Home > Sleight of Hand(4)

Sleight of Hand(4)
Author: Charlie Cochet

Jiles plowed into Gio, knocking him off his feet, the two hitting the stage hard, with Chip’s jaws around a mouthful of Jiles’s cargo shorts. Where exactly Jiles thought he was crawling to with a Belgian Malinois attached to him was anyone’s guess. Jiles yelped as Chip dragged him away from Gio as if he were nothing more than a sack of potatoes.

Several of their guys reached Jiles, so Joker gave Chip the command to disengage and then turned to help Gio, only to find Saint with his arm around Gio’s waist as he helped him to his feet.

“Shit, man. You okay?” Saint asked, a hand to Gio’s chest.

What the fuck? Gio hadn’t been hit that hard. There was no need for him to be held. Either way, Gio was up now, so Saint could let go.

Okay, this needed to stop. Joker shook himself out of it. First of all, who the fuck cared if Saint was touching Gio? Saint was Joker’s friend. He was also straight.

“Yes, I’m fine,” Gio replied, running a hand through his hair. “Thank you, Saint.”

Saint smiled brightly, his cheeks looking a little… flushed. “You’re welcome.”

That was not how a straight man smiled at another man. Wait, what? The adrenaline must have gone to Joker’s head, because that thought had to be the most ridiculous thing to ever cross his mind. With a snort, he turned back to Jiles. Behind them, a large figure emerged from the shadows, and Joker grinned. King had walked on stage, and he looked pissed.

Joker patted Jiles’s shoulder. “Nice knowing ya.” He waited while King went straight to Leo, gently moving him to one side so he could talk to him privately. He took hold of Leo’s chin and murmured something to him. Leo nodded, his cheeks pink as he said something in return that led to King hugging him tightly. It was a quick hug, but enough for those who knew King to know he’d been shaken at the possibility of Leo being hurt. King stopped next to Gio and put a hand on his shoulder.

“Thank you for protecting him.”

Gio shook his head. “No need to thank me. Any one of us would have done the same. I was just closer.”

“Regardless, I appreciate it.”

Joker groaned. Great, because Gio wasn’t on a high enough pedestal already. King patted Gio’s shoulder, then stalked over to Joker, who handed him the camera he’d found.

“This was in some flowers on Nia’s vanity. My guess is Jiles here was the one who took out camera three, then locked himself in her dressing room to plant it. I’d have someone sweep the room in case there are more in there.”

King took the camera, looked it over, then lifted his icy-blue gaze to Jiles. “Bring him to the security office,” he growled as he stormed off.

They hauled Jiles away, and Joker was pretty sure that before the police arrived, Jiles would be all too agreeable. Whether he was a perv or had been intent on making a quick buck by filming Nia, he was in for a world of hurt. With that handled, Joker headed over to Leo, who now stood with Gio.

“It’s okay, Leo,” Gio said, placing his hand on Leo’s shoulder. “I’m fine. I promise.”

Leo nodded, but he still looked upset. Only one thing—or rather one fur ball—could change that. Joker scratched Chip’s head and murmured, “Go give Leo a kiss.”

Chip bolted over to Leo and repeatedly jumped like a kangaroo so he could assault Leo with doggie kisses. There was no way to keep a serious face as Leo laughed and giggle-snorted while he attempted to stop Chip, who was determined to give Leo all the kisses in his canine arsenal.

Joker stopped next to Gio, who laughed at Chip’s hijinks. “Thanks for doing that,” Joker grumbled. “Though maybe next time, just move him out of the way instead of turning yourself into a human shield.”

“Were you worried about me?” Gio asked, his smile reaching his eyes. Joker was about to squash that sentiment, but Gio went pale and threw a hand out, gripping Joker’s shoulder.

“What’s wrong?” Joker asked. Not even thinking about it, he wrapped an arm around Gio’s waist, his free hand going to Gio’s chest. “Talk to me, Giovanni.”

“I think I’m a little dehydrated.”

Gio needed to sit before he fell.

“Over there.” Joker motioned to a closed steel trunk a few feet away.

“Gio, are you okay?” Leo asked worriedly. Chip whining at Gio’s side was not a good sign.

“I’m fine. Simply a little dehydrated.”

Joker helped him over to the trunk and pressed his PTT button. “Saint, bring me a bottle of water.”

In no time flat, Saint returned with the water and handed it to Joker, who twisted the cap off and held it out to Gio.


“Thank you.” Gio took the bottle from him, his fingers covering Joker’s, surprising a shiver out of him. Pretending he hadn’t felt the jolt and ignoring Gio’s knowing look, Joker took a step back. He turned to Saint.


“Everything okay?” Saint asked, concerned.

“Yeah, he needs water. You can get back to it.”

Saint appeared momentarily shocked by the dismissal. Why? Joker had no idea. It wasn’t the guy’s first time working with him. He had a job to do, and it wasn’t to hover around Gio. “Oh, right. Sure thing.” With a nod, he walked off.

“Are you sure this isn’t my fault?” Leo asked quietly, his boyish face filled with worry.

“Not your fault,” Gio assured him. “I promise. I had a charity brunch this morning that was outdoors, and I should have hydrated more.” He lifted the bottle of water. “I’m feeling better already.”


Colton called Leo over, and Leo excused himself.

Not wasting any time, Joker frowned at Gio. “Not drinking water while outdoors is stupid.”


“You’re in Florida now. Hydration is important. Even when it’s cloudy, the sun will still bake you.”

Gio nodded. “I know that now.”

“Well, make sure you don’t forget it,” Joker growled. “Drink the whole bottle.” It wasn’t like this was Gio’s first trip to Florida. The man had been born and raised here.

“Yes, sir.” Gio saluted, and Joker rolled his eyes. Smartass. At least the color had returned to his face. Gio lifted his eyes to Joker’s. “Thank you.”

“For what? Sending someone to get you a bottle of water?” Joker waved a hand in dismissal. He wasn’t that much of an asshole. Not even to Gio. Springing into action when something was wrong was his default, and had been since his years in the military. Just because he and his brothers weren’t serving anymore didn’t mean they forgot years of training or life experiences.

“You must know a lot about dehydration, working these kinds of events,” Gio said.

“Yep. It’s serious shit. August will be the worst. Our guys spend a good deal of the time bringing people water at outdoor events because people forget how fucking brutal the heat and humidity can be.”

Gio finished the bottle of water and stood. Much to his annoyance, Joker caught himself reaching for the guy. He quickly dropped his hand.

“All good?”

“Yes, thank you.” Gio smiled sweetly, and Joker forced himself to avert his gaze. He was going to say he had to get back to work when someone called out from across the stage.

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