I am thrilled to be hosting a giveaway for one of my best friends, Faith Ashlin. Leave your name and email on this post to be entered into the giveaway for the fabulous What You See Isn't Always What you Get. Faith will pick the winner on Tuesday at midday, GMT.
What You See Isn't Always What You Get
Sex for money. That's the simple deal ex-freedom fighter Richard offers when he buys Denny's freedom. But as they get to know one another it becomes something more, until a ghost from Richard's past threatens to tear them apart.
When ex-freedom fighter Richard buys a slave's freedom, he has a deal to offer. Being more inexperienced than he appears, he needs someone to teach him a few things. Sex for money and help is what he's proposing. Denny can always say no.
Denny agrees, and as they settle into their new life, they learn things about themselves and each other, as well as the nature of freedom and love.
But when are things ever that easy? Their world is suddenly shattered by a ghost from Richard's past. That's when Denny takes control, shows what he's made of and fulfills a need Richard didn't even know he had. It turns out neither are what they appear to be.
Last chance, Richard thought, hand on the dirty, flaking door. Last chance to change his mind and walk away. What he was doing went against everything he and Grady had been working for, fighting for. He needed to walk away right now.
Only then he'd be back up shit creek with no sensible alternative, no way of making this better, no way of keeping it secret. At least this way he would be giving a kid a chance, setting him up for a decent life. Yeah, that was the way to think of it. That didn't make it right though, and Grady would have shot him down in flames in a second.
"Fucking, fucking... fuck," he finished lamely, hand still in place. He took a deep breath, exhaling slowly and carefully. He'd give the kid a choice, make him an offer like they said in the movies. If he said no then fair enough, Richard would walk away. No harm done. At least the kid would be a bit better off and that had to be a good thing.
He looked around him. It was the sleaziest part of town, full of drunks and addicts, crime and hookers. Dirty and broken. He'd be doing everyone a favor if he torched the place and watched it burn. If this was where the kid had ended up, with the kind of people who were inside, then he was doing him a real favor. He rolled his shoulders, set his face in a hard scowl, and tapped lightly on the door.
It was opened almost immediately by two guys nearly as slimy and filthy as the building. They nodded at him, backing away almost deferentially, and waited for him to pass inside. He was hit first by the smell. It was rank and sour, the stench of old piss and even older misery.
Paxman was sitting opposite the door in a faded green armchair with half its stuffing missing. It seemed the likely source of the smell. Paxman grinned, his rotten teeth showing, trying to act bigger and more dangerous than he was. He was a midlevel opportunist crook, all too familiar in the chaos of the changing world order. Richard hated him on sight. But he was useful. Grady had taught him to remember that, until there was the time and resources to do something about people like him, it was a good idea to keep them where you could use them.
"Richard, good to see you, man, have a drink." Paxman waved at a bottle of cheap whiskey. "Take the weight off your feet."
Richard shook his head, trying to hide his disgust. "No thanks. I believe you have something for me."
"What's the rush?" Paxman tried, but Richard's face was set in hard lines. "Okay, okay, I'll get my boys to bring it out." With that he waved his hand and the two guys who'd opened the door pushed off the wall and headed into another room deeper in the building. "I think you're going to like it." He winked, nasty and crude. "Not a patch on Grady, of course, but I reckon this one's ripe for using."
Richard fought down the urge to wipe the grin from Paxman's face with his fist. What the fuck gave scum like that the right to say Grady's name or to imply Richard would use anyone? He could do it, easy as shit, could almost see his fist in the guy's face. But if he did that he'd end up walking away without what he came for. He pressed his lips tightly together.
There was a brief sound of a scuffle, then the inner door opened again and the two men came back pushing a tall, scruffy kid. Richard couldn't see his face. His head was down and his long filthy hair fell over it, but there were bruises on his wrists where the metal cuffs bit into them and his bones were starting to protrude. This one hadn't eaten enough for a long time and if Richard had thought the building was filthy, it had nothing on the kid. His clothes were thin and useless in the current cold weather, held together by nothing but dirt, and he stank.
Richard longed to reach out a helping hand, the same way he'd done so many times before it had become an automatic response. But now wasn't the time or place to show weakness.
Paxman was talking, shooting off about the kid faster than a flowing rapid. Richard only caught the tail end of it. "Told you on the phone he was a fine figure. Now you can see what I'm talking about. Tall as all fuck and muscles on him too. Good enough for anything you want." The leer was back, nasty and rough. Richard stared him down but didn't say a word. "You'll be wanting to see what you're paying for though, only fucking fair." Paxman kicked out, his heavy boot connecting with the kid's ankle. "Boy, get your clothes off. Let the man have a good look at what you're packing."
Again Richard wanted to intervene, to say no. But right now he had a part to play, and if they were all going to get out of this safely, he had to play it right.
The kid raised his head, his long, thin face purposely blank, and stared into nothing. He held his cuffed hands in front of him and waited patiently, without moving, as the restraints were removed. "You try anything and you'll be dead before you reach the fucking door," Paxman said as he unlocked them. The kid looked like he hadn't heard, slipping his thin jacket and then his shirt off as though it were the most ordinary thing in the world. Richard knew it probably was. He pressed his lips even more tightly together and folded his arms across his chest.
Quickly, efficiently, the kid stripped all his clothes off, his boxers sliding too easily from his narrow hips. The pile on the floor looked more like rags than clothes. Then he stood, tall and almost proud, his arms hanging at his sides, looking into nothing, his eyes perfectly blank, without a trace of embarrassment.
It was as Richard had expected, dirt ground in so deep it'd take a month of scrubbing to get it off. Bruises, cuts, and grazes, some old, some newer, bones sticking out where there should have been flesh. The kid had been on the street too long, but underneath there was muscle and strength. He'd do as well as anyone.
If he agreed.
"You want a closer look?" Paxman asked. "Hell, have a free fuck for all I care. I made sure he was clean, took him down to that clinic on Park Street myself. Got a certificate and everything. Go on, have a feel."
"No," Richard said flatly. "I'll take him."
"Course you will." Paxman smirked. "You can't wait to get him somewhere quiet and bend him over a--"
"You need to shut your mouth right now," Richard said, and Paxman had the sense to do as he was told. Richard pulled out a roll of money from an inside pocket and held it out towards him. "Take it and get out of here."
"Hey, hey, hey." Paxman held his hands up. "We need to negotiate here. I quoted a price before I saw how fine the merchandise was."
"Take it and get out," Richard repeated, his voice quiet and deadly.
Paxman licked nervously at his lips, rubbing his palms on the fabric covering his thighs. His eyes flickered over the kid one more time and then at Richard. Richard could guess what he was thinking. The kid might be worth more but Paxman knew better than to argue. He grabbed the roll from Richard's outstretched hand as he went past. "Good doing business with you. Only next time I won't give a price up front. I mean, I..." With one last glance at Richard he scuttled out the door, pushing his men out of the way in his haste.
The door slammed hard and then it was just Richard and the kid in the room. The very naked kid.
"Get dressed and let's get out of here before more of his kind show up," Richard said, heading over to look out the grimy window. All he wanted now was to be as far away from here as possible. Behind him he could hear the kid dressing but he deliberately didn't turn round until it was quiet again.
When he did look the kid was fully clothed, looking down at the handcuffs and key still on the floor. Richard followed his gaze, then looked back up. Dark, intense eyes met his for the first time. Eyes that a person could spend a lifetime trying to understand. "You could run now," Richard said softly. "I could probably stop you, but I won't. How about I buy you all you can eat and we talk? At the end of that, if you want to go, I won't stop you, but at least you'll have a full belly. What do you say?"
The kid looked at him for a long, long moment then nodded once, a short quick movement.
Richard nodded with him and headed for the door but stopped and turned, hesitating for a moment before saying, "I'm Richard. And you are...?"
Again the kid simply stood still, watching Richard. It was just as Richard was starting to feel like a fool that he spoke. "Denny. My name's Denny."
Without thinking, Richard stuck his hand out. There was an awkward moment while the kid looked at it, before his eyes flicked up to Richard's face and he reached out, shaking his hand. His grip was strong and powerful and more confident than Richard had expected. For some reason that gave him a little hope.
He took Denny to a small Italian restaurant on the other side of town. He was known there. The owners were friendly to the cause and wouldn't ask questions. The two of them would be left alone in a secluded corner to talk. Richard watched as Denny ate his way through half the menu while he just picked at a plate of pasta. Sensibly, Richard also stuck to coffee, although he was sorely tempted to order whiskey. But he knew he needed a clear head for the goddamned awful conversation that was going to come.
Richard drew it out as long as possible, offering cake, ice cream, coffee, and anything else he could think of. In the end it was just him and Denny, two half-empty cups between them and a mouth so dry Richard wasn't sure he could speak even if he wanted to.
Even if he knew what to say.