Mark Vincent has had enough. After his old cover ops organization is disbanded, he’s relegated to the CIA, where his career is slowly being strangled to death by conspiracy and apathy. Come New Year’s Day, he plans to be out of there, only… the one partner he ever wanted to keep is having a drink with him in a smoky bar, and something about Quinton Mann is suggesting he’s not as straight as Vincent first thought. Quinn has been hiding his attraction to Mark for some time now, sure that exposing his feelings to his partner would only get him a laugh and a load of trouble. But a quiet showdown on a snowy street might change the intel they have on each other—for the better.
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Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Heat Level: 3
Romantic Content: 2
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Bisexual, Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 36-45
Protagonist 2 Age: 36-45
Tropes: Alpha Character, Enemies to Lovers, Mind Games
Word Count: 18865
Setting: Washington, DC
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Continuous / Same Characters
My dinner finished and the debris disposed of in the trash, I sat at my desk and stared out the window. Although it was getting late, the sky was light, a wash of nimbostratus clouds; the threat of snow was ominously hovering over this entire portion of the East Coast.
It looked like we were going to have a white Christmas.
The door of my office opened unexpectedly and I turned my head, an eyebrow raised. I’d given Janet Watson, my personal assistant, the afternoon off, so there was no one to screen my visitors.
“Hey, Quinn!” David Brendan Cooper sauntered in, grinning. We had worked together for some years, and had been friends just as long.
“DB. The least you could do is knock,” I complained mildly.
“We’ve known each other too long. Listen, I’m calling it a day. You want to go out and have a drink, maybe grab a bite to eat?”
“I’d like to, but there are a few more reports I need to complete and file.”READ MORE
“All work and no play, Quinn.”
“Yes, I know. Perhaps another time.” I smiled at him. I could afford to give him a few minutes’ conversation. “So what have you been up to?”
“Same old, same old, but never mind about me. How are you doing?”
“I’m fine. Why would I be anything else?”
“It’s your turn to deal with Vincent.”
“Yes, he was transferred to Operational Targeting a few weeks ago.”
“I’m sorry you’re stuck with him, Quinn.”
“But you’re damned glad the last thing the Company wants is Vincent within a hundred yards of our computers?”
“Sorry.” DB looked sheepish. Since that was the department he worked out of, he knew he’d be spared working with Vincent.
“Don’t be.” I brushed back the lock of hair that was always falling into my eyes. “He’s really not that bad, you know.”
“Are you shitting me? He’s Vincent!”
“Well, yes, but—”
“Listen, Quinn. I heard how you tried to be nice to him in the cafeteria once.”
“So you’re listening to gossip now, David?” He was coming very close to crossing the line with me. “Officers of the CIA have nothing better to do than pass on rumors?”
“So you didn’t?” DB never did know when to give up. That was part of what made him a good officer.
I’d seen Vincent a time or two in the cafeteria. The man ate alone, his face stony. The one time I had tried to converse with him—and it was only because Mother had raised me better than to not give anyone the benefit of the doubt—he had given me a cold grin.
“Still think I was the one who shot you?”
About a year and a half before, I’d gone to a deserted warehouse on the Patapsco River to make a buy. Bruchner, the scientist who’d developed a renewable, nonpolluting form of energy, had been unaware the company he was working for fronted for the WBIS, and when he realized that, he panicked and contacted the Company in order to make a deal: the plans and prototype in exchange for protection, a good deal of cash, and a new identity.
In the midst of our exchange, I’d been shot. The scientist vanished, leaving behind his invention in the briefcase he’d brought with him.
Mark Vincent appeared out of the shadows.
“I suppose I should thank you for aiming low?” I kept my words and expression slightly bored, in spite of the fact that my leg wound felt as if a red hot poker had been laid on it, and was still oozing blood.
“If I shoot, Mann, I shoot to kill.” And he’d managed to get his hands on the briefcase and disappear.
Another player on the field, this one representing the military, had succeeded in retrieving it from Vincent, but only after shooting him.
Of course he hadn’t killed Vincent. We’d learned this when he’d turned up at a meeting with my director shortly after.
Oddly enough the WBIS made no attempt to get the contents of the briefcase back.
That damned briefcase. In the end it was worth nothing; the plans and prototype were useless. We came to the conclusion that that was why Bruchner had lost his nerve.
As for the bullet, it had been traced back to a gun issued to someone who worked for the Company. I had been laid up with that wound to my thigh, but some officers had gone after Louis Buonfiglio. They couldn’t discover for certain why he’d shot me, and no one was able to ask him—Buonfiglio had been found dead in his car, and the autopsy had determined cause of death to be a heart attack.
“I could almost feel sorry for Vincent,” I said now.
I gave DB a faint smile. Manns never let anyone see them…distracted. “As you said, it’s my turn now.”
“Yeah, Merry Christmas to you, Quinn.”
Working with Vincent had been everyone else’s worst nightmare. He was sarcastic and snarky, insisting his way was the best way, the only way.
And nine times out of ten the bastard was right. And that tenth time? It would turn out he was right then also.
Unfortunately, my fellow officers learned this through hindsight, since they stubbornly refused to take whatever he said into consideration.
“Holmes really has it in for you.” The DCI Threat Analysis had stepped into my director’s shoes when Bram Rayner had taken some leave to help his wife after she’d given birth to a child Mother’s generation would have called a change-of-life baby.
“No, I don’t think it’s me personally. He’s simply trying to find the right fit for Vincent.”
“Dammit, he’s not trying very hard, Quinn!”
“Oh, I’m not under any illusion that this is to be anything other than a punishment assignment for me. Holmes is riding roughshod over everyone.”
“Yeah, and no one says a fucking thing.”
“He does have friends in the Administration.” As a result, the officers in Threat Analysis had no choice but to suck it up.
And now it seemed the rest of us had no choice either.
Except for Vincent, of course. Word had it that when Holmes threatened him with demotion, Vincent had smirked and sneered, “I’m working for the CIA. How much fucking lower can I go?”
And that was what struck me. Granted the man was former WBIS, but he was CIA now, and if they’d let him, he’d do a damned fine job, more than a fine job….
But one obstacle after another had been thrown in my—our—way.
“What happened this last time, Quinn?” DB asked.
“Holmes gave orders Vincent was to stay behind and handle the data I sent back, forwarding it on to the pertinent department.”
“What? You always go out with a partner.”
“Not this time. And that was where it stalled.”
“Nothing was done with the information, and no matter how much Vincent pushed, he was ignored. By the time I returned to Langley, the mission had to be scrubbed.”
“Word was you were really pissed, but we all thought it was at Vincent.”
“No, he did his job.” And when I’d summoned him to my office to confront him, his expression had revealed nothing, but there was hostility in his eyes, as if he was daring me to blame him for this fiasco.
“We could have taken out that terrorist cell,” he’d said flatly.
“You’re not telling me anything I don’t know, Vincent.” I’d known my own expression had been unfriendly, but at that point I hadn’t cared. My time had been wasted, Vincent’s time had been wasted, and the entire mission had been rendered useless. I’d run my gaze over him. “You’re not wearing your suit jacket.”
“No shit.” There were damp patches under his arms, and I found that strangely erotic.
Although not surprising. Word had quickly gotten around that Vincent didn’t take elevators, preferring to jog up and down the stairs.
“Why did they hire me if they weren’t going to use me?” His frustration was evident.
Reluctantly, I’d had to admit, “I don’t know.”
This is a what if, an alternate reality in which the WBIS has been disbanded and Mark Vincent has been recruited by the CIA. If this was the actual Spy vs. Spook universe, it would happen between The Start of a Beautiful Friendship and Houseboat on the Nile, which is why I listed it as 0.75.
However, no matter what universe he shows up in, he still winds up with Quinton Mann. 😉