Darkest Flowers

an excerpt



Prologue

On Interstate 5
2 hours north of Sacramento California
Monday, April 4th



"Damn it!" Henri banged a fist on the truck's dashboard. The laptop he'd forgotten didn't magically appear and he shook his head. "I can't believe I did that. I'm such an idiot." There was little point in trying to do research without his data. Pen and paper just weren't his thing. With a sigh, he peeled off at the next exit and made a big U-turn back toward the university campus.

The dormitory parking lot stood empty. Everyone was already in class or out on assignment. He pulled into the parking spot next to his room and noticed Jack's bike. Why is he still here?

He hurried up the stairs two at a time. He'd missed Jack as soon as he'd swung onto the freeway. One more good-bye kiss was definitely in order. Or maybe he could try one more time to talk him into coming along. Just for a day or two. Being apart from Jack for a whole two weeks might just kill me.

He'd told Jack he loved him last month, and hadn't received a reply. Which was fine, he told himself. Jack's young. He's only twenty-six, nearly twenty years younger. He doesn't have to make up his mind today. I'm sure he'll come around.

Henri opened the door and saw two figures in the living room. One was a young blond man bent over the couch with his ass in the air. The other was Jack--from the back--his fine bubble butt swaying as he thrust his cock into the other man's hole. The blond kept groaning out, "Yeah, yeah, yeah," with each of Jack's thrusts. The motion was rhythmic, mesmerizing. Jack was a beautiful man, even from behind. It took Henri a couple of seconds to react.

"Jack!"

Jack glanced over his shoulder. "Hey, Henri." He turned his attention back to the blond, giving his ass a slap.

The blond interrupted his chant. "Yeah, yeah--who's that--yeah."

Henri came closer. "Jack, what the fuck are you doing?" For Christ's sake, the man wasn't even using a condom!

"Coming," Jack said. He tilted his head back and roared.

The familiar sound, one Henri knew well but thought had been shared exclusively with him, made him blush.

The blond moaned as Jack pulled out. "Finish me."

"Turn around." He did. Jack knelt on the shabby carpet and sucked him off, right then and there.

Henri's toes curled in his shoes. "Jack. What's going on? Why are you doing this?"

Jack popped his mouth off the other guy's dick long enough to say, "You were supposed to be gone." He sucked the man's shaft back in, and now the blond said, "Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah."



Henri's stomach turned to acid and he reeled into the bedroom, half expecting to find another man. He didn't but the sheets were in worse disarray than when he'd left this morning. On the bed sat a small notebook, a flip-top one. He picked it up. Guy's names and phone numbers on every page. Henri winced as a tear came to his eyes. Fuck. He's been doing this all along.

God help him, he'd hoped Jack loved him, or would someday. Not now. The illusion finally shattered.

Jack walked into the bedroom, wiping his mouth. "Hey, sorry about that."

"Sorry? You're sorry? That's all you have to say?"

Jack shrugged a beautiful shoulder, ran a hand through his dark bushy curls. "Yeah, I mean. You weren't supposed to see that."

Henri made the mistake of letting his gaze fall to Jack's flaccid shaft. When he remembered where it had been he jerked his head up so fast his head spun. "How many times, Jack? Were you ever faithful?"

"That's not important." Jack turned away, grabbed his robe and headed for the shower. "You were lucky to have me as long as you did."

His blood boiled. "Get out. I want you gone when I get back."

"Okay, suit yourself." Jack slammed the door in his face. "See you later."

That pompous, shithead of an ass! Henri searched for something to throw. Something to smash. Maybe something of Jack's would do. He grabbed the coffee cup Jack had left on the counter and chucked it at the wall. It collided, sending shards spraying. He felt better for about five seconds. Fuck you, Jack!

The shakes set in when he grabbed his laptop. This is it. No more Jack. It's over. He told himself he wouldn't cry. But as he passed the bathroom door, he found the lump in his throat too big to talk around. "Good-bye," he whispered. Vision blurry, heart in wild turmoil, he left. Jack's betrayal burned like a campfire that couldn't be contained. How could I have been so stupid?

He broke down in the truck, sobbing, shoulders shaking until the well ran dry. "Please, Jack. Please, don't." But he had. And could Henri blame him? Jack was half his age. Perfect. A rising star in the field of botanical research. Why the hell had he thought his love would be enough for Jack?

Hating himself wouldn't help, but right then, he did. Hating his foolish hopes and dreams, he felt like pitching them all into the middle of the road and watching the cars run over them. Maybe he'd even join them.

He entered the freeway and drove five and a half hours, not seeing the road. All he could see was Jack's ass going slap, slap, slap.

At Grants Pass, he thought he smelled smoke. Just a whiff on the air. No clouds, no fire alarms wailing. He sniffed his T-shirt. "Must have been somebody smoking in the dorm." He wrinkled his nose. He'd given up smoking when it hadn't been cool to do so. Not that he was any cooler now...

He switched to State Route 199--the Redwood Highway--and headed for the Woodcock Bog. A Research Natural Area, he'd had to apply six months in advance to reserve his time slot. The site gave him access to Darlington Fen, an undisturbed breeding ground for Cobra Lilies. He'd hoped to finish his research here in the next two weeks, turn in his thesis and ask Jack to move into an apartment with him. No way was that gonna happen now.

As he drove the last five miles toward the bog the smoky smell increased. The sky went grey and tiny white flecks of ash fell on his windshield. Helicopters flew overhead, carrying water buckets under their bellies. He 

figured a warehouse had gone up in town. Something big from the looks of things. But as he got closer, he realized there was too much smoke for it to be a building.

"No. Oh hell no." He swung the truck onto the dirt access road and found the way blocked. Department of Natural Resources, Bureau of Land Management, and Oregon State Parks, all had trucks parked. Ahead, the plume of smoke rose dark and thick. The fucking bog was on fire.

"No!" Henri screeched, fingers digging into his scalp. It couldn't be gone. It just couldn't. Maybe I can still get in. I'll just see how bad it is.

He worked his way around the army of trucks and ducked into the forest. Cedars and pines cracked and popped around him, sending chutes of orange flames licking high up the trees. Driven beyond the limits of his reason, he kept going. The area he needed was just a little ways inside. Maybe it was all right. He had to know.

"Hey! Get back here!"

Henri heard the shout and ran faster, slipping over pine needles and tall grass. Almost there.

The air became toxic, unbreathable, filled with ash. Tears stung his eyes. Burning wood singed his lungs, but still he kept going, pushing his body further into the blaze.

When he reached the fen and saw it on fire, he flung himself down, blindly groping for a living lily, anything to prove to himself life hadn't taken everything away from him this day. But alas, it had. Choking, coughing, he struggled up to a crouched position. In the curling grey smoke, he thought he spied the way out. He headed back toward the yellow and white trucks. With no air, he couldn't shout for help. He just kept plodding with his arm over his mouth.

A loud pop sounded to his right, and searing pain hit his right side. His strength gave out, his legs buckling under him. He sank toward the charcoal ground. With his cheek pressed to the hot earth, he thought he heard footsteps coming. But in reality, it didn't matter. All was lost. The fire around him heated him, coiling around his side like a too-hot wool blanket. He surrendered to the inferno, knowing he'd never escape.

"Take me," he told the earth, all hope lost. "Take me."