"What did Sir Frank tell you about this business?" Mika Hakkinen, first rank demon and Head of Station H, leaned back in his elegant S-bend leather and chrome chair and stared out of the window of his office.
Third rank demon Nico Rosberg followed the direction of his gaze, watching the thick flurries of snow with a sense of dismay. Helsinki railway station crouched on the other side of the road, the grey stone giants on the facade frozen beneath a layer of ice. Nico hadn't seen weather like this for years. Oxford had been cold and damp, but Helsinki was different: a dry freeze that made his bones ache. Never mind that he was half Finnish; the fabled sisu seemed to be completely absent from his DNA. A draught crept into the room, stirring the surface of his coffee, and he lifted the cup before the drink could lose its warmth.
"He told me nothing." Nico took a sip and almost moaned in delight at the heady caffeine rush. The complex legislation governing the import of coffee, a Grade One narcotic for demons, meant that even the 'safe' decaffeinated blends intended for human consumption were a rare and expensive treat in England. After months of drinking sweetened ground chicory, he'd almost forgotten the ecstasy of real coffee. Nico took another appreciative sip before he continued, "Sir Frank thought I was being seconded to Station H's Field Unit."
"Hmm." Mika swung around in his chair and fixed Nico with a curious, watchful gaze. "Technically that's correct. London Central telexed your file over this morning. Quite the clever lad, aren't we?"
Nico sensed the question was rhetorical and stayed quiet.
"London seems to think you have some ability with interrogation. Ah, here we are." Mika plucked a buff-coloured file from a wobbling stack of papers and opened it, flicking through the foolscap pages until he came to a stop. "Your tours of duty in the south of France have been commended twice. Likewise, the Head of Station V lauded your work with a group of Italian refugees."
Silence. Nico glanced down at his almost empty cup and then looked with longing at the steel-brushed coffee pot on the sideboard. "Thank you, sir."
Mika dropped the file back onto his desk and steepled his hands, his gaze intent. "We find ourselves with an unprecedented situation."
Alert to his tone of voice, Nico sat up straight. "What kind of situation?"
Mika swung his chair around and resumed looking out of the window. "I take it you watched the most recent telecast."
"I did, but it was broadcast in Finnish."
"Yes, of course. You really should learn the language." Mika seemed annoyed, as if it was a personal affront. "Channel 32 for German, 38 for English, for future reference."
Nico balanced the coffee cup on his knee. "I gather some kind of meteor fell to the ground outside Hamënlinna."
"It wasn't a meteor."
Keeping his face impassive, Nico nodded. "A missile of some sort?" He hoped not. Such crude weapons had been banned and dismantled following World War Three, when angels and demons had intervened to stop humankind from destroying the earth. There were always rumours of new technologies in far-flung countries and the threat of a dirty bomb, but Nico hadn't heard anything in his most recent tour to Austria, and there'd been nothing on the tickers in his Oxford workplace, an encryption/monitoring station for worldwide contact strings.
"Not a missile, either." Mika gave him a crooked smile. "It was an angel."
The cup almost tipped over into his lap. Nico righted it, his pulse quickening and a frisson of anticipation going through him. "An angel? A real one?" He caught himself, curbing his enthusiasm as he realised he must sound stupid. A blush burned his cheeks, and he covered it by taking another sip of coffee.
Mika picked up his own drink and dunked a small biscuit into the coffee. "Have you ever seen an angel before, Officer Rosberg?"
"Not a live one." Nico tried to suppress his excitement. "The only angel I've seen was the plasticised exhibit that toured the Trade Manifold countries ten years ago. My dad took me to see it."
"Ah, yes. I heard about it but never saw it. I remember the telecasts discussing the ethics of it. The humans were fascinated, of course—they're always fascinated by angels. And the nature of the exhibit—a dead angel injected with plastic to preserve its looks, right down to the finest downy feather. Was it Art? Was it Science? The usual rubbish spouted by ethical moralists..." Mika ate the soggy biscuit and returned his gaze to Nico. "What did you think of it?"
Wondering if this was some sort of test, Nico decided upon a careful answer. "The wings were beautiful."
Mika snorted. "Wings. That's all anyone's ever interested in." He set down his coffee and stood, leaning forward across his desk as his pale silvery wings unfurled. The membranes between each joint appeared tissue-thin, tattered in places and marked all over with scars.
Nico drew in a soft breath. Demon wings were nowhere near as aesthetically pleasing as angel wings, and unlike their heavenly cousins, demons couldn't regenerate damaged wings. Scars and rips stayed part of the body forever. Wing repair and healing was a costly and complicated business with only a small percentage of success. Within the countries of the Demon Trade Manifold, or DTM, it was considered fortunate by human surgeons working for the demon-controlled government that only demons of second rank and above could grow wings.
Mika's wings were damaged badly enough that Nico could tell he'd never fly again. He remembered the old rumour that Mika had been involved in a torrid inter-departmental clash with the Controller of the German Desk, Michael Schumacher. Nico had seen Schumacher on several occasions, his first rank wings glittering with bright scarlet tips. When he'd been much younger, he'd wanted to have wings like that when he grew up.
"It's useful to know your enemy, sir," Nico offered. "The angels, I mean."
"Is that how you see them? Enemies?" Mika looked annoyed, his wings flicking back and settling into their tight, folded shape. "What the Hell do they teach you in training school these days?"
Swallowing a flash of anxiety, Nico fell back on a textbook reply. "I know how to interrogate and rehabilitate citizens from the Federation Internationale d'Anges. I know the rights of humankind in both the DTM and the FIA, and our responsibilities to them, and theirs to us, their saviours and governors. I studied the history of the conflict created by World War Three and the ensuing battle between demons and angels and the social implications it caused. I came top of my class in—"
Mika made an irritated gesture. "I'm not interested in all that. I've read your dossier. What I want to know is how you view the angels. Tell me honestly, without the bullshit."
"Honestly?" Nico thought for a moment, his mind overflowing with information he'd been taught all his life. He knew so much about angels, most of it contradictory, and yet he'd never been able to draw any solid conclusions. "I don't know, sir. I always thought I'd be able to form an opinion once I'd met one."
"All that education and you don't know." Mika gave a small smile as he retrieved his cup and crossed the room to the sideboard. "Do you fear them?"
"You should. Don't trust an angel. They're devious creatures." Lifting the coffee pot, Mika swirled its contents as if to judge how much was left. He poured a thick, scented stream of the black liquid into his cup before adding cream and sugar. "My most promising field officer was seduced by an angel. It caused a terrible scandal."
Nico held out his cup with alacrity when Mika approached with the pot. "I don't remember any scandal, sir."
"It was covered up at the highest level." Mika returned the empty pot to the sideboard and sat back down again behind his desk. "Officer Raikkonen was in line for promotion. He could have gone right to the top—perhaps he'd have become Controller of the Scandinavian Desk within a few years. Instead he threw it all away when he got involved with a Spanish angel, Fernando Alonso."
"How did they meet? Was Alonso trying to defect?" It happened occasionally—a demon ran into the FIA or an angel crossed into the DTM, but such occurrences were rare and usually highly publicised to cause maximum embarrassment to the other side. Nico couldn't remember anything like this happening since he was a child.
Mika drained his cup and replaced it in its saucer with a bang. "Raikkonen was in Switzerland investigating a financial issue. Alonso got to him. Seduced him. He claims he wasn't working under orders from the FIA, but I'm sure he was. Kimi didn't stand a chance. They both lost their wings over it, and now they're stuck in Switzerland."
Nico almost choked on his mouthful of coffee. A demon giving up his wings wasn't something to be taken lightly. In effect, it made him mortal, limiting his power and lifespan to that of an average human. It was irreversible and, according to his father, who claimed to have seen it done, the spell to remove the wings caused extreme agony.
"Officer Raikkonen must have cared for the angel very much," he mumbled into his cup. "And vice versa."
Mika snorted. "He's a fool. So much promise gone to waste. But you..." He jabbed a finger at him. "Officer Rosberg, you must be vigilant. Be on your guard when you conduct your interrogations. You must always be one step ahead. This case is vitally important."
A warm glow of pride wrapped around him. Nico beamed. "I will do my best. Thank you, sir."
Mika delved into the pile of paperwork on his desk again and picked up a dark grey folder fixed shut with wax seals and tied with crimson ribbons. "This is everything we know about our fallen angel. You can read it on the way to the interrogation unit in Turku. In this weather it'll take you a couple of hours to get up there. It's not luxury accommodation, I'm afraid, but then it's not meant to be the Ritz. Officer Kovalainen will meet you and be your point of contact. Ask him anything. I'll expect a preliminary report at the end of the week."
"Yes, sir." Nico finished his coffee, draining it to the gritty dregs.
Mika seemed amused by his actions. "I keep forgetting Britain allows only a limited import of coffee."
"It was British scientists who discovered the long-term effects of high grade coffee on demons," Nico reminded him. A dribble of coffee remained in the bowl of the teaspoon. He picked it up and licked away the last trace of the liquid, feeling the caffeine sing through him.
"In Finland, we allow demons to be sensible with their coffee intake," Mika said, still amused. "Those who wish to overindulge, go insane, and die painful deaths may do so with our blessing."
"I prefer to trust in the regulatory sanctions imposed by the British government."
Mika chuckled. "That's why Britain has a terrible problem with black market coffee. Not all buyers are demons, of course, but..."
"It's the fastest-growing crime in the country." The taste of the coffee lingered on Nico's tongue, souring slightly as the hit from the caffeine started to fade. "No one knows where the illegal imports are coming from."
Mika waved the beribboned folder. "From the angels, of course. That's why this case is so important. Our fallen angel could provide enough evidence to break several smuggling rings all across the DTM. Britain isn't the only country suffering from high profile black market smuggling. Break this angel, and we could blow this business wide open."
Nico stood and collected the dossier. "How do you know that..." he paused to read the name typewritten on the front of the folder, "Nelson Angelo Piquet is involved in any of this business?"
Raising his eyebrows, Mika gave him a droll look. "His father owns the largest coffee plantations in Brazil, has a dozen blending and manufacturing plants in FIA territory, and controls a sixty-four percent market share of the entire industry."
Nico wanted to kick himself. He'd only been on the job for an hour and he'd already managed to ask the type of question made by callow recruits straight out of training college. This was his big chance to prove himself, to step out from his father's shadow and show his worth as a DTM operative. He couldn't afford to make any mistakes. Clutching the folder, he said fervently, "I won't let you down, sir."
Mika nodded. "I'm sure you'll do everything the situation demands."
Nico tucked the folder under his arm, adjusted the angle, and strode across the office. At the door, he turned as a sudden thought came to him. "Sir, Station H has trained interrogators. Why use me?"
Mika smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. "Why not?"
Nico paused in front of Room 22 and checked he had everything he needed to conduct the interrogation. Dossier, police reports, paper, pencils. He drew in a quivering breath then released it on a sigh. He had no reason to be nervous. He'd conducted dozens of interviews, some much more comprehensive and difficult than this. So his subject was an angel this time. Big deal. Whatever. So not important.
He scrunched his eyes shut. For a demon, he was a bad liar. He couldn't even lie convincingly to himself.
A sound behind him made him turn. Heikki Kovalainen, the officer who ran the Turku safe house/interrogation unit, made a shooing motion. Nico resisted making a gesture in return and faced the door again. Another deep breath and he strode forward, flicked the lock, and entered the room.
After the darkness of the corridor, the light pouring into the interrogation room startled him. The white-painted walls seemed to shine, the brightness coming from the snow-coated landscape and the brutal paleness of the grey sky visible through the large sash window. In vivid contrast, the furniture was dark, cheap, and tatty. A small two-bar heater glowed orange on the paint-spattered floorboards.
Nico took in the decor with a sense of dismay. His training kicked in, reminding him of Article 67 in the departmental guidelines: Make a joke about the surroundings, imply you can upgrade the subject to better accommodation, and they'll be inclined to trust you. He opened his mouth to make an appropriate remark, and then every rational thought flew out of his head as he faced the subject.
Nelson Angelo Piquet grinned at him. "Hello, buttercup."
His carefully gathered papers almost dropped to the floor. Nico stood in the doorway, frozen for a moment as he tried to reconcile what he'd studied with what he saw in the middle of the room.
Nelson lounged in a hard wooden chair, one bare foot curled over the edge of the heavy oak table in front of him. The chair was tilted on its back legs, and Nelson rocked to and fro. He wore a pair of tight, pale blue denim jeans and nothing else.
Nico stared, his mind in freefall. He knew he should look away—he'd seen half-naked men before, after all—but somehow none of the others had been quite as glorious as this. Smooth, tawny-honey skin. An agreeably muscled torso. A dark, soft stripe of body hair. A breathtakingly handsome face with a faint scar on his left cheek, heavy eyebrows under an artfully dishevelled mop of shiny black hair, and a curious, guarded expression in those bitter-chocolate eyes.
Something was wrong. Nico cursed his luck, wondering why Station H hadn't seen fit to append a photograph of Nelson Angelo Piquet to his dossier. His brain hammered at him—something is missing—but lust roiled around, distracting him from his job. Nico kept staring, feeling the blush rise to his face and heat spread through his body as he gazed at the half-naked angel sprawled in front of him.
Angel. That was it. Wings!
Nico dragged in a breath and lifted his chin. Annoyance filled him, displacing the lust. His father had warned him that something like this would happen at least once in his career. Keke Rosberg had been the Monaco Resident for almost twenty years, an unheard-of period of time to hold such a position. Though a senior official within the DTM government, it was whispered that Keke had angered the Director-General, the Deputy, and just about every Controller of every European desk. By rights, Keke should have moved into one of the Controller jobs ten years ago. Instead, he was stuck in the dangerous backwater of Monaco.
Keke never spoke of the past, and Nico respected his father too much to ask. He knew it would be tough to prove his own worth while carrying the baggage of his father's actions, but so far his rise through the ranks of the service had been painless. Now it seemed he was being tested. Two of the most basic pieces of information had been left out of the dossier: Not only was Nelson Angelo Piquet as beautiful as sin, he was also missing his wings.
Nico set down the papers and pencils on the table, hoping his hungry gaze had cooled. He stepped back, trying for a haughty expression. "I am Officer Rosberg and I am your case officer in this case." He gave an inward wince at the repetition, the haughtiness slipping. He sounded stupid, tongue-tied.
But Nelson appeared oblivious to the embarrassing burble. He rocked back in his chair and tilted his head to one side, his brow furrowed as he appeared to look at something behind Nico.
Refusing to rise to the bait, Nico slipped off his jacket and hung it over the back of his chair. He straightened his shirtsleeves and strolled around the room, examining the heater and the thin grey woollen blanket on the bed before he crossed to the window to study the view.
Turning, he gazed at the sweep of Nelson's naked back. A thud of excitement made him shiver as he stared at the stumpy remains of a pair of angel wings. He remembered the wings on the plasticised exhibit he'd seen a decade ago—huge, outspread, the feathers the same colour as a barn owl's plumage, snowy white underneath and toffee speckled with dark splotches on top. From the tattered remains of Nelson's wings, they'd been white and blue-black. Just the idea of them took his breath away.
"Nelson Angelo Piquet," he said, more to feel the shape of the name spoken aloud than for any other reason.
Nelson didn't turn around. He put both feet on the table. "That's me."
Nico went towards him, his gaze still fixed to the wing-stumps. "Why Angelo?"
A snort. "My father is pretentious."
"I thought perhaps he named you so because you were precious to him."
"I'm his firstborn. That's all." Nelson shrugged. The action made the stumps of his wings lift.
Unable to resist, Nico went closer. He reached out, wanting to touch the stubby feathered limbs, but snatched his hand away at the last moment. From this angle, he could see the bone within the layers of skin and feathers. For all his extensive reading on the architecture of angel wings, nothing had prepared him for this. Nico longed to trace the downy fluff around the base of the wings where they fused with the shoulder-blades, or to stroke the long muscles that ran either side of the spine.
He peered closer at where the wings had been amputated. A single stroke, cleanly done, shearing through the flesh and bone. There was no blood and no puckered flesh to suggest post-trauma cauterisation. Nico murmured, "This is why you fell."
Nelson rocked back on the chair so violently that Nico jumped aside. Turning, Nelson gave him a savage look. "You think?"
Nico blushed. "I'm sorry. Does it hurt? Have you had medical attention?"
"Buttercup, I haven't had any kind of attention since you people dragged me here. Of course it fucking hurts! How would you like it if your wings were suddenly chopped off mid-flight?"
"I don't have wings." Retreating from Nelson's anger, Nico perched on the edge of the table and arranged his pencils in neat alignment with his papers and reports.
"You don't?" Nelson stared, his gaze narrowing as if he could see through the sensible blue cotton of Nico's shirt. "I thought all demons had wings."
"Only those over second rank."
Nelson huffed and folded his arms across his chest as he resumed rocking on the chair. "Great. So I'm not even considered important enough to get a decent-ranking case officer."
Annoyed by his attitude, Nico slid off the table. Time for his training to come into play. Walking around the subject in a vague yet threatening manner often produced results—or at least it did when applied to exhausted, terrified humans desperate to claim asylum. Nico adopted his most officious tone. "I assure you, Mr Piquet, your case is being taken very seriously."
Nelson dropped his head backward to watch him stride to and fro. "Stop calling me that. Mr Piquet is my father."
"It would hardly be proper for me to call you by your personal name."
"Are you always this stuffy, buttercup?"
"Officer Rosberg," Nico corrected, and was rewarded with the flash of a smile that did strange things to his insides. He gritted his teeth against the lurch of physical reaction. He didn't want to be attracted to the subject. It was only natural he should be fascinated, of course, but anything else...
He came to stand directly behind Nelson. Avoiding the challenge in his dark gaze, Nico deliberately stared at the wing-stumps. As he moved closer still, he noticed the wave of goose bumps wash over Nelson's skin. Though half-naked, Nelson's body heat was more than noticeable, and so the goose bumps weren't caused by the cold.
Intrigued, Nico leaned down. His focus changed, snapping back to the wing-stumps as he neared them. His breath stirred the tiny rows of downy white feathers. The insane urge to kiss the stubs almost overcame him. He could picture himself doing it, running his tongue up the length of the stump and over the sheared top, tasting the sheen of the feathers. He wondered what it would be like to take the injured stumps one at a time into his mouth to suck on them. Would Nelson like it, or—
As if he could read Nico's mind, Nelson fidgeted in his seat. His nipples budded into hard peaks and a fresh scatter of goose bumps appeared on his tawny flesh. For a moment, Nico was confused, and then he realised it wasn't the cold making Nelson react, it was him. Delight at his power over the subject, however tenuous, made Nico lower his voice to a husky whisper. "Are you cold, Mr Piquet?"
Nelson sucked in his breath and jolted forward, banging his elbows against the table. He lifted his right shoulder as if he could rid himself of the ticklish murmur of Nico's voice and shivered, the stumps of his wings flexing involuntarily. "Are you one of those disgusting perverts who gets off on amputated angel wings, Officer Rosberg?"
"No." Nico straightened up. "I'm so sorry. That was crass and unforgivable."
The chair scraped back as Nelson balanced it on one leg. "Damn, you're cute. It's too easy to tease you." He laughed, but Nico saw a flicker of panic behind his eyes. Regardless of his bluster, the subject was afraid—and that knowledge made Nico's job easier.
"This dump is fucking freezing," Nelson continued as Nico moved around the table and pulled out his own chair. "It must be minus twenty outside and all I've got is a crappy two-bar heater!"
Nico straightened his papers once again and pursed his lips. "I will get you some more suitable clothing."
"You could be a gentleman and give me your jacket," Nelson said, pointing at the garment hanging over the back of Nico's chair.
Shooting him a suspicious look, Nico half rose and emptied his jacket pockets before handing it over. He should have thought of that before. It would be much easier to concentrate when Nelson was almost completely dressed.
Nelson stopped swinging on his chair and put on the jacket, murmuring at its cut and quality. "Warm," he said, pleasure in his voice as he snuggled into it. "Wool lined with layered satin. Nice." He tugged the jacket across his chest, his expression turning comical when the garment didn't meet across his torso. "Uh, you're slimmer than me."
Nico bit his lip to stop his laughter. "Sorry."
"At least it smells of you." Nelson burrowed his nose into the inside collar of the jacket and inhaled deeply. "Ah, God. You smell good, buttercup. Like—like pebbles in a sunlit stream. The first frost of autumn. Olive oil on old gold. The full heat of day on marble. Honeysuckle and sea grass."
Nico stared, the words echoing around his head. He'd never heard anything like it before, and while he knew it was probably just a devious angel trick, he was flattered and touched and wanted to hear more.
Blinking, Nelson lifted his head from the jacket, a blissful look on his face. "Oh, yes. You smell wonderful. I'd like to—" He stopped, as if suddenly remembering where he was, and he cleared his throat. "Never mind."
Even though he knew he was fishing for compliments, Nico couldn't help it. "You could really smell all that, just from the collar?"
"Yes. It was my—" Again Nelson stopped himself. His gaze went dead and he turned away. "Anyway, this should be enough to keep me warm until you get me some more clothes."
Nico had the feeling that Nelson was about to say 'my job'. He frowned as he opened the dossier and flicked through the pages. There was nothing there about Nelson having a job, unless being an obscenely wealthy playboy was considered a career.
Turning to a fresh page, Nico checked his watch and made a note of the time. "Let us begin properly. Three days ago, you fell from the sky and struck the ground just south of the castle at Hämeenlinna. Eyewitnesses describe your arrival as a crash landing. You were out of control and travelling at a reckless speed that endangered humans and demons alike."
He paused and glanced up. "Of course, if your wings had been amputated, you would have had no control over your speed or flight path."
Nelson raised his eyebrows. "Of course."
The brittle response told Nico that their fleeting moment of bonding over the jacket had ended. With a sigh, he continued, "You caused approximately five thousand Euro in damage to real estate, which is usually chargeable to the perpetrator of said damage, except in those instances where it can be proven beyond reasonable doubt that the perpetrator was in fact a victim."
"I'm a fucking victim." Nelson leaned forward and flexed the stubs of his wings. "Look at me. Don't I look like a poster child for victimised angels?"
Nico ignored him. "Under Article 27a, sub-section B2 of the unilateral agreement between the DTM and the FIA, you have knowingly or unknowingly entered a restricted zone without due authority or cause and without the necessary documentation, governmental or magical, which therefore means we can detain you for an indefinite period while we conduct our investigations. Do you understand your rights?"
Nelson snorted. "Yeah. I'm stuck in this dump."
"We will—I will endeavour to make your stay as comfortable as possible." Nico initialled the page and tucked it beneath the dossier. Opening his notepad, he held the pencil ready. "Now, do you have anything you wish to say about the circumstances of your arrival in DTM territory?"
"I don't remember anything."
Nico referred to a page in his dossier. "The police report states you were unconscious when you landed."
"Yeah." Nelson swung back on his chair and folded his hands across his belly.
Nico stared at his interlaced fingers, the skin a slightly darker golden tan than the flesh of his torso. His gaze traced the arrow of dark hair from just below his throat down to his chest, then to where it narrowed into a downward stripe. He wondered if it felt as soft as it looked; how it would feel beneath his hand, beneath his lips...
With an inward curse, Nico snapped his concentration back to the interrogation. "Uh, when you say you don't remember, do you mean you don't remember the crash or you don't remember the events leading to the crash?"
Nelson brushed down the sides of the jacket, which fell open to reveal his chest. He gave Nico a gentle smile, as if well aware of the effect he was having. "Both."
"I see." Nico made a shorthand note then stared at it, wondering what the Hell he'd written. His pulse thumped and he shifted in his chair, uncomfortably aware of Nelson's body wrapped in his jacket. It seemed too intimate, and he wanted to demand his jacket back, but the idea of Nelson removing the garment made Nico's cock harden.
"So you're claiming you have amnesia?" His voice came out strangled. Nico swallowed thickly and pulled the notepad into his lap in a feeble attempt to hide from himself the evidence of his own arousal.
Nelson leaned forward, a lock of hair falling into his eyes. "Listen, buttercup—"
"Officer Rosberg." Nico pressed down hard with the pencil and swore as the tip broke off and skittered across the table.
"I prefer 'buttercup'." Again came that infuriating smile. "I can imagine you laid out in a meadow full of tall grass and wildflowers, your skin tanned pale gold and your hair kissed by the sunlight..."
The pencil snapped in two. Nico looked down at it and whimpered. He had to get a grip on himself. Oh God, that was entirely the wrong thing to think. He wriggled, his cock aching as it pressed against the restrictive seam of his trousers. Taking a deep breath, he discarded the broken pencil and picked up another. "As we were saying..."
"You. Naked. In a meadow." Nelson's expression turned dreamy for a moment before he sat up straight. "Do you even have meadows in this benighted country? All I could see was snow and lakes and snow and more snow."
Nico jumped on the admission. "So you do remember your fall!"
"Shit." Nelson chewed his lower lip, a frown wrinkling his brow. "Yes, I do. Everything until the actual impact, anyway."
Assuming a blank look, Nico doodled in the corner of his notepad. He had to play this cool. If Nelson could describe some of the landscapes he'd passed over on his ill-fated flight, a trajectory could be extrapolated to determine his point of origin. "What else did you see, apart from lakes and snow?"
"All sorts of things." Nelson shrugged and leaned back, tucking his hands behind his head. The jacket fell open again, exposing the full length of his torso.
Nico stared for a nanosecond then ducked his head, shading in his doodles with rapid strokes of the pencil. Another whimper threatened to break free of his throat. The sensible thing to do would be to lift his chin, breathe deeply, and get on with the next question as the training manual instructed, but he didn't think he could trust himself when such a luscious, tempting angel sat across from him.
Nelson tapped his fingers against his thighs. "I can see your horns, but where's your tail?"
"Excuse me?" Nico looked up, dropping the pencil to put a hand over one of his horns in a protective gesture. Demon horns were tiny things, perhaps two inches tall and with rounded ends. Many demons, especially those who worked in close proximity to humans, wore their hair styled to cover their horns. Some demons even had their horns surgically removed, as scientists had declared them to be as useless as the appendix.
"Your horns are kind of sweet." Nelson grinned. "I almost didn't see them in all that golden hair. So where's your tail?"
Nico felt himself blush. A demon's tail was an intimate appendage, and only an untutored innocent—or an ignorant fool—would ask such a personal question.
Apparently unperturbed by the silence, Nelson sat sideways on his chair and peered under the table. "You do have a tail, yes? All demons have tails."
"My tail is none of your business." Retrieving the pencil, Nico glared at him. "Answer the question, Mr Piquet. What did you see on your flight here?"
"C'mon." Nelson gave him a wicked smile. "I'll tell you if you show me your little devil tail. Or do you have a big tail?"
Nico ground his teeth. The interrogation was spinning out of his control. He wouldn't get results this way, and he'd be disgraced in front of his peers and betters. Shame bit at him, and he let his temper slip, fixing Nelson with a warning look. "Stop this infantile behaviour, Mr Piquet. Answer the question. What did you see?"
Nelson's grin widened and he rocked forward, his eyes dancing with mischief. "First I want to see your tail. It's only fair. You've seen mine, now show me yours."
"No!" Nico banged his fists down on the table and swung to his feet, his chair knocked back with such force it overturned and crashed onto the floor. Rage and humiliation shook him. Nico stabbed a finger at Nelson, who shrank back, his bravado gone and a look of fear on his face.
"Do not ask about my tail, do you understand?" Nico barked. "Answer the fucking question! What did you see?"
A long silence followed. Nelson sat hunched in his chair, shivering uncontrollably, his eyes wide and his lips forming soundless words.
Nico stared at him. Had he really been that terrifying? Guilt replaced his anger, and he leaned across the table to apologise.
Nelson flinched from him.
Stunned by this development, Nico lifted his overturned chair and righted it. Just as he was wondering how to proceed, a pre-emptory knock sounded, and the door swung open. Heikki Kovalainen stood on the threshold, his expression blank. "Officer Rosberg, a moment please."
Nico hesitated, his gaze going to Nelson, who remained frozen in his seat. "What about..."
"He'll be fine." Heikki dismissed Nelson's obvious distress with a flick of the fingers. "Come with me, please, Officer Rosberg."
With a final concerned glance at Nelson, Nico followed Heikki out of the room and down the corridor. Halfway along, Heikki punched a code into a keypad and opened the door to the adjoining room. Inside it seemed to be a central research area, with a bank of telexes, computers, and telecast monitors. Two low-ranking demons paused in their tasks and stared at them with open curiosity.
Heikki gestured at them. "Out."
The demons scuttled into the kitchen cubicle at the far end of the room, and soon came the hiss and gurgle of a coffee machine. Nico inhaled the rich aroma of the coffee and tried to ignore the demons watching through the kitchen window.
"Is that how they interrogate a subject in Britain?" Heikki crossed the room to his desk and leaned against it. "I was told you were one of the best. Losing your temper with the subject is an amateur's mistake."
Nico drew himself up to his full height. Though he'd been seconded here, he was the same rank as Kovalainen and would not be spoken to like an inferior. "I apologise for the error. The subject asked about my tail."
Heikki laughed. "So what? Show him your damn tail if he asks! We want him on our side. Do whatever it takes."
Not liking the tone of this conversation, Nico said coldly, "I'm not sure I understand what you mean."
"Do I have to draw a diagram?"
Heikki sounded contemptuous. Feeling his anger rise again, Nico stalked over to the desk and faced him down, his gaze unwavering. "Maybe you should. I'm not resuming the interrogation until you tell me exactly what's going on."
An indefinable emotion glimmered in Heikki's eyes. "Mika said you'd be like this. He said your father was a troublemaker, too. That's why they shipped him off to Monaco. All that sun... it must be a vile place. No one wants to go there, you know."
Nico ignored the jibe. He'd heard it all before, the ignorance of northern demons for the southern countries of the DTM. Any land that shared a border with the FIA was seen as contaminated, and Monaco had long been disputed territory between angels and demons. Under DTM control now, it had been ruled by the angels only five years ago until a treaty brokered by Nico's father had returned the principality to the demons. The terms of the treaty favoured the DTM, so no one could understand why the FIA had agreed to sign it. As a result, conspiracy theories surrounded Keke and the treaty was the subject of much gossip and speculation.
Nico folded his arms, pleased when Heikki backed off. "Draw me a diagram."
Heikki muttered but retreated further, going over to a battered grey filing cabinet. He thumped the side and the middle drawer rolled forward, revealing an array of coloured files. Heikki spent a moment searching through the folders before he removed a sheaf of photographs. He held them out. "Go ahead and look."
Taking them, Nico spread the pictures over Heikki's desk. Though the images were grainy and obviously shot with a long-range lens, the detail was clear enough. "Where were these taken?"
"Ask your father."
"He took them?" Nico glanced up, but Heikki's expression gave nothing away. Hiding his shock, Nico returned his attention to the photographs, which showed Nelson aboard a luxury yacht, presumably in the Mediterranean, alongside a succession of pretty blond boys. Ignoring the utterly ludicrous punch of jealousy, Nico studied Nelson's lithe, sexy body in the skimpiest of swimwear. He still had his wings in the pictures, the plumage banded white and blue-black like a magpie, and now Nico could see their full beauty as they furled and unfurled through the series of images.
He remembered that angels used their wings in sexual display as an indicator of arousal. His belly fluttered at the blatant telegraphing of desire echoed in Nelson's posture as he leaned towards a gorgeous blond human. Nico covered the image with another picture, this time showing Nelson in a passionate embrace with a blond angel whose kestrel-patterned wings splayed wide in invitation.
Nico picked up the photographs, flicking through them in silence. Most of the boys with Nelson were human, and as every demon knew, humans adored angels. Feeling slightly sick and depressed, Nico tossed the pictures aside and covered his face with his hands. He wondered how long ago those photographs had been taken, and if his father would tell him about it if he asked.
Keke had known he was being seconded to Station H. Nico had called him just after receiving his summons. Did his father know that he was coming here to interrogate Nelson? It seemed too much of a coincidence to keep it in the family like this. Keke had photographed Nelson for a reason, and now Nelson was under Nico's care... Something felt wrong about this, no matter which way Nico looked at it.
"Now do you understand?" Heikki gathered the pictures together and returned them to the filing cabinet.
"Only that my father is involved in this." Nico wondered how best to phrase the next question. "Is he under investigation?"
Heikki sighed. "Surely you can't be as dumb as you look."
Nico blinked. "Excuse me?"
"I show you photos of our fallen angel frolicking with pretty blond boys, and you're still asking me why you're the case officer? Un-fucking-believable."
Realisation hit him so hard, Nico felt winded. "You want me to be a honey trap."
"Hardly a trap. He's already stuck here," Heikki said, rolling his eyes. "We just need you to be his honey."
"But... I didn't come here for that." Flustered, Nico followed Heikki from the filing cabinet to the desk. "I don't have that kind of training."
Heikki gave him a magnanimous smile. "Relax. It won't be difficult. He's young, good-looking, and vulnerable—how much of a hardship can it be to bed him?"
Nico felt himself blushing helplessly again. Of course he was attracted to Nelson. Of course he'd imagined what it would be like to have sex with him. Of course he'd memorised every inch of that perfect tawny body so he could jerk off thinking about him later on tonight—but that didn't mean he'd actually take the opportunity to sleep with him. The thought of being naked alongside Nelson, the thought of feeling his body pressed tight against him, made Nico's nerves shrivel even as it turned him on.
"I can't," he said, hearing the raw note of longing in his voice. He coughed to hide it. "Why don't you do it?"
Heikki sat behind his desk, spread his hands, and assumed a regretful expression that wouldn't have fooled a five-year-old. "He doesn't fancy me."
"He might not like me, either!"
"Don't be stupid. Do you really think the Controllers would order you over here on the off-chance that Piquet Minor might desire you?"
The word gnawed at him. Desire. Nico swallowed, heat sparking through him at the thought of the angel wanting him. He struggled to focus. "I can believe anything of the Department. They've done crazier things in the past."
"They knew what they were doing this time." Heikki pointed a finger at him and winked. "Not only do you fit the profile of Piquet Minor's past lovers, we know he has a very strong physical reaction to you."
Nico felt his stomach drop out. Dizziness swam through his vision and he blinked, determined to hold on to the remaining shreds of his sanity. "He—he does?"
Heikki thumped his desk and a video screen popped up. Pulling a wonky-legged keyboard towards him, he hit a few buttons and a live feed of Nelson's room emerged from the snow of interference.
"You're taping the interrogation." Nico couldn't keep the hurt and accusation from his voice.
Heikki dropped his sharp-edged humour for a moment. "It's too damn important to leave anything to chance," he said softly. "Do you understand?"
Businesslike once more, Heikki keyed in another command. "We monitored his heart rate and core body temperature. Angels have faster pulses and higher body temperatures than demons, but even so, there was a definite spike when you first entered the room. See here." He indicated the graph, where two wiggly lines coloured red and yellow meandered across the screen until they made a sudden jagged upward swing that almost went off the scale.
"And here again," Heikki continued, his voice cheerful as he scrolled through to the next graph. "This was when he asked about your tail."
Nico pressed his fingers to his cheek, trying to hold back the blush of shame and arousal. He cleared his throat as he straightened. "Will you record everything?"
"Everything?" Nico asked again, as delicately as possible.
"If necessary." Heikki's eyes were cold.
Nico exhaled. "I'd like it to go on the record that I'm uncomfortable with this. I don't want to be recorded in—in compromising situations with the subject."
Heikki snorted. "Listen to you! Anyone would think you were a shy little virgin."
Nico placed his hands on the desk and leaned forward. "I do not want to be taped having sex with the subject."
A smirk played at the edges of Heikki's mouth. "You'll do as the Department orders, Officer Rosberg. If they want you to fuck him, you'll fuck him—and you'll like it."
Nelson waited for five minutes before he moved. He didn't trust these demons not to be taping him or listening in on him somehow, even though he'd checked for A/V spy bugs as soon as he'd been shown into this room by drably-dressed demons and told it was his new temporary home. They hadn't told him why it was temporary, but Nelson assumed it was either because they were planning to move him into better quarters after the preliminary interrogation, or because they were planning on killing him.
He hoped it was the former.
Keeping a wary eye on the door, he pushed back his chair and stood. Officer Rosberg's jacket settled around him, warm and soft-scented. Nelson smoothed down the wool over his chest, enjoying the sensation of the satin lining over his bare skin.
His moment of pleasure was brief. With a frown, Nelson wandered over to the window and stared out at the unprepossessing view. A high-walled garden with about a dozen spindly, dormant fruit trees met his gaze. Snow blanketed the ground, hiding who-knew-how many devices designed to keep intruders out and prisoners in. Beyond lay a black and tangled scrap of woodland. Above it all, the slate-grey sky glowered, the feeble sun trapped in a swaddling layer of cloud.
Horrible place. Horrible country. Even though he was warm, Nelson shivered. The action made the stumps of his wings rub against the jacket, reminding him of his failure.
He had no clear idea of what had happened to him, but he knew slightly more than he was prepared to tell the demons. Nelson replayed the events of the last few days, trying to make sense of them.
He'd been asked to accompany Rob Smedley, a human coffee scientist, from Rio de Janeiro to Barcelona. Rob had leave owing to him, and he'd filled out a government request for a one-month exit pass from South America so he could visit his family in Spain.
Though Rob worked for Nelson's father, he lived at the mansion of the Rio Resident, Felipe Massa. Popular opinion held that Felipe wanted Rob around for more than the perfect blend of morning coffee, but Nelson paid very little attention to gossip. As someone who hit the headlines on a weekly basis, he'd ceased to have any interest in rumour and couldn't care less who was doing what with whom.
He liked Felipe, who'd never treated him with disdain because of his father, and who'd never tried to suck up to him for the same reason. Sometimes Nelson thought Felipe was the only decent angel left in the South American FIA government, so when he'd received a telex from Felipe asking if he'd make sure Rob arrived in Spain safely, Nelson agreed.
After all, it wasn't that unusual a request—many angels who'd formed special connections with humans had the habit of trying to keep their humans safe and well, especially when aeroplane travel was involved. Since the war, the manufacture of planes, rockets, and other airborne devices had been banned by joint FIA-DTM agreement. As a result, air travel was an increasingly risky mode of transportation as the fleets got older and replacement parts became obsolete.
Like most angels, Nelson disliked sitting in the cramped quarters of an aeroplane. He hated the tiny seats and the way he had to crush up his wings, and the fact that he couldn't see where he was going always made him jittery. So as soon as Rob boarded his flight, Nelson spread his wings and took off, heading up through the atmosphere to wait for the aeroplane to level out at its cruising altitude.
Now his breath clouded against the window, fogging his view of the winter garden. Nelson put out his hand to wipe away the mist, then jerked back. The glass was cold to the touch, and the residual heat of his skin left a fading smudge on the window. He gazed at the garden, noticing a set of neat tracks through the snow. An animal, no doubt—perhaps a fox. He had no idea what kind of creatures lived here.
He let his thoughts resurface, calling back the memory of his flight to Spain. It had been uneventful and dull until they'd headed into a storm somewhere over the Atlantic. He remembered it black with churning clouds, electricity crackling the air and the sky lit with violent flashes of lightning. The clouds swirled wetly about the plane, and a spiralling wind buffeted Nelson as he flew, tossing him first one way and then the other.
At first it had been fun, but as the storm worsened and his wings became drenched and his clothes stuck uncomfortably to his skin, Nelson grew tired. Mindful of his duty, he'd kept a dogged watch on the plane. The clouds blinded him, streaming water blurring his vision, and then the plane suddenly banked and dropped away as if trying to escape the storm.
He'd dived after it, his heartbeat drumming in his ears and his breathing harsh and rapid as he'd folded back his wings to ensure maximum speed.
A second later, agony screamed through him—a vivid, shocking pain of white heat. It lasted only a moment, like a single stroke of a razorblade through naked flesh, and then a horrific grinding ache filled every fibre of his being.
Nelson shuddered at the recollection. Even now he felt the echo of his panic, the jagged spikes of his howling terror. He could still feel the heat of his blood spattered across his back and the jet of fluid found only within angelic wing structure. He tumbled head over heels, faster and faster, but didn't truly understand what had been done to him until he tried to spread his wings and slow his descent.
Only then, when they sheared away from his body in a mess of blood, bone, and wet feathers, did he realise that his wings had been cut off.
Nelson balled his hands into fists, his gorge rising. That moment of sheer, heart-stopping terror would stay with him forever. The knowledge that he was thirty thousand feet in the air and dropping like a stone, with no way of saving himself. He would never forget it, and would never forgive whoever had taken his wings from him.
He'd seen the sleek white shape of the plane tilt past him, but he didn't care. It barely even registered. The only thing he focused on was the wild beating of his heart and the hollow anguish inside him as he prepared to meet the reality of his death.
Pushing himself away from the window, Nelson took a deep breath and forced himself to relax. The demons would love it if he fell apart now. Their job would be so much easier if he broke down and told them everything. As it was, he had very little to tell them that they'd find useful, but they didn't need to know that just yet. He had to be strong and smart, and keep the demons at arm's length until he knew how to bargain his way back home.
Besides, someone was looking out for him. Nelson knew this with utmost certainty. How else had he got from midway over the Atlantic to the frozen wastes of Finland, if someone hadn't been controlling the whole thing? There were certain spells all angels were taught from childhood, spells of transportation that enabled them to relocate from one place to another, but Nelson hadn't been able to remember a single word of the spells during his fall. He'd simply been too scared.
And yet here he was, without his wings and a prisoner of the DTM, but alive and well. He'd been shorn of any ability to spell-cast himself out of there—the loss of his wings weakened the faint glimmer of magic he possessed—but he was still fit and healthy. Someone had spell-cast him out of that storm and hurled him into a low, swift descent into Finnish territory. It couldn't be down to pure chance that he'd been saved. There must be some meaning behind it, some reason he'd been sent here—though what that reason might be, he had no idea.
He only wished he'd been told about this beforehand. Did Felipe know? Did Rob? And what had happened to the aeroplane?
Nelson wriggled his bare toes on the paint-spattered floorboards and dug his hands in Officer Rosberg's jacket pockets. His fingers brushed against paper. Curious, he drew out his hand and looked at the scrumple of a spell-cast permission slip. Nelson pursed his lips as he smoothed out the paper and studied the lines of script written upon it: Radcliffe Camera to Helsinki Railway Station. Valid in one direction only for a period of three days from the date stamped below. Unauthorised travellers will be answerable to the Ministry of Justice.
A slow smile spread across his face. So, Officer Rosberg had been sent here from Radcliffe Camera, wherever that was, to interrogate him. Nelson felt slightly more cheerful, even though he supposed he should be even more wary.
He returned the permission slip to the pocket and strode over to the two-bar heater. For a moment he warmed himself, then he returned to his chair. Officer Rosberg had left his notes and dossier when he'd gone out of the room. Nelson doubted he'd find anything of interest inside, but took a quick look anyway. He snorted at the line of doodles on the notebook with the heavy shading and the preponderance of phallic-looking pyramids and cylinders. Oh, yeah. Officer Rosberg was hot. Correction: Officer Rosberg was hot for him.
Nelson's wing stumps wriggled with glee. There were three things he knew he was good at: his nose for blending coffee, his ability to piss off his father, and sex. He was very good at sex. His appetite for pretty blond boys irritated the Hell out of his father, which was a bonus, but mainly he liked to fuck because then he didn't have to talk.
Nelson wasn't very good at talking. Even dirty talk was a problem. Not that any of his lovers seemed to care, because they always responded with such enthusiasm. Sometimes he wondered what was the biggest turn-on for them—the fact that he was the heir to one of the wealthiest angels in the FIA, or the fact that he was so silent in bed. He imagined it was the money.
Pretty blonds liked it when he flashed his cash. Doubtless Officer Rosberg would like it, too. Damn, but he was gorgeous, even if he was insanely repressed and corporate, the perfect image of a good, hard-working little demon.
Nelson had made it his own personal mission to seduce good boys, and with a happy sigh he started to weave a steamy fantasy involving himself and Officer Rosberg aboard his yacht as they cruised to the most exclusive Mediterranean party spots. Oh, how he'd love to get Officer Rosberg out of his boring demon clothes and into something sexier. Maybe then he'd get to see Officer Rosberg's tail. Nelson purred at the thought. He'd never had a demon in his bed before, and he was eager for the experience.
Just as his fantasy was heating up nicely, the door clicked open and Officer Rosberg entered. He locked gazes with Nelson for a heartbeat then looked away, a blush warming his face. He carried a pile of clothes in his arms, which he dumped onto the narrow bed. "At least some of these things should fit you."
Nelson got up and went over to the bed, deliberately standing too close. Officer Rosberg inhaled sharply but didn't move away. Nelson interpreted this as a good sign. He'd never had trouble attracting playmates before, and he was determined that no mere demon would resist him. Officer Rosberg's sexy body would be his for the taking by the end of the week. Nelson almost bounced on his toes at the thought.
When Officer Rosberg gave him a weird look, Nelson restrained his desire and poked through the garments without enthusiasm. At length he held up a shiny orange t-shirt and assumed a suitably disgusted expression. "This is nylon."
Officer Rosberg blinked. "So?"
"So I can't wear nylon. It's cheap and nasty." Nelson showed his disdain by throwing the t-shirt onto the floor and treading on it.
Officer Rosberg stifled a sigh. "I doubt we have silk and satin on hand."
"You could buy me some clothes," Nelson suggested wickedly, enjoying the sudden flush of colour on Officer Rosberg's pale cheeks. "Wouldn't you like that? This freezing country must have clothes shops, even if it only sells wolf-skin jackets and reindeer-pelt trousers. Go shopping and buy me something warm, buttercup, something soft I can wear next to my bare skin, something..."
"Not 'buttercup'. Address me as 'Officer Rosberg'." His face was flaming now, and he turned his head, his hair falling forward to conceal his expression. "I don't have the authority to buy you new clothes, although there's a limited budget allowance—I can make enquiries..."
"You enquire. I'm okay with linen, too. Egyptian cotton at a push." Nelson grinned when Officer Rosberg peeked back at him, his expression aghast. "I'll even let you take my measurements."
With a sniff, Officer Rosberg tossed his head, pushing back the wings of his sun-streaked hair with one hand. Nelson wondered where he could possibly have seen the sun. Certainly not in this benighted country; maybe wherever Radcliffe Camera was located had better weather.
Before Nelson could continue this line of thought, Officer Rosberg selected a pink shirt and thrust it at him. "I'll see about buying you some clothes, but for now, put something on before you catch a cold."
Nelson studied the pink shirt, which looked three sizes too big, before replacing it on the bed. "It's not that bad. I can sit here like this." He tugged at the collar of the jacket, flashing a goodly portion of his naked chest.
Officer Rosberg made a sound like a blocked drain.
"Why are you in such a bad mood, buttercup—I mean, Officer Rosberg?" Nelson gave him a huge, disingenuous smile. "Surely it's not because of me."
"Actually..." Officer Rosberg wavered, then glanced away, his mouth twisting. "I'm not happy about a certain aspect of my orders regarding you."
"They told you to show me your tail."
Colouring again, Officer Rosberg jerked his head up and glared at him. "And I told you, it's none of your business."
Nelson strolled over to his chair and leaned against its back. Folding his arms, he licked his lips and began a leisurely study of Officer Rosberg's body, putting as much blatant hunger into his gaze as possible.
Officer Rosberg's eyes flashed silvery fire. "Stop looking at me like that."
"I like what I see." Nelson smiled slowly. "The only demons I've met before were old and ugly, friends of my father. You're blond, slender, packed, and pretty. Just my type. That's why they brought you here, wasn't it?"
The look Officer Rosberg sent him could have frozen lava. "I have no idea what you're talking about. But now you've mentioned your father and his demon friends, let's discuss them..."
Nelson narrowed his gaze. "Let's not."
But Officer Rosberg looked thrilled, his eyes sparkling and a spring in his step as he strode around to the other side of the table and grabbed his notebook and a new pencil. "According to your dossier, your father is Nelson Piquet Senior, Controller South for the FIA and a first rank angel. His wealth and power are inestimable..."
Nelson turned to face him, rolling his eyes and fake-yawning.
Officer Rosberg sent him an irritated look but continued, "It's also known that your father is in continual disagreement with the Deputy Director-General of the FIA, Flavio Briatore, and that the Director-General Jean Todt allows their battles to be waged openly."
"If you know all this, why do you need me?"
Officer Rosberg gave him a blinding, beautiful smile. "Ah, but how much do you know, Nelson?"
Reeling from the impact of that smile and the sound of his name on those pretty lips, Nelson sank down into his seat and gurgled. Damn, he was hard already and just from a smile. He had no doubt that Officer Rosberg was a real firecracker in bed. Nelson took a deep breath to calm his rioting thoughts, forcing his mind away from the question. His libido clamoured at him to answer truthfully, for surely if he did so, he'd be rewarded with Officer Rosberg's warm, willing body in his bed that very night.
But then Nelson reminded himself that he'd been sent here for a reason, and blabbing about his father's business deals and passing on trade information was probably a bad idea. With an effort, he silenced his lust and changed the subject completely. "You don't speak Finnish."
Apparently startled by the non sequitur, Officer Rosberg snapped, "I ask the questions."
"That was a statement."
With an aggrieved sigh, Officer Rosberg put down his notepad and pencil and massaged his temples.
"Before we continue with all the heavy stuff, I just want to know about your tail." Nelson adopted an innocent look, hiding his amusement at the blush creeping once more across Officer Rosberg's face. "I thought demons cut holes in their trousers so their tails could wave around."
Officer Rosberg's tight jaw made his words come out clipped. "Maybe in the olden days, but that hasn't been the custom for a long time. A demon's tail is his private business. We keep them wrapped around our legs. All right? Now you know."
Intrigued, Nelson put his head to one side and stared across the table at him, assessing the cut of his trousers. "Which side do you dress, buttercup?"
"You're impossible. This is impossible." Officer Rosberg slammed his hands down on his papers, then collected them together, his movements sharp and rigid.
Nelson laughed. He waited until Officer Rosberg had marched stiffly to the door before he called him back. "By the way, when are you going to fuck me?"
Officer Rosberg stared, his face ashen. "What?"
His smile gentle, Nelson said, "They'll tell you to do it."
"They already did." Officer Rosberg's blush was fiery, his confusion adorable.
His chin lifted. "I won't."
"Why not?" Nelson widened his eyes. "Don't you like me?"
Officer Rosberg's fingers tightened on the door handle, then he swung it open and left without another word.
"You forgot your jacket!" Nelson shouted after him before the door slammed shut.
In the silence that followed, he imagined Officer Rosberg dawdling out in the corridor, too mortified to come back in. Nelson chuckled. Oh, Officer Rosberg would be back, all right. He wouldn't be able to stay away.
Nelson snuggled into the jacket and gave a happy sigh. He couldn't wait for the next day of interrogation.
Nico cut the idling engine and the sound died away into silence. He sat for a moment, listening to the quiet grow heavy around him. His breath misted in the interior of the car as the residual warmth given out by the heater faded. Through the windscreen he saw the long, forbidding shape of the old prison with the rounded, red brick form of Hamë Castle behind it. Both were enclosed by a high wall and surrounded by a gentle, snow-covered slope. To his right, the frozen surface of Lake Vanaja glimmered in the sunlight.
The city of Hamënlinna lined one side of the lake at a visible distance from the castle. Nico lingered in the borrowed car for another few minutes, studying the landscape and the swathe of dark trees on the opposite side of Vanaja, then he opened the door and got out.
He sucked in a breath at the bite in the air and cuddled deeper into his synthetic fur-lined coat. He'd left his nice warm jacket with Nelson, which had been a stupid mistake, but one he couldn't face rectifying just yet. The idea of going back into the interrogation room and dealing with that slow smile and those knowing, seductive looks, not to mention having to steel himself against the effect of that sexy body so wilfully displayed...
Nico coughed, forcing his attention back to his surroundings. He really had to get this ridiculous case of lust under control. He'd always prided himself on his professionalism, and was determined that Nelson Angelo Piquet wouldn't distract him from his job.
At least, that had been his mantra when he'd looked in the mirror this morning. Whether the mantra would work was another matter entirely.
Once he'd locked the car, Nico shoved his hands in his pockets and walked around the castle, his feet squeak-sliding through the fresh fall of snow. It had only been a couple of inches, so he was hopeful that the site of Nelson's crash landing would still be mostly undisturbed.
Rounding the wall towards the lakeside, Nico saw the fluttering strip of yellow and black tape cordoning off the area. A blue-uniformed policeman wearing a furry grey hat sat on a dusted-off picnic bench, the polystyrene cup of coffee in front of him melting a small circle in the snow on the tabletop. As Nico approached, the cop curved a hand around his coffee and stood to meet him, speaking in Finnish.
Nico flapped his hand in apology, dredging up the few limited phrases he remembered. "Anna anteeksi, en ymmärrä... Englantia?"
The cop seemed to understand. "English? Not a good time for tourist visit."
"I'm not a tourist." Nico pulled his ID from his inside coat pocket and held it up.
"Ah. Hold, please." The cop handed him the cup of coffee then took Nico's ID and examined it with interest, fingering the barcode and the glossy stamps of rank and clearance levels.
Nico breathed in the sweet scent of the coffee, his body reacting to the gentle suggestion of the drug. Though the cop's coffee was very milky and had far too much sugar in it for Nico's taste, just the smell set up a craving. He was glad to pass it back to the cop in exchange for his ID.
"A team from Helsinki were here until two days ago. Said they'd found everything." The cop looked at him with obvious curiosity. "It snowed last night."
Nico put on his most official smile and took a step towards the cordon. "I'm just following things up."
"Suit yourself." The cop shrugged. "Tell me if you find anything. I will have to call it in."
"No problem." Nico lifted the striped plastic tape and ducked beneath it, ignoring the weight of the cop's stare on his back. He couldn't blame the guy—it must be a boring duty—but he'd have preferred it if he didn't have an audience for his every move.
Nico wasn't even sure what he was looking for. It wasn't as if he could glean anything new from the site that hadn't already been described in mind-numbing detail in the police report. The sensible thing would have been to stay in the Turku safe house and continue the interrogation of the subject, but instead here he was at the scene of the crash, freezing his arse off in the snow.
He walked the area within the cordon, placing his footsteps with care. The impact crater was deeper than he'd imagined from reading the report, the hard earth churned up and turned over. Though wet with melting snow, the frozen mud still carried the imprint of Nelson's body.
Nico crouched beside the crater, his gaze riveted to the two sharp holes a hand's span apart. Nelson's wing stumps had made those holes, he realised, and a tremor went through him at the thought. He knew the DTM team had been over the ground already and taken swabs, but there was nothing in the dossier about blood or wing tissue. Nelson had told him the truth yesterday—his wings had been sheared straight off mid-flight. The fact that they'd healed without any kind of medical attention suggested that Nelson had been the victim of a magical attack—but who would do such a thing?
Blowing out a clouded breath, Nico got to his feet and resumed his walk. Demons and angels sometimes encountered one another in free air space, and occasionally they fought with one another. But to sever an angel's wings like that took skill. It didn't seem to be a random, opportunistic attack but rather something deliberate.
Nelson Angelo Piquet had enemies, or so it seemed. Unless... Nico pondered, scrunching through older, ice-crusted snow as he approached a stand of trees. Unless Nelson wasn't the focus of the attack. Maybe whoever did this wanted to strike at Nelson's father, Piquet Senior.
Nico stopped, staring unseeingly at the crystals of snow sprinkled on the evergreen pines in front of him. Could this have been a hit on behalf of the FIA's Deputy Director-General, Flavio Briatore? Even though Nelson had intimated that he wasn't close to his father, he was still Piquet Senior's heir. If Briatore wanted to send a direct message to Piquet Senior, surely he'd do it through an attack on Nelson.
Or was this all too obvious? Nico bowed his head, the wings of his hair falling forward to brush his cold cheeks as he paced back and forth, moving further beneath the trees. The snowfall was less thick here, and a mat of golden-brown pine needles broke the surface of white every now and then.
It would be easy enough for him to cross-reference FIA chatter from the time of the attack. If Briatore had planned the hit against Nelson, there'd be reference to it somewhere in all the information passed through the secure channels. Nico's job in Oxford was to record and sort through these data transmissions. Most were high-level encrypted, and it was his primary task to break the codes and retrieve the information so DTM operatives could act, especially if it involved the movement of refugees.
Nico paused beneath a tree and sighed, scraping his hair from his eyes. He needed to be back in Oxford to run those checks. There had to be something else he could do here and now to uncover the truth if he was going to be able to help Nelson.
Blinking, Nico took a breath and leaned back against the tree trunk. He was supposed to be helping the Station H, not the subject. Shit! Where the Hell was his brain?
He exhaled, closing his eyes against a wash of embarrassment. He knew exactly where his brain was—in the gutter, where it was jelly-wrestling with his libido and having a fine old time.
Nico gritted his teeth as an onslaught of sexy images filled his mind. It was bad enough that he felt attracted to Nelson, but just to torture him even more, his unconscious had sent him a whole series of dirty, achingly hot dreams last night. He'd woken with his cock hard and his sheets damp with the spill of his seed. His cheeks burned at the memory. Wet dreams were for horny teenagers, not for sensible twenty-somethings intent on climbing the career ladder.
It was just a bad dose of lust. That was all. Nico scuffed through the pine needles beneath the tree and tried to convince himself again. It'd been a while since his last boyfriend. Actually, it had been more like eleven months and sixteen days since the last time he'd kissed a guy, let alone had any kind of sexual activity. He thumped his head back against the tree bark with a groan. No wonder he couldn't stop his rampaging hormones. He was ripe and prime for the plucking, and the fact that Nelson was an angel only made him all the more alluring.
It also made him terrifying. Nico opened his eyes and stared up through the spreading canopy of dark winter green. He felt intimidated by Nelson's status as much as by his experience. Those photographs Heikki had shown him still haunted Nico. He blushed to recall how he'd fantasised about trading places with one of the pretty blond boys in the pictures, and how he'd imagined what it would be like to lie on the sun-drenched deck of the sleek yacht with Nelson's practically naked body pressed hotly against him.
Desire curled in his belly, and Nico jerked away from the tree, tamping down on his arousal. He resumed walking, suddenly aware of the policeman watching him from the picnic bench. Feeling self-conscious, he waved at the cop then turned his attention back to the snow-covered ground. Despite the fact that there was nothing to be found here, Nico didn't want to go back to Turku just yet.
He circled around the trees, kicking through a bank of snow. Spotting something, he knelt and dug until his fingers turned blue with cold, but only succeeded in excavating a soggy copy of a newspaper from six days ago. He dropped it back into the snow with a frustrated sound. This was useless. He was wasting time. Just because he didn't totally trust the motives of Station H didn't mean he should be out here shirking his duties.
Nico replayed the telephone conversation he'd had with his father this morning. He'd stopped in Forssa on his way from Turku to Hamënlinna and had called Keke from a public phone box outside a petrol station. When his father had chuckled at the basic security measure, Nico had said, "I'm worried, Dad. Worried they're trying to implicate you in something."
The chuckle became a laugh. "Let them try."
"It'll be fine, Nico. Don't worry about it. Just do your job."
"What if I find something? Something incriminating."
After a long moment, Keke had sighed. "If you find something, you do your duty. Understand? Do your duty, and trust your instincts."
His father had hung up, leaving Nico feeling none the wiser.
He sighed and checked his watch, aware of the day fading into the afternoon twilight even though it was only just past noon. The brush of something cold and gentle against his face made him glance up, and he saw tiny snowflakes spiralling from a mass of grey clouds.
Time for him to head back to Turku. He had no desire to spend the rest of the afternoon stuck on the roads in a blizzard. As he cut through the stand of trees, Nico noticed the gleam of a feather trapped amongst some low-lying branches. He plucked it free as he passed and turned it in his hand, pausing beneath the canopy for a moment while he examined the feather.
Shiny and silvery white with a curl and splodge of inky blue-black, it was definitely not a bird's feather. Nico stared at it, wondering. He held it under his nose and above the musty smell of cold earth and damp trees, he caught Nelson's scent. Dark heat, bright sunshine and deep shadows, dusky seduction.
Nico turned his head sharply, his breath hitching in his throat. He didn't know how he'd picked up a scent from a lone feather that had been exposed to the elements for the past five days, but he knew beyond doubt that this particular feather had fallen from one of Nelson's wings.
He took an evidence bag from his coat pocket and slipped the feather inside, then sealed it and tucked it into his inside pocket. Screw telling the cop about his find—it was just a feather. Nico wanted to keep it for himself.
The snow was falling thicker and faster as he left the cover of the trees. The cop had abandoned the picnic bench and stood sheltering against the castle wall. He lifted his hand as Nico bent beneath the cordon and trudged towards his car, and Nico gave him a quick salute in response.
As he neared his vehicle, Nico heard the muffled sound of the car phone. He fumbled the keys out of his trouser pocket and unlocked the door, sliding into the front seat and hitting 'answer'.
"Officer Rosberg, why are you in Hamënlinna?"
Nico sat up straight as he recognised the voice as belonging to Mika Hakkinen. "How do you know where I am?"
Mika made an amused sound. "Apart from the fact that all Station H cars are fitted with location-identifying transponders, the police officer on duty at Hamë Castle radioed in your interest in the site."
Annoyed, Nico glanced over at the cop huddled against the wall. "That was unnecessary."
"I decide what is unnecessary, Rosberg."
The hint of steel in Mika's voice made Nico grimace. "Yes, sir."
"The police officer was only doing his job."
"So was I," Nico argued.
Mika snorted. "Indeed? Half a dozen field men searched the area exhaustively. There's nothing to find that hasn't been found already. Your job is to interrogate the fallen angel, not to play at being a field man. Your expertise is needed in other areas."
"So I've been told." Nico couldn't keep the sarcasm from his tone.
"You have a problem with your assignment, Rosberg?"
Nico bit his lip. He wanted to complain about the order to sleep with Nelson, but knew it would be hypocritical. "No, sir."
"Good. I'm glad you understand how important this is." Mika paused, and the line crackled faintly with a blur of static as the snowfall increased. "You didn't find anything out there, did you?"
Like Hell would he mention the feather now. "No."
Another crackle, then Mika said, "Get back to Turku and resume the interrogations. Controller Scandinavia wants an update and I've got nothing to tell him. I want results—and soon. I'll call again tomorrow."
Nico stifled a groan. "Yes, sir."
The line went dead, and the only sound was the soft thump of snow against the car roof. With a sigh, Nico started the engine and put the vehicle into reverse. It was going to be a long drive back to Turku.
Nelson lay on the narrow bed and stared at the remnants of a dusty cobweb hanging from the ceiling. The spider had long since departed—probably it had died of boredom, stuck in this dump—but its web remained, strands of gossamer wafting in the cold draught that somehow crept through the closed window.
With a long-suffering sigh, he rolled over and kicked off the woollen blanket covering his body. He got out of bed and strolled naked across the room, running his hands through his hair and yawning. The pile of ugly clothes Officer Rosberg had given him two days ago tottered on the floor, and Nelson sorted through them with one foot before selecting a pair of grey cotton sweatpants.
He pulled them on, not bothering with underwear, then went over to the small washbasin and brushed his teeth just for something to do. His enforced stay in this shit-awful place was getting more tedious by the second, and he'd started contemplating doing something crazy, like smashing the window and jumping out, just to see what would happen.
Maybe boring him to death was part of the demons' cunning plan. Nelson rinsed out his mouth and replaced his toothbrush in the holder, then stared at his reflection in the fly-spotted mirror. He was wasting away in here. So many pretty boys to fuck, and he was here all alone, without even a porn mag to keep him company. Damn it, not even the sexy Officer Rosberg had come to see him yesterday.
Nelson dropped his gaze and looked at the small brown bottle full of sleeping pills prescribed by a human medic after Nelson had complained that the pain from his wing stumps hurt too much for him to sleep. He'd taken one last night, and the dull grinding ache had lessened enough for him to get some rest. Unfortunately, it didn't deaden his desire, and he'd enjoyed a long, slow, doped-up wank whilst thinking about Officer Rosberg naked and sweaty and writhing against leather restraints on silken sheets.
Hell, yeah. Nelson grinned at the thought, his body stirring in response. He smothered a laugh and pottered over to the window, looking out at the monotonous view. He missed his yacht and the taste of the sea breeze, the feel of the sun on his skin and the freedom of the ocean. This place looked like it saw the sun once a year, and he had no idea how far he was from the sea. In fact, he had only a sketchy idea of the geography of the Scandinavian DTM countries. He'd never had reason to pay the slightest bit of attention to anywhere so far north.
The door rattled, and he turned in time to see Officer Rosberg enter, laden down with bags imprinted with the word Stockmann.
Nelson beamed. "Hello, buttercup."
"Officer Rosberg," muttered Officer Rosberg, but he didn't sound so annoyed by the nickname this time.
"What's all this?" Nelson wandered over to take a look as Officer Rosberg pushed back the fake-fur collar of his ugly coat and upended a couple of the bags on the table.
"Clothes." Officer Rosberg cast him a disparaging glance, his gaze lingering over the planes of Nelson's naked chest. He licked his lips and blushed slightly before turning back to the bags. "I got permission to buy you some new things, so I went shopping. There's a winter sale on at Stockmann's."
"Great if you have a yen for grey," Nelson said, holding up a grey marl t-shirt in soft, warm cotton. Folded beneath it on the pile was a charcoal grey sweater with a single dove grey stripe and a pair of dark grey trousers.
Officer Rosberg looked up. "You don't like grey."
"I love it!" Nelson cuddled the t-shirt against his cheek with the kind of delighted expression that wouldn't fool a three-year-old.
"There is also black." Officer Rosberg looked hurt, his eyes dulling slightly as he pushed another bag across the table.
"Grey and black. What the well-dressed Finnish demon is wearing this season." Nelson tried to keep his voice cheerful. Damn, he shouldn't have sounded so ungrateful. Now Officer Rosberg was mad at him.
"I bought you some books, too." Ignoring him, Officer Rosberg picked up one of the remaining bags and carried it over to the bed. He unbuttoned his coat before he started removing the books one by one and setting them on the wobbly bedside table. "I wasn't sure what you liked reading, so there's a selection of English-language stuff. I also found some in Portuguese. I hope that's all right."
"Portuguese?" Nelson stopped sorting through his new wardrobe. "You bought me Portuguese books?"
Officer Rosberg blushed again and nodded, allowing his hair to fall forward to obscure his expression. "You're Brazilian. I thought..."
"You thought right. Wow. You're really kind." Striding over, Nelson grabbed the book Officer Rosberg offered him. "I haven't read this one. Thanks."
"It's part of my job." Officer Rosberg sounded stiff and formal.
Some of the joy ebbed out of Nelson. "Oh. Yeah. But thanks all the same." He started to move away, the book still clutched in his hand, when he smelled it—faint, almost untraceable, but he had a nose trained for the slightest nuance of scent, and he knew this smell intimately. The book dropped to the floor and he stared at Officer Rosberg, who had just finished building a tidy pile of the other books upon the bedside table.
Hearing the thud of the book on the floorboards, Officer Rosberg turned suddenly. His unbuttoned coat flared open with the movement and the scent struck Nelson again—unmistakeable, a siren call of a fragrance.
"What..." Officer Rosberg began, but his question ended in an undignified squawk as Nelson tore off his coat, shoved him down onto the bed, and pounced on top of him.
The feel of Officer Rosberg squirming beneath him made Nelson hard in an instant. God, if only this was for fun—but there was something much more serious going on. Nelson tried to keep his mind focused even though his body clamoured lustfully for pleasure. Officer Rosberg struggled, outrage replacing shock, and he almost clouted Nelson around the head as he fought to escape.
"Buttercup, wait—it's not—" Nelson ducked as another punch grazed his jaw. Office Rosberg clearly wasn't going to listen to reason. Time for Nelson to take preventative measures. He shoved his weight through his hips, grinding his erection between Officer Rosberg's splayed thighs, then caught handfuls of Officer Rosberg's wash of golden hair to keep him still, and kissed him.
For a moment he felt only resistance, tasted only surprise. Officer Rosberg went completely rigid beneath him, his lips tight and tense and closed. Nelson felt the frantic thunder of his heartbeat and realised Officer Rosberg was holding his breath.
"Silly buttercup." Nelson lifted his mouth a fraction and heard Officer Rosberg gasp for air. Before he could recover enough to start squirming again, Nelson pressed a line of feather-light kisses over his lips, using every ounce of skill to make his reluctant captive relax. A moment later, he whispered very softly, "They're listening to us, aren't they?"
Officer Rosberg made a tiny sound that could have been affirmation.
"Kiss me." Nelson traced his lips over Officer Rosberg's mouth, waiting for a reaction. When none came, he continued in a normal tone of voice, "That bastard Kovalainen interrogated me yesterday. Where were you, Officer Buttercup?"
Officer Rosberg shifted beneath him. The confusion in his eyes faded to wariness and resignation, and he muttered, "Officer—oh, to Hell with it. My name is Nico."
"Mm, now we're getting somewhere. Nico." Nelson released the tight grip on Nico's hair and stroked back the golden strands, framing his face. He parted the hair around the tiny red horns and tested the rounded point of one with his thumb. "Funny how a demon has an angel's name. It's Greek, yes? 'Victory'. Your father must have had a sense of humour."
He leaned down and kissed Nico again, taking his time, enjoying the pretence of intimacy even if Nico kept his mouth firmly closed. Nelson wriggled, moving partway onto his side but keeping most of his weight sprawled lazily across Nico's body, effectively pinning him to the bed. He trailed kisses from Nico's mouth along his jaw then nuzzled through his hair to bite at his earlobe.
Nico made a choked noise and tried to break free, but Nelson clung tight. He knew he was taking a huge risk doing this. The listening devices might not be able to pick up his whispers, but there was nothing stopping Nico from reporting their conversation in its entirety. But Nelson needed to know, and Nico was the only one who could tell him, and so it was worth the risk.
Nelson licked the curve of Nico's ear and felt him tremble in response, heard his breath hitch. Choosing his moment, Nelson purred softly, soothingly, then whispered, "You have one of my feathers. I can smell it on you."
Nico gasped and jerked in reaction. He snapped his head towards Nelson and stared at him, his eyes wide with startled guilt and his lips forming a question. Before he could ask it, Nelson wedged himself onto his side and put his hand between Nico's thighs, his aim unerring. "Where is it?"
"Not down there!" Nico abandoned his own question as he tried to push Nelson away. He wriggled, his face red with embarrassment as each successive manoeuvre only seemed to bring him closer to Nelson's body.
Nelson ran his fingertips over the inside of Nico's legs, up then down, and drew in a breath when he felt the slight ridges of tail wrapped around his left thigh. It was almost as exciting as feeling the sudden thrust of Nico's erection tenting out the fabric of his trousers. Distracted, Nelson rubbed at the coiled length of tail then palmed Nico's cock, pressing down with the heel of his hand.
That got his attention. Nico moaned, his head going back and his eyes closing in brief surrender. Nelson kissed his throat as he worked his fingers over Nico's cock, teasing him through the layers of cloth separating their flesh.
"Please," Nelson murmured against his neck, "bring me the feather."
Nelson wasn't sure if that was in agreement or refusal. He needed that feather for his wings to regenerate. It had to be a complete, full-fledged feather—the old wives' tales were specific on that count—and Nelson knew without doubt that Nico had one of his primary feathers in his possession. All he had to do was convince Nico to give him the feather, and then Nelson would be able to spell-cast a new pair of wings from it.
Not that he knew the correct spell for wing regeneration, but he'd deal with that particular hurdle when he came to it. First of all he needed to get the feather, then escape from this safe house, and then...
No. First of all, he needed to kiss Nico again.
Nelson crushed his mouth over Nico's, eating at him with hungry passion. Nico made a muffled moaning sound—the kind of sound Nelson was beginning to love more than anything else—and then he responded.
The kiss deepened. Nico opened his mouth and returned the embrace, no longer shy but aggressive and demanding. He bit at Nelson and thrust his tongue between his lips. Nelson chuckled, which seemed to make Nico lose even more control. Their breathing grew ragged as the kiss turned bruising and savage. Nico was angry, Nelson realised, and he started to pull back.
As soon as Nelson moved, Nico lifted both hands and braced them against Nelson's naked chest, trying to shove him away. But then his palms flattened and his fingers relaxed, and the tension in his arms loosened. The rejection became a welcome. Nico gave him a dazed, helpless look and stroked his hands over Nelson's chest, curling through the soft hair, caressing the sensitive peaks of his nipples.
Nelson groaned at the spark of pleasure. Wanting more, he grabbed Nico's hand and guided him down to his cock. Slow and tentative, Nico splayed his fingers and groped Nelson's erection through the thick cotton of the sweatpants. Nico's breath came in short, sharp bursts, his expression stunned, as if he couldn't believe what he was doing.
Nelson watched him, gasping as Nico's hand moved up and down his aching cock. When Nico's lips parted in unmistakable invitation, Nelson fell on him, his kiss ferocious and greedy, his tongue stabbing and plundering. Nico mewed and arched into it, his fingers squeezing Nelson's cock through the sweatpants.
"God, yes. Yes, buttercup."
Suddenly Nico jerked sideways, almost toppling from the bed. He wormed halfway from beneath Nelson and launched himself towards the floor, but Nelson seized him around the waist and hauled him back onto the mattress. Nico lashed out, panicking, and Nelson sat on him, catching both flailing hands and pressing them together, exerting just enough pressure on his wrists that Nico went still and stared at him.
Nelson wanted to reassure him, but the sight of Nico with his hair mussed and spread out against the blanket, his lips bruised from their kisses and a vulnerable look in his eyes made Nelson want to fuck him senseless. All this rough and tumble had made him as horny as Hell, and so Nelson forgot about reassurance and went for the direct approach. "Not so fast, sweetheart. You can't get me all hot and bothered and then just run away."
Nico continued to stare at him. Whereas a moment ago his expression had been one of fading fear, now his eyes glittered with defiant challenge. A flash of lustful delight shivered through Nelson as he realised Nico was enjoying this. Oh, he was still a repressed little good boy, but the wanton, wicked demon inside him was trying to break through.
Determined to win this particular battle, Nelson bent down and kissed him until Nico began to respond again. The fight went out of him and Nico made no resistance when Nelson unfastened his trousers and slid a hand inside. Nico canted his hips, rubbing against Nelson's exploring hand, then he went still as Nelson touched the muscled warmth of his tail.
It felt like nothing he'd imagined. Smooth and hard, like an erect prick, Nico's tail pulsed with heat and strength. Nelson stroked it, measuring its width—about the circumference of his thumb—by touch alone. He wondered how long it stretched, and was about to ask when he caught sight of the worry in Nico's expression.
Nelson swallowed. "Am I hurting you?"
Nico shook his head. "My tail doesn't disgust you?"
"You have got to be kidding." Nelson stared at him in genuine shock. "You have the sexiest tail I've ever seen. I mean, felt. Can I see it?"
"No!" Nico batted at his hands as Nelson tried to wrestle down his trousers. "Get away. Get off me. You can't..."
Amused by Nico's obvious conflict between desire and duty, Nelson gave a throaty laugh and moved his hand from tail to cock. Nico's erection was hard and fierce, the head leaking wetness over Nelson's fingers. Purring, he stroked its full length and watched Nico buck in reaction. "Oh, buttercup. Do you like this? Does it feel good?"
Nelson was surprised at the words tumbling from his lips. For someone usually so silent in bed, now he couldn't seem to shut himself up. Of course, it helped that Nico responded so beautifully. Nelson licked the line of his throat. "You taste so damn sweet. Never thought a demon would taste like Heaven."
Nico whimpered, his jaw tight and his head whipping from side to side while his hips thrust up, his cock hot and throbbing in Nelson's hand.
"What if I put my mouth on you?"
Nico's eyes opened wide. "No!"
Nelson inhaled deeply, enjoying the musky scent of their combined arousal, and sighed. "I wonder if your cock tastes as incredible as you smell. I can make it amazing for you. I'm really, really good at giving head."
"Just one lick," Nelson coaxed, wriggling against him, rubbing his own erection against the taut muscle of Nico's thigh. "God, you're so hard. I can feel you leaking all over my hand. Let me have a taste."
Drawing his hand from inside Nico's trousers, Nelson lifted it to display the glistening wet trails of pre-cum. "Mm," Nelson murmured, and sucked his fingers. The smoky taste rolled over his tongue, making him crave more. "Oh, baby. I have got to have you. Got to make you come in my mouth. You taste so fucking good."
Nico stared at him, utterly speechless.
"C'mon. Let me do it." Nelson pulled back and tried once again to drag Nico's trousers down over his hips, but Nico made a desperate sound of protest and kicked out. Caught off-balance, Nelson fell sideways and banged his elbow against the wall. The sudden sharp pain distracted him for a second, and that was long enough for Nico to escape.
Holding up his trousers with both hands, Nico backed across the room until he met the opposite wall. Only then did he put his clothes in order, his fingers shaking. "I'm sorry," he said, his voice full of unhappiness and panic. "I can't. I just can't."
"Why not?" Frustration scalded him. Nelson punched the thin mattress and growled as his fist connected with the hard wooden slats beneath. He flung himself from the bed and paced to the window, trying to regain some measure of control. "Damn it, Nico, why won't you let me fuck you?"
"I don't like playing games." Slumped against the wall, Nico trembled as if he was cold. "I—I'm a serious kind of guy. I only sleep with people I c-care about."
Nelson snapped around to stare at him. Realisation was slow, but the more he thought about it, the more obvious it became. Unable to keep the glee from his voice, he crowed, "Why, Officer Rosberg—you're a virgin!"
The look Nico shot him was full of fury and humiliation. "You're wrong."
In response, Nelson gave him a patient, gentle smile. "Oh, buttercup. You can't lie to an angel."
Horror registered on Nico's face for a split-second, but then he bared his teeth in a snarl. "Demons can lie to anyone. Even angels."
"So are you lying to me now?" Nelson paced towards him, amused by Nico's confusion. "Prove me wrong. Sleep with me. Come on." Tilting his head, he ran his hands down his body and hooked his thumbs into the waistband of the sweatpants, pulling them low on his hips. "You want me. I know you do."
"I don't," said Nico, but his gaze was fixed to the waistband and the dark gloss of pubic hair revealed above the sweatpants.
Nelson smirked. "Look into my eyes and tell me you didn't dream about me last night."
Drawing in a deep breath, Nico lifted his head and stared at him. "What if I did?"
Nelson sighed and reached out for him as he went closer. "By every angel in Heaven, why are you being so stubborn? I can be everything you dreamed of—everything and more. I'll bring you such pleasure, Nico. I'll make it so good for you..."
Nico sidled away along the wall, a hunted expression on his face.
Nelson tried to corner him against the washbasin. "You're gorgeous, so fucking gorgeous," he whispered in honest admiration. "I want you so much. Come here—let me touch you—let me give you what you want..."
A hesitation, and then Nico threw him a stormy look. "Go to Hell," he snapped, and shoved past him. He stamped across the floor, stopping only to grab his coat, and then rushed from the room. The door slammed shut so hard that the dusty cobweb dropped from the ceiling.
"Nico! You'll dream of me again and again until you give in!" Nelson shouted after him. "And you will give in, Officer Rosberg! I will have you!"
Whirling around, Nelson banged both hands against the wall then slid down onto his knees. He ached all over with frustrated desire, but worse, he'd scared off the closest thing he had to an ally in this horrible place. He curled up, shivering with reaction, as loneliness and fear overcame him.
By the end of the week, neither the weather nor Nelson's mood had improved. The only bright spot in each day was his interrogation. He looked forward to it with a sense of excitement that far outweighed what he probably should be feeling for such an event. The FIA interrogations he'd been obliged to witness in the past because they were led by his father were always terrifying, tense, and very often violent—a far cry from this softly, softly approach the DTM were taking.
Of course, Officer Rosberg was the main reason Nelson got out of bed with a spring in his step, a smile on his face, and a scatter of crusted tissues tumbling to the floor. Nico continued to resist every attempt at seduction, no matter how blatant or subtle, and Nelson had resorted to questioning every other demon and human he saw as to what he was doing wrong.
No one had any useful suggestions for him, and Nelson was feeling increasingly despondent. He knew Nico wanted him. The silly little demon was just being ridiculously stubborn. In return, Nelson dug in his heels and refused to give out any information about the FIA. He couldn't even be bothered to give them the disinformation all high-ranking angels were meant to spout at the enemy if they were ever captured.
Instead, he sniped at Nico, teased him, joked with him, and begged him to come to bed. Nico smiled patiently and looked at his watch and left the room whenever the conversation became too loaded with innuendo.
Nelson had had enough. He'd read two books and spent the evenings listening to Finnish radio after Nico had brought him a small wireless. Nelson had attempted to pick up longer-range broadcasts from outside the DTM, just in case his father was trying to send him a coded message, but the handheld radio only picked up Finnish stations.
Now he sat on the edge of his uncomfortable bed, pop music playing in the background and an English-language book cracked open beside him. He was trying to decide whether it would be more fascinating to have a drink of water or a carton of fruit juice, when a knock sounded at the door and Nico came in.
"Water or juice?" Nelson asked.
"Not for me, thanks." Nico wore his ugly furry coat over nice, neat trousers. The wind had disordered his hair, blowing it into a straggling halo around his head; his cheeks were flushed and he looked pleased with himself.
"I wasn't offering you a drink. I was... Forget it." Nelson scuffed his feet over the floorboards and sighed. "You're early."
"I've got permission to take you outside." Nico bounced a little and grinned.
"Seriously?" The prospect of getting out of this dump galvanised Nelson into movement. He jumped off the bed and sped around the room, pulling on the black jeans, grey t-shirt and grey sweater Nico had bought for him.
"I wish you'd consider underwear," Nico said, sounding fretful.
"I did consider it, then I decided not to bother." Nelson found two stray socks and sat on the floor to pull on a new pair of ankle boots. "You never know when I might need to be ready for action."
Nico tutted and turned away, but not before Nelson had caught his smile. Pleased that some sort of progress was being made, Nelson stood and wrapped himself in a heavy oilskin jacket. He headed for the door, impatient to be on his way. "Where are we going?"
Nico laughed. "I told you. Outside."
Nelson's sense of excited anticipation lasted approximately thirty seconds. When they were halfway down the stairs, Nico revealed that by 'outside', he didn't mean 'going into the nearest urban centre and visiting cafes and bars in search of pretty blond boys'. He didn't even mean 'going to the shops and buying porn'. By 'outside', he simply meant 'going out of doors and walking in the garden'.
The disappointment almost crushed him, but Nelson persevered. He struggled with the huge iron latch on the front door and stepped out into the crisp, cold winter air. Ice crunched beneath his feet, and a fresh fall of snow covered the stone beasts placed either side of the entrance.
"Well!" His breath puffed out in front of him. "If I can't buy porn and I can't flirt with pretty blonds, I guess you'll have to do."
Nico shot him a stern glance.
"Yeah." Nelson grinned. "I love it when you chastise me, even when you do it silently with those killer looks."
An almost-smile tugged at Nico's lips before he got himself under control. "Don't you ever stop?"
Nico heaved a long-suffering sigh and indicated a narrow path swept clear of snow. "This way. There's a walled garden—you can see it from your window..."
Nelson rolled his eyes at the prospect of a close-up look at dead fruit trees, but followed Nico onto the path and around the side of the building. He darted a few quick glances at the safe house, checking for drain pipes and crawling ivy just in case he could escape using those methods, but there was no obvious way out.
His mind raced as he did a slow survey of the garden. Now he was close to them, the walls didn't seem that tall and were full of crumbling brick, ideal for hand and footholds. The copse of black trees also had potential. If he could get out of his room, he might be able to make his escape from this boring hellhole after all. He moved closer to Nico and remarked casually, "If I had my wings, I'd be able to fly right out of here."
Nico shook his head, the action making a strand of hair whip across his face. "You wouldn't get far. The perimeter is monitored by radar, motion sensors, and EMP cross-beams. Launch yourself at that and you'll fry. Even if you tried to run or crawl out of here, the effect would be the same: toasted angel."
Disgruntled, Nelson aimed a kick at the pile of snow lining the path. He told himself he hadn't really wanted to escape anyway. Even if he managed to get out of his room and out of this garden, he still had no idea where he was or how to get back home. No, he was stuck here until he cooperated... or until his father sent someone to rescue him. What a drag.
He lifted his head as another thought occurred to him. "No cameras out here, though? No hidden tape recorders? Not unless you're carrying one."
They left the main path and trod through squeaky, slip-sliding snow towards the fruit trees. "Apple and plum," Nico said, though how he could tell Nelson had no idea. The trees looked dead to him, stark and black against the snow and the redbrick wall. He pushed against one of the branches, testing it, then clambered up into the tree.
"Be careful!" Nico stood beneath him, concern in his eyes as he looked up.
Nelson grinned. "I'm five feet off the ground and there's about a foot of snow to break my fall. I'm perfectly all right. You, on the other hand..." He balanced on one wide limb and reached up to shake the smaller branches above him. Snow cascaded down, dusting Nico with white. Nelson chuckled and leaned over to shake another set of branches, hooking his arms and legs around the tree limbs. He looked down at Nico, who'd yelped with surprise at the first snow shower and who now stood and laughed as he batted snow from his hair.
Still laughing, Nico glanced up. With glittering snow crystals clinging to his hair, his cheeks flushed pink with cold and his eyes shining with delight, he looked utterly gorgeous.
Nelson froze, his heart suddenly seeming to stop and then to start beating again just a little faster than before. He swallowed, his laughter fading, and stared down at Nico in confusion and wonder.
"What?" Suddenly self-conscious, Nico wrinkled his nose and ruffled his hair, brushing off the melting snow crystals.
"Nothing." Nelson settled onto a low branch close to the trunk and swung his legs back and forth. "You brought me out here for a reason."
"I thought you'd like some fresh air." Nico's gaze skittered away as he spoke.
"You are so bad at telling lies." Nelson waited a moment. "Come on, what is it?"
Nico stepped back and shoved his hands into his coat pockets, the gesture somehow defensive. "Okay, I brought you out here because there are no recording devices. It's just the two of us..."
"Oh, buttercup, are you going to proposition me?"
Nico continued as if Nelson hadn't interrupted. "I just want you to answer my questions without anyone else listening in all the damn time. How much of an active role did you take in your father's coffee business? Why did—"
Nelson scowled. "I'm not in the mood for this." Taking hold of a branch above him, he swung himself out of the tree. For a split-second while he was in the air, he felt his wing stumps flex involuntarily beneath the layers of the t-shirt and sweater. The action made him catch his breath, his body twisting in automatic response as if to compensate for the beating of his wings.
But he had no wings, and like a stone he dropped the short distance to the ground, landing awkwardly on his knees.
"Nelson!" Nico hurried towards him, compassion and concern on his face. "Are you all right?"
"Fine. I'm fine." Nelson shoved himself upright, furious at his lapse. His knees ached from the sharp shock of the cold and the hard ground, but it was nothing compared to his sense of loss. Trapped in a room for the last few days, he'd managed to push aside the knowledge of his ruined wings. Now he'd been reminded of what he was missing, and the cruelty of his situation hit him with full, vicious anguish. He forced back the hot tears of self-pity blurring his vision, lifted his chin, and strode across the snowy garden towards the trees.
He didn't care where he went, as long as it was away from Nico. He couldn't cope with Nico's kindness or his questions or anything else. He just wanted to be alone.
"Please, Nelson." Clumsy footfalls sounded behind him, Nico's breathing harsh in the still air, and then Nico put a hand on his arm and tried to pull him around. "I'll give you the feather if you answer my questions."
Nelson turned to face him, wondering if he dared to hope. Nico would give him the feather, he knew that—but what good was it when he didn't know the words of the fucking spell? Schooling his expression into blankness, he said, "Not good enough."
"Then what is?" Nico looked frustrated and miserable. "Nels..."
Shaking his head, Nelson continued onwards. Nico followed, and soon they were away from the garden and into the trees. Snow shivered from dead bracken, and their feet squelched and slid through ice and iron-hard rutted mud. Rotten branches cracked, and the wind hissed through the trees. The air became tense and silent, with the only sounds those made by their passing as they ventured further into the woods.
At length Nelson came to a halt in a small clearing beside a fallen tree. He brushed off the snow and felt the springy green moss with his fingertips. The scent of slumbering growth and the slow rotting of wood filled his nose, and he breathed it in. It was a cold scent, unfamiliar and strange, so he turned to Nico, glad of his lighter, sunnier fragrance. Nelson wanted more, wanted heat and sex and comfort. He wouldn't get that in this chilly place. Unhappiness overwhelmed him again, and he sat down on the tree trunk with a thud.
Nico stood in front of him, not meeting his gaze. He played his foot through the snow at the bottom of the fallen tree, smoothing it out over and over. His shoulders were rounded, his posture despondent. Finally he said, "They're sending me back to England."
Startled, Nelson jerked his head up. "Why?"
"Because their plan didn't work. You're not talking to me." Bitterness crept into Nico's voice. He moved his foot faster through the snow. "I'm a trained interrogator, one of the best... and yet I can't get anything from you."
Nelson blew out a breath and slid backwards over the curve of the tree trunk. "That's because you're approaching this all wrong. Sleep with me and I'll tell you everything. Give me your gorgeous body for one night and I'll spill every FIA secret all over you. Let me love you and I'll give you the world."
It was Nico's turn to stare. "It can't be that easy."
"Sometimes it is." Nelson tilted his head and offered the quick flash of a grin. "I'm a simple creature. I like warmth and sunlight on water and pretty blond boys. Any combination of these makes me happy." He paused, considering Nico for a moment. "What makes you happy, Officer Rosberg?"
Nico gave a pale smile in response. "I don't know. Maybe if you tell me something useful, I'll be happy."
"I'd have thought the idea of getting out of this horrible wintry country would make you happy." Nelson waited a moment longer, then added, "Or going back home to Radcliffe Camera to be with your lover."
Nico frowned, wariness tingeing his features. "Radcliffe Camera?"
Nelson shrugged. "It was on a spell-cast permission slip in your jacket pocket. I thought it must be the name of your hometown or something. Or maybe your lover's hometown."
A blush warmed Nico's cheeks. "You know I don't have a lover."
"I know nothing of the sort," Nelson retorted. "Just because you got all hot for me the other day, it doesn't mean you don't have a lover waiting for you at home. Maybe five or six lovers."
"I think you're confusing me with yourself." Now Nico sounded annoyed.
Nelson shrugged and adopted a casual air. "Well, soon you won't ever see me again. That makes you happy, yes?"
"No." Nico dropped his gaze and burrowed his chin into the furry collar of his coat. "Never seeing you again is..." He stopped.
"Is what?" Nelson got up from the fallen tree and went closer, his pulse racing as he registered the slight shift in tension between them. Nico had gone very still, his gaze fixed to the ground, but Nelson knew he was waiting. He wondered how far he could push this. Keeping his tone light, Nelson asked, "Are you actually admitting that you like me?"
Nico looked up, his expression desperate, conflicted. "You're the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."
Shock and delight warred inside him. Nelson seized Nico by the shoulders and stared at him, struck by a pang of longing so sharp and hot it hurt. "Then why are you fighting me, when we could both be happy?"
Nico tried to shrug out of his grasp. "It's not about that. I don't want to just have sex with you!"
"What else do you want?"
With an angry sigh, Nico shook his head, the sun-striped wings of hair obscuring his expression as he turned away. "This is so unprofessional. I'm sorry. Personal feelings have no place here."
Nelson wasn't going to let him go. Not after that admission. Not until he had a proper answer. Not until he knew beyond doubt what Nico was saying to him in such a half-assed and stumbling way.
"Listen to me, buttercup—your department wants you to fuck me. I want you to fuck me—or at least I want to fuck you, but I'm good with either way—and by your own admission you want it, too! Why are we still standing here in the snow when we could be tucked up warm in bed screwing each other's brains out?"
Nico wrenched himself free, his hands slashing through the air as he punctuated his heartfelt cry: "Because I don't want to end up like them—your other lovers, your pretty little blond boys, the angels and humans..." He broke off, his expression horrified.
Smug warmth radiated through Nelson, and he gave a pleased purr. This sort of reaction he could understand. In recent years, plenty of pretty blond boys had competed for his attention and shown possessive streaks, and he'd always found it very flattering. But he knew Nico wasn't like his usual boys and would therefore need some reassurance.
Nelson had never had to reassure a playmate before and wasn't sure what to say, so he said the first thing that came to mind: "I haven't had a demon as a lover. You'll always be my first."
"That's not what I want. It's not—" Nico's expression sparked with anger and frustration. With a cry of defeat he spun away, but Nelson grabbed him and hauled him back into his arms.
"No," Nelson bit out, "no, you fucking don't," and kissed him.
Nico stood frozen in the embrace for a heartbeat before he gave a muffled groan and responded, pressing closer, twining ever nearer, his arms going around Nelson's neck and his mouth opening to the kiss.
Nelson slid his hands beneath the long hem of the ugly coat and cupped Nico's arse. It filled his palms perfectly, and Nelson groaned. He backed Nico towards the fallen tree, vaguely thinking they could lie down on it, but then he had a better idea. Breaking the kiss, he unbuttoned his oilskin jacket and yanked it off, then spread it on the snowy ground.
"You'll get cold," Nico protested, though he made no complaint when Nelson drew him down.
"I'm an angel. Our body temperatures are much warmer than demons' bodies." Nelson fiddled with the zipper on Nico's ugly coat. "Besides, we can keep each other nice and hot."
Nico gave a tight, frustrated laugh and pushed his hands away. "Let me." He tugged at the zip and it unsnapped, burring downwards. Nelson pushed him back, hearing the snow crunch as Nico lay half over Nelson's flannel-lined oilskin and half in the frosted bracken. The furry hood of the ugly coat framed his face, blond strands of hair feathering around his cheeks and falling into his eyes. Anticipation shone in his gaze.
Nelson shoved at the unzipped sides of the ugly coat and ran a hand over Nico's chest. He toyed with the buttons on his shirt, slipping one free of its anchor and sliding a finger beneath to touch warm skin and the roughness of hair. Nelson's cock jumped, his arousal hard and immediate. Shit, why had he started this outdoors in the freezing cold? He wanted Nico spread out naked for him, and the weather at minus twenty wasn't conducive to nudity.
While he considered what to do, he kissed Nico again. The taste of him sang through Nelson's blood, an irresistible sweetness. He'd kissed plenty of good boys and they'd never been this hot. Clearly he'd been wasting his time with humans and other angels. From now on, he'd only fuck demons—though in truth the only demon he wanted to fuck was pinned beneath him. Why would he want a taste of anything else when he had such a glorious, responsive creature in his arms?
Nelson deepened the kiss, feeling Nico arch up against him. Nico raked his hands through Nelson's hair, the gesture both tender and commanding. Nelson smiled, enjoying the spirited flash of dominance. This was what he wanted, what he yearned for—a lover who'd challenge him, who'd intrigue and fascinate him. The fact that it had taken a week to get this far with Nico was a good sign. Most of Nelson's romantic relationships ran their course after four days.
Gentling the embrace, Nelson trailed kisses from Nico's mouth down over his neck, nuzzling at the rapid thrum of his pulse, licking at the delicate taste of his skin.
"Nels, Nels..." Nico sounded stunned, the yearning in his voice something Nelson had never heard before. He tried to recall any of his lovers wanting him with quite so much passion and couldn't name a single one.
"Buttercup." Nelson pulled at the collar of his sensible button-down shirt and bit Nico's pale, vulnerable throat. "God, Nico. Don't stop me this time."
"We mustn't," Nico gasped. "I can't."
His protests didn't sound very convincing. "We must," Nelson murmured, "and you can." He kissed Nico again, a brief possession of his mouth, a swift stab of tongue past yielding lips, then he shifted position and drew back onto his knees, settling astride one of Nico's thighs.
In a matter of seconds he'd unbuckled Nico's belt and pushed up his shirt. Nelson leaned down and rubbed his face over the trail of dark hair, breathing in the scent of Nico's waking desire. He unbuttoned Nico's sensible, boring trousers and caught at the waistband, then dragged down his trousers and his underwear together until the fabric twisted around Nico's knees.
Nelson took a moment to admire the view. He licked his lips at the sight of the hard cock he'd groped so thoroughly a few days ago. Oh, it was even better than he'd imagined, standing proud from the deliciously dark nest of pubic hair. Unable to resist, he dipped his head and inhaled the warm, musky scent of Nico's cock from root to head.
Nico raised his hips in offering, but Nelson wanted to wait, wanted to savour this experience. He contented himself by blowing a stream of air the full length of Nico's shaft, watching him twitch and writhe in response. Grinning, Nelson prepared to nuzzle into the heat of Nico's balls when he saw his tail.
Nelson stared. Just as Nico had said, his tail was wrapped tight around his leg, the skin as smooth, taut, and satiny as his erection. The colour of his tail changed in subtle gradations from the pale tones of his skin through to scarlet at the sharp-pointed tip. As Nelson watched, Nico flexed his tail, the coils tightening further until the flesh of his thigh showed white between each loop of tail.
"Wow," Nelson said. He didn't know what he liked most, Nico's cock or his tail. He wondered if Nico had ever considered using his tail for kinky play, and filed that thought away for later. Nelson lowered himself onto his hands and knees, crouching over Nico's legs as he shuffled to get closer to that fabulous tail. He stroked it with a fingertip, receiving a squeak of response from Nico, then he tried to unravel the tail from its death-grip around Nico's thigh.
"No," Nico said, his voice lacking conviction, but the tail remained firmly wrapped about his leg.
Unwilling to give up just yet, Nelson kissed the coil closest to him. The skin was softer than he expected, his lips gliding over the tail with slick ease. It was all solid muscle, trembling with tension as he kissed and licked his way around as much of the coil as possible. He moved from one loop to the next, working down Nico's thigh towards his knee to where the point of his tail twitched back and forth.
Nelson shoved Nico's underwear down a little further so he could get at the point of his tail. He watched it flick to and fro in tiny increments, then put his mouth on it and sucked the tip into his mouth.
Nico's entire body went stiff. He gasped, holding completely still.
"Is that good?" Nelson glanced up to see Nico's expression warring between delight and shame. "You taste fantastic, buttercup. I want to play with all of your tail."
Apparently unable to speak, Nico shook his head, his hair whipping across his face to hide his blushes.
"Next time, then." Nelson kissed the tip of his tail a final time then mouthed at the flesh of his thigh bisected by each coil. He trailed his tongue up Nico's inner thigh, tickling at the juncture between leg and torso, then purred as he nuzzled at his balls.
He inhaled deeply, filling his head with Nico's scent. Nelson licked his sac, playing the weight of Nico's balls on his tongue, gently tugging at the curls of hair. Nico groaned, his cock leaking pre-cum and his scent thickening. His shaft grew harder, throbbing with heat.
Nelson couldn't wait any longer. "I've wanted to do this from the first time I saw you," he murmured, and took Nico's cock into his mouth.
Nico moaned; a sexy, helpless sound.
Nelson shivered with lust. Nico kept on making those noises, breathy moans and gasps and half-whispered pleadings for more. Nelson revelled in the sound of his name from Nico's lips almost as much as he enjoyed the hard thrust of Nico's cock in his mouth. He sucked, humming with pleasure, deep-throating him and then drawing back up to concentrate on the sensitive underside of the cockhead. Nico's taste and smell surrounded him, each subtle nuance of scent an indication to Nelson of what Nico would like best.
Nico reached out clumsily, his hands grasping through Nelson's hair to hold him in place. He seemed oblivious to the cold in the air and the snow on the ground, lost in the combined heat of their bodies. Nelson stroked his fingertips through the sheen of sweat between Nico's thighs, then rubbed his thumbs beneath his balls, lifting them, toying with them.
A desperate cry escaped Nico. He thrashed and writhed on the coats, his head snapping from side to side, the wings of his hair disordered and trailing strands caught in his open, panting mouth. His body heaved and trembled as he climbed towards orgasm, his muscles tensing as Nelson took him higher.
The taste of pre-cum sharpened on his tongue. Nelson snuffled, his nose pressed to Nico's belly as he indulged in the sensation of strong, hard cock forced between his lips. The smell and taste drove him wild. Nelson gasped, on the brink of tumbling into something he didn't want to name. Nico's scent intoxicated him, managed to inflame his senses yet soothe the lingering anxieties he tried to hide at the back of his mind. Nico smelled of trust and honour and love, a fragrance rich and sweet enough to turn any man's head.
Feeling the change in Nico's tension, Nelson lavished attention on his cockhead then sucked him deep. He heard Nico cry out, felt him clutch tight at his hair, and then the hot gush of spunk filled his mouth.
Nelson swallowed greedily then pulled back, letting some semen dribble between his slack lips so he could chase it with his tongue. Nico bucked and writhed, riding his orgasm to the last drop, and Nelson drank it all down.
Murmuring with satisfaction, Nelson cleaned Nico's cock with lazy flicks of his tongue. Nico could do nothing but lie there, flinching with ticklish reaction and gasping for breath, his eyes closed and an expression of stunned disbelief on his face.
Kneeling over him, Nelson unzipped his trousers and freed his own fierce erection. He grasped his cock, moaning at how hard and hot it felt in his hand, then stroked its length to smear the oozing wetness from the tip over his palm. Taking a firm hold, he started to jerk off, his movements fast and decisive.
He knew it wouldn't take long. Nelson stared at Nico the whole time, taking in the sight of his sprawled, partially clothed body, then gazing at his mouth, imagining Nico going down on him, imagining those soft, pouting lips stretched wide around his cock. Nelson's breath caught and he felt his wing stumps twitch, felt the hot, twisting tremor of climax begin at the base of his spine.
"Nico," he gasped, and their gazes met. The tender, wondering look in Nico's eyes undid him, and Nelson came, his seed splashing in thick white trails over Nico's belly and thighs.
Nelson dropped his hand and hung over Nico, his heart thundering, his breath shuddering out of him in short, sharp bursts. Pleasure rolled through him, buzzing his head. He couldn't feel anything else but ecstasy; didn't know anything else but Nico lying beneath him.
After a while Nelson tucked himself away, cleaned up the spill of his semen from Nico's body, and adjusted his clothing. With a deep sigh, Nelson settled on top of his new demon lover, warming him against the cold. He smiled and nuzzled through Nico's hair, enjoying the sense of peace and completion. "I knew you'd be a great lay," he murmured, dropping a kiss on Nico's jaw. "Knew it from the moment you walked into my room."
Nico shifted beneath him, seeming to come back to earth with a thud. "No."
"No?" Puzzled, Nelson lifted himself up onto his elbows and looked down.
"No. Get off." Nico wouldn't meet his gaze. His breathing accelerated, becoming sharp and panicked. He seemed embarrassed about what they'd done. When Nelson didn't move, Nico shoved at him. "Get the Hell off me!"
"This. This is wrong." Nico wriggled out from beneath him and put his clothes in order, his face flaming. "Please don't say anything. It shouldn't have happened. I—I'm sorry, so sorry..."
Still apologising, his voice high and taut with anxiety, Nico drew up the zip on his coat and stumbled backwards. His gaze jumped over Nelson, his eyes wide with regret and shame. "I've ruined everything. This is a disaster. I can't—"
Without finishing his sentence, he started to hurry away, shambling like a drunk.
Utterly bewildered, Nelson shook his head and climbed to his feet, almost tripping over his oilskin lying on the snow. "Don't leave. Don't leave me." When Nico didn't even pause, Nelson tried to think of some way to bring him back. He called out: "Before I fell, there was a plane crash."
Nico stopped. Slowly he turned. "What?"
"That's the last thing I remember. A plane crash." Nelson put a hand to his head, the memory still so vivid. His wing stumps flexed a little, a dull echo of pain scratching at him. "I was accompanying the flight to Spain when we ran into an electrical storm somewhere around latitude 16°N, longitude 24°W."
His expression clearing, Nico ventured back towards him. Despite his obvious curiosity, he kept a wary distance. "Why were you accompanying the plane?"
Nelson exhaled. He was tired of concealing the truth. "A friend of a friend was travelling on board. My friend wanted to be sure his friend arrived safely."
Nico took a step closer. "What's his name?"
"My friend? Felipe Massa. The FIA's Rio Resident." Nelson gave a weary smile. "And his friend is a human. Rob Smedley."
Nico slammed the heavy front door behind him and leaned against it for a moment, his heart hammering and his emotions twisted up inside him. Oh God, he could still feel Nelson's mouth on his cock, the long, slow strokes of his tongue over his tail... Nico moaned aloud, the sound echoing in the empty hallway. He had to stop this, had to regain his self-control.
He pushed himself from the door and straightened up, brushing his hands through his hair. Damp leaves and twigs had matted into the strands at the back and he tugged them out with a furious gesture. How could he have been so stupid, so weak?
It was useless to deny his attraction to Nelson. He'd never wanted anyone like this before. His previous relationships had been safe, controlled—fun, but good-mannered and appropriate fun. None of his former boyfriends would have ever considered being intimate outside of the bedroom. That was just how things worked.
And now there was Nelson. His interrogation subject. A prisoner of the DTM. An angel. Absolutely forbidden to him in every way, despite what his orders stated.
Nico rubbed a hand across his face. It wasn't just that Nelson was an angel, though that had played a big part in it. It was more the fact that he'd started looking forward to the interrogations. He liked seeing Nelson in the clothes he'd picked out in Stockmann's. He liked listening to Nelson's evasive answers to the standard questions, and his unguarded conversations about his yacht, or sailing around the Mediterranean, or his favourite holiday spots... Even if he wasn't sharing top-level FIA secrets, Nelson's words conjured longing in Nico. Not a longing to experience these fabled delights, but a longing to know more about Nelson.
He recognised the bravado that overlay a deep insecurity. Several times he'd wanted to dig deeper, to tell Nelson he knew why he was hiding behind his playboy mask, but this wasn't the time or place to do it. All he could do was keep asking the questions and try to find a new angle of attack, and hope Nelson would start giving him answers.
But he hadn't wanted to get the answers like this. Disgust rose in his throat like nausea as Nico imagined what Nelson must think of him now. He hoped Nelson didn't believe he'd allowed the blowjob for the sole purpose of gaining information. The idea made him sick. He didn't want to be known as someone who'd slept his way up the career ladder, even if he'd been ordered to do it. He'd always wanted to be seen as someone respectable and good at his job, someone loyal and trustworthy and untainted by scandal despite his father's reputation.
But now, because of Nelson, because of his lack of control, all that was shot to Hell. Nico felt his ambitions tumble around him and melt like fresh-fallen snow.
"Enough," he told himself, his voice harsh. He yanked at the zip on his coat and shrugged out of it, then hung it on the coat-rack in the hall. Banishing his anxieties, he strode to the foot of the staircase and checked the small black-and-white monitors that showed external views of the garden.
Nelson was sitting on a bench beside the empty fountain in the front garden, his head bowed and his shoulders hunched against the cold of the day. Nico hesitated, wanting to go back to him, but he set his jaw and turned away. Nelson would be safe enough outside. There was no way he could escape.
Nico climbed the stairs and pushed open the door to the general office. Heikki and two other demon operations specialists were gathered around a monitor, commenting on what they were watching with low voices and throaty laughter. They seemed so absorbed that they didn't hear him when he entered the room. Curious, Nico remained silent as he went towards them.
A second later, he glimpsed what was on the screen and felt his heart stop with horrified shock. His colleagues were watching the playback of Nelson giving him a blowjob.
Nico stood frozen, unable to tear his gaze away from the monitor. The shot was fuzzy, sometimes out of focus, and had clearly been taken long-range, but it was enough to pick up the detail of what they were doing. Mercifully there was no accompanying soundtrack, but Nico remembered every last gasp and moan, every rustle of clothing and every slick, wet sound of mouths against skin.
He watched himself fist his hands into Nelson's hair, dragging him closer. He registered the intense expression of pleasure on his face as he turned his head to one side, and saw Nelson's delighted smile before he took another mouthful. Nico's cock stirred in response, and he made a strangled sound as he tried to quash the unwelcome kick of lust.
"Officer Rosberg!" His colleagues jumped and faced him, embarrassment and guilt on every expression. One of them pressed a button, closing the playback feed, and the screen went blank except for a pulsing cursor.
Mortified, Nico stared at them. He couldn't let them know how humiliated he felt. Instead he forced steel into his voice and said sharply, "When you've all finished wanking off over me doing my job, perhaps you could do your jobs and run a check on a human called Rob Smedley."
Without waiting for a reaction, he strode over to a nearby terminal and sat down at it, then began opening the access port to his log-in protocols on the Oxford system. "While you lot waste time, I'm going to look for plane crash reports within the FIA."
"Plane crash?" Heikki came over to join him, signalling to the other demons to get on with their work.
Nico ignored him as the Oxford screens popped up and prompted him for his passwords. Soon he was into the familiar layout of his desktop display and called up the crash, malfunction, and forced landing data reports from the last ten days. At the same time, he ran the coordinates Nelson had given him. Information slowly loaded on the screen, and he murmured, "The Cape Verde Islands."
Heikki perched on the desk next to him. "What's this about?"
Nico didn't look up, too engrossed in reading the scrolling data reports. "Nelson—Piquet Minor—just told me he was accompanying a flight from Rio to Spain. He thinks the plane crashed in an electrical storm... and whatever caused the crash was also responsible for sending him here."
"So he's finally decided to talk." Heikki gave a dirty laugh. "What did I tell you? Wired for sex, that one. All you had to do was give him what he wanted and he's putty in your hands. I bet we'll get much more out of him now."
Nico swallowed his anger, his fingernails digging into his palms. "It won't happen again."
Tilting his head, Heikki stared at him with open curiosity. "Why not? You seemed to enjoy it."
"Sleeping with a subject is a huge mistake."
"Only if you develop feelings for him." Heikki leaned closer and lowered his voice. "You're not going to be stupid enough to fall for Piquet Minor, are you, Officer Rosberg?"
"Of course not." Nico gritted his teeth and hoped he wasn't blushing. The anger rose in him again, and he thumped the side of the monitor when the text-scrolling went even slower. "This damn machine! It's so out-dated."
Heikki sniffed. "Like everything else in life, you just need to know how to handle it the right way." He slid from the desk and pulled up a chair from a nearby workstation. Propping his chin in his hands, he watched as Nico jotted a few notes on a yellow legal pad and clicked on various reports.
"Nothing. There's nothing here." Nico hated people hovering over him while he worked, especially when he was engaged in what was turning out to be a fruitless search. Had Nelson lied to him or misled him about the crash or about the coordinates? He checked again. Flights from Rio to the south and east of Spain passed over the Cape Verde Islands, but there was nothing on any of the intercepted reports about a crash or forced landing. There wasn't even a log of any aircraft malfunction, which would be routine if a plane had been damaged in an electrical storm.
"Let me look." Heikki nudged closer.
Nico logged out and stood, pacing towards the window. He stared through the misted glass at the front garden. Nelson must have come inside by now. Nico followed the track of his footprints around the fountain and across the lawns and back onto the path leading to the door. Nelson hadn't lied to him. He wouldn't. Nico knew he'd been speaking the truth. But what the Hell had happened to that plane? And how had Nelson got from the Cape Verde Islands to southern Finland? No mere electrical storm could have done that.
He turned over the idea of Flavio Briatore's involvement again. Whoever had done this had organised it with skill and cunning. It was impossible to search for magic and power surges during an electrical storm, which suggested that the person—or angel—behind this plan had access to weather reports as well as a great deal of magic to spell-cast Nelson from one place to the other without actually killing him outright.
Unless whoever was behind this had wanted Nelson dead, and they'd miscalculated.
Nico went cold. Fear gripped his heart and he forced back the knot of anxiety lodged in his throat. Turning, he strode over to Heikki and curled his hands around the side of his chair. "Has there been any chatter on the wires about Piquet Minor's disappearance?"
One of the other demons answered. "There was a report in the teen celebrity magazine Atrevida that Piquet Minor hooked up with a stunning blond hunk and is doing the horizontal samba with him in Sardinia." The demon gave a salacious grin. "Guess they got it right apart from the location, huh?"
Nico gave him a freezing look of contempt. "Atrevida? What the Hell?"
"Piquet Minor often graces its august pages," Heikki said. "He even made the cover a few times. Your new lover is considered quite the catch in the FIA."
"He's not my..." Nico stopped himself, unwilling to give them the satisfaction of his feeble denials. "Widen the search criteria. Check the records of any plane leaving from Rio de Janeiro in the past ten days or so."
The demon muttered but tapped at the computer. "Nothing."
"There must be something." Nico folded his arms as he paced back and forth. "What about Rob Smedley? Have you tracked down his details yet?"
"I'm looking," Heikki said, "and there's nothing here, either."
"You're not looking hard enough." Nico leaned over Heikki's shoulder at the screen, which listed files in Finnish and English. In the search box, he typed 'Rob Smedley' and came up with a blank query page and the prompt to try again.
"Told you so," Heikki said. "I've tried all permutations of his name and still come up with nothing."
"Let's do it this way, then." Nico pushed Heikki out of the way and called up the FIA personnel files, searching through the 'S' category individually. Then, on a whim, he pulled up the records for the DTM personnel and did the same thing. Still nothing. Reluctant to abandon the hunt, Nico searched through the 'deleted personnel' folders. It was a long shot, but it paid off.
A page loaded onto the screen. A photograph of a smiling, dark-haired human emerged, but the usual information on education, work history, and family background had been repressed.
Nico frowned. "He's here, in the deleted personnel."
Heikki rolled his chair closer. "He's dead?"
"I don't know. This doesn't make any sense." Nico moved the cursor down the page. "There's a link to another file."
"A file I don't have the authority to access." Heikki pulled the keyboard towards him as a blank screen loaded. He tapped in a series of departmental codes, but each time the screen flashed up the message in two languages: Access Denied.
"Let me try again." Nico nudged Heikki out of the way and sat in the chair, shifting it closer to the desk. He flexed his fingers then began entering a series of binary numbers. "I was pretty good at systems-wide code-breaking in training college."
"Code-breaking?" Heikki sounded shocked. "You're trying to hack the central DTM mainframe! We're working for them, remember?"
"And they're hiding information from us. The end justifies the means."
"Not when they sack us for breaking into their system!"
Nico pushed the hair from his eyes and grinned up at Heikki. "Don't watch, then. Make me a cup of coffee."
Still muttering, Heikki retreated to the kitchen cubicle. Another five minutes and he returned, a mug of coffee between his hands. "Here. How's it going?"
"Good." Nico snagged the mug and brought it to his lips, sipping at the scalding liquid. He made a noise of pleasure as the caffeine unravelled inside him, sharpening his senses. "I've managed to get through two more levels."
"Learned anything useful?"
Nico put down his coffee. "Not really. I've got Rob's education records and there's some bank transactions here that seem a bit strange—the financial trail goes in and out of several Swiss banks but the originator is hidden..." Entering another set of numbers, Nico sat back and waited. He glanced at Heikki. "You'd think if he was being paid by the FIA, there'd be a traceable account."
"This is the FIA we're talking about." Heikki grimaced. "Nothing they do is logical."
With a sigh, Nico reached for his coffee again. His enthusiasm for this project was running thin. The screen flashed, and Nico looked at the scrolling information. His hands tightened around the mug as he read, and when he spoke, he heard the uncertainty crack his voice. "He's a scientist. A caffeine scientist."
"What?" Heikki leaned across to look at the screen. "What do you mean?"
Nico took a deep breath. "Rob Smedley was a DTM human. He defected to the FIA five years ago when he was on staff at our embassy in Monaco."
A moment of silence rippled out around them.
Heikki cleared his throat. "Monaco was in the hands of the angels back then. They barely tolerated DTM presence in the embassy. Who was the Resident at the time? He must have known something about the defection."
Nico swallowed. "It was my father."
Another silence, and then Heikki turned to stare at him, his expression stunned. "Shit. No wonder this has a high-level clearance."
His earlier anger returned, and Nico met Heikki's gaze without flinching. "You told me my father wasn't being investigated."
Heikki backed away, his hands held up in a placatory gesture. "I don't know if he is or not! I'm only a third rank demon, like you. They tell me nothing except on a need-to-know basis. I just do as I'm told."
"Well, I need to know." Nico shoved aside his mug, heedless of the hot coffee that slopped onto the desk. He entered more numbers, determined to pull the entire file out of the bowels of the mainframe. "My dad's innocent. He would never assist with a defection."
"Are you sure?" Heikki asked softly.
Nico set his jaw. He wasn't sure, and that was the problem. As far as his father was concerned, he couldn't be sure of anything.
"He's innocent," Nico said, injecting certainty into his tone. "I know he is."
A second later, a red screen flashed up and the computer started beeping. Unauthorised access detected. System rebooting. Shutting down in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...
"Shit." Nico took his hands from the keyboard. "I almost had it."
"You triggered a system-wide shutdown." Heikki stared at him in horror. "They know you hacked into their files."
Nico blew out a breath. "Relax. It doesn't matter."
"Doesn't matter?" Heikki almost screeched. "You hacked the DTM mainframe using my log-in!"
Nelson sat on the table in his room, swinging his legs back and forth as he waited for his daily interrogation. Something had changed within the building since yesterday—people were creeping around and speaking in hushed whispers. Earlier that morning, the human who brought Nelson his breakfast had scuttled in and out of the room without so much as a single word of greeting.
Puzzled by this behaviour, as the human usually spoke at least four words to him, Nelson had opened the window and leaned out to eavesdrop on the conversation of a couple of demons who regularly went for a cigarette break just beneath his room. From their muted chatter, he discovered that Nico was in some sort of trouble with DTM officials.
Nelson hoped it wasn't because of what they'd done yesterday. He wriggled just at the thought of it—Nico's lithe, sexy tail and his hard, sexy cock, and those sexy, sexy noises he made just before he came, and...
With a groan, Nelson forced himself to think of something else. Nico had stolen every last ounce of common sense from him. The way he'd run off afterwards had almost broken Nelson's heart. He wasn't accustomed to feeling bad about anything, so yesterday when a dull, nagging ache took up residence in his chest, Nelson decided it was indigestion before he remembered the only thing he'd eaten all day was Officer Rosberg.
Footsteps in the corridor outside made Nelson perk up at the idea of a distraction. Good, he didn't want to wallow in all this soul-searching crap. His wing stumps twitched and he sat forward on the edge of the table as the lock clicked and the door opened.
Officer Kovalainen came into the room, his expression set like concrete. He held a clipboard and a dossier in his hands, and as he approached the table, he looked at Nelson's bare feet and unbuttoned shirt with a grimace of distaste.
"Sit down, please." Kovalainen indicated the chair opposite.
Nelson refused to move. "Where's Nico?"
Kovalainen placed his things on the table and seated himself. "Sit down, Piquet."
"Not until you tell me where Nico is." Bristling with dislike, Nelson tucked one foot beneath him and lounged on the table. He smiled inwardly when Kovalainen flinched, but it was a short-lived victory.
"Officer Rosberg is out of the office today."
Nelson slid lower on the desk and gave the pale demon a dazzling, seductive smile. "Where is he?"
Kovalainen swallowed, blushed, and dropped his gaze. A moment later he had himself under control and gave Nelson a bland look. "Officer Rosberg has been removed from the premises due to his misconduct yesterday."
"Misconduct?" Nelson sat up straight, his wing stumps vibrating with tension.
"Nothing to do with you, Piquet." Kovalainen's voice was clipped. He sorted through his notes and uncapped a pen. "Now then, yesterday you told Officer Rosberg about a plane crash at a pair of coordinates pinpointing the Cape Verde Islands. We have combed through all available data from both the DTM and FIA, and let me tell you, Piquet Minor, there is no record of a plane crash at that location."
"There must be."
Kovalainen gave him a chilly smile. "I assure you, there isn't."
Nelson gritted his teeth. "I know what I saw."
Silence fell between them, and then Kovalainen leaned forward. "Perhaps you were mistaken. Perhaps," he continued as Nelson opened his mouth to protest, "you could be persuaded to give us the right coordinates of the crash site..."
Cold dread tickled Nelson's insides. The expression froze on his face and his heartbeat gave a stuttering thud. He knew it—he just fucking knew it. Those bastard demons had been planning this the whole time. Soften him up with the pretty blond and then bring on the creepy torture guys.
Nelson had seen his father torturing FIA dissidents. Angel, demon or human, it made no matter to Piquet Senior—he treated them all the same. The memory of the horrors he'd witnessed made Nelson break out into a sweat. He turned his head away, unable to bear the scent of his own fear.
"Persuaded," he said, keeping his voice steady. "How?"
"Well..." Kovalainen fiddled with his fountain pen. "How about this, for starters?" From his jacket he took a plastic pass and slid it across the table.
Nelson stared. "What the Hell is that?"
"A pass," Kovalainen said as if he were simple. "A city-wide pass for Turku. It permits you to leave the quarantine of the safe house and move freely around the city."
"You'll let me out?" Nelson could hardly believe it. "On my own?"
Kovalainen gave him a patronising look. "One of our demons will tail you at a discreet distance, of course. Just for your own safety, you understand. But you'll be allowed to go wherever you wish within Turku city limits."
Nelson picked up the pass and examined it. "Can I go clubbing?"
Now Kovalainen looked pained. "I suppose..."
"And if I hook up with a pretty blond—what will your demon guy do then? Watch us? Join in?"
Kovalainen spluttered, his face turning crimson.
"I don't mind—I'm quite into voyeurism and threesomes," Nelson continued happily, tucking the pass into his jeans pocket, "but I like to know in advance if there's going to be someone official getting down with me, you know?"
"I—I..." Kovalainen seemed on the verge of apoplexy.
Nelson sighed and jumped off the table. Somehow it wasn't as much fun teasing Officer Kovalainen. Nico was much more responsive and a whole lot hotter.
"In exchange for the pass, we want information!" Kovalainen managed to squawk.
"You have it already." Nelson buttoned his shirt and looked around for a pair of socks. "Cape Verde Islands. Rob Smedley. Felipe Massa. Coffee. Do I have to spell it out for you or what?"
Kovalainen made a despairing noise and clutched at his head. "Please! I'm authorised to give you spending money—five hundred euro in used notes—it's in your coat pocket downstairs. I can get you a chauffeur-driven car to take you around Turku. I can even get you a guide to the best nightspots and porn shops... but please tell me the truth about the plane crash and how you ended up here!"
Wriggling his feet into his new shoes, Nelson turned. "There's only one thing I want from this godforsaken place."
Relief washed across Kovalainen's face. "What is it?"
"I want Officer Nico Rosberg."
The relief turned to irritation. "He's not here."
Nelson took a step forward. "I want him warm, willing, and naked in my bed."
A blush rose to Kovalainen's cheeks. "That's impossible. I told you. He's not here. He's been taken off the case."
"I won't talk to anyone else." Nelson narrowed his gaze. "Give me Officer Rosberg—now."
For a moment, Kovalainen mumbled and scribbled something in his notes, then he collected his stuff together and stood. "It would be better for everybody if you talked to me," he said, his expression apologetic.
Nelson folded his arms. "Nico. Here. Now."
"Okay, okay! I'll see what I can do." Kovalainen flushed, a sheen of sweat on his upper lip. "It's against orders, but if it's the only way... I'll go and find him. Stay here. You're not permitted to leave the premises until I come back."
Kovalainen left the room clutching his notes and dossier, still babbling to himself. Nelson waited until he heard the lock click shut before he sighed and went to the window. Five minutes later, he saw Kovalainen and a couple of his demon buddies hurry out onto the wide gravelled driveway, heading for their cars. All three tore away at high speed, leaving Nelson both amused and irritated.
He wondered if Nico had been sent back to Radcliffe Camera already, or if he was in Helsinki. He had no idea how far Turku was from Helsinki, but he was sure it wasn't just down the road. Not that it mattered, Nelson thought—Officer Kovalainen and his pals were out of his hair for a while.
He sprawled on the bed, scuffing his shoes across the quilt deliberately. They hated it when he did that. Then he put his hands behind his head while he considered what to do with his free time. Fantasising about Nico was always fun. Jerking off while fantasising about Nico was even better. But for some reason, he wasn't in the mood. His irritation at Kovalainen turned to irritation at himself, and Nelson curled up into a ball, feeling despair and misery creeping up on him.
He pressed the heel of his hand to his forehead. How the fuck was he going to get out of here? It had been over a week now and he'd heard nothing, sensed nothing. He knew his father was more than powerful enough to pierce the DTM's crappy defences, even if it was only momentary, even if only to tell Nelson how to break out of this dump—and yet his father didn't come.
Nelson rolled onto his front and punched the pillow. Sure, it was an understatement to say that he and his father didn't get on very well, but still, there was no way Nelson Piquet Senior would let his son and heir rot in a freezing cold hellhole in Finland.
Or maybe he would. Nelson sighed and turned onto his side as he considered the possibility. Yeah, his father was probably trying to teach him a lesson. He'd been really pissed off about Nelson and his last boyfriend appearing on the covers of half a dozen gossip magazines. Not even the Piquet wealth had been enough to force the magazines to pull the images, which featured Nelson and the blond—what the Hell was his name again? Nelson couldn't remember—in a naked X-rated embrace on the deck of his yacht.
Nelson smiled. He couldn't remember the blond's name but he remembered with glee his father's fury. Piquet Senior had been so angry he'd hurled an antique coffee pot at Nelson's head. He'd ducked, the pot had hit the wall and smashed to pieces, and hot coffee had splattered across a priceless Persian carpet. Good times—and a very good reason for his protracted stay in this benighted snowy country.
The sound of a car engine outside made Nelson roll off the bed and go back to the window. A silver Mercedes had pulled up, and as Nelson watched, two men got out. They didn't speak to one another, but walked purposefully towards the front entrance.
Nelson frowned. One of them looked a little familiar, but he must have been mistaken. He remained by the window for a while then turned when he heard the snap of the lock. The two men came into his room, and Nelson stared in astonishment. "Fernando? Fernando Alonso?"
Fernando gave him a brief, businesslike smile. "Hello, Nelson."
"But—but... you're dead!" Nelson didn't know whether to shrink back against the wall or go closer. His gaze went to the other man, paler than Nico and with icy blue eyes and blond hair worn long enough for it to curl at the ends. Nelson's instinctive response to blonds was tempered by the expression of utter boredom on the man's face.
He looked back at Fernando. "My father told me you died on your last mission. The one in Switzerland. I even went to your funeral!"
Fernando exchanged a glance with the bored blond.
"What's going on? And who the Hell is he? Can't he talk?" Nelson was beginning to feel freaked out. The last time he'd seen Fernando had been two years ago at a party held at the Piquet residence. Though they'd never been close friends, they moved in the same circles, and Nelson had been honestly sad when he'd heard the news of Fernando's death. And yet here he was, alive and well.
"I'm glad you're not dead," Nelson said. "Is this a social call?"
The bored blond rolled his eyes. "It's a rescue."
"Oh, you do talk." Nelson stared at him. "And you are...?"
"Kimi Raikkonen. Ex-officer in the DTM. The subject I targeted in Switzerland." Fernando smiled again, warmer this time. "My lover. The demon I gave up my wings for."
"Gave up your wings?" Nelson sat down on his bed, shock making him weak for a moment. He hadn't realised it until now, but that was what was different about Fernando—no wings, not even tucked up small and flat. No glimmer of magic. Nothing about him suggested he'd ever been an angel. His voice cracking, Nelson asked, "You're human?"
"He is. So am I." Kimi strolled around the room. "Get your stuff. We're leaving."
Nelson flapped his hands. "Wait. Just wait a minute. Someone tell me what's going on."
Kimi sighed. "Are you stupid?"
"Don't be so impatient." Fernando gave his lover an affectionate look then turned to Nelson. "We're getting you out of here. Your father called me last night with orders to find some way of rescuing you."
"He did?" Somewhat belatedly, Nelson remembered the A/V bugs. He jumped up. "Uh, guys, the demons are recording all this. If we're going, we should go now before someone comes to check."
Kimi huffed. "I was a demon. I worked here—and they haven't changed the codes. The A/V is disabled. Get your things and let's go."
Nelson hurried around the room, shoving his toothbrush and a couple of unread books into a spare shirt. After a moment's hesitation, he pocketed the sleeping tablets. "I'm ready."
Kimi headed for the door, leaving Nelson to follow Fernando. "I'll explain things once we're in the car," Fernando said.
"Er, great. That would be good." Nelson hurried down the staircase and grabbed his coat, remembering the five hundred euro Officer Kovalainen had promised him. As he crossed the threshold of the safe house, Nelson paused, a touch of sadness washing over him. If only he'd had the chance to say goodbye to Nico... But that was a stupid thought, and he shoved it to the back of his mind.
Outside, the air was frozen with stillness. The noise of the car doors slamming seemed overly loud, and Nelson squished down on the backseat, waiting for the humans inside the house to come chasing after them. But it seemed that Kimi had been right about his insider knowledge, and no one challenged them as they drove out of the gates and turned onto the road.
Fernando wriggled around in his seat so he could look back at Nelson. "We'll take you into the centre of Turku, and after that it's up to you."
Nelson sat up straight. "My father didn't give you any other instructions concerning me?"
"Only to get you out of the safe house and drop you in the city centre. That's it." Fernando shrugged. "You know what he's like."
Kimi snorted and drove a little faster.
They went around a corner and Nelson slid sideways on the leather seats. He grabbed at the door to stop from tipping over. "My father asked you to do this because you wouldn't register as an angel or a demon at the border scans, right? Your scans would show you as human."
"That's right. One of the advantages of being human is that we can sneak across borders with fake passports." Fernando gripped the headrest of the front seat as they cornered again. "Kimi, slow down."
"All Finns drive like crazy people," Kimi said. "Stop complaining."
"But... you're human." Nelson couldn't get his head around it. "How did that happen?"
Fernando settled against the seat. "I was sent to Switzerland as a sleeper agent. I had to make contact with Kimi and seduce him, then record the details of several high-level banking transactions." He flicked a glance at Kimi, his expression softening slightly. "I didn't expect to lose my wings over it, but then again, I didn't expect to fall in love, either."
Nelson shook his head. "My God."
"I managed to get some of the details the FIA wanted, but then Kimi discovered what I was doing. He informed his DTM superiors, but because we were both in Switzerland, a neutral, non-extradition country, no one could touch us. So we decided to both resign and... Well, we both lost our wings."
"Technically we cannot leave Switzerland," Kimi added. "Both governments have issued warrants for our arrest if ever we leave the country, but Fernando insisted on coming here."
Fernando patted his arm. "Admit it, you like seeing Finland again."
Kimi made a rude noise. "I would like it better if we weren't in constant danger."
"You won't need to worry about me soon," Nelson said.
"I'm not worrying about you, stupid." Kimi glanced at him in the rear view mirror and Nelson looked away.
As they approached the city, Nelson leaned towards Fernando. "Do you know the spell for wing regeneration?"
Fernando seemed embarrassed. "It's not so much a spell as a state of mind. You have to visualise your wings growing again... but it's difficult to get right. It'd be easier for you to wait until you were back in FIA territory. All you need then is someone sharing your DNA matrix to give permission for you to use one of their feathers, and you can summon back your wings. But I imagine your father will just spell-cast them for you."
Kimi snorted again.
Giving his lover an uneasy glance, Fernando continued, "There is another way, though I don't know how reliable the method is."
"What is it?"
Fernando twisted in his seat again to face Nelson. "You need to have sex with a demon on a ley line, take the demonic energy from their orgasm, and that will restore your wings."
Nelson brightened. That seemed a much more appealing option than going home and waiting for his father to get round to regenerating his wings. "Sounds great. Where's the nearest ley line?"
Kimi laughed. "First you need a willing demon."
"That's not an issue." Puffing himself up, Nelson brushed a hand through his hair and preened. "I'm hot. I can pull any demon I want."
"Yeah, right." Kimi sounded unimpressed. "And they'll sling your arse right back into prison."
Nelson scowled. "There's one demon who won't mind. I just need to find him."
"Good luck with that."
Stung by Kimi's attitude, Nelson snapped, "I'll find him. His scent is unique. Sexy. Warm. Like..."
Kimi interrupted with a splintering crack of laughter. "He smells?"
"No more than you." Nelson sighed, pushing aside the thought of Nico. "I'm a 'nose'—you know, like guys who blend perfume? Except I blend coffee. Well, I used to. My father told me it wasn't a suitable occupation for an angel."
"Daddy's always right," Fernando said softly.
Now it was Nelson's turn to snort. "Yeah. So he says."
Fernando gave him an unreadable look. "He sent us to get you out of trouble. Be a little grateful."
"To you, yes. To him... I'm not so sure."
Nelson lapsed into silence as they drove along wide streets. Ice and snow grazed the pavements and had turned to slush in the road. People and demons went about their business. Nelson paid special attention to the passing demons, looking first for their horns and then for the bulge of their tails. A couple of free-spirited demon girls in short skirts actually waggled their tails when they saw him staring from the car window, and Nelson grinned in appreciation.
Kimi nodded ahead. "The cathedral. We will drop you there."
"Okay." Nelson set his makeshift bag on his lap and waited as the Mercedes drove over a bridge and into what looked like the older part of the city. The cathedral square had a few students in long scarves milling around but was otherwise empty, and no one paid any attention when Kimi parked the car and turned off the engine.
Nelson gazed up at the front of the cathedral, admiring its clean, solid lines and straightforward construction. The bells sounded the hour—midday—and when the tolls faded into silence, Fernando turned to face him again.
He felt in his coat pocket and drew out a crumpled spell-cast. Handing it over, he said, "This is a dual-use spell-cast for use within the DTM, and the DTM only. Don't try casting yourself back to Brazil, because it won't work. You get two trips on this, so use it wisely."
"Thanks." Nelson examined the spell-cast then tucked it inside his coat alongside the rolled wad of five hundred euro.
Fernando unfastened his seatbelt. "If you want to try that spell for your wings, you might want to look for a convergence of ley lines, or at least a site of strong energy that sits on a ley line. The more power you can add to the spell, the more successful you'll be—guaranteed."
"Stonehenge?" Nelson wondered aloud.
"That's so cliché." Fernando got out of the Mercedes and opened the door for him. "And it's too obvious. Educate yourself. Choose somewhere unlikely. In a short time, the obvious places will have cops swarming all over waiting to pick you up."
Nelson took a tight grip on his few belongings and climbed out of the car. "Where are you going?"
"Back to Switzerland. We've done our job."
"Do you regret it?" The question hung in the air between them, and Nelson felt the need to clarify. "Losing your wings, I mean."
Fernando wore a haunted look, and it took him a moment to respond. "Yes." His gaze wavered as Kimi got out of the driver's seat and leaned his arms on the roof of the car. "But I have Kimi. He gave up everything for me, too."
"And are you happy as a human?" Nelson asked quietly.
He received another cryptic look. "Happiness is all relative."
"Great. A straight answer."
Fernando shrugged. "I love Kimi. He loves me. We are fortunate. Things could have been different, but it wasn't meant to be."
There was something else going on here. Nelson frowned. "What do you mean?"
Fernando and Kimi shared a look, then Fernando said, "Your father had very definite ideas about how my role in the Swiss operation was to end."
"My father?" Nelson echoed, his frown deepening.
Surprise lit Fernando's face. "He organised and ran the whole mission. I thought... You didn't know?"
"Why should he know?" Kimi muttered. "Daddy doesn't trust him."
"Kimi." Fernando shot him a warning glance.
Kimi ignored his lover and spoke directly to Nelson. "Your father planned the operation for Fernando to seduce me. He intended to have Fernando killed at the end of it. I couldn't let that happen, so we chose to become human."
"Why?" Nelson blurted.
"Because I love him." Kimi's face was implacable, without any trace of emotion.
Fernando ducked his head, blushing.
Nelson stared at them both. That wasn't what he'd meant, but it didn't matter. His mind whirled with this new information, his heartbeat thumping as he considered his next move. "My father is sometimes a bastard, but..."
"He is evil," Kimi said simply. "Why else would he cut off his own son's wings?"
"Kimi!" Fernando almost shouted, but it was too late.
Nelson clung to the top of the car as the world seemed to spin around him. He took a deep breath to clear his head of the sudden dizziness, but nothing could take away the heavy feeling of dread that thudded into the pit of his stomach. "What?"
"You heard." Kimi looked at him over the roof of the Mercedes. "Your wings. That was your father's doing. He cut them from you himself and spell-cast you into the DTM as a diversion."
Fernando put his hands to his head. "Kimi, please. He didn't need to know that."
"He's stupid and annoying but he deserves the truth." Kimi's icy gaze silenced his lover before he returned his attention to Nelson.
"A diversion?" Nelson tried not to shiver at the cold, almost demonic look in Kimi's eyes. He wondered what the diversion could be—was it something to do with the plane crash and with Rob? Uncertainty lodged a lump in his throat, and he swallowed it, trying to regain his bravado. He stared at Kimi. "I don't believe you."
Kimi shrugged. "I don't care if you believe me or not. It's the truth. He used you, just like he used me and Fernando. Your father doesn't care about anything but himself." He fixed Nelson with a hard look. "Take my advice—go somewhere far away from him and start a new life. If you try to go back home, he'll destroy you."
Nico scuffed through the drifted snow in the wooded parkland near Turku cathedral. A group of demon and human children shrieked with laughter a short distance away as they hurled snowballs at each other and ran around the trees. Their parents sat on dusted-off benches nearby, chatting and drinking coffee from cardboard cups. Nico closed his eyes as he caught the scent of the hot, sweet beverage. He'd tried hard not to give in to the temptation of the drug since he'd been relieved of his duties in the safe house, but his mood kept dipping and he longed for something to perk him up.
He fingered Nelson's feather through the thin plastic bag inside his coat pocket. God, how could he have been so stupid? Allowing his emotions to get in the way had resulted in this state of humiliation. Not only had he made a fool of himself in front of his Finnish colleagues, he'd almost got Heikki sacked for tampering with the DTM mainframe, and he hadn't been able to get anything useful out of Nelson.
Nico cringed with shame at the memory of his late night meeting with Mika Hakkinen. The Head of Station H had driven up from Helsinki to berate him for his poor results and bad attitude. "You're just like your father," Mika had told him, his voice as cold as the look in his eyes. "I expected more of you, Officer Rosberg. I was led to believe you could follow orders. I was told you had a healthy respect for authority. Instead I find you wilfully hacking into our computer system!"
He'd tried to explain, but Mika had silenced him with a glare. "Officer Kovalainen will take charge of this case now. You will remain here in Turku until our systems analysts have ascertained exactly how much damage you caused with your illegal intrusion into the mainframe. Only then shall we decide what will be done with you."
The instinct for self-preservation almost pushed him to offer the feather he'd found at Hamënlinna, but he'd decided to keep quiet. Chances were he'd never see Nelson again, and the white and blue-black feather was the only thing he had of the wicked, sexy angel. He'd already committed a crime against his own government, so what was one more infraction?
This morning he'd tried to call his father from his hotel room, but when he heard the clicks on the line as he waited for the connection, Nico knew the phone was bugged. He dropped the call before Keke answered. It was bad enough that everyone suspected his father of double-dealing with the FIA. There was no point in adding to Keke's burden. No doubt he'd be informed soon enough about his son's transgression.
His shoulders hunched against the cold, Nico trudged up a gravel-strewn icy path to the Vartiovuoren Observatory on top of the hill. He gazed down the slope at the city beneath him, the skyline glinting with frost. Though the sun shone over Turku, heavy snow-clouds hung in the distance.
Nico drew in a breath, feeling the sharpness of the air. He dug his hands further into his pockets as he wondered what he should do. Obey orders, obviously. The only way he'd be able to salvage his position in Oxford would be to get his head down and keep out of trouble. If that meant toeing the company line, he'd do it. After all, it wasn't just for his sake alone.
He sighed. A week ago, this had all been so different. He'd been a good agent, an officer with an exemplary record, noticed by senior DTM staff and earmarked for a glittering future despite the family name—and now... Now he didn't know what he was.
Gloom settled around him and he bowed his head, his hair falling forward into his face. His chest tightened with the suppression of emotion, and he shoved angrily at his wings of hair, pushing them back. He turned, his shoes scraping on the scatter of salted grit on the path. Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of movement and swung around, his senses alert.
"Nico." Nelson emerged from the shadow of the observatory building. Tousle-haired and with his skin flushed pink with cold, he looked every bit as gorgeous—and dangerous—as he'd been yesterday in the copse of the safe house garden.
Nico retreated a few steps, his heart hammering and lazy desire curling inside him. "What are you doing here?"
Nelson shrugged as he came towards him. "Kovalainen gave me a day off for good behaviour." He pulled a pass from his pocket and held it up, and Nico saw with relief that it was a DTM-approved permit.
Relaxing slightly, Nico smiled. "Well. It's nice of them to let you out. You'll be able to go shopping. Buy some more clothes, maybe, in colours you actually like rather than grey and black."
"I kinda like grey and black." Nelson indicated his jeans and pulled a section of his jumper out between the buttons of his coat to show that he was wearing the grey sweater Nico had chosen for him.
Nico brushed a strand of hair from his eyes, the gesture nervous rather than necessary. "It suits you."
They stood looking at one another in silence for a while, then Nelson laughed. "Wow, this is awkward."
"Yes. Sorry." Nico's mood fractured and his shoulders slumped.
"Don't be." Nelson put his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels. "I'm sorry I got you fired from your job."
"It wasn't you. I..." Nico hesitated, then decided to tell him. "I couldn't find Rob Smedley in any of the files, so I hacked the DTM's mainframe. They found out and took me off the case."
Nelson gave him a shrewd look. "Because you hacked the mainframe or because they didn't want you to see Rob's file?"
Nico stared at him as the idea took root. "I'm not sure. I assumed it was because of the hack, but now you mention it..." His voice tailed off as he considered the ramifications of what Nelson had just said.
"What is it?" Nelson tilted his head, curiosity in his eyes. "You look worried."
Nico bit his lip. He was worried—for himself and for his father. The situation rang alarm bells whichever way he looked at it. He forced a smile. "Just an idle thought. It's nothing. Shall we walk? It's getting cold standing around here."
"Sure. I've got nothing better to do."
Nelson fell into step beside him, positioning himself just slightly too close for Nico's comfort. The sunlight cast their merged shadows ahead of them on the path, and Nico pulled away, disturbed and turned-on by their proximity. When Nelson shot him a quizzical look, Nico tried to think of an excuse for his behaviour. In a flash of inspiration, he turned and walked backwards, glancing around the park. "Where's your tail?"
Nelson swept him with a hot, lingering gaze. "You're the one with the tail, buttercup."
"Not that kind of tail!" Nico blushed, remembering all too well how good it had felt to have Nelson between his thighs, playing with his tail. His belly tightened with a kick of lust, and he hurried on: "If they've let you out on a day-pass, you'll have one of the demons from the safe house tailing you discreetly."
"Oh." Nelson gave a careless laugh. "They must be very discreet, then. I haven't noticed anyone."
"That's strange. They're usually so obvious." Turning full circle, Nico scanned the area, studying the group of parents with their children before looking at other random people strolling through the park. "Maybe it's that guy there, with the newspaper."
"So what? As long as they don't interfere with my day, there could be fifty demons tailing me for all I care." Nelson sounded grumpy. "Anyway, I'm with you. You're a demon, even if they sacked you. They can't complain."
His response made Nico slightly suspicious. In the week they'd known one another, Nelson had never shown irritation or annoyance—at least not in front of Nico. On many occasions he'd known when Nelson ducked the truth or told an outright blatant lie, mainly because he was so outrageous when he did it, so this irritable dismissal made Nico wonder if Nelson was being evasive now.
The suspicion wasn't fully formed, but Nico decided to follow his instinct. "How did you find me, anyway?"
"Coincidence." Nelson gave him a big, bright smile, but it soon faded, replaced by an anxious look. "No, it wasn't." He paused for a moment, then sighed. "I don't want to lie to you, Nico. I like you too much to lie to you."
Nico felt his heart thump. Trying to keep his tone neutral, he asked, "So you were lying to me before, about Rob Smedley and the plane crash?"
"No. That was the truth." Nelson halted on the path and faced him. "I found you because I could smell you."
"Smell me?" Shocked and more than a little dismayed by this revelation, Nico tried to sniff surreptitiously under his arms. "What do you mean, you could smell me?"
Nelson laughed. "I'm a nose."
Nico wrinkled his own nose and frowned. "You blend perfume?"
"Oh, you're smart. No. I used to blend coffee." Nelson gave him a sidelong glance, as if judging the impact of his words.
"So you did work for your father." Nico tamped down on his surge of interest, reminding himself to play this cool. This wasn't an official interrogation, after all, but now he had his own reasons for asking.
"Yes and no." Nelson skidded down the rest of the slope to the bottom of the hill and swung on the park gate, holding it open for Nico to pass. "Not all coffee beans are created equal, even the ones grown on the Piquet plantations. My father punishes the growers of inferior quality beans—" Nelson grimaced, leaving Nico in no doubt that Piquet Senior was a hard taskmaster, "and he rewards those who present him with the finest, smoothest end product. But coffee is rarely drunk pure from one source. Like heroin, it's blended, good stuff with less good stuff, mediocre stuff with bad stuff... and that's where I came in."
They left the park, picking their way over packed snow frozen solid and wading through ankle-deep slush as they negotiated the pavements. Nico trod warily, his mind spinning as he tried to remember everything Nelson was telling him. If only he could stop somewhere and jot it all down in his DTM notebook. Hell, he'd write it on the back of his hand if he could. This stuff was important.
His focus was so intense he didn't notice a patch of black ice. A second later he slipped. He windmilled his arms and let out an undignified squawk, which turned into a whimper when Nelson grabbed him and tucked an arm around his waist. Bent almost backwards, Nico stared up into Nelson's eyes and got lost in that velvety brown gaze.
Nelson gave him a crooked smile and leaned closer, and Nico came to his senses. He leapt upright, skidded on the ice again, then clung to a lamppost. Recalling himself to their conversation, Nico demanded, "So you were responsible for the coffee blends?"
"Not just responsible, I invented half of them," Nelson said with a touch of arrogance. He lifted his chin and held himself straight with pride before he snorted and went back to slouching. He tapped his nose. "My father would tell me what grade of coffee he wanted to produce, and I'd create it. I knew how to make a blend that tasted good when in reality it was made from an inferior crop."
Nico let go of the lamppost. "Your father must have been proud of your ability."
Nelson scowled. "You would think."
"He wasn't?" The ice seemed less slippery around the lamppost. Nico went a few steps and turned back for Nelson, who followed, his hands in his pockets and a black look on his face.
"Being a nose is considered low-class. Making one's living with one's hands—or nose—is for poor people, not for rich angels. Certainly not for angels of the Piquet family." Bitterness oozed from every word, and Nelson's eyes flashed with suppressed emotion. He walked faster, heedless of the icy pavements. "I loved being a nose. I loved blending coffee. But one day my father told me to stop. I was too old to play silly games any more, he said. It was time I remembered who I was. As if I could forget!"
He looked magnificent in his anger, and Nico felt a complicated tug between pity and awe. "How old were you when he said that?"
"I'd just turned eighteen. I was angry. I still am." Nelson gave him a brilliant, vicious smile. "That's when I came into my inheritance. I bought my first yacht and started sleeping with as many pretty blond boys as I could get my hands on—and believe me, I got my hands on a lot."
Jealousy knifed into Nico's heart, a shaft of splintered cold so painful it made him turn his head sharply so Nelson wouldn't see his reaction. Nico looked into a shop window as they walked passed, staring so hard his vision blurred. "You were determined to punish your father with your lifestyle."
Nelson snorted. "You make it sound so stuffy, buttercup."
Nico had no intention of pursuing that line of conversation. He didn't want to hear about the long line of lovers Nelson had enjoyed. He paused in front of another shop window and realised he was looking at a display of perfumes. When Nelson came to stand beside him, Nico asked, "You could really smell me?"
"Yes." Nelson gave him another searching look.
Nervous, shy, Nico ducked his head. "Do I still smell of honeysuckle and sea grass?"
Nelson smiled and moved closer, lifting a hand to brush back Nico's hair. "And olive oil on old gold, and the first frost of autumn... Yes, you do. I've smelled thousands of fragrances, but yours is the most unique, the most perfect scent I've ever found. The notes of your skin, your hair... you're a delight to my senses."
Nico thought his legs had turned to jelly. "That's how you found me in the park. You traced me by my scent."
"Like a bloodhound." Nelson leaned closer and whispered a kiss over Nico's lips.
It was light, teasing, a promise—and then Nico pulled back, blushing fiercely as an elderly woman with a trolley barged past, tutting and muttering at their behaviour.
They looked at each other and grinned, then resumed walking. Nico pressed his cold hands to the warmth of the blush in his cheeks, while Nelson looked pleased with himself. "There's nothing wrong with public displays of affection," he said. "No wonder this country is so cold and grey! People should be more open with one another. Hug more. Laugh more. Dance more." He made a few samba moves, skidding through the slush in the road.
Nico shook his head. It would be so easy to allow himself to become infected by Nelson's irrepressible spirit, but where would that leave him? By the end of the day, the not-very-efficient DTM tail would appear to take Nelson back to the safe house, and nothing would have changed. Nelson would still be a prisoner, and Nico would still be in disgrace.
With a heavy sigh, Nico resumed his questioning. To Hell with being subtle. If he only had a limited time with Nelson, he couldn't afford to waste a single moment. Catching hold of Nelson's arm as he attempted a crisscross botafogo, Nico blurted out, "What do you know about the black market smuggling rings into the DTM?"
Nelson stopped dancing. "So this is an interrogation, is it?"
Nico blushed. "I'm not wearing a wire, if that's what you mean."
"Don't be so po-faced, buttercup. I know you're not. I'd have been able to smell it." He grinned and cha-cha-cha'd backwards into the road, bumped into the boot of a parked BMW, and set off the car alarm.
Nico winced away from the shriek of the alarm. "You can smell hidden microphones?"
Nelson covered his ears and laughed as he retreated a short distance down the street away from the car. Nico chased after him, feeling ridiculous. The angel would be the death of him, he was sure of it. As they turned a corner and reached the path that ran alongside the river, Nico said, "Nels, please. I need to know what you know about the smuggling."
Nelson shot him a pointed look. "Why?"
Nelson stood motionless, staring at him.
Nico wavered. Could he trust Nelson? Hell, yes—he'd rather trust Nelson than anybody else, including, at the moment, his own father. With this in mind, Nico said, "I think—I'm afraid..." He hesitated then pushed the words out, avoiding Nelson's curious look: "I think my father may be involved with the smuggling rings."
Nelson's gaze sharpened. "Your father?"
The path was empty, but still Nico looked both ways before he tucked his arm through Nelson's and drew him into the shelter of a stone-built pavilion. Lowering his voice, Nico murmured, "There's something going on here, something I can't explain. A week ago, I was shown pictures of you with your wings and your lovers on a yacht—pictures my father took. He's been living under suspicion for years, but he's never told me what for... but I think I've found out."
Nelson leaned against the wall, his expression shuttered. "What?"
"When I was searching for the file on Rob Smedley, when I hacked the DTM mainframe, I found something." Nico took a deep breath to calm his trembling nerves. "Rob used to work for us. For the DTM. He defected five years ago to the FIA. There's the suggestion that my father was involved."
Nelson frowned. "Wait. I thought you said your father was involved with the coffee smuggling?"
Nico withdrew his hand from where it still rested in the crook of Nelson's arm. He needed to get his head straight, and even the most innocent touch made his concentration wobble. "I think the two things are connected. I think... I think my father brokered the deal with the FIA to return Monaco to the DTM in exchange for running the coffee smuggling operation. I think my dad's a double agent."
His words met a blank look and a long silence. Just as Nico began to wonder if Nelson had actually heard what he'd said, the angel shifted slightly. "Are you sure?"
"Of course not! That's why I needed your help. Why I need your help." Nico gave him a desperate look. "I don't want to believe it. I don't want it to be true, but I need to know, Nels. I need to find out. If I can clear his name..."
"I'll help you." Nelson pushed away from the wall and stood straight.
Gratitude filled Nico in a rush, making him babble. "I can give you the feather. I have it with me. Look." He started to fumble in his pocket for the evidence bag.
"Forget about the feather for now." Nelson fixed him with his gaze. "First of all, who is your father?"
"Keke Rosberg. The Monaco Resident. He's been the Monaco Resident for twenty years, which is unusual. He should be a Controller by now, but they kept him there—even when Monaco was ruled by the FIA. And then..."
"Shh." Nelson placed a finger over Nico's lips. "The coffee—or at least the coffee from Brazil, which is shipped out by Piquet Enterprises via Colombia—is smuggled into DTM territory through Schönefeld airport in Berlin. I thought everyone knew that."
Nico frowned in confusion. "Everyone? Why?"
A small smile tugged at Nelson's lips. "The Berlin Resident has a... fondness, shall we say, for the angel who runs the smuggling ring."
"The Berlin Resident is Ralf Schumacher." It took a few seconds for Nico to realise what Nelson meant. "Oh! You mean Ralf and—and—"
"Juan-Pablo Montoya," Nelson supplied with a grin. "Yes. Exactly. So the Berlin Resident turns his back and looks the other way when a coffee shipment comes in. I honestly don't know what happens to it after it's landed at Schönefeld, but I do know that once it leaves Berlin, the smugglers are fair game for German DTM officers. Ralf Schumacher only protects Montoya and his lieutenants; he doesn't extend the same courtesy to anyone else."
"God, what a mess." Nico leaned back against the dressed stone of the pavilion and shivered. He glanced out at the street and realised it was snowing. Thick, soft flakes whirled past, the flurries thickening as he watched. He tried to untangle the thoughts crowding his head, but felt even more lost than before. He rubbed his temples. "I need to write all this down to try and make sense of it."
"If it helps, I don't think your father is involved in the smuggling." Nelson's voice sounded soft and sympathetic.
Nico nodded. "Thank you. I'm grateful."
"I don't want your gratitude." Nelson took a step closer, intent in his eyes.
His heart stuttered and his stomach swooped low, leaving Nico feeling hollow and needy. He squashed against the wall, trying to ignore his rising desire. "The feather," he whispered. "You'll want the feather."
"No." Nelson put a hand on the wall beside Nico's head, penning him in. "I want you to be honest with me."
A nervous laugh crackled out of him. "I've been honest!"
"You haven't." Lifting his hand, Nelson stroked Nico's face.
Nico let out his breath in a whoosh. Nelson's touch was warm and gentle, and it was all he could do to stop himself from fitting the curve of his cheek to the palm of Nelson's hand. A moment later, Nelson took his hand away, and Nico felt oddly bereft. He covered his confusion by asking, "What do you mean?"
Before Nelson could reply, a young woman walked past with a dog. The animal pulled on its leash and barked at them, and the mood shattered. Nico and Nelson drew apart as the young woman scolded the dog for its behaviour and pulled it away down the riverside path.
Nelson smiled, apparently glad of the distraction. "Anyway, I thought you were trying to interrogate me, not letting me into your darkest secrets."
Embarrassment twisted his gut, and Nico edged away from the pavilion with another anxious laugh. "I haven't mentioned any of my darkest secrets."
"Maybe you should." Nelson grinned, his earlier expression now replaced by his usual cheeky, confident look. "Forget the boring stuff and skip straight to the ones involving me."
This time, Nico's laughter was genuine. "I don't think so."
Nelson leaned close and kissed him. "Let's get out of the cold."
Warmth and the comforting smell of coffee hung around them as they sat at a table in a little cafe. Nelson glanced around at the clientele. Many were blond, some were pretty, but none were as spectacular as Nico, who sat opposite him with his hands around a large mug of macchiato and an expression of pure bliss on his face.
Nelson propped his chin on his hands and watched him sip the drink. Each taste made Nico quiver, and Nelson thought he understood now why the demons were so hung up on coffee. He knew it was some kind of drug for them, but he'd never been sure how much of that was FIA propaganda. Angels were immune to any kind of caffeine side-effect, and while Nelson enjoyed coffee more than many angels, in the end it was just a drink.
For Nico, it seemed to be like liquid sex.
The thought amused him, and Nelson hid his grin. He couldn't be jealous of a cup of coffee, no matter how orgasmic Nico looked as he raised the drink to his lips again.
"So," Nelson began, and Nico shot him a pleading look over the top of his cup.
"Wait. Please. Just wait until I finish this?"
Nelson nodded. "Okay." He drained his frappucino and leaned back in the chair. While Nico was engaged in holy communion with his macchiato, Nelson considered their earlier conversations. He'd never heard of the Monaco Resident Keke Rosberg and couldn't care less whether or not Keke was a double agent, but if it mattered to Nico, then Nelson decided it would matter to him, too.
He toyed with his empty cup. Damn, but he shouldn't get so involved in shit. His father often accused him of not making plans and just drifting through life, and this was a pretty good example of him screwing up because of lack of foresight. His interest in Nico had started out as lust, plain and simple, but now it was getting complicated—and not just because Nico had managed to resist him for a week.
Nico occupied his thoughts almost eighty percent of the time. That was serious. Even worse, most of those thoughts weren't even pornographic. Nelson had a whole series of sweet, fluffy thoughts about Nico alongside the achingly hot X-rated thoughts, which were tucked up against the deep, serious thoughts and—most scary of all—the nebulous idea that Nico could be It. The One. His Soul Mate and True Love.
Nelson crushed the plastic frappucino cup in his hand. Angels didn't fall in love with demons. They were enemies, or at least they weren't supposed to like one another very much. No, he should just have fun with Nico, fuck him silly and then say goodbye. There'd be other pretty blonds to seduce in the future.
Anguish clutched at his heart. Nelson felt irritated. Shit, he was turning all emo over a cute little demon. He needed to toughen up and forget all the gestures of kindness and the friendly smiles and the horny horns and the kinky tail and the sexy body. Nico was just a demon.
Nelson glared across the table at him, and melted a little when Nico put down his coffee cup and licked foam from his upper lip. Nelson's brain short-circuited and his cock twitched. He had to get himself under control.
Taking a deep breath, Nelson sat forward again and took the cup. "Another?"
Nico gave him a slightly spaced-out look. "Sure."
"Maybe not. You look drunk." Nelson moved the cup away.
"I'm not!" Nico wagged a finger at him. "I am completely sober. Caffeine takes time to affect a demon. In half an hour I'll feel it, but not now."
"With British coffee, maybe. This is Finnish coffee," Nelson reminded him, amused. "It's full-strength. It'll hit you straight away."
"Oh." Nico gazed at him, looking adorably befuddled. "I should have a drink of water, then."
An idea unfurled in his mind, and Nelson got to his feet. "No. I'll bring you another coffee. Stay there."
"You want to get me high?" Nico asked, trying to look disapproving.
"Buttercup, you're already high," Nelson said over his shoulder as he headed for the counter. He stood in line and asked for a refill of the macchiato, paid for it from the stash of euro Officer Kovalainen had given him, and then took the drink over the extras shelf. He hesitated over whether Nico would prefer chocolate sprinkles or a shake of cinnamon powder, and while he thought about it, he took the bottle of sleeping pills from his coat pocket and tapped five into the coffee before he could change his mind.
He plucked a wooden stirrer from a tray and swirled it through the macchiato, probing with the end of the spill until he could no longer detect the shape of the pills. Then he added cinnamon and chocolate sprinkles before carrying the cup back to Nico.
"Oh, you're so wicked." Nico gave him a lazy, seductive look as he accepted the coffee.
Nelson sat, tension gnawing at him as he watched Nico drink. He worried that Nico would taste the bitterness of the sleeping pills, but after one macchiato he was already three sheets to the wind and didn't seem capable of noticing anything beyond the heavenly hit of caffeine.
What he was doing was unfair, not to mention illegal. Nelson knew that, but he also knew Nico represented his only hope of regenerating his wings. Nico deserved better than to be rendered senseless by a large dose of sleeping tablets and abducted from Turku, but it was the only way Nelson's plan—half-baked though it was—would come to fruition. He needed a demon, and he needed a ley line. Nico had already broken DTM rules, and Nelson wasn't about to ask him to break even more. No, this was the best way forward. Drug Nico, use the dual spell-casts Fernando had given him to get out of Finland, find a ley line, and shag Nico until the spell took effect and Nelson's wings grew back.
As a bonus, he knew Nico had one of his feathers. Nelson had no idea if that would help in the regeneration process, but maybe it would get things going. It wouldn't hurt to try.
He began to relax as Nico gulped down the coffee. It seemed as if he truly didn't notice anything different about the drink. By the time he'd drained the macchiato to the dregs, the gritty residue of the pills had melted away and Nelson knew he was in the clear. He kept a careful watch on Nico, noting the heaviness of his eyelids and the way he kept slurring or forgetting his words, and then the listless, sleepy movements he made.
"Nels. Tired." Nico slumped forward over the table, trying to support his head in his hands. His elbows skidded in opposite directions and he almost fell face-first into his empty cup.
Nelson caught him. "I think you've had enough," he said loudly, for the benefit of the other demons and humans sitting nearby. A couple of people laughed sympathetically and returned to their own conversations as Nelson stood and pulled Nico to his feet.
"Oopsie." Nico stumbled against him and buried his face in Nelson's neck. "Mm. You smell good."
"Time to go home!" Nelson declared, hooking an arm around Nico's waist and supporting him as he almost lurched into another table. Pulling Nico back against his side, Nelson guided him out of the cafe and onto the street.
Nico giggled and hummed a little tune as they wobbled along. Evening was falling, and darkness wrapped around them. Nelson headed for the cathedral, half holding, half dragging Nico along with him. People hurried past, and no one paid them any attention. Nelson supposed caffeine-high demons must be a common sight in Turku.
"Angel, angel," Nico sang before he dissolved into laughter.
Nelson tried to hush him, glancing around. A man up ahead of them on the street turned back to look, then lingered for a while. Cursing under his breath, Nelson ushered Nico to the other side of the road and shunted him towards the cathedral square. After a minute, Nelson checked over his shoulder and saw the man standing beneath a lamp on the far side of the square. The light glinted on two little horns, and Nelson felt anxiety twist his belly.
Every other demon he'd encountered today had ignored him. This one seemed suspicious. Nelson nudged Nico closer to the cathedral steps, slinging an arm around his shoulders to make him hurry. Glancing back again, he saw the other demon move forwards as if he intended on accosting them.
Before he could decide what to do for the best, Nico swayed against Nelson's chest. "They told me not to trust you. Devious angel." He tripped over his own feet and giggled, pressing closer to Nelson. "Told me not to fall in love with you. Fuck you, yes, but not love you..."
Startled, Nelson stared at him. "You haven't fucked me yet, and you certainly don't love me."
Nico attempted to drape his arms around Nelson's neck and gazed up at him, his eyes huge and soft. "I do. I do. Or I think I do. It's so confusing."
"You're doped up on caffeine," Nelson said baldly. "You'd declare your love to a lamppost."
"I love you, Nelson Angelo Piquet." Nico made a grand dramatic gesture, flinging his arm out, and almost fell over.
"Okay, you love me. That's great." Guilt spiked him, and Nelson wished he hadn't used quite so many sleeping pills.
He checked over his shoulder again and realised the other demon had vanished. While it could have been a good sign, Nelson felt his wing stumps itch with unease. He pulled the spell-cast from his pocket and examined the instructions. Spell-casts only took effect within designated zones, usually hubs such as railway stations, airports, cathedrals or other places of worship, university campuses, and other such places—but before he activated the spell-cast, he had to ask Nico where the best ley lines were located.
Nico grabbed him, clinging to the front of Nelson's coat as he tried to look serious and alluring at the same time. "Let's have sex."
Nelson smiled. "Tempting. Very tempting. But not here and not now."
"Please." Nico hiccupped and slumped against him again. "Nels... you were right. I am a virgin. Sort of. Kind of. Maybe. Do blowjobs count? Not the one you did to me yesterday. That was the most amazing blowjob of my life. I haven't done anything else apart from blowjobs. Does that make me a virgin?"
"Hush, buttercup. Not so loud."
Nico swung on his arm. "Does it, Nels? Does it?"
"Technically, yes, but—" Nelson stopped, his senses on high alert as his wing stumps fluffed with a premonition of danger. He took a sharp breath as, seconds later, he heard the wail of sirens in the distance.
The demons were coming for him, and if they caught him here with Nico, they'd both be punished. This was it. Time to cast the spell.
He manoeuvred Nico onto the cathedral steps and wrapped his arms around him. He'd never done a dual-person spell-cast before and he hoped they both ended up in the same place. Then there was the problem of knowing where the Hell to go. Desperately he poked Nico in the side to get his attention. "Is Radcliffe Camera on a ley line?"
Nico looked at him, his focus slightly fuzzy. "Radcliffe Camera? No. I'll tell you what is, though. Stonehenge. Glastonbury. Avebury. West Kennet Long Barrow. Silbury Hill. Woodhenge."
Nelson propped him up as Nico started to topple over. "Anywhere else?"
"Rosslyn Chapel. The Lizard. The Rollrights. Castlerigg." Nico's head drooped onto Nelson's chest. "Can't remember the rest, sorry."
"It's okay." Nelson pressed a kiss to Nico's head. He had plenty of options to choose from now. He just hoped it worked.
Nico stirred against him, snuggling closer. "Take me to bed."
"Tomorrow," Nelson promised, shuffling them into position and holding up the spell-cast to activate it. "We'll do it tomorrow, okay?"
"I love you, Nels. I really do." Nico kissed him just as the spell took hold. Energy sparked through them, joining them for an instant in a blaze of power before they were swallowed up by the night.
Nico groaned. His eyelids seemed glued shut and his brain was doing a samba around his skull. He tried to lift his head from the pillow but the effort was too much. Flopping back down, he realised two things simultaneously: he was lying on something hard and cold and most definitely not a bed, and he was completely naked.
Startled, Nico opened his eyes. Daylight swam across his vision, a stark brightness that stabbed like knives. Nausea climbed his throat, and he turned his face to the side, gasping with effort. His cheek brushed damp, chilly stone. Slowly, he opened his eyes a little at a time, veiling his sight with his lashes until his head stopped aching and the urge to throw up had retreated.
He tried to move and realised it wasn't the caffeine hangover that was responsible for his lack of mobility. He was tied down, wrists bound with hemp rope above his head. When he jerked his hands, he felt the slight burn of the rope against his skin. Gritting his teeth, he pulled hard, ignoring the discomfort, and heard the creak of something wooden behind him. Tilting his head, Nico saw that the ropes were tied around a pew.
He was in a church.
Nico blinked and shook the disordered fall of hair from his eyes as he looked around. He winced at the sunlight through the clear quarries in the stained glass windows, then drew in his breath at the riot of stonework around him. Demons, angels, skeletons, and green men danced and leered at him from every surface. Dramatic foliage hewn from the stone blocks hung above him. Strange symbols surrounded him. In places, the walls and ceiling were flocked with colourful lichen. A heavy sense of stillness lay over the church, giving Nico the sense that this almost wasn't a church but something else, something greater.
He wriggled again, trying to work his ankles free of the rope that held them fastened to an elaborately decorated pillar. Some more twisting and turning, and Nico realised the bench he was tied to was, in fact, an altar.
He lay still, his mind whirling, trying to concentrate through the fog of caffeine-induced muddle. What the Hell had happened last night? He remembered meeting Nelson in the park and going to the cafe with him. He remembered drinking two—was it only two?—macchiatos before he felt uncharacteristically out of control. Nelson had reminded him this was Finnish coffee, stronger than the watery decaffeinated brews he was accustomed to in England. True, but still... he shouldn't have been this susceptible.
Nico groaned. It hurt to think, and he hadn't managed to figure out how he'd got from a cafe in Turku—no, wait, they'd gone outside—the cathedral in Turku, then, to this place. Wherever this place was. He didn't think he was in Finland any more. Had Nelson kidnapped him? The thought seemed unbelievable. Nelson had no need to kidnap him. Nico blushed at the memory of how he'd offered himself to Nelson on the steps of the cathedral, and Nelson had turned him down. Hell, how embarrassing!
Though not as embarrassing as being tied naked to an altar in a really odd-looking church. Nico gave another tug at his bonds and glanced around again, wondering why Nelson had chosen to tie him up here. Perhaps the angel had a kinky fantasy about making love in a church. If so, Nico wished Nelson had simply asked him about it first. Of course, he would have refused—which was probably why Nelson had kidnapped him and tied him up.
A deep sigh escaped Nico's lips. He wriggled the pointed end of his tail from beneath his thigh and let the tip flick back and forth as he thought. The chilly air danced over his skin, tightening his nipples and raising goose-bumps over his body. Humiliating though it would be, he hoped someone would turn up soon and free him before he got too cold and froze to death.
Just as that thought crossed his mind, the side door in the north wall of the church banged open. Nico strained to see who'd entered, but a pillar blocked his line of sight. He heard the click of a lock and then silence descended once more. A moment later, jaunty footsteps sounded across the stone-flagged floor and Nelson appeared.
"Hey, you're awake." Nelson hurried over to him, his eyes sparkling and his cheeks flushed with cold. A dusting of snowflakes melted in his hair and on his shoulders. He shrugged out of his coat and slung it over the stone railing separating the altar from the nave. "I didn't mean to leave you alone when you were tied up, but I was hungry and I wasn't sure how long it would take for the sleeping tablets to wear off, and—"
Sleeping tablets? Nico stared at him. "Nelson! What's going on? What have you done? Where—"
Nelson placed a finger over Nico's lips. "All in good time, buttercup. God, you look amazing naked." He blushed slightly then continued, "I knew you would. I couldn't help myself. Sorry if you're cold, but things should heat up in a moment."
"Heat up? What are you talking about?" Nico felt his eyes widen as Nelson pulled off his sweater and started unbuttoning his shirt. By the time the garment was half undone, exposing the sexy smudge of dark hair on Nelson's chest, Nico realised he was staring like a love-struck schoolboy and forced his gaze away. He stared at the ornate ceiling instead. "This isn't some kind of kinky angel fantasy about having sex with a demon in a church, is it?"
"Baby, my fantasies are far kinkier than that." Nelson sounded offended. "But rope-play is an interest of mine, and I really didn't want you to turn over in your sleep and roll off the altar. Better that I tied you down so you wouldn't hurt yourself. Of course, the bonus is that you look really hot in bondage..."
Unable to believe what he was hearing, Nico stared at him again. Big mistake. Nelson's shirt fluttered to the floor as he began unfastening his jeans. Soon Nelson stepped out of them and kicked the jeans aside. Yet again he'd gone without underwear. Yet again it seemed he only needed to glance at Nico to get hard. Yet again Nico felt utterly powerless when he looked at Nelson. It was so unfair. No one, angel, demon or human, had the right to look so sinfully gorgeous.
"Um." Nico felt a wave of prickling, flustered heat spread throughout his body as he stared at Nelson. "Uh, you look pretty good naked, too."
"Better than in the paparazzi shots of me on my yacht?" Nelson preened a little.
"Hell, yes." Nico's mouth had gone dry and the words emerged as a squeak. He cleared his throat and turned his head away, the blush flaming in his face. His cock stirred and began to thicken against his thigh. He couldn't get a hard-on in a church! Frantic, he tried to think of boring things: the thirty-seven times table, a complete chronological list of the founding demons of the DTM, the uses of the ablative absolute...
It wasn't working. All he could focus on was Nelson's naked body, the smooth tawny skin, the hair on his chest and striping down to his groin, his muscles and the curve of his arse, the rampant length of his cock, the tufty, downy-feathered wing stumps and the wicked look in his eyes.
Nico groaned. "I am so in trouble. This is bad."
"No, buttercup." Nelson bent over to rummage through his coat pockets, causing Nico to whimper and his cock to spring to rigid attention. When Nelson straightened, he held the black and white feather between his fingers and smiled. "I'm going to make this so good."
Confusion filtered into Nico's lust-addled mind. "The feather—I mean, your feather..."
Nelson slid the blade of the feather over Nico's lips. "You promised I could have it if I answered your questions."
"I did. And you did. Answer my questions, I mean." Nico shook his head, cursing his slow responses. "You can have it. I only took it as a souvenir."
"A souvenir?" Nelson tickled the tip of the feather over Nico's bound arm, sliding it down over his chest. "I'm flattered you wanted a souvenir of me."
Nico squirmed. "Stop that. It tickles."
"You don't want to laugh when you fuck?" Nelson gave him a puzzled look.
"I told you. I—I haven't... not really..."
Nelson dropped the feather in the middle of Nico's chest and hauled himself up onto the altar, straddling Nico's waist. "I remember. And—" Nelson pulled a regretful face, "I'm sorry our first time together is going to be so ritualistic. It's not what I had planned, but if this is the only way..."
An awareness of something being not quite right crept into Nico's consciousness. His pulse quickened and he strained at the ropes that held him in place. "The only way? What's going on, Nels?"
"I love it when you look flustered." Nelson leaned down and kissed him, his lips sweet and slightly redolent of coffee and maple syrup.
Determined not to respond to the distraction, Nico pulled away, his breathing sharp and his heart fluttering. He tugged at the restraints again. "Nels. Tell me what the Hell you're trying to do here. If this isn't some kinky sex game, then what is it?"
Nelson pouted. "I thought you knew everything." He sat up and edged backwards until Nico's erection nudged between the cheeks of Nelson's arse. He wriggled, rubbing his arse against Nico's cock as his own prick strained higher against his belly. "Damn, you feel good. I'm an equal opportunities angel, buttercup, and while I badly want to spend hours playing with your tail before I sink into your sexy body and ride you hard, for the spell to work I think I have to let you do the fucking."
The sight of that hard, throbbing cock almost made Nico forget what Nelson was saying. Dazed by want, the words finally registered, then the meaning crept into his brain, until Nico finally realised the importance of what Nelson had said.
Nico jerked up from the altar so fast that Nelson had to grab on tight to keep from falling off. "Spell?" Nico gabbled. "I'm here because of a spell?"
Nelson smiled and stroked his hair. "Sure. What did you think—that we were here to take tea with the vicar?"
"Spell!" Nico said again, his mind running through all the possible permutations of angel-and-demon sex magic. Oh God, why hadn't he paid attention in his Practical Magick class? He'd only audited the course, thinking it wouldn't be important in his chosen career. Now he cursed himself for his stupidity. "Spell..."
Nelson crouched low once more, backing up until Nico's cock fit snugly against him. He toyed with the feather he'd laid on Nico's chest. "The spell that will give me back my wings," he said conversationally, as if this was the most normal thing in the world. "The spell that needs to be performed on a ley line. You told me Rosslyn Chapel was on a ley line, so I came here. Now we fuck, and when you orgasm, I'll take your power and my wings will regenerate. And we get to have hot sex at the same time!" Nelson grinned. "Isn't that just awesome?"
The memories of the Practical Magick class returned in a rush and Nico gasped, panic seizing him with a cold grip. Several words came to mind, but 'awesome' wasn't one of them. He moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue. "Nels, while it might be good for you, it won't be good for me."
"Don't be silly, buttercup." Nelson bounced on top of him, then leaned over to root through his coat pockets again, retrieving a small vial of oil. He held it up, its contents glimmering in the light. "I'm going to oil your cock up nice and slow, get you really horny. I could oil your tail, too, if you like. Then I'll..."
"Nelson." A wave of despair crashed over Nico. He shook his head. "Nels, please listen. You can do whatever you like with me—"
Nelson purred. "I hope so."
Nico closed his eyes for a moment. "Nels! You can do whatever you like, but not here! This spell, this regeneration spell... it'll kill me."
A tiny silence dropped between them. Nelson's brow furrowed, then he laughed. "Hey, I know I'm good, but even I don't think I'm that good."
"It's not funny. I'm not making a joke." Nico pulled at the ropes binding his wrists. "Have sex with me, but not here. Not on a ley line. Not with the invocation of magic. It will kill me, Nels. I will die."
Nelson's laughter faded. He shifted on top of Nico, uncertainty clouding his features. "You'll die? For real?"
"Of course for real!" Nico struggled against his bonds again and then gave up with an angry huff. He recited: "Practical Magick 101: A demon's energy may be drained from him or her through sexual intercourse on a ley line. Said energy may be used by the practitioner for their own purposes, either to enhance specific powers or to repair or restore body parts injured or dismembered. Demons of second rank or higher may survive such a drain to their life force, but demons of third rank and below will perish during the energy exchange."
Another silence followed, and then Nelson asked, "What rank do you hold?"
"Third." Nico felt weary. "I'm a third rank demon."
A much longer silence.
"Nico..." Nelson's expression was anguished. "I really want my wings back."
"Can't you go home and have them regenerated there?" Nico gazed up at him, torn between sympathy for the angel's plight and fear for his own safety. "Your father—he's powerful. Can't he spell-cast you a new pair of wings?"
Nelson's expression darkened and his hands clenched so tight that the vial of oil cracked. "Fuck." Nelson flung the vial aside and it smashed on the floor, the sound of breaking glass delicate and musical. He scowled after it, then said through gritted teeth, "I'm not going back. I'm not asking him."
Nico lifted his chin, swallowing his panic. "So you'll kill me instead?"
"No!" Nelson stared at him for a moment, horror in his eyes, then he clambered off Nico and jumped from the altar. He paced across the floor, still naked, then leaned both hands against the wall as if drawing strength from it. His head bowed, he muttered, "Shit. What a mess. What a fucking mess."
"Nels." Wriggling onto his side against the pull of the restraints, Nico managed to face him. "Nels, let me go. I can help you."
Nelson spun around, took two steps back towards the altar, then stopped. He grabbed his jeans and pulled them on, his movements stiff and staccato. "The only way you can help me is to give me back my wings, but I don't want to kill you!"
They stared at one another. A heartbeat passed, then Nelson came over to him, framed Nico's face with his hands, and kissed him. There was no teasing quality to the kiss this time, just raw passion and misery and need. It lasted a long time, and Nico responded to it with everything he had. He felt tears track down Nelson's face, warm and salty where they touched his lips, and then Nelson broke free and whirled away.
Shaken, Nico whispered, "Nels..."
Nelson kept his back turned. "My father cut my wings off."
Horror blossomed in Nico's chest even as he started to make political connections and draw conclusions in his mind. His gaze went to the two downy wing stumps beneath Nelson's shoulder blades, and he saw the tension held in Nelson's back, in the tightness of the muscles. "Oh," he murmured, sorrow coiling in his throat. "Oh, Nels."
"He did it himself." Nelson's voice hitched, but he kept on talking. "Cut off my wings and let me fall, then sent me to Finland."
"Why?" Nico asked, aware that being tied up naked on an altar wasn't the best way of conducting an interrogation, but unable to help himself anyway. It wasn't just because of his job, he reminded himself: no, he genuinely cared about Nelson, wanted to help him, wanted to bring him even the smallest modicum of comfort. "Nels, why did he do it?"
"A diversion, apparently." Nelson's hands squeezed into fists and he swung around, misery shining from his eyes and anger in the set of his mouth. "A fucking diversion! That's all I am. I mean nothing to him. His son, his heir—and yet he cuts off my wings and send me into exile. How can he hate me so much?"
Nico didn't know what to say. "I'm sorry."
"And to trick me into almost killing you—you, who could be the one..."
"The one?" Nico repeated, puzzled. "What one?"
Nelson stopped, looking embarrassed. He rubbed at his eyes and dropped his head. "Uh, the one who saved me. From myself. From my hedonistic ways. You're so sensible, you see." His embarrassment seemed to increase, and Nelson turned away. "Anyway."
Confused, Nico echoed, "Anyway..."
Turning back to face him, Nelson said, "I'm not going to kill you. I'm not going to use you to regain my wings. Wait a moment and I'll untie you."
He crossed over to the pillar and with deft fingers, unfastened the knots holding the rope around Nico's ankles. Nico kicked off the bonds and bent his knees with a sigh of relief, his tail relaxing against his thigh. A moment later he felt the pressure in his arms loosen and he drew his hands down against his chest, free from the other set of ropes. "Thank you."
Nelson avoided his gaze. He hunted beneath one of the pews and pulled out a plastic bag. "Your clothes are in here. Sorry."
"Your feather." Nico lifted it from his chest and held it out, pushing it into Nelson's hand as he swapped it for the bag containing his clothes. He watched as Nelson stared at the feather with a mixture of sorrow and disgust before shoving it into his jeans pocket. "Nels, you should probably finish getting dressed, too."
"Huh? Oh, yeah." Nelson seemed to shake himself out of his reverie. He brushed past Nico and collected up his clothes, placing them on the altar and pulling on each garment. Nico smiled, envious of the way the angel dressed so untidily yet the overall effect was one of styled nonchalance.
When they were both clothed, Nico leaned against the altar. "Now what?"
Nelson shrugged. "Now you arrest me or something, I guess. Take me to the nearest DTM safe house for further questioning."
"No." Nico spoke without thought, but even after he'd said it, he knew he'd meant it. He didn't want Nelson imprisoned again. Even if he lost his position within the DTM hierarchy over this, even if he was demoted to a sixth rank demon—he wouldn't let Nelson be locked up.
Nico held out his hands, and Nelson took them. "We're in this together," Nico told him. "Your father has set you up for some reason, just as I believe my father—and possibly me—have also been set up. Someone's behind this. We need to find out who—and we need to put a stop to it."
Warm water poured down over Nico's body and steam fogged the panels of the shower cubicle. He worked shampoo into his hair then rinsed it out, the movements methodical while he considered the events of the last few days. All the pieces of the puzzle were coming together, but not as fast or coherently as he'd like.
Frowning, he adjusted the temperature with the mixer taps and made an involuntary sound of pleasure as the heat kicked up a notch. To Hell with it, he should really learn to switch off every now and then and just enjoy the situation. Forty-five minutes ago, he'd been tied up naked to the high altar in Rosslyn Chapel. Now he stood beneath a hot shower, washing with designer gels and shampoos, in the en-suite of one of the swankiest hotels in Edinburgh.
Nelson had paid for it, of course. He said it was his way of apologising for drugging Nico and kidnapping him and subjecting him to the threat of death over a powerful ley line. Nico had allowed him to book the room, trying not to laugh out loud when he saw the names Nelson had used to sign them in: Ralf Schumacher and Juan-Pablo Montoya.
"What shall we do now?" Nico had asked as soon as they'd arrived in their room overlooking one end of Princes Street. He admired the view of the castle perched high on its volcanic crag for a moment, then turned when Nelson's reply came out sounding muffled. "What did you say?"
"I said," Nelson repeated after he'd swallowed half of the complimentary chocolates, "you can do whatever you like. Tomorrow is soon enough for us to go chasing after master criminals."
Nico grinned beneath the spray of water at the memory. Master criminals, indeed! He supposed Nelson had a point, though—Piquet Major had clearly put a lot of thought into disposing of his son. Chopping off Nelson's wings was a pretty big distraction, and if it was related to the Cape Verde plane crash and Rob Smedley, then Nico believed they were teetering on the verge of uncovering something big.
And something that possibly—probably—implicated his father Keke.
Nico sighed and ducked his head under the steady stream of water, squeezing his eyes shut. He felt the heat wash over him, soothing him, and relaxed further. A moment later, he heard the click of the cubicle door open and close, and felt Nelson's hard and very aroused body fit against him.
"You were taking too long. I just came to check you hadn't washed yourself down the plughole." Nelson gave him a sexy grin and reached past him for the shower gel. Squeezing some onto his palm, he rubbed the liquid across Nico's shoulders, lathering him up with strong, firm strokes.
Nico bit back a moan of pleasure and wrapped his tail, which had been hanging down between his thighs, tight around one leg.
Nelson purred. "You don't want me to soap your tail, buttercup?"
"I—I..." Nico glanced back at him, hesitated a second, then unwound his tail. "It's all yours."
The look of delight Nelson gave him was bright enough to light the entire city. "Really? You'll let me?"
Nico laughed, suddenly confident. He flicked back his hair and nodded. "You can play with my tail. I... I like it when it's touched near the base of my spine. And the tip—that's very sensitive."
Nelson poured half the contents of the shower gel onto his hand in his excitement. "It's like having two cocks to play with. Oh man. That's so hot."
Another laugh burst from Nico, but this time it was slightly ragged. Nelson reached down with the gel-covered hand and grasped Nico's tail, which unfurled and rose up, the pointed tip swaying at shoulder height. With his free hand, Nelson stroked across Nico's chest, rubbing the pads of his fingers over Nico's tight nipples. Darts of pleasure arrowed straight to his cock. He'd been half hard since Nelson had got into the shower with him, but now his erection surged to full strength.
Nico's legs trembled as he remembered Nelson's hot, wet mouth on him in the garden of the safe house. Coupled with the teasing of his nipples and the smooth stroking action on his tail, Nico's thoughts fragmented. He groaned, the sound echoing from the tiles. The beat of the shower spray against his face and chest seemed to mimic the deep, insistent pulse of desire inside him.
"Want me to slow this down?" Nelson asked, his voice husky in Nico's ear.
"Nn." Nico had temporarily forgotten how to speak. He took a breath. "No. Do whatever you like."
"Mm, I love it when you give me permission to do sexy, dirty things to your sexy, dirty body." Nelson nipped Nico's earlobe then took his tail in both hands. The left he wrapped around the base of Nico's tail where it joined his spine, and with the right he closed his fingers around the width of the tail and began to stroke it as if masturbating, moving upwards each time. His hand slid with ease over the slick length of Nico's tail, stimulating every inch of flesh.
"Oh God, Nels," Nico whispered, the words catching in his throat. "Don't stop."
"Not for a long time, buttercup." Nelson worked his hand up Nico's tail, circling it with his thumb and forefinger as the end tapered to a point. Holding the tip, he washed it clean of soapsuds then bent his head and ran his tongue over the point.
Nico squeaked and jerked forward, catching himself against the wall. As Nelson sucked and nibbled on his tail, Nico's mind clouded with pleasure. Orgasm built in a rush, his balls tucking up tight and his cock pulsing. It wouldn't take much. All he had to do was palm his erection and he'd come right there and then.
"Not yet," Nelson said as if reading his mind. He slipped his hand back down the length of Nico's tail, releasing his grasp on the base. Nelson stroked the dimples just above where the curve of the tail joined his body, then slid his fingers beneath the tail and down into the crease of Nico's arse.
Nico went still, his heart thudding with a mixture of excitement and curiosity. Nelson burrowed his fingers deeper, lower, until he rested the tip of his middle finger against Nico's hole. He pressed slightly and Nico jumped, giving a breathless laugh. It felt strange, possessive and invasive, but it made lust churn inside him.
"Relax." The command wrapped around him, and Nico murmured as Nelson pressed a little harder. "Breathe, buttercup. Take a deep breath for me. That's good. Another one. Let it go. Bear down on my finger. Yeah, like that..."
Nelson's smoky instructions were almost lost to the pounding of the spray and the rapid thump of Nico's pulse. He did as he was told, gasping as Nelson's finger pushed inside him past the resistance of muscle. Despite the warmth of the shower, Nico shivered, waves of hot and cold beating at him. He tilted his hips, pushing back against the intrusion, and moaned when he felt Nelson's finger slide all the way in.
"Good. That's good, baby." Nelson's voice sounded clipped with excitement. "God, I wish I had my cock inside you."
His words conjured up a picture of the two of them screwing, Nelson's cock buried deep inside Nico's arse. Nico sobbed for breath, leaning forward as Nelson began to finger-fuck him. He went slow at first, stretching his hole, then moved faster.
"Lift your tail," Nelson ordered, and Nico curled his tail back, lifting it straight against his spine. He heard Nelson growl, then felt him catch at the point of his tail with his mouth.
Nico yelled, his arse full of Nelson's finger and his sensitive tail-tip between Nelson's lips. When Nelson nibbled on the edge of his tail, Nico lost control, thrusting back against him, impaling himself on Nelson's finger. A quiver racked his body, sensation spiralling, muscles tightening. He wanted to drop one hand and touch himself, bring himself off, but he didn't dare let go of the wall in case he fell down.
Gasping and crying aloud, Nico shuddered into a sudden, hard orgasm. He lifted his face to the spray, swallowing a mouthful of water before he came to his senses. While he still trembled, the aftershocks sending fresh spurts of come splashing against the tiles, Nelson gathered him close and held him.
Nico leaned back against Nelson, his heartbeat thundering as he gasped for breath. "That—that was..."
Nelson nuzzled through his wet hair and kissed Nico's neck. "Fantastic?" he suggested, leaning over to turn off the water.
"Fantastic." Nico managed to nod and speak at the same time. He swayed closer, his body slippery against Nelson's, and felt the hard thrust of Nelson's cock push at the curve of his arse. Feeling guilty, Nico tried to pull away. "You—what about you...?"
"I've had fun with your tail—now I get to play with the rest of you." Nelson gave him a filthy grin and pushed open the door of the shower cubicle. "Come with me, buttercup. That was just the starter."
Dazed, Nico stumbled out of the shower and caught the fluffy white towel Nelson threw at him. He patted down his body and rough-dried his hair, then followed the angel through into the bedroom. Nelson shed his towel before he reached the bed and leaned forward to drag the duvet from the mattress. He looked back over his shoulder and gave Nico an inviting smile.
"Nice big bed. Let's try it, shall we?"
Though he'd only just come, Nico felt his cock begin to rise again. Damn, what was it about Nelson that got him so hot? An ache started inside him. He wanted Nelson to fuck him again—not with his fingers this time, but with his big, hard cock. The thought made Nico whimper. He dropped his towel and hurried forwards, his gaze fixing on the wing stumps as they flexed with each movement Nelson made. The sight of them reminded Nico of the first day they'd met, of how Nelson had lounged half naked in the chair and how he'd responded so wonderfully when Nico had whispered close to his wing stumps...
Nico caught Nelson around the waist and together they toppled onto the sheets. Breathless with desire, Nico clambered on top of him, splaying his thighs to pin Nelson down. Nelson laughed and writhed beneath him, encouraging him to do whatever he wanted. Nico licked across Nelson's nape, then rearranged himself so he could touch the wing stumps.
Nelson realised what he was doing and went still. "Nico. Don't—don't touch them. I don't want you touching them. They're... they're ugly."
Nico shook his head. "Beautiful," he said. "They're beautiful."
With a muttered curse, Nelson tried to throw him off, but Nico clung tight and took one of the wing stumps between his lips.
The curse turned into a strangled sound, then into a sob. "Nico!"
Beneath his tongue, the wing stump flexed. Nico groaned, licking over the destroyed limb, tasting the ticklish down of tiny feathers and the sharper taste of Nelson's skin. The heat radiating from the angel was incredible, the water droplets from the shower drying in an instant and fresh sweat dewing his body. Nelson moaned helplessly, his shoulders hunching in reaction as Nico sucked on the wing stump while he caressed the other with the palm of his hand.
"You mustn't." Nelson sounded broken. "How can you even bear to look at them, let alone put your mouth on them?"
Nico lifted his head. "I love your wings."
"I don't have any wings!"
"You do. They're sexy. You're sexy." Nico kissed both wing stumps, feeling his heart fill with dizzying emotion. "I love you."
Nelson arched and squirmed. "Don't love me! I'm bad for you. I make a habit of seducing pretty blonds and then throwing them away when I get bored. That's not what you want, not what you need. I'm all wrong for you."
"I want you." Nico buried his face between the wing stumps and pressed an open-mouthed kiss to the centre of Nelson's back. "I love you, Nels, and I'm not going to change my mind."
"Stubborn little demon!" Nelson managed to buck Nico off him.
Sprawled across the bed, Nico pushed his damp hair out of his eyes and smiled as Nelson crawled towards him. "Yes, I'm stubborn when I want something. And when I want something, I usually get it."
Nelson growled and swatted Nico's flank. "The only thing you're getting is a spanking."
Excitement shivered through him. Nico made his eyes very wide. "Promise?"
"Demon! I can't resist you." Nelson pounced, kissing Nico breathless. Their erections brushed together as they realigned their bodies into a more comfortable position, and then they rubbed and thrust against each other, thighs tangling and hands groping as they continued to kiss.
Nelson suddenly pulled away. "I want to be inside you, buttercup. Now."
Nico's breath caught in his throat. "I want it, too."
"Roll over for me. I want you on your hands and knees. Lift that sexy tail out of the way so I can get at you."
The command made Nico gasp. Pushing himself up, he caught a glimpse of their reflections in the mirrored doors of the wardrobe. He couldn't believe how he looked, naked and aroused, his cock dripping, his tail waving high above his head, his hair tangled in his face and his little red horns visible. He stared as Nelson knelt up behind him, an expression of dark, intense concentration on his face. Then Nelson noticed where he was looking and grinned.
"You like to watch, buttercup?"
It was on the tip of his tongue to tell Nelson that their exploits in the wood had been captured on camera, but he decided not to bother. It would be a secret for another day—and maybe, if they could discover the truth behind the Rob Smedley affair, the DTM might hand over the tape to Nico. He purred at the thought of playing the tape in private for Nelson, so turned on by the fantasy of it that he almost didn't notice the feeling of something cool and liquid against his arsehole. Startled, he tried to pull away, focusing on their image in the mirror.
"Lube," Nelson said, holding up a gleaming finger. "I want to slip inside you nice and smooth." He slid the same finger into Nico's arse, spreading the gel, the touch making him quiver and strain forwards, his cock twitching with every tiny spasm. He cried out when Nelson withdrew, but seconds later Nico felt the head of Nelson's cock pressing against him.
Their gazes met in the mirror. Nelson gripped Nico's hips, holding him in place. "Breathe, sweetheart. Breathe and come back onto me."
Nico drew in a deep breath and eased backwards. At the same time, Nelson thrust into him. Nico felt a slight burn as his hole stretched to take the girth of Nelson's cock, but then he was deep inside, filling Nico completely.
The sensation was incredible, unlike anything he'd experienced or imagined. He hung there, impaled on Nelson's prick, gasping and gasping, his heart crashing against his ribs.
"Okay, buttercup?" Nelson's voice was warm and affectionate.
Nico realised Nelson was waiting for him. He nodded once. "I'm okay."
"You're more than okay. You feel like Heaven." Nelson began to move, taking it slow and steady, working in and out of Nico with a measured rhythm. He moaned when Nico flexed his arsehole, gripping onto his cock. "Nico. God. You're so fucking tight. And when you do that..."
A breathless laugh spilled from Nico's lips. "You like it?"
"More than anything." Nelson clutched tighter at one hip and moved his free hand forward to grasp at Nico's cock. "Can you balance on one hand and do it yourself? Can you jerk off while I fuck you? I'd like to see you do that, buttercup. I want us to watch ourselves in the mirror. I want you to see what you look like when you come with me inside you."
Nico whimpered, another orgasm building, the sensation sparkling around his tail and racing up his spine. He curled his tail, rubbing the sensitive point over the rough hair on Nelson's chest. They both groaned, and Nelson dragged Nico back onto his cock, gentle movements forgotten as he started to ride him with strong, powerful thrusts.
Keeping watch on their reflections, Nico balanced himself and reached down to grip his cock. He wrapped his fingers around the length and squeezed, panting for breath at the violent pleasure that glittered through him. He rubbed and stroked, matching his pace to Nelson's, and soon they were moving as one.
Nelson slammed into him, driving them onwards. Sweat stung Nico's eyes as he worked his cock and stared at the mirror. He didn't know where to look: at himself, his mouth wide and his lips soft, his cock fiercely dark and with pre-cum spooling from it, or at Nelson, fucking him from behind, his head thrown back and his chest gleaming with sweat as he pistoned in and out of Nico's body.
It was too much for him. The sight, the sound, the scent, the feeling—Nico cried out, his orgasm exploding through him, shaking him to the very core. His hole clenched, spasms rocking him again and again, milking Nelson's cock as he rode him. He heard Nelson yell, saw the blank look of ecstasy cross his face, was aware of the hot flood of spunk inside him. Nico juddered and jolted, his hips rocking, the tremors of the aftershocks pulsing more and more seed from his cock onto the sheets until he felt drained and exhausted, but utterly exhilarated.
His head swam as he struggled to force air into his lungs. Nico collapsed forward, his head on his arms, and lay still. Dimly he was aware of Nelson withdrawing from him and moving off the bed. Nico murmured in protest and tried to push himself up, feeling the trickle of semen down his thigh. He remained where he was until Nelson came back with a warm, damp washcloth and cleaned him up. Then they stretched out beside one another and rested.
It was Nelson who broke the lengthening silence. "We need to talk."
Nico stirred and rolled over to look at him. "About what?"
Nelson fidgeted with a corner of the duvet, then pulled it up over their naked bodies. "About us. I mean, about what we should do." Words seemed to desert him. "About what we should do tomorrow."
The burgeoning panic inside him died down, and Nico gave a discreet sigh of relief. He had no desire to be given the brush-off after the best sex of his life—especially not after he'd told Nelson he loved him. Maybe that had been a bit premature, but Nico didn't care. Of course, it would have been better if Nelson had reciprocated, but still... Nico refused to give up just yet.
"One of my yachts is at berth in Sitges, near Barcelona," Nelson said. "I could make a call and have the crew bring it to France, somewhere just north of the DTM/FIA border. With the second half of the dual spell-cast Fernando and Kimi gave me, we'll be able to hop over to France and then take my yacht to Spain, where we can begin the search for Rob..."
Nico frowned and sat up. "Fernando and Kimi?" The names rang a bell.
"Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen," Nelson said helpfully. "Fernando is an ex-angel and Kimi's an ex-demon. Actually, Kimi still seemed pretty demonic to me, even though they're both human now. My father sent Fernando to seduce Kimi in—"
"Switzerland," Nico interrupted, staring at him. "The Head of Station H mentioned them to me a week or so ago when I first arrived in Finland. I think it was meant as a warning for me not to do the same thing as Kimi."
Nelson wrinkled his nose. "Lose your wings?"
"Fall in love with an angel." Nico sighed. "I don't have any wings yet. Maybe I won't ever get any wings, especially with all this business seemingly connected to my father. It all adds up, Nels—Rob, your father, the black market coffee smuggling, my father, the photos of you, me being brought into this case..."
"We need to go to Spain." Nelson curled one arm around Nico and tried to pull him down onto the bed. "C'mon, buttercup. I'll be offended if you don't go to sleep. I pride myself on shagging my pretty blonds senseless, and you have far too much sense right now."
Nico cuddled close to him. "Sex with you makes me feel alive. Awake. Inspired."
Nelson groaned and hid his head under a pillow. "Be inspired tomorrow," he said, his voice muffled. "Tomorrow, we'll go to Spain. I have friends in high places my father doesn't know about. We'll track down Rob and sort this out once and for all."
"No," Nico said, the decision crystallising in his mind. "We need to know what we're getting into, and I need clear answers. Before we search for Rob, we need to go to Monaco. We need to see my father."
Nico stood on the wide balcony of the Resident's house and breathed in the warm, salty air borne on the breeze. Below him lay the marina, the lights aboard the yachts and cruisers at their berths twinkling like fallen stars in contrast to the glitz and sparkle of the Monte Carlo seafront. The sound of the waves almost drowned out the noise of a crowd of revellers heading towards the nightclub zone.
A sense of familiarity made Nico relax, even though he knew Monaco wasn't a safe place. Nowhere in the DTM was safe for him at the moment, he was sure of it, not until he and Nelson had got to the bottom of this business with Rob Smedley.
He sighed and tipped his head back against the wall, closing his eyes for a moment. He tightened his fingers around the mug of coffee the housekeeper had given him and wondered when his father would be home. The housekeeper had said any time after six o'clock. It was gone seven now.
They'd arrived just outside of Monte Carlo on the winding road that snaked down from the hills. Nelson had apologised for the landing—"The spell-cast must be faulty, I was aiming for the marina!"—but there was nothing else they could do but walk the last few miles into the city. At least it was downhill all the way. Nico didn't think he could deal with anything more strenuous, not after the explosive and exhaustive night and morning of sex he'd shared with Nelson. His tail tingled and he could swear his horns had grown. In fact, his entire body felt new and ripe, as if something had changed inside him.
When he'd asked Nelson if he looked different, the angel studied him with a leer and said, "You look thoroughly fucked. Is that what you mean, buttercup?"
Nico hadn't bothered to ask him again. Sometimes it really wasn't worth it.
Now he lifted the mug to his lips and took a sip of coffee. The blandness of the decaffeinated brew made him grimace. Coffee in Monaco was even more strictly regulated than in the UK, partly because of the principality's location. Since it was surrounded by FIA territory, demons visiting Monaco always assumed they'd be able to gain access to high quality black market goods. Keke tried hard to dispel this assumption, which was one of the reasons why it was considered such an awful place. In addition, demons disliked warm, sunny weather, but Nico had grown up here and he saw nothing wrong with Monaco's climate or the range of goods on offer in the shops. As his father's place of exile, it had a lot to recommend it.
A few more gulps of coffee and Nico couldn't stand it any longer. He crossed the balcony and tipped the remainder of the drink over the side into the garden. Setting the mug on the wide railing, he leaned forwards on his elbows and stared at the Mediterranean. Weariness washed over him. He hadn't slept much last night, unaccustomed to sharing bed space with anyone, let alone a highly-sexed angel, and after their forced march into the city, Nico was ready to turn in. He'd left Nelson dozing on the elegant leather couch in Keke's formal sitting room, but until his father returned home, Nico didn't want to go to sleep.
A faint sound within the room made him turn. He jumped, his pulse racing, then frowned, reminding himself they were safe within the Residence. Collecting his mug, he went back indoors.
Nelson sat bolt upright on the couch, his hands pressed in his lap and a bright, nervous smile on his face as he stared at the man on the other side of the room. Without looking in Nico's direction, he said in an over-loud voice, "Nico! Your father is here! Isn't that great!"
Nico glanced over at Keke, who stood glowering at Nelson. "Hi, Dad."
"Good evening, son. It seems you've brought a... friend." Keke flicked his gaze away from Nelson and looked at Nico, finally breaking into a smile. "Come and give your old man a hug."
Putting down the coffee mug, Nico went over to his father and embraced him. Keke held him back by the shoulders. "You look different."
Nico blushed and tried hard not to glance in Nelson's direction.
"Well." Keke let him go and gestured to the couch. "Sit with your friend and tell me why I have the pleasure of your company."
As Nico took a seat, Nelson skittered across the couch and sat close. Surprised by the angel's reaction, he glanced over and saw Nelson hunched into himself, his eyes wide as he stared at Keke's tattered dark blue demon wings. "First rank demon?" he whispered to Nico.
"Second rank, upper class." Keke strolled across the room to a small bar hidden inside a bureau. "Either of you boys want a drink? Brandy? Scotch? Vodka?"
They shook their heads. Nico began, "Dad, this is Nelson—"
"Nelson Angelo Piquet Minor, son of Piquet Major, Controller South of the FIA." Keke poured a generous amount of brandy into a cut glass tumbler. "I know who he is... and I know where he should be right now. Where you both should be right now, but let's forget about that for the moment. Why are you here?"
Nico and Nelson exchanged looks. Keke sat opposite them in a leather wing-chair, the glass of brandy placed on a small table beside him. From his suit jacket pocket he took out a cigar and a book of matches and proceeded to light up. "Come on, boys, I haven't got all night. I've just come back from a very dull gala dinner in honour of an exceedingly tedious politician who retired here twenty years ago. My brain wishes to shut down, so unless you start talking soon, you'll have to wait until tomorrow."
"We can wait until tomorrow, sir," Nelson said, quivering with tension.
"No, we can't," Nico said. "Dad doesn't wake up until two in the afternoon. We need to be on our way as soon as possible."
Keke puffed on his cigar. "A flying visit, is it?"
Taking a deep breath, Nico launched into their story. He told his father about the interrogations in Turku, omitting certain details irrelevant to the case, and explained about the connection between Nelson and Rob Smedley. He mentioned setting off the alarm after hacking the DTM mainframe, brought in Nelson's job as a coffee nose and blender, and made discreet but pointed reference to the black market coffee-smuggling rings within DTM territory. By the end of his speech, he was sitting on the edge of the couch, his body taut as he waited for his father's reaction.
"I see." Keke drew the cigar from his mouth and, holding it between thumb and forefinger, examined the lit end. He looked up at Nico through a veil of smoke. "Where do I fit in?"
Nico felt the words freeze in his throat. He couldn't accuse of his father of betraying the DTM. What proof did he have? It was all conjecture. And yet—and yet... He squared his shoulders and met Keke's gaze. "That's what I want to know. Do you fit in, Dad? Rob Smedley was one of our coffee scientists here in Monaco. He went over to the FIA. He couldn't have done it without high-level help. Defecting from Monaco five years ago would have been almost impossible. The place was run by the angels then! I remember it, Dad—I remember how it used to be to live here. Every time I wanted to visit you for the holidays, I had to fill out twelve forms in triplicate. It took sixteen forms for me to leave to go back to university! Any demon passing in or out of Monte Carlo was tagged and watched. Humans who worked for us had it just as hard. So how did Rob make the jump?"
Keke clamped his teeth around the cigar. "It happens. People make mistakes."
"No!" Nico sprang to his feet, his hands curling into fists. He shook off Nelson's restraining grasp and stalked over to his father. "No, Dad. I don't believe it. Why have you been the Monaco Resident for so long?"
"Maybe I like it here." Keke smiled, but it didn't touch his eyes.
"Cut the crap! Dad, I know something's going on. I'm involved in it. Nels is involved in it. And you're involved in it—and whatever it is, it stinks. It stinks almost as much as the bullshit you're giving me now."
For a moment silence weighed heavily around the room, and then Keke stubbed out his cigar and took a long sip from his brandy. He sat back in his chair and steepled his fingers, regarding Nico with a faintly amused expression. "Well, now. I always thought I'd raised you better than to go around shouting and swearing."
Nico felt his face redden. "Sorry."
"Sit down, son."
Nelson tugged on Nico's arm and he sat, his gaze never wavering from his father. "The truth, Dad. I want the truth."
Keke nodded. "And you will have it." He waved a hand around at the room. "After twenty years as Resident, I know this is probably the safest place in Monaco in which to have a sensitive conversation. Listen to me, both of you—for this concerns you too, Nelson—and try not to interrupt. I'm tired and I want to go to bed soon."
Nico flicked a sidelong glance at Nelson, who looked bewildered by Keke's bombastic approach. Nevertheless, they both remained silent as Keke finished his brandy and set down the empty glass on the table with a heavy thud.
"You're right. This business is connected to coffee and the black market." An amused smile curved Keke's mouth. "You've got good instincts, kid. Didn't I tell you to trust in your instincts? Anyway—for years now, the DTM has been concerned about the FIA monopoly on coffee. There's a trade agreement in place that restricts the amount of raw and processed coffee permitted to cross the borders. On paper, the angels only send what we demons consume. There's no coffee surplus mountain hidden away in a warehouse outside Brussels, as some like to claim. No, we drink x-amount of gallons of the stuff and that's precisely the amount of beans and blended powder that the FIA sends."
Nico looked at Nelson again, and Nelson nodded. "That's right."
Keke frowned at him. "Of course I'm right. Where was I? Oh, yes. For a long time now, over a decade, the DTM has worried what would happen if the FIA reneged on the agreement. What would happen if the angels stopped the supply? Caffeine is the demon drug of choice, and while its consumption is monitored by the government, it's considered safe. If the supply stops, demons will turn to the black market for their fix, robbing the treasury of valuable caffeine tax and also ensuring that the demon population becomes out of control and doped to the eyeballs.
"That brings me to the other concern put forward by the DTM. How can we trust the FIA? What if they tamper with the coffee and flood the market with dangerous blends, either through legal channels or via the black market?"
Nelson leaned forward. "Excuse me, sir, but that fear is justified. Some of the blends I worked on before my father ordered me away from the job were specifically designed to deliver a high impact yield of caffeine in a very small shot—kind of like a super-hyper-charged espresso."
"Indeed?" Keke sat a little straighter and gazed at him with interest. "Hmm, such information could be useful. I don't suppose you'd be prepared to go into more detail tomorrow when I can assemble our coffee scientists?"
"I..." Nelson turned to Nico, his expression troubled. "Should I?"
"Yes." Nico spoke without hesitation. "You're not betraying your people, Nels. You've seen already how demons react to coffee. How I react to it." He blushed and continued, "And I'm sure you can imagine what would happen if the effect was magnified by five or tenfold... It would cause mass insanity and death. You don't want your nose to be used to create a biological weapon, do you?"
A look of horror paled Nelson's face. He covered his nose and shook his head.
"Good, that's settled." Keke rubbed his hands together. "I'll arrange for you to meet our scientists first thing tomorrow morning. We've been running some tests on a recent batch of black market coffee seized by German police in the Rhineland, and found traces of genetic manipulation. Your input will be invaluable."
Nico blinked. "So you know about the smuggling ring."
"It's flown into Berlin Schönefeld and redistributed. Yes, we know." Keke flashed him an unreadable look. "We also know about Ralf Schumacher's preference for a certain Colombian brew. Oh yes, we know. But it's better for us to pretend we don't know and permit the black market to continue under our watchful gaze than attempt to shut it down and risk it springing up like a many-headed hydra elsewhere across DTM territory where we can't monitor it."
"That seems to make sense." Nico hadn't considered that. "So the black market smuggling is state sanctioned?"
Conscious that his father had deviated from the original subject, Nico tried to steer the conversation back on track. "Where does Rob Smedley come into all this, Dad? I know he's a coffee scientist, a human... And why were his files in the 'deleted personnel' section of the DTM mainframe?"
Keke blew out a breath. He edged his chair closer towards the couch and lowered his voice, as if afraid of being overheard even here in the safest room in Monaco. "Rob's defection was staged. I arranged it myself." He paused, then added, "I'm his case officer."
Nico stared, his thoughts jumbled. "Then this is all..."
"Rob's a sleeper agent." Keke smiled again, though this time there was weariness and worry behind it.
Nelson snorted. "Sleeper agent. That's funny." He tilted his head to stare at Keke. "You do know he was sleeping with my friend Felipe Massa?"
Keke nodded. "Yes. That was part of his job."
"Felipe loves him!" Nelson bounced off the couch, anger radiating from him. Beneath his loose shirt, his wing stumps twitched. "Felipe is good and kind. He doesn't deserve to be tricked like this!"
"Sit down, Piquet Minor." Keke pointed at the couch. "Sit down."
Nelson stopped mid-tirade and sat down meekly.
"When Monaco was controlled by the angels," Keke began, "I was permitted to stay here as Resident. There were no complicated reasons—just an acknowledgement that the principality had run well with me in charge in the past, so my continued presence seemed to make sense to both the DTM and FIA." He looked at Nico. "I was approached by Flavio Briatore about switching sides and joining the angels. I told him I wasn't interested. At the same time, the Director-General of the DTM gave me an order to find out as much as possible about the FIA's coffee plans.
"Since I'd already turned down Briatore's offer, it would have looked suspicious if I made contact again saying I'd changed my mind. Instead, I decided to send in a man I knew I could trust implicitly—Rob Smedley."
Nelson scowled and muttered until Nico elbowed him in the ribs.
Keke continued: "Perhaps you remember, Nico—Monte Carlo was party central in those days. When I heard that the Rio Resident was paying a visit with the FIA's Controller South, I knew I had to take the chance. Rob is a brilliant coffee scientist, the best the DTM has ever produced, so I allowed him to mingle with his colleagues at a party to welcome Massa and Piquet Major. Though I knew Rob would technically be working for Piquet Major, he'd have most contact with Massa, who's involved in the legal side of FIA coffee export. So I put Rob in Massa's path and that was it." He sighed. "At first it was purely business between them. But now..."
"Now Felipe loves him," Nelson growled.
"Now that feeling is mutual," Keke said. He shook his head. "Rob reported back to me every month, and I re-encrypted the information and sent it on to London. Only myself, Rob, and the Director-General knew about this operation. My apparent fall from grace over the last few years was a ruse the Director-General set in place to enable me to stay here and monitor Rob's progress."
"Except that progress seems to have stalled," Nico said, laying a soothing hand on Nelson's knee before the angel could get angry again. "Why was Rob flying to Spain?"
Keke stared at his empty glass. "He wanted out. Things were getting too hot for him in Brazil. He thought he was being watched by government agents, and his relationship with Felipe had taken an unexpected turn. Rob was in love, and he knew that if suspicion fell on him, Felipe would be dragged into it. FIA interrogations are not like ours, Nico. They're much more brutal. Piquet Major would have no problem torturing both Rob and Felipe to get a confession."
Nico looked at Nelson, who nodded and bowed his head. "It's true. I've seen the things my father does to prisoners. He likes causing pain."
Nico put an arm around Nelson and gave him a brief hug. Looking at his father, he asked, "Where is Rob now?"
Keke opened his hands palm upwards, a look of frustration on his face. "I don't know. Part of the deal I had with Rob was that if he wanted out, he'd book a flight to Spain on the pretext of visiting his family. As soon as he defected to the FIA, they took his family into protective custody and set them up in a place in Barcelona to ensure Rob's good behaviour. But there's a lot of loopholes in Spanish law, loopholes we can use to get Rob and his family out if the necessity arose."
"Except he didn't make it to Spain," Nelson said quietly. "His plane crashed over the Cape Verde Islands. I know. I saw it."
"And yet there's no record of a plane crash at those coordinates," Nico added. "Not from the DTM and not from the FIA."
Nelson looked up. "And then there's me. My own father cut off my wings and spell-cast me into the most northern country he could think of as a diversion. But for what?"
Keke looked at them both. "I can only imagine you were a diversion to cover up for the fact that there was no plane crash."
Nico and Nelson exchanged glances.
"I know," Keke continued, "that doesn't make any sense. And yet it's true. It's a master-stroke of simplicity. Nelson, your appearance in Finland caused a buzz of interest and speculation right across the DTM. You were the only one to mention this plane crash, which led to hundreds of agents across demon-controlled Europe searching for that specific plane over the last few days. We even sent agents to the crash site, hoping to find debris. But there's nothing there. The only logical conclusion, then, is..."
"Is that the plane never crashed, and Nelson was a double diversion," Nico finished, cold anxiety creeping into his belly. "Where do you think Rob is now? Could Piquet Major have turned the plane around after he'd attacked Nels? Is it possible that Rob is back in Brazil?"
Silence stretched around them, and then Nelson stood. "I will call Felipe and talk to him. I will ask him if he knows of Rob's whereabouts."
"No." Keke shook his head. "We don't want to warn the angels that anything's amiss. If Felipe is an innocent party to this plot, he could only make things worse. But if he's a part of it..."
"He's not." Nelson sounded absolutely certain.
Keke heaved a deep sigh. "If you want my opinion, boys, I believe Rob is in Spain. I think the plane rerouted, changed its tags, and landed at a civilian airport in plain sight. But in order to prove my suspicion—and to rescue Rob—I need someone willing to go into the FIA."
For a moment Nico held his breath. He glanced at Nelson, who nodded slightly, then said, "That's what we wanted to do, Dad. Spain seemed to be the logical place to start looking for Rob."
"You need to avoid ports and airports." Keke ticked off the points on his fingers. "You'll need cash and false papers, just in case you're stopped. Nico, you'll need to style your hair to hide your horns. Steer clear of any DNA scanners, otherwise you'll both be arrested..."
Nico listened with amusement, realising that his father was giving them orders even though they hadn't agreed to carry out the mission. He hid a grin. Wasn't this what he'd always wanted—the chance of being a real field agent? He just hadn't expected to go on a job alongside an angel.
"I have a yacht," Nelson told Keke. "It's not as flashy or sophisticated as the ones you photographed me on a couple of weeks ago—"
Keke grimaced. "Sorry about that, lad. Orders from the top. We thought by watching you, we might get some inkling of what your father was planning."
"My father doesn't tell me anything." Nelson's voice was brittle. He lifted his chin and continued, "I've given orders for my crew, who are all handpicked and trustworthy, to come here tomorrow morning. We'll sail to Sitges. I've got a berth there. I've got crews on stand-by for every yacht I own, and I make sure the boats are sailed often, so port personnel are used to my people coming and going. There shouldn't be any problems from the authorities. Nico and I will be able to get into Barcelona with ease."
Nico gave the angel an admiring look. Nelson glanced back at him with a brief smile. "Not just a pretty face, am I?"
"No, you're not." His voice came out husky, and Nico coughed, embarrassed.
"Then it's all settled." Keke looked pleased as he got to his feet. "If only all my problems were solved quite as simply. But now..." He turned to Nelson and managed a polite smile. "I'd like to speak with my son in private. If you'll excuse us?"
"Oh, sure. Yeah. I'll..." Nelson blushed and motioned towards the door.
"The housekeeper will show you the way," Nico said, not wanting to say out loud that he and Nelson were sharing a room. Keke would find out eventually, but he didn't want to have that conversation with his father just yet.
He watched as Nelson solemnly shook hands with Keke before he left the room, pulling the heavy oak door shut behind him. They listened to Nelson's footsteps fade across the parquet floor of the hallway, and then silence fell.
Nico smiled as he searched for something to say to break the slightly strained atmosphere between them. Keke studied him with interest, a frown wrinkling his brow as he took out another cigar and prepared to light it.
"You've changed," Keke said at length around the unlit cigar.
"I have?" Nico felt his stomach flip with nervous tension.
"Yes." The smell of sulphur hung briefly in the air as Keke struck a match. He shook out the flame and tossed the spent match aside, then puffed on his cigar for a few moments longer. "And it's not just because you've slept with Piquet Minor, either."
"Dad!" An embarrassed blush climbed to his face. Nico brushed back his hair, his fingers touching one of his horns. A crackle of awareness, like an electric shock, zinged through him and he gasped, swaying forward.
Keke grabbed Nico before he could fall. "I was right. You have changed." There was pride in his voice, but also annoyance tinged with anxiety.
"What's happening to me?" Nico clutched at his father's arm and straightened up, still feeling the after-effects of the touch. "This only began today, after we'd landed here from the spell-cast. I thought it was because Nels and I were—because we'd—"
"It's not caused by sex." Keke patted his son's back, then rubbed across his shoulder blades as if looking for something. "Your wings are about to grow. Soon you'll be a second rank demon."
Nico pulled away from him. "What?"
"It's true. The tingling, the slight discomfort... it's time. Your wings are going to grow in the next couple of weeks."
"When?" Nico looked over his shoulder as if he could see his wings sprout through his shirt. "How long does it take? Will it hurt?"
Keke shrugged. "That's the problem. It's impossible to know for certain exactly when your wings will appear. It could be tomorrow—or it could be in two weeks." A shadow of concern darkened his expression. "The timing couldn't be worse. If your wings grow when you're in FIA territory..."
Nico stood straight. "I'm not afraid."
"No," said Keke, "but I am. You're my son, my only child. I'm so proud of you, Nico. If I lost you..."
"Dad. It'll be okay." Nico hugged his father. "Nels and I will do it. We'll find Rob. And if my wings grow, I'll think of something. You know me—I'm resourceful."
Keke gave a crack of dry laughter. "That you are. Now then..." He stepped away from the embrace and returned to his cigar. "You do realise there's an alert out for you and Piquet Minor from both Station H and from London Central."
"I thought there might be." Nico slid his hands into his back pockets and leaned against the side of the couch. "They must know I'd come to you."
"I've received no direct orders. Until I do..."
They stood in silence for a while, Keke smoking his cigar and Nico listening to the sound of the sea through the open balcony windows.
At length Keke said, "Piquet Minor. You love him."
Startled by his father's direct approach, Nico tried to prevaricate. "I don't know."
"That means yes." Keke's smile was gentle. "You've always been so certain about everything in life before."
Nico turned his head so his father couldn't read his expression. Hell, it was bad enough that Keke guessed they were screwing, but to admit to being in love with Nelson—he couldn't do it. Not yet, not when there was so much at stake. And it wasn't just the business with Rob, either. "He's an angel."
"I didn't say it would be easy. Besides, when have you ever wanted things easy?"
"Dad." Nico scuffed his feet over the patterned rug on the floor then looked up. "It's not simply the angel thing. His father... I mean, Nels is more than an average angel. And he's a player. God, you took the surveillance photos yourself, you know how many guys he's had. I might be his type physically, but I think I only have novelty value for him. Just another in a long line."
"You assume a lot," Keke said softly.
Nico ignored the comment. "I don't know what to do."
"Are you just whining or are you asking for my advice?"
A grimace pulled at Nico's mouth. "Both."
"First of all, quit whining." Keke stubbed out his cigar half-smoked. "Secondly, listen to your old man. Don't make a decision now. Go to Spain with Piquet Minor and find Rob..."
"Yeah. The mission must always come first." Nico couldn't keep the trace of bitterness from his voice.
Keke raised his eyebrows and tutted. "Don't get smart. Just do as I say. Things will fall into place."
Nico gave him a level look. "How can you be so sure?"
Keke smiled. "Because there's nothing better than terrible, life-threatening danger to bring two people together."
"What are we doing here?"
Nelson glanced at Nico, who was dressed in a pair of old denim cut-offs and a grey t-shirt worn beneath a white cotton shirt, all of which Nelson had dug out from a cupboard on board his yacht. Nico looked hot, which was the whole point of the outfit, but he also looked annoyed, which wasn't what Nelson had intended. As he watched, Nico tapped his foot against the pavement and glared at him.
Adjusting the angle of his sunglasses, Nelson turned back to the pretty ice cream vendor and took the triple-scoop cone the girl held out. He paid and wandered off across the sunlit square towards the cathedral with Nico trailing after him.
Nelson licked the ice cream and sighed with delight. Pistachio, rum n' raisin and lavender-honey. Delicious. Not quite as delicious as licking Nico, but since they were in a public place, the ice cream was a good substitute.
"Nelson!" Nico grabbed his arm. A blob of ice cream dropped from the cone and splattered on the ground. They both looked down. "Sorry," Nico muttered, not sounding sorry in the slightest.
"If you wanted a lick, you only had to ask." Nelson offered him the cone. "The pistachio is really good."
Nico flushed an angry red. "We're supposed to be doing a job."
"I'm doing it. But first, I want ice cream." Nelson nibbled at the edge of one of the cones. "Even the wafer is good. Sugar-coated. Really fattening. I have great metabolism, though, so you don't need to worry that you'll wake up one day next to a fat bastard."
"Nels, I really think we should—" Nico stopped, a stunned expression on his face. "What did you just say?"
Nelson mouthed at the lavender and honey scoop and almost froze his lips. "Mmf. I said the wafer has sugar-coating and..."
Nico waved his hand. "Not that. The bit about you not becoming a fat bastard."
"It's true. I won't be." Nelson looked at him. "Were you worrying that I would? You're so shallow, buttercup."
"That's not what I meant." Nico dropped his gaze and seemed to shrink a little.
Nelson regarded him with a frown, puzzled by what he could have said to cause such a reaction. Then he shrugged inwardly and carried on demolishing the ice cream. "Hey," he said in between crunching the remnants of the cone, "not that way. We're going in here."
Nico paused in the shadow of the cathedral and looked at the medieval stone-built house on the street behind them. The doorway opened into a small courtyard, tiled on all sides, with a fountain playing in the centre of the square. Nelson finished eating, wiped his hands on the back of his jeans, and stepped into the courtyard.
"The city archives?" Nico whispered, entering the courtyard after him. "What, you think you'll find Rob in here? This place looks ancient!"
"Fourteenth century," Nelson replied. "Didn't you read the guidebook? I left it out on the bed for you."
Nico blushed. "I didn't see it. Maybe it fell on the floor when we—"
"Just kidding." Nelson flashed him a huge smile. "I love teasing you, buttercup."
"Yes. Well." His blush deepening, Nico glanced around the tiled courtyard. A wisteria grew up an external staircase leading to a balcony and trailed over the wings of the building. Nico seemed very interested in the plant and refused to meet Nelson's gaze. "I suppose it's not a bad idea, coming here. Maybe we can search for Rob's family. The city archives will have an address, right? We can visit his family and..."
"We'll be able to find help here," Nelson said.
Nico glanced at him. "You sound sure."
"I'm very sure." Taking off his sunglasses, Nelson headed for the old wood-and-iron door set into a recess in the main part of the building. "Come on. The quicker we do this, the quicker we can get back to the yacht and fun things."
"Fun things." Nico sighed. "Fun things like watching your crew go octopus fishing?"
"Not quite what I had in mind, but yeah, why not?" Nelson pushed open the door and led the way down an empty corridor. "I didn't know the guys went fishing from my yacht when I wasn't using it, but that's okay. You have to admit the calamari we had last night tasted pretty good."
"Your yacht looks more like a fishing trawler," Nico grumbled. "So many nets lying around, it's a trip hazard. And there're so many crewmen on board..."
"Oh, so it's not about the octopus, it's about the crew. I see." They came to another door, this one made of reinforced steel. Nelson paused in front of it while he flipped through his wallet for the appropriate card. He wiggled his eyebrows at Nico. "You don't like us having an audience when we go to bed."
Another adorable blush burned its way across Nico's face. "They can't help but overhear us! Especially when you won't even let us actually get to a bed in the privacy of a cabin before you start... doing what you do. This morning we were on the bow deck! Anyone could have seen!"
Nelson swiped the card in the lock device on one side of the door and waited for the light to flash green. "That's the point, buttercup. I want everyone to know just how hot and sexy and desirable I find you."
"You do?" Nico followed him through the steel door and down a narrow flight of stairs. Only when they reached another steel door at the bottom did he say, "Nels, where the Hell are we?"
Nelson turned the card over in his hand and hesitated for a moment. He put his back to the door and looked at Nico, hoping he'd done the right thing by coming here. Taking a deep breath, he asked, "Do you trust me?"
The pause seemed endless, and Nico looked bewildered. "Yes," he said. "Yes, Nels, I trust you."
"Good." Nelson let out the breath he'd been holding and lifted the card. "Don't get mad, okay?"
Nico stared at him, his expression even more confused. "Why? What have you done?"
Before he could change his mind, Nelson swiped the card through the lock and stepped aside as the door swung open. He took hold of Nico's arm and pulled him into the suite of rooms that lay beyond, but waited until the door clicked shut behind them before he said, "This is the Barcelona headquarters of the FIA. I'm sorry, Nico."
He watched the colour drain from Nico's face. The demon swayed on his feet then stood tall, lifting his chin. He shot Nelson a contemptuous glance. "I see. Was this your plan all along? Hand me over to the FIA in exchange for—for..."
Nelson rolled his eyes. "For what, exactly? My wings? Shit, buttercup, if I wanted my wings back so badly I'd have fucked you on that ley line and killed you!"
Nico scowled at him. "Then why are we here, if not to interrogate me?"
"Don't be so dramatic. We're here to get information, like I said."
"You won't get anything from me!" Nico squashed back against the wall, defiance in his eyes.
Nelson sighed. He'd done this all wrong. Maybe he should've told Nico where they were going, but he'd known that the demon wouldn't have agreed. Better to just trick him into it, like he'd done with the ley line. Okay, that hadn't worked out too well either, but not for want of trying. So he just had to try harder now. Nico was smart. He'd get it in the end, even if Nelson had to spell it out to him.
"I don't want anything from you. Actually I do, but that's purely on a personal level." Nelson gave him a winsome smile, but Nico just glared at him. Nelson tried again. "Okay, look—this is the FIA HQ. If anyone knows where Rob is, it'll be them. Your dad thought he was being held here—so let's find out."
"We can't just walk in there and ask!" Nico flapped his hands.
"Why the Hell not? It's what I'm going to do." Nelson grabbed Nico's hand before he could start flailing again and towed him towards one of the rooms. "We'll start in here. Leave everything to me."
Nico mumbled something that sounded distinctly uncomplimentary, but allowed himself to be manhandled into the room.
Across a wide wooden desk, two angels rose to their feet, their wings lifted and bristling in curious welcome. Nelson glanced at the first, a young man barely out of his teens with stunning blue eyes and heavy brows, then focused on the second, a sweet-faced creature who stood staring wide-eyed and startled, his peregrine-coloured wings quivering with sudden tension.
Nelson grinned. This would be easier than he thought. "Hello, Felipe."
Man, he rocked. Nelson stretched out on the Egyptian cotton sheets of the king-size bed that dominated the master cabin of the yacht and sighed with pleasure. Not only was he a red-hot lover, he'd also solved the mystery of Rob's disappearance with minimal effort. Sure, he'd had that frisson of stress with Nico when they'd first gone into the FIA base beneath the Barcelona city archives, but that had only made sex all the sweeter. He really should rile Nico up more often.
The boat rocked gently at its mooring, the movement almost imperceptible. Nelson gave another happy sigh. He loved a good, slow fuck on water. It was better with big waves slapping the hull, of course, but the languorous dip and lift of the washes from passing boats had been just as much fun when he'd been buried inside Nico. He rolled onto his side, unsticking himself from the sheets, and looked at his demon lover. Nelson couldn't resist a smile of delight. He'd really hit the jackpot with this one. Pretty, blond, clever... and a demon.
Nelson's smile faded. Shit. He shouldn't think of the differences between them. He certainly shouldn't think about the look of suspicious anger on Keke Rosberg's face when they'd first met. Before Nico had come in from the balcony, Keke had told Nelson exactly what he thought of angels courting demons. Not impossible, he'd said—merely stupid. And Nico wasn't stupid. Oh, he might say he was in love now, but in the long term? Nelson knew he was fooling himself. Nico was a good little demon, the poster boy for good little demons, and good little demons didn't throw away the chance of rapid promotion and hometown glory for fantastic sex and a cheeky grin.
Thank God he'd never told Nico how close he was to falling in love with him. That would have been a disaster of epic proportions.
Nico stirred beside him, his blond hair ruffled and streaked dark with sweat. The tips of his horns showed red, and his tail flicked lazily back and forth on top of the tangled sheets. He smiled. "This was a good day."
Nelson grinned. "Every day is a good day with me, buttercup. Solving unsolvable problems—simple! Having four hours of amazing sex—piece of cake!"
"Cake." The look of affection in Nico's eyes was replaced by one of hunger. "I could do with a piece of cake. Need to keep up my strength."
"No cake, sorry. There's octopus."
Nico wrinkled his nose and cuddled closer. "I'll do without, thanks."
Warm satisfaction spread through Nelson. He'd never wanted to snuggle like this with any of his other pretty blond boys, but with Nico it felt right. Comfortable. He sighed. "Now you can tell me how awesome I am for going to the FIA."
Tilting his head, Nico kissed the corner of Nelson's mouth. "You're awesome. But..." he continued, rolling back to put a slight distance between them, "you're also incredibly lucky that Felipe was there."
Nelson shrugged. "Not luck, more like a really good guess. I knew how much Felipe valued Rob. It made sense that if there was a plane crash—or rumours of a plane crash—and an arrest, Felipe would do everything in his power to free Rob. Especially if it meant putting my father's nose out of joint. They might be in the coffee plantation business together, but my father's double-dealing and methods of persuasion are not universally liked."
"Tell me the truth, you called Felipe from my dad's place, didn't you?" Nico lay on his front and propped his chin on his hands, blowing the tendrils of hair from his eyes. "You said you'd call him. You told him to get over here."
"You have an exaggerated view of my abilities," Nelson told him. "Well, maybe not all of them. Just the ones involving missing coffee scientists."
"Mm." Nico slid a hand over Nelson's thigh and caressed his quiescent cock. "So we can see Rob tomorrow, huh?"
Nelson batted at his hand. "You can't grope me while you're talking about another guy!"
Nico laughed. "I'm not interested in any other guy."
"Good. Felipe would kill you." Nelson grabbed Nico's wrist and pulled him closer, their bodies fitting together. Only when Nico lay quiet in his arms did Nelson return to their conversation. "Yeah, we can see Rob tomorrow. He's a lucky bastard, having Felipe..." He thought back to the meeting they'd had in the basement of the city archives, with Felipe adamant that Rob had done nothing wrong in reporting his misgivings about the genetically altered coffee.
"He has betrayed no one," Felipe had said passionately. "He did a dangerous job and now he pays the price, but I do not consider it a betrayal. Yes, I was angry when he left—but he did it to spare me the wrath of your father, Nels. I came here as soon as I heard on the wire that there was a problem with his flight... and when I heard you'd been arrested in Finland, of all places, I knew there was something very strange going on."
The angel with the startling blue eyes had interrupted. "Mr Massa asked me to investigate as a personal favour. I found that the aeroplane Mr Smedley travelled on had landed in Tangiers and changed its flight tags before it continued on to Barcelona."
Felipe had placed a paternal hand on the young man's shoulder. "Jaime has been of great assistance. I'm sure he'll go a long way in the service."
Nelson shook himself from his thoughts. "Yeah," he said with a yawn, "tomorrow we get to see Rob. I'm sure he and Felipe have a lot to talk about tonight. That Jaime kid was pretty cool, disobeying the general orders from my father to go poking around like he did. Finding the safe house where they were keeping Rob was good work, especially as he did it in his lunch hour."
Nico nudged against him. "Good to know some angels actually work hard for a living."
"Are you complaining about my playboy lifestyle, buttercup?"
"Not a complaint. Just a comment." Nico's tail curled over and hooked the sheets before pulling up the heavy cotton to cover their bodies. He gave a sleepy sigh. "G'night, Nels. I love you."
Nelson pressed a kiss to his damp hair. "Night, buttercup." He paused, in an agony as to how he should respond, but by the time he plucked up the courage to whisper "I love you, too," Nico was asleep.
Bright light woke him. Nelson exclaimed, shielding his eyes from the glare. Part of his mind registered that the halogen spotlights installed in the cabin all seemed to be on the highest setting and pointed straight at him. The other part of his mind, the more primal part, registered a scent so familiar it made him feel sick. The smell suffocated him, creeping around him like dark tendrils, rendering him weak and helpless before even a word was said.
Nelson gritted his teeth and rolled off the bed to escape the painful brilliance of the lights. Naked and angry, he faced his father. "Papa, what the fuck?"
Piquet Major didn't even glance in his direction. His exquisitely tailored suit was immaculate, his hair carefully styled, his gold jewellery discreet yet classy. Everything about him screamed wealth and power, and Nelson loathed him for it—loathed his father for his looks, his magic, and most of all, for his ability to ruin every situation he touched.
"Papa!" Nelson snapped.
But Piquet ignored him. His attention was solely on Nico, who shrank beneath the sheets and passed a hand through his hair with frantic haste, trying to hide his horns.
"Well, well. My son has been playing with a little demon." Piquet's crow-black wings fluttered as he dragged the sheets off the bed. He stared at Nico's naked body with a cold, dispassionate expression. "Very nice. You're much prettier than your father."
"What do you know about my father?" Despite being at a marked disadvantage, Nico met Piquet's stare and lifted his chin in defiance.
"Everything." Piquet smiled, and it was a chilling sight even for Nelson. "I know he's the Monaco Resident. I know he sent you here to find that pathetic human Rob Smedley. I know how your father planned the whole operation."
Nico sat up straight, grabbing back the sheet and covering himself with it, his hands bunched tight around the cotton. "How do you know?"
Piquet laughed. "You think the DTM are the only ones who can pick up transmissions? Dear boy, your silly demon encryptions are no match for a mind as sharp as mine. Tell your father—if you see him again, which is unlikely—it was very foolish of him to let Smedley use the same transmission route all these years. After a while it does tend to arouse suspicion, and when I get suspicious—as my darling son and heir has no doubt told you—I start digging until I find answers."
"You set me up." Nelson heard the words emerge from his throat, snarled and so tight he almost didn't recognise his own voice. "You knew I was accompanying Rob's plane. Felipe asked me to watch over it, to make sure Rob reached Spain safely!"
"I needed you to witness the crash." Piquet finally turned and faced Nelson, who tried not to flinch from the look of spiked dislike in his father's eyes. "I won't pretend I didn't enjoy what I did. After your disgraceful behaviour these past few years—disobeying me, wanting to work in the coffee business like a mere commoner, flaunting your sexuality and your body and your endless stream of lovers—what father could bear to see such waste? Such disgusting profligate brazenness?"
"You didn't care what I did!"
"I cared. I cared very much. It was my name you were dragging through the mud, you depraved creature!" Piquet's rigid control cracked and his voice rose to a shout. He stepped towards Nelson, lifting his hand, then stopped. He took a deep breath, visibly struggling with his anger, then continued in a shaking voice, "I wanted to give you another chance. A new start. I knew I had to take the opportunity when it was handed to me. I would cut off your wings and make you ugly—and you are ugly, Nelson, so very plain and hopeless without your beautiful wings—and you would help me divert DTM attention away from Smedley."
"Ugly...?" Pain splintered through him, bringing every moment of vulnerability to the surface. Nelson gasped as his heart clenched, but he fought back, rallying his confidence no matter how thin and fake it felt. "I'm not ugly. I'm not hopeless. Nico and I, we worked out what you were doing. We uncovered your plan. And Rob is safe—Felipe is here!" A sudden horrified thought crossed his mind and Nelson caught his breath. "Shit. Felipe—did he tell you where we were?"
Piquet stared at him with a frown. "Felipe Massa is in Barcelona? But that's against orders. I'll have him suspended from his post, effective immediately."
Nelson didn't bother to hide his relief. "Then how..."
"One of your crew contacted me." Piquet's lips twitched into a sneer. "You really are hopeless, son. You go through life blithely trusting everyone and everything. Your wealth may buy you a certain measure of loyalty, but I'm the one with all the power."
"I would rather have loyalty than power," Nelson croaked, angry tears guttering his sight. He blinked, determined not to give his father the satisfaction of seeing him cry. "I would rather have only one loyal friend than all of your toadying, boot-licking minions who secretly despise you!"
Piquet sighed. "You're such a child. When will you learn that the only loyalty worth having is bought by fear? I would rather have minions than friends, especially if by 'friend' you mean a demon." He cast a contemptuous glance at Nico. "If that's the best you can do, you've sunk lower than I could ever have imagined."
"Nico is worth a hundred of you," Nelson shouted. "A hundred—no, a thousand. Ten thousand!" The words choked in his throat, a sob forming around them. "I hate you. You took my wings. You took everything. I hate you."
Unmoved by Nelson's furious misery, Piquet raised his eyebrows and arranged his face into an exaggeration of sadness. "Oh, my little boy is unhappy. Perhaps Papa can make you smile again. I'll give you back your wings."
He flicked both hands outwards, delivering a spell-cast. Nelson couldn't block it, had no way to avoid it. He yelped when the magic struck him, a fizz of energy running over his body like the feet and fangs of a thousand biting insects. He tried to scrape it off, but the spell sank into his skin.
"Nels!" Nico shouted. "Nels, are you—"
Nelson tried to reach the bed, but a wave of agony crashed over him, driving him to his knees at his father's feet. Flashes of hot and cold racked his body; sweat rolled from him, the scent of his terror sharp and nauseating. His skin felt too tight, too stretched. His head spun, his vision darkening and bubbling. Tears ran down his face, splashing onto the cabin floor, staining his father's hand-tooled gloss leather shoes.
Dimly, as if from a great distance, Nelson heard Nico's panic-stricken voice calling to him. Nelson shook his head and almost passed out. He tried to push himself upright, but as soon as he got to his knees, fresh pain scraped through him. Whatever his father had done to him, it was unnatural.
White-hot fire seemed to consume him. From his shoulder blades two wings sprouted, slicing free of his body and scattering scraps of flesh and fragments of bone. Nelson collapsed to the floor and screamed. His wings weren't supposed to regenerate like this—they should grow gently over a number of days, but instead it was happening too fast, the bones cracking as his wings opened and flexed, feathers drifting around the cabin as he underwent a dozen moults.
Nelson wished he could faint and escape the pain, but he remained conscious. His wings flapped, brushing against his father's suit, smearing the cloth with streaks of blood and regenerative fluid. Piquet took a step back with a shudder of disgust, and somehow this hurt more than the physical pain.
"Stop! Please, stop it!" Nico threw back the sheet and dropped to the floor to cradle Nelson in his arms. He didn't flinch from the wings and the blood and slime. He didn't seem to notice it, but bent over Nelson and laid a hand on his forehead. "Nels, tell me what to do. Tell me how to help you—let me share it, let me take some of the pain away..."
Nelson felt the warmth of Nico's touch, felt the gentle spiral of faint, soothing demon magic, but knew Nico couldn't hope to match his father's power. The pain was too all-encompassing for him to speak coherently, so he just stared up and brushed his fingers over Nico's face, trying to smile in reassurance.
"I don't think my son is hurting enough, do you?" Piquet said conversationally. "Since you want to share his pain, little Rosberg, allow me to assist you in getting your wish." He grabbed Nico's tail and yanked it hard, making him gasp in pain. "This is a very charming tail. I wonder if you would look quite so pretty without it." From his inside jacket pocket Piquet drew a switchblade, flicking the catch to reveal the glittering steel knife.
Nelson pulled Nico down and kicked at his father's shin, hoping to distract him. Nico struggled, whipping his tail free when Piquet released him. Nico jumped to his feet and backed into the far wall, his expression wary, his body tensed. Nelson shoved himself upright, though it cost him everything to do so, and blocked his father's path to Nico.
The cabin was too cramped. Nelson curled his wings to give himself more room, but the pain lashed at him again. Unbalanced, he stumbled sideways. Piquet made his move, shoving Nelson out of his way. Nelson retaliated, striking out at him without thought. He felt the punch connect—I hit my father—and Piquet grunted as he staggered back. The knife wavered, then Piquet righted himself and, furious, lunged at Nico, slashing with the blade.
Nico darted to one side but wasn't fast enough. He gave a shocked cry as Piquet sliced open a shallow cut over his shoulder.
"No," Nelson shouted, transfixed by the thin trickle of blood down Nico's naked chest. "Nico! Get out of here!"
Piquet laughed, his breathing short and harsh as he sidestepped across the cabin to block the door. He hefted the knife and beckoned to Nico. "Think you can get past me, boy? Come on, then. Try it. I'll cut off your tail, little demon, and send it to your father."
Nico growled and launched himself at Piquet, grappling for control of the blade. Nelson held his breath, urging Nico on. For a moment it looked as if the demon would win, but then Piquet changed his stance. Startled, Nico struggled to regain his balance. The distraction was enough for Piquet to seize Nico's tail again.
"No!" Nelson lifted his wings, fighting against the blackness that spun around him and the agony flaring with each movement he made. Gathering all his limited magic and the last of his strength, he summoned his rage and blasted it at his father.
Piquet was hurled out of the cabin, the door falling off its hinges when he struck it. Panting and shaking, Nelson grabbed Nico's hand and leaned against him as they ventured out onto the deck. His cowardly crew had made themselves scarce, leaving the fishing nets spread out on the flat deck of the stern. Piquet had landed on top of the nets and struggled to free himself of the grasping ropes as he sat up. He kicked at the nets and tossed aside a couple of octopus pots, the ceramic smashing on the wooden deck-boards and skittering against the hull.
His face purple with fury, Piquet heaved himself to his feet, his black wings flapping. "You've gone too far, boy. I was willing to give you a chance, but you've rejected it. Rejected me. This is where it ends, Nelsinho. You will renounce your repulsive lifestyle and come home with me now, or you will endure the consequences."
Nelson glared at him. "Fuck you, Papa."
Piquet gave a laugh of disbelief. "You still reject me—and for him?" He jabbed a finger at Nico. "Is this what you choose—a demon rather than your own flesh and blood?"
"I love him," Nelson said, and heard Nico gasp. "I love him and I want to be with him forever."
Piquet stared, his expression utterly incredulous. Then he shook himself and raised his arms, hands outstretched. "If you reject me, then you reject everything I gave you. I take back the gift of your wings."
Nelson doubled over as another surge of power brought him to his knees. It felt like his wings were unravelling, the feathers torn out and falling in a white and blue-black storm around him, the delicate bones snapping and splintering, rotting and dying in front of his horrified gaze.
"Stop it!" Nico yelled, hurling himself across the deck at Piquet. "You evil bastard, stop hurting him! How can you do this? He's your son!"
Afraid for his lover's safety, Nelson crawled to the external wall of the cabin and used it to push himself upright. He grasped one of the discarded octopus pots as a weapon. "Nico, get back, get—" Nelson stopped, shock freezing the words in his throat as he saw something writhe and twist beneath Nico's skin. As he stared, Nelson saw the flesh strain and give way, tearing open across Nico's back. A pair of demon wings unfurled, glistening wet in the sunlight.
Stunned, Nelson croaked, "Nico!"
"Nels?" Nico turned, anxious concern on his face. He seemed oblivious to his rapidly growing wings, his focus solely on Nelson's safety.
Nelson stared, unable to find the words.
Nico spun full circle, his wings unfolding with a sharp cracking sound. The look of shocked disbelief on Nico's face would have made Nelson laugh under any other circumstances, but now it seemed like the worst kind of irony.
Nico turned back, confused and delighted both at once. He opened his wings, ash-white and glimmering with silver streaks through the translucent webbing. The light caught on them, almost dazzling. For a moment Nico stood lost in awe, staring at his wings, and didn't see the danger.
Nelson yelled a warning just as his father retrieved the knife from the deck and threw himself at Nico. The knife thrust up then arced down, slashing at Nico's right wing, cutting a rip about ten inches long in the newly-fledged webbing.
Nico howled in furious pain, his wings hunching together as he backed away from Piquet and the bloodied knife. Nelson ran to him, desperate to save Nico from Piquet's next strike. Nico's wings were unwieldy, his movements clumsy. Nelson ducked beneath the injured wing and hurled the octopus pot at his father, aiming to knock the knife from his hand.
The pot went wide, glancing off Piquet's arm and slowing his lunge for only a split-second before he struck again.
"Down!" Nelson shouted, and Nico folded his wings flat. Together they dropped and turned, avoiding Piquet's wild attack. The trailing edge of Nico's injured wing caught Piquet, knocking him clear across the deck. Piquet skidded, his feet tangling in the fishing nets. Unable to regain his balance, he flailed, his wings unfurling and beating as he tried to right himself.
"Papa!" Shaking off Nico's grip, Nelson launched himself at the side of the boat, reaching out to grab his father's crow-black wings.
He was too late. Piquet fell overboard and hit the water with a huge splash. The nets whizzed over the deck, the weights dropping into the sea with a series of smaller splashes.
Nelson and Nico rushed to the side and looked over. Piquet struggled briefly, his wings twisted up in the fishing nets, before he sank beneath the surface, leaving a trail of silvery bubbles to mark his passing.
Silence surrounded them. Nelson withdrew his outstretched hand, looking at it as if it didn't belong to him. He could barely comprehend what had just happened. As he stared at the face of the water, his emotions knotted up and tangled round, guilt mixing with relief, grief mingled with happiness.
Nico crept closer and put his arms around Nelson, then after a moment wrapped his wings around him, too. They knelt together in the embrace for a long time, watching the surface of the sea, but Piquet did not rise again.
"Well now, Nelson Angelo, you're a very rich young man." Jean Todt, the Director-General of the FIA, beamed at him across the table, his starling wings telegraphing smug pleasure. "It seems your late father didn't leave a will, so according to Brazilian FIA laws, his wealth will automatically pass to you as his oldest son and heir."
Nelson nodded, still feeling numb after the events of the last few days. He couldn't believe his father was gone; couldn't believe Piquet's poison would never touch him again. He glanced without interest at the heavy, cream-coloured embossed paper detailing the billions he now held in cash and assets. He didn't want his father's money. Even after giving an equal share to his younger siblings, it would still be too much. "I'm only interested in the coffee plantations."
Jean gave him another unctuous smile. "Of course. That is why Mr Ecclestone and I are here, to discuss a strategy for delivering top quality coffee to the DTM. Our old trade agreement had its problems, but from what Felipe and Mr Keke Rosberg tell me, it will be a simple and straightforward matter to draw up a new one."
It seemed safest to nod again. Nelson fidgeted, the movement rubbing his back against the chair and reminding him painfully of his wing stumps. They'd ached constantly since he'd lost his wings for a second time. Maybe another glass of red wine would take the edge off it. He lifted his glass, but didn't drink from it. Instead, he looked around the table.
The restaurant in Barri Gotic was closed to all patrons but their little party by order of the FIA. Outside an honour guard stood at attention, snapping at tourists who paused to gawk through the windows. Lined up against a wall as if awaiting a firing squad, a gaggle of serving staff stood ready for orders.
On the opposite side of the circular table was Felipe, who sat close to Rob, one peregrine wing lightly touching the human's shoulder in a protective gesture. Beside Rob was the Director-General of the DTM, grey-winged Bernie Ecclestone, who was reading through a pile of papers and highlighting sections of text. Jean Todt met Nelson's gaze, still smiling; Nelson turned his head, repressing a shudder of distaste for the short Frenchman, and looked at Keke, who gave Nelson a questioning glance. Unsure of what kind of answer he should give, Nelson dropped his gaze and stared down at where his fingers were entwined with Nico's. He moved his chair closer to his lover and felt the caress of Nico's wings against the nape of his neck. Feeling more confident, Nelson looked back at Jean. "I want this to be a fair agreement."
"Naturally." Jean's smile stretched even wider.
Nelson had thought about this a lot, had talked it through with Nico over the past couple of nights until he was certain of what he wanted. He took a deep breath. "I know the position I'm in. Coffee is the one commodity that could bring angels and demons together, and while I'm not going to hold anyone to ransom politically speaking, as the major shareholder of the world's coffee crop, I am going to insist on transparency in our dealings with one another."
Jean's smile slipped and he began to look worried.
Nelson continued, "I think the divisions between angel and demon are not as great as we've been indoctrinated to believe. Because of this, I intend to spend six months of the year in the DTM with Nico, and Nico will spend six months with me in the FIA. I'm asking you to consider relaxing the border controls to allow free transit between our federated countries—not just for myself and Nico, but for all our citizens. In return for this consideration, Felipe and I are willing to negotiate a deal with the FIA government as regards coffee tax benefits, and we're willing to listen to the proposals set forth by the DTM."
Jean's expression had lit up at the words 'tax benefits' and now he nodded, his face wreathed in smiles of approval.
"Coffee is exceedingly important to the DTM," Bernie said. "There are dangers inherent in its consumption, though I believe Keke mentioned something about genetic manipulation... something about developing a blend of coffee that produces a high impact effect? Now if we could share the resources that went into the creation of that blend, we'd be able to make a coffee that's pleasing to demons yet without the dangerous side-effects."
Nelson met his gaze. "The resource is me. I blended that coffee."
Jean spoke up quickly, disquiet registering in his voice. "Nelson Angelo, we couldn't possibly expect you to work..."
"Why not? I'm happy to share my knowledge. Rob can help me, too. There's no one better amongst the human coffee scientists. Between us, we can blend something that's palatable to angels, demons, and humans."
"That's very generous." Bernie pulled out a pocket calculator and tapped away on it for a moment. He nudged Jean. "This is the kind of profit we're looking at, based on those tax margins I showed you earlier. I think it's in our best interests to work together on this one."
Jean blinked at the calculator screen and whistled under his breath. "Oh, yes. All things under Heaven are equal, after all, so I don't see why we can't form a mutually profitable partnership."
Nelson remembered the glass in his hand and took a gulp of wine. He felt the gentle pressure of Nico's wing stroking over his shoulder and smiled gratefully at his lover. Thank God Nico had coached him on what to say at this meeting. There was no way he'd have remembered all that politicising crap otherwise. He lifted the glass again, inhaling the notes of the wine, but soon put it down, caught by a tendril of Nico's scent. Honeysuckle and sea grass, olive oil on old gold and the first frost of autumn. Nelson gazed at him until Nico dipped his head, his wings of blond hair swinging forward to hide his blush.
Pushing back his chair, Nelson stood, tugging Nico to his feet. He nodded around the table. "Excuse us, gentlemen. We'll be back later."
They walked out of the restaurant hand in hand, past the startled honour guards, and crossed from the shadow of the buildings behind them to the sunlit side of the square closest to the cathedral. They paused by a crumbling old wall the colour of strained honey and stood looking at each other.
"Hey." Nico squeezed his fingers. "How do you feel?"
"Like I want to get back to work." Nelson gave a short laugh. "Do you think this can happen? A free trade agreement between the FIA and DTM? No more paranoia between angels and demons?"
"I think we can try to make it happen." Nico moved closer and folded his wings, the rip in his right wing a permanent reminder of what they'd both experienced. "Nothing ever changes overnight, but if we have faith..."
"Yeah. If I can reform, anything's possible," Nelson tried to joke.
Nico smiled and took the familiar white and black feather from his jeans pocket. "What's possible is that you'll get your wings back—for real this time. We don't need your father to spell-cast them. With the Director-General's permission and the DNA from this feather, you could have your wings restored to their former glory by the end of the week."
Nelson nodded. "I guess. Somehow it doesn't seem that important. I mean, you have your wings now and—well..."
A slight frown pulled Nico's brows together and he tilted his head. "You don't want to chase my tail through the skies?"
"No. I mean, I do—but..." Nelson freed his hand from Nico's grasp, feeling stupid and inadequate. His father's words rose to echo in his head, and he pushed them back, determined not to fail this time. He wanted Nico to know how he felt without resorting to silly jokes and puerile flirtations. "What I'm trying to say is—you never saw me as something ugly and broken. You never thought I was any less of an angel because I didn't have my wings. So... maybe I don't need them."
Nico gazed at him. "I love you, Nelson Angelo Piquet."
"Right back at you." Nelson shook off his serious mood and put a hand on Nico's chest, feeling the shape and warmth of his body beneath the shirt. "I wanted to leave the restaurant not because the political stuff was boring—which it was, by the way—but because I wanted to kiss you."
"You can kiss me." Nico leaned against him. "And if you ever change your mind about your wings, I heard about this crazy spell we could try. Now I'm a second rank demon, it's safe for me to have sex with you on a ley line..."
"I don't think so," Nelson said, curling an arm around Nico's waist and holding him close. "I'm not going to risk losing you again—not even for my wings. And as for sex magick... just name the time and place and I'll be there."
"Forever?" Nico asked, a teasing grin lighting his face.
Nelson kissed him. "Forever, buttercup."