were his suppliers?

When his cell phone rang, Adam pulled the glove off his hand, blew on his fingers, and answered, "Lambert."

"Mr. Lambert, we'll meet you on the jetty."

"What? No, why would you—"

Two men emerged from the tree-line, heading down the walking path to the pier. One of them carried a large, black portfolio case. The other waved his phone at Adam and pointed emphatically to the pier.

Adam pocketed his phone and scowled at this turn of events. The park was a premium meeting place; public, yet deserted, with plenty of exits. The pier, on the other hand, was a negative-six on the acceptable meeting place scale. They would be isolated and exposed. Only an amateur would want to hold the deal out there.

He shifted from foot to foot, considering the fragile relationship he was attempting to construct. If he called back and ordered them to get off the pier, he might sound overly paranoid. It could torpedo the whole deal and cost him his first Picasso.

Reluctantly, Adam made his way toward the curved jetty, careful on the slick wooden planks as he trailed his new contacts out over the water.

"Mr. Lambert, you come highly recommended," the one with the moustache greeted him, holding out a dry, white hand under his over-sized umbrella.

"And you come with no recommendation," Adam smiled, barely keeping the disapproving edge out of his voice as he shook the proffered hand. "But I suppose what's in that case speaks for itself."

Moustache's eyes crinkled over a warm smile. "That's what I was hoping you'd say. Shall we take a look?"

Adam's heart leapt, but instinct made him go slow. "Not just yet. You didn't bring any friends with you?" His gaze swept the park for anyone who could be watching them. He'd triple-checked for a possible FBI tail on his ride downtown, but that didn't mean his new friends didn't have shadows of their own.

"I don't see anyone else here," Moustache pointed out, smiling even wider. "It's just the two of us, as we agreed."

"I meant Interpol. You don't have a tail, do you?"

"Of course not," he scoffed. "We're totally clean."

Yet all three of them took another look around, just to be sure. Aside from a guy jogging down the far end of the rainy Esplanade, the coast was still clear.

"Okay," Adam said, paranoia assuaged. "Let's see it."

Moustache took Soulpatch's umbrella and held it up as Soulpatch unclasped the case and eased it open a few inches. Adam stepped under their umbrellas for a better look, leaning close to see the burnt-orange brush strokes under a protective plastic sheet.

"Oh yes," he said happily, and then a gust of wind shook the umbrellas. Adam reached for Soulpatch's hands even as the bagman jerked the case shut against the harder rain. "Good save," Adam said, stepping back under his own umbrella again.

"You're satisfied?" Moustache asked, passing an umbrella back to Soulpatch.

"Very. I'll just need your account number." Adam pulled his phone out and loaded his banking interface. He was just starting to punch in his password when a voice cut through the rain drumming against the umbrellas and wooden jetty.

"Adam!"

His head jerked up and he caught the tension in the two men in front of him before they all turned to stare at the man in the blue windbreaker sprinting down the slippery pier toward them.

Oh shit. Oh god.

Soulpatch muttered something he didn't make out, and Adam pocketed his phone, saying, "Hey, uh, maybe we can finish this some other time?"

Agent Allen jogged up to them, breathless and scowling, and tugged his jacket straight so the bright yellow FBI initials on the front were legible. "Hi, guys," he said. "What's going on here?"

Adam couldn't even muster any anger at seeing Kris Allen in an actual uniform this time. He was too caught up in the dread and misery of defeat. That was his future staring back at him: wearing those hideous orange jumpsuits, begging Brad to smuggle hair products into prison for him. He looked over the railing at the small waves below them. Jersey City didn't look that far a swim….

"Nothing, we were just, uh, enjoying the view," Moustache said. "It's a great day for sightseeing. No tourists to get in the way!"

Soulpatch forced out a laugh.

Suddenly tires screeched, and Adam turned around to see a black SUV barreling down from the Museum of Jewish Heritage, cornering sharply down the walking path into South Cove Park. Obviously the rest of the Feds, coming to take them all to jail.

"It was nice meeting you," Moustache said pleasantly, and then he and Soulpatch shoved Allen, knocking him on his ass as they sprinted off the pier.

After a frozen second Adam decided to follow their lead, but Allen rolled and stood up, gun pointed at their backs. Adam stayed where he was and put his hands up, umbrella flying out of his grip with the next gust of wind.

The agent didn't shout for them to stop, didn't fire his weapon or call in reinforcements. He just watched as they climbed in the (apparently not FBI) SUV with the Picasso and peeled rubber out of the park.

"Thank god you're okay," Allen said eventually, breathing hard as rain pelted down on his brown hair.

"What?" Adam demanded.

The agent tucked his gun back into the holster under his jacket and shifted his shoulder until it lay right. Big eyes looked up at him, full of worry. "I thought I wasn't gonna make it in time." His hand reached out for Adam's arm, to take him into custody.

Adam pulled away and pointed after his co-conspirators. "You let them go," Adam accused bitterly. If he was about to get arrested for receiving stolen goods, the Feds could've at least arrested the actual thieves, too.

"I didn't have anything on them."

"You…. They have the Picasso! You just lost a Picasso!"

Allen shook his head. "Fake."

Adam bit back his protest that he'd had it authenticated by a very credible forger. He settled for a despairing, "No, it wasn't."

"They didn't bring the real one. That was a fake, just good enough to convince you to buy. Once they had access to your account, they were gonna kill you and take off."

"What? That is such bullshit—"

"I heard them! I was listening to them in that SUV—they already killed two fences in Miami with this con!"

Adam glared at the short agent and snorted in disbelief. "So you got a murder confession. And you let them leave?"

"It wasn't legal," Allen said, sounding pained. "I didn't have a warrant."

"Of course. And what's the rest of your team gonna think of you letting a bunch of murderers get away?" He glanced around for Allen's backup.

"They won't know. They don't know I'm here."

"Oh god," Adam groaned, and there was the anger he couldn't find before, because seriously, what the hell. "You're off-duty again, aren't you! You follow me, you eavesdrop on conversations illegally…. What is your deal?"

Allen's eyes started doing that thing again—the overly sincere, adoring thing. He'd called Adam "special" the other night…. Adam took another wary step back.

"I was just looking out for you," he explained. "I wanted to make sure you were okay." His tone turned exasperated when he added, "You came here for a meeting—this is the worst place for a meeting!"

Adam couldn't argue with him on that. But that didn't make it okay for an FBI agent to follow him to a secret business deal, to use illegal wiretaps, or to make up some bullshit story about saving his life to try to earn his trust. "If you're trying to convince me to turn on those guys, you're outta luck," Adam said, refusing to incriminate himself any further. "I don't know who they were, or what they wanted to buy or sell, and I don't have any way to contact them."

Allen rolled his eyes. "I'm not here to turn you."

"Then fucking arrest me already," he snapped at the short agent keeping him cornered at the end of the pier. The rain was flattening Adam's hair and soaking through his coat, the D&G boots were definitely past saving, and he was pissed and cold and ready to get dry.

"I'm not—" Allen said, and then cut himself off, looking surprised. "I'm not gonna arrest you."

Incredulous, Adam blinked at him for a few seconds, trying to read the man's mind through his earnest brown eyes.

But when Allen took a step toward him, Adam jerked away. "Then stay the hell away from me," he ordered. He spared a glance for his Burberry umbrella floating in the Hudson before stomping around Allen and down the pier.




Almost 24 hours after the disastrous Picasso buy, Brad kicked Adam out of the condo with orders to "buy some new suits for god's sake." Brad had claimed he needed privacy to verify the Fed's story with his Miami contacts, but Adam knew it was just Brad's excuse to escape the guilt-trip the conman so very much deserved for setting up the Picasso deal in the first place.

Although Adam wouldn't admit it to Brad's face, Brad did have a point about Adam needing a change of scenery. Pacing around the condo while the Feds tried to peer through the blinds made him feel like a rat in a cage, and the last few years had taught them both that a mood as black as Adam's could only be cured by shopping. So Adam spent the day in retail-therapy, prowling the boutiques of Chelsea and filling his wardrobe with even more weapons of devastation.

By the time he was finishing off a new look in John Varvatos on 17th, he'd managed to temporarily forget his three-letter problem.

Until the FBI walked through the door.

Adam froze, his quest for the perfect belt cut short as the door jingled shut behind Agent Kristopher Allen. For an irrational moment he considered ducking—maybe hiding under one of the tables of handbags—but there wouldn't have been any point.

The agent knew exactly what he was looking for. His roving eyes spotted Adam in less than a second. A smile lit Allen's face, and Adam's teeth clenched with indignation.

Adam turned and marched back to the fitting room, refusing to acknowledge the FBI's open tail.

"No luck on the belt, sir?" the young man staffing the spacious fitting room asked, noting his empty hands.

"Adam!" Allen called after him.

Adam forced a smile onto his face and shook his head. "No luck." He began shrugging out of the silk suit jacket, and the assistant was instantly behind him, helping him free himself.

"Adam," the FBI agent repeated, stepping into the fitting room. "I need to talk to you."

Adam's smile faded, but he stared determinedly at his own reflection in the three-sided mirror. The assistant's hands fluttered around him, tugging the elegantly distressed line of the shirt straight and squeezing familiarly on his hips.

On any other day, Adam would have reveled in the attention, but any second now Agent Allen was going to start listing Adam's crimes in front of witnesses. "Maybe you could recommend one to me," Adam suggested to the handsy assistant.

"Sir?"

"Find me a belt."

"Certainly!" the assistant said. And then his eyes flicked back and forth between Allen and his customer, and his mouth quirked knowingly. "I'll just be a moment."

Adam fussed with his shirt cuffs and waited for Allen to spit out whatever he'd come to say. If he'd come to finally arrest him, Adam wouldn't beg. And if he hadn't, he could fuck off.

What he had to say was, apparently, "Hi."

Adam didn't return the greeting, determined to ignore the man until he said something worth his time. Adam had important things to worry about—like cufflinks. The obvious choice would be his sapphire pair, he mused, but the peridot would be an interesting contrast against the blue stripes.

"How are you?" Allen asked.

Adam should have mentioned his preference for silver hardware over gold, he realized. Oh well, if the attendant came back with a gold buckle, it would be a convenient reason to send him out again.

"You look great," Allen said.

And Adam's fragile Retail Zen finally collapsed. "I'm busy," he said, still refusing to look at Kris—no, Agent Allen.

"You usually are," Allen agreed.

"And so are you. Get out of here and go do your job."

"Can't do that."

"Why the hell not?" Adam snapped, turning to glare at his nemesis.

"I quit." Allen said it with an 'oh shucks, what can you do' shrug and one of those serene smiles.

"You…."

"Quit. Yeah. Handed in my credentials and my gun last night."

Last night, which came after yesterday, when he'd stalked Adam to the pier and ruined his chance to fence his first Picasso. "Sure," he deadpanned. "I totally believe that."

"This isn't a trick."

"Of course not," Adam said, humoring him with a smile. He faced the mirror again and unbuttoned the second button thoughtfully.

"That's okay, you don't have to believe me," Allen announced, stepping into the mirror's reflection. "That's not why I'm here."

"Obviously. Because if you'd quit, you'd have no reason to still be following me."

Allen shook his head, smiling. "No, I'm here because…you offered to take me on a tour, once or twice. And I'm here to accept."

Adam's spine stiffened, and the wrinkles in the shirt suddenly fell smooth. But he couldn't care less about that, because he was suddenly beyond pissed. Openly tailing him around the city, eavesdropping on his deals, spying on his home—Adam had put up with a lot from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but there was no way he was going to roll over for some goddamn honey pot.

"That offer's off the table," Adam said coldly.

"Why?"

"Because you're a fucking Fed!"

"No, I'm not. See?" Allen pulled off the maroon pullover and held out his arms as he turned around. "No gun, no walkie-talkie. And no credentials, either."

Adam tried not to notice Allen's fit body, framed so nicely in jeans and a black t-shirt. The new outfit was a vast improvement over the khakis and white button-downs, but those sartorial sins had been useful reminders of the threat the man posed. "Look, Agent Allen—"

"Kris," he interrupted. "I'm not Agent Allen anymore. Please call me Kris."

"Agent Allen," Adam repeated, "I find your behavior offensive and insulting. I would like you to leave."

"Unless you own the store, you can't throw me out," he pointed out cheekily.

"Well, the people who do own the place don't like it when tourists come in just to gawk. If you're not here to buy, I suggest you get out."

"Oh, I'm definitely here to buy," Kris smirked.

Adam gritted his teeth at the insulting innuendo and glared at the man standing behind him. All traces of the stammering, shy klutz from the coffee shop were gone, all his hidden motives revealed. Adam couldn't believe the audacity of the agent, inviting himself back to Adam's place as if he genuinely expected to be welcomed. As if the FBI thought Adam could be tricked by his dick into letting Kris into his home without a warrant.

"I'm not interested," Adam said with finality.

Kris dug his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels, the picture of relaxed confidence. "You're lying."

"No, I'm genuinely—"

"I know you want me, Adam. I want you, too."

While the lower half of Adam might be prepared to admit that this new confidence looked pretty damn sexy on a man who was already gorgeous to begin with, he'd be damned if he was going to give the Fed any encouragement. "Fuck you," he said eloquently.

Kris nodded. "If that's what you want."

"Oh, fuck—" Adam threw his hands in the air. "I want you to get out of here and leave me alone. There's not gonna be any 'tour,' or any fucking. Beat it."

"I know I can change your mind," Kris said, and took a step toward him.

That was one step closer than Adam was going to allow him. Adam ducked into one of the dressing room stalls to avoid an undignified physical confrontation.

He didn't get the door shut in time.

"Adam," Kris said, his foot blocking the doorframe and his hands pulling the door open despite Adam's hard tugging.

"Leave me the fuck alone," Adam hissed. Where the hell was the attendant?

"No." Kris's upper arms flexed appealingly as he wrenched the door out of Adam's grip. "Not until you hear me out," he insisted and stepped inside.

Adam backed up as far as he could, his fists clenched with barely-controlled anger and something else he refused to think about when Kris closed the door behind them. Finding himself trapped in a small room with an impossibly hot guy wasn't exactly unheard of for him—he'd gotten stuck in conveniently-broken elevators with over-eager suitors twice last year—but he knew how dangerous it would be to touch an FBI agent.

Especially one who could read his mind. "I'm not with the FBI anymore. At the moment, I'm embarrassingly unemployed. But I can fix that," Kris reassured him, as though Adam's top concern was Kris's income. "And I know you don't believe me, but it's the truth. I wanted you to be the first person I told—"

"What, like we're friends? I don't care, Kris!"

Kris smiled suddenly, like Adam had said something nice, instead of—

Crap.

"You want me," Kris repeated, voice dropping into a sweet, slow drawl.

"No," Adam snapped, even as desire flared brighter than his anger. He wasn't sure who he was trying to convince, himself or Agent Allen, so he said it again and used his extra height and weight to slam Kris against the mirror. "No. You want me."

He'd expected Kris to push back, to be as aggressive as when he'd forced his way into the dressing room…to try to lead him back to his condo. But instead, Kris relaxed. He flexed his shoulders under Adam's hands and tilted his chin up, arching his back, sending out those damn vibes again. "So much," he panted, cheeks flushed, and Adam knew if he looked down, he would see exactly how much Kris liked having Adam's hands on him.

Adam resented everything Kris represented: the interference in his life; the threat to his freedom and livelihood; the assumption that Adam could be bought with a hot piece of ass. But Kris's obvious lies and even more obvious pleasure were pushing all of Adam's buttons. This was what he lived for; to be wanted this much, to have someone look at him the way Kris was right now. He'd wanted Kris Allen from the second he'd seen him, and now he was here in Adam's hands, practically begging to be touched.

So Adam did. He wrapped a hand around Kris's throat, and the agent whimpered and tilted his head back even more for him, eyes slipping heedlessly shut. Adam growled and kissed him, hard and thorough, taking what he wanted with his tongue before punishing Kris's lower lip with his teeth.

Kris gave him everything he demanded, soft lips falling open to welcome him. Heat surged under Adam's skin when Kris wrapped his arms around Adam's waist and whispered, "Please," his body nearly shaking under Adam's touch. Adam fisted a hand in Kris's hair and kissed him again until they were both breathless and panting.

Kris groaned, his body moving against Adam's, both of them hard as Adam ground their hips together, pressing Kris against the mirror. It was deliriously good, impossible to stop. Kris's hands found Adam's shirt and pulled it out of his slacks, fumbled to undo the buttons. Hot fingers brushed across Adam's stomach, making him buck and grind harder against Kris.

God, the sounds Kris was making—little gasps and moans that passed from Kris's mouth into Adam's—were addicting and went straight to his cock, making him jerk in his pants. Adam squeezed the nape of Kris's neck and chased those sounds with his tongue as Kris pushed the silk Varvatos shirt open and slid both hands up Adam's bare chest.

Kris pushed him back to look, to say, "You're so beautiful," awe in his eyes before he leaned in to kiss Adam's throat, his shoulder, his chest.

Adam tried to catch his breath, but Kris didn't give him a chance, trailing his lips lower and lower until he was kneeling on the floor and reaching for Adam's fly.

"God, yeah," Adam gasped and thumbed the top button open so Kris could tug the zipper down. He fought the urge to close his eyes, because he wanted to watch when Kris pulled him out of his boxers and slid his tongue across the tip of his cock. "Fucking hell."

Kris looked up at him one last time, eyes dark with lust before he wrapped those thick, soft lips around Adam's cock and began to suck.

Kris was sloppy and wild, slipping up with his teeth here and there, taking way too much before he slowed down and got a rhythm going, and Adam didn't fucking care. His eyes fell shut and he held on, fingers buried in Kris's hair, caressing his scalp, urging him forward every time he pulled back to breathe. Kris's tongue pressed against the underside of his cock, his lips tight, his mouth so hot and wet, just what Adam needed, and he couldn't help it when his hips started thrusting slightly, when Kris choked and moaned, Kris's strong hands on Adam's ass pulling him forward so he could take him deeper.

And Adam gave it to him, mumbling encouragement or curses, he didn't know which. He pushed in faster and deeper, Kris groaning on every thrust, drool running down Adam's cock and balls, and Adam could feel the climax building under his skin, his entire body thrumming with pleasure and tension until he jerked in Kris's mouth, coming with a raw shout.

Kris coughed and whimpered as Adam's grip eased, but Kris didn't pull back, holding onto Adam's cock and licking at it like candy, like he wanted to stay there on his knees, worshiping Adam's cock forever. And fuck, Adam would let him. Kris could follow him home, and Adam would lock him in his storage locker, along with all the other precious things worth breaking the law for. Let Kris investigate the statues, the paintings, the priceless Joséphine cameo to his heart's content, so long as he never tried to leave.

Adam opened his eyes, needing to watch Kris licking his lips and his cock, maybe some of Adam's cum that had escaped his greedy mouth. What he saw was the ruined mess of the Varvatos slacks, soaked and creased in their haste. When he looked away, he caught his reflection in the full-length mirror and cringed as he took in his flushed chest and the sweat-stained silk shirt; smeared eye makeup and eyes a little bloodshot from blinking back mascara; and the ugly, ugly trash he'd let himself become, losing control and fucking a man in the dressing room of a high-end boutique where anyone could have seen him.

Anyone could still see him like this.

Adam recoiled, grabbing his cock out of Kris's hand and tucking it back into the disgraceful slacks. Kris rocked back on his heels and smiled up at him, so smug and satisfied, and Adam flinched. He zipped the pants, did up two buttons of the shirt, and shoved Kris back against the mirror so he could pick up his own clothes and cram them in his Comme Des Garçons shopping bag.

"Adam?" Kris said, blinking as though just waking up.

Adam ignored him, pushed at his hair a little to cover the sweat on his brow line, and stepped out into the fitting room.

Three salesclerks were lined up, staring at him with such identical expressions of shock that Adam nearly sobbed. He ripped the tags off the once-attractive shirt and slacks and dropped them on the floor, then pulled a credit card out of his wallet and pressed it into the hand of the nearest clerk. "Bill me," he ordered, and made himself walk out with his chin held high.




The condo was empty when he slouched through the front door, and Adam thanked his Aquarius stars that Brad wouldn't see him like this. He tore off the clothes and threw them in the trash before washing away the traces of dried sweat and saliva in the shower. When he finally turned off the water, his phone was ringing.

He snatched it up, blinked at the unknown number, and answered it anyway. "Hello?"

"Adam," Kris said, "let me in."

Adam's already-shaken equilibrium rocked dangerously, and he grabbed the edge of the slick marble countertop to stop his fall. "What?"

The doorbell chimed.

"I'm outside. Come on, let me in."

He blinked at the steamed-up mirror, grateful for the fog blurring his reflection. Of course Kris was trying to get in. It was his job to find the diptych, after all—how could Adam have forgotten that so soon…. Because he'd needed to—needed to forget. The suffocating shame clawed its way up his throat again, and Adam tried to will it back down.

"Go away," Adam choked out.

"Adam—"

"Go the fuck away and never come near me again."

"I can do better," Kris said, sounding desperate. "I'm sorry—I know I can do better, just let me see you." Through the phone, Adam could hear the doorknob rattling.

The water droplets were collecting and spilling in trails down the mirror, revealing his red eyes and naked body in streaks, like a ruined watercolor. "I have a gun," he lied. "You come through that door and I'll shoot you."

The rattling stopped. "Adam, please."

He hung up and dropped his phone on the plush bathmat.




Adam was dressed in a fussy layering of sweater vest, neckerchief, and Calvin Klein jeans by the time Brad called to get a dinner order, and he made sure his makeup was picture-perfect before his ex-boyfriend came home with carry-out from Dalia's.

"Adam! What's your Amex Black doing on the doormat?" Brad yelled from the foyer.

Adam fumbled the ring he'd been putting on, losing it under the bed. He clenched his hand in a fist and tried to catch his breath. He had to keep it together. He turned to the mirror again and scrutinized every inch of his appearance for anything out of place, did his best to ignore the bare fingers of his right hand, and then lifted his chin and made his way to the kitchen.

"Hey," he said when he saw Brad.

"Hey, babe. I guess you burned a hole in your pocket, huh?" Brad teased, unpacking the takeout containers on the counter. He nodded toward the credit card on the table. The one Adam had left at the boutique.

"Something like that," Adam mumbled, pocketing it and turning to the utensil drawer so he wouldn't have to meet Brad's eyes.

Brad cleared his throat and said warily, "So uh…you feeling any better?"

About what?, Adam almost blurted, but caught himself in time. "Fine," he said instead, with a quick smile over his shoulder. "I've completely forgotten about yesterday."

Brad smiled back and then frowned. He pushed the food aside and pulled out two tumblers and the good scotch.

"Pre-dinner drinks?" Adam asked, nervous that Brad was about to call him on what he'd done, that he could somehow read it on Adam's skin.

Brad poured a healthy amount of whiskey in each glass and slid one down the counter to Adam. "Just drink it. You're not gonna like what I have to say, so…."

Adam's guilty conscience wanted to blurt out a confession, but he silenced it with a large gulp that burned his thoughts clean. "Let's hear it."

Brad sipped for a long moment and then said, "My guy in Miami checked out the Fed's story. Two Miami fences were murdered this summer: the first in July, the second in September. No one knows what kind of deals they were involved in, and the cops don't have any leads. These were big-league guys, Adam. They were smart."

"So," Adam concluded grimly, wanting badly to punch someone, maybe himself. The whole world was conspiring against him, determined he shouldn't be allowed to put it behind him. He tipped back the rest of his scotch. The burn was even more painful this time.

"So," Brad agreed, and poured him another round. "The Fed may've been telling the truth yesterday. You said the pier was their idea. That's a good place to do it; just roll your body into the river and walk away." He looked shaken as he said it, as though he were picturing it happening.

Adam braced his arms on the counter and made himself say, "You think this guy saved my life."

Brad hesitated. "I don't know anything for sure, but…."

"Fuck," Adam said, and Brad clinked his glass to Adam's in agreement.




Adam refused to think through the implications of Brad's information—how maybe Kris had been telling the truth on the pier…to whatever degree Kris ever told the truth. And how that meant the Feds had plans for Adam that didn't involve him getting killed in an unrelated buy. Such considerations were tied up with Kris's brown eyes pleading for Adam's touch, his luscious mouth sucking him down, Adam forgetting every lesson about who to be, how to be…and it was just safer to put all of that out of his mind.

Adam embraced only one lesson from the last two terrible days: Always have an escape route.

That lesson came in handy the very next day, at a Sunday estate auction in Cove Neck. He'd hired a driver for the trip out to Long Island and arrived in style in a gleaming black Mercedes, but the second he stepped out of the car his skin prickled. Adam took off his sunglasses and looked at the line of cars pulled up in front of the mansion and the line of antiquers in their Sunday best waiting for the doors to open. No one was watching him openly, but he swore he felt like he was being watched.

And this time it wasn't a pleasant thought.

He hadn't managed to shake the feeling by the time Lou arrived, but he smiled when she kissed his cheek, and escorted her up the front steps.

They made the rounds of the various rooms, debating the potential resale values of Old World cabinetry and a charming pair of Thomas Sewell Robins marine watercolors. Adam chivalrously promised not to bid for the redwood writing desk she wanted for her home office. A few minutes later, Lou found a way to return the favor.

She grabbed his arm and murmured, "Oh, I've got the perfect little item for you. Just your type." She poked his ribs and gestured discreetly toward the door they'd just passed through.

Adam smiled and followed her pointing finger past the potted palm, to the front hall where Kris Allen was standing.

Adam's blood ran hot and then cold at the sight of him. He looked even better than yesterday, those strong shoulders filling out a flattering black leather jacket, and despite all the unpleasant memories seeing him evoked, Adam had a sudden fear that he could do it again, could lose control and push Kris against a wall, devour him….

Thankfully, Kris wasn't looking at him. He was staring at someone else, a dangerous-looking scowl on his face.

Adam overrode his fight or flight instinct and turned his head to follow Kris's gaze, coincidentally locking eyes with the young man flipping through a first edition James Fennimore Cooper several feet away. The guy quickly looked back to the book, and Adam's skin prickled all over again. He held his breath and waited.

Five seconds later, the guy looked up at him again.

Adam's eyes narrowed, and the stranger's eyes widened. Adam glanced toward Kris, who was still looking at the young guy, Kris's body squared off like he was about to come marching into the room.

"Son of a bitch," the young guy said, glaring right back at Kris. He snapped the book shut and dumped it on the table, then ducked into the corner, fingers pressed to his right ear.

Adam didn't wait to see what Kris's new strategy was, or who else the Feds had put on his tail. He dragged Lou into the empty glass conservatory.

"Adam, he's that way," Lou giggled. "You're gonna miss him."

"I hope you're right," he said, checking the views out the floor-to-ceiling windows. The coast looked clear, but he'd bet Kris had tailed his car out here and would be able to tail it again. "I have to go. Where's your car parked?"

"Down the road—the lot was full. Why?"

"I need to get out of here, like, right now. Gimme your keys. You can take my car service back."

"But what about the seascapes—"

"Screw the seascapes," he hissed. "Just give me your keys."

Lou huffed and fished through her oversized Jimmy Choo bag. "Which car's yours?"

"Black Mercedes."

"There're a dozen black Mercedes out there," she protested.

"Mine has a bearded Irishman in the driver's seat."

"Ew. I hate beards."

He snatched the keys out of her fingers, hoping she didn't notice how his hand was shaking. "If anyone asks about me, just say I'm in the bathroom. And don't talk to the guy in the leather jacket!"

"You so owe me for this."

He stole a kiss off her cheek and checked the windows one more time before letting himself out the side door into the English Garden and sprinting for the access road.




It had been bad enough when Kris was stalking him off-duty. But the FBI had apparently decided to up their ante and officially follow Adam now, which meant plain clothes agents he couldn't recognize.

After that encounter out at Cove Neck, Adam started seeing shadows everywhere. When he walked down the street, he constantly felt he was being watched. He didn't like the way the hot dog vendor on 6th was eyeing him on Monday. Or the taxi with the Spiderman Musical ad that paced him for five blocks on Tuesday, crawling through the green lights and holding up traffic.

Adam became extra cautious, checking for tails constantly—even when he wasn't doing anything illegal. The thought that agents were watching him set him on edge and made him jumpy.

And nerves were not something he could afford to have just then.

Dinner at Nobu on Tuesday evening was a delicate affair. Adam was trying to sell Lester Shaw, manager of the First National Bank on 7th Avenue, a collection of contemporary Navajo weavings for his bank foyer. He'd been courting Shaw for two months, and this dinner was the culmination of those efforts. Everything looked perfect; the restaurant was dim, the décor austere, and Adam had dressed to match in a blend of silver silk and cotton that looked lush in the low light without drawing Shaw's attention from his plate.

Shaw was a gastronome and self-professed connoisseur of sashimi. Adam plied him with champagne and house specialties, pumping a steady stream of endorphins through his system to prime him to write that six-figure check. The food stimulated the senses, firm sea bass sashimi with caviar and vanilla salt artfully served on rosy papaya slices, seared toro tuna with a crispy jalapeno glaze over swirls of creamy onion ponzu sauce, and the vibrantly yellow tobiko topping hikari mono nigiri, their silver scales shimmering against the backdrop of black porcelain.

Adam was a half-bottle of Veuve Clicquot away from sealing the deal when two businessmen at the next table caught his attention. The men weren't drinking nearly enough beer and seemed more interested in people watching than eating their sashimi. Adam was so preoccupied watching the way they watched the room, he barely heard Shaw's murmurings over the rich tuna tataki with wasabi foam and blushing ginger shavings.

And then Kris walked in the front door. Adam stiffened in his chair, expecting him to approach his fellow agents at the table next to Adam's, but Kris headed straight to a window table, where he gestured broadly and spoke too loudly to a cute young couple with first-date body language. Adam caught the word "surveillance," and the young woman put fingers to her ear and glanced Adam's way.

His chopsticks rolled out of his fingers.

Shaw was still talking, telling him to try the hamachi and pushing a plate of pink-hued fish across the table. Adam was so shaken by his mistake that he didn't know what to do. In desperation, he picked up his glass of champagne and spilled it down the front of his own Armani shirt.

"Oh dear," he said, and stood up. "I'm so sorry, I'll just be a minute…." And Adam hurried to the bathroom and then out the back door, abandoning his coat and any chance of doing business with Shaw.

He spotted Kris hanging out at Nikko's Café across the street Wednesday morning. Or rather, Kris spotted him, flagging him down as Adam exited his condo building. Adam froze at seeing Kris waving to him from one of the outdoor tables. If Kris thought Adam was going to go over there and join him

Kris pointed to Adam's left, drawing his attention to the people waiting at the intersection at the north end of the block. Adam zeroed in on a young man with white ear buds in his ears, looking completely engrossed in his iPhone. Something about his posture set him apart from the small group. Adam hesitated, torn between going back inside, getting in a cab headed downtown, or….

Curiosity got the better of him, and he decided to test Kris's tip—if that's what it even was—just to find out what kind of game he was trying to run on Adam. Was this some kind of jurisdictional dispute, or was Kris deliberately trying to drive Adam crazy?

Adam walked north and joined the pedestrians waiting to cross East 67th Street. He sidled closer to the young guy, hoping to get a surprised reaction when he tapped on the agent's shoulder.

Adam was concentrating so hard on the guy that he accidentally bumped into a woman in a cerise spandex track suit, jogging in place. She turned around, met Adam's eyes, and he read the recognition and panic plain on her face before she spooked and sprinted south instead of crossing north.

Adam glared after her and then shot Kris a suspicious look. Kris nodded back at him, smiling like he'd just done Adam a favor. As though Adam should be thrilled with more proof that government agents were literally everywhere, waiting and watching for him to slip up. Adam scowled and hailed a cab so he could go about his legitimate business.




The sun was setting over SoHo while Adam made the formal introductions at Valadez's studio that Wednesday.

Ralph Fleischmann drifted around the studio, blinking confusedly at each of the pieces on the walls while his wife and Miguel got down to business. Adam looked on proudly as Miguel charmed her. It wasn't the art Miguel had to sell Mrs. Fleischmann, but the pleasure of knowing the artist, of having bragging rights to his intimate acquaintance. The man really was a natural at playing the mysterious, aloof artiste. Miguel caught Stella's attention with an arched eyebrow, a hint of a sneer, and a few blatant glances at her mature—but fastidiously maintained—figure.

Stella appeared intrigued.

She lead Miguel over to another painting in the show room, one Adam hadn't shown her in advance. It wouldn't work in her collection, thematically or visually; the silhouette of a horse drinking against a backdrop of yellow and green clouds shouldn't have rated more than a passing glance from Stella. Adam tapped his lips and watched, suspicious of this unexpected shift in her tastes.

"I've already sold this piece," Miguel told her.

"No," she said, her family's patented steel in her voice. "You haven't. Call and cancel, until I make up my mind."

Miguel shot a look Adam's way and took a deep breath. "I can't do that. I'm a man of my word."

"Hmm," Stella said, tapping a Donna Karan heel. "Then I suppose you'll offer to make me a copy."

"Of course not," Miguel said stiffly. "I don't duplicate. I can only create when I am inspired."

Stella's foot stopped tapping and she leaned an inch away from the painting, closer toward Miguel. "Have I offended you?" she asked, her eyes brighter, more interested.

"Not at all," he said, taking her elbow and guiding her toward the sunburst collage. "I can only offer you what you see today…and my future visions."

Adam beamed as Miguel scored another point, managing Stella's bid for control. It looked like a sure bet Stella would buy the three pieces Adam had preselected. Miguel might even sell her a few others tonight on the strength of his personality. Adam rubbed his hands together, proud to have made an ideal match for both Stella and Miguel, at least for the next year.

Adam had been frank with Miguel over lunch, explaining the fickle, fleeting nature of these relationships. Stella changed her art fads more often than she changed husbands—and Ralph looked due for a trade-in in another two years. But her patronage in the coming months would get Miguel a foot in the door and get him noticed by other collectors. (And Adam would get some lovely commissions before he guided Stella's wandering eye back toward the pricier collectibles.)

It looked like Miguel had things under control, so Adam took a break and stepped out on the street to make a phone call. For the first time in a week, something was going well, and he was in the mood to celebrate. If Brad could ditch Justin for a night, they could go dancing like they used to….

It wasn't actually a surprise when Kris cleared his throat.

Adam turned his head and found Kris leaning against the side of the shop, only a few feet from where Adam stood. He didn't panic. He was in control this time; he wouldn't make a fool of himself over Kris again. "What're you doing here?" Adam asked flatly.

"I'm watching your back."

"I don't want you watching me at all. I told you I never wanna see you again."

Kris looked stricken but didn't argue the point. "The FBI is tailing you now. They haven't gotten anything from the condo surveillance, so they're following you—"

"Yeah, I figured that part out already."

"I'm not gonna stand by and let them catch you."

"So you're running interference for me?" That seemed to be the story Kris was trying to spin; it supported Kris's claim that he'd quit the Bureau, at any rate. But Adam wasn't that gullible. "Or maybe you're trying to keep this collar for yourself. A little rivalry among agents?"

"I'm trying to stop the surveillance," Kris said.

"Why?" he asked bluntly, giving Kris a chance to come clean once and for all.

"Because I love you."

It hit like a sucker punch and knocked the breath clean out of him. Kris was staring at him, all wide-eyed earnestness, and there was something clawing its way up Adam's throat, trying to get out. Adam set it free—a thin, bitter laugh that shocked Kris into falling back a step.

Adam retreated into the gallery and locked the door behind him with shaking hands. Mr. Fleischmann cleared his throat to get his attention, but Adam couldn't do it, couldn't pull himself together that fast. He kept his head down and excused himself to the bathroom.


Chapter 3
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samanthahirr

October 2014

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