Riley + Sunglasses + Undercover - Chapter 7 - refinedbuffoonery (2024)

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Riley was vaguely aware of Mac turning off the shower as she muted her comms and pulled her hair out of her face between waves of nausea. His soft “Holy sh*t” barely even registered over her own voice in her head, replaying the conversation with Petrov.

Call off your dogs and let us and everyone else leave the hotel, and in exchange I will return your locket and won’t expose you as a fraud.

Over and over and over again, her mind replayed the moment where she’d threatened to throw him out the window and watch him splatter on the ground.

And if I don’t agree?

Then I will use my recording of this conversation to clone your voice and command your men to stand down myself before throwing your useless body out the window and taking bets on which direction your blood will spray when you splatter on the pavement.

Unwillingly, she pictured doing just that. While falling, Petrov flailed his arms and legs, like if he just tried hard enough, he could grab onto thin air and save himself. He landed on the concrete like a wet sock.

The mental image made Riley puke again, bile burning her throat.

She’d liked it. The thrill of power, the high-stakes challenge, the adrenaline rush while threatening Petrov. For ten minutes, she was the kind of woman who could stand her ground against Matty the Hun. Riley understood now why Matty fed her reputation as a cold-hearted bitch. A persona like that was brutal, but effective. Riley liked wearing that mask, and that scared the sh*t out of her more than anything else.

Mac stroked her spine, murmuring “You’re safe. I’ve got you.” His touch didn’t electrify her. It didn’t send her pulse racing and make her breathing uneven. Instead, his touch was soothing, relaxing--grounding her in reality.

When there was nothing left in her stomach, she wiped her mouth and flushed the toilet. Mortification creeped over her as she realized Mac was kneeling beside her wearing a towel. Wearing only a towel.

“I’m sorry,” she stammered. She needed to get out of there. God, she needed to get out of there right f*cking now because the worry creasing his face and his lack of clothes and the fact that she’d just threatened to murder someone in cold blood and kind of liked it was too much to handle all at once.

Mac looked at her intently, completely not caring that he was practically naked. “What happened?” She looked away instead of answering. ”Riley?”

Riley spied his earpiece sitting on the counter--confirmation he had no idea what she’d said to Petrov. “Mac, I...the person I was in there...she was terrifying. And the worst part was the longer I was her, the easier it was. I liked being her, and then it got out of control.” She met his eyes. Whatever he saw in her face hit him like a punch to the gut; he sucked in a breath and momentarily froze. His reaction vanished in a flash, but Riley didn’t miss it. God, what did he think of her right now?

As if in answer, Mac pulled her into a hug, strong arms holding her steady. “It’s over,” he cooed. “You did what you had to do.” The second his arms wrapped around her, Riley felt all the tension begin to drain from her body, a shuddering sigh escaping her lips in relief. Tears rolled down her cheeks. Riley buried her face in his neck, arms weakly raising so she could cling to his broad, surprisingly cool shoulders. She didn’t have the energy to wonder why his skin was so cold.

Riley focused on the feeling of his hands on her body--one squeezing her waist, the other pressed below her shoulder. It felt as though Mac was the only thing stopping the world from dropping out from under her, sending her plummeting into an abyss of things she didn’t necessarily want to confront.

There was something extremely intimate about sitting on the bathroom floor with Mac that had nothing to do with feelings or the fact that he was essentially naked. Intimacy had nothing to do with sex, and it had everything to do with truth. Being able to tell someone her truth, show someone her most vulnerable self, and their response was You’re safe. I’ve got you.-- that was intimacy. Riley didn’t hesitate to let Mac see her at her most vulnerable. And when faced with her vulnerability, Mac tucked her into his chest and reminded her she didn’t have to deal with sh*t alone. He wasn’t great at verbal reassurances, but Riley didn’t mind. All she needed was for him to just be there.

I love you, she thought. Almost as if he were responding, Mac pressed a light kiss to her bare shoulder. They’d broken so many boundaries already that night she didn't think twice about it. It just felt right.

Taking in a shaky breath, Riley let the scent of expensive soap and Mac fill her lungs as she fully leaned into him, trusting him to support her no matter what.

“How did you get the scar on your right arm?” he asked after a few minutes of soothing silence. She knew what he was doing. Riley welcomed the distraction.

“Which one?”

“On your forearm, below your elbow. I felt it earlier.”

She finally pulled away. “Oh, that one. I burnt myself while straightening my hair a couple weeks ago. Turns out hot tools and earthquakes are not a good combination.” Her joke fell flat, but Mac had the decency to smile anyway.

That stupid smile. That stupid smile on his stupid handsome face with his stupid chiseled jaw and his stupid blue eyes. She looked away.

Stupid.

Stupid.

Stupid.

Mac’s hand slid down her back, a brief, light touch. It was nothing more than a simple I’m here. Even though it was meant to be friendly and supportive, it set her every nerve on fire. Mac’s hand fell away too quickly, as if he didn’t intend to touch her at all.

She could still feel his lips from their last kiss.

For five minutes, he was just her best friend, but now those pesky feelings were back, full force. She didn’t know enough biology to explain the pain in one’s chest when all they wanted was to be with someone. All she knew was that it hurt. A lot. Those little touches transformed from her lifeline to her destruction.

Riley glanced back at him and found Mac studying her. There was a softness in his eyes that wasn’t normally there. Just enough to make her wonder...no. He didn’t like her like that. Didn’t want her like that.

Regardless, the look reminded her that she owed him an apology. “I’m sorry I snapped earlier. You can call me ‘Riles.’” She missed the nickname.

“Okay.” He cupped her cheek, fingertips tangling in her thick hair. She fought the urge to lean into his touch. “What do you need right now, Riles?” It was too much. The look in his eyes, the hand gently cradling her face--he did everything right, and it was all too much, and something inside her snapped. It might’ve been her heart.

“I need you to stop looking at me like you want me, because we both know you don’t.”

He recoiled as if she’d slapped him in the face. Clearly she’d hurt him, but she didn’t care. The stolen glances, standing too close, holding doors open for her and only her--stuff they’d done for years--all of it needed to stop. What used to be normal was now a cruel trick. The universe laughed while it played her for a fool.

She loved him more than she’d ever loved anyone, and he only saw her as a friend, or worse, a sibling.

Riley stood and walked to the sink to rinse her mouth out, snatching the tiny bottle of mouthwash on the counter. In the mirror, she watched Mac scramble to his feet, barely catching his towel before it slipped.

“Riles--”

She spat the mouthwash into the sink, the taste of bile mercifully gone. “For f*ck’s sake Mac, put your pants on.” Riley threw the empty mouthwash bottle into the trash with too much force and stormed out of the bathroom. She heard the frantic rustle of fabric as Mac got dressed. He’d be out in seconds.

She needed to commit to breaking her heart now. Stringing herself along on false hope was destroying her. Her feelings were unrequited, end of story. She was stupid to think them finding themselves alone in a hotel room would turn out the way she wanted it to. She and Mac might act like more than friends, but they were, in fact, just friends with very few boundaries.

He practically ran out of the bathroom, footsteps muffled by the carpet. “Riley, what is going on?” Mac grabbed her wrist and spun her to face him.

“Let go of me,” she growled. He released her wrist immediately. It was unfair, she knew, to direct all the anger she felt at herself toward him, but she did it anyway.

“Is it because I kissed you? I know you said it was okay, but if it wasn’t I need you to tell me, Riles.” He sounded like he was on the verge of panic.

Maybe it was his tone, or the wild look in his eyes, but something about him in that moment pushed her over the edge, sending her plummeting past the point of no return.

“No.” Riley couldn’t stop the words tumbling out of her mouth. “It’s because I want you to do it again.”

**********

I want you to do it again.

She put it all out there, clear as day. And Mac didn’t register it until it was too late. Until she was scrambling away from him as fast as she could.

sh*t. sh*t. sh*t. sh*t. sh*t. sh*t. sh*t. sh*t. sh*t. sh*t. sh*t.

Every time he looked at her, Mac couldn’t stop thinking about how much he wanted her. Wanted to be with her, in every way possible. Her eyes said she was feeling it too.

Those f*cking eyes. Beautiful, but annihilating. A bridge from his soul to hers.

I want you to do it again. Words he never thought he’d actually hear come out of her mouth. Voice barely above a whisper, he said, “I want to do it again too.”

Everything stopped as soon as the words left his mouth. His heart. His lungs. The thoughts ricocheting in his brain. Maybe even time itself. All awaiting Riley’s response.

It felt like an eternity had passed before she answered. “What?” she said softly, unbelieving.

“I want to kiss you again. And again. And a thousand times after that.” It took every ounce of his self control not to just grab her and kiss her until she forgot her own damn name, but he needed her to come to him.

Riley inched forward. “Only a thousand?” Teasing. She was teasing.

“Millions. Trillions. Or, until either you’re sick of me or I die trying.”

“I could never be sick of you.” She was close enough now that Mac could feel her breath on his lips.

“Guess I’ll just have to die trying then.” He gripped her hands and squeezed before grazing his fingers along her arms. She gasped. Mac flashed back to earlier, at the auction, when he grazed the exposed skin in the middle of her back. So that’s what it took to make her gasp like that again. With painstaking gentleness, he held her face with both hands.

“Can I kiss you?” Riley nodded. A nod wasn’t confirmation enough. Not right now. He prompted, “I need you to say the word.”

“Yes.”

He leaned in slowly, savoring the precious, electrically-charged moment before their lips met. Her perpetually cold hands gripped his bare waist, and for a few seconds Mac forgot how to breathe. He’d loved Riley for years, but in the last few months the switch finally flipped and he was desperately, undeniably in love with her. She was his best friend, his partner in crime (sometimes literally), his confidant, his ally. She was the ground wire to his circuit. She was Hope when his was lost, Courage when he wavered. She was the person who, above all others, he could trust, and together every challenge could be overcome, every problem could be solved.

Mac traced her lips with his thumb until he couldn’t resist any longer, tilting her chin up for the kiss. He stared at those soft, greedy lips he’d thought about far too often before moving closer brushing his nose against hers, as if drawn together by some unseen force. He’d felt that gravitational pull toward her for weeks, and now that pull solidified into an invisible string connecting them. He pulled back a fraction of an inch, just enough to meet those entrancing brown eyes of hers, and the instant he did, Mac knew he would follow her to the end of the earth.

Slowly, he slid one hand into her hair, thick dark curls tangling between his fingers. Riley leaned into his touch, and he held her gaze and smiled, tucking a curl behind her ear. Finally, for real this time, Mac kissed her, soft and uncertain. She smiled against his mouth, and it wrecked him. Utterly, completely wrecked him. Mac’s whole body ignited. He laced his fingers deeper into her hair as she pulled his body against hers.

Mac memorized everything about this moment: the feeling of her lips on his, the sweet smell of her perfume, the way her nails just barely dug into his back. There was no lust behind it, not like before, just affection, tenderness, and safety.

Pure, undiluted love.

Of course, that was the exact moment Bozer chose to check in on Riley over comms. Mac had never wanted to murder his best friend more than he did in that moment. Somehow, Riley managed to unmute her comms and explain that she was okay and just needed a minute. Mac didn’t know how she did it. Words were utterly foreign to him.

She muted her comms again. “Now, where were we?” Her eyes glittered.

Riley curved her hand around the back of his neck and pulled him down to her, their mouths meeting again in a searing clash of lips and tongue and teeth. It was passionate, hungry, desperate. Their bodies wound together, each with a hand in the other’s hair, deepening the kiss and pulling the other impossibly closer. Fireworks flashed on the backs of Mac’s eyelids, and lightning coursed through his veins, but at the same time, kissing Riley was relaxing and reassuring, like being wrapped up in her was the safest place in the world.

The kiss lasted forever and ended too soon.

Riley pulled away first. Mac gripped her waist to stop her and pull her in for another kiss but paused when he beheld the searching look in her eyes. Her eyes flitted about, and her expression was a mix of delight and confusion edged in hunger.

For a brief second, he entertained the thought of that hungry part of her coming out to play. Dude, slow down, the little part of his brain still capable of logic chastised. He focused, waiting for her to say the words she was trying to form.

"We should go before Bozer starts asking too many questions," she finally said. Well that wasn’t what he wanted to hear.

"Bozer needs to stop being such a helicopter parent."

Riley snorted. "Then he wouldn't be Bozer, would he." Fair enough. She gave him a playful shove. "Put the rest of your clothes on so we can go."

He wanted to talk about the kiss. He wanted to talk about what the kiss meant, but Mac got the impression that Riley wasn’t ready to have that conversation yet.

Mac retreated into the bathroom to finish getting dressed. He glanced back at Riley, only to find her already staring. Their eyes met, and she looked away.

Clothes back on, he crossed the suite to where Riley stood gazing out a window, having finally given up shamelessly ogling his body. Reaching for her hand, Mac followed her line of sight to the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean in the distance. “Ready?” he asked. She nodded once and smiled, letting him lead her out of the suite.

Without letting go of her hand, Mac opened the door for Riley, and found himself face to face with two well-groomed men in nice suits, each pointing a gun at Riley’s chest.

“Whoa there! I think you guys have the wrong room,” Mac said, squeezing himself beside Riley. One of the guns now pointed at his chest.

The man on the right sneered at Riley. “Oh, I think we’ve got the right one. Isn’t that right, Danika?” He stepped closer, pressing the gun underneath her chin. “Or should I call you Riley?”

Beside him, Riley paled. Well, sh*t.

**********

Desi was out of the room before Bozer could even blink. He scrambled after her, catching the door before it slammed behind her.

Bozer stepped into the hallway just in time to watch Desi bash Petrov’s men’s heads together, sending them tumbling onto the floor. They never saw her coming. She stood over their unconscious bodies with a triumphant smile on her face. Death incarnate dressed up like a Barbie doll, Bozer thought.

Mac and Riley stood frozen for a second, mouths gaping, before Riley’s lips curled into a wicked grin and she snarked, “Damn, I should give you a raise.”

Wordlessly, Desi strode down the hall and pressed the elevator button.

“Where are you going?” Bozer asked.

Desi grabbed the closest man by his ankles and dragged him to the elevator. “Sending the dogs back to their master.”

The elevator arrived--empty, luckily--and Desi dragged the man inside. Mac and Riley lugged the other one in behind her. Desi pressed the buttons for every floor and stepped back out, waving at the bodies as the doors slid shut.

“So who’s going to tell Matty?” Riley asked. Unsurprisingly, no one volunteered.

“Loser makes the call.” Bozer held out a fist.

The problem with settling matters via “Rock Paper Scissors” was that the game had nearly the same outcome every time. As usual, Mac lost, but only because everyone else cheated. Mac always played “rock” on the first round, so the rest of the team played “paper,” and Mac was declared the supreme loser. It only got messy when someone played “scissors” just to f*ck sh*t up. That someone was usually Desi.

In their hotel suite, Mac looked like he wanted to die on the spot while Matty chewed him out for using Riley’s real name while they were undercover. He’d confessed that after the meeting with Petrov, he and Riley had a not-quiet argument that Petrov or his men must’ve overheard somehow.

Mac and Riley didn’t seem to be upset with each other now, so Bozer wondered what they fought about. Riley even gave Mac a quick shoulder squeeze and a grim, knowing look that set off warning bells in Bozer’s brain that something changed between them.

After further deliberation, Bozer realized that he’d never known his friends to raise their voices at each other and fight. He’d witnessed many full-blown screaming matches between Mac and Desi, but never with Riley.

Bozer didn’t know what to make of that.

Desi and Riley changed into pajamas (bless fake-vacation ops) while Mac was on the phone and decided to check the other room for bugs, in case Petrov somehow managed to plant one while he was in there. Now alone with Mac, Bozer decided to do a little investigating of his own.

He didn’t waste any time beating around the bush. “So, what’s going on with you and Riley?” Bozer knew Riley had feelings, and he was pretty sure Mac did too, although he didn’t have explicit confirmation.

“What do you mean?”

Bozer decided to play dumb. “You two have been acting weird ever since we got here, and now you got into a fight that led to your covers being blown? Something’s up.”

Mac shot him an exasperated look. “Dude, I know you know more than you’re letting on. Out with it.”

“My information is not mine to tell.” He paused. “What happened in the other room, Mac?”

“I kissed her,” Mac confessed with a sigh.

“And?”

“And she kissed me back.”

Bozer was excited for them--he really was--but he was also worried. Mac still hadn’t fully dealt with everything that transpired in the last year, and Bozer worried he’d keep using a relationship to hide from it. And if he did that, then Mac may very well do to Riley what he did to Desi.

And if Mac and Riley ever ended things badly...Bozer would have a front row seat watching two high-speed trains derailing, and there would be little he could do about the near catastrophic destruction.

“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” Bozer asked gently.

Mac looked taken aback. “Why wouldn’t I be? She’s everything I want.”

“Mac, I just think you should take a little more time for yourself before diving into another relationship.”

Frowning, he argued, “Why? If you think part of me is still hung-up on Desi, you are clearly mistaken.” Well, f*ck. This was going to suck.

“That’s not what I meant.” Mac narrowed his eyes, waiting. “Can you honestly tell me that you’ve fully dealt with everything that happened with Codex and your dad?”

Mac opened his mouth to defend himself, but nothing came out.

“What I’m saying is that I think you need to take more time to get your sh*t together before going all in with Riley. Otherwise, you’re risking letting that kind of stuff get in between you.” And drive you apart, like it did with you and Desi, Bozer refrained from adding. “You need to deal with it, but you don’t have to do it alone. You have me, and you have Riley. And I know there are some things that I will never understand, like stuff with your dad, but she does.” He took a deep breath. “Let someone in, Mac. Let her in. The allure of banging her brains out is strong, I know, but you’ve got to build that solid foundation first.” Bozer grinned.” And make it out of real, reinforced concrete, not the ruined, crumbly stuff we made as a prank in eighth grade.”

Mac chuckled. “Thank you. I appreciate your concern, Boze, but I’m fine, really.” Bozer didn’t believe him for a second. “Besides, I can’t do that to Riley. I can’t turn around and rip it away from her like that.” No, that conversation would not be pretty.

“At the end of the day, it’s your choice. I just don’t want you to have any regrets.”

Mac pulled him in for a hug. “I know,” he said. Quieter, he added, “Believe me, I know.”

**********

It was a little after two am, and all Riley wanted to do was sleep. The auction felt so long ago, yet it had only been seven eventful hours ago.

She let Desi explain that they’d found a bug in the other room, on the underside of the door handle. Petrov must’ve placed it when he let himself out. Riley cursed herself for being too caught up in Mac to consider a small detail like that.

“Well, we’ll deal with it in the morning,” Mac said, looking just as guilty as she felt. “We all need sleep.” Riley nodded in agreement. She glanced at Mac, then Bozer, then Desi, then back to Mac again, knowing the others were doing the same. It was the first step in their “who’s sleeping where” routine.

Riley didn’t have enough energy to battle for a good spot to sleep, so she pulled rank instead. “My op, my bed,” she announced. Without waiting for a response, she unceremoniously plopped on top of the fluffy duvet and closed her eyes.

After a few minutes of squabbling that Riley didn’t bother paying attention to, someone slid into bed beside her. She cracked her eyes open just enough to see Desi rearranging the pillows.

One of the boys turned the lights off, forcing Riley to finally crawl under the covers. She curled up on her side with her back to Desi.

Sleep beckoned, but her brain was still buzzing too loudly to slip into blissful unconsciousness. Riley tried to turn it off, focusing on her breathing instead. With each exhale, she felt herself sink into the mattress, one body part at a time--first her feet, then calves, thighs, hips, torso, arms, shoulders, neck, head. She took one last deep breath and felt her whole body relax, becoming one with the bed. Her brain quieted at last.

Across the bed, Desi whispered, “Are you okay?”

Truthfully, Riley had no idea. She’d had such a rollercoaster of a night that she barely knew which way was up anymore. On the bright side, things seemed to be working out with Mac. But, at the same time, the consequences of being with Mac--Desi getting kidnapped, Mac accidentally blowing her cover--nagged at her.

“I will be.” A true but vague answer.

“For what it’s worth,” Desi said, “I saw you under the mask. Kind, brave, wickedly smart you. I know you scared the sh*t out of yourself, just as much as you scared Petrov, but you didn’t scare me. You were more in control than you think. And besides, I wouldn’t have let you cross a line you couldn’t uncross.”

Riley didn’t have words to respond, so she just reached across the mattress and found Desi’s outstretched hand. The woman slept like a starfish, taking up way more than her half of the bed. Riley squeezed her hand, and after a second, Desi squeezed back.

Her last thought before drifting off was that maybe she and Desi could be friends after all.

Riley + Sunglasses + Undercover - Chapter 7 - refinedbuffoonery (2024)
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