MATHEW stared across the street, so pissed off he couldn’t even breathe. All this time looking for Philip James and this was where he found him… with him! He couldn’t help the sneer that crossed his face.
That cheating, useless piece of shit, Connor Kane. The drunken ass, rich brat whore, who treated Philip like trash! What’s wrong with Philip? He’s smarter than that. He deserves better than to be some rich boy’s play toy.
Mathew was seething, growling in his anger, completely unaware of the other people passing him on the street without getting too close. Anger and madness rolled off the handsome young man, distorting his features and twisting them into something ugly.
He knew it wasn’t Philip’s fault. His asshole of a father had twisted his brain. His father, a Marine colonel, had been mean and cruel, just like Mathew’s own father. Philip had just never learned how to fight back, was all.
Now he was easily manipulated by the money and fake glamour that someone like Connor fucking Kane had to offer.
Mathew sighed, trying to calm himself, and reached into his pocket. The comforting weight of the gun hidden there made him smile. Philip was going be his. He was going to finish the job that Philip’s crazy father had failed to complete when he shot Kane. For a military man, he was a lousy fucking shot. Mathew would do better.
Sure, Philip might be mad at him for a while. But once he realized Mathew had saved him, he’d know they were destined to be together.
He took a deep breath and started across the street, putting on what he hoped was a friendly smile that said “trust me.” His hand wrapped around the grip of the gun, his thumb flicking off the safety as he went.
Soon, it would better, it would be right, and Philip would be his.
SAM followed Josh out of the Brooklyn bookstore into the bright afternoon sun. They had a few unexpected days off from filming and had made good use of the time by doing some shopping. Things were kind of hectic on the set of After Sunset these days, and both men had breathed a sigh of relief at the chance to relax.
“Come on, Peterson, I’m dying here. I need some coffee and doughnuts,” Josh whined.
Sam smiled at his friend because he knew there was a doughnut shop around the corner and Josh’s caffeine addiction would soon be satisfied.
“Chill, Kelly. I’ve got it covered. We’ll be at the Donut Hole in five!”
Josh’s smile was instant and amazing. It was no wonder Sam was more than half in love with him. Not that he would ever tell Josh. There was no way Sam was taking a chance like that, not when he could end up losing his best friend.
Josh tossed his arm over Sam’s shoulder, giving it a little squeeze. “You always take such good care of me.” Sam just blushed and shrugged.
Josh caught movement out of the corner of his eye and looked up to see a blond man crossing the street, heading right for them. He was smiling, but there was something off about it, and the smile definitely didn’t reach his eyes.
Sam didn’t notice the stranger until he called out to them.
“Hey, guys, glad I caught up with you. Name’s Mathew… Mathew Reynolds.” He held out his hand, and Josh edged himself in front of Sam to take it.
“Hello, Mathew. It’s nice to meet you.” The smile the man gave Josh changed, and he started to wonder if maybe he was wrong. Maybe the guy was okay after all.
Mathew flicked his eyes to Sam, and the transformation was startling.
The man had piercing green eyes that turned cold and nearly lifeless when they focused on Sam. The only emotion Josh could read in them was hatred, pure and simple, and it was all directed toward his friend. But Sam was so busy looking at Josh he missed all the warning signs.
Josh was desperate to draw the attention away from his costar and friend, so he spoke to the young man again. “So, Mathew, what can I do for you?”
Something in his friend’s tone and the tension in his body must have caught Sam’s attention.
“Josh?” He tried to move around the taller man so he could look him in the face, but Josh just moved back in front of him.
“Not now, Sam! Look… just go back in the store, will you? Think I forgot my debit card in there. Will you go and check for me?”
He hadn’t bought anything in the store, but Sam had. He hoped Sam would just let it go and do what he asked, but that hope died as Sam started to talk.
“Josh, are you nuts—?” He was interrupted by Mathew practically growling at him.
“Holy fuck! You really are just a stupid slut, aren’t you? You can’t even remember his goddamned name? Get lost, like he told you. Can’t you see he wants to get rid of you?”
Josh watched as Sam went from confused to royally pissed and knew this was gonna get bad fast. The green-eyed guy was twitchy and getting scarier every second, but Sam was too incensed to catch it.
“What the fuck, dude? You don’t get to come here, making demands and pushing me and Josh around—”
Sam’s tirade was just getting wound up but was cut off when Mathew started screaming as he pulled the gun out of his pocket.
“His name is Philip James, you useless fuck!”
Sam’s eyes widened in fear, and his first instinct was to look at Josh, but he couldn’t move.
Josh started talking quietly. “Mathew, look at me.”
The wild-eyed man turned his gaze from Sam to Josh. “What?” His voice was deceptively calm, no longer screaming. Josh wasn’t sure which was scarier.
“I don’t know what you think is going on, but I think you might be a little confused.” Josh kept his body between Sam and Mathew, even as Sam regained the use of his muscles and tried to shove him to the side.
“I’m not wrong, Philip. I’m finally making things right.” Mathew looked at Josh, his eyes pleading for understanding. “He’s bad for you, Philip, really bad. Once I get you away from him, you’ll see that. I promise.”
Josh could hear Sam’s breath catch behind him. He reached back and grabbed Sam’s hand and squeezed it in a silent plea to be quiet and let him handle it. Sam squeezed back before letting go, thankful for the silent communication he and Josh seemed to be so good at.
“Mathew, I think you’re a little mixed up right now. My name’s not Philip, it’s Josh. And this is Sam, not Connor.” He didn’t want to draw too much attention to Sam, but he was hoping to get through to the lunatic in front of him before something bad happened. “Philip and Connor are characters we play on television, you know, on a soap opera… After Sunset?”
Mathew’s face twisted into a mask of confusion as he desperately tried to process what Josh was telling him.
For a second, Josh thought he was getting through, and he had some hope.
But Mathew shook his head and looked back at Josh. In his eyes, Josh could see pity, compassion, and beneath that, madness. Josh knew it was a lost cause trying to reach him.
“He’s got you brainwashed, Philip.” The gun in Mathew’s hand hung loosely by his side, and Josh tried hard to not stare at it. “He drank and cheated and pushed you away. Now he wants you back and he doesn’t care how much you’ve been hurt or how much you’ve given up for him.”
Mathew seemed so sincere, like if he just tried hard enough, Philip would understand.
“He doesn’t deserve a boyfriend like you, Philip, and I’m here to save you from him.”
The gun came up, held with a shaking hand, and Josh felt the blood drain out of his face. He wasn’t afraid for himself so much. But the thought of Sam dying on the sidewalk in front of him almost made his heart stop.
“Move out of the way, Philip. Let me get this over with, and we can be together, okay? I’ll take care of you, love you more than he ever could, I promise.”
Sam was trying hard to push Josh away, trying to edge out from behind him, but it was like Josh had radar where Sam was concerned. He efficiently kept himself rooted between the lunatic and Sam. He wasn’t even thinking about it, just doing it.
“Sam isn’t my boyfriend, Mathew, just my friend. He’s not Connor, and he’s never done anything to me, I swear. Please, Mathew, you have to listen to me.”
Sam wanted to say something to help defuse the situation, but he knew saying anything would only make things worse.
He looked around and saw a cop walking toward them from around the corner. For a second he thought they were saved… but then realized the cop couldn’t see the gun.
Mathew had tears running down his face now, but the gun almost seemed steadier in his grip.
“Please, Philip, just get out the way. I don’t want to hurt you, I wanna save you. Please, please, please just get out of the way!” Mathew’s desperate voice seemed like it was cutting into Josh’s brain.
The cop was almost beside the three men when he finally noticed the fear etched onto the faces of the people on the sidewalk around them as they slowly tried creeping away.
That was when he got a glimpse of the gun.
After that, everything seemed to happen in slow motion.
The cop shouted at Mathew to drop the weapon. A startled Mathew turned his head to the left to look at him.
Seeing an opportunity, Sam lunged around Josh just as Mathew’s finger jerked on the trigger. The man’s hand had wavered as he whipped his head around to look at the cop, causing the bullet to slam into Sam’s chest, the momentum pushing him back on top of Josh.
The cop’s gun came up, and he fired, killing Mathew instantly as the bullet caught him in the heart. With a surprised expression on his face, the crazed gunman hit the sidewalk in a heap, the gun clattering away from his hand.
Sam was almost turned around by the power of the shot. His eyes locked with Josh’s as he started to fall, Josh catching him awkwardly as they both collapsed to the sidewalk.
Josh found himself flat on his ass with Sam half draped across his body, blood bubbling up out of the wound in Sam’s chest. Sam opened his mouth to speak but found he didn’t have the breath. He looked Josh up and down, making sure he wasn’t wounded, and smiled.
Gasping for breath himself, Josh looked down, horrified by the blood seeping out of his best friend’s chest. Then he caught the angelic smile on Sam’s face.
It terrified him because it looked like Sam was saying good-bye.
“Sam, you listen to me. You don’t get to let go.” Josh struggled to pull him closer. “Please, you can’t give up. I’ll never forgive you if you do!” He pressed one hand to Sam’s chest, desperately trying to stop the flow of blood.
Sam’s right hand came up and grabbed the front of Josh’s T-shirt, hanging on like it was the only thing keeping him tied to consciousness.
Maybe it was.
“That’s right, Sam, hang on. Help’s coming, I promise. I can hear the sirens.”
Josh didn’t realize he was crying until he saw the tears dripping down onto Sam. When the injured man saw the tears, he frowned, letting go of Josh’s shirt and struggling to reach up and gently wipe them away.
At the touch of Sam’s bloody fingers to his face, Josh’s hand came up to hold Sam’s to his cheek.
“Please, Sam, I can’t lose you. You have to stay here.” Josh tried to smile as he took a shaky breath. “Yeah, I know, I’m being selfish, depriving heaven of another angel, but damn it, heaven can wait a few more years for you.”
Sam rubbed the thumb of his trapped hand over Josh’s lower lip and smiled again. He was tired. As long as Josh was okay, that was all that mattered. He let his eyes slide closed.
“Sam! No! Do not close your eyes, damn it!”
Josh was oblivious to everything else that was going on around them.
He didn’t see the cop holding a crumpled shirt to the wound on Sam’s chest. He didn’t hear the people around him asking what they could do to help or the footsteps of the paramedics running up to where he sat cradling his gravely wounded friend.
The only thing that mattered was that Sam opened his eyes again, those hazel irises turned almost pale green with shock.
The only thing he heard was Sam barely whispering his name as he faded into unconsciousness.