Can a straightlaced FBI agent fake a relationship with a mob rat long enough to close the case?
There's only one way out of this family, but Tanner thinks he's found another one. He's going to fake a relationship with a straightlaced undercover FBI agent and help him take the organization down from within. That is, if the two of them don't strangle each other first.
Maddox hates the Mob. He doesn't have a lot of respect for mob rats either. He knows why he was stuck with this case, and he's not thrilled about it. He wants the win, but having to play nice with gorgeous criminal Tanner might be more than he can take.
When secrets come out, Tanner and Maddox will have to trust each other with everything they have. They may be opposites, but they're exactly what each other will need to get through this job with their bodies and souls together.
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Publisher: MLR Press
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 5
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 18-25
Protagonist 2 Age: 26-35
Tropes: Antihero, Badass Hero, Coming Home, Criminals & Outlaws, Cultural Differences, Enemies to Lovers, Fake Relationship, Forbidden Love, Interracial Relationship, Pretend Boyfriend / Girlfriend, Rescue, Star-Crossed Lovers
Word Count: 35640
Setting: United States, New York, New York
Languages Available: English
Tanner slipped into the grungy old pub and looked around for familiar faces. Professor Agnusdei sat just where he said he'd be, at their usual table near the back. Sanjana sat there too, and a warm flush of gratitude washed over Tanner. He didn't think he could do this without her. She'd been his best friend since undergrad. If anyone was going to support him, it would be Sanjana.
The pair looked bizarre sitting across from each other like that. Sanjana got a few odd looks for being in the pub in the first place, but she didn't seem to pay much attention to them. She noticed Tanner before Agnusdei did, because she was observant like that. She raised her pint in Tanner's direction as he slid into the seat beside Agnusdei. He kept his back to the wall, so no one could sneak up behind him, because old habits died hard.READ MORE
He didn't see anyone else he knew here. He didn't see anyone who even looked familiar. Of course, most of his dad's cronies would feel pretty uncomfortable down here in the Village. Tanner stayed down here for precisely that reason. He didn't let himself get complacent, but he welcomed the chance to breathe a little more freely. Every little bit helped.
When the waiter came along, Tanner ordered a Brooklyn IPA and a salad. He didn't know how much he'd be able to eat, but was used to faking it. He'd spent most of his life making everything look normal from the outside. He might not be able to see any of his father's buddies, but that didn't mean none of them were watching. It was always, always better to be safe than sorry.
Sanjana frowned at him and the small talk he made with both of them. She didn't understand why he was so twitchy and so distracted. Tanner could live with that. She didn't need to understand. She'd stand by him no matter what happened. Dr. Agnusdei, on the other hand, understood everything. He'd successfully prosecuted plenty of guys just like Tanner's father. Most of his witnesses even survived to tell the tale.
It was that most that Tanner found hardest to swallow. His life might not be much of a life, but Tanner wasn't quite ready to give it up just yet.
When Tanner's food had been delivered and a second round of drinks ordered for everyone, Tanner dropped the act. He dropped some of it, at least. He'd never be able to drop it completely, not even with his closest friends. "So." He took a deep breath and toyed with his fork. "Were you able to get in touch with your friends?" He didn't dare say the words FBI. There was no way for Tanner's father to know where he was, but if anyone could find a way, it was Jimmy.
Agnusdei nodded. "I've got to say, Tanner, they were suspicious at first." The old man had a Bronx accent as thick as cream cheese on a bagel. He'd grown up within sight of the stadium, and put himself through school. He made a name for himself prosecuting the Mob, and he had the scars to prove it. He wasn't afraid of anything.
Of course, he wasn't the one going against his own family. He didn't have to be afraid of anything.
"I'd be suspicious too." Tanner kept his head up. He refused to show his disappointment. Why wouldn't the Feds be suspicious? The Garofalo family just didn't rat like that, not that they knew of. "What did they recommend?"
Agnusdei let out a soft laugh. "Well, at first, they said you should straighten up, fly right, and let the system work itself out."
Tanner couldn't help himself. He grabbed his drink and finished it in one gulp. He couldn't allow himself any other expression, but Agnusdei had just given him the worst news he could have offered. "They seriously don't want to hear what Jimmy Garofalo's son has to offer?" he croaked, leaning forward.
"Well, the last time they got approached by one of Old Man Jimmy's sons, he pulled a no-show." Agnusdei spread his hands in front of him, as if to say what can you do?
Tanner saw red for a moment. Here he was, trying to do the right thing and help his country, and they didn't care. "Did you point out that Abe was killed for his trouble?" He managed to get that little nugget out without passing out. He supposed he should be proud.
Sanjana gasped. Tanner hadn't given her many details. She knew his family was criminal. She knew he was looking to get out and turn them in. She didn't know how bad it really was. Tanner hoped she never would. What he'd been made to do to Abe would scar her for life, even though she didn't have to see the results.
Agnusdei grimaced for a second. Then he scratched his white beard. "That did come up, yes. It was a point on which they'd been previously uninformed. When I showed them the pictures you sent, they became a lot more eager to speak with you."
Tanner relaxed, just a little. At least he'd get to speak, to give evidence. There was still a good chance he'd go to jail, and go for a long time, but that was a risk he'd have to take. After what had been done to Abe, he was a lot more willing to accept that risk than he had been. Life in prison was a hell of a lot better than what Abe got.
His leg bounced up and down under the table. It was a nervous tic, he could no more control it than he could hold back the roll call at the Stadium. "Great. Thank you."
Agnusdei cleared his throat. "Don't thank me yet. There's a strong possibility you'll wind up doing some time yourself. It seems your hands aren't necessarily clean, at least not as Tanner Garofalo. You'd think that would have come up before you got a federal clerkship, but some things will always slip through the cracks here and there. Taking your mother's last name probably helped with that."
Sanjana picked her head up. Her dark eyes blazed. "No. No, absolutely not. That's unacceptable. He was forced to do those things. The consequences of not doing them were death." She turned to face him, long black braid whipping around and striking a waiter as he passed. "Tell him."
Tanner smiled at Sanjana, but it wasn't a happy smile. When he thought about the things he'd done, he wanted to throw up. He didn't know how she knew about the things he'd done, but she wasn't wrong. The only problem was, it didn't matter. "It's true, Sanjana. I was under duress, but here's the thing. I'd have to prove I was under duress, and it's my word against theirs."
Agnusdei's smile was almost as sad as Tanner's had been. "And therein lies the rub. You'd likely get consideration, and a lot of it, for coming forward and cooperating. But let's be real. A judge would want you to pay some kind of penalty for doing those things in the first place."
Tanner slumped in his seat. A judge would want to punish him, even if he could prove duress. Tanner wanted to punish himself, and he knew what kind of duress he'd been under. Duress would be difficult to prove to an outsider. He could show the pictures of Abe's execution, but what proof did he have that his father and brother had been the ones calling the shots? Only his word.
He licked his lips and reached for that second beer. He didn't often indulge in more than one drink, but today was different. Today, he was setting things in motion that would change everything forever, one way or another. "I guess I have to accept that then."
Sanjana shook her head. "No. That's absurd. You can't. You finished law school all of what, a year ago? You put yourself through all of that, just to step back and say â€˜Yes, please, give me some prison time?' That's absurd." She waved her hand at Tanner and turned to Agnusdei. "Tell your friends either he gets complete immunity, or he keeps his mouth as sealed as a tomb."
Agnusdei took a sip of his beer. His lips twitched with amusement. "I see. Are you perhaps working in defense, Ms. Kulkarni?"
"As a matter of fact I am --"
"Tell them to give you a raise. Never mind, I'll call your firm myself. They want hard evidence, Mr. Gray. They're interested in what you have to say. They've had it in for your father for a while now, but they haven't been able to make anything stick. Here's the thing. A guy who's trying to get out of the mob, without a record, is going to be someone the defense is going to have a field day with. And you're a smart lawyer. You know what they'd do to you."
Tanner swallowed hard. He'd known this going in. "They want something they can go in with that will back up my claims. Something that they can point to that corroborates my story."
"Exactly." Agnusdei studied Tanner's face. Tanner wasn't a fan of being under this kind of scrutiny. It was too much like being in church, in the confessional. Everything he'd ever done, from lying about an extra piece of candy to going down on a classmate behind the bleachers to shooting one of his father's rivals in the head as his father looked on, played back before his eyes.
"My father keeps a backup disc." His mouth went dry as he said it. He could see the backup disc in the safe, under his father's desk. He remembered going in there with Abe and learning how to break into the stupid thing. At the time, Jimmy had let them do it. He'd figured it was a good life skill to have. "It's locked up, but I know where it is. And my brother's wedding is in two weeks. I'll have an excuse to be on site. I can sneak in, get it, and get out."
Agnus Dei nodded. "That's a good offer. It shows your bona fides. They might ask for something else, but I'll bring this up to them." He tapped his fingertips on the table for a few seconds. "I've got to say, Tanner. What you're proposing, what you're offering, it's pretty brave."
"It's not, not really." Tanner closed his eyes for a second. He could only close them for a second. He didn't dare relax in a public place like this. "When Abeâ€¦when he diedâ€¦well." He scratched at his throat. "Even talking about this feels like I'm being strangled, you know? But, ah. I never wanted to be part of the family business. Never. Abe was a little more live and let live about it, until he got to be older and Dad started bumping off friends of Abe's he didn't agree with. Then Abe was more on my side.
"So when Dad killed Abe, I knew I had to find a way out. That's just all there is to it." He laughed a little, bitterness creeping into his tone. "He's got a role in mind for me but so far he's been willing to let me â€˜sow my wild oats.' Except now, he's got a girl he wants me to marry, and he's talking about how it's time for me to step up and take on my responsibilities. I'm not killing people for him anymore. I'm just not. And my older brother--he's even worse. For Dad, it's just business. For my brother, it's personal. He gets off on it. But I'm supposed to treat Jimmy Junior like he's my dad?" Tanner scoffed.
"If I balk too much, I get what Abe got. If I walk away, I get what Abe got. If I stay, I'll do it to myself, because I can't make myself be what they are. The only way to get out and survive is to make sure they're in jail. Maybe once upon a time, organizations like ours did some good in the community, you know, helping families out and keeping people safe and stuff. Now? Now, we're a cancer. We've got to go."
Sanjana put a hand on Tanner's. "We're here for you, Tanner. I'm not going to let them force you to do anything you don't want to do. It doesn't matter if that's killing people or marrying a woman."
Agnusdei raised an eyebrow. A little smirk played across his face. "They got the memo, right? You're out to them. I know you were very out on campus. If I know your dad, there's no way he would have missed that."
Tanner sighed. "I've been out since middle school. I think it was my way of screaming I wasn't like them, so I shouldn't have to do what they did." He straightened up. "They don't care. Not in a personal way, I mean. It's all about the family to them, and what I can do for them. I'm free to do whatever I want, so long what I want coincides with what they want."
Sanjana snorted. "Some things are universal." She toasted him, and they all had a little laugh about that. "In all seriousness, I don't want you to do this if you're going to put yourself in danger. And prison is danger, Tanner. You haven't been there. I'm there at least once per week for my clients. It's not something you want."
"I don't feel I have a choice. It's either go out like this, with whatever risks it entails, or go out feet first." Tanner met her eyes. "Either way, I can't go on. Not after Abe got killed." Neither Agnusdei nor Sanjana knew how long Tanner had this plan to turn himself into a rat, but they didn't need to know. It wasn't relevant.
Agnusdei cleared his throat. "So we're agreed? You're still going to talk to them?"
Tanner swallowed past the lump of fear in his throat. "Absolutely."COLLAPSE