sticks & stones (cut & run 2) - Page 25

“I will,” Zane murmured, his breath warm against the back of Ty’s ear.

BY THE time Zane got down to the kitchen the next morning, breakfast was on the table, and Ty and Deuce were sitting together, drinking orange juice while their mother bustled around them and scolded them for stealing some of her apples.

“Morning,” Ty greeted as he gestured to an empty chair.

“Good morning, Zane dear, how did you sleep?” Mara asked as she came up to him and pressed a glass of orange juice into his hands.

“Ah, okay,” Zane hedged, taking the glass out of self-defense. “I don’t do too well sleeping in strange places lately, but….”

“Well, Ty’s bed is about as strange a place as you can get,” Deuce offered under his breath. He followed it with a muffled grunt as Ty kicked him under the table.

“Don’t mind them, we dropped ’em both on their heads when they was little,” Mara assured Zane as she moved back to her stove, where two different skillets sizzled. She’d been cooking for some time already; the kitchen was warm from the heated oven, and it was the smell of crisp bacon and fresh biscuits that had beckoned Zane downstairs.

Zane turned a look on the two brothers, his eyes narrowing slightly. Under the brown Western-style flannel shirt Ty wore, Zane was pleased to see that he was also wearing another one of his signature Tshirts. It was oddly reassuring to see it. It was brown with white writing on the front, two crossed paddles advertising “Schitt Creek Paddle Co.” Zane didn’t bother to hide his amused snort, but the others paid him no mind.

“Where’s your daddy?” Mara asked them as she sat at the head of the table.

“Wasn’t my morning to babysit him,” Ty answered as he poured himself more juice.

“Well, you and your smart mouth go find him so we can eat,” Mara responded without blinking an eye. Ty stood immediately, snatching a sausage link as he went. “And track down your granddaddy too!” his mother called after him.

Zane watched over the edge of his juice glass as Ty headed out of the kitchen, taking particular notice of the worn jeans that were molded to Ty’s ass as he moved around the corner.

“Zane, tell me,” Mara said, drawing his attention, “how do you enjoy working for the FBI?”

Surprised by the question out of left field, Zane hesitated as he pushed the visual of Ty away for later. “It’s like any job, I guess. I like it some days, others not so much. Ty makes it interesting sometimes.”

“My son does do that to people,” she agreed with a sigh as she sipped at her coffee. “Both of them do,” she added wryly as she glanced at Deuce, who looked at Mara with an obviously feigned hurt expression.

Zane chuckled and took a drink of his juice. “He makes up for it, though. He’s a good partner.”

“Is he?” Mara asked with true concern. Her brow furrowed, and she leaned forward, meeting his eyes questioningly.

Zane sighed and glanced at the door, weighing his options. Honesty and… honesty. “All right, he’s a great partner. But don’t tell him I said that.”

The relief that washed over the poor woman was tangible. “Ty’s ego was never one of the things I fretted over being broken,” she assured Zane. “But I was so afraid after Jimmy was killed he would never be able to deal with a partner again,” she explained as she looked down at her coffee and stirred it slowly.

“I don’t think it was easy for him,” Zane said slowly. Despite how they ragged on each other, he didn’t want to say anything that might be construed as badmouthing Ty in front of his family. Zane could imagine how angry he would be himself if the situation were reversed. He also knew that the Jimmy Mara referred to was Special Agent James Hathaway, who’d been partnered with Ty for more than two years before he was killed in the line of duty. It wasn’t a joking matter. “I won’t say we get along all the time, but we make it work,” Zane added.

“You handle him the right way,” Deuce interjected.

Mara nodded in agreement. “You have to give Ty as good as he gives you.”

“Yeah, and it’s not easy. He can be hard to handle sometimes,” Zane said vaguely rather than trying to make light of it.

“Try raising two of ’em,” Mara said wryly with another pointed look at Deuce.

“You know I can hear you, right?” Deuce said in annoyance.

Zane smiled just like Mara did. “Ty gets that look on his face, too, when he’s ticked off. Which is fairly often, so I’m familiar with the expression,” he added earnestly.

“Shut up,” Deuce offered grumpily as he reached for a sausage link, only to get his hand slapped by Mara’s spatula for the effort. He opened his mouth to protest, but a call from the front of the house interrupted him.

“Hey, Ma!” Ty yelled as the screen door slammed. Zane could hear his booted footsteps coming closer, and when Ty appeared in the doorway, he was frowning slightly. “Grandpa’s eyesight’s getting worse, huh?” he asked.

“What makes you say that?” Mara asked in concern.

“’Cause he’s out in the yard, killing your garden hose with his shovel,” Ty answered with a jerk of his thumb at the window.

Mara balled up her fists and made a strangled sound of frustration as she pushed her chair back noisily and stood. “That senile old goat!” she muttered as she hurried out the back door. Zane made it until she was out of the room, but then he had to laugh out loud, covering his mouth with his hand.

Neither Deuce nor Ty were laughing, though, both of them treating it as if it were an everyday thing. “How’s his aim?” Deuce asked Ty dubiously.

“Still pretty good,” Ty answered in a surprised voice as he went to the window to watch, leaning over the sink. “He still sharpens the shovel tip, doesn’t he?”

“As far as I know,” Deuce answered as he poured himself a cup of coffee, unconcerned.

Zane’s brows were nearly up into his hairline. Sharpens the shovel tip? Jesus. No wonder Ty had a penchant for weapons, growing up in this environment.

“Hey,” Ty said as he waved his hand around at them, still looking out the window. “Y’all gotta see this. She’s beating him with the hose,” he told them as he began to snicker. “God, I love coming home,” he mused as he sipped at his own juice. He made room when Deuce moved to stand next to him and peer outside.