Overcoming past hurts and letting love back in sometimes means reinventing everything about yourself, and sometimes means loving who you already are despite the jagged edges.
Rikki’s past is ugly, painful and full of blood. Simon is getting over a lover who only saw him for his uses, but had no use for his heart. From the outside, they seem like a disaster waiting to happen.
From the moment Simon moves into the same house, they seem to be exactly what the other needs. Except for one small detail. Simon has never been—or wanted to be—the one in charge in the bedroom. And Rikki doesn’t trust himself to keep Simon safe. So when Simon demands independence in all other things, Rikki is sure he’ll have to accept a life of solitude and hold himself inside his cold shell.
Meanwhile, as Simon waits for Rikki to bring the heat, his old lover is still hoping to use him one more time. Rikki is going to have to trust his instincts—and all the deadly skills he’s grown to loathe and fear—to keep his Simon safe.
Reader Advisory: This book contains mentions of past abuse, child prostitution and violence.
General Release Date: 16th January 2018
Simon lay still. Past experience reminded him that sudden movement in the bed in the middle of the night led to bruises or worse. Rikki was a lot of things, but a peaceful bed companion was not on that list. The room was quiet around him. A woodsy aroma of cedar drifted from the scent warmer in the adjacent bathroom. The light from it spread a pale wash over the room. He listened but couldn’t figure out why he was awake.
Something winged and delicate made a bid for escape from his chest when a shadow passed over the foot of the bed. He blinked, but the vague impression was gone. Not a sound greeted his straining ears. He must have imagined it. Without thinking, he felt for the thin, comforting band of leather at his throat. Then he remembered. That collar was gone. The man who had bestowed it on him also gone.
And good riddance. He hadn’t deserved Simon’s submission in the first place. He’d betrayed everything, deceived Simon. Used him for more than just his pleasure in Simon’s body. God. Simon had been such a blind fool. He hadn’t seen how desperate Jason’s desire for access to his inner circle and his adopted family. It had never been about what Simon had to offer him other than that access. Not that he had declined the use of Simon himself, since that was free for the asking—or taking.
Because Simon was a fool.
Another shadow flickered and Simon flinched. Even after weeks of this new arrangement, he had yet to decide if he preferred this vague, almost-there sight from the scent warmer, or the pitch black he’d grown accustomed to with Jason.
“Please, please, please.” He moved his lips, but refused to give the plea voice. There was nothing to be afraid of here. Jason was gone. Rikki was safe. Rikki would never hurt him. How long would it take before he no longer woke in the night expecting Jason’s hands on him, rolling him over. Taking.
The bed shifted and Simon jerked upright.
“Nff.” A low grunt from the pillow next to his, and the blankets shimmied away from him. “You’re alligator-rolling again, Si.”
“Rikki.” Simon heaved out a long breath. Of course, it was Rikki. He knew that. He flopped onto his back with a soft whimper.
“Gimme some blankets.” Rikki yanked on the covers again and Simon was rolled against Rikki’s back. “Better.” Before Simon moved back to his own side of the bed, Rikki flopped around to drape a leg over Simon’s. “Y’r warm. C’mere.”
This was worlds away from waking to Jason lurking in the dark, ready to pounce. He’d seemed to enjoy the heightened fright Simon got when he hovered, watching him sleep until the sheer weight of the attention woke Simon, and Jason was right there, waiting to take, take, take.
Rikki offered shelter and warmth and Simon snuggled down against his chest. Maybe everyone thought Simon shared his space with Rikki for Rikki’s sake.
The two of them knew better.
Rikki had long ago perfected the art of breathing like a sleeping man. He held Simon close until the small, warm bundle in his arms had relaxed and his back rose and fell under Rikki’s hands in a steady, deep rhythm.
Snuggled, face to Rikki’s chest, was the only way his young, new friend slept soundly. It didn’t matter how uncomfortable Rikki might find the position. It mattered only that Simon felt safe.
Daylight overpowered the faint shine from Simon’s night light, the change going unnoticed at first. Perhaps Rikki had slept, as well. It was often hard for him to tell anymore. Much of his waking day passed like a dream, populated by the same people, performing tasks by rote. Most of his nights he drifted in a nether region of not-sleep. Tightening his arms around Simon’s middle, he closed his eyes and pretended he didn’t have to get up soon.
This was a new sensation for Rikki. He was the strong one here. He was the protector, but in a way that didn’t leave him clutching desperately at his own sanity. Simon didn’t need knives or blood or death to feel protected. He needed touch. Rikki liked to touch and be touched, even if most people who crossed his path thought he was too scary, too lethal, to get close enough to do so.
Hunkering down, Rikki tugged Simon closer. Probably too close for comfort, but the sensation of body heat mingling with his own, tangled legs, and Simon’s soft, measured breaths puffing against his chest, all settled his anxiety about facing another day.
In his arms, Simon stirred and Rikki rubbed his back in slow circles.
“Morning,” Simon mumbled.
“You don’t have to wake up.”
“Mmm,” Simon said again and snuggled deeper into their bubble.
Rikki closed his eyes and breathed in the sleep-sweet scent of Simon’s multi-hued hair. “What are you up to today?” he asked, hoping in the deepest part of himself that Simon was sticking close to home and not going in to work at the club. Spades was safe enough, even for a professional submissive, which Simon was, but Rikki didn’t like him being gone too long.
“Mmm.” Simon’s small purrs warmed Rikki from the inside out. “The usual. Put in the bar order and make sure the roster’s full for tonight.”
And are you on the roster? But he didn’t ask.
“Gotta go over some résumés for Gina, then make a schedule for the weekend. Check the kitchen has everything it needs.”
“That’s the chef’s job,” Rikki pointed out.
“Spades doesn’t have a chef right now. Rolly moved the last one to Black Alice. They need her more. And you know Rolly. He’s picky. I guess for now, we have a competent cook and a few, reliably stable recipes, and me.” He shifted to see Rikki’s face and it was all Rikki managed not to turn away. “Now if you—”
“I have to get up.” He didn’t quite dump Simon onto his back as he scrambled out of the bed. He rolled, landed and was across the room to the window in a fluid motion that left his blood rushing with satisfaction. He still moved that fast. It was something, at least.
“Not even going to let me get the offer out this time?”
Rikki had scooped up a worn cuff from the bedside table and now he wrapped it around his wrist. He fumbled with the buckles until Simon sat up and confiscated the thing.
Rikki stared at him a split second, fighting refusal, then moved the few steps to stand before where Simon perched on the edge of the bed. After a short, stubborn staring contest, he held out his arm.
Simon buckled the cuff in place, fingers nimble and efficient. “It’s a good position,” he said, not even acknowledging what he was doing, but continuing the previous conversation. “Right up your alley.”
“I don’t leave the house,” Rikki reminded him.
Instead of letting Rikki go when he finished with the cuff, Simon laced warm fingers through Rikki’s and waited for Rikki to meet his gaze. “I don’t think so.”
“You don’t really know me.” Rikki pulled free but did so gently, then cupped Simon’s face. “But it’s very sweet that you think that.”
Without giving Simon a chance to respond, he hurried to the bathroom that separated his room from Simon’s. He’d like to be the man Simon thought he was.
He shivered at the thought. Normal. That was what Simon saw in him. An illusion. Twisting the sink’s taps, he watched the flow of cold water splash into the sink. Wishful thinking never got him anywhere. He gave himself a shake, then cupped his hands to dunk his face into the liquid. As he straightened, the cool drops trickled down his throat and over his chest. He followed the path of the water with his palm. There were scars on his skin. These were not of his own making, at least.
And as soon as he thought that, his attention strayed to the ones he had made. Some on his forearms, on his biceps, just above his elbows, some on his thighs. He ran his fingers over those last, most recent. They had healed, now, but were still the reddest.
“You want me to put cream on those?” Simon asked from the doorway.
“They’re fine.” Rikki turned from the mirror, flashed Simon a brief smile, and headed for his clothes. He dressed quickly in white skinny jeans, a white T-shirt and a plain white button-up that he left hanging open. It was as close as he was going to get to a chef’s uniform.
Rikki bent and pecked Simon’s cheek. “I gotta go down. Get the coffee on.”
Simon sighed and crossed his arms over his chest. “This isn’t going away!”
It would. If he ignored it long enough Simon would be forced to hire someone else and he’d stop nagging.