Brooklyn Ray © 2019
All Rights Reserved
If you would’ve asked Donovan Quinn where he might be this time last year, he would’ve had a perfectly executed answer. Something standard and palatable. He would’ve batted his lashes and shrugged, hinted at finishing his degree and landing a good job. That was what people wanted to hear—his mother, the clan leaders, his family and circle-mates. He would’ve lied, and they would’ve smiled, and he would’ve swallowed the truth.
Because Donovan didn’t care about a degree or a good job. He wasn’t worried about appearances or being a good witch. If you’d asked him, he would’ve said, “I’m sure I’ll be keeping busy.”
Donovan never expected to trade those lies for this truth: being in the passenger’s seat of Tyler’s Jeep on the night Liam committed murder.
The sound of the windshield wipers made the silence between them seem like a chasm. They’d dropped Christy off at home after a twenty-minute argument over rights and wrongs, secrets and consequences. Christy had burst into tears and told Tyler his cruelty didn’t count for strength, and when he’d refused to look at her or speak to her, she’d climbed out of the car and slammed the door for good measure.
Now they were parked somewhere in the middle of the woods. The headlights were turned off, rain pelted the roof, and Donovan wasn’t sure if this was the end of something—their circle, their magic, whatever festered between them. It’d been three months and they still didn’t have a name for it. Relationship didn’t fit. Friends with benefits was too watered down.
Whatever it was, it had been born out of Tyler’s anger. His possessiveness and desire. Three months ago, Donovan had taken Tyler to a club to unwind. We’ll find different people. Just have fun for a night. And Tyler had agreed. But as the night went on, liquor and stolen glances turned desire into something else. Donovan had met Tyler’s eyes as a handsome man covered in tattoos licked salt from his neck. Tyler had shoved himself between them and pulled Donovan onto the dancefloor.
Everything changed after that. Everything had kept changing since then.
“You have anything to say?” Tyler asked.
Donovan followed the straight line of Tyler’s nose to his thin, set mouth. He rested his elbow on the top of the door, hand splayed over his jaw. He was typically handsome—black hair kept neat and slicked back, ears pierced with plain silver hoops, skin never inked. His black turtleneck covered a barely there bruise left behind from Donovan’s mouth. Sometimes he glamoured hickeys. Other times he covered them with foundation, like he did the bruises he brought back from fights with his father.
It was difficult to separate who Tyler was from who his family expected him to be. Because Donovan had seen Tyler gentle and everyone else only knew him as a Li.
“They’re our friends,” Donovan said. He picked at the chipped nail polish on his thumb. “We can’t just exile them. We took an oath.”
“They’ve been using dark magic behind our backs, that’s enough to break the damn oath. Not to mention Liam murdered someone tonight and we’ve got demons knocking on our door.”
“Still,” Donovan said.
“We can’t leave them.” Donovan watched Tyler’s jaw flex. He almost brushed his fingers over Tyler’s thigh, but hesitated, unsure if touch could be casual between them or not. “I won’t leave them.”
“Aren’t leopards solitary?” Tyler’s sarcasm was a mean deflection, but it cut Donovan to the bone.
Liam had murdered someone and because of it, the Queen of Water had walked from the sea and put Donovan’s secret on display like it was nothing. Leopard. He’d rarely used the term, even in his own home, and now it fit in Tyler’s mouth like a curse.
“That isn’t fair,” Donovan whispered. He squirmed in place and pulled at the bottom of his shirt, picking at threads, giving his nerves a place to go. He glanced out of the window and watched rain streak through tree branches. The forest was alive around them. “Don’t take your elitist bullshit out on me, Tyler.”
“You didn’t tell me,” Tyler said softly, then louder. “You didn’t even tell me.”
“Does it matter?”
“Yes,” Tyler snapped.
The silence was no longer a chasm. It was too close, too personal, and it made Donovan’s lungs ache. His mouth tightened and he turned away, fighting the urge to shout or cry or argue or explain. He didn’t think Tyler cared for his explanations. He didn’t know if Tyler cared for anything at all.
“Take me home,” Donovan said.
Tyler glanced at him, rolled his eyes, and flicked on the headlights. They didn’t speak for the duration of the trip. Tyler’s gaze flicked toward him while they idled at a stoplight and Donovan hoped he’d say something. Anything. But he didn’t.
The duplex Donovan and his mother lived in was outside downtown, nestled between a gated community and a shopping plaza. There was a whole neighborhood of attached houses painted in different shades of mauve. Donovan’s house was the one with the darkest paint and a yellow door, the last one on the left. Tyler put the car in park and heaved a sigh. Donovan waited for an apology or a question, for something other than silence, but Tyler didn’t say a word.
Fuck him. He slammed the door harder than Christy had and walked inside without looking back. His mom worked the night shift at the hospital, but she’d left a box of macaroni and cheese on the counter. His familiar, a serval cat named Melody, sat on the back of the couch. She looked wild despite how domestic she truly was.
“Why do I always date dickheads?” Donovan asked. Not that he was dating Tyler. Not even close. But still. He narrowed his eyes at Melody and she yawned.
Dickhead was putting it lightly. Tyler was the head witch of their circle, seven years older than him. He had anger issues. He’d never uttered the words commitment or relationship. He was possessive and jealous and mean. He made Donovan feel irreplaceable on some nights, and like nothing on others.
Donovan hated how much he cared for him.
Minutes turned to hours. He boiled water and cooked the macaroni, cleansed the house with sage, lit candles on his altar, and sent three texts to three different people.
To Liam: We’ll figure this out together. It’ll be okay.
To Christy: Are you okay?
To Mom: I left some mac and cheese in the fridge for you. I added extra cheese.
Tyler hadn’t messaged or called. The night felt ruined and unfinished.
Donovan sat on the edge of his bed and smiled when his mom sent three heart emojis back. The other two messages went unanswered. Liam had read his, at least. Christy was probably asleep.
“Maybe leopards should be solitary,” he said.
Melody licked her big paw and chuffed at him. Her wide ears twitched and she flicked her short, striped tail back and forth. Donovan was in the kitchen, torn between tea or something stronger, when Melody swiveled toward the front door and growled.
Two knocks. Donovan inhaled a deep breath. Another two knocks. He glanced at Melody and said, “Be nice,” before he opened the door.
Like always, Tyler stood before him, soaking wet from the rain, lost and mad and alone. A red fox named Castle, Tyler’s faithful familiar, skittered in and shook his fur. Donovan lifted his brows. Tyler slid his jaw from side to side. This was how it started—Donovan would go home after arguing with Tyler or being ignored by him, and Tyler would knock on the front door or his bedroom window hours later.
Melody hissed at Castle, but Castle hopped on the couch anyway.
“Hi,” Donovan snapped.
Tyler stepped inside and closed the door. The slow, familiar click of the lock splintered the quiet. “Grace isn’t home?”
“She works till six. It’s Friday, you know that. Why are you here?” Donovan knew exactly why Tyler was there, but he turned on his heels and walked into the kitchen anyway, trying his best to ignore Tyler’s sharp gaze and the sound of his black sweater hitting the carpet.
There was vodka in the freezer his mom wouldn’t miss. He rummaged through it until his fingers curled around the cold bottle, tipping it one way then the other. Half-empty. Good enough.
“Won’t be able to replace that,” Tyler said. He ran his fingers through his hair and leaned against the counter, shirtless and confident and annoyingly distracting. “Unless you have a fake ID I don’t know about.”
Donovan shrugged and poured a few shots into a glass of orange juice. “I’ll find someone who can.”
“You gonna look at me?”
“You gonna give me a reason to?” Donovan shoved the bottle back in the freezer and kicked it closed. He did everything he could to keep his eyes off Tyler. He looked at the ceiling, at the floor, at the front door, into the living room where Castle and Melody napped. The alcohol burned his throat. “I’m surprised you’re even here, you know, since you’re you, and I’m just me, some primitive, wild animal who—”
Tyler took two steps into Donovan’s space. His hands landed on Donovan’s waist, palms hot under his shirt, and he tucked his face into Donovan’s neck. Tyler pressed him against the counter and placed his lips on the shell of his ear. “No, you’re not,” Tyler said. It almost sounded like an apology. Almost. “I didn’t mean what I said. You know it doesn’t matter.”
A soft growl bubbled in Donovan’s throat. “You’re always an asshole about everything.” He took another, longer sip of his drink. Tyler slid his hands over his ribs and back down, thumbs digging into old bruises beneath his hipbones. Donovan almost choked, drinking until the glass was empty. His throat was on fire. “At least say you’re sorry,” he rasped, coughing over the last word.
“Sorry.” Tyler pressed his lips against Donovan’s pulse. He was tall, lined with lean muscle and soft skin, scented like expensive cologne and evening rain. He dragged his lips across Donovan’s cheek until they were nose to nose. “Happy now?”
He didn’t answer. His stomach fluttered and he swallowed hard. This was the outcome every time. Fight. Fuck. Repeat. Tyler would push Donovan until he got pushed back, he’d give a half-assed apology after, then lean in close and whisper, “Color?” Just like he did now.
Tyler teased the line of Donovan’s jeans with his fingers. No matter how many times they did this, no matter how many fights or arguments they got into, Donovan always said, “Green.”
Rain hit the windows. Leftover smoke drifted through the air. Tyler wrapped his fingers around Donovan’s jaw and gripped hard—too hard. His fingernails bit Donovan’s skin, a tiny sting that caused his chest to tighten. There was no easy way to explain what they were, if they were anything at all, but Donovan couldn’t satisfy the urge to be something for Tyler. Something worthy. Something to keep. He closed the distance between them and kissed him.
There wasn’t order to it. Donovan kissed and then he was being kissed; Tyler slid his hand to the back of his head and pulled him forward, tongue hot between his lips and teeth sharp in his bottom lip. He let Tyler guide him, his fingers in Donovan’s hair angling him where he wanted, breath ratcheting between their slick lips. Tyler’s other hand rested on his waist, thumbing a bruise.
“Green,” Donovan said again, breaking away to catch his breath. Tyler raked his fingernails across his stomach. “Green,” he gasped out. A soft hum leaked over Tyler’s lips and he tightened his grip in Donovan’s hair, yanking until his head tipped back. Tyler bit the flexed tendon in his throat hard—too hard. He sucked Donovan’s skin between his teeth and bit harder, harder, until Donovan squirmed and whimpered.
Pain was Tyler’s game. The first time they’d slept together, he’d left Donovan’s hips bruised for days. The second time, he’d bitten Donovan’s shoulder hard enough to break blood vessels. The third time, Donovan had asked Tyler to hit him. Tyler had stopped working a hickey onto his collarbone. He’d looked at him, pupils wide, heaving in breath after breath, and said, “We need to draw some lines.”
Things spiraled after that. They established rules. A code. Green for yes, keep going. Yellow for slow down. Red for stop. Donovan had a safe word, too. Cinnamon. If “red” was the slow rolling stop at a four-way intersection, “cinnamon” was screeching brakes before a crash. He’d never used it.
Tyler eased away from the throbbing mark below Donovan’s ear and nodded toward the hall. Donovan caught himself on the counter and touched his neck. He imagined there might be blood, but his fingers came away wet with spit. He followed Tyler into his bedroom, lit by a dim lamp on his nightstand, and held his breath when cold wind blew the door shut.
A beige comforter slouched over the side of his bed, shoved into the corner beneath a window. His dresser was crowded with old soda cans and video games, a couple of tea light candles and paperback books with broken spines. Across the room, a skinny bookshelf served as a makeshift altar, housing his grimoire and mystical books. Tarot cards spilled from a box next to a bundle of dried herbs.
Tyler’s Wind careened through the room, looking for a way out. It stirred the blinds, rattled the lampshade, then dipped under the door and was gone.
Donovan pulled his shirt over his head and tossed it away. He touched Tyler’s shoulders, framed his jaw in his palms and pulled him in, desperate for contact, for Tyler’s body against his. Breath hit his chin. Tyler snatched Donovan’s wrists and pinned them against the door above his head, lips hovering just out of reach.
“Color?” Tyler asked.
“Green, fuck, c’mon. I don’t want your courtesy,” Donovan snapped. “Do something.”
One of Tyler’s brows arched. He squeezed Donovan’s wrists and said, “Keep them there.”
He did as he was told. His heart pounded, a vicious thrumming in his ears that made his head spin and his blood run fast. Tyler pushed Donovan’s jeans down, his boxers, then grabbed him roughly by the hips and flipped him around to face the door.
Donovan’s breath came short. He closed his eyes and tracked the smooth drag of Tyler’s palm down the middle of his back, over his hip, to the inside of his thigh. His shoulders relaxed, legs spread wider. Anticipation gnawed on him.
Tyler’s open palm struck the back of his left leg. A loud clap cut through the room. Pain bloomed in Donovan’s thigh, below his ass, the soft place most people liked to nibble or grab.
“Don’t hold your breath.” Tyler’s lips touched the top of his spine.
Donovan let out a breath and Tyler spanked him again—another hard, loud swat—this time to Donovan’s ass. He rolled his forehead against the door and arched his back, steadying his inhales and exhales, waiting for another hot surge of pain. It happened again and again. Tyler hit his thighs and his ass until Donovan was whimpering and shaking, raked his nails down Donovan’s back until he writhed and said his name.
It was an exchange. Tyler hit him. Donovan whined. Tyler hit him harder. Donovan choked back a sob.
Finally, when Donovan’s knees started to shake, Tyler disappeared. Cool air soothed the raw, red marks on Donovan’s backside. A drawer opened. A cap clicked. “Color?”
“Green,” Donovan whispered.
“I can’t hear you.”
“Green,” he bit out, angling his mouth over his shoulder. His arms were tired and achy. Knees wanted to buckle. But his cock was hard, trapped between the door and his belly, and he was in the place where pain made him desperate for pleasure.
“I love you like this,” Tyler whispered, rubbing two slicked fingers hard and slow over his hole. He laughed under his breath. “Think I can make you purr?”
Donovan’s cheeks heated and his body tensed, lip white under the weight of his teeth. He held onto the word love, even though it meant nothing. Of course, it would come down to this. Ridicule. Humiliation. Tyler’s cruelty even found them here.
“Bet I can,” Tyler taunted. He slid his fingers inside him and curled them. “C’mon, purr for me, baby. Meow for me.”
“Yellow,” Donovan blurted.
Tyler went still. His breathing halted. Slowly, he stepped back and said, “Turn around.”
Donovan did as he was told. He kept his eyes on the floor until Tyler cradled his chin in one hand and forced his gaze. His nostrils flared. He dropped his stiff arms and placed them around Tyler’s neck.
“Hit me all you want,” Donovan mumbled. “But don’t ever talk to me like that.”
Tyler tracked his face. He pressed Donovan against the door and reached around to knead a knot in his shoulder. Donovan closed his eyes. Tyler’s lips brushed his throat, his collarbones, over his ribs, then Tyler was on his knees, looking up at him. He eased one leg over his shoulder. Fingers rubbed behind his balls, slow, slick strokes that made Donovan keen. Tyler dragged his mouth along the underside of his cock, waiting.
His eyes were half-lidded, cheeks hot and body coiled tight. He met Tyler’s gaze, held him there, suspended and willing and completely his for a brief but solid moment, and whispered, “Green.”
Tyler closed his lips around his cock and pressed his fingers in deep. Donovan threaded his hand through Tyler’s hair and gripped. Tyler was good at this—he was good at everything. At kissing, at being a complete asshole, at making Donovan feel claimed and wanted, at turning pain into a playground, at intimacy and sex and magic. God, Donovan hated him. Goddamn, he loved him.
“Ty…” His voice was wrecked and breathy. Hearing himself whine made his cheeks burn. “I’m close.”
Tyler’s throat fluttered, his eyes watered, fingers rough and persistent, but he didn’t stop. Donovan cried out, his hips jerked and his body tensed. He clutched Tyler’s black hair with a shaky hand. Their energy pulsed around them, Donovan’s Earth magic barely there, a tickle on the inside of his elbows, a sudden prang in his chest.
He kept hold of Tyler’s hair as his mouth climbed over his hips, his stomach, then his chest. Donovan kissed him hard. He tasted himself and something else on Tyler’s tongue. Static, maybe. The makings of a storm.
His heart hadn’t slowed. His body buzzed and tilted, pliant in Tyler’s hands as he was hauled to the bed. It was quick after that. Donovan heard a zipper, the sound of jeans being pushed away, felt the rough jab of fingers inside him again, and tried not to sob over Tyler’s name when he replaced them with his cock. Tyler held Donovan down, one hand curled over his shoulder, the other gripping his hip. Donovan clawed at the sheets, oversensitive and wrung out. Spasms wracked his body, twitches and quivers that followed the hard snap of Tyler’s hips. Tyler’s gasps and moans were muffled between bitten lips. Even when he came, curved over Donovan’s back with his mouth close to Donovan’s ear, he stayed quiet.
Everything went still after. Tyler’s breath gusted his nape. Rain and wind whipped against the window beside them, and Donovan wondered if he should ask him to stay.
He sank into his bed, gulping in breaths, covered in sweat and bruises, half-moons from Tyler’s teeth and fingernails. Pleasure softened his bones, but it didn’t change what had happened at the beach and it didn’t wash away the effects of it. Donovan and Tyler had done what they always did—fought and fucked and tried to forget.
But Liam shoving a blade through a kelpie’s stomach was ugly and devastating and permanent. Too fresh to be called a memory. Even if they wanted to, the Queen of Water wouldn’t allow them to forget it.
A soft kiss was pressed to Donovan’s shoulder. Tyler trailed his fingers over the sore skin on the back of his thigh as he stood and walked to the bathroom.
“Now what?” Donovan asked, sucking in winded breaths.
The sink ran. Tyler sighed and shouldered the door back open. He returned with a glass of water, took a sip, and handed it to Donovan. “Usually a shower.”
“Seriously?” He lifted onto his elbow and tried on a hard glare. “You know what I mean.”
“You won’t like what I have to say, so why say it?” Tyler managed to chase away the tenderness between them quicker than it’d formed. He tugged his jeans on and buttoned them, scraped his fingers through his hair and stared at the ceiling. “I won’t defend Liam in this. I can’t.”
Donovan’s jaw tightened. “You’re outnumbered, Tyler. It’s three to one.”
“We aren’t voting.”
“We don’t have to!”
Tyler’s nostrils flared. He didn’t kiss Donovan or reach for him or say another word. He walked into the hall, clucked his tongue to Castle, and scooped up his damp sweater before he left.
Ten minutes later, Donovan’s phone buzzed.
Tyler: I have to take care of this circle. It’s my job.
Donovan: and EVERYONE in it
Tyler: like you.
Donovan’s eyes followed each letter. L i k e y o u. He tried to imagine Tyler saying them, his voice soft and loving, but he couldn’t. Bravery tingled in all the places Tyler’s hands had been. He typed out a text, hesitated, then hit send.
Donovan: you don’t leave the ones you care for. but you’re sure good at it. example one? tonight. when you came over to fuck me and didn’t bother saying goodbye. so no. Not like me. Goodnight Ty.
He silenced his phone and shoved it in his nightstand. The shower was too hot and just right, beating down on his shoulders. It cancelled the noisy silence and drowned his thoughts. A quiet ache settled in his hips and legs, imprints of Tyler’s palms and fingernails and teeth, but at least the discomfort would fade—shooed away like bad energy, swept under the rug like an embarrassing story.
Until the next time Tyler showed up at his door or window. Until Donovan snuck into Tyler’s room after a circle meeting. Until they drove into the woods after dark or made plans to get dinner and went to a hotel instead. Until they viciously fought again. Until they took each other apart again.
The pain would go. How Donovan felt for Tyler would stay.
Donovan curled under his comforter. Melody chirped at him from the floor and he said, “I’m okay.”
Really, he was just alone.