Prologue

 

 

“DORIAN GRANT, you’re under arrest for the murder of Leonard Antonio Cabrezzi.”

Dorian stood in the doorway, shoulders squared, chin held high, knowing good and well the law didn’t have a damn thing on him. Yeah, he knew Leonard Cabrezzi and had probably been seen throwing punches with the lowlife a time or two, but he sure as shit didn’t commit the crime the 5-0 were accusing him of.

Leo was the guy who’d shot Jansen and a general piece of shit in Dorian’s honest opinion. Leo’d had that bullet coming to him. Dorian’s only regret was not being the one to deliver.

“You have the right to remain silent,” the cop continued as he wrenched Dorian around by the arm. Damn near jerked it right out of the socket. “Anything you say can and will be—”

“Get the fuck off me,” Dorian demanded, yanking his arms back with a force strong enough to knock the cop right on his ass. The officer stumbled back a few steps, landing square against his partner’s chest.

With a growl, the obviously younger of the two jerked up and started forward, charging after Dorian so fast that when they connected, the force sent Dorian toppling back inside the house. The small of his back cracked the hard edge of this stupid, fancy foyer table his mom had bought back in the seventies but no one had the heart to get rid of. Damn thing was going to storage as soon as Dorian sorted all this crap out.

Pain erupted along Dorian’s backside. A stream of curses worthy of making a sailor flinch hurled from his lips. And while he wanted to tear that pig from limb to limb, Dorian had promised a long time ago to be a good boy, so he kept his hands to himself. Worst thing about all of this, he couldn’t keep Jansen from seeing any of it.

“You can’t come in here,” Dorian declared, jerking his torso and wrenching his arms. The weight of one man kept him pinned to the edge of the table. Dorian bucked and fought. Somehow they both ended up on the floor, tumbling around on the marble as if they were two kids in a schoolyard tussle. Dorian could hardly move. The cop locked around him had him by a good fifty pounds and probably five inches of height, which didn’t sound like much until everyone was horizontal. Then, a body had a habit of turning to deadweight fast.

“Get the fuck off me!”

“Son,” the gray-haired cop standing over the fray in the floor said, “we can do what we want. We can tear this place apart and say we had a hard time findin’ ya. Know why?” Dorian glared, and the other man grinned wider as he held up a very official-looking document. “This here warrant says we can.”

The first cop pushed up off him, and Dorian lay with back flat against the floor, staring up at Jansen, who looked like he was about to burst into tears. Well, that just pissed Dorian right off. No one was going to come into his house, interrupt his romantic evening, and bring tears to his husband’s eyes. No way in hell.

“Fuck you, cop.” He pushed his elbows against the cool floor. “I want my lawyer.”

A boot connected with Dorian’s chest, putting him right back against the marble.

“Stop it!” Jansen screamed. “You’re hurting him!”

By God, the pain in Jansen’s voice was enough to crush Dorian’s hardened heart. By the look on his face and the glisten in his eyes, Jansen couldn’t deal with seeing Dorian being bullied the way he was. Dorian couldn’t deal with not soothing the man he loved.

At least the cops backed off. They didn’t help him up from the floor, but they stopped beating him down like a felon trying to resist. They left him lying there, sucking wind and holding his chest. By then, every inch of his body had started to throb. Older age was catching up, apparently. Revenge was looking rather tasty.

“Can I see the warrant?” Jansen asked rather calmly, holding out his hand.

Dorian knew damn well Jansen wouldn’t know the difference between a genuine, court-issued, judge-signed warrant for his arrest versus a fake made by one of Dorian’s many enemies. But he also knew that, if nothing else, his husband could put on a damn good show. That’s what he did. That’s what he was best at… performing.

The gray-haired officer slapped the paper against Jansen’s palm. Dorian climbed back to his feet and eased in next to his husband so he could look the paper over. Both cops kept one hand on their guns, as if Jansen or Dorian would do anything. Sure, Dorian had been a bad guy for a long time, but he’d backed off his criminal ways a while ago, even before they’d gotten married. He didn’t act like a freakin’ thug anymore. He was just a businessman who wanted to provide for his family.

“Dor,” Jansen said, voice quivering. “It’s the real thing.” He’d said it like a statement, but Dorian knew Jansen needed confirmation, that those trembling words were really a question Jansen needed to have answered. Dorian gave a little jerk of the chin, a subtle nod he knew Jansen would catch but everyone else would probably miss. “They have it signed by the judge and everything,” Jansen added for good measure. “You, um… you….”

As Dorian sucked in a breath so deep it made his big, tattooed chest expand, he closed his eyes and lowered his head, scrubbed his hand down his face, then exhaled. He had to resign himself to the idea of being behind bars. He’d come close to being thrown in jail before, and done enough shit to deserve a few years in prison, but the closest he’d ever come was a night here and there just to quench his temper. Nothing like this, though. Nothing close to being charged with murder.

“Fine,” Dorian said, raising his chin and squaring his shoulders. Being thrown in a cage like an animal didn’t scare him. He could protect himself. He hated the idea of losing his freedom, of not being able to keep Jansen safe, but he could do this with dignity.

“Baby, I need—”

“Can I at least get him a shirt?” Jansen asked in a low, shattered voice as if he hadn’t heard Dorian speaking at all.

“We should take him like this,” the younger cop said.

“No,” the gray-haired guy immediately responded. “There’s that stupid civil rights shit you rookies don’t know nothin’ ’bout.” He looked over at Jansen. “Make it quick. We ain’t waitin’ long.”

 

 

HEART BEATING wildly, Jansen took off in a run toward the laundry room. He knew Maria had done their clothes earlier that day and knew there would be a T-shirt in there for Dorian to throw on, something ratty and unimportant, something Dorian wouldn’t miss if it got destroyed.

God, he couldn’t believe this was happening. Dorian didn’t deserve this, not now, not after all the changing he’d done. He was a good man now. He took care of his businesses in an honorable and legal way, took care of his family and friends, gave back to the community. The man had a damn heart of gold, and now they chose to shit on him.

“This can’t be happening,” Jansen whispered to himself.

He pulled a plain white tee out of the dryer, then rushed back to where the cops had been manhandling his husband. He stopped dead in his tracks when he found Dorian’s arms wrenched back and a cop at each wrist. Dorian’s lip looked like it had been busted wide open. A spot of blood clung to the stubble on his chin.

“Did you fucking hit him?” Jansen yelled as he charged forward.

“Nah, we didn’t hit him. He fell down while trying to get away from us.”

“Screw you, pig,” Dorian spat.

They wrenched him up again, pulling his arms back so hard his pecs flexed and he stood on the tips of his toes to give his arms a hint of relief.

“You resisting us, Grant?” The rookie right-hooked Dorian in the ribs. “You don’t want to resist us.”

Dorian’s legs shook so badly Jansen could see them tremble, as if they just couldn’t hold his weight anymore and needed a break from trying to keep Dorian upright. He almost buckled. Jansen could tell he was putting up a hell of a fight to stay on his feet.

“Can you stop beating him up, please?” Jansen cried out.

“Baby, I’m fine. It’s okay,” Dorian swore. “These two ass… gentlemen are going to take damn good care of me from here on out, right boys?” He looked back at the two cops. “I mean, since your boss’s boss is my golf buddy and shit.”

Gray-haired’s eyes widened.

The rookie arched a brow as if he didn’t get it.

Jansen smirked and Dorian smiled wickedly.

“Cuff him, Bloom,” the old one said.

The rookie slapped the cuffs on Dorian’s wrists, and for the first time since their arrival on the mansion’s doorstep, he actually acted like a real cop. He started reciting the Miranda Rights… again. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law….”

Dorian let them handle him and this time didn’t put up a fight at all. In fact, he kept a smile on his face, kept giving Jansen the same loving, caring stare he’d been giving him right before the cops interrupted the candlelit dinner Maria had prepared for them. The remains of the enchiladas still filled their plates. Wine still filled their glasses. They’d barely started eating when this bullshit had broken loose.

And amazingly, Dorian looked as calm as he had before, as if the something inside of him keeping him sane had either snapped, or snapped back into place.

With all of Dorian’s bravado, Jansen thought he could take some of his husband’s strength and use it as his own, but he couldn’t. He was falling apart on the inside. The man he loved, the man who’d protected him and cared for him the last three years was being carted off in handcuffs and being charged with murder, and there wasn’t a damn thing Jansen could do to stop them.

“Baby,” Dorian said, ripping Jansen right out of his internal meltdown. “Get my phone. Call my lawyer. Her number’s in there. Tell her to get her ass down to the precinct now.”

Jansen couldn’t do much more than nod. Tears began to flow down his cheeks. While everything once felt surreal, now it felt very, very real. They were taking Dorian to jail and God only knew when Jansen would see the man he loved again.

Dorian’s pissed-off expression softened significantly. Jansen saw his arm jerk, as if he was trying to reach out and touch him. “Baby, listen to me,” Dorian said. Their gazes locked as soon as Dorian spoke his command. Jansen sniffled back his tears and Dorian continued. “They ain’t gonna put me away. Got it? They ain’t got shit on me. Go call my lawyer, and get her to the precinct, okay?”

Jansen nodded again.

“I love you,” Dorian told him.

“I love you too.”

Through his watery eyes, he watched the blue lights atop the cop cars flicker. They made a clicking noise as they strobed—a noise Jansen would no doubt hear as he fought to go to sleep later that night… if he was able to lie down long enough to try.

The older cop clamped his hand over Dorian’s head, pressing his once neatly styled hair against his scalp. He guided Dorian into the backseat and slammed the door, then joined his partner in the front of the car. Dorian kept his eyes glued on Jansen, and Jansen could’ve sworn he’d seen the glistening of tears clinging to Dorian’s thick, dark lashes. His husband didn’t cry. It just wasn’t something he did, but in a situation like this, tears were okay. God knew Jansen would certainly shed his own fair share after they pulled away from the house.

After the cars disappeared down the driveway, Jansen spent one silent moment—a moment longer than any other—trying to collect himself. He stood there in the heat of a June New Orleans night with humid wind beating against his wet cheeks and the blazing-red memory of the squad car’s taillights traveling down the driveway. He was left standing there with all the despair and emptiness he felt after those officers had pushed Dorian into the car. In the heat of the bayou night, he felt his world falling apart around him and all the safety Dorian had promised him had just been taken away.

“I love you,” he said, bringing his ringed hand up to his heart. He held his fist there while his mind checked out for a bit. He needed a minute, maybe two, to feel nothing and think nothing and be nothing. He needed the numbness before he completely broke down, and once the urge to spontaneously combust passed, everything was… not okay… not right… but better.

He put his head on straight as best as he could. It needed to be clear if he wanted to be the man Dorian needed him to be. And there was nothing he wanted more in the world right now. He had to pull it together and handle business so he could get his man back home—where he belonged.

 

 

1

 

 

Six months later

 

 

CLANK. CLANK. Bang. Those sounds didn’t come from the sand and ocean, or the seagulls flying over Davi’s head. The sounds confused him, but didn’t concern him enough to make him open his eyes. Clank. Bang. Boom.

What the…?

He bolted straight up and peeled his eyes open. The room around him was dark as night, a blur of color here and there. Where were the sun and sand and ocean he’d fallen asleep to? Where had his tropical paradise gone?

“Sorry, guy,” a scruffy voice called from the corner of the room. Davi blinked once, twice. The third time everything came into focus. The beautiful blue horizon he’d been staring out at had turned into filthy, black-painted cinder-block walls. The blurred color came from neon signs advertising American beers. The voice wasn’t the hot cabana boy he’d been ogling in his mind’s eye, but an old, balding plumber they’d hired to fix a busted drain behind the VIP bar. That old man just utterly ruined Davi’s nap.

Davi hefted himself up from the booth. He’d just wanted an hour, maybe two to sleep before the festivities got started. Honestly, he wasn’t even sure why he’d agreed to partake in Thanksgiving dinner with the guys. That was an American holiday. While he appreciated the invite, he didn’t exactly understand the meaning of the tradition. People were so thankful for something they turned into face-stuffing gluttons, watched football, then went shopping? It just didn’t make sense.

Muttering curses in Portuguese, Davi started down the walkway overlooking the empty club. He balled both hands and rubbed the edges of his fists against his eye sockets to get rid of the remaining sleep. His feet dragged the carpet. His muttered curses turned into soft grumbles.

Voices bled out from the door to his right. That lonesome door led into the offices of what everyone called “General Management,” meaning anyone who got called up there would most likely find themselves in hot water. And the voice he’d heard belonged to a man Davi respected more than most: Jason… his boss.

Deus, perdoe-me,” he whispered before taking the few steps closer to the door. Eavesdropping had been considered a sin in his boyhood home, but he couldn’t help doing it now. The voices behind that door didn’t sound happy, and if Jason was in trouble….

“The club’s closin’, Jason,” someone said.

Davi jerked his head back. With widened eyes, he stared at the translucent glass and the dark, distorted shadows beyond it. His English might not have been the greatest, but he understood what “the club’s closin’” meant, and he assumed with a fair amount of certainty it meant trouble for him—not the violent kind of in-fear-for-your-life trouble, but the kind that meant his world would be turned upside down.

Oh merda!

That blast of bad news had him good and awake now. Worry had him on the verge of panic. He wasn’t in the States legally and probably couldn’t land another job unless it was in a seedier club than Sin & Seduction. He would have no way to pay his rent and put food on his table. He’d have no means to care for himself and had no family here to run to.

This was bad. So bad.

What the hell would he do?

Where would he go?

He pressed his ear back to the glass. The faint sound of different voices bounced back and forth. The only person he recognized was Jason, the stage manager. The others, he couldn’t put a face or a name to. He didn’t know any of those people, and yet they hid behind that door deciding his fate.

Jason said, “There has to be something we can do.”

Sim, please, do something.

“Afraid not, kid. The latest raid from the cops really put a damper on business.”

“Then we’ll do something to boost it.”

“We’re losing money hand over fist here.”

“Then we’ll pull people off the streets. We’ll have dancers at the door. Who wouldn’t want to come in then?”

Someone let out a hearty chuckle. A chorus of much smaller laughs promptly followed. Davi’s stomach knotted. He couldn’t believe they were laughing. People were losing their jobs and these assholes were laughing.

Then the noise abruptly stopped. “I’m serious, Hank.” Jason’s voice sounded desperate now. “It’s a good idea.”

“I’m too damn old to be hangin’ out in nightclubs, kid. The smoke bothers my sinuses. The booze is killing my liver. The music has me half-deaf.”

“Hank….”

“Jason.”

“Some of these guys need this place. Some of your dancers have nothing else,” Jason said, voice rising in pitch. “What will they do? Where will they go?”

“You act like dancing here is the runway to riches.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, kid, I think I sound pretty damn serious.”

“Hank, do you have any idea what goes on in the VIP area?”

“Drugs. Sex. Booze.”

“No.” Jason paused. “Well, yes, but no. I’m not saying it’s right, but a lot of money changes hands up there and some of your customers leave here a hell of a lot happier than they were when they got here, and your dancers reap the benefits.”

“I see.”

“Do you?”

Everything went quiet inside that room. Davi wished like hell he could see what was going on behind the office door. He wished he could see their faces so he could judge their expressions. He couldn’t, though. Davi was a fly on the wall, someone unimportant to the business of the club. He was just a pretty face and a nice ass for people to stare at and spend money on.

“I’m gettin’ too tired for this lifestyle, Jason,” Hank said.

“Then get out of it. That doesn’t mean the club has to close.”

“I’m looking for someone to buy the place, investors or new owners, something. But it ain’t lookin’ pretty, kid. We’re all preparin’ for the worst here. So, for right now, we’re goin’ with the club’s closin’.”

There was another short pause, a pause that lasted way too long for Davi’s comfort. He shifted back and forth on his heels, wishing like hell he could melt into the walls just so he could see and hear everything going on in that office. Then Hank said, “So I was thinkin’… if you can get a closing show together, we’ll have a big New Year’s Eve celebration and when we lock the doors New Year’s Day, we’ll lock ’em for good… unless something changes. That gives you over a month to put something together. Think you can do it?”

Davi really didn’t process a whole lot after that. The world sort of shut down on him. Through a narrowing tunnel, he stared at the office door, willing himself not to tear up and not to fall apart.

Eu não quero ir para casa,” he mumbled in his native tongue as he slowly backed away, fearing he would have no choice but to return to Portugal and give up on living the American dream, worse yet, give up on being true to himself.

While he loved his family with all his heart, he didn’t want to go back home. Going back home meant he had to face certain skeletons in his closet, demons his good Catholic mamãe and papai would never, ever understand. To be outcast from his family—the people who were supposed to love him unconditionally—scared the hell out of him. Not to mention the idea of facing a man he once loved so much he would’ve given the last breath in his body for. To see Paulo with another man would be devastating at best.

There was no way he could go back home.

Not now.

Not ever.

He charged down the walkway, running at full speed, then down the steps without slowing. He galloped to a halt in the backstage area where the dancers always congregated while the shows were going on. Davi doubled over and gripped his knees, sucking in short bursts of air that really didn’t feed his lungs with anything useful. His heart thumped so hard he could feel the thudding in his temples. He blinked back the tiny beads of sweat dripping down into his eyes.

The smell of food nailed him hard. In the madness and sadness, he’d forgotten all about the feast he’d been invited to. A tradition he simply didn’t understand, but participated in anyway. Since none of the dancers had any family to go home to or their loved ones also had jobs, they celebrated here. Together. Like a real family. Something Davi no longer had outside of the club.

He looked over the spread of food—the giant turkey in the center of the folding table, the dishes filled to their rims with other traditional American dishes. Someone had even brought a pie of some kind. It all smelled so wonderful, like cinnamon and nutmeg, and everything autumny. And everyone looked so happy, as a true family should be.

Não. Não. Não.” He shook his head, ruefully watching the seven other main-stage dancers gleefully laughing and talking as they filled their plates with food. He almost felt guilty for knowing the club’s fate. It wasn’t fair for him to have to be the one to spoil their fun.

“Não,” he said once more, this time a little louder than he had before.

One head rose, looking in his direction, then another and another. Within seconds every eye in the room was on him. The clatter of utensils against dishes completely ceased. Dead quiet replaced the eager chatter. Davi swallowed hard, gaze trickling over every curious face.

“The club… it is… it is closing,” he finally said. Then he braced himself for the onslaught of a million questions he couldn’t answer.

Bodies stilled; seven sets of eyes widened. Seven faces stared at him as if he’d just prophesied the apocalypse. “I hear the owners talking to Meester Jason. They don’t want the club anymore.” There was a breathlessness to his voice—not just from running all the way from the offices upstairs to the backstage area downstairs, but because the weight of what that meant to not only himself, but his fellow dancers, had become utterly suffocating.

“Wait. What?” One single voice cut through the thick silence. It was the dancer they called Golden Boy, one whom Davi had a schoolboy-type crush on ever since he’d come to Sin & Seduction. Backstage, among their little family, he was simply Lance.

Lance set his plate on the edge of the table and stepped forward, lean, lithe body moving with the kind of grace true dancers dreamed of. He wasn’t so tall his thin figure made him lanky, but he wasn’t short, either. Somewhere in the area of the perfect build, if Davi had to guess. His pink lips were framed with deep dimples, high cheeks spilling up toward sky-blue eyes.

“Are you sure?” Lance asked.

Davi nodded.

“Where did you hear that?”

Senhor Jason is with the owners now. I heard it through the door.”

“And you’re positive that’s what you heard?”

Davi nodded again. “I don’t wanna go home. I….”

“Shh…,” Lance said, pulling Davi into a hug. “No one is going to make you go home.”

“I cannot work. If I cannot work, I cannot live.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

Those wonderfully strong arms of Lance’s tightened around Davi’s body. His embrace felt so warm, so comforting and caring that Davi felt compelled to relax, to close his eyes and simply… relax. He honestly didn’t want to worry about it, and with Lance stepping into such a protective role, Davi thought he could let go of the worry.

But that was all fairy-tale fun and happily ever afters. In reality, Lance had as little power as Davi did. He was just a dancer too. Lance couldn’t change fate. He couldn’t change the inevitable. If the club closed, Davi was screwed. Bottom. Line.

He must’ve stiffened or something, because Lance’s arms flexed and two warm lips found the crown of Davi’s head. They lingered there, waiting—he supposed—for him to panic again. He didn’t. Maybe he wouldn’t. The lips moved, and Lance said a soft, “We’ll figure it out.”