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Revenge can’t heal a wounded soul.
When Leon Fisher finds his lover butchered in their bed, he does what any good assassin would do—he gets revenge. But killing the murderer doesn’t make the pain go away. Instead, it sends him on a vicious downward spiral into alcoholism and depression.
In a bid to force Leon to sober up and regain his edge, his mysterious employers—known only as “the organization”—send him to a private property in the wilds of Alaska. In the lush and remote Tongass National Forest, Leon encounters Grim, a strange but alluring young man who saves Leon’s life after a bear attack, then brings him to a cabin in the depths of the woods to recover.
Leon doesn’t expect to fall in love with this odd, subservient person, yet he can’t deny what he comes to feel for Grim. But Grim has a past he doesn’t talk about. A past just as dark and ugly as Leon’s. And both pasts are about to catch up with them.
(Warning: this book contains graphic language, intense violence, drug and alcohol use, and references to past abusive situations.)
© Copyright 2008 Ally Blue
Los Angeles, Leon thought, improved a great deal when seen through a whiskey haze. It softened the harsh glare of the afternoon sun on car windshields and lent a mellow glow to the cluster of grimy, graffitti-covered buildings. He raised his glass to the smog-shrouded city in a silent toast, then tossed back the last of the amber liquid. It burned its way down his throat to warm his gut for a few wonderful minutes.
Lately, it took more and more whiskey to keep the cold inside him at bay. He recognized that, saw himself losing his edge, but couldn’t bring himself to care.
You’re depressed, the shrink he’d been forced to see had insisted at their session that morning, crossing his legs and folding his plump, soft hands atop his plump, soft knee. Turning to alcohol in such times is quite common. Nothing to be ashamed of, and nothing we can’t work through with a bit of effort, eh?
Leon snorted at the memory. He’d asked the self-satisfied prick if finding one’s lover cut open by a serial killer was also “quite common”, and if offing the murdering bastard might be something they could “work through”.
Unsurprisingly, the man hadn’t been able to answer either question. Instead, he’d gaped like a fish for a moment before informing Leon that the session was over and to please see his secretary to schedule next week’s appointment. He’d berated Leon for the umpteenth time about not taking his meds and shooed him out of the office.
“Fuck you,” Leon growled, gesturing at the gridlocked traffic four stories below with his empty glass. “What the fuck do you know? Pompous asshole.”
Maybe he was being unfair, but he didn’t think so. Dr. Smith—not his real name, of course—was as deeply entrenched in Big Brother’s cruel embrace as Leon was. He should be used to the ravings of fucked-up killers-for-hire by now.
Leon had “forgotten” to make another appointment when he left the office. He wondered if anyone would notice.
“Drunk already? Sloppy, Mr. Fisher. Very sloppy.”
Jones. Damn her. Grimacing, Leon stood and leaned on the balcony railing. “What the fuck are you doing here?” He didn’t turn to look at her, and he didn’t ask how she’d gotten in. People like her went wherever they wanted, whenever they wanted.
Behind Leon, heels clicked on bare concrete. “This place is a cesspit,” Jones observed, laying her manicured fingers on the railing. “I understand why you wanted to move after…the incident, but really, you have better taste than this.”
The incident. Almost a year after Ted was butchered, Jones still called it that. Leon hated it with a purple passion. He would’ve hit her, if he didn’t know for a fact that she could kill him before he could blink.
“What do you want, Jones?” He lifted his glass, remembered it was empty and scowled. “Do you have an assignment for me?”
“What do you think?”
“Let’s see.” Setting his glass on the little plastic table, Leon turned around and leaned his butt against the railing. “In the last decade, you and your mysterious bosses haven’t gone more than a couple of months without giving me a new hit. It’s been six months since I killed that fucking waste of space Frank Gold, and there hasn’t been an assignment in all that time. I haven’t even seen your butt-ugly face since you came and threatened me into seeing that fucking idiotic psychiatrist last month. I’m thinking you’re not here to give me a hit.”
“You always were a smart man.” Jones turned to face him, her dark-skinned—and not at all ugly—face as expressionless as ever. “You used to be the best hit man in the business. That’s why my colleagues and I made certain you were not implicated in Frank Gold’s murder. But ever since the incident, you’ve been unstable. Dangerous.”
Leon laughed. “Wouldn’t be much of an assassin if I wasn’t dangerous.”
Jones’ eyes flashed in a rare display of irritation. “I’ll be blunt, Mr. Fisher. My superiors are at the end of their patience. Either you shape up, or you will be let go.”
He knew what that meant, and it had nothing to do with two weeks’ notice or severance pay. “I’m seeing your fucking shrink. What else do you want me to do?”
“Dr. Smith tells me you did not make a follow-up appointment this morning and have not been taking the medication he prescribed.” Red nails tapped on the balcony rail, the only sign of how much Leon tried Jones’ patience. “Since you refuse to work with Dr. Smith, we have decided to work with you instead.”
Leon’s interest was piqued in spite of himself. He crossed his arms and cocked his head sideways. “What’s that mean, exactly?”
“It means that your last chance to get yourself back on track will be more in line with your antisocial tendencies than our previous efforts have been.” Reaching into her dark gray suit jacket, she pulled out a sheet of paper and held it out to him. “Your travel information.”
Travel? Leon snatched the paper from Jones’ hand. He skimmed it, then threw it on the floor. “No.”
“Yes.” Jones picked up the paper, walked through the open sliding glass door into his tiny dining area and set the paper on the table next to a pile of dirty bowls. “You leave tomorrow morning.”
He followed her inside, simmering with rage. The anger chased away the icy numbness he’d lived in for months and was therefore rather welcome. “I’m not going to fucking Alaska. No.”
“Your flight to Juneau leaves at ten a.m.,” she continued as if she hadn’t heard him. “One of our people will pick you up at seven to drive you to LAX. A private charter plane will meet you at the airport in Juneau and fly you to our property.”
Leon wanted to tell her to fuck off, that they couldn’t make him do this. Because they couldn’t, really. If he chose not to get on that plane in the morning, no force in this world could make him. Of course, he’d find himself on the business end of another assassin’s gun in short order if he refused. And in spite of everything, in spite of the black despair blanketing him these days, he wasn’t ready to die.
“Who’d you pay off to let me carry my gun on?” he asked, forcing his voice to remain calm. “Security’s fucking brutal these days. I do not want to end up with a screener who’s not in your pocket.”
“I haven’t paid off anyone.”
He raised his eyebrows at her. “You know I don’t like to put my gun in my checked luggage, Jones. That pistol’s a custom job. No one touches it but me.”
Jones pinned him with a baleful look. “You will not be taking your weapon. I’d be happy to take it with me, if you like. Considering the neighborhood you’ve chosen to live in, leaving it in this apartment might not be the best option.”
No weapon. Fuck. The prospect made Leon’s skin twitch. He hadn’t been without his custom-made .22 Wilson combat pistol since the first time he’d touched it. It would be like leaving a piece of his body behind.
He would’ve argued if he thought it would do any good, but he knew it wouldn’t. Either he’d fly to bum-fuck Alaska without his beloved gun, or he’d die with it in his hand.
Not much of a choice. He’d never hated Jones and her faceless bosses more than he did right then.
He gritted his teeth. “Fuck you, Jones.”
“You will be staying at a private safe house outside Juneau, in the borders of the Tongass National Forest. The house is owned by my superiors for just such instances, and is fully staffed. You will even find clothing there to fit you, suitable to the current weather conditions.” She gave him a cool look. “You are not the first of your sort to require a bit of quiet time alone to consider his situation.”
Your tax dollars at work. Leon’s lips curled into a bitter smile. Though Jones had never said so, he’d guessed long ago that his assignments—and his massive paychecks—came from a shadow agency of the U.S. government.
“Fine, so I go to this place of yours.” Leon plopped into a chair, picked up a none-too-clean plastic tumbler and poured a generous amount of whiskey from the open bottle on the table. “What then? How long are you leaving me there, and just what the fuck am I supposed to do to keep myself busy? I don’t guess this place has a bar?”
“No bar. You hardly need to pickle yourself further.” Jones surveyed Leon’s dirty apartment with unveiled disgust. “As far as entertainment, there is a plasma screen television, DVDs, a gym and a full library. Or, you could always venture outdoors. The property has miles of well-maintained trails, and a private lake with a pier and a canoe. As long as you stay on the trails, or in the confines of the lake, you should be safe enough.”
Leon scraped a bit of dried egg off the table. “What’s to stop me from taking off? Just disappearing into the woods?”
Jones’ laugh came as a surprise. Leon had never heard her laugh before. He stared at her.
“You will be watched, naturally,” she said, ignoring his bald-faced shock. “Mr. Fisher, you have many talents, but wilderness survival is not one of them. The only way in or out of our compound is by private plane. There are no roads other than the one from our private runway to the house, and the forest is very thick. If you tried to hike out, you’d be hopelessly lost within an hour.” She smiled, looking vaguely reptilian for a moment. “I will return in three months to bring you back. If you are not at the house, my people—who are skilled survivalists—will find you, wherever you are, and neutralize you. Are we clear?”
“Crystal.” Leon took a deep swallow of whiskey, glaring at Jones over the rim of the tumbler. “Why don’t you go away now, and let me get drunk in peace?”
Jones held out one slim hand. “Your weapon, please.”
It was all Leon could do not to draw down on the cunt. The insistent desire to live made him reach into the custom leather holster at the small of his back, pull his pistol out and lay it in Jones’ hand.
“I hate you, you fucking bitch.”
“The feeling, I assure you, is entirely mutual.” Jones tucked Leon’s gun into one of the thousands of magic pockets she always seemed to have inside her suit jacket. “Three months, Mr. Fisher. I sincerely hope the change of scenery improves your state of mind.”
Leon didn’t answer, didn’t look up as Jones walked out of his apartment and shut the door with a soft snick. He emptied the tumbler in one gulp, shuddering as the alcohol seared his stomach.
“Of all the places in the fucking world, it had to be Alaska,” he mumbled, frowning. “Not London, or New York, or Berlin. No. Fucking Alaska.”
Just me, alone with the memories and the nightmares. No liquor, no drugs. No escape.
Leon pushed to his feet, swaying as the last shot of liquor hit him like a load of bricks. He picked up the whiskey bottle and staggered back out onto the balcony. “Here’s to L.A.,” he called, holding up the bottle. “I hate this fucking shithole, but it’s better than Alaska.”
He put the mouth of the bottle to his lips and drank as the drug dealers who’d emerged onto the balcony next door answered his toast with an equally scathing one of their own. The city blurred around him, the bottle falling from his numb fingers as the white plastic of the cheap patio table rushed up to smack him in the face. He drifted in an alcoholic stupor, grateful for the brief respite from the emptiness eating at him like a cancer.
There would be no such refuge in Alaska. The thought terrified him beyond all reason.
“God, I’m fucked,” he muttered, and passed out.