Tangled Up in You: A SearchLight Universe Story

Emily Carrington

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Retired SearchLight agent Jason Campbell stumbles into intrigue in Kansas. Never attracted to women or men, he finds himself compelled by a fox demigod who gets to him through the magical medium of music. As Jason falls deeply in ...
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Retired SearchLight agent Jason Campbell stumbles into intrigue in Kansas. Never attracted to women or men, he finds himself compelled by a fox demigod who gets to him through the magical medium of music. As Jason falls deeply in love with Reynard, he discovers an awful secret: Reynard is slave to a monster. As Jason struggles to free both Reynard and the fox-god's son, he must do so without weapons, without backup, and without all the facts, which could lead to death's retirement.

What sort of man is this? Reynard stepped back from his window as the stranger neared. Why isn’t he affected by my music, by my magic? A frisson of excitement rushed to the ends of all his fingers and curled his toes. There had never been a mere mortal able to resist him. Who was this man?

Maybe he isn’t a mere mortal human. But when Reynard had sent out his magic to stop the stranger, he had felt no answering magic. The immune newcomer was as mundane as sliced bread.

He allowed himself a brief smile as the memory of his childhood, years without sliced bread, years of loaves never precut, flitted through his mind. He’d lived long enough to see something that had once seemed ostentatious become common. This man, too, might become the accepted thing.

But not now, he thought as the stranger climbed through the window and stood in the same room with Reynard in spite of the “go away” melody. Now he is a miracle.

Reynard bowed, not wondering at his sudden desire to be formal. “Welcome.” That sounded as if he’d expected the man. “You are a surprise.” That sounded rude. Quit analyzing your words and say something that is truly you. “You are welcome here, miraculous stranger.” That at least seemed like him, even if it remained overly formal.

The average-looking man returned his bow. “Thank you. I am Jason Campbell.

Weren’t names a thing of power? Yes, but this man seemed unafraid of that. And he may not have given his full name. Or even his true one. “Rey.” He paused. “Reynard.” Let the man make of that truth what he would. Many of those Reynard introduced himself to end up dead at his feet.

A lock of sandy brown hair dropped over the man’s forehead, and he brushed it away with what looked to be an impatient gesture. As if he wasn’t used to having even a little bit of hair out of place.

Or I’m reading too much into a simple movement. Ah, but I haven’t been this off-kilter in my responses and assumptions for years. Of course, he also hadn’t met anyone unexpectedly in years. Not since the beginning of his slavery.

“Do you claim to be the fox god or something akin?” Jason Campbell asked.

Reynard grinned. And transformed into his fox form, his clothes fading into nothingness as he shifted. Peering up at the man through his fox eyes, he wondered why he’d thought his guest ordinary. He smelled of years upon years of close contact with magic, even though he had none of his own. He also smelled of a woman, another man, and children. At least a dozen.

And chickens. He smelled of chickens.

The scents were threatening to overwhelm him, and Reynard changed swiftly back to his human shape, clothes reappearing around him. Such distractibility was the cause of his enslavement. And in any case, he had no desire to stop talking with this stranger. Particularly when there was little danger of his master discovering them and hurting what was quickly becoming the most interesting person Reynard had known in decades.

“That proves only your shape-shifting ability.” Yet Jason Campbell had taken a step back. “Leave it for now. I have no desire to become entangled with another magical creature. I came because of the music you played.”

Came because of it rather than being driven away? Curiouser and curiouser, thought Alice. He didn’t allow his mouth to twitch with this quote. He wanted something from Jason Campbell, and he might even get it if the man was as unaffected as he seemed. “You enjoy depressing ballads?”

“There’s nothing depressing in the contemplation of death as part of life’s dangers,” Jason answered.

Reynard retreated to his guitar and picked it up. “Do you play?”

“A little. I’ve never had the time that I’d…” He frowned thunderously. “If that was an example of your magic, getting me to say more than I intended, it is unwelcome.”

“I do not use my magic to get others to talk.” Only to listen. “There is little mortals can teach me.” He held out the guitar, gripping it casually by the neck.

Jason took it with both hands and with a reverent ease that reminded Reynard of a priest he’d met once. The man had handled chalice, bread, and other holy implements of his faith with a comfort borne of long use and an ingrained sense of responsibility.

Jason tucked the guitar against his body, holding it in place with his right arm as his left hand found a chord on the neck. He strummed on open fifth and then a seventh chord. Then he was singing the first verse of “The Golden Vanity,” about the boy who’d been tricked into giving his life for an ungrateful captain.

Reynard joined him on the second verse even as he strode to the far wall and took down his fiddle. He settled into the easy chord structure Jason played—I, IV, V, I—and found the countermelody by the fourth verse.

They finished together:

Oh, there is a lofty ship and she sails on the sea.

“But she sails without a cabin boy the age of twelve and three.

“And she fears she will be taken by a Turkish enemy…

Here Jason dropped out, although he continued to play the chords. Reynard halted in the middle of the first word of the last line and asked, dropping the countermelody and matching Jason chord for chord, “Why did you stop?”

“Because I love the…” Jason coughed, and his fingers stuttered on the strings. He fumbled the guitar, and the music died. “Don’t do that.”

“Do what?”

“Use your magic to get me to bare my soul. I am not your toy.”

Reynard held the fiddle at his side and the bow in his opposite hand. He tried to look innocent, knew it was a lost cause because of the foxy—pun definitely intended—slant of his features. “My magic doesn’t work that way.” This was closer to a lie than his first statement. His magic could be used any way he chose. Or nearly. “In any case, I meant nothing by it if I did release a little magic.” That was more honest. He did not want to frighten this man away now that he was here.

Jason raised sandy colored eyebrows at him, and his mouth turned down for a moment, revealing wrinkles that spread all over his face before disappearing. He was older than he’d first seemed.

So perhaps I am not the only one who is more than he appears. Reynard discovered he liked the idea of an older human. It was as if the burden of years carried with it a promise of experience. And he liked his men experienced.

There went his libido. Dormant while doing his master’s bidding. Even asleep when the young man or woman they approached held every characteristic of conventional beauty. Now his cock was half erect, and he took a step closer to the object of his desire. “How old are you?”

Jason snorted, and some of the tension went out of his posture. “Does it matter when you have all but claimed to be older than the hills?”

“Not older than they.” Reynard smiled, hoping to entice an answer, a true answer, out of Jason without magic. “Humor me?”

“I’m forty-eight.”

For some reason that age seemed to bother Jason. “You are handsome no matter your age,” Reynard blurted, surprising himself into a blush. He knew it would show like a beacon against his pale and freckled Irish skin.

Jason snorted again; there was little to no humor in it. “I am a retired SearchLight agent, if that means anything to you.”

Reynard tensed, but tried to speak casually. “I know of SearchLight. They can do little to help my present situation, but I know of them.”

“What help do you speak of?” It was Jason’s turn to take a step forward.

“More than you can give,” Reynard answered quickly, retreating from the concern in the man’s softening gaze. “Let’s play more.” He lifted his fiddle to his shoulder. And released more than a touch of magic to encourage, even though his magic had done little so far.

This time Jason was taken in. He tucked the guitar as before under one arm. “What shall we play?”

Reynard was disappointed. His miracle man hadn’t survived much more than a drop of magic. Apparently, he wasn’t as special as Reynard had first thought. “‘Mary Hamilton,’” he said in response to Jason’s question. This was a more modern ballad, but it fulfilled Jason’s stated desire for songs about death that he somehow didn’t find depressing.

“I don’t know that one.” Jason sounded disappointed. Even a little sulky. Then he brightened. “But my sister says I can play anything if I hear it once. Play the melody.”

Hating the effect his magic had wrought, yet unable to take it back without casting more on the half-puppet, Reynard began to play.

And, true to his word, Jason picked it up almost at once. If not for the slightly lost cast to the man’s eyes, having someone to play with would have been bliss.

Copyright © Emily Carrington


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