Chapter One

 

THE ARCTIC winds tore across the landscape, stirring swirls of snow that made the distant trees and mountains vanish under the fog. Tank’s assets were freezing as he pushed the heavy cart of supplies from the camouflaged runway to the base entrance buried in the face of one of the rolling hills. If Mrs. Peterson was right about karma, Tank had done something truly shitty in a past life. He’d joined the Army to find a more public and better-equipped fight than the one he’d escaped, not to freeze to death as he hauled food rations from one place to another.

“Hold. Credentials.” A heavily armed guard stepped out from behind a half wall built of local rock. For a military base, this place didn’t look governmental. Other than a stone entrance, the entire structure had been buried in the Alaska Foothills. The captain back at the supply plane had called this a station for military testing of global warming. Tank had his doubts.

“Private Tankersley, sir,” he said, offering his clipboard with orders and ID attached.

The corporal studied it like he expected to find really good-quality porn hiding in the holographic seal. He held up Tank’s ID and ran a scanner over it before comparing it to Tank’s face.

Military-short brown hair, large brown eyes, rounded face with a tiny scar under one eye where Marie’s father had held a knife and threatened to gouge out Tank’s eye if his daughter didn’t surrender. Yep. Just average.

Tank offered the lieutenant a goofy grin. Since joining the service, Tank had figured out that the real world worked pretty much the way high school did, only with fewer minions from hell. People still underestimated him if he used a silly grin.

A lieutenant came out of the guardhouse. The wall offered some protection from the arctic winds, but not much, and the lieutenant wasn’t dressed for the weather. However, that wasn’t Tank’s business. He went to attention and offered a regulation salute. The officer returned it before asking the corporal, “Nowak?”

“The paperwork looks good,” the corporal said.

“Only the best-quality forgeries.” Tank gave them another smile, but the thunderous expression on the lieutenant’s face made it clear that he didn’t approve. Tank cleared his throat and studied the pattern of the grout between the stones in the wall.

In his peripheral vision, he watched the odd look that passed between the two men. They shared the same sort of silent language he had once shared with Marie and Zhu and Roger and Ellie. Even thinking Ellie’s name made his heart curl up and die, and he forced his thoughts away from his past.

He waited for approval or an order to take his MREs and head back to the plane. Maybe that would be best, because something here wasn’t adding up. These two… they had that camaraderie, that brotherhood that Tank had yearned for when he joined. That sort of closeness came from nearly dying together, from killing together and hiding together and crying and learning to make really inappropriate jokes together. But supposedly this was a noncombat global-warming science station. Maybe that’s why alarms blared in his head.

“We’ll call for an escort to take you down to the commissary,” the lieutenant finally offered. For the first time, Tank noticed that the man wasn’t wearing a name tag or unit patch, just his rank insignia. Yeah, Tank was guessing nuclear testing or maybe illegal chemical-warfare stuff. This base was remote enough that no reporter would catch them. The pilot had even said this was the base’s last supply shipment before they would lock down for winter. Four months isolated at the foot of some Alaskan mountains—that was a level of hell and a good place to hide ethically questionable government experiments.

“No need. I haven’t gotten lost since I tried to find my way out of the parking lot at Fort Benning.”

“We’ll get you an escort,” the lieutenant said firmly, and Tank just nodded. He had a policy of not arguing with anyone who carried a gun. While the lieutenant made a call, Tank smiled at the other private.

“Guard duty.” Tank made a sympathetic noise. “Not my favorite duty. Especially out here. Boredom city, huh?” The private stared at him, and Tank shifted uncomfortably.

Up until this point, he would have said that the worst part about the service was PT, but right now he was starting to seriously hate the general who had ordered him to bring stuff to Alaska.

If the blindingly long flight and unloading in the cold wasn’t bad enough, Tank’s every instinct was telling him to run like hell. His gut was even suggesting that adding a little screaming might be an option. Tank wasn’t exactly the best fighter, but he had the market cornered on screaming. Marie and Zhu had demon blood, Roger had a love of weapons, and Tank… he could shriek, point to the enemy, and flee all at the same time. For a few seconds, Tank actually debated the merits of military prison versus ignoring a gut-deep panic. Not a good position to be in.

However, the lieutenant nodded at him. “You’re cleared, Private Tankersley. Private Isaacs will meet you at the elevator with the key. Straight that way.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you.” Tank gave his cart full of food a big shove to get it rolling.

Heading through the doors, Tank ogled their thickness. “Holy zombie apocalypse,” he whispered to himself. If the world came close to ending anytime in the next three years, Tank knew where he wanted to be. The doors weren’t tall, but they were impossibly wide and set deep into the rock. Tank ignored his gut and pushed the food over concrete floors as the wind swirled around him. The place had the vibe of a small barracks. Rows of doors suggested either private quarters or storage, but the lack of heating was weird. The heavy doors stood open, allowing the bitter Alaskan air to flow down the wide corridor.

Tank’s unease was reinforced when he reached an elevator just as large as the outside doors. The thing was wide enough to drive a jeep into it. Maybe two.

“Isaacs?” Tank asked the man waiting near the elevator control panel.

“Tankersley?”

“Providing MREs and a wide range of gas-inducing food.” This time when Tank grinned, he got a smile in return, which made him feel a little better. Maybe the two guys up there were just putting out weird vibes because they had a hot and steamy gay-porn thing going in the guard booth and Tank had interrupted them. He frowned. Okay, even for him that was an oddly random thought.

“This way,” Isaacs said as he used a key to activate the elevator controls.

“You guys do like your security.”

“You have no idea,” Isaacs said. “It’s the computers. We have a lot of expensive technology in here.” He frowned, and a spark of cold terror traveled up through Tank’s spine.

“Computers. Okay.”

“Yeah, computers.”

They both fell silent as the elevator took them down two floors before sliding to a stop. The doors opened, and Tank blinked as something skittered across his skin. The feeling was so strong that he looked for a bug on his arm. No bug. But his arm hair was all standing on end.

“Is there something—”

“The commissary storeroom is that way,” Isaacs said, cutting Tank off. Then he dashed out of the elevator and ran the other way.

“Oh, nothing weird with that. Nope. No weirdness at all,” Tank muttered to himself as he pushed his cart out into the corridor. The hall was narrow now and lined with wood, with a concrete floor and at least some heating, although it was still freezing. The place was also silent—a “someone is about to get dead” sort of silent. He eyed the wooden pallet and wondered if cans made good projectile weapons.

Two sergeants came running down the corridor, guns pulled, and Tank flattened himself against the wall just as a siren started wailing loudly. “Great. Why can’t I ever be irrationally paranoid? But no. Every time I get paranoid, it turns out there’s something to get paranoid about.” Tank abandoned the MREs and headed back into the elevator, but when he pushed the buttons, nothing happened. The lock was turned to Inactive, and he didn’t have a key.

“Seriously?” Before Tank could make any other complaint, the elevator doors slid closed and he started heading down. He had thought Alaska had permafrost or something, but the digital display read five floors down before it stopped. “If this is a dream, this would be a good time to wake up.”

The doors opened, and he braced for something big and hellish to attack. Instead two people tumbled into the elevator. Both of them had lost their shirts in some bizarre industrial accident that required them to manually check each other for skin lesions. Either that or they had ripped off each other’s clothes, had reached third base, and were fumbling for home. One or the other.

“Hey, um, nice day for some completely against-the-regs kinds of fraternization, not that I have a problem with fraternization. I’m generally in favor of getting fraternized whenever possible, only possibly not in public. Usually.” Tank backed away as he babbled, but the couple was way too interested in getting each other’s pants off to actually notice.

He tumbled out into the corridor and stopped. Okay, this was demonically bad. This was definitely the not-human sort of building. The wide curves, the organic flow of colors across the wall, the embedded veins—Tank had seen this before. He had just never expected to find it at a military base, and he was so screwed, it would take Zhu and his computer to mathematically calculate the screwedness.

“I’m just going to… completely freak out is an option, actually,” Tank complained softly as he looked around. “Hiding is good. I can do hiding.” Every military base had storage closets, even a demonic one, and he knew from experience that they made great places to hide.

“Oh, hey. Hi.” Tank stopped when a man with a bewildered expression came out of a strangely angled door, not that any of the doors around here were normal. This was definitely demonic architecture. The new guy’s glasses were sliding down his nose, and his hair was definitely a little too long to be called military. “I think something odd might be going on.” Tank offered up his most helpless and harmless smile.

“Fuck me.” The man looked at Tank with a shocking intensity. Shit. The crazy was contagious.

“Uh. Is that you saying ‘Fuck me, this is weird’ in a cursing sort of way? Because if it is, I’m kinda right there with you.” Tank gave a little fist pump of togetherness.

The man closed the distance between them, his hand coming up to touch Tank’s chest, and Tank could feel the fever heat of this guy’s skin right through his uniform. The man muttered, “Take me hard. Oh God, I’ve avoided sex for so long. Just fuck me.”

“Oh, crap.” Tank’s cock hardened. Surprisingly, he wanted to have sex with this guy. Well, not really surprisingly, because the guy was cute, with broad shoulders and bewildered good looks, and he wasn’t old enough to be creepy-old—he couldn’t be more than forty or so. The sexual attractiveness was there, but Tank usually preferred more movie watching and awkward stretches leading to random shoulder touching and the sorts of foreplay that featured heavily in teen movies. And yes, he was twenty, but that didn’t mean he’d figured out adulting, and he definitely felt too young to do the “jumping into bed with a stranger” sort of irresponsible adulting.

Which led Tank to one conclusion. Magic. This guy with his light brown hair and blue eyes and very manly and handsome jaw was acting like someone spelled, and so was Tank.

“I promise not to hurt you,” the guy said with a crooked smile that made Tank’s cock harden almost painfully fast. When this guy smiled, he was stunning. Absolutely stunning. Then the stranger fisted Tank’s shirt and shoved him back into the wall. “Now fuck me.”

Without waiting for an answer, he kissed Tank hard. The taste of coffee and male musk filled Tank’s senses, and he pulled the guy closer. Running hands over the stranger’s shoulders, Tank could feel the muscles—the strength. After years of fighting demons and basic training, Tank was no pushover himself. He grabbed his partner and spun him around so Tank had him pinned against the wall. Then he kissed the guy back. Hard. And his partner didn’t seem to mind, because he yanked Tank’s shirt out of his pants.

Yeah. It was magic, but Tank wasn’t going to fight the inevitable, especially not when this guy smelled good enough to eat. “What’s your name?”

“Lev.”

“Tank. Closet?”

“There.” Lev pointed, and Tank nearly tripped as he turned, fisted Lev’s shirt, and pulled him toward the door as fast as he could. Lev was right there with him, scrambling to get to the closet. Tank clawed the door open and shoved Lev up against a wall. The building might look demonic, but the closet’s contents were all human. They knocked over a mop and sent several spray bottles tumbling off a shelf.

By the time Tank pulled the door closed and ran his hand over a color strip to activate the dull, weird lights, Lev was already shimmying out of his pants. The man had one seriously fine ass—rounded and well muscled and so beautifully pale.

“Oh, hell yes,” Tank breathed. Then he looked around desperately. He needed something slick. “Damn. Shit. Um, lotion, oil, something.”

Lev spun around, a desperate look on his face. “You don’t have any?”

“Oddly, no. Usually I don’t have sex in closets.” Tank started pawing through the shelves.

When he came up with mineral oil, Lev made a hungry little whine. “Yes. Now fuck me. Now.”

“Sir, yes, sir.” Tank closed in on Lev, cupping either side of his face before leaning in for a kiss.