- Author: Kari Gregg
- Genre:Mystery & Suspense, LGBT, BDSM & Fetish, Contemporary
- Cover Artist: Anne Cain
Forensic accountant Brian Foster was a rising star at TFOS -- the FBI's Terrorism Financing Operations Section -- until he was abducted, "questioned," and left for dead. His nine days of captivity broke him. Brian retreats to the mountains of western Maryland where he amasses enough weaponry to hold off a zombie hoard and enough lamps to pinpoint his location from the International Space Station. He's losing the battle against paranoia. Too bad TFOS needs him. Brian stumbled onto something big when he vanished last year and TFOS needs that case resolved. Now.
The FBI tasks Special Agent Zachary Murdock with gluing Brian together and returning him to TFOS. Brian will steady once he focuses on work instead of his neuroses. As Zachary nudges Brian back into the career that cost him dearly, Brian's paranoia escalates. Personal and professional lines blur. Zachary isn't sure which presents the biggest complication anymore: Brian's peculiar brand of crazy, the case they're working, or the closeted submissive's surprising -- and enthralling -- kink.
Zachary and Brian both know, when the case heats up and they're forced to run, they're operating at a loss, though: they are in the red.
- Note:p>This book contains explicit sexual situations, graphic language, and material that some readers may find objectionable: BDSM theme and elements, male/male sexual practices.
In the aftermath, bright light glaring from the windows of Foster’s house flickered. Then died.
Zachary waited inside the wood line on the other side of the road, his body stiff and alert until the beam of a lone flashlight cut through the darkness, pinpointing Foster’s location to the living room.
Records from Foster’s psychiatrist that Landis’s techie phreaks had hacked into indicated that Foster was still afraid of the dark. He didn’t need prescriptions for panic attacks anymore. No more nightmares either--Foster’s pride had steadied enough to lie about them. He could handle tight, enclosed places now too.
But the guy was petrified of the dark. Crippled by it.
Paralysis wasn’t good.
Paralysis had kept Zachary out of that house for the last three days and Foster from TFOS for a solid year.
A second flashlight beam joined the first inside the house. The twin arrows of light moved in parallel lines, so Zachary knew Foster was mobile. Still functioning.
Moments later, the soft glow of a camp lantern grew to a faint yellow arc leeching at the corner of a nearby window.
Was the bubble of light enough to keep Foster glued together?
Zachary didn’t know.
Since Foster kept his house lit up like a frigging Christmas tree 24-7, Zachary doubted it, but according to the weather alerts that flashed warnings on his phone, the storm wouldn’t last much longer. The power company would restore electricity as soon as they returned it to less isolated areas. The hammer of God pounded in rumbling echoes over the mountain ridges, but resources here wouldn’t be overtaxed.
Foster didn’t need him.
Nor did he need the lover who’d dumped him. Or his family. He sure as hell hadn’t needed the army of doctors and therapists Landis had foisted on him and had wasted little time shedding each. Foster didn’t need anybody. That was what this asinine relocation to the mountains of western Maryland was about. Foster wanted the world to leave him the fuck alone. Even in the dark, when his terror ruled him. Especially then.
Zachary stared at the beacon of light, blinking at rain that slid in thin trickles from his hair into his eyes.
He’d go to the house and knock on the door anyway.
The prick would probably call the sheriff on him. Landis would not be pleased about clearing the red tape of a trespassing charge. The nanosecond Zachary stepped one toe over his property line, his ass was grass, and Foster’s stare three days ago had promised that he was the lawnmower.
Zachary hoped so. If Foster had his shit together enough to demand Zachary’s arrest, that boded well. Very well.
He was betting Foster was all bluster, though. Zachary didn’t think Foster was that steady on his feet.
Zachary stepped free of the woods and crossed the road.
Foster was fine. The geek was too snotty not to be okay. He hadn’t acted like he was teetering on the brink the three days he and Rodriguez had monitored him. The dark would shake him. The psychiatrist’s notes had been both thorough and explicit in that regard, but confronting his phobia wouldn’t cause Foster any lasting damage.
And it would provide Zachary with a narrow window of opportunity.
Tight-lipped and dripping from the storm, Zachary strode over the property line into the no-man’s-land of Foster’s twenty acres. He lowered his head against the sheeting rain and trudged across Foster’s yard, climbed the porch steps. He lifted his hand to the door--
A startled scream answered his knock.
Zachary stiffened. Anxiety coiled his gut.
The scream settled whatever doubts he might’ve entertained, the terror in Foster’s voice, the sly shadow of remembered pain in it. Zachary’s brow furrowed. “Mr. Foster? It’s Special Agent Murdock,” he called through the screen of the open window next to the door.
He jiggled the doorknob.
“Talk to me, Brian.” Zachary’s heart thundered in time with the storm. “If you don’t tell me you’re all right, I’m coming in.”
Not a peep from Foster. Just the sucking draw of his labored breath between thunderclaps and pounding rain.
Foster was coming unhinged.
Zachary’s teeth gritted.
He retreated a couple of feet, lowered his shoulder, and lunged at the door. You’d think a guy who’d survived what Foster had would’ve invested in good locks, a solid door, and a top-of-the-line security system.
The flimsy door exploded inward.
Zachary stumbled over the threshold, staggered to right himself, then dived for cover behind the shadowy blur of a table when the deafening crack of a bullet sliced the air next to his ear. He reached for his weapon, drawing it from his shoulder holster before his brain overruled base instinct.
He and Rodriguez had been stationed outside for three days.
The only person in the house--in this entire zip code--was Brian Foster.
And Foster was freaking out.
He’d shot at him!
The little bastard had actually shot at him.
“Brian?” Heart rabbiting in his chest, Zachary burrowed behind the table. “It’s Special Agent Murdock. We met on Monday.” He slipped his credentials folder from his soaked pocket, fought to steady his voice. And his hand. Bad time to dump a truckload of adrenaline into his system, but he pitched his voice to a soothing rumble. “I’m going to slide my identification to you.”
The whimper that greeted those words didn’t encourage him, but Zachary had to try. His reason for crossing the road hadn’t changed. If anything, those reasons had intensified.
Brian was a mess, a sweaty ball of nerves and fear. Zachary just had to talk him down, and talk himself down while he was at it, because his fight-or-flight response had kicked into high gear. His heart thudded against his rib cage. His roaring pulse competed with the buzzing in his ears.
“Don’t shoot.” He leaned over, careful to keep his head and shoulders clear of the doorway. He rested his credentials flush against the gleaming oak floor and gave a mighty shove before ducking behind the furniture again.
No shot rang out.
The only sound was the slick rasp of leather gliding across the floor and a gentle thump when it made contact, coming to an abrupt halt.
Foster moaned low in terror.
His identification had reached the target.
“Take my wallet. Flip it open. Look at the picture.” Zachary didn’t know if Foster complied. He heard movement, but the patter of rain outside the gaping front door and the wet murmur of leaves blowing in the wind masked anything from the living room. “Brian?”
The wallet slid back through the doorway, coming to rest in the center of the entry.
Out in the open.
Until Zachary knew how batshit-crazy Foster was, there was no chance in hell he’d retrieve it.
“I know who you are, Agent Murdock.” Foster laughed. Hollow. Empty. Or maybe he was trying to be hollow and empty, as lifeless as Zachary’s bureau ID in the middle of the floor. But he sucked at it.
The hair at Zachary’s nape prickled at the despair that laced that laugh. It shivered up his spine like a cold, dead finger.
“I know who you are, and I know why you’re here. Do you?”
The laughter was starting to piss Zachary off.
And unnerve him.
Because the hysterical edge faded, replaced by bitter hopelessness.
“The lights went out. I knew you’d be upset, so I checked on you.” Zachary slid the safety of his gun in place with a muffled snick. “That’s why I’m here.”
“You got to my therapist, then. Discussed my...what I...”
Zachary’s brow furrowed at the humiliated defeat in Brian’s hoarse mumble. “Dr. Luwicki wouldn’t talk to us.” He sat, leaning back against the table. His gun dangled between his bent knees. “They broke through the firewall of the company that transcribes her medical records.”
“Landis. I should’ve known.” A chuckle reverberated from the other room, this one not so scared. Or crushed. “The electricity went out. You knew I’d panic.” He paused. “So you broke in?”
Zachary’s lips twisted to a mocking smile at Foster’s incredulous snort. Yeah. In retrospect, that’d been a dumbass thing to do, but after that scream, he’d been desperate for a way in. Zachary angled his head back, resting the crown against the wall. Focused on his breathing. “Sorry about the door.”
“I’ll have a new one installed tomorrow, a better one,” Brian said, his voice rising with anticipation. “Solid steel. With thick dead bolts.”
Zachary’s lips curved. “Send Landis the bill.”
“Breaking down my door was your fault.”
At least this was something he had trained for, what he was good at. “As long as you’re replacing the doors, you might as well do the windows. A stronger door won’t make much difference when anyone with a verifiable pulse could pop your windows. A security system and exterior cameras wouldn’t hurt either.” Zachary grinned, already lining up the contractors he’d selected for each of the jobs. “If you’re worried about the cost, don’t. TFOS will cover it.”
“Shut up.” But Zachary could hear his smile.
“You aren’t going to report me for trespassing.” Zachary’s fingers tightened on the grip of his gun. “Or shoot me.”
“No.” The thud of something heavy hitting the floor resounded from the next room. The, the grating glide as a 9MM slid over gleaming oak to rest next to Zachary’s credentials in the entry.
“I’ve seen your registration records.” Zachary holstered his weapon because, regardless of his ploy at teasing the fear out of Brian, he was going into that room. Zachary didn’t want to unsettle him further by entering with a gun in his hand. “You own an arsenal. For all I know, you eBayed the components of a nuclear warhead.”
A real one.
Warm and husky, it curled inside Zachary. He shook his head, trying to jar the weirdly soothing feeling loose. “Surrendering one gun doesn’t impress me. You’ve got a lot of hardware.”
“I’m preparing for a zombie apocalypse.”
“You could declare yourself an independent nation.” He pushed to his feet, smoothed his palms down his wet pants. “Dr. Luwicki doesn’t like it.”
“She cleared me for buying the guns.”
“She doesn’t think you’re suicidal or homicidal, but that doesn’t mean she thinks it’s healthy.”
“My gun collection is extremely healthy.” Brian snickered. “I’m a horrible shot.”
“You almost tagged me.”
He smiled at Brian’s horrified gasp. “I did not.”
“My ears are still ringing. It was that close.” Squaring his shoulders, back turned to Foster, Zachary stepped to the center of the entry and to his credentials--an easy target if Brian recovered from his dismay at almost killing him, but Foster had calmed down, accepted Zachary’s presence in the house.
After three nights in the woods, he was in.
Maybe breaking down the door hadn’t been such a dumbass idea after all.
Zachary returned his ID to his pocket before kicking the 9MM away. “I’m coming to you, Brian. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t shoot me.”
Copyright © Kari Gregg
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