Mapping the Shadows

Becky Black

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Ash Bowman is lost. Two years ago he and his cop partner, Evelyn, walked in on a murder in progress that left her dead and him maimed. He left the force and became a private investigator, but business is suffering because of his o...
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Ash Bowman is lost. Two years ago he and his cop partner, Evelyn, walked in on a murder in progress that left her dead and him maimed. He left the force and became a private investigator, but business is suffering because of his obsession with mapping the Core of the space station Fraxin Yari, where Evelyn’s ghost haunts him as he prowls the dark corridors.

Journalist Gabe Whitfield is on a mission to learn the truth behind that same murder. He doesn’t expect to stay on Frax after he finishes the job. But meeting Ash Bowman changes his plans. He came to the station a man without ties. He isn’t going to leave the same way.

Despite initially mistrusting him, Ash can’t resist his attraction to the fiery Gabe. Gabe responds, though knows he shouldn’t when Ash is one of the subjects of his investigation. But they come to trust each other and join forces to find the answers Ash had almost forgotten he was still seeking. If they are to have any chance of happiness, Gabe must help Ash lay the ghosts calling him back again and again to the deep darkness of the Core.

  • Note:
    Mapping the Shadows
Excerpt
Gabe started at the hard rap on the door. His heart thumped. He got up from sitting on the bed and thumbed the intercom.

“Who is it?”

“Ash Bowman.”

Ah. So not someone coming to kill him. Probably. He opened the door. Bowman stood there in his long black overcoat, scowling like a thunderstorm.

“Mr. Bowman. Um…” He stepped aside as Bowman barged inside without waiting for an invitation. Gabe shrugged and closed the door behind him. Bowman strode to the middle of the room and swept the place with an unfriendly look. Gabe was suddenly acutely conscious of the small apartment, with its tiny, minimal kitchen nook, the only other room a bathroom. The mess of papers and notebooks all over the bed. The fact he was dressed in nothing but a T-shirt and shorts, his feet bare. He grabbed at his white cotton bathrobe, tied it as Bowman turned to him.

“I wasn’t expecting anyone.”

“Clearly.”

“Can I get you anything? You want to take your coat off? Sit down?” He felt vulnerable, barefoot, in his underwear, with Bowman in boots and overcoat.

“No.” The word snapped out. Bowman’s face had softened for a moment, but it went hard again. “I know who you are. I didn’t come here to chat. I came to warn you to stay the hell away from us.”

“Us?”

“Mrs. Jackson-Cooper and me. That story is over. It was over two years ago.”

“You really believe that?”

“Let it lie, Whitfield. There’s nothing you can add to this but more pain.”

“I don’t want to cause anyone pain.”

“Then stay away. I don’t know what your angle is, if it’s some human-interest garbage about ‘whatever happened to that guy?’—”

“Believe me, it’s not.” Gabe ran a hand through his hair, disarranging his already messy waves. “I promise, I don’t want to write a story about you. That’s not what this is about. I mean, that’s not what it’s mainly about. I’m out for the truth, Mr. Bowman. And so is Mr. Cain. I think you’ll thank us both for that later.”

Bowman snorted but didn’t argue. He took a plastic case from under his coat. The type that held data chips. “Here,” he said. “That’s all the information we could dig up on Richie Swan. If you’ve got any brains, you won’t go looking for him either.” Left-handed, he tossed the case to Gabe, who snatched at it. He missed, but it bounced off the heel of his right hand and dropped into his left. A ghost of a smile crossed Bowman’s face at the fumble and recovery.

“Wait, you’re still giving me the data?”

Bowman frowned. “You paid me.”

“But I lied to you.”

“You paid me. Should I send the invoice for the balance to you or straight to Bernie Cain?”

“Ah, um, to me. I’ll sort it out.”

Bowman strode to the door, Gabe scrambling to get out of this way before he was run down. At the door Bowman stopped and looked back at Gabe.

“You maybe don’t know, being so new to the station, but Swan works for dangerous people in a dangerous place. You seem like a smart guy. Stay away from the Core.”

As if recognizing a good exit line, he slapped the door-opening panel. The door entirely failed to open.

“Fuck, it’s locked,” Gabe said. “Let me…” He hurried over, which brought him close enough to catch Bowman’s scent. Soap, light sweat, some aftershave or other—Gabe had never been able to distinguish those very well. He felt the heat of the man, and as Bowman stood back to let Gabe near the door, he blocked the light and his shadow engulfed Gabe like a physical thing, like he was touching Gabe. Gabe gasped and stared up at him.

“Oh God,” he whispered.

One stride only, and Bowman was in his arms, backing him up to the wall and kissing him.

Gabe clung to him, kissing back. This was madness, but he’d wanted it from the moment he first saw Bowman. Ash. You couldn’t call a guy by his last name when you had his tongue in your mouth. A groan escaped Gabe as Ash held his face with both hands, fingers in his hair. Big hands, strong hands Gabe wanted on his body, on his cock. He pressed against Ash, raised one leg, the robe slipping from it. He wrapped his leg around Ash’s. He ground against Ash, cock hardening.

Ash gasped and pulled back, stepped away, making Gabe wobble. Gabe put his foot down, put one hand to the wall to balance himself. Had he shocked Ash? Been too forward? Was Ash a “not until the third date” kind of guy?

Ash stood there, staring at him, like he didn’t know where he was or who Gabe was. There was a certain amount of truth to the latter part. Would he bolt? Gabe didn’t want him to go. This might be madness, but he wasn’t going to see Ash again after tonight. Cain was right; Gabe had to maintain his distance from the man. He didn’t consider Ash a suspect, as Cain did, but Ash was a player in this. Or a piece on the chessboard, at least. Getting involved with him would skew Gabe’s view of the story.

But one night, one hour, one fuck would not hurt. That wasn’t being involved. That was just sex.

“Stay,” he said softly to Ash. “For a little while.”

A long moment, then Ash moved. He took off his coat.

Gabe scurried to the bed. He carefully put his terminal away in his satchel, then unceremoniously dumped the papers and notebooks onto the floor.

“You’ll have a job sorting those later,” Ash said. He’d taken his shoes and jacket off. He was in shirtsleeves and charcoal-gray pants. So far Gabe had seen him only with his jacket or coat on, and he could at last more properly appreciate Ash’s lean form, narrow hips. He got on the bed, then tossed his robe half across the room. Yeah, there’d be a lot of tidying up after this. Ash looked down at him, but despite his height, he wasn’t an intimidating presence. If anything, he looked nervous. He undid his shirt buttons while Gabe watched, sweating, mouth watering, heart racing with anticipation. His cock tented his shorts.

Ash pulled the shirt from his waistband but didn’t take it off. He took the pants off, undid them, let them fall, and stepped out of them, approached the bed with his bleached-white shirt hanging loose. He wasn’t taking it off? Gabe had an inkling why. But he had full access to Ash’s cock, and that was what he wanted. It was half-hard, pinkish against his pale skin, based in black hair. Not trimmed hair, like more…active guys.

Ash got onto the bed. It squeaked in protest. He crawled on all fours up to Gabe to lean in and kiss him again. While they kissed, he reached under Gabe’s shirt, rubbed his back and flanks, raising goose bumps, making Gabe sigh with the gentle touch, the quiet pleasure. He lay back on the bed, bringing Ash down with him, until Ash lay half on top of him. Gabe ran his hands under the shirt, sweeping long caresses around Ash’s back, warm skin under his palms, fabric sliding across the backs of his hands.

This was a little odd. He knew they shouldn’t do this. Ash probably had similar feelings, since he’d come here to tell Gabe to butt the hell out of his life—though also to bring the information Gabe had paid for, which was interesting. But it was odd because in that case, should they not be swept away with passion, beyond control? Gabe didn’t feel that way, and neither did Ash, apparently. This might be a mistake, but it was one he was making deliberately, his eyes wide open.

He pulled away and sat up enough to pull his T-shirt off over his head and then moved close again. Ash dropped kisses down his jawline and neck, onto his collarbones and bare chest. He caressed a nipple, fingers combing the sparse, wiry hair of Gabe’s chest.

When Gabe reached for Ash’s shirt, started to slide it off, Ash stiffened.

“Leave it.”

“It’s going to get creased.”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“I know about your arm,” Gabe said.

“I’d prefer if you leave it.”

“Okay.” He wouldn’t push Ash, though he’d admit to curiosity about the arm. He let his hands drop away. Ash remained rather tense. Gabe couldn’t have that. He reversed their positions, meeting no resistance from Ash, so Ash lay on his back, shirt falling away from his chest and belly. He was lean and hard. He’d been bulkier in the old days—Gabe had seen a picture of him as a cop, looking more muscular. But if he wasn’t as big, he was sure hard and strong. Such a turn-on.

Gabe slipped out of his shorts so he was naked. He straddled Ash, who reached for his cock at once. His touch was more tentative than Gabe expected. As if he lacked experience, or at least practice. He’d been injured and traumatized two years ago. He’d spent six months in the hospital and who knew how long recovering physically and mentally. What if…

“Ash, is this the first time you’ve been with someone since you were shot?”

Ash’s hand stopped moving on Gabe’s cock, and he scowled. The way people usually did when Gabe asked horribly intrusive questions. He couldn’t stop being a journalist even when naked in bed with a man.

“Are you trying to kill the mood?”

“Sorry. You don’t have to say. But hypothetically, if it was the first time, that’s okay. I know you’ve had it rough. We don’t have to do anything you’re not ready for.”

Ash reached up and took Gabe’s arms. Drew him down, kissed him. When he broke, he was still frowning. “You talk too much.”

Copyright © Becky Black

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