Chapter One: Single Malt Scotch, Cask Strength
It always began with a single-malt scotch. Cask-strength, aged not a day less than fifteen years. The hints of peat and granite would have run smoothly down the man's gullet, murmuring proudly its Speyside roots . . . if only the whiskey had been to drink.
Slowly, with a reverence reserved only for gods and the very best of liquors, the man dipped his thumb into the thick, nearly oily liquid. As he swirled his finger gently around the glass, he almost purred as the one hundred and ten proof scotch clung hungrily to every weathered turn of his thumb.
Reluctantly, he pulled his hand free and brought it slowly up to his lips. His tongue slipped silently out of his mouth and met the intoxicating skin with an eager relish. He allowed himself only one lick, just enough to ignite those precious buds of taste with sweet promise.
"Soon," he vowed in a graveled rendition of a prayer, "I will drink while he burns."
In one final and careful sweep of his hand, the man, who lay naked and prone on the faded oriental rug, dragged his wet thumb across his right nipple and down to his navel. The line of scotch joined scores of other lines that ran and glistened across his skin in intricate designs of swirls and damning words.
The flickering of a lone candle lit the room and the man's body. The candlestick sat on the floor at his hip.
Easing his head back down to the rug, he stretched his legs as far apart as they would go. His clean-shaven groin was wide open and wet with lines of hard drink. At his feet lay a large, carefully stacked bundle of old newspapers, their dates all of the same long ago year: 1984. Sodden in the cheapest booze he could find, they set awaiting one kiss of a flame to fulfill their last purpose.
A line of alcohol ran from the pile back up to the man's dick and balls.
With a steady hand, he reached for the lit candle and brought the flame down to his right nipple.
The scotch immediately caught fire.
The man flinched and then moaned.
As the fire quickly devoured the first drops of the liquor, the flame moved down his body like a playful tongue of some sexual dragon. He writhed under its deadly touch. In its tracks, the fire left not burns but only warm pain and heated tingles in its wake.
Fire play was a dangerous game. It took skill, patience and mastery. To do it alone took both bravery and cowardice. The man who played with fire alone was a man who did not trust another.
Sweeping across the swirls and damning words that so carefully painted the brave coward's body, the torch of fire grew.
Finally, those lines of single malt scotch that had tasted of peat and granite drew the mounting flame to his half-risen cock and his balls. Giving the man's sex only a cursory, though deep, kiss of its heat, the fire quickly jumped from his groin and leapt to the trail of cheap booze on the floor.
The papers went up in a fireball.
The faded oriental rug soon followed.
The curtains and covered up sofa were next.
Soon the only thing not on fire in the old house was the man who had started it, the man who sat naked on the floor and grinned into the flames.
Matthew Archer was a hard man to like, a harder man still to love. Few in the world made the effort at either.
A former stockbroker turned real estate mogul, the apparent ease of his success had left a bad taste in the mouths of many. The worst of his detractors accused him of playing dirty, although the man went nowhere without sparkling clean hands. The kindest rivals were sure he was either paying Lady Luck on the side, or just fucking her.
Matthew denied nothing.
In fact, the whole "say nothing" bit was modus operandi for the thirty-two year old. He did his job and made his money. Anything else, such as relationships and good times, he deemed extraneous . . . or so he purposefully let the world believe.
Matthew was a sly man, clever with his reputation, and deadly with his skill to mislead through utter silence. He wore his mantle of "do not touch" tightly across his chest, allowing its thick hide to bear the coldest of solitude's winds.
Why the chosen solitude?
Because he knew that nobody liked a "bad guy" except for a worse girl. Matthew may have been a bastard, but he sure as hell wasn't a fool.
Of course he didn't have any pretty hangers-on.
Of course he didn't risk a marriage and with it half of his assets.
Of course he was a loner and a damned proud one at that.
Matthew Archer denied nothing.
Instead he just drove. Across the country and back again, every year he'd take a month off to crisscross the land on barren back roads and barely touched country lanes. It had become a pilgrimage. People whispered that it was some sort of rite of passage his dark soul needed to carry on in its sinister pursuits the rest of the year.
Hank Williams's "Lost Highway" blaring out of the Mustang's open windows and into the dusk of the west Kansas grasslands only cemented that notion. The steel gray jeans, the coal black button down shirt, and the dark as night sunglasses he currently wore could only be further proof of his "bad boy" illusion, right?
Matthew denied nothing.
But, the funny thing about Kansas was that it never asked anything. It simply let a man be. It let a man stew in his own juices without stirring the pot.
It was an odd feeling for the oft-maligned and oft-feared Mr. Archer just to be some guy in some car. It was strange, and should have been unsettling for a man such as himself.
It should have been.
Instead, it was simply and undeniably fucking fantastic!
Matthew Archer was grinning like an idiot, and what was far better was that his cheeks actually hurt from grinning like an idiot for the past six days. If asked if this some guy in some car routine was honestly the real deal, Matthew would deny nothing. He'd just shout out a "Hell, yeah!" to the Kansas heavens.
Suddenly, a whiff of dark smoke snaked in through the car's open window, obscuring those blessed heavens, obscuring all but a house in flames on the horizon.