I shook my head. “Sorry. I’m so dumb.”
“You’re not dumb, you’re just new to the scene. Trust me. I was clueless six months ago. The only way you learn is to get out there.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I asked, “You like to dance?”
“You’re so different at school.”
“Have to be. Less fuel for the fire. Sometimes I want to beat the shit out of Steve, but I’ve learned to ignore him most of the time.”
“Well, if it makes it any better the next time Steve goes at you, just know that he wet the bed until he was thirteen.”
Max turned to me with wide eyes. “You’re kidding!”
“Nope. That’s why we call him Crinkles.”
“I thought it was because of his curly hair,” Max said.
I snickered. “It was the sound of his plastic sheets.”
Max laughed so hard that tears came to his eyes. “Oh, damn. Guess I won’t call him out on that. Not unless I want to get beaten to a pulp. I guess I’m lucky he hasn’t bashed me before.”
“It’s Stone,” I explained. “Someone talked about ‘smearing the queer’ once and Donny flipped. He threatened to beat the shit out of the guy if he laid a finger on you.”
“Yeah. He’s a decent person, when he’s not running his mouth. He’s got it pretty hard at home. His parents died in a car accident when he was eleven and he lives with his grandparents. His gramp had a stroke last year, so Donny spends most of his spare time helping his grandmother and doing stuff around the house.”
Max nodded thoughtfully. “Thanks for telling me. I’ll give him a little more credit than I always have.”
“He’s the only one of my so-called friends that I really like. I don’t know why I stuck around with that crowd so long.”
He put a hand on my leg. “Trace, you’re a ballplayer. You spend about every minute outside school with them. I don’t blame you for keeping the status quo and not coming out.”
The heat from his hand burned through my jeans and heated my blood. My pants started to get tight. Max suddenly realized that he was touching me and snatched his hand away. “Sorry,” he mumbled.
“It’s okay,” I said, a little too quickly. Could I be any more lame?
For the next quarter hour, Max concentrated on driving and I concentrated on anything but Max. When the bright lights of the city began streaming past my window, I snapped out of my trance. “What part of the city are we in?”
“The docks?” I asked. “You know how dangerous it is down here?”
He rolled his eyes. “Live a little, Trace! It’s fine. We’ll park in a garage right across the street from the club. ‘Kay?”
I felt like a complete spaz. “Right. I don’t mean to be such a buzzkill.”
Max laughed. “Buy me a beer and we’ll call it even. I promise we’ll have fun.”
It took about ten minutes to reach the club. He swung a hard left into an underground garage and I braced myself for my journey into the unknown.
We walked across the street and I saw the long line of people waiting to get in. Before I could sigh, Max grabbed my hand and pulled me to the front of the queue. Everyone else waiting began to grumble with complaint, but the bouncer quieted them with one mean glare.
He quieted me too. He was several inches taller than I, and several feet wider, and the tribal tattoos on his face rendered him fiercely intimidating. When the lines and swirls across his nose and cheeks began to undulate, I realize he was smiling.
“Hey, Little Man! How you been?” he asked Max.
“Great, Tai.” Max bumped knuckles with the giant, and then added, “This is Trace.”
I nodded and said, “Hi.”
Tai asked, “You Max’s age?”
“Course he is,” Max said when I remained silent.
“Yeah, I am,” I repeated. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be twenty-one or not.
Tai laughed. “First time, eh? Well, have fun.”
The door opened and music blasted out into the street. The deep bass rhythm vibrated in my chest and I leaned into Max. “Damn, it’s loud.”
Max turned and yelled, “What?”
The music picked that opportune moment to stop and several people turned to stare at the screaming kid in the doorway. Max burst out laughing and pulled me by the hand toward the bar. The DJ began another song and I became less self-conscious. We ordered beers and found a section of wall to lean against.
I drank in my surroundings while I sipped from the cold bottle. The dance floor was a writhing mass of sweating bodies and I began to wish I’d worn looser pants. Max touched my arm and said, “Whaddya think?”
“Don’t know yet. It’s-”
Someone came up behind me and smacked into my elbow, knocking me forward. I was profoundly glad I didn’t fall or spill my drink. The guy who hit me turned and smiled. “Oh, shit. Sorry. You okay?”
It was hard finding words at that moment, as I was busy staring at the skin-tight purple jeans he was almost wearing. His cock was in a fight with the shiny denim and from the size of the bulge, I was waiting for the cock to win at any moment.
Max jabbed me in the side to snap me out of my flagrant stare. I looked up into the stranger’s eyes and felt my face flame. “Yeah. Christ, sorry. I didn’t mean to…”
The man stood on his toes and spoke loudly in my ear. “Go ahead and look. That’s why I wore ‘em.” I blushed and he laughed. “I’m Colby.”
“Dance with me.”
Panic set in. “No, thanks. I’m not much of a dancer.”
“Too bad for me.” He sighed and disappeared into the crowd.
It wasn’t technically true. I didn’t like to dance, but I was pretty decent. It was more that I didn’t want to leave Max on his own. I turned to say something to Max, but found him flirting with a man who was easily twice our age. I suddenly realized this wasn’t just a trip solely for my benefit. In my head, I’d made this into a date and it wasn’t. Max planned to hook up with someone. And that someone wouldn’t be me.
Shit. I felt like an idiot. When the guy asked Max to dance, he looked guiltily at me. I put a smile on my face and said, “Go ahead.”
“You sure?” Max asked. I nodded and he allowed himself to be dragged onto the floor. His slight form was quickly swallowed into the crowd. I leaned back against a post and sipped my beer. A few men smiled in my direction, but I pretended I hadn’t seen them.
Ten minutes went by and I was beginning to get worried. I hadn’t seen Max at all and the club seemed even more crowded than before. I finished my beer and headed into the gyrating knot of bodies, receiving a few bumps and gropes as I passed.
In the center of the crowd was Max, dancing with his eyes closed, tuning everything out but the music. He had his back to the stranger and arms wrapped around the guy’s neck. The man dancing with him reached around to unbutton Max’s shirt and slipped it from his shoulders, and tucked it into Max’s back pocket.
A strobe came on and I lost sight of the pair. Brief flickers of blinding light animated the dancers like a stop motion camera. One moment I saw Max’s slender form, twisting to the music; the next moment, he had vanished. Frame by frame, I searched for him. I pushed and was pushed, sweaty bodies pressing me from all sides.
Someone bumped me hard from behind. I turned and saw a shirtless back, a Celtic cross inked on the left shoulder. My eyes drifted down the undulating muscles to the shirt hanging from his pocket. I couldn’t stop the jealous scowl from darkening my eyes. The man Max was dancing with caught my gaze, recognized it for the threat it was, and walked away. Max dropped his arms and stood still, no doubt wondering why his partner had left so suddenly.
It took a moment before I worked up the courage to touch him. With shaking fingers, I slowly traced the tattoo. Max spun around and a smile slowly spread across his face. He grabbed my shirt and pulled me down to his mouth.
Beer and salty sweat flavored our lips and tongues. I tilted my head to bring us closer together and fisted my fingers in the curls at the base of his neck. Max moaned and gripped my ass. Even through the denim, I could feel the heat of his hands. He was still dancing, grinding his hips from side to side, but somehow never breaking the seal between our mouths.
My cock was painfully stiff and I knew I was moments from coming. If I didn’t stop soon, I would humiliate myself. Sweat soaked my shirt and my head swam with the giddiness of dancing with Max. Actually, we weren’t really dancing. We were having clothed, vertical sex. Oh, god, I had to get out of there.
“I’ll be back,” I said into his ear.
He frowned. “You okay?”
Max looked disappointed… or was he nervous? Perhaps he thought I didn’t like what had happened. Nothing was farther from the truth and I made sure he knew it. I kissed him hard and spoke in his ear. “I only need to cool off a bit. Then I want you to show me more of those dance moves.”
“Oh, okay. Just be careful.” He bit his lip and smiled shyly.
I fought my way to the door and smiled at the bouncer that had let us in. He nodded and said, “Hey, man. Don’t go far.”
I heeded his warning and walked down to the corner of the building. I figured it’d be a good place to have a nervous breakdown. I leaned against the cool brick wall and closed my eyes. What was I going to do? What was this sudden attraction to Max?
“Hey there, pretty boy.”
My eyes snapped open to see a very large man headed toward me. He wore tight jeans and a black vest with no shirt. Tattoos covered his arms and a thick mustache added to his intimidating look.
I decided to flee, so I casually turned to my left to go back to the club, but another similarly dressed, equally large man blocked my way. I was trapped, and took the only option I saw—I ran down the alley.
Four feet slapped the tar behind me and I prayed that I wasn’t going to die like this, raped and gutted in the dark. When a dead end loomed before me, I turned to face my attackers. Instead of their burly forms, however, I saw a pair of wings blocking their path. Dark, flowing hair told me who my savior was.
“Michael!” I sobbed.
The two men that had been pursuing me stood before the angel in terrified shock. He took them by the shoulders and without a word, rendered them unconscious. With a deep sigh of relief, I took a step toward my protector, but the air suddenly went cold. A black shadow swept between the buildings and hit Michael from the side. His wings crumpled and he smashed into the wall.
“What the—” I took a step toward Michael, but stopped when a pair of bright red eyes appeared in front of me.
The voice was as dark and frightening as anything I’d ever heard. The black fog enclosed me and bound my arms to my sides. My blood chilled and I struggled to get away from the ghost.
“I’m no ghost.”
Apparently it could hear my thoughts. The amorphous mist formed into a half-man, half-animal and my heart stopped. His nose crinkled when he sniffed at me. Slimy lips split to show four fangs in an otherwise empty mouth. I gagged on the putrid smell of blood on his breath. He had bumpy, black and red skin like a hellish frog. Paper-thin wings fluttered with his panting breaths.
He raised a hand to my chin and gripped me with razor-sharp talons. His gaze traveled down to my feet and back to my face. He came to some decision.
“I want this one,” the voice scratched.
“Oh Jesus,” I whispered. I was very close to pissing myself.
“Release him!” Michael boomed. His feathery wings flapped violently and he rose into the air. With a howl of rage, he put up his hand and hurled a ball of light at the demon, who roared and let me go.
“I should destroy you where you stand, Pentus!” Michael bellowed. Another ball of silver-blue light began to grow in his hand. “Get what’s yours and go.”
The demon backed slowly away until he reached the two unconscious men. When he touched them, the humans woke and began shrieking in fear at the apparition before them. They both lunged for the exit to the street, but the demon blocked their path. His great claws tore into the men’s flesh and he laughed at their cries of pain. He growled in triumph. “Fine. You can keep your one, Michael. I’ll take two.”
Holding his quarry tight, Pentus swirled into a cloud of black dust and disappeared. When the air cleared, the only thing left was a pile of bloody clothes. I pushed Michael out of my way and emptied my stomach onto a pile of trash. After I stopped heaving, I wiped my mouth with a damp towel which Michael produced from thin air. He somehow procured mouthwash and handed it to me.
I swished and spat, but before I could ask, “What the fuck was that?” the black cloud swirled up from the ground and Pentus once again stood before us, with a small, furry bundle in his hands.
Michael sighed harshly. “What do you want, Pentus? You are testing my patience.”
I braced myself for the possibility that the thing was going to hurl whatever beastly object he held at me. But he didn’t move in my direction. In fact, he didn’t move at all. Instead, he bowed his head and asked quietly, “Is he well?”
Michael narrowed his eyes and said sharply, “What right have you to ask after him?”
“I have every right to—”
“No! Your greed and lust ate away your soul and you were cast down. You lost him, Pentus. Let him forget you.”
“I will. I will never ask of him again, if you give him this small gift.” Pentus set the ball of fur on the tar, and then slipped through the cracks in the pavement and vanished. The ball rolled over and a small, black kitten mewed up at us.
Michael glared at it. “Oh, He is not going to like this.”
“A kitten? Oh, it’s so cute.” The animal cried again, so I bent and scooped it off the cold ground. When I took a closer look, long, white fangs protruded from its tiny mouth.
“Demon cat!” I announced. I dropped it and it landed awkwardly at my feet. With an annoyed hiss, two small wings unfolded from its back and the animal of the underworld flew up and landed on my shoulder. While I stood stick-still, amazed by its very existence, the kitten proceeded to clean its whiskers.
The kitten’s wing tickled my ear. I swatted it away and the animal bit my finger. “Ouch!” I sucked at the bead of blood. “Michael, who was that? And what is this?”
He scratched the cat’s chin and answered me. “Pentus is a carnifex. He’s an executioner of souls—the opposite of an angel. Instead of accompanying men to the light of God, Pentus drags the wicked into Hell.”
“Oh, my God—I mean gosh. So those two men…?”
He nodded. “Those two men had been marked long ago. Pentus must have thought I was going to claim them, so he tried to prevent me. He’s very competitive. The two of us don’t get on well.”
I raised an eyebrow. “I’d hardly imagine angels would be BFFs with demons.”
“True, but we tolerate their existence as part of the Holy One’s plan. Angels of course are much stronger and if needed, we can and will defend God’s chosen by destroying a carnifex.”
“So why didn’t you rub Pentus out with one of your lightning balls? That was awesome, by the way.”
His mouth drew down. “Because of Philip.”
“Yes,” the angel said sadly. “Before he was cast down, Pentus and Philip loved each other.”
“What? You mean loved, loved? Ouch! Stop biting me, fur ball.”
I detached the kitten’s claws from my shirt and held it up so I could look it in the eye. It blinked its wide eyes at me and lay down on my hand, purring contentedly. I handed it to Michael.
“What do you want me to do with it?” he asked.
“Um, let’s see. How about something not involving me? I won’t exactly blend in with the human population with a demon cat flying around my head. Someone is bound to notice sooner or later.”
“You always wanted a kitten when you were little.”
“A kitten with wings and fangs? Are you out of your gourd?”
“I’m sorry. I’m just not looking forward to telling Philip about this.”
I rolled my eyes. “I am not adopting a demon cat.”
A voice called out from the street. “Trace? Are you out here?”
Michael sighed and disappeared, leaving the cat on the wet ground. When I saw Max running down the alley at me, I gently pushed the kitten behind me. Max took me by the shoulders and gasped when he saw my ear. “Oh, shit! You’re bleeding! What happened?”
Before I could come up with an explanation, a loud purr bubbled up from the pavement. Once again, I pushed the kitten back out of sight, but it wasn’t having that. It meowed loudly and clawed my ankle.
“Ow,” I mumbled.
Max knelt and scooped the kitten into his hands. “Oh my God, look!”
Terror froze me to the spot. Once the kitten’s wings sprouted and his fangs showed, Max was going to freak. But the wings didn’t sprout, and when Max stood, cradling the animal tight against his chest, I couldn’t see any fangs in the kitten’s mouth. I rolled my eyes. Michael had transformed the kitten into what appeared to be a normal cat. At least, I thought he had. Was it horrible that I wanted to murder an angel?
My attention snapped back to Max’s face when I felt his hand touch my arm. “Did the cat scratch you while you were trying to save it?”
His eyes lit with admiration and I thought, Fine. I’m going to milk this. With a sheepish grin, I nodded. “Yeah. Poor little guy was pretty scared. I heard him mewling in the dumpster.”
“That’s so sweet,” Max gushed. He reached up with one hand and drew me down for a kiss which had potential to grow into something hot. A sweep of his tongue against my lips had me panting for another taste, but when I tried to draw Max’s body close to mine, the cat hissed his displeasure. Max stepped back and chuckled. I stepped back and adjusted my pants.
“Can you take him to your house?” Max asked.
“Huh?” I replied numbly.
“You won’t leave him here, will you? He’s so small and helpless.”
“Helpless my ass,” I mumbled.
Max scowled. “What was that?”
I thought fast. “I said poor, homeless cat.” The pout on Max’s face broke my willpower. I sighed. “Okay. I’ll take him home. Can’t promise my mom will keep him, but—”
Balancing the kitten in one hand, Max wrapped his free arm around my waist and squeezed. “Let’s go back to the bar and see if they have anything to put him in.”
Ten minutes later, we were on the highway. I was holding a Bacardi box on my lap, peering down at the hellcat within. This was a very bad idea, but the thought of disappointing Max was worse. I reached in to pet the kitten, and its wings unfurled.
“Don’t you dare,” I whispered. The kitten looked contrite, and folded his wings up and out of sight. I glanced at Max, who didn’t seem to have heard me over the radio.
“So what will you name him?” Max asked.
I snickered. “Lucifer.”
Max nodded slowly. “I guess that works. After all, he did scratch you.”
After all, he was created in hell. Time to change the subject. “You know, I really liked dancing with you.”
His blush was impressive, even in the low light. “Me too,” he said. “And, you know.”
“Kissing you? God yeah, I definitely liked that. I wanted to do more, but…” I pointed at the cat.
“Yeah…” He looked at me with burning lust in his eyes. The car suddenly slowed as Max pulled off into a deserted rest area. He threw the car in park, took the box from me, and set it gently in the back seat. Then, he unbuckled his seatbelt and pounced.
There wasn’t much room to maneuver in the small car, but with a little wiggling, Max was able to straddle my lap. We looked at each other for a moment before he covered my lips with his. I opened my mouth and our tongues fought for dominance. The now faint taste of beer drove me wild and I moaned.
“Want you,” I panted. “Want to touch you.”
He breathed. “Please, Trace,” before kissing me even harder than before.
I struggled to get his pants opened, but I finally succeeded in freeing his cock from the tight denim. Max’s cock was on the smaller side, and thin, but it felt good in my hand. In my previous existence, I’d touched plenty of dicks, and it was fun, but it was different with Max. It was…right. I tightened my fingers around him and rubbed my thumb over the weeping head.
“Fuck, yes,” he said between panting breaths. “Feels so good, Trace.”
With my experience as a lover, I planned on making this as good as I could for Max. I collected his pre-come on my thumb and wiped it across his mouth. Then I held his face in both of my hands and licked it off, pausing briefly to nibble on his bottom lip.
“So fucking hot,” I whispered. “You want me to make you come?”
He nodded, but didn’t speak. The innocence sent my arousal through the roof. I wanted to try to bring him out of his shell. I wrapped my fingers in his hair and licked a path up his neck. “Say it, Max. Say it out loud.”
“I-I want to come.” His voice was barely audible.
I nipped at his throat. “Louder, Max. Tell me what you want, baby. Louder.”
I reached my fingers farther into his pants and rubbed against his taint. He convulsed and let out a strangled cry. “Trace! Oh, fuck, make me come!”
My fingers tightened on his cock and I stroked faster. I watched in wonder as Max’s eyes rolled back in his head and he slid quickly over the edge. As his come covered my fingers and ran down his shaft, my own orgasm rocked through me.