People stood to go, and he started packing up. A flutter of wings caught his eye, and he lifted his head from his handheld prismi-screen. Kya was preparing to leave. Could he walk over without it being obvious? What exactly was he trying to achieve? He watched as her wings partially opened, and she stretched after being forced to sit and watch a talk on electrics and security grids. Dull for most people. Fascinating for him. Almost as fascinating as functioning wings.
For a heartbeat he was transfixed by Kya. Her golden skin was almost translucent between the bones of her wings. So fragile, yet able to soar. He curled his fingers. He’d love to run his fingertips over those fine bones. Kiss where her wings joined her back. He and Dru hadn’t shared a woman in a while. She was definitely Dru’s type. Lithe with full lips that were always turned up at the corners.
Longing surged, but he tamped it down. Dru might get the wrong idea and think he’d changed his mind.
Kya headed toward the door. She spoke to another person and smiled. Would she smile at him? Why did he care? He should just let her leave. He could, but he knew he’d end up telling Dru about her and then trying to explain why he hadn’t acted on the attraction and at least said hello. There was only one reason, and it always caused an argument. Children were the one sticking point between him and Dru—Dru wanted a family, a triad. Tref didn’t want that responsibility. He’d seen how hard it was to keep a family together. He was holding Dru back. Tref resisted the urge to touch his wedding ring. Dru had married him for a reason.
Fuck it. She won’t bite—yet.
Tref strode over to Kya. He could call it professional courtesy. Casual interest. Even if it was attraction, it didn’t mean anything, and it didn’t mean he had to say anything beyond hello.
Kya’s head turned as he approached, and she stopped walking, as if she was waiting for him. Her gaze raked over him, too slowly for it to be anything but an appraisal. The heat in her eyes almost made him take a step back. He could hear the warning in his heartbeat that he was going to get burned by this one, but he still extended his hand in greeting.
The backs of their hands touched, and it was enough to send a jolt through his nerves that sizzled. He hadn’t felt attraction this strong since he’d met Dru, all dark eyes and muscle wrapped in a cop’s uniform. That had been five years ago, and he’d never expected to feel it again.
“Glad to finally put a face to the name, Kya.”
“You too.” She smiled, her blue eyes as dark as midnight. Her gaze flicked from his face to the ring in his ear.
In that fraction of a heartbeat, he didn’t want her to think he was unavailable. He wanted her to know he was interested in getting to know more about her and introducing her to Dru. That would be fun. Unless she wasn’t into the straight-up, honest-to-the-button-type guy. That wasn’t Tref’s type either, but Dru was something else.
“I’m glad you stood up to the Razor.”
Tref forced a smile at the manager’s nickname. It wasn’t quite as funny after growing up in Industrial 13. “I knew it would be coming, but it’s better to ask for everything first and then offer a cut.” He paused. She had no rings in her ears. What sect was she? Famili or Poli? He wasn’t sure what to say next, yet he wasn’t ready for the conversation to be over, so he kept it neutral and safe. “You work in this building?”
She nodded. “Yeah, up two levels.”
Of course she was up a couple of levels. He could picture her flying onto the top of the building and walking down the stairs to her office while he climbed up the stairs to his. He swallowed. The room was now empty except for them. He had to do something or say good-bye and try again another time, but that wasn’t who he was. He usually grasped every chance that came his way. “If you ever want to get drinks after work, there’s a nice bar in Tower A.”
Dru would be so impressed that he’d managed to make that suggestion.
Kya tilted her head. “You don’t like the Yellow Hop?”
Three floors down, it was popular with the office staff. However, he’d much rather catch a gondola across to Tower A and have a bit more privacy. Besides, from Tower A it was another short ride to his apartment. “Too many people from work.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” She gave him another smile, her gaze lingering on him. “See you soon, Tref.”
He watched her walk away, her wings semispreading before closing as if she really wanted to shake them out. He wanted to see them extended, arching over his lover. The thought hardened his cock instantly. If they met for drinks, he’d be able to find out a bit more about her. And her about him. That thought was enough to kill the heat in his blood. He didn’t like anyone knowing too much about him. They judged too quickly. Women knew he wasn’t mating material once he mentioned growing up in Industrial 13, soon to be the cheap and trendy P1.
With a grimace, he turned away and packed up. It would be better if she didn’t take him up on the offer of after-work drinks.
* * * *
By the time Tref got home, the sky was darkening, and he still had no idea what to tell Dru about Kya. Not because he didn’t want to tell, but because everything he thought of exposed his fear, and he really didn’t want that argument with Dru. The one where he got told to face it and defeat it instead of looking over his shoulder. Getting out of Industrial 13 was something to be proud of, according to Dru.
Most people didn’t think that way. They heard 13
and thought criminal, or clipper or sniffer, and then excused themselves as fast as they could. He’d almost made himself sick with nerves when he’d told Dru. He couldn’t date a cop without telling him where he’d grown up. He’d done it the night before Dru had gone on rotation in 13, which probably hadn’t been the best timing, but he’d been worried Dru wouldn’t come back.
When Tref had seen Kya’s plans for the area, he wanted to believe it would change, but the darkness ran deep there, and he was scared that it was also in him.
He walked over an aerial bridge and pressed his palm to the scanner by the apartment door. He could have never walked home as dusk was folding around the city in 13. People who wanted to live got home early and locked up as best they could—even the men. Everything and everyone was for sale. Tref suppressed the shudder and wished it were as simple to press down on the memories. Nearly fifteen years and there were still nights when he woke up expecting a razor at his throat.
The palm scanner flashed, and he went in, expecting to be the first one home. But thudding music was on, and something spicy was cooking. Dru was never home early, and he only ever played music by the Longing when he was thinking about something bad.
Something was going on, or about to happen, and Dru would be involved. Tref dropped his satchel by the door and kicked off his shoes. They almost made it onto the shoe rack, and he almost cared.
He lowered the volume of the music—not because the neighbors might hear. They wouldn’t. Noise dampening was used between all apartments and all levels. But he couldn’t hear himself think with the wailing of the singer and all her angst. He’d rather listen to something uplifting if things were bad. Dru was a wallower. He’d dwell and let the bad mood simmer.
Tref walked through the apartment and onto the balcony.
“You turned down my tunes.” Dru was sitting, nursing a glass of kurin
, a sweet and smoky liquor.
“Long day, lots of meetings.” He leaned against the railing, knowing that even looking over the edge at the drop would make Dru flinch. He shouldn’t be teasing Dru, but the snap and crackle of a storm was already on the air between them, and for once it wasn’t him starting it. Thoughts of telling Dru about Kya evaporated as he studied his lover’s scowl. “What’s got you twisted?”
Dru sipped his kurin and took his time to enjoy it. Tref let him. He wasn’t in a rush. “Can’t say, but my unit is going away for a few days.”
Right. Ever since Dru had shifted across to the Special Service branch, there’d been more that he couldn’t say. Pressing wouldn’t do any good, as Dru could keep a secret better than anyone.
“When do you leave?”
“A couple of days.” He took a drink. “It’s preemptive and feels wrong.”
And that was the reason for the storm clouds. “Someone thinks it’s a good idea.”
“There’s a big difference between good ideas and good results.” Dru lifted his gaze from his glass, gray eyes troubled. “You know where I’m going.”
A chill stroked down Tref’s spine. Industrial 13. While he was seeing what it would look like in five years’ time, once the redevelopment was complete, the reality was grimmer. Dru had done more than one rotation there. All cops did. No one wanted to be stationed there permanently.
“Your project is stirring up a fique
’s nest. Trouble would be nice, but this…” He shook his head and emptied his glass. “I hope they’re wrong and we get there and find ourselves on danger pay for strolling around. The Arrows are going too.”
If they were sending in a winged unit, it was bad. Arrows were elite, Special Ops. Word was the women trained to fly with just one wing, making it twice as hard to take them down. “Shit.”
“A whole precinct of it.”
Would dressing up and renaming Industrial 13 change what it was and remove the stain of what went on there? Tref wanted to believe it would, but if he couldn’t shake the memories, he doubted the area would ever be free of the taint.
“Watch yourself there.” But he knew Dru would. The whole unit would move in, probably out of uniform and armed to the teeth. Were the clippers planning something, or were the gangs going to hit back after the raid last month? Several drug labs had been shut down and a chain of traffickers arrested.
Dru pressed his lips together. “You need to watch yourself up here. Intel says the clippers know who’s on the project.”
Tref’s breath hitched. “What?” They rarely called P1 by name; it was always simply the project
. Everyone was aware it was a sensitive development, and there was no point in advertising his involvement. “Why would they care?”
“You didn’t hear it from me, but word is the Terrin Peacemaker”—Dru couldn’t keep the disgust from his voice at what the head of the Terrin extremists called himself—“has been making an effort to get to know who is on the project. There have been threats against government officials and the big construction companies.”
Tref’s heart started beating a little faster. “Why hasn’t this hit the media?”
“Because if it does, the project will die. The city wants it to happen.”
Tref turned around and leaned over the railing, his stomach hollow. The park strip that separated the blocks was a maze of light and shadow. Two floors up, gondolas sailed over the trees as if they were a living ocean. Wires strung between the towers kept them afloat. Higher still were the single-female living quarters. Somewhere up there was Kya, and she had no idea she was a target just like him.
How many Terrins worked for the firm? Would they really endanger their colleagues because they believed Industrial 13 should be redeveloped as single-level houses to suit the Terrin lifestyle? A compound for those who thought everyone should walk on the ground. The government had fought that argument and won, both through election and also in public consultation. No one wanted that on their doorstep—even if no wings were clipped in the process, yet he had no doubt there would be. The clippers wanted to consolidate. If the government had caved, it would have clippers moving in. He wouldn’t wish wing damage on his worst enemy.
Dru’s hand landed on his lower back. “You okay?”
“I won’t let you get dragged down.” Dru kissed the back of Tref’s neck.
Tref raked his teeth over his lower lip. It wasn’t him he was worried about. Not really. He’d escaped once. He’d never be held there again. He gripped the railing a little tighter. He wouldn’t easily let go of everything he’d fought for. “Make sure you come back.”
“I will.” Dru sounded so sure.
“I mean it. If it was bad before—”
Dru rested his head against Tref’s back, his fingers tracing up Tref’s spine. “I know. Like I said, hopefully it’s nothing.”
Tref wanted to believe Dru, but if the Terrin Peacemaker knew who was working on the P1 project, had the information been exchanged with the gang leaders? Did they also know who the workers’ families were? Dru was all he had. Dru had also done plenty of dangerous things before, but 13 held a special place in Tref’s heart. A cold, dark place haunted by screams. He pushed away the thoughts. He’d been a child, and he’d survived. Dru was trained, armed, and not someone to be crossed. The gangs wouldn’t know what hit them.
Neither man moved. Tref closed his eyes. He needed to lift the mood; otherwise they’d talk about 13 all night—he didn’t want that. It was bad enough thinking about it all day.
He released a slow breath and eased his grip on the railing, forcing relaxation he didn’t feel. “I met someone interesting today.” And with Dru about to disappear, it was really bad timing.
“Oh yeah?” Dru’s hand slid lower and cupped Tref’s butt as if he knew exactly what Tref had been thinking all afternoon. It had been hard not to think about her. It was her eyes. No, it was the curve of her lips and the shimmer of her wings as she walked away. Whatever it was, she had caught his attention from the moment he’d seen her.
“Architect on the project.” Not that it mattered what they called it anymore if the Terrins knew who was involved. “Golden skin, dark hair. Looks like the Huntress made flesh. I saw her and thought of you.”
Maybe that was why he’d been attracted to her, because he knew Dru would be. That didn’t explain the way lust had surged when their hands had touched.
Dru laughed. “Then I’m willing to bet you smiled and ran in the opposite direction.”
While he believed in taking every opportunity and making the most of it, in his personal life he was much more cautious. Especially when it came to women…but he did like to share one with Dru every so often. It was fun, until they ended up arguing about the future. He shouldn’t have spoken to Kya, but if he hadn’t, he’d be regretting it.
Tref turned and faced his lover. Dru’s smile made mentioning Kya worth the risk. “Not this time. I asked her out for a drink. I thought you might like to meet her, and she looks like fun.” He ran his hand over Dru’s hip and pulled him close. If Dru was leaving, he didn’t want to be wasting time. He wanted to be naked and enjoying what time they had left together. He had no idea how long he’d be alone for. That was the worst bit.
Dru raised his eyebrows. “You spoke to a woman you thought I might like?”
“There was something about her. I knew if I didn’t say anything…” He didn’t know how to explain the pull. “Remember when we met? It was kind of like that. Like magnets.”
“You have great timing, Tref.”
“She didn’t say yes, so don’t get excited. I don’t even know what sect she is.”
Dru shrugged. “Even Famili women have fun before they pick a partner.”
But again the clouds were back in Dru’s gray eyes. Tref wished he hadn’t opened his mouth, yet he couldn’t keep something like that a secret. If Dru said one word about them settling down in a nice triad and having a family, he’d sleep on the sofa.
Was Dru regretting sealing their union before finding a woman? There were times when Tref felt like he was second best, and Dru wanted a woman who’d give him children…but Dru was Poli. He wouldn’t risk trying to father a child without another man there to make sure he survived being bitten.
Tref didn’t know what sect his mother had been. There’d never been a father in his life, that he remembered, and she’d refused to talk about her life before he’d been born. So while he knew the difference between Famili and Poli—the Poli Sect formed triads made up of one woman and two men, which he thought was very practical, while the Famili Sect was much closer knit with womb sisters living together, each with her own male partner in a family of four—he didn’t know how the relationships actually worked.
He could see reasons for both, as no man wanted to risk mating alone, but he hadn’t grown up in a sect the way most people had. He’d never seen them work as a child. Everything in Industrial 13 was broken or waiting to be disassembled.
Sometimes he surprised himself that he was a functioning member of society. Other days he waited for something to break inside him and for the truth to be revealed. That he’d managed to get married at all, and to a man like Dru, was nothing short of a Huntress-granted miracle.
Dru traced Tref’s jaw with his fingertips, then kissed him. Rougher than usual, hungrier. The kurin was sweet on his lips. “No one could refuse you. Just promise me you won’t back away from her because I’m not here.”
Tref pushed Dru aside. “I can’t do that. You can’t ask me to do that. Would you do that?”
“I’m not the one with a fear of wings.”
Tref huffed out a breath. He didn’t fear wings. He was fascinated by them; they were sexy. Strong and fragile and sensitive. “Not without you, okay? Besides, what if she likes me but hates you?”
Dru punched him in the arm. “As if.”
“Fuck you.” He shook out his arm, like he was actually injured. They’d both skirted the edges of the argument. But it was there waiting to be addressed, and it scared him. He didn’t want to lose Dru, yet Tref had no idea how to raise a child. He barely knew which end to feed—half of Industrial 13 didn’t know the answer to that. Few children survived childhood down there. The idea of holding a helpless baby was more terrifying than the idea of being dragged kicking and screaming back to 13. He could look after himself, but that was about it.
“Later. Dinner’s almost ready.” Dru picked up his glass and went inside.
Tref drew in a breath laden with night-flowering blossom. He turned and rested his hands on the railing. The trees were now lit with luminescent blooms, soft blue light in the darkness. Beyond the noise of the gondolas above, there was the hum of insects, and the rustle of birds in the trees as they hunted them. He’d had none of this growing up. Industrial 13 had been a concrete-and-steel jungle. An archaic design, abandoned when new technologies and better planning had come in. All those who’d lived there and worked there had been left behind.
The new design would put parks between the towers, install gondolas over the trees, lift the roofs, and create schools. Proper ones. Not a single room with blacked-out windows so no one could see what was going on. When he’d gotten bigger, he’d walked over an hour to cross into the next precinct to go to a better school. He’d been attacked many times by the gangs. And even though he said he was free, and he’d escaped, his life there still haunted him and still stalked him. He slapped the railing. He wasn’t afraid of wings; he was afraid of watching someone else he loved hit the ground.