Fraud Twice Felt (The Oddities, #2)

Fraud Twice Felt by J.T. Hall
Author: 
eBook ISBN: 
978-1-62649-594-4
eBook release: 
May 29, 2017
eBook Formats: 
pdf, mobi, html, epub
Print ISBN: 
978-1-62649-595-1
Print release: 
May 29, 2017
Word count: 
96,500
Page count: 
357
Cover by: 

This title is #2 of the The Oddities series.

Ebook $4.99
Print $18.99   $15.19 (20% off!)
Print and Ebook $23.98   $16.79 (30% off!)

Three weeks after solving his old boyfriend’s murder, bounty hunter Derwin Bryant is trying to let go of the past and embrace his new life with Elliot Leed, a former rentboy and fellow Oddity. Elliot, meanwhile, is trying to adjust to working at Bob’s Bail Bonds and having a real relationship despite his strange power of Object Reading. Hanging over the couple is the fear that Roy Yoshiro, notorious gang lord, will make good on his threats to claim Elliot. If that happens, not even Derwin’s superhuman strength will be enough to protect the man he loves.

Their concerns are overshadowed when Derwin’s friend asks for help finding her missing son. It’s not long before the case takes Derwin and Elliot back to the crime-ridden underbelly of the city and straight into Yoshiro’s clutches. Two gangs are vying for power, and Derwin and Elliot get caught in the middle of their very public fight.

Derwin and Elliot must find a way to thwart both gangs’ plans and escape alive. This time, one misstep could spell disaster for all the inhabitants of Nis.

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

Chapter One

A Wonderful Day

Elliot Leed liked filing criminal records.

He sat in the little office chair behind the desk at Bob’s Bail Bonds, sifting through manila folders, organizing them by court dates. In the corner of the room, Bob was speaking with Derwin Bryant, one of the bond agents hired to capture fugitives who failed the provisions of their bond. Elliot smiled, warmth flushing through his body as he watched the dusky-skinned, muscular bounty hunter speaking with broad gestures and a loud voice.

Derwin also happened to be his lover. An actual lover; not a client, not a john.

“So let me get this straight,” Derwin said, taking several folders from Bob. “You let Bernie the Hack post bond? Again? Bob . . . dude . . .” He shook his head, smiling sadly. “Why do you cover these rats? You know he’s going to skip bond.” He gave Elliot a wink.

Elliot grinned back. He couldn’t help but glance down at himself, wearing khakis and a buttoned shirt, of all things. He had a job. A real job, and not one where he had to follow a Madame’s orders and suck off jerks to pay for food.

Bob shrugged amiably. “I’ve known him for fifteen years, Derwin. Yes, he’s failed to appear before . . .” He rubbed his mouth, perhaps unconsciously. According to Derwin, he’d started his business years ago. An older guy, half-bald, with a friendly face and laugh lines around his eyes, Bob was a softie, but it was hard to get mad at him about it. After all, how many guys would be willing to hire a former rentboy to file paperwork in their office? Elliot couldn’t think of anyone.

Derwin was staring at him. “Three times.” He crossed his arms.

Bob chuckled, nodding. “But you have to admit that last time was a pretty good excuse! I mean, fleeing from a yokai is not something you do every day.” He winked. “Well not most people, I should say.”

Elliot smiled. Yeah, running from a yokai—a supernatural spirit, or demons as most people called them—might be a good excuse to most people. Except for Derwin, who hunted the otherworldly creatures. “What was his crime?”

Bob glanced over at him. “Burglary. The warehouses.” He glanced at the folder in Derwin’s hand. “You’re familiar with that part of town, right?” By his blank expression, it was obvious he was clueless he’d just stepped into a land mine.

Elliot flushed, looking down. “That part of town” was associated with his former life; he’d been living in a warehouse storeroom. In addition, he’d been kidnapped and tortured near those fucking warehouses.

“Yeah, I’m familiar with it,” Elliot muttered. He tried to keep his tone respectful. He’d only been on the job for a week and couldn’t afford to alienate a guy who’d been willing to hire him without past experience or identification.

Derwin came to his rescue, like he always did. “The warehouses are where Grady’s murderer kept Elliot, Bob. So anyways, you just have these little ones for me today? Shouldn’t take me long.” He glanced at the calendar on the wall near Elliot’s head, before turning back to Bob. “By the way, where’s Connie been? I haven’t seen her in days.”

Bob had winced at the reference to Cole Murphy, the guy who had murdered Derwin’s old boyfriend, but he recovered quickly, shrugging. “She says she’s been sick.”

Derwin frowned. “That’s not like her. How many times can you remember her calling out sick before? I hope she’s okay.” He looked at Elliot, and his dark-brown eyes softened.

While Elliot hadn’t had a chance to meet Connie yet, he’d heard all about her. She sounded loud, brazen, and funny, not unlike Derwin’s mother. It was because Connie had complained of having too much work that Elliot had this job at all. “What if we swing by her place later?”

“Good idea.” Faint lines of concentration showed on Derwin’s brow, as he went all businesslike again. Gods, Elliot couldn’t wait to get him home, to strip that tough heroic exterior off and ignite the fiery passion that smoldered beneath.

Elliot had to rein in his imagination, sobering as he watched Derwin checking his gear—bulletproof vest, utility belt with cuffs and pepper spray, his pair of blessed knives, and his gun. The weapons were more for demons than human fugitives. As far as Elliot was concerned, Derwin was a walking arsenal, and that was just fine. Anything to keep him safe. Elliot found himself clutching a folder, and forced himself to set it down. “Be careful.” He wasn’t sure he’d ever get used to the fact his boyfriend risked his neck every day for the job.

“Always.” Derwin grinned and strode over to kiss Elliot on the cheek. Then he headed out the door, the little bell jangling as he left.

Elliot opened the file cabinet, aware that he was blushing. Bob chuckled, but Elliot didn’t turn to see what kind of expression was on the guy’s face. I’m still not comfortable being out and proud and people not caring. As a rentboy, he’d been both attacked and sought after for his proclivities.

He avoided talking to his old Madame, Theresa, now. Every once in a while she sent one of her boys to check up on him, and that was enough. None of the boys had mentioned whether Roy Yoshiro, the city boss of the Tatsu gang and one of Elliot’s former clients, had asked for another booking. Most likely Theresa knew he’d say no.

“He’s a good guy. I’m glad to see him having fun with his job and not so grim like he was before he found Grady’s murderer. Rescuing you off the streets like a lost puppy, that helped him.” Elliot nodded silently, but Bob seemed to realize what he’d said and his tone faltered. “Y-you know. Because helping people is important to him.”

A really good guy to take on a sad stray like me. Was it their relationship that had brought Derwin’s happiness back, or the closure of solving Grady’s murder? “I only hope that he’s not reckless when he’s out there.”

Bob nodded “Don’t worry. He’ll be fine. I used to worry about his mental state, but with you around now, he’s much better. You’re good for him. Grady always had a sunny attitude, and I see that same sort of quality in you.”

How good would Bob say Elliot was for Derwin if he knew the truth about why Elliot had left whoring? That one of the most notorious gang leaders in the city had claimed his ass and was going to kill anyone who said otherwise? But Elliot nodded again, and forced himself to sound cheerful. “Thanks. I plan to stick around.”

That much was the truth.

* * * * * * *

Derwin tossed the folders of arrest warrants and profile information into the passenger seat of his Ford Galaxie. He turned on the engine and revved the old car up, letting it purr. It was good to see that Elliot was settling into his new job. Maybe his shirts were too tight and a little too sexy for performing office duties, but he’d figured out the filing system quickly. And just knowing that he was safe was everything to Derwin.

And as a bonus, when Derwin took him home, he had Elliot all to himself.

He navigated the streets of Nis with ease, without a GPS doodad or map to tell him where to go. Hunting was in his blood. Possibly part of that was due to his Oddity, his special ability, and maybe some of it was genetics. His dad was a corrections officer, which didn’t really involve hunting, but was about keeping criminals in line.

His grandfather had been an Interrogator, using his Oddity that fed off pain to torture and make people talk for the government. That part Derwin liked to forget.

Several minutes later, he reached a construction site on the north end of town, where efforts were underway to expand the city wall and build new industrial buildings. Derwin spotted several city patrolmen in Jeeps and black SUVs, keeping an eye on things to make sure nothing demonic crossed over from the forests north, or from the ocean. The city was still relatively young, only a hundred years old, from the great settling of the West in the United Federation of America, led by crazy politicians back in Washington DC, but already it was outgrowing its fortifications. During the Industrial Age, cities had done away with defensive barriers. But something had happened in the middle of World War II that had opened the gates to another dimension, releasing spirits that seemed to fit the descriptions of monsters and beasts out of Japanese lore—the yokai. Who knew that their mythology had it right? Now the creatures spawned wherever there was open wilderness and every city needed to be its own fortress.

His first skip of the day, Ed Turtlebaum, was supposedly employed by Ace Construction on a project out here. Ed had been arrested for grand larceny from a previous employer, stealing materials from the jobsite. Surprising that he’d even been able to find another job. Still, he’d skipped his court hearing, and now he had a warrant for his arrest. Time to bring him in before Bob lost the bail bond.

Derwin parked the car in a dirt lot by some steel framework for a new building, checked his gear, and stepped out to search for a short, weaselly fat guy. He walked toward the construction site, and that was when he noticed the man standing on the ground floor holding an electrical kit. Beady eyes met his, and Ed’s jaw dropped, possibly at seeing the tactical gear.

Shit. Derwin ran as Ed dropped the kit and fled toward the back of the building.

“Ed Turtlebaum, you failed to make your court date! Now get back over here so we can figure out something!”

But Ed knew how bail bonds worked, probably knew his ass was toast, and that he’d be going to jail. He moved pretty fast for a tubby guy. However, Derwin could run faster than any normal human. Time to catch you. He sprinted toward the back of the building, past workers who stared at him openmouthed. Let them stare. Nobody ever dared to report a person in tactical gear, even if his speed was unnatural. They’d figure he was with the government, who controlled most of the Oddities.

When Derwin turned the corner of the building, he spotted Ed, but there was a problem. Apparently, the construction company had decided this was the perfect place to put all the port-a-potties.

Ed ran into one and slammed the door shut.

“You gotta be kidding me,” Derwin muttered as he approached the small blue box. Yes, he could tear the door off, tip it over, even drag it if he wanted to. But ugh. He really didn’t want to. “Ed! You can’t stay in there all day!” He pounded on the little door, fuming. This was supposed to be an easy skip!

“I can too! You watch! I can’t go back to jail, man. They’re gonna keep me for good this time!” Even muffled by the plastic walls, there was terror in Ed’s voice. Derwin rubbed at his temples.

“You were arrested for what, petty and grand larcenies? Those aren’t life sentences. You can’t run from things like this—you should have made your court date. Bob’s done well by you—you owe him some respect. And isn’t the collateral your mom’s house? Are you a rat or a man, Ed? Own up! You stole from your job! Do your time, and learn from it!” As Derwin spoke, he inspected the hinges, wondering if he could work them apart without ripping the whole door off. That way he wouldn’t make such a spectacle of himself and his Oddity.

He took care in setting his hands right, gripping the plastic encasing the metal hinges. This might get ugly, but it was better than waiting until Ed gave up. “I’m giving you to the count of three, Ed. Come out, and I’ll put in a good word with Bob. Stay in there, and I’m going to rip this door off.” And hopefully not get dirty in the process.

“Fuck off!”

That settled it. Focusing, Derwin gripped the plastic harder and harder, pulling on the well of something other that he kept inside, the something that fed on people’s pain.

The plastic began to crack, the hinge groaning. Derwin gritted his teeth, putting more effort into it. The entire door shuddered, bending.

“What the hell are you doing?” Ed sounded scared. Panicked, even.

Serves him right. Derwin smiled grimly as he switched to his other hand, to give the first one a break. “I told you. I’m ripping the door off.”

His left hand worked it the other way, and the cracks enlarged, little pieces of blue plastic chipping off. Ed’s voice rose another octave. “You’re crazy! I’m coming out! Stop, please!”

Grinning, Derwin took a step back. The door opened, and Ed stepped out, hands behind his head like a good captured fugitive. Derwin pulled the guy’s wrists down, cuffed him, and led him by the arm. “Now was that so hard? I’m blaming you for the damage, you know. You keep pulling this kind of shit, nobody’s going to hire you.”

He led Ed toward the car, satisfied. Only a couple hundred bucks for this one, but each job added up. He had to work extra cases lately to replace the ruined furniture in his condo. Damn that Cole for trying to blow the place up. And the insurance company for being extra slow as well.

It didn’t take long to take Ed to the local police station. The other two skips were easy; one Derwin surprised at a local bar, while the third was actually turned in by his mother, who boxed the guy’s ears and yelled at him in rapid Spanish. Derwin ended the day by picking up Elliot from Bob’s Bail Bonds, along with some take-out food, since neither of them really cooked. One of these days, he’d have to have his mom give him a few pointers.

“Are we stopping by Connie’s to check on her?” Elliot grabbed a french fry from the bag.

Derwin shrugged; all he wanted was to get home, get food in him, and pin Elliot to the mattress. “We can check in the morning if she calls in sick again. Connie’s always been a good employee. I’m sure she’ll let Bob know if something is wrong.”

His partner looked at him doubtfully, but said nothing. As Derwin pulled up to the condo, Elliot asked, “So your day went okay?”

Derwin laughed and leaned over to capture Elliot’s mouth in a brief kiss. “My day was great. And I have a feeling the evening’s going to be even better.”

 

Chapter Two

Charging Up

When Elliot flipped on the light in the hallway of their condo, Bickering the cat was there to greet the two of them. Colonel Bickering was a black and gray Persian with a smashed face and a temper; he yowled and swiped at Elliot, who was hurrying to fill the food bowl. But Elliot loved the little guy. Bickering had saved both their lives when he’d warned Elliot about the gas leak that Cole had started.

Bickering hadn’t changed with events; the condo had. After the explosion, Derwin and Elliot had both decided to remodel the place, from top to bottom.

It had taken Elliot two weeks to recover after the horrible events with Cole. For the first few nights he’d slept with the lights on, wrapped around Derwin like the man was his security blanket. Kind of humiliating for a nineteen-year-old, but Derwin hadn’t minded. And even now, when the dreams woke Elliot, Derwin was there to calm and soothe him.

Better than his parents or anyone else in his life had ever been.

Elliot still got bouts of anxiety now and then. According to Derwin’s dad, it was a post-trauma response and entirely normal. Still, it was frustrating. Even having police keep an eye on the condo didn’t ease his nerves; it only made him feel like a bug under a microscope. The last thing he needed was for the authorities to find out about his Oddity.

Thankfully they only did the occasional drive-by now.

Since life was settling down, Elliot hoped to put away a little money and actually get some kind of education. He’d have to start with a GED, seeing as he’d only taken a semester of high school before his parents had kicked him out. Maybe after that, he’d try a college class or two. Maybe. The streets had been scary, but the world of education was even scarier.

Sitting at the kitchen table Elliot rushed to finish the rest of his burger, then headed up to the bedroom, with Derwin close behind. The work on the living room was in progress—they’d recarpeted the floor and repainted the walls. They needed all new furniture since the old stuff had been ruined, and they were still deciding on what style fit them best as a couple. Elliot kept pushing for a reclining sofa. Derwin wanted something soft enough to burrow into.

Most of all, they both wanted pieces that didn’t remind them of the past. This was their home together now, after all. It had taken a lot of cleaning, but finally the smell of smoke was gone from the condo, along with many reminders of their rocky beginnings.

The bedroom was mostly as Elliot had first seen it, with a large four-poster bed and plenty of space for BDSM play. Derwin had a trunk at the foot of his bed where he kept his implements of torture—his toys. The computer desk where Grady had spent much of his time was gone, as was the chair where he’d been murdered. Elliot had insisted on that. Instead there was a vanity chest that held Elliot’s clothes and his makeup.

As soon as they reached the bedroom, Derwin shoved him up against the wall and pulled Elliot’s shirt up over his head. The jeans went next, along with Elliot’s shoes, then his gloves, and last his underwear. Elliot managed to get his lover’s shirt off before Derwin pinned his wrists above his head, using his own larger frame to immobilize Elliot. I love it when he does that. Elliot groaned, thrusting forward with his hips, grinding his erection against Derwin’s.

“Tell me your safeword.” There was a growl to Derwin’s voice that warned he was in the mood for intense play. Elliot had been waiting too long for that. His rib had finally healed to the point where it wasn’t a bitch to breathe, and he was tired of gentle handling.

“Sapphire.” The word was a mere whisper against Derwin’s ear. Derwin grunted, nodding.

“Did you have to use your powers today?” Elliot asked, but he already knew the answer. Derwin got a hungry look when he wasn’t fully charged up, when he needed to drink in pain for his Oddity. That appetite had drawn Elliot the first night they’d met, and it still drew him, like a fish to water.

“Shut up,” Derwin hissed, and emphasized the words by sinking his teeth into the place where neck and shoulder met, then sucking at the skin. Elliot moaned, his cock twitching, the pain and need spiking together. That’ll leave a mark. Just what I want.

“Please!” he cried, trying to struggle out of Derwin’s hold.

But he could struggle all he wanted, and there wasn’t a chance he’d break free. Elliot relished the burn in his wrists as Derwin’s grip tightened, along with the sharp scrape of Derwin’s teeth along his throat, finding another place to suck and bite.

“I want you.” Desperation made Elliot’s voice rough.

“You want me?” Derwin growled against his skin. He found yet another spot on the opposite side of Elliot’s neck, and bit hard enough that pain shot right into Elliot’s jaw. He hissed, wanting more contact.

“Hurt me,” Elliot begged. Derwin panted, probably making plans. “Yes,” Elliot added, to support whatever depraved thought was going through Derwin’s brain.

Abruptly, Derwin let him go and took a couple of steps back. “Face the wall.” His voice was gruff and low. “And bend over, legs spread. I’m using the bamboo on you.”

Elliot’s head swam as he complied. He’d been caned before, but not recently, and never by Derwin. It was actually pretty smart on Derwin’s part: the marks would be invisible under clothing, and it wouldn’t interfere with anything that was still healing. Plus, Derwin knew Elliot liked spanking. This was just a more brutal form of it.

As he waited for Derwin to get his toys, Elliot couldn’t help peeking over his shoulder. With the shirt off, Derwin’s tattoos were visible—the runes around his navel, the panther on one bulging biceps, and the scars from numerous demon attacks. Elliot particularly liked the claw marks over Derwin’s chest.

Derwin glanced up as he pulled out a paddle and a cane, his dark-brown eyes sharp and focused. “One of these days I’m going to tie you up. But not today. Keep your hands on the wall. And stop looking at me.” He smirked, softening the last line.

Elliot stuck out his tongue, then faced the wall. When he’d moved in, he’d made sure to wash all surfaces in the bedroom thoroughly, to erase any old memories it held.

The warm touch of Derwin’s hand on his ass startled him. He didn’t risk taking a peek—if he did, Derwin would make him pay somehow. Perhaps by not allowing him to come. As much of a masochist as Elliot was, he liked his orgasms.

“I don’t see a single mark on your posterior,” Derwin said, and his tone told Elliot he was grinning. The bastard. Derwin slapped one cheek, and Elliot yelped. “I’m going to have to fix that.”

Elliot smiled as well, wiggling his ass. “You’re going to make me feel it for a week, when I have to sit on that stiff office chair, aren’t you?” Yeah it was bad to give Derwin ideas, but Elliot really wanted this. It had been too long since they’d had a good play session.

Derwin surprised him by using the paddle first, with a good wallop.

“Fuck!” Pain radiated out from both ass cheeks with a burn that instantly set Elliot’s nerves tingling. Derwin was fast; he had to give him that.

“Later,” Derwin said, and spanked him again, just as firmly. This time Elliot was prepared, and it only produced a grunt. Apparently the paddle would be a warm-up before Derwin moved to the cane.

“Been wanting you to spank me over your lap,” Elliot said before the next blow. He was already starting to sink into the sensations, riding the peaks, enjoying the burn spreading through his ass. Would Derwin use nipple clamps on him again? Those had been painful.

“Been wanting to fuck you against a wall,” Derwin returned. The next blow was particularly forceful, pulling a yelp from Elliot. Derwin chuckled; the sound trickled down Elliot’s spine. “I love your noises. I’m going to make you fly today.”

That made Elliot shiver harder, and he moaned. He hadn’t flown since the first time Derwin had played with him, and maybe only a few times with others before that. The difference with Derwin, however, was that he felt safe. Derwin would never hurt him—set his ass on fire, sure. But not actually harm him like the men who’d paid him for the concession. Like Roy.

The spanks came now in a rhythm, allowing Elliot to mentally relax. His cock bobbed with each blow, and part of him wondered if Derwin would try to put a cock ring on him. He hoped not.

“I can’t wait to mark you with the cane.” Derwin’s voice was low and heated. Elliot groaned in agreement.

The blows stopped. It took Elliot several seconds for his brain to find its way back from the haze. What’s he up to? It was too long a pause for him to be simply changing instruments. “Derwin?” He couldn’t sense Derwin behind him anymore. A sound from the bedside table made him turn his head.

Derwin was grinning as he poured lube over a medium-sized anal plug. “I had an idea. You remember how I like pleasure mixed with the pain I absorb?” He returned, motioning for Elliot to face the wall again. “Relax for me, babe. I think this will make things interesting. Think you can stay in control?”

Elliot nodded, his eyes half-closed. The cool, smooth tip of the plug pressed against his entrance. He wouldn’t need prepping, not for this. “Yeah. If I change my mind . . .” he groaned as Derwin began pushing the plug home, the muscles stretching to accommodate it, “will let you know.” Oh gods, that felt good. Of course, he wanted Derwin’s cock up there, and soon. But for now, this was perfect.

“Fuck, you look so hot like that. Keep that in. Or I really won’t let you come.”

A whimper escaped Elliot, but he nodded, deep in the submissive role. “Yes, Sir.”

“Good boy.”

From there, Derwin didn’t give Elliot time to prepare. The first hit landed across the center of Elliot’s ass. He screamed as the fiery pain woke him up from the low haze where he’d been floating.

Derwin gave him no mercy, but delivered another crack of the cane, just below where the first one had struck. Elliot cried out and clenched his fists. “Fuck! Fucking bastard!”

“Love you too.” Derwin chuckled. “And ‘fuck’ is not a safeword.”

“No, it’s a request,” Elliot shot back, grinning, and then a new blow pulled a yelp from him. Damn, but his ass was going to be sore later.

“I’m going to keep laying stripes across your beautiful pale skin until you shut up,” Derwin laid yet another strike, this one lower than the others, right at the place where thighs became ass, which was perfect because the cane also struck the base of the plug. This time Elliot couldn’t curse, as the shock went through the most intimate parts of him. His sound was more of a howl, and then a frantic regrouping because he was in danger of coming without permission.

“Sir— Gods— I can’t . . .” Elliot knew he was babbling, knew that he was supposed to be shutting up, but he couldn’t help it. Nor did he want to shut up just yet. Derwin must have sensed that he’d reached the exquisite knifepoint of pain and pleasure, because he pressed up against Elliot from behind.

Elliot felt the brush of Derwin’s hard cock against his thighs, velvet smooth contrasting with the roughness of pubic hair grazing the welts on his ass. Sometime during the preparations, Derwin must have undressed. With a soft growl, Derwin wrapped an arm around Elliot, pinning him there as he bit into the back of his neck. Elliot whined, arching back.

“Are you telling me you need the ring?” Derwin whispered into Elliot’s ear, grinding against him in slow seduction.

“Yes,” Elliot said, not trusting himself to say more. He gnawed his lip as Derwin’s hand drifted down to fondle first a sensitive nipple, and then his cock. Fortunately, the teasing was brief, and then Derwin gave him a hard squeeze at the base of the shaft. Elliot shuddered, but relaxed as his need to come faded somewhat.

Derwin nibbled at Elliot’s ear for a moment, and then stepped back. “Five more, Elliot. And then I’m going to fuck you right here. No cock rings this time. I’m going to bury myself in you and rut until you scream my name.”

Elliot adjusted his stance, nodding. Then the next blow came. Half of him wanted to hold back his cries, while the other half wanted to please Derwin, so he ended up giving a strangled shout. His cock was heavy and aching, a counterpoint to the sting of his ass.

He tried to prepare himself for the next strike, but it came too soon. Another stripe across his upper thighs, and Elliot screamed, tears rolling down his cheeks. It wasn’t the pain, exactly, or sadness. It was a release of all the shit he’d been through recently. It was letting steam out of the pressure cooker of his psyche.

Three additional strikes followed, evenly spaced out, but Elliot was too gone to offer more than a soft cry to each. He hiccupped between sniffles, letting out something that was not quite a sob, but close. Once the final one was over, the pain blossoming down his backside, Derwin wrapped his arms around from behind. Elliot let go of the wall, clutching at those strong arms.

“I’ve got you,” Derwin murmured. “Do you need to lie down on the bed?”

Elliot realized he was putting almost all his weight on him. He let go with one hand to wipe at the tears. “No. I want what you said. Right here. Just like this.” He didn’t want to look at Derwin, but gods, he wanted to feel him penetrating deep inside.

Derwin’s grip relaxed a little. Elliot closed his eyes at the touch of Derwin’s lips at the back of his neck, kissing him softly. “Okay.”

There was no need to say more. Next came the loud tearing of a condom packet, and Elliot wished for the umpteenth time that it was six months from now and he’d been pronounced clean so they could dispense with them. Derwin drew the anal plug out carefully, letting it drop to the floor. Then the wide head of Derwin’s cock nudged at his anus.

He groaned. Derwin let go of him only long enough to line himself up; then with a thrust he was halfway inside. Elliot braced his hands on the wall again, pushing back against the burn, loving it.

“You’re tight in this position.” Derwin huffed against Elliot’s back, trembling slightly. Elliot heard the sputter of lube being squeezed from a bottle, and sighed as Derwin spread it around his hole and up and down both their cocks. A hard thrust later, and Derwin was fully inside. Yes, the stretch was greater like this, standing up. Elliot hissed, wishing he could fondle himself. He knew better, however.

“Fuck me, please,” Elliot whined instead, rocking back against Derwin.

Derwin groaned, pulling halfway out and then slamming home again. His fingers dug into Elliot’s hips, and Elliot suspected he’d be sporting bruises there as well tomorrow. It was just what he wanted.

Elliot turned his head enough so that he could see Derwin’s face, and maybe catch a glimpse of the glow in Derwin’s eyes that would show he was drinking this all in. He wasn’t disappointed. Derwin’s eyes met his, an amber glow to his dark-brown irises, and with such love and need, it rocked Elliot to the core.

Another hard thrust, one forceful enough to bang Elliot’s head against the wall. “Mine,” Derwin growled.

Elliot nodded, turning his face forward once more. “Yours,” he whispered. Then Derwin began fucking him in earnest. Elliot opened his mouth in a silent scream. The slap of Derwin’s pelvis against the welts on his ass, the brutal reaming of his hole—it was all perfect. Derwin’s cock felt like a hot poker, stoking the flame inside.

“Derwin . . .” Elliot rasped, bracing himself with one hand and reaching back with his other hand to claw at Derwin’s flank and thigh, desperate in his need. “Please, permission!” It was all he could get out between the heaving onslaughts.

“Almost,” Derwin said it like a promise, taking hold of Elliot’s cock. He didn’t let up on the pace at all, but stroked Elliot in time, until Elliot was near exploding. Everything turned white around the edges.

“Come,” Derwin said into Elliot’s ear. And he did.

The pleasure was so close to pain he wasn’t sure what to call it, but it gripped and enveloped him like a tempest. He thought he cried out; there was Derwin inside him, and he was being filled and emptying at the same time. Then his knees buckled, and Derwin supported him, holding him tight.

“Easy, babe,” Derwin said, slipping out of him. It was always this way: Derwin guiding him to the bed, then letting him sink into the plush mattress, being cleaned off by his lover’s skilled hands. Elliot floated, content.

He must have slipped away for a few moments, because the next thing he knew, they were both under the covers, both naked, and the cat was curled up at Elliot’s feet. He blinked, lifting his head from where it had been resting on Derwin’s shoulder. “Did I fall asleep?”

Derwin petted Elliot’s hair. “You were flying pretty high. I’m not sure if you fell asleep or passed out.” He chuckled. “Either way, you seemed fine with me moving you into the bed. How are you feeling?”

Elliot groaned and stretched. He ached pleasantly, and the sheets rubbed against the welts left by the caning. “Sore. Wonderful.” Of course Derwin could sense his pain. But it was nice that he asked.

Lowering his head, Derwin gave him a long, slow kiss. “Good. I didn’t want to push you too far. But gods, that was good.”

Elliot nodded, yawning. Yeah, it had been good. And he was sleepy. “We need to do that more often.”

A flicker of amber light glowed in Derwin’s eyes. “We will.”

 

Chapter Three

Home Sick

When they reached Bob’s Bail Bonds the following morning, they learned that Connie had called out sick yet again. This worried Derwin. It was one thing for her to miss a day or two. But a whole week? She’d never been out so long before.

As Elliot set to answering voice mails and filing new paperwork, Derwin took Bob aside. “Have you spoken to her?”

There was a fine sheen of sweat on the man’s brow as he shook his head. “She’s been leaving me voice mails at five every morning. But she knows I don’t function until at least eight.”

Everybody knew that. “You think she’s avoiding you?” And this, too, didn’t sound like Connie. Connie was the loud one, the friendly one.

Bob shrugged, rubbing at his bald spot. “I don’t know. But I even called her last night, hoping to chat and see how she’s been doing. She didn’t answer.” He touched his lips with his index finger, glancing over at Elliot before turning back to Derwin. “Could you stop by and see what’s up? Elliot and I can hold down the fort here, and I don’t have much for you today. Vince and Carter can handle any skips that you miss.”

Derwin nodded, tension gnawing at his gut. Bob was right; it was more important to find out what was happening with their long-time receptionist than catch a low-level skip or two. Plus he’d known Vince and Carter, fellow bond agents, for years. He crossed to where Elliot had spread out several folders to organize them. “Can you grab the HR file on Connie?”

Elliot spun on his chair to face the wall of filing cabinets behind him. “Um . . .” He bent to look at the labels on each drawer, and finally opened one, paging through to pluck a folder out. “Here we are. You’re going to check on her?” He pouted. “Wish I could meet her.”

Smiling, Derwin shook his head. “It’s not like she’s gone forever. You’ll get to meet her soon.” He stopped as his own words sunk in, filling him with foreboding. Then he shook it off. She was calling in every day. So she wasn’t dead.

Why in the world would she be hiding from work and all of her closest friends?

* * * * * * *

The first thing Derwin noticed when he pulled up to Connie’s midtown apartment, was that her car was parked out front. So it seemed she was home, as she’d claimed. If she was truly ill, however, then he was going to pull her ass out of bed and drive her to the doctor. She brightened his day every time he walked into Bob’s Bail Bonds. He could at least make sure she got better.

Derwin parked up the street from her faded tan sedan, which was much drabber than her colorful wardrobe, and then took a quick look inside her car to see if anything struck him as odd. There was an empty coffee mug, two flyers that somebody had probably stuck on her car, and the sweater she typically wore in the chilly evenings. But nothing that hinted at trouble. She still had the crystal hanging from her mirror and a bumper sticker proclaiming, Jesus Loves You.

Sighing, Derwin headed for the entrance to the multistory building. He waited for someone to exit and hurried in to avoid having to buzz Connie or figure out the security code. From her personnel file, her place was on the third floor. The elevator looked sketchy, so he took the stairs. Through the building’s thin walls came the blare of TVs, children crying, and someone playing rock with too much bass.

He rapped lightly on her door; hopefully she’d be able to answer it. He didn’t want to have to break in and pay for a new door.

Silence greeted him. He sighed.

“Connie!” he shouted, and knocked harder. Either she was extremely sick, determined to hide, or not home. Was Connie the sort to ditch work for a spur-of-the-moment vacation? He didn’t think so.

He tried one last time, pounding with his fist, and just as he sucked in a lungful to yell at full volume, the lock clicked. Derwin stopped his hand midswing as the door opened.

Connie looked like shit.

Well not shit, exactly—it was mostly the lack of makeup that was to blame. Connie liked fire-engine-red lipstick and frosted eye shadow on her dark skin. She also liked big, sculpted hairdos for her ebony hair. He’d never been sure of her exact racial background—black, Hispanic, maybe part Asian. He simply thought of her as beautiful. Today, however, she looked washed out and faded with exhaustion. Her eyes were puffy and red, as if she’d been crying. Or maybe she’d been honest all along and actually did have a bad cold.

“Connie? Are you all right? We were getting worried at Bob’s. He said he hadn’t spoken with you for a few days.”

Connie tiredly waved him in, closing the door behind him. Open fast-food containers and dirty dishes littered the coffee table, and used tissues covered the floor. That also didn’t seem like her usual self. “I’m all right—I’m not dying or anything.” She didn’t sound stuffed up, but her voice was a little raspy. She sat down on the sofa, hugging her robe to herself.

Derwin glanced at the seating options and then sat on the recliner, feeling awkward as it rocked with his weight. From the small size of the apartment, it appeared Connie lived here alone. Did she have children? He wasn’t even sure of her age, though he knew she was older than him, probably by a good ten years or so. “We were worried about you, Bob and me.” He smiled. “And I need to introduce you to my new boyfriend.”

She brightened at that. “You have a new boyfriend? Mister, you’d better spill!” Some of the old fire returned in her voice, and though she still sounded raspy, she looked better.

He couldn’t help the slight blush, since she’d been gently nudging him for the past year. It had been too painful to try to date someone, especially not knowing who had killed Grady, or why he had died. “His name’s Elliot—Elliot Leed. He, um.” Derwin chuckled. “He was a rentboy. I met him at a club.”

Connie did her I-don’t-approve head tilt at him, hands on her hips. “Say what, now? A rentboy?”

“He’s not anymore,” Derwin hurried to assure her. “His parents kicked him out when he was fourteen. For being gay.” He paused, because the next part was Elliot’s secret to tell, not his. However, they’d already told Bob, and Bob would tell Connie if he didn’t. “And for being an Oddity.”

Connie frowned and shook her head. “I swear there should be a license to become a parent. You can’t deal with your child’s unique gifts, you shouldn’t have children. That simple.” She shook her head again, wearily. “Dealing with children, oh Lord. It’ll age you quicker than anything.”

That set off a warning flag for Derwin. “Is everything okay? Have you been sick, or is there another reason you’ve been missing work?”

Connie didn’t answer immediately. Her gaze flicked to some jotted notes on the coffee table. She sighed, rubbing her temples. “No, baby. Everything is not okay. I’ve been trying to hold it together, but you could say the shit hit the fan on Monday morning. I couldn’t concentrate on work. That’s why I’ve been calling in sick every day.”

He leaned over and put a hand on her knee, feeling her tension through the soft robe and pajamas. “Connie. You and I are friends. You know you can trust me. I’m very good at keeping things secret. Are you in some kind of trouble?”

She looked at him longingly. “You’re a good bond agent, Derwin. And I understand you solved Grady’s murder. You’re an expert at finding people, right?”

A chill went down his back. “That’s right.” Derwin’s enhanced hearing detected her breath quickening, her pulse. What was she afraid of? “Who do you need me to find?”

Two fat tears rolled down Connie’s cheeks, and her composure crumpled. “My son.” She threw herself at Derwin and started bawling, holding him in a death grip. For a woman who was a foot shorter than he was, she had an awfully strong grip. Her sobs were loud. And wet.

“Hey, it’s okay.” Derwin awkwardly patted her on the back. Comforting crying women was not his best skill. But he’d never seen Connie this upset. “I’ll find him. Please, just calm down and tell me what happened.”

He fumbled around and found the box of tissues. He grabbed several and offered them to her; she sniffled and finally let him go. She raised her head from where her face had been buried against his chest and grabbed the tissues from him. “Thank you.” She blew her nose a few times. “I’m a wreck. That’s why I haven’t been to work in five days.”

“Yeah, I see that,” Derwin said in a soft, calm voice. He waited while she dabbed at her eyes. At least she wasn’t falling apart anymore. “Just start from the beginning. How old is your son?”

She blew her noise, before tossing the tissue over to a little garbage pail, already overflowing with other tissues. “He’s twenty. He’s attending Nis University as an art student, but recently he also got a job over at the docks. I told him to be careful about that—there’s been sightings in the last few weeks of a possible sea demon—people have even reported a disappearance or two. But Billy assured me he wasn’t working near the beach. Then about three weeks ago, he mentioned that he’d met this girl from China when he was out for lunch one day. Next thing I know, he says he’s in love with her.” She sighed, reaching over to the kitchen counter, and picking up a piece of paper. Wordlessly, she handed it to Derwin.

The words were scrawled in pen. Mom, I’ve run into trouble. I know it’s a lot, but do you have ten thousand dollars I can borrow? I could come by on Sunday to pick it up. Don’t worry. I’ll pay you back. Whatever you do, don’t tell anyone! The last sentence was written twice as big as the others and was underlined twice. The page looked tear-stained. Derwin glanced at Connie.

“He left this for me on Friday while I was at work. But he didn’t come on Sunday.” New tears threatened to spill at the corners of Connie’s eyes. “I haven’t seen or heard from him at all. He’s missing.”

“Wow.” Derwin set the letter back down quickly. He couldn’t help but think of Elliot, with his object reading. Would he be able to get anything from the paper? If they knew what kind of trouble Connie’s son was in, that would be a good place to start. “I can’t imagine what you’re going through. You should have asked me for help sooner. Did you call the cops?”

She shook her head, waving a hand at the letter. “He said not to tell anyone. That’s why I didn’t tell you. Or Bob.” Connie dabbed at her eyes, her bottom lip trembling. “I just don’t know what to do. You’re right. You know how to find people, and you know how to do it without letting them know you’re hunting. I should have told you.”

He rubbed her back. “You’re my friend, Connie. You were there when . . . you know. When I lost Grady.”

Connie nodded. “You were such a mess. I know you tried to hide it. But you were.” She sighed, blinking and rubbing the paper with her free hand, still holding the tissue in her other. “Okay. See if you can find out anything. I’ll give you my son’s phone number, his address, whatever you need. His name is Billy Barton. He’s about six foot two and skinny as a rail. He takes after his daddy, God save us all.”

Derwin nodded, pulling out his phone to take notes. “How would you describe his ethnicity? Is he similar to you?” He’d never met Mr. Barton, who’d left Connie for another woman when she was thirty. He’d heard plenty about Connie’s ex-husband, particularly a few years back when she’d decided to start dressing sexy and date other men.

“His daddy’s darker skinned, African American. Me, I got a mixture of black and Chinook. Billy’s skin tone is somewhere between the two of us.” Abruptly, Connie stood up, crossing to a small desk near the kitchen, which was separated from the living room only by an island countertop. “I have pictures here somewhere.” She rifled through a drawer, pulling out several before selecting one to bring back to Derwin. “Here. This one’s a year old and his hair’s a bit fuller than he wears it now. But that’s my boy.” Her face crumpled, and she started crying again. “That’s my only boy.”

Derwin took the photo quickly before she could spill tears on it. “You think he stopped by on Friday. When was the last time you physically saw him? Have you met this girlfriend of his yet?”

“Not yet. We were going to have dinner together in about a week or so. I know that she’s from China, and that’s about it.”

As she sat there collecting herself, Derwin studied the photograph. Billy was a handsome fellow with a big charming smile like his mother’s and expressive brown eyes. He was clean-shaven, and he had a piercing in one ear. Connie stood up and began to pick up the place, taking old fast-food packages and crumpled tissues to the trash in the kitchen. Derwin tried to find traits that would clearly identify Billy, but he didn’t see anything. “Did he have any tattoos? Birthmarks?” It was a grim thought, but one of the things he would have to check would be the hospitals. And the city morgue.

Connie’s eyes widened. “Tattoos? I don’t know. I never saw any. But you know how boys are. They reach puberty, and God forbid their mother catches sight of bare skin.” She set a stack of dishes into the sink with a clatter. “He, um. He does have a birthmark, on his left ankle. A large mole—nothing else.” She bowed her head, trembling.

Derwin pocketed the photograph and took a picture of the note with his camera phone. He walked over to her, debating sitting with her to comfort her, or giving her space to deal with her emotions.

After a moment, she sighed. “Do you think he’s okay?”

He winced. It would be easy to say that of course her son would be fine. But then, they both knew such things weren’t always true. Grady hadn’t been fine, and Derwin had only been away from him for an hour. “The police haven’t contacted you. That’s a good sign. Until I find out otherwise, I’m hoping that your son is okay, wherever he is.”

Connie crossed herself. “Praise Jesus, amen. I hope you’re right. You find my boy with those bounty hunter skills of yours. And you bring him back.” A little of her old fire returned to her voice, and she stood straighter.

“I will.” Derwin returned to the living room to pick up a few dishes and took them to her in the kitchen. “Are you ready to come to work? Bob’s worried about you. And don’t forget about all our case files. Maybe there’s something there that can help us track him down.”

“Mm-mm-mm. I sure hope so. But what about my phone? What if somebody, like a kidnapper, calls here?” Connie waved a hand toward her old cordless still on the coffee table, lying there like a dead rat. “That’s why I haven’t come in—well, besides the whole falling-apart issue. I’m afraid I’ll get a ransom call or something.”

“Fair enough.” Until they knew more, Derwin couldn’t discount that possibility. “How about this? I tell Bob about what’s going on so that he can stop by and see you, and maybe brainstorm where else to search? We’ve got Elliot doing the filing in the office, so we’re covered there. I’d like to take your son’s note to Elliot to see if he can get anything off of it.”

Connie stared at him in surprise. “Do you suppose he can? What kinds of things can he see?”

Derwin shrugged. “He’s got limitations. Basically, if there’s a strong memory attached to an object, he’ll get a vision with the memory. Full sensory, sometimes. But he won’t be able to touch that note and tell you where your son is right this moment. He’ll only know if your son was thinking about a particular subject when he wrote it.”

“It’s better than nothing, which is where I’m at now. You take the note, Derwin. Maybe you could also check Billy’s apartment? I went by there on Monday, but he wasn’t there. I’ve been calling him every day.” Connie looked much more like her old self as she pulled out a key from the kitchen drawer. “I’ll jot down his address and his building code. Just keep me updated. If you come by again, I may even cook for you. I’m well-known for my chicken pot pie.” Derwin was already feeling better about the situation. If he could find her son and return him, it would pay her back for her kind words and positive attitude when he’d been grieving.

“I’ll check back,” he told her. He’d take the note to Elliot first, and see if Bob would let both of them have the rest of the day off.

She nodded at him. “That’ll do nicely. The heavens watch over you.”

 

Chapter Four

A New Case

“He’s missing?” Bob asked for the third time. Elliot sighed, anxiously, watching Bob pop some antacids, while talking to Derwin. Bob seemed to treat all his bond agents and employees like family. Theresa had been the same to Elliot—his Madame, but also a mother figure. This had to be hitting Bob hard.

Derwin shrugged. “He left her a note where he asked for money and told her not to tell anyone. Then he didn’t show up to get the money. She’s going out of her mind with worry.” He pulled out a key and a piece of paper inside a plastic baggie, and placed them on the desk. “Connie gave me the key to Billy’s apartment and asked if Elliot and I could stop by. Apparently Billy met a new girl a few weeks ago and hasn’t been to school or work in the last several days. She doesn’t want to leave home in case he or somebody else calls or comes by.”

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Bob muttered, perusing the note. He scratched the bald spot on his head. “Elliot how many skips do we have today? They’re all small ones, right?”

Elliot laid out the files in front of him, struggling to remember. Having a regular job was new, this having to organize papers, being called on to actually know something. “Yeah, they’re all small. You’ve got four—five if Liza Mantilly misses her court date. I’ve already left her a message to remind her.”

Bob nodded thoughtfully. “I spoke with Vince and Carter today, and Lacey can take some of them too—she’s been asking. Derwin, do you want to check Billy’s apartment with Elliot? I’ll compensate the two of you for your time.” He looked Elliot up and down. “You going to do that Oddity power of yours?”

“Probably. There’s no hard rules about any of it. The more people who handle an object, the more likely that residual memories can be polluted by their emotions and experiences, or even erased.” Elliot flushed. He didn’t feel particularly comfortable sharing his object reading ability with more people. But Derwin had insisted that Bob would keep his secret safe, and that it was good for the man to know since they worked with quite a few Oddities in the bond agency, so having more employees with firsthand knowledge about them was useful. It also meant Bob didn’t ask why Elliot wore gloves all the time. Elliot had already been asked to read a file or two to see if he came up with any information on a fugitive’s whereabouts. But while clients had to handle and sign their bond agreement, it was a long shot to get anything from those papers. It required intense emotions to imprint an object with a memory.

Bob smiled. “I’m sure you’ll do fine, son. I’ll hold down the fort, and Vince or Carter can help me if we need to bring anyone else in today. Just keep me updated, right? Does Connie need anything?”

“Whatever we find out—even if it’s nothing—we’ll update you, and maybe later you can bring her food. From what I saw, she could use some company and support.”

Derwin opened up Connie’s HR file, while Elliot looked at the skip files he’d spread out earlier. With a shrug, he put them aside. He wasn’t crazy about getting visions, but hopefully they wouldn’t be too bad. It’d be more exciting than filing, anyway.

He peeked at Derwin, who was taking down an address. “So the girlfriend. Any chance Billy ran off and eloped with her? Maybe they’re hiding out somewhere?” Even as he said it, Elliot doubted it was true. From all accounts Connie was an open, loving person, not one that a guy would hide from. It was nice that Connie was worried about her son being missing. That hadn’t been the case for Elliot; his parents had kicked him out after a guy kissed him at school, and he hadn’t heard a peep from them since. According to the file, Connie’s son was twenty, one year older than Elliot. I wonder what he’s like.

Derwin turned to Bob, who paused, then shook his head. “Don’t think Billy would do that. I’ve met her son a few times; we’ve had lunch together here. He seems like an average kid. Wanted to become an illustrator, as I recall. I can’t see him just up and leaving. I mean, he has college classes to attend.”

“We’ll take a look. Thank you, sir.” Elliot always called Bob sir, even when Bob told him not to. It didn’t feel right calling the man by his first name.

He finished putting away everything and grabbed his lunch box and his keys. Derwin held out the note.

“We might as well try the first thing here. Maybe we won’t even need to check the apartment if you get something.” Derwin looked apologetic but determined.

Elliot sighed. His Oddity was more of a curse than a gift. But this was just a note. Not likely that Connie’s son had written it while being skewered alive or anything. “Fine.” He took off his gloves.

With a wary glance at Bob, Elliot took hold of the note.

Oh my God, he’s missing! What did he need the money for? Where is he? The thoughts weren’t Elliot’s; they were Connie’s and he was Connie, standing in her kitchen with the note in one hand and the other hand at her throat in shock. Her heart was racing. Billy was a good boy. He went to class and called every weekend and never got into trouble. What could he possibly need ten thousand dollars for? Had he gotten that new girlfriend of his pregnant?

Elliot blinked and just as quickly, the vision was gone. “Never been a mom before,” he said as he handed back the note. “Sorry. I got Connie, not her son. I guess her emotions were stronger when she picked up the note than his were when he wrote it.”

Derwin shrugged. “I had a feeling you wouldn’t get much from it. Still, better safe than sorry.” He tucked away the note. “Let’s head out.”

Elliot followed him to his car.