The tall, elusive figure has followed me for the last three months. The shadow. My silent tail. Whether I’m at my job in the café or relaxing in my one-room flat, I only need to look outside to find him standing across the road. Watching me. A faceless darkness. A mysterious presence that lights my nerves and constricts my chest.
I can’t tell what he looks like. Hell, I can’t even tell what he’s wearing. He’s nothing more than a silhouette. A spooky intangible darkness that seems to swallow the light. I get the vague impression of a man, a suit maybe, but that’s all.
I feel his steady gaze, though. His eyes prickle the skin of my neck.
When he first appeared, I tried to face off with him. Probably foolish; how do you fight a shadow? But I’ve trained in martial arts for years, won a few competitions, and I was feeling pissed off enough to give it a go.
“What the fuck is your game?” I roared at him, stomping across the street to shove my fist in his invisible face.
But the guy evaporated. Disappeared like a bloody apparition. That sent an almighty shiver through me. When I retreated to my side of the road, he reappeared as though he’d never left. I sensed amusement. Bastard.
I didn’t bother the police because nobody else sees him. People don’t glance in his direction. The boys in blue would assume I was a strawberry short of a punnet and dismiss me as a crackpot.
Maybe I am. Maybe he’s a figment of my imagination. Why would some shadow guy watch a twenty-six-year-old nobody? Why would he stand at the edge of a barroom while I drink my vodka? I’m cracking up, that’s why.
Another glance at the wall and he’s gone again. Only multicolored lights flicker across white paint. The electrified feeling dissipates, and my chest relaxes. Where does he go? I shouldn’t care, but the guy’s presence wakes this restless need deep in my belly. A want that I can’t name. A magnetic pull, almost like a spell.
I turn my back and finish my drink with a gulp, welcoming its dry sting hitting my throat. I’m not a big drinker, but I’ve found a few shots of vodka dulls the paranoia that I’m one step away from life in a straitjacket.
The bar’s packed, pumping bass, and the Saturday crowd filling the giant room with weekend buzz.
Terry, the barman, leans over the counter and waggles his thick brows at me. “Hey, Mickey.” He points a thumb behind him. “Mr. Hollywood at the end wants to buy you a drink.”
“What?” I look up to check out the guy indicated. Goose bumps pebble my arms. The man seems out of place. Out of time. I don’t know why Terry called him Mr. Hollywood. With his blond top knot, neat beard, and hard leather vest, he looks more like a Viking who’s lost his way to the battlefield.
When our eyes meet, the man’s intense silver gaze locks onto mine. He nods once, a curve at the edge of his lips.
Shit. He’s out of luck. I don’t swing that way.
“Tell him I’m good, will you, Terry?”
“Yeah, sure. You want a refill anyway?”
“I’ve probably had enough. Just give me a water.”
Terry plucks a bottle from the fridge behind him and leans across the bar again, showcasing his full-sleeve tattoos. “He’s been watching you for a while, that one.”
He angles closer and nods slowly, a twinkle in his hazel eyes, and I grin because I know what’s coming. “Mmm. Bit of a looker too.”
“I hadn’t noticed.”
Terry wipes the bar with his cloth, feigning nonchalance. “Mm-hm. Might be the adventure you need, Mickey boy. Meaty arms to spend a night in. You might discover you like it and your favorite barman was right all along.”
I roll my eyes. Terry’s easy manner and playful banter is one of the best things about this Irish-themed bar. But he’s an incorrigible flirt and convinced I only need the right kind of encouragement to see “the light.”
I raise my bottle of water and wink at the burly barman. “Why don’t you have a go, Terry? You can take him home to that love bed you keep telling me about.”
Terry sighs dramatically. “Those muscles would be perfect laid out across my Jamie Drake silks. But our blond Adonis only has eyes for you tonight. He obviously likes his men tall and broody.”
“Yeah, well, he’s gonna have to be disappointed. I’m not a beard man, see. Bit too rough for my sensitive skin. And what the fuck are Jamie Drake silks?”
Terry arches a brow, stroking his dark beard with thick fingers. “My dear Michael, I’m more than happy to introduce you to silk and the pleasures of man fur. You only have to say the word.”
I laugh and shake my head. “Keep hoping, big bear. You never know, I might mistake you for a hot chick one day and follow you home by accident.”
Terry sighs again. “I wait in earnest, oh broody one.”
He pushes off the bar and saunters over to the other side, affecting an exaggerated swish of his jeans-clad hips.
I chuckle. Terry isn’t the first person to try and coax me over to the other team. I may be dark-haired, six foot, and muscular, but I’ve got a fresh-faced, pretty-boy look going on. I can’t help it; I haven’t aged a day since my eighteenth birthday. I can’t even grow a beard. People seem to stereotype me, assume I’m into men. I’ve never been there, prefer the ladies. The assumption doesn’t bother me, though.
And playing the field—any field—is fairly recent. I was a happily settled man for a while there. Lived with the love of my life, Louisa Mayfair—a chocolate-eyed brunette with the body of a goddess and the attitude to match.
Until six months ago, when said Goddess packed her bags and left me for another man. The only explanation for the sudden change was a note that said she hoped I would one day decide what I wanted. Whatever the hell that meant.
Funny how life can kiss you one day and punch you in the balls the next.
But three months ago, at the same time all the weirdness with the shadow began, I started feeling a pulsing pressure at the base of my spine and a tingling energy that circulates through my limbs like a fire. My body heats till I’m sweating a river, and I crave sex with the ferocity of a sixteen-year-old on Viagra. I have a permanent semi most days. If I don’t get the release I need, I’m hot and edgy, the pressure builds, and the burn in my spine becomes unbearable.
I’ve picked up a woman two or three times a week in this bar. Terry calls me a man whore. I fear he’s not wrong. But my trusty right hand isn’t enough to relieve the tension.
My jeans pocket vibrates, my phone buzzing me a message. I tense, fingers hovering over my pocket. I’ve been having trouble with electronics too. The new tingling energy causes devices to spark and short when I handle them. It’s stressing me out. This is my third phone in a month.
I pull it out, and the screen activates when I press the home button—so far so good. It’s Anne, my aunt. The sister of my adoptive dad. We’re not close, but we both feel obligated to keep in touch. John adopted me at the age of ten, and he saved me from a childhood in hell. I owe him my sanity and my life. When he died of a heart attack eight years later, I swore I’d make sure his sixty-year-old sister had everything she needed. I spent the winnings from my fights to pay off her mortgage so she could retire. Now, I mostly leave her be, but we check on each other from time to time. For John.
I type a bland response, something cheeky that’ll keep her sweet, but as soon as it’s sent, the words dissolve into random pixels, sparks crackle and spit. Then the screen goes blank. I press the power button. Nothing. The phone’s as dead as a stone.
Damn. My static hands are getting worse. I went through three toasters and two kettles before realizing it was me causing them to break.
“Michael. My name is Gabriel Flanagan. I must speak with you.” I glance up to find the Viking who tried to buy me a drink standing over me, looking oddly serious. He must have gotten my name off Terry, that cupid traitor.
I can see what my friend means, though. Mr. Hollywood is a handsome bloke for sure, with striking silver eyes, but he definitely personifies the History Channel more than Tinsel Town. He’s got plaits running through his hair on one side, and his hard leather vest looks like armor. A detailed silver symbol glitters on the vest’s right shoulder—a circle enclosing a howling wolf, wings, and a growling cat, five dots in a line beneath. He’s as odd as my illusory shadow, but this character is definitely real. I can smell the leather, and those steel knives on his belt glint in the bar light. The man’s lucky the police aren’t around; he’d be arrested.
I stuff the phone into my jeans and stand to edge past him to make my escape. “Er, listen, mate. I’m flattered an’ all, but I’m not into dudes.”
He’s at least seven inches taller than me—a mountain in leather—wider in the shoulders too, but I think I can take him if he starts getting antsy about the rejection.
I give him an easy smile and point to Terry, who’s watching my discomfort with a touch of concern. “Why don’t you try Terry? He has a love bed. With Jamie Drake silks.” Guilt twinges my chest for pimping out my friend, but tall and muscly is his type, so he won’t mind.
As I back away, heading for the safety of the dance floor, the guy reaches for my arm. “Michael, it’s important we speak tonight. You are in danger.”
Wow, this weirdo lays it on thick. He clearly thinks he’s at some fantasy cosplay event. I tug my arm from his grip. His eyes flit around the room as though checking for something.
I retreat farther and raise my palms. “Listen, man. You look real cool in your Viking warrior gear and everything, but I’m not into the role-playing stuff, all right? I hope you have a great night.”
I slip into the crowd, pushing my way to the center. I’m not much of a dancer, but the space is so packed I don’t think anyone will notice. I breathe with relief when the cosplay wannabe doesn’t follow.
I’m not there long before a looker with straight black hair down to her waist wraps her arms around my neck. Her eyes glitter like sapphires, even in the dim light.
“I’m Alyona,” she purrs into my ear.
“Michael,” I answer with a grin, trying to aim for charming rather than lusty. It’s tough. In her leather short shorts and next-to-nothing camisole top, she’s curvy in all the right places, smoking hot, and just my type. She smells of lilies and sweat and all the things a man longs for, and her touch tingles against my skin. Unusual.
“I have a soft spot for men with green eyes, Michael. Especially such a pretty shade of jade.” My name slides from her lips with a foreign inflection, Eastern European or Russian maybe. I’m surprised she can make out the color of my eyes in the dark of the dance floor.
“That’s good because I have a soft spot for beautiful women.” Okay, a bit corny, but I’m thinking on the fly here.
She gives me a sexy grin, the kind that could melt a man’s trousers off. “You want to dance with me, Michael?”
“If you’re asking.”
“Oh, I am asking.”
For the next hour, I’m pressed against soft curves, heat, and sensual promise. The bar and its crowds become a distant blur. We don’t speak, but our bodies are conversing like long-lost friends, and when she asks me if I want to follow her outside, I’m not in need of persuasion.
She takes my hand and guides me through the press of squirming dancers, through a doorway, and out to the back of the building.
The alleyway isn’t the most romantic of places. It’s gray and dank and smells of bins and cigarette butts, but I barely notice. I’ve got an iron bar straining at my jeans, and my mind’s swirling as though I’ve drunk a lot more than three vodkas.
With surprising ease, she pushes me against the wall and, wearing a salacious grin, drops to her knees, making easy work of my belt and fly. She wraps me with firm fingers, the black stone in her ring glinting in the dull lamp light, and guides my aching cock deep into her mouth. When her moist velvet heat envelop me, the groan that leaves my throat is long and heartfelt. This woman knows her way around a man’s need. Her grip on my shaft is firm and confident. Her lapping tongue a sinful tease. Her mouth a haven of intense pressure driving me mercilessly toward release with ruthless skill. And every suck of her lips sends a tingling heat all the way down my willing cock. My head lolls back against the wall, muscles softening, hips thrusting gently as my fingers curl into her thick, silky hair.
Man, this is nice. I can forget everything when buried in the warmth of a woman. Even my illusion in black becomes irrelevant.
But my mind floats like a cloud, and my thoughts scatter into an incoherent mess. The world feels distant, immaterial. The city noise dulls to a faraway echo, as if I’m underwater, sinking deeper with every pull of Alyona’s talented mouth.
Until a woman’s screeching plea cuts through the fog like a chainsaw. “Help! Help!”