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Authors: Cherie Noel

Tags: #Contemporary

Worth a Thousand Words (10 page)

BOOK: Worth a Thousand Words
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between them with a pleasantly robust alto tone. She smiled, causing her eyes to crinkle at the corners as she held the phone out to him. “Sure thing, sweetie. Is he as cute as you? Cause if you guys break up I know my nephew is looking for a new beau.”
Devon placed a hand over his heart. “No ma’am— we aren’t breaking up. Not if I can help it. My boyfriend— Dios mio—Adrien is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I have to get a costume for a party tonight to make things up to him. The argument, it was all my fault.” Devon shrugged with one shoulder as he pulled a business card for Down Under Leather from his wallet and dialed their number. After two rings, he got a deep, faintly southern voice on the other end of the line. They sadly were no longer making leather items, as the owner of the store had been in a devastating car accident, which left him unable to practice his craft any longer. The man at Down Under Leather suggested Devon try Middle Earth Leather, and though the leather worker at the second store was available to do custom orders, they had nothing like what Devon wanted stocked in their store.
Shit. Then he thought of the Disney store right here in the mall. Sure, they stocked kid’s stuff, but maybe they’d have an idea where he could go? Devon shrugged his shoulders, opened his door and reached in to shut off the now nameless Jeep, and got out. He glanced over in the direction of Andy’s car, and then decided he could do without Rose’s teasing for this one.
The women working at the Disney store had no idea where to send him, but one of the customers gave him a list of five places to look that came highly recommended. One of them was even in the mall. Devon jogged over to Hot Topic. They had some things he dearly wanted to see Adrien in, but there was nothing that would match the Maid Marian outfit. Devon decided to skip straight to the actual costumer on the list. An hour and forty-five minutes later, he left Dougherty’s Masquerade Store with an amazing Robin Hood costume and a serious love for the excellent customer service they gave. He and Adrien would be coming here again, whenever the Twinks had another costume shindig.

“Here you go, Adrien. I’d hate for you to get pizza stains on your dress. Even if you are kind of a dink about pineapple on pizza, it’s an awesome dress.” Missy smiled impishly at him, sticking out her tongue at the end.

Adrien laughed, accepting the frilly pink and white gingham checked apron. He knew good and well she’d gotten it for a part in a community theater play, as it was too girly for her. Slipping the neck strap over his head, he turned his back to Missy.

“Can you tie it in a big bow for me?”

She giggled at him, the sound high and sweet. The carefree, girlish sound made all the ribbing he’d take for both the apron and for the little girl’s Ren-Faire crown he’d borrowed from her completely worthwhile. Adrien waited until Missy finished tying the apron strings before turning quickly to wrap her up in a tight hug.

Pressing a kiss to her temple, he whispered to her. “Thanks, Princess.”

Markus called them both to the table, winking at Adrien as he did so. Benji was still grumbling, but with no real heat behind his statements, so Adrien didn’t worry that the siblings would get into one of their famous arguments. Benji even remembered to give Missy the biggest and the littlest pieces of the pizza. Nothing said you really loved your sibling like remembering which parts of the pizza they liked best. Adrien passed Markus’ wink along to Benji who relaxed at the old signal. The Rescue Twinks were ready and able to keep an eye on Missy and her new beau.

Markus looked up from his pizza suddenly, a startled expression on his darkly exotic face. “What—oh, snap. Adrien, I think your man left his phone. I picked it up back at your place to give to you and then I got distracted.”

Benji snorted. “Oh, that must have been when we drove by Gold’s Gym and he was drooling over all the hot guys lifting weights.”

Markus rolled his big eyes expressively. “Really Benji… there are impressionable young people at the table, and neither Missy nor Adrien is old enough to be hearing this sort of salacious gossip.”

Missy perked up in her seat. “Salacious? Really? Omg, that sounds exciting. No, no, by all means, big bro, do continue with your salacity. Please.”

Adrien stifled a snicker as Missy batted her lashes at her brother. Benji scowled and stopped speaking. Markus reached across the table, handing Adrien Devon’s phone just as it began to ring. He eyed the phone warily until Michael’s name and number came up. Then he flicked the phone open with a big smile.

“Hey Michael, what are you up to? I thought you were gonna go check on Andy and make sure he’s okay… how’s that going?”

Michael paused before he answered his voice full of deep southern drawl. “Hey back, Adrien. You okay, little elf?”

Wrinkling his nose up at the elf crack, Adrien replied. “I’m not an elf anymore, Michael. You know that. And you can’t reach Devon at this number right now… he, um… he left it at my place.”

Adrien stumbled a little over the last words, his voice catching as his throat suddenly clogged up. Michael paused again before releasing a deep sigh. “I know. I picked him up from Mrs. Simpson.”

Gulping at the thought of Catherine Marie Simpson getting her hands and her rapier sharp wits on Devon right after their fight, Adrien threw his free hand in the air. “Well, Crap-doodly. That just blows, Michael. Now she’ll probably trick him into becoming her patient or something.”

Absolute silence met his statement. Adrien glanced up to find Benji, Markus, and Missy eyeing him with lifted brows and openly questioning looks. Glaring first at the phone in his hand, and then at the three in front of him, he pointed to the pizza and then each of them in turn.

“Hold on a second, Michael. I need to go where I’ll have a bit of privacy.”

Then Adrien whirled around to stomp into the kitchen. He shoved the swinging door between the dining room and the kitchen open. The door bounced back, smacking into his foot. The shoes he’d picked out for the Maid Marian costume were pretty little boots, so all that was hurt this time was his pride. He flattened one hand against the door and pushed gently. Stepping through into the well-lit kitchen, Adrien allowed the door to swing shut behind him, sealing away the delicious, greasy pepperoni and melted cheese smell of his pizza dinner.

Michael’s voice barked at him over the line. “What was that noise? Are you okay?”
Adrien rolled his eyes. “Geez, Michael, chill. You know if I was actually hurt I’d let someone know. Don’t be an ass.”
Michael grunted back at him before switching from Cavemanese to actual modern human speech. “Right, I’m just a little nervous about this whole possible stalker thing. I mean, Adrien… if I didn’t know you I’d be tempted to stalk you after that little display, you know?”
Adrien’s face was going to burn right off. “Shut up, Michael.”
Low, rich laughter rolled out of the phone. “Sure thing, Adrien, I’m shutting up about that topic entirely. Hey, where are you at? I can swing by and pick up Devon’s phone and bring it back to him.” Adrien could envision the casual shrug Michael was no doubt giving, based on the other man’s tone of voice as he continued. “That way, if he wants to call to let you know exactly when he’s gonna get there tonight, he can.”
Taking two more steps into the huge kitchen that Missy and Benji’s mom never cooked in, Adrien eyed the brick, hardwood and marble Better Homes and Gardens expanse around him. He traced one finger over the black marble counter-top of the island in front of him. A tiny furl of warmth uncoiled in his center at Michael’s words. “He said he was gonna come?”
Snorting, Michael answered. “Oh, I’d call that one a definite yes. He practically threw me out of his car as soon as we got to where I needed. He said something about wanting to rush out and get a costume before he had to meet Dieterman to let the guy into his place. Tell me where you are, brat, and I’ll come get the phone to bring to him.”
Adrien smiled a little as he answered. “Okay, okay… and stop calling me a brat. I’m over at Benji’s folks place. Apparently the ‘rents left her on her own again to go to some society function, so we’re hanging out with her for a bit.”
Michael grunted again and this time the sound was lower. Adrien could tell by the tone that Michael didn’t think much of Missy and Benji’s folks.
“Well, aren’t they just nominees for best parents of the year. Eh, I’ll be there in fifteen, twenty minutes tops, alright?”
Adrien nodded, and then smacked his free hand against his forehead. “Uh, yeah, we just started eating, so waiting for you is no problem. There’s even a pineapple and ham pizza if you want to join us. You and Missy are the only two people I know who actually eat that crap willingly.”
Michael laughed, deep rolling sounds of mirth spilling from the phone. “I cannot believe you still get into such a twist about fruit being on pizza. I gotta hang up— I’m leaving the parking lot. Later.”
Adrien shook his head at the phone. Then, with a little smile, he programmed his number in as speed dial number one. Sure, Devon had him in his contacts before, but this way it would be easier, just hit one button and they’d be talking. Devon could reprogram the number to campus police as a different number. Adrien tossed the phone up, bobbled it, and then caught it to his chest. Okay, he’d probably better just go sit back down and eat. He ambled back into the dining room with a huge grin on his face.

Chapter Eleven

When Devon drove down his block looking for a spot to park, he couldn’t find a spot big enough to park a moped, let alone his Jeep. He ended up parking two streets over and walking back through the thick slush on the edge of the street, as most of the sidewalks weren’t cleared out. As he approached his apartment, he passed an old Buick with faded sky blue paint. The driver’s side door popped open, and Ronald Dieterman unfolded his lanky frame from behind the steering wheel.

“Hey, Sarge… you weren’t kidding when you said it’s freezing out up here.”

Dieterman’s eyes had huge dark circles around them and he was so thin his wrist and collar bones were easily visible where they stuck out of the too small coat he was wearing. He smiled at Devon, a blinding white flash of teeth that only served to increase the very left of center gleam in his eyes.

“Hey, Corporal. So, you’re up here to get help at the VA hospital here? I know they have a good neurology department, but wouldn’t Walter Reed have been closer to you there in Virginia?”

Dieterman nodded. “Yeah, Reed is closer to home. I just couldn’t do this there, though. My mama tries real hard to help, but, Sarge—I can’t stop hearing the explosions, you know? And, you know, after you saved my life that time, I guess I feel safer near you. I just needed to have you nearby to do this.”

Devon’s eyes grew hot. He cleared his throat. “Yeah, Dieterman, I hear you.” Clearing his throat, Devon held out his hand. When Dieterman grasped it, Devon pulled him into a tight hug, whispering in his ear. “It’ll be okay, man. I’ll be here for you.”

Dieterman smelled sour up close, like he hadn’t showered in days, and Devon had to tamp down a sudden sharp desire to smell Adrien, hold him closer than the comforting hug he held Dieterman in. He cursed himself yet again for forgetting his phone.

Dieterman pulled jerkily out of the hug. “Yeah, I know you will, Sarge.”
Devon looked closely at his former soldier, something in the man’s tone bothering him. Dieterman’s green eyes were fever bright, focused intently on Devon. He shook off the strange feeling of vulnerability attempting to overtake him.
“Come on, Corporal. Let’s get you in out of the cold.”
Dieterman sighed, the sound heavier than the occasion seemed to warrant. “That would be amazing, Sarge. Hey, I brought some of that chicory coffee you liked so much when my mom sent it. You want me to brew some up?”
Devon led the way up his walk, glancing back over his shoulder. The strange tension he’d been feeling in his old corporal’s presence eased at the mention of something so familiar between them.
“Yeah, I’d like that. I’ll show you where the brewing stuff is when we get inside. I have to grab a shower before I get ready to go out tonight.” Devon grinned as he hefted his bags from the costume shop.
Dieterman flicked a glance at the bags, and then his fiercely green eyes focused in on Devon again. “Sure, Sarge. That’ll be no problem. I’m just so thankful you could help me out with a place to stay and make time to get me all settled here. You really don’t know what that means to me.”
Devon’s heart skipped a beat in his chest. Aye Dios, Dieterman sounded so… lost. He felt fiercely glad he’d made time today to honor his promise to this young soldier. Okay, so Dieterman wasn’t his—or even a—soldier anymore, but he had been. As he fit his key to the lock, he smiled to himself. Once he made up with Adrien, he’d make sure to introduce Dieterman to his big hearted lover. Adrien was just—good, and somehow being around him was healing. Devon was convinced of this.
The lock clicked open, and the sweet scent of sage hit Devon from the two new plants that Adrien had gifted him with. He’d given Devon an aloe plant too, after Devon had burnt his arm while they were talking on the phone one day. Devon kept all three plants lined up on the back of his kitchen sink where they could catch some fleeting rays of sun during the height of midday. He really needed to get them a grow light.
After a quick pass through the kitchen to show Dieterman where everything was, as well as how to turn the futon couch into a futon bed, Devon hopped into the shower. When he walked out of the bathroom wearing naught but the scent of Drakkar and a plush green bath towel tucked tight about his hips, the rich scent of chicory laced coffee rolled up to meet him. The thick cloud of Drakkar scented steam pushing out of the bathroom behind him met up with the warm southern style coffee smell. Devon grinned to himself. Once Adrien had confessed to his very sexy, very visceral reaction to the scent, Devon ceased washing with any other cleansing product. Now, the two smells mixing together seemed very like paradise come to earth to him… if Adrien were close enough to put hands on. He stopped in the bathroom door to grab the actual cologne bottle and splash a touch more scent onto his skin.
Tonight especially, as he sought to win Adrien’s favor after his heinous mistakes earlier in the day, Devon was taking advantage of every possible mark in his favor. If a little Drakkar did it for his man, he’d bathe in the stuff until he was a wizened old man.
Dieterman wrinkled up his nose. “What the hell did you do, Sarge, bathe in the stuff? Must be a pretty hot date…”
Devon grinned. “Yeah, actually I did. Heh. And then I splashed some of the cologne on.” He rubbed his foot along the blue stripe on the multicolored hallway runner Adrien had convinced him to buy. “My new guy really loves the stuff.”
Dieterman made a low sound, and then cleared his throat. “Here’s your coffee, Sarge. Two creams, four sugars, just like you like it.”
Devon smiled. He had taken his coffee that way back when Dieterman was still in the unit. “Yeah, Corporal, that’s perfect.”
Dieterman watched him intently, sipping slowly from his own cup. Devon slammed about half the cup back before he started to feel woozy. He shook his head, lifting one hand to press it against his suddenly aching head.
“Hey, I doan feel too good. Dieterman, you better…”
The room rippled around Devon, but Dieterman’s gaze remained fixed on him. Intent, knowing and—
“Shit. What the fuck, Corporal?”
Those were the last coherent words Devon spoke for hours. A wave of blackness swept over him, and he could swear that Dieterman called him “love” as the young corporal caught him and lowered him to the floor. When his eyelids fluttered open again Devon found himself tied to his own bed. A shiny tray filled ominously with what looked like surgical implements and a drill sat on the edge of his dresser. In the distance he could hear Rose talking to Dieterman.
Rose sounded light, completely unaware of the dangerous territory he was skirting. “Hey, man, how you been? I haven’t heard from you since they rushed you out on the medical transport. We missed you, Diets’. Samms still calls me up sometimes to see if I’ve got the scoop on where you ended up. Huh? What the fuck Dieterman, I just—” There was a rough cry, and a meaty thudding sound before silence. Devon raged, every muscle in his body trying to tense at once as he realized Dieterman must have just clobbered Rose with something.
Hot and sour, bile burned up the back of his throat. Devon screamed inside his head, but his body remained lax within the actual physical restraints holding him on the bed. A whimpering sound escaped him, and the bedroom door opened. Dieterman hurried over to him, turning him onto his side as the bile spilled into his mouth and out onto the bed’s formerly pristine sheets.
Dieterman grunted. “Oh, no, no, no that will never do—it’s not sterile at all. I read up, Sarge, just like you said to. We just need to let your brain breathe a little more, and you’ll understand like I do.” Dieterman turned then, pulling off the cap he’d been wearing since Devon had first seen him. A bloody hole just above his left temple gaped at Devon.
The former corporal smiled a disturbingly gentle smile at Devon. “Shhh. It’s okay, Sarge. You can’t move because I gave you Rohypnol. I studied up, really Sarge. You don’t gotta worry. And I practiced on me first. Don’t you worry about this, okay? I’ll bring your buddy in here and show you on him first. That way you don’t have to be nervous. You’ll see I know what I’m doing. Wait, I’ll get you cleaned up, and I’ll show you. Let me bring him in here, and then I’ll get you cleaned up real nice.”
Dieterman smiled, and staring into the oddly empty eyes before him, Devon started to scream in silence again. Dieterman left the room, and then a few moments later returned with Rose slung over his skeletal shoulder. As Dieterman turned, Devon saw Rose slip a hand stealthily into his jacket pocket for some unknown reason. Rose blinked his eyes, fast, slow, fast, and suddenly Devon knew his friend had found some method of calling for help. Hope rose in his chest, a warm light feeling that made him think they might make it out of this after all.

BOOK: Worth a Thousand Words
8.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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