Harrowed by Irene Preston


Chapter One

I shouldn’t be allowed to work in an office. Shaking his head at yet another (un)pleasant encounter with the (un)charming front receptionist, Noel hung up his phone and closed his laptop. With the exception of Porter Bergeron and maybe one or two others, there wasn’t a soul in the place he would want to survive the apocalypse.

On the other hand, insurance hours were a helluva lot more predictable than his job with the LAPD had been. He still hadn’t gotten used to walking out on Friday afternoon, secure in the knowledge they couldn’t get at him until Monday.

Even so, he didn’t let the door hit him on the way out.

One frustrating rush-hour drive across town later, he eased his Lexus into a spot in the alley. When he first talked about moving to New Orleans, his mother insisted on calling a friend, which was how he ended up with half of a double gallery duplex in the Uptown district. Because yes, I’m a spoiled trust fund baby. It was more house than he needed, but the bar down the block had a chair with his name on it, ergo he didn’t complain.

Tonight, though, he denied himself the pleasure of a visit, choosing to make his own after-work cocktail. He had plans; maybe not a date, but close enough.

He and Adam had been together some two months, long enough for a walk outside to feel like taking a cool bath to taking a slightly warmer bath. Long enough for Adam to be running out of excuses to keep Haunts and Hoaxes paying the rent for his Garden District apartment.

Long enough to surprise Noel that they were still fucking like dogs. Must be some truth to the old opposites attract thing.

Gin and tonic in hand, Noel settled into a chair. Netflix carried four seasons of Haunts and Hoaxes. Sixteen episodes a season. Noel knew this because he’d watched them all. Adam Morales didn’t appear in every episode…but the ones he did, Noel watched twice.

Not that he’d admit it. Ever.

The episode ended, but rather than watch another, he switched to Drag Race. Adam had spent the week up in Natchitoches where the crew was doing a show on the Magnolia Plantation, and he was due in any time. Better he think Noel was getting his Blair St. Clair fix than know he was parsing another of Adam’s forays into the supernatural.

A shiver chased down the back of Noel’s neck. Yeah, he’d lived through enough unexplained phenomena on his own time.

His chair was strategically close to the open front window, and not just to catch the occasional errant breeze. Smart money would have kept the window closed, but the AC’s refrigerated air didn’t smell like magnolias. A car stopped, and he glanced up in time to see Adam climb out of his VW Bug. At almost six feet of dark-haired Cuban brawn, Adam looked tired and rumpled and hot as shit.

“You’re late,” Noel called through the conveniently open window.

Adam snorted, hoisting his bag on his shoulder. “I came straight here.”

That made Noel smile. He has it as bad as me. Striding up the front walk, Adam’s tweed jacket—because yeah, he took his professorial image seriously—flopped open to show a white button-down and a single gold chain. Jeans and biker boots finished his “academic with an edge” persona, and while Noel liked the wardrobe, his priority was getting Adam undressed.

Noel met him at the door with a beer.

“You’re a bitch,” Adam said, raising the bottle in toast. They had an ongoing debate about whether Noel was trying to make him fat.

Noel rubbed up against his hard, not-fat body. “You’ve been in the car for what? Five hours? It’s not like I’m going to pour you a Diet Coke.”

“Truth.” Adam wrapped his free arm around Noel’s waist, and they walked into the front room. “Closer to six hours, really. Between an accident in Alexandria and the overturned truck outside Opelousas, I got to sit in rush-hour traffic pretty much solid from Baton Rouge to here.”

“Jesus.” Noel led him to the couch. The remains of his gin and tonic made a puddle on the coffee table, and the ceiling fan clicked and whirled, doing its best to keep the heavy air moving. “You hungry?”

Adam took a solid swallow of beer, his gaze sliding in Noel’s direction. “In a manner of speaking.”

Oh hell yes.Noel reached up and tugged at his jacket collar. Adam shifted and Noel pulled the tweed off his shoulders. Leaning into the couch, Adam chuckled when Noel went to work on his shirt buttons. From the flat screen, RuPaul told the girls not to fuck it up, and then went silent.

While Noel had been busy with the buttons, Adam had grabbed the remote and shut off the TV. “You can watch it later.”

Noel barely bothered to respond, too busy tugging shirttails out of his pants. Black curls peeked out of the neckline of Adam’s white undershirt. Crawling up into his lap, Noel lifted the beer bottle and reached around to set it next to the glass on the coffee table.

“Now wait a minute.” Adam wrapped his hands around Noel’s wrists, and just that little bit of control sent a zing to his cock. “Before we get too distracted, I want to talk to you about something.”

Noel gave him a raised-eyebrow glare.

“Don’t—” Adam said.

Noel cut him off with a kiss. It took a couple of beats, but Adam’s lips softened, and he kissed Noel back. Adam still held his wrists, and he rocked his hips against the bulge in Adam’s jeans.

Adam pulled away, dropping Noel’s wrists to grasp his hips, and Noel folded against him. “Save it.” His lover smelled good, spicy and a little sweaty, like he’d had a shower but then spent hours in a car. Noel licked a stripe across his throat. “We can talk later.”

Adam tipped his head against the couch. “You dog.”

“Mmhmm.” Noel grinned and kept licking. I win. His dick was hard, and Adam’s was getting there. Adam pulled him closer, and, turned on by the gesture, Noel ground down onto him. From the very beginning, Adam’s strength had drawn Noel in, until now he was like a drug Noel couldn’t go without. “You were gone”—Noel nipped the bristled skin under his jaw—“too long.”

Adam grunted, fingertips digging into Noel’s back. “This is going to bug me.”

“What?” Noel blew in Adam’s ear until he shivered and rolled his hips. “Your mouth is saying one thing, but your body’s got something else going on.” Smirking at his own joke, Noel nibbled his way down Adam’s neck, shutting down a quiver of anxiety. Whatever he wanted to talk about could wait. Right?

Noel latched onto one of Adam’s nipples through the thin cotton of his tee, working up some spit to make the fabric wet. Adam held his hips down, and Noel thrust against him, gripping his shoulders to gain traction.

Until Adam went still.

“Noel.” His voice had a growl in it. “I want to tell you something, and I can’t relax, or won’t relax, or whatever, until I do.”

Sighing, Noel cupped Adam’s face in his hands. “My dude”—he couldn’t stop a few baby thrusts—“your timing is shitty.”

“Just…” Again, Adam grasped his wrists, which pretty much guaranteed Noel would do whatever he wanted. “Hang on.”

Noel slid off his lap and flopped beside him. “Fine. Get to the point.”

“So”—Adam pressed a kiss to Noel’s temple—“last night, right before we knocked off, a thing happened.”

Shit.Noel bumped his head against the back of the couch. “Hey, Buzz Killington, a thing’s happening right now, or it was.”

“I know, chulo, but just let me get this out.” He patted Noel’s softening cock. “You know how the crew sets up all their fancy recording equipment?”

Noel shrugged, aiming for halfway between yes, I know and do we really need to do this now?

“We were filming in one of the outbuildings. It was pitch-fucking-dark, and Jim and Brittany were doing their whispered schtick, when the recorders picked up something…”

His shiver scared Noel more than anything he’d said.

“Something I couldn’t honestly explain. It was like, a sound? But not one of the usual static surges the team gets all excited about. This…” He worried his lower lip with his teeth. “This shut them right up.”

All that lovely heat in Noel’s belly turned to dread. “Damn.”

“Yeah.” Adam rubbed his thigh. “So I’m wondering if you’d go back there with me.”

Dread turned to stone in the pit of Noel’s belly. “Why?”

“Because.” Adam shifted restlessly. “Don’t you want to know?”

Noel flashed back to waking up on the cemetery path, his eyes watering like he’d never seen the sun before. “You’re crazy.” Reaching for his glass, Noel downed the rest of the melted ice, wishing it was straight gin.

“Yeah, I might be.” Adam’s fingers dug into Noel’s quadriceps. “If I’m not now, I’ll get there if I don’t figure this out.”

Blinking up into the ceiling fan, Noel thought about sending him on his way. He was asking a lot, maybe too much.

Adam shivered again.

“Fuck, all right. When do you want to do this?”