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I talk about some of the research that went into writing Enemy Within. Enjoy! 🙂
Today’s Bauer’s Bytes is a special sneak peek at Enemy Within.
Join Agent Welby as he starts to unravel the subterfuge and deceit surrounding him, and starts to put the pieces together, along with the help of Pete Reyes, Jack’s press secretary. What do Welby and Pete uncover?
Who can Welby really trust, when everything is on the table?
Join Welby on the hunt for answers!
Enemy Within releases March 28th, 2017 at major ebook & print retailers everywhere.
Levi and President Wall ducked out of the Oval Office and headed down to the Situation Room, their heads together as they talked fast and low, as if sharing national secrets.
Welby stared them down, watching every single step. What was going on? What were they hiding?
Time to find out.
He ducked into the Oval Office, waving to the president’s secretary as he entered. He waved a manila folder as he pushed open the door. “Got to drop off a new brief.”
The president’s secretary didn’t even bat an eyelash. “Have a good day, Agent Welby,” she said, as he entered the silent, empty Oval Office.
He took a few steps in and swallowed. The power of the office still stopped him in his tracks, even now, years after he’d become a Secret Service agent. The fate of the world had been shaped within these curved walls, so many times over. For good or for ill, decisions had been made by men and women in this office that had impacted the lives of billions. He took a shaky breath.
What he was about to do was treasonous.
His stomach had burned a hole through itself, and he’d tied himself in knots, agonizing through the long hours of the day and night. They needed answers.
But he’d never crossed this line before.
Damn it, he needed to move, and fast. He was already on borrowed time.
Welby headed for the Resolute desk and started pulling out drawers. Nothing worthwhile in the top two. Notepads and folders, pens and sticky notes. A candy bar. A card, from Ethan to Jack, something sappy and silly at the same time. He put it back, carefully.
His thumbprint opened both of the locked lower drawers, and he held his breath when he tugged them open. Dozens of file folders. The president’s laptop. Top Secret briefs.
And, another laptop, resting on top of a burned briefcase.
He hauled the briefcase out and set it on the desk. It was a wreck, soot-covered, torn on one side, and water-damaged. The handle had been ripped off. Both locks were broken.
Inside, most of the papers were damaged, burned on the edges, or blackened with smoke and soot. Debris filled the inside of the case, gravel and dust. Blood stained one corner. The briefcase had sat in a pool of blood and soaked up enough of it to make Welby look away from the rust-drenched corner.
Lawrence Irwin had carried his briefcase with him into Langley, before the blast. Welby remembered that night. He remembered every moment of what happened, a picture-perfect clarity set in Imax quality in his mind. Waiting in the SUV, equal parts bored and on edge, wondering what was happening within Langley. Why had they taken Leslie Spiers into custody? Was she working with Madigan? What would they find during the interrogation?
And then, the blast. He and his team racing into the still-burning, still-collapsing building. Tearing through concrete and debris, searching for the president as fires roared and smoke billowed around them.
Pulling back blocks of concrete, adrenaline tearing through him faster than a Formula One racecar. Finding Irwin’s broken, bloody body. And then the president lying beneath him in a spreading pool of blood.
President Spiers had seemed so light, so fragile, when he scraped him off the ground. Floppy like a doll in his arms. Limp, too limp. He carried him over the shattered remains of the CIA’s headquarters as helicopters and rescue workers and firetrucks arrived, sirens blaring, lights flashing. People shrieked, crying for help.
He carried the president’s broken body, staring down into his pale, empty face.
The word hung like cobwebs in his mind, like a whirlpool that sucked down all other thoughts. It had been him on duty, him that night. He had let his president be attacked. Assassinated. He had let the nation down. He had let the president down. And, he had let Ethan down.
Or had he?
Desperation redoubled his efforts, and he clenched his jaw as he rifled through Irwin’s briefcase. Where would Irwin have sent Ethan to search for proof of Leslie Spiers’s betrayal? Out of the whole world, where would he have gone?
One folder caught his eye. Bright red Top Secret borders lined the edges, and a giant seal warned him away from the contents. “Operation: Vigilant Fury” was the codename.
He snorted. Vigilant was President Spiers’s Secret Service codename. What could be better for a Top Secret operation to hunt down Madigan? The government did not have the best sense of humor, but they excelled in irony.
He flipped the file open.
Photos, dozens of them, from prison breaks around the world. Satellite imagery over South America, the Maghrib, and Somalia. Dossiers from a dozen military officers, one from a man named Noah Williams, supposedly dead sixteen years prior. Welby’s eyes narrowed. Leslie Spiers was supposed to be dead, too. He knew how that had played out.
Intelligence reports. Memos and intelligence analysis and mission briefs from a Marine Corps strike team sent to Ethan. Pages and pages of reports, each one detailing more of the teams’ actions and missions.
Ethan must have run the strike team, secretly. In addition to being Jack’s first gentleman, he must have been running a black strike team, working hand in hand with Irwin. No wonder Irwin turned to him. They were already hunting Madigan together.
And, the Marines. Were they the missing piece he needed? They must be whom Ethan turned to when he needed to follow Leslie Spiers’s tracks.
Who were they?
Welby dug deeper. The mission briefs had been signed by an “AC, LT1”.
Not good enough. He needed a name.
Finally, at the bottom of the file, he struck gold. A sheet of paper, torn from a notepad, with scribbles of Irwin’s that he should have thrown away months ago. “LT Adam Cooper, SOCOM. General Bell, Commanding Officer. Possible team lead. Check background. Current disciplinary action? Investigate connection to F.”
He had a name. A place to start searching. Finally.
Welby put everything back into the briefcase, exactly as he found it, and slid it back into the bottom drawer.
He took the Operation Vigilant Fury folder with him, hidden inside the manila envelope. He clenched the paper with Lieutenant Adam Cooper’s name on it, tight enough that his hand shook.
One step closer to the truth.
Except, Lieutenant Adam Cooper was a ghost.
Welby slammed down the phone in Pete’s office and groaned. Across the desk, Pete stared at him, his wide eyes almost bulging from his skull. “Nothing? Again?”
“Not a damn thing,” Welby growled. “Irwin and the CIA must have scrubbed him from the system when they brought him on board. His record is a shell. I can’t get any working information for him. No current posting. No current duty assignment. Nothing.”
“What about this?” Pete spun the scrap of paper and jabbed his finger in the middle. “His commanding officer was General Bell at SOCOM. Can you get in touch with him?”
“I tried. The general is ‘unavailable’. And his secretary has no idea who any Lieutenant Adam Cooper is. Never heard of him. Which is bullshit, because if he was in disciplinary trouble, then his secretary would have run the paperwork. She has to have heard of him.”
Pete sighed and threw himself back in his chair. He ran his hands through his hair and laced his fingers behind his head. “You searched all the military databases, right?”
Pete gnawed on his lip, staring at Welby. “I’ve got a person,” he finally said slowly. “It’s not, you know, entirely legal. But I’ve used them in the past to track down sources. People I need to find when they’ve gone to ground. If I need them for a story, or if I need them to shut their mouth.”
Welby’s eyebrows skyrocketed.
“You think being press secretary is just throwing press junkets all the time?” Pete scoffed. “This is one of the dirtier offices in the West Wing. And I’ve never been afraid of getting into the mud.” He swallowed. “Not for Jack.”
“I don’t need to hear any more.” Standing, Welby smoothed his tie and headed for the door. “I’d hate to have to arrest you because of something I overhear.” Never mind the treason he just committed himself.
He turned the doorknob. “But, I expect you’ll let me know?”
His cellphone buzzed a few hours later. Welby glanced down at the screen. A text from Pete had popped up. Get here asap.
Welby pocketed his cell phone and turned back to the shift brief. Levi was talking through the elevated threat assessments, and what they all needed to watch out for. Tasking agents rotating off shift with intel work in Horsepower. Reassigning other agents, and moving their posts around. Changing the West Wing procedures. It was a big shake-up, and Welby couldn’t see the reason why. Why move agents? Why have them hunting for intelligence? That was H Street’s job, for the intel desk jockeys at Headquarters.
He escaped as soon as the brief ended, slipping out the back. On the way out, he saw the confusion on the other agents’ faces, too. What was up with Levi? Why these changes?
Unease slid down his spine, drumming along each one of his vertebrae with a deeper, darker worry.
He pushed his gnawing anxieties away as he slipped into Pete’s office. Pete stood at his desk, his back to the door, on the phone. As Welby entered, he waved him in, thanked whoever he was talking to, and hung up.
“What did you get?” Welby crossed his arms and hovered in front of Pete’s desk.
“A few things.” Pete pulled his keyboard close and started pounding at the keys. “Okay, first, my guy looked up Adam Cooper. Turns out, he’s been using his civilian ID to move around. Him and a bunch of other MAMs flying on the same route.”
“Military age males?” Welby frowned. “That’s not unusual. That’s anyone from fifteen to sixty-five. About half the population of airline travel is in that range.”
“Not on this route.” Pete spun his monitor toward Welby. A flight route lit up, one red line bouncing from Riyadh to London, London to Seattle, Seattle to Anchorage, Anchorage to Nome, in the far reaches of western Alaska, and then to Sevoukuk, a tiny village on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea. “Only eight men flew this itinerary, and all together, all on the same day. Adam Cooper, six other American men, all in the Marine Corps, and one Saudi national.”
“Faisal al-Saud. His passport was flagged in Seattle. Someone came forward and said al-Saud and he were getting married in the States, and the immigration officer let them through.”
“Who the hell is Faisal al-Saud? Why is he connected to Lieutenant Cooper?” Welby’s brow furrowed, and he stared at the red lines on the monitor as if he could read the lieutenant’s intentions in each hop.
“Dunno.” Pete shrugged. “I looked up what I could. He’s an orphan. His parents were killed in those big bombings the Kingdom had twenty years ago. His uncle adopted him, raised him. He’s a quiet prince in the royal family. The only thing that stands out is that he’s reported to be the royal head of the Saudi Intelligence Directorate.”
“Shit…” Welby cursed, and he leaned forward, bracing his palms on the edge of Pete’s desk. “Is that good news or bad news for us? These flights originated from Riyadh. What the hell was Lieutenant Cooper doing in Saudi Arabia anyway?”
Pete shrugged again. “The only thing we know for sure is that Lieutenant Adam Cooper landed on St. Lawrence Island yesterday. And Ethan wasn’t with him.”
“Did you track Ethan’s passport? Find out where he was?”
“No.” Pete shook his head. “He must have been using a burner. Irwin could have gotten him one from the CIA. Ethan’s most recent passport scan was his last official trip with the Secret Service. Ethiopia.”
A shiver crawled up the back of Welby’s neck, ringing his throat until his scar burned. Ethiopia. He remembered gasping for breath as his throat filled with blood. Hands holding him down on the conference table in Air Force One as the surgeon leaned over him, shouting at him to keep still. He swore, one of those hands had belonged to Jeff Gottschalk. He’d held Jeff’s hand, clenched so hard he thought he broke it. He thought he was going to die on that table, bleed out at thirty thousand feet, all over the seal of the United States.
He took a breath, but Pete jumped in, speaking first. “So. Lieutenant Cooper is in Alaska. Hanging out in the Bering Sea. Moroshkin is invading Canada. You think he’s making a move against Moroshkin?”
“He’s headed the wrong way for that. He’s thirty miles off the coast of Russia. Canada is a long way from Lieutenant Cooper right now. No, he’s pointed at Russia.”
A light went on in Pete’s eyes, an almost mad gleam. He spun his monitor back around as he pounded at his keyboard again. “Take a look at this.” He spun the monitor back.
A gaudy, flashing webpage blinked back at Welby, a mess of translation protocols converting Russian web text to broken English. “Looks like… a message board?”
“Yes. A Russian conspiracy theorists’ website. They run a message board and yak about all the same things our conspiracy nuts do. Aliens. Government cover-ups. Secret military installations. HAARP. Chemtrails. All of it.”
Welby stared at Pete. “Why do we care what Russian nuts are talking about on some badly managed website?”
Pete held up one finger and then pounded away at his keyboard again. A new page came up, a thread of messages. He scrolled to the second message. Pictures filled the thread, groups of hard-looking Russians swarming around a convoy of rugged jeeps that had seen far better days. Some of the men wore full-face black balaclavas. Everybody carried automatic rifles.
“This group of men was seen moving across Russia. First in the west by Volga, and then they reappeared on the east coast, north of Vladivostok. There are unconfirmed reports of sightings in Siberia.”
“Looks like a gang of Russian thugs.” Had Pete really lost it? Had he chased a rabbit down a crazy hole? Maybe Levi was right, and Pete really did need time off. Hell, maybe he did, too.
“Look closer.” Pete pushed the monitor across the desk and started slowly scrolling through the thread. Picture after picture came up and passed, scene after scene of dark-clad Russians clutching weapons and riding in jeeps.
“Wait!” Welby’s hand shot up.
There, striding alongside a balaclava-wearing man, his face turned to the side and cast in half shadows, was Ethan.
“You see it too?” Pete breathed. “Tell me I’m not crazy.”
Welby shook his head, back and forth. “It can’t be him.” The denial was automatic, a knee-jerk gut-check. “There are thousands of people who look alike. This must just be an uncanny double. It’s not him.”
Pete scrolled again. A new picture, Ethan turning toward the camera this time, and calling to someone behind him.
Welby hissed. He reached behind him and pulled one of Pete’s chairs close, collapsing to his ass when his knees buckled.
“I thought the same thing when I saw them,” Pete said softly. He sat on the side of his desk, one leg dangling. “It couldn’t be him, I thought. No way. Why would he be in Russia? With some kind of gang? But…” Pete swallowed. “If Lieutenant Cooper is in Alaska, hanging out on an island within spitting distance of Russia, and Ethan might be on the east coast of Russia… I mean, it can’t be a coincidence, right?” He trailed off. “C’mon, man. Tell me I’m not losing it.”
“It’s him.” Welby clasped his hands together and fisted them in front of his mouth, covering his lips. “It’s him,” he repeated. “And I know who the guy next to him is, too.”
Twelve years he’d served at Ethan’s side, from the day Ethan graduated the Secret Service Academy at Rowley until his transfer to Iowa. Welby had been an agent one year longer, but he’d still been a newbie when Ethan had joined the DC field office, and then the White House. Twelve years of operations together. Twelve years of moving with Ethan, watching him on the protective detail. Watching him with his protectees, how he moved with them.
And then, seeing how different he was with President Spiers. Ethan had always been a consummate professional, a man of clean lines and exacting standards. He’d rocketed up the ranks of the Secret Service because of his discipline, his no-nonsense behavior, his determination and dedication to the service. Professional at all times, even with the most difficult assignments, the most pain-in-the-ass protectees.
Until President Spiers. Until he and Jack came together like sparks catching flame.
With him, Ethan had made protections personal. Welby had seen it, even before the truth came out. Ethan had become compromised. He cared about Spiers. He stood too close. Kept the president in his body space, inside his shadow. Moved his own body in tandem with the president, like they were connected. Like they were a team, a unit, a pair. He’d protected Spiers like he was protecting the most precious thing in the world, and after, when everything came out, Welby realized that had been exactly what Ethan had been doing.
The man in the pictures, striding alongside the man in a black balaclava, moved the same way.
Twelve years he’d been at Ethan’s side, and he could pick out Ethan’s style of protection in an instant. He could see the way Ethan breathed and moved with the man in black, reacted to him almost before the man in black even made a move. A matched set, a unified team. A partnership closer than any he’d ever seen.
“It’s President Spiers,” Welby breathed. “The president is alive.”
Timestamp: An excerpt from Enemy Within, as Agent Welby attempts to put the pieces together…
Enemy Within releases March 28th, 2017, at Amazon, Smashwords, and major ebook & print retailers!
This Byte is a day late (sorry!), but, it’s a pretty special one. We’re going back in time, again, and taking a look at Adam and Faisal’s developing relationship. When did Adam discover Faisal was royalty? When did Prince Abdul find out about Adam? How did Adam and Faisal keep making the decision to be together, over and over again, with so much stacked between them?
Let’s put the pieces of their past together… before March 28th 2017!
Scorched sand spread in every direction, as far as Adam could see from the plane’s cramped window. Riyadh glittered in the distance, south of King Khalid Airport, shimmering in heat waves rising from Saudi Arabia’s central plateau, the Najd. Farther south, he could pick out the rolling sands of the Rub’ al-Khali, the Empty Quarter. Endless waves of empty, burning sand, and the classic images of Saudi Arabia. Nothing could survive in that endless desert.
His blood quickened, thrumming through his veins. He gripped the curved seat handles, his sweat-slick fingers slipping on the plastic as the flight attendant called for all seatbacks to be put forward and seatback trays to be returned to their upright positions.
This was it. His first visit to Saudi Arabia… for him. Exclusively for him. For Faisal.
Eight months. It had been eight months since he’d first met Faisal, had first followed him back to his Baghdad flat and writhed beneath his hands, his lips, his touch, for hours. Never, not in a million years, not in his wildest, most crazed thoughts, had he ever thought he’d find a lover in Baghdad. Much less a Saudi lover.
Faisal’s nationality wasn’t the most scandalous aspect of their… relationship? Was it a relationship? What were eight months of intense, almost constant lovemaking called? Sneaking away every chance they got? Making love in Baghdad and Kuwait City, where Faisal had another flat. Whispering Arabic to each other all night long by the light of a dozen flickering candles.
Sharing intelligence. Adam, quietly passing along the names of his targets, individuals he was tracking. Faisal, sliding him information the Kingdom had on America’s targets and pointing him in new directions, toward the quieter, insidious threats. The hand that wagged the dog.
Realizing Faisal was, like him, an intelligence officer. Conspiracy, his mind whispered. Espionage. Revealing secrets.
But what they’d shared had been beneficial for both of them and their governments so far. At least, that’s how he rationalized it. Adam had been applauded for his intelligence efforts, his wins in identifying deep Caliphate assets that had eluded the US for so long. Faisal’s efforts were focused half on the Caliphate and half on Iran, and Adam slipped him a signals intercept on Iran that Faisal had hand-carried back to Riyadh.
What they were doing was wrong on so many, many levels. He was violating the Espionage Act. He was sleeping with a foreign national and not disclosing it. He was engaging in homosexual activity with a Muslim in a Muslim country. In multiple Muslim countries. He was violating laws and agency regulations right and left.
And now, flying to Riyadh to meet with Faisal.
Faisal had texted the day before, saying that his people in Riyadh were beyond pleased with the signals intercept and that he had some time to spend in the Kingdom before flying back to Kuwait and then Baghdad.
Would Adam like to come down? They could steal a day away. No one would ever know.
He paid cash for his ticket, flying out of Baghdad before dawn.
Finally, the jet’s tires squealed and skipped down the runway at King Khalid Airport and then taxied to the gate. Alhamdulliah as salaama echoed around the cabin, the passengers thanking God for the safe flight, as custom. The Saudi morning sun burned down on the terminal, scattering gleaming silver light in every direction. Bodies shuffled out of the plane, men in long white thobes and ghutras, a few women in hijabs, and a scattered businessman or three. He caught eyes sliding sidelong to him. Not in a suit, and not in a thobe. What was he doing in the Kingdom, the capital of conservatism in the world?
Inside, the airport glittered, white and cream marble seeming to stretch forever. Arches interlaced overhead, like the cornices of the Great Mosque of Cordoba in Spain. Ferns crowded around fountains and indoor lagoons, and ivy crawled up the marble in carefully orchestrated patterns. Whisper-soft footfalls and hushed conversation made the airport seem larger than it was, colossal as opposed to cavernous. He hurried as fast as he could without standing out, slipping through slow-moving crowds of Saudi men holding hands and groups sharing coffee and tea.
And then, finally, he was outside. Heat slapped him in the face as he stepped from the ice-cold air conditioning of the airport to the sun-scorched heat of Riyadh. Cars and taxis cluttered the curb, dark-skinned Bengalis and Pakistanis loading the luggage of aloof Saudis into the back of their cabs.
He swallowed. Where was Faisal? He fumbled for his cell in his pocket. It buzzed as he pulled it out.
To your left.
Frowning, he turned.
A cherry-red Lamborghini convertible waited at the curb, all alone, set apart from the bustle of the main terminal. A man rose in the front seat, holding onto the windscreen as he stood in the foot well. He wore a cream linen suit, setting off his golden skin, and a deep blue button-down, the buttons around his neck open and showing off the hollow of his throat. He smiled at Adam and titled his head. Even though he wore mirrored sunglasses, Adam could imagine the sparks burning in his amber eyes.
He headed for the Lamborghini with a grin, as if pulled by a magnet. Torn, his gaze wandered over the car’s slick lines, the compact power of the sports car, and then flicked up to his lover, still standing in the driver’s foot well. Faisal held just as much unrestrained power as the Lamborghini, just as much thrust and passion. His sleek muscles, his lithe body, always made Adam think of a jaguar, always on the prowl, always ready to strike.
“Ahlan wa sahlan,” Faisal called, grinning.
“Marhaban.” Adam whistled as he stood by the Lamborghini’s passenger door. To anyone watching, he might be gazing at the sports car.
But his eyes were fixed on Faisal’s, and, slowly, he dragged his gaze down Faisal’s body, from his taut shoulders encased in cream linen to his narrow waist, and then farther down.
“Hurry up and get in,” Faisal breathed. “We have a long drive.”
“In this?” He hopped over the passenger door and dropped into the bucket seat, throwing his small bag behind him. “How could any drive last long in this car?”
“I am taking you to the Gulf.”
“The Gulf?” Three hours away, at least. But, the beaches were phenomenal, and, across the bridge in Bahrain, the nightlife was some of the best in the world. He wasn’t here for the nightlife, though, and he wasn’t here for the beaches. What he wanted was sitting right beside him.
“I have a place there. We won’t be disturbed.” Faisal threw him a sly smile and stepped on the accelerator. They jumped smoothly into the traffic lane winding away from the terminal and out of the airport.
“You have lots of places.”
Faisal said nothing. He shifted into second. Wind flicked through his dark hair, ruffling the cropped strands.
When they hit the highway, the 80M, the open, empty stretch of sunbaked asphalt leading from Riyadh to the Gulf coast, Adam leaned over in his seat, ducking down out of sight and lying across the central dash. He palmed Faisal’s crotch as he reached for his fly.
“Wallah, Adam…” Faisal stepped down hard on the accelerator as Adam slowly undid his zipper.
“I’ll bet you can get us there in half the time.” He winked up at Faisal as he buried his head in his crotch.
“Maa shaa Allah…” Faisal groaned. The Lamborghini zoomed forward, the speedometer needle rising and rising as the engine roared, covering Faisal’s soft moans and gasps.
Neither man noticed the blacked-out SUV trailing behind them, hiding in the shimmering heatwaves a mile behind.
* * *
Christ, he loved this. Maybe he was compromised, and maybe he was completely guilty of sharing intelligence secrets. But conspiracy tasted so sweet, so delicious. Like all victims trapped in honeypot plots throughout the decades, he supposed, he believed this was special. He believed this was different.
Faisal had worshipped his body, stripping him slowly, tasting every inch of his skin. Kisses pressed everywhere, to his shoulder blades, the curve of his spine. The backs of his knees, where Faisal’s soft breath made his leg hair shiver and his body tremble. He was a strung-out bundle of nerves, lit on fire from within, every muscle quivering, every piece and part of him tingling with anticipation. Every time he reached for Faisal, Faisal batted his hands away, smiling coyly as he kept up his seduction, his quest to melt Adam’s bones.
Finally, Faisal rolled him over and spread his legs, and then buried his face in Adam’s ass. He’d groaned, long and loud, and he felt Faisal’s grin against his ass cheeks.
What felt like hours later, after his spine had liquefied and every one of his muscles had gone taut, struck with lightning bursting from the center of his body, from the places Faisal’s hands and fingers touched and stroked, Faisal finally kissed his way up his back and nuzzled his hair. “Ride me,” he breathed. “Ride me, Adam.”
He mumbled something, some string of consonants and vowels, and managed to push himself up on shaking arms, enough for Faisal to slide beneath him and between his legs. Their hands laced together, Faisal helping support him as he sat back, as he scooted until he found what he needed.
Adam held Faisal’s gaze as he sank down, as the burning need Faisal had ignited inside him was satiated. Faisal stopped breathing as he moved, his mouth falling open, his eyes wide, staring at Adam like Adam was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. They rocked together, hands clasped.
In Faisal’s Gulf bedroom, one wall was made up entirely of glass, overlooking the rolling sand, and in the distance, the azure waves of the Gulf waters, gently lapping at a private beach.
Whoever Faisal was, he was loaded. Most Saudis were, but not to this level. A brand-new Lamborghini and a house on the Gulf with a private beach? He must be a top-performing intelligence officer, richly rewarded by the Kingdom. Of course he was a great intel officer. Adam was in his bed, wasn’t he? Adam was passing over American information to him, wasn’t he?
Faisal rolled deep into him, sighing. “When I sink my eye into yours,” he breathed. “I catch a glimpse of a deep dawn and I see ancient yesterday.”
“What?” Frowning, Adam squeezed Faisal’s hands, pressed his thumb into his palms. He could barely think. All he knew, all he could feel, was Faisal pressing in at the root of his spine, like a beacon shining into his soul. Christ, he was so hard. Faisal unlocked some kind of new pleasure within him, some kind of brand-new feeling, sensations he didn’t know he was capable of feeling.
“It’s a poem,” Faisal whispered. “By Gibran to his love.” Groaning, Faisal’s eyelids fluttered closed. “When I am with you, these poems make sense to me at last.”
What could he possibly say to that? What they had together… he’d purposely not thought about it, hadn’t tried to put it in a box or slap a label on it. If Adam sat down with himself in the middle of the night and squared himself with reality, then yes, he’d admit to the skeletons that rattled deep in his closet that he was far too close to Faisal. On every level. And… that he wanted to be closer. Much, much closer.
Close enough that Faisal whispering an Arabic love poem to him while they made love was almost enough to send him over the edge.
Faisal kept whispering, holding Adam’s gaze. “I see what I do not know, and I feel the universe flowing between my eye and yours.”
Shuddering, Adam tipped forward, capturing Faisal’s lips in a deep kiss. Faisal’s hands left his and traced up his sides, his ribs, over his shoulders, and buried in his hair. Came forward, and cupped his cheeks. “Adam, wallah,” Faisal breathed around their kiss. “I—”
Splintering wood broke through Faisal’s bedroom, the sound like a canon blast. Shards sliced Adam’s back, splinters bouncing off his bare skin.
He reared back, still on Faisal’s lap, twisting around as Faisal jolted upright, wrapping one hand around Adam’s waist and holding him close as if he could protect him.
Six men poured into the room, hulking men in dark suits with muscles straining beneath their jackets and deep scowls etched on their brutish faces. And, behind them, an older Saudi man with a gray beard, wearing a white thobe and a white ghutra and with a gold-braided dark cloak over his clothes.
Adam recognized the man immediately: Abdul al-Saud, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.
Faisal spoke first, panic lacing through his voice. “Uncle—“
Adam whipped around, staring down at Faisal. Uncle?
Fury crackled over Prince Abdul, twisting his expression, darkening his skin to a raging, wrathful deep maroon. “Ajlabh,” he growled. Get him.
The six men stormed the bed, reaching for Adam. He thrashed, kicking out, trying to punch. Faisal shouted, ordering them to stop, screaming for his uncle to order them to stop, but it was no use.
Hands grabbed Adam and ripped him from Faisal, tearing their bodies apart. Three men held his arms, another two his legs.
He felt the heft, the swing, and then he was flying, soaring across the bedroom. He heard Faisal’s scream, his bellow.
And then, he slammed into the wall of glass, shattering the bay window as he soared through it. Cuts opened on his shoulder, along his back, on one cheek. Glass peppered him, struck every inch of his bare skin. He curled, trying to protect himself, rounding into a ball as heat and noise slammed into him, the desert sun and the roar of the shattered glass, and the slap of waves against the coastline.
Adam landed in a skid, in a puff of loose, burning sand, facedown. He didn’t move.
* * *
Later, he sat in Faisal’s sitting room, wrapped in a bloodstained sheet, and listened to Prince Abdul holler at Faisal.
Holler at his nephew. At Prince Faisal al-Saud, a member of the Saudi Royal Family.
How could he have been so stupid? How did he not know? Christ, one of the heads of the Saudi Royal Family had just caught him having sex with one of their own. The punishment for a non-Muslim engaging in homosexual sex with a Muslim in Saudi Arabia was death by stoning. And he’d slept with a member of the Royal Family? God, they’d probably fast-track his death sentence. He’d be dead before dusk.
The six bodyguards hovered menacingly nearby. They hadn’t cared about his cuts. He bled all over the sheet one of them threw at his face after he was dragged off the sand and dropped back in Faisal’s house.
Prince Abdul was already shouting, already shaking the walls. He could hear his bellows vibrate off his bones, even from the other room.
“How could you let an American turn you, ya Faisal? How could you let an American breach Kingdom security?”
Silence, from Faisal.
“He is working you! Do you not understand? He is stealing secrets from you! He has compromised you! You have given up the Kingdom for this?”
Christ, Faisal didn’t deserve this. If anything, the reverse was true. He gave far more to Faisal than Faisal gave to him. Faisal wasn’t turned. He wasn’t working for the Americans. He wasn’t working for Adam.
“You have failed, ya Faisal. You have failed in your duties. How ashamed I am of you! The king, have you any idea what he will say? How he will handle this failure? You will be cut out! You will be forgotten! Alhamdulliah, you will be lucky to be banished!”
Adam bowed his head. He’d known they both risked so much, pursuing this, this white-hot connection, this fire in their souls. But to risk his family, his Kingdom?
“Speak, ya Faisal! Do you have nothing to say for yourself?”
Faisal murmured something, but Adam couldn’t parse it out.
“You believed you were—? Rahimullah, you were seduced and made a fool of, ya Faisal. That is not love—”
Fuck, he couldn’t just listen to this. Couldn’t just let Faisal be destroyed. Had Faisal truly loved him? What had he been about to say, cradling Adam’s face as they kissed, after he breathed poetry between their bodies? Adam’s heart lurched, twisting, wringing his own tender, fragile feelings of love out in droplets that bled down his ribs. He’d wanted, God, he’d wanted. He’d dreamed of one day, perhaps beyond all the intelligence games, all the subterfuge, to whisper the confession to Faisal’s lips.
Adam waited for the bodyguards to look away before he leaped. He hauled the sheet around his waist, trying not to trip, and ran for the bedroom.
Six pairs of feet thundered after him, an elephant stampeded, but he made the door and burst within.
Faisal sat slumped on the edge of his bed—the bed they’d made love in, just an hour ago—wrapped in a satin robe, his head in both hands. Prince Abdul paced before him, wearing a tread in the marble floor with his sandals.
“I wasn’t running Faisal,” he blurted out, right as the six bodyguards burst in behind him. Three grabbed his arms and one grabbed his head in an armlock, almost tackling him to the ground.
Faisal jumped up, reaching for him, but Prince Abdul barked something guttural, and Faisal stilled.
Everyone froze. The bodyguards’ hold loosened. They didn’t let go, though.
“Faisal ran me.” Adam swallowed, and his gaze flicked to Faisal’s. Honeyed sorrow poured from Faisal’s eyes, like a candle melting in the desert. Loss, aching loss. “Faisal was running me. I’ve turned. I’m compromised. I gave him intelligence. Information. Those Iranian intercepts? I gave them to him. I give him everything.”
Prince Abdul’s mouth dropped open. He peered at Adam, his eyes narrowing. Slowly, he turned back to Faisal. “Bismillah, is this true, ya Faisal?”
Adam held Faisal’s gaze. Say yes. Say yes. He’d compromise himself even further with this, but Faisal, at least, would be protected in his family. It might save his life. His freedom.
Faisal’s watery eyes closed. He lifted his chin. “Yes, Uncle. I turned him. He works for me.”
Silence, save for the wind whispering through the broken window and glass shards tinkling across the marble floor.
* * *
Adam sat slumped in the back seat of Prince Abdul’s SUV, behind two massive bodyguards. The SUV hummed up Route 95, screaming at one hundred and forty miles an hour toward the Kuwait border. Prince Abdul had ordered his banishment.
Better than his death.
He never got to say goodbye to Faisal.
What had their relationship been, in truth, though? Faisal had lied to him about his identity. Granted, if he’d known Faisal was royalty, he’d have run screaming in the opposite direction. In fact, if he’d woken up after that first night and realized he’d just slept with a prince of the Saudi Royal Family, he probably would have booked the next flight back to America. He’d have shoveled as much shit as needed to get his duty assignment changed. Anything to get him out of the Middle East.
And he’d never have shared what they had created between themselves. Experienced what Faisal gave him. What he made Adam feel.
Would never have fallen, even the littlest bit, in love.
Better to have loved and lost, as the old poets said. But that was crap. The emptiness, the blank way his emotions had smeared and gone flat, the hollowness in his heart. He’d rather have anything else than the aching desolation he felt deep within. This was the kind of feeling that called for tequila, and lots and lots of it. Enough to drown out the barren spaces, make sloshing waves in the hollows of his broken heart.
His cell buzzed, vibrating in his pocket.
Eyeing the bodyguards, Adam slid it out carefully. He’d been ignored so far, but he hadn’t moved once, other than to throw his head back and try and fight the snarl that wanted to rise, the fight that his blood begged for.
He swiped the screen on.
When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams.
All these things shall love do unto you, that you may know the secrets of your heart.
Christ, Faisal. His eyes blurred, and his thumb hovered over the screen. How did he respond? What the hell did he say? They should just walk away, forget about each other, forget about ever knowing each other at all. He could bury this, salvage his career. Faisal could repair his reputation with his family.
Though, his uncle hadn’t seemed shocked by Adam being a man. Just that he was an American. Did he know—
His phone buzzed again.
It was never about the intel for me.
Adam swallowed. [me either]
I just wanted to keep seeing you.
How could he feel worse than he had before, when Prince Abdul had torn them apart? Was this it? Was this goodbye? Faisal, in his way, telling him he loved him and telling him goodbye? Over text, no less? Christ, he was a shit show, in every single way.
He pulled up the Internet, plugging in the lines of Faisal’s poem. The full poem’s text loaded on his screen. His eyes blurred again as he read, the poem a treatise on the aching cost of love, the tribulations of falling headfirst into the uncontrolled eddies of the heart.
There was one line he could send back.
[Think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.]
Adam… yaghfir Allah, I want to keep seeing you.
Adam’s eyes slipped closed. He clenched his phone, hard enough that the case creaked, groaning in his hand. Allah forgive me, Faisal said.
He should say no. He should walk away. He shouldn’t let this become larger than it was already, a bigger mess, a bigger problem. The wise choice, the right choice, was to say no. No, they were through. He’d made a mistake, and he had to clean it up, and that started with deleting Faisal’s number. Ignoring his texts. Walking away, far away, and never looking back.
Instead, he typed back with shaking fingers [me too].
Timestamp: Almost two years before Enemies of the State.
The two poems referenced are “On Love” and “My Love” by Kaleel Gebran.