Hunter had a crush, a big one.
In the cafeteria late one night on his break at the hospital, he sipped at a coffee and focused on Shawn, the night desk clerk for the ER, sitting a few tables over. With long black hair tied back neatly and eyes of faded denim blue, Shawn had a lean body, his face long and bony. Tonight, he wore a brown turtleneck under a white-and-green-striped button-down. The rolled sleeves revealed muscled forearms dusted with golden hair, as mismatched to the dyed black hair as his pale eyebrows and lashes. A silver skull ring and silver studs in his ears appeared at odds with the lanyard and dangling ID card.
Hunter drank more coffee, barely tasting it. He’d tried to talk himself out of it, but he couldn’t squirm away from the attraction. When he’d walked past the registration desk to the water cooler—again—or hung out there a moment too long with an empty clipboard in his hands, he caught those tiny flicks of interest in Shawn’s eyes. Hunter must have given away his interest because the nurses smirked at his pretended obliviousness.
He bent to the not-very-engrossing crossword in the newspaper, imagining what tattoo might lie beneath Shawn’s cool demeanor. Maybe gargoyle wings across a broad and muscled back, or a snake wrapped around his thigh. Something more esoteric—a phrase in Latin, like Hunter’s own primum non nocere, or a bit of wisdom in Chinese characters. Or an old-school Aerosmith tat? Hunter glanced up from filling in the little squares with black ink blocks. He could have sworn Shawn hurriedly dropped his attention down to the paperback in his hands. He turned the page and shot a second glance at Hunter. Gazes locked and jumped away.
Heat rushed through Hunter all at once and climbed up to his face. Too aware of the black-haired man with biceps to die for and long legs to—well, never mind. Taking a boner back to the ER was not a good idea.
He had touched those biceps once when he gave Shawn a flu shot back in the fall. Shawn had taken the needle without a flinch.
Shawn stood with his tray in hand and walked toward the trash container behind Hunter. The back of his neck prickled as if Shawn breathed on the little hairs there. Hunter picked up his coffee cup once more but tasted only the dregs.
Good thing he’d decided to become a physician’s assistant and not an actor. He didn’t talk to Shawn unless he had to, the worst giveaway of all. No shy bones in his body, yet he feared conversation led to more conversation, to flirting, and the next thing he knew, they’d be going on a date, Hunter falling head over heels, and then the asshole—
Stop. You know how the story ends.
Behind him, Shawn cleared his throat. Hunter didn’t turn around. Shawn returned to his seat, picked up the paperback, and slumped down into the chair with a scowl.
Marisa slipped into the seat across the table from Hunter, and he smiled.
“I’m onto you,” she whispered.
“Uh-huh.” Hunter moved his body slightly so he could still see Shawn around her.
“You’ve been taking late lunch for three weeks now. I know why—or who.” She smiled, a small Hispanic woman with curly chestnut hair framing her heart-shaped face and hazel eyes. If Hunter weren’t himself, and she weren’t married, he thought he’d be with her. Her lips always gleamed with gloss, and her eyes snapped with fire when she got pissy. He loved it, most days, even when she aimed for him.
She leaned toward him. “Shawn, right?” Her eyes took on a warning snap now and dared him to contradict her.
“I don’t even know if he’s gay.” Which wasn’t true, but he knew better than to deny it to her face.
She sipped at her coffee with her gaze on him. Her mouth left lipstick smiles on the rim of the cup. “There’s something different about this one. And he’s lovely to look at.”
“Lovely.” Hunter snorted. Dead sexy Shawn. Hunter spied him out at the clubs twice now but avoided him there too. Shawn undulated like liquid fire across the dance floor.
“Talk to him, honey.”
“Please. Don’t.” He must have spoken louder than he meant to. Shawn glanced at them and away again.
“You’re letting Jerry’s death run your life.”
Hunter slapped the magazine down. “I’m too sober for this conversation.”
“It’s like he’s locked your heart away.”
Mindful of the potential audience, he lowered his voice. “You’re jumping way ahead here.”
She shook her head. “I know you. You have so much love to give, and I hate to see you suffer.”
Her probing questions about Hunter’s past, family, present situation were all familiar ground. Friendship he could manage; he recognized it when it was offered to him. He’d been out since he was nine. Always been out was what he told people. She was one of the few friends to whom he could confide nearly everything. Jerry’s addictions had killed him, but his family and friends blamed Hunter, and on a deeper emotional level, he blamed himself too. Marisa knew this, and it worried her. She wanted him to find love and move on, be part of a couple. She knew, but she didn’t understand.
He wasn’t abstinent now, not at twenty-five, and never got involved with anyone beyond one- and two-night stands. Hunter didn’t want to take responsibility for another heart.
When the tide of emotion and memory washed through him and left him able to speak again, he said, “I’m not suffering here.” He kept much of the darkness at bay with whiskey and anonymous sex. Who needed Prozac with a warm, muscled body in the bed?
“Stagnating,” Marisa said.
“Maintaining.” It had been a far prettier day in May, eight months ago now, when he walked out of the ER at Boston General to Jerry waiting for him in the parking lot with a gun.
“Ask him out on a date. An old-fashioned date where, at the end of the night, you kiss him good night.”
“Don’t get angry.” She patted his hand.
He whipped it away. “Too late.”
Marisa sighed. “I’ll make it up to you. Toni, Anna, and I are going to Twisters tonight. I’ll buy you a drink.”
Hunter gathered up his tray. He liked the ER crowd. They always had fun when they got together in off-work hours, and he agreed to meet her at Twisters before hitting the clubs.
When his shift was over early in the morning, he drove back to his apartment and crawled into bed as the day glowed behind the blackout curtains. The end of the week had left him exhausted, and his sleep was blessedly dreamless.
The door closed behind the last customer, and the noisy bar returned to silence, a booze-fumed, tacky-underfoot silence where the small noises Alex made seemed twice as loud. His ears rang as he picked up the broom to sweep out the crap on the floor behind the bar.
The front door opened again, and his shoulders tensed. He cursed himself for not locking it when he’d shoved out the last drunk patron, distracted by the e-mail he’d received. A rookie mistake. He groped under the bar for the bat the owner had urged him to use if he suspected he needed to.
“Excuse me,” the man in the doorway said. He’d been in the bar earlier, an Asian man along with a rather bland, nondescript white guy.
Alex looked closer, not letting go of the bat. “We’re closed. Need me to call a cab for you?”
The man appeared innocuous, but innocuous-looking people could still be trouble. The instincts Alex had honed all those months on the run had stayed with him. Director Flint’s warnings about retaliation flashed through his mind.
The guy opened his mouth to answer Alex’s question, but someone shoved him from behind before he could speak, and he stumbled. Alex grabbed the neck of the bat.
“Didja ask him? Is it him?” The pushy friend pressed himself forward a few steps, far drunker than his buddy.
“We’re. Closed.” Alex threw some menace behind the authority in his voice and revealed the bat. The Asian man flinched and grabbed at his friend, who fished in his pocket for something.
“It’s him. You. Boy Blue,” the drunk man burbled.
Alex froze, shifting gears. He tightened his grip on the bat. Anger fueled his ass up and over the bar to land a few feet in front of the drunk who pulled out a phone, aimed it in his direction, and blinded him with the flash.
“You fucker!” Alex reached out to slap the phone away—too late, because the man had thrust it back into his pocket. Alex smacked the bat against the tiles on the floor. It made a sharp, solid noise, and they both looked at him with drunken, slow-motion surprise. “Get out before I call the cops!”
“Asshole!” The first guy grabbed his friend again, shoved him out the door, and slammed it shut behind him.
Alex locked it this time and leaned against it, heart racing. When it began to slow, he took a deep breath and another, and his temper faded. He had a date tonight, and if he didn’t move his ass, he’d be late. Cranking up Dropkick Murphys to exorcise the intruders, Alex cleaned the place out in record time. Once done, he grabbed his phone and clicked on the video text. Happy Birthday! The handmade sign filled the screen. Alex smiled.
Bare feet on their unmade bed. Hunter wiggled his toes, and Alex laughed. The phone camera traveled along Hunter’s shins to his knees, all dusted with brown and copper-tinged hair, and as he bent his left knee, the sheet fell from his muscular thigh. Hey, the pointed birthday hat covered his… Hunter stretched like a big cat, and the tip of the hat rocked as he adjusted his hips. Alex swallowed hard, mesmerized as the camera swept across Hunter’s hips and flat belly, up the opposite side of his body, past an erect pink nipple, the tattoo, and the hairy armpit, along his biceps, which he flexed, then forearm to wrist and the silver bracelet around it. Alex’s heart gave a little lurch, beating faster. His boyfriend had handcuffed himself naked to the bed for his birthday.
Oh, honey. Alex groaned, grabbed his wallet and keys from the cash register, and ran for the door.
He jogged out into the warm June night, the sky clear and sparkling over Delingham as he jumped into the car. He hoped to get home without wrecking the care while Hunter’s video replayed in his head. His blood boiled for Hunter.
He drove through the quiet streets. Alex hadn’t wanted to come back to Delingham at all, but Hunter’s family had made sure the rent got paid on his apartment. At least they had a safe place to go to when Hunter recovered from Dale Markham’s accidental gunshot wound. Dale Markham, former FBI agent, rotting in jail—someplace hot, Alex hoped, good practice for when he got to hell. Nick Truman, too, but a big black hole existed where he’d once been. Maybe they had put him in Witness Protection like Nick had hoped. The case against the two men who had murdered Alex’s uncle had become a nonissue, since before they could be taken into custody, someone had killed them.
Nothing like thinking about those things to defeat his raging hard-on, so he blasted out Dropkick Murphys again to fuel up the testosterone.
“Here I come, baby,” he murmured.
Not finding a parking spot near the apartment building set him seething and grinding his teeth. His lot in life had improved, but not his temper. He dropped the keys twice on the front stairs and made it through the door before he considered alerting Hunter. Alex texted—coming up now—and smiled to think again of Hunter there, waiting, naked, and handcuffed to the bed. They’d talked about playing like this but hadn’t got around to it yet. In the video, Hunter had kept the wounded leg covered; he hated the scar, the asymmetry where they’d taken part of the muscle during surgery. Doing better after a pretty deep depression before his physical therapist motivated him on the road to getting back in shape.
Yeah, we’re doing good.
Alex kicked away his shoes and whipped off his socks. “It’s me!” In the bedroom, both the music and the lights were low. Alex opened the door, grinning from ear to ear. Hunter grinned back at him, naked on the bed, the party hat on his head tipped at a rakish angle. A second set of cuffs dangled off the tips of his fingers. Alex pulled his shirt up and over his head, wrecking his hair, but he didn’t care. Hunter’s eyes were on him; Alex wanted Hunter drinking him in as much as Alex drank in Hunter. Alex had set himself up with a rigorous workout schedule to prep for the physical part of the special agent application process. He didn’t know for sure if he’d get accepted, but the real payoff lay in Hunter’s eyes.
Alex worked the zipper of his jeans. “Have you been waiting long?” He stripped off his jeans and underwear.
“I’m fine. Come and have your birthday cake.” Hunter laughed, the sexy, dirty laugh Alex loved. Hunter’s whole body moved in a sinuous, inviting wiggle, and the cuffs rattled. Alex’s cock and heart led him right into the bed like the needle on a compass pointing true north. He straddled Hunter, their legs tangling together in the sheets. He ran his hands over Hunter’s bulging biceps; he and Hunter had been working out together.
Hunter, his dream of love, impossible, unreachable. His selfishness for staying with Hunter kept him awake at night, tossing and turning, his head filled with fear. Vargas or Truman would take Hunter from him, from the world, and he’d be left to live out his days without Hunter, knowing he had been the one to cause his death.
Alex kissed Hunter to burn away his fears. When he put his hand down on the bed to brace himself, he touched the second set of cuffs. “I can’t believe you did this for me.”
“I guess you liked the video?”
Alex froze for a moment, like he had in the bar when the drunk guy had called him Boy Blue. Looking around, he found the webcam on the nightstand beside Hunter’s laptop and moved it into the top drawer.
“Ah,” Hunter said. “I thought you might want to make a sex tape, you know, for us?” He smiled cute and sexy, but Alex shook his head.
“I want my cake.” He nibbled Hunter’s neck.
“Did something happen in the bar tonight?” Hunter’s eyes were so light blue they appeared gray, but this close they were dark with concern. “You looked worried there for a minute.”
“Nothing to worry about,” Alex assured him, hoping he spoke the truth.
“Okay?” Hunter bucked his hips under his. “Come on, baby. Let’s go. I’ve been lying here thinking about you and all the things you’re going to do to me when you get home.”
“You look good enough to eat. And lick.” Alex flicked his tongue across the letters of Hunter’s tattoo. When he took a hard little nipple in his mouth, Hunter arched his body with a moan, and Alex tightened his thighs around him. Hunter pulled at the cuffs. They rattled again, the play of straining muscle in his arms mesmerizing Alex. He unwrapped Hunter like a present, pulling the sheets from them both until they were naked. As he reached for the lube, he tightened one hand around both their cocks and squeezed and stroked them together. Hunter’s groans set his blood on fire, and he strained to keep from sinking into Hunter’s ass and fucking the daylights out of him.
“So ready for you.” He moaned, arching up against Alex, the heated slide of their skin making Alex shiver. “Come on, tiger.”
Alex moved Hunter’s wrist to the headboard and cuffed his other hand to the top of the wooden frame.
Monogamy had freed them from the tyranny of condoms. Hunter’s hot and ready flesh welcomed Alex, wrapping around his aching cock like a velvet glove, and he pummeled the soft nub of Hunter’s prostate until his body fell under Alex’s control. No wrestling with his bossy bottom—Hunter took what Alex gave him, and Alex gave everything he had. He stared into Hunter’s eyes as he fucked him, the eye contact a live wire between them while he drove into Hunter, so sexy, so much love.
“Coming,” Hunter groaned out, tears in his eyes. “Oh, God…Alex…I love you.”
Alex couldn’t form words. Hunter had melted his brain. Alex stroked him until he came in Alex’s hands, crying out his name as orgasm racked his body. Alex didn’t hold back anymore and came like a rocket.
Sleeping With the Enemy
Hank rattled the keys in a one-handed grip to shake loose the house key from the rest. No lights on in the house, and beyond late for dinner. Starving and sleep deprived too. In his other hand, he held a thick file of case notes, because the night wasn’t over for him yet. At least Len had left the porch light on.
After letting himself into the house, he placed the file on the end table, keys on top, and toed off his shoes. The windbreaker he shrugged out of hadn’t done much to keep the cold spring off his back.
The rocking chair in the living room creaked. Hank spun around, hand going to his holster.
“Easy, cowboy.” Len yawned. He snapped on the table lamp beside him. “I fell asleep. What time is it?”
“Jesus, Len. It’s two in the damn morning. Let me put this away.” At the bottom of the closet, the gun safe sat on a shelf. He knelt, spun the dial around and tucked the gun away. When he turned, Len stood, arms across his chest, brown hair tousled. Another yawn stretched his mouth wide, and then he blinked like an owl behind his glasses. Hank, tired to the marrow, pulled Len into a bone-crunching hug, and Len laughed against his shoulder.
Relief tickled through him. On the drive home from the station, he’d feared the house would be empty. He inhaled the scent of Len’s pricey shampoo—vanilla and sweet tobacco with a hint of whiskey. His heart twisted with anxiety.
“I’m sorry. I—”
“You got caught up, I know. ’Sokay.” Len yawned again. “But I’m beat. She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed wants me in bright and early tomorrow, so…” He stepped away from Hank’s embrace. Hank let him go with reluctance. “There’s lasagna and meatballs in the fridge. Or maybe you’re ready for bacon and eggs?”
“Neither. Both. I’ll figure it out while I read the case notes again. I need to make sure this guy doesn’t walk.”
Len turned back. “Hon? I know. You’ll be great. You always are. Night.”
“Night,” Hank responded as he picked up the paperwork. He sat in the rocker Len had vacated with the file in his lap and fell asleep with the first page between his fingers.
He awoke with a snort, thinking he’d heard Len’s muffled laughter and smiled. When he glanced at his watch, twenty minutes had passed since he’d first sat down. He could sleep in tomorrow, but he still wouldn’t have caught up on all the sleep he’d lost over this one. Hank stood and stretched his aching muscles, contemplating a shower, but his deepening desire for bed and maybe sex to relax him led him into the bedroom and not the kitchen. Len’s nightstand lamp glowed and his side of the bed rumpled but empty. Len’s soft giggle came from the other side of the bathroom door.
Hank rapped his knuckles against the oak. “Hey, babe?”
The toilet flushed. “I’m just washing up! Be right there.”
A cold weight settled into Hank’s belly at his husband’s rushed, the edge of guilty tone, slithery and with pointed scales brushing against his tender insides—a too-familiar feeling tilting the world on its axis. The bathroom door opened, and Len came out wreathed in the scent of mouthwash and minty toothpaste. “All yours.” He smiled but wouldn’t meet Hank’s eyes, making it all the harder for Hank to dislodge the sick feeling in his stomach.
“Who were you talking to?”
With his back to Hank, Len said, “One of the new interns drunk-dialed me. She’s a hoot, so we talked. Come to bed, Hank. You must be wiped out.” He slid between the sheets and pulled back the covers on Hank’s side.
Liar, the serpent in his belly whispered.
Too tired to fight, he said, “I fell asleep in the rocker, so yeah, I guess I am.” He gathered up pajama bottoms and a T-shirt and headed into the bathroom. When he came out, Len lay facing away from Hank, his breathing even. Maybe asleep. Hank doubted it as he climbed into bed with his back to Len, his eyes wide in the darkness.