Counterpunch (A Belonging Novel)

Counterpunch (A Belonging Novel), by Aleksandr Voinov
eBook ISBN: 
978-1-62649-208-0
eBook release: 
Sep 15, 2014
eBook Formats: 
pdf, mobi, html, epub
Print ISBN: 
978-1-62649-209-7
Print release: 
Sep 15, 2014
Word count: 
53,300
Page count: 
212
Type: 
Cover by: 

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Fight like a man, or die like a slave.

Two years ago, Brooklyn Marshall was a happily married London policeman and amateur boxer with a promising future. Then he accidentally killed a rioter whose powerful father had him convicted of murder. To ease the burden on the prison system, the state sold Brooklyn into slavery. Now he’s the “Mean Machine,” competing on the slave prizefighting circuit for the entertainment of freemen, and being rented out for sexual service to his wealthier fans.

When barrister Nathaniel Bishop purchases Brooklyn’s services for a night, Brooklyn braces himself for yet another round of humiliation and pain. But the pair form an unexpected bond that grows into something more. Brooklyn hesitates to call it love—such feelings can’t truly exist between freemen and slaves—but when Nathaniel reveals that he wants to get Brooklyn’s conviction overturned, Brooklyn dares to hope.

Until an accident in the ring sends Brooklyn on the run, jeopardizing everything he’s worked so hard for. With the law on his tail and Nathaniel in his corner, he must prepare for the most important fight of his life: the fight for his freedom.

Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:

Round 1

The enemy was swaying on his feet, but Brooklyn kept pushing him into a corner. Eight rounds in, he was tired and yet buzzing, high on adrenaline and sheer, uncontrollable rage. He threw low punches into the enemy’s sides, felt the man’s solid resistance like a wall he wanted to tear down with his bare hands.

Under the onslaught, the enemy squirmed, rounded his back, and stumbled away, but there were only the ropes, and beyond them, the baying mob.

Brooklyn kept swinging, connecting, and then noticed the enemy had lowered his guard to protect himself. He took a half step back and delivered a straight punch with the right and a cross with the left. As if in slow motion, the power from that hit threw the enemy’s head to the side. His yellow gum shield flashed, and the man went down as if struck by lightning.

No, not yet.

Before anybody could interfere, Brooklyn caught him by the throat, pushed him up against the ropes, and kept pummelling him. His rage knew no bounds, roaring in his veins, turning exhaustion to ashes, drowning out the shouts from the mob.

The enemy’s arms flopped wide, grasping towards the ropes, and for a moment, he was spread open in a T. Unguarded, unprotected, throat bared, head rolling back. Unconscious, dead, or simply knocked out, that strange stage when every ounce of strength and endurance had been beaten from the body, leaving only leaden indifference—or readiness to die.

And it was a mercy to be killed on his feet, in the ring.

Brooklyn felt a hand on his left arm, and he snarled around the plastic in his mouth, freed himself with a shrug. The first few rows in the audience were on their feet. Jeering, applauding, or just shouting, he didn’t notice the difference through the haze as he strained to finish the enemy off, there on the ropes, ready to go.

Ready for redemption.

Suddenly there were three more men in the ring, invading the space he’d owned just a moment ago. One pushed between him and the enemy, who crumpled in the corner, ignored, while the three men circled Brooklyn, tonfa sticks ready.

Brooklyn could take one, but not three. Fuck. Now it was he who was still on his feet, and the impulse to lift his hands and lash out very nearly overwhelmed him. Fuck them for challenging him in the ring. He took grim satisfaction from how the eyes of the guards widened. They knew.

His ring. His space. His fucking time.

The end of a tonfa tapped him lightly on the knee, hard enough to hurt, but not enough to send him sprawling. We could have, that said. Give up.

Brooklyn cast another glance at the enemy. Done. Over. He looked at the guards, knew the other two would be on him if he attacked their comrade. He turned, his gaze sharpening. Applause. Light sparked off diamonds and teeth, expensive women jeering at him, their companions grinning with red faces. A minuscule dog was yipping at the end of its pink leash. Applause.

How would it look if the guards beat him to a pulp?

Not good. He raised his fists high over his head, taking the applause while the guards stepped smartly back. Not their crowd, and the bitches knew it. He almost laughed.

He hadn’t come so close to laughter in months. It didn’t matter what scum was cheering him, but it mattered that all of them—apart from a few companions, he assumed—were born free and were still free.

Applauding a slave might be an indulgence—might be, in truth, nothing but scorn—but right now, it didn’t matter that he wasn’t one of them. He’d bet the women in the audience wanted him rather than the suit-and-tie-wearing sugar daddies they’d come with. And he knew the men all wanted to be him, even if they were pimps and CEOs and MPs and two-bit VIPs from Big Brother. Right now, they were off their fat arses and applauding him.

A slave.

Fuck them all.

# # #

When Brooklyn returned to the dressing room, Les was leaning against the wall, arms crossed in front of his chest, a white towel draped across his neck. Brooklyn wanted nothing more than to get out of the fake silk robe clinging to his sweaty skin.

“What was that out there, Brook?”

“Get my gloves off.” Brooklyn felt sweat beading on his face and running down his temple. Tickling. He wanted to shower. Jerk off. Fall into bed. But looking at Les’s face, that seemed pretty unlikely. Well, except the shower.

“That’s a ‘please, sir.’”

You fucking bastard. I won that bloody fight, didn’t I? Brooklyn clenched his teeth. “Please. Sir.” It still felt like choking on a toad. After two years, the words barely made it past his lips. He wasn’t the sir-ing type. Now less than ever. But he wanted that shower and couldn’t chew through the duct tape wrapped around his gloves. And Les wasn’t the worst guy to have to “sir.”

“Sure. No problem.” His trainer pushed away from the wall and began opening the glove at the wrist, strong fingers deft and knowing.

Brooklyn looked to the side. Right after a fight, having another man so close was like an unbearable itch that triggered all kinds of aggressive responses.

And he wanted something to fuck. That counted as an aggressive response, right?

“That last bit, where you thought about killing him? Don’t do it, Brook. Just. Don’t.”

Brooklyn shrugged. “Too expensive, I know.”

“It’s not just that. It’s not worth it. How’s Cash going to arrange you a championship bout if you kill the other fighters?”

“All right.” He was relieved when Les pulled off the gloves, and he wiggled his fingers in the sweaty red wraps. His knuckles would swell, but they always did. They’d be fine before the fight next month.

He freed the end of the bandage and began to unwrap his hands, the left one first, and then the right, and tossed the sweat-soaked cotton bandages into the laundry bag. “Can I have a shower, sir?”

Les studied his face for a moment. “Five minutes. I’ll pack your stuff.”

“Are you supposed to do that, Mr. Freeman?”

“We’re on a tight schedule.”

“For what?”

“You have an appointment.”

“Fuck.”

“Exactly.” Les smirked. “So keep that charge. Can’t have you fall asleep on this one. She paid good money to get what you’re bringing from that fight.”

Brooklyn groaned but bent down to untie his boots. He pulled them off along with the wet socks, which went into the laundry bag too. He straightened slowly, gaze lingering on Les’s long, muscular form. He couldn’t help but grin at his coach’s exasperated sigh. “Into the shower, Brook.”

“What?”

“I know exactly what you’re doing here. And it’s a ‘no.’ It’s been a ‘no’ for two years.”

Brooklyn huffed and plucked the towel from Les’s neck, delighting in his trainer’s sharp intake of breath. Oops. He might have brushed him there. “Shower. Wet skin. Me steaming from the fight. What’s up, coach?”

“Go.” Les shoved him away, took the towel from his grip, and swatted him on the arse with it. “Get showered, Romeo.”

“And no wanking. Understood.” Brooklyn headed off, noticing, as always, the bars fastened to the window in the shabby little group shower. No group here. He wondered for a moment about his opponent, but he assumed a shower was the least of the guy’s problems.

Gym shower, not much different from the one in the place he’d begun boxing as a freeman. The gym he belonged to now was south of the river and nestled in the arches of a Victorian brick bridge that had trains rumble over it every fifteen minutes.

Footballers got the nice locations. Boxers fought amidst crates in the yard behind a supermarket in the nasty part of London if need be.

Les opened the door and dropped off a pair of jeans and a shirt, no shorts, as he wouldn’t need them. Socks, trainers, and a hooded sweatshirt to keep his body warm. Brooklyn towelled himself down and assumed his “date” liked the thug look.

“Well, beats moo-ing to turn them on,” he muttered and dressed. He stood in front of the mirror for a few moments, then pulled the hood up and lifted his hands, lightly curled into fists. Yeah, like a Lonsdale ad.

He lowered his hands when the doctor came in for a quick check, asking him if he felt all right, not dizzy, and peering into his eyes with a penlight. All routine. Health check before and after the fight, and constant monitoring in between.

“Car’s waiting,” Les said, opening the door. “You ready?”

“Got something to eat?”

Les offered him a protein bar and led him out, hand between his shoulder blades. For “not interested,” Les did touch him an awful lot. Those hands had been everywhere on his body but where he wanted them, and Les never batted an eyelid.

“What about Cash?”

“Schmoozing the contacts, arranging the next fights.”

Which tended to involve expensive clubs and lots of booze. Being a promoter certainly had its perks. “Tell me he’s talking to the editor-in-chief of Boxing Weekly?”

Les laughed. “I’ll mention it to him. Thought you don’t like the media?”

“They can suck my dick, but they can also get me a title fight,” Brooklyn said just as they were passing Curtis, who joined them. Sadistic bastard wore his wraparound sunglasses even indoors. Brooklyn had once mentioned it made him look like a twat and received Curtis’s tonfa to both kidneys, hard enough that he’d pissed blood for five days. Taught him not to flirt with the guard, as Les had called it.

He got in the car between Les and Curtis and peered out the window as the car zipped through the streets, going east.

“So what’s my gig?”

Les hesitated, and Brooklyn wondered if it was because he disapproved or because he was trying to sell it to him. “She’s one of those who likes it really rough.”

“I’m not trained to dominate. You know that.”

“But you can rape the bitch, can’t you, slave?” Curtis turned his face, and his lips barely moved as he spoke. “Rip her clothes, tie her up, fuck her in every hole, call her ‘whore,’ and she’ll get off on it.”

Brooklyn glanced at Les. His trainer shrugged. “That’s about the extent of it.”

Thug kink, indeed. He could do that. After a fight, he was capable of just about anything. Not that he had much of a choice. The lady had paid for it, management had accepted, and he’d do what he’d been ordered to do. Rough sex would definitely scratch the itch.

It didn’t even matter if she was attractive. His standards, never the most refined, had adjusted to his new status these past two years. Alcohol used to get him in trouble during his misspent youth, when just about any hole would do, but these days he did what he was ordered to. The fact that there were no alternatives helped. It was either his hand or somebody who paid for the pleasure.

The car stopped outside a dingy hotel in East London. Not quite an area of burning rubbish bins, but close enough. There were no women out, and the few men cast furtive glances at the traffic, like they were keeping watch just before trouble went down. It made Brooklyn’s fingers itch.

Curtis opened the door and followed Brooklyn into the hotel. Les stayed in the car. A huge guy behind the desk merely glanced up as they walked into the foyer.

“We’re on honeymoon,” Brooklyn began, just to get a rise out of Curtis, but the big guy behind the counter just said, “Room 202,” and turned his head back towards the TV.

“You gonna watch?”

“Want me to?” Curtis asked, blank-faced. “Can’t get it up otherwise?”

“If she’s into that?”

“My dick’s not for sale.” Curtis knocked on a door marked “2 2.” “Ma’am. Your delivery. Call me if you need anything else.”

The door opened. The woman behind was pretty, maybe in her thirties, statuesque in high heels, a knee-length grey skirt, and a silk blouse. She looked up into Brooklyn’s eyes and, with a smoky voice, said, “He’ll do nicely.”

# # #

Brooklyn picked up the pace once they were farther into Hyde Park and out of the throng of Japanese tourists. God alone knew what they were looking for. The statues? Or just to tick a box on their I Was Here list before they hit London? Yes, by all means, but at seven in the morning on a Sunday?

Les’s steps were synchronised with his, but Les carried a good thirty pounds less weight. On the other hand, he was almost twenty years older. That had to count for something too.

“You going to talk about it or not?” Les matched his new speed without any problems. Racing ahead was not a good idea. Curtis had set up his slave bracelets to shock him stupid if he moved farther than fifty metres from Les. Brooklyn had once tried to find where the sender was that triggered the shock, but it could be anywhere. It could even be a chip in Les’s wallet.

That wasn’t something anybody would let a slave know, and with good reason. Brooklyn had tested his limits extensively when he first became a slave. He’d found out the hard way how much electroshocks hurt.

“Talk about what?”

“Last night?”

“I could have killed him.”

Les scoffed. “You know what I mean. About the woman.”

“What? You now reporting to management on whether I hit my performance goal? If you need to fill in a customer satisfaction report, give her a call.”

“Brook.” Brooklyn fucking hated it when Les used his “we’re friends here” voice. It was worse than the “you can trust me” voice. “You’re not talking to anybody else. If you want to talk about it . . .”

“I don’t.” Brooklyn glanced to the side. “I’m not talking because I don’t want to.”

Les didn’t say anything for a mile or so. Brooklyn began to hope his coach had dropped the issue, and ideally, the whole conversation. He was still choking on it all—not on the woman, more the circumstances and all the rest—and he needed his breath. He couldn’t get too emotional while he was running. Anger would just burn him out faster, and pacing was important. He needed to last longer than one circuit.

“Why do you want to know, anyway?”

“I need to know how it affects your performance when they send you out. Can’t have you distracted from your training. Like you are now.”

“The fuck I am.” He had to remind himself to not run faster, stay where he was, and that grated. He wanted to run, to race as fast as he could. At least get to the point where Les had no breath left to level accusations against him. “I guess it’s a nice chunk of money. How much is slave dick worth?”

“I wasn’t there when they negotiated that,” Les said, as if that explained anything. Or made him less complicit. Les wasn’t one of the guys; he wasn’t a slave, for one, and he was employed by the management. Which made him just as complicit as Curtis or a pair of fucking shock bracelets. But Brooklyn had learnt to keep those thoughts to himself too. The hard way.

“Listen, if it doesn’t serve as a vent, I can recommend they put a stop to it.”

“Vent?” Brooklyn almost laughed. “No, whatever. Prefer that way to getting fucked up the arse.”

“Jesus, Brook.”

“What? You think there’s a freeman out there who will let me top him? Maybe. But he hasn’t plunked down the cash for it yet. Tends to be wankers who get off on topping somebody like me. Somebody strong.”

“And that you are,” Les said, almost under his breath.

Those words deflated the anger, turned it into cold, bitter spikes sitting low in his guts, a feeling like tears tightening his lungs. He felt almost like crying, just from those words, out of nowhere. Unsettled, a low blow to a part of him he thought he hadn’t exposed. A weakness he thought he’d covered well. And fuck Les for finding that weakness.

Hold me down, babe. Love me rough.

Anything but thinking of his wife.

“We should be lovers,” Brooklyn said, grinning when his coach groaned. “We already quarrel all the time.”

“It’s banter.” Les touched him on the shoulder—fucking again—and dropped onto his hands and feet to put in a few push-ups. “Gimme fifty, champ.”

# # #

Brooklyn was doing some light bag work late one Monday morning when he noticed one of his fellow slaves had stopped his rope-skipping. He paused to reach for his water bottle and half turned when the front door opened.

Suits. Here, they stood out like accountants in the jungle. A tax raid? That would just be too ironic, but he really couldn’t afford to hope for the worst. Slaves tended to be the first things sold when somebody hadn’t paid their taxes or couldn’t afford some fine or other. They were the most movable of assets.

Les led the suits to the side of the ring, explained something about the sparring going on there.

Visitors? Prospective buyers? Why was Les doing that and not Cash? He was the money man, after all.

“Oi, I believe you’re here to work, slave.” Curtis drew close, hand on his tonfa.

“Wanna hold the bag?”

“Fuck you.” Curtis pulled the tonfa and took the short grip, the length of the weapon protecting his lower arm, with plenty of wood sticking out to allow him some nasty punches. Fuck him.

Brooklyn kept one eye on the guard and returned to working the bag, imagining it was Curtis’s bulk he was punching, which focused him enough to ignore the visitors.

The worry returned when Les approached him a little later. The suits had to have left, because Les took the pads and made Brooklyn punch them, calling out what he wanted to see. Uppercut, cross, punch, hook. Stay light on your feet, even though you’re a heavyweight. A familiar litany of training for which Brooklyn fell too easily, punching the pads like it was required, as if he believed in it too. Les would give him some chore or other if he didn’t think Brooklyn’s heart was all in it.

“Who were they?”

“None of your business,” Les said with half a smirk.

That was even more suspicious. “Management?”

His owners—the owners of everybody here—were only ever referred to as “management,” and Brooklyn knew almost nothing about them. The only thing he did know: there were several. Les could be one of them, but his coach had never struck him as a man who was secretly rich enough to own high-end slaves. He’d asked him once, though, back when he’d hated everybody who was still free. “No, I bought a house instead,” Les had said. And that was that.

Les paused. “Why are you asking?”

“Rare enough that anybody wears anything much here, but suits? With ties? Don’t look like traders who want to pretend they’re real men. And, err, women.”

Les snorted. “No, the stock market’s still open.” He glanced around and lifted the pads. “Stop thinking about it. Won’t affect you.”

Brooklyn gritted his teeth and went back to working the pads, taking pleasure from every time he managed to make Les take a half step back after an especially good punch. Technique was crucial, getting his whole leg and core strength and body weight behind every move. He felt the response feed back into his own body when the punch was on target. When it wasn’t, he didn’t feel much of anything.

After the session, he showered and grabbed some food in the communal hall. The usual diet of roasted chicken breast, salad, and complex carbs. At least they fed them well. It still didn’t sell him on the whole slavery thing, though. He knew all the usual stories—that slaves couldn’t look after themselves, as if they lacked opposable thumbs and couldn’t toss a plastic tray into a microwave and remember to press the Cook button.

Another training unit, this time with a long cool-down period of light skipping and stretching. More food in the evening, and then most of the other slaves gathered around the TV to watch the Sports Channel. Boxing time.

Brooklyn was on the way to the sleeping quarters in the back but paused when he heard the TV mention Dragan “the Destroyer” Thorne: Serbian-American heavyweight champion, six foot five of muscle and attitude, current world champion. Freeborn, and what was worse, still free, even though his string of ex-wives likely wanted to see that changed.

He was a good boxer, if lumbering, like the worst of the Eastern Europeans, who mistook bulk for finesse. Didn’t matter, because he won by knockout in ninety-five percent of all his fights. Who needed to win by carefully shoring up points if you could just send your opponent to the mat?

Brooklyn remembered the fight when Thorne’d taken the championship off Darius Smith. From the safety of his couch, cool beer in his hand, he’d been in turns fascinated and horrified that Smith’s coach hadn’t thrown in the towel.

Hell, Thorne was partly to blame that Brooklyn had gained enough weight to qualify as a proper heavyweight, even if that had involved hundreds of litres of foul protein shakes and mind-numbing amounts of time in the gym. He’d had a goal.

Going pro was probably the only thing that had kept him sane after the trial. With everything else cut from his life—family, house, job, friends, nights down at the pub—all that remained was boxing. Ironic that, with all distractions amputated, he’d become a pretty good boxer. Better than he’d ever been as a free amateur. It was the only thing between him and despair.

He paused long enough to listen to Thorne’s opponent—a regional hotspur Brooklyn had never heard about—declare the fight would be even. Brooklyn didn’t believe it for a moment, but at the very least, the kid would get a nice payout for all the pain he’d have to go through.

Unlike him. All the money went back to the management, paying for his upkeep and most likely the acquisition of additional slaves to replace those that got too old or hit too often in the head.

“What do you think of the young contender, Dragan?” the interviewer asked on screen.

“He’ll look good on the posters—at least until after the fight.”

Brooklyn grinned to himself, but deeper inside, a gnawing ache opened in his guts. It was a stupid idea, an even stupider hope. He couldn’t fight the Destroyer. Thorne was a freeman. He chose his women, his men, or whatever else he was fucking. He didn’t wear shock bracelets when he trained. He could travel. Fuck, he could even rent a fucking car and sign his own contracts.

Unless Brooklyn found a way to be free again, he’d never fight the real champion. Because who gave a fuck about the champion in the slave leagues? Freemen would always—always—only admire one of their own. Even if he became the best boxer in the world, the lowliest freeman was still better than him everywhere that counted.

Round 2

Brooklyn was well into the first training session of the day when he spotted Les with a guest. Two guests, actually—the woman trailed farther behind, looking around like she’d never seen a boxing gym. Brooklyn pretended he hadn’t seen them and kept working with Stu, hitting the body armour with enough force to keep Stu at a distance. Nothing that went on outside the ring was of any interest to him. He shouldn’t care. Shouldn’t ask questions.

“Brook!”

Brooklyn added a couple more punches before turning to acknowledge his trainer, who was speaking in hushed tones to the two strangers. Brooklyn walked to the ropes and followed the gestured command to step out of the ring.

“That’s Brooklyn. Our great new hope.” How Les managed to say that without sounding completely stupid was a mystery.

“Hi, Brooklyn.” The guy offered a hand and then withdrew it when Brooklyn lifted his gloves. Besides, nobody shook his hands these days, anyway. It wasn’t done with a slave, like the bracelets were contagious.

“Hey.” Brooklyn glanced to Les.

“Brook, this is Steven and Catherine from Sublime.”

“Nightclub?”

“Magazine,” Catherine corrected. “We’re journalists.”

Brooklyn cast a longer glance at Les, but his trainer only smiled.

“Right.” He wiped his forehead on his arm.

“They’re here to do a feature on you.”

“Right.” Sublime? What the fuck was that? He knew Sports Illustrated, Boxing Week, even the semi-pornographic Apex Fighters—featuring “the hardest men and women on the planet,” usually in a state of undress.

“Are you aware of Sublime?” Catherine asked.

“Err, refresh my memory.”

“Do you know Cosmopolitan?”

“Yeah, the drink and the mag.”

“We’re like the Cosmo for slaves.”

Brooklyn almost laughed. Extremely expensive cosmetics and clothes for people who couldn’t even have a bank account, never mind an overdraft. But the hacks’ eager, open faces told him they meant it. He cast another glance at Les. “So what am I supposed to do?”

“Relax and do what they tell you.” Les patted him on the shoulder. A-fucking-gain. “Management will vet what he’s saying, though.”

“Of course, Mr. Flackett,” Catherine said. “We’ll submit the first draft for review next week, which gives you two weeks for quote and fact check.”

“That should be fine.” Les nodded towards Curtis, who stood at his side, legs braced, arms crossed. “If you need any assistance, Miller over there will be happy to help.”

Well, happy only if it involved his fucking tonfa.

“I think we’ll start with the location. This is a very atmospheric place.” Catherine was already reaching for the big camera bag slung over her shoulder.

Steven looked around with clever, perceptive eyes, pausing on a pink-splattered white towel lying on the ground near the ring. Those eyes were a different kind of camera, and Brooklyn felt weird when they rested on him. What did he see? A brute? A slave? A fellow human? A fighter?

“We’ll start with a few questions to warm up.”

Brooklyn exhaled deeply and rolled his shoulders. “Why not.”

“When did you get the bracelets?”

“Twenty-two months ago.”

Steven exchanged a glance with Catherine, but it was hard to read. Pity? Surprise? Brooklyn opened the straps of his training gloves and pulled them off, setting them down ringside.

“Mr. Flackett mentioned you weren’t born a slave, but that’s very recent.”

“Is that good or bad?”

“What happened?”

Brooklyn gritted his teeth. “I was convicted.”

Steven glanced up, a hint of alarm and excitement in his brown eyes. “Violent crime?”

There were several answers to this, but only one would titillate the readers. Plus, if anybody bothered to look him up, it would be all over the net, anyway. “Yeah.”

“How do you feel about your crime now?”

Brooklyn grimaced. He couldn’t help it. At least the other people in the gym left him alone. Nobody asked about his past, normally. And if they did ask, he fed them the bare minimum. Convict. Violent crime. Fucked if I care.

But he did care. Cared a great deal about a head and face covered in blood. Legs on the ground that kicked, uncoordinated, like those of a dog in its sleep. “You call that a warm-up?”

“Just answer the question.”

“I’m sorry it happened.” He rubbed his wrists, too aware of the brushed steel bracelets only half-covered by the red cotton bandages stabilising his hands. How long would it take to no longer think about them as anything special? As a kid, he’d been excited about his first wristwatch, but eventually, it had become natural. Putting it on and taking it off had warranted no real thought. But the bracelets still sat like a bullet in his flesh. There was no way he’d ever get used to that.

He heard a soft sound and glanced to the side, noticing Catherine’s enormous camera erection pointed his way. Anger rose immediately, leapt to the fore of his brain, and if he were free, he’d have asked her what the fuck she thought she was doing.

Instead, more photos. She was cold-blooded to pull the trigger again.

He turned to face Steven. “Show me a halfway decent human being who doesn’t have regrets.”

“That’s a good line. I’ll be using that,” Steven said.

“You’re welcome.” Not like he could stop them. Restlessly, he tapped the gloves together. “Want to see some training?”

Catherine lowered the camera. “I’d like to see what you usually do. Talk us through it.”

That was easy enough. He could fall back into his routine and just be watched, answer questions, like he would explain stuff to a rookie. He put on his gloves.

Once he’d worked up a sweat, the anger receded, became a dull sensation deep in his belly rather than something tightening his throat. He was good at this. He liked showing off and made Steven hold the bag for him, grinning to himself when the journalist had to take a half step back every time he put all his weight behind a punch.

“Tighten your abs, mate.”

“What abs?” Steven huffed back, but leaned into the punches long enough to make this part somewhat worthwhile.

“Wow, and I thought it looked easy on TV,” he said after Brooklyn was done.

“You mean taking punches?” Brooklyn grinned. “No, it’s not, but you get to the point where you’re used to it.”

“Uh-huh.” Steven nodded to Catherine. “Any other suggestions?”

“I’d like some photos of him sparring.”

Brooklyn nodded. “We can do a short one. I was working with Stu. The guy over there.”

“Can he lose the T-shirt?”

“Sure.” Brooklyn climbed back into the ring and motioned Stu over. “Lose the shirt; we have guests.”

Stu grinned. “Gloves off too?”

Catherine climbed into the ring. “May I?” She pulled the T-shirt from Stu’s body and placed it gingerly over the ropes. Considering that Stu was an enormous heavyweight, black as the night, and scarred to hell, Brooklyn did admire her cool. Then again, Curtis would be on them like a rottweiler if anybody dared to so much as wolf whistle at her. And for all his appearance, Stu was a kind soul. Born into slavery and never even considered rebellion, just like all the other slave-born boxers who seemed to prefer a career in boxing to a “proper job.”

Brooklyn lifted his gloved fists to protect the sides of his face, and squared up with Stu. They knew each other well enough to sense when the other was ready.

It wasn’t much more than a light bout, a few solid punches to the sides and chest, but Stu was holding back. Allowing him to look good in front of the camera? Brooklyn was about to try to lure him out when Catherine told them to stop.

Brooklyn stepped away and left the ring.

“I think I want to be at your next fight,” she said. “So Steven can get the atmosphere.”

“Cash can arrange backstage passes. Can I take the gloves off?”

“Sure.”

He pulled them off but left the bandages on.

“Can you show us your quarters?”

“Yeah. This way.”

The communal sleeping hall wasn’t much to look at with its single metal beds, hard and thin mattresses, and grey blankets. But compared to prison, this was still luxury—a converted Victorian-era rail carriage storage building, Les had explained once, which accounted for the high ceiling and vaulted brick structure.

“Lie down on the bed, on your front, leaning on your elbows.”

He followed the order, let her take more photos of him on the bed. Then on his back, gazing up to the ceiling, thinking nothing (harder than she could know). She had him pull down his shorts to bare more of his six-pack and show off the lines of his Apollo’s belt.

“Now shower.”

Brooklyn obeyed, undressed in front of the camera, reminding himself he’d done worse for money. And he was in peak shape. Currently at his fighting weight, ribbed and defined, and he knew that was part of his “popularity.” He was easy on the eye.

Don’t let them break your pretty face, baby.

He ignored the camera, didn’t look in Catherine’s direction, merely unwrapped the bandages and undressed before stepping under the shower. He picked up the soap and began washing.

“You think you could get a little bit hard?”

“Are you going to put me in the classifieds?” But he reached down and began to stroke himself. It was too bloody easy, even with witnesses, even with the camera. Compared to how much he’d got laid as a freeman, he was on a sexual starvation diet now. If they didn’t whore him out, a quick handjob was all he could manage, every now and then.

Guards watched the room at night to make sure there was no “funny stuff” going on, and Brooklyn was still too proud to openly break those rules. It was difficult at times. Les told him he’d need the aggression and testosterone to fight, and it worked, so he shouldn’t complain.

He stopped when she was done, towelled himself dry, and sat down on a wooden bench for more photos. Sitting boxer in terry robe, holding a pair of battered gloves.

“If you had one wish, one opponent you’d want to fight, who would that be?”

Two very different questions. But Steven didn’t expect to hear that he wanted to go home, that he wanted his life and freedom back. The thought hurt. “Dragan Thorne. But he, like all freemen, is a pussy, and doesn’t fight slaves. I think freemen are afraid of us and won’t fight us like men because they’re afraid we’ll show them we are men and pound-for-pound as good as they are.”

Steven looked up. “Isn’t that a dangerous thing to say?”

“You tell me.” Brooklyn leaned forwards. “See anything I can lose now? I mean, anything at all?”

“Your life?”

“I’m worth too much money.” Brooklyn laughed, but it was a bitter, choked sound. “Yeah, there’s that. They could send me to the army. But the army pays a fixed sum, and I’m worth a lot more than that. And as long as I play ball, I’m not going to Afghanistan.”

“Where will your career take you?”

“I’ll be the slave heavyweight champion before the year’s up.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. There aren’t many of my calibre around. Heavyweight is where the glory and the money is, but there’s no Muhammad Ali, Foreman, or Frazier around that I can see. Even Dragan Thorne wouldn’t stand a chance against one of the greats. He’s a lumbering idiot who’s more interested in getting big sponsorship deals than learning how to fucking move in the ring. He’s only looking so good because they’re booking him easy fights with men that think half an hour in the limelight will make them famous—before they go down. Playing tomato can is the easy road for any boxer, but it also means he’s desperately mediocre.”

Steven’s eyes shone with delight, as if the hack had never heard a boxer trash talk. Catherine screwed the lens off her camera and began to pack.

Brooklyn chuckled. “Was it good for you?”

Steven gave him a wide grin, rather more smitten than Brooklyn thought was strictly necessary. The guy was like a puppy wagging its tail. “I really want to see you fight.”

“Come on Saturday.” Brooklyn stood and walked them to the door. “Cash’s your man. He’s doing the promotion. He’ll be happy to help.”

Listen to you, Brooklyn, sounding like a cheap phone salesman.

# # #

“Brook, my man, how you doing?” Cash fist-bumped Brooklyn’s glove after the fight and turned to walk up the aisle with him, the crowd cheering left and right. Moving down the aisle in the other direction—towards the ring—was always one of the scariest things Brooklyn could imagine. He still felt like he was going to throw up, even after all this time, but that was just nerves. Once the fight started and the world became as small as the ring, the crowd was gone, and he grew calm.

“Pretty good.”

“I can see that!” Cash was a ball of glee, dark face lit with pride. Brooklyn shortened his stride so Cash could keep up. He wasn’t sure what was wrong with the promoter’s hip, but walking looked painful when Cash did it.

“Man, you’re my favourite southpaw, ever.” Cash turned to the crowd. “Yeah, scream your heads off, ladies, but he’s going home with me tonight.”

Brooklyn pursed his lips to keep from laughing. Cash’s ego and sunny disposition, bottled, would make the world a much brighter place. “You ditching Marina? Really? I’m flattered.”

The doors closed behind them, and the crowd’s roar became the hum of an angry but distant beehive. The raw concrete walls sobered Brooklyn, but he was content to bask in the glow of Cash’s attention. The promoter had a way of making anybody feel good.

“Get cleaned up, my boy, I’ll just say good-bye to the journalists. Be back with you in five.” That translated into twenty minutes.

Les waved him off. “I’ll take care of Brook in the meantime.”

“Great. Won’t be long.” Cash rushed off, his wobbling gait unstable and laboured, but almost nothing slowed Cash down.

Brooklyn headed to the changing room and undressed, his muscles still vibrating from the strain, blood rushing and pounding. A KO made him feel like a god. Concerns over his opponent’s well-being only ever happened the next day, when that adrenaline burn was gone. He could have torn down walls, punched over trees. He could do anything. For a little while, he could almost kid himself he was free again. Of course, actually being free had never felt like anything special.

“That was great work, Brook. Glenn was outclassed. What the hell was Cash thinking? That fight was almost too easy for you.”

“I doubt anybody could have seen that.” Brooklyn unwrapped the bandages and flexed his hands. His knuckles were red, abraded from the bandages. “He was a damn good boxer three years ago. He’s done.”

“Yeah. Shit, there goes the old guard.” Les shook his head.

“Doesn’t matter. The new guard isn’t any worse.” Brooklyn glanced up. “Or do you think so?”

“No, you’re a fine boxer, Brook. But I remember when Glenn was truly great.”

“Me too. So what?”

“Just feeling my age, I guess.” Les smiled at him and touched him on the shoulder.

“Fuck, Les, if you keep touching me, you could at least follow through with all those promises.”

Les stared at him, his grip tightening. There was something else in his eyes. Desire? Brooklyn was pretty sure Les wanted him, and he wouldn’t have minded. Here was one guy he trusted, one who probably, mostly, understood what it was like, a man he spent more time with than he’d ever spent with Shelley. If Les made a move, he wouldn’t say no.

“That would be wrong, Brook.”

“Fucking slavery is wrong.” Brooklyn grinned. “Two wrongs make a right, eh?”

“I’m your trainer.”

“If I were free, it wouldn’t matter, would it?”

“No. Maybe. I don’t know.” Les dropped his hand, where it hung as if Les tried to forget he had it. “I can’t do what I’m doing if I’m sleeping with you.”

“Nobody has to ‘sleep.’ We could just fuck.”

Les groaned.

How would that sound when it came from pleasure?

Brooklyn stood and opened his arms a bit, offering. “Just say the word, coach. I’d be all yours.”

“Go. Shower.” Les was probably trying for serious, but all he appeared was exasperated. His phone rang, and he fished it from his pocket. The way he straightened a little and sobered—management call?

Brooklyn lingered to find a towel.

“Yes, sir, he’s here. I guess you saw the fight. No, he’s all right. Got a few bad ones in the jaw, but he’s lippy all the same. Nothing broken or even rattled. Yes, sir, I guarantee that.”

Les shooed him towards the shower. “Just a moment, sir.” He looked up. “Shower, Brook. The car’ll be outside in twenty. Yes, I’m back. Sorry, sir.”

Brooklyn headed off into the shower, still able to hear the mumble of Les’s voice through the spray, but then he ducked his head under and washed. What could he learn, anyway? Les wouldn’t speak openly. The business side of things was always tucked away. For all intents and purposes, it didn’t concern him. Even though, of course, it did.

His knuckles hurt under the hot water, and he took care to not get the soap on them. He’d beaten Glenn stupid. The old man had offered him too many openings to the face and jaw. Punches to the body were draining and hurt like motherfuckers when he managed to get the short ribs or the liver, but punches to the head disorientated and addled. What he hit in the end didn’t matter. Whatever was sticking out of the guard, he’d laid into it with everything he had.

He turned the water off, shook the drops from his eyes, and reached for the towel. A quick rubdown and a very careful pat dry of his hands, and he wandered out again. He got dressed—faded jeans, socks, trainers, a sports top, and a hoodie to keep him warm. While the doctor checked Brooklyn, Les was texting on his phone.

“What was that about?”

“Management got an offer for you.”

“What kind of offer?”

“Somebody wants to buy you.” Les looked at him for a long moment, long enough for the doctor to leave. “I advised against it. Apparently the offer was so high that they asked me for my opinion.”

“What did you say?”

“I said you’ll be worth twenty times that when you’re the slave world champion. That you’re just getting started and that they’d be stupid to sell you right now. Nobody sells a horse before the Grand National.”

Wow, talk about a bucket of ice water. “I’m not a horse.”

“No. You’re an athlete. A fighter. But I had to tell it to them in a way they’d understand.” Les slipped the phone back into his trouser pocket. “I know you’re about ready to do it. You’re a fine boxer. You’ll be great if you don’t fall apart before you get the title.”

Brooklyn laughed, but it sounded bitter even to his ears. “Like I’m doing it for them.”

“No, you do it because you have the heart of a warrior. You’re hungry. For justice, for freedom, maybe even for death. But you want to die on your feet, fighting. Right?”

Gooseflesh all over his body, even on his dick. Fucking Les would be a terrible idea. The man knew him too damned well. “You been writing the screenplay, huh? Nice tagline. Do you have something to eat?”

Les tossed him a protein bar and a water bottle. “And you have an appointment later.”

“Management’s certainly getting their money’s worth from this horse.” Brooklyn chewed, the sickly sweetness just perfect after the sweat and adrenaline. “You think they’ll turn me into a full-time breeding stallion if I really do become champion?”

“Not sure they want your genes all over the slave population. People tend to like their slaves more docile than that.”

The door burst open. “Brook. My boy.”

“Hey, Cash.” Brooklyn smiled and found it wasn’t hard at all. “Tell me you got Thorne booked for me.”

Cash’s face fell. “There’s a fight I’d pay to see.” With all the free tickets he got, that was saying something. “Maybe we’ll have a chance if Thorne gets turned into a slave.”

“Yeah, right after the moon crashes to earth.” Brooklyn started on the next protein bar. “Well, some guys dream of banging Katie Price. I just want to bang on Thorne a little.” He shrugged. “We all need our dreams.”

“Well. Keep dreaming, my boy. Guess who I talked to just before your fight?”

“Not a mind reader yet.”

“Try.”

“The mayor of London?”

“Richard Bells.”

“And?”

“Dick Bells? Nice one,” Les said. “Brook, he’s Odysseus Xarchakos’s promoter. And he owns Florian Esch too.”

“Can I fight them both?”

“You can have the German. In two months.”

“Where?”

“In Hamburg. You’ll have to fight the crowd too. Esch is a local hero.”

“We’ll just need to give you a bombastic instrumental song by Vangelis, and you’ll take the Germans by storm,” Les sneered.

“I thought the way to do it is to say, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner,’” Brooklyn said. “Cash, if you score me the Greek, I’ll come in my pants. Just saying.”

“It’s not impossible. Dick’s interested, but he’s above all interested in cold, hard cash.”

“You think he’d buy Brook?”

“Possibly. I think he’s giving us Esch to see if Brook has star qualities. He’ll keep the Greek back for the moment. He’s a poker player; he’s teasing, but he’s very much on the ball. Brook, pretty sure you can have them both if the fight against Esch makes good money. We’ve been working hard to get your brand out, and we’ll have to do more ads and posters on the underground to step it up, see how ticket sales are looking. If we can fill a large enough venue, you’ll get the Greek.”

“Wembley, here I come.”

Cash grinned. “That’s my boy. I’ll make some phone calls.” He rushed out again.

Les glanced at his mobile. “Car’s waiting.” He grabbed the bag and slung it over his shoulder. Brooklyn walked at his side.

When the security guys opened the door, however, there was a crowd outside. It felt like walking to the ring all over again, and Brooklyn paused, suddenly showered with lightning from cameras and mobile phones. He couldn’t help but look at them: girls, boys, women, men. Between them, somewhere, he caught a flushed face with a taut ponytail. He blinked and pushed forwards, Les right next to him. Where was she? Gone. Missed. He wanted to wade in after her, make sure she wasn’t an apparition, but he really couldn’t tell her apart from the rest of the mob. The car was just a few steps away, and he almost dove in.

“What’s wrong?”

“Saw somebody I know. Thought I’d seen her. But I was wrong.” What would Shelley be doing here, waiting outside for him? That wasn’t like her. And why would she have changed her mind? “Just get me to my paying customer.” Brooklyn leaned back and shook his head, while the car weaved into the London evening traffic. “Any specifics?”

“It’s a guy.” Les watched him carefully, as if apologetic.

“Let’s go easy on the jogging tomorrow, then.”

Les winced. “You’re booked for the whole night. If you don’t get any sleep, we’ll cancel training. You need a rest day like anybody else.”

“Yeah.” Brooklyn closed his eyes, tried to summon what exactly he’d seen. There were many blonde women with ponytails. Oval faces. It was like being back on square one, getting jolted every time he saw somebody of similar height and build in a crowd. There had to be half a million people like her in London alone. He’d run after one of them, two years ago. Not only had he been shocked—and shocked badly—in public out on the street, but when she’d turned to cast a glance at the convulsing slave, it hadn’t been Shelley at all. Like some kind of nightmare where people shape-shifted from one moment to the next. He could have sworn it was her.

Curtis opened the door. “Let’s go, slave.”

Brooklyn opened his eyes. “Sure.”

They were outside the Diamond. Nice hotel that boasted a selection of pop stars at any given time. Brooklyn had rarely felt more underdressed, and while the receptionist kept a perfectly straight face, he knew she knew why he was here. Hardly to sign autographs.

“Sapphire suite, sir.” She addressed Les. Curtis was too clearly a guard, and Brooklyn was too clearly a slave. “Take the personal elevator, number five.” She handed him a card.

Les marched ahead. The card opened the elevator. The suites were all listed. Sapphire was pretty high up, but not quite at the top.

“You think I’ll at least get breakfast here?”

Curtis shot him a dark look, and Les shrugged.

When the doors opened without a sound, Brooklyn’s stomach roiled. Yet again he was a piece of rough trade. And while he was always at least a little in control with a woman; a man was a different matter. It’s just like casual sex. A one-night stand, only, of course, nobody asked me.

The door to the suite was open, and Les stepped in, leaning forwards to look around. The faint sound of a shower from far beyond the tasteful blue-cream-white interior. “Uh. Plush.”

Brooklyn huffed. “Yeah, I’m clearly climbing the ladder.”

They walked in farther, and there was another door open to the side. Subtle invitations.

Brooklyn inhaled sharply when he saw the fully stocked playroom. “Sick bastard,” he murmured.

“Shut the fuck up, slave,” Curtis growled.

“Curtis, would you mind? Outside.” Les pointed at the door. “Everything’s under control.”

Curtis shot him a nasty look but turned on his heel.

Les waited for a few moments and then glanced at Brooklyn. “I’m sorry for that.”

“What? This isn’t the first time they’ve done kinky shit to me.”

Brooklyn pulled off the hoodie and pushed it against Les’s chest. He swallowed, feeling more nervous than he’d let on. “I prefer being tied up. Keeps me from breaking the bastard’s neck.”

He shed the shirt, the shoes, and then the trousers and underwear. There were two kinds of restraints in the room. A St. Andrew’s cross and, centrepiece of the room, a pillory and stocks, all in dark wood and leather. Before anybody else could make the choice for him, he stepped towards the pillory and knelt down on it. The leather pad supported his chest, and more padding kept his knees off the parquet.

“Help me with this, Les.” Because if I can fight, I will. I’ll punch the bastard and break his neck. I’ll kill him. I swear, I’ll kill him.

“Sure, Brook.” Les knelt down at his side and closed the padded steel restraints around Brooklyn’s left wrist first. His strong hand. Then his right. And a metal ring for his neck, where it sat snugly until Les found the catch that widened it. “Y’all right?”

Brooklyn smiled, but everything in him wanted to run, bolt, fight to the death. “You sound more nervous than I am.”

“I just don’t like it,” Les murmured.

“My legs next.”

“It has a spreader bar.”

“Yeah. Better spread them wide.” Because that’ll help. It will limit what I can do to defend myself. Goose bumps ran across his body when Les fastened the cuff around his ankle. And, way, way apart, the other. Brooklyn tensed in the restraints, once and then again, with all the strength he had. But it was solid hardwood, something like teak, probably. It didn’t even budge.

“If you want to be extra good to me, some oil would be great.”

“Oil?”

“My arse.”

“He won’t . . .”

“He might not, but I’m taking no risk.”

“I can’t do that, Brook. Jesus. I can’t.”

Brooklyn shrugged. “It’s okay.” He closed his eyes and forced himself to relax. There was no point being tense. He couldn’t escape. He didn’t have that choice. He’d learned he wasn’t allowed to fight. The guard at the slave auction had made that clear: If you bite, I’ll smack you so hard in the mouth you’ll never bite anything again.

A forced blowjob wasn’t forced when it was a slave who gave it. There were guards who considered those a perk of the job. And compared to having to suck off a dozen guards a day, getting fucked up the arse twice a week or thereabouts wasn’t so bad.

“I’ll pick you up in the morning, okay?”

“Yeah.” Brooklyn listened to Les’s steps on the way out and kept his gaze on the cuffs around his wrists, the links of metal chain. The pattern of the parquet.

From winning in the ring to this in the span of less than an hour.

A piece of furniture that could talk back.

The guy who’d bought his services for the night still didn’t show up. Brooklyn refused to picture him, but in his experience, they weren’t people he’d look at twice when sober. Too bad handing him over piss-drunk wouldn’t work.

Finally, the door opened. Soft footfalls. Barefooted. Brooklyn realised his hands had clenched, but he couldn’t get them to relax. Would the guy simply come over and fuck him? Or shove his cock down his throat? Well, at least he was thoroughly showered.

“Brooklyn Marshall.”

Brooklyn turned his head. He saw naked legs and a dark-blue bathrobe, and then twisted his neck farther. Not fat, not old. The man was average looking, dark hair curling wet at his neck. Midthirties. Banker or trader, most likely.

“And you are?”

“Nathaniel.”

“Isn’t that some kind of demon in the Bible?” Brooklyn grinned.

“And you—part of New York City?” Nathaniel stepped closer. “No, not a demon. At least, I don’t think so.”

The accent was from somewhere in London. So he might not be a trader at all. No Essex boy. “My parents got pissed in New York and ended up fucking in Brooklyn. My mother thought that was a cracking name.” Why are you telling him that? Winning time? Winning time.

“You look just as big as on TV. Larger than life.”

Brooklyn laughed. “Skip the roses and chocolates. Fuck me already.”

Nathaniel paused, and then walked from the left to the right. He reached out and touched Brooklyn’s neck just under the steel ring, stroking down and to the side. Tracing lines of muscle and sinew. “I have the night.”

Yeah, he had. Brooklyn resisted rattling the chains again. It would only give away his frustration and anger.

The fingers trailed down his spine, pressure strong enough that Brooklyn felt his own vertebrae. They went slowly deeper and farther, into the hollow before his arse, where the hand rested for a moment.

Nathaniel stood close enough that Brooklyn smelled his citrusy shower gel. It might end up not being too bad, all told. Apart from the freakish little detail that Nathaniel knew his—previous—name.

“Simply beautiful. You work very hard, and it shows.”

Brooklyn didn’t dare hope that all the man wanted was to touch him a little. “You’re a fan of boxing?”

“Very casually. I watch a fight every now and then, but you’re starting to change that.” Those hands slid along his hips now, thumbs digging into his glutes. Then the right hand glided to the underside of Brooklyn’s body and took hold of his cock. Brooklyn jerked so hard in the restraints it hurt. Not a good start. Shit, he wished Nathaniel would keep making small talk.

After a few touches there, probably to see if he reacted, the hand moved on to his balls, weighing and stroking them.

“You going to tell me you’re my biggest fan?”

“No.” Nathaniel withdrew his hands. “But if you’ll forgive me, I’ve wanted to do this for weeks.”

“Sure. Be my guest.” Oh hell, this was weird. Brooklyn couldn’t read the man, just felt unease creep all over him. It wasn’t a threat but certainly something he couldn’t gauge. What did the man want? Brooklyn moaning his name? He could probably do that. He could possibly even get hard.

Brooklyn heard a tube being opened and closed; the plastic click put him into familiar territory. And indeed, one hand returned, oily, stroking his cock. Brooklyn tried to respond to it, but it had already stopped.

“Patience,” Nathaniel said. He stepped away and then dragged something over the parquet and positioned it between Brooklyn’s legs. Then something encased his cock up to his balls and groin.

It all made sense when he switched the machine on. A penis pump. The suction started gentle, and Brooklyn suddenly realised he was actually getting hard. Fuck. He arched in the pillory when the suction increased. A human mouth would have tired eventually, but the pump could go on forever. At the same time, there was nothing he could do—no friction to gain from fucking against or into anything. The pump settled in a powerful, slow rhythm, and Brooklyn gritted his teeth. This felt amazing.

Then fingers at his arse. Right. So this was all a trick to get him to enjoy getting fucked? Oiled fingers pushed into him, and holy hell, Nathaniel knew what he was doing there—fucking him with two fingers in time with the pump’s suction. Brooklyn could do nothing but surrender to the sensation, the expert touches to his prostate, the mechanical, uncompromising suction from the pump. Pointless to resist.

He was getting pretty close when Nathaniel pulled back. Now he’s going to fuck me, Brooklyn thought, grimacing against the sensation surrounding his cock. Yes, something thick and blunt pushed against his arse and then breached him: a thick head, bigger than a penis. It was also not soft, not human. Dildo? Whatever.

By now, Brooklyn was ready to accept just about anything if only the feeling persisted.

And Nathaniel used that one well too. Fucking him with deep, slow, intense strokes, pulling out every time so he felt that thick head push into him again. And again.

The tension built in his legs first and then throughout his muscles. The steel restraints became anchors he could push against that would never break, as much as he tried. He came, the sensation all-encompassing, from his sweaty skin to his taut balls.

Thankfully, Nathaniel immediately stopped the pump and removed the plastic cylinder.

Brooklyn caught a glance of a polished steel dildo in the man’s hand but was too much at peace in the comedown to comment on it. He relaxed into the leather cushion supporting his chest. No more strain or tension. He couldn’t remember when he’d last felt this calm. If Nathaniel wanted to fuck him now, he wouldn’t mind. He wouldn’t enjoy it, but—whatever.

Instead, the man returned with a wet washcloth and cleaned him, then dried him with a towel. Almost clinical, businesslike. Certainly not like somebody who had rented a slave to let their inner freak out.

“Do you want to sleep?”

“Yeah.” Brooklyn was amazed when the steel ring around his neck was opened and removed. He surely didn’t plan to . . .

Then the cuffs around his legs. He could close his legs, and did, feeling the residue of the oil in his arse.

He could easily sleep like this, or at least rest, but that wasn’t what Nathaniel had in mind. The cuffs around his wrists came next. Nothing to hold him down but tiredness. Brooklyn glanced up to Nathaniel, but the man gave him no orders, so he stood and rolled his shoulders.

Nathaniel was about as tall as he was. Six foot one, maybe two. But Brooklyn had at least thirty-five, if not forty, pounds on him, and a much lower body fat percentage. Plus, he was a fighter, and Nathaniel clearly wasn’t. Nice dark-blue eyes, though.

“You’re not worried I might get violent?”

Nathaniel chuckled. “What would you do? Rape me? Highly unlikely.” He left the room, and Brooklyn followed him, for lack of anything better to do. He picked up his jeans and slipped into them, even though he hadn’t been given leave to get dressed. But that at least made him feel less vulnerable. More like himself.

The vast lounge had a fireplace, surrounded by glass on three sides. Lights were dimmed. An enormous LED screen was mounted on one wall, showing golf.

“Now there’s a pointless sport if I’ve ever seen one,” Brooklyn huffed and plonked down on the couch. “May I?”

Nathaniel regarded him with one ironically lifted eyebrow. “Do you want to sleep here?”

“I could.” Brooklyn sank back in the soft cushions.

“I’m like that. I sleep best with the TV still on,” Nathaniel said and motioned for Brooklyn to suit himself.

Brooklyn grabbed one of the cushions, placed it against the armrest, and stretched out, arms crossed over his chest. However, he couldn’t drift off. Despite the fact that he’d lived in communal quarters for close to two years, he still struggled to fall asleep with a stranger moving around the room. He cracked an eye open. “So what’s your plan?”

“Do some paperwork while you recover for the second round.”

Was that an attempt at boxing-speak? A pun? “Still first round for you.”

Nathaniel smiled. “No, I took care of that under the shower.”

“That’s really weird. I mean, you’re renting this place and me. And then don’t really use it. Me.”

“I got a very good deal on the suite. And I did use you. Maybe not the way you expected, but I did get my kick out of that.” Nathaniel glanced at him, mock-coyly. “Making you come, that was very sexy. But I am a believer in eating before I go out to a good restaurant so I’m not starving when I get what I’ve wanted for so long. I apologise for the food analogy.”

“Understood. You’re all about control.”

Nathaniel smiled. “No. I’m all about savouring the moment.”

“Well, I had a fight, and I’m wrung out. I’ll catch a wink or two. Wake me when you want to fuck. Don’t stick anything in my face while I’m asleep, okay?”

“Okay.” Nathaniel seemed to suppress a grin, with the sudden tightness around his lips, but his eyes gave the humour away.

from More Than a Reading Journal

]E]very single book I’ve read by this author has drawn me in and captured me, regardless of the setting or subject matter...the stories take over, the characters come alive and I can hear their dialogue in my head.

from Veronica Rundell

[K]ept me up way too late because I absolutely could not stop reading once I opened it.

from Shameless Book Club

It's one of those books you read and the outside world completely fades away. For a while you're in that world and it's frightening and exhilarating and sexy. And you don't want it to end.

from Delighted Reader

[A]nother fantastic story that gripped my interest and emotions. I would recommend it to M/M romance fans who like things on the grittier side.

from Bookaholics Not-So-Anonymous

This was a thoroughly original story that made you feel as if you were right there, seeing and feeling everything that was going on. [I]t really is fantastic read. I highly recommend it and am adding it to my list of "Best Reads of 2014".

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