//** Finding out that someone he considered a friend was nothing but a scumbag leaves Gareth just a bit off his game. So it’s Jack’s turn to do the looking after… So very unsafe for work - you’ve been warned! **//
“Not happening.” Jack shook his head. “You hired me to watch your back. I can’t do that when I’m fucking you.” Actually, he could. And when that thought stirred a tendril of hilarity along with a wash of nausea, Jack knew he needed to get out.
Six weeks undercover felt like a lifetime. And there was no end in sight. He focussed on the information he needed to find, the connections he needed to make, but every day it became a little harder to remember how to put one foot in front of the other without tripping himself. He’d known that one day, it might be not just his life on the line. That there’d be other choices he needed to make.
Vassili stepped closer. He was Jack’s height, but built like a swimmer with long, lean muscles. His blond hair fell in disarray over his brow, accentuating his ice blue gaze. Vassili Kiriyenka was easy on the eye, but the look did nothing for Jack.
“What if I offered to fuck you?” Vassili queried, hopeful, as he got right into Jack’s personal space. Jack didn’t move an inch.
“Not happening,” he reiterated. “You hired me to work for you. I never mix business and pleasure. It doesn’t work.”
It wouldn’t work anyway. Jack knew whom he belonged to. He’d known that since he was seventeen but now, when Gareth Flynn was a reality and not just a fantasy he indulged in to comfort himself when he was lonely, Jack craved amber eyes and silver hair. He craved broad shoulders and hard muscle and the safety and peace he only ever found with Gareth.
Jack wanted this job over so he could go home.
“Maybe if I fired you….”
“Give it a rest, Vassili.” Jack stepped out of reach. “I’m not looking for a fuck. And you want that money collected.”
“Actually, you’re right,” the blond switched track as soon as money was mentioned and Jack breathed a sigh of relief. The man might want Jack, but he still wanted money a lot more.
It was beyond late when Jack made it home to the tiny studio that had served as his base for the last weeks. Vassili had his money and hadn’t bothered him again when he delivered it. His rounds had been trouble free and he had even managed to turn up a new name. He looked forward to speaking to Lisa in the morning. A drop of sanity in the crazy train that made up his life right then.
Vassili’s offer had rattled him. Not because of the even finer line he’d be walking from now on, but because it had reminded him of what was missing from his life. Gareth had been on his mind all afternoon, but Jack didn’t acknowledge the hollow ache in his chest or the loneliness that started to weigh him down. He swept his place for bugs, checked that nobody had been there while he was out, then kicked off his shoes and jacket and grabbed a beer from the fridge. As he shut the fridge door he caught sight of the calendar on the wall. It was August 14th. His 30th birthday.
//** For everyone who loves Jack - thank you so much for all your support and encouragement! I’ll do a more cheerful one at the weekend. **//
//** Last one before I head back to work. Thanks for all the comments. I’m grinning! **//
“Favourite fantasy?” Jack twirled the dishcloth as he asked, aiming to sound nonchalant and failing.
“Besides you in a towel?” Gareth made a show of thinking about it. “Halle Berry in heels, maybe.” He shrugged. “My turn. Least favourite position?”
Jack didn’t even have to think about it. “Face down on the bed.”
“Does that mean I can bend you over the dinner table?”
Heat washed through Jack as Gareth’s suggestion effectively short-circuited any and all bad memories. “Yeah,” he said slowly, turning in Gareth’s embrace. “I can get on board with that. What about you?”
Glimpses: It's not a bomb. I'm so.... disappointed?
//** Clearly, Jack’s getting away from me tonight. Or maybe not. **//
As far as Jack was concerned, Gareth could tease all he wanted. It wouldn’t change that the hair stood up on the back of Jack’s neck. Or that a battalion of butterflies played hockey in his guts. Instincts were instincts for a reason. And Jack’s were at DEFCON2.
He pulled the knife from his boot and carefully slid it along the edge of the unlocked boot lid. Nothing caught or snagged, so he angled the blade to go under the lid and walked around the back of the car again. Maybe he should have called the bomb squad, rather than play this by ear. Gareth was standing barely 10 feet behind him and if this all blew up in Jack’s face, he’d be caught in the blast.
Jack’s blade found no obstruction. Nothing that would immediately stop him from lifting that lid. And his instincts didn’t shout bomb at him, anyway. He’d been in that situation and knew what it felt like. This… this felt more like dead body in the trunk.
The lid rose with the lightest touch and Jack snorted at the wave of disappointment that washed through him. Was he really that bored that he felt disappointed nobody had planted a bomb or a dead body in this car?
Finishing a novel is scary. Every time I get that far down the road - and I’m at 4 and counting - I seem to brake to a stop just before the end, leaving myself a final plot hole to resolve, a way out to say I’m still not done.
Maybe I’m scared to succeed, maybe I’m scared to be measured and judged, maybe I’m scared to let my babies out the door. It’s worse this time since I’ve never written m/m romance before, but having been in this place before, I now have a plan.
I’ve found myself a treat. And a glorious treat it is. You see, my main character has a very distinctive tattoo. On his face. And I’m having it designed by a very talented artist as an incentive to type The End on the last page. And because there is no shortage of talented, enthusiastic artists, Jack’s tattoo will end up as a bracelet and earring set as soon as I submit the book to a publisher.
I’m bouncing with excitement. But I think I have reason.
//** Stuck in the middle of writing a training course. Needed a distraction. Sorry, but that’s the only excuse I can offer right now. **//
The scuff of their feet on the gravel echoed in the early morning silence. Keys jangled softly as Gareth closed the front door, locking them in and the world out. Jack’s breath washed out in a long sigh, and relief hit him so hard his knees went weak.
“You wanna share or shall I get the spare bed ready for you?”
Gareth’s voice sounded muffled as he bent to take his shoes off. Jack waited until he straightened, then he reached and hooked a finger through a loop on Gareth’s belt and pulled him closer until their chests almost touched. “You wanted me to spend the weekend so I could check out your spare bedroom?” he teased, head tilted to one side to appreciate Gareth’s expression. “That’s one hell of a pickup line.”
“Jackass,” Gareth snarled, but made no move to get away. He watched Jack closely, brows drawn together in something that looked like concern and maybe a little trepidation. “You need to sleep.”
“So have you started to snore or do you hog the covers?”
“Then I don’t see the problem.” In Jack'smemories, a tired Gareth was invariably a cranky one. He’d never seen the man so adorably unsure. And it really wasn’t as if they’d never shared a bed or floor before, even if it had been almost ten years ago. He smiled widely and then leaned close to speak in Gareth’s ear. “I promise faithfully that I won’t bite. Or try to jump you.”
//** Just because I can sympathise right now. My mouth is on fire, along with my fingers, throat and the air in the kitchen. One entire chilli harvest is on the stove.. and don’t we know it! **//
“I’d forgotten how handy you are in the kitchen.”
“And around a camp fire, brat, don’t forget that.”
“How could I? We used to be the envy of the whole brigade. All we had to do was find food and dinner was taken care of. Nobody else had it that easy!”
Gareth grinned, watching the toast disappear at light speed and wondering if he should make more. “Maybe I should have taught you how to cook it, too. But what’s the benefit of being in charge if I can’t do what I like best?”
“That I can find me a mountain of food, but then still starve to death?”
There was a twinkle in Jack’s eyes now that Gareth was glad to see. “That is a handicap,” he agreed. “And one I need to take responsibility for. Maybe a few cookery lessons are in order.”
“Tried that,” Jack said around a mouthful of hot chocolate. “Our local curry house did a cookery evening, and I went along to learn how to make their lamb phall.” He set the mug on the table and leaned back in the chair. “Let’s just say… it didn’t end well.”
“How so?” The blush on Jack’s face intrigued Gareth enough to keep at it.
“Well…,” Jack picked up the mug and hid his face. “I set the ingredients on fire.”
Gareth was stunned to silence before – predictably – he burst out laughing. “That’s one way to get a hot curry.”
//** Just saw Gareth’s mantra pop up on my dash, which reminds me of the one part of their backstory that I’m avoiding like the plague at the moment. Maybe the quote turned up for a reason… and I do think I’ll be writing tonight. So here’s a snitch to get me in the mood. It’s December 22nd, Jack’s suffering from a bout of insomnia and Gareth finally gets some answers. **//
“Does it still bother you?”
The soft touch woke Gareth from his doze. He lay as he’d fallen asleep, diagonally across the bed, a stack of pillows under his head. The lamp glowed on the bedside table and outside the window, inky blackness proclaimed the lateness of the hour. Jack was stretched out beside him on top of the quilt, head propped on a palm, while his fingertips traced the scar on Gareth’s shoulder.
Jack’s voice was as soft as the touch of his fingers, but his gaze was so intent, Gareth could practically hear thoughts and memories chasing each other in his lover’s head. Despite training, work and lovemaking the deep shadows under Jack’s eyes still spoke more of sleepless nights than physical exhaustion, and Gareth wished the younger man would just share what bothered him. But sharing his troubles had never been Jack’s way.
“It’s been almost ten years, Jack,” he said softly. “Plenty of time to forget about it.”
“December 23rd,” Jack replied, voice a mere breath. “The last day of our tour.”
Understanding lit Gareth’s mind. Not so much at Jack’s words, but at his tone of voice. “December 23rd,” he mused. “Also the day you left the service. Why am I starting to think that was not a coincidence?”
Jack didn’t answer and that in itself was answer enough.
Gareth sighed and sat up. He didn’t know why the idea of a big family Christmas had triggered such an intense bout of soul searching, but he knew he had to do what he could to stop it. Jack walking out on his chosen career and family all those years ago had been a painful blow. Jack walking out on him now would be worse.
Please, don’t let me fuck this up!
The silent prayer was a heartfelt plea and Gareth took a moment to firm his resolve and let it steady him. Then he straightened his spine and drew a deep breath.
“May I ask where you put it?”
“Don’t ‘what’ me, brat. Your letter of resignation.”
Shock turned Jack’s face perfectly white. His mouth opened and closed several times before brain and vocal cords connected into a stuttered “My what?”
“So you’re not planning to walk out on me tomorrow?”
The horrified indignation in Jack’s voice soothed Gareth’s nerves. He reached out and closed a hand around Jack’s bicep, pulling him up so their faces were level. “Then talk to me,” he implored.
Jack’s eucalyptus eyes were fringed with long, dark lashes. He could hide very effectively if he chose, but he didn’t flinch under Gareth’s scrutiny. His gaze was steady, as was his voice.
“I screwed up, and it almost cost you your life. I need to remember that.”
“You also saved my life that day. You need to remember that, too.”
Jack’s lashes swept down, and this time he was hiding. Well, Gareth was having none of that. His hand took a firm grip on the younger man’s chin and forced his head up.
“You’re not hearing me, brat,” he growled. “And you seem to think that the truth is a Mobius band. It’s not. Every truth has two sides. Yes, you screwed up and I got shot. But you also saved my life. Both things are true, whether you like it or not.”
“You’re saying that failure can be redeemed?”
“I’m saying that it’s pointless to fixate on endings and overlook that they’re also new beginnings.”
A deep breath shuddered out of Jack’s throat. His voice, when it came, was whisper soft. “Always?”
Tension bled from Jack’s frame like air from a punctured balloon. And when Gareth stretched out and pulled him close, sleep claimed the younger man in moments. Never mind that Gareth wanted answers and explanations. That he wanted to shake his lover until he explained what the hell was going on. Jack was asleep and Gareth – disinclined to wake the man – could only gnash his teeth and possess himself in patience once more.
Job Hunt (Jack & Gareth Book 1) will be submitted to a publisher (or several, though here’s hoping…)
House Hunt (Jack & Gareth Book 2) draft 2 will be finished and sent off to be beta read.
Wayward (Raf & Skylar / Aidan & Alex) will be outlined and drafted
I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I just make plans. And to keep me on the straight and narrow and moving through the fear barrier, these are the big three for this year. There’ll also be plenty of fanfic but that’s relaxation for the Muse and doesn’t need plans. It just happens.
Many thanks to everyone who cheered me on since I joined tumblr back in May. You’re responsible for almost 100k in unplanned, unexpected fanfic. Despite everything else that happened, this is nothing short of amazing.
You’re also responsible for Jack & Gareth finally being let off the leash. And I can’t thank you enough for helping me get there. It’s been a crazy ride and it will only get better. So let’s have fun, ok?
Glimpses: Jack on... (I'll leave that to your imagination)
//** Hard at work on work stuff… and Jack is determined to surprise me. Keep going, Muse, keep going. I’m sure my to-do-list will still be there later. **//
Gareth felt blissfully boneless after their second shower of the evening, collapsing onto the bed in a graceless heap. He pulled Jack close and buried his face in the damp, spiky hair, ready to let sleep take over. Jack’s fingertips rubbed tiny circles over his pecs and around the small golden hoop in Gareth’s nipple before sliding down to his abs to trace the defined muscles. Despite a long day, a big dinner and a bout of vigorous lovemaking Jack’s body lay tense against Gareth’s and as time passed he grew more and more restless. Jack’s lips skimmed Gareth’s neck, teeth scraped softly over his collarbones and all of a sudden Jack rolled until he was sprawled on top of his lover, hands on his shoulders.
“Too early for bed?” Gareth queried, enjoying the attention but still hovering on the edge of sleep.
Jack didn’t respond with words. He merely leaned down for a kiss so slow and filthy that Gareth’s body started to take notice. Maybe… maybe their night wasn’t quite over yet.
//** For imagineifthisallcamedown: it’s lunchtime and I’m nothing if not obliging. *grins* (it might help to know that Gareth used to be Jack’s CO while they both served.) **//
“Loved the way you came through that window,” Jack murmured as he ran his fingers up Gareth’s bare chest. “You looked damned hot in all that gear.”
“Since when do you get off on uniforms?”
“I don’t. What turns me on is Mr-Don’t-Fight-Angry looking truly evil. Actually,” he raised his head and squinted a little, “you’d have looked even hotter without all that gear. And made a bigger impression.”
Gareth swallowed hard, knowing that the teasing words were Jack’s way of hiding his disappointment. Gareth had doubted, had lost all his vaunted control, had broken protocol. For Jack, who looked too young and too vulnerable with his dark spikes roughly shorn.
“God, I wanna kill the bastards who did this,” Gareth growled and pulled Jack close, holding him as if he never wanted to let go again.
“Too late.” Despite the exhaustion that had left deep shadows around his eyes, despite the purple bruises and cuts, despite the missing hair, Jack sounded more like himself than he had in a long time. That lazy laugh Gareth adored was in his voice and on his face as he hugged back. “I did the honours myself.”
//** First edit of last night’s marathon writing session. Lots of loose ends. And Gareth is not as serene as he would want me to think. (and now I’ll disappear for a while to get Zane out of the mess I landed him in on Sunday)**//
Gareth groaned and dropped his head back onto the pillow. “You’re driving me crazy, you know that? I love you, Jack, and all I wanna do is make sure you’re safe, show you that life can be a little easier, a little more fun. But every time I try you push me away. Or you run.”
“I know,” Jack’s voice was soft and he draped himself over Gareth’s broad frame and pillowed his head on Gareth’s chest. “I’m screwed up that way. Things get too close, I react. Once I’m at a safe distance, I can think.” He slid a hand up to cup Gareth’s cheek. “But by then, it’s often too late.”
“It’s never too late when it’s me. I hope you know that.”
“I do know that,” Jack conceded. “It’s just… how many times can I put you through that and not have you give up on us? How many times can you watch me screw up?”
Gareth swallowed around a lump in his throat and blinked away the burn in his eyes. Jack was entirely too serious. He sounded for all the world as if he was on the verge of walking away. Again. “As many times as it takes, brat,” he said quietly, conviction in his voice. “Provided I hold your leash. And it’s bungee cord.”
//** Teabreak - and the companion to the snitch I wrote last night. We can all see where my mind is headed. (and it’s not furniture or plants.) **//
Jack wrapped his arms around Gareth’s waist and ground himself against his lover’s soapy backside. “Do you have any idea how much I just want to…”
“Why won’t you?”
Jack laughed, a little embarrassed. “‘cause I wanna do you how you like it, on the bed. Still,” he drew back a little and pulled on Gareth’s arms to turn him around. “Doesn’t mean that I can’t do this,” he said as he slowly slid to his knees, while his mouth traced a trail from Gareth’s neck to his groin.
“Jesus, Jack,” Gareth growled as teeth scraped gently and a hard grip dug into his hip. “You’re trying to kill me?”
“You were the one who told me he wasn’t patient,” Jack murmured indistinctly. “Just taking care of that for you.”
//** Ignore me, people, but I need this right now. Jack’s being slippery and Gareth… well… **//
Jack fit right in, though it hadn’t escaped Gareth’s notice that Jack had barely paid attention to the food, or that he clung to his coffee mug as if it was a lifeline. Eight years had made no difference. Gareth just knew that Jack was running on caffeine fumes and attitude, that the tilt of his head - forward and a little to the right - screamed killer headache. And that Jack would start a fight rather than admit those simple facts.
“Hey,” Jack smirked – predictably – as soon as they were alone in the conference room. “You shouldn’t be allowed to wear suits.”
“I’m not the one draped over my desk showing off my ass.”
I’ve never seen you like this,” Raf grumbled as he shrugged into his kevlar vest and tabbed it closed.
Once they had pinpointed Jack’s location, Gareth had stopped listening to reason. “Violence doesn’t solve problems, you know,” Raf tried one last time to stop the man from simply storming the building.
“It does if you use enough of it.
Working on a lot of Gareth right now and the man is coming up with a few unexpected insights. I certainly wouldn’t recommend taking Jack hostage.
//** Aviva, you’re killing me! But I’ve almost done it. Hope the migraine’s gone.**//
“Dammit, Gareth! For the last time, my eyes are green. They’ve always been green. The way you look at them doesn’t change that.”
“Yes, it does,” Gareth disagreed. “Because they’re not just green. They’re this strange colour somewhere between green and silver.”
“I know,” Gareth said with the enlightenment of the well and truly drunk. “They’re eucalyptus. Like this shirt you have.”
Jack wished again that he’d woken sooner and confiscated that bottle of Glenfiddich before Aidan and Gareth had made such a huge dent in the content. “Gareth. Eucalyptus is a smell, not a colour. And my shirts don’t smell.”
The damn man giggled at that pronouncement, and Jack was getting ready to drown him in his own hot tub. “Eucalyptus is a tree. And koalas like it.”
“Right.” Jack knew better than to encourage Gareth when he was drunk, but he couldn’t help himself. “And how do koalas relate to my shirts? Or my eye colour for that matter?”
“You remind me of a koala. My very own baby koala,” Gareth replied as if that were the most obvious thing in the world. He wrapped an arm around Jack’s shoulders while his other hand pulled on Jack’s spiky hair. “They have these bits of hair sticking up all over, just like this…” Gareth continued his explanation. “And they eat eucalyptus and…”
“I give up,” Jack groaned. He slipped out of his lover’s hold and down to the bottom of the tub until the water closed over his head and the whoosh of the jets was the only sound around him. He supposed that there were worse things than hearing yourself apostrophised as a baby koala, but suggesting a soak in the hot tub so Gareth could sober up had still been a thoroughly bad idea.
//** The companion piece to Birthday Surprise. Ever since writing Gareth’s birthday fic last night, the Muse has been busy looking at Jack’s side of the story. So here it is. And I’ll see you all at dinner time. Gotta go do some work! **//
Jack tossed the trilby into the first bin he passed. He shrugged out of his black jacket while he walked and turned it inside out before sliding his arms back into the sleeves and folding the black stand up collar inside. Now the jacket was gunmetal grey and complemented his dark jeans and pale grey tee. Gareth had laughed his ass off when he’d first seen Jack’s collection of reversible coats and jackets, calling it proof that Jack had truly turned into a spook.
But that was bullshit, of course. Reversible jackets had all sorts of uses, and Jack didn’t just wear them when he was working. Not that Gareth had believed a word of his protestations. He’d called him spook all weekend.
Gareth. The man had felt good in his arms in the brief moment Jack had held him. Warm and alive. And Jack was grateful that - for once - he’d given in to an impulse, however dangerous or insane. He felt more grounded than he had in weeks. And Gareth was still entirely too predictable.
Jack ducked into the nearest coffee shop and ordered a large black arabica to go. And just before he stepped back into the persona of the taciturn enforcer with a short fuse for bullshit, he raised his cup in a quirky salute: Happy birthday, Gareth.
//** Because I just realised that it’s Gareth’s birthday today. And Jack’s undercover.**//
If his mother hadn’t called before he was even out of bed, Gareth would have forgotten his own birthday. He usually enjoyed a good party, and even took the resulting hangover in stride, but this time around he would have preferred to ignore the date. Jack had been gone for almost a month, and apart from three phone calls from Lisa assuring him that the brat was alive, he hadn’t heard a word.
He had agreed to Jack’s undercover gig. Actually, he’d encouraged Jack to accept the assignment in the hope that helping to shut down south England’s largest trafficking ring would help Jack settle. He just hadn’t banked on the hole Jack’s absence would leave in his days. And his nights.
Gareth slowed the Triumph outside his favourite bakery. He felt in need of comfort and the exquisite pastries were just the right thing for that. He climbed off the bike - and collided with a man walking close to the edge of the pavement. Strong arms circled his shoulders for a moment and a warm palm briefly touched his neck, just under the edge of the helmet…. then the man slipped into the stream of pedestrians with a mumbled apology and was swiftly gone from sight.
Gareth remained where he was, blind to the traffic, blind to the people surrounding him, his whole focus on trying to see the man who had accosted him in the melee of bodies rushing this way and that. The sudden touch had been unexpectedly familiar. Almost as if the stranger had been… Jack.