In for a Pound (MM)
Cas Vargas loves undercover work. Though he envies the relationship his best friend has recently found, he will never give up the career he lives for to have a man. Bed partners, like trouble and never-ending investigations, have always come easily for Cas. When a split-second decision blows his cover and lands him in hot water with his bosses at the FBI, Cas is thrust into a new assignment: guarding Joey Barbati, the nephew of renowned crime boss Tony Lo Russo.
Joey Barbati left the sins of his father and famous uncle behind when he took a job as a host at an RV part in Wyoming. Grizzly bears notwithstanding, Joey loves the safety the Big Horn Mountains provide. The last thing he needs is a babysitter in the form of a tall, strong Fed with dark hair and bedroom eyes.
When it becomes apparent that someone is watching Joey, Cas and Joey go on the run to figure out where threat is coming from—the mob or the law. As the threats around them heat up, so does the chemistry burning between them, and despite his best intentions, Cas finds himself caring too much for the man he thought was just a job.
Casmiro Vargas stared at his ringing cell phone for several moments before picking it up. “Hey.”
“I just saw the story on the news. Sorry, Cas,” Raven Black said. Ray was Cas’s best friend and former colleague, and Cas hated the idea of Ray finding out what a fuckup Cas was on the evening news.
“I should’ve called, but I’ve been stuck in debriefing meetings for the last two days.” Cas moved aside two empty beer bottles before resting his feet on the coffee table. He was still pissed that the suits at the Federal Bureau of Investigation would give him shit for screwing up an undercover assignment that he’d thrown his heart and soul into. Hell, Cas had been the one who’d lived in a grungy apartment eating soup and beans out of fucking tin cans. If anyone should be upset, it should be him.
“What happened?” Ray asked.
Cas sighed. “I committed the cardinal sin of putting the life of an innocent bystander ahead of the investigation. My cover was blown, and two gunrunners ended up dead in a very public place.” Cas still couldn’t believe a year and a half of damn good undercover work had turned to shit so quickly.
“I know you. You did what you had to do,” Ray replied. “If it helps, I would’ve done the same thing.”
“Yeah, well, now suits are talking about loaning me out to another agency for awhile until things cool off. They told me I had two choices, desk duty or going to work for the US Marshals Service babysitting Joe Barbati’s kid.”
“The Joe Barbati?” Ray asked after a low whistle. Joe Barbati was an accountant turned snitch whose wife, Lena, had been assassinated days before the trial of Joe’s boss, Tony Lo Russo. The fact that Lena was Tony’s youngest sister had further vilified the crime boss in the public eye.
“That’s the one,” Cas confirmed. “The Feds have been building a case against Red Max, Tony’s second in command, but Joe refuses to talk to the grand jury unless he’s assured his son, Joey, will be protected.” With a terminal diagnosis, Joe wouldn’t last more than a few months, so it was imperative they get him in front of the grand jury as soon as possible.
“And they want you to do it,” Ray surmised.
“Yeah. Kline told me it’s either that or sit behind a desk for the next six months.” Cas had never been a desk jockey and couldn’t imagine a worse existence, but his boss, FBI Special Agent Ed Kline, wasn’t giving him much choice.
“So where’re you off to?” Ray asked.
“Don’t ask. I’ve been sworn to secrecy. My temporary boss, Abe Warren, threatened to take my firstborn child if I so much as whispered my location to anyone but him.”
A loud bout of laughter erupted from Ray. “I take it Warren doesn’t know you’re gay.”
“Nope, and the ice I’m standing on is too thin to point it out.” Cas had been tempted to blow the assignment the moment he’d been informed of Joey’s location, but the threat of enduring the heavy cloud of stale coffee in the FBI office while sifting through endless reports had held him back. “I leave tonight.”
“I know you’re not supposed to call, but remember I’m here if you need me.”
Cas grinned. He’d missed his best friend. He and Ray used to hang out all the time when they weren’t on assignment, but since Ray and Zane had finally gotten their shit together, Cas barely saw his friend. He didn’t begrudge Ray. Hell, Ray had been in love with his foster brother, Zane, since Cas had known him. “I’ll remember that.”
* * * *
“You’re kidding, right?” Cas stared at the compact travel trailer. The damn thing had to be at least twenty years old and showed every day of it. “Where’s the bed?”
“That’s the best part. Watch.” The young agent began to transform the trailer’s dining table into a bed, much to Cas’s amazement.
“You do realize I’m six-four,” Cas said, pointing out the obvious. “How the hell am I supposed to sleep on that?”
The agent shrugged. “Sorry. This is all we have. I was told to clean it up and get it ready for you. If it helps, I replaced the tires and made sure the propane tank is full.”
The small trailer made Cas feel claustrophobic to the nth degree. He glanced at the pickup he’d use to haul his tiny home and decided he could always buy an air mattress and sleep in the truckbed. Regardless, Cas refused to take it out on the young man who was just trying to do his job. “No, it doesn’t really help, but I appreciate the effort.”
Cas tossed a large duffle, his favorite pillow, blanket and a box of dry goods into the trailer before locking it up and getting on the road. Instead of flying him directly to Wyoming, the US Marshal’s office thought it would be a good idea to have him drive from Rapid City, South Dakota. He’d attempt to blend in with the millions of other crazy vacationers moving from Mt Rushmore to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It wasn’t a long drive, a little over nine hours if the trailer held together, but it was nine hours he’d never get back. He remembered road trips with his mom, dad and two sisters. The constant bickering, the never-ending restroom stops, the soggy bologna sandwiches out of the cooler. He shivered just thinking about it all.
It took him two hours to get comfortable pulling the trailer up and down the mountainous roads. He was thankful for the occasional slow-vehicle lane. It not only gave impatient drivers a chance to pass, but it took some of the pressure off him. Never again would he honk at a slow moving car, truck or RV.
Once he’d made his way out of South Dakota, Cas headed for the planned route through Yellowstone. He made a quick stop at a gas station to pee and grab a Coke and bag of beef jerky. The combination brought back memories of his dad. On each family road trip, Cas’s dad had searched for the perfect bag of jerky.
Cas finished the last piece as he entered Yellowstone National Park. The strips of dried beef were thick and salty with a strong, smoky flavor. His dad would love it. Cas folded the plastic bag and tucked it into the glove box, so he’d remember the brand. The minute he finished this damn babysitting assignment, he’d go online and see if he could order a batch of the jerky and have it sent to his dad in Phoenix. Maybe his memories of road trips weren’t all bad, he decided.
Mountains! By the time Cas waved goodbye to Yellowstone, he was sick of navigating the trailer through the damn things. The Grand Tetons were much better. Not only were they breathtaking, but the road ran parallel to them instead of trying to conquer their craggy, snowy peaks.
Cas slowed and pulled off the road at one of the scenic outlooks. He climbed out of the truck to stretch his legs and noticed an RV pulling in beside him. A website address splashed across the side of the RV proclaimed it was available to rent. Much to his surprise, a family came pouring out of its interior. Evidently, the advertisement didn’t mean it was available immediately. The family looked hot and sweaty, but there wasn’t a single frown among them.
Amazed, he walked over under the pretense of looking at their rented rig. “Air conditioner on the fritz?”
One of the middle-aged women rolled her eyes. “The whole RV’s on the fritz. The windows rattle like they’re about to fall out, the fridge barely works and the seats are hard as rocks, but it’s better than living out of a tent for two weeks.” She shook her head. “At least, the nights are cool enough that we don’t have to use the air conditioning to sleep.”
Two young teens posed for pictures in front of the view, laughing and teasing each other. Cas gestured to the girls. “Despite the problems with the RV, they seem to be having a good time.”
The woman grinned. “We all are. I think it helps that the RV rattles so much that we can’t talk much while we’re driving.”
His drive had been long and tedious, but at least, Cas had enjoyed it in relative silence. “I’d offer to trade with you, but from the sound of it, I think I’m better off in my little cracker box.”
“Yeah, I doubt you’d have room for seven of us in that tiny thing,” she agreed.
“Definitely not. There’s barely room for me.” Cas held up his hand in a half-wave. “I’d better get back on the road. Have a safe trip.”
“You, too,” the woman replied, still smiling.
Cas watched the family for several moments as he fastened his seatbelt. He rarely saw his own sisters and doubted he’d ever gotten along with them the way the vacationing family seemed to. He wondered if these people realized how lucky they were.
Leaving the family behind, Cas headed toward Jackson Lake, Wyoming. The RV park where Joey worked as host was north of Jackson Hole and, by Cas’s estimate, only an hour or so away. He hoped he’d run across a small grocery store on the way, but more than likely he’d have to eat a can of soup for dinner. No problem, he’d had worse on many occasions.