Trope/s: criminals and outlaws, first time, forbidden love, hurt/comfort, rescue, thrill of the chase
Heat Rating: 5 flames
T.A.G. You better hope you’re not it!
Blurb Attention: This book contains explicit sexual content between consenting assassins and not so innocent professors. There are depictions of masochistic masturbation, male chastity, breath play, watersports, humiliation, and torture by eighties hair bands with ginger sprinkles on top.Phew! Now, that that’s out of the way, Hi. I’m Mr. No your friendly communications agent for The Assassins’ Guild AKA T.A.G.I’ve been authorized by the head honcho himself, Mr. H, to release approved records from the agent files.Agent Code Name Mr. W was recovering from a near death debacle by way of an easy assignment in a small mountain town. Red flags sprang up immediately around the seemingly innocent English professor. Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery Jacob Peters presented, Mr. W made plans to do what he did best, watch , wait , and then capture and interrogate.But even the best laid plans can go awry and what Mr. W discovered derailed his plan to kill Jacob.Find out what brought Mr. W to his knees in this first release from the archives of The Assassins’ Guild.
About the Author
A.G. Carothers is actually a dragon very cleverly disguised as a human. They are a non-binary author of LGBTQIA Romance and Urban Fantasy, who enjoys writing original and entertaining stories. They are very excited to share the worlds they’ve created with you.
A.G. currently lives in Tennessee with their platonic life partner, who is not a dragon. They yearn to live back in Europe and will some day. In their spare time they are addicted to losing themselves in the lovely worlds created by other authorsA.G. is committed to writing the stories they see in their head without restrictions. Love is blind and doesn’t see gender, race, or sexuality.
I’ve always wanted to be a writer covering LGBTQ+ affairs. As a member of the queer community, our issues don’t get enough press and I see it as my job to shine a light on the many amazing things we’ve achieved. To help me out, my dad sets me up with an internship at his best friend’s company, which is a place that puts out a weekly newsmagazine. It’s perfect because I can use this opportunity to write about gay-centric issues to my heart’s content. But the problem is that the boss doesn’t necessarily see it that way. Dane, my dad’s friend, is handsome, forbidding, and dare I say it? A little scary. He’s used to giving orders, taking risks, and making money hand over fist. Despite being gay himself, he doesn’t want me to use his paper as a platform for our community because he says quote-unquote: “It won’t sell.” Since when has everything become about money? Have we, as a society, lost our moral compass? Even more important, how can I change his mind? On the one hand, sparks fly whenever Dane and I clash. But on the other, can I really be with a man who won’t stand up for the cause closest to my heart?
I took on Chris as an intern as a favor to my oldest friend. After Nick begged, cajoled, and pleaded, I agreed on a three-month summer internship for his son. With an emphasis on temporary. Chris and I weren’t even supposed to cross paths because as the boss, I don’t really interact with newbie reporters. Yet the moment he walked into my office, I knew that Chris was going to be trouble. The young man is lively, forceful, and hell-bent on writing stories that highlight the achievements of the gay community. Of course I support him, at least on some level. After all, I’m a member of the LGBTQ+ community myself, and proud of the discrimination we’ve overcome, not to mention the acceptance we’ve achieved. As a result, I have nothing against his ideas per se, except that they won’t sell very many papers. Does that make sense? As a player in capitalist society, we have to market our wares in order to survive. But why can’t Chris understand my point of view? Sure, everyone knows that the publishing industry is in jeopardy and facing a sea change in terms of how we do business. But how can I make the young man see this? How can I help him understand that the world is more complicated than it appears, and that sometimes, we work for many masters and wear many hats simultaneously? Most importantly, how can I convince Chris that I’m worthy of his love when his commitment to LGBTQ causes may outweigh his affection for me?
***This is a full-length MM novel with no cliffhangers and a happily ever after.***
After we check into our hotel and drop our bags off, Dane and I stroll hand-in-hand down the main streets. We take in the sights, window shop, people watch, and soak in the perfect summer weather. It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon but not too humid today. Everything looks straight out of a postcard. We see kids in khaki shorts and Sperry deck shoes riding beach cruisers, eating ice cream, and laughing so loud they leave our ears ringing. We pass a coffee shop and I practically drag Dane inside, even though I had two espressos before we left this morning.
As we’re sipping our drinks, I take the opportunity to mention some LGBTQ issues that could potentially be included in Globix publications. There’s one about how fundraising for LGBTQ issues is particularly challenging given the current political climate, and another one pertaining to an upcoming Supreme Court case.
“What do you think?” I ask casually, my heart beating with anticipation. Hopefully Dane likes the ideas and assigns me to report these stories.
He’s noncommittal, merely squeezing my hand and looking off into the distance.
“It’s a beautiful view,” he says in a low voice. “I love this part of the Northeast.”
I shoot him an even look.
“No seriously, Dane. You know these issues are important to our community. What do you think of the fundraising article? Or the Supreme Court case? Front page stuff, right?”
This time, he turns to look at me and sighs deeply.
“Chris, what did I tell you about the Supreme Court?”
“Nothing,” I answer stoutly. “Why?”
Dane muses a bit for a moment.
“You’re right. I never did mention how I feel about those stories, and how they play out for our business. Well, I’m not going to hold back because I think you need to hear it, sweetheart: stories like that, as compelling as they are, don’t speak to our readers. Our readership likes mainstream stuff, even if it pains me to say it.”
I wrinkle my nose.
“What are you talking about? This is mainstream. We are mainstream. That’s what we’re trying to do!”
Dane sighs again.
“No, Chris, we’re not mainstream yet. A small, yet significant proportion of the population identifies as queer in some way, but we’re not there quite yet. And because we’re not there, it means that most of the people buying our papers are straight. They want to hear about issues that pertain to them, or they want to hear about fun human interest tidbits. They don’t want to hear about cut and dried Supreme Court decisions, and they definitely don’t want to hear about fundraising. It’s not going to sell papers.”
I stop and stare at him.
“But we have to feature these articles because we want to become mainstream. Only by including these stories will we make a dent in the overall American consciousness. Don’t you want to do that? Isn’t that a worthy goal?”
Dane sighs again and his shoulders slump a bit.
“Of course I do, but there’s this thing called revenue, and also Globix’s board. I answer to them, and if we don’t deliver good figures, you know what happens? I’m out of there, and so are you, frankly.”
I’m stunned. How can this be? I can’t believe that Dane would nix an idea because LGBTQ issues aren’t what our readers want to read about. Sadly, it makes a sick sort of sense and I turn to him with a horrified expression.
“When’s the last time we featured an LGBTQ-centric article?” I ask in a quavery voice.
The publisher merely looks down.
“It’s probably been two months,” he says in a low voice. “And that’s if you don’t count how Charlize Theron is raising her oldest child as a transgender girl.”
My heart pounds painfully in my chest. Oh my god, I had no idea. Or I did, but I had no idea it was this bad. I seize his hand.
“Well, we can feature more,” I say in a rush. “There’s plenty of space in a couple of the newsmagazines, and I’m sure I can get two or three articles ready in no time –”
Dane cuts me off.
“No Chris,” he says in a low voice. “That’s not going to help. The long and the short of it is that sometimes, we have to wait for the world to be ready for us, and right now? It’s ready, but not that ready. We can’t force a slew of LGBTQ pieces down readers’ throats because they’ll never buy our stuff then. A small trickle of gay-friendly stories is okay, but we can’t make them drink from a fire hose.”
I stand frozen in place. This is so difficult to swallow, but I make myself nod.
“Yes of course you’re right,” I say, still trying to catch my breath. “Revenue matters. Keeping readers engaged matters.”
And the thing is, I actually believe these things, but the revelation is still devastating. What’s more important? Money or the cause close to my heart? I swallow and take Dane’s hand again, and we begin to walk once more.
It’s moments like these when I feel like I’m in over my head. Dane knows so much about the practical realities of business, whereas I know so little. But am I willing to let go of what I love in order to succumb to the gods of money? Or will the realities of capitalism pull me apart from this man whom I adore?
“Gladiator or toy?” Kaspar asks, as if it’s the easiest choice in the world. It might be an easy answer for someone branded, brainwashed, and who remembers no other life. But that’s not me, not yet anyway. I’m a cop—or at least I was until my cover got blown. Now, I’m one of the trafficked people I vowed to save. Kaspar’s a toy —a pleasure slave— content to warm our sadistic owner’s bed; he laps up the abuse he’s conditioned to associate with affection. He’s my only way out. To gain our freedom, I must play the hardest undercover role of my career and be everything his fractured mind needs: a more controlling bastard than the man who turns people into grateful slaves for a living. Officer Jiao Sweatt thinks I’m a victim. He has a lot to learn. And it’ll hurt. This book is part of CRIMINAL DELIGHTS. Each novel can be read as a standalone and contains a dark M/M romance. Warning: These books are for adult readers who enjoy stories where lines between right and wrong get blurry. High heat, twisted and tantalizing, these are not for the fainthearted.
He accepted, absorbed, and floated in the serenity of obedience. His physical pain became walled up in a corner of his mind. The only thing that mattered was his master’s will.
“Fuck, I didn’t see you down there. Why didn’t you say something?”
“It’s not my place to disturb my master.”
Jiao frowned. “Don’t call me that. I’m nobody’s master, and you’re nobody’s slave, Kaspar. Come on, up you get. You don’t have to kneel to me.”
Kaspar didn’t move. He didn’t know if he could get up, but they needed to establish something first.
“I do have a master, and right now, it’s you.” He handed Officer Sweatt the Chorbaji’s note. He hoped Officer Sweatt wouldn’t mind that it was a little damp and crumpled from being in his hand all this time.
Jiao glanced at it and scowled. “Well then, as your master, I order you not to kneel to me.”
Kaspar didn’t resist smiling. A pet’s duty was to adapt to his master’s needs. Officer Sweatt clearly liked teasing, playfulness, that he could do.
“That’s going to make blow jobs a little uncomfortable, but–”
“You don’t have to do that either; now get up and talk to me like a man.”
“Can’t men kneel?”
“Just get up, will you? You make me feel uncomfortable.”
That got him moving. Making your master uncomfortable, unless it was to entice him to pleasure, was not good pet behavior. He tried for his normal graceful, hands-free stand, but ended up on his ass; his sore, bruised, battered, and cut ass. Rolling to his side he sucked in a breath, trying to contain the bright flare of pain while expected a kick for his lack of grace.
“Shit, how long were you down there? Never mind.”
With surprising strength, his new master lifted him to his feet, one hand on his bicep, one across his chest, under the brands, and helped him limp across to the bed. He climbed up and lay on his side, head resting on one fist while he balanced himself with the other in front of him. He hoped he looked at least a little enticing. Flirty and playful, that’s what had put a smile on his new master’s face in the gym.
“You’ve been on a drip.” Jiao nodded toward the small cotton ball taped to his inner arm.
“Not a lot gets past you, does it, Ma–” he paused at Jiao’s frown. “Well, what would you like me to call you? Sir? Officer Sweatt? Chief? Boss? Please, don’t say Daddy, anything but–”
“Would you shut up?”
Kaspar’s mouth snapped shut. At least he’d got him to give an order.
A hand pushed through the inky black hair. “Look, Jiao is fine. I got called ‘Sweaty’ enough as a kid never want to hear ‘Sweatt’ again.”
Kaspar frowned. “I’d never call you that, and your first name hardly seems respectful. I–”
“This is important to you, isn’t it?”
Kaspar’s frown deepened. Understanding this new master was a challenge. “Of course it is. The higher the status of my mas–” he paused, grinning “–special friend, the higher I–.”
As he spoke, his new master grabbed a bathrobe from the back of the bathroom door and draped it over him.
Humiliation hammered. He dropped his forehead to the mattress. He was useless, unworthy, and unwanted. He disgusted this man he had been instructed to please. His failures swirled and thickened in his mind like fog.
You deserved what Azur did to you; he should have finished it. Put you down like a useless old dog.
About the Author
I have a reputation for writing dark, angst filled stories in a swathe of genres, from Sci-fi and paranormal, to contemporary romance and erotica with m/f, m/m and multiple partners. I blame my rebellious muse (who looks like Chris from the Paint Series) for the erotic aspects tickling the angst, and the humour cuddling up with the erotic. You’ll find all this and more in my books! No matter the genre, I can promise different characters, dark themes, steamin’ sex, laughs and a HEA or HFN.
When I’m not writing or reading, in leafy Sussex, England, I herd Birman cats and sons. Both groups argue that the other is too large.
The first paragraph of Kerry Ashton’s new memoir explains a lot: “I told this story once as fiction
in the 1980s, but this time I tell the truth. I even tell the truth, in #MeToo
fashion, about being violently raped by another man when I was 18, with a knife
held to my throat—a secret I kept from everyone, including myself, for over 40
years. The rape, like other experiences I endured while a student at Brigham
Young University, where I came out in the early 1970s, had a profound impact on
my later life. But this story is not so much about my rape or my coming of age
at BYU, as it is about the lifelong effects of shame itself, not only about how
I internalized and inherited a wounding shame from my Mormon upbringing, but
also how I eventually unshamed myself. It is about the journey of a
lifetime, finding spiritual growth, self-discovery and healing along the way,
while encountering many miraculous events that pushed me forward through
darkness toward the light.”
Telling about his experiences during his four years at BYU—the
rape, falling in love for the first time, police surveillance, harassment and
arrest, while enduring three years of conversion therapy and electric shock
treatments—provide the structure of Kerry’s memoir. But intermittently, the author
shares memories from his childhood, growing up Mormon in Pocatello, Idaho, and
later from his adulthood, as well as from
his professional career as an actor and writer, both in L.A. and NYC,
describing encounters with Barbra Streisand, Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis and
Julie Harris, while detailing his experiences with Tennessee Williams and his
brief affair with Stephen Sondheim. Lastly, he talks about the 12 years he
spent in therapy, about his 16-year battle with cancer, how he eventually rid
himself of the shame internalized from his Mormon youth, sharing glimpses into
his sexual journey from his innocent youth through S&M and the gay leather
scene in mid-life to the loving monogamous relationship he now enjoys.
I told this story once as fiction in the 1980s, but this time I
tell the truth. I even tell the truth, in #MeToo fashion, about being violently
raped by another man when I was 18, with a knife held to my throat—a secret I
kept from everyone, including myself, for over 40 years. The rape, like other
experiences I endured while a student at Brigham Young University, where I came
out in the early 1970s, had a profound impact on my later life. But this story
is not so much about my rape or my coming of age at BYU, as it is about the
lifelong effects of shame itself, not only about how I internalized and
inherited a wounding shame from my Mormon upbringing, but also how I eventually
unshamed myself. It is about a lifetime journey of spiritual growth, self-discovery
and healing, including many miraculous events along the way that pushed me
forward through the darkness toward the light.
Growing up in Pocatello, Idaho in the 50s, in the heart of Mormon
Zion, was like growing up in Oz, where Mormons kept me on a religious path the
way the Munchkins told Dorothy to follow the yellow brick road. Most American
families felt pressure in those years to appear like the perfect U.S. family
seen in TV shows likeFather Knows Best and Ozzie and Harriet. But in our
insulated Mormon community in southeastern Idaho, the expectations of appearing
like a perfect family increased dramatically.
With a population of 35,000, Pocatello was Idaho’s second largest
city in the 1950s. It is now twice that size if you count the suburbs. Home to
Idaho State University, Pocatello was and still is very LDS—as members of The
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints call themselves.
In Pocatello, like all LDS communities, church membership divided
into wards. My family and I were members of the Pocatello 15th Ward, one of
several wards within Alameda Stake, and among the more than 40 LDS wards in
Pocatello. As LDS Brothers and Sisters, we proselytized Gentiles—as we
preferred to call non- Mormons—but we never socialized with them, since the Prophet
had warned us “to avoid the mere appearance of evil.”
To survive in my LDS family and Mormon community, I had
to pretend to be a perfect Saint the way my parents did.
Both of my parents were raised dirt poor during the Great Depression. Mom was
barely 17 and Dad only 20 when they married during his military furlough, prior
to Dad shipping out
with the Navy to serve in the South Pacific during World War II.
After Dad returned from the war, my parents had four babies in six years. The
firstborn, my oldest brother Dennis, was expected to be the responsible one.
When he couldn’t live up to all that was expected of him, he became the family
scapegoat. My sister Denise was assigned the role of Daddy’s little girl, his
perfect Mormon princess, and the sweetest of all of us. Craig would later make
Dad proud as a popular athlete in school and in his later and highly
successful career in public education. Without knowing it, Dad had claimed
the first of his three children as his own. So when I came along, being the
youngest and Mother’s last chance, she claimed me entirely for herself. As my
New York therapist noted decades later, “Whether you were a boy or a girl, she
knew she would name you Kerry, since she expected you to carry and meet her
emotional needs from then on.”
Both of my parents had dormant and repressed shame boiling within
each of them. Sometimes, as my siblings and I made our way down the LDS yellow
brick road, my parents’ shame came sailing at us like the fireballs thrown by
the Wicked Witch.
I don’t know how old I was when Mom lay me out naked on a changing
mat, as I waited for a new diaper. I only remember that when she wiped down my
genitals, my “little pee-pee,” as Mom called it, sprang to attention. “Oh,
dear!” Mother exclaimed, removing her hand from my penis as though she had just
touched a hot poker. What Mommy had been doing to my pee-pee had felt
pleasurable. I wanted the feeling to continue, but when I reached down with my
right hand, to rub the spot that had felt so good, Mom smacked my hand away.
“No, Kerry Lynn!” she said. “You mustn’t do that. That’s naughty!”
My little hand stung and I cried, but the real pain was in the
shame I had just internalized. It was sinful to give myself pleasure! The next
time I remember being shamed happened when I was
five. My father Allan Ashton, an insurance salesman, was 35 at the
time. My mother Millie Jane Ashton was a 32-year-old homemaker. At 11, my
oldest brother Dennis was already a bully. At ten, my sister Denise was the
saintliest among us. At seven, my brother Craig already fit in the way he was
expected to. And I was Mom’s “baby.”
Getting in our car after spending hours in church, I announced my
true feelings from the backseat: “I hate church. It’s so boring!”
Enraged, Dad turned to face me in the backseat. Looking directly
into my eyes, he gave me a dire warning: “Kerry, I don’t ever want to hear you
speak that way again about our Church!”
“I’m sorry, Daddy,” I whimpered, already repentant for my out-
spoken honesty, behaving like the best little Mormon boy in the entire world.
Yet, it was not my father’s rage but the look of disapproval on my mother’s
face that had me cowering.
My mother was the only source of love I knew or had ever known. I
could no more live without her approval than the earth can live without the
sun. Clearly, I was trained from an early age not merely to be her baby boy,
but to behave like her exclusive property. Not that Mom or anyone in my family
would have seen it that way; her complete commandeering of my psyche and all that
I was, of my very soul, was not something that she was aware of consciously,
any more than any member of my family was consciously aware of their assigned
roles in our dysfunctional family system. But the fact that I was my mother’s
personal slave is true nonetheless.
Mom had trained me well: A lifted eyebrow meant she was dis-
pleased with me, that my only source of love and companionship might abandon
me. At five, I had already learned the truth: To survive, I had to lie; I had
to become inauthentic and false.
When I was six, I performed in a church play with my family on the
stage of our LDS ward’s reception hall. It was my first appearance on stage and
I was nervous. Some little girls giggled backstage as Mom stripped me out of my
clothes for a quick costume change. Naked and mortified, I was Mother’s
property to do with as she pleased. Once dressed, I stifled my tears and made
my entrance holding my owner’s hand.
That same year, our family visited my Aunt Ruth and her family at
their home in Ogden, Utah. Aunt Ruth had a little girl named Carrie who was
just my age and, like me, loved to sing and dance. After Carrie got up on the
kitchen table and sang, “On the Good Ship Lollipop,” we all applauded.
Wanting me to have my turn in the spotlight, Mom encouraged me to
sing “If I Were King of the Forest” from The Wizard of Oz, since I did a good
impression of Bert Lahr’s performance, complete with dialogue and dance steps,
and I always got rousing applause. “Go on, Kerry Lynn!” she said, nudging me
onto the kitchen table. “Sing the Cowardly Lion’s song!”
I got up on the table, but when I sang, “It’s hard believe me
Missy, when you’re born to be a sissy,” Dad yelled, “Stop singing that song!”
“What?” I asked, surprised as everyone else.
“Get off that table, young man!” he hollered. “No son of mine is
going to perform on a table like a … like a …”
“Like a what?” Mom interjected, getting up in Dad’s face.
Dad shouted back at her, “Millie Jane, pack up! We’re leaving!”
Before I knew it, we were in the car driving home. Sitting in the
backseat, I knew Dad was ashamed of me, but I didn’t understand why. “Why
didn’t you let me finish my song, Daddy?” I asked.
As I began to cry, Dad warned, “That’ll be enough, Kerry Lynn! I
don’t want to hear any more about it!” Dad gave my mother a warning glance.
“This is your fault, Millie Jane!”
“My fault?” Mom retorted. “Why? Because I stand up for him against
you and all your bullying?” Clearly, I was the reason for their fight, but I
still didn’t understand why.
As my parents fought over me, I cried even more.
“Stop crying, young man,” Dad shouted, “or I’ll give you
something to really cry about!” But the more I tried to repress my
tears, the more I sobbed.
“That’s it!” Dad shouted, pulling the car to the side of the road.
“You’re getting a beating, Kerry Lynn!”
Wild with shame, Dad jumped out of the car. Deciding that his belt
was not harsh enough, he went along the road and tore a two- by-four from a
nearby fence. Bringing the board back with him, he dragged me out of the car.
“Allan Ashton!” Mom exclaimed. “You are not going to beat our
child with that two-by-four! I will not allow it!” But Dad already had my pants
down and was paddling me when Mom got between us. “Allan, that’s enough! What
is wrong with you?”
Undeterred, Dad continued my beating as the drivers passing by
looked on in horror.
That incident was so emotionally painful for me that I blocked out
any memory of it. It was only after years spent in therapy decades later, and
only after my sister Denise shared with me her memory of the entire event, that
I finally faced the truth.
Regardless of what had made my father so angry that day, he made
it clear to me then that I was a source of shame for him, one he either had to
ignore or obliterate.
The Holy War, as I have come to think of it, began on a hot day in
early September 1971, the day I left Pocatello to drive four hours south to
Provo, Utah, to attend Brigham Young University. As in all wars, whether holy
or unholy, it would not be without its casualties.
I spent the morning packing things in my ‘56 Chevrolet, parked in
the spot on the lawn where our driveway would have been had my parents ever had
the money to pave it. A yellow-and-bronze, two- door coupe with cream interior,
a huge cream steering wheel, and black dashboard, the car had class, which is
why I named it Oscar— after the Academy Awards I hoped to win one day.
About the Author
Raised in Pocatello,
Idaho as a Mormon in the heart of Mormon Zion, Kerry attended BYU in the early
70s, where some of the most dramatic events recounted in his memoir took place.
Always interested in
pursuing a career as both an actor and writer, Kerry wrote his first play, BUFFALO HEAD NICKELS at the age
of 17, and published it at 18. Since then, he has published several works,
among them most prominently THE
WILDE SPIRIT, a one-man play with music, in which Ashton starred as Oscar
Wilde, and also wrote the play’s book, music and lyrics. The play won Kerry
critical acclaim for both his writing and performance, and three 1977 L.A.
Civic Star Awards for Best Actor, Play and Direction. The play ran for three
consecutive seasons in Provincetown, MA from 1990-1992, and was produced
Off-Broadway in 1996, winning Kerry a National Award of Merit from ASCAP. The
author now makes his home with his partner Victor Ramirez in South Florida. For
more info, visit www.KerryAshton.com.
After betraying the only man he ever loved, Hadrian ni Leyanon waits for death amid the ruins of a sorcerous battle. Before that can happen he is recruited by the Council of Elders which governs the use of magick in Juxtan. The Council needs him to track down his evil sorcerer father and force him to face a justice they aren’t powerful enough to inflict on their own. Wracked with guilt, Hadrian agrees to join the mage-led mission in the hopes it will allow him to redeem himself. But when Caled, the handsome mercenary whom Hadrian betrayed, insists on joining the mission, too, Hadrian discovers that redemption needs to come from the man who hates him most.
This book was previously published as The Gathering.
The mercenary tightened his fingers around Hadrian’s wrist in response. For a brief instant Hadrian was transported back in time, when Caled held his arm this way because he was leading Hadrian back to the Bell and Buckle for a midday roll and they were trying to be discreet while excitement quickening their pulses. The memory was so sharp and the ache it caused so painful that Hadrian let out a whimper of longing before he could stop himself.
Caled turned his head at the sound, his glorious blue eyes still full of a hate that seemed to age him. But there was something else which lurked in those sapphire depths, something…
“Please,” Hadrian said, the word holding a thousand meanings―it was up to Caled to decide which interpretation to take. “Please.”
Caled had brought them to a mudroom off the main entrance that afforded some privacy. In the semi-darkness, surrounded by hanging cloaks and furs, Caled released Hadrian’s arm and turned around. He herded Hadrian back against the nearest wall, Hadrian clumsily moving his feet out of the way to avoid being stepped on.
“It’s too late for that,” Caled told him grimly. “It’s too late for pleas, for forgiveness. It’s too late, Hadrian.”
Hadrian found himself pressed into the scratchy fabric of wool cloaks. Damp mud on their hems brushed the backs of his bare calves, making him shiver at the cold. But if he needed heat, all he needed to do was look into Caled’s eyes.
“I understand you’re going to kill me,” Hadrian began, his voice stronger than he expected. “I deserve your justice.” The lines around Caled’s eyes deepened. “But I want you to know, Caled. I want you to know―it wasn’t a deception. What we shared―it was real. It was real for me.”
About the Author
Tricia Owens has been writing m/m fiction since 2000, after stumbling onto the term ‘slash’ and thinking it referred to horror stories. She is the author of the Sin City, A Pirate’s Life for Me, and Juxtapose City series, among several others. She lives in Las Vegas.
A Links in the Chain Story A rich man is about to set foot into an unknown world, while a Good Samaritan fears he’ll have to close the charity he’s spent his life building. Poised to lose it all, they might find what they need most in each other. Son of a wealthy importer, Galen Merriweather lives to broker deals, and he’s damn good at it. But it’s getting harder to ignore the kind of man his father is—a man who would pay Galen’s brother’s lover to leave… a man who’d demand Galen retrieve a quarter-million-dollar check from a struggling homeless shelter. Robert Kotke knows the money is too good to be true, but it’s a godsend that could help so many people. Still, he hands it over when Galen shows up. But he isn’t done with Galen yet, and he’s going to challenge everything Galen ever believed. Galen will face an impossible decision: the redemption he’s come to realize he wants, or the life he’d always dreamed of.
THE PEOPLE milling around at the coffeepot scattered when Galen Merriweather stormed into Primal Imports and headed for his office. He’d gone to see his brother, Lincoln, at Park View, the diner he owned, to tell him about the betrayal of Noel Simmons, Lincoln’s lover. When his father had offered Noel a quarter of a million dollars to walk away so Lincoln would be forced to come back to the family business, Galen had been incensed. Their old man had pulled some shady crap over the years, but this was a new low, even for him.
His personal assistant, Olivia, greeted him with a warm smile when he stepped through the door. “Good afternoon, Mr. Merriweather.”
Galen sneered at her and stomped into his office, slamming the door as he did. He dropped into the stylish leather chair that sat behind the imposingly large oak desk, wondering why the hell he’d bothered to talk to Lincoln at all. His feelings about Galen had been made perfectly clear when he chose that… person over his own family.
Plus, what was up with their father? His private investigator had somehow acquired pictures of Lincoln from a BDSM club he’d frequented at some point in his storied past. They showed Lincoln and some of the submissives he’d played with at the clubs. It turned Galen’s stomach to see. Not that he had a problem with BDSM. The problem was how his father had gone about it. The guys in the pictures were innocent, but anyone could clearly see who they were. Galen had to wonder if the PI had stolen the pictures or had worked out a deal with a club owner.
Either way, the whole thing stunk, and Galen hated the thought that he’d done nothing but sit there as his father rode roughshod over Noel. He had to admit, the way Noel had played his father was masterful, and there wasn’t a doubt in Galen’s mind that when he found out, his father’s retribution would be swift.
Galen didn’t like Noel, but he had to respect the ginormous set of balls he obviously had.
Still, what the fuck was up with his father? He’d seen the man pull some awful shit, but this? It went way beyond the pale, even for him. Galen’s ire rose as he thought about how any hope of Lincoln coming back to Primal had now been dashed, and all because their father was a total asshole.
When his phone rang, Galen took a moment to compose himself, then answered it without checking to see who it was.
“Primal Imports, this is Galen. How can I help you?”
Galen groaned. Andy might be the closest thing he had to a friend, but Galen couldn’t muster the energy to talk to him now. Best to find out what he wanted, then politely get rid of him. “What can I do for you, Andy?”
“Don’t be like that. We haven’t talked in weeks.” If it was possible to pout over the phone, Andy was doing so. “How come you haven’t called me? Last time I saw you was at Tyler’s party, when you were puking your guts out, and he was—”
“It’s been hectic here. Was there something you needed?” Keeping the conversation focused was the only way Galen would get off the phone sometime today.
“YP is having strippers tonight. I thought we could go.”
Not just no. Hell no. The last time he’d gone to a bar with Andy, Galen had been forced to duck out the back when he thought he saw someone from the office walk in. While Lincoln was out and proud, Galen was firmly rooted in the closet, and that was the way it was going to stay. Having already borne witness to the disappointment of Lincoln’s “lifestyle,” as their father called it, Galen had no intention of being on the receiving end of that treatment. How the family friends discussed Lincoln was bad, but hearing it from his father was infinitely worse.
“Michael is going to be there. He’s been asking about you.”
Galen’s stomach knotted. Michael had been a one-night stand about a year ago. Galen wouldn’t deny he enjoyed the sex, but he would say Michael’s crude behavior made it obvious the man should never be seen in the light of day, and he certainly would never fit in at family affairs. No, with his oversized muscles, gruff voice, and arrogance, Michael would be more likely to fit in at Lincoln’s diner.
“No, but thank you for asking. I—”
The door to his office was flung open so hard, it bounced off the dark wood panels and caused Galen to flinch.
“I have to go.”
Andy’s protests were cut short as Galen hung up the phone. His father stomped in, a sneer on his face. He stalked over to Galen, put his palms flat on the desk, and leaned in close. “Explain this… mess to me.”
What was there to explain? Noel had played them big-time. His father’s reaction came as no surprise. Jonathan Merriweather was no one’s fool. In all of his dealings, he made it very clear what was expected of people. He used it against them, more often than not, as a means of acquiring their business. Galen had enjoyed observing his father’s cutthroat tactics. Seeing men who thought they had power brought to their knees because of some slight slip of the tongue had been fascinating to watch, and Galen had taken those lessons to heart. Father wasn’t happy about having them turned against him.
“Simmons played you, Father. He followed your instructions to the exact letter, and after he had the check in hand, he left.”
“He’s still here. I’m not a stupid man, Galen. I had Tate follow him. He went back to the diner. We had an agreement, and the little shit took the money.”
“The office, Father. He left the office. You weren’t specific enough about what you wanted from him, and he used it against you. As there were no contracts signed, the only thing you have is a verbal agreement, which could be argued in court. I can’t believe you showed him pictures of Lincoln with his… whatever.”
Nostrils flaring, Galen’s father stood to his full six-foot, six-inch height. “Don’t question how I do things, Galen.”
Galen wanted the chair to swallow him whole. His father’s glower never failed to make him feel small and helpless. He’d gotten Galen to fall in line ever since he was a child, simply by turning it on him. “No, of course not, sir.”
His father splayed his fingers on the desk and leaned forward, his gaze locked with Galen’s. “I’ve already spoken with Lincoln, and do you know the bastard laughed at me? I want you to get that money back. I don’t care what you need to do, but no one cheats me. Do you understand?”
“Why not just cancel the check?”
His father sneered. “Because I want you to put the fear of God into all of them. They need to learn not to screw with me. Do you think you’re able to handle this?”
Galen stiffened his spine. “Yes, of course.”
“I’m going to sue that little shit into the ground.”
“Maybe it would be best if—”
His father’s expression was ice-cold. “When I want your opinion, I’ll ask. Until then, keep it to yourself and do as you’re told.” He turned on his heel and huffed like a bull as he barreled out the open door.
Galen leaned back and ran a hand through his hair. God, the old man was a prick. He’d never been a nurturing person, leaving that to Galen and Lincoln’s nanny. Of course, they never lasted long either. As soon as either he or Lincoln began to feel close, they’d be terminated and someone new would be brought in. Galen was never sure if it was because their father wanted to control his sons or if he’d been screwing the nanny and was done with her.
The sad thing was that his mother was every bit as bad. She’d had affairs with the chauffeur, one of the cooks, and if rumor was to be believed, she’d even bedded a few maids. She wasn’t discriminating about who she had sex with, nor was she shy about sniffing around them when his father was nearby. But in public, they were one big, happy family.
Yeah, he knew what a fucked-up life he led, but he couldn’t complain too much. He had money, power, and when his father retired—God, let it be soon—he would take over the company. Pity Lincoln didn’t want anything to do with it. The two of them together could rule their empire with an iron fist.
His phone rang, and this time he glanced at the caller ID. With a sigh, he picked up. “Sorry, Andy. I had someone come into the office.”
“You hung up on me. Do you know how rude that is?”
“I said I was sorry. What more can I do?”
“Come out tonight. You can buy me a drink, we can dance, watch the strippers, have a good time, and maybe we’ll even get lucky.”
It had been better than three months since Galen got laid, and his ass clenched at the thought. Still, he’d been given a task by his father, and he needed to get on that right away.
“Tonight’s not good. Are you willing to give me a rain check?”
When Andy gave that weary, put-upon sigh, Galen knew he was going to give in. He always did, just because he didn’t want to hear Andy—
“Just one drink, Gale. Please?”
—whine. He knew he was going to regret it, but really, what could one drink hurt? And it wasn’t like the job was his life or anything.
“One drink, one dance. Then I have to go.”
Galen shook his head. This had bad idea written all over it.
THE ANNOYING ringtone on the phone dragged Galen out of a drunken stupor. He glanced over at the clock and groaned. Nearly 4:00 a.m., and he was still wasted.
Despite the fact he’d repeatedly said he had to go, Andy had kept plying him with drinks, and like an idiot, Galen drank them. When someone took his hand and dragged him along, Galen stumbled onto the dance floor, where hot, sweaty men surrounded him, their skin glistening under the pulsating lights. He remembered a mouth on him, sucking at his chest. When he tried to push the person away, they sank to their knees, undid his zipper, and right there in the middle of the club, they’d gone down on him. It was such a shock, and Galen knew he ought to run, but the mouth was hot and wet and Galen was horny, so he grabbed the head and thrust in deep. As he fucked the guy’s mouth, other hands pulled down Galen’s pants. Something cold and wet touched his ass, and Galen shivered. The guy blowing him chuckled. The sound of foil ripping told Galen what was about to happen. The man blowing him pulled off and Galen was urged down to his knees. Without preamble, a thick cock pushed inside him in one stroke, burying to the hilt. Galen moaned. It had been so fucking long.
The man who’d been sucking him stretched out, his legs spread, holding his cock in his hand. He gripped Galen’s hair and pulled it toward his crotch. Galen opened wide, allowing the head to slide into his mouth. The guy locked both hands on Galen’s head, forcing him to take the considerable length.
A slap to his cheek made Galen yelp, as much as he could with a mouthful of cock.
They weren’t gentle at all, and Galen didn’t care. He’d never been spit-roasted before, and he was in heaven. Two men, each using Galen to satisfy their needs, not caring about him. This was what he wanted—no, this was what he needed. He had a hard job, a shitty family, and no one gave a fuck about him.
He wondered what his old man would say if he could see him now.
The man who he was sucking began to grunt, shoving Galen’s head down hard, forcing him to open up his throat. “Gonna come.” His voice was a growl, which inflamed Galen’s senses. “Fuck, this guy can suck a cock.”
“Yeah, I’m gonna seed his ass.”
The talk was filthy, and they were treating Galen like he was a hooker or something. He didn’t care. They still treated him better than his father.
The music volume kicked up a notch, and the words and grunts were drowned out by a thumping bass that went through Galen’s body. A hand reached down and grabbed his dick, jacking it while the guy at his head shot into Galen’s mouth. He swallowed it down, delighting in the musky flavor.
As soon as Galen had swallowed it all, the guy stood up, patted his head, said thanks, then disappeared back into the crowd. When the other guy pulled out, Galen felt empty. He smacked Galen on the ass before he, too, left.
Galen wasn’t sure why, but his whole world turned upside down after that. He pulled his pants up and lurched back to the bar, where he ordered another drink, downed it in one go, then stumbled out of the place.
The ringing phone was like a drumbeat in his head. He reached over to the nightstand and grabbed it. There were six missed calls from Andy. And now he was calling again. Might as well get it over with.
“What’s going on?”
“You tell me, stud.” There was a teasing quality to Andy’s voice that unsettled Galen even more.
“What are you talking about?” Galen’s stomach rolled over, and he got up and swayed a bit before he was able to get his balance. His bladder was screaming at him, so Galen figured he should listen for a change. He moved from his bedroom to the living room.
“Your little act on the floor. It was hotter than hell, and your fans wanted to know where you went and when the next show is. Shit, the Xtube video has nine thousand views already, and it was only posted a few hours ago. You, my friend, are going to be a star. Who the hell knew you had it in you? Well, I guess we all did, since we watched.”
Galen’s stomach lurched and he threw his phone onto the couch, then ran to the bathroom, dropped to his knees, and tossed his cookies. How had this gone so wrong? The old man had gotten pictures of Lincoln somehow. What would happen if he somehow saw this video? Shit, Galen’s life could well and truly be over. After discovering his father had hired a private detective to track down information on Noel, Galen could imagine him having people scour the internet to dig up dirt on both his sons. He had no idea to what end, but seeing how he had attempted to blackmail Lincoln, tried to pay Noel to leave, and how angry he’d gotten over a little nobody like Noel getting the better of him? What would happen if he learned both of his sons were queer?
Shit. Shit shit shit.
Galen swiped a hand over his mouth, stood, and trudged to the sink. He didn’t even need the mirror to know he looked like shit. Still, he wanted to see just how bad it was. Sunken cheeks, bloodshot gray eyes, and his dark hair was greasy. Galen could smell the smoke clinging to him. Even his normally tanned skin was sallow. He turned away. That was definitely not the image he needed to present when he went into work. He took a shower and brushed his teeth, then shuffled into the kitchen where he grabbed a coffee pod and started a pot. His phone rang from the other room, but Galen didn’t want to answer it. He wanted—needed—to put the whole thing out of his mind. It was a nightmare; that’s all it had been.
But despite the drinks at the bar and the beers he’d downed after he got home, Galen remembered some of it. Their hands on him, their cocks inside him. The taste, their forcefulness, the way they’d treated him. If anyone else had done that, Galen would have thrown a fit, but those two men? Galen realized he was nothing more than a hole for them to use, but that was okay. They saw him at least. He snorted, because apparently the whole world was now seeing him. One night fucked up everything, and Galen’s dreams were crumbling to dust before him.
His only hope—and that wasn’t saying much—was to get the money back from the shelter Noel said he’d given it to. If Galen could show his father he could be as cutthroat and ruthless as the old man, maybe it would go a long way toward helping him out of this damned mess.
One thing was certain: he sure as hell wasn’t going out with Andy again.
No matter how good it felt.
About the Author
Parker Williams began to write as a teen, but never showed his work to anyone. As he grew older, he drifted away from writing, but his love of the written word moved him to reading. A chance encounter with an author changed the course of his life as she encouraged him to never give up on a dream. With the help of some amazing friends, he rediscovered the joy of writing, thanks to a community of writers who have become his family.
Parker firmly believes in love, but is also of the opinion that anything worth having requires work and sacrifice (plus a little hurt and angst, too). The course of love is never a smooth one, and happily-ever-after always has a price tag.