After three tries with the key, Eliot was about to just rip the doorknob off, but she managed to get the door open with one hand while the other hand was down his pants. They stumbled inside and fell against the wall in the entryway.
"You were fucking brilliant today," Tara gasped as he devoured the curve of her neck. "When those bodyguards showed up, I thought we were made. But the way you changed our plan… just watching you work…reading your signals…so hot…"
"I just wish you hadn't had to …" Eliot whispered against her collarbone. "You shouldn't have to do that."
"Please," she replied with a mischievous snarl. "You love it when I hit people."
He showed his agreement by hiking up her short skirt as she fumbled with the buttons of his shirt. A woman who could throw a punch was sexy as hell. Really, that was how all of this got started…
The night after the team had pulled off his plan to not only save Nate and Maggie, but also get the real Faberge egg thief arrested, Eliot had been buzzing. He'd gone back to his apartment to lay low for a few days, as the team usually did after a job, but he couldn't sit still. The three beers he'd had at McRory's did nothing to calm him down, and he paced the living room, too keyed up from his success to do anything else.
The knock on the door made him freeze. A late-night visitor right after a job couldn't be a good thing. Eliot crept quietly toward his kitchen to get a knife.
"Eliot! Open up!" Tara's voice rang out in the quiet hall.
He jogged to the door to open it.
"What don't you understand about keeping a low profile?" he groused as she glided through the doorway, dropping her coat on one of his chairs.
"Sophie warned me about you, you know." Tara looked him up and down. "She said you were dangerous."
"Oh?" Eliot was a little hurt, but didn't show it.
"She told me that women were unable to resist your tough-guy good looks with your little-boy smile," Tara explained.
Eliot grinned sheepishly. "Well…"
"See? That." She waggled a finger at him accusingly. "That's what she was talking about. But I told her that I'd worked with good-looking guys before, that I could control myself."
"So you came by to tell me that?"
"Today, you pulled off one of the best planned and executed jobs I've seen in a long time," Tara explained as she strode slowly toward him, one eyebrow delicately arched. "You saw through the scam, came up with an amazing con, tied up every loose end—it was genius." She unbuttoned his flannel shirt and slid it off his shoulders. "Now, good-looking guys I can resist. But a good-looking guy who's smart too? Not so much."
Grasping his t-shirt in her fist, Tara pulled him into a fierce kiss. Eliot responded in kind, digging his fingers into her hair. After a few seconds though, he regained his senses and took a step back.
"This isn't a good idea. Getting involved with teammates—"
"I'm not asking you to marry me!" Tara laughed. "It doesn't have to be complicated. It's just… sex." She ran her hands across his broad chest on the last word and continued in a silky tone. "I see the way you look at me, Eliot, ever since we fought the Triads together in the sweatshop. You know you want this too. Come on—don't you have a lot of pent-up energy after a good con? I do…"
Eliot had some firmly held beliefs about keeping romantic relationships separate from work. But when Tara was sliding his cock out of his pants and lowering her mouth to it, it was impossible to remember what those beliefs were.
As she licked long, slow strokes up his erection, Eliot's knees went weak and he grabbed the table behind him to stay upright. He let his head fall back and just let himself feel what her tongue was doing to him.
"You…are very persuasive…" he managed to choke out.
Tara straightened up, pausing to take the hem of his shirt and pull it up over his head.
"I know," she said, playfully nipping at his lower lip.
Eliot growled softly under his breath.
"What?" Tara asked, leaning back slightly to look at his face.
She yelped in surprise as Eliot easily lifted her up with one arm around her waist, spun her around, and sat her on his kitchen table. They kissed hungrily, tongues clashing as they both struggled to get her out of her clothes.
When she was bare in front of him, he tipped her back onto the table. His lips traveled down her neck and collarbone to her nipples, which were already hard peaks. He licked and sucked at her flesh until she was writhing in pleasure. Then, taking one ankle in his hands, he began kissing up her leg—from her calf, to her knee, to her inner thigh. Tara arched her hips in frustration at his unhurried approach.
"Eliot…" she moaned.
"I thought you were trained to withstand torture," he said with a smirk.
"Don't act like you can hold out any longer than I can."
Eliot Spencer didn't usually go for the quick lay. Sure, sometimes it was fun to just get off, but if he had the option, he liked to take his time. There was no bigger turn-on than a woman gasping in ecstasy, and he loved being the one to make that happen. He wondered if it would be different with Tara, since her attraction to him apparently wasn't just physical—but when he looked down at her, naked and nearly begging for more, he could safely say that things were going pretty well. His erection was becoming almost painful, but he wasn't finished yet.
"I can hold out a little longer," he rasped, dipping his head between her legs.
He let his tongue trace lazy circles around her clit, teasing her just enough to keep her on the edge. It wasn't long before she was clutching at his hair and murmuring his name, and Eliot couldn't take the waiting anymore either.
He slid into her and she pulled him close, pressing his flushed skin against hers. They easily found a rhythm, and he soon felt her muscles starting to clench around him. He thrust harder, and she cried out as she came, her thighs tightening their grip around his waist. Eliot had barely been able to hold back, so after only a few more thrusts, he came harder than he had in a very long time.
Once they'd caught their breath, Eliot realized that his pants were still pooled around his ankles, and he moved to pull them up as he wondered if this was going to make working with her uncomfortable.
"Uh-uh," Tara said, boosting herself off the table. "That was way too good to do just once." She pushed his jeans and boxers back down and he stepped out of them. "Which way is your bedroom?"
Working together after that night wasn't as awkward as Eliot thought it might be. In fact, it was actually more fun: The jobs were business as usual, but after the really great ones, the ones that left him wired and restless, Tara would come by and they would fuck until they had spent enough energy to fall asleep.
Sometimes, she would even sleep over and Eliot would impress her with his cooking skills the next morning—which usually meant they'd end up back in the bedroom until later that afternoon.
He'd even talked to her about his military intelligence background, which he rarely discussed with anyone, but only because he knew she'd been an agent too. Of course, Tara had already figured out the same about him, and they both found it freeing to share some "war stories" with someone who understood.
It wasn't a big secret, but since it wasn't a "real" relationship, they didn't say anything to the rest of the team. Besides, the sidelong glances from Parker made them think that she had indeed seen them when they emerged, disheveled, from the ladies' room at McRory's that one night.
Because they'd said all along that it didn't mean anything, Eliot was surprised at the pang in his chest when Tara took off so suddenly after Sophie returned. He'd always known that she'd leave eventually, but he didn't think it would be quite so abrupt. But when the feds moved in, he soon had other worries, and was just glad she'd managed to escape.
In the months that followed, Eliot threw himself into his work, as usual, but every time he saw a leggy blonde on the street, he waited until she turned around, hoping it would be her.
Eliot generally tried not to get attached to his romantic conquests, but now that Tara was gone, he saw that she'd been different. There weren't very many people who knew that there was more to him than just muscle—sometimes he wasn't even sure his team knew it—so he'd dropped his guard around her more than he'd realized. That made her absence palpable.
One afternoon, the team was lounging around Nate's condo, waiting for Sophie to arrive so they could select their next client. Waiting made them all testy, and the bickering was just about to begin when Sophie burst through the door with her phone in hand.
"It's Tara. She's in trouble."
Before the last syllable was out of her mouth, Eliot was on his feet; Parker, Hardison, and Nate all followed by a fraction of a second.
Nate called out the plan as the team quickly gathered their respective equipment bags, and each person did what he or she did best. Hardison hacked into the building's security cameras with superhuman speed, from a moving van, no less. Sophie artfully distracted the guard at the front door while Parker disarmed the lock as if it were a child's toy. As he and Parker raced down the hall, Eliot was once again grateful to be working with the only team he knew that could pull off a rescue so quickly and cleanly.
Tara had the best poker face in the business, but Eliot saw the brief flash of relief in her eyes when he crashed through the door to dispense with the four henchmen guarding her.
Once in the van, Tara explained how it happened.
"It's not the kind of job I usually take, but you guys got me hooked on this Robin Hood thing," she said with a wry smile. "The client just needed me to get her uncle to confess that he was stealing from the family business, and that seemed easy enough. But it turns out that he's in deep with the local mob. Usually, I'd just bug out if a job went wrong, but I didn't want to put my client in danger. I blame you all for that."
"Aw, Tara likes being one of the good guys," Parker said, giving her a good-natured shove.
Eliot watched her as she interacted with the rest of the team, noting that she never looked him right in the eye. When they got back to Nate's, Eliot walked ahead of Tara so it would be easier to avoid her.
"Eliot!" she gasped. "You're hurt."
He peered over his shoulder, examining the cut that had bloodied the back of his shirt.
"Oh—yeah, one of those guys had a knife. He didn't get me that bad."
They walked into Nate's place and Tara went straight to the cabinet with the first-aid kit. Eliot moved to take it from her.
"No, let me—this is my fault," she said.
Before Eliot could protest, she led him into the spare room.
"Take of your shirt so I can get a good look at that cut," she ordered as she retrieved a washcloth from the bathroom.
A stern look from Tara shut Eliot up and he did as he was told, then looked for somewhere to sit other than the bed. Finding no other options, he sat stiffly at the edge of the mattress. Tara came back and knelt behind him.
"I don't think you need stitches," she said after a few silent moments, as she gently wiped the dried blood from his skin with warm water. "I'm sorry you got hurt saving my ass."
"Been hurt worse." He held up his torn, blood-stained shirt. "Can't say the same for this though. Damn shame."
Tara chuckled. "If I recall correctly, don't you have a closet full of plaid flannel?"
"But this one was my favorite," he said dryly.
They both became quiet for a few awkward minutes while she taped gauze over his wound. With her behind him, they couldn't see each other's faces—and maybe it was better that way, Eliot thought. She was too good at reading what people were thinking. He was about to get up when her cool hands came to rest on his bare shoulders.
"I missed you, Eliot," she whispered softly.
He closed his eyes at the feel of her breath on his ear.
"Since I've been back in town, I've thought about calling you, but…" Tara's voice trailed off. "I've just been thinking about you a lot since I left."
"Then I'm glad that you got yourself in trouble," Eliot said, turning around to look at her.
He took her face in his hands to kiss her, and felt her smile against his lips. Her fingers came up to tangle in his hair, so Eliot crawled up onto the bed, pushing her onto her back.
"I've missed you too," he whispered as he moved to take her blouse off.
"You don't care that everyone's in the next room?"
"Not really," he replied with a smirk, as he moved down to kiss her again.
"Well, in that case—" She wrapped her legs around his waist and rolled them over so that she was on top, grinning down at him. "—you'd better let me do the work. You've been injured and you need your rest."
After that, Eliot and Tara began meeting fairly often, in different cities, depending on who was working on what. It wasn't something they had discussed; they just met up in New Orleans once, and it became a regular occurrence. If one of them was working, the other would head to that city, whether the job was in Paris, Madrid, or Hoboken. Eliot had especially liked Hoboken, since there wasn't much to do there outside the hotel room.
The rest of the team knew about them, but Eliot still didn't discuss it—mainly because he couldn't take the girly teasing from Sophie and Parker.
"We're not in seventh grade!" he snarled once, but that only encouraged them.
"But it's all so cuuuute!" Sophie cooed. "I just love that I had a hand in getting you two together."
Sometimes Eliot thought it had been better when his team feared him a little bit.
Their meetings were casual and spontaneous, but one day it was more urgent than usual.
"Eliot," she purred when she answered her phone.
"I'm at the airport—where are you?"
"Chicago. Are you coming to visit?"
"I'll be there in three hours."
When he arrived at her hotel room, she flung open the door before he could knock.
"Is everyone OK?"
"Yeah, yeah, everyone's fine," he said. "Sorry—I didn't meant to make you worry."
"Are you OK? You didn't even bring a bag," she noted. "What's going on, Eliot?"
He sat down and rested his elbows on his knees. "Sophie's pregnant."
"What? Huh….wow," she replied, somewhat puzzled. "So, um, is this a bad thing? You're acting like someone died."
"Nate's been thinking about quitting for a while now anyway, and Sophie wants to get back into theater after the baby is born," Eliot explained, raising his eyebrows at that idea. "Nate's all jazzed about being a stay-at-home dad."
He sighed and rested his chin against his folded hands. "They're out. The team is done."
She sat next to him and put her hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry."
"I knew this wasn't gonna last forever, but I never really thought about what I'd do when it was over. I can't go back to what I was doing before."
"You're going to run your own team," Tara said firmly. At his look, she continued. "You know you can."
Eliot cracked a slight smile at her excitement about the idea.
"Parker and Hardison would probably stick around for you, and…I hear you might need a new grifter."
"You wanna work together, hmm?"
"Look," she said, taking his hand and interlacing her fingers with his. "I know we don't talk about this—whatever you want to call it—but I know how you feel and I think you know how I feel. We're both too good at our jobs to not see what the other has been thinking all this time."
"Am I that transparent? And here I thought I was playing it cool."
"Let's do this, Eliot. Don't you think it would be great?"
He thought for a moment. "We are pretty great together," he said, feeling a sense of relief at saying that aloud. "That's not the part I'm worried about."
"You could have run your own team years ago—you were just being loyal." She jumped to her feet. "Come on, let's call the other two before they start making plans. And we need to start thinking about who we should recruit to be the retrieval specialist…"
Eliot rubbed his forehead, trying to process it all. "So I'm not going to be just the hitter anymore, hmm?"
"You haven't been for a long time."
The post-job sex was still mind-blowing, maybe more so. Tara got so turned on watching Eliot run the cons, that some nights, they barely made it back to their apartment.
He still usually liked taking his time, but she'd made him a fan of the quick-and-dirty fuck too. Their entryway had seen so much action that it put a smile on his face every time he walked in the door.
After seeing Tara knock a man out with her fist earlier, there was no way Eliot wanted to wait until they got to bedroom anyway. He pushed up her skirt and gripped her thighs tightly, pressing her back into the wall while she begged him to go harder… faster…
Later, when they finally made it to the bedroom—to sleep—Eliot kissed her scraped knuckles.
"It is pretty hot when you throw a punch, but I still wish you hadn't needed to get involved in that. Jack and I are having a conversation tomorrow."
"Don't yell at him. He's still new—he'll get a hang of it. Not every hitter is going to be as spectacular as you right away." She patted him on the cheek teasingly.
"Maybe, but he still needs to work on a few things." He sighed, knowing she was right. "I'll take him to the gym again tomorrow, show him some techniques."
"See? You're settling into the role of team mastermind quite nicely," she said, curling up against his shoulder and closing her eyes.
"I do like the fact that the only injuries I get these days are from you," he said, admiring the fingernail marks she'd left on his biceps that evening. Eliot brushed her hair away from her face as she began to doze. "Thanks."
"Hmm…for scratching you?" she mumbled.
"For reminding me that I can do more than hit," he said, pulling her close as he fell asleep.