A search for missing children throws a misanthropic human GPS and an obnoxious human torch together in a struggle to survive dangerous conpiracies and each other.
Damien just wants to be left alone. Too bad his variant talent as a locator makes him the go-to contractor for the government’s missing person cases. He can refuse, but it’s not so easy when the missing are variant kids. Blaze Emerson is a sparker. People fear him as much for his ability to call fire as his obnoxious, violent temperament. He’s good at what he does, though, and he’s intrigued by the quiet man who can find people with his brain. Conspiracies, treachery, and wild rumors are only the start. First Damien and Blaze have to survive each other.
Can’t Run Far Enough
The ice around the weed bed glowed blue as the sun stretched tentative fingers across the lake. Even the sun was smart enough not to rush out of bed on a cold-as-a-penguin’s-pecker Vermont morning. Damien, however, apparently suffered from some intellectual deficiency since he was out on the lake already with his ice chisel, chipping away at a likely spot for a fishing hole.
His breath ghosted in front of him, every gulp of air biting into his lungs. It wasn’t that he liked the cold or enjoyed the self-sufficient, mountain man lifestyle. He hated it. His hands always hurt. He was always hungry. It took him forever to warm his lonely bed at night no matter how many pairs of socks he put on, the frame rattling with his shaking for an hour or more.
Chip-chip-chip. The ice chisel on six-inch lake ice echoed back to him off his cabin in a strange, one-sided conversation.
The move wasn’t for his health or even part of a dream of a better life. He had left the city to escape. Up here, they couldn’t hound him so easily with every minute need. Up here, anyone seeking him out had to go to considerable trouble to reach him. They knew where he was, of course. The inconvenient locale simply meant they thought long and hard before paying a call and they only showed up now when they had exhausted other options.
So he pretended not to hear the rumble-whine of the snow-crawler engine as it trundled up the hill. Then he deluded himself a few more minutes with the fantasy of late-season sport fishermen. The voices, when they reached him, shattered his careful illusion.
Chip-chip-chip. If I ignore them this time, will they give up and go away? Probably not. Please go away.
“That’s him? He’s kinda puny,” an unfamiliar voice rasped.
They hadn’t sent Cummings? What idiot was in charge now? They sent some stranger to find him, someone who didn’t understand him?
“Variants come in all the usual shapes and sizes, Wirth.”
There was Cummings. Thank God for small favors.
“Is just one guy,” Cummings snapped, obviously losing patience with what had to be a raw rookie.
Footsteps crunched through the snow toward him. Damien tried to block them out but his muscles tensed, the terrible sensation of having someone walking up behind him crawling up his back on millipede legs.
“Wirth, hold up! You don’t want–”
Something touched Damien’s elbow. The millipede crawling up his spine leaped into his brain and exploded in a thousand spiny pieces. He whirled, snarling, and swept the ice chisel at whatever had put a hand on him without permission.
“Holy fuck!” A dark-haired man leaped back from the ice chisel halberd. He fell on his ass and scrabbled backward on the ice, eyes cow-patty huge in shock.
“I tried to warn you,” Cummings said calmly from the bank. A squared off man with salt-and-pepper hair, he was the perfect bland-faced federal agent. He stood with his hands in his trench coat pockets, stance relaxed and non-threatening. There was a reason they usually sent him alone. “Maybe you’ll learn to listen now.”
“He tried to fucking kill me!” The intrusive man, presumably Wirth, still scrambled backward as he failed to get his feet under him.
“No. You invaded his space without warning. You don’t do that. I might kill you if you don’t stop acting like a jackass,” Cummings grated out, shaking his head. Then he gave a nod to Damien and said more evenly, “Hazelwood. Good to see you.”
“Thanks. Can’t say the same.” Damien lowered his weapon. “Is this important?”
Of course it was. They both knew that. Cummings wouldn’t be standing there otherwise. “Kids, they tell me. It’s about kids.”
“Fuck.” Not much he could say to that. If they needed him to find kids, it was bound to be bad. “Sandwiches?”
“In the vehicle.” Cummings caught his hapless partner under the elbow and dragged him onto the bank. “Go do what you have to. We’ll wait in the snow-crawler.”
Damien closed his eyes and heaved a careful breath, willing the terrible emotional whiteout away. He couldn’t even call it rage or panic. These sudden overloads shorted out every neuron, left him dangerously detached as if his humanity had been peeled off and stuffed in a trunk while he stood shivering in nothing but naked instinct. God, he hated it.
The understanding he had with Cummings over the past five years at least made these summons easier. The first few times he’d had to argue with agents who didn’t understand and he’d even had a fistfight with one that resulted in them dragging a bound Damien in hissing and spitting.
The Guild had enough bright minds to figure out that he was more useful in a cooperative mood.
He cleaned off the ice chisel and returned it to its place on the rack by the door before he started his rounds. Once inside the cabin, he tugged a few invisible wrinkles out of the perfectly made bed and made sure his moccasins lay perfectly aligned on the floor, parallel to the headboard. Then he began the circuit. Three steps from the door to the stove. Check to see if the propane was off. Two steps to the solar-powered fridge. Check for perishables on the nearly empty shelves. Four steps from the fridge to the root cellar door. Unfasten the latch and fasten it again. Repeat twice. Three steps to the chest of drawers. Open the top drawer to be sure everything important was in place. Vid chip of his mother, two antique leather-bound books, a palm-size German Shepherd made of yarn, neatly folded socks, all in the proper spots. Four steps back to the door, always parallel to the wall.
Sometimes when the agents had upset him, it could take as many as ten circuits before he felt calm enough to leave. This time, it only took six. If they ever decided to uproot him completely, to force him to move back to the city, he would have to re-establish the routine somewhere else, but as long as he had a stable place that was his, he could move about the world with this spot as its center, this spot he had grounded and rendered safe.
He changed his ratty work coat and gloves for a more respectable set and closed the door behind him. There was no lock, no need for one up here, and no need to take weapons. If they had him traveling this time, they would supply such things.
Cummings moved over to give him room on the bench seat and he slid in, grateful at least for the warmth.
He glanced down at the brown paper sack between them. “Roast beef?”
“With horseradish. I’m not senile yet, Hazelwood.”
Damien opened the bag and let the scent hit him, savoring it a moment before he seized the top sandwich and sank his teeth in with a grateful moan.
“You’re a good man, Cummings.”
“Nah. Just a clever, manipulative one.”
Wirth drove, apparently happy to be in the front seat far away from the feral variant. The snow-crawler lumbered down the hill, away from the peace of solitude and safety of seclusion.
MLR Books: http://www.mlrbooks.com/ShowBook.php?book=AM_RPANS
All Romance Books: https://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-rarelypureandneversimple-1337856-149.html
Angel Martinez, the unlikely black sheep of an ivory tower intellectual family, has managed to make her way through life reasonably unscathed. Despite a wildly misspent youth, she snagged a degree in English Lit, married once and did it right the first time, (same husband for over twenty-five years) and gave birth to one amazing son (now in college.) While Angel has worked, in no particular order, as a state park employee, retail worker, medic, LPN, call center zombie, banker, and corporate drone, none of these occupations quite fit.
She now writes full time because she finally can, and has been happily astonished to have her work place consistently in the annual Rainbow Awards. Angel currently lives in Delaware in a drinking town with a college problem and writes Science Fiction and Fantasy centered around gay heroes.