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Where Death

Meets the Devil

:Coda

A Death and the Devil Short

L.J. Hayward

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Smashwords Edition

Copyright L.J. Hayward 2018

***

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ISBN 978-0-9944571-2-7



Cover by L.J. Hayward

Inspired by an original design by L.C. Chase

Other Books in the Death and the Devil Series

Where Death Meets the Devil

Good Words about Where Death Meets the Devil

Where Death Meets the Devil is a stunning debut. It hits all the right marks as a well-plotted, well-paced and well-written romantic suspense novel.

~ RT Book Reviews


Hayward ratches up the suspense in this action-packed piece, with constant twists and betrayals on all sides to keep things unpredictable. . . . Fans of tense action and smoldering romance will appreciate the emotional connection between Jack and Ethan; there’s plenty of chemistry

~ Publishers Weekly


The masterfully plotted dual-timeline and a swoonworthy assassin with a soft side hooked me from the start.

~ Cordelia Kingsbridge, author of Kill Game


An addictive, page-turning mix of high-stakes intrigue, edge-of-your-seat suspense, and slow burn romance. I couldn’t put it down!

~ Layla Reyne, author of the Agents Irish and Whiskey, and Changing Lanes series

Other Books by L.J. Hayward

Night Call Series

Blood Work

Demon Dei

Here Be Dragons (short story)

Rock Paper Sorcery

Where Death Meets the Devil

: Coda


When he woke up, it was to the scent of strongly brewed tea…


Jack Reardon snapped upright. Where was Ethan? What was he doing? Why was he here?

Then he heard the shower and let out an explosive breath of relief.

Jack looked around his bedroom. He’d fallen face first on the bed late at night, the room blackened by blinds on the windows. Now, so much later, it was day and soft light filtered in around the blinds, highlighting all the things that hadn’t been there when he’d gone to sleep. A pair of leather dress shoes by the door to the bedroom, suit pants and jacket on a hanger hooked to the front of his wardrobe and a weapons harness draped over the corner of his tallboy, two large handguns still in the holsters.

It was him. Ethan Blade. Notorious assassin, harbinger of chaos and bane of Jack’s stomach lining. Case in point, the queasiness hit right on schedule, burning away the last groggy vestiges of sleep.

“Christ,” Jack hissed. Not this again. Not so soon.

Scrambling out of bed, Jack hunted for something other than his underwear to be caught dead in. Because that was it. Despite the tea and the shower and the weapons just fucking hanging right there, there was a strong to very fatal chance this wasn’t a friendly incursion.

The clothes Jack had discarded on his single-minded drive for the comforts of home weren’t where he’d dropped them. They’d made a trail a blind person could have followed from front door to shower. The damp towel pooled on the floor at the foot of the tallboy with its open drawer described how he’d rummaged for a clean pair of boxer-briefs to sleep in. Now, the towel was gone and, yup, those were his dirty clothes neatly folded in the laundry basket.

That was a good sign, right? Ethan wouldn’t have tidied up if he was just here to “finish the job,” surely. Though, he was a bit fastidious about things being not so much tidy as correct. He would fiddle with his weapons harness until it lay absolutely perfect across his shoulders. Steeped his tea for an exact six minutes. Made his own ammunition. Planned every job down to the nth degree, even to the point of knowing exactly what would drive Jack crazy with paranoia . . .

On the surface, everything had seemed to end on a positive note. There was the smile and the teasing, not to mention the wink, but it wouldn’t be the first time Ethan had plotted mayhem behind a sweet, innocent façade. Jack had, after all, betrayed him, derailed his plan and, potentially been the cause of Ethan spending the rest of his life in a prison cell. It could well be Ethan wasn’t here for innocent reasons, but to finally get that revenge Jack had feared so many times in the desert.

Jack scrounged out a t-shit and was in the process of reaching for jeans when the shower shut off. The bathroom was just down the hall from the bedroom. He had maybe twenty, thirty seconds before Ethan emerged.

He considered grabbing one of the Desert Eagles from the harness but dismissed it quickly. Ethan would have planned for that move. There was the window. Jack had scouted an escape route along the outer wall, but again, Ethan had most likely thought of that. He could hide, catch Ethan in an ambush . . .

Who was he kidding? Running or fighting wasn’t going to work. Jack may have managed to catch Ethan by surprise once or twice now, but the crazy bastard was on to those tactics. Would have anticipated them and planned accordingly.

The door to the bathroom opened and now he was down to ten seconds.

Going with the only option left, Jack tossed his hastily gathered clothes into the laundry basket and threw himself back onto the bed. He crawled into position, pushing the sheet down in what he hoped was an inviting tangle and leaned back against the headboard, ankles crossed, arms folded over his bare chest. Just in time, too, as Ethan appeared in the bedroom doorway.

With divinely sculpted muscles and smooth, pale skin, Ethan wasn’t only ten different types of deadly, but at least that many types of sexy, as well. Not quite as tall as Jack, he had a long, lean perfectly proportioned frame, broad shoulders, narrow hips, sleek thighs and calves Jack could swoon over. His dark hair, damp from the shower, flopped over his forehead and water beaded on his upper arms. One of Jack’s fluffiest towels was around his trim waist and a pair of grey socks were on his feet. Unarmed but not vulnerable.

“Ethan.” Jack was immensely proud of how unaffected he sounded, as if assassins popping by his bedroom was old hat.

“Jack,” he returned, equally cool. His half-lidded gaze skated down Jack’s body and back up again, bringing with it a small, almost tentative smile. “You’re home.”

“Yeah. They finally let me go.”

“I’m pleased. I did worry for you.”

It sounded sincere and some of the uncertainty eased involuntarily. God. Jack may have decided how he felt about Ethan was okay. That desiring his body and enjoying his humour and intelligence wasn’t a bad thing, but it was all part of a double-edged sword. He’d seen Ethan turn from warm and friendly to cold and deadly in an instant in the past. Jack might have missed the death blow, but he knew without a doubt Ethan had killed Samuel Valadian, a man Ethan had been fucking for weeks. And Valadian hadn’t even betrayed Ethan. Jack had, and now he wondered if he’d survive it. Fuck, he wanted Ethan to say it was all good, but there was that lingering doubt.

“Thanks,” Jack said. “Made Field Leader, as well.”

Ethan’s smile broadened into a grin. “Congratulations. You deserve it.”

Again, it came across as believable and Jack really wanted it to be true. Hoped like crazy Ethan wasn’t here for anything more than peaceful reasons. It wasn’t so much that Jack didn’t want to die, because he fervently didn’t, but more that he wanted Ethan to understand why Jack had done what he’d done; that it was for the sake of not only the Office’s security, but for Ethan’s wellbeing as well. He didn’t want Ethan’s occasionally precarious grip on morality to be shaken by something Jack had done for all the right reasons.

Ethan brushed a drop of water off the exit-wound scar on his chest. “Field Leader. I presume this means you have more control over your deployments.”

Jack blinked, trying to wipe away the image of Ethan’s nimble fingers sliding over his firm pec. The thing was, it hadn’t been a targeted assault on Jack’s libido, but it blew out his carefully shored up foundations all the same. His dick thickened, and his belly warmed.

Damn Ethan for making him horny when he should be wary. And the towel was fluffy enough it hid any sign of Ethan’s state of arousal.

“Um, yeah,” Jack said. “Some control, not total autonomy. Get to pick my team, which Unit Leaders I work with. That sort of thing.”

Ethan nodded and pushed away from the doorframe. One hand on the top of the towel, he came towards the bed. “That’s good. It might make it easier.”

Easier? What might be easier? But the power to form the words aloud was beyond Jack right then, because Ethan untucked the towel and let it drop to the floor.

The fluff had been hiding a definite interest in something other than a fight. Ethan might be a bit messed up, but he wasn’t that messed up.

With another uncertain smile, Ethan came to Jack’s side, paused, then slung his leg over Jack’s thighs and settled down, straddling him. The cotton of his socks rubbed against Jack’s bare legs and the feedback response in Jack was as unmistakable as it was in Ethan.

Swallowing the hard lump in his throat, Jack managed, “Make what easier?”

Ethan shifted forwards a little bit. “This.” He ran his hands up Jack’s arms to his shoulders, his strong fingers flexing as they brushed Jack’s black curls.

“This?” Jack had to be sure. He’d been burned too badly in the past. “What, exactly, is this?”

Lips twitching into a smirk, Ethan said, “Exactly? Hmm, I suppose, exactly, it would be us, being together, for this.” He nudged Jack’s erection with his own.

This was hooking up? For sex?

It wasn’t about revenge?

Clearly taking his stunned relief for overwhelming lust, Ethan pressed against Jack. One arm looped around Jack’s neck, the other slipping down between them to tease the waistband of his undies. Christ. He smelt good. Warm skin, soap, musk and the growing scent of sex. Ethan wasn’t faking. He was breathing deep and slow, but Jack could feel him shaking ever so slightly. No one was good enough to pretend that level of trembling control.

“For this,” Ethan murmured against Jack’s skin. “For sex and for everything you make me feel, Jack. For making me laugh and arguing with me. For challenging me and for supporting me.” He kissed Jack’s temple and added, “For mutual attraction and for losing control. And that is what I want, Jack, that I know I couldn’t possibly get with anyone else. You treat me like a man, like a human, and you shag me like you want me to feel everything you feel. It . . . it makes me do the one thing no one else has ever managed to do. You make me forget what I am. Who I am. You make me believe there is something other than the job.”

Jack’s arms were around him without a conscious decision. Hands pressed to all that smooth, clean skin, he nuzzled his face into Ethan’s neck, to get more of that enticing olfactory drug. His dick surged.

It would be so easy to just stop thinking, to let it all go as he had that first time in the cave, to forget there would be consequences and revel in the now, drown in the immediate pleasure and worry about breathing afterward. Ethan was warm, he was desirable, and when he was driven beyond control, amazingly wild and responsive and so fucking beautiful it was all Jack could do to keep from tying him to the bed so he’d never leave.

But there would be consequences. There already were consequences and Jack couldn’t do this until they were sorted.

Finding a smidge of sense in the turmoil of lust and desperate need, Jack pulled back. He gripped Ethan’s shoulders and held him away, needing the few precious inches now between them.

“Jack?” Ethan shook his dark hair out of his eyes and frowned.

Jack was half way certain the Office knew just how close he and Ethan had become. None of his counsellors or evaluators had directly asked if they’d fucked—though they probably would have said, “Did you and Omega Subject engage in any intimate contact?”—and yet Jack had walked away from a couple of debriefs wondering if they’d read between his words and seen what he hadn’t said. A worry that may have been confirmed by Tan when he’d suggested Jack do what he could to “keep Ethan happy” in the hopes of luring the world-class assassin-cum-spy to work for the Office.

Even if they didn’t already know, they would very quickly. There was nothing ambiguous about a naked man sitting on someone’s lap. Not that the Office had cameras in Jack’s apartment, but there was an unspoken understanding that working for the Office came with levels of observation. At work and in their private lives. It was passive surveillance—key-stroke monitoring; trigger words in phone and email communications; movement discrepancies—things any half-trained asset could counter, if they wished—which, in turn, was a red flag to their employers.

Even if he and Ethan were discreet, kept the sex to secure locations and didn’t go out for romantic dinners, the Office would know. A fact Jack was all too keenly aware of. Which meant Ethan had to be, as well.

Ethan’s unfathomable white eyes were half-lidded against the dim light, and the rest of his face was just as blank. But there were other bodily expressions it wasn’t so easy to control. His dick, which had been hot and hard against Jack’s belly moments before, had lost some firmness but still showed a decent measure of interest in things going in a more pleasurable direction.

It was a sound endorsement of Jack’s own capitulating thoughts.

But there was something Jack needed spoken words for. Something more personal than the idea that they’d be watched, however distantly.

He let his hands slide down from Ethan’s shoulders, fingers tracing over smooth skin and firm muscles.

Ethan remained still, wary but hopeful. “Jack?”

“Yeah,” Jack said, more a confirmation of his presence than an actual answer, but he realised his mistake in the same moment Ethan mistook his meaning. “No,” he added hastily, holding Ethan back as he tried to close the space between them again. “I mean, yes, but there’s one thing first.”

Settling back on his heels, Ethan took a slow, deep breath, then nodded. “Which is?”

Christ. This might have started with Ethan wanting sex, but it could very well end just how Jack had feared it was going to begin—with a deadly fight.

Jack took a fortifying breath of his own. “Are you okay with what I did at the Office? The way I . . . betrayed you.”

Ethan’s body went tight with tension. Just as Jack was looking for options to get the upper hand before Ethan did, the assassin grinned and relaxed.

“Betrayed . . .? Oh, yes. No, I am fine with it. You’re forgiven, as I said in the cell. But honestly, there was nothing to forgive. Everything you did was perfectly understandable. Your plan worked amazingly well. I must apologise for doubting you when you suggested there was an alternative to my frankly unsophisticated plan of a frontal assault. You were right, I was wrong. Now, can we shag?” He punctuated it with a roll of his hips, brushing his dick over Jack’s.

Jack blinked. Then blinked again, to give himself another second to parse the preceding babble. A jumble of over the top reassurances ending with a suggestion aimed for distraction.

This had happened once before, in the desert, when Ethan had got side-tracked talking about his cars. A mere twenty-four hours into their strange alliance and the dead-eyed killer had spilled his guts about something very personal to him. Back then, Jack didn’t have the knowledge he did now.

Ethan was nervous. Nervous about how Jack would react to his unannounced appearance in his apartment. Nervous about Jack’s response to the idea of “seeing” each other beyond the boundaries of their jobs. Nervous about what had happened in the Office. On that score, Jack should be—and was—the worried one, not Ethan. Which meant there was something else going on here.

It hit Jack hard. Not as hard as a rubber bullet filled with a tranq and tipped with a needle, but nearly.

“Holy shit! You crazy bastard.” Jack shoved at Ethan.

Unprepared, Ethan tumbled back onto his arse on Jack’s calves. Before he could do more than steady himself with hands on the mattress, Jack continued.

“You planned it all! You weren’t serious about your ‘frontal assault.’ God, I’m so fucking stupid. I should never have believed you were serious about something that . . . that . . . obvious. You only made that plan so I would argue with you about it. So I would decide to do something different. You wanted me to betray you. Why, Ethan? Why the fuck would you put yourself in that much danger?”

Ethan went still, falling into the predator-mien that was his go-to when things went off kilter. A silence filled with his furious thoughts, assessing, countering, working out how to get things back on track. Then, with all the grace of a professional tumbler, he rolled over backwards off the bed and to his feet.

“Perhaps this wasn’t a good idea, after all.” Ethan turned for the wardrobe and his hanging clothes.

Was this the moment Jack pushed too much and Ethan snapped back? Maybe Ethan was right and this wasn’t a good idea. Mind-bending sex out of the equation, his life would be immeasurably easier without Ethan in it. No more doubts about his loyalty to the Office or Meta-State. No shady agreements with Tan. No more moments like this one where Jack couldn’t help pushing against an unstable killer but unable to stop himself all the same. No more . . .

No. Fuck it. Not giving a shit about consequences was what saved him in the desert, what made Ethan stop looking at him as a target and begin seeing him as a person. What made Jack, in turn, stop thinking of him as nothing more than an assassin and realise there was so much more to Ethan Blade. A man who got nervous and babbled about cars. The scars on his back that told a silent story about violence excused as discipline. How he laughed at Jack’s jokes. The way he made Jack smile. The almost innocent man under the hard exterior.

“No,” Jack said, firm but calm. He got off the bed, ready to either fight or block Ethan’s path to the door. “You’re not going anywhere. I’m not putting up with this bullshit. Just tell me, Ethan. I need to know. Why did you do it?”

Already in his underwear, Ethan did stop. His back was to Jack, skin flushed with embarrassment or anger, making the whip scars stand out so much more than they already did. After a tense moment, he re-hung his pants and slowly turned around.

“I did it for you.”

Jack nodded. “I gathered. But why?”

Ethan fixed his gaze over Jack’s shoulder. “I thought if you were seen to be ‘betraying’ me to the Office, then it would help them trust you again.”

“All right, but that’s something we could have planned together, beforehand.”

“No, we couldn’t have. It had to be real.”

“You know, I’m not that bad an actor. I managed to fool Valadian for fifteen months and would have kept it up if you hadn’t blown my cover.”

“Yes, I know. But . . . it had to be real. You had to betray me, Jack.”

Maybe this was reason enough to let Ethan walk out for good. These Goddamned convoluted conversations where Ethan must believe he was making perfect sense but confused the hell out of Jack.

“Huh?”

Ethan sighed and some of the stiffness faded from his shoulders. “It’s simple, Jack. I betrayed you at the compound. Now, you betrayed me at the Office. We’re even.”

Shit. Jack turned to the bed and sat, resisting the urge to implore God with raised fits and a plaintive, “Why me?” Instead, he took a few precious, deep, calming breaths.

“Jack?” Ethan took a couple of steps closer.

Jack held up a hand, holding him back. “I get it now. You felt you had to even the score. Okay, fine. But why?”

Frowning, Ethan considered this for a long while. When he spoke, it was soft and resigned, as if once he’d finished speaking, he would be getting dressed and leaving.

“I hurt you, Jack. In the desert. I used you. I’ve done it dozens of times. Picked a player in whichever game I was sent into, used them, sacrificed them, left them to whatever fate awaited them once I was done. When I was planning the Valadian job, I didn’t know you. Not really. I studied your dossier and did a little digging on my own. I knew your strengths and your weaknesses, but I didn’t know you. I didn’t know how I would come to feel about you.”

Jack had an insane urge to ask just how Ethan’s feelings towards him had changed but kept quiet. He wasn’t sure he needed to know without a doubt that in those first few days there had been a target on his forehead.

“For the first time, I didn’t want to walk away from someone. I understand why you didn’t come with me when I asked in the desert. You were angry about how I’d betrayed you. I know what you’re like, Jack. I know that if you feel betrayed, you don’t forgive easily, if at all. So, I thought if the tables were turned it would even things out and that this time, you wouldn’t say no.”

Elbows on knees, Jack rested his face in his hands. Pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes and tried not to growl in frustration.

Sure, he and Ethan weren’t that different. Soldier and assassin. Both were weapons wielded by others, told where, when, how. Hands roughened by holding guns and knives. Bodies scarred by the enemy. Hearts hardened by too much bloodshed. Lips tightened by too many secrets. Emotions shielded by any means possible. Next to that common history was the present. They could laugh together, had shared some serious thoughts and yeah, there was bucket loads of mutual attraction. But here was a difference.

These crazy-arse plans. Ethan’s convoluted reasoning. His warped expectations. Like he’d been waiting for Jack to pay him back, to double-cross him, because that was how Ethan’s world worked. An eye for an eye, retaliation instead of forgiveness. Show no weakness. That, perhaps, the only way Ethan could imagine Jack wanting to be with him was to prove he was Ethan’s equal, or stronger. When Jack didn’t take it upon himself to even the playing field it had been up to Ethan to make it happen.

It wasn’t that Jack couldn’t understand the reasoning. He could, and that was the problem. If they did this mad thing—hooking up now the job was done, outside of any excuses other than wanting to—the problems they faced wouldn’t just be the Office watching. Jack had his own issues. He’d been through too many psych evals and counselling sessions to be blind to them. But Ethan . . .

Jack was back at that intersection, facing down two different paths.

Beyond the darkness in his hands, Jack heard Ethan sigh and the soft rustle of fabric as he began to dress.

“I understand, Jack,” he said. “I won’t bother—”

Jack lunged off the bed and grabbed him around the waist. Stunned, Ethan took a moment, then struggled.

“Jack!”

Jack dropped him on the bed. Ethan bounced and clutched at the messy sheets to steady himself.

“Jack?”

“You idiot.” Jack quickly clambered on top, straddling his thighs and grabbing his wrists. Holding tight with both knees and hands, Jack pressed Ethan into the mattress, firm but not harmful. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised you don’t do things normally. Have you ever done something the simple way in your entire life? Or is it all convoluted, over-thought plans? Do you wake up in the morning with a detailed itinerary for your day?”

“Yes, but—”

“No buts. Jesus, Ethan. Do you know how I felt about betraying you? I felt like shit. Not once, you dumbarse, did I feel like I was getting back at you. I thought what I did was going to be what drove you over the edge.” Jack eased back on his grip a little bit. “It hurts me to admit it, but you’re right. You burn me, I don’t forgive easily. However, my sister hasn’t said a civil word to me in years. She won’t let me see, or even talk to, my niece, and I was so angry with her for so long. But not anymore. I know why she did what she did and I forgave her. It does happen.” Letting Ethan’s wrists go, Jack sat back on his heels and watched him for signs of escape.

Given the chance to break free, Ethan didn’t take it. “Your SAS CO?”

“He’s got no chance. I’ll never forgive him for what he did.”

“Director McIntosh?”

Jack shrugged. “I’m working on it.”

Ethan hesitated, then gently rested his hands on Jack’s thighs. “And me?”

Jack let him stroke his skin for a moment, then took hold of Ethan’s hands and removed them from his legs. Ethan closed his eyes and sagged.

“And you?” Jack shook his head, realising now he had to back up his impulsive moves with logic. All he’d known at the time was Ethan was going to leave and he didn’t want that. Jack wanted this, whatever it was between them, to keep going. And if that meant dealing with Ethan’s twisted thought processes, then that’s what he’d have to do. “You are a crazy bastard.”

“Half right, Jack.”

Jack smirked. “You keep saying that and I keep thinking you’re wrong about the half part.” To take any sting from the tease, he turned Ethan’s hands over in his and ran his thumbs over his palms. “Yeah, I was angry about the shit in the desert. It always hurts to realise you’ve been lied to. Used. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t forgiven you. I didn’t want to. I wanted to stay angry.” Jack pinned Ethan’s hands over his head again, then slowly slid down so he was lying over him. “I couldn’t, though. You’re far too sexy to kick out of bed.”

Ethan trembled under Jack. “Is that all it is, Jack? Lust?”

He looked so vulnerable Jack had to tell the truth. “No.” Then, because that scared him almost more than the thought of Ethan leaving for good, he added, “There’s also mutual attraction.” Emphasised with a slow, hard rub of his groin on Ethan’s.

Ethan bit his lips, muffling a low moan. His hips pushed back and he wriggled his legs free so he could hook his feet over the back of Jack’s thighs. “Yes, there is.” Then, a touch warily, he asked, “So, we’re even?”

Jack wanted to shake him again, say how they never had to get even in the first place, remind Ethan that two wrongs didn’t make a right. But he didn’t. Ethan knew all that and yet he still needed reassurance. Damaged innocence at its worst.

“Yeah,” Jack whispered. “New slate and everything.”

With a neat twist, Ethan had his hands free. He threw his arms around Jack’s shoulders and buried his face in his neck, whole body trembling. Except for his dick, which was prodding Jack hard enough to bruise. Jack indulged for a long moment, breathing in the wonderful scent that was Ethan’s skin and grinding against him. Then he pulled back, breaking Ethan’s hold.

“Jack?”

“Naked, now.”

Laughing, Ethan helped but the constant wiggling of his body while Jack hauled down his underwear didn’t aid the process much. Stopping every couple of inches to kiss and touch, it took Jack an inordinate amount of time to rip the soft cotton boxer-briefs off over the grey socks. While he was down there, Jack rolled to his back and skimmed off his own undies, tossing them in wild abandon. Ethan laughed harder, but it choked off when Jack swiped his tongue up the length of Ethan’s dick on his way back.

“Jack.” Soft, breathy, warm.

He caught himself from falling on top of Ethan, holding himself up on his hands. Ethan lay back, sprawled across the mattress. Those eyes Jack thought he’d never get used to were half-lidded, as unreadable as ever. Everything else about him, however, spoke of lust and desire and need. From the flush in his cheeks to the way he caught his lower lip between his teeth; from the heaving of his firm chest to the hardness of his dusky nipples; from the roll of his hips to the feel of his stiff dick rubbing against Jack’s stomach; from the clamp of his legs around Jack’s hips to the way he dragged his calloused hands from Jack’s shoulders, over his chest, across his belly and to the hard V of muscles arrowing downward.

“God,” Jack hissed.

Yeah, Ethan was messed up, but so was Jack. Maybe this whole thing would implode in a spectacular eruption of clashing psychoses, or maybe it’d work despite them. The only thing to do was try.

Surrendering, Jack lowered himself slowly, pressing Ethan into the mattress. Ethan watched him as he got closer, his gaze darting from Jack’s eyes to his mouth and back again. Jack had to swallow a sudden clot of moans that wanted escape at that very bad idea, but still he ended up nose to nose with Ethan, sharing the same breath, looking into those inestimable eyes. Ethan licked his lips, then gently, cautiously, raised his head. At the last possible moment, he tilted and kissed Jack’s jaw under the corner of his mouth.

Such a palpable wave of relief washed over Jack he almost came on the spot. Other partners said they understood his choice not to kiss on the mouth, but still thought it on the table when things got hot and heavy. He shifted to give Ethan more room to play and shivered as the assassin nipped and mouthed his way towards Jack’s ear.

Dipping his head, Jack licked a long line from Ethan’s shoulder, up his neck and to just behind his earlobe. Ethan shuddered, then gasped as Jack sucked on the sensitive skin. The body under him rocked in response, Ethan’s fingers digging into Jack’s sides. A soft, pleading “Jack,” rolled out of him. Hearing his name spoken so involuntarily, so helplessly, sliced through him like a blood-warm knife and Jack rocked his hips into Ethan’s. Dicks collided, and sensation sparked. Both of them groaned, clutching at the other.

It had only been ten days. Jack had had drier spells. Yet this was too much. Too much heat, too much need, too much Ethan fucking Blade. He couldn’t wait any longer, didn’t want to talk anymore, didn’t want to do anything other than fuck.

Jack propped himself up on one elbow, that hand fisted in Ethan’s dark hair. The other gripped Ethan’s hip, holding him down firmly. Hauling Ethan’s head back until the long line of his throat was exposed, Jack attacked it with his mouth. Ethan quivered, his hands grasping at Jack, his whole body shaking with building pressure.

The gentle rocking of their hips shifted into something more insistent, needier, thrusting at the other with almost violent force. The rough catch and pull of dry skin burned but neither seemed to care, too caught up in the sensations of each other’s bodies.

Ethan’s legs hitched higher on Jack’s waist, pushing his groin up harder and Jack’s shaft slid into the tight space between Ethan’s thigh and groin. The added pressure and heat blazed through Jack’s dick and balls, tightening his guts. His thrusts lost their steady rhythm as he strained against Ethan’s body, knees digging into the mattress for extra leverage. The tension coiling in his hips increased to almost painful levels.

“Fuck,” he moaned into Ethan’s shoulder, the impending orgasm building in leaps and bounds but feeling just out of reach. “Ethan, fuck . . . I gotta . . . God!

Ethan’s hands were everywhere. On his back, his arms, his shoulders, sliding down his spine to grasp his arse. He was chanting Jack’s name, mouth against his temple. Jack didn’t hear the words, but he felt them as if they bypassed his ears and travelled into his brain through skin and bone.

Then Ethan did something. Something with his legs, or his hips, or his busy hands . . . or all of them, but Jack didn’t care to find out because suddenly he was coming in a blinding, deafening rush.

Gasping for air and sanity, Jack buried his face in Ethan’s neck, breathing in deep of the sweat and musk, his body thrumming with the echoes of his orgasm. His hips still rocked, but slower, satiated, just riding the lingering heat and pleasure until he got too sensitive to stay pressed against Ethan.

Under him, Ethan moaned and stroked his hands down Jack’s back, ending on his arse. He gripped it tightly. “Jack, don’t stop. I’m . . .”

Jack moaned, feeling Ethan still hard, still needy. “It’s your own fault,” he grumbled. “You’re the one who did . . . that . . . thing.” Even thinking about it made his head spin with the lingering bliss of his orgasm.

Almost whimpering with frustration, Ethan rolled beneath him. “I didn’t think you’d go that quick.”

Burrowing deeper into Ethan’s skin, Jack mumbled, “Again, all your fault.”

“Ah, deflecting blame once more.” The attention-seeking buck of his hips belied his wry tone. With a rumbling groan, Ethan resorted to pleading. “Jack, please.”

Jack turned his head so Ethan wouldn’t feel him smile. That was the begging he wanted to hear. He rocked a little harder and Ethan nodded, murmuring encouragement. So Jack pulled back.

“No.” Ethan pulled him close with his legs.

“Let me go,” Jack said against his throat. “Or I can’t get a hand down there.”

With gratifying speed Ethan’s legs unlocked and dropped. He was wriggling in frustration, panting with the effort of not letting go. Jack shifted enough to expose Ethan’s dick. He slid one of his legs over Ethan’s, pinning him to the mattress so he couldn’t get away. One hand still twined in Ethan’s hair, he reached down and stroked his hard dick, watching Ethan arch into the touch. Small, begging noises were escaping him now, his hands fisting against whatever they found—Jack’s arm, his back, the sheet, his own mouth to keep the debauched sounds in.

Jack kept his touches light, teasing, drinking down the sight of Ethan losing control. He wasn’t sure what he preferred, Ethan wild from the start, bucking and uncoordinated, his voice broken and desperate; or this, the slow eroding of the outer armour, the joy of doing anything and everything he wanted to this man just to get here, to the sweet explosion of innocent wonder at the power of his pleasure.

“Jack, please . . . I need . . . just do it!”

Nearly there. Jack leaned in and kissed his way across Ethan’s clavicle, to the hollow at the base of his throat. Christ, he tasted so fucking good. He was already feeling twitches in his dick, expressing its intention to do this again very soon.

Realising he’d lost track of his plan, Jack lifted his head and checked on the progress.

Ethan’s eyes were squeezed shut, mouth open as he struggled for air in short, shallow pants. His hips were thrusting against Jack’s hand, only Jack’s restraining leg keeping him in touch with the bed. But it was still controlled, a deliberate effort to get Jack to do something serious.

If that’s want he wanted . . .

Jack closed his hand around Ethan and stroked hard.

Ethan lost it. His eyes flew open, back arching as a broken gasp tore from his throat. As he crashed to the mattress, he clutched at Jack. “Now, now.”

Christ. Jack couldn’t deny such pure desperation any longer. He tightened his hold and gave Ethan what he needed.

Ethan came with a silent gasp, back arching sharply, fists pulling up acres of sheet. He was so unrestrained, so bloody beautiful in his unfocused release, Jack caught him up and smothered his neck and chest with hot, hard kisses. He stroked the violently trembling body until it gentled against him, every muscle going slack with exhaustion.

When Ethan stopped trembling, Jack loosened his hold and let him roll to his back. Jack lay half on, half off, little ripples of growing desire spreading at the feel of this warm, slick body against his.

They lay in gentle silence, both slowly catching their breath. Finally, Ethan lifted his hand and trailed his fingers down Jack’s shoulder and along his arm. At Jack’s hand, he brushed the curled fingers, then made the journey back up. Jack shivered at this simple caress.

“So.” Ethan’s voice was rough and dark and delicious. “Does this mean you won’t slam the door in my face if I appeared on your doorstep?”

Jack chuckled into Ethan’s chest. “If you appeared on my doorstep, I’d likely have a heart attack. Rather, I’d probably come home one day and find you already inside, naked and waiting with a bow around your dick.”

“Hmm.” The sound of an idea being sown.

Slapping Ethan’s hip lightly, Jack muttered, “That wasn’t a request.”

No verbal response, just another slow caress.

Another length of pleasant time later, Jack moaned and peeled himself off Ethan. “We should get cleaned up.”

“Yes, I suspect we should.” Ethan didn’t move. Didn’t even open his eyes.

“Don’t worry.” Jack patted his belly. “I’ll do it.”

“It would be appreciated.”

On legs that only shook slightly, Jack stumbled to the bathroom, cleaned himself up, dampened a handtowel and brought it back to the bedroom. Tossing the towel on Ethan, he rummaged through the bedside table drawer. While Ethan lazily wiped himself down, Jack triumphantly held up a box of condoms.

“Still in date, even,” he announced, flopping down beside him.

Ethan rolled over, his back to Jack. He reached back and hauled Jack’s arm across his shoulders, pulling until Jack was snugged right up behind him.

“How fortuitous,” he murmured, voice thickening towards sleep.

“If they hadn’t been, I do have latex gloves somewhere.”

Ethen snorted a laugh. “I do enjoy creative solutions.” He pulled Jack a little closer and all but melted into the mattress.

“Hey,” Jack said before Ethan could drop off. “There’s something I want to ask you, but I don’t want to cause an argument.”

With a sleepy little mumble, Ethan said, “I promise not to argue. What did you wish to know?”

Propping himself up on an elbow, Jack looked down at the peaceful, innocent expression and believed it. These were the moments that made all the rest worth it. Not just post-coital, but that helped. More, it was the absence of masks or artifice and no agenda beyond being right here, right now.

He almost didn’t want to ruin it by bringing this up, but he had to know.

“When you first came in to the Office, they stripped you down and washed you while you were knocked out.”

Ethan’s lips pursed. “Something I am very glad I was asleep for the first time. The next time, it was incredibly hard to go along with. Did you know, according to one of the Office assets whose task it was to wash me the second time, I am ‘sin waiting for a place to happen’?”

Jack internalised the snicker but couldn’t keep from smiling. “No, I didn’t know that. I’m sure he or she is rather embarrassed by that now, knowing you were awake the whole time.”

“One can only hope. Is that what you wanted to know?”

“No, but now I do, cheers. What I really want to know is this . . .” Jack stroked the naked body pressed to his from shoulder to hip and back again. “Where did you hide the data stick with the spyware you planted in the Office?”

Ethan was quiet for a moment, then turned to look up at Jack with a wink and smirk. “I could give you a hint.”

“No, no, no.” Jack buried his face in Ethan’s shoulder. “Not that again. Just tell me.”

Relaxing his whole body, Ethan snuggled into the pillow. “A man must retrain some mystery, Jack. If you want to know, you’ll have to work it out for yourself. If you wish to shag again, you’ll let me rest.”

Shit! Jack really wanted to know, but he didn’t want to have to puzzle it out on his own. After a silent battle of wills with himself, he finally accepted that there was something he wanted more than an answer—Ethan in his life.

Jack pushed his groin against his arse. “You get fifteen minutes to rest. Make the most of it.”

Ethan laughed, and it was the longest fifteen minutes of Jack’s life.

About the Author

L.J. Hayward lives and writes in southeast Queensland, Australia. That is, when she’s not in the lab cackling like a mad (always provoked!) scientist or talking about herself awkwardly in the third person.


Website: http://www.ljhayward.com/

Twitter: @lj_hayward

Books

Death and the Devil

Where Death Meets the Devil - Jack Reardon, former SAS soldier and current Australian Meta-State asset, has seen some messy battles. But “messy” takes on a whole new meaning when he finds himself tied to a chair in a torture shack, his cover blown wide open, all thanks to notorious killer-for-hire Ethan Blade.

Night Call

Blood Work - Matt Hawkins kills monsters for a living. Slay and pay. Werewolves, trolls, the occasional ghoul that gets a bit too big for its grave; but basically, whatever nasty critter crosses his path. Mostly, he kills vampires. While he’s made something of a living out of it, he doesn't even need the promise of cash to take down a vampire. Sure, it’s a nice bonus, but vampires are his personal crusade.


Demon Dei - It's been six months since the harrowing conclusion of Blood Work and Matt's waiting for the fiery repercussions. And waiting. And waiting. Even if no Big Bad wants revenge, shouldn't he be in hot demand? Like the lawyer who wins the unwinnable case. Or the mechanic who works out what that clunking noise is in your car. Instead, Matt finds himself struggling to maintain his career as the Night Caller. But things are about to get nasty in a big, big way.


Here Be Dragons – (short story) Sunday. Day of Rest. To anyone not Matt Hawkins, vampire-slayer extraordinaire, that is. A short story set in the world of Night Call, between the novels Demon Dei and Rock Paper Sorcery.


Rock Paper Sorcery – Vanquishing vampire Primals and defeating Demon Lords is one thing. They’re dangerous in an obvious, tooth and claw way. But when a sorcerer comes to town chasing a murderous rogue, Matt Hawkins is faced with something he doesn’t know how to deal with—competition as the city’s resident badarse supernatural warrior.


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