Prologue

 

JANE HEARD something out there in the swirling snow, something that made her pull the wooden shutters tighter and kill the single oil lamp she used for a blessed time every day when the darkness threatened to crash down upon her, squeeze the breath from her old lungs.

She banked the fire and grabbed her rifle with fingers that screamed with the broken-glass pain of age, then sat in the rocking chair and listened. Her eyes might be old, but her hearing was the same as it had been fifty years ago when her Lizzie had whispered soft secrets to her, taught her how to be a woman in the best way.

Now her Lizzie was gone, her body buried near the house, wrapped in their best sheet, and she’d been living here alone for six endless years. She’d been worried, sleepless, lonely, but never frightened.

This was—not a scream, but a deep pain carried by the wind, a broken sound that nothing in God’s nature made, and it caused her to shudder, her bladder wanting to let go.

The sound dripped with menace, with a mindless threat, and God help her, it was moving closer, toward the cabin.

She shook herself. You’re hearing shadows and haints in the rustling of the trees. You ain’t got your woman no more, so you’ve given in to vapors. Bears is all sleeping, wolves is smart enough to know that carcass on the poles is one of theirs, and the…

Pumas.

Oh, them critters screamed like a woman and were too smart. Bessie and Old Nurse were tucked away in the barn, but a donkey and an old cow weren’t nothing against those teeth.

Jane’s thoughts froze as she heard a rattle, then a thud and a thump. She closed her eyes and prayed, but sure as shit, the bray of that donkey split the air like a hatchet, and she heard the creak and groan of the barn door. That was her whole life in there—Old Nurse was the only way down the mountain come spring. The only way to turn her potions and medicines into oil and coffee.

“I cain’t lose this.”

Her home, her animals—they were all she had, and she’d fight the devil himself to defend them.

Jane grabbed her hat and pulled her quilt tight around her, then took the rifle and opened the door, shocked as all get-out to see the storm had stopped and the moon shone bloodred on the snow.

“Ain’t no matter, Satan,” she whispered. “This is all I got. I won’t lose it.”

The door to the barn stood open, a gaping maw offering to take a bite. She straightened up as well as she could, cocking the rifle.

“Please, Jesus, have my hand in this. Help me.”

Because old as she was, she wasn’t ready to die.

As she reached the door, a stench of death and agony hit her nose. Then she heard it. Two words.

“Jin Wang.”

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

AH. THIS is the good life.

Poe sat on the beach somewhere in Mexico. He wasn’t sure where and didn’t care. He’d given some produce truck driver a bunch of pesos and told him to stop when they were far away from all the major resort areas.

Now he had a thatched shack, his best Hawaiian shirt, a hat with ear holes in it he’d stolen off a donkey, and an umbrella drink.

And a view.

There was this guy….

Hoo, yeah. The view was fab.

Broad shoulders, little bitty butt, jaw so square you could set a level on it—the solid blond was fine, baking under the sun, sweat sliding over a cut six-pack belly. Hoo boy. He sure did like that look. Hell, who was he kidding? He liked almost any look as long as the guy sporting it could work it. This one? Was working it. Poe thanked God for baggy shorts.

The guy rolled up out of his chair, stood, and stretched, every single muscle rolling. “Lord, but it’s warm. Makes a body lazy.”

“Mmm-hmm.” They hadn’t been sitting that close to begin with, but Poe had sorta… oozed. Juuuust a bit. “Feels good after the North Atlantic.”

“I imagine so.” He got a grin, nice and sure and all-American. “There’s nothing like sun and surf.”

“Oiled-up bodies….” This one he could smell. Lord, Lord. Poe shifted, pulling one leg up. “Really good rum.”

“Oh, I haven’t graduated to the rum yet. Maybe I ought to do that instead of a beer….”

“Sure. If you go to the bar, I’ll buy.” Then he’d get to watch that tight little ass all the way there.

“Yeah? Well, that’s a good offer. I’ll get the second round. Even us up.” One square hand was offered to him, that body close enough to lick like ice cream.

Poe shook it before offering money. “’M Poe. Nice to meet you…?”

“Cam. Cameron Davis. What do you want from the bar?”

“Tell him I’ll have another one of these.” He waggled his little umbrella drink, handing it over with some cash. “He’ll know.”

“Sure, man. Cool.” Oh man. That ass. It had that sway thing going on as Cam fought the sand, that little tug and jiggle.

Lord, Lord.

The shorts rode up too, and Poe got to see hairy blond thighs, along with a hint of the thin skin on the inner leg, all tender and right. He might just get explodey.

Cam stood, far enough away that Poe could watch, one leg propped up on a barstool, the stance pulling those shorts perfect-like. Jesus Christmas, the man was gonna give him palpitations. His cock started up a nice little throbbing, like the beat of the music playing on a tinny little speaker in the background. The things he could do to that ass crossed his mind in a parade. He could see it fitting in his hands just so. Mmm. Or cradling his cock. Riding his fingers. Uhn. Oh, and then there were toys. Sweet heavens. He could turn that ass every which way but loose. He could leave bite marks on it. He could push into it until they were both raw. And then he could start on the other side.

Oh man. Speaking of the other side. Tight abs, little dark gold curls under the belly button, hollow of a throat deep enough to drink shots from….

“Here’s your drink. Thanks.”

“Whut?” Poe blinked, then grinned hugely, shaking his head at himself. “Sorry, man. I was daydreaming.”

“’S all right. The sun’ll do that.” Mr. Pretty stretched back out on the chair, legs spread and dangling to either side.

Lots and lots of cold water. That’s what he needed to think about. Falling off a rig with no wetsuit. Oil splattering his face. Old Man Harris shooting at him for despoiling his son. Of course, Mr. Cam Fine-as-Fuck Davis had to complicate matters by oiling himself up, slathering on the lotion. God, prelubed for his fucking convenience.

All he had to do was roll and slide. Like one of those vinyl toys you hooked up to the hose as a kid. Jesus. “So,” Poe asked, “you here with your girlfriend?”

“Hmm? No. No, I’m just here. A guy I work for had to stay home with his wife and baby and didn’t want to lose all the money from the tickets, so I lucked out.”

“Oh, sucks to be him.” Good to be Poe, though. Good thing Mr. Boss Man’s pesos had run out. “How long are you here? I could stand someone to play some pool with, have supper tonight.”

“I’m here for a week. Got in two days ago and been soaking up the rays since.” He got another grin, a nod. “I can handle a pool cue.”

Oh, he’d bet this one knew his way around a stick. “Then how about tonight?”

“Okay. Sure. Why not?”

Why not, indeed. “Cool.” Poe flicked some of the condensation from his drink off his fingers right at Cam to see what those abs could do. “A gringo gets lonely after a bit.”

“How long are you here?”

Look at that belly jump. He could lick honey off it for hours. Or other things. Cold cream. Hot sugar. “Oh, I’m here ’til my money runs out.”

“Lucky man. I have to be back to work next Monday.”

“Yeah? Where’s that?” Poe would love to say he hated to be nosy, but it was his fucking stock in trade.

“I work for the University of Texas, mainly. Research. I’m heading out for Utah from here. I… uh…. I travel a lot.”

“Utah, huh?” Some good copper and topaz there….

“Yeah. I’ll travel up there, do some exploring, send my findings back.”

Oh, now, there was a story there. “That’s some pretty country, man. I drill.” Oil, gems, la la la.

“Drill what?”

Now, was that a leading question or what?

“Your ass” almost popped out of his mouth. He stopped it. “Oil. Natural gas. Tourmaline. Dead bodies. Whatever gets me paid.”

That earned him a chuckle, bright blue eyes gone all twinkling. “Sounds like a hard way to make a living.”

Oh. The kid said “hard.” Poe dropped one hand to his thigh, thumb brushing his cock. “Yeah.”

The kid’s eyes followed his hand, his thumb, before Cam blushed deep, eyes moving away. Oh hell yes. There was interest there.

Poe grinned. Shifted, letting his solid thighs part some more so the side of his hand could rest against his cock, which was having a massive happy.

Cam leaned back in that lounge chair, cock bucking in those loose trunks before he turned over and gave Poe another look at that ass.

A man could have palpitations over that ass. Really. Hell, he hadn’t seen such a fine one since his last visit to Max and Morgan. To keep the conversation going while he cataloged every detail, Poe asked, “So, what’s in Utah?”

“Mormons.” He got a quick grin, a wink. “Well, Mormons and some mountains. I’m going to go looking for a lost wagon train.”

“No shit?” His cock didn’t subside, but his interest shifted. “You good at reading geological reports and shit?”

“I’m good at reading travel logs and diaries and historical references, and I’m extremely good at putting different pieces together.”

“But do you have a geologist? The desert can kill you if you don’t know how land shifts over time.” He was like a hound on a raccoon. He knew a job when he smelled it.

“I’m going up into the mountains, I think.” Cam chewed on his bottom lip. “If I read my maps right.”

“Uh-huh. And there’s the salt flats….” He grinned, thinking he needed a fun job. Those ocean rigs were cold.

“Yeah. It’ll be an experience. I’ve been planning a long time.”

“What kind of a crew are you running?” If treasure hunters got ahold of this tender morsel, it would all be over. Poe ought to know. He hunted. A lot.

“I don’t. I have a limited budget, really. I’m hoping to get a few students to come with me and then hire a few locals there.” Cam gave him a half grin, looking almost worried. “Dr. Franklin hasn’t been particularly helpful.”

“That the boss? He don’t believe in your wild goose chase?” He was thinking to invite himself along, then fuck that pretty ass ten ways from Sunday.

“Wild goose chase, my ass. The man doesn’t want me to be right.”

Oh ho. There was fire there. “Well, I’m always up for an adventure. Have supper with me and let me talk you into taking me.” There, he’d put it out there.

“Supper sounds good, although I imagine I’ll need more than one meal to convince me to hire on a perfect stranger.”

“You think so?” Don’t underestimate me, honey, he thought. I’m good.

“I’m willing to bet on it, yeah. I’m not known for taking unnecessary risks.”

“I am never an unnecessary risk. I’m an asset.” He winked over at Cam, putting a dose of extra warmth into his smile. He wanted this one. Tonight.

“An ass… et.” Cam chuckled. “You’re a danger, I’m thinkin’. What do you want for supper?”

“Well, there’s Mexican, Mexican with seafood, and Italian that tastes suspiciously like Mexican.” He’d gone to the Italian place once.

Oh now. He did like a man who laughed like he meant it. “How about Mexican? I’m a fan.”

“I say that’s our best bet. You can tell me your tale of woe and lost wagons.” Poe climbed to his feet, adjusting himself. “Come on.”

Cameron rolled up, giving him another long, long look at that pretty ass. That goddamn thing should be illegal. His hands actually twitched, but Poe figured if he grabbed now, he might lose his shot later. He wasn’t much on that deferred gratification, but he could handle it for now. He headed up the beach, loving how the sand made his legs work.

“Where are you staying?” Cameron’s voice came closer than he expected, the kid right at his shoulder.

“Got a bungalow up at the Hotel Paradiso.” The place was a roach motel, but that was what he could afford, right? “I eat better than I lodge, I promise.”

“I’m at the Queen Anne.” Not fancy, but not bad. “But I only get to stay ’til Monday.”

“Yeah, well, we’ll get to that when we have to.” He let his hand drift, let it touch the kid’s thigh as they walked along. Shit. Like his control would last any longer than a few seconds.

“Uh-huh.” Oh goddamn. That thigh was taut, hard, fine against his fingers.

“So, you done any sightseeing or just lazed on the beach?” Mmm. On the beach, stripped naked, hands on his cock. Oh yeah, the kid would be… uhn.

“Mostly lazing. I’ve been slathering up with cocoa butter and soaking up the rays.”

“Does this mean you have a tan line?” When Cam walked up next to him instead of behind him, Poe hooked his pinky in the kid’s swim trunks and pulled, peering sideways.

Cam jumped, the action pulling those trunks right over a sweet, tight, white-white ass.

Yup.

Tan line.

“You don’t have personal space issues at all, do you?”

“Huh?” What was the question? Oh. Right. “Nope. I’m used to living on rigs in the middle of the ocean with bunches of guys who’ve been away from their wives for waaaay too long.”

“That… that either sounds really fun or incredibly frustrating.” That pretty white ass disappeared as Cam hauled the trunks back up.

“Oh, I’ve gotten my ass kicked more than once. Gotten it laid even more.” They got up to the little strand that went along hotel road. “You wanting to change clothes?”

“I probably should put a shirt on. You want to come up?”

Up and up. Hoo yeah. “Sure. I’d love to see how the academic half lives.”

“Hey, I’m a lowly grad. A flunky. This is Dr. Franklin’s room. I’m just taking advantage.” Still, the hotel was low-level swanky, complete with concierge and elevator and gift shop.

His hotel might be more useful. It had a cigarette machine and a condom vendor in the lobby.

Of course, the hot tub in the room trumped condom vending. Goddamn.

“Home sweet hotel room.”

“Oh man. You’ve got a whirly tub. Maybe we should dip before dinner.” Goddamn, he could get up to some fun in that. There had been this one guy in Japan that had done the most amazing things underwater. He’d been a pearl diver. Guy could hold his breath for, like, a year.

“You’ll want to rinse off in the shower first, or the sand will go everywhere.” Cam pulled two bottles of water from a mini fridge and tossed him one.

“Oh yeah. Got it all over me, balls to brains.” He sucked down the water before shucking his shirt and trunks. “Wanna join me?”