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WEB OF SECRETS


Terry Poole




www.diveintopoole.wix.com/terrypoole


Web of Secrets

Copyright © October 2015 by Terry Poole

All rights reserved. This copy is intended for the original purchaser of this e-book ONLY. No part of this e-book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without prior written permission from Terry Poole. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.


Image/art disclaimer: Licensed material is being used for illustrative purposes only. Any person depicted in the licensed material is a model.


eISBN 978-1-7753776-0-3

Editor: Kierstin Cherry

Cover Artist: Shirley Alton

Published in Canada


www.diveintopoole.wix.com/terrypoole


This e-book is a work of fiction. While reference might be made to actual historical events or existing locations, the names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


Warning

This e-book contains sexually explicit scenes and adult language and may be considered offensive to some readers. This e-book is for sale to adults ONLY, as defined by the laws of the country in which you made your purchase. Please store your files wisely, where they cannot be accessed by under-aged readers.

* * * *

DISCLAIMER: Please do not try any new sexual practice, without the guidance of an experienced practitioner. Terry Poole is not responsible for any loss, harm, injury or death resulting from use of the information contained in any of its titles.




Acknowledgment



My sincere thanks to my family - Blair for your unfailing support, and Caity for your invaluable feedback.



Table of Contents


Title Page

Copyright

Acknowledgment

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Other Titles by Terry Poole

Terry Poole




Chapter One



Nathan Kirkfield stood before the imposing, heavy, dark oak doors to the house of his dreams…or rather nightmares that had haunted him since he was sixteen. He wasn’t sure how long he lingered, staring at them, suitcase by his side as the setting sun darkened the wood even further. A sudden shudder rippled down his body, which may or may not have been caused by the late September chill trying to work its way through his coat.

He couldn’t continue to stand here. Well, he could, but that wouldn’t accomplish anything. Nathan pulled the key from his suit coat pocket. Quietly cursing his trembling hand, he dragged in several deep breaths to calm himself before he managed to finally insert the key into the lock on the third try. After another calming breath, he gave it a sharp twist, then firmly grasped the handle, the brass uncomfortably cold under his hand. Nathan shivered again, then pushed the huge door open.

Growing darkness cast eerie shadows that curled against the wall, specters patiently waiting for him. Breathing became difficult as fear gripped him, steadily paralyzing his body. His heart banged against his ribs like a wild thing trying to escape.

Nathan jerked in alarm when the sudden sound of his cell phone broke the spell. He fumbled it out of the inside breast pocket of his suit and took two tries with his still-trembling fingers to swipe the screen to accept the call.

“Hello?” His too-dry mouth made his voice harsh.

“Nathan? Is that you? Are you all right?”

He cleared his throat. “Annabeth.”

“Are you okay?” His older sister’s voice, heavily coated with static and filled with worry, washed over him. It was usually difficult for her to get a signal from her location in the middle of nowhere. Just the sound of her voice settled him better than any tranquilizer.

I’m all right.” He paused. “I’m in the…their house.”

“Are. You. Okay?” She stressed each word this time.

“I think so. It’s just a little hard.” A huge understatement.

I know, hon. I know it is. But you can do this. You need to.”

“If you say so. I would have been perfectly fine not having any involvement at all.” He didn’t bother to hide his frustration and tension. She knew full well how much he didn’t want to be there.

Nathan, I’m sorry they both died in the car accident. I’m sorry I can’t be there to take care of everything myself. You know what I’m dealing with here. But for some God-only-knows reason, they left us the house. I don’t want it. You definitely don’t want it. Just sell the damn thing. We’ve been over and over this.” She rarely lost patience with anyone or anything, but this was stressing both of them.

“I know. I’m sorry,” he said quietly. He really was the only one who could take care of it.

Annabeth’s heartfelt sigh came over the static. “Hang in there, okay? It will all be over in a couple of weeks.”

“I know. When is the appraiser going to show up?” Nathan asked in a not so subtle attempt to change the topic.

Annabeth had made all the arrangements before she and her husband, Michael, both doctors, had been urgently and without warning shipped out by Doctors Without Borders. They were stationed somewhere in the Philippines after a horrific typhoon had devastated the islands.

The two were the very definition of soul mates. Although Nathan loved both of them dearly, he couldn’t help sometimes being envious of the love they shared. He tried to firmly tamp down the aching emptiness inside him before the emotions overwhelmed him.

“The MacNiel Auction House is handling the sale,” she continued, interrupting his pity party. “Kelly MacNiel will be at the house early tomorrow morning. He will stay with you for the rest of this week and probably all of next week too while he does his thing to get ready for the sale. His brother, Finn, runs the auction house and went to high school with Michael, so be nice to him.”

“I’ll be a good boy, I promise,” Nathan told her wryly, trying and almost succeeding at sounding at ease, but he was pretty sure he wasn’t fooling her one bit.

“Be good, but not too good. Michael says Kelly is bi, single, and very hot.”

“Annabeth, don’t.”

“Nathan, you have been alone for far too long. I know how much you hurt, how lonely you really are.”

“That’s enough, please,” he ground out, chest suddenly tight. “You know why… I can’t jeopardize my work, especially now.”

“Well, what’s happening to you is wrong!”

“I’ll figure something out,” he told her with false confidence.

More quietly, she said, “It’s not fair, and it’s definitely not healthy.” Her voice became stronger. “You really need to decide if your work is worth it. Talk to Uncle Matt…please. He might be my uncle, but he is your dad and he loves you.”

“I got into this situation by being naive and foolish. I will deal with it,” Nathan told her stiffly. “You said you wouldn’t tell when you got me drunk and I spilled my guts to you.”

“I did, but I’m worried sick about you.”

“Don’t be. I said I’ll figure something out.”

The static crackled over the connection as neither said a word for several seconds.

“My airtime is almost up,” she said finally, first to break the silence. “I’ll call in a couple of days or as soon as I can. And don’t forget to eat. I swear your blood is more caffeine than plasma.”

Nathan couldn’t help the chuckle. “Yes, dear,” he drawled into the phone. “Take care, Annabeth, you and Michael. I love you both.”

“I know, hon. We love you too. Give Uncle Matt and Aunt Vicky my love as well. I don’t have enough airtime to call them right now. And please, please seriously think about telling them what’s going on.”

He sighed. “Fine, I promise that I will consider it.”

“That’s something, at least.”

The telltale beep signaled the end of the call, and he put the phone back into his pocket. He knew his adoptive family was worried about him. He’d call them later, after he’d settled. They had no idea of the trouble he was really in, and no matter what Annabeth said, he was not going to involve them. He would handle it on his own…somehow.

Nathan straightened his shoulders, then moved forward with new resolve, past the foyer, deeper into the house itself. Surprisingly, he still remembered where the light switch was. He flicked it on and swallowed as the entire area was bathed in a harsh, glittering light from the crystal chandelier.

It was a house. Just a house. Nathan had to keep reminding himself there was nothing here that could hurt him anymore except for maybe a dust bunny or two. Now if only he could make himself believe that.

Nathan retrieved his suitcase from the doorway before heading up the stairs. He bypassed his old room and paused in the doorway to Annabeth’s. It looked as if she had just stepped out and would be right back.

The shelves were surprisingly dust-free. Childhood knickknacks warred with books that stood at attention on the shelves. An old Garfield telephone perched on one end, its large, unblinking gaze overseeing the room. Movie and concert posters still lined the walls, much to their biological parents’ disapproval. Not that Annabeth had ever given a damn what they thought.

Nathan left his suitcase at the door, sat on her bed, and hung his head, staring at the plush cream carpet beneath his feet. He ran both hands roughly through his dark curls, the tug slightly painful but grounding, before letting his body fall limply backward onto the bed. The quilt by his nose still smelled like her, like the lavender she always wore. It was comforting. If he closed his eyes, he could almost pretend he wasn’t alone.

“Bury your emotions and find your strength,” he repeated to himself.

He rose to stand before the bookshelf and ran a finger along the spines of the books, each one a classic child’s story. Next week he would box up her room and donate it all to a local charity, make some children happy. She would appreciate that. Annabeth was so much like their Uncle Matt, the man Nathan considered his real father.

Nathan had been barely sixteen when his biological parents had rejected him and found him irredeemable, permanently flawed, and useless to them. His Uncle Matt had taken Nathan in and raised him as his own son.

Nathan tapped Garfield’s nose. He couldn’t resist the smile as the cat’s eyes jiggled. At least this bereavement leave farce took him away from the hospital for a while. Always the perfect doctor, the perfect scientist, always toeing the line, always forced into someone else’s mold. Did he even know who he was anymore? When had his life spiraled so far out of his control?

Annabeth was right. The stress was killing him. Had he even eaten today? Nathan absently rubbed his stomach. He wasn’t sure.

He dragged his suitcase into the guest room next door where he would stay for the duration. Next, he decided to check how well the lawyers had stocked the kitchen. He needed coffee.

His adoptive parents would support him, no matter what he decided to do. He knew that, but was he willing to give up everything he had worked for in the past six years of his life? Something had to be done soon; otherwise, something or someone was going to break, and he feared that it would be him. This time he wasn’t sure he would survive it.

* * * *

Early Monday morning, Kelly MacNiel drove past the wrought-iron gates, up the short tree-lined driveway to the large house. He didn’t mind the five-hour drive. He enjoyed the scenery, how the trees stubbornly clung to what leaves they could before they gave up and allowed them to coat the ground in color.

He stopped his SUV alongside an obviously expensive sedan already parked before the main doors. It couldn’t be anyone else’s but the owner of the house. But why was it here in visitor parking? Kelly flipped open the file on the seat beside him. Yep, there it was, a multiple-vehicle carport located around the side. Curious. Also curious was the fact that the house looked hauntingly familiar even though Kelly was sure he had never seen it before.

Kelly glanced at the dashboard clock. He was a few minutes early, so he decided to review the file once more. If there was one thing they taught at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, it was read and reread files. His life at the Bureau seemed a lifetime ago, but old habits were hard to break. He pulled the file onto his lap as he rolled his sore shoulder to relieve the stiffness that had settled into it from the drive. Other than a few items to be donated at the discretion of the owner, the house was to be sold after the contents were auctioned off. Everything had to go, right down to the bare walls. Someone was definitely cleaning house. His job for the next couple of weeks was to organize the auction and make sure the owner got what he wanted.

Simple…and boring. Kelly sighed. This was the sad state of his life now.

Another glance at the clock and he figured he may as well knock. The sun would clear the treetops soon to give him the best natural daylight for the website pictures. He climbed out of his SUV and reached into the back for his bags. One contained his clothing and personal items, the other his equipment and computer.

Kelly automatically examined the front of the house, filing away the locations of entrances, exits, strengths and weaknesses. Old habits did die hard. That odd sense of déjà vu surrounded him once again as he pressed the buzzer located to the right of the doors. Just as one of the doors opened, the sun broke from between the branches. Kelly promptly forgot how to breathe as the man in front of him was wreathed in a golden aura.

He was taller than Kelly by maybe three inches and slender, but definitely not skinny. His expensively tailored suit stretched across broad shoulders that led to ridiculously slim hips. A blue button-down shirt open at the collar allowed a brief glimpse of pale skin at the base of his throat.

Raven hair loosely fell around his head in untidy curls to below his ears, framing a strong jaw and a full, luscious mouth. Long dark lashes that had no business being on a man fringed his large chocolate-hued eyes. The two men stared transfixed at each other for a minute outside of time. Then this gorgeous creature smiled shyly. It was a blow to Kelly’s midsection that would have made his martial arts instructor proud.

The man looked like he had stepped right out of Kelly’s dreams—dreams of the kiss his sixteen-year-old self had shared with another boy that still haunted him. It couldn’t be… Could it?

Kelly gasped as the need for air forced his lungs to drag oxygen past his lips, and took an involuntary step back. The sound broke the spell holding them. The smile fell from the man’s face, replaced by a cool aloofness. What was obviously a well-practiced mask locked firmly in place.

“Can I help you?” he asked Kelly politely, his voice a deep baritone rumble Kelly felt right down to his toes.

He doesn’t remember me, Kelly thought. No wonder the house had felt familiar. He stifled a groan. He needed to remain professional here. Do the job he was hired to do and try not to crush the man into his arms like he wanted to do.

Kelly cleared his throat. “I’m sorry. I’m looking for a Mr. Kirkfield?”

“Dr. Kirkfield, and you’re looking at him.”

“Kelly MacNiel, MacNiel Auction House,” Kelly replied, extending his hand. “Please, call me Kelly.”

“How do you do, Kelly?” Long fingers wrapped around Kelly’s hand, and he barely suppressed the jolt he felt at the contact. He wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised to see sparks fly into the air like fireworks where their skin touched.


NATHAN WASN’T SURE what he had expected an appraiser to look like, but the man standing in front of him was not it. The sun brought out strong red highlights in his sandy-colored hair. Solid muscle beneath tight jeans and a snug T-shirt that more than hinted at the built body beneath. He looked like a supermodel or a walking advertisement for a gym.

But it was the brilliant green eyes that captivated Nathan the most. Had he ever seen eyes like that before? Penetrating emeralds fixed hungrily on him. Nobody had ever looked at him like they wanted to devour him where he stood. A shiver streaked down the length of his body.

The man gasped, straightened, and took a step back. Nathan breathed an involuntary sigh at his foolishness. However, it didn’t stop his dry mouth or his voice dropping a full register lower than normal when he spoke to Kelly.

“I’m Nathan,” he replied before pushing the door wide open and indicating that Kelly should enter. “Do you need any help with your things?”

“No, I’m good, thanks,” Kelly answered. He picked up the bags and brushed a little too close as he passed Nathan and entered the house.

Nathan caught a whiff of the other man’s cologne when Kelly moved past him, the scent reminiscent of a forest after a rainfall. Without thinking, he closed his eyes and breathed in the intoxicating fragrance. He shuddered, flabbergasted by the urge to push up against Kelly, a complete stranger, and bury his face into Kelly’s neck just to smell that mind-numbing essence once more. Nathan couldn’t stop himself from hardening. What was wrong with him? He quickly buttoned his jacket to hide the telltale bulge in his pants.

Kelly paused in the foyer and gave the area a quick once-over. Nathan sighed in relief since Kelly appeared oblivious to the tumult he had caused.

“I’ll show you to your room, and then I guess we should get started if you are up to it,” Nathan quietly said.

“Sounds good. Please lead on.” Kelly’s voice held a faint lilt to it. Irish, probably, but with a name like MacNiel anything was possible. It was a barely there accent, but Nathan knew he could get addicted to the sound of the man’s voice very easily.

Nathan led him up the staircase, and try as he might, he couldn’t stop his rambling commentary on the rooms on each floor. Since when did he suffer from nerves like this? Since a quick glance over his shoulder revealed that the stunning man behind him was staring fixedly at his backside. Kelly licked his lips, and Nathan missed the top step. Strong hands gripped his hips, keeping him upright. Heat flooded Nathan’s body, rising up from the contact. He mumbled his thanks, then awkwardly stepped away, forcing Kelly to lower his hands.

Nathan opened the first door to his right. “This is one of the guest rooms. The linens are fresh, and if you need anything, please let me know. I’m in the bedroom across the hall.” Of course he would have to be nearby to assist Kelly, but why had he felt the need to share that he would be sleeping only a few short feet away? Hopefully Kelly wouldn’t think Nathan was offering an open invitation to join him in bed. “Um. When you’re settled, come downstairs. I’ll be in the kitchen.”

“That works. Just give me five minutes to get my gear sorted out,” Kelly replied.

Unable to look Kelly in the eye, Nathan briskly nodded, turned, and left Kelly to his own devices.


KELLY COULDN’T HELP but stare at Nathan’s lovely ass at his eye level as he they climbed the stairs. He listened to Nathan’s chatter with only half an ear, more interested, at least for now, in the play of Nathan’s shirt across his back and the way his trousers kept pressing tightly against his very fine form as he walked ahead of Kelly. Nathan tripped, and Kelly grabbed his hips to stop him from pitching forward onto the landing. Pink bloomed on Nathan’s skin as he glanced back with a quietly murmured, “Thanks.”

Kelly grinned. An embarrassed Nathan was too cute.

Nathan refused to look at him, then walked quickly away, turning Kelly’s grin into a frown. The man probably would have run if he could have gotten away with it. Kelly shook his head. He entered his room, put the file on the bed along with the laptop and digital camera, then parked himself with a huff beside his gear.

Nathan didn’t remember him, didn’t know who he was. Had Kelly changed so much in twelve years, or was he simply not that memorable? Kelly, on the other hand, would never, could never forget.

Kelly had been suspended from school for a fight—totally not his fault, that time at least—and his da had forced him to come with his uncle and crew to deliver several pieces of furniture. Unable to actually help, Kelly had amused himself by checking out the rest of the place, going sightseeing as it were.

He’d stumbled on the library with its mesmerizing array of books and startled the cute boy curled up in a huge wingback chair, book forgotten on his lap at the sight of Kelly. With a cocky grin, Kelly had flopped into the chair beside him. The boy nervously returned his smile, and before Kelly knew it they had talked for what seemed like hours about anything and everything. Yet, somehow, they never got around to telling each other their names. Kelly had felt drawn to the boy, a tangible connection between them, and he was pretty sure the boy felt it too in the way he leaned his body toward Kelly’s, the way he smiled at him not just with his mouth but his eyes. Beautiful large brown doe eyes looked at Kelly like he was something amazing.

They’d both risen at the sound of Kelly’s uncle’s voice outside. The shy sideways look the boy gave Kelly had gone straight to his chest to hold his heart hostage forever. Kelly had gently gripped the boy’s chin and pressed his lips to the boy’s in a tentative kiss. The boy had slanted his mouth, pushing himself closer with a small sigh, both hands on Kelly’s hips. Kelly had wrapped his arms around the slender body and drawn him flush, chest to chest, hip to hip. They’d both moaned as their bodies came into full contact. Kelly was wider, more muscular than the boy. He’d loved the way he could completely envelop the other boy with his body, and from the way the boy had melted into him, he loved it too. Kelly had captured the boy’s avid lips again, and they’d eagerly explored each other’s mouths with soft kisses, reveling in the touch and taste. So this was what love at first sight felt like, Kelly remembered thinking.

The door abruptly opened, and they’d stood frozen for a second before they broke apart. The boy had lost all color when he saw his father in the doorway, staring at him in cold fury. Kelly’s uncle stood just behind the boy’s father and, after a glance in the other man’s direction, rushed forward to hurriedly shepherd Kelly out of the room. The last thing he heard was the man’s voice raised in anger.

His uncle had hustled him into his truck without a word. Worried for his new love, Kelly tried to get the boy’s phone number from his da and then his uncle. They both refused him, but that didn’t stop him from hounding them for two days. He’d finally snuck into his father’s office when no one was about, taking the information from the filing cabinet. He called, his voice shaking with apprehension, asking to speak to the unknown boy. His answer had been a sharp click as the phone slammed down in his ear. Eight more times over the next three days he’d called. After the eighth time, he was angrily told that no boy lived there. Heartbroken, Kelly finally stopped trying, but he never forgot the boy with the unknown name.

Now, here Kelly was—in the same house, with the same boy, now a man. Nathan hadn’t remembered him. Kelly wasn’t quite sure how he felt about that.

“Aw, Finn, what have you gotten me into?” he cursed his brother with a heavy shake of his head.




Chapter Two



Kelly pulled out the paperwork that he and Nathan had to review before Kelly could actually get to work. He checked the charge on the digital camera, then inserted a fresh memory card. The date and his signature were already marked on it to ensure the accuracy of the listings and prevent disputes.

Although legally he couldn’t start until the forms were signed, that didn’t stop Kelly from being curious. He took a minute to look around and give the room he was in a closer examination. Original paintings hung on the walls. The furniture was solid wood of exquisite make. Even the linens were high-count Egyptian cotton. He ran his hand down the smooth fabric of the window curtains. It was all fine quality and would sell high, no question about it. Kelly couldn’t give a dollar figure, but that wasn’t his job. His job was to photograph everything and send it on to Finn and the girls, who were the real experts.

Kelly pulled the curtains aside. The large acreage behind the house would be perfect for him to run and do his daily workouts. He made a mental note to ask Nathan’s permission. Letting the curtains fall back into place, Kelly picked up the forms and the camera and headed downstairs. Nathan’s angry voice alerted Kelly to his location, and Kelly followed it to the dining room.

“I’m on leave!” Nathan practically growled into the phone before angrily pressing the End Call button.

Nathan stood there leaning against one of the wooden dining room chairs, his chest heaving. He looked as though he would collapse if he released his white-knuckled death grip on the top of the chair. He stared at the phone in his other hand for a moment more; then with a ferocious snarl he hurled it as hard as he could away from himself.

Before Kelly’s forehead stopped the cell phone’s flight, he reached up and calmly plucked the phone out of midair. The color drained from Nathan’s face as he realized what he had almost done.

“Oh my God, I am so sorry! I didn’t see you there!” he stammered, hand outstretched in apology, his face a mask of misery.

“Hey, it’s fine. No harm, no foul,” Kelly assured him. “Nice arm you’ve got there, by the way.” He grinned.

One side of Nathan’s mouth curved up. “Apparently,” he said wryly, which drew a delighted laugh from Kelly.

Nathan smiled at Kelly. “That catch was rather amazing.”

“Apparently.” Kelly chuckled, echoing Nathan’s word.

The smile extended to the rest of Nathan’s face, lighting up his eyes, and Kelly caught his breath. Nathan needed to smile more. It transformed him from attractive to absolutely devastating.

Kelly found himself wanting to take that beautiful face between his hands and kiss that lush mouth until a completely different expression showed on Nathan’s face. Kelly wanted to see those lips swollen with his kisses, eyes heavy-lidded and dark with desire for him.

The smile slipped from Nathan’s face. Kelly watched emotions play across his features one after the other before cool professionalism won out once again. There was no way Kelly could have mistaken the heat he’d seen flash through Nathan’s eyes, the raw need, but what had Kelly done to make Nathan retreat again?

Maybe Kelly had somehow revealed too much? Damn but the man was skittish. Remember, Kelly, you must be a professional and not alienate the client.

With a firm mental shake to clear his confusion away, he came farther into the room and dropped both the phone and the papers onto the dining table before Nathan. Nathan seemed reluctant to move away from Kelly. Interesting.

“These are the papers you need to sign before I can begin.” Kelly spread them on the table, held out a pen, and pointed to the required places.

Nathan reached for the pen, his fingers accidentally brushing Kelly’s, and he jerked, gasping at the contact. Kelly stared at Nathan’s profile, at his tightly clenched jaw. From the sound Nathan had made and how his body had shivered at the contact of their fingers, Kelly knew there was no way this, whatever it was, was one-sided.

Kelly placed a hand companionably on Nathan’s opposite shoulder and leaned in to him, giving the appearance of looking over Nathan, checking the papers he was signing. He made sure to press his chest firmly against Nathan’s side and upper back. Kelly felt the muscles twitch under the cloth beneath him, heard the sharp, shuddering intake of breath. Kelly splayed his fingers over Nathan’s shoulder, moving his thumb slowly higher until it reached warm skin. There it found the wild dance of Nathan’s pulse.

At the touch of Kelly’s thumb, Nathan’s fingers jerked. The last signature looked more like a scrawl than anything legible. The pen slipped from Nathan’s hand as Kelly brushed his thumb lightly across that frantic beat.

Oh yes. Kelly smiled. Nathan was not as immune to him or as cold as he tried so hard to pretend. For some reason, Nathan was fighting his attraction to Kelly, but that was fine. Kelly was a patient man.

With an unsteady lurch, Nathan stepped away, his hand shaking as he picked up the pen and handed it back. Kelly gave Nathan a smoldering look filled with enough heat to pin the man in place. Nathan’s eyes grew impossibly wide, his Adam’s apple working.

“I’m going to begin in the dining room,” Kelly said, the picture of complete calm as he turned his back to Nathan and picked up the camera.

Kelly glanced at the other man over his shoulder and gave Nathan another heated look, then licked his bottom lip. Nathan swallowed hard. Being patient was going to be fun.


NATHAN GAWKED AT Kelly. The look in Kelly’s eyes scorched Nathan’s skin and set his heart racing. His body felt like it was burning up as his lungs heaved, unable to get enough air to fill them. That was hunger he saw—hunger for him. At least he thought it was, but what if he was wrong?

Kelly seemed so calm, while Nathan was filled with turmoil. Did Kelly not feel the same fire rushing under his skin every time they accidentally touched? What if Kelly was simply a very tactile person, and it meant nothing to him? What if Nathan was reading something that wasn’t there? Misinterpreting the heated looks, the touches.

It confused him, and he couldn’t afford the lack of control. It could ruin him, no matter how much he wanted what he couldn’t have. To touch, to be wanted. These feelings needed to be brutally pushed down deep. Ignored.

Um, okay.” Such intelligent conversational skills. Nathan inwardly sighed. “What happens now? My sister was the one to make all the arrangements with your office.”

“I transmit the pictures as they are shot, using the Wi-Fi tether between the camera and my computer, and they will be up for preview within roughly a half hour after taking them. I’ll take several of each piece, and the girls back at the office will decide which views give the best impressions on the website. Finn will evaluate each piece based on the pictures and my notes, and give an approximate retail value for each,” Kelly explained.

“The open house is this Friday and Saturday, with advance bids starting on Thursday. The actual sale will take place on the following Wednesday, and all items are picked up by that Friday. So this whole thing takes two weeks from start to finish.”

“All right, that’s fine. I was aware of the two-week timetable.”

“Yeah.” Kelly grinned at him again. “Lucky you, you get the honor of my esteemed presence for two whole weeks.”

Nathan paused, not quite sure what to say to Kelly’s bantering. Only Brendan, Kelly’s adoptive brother, ever joked with him like this, though not lately. Not for quite a while, actually. Nathan knew that was his fault.

Kelly nudged Nathan with his shoulder, breaking into his musing. “It’s a joke. Lighten up,” he said before he approached the china cabinet and raised his camera.

A joke.

Most people considered Nathan too aloof and cold to joke with, which was just how he wanted it. Keep everyone at a distance. Trust no one. There was less chance of getting hurt that way. Lord knew he’d learned his lessons the hard way, especially the lesson that Nathan was now paying the price for in believing in someone he shouldn’t have.

“You can watch if you like, but this part is pretty boring,” Kelly said, his voice muffled by the camera as he snapped photo after photo at every conceivable angle. He checked each before choosing to delete or save it.

Nathan really had nothing better to do, or rather, nothing he wanted to do more than watch Kelly as he moved around to the china cabinet, then the table and chairs. His body was graceful despite his powerful frame. Kelly may have been a little shorter than Nathan, but he was larger. Kelly’s snug shirt betrayed the power harnessed in his broad shoulders and heavily corded arms. Tight jeans hugged Kelly’s muscular thighs like a lover’s caress.

What would it feel like to run his hands along those curves? Nathan swallowed as he fought to bring his rebellious body under control. It would not do to show how much Kelly affected him. Nathan tried to be discreet as he did up the buttons of his suit.

Something struck Nathan as he watched Kelly. He moved fluidly, like a dancer. No, not a dancer. It was something more, something almost dangerous. This man was no office employee, no desk jockey.

“What are you?” Nathan blurted out. “I mean, obviously this isn’t what you normally do…take pictures for an auction house.” He stopped abruptly and cursed his insatiable curiosity and lack of any evidence of a brain-to-mouth filter. “My apologies. That’s really none of my business,” he muttered, gaze averted.

“No, it’s cool. Honestly.” With a reassuring smile, Kelly turned away from the sideboard he was photographing. “Up until six months ago, I was with the Bureau.”

“The Bureau? You mean the FBI? Why did you leave?”

“I got shot,” Kelly said like it was no big deal.

Nathan stiffened. “I’m sorry.”

“No, really, it’s okay,” Kelly assured him. “Shot here.” Kelly pointed to his shoulder, then rotated it with a slight wince. “A boatload of PT later, I’m pretty much all right, but I couldn’t do the job anymore, so here I am working in the family business.” Only an idiot could miss the underlying pain in his voice, and Nathan was no idiot.

In fact, he was a bloody good doctor, and he knew it. He also knew how to read a patient’s body language accurately, because any missed detail, no matter how small, could mean life or death. If Nathan hadn’t been so distracted, so consumed by his own problems, he would have spotted the signs of Kelly’s injury much sooner.

The symptoms were glaringly obvious in the way Kelly favored his right shoulder and never used that arm for lifting or carrying anything heavy. Kelly’s training showed in the way he automatically evaluated each room he was in. His gaze seemed to search and record every detail. He always positioned his body so his back was to solid walls, ready to face whatever came at him from a doorway or window.

Most of all was the haunted look in his eyes when he spoke so casually of his injury. There was far more to that story than Kelly was letting on, but Nathan would not pry. It was not his business. After all, as Kelly had reminded Nathan, Kelly was only going to be here a short time, and Nathan had enough of his own problems to deal with.

“Why the FBI?” he asked conversationally, breaking the quiet.

“Mmm?”

“What made you decide to join the FBI?”

Kelly lowered the camera. “I didn’t just decide to join. I was groomed for it.” He shrugged.

“Groomed for it? What do you mean?”

Kelly sighed. “I’m like my granda, an Irish warrior born and bred descended from the fighting MacNiels of Northern Ireland. Sure, my da loved me in his own way, but he didn’t understand. He couldn’t handle his ‘wild’ son. Granda, on the other hand, did understand. He trained me and helped me come to terms with what it meant to be a ‘fighting son.’”

Kelly raised his camera and continued taking pictures while he spoke. “My da had inherited his deep love of antiques from Gran and built his auction house from scratch. Business was his battlefield.

“Granda understood the need for physical release, the fights and brawls. He gave me purpose and a bone-deep moral code. He showed me what I could become.”

“He sounds like quite the person,” Nathan remarked.

Yeah, Granda was,” Kelly agreed. “Frequently, Granda would have a ‘friend’ show up at his home and add to my training. Some of these friends were absolutely fearsome men that made me wonder what my granda had done to make these men owe him allegiance, call him friend. Every so often, Granda would disappear for a few days and return looking haggard, often bandaged or sporting a cast or two. Gran would sigh and steer him to the sofa. I quickly learned not to ask questions either.

“After my gran passed, the unexplained trips became more frequent and more dangerous. Then came the day Granda didn’t return. His ashes were sent to the house with a note addressed only to me that simply said, ‘Be proud of him.’”

Kelly lowered the camera, his eyes unfocused as he looked off into space. “I miss that old man.”

Nathan fought the intense urge to reach out to the man, offer what comfort he could. His body moved almost with a will of its own as he began to rise, but the moment was lost when Kelly shook his head and turned back to the sideboard.

“The FBI was the right fit, but I did grow up in the business,” he continued. “Take this sideboard, for instance. Nice bow front. Duncan Phyfe, solid oak construction, probably mid-1800s.” He paused. “How’s that?”

“That’s impressive and absolutely correct. I have zero knowledge of antiques, but that is exactly what the original purchase receipt says.”

“You have the original purchase receipt and documentation for this piece?”

“Yes, for most of them. My…father kept exact records. They are all in a filing cabinet in his office down the hall.”

If Kelly had noticed the slight hitch on the word father, he made no mention of it.

“That will make this go a whole lot easier. I’ll need to scan them and e-mail them to Finn as soon as possible. The paperwork will have to go with each piece as they are sold. Let me finish up in this room, and we’ll go get them. Another fifteen minutes tops, okay?”

“Absolutely.” Nathan sucked in a breath. As necessary as it was to go into that room, he was secretly glad that he wouldn’t have to go in there alone. Kelly’s presence would help keep the demons at bay. At least Nathan hoped so.




Chapter Three



Nathan and Kelly stood side by side before the door to his father’s office. Nathan stared blankly in front of him as unwelcome memories tried to assault his mind. He was vaguely aware of Kelly’s intense scrutiny as he silently waited for Nathan to make the first move, to open the portal to hell.

After a few moments, Kelly placed his hand gently but firmly on Nathan’s shoulder. “Nathan, are you all right?”

Nathan became aware he was trembling. The only anchor to the here and now was the warm weight of Kelly’s hand on him. Nathan’s entire body shuddered as he physically tried to force the past away.

“Yes, sorry. This room… It does not bring back good memories.”

What a massive understatement. He hated this room and what it represented with every fiber of his being. That frightened little boy summoned to his father’s office for punishment once again still cowered within him. It didn’t matter if it was something as simple as an A instead of an A+ on an assignment. Nathan had tried to be worthy of the Kirkfield name. Instead he’d repeatedly failed to win his parents’ approval, to be the son and heir they required.

Nathan heaved in a shaky breath, stiffened his spine, and pushed open the door. No, he wasn’t that abused child anymore. Kelly’s hand was warm on Nathan’s shoulder. Kelly gave him a squeeze, offering him silent support. Even if the man didn’t understand the why, he was clever enough to recognize that Nathan really, really didn’t want to go into that room. Nathan appreciated that. Kelly’s thoughtfulness warmed him, and his presence helped Nathan overcome his ghosts, even if only temporarily.

He felt the wall and flicked on the lone light switch. It turned on two old-fashioned corner pole lamps that produced very little illumination. The lamps cast long shadows that utterly failed to dispel the forbidding air of the room. Despite his resolve to be brave, he couldn’t help crossing his arms defensively.

Kelly moved past Nathan, then whistled as he looked around the dimly lit room. “Nice and gloomy. No wonder you don’t like it,” he said.

The man was a master of the understatement.

No windows brightened this oppressive lair. Harsh, dark wood paneling lined the walls. Wooden filing cabinets on either side of a huge unlit stone fireplace sat to the right, a built-in bookcase and bar directly opposite. Dominating the room in the middle was a massive mahogany desk with a huge leather office chair behind it. Anyone would feel small and intimidated before it. Nathan knew firsthand how effective it was, especially to a child before a punishment would begin.

Kelly stepped closer to the desk and spun slowly in place while Nathan remained near the door. “Kind of makes you feel like Dracula should be coming out from a secret entrance behind the fireplace. Brrrr.” He mock shivered. “Sorry, but this is definitely creepy.”

Nathan frowned, then shifted nearer to Kelly as he mirrored Kelly’s action and his gaze circled the room. “You have no idea. Annabeth and I were always terrified of this room.” It was funny how fear of the man could transfer so easily to fear of the place where the punishments were dispensed.

Nathan wanted to tell Kelly how they had feared the man behind the desk, not any ridiculous imaginary vampire sneaking around behind a bookcase. A chill skittered up his spine, shaking him so hard his teeth clacked loudly. The very air became thicker, making breathing difficult. A desperate urge to leave built inside him. His shoulders hunched forward as his grip on his arms tightened. It felt like the walls were beginning to close in on him, compress him into a weak, sniveling mess.

Kelly didn’t miss Nathan’s movements or the shuddering gasps. He drew near and silently wrapped an arm around Nathan’s shoulders. It was probably a dead giveaway to Kelly, the measure of Nathan’s growing discomfort as he gratefully leaned into Kelly’s body instead of pulling away. Seeking the comfort, the protection Nathan instinctively sensed Kelly would give him without reservation.

Kelly tugged Nathan into his body and held him tightly, Nathan’s arms caught between them. One hand pressed Nathan’s head into Kelly’s shoulder. Nathan could feel Kelly’s face against his forehead.

“Shhhh. It’s all right,” Kelly murmured into Nathan’s hair as his hand stroked the back of Nathan’s head.

After a few minutes, Kelly pulled back slightly. “Come on.” He dropped a quick kiss to Nathan’s brow. “Let’s get those receipts now, and I’ll deal with this room myself tomorrow so you won’t have to.”

Nathan nodded but didn’t move. Was it really so wrong to take what Kelly offered? The warm weight of Kelly’s arms felt good around Nathan, beyond good. As brief as the kiss was, his skin felt forever imprinted, branded with it. How he longed to give in for just a minute, to pretend he belonged to someone.

Enough fantasy. He forced himself to pull away and move over to a box sitting on the floor beside the nearest cabinet. Already he missed Kelly’s touch. Don’t get used to it, he harshly reminded himself.

Nathan cleared his throat, finding it hard to speak. “Annabeth had the lawyers go through the rest of the files in the cabinets. All the receipts and documents they felt you would need are in here.” He picked up the box before Kelly could take more than one step toward it.

“I’ve got it. It isn’t heavy. If you don’t mind, though, I would like to use the dining room to go through the box.”

“Absolutely.” Kelly gestured to the open door for Nathan to precede him. “Don’t worry; I’ve got your back,” he said firmly.

Nathan slowly moved past Kelly but paused in the open doorway. Something about the way Kelly had spoken… Something almost hauntingly familiar. Nathan turned and stared down, searching Kelly’s face, his mind in turmoil. How easy it was to be around the other man. Kelly had slipped so effortlessly beneath Nathan’s defenses, and it was surprisingly hard to fight his attraction to Kelly.

Maybe…maybe that was a good thing? Would it really be so bad to allow himself to care about someone? Someone who seemed to care about him, even though they had only just met. Even if it was just for a little while? He could have a fling, a short-lived affair that no one needed to know about. That would be all right, wouldn’t it?


KELLY FROZE AS Nathan’s large brown eyes bored into his. It was a moment that squeezed the breath from Kelly’s lungs with the soul-deep need to pull Nathan to him and do anything to erase that pain. The brief glimpse of the raw loneliness and hunger hidden within Nathan fired up all of Kelly’s protective instincts.

Kelly wasn’t sure if Nathan saw what he was looking for while he stared into Kelly’s eyes, but Nathan’s gaze softened. The corners of his mouth drifted up into a small smile, and he nodded slightly as if coming to a decision.

“Thank you,” he said quietly before he continued through the doorway.

Kelly stood there while his hand clutched at the empty air behind Nathan’s back; he couldn’t even remember raising his arm to reach for Nathan. He swallowed, lowered his hand, and resolutely followed Nathan. He knew without a doubt he would follow Nathan anywhere.

The farther they got from the study, the more the weight seemed to lift off Nathan’s shoulders. Something bad had happened to Nathan in that room. His reaction was too much like a PTSD episode, and Kelly certainly knew enough about that damned problem to recognize it in someone. He suffered from it himself. Everyone thought the nightmares and panic attacks were gone because Kelly hadn’t had one in a while. Kelly certainly hoped the doctors were right.

Back in the dining room, Nathan hooked a foot around a chair leg, pulled it out, and placed the box onto the seat. He lifted the lid and put it aside before he grabbed a handful of papers and arranged them on the table.

“I’ll be right back,” Kelly told him from the doorway.

Kelly returned in a couple of minutes with his computer and a bar scanner. Nathan looked at it curiously as Kelly plugged in the computer and flipped it open. He placed the foot-long bar scanner beside the computer after plugging it into the computer’s USB port.

Kelly noticed Nathan’s interest and held the bar up. “It’s a portable document scanner. Let’s sort this stuff by room, if we can. Anything we aren’t sure about, we’ll just let Finn and the girls figure it out.”

“Makes sense,” Nathan answered as he looked at the top paper in the box.

It took them the better part of two hours to sort the receipts, certificates, and various documents into piles. The two of them worked well together in a companionable, comfortable atmosphere. Not once did Nathan retreat into his shell. A relaxed Nathan was a completely different man. Kelly found himself enjoying Nathan’s company. Nathan even laughed at his bad puns and jokes. Kelly didn’t know what had changed, but he liked it.

Once the piles were arranged on the table in a logical order, an abrupt grumble from Kelly’s abdomen interrupted their discussion, and Nathan looked at Kelly curiously.

Kelly patted his stomach. “Had an early breakfast, sorry.”

Nathan glanced out the window. “I had no idea it was so late. I’m the one who needs to apologize. I have a bad habit of forgetting to eat when I’m working. How do you feel about Chinese for dinner?”

“Awesome,” Kelly said as he placed the first receipt into the slot at the top of the scanner.

“Any allergies? Likes, dislikes?”

“Nope. Cast-iron stomach. I’ll eat pretty much anything. Actually, on second thought, chicken balls. I’ll eat them if I have to, but I’m not fond of them. Too much dough.”

“Done.” Nathan picked up his cell from where it still sat on the table.

Kelly continued to scan documents as he unobtrusively watched Nathan search through the local restaurant listings for a moment before choosing one and dialing.

“Should be about thirty minutes, they said,” Nathan told Kelly after he hung up. “I can make coffee or tea, if you’d like. I picked some up yesterday. It’s that or water, I’m afraid. I’ve nothing else.”

“Tea, thanks. I’m Irish. I was raised on whiskey and tea.” Kelly gave Nathan an exaggerated wink, grinning up at him when he smiled in response.

“Would you like it now or with the food?”

“With the food is fine.” Kelly paused. “You haven’t been home in a long time, have you?” Kelly asked him. Nathan may have begun to open up, but Nathan hadn’t shared much about himself. “I noticed you had no idea what was nearby.”

“You’re very observant.”

Sorry, occupational hazard.” And a lot of Granda’s training.

“It’s fine. This isn’t my home,” Nathan replied firmly, picking at imaginary lint on the tablecloth without looking at Kelly.

Aha. “So, where is home?” he asked with a forced casual, conversational tone. Nope, definitely no prying here.

“I have a small place close to the hospital where I work. Holy Trinity.”

“Nice.” Kelly knew of it. Holy Trinity was a high-end hospital in a very high-end neighborhood.

“What do you do there?” Kelly adopted an apologetic expression. “You aren’t the only one who is just naturally nosy.”

Nathan laughed. “I’m a cardiothoracic surgeon,” he said with a hint of pride in his voice.

“Seriously?” Impressed, Kelly looked at Nathan with even more respect. “A heart surgeon?”

“In a nutshell, yes.”

“And at Holy Trinity Hospital?”

“Yes?” Nathan replied, looking a little confused by Kelly’s response. “Why?”

“Only the best of the best—the brightest, the most innovative—are employed by that place.”

“You sound like a commercial for the hospital. It took a lot of hard work to get where I am,” Nathan said defensively.

“I don’t doubt that for a minute,” Kelly told him sincerely. Work was a touchy subject apparently.

“Thank you. I can’t imagine doing anything else. Being a doctor is all I’ve ever wanted to be,” Nathan said passionately as he spoke of what he obviously loved. “It’s what I was meant to be, born to do—save lives.”

Kelly smiled warmly at Nathan, moved by the fervor in his voice. Nathan was a deeply caring man, who for some reason felt he had to keep his emotions tightly secured under lock and key. Well, Kelly wanted to be that key that unlocked Nathan. Kelly wanted to pull that passion up to the surface and drown them both in it.

It was a good thing the table hid his body from the waist down as his cock pressed hard against the zipper of his jeans. Usually his control was much better than this, but the thought of peeling Nathan out of that suit and tasting every inch of pale skin Kelly uncovered until Nathan forgot everything but Kelly’s name…

Finn would probably kill Kelly for being inappropriate with a client. Kelly knew he shouldn’t keep going there, but the images in his head had him wondering what kinds of sounds Nathan would make. Whether Nathan remembered him or not, Nathan had to be Kelly’s again. No one had ever made Kelly feel like this. Kelly went from zero to hard every time Nathan was near. Hell, all Kelly had to do was think about Nathan and he had a hammer in his pants.

Nathan quietly continued to watch Kelly work as he scanned in the papers and double-checked each scan for clarity before sending it on. Kelly hoped the repetitive monotony would take care of his, ah…problem. A vibrating buzz startled him as Nathan’s cell phone started ringing. Kelly passed it to Nathan, whose brows drew down when he saw the number displayed on the screen.

Kelly frowned at the scowl that marred Nathan’s handsome face. The phone continued to ring in Nathan’s hand, but he made no move to answer the call. The frustration Nathan was feeling was evident in those expressive eyes of his.

“Trouble?”

“Mm?” Nathan glanced up, then thumbed the phone to decline the call. “No, it’s fine.”

A loud bell chime in the hallway announced a visitor, most likely supper. It effectively prevented Kelly from asking more questions, which, odds were, Nathan probably wouldn’t answer anyway. No point in pushing it.

“It’s all fine.” Nathan sighed as he put the phone down, rose to his feet, and left the room to fetch supper.

No, it’s not all fine, Kelly thought. The way Nathan had pulled into himself at the call. Whoever it was upset Nathan badly, and that was simply unacceptable in Kelly’s book.

Kelly stood quietly and, with one ear cocked in the hallway’s direction, reached for the phone. All in the interest of protecting a client, he justified to himself. The call was from a Dr. Amanda Russell with a local area code. A noise in the hallway alerted him, and he quickly put the phone back. He dropped into his chair and continued with his scans.

Hardly a second later, a delicious smell heralded Nathan’s return. His eyes widened at the sight of Nathan struggling with the bags along with cutlery, plates, and cups awkwardly balanced in his arms. He barely held on to the handle of a carafe by the tips of his long fingers.

“Here, give me some of that.” Kelly laughed at Nathan as he took part of the burden from him. “It’s okay to ask for help, you know. You don’t have to do everything by yourself.”

Nathan started at the words and then mumbled something through the mouthful of napkins.

“That’s enough to send to the girls for tonight.” Kelly pushed the computer, scanner, and papers to the side to make room. Kelly allowed the backs of his fingers grazed Nathan’s chin as he gently took the napkins out of his mouth. Nathan’s eyes rounded at the contact before he lowered his lashes and the most adorable blush crept across his pale skin. Kelly felt a matching warmth bloom in his chest at the sight.

He knew he had a sappy grin on his face, and he could not care less as he affectionately bumped shoulders with Nathan. Nathan flashed him a sideways look, eyes dancing as he bumped Kelly back. Kelly loved how Nathan relaxed around him, becoming awkwardly playful even, as if he normally wasn’t or didn’t get a chance to let loose very often. That bothered Kelly deeply on several levels. What had made this sweet man so withdrawn, almost fearful?

The two of them worked side by side, opening bags, setting foam containers on the table, and dishing food onto their plates. Kelly argued good-naturedly with Nathan over the chopsticks before dragging his chair close enough to sit with thighs touching. He counted it as a win when Nathan didn’t flinch or pull away. Instead to Kelly’s happy surprise, Nathan shyly rubbed his knee against Kelly’s before keeping his leg firmly pressed against Kelly’s.

Kelly reached for the carafe, poured, then glanced around the table. “Oops, forgot the sugar for the tea. I’ll get it,” he said as he started to rise.

Nathan placed his hand briefly on Kelly’s arm to stop him. Kelly tried not to fixate on the pleasant burn that spread through his skin at the contact.

Nathan grinned and, to Kelly’s great amusement, pulled sugar and creamers from the expensive suit’s pockets with boyish enthusiasm. Nathan placed the condiments between them with a flourish.

Kelly couldn’t hold in the laugh as he clapped. “Best use for a bespoke suit I’ve ever seen.”

Nathan flushed with pleasure.

Kelly could still feel the heat from Nathan’s hand on his bare skin as he sat back. The sensation of the touch fired his nerve endings. It was going to make eating difficult when all he could focus on was the man beside him.

He slurped a noodle, which effectively reduced Nathan to uncontrolled giggles as the end of the noodle snapped against Kelly’s nose and he looked cross-eyed at it. The giggles were absolutely delightful coming from this smart, sexy, very reserved man.


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