What do you do when a character you had a great deal of fun making thoroughly detestable over the course of three books looks you in the eye and tells you he wants his own book? That’s the predicament I found myself in courtesy of Bryce Newhouse, the Greenwich Village investment banker everyone — and I do mean everyone — loves to hate in GALE FORCE, DEEP PLUNGE, and especially FIRESTORM. Well, I do love a challenge… so here’s a bit of Bryce’s journey.
“What the fuck do you mean, he’s ‘otherwise occupied’?” Unable to glare at the person who was pissing him off, Bryce directed his ire at the air conditioner. Which the fucking landlord wasn’t going to be able to fix until Tuesday at the earliest, and why he’d thought he needed to interrupt Bryce’s Saturday afternoon with that news Bryce had no fucking idea.
A couple of hundred miles away, Josh LaFontaine sighed. “He’s in a meeting, Bryce. This is just another work day for us, you know.”
Remind me again why the hell I called? “I knew that, that’s why I called the studio. And since when do tattoo artists have meetings?”
“I don’t see where that’s any of your business.” Frost rimed on the words.
Neither do I, he nearly blurted. To say he’d been rattled by his close encounter with the heart-stopping Lasair Faol would be the understatement of the decade. Left trembling in a way he’d literally never been before in his life. But that hadn’t been the worst. The worst thing about it was the way it had made him start thinking. About the methodical way he’d spent more or less his whole life shoving everyone who might otherwise have gotten close enough to want to do for him what the blond god in his bedroom wanted to do for him out the nearest windows or under the nearest trains. Figuratively speaking, thank God.
Which contemplation, naturally enough, had turned his thoughts to Terry. Even before whatever had happened this morning, it had been frustrating, being unable to remember why he’d thrown Terry out. Now the inability to remember had graduated to being frustrating as fuck. I seem to have fallen in love with the f-bomb. I suppose it beats hell out of falling in love with anyone else. At least from the perspective of the hypothetical anyone else.
Oh, right, it was his turn to say something. “I wouldn’t have thought Terry needed a social secretary, but as long as you seem to have given yourself the job, would you mind telling me when would be a better time to call?” Acquiring a conscience, if that’s what had happened to him this morning, hadn’t done shit to improve his social skills. No reason it should have, either.
“Why are you bothering?” There was an edge to the tattoo artist’s voice now. “And Terry’s getting on with his life just fine, no thanks to you.”
Jesus. He’d called because… damned if he knew. Had he really thought he could make things right with Terry with a phone call? When he still couldn’t remember how he’d made things wrong in the first place? Not to mention all the bad blood between him and LaFontaine, and him and Dary. Him and pretty much everyone he knew, come to think of it. Not just an asshole, a stupid asshole. “Maybe this was a bad idea.”
“What the fuck?” A puppy dropped onto the sofa. A puppy that couldn’t possibly have climbed to anywhere he might have fallen from, and had been shut into the bedroom not five minutes before. He could see the bedroom door from where he sat. It was still closed.
“I beg your pardon?”
“I. Uh.” Bryce set the phone on his thigh and switched it to speaker, so he could gather up the bewildered puppy. “My, um, houseguest has a dog. It’s not supposed to be up on the furniture.”
“You have a houseguest?”
“Do you have to sound so fucking surprised?” Bryce cradled the squirming pup awkwardly. “It is my house. If you can have a guest in it, I’m thinking I probably can too.” Shit. He’d had to go and remind himself of Conall Dary. Again. Maybe masochistic tendencies were yet another surprise discovery waiting for him today. It was hard to imagine why else he was rubbing his own nose in that particular piece of his past yet again. I’ve walked this part of memory lane twice already today, can’t I give it a miss now?
No, something else about the memory was nagging him. Something very similar about the two men involved. Something about the eyes. The way they’d seemed to see straight into him. Before he’d been an ass to both of them, anyway. His very special talent.
There was more. When he and Terry had walked in on Dary and LaFontaine, hadn’t there been a length of silver chain on the bedroom floor?
The door to the bedroom opened, banging against the wall, chasing all thoughts of chains from his head. Lasair strode into the living room, his intense turquoise gaze fixed not on Bryce, but on the dog. Which was actually just fine. It meant Bryce didn’t have to be ashamed of staring, at least for a few seconds. He’d been taken by surprise in the bedroom, by those kisses he could still taste. He hadn’t really looked at the heart-stopping blond, his improbable blue eyes and his bite-and-be-bitten lips and his perfectly chiseled body. He’d just fallen against him and let himself be kissed. Touched. Wanted. At least, until he’d come to his senses and gotten the hell out of there. No, he couldn’t even take credit for that much common sense. His escape had all been the landlord’s doing.
However it had happened, it was a good thing. No way could Bryce let himself get involved with a man like Lasair. Even if a miracle had happened, and he now somehow had the capacity not to be a total dickhead, he was still missing something very important. Namely, the ability to be anything else. If he let this go on the way Lasair apparently wanted it to–who the hell am I kidding, I want it too–there was only one way it could end. Very badly. For both of them.
Still, he could look. He could dream. For a second.
The spell shattered as Lasair came toward him with the obvious intention of taking the puppy. Bryce’s arms closed around the dog instinctively. Or it would have been instinctively, if he’d ever had an instinct to protect anything but himself.
“Earth to Newhouse?” The plaintive voice came from the phone still precariously balanced on his thigh. Lasair’s efforts to take the dog away from Bryce ceased. The blond was staring at the phone as if he expected it to leap from Bryce’s thigh and bite him in the face.
This all really, really needed to get weirder. “I’m here.”
“Look, you aren’t planning to come down to D.C. again, are you? That Christmas visit of yours, you made Terry cry, you pissed off Conall, and just a word to the wise, if you ever even try to set foot in Purgatory again, Tiernan’s going to let Lucien use you as a medicine ball.”
There is no way I could ever make up for all the shit I’ve pulled. The sudden bleakness of the thought left Bryce feeling as if all the air had been sucked out of him. It goes all the way back to my childhood and here I sit, piling on more every time I open my mouth. But at least Lasair had finally heard, straight from the horse’s mouth, what a horse’s ass Bryce was. Hopefully that would save him the trouble of proving it to the blond Adonis himself.
“Conall? Tiernan?” Lasair was still staring at the phone like a spooked horse, and he spoke carefully, almost reluctantly. “Are you speaking of Conall Dary and Tiernan Guaire?”
Silence. “Who wants to know?”
Fuck. Lasair hadn’t even heard the Bryce-is-a-dick part. “My houseguest,” Bryce grated. And how the hell did his ‘houseguest’ know both Dary and Guaire?
The blond glanced at Bryce, eyes wide. “I’m… a friend of theirs.” He rested a hand on the puppy’s head. “A friend of a friend, actually. Are they in there with you?–can I speak with them?” The way the blond was nodding toward the phone, it was almost as if he thought LaFontaine was actually inside it.
Bryce shook his head. He’d discarded the raving lunatic explanation for the chained-up man in his basement early on, but maybe it was time to come back to it.
The tattoo artist sounded almost as puzzled as Bryce felt. “They aren’t here, no. I could pass your name along, have them call you back, if you want.”
“No, that’s not necessary. But where are you?”
Considering the context, that has to be one of the strangest questions I’ve ever heard. “He’s not in the phone, Rapunzel.”
“Whatever it is you’re using, Bryce, it’s way too early in the day for it.”
“Fuck you very much, LaFontaine.” Bryce touched off the phone, the urge to slam something down making him nostalgic for something from his grandfather’s house for the first time he could remember. One of those old heavy black phones would have been so much more satisfying to hang up.