This excerpt takes place when Birch and Henri have some down time at the safe house.
C’mon, Birch. How about it?” asked Henri.
It was midmorning, and Birch sat on the back porch, watching Henri rest his back against a support beam, one bare foot on the ground and the other on the porch, as he changed the settings on his camera. His loose hair created a curtain around his downward-tilted face.
Birch smiled at Henri’s persistence. “No.”
Henri’s long fingers manipulated settings, clicking and twirling. Mesmerized by the movements, Birch watched as they left the camera and moved up to tuck hair behind a small ear. When Henri raised his head and lifted the camera to look through the lens, the way his hair was tucked gave him an appearance of freshness. The stirring low in Birch’s gut caused him to avert his gaze, but it went straight back to Henri as if he had no control over his eyes. He couldn’t seem to keep his attention away from him.
Being confined to the house and backyard would have bored him silly if it wasn’t for Henri’s presence. Being around him sparked a sense of exhilaration, and on occasions when he could draw it out, Henri had a sense of humour Birch enjoyed tremendously.
He heard a soft click that he hadn’t heard previously. “Did you just take a picture of the ground?” asked Birch.
“Huh?” Henri’s face scrunched slightly. “Why would I do that?” He turned the camera over, the lens pointing at the sky, and there was another soft click. There was another as Henri turned the camera so he was looking down the barrel of the lens.
“What’s the clicking?”
“I’m just changing the f-stop.” He pointed the camera towards a tree in the back of the yard, and there was a rapid series of clicks. He looked at the screen and mumbled, “Still too bright.”
“Perhaps you should wait until dark, then,” Birch teased.
“Come on, Birch,” Henri coaxed. “What else is there to do?”
“Well, if I agree to be your subject, do I get to ride you?”
Henri froze. His eyes widened. “What?”
Birch snorted. “That wasn’t what I meant. I wasn’t thinking about that.” Which wasn’t entirely true. Lately, Henri’s presence always brought the topic of sex to the forefront of his mind. “I was comparing your job to mine.”
Henri’s surprise slid into a wicked grin. “I’m not an easy ride.” He continued to play with the f-stop, turning the camera this way and that as he altered settings.
“It’s been a long while since I’ve been bucked off.” Birch struggled to restrain his smirk but then gave in.
“Bucked off or s…. Never mind. Forget that. Will you be my subject?”
Birch pretended he didn’t know what Henri had been going to say. “What do I have to do?”
“Just sit and look fabulous.”
Birch raised a teasing eyebrow. “So I don’t have to do anything?”
“No.” Henri smirked.
He leaned forward in his chair. “Okay then.”
“Excellent! Thanks.” Henri rose and began walking away.
“The offer only lasts two minutes.”
“S’okay. We’re done.”
“What do…?” Birch sighed in acknowledgement of his gullibility and sat back in his chair. “The f-stop doesn’t make that clicking sound, does it?”
Henri chuckled as he opened the door. He stopped and looked over his shoulder. “Nope.”
“Am I going to have trust issues with you, Henri?”
The way Henri’s face blanked for a moment made Birch consider what he’d said. He’d just begun to worry he’d poked a sore spot when Henri’s soft, warm smile flooded through Birch like the shimmer of a heat wave. It came as a reminder not to tiptoe around him.
A spark of mischief came into Henri’s eyes, and the low tone of his voice went straight to Birch’s groin. “Only when I want to take pictures of you.”
Oh Jesus. Now wasn’t that an image?
“Flirt,” accused Birch.
Henri laughed and went inside, leaving Birch to contemplate the pictures of Henri he wouldn’t mind having.
Check out The Devil’s Breath today!
Henri’s stalker has left him with a paradoxical legacy: his mind rebels at the thought of being touched—the very thing his body craves.
For three years Henri has fought to overcome the horrors of the past. Now on the other side of the world—after leaving Australia for Canada—Henri’s nemesis is hunting him with maniacal focus. Trying to escape, he meets Birch, a kind horse trainer, who’s confounded by Henri’s idiosyncrasies even as he is drawn to him. But when Birch discovers the truth, he encourages Henri not to just survive, but to live.
Maybe even to love.
A. Nybo has tried conventional methods (a psych degree and a GC in Forensic Mental Health) but far prefers the less conventional, such as the occasional barbecue in the rain, four-hundred-kilometer drives at 1:00 a.m. for chocolate, and multiple emergency naps in any given twenty-four-hour period.
Western Australian born, she has been spotted on the other side of the planet several times—usually by mosquitoes. She’s also discovered Amazonian mosquitoes love her just as much as they do in her home state.