Writhe by Charity Parkerson

One

July in New Orleanswas no joke. Dustin had grown up here. Still, he never got used to the humidity. Sweat poured down his body. No matter how much water he drank, he never felt hydrated. Even the darkness didn’t bring relief. It was a good thing he lived in an old house in the middle of nowhere. There wasn’t a chance in hell of him looking like anything but a swamp monster in this heat. While he wasn’t a vain guy, he still wouldn’t be caught dead in public with his clothes completely soaked in sweat. No one wanted to see his ass crack sweating through his jeans.

A small smile tugged at his lips. It was nighttime and in the middle of nowhere. Dustin could strip naked and sit on his porch swing. No one would know. At the thought, Dustin did just that. He laughed as he tossed every piece of clothing he wore toward the front door. This was exactly why Dustin had moved back out here. He craved solitude and the freedom this place gave him. Dustin plopped down on the swing and set it in motion. It felt so much better outside now. A slight breeze whipped through the porch and dried the sweat on his skin. Dustin tilted his chin up and closed his eyes, savoring the moment. He needed the little things. Dustin was relearning how to be happy.

Six months ago, Dustin hadn’t known how to relax. His six-figure job with an investment firm and high-maintenance wife had demanded every ounce of him. Then Dustin had caught his wife fucking his boss and everything changed. Now he was divorced and free. Dustin cashed in every asset he possessed and moved into his grandparents’ old house in the middle of nowhere. It was a life completely opposite to everything he had known since he graduated college. Dustin had been a slave to station and expectations for too many years. Now he wanted life to be quiet. It hurt less that way.

He swore fingers brushed through his hair. “Dustin.”

Dustin’s head shot up and his eyes flew open at the whisper. His gaze shot in every direction. There was no one. Dustin shook his head. He wondered if he had dozed off for a second. Dustin checked the time. It was almost midnight. He pushed to his feet and padded over to grab his clothes. It was no wonder he fell asleep or heard things. He had been up since six a.m., unpacking boxes and cleaning up the brush around the outside of the house. Dustin was dirty and tired. He needed a shower and sleep.

As he stepped inside, Dustin dropped his clothes by the door and then locked the front door behind him. A sense of peace and pride built inside him as his gaze skirted the room. The place was an open design with all wood flooring. Everything was on one level, and he could see into each room from the front door. Even though the house was over a hundred years old, Dustin had updated everything. His high efficiency refrigerator had a light in the ice maker that looked just like a nightlight in the otherwise dark kitchen. A lamp in the living room also kept the place from being completely plunged into darkness. Shadows seemed to move sometimes, catching Dustin off guard. He wasn’t used to the absolute darkness of country living anymore. The frogs and crickets kept the silence at bay, but not by much. Dustin had gotten used to streetlights and traffic over the past fifteen years. This house was isolated from the world. At night, it felt doubly secluded. He didn’t recall feeling that way as a child, but life had changed, and the house had sat empty for too long. Dustin wasn’t used to being alone. He had to push that final bit from his mind. Things were better this way.

Dustin shook off the feeling of the darkness watching him and headed for the bathroom inside his bedroom. Since Dustin had a tankless water heater installed before he moved in, it took a little longer for the water to heat. He stared at his reflection in the full-length mirror while he waited. At thirty-five, life had caught up with him more than he liked. He had always thought of himself as being just average, but the stress of the divorce had him looking ragged as hell. There were dark smudges beneath his hazel eyes. His curly blond hair had gotten shaggier than usual. He kind of liked it that way. To be honest, despite his less than perfect appearance, he liked himself better now. His ex-wife, Amanda, had been his high-school sweetheart. They had drifted apart the last few years. It had almost been a relief when he caught her with Christian. But their divorce had been like most, ugly as hell. Now he felt changed in some way he couldn’t explain. He had worked for years to give Amanda everything she wanted, but it hadn’t been enough. Dustin didn’t know how to go back to feeling like he was enough for anyone now. Still, without her and the job that had been slowly killing him, Dustin finally felt at peace. He brushed and flossed, trying not to think about the past. Dustin wanted to go straight to bed after his shower and keep putting days between the past and himself. This was the life he wanted now.

Something stirred in the corner of Dustin’s vision in the mirror’s reflection. Dustin spun. Nothing was there. He turned back and that corner of the mirror slowly fogged. Dustin shook his head. He was such a dumbass, letting the mirror steaming over scare him. Obviously, the water had heated while he had been distracted. Dustin blew off his uneasiness and climbed into the shower.

Hot water poured down Dustin’s body. He laughed at his ridiculousness as he shampooed his hair. The change of scenery messed with him more than he expected. He had known the place would be quiet. Dustin hadn’t expected the isolation would have him jumping at every tiny thing. He got clean while trying not to think too much about it. One thing Dustin noticed in the two weeks he had been living here was he could easily spook himself. This was such an old house. It was easy to think of it as haunted. The floors creaked and doors opened with no one there. Drafts pulled them closed again. Even though he didn’t believe in ghosts, he had to admit this place could be a little creepy at night.

Once clean, Dustin stepped from the shower and dried his body. He tossed his towel in the hamper and then headed for the living room to grab the clothes he had left by the door. They were gone. Dustin retraced his steps again. The clothes were in the hamper. Dustin moved back to the living room and stared at the spot where he had dropped the clothes earlier. He had left the clothes right here, right? There was a long, fluffy-looking white feather on the floor. Dustin bent and picked it up. The moment his fingers touched the feather, a sense of peace washed over him. Dustin was being weird again. He was so tired. Dustin had already dozed off outside. Of course, he had carried the clothes to the hamper and forgotten. It wasn’t like anyone else could have done it.

Dustin stared at the feather he held as he headed for bed. He wondered where it came from. As far as he had seen, there weren’t any swans or geese or anything like that around. The feather almost had a shimmer to it—like it had been doused in glitter. It was pretty. Dustin had never seen one like it. He set it on the nightstand by the bed. His gaze never wavered from it as he slipped between the covers nude. He stared at the feather until his eyelids grew heavy. As his eyes fell closed, an odd thought overcame him. Maybe he had an angel watching over him.

* * *

For two weeks, Michael watched Dustin pad around the house, looking for ways to keep busy. Even if Michael couldn’t hear Dustin’s thoughts, he would know the guy was used to working all day. Dustin desperately wanted this quiet life. He simply didn’t know how to be at peace. His mind was too loud. Michael couldn’t get enough of watching him, hearing him, and trying to help. He recalled exactly how he had felt when he had been exiled. Dustin could leave. Michael couldn’t. He would pray for his only slice of human interaction to stay forever, but Michael knew better. The only person who might hear his prayers was the same person who had banished him to this prison with no bars. Watching Dustin now, he understood why Celeste had done it. Michael couldn’t control the hunger.

Angels weren’t supposed to interact. Not the way Michael wanted. They were silent protectors. Warriors for the heavens. Michael looked at humans and he wanted what they had: freedom. He wanted the scent of carnival food, the sun beating on his face, and the shaky feeling in his stomach from a roller coaster. Michael wanted the sand between his toes and soft kisses on his lips. He was a glutton for life. Dustin reminded him of all those things.

Part of Michael recognized Celeste had likely sent Dustin to him as a test. If he touched him, Dustin might disappear, and Michael would get another thousand years of exile. It was worth it. He snagged the corner of Dustin’s blanket and tugged, working it down Dustin’s body. Dustin rolled onto his back and covered his eyes with his arm. Michael froze, waiting him out. While Dustin couldn’t see Michael unless Michael let him; he still needed Dustin asleep. Otherwise, Dustin might run away. Michael wasn’t ready to go back to being alone yet.

Dustin didn’t move. Michael went back to slowly dragging the covers away until he had Dustin’s entire body exposed. Yum. Like all humans, Dustin was perfect in Michael’s eyes. He was a work of art. His heart had been slightly damaged from the stress of a cheating spouse. If left untreated, he would develop an arrhythmia, shortening his life. He also had an ulcer and arthritis in his knees. Michael set his hand on Dustin’s thigh and healed him. Even if Celeste took him away, Michael needed to know Dustin was okay. He would live a long life.

With Dustin healed, the warm skin beneath his palm caught and held Michael’s attention. It had been so long since he had touched anyone. He couldn’t move his hand away. Dustin’s full lips parted. He sighed. The sound stirred Michael’s cock. Before he could stop himself, he dove into Dustin’s dreams. They were disjointed. He was flying, but the scenery kept changing—like Dustin couldn’t focus on what sight he wanted to see most, so everything was a blur. Michael wrapped his arms around Dustin mid-flight, slowing things down. He showed Dustin the whales playing in the ocean. From there, he jumped to the desert, showing Dustin how even the barren nothingness could be beautiful. They flew to the seven wonders of the world and saw every continent. Finally, they landed in Michael’s favorite spot. The grassy knolls of Ireland where leprechauns hid. Color surrounded them. Blue, purple, orange, and green. The place looked like a living rainbow.

Dustin looked around with wonder written on his face. Finally, his gaze landed on Michael. “Am I dead?”

A smile pulled at Michael’s lips. “No. You’re dreaming.”

Dustin’s gaze shifted to Michael’s wings. “I found a feather earlier. Was it yours?”

Michael nodded. “I’m sorry if I scared you. You were so tired. I thought I would make things easier by picking up your clothes.”

Dustin’s hand lifted. He paused. His gorgeous gaze met Michael’s. “Is it okay if I touch them?”

Michael turned slightly, giving Dustin easier access to his wings. “It’s your dream.”

When Dustin caressed his wings, Michael ground his back teeth, fighting a moan. Dustin had no idea what he did to Michael. Being stroked was ecstasy. Being alone was madness. He longed for more of Dustin.

“You’re beautiful.”

At Dustin’s compliment, Michael’s gaze shot to his. “You are too.”

Dustin blushed. “I don’t think I’ve ever had another man say that to me.”

“I’m not a man. I’m an angel. Does that bother you, though? Having another man compliment you, I mean.”

For a moment, Dustin seemed to think it over. Finally, he shook his head. “It’s nice. I don’t think anyone has said anything kind to me in years. I’ll take what I can get.” The smile that accompanied that confession had Michael biting back another moan.

“Maybe don’t look at it like that.”

Dustin’s eyebrows rose at the suggestion. “How should I look at it, then?”

Michael inched closer, invading Dustin’s space a little more. “Think of how a man could pleasure you. A man would know all the hot spots because he has them too.”

They held each other’s stare. Dustin didn’t back down. “I thought you weren’t a man.”

A smile that felt evil even to Michael stretched his lips. “I didn’t say we were talking about me, but I’m glad to know I’m who you pictured, and you’re right. The things I could do for you would blow even your wildest fantasies away. You’d never want anyone else ever again.”

The edges of Dustin’s dream darkened, and Michael knew their time was ending.

Dustin cast a desperate look around, as if he knew it too. His gaze shot back to Michael’s. “Tell me your name.”

Before Michael responded, Dustin sat up in bed, blinking. Michael stayed hidden, watching. Dustin’s gaze landed on Michael. Michael’s lips parted. He swore Dustin could see him. The hairs on Michael’s arms stood. Then it was over. Dustin gathered his blankets and settled down again. Michael released the breath he hadn’t known he had been holding. They would see each other again. Consequences be damned.