Excited shouts rang out across the open yard. Cameron Donnelly turned to see a plume of red dust rising in the far distance, shimmering in the heat of the scorching Kenyan sun. Several minutes later, a rumble echoed through the air, announcing the impending arrival of a convoy of trucks, and Cam’s team of UN staff broke off their conversation.
Word of the supply delivery had spread like wildfire through the refugee camp over the past few days, and a crowd of people were gathering in front of the warehouse, eager for whatever goods came laden on the trucks. If they were lucky, this would be one of their more generous supply runs. After all, the convoy had special guests this time, an audience that UNHCR headquarters in Geneva wanted to impress.
Patsy, Cam’s second-in-command, had been in charge of leading the convoy, and the status updates she’d sent during the three-day round-trip between the Dadaab refugee camp and Nairobi had been promising. The paramilitary groups manning checkpoints along the route had been generally cooperative, and they’d only lost a minimum amount of supplies along the way.
The convoy rolled to a stop in front of the warehouse, and a crowd quickly congregated around the vehicles. Cam’s staff corralled them back to create space for the trucks to be unloaded. Patsy elbowed her way through the throng, backpack thrown over her shoulder, platinum-blonde ponytail standing out in the sea of dark black hair. She strode over to Cam with a wide smile.
“Hey, boss.” The Australian accent rolled off her tongue, slow and easy, more suited for a beach lined with surfboards than the middle of a refugee camp.
“Hey, Patsy. Good trip?”
“As good as can be expected. Although, probably more exciting since we’ve got precious cargo.”
Cam grunted at the mention of precious cargo, code words they’d been using for the two journalists Cable Broadcasting Network had sent from the States. Most of his staff had been excited about the prospect of getting on TV, but in Cam’s opinion, they were little more than necessary evils. He had said as much to Teresa, Cam’s boss at UNHCR headquarters, when she called to give him the news.
“Play nice,” she’d said over the staticky Skype connection. “When was the last time Dadaab was in the news? We need the publicity.”
He might not have liked the prospect of having to babysit some journalists, but Teresa was right. So he bit his tongue, and now they were here.
Next to him, Patsy sighed dramatically and made googly eyes back in the direction of the convoy. Cam followed her gaze. From the chaos emerged a tall Asian man, looking impossibly immaculate for someone who had traveled all the way from the States.
The trip from New York to Nairobi usually took a good twenty-four hours, and most people looked like the walking dead by the time they made it all the way to Dadaab in eastern Kenya. But not this man. His shiny black hair had that artfully tousled look, like it was meant to be falling over his forehead at just that angle. The snug-fitting baby-blue polo shirt had no visible wrinkles and sat tucked neatly into khaki slacks that somehow maintained a crisp crease right down the front. Aviator sunglasses shielded the man’s eyes, but there was no hiding the easy grin that graced his lips.
Something stirred in the depths of Cam’s consciousness, an old and familiar feeling that had his eyes lingering over the shape of the man’s jaw, the stretch of blue fabric around a biceps. Cam snapped his head away and adjusted his Oakley sunglasses as he quickly scanned the people around him—had they noticed his little slipup? He couldn’t be sure.
“Cameron Donnelly?” The man’s voice reverberated from somewhere in the middle of his chest, low and resonant, designed for seducing listeners over the airways. And the way it caressed his name—settling on the accents and lilting over the consonants—made Cam acutely aware of the attraction awakening inside of him. He clenched his jaw and tamped down the desires he had learned to hide so many years ago.
“Tyler Ang, CBN.” He held out a hand. Long tapered fingers topped with cleanly manicured nails.
Cam hesitated. It was irrational—it was only a handshake—but his palm already tingled with his body’s natural excitement of touching someone he was attracted to. He sucked in a breath as he stretched out his hand, as if that would dull the impression of Tyler Ang’s soft skin and strong grip. It didn’t. Cam pulled his hand away a fraction of a second too early, but if the other man noticed, he didn’t show it.
“This is my cameraman, Douglas Mann.” Tyler Ang nodded at the man standing next to him. “I’m told you’re going to show us around this week?” His tone was friendly and unassuming, like his presence there was par for the course. But it wasn’t normal, at least not to Cam—the TV-ready journalist looked out of place in the rough, arid landscape and ignited reactions in Cam that he couldn’t afford to indulge.
“Yeah, look. You’re welcome to shadow any of us, but don’t get in our way. We’re not here to babysit you.” He glanced back to the truck that held their bags and equipment. “And grab your gear before someone makes off with it.” The words came out much harsher than they needed to be, but better to push the guy away than risk too much interaction.
Besides, it was true—they were busy, he didn’t have time to roll out the red carpet. He turned away to search for his logistics supervisor, but didn’t miss the eyebrow that popped up over the top of the aviators, or the shrug that Patsy gave in response to Tyler Ang’s unspoken question. Let Patsy deal with them—she was better with people, anyway.
“Robinson!” Cam shouted as he spotted the tall, dark-skinned Kenyan man. Robinson was directing the flow of boxes and crates from the trucks into the warehouse.
“Boss!” Robinson greeted Cam as he approached.
“How’s the shipment looking?”
“Eh—it’s good. With this, we’ll have enough inventory for two months, maybe. Oxfam should have a shipment next week, so that will help.”
“Good. When’s our next scheduled delivery?”
“Eh . . .” Robinson chuckled. “Soon.”
“Great.” Cam was anything but excited at that news. Two months’ worth of supplies, maybe three—he did some quick calculations in his head—wasn’t a lot of buffer, but he’d worked with less before.
“What does ‘soon’ mean?”
Cam snapped his head around, arm half raised in defense. It took him a moment to recognize the perfectly tanned Tyler Ang, standing over his shoulder, much too close for comfort.
“Whoa, sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you.” Ang held up both hands, palms facing out.
Cam clenched his jaw against the sudden spike of adrenaline in his system. He sucked in a slow, steady breath through his nose, barely catching Tyler Ang’s next words.
“I wanted to know how frequently you guys do supply runs. I overheard your guy say that this shipment brings you to two months’ worth of supplies? Is that the typical inventory level you maintain?” He had pulled out a small notebook from somewhere and was already scribbling away.
When Cam didn’t respond, Tyler Ang raised his head, eyebrows lifted above his sunglasses. “Play nice.” Teresa’s words rang in his ear.
“‘Soon’ could mean any number of things—next week, next month, or never. ‘Soon’ means we have no fucking clue.”
Tyler Ang paused, pencil poised. “So there’s no schedule?”
He sounded so surprised that Cam almost laughed out loud. “Supply runs happen when the donor gods deign for them to happen. No one really knows when that’s going to be.”
“Then how do you know whether you’ve got enough to last you until the next run?”
“We don’t.” The two short words were pointed, with enough force to stop the next question from coming out of Tyler Ang’s mouth. He snapped it shut as Patsy ran up to them.
“Hey, Tyler,” Patsy said, eyes shifting quickly between them. “Doug’s pulled all your gear. Why don’t I drive you guys back to Admin Block and get you settled in your tent? You’ve got a couple of hours before the sun sets to familiarize yourself with the place, and then you can head out into the camp tomorrow.”
“Yeah. Sounds great.” Even through the opaque lens of the sunglasses, the look Tyler Ang gave him felt like a dissection.
Cam gritted his teeth again. There were things inside of him better kept hidden from the light of day.
Tyler Ang backed down first. “Guess I’ll see you later, then.” He nodded once before following Patsy to the idling Land Cruiser, already loaded with their gear.
He walked with a sure, confident stride. The way those khakis pulled taut over Tyler Ang’s ass, the taper of his back to a narrow waist, registered in Cam’s brain before he could stop himself. He spun around with a jerk.
Don’t look; don’t be gay. Indulging in those desires only led to people getting hurt out here. He’d learned that lesson in the worst way possible, and he wasn’t about to make the same mistake again.
He felt a call to retreat back to that dark corner of his mind where nothing penetrated, where he was safe from the outside world. The call had been stronger lately, the dark corner growing larger, and his resolve to resist was eroding by the day. Soon, Cam told himself; his days in the field were numbered, and then he’d be able to shake this darkness and go back to normal. Whatever the hell normal was.
Cam blinked back the darkness—that was for later. Right now, there was a crisis to ward off. Soon couldn’t come soon enough.