QSFer Kim Fielding has a new MM paranormal romance out, The Bureau, book 8 – Camouflaged.
Life isn’t always easy for a Bureau agent who’s also a dragon.
Ever since Ralph Crespo was trapped in human form, he’s been going through the motions at a job he once loved. Maybe that’s why the Bureau chief seems to have demoted him to messenger. But this time a letter delivery allows Ralph to meet Anton Steinmann, and Ralph’s life takes a turn toward the unexpected.
Anton loves his remote home with its extensive caves. He’s less fond of his leadership position, however, and definitely doesn’t want the offer Agent Crespo hands him. Then Anton is kidnapped and tortured. Someone wants him dead and he doesn’t know why.
How can anyone be true to himself in a world where he doesn’t really belong? Perhaps Ralph and Anton can find the answer together—if they survive long enough.
He got out and leaned against the closed car door, listening to the engine tick. It would have been a good time to smoke a cigarette, but he’d given the things up long ago. Instead he tilted his head up to watch thin clouds drift across the pale blue sky.
“The cave’s not open to the public.”
Ralph straightened and looked up at the house, where a person had appeared on the porch. The roof overhang shaded him, preventing Ralph from seeing many details, but it appeared to be a man, short and well-muscled, with his arms crossed. Both his posture and his tone suggested annoyance.
Ralph flashed a smile. “Do I look like I want to go caving?” He spread his arms as if to show off his silk tie, his expensive dress shirt and suit trousers, and his well-polished shoes. His suit jacket was currently draped over the passenger seat.
“I don’t want to buy your Bibles, vacuum cleaners, or encyclopedias either.” The man had a faint accent. German, maybe.
“All right, maybe I do look like a salesman. But I’m not. I have an envelope to deliver.” He reached through the open car window, grabbed it off the dashboard, and held it up.
“You’re definitely not a mailman.”
“Not exactly.” Lately he’d felt like a glorified messenger, but there was no point in dwelling on that right now. “Look, I need to speak to Anton Steinmann, please. I came all the way from LA to give him this, and once I do, you can get back to… whatever it is you do.”
The man regarded him silently for several moments. “Who are you?” he finally barked.
Ralph sighed. He’d known this assignment wasn’t going to be as easy as Townsend made it seem. They never were. But he’d been driving all day and what he really wanted was a big, rare steak followed by a hot shower. That’s what passed for happiness these days.
“I’m Agent Ralph Crespo from the Bureau of Trans-Species Affairs.”
He waited for the response. Most people had never heard of the Bureau and, when he mentioned it, were puzzled or confused. Those who had heard of it tended to be suspicious at best, terrified at worst.
“Fuck,” said the man on the porch. Well, that was a new one. “Come in, I guess.”
It wasn’t the most gracious of invitations, but Ralph didn’t hesitate to stride up to the house and ascend the porch stairs. By the time he got there, the man had gone inside but had left the door open. Ralph followed him in.
Because there weren’t many windows, the interior of the house was dim despite the bright sunlight outside. There was a lot of wood—walls, floor, and ceiling beams—but the focal point of the large room was a massive stone fireplace with a single armchair in front of it. The kitchen was minimalist, with a sink, a range, and a few cabinets. The only personal stamp on the space was a wall of stuffed bookshelves.
“Are you a federal agent or a home inspector?” There was a hint of humor in the man’s voice.
“Are you Anton Steinmann?”
“I’m not going to produce my goddamn ID in my own goddamn house.”
Ralph liked this guy, who was almost certainly Steinmann since there was no sign of anyone else. Grinning, Ralph handed over the envelope.
While Steinmann examined the envelope and scowled, Ralph had a chance to get a good look at him. He was short, probably no more than five four, with a muscular upper body and trim waist, and he wore old jeans and a slim-fitting pale green short-sleeved shirt. His shaggy blond hair looked as if it had been cut with a hedge trimmer several months ago. Thick pale eyebrows shadowed his gray eyes and nicely balanced his strong features. Ralph guessed he was in his early thirties.
Steinmann’s glower deepened after he opened the envelope and started reading. He finally crumpled up the paper. “No,” he said flatly.
“No what? I have no idea what it says.”
“You come all the way from LA and you don’t even know what your message is?”
“My boss handed me a sealed envelope and told me to deliver it. He didn’t give me any details. Chief Townsend works in mysterious ways.” That was putting it mildly. In fact, Townsend’s goals were always murky and his methods often questionable. But unlike most of his fellow agents, Ralph knew Townsend’s history and had at least a hint of what he was made of, and that was enough to earn Ralph’s trust. Mostly.
Steinmann still held the piece of paper in his fist. High color flushed his cheeks. “Tell your boss to go fuck himself.”
“If that’s what you want. I gotta warn you, though—he’s a man who tends to get what he wants. One way or another.” Ralph didn’t mean that as a threat; it was just the honest truth. Steinmann would save himself a lot of time and grief if he’d just get with the program now. But judging from the stubborn set of his jaw and shoulders, he wasn’t the type to take the easy route.
“Get in your shiny new car and get the hell off my mountain.”
When he was younger, Ralph might have tried to reason with the man, or maybe charm him into compliance. But he no longer had the energy for that. He shrugged and turned toward the still-open door.
“Do you want to fuck?”
Certain he’d misheard, Ralph spun back around. “What?”
Steinmann rolled his eyes. “Sex. Do you want to have sex with me?”
It had been a very long time since anyone had so thoroughly flabbergasted Ralph. “What makes you think I want that?”
“Nothing. I have no idea whether you want to fuck. That’s why I asked.”
Kim Fielding is very pleased every time someone calls her eclectic. A Lambda Award finalist and two-time Foreword INDIE finalist, she has migrated back and forth across the western two-thirds of the United States and currently lives in California, where she long ago ran out of bookshelf space. She’s a university professor who dreams of being able to travel and write full time. She also dreams of having two daughters who fully appreciate her, a husband who isn’t obsessed with football, and a house that cleans itself. Some dreams are more easily obtained than others.