Daily Mail, August 8, 2015.

Convicted murderer commits suicide in prison


ACCORDING TO sources in Strangeways Prison, Manchester, Curtis Rogers committed suicide this week. Rogers was convicted in 2014 of the murder of Ethan Samuels and for masterminding a drugs and prostitution ring whose hub was located in Manchester, but with operations spreading out over different continents. He was also convicted of being involved in human trafficking and using young men as drug mules. Rogers was given a life sentence.

Rogers’s conviction was largely due to the testimony of several witnesses who had been part of the organization. His arrest came about as a result of an undercover police operation.

Rogers, fifty, was originally from Manchester and leaves no surviving relatives.



Chapter One

LEO POURED himself his first mug of coffee and stared out of the window. Canal Street was quiet, no great surprise given that it was only ten in the morning. The club wasn’t open to members yet, but it was the first place Leo had thought of for a meeting place. He leaned against the brickwork surrounding the window and closed his eyes.

Christ, I feel old.

The feeling had nothing to do with his forty years and everything to do with his present emotional state. Whichever way he looked at it, what was coming right at them was not going to be good.

“I’ll have one of those while you’re over there.” Thomas entered the office and sat in the chair facing his desk. “I hope you made it strong, because I need it this morning.”

Leo opened his eyes and glanced over his shoulder at his business partner. “Anyone else arrived yet? Where’s Peter?” Then he realized it was a stupid question—Peter would be with Alex. Leo waved his hand. “Forget I asked, I already know.” He narrowed his gaze. “You haven’t told him, right?” He grabbed Thomas’s mug and filled it to the brim.

Thomas shook his head. “And so far it’s just us four. Who else is coming? I assume Scott and Jeff.”

“Ben was coming in this morning anyway.” Leo handed him the mug before sitting in Thomas’s chair. “He’d arranged to meet JJ.”

“The new barman?”

Leo nodded. “He’ll be doing more hours when Ben goes on honeymoon, so Ben wanted to make sure he knew everything. He’s bringing Scott, who of course texted Alex, wanting to know what’s going on.”

“Of course,” Thomas said, eyebrows arched. “Peter got the same text on the way over here.” He shook his head, this time with a wry smile. “Those three—Collars & Cuffs’ version of the Three Musketeers.”

“How is he?”

“Quiet. Wanting to know what’s going on, of course, but he only asked the once. Telling me he trusts me.” Thomas’s eyes were troubled. He blinked rapidly. “I wanted to tell him there and then, when it was just the two of us.”

Leo opened his mouth to retort, but Thomas cut him off with a wave of his hand.

“It’s okay. I know why you’re doing it like this. He’ll need his support network, and that means his friends.” Thomas sighed. “I’ll be the one supporting him when they’ve gone.”

Leo’s stomach rolled over. “Damian is bringing Jeff. It’ll be good to see Damian, actually. I get that they don’t use the club, but I do miss him.”

A knock sounded at the door, before Alex stuck his head around it. “Ben and Scott are here, Damian and Jeff too.” He held up Leo’s phone. “You left this in the car. There’s a text from Laura Herne.”

Leo beckoned him into the room. “Close the door after you.” He put down his mug, got up from the chair, and walked around the desk.

Alex did as instructed and came over to Leo, straight into his open arms. Leo hugged him. “You ready?”

Alex huffed. “Not really, no.” He kissed Leo on the cheek and handed him his phone.

“What’s the mood like out there?”

Alex shrugged. “Confused, curious. And even more curious when Dr. Herne arrives.” He pulled back and looked Leo in the eye. “That is why she messaged you, isn’t it? You’ve invited her too?”

Leo nodded.

“Wise man,” Thomas remarked. “Seeing as she’s counseled both Peter and Jeff.” He regarded Leo calmly enough, but Leo caught the nervous swallow, the blinking. More was going on below the surface, that much was evident. “Come on. Let’s get out there.”

Leo led the way out of the office, heading for the bar. Peter was sitting with Scott and Jeff, Damian at Jeff’s side, while Ben was in quiet conversation with JJ. Leo thought about asking JJ to leave, but there seemed little point. Once the news got out, he suspected there would be many more such conversations at the club.

“Ben, can you join us for a moment?”

Ben nodded, and after a quiet word with JJ, he left him at the bar and walked over to sit next to Scott. Thomas took a seat next to Peter, and Alex sat next to him.

“The door was open, so I assume it’s safe to come in.” Laura Herne was standing by the main doors, dressed in jeans and a green blouse that went well with her long auburn hair.

Leo went over to greet her. “Thanks for coming.” He shook her hand.

She smiled. “When you told me what had happened, I realized you might need some support.” She glanced over his shoulder. “And judging by the looks I’m getting, they didn’t know I was coming.”

“That’s correct.” Leo led her to the bar and pulled out a chair for her. He gazed at the faces of those seated around the tables. “I’m sure you’re all wondering why we’ve brought you here this morning. The thing is, a story hit the newspapers that has a bearing on all of you, and we wanted you to hear it here first.”

“Okay, now you’re scaring me.” Scott stared at him with wide eyes before glancing at Ben. “You know what this is about, don’t you?”

Ben bit his lip and avoided Scott’s gaze.

“Look,” Leo butted in, “there’s no easy way to say this, so….” He paused. “Curtis Rogers committed suicide in Strangeways Prison a few days ago.”

The brief silence that followed his words was broken by the sound of breaking glass. All heads turned to look at the bar. JJ’s face was flushed.

“Sorry. I dropped a glass.”

He disappeared out of sight below the bar, and what followed were the obvious sounds of a cleanup, the tinkling of shards being swept up, the sound so sharp in the silence.

“He’s dead?” Peter croaked. His voice was ice in the already cold room.

Leo swung around, his chest constricting. Peter’s green eyes were huge, staring blankly ahead of him. His body was rigid, his head jerked back, and the look of incredulity there sent a stab of pain through Leo.

Leo simply nodded. Peter’s eyes dulled and he pressed his lips together. Scott reached for his friend’s hand and held it so tightly, the skin was white and taut across the knuckles. Thomas took his other hand, his fingers gently stroking it. Next to Thomas, Alex watched his friend in silence, the pain etched across his face.

Jeff’s face was pale. “For real?”

Damian put his arm around him. Jeff swallowed hard.

“It… it feels weird. I mean, I hated him so much, but now….” He put his hand across his mouth, and a smothered sob escaped from behind it. “I can’t believe he’s dead.” He wiped his wet cheeks savagely. “Why am I crying, for him of all people?” Jeff tucked his head into Damian’s shoulder and sobbed.

Damian held him, pulling him onto his lap and cradling him against his chest. “There’s nothing wrong with crying, Jeff. You let it out, okay? You’re among friends here.”

Jeff buried his face in Damian’s neck and nodded, his sobs muffled, dying away. Damian met Leo’s gaze, and Leo saw the pain in his eyes.

“Hey,” Scott said softly, his hand still wrapped tightly around Peter’s. “It’s okay to be upset, Jeff.” He glanced at Ben. “This is awful.”

“Are you okay?” Ben asked him, his forehead furrowed.

“Me?” Scott seemed genuinely puzzled. “Hell, I have no feelings about the man. I never met him. But I don’t like that my friends are hurting.”

He darted a glance in Peter’s direction and frowned. Peter’s expression was still inscrutable. Leo had a feeling there was a lot going on beneath the surface.

“Do you want to go somewhere quiet and talk?” Laura asked Jeff gently.

Jeff lifted his head and shook it. “Actually? I want to go home.”

“That sounds like a good idea.”

Damian hugged him, and his gaze flickered across to Leo, who nodded. Damian rose to his feet, taking Jeff with him.

“Come on, sweetheart. Let’s go home.”

Jeff hugged Scott. “I’ll talk to you soon, okay?”

Scott nodded. Jeff took Damian’s outstretched hand.

Damian regarded Leo, his expression sober. “I’m going to take care of my boy my way.

“I understand.”

Leo stood aside, and the two men walked out, Damian’s arm still protectively around Jeff’s shoulders, the smaller man leaning into the taller one.

“Well, I’m glad the bastard is dead,” Peter snarled. “I wish I could have done it myself.” He pulled his hands free of Scott and Thomas.

A shocked silence fell across the room. A gasp broke the quiet, and Leo jerked his head toward the bar. JJ’s jaw had dropped, his gray eyes wide.


Thomas’s softly spoken entreaty pulled Leo’s attention back to the gathered group.

Thomas reached for Peter, but he dodged Thomas’s arms and rose to his feet, agitatedly running his fingers through his short hair.

“Peter, you don’t mean that,” Alex said quietly.

Peter gaped at him. “I don’t? How the hell would you know? I wish I’d seen the look in his eyes when he realized he’d done the job right and he was dying. I’d love to have heard him beg for forgiveness, because you know what I’d have done then? I’d have turned my back on him.” His eyes were wild, his face white.

Thomas lurched to his feet and grabbed his sub, pulling him close. “I’ve got you,” he said softly, so softly that Leo barely caught it.

From the expression on Peter’s face, Leo doubted the sub heard anything.

“He committed suicide?” Peter wailed. “Why? Couldn’t he take life in prison? God, he’d only been in there a year. I had to suffer that bastard’s cruelty for four years!” He sank to his knees, his head in his hands. “God help me, he’s dead, but I still hate him so much. Why do I still hate him?”

Thomas knelt next to him, slipping his arms around him, and Peter pressed his face to Thomas’s wide chest. Thomas jerked his head up to stare at Leo, a dazed expression on his face, his usual confidence not in evidence.

Silence crept over the room. Leo felt sick. No one could fault Peter for the way he felt. What had happened to him at the man’s hands was monstrous.

Scott and Alex reacted swiftly, surrounding Peter and Thomas, but Peter shook off their attempts to comfort him, sliding out of their embrace.

Laura moved decisively too. She went over to Peter and crouched down next to him. “Sweetie? How about you and I go into Thomas’s office and have a talk?”

“I think that’s a good idea,” Thomas echoed. “If only until you feel calmer.”

Peter lifted his face. “Will… will you come too?”

Leo’s chest tightened. In that moment, the man of twenty-nine years had been submerged in a bewildered, fragile version that Leo had thought long since vanished.

Thomas gazed at him, his eyes glistening. “Just you try to stop me,” he said hoarsely, attempting a smile.

Peter nodded, and Thomas helped him to his feet, his arm around Peter’s waist.

“Why don’t you go into one of the private rooms?” Leo suggested. “That way, if I need to go in the office, I won’t be disturbing you. And the club won’t be open for a few hours yet.” The mood he was in, Leo didn’t want to open at all.

Thomas nodded. “That sounds good.” He glanced at his lover. “Shall we?”

Peter gave him a tight smile, and the three walked out of the bar. Scott and Alex watched their departure, both wearing equally glum expressions.

Scott turned to Ben. “We need to talk,” he said simply. When Ben frowned, Scott let out a sigh. “About the wedding.”

The skin on the back of Leo’s neck prickled. Their wedding was the next weekend.

“Okay,” Ben said slowly. “What’s on your mind?” He spoke calmly.

Scott squared his jaw. “I want to change the date.”

Next to him, Alex’s jaw dropped.

Leo was so proud of Ben, who nodded, still calm. “Okay. Now tell me why.”

“You think I can get married while all this shit is going down?” Scott blurted out. “Peter’s one of my best men. I don’t think he’s gonna be in any state to stand at my side and be cheerful, et cetera, with all of this hanging over him.” His eyes pleaded with Ben. “Sir, my friends are upset. A wedding is supposed to be a happy occasion. You think I’m gonna feel happy, knowing they’re not?”

Ben regarded him in silence for a moment. “What about Annie?” he said at last. “She’s due in from Spain in a couple of days. She’d need to change her flights.”

“No problem,” Leo interjected. Scott’s impassioned plea made his heart ache. “I’ll pay for her new flights. This is important.”

Ben’s jaw set, and Leo repressed a sigh. Ben and his bloody pride. But to his surprise, his bar manager relaxed and sighed.

“Okay, pup, let’s go home and talk about this.” He caught Leo’s eye. “Looks like I have a few phone calls to make.”

If Leo had been proud of him before…. Ben had grown so much since he and Scott first got together.

Ben glanced toward JJ, who was standing behind the bar, gazing at the monitor. “JJ? I’ll be back for when the club opens. You’re not in until tomorrow, so go home and enjoy what’s left of your day off. Thanks again for coming in. You think you’ve got the hang of everything?”

JJ nodded slowly. “Pretty much.” His gaze flickered to where Leo and Alex were sitting. “Think I’ve seen everything I need to.”

“Great.” Ben gave him a warm smile. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” He held out a hand to Scott. “Come on, pup.”

Scott hugged Alex, and then the two left the club.

“I’m nearly done here,” JJ told Leo. “I just need to check the stock before I go.” He disappeared into the stock room behind the bar.

“Looks like it’s just you and me,” Leo said to his husband. He gave Alex a speculative glance. “You’ve been very quiet through all this. Are you all right?” He went over to Alex and put his arms around him.

Alex kissed him. “Me? I’m fine. I was more concerned for Jeff, Scott, and Peter.” His brow knitted. “Peter’s reaction really floored me. I had no idea he still felt like that.”

“Me neither.” Although maybe some tiny part of Leo had suspected, hence the decision to call Laura.

“I’m worried about him.” Alex stared off in the direction his friend had taken.

Leo leaned in and kissed him. “He’s in good hands,” he said softly. “And if he needs you, you know he’ll tell you. He always has, hasn’t he?”

“I suppose.” Alex didn’t sound convinced.

Leo cupped Alex’s cheek and locked gazes with him. “Then trust him now.” He released Alex and gave a quick glance toward the private rooms. He hoped Laura had things under control.

A flare of pain through his temples killed whatever else he’d been about to say. Leo wasn’t surprised. The morning’s tension had taken its toll on his body. He winced when a fresh wave of pain spread across the top of his head.

“Leo? What’s wrong?”

“Apart from what feels like the beginnings of a migraine, nothing.” He didn’t get them often, so maybe he was overdue for one.

“Is there anything I can do?” Alex kept his voice low. “Have you got your tablets with you?”

“Ye—damn. No, they’re at home. Aspirin will have to do. I have some in the desk drawer in the office.”

Alex kissed his temple very, very gently. “I’ll fetch a couple, along with some water.”

Leo gave him a grateful smile, and Alex hurried off to the office.

I’m a lucky man. His heart went out to Thomas. If Peter was hurting, then so was his best friend.



ALEX STEPPED inside the office Leo and Thomas shared and closed the door before making his way to the desk. He opened the center drawer but found no aspirin. He went to the next drawer. Bingo. A bottle of aspirin lay on its side, next to a frame lying facedown. Alex picked up both and found himself looking at his husband, albeit a younger looking Leo. It was a photograph he’d never seen before. Leo had his arm wrapped around another man’s shoulder. They were smiling. In that instant he knew. Alex recognized the pure joy that radiated from his man.

“Gabe,” Alex said softly.

As he ran his fingers over the picture, Alex wondered why Leo kept it in his desk drawer. He could understand Leo doing that when he and Alex had first met. Alex knew himself well enough to know how he would’ve reacted if he’d found the photo then. The old Alex would have felt threatened, uncertain, unwanted. But he hadn’t been that Alex in a long time—Leo had seen to that. He’d instilled Alex with confidence, the ability to assess a situation and come up with a way to deal with it instead of letting himself be sucked down into self-doubt.

Alex studied Gabe’s features, the happy smile, the bright eyes. Leo never talked with Alex about Gabe. He knew they’d been in love—any fool who saw the picture would know that. Did he think I wouldn’t be able to handle it? Or maybe Leo wasn’t prepared to talk about him. Either way, Gabe didn’t belong in a drawer. Alex smiled and slid the picture into what Leo always referred to jokingly as his “manbag.” He grabbed two bottles of water from the small refrigerator and hurried back to Leo.

JJ was back behind the bar, and Leo was sitting at one of the tables, massaging his head gently. Poor baby. Not that Alex would have said that to his face, and especially not in front of JJ. Alex didn’t know the barman all that well—he’d only been with the club about four months—but Alex was certain one did not refer to one of the club’s two owners as “baby.”

Alex handed over the two bottles and sat at Leo’s side.

“Thank you,” Leo murmured gratefully. He cracked the bottle of water, popped the two tablets in his mouth, then swished them around before swallowing, wincing.

“Problem?” Alex asked, trying to stifle a chuckle.

Leo scowled. “I can’t swallow pills. Which you bloody well know.”

Alex laughed, then covered his mouth when he saw JJ looking at him. Alex coughed. “So you can deep-throat, but a little pill gives you problems?”

Leo flushed. “It’s a good job I love you.”

Alex smirked, and Leo attempted to raise his eyebrows, giving up when it clearly caused him pain.

“Just remember one thing, smartarse. Migraines don’t last, and when this one is gone, I will still remember everything.

Alex grinned. “Ooh, I’m so scared of the Big Bad Dom.” Behind him he caught JJ’s smothered gasp.

When Leo was feeling better, Alex was going to be in trouble.

Yeah, bring it on.