Death or Life

an excerpt



Prologue

Noah Wiltson sighed as he closed his apartment door. He hated going out on the campaign trail with his father. Loathed having to pretend they were a happy family when he couldn't stand being in the same room with his father, former Senator Charles Wiltson, soon-to-be the candidate of choice for President.

Without turning on the lights, Noah tossed his keys into the lopsided bowl his daughter had made him. A smile eased over his face at the thought of young Lindsey. Thank God no one knew he donated the sperm. No one but Lindsey's mothers. His best friend, Tabitha, and her partner, Rhoanna. At least they could avoid being hounded by reporters.

He tugged off his tie and threw it on the table next to the bowl, then made his way to the side bar where he poured a glass of whiskey. He slugged it down and filled the shot glass again.

When he looked up in the mirror behind the bar, he noticed the silhouette standing in front of the blinds lowered over the large set of windows across the room.

"Fuck." He whirled, dropping the glass, the whiskey staining his cream carpet.

"Sinful waste of good whiskey." The man didn't move.

"Who the hell are you?" Noah inched toward the phone at the end of the bar.

"What kind of hired killer would I be if I didn't disable the phones?"

The blinds opened slightly, allowing some light to filter in and shine on the gun in the man's hand.

"Killer? Why?"

Noah was confused. He couldn't think of anyone he'd pissed off enough to want him dead.

The gun wavered. "Pick up the glass. Pour us each a drink and we'll discuss this." The man's deep carefree laugh puzzled Noah. "I have plenty of time before the man waiting on the street starts to worry."

Noah did as he was told. The man didn't seem to be in a hurry to kill him. Maybe he could figure out a way to escape.

He poured two glasses and carried them to the coffee table, where he set one down before he took a seat on the couch, holding his own glass. Following the stranger's movements with his gaze, Noah wasn't prepared for the speed with which the man bent, took the glass, and sat. It was all fluid motion and he would never have been able to counter it. Noah took a quick sip to ease his dry throat.

"Who are you?" Noah didn't know why it was so important to know his killer's name.

"You may call me Lord." An appreciative hum sounded from the stranger. "I do love good whiskey."

"Are you serious? Lord." Noah couldn't help but comment.

"While the irony of the situation hasn't escaped my attention, that really is my name." Lord set the glass down. "I'm thrilled they sent me on this hit. I usually get the beer guzzling, pretzel chewing ones."

Unsure of how to respond, Noah didn't say anything. What was the protocol of having drinks with your soon-to-be killer? Did one respond or just listen?

"It might have something to do with my upbringing. Very blue collar and crude."

"Who wants me dead?" Noah's voice squeaked at the end of the question.

"I asked myself the same thing when my handler gave me the assignment." Lord gestured toward the rest of the apartment. "There's nothing secret or special enough about you to cause anyone to panic."

Should he feel insulted? "Thanks. I think."

Lord chuckled. "I wasn't putting you down. You're not a terrorist or a spy. You're a chemical engineer, but you work for a plastics plant. Hardly national security stuff."

True. The only secret he had was Lindsey. Anyone who dug deep enough would know he was gay. He didn't really hide that, though he was much more discrete about it.

"My one failing, I guess you could say, is an overwhelming sense of curiosity. When something doesn't feel right, I have to dig and peel back the layers until it all makes sense to me."

Lord settled deeper into the chair. Noah reached over, wanting to turn the lamp on.

"Don't."

He froze.

"There's a man standing on the street outside, watching the windows. If he sees the light go on, he'll know I haven't killed you yet. The darkness will give us time."

"Time for what," Noah asked, tired of not getting any answers. "I think the least you can do is tell me why you're going to kill me."

"Kill you?" The frown was evident in Lord's voice. "Who said anything about killing you?"

"That's what you're here for, isn't it? I doubt you broke in to have a drink with me." A thought struck him. "How did you get in?"

"Got the alarm codes. The person who hired me provided them. He really wants you dead."

Noah bit his lip. The protest died in his throat. His father had recommended the company who installed Noah's system. It wouldn't have been difficult for him to get the alarm codes.

"Why would he do that?"

Sadness welled in his heart. He and his father had never been close, but he never realized how much the man hated him.

"He must really hate me," he murmured.

"Hate has nothing to do with it, Noah. You're an inconvenience for him, so he's removing you like he would a piece of gum on the bottom of his shoe."

"A person should be harder to get rid of. You shouldn't be able to call someone up and order a killer. That's not civilized or right," he protested.

"You're right, but it's a fact of life and your father wants you gone. He can't run the risk of someone finding out his only son is gay."

Lord moved and Noah could tell Lord was shaking his head.

"He's a jackass. It doesn't matter anymore if he has a son who is gay. It might win him some points. Now if you ran around in drag... that might be an issue."

Noah thought about those experimental months at college. He'd finally been free of his father's oppressive control. There were a few nights in drag before he figured out he didn't have enough style or flair to be a queen.

"Not that there's anything wrong with that," Lord pointed out. "Just for some reason, the voting public is less forgiving of that little quirk."

"My father honestly hired you to kill me?" He couldn't keep the shock out of his voice.

"I'm sorry." Lord sounded like he meant it. "I did a lot of investigating into this and your father has a few skeletons in his closet. You're the only one he can get rid of and still look like a sympathetic person afterward."

"The pity vote."

Noah jumped to his feet, grabbing his empty glass before heading back to the bar. "Do you want another one?"

Lord didn't react to any of Noah's sudden movements. "No. I need to keep my wits about me. I still have my own killer to avoid."

Swallowing down two shots, Noah thought getting drunk sounded like a great idea. "Who wants to kill you?"

"It's a long and varied list, but I think the decision has been made by the people who made me into what I am. I've outlived my usefulness, plus they might have heard a rumor or two about my research into your father."

A large hand came into view to take the bottle away from Noah. He protested with a small shiver of fear. He'd never heard Lord move.

"As much as drinking yourself blind must seem like a wonderful idea, kid, I can't let you do that."

Lord set the bottle down and led Noah back to the couch. Instead of sitting in the chair, Lord joined him on the couch and rested his hand on Noah's leg. He realized he should be scared and trying to escape. He should be formulating some marvelous plan for saving his life. His mind wasn't cooperating. It was devoid of any thought except how warm Lord's hand felt on his thigh.

"I'd prefer to be drunk when you shoot me," he admitted, proud of himself for confronting his pending death out loud.

Lord cupped his cheek, then ran a rough thumb over his bottom lip. "Dear Noah, I'm not going to shoot you."

"You're not?" Disbelief tainted his question.

His speaking allowed Lord to press his thumb inside Noah's mouth. He closed his lips around it. Lord groaned and Noah's cock twitched, interested by the taste of the man on Noah's tongue.

There had to be something wrong with him when the man who was sent to kill him turned him on.

"No. When I got this job and realized all the ramifications of my completing it successfully, I came to the rather easy choice of walking away from all of it, not just this mission. I have a problem with killing someone to help his father get elected. If he's willing to get rid of you like this, what else would he be willing to do?"

Lord pulled his thumb out of Noah's mouth and slipped his hand into the curls at the base of Noah's neck. Noah knew he should push Lord away. He should struggle, but an odd need crawled inside him.

The other man whispered against his lips, "This is wrong. We don't have time. I want one kiss before I leave."

Noah made no attempt to escape. He reached up and grasped Lord's shoulders, holding tight as Lord plundered his mouth. Mutual moans filled the air as predator and prey feasted on each other.

Lord broke the kiss first, standing before moving toward the apartment door. Stunned, Noah remained on the couch.

"Wait for thirty minutes. That should be enough time for me to draw my killer away. Pack a suitcase, take the folder I left you on the dining table and go to your grandfather. The information in it will help him keep you safe. Also, he'll be able to ensure Lindsey is safe as well."

By the time Noah's mind registered the fact Lord had mentioned Lindsey, Lord was gone.

* * * *

Lord stood in the dark doorway, searching the street before stepping out. He knew where his assassin was. Had spotted the man the moment he'd arrived. Pulling a cigarette our, he lit it, took two drags and flicked the butt into the street. The prearranged signal that the job was done. He checked his coat pocket to make sure his gun was there. Another gun rested at the small of his back tucked into his waistband.

Damn if he was going to make any of this easy on whomever they sent for him.

"Fuck 'em," he muttered, striding down the sidewalk. He made sure to pause under a streetlight so his stalker would see it was him.

"Let's see how good you really are."

He gave one fleeting thought to Noah and how good the guy had felt in his arms before he cleared his mind of everything except luring the danger away.