Home > Portals and Puppy Dogs(3)

Portals and Puppy Dogs(3)
Author: Amy Lane

“Calves of steel,” he said weakly, knowing that he’d added another half hour or so to his commute. But anything, anything, rather than feel this panicky, half-embarrassed wash of humiliation every time he saw his handsome, kind, organized boss and knew there wasn’t a thing he could do to control the flutter in his stomach when Simon so much as glanced at him.

“Alex,” Simon said warmly, “come on, ’fess up. Do you really want this transfer? Who pissed you off?”

Alex looked at him helplessly and, unbidden, came that moment of absolute clarity two weeks ago, right before his entire coven had been knocked on their asses and sharply reprimanded by the forces that be.

They’d been trying to cast a spell for their heart’s desire, and every member of the coven—every member—had lied. They’d formulated the spell carefully. Alex had been in charge of thread colors and candle colors because that was his thing, and Jordan had been about the essential oils. Cully had been aesthetics, Dante had helped with the wording of the spells, Bartholomew had been in charge of the ingredients in the cauldron, and Kate and Josh had been all about implementation, putting the ingredients together.

And they’d stood, everybody gathered around the black, white, and red column candles at the points of a seven-pointed star made in black, white, and red thread, reciting the spell together. And then when each one of them was supposed to formally read the spell asking for their heart’s desire, the forces of witchcraft had gotten pissed off.

A cone of power had grown above them—something so awesome and otherworldly not even Alex could deny its presence—and the magic had coalesced at the peak of the cone and then whooshed out, throwing everyone backward and pulling from them one word—one damned word—that had embodied their true heart’s desire and not the pretension they’d written on the page.

At present, the only word that had been made public was Bartholomew’s. It had been “Lachlan,” and he’d had to confess to the object of his heart’s desire that he’d been in love with him for nearly two years before the spell had even partly begun to right itself, and it was still wreaking havoc in their neighborhood.

Alex’s word wasn’t quite that specific, but it still had the same gist. Passion. God, wasn’t that a laugh? Alex. Quiet, dry, competent Alex Kennedy, who used his highly methodical brain to help people assemble shoeboxes full of receipts into legal documents, and his rather scattered, creative friends assemble spells using the logic of the harmony of the universe while also doing their taxes—wanted passion.

He wanted love and sex and humor and hunger, and by Goddess, he wanted it with Simon Reddick, so bad that just smelling the man’s aftershave or seeing his customary black turtleneck as he strolled through the rather sterile white-walled office space hurt his heart.

He couldn’t have Simon. He was an employee—a nobody. Simon was the boss. The power imbalance alone made his liberal brain hurt.

He gave Simon a helpless sideways glance and physically squashed every impulse he had to pause and smooth Simon’s hair back from his eyes or rub his thumb over those lean lips.

“Nobody,” he said gruffly. “Nobody pissed me off.” He swallowed and put his hands in the pockets of his Dockers, hunching his shoulders against the wind.

 

 

Sounds from the Darkness

 

 

SIMON stared at Alex Kennedy in dismay. God, what had Simon done to make him close down like that?

One minute they’d been talking, and Alex’s face—narrow with pointed features—had lost its usual guarded expression and opened. That moment, his closed eyes to the sun, his mouth slightly parted to catch the wind—that had been such a beautiful, pure thing right there.

Simon had needed to swallow against the stirrings of sexual attraction in his stomach.

Alex didn’t have the kind of presence that punched someone in the gut with lust, that was true. But he’d been working for Simon’s firm for three years. Three years of Simon watching Alex arrive wearing bicycle tights and riding gear and then make a quiet, Clark Kent–like transformation in the bathroom to emerge as mild-mannered accountant Alex Kennedy.

Three years of his grounded competence, sly humor, and his ability to think above and beyond whatever the partners had asked of him, go the two steps over to the thing they’d been about to ask of him, and then just deliver it on a silver platter without fuss.

Simon had become increasingly fascinated with Alex Kennedy, had fantasized about the classic—and sexist, of course—boss/secretary scenario, each time running up against the wall of not wanting to perpetrate sexual harassment.

Then Simon’s fascination had grown into hunger, his hunger pitched to need, and practically the moment he’d planned to ask Alex on a very conservative, very aboveboard date to see if maybe it would be worth it for Simon to start basing himself at the other branch so they could see where this attraction might lead…

Chris Lockhart had gotten Alex’s petition to transfer to the other branch instead.

Simon was—he hoped—keeping a good face on things, but it was getting harder and harder to rein in his hurt.

“Nobody pissed you off?” he prodded gently. “Are you sure? It seems damned inconvenient for you to move to the other branch. I mean, we depend on you here in Folsom, Alex. Is there anything we can do to get you to stay?”

They were pausing at a crosswalk as Simon asked this, and Alex cast him a stricken look, holding on to the unusual charm he wore at his throat on a silver chain woven with a green cord.

“Never mind,” Alex said in a small voice, his eyes focused somewhere beyond Simon’s left ear. “I was being… silly. I can manage here. That’s fine.” He took a steadying breath and tried—but didn’t quite succeed—in meeting Simon’s eyes. “I need to be home for sunrise and sunset anyway. That’s hard to do this time of year when you’re riding a bicycle.”

“What is this thing about sunrise and sunset?” Simon asked, bemused. Then, with more focus: “And what is that necklace you’re wearing? It’s intriguing.”

For a moment Alex’s hand tightened protectively around the charm, and then, as Simon reached for it, his fingers relaxed, and Simon took the opportunity to move a little closer. Oh, Alex smelled good. He obviously used the employee showers before he changed, and Simon could smell deodorant and aftershave and… ooh. Something woodsy and natural. Pine? Cedar? And something dark too. Amber? Cinnamon? Oh wow. Whatever it was, it sent an electric pulse down Simon’s spine and made him want to press the smaller, slighter man up against the light post and devour him, starting at his neck.

Simon breathed in hard to control himself and then lifted the piece of jewelry with a fingertip.

That electric pulse zinging along Simon’s nerve endings doubled in charge and intensity, and the hair on the back of Simon’s neck and the fine hairs on his forearms and wrists lifted in response.

“Uhm…,” Simon said gruffly, trying to remember to breathe. “That’s a pentagram, isn’t it? But it’s been molded somehow so the points are lodged into the base, and there’s a… there’s a little symbol carved into the wood.”

“It’s a rune for friend,” Alex murmured. “And another one for protection. My roommate sort of made them for us. All of his friends. They’re sort of… a thing to keep us safe.”

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