Book of the week

Shards of Hope


BL Jones

Hope can be a prism of scars from which light shines.

Twenty years ago, an infamous scientist created Liquid Onyx, a world-changing chemical which led to the rise of superheroes and supervillains.

Jack Roth is not a superhero. He’s an assassin, a killer, a lethal weapon forged and controlled by the evil organisation Obsidian Inc.

Leo Snow isn’t a superhero either. He’s a British secret agent who spends his life protecting the world and saving everyone he can. When these two men’s lives collide on the streets of Danger City just as Obsidian Inc is gearing up for another cataclysmic scientific discovery, they’ll both need to reckon with their dark past, messy present and potentially hopeful future.
Only $3.99 / £3.41 or read with KU at Amazon 

“You frightened away all the little fishies,” Leo accuses playfully, sounding overjoyed by the fact my mere presence seems to have caused all the agents who were in FISA’s large and well-kitted gym to scatter.

After my beyond-disastrous meeting with the unit, and the semi-confrontation with Stone about the death of his runaway mother, I was not in the mood to deal with other people. I was barely in the mood to put up with myself. But there’s nothing I can do about that.

It seems my attempt to escape other people has proven similarly impossible. I can only be glad Agent Lane and his gaggle of twits have decided to pretend they aren’t useless somewhere else. I was starting to get twitchy about them hanging around me all the time. There’s only so much thinly veiled fear masquerading as pathetic shows of aggression I can take.

I was getting dangerously close to letting loose my own far more impressive aggression and breaking something on Agent Lane. Give him a proper reason to be afraid of me.

But it’s likely FISA would just throw me back into one of their cells. I might even have to write up an incident report about the whole thing. FISA seems the kind of place to bother with those. Senior Agent Aaron North certainly comes across as the sort to appreciate rigorous commitment to official procedure and correctly filed paperwork.

I ignore Leo and his overly upbeat energy. I have to, or I’ll punch him, and that might get me in trouble as well.

Leo is in FISA-stamped gym wear, looking as tall and built as I remember. He could be a scary man if he wanted to be. His size, his power. But the dopey smile on his face and the gentle warmth in his eyes offsets it all so thoroughly, I can’t find it in myself to think of him as a real threat.

I find it hard to reconcile that this person, as he’s presented himself to me, goes out there and commits violence as a secret government agent.

Leo’s hands are wrapped, and he appears to have been using a thick punching bag. He lowered his hands when I walked into the gym and watched in amusement as all the agents tripped over themselves to get out of the room.

I came here to lose myself in mindless exercise, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do that with Leo in the room. He’s one of those people who seems to take up space, who fills it with their existence like air fills a balloon.

Leo seems to note the slump to my shoulders because his brows draw together in what might be genuine concern. He doesn’t make a move towards me, but he does settle back into a more relaxed stance as if trying to reassure me without words that he won’t be moving around without warning any time soon.

The innate kindness of my new partner is both disconcerting and astounding. I don’t understand him at all.

Agent Leo Snow is, I’ve concluded, a very strange individual. He seems entirely unsuited to the life of an agent. I’ve not seen enough to judge his technical skill while out on missions, but his sunny disposition and general air of naivety, which appears to be genuine and not an act for others’ benefit, makes me feel uneasy.

He comes off as young to me, even though I know he’s technically older than I am. I can’t help but wonder why he decided to join FISA in the first place. It seems possible he was coerced into becoming an agent by his aunt, but there’s been no real evidence to suggest that so far. There’s also the possibility he experienced a loss or incident which made him feel the need to prove something, to protect himself or other people. To make up for a mistake, his own or someone else’s.

“How are you getting on?” Leo asks, his head tilting slightly in observation. I’m used to being observed for my reaction to things. It’s been a staple of my life from age three onwards. I’ve moved beyond bristling in reaction to it.

“Absolutely fantastic, thanks for asking,” I reply drolly.

“You’re welcome.” Leo puts a jaunty emphasis on the second word, flashing yet another grin at me.

I have the sudden impulse to smack it right off his face. It’s an impulse I barely manage to repress.

“Has anyone ever told you, you’re incredibly irritating?” I ask, managing to sound only mildly pissed off at the world, which is a definite improvement.

“No,” Leo says without inflection. “Has anyone ever told you glowering isn’t supposed to be a hobby? Stop misusing your facial muscles in this way, Jack. Because they will fight back, and then where will you be? Smiling like a clown, I’d wager. That’s what I would do if I were a muscle hell-bent on revenge against a moody git who abused my good nature on a daily basis.”

I stare at him in disbelief.

“Could you be, like, ten percent less of a weirdo? For me? As a gift?”

Leo’s general sense of low-level euphoria does not dim in the face of my unimpressed tone.

“Are you in a snit again?” he prods. “What’s upset you? The mission went well.”

My soft glower turns into a glare at the mention of the mission. My feelings about everything are so mixed up, it makes it hard to curtail my automatic reaction because I don’t have enough handle on my emotions to know which ones to tamp down or play up.

“The last mission I went on that ended in a roomful of bodies was when OI took time from me.” When Leo’s eyebrows raise in question, I explain. “OI shot me up with some bullshit blue drug that short-circuited my brain. I can’t remember anything about the mission they sent me on when I was under. No matter how hard I try, it’s just a blank wall of nothing where my memories should be.”

Leo’s expression becomes mildly horrified for a handful of seconds before he manages to compose himself. His face turns thoughtful, like he’s trying to figure something out from what I’ve said.

“Did you think killing those agents today might trigger a memory from that other mission?” he asks carefully.

“Don’t psychoanalyse me,” I bite out at him, annoyed at myself for accidentally revealing too much, again.

Leo looks at me like I’ve said something funny.

“Will I not like you when you’re psychoanalysed?” he asks, clearly making a reference I don’t understand.

“I already have Agent Green poking around inside my head,” I mutter irritably. “She doesn’t need outside interference messing with the process.”

“What’s the process?” Leo asks, intrigued.

I can tell he’s humouring me, his overly confident brand of patience seemingly endless. I’m not above taking advantage of it.

“The process of slowly lulling me into a false sense of security to make me more susceptible to their corruptive influence.” I flash him a sardonic smile, with teeth just barely peeking through.

“Corruptive influence?” Leo blows out a loud breath. “Blimey. Sounds hardcore. Do you mean the serving our country thing or the working against Obsidian Inc. thing?”

This man is absolutely impossible.

“I have no problem working against Obsidian Inc.,” I bark at him, fighting the need to grind my teeth. If I did that every time Leo irked me, my teeth would be nothing but stubs by now.

“Good to know,” Leo says, a barely veiled smile still playing about his lips. “I’m very relieved to hear you aren’t secretly a double agent.”

I squint at him in confusion.

“If I were a double agent, then why would I ever admit to being a double agent?”

Leo holds up his bandage-wrapped hands and flashes me another wide, sharky grin.

“For the pure, fucking notoriety.”

I do not laugh. I don’t. I refuse to laugh at anything this maniac says.

“For being the worst double agent in history?” I nod to the left, puzzling it over. “Not a crown many people would strive for.”

“Dare to be different,” Leo intones. Then he brightens out of nowhere like he does sometimes as if some has just shot him up with a sudden dosage of positivity. It’s unnerving.

“Do you want to go out?” he asks me.

For one tenth of a second, I think the madman is asking me out on a date or something equally as galling. But I quickly realise he means “go out” as in “leave the base.”

“Not sure I’m allowed unless it’s for a mission,” I say hollowly, unwilling to hope for any small modicum of freedom from this place.

Leo waves a hand dismissively, his hand gestures as big and expressive as his face. Someone should really have taught him how to conceal his emotions. I would have thought a man who grew up on the upper side of Danger City would know better how to appear stolid, to protect himself against people who might use the knowledge of his emotions against him.

We’ve already established how FISA has failed to train him to the appropriate standard. It seems his family is similarly lax in their support of Leo’s continued survival. He needs a bodyguard, not a partner.

“It’ll be fine,” Leo says, sounding far too sure of something he can’t possibly know for certain. “Just don’t go on any random murder rampages.”

“I will attempt to contain my abundant and varied murder urges,” I drawl acerbically.

“Excellent,” Leo says, giving me two thumbs-up, managing to somehow make the action come across as sarcastic.

Before I can dredge up an equally quelling response, Leo is on the move. He’s careful not to randomly swerve in my direction, an act which would likely have set off automatic alarm bells inside my head. He does, however, give his back to me when he heads towards the exit. A show of trust I cannot possibly have earned by any rational person’s standards.

I pause for a moment, watching Leo walk away with marked interest, feeling oddly drawn to the impressive figure he cuts. His body is well honed, arms and thighs thick with muscle but not overly so. He fills out the tight black training T-shirt distractingly, biceps and broad chest straining the fabric. His neck is long and elegant, perfect for biting into and leaving teeth marks behind. He has a nice arse too, full enough to grab onto and pull apart.

Something bizarre and completely unexpected flares to life inside my gut in response to my ruminations on Leo’s attractiveness. Heat pools and rises, like water from a hot spring filling a previously empty cavern in the earth.

Unhappy about these sudden, unwanted feelings, I throw them off, refusing to entertain the idea I might be physically attracted to my new partner. It would be a terrible idea to become even surface-level attached to this man. I don’t want to need or desire anything from him, to become vulnerable in any other way than I already am.

As an agent for OI, the only experience I’ve had with sex has been either for the sake of a mission or a few stolen moments with someone I met during an assignment. Even those encounters were few and far between. They were, however, uncomplicated for the most part.

Getting involved with Leo would be messy at best, a complete disaster at worst. Besides which, someone like Leo—a person who struggles with the violence of his job and went out of his way to help a total stranger for seemingly no other reason than he thought it was the right thing to do—isn’t for the likes of me, a person with so much blood on their hands you’d be scrubbing for weeks before you saw a patch of clear skin again.

Shaking those thoughts away because any other choice would be pure madness on my part, I follow after Leo, allowing myself to anticipate, for the first time, the brief sense of freedom that getting out of this base will bring.

Only $3.99 / £3.41 or read with KU at Amazon 
About the author
BL Jones is a twentysomething British author who spends all her free time reading and writing and taming her three much younger brothers. She works as a BSL interpreter in Bristol and lives with a temperamental bunny named Pepsi. She’s been writing stories since she was five, rarely sharing them with anyone except her numerous stuffed animals. BL has had a difficult journey into discovering and accepting her own queerness, and therefore believes that positive, honest, and authentic stories about queer people are very important. She hopes to contribute her own stories for people to have fun with and enjoy.
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