The Flesh Cartel #1: Capture

The Flesh Cartel #1: Capture, by Rachel Haimowitz and Heidi Belleau

This title is #1 of the The Flesh Cartel series.

This title is part of the The Flesh Cartel, Season 1: Damnation serial. Check out the season discount!

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In this first installment of the exciting new psychosexual thriller, The Flesh Cartel, orphaned brothers Mat and Dougie Carmichael are stolen in the night from their own home. Taken to a horrifying processing facility, they are assessed, microchipped, and subjected to unspeakable brutality—all in preparation for sale to the highest bidder.

In a world where every person has a price, the beautiful and subduable PhD student Dougie is highly prized. His brother, a rough-edged MMA fighter, is less desirable—and potentially too dangerous—but he still has his own appeal.

Abused and locked up under round-the-clock surveillance, with no idea where they are or even why they’ve been taken, escape seems impossible, which leaves staying together their only hope. And after being separated once by the foster system, they'll do anything to keep it from happening again. Anything at all.

New to serial fiction? Read all about it here.

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

Please note this excerpt contains some potentially triggery material listed in the warnings.


Nikolai

Nikolai hated New York. The noise, the ostentation, the tacky boorishness of it all. But business was business, and in this business especially, rubbing elbows with the most depraved and disgusting underbelly of society was . . . a necessary evil. At least Panebianco ran one of the classier auction houses in North America. Also one of the larger ones—twelve procurement districts sold their wares here, and gods knew the Tri-State area was a haven for lost souls.

Four lost souls in particular looked promising to him on this visit.

He nodded to the doorman at the auction house and pressed his palm to the man’s handheld scanner.

“Welcome, Mr. Petrovic,” the doorman said, respectful and discreet. At his nod, the two brutes guarding the door behind him stepped aside to let Nikolai through. An usher greeted him in the antechamber with one of the Tragedy masks Panebianco preferred. Nikolai put it on and followed the usher to his seat. Prime real estate for him, as always—he wasn’t a volume bidder, but his reputation for buying top-shelf merchandise had long since earned him a seat in the front row, just five feet from the low stage.

He was early, which left time for relaxation and review. An usher brought him a glass of San Pellegrino with a straw; he always felt a bit silly drinking like that but it was the only way to manage it in the mask. After he’d taken a sip and nodded his approval, the usher handed him a bidding tablet, on which he scrolled through the four promising files again. He’d have preferred his own notes, but no outside electronics were permitted in-house, and he had everything committed to memory besides. He wouldn’t know the suitability of the lots for certain until he saw them in person, of course, but he’d been raised a cautiously hopeful man, and he chose to believe this trip wouldn’t be for nothing.

Beside him, someone else took a seat: a woman wearing a black pantsuit and an intoxicating scent. Behind her mask, her eyes were a dark, glittering black, like the ocean under a full moon. He’d never seen her face or heard her name, but he knew her figure and her perfume, and by the way she tilted her head at him, she knew him, too.

“For yourself, or a client?” she asked, making small talk as she took a glass of wine from an usher.

“Just browsing,” Nikolai lied. He’d be a fool to give a potential rival any information she might be able to use against him. Just as foolish as she was to be drinking at an auction.

“Me too,” she lied right back, and beneath her mask, he imagined her smiling. “It’s my birthday next week. To think, some single women my age buy themselves a day at the spa.”

“This is much nicer,” Nikolai agreed pleasantly, though he wished she’d stop talking. One of many reasons he so disliked traveling: the whole world seemed to share the common delusion that they were interesting.

Nikolai turned back to his tablet, and the woman seemed to take his hint. She did the same, scrolling through the offerings with as much interest as if they were appliances in a Sears catalogue, occasionally sipping her wine through its straw and somehow managing to make it look less silly than Nikolai felt. The seats around them slowly filled, ushers moving between the aisles with tablets and drinks until the house lights flashed three times and then dimmed.

The murmurs of the crowd died into rapt silence. What was being led on stage right now—that was interesting.

But only for what Nikolai could help it become.


Chapter 1

The crowd roared for blood. They’d get it, too—Mat and that little bastard Rodriguez were so evenly matched he’d be lucky if they didn’t go to points. He raised a knee to block a kick, jabbed into the opening that left, and felt the shock of the chest strike reverberate right through his glove and up his arm. His opponent grunted, staggered once. Shook it off like it was nothing.

This was going to be a long fucking match.

. . . Or not. He stumbled back three steps from the force of a kick to the hip and barely stopped himself from hitting the mat. Rodriguez chased him down, landed a brutal one-two right on Mat’s chin and followed it with a knee to the stomach. Mat buckled, and Rodriguez took the opening and grappled him to the floor.

Through a clearing haze of fog, Mat heard the roar of the crowd swell. Rodriguez was working him into an armbar, and Mat instinctively locked his fingers together, thrust his hands back, and trapped Rodriguez’s thigh under his head. He spun, ended up on top; Rodriguez went for another armbar, but then gave up and just punched him in the side of the head. Mat took it once, twice; Rodriguez’s leverage was shit and he was hitting like Mat’s little brother.

Which, shit. Focus failed for half a fucking second and he’d lost control of Rodriguez’s hip. He saw the leg coming up just in time to duck out beneath it, but he’d lost his leverage. Rodriguez popped to his feet again.

They kept it off the floor after that, which was just as well because Mat did better on his feet, and the crowd always seemed to prefer that anyway. Punches and kicks and flying blood were all so much more showy than a grappling match that 99% of the crowd didn’t have enough technical knowledge to make heads or tails of. And he’d never be able to negotiate a less-shitty contract if he couldn’t please the crowd—

Well, that pleased them well enough. Lost focus again, and he’d deserved the hit that’d just bloodied his lip for thinking of bullshit like that when he was in the cage anyway. He needed this fucking win. He needed this fucking money. No, Dougie needed this money, which made it all the more important. No way was he gonna toss it on some brooding bullshit

The bell rang, and Rodriguez, smirking around his mouth guard, danced back to his corner. Mat . . . kind of staggered.

“What the fuck, Mat,” Darryl yelled over the roar as Mat spat out his guard into his coach’s waiting hand and swished the water someone gave him. He spat that too; it came away pink. His cornerman swiped an Avitene swab over his split lip, then pressed a freezing Enswell to it. Someone wiped at his temple, pressed another Enswell there, smeared it with Vaseline thirty seconds later. He couldn’t even remember getting that cut.

Darryl shook him hard by the shoulders and shouted in his ear.

“I’m on it, Coach,” he said, though he clearly fucking wasn’t. But then the bell rang and it was too late to argue. Rodriguez came out overconfident and swinging and Mat had a tough time thinking of much of anything for the next five minutes but not losing.

He might’ve actually done a decent job of it, because Rodriguez was looking a lot less confident when the bell rang again, and Mat’s blood—finally—was running so hot he didn’t feel a single one of the dozen hits Rodriguez had landed on him this round. Darryl didn’t yell at him this time, either. Just rubbed his shoulders and gave him water and told him to aim at the right flank on counterpunch when Rodriguez dropped his guard.

But when the bell rang for the third and final round, Mat discovered that sitting for sixty seconds hadn’t done him any favors. His adrenaline had flagged just enough for him to feel all his hurts and exhaustion. Three-round matches were long—too long for the measly six grand he’d walk out with if he lost. He needed the winnings and the sponsorships that came on the heels of enough victories.

Because he really needed not to go back into that seedy fucking underground cage in three weeks. He needed not to come home with another unexplained bruise or injury for his brother to squint at.

But maybe Rodriguez just needed it more, because no matter the angle of Mat’s attacks, no matter the speed of his blocks, he wasn’t scoring enough hits, and Rodriguez was beating him to a bloody fucking pulp. Whatever rally he’d managed in the second round, it was gone now. Whatever confidence Rodriguez had lost then was back with a fucking vengeance. It was all Mat could do not to let him take this to the floor again, where Rodriguez, almost ten pounds heavier and all of it muscle, would likely earn his submission.

But in the end, it didn’t matter worth a damn that he’d kept on his feet. The bell rang, the points were tallied, and Rodriguez won the match—and the extra six grand—28 points to 25.

Darryl didn’t look happy. Which was fine, because Mat didn’t fucking feel it. Back in the locker room, with the doc clucking over him like some overbearing insurance-company mother hen, his agent Rudy made known his unhappiness too.

“You think K-Swiss is gonna want their name on your ass if you keep getting it kicked into next year?”

Mat wasn’t going to dignify that with an answer. It’s not like he’d planned to lose. “Sorry about your bonus,” he said instead. God, why did Rudy bother with him anymore? What was he pulling in for the guy—two grand a year, maybe four? Even if he’d won all four fights this year—as opposed to his shitty one in three so far—it wouldn’t have amounted to much. What if Rudy dropped him?

Mat tried not to think about that, or his cut of the prize purse that he wasn’t going home with, or poor Dougie pulling his hair out over looming bills when he found out Mat had lost tonight. Between his little brother, his coach, and his agent, he’d have the full spectrum of disapproval. Give or take a couple ex-boyfriends . . .

Get it the fuck together.

No wonder he’d lost the fight. He was a fucking mess.

# # #

Dougie scrubbed at his eyes, then blinked rapidly. The pixels of the computer screen blurred and swam. Nine PM. Closing time. If he was lucky, he’d have half an hour holed up here in the stacks before somebody came to chase him out.

He’d written exactly ten words.

He stared down at the article he was supposed to be critiquing and realized he didn’t even remember what it was about. He flipped back a few pages to the abstract, hoping to jog his memory, but it might as well have been written in Cantonese.

It just wasn’t happening. He didn’t know why he’d thought it would happen. He couldn’t concentrate on the nights Mat had fights scheduled. Never had been able to. Especially not now that his brother was coming home with bruises and injuries that didn’t match up with that schedule.

He should’ve just given in and gone to watch. Mat invited him every time, but he never could stand to watch Mat being hurt. Not that he could say that to Mat’s face—it was bad enough he was still the “baby brother” at twenty-three years old; he didn’t want Mat to think he was a wuss, too.

He thought back to that wicked bruise across Mat’s right flank, those cuts on his cheek and lip and eyebrow he’d come home with a few weeks after his last fight. Training accidents, my ass. Sparring partners didn’t use each other’s faces as punching bags. Mat had been fighting for years, and sure he’d come home from the gym with bruises, but never anything that severe. That purposeful. Not to mention the extra money he’d had to go along with it. Surprise endorsement deal, my ass. Six grand didn’t just fall out of the sky, and it hadn’t fallen out of K-Swiss, either.

Something was going down, Mat wasn’t talking, and all Dougie could do was come up with more and more horrible scenarios to explain the bruises and the cash. Mob bruiser. Underground cage fights. A loan shark.

The thought of any of those filled him with never-ending, stomach-gnawing dread.

He shoved aside the photocopied article and pushed away from the keyboard. To hell with this. If he stayed here one more second, he’d drive himself mad with worry. He should just go home and grab a beer. Mat was probably lounging backstage by now, getting a massage from some hot fanboy who he’d take to the after-party but never home, as if Dougie couldn’t figure out why Mat sometimes disappeared overnight after fights. Well, not “disappeared,” exactly; he always called to let Dougie know he wouldn’t be home, like Dougie was still thirteen and Mat was still trying—for all the good it’d done them—to show the world he was responsible enough to keep custody of him.

Dougie saved his work to the student server, turned off the computer, and stuffed the article and his highlighter into his satchel. There’d be a bus coming by campus soon. He’d catch that, walk the last five blocks home, and just chill out. He’d try reading the article again tomorrow, once his head was clear. Once he knew Mat was okay.

Maybe he’d take a shower. It was a rare joy to have a good long soak in a shower as hot as he liked without Mat flushing the toilet or chiding him about their electric bills. Rarer still to be able to get out of the shower and sit around naked in front of the TV, drip-drying onto his towel and letting his balls air out.

Bliss.

He caught the 9:13 bus, which meant, by his calculations, he could be home and showered by the time Colbert came on at 10:30. He even had time to stop at the corner grocery on the way and pick up an energy drink and some chips, which he figured he’d earned. He’d just have to eat them before Mat got home, because the last thing he wanted to do was mess with Mat’s diet. He’d already screwed with Mat’s career enough. Five years his brother had stuck around in Bumblefuck, West Virginia, while Dougie had lived with Pattie and Mike. Five years bouncing at a bar and fighting in some bullshit sideshow instead of the UFC just so he could meet up with Dougie for their morning run and visit on the weekends.

Mat was twenty-nine years old now, his best years arguably behind him, and he was still bouncing at a bar. And getting beaten black and blue and red four times a year for middling returns and no glory, trying to get back everything he’d given up when he was young and promising. And every single cent of it went to Dougie. Dougie’s tuition. Dougie’s textbooks. Dougie’s practicums. Dougie’s bus pass, the one that got him home in time for Colbert.

Well, soon it’d be Dougie’s turn. So yeah, he couldn’t find work for shit with a Master’s in social work right now, but he’d finish this Ph.D. in record time, and at best he’d do clinical counseling for $200 an hour and at worst he’d get a teaching job pulling in sixty grand a year, and he’d take care of Mat for once. Find a way to get him out of whatever trouble he’d gotten into for Dougie’s sake. Let him stop fighting, if he wanted to.

Beg him to stop fighting, if he didn’t.

The clock on the stove said 10:03 PM when he got in, and unsurprisingly, he was alone. He dumped his junk food on the kitchen counter and headed for the shower, stripping as he went down the hall and then, at the last second, stooping to collect his trail of discarded clothes. He wouldn’t enjoy his shower, knowing he’d left a mess like that.

While he waited for the water to heat up, he checked the bags under his eyes in the bathroom mirror, scrubbed at a fleck of dried old toothpaste in the basin of the sink, and laid out a towel on the lid of the toilet. By which point the bathroom was overflowing with steam, hot and wonderful on his skin and he hadn’t even gotten into the spray yet.

Determined to enjoy his solitude, he pointedly left the bathroom door open. He’d killed, what, five or six minutes? That left him fifteen or so before Colbert, which wasn’t as luxurious as he wanted, but was a hell of a lot better than this morning’s near-frigid three-and-a-half minute shower. He hopped in, pulling the curtain closed behind him, and let out a loud, completely self-indulgent groan. He was just fine without Mat here, he told himself. Better than fine. Amazing! Not worried at all.

He gargled warm water. Scrubbed his scalp. Soaped himself up and maybe spent a smidgen too much time on the general groin area, not that he had anything to feel guilty for. Pictured Serena Chang (who worked in the campus bookstore and never seemed to wear a polo shirt big enough for her tits) while he did. Okay, so maybe he’d miss the first few minutes of Colbert.

But then he heard the door that connected the house to the garage opening and closing.

Shit. Shitshitshit.

Of course Mat would come home early on the night he’d bought contraband food and left the shower door open and had a huge Serena Chang-inspired boner. At least he hadn’t left his laundry lying around. Not that Mat would ever complain, but just the thought of him bruised up from his fight and collecting Dougie’s underwear off the floor made his cock shrivel up in shame. Which, he supposed, solved one problem, at least.

Heavy footsteps sounded halfway down the hall.

Dougie hurriedly rinsed off the last of the soap, calling out, “Hey, just about done in here!” as he turned off the taps.

Without the noise of the running water, he realized there was more than one set of footsteps. Had Mat finally decided Dougie was old enough to handle him bringing home company?

He grabbed the towel off the toilet and scrubbed at his hair. “Should I make myself scarce?” he teased, rubbing brusquely down his chest and then across his back. “Mat? Mat, what are you—”

He turned around, towel to his groin, and the smile fell off his face so fast he thought he heard it shatter against the tiles. He stumbled back a step at the sight of four strangers, all men big enough to make Mat look like the playground wimp. Bumped into and started to fall over the lip of the tub. One of the men darted forward—much, much faster than his size would suggest—and caught Dougie by the wrist before he could fall.

“Wh—who are you?” The grip on his wrist was punishing. He looked at the men, gaze sliding from one inscrutable face to the next. Two filled the cramped bathroom. The others blocked the entire hall. His voice broke when he tried to speak again. “Mat? Mat, come on, man, this isn’t funny! I— Ow!” The guy holding him jerked him forward, spun him around to face the shower, and yanked his arm up behind his back like Mat sometimes did when they roughhoused. But this was no friendly, brotherly tease. This hurt. “Mat! Help! You’re hurting me, stop it. Ma—!”

A giant paw clamped over his mouth, and the guy holding him wrenched him back flush against a massive, wall-like chest. Dropped Dougie’s wrist, but only so he could sling an arm around Dougie’s chest. Dougie struggled, screamed behind the restraining hand—they had neighbors, someone would hear, right?—and stomped as hard as he could on the guy’s instep, just like Mat had taught him.

The fucker laughed, and his arm squeezed so tight around Dougie’s chest he could barely breathe. Scratch that. Couldn’t breathe. When he exhaled, the arm clamped down harder, like a boa constrictor, preventing him from inhaling again. Thrashing around was no use, but his body seemed determined to do it anyway.

Only when he lost the strength to keep struggling did he realize just how much trouble he was really in: this man he was crushed against, whoever he was, was grinding a massive erection into Dougie’s lower back.

It was like something out of a fucking Brinks home security ad, except it was real, and Mat wasn’t here, and oh God what had Mat gotten them into? What had Dougie forced Mat to get them into?

Oh God, what was this guy trying to force into him? He realized the hand was gone from his chest, and he could breathe again, but then he couldn’t because the hand was between his legs, pushing in from the front, mashing his cock and balls as fingers probed at his ass, burrowed, shoved in.

Dougie screamed against the hand clamped to his mouth again. No words this time, just horror and fear and oh God it hurts make him stop please make him stop! He struggled, kicked at his attacker’s shins, grabbed his arm with both hands and tried to pull it away. Nothing worked, and the man only hurt him for trying, digging one hand into the hinge of his jaw and jabbing hard with the fingers inside him.

This couldn’t be happening. It had to be a mistake. Why not just break his knees, if Mat owed the guy money?

Crime of opportunity. They hadn’t come with rape as their intention, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t stoop to it, given the chance. Why break his knees when this was just as effective at terrorizing? He whimpered into the hand, wanting to beg Take our TV. Take our Xbox. I’ve got a laptop in my bedroom, take that. Our dad’s watch, take it. Our mom’s engagement ring. Won’t that hold you off another month? Please, please, please.

Those long fat fingers scissored inside him, thrust, and God how could Mat ever do this for fun when it hurt so fucking much?

Mat. He needed Mat to come home and kick these guys’ asses into next year please, please, please, but instead the thug holding him just spun him around, exposing him to the leering faces of his three pals. One of them grabbed Dougie’s flaccid cock as those fingers thrust inside him again, and this time he begged to God Himself, who he hadn’t bothered with since the car accident, since the “bargaining” stage. It hadn’t worked out for him then, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t willing to give it another go.

The man with his cock in hand gave him a rough tug, pulling him off balance and shifting the pressure of the horrible fingers inside him. “You were right, J. He is a little pussy. Didn’t need all of us here. Coulda taken him down with one guy. I could be at the bar right now getting some strange.”

“The brother,” the man behind him, J, reminded them all. He walked Dougie forward, forcing him by the fingers in his ass out into the hallway. “He’s not here, but who knows, he coulda been. And ain’t this ‘strange’ enough for you?”

“I dunno about you,” said a third man, shouldering forward to take one of Dougie’s nipples in each hand and give them a brutal twist, “but I like me a little pussy.” He pulled one hand away to cup the bulge in his pants, squeezed and squeezed and squeezed with his other hand until tears sprang to Dougie’s eyes. “We got time for a little fun?”

Pain ripped at his insides as J shoved another finger into him. “I don’t see why not. Brother’s not due back for hours.” Thrust. “Jesus Christ, I think this one’s a virgin.” He jerked Dougie’s head back with the hand still mashed to Dougie’s mouth, until Dougie was forced to look up into his eyes. “You a virgin, hole?”

Would it make them stop? Go easier on him? Would it make them worse? Would they be able to tell if he lied? Would they punish him for it?

Wait. They knew Mat’s schedule? They’d specifically come at a time they thought he wouldn’t be home? Cold dread sank into his stomach, mingling with the hot pain sparking through his body. But it made a perfect kind of sense, didn’t it? If anyone could take a beating, it was Mat. Best way to get to him was through Dougie. Always had been. Probably always would be.

Well, whatever it was they meant to do (don’t think about it don’t think that word), he’d take it like a fucking man—he’d take the punishment for once, and if he could manage it, Mat would never know how far it’d gone. Some guys came by tonight. No, I’m fine. Honest. But maybe it’s time for you to come clean about whatever trouble you’ve gotten into.

Then J yanked his fat fingers out of Dougie’s ass and shoved him forward into the waiting arms of his companions, and all of Dougie’s well-intentioned bravado vanished beneath a fresh wave of pain and terror. And another scream. A new hand clamped over his mouth.

“Gonna make it real hard to fuck your mouth if I gotta keep a hand on it the whole time, hole.”

“Just gag him with your cock, idiot.”

“I’ll gag you with my cock,” the guy snapped, but he was lifting Dougie up, swinging him over his shoulder like a sandbag, and someone caught his beating fists and someone else caught his flailing feet but none of those someones seemed to care or feel any of it, and they hauled him in tandem toward the open space of the living room.

Oh God, all the blinds had been drawn.

“Stay on your fucking knees,” someone threatened, and then they dropped him onto the middle of the floor on his back. The instruction was pretty much pointless; the impact had winded him so hard he couldn’t even get up to his knees, let alone try to stand. Instead he just lay there, dazed and staring at the ceiling fan, until someone stepped on his dick with a big black boot, hard enough to make him yelp.

“What I tell you about making noise?” The man crouched, smirking to himself before grabbing Dougie by the hair and hauling him up onto his knees. He yanked Dougie’s hands behind his back. Narrow plastic zip-ties cut into the skin of his wrists as they bound him.

“Do his elbows, too. Make his tits stick out.”

“Fuck off, this ain’t a fucking strip tease. Get his mouth open.”

They all wore black. Black boots, black sweatshirts, black pants. One of them had an earring, a flashy diamond stud that Dougie wished he were brave and strong enough to rip right out of the lobe. But other than that, he couldn’t tell them apart. Couldn’t even remember who J was, or which of them had picked him up and carried him out here. They didn’t look alike at all, except for their massive size, but still . . . they were like four heads on one horrible body, like some kind of rapey Greek myth come snarling and snapping to life.

Open.” Fingers compressed his cheeks, squishing his mouth open. Gloved fingers. They were wearing latex gloves.

“Put some lipstick on him,” someone muttered.

“You gonna lend us yours, then, you fucking idiot?” A cock slapped against his cheek and he squeezed his eyes shut, wishing he could squeeze his nose shut as well, not have to smell that cloying-sick stench of crotch and cum. “I said open, hole.” The cock slapped his cheek again, and then was followed by a hand heavy enough to knock him over, ears ringing, when he didn’t comply. He landed hard on his side, cracked his head against the hardwood floor. Lay there dazed as someone straddled his chest. Tasted latex against his tongue, hands prying his jaw open, and then he was filled, gagging, choking, tears streaming down his cheeks as someone rutted down his throat and grunted, “That’s it, hole. Take it,” like he had some kind of fucking choice.

The cock was so far down his throat he couldn’t scream when someone pried his knees apart and shoved fingers up his ass again. Less resistance this time somehow, but God it still burned, stung, and his body lurched against it, stomach muscles clenching, trying to force the invader out. He bucked, kicked—his foot connected with something solid and grunty, and the fingers disappeared, came back as a fist to his stomach.

“Careful! You’re gonna make him bite my knob off.” The cock in his mouth retreated, dragging disgusting, thick ropes of spit and bitter-salty I-don’t-even-want-to-think-about-it in its wake. Dougie’s face was soaked with it. Though he had nothing in his mouth, he still gagged.

Someone laughed. “So much more fun when they’re straight, amiright?”

“We should see if we can get two cocks in this straight twink’s ass.”

“Hell, why not a fist? Wearing gloves, ain’t we?” Fingers shoved back inside him and wiggled, the motion strangely fish-like. Eels. Worms. He gagged again.

“Find something to lube him up with. No way I’m fisting him dry. We tear his ass, it’ll be our asses torn next.”

Thank God.

But wait. They were clearly here to hurt him, so why did it matter how?

Someone got up and stomped into the kitchen. Cupboard doors opened and closed. And then, strangely, the front door.

There was a sound like a side of ham hitting the kitchen floor, and then—

“Shit! Shit!”

The hand pulled out of his ass. The cock disappeared from in front of his face. A boot pounded him in the center of his chest, pinning him to the ground.

He started to scream.


Chapter 2

Dougie was screaming.

Dougie was screaming, and he was naked, and he was lying on the floor naked with a big combat boot keeping him pinned and his face was covered in tears and snot and drool and Mat had thought this was a fucking robbery or someone from the underground ring come to rough him up or twist his arm into throwing a fight but it was so much fucking worse.

He saw white.

His exhausted, abused body, the body he’d been planning to collapse into bed with, exploded into fight rage, ready to take down each of the other three motherfuckers in front of him the way he’d taken down the one behind him.

They’d hurt Dougie. They’d hurt Dougie and nothing else mattered and he ducked low and planted his shoulder into the belly of the first guy who rushed him and body-slammed him right into the fucking hardwood floor, dropping after him with an elbow to the solar plexus that would’ve done Darryl fucking proud. The guy was gasping, immobile, and Mat wasted no time rushing the sick fucking fuck with his still-hard cock hanging out from his unzipped pants, wet with Oh God that’s spit that’s Dougie’s spit the fucker I’m gonna kill him I’m gonna rip him apart with my bare fucking—

Gun.

Mat froze, and the world froze with him that way it did in the cage sometimes, when shit went so slow and so perfectly clear he could swear he’d hear his opponent’s heartbeat. Fucking bullet time. He could plot whole maneuvers in that frozen place. Entire fucking strategies. But all he saw now was a gun, and Dougie, Dougie pinned and sobbing on the floor and the gun wasn’t pointed at Mat it was pointed at Dougie and he couldn’t move.

“What—” His throat locked, as frozen as the rest of him. He cleared it. Cleared it again. Swallowed hard. Raised his hands in surrender. “What do you want?”

His submission earned smug smiles all around. The one with his boot on Dougie’s chest ground his heel, presumably just to watch Mat squirm. Dougie whined and then went quiet, eyes never leaving Mat’s face. Pleading.

“Listen, whatever you want, we can talk about it. Dougie’s a good kid. He doesn’t deserve to get tangled up in this, all right? You talk to me.”

“What the hell would we do that for? We’re not here for you, we’re here for your little brother’s tight straight-boy ass. You wanna talk about that? Although now that you’re here . . .”

A grumble and a grunt behind him, and suddenly the man he thought he’d knocked out in the kitchen was up again and right at his back. “Stop being an idiot. Fucker’s dangerous.” Then, to Mat, “Hands behind your back. You try a goddamned thing and my colleague over there is gonna blow your brother’s nuts off, understand?”

Mat nodded and put his hands behind his back. Had to fight with everything in him not to fight when he felt a careless fist close around his wrist. Then a sharp, high noise and a tight, unyielding pressure. A zip-tie. Not one of those little ones he used to keep his computer cables neat, either. He twisted his wrists, but stayed silent, staring at Dougie the whole time. I’m gonna fix all this for you, he tried to promise with his eyes, but fuck if he knew how.

The man who’d bound his wrists came out from behind him and walked over to Dougie and the two lackeys still on their feet, stepping over the semi-conscious one along the way. He held out a hand and barked, “Gun.”

Time slowed again as the man obeyed, taking the gun away from Dougie and Mat could risk it now, had time, and so what if his hands were tied behind his back; he could still take these fuckers on . . .

He was running before he’d made the conscious decision to move, barreling headlong into the ringleader, roaring like an animal and charging like one too—

And then he stopped. Everything stopped. His whole body seized, and he hit the ground, hardly feeling the horrible tingling burn over the mind-blanking pain of every muscle in his body contracting. A Taser. They’d fucking tased him.

A man loomed overhead, bending into his field of vision. “Too bad they don’t let you use those in the ring, eh? Maybe you wouldn’t lose so many fucking fights. Should I use it on your brother next? Nice little ball sac he has, like a teenage boy’s. Bet if I put the contacts right in—”

“No,” Mat croaked. “No, please. Do it to me. Do it to me.”

“Maybe later. If you’re good. If not, I’ll tase him in the dick and shoot you in the face, you got it?”

“Got it.” He gritted his teeth, shuddering through another wave of involuntary muscle contractions.

“Leave him alone,” Dougie sobbed from somewhere behind him. “If it’s me you want, leave him alone. I’ll be good, I’ll be so good . . .”

Shut up, Dougie. Just shut up and let me handle this.

“Wow, are you two gay together or something? I never seen two bitches fight over who gets his ass pounded before. Pick me! Pick me! Well all right, if that’s how you two want it to be, I’m game. Load ’em up. Shit got a little too loud just now to fuck around here any longer.”

“Both of them?”

“Yeah. Both of ’em. Why not. Seems like a waste to kill the brother when he’s so damn eager to please. ’Sides, look at him. We’ll earn our commission.”

Commission? What the fuck?

Someone hefted Mat to his feet, a hand on his bound wrists to keep him still. They marched Dougie ahead of him, naked and shaking like a leaf with a gun pressed between his shoulder blades, right where Mat could see.

“Walk, hole,” the man behind him whispered in his ear. “Or your precious brother gets it.”

He walked.

They had, of all fucking things, a white windowless van parked in the garage. If Dougie had come and gone through the front door like he usually did, they could have been waiting in there all damn day without anyone knowing, smoking and working themselves into a fucking frenzy.

“What the fuck, Rick?” one of them yelled as he yanked the van’s back doors wide open. “Some fucking lookout you are. Now we got an extra guest and J’s got a goddamn concussion or some shit.”

The van’s dim interior was ordinary but somehow sickening to look at, like a fucking nightmare. Two seats up front with a man in each, the driver with his feet on the dashboard and the passenger with a laptop balanced on one thigh. In the back, a bench ran along one side. And on the other side? A barred metal cage, no bigger than half a bathtub, with a sturdy padlock on its door.

They’d meant to put Dougie in there. After they’d raped him on the living room floor. Abused and degraded and kicked him around and pumped him full of their cum, and then into the human kennel, to be driven God-knew-where.

“Sorry, who was it who wanted the van in the goddamned garage? Not much I can fucking surveil from here with the equipment we came out with.”

Someone shoved Mat hard between the shoulder blades, and he stumbled forward, thighs banging into the lip of the van. “Into the cage, hole.”

Mat froze. If he let them lock him in there . . .

“Put my brother in. You want a blowjob? I’ll give you one that’ll blow your mind. You can fuck my ass, too.” He swallowed a stutter. “I’m a slut. Put him in the cage, and I’ll prove it.”

“Nice try, but what the hell would we want your loose old hole for when we’ve got this tight little virgin cunt? Cage. Now, or I’ll let him try the Taser out too.”

Mat jolted as if they’d used it on him, but did as he was told, climbing into the back of the van and crawling to the open door of the cage. No easy feat with his hands bound behind his back. It was too small, clearly custom-built for a person but not one with his height or his breadth across the shoulders. Nowhere near close to big enough for anyone but a small child to be comfortable. But he fit. Barely. The arch of his spine touched the cage’s roof, crushing his bound hands against it, and the top of his head brushed the front. If he looked to his left, he’d be able to see the interior of the van. He’d be able to see Dougie.

What they did to Dougie.

He tried not to think about it, pulling his knees forward so somebody could shut and lock the cage door behind him.

“Looking a little cramped! Well, we did bring it along for your brother.” The idea of that horrified Mat all over again. Yeah, Dougie was four inches shorter and probably six inches narrower across the chest, but it still would’ve been torture for him to be stuck in here for more than a few minutes. “Oh well, you’ll have to live with it. It’s only an eight-hour drive, isn’t it?”

“Ten if we hit morning traffic,” someone else corrected conversationally.

Just the thought made Mat’s body throb. As if it hadn’t been throbbing already.

“Ten hours,” someone said. “Fuck, I could get off five times in ten hours. Might as well start now.”

A thud—quite distinctly a body hitting the floor against its will—followed by a short, sharp shout from Dougie. Another thud as the van doors slammed shut and the garage doors opened. “No!” Dougie cried, and then someone must’ve covered his mouth because the next No was muffled, a wordless, desperate plea that hurt Mat more than anything he’d ever endured in the ring, more than anything he’d endured so far at these men’s hands. More sounds of scrabbling as the van backed out of the garage and onto the street, more muffled Nos, and then a grunt, and a scream, an honest-to-God being-killed-by-an-ax-murderer fucking scream, and Mat hurled himself against the cage, fought the zip-ties until his wrists bled and banged and banged and banged until he’d worn himself down into a bruised, bleeding, panting puddle and gotten no closer to free. But at least, for a little while, it’d drowned out the awful cries and moans and whimpers, the steady slap slap of flesh on flesh, and the satisfied grunts of one man after another as they took their sick pleasures from a bound frightened boy in the back of a goddamned rape van.

from Hearts on Fire Reviews

I am absolutely hooked on this hot, harsh and visceral series. I was pulled into this story from page one and flew through the rest . . . The writing was excellent . . . I am absolutely hooked on this hot, harsh and visceral series.

from A Diary of a Book Addict

[C]ompelling . . .  This novella had me crying and cringing and wanting more. I can't wait to see what happens . . . 

from Sinfully Sexy Books

Amazing! [U]nbelievably compelling. I was captured, my imagination on overdrive, and if this is the first in the series, I am in, two feet fully planted and totally invested!

from Attention Is Arbitrary

[C]aptivating and gripping. I found the writing flawless. . . . I have to read on.

from LeAnn's Book Reviews (by Shirley Francis)

. . . The writing was exceptional, the pace was perfect, the characters were wonderful and the emotions overwhelming. I am looking forward to reading Episode 2 very much. It was THAT good.

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