The Flesh Cartel #14: Independence Day
Mat and Douglas’s time as Nikolai’s wards is finally drawing to a close. Though torn apart by Nikolai’s machinations, their fates are still inextricably entwined: they’ve been sold to the same cruel master, and are united in their desire to go home. But “home” means two different things to the brothers: for Mat, their little bungalow in Nevada, and for Douglas, a swift return to Nikolai and Roger, the only people he believes still love him.
But first they must survive their new master. Smythe Hall is a twisted island paradise where Americans affect British accents and slaveboys dress up as slave girls, all at the whims of the rich and megalomaniacal Allen Smythe-Kennedy.
Meanwhile, FBI Special Agent Nate Johnson can’t let the case of the missing brothers lie. He knows it’s a waste of resources to chase ghosts down a cold trail, but after admiring Mathias “Stonewall” Carmichael ringside and at countless afterparties where he was too shy to say hello, he’s determined to solve the mystery and bring Mat and his little brother home.
Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:explicit violence
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
Themes: abduction/kidnapping/hostage (actual), abuse, alpha/alpha, angst, disability / disfigurement, family, homelessness, hurt / comfort, illness / injury, interracial/multicultural, jocks / athletes, protection, PTSD, recovery, romantic elements, self-confidence, slave / capture (actual), trust issues
It was after 10 p.m., and Nate was so tired he was nodding off mid-conversation. Not that it wasn’t an amusing story, because it was—it always was with Ty and Zane, and he hadn’t seen them outside the office in months. But he was beginning to deeply regret having offered to host Fourth of July celebrations at his house. Unfortunately, he was the only one in the whole damn department with a yard big enough to actually put people in. And when it came to free food, nobody even minded the commute into the suburbs.
But he was surprised his neighbors hadn’t started to complain yet about all the noise at this late hour. Between the drunken conversation and laughter and the ’80s music blasting on the patio, he could hardly hear himself think. Well, at least nobody was shooting their guns into the air . . . you never did know with this crowd.
And all he wanted was to go to bed. The fireworks had ended an hour ago. Why wasn’t everyone going home? It wasn’t even the fourth, for God’s sake—it was the fifth, because apparently the city thought nobody would bother to attend fireworks on a Thursday.
Louise interrupted his internal grousing with a beer to the face. “Here,” she said. She popped the top for him, plunked it in his hand. “Smile. Oh, hi boys.” She waved to Ty and Zane. “Wasn’t expecting to see you at the misanthrope table.”
Zane, nursing a Coke, smiled and nodded once. Ty saluted her with his beer and said, “Well, we go to the same Gay Agenda meeting every Sunday while everyone else is in church. Would’ve been rude not to say hi.”
Louise just shook her head. Pointed at Ty’s lap, where T’Challa was curled contentedly, sleeping, like Nate wished he were doing. Except not in Ty’s lap. Well, okay, maybe in Ty’s lap—it was, admittedly, a very sexy lap. Except for the part where Zane would murder him slowly and painfully, then resurrect him to do it again. “Is that Nate’s cat?” Louise asked.
“He misses those damn evil beasts we were cat-sitting,” Zane said.
Ty glared at him. “Well, if someone would let me take him to animal control to look at the kitties . . .”
“You’re not setting foot in that fucking place.”
But there was no heat in their words or gazes, and Nate found himself laughing. And kind of jealous. The two of them were so comfortable together, like an old married couple. Then again, when Louise grabbed his beer out of his hand, took a swig, and then draped herself across his lap like T’Challa across Ty’s, he supposed he and Louise probably looked that way to the outside world too.
“Come on,” she said. “Come dance with me.” ABBA was playing. She wanted him to dance to ABBA? He wasn’t that kind of gay.
He grabbed his beer back and gave her the stinkeye. “Can’t. I’ve gotta, um . . .” He waved vaguely with his beer, and just when he thought he’d have to admit that he didn’t know how to finish that sentence, his phone vibrated in his pocket.
There really is a God.
“Gotta take this,” he said, knocking her off his lap as he stood. He pulled his phone from his pocket, didn’t recognize the number. “Hello?”
“Is this Special Agent Nathaniel Johnson?”
Nate’s brow immediately firmed up, every ounce of relaxation fleeing his body at once. He strode to the edge of the yard by the fence, waving off Louise as she called after him. “Speaking.”
“The Special Agent Nathaniel Johnson responsible for the Carmichael missing persons case?”
“This is he.” His stomach clenched; there was generally only one reason to be getting this kind of call this long into a disappearance, especially at this time of night on a holiday weekend. Somebody somewhere had found a body. Professional dread warred with personal grief. He was suddenly not even remotely thankful for the call.
“My name’s Detective Ofelia Constanza, with the Boynton Beach Police Department in Florida. I think you might want to hop on a plane tonight, Agent. Mathias Carmichael washed up on City Beach this morning”—Nate’s eyes closed, chest tight—“and he’s just woken up.”
There really is a God, indeed.
“And the brother?”
“Still missing, but Mathias seems to have a lot to say about that. He’s . . . agitated. Knocked a nurse unconscious. Hospital staff had him 5150ed, so he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.”
“Did he say what happened? Where he’s been?”
“Kidnapped,” the detective said. “Guy’s a mess, but he’s alert and oriented.”
“All right. I’ll be on the first flight out. You staying with him?”
“Yeah, I’ll be here all night. Text me your flight info when you have it; we’ll send a black-and-white to pick you up at Palm Beach International.”
“Good. Thanks, Detective. I’ll bring you coffee.”
He could hear her weary smile. “I like you.”
“Ditto.” Because, really, she’d just given him the best news he’d heard in months.
He hung up the phone, smiling for the first time all evening, and walked back over to the table where he’d been hiding before. Ty and Zane were still there, chatting amiably with Louise, who could probably have charmed the pants off both of them if she’d really wanted to. He snagged her arm mid-sentence with a “Sorry, excuse me” aimed at his old friends, and dragged her over the patio and into the house. “Go home. Pack a bag. I’ll pick you up in half an hour.”
She went from mildly affronted to dead serious in about two-tenths of a second. “What’s up, partner?”
“Just heard from a detective down in south Florida. They found Mathias Carmichael.”
She stared at him a moment, then raised her eyebrows, prompting, “. . . And?”
Nate’s smile grew. “And he’s alive.”
Word Count: 20,700
Page Count: 95
Cover By: Imaliea
Release Date: 02/01/2014