Chapter One




EXPLOSIONS ripped through the quiet night. Where there had been only the velvety ink sky a fire now licked the edges, crimson tongues blushing the skin of the night with heat. It erupted with a crash of noise and thunder, shaking windows and rattling headboards across town.

As the flames flickered, a kaleidoscope of burnt reds and oranges, the rumble of a motorcycle cut an underscore to the pop-hiss of burning. Dark leather creaked as a figure kicked off, riding away, silhouetted against the symphony of vibrant fire. 

Not bad for a night’s work.

Jed Walker asked only one thing of his acquaintances—never refer to him by his given name. Journey, after all, wasn’t something anyone but a pensive folk singer could pull off, and he was hardly that. No, Jed suited him just fine. It was what was inscribed on his dog tags, and that was good enough for him.

Muscles in his arms bunched and tightened under sun-soaked skin as Jed made a sharp turn, narrowly avoiding a fire truck racing to where he’d just been. The 24-hour diner nearby promised coffee and company though, and the lure of both was too strong to deny.

“Howdy, sweetheart.” He grinned lopsidedly at the prickly older woman working both the counter and a pink collared uniform. She just cocked an eyebrow and slid a menu toward him, clearly unimpressed. Just as well. He probably couldn’t have kept up. No one who wore her hair that tightly curled was anything but a tiger in the sack.

Four eggs over easy, toast, coffee as black as sin and twice as bitter, and a half stack of silver dollar pancakes. Just what the doctor ordered. Jed sat at the counter, long legs sheathed in worn jeans, battered boots kicking idly against the metal legs. Full lips pursed to blow some steam off the coffee, and he caught a guy down at the other end giving him more than one look. Which was just fine by him, actually. Guy had salt-and-pepper hair, nice thick waist, and fingers that Jed would love to feel thrusting inside of him. And a wedding ring on the left hand, which sealed the deal.

Once upon a time, he might have been idealistic. Everyone was, at some point. But then he’d hit the ripe old age of fourteen, and his old man had taken the belt to him one too many times. Jed had learned in a hurry that nobody gave two shits about anyone if they could help it. Married men were easy fun. They fucked like they couldn’t stop, because it was a novelty for them. Then they did up their trousers and whistled their way home, leaving Jed exactly how he preferred to be. Alone.

Now this guy here looked to be a salt-of-the-earth type, weather beaten and scruffy. Probably out for an extremely early breakfast before work or just coming home from a late shift. Perfect for a quickie to ease him down off the adrenaline high. Sopping up the last of his yolk with the toast, Jed took a bite with vigor, licking off his fingers and not bothering to hide the lewd tilt to his lips. Sliding himself off the stool, he sauntered over to the man, letting his gaze do a once-over, making it obvious what he was there for.

Four in the morning, the place was near empty. So when Jed hitched himself up on the stool right next to the guy, there was no mistaking his intentions. Holding out his hand, he grinned at him, eyes dancing with anticipation. “Name’s Jed,” he murmured. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

The guy snorted quietly, probably used to blowing things like this off. But the diner was deserted, except for the waitress, busy with dishes and an old drunk sleeping it off in the back booth. Gathering his courage—and his hormones—a callused hand slipped into Jed’s. “Mark,” he said, voice rough as gravel. Jed laughed and leaned in, head cocked invitingly.

“Well, Mark, I was hoping you might help me out with a trouble I’m having. You see, my cock is about ready to burst, and you look like you might know what to do about it.” With a wink he turned away, ambling slowly back toward the men’s room, giving Marky-boy all the time he needed to get a nice look at his ass.

Sure enough, Jed barely had time to lean up against the dingy sink before Mark burst through the door, looking pissed as hell and rather delicious. “I’m not a fag, boy,” he growled, but Jed just reached around him to latch the door, giving him a smirk.

“Course not,” Jed agreed easily. “You just looked like you could use a good time.”

It was the typical prelude. Never mind sweet romance and roses—the guys Jed tended to pick up all wanted to claim they didn’t swing that way. Even while they were all but gagging for him to take off his pants. Jed had long ago stopped trying to figure it out. Must just be, when you had a wife and kids at home, it was all-fired important to be anything but what you were. Those were things Jed thankfully never had to think about. He knew what he liked, and there wasn’t anything in this world or the next holding him back—and what he liked were older guys, big guys, married guys. Men who took him and pounded him hard without listening to a damn thing he said other than more and please and deeper.

There weren’t any more words. What would be the point of them? Instead it was Mark’s lips ghosting over his, featherlight and hesitant, that one last breath before he plunged forward. The kiss broke over Jed like a wave, like a hard, bruising force, pulling him under. He gasped for air when Mark shoved him back against the counter, when all at once his jeans were somewhere on the floor, his cock hard and straining against the thin fabric of his boxers.

Mark was heavy and hot in his hands as Jed unzipped his pants, as he dropped to his knees and nuzzled his cheek against the tight flesh. His lips closed over the swollen head, tasting the salt and the sweat, and Mark groaned harshly over him. Fingers threaded into his hair, pulling him further onto the hard length of Mark’s cock. Jed choked as the tip of Mark’s dick hit the back of his throat, and he wrapped his hands around the curve of his hips, scrambling for purchase against the rough fabric of his jeans while Mark fucked into his mouth.

His head hit the edge of the sink, Mark’s hand pulling him back with every thrust. Grunts and the harsh pant of breaths mingled with the sound of skin meeting skin, with the wet slide of Mark’s cock past his lips, and Jed gave himself over to the sensations. One hand slipped down to wrap around his own aching dick, stroking in time. When Mark came it was with a loud groan, head back, tongue thick and caught between his teeth as his cock twitched and spurted down Jed’s throat. Jed’s come was sticky and wet against his hand, pooling on the floor, and he rested his forehead against Mark’s thigh for a moment, gasping desperately for air.

The next minute the bathroom was empty, door shutting with a thump, and Jed was alone. 

It took him a little while to pull himself together and clean up. But that nice after-burn wasn’t going away anytime soon, no siree. He all but strutted out to his bike, swinging his leg over the seat and pulling back out onto the highway. There had been a shrink he’d had to see, after his discharge, that had asked him why he did what he did. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” only applied while you were actually in the force, see, and once he’d been released from duty there wasn’t any point in not telling. He’d had a slight anger problem. Only a little one, not a big deal, but the point was, because he’d been Special Ops, they kind of took an interest in him, once he’d gotten all civvied up. Probably because he liked explosions. A lot. So his shrink, that one at least, had asked him about the random men and the hookups, why the fucks never went anywhere.

It was simple, really. While they were using him, while their cock was down his throat or so deep in his ass he saw stars, he mattered. Freud would have a fucking field day with him, that was for sure, but Jed didn’t see the problem. Everyone had their thing. His was easily cured with some good, old-fashioned deep dicking.

Also, he’d had a good day. Freelance work meant he took what he could get, but today had been a good one. Setting off a gas explosion that looked accidental but really, really wasn’t, was tough work. Insurance fraud was a scam as old as Capone, but it never got boring. Someone hired him, and boom, a few weeks later they had a nice pile of ash and a big, fat check.

It’d been a good day. And now that he’d gotten off, all he wanted was a cigarette, a drink or three, and his bed. Sadly, his fairy godmother was about thirty-three years too late, and nobody had given him a genie in a bottle yet, no matter what that song said. Rubbing things the right way, while pleasant, did not stop his phone from ringing the second he stepped through his apartment door.

“Oh, for the love of Christ’s hairy nipples,” he muttered, tugging his gloves off with his teeth while he fumbled for his phone. Flipping it open, he barked, “Walker,” glowering at the whiny Siamese cat that had wound herself around his legs, crying at him pitifully. Course, that glower didn’t stop him from scooping the damn thing up, sighing as she headbutted his chin with a desperately loud purr.

Stupid cat.

“Mr. Walker. I’ve been referred to you by a mutual friend. Could we meet?”

The voice on the other end was pure silk, power clothed in velvet, rushing noise, and Jed found it hooked into his gut like fire. Knievel was purring louder now, sensing she was not the sole focus of his universe, and trying to bat his nose. He twisted his head away and dumped the cat onto the couch as he passed. Cradling the phone with his shoulder, he dug through the fridge, searching past expired milk and half-moldy cheese for a beer. “Sorry, princess,” he grunted, shoving the mustard aside, “I don’t do field trips. Everything happens over phone or e-mail, untraceable and disposable, and we walk away. You understand. I’m very shy and retiring. Delicate disposition.”

Ah, there it was. Jed flipped off the bottle cap and took a long swig, wondering who the fuck had recommended Mr. Movie Phone. Maybe it was Kenny. Except Kenny was still pissed at him about Ireland, which was understandable, considering he’d left him on a burning runway with a bunch of unhappy IRA members closing in. They hadn’t exactly looked like they were planning a clambake. 

“That is unacceptable. I need to see—”

“Deal breaker,” Jed interrupted cheerily, clicking off the phone and collapsing into his couch. Rubbing absently behind Knievel’s ears, he flicked through the channels, waiting. New clients usually needed the tough-love routine. They weren’t exactly Joe Smith, the people who called him. They were used to getting exactly what they wanted at all times. What they had to realize was that Jed didn’t work for them. Not like that. He was a professional, best there was, and he didn’t listen to civilians, no matter how much money they pulled in.

The phone rang again ten minutes later, and Jed grinned, letting it go to voicemail. His new best friend rang right back, and this time he answered, not keeping the smirk out of his voice. “Everything happens over the phone or e-mail, disposable and untraceable only, please. Now, are you secure, or do you want to call back once you’ve gotten yourself settled? Please do take your time. No rush on my account.”

“I’m sending you the details.” Ooh, the voice sounded pissed. Jed really did love his job sometimes. “Contact me if the terms are agreeable. And Mr. Walker? I do not enjoy being toyed with. Do not do it again.”

And then the conversation was over. Tossing his phone away, Jed groaned, sprawling out and grunting when Knievel decided his back was a good perch to sleep on. Well, somehow he thought this was going to get a little more interesting than he usually liked.