We’re so pleased to have author Victoria Sue dropping in today with an exclusive excerpt from the newest book in her Enhanced World series, Beneath This Mask, with us.
About the Book
Gael Peterson has spent years hiding behind the enhanced abilities he wears like a mask, even though he is an important, confident member of the FBI’s exclusive H.E.R.O. team. The hurt and betrayal of his mom’s abandonment and his father’s fists are secrets buried deep beneath the ugly scars on his face, and he doesn’t trust Jake, his new regular human partner, with any of them. In a world where those with special abilities like Gael’s are regarded as freaks and monsters, it won’t be easy for him to rely on Jake to have his back, especially when the abilities of a vulnerable, enhanced, nonspeaking child make that child a murder suspect.
Tempers rise and loyalties are challenged, and when the serial killer targeting the enhanced finally sets his sights on Gael, not only will Gael have to trust Jake with his secrets, he might have to trust him to save his life.
As the truck came to a stop, Gael jerked awake in a panic. He’d trained himself to sleep lightly, and even though it had been years since his bed had been a few cardboard boxes, it still took nothing to wake him. What shocked him was that he had fallen asleep in the first place.
“Would you like a coffee or a beer or something?” The words were out before he knew he was going to say them. “That’s if you don’t want to go to bed.” Shit. “I mean, you might be tired and want to go home.” He groaned and thunked his head back on the seat.
A low chuckle had him opening his eyes again. Jake’s eyes were… dancing, for want of a better word, and Gael grinned.
“Open mouth, insert foot.”
It took a second and Jake pulling in a sharp breath before Gael realized his last comment, while not as suggestive as the first, could also make his brain go somewhere else. He gave up and opened the door. He didn’t know what to think when Jake cut the engine and opened his own door.
Gael picked his way through the various trash littered on the sidewalk, barely gave the truck a second glance, as he had no idea what to do about it, pulled his door key from his pants pocket, and took the two steps to the door. He cringed at the peeling paint and the general feeling of drabness and quickly keyed in the code to silence the alarm after he had opened the door. Gael flicked on the light and stepped into one of the three rooms in his ground-floor apartment.
He looked around critically, not sure why he wanted Jake to like the space. The two massive recliners suddenly screamed “old man” when they had always meant lazy Sunday afternoons catching a game. The large flat-screen seemed to shout that he had nothing better to do, and the beige-and-chocolate color scheme looked boring.
“Nice,” Jake said with what seemed to be genuine admiration in his voice.
Gael waved him to a seat. “Coffee or beer?”
“What you got?”
“Wild Night,” Gael said without thinking, then wished for lightning to strike him where he stood when Jake grinned.
“I meant beer, but whatever.”
Heat flushed through Gael at rocket speed, and he strode to the refrigerator in case he was likely to spontaneously combust. Jake is gay? “It’s a local Florida brewery, Swamp Head,” he rushed out in explanation. “Midnight Oil, Stump Knocker, Wild Night.”
Gael looked up when Jake didn’t reply to find him studying his music collection.
“Eric Darius?” He turned over the CD.
“Local to Tampa actually,” Gael supplied, grabbing the bottles and an opener. “Saxophonist,” he added by way of an explanation.
Jake nodded and put the CD down, then took a bottle from Gael. “I like Mindi Abair. Did you hear her record with Aerosmith?”
Gael smiled in delight. “You like jazz?”
“I like most things to be honest. Not so much heavy metal, and I don’t like full orchestra, but people don’t have to sing for me to like their music.” Jake eased down into one of the leather recliners. “How long have you lived in Ybor?”
“I grew up in Charlottesville and eventually moved to Tampa. Got a job on the docks and met Talon there. I roomed with Talon for a while, and then I got this place.” Gael gazed around the room. “It’s small, but there’s only me.” Shit, could he sound any more pathetic?
“You have a brother, right?”
A warm feeling spread through Gael. “Yeah, Wyatt. He’s just graduated from Georgetown.” He couldn’t keep the pride out of his voice, but he didn’t care.
“You got any other family?” Jake asked.
The temperature suddenly took a drop in the room, and Gael’s blood seemed to prick his skin from the inside. Smooth warmth had been replaced with brittle cold. Gael lurched to his feet. “You want another one?”
Jake looked down at his bottle. “No, I’m good,” he said slowly.
Gael was grateful Jake didn’t point out that he’d barely had time to take more than one swallow from his still mostly full bottle. He moved back to the fridge, not really knowing why, because he hadn’t drunk any more than Jake. He turned around to face Jake, to offer some sort of explanation for his shitty mood, but Jake was there behind him. How had he not heard him move?
Jake drew a hand through his thick black hair, and Gael watched as his fingers trailed through it. “Maybe this was a bad idea,” he said slowly.
Gael tried to process the words, but his eyes were fixed on the pink lips they were moving through. He swallowed. “Because?”
Jake stared into Gael’s eyes. Gael took a breath, then another one as Jake seemed to swallow all his oxygen. “Because,” Jake whispered, taking a step closer, his hand sliding around the back of Gael’s neck, “I want to do this.” He breathed the word out as his lips ghosted over Gael’s.
Gael leaned forward, his chilled body seeming to know it needed Jake’s heat and seeking it out. Gael ignored the whimper from his own throat and slid his hands up Jake’s back, feeling the hardness, the strength. He opened his mouth, and Jake instantly pushed his tongue in, stroking, exploring. Teasing every shudder out of Gael, his arms clutching him tighter to show he liked it. On and on the kiss went, demanding, domineering, until the only thing keeping Gael balanced was the heavy hand threading through his hair as Jake leaned him back. For a second Gael’s brain went fuzzy, and he suddenly wrenched his mouth away for oxygen. He had been so lost he hadn’t realized he needed it. Jake immediately moved his lips to Gael’s throat and gently mouthed the skin. Gael wobbled. He’d always thought going weak at the knees was a cheesy line until he actually felt it.
“How about I stay, and then I can give you a ride to work again tomorrow?” Jake panted, as though words were an effort.
But they were the equivalent of a cold shower. Gael stepped back, and it was Jake’s turn to stumble. He bit his lip, and Jake searched his gaze until Gael dropped it.
Jake gave a little sigh. “Maybe you’re right. We could probably both do with an early night.” He took a step back with a slight shake of his head, as if to clear it. “I don’t think we have anything going on early tomorrow, so I’ll be around at eight thirty unless we get a call or something.” He hesitated. “Unless you need help getting your truck anywhere tonight?” He looked at his watch. “What did the insurance guys say?”
Inexplicable temper flared in Gael, and he scoffed. “Insurance?”
Jake looked puzzled. “Yeah. Do you need a police report? Maybe we can ask Vance—”
“You’re really clueless, aren’t you?” Gael bit out. “Enhanced don’t get insurance. I only get mine because I have an approved job.”
“Gael, buddy—” Jake sounded apologetic.
“I’m not your buddy,” Gael nearly yelled, not wanting to be patronized. “You want to work with us, you should have done your homework. My so-called insurance only covers me for damage to other cars. It’s taken out of every pay check automatically as a condition of employment, and I pay $600 a month for a crappy piece of paper that means I will only ever get to live in a dump like this,” he roared finally, the volume increasing with every word.
Jake opened his mouth and closed it without saying a word.
“Get out.” Gael thought he was going to have something—someone—of his own, but this would never work.
“Get out?” Jake parroted in disbelief. Then, with sarcasm dripping from every word, he said, “Wow. You were right when you said I hadn’t done my homework. Tell me, where does it say that all enhanced are assholes?”
Gael lunged before he thought better of it, and Jake sidestepped, whirling around and grabbing Gael by his neck. In a second he had his arm around his throat and a hand to the back of his head. Gael held his breath, stunned at how fast Jake had moved. He could snap Gael’s neck. Jake blew out a short breath and stepped away, releasing Gael instantly. He didn’t even bother with a backward glance as he strode to the door and yanked it open. Gael couldn’t help the wince as Jake slammed it shut behind him.
“Fuck,” Gael spat out into the silence, sliding down with his back against the wall. What the hell had just happened? Jake was right—when had he become such an asshole?
About the Author
Victoria Sue Wrote her first book on a dare from her hubby three years ago. Loves writing about gorgeous boys loving each other the best, and especially with either a paranormal or a historical twist. Had a try at writing contemporary but failed spectacularly when it grew four legs and a tail.
Is an English northern lass but is currently serving twenty to life in Florida – unfortunately, she spends more time chained at her computer than on a beach.
Loves to hear from her readers and can be found most days lurking on facebook. Sign up for my newsletter and download a free story The Wrong Alpha