“There it is,” Sonny said, pointing with his chin as was his habit.
Luki followed his husband’s eyes, keeping a firm grip on his arm. Some strange anomaly had found them driving west on I-90 toward Ohio and in the blink of an eye plunked them down in a future Yellowknife, in the Yukon, in a post-apocalyptic world populated by demons, bureaucrats, and the Rugers—Todd and Nick from Elizabeth Noble’s Sentries books. He wasn’t about to lose Sonny like they’d lost the Mustang. The possibility had made him hella nervous for the first day in the Yukon, until finally he’d hit on the solution of making sure Sonny and he were in constant physical contact. Completely constant, which had led to some… um, interesting and… um, not all unpleasant moments. But mostly just awkward.
Todd and Nick had some fictional event to get back to involving “hunters” or a “kelbit,” or maybe both, so they’d dropped Sonny and Luki as near the edge—edge of what Luki didn’t know—as they could, given them supplies, and wished them luck. A few hours later they’d stumbled into this foggy… foggy who-the-hell-knows-what… and the horses Todd had loaned them refused to go a step further. So he and Sonny had shouldered some supplies and moved forward. They hoped.
At last, it seemed to have paid off, because through wisps of thick, almost creamy fog, they could see Sonny’s yellow Mustang flashing as if in an isolated god-ray.
Sonny could see the mustang, shining as if it had never seen a mile on a dusty highway. Just steps away. He’d been trying to keep his emotions capped ever since the… thing happened, but he’d lost it completely a little while ago when they’d discovered they’d lost Lou Sylvre. She’d been with them on the way to Ohio, and was with them in the Sentries world, and Sonny couldn’t even pinpoint when she’d ceased being there. Luki apparently hadn’t noticed either.
He’d started to cry when he realized she was gone—God he hated that, sometimes, how he was always ready to bawl like a baby. And at first he hadn’t noticed that Luki’s eyes were pretty moist, too, and he’d accused him of not caring, of never liking Lou anyway, of being glad to be rid of her.
“Don’t be ridiculous, baby,” Luki said, blinking repeatedly. “Of course I like her. She’s the one that always makes me say mean things to her! But, then, she also lets me love you, and sets us up pretty good. Thing is, I don’t think she was in control when that anomaly hit. And if she was in control now, she would have already written a fix for this… big mess.” He kissed Sonny’s mouth, wiped his tears, and then took his hand and tugged. “C’mon, sweetie. We’ve got to find our own way this time. Let’s set our sights on finding our world, our author, and our car. ‘Kay?”
Sonny giggled, feeling a little silly for his breakdown. “’Kay, he said, “but if those were supposed to be listed in order of importance, the car comes first, not last.”
Luki pulled him in close and when he chuckled, Sonny felt it vibrate deep down. “Sorry,” Luki said. “I don’t know how I could get confused about that.” He started walking, and though Sonny had no idea how he’d chosen his direction, Sonny followed until, suddenly, he’d seen the Mustang winking at them through the fog.
Sonny said, “Honey, my heart’s beating a mile a minute. This is scaring the hell out of me, for some reason.”
Luki said, “I know, baby. You and me both. But we’ve got to do this.”
Together they’d approached Sonny’s prize Mustang, his baby, and when they got within a stride, he’d reached out and touched her. As he did, he heard Luki say “Fuck!” But it was as if from a distance even though he could still feel their clenched hands. And Sonny nearly despaired, because the world spun and went black around him, completely black.
When it cleared, though, his hand was still in Luki’s, and his other hand was still on the Mustang, and four eighteen-wheelers zoomed past in short order, a blast of wind rocking the ‘Stang after each. “This is I-90,” Sonny ventured, feeling tentative.
“Yeah,” Luki said, his voice on the low end of his gruff scale. “But eastbound.”
Sonny looked around, inching toward the passenger door, saw a distance sign up ahead for Boston—long miles ahead, but still, Luki was right. Eastbound. He opened the passenger door, pulled Luki behind him. Unwilling to let go of his husband long enough to walk around to the driver’s side, he got in the car and awkwardly managed to get all his limbs in the right place as he sat in the driver seat.
What a wonderful place to be.
The key was still in the ignition, all their stuff still in the back seat. Their coffees in the holders still hot. He could hear the engine’s “horses” cooling down with clicks and quiet groans under the hood.
“It’s been two days,” Luki said, stating the obvious, “and the coffee’s still hot?”
“Luki, I know you’re a detective and all, but let’s not even try to get to the bottom of this. Let’s just drive.” He turned the key.
Not even a click.
“Battery—maybe whatever that… event was, it caused a power surge and sucked the battery down.” Luki chewed his lip. “I have a charger. I wonder if it’s dead, too? Maybe not since it wasn’t hooked into anything.” Before thought about what he was doing he grabbed his keys, opened the door, and got out.
He gasped. “Damn! Luki, I let go!”
“I know, sweetie. Calm down, it’s apparently okay. We’re both still here. You want me to help you.”
After some slowing breaths, Sonny answered. “No. No, this is easy.”
He got the charger from the trunk, opened the hood and made all the connections, and gave it a few minutes. The gages on the charger looked right—there should be power. He sat sideways in the driver’s seat and tried the key, feeling immense gratification when he heard it crank. He let go, turned so he could put his foot on the accelerator and feed a little gas into the carburetor, and turned the key once more. The engine did turn over—Sonny would forever swear it. But the flash and roar that accompanied the sound was worse than anything he could have imagined. Just before the world shook itself out of his sight, he felt Luki grab his arm. And after his vision cleared, Luki had both arms around him in what he might have called a death grip if he didn’t know Luki loved him.
“I’m really tired, baby,” Luki said after a minute, relaxing his grip and sitting back. “And hungry. And I was just going to take a huge gulp of my coffee.”
Sonny said. “We’re on a log.”
“On a beach,” Luki specified.
“Looks to be about sunset.”
“There’s a building over that way. Museum?”
“Any idea where.”
“No. This isn’t Kansas, though, Toto.”
"Are you sure it's this way?" Ben Leyton took his eyes off the road for just a moment to glance at his partner.
"Yes, I'm sure." Simon Hawthorne peered through the window of the car Ben was driving, which was borrowed from their author, Anne Barwell. "That haze I saw wasn't caused by anything natural." He'd seen enough of what Ben termed 'weird shit' over the past hundred years to know the difference. "There! Pull over." Simon pulled off his dark glasses so he could see better. The sun was setting and there wasn't as much of a glare as there had been. While sunlight didn't bother him, his eyes were sensitive to light, especially here in New Zealand with its lack of ozone layer.
Ben pulled off the road onto the parking spaces by the sea wall which ran the perimeter of the foreshore and turned off the engine. "I still don't see any haze," he said, "but then I don't have any of your cool super vampire senses."
Simon chose to ignore that comment. Instead he wound down the window and listened. "I can hear voices." He opened the car door. "I'd say stay in the car but I'd be wasting my time, wouldn't I?"
"Yeah, you would." Ben grinned and followed him, only pausing long enough to lock the car. "Go ahead if you want. I'll catch up."
It didn't take long for Simon to walk across the sand to the two men standing there talking. They spoke in American accents, and as he approached they turned to look at him. It was the shorter one who looked the most dangerous, Simon decided. His eyes were icy blue, his hair dark and curly, and his skin tone suggested a Polynesian heritage. He had a long scar that ran from his eyebrow to his chin. His partner, although taller, if his body language was anything to go by, seemed the more approachable of the two.
"You look lost," Simon said pleasantly, addressing the taller man. "My apologies but I couldn't help but overhear some of your conversation. Perhaps I can help?"
"I doubt it," the shorter man replied. His partner shot him a look. He cleared his throat. "Okay, maybe you can."
The tall man held out his hand. "I'm Sonny, and this is my husband Luki."
Simon shook his hand politely. "Simon." He indicated Ben who had just arrived. "This is my partner, Ben."
"Hey," said Ben. He continued in a very low voice so that only Simon could hear. "Are they the cause of the weird shit, then?"
Luki eyed them both up and down, and took a step forward, placing himself between them and Sonny. "Just tell us where we are and we'll be on our way."
"You're on Petone Beach," Ben said, taking over the conversation as he tended to do. "Wellington," he continued at their blank looks. "Umm… New Zealand." He shrugged. "Okay, so you guys don't know what country you're in. That's… different."
"That's one way of putting it," Sonny said. "This whole road trip is different."
"Perhaps you can just tell us how to get out of here and we'll be on our way," Luki said. His eyes narrowed. "Wait. Let’s back up. You said you overheard our conversation before. You weren't even on the beach." He took another step forward.
Simon inserted himself between Luki and Ben. There was something about Luki that make him uneasy. He not only looked dangerous, his stance and tone indicated he wasn't a man who would take no for an answer. There was definitely something supernatural going on, but both men were human. Simon would have known if they weren't. "I have good hearing," he said. "Now, we have two options here. Either you can let us help you back to wherever you came from." He cleared his throat. "No, actually let me rephrase that. That is the only option."
"Only option?" Luki rolled his eyes. "I don't think so. We'll be on our way when we want to be on our way, and not a moment before."
Simon growled, a low sound in the base on his throat. He felt his fangs come down, and let a hint of the vampire show in his eyes, as they became fully brown for just an instant.
"Simon…" Ben placed a warning hand on Simon's arm.
Luki stood his ground. Sonny sighed. He glanced at both Luki and Simon and spoke to Ben. "Why don't we go look at the ocean while these two sort it out between them? And I'd love a good cup of coffee."
But neither Ben nor Sonny actually moved. The tension between Simon and Luki was tighter than Dick Tracy’s hatband, and moving didn’t feel safe.
After a long drawn moment, Sonny said, “Luki, honey, don’t do this. I’m wet and cold and… just please.”
Ben spoke up too. “Simon? What that guy said, okay?”
Luki glanced at Sonny, but looked back at Simon quickly. Finally, he rolled his eyes, and said, “What is it, Simon? What exactly are you, anyway? You act like some kind of predator!”
Ben choked, but Simon answered calmly. “I know. Of course, you're certainly not giving the impression of a hunter yourself.”
“Sonny’s my husband.”
“Ben’s my partner.”
“I don’t want your partner.”
“And I don’t want your husband.”
“Okay, fine,” Luki said, “Well, like my husband, I could stand to get out of the wind—we’re wet and cold. And coffee would be heaven. Could that be arranged?”
Simon said nothing, but looked mildly contrite. It was Ben who spoke up, “Okay, that’s settled then. No one wants somebody else’s man. Excellent.” He took the keys out of his pocket. “Car’s over here.”
“That little hatchback?” Sonny sounded worried.
“Yeah,” Ben said. “Cute, huh?”
“Well,” Sonny managed.
“What, you don’t like Hondas?”
“Oh, love ‘em. Have one myself… a bit older than that. I just don’t think I’ll fit.”
Simon laughed, finally. “We’ll manage. Come on.”
The car had a decent defroster, thank goodness, cause with eight size-pretty-big lungs breathing in the tiny interior, the windows steamed up almost instantly. The drive itself wasn’t too long, for which a scrunched up Sonny was grateful .
They went past some motels, the museum, and an industrial area, then started up a long, mostly tree covered hill. Near the top they passed a sign welcoming them to a residential community, where Simon and Ben explained their author, Anne Barwell lived.
“Waiuinomata? Is that what the sign said?”
Ben, in the driver’s seat, said, “Close. Something like that.”
“Damn, baby,” he said, addressing Sonny. “And I thought Ohanepecosh, Wynoochee, and Stillaguamish were bad.”
It didn't take long to reach the house. Ben turned into a driveway and parked the car. "This way," he said cheerily, stopping to pat the ginger and white cat who met him at the door.
"Oh good, you're back," called Anne. "Someone from work gave me some lemons so I've made some…" Her voice trailed off and she sniffed the air. "Why can I smell the sea?" she asked. "What have you and Simon been up to…exactly?"
"Umm," said Ben. He saw her expression change. "The car's all right, really. I told you we'd look after it. Everything's sweet as." She was going to be pissed when she noticed the damp spots in the back seat. The blanket he'd given Sonny and Luki had helped to warm them up but now it was wet and suspiciously smelt like a beach too. Perhaps if he offered to mow the lawns it would help? He knew how much she hated doing that. He'd also learnt very early on that it didn't pay to piss off the author. They usually thanked you for it in the next book, or sooner. He was thankful she was working on something else at the moment, rather than the next book in their series.
"Uh huh," she said.
"We have visitors," Simon said, coming up behind him, Luki and Sonny in tow. "Luki, Sonny, this is our author Anne Barwell. Anne, this is…"
"I know who they are." Anne stared at them for a few minutes, unusually quiet.
Ben and Simon glanced at each other. "We're screwed," Ben said in a low voice.
"Of course you're not," Anne said cheerfully. A little too cheerfully, Ben thought. "Where are your manners? Make them some coffee, and show them into the living room. There's milo on the windowsill if they'd prefer that. Does Lou know you're here? Last I heard she'd lost you and you were trying to get home."
"How did you…" Sonny asked, frowning.
"She's an author," Ben whispered. "They know this stuff. Just go with the flow, it's usually easier and safer that way."
“What the hell’s milo?” Luki asked under his breath, sounding really grumpy.
“Honey!” Sonny whispered back. “Don’t be rude—for me, be nice for me, please.” Luki hung his head looking ashamed, and opened his mouth to speak, but didn’t get a chance.
"I can hear you, you know," Anne said. “Milo is like chocolate, Luki Vasquez. Now behave.” She was already sitting down at the table and booting up her laptop. "I'm going to contact Lou on chat. I’m sure you’d rather I didn’t tell her about your rude comments, so if you’re quite done I'm sure she and I can figure something out between us to get you home."
Luki Vasquez and his still newlywed husband are back home after pulling off a harrowing desert rescue of their teenage nephew Jackie. But the events of the last couple of years have begun to catch up with Luki—loving Sonny James and letting Sonny love him back has left gaps in his emotional armor. In the gunfight that secured Jackie’s rescue, Luki’s bullet killed a young guard, an innocent boy in Luki’s mind. In the grip of PTSD, memories, flashbacks, and nightmares consume him, and he falls into deep, almost vegetative depression.
Sonny devotes his days to helping Luki, putting his own career on hold, even passing up a European tour of galleries and schools—an opportunity that might never come again. But when Luki’s parasomnia turns his nightmares into real-world terror, it breaks the gridlock. Sonny realizes what he’s doing isn’t working, and he says yes to Europe. Enter Harold Breslin, a dangerously intelligent artist’s promoter and embezzler whose obsessive desire for Sonny is exceeded only by his narcissism. When Harold’s plan for Sonny turns poisonous, Luki must break free of PTSD and get to France fit and ready in time to save his husband’s life.