IT WASN’T like JW’s best friend, Rory, not to answer his phone.

Even if the man had a new flame, which JW had to admit Rory had a lot of, he would answer JW’s calls. They did beer nearly every Saturday night, no matter what Rory was dating. JW didn’t have a lot of faith in Rory’s choices when it came to boyfriends.

JW had been trying to get Rory on the line since about eight in the morning, with no luck. He’d been on a three-day run, so he wanted Rory to know he was going to be back in town for that beer.

Now it was three in the afternoon, and JW hadn’t been able to catch up with his best buddy from high school, so he was using his spare key to let himself into Rory’s place to snoop around. The man’s truck was in the drive, after all, but the dogs were in the back, having a fucking fit. Rory loved those idiot beasts with a fiery passion. He wouldn’t ignore them, wouldn’t leave them out there to starve or nothin’.

Damn, he hoped nothing awful had happened to the man. That would be a waste of mammoth proportions.

“Rory? You here, man?”

He thought he heard something from the back of the house, a grunt, a rattle. Shit. Had one of the dogs gotten stuck back in the bedrooms? JW started checking doors.

He got all the way to the bedrooms down the main hall, when he tried Rory’s bedroom door. Locked.

What the hell? Rory would never lock the dogs out in the yard and lock himself in all day, even if he was sick or something. There had to be a problem.

He rattled the doorknob again, then heard an answering sound on the other side of the door.

“Rory?” He knocked this time, really announcing he was there in a formal way.

Okay, that was a muffled cry for help. He knew it. It was a desperate sound.

He looked at the door. It would be a matter of minutes to pick the lock. Took him two seconds to kick the soft spot next to the latch. What he saw when the door popped open, though, made him stop and stare.

Rory—wide-eyed and panicky—was cuffed to the bed, a big red gag in his mouth, one hell of a bruise on his jaw.

JW almost turned and left. The urge was that strong. What the hell was the guy thinking? Was this some kind of damned joke? Instead he went and pulled the gag out of Rory’s mouth. “Where are the keys?”

“I hope they’re on the bedside table, but my wallet sure as shit isn’t.” Rory’s voice was blown.

Christ. JW bit back everything he wanted to shout at the man and went to look for the keys. Screaming right now wouldn’t do any good. “How long you been like this?”

“Too long.” Rory wouldn’t look at him, wouldn’t raise that dark head.

“Tell me, Ro.” Oh, no. This was not gonna go down like Rory wouldn’t talk to him. He deserved better than that.

“Before dark yesterday.” Those poor cheeks were bright red, Rory about to lose his shit. It was easy to see. “Tell me the fucking key’s there.”

“No.” JW sighed, rolling his head on his neck. “Let me look in the front room.”

Rory had to be hurting and needing a bathroom and a drink of water. JW had bolt cutters in his truck if he couldn’t find the keys, so he would just make one trip.

When he went into the front room, he noticed that the TV was gone, the DVD player, Rory’s crappy old computer, even the man’s change jar. Fuck a duck. Everything of any kind of value was gone, and he wondered how he’d missed it the first time around.

He couldn’t find a key either. He ran out to his truck to get the bolt cutters, not wanting Rory to think he’d been abandoned again.

Fuck-a-doodle-do. He. This. Jesus.

JW shook it off and trotted back inside. “No keys, buddy. Hold still so I can cut the chain.”

“Okay.” Rory still wouldn’t look at him, but the man stayed stock-still, waiting on him to clip the chains on the cuffs. He had no idea how Rory was going to get the actual cuffs off.

Maybe a locksmith or a cop. Did they know any of those? He could call Jody Freeman, maybe. He’d been a deputy once. Surely guys like that still had keys to the cuffs.

“There. Hit the head, huh? I’ll find your sweats.”

“’Kay.” Rory stumbled off, bent over a little, hurrying.

Jesus Christ.

JW would offer to help, but he was afraid he’d do more harm than good. Man had to be sore.

He opened a top drawer—found lube, a plug, whoa. Some things should be private, right? He slammed that one shut, opened the bottom one. Bingo. Sweats. He pulled out a pair and sniffed, to be sure no one had done anything nasty to Rory’s clothes. It sounded ridiculous, but he hoped this was simply a robbery and not something more stalkery. Peeing on stuff took it to a whole other level.

They were clean, so he took them to the bathroom door, knocked, and Rory’s still-cuffed hand appeared.

“You need anything? I can rustle up some eggs while you shower.” His jaw hurt from not screaming. He wanted to shout until his ears rang.

“I….” Those green eyes flashed up to him, then away, so ashamed. “I’m sorry, man.”

“We’ll talk about that later. Do you need me to call the bank?” They were in a small enough town that he could call his cousin Katy and explain how someone had stolen Rory’s wallet.

“Please. No cops, though. I can’t explain to nobody.”

“Okay. Get a bath. I’ll make food and call Katy.” He turned away before he did something stupid. He was always wanting to do things for Rory that he had no right to do, including beat down the assholes who wanted to do Rory dirty.

Shit, they’d…. Well, they hadn’t been lovers, had they? They’d been friends with hand jobs until Rory’d got all… weird and queery and shit on him, and he’d been cocksure and stupid, and he’d fucked that up. JW regretted that outburst every day.

Rory had gone through a series of men after that, each one worse than the last. JW wanted to hit most of them. Hard. With a shovel. Not just for being assholes, but for having what he wanted more than breath. Of course, this was a whole new level of worse. This was… criminal. Which was why he hoped it had been a random pickup. With condom.

Maybe three condoms.

All at once.

He called Katy, who snickered a little, as she thought Rory was a slut, but she promised to put a block on all the accounts and make sure no one stole Rory’s life. He told her to keep it all damned quiet too, because he would know who spread rumors if it happened. Katy was more scared of her momma than anything on earth, and JW had a damned good relationship with Earline. He’d been working on her truck since the beginning of time.

Rory came out of the bathroom finally, fully dressed, head down. “You want a beer, man?”

“Not right now.” He shook his head. “We need to get those cuffs off, huh?”

“Yeah. I got the tile saw.”

“Tile saw?” Christ. That would be messy. “Let me see what I got in my truck.” There might be something better. He’d only just grabbed the wire nippers before. Now he had time to investigate.

“’Kay.” Rory rubbed the back of his head, the cropped hair making a weird sound on that callused hand.

“Eggs are on the stove.” He’d managed to start food cooking in between everything else. They both liked their scrambled eggs burned, so they needed a good while longer. JW went out to the truck and rooted around. He was getting pretty damned frustrated when he saw something shiny on the street between the curb and the road. Hot damn. That looked a lot like keys. House keys and little cuff keys….

He grabbed those and what was left of Rory’s wallet—yay—and headed in.

“No tile saw required, man.”

“No? You find something?”

“The keys. Your wallet too. ID is still in it.” Among all the other memberships and shit. The only thing missing was Rory’s debit card. Thankfully, the man kept his Social Security Card in the lockbox under the bed.

“Thank God.” Rory held out his hands for them.

JW took Rory’s hands in his, cursing under his breath at the raw, bruised flesh at the wrists. “I got it.”

“I’m sorry you had to see that, man, but I’m damn glad you came over.”

“Me too. Wanted that beer.” He headed back to the eggs, which smoked gently.

Rory poured two glasses of milk, and if the man’s hands shook, JW didn’t say nothin’. He just got the food served up and handed over a plate.

“Thanks.” Rory sat at the little kitchen table, grabbed them each a fork out of the can of silverware.

“No problem.” JW waited until they both worked through the food. Until he couldn’t wait. Then he put his hands on the table, watching them clench. “What the hell were you doing, Rory?”

Rory’s head drooped down, chin damn near on his chest. “Making a mistake.”

“Well, yeah. I mean, who was this guy?” He needed to know. They might not be calling the police, but damn it all, JW would fix this somehow.

Rory sighed. “We’d been going out a while. Name’s Jerrod. Apparently he’s a fuck.”

“And not a good one.” He blinked, amazed that he could joke about Rory fucking anyone that wasn’t him.

Rory laughed, the sound harsh, hard. Bitter.

“Come on, buddy. Talk to me.”

Green eyes met his, sort of horrified. “I didn’t know he was a fucker, man. We were having… you know… and he fucking went alligator on me, left me there.”

He…. Rage built up a little. If Rory needed that kind of shit, he only had to ask. He never did ask, though. Not after that one time.

“I’m sorry you had to see it, man. I know that ain’t your thing.”

“How do you know what my thing is? You gave up years ago.” It was all building in his chest, about to blow. He wanted to tell Rory exactly what his thing was.

Those eyes met his again, bright as all fuck. “Shit, all I know is I ain’t your thing. The rest don’t matter.”

“Oh, fuck that, Rory. I swear, you’re gonna make me pay for that stupid shit for the rest of my life.” He was gonna blow a gasket. How long could a man hold a grudge?

“Don’t you fucking snarl at me, man. I ain’t held shit against you, have I? No. I got your fucking back, one hundred percent forever. I have a fucking beer with you every week, take up for you when your Aunt Earline starts in about the babies.” Rory’s hand slammed on the table.

“I got your back too, you know that. I just….” He got up and tossed his plate in the sink, the sound of it shattering making him wince a little. He wanted Rory for himself and didn’t know how to take back what he’d said.

“Look. It’s cool. I’m cool. You’re cool. Let me hit the head, and we’ll go have our beer. We ain’t never gotta talk about this shit again.”

“Why not?” He turned around, bumping chests with Rory when the man tried to squeeze past him. “You want that kind of shit, all you have to do is ask me.”

Those big eyes went bigger, like fucking saucers, and for the tiniest second, JW saw pure fucking need, something that made his cock leap. Then Rory shoved him, hard, teeth baring. “Fuck off, asshole.”

“Make me. Damn it, Rory, you don’t have to go out there and be unsafe and shit.” It was like he couldn’t keep the words in. He had to say it; it had all been inside him too damned long.

“What the fuck do you know about it? Jesus fuck, go find yourself a woman and make some fucking babies and don’t worry about what I’m hunting.” Rory backed off, growling in his chest. “You ain’t queer, remember? A hand job between friends, fine, but you don’t want no one to get ideas about you being a fag. That’s what I am, not you.”

Damn, Rory had a fine fucking memory. Word for word.

Sometimes he hated that. “You want someone to beat you, man, I’m up for it right now.” His hands clenched so hard his knuckles hurt. He wanted that fight. Craved it.

Rory flipped him off, then clocked him in the breadbasket, that fist quick as a snake.

He grunted, his body trying to double over. Years of bar fights and crunches kept him upright, and he struck openhanded, pushing Rory’s shoulder. That spun Rory right around, that tight, hard little ass right there.

Without even letting himself think on it, JW slapped it too. Hard.

“What the fuck?” Rory tried to turn around, but JW didn’t think so. Not yet.

He had too many years of pent-up need, of the damned jealousy that gnawed at him. Of fucking missing out. Of watching every fucking willing man touching what was his for years.

He’d fucked up—once, bad—and had had to watch this hardbody get fucked and turned inside out by a dozen pricks who weren’t as good as him. They didn’t deserve him. Not like JW did. They couldn’t make Rory scream like he could. He’d learned a lot driving trucks all over the country.

It was his turn now. All his. He smacked again, his other hand on Rory’s shoulder to keep the man in place when Rory squirmed.

“Let me go, asshole.” Rory didn’t move away, though, and the man’s voice was way more husky than pissed off. Someone was all over this, and it wasn’t JW.

“No. No, that’s all done with, you running from me.” He did it again, because it felt good, his hand hitting so hard it bounced.

“You’ve lost your damn mind.”

Jesus, look at Rory move. It was like dancing, but so much better. If Rory didn’t have any sweats, it would be better. That skin would look so fine when he smacked at it. JW grinned a little for the first time since he’d called and no one answered. Then he ripped Rory’s sweats down, his hand slapping skin.

“Dub!” Rory groaned this time, took a step away.

“What? It feels good.” Or at least it did to him. His fingers curled around Rory’s hip. Look at that ass. He let his thumb rub the heavy muscle, and then he hit again, the skin going pink.

His handprint looked unbelievably erotic. His cock started to ache, like it had back in the day when they would sneak off with a bottle and a box of Kleenex.

“This is fucking insane….”

No. No, for once they were doing something fucking right. “This is good, Rory. Go with it.” He’d prove himself this time. He so would.