Even though he’s one of the Heartland Security Agency’s Peacemaker agents, a man sworn to help protect and preserve the morality of the United States, Neal can’t give up his habit of patronizing prostitutes. When one of them steals the prototype of a top secret device, however, he has no choice but to come clean in order to rally fellow agents for a recovery mission. His situation goes from bad to worse when he is tricked into a plot to take down one of the Agency’s most powerful secret allies—an angel from Heaven&Hell.
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Neal didn’t stop for the cyclist. He didn’t even take the time to consider himself lucky when the kid swerved out of his Acura’s path.
On a mission, he took up two spaces in the parking lot then almost forgot to lock the car’s doors as he dashed for the convenience store’s entrance. He hustled up and down the aisles twice before finally losing it.
“Dammit—Don’t you have any Listerine?”
“Sorry, shiny,” the clerk hollered back at him.
Neal knew his skin was still covered in baby oil—only in the car did he realize it might’ve been wise to rinse off before he’d left Lady Kat’s room—but the fact the clerk could tell he was slicked up from a couple dozen feet away only made him more anxious. What if the chuckling fool made a leap in logic and figured it out? Shiny head and arms sticking out of a wrinkled, stained polo . . . Couldn’t have been the worst or oddest of what has passed through the convenience store; but the clerk wouldn’t take his eyes off him.
“We have a dry mouth oral rinse.” The fool, still chuckling, may or may not have been trying to be helpful.
“I need something that kills odors,” Neal said. “Germs.”
“It does the same thing.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
He had to get out of there. He had to get out of the store, and out of the area. He wanted to just go and jump in some magic acid bath, something that would cleanse and purify his clothes and body, inside and out.
He grabbed the bottle of oral rinse and laid three dollars on the counter.
“One short, dude,” the clerk said.
“It’s only a three-ounce bot—” Neal closed his eyes and sighed. “Never mind.” He gave the clerk another buck and twisted off the cap as he headed for the exit. For the next ten minutes, he stood next to his car, swishing, sloshing, and gargling the bottle’s contents. It was no use. He couldn’t wash the taste from his mouth. Or the stench from his upper lip.
He got into his Acura and sped off. He’d take the back roads, making sure he reached the Agency even faster than if he’d taken the highway. He sure as hell could maneuver a vehicle more smoothly and successfully than he could a woman’s body. His experience with the Kat had certainly confirmed that.
She was in-call only, just as Neal preferred. And there was a fifteen-year age difference, also as he preferred (he was too embarrassed to be with anyone near his own age). A different ethnicity? Check. She wasn’t anything close to Irish, not even a so-called Black Irish like himself. And he’d stuck to his aliases—“NumberJuan” on email and cell, and “Juan” in person. Everything was working, except for the one thing that never really worked.
He wasn’t a virgin. He was something worse. Inept. He couldn’t hold a girlfriend because he had no technique. Sloppy kisses and awkward caresses had yet to impress any. He did have what he once thought of as a secret weapon, over eight inches long. But it didn’t take long for him to recognize that wasn’t enough. It’s not the size that counts; it’s what you do with it. His sexual adulthood had been a progression from wet-noodle wielder to—with the assistance of a little yellow pill—cannon carrier, one that refused to fire when he was with a partner (though he did just fine on his own).
His lifelong dream of having a child was fading with each passing day. Thirty-five years out of his mother’s womb and he still was no closer to being able to sow his own seed, not for the lack of trying. After thirty minutes of fumbling around with a woman, unable to even come close to ejaculating, his interest in satisfying her steeply declined. Frustration was a mood-killer no drug could reverse.
When his partners’ reactions passed from “That’s okay, baby” through yawning to “What the fuck . . . Are you gay?” he decided he needed practice. He bought a red smartphone and a new account to match; then he hit the backpages. He scheduled appointments with escorts who operated far from his neighborhood and his other regular haunts, but not too far. A Heartland Security agent using most of his personal time to make long-distance trips would quickly raise suspicion and potentially call down the wrath of superiors.
He’d been successfully elusive for six months now. But practice wasn’t making perfect; it was just making him sick.
Fifty years old and heavyset, Lady Kat initially seemed promising. She’d agreed to meet him in her motel room on Saturday morning, 11:00, roughly two hours before he’d have to head in for his shift. Neal performed his usual surveillance ahead of time. As a member of the Agency’s elite Peacemakers, a special-mission unit, he damn sure knew how to stay invisible while scouting territory, ensuring it was safe to enter. He’d perfected that skill, at least. Good thing the Heartland Security Agency was interested in hiring Peacemakers rather than Lovemakers.
Lady Kat was big, but voluptuous. A pleasing smile and gorgeous eyes that seemed to shift back and forth between green and blue both relaxed and aroused him. The body-rub he’d explicitly come for went well enough, even if her palms felt like she’d been laying brick with her bare hands. After she disrobed and they began entangling for what he’d implicitly come for, things went downhill—in more ways than one. He kissed her on the forehead and steadily made his way south. Her skin was sticky but tasty, as if she’d used maple syrup for lotion, but her thong, the one piece of clothing she’d kept on, smelled like the kitchen of a fast burger joint and had the greasy taste to match. He made sure the thong stayed on, and he stayed away from the patch for the rest of the hour.
He’d left the room with a mild feeling of nausea and something verging on a migraine, but the lingering odor in his nostrils and film on his tongue were what he most wanted to rid himself of before arriving at work. He could take a shower once he got there.
He couldn’t help but appear as a heap of something one would wisely steer clear of if spotted in one’s path. And most of his coworkers were wise. Unfortunately for his unit partner, she had no choice but to get close.
“You’re almost late,” Katrisha said.
“Almost.” Neal dropped his bag in his chair and rummaged through his desk drawers.
“Why are you so shiny?” she asked.
He answered with a more important question. “Do you have any mouthwash?”
Katrisha sniffed. “Is that coconut oil?”
“Like strong mouthwash?” Neal repeated.
She shook her head. “Why didn’t you get some on the way in?”
He smirked as he pulled his toothbrush out of the drawer. “Because I was almost late.”
Katrisha shifted her eyes downward and nodded. “How’d you know? You’re not wearing your watch.”
Neal followed her eyes and dropped his brush. “Shit . . . Oh shit!”
The watch was Agency-issue, a prototype of a device developed in conjunction, and in secret, with a private contractor. As Neal understood it, the device was designed to connect with the nervous system and somehow enhance the body’s electrical activity to the point where the air around the skin, the tiniest fraction of an inch, acted as a force field of some kind; they were experimenting with watches before they moved on to neural implants. Neal and other select Peacemakers were to wear the devices out in the field, testing them in action so they could be studied and improved. They looked like normal digital watches, almost exactly like Neal’s old one, so he thought nothing of taking it off with the rest of his clothes and laying it on Lady Kat’s nightstand. When it came time to leave, he was far more worried about getting the hell out of there without vomiting.
“Go back home and get it.” Katrisha usually wasn’t one to get emotional. She was professional through and through, believing wholeheartedly in the Agency’s mission and following orders without question. What he saw in her eyes now was fiery intensity, so much of it her irises seemed to glow. Even though Neal was her senior in the unit, and her mentor, he’d screwed up, and she wasn’t going to stand for it.
“It’s not at home.”
“Where is it?”
“It’s . . . not at home.” He wasn’t sure what to say. Several years back, in the aftermath of President Sullivan cheating on his wife and being murdered for it, the law euphemistically dubbed the “Mistress Act” made prostitution and other pay-to-play sexual activities a severe crime, punishable by a minimum three-year prison sentence. One strike and you’re in. To survive as an escort these days, one had to be smart and discreet: accept cash only, and for companionship only; the word “sex” and common terms for sexual activities were never to be mentioned in an escort’s presence, not even in private settings. Not all those who advertised in the backpages knew the unspoken rules. Neal knew to only pick those who’d been advertising for some time; they were the ones who best knew how to stay out of jail and protect their clients. Now, he felt as naked as he’d actually been in Lady Kat’s den.
“Neal, you need to get that watch back. If it—”
“Falls into the wrong hands—I know, I know.” He waved her off as he hustled toward the stairs and pulled out his red smartphone. He wasn’t about to risk a call. Even a text was too chancy within a building housing those dedicated to surveillance and security. He did send Kat a brief, cryptic email while making his way to the parking garage. He didn’t expect a reply before he got back to the motel, but he wanted to try to give her a head’s up he was coming.
He unlocked his Acura.
“We’re taking the SUV.”
“The fu—” Neal almost dropped his phone at the sound of Katrisha’s voice. “Were you following me?”
“We’re on Agency time now. Neither of us is off duty. Wherever you’re going, I’m going.”
Neal muttered three obscenities before following his partner to the black armored vehicle. Katrisha settled herself in the driver’s seat as she asked, “So, we’re not going to your place?”
“Just get us out of the garage,” Neal said. “I’ll guide you.”