Icebound, page 1
Mortals & Myths Book One
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First published in Great Britain by HarperImpulse 2014
Copyright © Corinna Rogers 2014
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Ice creeps up the window, spider-webbing out to cover the glass pane completely. Shane watches it, amused, because it’s better than watching the ceiling, waiting for the knock on his door. The TV is on, some shitty program about parenthood and people who shouldn’t be allowed within five hundred yards of it, and for a second it’s a struggle to remember why he shouldn’t just throw it out the window.
The knock is tentative at first, soft, and that pisses him off. “Get in here.”
The man who enters is tall, just over six feet, and broadly muscled, enough that he’d be able to toss the TV out the window with one hand and little effort. He’s got an open, honest face, smooth and darker-skinned than Shane, whether from his mother’s Portuguese heritage or his own tendency to forget about sunscreen whenever he leaves the house. His hair falls in dark-brown waves to the top of his back, accenting the strength in his chin, his straight nose, his rough, capable hands. There’s a hint of beauty about him, for all that he looks like he could be hit by a truck and apologize for denting the fender, accenting his cheekbones, his eyelashes, the little dip below his collarbone that Shane knows so well.
It doesn’t matter how many times the man comes here. It never stops making Shane’s heart ache. “I like those jeans. They make your ass look fantastic.”
“I was hoping you’d like them.”
That voice – god. It sends ripples up his spine, and Shane lets his legs spread a bit, leaning back against the headboard. He almost slips up, almost says, I miss you, but that’s too much. “Want your mouth,” he says instead, and the other man nods, shutting the door behind him as he kneels on the bed between Shane’s legs, hands sliding up his thighs.
Want to kiss you. It hurts, how much Shane wants to kiss him, but that’s not part of the rules. Instead, he flicks open his own jeans one-handed, pulling himself out, already hard. “For such a big guy, you’ve got such a pretty mouth,” he croons, twisting a hand in the man’s hair. “Put it to good use. Don’t flinch, you’ve been wanting this all day, haven’t you?”
The man licks his lips, swallows hard, but nods. “Yeah. All day. Can I?”
Shane’s hips twitch up at that question. It’s so genuine, so wanting, for all that he knows it isn’t. “Go on. See if you can take it all this time.”
No matter how many times they’ve done this, it always feels like fucking heaven, the first swipe of that hot wet tongue over his cock. “Fuck, Drake. Such a good cocksucker. Good boy.”
The praise spurs the man on, sliding his lips over the head of Shane’s cock, moaning softly as he stretches his lips wide to take it all, inch by thick, hard inch.
It’s the little details that make this so good. It’s the drag of his tongue over the head of his cock, sure, but it’s also the way Drake’s eyelashes flutter, the way his hands splay out on Shane’s thighs, the little noises he makes when Shane bucks up into the soft wet heat, making him gag.
“Go on, baby, take it. That’s what you’re here for, right? You didn’t come here just to see my pretty face.”
He loves the way it looks, his pale, flushed cock sliding into Drake’s mouth, seeing the contrast of his skin against the tanned fingers of Drake’s hands as they come up to try to steady himself, try to hold Shane down, but Shane’s having none of it. He tightens his fingers in Drake’s hair, and unless the other man wants a fight he has little choice but to swallow everything he’s being given, the whole length of Shane down his throat.
He shouldn’t love the tears in his eyes so much.
Shane guides him up and down, arm tense and strong on Drake’s head, eventually just holding him in place while he fucks up into his mouth, relishing the choked wet sounds he forces from the other man’s throat. It feels good, damned good to be using him like this, watching Drake gag on his cock without pulling away; if anything trying to take more of him in his mouth.
“Swallow for me,” Shane breathes, and Drake just has time to nod once, quickly, before Shane fills his mouth, spilling over his tongue and watching eagerly as Drake’s throat bobs, doing as he’s told.
“Good boy,” Shane murmurs, stroking the familiar brown hair, down the side of those smooth cheeks, suddenly finding it difficult not to let tears prick his own eyes. “God, baby, so good.”
“I can stay. If you want me to.”
The cold creeps back in. The window is entirely frosted over now, brittle enough that one hard blow would shatter the whole thing. “Stop it. You wouldn’t say that.”
Drake scowls at him, pushing off the bed, straightening his clothes. “Wouldn’t be in your bed either, so maybe you should just get that stick out of your ass, boss.”
“Take it off.”
The man rolls his eyes, ripples, and instead of the familiar hard planes of Drake’s body, a lithe young black man stands in Shane’s room, hip insolently cocked. “You want anything else? I’ve got a hunt tonight.”
“Give me his shirt back. I know it’s his, it smells l
Slowly, Roy strips off the shirt, leaving him in just a pair of jeans that had been tight on Drake, now hanging baggy off his slender form. “You should check this one out, boss. Big prize.”
“Not interested.” Shane grabs the proffered item of clothing, not bothering to hide the way he buries his nose in it. Forest earth, clean cotton, the musk of a healthy human male all mix on the fabric, more familiar than the place he’s in now. He’ll probably have to punish Roy later for stealing from Drake—all his men know Drake is off-limits—but for now, he’s glad.
“Soul-Thief. Eighty points on the rankings.”
“If I get it, I’m gonna be your boss before the week’s out.”
“Have fun. Leave me alone.”
Roy shrugs, picking his way barefoot to the door, holding the baggy jeans up by one beltloop. He pauses with his hand on the doorknob. “Oh, and the King says to let you know that whoever bags the thing gets something back. Something of theirs.”
The window cracks.
“You heard me. You get it back if you bag the Soul-Thief.”
A tremor of hungry need shoots through Shane, piercing the ice somehow, and he growls, “Get out.”
The door slamming is too much for the frame, and the glass shatters. Cold wind blows in, fierce and shocking, but it does little to affect Shane. He doesn’t even bother to do up his pants, staring instead at the closed door, hearing the words reverberating through his skull.
You get it back.
Those might be the words, but the meaning…
Oh, the meaning is a bit different.
You get him back.
Shane flicks on the TV and with a surge of power it changes from a teenage girl crying about her boyfriend not wanting to be a father to the inside of a martial arts studio. A dozen kids slowly punch and kick their way through beginner karate, calling out phrases in a language they don’t speak as their pudgy little bodies struggle not to topple over.
The instructor, obviously, doesn’t see it that way. “Good! Nice improvement. Keep your leg up, Jenny. Remember, keep that power in your core! Nice flexibility, wow, Jason, you’ve been practicing!”
Shane vaguely remembers watching Drake and not feeling pain. Now, pain is all he really feels.
His hair is short, which is always a startling reminder of how much time has passed, along with the short-cropped beard on his face, and the slight lines around his eyes, across his forehead. That’s right, he’s different now. It doesn’t matter that it’s only been a week since the last time he saw Drake in person. In Shane’s mind, Drake always looks like he did back then, when everything was good.
The image zooms in on Drake’s face, heartbreakingly familiar, and his eyes flicker suddenly, looking at the spell Shane’s using in place of a camera. Very quietly, out of the corner of his mouth, he mutters, “Stop it. I can feel you watching me.”
Shane doesn’t stop. He doesn’t bother to respond, by whispering into his ear or sending a chill breeze to hit him in the face. His continued presence is enough of a message.
It’s not like he can stop anyway. All right, he probably could, but he has no desire to. It doesn’t matter if Drake is angry with him, after all. He’s always angry.
You get it back.
The hunts have been boring lately. It’s always difficult to remind himself why he should bother climbing up the rankings when he’s already at the top, has been for five years, and nothing’s even a challenge anymore. But eighty points…
That’s got to be challenging, at least a bit. Fae creatures are only fifteen, and they’re the only big game the city sees on a semi-regular basis. It’s been nearly a decade since there’s been a bill posted for something over twenty, and Shane knows damned well that that hundred-point creature has never been caught.
Well, not in the traditional sense, with his head in a bag.
For a minute, Shane contemplates ignoring even this chance, just flopping onto his bed and letting the chill wind lull him to sleep, maybe not even getting up. It’s better than false hope. It’s better than being stupid enough to believe that something could change for the better after all this time.
On the TV, Drake turns to give some fat kid some praise, and his smile is the most genuine thing Shane’s ever seen. That spark of pain in his chest flares, and he chokes with how much it hurts.
“Fuck it,” he mutters, grabbing a coat he doesn’t need and a pistol he doesn’t need and a sword he does. “Gotta be better than staying here.”
Then again, anything would be.
Finally, the sense of Shane’s presence around his face vanishes. Drake Young breathes a sigh of not-quite-relief, turning his full attention back to the kids. “You’re a little weak on your left side,” he says with a poke to the child in question, illustrating the blind spot. “Make sure to keep your guard up.”
They’ve all got such adoration in their eyes. Maybe he craves that a little too much, he admits to himself. It’s nice to be liked. “All right. That’s enough for the day. Practice the warm-up drill tomorrow, and I’ll see you Thursday night.”
They bow, uneven and exhausted, but with grins on their faces. A couple of them run up after class for a high-five, which he readily obliges. He checks his watch, but there’s time, barely. He hops in the shower for a few minutes, always feeling that prickle of hesitation like he does every time he strips off, never sure if Shane’s going to be watching.
What the hell, let him. Not like it’s anything he hasn’t seen before.
It isn’t Shane, but his downstairs neighbor Deborah waiting for him when he gets to the door, a smile hovering uncertainly on her face. “Oh, good. I wasn’t sure you’d still be here.”
“Still here. Leaving now.”
“Mind if I catch a ride home?”
He does, but nods anyway, mentally forgoing his plan to get groceries on the way home. “No problem. If you want, I’ll go warm up the car.”
“I don’t mind a little cold.” Deborah looks at him with naked hope in her eyes, trotting after his long legs into the cold night air. “I thought you only had classes until six.”
“Most days. Monday nights I teach self-defense, and Tuesday I just added an extra karate class for beginners.”
He wishes he could banish the admiration she shows him. He doesn’t deserve it, he knows that better than anyone. “You work so hard. How do you still have time to volunteer for the church every day?”
“You make time, for the things you love.” At least it isn’t a long drive to the apartment complex they share. On the down side, the heater doesn’t really start kicking in until they’re halfway home, tires crunching steadily over fresh snow.
“Ploughs haven’t come through yet. I’m sorry, I wouldn’t have bothered you, but it’s hell getting a taxi when it’s this cold out.”
“I don’t mind. How’s your younger sister? Still in the hospital?”
“I can’t believe you remember that.”
Stop looking at me like that. I’m not what you want. “I just wish the best for all you and yours. You’re both in my prayers.”
It’s probably because he’s preoccupied with wondering if he’s going to find a drunken Shane on his doorstep, or trying to navigate the powdery white roads, or trying to figure out how to subtly hint to Deborah that there’s no tree farther than him from the one she wants to be barking up, that he doesn’t hear the sound until too late.
For a split second, Drake thinks he’s lost control of the car, and it’s gone slamming into a brick wall. Deborah screams, and he has just enough time to realize that if they’d hit something they’d have slowed down, or stopped moving, when whatever’s grabbed them yanks the car sideways, sending them into a roll.
Then they hit a wall, with an absolute, final crunch. It’s difficult to orient himself, but Drake thinks he’s upside down, and not too badly damaged to keep living. He tastes blood,
“I—” She coughs, but nods. “I th-think so. What did we hit?”
Drake starts to answer, but at the surge of movement outside his shattered windows, his voice dries up into one word. “That.”
The creature is massive, swelling to the size of a house, its shining black chitin the only thing he can see at this hour, in this light. More frightening than anything, it moves in total silence, its legs not even making noise as they touch the ground, and it rips the passenger-side door off its hinges with a single wrench of one arm.
Deborah doesn’t scream. Her eyes are wide as dinner plates, and her breath is trembling in her lungs, but she seems to be beyond screaming. She’s shuddering, and Drake doesn’t wait for those arms—how many does it have?—to come down again. He yanks at the catch on his seat, collapsing it backward with a wrench of his back, and fumbles in the backseat for the long cloth-covered bundle he knows is back there, strapped in securely, never more than an arm’s reach away.
For, you know, situations exactly like this.
His hand closes around the hilt, and he shuts his eyes on reflex at the usual blinding flash. Instantly, the minor cuts and bruises seem like nothing at all, the shaking he hadn’t even noticed banished, and strength surges through him as he cleaves through the warped metal of the door, hacking himself an escape hole.
The damn thing moves silently, and that’s not only creepy as all hell, it’s dangerous too. It doesn’t telegraph its moves, doesn’t let him know where it’s going, give any of the usual indicators that he sort of needs to be able to fight it.
“Drake!” Deborah screams, seeing one of the arms coming down towards her, eyes fixed on it rather than on him.