New Release! Check out this excerpt for LIKE SMOKE by Catherine Lievens!

Trygve is used to being on his own. His wife rejected him when he became a draugr around the year 800, and he hasn’t trusted anyone but his best friend, Thorvald, since then. He lives and works alone, and he has no intentions on changing that.

Then he meets Isaac.

Isaac’s life has been rotten—he was kicked out by his parents when he was sixteen, he was kidnapped from the streets at twenty, and he spent the last eight years chained to a wall and being abused. So when a tall blond man, appears out of thin air and kills the man who’s been torturing Isaac for so long, he begs for death—or to be taken away.

Trygve knows he should dump Isaac in a hospital and go back to his solitary life, but Isaac needs help, and for some reason, he seems to trust Trygve, so Trygve lets him stay with him. Neither of them expects their unlikely friendship will become more, and they take things slowly, for both their sakes.

But someone is after Isaac, and Trygve knows he will do anything to protect the first person he’s loved in more than a thousand years.

Even if that means killing people he’s not being paid to kill.

 

 

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Excerpt

Chapter One 

Trygve’s computer pinged. He groaned, torn between not wanting to get up from the couch and curiosity about the new job he knew had just landed in his inbox. He’d just come back from one, so he’d hoped he’d be able to take a few days off, but it looked like Thor needed him. Tryg could always say no, but he and Thor went way back, and he didn’t like to leave his friend in need.

Tryg sighed and pushed the blanket he’d covered himself with away. It was always chilly in his caves. He was used to it, but he still used blankets to stay warm. He took the blanket with him to the desk where he’d left his laptop and draped it around his shoulders as he sat and moved his fingertip on the mouse pad. The laptop came to life, and Tryg entered the lengthy passwords he needed to access the computer, then the email account he used only to communicate with Thor.

He opened the email.

Thor’s words were fast and dry, no flowery shit or even a hello. There was a picture and some info on the guy the contract was on, and the usual question—yes or no?

Tryg leaned back in his chair and opened a browser. He quickly got onto the dark web and entered the guy’s name in the sites he used for this kind of research. Thor always provided basic information, but that wasn’t enough for Tryg. He might be a killer, but even he had some rules, and the main ones were no killing children or people who didn’t deserve it.

This guy definitely deserved it.

Martin Galveston was a fifty-four-year-old piece of garbage, and Tryg had seen a lot of those in his very long life. Martin wasn’t the worst one, but he was high on Tryg’s list. He dealt in drugs, human trafficking of both adults and children, prostitution, and weapons. Tryg wasn’t surprised to also find out he was abusive to his ex-wives and his daughters. Luckily, none of them lived with him right now. He’d been divorced four times and wasn’t currently married, thank the Gods. He lived alone if one didn’t consider the guards, but Tryg did. He’d have to go there a few times before fulfilling the contract to count the guards and learn the way they worked. They might be a problem if they were good at their jobs, but Tryg was better, and he had enough tricks up his sleeve to make sure he could do the job efficiently and quickly.

This was exactly the sort of job Tryg was good at and wanted to do. He emailed Thor back to accept. He knew Thor would email again with more details, so he got up and went to change. Comfortable sweats and a T-shirt with holes wasn’t the best thing to wear when he was working.

By the time he was back at his desk wearing black jeans and a long-sleeved black T-shirt, Thor had emailed back. There wasn’t much more info Tryg hadn’t found on his own, but he still went over everything.

The only person who might be in the house who wouldn’t be a guard was Galveston’s son, Dennis. Tryg suspected the man wasn’t much better than his father, but he didn’t look for him on the dark web. That would only make him want to kill Dennis, and it wasn’t what he’d been hired to do. He’d make sure to tell Thor to keep his name in mind if someone ever wanted to get rid of Dennis, though.

Tryg booked a flight for New York, where Martin Galveston lived, and went to pack. He wouldn’t need a lot of things, since he had a cave close to New York. He’d do his job and go there, lay low for a little while, maybe until the next time Thor had a job for him. That cave was as good as any of the ones he’d found and furnished over the years. Maybe he and Thor could even see each other this time, if Thor was in the city.

Tryg grinned when his phone rang and he saw Thor’s name flash on the display. “I knew you missed me,” he said as he answered.

“Missed you? Nope. I’m calling about the job.”

“No, you’re not.” They never talked about the job on the phone. Phone calls could be intercepted a lot more easily than encrypted communications between two secure email accounts. “What’s up? Are you in the city? We can go get a coffee.”

“Not this time. I’m… elsewhere.”

Tryg sighed. “Of course you are. We’ve been friends for how long? And we never manage to be in the same city long enough to see each other.”

“I think the last time was in the eighties? Right?”

“That’s thirty years too long, Thor.”

“I agree, but what can we do? Are you going to retire? Because I’m not.”

Sometimes, Tryg wanted to. He’d been doing this job for as long as people had hired assassins to do their deeds, and he’d been alive for even longer. By now he had enough money to live for another thousand years without having to work again, but when he thought about it, he didn’t really want to retire. What the fuck would he do if he wasn’t working? Who would get rid of the bad people in this world? Tryg wasn’t an angel. He’d killed more people than he could remember, and they hadn’t always deserved it. But this was something he was good at, and it wasn’t like he could get a normal job and settle down in a normal life. Still, he wished he could see his best friend more often than once every thirty years.

Thor chuckled. “That’s what I thought. You can’t even say it, can you?”

“We could move back home, get a house together.” Tryg knew it was never going to happen, but it was always nice to dream. He missed Norway and tried to go back as often as he could, but it was always bittersweet.

“We’d kill each other within a week, especially with nothing to do.”

“We could get married.”

“To each other? Fuck, no.”

Tryg laughed. “Of course not. But we’d have time to find someone, you know?” Hook-ups were nice, but after more than a thousand years, Tryg wouldn’t be opposed to having something more. Of course, that would mean he’d have to retire, and he wasn’t sure he was ready for that.

Thor’s sigh was heavy with things he wouldn’t say. “You know that’s not how it works for me.”

“You’re the same as me, Thor.”

“No, I’m not. You’re a much better man than I am, and I’ll be happy the day you decide you’ve had enough of this life. Until then, though, you have a job to do.”

“I’m already all packed up, don’t worry. I just have to go to the airport.”

“I’ll see you when I see you, then. And you can call every so often, you know. Or come to New York even when you’re not working.”

Tryg snorted. “And when does that happen? I just came back, and you’re already sending me off again.”

“You can say no to the jobs I send your way.”

“No, I can’t.” And they both knew it.

***

The door opened, and Isaac pressed closer to the door. He didn’t look up. He already knew what he’d see on whichever guard was bringing him food, and he didn’t want to put himself through that again.

A plate clattered on the floor next to him. He jerked and pressed harder, but there was nowhere for him to go.

“Eat.”

The man’s voice was hard and uncompromising. Isaac knew he would stay there and stare at him until he moved, so he forced himself to reach for the plate. His hand shook as he wrapped his fingers around the cool ceramic. He pulled the plate closer without having to move more than he already had. He wasn’t allowed silverware because he’d tried to cut his wrists with a knife once, in the beginning, so the cook now cut his meat and vegetables for him.

The food was good. It always was. Mr. Galveston liked Isaac’s body too much to let him starve—even when Isaac actively tried to.

“You have to shower when you’re done. Mr. Galveston is coming back tonight.”

Isaac’s stomach turned to lead. He continued eating because he knew better than to stop when the guard was still keeping an eye on him, but he wasn’t hungry anymore. He hadn’t been hungry before, either, but now he was having a hard time chewing the food and swallowing it. It all tasted like sawdust, and it felt that way, too, when it went down his throat.

The guard stared until Isaac put the last piece of meat into his mouth. Then he held his hand out, and Isaac put the plate in it. The guard nodded “Be ready at eight tonight. He’s going to want to have dinner and a shower when he arrives, so be ready to service him.”

Isaac swallowed and nodded. The guard turned, and even though Isaac knew better, even though he knew it wouldn’t give him anything but pain and grief, he said, “Please.”

The guard stopped. He didn’t turn to look at Isaac, but at least he wasn’t leaving anymore. Isaac took a deep breath and continued, “Just let me go. He’ll never know who did it, I promise. Or if you can’t let me go, bring me something. Pills. I can take them and—and let go. I can’t do this anymore. Please.” Isaac wasn’t sure how long he’d been there, chained to a wall in Mr. Galveston’s bedroom. He’d lost his sense of time a long time ago.

The guard left.

He didn’t add anything, didn’t react to Isaac’s words in any way, although Isaac knew Mr. Galveston would find out about this. He’d make sure Isaac knew not to talk to the guards anymore, and not to even think about suicide again. Isaac would be in for a lot of pain tonight, or maybe tomorrow, depending on how tired Mr. Galveston was.

He shook his head and leaned back against the wall. He needed to stop thinking about it. His punishment was inevitable, but he still had the entire afternoon to himself. He’d be left alone until Mr. Galveston arrived, and he could take full advantage of that. No one to watch him as he ate. No one to leer at his naked body. Mr. Galveston liked Isaac to be ready for him at any time, so Isaac wasn’t allowed clothes, but he had a blanket he used when the guards came to bring him food. That didn’t stop most of them from watching him, though, and it always made him feel like he had ants crawling on every inch of his exposed skin.

Okay, those kinds of thoughts weren’t any better than the one he’d had before.

Isaac was going to need to shower and get himself ready, but that wouldn’t take him more than an hour. In the meantime, he should probably try to sleep. Sleep was never easy when he knew the guards in the house might come in at any time, but it was even worse when Mr. Galveston was in the room. The man snored, and even if he didn’t, Isaac doubted he’d ever feel safe enough to close his eyes. That meant he usually had cat naps during the day when his owner was at work.

The business trips were the best part of Isaac’s life, though. He hated that Mr. Galveston was already coming back, although he wasn’t sure how long he’d been away. A few days, at least. It was hard to remember, when there was nothing to do but look at the walls and outside the window. The garden was nice, but everything was always the same, and it wasn’t like Isaac was allowed to go outside anyway.

*** 

He wasn’t sure how long he slept, but he knew it couldn’t have been more than an hour. Sometimes, he felt like no matter how long he slept, he couldn’t stop being tired. He hadn’t stopped feeling exhausted since he’d been kicked out of his parents’ house when he was sixteen. He wasn’t sure how old he was now, but he knew he was an adult. He’d been twenty when he’d been snatched off the streets and sold to Mr. Galveston.

He shuffled to the bathroom and showered, taking care of cleaning himself up as much as he could. He stretched himself in the shower, inserting a butt plug, gritting his teeth against the humiliation he already felt. He wasn’t sure why he wasn’t over this, why he still felt that way. He’d been Mr. Galveston’s slave for years. He’d been doing this, prepping himself, for just as long, yet every single time felt like it tore a new hole in his heart and his dignity.

But he couldn’t do anything. He’d tried to escape more times than he could remember, and he’d tried to kill himself just as many times. Nothing had worked. Nothing had worked, and nothing ever would. He was stuck with Mr. Galveston, chained to the man’s bedroom wall, and he’d be there until either he was finally dead or until Mr. Galveston got tired of him.

Isaac didn’t want to think about what would happen to him if that was how things went. He knew better than to think he’d be let go. He knew better, but he still hoped, because that was the only thing he had left.

Hope. 

 

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