Lock by Hollis Shiloh by Hollis Shiloh - Read Online

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Summary

Drew leads an ordinary, boring life — until one day the ESRB assigns him a bodyguard because he's in danger.  They don't know why, only that he is.  

It's the most exciting thing that's ever happened to Drew.  Naturally, he develops a massive crush on his bodyguard, Neal, as the two try to figure out why he's in danger and what it has to do with the ESRB.

When Drew turns out to have an unexpected — and rare — talent, things take a turn for the worse.  Because Neal might not be enough to keep him safe after all.

A Men of the ESRB story
35,000 words
Heat: very low

gay paranormal romance

The Extra Sensory Regulatory Bureau rates talented individuals like empaths and clairvoyants. They have special gifts — and often some extra burdens that go along with them. The ESRB takes care of its own, but these guys still have a lot to figure out about life — and love. Stay tuned for more tales from the men of the ESRB.
 

Published: Spare Words Press on
ISBN: 9781386454601
List price: $2.99
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Lock - Hollis Shiloh

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LOCK

by Hollis Shiloh

––––––––

I'm pretty ordinary.  Are you sure you have the right man?  I adjusted my glasses, as if maybe that would remind them that I was a harmless bookstore employee.  And kind of a nerd.  It really seemed unlikely that anyone wanted me dead.  I was too boring for that.  I didn't even have any exes who hated me.

The man from the ESRB suppressed a sigh.  (I was boring him already.)  We're as certain as we need to be, Mr. Palmer.  Believe me, we don't assign people bodyguards on a whim.  The budget doesn't stretch quite that far. 

He smiled to show it was a joke, but it was a strained, dead-eyed smile.  I was pretty sure I was pissing him off by questioning him this way, but really, it's a bit unusual.  You don't expect to have someone from an esoteric branch of the government waltz into your life and say, "We're assigning you a bodyguard.  Oh, and by the way, someone wants you dead."  Cue the dramatic music.

And you're sure you don't know who...? I pressed cautiously.

We're still working on that, Mr. Palmer.  You'll be the first to know when we've gotten it all sorted out.  Now, if you wouldn't mind signing this, your bodyguard can start right away.

It seemed terribly official, but my father had always taught me to read everything that I signed word for word, and I did so, adjusting my glasses, pretending to be oblivious to the ESRB man's impatience with me.

He waited, though, and I got through it eventually.  There was nothing to stop me signing it.  It was all about acknowledging that I'd been warned by the agency that there was a threat against me, and that, while they were required to do everything in their power to protect me, I acknowledged that any risks I took in refusing said protection would rest in their full legal weight on my head and shoulders alone.  It was well-written enough for me to think that someone had sued them on the issue.  I signed and dated it and handed it back.  He said a copy could be forwarded to me for my protection, and I said that would be great.

Then we got down to the really interesting part.  Meeting the bodyguard.

Even in my wildest dreams, where I morphed overnight into a hugely successful author, actor, or professional daydreamer, I'd never imagined I'd warrant a bodyguard, so I can't claim to have dreamed about this moment.  But I'd be lying if I said I didn't hope he was sexy.

I mean, sexy bodyguard, right?  That's practically its own genre of films.  And, yeah, usually they're straight and hot and fall in love with someone equally straight and hot, like Whitney Houston.  But a gay can dream.  I mean, if my life had to be endangered to the point where I was signing wavers and getting a bodyguard, there could at least be eye candy, right?

Obviously, it was just a passing thought; there were more important things on my mind right now (like not dying).  All the same, I received a little jolt of shock when all those dreams came true, and he stepped through the door.

He was hot.  Oh, man, was he hot.

I like to think I'm not shallow.  (I totally am, but I like to think I'm not.)

All right, so he was about my height (which is average), a Caucasian man probably in his thirties, not quite clean-shaven, with that stubble look that's in right now, and short brown hair.  None of that sounds like it would stand out as hot on first sight, but add to it his trim, fit body — muscles hidden by his white dress shirt and suit trousers, but very much present — and his knowing gray eyes that looked like sin personified...and damn if my mouth didn't go totally dry.

Even I wasn't naïve enough to think he was actually checking me out, though.  He just had the sort of eyes that make you think naughty things.  If I'd seen him in a club...okay, I still totally wouldn't have approached him, because I'm shy like that, and I don't really go to clubs anyway.  But somebody would have — more likely multiple somebodies.  He'd have been mobbed, okay?  He was that good-looking.  But it wasn't just those eyes or his build.  It was something about the way he carried himself, like when he walked into a room, he took charge.  He seemed like he could handle anything or anybody, and he knew it.  Military?  Who knows.  Damned hot?  Yes, please.

All this went through my mind in only a moment, so my mouth was still dry and I couldn't actually talk, per se, when the government man introduced us.  I did catch the bodyguard's name, though: Neal Webb.  Was it an alias, maybe?  It wasn't as obvious as John Smith, but if he was really a bodyguard, he might not be able to go around telling people his name.

Then again, he wasn't a spy; he just protected people for a government agency.  People now including me.  I felt very safe all of a sudden.  And very lucky, despite the whole somebody wants you dead thing.

Pleased to meet you, Mr. Palmer, he said in a gruff, no-nonsense voice, giving me a little nod as he shook my hand.

It was probably sweaty.  Or, yeah, maybe even clammy.  But what do you expect?  I'd had a big shock, the whole your life is in danger, sir conversation going a bit better than I imagined they usually did (because I'm calm like that), but still, not a great day for giving first impressions. 

If he was unimpressed by my handshake, he didn't show it.  Nor did he do that macho guy thing where he tried to strangle my hand.  He didn't have anything to prove.

Neither, I reminded myself, did I.  A slightly weak handshake (and a clammy one, at that) was not going to be a huge surprise from someone who, well, had just had a huge surprise.  I tried not to stare at his eyes.  I was mesmerized, though.

Mr. Webb, I said, giving him a nod back.  I hoped it was butch enough, and that I wasn't visibly panting after him or anything so embarrassing.

He'll position himself in the bookstore while you're working.  We've had a word with the management.  He'll blend in with the customers, said Mr. ESRB agent, whose name I couldn't remember, just as if Webb weren't standing right there.

The bodyguard didn't seem disturbed by that.  He just gave me a nod as if to say yep and continued watching me.

After the work day, he'll go home with you.  I trust you can put him up on the couch or something?  The agent didn't seem too perturbed about the whole thing; he was looking over his phone, probably checking off that he'd covered everything from a list.  Or else texting somebody because this was just so damned boring to him.

Um, sure, that's fine, I managed.

If you want to, you can take time off, of course.  But we expect to have this cleared up within a few days, and you shouldn't need to interrupt your routine unless you choose to.  Don't leave the state, though.  We've already coordinated with the necessary people here, and that would just make things more difficult.  Keeping you safe, you understand.

I didn't, not really, but I nodded along.  Then something occurred to me as he was turning to go.

Wait.  Does this mean I'm bait?  You're waiting for someone to...what, swoop in and try to kill me so you can catch them?  Because that always ends so well in the movies.  Even the ones with hot bodyguards.

The agent gave a dry laugh.  No, Mr. Palmer.  Nothing that interesting.  We have our own avenues to pursue to find the responsible party or parties.  This is just to disrupt your life as little as possible.  Try to stay calm.  And as I said, don't leave the state if you can possibly avoid it.  If you have to, we'll need advance warning to liaise with the proper authorities.  But this should all be cleared up within a few days.  If there's nothing else...?

There wasn't.  I shook my head numbly, even though I knew I'd probably have a dozen more questions the second he stepped out the door of my boss's office.

Then, I'll leave you in Webb's capable hands.  You have my card.  Gentlemen.  He pushed his sunglasses back onto his face and walked out of the bookstore and out of my life. 

I stared helplessly at my new bodyguard, feeling a lot less certain of anything than I'd like.

It's routine to him, said Neal Webb in that deep voice of his.  Doesn't mean we don't take it seriously.  You're a level two on the threat scale.  He deals with nines and tens on a daily basis.  And most of them we can save, too.

Most?  I cleared my throat to hopefully get rid of the squeak.  "So, uh, most.  This is pretty normal to you, then, too?"

He nodded slowly.  That's correct, Mr. Palmer.  I regularly deal with levels five and above.  It's your lucky day you got me.  His grin was wide and too fucking beautiful, and it made my throat go dry again.  There really wasn't anything ordinary about him when he grinned.  I happened to be up for rotation.  You might just say I'm overkill for a job this serene.

He was trying to make me feel better; I was almost certain of it.  It was kind of working.  Serene?

He gestured to our surroundings.  A bookstore.  A nice place to be undercover.  I can catch up on my reading.  That grin again.  Damn it, was he trying to kill me himself?  This is almost a vacation for me.  But don't worry; I'm still taking it incredibly seriously.  It sounds frightening to need protection, but our thought is, better safe than sorry, and I haven't ever lost anyone I was protecting.  Someday, you'll look back on this and laugh.

I wondered.  That sounds good right about now, I admitted.  It's not exactly the sort of thing I expect — somebody wanting me dead, I mean.  There's nothing special about me.  Not exactly what you want to tell a hot guy on the first meeting, but, well, it was the truth.

He shrugged, seemingly unconcerned one way or the other about that.  That's for other folks to figure out.  I'm just here to protect you.

Well.  That was what I liked to hear.

#

My boss wanted a quick word after the agent had left