“Hey, bub.” Levi hooks an elbow around my neck, herding me in the direction of the bar area. The lights and sounds of Restraint are beating at my brain, skin beading with a cold sweat, pulse skyrocketing. “Stop looking so fierce– you’ll be the one to end up starting a riot.”
Raw and on edge, I can’t allow the overstimulation to get the better of me, as it batters all my senses, leaving them in tatters. It was a battle in a never-ending war that actually got me out of Green tonight, and I can’t risk being placed back into captivity.
Stanton is in overprotective brother mode, the intensity worse for the fact that he is the head of our family. What he says is law on three fronts– as the Green patriarch, the head of our organized crime syndicate, and the elder of our founding family.
Since I set foot on Dominion soil, I haven’t had a second of privacy, barely taking a shit unaided– I can sense someone is always lurking outside the bathroom door. Levi has taken it upon himself to sit on the closed toilet seat and chatter at me while I shower, which means I wear my boxers into the shower, then toss them at him, because no one is going to see that mangled region of my body.
Stanton and Syn are terrified, rightfully so, after they guessed I’m suffering from PTSD. They fear suicide, because after living life in survival mode, with laws differing than those of man, it’s difficult to assimilate back into civilized society. Not to mention the fact that I lost the bulk of the men who had been by my side during the entirety of my enlistment.
Suffering in a state of endless mourning, the guilt eating up my insides as I second-guess my decisions during that last raid– the order that annihilated my men and my ability to function as a man. The confidence in my competency to lead has been reduced to ash.
Fearing a setback, Stanton wouldn’t allow me to take my rightful place at his side, lording over Dominion and our territories. Instead, he chose his ballerina mafia princess, who had cut her teeth in Las Vegas, which was decidedly a more bloodthirsty territory.
After jumping every time someone opens or closes a door in Stan’s apartment, where I’d find the nearest cover, after cataloging what could be used as a weapon against overly touchy feely, well-intentioned relatives, tonight is about busywork and getting me out of the house.
I was ordered to accompany Levi and Gwen to Restraint. A ruse of sorts, where I was to protect my companions, which is laughable, considering I’ve never bested Levi, and he’s never bested me, and who the fuck would ever harm harmless Gwen. In my weakened state, I could easily be brought down by a teenage girl.
The irony of going to a club– a sex club no less –when my brother had effectively lobbed off my remaining nut by coddling me and treating me like a fragile pussy.
They had an intervention of sorts, because I refuse to talk about my tenure with the United State Marine Corps, because everything I could say it classified. It’s best to not even think it, lest it spill from my loosen lips. It’s nothing but a hornet’s nest of pain, each sting painful enough to incapacitate me.
Busywork, babysitting, trying to give me a purpose since everything I’ve strived to achieve has been torn from my grasp, and they don’t know the half of it, because I refuse to speak a word. Not only am I bunking with my bloodthirsty niece, now I’m watching over Ezra’s brainchild.
The founders are unsure if Ezra is going off the rails again and self-sabotaging while taking us down with him, or if something far more nefarious is going on. I’ve been tasked to find out, but they all know it’s a bullshit job to give me something to do, instead of counting the remaining seconds of my life. No military. No cartel. No sex. No kids.
If there is truth to the threat, I’ve been approved to head a security unit. While the founders may feel like they’re throwing me a bone, security is what I excel at, especially combining individuals into a cohesively functioning team. They at least managed to make me look forward to something in this dreadful existence I call a life.
“It would be another setback in a journey of many.” Somehow, even above the music assaulting my eardrums, Gwen’s soft voice carries from the other side of Levi. I’ve known this woman since birth, at one time she was supposed to be my mother figure– she just about bowled me over by wearing a pair of jeans and a tank top. Blonde and petite, Gwen is surprisingly blending in with her surroundings, appearing to be an indiscriminate age with her hair in a ponytail. “Do try to change the ferocious expression on your face, Caleb.”
No matter the looks, a woman who is shorter, smaller, and appears to be younger than me, manages to cut me off at the knees by treating me as her child.
Laughing lightly, whether it’s for show is anyone’s guess, Levi turns on the frat boy charm. A happy-go-lucky smile is tinged slightly with smug confidence. A pair of worn-out jeans and a tight t-shirt lowers his age into the range of twentysomething. That shaved head is hiding the fact that he has honey brown curls that takes away from his serial killer image. But the severity of his skullcut is lessened by the deep tan from two weeks of running the pavement on Dominion’s streets at my side. Nonstop doubletakes, those brown contacts covering laser beam eyes are driving me to distraction. If I hadn’t known Levi since birth, I wouldn’t know what to make of him.
Leviticus Wilson is a consummate actor, and I know him better than anyone else on this planet. But as he perfectly mimics a college kid, I barely recognize his facial expressions, the loose way he carries his taut body, and even his voice has lost that raspy threatening edge that I find more comforting than terrifying.
Our motley crew threesome is something to behold. After Aaron almost pissed himself at the main entrance, sputtering and waving us through, followed by Roarke’s eyes bulging out of his sockets, we’re slowly weaving our way through a club that is breaking a half dozen fire codes– firefighter Levi just finished listing those off, most falling on deaf ears as the music assaulted us.
Arm wrapped lightly around Gwen’s waist, looking like lovers seeking a bit of a thrill to liven up a dull relationship– in actuality, Levi is protecting his mother-in-law. Bro-ing it up, Levi’s got his other arm wrapped around my shoulders, elbow hooking my neck– in actuality, he’s keeping my shit together.
“Instead of resting bitch face, you’ve got resting warrior face, my brother.”
Eyes cutting to the side, I show Levi just how much I appreciate his nonstop hilarity, just as a douchebag with a death-wish steps in front of me, forcing me into a standstill. Smarmy, sweat licking at his brow, face bloated from alcohol, he reminds me of the men who pay for sex– the ones who knock the whores around and demand a refund, even though the ladies gave the man everything he paid for and then some. This lowlife is the type of guy who will drug a drink and take advantage, then say the woman wanted it.
I know the type– I was reared by this type. Satan and his lieutenants.
Only this guy doesn’t have the smarts Satan had in the tip of his dick.
That arm hooking my throat tightens, stopping me from lashing out to snap that motherfucker’s neck. “Toto, you’re back in Kansas,” is a low warning rumble from Levi’s chest, meant only for my ears. “I’m good at cleaning up messes, but I ain’t that good.”
Recognizing his death flashing before my eyes. “My bad.” The dude holds his hands up in the universal sign of ‘I’m harmless’ then slowly backs away. A few seconds ago, he was filled with alcohol-induced courage and fueled by mob mentality, about to shout at me to watch where I was fucking going, probably razz me a bit to increase his dick size, judging by the posse of nutless wonders at his back.
Just because I’m below average height, taut body hidden beneath loose clothing, doesn’t mean I’m not the biggest predator in this club, one that is running off pure adrenaline, instinct, and survival of the fittest.
Those assholes aren’t fit to survive. They’re not fit enough to reproduce, but a man like me had that torn away in an explosive burst during a roadside bombing.
“Nope.” Arm swinging me to the right, nearly cutting off my oxygen supply. “That’d be a big nope, killa. Might feel good for a split-second, but then you’d hate yourself. Then you’d use it as an excuse to atone for your sins. Not on my watch, bub.”
The only response Levi gets is a death glare.
I am not suicidal.
Doesn’t matter if I use big or small words, bellow it loudly or whisper it all quiet, no one believes me when I promise not to put a cap in my right temple.
“I’ve been going through eye-witness accounts on the past two riots.” Gwen is smart to reroute us back to the subject at hand. Those hypnotic blue eyes miss nothing, completely at odds with the innocent maiden expression on her face. “That man was probably paid to get someone riled up, and he chose you, Caleb. Rightly for the fact that you look like a ticking timebomb. Wrongly for the fact that you’re here to stop a riot. I assume,” she tacks on, not trusting me anymore.
A toxic stew of grief, shame, and decimated confidence slam into me all at once. “And I almost played into his hands.”
“You’ve got the look of a man with demons riding you, my brother.” That arm hold turns into more of an embrace. Everyone keeps acting as if I look differently to them than who I see gazing back at me from the bathroom mirror.
“We need alcohol.”
A brow lowers in confusion, while a pretty face upturns in my direction. Levi and Gwen stare at me like I’ve grown a third head.
“Not to drink.” Scoffing, I jerk out from beneath Levi’s hold. They all assume I’m dosed with the psychotropic drugs I’m supposed to be taking, so I’ve been living the life of a monk. “As a prop. I’m not a sociopath like you motherfuckers– I need a prop to excuse the fact that my face looks like I’m about to commit mass slaughter.”
“Fine.” Gwen eyes me, the trust everyone had in me before I left Dominion as a teen has turned tenuous at best since I returned a wounded hero. “I’d feel safer near Kristal anyway.”
“Uh!” Twisting his face up, Levi glares at his mother-in-law. “What am I, woman? Chopped liver? Been protecting your ass since I was sixteen.”
Those angelic eyes roll, and a montage of every human being Gwen’s brought into this world plays out inside my head, dominated by Syn mostly. All disrespectful eye-rollers, the whole lot of them, especially Torian.
Anger dissipating in an instant, Levi releases the filthiest laugh I’ve ever heard– not playing a role in an MdJ production, that is the laugh Levi employs when he’s around those he trusts. A laugh he inherited from his mother. The laugh that has quivers of pleasure roiling up and down my spine.
It’s the uninhibited, joyous laughter Levi always released after coming down my throat. I swear to God, seventeen years later, I can still taste it coating the back of my tongue.
If that imagined taste can’t get my dick hard, nothing ever will, not after being conditioned to rise for Levi since I learned what a hard-on meant.
Sharing a look with me, it’s not the same with those contacts covering his gaze, but an entire conversation takes place between us in less than a second. “You’ll be okay.” Levi assures himself, following after Gwen as she weaves through the crowd toward the bar Kristal is manning.
Doing the only thing I can– my duty –I follow.
Slipping into recon-mode, my eyes miss nothing. I shrink into myself, trying to cloak the fact that I’m the biggest predator here. All around me, the alcohol flows easier than water, the lust-inducing thump vibrates at our feet to reverberate up our legs and throughout our bodies. Dancers gyrate against one another in a mating dance that hammers home the depressive state of my mangled junk.
Ominous yet thrilling, a thick yet heady scent lingers in the air, raw sex with the possibility of violence. Sighing deeply, the pheromones swirling around me draw the tension from my taut muscles like the most potent of drugs, deeply lulling me to momentarily forget about the possibility of my own impotency.
Strategically placed, I realize this isn’t babysitting duty or busywork, not by how hypervigilant those spread across the club appear. The patrons none-the-wiser, except for a few who are sensitive to the suffocating energy coalescing.
Dexter is spotted first, hiding against the far wall, arms crossed over his glistening chest– brow heavy with determination and concentration.
A vibe, but it’s always been as if I have a homing beacon set on Syn– her post is by a key-coded door at the rear of the club. Eyes sharp with the promise of justice.
A few paces to the right, Roman Alexander is stationed at the mouth of a hallway, the flare of an Exit sign glowing from above, promising restrooms and emergency exits, and most likely offices and storerooms lining the hallway.
A dozen strides from me, Gwen is belly-up to the bar, chatting openly with a beaming Kristal Harris, with Regina Regal glaring her down for some unknown reason. Oh, right– Gwen has either fucked or birthed the majority of the men in Regina’s life.
The crowd parting like Moses and the sea, none other than a Whittenhower strolls through as if he owns the world. Tall and fit, with the world at his fingertips, that blond, blue-eyed young god of Dominion is none other than Daniel Whittenhower II, otherwise known as Pretty Boy or Whitt.
Captivity hasn’t been very productive on the networking front, not that I’m much of a joiner. If they didn’t show up to the only founders’ meeting I’ve attended, I haven’t laid eyes upon them yet.
This man is the taller, prettier version of his scarred sire– the broody writer I have seen several times in the past two weeks, since he’s always shoved up Levi’s ass. I was introduced to Grant’s youngest spawn the first night of my arrival. Niel is nothing like I expected, looking more like the Atwaters than the Whittenhowers, mind more twisted by Machiavellian plots than Machiavelli himself, which leaves the only possibility for this obvious Whittenhower man to be our resident Pretty Boy.
Stunned, frozen solid in the middle of the floor, with a swarm of packed bodies surrounding me, I watch as Whitt walks in a bubble of his own confidence, wearing tailored trousers and a heartwarming, sunshiny smile.
After eating and breathing blood, sweat, tears, death, and destruction for the better part of two decades, beauty still hurts to gaze upon. The first time Levi hugged me, I bawled like a pussy for nearly an hour while my entire family waited on the other side of a closed door.
It was too much, too soon. Too kind. Too compassionate. Too loving. That hug broke the bitter dam I’ve erected since I was a teenager, and I can’t seem to repair the protective barrier surrounding my soul.
Green is filled with the brutality and loyalty of family, MdJ meetings are much the same. Seeing innocent aristocracy, glowing with angelic beauty in a city as tainted as Dominion, deep in the seedy underbelly, waltzing through a club catering to deviancy, my brain can’t compute.
Gaze tracking the boy through the club, following his arm… Whitt’s palm is softly resting above the swell of a woman’s ass. Owning the world, he probably owns this woman too. No matter how innocent appearances may be, Whitt’s neck is taut, eyes searching the shadows as he escorts the woman to the door Syn is manning, like the woman is precious cargo he’s been entrusted to protect.
Recognizing the way Syn’s cheeks clench, it’s guilt not disgust that is revealed as she takes in the woman approaching her. Then her eyes soften, not because Whitt is her brother, but who could ever stay angry when looking at his beauty.
Curiosity has me slipping through the crowd, eyes glued to that door, the black pleather catsuit my beacon. Skin-tight, every movement is revealed as she takes smaller steps, the shiny material drawn across the swell of her ass and the curve of her hips and her rounded thighs.
In a club packed with women hopped up on alcohol, lust, and violence, why did this woman draw my attention?
She’s wearing a pleather catsuit– I’m not into this silly BDSM shit. I live in reality, with no room for fantasy. I don’t need to whip a person to get off, not when I’ve been held against my will and tortured. I don’t need genital mutilation when I’ve protected villages from the awful fate, then suffered it myself. I don’t need to playact acts of sexual violence and dubious consent, when I spent my childhood being taken against my will.
Not the catsuit, it’s the bloodred hair cascading to tickle at Whitt’s hand that is beaconing me forward until there’s only a dozen feet separating us. Longing slams into me, the fierce hunger to slide my fingertips through the strands– pet her like a cat.
I seriously need to get out more, it’s no wonder my brother is terrified and sent me with babysitters. I can’t be trusted to behave like a rational human being in public. Place a rifle in my hands and Marines at my back, and I thrive. Shove my ass in with normal, everyday humans, and I’m out of my element.
Pet her like a cat? For fuck’s sake!
Possessively glaring at Whitt’s elegant hand resting far too close to her voluptuous ass, the air is knocked out of my lungs– it’s just a split-second, not long enough to discern eye color –the woman looks over her shoulder, probably sensing someone was staring a hole through her ass, but it was long enough for our souls to connect.
A smoky fog descends, washing away what is happening in reality and replacing it with a fantasy.
That glorious mane of hair flows with lifelike movement as her head hitches back, creamy neck exposed for the tiniest of kisses from my lips. Throaty laughter vibrates against my mouth, as we become a tangle of arms and legs on a sofa, playing and wrestling over the remote.
“Daddy?” Gigantic blue eyes, sandy curls, a button nose, and a pointy chin, a little boy from my past gazes up at me. He’s me. I’m him. This is what I looked like in the mirror before Satan and his lieutenants started creeping into my bedroom in the dark of night.
“Daddy?” The sweetest, childlike, most beautiful voice to caress my ears is speaking to me. It’s not me from my memories– this is my future, and he’s calling me daddy. “Stop being mean to Mommy.”
The little boy crawls into our laps, chubby hand knocking my lips away from his mommy’s throat. He called her– the woman with the fiery hair wearing that indecent catsuit –mommy.
“Hey, bub!” An arm wrapping around my neck is just muted background noise as clarity descends. The woman is getting away from me, escorted by Pretty Boy, with Syn acting as the Ferryman to Hades.
Struggling to get out from beneath that ironlike arm, “I–”
“What are you doing?” Voice filled with nothing but confusion, Levi fears I’m losing it. The door is closed, effectively locking me out. Head tilted, sighting me down like a hawk after prey, Syn is staring at me with one eye while communicating with her husband with the other, silently conveying, “Wil, keep our boy’s shit together, will ya?”
“What is your malfunction?” Playfully dragging me to and fro, Levi effectively snares me in a headlock. “Why are you creeping on Ezra’s wife?”
The pallor of death sucking all the blood from my system, the fantasy I erected bursts apart and reality descends.
It only took fifteen seconds to change my world view.
Fifteen seconds to give me hope.
Fifteen seconds to erase the fact that I’m missing a nut, my junk is marred and functionless, and I probably can’t get it up, and if I could, I probably can’t get off, and if I can, I probably can’t make that son that starred in my fantasy.
Fifteen seconds where I felt nothing but hope, and love, and warmth, and contentment, and trust, and purpose, and happiness.
All it took was two words to decimate me. Break me. Annihilate me in a way a roadside bombing couldn’t. Fifteen seconds ago, I didn’t know what it felt like to be happy, where I could easily function in this apathetic state, only to have that happiness torn away from me.
“Good God, never let Ezra see you look at Kat like that.” Levi’s laughter isn’t taunting, but that’s how it hits my ears, filters through my body, to combust my heart. “He’d gut you in your sleep, then masturbate with your entrails.”
Vibrating as every emotion a person is capable of feeling hits me with force. Fifteen seconds ago, I could function in this numbness, but I’m no longer numb, and now I fear everyone was right… I fear looking in the mirror to see the ghost of who I once was staring back at me.
I may have survived my wounds, but it left me dead inside and out.
Touch light and soothing, a small hand pets the nape of my neck, pouty lips nearing my ear but never making contact. “The drive to rescue the damsel in distress is strong in you,” Gwen whispers to me, making sure even Levi can’t overhear.
There’s a cadence in Gwen’s voice, a quality she possesses that reminds me of my grandmother. I haven’t seen my grandmother since I left for basic training, because she has a witchy way about her when she asks if I’ve got a woman yet. When I tell her no, Grandma always replies that I’ll know when I’ve found her, just like how Mom knew in an instant when she met my stepdad.
Shit! Levi called her Kat… and I was fucking fantasizing about petting her hair like a cat.
With only a few feet separating us, there are tears glistening in Gwen’s eyes, almost as if she understands that I’ve finally admitted to myself just how close I am to ending it all, no matter the promises I’ve made to my brother.
“Maybe it’s you who needs to be rescued,” Gwen flutters against the shell of my ear, hand cupping my shoulder for stability. “Marriages don’t last forever. Maybe you’re the hero of Katya’s story, but maybe she’s the unlikely heroine of yours.”
Hell breaks free from the earth’s crust, the sights and sounds of combat surround me. Stampeding humans not realizing they’re making it worse for all of us, punches are thrown as Levi and I fight to keep Gwen safe.
Getting my own dick out of my ass, I want to tear my remaining nut from my body for being so distracted by my own bullshit that I didn’t realize a violent riot was erupting around us.
In the ruckus, Syn and Dexter charge across the club toward the bar. “Fate! Fate!” is shrill with panic from the bravest, most ferocious woman I’ve ever met. “Kristal! Help Fate!” Struggling against the current, I try to get to Syn to help, because it’s bad judging by how terrified her voice sounds.
“Regina!” Dexter’s booming voice joins the fray, the edge of hysteria lighting fear in my veins more than active combat ever did. “Regina!” Even from this distance, I can tell the crazed woman is beating a man to death, the guy who got in my way and tried to start shit with me. Fist landing after fist landing, Regina renders him into a bloody pulp at her feet. Hand jerking at her shoulder, Dexter tries to tear Regina off her prey, only to be backhanded by her. “Regina, you’re killing him!”
The steel door slams open, clipping a group of men struggling against one another, rebounding to hit them several times over, and I expect demons to pour out next. Whitt flies out the door, voice pitched with terror. “Dalton! Somebody fucking help Dalton!”
“Pretty Boy!” Dexter manages to scream over the riot surrounding us. “Either get your fucking wife out of here or get your sisters!”
“Dalton!” Whitt bellows to anyone who will listen. Catching sight of me, never having seen me before, he looks me dead in the eyes. It could be the fact that he must recognize his mother clasped to my chest in a protective embrace, or it could be the instinctive radar all founders possess to recognize their own kind. “Same code as the gates. Go!”
Loyalty never an issue for Levi, blood is thicker than water, and the stronger the blood tie, the stronger the loyalty. Levi flees the riot, leaving everyone to their fates, his driving force saving his brother.
With renewed purpose, I take lead.