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.
Being in a relationship was actually quite a bit of work, something he hadn’t really expected. It had always seemed to him, as an outsider looking in, that relationships were something that just happened, easy as breathing. The truth was a bit harder to face.
He had to ask Sophia to make room in his schedule and basically had to rearrange his whole life to be able to fit Marshal into it. It was not something he had ever expected to have to do, and he had to see his ability to adapt and change as a sign of progress. He’d even brought it up in his last few sessions with Dr. Landry and she had told him she was very proud of him.
There were still many things that he simply could not force himself to do, but he thought that he had made great strides. He couldn’t eat in restaurants or allow himself to be trapped in the confines of a public cinema or theater, but Marshal didn’t seem to care. He just seemed happy to spend time with Danny, and that was enough.
Danny whistled soundlessly as he finished up a report on his ideas about the Kerr-Bosnan prospectus. He’d decided that most of the ideas were pretty stupid, but he still had to waste some of his precious time pointing out what exactly he had a problem with. Destroying someone’s dreams should have been a little harder.
Finally finished, he saved his work then shut down his laptop.
He stretched his arms above his head and yawned hugely. It was such a relief to finally be done. Some part of him had been sure he would be wading through hundreds of pages of mostly worthless data for the entire day and night. So to be finished so much earlier than he had expected was an alien kind of pleasure.
Before, he had never felt happiness over finishing work early because he hadn’t had anything to do with the time freed up. It was just something that happened and he would then spend the rest of his day finding more work to fill in the time before he could go home and play with his Legos.
He couldn’t help smiling as he packed away his laptop and the rest of the things he would be taking home with him for the night. Then he started pulling on his coat as he left his office.
“Can you call Arthur and tell him I’m done here?” he said.
Sophia looked surprised, but hurriedly lifted her phone to make the phone call. He never went home early. It was probably something she was going to mark down in her diary as an oddity.
Danny listened while she told Arthur to bring the car around and that he was going home early. Even from across the room, he caught the note of incredulity in Arthur’s voice when she confirmed that yes, he really was going home early.
He sighed and shifted his bag from hand to hand, waiting. “Is he going to be too long?” he asked after she’d hung up.
Sophia smiled at him. “He says he’ll be here in roughly five minutes. Traffic isn’t too bad this time of day and he’s only a few streets over. He was running some quick errands for Olivia and filing some paperwork at the County Clerk’s office.”
Danny felt a momentary flush of curiosity, but Sophia probably didn’t know what Arthur had been filing. Not that it really mattered. Arthur was the one person in his life that he trusted without question. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll start heading down there.”
“Certainly,” she said. “He’ll call your cell when he’s out front.” So don’t worry, went unsaid.
He nodded and left, walking toward the elevator.
There was something almost naughty about leaving early. He felt as though he was doing something illicit, but instead of feeling guilty, he felt a cool thrill. It was exciting to do something he didn’t usually do.
His life had been ruled by clocks and schedules for so long that he couldn’t even imagine any other way. Except now he was breaking with his regimented routine and instead of being frightened… he was excited.
Somehow, letting Marshal into his life had freed him from some of the bonds of his neuroses. It was a kind of freedom he hadn’t even realized he was missing.
* * *
When Marshal saw Danny, he had a feeling that something was different about the other man. He seemed lighter, freer than Marshal had ever seen him before. There was an almost palpable air of happiness hanging around his head.
“So, what do you want to do tonight?” he asked.
Danny bit his lip, his eyes flicking up and around without ever once meeting Marshal’s. “We could do something different.”
“What do you mean?”
“We could go out,” Danny said, chewing on his lip. “Not to eat at a restaurant or anything, but… I called and arranged for a private showing at the science museum.”
“The science museum?” Marshal raised his brows. It was the kind of thing he was into, but the fact that Danny was willing to go to a public place was pretty revolutionary.
“Yeah.” Danny reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded card that he offered to Marshal. “They have the NASA exhibit now. We can go inside one of the retired shuttles, and they have one of the official simulators that we can try out.”
Marshal couldn’t help a sudden excited grin. “Really? That actually sounds pretty awesome. How did you manage to arrange something like that?”
Danny shrugged. “I’ve given them a lot of donations over the years. They want me to keep giving them money, so I have more options than most people.”
“Still… we really get to try out the shuttle simulator?” Marshal was filled with childish delight. This was the kind of thing he’d dreamed of as a kid but never really imagined happening in real life.
Danny glanced down shyly. “Yes.”
Marshal slowly reached out and rested a hand on Danny’s arm. He wanted to pull the other man into a hug, but he didn’t want to freak him out, not when things were going so well. “Thank you for arranging such a cool thing,” he said.
Danny rested his hand on Marshal’s, squeezing carefully. “It’s not a big deal.”
Marshal wanted to tell him that he knew it really was a big deal. He knew how hard it was for Danny to even think about touching other people, so to allow any kind of intimate contact… it made a feeling of warmth go through him.
“If you’re not comfortable…” he trailed off.
Danny shook his head, chewing at the inside of his cheek. “No, it’s all right. I think we’ll have fun when we go.”
Marshal smiled at him, just completely unable to help himself.
Even with all of his quirks and personal difficulties, Danny was willing to go out of his comfort zone to make Marshal happy. He honestly couldn’t think of another person that would ever do anything like that for him.
It gave him a warm feeling in his chest.
The Metropolitan Science Museum should have seemed abandoned, what with there being no other patrons as it was after hours, but Danny had arranged for all the lights to remain lit. It made Marshal feel somewhat special.
“I’m kind of pretty excited,” Marshal said.
They were following their guide through the museum toward the NASA exhibit and they were almost, but not quite, holding hands. Marshal thought he could feel the brush of Danny’s skin against the side of his hand and he could definitely feel the closeness of Danny’s body heat.
“It should be really interesting.” Danny had the stiffness about him that he donned every time an “outsider” was around him. Marshal had to celebrate the fact that Danny was never so stiff when it was them alone–which meant he was accepted–but he really didn’t like how uncomfortable Danny always was. He should have the freedom to go anywhere he wanted to without ever being uncomfortable in his own skin.
“So are we sure these are actual shuttle parts and flight simulators?” Marshal asked. “What if they pawned a bunch of fakes off on us all and we’re dumb enough to have fallen for the trick?”
“Sir, everything here that’s been marked authentic, is exactly that. Authentic.” The museum guide sounded pretty pissy, which made Marshal wince toward Danny, who gave a tiny smile.
Marshal probably shouldn’t have been that totally pleased at the sight of Danny’s smile, but there was nothing he could do about that. That nearly non-existent smile was a sign of his success at make Danny just a little more comfortable in his own skin.
“Sorry,” he said. “Do you have any suggestions about what we should see first?”
The guide gave him one more piercing look, but was too well-trained to make the insulting comment he was probably thinking. “If you’ll come this way, we have a full display of various spacesuits from the 1970s to the most modern.”
“That sounds interesting,” Marshal said, trying to look as appeasing as possible. The look the guy gave him in return said that it wasn’t as believable as he’d always thought it was, but he didn’t say anything and led them through the museum.
Danny leaned close to Marshal’s ear. “I think you really upset that man.”
“Oh yeah?” Marshal shrugged. “I’ll try not to be such a jerk for the rest of our visit here and hopefully that’ll change his opinion of me.”
Danny smirked. “I don’t think he’s ever going to change his mind.”
“Nothing I can do about that,” Marshal said. Moving slow enough that Danny could move away if he wanted to, he took Danny’s hand in his own.
The fact that Danny didn’t even try to pull away sent a surge of warmth through him. He felt happier than he had in a long time, and the fact that it had come from such a simple thing made him think that if Danny ever said the words “I love you” he would probably combust. And how embarrassing would that be?
Gently squeezing Danny’s hand, he followed the guide toward the long display of spacesuits. Honestly, they looked a little creepy standing there with mannequin heads peeking through the helmets.
* * *
Though he had tried not to show anything on his face, Danny had been seriously worried that tonight wasn’t going to go well. So he couldn’t help but to be somewhat pleased that Marshal seemed to be enjoying himself.
There were some times when he was sure that his inexperience dealing with other people would ruin everything, so to have something he planned go so well… it made him feel really good.
Moving with bold decisiveness, he shifted his hand in Marshal’s to twine their fingers together. There was something intimate about the gesture. Something maybe a little final.
He saw Marshal glance at him out of the corner of his eye, and couldn’t help the heat that flushed through him. His cheeks blazed with warmth and he thought that maybe he’d gone all red, but he didn’t care.
There’d been plenty of bad things that had happened in his life–things that he had spent years trying unsuccessfully to suppress and ignore–but he was pretty sure he was happy with Marshal. The man was sweet and funny and he made Danny happier than he had been in a long time.
“Hey, look at that!” Marshal pointed ahead at some space thing or other. “Isn’t it so cool?”
“Sure,” Danny said, shrugging.
The look Marshal gave him was amused, but also extremely happy.
This could work, Danny thought. For once, no detractor voice answered back. It made him feel happy.
* * *
He’d been waiting in his car long enough that he’d finished two Red Bulls and had started on his third. He could feel impatience simmering beneath the surface of his skin, but he refused to give into it.
He had a job to do here, and nothing was going to get in the way of that, not even himself.
Adam had rolled the windows down before cracking his first Red Bull. They always smelled so foul, but were worth it for keeping him awake.
As a reward for his patience, he got to see Agent Marshal Newman leaving the museum. He hunched down a little in his seat, knowing that the shadows he’d parked in would keep him largely invisible, at least to someone that didn’t expect him to be lurking around.
A snarling smile pulled his lips back from his teeth and he glared toward the federal agent. If he could have leaped across the intervening space and stuck a blade in the man’s back… well, it was a wonderful fantasy.
His breath caught when he saw the man Newman was walking with.
In all his research he hadn’t come across a single photo of Daniel Worth, and that had seemed kind of strange, though the billionaire was said to be rather eccentric. But to see him in real life… he couldn’t help thinking that it was kind of a shame that pictures of him didn’t paper the world.
“Well, hello angel,” Adam murmured, his smile turning to something warmer, though far hungrier.
If there was one phrase he would use to describe Daniel Worth, it would have to be “delicious morsel.”
The world suddenly seemed a much brighter place.
* * *
Sitting in the back of the limo with Danny and a plastic bag full of swag on the floor next to his leg, Marshal couldn’t keep the semi-goofy smile off his face. “I had a good night,” he said.
“I’m glad,” Danny said. “I remembered that you talked about wishing you could have been an astronaut. It’s not quite the same thing, but it’s kind of cool being able to walk in an actual shuttle.”
“It’s the nearest thing,” Marshal agreed. “When I was a kid, I really wanted to go to space camp, but we didn’t have enough money for me to go.”
“You probably weren’t missing that much,” Danny offered. “You know, space camp.”
“Sure, only the coolness of being a teenager playing with actual astronaut equipment. That wouldn’t have been cool at all.” Marshal leaned forward to open the mini-fridge and pull out a soda. “Can I have one of these?”
“No, they’re only here to tease you.” Danny laughed. “Go ahead and drink it. Arthur restocks it all the time. Though he probably drinks more soda out of the fridge than I do. In fact, most of the drinks in there are things that he likes.”
Marshal laughed. “That’s actually pretty funny.”
Danny shrugged. “That’s what happens when your chauffeur is your best friend. I mean, what am I going to do to him, you know? He’s known me since I was a little kid.”
Sitting there in the back of the limo, his brain still jumping for emotional joy over getting to walk inside a real live space shuttle, he simply couldn’t resist the impulse as it came to him.
Marshal stuck his soda in the cup holder, then crab-walked across the intervening space to sit close beside Danny. “If I kiss you, you’re not going to totally freak out are you?”
Danny was almost painfully serious. “I don’t know. I hope I won’t freak out, but I don’t know.”
“Well, I guess we’re going to have to risk it,” Marshal said. “Hopefully Arthur’s not so startled that he runs off the road.”
Moving slowly in the hopes that he didn’t spook Danny, he leaned over and carefully place his lips on Danny. He could see the other man fighting the impulse to jerk back, then his long-long eyelashes kind of of fluttered closed and he was tentatively kissing back.
It was the sweetest kiss Marshal had ever had and sadly short.
When it was over, he watched Danny take a deep breath and open his eyes, then he smiled and Marshal’s shoulders loosened with relief. “Hey,” he said.
“Hey yourself,” Danny said. “That wasn’t so bad at all.”
“I didn’t think it would be,” Marshal said. “Glad you enjoyed it.”
Danny shook his head with a small smile. His hand slid across the seat to lock with Marshal’s. “I had a fun time tonight. I always seem to have a fun time with you.”
“Me too,” Marshal said, “just, you know, with you.”
Danny laughed, and just hearing it made Marshal smile.
The first time he’d met Danny, the guy had seemed stiff and so desperately unhappy that he didn’t even know he was unhappy. All Marshal had wanted to do was get closer to Danny and instead he had found himself falling in love.
Just seeing the changes in Danny’s personality made him happy. It was like he was a flower blooming in the sun. He just seemed to grow larger and brighter with each passing day and Marshal couldn’t help the way the sound of Danny’s laughter made him feel–each time he heard it was the first time.
The rest of the car ride, Marshal smiled and enjoyed catching Danny peek at him.
It had probably been the best night of his life. Not only did he get to poke around in a real space shuttle, but now he was being quietly, shyly flirted with by the man he thought he could easily spend the rest of his life with.
* * *
Arthur didn’t say anything when he let them out in front of the mansion. There was a suspicious curve to his lips that Danny forced himself to ignore. He figured he was going to be teased in the near future and he could handle it then. Better not to borrow trouble before it was due.
Danny led Marshal inside and poured them both drinks–cranberry and vodka for Marshal, a Bolt Cola for himself. They settled on the leather couch in his study.
“So you really had a good time tonight?” Danny asked.
Marshal sipped at his drink. “Yeah, like I said, it was great.” He grinned at Danny. “I’m gonna have to come up with something equally cool to awe and amuse you.”
“I’m at the edge of my seat,” Danny said. He reached forward and picked up the copy of Wired that had been left on the end table. There was a write up on Worth Enterprises inside and he’d been meaning to take a look at it.
He didn’t have time to read the magazine right now, but he still flipped through it really quick to see what pictures they’d used. “Ugh.”
“What?” Marshal slid across the couch to peer over his shoulder.
Danny felt the momentary creep of discomfort, then it dissipated and he could relax. “The picture they used is a really old one. I look like I’ve got a mullet or something.”
Marshal used his finger to tip the page toward himself. “That’s pretty good,” he snorted, trying not to laugh. There was a charming crinkle at the corners of his eyes as he looked down at Danny’s much younger face.
“I was seventeen years old when this was taken.” He could still remember the horror of the situation. His suit had felt like it was three sizes too small and he’d had to take twice his usual dosage of Alprazolam to make it through the photo shoot without having a panic attack. “I’ve had other pictures taken since then, so why would they use this one?” He covered his face with a groan. “Maybe I should have let them send that photographer.”
“It’s not that bad.” Marshal massaged Danny’s shoulder, tentatively at first, then with greater confidence when Danny didn’t flinch away. “You look very cute.”
“I look like a girl.” It was true. It had taken until he was about twenty-three for him to start filling out. Before that, he’d been kind of effeminate, which had made his life as a supposedly hard-nosed businessman harder. He’d really had to worry that he wasn’t going to be able to take control of Worth Enterprises back from the Board because he looked too young and inexperienced.
“A very pretty girl,” Marshal teased, “the prettiest girl in the world.”
“You’re kind of a jerk, aren’t you?” Danny looked at him and couldn’t help smiling. Just being close to the other man made him feel warm inside. “Do you want to stay here tonight?”
Marshal turned to him in surprise. “What?”
“I asked if you wanted to stay here tonight?” Danny licked his lips nervously. “I mean, I…” He cleared his throat and had to wipe his sweaty hands on his pants. “I’ve got to go to bed soon, but I don’t really want you to leave.”
“Are you sure?” Marshal asked, sounding a bit tentative.
Danny gazed directly into his eyes, silently probing his own feelings. “Yes. I’m sure.” And he was.
He wasn’t ready to really do anything with Marshal, but the thought of having him close made him feel warm inside. Safe.
Marshal’s grin was the brightest thing in the room. He hurriedly drained his glass. “Do you have a spare toothbrush?”
“Of course. We’re not animals,” Danny said. He’s pretty sure he can find an unopened toothbrush somewhere. If not, he could always send Arthur out to find one–then deal with Arthur’s diatribe later.
He couldn’t help feeling a bit shy when he led Marshal into his bedroom. Other than the maids, no one else had ever been in here. Arthur didn’t really count.
He could see Marshal looking around curiously. From the king-sized bed with its perfect white-on-white patterned goose down comforter, to the dark furniture and lighter wood floors. Over the bed was a large painting of a vibrant blue ocean scene with Orca whales cavorting with pink coral beneath them and yellow and orange clown fish peeking out.
“That painting makes me feel happy,” he said, blushing a little. “Seeing it helps me sleep better.”
“I think it’s nice,” Marshal said. He laid a careful hand on Danny’s shoulder. “You don’t have to be embarrassed about anything.”
“I’m not,” Danny said, even though he could still feel his cheeks burn. “I showed you my Legos, didn’t I?”
“That you did.”
Seeing him standing there, his head moving around as he looked at everything in the room, Danny didn’t feel as nervous as he thought he should be. He walked over to the bathroom and opened the drawer where all kinds of sundries. Next to the extra bottle of shower gel and a wrapped bar of soap were two toothbrushes.
“Do you like red or green?” he called.
“Red.” He only jumped a little at Marshal popping up so close to him. He hadn’t heard the man follow him into the bathroom, but there he was peering over his shoulder.
“Ah, well, here you go.” He held out the toothbrush, feeling a tingle go through his hand when their fingers brushed.
“Thanks.” Marshal immediately began to open the package.
“Well, let me just give you a moment.” Danny carefully squeezed past him toward the door, palming his pill organizer as he went. He didn’t keep the bottles around, but he wasn’t sure he was ready for Marshal to know just how screwed up he really was. “There’s toothpaste, dental floss, and mouthwash in the medicine cabinet, and you can use anything you like in here.” He tried not to sound as uncomfortable as he felt.
He was giving permission for someone to invade his space and it was incredibly awkward. But because it was Marshal, a man that he truly liked and desperately wanted to get to know better, he figured he could handle it.
“Do you maybe have some pajamas I can wear?” Marshal asked. He looked completely comfortable and in control.
“I’ll find you something,” Danny promised.
He left the bathroom for his walk-in closet. He thought that there might be a pair of sweatpants and a tee shirt that would fit Marshal’s larger frame without looking ridiculous.
He couldn’t help licking his lips at the thought of one of his tee shirts pulled tight across Marshal’s chest. Not that he was going to ogle him or anything… or maybe just a little bit.
Danny couldn’t help the surge of pleasure that went through him at the realization that he was responding as any normal man might. Before Marshal had come around he had never been interested in anyone else and he had always felt weird because of it.
Now he was just as stupidly hormonal as the rest of the world, and it made him unbelievably happy.
He went to the closet and managed to dig out a pair of loose black yoga pants and a tank top that was too big for him. He grabbed a pair of blue and yellow striped pajamas for himself.
Tossing his pajamas at the foot of the bed, he lightly knocked on the bathroom door. “I have clothes for you.”
The door opened halfway and a long, tanned arm reached out to take the bundle of clothes he held out. “Thank you,” Marshal said, flashing him a white grin.
“You’re welcome.” Danny backpedaled from the door as soon as it closed, feeling his heart thump fast in his chest. He honestly didn’t know what was happening to him.
He sat on the edge of the bed, listening to the sounds of water running and the general clattering of someone showering and getting ready for bed. He couldn’t help a little blush at the thought of Marshal being naked on the other side of the door.
Not that he wanted to see Marshal naked or anything. He was just a little curious, that was all.
Danny covered his face with his hand and gave a soft groan.
Everything in his head was all screwed up. He was feeling things that he never had before, and half-wanting things that had once terrified him. But with Marshal none of those things seemed quite so awful and nightmare worthy.
There was something about Marshal that made him feel safe.
The door opened with a soft click and Marshal stepped out. He was barefoot and his hair was still slightly damp. The tee shirt was tight on him, the thin material stretched over his broad chest.
Danny tried not to notice Marshal’s nipples, but it was hard not to see them. They were just so there.
He tried to pretend like he didn’t realize his face was bright red. “I guess it’s my turn,” he said, standing up. He scooped up his pajamas, clenching the cotton material in one hand as he drew in a deep breath and walked toward Marshal.
Marshal’s smile was painfully gentle. “Your turn.” He stepped out of the way so Danny could hurry into the bathroom. The backs of their hands brushed in passing and Danny’s breath caught in a hitching gasp.
Once he’d closed the door, Danny leaned against it for a moment, trying to get back his self-control. His skin felt hot and tight and his hands wanted to tremble with nerves.
He didn’t know what was going to happen, but he was scared.
There had been so much badness in his life that all he could think was that no matter what he did, that was how it was going to go back to being.
He was going to get hurt. It was pathetic to think that things could ever be otherwise. It was just a matter of time before he was going to be sent tumbling once again.
Danny looked at his face in the mirror and sighed.
His eyes looked large in his pale face, the blue dimmed by worry and surrounded by raccoon shadows. His lower lip was slightly red and puffy from his nervous biting, but he couldn’t seem to stop the habit. Especially not when he was feeling so off balance and strange.
He turned away from his reflection and quickly stripped off his clothes. Then, before he stepped in the shower, he couldn’t help quietly creeping back to the door and turning the lock as silently as possible, careful not to jiggle the knob. He didn’t want Marshal to think that he didn’t trust him, but at the same time there was no way he would be able to comfortably shower with the fear that someone could come in at any time.
He knew he was screwed up. It was just something he’d learned to live with because there was no other choice.
* * *
There was no doubt that he was treading in dangerous territory, but there was nowhere else he wanted to be.
He could hear the shower running and he used the time to carefully settle himself on the bed and to try to rid himself of any signs of excitement. It was nice to know that he was actually using some of the meditation exercises Joanna had forced him to learn.
If there was one thing he really didn’t want to do, it was spook Danny. There were realms of untapped psychological trauma that he didn’t want to touch. Not if he wanted the other man to trust and possibly someday love him.
Marshal closed his eyes and just breathed, trying to rein his excitement in. Now wasn’t the time to be stupid, not when he was just starting to make progress with Danny.
So even though he wanted to grin and certain parts of his anatomy wanted to come to attention, there was no way he could show anything but friendship toward Danny.
It took a lot of self-will and the kind of inner strength he’d never thought he could possess, but he managed to have himself under control by the time Danny came out of the bathroom in his pajamas and padded barefoot over to the bed. Marshal just looked at him, not even trying to pretend that he’d fallen asleep.
Danny stood there for a long moment looking back, then licked his lower lip and lifted the covers and climbed onto the bed. “Goodnight,” he said, his voice whispery in the stillness.
Marshal gave him a carefully neutral smile, then slowly cuddled closer. Danny wanted to tell him he could get under the sheet with him, but the words wouldn’t pass his throat, so Marshal only had the top blanket to keep himself warm for the night.
And Danny was able to maintain the fantasy that he was in control of the situation. That thin sheet would protect him.
Slowly, hesitantly, Danny reached out his hand and switched off the light.
The room was plunged into darkness and it took long moments for his eyes to adapt to the bit of light seeping in through the curtains.
“Goodnight,” Marshal said softly.
Danny felt incredibly brave when after a few breathless moments he was able to slide his hand across the covers until he found Marshal’s. He twined their fingers together and that was how they lay on the large bed, side by side with a healthy amount of space between them, their hands joined. And somehow he felt safe enough to sleep.