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Authors: Garrett Leigh

Tags: #GLBT, #Gay, #Contemporary, #erotic Romance

More Than Life

BOOK: More Than Life
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A love forged in war, and saved by the shadows of death.

 

 

During the Kosovan war, Mikail fights in the depleted underground resistance, smuggling intelligence and precious cargo out of war-torn Pristina. Isa, an enigmatic CIA operative, becomes an unlikely ally, and when a secret mission brings them together, heat, passion and a love they've never known consume them. They forge a deep bond, but the war around them continues to rage, and as Serbian forces close in on Pristina, Isa makes the ultimate sacrifice to save his young lover.

Four years later, Mik lives in the shadow of the Albanian mountains, trying to rebuild his life with what remains of his family. His grief for Isa weighs heavily on his young shoulders and their time together feels like nothing more than a stolen dream.

 

The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

 

Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

More Than Life

Copyright © 2014 Garrett Leigh

ISBN: 978-1-77111-954-2

Cover art by Latrisha Waters

 

All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher.

 

Published by eXtasy Books

Look for us online at:

www.eXtasybooks.com

 

 

 

 

 

More Than Life

 

 

By

 

 

Garrett Leigh

 

Chapter One

 

 

Cheap tobacco smoke gathered like an ominous cloud in the dingy Serbian bar. Mikail sat in a secluded corner at the very back. He twirled the half empty glass in front of him and shifted in his seat, impatient. A grainy, torn photograph burned a hole in his pocket, his only clue to the mysterious man he was waiting to meet, a man who claimed to be his family’s newest ally in their secret war to survive.

Ally or foe?

Mik couldn’t be sure, but over the past few days, he’d memorized the man’s blurred features, and with a subtle, practiced motion, he studied each face in the hazy bar and took careful, mental notes, listing his fellow patrons—the couple enthralled in each other by the front window, and the boisterous group of men at the table opposite. In the far corner, an affluent man sat alone, drinking vodka and reading a newspaper. Mik watched him for a while…wondering, but the man was too fat to be his intended companion.

Mik looked away and forced himself to relax, outwardly, at least. He’d learned long ago to hide his careful scrutiny, and of late, his life had come to depend on it. Now, with his attention split between the bar’s entrance and its shabby interior, he saw
everything
.

The shadow of a man darkened the doorway. Mik tensed, and the hairs on the back of his neck prickled. Mik saw he was tall—well over six feet—with hard eyes and dark hair, half hidden by a grubby baseball cap. He moved to the bar and ordered his drink, then he turned and scanned the bar. Mik watched his cool gaze sweep the smoky room and he took advantage of the brief window to analyze him. Years ago, the man wouldn’t have caught his attention, at least not for the reasons he noticed him now. To the untrained eye, the guy was everything he appeared to be—respectable and
Russian
. But Mik knew better. The man was American, and while that meant without a doubt that he was the contact Mik had been waiting for, it also made him a symbol of everything he had ever wanted. Peace, freedom… a future.

Those things alone made Mik hate him on sight.

Still, when the man turned back Mik felt as if all the air had been sucked from his lungs. The description scrawled on the back of his photograph did the stranger little justice. His dark hair was obviously dyed, and with his blue eyes and golden skin, he was the stuff of Mik’s sweetest dreams.

Perhaps sensing eyes on him, the stranger found Mik’s gaze. They stared at each other, before the man lifted his chin in recognition. He moved across the crowded space. Mik watched him, feeling a deep-rooted anticipation take hold in his belly. The flutter of attraction. He dampened it down, reminding himself of the gravity of their meeting, but that didn’t slow his stampeding heart as the guy fist-bumped his shoulder, beginning their charade of old friends meeting up for a quick beer after work.

The man stooped for a fraternal, backslapping embrace. He put his lips close to Mik’s ear. “Mikhail?”

He spoke quietly and the low rumble traveled through Mik. “Yes.”

The word sounded choked. Mik pulled back and found himself lost in the stranger’s eyes. They were crystal clear, like the hidden lake in the mountains behind Pristina, and Mik had never seen eyes like that before. Back home, everyone’s eyes were brown, like his own, so deep and dark they were almost black.

The man sat down, his elbows on the table, smooth and casual. “I kinda figured you’d be older.”

Mik bristled, though he felt the weight of the man’s inspection all over him. He wasn’t a rookie, and however attractive the American appeared to be, Mik had a job to do, and he couldn’t fail. The lives of people he loved depended on the outcome of this meet, and there was no room for fuck-ups. “I’m old enough.”

The man smirked, and Mik inhaled a subtle, calming breath. He’d been just a boy when his father took him to his first underground meeting, but he was a seasoned operative now, and he’d learned his role inside out. It was no hardship to fake friendly with the alluring American, but Mik knew he couldn’t let himself be distracted from the real reason he was there.

His father’s voice rang out in his head.
“We need this intelligence, son. Without it, the enemy will slaughter us in our beds.”

Artan’s words had been dark and ominous, but Mik knew the sentiment was very real. A stab of fear shuddered through him. The last underground operative to cross Serbian lines hadn’t come back, and he’d heard terrible whispers of the persecution the Serbs had inflicted on the tiny ethnic minorities in their own country. It was known that they would show no mercy when their military inevitably overcame the scant Kosovan defense lines.

His resolve bolstered, Mik painted a grin on his face and leaned in to maintain their pretense. He threw a soft punch to the stranger’s shoulder. Hard, coiled muscle bounced his fist back.
Nice
. “Vlad said you’d have something for me.”

The American picked up his beer bottle. Mik forced himself not to stare at his wide, masculine hands and gritty, bitten down nails. His own hand still felt warm from its brief connection with cloth-covered flesh. Distracted, he failed to notice a subtle movement under the table.

A muscular leg nudged Mik. The touch was gentle and unexpected, but it tilted the world on its axis. Heat rushed through Mik’s veins and his hands twitched as he longed to respond in kind. Blood pulsed in his ears and he felt nothing but the warmth of the flesh invading his personal space.

The stranger cleared his throat and moved his leg. “Did you bring what I need?”

The fog lifted. Mik nodded. “Yes.”

“Good.” The stranger’s voice dropped an octave, though his soft spoken Russian accent remained flawless, even as he murmured Albanian for Mik’s ears only. “I don’t need to tell you how important it is that this…information reaches its destination safely. We don’t have much time.”

Mik leaned back in his seat with perfectly feigned nonchalance. “You have no need to worry about that. I’m the best at what I do.”

He didn’t add that he was the only underground operative left with the balls to slip in and out of enemy territory. The others were either dead, caught, or had never existed to begin with.

The door to the bar opened. A breeze sent a breath of male scent straight into Mik’s lungs. The stranger shifted and his leg brushed Mik again. Mik shivered. It could’ve been an accident, but it lingered for longer than the misplaced split second it had before.

The man pulled back and took a cigarette and box of matches from his jacket pocket. In perfect symmetry, the two men glanced around the bar, but no one was looking their way. The stranger lit his cigarette. Mik didn’t smoke, but when offered the cigarette, the resulting brush of fingers was compensation enough for the acrid assault on his lungs.

He returned the cigarette and curled his hand into a fist. Feeling the cool, smooth slip of paper in his hand, he stuffed it into his pocket. A few minutes later, he saw the stranger do the same and like that, their exchange was over, the purpose of their meeting fulfilled.

For appearances sake, they made small talk for a while, then the American drained his beer and rose, his unfinished cigarette dangling from the side of his mouth.

He held out his hand. Mik took it and squeezed, unconsciously—or maybe not—drawing out their good-bye. He’d probably never see the stranger again, and the feeling didn’t sit well in his chest. The heat the American’s closeness had stirred in his blood was dissipating, and in its place, Mik felt oddly cold.

They made their way to the door of the bar. Mik held it open and the stranger stepped outside. Mik followed and when it was finally time for them to part ways for good, he held out his hand again.

The stranger clasped it tight and grinned. “Good to see you, Mik. Let’s do it again. Soon.”

The words seemed weighted. Mik reclaimed his hand and forced his legs into motion, but as he walked away, he knew the American was watching.

Mik shivered again. What the fuck had just happened? He could still
smell
him, every breath a reminder. whether he needed it or not.

Damn
. Mik strode through downtown Belgrade with an irrepressible energy, but he tried to convince himself it had more to do with the mission than the lingering sensation of the stranger’s warm skin. It had been a while since he’d last been with a man—weeks, months, he wasn’t sure, but that deep-rooted, primal desire felt long neglected. Life as a resistance fighter was often lonely, and he missed the companionship of a man in his bed. More than that, he missed hard, chiseled muscles beneath his body. Blunt nails scraping over his skin.

Yeah. That had to be it. Mik didn’t want the American. He just yearned for the feel of a man’s touch.

Any
man.

For long minutes, he was almost convinced.

 

Chapter Two

 

 

It was three days before Mik made it back to Pristina. Serbian roadblocks forced him to take the long way home, and by the time he made it into the city, the lingering buzz of his encounter in Belgrade had faded to a whisper.

His spirit waned even further as he crept through the deserted streets he called home. Blockades, raids and bombings had left Pristina a shell of the beautiful city she’d once been. Mik gazed at the shattered buildings and burned out homes lurking in the gloom of the faint moonlight. With the food shortages and severed power lines, how much longer could they truly survive?

When he reached his house, nestled in an undamaged suburb of the city, his mother, Klea, was in her customary place in the kitchen, washing dishes in the old stone sink. His father, Artan, sat at the table smoking his pipe.

Klea dried her hands and pulled him close, her relief seeping into her tight embrace. “There’s food for you in the fire pit.”

Mik kissed his mother’s cheek. “I’ll eat it later, Mama. I need to sleep first.”

It was mostly true. His mother didn’t need to know that the fading image of a beautiful American had knotted his stomach too tightly for him to eat just yet.

Artan laid down his paper. “Did everything go well?”

Mik slipped his wet overcoat from his shoulders and hung it over the hearth. “As well these things ever go.”

“Indeed,” Artan concurred. “If you’re not going to eat, you should go and find your sister. She’s been waiting for you all day.”

Mik nodded. With one final kiss for his mother, he dropped the smoke-scented scrap of paper on the table in front of his father, left the kitchen and climbed the stairs to the attic where he knew Rea would be holed up and waiting for him. Their childhood home was deceptively big—tall and narrow with a reinforced cellar and a concealed cavern in the roof. The dark didn’t hinder him as he slid back the hidden panel in the loft and dropped into the secret room.

Rea was exactly where he expected her to be. She glanced up from her book as he crossed the room and he smiled as the strange gold streaks in her hair seemed to gleam in the soft glow of the single candle. Like both his parents, Mik had dark hair and eyes, and olive skin that in the murky light of the room he imagined made him look like he needed a wash.

BOOK: More Than Life
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