Secret Places in this Violent World

chapter 1

apparently two, but one in soul, you and i

Two Years Before the Executive Office, Enemies of the State


Why hadn’t he gone the traditional route?

Everyone warned him he shouldn’t meet with those creeps from the Defense Intelligence Agency. They talked a good game, but all they did was sell empty promises and broken careers. Anyone who knew what they were doing would tell the DIA recruiters to fuck off.

But first, it was only talking over coffee. Then lunch off base. Dinner in DC.

Meeting the head of the Clandestine Program.

He was smart enough to know when he was being wooed.

Going from being smoked at OCS, doing push ups until his arms gave out, running until he puked, staying awake for three days straight on a training exercise, to being told how valuable, intelligent, and unique he was by the DIA recruiter was an intoxicating pull. Like a seduction, he followed the recruiters exactly where they wanted him to go.

You speak Arabic? Multiple dialects? We have so much need for you. You’ll be perfect. Rocket through our agency. Make a real difference in the world.

Eighteen months later, he was sweating his balls off in divided Iraq and frustrated up to his teeth. Iraq was a nation divided on fault lines. He could cross a street and go from a war zone to a suburb. Instead of playing James Bond, international super-spy, he spent his days hustling for information as he tried to develop human sources. Gimmie the good stuff, spill all your secrets.

The best intelligence he ever got was from kids. The younger the better, but if he went for too young, they thought it was a game, and lied to him.

His patience was not long enough to play ‘guess the intel’ with a five-year-old standing ankle-deep in sewage and trash.

What did you see? What men came by? Did they dress like this? Did you hear them talking about anything? Did they mention places? Buildings? Markets? Have you seen any weapons? How many?

A month ago, a seven-year-old intelligence source bragged about hearing their neighbors talking about the market off of Falestin Street. Two days later, security forces stopped a car bomber heading for the center of the market.

He got an ‘atta boy back slap via text and a reminder that his expense justification report was due.

Two thousand dollars on coloring books and candy was all he put in for. Payment to his sources came in comic books and crayons. These were the tools of liberation, surely.

He was a regular James Bond.

Fuck it all. His career was spiraling, sinking into the desert like a lost city, about to be covered by endless piles of sand. The guys from his OCS class were all pushing rank, rising fast. Attaché here, Company Commander there. Critical positions in the Pentagon.

He’d wanted to save lives, make a real difference. Change the course of everything. Put an end to the endless circle of death and slaughter.

Those were lofty goals. The goals of a young man.

Two years in, and he was already turning dejected. A dead-end career and a dead-end life could do that.

Adam leaned his head back on the sofa and exhaled into the velvet midnight. Music wailed around him, drums and tambourines and a pounding rhythm that offset the scratchy minor chords the Arabs loved so much. At first, the music had been like nails scratching down his bones. Now, he thought in the minor key and American rap seemed too slow.

Vibrant silk and cotton twirled in the breeze, strung between poles in wind-swept loops. Torches sent flames skyward, and lanterns perched on mounds of sand. Bonfires burned in bronze bowls on the riverfront promenade.

Ramadan Iftar celebrations abounded.

The crowd of celebrants broke their fast with dates and yogurt from long tables piled with food. The more devout rose to pray after three dates before returning to the feast: roasted chicken on red rice with a shaved boiled egg, slivered almonds, and raisins. Lamb stew and kubbat halab, rice dough stuffed with goat and chicken. Diamond flatbreads, sammoun, and sweet juice to drink—tamarind, apricot, mango, grape—and sweetened yogurt. Baklava and zlabya, desserts that made the molars ached.

Ramadan was the biggest party of the Islamic year. He could feel the pulse of the air in his blood, the thrum of happiness and of gratitude, and—for the moment—peace. Simple pleasures—connection, family, friends, safety—and delight. Praises to Allah filled the night. Smiles grew. Laughter bloomed. Dancing began. Men and men and women and women danced together, spinning each other in circles at arms lengths.

Adam had never felt more alone.

Why was he even here? He wasn’t a Muslim. There was no intel that anything was going to happen, that night or on the riverfront. There was absolutely zero reason for him to have joined in this celebration, plopping onto a couch someone dragged to the park and watching everyone else’s joy like a voyeur.

His thoughts turned on him, growing barbs and biting his soul.

He needed to leave. Now.

Taking a breath, Adam pulled himself up, moving like a doll with broken limbs. He was tired, so fucking tired. Tired of it all. He just—

A man by the river caught his gaze.

A circle of lanterns rested by his feet, tilted panes of red, yellow, and green glass throwing a rainbow glow over his burnished skin. A slim figure dressed in designer jeans, the kind that came from Dubai or Damman or Bahrain. A button down, light and fitted to his frame. Dark hair, cut neat. Honey eyes that stared right back at Adam. A gentle smile curved the man’s lips, and a flicker from one of the candles spread blue light over his cheek. The angle of his jaw could cut diamonds. The sun could set beneath the arch of his cheek.

Adam’s breath faltered.

A couple twirled in front of them, a man holding a woman’s hands at arm’s length as he spun her toward the river. A tambourine rattled as the drums beat on. Adam blinked.

The man was gone.

Good. He couldn’t do that here. Couldn’t do any of it. Couldn’t even look at men. And not just because of where he was; strictly speaking, it wasn’t illegal in the Marines any longer, but openly parading your personal life—any personal life—was career suicide.

Lusting after an Arab in Iraq? He’d only be more stupid if he tried to pick up a Saudi.

Time to go. His thoughts were jumbled, mixed up as a curl of desire bloomed in his belly. Fuck, he hadn’t been turned on in months. Had it almost been a year? Porn had lost its charm long ago. His hands weren’t interested, and he wasn’t interested in his hands, either. Had it gotten so bad that one smile, one striking man by candlelight, was all it took to upend his world?

He scrubbed his hands over his face. This had been a bad idea, the whole thing, and now he was paying for it. He stood—

Marhabaan.”

He froze.

Behind him, a gentle, warm voice chuckled and spoke again. “I hope I’m not interrupting. I saw you from the riverbank and I wanted to come say hello.”

Adam turned slowly, like a screw fighting its last spin. The man, the man from the candlelight, smiled at him. Torchlight lit him perfectly. God, he was even more breathtaking than from afar.

His brain spun on opposite tracks. One side catalogued the man’s accent, his diction. He spoke carefully with a slight British accent. UK educated, which meant money. His jeans weren’t cheap. His coloring wasn’t quite Iraqi. Somewhere further south. Gulf countries, maybe. He also had the confidence to seek Adam out, approach him. Why?

The other side of Adam’s brain dribbled out his ears. Cardamom and coriander filled his nose, followed by cinnamon and orange, a hint of peach. Honey. He breathed in, trying to drag the scent closer. His heart hammered in time with the drums, a fast, crazed beat that never stopped.

“Hi,” he finally grunted. “Um—“

“Faisal.”

“Adam.” He held out his hand.

Shit. Greeting anyone in the Arab world was a trigonometry problem. Would this be a handshake? His whiteness put others off, often excluded him. Would Faisal pull him close for a kiss on the cheek? How many kisses? They’d just met, surely it was only going to be a hand hold.

Adam took Faisal’s hand, squeezing and starting to shake. Faisal drew him close. He pressed their cheeks together and kissed the air beside Adam’s ear twice, pulled back, and did the same to his other cheek.

Two kisses. Basic Arab greetings 101. Okay, Faisal was being polite.

Faisal pressed a third kiss to his cheek. He turned in, ghosting his lips over Adam’s cheekbone.

That was definitely not a normal hello. Why—What—

Faisal smiled as he pulled back. “May I join you?”

Thoughts of leaving vanished. He sat. “Sure.” What the hell was he doing? Run! Get away! You have no idea who he is or what he wants. It could be a trap!

Faisal reclined on the couch with effortless ease and style. “You don’t know anyone here, do you?” He kept smiling at Adam, a soft curve of his lips that teased his blood.

“Ummm…”

Faisal laced their fingers together and rested their joined hands between them on the couch. “Now you know me.”

Oh shit, he shouldn’t be rocketing off from a simple touch. Faisal was only doing what was normal. Holding hands, a sign of friendship in the Middle East, especially among men. Nothing more. Don’t stroke the back of his hand with your thumb.

His palm slicked with cold sweat. Faisal would feel that. God, what an idiot he was. “Shukraan.”

“What are you doing in Iraq?” Faisal seemed content to sit and hold his hand and chat the night away.

“I’m a reporter.” His lie tumbled from his lips. “The civil war, the terrorism.” He shrugged. “Same stuff, different decade.”

“Wouldn’t it be nice if this could be every night here?” He gestured to the celebrations. The people, the happiness, the peace.

“It would.” Adam bit his lip. “In shaa Allah, it will someday.”

Faisal’s eyes brightened. “You are Muslim?”

“No.”

“Respectful, then.” Faisal’s smile turned, from polite to something else. “Unusual in western men.”

“You spend a lot of time with western men?” Jesus, someone should ban him from talking. He clamped his lips shut and looked away. “Sorry, that was rude.”

“I do not,” Faisal said, ignoring his apology. “Most want nothing to do with me. And thus I want nothing to do with them.”

“Their loss.”

Faisal’s eyes locked onto him. Something simmered in the amber depths, something he didn’t want to stare too hard at.

Faisal’s thumb stroked over the back of his hand. “Has anyone shown you around the city? Taken you to the best place to have a coffee? Or eat halawat sha’riyya? Has anyone watched the sunrise with you?”

He couldn’t speak. He shook his head.

“Would you like to watch the sunrise with me?” Faisal’s head tilted, a coy little grin on his lips.

“Would we stay here?” His voice dropped. He squeezed Faisal’s hand. Was this for real? Was Faisal actually picking him up? Or was he reading too much into Arab friendliness and congeniality? Was he only seeing what he wanted to see?

Or worse. Was this a trap? Iraq wasn’t Saudi, but there were still gangs of religious police. Caliphate infiltrators that loved to expose hedonism and infidel corruption as proof that they were essential to protect their version of virtue.

The smart thing to do would be to walk away. Politely thank Faisal for the conversation and beg off back to his apartment and go to sleep. He’d jerk off for sure to this tonight, and probably for the next month or four, remembering Faisal’s smile, his eyes, the warmth of his skin.

“We could stay here if you want.” Faisal’s thumb brushed his hand again. “I would prefer to show you different sights tonight. But only if you wish. Only if you desire.”

He flushed all over, heat racing through him. No mistaking what it was now. But could he trust it? Was it true? Or was he about to be the star of his very own YouTube video and end up as a sad, tragic headline, the American who couldn’t keep it in his pants?

He wanted it to be true. God, he did. What would Faisal be like? Would he smile that way throughout the night? Keep it light and fun, playful even? He seemed the type. But there were depths in his eyes, in the way he held Adam’s hand. Pursued Adam.

How long had it been since someone had wanted him, picked him out of a crowd and wanted to take him home?

He stared into Faisal’s eyes. His confusion, his lust, his uncertainty had to be plain as day. What he wanted, he shouldn’t, couldn’t have.

“Come with me, Adam,” Faisal breathed. His eyes burned. “Keep me company tonight and let me show you the sunrise.”

How the hell was he going to walk out of here with a half-hard cock? Don’t be an idiot, Adam! This could ruin the rest of your life!

He squirmed. Licked his lips. Looked away.

And then he looked back, deep into Faisal’s gaze. He squeezed his hand. “Okay.”


Eight Months Later

Scorched sand spread in every direction, as far as Adam could see from the plane’s cramped window. Riyadh glittered south of King Khalid Airport, heat waves rising from the Najd. Endless waves of empty, burning sand, the Rub’ al-Khali, rolled into the horizon. Nothing could survive in that endless desert.

He gripped the 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. For Faisal.

Eight months. It had been eight months since they’d first me and he’d followed Faisal back to his Baghdad flat and writhed beneath his hands, his lips, his touch. 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… 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. Whispering Arabic to each other all night long by the light of a dozen flickering candles.

Sharing intelligence. Realizing Faisal was, like him, an intelligence officer. Conspiracy, his mind whispered. Espionage. Revealing secrets. Sharing secrets.

But what they’d shared had been beneficial for them both, and for their governments. At least, that’s how he rationalized it. He’d been applauded for his intelligence, his wins in identifying deep Caliphate assets that had eluded the US for so long. Faisal’s work was 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 on what was undeniably an international booty call. Had anyone flown into Saudi Arabia on a booty call before? Maybe there were princes who could fly in escorts, but those were royals. And, they were certainly all women, gorgeous women. What was he doing?

Faisal had texted the day before, saying his people in Riyadh were beyond delighted with the signals intercept Adam had slipped him and that he had some time to spend in the Kingdom before flying back to Iraq. 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 tires squealed and skipped down the runway at King Khalid Airport. Alhamdulliah as salaama echoed around the cabin, the passengers thanking God for the safe flight. The Saudi morning sun burned down on the silver terminal, and he had to squint to look out the window.

Men in long white thobes and ghutras, a few women in hijabs, and a scattered businessman or three, padded off the plane once the jetbridge was extended. 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 the world’s conservatism?

White and cream marble filled the terminal, so chilled with air conditioning that droplets of condensation clung to the tiles near the ceiling. Arches soared overhead, like the cornices of the Great Mosque of Cordoba. Ferns crowded around fountains and indoor lagoons, and ivy crawled 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, slipping through slow-moving crowds of Saudi men and hawkers selling cardamom coffee and apple tea.

And then, finally, he was outside. Heat slapped him in the face, like opening an oven set on broil. Cars and taxis cluttered the curb, dark-skinned Bengalis and Pakistanis loading the luggage of aloof Saudis into the back of their cabs.

Where was Faisal? He fumbled for his cell in his pocket. It buzzed as he pulled it out.

To your left.

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 beneath the hollow of his throat. He smiled at Adam and titled his head, mirrored sunglasses slipping down his nose.

He headed for the Lamborghini with a grin, as if pulled by a magnet. 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 foot well. Faisal held just as much unrestrained power as the Lamborghini, just as much thrust and passion.

Ahlan wa sahlan,” Faisal called.

Marhaban.” Adam whistled as he stood by the Lamborghini’s passenger door. To anyone watching, he was gazing at the sports car.

But his eyes were fixed on Faisal, and he dragged his gaze down Faisal’s body, from his taut shoulders to his narrow waist.

“Hurry up and get in. 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 winding away from the airport.

“You have lots of places.”

Faisal said nothing. He shifted into second. Wind flicked through his dark hair.

When they hit the 80M, the open, empty stretch of sunbaked asphalt leading from Riyadh to the Gulf, Adam ducked down out of sight and lay across the central dash. He palmed Faisal’s crotch as he reached for his fly.

Wallah, Adam…” Faisal floored the accelerator as Adam 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.


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, he supposed, he believed this was special. This was different.

Whoever Faisal was, he was loaded. Most Saudis were, but not to this level. Faisal had a beachfront house set back from the road, in a neighborhood where privacy fences were ten feet tall, and lush ferns made permanent the empty spaces between the palatial villas. These were mansions, Saudi style. In Faisal’s bedroom, one wall was made up entirely of glass, overlooking the rolling sand, and the azure waves of the Gulf waters, lapping at his private beach. A brand-new Lamborghini and a villa on the Gulf with a private beach? Faisal must be one of the Kingdom’s best intel officers.

Well, of course he was. Adam was passing over American intelligence, wasn’t he?

Adam was in his bed, wasn’t he?

Faisal had worshipped his body, stripping him slowly, tasting every inch of his skin. 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 as he kept up his quest to melt Adam’s bones. Kisses pressed everywhere, from his chin and down, and then lingered in the taut skin of his belly, the planes between his hips.

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 skin.

What felt like hours later, after his spine had liquefied and every one of his muscles were struck with lightning bursting from the center of his body, Faisal finally kissed his way up his back and nuzzled his hair. “Ride me. 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 and 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, his mouth falling open, his eyes wide, staring at Adam like Adam was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.

The minute I heard my first love story,” Faisal breathed. “I started looking for you.”

“What?” Adam squeezed Faisal’s hands, pressed his thumb into his palms. He couldn’t string his thoughts together, and Faisal’s voice rolled through him, like another thrust of his love into Adam’s soul. Christ, he was so hard. Faisal had 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. By Rumi to his love.” Groaning, Faisal’s eyelids fluttered closed. “When I am with you, these poems make sense to me at last.”

Fuck. Adam had purposely not thought about whatever this was between them, this collection of passionate nights and smile-filled days. He hadn’t tried to put it in a box or slap a label on it. If he sat down with himself in the middle of the night and squared with reality, then yes, he’d admit to the skeletons rattling deep in his closet that his heart was far, far too close to Faisal.

And, he wanted to be closer. Much, much closer.

Close enough that Faisal whispering Arabic love poetry to him was almost enough to send him over the teetering edge. How much more can I fall? How much more compromised can I become? 

You are the Essence of the Essence, the intoxication—”

Shuddering, Adam fell, tipping 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. “Adam, wallah,” Faisal breathed around their kiss. “I have something to tell you. I—”

Like a cannon blast going off, splintering wood broke through Faisal’s bedroom.

He twisted as Faisal jolted upright, staring at the door behind them. Faisal grabbed him around the waist as if he could protect him as six hulking men poured into the bedroom, huge and bull-faced and bulging with muscles stuffed in dark suits. Behind them, an older Saudi man followed into the bedroom. He had a gray beard, and wore a white thobe and a white ghutra and a gold-braided dark cloak.

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, his jaw dropping. Uncle?

Fury crackled over Prince Abdul. “Ajlabh.” Get him.

The six men stormed the bed. Adam thrashed as Faisal shouted, ordering them to stop, shouting for his uncle to order them to stop, and trying to hold onto Adam’s waist so tight Adam felt his fingers dig into his hipbones.

Hands grabbed Adam and tore him from Faisal’s hold.

Three men held his arms, another two his legs. He felt the heft, the swing, and then he was airborne, soaring across the bedroom. He heard Faisal’s scream, his bellow.

He slammed into the wall of glass, shattering the bay window. Cuts opened on his shoulder, along his back, on one cheek. He curled, 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 on the perfect, empty beach.

Adam landed in a skid, in a puff of loose, burning sand, facedown.

Later, he slumped on the edge of a couch 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 did he not realize? How could he have been so stupid? Why didn’t he Google a little bit harder, send a query back to DC to check out the man he let fuck him? There was not wanting to know, not wanting to look too deeply, and then there was this level of sheer fucking stupidity.

Christ, the Saudi Crown Prince had just caught him having sex with one of their own. The punishment for a gay non-Muslim caught fucking a Muslim in Saudi Arabia was death by stoning. And he’d slept with a member of the royal family? They’d probably fast-track his death sentence. He’d be dead before dusk.

The bodyguards hovered. They hadn’t cared about his cuts. He oozed blood all over the sheet one of them threw at his face. Together, they listened as Prince Abdul bellowed at Faisal. His voice shook the walls, made the chandelier tremble.

“How could you let an American use you? How could you let an American breach Kingdom security?”

Silence, from Faisal.

“He has compromised you! You have given up the Kingdom for an American! What have you told him? What damage have you done?”

Christ, Faisal didn’t deserve this.

“Have you any idea what the king will say? Alhamdulillah, you will be lucky to be banished! Speak! Do you have nothing to say for yourself?”

Faisal murmured something, but Adam couldn’t parse it out.

“You thought you were—? Rahimullah, ya Faisal… You are too young. That is not how the world works. You were targeted, seduced. Tricked, because—”

Adam waited for the bodyguards to look away before he leaped.

He hauled the sheet around his waist and ran for the bedroom. Six pairs of feet thundered after him but he made it to the closed door and shouldered through it, like a linebacker making a game-winning tackle. He ended up on his hands and knees on the marble, skidding on the bloody sheet.

Faisal sat on the edge of the bed—the bed they’d made love in, just an hour ago—a dejected, miserable slump of despair. His head was in his hands, and when he looked up, his startled, red-rimmed eyes lanced Adam’s heart. In front of the bed, Prince Abdul paced, wearing a tread in the marble.

“I didn’t seduce Faisal,” Adam blurted, right as the bodyguards caught up and pinned him to the floor. One stepped on his neck, the sole of his Italian leather dress shoe pressing down on his spine just enough to close his throat with a squawk.

Faisal jumped to his feet, shouting. Prince Abdul shouted louder, something in Arabic that Adam couldn’t catch, wheezing for air that wasn’t there.

He was hauled to his knees and held there, surrounded. He dragged in a breath, coughing, his throat on fire. Faisal fractured into a kaleidoscope as his eyes watered and overflowed. Crimson blood smeared beneath his palms and across the snow-white marble.

“You got it wrong,” he croaked. “Faisal is not a failure. He’s a fucking hero for you guys.” Coughing, he spat blood pooling inside his lip, flecking his skin and the floor with burgundy splatters. “Faisal has turned me. I’m the one who is compromised. I’m passing intel to him. I’ve told him everything, for months. I give him everything.”

Honeyed sorrow poured from Faisal’s gaze. Adam closed his eyes. He couldn’t bear it. “He seduced me, not the other way around. I’m the failure. I’m the one who’s the traitor to their country.”

Prince Abdul’s jaw dropped with a whispered prayer. “Bismillah, is this true, ya Faisal?”

Silence. “Yes, Uncle,” Faisal whispered. “It’s true.”

The Gulf wind whipped through the broken window, whistling through the shards of glass that skittered across the marble.


Instead of death, he’d been banished. Never return, Prince Abdul said. You will be arrested if you ever cross our borders again.

Prince Abdul’s SUV hummed up Route 95, screaming toward the Kuwait border. Adam slumped in the backseat, his open cuts still oozing slowly, bleeding through the clothes Faisal had stripped from him with kisses and caresses. Two of the bodyguards, who had forced him to the ground, sat up front.

He never got to say goodbye to Faisal.

What was their relationship, though? What, in all of that, was ever even true?

Fuck, Faisal lied to him… about everything. About who he even was.

If Adam had known Faisal was royalty, he’d have run screaming. If he’d woken up after that first night and realized he’d just slept with a prince of the Saudi royal family, he would have booked the next flight back to America. He’d have done whatever it took, said whatever he had to say. He’d have given up his career, taken a demotion. Anything to get him out of the Middle East.

But if he’d fled, he’d never have these past eight months.

He’d never have fallen, even the tiniest bit, in love.

Better to have loved and lost, as the old poets said. Fucking crap. The emptiness, the way his tender, tiny feelings had smeared and gone flat, the hollowness in his heart, was like an emptying of his soul. 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 caverns of his broken heart.

His cell buzzed.

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.

Adam’s eyes blurred, and his thumb hovered over the screen. How did he respond? What was Faisal saying? What the hell did it mean? Surely not—

His phone buzzed again.

It was never about the intel for me.

Adam swallowed. They should just walk away, forget about each other, forget about ever knowing each other. This was too dangerous, these feelings they sparked in each other.

I only wanted to keep seeing you.

How could he feel worse than he had before? Was this it? Was this goodbye? Faisal, in his way, telling him he’d cared for Adam? Was he saying goodbye? Over text, no less? Adam buried a sob, swallowing a hiccup as his chest collapsed.

He Googled Faisal’s poem, and the whole text loaded on his phone. He bit his lip so hard he tasted blood again as his eyes took in the ancient words, the warning about the aching cost of love, the tribulations of falling headfirst into the uncontrolled eddies of the heart.

He copied one line and sent it back to Faisal. [Think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.]

Three dots bounced on his screen as the miles burned by. Adam… Allah forgive me, I don’t want to let you go. I don’t want this to end. 

Adam’s eyes slipped closed. 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 and never looking back. His heart would heal. Or maybe it wouldn’t. But they wouldn’t be dancing with the Devil, tempting disaster and ruination.

Instead, he typed back with shaking fingers [i don’t want this to end either].


chapter 2 – the moon says, “How long will I remain suspended without a sun?”

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