Zombie [Minders, Book 2]
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by Joely Skye
Category: Romance/Gay Fiction
Description: Dreams of escape become his worst nightmare? Minders, Book 2 Two years after Josh McKay captured escaped Minder Kiran Brunner, Josh's life is in ruins. Desire had a hand in letting the beautiful monster sink psychic hooks into his will, and now he is essentially a prisoner of the agency, his every move watched for any hint of a connection that could lead to Kir. Unable to stand by and let an amoral Minder destroy his lover, Kir extracts Josh from the agency's compound and sweeps him away to a secluded cabin to heal. It's just the two of them, Kir and Josh. Both wounded at the hands of the agency, both struggling to find the will to trust each other through the agency-induced barrier of hatred and fear. Kir has all the patience in the world. What he doesn't have is time. Whatever love they have rebuilt may be too fragile to withstand the future they face? This book was previously published by Samhain Publishing. Warning: This emotional, angst-ridden story is part two of a three-part story and ends in a cliffhanger. The author recommends they be read in order for maximum m/m enjoyment.
eBook Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd., 2012 2012
eBookwise Release Date: June 2012
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [101 KB]
Reading time: 58-82 min.
Josh Mackay had an escape plan. It would take time, patience and technical know-how, but he had those ingredients. He just needed to create opportunity.
Not that he was a prisoner, oh no. The agency even had a job for him. Though he could never work in the field again--Horton worried about his ability to withstand stress. Josh had swallowed that line at the very beginning, but he'd long been aware the agency simply didn't intend to lose the one man who'd survived his time with a Minder. They still asked him questions about Kir, though the long sessions with the psych had finally ended.
Josh rubbed his temples. The headaches were apparently a consequence of his time as a zombie. A fact he should have believed and didn't quite, because his headaches were weather related and had been since he was a teen. Today was overcast and the barometer ran against him.
This reasoning, he'd been told, was denial. Or the power of suggestion. The Minder's power was large and all-encompassing, and if Josh sometimes remembered Kiran Brunner as vulnerable, he no longer shared that opinion with anyone in the agency. They gave him pitying looks when he suggested Kir wasn't pure malevolence.
Josh sighed. It had been two years since he'd been abducted by Kir. If he'd ever been grateful to escape with his mind intact, that gratitude had been chipped away by the agency that had taken control of his life by imprisoning him in this compound.
Oh, they gave him a home--his little box of a house furnished by someone else--and he'd become quite good at keeping the compound's computer hardware up and running. But the lack of choice sometimes grabbed him by the throat and shook him with frustration.
Plotting his escape kept him sane and gave him a future. He wasn't in a rush. He had to do it right or he'd end up back here, under stricter surveillance. Taking on a new identity was a tricky business.
He would miss his half-brother, though they rarely chatted. The agency didn't want a hotshot young lawyer nosing into agency affairs. Josh's mother was dead. His father was not interested in the son from his first family. His friends didn't know where he was.
The agency thought he blamed Kir, the Minder who'd made Josh his tool. Under Kir's influence, Josh had sliced open a man's throat and run from the law. He'd also fucked Kir. That it didn't feel like sexual abuse, then or later, just made it all the more twisted. Or so the psych had said.
Josh pulled out some aspirin and popped them in his mouth. Aspirin, the cure-all for psychic pain. Or pressure headaches.
Someone knocked at the door.
"Yep," called Josh, expecting Horton who visited Josh twice a week. Duty--Horton had recruited Josh for the Kir job--made the visits dull. But Josh didn't entirely discourage them. He was isolated and needed some kind of socialization.
He looked up and was startled by the appearance of someone new. But not quite new. The shock of recognition was a physical reaction that left him breathless as the man's blue eyes pinned him to his chair. Move before he speaks, his brain screamed, and Josh wrenched away from that gaze, twisting as he reached for the emergency button.
The man said, "Don't touch that."
Josh hesitated and stared at the black circle that would summon help. His fingers were inches away from the smooth plastic. No rash decisions. If he made a fool of himself, the agency would watch him even more carefully and he'd never escape.
"Why don't you look at me," the man suggested.
Josh obeyed, turning his chair to stare up into the large blue eyes of...Brad. One of three Minders Josh had met in his life. An acquaintance of Kir's.
"I'm no threat to anyone here," Brad assured him. "Relax."
Josh shook in the chair, his body straining, but to do what he wasn't sure. Brad was a large guy and strong, his expression friendly and patient. A memory flashed, of Brad caressing Kir's face and Kir enduring it. Josh shuddered as he tried to be calm. The agency didn't like emotions.
"We've never met before today," Brad said.
Josh felt his eyes widen and he really looked at the man this time. The stranger reminded Josh of someone, but wasn't that often the case?
The man walked over. "I'm new here. Brad Carlisle."
Josh rose and gripped the proffered hand, trying not to be repulsed by someone who was pleasant faced, well dressed and polite. "Josh Mackay."
"I've heard a lot about you." Brad didn't release his hand.
"You're quite the survivor."
"Thank you." To his amazement, Josh blushed, and he didn't know where the emotion came from because he sure wasn't attracted to this guy. Even if his heart was racing.
Brad placed a large palm against the back of Josh's clasped hand. He stood there, rooted to the ground, unable to move, his one hand caught between Brad's two. Josh was embarrassed.
Brad couldn't help but notice. He smiled. "Settle down. I know what you're feeling."
As if hypnotized, Josh stared into those eyes. The blue was like crystal when Brad concentrated.
"Lust." Brad identified Josh's reaction. "It's taken you by surprise. You've never been this strongly attracted to anyone."
Josh's throat went dry, his head roared and he couldn't think straight.
Brad released him. No longer smiling, his gaze was intense. Josh couldn't stop staring. His chest hurt.
To Josh's relief, Brad stepped back. "Well, I'm sure I'll see you around."
Josh jammed his damp hands in his back pockets and nodded. "I hope so," he said fervently and blushed again.
"You're cute." With a disarming grin, Brad left the office.
Josh slowly shut the door. Air whooshed out of him while he bent over, hands on knees, breathing hard, as if he'd run ten miles on a full stomach. He was so nauseated he might vomit. Instead, he gulped air until the nausea subsided. Shakily, he sat back down in the chair and stared at the tiny camera in the corner of his office, the one that monitored him constantly. Right now he hated it. He'd felt an overwhelming attraction to a perfect stranger. The intensity was unprecedented. To his shame, his strong reaction was caught on video.
He would figure out how to get Brad alone, off-video. Brad had been interested. Now thirty, Josh hadn't been cute for years but he was willing to be anything for Brad.
Brad. The name echoed in Josh's head and all he could think of was Brad Carlisle.
A while later, Josh looked at the clock, appalled to find he had done nothing but stare into space for almost an hour. He scrubbed his face, panicky, because self-discipline and concentration were vital if he was to escape this compound.
There's no rush. Josh wanted to get to know this new guy. He'd fantasized about Brad for that lost hour, though now Josh couldn't quite pin down a specific thought. His mind had been a cloud of lust.
He hadn't crushed on anyone for a very long while and never so quickly. Well, captivity had done nothing for his sex drive, and there just wasn't much opportunity to meet anyone.
Brad would change that. Josh was so excited by the idea, he felt ill. God, he had to get a grip on himself because he was shaky again.
Okay, time to go home. Go for that short walk down the road to his little house in the compound. There were other houses, but people didn't live here unless they were imprisoned like him.
And no one was like him.
Maybe Brad would visit. Josh looked forward to it.
* * * *
Josh didn't sleep well, perhaps because he forgot to eat, perhaps because his headache started again and this time hurt like hell. At three in the morning he lay down and closed his eyes--after he'd spent the last hour doing something he'd sworn he wouldn't do again.
He'd sent a message to Kir.
Short as always, though the why of it, now that the message was gone, was difficult to comprehend.
By morning, the agency would be delighted. After all, they hunted Kir, in life and on the internet. But Josh's communications with Kir had not given the agency what they wanted--Kir himself. Instead, beneath what the agency observed, he and Kir had set up a secret correspondence by embedding messages into pictures. It proved Josh had some autonomy and he needed that proof. The leash they kept him on was choking him. He dreamed of suffocation and closed places, and it didn't take a psych to guess why.
In the morning he woke to banging. Someone was at his door. Exhausted, he stumbled out of bed and pulled on his jeans.
"Yeah," he called from the living room. Not that they couldn't have entered without permission. But they maintained the illusion of politeness.
Horton walked in with his sidekick, Daniel.
"Sorry to barge in." Horton was bursting with energy. "Kiran Brunner emailed you last night."
Kir always responded to his embedded messages. This visit had been inevitable.
"Another picture?" Josh tried to show only the slightest interest.
"A photo of himself."
Josh blinked, surprised. Kir usually sent scenery shots, nothing personal.
"That's a personal touch," explained Daniel, in case Josh didn't understand the difference between scenery and Kir.
"See. I told you to keep those photos going out." Horton clapped Josh on the back.
You haven't a clue. But Horton thought his advice to Josh about Kir was invaluable.
"I wonder what prompted him to respond to you last night?"
Josh shrugged, though he knew the answer. Kir only answered when Josh mailed under the agency's radar.
"You'll have to write him back," said Horton. "Try to engage him in a conversation."
"He hasn't written me a word in two years. That's not going to change now. He just likes pictures." In the beginning, Josh had felt guilty for not revealing Kir's words to Horton, when Josh had still thought Horton had Josh's interests in mind. That guilt was long gone. Horton had one goal--to capture Minders--and while he might regret that Josh's freedom had been sacrificed on that altar, he would never let Josh go.
"He hasn't sent you his own photo in two years, either," Daniel pointed out.
"Uh-huh." Josh scrubbed his face. "Do you think I can have breakfast first, while you guys analyze the picture inside and out?"
"May I?" asked Daniel. He pointed to Josh's computer.
"Be my guest." As if he had a choice.
While Josh scavenged for breakfast, Daniel searched Josh's private computer for any and all hints of things Kir. Josh could be grateful Daniel was not as clever as he thought he was. The program Josh had written last night to embed his message in the photo had long since erased itself and its tracks.
"So Josh." Horton's overly casual tone indicated he was going to say something he thought important. "You were up late last night."
"Couldn't sleep," said Josh. "Headache."
"Ah. Any better today?" Horton's real concern just made Josh feel more crazy.
"Probably. We'll see how the day progresses."
Josh made coffee for everyone, and Daniel spent an hour at his computer, finding photos, but no messages to or from Kir. Josh wanted to wait until he was alone, but they insisted he come see the picture while they looked on.
He walked over, bracing himself, and there was Kir with his dark eyes, sensitive mouth, wild hair. Still beautiful. A little older perhaps, but with the same sullen expression, as if he didn't like his picture being taken. The photo hurt. Josh had spent too many hours thinking about Kir, his beauty and his betrayal.
"It's a bit of a shock for you." Horton's sympathy set Josh's nerves on edge. "Seeing him again."
It should have been love, thought Josh sardonically, except Kir had been Josh's Minder and Josh his zombie.
"What should I write back?" Josh shouldn't have mailed Kir last night.
"Psych will let you know shortly."
They stood now, ready to leave.
"I'll come to work after psych calls," said Josh. Psych. Three psychologists and Josh loathed them all.
"If you're not feeling well, you can call in sick," Horton suggested.
Josh snorted. "I'm fine. It's too dull to stay in this house all day."
Horton slapped Daniel on the shoulder. "Let's go. Thank you, Josh." Horton's sad eyes looked up at Josh, and Josh gazed back until Horton turned away. Don't give me your useless pity.
After they left, he pulled up a chair to his computer to stare at Kir. Then Josh created his program and ran the photo through for Kir's message.
Who would have known that he and Kir had even more in common than their lovely Minder-zombie bond? That they could both program obfuscated C?
Josh still couldn't fathom why he'd written Kir last night.
I've met someone. I've never felt like this before.
Kir's answer was short, almost useless.
Who? Tell me more.
Josh rid his computer of the message, his program and any traces of either.
Was it possible for Kir's psi powers to reach out from the computer and poink Josh on the head? He was pretty sure such capability was nonexistent. What he didn't understand was why he wanted to connect with Kir after six months of silence.
Brad. Josh shivered. Somehow he associated Kir with Brad, perhaps because the last man he'd had any feelings for--even if they weren't his own emotions--was Kir.
Psych phoned up. Josh obediently wrote and thanked Kir for his photo, adding that he looked sexy. Psych was stupid. Nothing would put off Kir more, whatever their fucking profile said.
But later that day, Kir sent another photo, this one of an island.
Never mind me. Is he sexy? Describe him. What's his name?
The questions sent Josh into a spiral of thoughtless lust and he got little done apart from another obligatory message from psych to Kir. Some tripe about loneliness. Josh wished he'd never written Kir. The fallout was too aggravating, as he'd known it would be. Next time he had insomnia, he'd be sensible. Last night, sense and thought had been decidedly absent. He needed more sleep. Or a friend.
He traipsed over to his office, hoping a change of scenery would help his state of mind.
Just before supper, Brad dropped by. The sight of the man shocked Josh. His heart clenched painfully. His face flushed bright red and he stumbled to his feet. My God, this was worse than bad, it was humiliating. Gauche. Josh needed to get a grip. His smile was sickly.
Brad watched it all good-naturedly. They shook hands again, Brad invited him to come back to his place, and Josh shut down his computer, trying to ignore the noise in his head, hoping Brad didn't notice what an idiot he was.
"Long day?" asked Brad.
Josh figured he looked tired. "Not really. I didn't sleep well last night."
"No?" Brad's gaze sharpened, and as they exited the building, he added, "Well, I better go easy on you then."
Josh glanced across, unsure of Brad's meaning. He wished he knew what to say. At one point in his life he'd been an accomplished flirt.
It began to drizzle and Josh pulled up his hood. In silence they walked to Brad's temporary new home. He was here for some kind of intensive training program. Something Brad couldn't talk about.
When they reached the house and Brad opened the front door, Josh stopped, reluctant to enter. Brad applied pressure to Josh's back and Josh's legs took him inside.
"Hey, it looks a lot like my place. What a surprise," Josh joked, trying to ease the tension shooting through his nerves, making his limbs feel like lead. "I think of the buildings here as replicates."
Brad didn't respond to the stupid observation. Instead, he threw his jacket at Josh. "Hang it up."
Josh stared for a moment and Brad watched him, as if looking for a reaction. But Josh didn't mind hanging up jackets. He found two hangers in the closet and used them. By then, Brad was sitting on the couch, picking up the remote.
"You look like a helpful fellow," Brad told him. "You'd like to get stuff for me."
"Sure." Josh didn't understand why his chest felt so tight.
"Could you throw a frozen pizza in the oven and bring me a beer?"
"Absolutely." Josh found five pizza boxes in the freezer, all the same--Brad must like pepperoni pizza--and he unwrapped one and set it in the oven, put the timer on. He pulled a beer out of the fridge, opened it for Brad and took it to him.
"Hey," said Brad. "You can have a beer yourself."
"No, thanks. I don't drink."
"Yeah?" Then Brad lost interest and went back to watching football. Josh stood, unsure what to do, feeling foolish but not able to sit down. He ended up looking at his feet while Brad ignored him. His mind tripped around in a dizzying fashion until, eventually, the oven bell dinged. Josh served the pizza, brought Brad another beer, and they ate.
Josh found his appetite was poor, though he tried to swallow his slice of pizza.
Brad turned down the volume. "Everything okay?"
"Yes. Fine. Thanks." Josh didn't know what was wrong with him--why his hands shook and his body trembled.
Brad observed it all. "You enjoy spending time with me."
Josh nodded. It was true. He'd been alone for too long. That was why he reached out to Kir at odd moments.
"But maybe that's enough for tonight," Brad continued. "Don't want to move too quickly."
"Adjusting to a new relationship and all," Brad explained. "Come here and give me a goodbye kiss."
Josh swallowed. Kissing made him nervous, but excited. That's where the trembling came from. And Brad wasn't rushing him. Brad waited on the couch until Josh's legs took him over and he settled near Brad, not quite touching. Still, Brad didn't move, as if he knew Josh was skittish.
"Some tongue," Brad drawled and Josh stopped thinking. He leaned over and kissed Brad's open mouth, tasting beer and pizza. It was a clumsy kiss that became unpleasant when Brad took control, but Josh found he couldn't pull away. He just endured.
After a time, Brad broke the kiss and smiled, as if pleased with Josh. Twice, he playfully slapped Josh's face so his cheeks stung. Then Brad's hands encircled Josh's neck.
"You're shaking, Josh. Why?"
Josh couldn't think why. He licked his lips and wished Brad didn't understand how uncomfortable and nervous he was. "I don't know," he admitted, ashamed.
"It's new," suggested Brad. "You've been alone too long. You have to get used to the idea of us."
Josh nodded while Brad's thumbs pressed into Josh's throat, so it was hard to swallow. He had the uncomfortable thought that Brad could break his neck.
Under the powerful hands, Josh stayed still. Brad had an erection, making Josh uneasy. He didn't feel ready. In fact, he felt like a caged animal.
Disgruntled, Brad dropped his hands. "I'll let you go."
Josh scrambled off the couch, almost falling backwards.
"You'll come back tomorrow for supper."
"Sure." Josh was already reaching for his jacket.
"You don't have to worry about cameras at my place. They don't watch me. You're happy to spend time here, where you're not under constant surveillance."
It was so true. Josh detested those cameras. "Okay. Yeah. That sounds great." He winced. He sounded so banal. So young.
"Goodbye." Brad turned the volume back up.
Josh let himself out into the cool evening and walked home, glad the cold rain ran down his hot face.