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By Joely Skye
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.Copyright © 2007 Joely Skye
All right reserved.
"Just down the road," said Josh as they left the bike path and entered suburbia. There they rode side by side. Kir gazed with open admiration at the upscale houses they passed. Which amused Josh, or would have if he wasn't wound so tight. The endgame was in sight.
Josh led Kir to the two story, five bedroom house that he'd become acquainted with this past week and Kir said, "Wow. Is this yours?"
"Yup," Josh lied. "Accountants know how to pay their bills."
Kir nodded wisely, obviously impressed. Josh turned away from the boy's admiration and thumbed the garage door opener. They watched the white double door fold up into the garage ceiling.
"Come on in," said Josh.
Kir hung back as Josh wheeled his bike in beside the black SUV that took up half of the garage.
"I'm ready for air conditioning. You?"
"Okay," said Kir. He took a deep breath and followed Josh, parking his bike. They entered the house and once the door shut behind them, Josh breathed a little more easily. The boy didn't know it, but he was locked in.
"Water? Juice? Something stronger?" Josh asked as he walked to the kitchen. Kir trailed behind him.
"Water, please." Kir winced, as if he thought he sounded stupid.
Somehow, Josh hadn't expected the boy to be naive.
Kir gave a sharp shake of the head. "Sorry, I'm just not used to ..."
"Getting picked up during the day?" Josh let his smile widen and Kir responded by trying to shrug casually.
While Kir fidgeted, Josh pulled down two glasses and filled them with water.
"There's a first time for everything." Josh didn't touch Kir's fingers as he handed him the glass. It was too close to the end. This cat and mouse game left him with a bad taste in his mouth. Monster or not, Kir was too easily played. The files had led Josh to expect some sophistication, especially about sex.
Kir gulped down the entire glass at once. Too fast, thought Josh, and resisted the impulse to shake his head at Kir. God, with a little show of interest, of concern, anyone could have brought this boy in.
"Thanks," Kir said, swiping his mouth.
"I think you should stop thanking me," Josh said gently.
Kir's face softened, as if he thought Josh was about to seduce him. When Josh didn't do anything, Kir's expression clouded. He pointed to Josh's full glass of water. "I thought you were thirsty."
"I am." Josh drank-the drug had been in Kir's glass, not in the water. The boy's frown remained. Josh wondered, in an idle, theoretical way, if Kir would realize Josh had duped him and exact revenge before he passed out. Those files had stressed how easily Kir could damage Josh's mind. Maybe the drug wasn't strong enough for the boy.
The boy. Josh felt like a shit. Perhaps Kir had manipulated him into guilt without his realizing it. This was his talent, using words to convince people they were acting on their own cognizance.
But Josh was unharmed while Kir staggered and reached for the table. Today Josh had done damage, not Kir.
"You okay?" asked Josh, making no move to help.
"Yes." His confusion belied his word. He stared intently at the table's edge, trying to pull himself together. "I ..." Realization dawned though they had sworn the drug wouldn't allow it. "Oh," said Kir, blinking up at Josh. "You?" Disappointment gave way to anger. Kir's gaze intensified, even as his body trembled against the drug, and Josh found that he couldn't look away.
"Don't let them hurt me." Kir's face drained of color and he fell forward.
Josh moved quickly. The least he could do was break the boy's fall. Bending his knees, he turned Kir's body and scooped him up. He wasn't light for his height, but he wasn't tall either, and Josh was strong.
The boy smelled good, young, fresh, and Josh couldn't help thinking, what a waste. Kir should be out with friends on the weekend, not trying-and failing-to escape the agency. Josh carried him to the couch. Laid him down. In his forced sleep the boy looked incredibly innocent: long eyelashes, smooth face with just a hint of the day's stubble.
But Josh knew about innocence: it wasn't always pure. He dialed into his contact. "He's here," he said. "He's out."
Josh required a weapon with which he could strike quickly and irrevocably. A knife or a piece of glass would slice through Kir's throat before the boy-the monster Josh had once hunted-could speak and bend Josh to his will.
Kir fed Josh to keep up his strength and he didn't want to think why, didn't want to think Kir had plans, like Brad's plans. The kitchen would have a knife. Kir had sliced vegetables. The soup hadn't come out of a can.
Josh slid off the bed without letting it creak. He walked quietly. There were no city lights to guide him. The moon wasn't shining. In the dark he moved, taking care not to bump into anything. The crucial thing was not to rush.
Despite his painstaking efforts, a board creaked under his weight. He froze. From elsewhere, a bed's spring creaked in reply and, to Josh's horror, he heard Kir rise. Quick-footed and sure, Kir strode towards Josh. Kir was everything Josh wasn't-powerful, healthy, autonomous.
Kir flipped the switch and blinded Josh with light. He was caught in the kitchen and couldn't move. He could barely breathe.
"Hey." Kir's greeting disconcerted Josh. He squinted, confused by Kir's friendliness. Josh was bracing himself for an assault-he would fight, no matter the odds. But Kir didn't speak. He merely walked to the fridge to pull out juice and bread.
As if he thought Josh needed a snack. As if he knew Josh was terrified of Kir's words. Josh wanted to think these contradictions through, but he didn't have the luxury of time or clear-thinking-his trembling body betrayed him in a way he despised.
While Josh looked on, Kir put a sandwich together, all but ignoring Josh and his turmoil. Josh couldn't take his eyes off the knife Kir used to slice the bread. It was sharp, serrated, and Josh could use it against Kir's dusky throat. It wouldn't be the first time Josh had killed in such a way. He'd sliced open Snow's throat when Kir had ordered him to.
After Snow had attempted to rape Kir. No, don't think of that. Don't think of anything but the knife.
Kir offered Josh the sandwich. Did Minders feed their sacrifices? The boy's innocent goodwill freaked Josh out, so he didn't look directly at Kir as he passed the plate over. Josh watched the boy's steady hand place food down.
What Josh needed was the knife. He edged around the counter, leaned on it, then forced himself to look up.
Kir smiled briefly in encouragement and, oblivious, turned to wash his hands. Now! Josh's brain screamed. He threw his body forward, grabbed the knife and lunged at Kir's throat, his movements clumsy, but accurate.
The surprise on Kir's face was momentary. He shifted, arm snapping up to block Josh's thrust. Thrown off-balance, Josh stumbled back, keeping a death grip on the knife. Adrenaline shook him so hard, his teeth chattered. A second attempt now would fail even more spectacularly.
Stupid. He hadn't even cut Kir's arm. Josh was weak, confused. Panicked. He should have planned an attack, not taken the first poor opportunity. But there was no time and now it was over. Kir would speak and Josh would worship him as a god to love and protect. Terror seized him, coating his eyes with tears.
The boy remained silent, his dark gaze on Josh. At the very least, Kir should compel Josh to drop the knife. Instead, the knife remained in his hand while Josh vibrated with fear. It was an illusion, he told himself, that he had the power to hurt Kir. And still Kir stood there, eyes black and fathomless, watching Josh like one would watch a wild, unpredictable animal.
Why didn't he speak? Disarm him? Josh's head ached and, transfixed by his confusion, he couldn't move.
Very slowly, so as not to startle, Kir approached him. Kir spoke no words, yet Josh was rooted to the spot and vulnerable. Damaged. He was damaged and Kir knew it. Kir gently extracted the knife from Josh's hand without touching him, for which Josh was pathetically grateful. After Kir backed away, Josh leaned down on the counter, dizzy, pulling in breaths.
"Why don't you sit and eat?" Kir said, as if Josh hadn't just tried to kill him.
Josh searched the words for compulsion. A useless exercise. A Zombie never recognized compulsion. He justified every thought forced upon him. For God's sakes, Josh had thought Brad was his boyfriend. Josh rested his head on the back of his hands, trying not to gag, appalled at his helplessness, waiting for Kir to say more. He couldn't understand why Kir wasn't talking all the time. He couldn't make sense of the quiet.
His brain was ruined, so Josh gave up thinking. He dragged a stool to the counter and, with trembling hands, fed himself. He made a mess of his sandwich, but he ate most of it. Kir politely looked elsewhere.
When he was done, they regarded each other. Kir appeared worried.
"I don't want your fucking concern." Unable to control his voice, Josh sounded histrionic. "I want to kill you."
"Um, yeah. I noticed."
"I really do." Josh whispered so his voice didn't quaver. He expected Kir to laugh. Fool, fool. Don't engage in conversation. You'll lose.
"You're exhausted," said Kir in his strange matter-of-fact way, as if Josh was recovering from a bad case of the flu. "You're better off if I cook for a few days before you kill me."
Josh laughed, though the laughter went wild. So little control and his shoulders shook. He wanted to weep again.
"I'm kinda hoping you'll change your mind by then," Kir added. "You can change my mind any time you choose."
Kir crossed his arms and leaned back against the sink. "Listen to me. I am not going to manipulate you."
Josh's face arranged itself into a sneer. Otherwise he might fall apart. "I'll never know, will I?"
"You will know." Kir's quiet conviction scared Josh. "Your body will feel different. You won't get better if I'm working on you. So, I won't."
He rifled through the kitchen and found lots to drink. Boxed juice, bottled water. As Josh poured himself some water, Kir opened the freezer.
He turned to Josh. "I'm hungry. Should I throw in one of these frozen pizzas?"
Noise roared through his head. Josh stiffened in fear, aware of the glass in his hand only after it broke, cutting his palm. Beyond that, he couldn't think.
When the noise subsided, Kir was beside him, trying to open Josh's wet fist while Josh clung to the pain.
"Josh. Please let go."
He breathed in once, then slowly unclenched his fist. The blood ran. Kir's hands shook, but he took out the large shard that had sliced Josh's palm. He led Josh to the sink to run water over the injured hand. The cold water soothed. The noise in Josh's head receded.
"It's not a deep cut." Josh kept his voice even. "I was lucky. Check the bathroom for a first-aid kit."
Kir eyed him and Josh nodded encouragement. "I'll be okay while you get a first-aid kit. I'll bet Trey has stocked this place well. Just look at the kitchen."
"Okay." Kir dashed away while Josh let the cold water numb his hand. He just focused on that numbness. He needed it.
Kir was back, touching him, soothing Josh's frayed nerves with his careful attention. Kir dried the hand with a clean cloth, applied antibiotic cream, then gauze and tape. Loosely clasping Josh's wrist, he drew Josh to a kitchen chair and pressed lightly on Josh's shoulder until he sat.
The rules had changed. Last summer, only Josh could touch Kir. Josh's body had been sensitized by his time as Brad's Zombie. Josh shuddered at the memory and Kir, misreading Josh's body language, backed off.
"No," said Josh. "I'm just remembering too much. Always a mistake. Brad ate a lot of frozen pizza."
"I'm sorry. I should have known. My brain's slow today."
"I can't eat frozen pizza, that's all."
Kir reached for Josh again, then checked himself. But unlike last summer, Josh, while not exactly the most relaxed he'd ever been, wanted that contact.
"Come here." He opened his arms.
Kir looked at a loss at the change of rules, so Josh stood and pulled Kir into a hug, a little roughly as he remembered Ed and that fucking gun. He wanted Kir safe.
"Goddammit," Josh swore into Kir's hair because he felt too much and he couldn't explain anything. Kir grabbed him, clutching his back, trembling. Though no calmer than Kir, Josh made shushing noises. There was solace in their embrace. Josh ran a hand through Kir's thick, tangled hair to calm Kir, to calm himself. Kir's tears dampened Josh's neck. He didn't know how long they stood like that but, eventually, they came to rest their foreheads against each other.
"Despite my PTSD"-Josh had never wanted PTSD, well who did, but now he had it in spades-"we need to eat and drink."
"There's some kind of lasagna in there."
"Perfect." Josh stepped back before he started kissing Kir. If they made out now, they would never got their meal and Kir needed to eat.
Kir retrieved a frozen tray of food from the freezer and stuck it in the oven. He poured them both juice and ripped open a bag of popcorn. "Let's sit in a room with more comfortable chairs."
A couch and a coffee table made up the living room. They settled there, Kir stuffing his face while Josh could barely swallow. Though he forced himself to drink, his appetite was shot. Stress did that. Kir noticed and Josh just shook his head.
"Give me time. I'll be able to eat later."
"I'll get you another drink." Kir went back to the kitchen and Josh could hear him cleaning up the glass he'd dropped earlier. Kir, endlessly thoughtful, incredibly kind. Josh embarrassed himself by blinking back tears as he remembered how Kir had cared for him during his first days after Brad, when Josh had been a physical and emotional wreck, and Kir hadn't flinched from Josh's attempts to hurt him.
Kir returned to the living room and Josh held out a hand. Kir took it without hesitation. Josh drew him into his lap. Kir curled into him.
Josh's cock went hard against Kir's butt.
Kir met his gaze. "I thought you hated me."
"No." Josh palmed Kir's cheek, then carefully touched Kir's eyes, his brow, his temples, his wide mouth, remembering the beauty there, because Kir was, by any standard, gorgeous. He submitted to Josh's touch, as he always did, eyes darkening with desire.
"I'm not going to hurt you," said Josh.
Kir frowned. "I know that."
"I didn't. I was terrified I'd kill you."
Josh cradled Kir's face in his hands. "I missed you all winter."
Solemn, Kir gazed back, unable or unwilling to respond. With his thumb, Josh traced Kir's lips.
"I didn't forget how beautiful you are."
Kir's lips parted.
"Do you mind being called beautiful? Some guys don't like it. I could say you're hot and it would be true, but you're beautifully hot."
Kir blushed and Josh leaned forward to press his lips against Kir's. Kir stilled, perhaps because of his own personal demons, perhaps fear for Josh. He tongued Kir's lips. Kir groaned, opened his mouth, and Josh plundered. Kir's mouth was sweet with juice, salty with popcorn, all Kir-taste and eagerness. The kiss took over and soon they were grappling with each other, making out for all they were worth, making up for their lost year.
Excerpted from Beautiful Monster by Joely Skye Copyright © 2007 by Joely Skye. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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