Want to know what you’re getting when you 1-Click on THE FIXER? Scroll down for a First Chapter excerpt!
Gay Romance, Suspense, Erotic Romance, Lawless, May/Dec
Word Count: 42,500
Heat Level: 4
Published By: Evernight Publishing
Scroll down for an excerpt.
When Zero Graham wakes up in the hospital, he has only one thing on his mind: revenge on the mastermind who shot him and trashed his home. He’s the best fixer in the business, and that means he has a reputation to uphold.
Julian Amon doesn’t want to check up on his mother’s patient, but he can’t say no to her, and he finds the older man intriguingly hot. His decision to tag along when Zero checks himself out of the hospital borders on crazy, but the older man interests him, and Julian has always enjoyed a good mystery.
Zero doesn’t want or need a babysitter, but Julian’s physical competence and lack of fear push all of his buttons in exactly the right way. Violence is his kink, and the younger man doesn’t seem to mind the scent of blood, but will Julian be able to handle the pressure when Zero closes in on his enemy?
First Chapter Excerpt:
Some big motherfucker was sitting on Zeke Graham’s chest, and he didn’t like it one bit. He opened his strangely groggy eyes, about to use his considerable strength to shove the fucker onto the floor, when he realized that he couldn’t move his arms. Or breathe on his own. A horrible tube stretched from his lips down into his throat, hurting his esophagus. He couldn’t swallow. Beeping sounds from his left pierced his skull, setting off a headache worse than any he’d ever had before.
“Zero? Can you hear me? Try and relax. You’re in the hospital, and you’re on a ventilator. Don’t fight it. You’re waking up from surgery,” a female voice said. Something cool touched his arm.
Zeke, known to most everyone as Zero, struggled to order his thoughts, but everything seemed to float away from him before he could make sense of it. He tried to turn his head, but the room he was in was dim and blurry, and he couldn’t see much. He tried again to lift his arms, but he couldn’t move at all. His limbs felt like they’d been squashed underwater, and the sound of the machine breathing for him freaked him the fuck out, not that he’d show it. He counted to ten in his head. In his experience, counting slowly did more to calm him down than any fancy meditation exercise. And given his shit luck for most of his life, he needed something to keep himself from flying off the handle every other day.
“Okay, try and cough as we pull out the tubing. On three,” the voice said.
Zero counted silently as the woman counted aloud.
“One, two, and three.” She smoothly pulled the tube out of his throat.
Zero choked, then gasped as a searing pain in his chest made his headache seem like a joke. “God,” he croaked, but no sound came out.
“Easy. Your throat is still trying to figure out how to work,” the woman said, easing an ice chip between his teeth.
Nausea swept through Zero, and he frowned, clenching his teeth. The ice chip cracked in half, then melted. “Sick,” he managed to whisper.
“It’s from the anesthesia. Hang on, and we’ll get you something for that. We don’t want you vomiting with that chest wound,” the nurse said.
Zero concentrated on lying perfectly still. He must have dozed or something, because when he opened his eyes again, something burned in his arm.
“That’s the Zofran. It should help with the nausea,” a male voice said. “As soon as it kicks in, you’ll feel better.”
Somehow, Zero knew that he should be more worried about what was going on, but he couldn’t seem to focus. He closed his eyes, and drifted off. A long time later, he woke up again. The pain in his throat was better, and he could see clearly. He was in a hospital bed, in a room with a window on his right. A row of what looked like cloth cells stretched down the left-hand side of the antiseptic space and around the perimeter of the room.
“Hello there.” A male nurse bustled into his room, pushing back the curtain. “I see you’re awake. Can you tell me your name?”
Zero licked dry lips. “Zero. Zeke to my dead mother.”
“Excellent.” The man nodded, eyes on the monitor above his bed. “You’re awake, and your vitals are stable, so we’ll be taking you to your room, now.” The man turned to Zero and smiled. “How are you feeling?”
“Like a truck sat on me.” Zero tried to lift his arms, and was happy to find that they worked. Sort of. He hadn’t liked being so drugged that he couldn’t control his body. Nearly all his life, he’d had no one to depend on but himself, and he hadn’t been this vulnerable since he was a kid. He needed to be able to defend himself if necessary. “Like shit.” He tried clearing his throat, but the pain in his chest put a quick end to that action. He concentrated on breathing, counting in his head until he felt a bit calmer.
The nurse nodded. “I know you feel like crap right now, but believe me, you came through major surgery better than I’ve seen most people.” His gaze flicked down Zero’s body. “It’s a good thing you’re in excellent shape.”
Zero wanted to snort, but he had a feeling it would hurt like hell. “What did they do?” He hadn’t expected to feel so bad after surgery. He’d thought the bullet had simply slipped through his body, no biggie. He knew he had an exit wound on his back.
“You had your lung reinflated, and a fragment of a bullet removed. Apparently, a tiny piece had lodged up against one of your ribs. You’re a very lucky man.” The nurse began to unpeel the stickers and leads stuck to Zero’s “Your heart is strong though, so there’s that.”
“How long?” Zero struggled to make his mouth work. He really needed a drink, but he had a feeling that was off the table for a while.
“How long what? How long were you under? Several hours.” The nurse bundled up the EKG wires and shoved them into the cabinet under the machine.
“No.” Zeke clenched his teeth in frustration, then tried again. “How long before I can get out of here?”
“It’ll be a few days.” The nurse smiled. “Depends on how quickly you can be up and walking around. As soon as you can use the toilet by yourself, you’ll be good to go.” He undid the blood pressure cuff. “They took the catheter out while you were still under, so that’s good. As soon as you start to feel like you have to use the toilet, just let your nurse know and they’ll help you get there.”
“You’re not my nurse?” Zero swallowed again, wincing at the soreness in his throat.
“No, I work on the recovery ward. I’ll be helping you down to your room, and that’s it.”
Zero nodded, and let his eyes close again. Where the hell is Felix? And Ariana? he wondered. He’d been helping his friend out, protecting Jenna, the sister of Felix’s boyfriend, Nick, and then all hell had broken loose. That little prick Quincy Edwards had busted into Zero’s warehouse bunker, probably with the help of both intel and men from his mobster uncle. Zero had taken a shot to the chest, and Jenna had died. He grimaced. The girl had been a sweet thing, and she certainly didn’t deserve to lose her life like that. He might’ve died, too, if Felix and Nick hadn’t shown up in time to call Ariana, his doctor on call. She was another one of his favors. He’d helped her out with a problem years ago, and she owed him a house call. She’d shown up, no questions asked, thank God. He’d been in the service with her husband, too, so the connections with her family were tight. He grimaced. He didn’t like to call in the favor, but it was a good thing he knew her.
“Ok, there, Mr. Zero, hang on and we’ll wheel you down.”
“Please, it’s just Zero,” he said as he opened his eyes to find out that a hospital aide and a new nurse had appeared out of nowhere. A frisson of fear shot through him as he took in their unfamiliar faces. Hell. I’m really out of it. I’m going to bite it if I don’t get my shit together. He couldn’t afford to be drifting in and out of life like this. He had enemies. He had a business to run. Contracts to place, and goods to sell. He wasn’t used to being so weak. It wasn’t safe.
“So, what do you do for a living?” the nurse asked. Her cheerful demeanor told Zero she didn’t mean anything by her question. She unlocked the wheels on the bed and nodded to the aide. The man pushed gently, and the bed began to roll toward the double doors at the end of the ward. “Are you a cop?”
A cop? Amusement rushed through Zero. She’s just making small talk, he told himself so his mind wouldn’t go zooming off into what-ifs. He had no capacity to plan for an exit right now, so he needed to make do with the situation as it was. “Not a cop. What would you say if I told you I was a fence?” he asked, smiling slightly. He flexed his fingers and toes, gratified to feel the weird, groggy tingling recede. The more awake he became, the better he felt about his situation. He could think again, which was what had bothered him more than anything else. Pain he could handle. Not having his brain work was a disaster he couldn’t bear to contemplate.
“You like to tell tales, don’t you?” The woman laughed, and her braids bobbed as she smiled down at him. “Since you’re not a policeman, I thought you’d say you were a bouncer. You look like you could bench press a horse.” She guided the bed down the hall. “Next you’ll be telling me that you’re a world-famous assassin, or a spy, like James Bond.”
No, being a contract killer is my best friend Felix’s job. Zero smiled wider, despite the pain starting to bleed through the fading anesthesia. “I did work as a bouncer once, my dear.” If he’d been feeling better, he’d flirt a little. The ladies enjoyed it, and somehow, they always knew he didn’t mean anything serious with it. “And I can mix a delightful martini.”
“You’re a sweet talker, aren’t you?” The nurse grinned as she punched the button for the elevator. Her dark skin gleamed even in the harsh hospital light, and Zero suddenly wished he had his camera. He liked taking pictures of people.
Everyone should have a hobby, he mused, thinking about how he’d light her face. Of course, the handsome male aide silently pushing the bed from behind was more his type, but Zero wasn’t one to discriminate when it came to art.
“I’m Jacinda. You just lie back and enjoy the ride,” the nurse said.
Zero nodded, frowning when the last remnants of the anesthesia made him dizzy. “Will I have a private room?” he asked as they wheeled him into the empty elevator.
Jacinda looked at him in surprise. “Of course. Doctor Amon arranged everything for you. I thought you knew. They told me you were conscious when you came in for treatment.” The elevator binged, and the doors opened. They pushed his bed out.
“I am still waking up,” Zero said, wondering if Ariana would make an appearance at his bedside. It would probably be better for her if she didn’t. He made a mental note to call her and make sure she stayed far away. If Felix had completed matters like he’d expected, that disgusting twit Quincy would be dead by now, and his uncle, Robert Edwards, would be out for blood. Zero didn’t want Ariana getting caught in the crossfire when he eliminated the man. He wasn’t keen on anyone breaking into his home. Not only was it bad for business, he also had a reputation to maintain.
“Ah, it looks like you have visitors already,” Jacinda said, pushing him into a room. She arranged the bed near a bank of monitors on the wall, then locked the wheels. The aide helping her wandered out, and Jacinda busied herself with letting down the side rail of the bed nearest the bathroom. “Whenever you feel up to it, just push this button and I’ll help you to the bathroom.”
“Of course,” Zero said, and she patted his arm before heading out of the room. He turned his attention to the two men waiting by the window. “How interesting. I thought the two of you would be too busy to come check up on me.” His voice still had a hint of rasp to it, but he made an effort to speak clearly. He didn’t want anyone to know how weak he felt, even his friends. Felix scowled at his words, and Nick frowned. Zero sensed their exhaustion, even through his own post-surgical weariness.
“We’ve completed our business,” Felix said, not elaborating.
Judging from the shadows under Nick’s eyes, Zero knew precisely what that business had been. Quincy Edwards was dead. “Heading west, then?” He thought briefly about apologizing, but the two men already knew how deeply regretful he felt about Jenna’s death. Nick looked like a man floundering on the edge of drowning, and didn’t need to rehash the circumstances of his sister’s death.
“Yes. I don’t really want to stick around,” Nick said, rubbing his eyes. “Especially since Felix won’t let me go after Quincy’s uncle.”
“Felix knows that villain is my problem to solve,” Zero said softly.
“Even though he helped his nephew kill my sister?” Nick demanded angrily. He took a step forward, but then stopped when Felix put a hand on his arm.
Zero sighed, and the pain in his chest reminded him that he wasn’t up to hunting anyone at the moment, damn it all to hell. Patience, he told himself. “Even so. He invaded my home. He is my responsibility. I don’t take kindly to men breaking into my sanctuary. Clearly, he wanted me dead because I would not work for him. Vindictive bastard.”
Felix nodded. “We understand.”
Zero knew his friend Felix truly did get it. He wasn’t so certain about his friend’s new boyfriend. “I promise that he will not enjoy my justice, dear Nick.”
Nick glared at him, then shrugged off Felix’s arm. “I don’t have the resources to do what needs to be done, despite my skills. I’d need your help anyway. I’m a thief, not a killer.” He started pacing at the foot of the bed.
Zero watched him for a moment, feeling the exhaustion from his surgery dragging at his limbs. “You need rest, and to grieve. I will properly dispose of the criminal, and we will all live happily ever after, yes?” He hoped Nick took the hint. The only thing Zero wanted right now was to sleep some more, and maybe take a piss.
Felix, inscrutable as always, leaned back against the windowsill. “Nick. Let it go. Zero will do what he said.”
“Fuck, Felix—” Nick began, but Zero cut him off.
“It is regrettable, what happened to your sister. I will tie up all the loose ends as soon as I am on my feet. Do not fret over it. You know my word is good, and that is precisely why I will handle the situation. My reputation is my business.” Zero pushed the button on the side rail, elevating the bed a bit more. He needed to face Nick properly, so the man could see his intention on his face. “We’ve worked well together for several years, haven’t we? We have made a great deal of money.”
Nick stopped pacing and stood in the center of the room, hands clenched into fists. “Yes.”
“Then trust that I will take care of it,” Zero said. He glanced at Felix. “You’ve explained to him how we met, correct?” He still remembered that day vividly. He’d been barely fourteen, an early freshman in his new high school. The bleachers had stretched above his head like prison bars. The boys holding him down thought it would be funny to rape a “fucking faggot”, as they liked to call him. Felix, a senior at the same school, had discovered the boys assaulting Zero, and used his fists to convince them that it was a very bad idea. Since then, Zero’s loyalty to Felix for saving him from a brutal had never wavered, and he wasn’t about to let the man down now, despite the recent debacle.
“Good. Then you understand that I keep my word.”
Nick shoved his hands into his pockets. “You didn’t keep Jenna safe, though, did you?”
Zero would have liked to shake some sense into Nick, but he didn’t have the energy for it right now. And, too, the man was clearly grieving deeply. “You know what happened, and you know how deeply I am sorry for her loss,” he merely said. He couldn’t have predicted that fucking Robert Edwards would give his nephew the manpower to break into Zero’s warehouse, especially not when the older Edwards wanted his nephew dead. He cocked his head, thinking about the situation. “I believe that Edwards was simply trying to ensure his nephew’s death, above and beyond the contract that he took out on the boy. What better way to do that than to break into my home? Though very few people know where I lived, everyone knows how I feel about threats against me and mine. He would know that I’d retaliate swiftly. Even better if I died during the process. The elder Edwards has never liked my independence, and I would never work for him directly.”
“Edwards didn’t pay up yet, I noticed,” Felix murmured.
Zero nearly smiled at his old friend’s single-minded thought process, but held back when he looked at Nick again. The poor man was doing his best to hold it together, but he had a way to go before his grief over his sister’s loss ran its course. “I will check into the situation tomorrow,” Zero merely said.
“You still expect him to pay for the contract he put out on his nephew’s head, after all that happened?” Nick asked.
“But of course,” Zero said, surprised that such an experienced thief would need an explanation. “Business is business. The circumstances of the kill do not invalidate the matter of Quincy’s death. Felix is owed his money for the job. If Edwards does not pay, the contract will be declared void, and Edwards’ ability to do business will be damaged. He dare not risk it.” Zero reached up and rubbed his face. He was beginning to feel a lot more pain. He glanced at the nurse’s button, then decided against calling her. Pain never killed anyone. Spiraling down into a hole of opioid medication could very well mean his end. He had no intention of becoming addicted to any substance. He would endure, and he would heal, as he had so many other times in his life.
“You act as though Edwards will be able to continue doing business at all. Dead men don’t get to fucking do business, Zero,” Nick bit out.
At that, Zero had to let his smile out. He knew he didn’t look healthy, or happy, and that the smile was more of a baring of teeth than anything else. “I want him to suffer before he dies, Nick.” He looked at his old friend, Felix, and saw understanding in his expression. “And for him to suffer, he needs to not quite understand what is coming for him.”