Linus paced the street in front of the bar. It was fairly cold out, but he was reluctant to enter the establishment. When Rusty first called him up saying he was in town and wondering if Linus cared to join him for a drink, he’d thought nothing of it. They’d been in contact several times since the job in Europe. Later, however, Linus had thought about it and realized something seemed different. Rusty’s voice had sounded as though his words held a double meaning.
And so Linus found himself stomping in a circle outside a bar, longing to go inside yet deathly afraid to enter. Turning tail and heading home meant defeat, but stepping inside meant facing him.
The sound of a familiar voice calmly stating his name stopped him in his tracks. He turned and found himself looking into the face of the one and only Daniel Ocean, conman extraordinaire.
“Uh, Danny. Hi.”
Danny’s gaze slid over him, taking in his jacketed, shivering form and stamping feet. “Planning on coming in?”
Linus swallowed, finding his throat suddenly dry. He opened his mouth to answer, but nothing came out.
The corners of Danny’s mouth twitched in a barely perceptive smile. “Rusty never mentioned me.” Not a question, but a statement.
Linus shook his head dumbly.
Danny smiled, genuinely this time. “Come on in. I’ve only been out here a few moments and already I’m freezing.” He opened the door, placed a hand on the small of Linus’ back, and gave him a gentle push inside.
Linus stepped inside the bar, aware of Danny close behind him. Inside it was like any other bar if a little less dirty, a little less smoky, and a little less crowded. Linus had little time to take it in before Danny was guiding him toward the back.
Rusty sat alone at a corner table surrounded by empty tables. The lighting was dim except for over the table Rusty was seated at. It was all very private. The entire scene made Linus suddenly anxious. His stomach flip-flopped and Danny’s hand on his back seemed to burn through his coat to his skin.
Rusty smiled as the two walked up to the table. His eyes were on Linus, but his words were for Danny. “Well, I was about to send out a search party, but it looks like one already came.”
Danny smiled back as he took a seat. “Found him waiting for me at the door. Though apparently he didn’t know it.” He arched a brow accusingly.
Rusty shrugged, grinning unashamedly.
Linus did his best to ignore the back-and-forth. He shrugged his jacket off and draped it over a chair before taking a seat. He was so absorbed in ignoring the two men’s conversation he didn’t hear Rusty ask him a question.
Linus jumped when Rusty touched his arm. “Huh? I mean, I’m sorry?”
“You want something to drink?”
Danny raised his filled glass in a helpful gesture.
“Oh, right. Yeah. I’ll have, uh, a beer. Whatever is on tap.”
Rusty’s hand withdrew from Linus’ arm to signal a waiter.
Once Linus had his drink, silence fell over the table. Although Danny and Rusty didn’t seem bothered by it, Linus felt overwhelmed. He took a gulp of his beer, glanced at both men, and took another sip. He emptied his glass in under a minute, and fiddled with it. For some reason he suddenly felt shy and couldn’t look at his companions, instead staring at the table through his glass. He jumped when the glass was pulled loose from his grip.
“Another drink?” Rusty asked. He waved to the waiter again. Yet when he lowered his arm he let it rest casually on the back of Linus’ chair.
Linus sucked in a breath as Rusty’s arm touched his shoulders. He felt the material of Rusty’s shirt rub against the bared skin on the back of his neck. Linus tried not to let his discomfort show, but he felt his face flush with sudden warmth. When the waiter arrived with his drink, he grabbed it quickly and buried his face in it, hoping the cold liquid would cool his face. But when he unintentionally glanced over the rim at Danny he caught an amused twinkle in the dark eyes.
“So, Linus how’s business?”
Linus’ glass dropped to the table with a loud thump at Rusty’s question. To cover the slip, Linus coughed and forced a smile. “Uh, good. No problems.”
Danny cocked his head and looked at Linus with a sharp gaze. “Your father mentioned to me a month ago that you were almost arrested doing a job in Boston.”
Linus flushed. He’d forgotten Danny knew his father. “Well, uh, it wasn’t anything major. And the guy I was doing the job with knew someone on the force who we were able to pay off. It worked out fine in the end.”
Linus was surprised by how much the stern look on Danny’s face reminded him of his father. “Linus, getting sent to prison is always major.”
Beside Linus, Rusty snorted. “Says the man who’s been sent up twice. What’s done is done, Danny. The kid made it out all right. He’s fine.”
Danny arched a brow. “I recall a different response from you after that heist in Buffalo.”
Rusty shrugged. “That was different. I could have been arrested.”
While the two old friends bantered back and forth, Linus took the time to take a long gulp of beer. Silently he cursed his father for telling Danny about the narrow escape in Boston. Not only did it embarrass him in front of his hero, but it also earned Linus a lecture from him. Linus felt like a schoolboy again: immature, naïve, and helpless. He hated it.
“Why are you guys here anyway? Checking up on me?” Linus couldn’t hold back the bitterness in his voice.
Rusty and Danny shared a look. After a moment it was Rusty who spoke. “’Course not, kid. Actually, we came to offer you a job.”
“Even after what my dad told you?”
Danny laughed. “Kid, we all have trouble at one time or another. One screw-up doesn’t ruin an entire career.”
“Actually it can,” Rusty cut in.
Danny glanced at him. “Well, right, but not always.”
Rusty shrugged. “Sure.”
“How many guys will be on this job?”
“Three,” Danny said, just as Rusty answered, “Just us.”
Linus stared at the two men. While on the one hand he was delighted at the thought of working with the two experienced conmen again, on the other Linus worried about being the only other person working with them. If he screwed up, it’d all be on him and he dreaded that he might disappoint his heroes.
“It’s up to you, of course,” Danny said.
“No pressure,” added Rusty.
Linus nodded dumbly, gaze dropping to his half-filled glass. As he mulled the idea he could feel Rusty’s arm around his chair’s back, burning into his skin. He fought back a shiver that threatened to run down his spine.
“You remember that time in Atlanta?” Linus jumped when Rusty’s voice came from his left.
Danny smiled. “Custom made jewelry?” The two men chuckled.
“And that time in Miami with Frankie Tulip?” The men shared another chuckle.
Linus was raising his glass to his mouth when he felt it. While continuing to reminisce with Danny, Rusty began stroking the back of Linus’ neck with his fingers. Linus nearly choked on his beer. Rusty’s touch was light and his fingers steady. He seemed unaware of his actions as his focus remained on Danny and their conversation. Linus tried to ignore it and took another sip.
Rusty’s fingers continued to stroke as the two men’s conversation lulled. He still seemed unaware of what he was doing. Linus fought the urge to wriggle in his chair. He didn’t want either man to notice his discomfort. He again buried his face in his glass, hoping to hide the flush creeping up his face. But when he peered over the rim, he caught Danny staring him down with a leonine gaze.
“Have you had enough time to think, Linus?” Danny’s voice lowered to a husky growl.
Before Linus could conjure up a response, he felt Rusty lean in until his breath tickled his ear. “No pressure,” he whispered with a sensual purr.
Linus gulped as his stomach flip-flopped. This time he couldn’t hold back a shiver and his glass dropped to the table with a loud clink.
Rusty pulled away and settled back into his seat, but his fingers continued to stroke Linus’ skin.
Suddenly it was clear to Linus what the men really wanted. But what shocked him most was his own desire to give them what they wanted. What Danny said to him next had his eyes widening.
“Are you in or are you out, Linus?”
“I-” Linus looked at Danny who looked back at him stoically, and then glanced at Rusty who merely gazed back with a cool confidence.