Published May 15, 2015
For three years, Clay Devlin has been stuck in an alley, hanging suspended between worlds. He yearns to be free. Even if that means facing consequences from a mistake he made before someone caged his soul on the wrong side of a newly opened curtain.
So when Jacob Hunt wanders down Clay’s alley, desire overwhelms good sense. Not just the desire to be free, but the desire for some normalcy and the touch of another man against his skin once more. But Jacob is a hotspot hunter with a famous blog, thousands of fans and a one-track mind. His attention could easily be motivated by manipulation rather than true attraction and his promises as empty as the alley Clay calls home.
Being free might be worth the risk of trusting Jacob. But if he’s wrong, and Jacob Hunt is just another selfish curtain chaser, Clay will find himself stuck on the wrong side of that curtain. Forever.
Warning: This novella involves alley hookups, wasted whiskey and a trip into the otherworld.
He could always tell the writers. They walked with glazed expressions, annoyance flickering across their faces whenever someone dared interrupt their reverie with small talk. Especially if said small talk was about the weather. They were the ones who looked down the alley with a mix of wonder and fear in their eyes, as if the story written in the stained brick and cracked pavement spoke to them.
This one had that crystal-bright excitement shining from his pale brown eyes. Eyes that couldn’t stay still. Gaze dancing over the brick and mortar of the pub, landing for two seconds on the green dumpster before scanning the wall of the cheaply rented office building. Not even the moss encroaching over the brick or the grass popping up along the dirt-filled edges seemed to escape his notice.
So when the man’s gaze settled on Clay, seeing him, he wasn’t too surprised.
The man slowed to a stop instead of freezing in place. His head cocked to the side, dark skin seeming darker in the shadow of the alley, while behind him the conversational purr on the pub’s patio faded as if a group had stepped back inside to escape the stifling humidity of mid-July.
“You don’t look like a born-again,” said the man. He smiled. White, straight teeth. Two dimples. Eyes that didn’t go hooded even when his expression turned considering.
The rest of him looked just as good. Jeans tight in his crotch, but loose at his calves. Bright blue shirt with a logo on it Clay didn’t recognize. A form-fitting medium that told Clay the body underneath was firm, but not toned, lean, but not skinny.
Maybe he’d just been denied for too long, but Clay couldn’t help the instant want that tugged at his groin. He crossed his arms and leaned a shoulder against the office side of the alley.
“Naturally. You have to die to become a born-again.”
“So.” Clay repeated blandly.
“Who are you exactly?” asked the man.
“Considering this is my alley, I think a far better question is who are you?”
Those dimples again. “Jacob Hunt, of Hotspot Hunts.” The dimples became just a little less deep at Clay’s lack of reaction. “You know, the famous blog that investigates east coast hotspots. Won the Most Useful Curtain Research badge for the past four years in a row. I’ve done some work-for-hire for two of the most influential contracting firms in the field. BAH and Vital Magics. Was featured in Curtain Chasers Anon last year. No?” Jacob shook his head slowly. “Nothing, huh?”
Not nothing, but too little, yes. However, that last claim to fame was the single most important bit of information that told Clay all he needed to know about Jacob Hunt’s motivations. Clay flexed his arms and curled his fists tighter. “If you can see me, I can touch you.” He pushed off the wall and took a menacing step forward.
Jacob dropped back despite the ten feet separating them. “You weren’t visible?” He seemed surprised. His gaze flicked down, lingering on Clay’s fist or the nearby vicinity.
“Usually only when I wish to be,” said Clay. At least that’s how it normally worked.
It’d been a mental exercise, at first, just to keep himself steady on one side of the curtain or the other. He’d been nauseous and dizzy for weeks, the feelings slow to fade into disorientation before leaving entirely once he’d maintained control. Ever since, he’d never had a problem keeping himself hanging on the cusp of the curtain.
“Uh, right.” Dimples. Though suspicion flashed through Jacob’s eyes again and the smile turned somewhat apologetic. “It’s the sensitivity to the curtain itself. Some people call it a gift, but really it’s more of a muscle I flexed often enough I can’t not see you if you’re even partially across.” As he mentioned muscles, his gaze landed on Clay’s arms. He probably didn’t even realize that he’d licked his lips or swayed slightly. Probably didn’t know that his expression had shifted just enough to tell Clay exactly where Jacob Hunt’s desires lay.
Clay hesitated, though he didn’t move. It would be all to easy to send the man away, pull just a little from the other side of the curtain and shove him forcibly out of the alley so that he couldn’t interfere in Clay’s half-life with whatever greedy scheme he ran on that blog of his.
But…company was far too hard to find lately, what with Donnie having to pick up more work and Brianna starting high school. Drop-dead sexy company all but impossible. Drop-dead sexy company who also shared Clay’s proclivities? Inconceivable. Yet, here was Jacob Hunt. Of Hotspot Hunts. Who seemed eager to be in Clay’s dirty, alcohol-smelling alley with its bloody past and endlessly twisted future.
So sue him for being shallow.
“Interesting.” Clay leaned back against the brick so he wouldn’t seem too imposing, though there was little he could do about the bulk of his shoulders or the scarring on his knuckles as he hooked his thumbs into the waistband of his jeans. “What do you want?”
“Like I said, I run an investigative blog. I’d just like to look, really. Would that be a problem?”
Taking the silent invite, Jacob stepped closer, his gaze lingering over Clay’s body before beginning that strange dance as he started examining the alley. Clay could smell him. Practically taste him. And that ass… Sweet, probably tight.
He couldn’t unglue his gaze from Jacob’s backside as the man spun in a slow circle, no matter that some part of his brain remembered he’d once been a decent, respectful citizen. The type who would look a man in the eye the same amount of time he spent checking out his ass. When Jacob stopped and faced Clay again, he struggled to lift his gaze, finding something worth staring at—thighs, stomach, those incredibly deep dimples—at every level.
“What exactly are you looking for?” he asked roughly when he finally managed to meet Jacob’s eyes.
“The hotspot center. Where it is, why it’s here, whether it’s dangerous and how long it’s likely to exist. All the things people might find useful.”
Jacob was so close now, barely two feet between them. Close enough that even in the late afternoon shadows, Clay could see the shaving cut along his sharp jaw line and smell the sweat rising off his dark skin.
“It’s not dangerous,” he said absently.
“No?” Jacob cocked his head sideways again, his eyes dancing in an entirely different manner now. “You look like you could be.”
Clay lifted the corner of his mouth in a motion that was decidedly not a smile. “No argument.”
Jacob waited, as if expecting more. When Clay refocused to stare at the curve where Jacob’s thigh turned to ass, wistfully thinking of sliding those jeans down, Jacob made a sound and twisted. Almost as if he wanted to give Clay a better view. Clay certainly had no objections.
“The curtain isn’t ragged, which means it wasn’t torn open by an emotional death, which is weird because… There is something here. Maybe not death, but turmoil like one. Blood, definitely, but not a lot. It might be completely unrelated though. Something else indirectly linked…”
He seemed to be speaking to himself so Clay only listened with one ear, most of his mind role-playing what it would be like to shove Jacob’s firm body face-first into the pub wall—since it was newer and cleaner—push his underwear down until Clay could get two handfuls of ass and spread him wide. Imagined that deep voice finding a falsetto when Clay pushed into him.
“But the curtain looks as if it was opened with a skilled mind. Not a subtle one, because there isn’t any finesse, so maybe someone who knew what they were doing, but didn’t have much practice at it.”
Clay didn’t even bother lifting his gaze when Jacob turned around to look at him. Jacob made another one of those sounds—as if he were chuckling once under his breath, a huff, deep and sexy, that made Clay’s cock get just a little harder. Then Jacob strode farther down the alley, taking in where the office extended and the pub stopped.
“It’s not too old, maybe only a few years in existence.” Jacob dragged a hand over some of the bricks on the office wall. The same bricks that—
Clay jerked, realizing just how sensitive this Jacob Hunt must be if he’d touched right there. His cock lost some steam and for the first time he didn’t have to drag his gaze away from Jacob’s very fine ass.
“This isn’t where the curtain is though,” mused Jacob. His hand dropped and he spun slowly, his gaze somewhat unfocused as if staring at the air rather than the reality beyond. “It’s there.” He lifted one hand and drew in the air as if forming some flowing box in the space between them. “That’s where the curtain is.” Jacob’s gaze refocused on Clay. “Right?” But that smile said he didn’t need Clay’s confirmation.
Clay didn’t answer.
Jacob walked to the curtain, the same curtain Clay’s essence felt attuned to, tied to, limited by. He clenched his jaw and again resisted the fear that wanted him to throw this Jacob Hunt clear across town.
“The boundary is rigid, making the hotspot impossible to sense unless you’re right on top of it. As if…” Jacob’s gaze flicked to Clay, then away again.
“As if what?” demanded Clay.
Those dimples made a nice showing, but something worrisome lingered in Jacob’s eyes as he looked at Clay. “As if whoever created this curtain either wanted to hide something or…” He cocked his head. “Who are you?”
Clay crossed his arms and leaned against the wall again. “None of your business. This alley isn’t any of your business. You can tell your followers that this hotspot is off-limits and dangerous. Or better yet, keep it off the net completely.”
As Jacob’s smile faded, Clay almost reconsidered his words, the temptation of flesh tugging at him. He shook himself mentally though, reminding himself that lust was a lot like hunger; a moment to cross the curtain and all would be forgotten. Or, at least put in limbo, if not exactly forgotten.
“It’s important to at least have some knowledge though in case someone begins to drain from here or—”
“What?” snapped Clay. He must have spoken harsher than he thought because now Jacob’s bravado faltered and it looked as if he forcibly stopped himself from stepping away.
Clay pushed off the wall and stalked around Jacob, his gaze dropping to that round ass in a moment of weakness before he leaned in close to Jacob’s ear. “Anyone who tries to drain here will find themselves on the other side of Mattateque with a facelift.”
Jacob turned his head to meet Clay’s gaze, his own hot and almost eager. “I’m glad to hear it,” he said huskily, his tongue peeking out again, the sight of it sending another round of lascivious images through Clay’s mind.
“You are?” Clay kept the surprise from his tone, but he couldn’t control the roughened lust from leaking through.
Those dimples returned. “I think I’m done with my preliminary inspection, so unless you want to be a little more forthcoming…” He trailed off with the obvious hope Clay would begin to fill in the blanks.
Instead, Clay ran a hand up Jacob’s back and curled fingers around his scalp. Then he brought Jacob closer to get a good lungful of his scent. He was wearing something, probably a body spray or a deodorant, but underneath he smelled of hormones and man, all the right things to send every ounce of blood rushing to Clay’s dick. Jacob came willingly, with a gasp and one of those huffs that were almost, but not quite, chuckles. Clay held Jacob’s neck with one hand, digging his thumb into smooth skin and dragging his fingers through short black hair. Then he released Jacob and stepped away.
“Nothing, huh?” asked Jacob.
Clay moved until his back pressed against the pub. “I have something,” he said as he pointedly readjusted his straining cock. “But I doubt it’s what you’re looking for.”
Jacob’s gaze lingered on Clay’s groin, so Clay put one hand behind his head and flexed as he tilted his hips in blatant invitation. It didn’t work. Despite the length pushing on the inside of Jacob’s jeans, he shook his head and chuckled.
“Maybe next time.”
Then, with a last glance around the alley, Jacob turned and strode back the way he’d come. Out front, the noise rose as someone opened the door, letting out the chatter of the television and bursts of unintelligible conversation.
“I might not be here next time,” called Clay before Jacob had a chance to turn the corner and disappear.
Without turning around, Jacob called back, “Then you’ve already disappointed me.”
Clay watched the corner for a long moment. Then, with an explosive sigh of frustration, he drew away from his physical being and let the curtain swallow him so he wouldn’t have to deal with the backlash in his balls.