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.
When Marshal got the call from Danny and was asked to meet him that night, he felt as though he’d been struck hard in the chest. He just had this incredible sense of impending doom, as though a thousand pound weight had been dropped on him from some impossible height.
“What’s wrong with you?” Joanna asked. It had become her question for him of late. It seemed like she asked it every time he saw her.
“I don’t know what you mean,” he said, avoiding her eyes.
She made a harsh sound in her throat. “Seriously, you look like your cat just died. Or maybe like your dog ate your cat then choked and died too. What is going on with you now?”
He sighed, giving in. “Danny called to say he wants to talk to me tonight. I’m going over there after work.”
“So?” she asked. “You can talk to him about what happened last night, rehash your feelings, all that jazz. It’ll be like a girls night in.”
“Except neither one of us is a girl and I’m pretty sure he’s going to tell me that he never wants to see me again.”
Joanna raised her eyebrows at him speakingly. “Really. I don’t know when it happened, but I’m very pleased for you that your psychic powers have finally kicked in.”
“What else could he want to talk about?” Marshal rubbed his forehead, feeling the start of a tension headache. “Last night was the kind of awkward that no one wants to experience twice and he’s probably already realized that I’m not worth the trouble. He’s going to dump me.”
“Wow, why don’t you get that sand out of your vagina?” Joanna said crassly.
He gave her a disbelieving look. “You did not just say that.”
“Oh, I totally did.” She leaned forward intently. “Look, I’m no Dr. Drew or anything, but I have eyes and a brain, so I know you’ve totally got a thing for this guy. If you didn’t, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have to listen to all your wangst every single day and we could actually get some work done with like half the drama. So when you start acting like a chick…” she shrugged, “I start treating you like one. You know, one of the ones on their period.”
“I cannot believe I ever coddled you through that whole ordeal with that Ben guy. I mean, I could have let you wallow in your despair, but there I was at your side, patting your back and urging you on. Yet now, when I’m in a situation, you tell me to ‘get the sand out of my vagina?'” Marshal shook his head. “It’s a sad statement about the world today and the whole gender confusion issue.”
“You need to stop trying to sound smart and face reality,” Joanna ordered.
“And what’s reality to you?” he asked.
Joanna smirked. “Reality is that you’re going to meet him tonight and you’re going to straight out tell him that he’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to you and that you completely lurve him. You two are going to share a chick flick moment complete with hug, kiss, and maybe some good old fashioned horny teenaged fondling. You’re going to get married, have a couple of fugly babies, and you’re going to go around picking out each other’s china patterns until you’re ninety.”
Marshal shook his head. “You are completely sick, you know that? Sick!”
“But you will invite me to the wedding, won’t you?” she asked impishly.
He tried to maintain his cold expression, but it melted under the blast furnace of her displaced charm. “Yeah,” he sighed. “You’ll be at the top of the list.”
“Great,” she clapped her hands, “it’s always nice to be the first person the bride invites. It’s something to rub in the faces of the rest of the bride’s maids.”
“Whoa, when did I become the bride?” he asked.
“Please,” she rolled her eyes, “you are totally the bride.”
He sighed after a minute. “Yeah.”
Talking with Joanna had made him feel a little better, but that didn’t last when he pulled to a stop in front of the large mansion and realized that he was really going to go in there and have to face the future devastation.
It was a nearly impossible feat for him to open the car door and step out. More than anything, he wanted to just drive off. He wanted to slam his foot down on the accelerator and just keep on going until he ran out of gas.
Marshal screwed up his courage and walked toward the front door. He felt like he was heading for certain doom, and all of a sudden he wished he had at least gone home and changed his clothes. Instead, he had come straight from work and was still wearing his faintly rumpled suit and tie.
He had barely rung the doorbell before the door was opened and one of the maids–he thought her name was Linda or Lana or something–ushered him inside. “Mr. Worth is in his study,” she told him. “Follow me.”
There wasn’t any thought involved, it was just one of those things, but he couldn’t help glancing at her ass as they walked. He didn’t feel any kind of interest in her and he was pretty much wallowing in the despair to come, but it was the kind of thing that happened. A peek here and there at her completely normal ass in her perfectly starched maid’s outfit.
“Here you go,” she said, startling him. She knocked once, then pushed open the door, gesturing him inside. “I’ll bring refreshments.”
Marshal turned his head to watch her go, then drew in a deep breath and went into the room.
It was the same study where he had first met Danny. All dark wood bookshelves contrasting against the cheery yellow walls. He had been surprised to see it, having expected one of those gloomy studies rich people always had in movies. This room was a place of light and expectation, a place where someone could sit in a wing chair and actually read a book or take some notes or whatever people were supposed to do in a study.
Marshal had always been firmly of the middle class and had spent his life doing paperwork or whatever either at his coffee table in the living room or on his bed. There was just something so much more comfortable about lounging on a pile of pillows with crime photos spread out across his comforter, as though the idea of something so serious being handled from his bed took away the power of the situation, making it less stark and terrible. He felt a bit as though he were sticking his tongue out at all those criminals by making light of what they’d done, as though they were so inconsequential he could just curl up and go to sleep at any time.
He didn’t feel even remotely sleepy right now. In fact, he felt a little nauseous.
His eyes tracked across the room until he found Danny sitting in what seemed to be his favorite chair, his phone forgotten in his hand as he stared at Marshal, his fingers still posed to type something. He was probably doing that obsessive compulsive thing where he checked his calendar every hour on the hour, as though Sophia would update his schedule without personally letting him know.
Marshal didn’t know if he should be insulted by the surprise in Danny’s voice when he said, “You came.”
“You didn’t think I would?” he asked. He kept himself firmly under control as he walked across the room and took the closest chair facing Danny’s.
Danny shook his head. “No, not that. I just…” He licked his lips. “I’m sorry about last night.”
Marshal cocked his head. “What do you mean?” There was no way he was going to make this easy. If he was going to have his heart ripped out, he might as well make him work for it.
“You kissed me and I didn’t handle it well.” Danny carefully set his phone down on the round table next to his chair with a little “clink” sound. “I thought I should explain what happened. I just…” He shook his head. “Sometimes things get to be too much and I can’t handle them. I have episodes.”
“Episodes?” Marshal leaned forward.
Danny nodded, looking down at his hands. “Yeah. When I get too stressed I just… They’re kind of like panic attacks, though I get those too sometimes. I take medication to kind of smooth my mood out, but when things get to be too much I can’t control myself.” He laughed, though there was no humor in it, just a nervous breathiness. “It’s embarrassing and I don’t like talking about it, but I thought I should explain that it wasn’t your fault. It’s almost kind of a blackout in that everything just overloads and sometimes I don’t remember what happened right away. I just thought I should apologize to you.”
Marshal ached at the embarrassment he saw on his face. There was this sense that Danny had laid himself bare in front of him, expecting that he would be so disgusted afterward that he would just run away. “It’s okay,” he said. “I thought I’d done something wrong, that you were going to tell me to leave and never come back.”
Danny’s eyes flashed up in surprise, his mouth opening in a little “o” of shock. “No! No, you didn’t do anything wrong. It was me, I promise, I’m just this bundle of psychological issues and I… If you never wanted to see me again, I would completely understand. There’s no way you deserve to have to deal with everything that’s wrong with me and…”
There wasn’t a lot of thought involved in Marshal practically lunging forward to grab Danny’s hand and squeeze it between his own. “There’s nothing wrong with you!” he said fiercely. “Everyone has their breaking point and it’s just that yours are a little more sensitive than most, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. You’re smart and sweet and wonderful and I’m just glad you didn’t call me here to break up with me.”
“You really thought that?” Danny asked. “You thought I would make you come all the way here just to tell you I never wanted to see you again?”
Marshal shrugged. “Yeah, maybe.”
A faint smile quirked Danny’s lips. “If I was that much of a jerk, I wouldn’t have bothered to call you. I would have just sent you an email or a text message.”
“I’m glad you’re not a jerk.” Marshal knew his grin was kind of goofy, but he couldn’t help himself.
His breath was coming easier than it had all day. The weight had lifted and suddenly everything looked so much brighter.
* * *
It was kind of amazing to realize that he meant so much to another person. It made him feel both powerful and safe at the same time, as though he could freely be himself with no worry that Marshal was just going to turn his back on him.
He’d completely lost his cool, yet Marshal hadn’t cared.
“Do you want to watch a movie?” Danny offered.
Marshal smiled. “All right.”
Danny led him through the house, pushing him down into a theater seat before putting on a movie. It was an older movie, but one of his favorites.
“Have you ever seen this before?” he asked, holding up the box.
Marshal looked, then shrugged. “Maybe, but I’d be happy to watch it now. With you.”
Danny settled in the seat next to him, waiting until the lights dimmed before finally relaxing. He had felt out of sorts for most of the day and it was good to finally be able to let that nerviness go.
The door opened, letting in a trail of light and Andrea with a tray. “Olivia said you were watching a movie, so I brought you some things,” she said. Her movements were graceful as she carried the tray over and set cups of soda in their cup holders, then passed each of them a small tub of popcorn.
“Thank you,” Danny said, eating a piece of popcorn. It was just salty and buttery enough.
She gave him a gentle smile. “Enjoy your movie.”
Danny watched her leave the room, then focused on the screen. “This is one of my favorites.”
It was hard to keep from hunching his shoulders, but he managed to maintain his control. He just drew in one breath after another and forced himself to relax. He could feel the heat of Marshal’s body next to him and his heart wanted to beat fast and faster, but he forced himself to remain still. There was no reason for him to act like a fool.
“It’s all right.”
Danny turned his head to meet Marshal’s gentle gaze. “What?”
Marshal lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “I said it’s all right. You don’t ever have to do anything you’re not comfortable, not for me. I’m happy watching movies and eating dinner with you,” he grinned cheekily, “especially dinners made by the beautiful Olivia. I’m still going to make her my wife someday.”
Danny laughed, feeling some of the tension drain out of him. “Shut up and watch the movie.”
“Aye aye, Captain.” Marshal gave a sloppy salute with the wrong hand. The shine in his eyes and the curve of his lips was playful.
To Danny, it felt as though someone had finally turned the light on. All those empty spaces he had inside… they were full of the brightness and laughter and warmth that made him think of Marshal. It was a strange and alien feeling, being so happy, but he liked it.
He liked it a lot.
* * *
The drag of the blade. The pooling blood. The eyes that screamed and pled before they disappeared into ruin. There was something oddly delightful about the rearrangement of flesh. Godlike.