Close Quarter – Anna Zabo
On a transatlantic cruise to New York, sculptor Rhys Matherton struggles to piece his life back together after losing his mother, inheriting a fortune, and finding out his father isn’t his father after all. He spills a tray of drinks on a handsome stranger, then he finds himself up against a wall getting the best hand-job he’s ever had. And for the first time in his life, he feels whole.
Rhys enjoys the company of Silas Quint, but for the eerie way no one pays attention to them even while they kiss in a crowded bar. Silas explains he’s a forest fae able to glamor the room around them—and more importantly, that he’s on the cruise to hunt vampires. Rhys thinks Silas is full of it, until he discovers vampires are real, and he’s part of their main course.
Silas Quint can’t be distracted by a human lover, even one as lovely as Rhys. Stuck in the middle of the ocean, he has barely enough of energy to hunt the vampires he’s been sent to destroy. Rhys is full of the one thing Silas needs needs most—the element of living plants. Only sucking energy from Rhys would make Silas as soulless as the creatures he hunts. How can he keep Rhys safe, without becoming like the very monsters he hunts?
Ms Zabo writes incredibly detailed scenes with a creativity that leaves you breathless. Of course, the marvellously vivid sex scenes paint a picture of pure lust and emotional longing and are scattered through the book like lust bullets to your groin. Hot, sexy and definitely satisfying.
So yes, I was thinking, good story, nothing out of ordinary. And then the real danger arrives, and more than paranormal is horror, vampires eating human flesh, not only drinking blood; and Silas, the fae, wasn’t cute and pretty, he was dangerous, armed with a sword, and when wounded, he was almost pathetic, gaunt and feral. The author took elements that usually convey beautiful imaginary, and turned them into horrific details, with a mastery that is almost unsettling.
Close Quarter was a surprise and a very good debut novel.
Anna Zabo has created a wonderfully magical world with Close Quarter. She has populated it with residents we can love and some we can hate. Rhys and Silas are two men who were meant to be together, but forces, both internal and external, have conspired against them. They have much to face and overcome if they are to be together as fate intended. Close Quarter is a fast-paced unforgettable story.
Very different and surprisingly clever. Remember this is fantasy, you need to be willing to just go with it in places and for being open to that you will be rewarded. There are twists and turns and unexpected developments that I questioned too early. It is all worked out brilliantly, I just had to trust the author.
Rhys Matherton sipped his champagne, listened to the band play upbeat jazz on the deck of the ocean liner, and wondered what the hell he was doing. Taking a luxury cruise across the Atlantic wasn’t at all his style, and it certainly wasn’t what you were supposed to do right after you buried your mother.
Callous, one news site had said. Disrespectful. And those had been the kindest of the words thrown at him.
Maybe he was a coldhearted bastard, but he didn’t want to face his life yet, not with all that had happened. Flying back to New York from Vienna would’ve given him only fifteen hours of peace before he plunged headlong into the morass of friends, colleagues, and reporters. Never mind the creeping mass of people who wanted to be his very best buddy now that he was worth millions.
He swallowed the knot in his throat and chased it with the rest of the champagne.
Amazing what money did. Everyone wanted a piece of him. Even galleries that had snubbed their noses at his work now wanted to display his sculptures. Friends and ex-lovers called his cell so often he let the damn thing run out of power and hadn’t bothered to recharge it.
He didn’t even want to think about his e-mail.
A waiter offered to take his empty flute as the ocean liner slid past the waterfront at Southampton and made its way toward the channel. A second waiter came and offered a second flute, but Rhys declined. He wasn’t about to add another spate of drunkenness to his exploits bandied about in the press.
Taking the slow boat, literally, gave him an entire week to put himself back together, to have a little calm before he stepped back into his upturned life.
It wasn’t his mother’s death that had thrown him off. He’d known that was coming. They had mourned her stage IV brain cancer together, that last month.
No, it was the aftermath. The lies. Seeing his father again. Facing that man’s anger and loathing was one thing—he’d done that most of his life. But witnessing the utter relief on Derrick Matherton’s face during the reading of the will had broken every wall Rhys had built over the years. The contents of the will shattered what was left. After it was all over, his father—Derrick—spoke his first words to Rhys in fourteen years.
“I always knew you weren’t my son.”
Rhys pressed his lips together and stared out at the tourists waving from the round block fort they passed. At least that secret hadn’t been leaked to the media. But then, the solicitor had been from a very highly regarded firm, and Derrick had been given a tidy sum with the stipulation that he, too, would never reveal the truth.
Not his son.
Rhys inhaled the damp June air. Fuck the champagne. What he really wanted was a beer. And a lump of clay to pound his fists into. The latter would have to wait until he was back in his studio. The former—well, the ocean liner had a wide variety of bars. He chose the one farthest away from the band and the mingling crowds watching the liner pull into the channel.
To his dismay, the lounge wasn’t empty. Several men and women stood at the dark wooden bar, more around nearby tables. A particularly loud group hushed when one of the women at the table saw Rhys. She whispered to her neighbor and then giggled.
Great. Rhys looked down as he walked, his face warm. Which story had they read? The one where he was a womanizer who slept with two a night? Derrick would’ve greatly preferred that. It was so much better to have a son who went through women like tissue than a son who was single and gay.
Rhys looked up in time to see the tray of glasses before he ran into it. Neither he nor the waiter could catch the tray as it tipped sideways. It fell, sending a shower of stemware and cocktails down onto a man sitting by the window.
Glasses shattered on the tile floor. One fell into the man’s lap, spilling its contents and staining his dark trousers.
“Oh God, I’m sorry,” Rhys said. “Oh hell.” Great, just great. He half expected a camera flash to go off.
The waiter shot him an exasperated look before addressing the man in the chair. “Mr. Quint! Are you hurt?”
“I’m fine.” Clipped words. The man stared at the glass in his hand for a moment. Then he set it down on the small table next to the chair. His movements were languid, but his knuckles were white.
Rhys wondered what the drink had been before something creamy had landed in it. Looked like shit now.
The man lifted a margarita glass off his lap and set that next to the other drink. The guy’s suit was ruined too.
“I’ll pay for it. For it all,” Rhys said. He looked at the waiter. “I didn’t see you. I… Shit.”
Servers with towels descended on them like locusts, pushing Rhys away from the scene. He stepped back and tucked his hands into his pockets to keep them from shaking. He spied several people with their cell phones out.
Fucking fantastic. He didn’t need this. He was supposed to be relaxing, not fucking up someone else’s vacation. Not making the news again.
In short order, all the glass was picked up and removed. Towels sopped up much of the spilled alcohol from the tiles. Rhys heard the distinct sound of a cleaning bucket and mop clacking over the floor. In a few minutes, the results of his clumsy inattention would be a memory.
Except for the man he’d completely pissed off.
A woman handed that man a towel. He used it to dry his face and blot his lap before he stood. He turned and glared at Rhys.
Oh God. Even with cocktails dripping from his hair, the man was too close to perfection to be real. Beautiful, exquisite anger. High cheeks, long jaw. Dark hair and brows.
Rhys knew his mouth hung open a little. He took his hands from his pockets and stood straighter. “Dry cleaning.” The words came out as a croak. “I’ll pay.”
“I have no need of your money.” The man balled up the towel and whipped it at the leather chair. “Use it to buy yourself a brain.”
Rhys felt the blood drain from his face. Well, he deserved that.
A moment later, a manager appeared. He ignored Rhys entirely and spoke to the dark-haired man. “Our most profound apologies. We’ll take care of your laundry and the tab—”
The man held up a hand. “Yes. Thank you.” There was less anger in his voice now. “This was not Vasil’s fault.”
The waiter who had been carrying the tray flinched.
Right. Rhys had no desire to ruin yet another person’s day. He stepped forward. “It’s my fault. I walked right into his tray.”
The manager frowned.
Rhys patted his jacket pocket. Thank God the business cards were still there from his last gallery opening. He pulled them out, handed one to the manager. “Whatever compensation you need.”
Rhys offered a second card to the dark-haired man. The guy stared at it as if it were a dead fish before he turned and stalked out of the lounge.
Hell. Rhys watched the man’s back vanish through the lounge’s entrance. “Wait a minute!”
The man didn’t even slow down.
Gone. Perfect. Beautiful. Utterly angry, and now gone.
Damn it. He turned back to the lounge manager. “Honestly, I’m sorry. I’m good for it.”
The manager raised an eyebrow in that very British fashion and studied the business card. His expression changed. Considerably.
Of course he would recognize the name. It had been in every paper. WORLD-RENOWNED CELLIST SAMANTHA MATHERTON DIES. ONLY SON RHYS INHERITS MILLIONS.
The manager tucked the business card into his shirt pocket. “We’ll send you a bill, Mr. Matherton. Once we add up the expenses.”
“Thanks.” He lingered only until the manager turned his back. Then he fled the lounge. The stares had become too much. And if he left now, he might have a chance to catch up with that guy.
Short, loose black curls, like something out of ancient art. Those tanned features begged to be carved into stone. Or sculpted in clay. Or traced with fingers and lips…
Not a chance in the world, not after dumping a tray of drinks on him. But the least he could do was try to set things right.
Rhys saw his target not too far down the hall. He caught up with the man and grabbed the guy’s arm. “Wait. Let me—”
The dark-haired man whirled about, pushed Rhys into a short hallway, and rammed him against the wall. Hard. “I said I don’t need your money.”
Rich, deep voice and eyes the color of honey. An accent Rhys couldn’t place. The man wrapped his fingers around Rhys’s throat. His other hand pinned Rhys against the wall. Strong. Fast.
A tick of apprehension traced down Rhys’s spine. “How about an apology?” His voice was steadier than he felt.
Maybe it was the alcohol clinging to the man’s hair and clothes. More likely it was the hot press of his body, but Rhys could barely draw a breath. Fear. Desire. God, he was hard already.
“I don’t need your apology either.”
That dismissive scorn unlocked anger in Rhys. He was so tired of people looking at him like he was nothing more than a simpering piece of shit. He pushed the man back but only managed inches of distance. “I’m trying to be nice here! What do you want? Should I get down on my knees and beg your forgiveness? Lick the drinks off your body?”
Oh, fucking brilliant. What a thing to say.
The man chuckled. That, too, was rich and dark. “Would you like that?” He shifted his body and pressed his thigh into Rhys’s crotch, right against his very hard cock. Pinpricks of heat ran up Rhys’s back and spread around his head.
Rhys let out a soft moan. Damn it.
“Ah, so you would.” Mockery in the man’s words. Lust too. One hand kept Rhys pinned, but the other released Rhys’s throat. With those fingers, the man brushed Rhys’s lips.
Pineapple. Cherry. Heady flavors. Rhys couldn’t help it. He ran his tongue over the digit and then sucked it into his mouth. The man obliged him, feeding him one finger after another to clean.
Damn, this guy tasted good. It couldn’t just be the drinks. What the hell?
When there were no more fingers, the man leaned in even closer. “That was very well done.” Hot breath caressed Rhys’s cheek. “Let’s see what you can do with something else.”
He kissed Rhys. No. Kissing would’ve been gentle. This man devoured Rhys’s mouth.
Rhys answered back just as hard. If he was going to be felt up by a hot-ass stranger in a hallway, it damn well would be on his terms too. Rhys tangled his hands in the dark, sticky-wet curls of the man’s hair and sucked at his tongue. Rhys pushed his cock into the hard muscles of the man’s thigh and felt the answer against his leg.
God, it had been a long time since anyone had kissed him this way. Whatever had been on that tray smelled wicked on this guy. Sweet, then dark. Night descending on the jungle. Earth layered against the smell of mango and pineapple.
Rhys felt more alive than he had in weeks. Months, maybe. Every inch of his body hummed. He didn’t want it to end.
The man shifted, moving his leg away from Rhys’s cock.
There was a tugging at Rhys’s belt, then at his pants. Oh shit, the guy wasn’t going to—
Rhys moaned into the man’s mouth. Yes, yes, he was.
The fingers Rhys had sucked encircled his cock, exploring his shaft and teasing at first. Then the man stroked his thumb over the tip and set up a rhythm that sent lust down into Rhys’s feet and out to his fingertips.
Oh fuck. He didn’t usually come from hand jobs, but the heat of the man, his mouth, and his damn hand set every nerve in Rhys’s body on fire.
It didn’t even take that long. Rhys tried to hold back—wanted to hold on to this moment forever—but the heat in his veins curled into his balls and then rose. Rhys rocked against the man and came, his shout swallowed by the other’s mouth.
Once Rhys had come down a bit, the man broke the kiss. He trailed semen-covered fingers up from Rhys’s crotch, leaving wetness behind on his stomach. He stroked those same fingers against Rhys’s lips.
“Now you’re as sticky as me,” that velvet voice said. “An even exchange, don’t you think?”
Rhys tasted himself. Little pinpricks, like cold mist after a rainstorm, traced down his arms, and he shivered, but before he could suck on the guy’s fingers again, they were gone.
The man chuckled and let Rhys go.
“Wait.” Rhys caught the man’s arm. “Your name. You have to tell me your name.”
“Do I?” The man broke from Rhys’s grasp. Stepped back. He sucked a smear of semen from the tip of his index finger and then grinned. “Perhaps you should’ve asked for my name before you offered to lick my body.” Still cleaning his fingers, the man stepped out of the alcove and strode down the hall.
Fucking hell. Rhys exhaled and leaned back against the wall.
That had to have been the single most erotic thing he’d ever experienced. It was the kind of encounter he’d envisioned happening on some tropical party cruise, not during a stuffy transatlantic crossing. On the first night, no less.
His body burned from the man’s touch. And for it. That mouth, those hands. Just thinking about them had him hard again. Shit. That never happened, not after coming so damn fast.
From morose to horny as hell. He was supposed to be getting his head on straight, not getting his rocks off. He didn’t even know the guy’s name. Needed it, needed to find him again. Wanted to yell that name out loud when he came.
Rhys took a swallow of air. Damn.
The waiter in the lounge would know. Had even said his last name. Rhys racked his brain but couldn’t remember.
Right. First things first. He needed to clean up. Sticky wasn’t the half of it. He glanced down. Yeah, it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out what had happened to him.
He zipped himself up, fastened his belt, and tucked his shirt in.
The long way back to his cabin was safer than the main hall. Wouldn’t that make another interesting photo shoot? The newly minted millionaire with jizz-stained pants.
Rhys swallowed the lust in his throat. He had to find that guy again. It was irrational, but for the first time since the reading of his mother’s will he felt like himself again.
Copyright 2013 © Anna Zabo