Life made him dangerous. Love made him lethal.
Killian Marks is a third-generation hitman. After hunting monsters for over twenty years, he lives under no illusions of happily ever afters and fairy tales. Until he meets a man who threatens to disarm him, by giving him hope for a future and showing him there’s more to life than just death.
For Nick, living in shadows is second nature. He’s all too familiar with the dark side of humanity and knows how delicate life can be. Each new day is a gift, even though it means doing it alone. But he’ll risk his survival for the one man who awakens something deep within and leaves him yearning for more.
Nick wants to solve the mystery behind the dark, brooding man, while Killian craves the life and light emanating from Nick. They soon discover they have more in common than either could have anticipated. With both their lives and hearts at stake, they must confront the ghost from Nick’s past intent on tying up a loose end. Only then will they truly find peace, and discover the shades of life in between.
**This is a stand-alone novel.**
Main Characters: Killian and Nick
Release date: MAY 23, 2018
Category: Contemporary Gay Romance; Romantic Suspense; Action
Word Count: 99K
Formats available: e-book and print
Shades is a stand-alone novel, gritty in parts and romantic in others. There’s an assassin with a moral code, a snarky sidekick, a hint of suspense, a bit of violence…and a few surprises. Behind it all, there’s a love story that will thaw a killer’s heart.
He wanted to kill this bastard and call it a night.
Leaning back against the wall of the apartment’s living room, he took a centering breath. He focused on each sound and scent in the dark room, letting every tiny detail fill his senses.
His kills were monsters plaguing the face of the earth, and he was the man often commissioned to eradicate that disease from the world. His targets were usually elusive and always resistant. Funny how they were quick to hurt and brutalize others, yet felt they were victims when he came knocking.
As his business partner would say… Boo hoo.
It had taken two weeks to find this target and four months of surveillance to learn his pattern. Well, semi-pattern. It was obvious why this man had managed to evade attention. He was careful yet moderately erratic. A likely requirement for his shady business dealings.
Any age and gender fit the savage’s purpose as long as they generated revenues. But one of his victims had managed to escape and run back to her brother, Mr. Ramon Gutierrez, leader of one of the growing organized crime rings in South Florida specializing in trade—guns, drugs, import and export, and favors. The one man no one in South Florida’s underworld dared challenge or betray.
The same Mr. Gutierrez who had sent several of his own men to find and “end” this monster. All of whom had failed to complete their mission in the two years since his sister’s escape.
“I’ve lost almost a dozen men trying to take him down,” Gutierrez had said. “He won’t be an easy mark.”
“Your targets never are.”
“I need you to find this animal. I need you to finish this so my baby sister can finally have some peace. Whatever it takes.” Gutierrez had promised a hefty payday, far more than his usual rate and enough to punctuate the desperation he’d suffered from his failed hunt.
“Do what you do best, Killian.”
He inwardly cringed, as much then as he did now with the memory, a reaction undetectable to others but instinctive whenever he heard his name voiced.
His occupation was part of his name and his family tree. As a third-generation hitman with global connections and a solid reputation in the underworld, he was the one people called when all others failed. And his clients paid handsomely for his talents.
The irony was not lost on him.
He was a monster by trade. And his life dealt with death.
Killian took another deep breath and let his sight adjust to the darkness of the room. Sheets hung from the windows, doubling as curtains. The faint glow from the streetlights seeped in through the seams, framing the corners of the third-floor apartment.
The building was under renovation and only the east side seemed habitable. That would explain the small handful of squatters who kept cycling through the southwest end of the structure. He had observed the revolving door of transient illegal tenants, but no one ever stayed long enough or returned more than once in order to establish a pattern. Besides, they were far enough away to not hear a sound should completion of this contract not go smoothly.
He scanned the room.
His eyebrows twitched as he tried to decipher the decorative purpose of the parallel railing along the perimeter of the room, a clash to the otherwise basic decor. The metal accents appeared industrial in nature, as if shielding a pipe running the length of the room. Two railings, one closer to the ceiling and the other at the center of the room at approximately head and chest height. Maybe they were remnants of the building renovation? This was something he had never seen before. And during the course of his work, he had seen plenty.
New things didn’t sit well with him. They were variables. Unplanned elements in his otherwise ironclad process and plan.
He hated surprises.
Killian let his mind stray for a moment, recalling a series of images, each one more gruesome than the last. A part of his ritual before each kill, this micro-movie reminded him of his target’s sins and why the monster needed to meet his maker. The violent images always summoned his dark side to rise like a phoenix from beneath his cool, controlled exterior, bringing purpose to his task, reaffirming his role in tonight’s assignment and the balance he brought to this world.
The mental movie invoked the coldness within, blanketing his emotions with an arctic chill.
With renewed conviction, Killian listened carefully to the rhythmic snore in the neighboring room. It was no wonder this monster crashed and burned so early in the evening. Killian was just as tired, having followed this poor excuse for a human for the last three days and witnessing far more than he cared to see. After completing the contract, he’d drop a dime on the bastard and give an anonymous tip. No sense letting one of his cronies step in and pick up where he left off. That business ended along with this bastard’s life.
Killian attached the suppressor to his gun with his gloved hand, careful to minimize sounds. Moving with catlike ease into the next room, he barely stirred a whisper of air with each smooth shift of his body.
He spotted his target in deep slumber. The man’s thick, broad body tented the bedsheets and his snores filled the room. Killian mentally confirmed the round face, inked neck, and scar running across the wide left hand splayed atop his chest.
This was the target who had taken Gutierrez’s sister and killed a dozen of his men in the last two years as he’d sought vengeance. Even in sleep, the monster’s undercurrent of evil emanated from his hard muscles and the lingering curled lip.
Killian’s gaze snapped to the left when a car door slammed outside, muffled by the closed windows, but loud enough to disturb the stillness of the dark.
An unplanned distraction.
Movement to his right caught his attention and eyes staring back at him jolted him into action. The monster launched toward him with a roar, a hunting knife with a serrated edge in hand and a snarl on his face.
Killian had dealt with guns under pillows, but stashed knives within silk sheets were rare, and confirmed this man’s fondness for torture and pain.
He bowed his body to avoid a nick as his target slashed the knife back and forth in the space between them with surprising speed and brute force. Killian bent his knee and thrust his polished boot into the monster’s gut, throwing him back onto the fluffy white mattress. The man rolled to his side in a combat move and landed on the opposite side of the bed. Glancing up at Killian with a sneer, he reached over to the small table at the bedside and slapped his hand on a button.
What the hell…
Killian instinctively ducked when something whizzed by his ear, crouching on the ground with his ready gun in hand. A succession of swooshing sounds, almost like helicopter blades, broke the room’s silence as a spray of different types of razors and blades ejected from the industrial bars along the perimeter and sliced through the air. Feathers from the down comforter flittered in the room and pieces of sheetrock bounced on the floor, filling the bedroom with a faint hint of dust captured by the light streaming through the curtain-sheets.
Rapid pounding at the front door to the apartment caught Killian’s attention, a fraction of a second before the sound of the door crashing in echoed within the room.
Killian readied his body and gun. He moved his finger to the trigger once the large figures, unaware of his position crouched on the ground in the darkness, shadowed the doorway to the bedroom.
“Boss?” one of them asked with authority as a second shadow flanked him. The man flipped the light switch, only one bulb of the ceiling fan had survived the spray of blades to cast a dim glow in the room. The faint light, enough to reveal their faces. These were the two men Killian had spotted earlier on the southwest side, dressed in holed clothes, pushing a cart and posing as homeless men seeking shelter in the unfinished part of the building.
Another damn surprise.
Killian raised his gun and aimed, drawing the attention of both men. One shot, center mass, was enough to take out the first man as the second man drew his weapon with lightning speed. Killian swept his leg with swift force, knocking the second man to his knees. Now, at eye level, the man unleashed a series of swings like a seasoned boxer, knocking Killian’s gun from his hand and pitching it under the bed across the wooden floors.
Killian evaded an upper cut to his jaw and blocked a potential punch to his ribs with his forearm. He swung his fist into the man’s face, crushing his nose and escalating the man’s fury. Grunts and growls filled the room as they fought for dominance until he finally overtook the second man and slammed him up against the wall and into the double-sided blades piercing the sheetrock. A gasp escaped the man and a trickle of blood seeped from the edge of his mouth as the life slowly faded from his eyes.
Killian took a few quick breaths, taming the surge of adrenaline mixed with the anger at the unplanned distraction.
He. Hated. Surprises.
His gaze darted over to the monster’s hiding place. Coward. Of course he’d let his men do his dirty work.
With a roar and movement far more rapid than his thick physique should allow, the monster threw his body over the bed toward him. Okay, maybe not. The air whooshed out of Killian’s lungs when his target landed on him, straddling him like a lover. Two meaty hands clamped around his throat like a vise, squeezing the breath from his airway.
“You’ve lasted longer than the others.”
Killian gritted his teeth and forced each breath through his clenched jaw, staring at the monster with equal intensity.
His target was strong, fierce, and wielded his brute force with unyielding mercy.
But he was no match for the darkness Killian harbored inside.
Killian grabbed the monster’s wrist with his gloved hand to ease some of the pressure at his throat. He stretched out his other hand to his side, reaching for his gun under the bed. His heart thrashed in his chest as his fingers touched the butt of his trusted weapon. He curled his fingers, pulling it closer. He wrapped his fingers around the gun’s grip and tightened his hold on the monster’s wrist, holding him in place.
In a motion swifter than the man’s prior actions, Killian swung his arm around and aimed at his target’s temple before pressing the trigger. The rounded eyes staring back flickered with defeat a second before the life dulled in their depths and the grip at his throat finally loosened.
Killian pushed the sweaty body to the side, thankful any remnants of the vile monster hadn’t spilled onto him and ruined his suit. One of the luxuries he allowed himself. Designer, dark, fitted clothing. If he was going to kill, he might as well do it in style.
He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the hardwood floor, taking a few deep breaths and willing his body to thaw from the blizzard his dark side commanded.
Life imitated art with some contracts, proving evil was resilient. He often chuckled when, in movies, the bad guy never died, regardless of however many bullets pierced their bodies or explosions blew up their surroundings. Somehow, the evil always resurrected for a second round of attack.
He looked over to his side at the now slumped body of his target then to his two henchmen.
Killian discharged an extra bullet into each dead man.
No one was resurrecting tonight.
Sitting upright on the floor, he slid his hand inside his suit jacket and withdrew the new burner phone he had purchased for this contract. He’d pitch it afterwards.
His line of work demanded caution.
His survival depended on it.
Cash transactions, burner phones, shell corporations, multiple proxy servers for every single online transaction, and accounts hidden offshore in various locations. Every precaution meticulously thought through. He never left bread crumbs—at scenes or in life. There was a record of his birth and grade school education. Nothing more.
His reputation and legacy were his strongest weapons.
After one ring, the voice came through the line of the only other person he trusted in his line of business. “Is the party over?”
“Is Mom going to get upset?”
“Very.” Killian glanced around the room. The bodies, the blood pooling on the floor, the shredded walls and furniture with blades piercing their surfaces. His friend had several hours of work ahead of him. He’d have to double his commission for this assignment. “So is Grandma.” He rolled his eyes at the stupid code they exchanged. He should have known better than to have tasked his friend and business partner with that job.
Each contract was “a party,” and if “Mom” was “upset,” it meant things got a little messy and his super-skilled forensic clean-up partner was needed to ensure the place was spotless. But if “Grandma” was thrown into the conversation, then that was code that paint and spackle might be necessary.
“I’ll be there in ten,” his partner said in his rare all-business tone.
Killian tucked the phone back into his pocket and scowled. “Damn it,” he muttered, poking his finger through a slash in his suit jacket. He extended each arm and sneered at the other slashes in the expensive material. He looked at his target on the floor, still slumped on his side. “You’re lucky I can’t kill you twice, asshole.”
Killian stood, brushing off the dust from his dark suit. He switched off the light in the bedroom and stepped over the bodies, avoiding the pooling blood, as he headed into the neighboring room.
Pulling out the old wooden chair of the small dining set, he sat. He crossed his ankle over his opposite knee and rested his hand on his thigh over his gun, aimed at the front door.
He wasn’t in the mood for another surprise tonight.
Glancing at his wristwatch, he frowned at the nick on his hand. Now he was especially thankful he had mentioned “Grandma.” Killian withdrew his handkerchief from inside his suit jacket and added pressure to the gash. That’s going to leave a mark. Another to add to his list of battle scars. A small sacrifice for ridding the world of another evil.
Like a magician, his partner would leave this room without a single speck of proof that anything had happened tonight. Killian often wondered about his friend’s sanity, but his skills in forensics were impeccable. The monster would be erased and so would Killian’s presence in this room. The world would resume tomorrow with one less evil and far fewer victims. That gave Killian a tiny semblance of peace. Even if only temporarily until some other monster rose to tip the scales again.
His business partner was a twisted, snarky prick, but the man was just as punctual as he was. Killian would patiently wait for his arrival before leaving him to his work.
He glanced at his watch again. A tiny, rare smile pulled at the corner of his mouth.
It was early evening and he had time for one more stop before calling it a night.
“Shades is about all the shades of gray that we encounter in life. No one is just what they do for a living and in everything there are shades of morality. Shades of good. Shades of bad. It’s about balance, and it’s about learning that you can find happiness even if you think you don’t deserve it.” ~ Jewel, My Fiction Nook