Authors: Jordan L. Hawk
Tags: #Gay & Lesbian, #Literature & Fiction, #Fiction, #Gay, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Genre Fiction, #Gay Romance, #Demons & Devils, #Psychics, #Vampires
Caleb eyed him warily, but the agent didn’t seem to have any nefarious agenda. Maybe he just didn’t want a naked man wandering around his condo. Which would be a disappointment, but…fuck, no! He sure as hell wasn’t going to get involved with a Spec, no matter how cute. He mumbled out his size. Forget big and tall; maybe toothpick and tall. “I, uh, thanks,”
“Not a problem.” Starkweather opened the door to the small linen closet. “Extra towels are in here.”
Caleb nodded. The agent stepped back out into the hall, then leaned around him to open another door. “Your bedroom is here.”
The movement brought them close together in the narrow hall. The faintest trace of vanilla and musk cologne teased Caleb’s senses, underlain by the scent of warm, slightly sweaty skin. Starkweather was just a bit shorter and far more muscular, as if he worked out regularly. His presence seemed to make the small space much smaller.
Starkweather looked up at him, as if surprised to find Caleb so near. He laid a hand on Caleb’s shoulder, squeezing gently. His touch was hot through the knit sweater, every finger imprinted on Caleb’s skin.
“You’re going to get through this,” he said.
Why was he being nice? It had to be a trick of some kind, right? Some way of making Caleb accept his new status, or keeping him calm while he was still possessed, or God knew what.
But, damn, Caleb wanted to believe him. “How do you know?”
Starkweather’s other hand brushed a lock of hair out of Caleb’s face. “I can tell.”
Caleb’s cock twitched at the nearness, the warmth. This was crazy; he couldn’t be getting hard for a drone, someone who was all but holding him prisoner, no matter how hot the man was.
Seeming to realize what he was doing, Starkweather abruptly dropped his hand and took a step back. The dazzling smile flashed back onto his face, lighting up his sapphire eyes. “Besides, I’m the best in the business. There’s no NHE I can’t handle. Eventually, anyway.”
“Yeah.” Caleb cleared his throat and looked away, hoping the dim hallway hid the heat in his cheeks. “Glad to hear it.”
“I’ll leave some of my sweats outside the door. They’ll do until your things get here. While you shower, I’ll make breakfast. Any requests?”
“I’m, uh, vegetarian.”
“No bacon. Got it.” Still Starkweather lingered for a minute, as if trying to think of something more to say. Then he abruptly turned and hurried away down the hall.
Caleb went into the bathroom, closed the door, and locked it. For the first time in hours, he was alone—
Except he wasn’t. Which was the whole problem.
A mirror hung over the sink; he avoided even glancing at it as he hurriedly stripped off clothes shredded and matted with dried blood. Once the water jetting out of the shower had reached near-scalding temperature, he stepped into it, letting it pound his bare skin. Blood—his blood—had crusted on his skin and in his hair; he grabbed a bar of soap and a loofa and scrubbed at it fiercely. Angrily.
With nothing else to distract him, the moment of his death—the breaking wood, the pain, and above all else the sickening sensation of falling—threatened to play out over and over again. He’d fallen and died, and he’d lost his job, and hurt Melanie, and was going to turn into a monster…
A raw sob escaped him. He tried to force it down, but another followed, and another.
The thing inside him stirred.
“You are hurt.”
Unease laced its thoughts.
“Something is wrong; you are hurt, but there is no wound.”
It was rising through him; the hairs on his arms stood straight up, as if lightning were about to strike. And God, that would be the final blow, to lose himself here in this fucking shower, and have the monster in him shamble downstairs and attack Starkweather. And maybe Starkweather was a goddamned SPECTR puppet, but he didn’t deserve having his head ripped off, and it wasn’t right, wasn’t right, wasn’t right.
Fear now, and incomprehension.
“Is he a threat to us?”
Caleb threw back his head, hysterical laughter bubbling past his lips as water sluiced over his face. “You’re the fucking threat,” he whispered. “If I’m hurting, it’s because of you, because you stole Ben’s body and did this to me.”
“I did not intend…”
But the presence felt smaller somehow. Gray drew back, and the hairs on Caleb’s arms fell into place, the threat of lightning and storm gone.
“But you did it anyway,” Caleb said.
Gray didn’t answer. Caleb sat in the shower and rocked as he cried, until the water ran cold.
Once water rattled the pipes overhead, John took out his phone. Holding it to his ear, he went to the fridge and gathered ingredients for breakfast: orange juice, eggs, maple syrup, and cheese.
At first, he thought the call would go to voicemail. But Sean’s voice, groggy with sleep, answered. “John? What’s going on?”
Pulling out a bowl, John began cracking eggs. “I need a favor.”
“Can’t it wait? I barely dozed off.”
John winced. “Sorry.” Two skillets went onto the stove to heat. “It’s Kaniyar’s fault—bill some more overtime.”
“We don’t get paid overtime.”
“Yeah, but you can’t beat the perks.”
“Let me know when we get any.” Sean sounded a bit more awake now, at least. “Fine, fine. What do you need?”
“I need you to go shopping. Grab some t-shirts, jeans, socks, and underwear. A winter coat. Oh, and a toothbrush.”
“What? Why? This had better not be a joke.”
John measured out pancake mix into a bowl. “Kaniyar wants the incident in the abandoned house kept under wraps.”
“Yeah, she ordered me not to talk about it with anyone who hadn’t been there,” Sean said suspiciously. “You haven’t answered my question. Why do I need to buy you a bunch of clothes?”
“They aren’t for me, they’re for Caleb Jansen.”
“What, did lockup run out of orange jumpsuits?”
John let out a long sigh as he began to stir milk and mix into a batter. “Mr. Jansen isn’t in lockup. He is, however, currently showering in my upstairs bathroom.”
“Tell me you’re joking, John. Seriously—tell me this is some sleep-deprived attempt at humor. I’ll even laugh.”
“It’s no joke.” Caleb had looked so lost in the upstairs hall, trying to keep up the bad attitude despite being in a situation which could charitably be described as “strange” or even “terrifying.” He’d held it together when most people would be sobbing on the floor.
And all the while, John’s exorcist senses tasted the slow pulse of etheric energy, buried deep but damned strong, like the undertow of the ocean.
No, this was most definitely not a joke.
“What the hell is Kaniyar thinking?” Sean demanded, loud enough to make John wince.
“Something’s weird about this whole situation—you said it yourself.”
“Yeah. I also said we ought to blow up the house and walk away. I most definitely didn’t say, ‘Send the drakul home with John and let it kill him!’”
“Don’t you ‘Sean’ me! Kaniyar’s cracked. Gone round the bend. Letting an NHE roam around without reporting it is a federal offense!”
“Sean, listen, please.” John whisked the eggs and milk, then poured them into the pan and started to grate the cheese.
“This is why Will left.”
John stopped grating. “Will didn’t leave, he was transferred.”
“At his request.”
“He was tired of South Carolina.”
“He was tired of you pulling crazy shit.”
“I don’t pull crazy shit.”
“What about the brothel full of succubi?”
Goosebumps, which had nothing to do with the ambient temperature, pricked John’s skin. He didn’t want to think about the brothel now. Or ever, actually. He also didn’t want to think about the final…well, it hadn’t been an argument, exactly. Just Will, explaining the transfer would mean an increase in salary, and long-distance relationships never worked out. Wasn’t it better to make a clean break now?
He’d clenched the grater hard enough to turn his knuckles white, so he shoved the unwelcome thoughts into the little box in his mind, where he could safely ignore them. Going back to grating, he said, “Something is happening, and we don’t understand even half of it. Kaniyar wanted me to sit on this for a few days, and I trust her judgment. And I trust you, so I’m asking you to do this one thing for me. All right?”
There came a long silence, punctured by Sean’s sigh. “Fine. But you owe me.”
“Put it on my tab.”
“It’s a hell of a tab.”
John grinned. “What are best friends for?” He hung up without waiting for Sean to think of a retort, and went back to making breakfast for the drakul-possessed hottie in his shower.
* * *
“Relax—this isn’t an interrogation,” Starkweather said as he led the way up the stairs to his office.
Sure it wasn’t. And maybe Starkweather had some nice oceanfront property in Kansas to sell him.
Although, Caleb did have to admit the agent hadn’t treated him badly so far. In fact, quite the opposite. After cooking a magnificent breakfast of pancakes and omelets, Starkweather had left him to collapse into the soft guest bed. When he’d waked, a bag containing several pairs of brand-new jeans, plain t-shirts, white tube socks, and white briefs had been waiting just outside the door.
He’d been fed, slept, dressed in clothes which weren’t what he would have chosen, but at least weren’t hideous or uncomfortable. And although Caleb wasn’t exactly inclined to trust SPECTR, he had to admit it was an awful lot of trouble to go to, when Starkweather could’ve just had him disappeared into a cell somewhere.
The situation couldn’t remotely be described as “good,” but maybe it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
Or it hadn’t, anyway. Gray had gone quiet after the incident in the shower, but now Starkweather wanted to poke the sleeping tiger with a stick.
The agent had changed into a pair of jeans, which showed off his ass nicely as he climbed the stairs. A tight black t-shirt strained across his broad shoulders. Damn, he was sexy.
No, no he wasn’t. And even if he was, it didn’t matter, because Starkweather was a Spec.
“Oh, yeah, I’ll relax,” Caleb said. “Promise to be gentle? This is my first inquisition.”
“Sure thing. I’ll save the whips and chains for next time.”
Despite everything, Caleb’s cock stiffened under his new jeans. Score one for the agent. He stepped into the office, hoping Starkweather didn’t notice. A large, wooden desk dominated the loft space, sporting a high-end computer and printer. Diplomas hung on the wall, over a low bookcase. Caleb shifted closer to read the ornate writing.
“My credentials,” Starkweather said, and although the words were light, there was no disguising the pride in his voice. “Low-Country State School for the Paranormal. United States Department of Justice, Strategic Paranormal Entity Control Academy. A few extra courses of study and citations.”
“Damn, dude. You really have drunk the Kool-Aid, haven’t you?”
When Starkweather didn’t reply, Caleb turned, wondering if he’d finally gone too far. The agent leaned one hip against the desk, his arms folded over his chest, a strangely sad expression on his face.
“May I tell you a story?” he asked.
“Can I stop you?” Caleb shot back, without thinking.
A wry twist of the lips lightened Starkweather’s face, but only marginally. “In theory. You could clap your hands over your ears and sing at the top of your lungs, which wouldn’t stop me from telling it, but might keep you from hearing.”
“Nah, too undignified. Go ahead.”
“I was fifteen when I found out I was paranormally-abled,” Starkweather said. His blue eyes—damn it, why did they have to be so bright?—focused on something far-off only he could see. “My parents sent me to rehab.”
“They…what?” Rehab? For being paranormal? What the hell was rehab supposed to accomplish?
“They believed if I just prayed enough, repented enough, the devil would leave me and I’d be normal again.” Starkweather’s throat flexed as he swallowed, but the look in his eyes was distant. Flat. “There was an…accident at the facility, which led to an investigation. The place was shut down.”
Had he heard something about that? Or was Caleb getting stories about abusive boot camps mixed up? “What happened to you afterward?”
“I lucked out. My parents voluntarily gave up custody to the state, and I ended up in the school for the paranormally-abled. I had a safe place to live, therapy, an education…and people who believed in me. People who didn’t look at me like I was damned. For the first time, I realized paranormals—mals, if you really prefer—could do good. Could make something of their lives. Once I graduated, it was natural for me to go to the SPECTR Academy.” His lips twisted ruefully. “After all, they’d saved my life.”
Damn. No wonder Starkweather was such a fucking cheerleader for SPECTR. At least Caleb’s parents had done everything they could to protect him. They’d helped hide his telekinesis, such as it was, so he could have the hope of a normal life. And no matter what Ben had gotten involved in, he’d still taken Caleb’s secret to the grave. “Yeah. Okay. I understand how you must have felt.”
Starkweather waved a dismissive hand. “This isn’t about me, not really. My point is, SPECTR isn’t your enemy. The hate groups who forced through the registration act, sure. Just be glad SPECTR was tasked with enforcing it instead of the FBI or CIA, or even Homeland Security.”
“Or TSA. Body-cavity search with every check-in.”
“Exactly.” Starkweather’s serious expression melted away, replaced by the familiar grin. “And you don’t even get to request which agent does it.”
“Oh, ouch. Good point.” Caleb let his arms fall to his sides. “I do see where you’re coming from. I mean, I’m not going to be shaking pom-poms and chanting ‘rah-rah, SPECTR’ or anything, but…you know.”
“And you’d look so cute in a cheerleader outfit.” Starkweather gestured to a chair on the other side of the desk, which had obviously been dragged up from the kitchen below. “Ready to start the inquisition?”
“Your rack-side manner could use some work.” Caleb sat down, knowing he didn’t really have a choice. “Fine. What do you need to know?”