BARELY KISSING the horizon, the sun glowed a fiery crimson over the purpling waters of Islamorada, casting orange shadows over the storm-shuttered windows and whitewashed wraparound porch of their beachfront home.
Warm, salty breezes promised an evening thunderstorm and rippled the tall sea oats that covered the dunes, surrounding the house with a green and gold carpet.
Malak stood barefoot on the second-floor balcony, dressed in nothing but a loose-fitting pair of thin white cotton pants. His tanned, flawless skin stretched over a chiseled body and his long dark hair blew wild in the evening breeze. Malak was himself as much a work of art as anything his talented hands created.
A flick of Malak’s wrist added a touch of vermillion to the wide swath of color that stretched across his canvas. Stepping back and eyeing his work, a small frown creased the skin between dark eyebrows.
To anyone else Malak would appear to be only slightly dissatisfied with what he saw, but Cael knew him better than that and ducked just as the canvas came whizzing through the air. It flipped end over end, sailing over the balcony railing, spiraling onto the dunes below.
“What was wrong with that one, Mal?” Cael asked, peering down at the wreckage of Malak’s latest creation. Coarse sand clung to the wet paint, lending it the consistency of colored grits.
“It was shit.”
Only Malak’s voice, deep and smoky, could make defecation sound sexy. Cael smirked and swung himself up onto the balcony railing, straddling it. Leaning back against one of the posts supporting the overhang, he crossed his arms over his chest, watching Malak angrily swish brushes around in a mason jar half-filled with murky turpentine.
“You say that about everything you paint these days, Mal.”
Below Cael, half-buried in the sand, were the remnants of at least a couple dozen of Malak’s canvases, in various stages of completion. Pieces of the stretched canvas and broken frames stuck up through the sand like paint-splattered bones. Malak refused to allow any of them to be picked up and thrown away, inspiring Cael to nickname the area surrounding their porch St. Malak’s Cemetery.
“Don’t you have something else to do?” Malak grumbled, carefully cleaning his brushes and placing them bristles up in another mason jar. He dried his hands on a paint-splattered rag, keeping his back to Cael. “Someone else to do?”
“Not at the moment,” Cael answered, grinning. He could see the muscles tensing across Malak’s shoulders. It was so easy to provoke him that it barely provided Cael with a challenge anymore. He flipped his mane of golden hair behind him and smiled impishly. “Why? Got someone in mind?”
“Go fuck yourself, Cael.”
“A physical impossibility, Mal. Believe me, if I could I would—constantly, and with great enthusiasm.” Cael laughed, jumping down from the railing. He walked up behind Malak and ran his hands over Malak’s strongly muscled back, feeling the silken skin twitch under his palms. “You’re tense, Malak. That’s why you’re having a hard time creating anything worthwhile. You’ve held out too long, and it’s affecting you physically.”
“The only reason I’m tense is because you’re still here,” Malak growled, shrugging Cael’s hands off his shoulders.
Undeterred, Cael’s hands returned to caress Malak’s smooth skin. “I could relieve your tension in an instant, you know,” he purred, sliding his hands around Malak’s trim waist. He traced his fingers lightly over the ropy muscle of Malak’s stomach, before slipping them under the drawstring waistband of Malak’s pants, smiling at the sharp gasp when his fingers brushed against Malak’s pubic hair. “I’d do whatever you’d like me to do. Touch you. Kiss you. Devour you. I’d even bend over the railing for you, let you take me hard and fast or slow and sweet. Or would you rather bottom? You’d like to feel my cock push its way into your sweet, tight ass, wouldn’t you? All you need to do is tell me what you want, Mal. That’s all it would take.”
“Knock it off, Cael! You already know what my answer to that is.”
Malak twisted away and opened the sliding glass door that led into the upstairs living area. He slipped inside, closing it behind him. Cael watched him round the corner into his bedroom, the resulting bang as he slammed the door shut echoing throughout the house.
Still smiling, Cael fingered his erection through his cargo shorts, adjusting himself. Damn if he hadn’t given himself another boner. It was a wonder he never learned—thinking about fucking Malak did that to him every time.
Touching any part of Malak’s body had that same effect on Cael, the heat from Malak’s skin going straight from Cael’s fingertips to his groin. He sighed deeply as his erection grew painfully hard. A body would think he’d have grown immune to Malak’s charms by now, but no.
It had been that way for the past three thousand years—why should today be different?
Flinging himself over the railing, Cael’s blood-red wings shimmered into view, membranous and leathery, flapping slowly to ease his fall. He landed lightly on the sand below, his feet barely indenting the grainy surface.
Bending, he plucked Malak’s latest creation from the ground. A slow grin creased his cheek as he contemplated the sand-splattered painting. The canvas showed two figures entwined, one light and one dark. Although their faces were indistinct, no more than smudges of color, it was clear to Cael who the subjects were.
Malak’s subconscious was trying to break through the wall he’d erected between them. His desire was manifesting itself in his paintings, had been for centuries now, which was why Malak was unhappy with everything he painted.
He didn’t want to admit that he wanted Cael as badly as Cael wanted him. But Malak’s wild, bold brushstrokes and his sensual use of color, in addition to his subject matter, told a different story.
He was losing control.
And none too soon, as far as Cael was concerned. Time was swiftly running out for him. If Cael didn’t get Malak between the sheets relatively quickly, Cael was going to find himself right back where he’d started, with a pitchfork stuck in his ass and a permanent case of the hornies.
That was a totally unacceptable outcome. Cael would not go back, refused even to consider the possibility. Three millennia had done nothing to dim the memories of his life before he’d met Malak. He remembered all too clearly what it had been like, how much he had suffered.
Humiliation. Degradation. Subjugation. Deprivation. All tempered with a healthy dose of pain, they’d filled his every waking moment. And since Cael never slept, that translated to being miserable every moment of every fucking day.
He was not going back.
His hands clenched involuntarily, crushing the canvas with a splintering sound as the wooden frame cracked in his fingers. Letting it drop back onto the sand, he struggled to regain his composure.
Calm yourself. You have everything under control. He’s going to snap any moment now, like a twig in a tornado. Cael took a deep breath, filling his lungs with clean, fresh air, willing his muscles to relax.
A few more days and Malak’s resolve would crumple like tissue paper. That’s all it would take, Cael told himself. A handful of hours and he’d have Malak naked, writhing underneath him. And once he’d had his fill of Malak’s delectable flesh, once he’d spilled his seed deeply inside Malak’s perfect body or had Malak’s semen fill his—it didn’t matter to Cael in the slightest which way it went down—Cael would be safe until the end of time. A few more days and it would all be over.
It had better be.
A few more days were all Cael had left.