Sometimes there were advantages to being vertically challenged. Landry, his ass sticking out from under a seventeenth-century folding card table, paused to contemplate other occasions when his five-feet-six-inch stature had been of benefit. Not when attempting to get served at his favorite leather bar, though getting squished between all those black-clad hunks was always bearable. He snorted. Not when reaching for his preferred brand of chips at the market, which were always on the top shelf. Put there, he was sure, by the snotty assistant manager as revenge for Landry turning down his offer of a quick blow job in the staff restroom. As if. Never at family meals when he got to sit between his older twin brothers like a blond munchkin between two extras from Vikings. He reversed, wiggling his back end to avoid a willow-patterned platter balancing on a brass coal scuttle. His knees ached and he’d banged his elbow on a cast-iron fireguard, but he had rescued the battered cannonball making an escape attempt beneath teetering piles of stock.
“Well, there’s a pretty sight.”
“Hey!” Landry went for indignant rather than flattered. He tried to get up too soon and banged his head on solid, woodworm-free oak. “Fuck me!” He finally made it to open air and scrambled to his feet, rubbing his already messy hair into further disarray.
“Is that a request?”
Landry looked up…and up…into a pair of twinkling pale-blue eyes. The customer, because that was who Landry guessed the newcomer must be, was drop-dead, my-ass-is-yours gorgeous and he was grinning. Well, smirking.
“Funny man. What can I help you with, sir?” Landry gritted his teeth and remembered that Mr. Lao, his boss, would swat him like a bug if he snarked at a potential patron. Though, on this occasion, it might be worth it to mess with the man.
“Another leading question.”
Landry rolled his eyes. Black hair, blue eyes and a stubbled, chiseled chin did not equate to a free pass. “The massage parlor is three doors down, just before St. Peter’s. You can get a full-body whatever then confess all in the space of an hour.” He made an ineffective attempt to brush dust from the knees of his ripped black jeans. Blue Eyes reached into his jacket and produced a wallet, which he opened to display a Seattle PD badge and ID card.
“Gage Roskam. Is your boss around?”
Landry was more turned on than intimidated by the badge. Cop plus handcuffs equaled sexy time. Every cop he’d ever met had had a ‘don’t fuck with me’ attitude and a natural bent for control—just the type of man Landry liked to mess with. He batted his lashes. “And what makes you think I’m not the boss?”
“You’re not a sixty-eight-year-old Chinese guy by the name of Jian Lao?”
“Very observant, Officer. All that training paid off.” Landry put an extra bit of swing into his hips as he walked toward the cash desk at the rear of the shop.
“Putting your tax dollars to work, brat.”
“Hey! Aren’t you supposed to call me sir, what with you being a public servant and all?”
“In your dreams, and you should show more respect for law enforcement.”
“Gonna make me?”
“You’re lucky I’m on duty or I’d bend you over the nearest flat surface and give you the spanking you’re begging for.”
“Is that line in the big bad cop manual?” Landry scuttled behind the cash desk, relieved that it reached to his waist and therefore hid his burgeoning erection. “Because I don’t think it’s very professional.”
“I use language appropriate to the situation.” Gage grinned. “I can give you my badge number if you wanna make a complaint. Then again, if you’d like to engage in a deep and meaningful conversation about your attitude, you can use this number.” He grabbed a pen from a pot next to the cash register then scribbled his number on the top sheet of the pile of wrapping tissue.
Landry nibbled on his lower lip. He got propositioned a lot but there was something about Gage that appealed to him. He might as well have had ‘Dominant’ tattooed across his forehead, and that pushed all Landry’s submissive buttons. He’d also called Landry out on his snarky attitude, which had the dual effect of stimulating Landry’s intellect as he decided on the most appropriate retort and giving him the urge to drop to his knees. He resisted the latter option.
“Now you’re the one who’s dreaming. Mr. Lao isn’t here.” Landry checked his watch. “And as he headed out to lunch with a bunch of cronies from his bowling club, I don’t expect him back any time soon. So is there anything I can help you with that won’t involve me getting arrested?”
Gage gave him an intense look, which made Landry squirm and wish he’d put on a looser pair of pants that morning. “Fine. I have some pictures I want you to take a look at.” Gage pulled out his phone.
“How kinky are they?” Landry asked. “Because I think you should know there’s some stuff I’m just not into.”
“Only some stuff? You do surprise me. Are you into receiving stolen goods?”
“No! Of course not.” Landry bristled. “Treasure Trove Antiques is a reputable establishment. Mr. Lao doesn’t buy anything without checking out its provenance and I don’t buy anything at all because Mr. Lao won’t let me yet. I can’t tell the difference between Ming dynasty and tourist trash made in some underground sweatshop in Kowloon, though he is trying to teach me. I’m kind of his apprentice.”
“If I show you a bunch of pictures, would you know whether you have the items in stock?”
“That I can do.” Landry couldn’t help but preen a little. “Mr. Lao has trouble remembering what day of the week it is. He relies on me to be able to lay my hands on anything the customers are looking for, and in this place…” He gestured at the cavernous space piled high with row upon row of stock. “That’s nothing short of miraculous.”
“Then is there somewhere we can sit, because this may take a while?”
“I’ll have an extra-large, skinny, vanilla latte and a brownie.”
Gage sighed. “You’re lucky I’m a patient man. Where do you suggest I go for those?”
“Now that depends.” Landry tapped a finger against his lips. “You don’t look like a Starbucks man, but there’s one down the block if that floats your boat. The café next door is a small independent place and there’s not much I wouldn’t do for a regular supply of their baked goods.”
“What does a Starbucks man look like? No, don’t tell me. I don’t need to know.”
“My cooperation is contingent on provisions.”
“So you’re telling me you accept bribes?”
“Absolutely. So long as they involve chocolate. Or coffee. Preferably both and in large quantities.”
“I’ll be five minutes. Don’t go anywhere.”
“Perhaps you should cuff me, Officer.” Landry blinked.
“It’s Detective, and don’t tempt me.” Gage strolled toward the exit. Landry kept his gaze glued to the man’s ass, wishing that his jacket didn’t cover it quite so well. He licked his lips and pushed the heel of his hand against his erection.
“Down boy. Behave. You’re going to get me into so much trouble… Not that I wouldn’t enjoy engaging in a little crime and punishment role play with Detective Roskam.”
A carved, Middle Eastern table not far from the cash desk would allow Landry to keep an eye on the register while he helped out Mr. Hot Detective. He dragged a couple of sturdy 1930s chairs down an aisle, setting them behind the table. He also directed the battered Anglepoise lamp on one corner of the cash desk toward the table to give a bit more light, because Mr. Lao kept the place in semi-darkness in the hope that some of the customers wouldn’t look too closely at what they were buying.
There were a few people browsing the aisles and Landry rang up a purchase for a young couple who’d found a pressed-glass art deco vase for a parent’s birthday. He’d just finished wrapping it, having been careful to preserve the sheet of tissue with Gage’s number on it, when Gage returned carrying a cardboard tray of coffee and a paper bag. Landry eyed them, happy to see they came from the café next door. He wished his departing customers well then made a grab for the bag, poking his nose inside to find two sizeable brownies, double chocolate chip cookies and two white chocolate and blueberry muffins.
“Color me impressed,” Landry muttered around a mouthful of brownie. “Oh my God, this is so good.”
“Anyone would think you hadn’t been fed for a week.” Gage set the coffees on the table. He slipped off his jacket and hung it on the back of one of the chairs.
Landry couldn’t help but admire the way his shirt pulled tight across his broad chest. The man is fit! I would pay good dollars to take a peek beneath that cotton. “Hey, don’t judge. I woke up late because I forgot to set my alarm and didn’t have time for breakfast. Normally I’d sneak next door, but Mr. Lao went out before I got the chance and I can’t leave this place unattended. He has spies everywhere and he’d know, even if I only locked up for five minutes. There’s a kettle in the back but he only keeps tea. Tea! The man is deranged. He thinks coffee belongs in satanic rituals. There’s something seriously wrong with him. He bought the kettle in England when he was there on a buying trip and now he gets tea sent over every few months because he fell in love with some brand he can’t buy here.”
“Have you finished?” Gage sat down, adjusting the chair so he could stretch out his legs, crossing them at the ankles.
“Why, do you have somewhere more interesting to be?” Landry pouted.
“I’m pretty sure I could find somewhere less frustrating to spend time.” Gage handed over one of the coffees. “Here’s your concoction.”
“I suppose you think it’s unmanly to drink anything but strong black stuff.” Landry removed the lid of his cup and breathed in the sweet aroma. “You should try this. It might improve your temper.”
Gage took one of the cookies from the bag. “I’m plenty sweet enough for you.”
“Is that so? And what makes you think I’m interested in sweet men?”
“I’d guess that’s the last thing you’re interested in, or need. A brat like you requires a firm hand.”
From Gage’s tone, Landry guessed he’d be more than happy to provide that hand. “And there you go again with the inappropriate comments. Don’t you have some pictures to show me?”
“We can pick up the discussion about your need for discipline later, when I’m off duty.” Gage put his phone on the table. “Swipe left. Stop if you see something you recognize. It’s a work phone, not personal, so don’t get excited.”
An array of antiques danced in front of Landry’s eyes as he scrolled through Gage’s extensive gallery of pictures. Oil paintings followed porcelain followed furniture and jewelry. “I don’t recognize anything…” Landry kept scrolling but much of the inventory was far too high-end for Mr. Lao. “Some of this stuff is absolutely gorgeous. The boss comes up with some great pieces, but this is way beyond his budget. Wait…” Landry went back to the picture of a gold and amethyst necklace. Dating from the early 1900s, it looked familiar. “This one… The lighting isn’t great but I think we might have this. Oh God, is the boss in trouble?” His heart fell. Mr. Lao had been good to him.
“Can you lay your hands on it?” Gage asked.
“Sure. Just give me a minute.” Landry shoved his chair back. Most of the decent jewelry was kept in a locked cabinet in the far corner of the store, behind two bookcases full of first editions. Mr. Lao always stashed stock that might tempt a smash and grab in the least accessible parts of the shop. Shimmying his way between teetering piles of furniture, Landry took the cabinet’s key from his pocket. The necklace was on the bottom shelf, nestling on the black velvet lining of its leather-covered box. Seeing it again, Landry knew it was identical to the one in the picture. He took it from its place, relocked the cabinet then dragged his feet a bit getting back to Gage. “Here it is.”
“That’s the one.” Gage pushed the box back to Landry before taking a huge bite of muffin. “These aren’t bad.”
“Not bad? What are you talking about? I just outed my boss as a jewel thief and all you’re interested in is a muffin.” Landry grabbed his coffee and took a long swig, wishing it contained a splash of rum.
“A small test of your honesty.”
“You’re making no sense whatsoever.” Landry felt like stamping his foot but made do with scowling.
“I seeded the photographs with legal items from the various shops I’ve been visiting. If you hadn’t picked it out, I would have suspected your motives. A colleague of mine took a picture of the necklace a few days ago.”
Landry gaped. “You… You… Pain in the ass! You could have given me a heart attack.”
Gage chuckled. “It was worth it to see your face. Did you know your earlobes go pink when you’re nervous?”
“They do not!” Landry pulled on one soft lobe. “And quit looking at my ears, you freak.” He sat down, groping in the paper bag for a cookie. “After that, you owe me coffee and baked goods every day this week.”
“Wanna see me again, huh?”
“You can just drop them off.” Unaccustomed to the shy, awkward feeling he was experiencing, Landry picked at the chocolate chips in his cookie.
“I don’t think so. We need to go out on a date so I can explain to you how relationships between Dominants and submissives work.”
“I haven’t seen you around the local scene… How did you find out?”
“Research. You’d be surprised how much I know about you.”
“Have you been following me?”
“On and off over the last few weeks. The department has been keeping tabs on antique store staff across the city. I took a special interest in you after hearing about some of the places you frequent. Fond of leather and latex, aren’t you?” Gage lifted his coffee in a toast.
“I… Maybe?” Landry scuffed the toe of his sneaker against the parquet flooring. “Are you really a Dom, or just playing?”
“Through and through the genuine article.”
Landry pictured Gage in full leather regalia. His mouth dried and his cock jerked. He didn’t know where to put himself.
“What time do you close on Saturday?”
“You’re the detective. You work it out.”
“I hope you enjoy standing, because by the time I’m done with your rebellious ass, you won’t want to sit on it. I’ll pick you up here at closing time.” Gage pushed his chair back, not waiting for a response. He strolled through the store like he owned the place.
Shell-shocked, Landry watched him go, wondering what had just happened. He shook his head. “No way he’s gonna show.” He grabbed the bag of leftover treats to take back to the counter along with his half-finished coffee. “More’s the pity.”