Title: The Panic Pure
Author: Harper Kingsley
Genre: mm suspense thriller
Summary: Daniel Worth, billionaire and CEO of Worth Enterprises is questioned by FBI agent Marshal Newman about the disappearance of one of his employees. They strike up a conversation and soon are regularly meeting and begin dating. However neither realizes just how close danger is lurking.
Marshal woke to an overwhelming sense of well-being that left him confused for a moment until he recognized the warm body snuggled up against his side.
He leaned up on one arm and gazed down at Danny’s sleeping face. Danny looked so peaceful lying there and Marshal couldn’t help smiling at the way his lips pouted out adorably with every exhale. He was just so cute.
Seeming to feel the gaze on him, Danny yawned and opened his eyes, blinking up at Marshal. “Oh,” he said in surprise.
“Good morning,” Marshal said. He was careful not to make any sudden moves that might send Danny into a panic.
After a couple of seconds, Danny tentatively smiled back at him. “Morning,” his voice was sleep hazed, but he didn’t sound too upset to find Marshal in bed with him. “Do you want to get some breakfast?”
Marshal’s stomach gurgled. “Sure. I could eat.”
Danny laughed and climbed out of bed. He looked cute in his pajamas. They were dark blue cotton with thin vertical yellow stripes and looked like something out of a 1950s sitcom. With his hair tousled around his head and his bare feet, Marshal had to bite his lip just looking at him.
Marshal got up and went to the chair he’d left his clothes on and had to pause. “These have been folded and,” he lifted his shirt and sniffed it, “laundered.”
Danny barely glanced at him. “Yeah, they probably got picked up earlier this morning. This way you don’t have to go to work in dirty clothes.”
“But it’s a little creepy to me that someone came in here and took my clothes while we were sleeping,” Marshal said. “I don’t think I’m really into the idea of that.”
“Okay,” Danny said, heading into the bathroom. “I’ll let the staff know. I’m taking a shower now and I’ll meet you downstairs.”
Left standing there when the bathroom door closed, Marshal had to kind of wonder what had just happened. Then he laughed and shook his head. Danny was a real character.
He got dressed and sat down in the chair to pull on his shoes. Then he stood and adjusted his tie, running his fingers through his hair. He figured he would go down and eat breakfast, then he would come back up to brush his teeth.
Giving the closed bathroom door one last glance, he left the bedroom and headed down the stairs toward the dining room.
He should have felt completely awkward, but he felt perfectly comfortable. It was as though there was nowhere else he should be.
He was still a little unsure about what he was supposed to do when he came into the dining room and was greeted by Beatrice’s bright smile. “Good morning, Mr. Newman. Olivia’s been making pancakes, bacon, and fruit salad. Can I get you anything?”
“Can I have some of all of that and strawberry jam if you have some instead of syrup?” Marshal asked. “I don’t like syrup.”
“I’ll be sure to remember that,” Beatrice said, walking toward the door. “I’ll be back with your food shortly.”
“Well, shouldn’t you wait to ask Danny what he wants?” Marshal asked.
Beatrice laughed and shook her head. “Oh no, Mr. Worth always gets the same thing.”
“And what’s that?” Marshal asked.
“Fruit salad and yogurt.”
Marshal stared after her for a moment, then shrugged and sat down at what he was coming to know as “his” spot.
He had to think that the maids were kind of weird. They fell all over themselves to do anything they could for Danny, but the way they did it was sometimes a bit awkward.
It was as though they thought Danny was made out of spun glass and would shatter at any moment. If they could have, he was sure they happily would have wrapped him up in tissue paper.
The fact that they cared about him so much was kind of nice, since it meant he could be sure they would watch out for Danny when he wasn’t there. But it also meant that he sometimes felt as though they were silently judging him because there was no way he was ever going to be good enough.
He sighed and folded his hands on the table in front of him as he waited.
* * *
Retreating into the bathroom, Danny leaned against the counter for a moment to catch his breath.
It had taken every ounce of his self-control not to show how completely freaked out he was. Waking up with someone else in the bed with him was bad enough, but to then realize that no matter what he did he was going to end up late for work…
He scrambled for the bottom drawer and the prescription bottles stored at the back.
With trembling hands, he dry-swallowed a Alprazolam, then stripped off his clothes and climbed into the shower.
He didn’t know how long he stood under the water, but it was definitely longer than his usual shower. He just needed to get his thoughts in order before he was ready to go find Marshal and pretend that everything was all right.
By the time he’d dressed and made his way to the dining room, the drugs had kicked in and he wasn’t feeling a whole lot of pain.
He walked in through the arched doorway and went to his seat, giving Marshal a nod. “Good morning again.”
Marshal raised an eyebrow, his too-observant eyes reading Danny a lot clearer than Danny really wanted. “Good morning.”
“They’re not going to be mad that you’re late for work?” Danny asked worriedly. “They won’t fire you or something, will they?”
Marshal laughed and shook his head. “I’m not late. I don’t have to go in for another forty minutes. And even if I was late, Joanna would cover for me. At least, she better, considering how many times I’ve stuck my neck out for her. She’s the queen of being late.”
Danny’s shoulders loosened a little. “That’s good.” He lifted the lid off his breakfast and methodically began to eat the plain vanilla yogurt waiting for him. The fruit was his favorite, so he would save it for last.
He could feel Marshal glancing at him across the table and he tried to pretend that he was one hundred percent all right. He didn’t want to show off the fact that he’d woken up all out of sorts and hadn’t managed to get his head back on straight.
If there was one thing he really hated, it was being unable to maintain a normal demeanor around other people. It just seemed that no matter how hard he tried, his oddities got away from him.
But he also knew that if Marshal spent any length of time around him, he was going to realize that something was up. So he figured he was better off being honest than trying to pretend to be something he was not. Especially if he wasn’t going to be able to maintain a lie for any length of time.
“I’ve got to go to work very soon,” he said, biting the side of his lip.
Marshal’s smile was gentle. “I know. It’s all right to leave me, as long as it’s not forever.”
Danny focused on his spoon stirring slowly through his yogurt and chewed on his lower lip until it hurt enough that he forced himself to stop biting. “I’m sorry I’m so…”
Marshal held up a hand to stop him. “You don’t have to explain it to me. You already made yourself late for work.”
“Thank you,” Danny said, unable to help jumping to his feet. “I’ll see you later?”
“Of course,” Marshal said, putting on a faux-English accent. “I’m just going to finish this delicious breakfast, then I’m going to work. And after work I will come straight here and let you feed me a delicious dinner, and we will watch a wonderful movie, and maybe you might let me play with your Legos?”
Danny stared at him for a moment. Then he couldn’t help laughing. “I’ll let you play with my Legos anytime you want,” he said.
“Good. I’ve wanted to play with your Legos from the moment I first saw them.” Marshal popped a bite of sliced strawberry in his mouth. “I’ll probably be looking forward to it all day.”
“I’ll see you later,” Danny said, edging toward the door. A part of him desperately wanted to linger, but if he didn’t leave soon he was going to send himself into a full-blown anxiety attack. He could feel his schedule slipping away from him with every second that ticked passed.
Marshal was understanding. “I’ll be here.”
Danny rushed out of the dining room, already pulling his phone out of his pocket and calling Arthur. “Are you ready to go?” he demanded even before Arthur got to say anything.
“Of course,” Arthur said calmly. “Beatrice let me know that you’d be on your way out and I’ve been waiting for you.”
“Thank you!” Danny hung up and stuck his phone in his pocket. He ducked into his study to quickly grab his briefcase before rushing toward the front door, his shoes clattering loudly across the tile.
Just seeing the car waiting for him, he felt something sharp release. And when Danny climbed inside, slamming the door behind him, he felt as though he could once again be himself.
Still, he couldn’t help the twinge of regret that went through him at the thought of leaving Marshal behind like that. He wanted to go back and apologize for his hasty leave taking, but the nervous feeling building up inside him kept him from saying anything.
He had to get to work or his entire world would shatter into pieces. He just had to hope that Marshal could understand. He really didn’t want to scare the man off.
* * *
Marshal finished a rather leisurely breakfast, then went to get dressed.
He felt a little weird about how comfortable he was wandering through this giant mansion, but it was a case of either getting used to things or going completely insane.
He found his suit and began to dress. It was when he lifted the tie that he realized it wasn’t his.
His tie was made out of some cheap rayon-type material and he’d bought it at Walmart. The one he held in his hand had to be 100% silk. There was a label stitched inside that had him raising his eyebrows.
He didn’t know much about fashion, but he knew that name. Which meant he was probably holding a couple hundred dollars worth of tie in his hand, if not more.
Part of him maybe wanted to be upset at the thought that his super rich boyfriend was trying to buy him off or something, but it was Danny. There was no way that Danny had any kind of ulterior motive. He was just trying to be nice.
The thought that Danny was going out of his way to please him… it really did make him very happy.
A small smile quirked Marshal’s lips as he slipped the tie around his neck and began to knot it. The silk felt nice against his skin and a single glance in the mirror told him that he looked very good.
“Well, aren’t you a handsome stranger?” he murmured, smiling and giving his reflection a wink.
Marshal snorted and gathered up the rest of his things before heading toward the door. He needed to get out of this dream world or he was going to end up late to work for real, something he didn’t want to deal with.
He had a feeling that Joanna was already going to give him a hard time. She seemed to have a sixth sense about when he did things he wasn’t supposed to, and thus she could make him miserable with her teasing. It was her evil gift.
As he hurried down the stairs, he was met in the foyer by Beatrice.
“Here, sir, you should take this with you.” She held out a bright red nylon bag.
“What’s this?” he asked, taking it curiously. It was pretty heavy, and when he peeked inside he caught sight of plastic containers. He also got a noseful of delicious smelling food.
“Mr. Worth called and ask that we make sure you had something to eat since he won’t be able to meet with you at lunch due to a busy schedule.” Beatrice smiled at him sweetly, though there was a spark in her eyes that had him flushing slightly. “He wants to make sure you eat well.”
Marshal cradled the bag in the crook of his arm. “I’ll make sure to eat it all.” He made a mental note to remember to call Danny later and thank him. “I’ve gotta go now.” He jerked a thumb toward the door.
Beatrice just nodded at him. She was standing with her hands behind her back, her shoes black and glossy as she clicked them together sharply. Her dark hair had been braided, then pinned up on her head like something out of Heidi. Her apron was so white and starched to such near perfection that it was actually pretty daunting to face her.
“Well, I’m going,” Marshal said a trifle uncomfortably.
He turned and hurried toward the door. He didn’t know why he suddenly felt as though he were a young child, but that’s how she made him feel with just a look.
* * *
“When exactly did I sign up for all of this?” Danny asked, propping his chin on his fist. He felt tired and slow, one of the reasons he left the Alprazolam for emergencies.
“I don’t know when that happened, but now that you’re the boss…” Sophia shrugged. “You’re stuck with the job.”
He groaned and covered his face with his hands. There were just some days when he thought it would have been better if he’d never taken over the company. Then he’d remember just how terrible his life used to be and he thought that nothing could ever be that bad.
This, all of this, was so much better than anything he’d ever thought he could have.
“Can you bring me a cup of coffee?” he asked. “I seem to have a lot of work to do.”
Her smile was almost painfully cheery. “Certainly.” He watched her sashay out of his office, her heels clicking against the floor.
Sophia Hawthorne was a godsend. Without her he wouldn’t be able to operate in his day-to-day life and she refused to take any nonsense from anyone while ensuring that he actually did the work he was supposed to. She was the warm figure of authority that made sure everything at the office flowed smoothly, including him.
Along with Arthur, she had kept him from losing everything to his ignorance about the way the world worked. Without them, he would have quickly found himself under the thumb of some guardian chosen by the Board. The only saving grace was that his Aunt Lauren had been legally declared as unqualified for the role.
Danny hurriedly turned his attention away from thoughts of his aunt. She was gone; she couldn’t hurt him anymore. His life had become something beautiful and good and he wouldn’t let anything ruin it.
* * *
Researching Worth had taken most of the morning and the most fascinating information he’d found hadn’t been included in the official biography. It was what he read between the lines.
Daniel Worth had filed for emancipation from his legal guardian, no eyebrows raised there. Until he considered the fact that Worth had been forced to prove his mental fitness by four different experts before he was allowed to leave the care of Dr. Lauren Green.
“What was going on there?” he murmured quietly, a delighted smile tugging at his lips.
There was something about breaking someone that was already broken that added to the thrill. Would Worth scream and beg? Or would he look up out of shattered eyes and just accept what was being done to him with the calm resolution of someone already dead?
It would be wonderful finding out.