Authors: Jordan L. Hawk
Tags: #Gay & Lesbian, #Literature & Fiction, #Fiction, #Gay, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Genre Fiction, #Gay Romance, #Demons & Devils, #Psychics, #Vampires
“Well, I guess I’m just fucking lucky.” Caleb’s dark brows drew into a by-now familiar scowl. “Gray got annoyed with my drinking. I got tired of fighting with the voice in my head. I had to get out of the damn house, all right? Just…get away. I felt trapped.”
“I understand. I do. But you can’t just leave.”
“Because of the spirit ward, right. But I obviously did, so—”
“Would you shut up and listen to me?”
Caleb’s mouth closed with a snap. “Fine. Sure. Go ahead, Agent Starkweather.”
John took a calming breath, trying to think. Caleb didn’t trust him, and this probably wasn’t going to help any. “We’re already making exceptions for you, understand? If you take off, if Kaniyar thinks you can’t be trusted, she won’t hesitate to bring the hammer down. They’ll call out a manhunt, and when they find you, there won’t be any more attempts at the sort of exorcism featuring candles and circles. It’ll be silver bullets and frag grenades. And I won’t be able to do anything to save you.”
Caleb paled, his big brown eyes going wide. His lips parted slightly, and John had the wild urge to kiss him to take away the sting of the words.
No. Caleb depended on him. He couldn’t take advantage.
“Figures.” Caleb’s mouth twisted into a sneer. “I don’t want to be locked up in a cage; therefore, I must be up to something. Perfect government logic.”
“Damn it, Caleb, listen to me!” John took a step forward, barely able to keep from grabbing the other man and shaking some sense into his head. “You shouldn’t have been able to get past the spirit ward. I’m not sure how you did.”
“I just walked out,” Caleb said, but there was uncertainty under the toughness now.
Not good. Not good at all. “You just walked out. Think about it for a minute, will you? I’m the best exorcist in the southeast, and you and Gray just walked out over a damn good spirit ward. You’re telling me the tools I—and every other exorcist out there—rely on are worthless when it comes to you. And you wonder why people might react badly?”
The pale column of Caleb’s throat worked as he swallowed. “Oh. Why aren’t you?”
“Why am I not what?”
“Reacting badly?” Caleb offered him a shadow of a grin. “I mean, I’ve got a big scary drakul in my head. Shouldn’t you be putting me in silver cuffs, or calling for backup, or running for your life?”
“Yeah, well, no one ever said I had any sense.” John ran a hand tiredly through his hair. “I trust you.”
Caleb stared at him like he’d lost his mind. “Why? Christ, I don’t trust myself right now!”
It was the million-dollar question, and John couldn’t come up with an answer to satisfy himself, let alone anyone else. Just gut instinct, which was a terrible reason to do anything, really.
“Because you haven’t given me a reason not to,” he said at last.
Caleb snorted. “You’re an awful federal agent.” He shook his head, but there was a small smile on his lips, which hadn’t been there before.
Situation…well, not under control, but stable for the moment. “You were saying something about the NHE?”
The grin faded. “Yeah. I was running and I—we—smelled it. It was the same demon Gray sensed at the abandoned house. Maybe…I don’t know, but it might be Ben’s killer. Gray says there was still some of its scent on Ben’s…on his body.”
“You’ve decided Gray didn’t kill Ben?” John had never thought otherwise, given all the evidence pointing to an early-stage lycanthrope, but he was curious as to why Caleb had changed his mind.
Caleb folded his arms defensively over his chest. “Turned Ben’s body into a walking abomination, yes. Destroyed any chance Melanie and I had to find peace with his death, yes. Made my life a living hell, yes. Killed Ben…no. I’m not sure how to say this without sounding crazy—or crazier—but Gray is too honest. Not out of some moral sense, but because he doesn’t see the point in lying. He doesn’t have any sense of tact, no idea he ought to blunt things.” Caleb shrugged helplessly. “If he’d done it, he would have said so upfront, and been confused as to why I was upset about it.”
John leaned one hip against the bar separating the kitchen and living room. It sounded like his assessment of Gray matched Caleb’s. Either the drakul was playing them both, or his instincts had been on target. He was willing to bet on the latter. “Good to know. So you tried to find this NHE?”
“Yeah. It wasn’t any use, though.” A frown flickered across Caleb’s face, as if in response to something John couldn’t hear. “There were too many other scents. We tracked it toward the Battery, but lost it after four or five blocks.”
“Damn.” The question of Gray’s potential threat aside, this other NHE was dangerous. Lycanthropes didn’t just stop after a single kill. “I have a proposal for the two of you.”
Suspicion showed on Caleb’s fine-boned face. “Oh, I’m sure I’m going to love this.”
“It’s not bad. You won’t have to sign over your soul, just your first-born child.”
“Funny. Do they teach you that in training, or is it a natural talent?”
“Just a gift. One of many.” John winked, and was pleased to see a slight flush creep over Caleb’s cheeks. “You and Gray both want to find this NHE, albeit for different reasons. I do, too.”
Caleb tossed his hair irritably back over his shoulder. “What are you suggesting?”
“Instead of concentrating on how to get rid of Gray, we work together to find this NHE before it kills again.”
Caleb’s eyes widened. “Are you saying the three of us should cooperate?”
“You two are a magic demon-sniffing bloodhound. Frankly, I could use one of those right now. And it will get you out of the condo.”
Caleb’s attention seemed to turn inward for a minute. Then he let out a rueful laugh and held out his hand.
John took it. Caleb’s long, artist’s fingers curled over his, their grip firm and dry, making his pulse quicken. “You’ve got yourself a deal.”
* * *
Caleb awoke to a hand on his shoulder, shaking him gently. “Hey, Caleb. Wake up.”
Blinking groggily, he sat up and found Starkweather sitting on the edge of the bed. The only illumination came from the clock radio on the nightstand, and the dim light in the hall streaming through the open door.
Even with the lack of light, he could make out every detail: Starkweather’s concerned face, plus the fact he was wearing a suit and tie instead of the t-shirt and cargo pants he’d worn before bed.
Great, another change to his eyes. Seeing in the dark would have seemed really cool before; now it just felt ominous.
“The night is best for hunting. The mortals cower inside and do not see. There is less chance of interference.”
“Not helping with the ominous,” he muttered.
Starkweather turned on the light on the nightstand, squinting at the sudden radiance. “What?”
“Um, nothing. What’s going on? It’s—” he checked the clock—“two in the goddamn morning? Is this some kind of new interrogation technique? Because I have to say, it sucks. Anything you get out of me isn’t going to be coherent without a lot of coffee.”
“No interrogation. I left the whips and chains in my bedroom.” Starkweather smirked, his gaze traveling over Caleb’s bare chest, taking in the pale nipples, sparse hair, and flat belly.
It had been a long time since anyone had looked at him that way. Like he wanted to rip the blanket off and pounce on Caleb. Would he assault Caleb’s nipples with rough bites or lick them gently? Would he push Caleb down against the bed while his hand slid down over Caleb’s belly until his fingers wrapped around Caleb’s shaft?
No. No fantasizing about the sexy agent, especially when he was sitting right there. Caleb pulled the blankets up higher and hoped his growing erection didn’t make an obvious tent. “Dressed awfully formal, aren’t you? Or do you normally wear a tie to bed?”
“Depends on what I’m going to do with it, once I have it off.”
So much for not fantasizing.
The flirty look drained away from Starkweather’s face, and he shifted his weight, making the bed creak. “A call just came in from District Chief Kaniyar. My boss.”
No good ever came of calls this late at night. “What happened?”
“There’s been a murder. Some late-night partiers found a body in a little alley off East Bay Street. The killer was a lycanthrope. It could be the one that murdered your brother.”
Despite the warmth of the covers, Caleb suddenly felt cold. He hadn’t seen Ben’s body at the morgue. Melanie had, and she’d given him some information, but no details. He knew it had been bad, but he really didn’t know how bad.
Gray stirred, the tiger twitching its tail.
“Will we finally hunt this demon?”
“You-you’re asking Gray and me to go down to the scene with you, aren’t you?”
“What can I say? I’m a cheap date.” Starkweather rose to his feet. “I’ll have some coffee brewed by the time you get downstairs. Don’t take too long.”
John parked the sedan at the end of the alley, amidst the chaos of flashing lights, yellow tape, and armed guards. The alley was a narrow slot with bars and businesses on one side, and historic residences on the other. During the day, it was probably a popular cut-through, but at night very little light filtered in from the main thoroughfares.
Caleb sat tense in the passenger seat, staring out the window with an expression which made John wonder if he was having a conversation with Gray. Putting a hand to Caleb’s skinny knee, he said, “Ready?”
Caleb glanced up, and John caught a flash of nervousness before he tamped it down. “You really are a cheap date. Can’t we ever go somewhere besides a crime scene?”
“Not on a governmental salary.” As much as he enjoyed sparring with the other man, he did owe Caleb a warning. “Seriously, though, this isn’t going to be pleasant. Even agents with twenty years experience have trouble at some scenes.” The bloody ones, anyway.
Caleb shrugged his thin shoulders and looked away. “I’ve got to do this, pleasant or not.”
John winced. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want you to feel forced into doing anything.”
“And I’m sorry you think this has a damn thing to do with you,” Caleb shot back. “This is for Ben. And me.”
All right, then. John opened his door. “Let’s go.”
They headed down the alley, Caleb a step behind. Brick walls crowded in close to either side, trapping the stink of blood until John could almost taste its iron tang.
John showed his badge to the agent securing the scene. “He’s with me,” he said, tilting his head in Caleb’s direction. Curiosity flashed in the other agent’s eyes, but he only nodded and held up the tape to let them duck underneath.
Floodlights poured harsh white radiance midway down the alley. A photographer snapped shots from every angle, while forensics took samples. Kaniyar stood out of the way, observing; despite the hour, she didn’t have a hair out of place. Did the woman even sleep?
“Special Agent Starkweather,” she said with a crisp nod. “Mr. Jansen; thank you for joining us.”
“Sure.” The floodlights stole what little color Caleb had to begin with. His eyes darted nervously in the direction of the scene, but the bodies of the forensics team blocked the view.
“Starkweather tells me you can track the NHE responsible,” she said. It sounded like a challenge.
Caleb swallowed, but his eyes lifted to meet hers. “I can. I can smell it.”
“Hmm.” Her eyes narrowed but she didn’t say anything. “Why don’t you take a look at the scene, get a fix on what direction the perp went?”
When Kaniyar turned to bark orders at the forensics team, John surreptitiously put a hand to Caleb’s arm. “Just relax.”
“You’re wildly optimistic, aren’t you?” Caleb muttered back. “There’s not going to be any relaxing. Gray…wants to get on with this.”
Just what they needed—for Gray to take over and go charging off in front of Kaniyar. “Hang in there. Show the chief she can trust you.”
“Starkweather!” Kaniyar called. Seeing the techs had cleared out, John dropped his hand from Caleb’s arm and led the way to the body.
What little remained lay in a short side-alley, in between a converted warehouse and the brick wall surrounding the overgrown garden of a private residence. The upper part of the man’s body was still intact. He lay sprawled on his back, arms out-flung, a look of horror frozen on his face.
The rest of him…was less intact, to put it mildly. Blood splatters marked the walls to either side and pooled in the uneven bricks beneath him. His clothing was nothing more than gore-stained tatters, ripped apart as his attacker tried to get to the vulnerable flesh beneath. Everything from mid-sternum down was nothing but a chewed, torn mess of blood and bone fragments.
The human part of the lycanthrope was losing control. It wouldn’t be long until it became nothing but a force of fury and hunger, all intellect and personality wiped away. Time to catch it before it did serious damage to a lot of people was running out.
Caleb let out a low moan, turned away, and dropped to his knees. John winced at the sound of retching. Well, at least Caleb had the presence of mind not to throw up on the crime scene.
Crouching by the other man, John gently rubbed a soothing circle on his back. Caleb had forgotten his coat—and not even shivered when they walked out into the winter night.
Was time running out for him, too?
At the moment, he was still mostly human, and his back felt warm through the thin fabric of the t-shirt. “It’s okay,” John said.
“The fuck it is.
is not okay.” Caleb stumbled shakily to his feet; John helped him up with a steadying hand.
“Can’t argue with you there.” John glanced back at the body. “We need to catch this thing before it kills again.”
Caleb scrubbed at his face with his wrist, as if impatient with his brief show of weakness. “No. I mean, yes, but you don’t get it. I knew the victim.”
* * *
Caleb wrapped his arms around himself, against an inner chill. God, this was twelve different kinds of fucked-up. The alley reeked to his super-charged senses: blood and bile and shit, and his stomach did a slow roll.