Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Sticks & Stones

Abigail Roux

  Readers are raving about the beginning of the Grady-Garrett partnership


  By Madeleine Urban & Abigail Roux

  Urban and Roux are the masterminds of a terrific novel,

  over 300 hundred pages of solid goodness.

  —Rainbow Reviews

  Ty and Zane were so heartbreakingly beautiful and so realistic that these two will go down as two of the most fascinating characters written in this genre.

  —Literary Nymphs

  The plot was a stroke of genius….

  —Erotic Horizon

  An action-packed, angst-filled story where the sparks fly around Ty and Zane both in and out of bed.

  —Joyfully Reviewed

  A touching erotic romance as well as an intriguing murder mystery.

  —Romance Junkies



  Caught Running

  Cut & Run

  Love Ahead

  Warrior’s Cross


  The Archer

  My Brother’s Keeper



  Far From Home

  Man of Mystery

  The One That Got Away (with Rhianne Aile)

  Snowed In (with Rhianne Aile)

  Sutcliffe Cove (with Ariel Tachna)


  Published by

  Dreamspinner Press

  4760 Preston Road

  Suite 244-149

  Frisco, TX 75034

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Sticks & Stones

  Copyright © 2010 by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux

  Cover Design by Mara McKennen

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law. To request permission and all other inquiries, contact Dreamspinner Press, 4760 Preston Road, Suite 244-149, Frisco, TX 75034

  ISBN: 978-1-61581-382-7

  Printed in the United States of America

  First Edition

  January, 2010

  eBook edition available

  eBook ISBN: 978-1-61581-383-4

  Sticks and stones may build your homes,

  but words will lift your spirits.

  Sticks and Stones

  Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux

  Chapter 1

  “THIS has got to be a fire hazard,” Ty Grady complained in a strained voice as they inched the heavy pool table across the scarred wooden floor, his broad shoulder pressed to the side of the table as they struggled.

  Zane Garrett grunted as he pushed the table with his ass braced against the end. “Would you stop with the fire hazards?” he asked in annoyance. “This wasn’t really what I had in mind when I said we should take some time off, do something for ourselves,” he grumbled.

  “You turned down my black market orchids,” Ty reminded. He looked up to see that they’d pushed the table far enough and stopped with an irritated huff. He turned and grabbed a nearby stool, sat it on the pool table, and climbed up on top of it, cursing as the stool wobbled beneath him. He pushed the access panel in the ceiling experimentally. It didn’t budge. He banged it with the heel of his hand. It rattled but didn’t pop free.

  “The one thing in this place that’s built solid,” he muttered as he looked around for something to use. There was nothing. There wasn’t anything but the pool table and a pub table with two stools in the deserted pool hall. It didn’t even have pool cues!

  He grumbled under his breath and punched the access panel, causing it to crack down the middle. With his movement the stool wobbled dangerously beneath his feet, and he threw his hands out to the sides to catch his balance. The stool stopped rocking almost as suddenly as it started, and as Ty glanced down, he saw Zane had grabbed it with both hands to hold it steady.

  “Careful there, Twinkletoes,” Zane said with a half smile.

  “Thank you,” Ty said to him as he shook his hand. “About time you did something useful. Watch your head,” he warned as he shoved at the pieces of the panel, which fell to the pool table below him with a muted clatter. He looked back down at Zane. “Come up here so I can stand on your head,” he said with a slight smile.

  Zane snorted as he hefted himself up onto the table next to the stool. “You just want me for my body,” he said as he stood up, his shoulders even with Ty’s waist.

  Ty petted him on the head with one gloved hand, then reached through the nearly foot-thick ceiling, placed his gun on the roof of the building, and gripped the edges to lever himself up. He growled in annoyance as he hung there, almost stuck in the opening due to the bulky body armor hindering his progress. He managed to pull himself through, grunting as he scratched and clawed his way through the opening and crawled out to flatten out on the roof. He yanked the protective helmet from his head and tossed it away, breathing in the crisp air in relief.

  He stuck his head back over the edge and hung his arm down, offering Zane a hand up with a hint of dread. He never knew lately whether Zane would accept help or bite his head off for offering it. The abrupt mood swings and other problems Zane had been having since the Tri-State serial killer case were the reason they were doing jobs like this instead of working back at the Bureau.

  But Zane was apparently still in the good mood he’d exhibited so far, because he took Ty’s arm without comment as he climbed up on the stool to follow him. Just as he pushed off with his long legs, there was a loud bang on the door.

  Ty saw the flimsy door rattle, and he yanked at Zane with everything he could muster while still lying flat on his stomach. “Battering ram,” he warned in a strained voice.

  Zane huffed and pulled himself up with Ty’s help, growling as soon as his feet were through the access hatch. “Clear,” he said under his breath. A second later a loud bang echoed in the pool hall underneath them as the door was forced open.

  “Move, move, move,” Ty hissed to Zane as he grabbed his gun and mask and ran for the edge of the building, easily leaping to the next. They needed to be several buildings over before the team that had found them could relay their position.

  Zane was right behind him. “Three buildings over. Fire escape.” He’d memorized the downtown layout the night before while Ty worked on today’s plans with Benson and the rest of the crew. Of course, those plans were now blown to hell. At least Ty still had the walking map with him.

  They kept low, hurrying along the rooftops until they came to the fire escape Zane had mentioned. Ty glanced over the edge. The only problem, of course, was that the top of the metal stairs didn’t reach the roof. It was an eight-foot drop to the top level from where they were.

  “I hate this fucking town,” Ty grumbled as he secured his gun and glanced over his shoulder. He could hear shouting, the various patrols communicating to each other; they obviously didn’t possess the same sort of gear he and Zane were using to stay in touch with their comrades.

  He looked back down at the fire escape. It was their only way down unless they fancied trying to fly.

  They were almost out of options, and not just because they were stuck on a roof. They’d planned for this contingency, though. There were three two-man teams in town today, each equipped with eno
ugh charges to blow one of three targets and radio receivers linked to each set. Bravo team had achieved its objective—blowing up a television station that doubled as the town’s communications center. But in doing so they’d moved too early and announced their presence before Ty and Zane could even reach their own target.

  While Bravo team had done its job, the two men hadn’t survived long enough to celebrate. Alpha team had managed to set its charges at the supply stores at the end of the street, but the men had been assaulted on their way out and hadn’t managed to blow them. They were now involved in a running gunfight through the streets, taking their radio receivers farther and farther out of range as they went. They were screwed, much like Ty and Zane were about to be.

  Ty climbed over the edge of the brick and lowered himself slowly until his feet dangled just a couple feet above the metal platform below, Zane following suit. To jump would have made too much noise, and they couldn’t afford to be captured or killed before they laid their charges. One target out of three was unacceptable. Two targets was still a failure, but it was better than nothing. Ty wanted all three targets, even if he had to do the last two himself.

  They made their way down the fire escape quickly, causing only the occasional clang or bang as they hurried. When Ty’s booted feet hit the pavement, though, a shout from the corner of the building met them.

  “Stop! Federal agents!” the man behind the protective mask warned as he held his gun up.

  Ty turned without a moment’s hesitation and fired at him, two quick shots, and red bloomed across the letters on the man’s chest. He fell back, and Ty and Zane ran toward him rather than away, firing at the other agents who rounded the corner. Before the other two men in the patrol could retreat or call for backup, both took shots in the chest and dropped with pained cries.

  Zane lowered his gun and pulled off his headgear. His dark hair, longer than it used to be and brushing his collar, was ruffled up now, and a curled wire from the ear bud ran along his scruffy cheek. He turned his chin to look at Ty. “We can still make the objective. This is the right street.” He nodded to the road at the nearby crossing.

  “Lead on,” Ty told him as he tossed his protective mask at the agents lying on the ground. He didn’t plan to wear it anymore; if he took one in the face it wouldn’t do him much good anyway, and he couldn’t think with it on.

  Zane’s safety gear hit the ground as well as they loped past the fallen men, and at the end of the alley they flattened against the vinyl siding of that building so Zane could look around the corner.

  The town’s main street was a long, paved corridor lined with shops. Laundromat, barber shop, diner, movie theater, the deserted pool hall they’d fled just a few moments ago, and several other buildings. Some in use, some not. At the very end of the street was the large brick building that served as the area’s supply storage, its front lined with garage doors for freight trucks to drop off provisions. The munitions dump was several stores over on their side of the street, concealed in a computer repair shop. That was their objective.

  Ty knew that the big problem was not the distance they had to travel, but the teams of agents that patrolled the streets. He and Zane had nothing but the charges and receivers, the guns they held in their hands, and their communications gear. And a bottle of hairspray Ty had taken from the drug store down the street when they’d ducked inside to avoid a patrol.

  Their biggest ally now was stealth.

  They made their way to the corner of the block undetected, swiftly coming up on the ammunition cache.

  Shouts came from their right, and then they heard a muffled gunfight. The commotion continued, followed by the pop-pop of the guns and the screams of their team members in their ear buds.

  “That’ll be Alpha team,” Ty said flatly as they continued to move.

  First Bravo team, and now Alpha team was down as well—without completing their mission of blowing up the supply stores at the end of the street. Ty and Zane still had to set their own charges at the munitions dump and blow them, and now they also had to get within range of the storage building to blow Alpha’s charges if they wanted to complete the mission.

  “Stupid. They should have blown the charges when they had the chance,” Zane muttered, looking behind them quickly as they made their way to the door of the computer repair shop. He held up three fingers to indicate the number of people Benson’s intel had said would be guarding the ammo dump. Zane stopped beside the door and looked at Ty seriously. “Ready?” he asked almost inaudibly.

  Ty nodded as he popped a fresh cartridge into his gun. He looked up at Zane and grinned widely. He fished out the bottle of hairspray he’d pilfered from the drug store up the road as they had dashed through it earlier, shaking it vigorously.

  It wouldn’t blow up. Hell, it wouldn’t do anything but roll when he threw it. But it would look enough like a flashbang as it flew through the air to make everyone inside duck. It might give them enough time.

  Zane looked at him incredulously and then rolled his eyes. “Christ,” he muttered. He crouched down next to the door, gun ready. “Go.”

  Ty stepped up to the door and kicked at it, just below the doorknob where it was weakest. He tossed the hairspray into the room and followed it immediately, firing to his right in a wide spray of bullets.

  Still crouched, Zane shifted inside behind him and fired to the left, taking out an agent caught ducking from the fake flashbang. Zane got to his feet just in time to take a step into the room and be hit from the side by a heavy body.

  Ty turned and watched as Zane hit the floor under the other man’s momentum. Zane pulled up his knees and kept rolling while the agent scrambled, trying to reach for a gun sitting out on the sales counter nearby. Zane’s boot in his gut stopped him, and the man dropped, gasping for breath.

  Rolling his eyes, Ty simply shot the man in the back to stop the oncoming brawl. The agent fell forward without a sound, his eyes still registering shock as he lay on the ground.

  Ty shook his head at him and then looked around the room at the mess they’d made. The walls were running with red. He clucked his tongue and shook his head as he looked around at the bodies littering the floor.

  “Complacent,” he chastised. He went over to the weapons locker, beginning to stuff extra cartridges into his pockets as he whistled. He realized belatedly that the tune was the chorus of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” He was having more fun than he probably should have been.

  “What are they teaching these idiots?” Zane asked as he picked up the extra gun from the sales counter and slid it into his waistband. “No wonder the Bureau’s going to shit,” he muttered. He joined Ty at the cabinet to pull out cartridges for himself.

  Ty nodded as he hummed. He finished loading up with extra ammo and went to the agent he’d shot in the back, kneeling down beside him. He patted him on the head. “Shoot first next time. Tackle later,” he advised, and then he stood and went to the doorway.

  “You have a really morbid sense of humor, you know that?” Zane said as he stepped over the body while sliding the new cartridge into his gun. “Let me have those charges,” he demanded, holding out his hand.

  Ty gave a careful glance around the door frame, peering down the street. “Set ’em quick,” he ordered as he pulled them out and handed them to Zane. He looked out again, looking at the brick building down the road with its open bays and garages. “You think we’re in range here?” he asked as he fished out the switch that would trigger Alpha Team’s charges and looked at it. He pushed the button, uncaring of the teams of demolitions agents who were swarming the building, trying to defuse the charges. He peered out at the building. Nothing happened. He pushed the button a few more times just in case.

  Zane shook his head while setting the charge inside the stack of boxes. He didn’t even look outside. “Still eighty yards out of range. We have to get to the office building on the corner to be close enough.” He glanced over at Ty. “Would you quit pushing the damn button?�
� he said in exasperation. “What if you break the connection? Then what’re you gonna do? Waltz over there and set it off by hand?” He set the charge frequency and clicked on the receiver.

  “Worth a shot,” Ty said defensively. ”Do these things have batteries?” he asked as he shook the receiver near his ear and listened for something to rattle inside it. Zane ignored him, and Ty looked back down the street critically. “Nowhere to hide,” he commented. He glanced back at Zane. “We’ll use this explosion as cover. Maybe buy us enough time to clear out.”

  Zane finished programming their detonator and joined him at the window. “I guess it was too much to ask that Benson had his shit together. I knew I should have taken Stanford’s bet that he’d flop against the Feds. I could’ve bought a new Glock.”

  “Whatever, man,” Ty grunted, not really paying attention to Zane’s grumbling. “Let’s go blow shit up,” he said with relish as he moved out of the building.

  They hugged the storefronts, moving along the street toward the target.

  Ty was examining the entrance to the alley coming up when Zane abruptly grabbed his arm and yanked him down just as something hit the brick wall over their heads with a dull thump. The shot had barely missed his head.

  Zane already had his gun up, shooting indiscriminately at the two-man team that had appeared out of the door of a nearby building. The two agents retreated back into the barbershop under the hail of bullets Zane sent their way.

  “Move!” Zane hissed.

  They scuttled along the side of the building, no longer concerned with stealth. The mission now was to blow the ammo dump they’d just left—their assignment as Charlie Team—and then they had to get close enough to fulfill Alpha Team’s failed objective using the coordinated triggers.