Ash Bowman is lost. Two years ago, he and his cop partner, Evelyn, walked in on a murder in progress that left her dead and him maimed. He left the force and became a private investigator, but Evelyn’s ghost still haunts him when he prowls the dark corridors of the Core of the space station Fraxin Yari. Ash is making a map. If there’s a map, then he won’t be so lost ...
Journalist Gabe Whitfield is on a mission to learn the truth behind that same murder. He doesn’t expect to stay on Frax after he finishes the job. But meeting Ash Bowman changes his plans. He came to the station a man without ties. He isn’t going to leave the same way.
Despite initially mistrusting him, Ash can’t resist his attraction to the fiery Gabe. Gabe responds, though knows he shouldn’t, when Ash is one of the subjects of his investigation. But they come to trust each other and join forces to find the answers Ash had almost forgotten he was still seeking. If they are to have any chance of happiness, Gabe must help Ash lay the ghosts calling him back again and again to the deep darkness of the Core.
Gabe tried to control his rising panic. The hopper blocked them in almost entirely, with barely more than a foot of clearance at the top. Why had it stopped? Had it broken down? It started to make its rumbling noise. Through the gap, Gabe saw dark shapes move down and one by one rest on top of the big hopper. Smaller garbage hoppers, they must be. They were emptying into the big one.
His panic eased, and he sighed. “It’s okay, Ash. It’s a temporary stop. I think it will move again in a minute.” He turned when he received no answer. “Ash?”
Ash was crammed into a corner of the alcove. In the beam of the flashlight, his face was spectral white, his eyes huge. He clutched convulsively at the walls, as if looking for handholds.
“Ash. It’s okay.” Did he have claustrophobia or something? “It will move again in a second.”
“I have to get out.” Ash panted the words. “I have to get out.”
He exploded away from the corner suddenly, knocking Gabe aside in his rush. He beat his fists on the side of the hopper, then pushed uselessly at it. A howl of frustration escaped him. Gabe recovered his balance and stared. Only when Ash tried to climb the side of the hopper, to escape through the tiny gap, did Gabe break free of his shocked trance to grab him. He hauled Ash down. The smaller bins were emptying into the hopper, and Gabe could hear a compactor running inside. If Ash climbed on top and fell in, he might be killed. Gabe dragged Ash away from the hopper, right to the back of the alcove, shoved him up against the wall, and blocked him.
“Ash, listen to me. You’re safe. Do you understand me? It will move again shortly, and we can leave.” He angled the flashlight so it shone on his face. “Look at me. It’s Gabe. I’m here with you, and you’re safe.”
“The darkness,” Ash whispered. “Lost. I’m lost.”
“Shh,” Gabe almost cooed, the way the sisters had soothed him or one of the other scared kids after a nightmare of bombs, fire, and screaming. “I’m here. You know me. It’s Gabe. Gabriel,” he added after a pause. “I know you’re scared, but you’re safe.”
He didn’t know what gave him the idea, but he reached down, under Ash’s coat and between his legs, where he cupped cock and balls. Part of him felt bad -- copping a feel while Ash was so distressed -- but instinct told him this would work to calm him. It always calmed Gabe after a rough day. A warm shower to ease away the pain, a slow stroke and pull to blank out his mind. Having someone else do it was even better. Some men swore by booze to wind down, but Gabe would rather get his hands on a stiff cock than a stiff drink.
Ash stilled, stared down at Gabe. He looked shocked, but that was an improvement. If he was enraged at Gabe for feeling him up in the middle of an emergency, it was better than him panicking and hurting himself -- and Gabe -- trying to get out of the tiny space. His cock hardened. Gabe considered undoing Ash’s fly and reaching in for it, bringing him off. But that wasn’t the aim here. In a moment the tension drained from Ash’s body. His cock began to soften without him climaxing. Gabe stroked more gently, then moved his hand away, reached up to pull Ash’s head down until their lips met. Perhaps he should have tried a kiss first, to ward off the panic attack. It might have been sufficient distraction. It sure distracted Gabe. By the time they parted, Gabe’s knees were so weak Ash was holding him up, and a breeze at his back told him the hopper had moved on without him noticing.
“Oh, Ash,” Gabe sighed. “You do have one talented tongue.”
This surprised a laugh from Ash, quickly over. He sobered. “Gabe ... I’m sorry. I don’t like confined spaces. I ...”
“It’s okay,” Gabe said. “I handled it.”
Ash groaned. “Yes, you definitely handled it. I’ve rarely seen such skillful handling.”
“You’re welcome. Now come on. We shouldn’t stay in such a small space -- not after having chili for dinner.”