“We are of one body and share one soul.“ His tone was steady, belying his pain as the sharp blade of his sword buried itself deeply within his lover’s belly. The beautiful boy collapsed against him, blood covering their white garments with a vivid, ghastly red. It was a long moment before he realized that the pain spreading through him was not merely from grief.
Blood spread beneath their feet as the failing beats of their hearts added to the steaming pool. He looked into his lover’s eyes and saw only sorrow and devastating regret.
His heart heard the words that the boy could not speak. He glanced down, but only the dagger’s hilt could be seen, the length of it buried deep in his chest. He looked up at his lover once more, his strength failing as he graced the boy with a gentle smile.
“Mery,“ the boy gasped, his final breath cooling the blood that bubbled from his lips.
They both fell to the ground, their fall marked by a cry of horror. And somewhere out in the howling desert could be heard the malevolent laughter of a delighted god....
“Get your shit together, Macon, or you’ll be spending the rest of your career finding lost pets, Detective.“
Mumbling an echo of the captain’s warning to himself, Brian stared down moodily at his glass. Not that he could bring himself to care that his career was spiraling down the toilet. He was only thirty-three, but he was already feeling burned out. All the shiny idealism that had carried him through the police academy at the top of his class was long buried in the dirt and muck of too many bodies and not enough justice.
Ice tinkled against the sides of the glass as Brian gently swirled his drink. He took a sip, wincing at the slight burn that identified the whiskey as less than top shelf. Sounds of quiet conversation and the slick swish of waiters decked out in a server’s semblance of black tie passed around him unnoticed.
As gay bars went, Blackjack’s was more upscale than most. It was a bar in the truest sense, where guys could go and enjoy a drink and a leisurely chat without the pheromone-laden noise of dance clubs. An unseen sound system was piping in classical music, and the lighting was just low enough to create an intimate atmosphere while still allowing a man to see a potential evening companion clearly. Blackjack’s was perfect for men who were fatigued by the club scene but still wanted to enjoy the openness of a sympathetic setting. Brian had occasionally gone there for more social reasons, but tonight he was there simply out of a desire to avoid anyone from work. He was pretty sure that he was the only gay man working Homicide out of the 8th Precinct.
Feeling older than his years, Brian stared absently at nothing in particular. It wasn’t a good idea to drink on a work night, but the whiskey was a necessary medicinal-a cure for his recent lack of sleep. His dreams had been disturbing of late, as much for the content as for their repetitiveness. Images of thin, dark-skinned arms wrapping around the neck of an olive-toned man dressed in the rich apparel of some impossibly ancient time drifted across his mind. He quickly took a deeper drink to distract himself before the picture could fully take form, but it wasn’t easy to quell the feelings that lingered from the dream. Even now, hours after waking and after putting in a full shift at the station, the memory of the dream made him hard. The loving press of the taller man’s strong, toned body again his smaller companion, the caress of the boy’s seeking fingers against his lover’s skin.... Brian squirmed on his bar stool, helpless to prevent his arousal even as he fought against it.
Brian glared down at the amber liquid as the condensation from the glass coated his long fingers with chilly wetness. He could have simply chalked the visions up to his recent spate of abstinence if it weren’t painfully clear that there was more between the dream couple than mere sex.
“Who gives a shit?“
He had no time for romance, imaginary or otherwise. Brian knocked back the rest of his drink and contemplated whether to get another. The bartender noticed his empty glass and looked over at him, but Brian didn’t immediately meet the man’s gaze. He was on duty tomorrow and couldn’t afford the hangover or the teasing he would face from overindulging.
Brian winced as he caught his reflection in the mirror lining the wall behind the row of liquor bottles. Lines of exhaustion etched the light-brown skin of his face. The green hazel eyes that gazed back at him were slightly red, as much from the whiskey as the tiredness that had become his constant companion. Cursing his irritatingly low tolerance, Brian settled for tipping a cube of ice from the glass into his mouth and sucking on it. His tongue absently chased the taste of whiskey lingering on the cold surface as the bartender took the hint and turned his attention toward a waiting customer.
It had been a long day-hell, a long few weeks-and he was dog tired from his inability to get a decent night’s sleep. Unfortunately, he couldn’t blame everything on the high-budget porno that kept playing in his head every night. The dead body he and his partner, Angela Lovell, had investigated two days ago was the third in three weeks that hadn’t fit the usual mold of street violence. The victim had been an unimportant, low-level member of the Cosmino crime family. What was odd was the precision bullet hole that had scooped out a sizeable portion of the man’s brain. The coroner had been adamant that a run-of-the-mill handgun hadn’t caused the wound.
Forensics had found the bullet in the wall of the victim’s apartment, just as they had with the prior victim, another low-ranking member of Cosmino. And just like its predecessor, the bullet had been frustratingly clean of any markings or distinguishing characteristics. Their lack of progress in finding any useful clues about who was hunting Cosmino mobsters had severely displeased his beautiful but bitchy captain. Not that anyone would miss the scum, but the longer the rash of hits continued, the worse the department looked. Captain Preston was a woman of ambition, and she refused to tolerate any black marks on her otherwise perfect record.
Too bad she sounded like a screeching crow when she was pissed. Her insults ringing in his ears like nails on a blackboard, the last of the ice dissolved on Brian’s tongue. He glanced at the bartender’s back, thinking that maybe just one more drink wasn’t such a bad idea after all. “Forgive me for bothering you, but please tell me exactly who has put such a disagreeable expression on your face so that I may kill them.“
The unexpected words, spoken in a mild yet outrageously sexy accent, made Brian lift his head sharply. He blinked in astonishment at the man who had presumptuously taken the stool next to him. Resentment at having his solitude disturbed by some guy on the make bubbled up but died a swift death as he got a good look at the other man. The stranger’s features were finely sculpted, his close-cropped hair a shade so blond as to be almost white. Ice-blue eyes were somehow warm as they gazed at him, instantly tempering Brian’s glare into a helpless stare. The man was undeniably gorgeous, but it was the shock of recognition that shot through Brian that caused him to clutch desperately at the empty glass in his hand.
I know him. It was as though, somehow, he’d known this man his entire life. Shaking his head to rid it of the ridiculous notion, Brian scowled, more unnerved than annoyed. The man quirked an eyebrow at him curiously, but his unwavering gaze was expectant, as though confident that he wouldn’t be rejected. His expression was open and inviting, but behind the man’s calm, glacier-hued regard, Brian could sense a hidden intensity, a keen focus that was determined to miss nothing. Brian was nearly convinced that the man sensed the slight change in his breathing and the quickening of his pulse when his attention suddenly sharpened. The man’s gaze shifted downward almost before Brian realized that the warmth in his cheeks was an aberrant flush. Humiliated at the revealing streaks of color, Brian turned away and lifted his glass to his lips distractedly before remembering that he had already drained it dry.
Brian blinked at the empty glass, his discomfiture rapidly turning to self-disgust before mellowing into amusement at a seduction well played. Lifting his glass in acknowledgement, Brian smirked and glanced at the other man from the corner of his eye. “That’s a creative line. Are you always so inventive?“ His stomach fluttered when the stranger chuckled. Brian wondered when he’d suddenly become a randy teenager with his first crush.
“Well, not to dash your expectations, but let me follow with this: may I buy you another drink?“
Brian laughed in spite of himself as he turned to look at the blond full on. That unsettling focus was gone, but he hadn’t been imagining how handsome the other man was. His gaze drifted surreptitiously over the man’s fair, shapely brows, strong cheekbones, and thin yet sensuous lips. A prominent, slightly crooked nose kept his face from being too perfect, but even that flaw wasn’t enough to relieve the noticeable tightness in Brian’s pants.
“Sure, why not?“ he answered, ignoring the voice in the back of his mind telling him this was a bad idea. Brian had a feeling this wouldn’t end with just drinks, but after the day he’d had, he deserved a little selfishness. The stranger smiled at him, fueling the growing hardness between his legs and quieting the lingering guilt that niggled at his conscience. Brian found himself staring at the man’s finger as he lifted it to gain the bartender’s attention. Wondering how he could possibly find an index finger sexy, Brian forcibly looked away as the blond ordered a martini for himself and a refill of whatever Brian was having.
“This is a beautiful song, ja?“
Brian blinked at the non sequitur. He glanced distractedly at the bartender as the man set a newly filled glass in front of him before looking back toward his companion. The soothing music was nice enough, but he couldn’t say that he knew a concerto from concrete. “Um, I can’t say that I’ve heard it before.“ For a moment, Brian was tempted to pretend he was more sophisticated than he really was, but he knew his cheap suit practically screamed “middle-class peon.“
“Beethoven’s Appasionata,“ the man elaborated. “The third movement. Do you hear the strings as they strive through the arpeggios, almost as though they’re fighting gravity?“ His hand moved in graceful counterpoint as he spoke expressively about a clearly beloved topic. Brian understood only one word in ten, but the blond’s deep voice, supremely suited for the gutturalness of his accent, only added to his fascination. Brian quickly realized he would have been just as entranced if the stranger were reading from an actuarial table.
“I have occasionally heard this piece attempted with a full orchestra in this way, but the maestro intended it for the piano. No other instrument is truly capable of capturing the essence of his intent. The ebb and flow of emotions, like winds ripping through the trees of the Black Forest during a storm. Such powerful imagery created with the mere touch of hammers to strings.“
After the second helping of alcohol, Brian was feeling pleasantly warm and decidedly less cautious than he had been a minute ago. He stared as the man paused to sip his martini, mesmerized by the sight of his lips as they glistened with droplets of gin. The stranger picked up the speared olives from the glass and took one of them between his teeth to slide it free, and Brian shifted uncomfortably on his stool. Sensing a lull in the conversation and eager for it to continue, Brian hazarded a guess as to the blond’s nationality.
The flash of straight, white teeth made Brian realized he’d said something embarrassingly gauche. He wanted to be angry, but there was no hint of condescension in the man’s demeanor, only amusement at Brian’s obvious gambit. “I am German. And you are American, ja?“
Because Europe isn’t a country. Brian could almost hear the gentle correction spoken in the man’s deep voice. Fighting off yet another blush, he answered with a crooked smile that was more than a little sheepish. “Yeah, I was raised right here in the city. I’ve never been to Germany, or even out of the country for that matter.“ Brian felt a little better when the blond’s expression remained free of any hint that he felt sorry for Brian’s limited sphere of worldly experience.
“Um, the Black Forest, is that where you’re from? Is it nice?“ He would have winced at the banality of their exchange if he’d been a little more sober and the man gazing at him almost fondly had been a little less hot. As it was, he was willing to talk about the time he’d gotten sick on the teacup ride at Disney World when he was six if it would keep the other man talking. Thinking about why he was so unwilling to end this interlude made him uneasy, but the whiskey dulled the edge of his concern. It also made him miss the stranger’s slight hesitation and the sharp glance that was suddenly aimed in his direction.
“No, I grew up in Potsdam, when it was still in East Germany. But when I was a child, I loved to read about the forest and its nearby mountains. I finally got a chance to visit when I was in college, and yes, it is very nice. Would you come to my hotel room with me?“
The question was so straightforward and without preliminaries that it took Brian a moment to decipher it. But when he did, his body was quick to answer before his mind could interfere. Swelling to full hardness, Brian resisted the urge to press his legs together to appease the sudden ache. The man watched him closely, his brilliant blue gaze taking note of the uncertainty that flitted over Brian’s features.
This is ridiculous. Rolling his eyes, Brian shook his head as his shoulders moved in a silent, humorless chuckle. He was a grown man, far beyond the stage of trolling for pick-ups in bars, and all he could think about was following some stranger to his hotel? No way. He didn’t have time for this, and he especially had no interest in hooking up with some guy from out-of-town who was just looking for some local color to enliven his evening. It was past time he did the responsible thing and went home to sleep off his impending hangover so he’d be ready for another day of the job he’d increasingly come to hate.
Bracing his hands against the edge of the counter, Brian lowered his feet to the floor so he could push his stool away from the bar. He turned to make some excuse that was hopefully not overly lame when a warm hand fell atop his own.
“Please say yes. You don’t have to be afraid of me.“
Shit. Brian glared at the blond and cursed him silently, wondering how in the hell he’d guessed the real reason Brian was planning to flee as fast as he could. A challenge darkened his gaze, daring the other man to force the issue and give him an excuse to walk away. But the stranger merely stared at him with an emotion that Brian did not dare to try and identify but which caused his stomach to knot with something akin to anticipation. The other man’s gaze was direct and intense, filling him with need. The weight of the hand against his was disturbingly familiar, and a jolt of electric heat threatened to scorch him where they touched. Brian started to jerk his hand away and tell him to go fuck himself, but the other man squeezed his hand ever so slightly.
The invitation wasn’t repeated, but the blue eyes examining his face for the tiniest reaction spoke loudly. As Brian returned the blond’s steady gaze, a voice whispered an unknown word into his ear.
Brian didn’t even realize he’d spoken until he saw the pleased smile spread slowly across the stranger’s face.