Bitter Harvest, first chapter ~ for 2012 Summer Reading Trail

It’s 2050, and humans are an endangered species. Lieutenant Robert Sutton has survived the collapse of civilisation by luck, his wits, and a chance mutation that makes him immune to the nano-virus that has wiped out millions. Now, his compound of survivors is surrounded by the infected, who are driven by the need to spread the contagion through sex. It is only a matter of time before they attack. So when Sutton is assigned to interrogate a prisoner who claims to have overcome the infection, he immediately suspects a trap…

Nicholas Rider may have survived the virus, but he’s a changed man, ruled by his desires. But his need for Sutton is different. Rider craves an end to his overwhelming needs, and Sutton could be the man to do it.

Secure in his belief that he’s invulnerable, Sutton can’t understand or resist his intense attraction to his prisoner. Will Rider be his downfall–or his saviour?

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Chapter One

November, 2050, Tower Hamlets Compound

The White Tower

Sutton stood behind his prisoner in the narrow interrogation cell. He thinned his mouth. The disinfectant sprayed over the man’s body cut the air with the sharp odour of lemon. Sutton hated that stink. It brought with it the memories of too many deaths by his own hand.

The med-techs had stripped the man naked, secured him to the ceiling with thick chains and scanned him for active apian devices. They’d found nothing. So what was he doing with the twisting silver scar of a hive-mark running down his spine?

“Enjoying the view?” The prisoner’s voice was little more than a growl. He stretched his hands, and the chains clanked. “If you’re going to fuck me, get in line.”

“You’ve been marked by apian tech.”

Sutton followed the path of scar tissue as it cut into the man’s muscled back, ending in a fork above his tailbone. His fingertips tingled as he skirted the heat of the man’s skin, close but not touching. The hive-mark followed the patterning from the Karayan-Haig colony, formed in Greenwich in 2037. He gritted his teeth. That pair had combined to produce a fierce and highly infectious nano-virus. The country had lost too many to them. The grey smoke of the dead had burned the air for months.

Yet this man had been infected and not been absorbed into the hive.

“You have the colony scarring. How are you still an individual?”

The prisoner snorted and rolled his neck. Muscles shifted in his back, the hive-mark catching the stark light from the overhead bulb of the small metal-lined cell. “My charming personality?”

Sutton ran a hand over his short hair and scratched his scalp. He’d read the reports from the med-techs but hadn’t fully believed them. No one was immune to the nano-viruses. No one. The man’s…sarcasm proved that the nano-forms hadn’t overtaken his brain. “Who are you?”


His answer had been quick and cooperative, the low growl gone. How many times had he been interrogated in this way? “What did you do before Conformity?”

Rider let out a long, slow breath. “Why are there never any new questions?”

Sutton didn’t reply and Rider straightened his shoulders.

“Fine.” He paused and his voice dropped into an almost bored, rote tone. “Before Conformity, I’d just become a teacher.” A short laugh broke from him. “Your people have my union card.”

“That’s not proof.”

“What is these days?” Rider yanked his body around, the turning wheel grating in the lowered ceiling, and twisted to face him. The overhead light cast a thick shadow down the man’s face, disguising the tired lines and day-old bristles. Still, there was a bitter defiance in him.

Sutton lifted his chin, refusing to take a step back.

Rider was in his thirties, so he’d been newly qualified at the end of 2036 when Conformity engulfed the world. Sutton had asked the next question more times than he could remember. “When did you become infected?”

“2038. July. Southwark. An infiltrator brought the nano-virus into our enclave.” Rider looked to the floor and a deep line cut down above his nose. His lips pressed together. For a moment, he simply breathed. “She wiped us out in hours. She fucked me and I woke up in the Greenwich nest, hive-marked and packed out with the drones.” He paused. “I was one…at first.”

It was the only time Sutton had had a coherent answer from any of the infected. Usually they raged, spat or tried to use guile to bring him close so they could infect him. Rider’s reply hit him and a fist tightened in his gut. “You’re saying you developed an immunity?”

A dark smile twitched across the prisoner’s mouth and Sutton felt…something. Something other than the usual resignation, more than the emptiness he’d feel when he had to dispose of him. Rider was different. Still, he shouldn’t have been in the Tower Hamlets Compound at all.

One of the dusk recon patrols had caught Rider on the perimeter of the outer curtain wall, and against standing orders they’d brought the prisoner into the tower. They’d been fooled by his coherence. Sutton would chew them a new one for that lapse. Yes, they were young, eager to prove themselves, but one stupid action could infect them all. He took in the naked man standing before him—one supposedly immune to apian tech. Their one stupid action still might bring down the compound.

“Your superiors are keeping me alive.”

Rider didn’t offer it as a question. But then if he’d been bouncing around the compounds, the med-techs would want his blood and code and a chance to examine him. Even now, they obeyed the four-hour rule. The newly infected could only suppress the nano-forms for so long. A finite time of three hours and forty-two minutes.

Rider’s dark gaze slid down the length of his body. His head tilted and Sutton recognised the hunger, the heat in the other man’s gaze. That was familiar. The infected often used sex as the easiest fluid transfer. Was the man’s need some sort of residual evidence of his infection, like the hive-mark?

Rider wet his lips. “But you aren’t wearing an CBRN suit. Not afraid of me?”

“I won’t be standing in line for you. Believe me.” Sutton let himself smile. He’d also lost count of the times he’d been propositioned in an interrogation. But if Rider had his immunity, then Sutton had a little twisted version of his own. The wild pheromones the infected gave off didn’t affect him. Never had. “You’re not my type.”

Rider lifted an eyebrow and the heat, the dark want in his gaze tightened Sutton with an unexpected need. “I beg to differ.” A firm lip twitched and his nostrils flared. “You could do with a damn good fuck.”

“No wine? No dinner?”

What was he doing? He pressed his teeth together. Hard. His superiors would be watching the interrogation. He couldn’t play with his prisoner. The Karayan-Haig colony was good at adding little kinks to the nano-forms. It was why they had two variants only hours from closing in on them. Those kinks had to be pushing his reaction. He had to be careful. He willed the erratic thump of his heart to even out. “How did you escape the Greenwich nest?”

Rider stretched his fingers again, the corded muscles in his arms flexing. The chilled air of the cell rippled gooseflesh over his skin, and the fading odour of the disinfectant offered a hint of his true scent. Something warm, earthy, a scent Sutton found himself pulling deep into his lungs.

“I was classified as drone. Imagine my pride.”

The heavy cut of sarcasm filled his voice. Drone. If Rider found the right partner, he’d form one half of a breeding pair, create a new nest, and a new strain of the Karayan-Haig virus would be born from their mating. The man’s scent came from the virus that had once possessed his body, a lure to the unwary.

Sutton pulled his thoughts back to the interrogation. He had control. He always had control. “So you were released into the population.”

“Went out and fucked for my new masters. Yes.” Rider worked blood back into his hands. “Until the need to fuck for them left me.” A sharp smile lifted his firm lips. “I started to have my own fun. But then a compound would pull me in, pull out my blood, test-fuck me.” His gaze was hard. “Is that who you are?”

Sutton lifted an eyebrow. “As I said, you’re not my type.” He paused. “When did the apian conditioning wear off?”

“What year are we in now?”

“2050. November.”

For a long moment Rider was silent. “Fuck.” The curse was pulled from him, something reluctant and bitter. “It wore off ten years ago. Spring.”

“But not all the effects.”

“And I thought you had no interest in me.”

Sutton ignored his remark. The med-tech report had noted his improved physique, his increased strength, his heightened reactions—consistent with second-wave exposure and the changes apian tech wrought in a human body. Rider was the first prisoner to offer information clearly, without the rage and venom of the infected. It was…disconcerting. “Did you have direct access to the AI?”

“Something was in my head in the early days.”

There was that same bored tone. How many other interrogators had he faced in the twelve years since he’d been released from the Greenwich nest? But still—Sutton’s heart rate jumped—Rider was the first coherent human to have had access to the machine behind Conformity. The computer that had sent their civilisation to hell.

Sutton kept his voice level. “What instructions did it give you?”

The sharp smile was back. “Don’t you get tired of the same questions—” his dark gaze brushed over Sutton’s shoulders, his chest, “—Commander?”

Rider knew the braids on his epaulettes put his rank as lieutenant. It was a rank recognised across every independent compound. Sutton didn’t correct him. “Answer the question.”

“It told me to fuck, to fuck far and wide, to find my mate and create a nest, improve the species, send out my offspring.” He snorted. “The usual apian shit.” He arched his spine, the muscles in his stomach falling into sharp definition. “Look, Lieutenant, I’ve been here for hours. And while it was pleasant enough to be wanked off by one of your pretty little med-techs for a sample, the whole chained-up bondage scene is just not working for me.”

Sutton’s teams had captured other scouts, six now in the past ten days. The senior staff knew the infected were pushing in on their compound. Observation hawks—specialised workers sent to spy before invasion—lurked on the roofs of abandoned buildings surrounding the Tower of London. Their plans showed in the push of the infected up the river, with more and more sightings by the hour. And worst, the silence of the wild animals loose on the empty streets. Scouts still had to eat, after all. Was Rider another form of advance scout? Were the original Karayan-Haigs also moving back into their old territory? As if the two other variants weren’t enough.

Sutton pushed his focus back onto his prisoner. He had to learn what he could. Maybe with it and a miracle, they could find a way to survive. “So how did it start, the wearing off?”

Rider’s smile was hard. “I was fucking a girl, the voice in my head urging me on.” He paused, the dark heat of memory in his voice. “Like I needed it. She was sweet, willing. Saw me. Grabbed me. She wanted the nano-forms, wanted to be a queen.” His laughter was to himself. “Of course she was batshit crazy.” He sobered. “She was the last one. I infected her, she slumped, but I didn’t take her back to the nest. I just stared at her, half-naked, her skin flushed. And there was no voice screaming in my head to follow my instincts.”

“So you left her?”

“I left her.”

“She died?”

His laugh was bitter. “None of mine ever died.”

Sutton pressed his lips together. The survival rate for infection was low, and for Karayan-Haig terrifyingly low. “You left her. And went where?”

“Away. North. Ended up in some remote hole in the Highlands. It was freezing. Much like here.” Rider’s gaze fixed on him. “Lieutenant, I’m not a threat to your compound. I’m here for shelter and food. A man can’t survive on great sex alone.” He paused. Breathed. But his gaze was still intense. “Your med-techs proved I wasn’t a threat, or you wouldn’t be in here…uncovered.”

There was that hint of need again. The man couldn’t seem to help himself. He might have been free of the AI’s conscious instructions, but the basic nano-form programming was still evident. The need to fuck, to exchange fluids was very much there. A need that survived in them all. “Before your second-wave infection, what were your sexual preferences?”

Rider’s smile was sly. He tilted his head. “Because I want to fuck you?”

His gaze travelled down. Sutton stopped himself from gritting his teeth as a warmth ran though him and his dick responded. He’d get himself tested when he left the cell. Rider was something different if he could affect him.

“A mouth was a mouth. Still is.” His gaze was fixed below Sutton’s waist. “What about you, Lieutenant?”

His gaze flicked up. Hunger and eagerness shone there and made Sutton want to rub the back of his neck. He was not looking at the man’s erection.

Rider smirked. “Will I have to break you in?”

“You were in Scotland.”

His smile didn’t die away. “I was. The whole fucking country was empty, dead, escaped or infected.”

“And you continued your disconnection to the AI?”

“Like everyone else, Lieutenant, you have a one-track mind.”

“Does that surprise you?”

“No. Look.” He stared up at the low ceiling and a frown formed across his brow. He was pulling in the time, a skill of the infected. No matter how far they buried them underground, the nano-forms always tracked the position of the sun. “You’ve had me in here for over three hours.” His clear dark gaze returned to him. “Of course if you’d had me for those hours I wouldn’t be complaining.”

“Don’t you get tired of the innuendo?”

“I would if it was innuendo. One thing those K-H bastards gave me was an appreciation that time is precious. They ripped two years and a whole fucking planet away from me. So—” his smile was sharp, and Sutton couldn’t ignore the responding tight curl in his gut, “—you’re on notice, Lieutenant.”

Sutton’s chest tightened, the pained thump of his heart, the flare of excited heat in his flesh tugging at him. Shit, he had to pull them back to what was supposed to be an interrogation. He fixed his attention on Rider’s eyes, not the firm curve of his still-smirking mouth. “The AI, Rider.” He reclasped his hands behind his back. He didn’t think about how uncharacteristically damp they were. “When you were connected, could you pinpoint its source?”

“It was fractured. Mirrored. It’d already transplanted itself in too many sites. A fucking hydra.”

“Did you have any contact with it in the next ten years?” Sutton tilted his head. “Did you have sex with the infected in that time?”

“No and yes.”

“What happened to the infected?”

Rider shrugged. “They had a good time? I am nothing if not considerate…even for them.”

Sutton stopped himself from blowing out a short, exasperated breath. Had the AI disconnected from him because the man was an arrogant dick? “You didn’t affect their programming? They didn’t reinfect you?”

“No and no.”

“Even if they were from a colony other than Karayan-Haig?”

“Jesus.” His curse was low and harsh. “No, Lieutenant.” Rider glared at him. “Don’t you think I’d be wearing my dick out if I thought I could break the hold that machine has on them?” He pulled in a slow breath and a shadow filled him. “The joy of immunity is mine alone. Your med-techs will find that out for themselves.”

“How long did you spend in Scotland?”

Rider let out a half growl, but he answered the question. “Roughly half the year. There were still supplies to keep me alive, if I hunted hard enough. I needed to get my head straight.”

“Where did you go then?”

“Contact the Bromley Compound. They have a full transcript from six months ago.”

“Bromley was overrun last week. A new variant of Karayan-Haig is moving north from Kent.”

Rider stared at him. Heat cut across his face and his fingers balled into fists. “And your people are still here?

His reactions looked natural, not forced, but then the infected were always good liars. It came with the nano-forms, the need to infiltrate and convert humans to the colony. Sutton still couldn’t be certain his prisoner wasn’t a new advance scout, one meant to lull them. “We’re still here.”

“What the hell are you protecting? The Crown Jewels?”

Sutton wasn’t going to admit that they had nowhere to run. That they were the only secure compound left in the southeast. Colonies had blocked off their exit route a month before, as they’d prepared to move out. Now they had no choice but to dig in and somehow survive an attack. He didn’t hold out any hope, and neither did his superiors. Rider could be a lifeline…or the AI taunting them with a cruel humour.

“Where did you go after Scotland?”

Rider’s head fell back and he let out a soft exasperated growl. “I took a boat, sailed to the continent. Drifted. Improved my French, German and Italian.”

Sutton frowned at him. “You came back here? Why?”

“The Vromme-Elias cut a swathe across Scandinavia and into France. Took out some of the K-H colonies. I got out of the way of their war.”

Sutton stared at him. How had Rider escaped custody? Why had the first compound that found him let him go? His intel was invaluable. He’d witnessed the continental hive-wars. “How many compounds have captured you?”

“Lost count.”

“And they let you go?” An uneasy feeling pushed through Sutton. Rider had to be an advance scout. His role was to keep them enthralled with information and the possibility of breaking the hold the nano-virus had over the whole of the human race. They fell for it. Became distracted. And the colony took them.


And there was his first lie. Sutton could practically taste it. He moved in closer, Rider’s earthy scent his with every intake of air. The sour twist in his gut said he would have to kill the man after all. Fuck. He really had been beginning to fall for his lies. “Did you?”

The question had Rider’s full attention, his gaze fixed, the muscles in his arms cording. His mouth tightened.

Sutton met his glare. He’d played this game with the infected more times than he could, or wanted to, remember. “Tell me what you have planned and I can make it quick.”

“I already had quick from that little med-tech. You? I want long and slow.”

“I can use a precious bullet. Here.” He jabbed his thumb under Rider’s jaw, jerking his head back. “Or I can cut. I have the knives and the time.” Bitter anger at Rider’s deception pushed heat through his frame, but he clamped his will on his anger. He was a professional. “In the end, I’ll know everything you do.”

Rider’s body was relaxed, his breathing even, but a vein in his temple throbbed, hard. “I am not one of the infected.” His mouth thinned. “Bromley, I broke out. They were lax. Three compounds were overrun. Four moved on and I escaped. One kicked me out. This one?” Rider gave a loose shrug, but his dark eyes fixed on him, the familiar burn of hunger searing over his skin. His voice dropped to a low, disturbing growl. “You want to fuck me so bad, you’d rather kill me first.”

Sutton’s balls tightened. He ignored it. He didn’t react to the infected. “Kicked you out?”

“The compound leader and I had…personal differences.”

“You had sex with someone you shouldn’t.”

“His daughter.” A wince tugged at his cheek. “And his son.” Rider shrugged. “It was no consolation to him that I didn’t fuck them both at the same time.”

Rider’s dark humour was bait to draw him in. Something new in the infected’s arsenal. The AI was nothing if not adaptive. Sutton took another step closer, standing mere inches from his prisoner. The heat of his skin, his scent was another distraction to be ignored. “Why didn’t Bromley send on your intel? Why haven’t any of the others?”

“How the fuck should I know? They didn’t want to admit they couldn’t use what I knew, what I am? You all want to be the ones to come up with the cure.” Cynicism was thick in his voice. “The commander at Bromley was a moron.” His breathing deepened and his focus was on Sutton’s lips. “Great mouth though.” His own lips quirked upwards. “Talented.”

“Were you this focused on sex before you were infected?”

“Pretty much.” Rider glanced downwards. Sutton didn’t follow. He was already too aware of the man’s erection. “Test-fuck me, Lieutenant. Prove my immunity.”

“You’re not my type.”

The chains creaked above their heads and Rider leaned forward. Sutton didn’t flinch, even though his prisoner’s mouth was millimetres from his own. If he was infected, the danger was very real. Even a drop of saliva contained enough nano-forms to infect him.

His want was irrational. He had a natural skill and the training to withstand the surge of apian pheromones. But, fuck, the need to fist his fingers in Rider’s wild hair and take his mouth burned in him.

“Who’s your type?” Rider paused and the hot shine in his eyes made thinking difficult. “Because, right now, you want nothing more than to take me and fuck me. Do it, Lieutenant.” He wet his lips. “Do it now.”

That low rough voice had his balls aching and his dick hard. His heart pounded, Rider’s earthy scent rushing him. One taste. Just one.

He threaded his fingers through Rider’s hair and the man hissed, his mouth parting. Sutton fisted his fingers. His prisoner groaned, the sound hitting his gut, and he wanted—he swallowed—he wanted that sarcastic mouth, to take it and stop the flow of words that had his skin on fire.

Rider’s eyes defied him. “Scared?”

Sutton glared at him, tasting his breath. “Fuck you.”

“You plan to.”

He did. Thoughts thundered through him of what he would do, of how he would taste him, mark him, make him come so hard Rider would know exactly who was in charge.

“Do it.”

The heat of Rider’s body swept over him. Sutton kicked his legs apart, easing his own hard thigh between them, and he almost groaned at the press of the hard dick against his own. He cursed the thick material of his combats. Still, he hadn’t kissed him, tasted him. “What are you?”

“What you want.”

For a long second, with his fist yanking on Rider’s hair, bending the man to his wants and needs, Sutton almost, almost kissed him.

Someone fucking infected.

With an angry growl, Sutton released him and staggered back. His hand covered his mouth, hardly able to believe he’d been so ready to share fluids with the man.

“Enough.” Sutton straightened, hating the gleam in the other man’s eyes, the defiance, the knowing that he’d been so close to falling. “You have half an hour. We observe the four-hour rule. You hit it.” He let a cruel smile play across his mouth. “Then I kill you.”

“I’ve made it past every four-hour deadline.”

Sutton turned his back on him and looked at the small monitor tucked into a crevice where metal met stone. His superiors had witnessed his lapse. Fuck. “I’ll be back with the knives.” He stopped but didn’t turn. “I have my own personal set.”

“They want me.” Rider’s voice dropped and Sutton hated the way he strained to catch it. “You want me.”

Sutton laughed, the sound bitter and echoing in the metal-lined room. “I told you before. You’re not my type.”

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