It was the day before my birthday, and Alex and I were stuck in undercover hell.
I might even think that the Bureau was screwing with us, but if they were, I couldn't figure out why.
I mean, if we'd been made, something more monumental should have occurred.
As it was, we'd simply been sent on another case.
A minor, inconsequential case that involved long hours, hard work, and a lot of time around some unsavory characters.
And maybe that's not really so different than a lot of other cases we'd done, except that this time we were working in conjunction with the NYPD.
Only the department didn't know it.
We'd been tasked with the assignment of busting open an operation that was bringing in untaxed alcohol.
Like I said, I would think that the Bureau would have bigger fish to fry, but apparently this particular subheading of racketeering was a popular crime and one that the newest director of the FBI had declared war upon.
So I was back to being a bouncer. Standing tall, throwing my weight around, keeping an eye out for weapons, and trying to look like a bad ass.
And Alex was a waitress. Very short shorts, tight shirt, serving copious amounts of alcohol to men who then wanted to cop a feel, and constantly reminding me that she could handle herself.
See what I mean? Undercover hell.
Alex said that the only saving grace was that the required footwear was tennis shoes, but I wasn't sure that comfortable shoes made up for the amount of times she had to tolerate a hand on her ass.
In fact, I'm sure it didn't.
Although I always made a point of having a chat with grabby customers, just to make sure they knew that the wait staff was not on the menu.
We'd been working this particular job for two weeks.
On our third night, Alex had spotted two members of Vice, so that's how we knew that the department was running a sting, too.
One of their guys was a bartender, and the other was another waitress.
They didn't seem to recognize Alex, so our cover wasn't blown, but it was like having two roosters in the hen house.
We'd reported to Maas as soon as we made their undercovers, but he'd directed us to keep working the case.
We didn't mention them to Stahl, mostly out of loyalty to the department.
Whoever got enough evidence first could make the bust as far as I was concerned.
Either way, the guys running the bar and bringing in bootleg liquor were going to end up in jail.
Time would tell whether it was federal or state.
The past six weeks had flown by and I felt like Alex and I were making good progress with the Ross case.
And to be honest, with our personal lives as well.
She'd thrown me for a loop, that night out on the pier, both by her insecurity with our relationship and by her interest in making love in public.
But I'd been more than happy to accommodate her needs, in both aspects.
And I'd meant what I said.
I didn't feel any need to get married, but not because I wasn't sure about her.
More because I didn't put much stock in the institution itself.
But I knew for a fact that I didn't want anyone but her. So if she wanted me to commit legally, then I would in a second.
But she didn't. Apparently she felt the same way that I did about it.
So we'd been working this case, trying to worm our way into the good graces of the bar manager so that we might learn information about their suppliers.
We usually worked until two or three in the morning, and then we'd go home and keep working the phone records from 1PP.
Maas had brought us another data stick at the last meeting, this one containing employees' personal phone records.
I hadn't asked how he'd gotten it, but I was grateful because so far the business lines had come up clean.
Although it was hard to be sure.
We spent a lot of time on payphones, placing calls to cell phones just to see who answered.
It was a needle in a haystack, but I was sure that the needle was there somewhere, so we kept looking.
"Alex!" I heard the bartender shouted loudly above the din. "You're backing up!"
I glanced across the room and saw that Alex was encircled by a group of drunken construction workers.
She'd apparently been serving their drinks when three of them came back from the bathroom and so they were now standing behind her, keeping her pinned in between them and the table.
I moved quickly toward them, mentally berating myself for not seeing her dilemma sooner.
I was going to have a talk with the bartender, too. He'd been yelling at her for not picking up the drinks that he had ready for her customers, but he should've looked to see the cause of the hold up.
"You're going to want to step back right now," I said firmly as I put a hand on the shoulder of the closest man.
But the words had barely left my mouth when Alex let loose with a punch on the man nearest to her, sending him flying back into his buddy and both men went down to the ground.
The men who were still sitting erupted into laughter at the sight of their friends going down from her punch. I deemed them mostly harmless and instead focused on the other three.
"Are you okay?" I asked Alex as I grabbed onto the shirt front of the one man still standing.
"Yeah," she replied with a sharp nod.
"Hey, we were just messing around," said the guy I was holding.
"Well, mess around somewhere else," I told him. "Get out. Now."
"She hit me!" complained the guy who'd been punched. He was slowly getting to his feet, as was the one who'd been flattened by his friend.
"And she did a damn good job of it too," I retorted. He had blood coming from his nose at an impressive rate. "Now get the hell out of here before she hits you again."
"You're kicking us out? What about her?"
I grabbed the man by the arm and shoved him in the direction of the door. His friends went willingly, but he seemed to feel the need to recoup some of his pride after being felled by a woman.
But I had him by at least six inches and fifty pounds, not to mention the fact that I was pissed off that he'd done something worthy of that type of reaction from her, so I had no trouble hauling him out of the bar.
Once I got him to the doorway, I gave him a hard shove out onto the sidewalk.
"Don't come back," I told him firmly.
I turned to find my boss standing behind me.
"Yeah, sorry. They…um…they were giving Alex a hard time."
"I know. But it looked to me like she was handling it. And you kicked them out before they paid their bill."
I took a deep breath, reining in my temper as I looked over his shoulder to find Alex.
She'd gone back to work, carrying a tray of drinks to another table, but she was watching me.
She gave me a reassuring nod to let me know that she was okay and so I returned my focus to my boss.
"I'm sorry. I'll cover it."
"I know you will," he said. He held my gaze for a minute and then he relaxed. "Come on. Take a break for a minute. Lou can watch the door."
I followed him behind the bar and through a door into a back office. He closed the door behind us and then sat down at his desk and pulled out a bottle of whiskey.
"Sit down, Bobby. You're wound up like a fucking top."
I sat down and then took the offered glass of whiskey.
"I know that you and Alex are a thing, but you can't be going off on every guy who grabs her ass. You got me?"
"Yeah, Tony," I agreed.
I mean, I didn't agree, but I also couldn't let myself get fired.
Because what if the feds insisted that the undercover continue with just Alex?
There was no way I wanted her working in this place without me here to keep an eye on her.
And yeah, she'd probably punch me for such a caveman-like thought, but still…this place was rough.
"Because I can't afford having someone call the cops on us. Are you hearing what I'm saying?"
I nodded and tried not to show that he had suddenly piqued my interest. I tossed back the whiskey and set my empty glass on his desk.
"It won't happen again."
"Good. You're a good guy, Bobby. I'd like to think that maybe I can trust you, but I'm not sure."
"You can trust me, Tony."
He continued to stare at me as he pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He offered me one and I took it, even though it had been awhile since I'd smoked. I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to bond with him.
"Then I've got a job for you," he told me.
"Sure, boss. What is it?"
"I think maybe Rudy is blue. Are you feeling me, Bobby?"
"Uh, yeah. But…I don't know about that."
"Lou caught him in here yesterday. Can you look into it for me? If he's five-o, I need to know."
I was having a hard time keeping my features schooled.
This guy was clueless.
Not only was he asking an undercover federal agent to look into the possibility that another employee might be an undercover cop, but he was doing so on the word of the guy who actually was the cop.
Rudy was clean.
Lou was the cop.
But it had been smart of Lou to throw suspicion onto someone else, and I sure as hell wasn't going to ruin the game, so I agreed to keep a close eye on Rudy.
Tony shook my hand, poured me a second shot, and then sent me on my way.
"You can leave early tonight," he told me as I headed for the door. "Lou can close up."
"It's okay," I argued. "I don't mind."
"I'll let Alex go, too," he said with a smile.
So I went back to my post near the door.
Tony obviously had something to hide, but he hadn't given me any indication as to what just yet.
But I'd earned his trust. So it was only a matter of time before he'd let me in on his little secret.
"Tony said that I can leave in an hour," Alex said as she slipped up behind me. "And don't ask about that other thing, okay?"
"I can ask later though, right?"
She flashed me a smile and reached up to kiss me on the cheek.
"No. Because we're going to celebrate your birthday tonight. I don't want to risk having something come up tomorrow."
"Celebrate? What did you have in mind? I don't usually…"
"I know," she said. "But trust me, okay?"
"You have to ask?"
"Alex!" Rudy shouted.
I was really going to have a talk with that guy.
And hell, maybe I'd tell Tony that he was a cop.
An hour later, Alex and I left the bar together. We walked quietly for a few blocks, and then we stopped and she hailed a cab.
"Where are we going?" I asked her as I climbed into the backseat with her.
She handed the cabbie a piece of paper, presumably with the address of our destination. I didn't push her on the issue because she seemed to be enjoying having a secret, so instead, I told her about what had happened with Tony.
"That's good then," she said. "And I got the chance to snoop around in the back a little bit tonight, too."
"What did you find?"
"It looks like he's pulling the shipping labels off the liquor that he's bringing in, but one of the boxes had a small corner still intact. I was able to get the first few letters of each line on the return address," she said as she pulled a slip of paper from her pocket.
The action brought my attention to the tiny shorts that she was wearing and I momentarily forgot all about the case.
Instead, I ran my hand over the expanse of visible thigh.
"Bobby," she said in amusement. "Do you want to see what I got?"
"Yes, I very much want to see what you've got," I replied, not remotely referring to the piece of paper.
I shifted in the seat and moved my hand up along her side, brushing lightly against the side of her breast before I continued upward and settled my hand on the side of her neck.
I brought my lips to hers and lost myself in the moment. I didn't want to think about racketeering or undercover operations or the feds or the department.
I just wanted her.
I didn't stop kissing her until the cab came to a stop.
"Thirteen-fifty," the driver said blandly, pretending that we hadn't been making out throughout the course of the drive.
I pulled a twenty from my pocket and got out of the car without waiting for change.
"We're going to Logan's?" I asked as I looked around the neighborhood.
She took my hand and started walking, but didn't respond.
How sad was it that I was excited by the prospect?
A night without observation would be a pretty damn good birthday present.
He buzzed us in and we went up to his apartment, where he met us at the front door.
"Oh my God," he said slowly as he got a good look at Alex.
I hadn't thought about the fact that he didn't even know about our current case, much less had he seen her in the waitress get-up.
In fact, I had no doubt that he'd never seen her in such revealing clothing.
"Not a word," she said to him as she walked past him into his apartment.
He just grinned and looked at me, then back at her.
"And you can quit staring any time," I added.
"Sorry," he said quickly and unrepentantly. He closed the door behind us and followed me as I headed for his kitchen, which was where Alex had gone. "It's just...wow. So…um…I guess you guys are working another case, huh? I bet they love you two. Not everyone could pull off that look."
And my smart retort to him was lost when I saw Alex standing in the kitchen, holding a birthday cake. There were lit candles on it, and for a moment, I was too choked up to say anything.
"You…you got me a cake?" I asked at last.
Not really the most astute thing to say, but it was all I seemed capable of producing.
I couldn't remember the last time I'd had a cake on my birthday.
"Well, it is your birthday, right? I mean, tomorrow, but…" she paused and glanced at the clock on the wall. It was eleven-thirty. "Well, it's almost tomorrow."
"Make a wish and blow them out before you set the damn place on fire," Logan said with a grin.
But I didn't need to make a wish.
Everything I wanted was standing right in front of me.