A tiny bell tinkled when Bas pushed open the door and the sound of heavy metal Christmas music could be heard playing softly from the shop's sound system. Holding back the urge to wince, Sebastian Marchetti closed the door of Got Ink, Forza, California's only tattoo shop. He hadn't taken more than two steps inside when two people emerged from the back of the shop and rushed at him with all the frenetic energy of two puppies.
Now, Bas actually did wince. He'd retired from the Air Force a few years back but his husband and flying partner took an evil delight in still calling him by his former call sign "Babe."
Grinning widely, Ryder Beckett-Marchetti came to a halt beside a chair with a pneumatic lift. Bas's niece Haley continued on, throwing her arms around him in a quick hug which he returned, a reluctant smile tugging up the corners of his mouth.
"I'm so glad you came," she told him as she spun away and reached for a box of latex gloves on the counter. "It's about time you got the family tattoo. Even Ryder beat you to it. Besides, it's been a while since you've been here for ink. Not since Tony bought you the Thunderbirds tattoo that matches Ryder's. Once you get the family ink, your arms will totally match your husband's."
As Haley snapped on a pair of latex gloves, Ryder spun the chair and wiggled his brows suggestively at Bas. "C'mon, Babe. You know you want the Flying Marchetti tattoo."
Bas stepped close to his lover, their bodies brushing. "You know what I want and it's got nothing to do with ink and needles and that damned tattoo my brother is so proud of," Bas growled, dipping his head a little so that his mouth hovered over Ryder's.
"Later. I promise you can have that later. After the ink."
Bas growled louder then pressed his mouth to Ryder's, taking his husband's lips in a bruising, but swift kiss before dropping himself into the pneumatic chair. Ryder turned and eyed Bas's splayed jean clad thighs hungrily, his mouth wet from the kiss. With a wicked smile, Bas rubbed his palms down his legs, watching as Ryder's hot gaze followed every movement. He shifted in the chair, lifting his pelvis a little as his jeans grew tight in the crotch.
"Fuck, Bas! You do not play fair," Ryder complained, his gaze never moving from the growing bulge.
Bas chuckled and reached out, catching Ryder's hand in his and threading their fingers together. "You don't play fair either, Flip. But I love you anyway."
"Gah!" Haley made a gagging sound as she set a tray on a rolling table next to the chair. "You two are the worst lovebirds ever. Is the bloom ever going to wear off on your romance?"
"Not if I have anything to say about it," Bas said, his gaze holding Ryder's. In the deep blue depths he saw his overwhelming love for his partner reflected back at him, colored with Ryder's own intense emotions. The familiar kick of his heart from Ryder's proximity had him sucking in a breath. He never tired of looking at his husband, never tired of being with him, and certainly never tired of loving him.
Haley pushed up the sleeve of Bas's t-shirt and began swabbing down his biceps. "The two of you could certainly give lessons on how to make a marriage work even in the most difficult of times," she said matter-of-factly. "I don't know how either of you survived in the Air Force . Our military hasn't been very nice to gays."
Bas and Ryder exchanged a private smile. They'd had a few bumps in the road when they'd first become lovers since Ryder had still been active duty at the time. However, they'd made solid plans after Ryder had been forced to eject from the jet he'd been testing. The resultant crash had scared Bas and made both men realize they hadn't made any provisions for the future. With wills, durable power of attorneys for healthcare, and assorted other legal documents in place, the pair had been married in Boston while the Flying Marchettis were performing in an air show there. Despite the fact that California didn't allow gays to marry, the state did recognize their Massachusetts marriage, something for which Bas and Ryder were grateful.
The Air Force had been something else altogether and keeping their relationship a secret from the military had been difficult. Fortunately for them, Ryder was stationed at Edwards Air Force Base as a test pilot, while Bas, who'd been newly retired, worked there as a civilian instructor at the test pilot school. They had a small clutch of close friends on the base who knew, yet didn't know, the true relationship between the two pilots who'd been living under the same roof almost from the day Ryder transferred to Edwards.
Since Bas's family had founded the tiny town of Forza near the base, the citizens of the town, mostly Bas's relatives, had been united in keeping their golden boys' true relationship a secret from outsiders. In fact, no one on the planet could have been more protective of Bas and Ryder than the Marchettis and the locals who worked for them in the various businesses in Forza. Now, the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy had been blasted all to hell. Too late for it to matter to Bas and Ryder, except in the sense that they were happy for all the gays who were still active duty.
As Haley got started transferring the tattoo pattern to Bas's biceps, Ryder leaned over his lover, watching her work.
"We both loved the Air Force, but we were pretty happy to retire when the time came," Bas told his niece.
"You two have balls of steel," she muttered as she worked. "First, you join the Air Force, knowing full well gays weren't tolerated. You head off to war zones and come home to test jets that aren't commissioned yet. You start living together then get married while one of you is still active duty. And then you have the balls to go back to work on base as flight instructors when you're not doing inversions with the Flying Marchettis."
She shook her head, sending strands of her purple hair flying. "Certifiable, I swear."
"Most fighter jocks are," Ryder informed her with a chuckle.
Ninety minutes later, the outline of the Flying Marchettis tattoo decorated Sebastian's upper arm. After it healed, Haley would begin coloring in the testosterone laden design. In another two sessions, Sebastian's arm would match Ryder's.
As they walked to Ryder's Mustang, Bas motioned toward the gray clouds scudding across the sky.
"Storm rolling in. Better put the top up."
They reached the classic car and worked together to get the convertible top up and in place before the rain came. Sudden rainstorms in the high desert could be vicious with several inches of rain coming down in a matter of minutes, flooding streets and sending water gushing through low lying areas that became flash flood zones. The wind was picking up but no rain drops accompanied it yet.
Bas stared at the ominous sky for a moment before he got in the passenger seat of the Mustang.
"Better hurry. If it comes down too quickly we could lose the end of our road to a flash flood," he warned his partner.
Ryder nodded and started the car. They both knew that the road on their property had a low spot where it met the main road. If the rain came down hard enough, the low area flooded, cutting them off from civilization unless they wanted to fly out. Their hangar and runway occupied the property's high ground. Neither of them minded their house being cut off from the main road as long as it happened after they got home. Being stuck in the mud and losing the Mustang to a flash flood while trying to make it to their house wasn't something they were willing to risk.
Luckily, the first few raindrops didn't hit the windshield until they were about a mile from their property. Ryder slowed the car as the road slicked and his phone rang. The display, mounted to the dashboard, showed that the call came from Ryan Beckett, Ryder's older brother who played hockey professionally. Bas reached out and pushed a button to accept the call and put it on speakerphone.
"Hey, Ryan. How's it going?" Bas asked, smiling. He'd long been a fan of Ryder's brother and had followed his career from the time he'd gone pro.
"Is Ryder there?"
Ryan's voice sounded thick and strained with a husky unnatural tone. Bas and Ryder exchanged a quizzical glance.
"Yeah, bro. I'm here. What's up?"
A harsh masculine sob came through the phone, startling Ryder and Bas.
"Kat's gone, Ryder!"
Ryder jerked in shock and the Mustang fishtailed hard, skidding on the slick pavement. Bas grabbed the dashboard, shooting his husband a worried glance. Ryder brought the car under control and turned down the road to their house.
"What do you mean, she's gone?" he asked his brother, his voice tight with apprehension.
The phone line crackled once and then Ryan's anguished voice spoke two words that sent a chill through Bas and a visible shudder through Ryder.
The car rocked to a stop in the driveway, the headlights illuminating the garage door as the heavens opened and rain came down in huge gushes. Automatically, Ryder's hand reached for Bas's and their fingers dovetailed as they held onto each other like a lifeline.