Monday, September 12, 2016

Monday's Montage Mantlepiece: Sins of Summer

The seven deadly sins: lust, wrath, greed, gluttony, envy, pride and sloth.

The Sins of Summer weaves a general thread of deception loosely tying these tales together. Envy, lust and wrath are explored in these scorching m/m tales involving action, burning hot sex and sinful adventures that will have you cranking up the Air Conditioning.

Stories Included:
Mayze by D.J.Manly
D.J. Manly tackles the sin of lust in his paranormal tale

Jas’s joy of being reunited with his sister is short lived when one night she is murdered by a madman, a madman his foster brother claims is a vampire. Sent out on a mission to find a monster, Jas meets Mayze, and he’s like no one he’s ever met before. Is he the monster who killed his sister, or could he just be the answer to his prayers?

Burnt Island by A.J.Llewellyn
A.J. Llewellyn tackles the sin of jealousy in Burnt Island

Manhattan-based private investigator, Leo Gannet, accepts an assignment to tail his father’s boyfriend, theater director Thane Covey on a clandestine trip to a tiny Greek island. With only three hundred inhabitants and four miles to cover, Leo worries about pulling off his mission. He soon discovers he's got bigger problems: Thane Covey is the sexiest man he's ever seen. And he's not alone. Leo soon becomes insanely jealous, then very worried. To top it off, Thane also seems to have somebody else's attention...a hitman's.

Summer Escape by Serena Yates
In Summer Escape, Serena Yates tackles the sin of wrath.

New York banker Carlton Jaymes Pearce receives an ultimatum from his doctor: accept a lifestyle change and early retirement to reduce his astronomical stress levels or be prepared to have a heart attack - soon. Being only thirty-eight, Carlton isn't ready to die and decides to finally learn how to sail. Neither he nor his private sailing instructor, Troy Nicholls, are ready for the almost instant attraction that leads to a hot and heavy summer fling. But all is not well because someone from Carlton's past appears on the scene to exact revenge for a perceived injustice. Carlton and Troy are kidnapped and left on a deserted island. Will the mysterious man's wrath cost them their lives?

Mayze by D.J.Manly
From the final pirouette to the grand jeté, Magda’s attention never wavered from the scene in front of her eyes. It had been like watching a child surrounded by treats in a candy store. It was all so good that in the end you never really end up choosing.

Jas placed an arm around his older sister as they exited the theatre and walked out onto Sixty-Third Street. Columbus Avenue was bustling tonight, the weather glorious—warm with a subtle, soft breeze that prevented the heat from being oppressive.

The home of the New York City Ballet, the David H. Koch Theater, was one of three theatres located on the over-sixteen-acre Lincoln Center Campus in the city’s west end. Magda had always loved ballet but had never before had the chance to actually see one.

In the early nineties, when the war over independence had erupted in Bosnia, Jas was only twelve years old. Magda had been sixteen. Given that Bosnia’s male children seemed to be more of a target than females, his parents feared for Jas’ safety. At the age of thirteen, his parents sent him to New York City to live with his father’s cousin, Adel, and her family.

It had been a tough decision for the family. The decision had not been made in haste, and his parents had changed their minds several times about sending him to New York. Jas remembered how angry he’d been at being sent away. He hadn’t wanted to leave his family. The night before he’d actually left, his sister had sat up all night, quietly talking to him. She’d convinced him that it was the right thing to do and that soon they’d all be together again.

A few years later, eight thousand boys had been murdered by Serbs, helping to turn the tide of the war...and convincing his parents they had made the right choice in sending him to America.

Adel had always felt badly that she couldn’t take in the entire family, but Jas’ father had truly felt he had a duty to stay and help defend his homeland and wouldn’t have left anyway.

His father had died in the conflict just before it was all over, and his sister—who wrote to him constantly, longing to come to America—had stayed behind to look after their mother, whose health declined rapidly after their father was killed.

Finally, two years ago, his sister had arrived in America. After their mother had passed away, they’d talked about it while Jas was home for the service. Magda was so excited. She’d been learning English for a few years in preparation and they always spoke English on the phone and exchanged emails in that language.

But when they saw each other at the airport five years later, Magda spoke to him in Bosnian, “Jasminko, zdravo, ja sam sretan sada.”

“English, English, sister. You are in America now...and I am happy too.” They’d held on to each other for a long time—all of the memories and loss filling them both for a few minutes—before they broke apart.

Jas had known things would be different now. Finally, Magda could leave the past behind her, too—as he’d already done.

It had taken a while for his sister to be able to address him as Jas. He didn’t use Jasminko anymore. It was too long a name and people had problems pronouncing it. Not to mention, they always wanted to know what kind of a name that was. He’d have to explain where he was from, and that brought up a past that he didn’t like talking about.

“You are so American,” his sister had laughed at him as he’d driven her home from the airport that day.

She was right, of course. He’d been in the US now for almost eighteen years. Many things had changed in his life since he’d left Bosnia. His mother’s cousin had been an Adem. Her father had been the oldest in the family, and he’d always wanted Jas’ father to come with him to America. His father, however, had been very proud of his homeland, always believing he could make it better. Jas couldn’t help thinking how different everything would have been if his parents had taken Magda and came to America before he was born. Maybe his parents would be alive today.

His uncle had worked as a scientist in the American government. His wife had died in childbirth and Adel, his daughter, had married an Irishman called Patrick O’Kelly. They had two children, Harlan and Anne. Harlan, the elder of the two, had become a Catholic priest.

Jas was completely out of touch with his roots, and given the history, he’d never really had the heart to reconnect. Aside from his older sister, his only family was the O’Kellys, and they had been good to him. They treated him like one of their own, and the youngest, Anne, thought of him as a brother. Anne had once told Jas that he was like her only brother because Harlan was so difficult to get close to. Jas’ relationship with Anne hadn’t made him miss Magda any less, but it had helped to ease the pain of their separation. Today, Anne was a cop—as a kid, she’d always been a bit of a daredevil. They’d spent a lot of time together doing nonsense.

Patrick and his twin brother, John, were partners in an industrial construction supply business. Patrick had always been a little disappointed that Harlan, the only boy, didn’t share his interest in the business and he hadn’t been that thrilled to see him enter the priesthood. Pat was Catholic in name only, didn’t trust priests and was pretty vocal about it. It didn’t help the rocky relationship he had with his son.

Jas, on the other hand, was fascinated with building. He had been as a boy, and by the time he was sixteen, he’d been working summers for the O’Kelly brothers. They’d taught him everything, and he’d paid his way through trade school and university that way. After Jas graduated, he went to work full-time in the business. He’d been promised a partnership and a chance to buy them out when they retired, which was definitely in his plans.

He loved his life. He’d bought a small house on the east side, twenty minutes from the office, and had saved enough money to set his sister up in her own place when she was ready and help her find a good job. He didn’t want her doing menial labour like some immigrant women ended up doing—cleaning rich people’s houses or offices for shit wages.

Burnt Island by A.J.Llewellyn
It began with the dog walking around in circles and ended with me on a plane to Athens, Greece, tracking my father’s boyfriend. Yeah, you heard it right. Just when my dog, Jezebel, needed me most, I couldn’t come up with the funds to treat her sudden onset of vestibular disease. A call to my dad for a loan got me an unwanted job, but it also meant the money I desperately needed to take care of my best friend in the whole wide world.</span>

My vet is an awesome guy. He’s not the type to chisel his human clients for expensive tests, but when my Australian shepherd, Jez, started tilting her head, scratching her ear, walking in circles and falling down, Dr Lang warned me it might be very serious. He couldn’t tell if her vestibular problem was because of an ear infection or a brain tumour. This meant a slew of tests. In my work as a private eye, I have good months and bad months. Lately they’ve all been bloody awful. In this tough economy, people have been taking matters into their own hands, following cheating spouses themselves...or just turning a blind eye to their shenanigans.

No matter how many times I tell a love-sick spouse that you get what you pay for, a few have ignored me, with catastrophic results. As much as any guy wants to know if his wife is diddling another guy, nobody really wants to see it for themselves. And then there is the matter of getting caught. There isn’t a person alive who looks attractive acting like a stalker...

But enough about that. I was frightened enough about Jez having a disease I couldn’t spell, let alone treat. New York was bracing itself for some sweltering, triple-digit summer heat, and my A/C was on the fritz. I’d have to get that repaired as well if I was going to keep Jezebel comfy.

When I called him for a loan, my father, Leo Gannet Sr, was unusually willing to pay for the initial battery of tests. He gave Dr Lang’s office manager his credit card details right over the phone. I should have been suspicious, but I wasn’t until he said, “Leo, we need to meet and discuss terms.”

Terms? What terms?

As I grabbed a taxi to meet him for coffee on Manhattan’s lower east side, I watched the day’s heat shimmer in waves from the scorching bitumen. I bounced along on the uncomfortable, macramé-covered back seat, the strong smell of curry and rice permeating the cab. I held on for dear life, worried the back door of the decrepit vehicle would fling open, tossing me to the kerb. As we slammed to a halt outside Bluestockings Café, I wondered if my father’s terms meant a repayment plan I’d have to make—with interest.

Dad waited for me inside Bluestockings, an activist café&nbsp;and bookstore he would never have frequented when he was straight. A contract-law attorney, he’d always been the epitome of Brooks Brothers couture. Now he was gay, he dressed like a frickin’ rich, hippie weirdo with tie-dyed T-shirts and hemp pants and gave free legal advice to old ladies selling organic produce. I noticed prayer beads lurking against his hairy chest and gem stone bracelets clinking on his wrists. I detected a strong whiff of patchouli incense when he threw his arms around me. Though I wanted my father to be happy, I wished he could have done it whilst maintaining a closer relationship with soap. He still looked distinguished...sort of. He needed a shave and a trim. He looked bleary-eyed and exhausted.

Holy cow. Had he been crying?

Dad hugged me like it had been weeks since we’d seen each other. Upon reflection, it had, so I let him hug me. He oohed and aahed over me.

“Leo, great haircut, son. Have you been working out?”

We both had the same chocolate brown hair that did whatever the hell it wanted, only his had started turning grey, probably from the stress of living a double life. Now he was out, he’d quit the weekly facials and manicures.

“I gotta be me,” he kept saying. I just didn’t know who the hell that was anymore.

He cupped my face in his hands and looked at me with eyes the same blue as my own.

“You look good,” he said.

“Thanks, Dad.” I had to lie. It was required. “So do you.”

That pleased him. His expression was serene when he finally released me. I sat down at a small table wedged between a huge basket bearing a fresh harvest of dwarf cameo apples on one side and another basket filled with free yarn and needles for the shop’s dyke knitting circle on the other. I hadn’t even ordered myself a cup of coffee when he hit me with the news.

“You’re leaving for Greece tonight.”

“What are you talking about? I can’t go to Greece, Dad. Jez needs me.”

“She won’t be alone. You forget, I love that dog, too,” he told me. “She’s fourteen, son. Things start to go wrong then.”

Thanks a lot for reminding me, Dad...

“My boyfriend’s cheating on me.” He fiddled with a ball of bright blue yarn, winding the thread around his fingers. “I hacked his computer and I found his account. That fool’s been online, hooking up a romantic vacation with another guy whilst I’m doing my best to win his heart.”

He looked so forlorn I felt really bad for him.

“You have no idea,” Dad said. “My God...the dinners, the concerts...” his voice trailed away. He dumped the yarn back into the communal basket. “I brought all the information you’ll need.”

He had his iPad with him. The shocks didn’t stop coming. My father, who still wore a watch and had the world’s oldest cell phone on record, suddenly had an iPad and a net detective account. His boyfriend, who he said was a hot theatre director named Thane Covey, was my age—thirty-two. That was embarrassing. Visions of cradles and masked bandits danced in my head as my fifty-eight year old father showed me the Kayak account in question.

“He claims all kinds of work things—social things. He’s always got a thing he’s gotta do.” My father threw his hands into the air. “I got this...thing,” he mimicked.

Summer Escape by Serena Yates
“You’re not seriously telling me that I’m in danger of having a heart attack. I’m only thirty-eight years old!” Carlton Jaymes Pearce stared at the physician, willing him to retract his words. All he’d come to the clinic for was his employer’s required annual physical. He hadn’t expected dire predictions about his future. “If this is some sort of joke...”</span>

“No joke.” The white-haired doctor shook his head. “I wouldn’t joke about something like this. It would be highly unethical. And contrary to common belief, age is no protection or guarantee that you’re safe.”

“But...but how?” He took good care of himself. He didn’t smoke, ate mostly sensibly, and went to the gym three or four times a week.

“Your cholesterol is extremely high, as is your blood pressure. Your family history is another risk factor against you.” The doctor looked up from the file, narrowing his eyes. “However, I suspect that the largest contributor is your stress level.”

“Stress.” There’d certainly been enough of that in the last two years. With the way the banking sector was heading, it wasn’t likely to get any less stressful in the future, either. His personal life was a mess, too. The breakup with Michael had been awful, but he wouldn’t accept infidelity no matter how neglected the younger man had claimed he’d felt.

“Exactly.” The doctor tilted his head and raised his eyebrows.

“Well, since that isn’t going to get any rosier, I suggest you give me a prescription to handle the cholesterol and the blood pressure, and I’m sure I’ll be fine.” He could deal with taking some pills.

“I’m afraid that isn’t possible.” The doctor held up a hand to stop him from interrupting. “I agree that medication would reduce some of the physical risk factors, but it wouldn’t reduce your stress levels. I cannot in good conscience put you on medication and leave it at that. What you need is rest and a complete change of lifestyle.”

“Rest? I can’t take a vacation at this point in the fiscal year.” His boss would kill him a long time before any potential heart attack would.

“You don’t understand, Mr Pearce.” The doctor leant forward in his chair. “This isn’t a question of a vacation. I’m going to recommend a leave of absence of at least six months before a re-evaluation to see if you’ve made enough progress to consider a return to part-time work.”

“ what?” He could feel his blood pressure rise. He was ready to have that heart attack right now. The man was clearly out to end his career. “Are you trying to get me fired?”

“No, I’m not. I’m trying to save your life. As far as I can see, it’s either your current job or your life. It’s extremely unlikely that you’ll be able to keep both.” The doctor shrugged and sat back. “I’d go for my life if I were you, but it’s your choice.”

“It’s that serious?” Carlton took a deep breath and sat back when the doctor nodded. Maybe it was time to reconsider. His job as chief financial officer at the large bank he currently worked for had lost its appeal about two years ago. His boss would never approve a leave of absence—there were too many equally qualified people flooding the market right now. He had more than enough money to last him several lifetimes if he continued to invest carefully. So what was stopping him?

“Isn’t there anything you’ve always wanted to do, but never had the time to follow up on? Something you dreamed of when you were a child?” The doctor smiled. “Provided it’s not stressful in its own right, of course. I had a patient in here the other day whose response was sky diving. That was not a choice I was able to support.”

“Sailing.” He didn’t even have to think about it.

“Sailing?” The doctor nodded. “That could work.”

“Really?” He grinned. “I’ve always loved the ocean. We used to spend our summer vacations in Florida, at my grandparents’ beach house. I spent all my time either in the water, swimming, or near the water, reading. But I was never allowed on a boat. It was considered too dangerous.”

“Well, now you can do what you want. If done right, there is no inherent danger or stress in sailing. Learning to sail might be exactly what you’re looking for.” The doctor made a note in his file. “I’ll still want you to return here for another evaluation in six months’ time, just to make sure you’re on the right track.”

“Could you do me a favour, please?” He didn’t want the news to get to his boss via the human resources department. “Could you hold the report back for a day or so? I’d like the chance to talk to my boss and settle this without interference from the rules and regulations people. I’d rather resign than be asked to leave for medical reasons.”

“That will be no problem, Mr Pearce. Anything that makes your life easier is fine with me.” The doctor smiled and closed the file. “But remember, I’m still going to have to send the report. After all, your employer did pay for it.”

“That’s fine.” Carlton felt more relaxed and about ten years younger already. He’d always been good at making decisions quickly. Decisive could have been his middle name. This way, at least he was in control of what was going to happen.

Author Bios:
DJ Manley
D.J. Manly says, "I write not only for my own pleasure, but for the pleasure of my readers. I can’t remember a time in my life when I haven’t written and told stories. When I’m not writing, I’m dreaming about writing, doing something wild and adventurous, or trying to make the world a better and more open-minded place to live in. I adore beautiful men, and I know I’m not alone in this! Eroticism between consenting adults, in all its many forms, is the icing on the cake of life!"

AJ Llewellyn
A.J. Llewellyn lives in California, but dreams of living in Hawaii. Frequent trips to all the islands, bags of Kona coffee in the fridge and a healthy collection of Hawaiian records keep this writer refueled.

A.J. never lacks inspiration for male/male erotic romances and on the rare occasions this happens, pursues other passions such as collecting books on Hawaiiana, surfing and spending time with friends and animal companions.

A.J. Llewellyn believes that love is a song best sung out loud.

Serena Yates
I’m a night owl and start writing when everyone else in my time zone is asleep. I’ve loved reading all my life and spent most of my childhood with my nose buried in a book. Although I always wanted to be a writer, financial independence came first. Twenty-some years and a successful business career later I took some online writing classes and never looked back.

Living and working in seven countries has taught me that there is more than one way to get things done. It has instilled tremendous respect for the many different cultures, beliefs, attitudes and preferences that exist on our planet.

I like exploring those differences in my stories, most of which happen to be romances. My characters have a tendency to want to do their own thing, so I often have to rein them back in. The one thing we all agree on is the desire for a happy ending.

I currently live in the United Kingdom, sharing my house with a vast collection of books. I like reading, traveling, spending time with my nieces and listening to classical music. I have a passion for science and learning new languages.

DJ Manly

AJ Lleweylln

Serena Yates


Kyle by RJ Scott

Two men destroyed by the past learn to live—and love—again.

Kyle Braden has nowhere else to go. With no money and no prospects, he turns to the only man who promises him help. Jack Campbell-Hayes wants to show Kyle that he can be more than he ever thought.

Kyle begins to see how far he’s come from being the scarred man who shut everyone out, when the first person through the doors of Legacy Ranch is Jason; a young man with nightmares that follow him when he's awake.

Lost in the system and with three years on the streets marking every inch of his body, Jason Smith is scared. His life is an evil mess of hate and despair, and even the offer of a fresh start and a clean bed isn’t enough for him feel safe. Until Kyle comes into his life and shows him that it's okay not to be in control.

For these broken men, Legacy Ranch offers more than a place to live and work.

It offers hope.

A new story set in the world of Jack and Riley Campbell-Hayes and the Double D Ranch, Texas.

Some might say that Kyle Braden is a broken character in need of fixing, I don't, I see a man who was lost after being abused in the most horrible way.   Jason Smith is only slightly less lost after his life on the streets.  When they're both given a chance to find their way at the Legacy Ranch the newest addition to the Double D, life changes but it's not easy.  After everything they have both been through and seen, trust is not easily given.  Kyle, The First Legacy is a wonderful story on its own and the fact that it is a spin-off of the author's Texas series is only an added plus.  I never imagined that I could truly enjoy the Double-D spinoff without Jack and Riley Campbell-Hayes, boy was I wrong.  That's not to say we don't see some of the regulars from the Double-D universe but it's in small side helpings, almost like a bites of dessert taken throughout the meal.  Legacy Ranch may be a off-shoot of RJ Scott's Texas series, but it is a journey all on its own with new stories that I can't wait to continue reading because I couldn't put Kyle down.


Chapter 1 
Last Christmas Eve 
Jason Smith had two things he needed to do before he could sleep.

The first was to work enough men coming out of bars so he could finally add to his cash and bank another five hundred.

The second was finding somewhere he could rest.

Jeb had turned him out last night, muttering something through his disgusting, acid-rotted teeth, explaining that Jason was a fucking leech who needed to get out.

Jason left with his one bag, and he’d spent the night in the park. Which was no hardship. The nights were cold, but he had newspaper and a single blanket, and he was used to this shit. Anyway, the park was alive with all kinds of humanity that were on his level. He used his bag as a pillow, slept with an ear open for any sounds, and managed a couple of hours of shut-eye.

Okay, so getting woken at 5:00 a.m. by a guy in a suit who wanted a cheap-and-quick blowjob with added hair pulling wasn’t the best way to meet the new day, but the twenty Jason pocketed was worth it. He just needed to clean up now and used the locked public bathrooms by climbing in through the narrow window. His skinny frame easily fit through the small space, and he dropped to his feet inside.

The place stunk; even if it was raining, no way on earth would he sleep in here. The stench of urine and shit and fuck-knows-what-else were enough to have his eyes burning. Still, there was water in here, and he had bits of soap in his backpack—real soap that he’d taken from his last motel booking—and a can of deodorant.

He needed it because today was going-to-the-bank day. He took the money out of every place he’d hidden it, and laid it out on the sink. Five hundred and eight dollars. Jason pocketed the eight, enough to buy breakfast, and the rest he rolled up with a rubber band and poked right down into the bottom of his bag. He considered leaving out another fifty, maybe even getting a room for the night, but he’d easily get a place in a hostel if he turned up early enough.

No point in staying out to earn anything; pickings were slim on Christmas Eve. Most of the men who wanted his services were at home with their families, with no chance of a fuck-and-run to get whatever was in their heads out of their system.

“Yo, J. You in there, dude?”

Jason sighed at his reflection in the cracked, misted mirror. “Yeah,” he called back.

Noises announced someone else slithering in through the window, and then Evo stood next to him. No one knew why he was called Evo, but the five-five skinny teenager was probably the closest thing Jason had to a friend. If you could have that kind of thing in his walk of life. They’d partied together, but not in the beer-and-laughter sense, more the being-used-together kind of way. Still, situations like that bonded guys.

“Heard there’s a party over at Jeb’s tonight,” Evo said with a grin. He looked well, bright and awake, and he was wearing new clothes. Likely he’d lifted them from a john, but he actually looked kind of cute.

Then it hit Jason: Jeb was having a party, so that had to be why Jason had gotten thrown out. Jeb’s parties were young boys, old men, and a hell of a lot of pain. Not Jason’s scene and he wouldn’t go again, not after last time. But Evo looked at him steadily, and he was smiling.

Jason frowned. “Fuck, you’re not going, right?”

“Jeb asked me. Said I could make one-fifty if I took it all, if I did okay. More if I made him proud.”

Temper had Jason rounding on Evo. He hated that Evo looked for approval from Jeb, who was nothing more than a lowlife peddler of second-rate drugs and used-up kids.

“Jesus, Evo, it’ll kill you. Stay away from Jeb.”

Evo looked up at him, his wide brown eyes focused right in on Jason. “Where else am I gonna make that much money?” he asked a little petulantly.

“From anything but working one of Jeb’s parties, for God’s sake.”

Part of Jason wanted to suggest they share a bed at the shelter. Sometimes the shelter people would look the other way but part of the deal with getting a room was to be at least outwardly clean. Evo looked a little on edge, his pupils wide, probably high on something. Jason had learned his lesson in the past; Evo was an addict and at least two years shy of eighteen. Way too much heat. Guilt flooded him, but he’d learned he needed to look out for himself if he ever hoped to get off the streets alive.

“Pays well.” Evo began hopping from foot to foot.

He did that a lot recently, shimmying and shaking his ass, unable to sit still. Jason didn’t know what Evo’s backstory was—well, apart from leaving home at an ungodly age and finding his way to this particular part of the city—but something really bad had driven him out here. Jason had seen the scars on Evo’s back, knew the pain that must have put them there.

As he danced, Evo checked his hair in the mirror, pouting as though posing for a selfie, like the ones tourists took all the time, and then catching Jason’s eye and winking at him with an added broad grin.

Evo rummaged in Jason’s bag, not deep enough to get to his money, but Jason grabbed at it to yank it back. Evo wasn’t allowed near his bag; it was unspoken between them that they had boundaries.

“Sorry, just wanted this.” Evo grabbed the deodorant and then danced out of reach, shoving the can under his jacket and T-shirt.

He sprayed enough to knock a guy unconscious at ten paces. Jason, still waking up, couldn’t even be bothered to chase him. He was still stiff from a night outside on a bench, not to mention the early-morning blowjob and his scalp stinging from the hair pulling.

Evo held out the deodorant, his eyes going from Jason’s face to the bag, a flicker of uncertainty in his expression. Jason looked down at the bag; a couple of the zippers were open, and he pulled them tight closed.

“I’ll put it back,” Evo said.

He sounded wrong—though Jason didn’t know how exactly. It wasn’t a defined thing; Evo just wasn’t his dancing, smiling self for an instant.

Jason held out his hand, and Evo passed over the can. He was worrying his lower lip and kept glancing down at the bag.

“Fuck,” Evo muttered, then looked up at Jason and grinned broadly. The smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Bye!”

“Whatever, asshole.” Jason concentrated on washing his face with the remnants of soap and the copper-colored water the old restroom faucets provided, gripping his bag very firmly between his legs.

Evo did one last check in the mirror and then danced back to the window.

“Merry Christmas, J,” he said, and in a smooth, sinuous movement he was out of the window and scrabbling down the wall outside.

Jason leaned on the sink as the water drained away. One of his tricks had been just a little too handsy last night and decided mid-blowjob that he wanted to add in breath play. Fucker. A ring of bruises marked Jason’s neck. He stared at them, even poked at them, pressing hard until it hurt. When he released the pressure, they disappeared in a bloom of scarlet, then reappeared as his skin settled. At least if he took a couple of days off then the bruises would fade a bit; he definitely wasn’t offering dying while sucking cock as an option.

He straightened, then used the spray on his pits and in a general sweep over his body before pushing the can into his backpack.

He scrambled out of the restroom, dropped to a crouch, rose, and walked across the park to the bank. Way too early for it to open, but he had other things he needed to do.

At all times, Jason was aware of the noises and people around him. A few early commuters were around, but most everyone else were creatures of the night like him. One coffee and a bagel later, he took up residence on the bench outside the bank and waited. The minute it opened, he went into the front of the queue. He carefully completed a blank deposit slip in his neatest handwriting and passed it over.

The cashier smiled at him, an honest-to-goodness smile. She counted out the money. A pause followed as she was likely checking it wasn’t fake. Then she ticked it off on the slip, slid the whole lot in a drawer, and printed out the receipt.

“Could I have an account statement, please?” Jason asked politely. He owed himself the Christmas gift of seeing how much he’d saved. He’d never asked for one before but it seemed almost like a gift to himself to count the money he’d saved.

“Do you have ID?” she asked.

He didn’t. Of course, he didn’t. Not real ID, not one for Jason Smith. The bank account was a leftover from his time at the group home, the only thing he had that was anything official, anyway.

“Not with me, but it’s okay,” he said. “I’ll check outside at the ATM.”

She glanced left at the security guard who hovered tactfully just out of reach. It seemed the bank didn’t mind taking the money from someone who looked like him, someone with five hundred in cash, but they damn well-needed security close while they did it.

Jason didn’t take it personally.

She smiled, tightly this time. “Have a nice Christmas, sir.”

“Thank you,” Jason murmured and left the counter.

He stopped just inside the exit door at the cash machine, aware of the security guy following him at a discreet distance, and pushed in his card and entered his PIN. The card was only a month away from needing to be renewed. It was the last thing he had from his home, from that time when he had an address. At some point in the next week, probably by New Year’s, he needed to take out all his money with his card and get the hell out of Dodge.

Balance showed as a couple of hundred dollars, with the available balance just the extra five hundred dollars.

“What?” He ejected the card and pushed it back in again. Maybe something was wrong? The same balance showed again, so he clicked on the statement option.

There, in black and white, the money had gone on a daily basis: fifty here, thirty there, some days a hundred. In the last two months, nearly every cent had been taken.

And there was only one person who knew he had money saved, and who had stood next to him at the ATM on more than a few occasions. Evo. He recalled Evo standing by his bag this morning looking for deodorant—or was he putting the card back? How long had he been doing this?

Jason’s money was all gone.

And there was no point in talking to the bank; it wasn’t an administrative error.

The world fell around him. No wonder Evo had spent the last few months dancing around and living like he had it all. He’d taken Jason’s money and injected it into his arms, or inhaled it, or given it to clothes stores.

It had to be him. And Jason had never noticed, even though he checked his card was there every day… more than once a day.

He opened the small pocket inside his backpack where he kept the card—and pulled out a loyalty card from Starbucks, the same weight and shape as his bank card. Was that what he’d been feeling? Why hadn’t he unzipped the whole thing? Why hadn’t he checked visually? With a clenched fist, he punched the wall next to the cash machine and cursed loudly.

When he turned around, he walked into an unmoving wall of blue.

“Is there a problem, sir?” The guard looked down at him with no expression on his face. The man had a wide body, a thick neck, and a gun on his hip.

Jason somehow managed to look the huge, intimidating mountain of a man in the face. “No. I’m just leaving.”

The guard nodded, and Jason slipped past, exiting into the coolness of a Dallas December.

In a daze, he walked out with as much control as he could manage, and he held his head high. He went back to the park and into the now-open bathroom where, only a few hours earlier, he had stood with a feeling that he was close to his dream of getting a bus ride away from there and starting new somewhere, somehow.

Now he was back to square one.

He locked himself in the last cubicle and rested his head back against the wood-and-plastic partition. God knows what was on those walls, the unseen deposits alongside the graffiti.

Even though Evo had taken every single cent he had, Jason didn’t cry. Evo wasn’t to blame; he was a kid who didn’t know better, and Jason had been lax. He only had himself to blame.


He moved on. Found the hostel, decorated with donated tinsel and garish with bright lighting, and he got himself one of the last rooms.

His cell vibrated as he sat on the edge of the narrow bed, clutching his bag, but he ignored it. He didn’t want to talk to the only person who had the number; Evo was dead to him.

Maybe an hour after, he decided to listen to the voice mail—it could be Evo apologizing. He should at least listen.

Damn kid was going to be the end of him one day.

The message was garbled; only two words made sense: “Help me.”

Fear had Jason running from the hostel to Jeb’s place, forcing his way into Jeb’s apartment, desperately looking for Evo, pushing at the body that leaned against the bathroom door, knowing it would be his friend.

And hell, he didn’t cry when he cradled Evo in his arms; when the boy who had stolen his money and danced in the bathroom bled out around him. Whoever hired out Jeb and his boys that night had done their best to destroy all the evidence. They’d left Jeb for dead, used Evo, and cut him. The fatal wound was a slice across his throat that hadn’t been deep enough to kill him outright.

Jason didn’t remember calling 911, but he must have done so, because suddenly the cops arrived. He still couldn’t make himself cry even when he was arrested, covered in Evo’s blood.

There was no point in crying. Who would he be crying for? Evo? He was in a much better place.

And for himself? What did it matter? No one cared if he cried.

No one.

Chapter 2 
October. The Double D Ranch 

Kyle nodded. He wasn’t ready at all. He’d only just gotten settled into the bunkhouse at the main ranch, and now he was being asked to move.

For good reasons, yes, but still, he wasn’t at ease with it.

The man asking him, Jack Campbell-Hayes, the owner of the Double D, was looking at him with that expression on his face. The one he used when gentling a horse, all care and calm and irritating peacefulness. At least Jack didn’t look at him with pity; unlike Jack’s husband Riley, who stared at Kyle like he didn’t know what to say.

Kyle hefted his bag onto his shoulders. His entire world was in that bag: clothes, a Kindle and charger that Jack had given him, and a few photos he’d collected along the way. Nothing permanent, nothing that spoke of family—because he didn’t have one. Nope, the photos he carried were of the horses he’d loved down the years, starting with Apollo, his first-ever pony when he’d been a little over five years old, and his mom made him believe that Apollo was his to keep.

Of course, Apollo didn’t belong to his mom—a cook and housekeeper on a ranch—or to Kyle, and that was the first of many disappointments in his life. Losing his mom when he was sixteen had just cemented how crappy fate was to him.

He rose above it, found temporary jobs on ranches, worked his way up, and landed a job at Bar Five, working for the Castille family.

Which was where everything went to shit.

But he couldn’t think about that today. He had enough to do focusing on keeping his distance from everyone while not being a big enough dick that they sent him away.

Jack scratched Solo, his horse, between the eyes and leaned in to press a kiss on his soft velvet nose. “We’ll walk them down.”

“Okay.” That made sense. The new building was half a mile from the main house, and Kyle had his bag to carry.

Movement to his left startled him, but it was only Liam. Liam was a harmless guy, a ranch hand, and he and Kyle had a lot in common. They’d both worked for the Castille family on the Bar Five.

Both suffered abuse at the hands of Hank Castille.

They never talked about it, but it was there, right in the middle of them. Sometimes, when Kyle was low, he would consider Liam, look at the man who seemed so happy in his skin, with his boyfriend and his place at the D. Kyle would wonder just what it was that Hank had done to him.

Was it the same as he’d done to Kyle? Liam had gone through the ranch after Kyle had finally had the balls to get away.

What if Kyle had turned Hank in, reported him? Would that have meant Liam might have escaped what Hank had done? He would never know.

Not once did Liam ever look at Kyle with anger or disgust. Nope, he was the nicest guy Kyle had ever met. Under different circumstances, they might even have been friends.

Jack, Liam, and Kyle set off down the main road away from the ranch house, with Jack slightly ahead and Kyle walking abreast with Liam. Kyle had hold of the reins of his horse.

And yes, he couldn’t get over that—he had his own horse. One that they wouldn’t take away. Transferred into his name, and he’d seen the paperwork. Part of his salary for working at the D, or so Jack had said.

“Nervous?” Liam asked.

Kyle shrugged, but Liam didn’t let it drop.

“I was nervous when I started at the D, but this is a good place.”

“But I won’t be at the D,” Kyle said.

And he wasn’t. He was being farmed out to one of Jack’s projects, rebuilding and adding to a crumbling stone house, making it a center for people who needed it: young people without direction, abused or just completely fucked-up like Kyle. A pity project, no doubt, from a man who was as rich as anything Kyle could imagine. Or rather, not Jack—he wasn’t the rich one, that was his husband, Riley, an oilman who seemed to find Kyle fascinating and appeared to want desperately to be Kyle’s friend.

Nope. Not happening. Riley was too… everything. Too polished, too clever, too pretty to be real. And there was something about the tall businessman that put Kyle on edge, something to do with the memories of another time that froze hard in his mind.

“Nope, you’re managing Legacy when it’s done,” Liam said.

And that? Legacy. Whose legacy? Jack’s? Who named a ranch Legacy?

“Hmmm,” Kyle responded and hoped that would be the end of the conversation.

Clearly, Liam was in a chatty mood, and when Jack slowed up a bit so they were three abreast, Kyle felt claustrophobic.

“If we get Pod One finished, we can fit the shower,” Jack began. “The plumbing is all in for that room and waiting to go, and the construction crew from the barn raising has the skeleton done.”

Kyle knew all that, Liam had already told him, but he didn’t tell Jack that. “Okay,” he did say, because there was a lull in the conversation and he had to fill it.

“Pods One and Two are our priority,” Liam interjected. “Then Kyle will have somewhere to sleep until the foreman’s room is done.”

The understanding had been that once construction was underway, Kyle would be staying at the new Legacy ranch to oversee security and generally be there for deliveries, as well as working on the development itself.

Construction wasn’t his thing. Horses were. But Jack had explained this was going to be Kyle’s project, that he was reporting only to Liam, and then only when he had things he couldn’t handle himself.

Jack had given him a budget, a cell phone for contact—and one hell of a lot of responsibility.

But Kyle was determined. He could do this.

They reached the new Legacy area. The wooden structure for the accommodation was two arms laid out on either side of the central stone building, in one long rectangle. To the left stood the professionally built horse barn. Liam carried on to the barn, but Jack stopped and touched Kyle briefly on the arm to bring him to a halt.

“Will you be okay in a tent?” Jack asked.

He looked concerned, glancing from Kyle to the construction and back.

“Jeez, I said it’s fine,” Kyle snapped.

That was the fifth time Jack had asked the same thing, and Kyle was pissed that he apparently wasn’t making himself understood that yes, a tent inside the barn was a good thing. It was isolation, and warmth, and all his own.

Jack narrowed his eyes and Kyle swallowed. He’d instinctively snapped, but this was Jack Campbell-Hayes, his boss, the man who was offering him a chance to make a difference in his life.

“I’m sorry,” Kyle said, for the first time since he’d come to the D. However, he felt, whatever his feelings were for being there, Jack was a good man and deserved his respect.

Jack looked at him steadily, “Me too. You know your own mind; I shouldn’t keep questioning it.”

Christ, this man was too good to be true.

Jack tied Solo off on the fenced-in paddock, and Kyle followed suit with Skeeter.

Then Jack headed into the barn. “There’s a microwave, a kettle, and we brought down some mugs and plates, and Jonah will bring down food twice a day, breakfast and dinner.”

Jonah was a new guy to the Double D, even newer than Kyle was, responsible for feeding what had become a small army of staff at the D, the riding school, and now Legacy.

Jack then indicated the tent, opening the flap to expose a cot and a small table. “All yours,” he said.

Kyle nodded. He’d check it all out later when everyone was gone. To be honest, all he wanted to do was to get into a routine. He was building the pods—as they called the accommodation rooms—and he was responsible for a couple of horses: Skeeter and the horse Liam had brought down the grumpy Sundance.

Kyle wanted everyone to go so he could get a start. Liam would be coming back every so often, to help on days when he could, but Legacy was Kyle’s domain, and the idea of isolation here was about the only thing making him smile.

Yes, it was Jack’s charity, and that still grated on him, but it was a new start.

“Thank you,” he murmured and held out a hand to Jack.

Confusion filtered into Jack’s cornflower blue eyes, but he held out a hand and shook firmly. “No need to thank me,” he said a little gruffly. “You’re the best person for the job.”

Kyle bit his lip to stop himself from saying something stupid, like “not sure why you think that.”

Instead, he said, “I won’t let you down.”

“I know you won’t,” Jack said with a smile, and with not one hint of threat in the words.

The sound of hooves had both men turning. Kyle’s heart sank; Riley was joining them.

Riley drew his horse to a halt and slid smoothly to the ground. “Hey, guys,” he said, as he walked over and bumped shoulders with Jack.

“Thought you were waiting for a call?” Jack said, and then his eyes widened. “Tell me you didn’t leave Hayley waiting on a million dollar deal phone call.”

“Knowing her she’d probably get us two million,” Riley huffed.

They smiled stupidly at each other, so much connection between them, and Kyle almost relaxed. Riley wasn’t talking to him, or asking him if he was okay, or sending thoughtful enquiring glances his way.

But then it changed, and abruptly he was the one in the spotlight. “Hey, Kyle,” Riley said. “All settled in?”

Kyle nodded. He didn’t talk to Riley. Riley asked him questions, and he was tall and built, and there was something about him that was off. What could a millionaire oilman see in a cowboy like Jack? Why were they together? What did Riley want? He had to want something—that was the only way being in a relationship began, and ended. All Hank had wanted from Kyle was for Kyle to suffer, and to rent him out, and Kyle’s two other hookups after leaving the Bar Five had been nothing more than sex and pain.

Kyle had seen Riley and Jack disappear into their barn, and from the teasing comments Liam made, seemed like the barn was some kind of den of sex or something. Kyle didn’t go anywhere near it. Or indeed Jack, or Riley if they were alone.

Kyle bet Riley made Jack go to his knees. He just bet that behind closed doors, Riley was in charge.

That was all wrong.

Jack touched him gently on his arm. “You okay?”

Kyle jumped a little, feeling utterly stupid, and then turned and walked out of the barn and over to the small fenced-in exercise area, untying Skeeter and letting him loose in the space. Riley didn’t try to talk to him again. Well, apart from calling a goodbye as he waited patiently for Jack to join him.

“Okay. Well, see you, Kyle,” Jack said. “I’ll be back in a couple of days, but if you need to, you can get me anytime on the cell I gave you.”

Kyle nodded at that, and it seemed like it was enough. Then he climbed the fence and sat on the top rail, inhaling the scent of the October day and allowing himself to relax a little at a time, watching as Jack mounted Solo and he and Riley headed toward their home.

“What is it with you and Riley?” Liam asked, climbing to sit next to him.

Kyle couldn’t believe that Liam was even asking that. After a short while, Kyle asked, “You remember Paul?” Because Liam needed to understand; he had to. Liam had been at the Bar Five so he’d seen the kinds of things that happened.

“Paul who?” Liam narrowed his eyes in thought.

“Tall guy, brown eyes, city guy, always wore suits. He was one of Hank’s friends,” he mumbled.

Liam closed his eyes and Kyle felt guilty. The last thing he wanted to do was make Liam think back to a time that had to hurt. But Liam had asked, and Kyle wanted to tell him.

Liam shuffled on his perch. “No. There was no Paul.”

Kyle squirmed a little. Paul had been the nastiest of Hank’s friends. Money crossed hands for him to be allowed time alone with Kyle. Real money. He’d turn up in his expensive car, with his fancy suit and this air of expectancy, and Kyle knew he’d be in for hours where he would lose who he was and became nothing more than sold goods.

I could take Paul now. I could punch him out. I don’t want to use violence. But I would hurt Paul before he hurt me again.

They didn’t look anything alike, Paul and Riley, but they had a presence about them: confident, moneyed, in charge. Paul had looked so normal, laughing and joking with Hank, until the door shut on them, and then…

It changed.

“Paul hurt me worse than Hank,” he murmured. The words were so soft that part of him hoped Liam hadn't heard. Clearly he had.

“And Riley reminds you of him? What is it? Flashbacks?”

Kyle stared out to the bluff above Legacy, and wanted to drop the whole thing.

“Riley wouldn’t hurt a fly,” Liam murmured. “You have to know that.”

Kyle shrugged. That was his go-to response whenever he didn’t want to dig deep into the well of shit he had in his head.

“You’ll see,” Liam continued. “He’s just one of those guys who everyone likes when they get to know him. He won’t stop trying until he gets you to smile. He’s tenacious like that.”

But Kyle was lost in thought again…

Of the last time that Paul hurt him. Of the blood, and the pain, and the humiliation.

Mostly he knew Riley wasn’t Paul, but he couldn’t stop the instinct to run whenever Riley was anywhere near him.

Fuck. My. Life.


Author Bio:
RJ Scott has been writing since age six when she was made to stay in at lunchtime for an infraction involving cookies and was told to write a story. Two sides of A4 about a trapped princess later, a lover of writing was born. She reads anything from thrillers to sci-fi to horror; however, her first real love will always be the world of romance. From billionaires, bodyguards and cowboys to SEALs, throwaways and veterinarians, she writes passionate stories with a heart of romance, a troubled road to reach happiness, and more than a hint of happily ever after.