Detective Aldo Nash could almost hear his brain humming as it worked to categorize the myriad scents tingeing the cool night air: cedar and sea spray, dry asphalt, cooling car engine, and most potent of all, the warm, aroused flesh of the man Aldo had pinned beneath him.
Aldo slid practiced hands over the slim, partially clad form, and the man moaned softly in response, his whole body writhing instinctively closer as he arched into Aldo’s touch. Aldo pulled in another heady lungful and smiled in contentment. On nights like these, he purely loved his job.
He couldn’t say working undercover for the Oakland PD had exactly been a lifelong dream, but Aldo’s brief stint in the army had left him uniquely qualified for it all the same, and largely unqualified for anything else. When the USA was formally dissolved following the economic collapse of the 2010s and what was left of the military was fully privatized, the idea of patriotism lost its meaning. Losing Kyle on top of that had left Aldo with no clear idea of what he wanted to do with his life.
After giving college a try, Aldo had signed up for the police academy on a whim. Unexpectedly, he found his niche. Now he derived a lot of satisfaction from knowing he was working to prevent future crimes from happening, not just solving those that had already occurred. He got to be proactive, stay one step ahead of the bad guys rather than the other way around. But the bottom line was proficiency. He was damned good at what he did.
Not to take away from any natural ability to dissemble he might have inherited from his late actress mother, but most of his success was due, in no small part, to all the experimental drugs he’d been given by the military. His consciousness had been purposely and methodically expanded, and his brain reconfigured to the point where he could easily exert control over his brain waves and sympathetic nervous system.
In a world where just about every criminal, from the capo dei capi
of large, multinational drug cartels to the lowliest of hood-grown thugs, had their own psi-ops tech on speed dial, that kind of advantage was a definite point in Aldo’s favor. No matter how skillful said techs might be at worming their way into other people’s minds and tunneling through their thoughts, with him they could only read what he wanted them to read.
Of course, there were also things about his job he didn’t like. The hours were murder since, apparently, crime rarely slept and when it did, its schedule was crap. The regular debriefings with their in-no-way-optional mind-scrubs were a major headache. Literally. Worst of all, the company he was forced to keep generally sucked, and not in that good kind of way.
That wasn’t the case at the moment, however. No, when it came to his present company, Aldo had absolutely no cause for complaint. Tonight’s operation had him working in tandem with a new partner, an agent on temporary loan from some alphabet agency; Aldo wasn’t sure which one. He hadn’t asked. He didn’t care. As far as he was concerned, it didn’t matter. They were all pretty much the same, and the agent would be gone soon either way. Unless Aldo had missed his guess—a possibility he considered most unlikely—his new partner had been chosen for this assignment based solely on his looks. And Aldo was certainly not unhappy with those either.
He had no idea how much of the other man’s appearance was due to surgical alteration or chemical enhancement, but that was something else he sure as hell didn’t care about. Hot was hot, and Special Agent Caleb Mitchell was just about the hottest thing Aldo had seen in a good long while.
Standing at a hair under six feet, Caleb was just a couple of inches shorter than Aldo. He had fair hair, full lips, broad shoulders atop a dancer’s slim build, and everything about him, from his features to his proportions, was a little too perfect to be real. If the man had a flaw anywhere, Aldo had yet to find it, and not for any lack of searching. Even though they were both pushing forty, only Aldo looked his age. Special Agent Mitchell had obviously been the recent recipient of some highly classified and no doubt heavily restricted cell de-aging therapy, giving him the appearance of a man a good two decades younger than his current chronological age, the lucky bastard.
On second thought, maybe it was Aldo who’d lucked out; he got to look at the bastard, after all.
It was the case the two men were working that had brought them here tonight, to this exclusive private club located high in the Oakland Hills. Aldo’s role in Operation Midas—the elaborate sting the department was running—was to attempt to infiltrate a notorious local group of wealthy, degenerate scumbags. His appearance at tonight’s function, and the apparent arrest that—if everything went as planned—would shortly follow, was supposed to give him the “street cred” he needed in order to gain the scumbags’ trust and acceptance. Disguised as yet another degenerate wannabe, Aldo had done his best all evening to ingratiate himself with the crew. Agent Mitchell, by virtue of his rent boy looks, had been picked to play the part of Aldo’s paid escort or, as Aldo had jokingly told him, to do as he was told and look pretty doing it. He was playing his part very well, in Aldo’s considered opinion, particularly at the moment.
Another gust of air blew across the parking lot. The body stretched beneath Aldo’s shivered, but was it in response to the sudden chill or to the press of Aldo’s fingers that had just breached his opening? Aldo leaned in closer, partially in an attempt to shield Caleb from the cool, night air, partially for the pleasure of pressing himself more firmly against that delectable flesh. “Whattsa matter, darling?” he whispered playfully in the other man’s ear. “Cold?”
Caleb—bent over the hood of the shiny-new Mercedes Aldo had requisitioned for tonight’s operation—glanced up at him and scowled. “Fuck you, Nash. Skip the chitchat, all right? Let’s just get this over with.” Up until that moment, Aldo had found Caleb’s permanently raspy voice a big turn-on, but there was nothing sexy about that angry tone, the gritted teeth, the fury blazing in those jade-green eyes.
Aldo straightened immediately, his fingers slipping free of the other man’s body as he pulled away from him. “What’s your problem all of a sudden? Why you wanna act like such a prick?”
“Gee, I can’t imagine.” Caleb pushed away from the car and busied himself with his clothes, a rented tux of markedly poorer quality than the one Nash wore. He tugged his shirt and pants back into place, then bent to retrieve his jacket.
“That’s it?” Aldo prodded. “That’s all you got to say?”
Caleb shrugged. “Well, it couldn’t possibly have been anything you
were doing, right?” He shoved his arms into the jacket’s sleeves before turning to face Aldo. “Look, don’t worry your pretty little head about it, darling
. I’m sure your technique gets you rave reviews. You’re probably very popular with all the other boys.”
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”
“What it means, Detective, is that while I have no problem helping your ass get arrested, I didn’t know you’d be looking to take things so far. It’s not my thing. It’s not what I signed up for.”
An ice-cold shower couldn’t have cooled Aldo’s blood any more effectively—or any more quickly either. Screwing the other man in the middle of a parking lot hadn’t been his idea. Well, not entirely his idea. But it was exactly the kind of thing the character he was attempting to portray would have done, and a damn good way to ensure his arrest. Besides, they’d both agreed to it, hadn’t they? Or maybe not. Caleb had been noticeably reticent during the meeting when the plan had been hatched. He’d been reticent during both their meetings. Aldo figured that was just his way. Now, as he frowned back at Caleb, niggling doubts began to displace his complacency. “Bullshit. This is exactly what we discussed. And besides, you…” A brief pause. A deep breath. A cold, hollow feeling in his gut. Fuck. He couldn’t have misread those heated, heartfelt moans…could he? “You were just as much into it as I was.”
“Yeah, okay, Romeo. You keep telling yourself that. Just remember, though, none
of this was my idea.”
A hot blush scalded Aldo’s cheeks. “If you really hadn’t wanted it, you should have said something,” he insisted, striving to keep his voice cool.
Caleb quirked an eyebrow at him. “I thought I just did?”
“I meant sooner.”
“What, and spoil all the fun you were having? We wouldn’t have wanted that, would we?”
“Care to elaborate on that?”
“Not particularly, no.” Caleb shrugged. “Anyway, I figured you already knew I wasn’t interested.”
“Are you fucking insane?” Aldo glared at him. “You think I knew and…and what? What the hell were you thinking? You think I’d do that kind of thing for…for fun
Caleb blinked. His expression was one of guileless innocence that had to be fake. “Well, sure. Isn’t that kind of the point? Correct me if I’m wrong, Detective, but isn’t that how guys like you get off?”
Nash’s jaw clenched. “Exactly what are you suggesting, Agent Mitchell? What kind of guy am I?”
“Well, I meant
gay. But you can take it any way you want. How should I know what kind of kinky shit you’re into?”
“Gay? Meaning you’re not?” A sardonic smile lifted Aldo’s lips. “Now, why am I finding that
hard to believe?” He could still recall the feel of the other man’s cock in his hand—stiff, throbbing, dribbling precum. There was no way Aldo had imagined that response. Not gay, my ass.
Caleb shrugged indifferently. “Beats the shit outta me. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s probably unresolved issues from your childhood. Or maybe you just hate having to admit you’re wrong.” Caleb cupped his junk and stroked provocatively over the hard bulge at his groin. It was all Aldo could do to suppress a shiver of need as his gaze tracked the motion. “The way I see it, I already got one dick. It’s right here, see? Conveniently placed and fully functional. So why would I have any need of yours?”
Aldo opened his mouth, ready to point out that Caleb was still hard from what Aldo had been doing to him, but before he got a single word out, Caleb’s expression abruptly changed. Moving swiftly, he grabbed Aldo by the open sides of his shirtfront and yanked him close. “Incoming at two o’clock,” Caleb whispered urgently. “We’re about to get company, and I don’t want to have to do this more than once, so let’s make it look good.” Then he sealed Aldo’s mouth in a passionate-seeming kiss.
Aldo stiffened under Caleb’s assault. What the fuck was the idiot doing now? For the space of two, maybe three heartbeats, Aldo froze, unable to even process what was happening. Then he kissed Caleb back, curving one hand possessively around the back of Caleb’s neck while his other hand made itself at home at Caleb’s waist. The crazy son of a bitch had him tied up in knots. His taste, his kiss, even the sounds he made, they were all so delicious, so familiar, so eerily reminiscent of Kyle. Even the scar that slanted across his midsection did so in exactly the same way as Kyle’s…
Aldo had been with Kyle the night he’d received the wound that made it. He could still recall the helpless panic that had risen inside him as he pressed his hands to Kyle’s abdomen, providing pressure, holding the edges of the torn flesh together as best he could while Kyle’s blood welled between his fingers and his breath stuttered in and out unevenly.
” Aldo had begged over and over while they waited for help to arrive. “Don’t you fucking do it, Kyle. You hear me? Please…
” All the while holding his gaze, not daring to look away, as though by keeping Kyle’s focus he could somehow force him not to lose consciousness, not to leave him…
Aldo’s thumb rubbed back and forth with an increasingly urgent motion, absently caressing the scar. Caleb shuddered again. A thick, needy whimper left his throat. His heart was pounding so hard even Aldo could feel it. When he tilted his head to the side, deepening the kiss, Caleb followed his lead automatically, tilting his own head in the opposite direction, opening his mouth wider, inviting Aldo’s tongue in to plunder at will.
Yes. God, yes. Don’t stop.
Footsteps echoed on the wet pavement. The soft murmur of laughter forced itself into Aldo’s awareness. He tracked the sounds through the glistening fog with a growing sense of desperation. Closer… Closer… Slow the fuck down, goddamn it!
The sooner they got here, the sooner they’d leave. The sooner this kiss would end. Aldo couldn’t stand for that to happen—not yet. He didn’t want this moment to ever be over. But the steady pace of the footsteps continued. Aldo heard a muffled gasp, a shuffling something that could have been a nudge, an answering grunt, then the footsteps sped up and hurried away, growing fainter and fainter until the sound had melted into the ambient distant noises. Car doors slammed. An engine started. Aldo groaned inwardly. Mission accomplished, goddamn it.
Caleb took a deep breath and pushed Aldo away. “And we’re done.”
Aldo’s heart beat savagely. He grabbed Caleb’s wrist and tugged him back against him. “The hell we are.”
Caleb’s hands tightened into fists. “Nash,” he snarled in warning. “Let me go. I will
deck you if you don’t take your hands off me, and I mean right the fuck now.”
“Not so fast. That scar on your stomach, how’d you get it?” As he spoke, Aldo pulled Caleb’s shirt out of the way and held it there, exposing the other man’s chest and stomach to his sight. On closer inspection, Caleb’s scar wasn’t exactly identical to Kyle’s, but it was close enough that fifteen years and a few additional surgeries could easily account for the difference. Aldo stared at the wrecked flesh, unable to look away, remembering that long-ago fear. I nearly lost you!
But he had lost Kyle, hadn’t he? Maybe not that day, but in the end Aldo had lost him just the same.
“Screw you,” Caleb growled as he yanked his arm free of Aldo’s grip. “It’s none of your fucking business how I got it. Now get off me.”
“Tell me, please. I need
Caleb’s mouth tightened. An angry flush colored his cheeks as he dropped his gaze and looked away, mumbling, “I don’t know, all right? It’s not important.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
“Did I fucking stutter? I can’t remember. Jeez.” Shoulders hunched against the cold, Caleb tugged his shirt closed and began to button it. “Give it up already. Get a life.”
“How can you not remember?” Aldo waved his hand impatiently, gesturing at Caleb’s midsection. “You’d have to have been nearly gutted to end up with a mark like that.” He knew that for a fact.
“Yep. Very likely.” Caleb shrugged. “But what can I tell you? Another day, another mind-scrub. Know what I mean? You’d be surprised how much you can forget if you try—or, hell, even if you don’t try.”
“What?” Aldo’s eyes widened in shock. A feeling of sick terror chilled him to the bone. “But that… Mind-scrubs? No. That can’t be right.” That wasn’t possible, was it?
“What’s the matter, Nash? No, wait, don’t tell me. Let me guess. You were hoping to make a lasting impression on me, weren’t you? Didja think maybe I’d be so blown away by your mad sex skills I’d change my mind and decide I wanted to come play for your team instead? Sorry to disappoint you.”
Anger flared. “You are such a fucking ass. What’s your deal? Are you always like this? Or is this just part of some act?”
Something about Aldo’s frustration must have amused Caleb. He chuckled softly as he finished tucking his clothes back into place. “You know, Nash, I think it’s real cute how fixated ya are on my ass.”
“Don’t flatter yourself.”
Once again, with no other warning, Caleb pressed close. “No need for that, is there?” he murmured, distracting Aldo with a kiss, hands fumbling at Aldo’s belt. “Especially not tonight. That’s what I have you for.”
“Fucking asshole,” Aldo groaned. The shuddering sigh that left his lips sounded a whole lot like surrender, but he just couldn’t work up a reason to care. Kyle, Caleb, whoever the fuck this was, was driving him nuts. “You make me crazy. You know that, right? I can’t for the life of me figure you out.”
CALEB SMILED. YEAH. He knew. And right now he was counting on it. His mechanically enhanced hearing had easily picked up the crunch of car tires heading up the hill, the crackle of static from the police radios. It was showtime.
The detective’s cock was still at half-mast when Caleb pulled it free of his pants. Working it back up to fully loaded and ready to pop was sinfully easy. Just a few quick strokes were all that was needed. Nash’s cock pulsed and swelled in Caleb’s hand as if it had been trained to it.
The fog around them had lit up like a Christmas tree by the time Caleb broke away, ending the kiss. Somewhere in the mist, car doors slammed. Nash hardly even seemed to notice that his ride had arrived. He stared fixedly at Caleb with inscrutable eyes. There was the faintest hint of a tremor in his voice as he asked, “Who are you really?”
“No one in particular,” Caleb answered as he grabbed one end of the detective’s white silk scarf and pulled it free. “For right now, why don’t you just think of me as a ghost?”
“A-a ghost?” Nash’s face went white. “Wh-what do you mean?”
“Shhh.” Caleb laid a finger to his lips and faded silently back between the fog-enshrouded trees. “Not now.”
“Wait. Where are you going?” Nash, his hand outstretched, took a single step forward. Then he froze as the searchlights found him.
“Hands on your head,” one of the officers barked, directing his order at Nash. “And turn around slowly.”
Through the heavy mist, Caleb could just make out the shocked and mortified expression on Nash’s face. When his gaze dropped to his exposed crotch, Caleb knew he was debating the wisdom of ignoring the officer’s order long enough to zip up his fly. The soft but unmistakable sound of guns being readied put an end to that. “Oh, fuck me,” he muttered in disgust. “You son of a bitch. You set me up.”
Caleb smiled. That he had. It was a cruel trick perhaps, but effective. He had no doubt it would accomplish its intended purpose of keeping both Nash and the boys in blue occupied long enough for Caleb to make his escape. By the time anyone thought to look for him, he’d be long gone, just a whisper in the wind.
Turning up his jacket collar against the cold, Caleb slipped quietly away. He’d always thought of California as being warm, balmy, even in winter. This was a helluva time to figure out that he, and perhaps most of the world, had been misinformed. He wrapped his borrowed scarf more snugly around his neck, ignoring the tendrils of heat that coiled inside him when the unmistakable scent of its owner reached his nose. He shoved his hands deep into his pockets and focused on the long walk that lay ahead of him. He was not looking forward to it.
A three-mile trek through the frosty woods wearing dress shoes, thin socks, and no coat, hat, or gloves was not his idea of a fun time. Even handcuffed, the short ride in a heated squad car, followed by a couple of hours in a cozy jail cell sounded a damn sight more comfortable. Agency protocols were crystal clear, however, and Caleb was under standing orders that left him with no other choice. The hardware in his head was considerably more valuable to the powers that be than he himself was. It was also highly classified. Under no circumstances, other than a verified medical emergency, was he to allow himself to be taken into custody or consent to having his head scanned by anyone other than agency personnel.
The fog increased as Caleb headed downhill. There was a brisk wind blowing in from the bay, and it was carrying the fog along with it. Caleb was forced to go slow and watch his step. His built-in navigational system might ensure he didn’t wander too far off track or get lost in the woods, but it was of no use whatsoever against a loose rock, an exposed root, or a careless footfall. A sprained ankle would only make tonight’s journey that much more unpleasant.
A car passed by unseen on the mist-enshrouded road. Probably Nash on his way to the station. A satisfied smirk curled Caleb’s lips, but only for an instant, and then the memories came, bringing a wave of frustrated need. Nash’s fingers inside him, twisting and thrusting until he was weak in the knees. Nash leaning over him from behind, hot skin branding Caleb’s back. The taste of his mouth. The feel of his hand on Caleb’s cock…
Getting fucked in the parking lot of an exclusive resort by a man he didn’t even like—how could Caleb have ever thought that was a good idea? Maybe he really did need to get his head examined, just like that pretty doctor he’d been crushing on kept suggesting. Why the fuck hadn’t he spoken up sooner? Not tonight—he was pretty sure that would have just been a good way to lose face—but way back when the operation was still in the planning stages, back when any sensible man would have demurred without having to worry about what anyone would think. Why hadn’t he spoken up then?
They could have worked out something else. Lewd conduct with an apparent minor might have seemed like a sure thing, but drunk and disorderly would have done the job as well, wouldn’t it? Plus, a drunken fistfight would have been a hell of a lot more entertaining and just as easy to fake as their little parking lot tryst. Or not fake, if it came right down to it. Even now Caleb’s knuckles practically itched at the thought, at the opportunity to have landed a punch or two along that handsome jaw. It would not have been unwelcome. It still wouldn’t be. If Nash’s expression, when last Caleb saw him, was anything to go by, he probably felt the same.
Despite everything Caleb had said or implied, everything he’d wanted Nash to believe, the idea that he could be attracted to another man wasn’t a total surprise. Caleb wasn’t altogether certain what his original orientation had been. Maybe it had been fairly fluid from the start; it sure as hell was now. But that didn’t strike him as anything strange. It just made sense, didn’t it? The world was more than black-and-white, and he saw no reason to assume sexuality was any different. There had to be more to it than gay or not gay.
What did surprise him, however, was the idea he could be attracted to Nash.
Why him? From day one the arrogant asshole had done nothing but piss Caleb off. So self-righteous. So overconfident. So goddamned sure of himself. Since when had Caleb ever found that sexy? It must be nice, Caleb reflected with more than a little bitterness, to be so sure of yourself, so certain about who you were, how you felt, what you liked—who you liked. Caleb couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt that way. Thanks to the neural interfaces in his head, his sense of self was largely rewritten with each new assignment. Maybe he’d never felt that way. Maybe he never would.
But none of that mattered tonight. None of it explained why he’d reacted to Nash the way he had, falling apart at his touch as if he’d been waiting years for the chance to do just that.
It had to be more than just looks, not that there was anything wrong with those. Nash was big, broad, buff—everything Caleb found appealing, including the neatly trimmed beard and mustache and the smoothly shaved head. But shouldn’t his personality flaws have overridden all of that? Sure, he looked like someone you could count on, someone likely to be strong and dependable, but somehow Caleb couldn’t believe that was the case. Look at tonight, for example. Tonight the stupid prick had even managed to turn what was supposed to have been a rather routine job into some kind of bizarre pissing contest.
No. That wasn’t quite right either, was it? It was Caleb who’d done that. Unnerved by his body’s reaction, he’d let instinct override common sense. He’d pulled out all the stops in an effort to find a way under the detective’s skin and piss him off good. Here at the end of the night, though, the joke was on Caleb. He was the one walking home. He was the one still sporting wood.
Caleb slowed to a stop. At least he could do something about one of those factors. He paused to assess the environment. There was no one around. The road was deserted, the nearest houses were out of sight, and it was far too cold for anyone else to be out in the woods tonight. There was nothing around but trees, nothing but wood and more wood. Perfect.
Sighing in surrender, Caleb leaned back against the trunk of a large cedar. He widened his stance and quickly unzipped his dress pants. Just a few strokes—that’s all it would take. Just a couple of minutes to relieve the tension, to ease the ache in his balls, to get that son of a bitch Nash out of his head and make the rest of his trek a little more bearable.
His hand felt cold as he wrapped his fingers around his dick. He brushed his thumb over the head, but there was not enough moisture to slick his way. For an instant he contemplated using spit, but it was just too cold.
Caleb pulled at his dick, quickly settling into a brisk, efficient rhythm. As he did, he cast around in his mind for a hot fantasy. Anything to take his mind off the chill. He wasn’t feeling particular. Pretty much anything would do—a woman, two women, a freaking orgy. Instead the vision his mind served up was nothing like what he’d been expecting.
“Oh, fuck me,” he groaned aloud as the image took hold, gathering strength, firing his imagination, becoming the very thing he needed, the only thing that was ever going to get him off tonight. He was so. Damned. Screwed.
Aldo Nash knelt on the ground between Caleb’s feet. His fingers were splayed wide. His big hands clasped Caleb’s hips. Bright sunlight spilled around them, and heat seemed to shimmer in the air. The landscape was beige, the air acrid and so very dry…
Caleb could practically taste the dust on his tongue. He imagined gripping Nash’s head to hold him in place. The warm, stubbled texture of that almost bare skull would tickle against his palms as he fucked into that hot mouth. Alone in the woods, Caleb lifted his hand to his face and spit on his palm. He stifled a gasp as he closed his fist on his shaft once more. Closing his eyes, he imagined it was Nash’s mouth—cool and wet now, as though he’d just paused to sip a cold beer. Swallowing him down. Pulling off with a twist of his lips, a flick of his tongue. Going deep again.
Caleb slid his free hand under his shirt. Palm flat, he let it coast along his abs. Let it travel slowly up to his chest. It wasn’t hard to pretend it was someone else’s hand stroking him like that, someone with strong fingers and a sure, confident touch. Caleb arched off the tree as he gave himself up to the sharp pleasure of fingers pinching and plucking his nipples. He thrust his hips faster, barely even aware anymore of the cold night air. So close now. Yes, God yes. He was so fucking close.
As he continued to stroke himself, Caleb let go, allowing the fantasy to spin itself out…