More Than My Words~Guarding The Gods~Book 3
Copyright © 2018 by Ann Lister.All rights reserved.
Special Chapter Sneak Peek~Chapter Sixteen
He felt it first in his periphery, just lurking there in the shadows like a criminal waiting for the perfect opportunity to attack. But it was skulking closer. Mason could feel it as the darkness tried to gnaw at him from the inside out. He was fighting so hard to keep those unwelcome sensations tamped down, even using Tessler as a distraction to the panic threatening to swallow him whole.
Then Tessler was on top of him. His body loomed too close, and the weight on his pelvis was too much. Every scrape of his own clothing against his skin felt like electrical shocks to his system. What had started out feeling blissful was quickly turning into something dark, and Mason was losing his control to stop it from happening.
Beside them the stone pit flamed brightly, as fingers of fire licked around each log and consumed them. The heat from fire began to make Mason sweat, and it felt like his exposed skin was starting to burn. The crackling sounds were getting louder and louder until he was having trouble hearing the dirty things Tessler was saying from above him. Two sharp pops from the fire sent small embers flying through the air towards them on the couch. In that moment, Mason lost his battle with the darkness and he was gone, swept away in a vortex of personal hell playing out inside his head.
“Fire! Fire! I’m on fire!” He heard himself scream the words like they were coming from someone else. His hands frantically slapped at his arms and torso, doing his best to extinguish flames only he could see.
He shoved Tessler off his lap, then wrapped a protective arm around his waist before he hauled them both over the back of the couch to take cover. A second later, they landed together in a heap on the roof deck behind the furniture. “Stay low,” he shouted at Tessler. “We’ll meet the rest of the team over by the back door!”
“Mason!” Tessler screamed. “There’s no fire! You’re safe with me on the roof of my building!”
“Listen to me,” Mason yelled. “We don’t have a lot of time! We’ve got to move out!”
Mason quickly scanned the area looking for a way through the fire, but in his mind it was everywhere, eating away at whatever was in its path. His eyes started to burn from the smoke—oh Jesus, the smoke! Suddenly, there was so much of it choking him, and he began to gasp for his next breath.
“I can’t breathe! I can’t … breathe!” Mason was screaming as loud as his hoarse voice could handle, but it didn’t seem to do any good. The thick smoke clogged his throat and it was suffocating. He started to pull at the collar of his dress shirt to free his airway. Buttons began to pop from his efforts. “Air! Air! I need to … breathe!” He dragged in elongated intakes of air to ease his burning lungs but nothing seemed to help.
“Mason. Mason.” Tessler said in a calm voice right into his face. “Breathe with me. Nice and slow.”
Seconds passed—maybe minutes, Mason wasn’t sure about much of anything right now, especially time, but then he felt soothing hands holding a cool cloth curled around the back of his neck, then it went across his sweaty forehead in long, slow strokes. The same calm words kept replaying in his head on a loop. Over and over like it was pre-recorded.
“Breathe with me. Please. Nice and slow. Do it with me.”
But who’s voice was that? It didn’t sound like anyone he knew from his team. Mason tried to open his eyes wider to see who it was holding him with such care and tenderness, but he couldn’t see the man’s face clearly through the smoke. So much fucking smoke!
His fingers reached to touch the man and missed their target, but the voice continued to soothe him. He couldn’t make sense of the whispered words, but the warmth they spread through him made it all feel like a magical dream. He tried to lean into the man to get closer. He felt boneless and so damn tired. The press of lips to his forehead and then to his temple nudged him further away towards sleep and he welcomed it—begged for the escape, anything to end this hell he was living.
And through it all, those softly spoken words continued to lull him like a song. Over and over, Mason heard them like a chant.
“Breathe with me. You’re going to be fine.”
Jesus, the words were a much-needed balm to his aching soul. When had simple words ever sounded so fucking beautiful? Sleep. He fucking needed to rest and conserve his energy. This is when his training needed to kick in. Rest and be ready. That’s what a Marine did. When he woke up, the fire crew would be there to rescue them, and he’d be ready to help them get everyone else out.
~ ~ * ~ ~
Mason woke with a start and sat up quickly to take in his surroundings. Where the fuck am I? He was seated on a floor behind something that looked like a large piece of furniture. In the other direction he saw a man sitting at a table staring at his phone.
Bits and pieces of the night began to flicker through his brain like the sun seeping through the leaves of a tree. He remembered being with Tessler on his roof top having dinner. Then there was a raging fire? He glanced around the area again. No fire. Relief for that hit him at the same time he realized what had happened instead. Logs burning in the fire pit sparked and I freaked out.
He finger-combed the longer hair on top of his head and kicked off the blanket Tessler must have draped over his legs. The movement caught Tessler’s attention and a moment later, he was kneeling beside Mason on the floor.
“Hey you,” Tessler said with a warm smile.
Mason scrubbed at his face with his big hand. “What time is it?” he asked.
“About twenty minutes after one.”
“Jesus, I am so fucking sorry,” he said quietly.
“Don’t you dare apologize,” Tessler said and cupped the side of his face.
“It’s embarrassing as hell,” Mason said. “That hasn’t happened for a while, so I stupidly thought it was a thing of the past.”
“Panic attack or PTSD?” Tessler asked.
“Starts off as panic and then sometimes I start getting … flashbacks from combat,” Mason explained. “Since I busted up my leg, I’ve had a few flashbacks of being trapped in the fire.”
“I think the fire in the stone pit last night triggered your attack, and for that I feel so bad,” Tessler said. “I should have known better than to have us sit beside the fire. I was going for romantic and ended up putting you through hell.”
“It’s not your fault,” Mason replied. “I don’t want you feeling bad about any of this.”
Mason pulled his legs up and tried to stand. Once again, Tessler was there with a helping hand to get him over to the table where they’d eaten dinner. “How bad was it? I didn’t hurt you, did I?” he asked as he sat in the chair Tessler had pulled out from the table for him.
“It was scary as hell at first,” Tessler admitted. “I wasn’t sure what was going on until you started talking about the fire and the smoke choking you.”
“Fuck, I feel like a complete idiot.”
“Knock it off,” Tessler said. “You went through hell in that fire, Mase, and combat was another kind of hell all together. No one walks away from shit like that without scars, physically and emotionally.”
Tessler stepped away to the refrigerator and opened the door. Mason watched the light come on inside the appliance and something caught his eye. It appeared to be a cake under a plastic dome and then it hit him.
“When is your birthday?” Mason asked.
Tessler grabbed two bottles of water and then shut the refrigerator door. “Well, technically it was yesterday.”
“And that’s why you wanted me to join you for dinner last night, so we could celebrate, and I fucking blew the whole thing by losing my shit in front of you. Now I feel like an even bigger asshole.”
“It was a spur-of-the-moment thing that I had the girls downstairs make a cake,” Tessler said and handed a bottle of water to Mason. “It doesn’t even say anything on it. It’s just a cake, not a birthday cake—simply dessert.”
Mason caught Tessler’s wrist and pulled him over to straddle his lap. Tessler struggled for only a second before he finally settled carefully onto Mason’s muscled thighs. “Thank you for staying with me and keeping me safe,” he said. “I’m typically alone when those attacks hit, and I know they’re not pretty, so it means a lot that you stuck it out. I’m also sorry for the way I am, but I’m working on making things better for myself, and hopefully one day this shit will be part of my past.”
“I completely understand,” Tessler said.
“Well, if you think this is too much for you to handle, then I’d understand why you wanted to walk the other way, okay? No harm, no foul, and life goes on.”
“Do you really think I wouldn’t want to be with you just because you have PTSD?” Tessler asked in a sharp tone that bordered on annoyance. “I’m not that kind of an asshole.”
“It’s not just the PTSD,” Mason continued. “It’s the issues I have with the scars on my body, and occasionally, I have nightmares, too. Trust me when I say, it’s a lot to deal with.”
“Anything else?” Tessler asked.
“Nope, I think that about covers it,” Mason said and shook his head. He was thankful for the slight grin on Tessler’s face. It gave him a hint that things just might be okay after all.
Tessler held onto the sides of Mason’s neck. “Look, we’re both broken in different ways, everyone is,” he said, “but maybe we were supposed to meet so we could help each other through some of the bullshit. Ever think of that?”
Mason shrugged. “You’re way too good for me,” he said and smiled.
“You’re too hard on yourself.” Again, Tessler teased him with that grin.
“I’m a work in progress, and I’m a fighter,” Mason said. “I will overcome this, like everything else, and be stronger for going through it.”
“I have no doubts about that,” Tessler countered. “I think you said you’re seeing a therapist?”
“Yeah, she’s been helping me with all of this shit.”
“Well, that’s a good thing,” Tessler countered. “Give her a call and see her this week so she knows what happened tonight.”
“I will, I promise,” Mason agreed.
“Would you like a piece of my cake?” Tessler asked with a grin.
“On what?” Tessler questioned.
“Do I get to sing “Happy Birthday” to you?”
“Singing is not allowed,” Tessler said as he stood up from Mason’s lap. “My party. My rules.”
“Way to kill a buzz.”
Tessler laughed as he removed the cake from the refrigerator. He set the container on the work station beside the stove and reached for plates in a cabinet above him and forks from the drawer at his hip. After popping off the plastic dome, he sliced two big pieces of chocolate mousse cake with vanilla buttercream frosting and carried the dessert over to the table, setting a plate down in front of Mason.
Mason latched on to Tessler’s wrist and tugged him down for a kiss before he sat. “Happy Birthday—a few hours late,” he said and smiled.
“Thank you,” Tessler answered somewhat shyly.
They dug into the cake and ate in amicable silence with nothing more than the occasional moan of approval for sound. Mason was licking his fork when a thought occurred to him. “Did your coming home early from vacation have anything to do with your birthday?” he asked Tessler.
“Seriously?” Mason asked in surprise.
Tessler shrugged and swallowed another bite of his gooey, chocolaty confection. “I had the sudden urge to be with someone I cared about on my birthday.”
“Don’t you celebrate with people in Key West every year?” Mason asked.
“Well, sure. There’s usually a small party that happens.”
“Then, you came home specifically to celebrate with me—and not them.” Mason’s smile grew bigger by the second.
Tessler’s eyes hit Mason’s and held. His face looked so serious; his brown eyes were the only reveal to the emotions he was struggling to hide. “In case you haven’t already figured it out, I like you, Mason. I haven’t had this kind of thing with too many people. Okay … I haven’t ever had this with anyone, and that makes it extra—”
“Special? Is that what you were going to say?” Mason interrupted Tessler’s thought with his question.
“I was going to say unique, but special applies, too.”
Mason reached for Tessler’s hand on the table and squeezed it. “I’m with you on all of it,” he admitted. “I also feel this is something really special. It scares me as much as it excites me, and I don’t want to fuck it up.”
“Then, we won’t.”
“Easy for you to say since I’m the one with all the issues,” Mason said.
“And I’m the one with the checkered past,” Tessler countered. “Remember? I told you some shit about myself earlier, so I guess we’re even now.” Tessler quickly swiped his finger through the frosting on the edge of his cake and smeared it on the end of Mason’s nose before he saw it coming. “I guess we both have things about ourselves that are uncomfortable to talk about.”
Mason’s hand went up to wipe the frosting from his face, but Tessler stopped him by kissing the spot instead, then finished the job with his tongue. A moment later, Tessler’s tongue found Mason’s mouth, and he shared the sweetness of the frosting with him as their tongues and lips began to feast.
“Sweet mercy, what you fucking do to me,” Mason said on a moan.
“Care to join me downstairs in my bed?” Tessler asked with an expectant tone.
“It’s kind of late, isn’t it?” Mason asked.
“Maybe if you’re seventy or eighty,” Tessler said. “But you don’t feel that old to me.”
Mason leaned in to kiss Tessler again. Damn, he wanted what Tessler was offering—wanted it so fucking bad, but accepting that invitation led to a whole other list of his issues. He’d already showed Tessler how bad his attacks could be, and apparently, he still wanted to be with him. Would he scare Tessler off completely if he freaked out about getting naked in front of him?
“You’re thinking too hard about this,” Tessler whispered against his lips, “and there’s only one thing about you that I want to be hard right now, and I happen to be sitting on it.” Tessler rocked his hips against Mason’s erection for emphasis. “Do you want to see my room?”
“Lead the way.”