Author: Guede Mazaka
To be honest, Robert was probably as close to terrified as he’d ever been. He was in a strange country, in the middle of someone else’s game, and he had no idea what the rules of conduct might be. Years of putting up with the shady drunken antics of the nobility had given him iron composure and a black sense of humor, but those did nothing to improve his sense of security.
According to the conversation he’d overheard, there appeared to be two warring parties: men named Sparrow and Gaspar, and their respective gangs. Of course, that conjured up visions of machine guns and jazzy murderers, but obviously the exported image couldn’t be the same as the home product. God knew the lord- and ladyships didn’t come anything close to the ones in the pulp novels.
“By the way, let me know if you need to take a piss,” said the driver, whatever his name was. For his build, he was surprisingly strong, and he didn’t waste any time in getting things done. Would’ve made a good tycoon, probably.
“It is a nice car. Is that your fee?” Not that the man would ever know, but that was a fair imitation of Baron Stockbridge. If Robert had gotten anything out of his term in service, it was an exquisite knowledge of sarcasm.
By now, the other man had figured out not responding was his best bet, since any kind of answer only added grist to Robert’s mill. Instead, he dragged on his cigarette and then blew out a long, thin stream from the side of his mouth. The wisp shot across the seat to dissipate a few inches from Robert, leaving him with only tantalizing traces of acrid relaxation.
He was tired, bruised, cramping, and worried. Something had to give, but he could at least limit that to only leaning forward and covertly inhaling. He could use a smoke as well.
The edge of a thoughtful smile quirked the side of the driver’s mouth—he’d noticed, damn it. “Want one?”
Robert was currently knotting his fingers around the handle to keep the trembling from being noticeable, but he nevertheless forced himself to slouch back in his seat. No point in giving the other man anything for free. “I wouldn’t mind.”
“I’ll think about it.” Then the bastard took another lazy puff and sent the smoke at the windshield so even less of it filtered to Robert. He tapped off the ash and blew on the end, making the tip glow cherry-red in the dim light of the car. The light reflected oddly in the other man’s eyes, turning them from a pale grey-blue into flaring black for a moment. “Need to get gas soon and stop for a bit. Cooperate and—”
“—you’ll be gracious enough to shake a few my way. Yes, sir,” Robert muttered, staring out the window. It’d been night the last time he was awake, and now the countryside was dappled in the fluorescence of dawn; so they were far out of the city and on a dirt track. In America, he believed that meant a backroad. The scenery certainly was devoid enough of human habitation to make that likely.
Another long exhale from next to him. “You really weren’t kidding about being a servant.”
“No, I was not.” Since outside wasn’t telling him anything useful, Robert turned around and continued studying the inside. The man had to have been driving all night, but he still looked fresh, save for some dark circles beneath his eyes. Curly brown hair, sharp handsome features, and when calm, a peculiar way of moving that reminded Robert of a hunting cat. “Do you have a name, or should I refer to you as ‘sir’?”
“I’m pretty sure you aren’t allowed to be this much of a bastard as a valet.” That word seemed to make the other man a little uncomfortable—throat-clearing and a slight shift of weight. So he hadn’t grown up in Britain, or else he’d not only be familiar with the service trade, but take it for granted. Still, that was a definite Welsh accent he had. “Owain.”
Robert stretched his legs as much as he could, then attempted to do the same for his arms, which were falling asleep due to the awkward position in which he was cuffed. His hands had been half-numb for hours, and the reddish parallel lines that occasionally surfaced from beneath the steel were now the color of ripe strawberries. “Owen?”
“Owain. Goddamn it, you English pricks always get it wrong. Could have some respect for a man’s name.” Sore spot. Owain stabbed out his cigarette with the smoldering irritation of a long-held grudge.
After twisting so his face couldn’t be seen, Robert silently mouthed the correct pronunciation to himself. He was vaguely reminded of a conversation with Mary—who had been able to say a farewell to him, but hadn’t been able to meet his eyes two months later when they’d crossed paths at another house party. Shortly after, his lordship had had to cut expenses, and Robert hadn’t minded that too much. One of the few advantages of growing up in an orphanage was the blank slate; he’d only chosen service because of a faded picture and a bitter story in the orphanage records.
But McCordle was dead—and by someone else’s hand, no less. It left a raw tang in Robert’s mouth that only sharpened the longer he had to watch the frivolities of the rich and ranking. There simply hadn’t been a point in holding on any longer. So he’d gone to London.
“A girl or family?”
Blinking, Robert cursed his inattention and hastily smoothed over his expression. “What?”
“Spend enough time in bars, you learn to read people. Girl or family mess?” It was interesting how Owain paired the two—in fact, it was absolutely fascinating in light of how everyone Robert met now seemed to be playing in some hierarchy he didn’t recognize in the least. The Pendragons were classified as gentry, not nobility, and yet they seemed to wield an enormous amount of influence that even extended overseas.
Robert desperately wished he’d inquired a little further into Arthur’s bare explanations about the family. It’d been clear his cousin had been holding back, but at the time, Robert had merely assumed the same kinds of skeletons in the closet as any other wealthy family. That, however, wouldn’t have resulted in this.
“Both,” Owain concluded, gaze frankly amused. He seemed delighted to see Robert disconcerted even a little. “I’m half-Welsh, by the way. Other half’s Creole.”
“Is that supposed to be particularly important?” Robert snapped, irritated with himself.
The other man merely smiled. “Maybe.”
* * *
They were nearly out of New England when Robert finally deigned to wake again, which gave Owain plenty of quiet time to muse over what he hadn’t been told. Budd was always drawling and unconcerned, but that didn’t mean he was an idiot, and it certainly didn’t mean his boss was. Therefore they had a specific reason for assigning Owain, a fairly new hire, to this job.
As far as anyone knew, no one held New York. General consensus was that it was just too big and too bad for any one line to handle; currently, Gaspar had the largest gang, Bill had the most skilled, and a half-dozen smaller gangs ran around their ankles. Owain privately figured Bill was the real power, only the man was damned good at hiding it—that’d been why Owain was being paid by Bill, and not Gaspar. But the two bigshots were allied. Which wasn’t too bright for Bill, considering that Gaspar was a brawling, outrageous mestizo with a longtime grudge against Sparrow.
It was easy to see where Robert would fit in: Sparrow and the Pendragons were only recently reconciled, so it’d be the obvious tactic to frame Sparrow for something and set London and Nouvelle Lune against each other. Then Gaspar as third-party would emerge the strongest. Somewhat trickier was figuring out Bill’s motivations in letting that happen, since as far as Owain knew, the man wasn’t so dumb as to allow Gaspar to get that uppity.
Possibly the whole point was for Owain to fuck up, which would leave him and Gaspar holding the bag. Then New York would be wide open. “Cochons.”
“Pardon?” Robert, who’d been alternating between sulking and jealous looks at Owain’s cigarettes, sat up.
“Nothing.” A passing sign informed Owain that the next town was fifty miles away, and that they were approaching a scenic river vista. Perfect.
When he caught sight of the water, he pulled to a stop and got out of the car. After relieving himself, he walked over to Robert’s side and unlocked the door. Pulled it an inch or so open. “Want to get out for a few minutes?”
The other man eyed him through the crack of the door, then nodded. He swung out his legs as soon as the door was open far enough, then perched on the edge of the seat and held still so Owain could unlock the ankle manacles. “Kick me in the face, and I’ll shove a pistol into your ass,” Owain muttered, making as quick a job as he could with it.
“Wouldn’t dream of it, sir.” The sarcasm in Robert’s voice was thick enough to frost a wedding cake and still have some left over to lick. “Where are we?”
“Why? It’s not like you’re the one driving.” Owain undid one handcuff and made Robert stand, then snapped the cuff onto the door handle so the other man would have to stay on the side of the car that wasn’t facing the road. He needed to shift a few things, and he didn’t want to bother with keeping more than half an eye on Robert.
Halfway through undoing his fly, Robert paused and gave Owain a flat-eyed look. “I’ve never been here. It’d be nice to know.”
“You make a great tourist.” Considering the train of Owain’s thoughts, it might be a good idea to have something besides the pistol nestled beneath his arm. With the sound of pissing as his background, he popped the trunk and took stock of what he had. One long hunting knife he strapped to his wrist, and a shorter one went into his shoe. Keeping a shotgun up front would’ve made him feel better, but he wasn’t going to put anything where Robert could get to it. The man was far too self-possessed. “Pennsylvania. And stop calling me ‘sir.’”
“Why? Does it bother you?” Done with attending to himself, Robert was now in the process of stretching what he could. He seemed to be in pretty good shape for an indoor servant…though the half-hidden flinches told Owain the man wasn’t used to taking a beating. Still, he wasn’t doing too badly.
After one last look at his favorite rifle, Owain closed up the trunk again. “This is America, jackass. We don’t have to do that shit here.”
Robert had on that distant half-smile again, like he knew something Owain didn’t. “Really. The land of equality, is it?”
Whatever Owain’s answer would’ve been was drowned out by the sound of a car coming down the road. He hurriedly rounded the back end and squinted at the newcomer, trying to judge speed. It looked too fast for him to shove Robert back in and pull back into the road without rushing, and rushing would look suspicious. Especially since they were taking the backroads where people talked about fifty-year-old lightning strikes like they had just shocked the whole county yesterday.
Fuck. He flashed his gun at Robert, then shoved it into his waistband where his coat would cover it, but where he could get to it fast if he had to. “Don’t scream. Don’t even talk, all right? Just do that stone face of yours.”
“And if I play along, I get a cigarette?” The bastard was so damned facetious—good thing there was a car between them, or else the other car could go fuck itself because Owain would’ve smacked the hell out of Robert.
Thankfully, however, Robert was smart enough to shut up once the second car was rolling to a stop beside them. Inside was—interestingly enough, a familiar face. Some days, Owain wondered if he might be getting an ulcer. Other days, he just figured it all for a crapshoot; if he’d had any luck, he would’ve hooked into a city by now and not have to go hiring himself out all over the country.
“Hey, Chasser. Fancy running into you here.” Maybe Locke looked friendly, but he had enough broken bodies in his list to qualify as out-and-out bastard. Owain just wished he could remember who was employing Locke nowadays, as like Owain, the other man was without a fixed berth.
“Yeah, no kidding. You’re looking all right, Locke.” As calmly as he could, Owain leaned against the car and shook a cigarette into his hand. That way, if Locke wanted to talk more, he’d have to park and get out.
Locke wanted to talk some more.
Strolling up, he started reaching for his pocket, but Owain got out his lighter first. The other man’s eyebrow shot up, but he restrained himself to laughing, friendly-like. “I was just going to offer you a light,” Locke scolded.
“So what brings you to the countryside? I always thought you’d have to be dragged out of New York kicking and screaming.” Out of the corner of his eye, Owain could see Robert pretending not to watch. So far, the other man was doing perfectly.
“True, true.” As Locke glanced across the top of the car, his smile went a little further into the gutter. Bit tricky to do for him, but he managed it with suspicious grace. “Looks like you could play with a lot, there. Where’d you pick him up?”
Robert twitched, then shot Owain a look that burned through the back of Owain’s head. For his part, Owain was desperately trying not to draw too soon. “Around. Listen, I’m on a schedule here, so—”
The genial expression on Locke’s face clicked to icy hardness faster than an eyeblink, and the man’s hand blurred. Owain lunged towards Locke, twisting sideways so the shot went past him. His elbow cracked sideways to trap Locke’s gunhand against the car, while his other hand flicked the gun from his waistband to shove it up under Locke’s jaw. “—do me a favor and stop bullshitting. What’s going on?”
Locke’s eyes rolled, though the attempted casualness of the gesture was marred by the way his head was forced back. “Just a little check-up. Gaspar had a thought.”
“No kidding.” And so much for the Gaspar-Bill alliance. In which case, Owain suddenly realized, Gaspar now really needed a foothold in Louisiana, if only to have a fallback bolthole.
While Owain was thinking that, Locke was slowly curling his hand. Owain registered the movement against his arm just in time to throw himself back from the car, thus dodging the thrown powder. He whipped up his pistol and shot without aiming.
It blew off the top of Locke’s head. Also splattered a mess on the rear window, which was augmented by the smear Locke left as he collapsed down the side of the car. “Fuck.”
Well, nothing to be done out here except buy some time till Owain was in a position to actually do something. He put away his gun and tossed his coat back in the front seat, then rolled up his sleeves and got to work.
Robert, who was quiet and rather pale, had his other hand cuffed to the outside door handle. Then Owain shook out a handkerchief and carefully picked up Locke’s gun, making sure not to touch the powder that was sprinkled over it. He left that in the backseat of Locke’s car and loaded the body after it. Once he’d done a thorough examination of Locke’s things, Owain popped into the front seat and maneuvered the car around the spindly excuse for a bridge railing.
The riverbank here was pretty steep, so it was easy to get the car rolling by itself. Owain jumped out and watched the car plow into the water: it promptly sank up to the rolled-down windows, but after that, seemed to be determined to bob about. With a sigh, Owain produced the cigarette he’d never actually got around to lighting, lighted it, and then held it in front of him so the smoke went straight up. He waved his hand over it and concentrated. “Come on. Down. Down.”
For a long moment, the smoke reversed itself and pooled down towards his feet. In the river, the car suddenly, silently slipped completely out of sight. Then the smoke resumed its normal rise, but the surface of the water remained undisturbed and peaceful.
Owain stuck the cigarette in his mouth and smoked it while he climbed back up the bank. It took a few minutes to scuffle enough dirt to cover up all the powder, but not too bad. With any luck at all, no dumb hick would accidentally shove his toes in it and catch on fire.
Only the windows were left, but they were going to have to be done the hard way. Swearing in a couple languages, Owain desultorily eyed the drying spray. Something flickered at the edge of his vision, so he looked up.
That had definitely been shock on Robert’s face before, but now he appeared to have made a complete recovery. He too was giving the glass a critical look. “Shouldn’t you have done that away from the car?”
“How? Ask my old buddy to step over there so I can get a cleaner shot?” Irritation now increased twofold, Owain dug out some rags and a bottle of whiskey—he spared a second to groan at the waste of good alcohol—then tackled the stains before they turned crusty. “Since when were you a connoisseur of murder, anyway?”
It’d been a night and a bit of a day, but Owain could already see Robert was an odd one. The strangest things seemed to strike him as funny. “Hiding your employer’s infidelities and hiding a murder aren’t as different as you’d think.”
“Whatever you say.” Flinching all the while, Owain sloshed more whiskey on and wiped the red-laced runnels off the glass and down the back end. And the paint job was so damned beautiful, too…at least it looked that all of it would come off without too much of a problem. “You ever actually kill someone?”
“I thought I did.” Contemplation sidled into Robert’s tone alongside the usual hauteur. His face was directed towards the sky, but he was clearly looking at some memory inside himself. “Turned out he was already dead. Someone poisoned him before I stabbed him.”
One last speck of blood left. Another splash, and it was watering the grass, which if experience was any indicator would be the healthiest patch around. “Was he your employer?”
“No. My father.” Robert deadpanned it. Didn’t even look at Owain.
Well, the man had more to him than snottiness. If he wasn’t such a prick, Owain might even have liked Robert’s style. “All right, back in the car.”
Robert started enough for his control to slip just a little, revealing confusion. “What?”
Owain stared back, equally puzzled, and then realized. So Robert really was out of his depth here, no matter how good he made it seem like he was doing. “I just killed a man in front of you. You think I’m going to be shocked by a family quarrel? Christ, stabbing and poisoning’s about the nicest death I’ve heard of in a while.”
It was very satisfying to see Robert be the one rocked back on his heels for once. And he was pretty appealing to look at when he was all ruffled up like a complaining housewife.
Sadly, it didn’t last long. Owain cuffed the other man’s hands in front of him, slapped on the ankle manacles and shoved the man in the car only to have a smooth taunt drifted back at him. “I didn’t scream. I believe you owe me a cigarette. Sir.”
“Robert?” Teeth grinding, Owain got behind the wheel and started the car. Robert was pulling himself up and rearranging himself, since Owain had been too annoyed to remember to re-chain the man’s hands to the door as well. And now he couldn’t pull over till they got a little farther away; hopefully, Robert was smart enough to not try anything physical now.
Though the man still had smarm. “Sir?”
“Shut up or I’ll tape a gun in your mouth.”
* * *
From what Robert could tell, the situation had changed once more. He was supposed to be Gaspar’s hostage, but Gaspar had sent someone after them and thanks to Owain, that someone was now sleeping on a riverbed.
He still didn’t know who Gaspar was. And if he wanted to think at all about the incident by the river, he’d have to think about the fact that Owain had…done something to make the other car sink. It had gone down far too fast and too soundlessly to be natural.
Come to think of it, Arthur had been trying to say something about unusual events, or talents, but Robert hadn’t been interested. His cousin seemed like a decent, upstanding man, but he was still on the paternal side, and Robert wanted as little to do with that part of his family as possible. In fact, he didn’t much care to know about either side of his family. His mother had made her choice, and it was far too late in his life now for her to take it back; he’d grown used to being parentless.
It’d be interesting to find out what Owain’s family background was, considering his reaction both to Gaspar’s man and to Robert’s revelation. The killing was most likely in self-defense—for some reason, Gaspar didn’t want Owain involved any more. Oddly enough, if Owain was working for the man.
A tiny, tiny part of Robert mentioned that Owain was interesting all around. More so than Mary had been—now that he was out of England and having enforced idle time, Robert could see that she was the dream of happy anonymity that every orphan probably had. A sweet wife and a few children that would be raised into the same stifling, stilted, ridiculous system he’d eventually entered.
She had had that spark that had set her a little above the rest; if she’d wanted to, she might have ended up wholly on his side. And she had wanted to. For that moment before her innate gentle conservatism reasserted itself. Owain, on the other hand, was an entirely different breed from an entirely different world. Though that was doing a damned lot to disturb Robert’s peace of mind.
“Are you still taking me to New Moon?” Robert asked, pushing himself back into the seat. His back and hips still hurt from the night before, but at least the cushions were quite soft. And his arms weren’t trapped in a cramping, numbing position any more.
Owain wore a grim, closed expression, which had been unchanged for the past fifteen minutes. He was also chain-smoking, which started an itch beneath Robert’s skin. “Yes.”
“Would I have the privilege of knowing why?” It was becoming more and more difficult to imitate freezing nobility around the other man. Even mocking him was losing its effectiveness, since Owain was learning fast how to counter that.
“No.” A glance over showed some black humor lighting up Owain’s eyes. He was enjoying the upper hand, and he grew irritated whenever Robert happened to obtain that for a few fleeting seconds. “Didn’t they explain anything to you?”
Robert bit the side of his mouth till he tasted blood. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to dissolve his frustration. “Should I apologize for having a normal, mundane life for the past couple of decades?”
The other man looked more closely at him, and a flash of something that might have been pity went over Owain’s face. But he didn’t say anything; instead, he faced forward and stared at the road. His hand plucked the half-consumed cigarette from his mouth and tapped off the ash into the pull-out tray, then came to rest on the seat between them.
Locke’s insinuations had been loud and clear. So were the twitches Owain made whenever Robert displayed a certain kind of behavior, though in sarcasm. It would also be interesting to twist that around even further, he mused.
After another moment’s thought, Robert laid down on the front seat, elbows propping himself up, and caught the end of the cigarette in his mouth. He glanced up at Owain’s shocked face and deliberately lengthened his drag. When he finally did exhale, he did so by blowing it up at Owain.
* * *
Owain zigzagged onto the wrong side of the road. Thank God it was just a backcountry deserted stretch, because it took a long moment for his senses to come back.
The bastard was fucking feline.
Robert had smugness smeared all over his mouth as he stretched out for another smoke. And his back was just one long line of undulating curves when he did that, shoulders going first down and then up so his mid-spine dipped to send his ass up. “You should knock the ash off of that.”
Which Owain did, though slow-burning anger was beginning to chew through his bemusement. “You really like fucking with people, don’t you?”
“I wouldn’t know. There’s not much opportunity for that when you’re in service; everyone knows everyone else’s tricks.” Even though Owain didn’t return the cigarette, Robert still remained lying across the seat. He half-twisted so he could look directly up at Owain, neatly folding his chained hands over his stomach.
“If you say ‘sir’, I will ram my gun so far down your mouth that you’ll feel it in your ass.” The sign whizzing by on the right side of the road was a godsend in two ways—first, it reminded Owain’s brain where he needed to be, and second, it told him the motel he’d been watching for was just a few minutes away. “Green-eyes, stop trying. I don’t mix work and fuck.”
The other man’s eyebrow did a brief arch at the mention of eye color. Goddamn Owain’s tongue. “Locke seemed to think otherwise.”
“Locke’s part of the reason I stopped. Anyway, you’re not my type. And I’d wager ten that I don’t have the breasts to be yours.” When the turn-off came, Owain nearly fish-tailed because he took it so fast. They shot down the road towards the little collection of rentable rooms that were a byword among the underworld for reliability and silence.
Maybe he could kill Robert, dump the annoying prick somewhere in the woods, and just disappear. After all, he worked for Bill and not Gaspar, and Gaspar was the one who needed Robert.
Except Budd had given the job to him. Which would seem to mean that Bill did have an interest in Parks. And even if not, there were still the Pendragons to consider, and word was that the new head of London was a real protective type of his own.
Robert was doing that scrutinizing gaze again that just prickled Owain. “You don’t know what’s going on any more than I do.”
Owain didn’t even think about it. “Shut. Up.”
And he whipped out his pistol and cracked it against Robert’s unblackened temple. The other man went out like a light.
* * *
Once Robert had readjusted himself to the lack of motion and the ringing pain in his head, it occurred to him that being a little more careful in his teasing would be a good idea. As amusing as it was to see Owain riled, Robert was getting too many bruises. Also, it wasn’t eliciting any information.
He was…on a bed. They were in some kind of inn. There were bags on the floor, one of which he recognized as his own, and whistling was coming from the bathroom. After a moment, Owain stepped out to cut off the contentment and resume glaring at Robert. “Up now?”
“I’ll stay on the bed, if you don’t mind.” The accumulated aches, cramps and sore spots apparently had all decided to make their presence known at the same time.
“Actually, I do. You’re starting to smell a bit rank.” Owain dragged Robert off by the handcuffs, then shoved him towards the bathroom. The ankle manacles were gone, which meant Robert’s blood was free to rush painfully into his feet.
The small room was almost completely bare, with only the minimum fittings necessary. And there were peculiar metal rings set into the walls at places where towels wouldn’t need to be hung.
“This place is kind of a trade secret. Don’t ever go digging in the back; there’s bodies buried all over the place,” Owain cheerfully said as he unlocked the cuffs. Then he deposited a bar of soap in Robert’s hand and moved back to perch on the edge of the sink, book in hand. “Shower.”
There was a flimsy curtain, of which Robert took full advantage by undressing behind it and tossing out his clothes. After earlier, he didn’t feel like exposing his still-raw pride to any more indignities.
For that matter, he still wasn’t quite certain as to what had transpired in the car. He had meant it as another jab at a clear weak point of Owain’s, but in a backhanded way so he was mocking instead of…bending his neck. But in that case, there hadn’t been any need for that second drag. And it had struck Owain in a different way from the other taunts, else Robert wouldn’t be suffering from a headache that made washing his hair an agony. Owain didn’t seem to like acting aggressively if he didn’t have to, and Robert hadn’t been presenting a physical attack.
The rustling pages outside the curtain made Robert be quick about it, though once the warmth of the water started to penetrate and soothe, he was tempted to linger. Once he’d sluiced off all the suds, he turned off the water and started to reach for the curtain before he remembered. His cheeks flared a bit warmer for a second, and he halted, completely clueless as to what to do.
A towel was shoved past the curtain, which ended his indecision. Feeling rather too similar to the dirt on the sole of someone’s shoe, Robert took it and rubbed himself down. Just as he finished, Owain’s hand came back to substitute a fresh set of clothes for the towel.
Robert was doing up his shirt buttons when the other man finally broke the silence. “No thanks for the service? That part of tradition, too?”
“It’s service, so of course not. Gratitude is for charity.” Though the years in the orphanage had taught Robert that that wasn’t always a better thing to have. He flicked aside the curtain and stepped out of the stall, hiding his surprise at how cold the tiles were to his bare feet.
Owain was holding out the cuffs with one hand while his other rested on top of both his gun and his book. With a sigh, Robert held out his wrists. A cuff was snapped on one, but Owain refrained from putting on the other and instead gestured for Robert to turn around. Then he clicked on the second so Robert’s hands were trapped behind his back. “Get up against the door, but face me,” Owain directed.
Doing so meant that Robert couldn’t see what Owain was doing with his hands, so when silver gleamed in the other man’s fingers, it caused an understandable moment of near-panic. “What are you doing?”
“I’m just shaving you.” Rolling his eyes, Owain fluffed a mound of white froth onto his fingers and started patting it onto Robert’s face. “Relax. Christ, you of all people should appreciate this.”
“Only if I happen to admire the people that employed me.” Apparently, Robert’s nerves were more frayed than he’d realized, because he couldn’t stop staring at the razor. In the end, he closed his eyes and attempted to pretend he was doing it himself. Those were his fingers stroking tingling cream down his throat, poking up his chin, and that was his hand holding the cold line that was now grazing over his skin. “And it’s a little difficult to trust the word of my kidnapper,” he muttered, moving his mouth and vocal chords as little as possible.
The razor glided up his left cheek, occasionally vanishing so the blade could be wiped off. A knuckle pressed at the corner of his jaw, making him turn his head. He could feel the other man’s body heat fade and intensify, depending on how Owain moved, and the change in breath when Owain tackled a tricky spot. “I’m not your kidnapper. That was Gaspar. I just…facilitate your transportation.”
“A very fine distinction, I’m sure.” Robert’s imitation of a conceited nobleman was wearing through, and his own self was coming out. He curled his hands into fists against the door.
Surprisingly enough, Owain’s next words were almost apologetic. “All right, all right. No point in you not—there’s two big shots in New York, Gaspar and Bill. They’re allies of a sort. New Moon’s controlled by a man named Jack Sparrow and his associates; he and your cousin were almost at war a year ago, but now everything’s supposedly good. Gaspar, however, has a nasty grudge against Sparrow, and would like to fuck him over very, very badly.”
Left side finished, the razor moved to the right, and Robert found himself automatically turning his head because he was thinking. His knowledge of criminal organizations was thin, but he doubted they could be very different from the cliques the rich and titled formed. People were all the same when it came to vengeance. “Who do you work for?”
And that was the end of Owain’s helpfulness. The other man’s knees shoved up against Robert’s harder than they had to in order for Owain to be able to get at the underside of Robert’s jaw. “Wrong question.”
Since there was thin steel scraping only a few inches from Robert’s arteries, he kept his mouth shut while Owain finished. When the other man moved away, Robert was irritated but somehow unsurprised to discover he was shaking a little. And then Owain came back, shoved in just as close as before, and used a hot wet handcloth to wipe off the traces of foam.
As far as Robert could tell, it felt like an expert shave. Everything else felt like something he needed to back away from very soon and very fast, but unfortunately, there was a door in the way. He dug his nails into the wood and tried to breathe to an internal count. “Are you sure Locke was wrong?”
The towel went away, but Owain stayed put to whisper low, hard words into the hollow of Robert’s throat, every one just as sharp as the razor. “Listen. I do a lot of nasty things and don’t give a damn, but I do have lines I don’t cross. If I want a fuck, I’m not so pathetic that I need to force it to get it.”
Robert opened his eyes and stared down into thunder-grey ones. “You’re every inch the gentleman, aren’t you.”
“And you’ve stumbled into something that you know jack shit about, yet you keep going around with your nose so far up your ass you can taste your own shit.” Now they were pressed against each other from knees to shoulders, and Owain’s leg was steadily inching its way between Robert’s. “I bet you don’t even have a clue what your talent is.”
“What?” Genuine incomprehension flooded into Robert and showed.
Owain paused and stared. “My God, you don’t. You don’t know what I did at the river with the car—you probably just thought that was lady’s powder Locke threw at me.”
“No, I don’t,” Robert hissed, temper suddenly loose. He bucked, but that only shifted them damnably closer. “I don’t know anything because many apologies, but I was operating under the impression that the world follows the laws of nature, and—”
--and Owain’s leg slipped that last inch, so he had no problem feeling the most damnable result of the situation. If possible, Owain looked even more stunned. Then he slowly grinned. “All right, maybe I was wrong about your preferences.”
“It’s heat and friction and simple male stupidity,” Robert muttered, quoting a frost-hardened countess he’d overheard once. But he was gazing past Owain, and he was absolutely furious. Though at the moment, he wasn’t clear as to what was the cause of that.
Owain pushed forward and up. “Really.”
“Get off of me.” Spoiled little girls spoke with more force, Robert snarled at himself.
The thigh compressing all Robert’s idiotic lust into his equally stupid cock squeezed him a little harder, so his hips started to squirm of their own accord. Then it began to move, and he had to bite his lip to keep from making a sound.
Still grinning, Owain leaned forward and licked along where Robert’s teeth were sinking into his lip. “Tell me that again and I will.”
Robert lunged forward the two inches he was free to and smashed their mouths together.
He didn’t keep the advantage for long; Owain slammed right back, scoring his tongue through Robert’s mouth so Robert’s skull went thump, thump against the door. He ripped his teeth against gums, lips, tongue, and then he drew back just far enough so that Robert had to follow if he wanted his mouth wrung out. At the moment, that sounded perfect.
This time, a hand grabbed onto his shoulder, then kneaded up his neck to clamp his jaw in place so Owain could take Robert’s mouth at whatever angle the man preferred. Since Owain knew exactly what to do in order to liquefy knees and set shivers into back muscles, Robert wasn’t in any position to protest. In fact, he couldn’t do much more than twine his fingers in the short manacle chain till he couldn’t feel his fingertips.
He barely noticed the hand slipping between them before it hooked a finger into his shirt and yanked downward. Some of the buttons plinked on the floor, some of them stayed trapped between them only to fall a second later when Owain’s hand shoved down the front of Robert’s trousers. If there’d been room to, Robert’s legs would have splayed apart and they would have fallen. But there wasn’t, and his prick was now caught between the shifting, teasing pressure of fingers above and the steady grind of hard lean thigh below, and he apparently was trying to climb up the door.
“God, you bastard. You and that trick in the car.” In between blood-laced, brutal kisses, Owain gnawed rasping laughing whispers into Robert’s throat and shoulders and the hollows of his collarbone. “You do pretty well, even if you know jack shit.”
“Would you shut up and—” Tongue stroking hot bliss in Robert’s mouth. He sagged against the door. His hands were completely numb, and the only reason he knew they hadn’t dropped off was because he could feel the metal digging into his back, same as the nails cutting lightly across his chest. Whenever there was enough room between them for Owain to do that.
The damned prick took his time about it, but eventually he let Robert’s trousers slide to the floor. Then his hand raked off Robert’s chest, thumbnail glancing off a nipple as it went, and fumbled for something while they pressed that tiny bit closer. Nevertheless, the difference was more than noticeable. And when Owain finally wriggled out of his trousers, the difference became enough to drag a desperate moan from Robert.
“Repressed, aren’t you. Jesus, this is like Christmas.” Little bites to Robert’s freshly-shaved, still-stinging skin. “Budd didn’t know what the fuck he was handing me.”
Fingers between Robert’s legs, sliding in beside the sweet, agonizing squeeze of the knee pinning him to the door. They were trailing some kind of oily paste behind his balls, over the thin skin there so Owain had to hold Robert’s head from banging against the door, and then—up. Fuck. They were stabbing into his arse and it hurt, but then Owain would chuckle and suck out the clenching from Robert’s mouth so the fingers could crawl further in. Then it started to feel—good.
Owain laughed, breathless and so delighted it was borderline madness. “You move like—Christ, this damn well is a sin. Whore.”
“And you can’t stop touching, so what does that make you?” It was amazing Robert could still talk. “What am I now? Work or fuck?”
The other man went very still except for his pupils, which widened to turn his eyes black. His lips thinned. Then—
--hand on Robert’s jaw pushing back his head, holding him nearly choking to the door, and fingers tearing out of him so it was too empty too fast, only then Owain was between his legs and there was a blunt hot something nudging—no, the man’s prick was halfway into Robert, and that wasn’t nearly far enough. Owain was cursing. Not in English, but in some mix of crystalline bells and filthy shards that fit with Robert’s broken shudders as Owain slammed up and up.
Robert’s eyes closed again, and he was almost overwhelmed by the intensification of sensation then, when he couldn’t see but could only feel flesh slide-scraping inside him, palms rubbing merciless over all the old and new bruises. He opened his eyes just in time to see the world shake once as Owain crushed them into the door. Twice. Three times. More, till it blurred into one continuous shattering of the earth.
* * *
It was the best fuck Owain had had that he could remember. A few times, he’d been too drunk to really remember—but it was probably better than those times, too. It was hard and fighting and so damned good that it took him five minutes afterward to notice something was off. And then it took him another minute to realize that Robert had done more than just blacked out.
That meant he had Robert uncuffed in two seconds, redressed and on the bed in three, and by the sixth second, was frantically scribbling numbers down onto the pad of paper that had come with the room. He tore up the sheets into scraps, each with a number on them, and heaped them together. Then he held his hand over it, said “Seth Gecko, goddamn it,” and pulled out scraps one at a time without looking until he had enough for a phone number. Owain flipped over the scraps, then dove for the phone and dialed.
Someone answered on the fifth ring. Sounded sleepy. *If this doesn’t have to do with an army marching toward me, your ass and my shotgun are going to meet very soon.*
“Knock it off, Seth. It’s Owain. I…” Fidgeting with the telephone cord, Owain nervously glanced at the unconscious man on the bed. “I think I might have picked up a Pendragon for a familiar.”