The Jetset Life Is Gonna Kill You”

story by Mabel Harper & Emrys Webb
written by Emrys Webb


Rich. Self-assured. Handsome. Hunter Lockwood was everything Cyrano had always wanted to be. Suddenly finding himself uplifted into the Lockwood heir’s privileged sphere made him feel like Cinderella at the ball—or so he’d reflected to himself that first night after he’d come home from Lunaria Club, while he’d lain in bed just a little drunk and too giddy to sleep.

Then kicked himself for making such a gay comparison.


Cyrano spied Hunter approaching from the far side of the Atrium, stood rooted to the spot, his heart doing its damnedest to drill a hole right through his chest. “Master-Savant!” He forced confidence into his voice. “What is up, man? Great to see you.”

Hunter’s hand-clasp was as crushing as his gaze. He stood back, hooked his thumbs in the waistband of his Roberto Cavalli pants, his Arcanus robes and sculpted hair gleaming bright-gold in the midday sunlight reflecting off the Fountain of the Sephiroth behind him. Cyrano thrilled at the thought of so many passers-by here in the heart of the Enclave seeing him engaged in conversation with the Lockwood scion.

“The boys and I will be heading over to the club again tonight, around seven o’ clock,” said Hunter. “Penn Sawyer will be joining us—my campaign manager. Rising-Houser like yourself. Real up-and-comer. You two met?”

Cyrano shook his head.

“I’ll have to introduce you. Penn’s a good man. I can count on seeing you there, yes? You enjoyed yourself last time?” Hunter chuckled, wiggled one well-groomed brow.

“Oh…yeah. Yeah.” Cyrano bobbed his head like a parrot. Truth be told, thrilling as that night had been, he’d found the whole gentlemen’s-club experience mildly terrifying. Hunter had been willing to pay for anything Cyrano had wanted, and, faced for the first time in his life with a selection of beautiful women ready to cater to his every whim, Cyrano had blanked. The other guys, all First-Housers, had been bold, entitled—more than willing to demand what they wanted, without hesitation or shame. But for Cyrano, the things he enjoyed in online porn were things he couldn’t imagine asking a live, flesh-and-blood woman to do. So he’d finally settled on a lap dance and a hand job and made intermittent smalltalk with the dancer the whole time, his attention wandering repeatedly to Hunter. He couldn’t help but admire the easy way Hunter charmed and dominated the girls; the way they all fawned over him like he was a king. Cyrano found himself hoping that somehow, through association, some of that Lockwood swag would eventually rub off on him.

“Great,” said Hunter. “And I look forward to hearing more about that project of yours, Apprentice. Fascinating stuff.”

Cyrano nodded, grinned as Hunter clapped him on the back and turned to leave. He’d already told the Master-Savant a little bit about the nulla materia project, but he’d kept all his revelations vague so far, angling to leave his options open as long as he could.

He lingered a moment, studied Hunter as he walked away, wondered what it was about the way he moved—laid back yet forceful, Cyrano concluded; leading subtly with the pelvis—and tried to mimic it as he continued on his way back to the mole tunnels.

Nimri was exactly where he’d been when Cyrano and the rest of the team had left for lunch almost an hour earlier—in Lab #1 poring over texts and muttering to himself, and peering at labels on jars of supplies from the shelves as he sorted them into neat little groups. “You not take a lunch, Philosopher?” Cyrano asked as he donned and adjusted his hazmat gear.

Nimri lifted an unfocused gaze, his hand still busy scribbling something on the clipboard in front of him. “Hm?”

“I’m interrupting you. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay… What did you ask me?”

“If you didn’t take a lunch.”

“Oh. Has it been an hour already?” Nimri rummaged in his lab coat for his pocket watch. “Shit,” he muttered under his breath.

“You should’ve told me you were staying. I could have stuck around to help out, or brought you back food or something.”

“I might send you out for food yet. Sorry. I know you’re pretty overqualified for that.”

“Don’t mention it, man. I’m here to help however I can. You gotta eat to keep a good balance with your Secret Fire, right? Especially since you do transmutations using your own body.”

Nimri shot him a small, surprised look. “You read my paper.”

Brownie points. Score. “Yeah. That was the Eastern alchemy influence. The whole cultivating-physical-perfection-through-the-substances-you-consume.”

“Right.” Nimri looked impressed.

“It was a fascinating read,” said Cyrano, and meant it.

Nimri gave the faintest chuckle, turned his eyes back to his work. “I don’t think even Winter’s read my paper.”

“I’m sure she’ll get to it,” Cyrano demurred, oh-so-humbly. “We’ve all been busy and whatnot.”

“True. She never brings it up, but I think things have been hard for her lately, what with the Khmun business.”

“Oh…really?” Cyrano frowned.

“What’d I miss?” came Winter’s voice from the doorway, bringing this line of conversation to a screeching halt.

Nimri did end up sending Cyrano to pick up a meal for him from the hotel (a custom salad, all organic and whole foods, that included a number of seeds and nuts and fruits Cyrano had never heard of before in his life). The rest of the afternoon, they tested alchemical reactions in the nulla materia rift involving multiple celestial elements, in increasingly volatile combinations—without success. As always, the Grand Philosopher’s disappointment was palpable. It was becoming clearer and clearer that, somehow, this project was more than just a matter of intellectual curiosity to Jules Nimri. That there was something about it that was urgent for him. Maybe even personal.

… Which Cyrano figured was just the kind of thing Hunter would want to know.

“Hey, um, listen,” said Cyrano to Nimri, after the Grand Philosopher had dismissed everyone for the day and the lab team was headed to the prep room to hang up their colors. “You doing anything after this?”

He took a few more steps down the cramped hallway before he realized Nimri was no longer following.

Glanced back. Found the Grand Philosopher standing a few paces behind him, giving him the side eye. “Why do you ask?”

Cyrano shifted on his feet. “Just, uh…thought you looked like you could use a drink. I can buy.”

Nimri arched one long eyebrow. “Are you making a pass at me, Apprentice?”

“No! Dude. I’m into girls.”

“Oh.” Nimri’s expression softened. His wheels seemed to turn for a moment. “Are you buttering me up because I’m your boss? There’s no need, you know. I already think very highly of your work.”

“No. But I’m glad to hear that,” said Cyrano, perplexed. “I just thought, you know, maybe you could use a chance to unwind. Shoot the shit. You seem stressed.”

Nimri breathed a wry almost-laugh. “I’m sorry, Apprentice. Or…Cyrano, I guess, since we’re off the clock.” He raised his eyebrows, took a deep breath. “Uh, yes…is the answer. Why not. And thanks for offering. I don’t have a lot of time, but I could spare a half-hour. Why don’t we go to the bar in the Alfheim Grille? They won’t card me, and I can get us free drinks there so you won’t have to treat.”

Right, I keep forgetting he’s only eighteen. “Yeah, man. Sounds cool.”

They resumed their walk, and Cyrano silently wondered what the hell he was getting himself into.

•─────☾ ☽─────•

At the Alfheim Grille, the Michelin-starred restaurant and bar on the hotel’s ground floor, happy hour was underway, and the dinner rush was just starting to pick up. The patrons were a blend of mundane strangers and familiar faces from around the Enclave. Cyrano spotted a few of Hunter’s cronies at a private table in the back, but didn’t worry that they might report his fraternizing with Nimri to Hunter. After all, he could say (mostly truthfully) that, in engaging Nimri, he was doing Hunter’s work.

He and Nimri found a pair of stools together at the bar, placed their orders. 

Sat in silence for a while before starting to make idle chitchat:

You come here much?

Not really. I’ve gotten takeout a few times. You?

Never been.

More silence followed. Cyrano contemplated what he could possibly do to steer the conversation in a more personal direction. The kinds of subjects he normally would have brought up trying to bond with another guy somehow didn’t seem relevant—like whether the Cubs had a shot at the playoffs this year, or whether he’d picked up the new GTA IV expansion pack.

As Cyrano pondered, he found himself eyeing the curves of a young blond woman in a tight dress who walked by—and, for just a moment, he thought he saw Nimri’s eyes also flick her way.


“Not bad, am I right?” Cyrano tilted his head toward the girl.

Nimri blinked as if not comprehending, then turned and scanned the young woman briefly before turning back. “She’s pretty. But she looks like she spends a lot of time trying to meet conventional beauty standards. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It just means we probably have very different priorities.”

Christ, this is fucking impossible. Cyrano found himself trying to picture what Nimri and Lockwood had been like as a couple. “I guess you’re not a casual-fling kinda guy,” he observed, as their second round of drinks arrived in front of them.

Nimri smiled faintly, murmured a thank-you to the bartender. “No. But even if I were, I’m trans. I can’t exactly take a girl to bed on impulse. Things are bound to get intensely personal, whether I want them to or not.”

Cyrano considered this for a moment. “I never thought of that. Jesus. That’s gotta be hard, right?”

“It would be if I dated more. As it is, I got lucky. I met an amazing girl who really seems to like me the way I am, so.”

Cyrano grinned, clapped Nimri on the back. “Well, congrats, dude! That’s fucking awesome.”

“Thanks.” But Nimri looked sad.

“I mean…that is a good thing, right?”

Nimri nodded, his mouth still drooping at the corners. Took a long pull of his Martini. “What about you, Ap—Cyrano? You have a girlfriend?”

“Nah, man. I date around. Too busy focusing on my career.”

“That’s a pretty good answer to give your boss.” Nimri smirked, then sobered, twirled the stir in his drink. “So I guess you’ve never had someone you were terrified of losing.”

Cyrano eyed the Grand Philosopher, who was staring fixedly into his glass. That got real outta nowhere—Jesus. Zero to sixty. “Are you, uh…worried you’re gonna lose your girl?”

Nimri seemed to struggle with himself a moment. “It was just a, uh, getting-to-know-you question.” He perked his lips unconvincingly.

What are you holding back? “Well, I did lose someone once,” Cyrano offered without thinking. “My mom.”

“Oh.” Nimri frowned. “I’m sorry.”

“Yeah. I mean, it’s really fine. I was so little. I do remember her, but just as kind of, like…this warm presence.” Cyrano hesitated, then forced an irreverent grin. “Christ. That sounded really fucking”—he remembered who he was talking to, stopped himself just short of saying gay—“dumb.” 

“No.” Nimri shook his head firmly. “It didn’t.”

Cyrano met Nimri’s eye for a moment. Suddenly felt naked…which annoyed him. “Whatever. It’s cool.” He shrugged it off, turned his attention to his drink. “It’s been just me and my dad ever since I can remember. I don’t know anything different.”

“You’re an only child?”


“Me too. But then, you probably know that.”

Cyrano eyed Nimri, suddenly curious. “Hey…what is that like? Having every little detail of your life make headlines?”

Nimri again smirked, took a sip of his gin and tonic. “You have no idea.”

Cyrano stared into his Scotch. “I’m…a little jealous of it, honestly.”


Why the hell am I telling him this? “Because I’ve always been invisible.”

Cyrano heard a startling sound come out of Jules Nimri—a laugh. He looked up to find a twinkle in the Grand Philosopher’s eyes. “Just because people are looking at you doesn’t mean you’re not invisible.” It was the most warmth he’d ever seen in Nimri’s face, and, for a moment, Cyrano supposed he could see why a lot of people found him beautiful.

“But it’s gotta be better than nothing, right? At least you know you mean something to people.”

Nimri frowned into his glass. “I think the more visible you are to people, the more they can’t handle it if you don’t align with their vision of the world. So they make more of an effort to control you. Some people can withstand that kind of pressure. Some, I think, even thrive on defying others’ expectations. Me…I don’t think I can dwell on it too much, or I lose myself.”

Cyrano studied Jules Nimri a moment, wondered if he really had any idea the way some people talked about him. Like Silas and Teddy. “I think I understand,” he said at length.

Jules was silent a moment, then added, as if he’d read Cyrano’s thoughts, “You sometimes hang out with those Old-World guys, don’t you? Grenville, Eads? Hunter’s crowd?”

Amid the fear the question struck in his heart, Cyrano found himself reflecting that it was weird to hear someone like Jules Nimri use the term Old World, which Cyrano had only ever heard from fellow Rising-Housers. “I mean…yeah,” he responded, with a careful shrug. “Sometimes I do.”

Has he figured out what I’m up to? Maybe he’s gonna ask me to spy on Hunter now…

Nimri eyed him. “You’re too good for them, you know.”

Cyrano felt a lump in his throat. “What do you really know about me?”

“That you’re smart. And kind. Not many people approach me. I think maybe they just don’t know what to make of me. But you’ve treated me like just another human being from day one, which, believe it or not, makes you unique.”

Cyrano took a sudden, dedicated interest in the bottom of his rocks glass.

Jules cleared his throat, turned back to his drink. “Sorry. I embarrassed you.”

“No, I…no.” Cyrano gave a diffident shrug.

“I’m not very good at smalltalk.” Jules smiled wryly. “It’s this kind of stuff or nothing.”

Cyrano found himself grinning. “If…you want to know the truth, it’s kind of refreshing.”

•─────☾ ☽─────•

Cyrano and Jules’s conversation wandered to some unexpected places in the half-hour-ish that followed. Jules eventually admitted, without going into detail, that his girlfriend, Max, was suffering from a serious illness. Cyrano responded by opening up about his mom’s fight with cancer—what little he remembered or had gleaned from his extended family’s accounts, seeing as Dad refused to talk about it to this day. Jules listened quietly before launching into a hushed diatribe (coded half in so-called dead languages, out of deference to the Occultation Protocols, since the restaurant was a shared space with mundanes) against outdated laws preventing magi from accessing or utilizing mundane medicine and medical technology.

From there, the dialogue turned to traditionalism in the magic community, which somehow led to a discussion of their respective fathers. Cyrano found himself admitting a few things he hadn’t realized he felt about his dad—like how Dad seemed to place sky-high hopes on Cyrano as his sole heir, yet there was also an ambivalence there. Cyrano’s aunt had told him once he reminded his father of his mother, and Cyrano had secretly wondered ever since if Dad resented him for not being Mom, or for being a constant reminder of what he’d lost. Jules hinted that he could relate to falling short of paternal expectations, and Cyrano wondered what that had been like—Thorsten Nimri finding out his little girl was really a boy, and gifted in alchemy instead of goetia, the family tradition.

He’d almost worked up the nerve to ask when Jules had glanced at his watch and announced he had to go.

On arriving at Lunaria Club roughly an hour later, Cyrano wandered around the parking lot for a while, debating with himself whether he should even go inside. Maybe, he reasoned, it was time he just picked a side—and to hell with the consequences.

In the end, he decided he could continue to kiss Hunter’s ass and enjoy the associated benefits (and protections; Silas and Teddy had left Cyrano the hell alone lately) without divulging anything truly damning about Jules. He hadn’t really learned anything all that compromising anyhow, he figured—only that Jules had a girlfriend who was sick; that he disagreed with some of the Auctoritas Magicae’s policies, which wasn’t in itself all that scandalous; and that, despite supporting his campaign, he had more than a few political differences with his father.

Lunaria’s staff ushered Cyrano past the mundane section of the club, straight through the VIP area where the bulk of the magic population was served into one of the ultra-exclusive private rooms in the back. Cyrano couldn’t deny the thrill he felt every time they called him “Mr. Almonte” and flitted around him like moths around a porch light, offering him hors d’oeuvres and strong drinks from trays.

In the room Hunter always reserved, the party was underway. “Every Girl” by Young Money throbbed from the sound system. At Cyrano’s approach, Hunter shooed a dancer off his lap and stood up, extended a hand. “Almonte!” Several of his cohorts rose to mimic his enthusiastic greeting. “Reserved you a seat, right here.” He gestured to the mod-style red leather sofa he himself occupied, along with a young man Cyrano recognized as Penn Sawyer. “Sawyer, Cyrano Almonte. Cyrano’s a real up-and-comer in the Alchemy department. Currently working on a very important project with the…Grand Philosopher.” There was a note of mockery in Hunter’s tone as he pronounced Jules’s title.

“Very impressive! Penn Sawyer,” grinned the same, extending a hand. His grip, like Hunter’s, was overpowering. Cyrano had known about the firebrand activist for years; Sawyer’s was a household name in younger Rising-House circles. Where Hunter’s classic style would have fit in seamlessly on the set of Mad Men, Sawyer cut a distinctly modern figure in tight, shabby jeans and hipster glasses, with untamed dark curls and a five-o’-clock shadow. “I’m sure we’d all love to hear more about what Nimri’s got you working on. Not too much of a slave-driver, is she?”

Cyrano struggled with himself briefly as he took the seat Hunter had offered on the couch. Would it really be so hard for you fuckers just to call him “he”? “Not like you might expect,” he hedged, feeling all eyes on him. “I mean…Nimri is exacting, that’s for sure.”

A suggestive chuckle rippled through the assembly. It was a small group present; besides Hunter and Sawyer, Silas and Teddy were there, and a few other First-House heirs closer to Hunter’s age. Cyrano couldn’t help but notice the only Rising-House guys were Sawyer and himself.

“Well, if she gets out the strap-on, run,” quipped Sawyer, to a round of uproarious laughter.

Cyrano laughed along, uneasily. “Nah, man. It’s really not like that.”

“What is it like? Come on,” Sawyer grinned, while Hunter waved over the same dancer Cyrano had picked last time. “Inquiring minds want to know.”

“Um.” The dancer, who wore nothing but a thong and stilettos, plopped her round rump down on Cyrano’s lap. He squirmed. “It’s, um, you know, I mean…yeah.” He swallowed. “Sorry, fellas…kinda distracted here all of a sudden.”

Everybody laughed.

“Why don’t we talk shop later?” Hunter eyed Cyrano intently.

“Right. We’re here to celebrate.” Sawyer slapped the thigh of the girl who was dancing on him. “Crimson, head back there, tell ’em we’re ready for the main act, will ya? That’s a good girl.”

“‘Main act’?” Hunter groaned. “Jesus, Sawyer—what’d you do?”

“As we all know”—Sawyer stood, held his glass of whisky high—“this is the one-month anniversary of the day our man Hunter announced his campaign for the office of magistrate.”

The men raised their glasses and cheered, Cyrano included. He found himself clutching his dancer—whose name, if he recalled right, was either Kahlúa or Calliope—like a security blanket. She looked confused, but cuddled up to him obligingly, played with his hair.

“In honor of the occasion,” Sawyer went on, “me and the boys all went in on a little present for you, Future-Magistrate Lockwood.”

“Oh, Christ.” Hunter chuckled, shook his head.

“No, no, man. This is gonna be good, I promise.” Sawyer grinned. “We know what our boy likes.”

“Let’s just get this over with.” Hunter gave a goodnatured sigh, settled back in his seat.

Sawyer raised his fingers to his lips, whistled.

A hush fell over the space. All eyes converged on the red curtain that took up the far wall of the room.

When it finally moved aside, Cyrano’s gut gave a violent twist.

The jeers and wolf-whistles were deafening. Only Hunter and Cyrano remained silent, the former’s expression inscrutable as the new dancer moved across the room toward them.

She was wearing a glamor, it was obvious. Glamors meant to mimic the appearances of real people—unless they were months or more in the making, like wax statues at Madame Tussauds—always ended up having an uncanny airbrushed look to them. This young woman, with her tousled black hair and cleavage-baring pantsuit, big black eyes blinking demurely from within plastic frames, was the spitting image of Jules Nimri, if someone had taken a sander and buffed off his every mole and freckle, every blood vessel that showed through his pale skin—every last little human imperfection, even the creases around his eyes.

The uproar died down to a few last hoots and hollers as the dancer came to a halt a few paces in front of Hunter, clasped her hands coyly behind her back. “I’ve been a bad girl, Daddy,” she simpered, in a voice that, to Cyrano’s relief, didn’t sound remotely like Nimri’s. “I need to be put in my place.”

Hunter hadn’t moved a muscle since she’d entered. All eyes were on him now as he leaned back on the sofa, fixed her with an unintelligible stare.

After an agonizing silence, she shifted on her high-heels-clad feet, gave a toss of her black mane. “Won’t you tell me how you want me, Master-Savant?”

“First of all, keep your mouth shut. You sound nothing like her.”

The whole room seemed to hold its breath. The young woman blinked. Silently nodded her head.

“Now. Get on your knees.”

The false Jules Nimri did as she was told.

Hunter stood up, paced over to her. Cyrano could see an erection straining the wool of his pants.

As the Lockwood heir undid his belt, Cyrano clutched Kahlúa tighter, combating an urge to push her off his lap and go bolting from the room.

The fake Jules gazed up through her lashes as Hunter bared his cock. Raised her hand as if to grip it; leaned forward, lips parted, ready to take it into her mouth.

But he grabbed her hair all of a sudden, jerked her head back. She went rigid, her hand frozen in midair; blinked up at him with a tentative expression.

Hunter held her fast, started masturbating furiously.

Except for the pulsing club music and the sound of his fapping, the room was deathly silent.

The dancer lowered her hand, hung expressionless in Hunter’s grasp. He let out a grunt; she flinched almost imperceptibly as his load blew all over her glasses.

A roar went up from the onlookers, so sudden and so loud that Cyrano jumped. His stomach gave another lurch.

Hunter tossed a fat roll of bills at the girl as he turned away. “Step up, boys,” he addressed the gathering, with a magnanimous gesture.

Cyrano sat rooted to his seat as the others queued up in front of the dancer, blocking her from view. He was sure it would look bad if he didn’t join them—might even be seen as treacherous. But there was no way in hell he could get it up for this.

He kept his eyes downcast, felt the heat of Hunter’s gaze. The Master-Savant was watching, Cyrano reckoned, to see what he would do. It was a test.

When Hunter’s stare continued to hold fast after several seconds, Cyrano finally, reluctantly lifted his own to meet it.

Hunter smiled coldly, then gave Kahlúa a little swat on her thigh to spur her to her feet. “Go on, Almonte.” He tilted his head toward the line. “Don’t you want to put the bitch in her place?”

Cyrano swallowed hard. Stood, hands listing obstructively in front of his crotch. 

He shuffled over to the back of the queue, started fondling himself uselessly through his pants.

He found himself at the front of the line all too soon. Gov Hassanpour had just stepped out of the way, leaving nothing but air between Cyrano and the dancer.

She was now kneeling in the middle of a litter of damp bills, the front of her hair slicked flat on one side, her suit stained. Cyrano could see just one of her dark eyes through her slime-streaked glasses. It looked distant. Dull with resignation.

Bile surged in the back of his throat.

The next thing he knew, Cyrano was barreling, one hand clamped over his mouth, down the dimly lit hallway that led to the restrooms, shouts and laughter dying away behind him.

He burst into the men’s room, skidded to a halt, doubled over, not sure for a moment if he was going to hurl or not. His stomach was churning. The bass pumping through the restroom speakers rattled his skull. The image of that girl who looked so much like Jules Nimri—except for that one pitiful eye—was burned into his brain.

He straightened and spun as the door swung open behind him.

Hunter entered, closed the door after him. A scarlet field burst outward from his central mana seal and clung, oscillating, to the walls, floor, and ceiling—some kind of shield.

“What is that?” stammered Cyrano. “How’d you—?”

“Wouldn’t want any of those fools interrupting.” Hunter advanced on Cyrano, hands in pockets—tipped his head vaguely in the direction of the showroom. “Not what you’re into, I take it?” His lips twitched upward in a cruel grin.

Cyrano didn’t know what to say. “I’m…sorry.”

Hunter loomed uncomfortably close. Cyrano could smell his cologne, his sweat; sensed a weird power radiating off him.

“What about this?” Hunter’s hand closed over Cyrano’s crotch.

“What are you doing?!” Cyrano tried to squirm out of reach, but Hunter backed him up against the wall. “Stop.”

“Doesn’t seem like you want me to stop,” remarked Hunter, as Cyrano’s erection grew.

Cyrano felt tight-coiled—primed to lash out with all his strength. But some part of him kept screaming that fighting back would be suicide.

He tried to twist away again, but Hunter slammed him back against the wall, continued to grope him. Cyrano winched his eyes shut tight as Hunter worked open his belt, his fly.

This isn’t happening.

“Stop. Please.” Cyrano hated the sound of his own voice. “I really don’t—I’m not—”

“Save it.” Hunter pinned him to the wall with his forearm, started beating him off. “I know a faggot when I see one. This is the best fucking moment of your life.”

Cyrano tried to be not here anymore. To disappear, or teleport, or ascend to a higher plane of being.

In the end, the only relief he could find was some sense that he was observing this whole fucked-up encounter from within, an indifferent tourist in his own body.

He lurched as the climax wracked him.

For one deaf moment, Cyrano stood there, staring through stars at the streak of ejaculate that glistened on the floor in front of him.

Then, he collapsed onto Hunter’s chest.

“Get off me.” Hunter shoved him back against the wall. “Let me make something clear: I could destroy you.” The evenness of his tone sent shivers down Cyrano’s spine. “With a word. With a blow. You’re no one. I could dump your mangled body in the Fox River tonight and no one would care.” He leaned so close his lips touched Cyrano’s ear. “Not even your Nameless father.”

Cyrano felt tendrils of despair wind their way deep into his soul.

“But. Man up and give me what you promised”—Hunter released his grip, but not his gaze—“that’ll change. I’ll make you somebody. Someone no one will be able to ignore.” His lips curved in a grin. “‘Prefect Almonte’ has a ring to it, don’t you agree?”

Cyrano furiously blinked back tears. “Are you serious?” he managed, in a strangled whisper.

Hunter gave a brusque nod. “Unlike most of those brown-nosers out there, you’re smart. You have what it takes to make something of yourself. And trust me, I take care of my own. I don’t care if you’re a fag.”

“I’m not—”

“I don’t care if you’re a No-Name, either. Show me you’re loyal to me and me alone, and I’ll take you to the top. That’s a promise.” Hunter backed Cyrano against the wall again, dropping his voice. “But dick me around,” he intoned, a weird, low growl underscoring his words, “and I will ruin you. Instead of that whore in there, it’ll be your fucking faggot corpse everyone’ll be nutting on. Do you understand?”

Cyrano stared.

After a numb beat, felt himself nod.

“Good,” Hunter exhaled softly on his ear. He rested his palm, almost tenderly, against Cyrano’s cheek, gazed deeply into his eyes. “Now, tell me every last thing you know about Juliana Nimri and what she’s been doing in that lab.”


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