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Strong & Sexy

Copyright © N.R. Walker 2018, © Keira Andrews 2018, © Eli Easton 2018, © Jay Northcote 2018, © RJ Scott 2018, © V.L. Locey 2018, © DJ Jamison 2018, © Leta Blake 2018, © Posy Roberts 2018, © Jamie Fessenden 2018, © Annabelle Jacobs 2018, © Amber Kell 2018


Cover design by RJ Scott

Smashwords Edition


All Rights Reserved

This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission. This book cannot be copied in any format, sold, or otherwise transferred from your computer to another through upload to a file-sharing peer-to-peer program, for free or for a fee. Such action is illegal and in violation of Copyright Law.

All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.

All trademarks are the property of their respective owners.




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Contents

N.R. Walker

Keira Andrews

Eli Easton

Jay Northcote

RJ Scott

V.L. Locey

DJ Jamison

Leta Blake

Posy Roberts

Jamie Fessenden

Annabelle Jacobs

Amber Kell



N.R. Walker


N.R. Walker is an Australian author, who loves her genre of gay romance. She loves writing and spends far too much time doing it, but wouldn't have it any other way.

She is many things; a mother, a wife, a sister, a writer. She has pretty, pretty boys who live in her head, who don't let her sleep at night unless she gives them life with words. 

She likes it when they do dirty, dirty things...but likes it even more when they fall in love.

She used to think having people in her head talking to her was weird, until one day she happened across other writers who told her it was normal. 



She's been writing ever since...


For more info on N.R. Walker, you can find her at:


Website | Email | Facebook Author Page

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Point Of No Return


Turning Point Series, book 1 - MM Romance


* * *


Matthew Elliot is one of LA’s best detectives. He’s been labeled the golden boy of the Fab Four: a team of four detectives who’ve closed down drug-rings all over the city. He’s smart, tough and exceptionally good at his job. He’s also a closeted gay man.

Enter Kira Takeo Franco, the new boxing coach at the gym. Matthew can’t deny his immediate attraction to the man his fellow cops know as Frankie. But in allowing himself to fall in love with a man known to his colleagues, Matthew risks outing them both.

Matt and Kira work to keep their relationship and private lives hidden from Matt’s very public life, fearing it would be detrimental to their careers. But it’s not the other cops who Matthew should be worried about finding out his deepest, darkest secret... it’s the bad guys.


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Point of No Return - Excerpt


Chapter One


The four of us hit the gym like we always did after a stressful day and were met by a round of applause from the other cops who were there working out. The gym itself was a main-floor space with various fitness equipment, a service desk, and some rooms off the far wall for different classes. It smelled like sweat and dirty socks. I loved it.

On the wall facing the treadmills was a row of TV screens, usually showing repeats of different sports. But not tonight. The TV screens were tuned to the five o’clock news, and all the guys there were watching the four of us standing outside the West Street headquarters.

A reporter introduced the story. “Breaking another link in one of LA’s biggest drug chains, Croatian expat Pavao Tomic was taken down in what can only be described as a successful drug heist by police.

I waved them off, heading straight for the treadmills. I didn’t need to watch it.

I’d been there.

Detective Elliott, it must be a relief after weeks of hard work to finally have this notorious drug supplier in custody.

Yes, it is,” I heard myself answer diplomatically on-screen. “The streets of LA are safer. The people of LA are better off with Tomic behind bars.

What I couldn’t say on air was that the slimeball deserved everything he got. With no regard for human life, types like Pavao Tomic were best left to rot in jail.

Instead, all suited up out in front of HQ, the television version of me went on to say it wasn’t just me who did all the work, like the press insinuated, but a team effort.

I didn’t outrank the other three men on my team. I didn’t do anything they didn’t do, but that wasn’t how the media portrayed it. To them, I was the leader of the media-dubbed “Fab Four”—one of four detectives in the Narcotics Division who had broken crime rings right across the city. My partner, Detective Mitch Seaton, and detective partners Kurt Webber and Tony Milic made up the rest of the team who had seen a record number of criminals behind bars.

“Yeah,” Mitch snorted from the treadmill beside me. “The one-man show here did it all on his own.”

I rolled my eyes before looking over at the other guys. “Any time either of you three idiots want to speak up when the cameras start rolling, be my guest.”

Kurt laughed. “No freakin’ way! I’d rather your ugly mug be all over the news than mine.”

“The general public would too,” Mitch joked. He reached over and tapped the side of my face. “This pretty-boy makes all us cops look good.”

Tony laughed at me, and the three of them started talking crap just like the media did. But they gave up trying to goad me when they realized I wasn’t going to bite. I tuned them out and tuned into the rhythm of my feet hitting the treadmill instead.

They’d settled in to running it out on the treadmills with me when Kurt told us he couldn’t stay long because he had dinner plans with his girlfriend, Rachel. “Workout first, then we hit the bar, just for a few. It’s been a helluva week.”

And so it had.

We’d spent months watching Tomic, waiting for the intel to pay off, nabbing him red-handed in a multi-million-dollar drug bust. It had paid off today. No one injured, no casualties, several million dollars’ worth of cocaine, ice, and meth off the streets, and one more link in the crime chain behind bars.

So we did what we always did. The four of us hit the gym, then we hit the bar. They didn’t drink much, and I drank even less, but we’d blow off steam in the gym then unwind in the bar, talking crap and having a laugh. It was a cops’ gym and a cops’ bar. I’d been a cop for ten of my twenty-eight years. Police work was all I knew.

The guys I worked with were like my family, like brothers. I knew almost everything about them, as they did with me.

Almost everything. There was one part of my life they knew nothing about.

When the other guys commented on me being the blond-haired, blue-eyed playboy of the police force, the one all the ladies wanted, I was reminded of exactly what it was they didn’t know about me.

Because it wasn’t the ladies I wanted at all.

That was what they didn’t know about me. That was what I kept secret. Hidden. Private. Would the guys I worked with treat me differently if they knew I was gay? Maybe… probably…

I wasn’t ashamed. I wasn’t scared. I didn’t flaunt being gay because I didn’t want it to precede me. I wanted to be known for being a good cop, not a gay cop. But above all, I kept my sexuality to myself because it was no one else’s goddamn business.

After twenty minutes on the treadmill, I jumped off, ready for my bag workout. Boxing was my thing. The gym had a sparring room—no ring, just mats and pads. It was mostly just a form of fitness and a little self-defense. The other guys on my team didn’t bother with it. They’d watch me spar sometimes, and they’d tease and taunt me, but not one of them had the balls to spar with me.

I headed into the boxing room, and Chris, the owner of the gym, followed me. “Hey, Matt!” he called from the door. “There’ll be a new trainer taking your session today.”

“No worries,” I replied. “Is Vinnie okay?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Chris nodded. “Just a change in his work schedule, that’s all.” He looked over my shoulder and called some guy over. “Frankie, this here is Matthew Elliott. He’s your five-thirty appointment. Matt, this is Frankie.”

I looked at him then, my new boxing trainer. And I got stuck.

Jesus fucking Christ.

I did a double take, trying not to give myself away. But he was fucking beautiful. He had dark hair, dark skin, dark eyes. He was European, or Asian. Or both.

He smiled. Oh, fuck. His smile.

“Frankie’s real name I can’t pronounce,” Chris went on to say with a laugh. “But he knows I’m an ex-cop and not overly bright, so he forgives me.”

This Frankie guy extended his hand and introduced himself formally. “Kira Takeo Franco.” I couldn’t detect an accent, but his name rolled erotically off his tongue. I shook his hand, and our eyes met. It was like I couldn’t look away. His stare deepened for just a second and his eyes flashed, as though he could tell I found him attractive. Then he smiled and said, “You’re the guy on TV.”

“The one and the same,” Chris said. “Anyway,” he continued to me with a smile, “I’ve seen Frankie in action and thought I’d come in and watch how he does with our best student.”

Then the door behind me swung open, and Mitch, Kurt and Tony walked in.

I looked at my team standing in the door, all smiling, then back to Chris. “And what are they here for?”

Chris answered hesitantly. “Well, Frankie’s pretty good. I might have told them it could be… entertaining.”

I looked at the three smiling cops, my so-called partners. “And you guys have come in to watch me get my ass kicked?”

They nodded and laughed, and Mitch defended me… well, kind of. “I got twenty on ya,” he said. He threw his thumb back at Kurt and Tony. “These two aren’t so confident.”

I rolled my eyes and smiled at them, then started strapping my hands. When I turned around and saw my sparring partner, I almost lost my breath. He was stretching out—his broad shoulders were barely concealed by his singlet top, revealing well-defined muscles and beautiful, olive skin. My dick twitched.

Goddamn it.

A hard-on in front of my team was the last thing I needed. I faced the wall, bounced on my toes, and shook it out, wishing like hell my old trainer, the very not-attractive Vinnie, was still my trainer.

“Okay, we’ll start on the bag,” Frankie said.

He held the punching bag still while I practiced jabs and sequences, and he grinned. His dark eyes were bright and smiling as he held the bag steady. Even though I knew he was staring straight at me, I deliberately didn’t look at him and kept my eyes on the bag instead.

But then he called time and picked up hand pads. He stood ready, his covered hands up between us, waiting for me to aim practice jabs into the pads. And in front of our audience, we went through the motions. I jabbed, he deflected. But he smiled as though he was daring me.

It was as though his full lips, his almond-shaped eyes, that shiny black hair, and the dimple in his left cheek were goading me. Luring me.

And my dick twitched again.

Fuck.

“Okay, Frankie,” Chris called out. “Show him what you got.”

Slipping his hands out of the padded mitts and throwing them to the sidewall, Frankie turned to face me. I faced him front on, raising my hands to protect my chin as he did the same.

We danced around each other for a while offering a few jabs each, and I noticed him lifting his right foot just slightly so his heel left the mat, but not his toes.

He wasn’t just a boxer. He was a kickboxer.

“Keep your foot down,” I told him.

His eyebrows lifted and he smirked, making my dick twitch again. And then he jabbed me twice in the mouth.

The other guys cheered as I pulled back, resizing my opponent. “Keep your elbows in,” he instructed. “And keep your hands up.”

I stepped in quickly, throwing a sharp left. He dodged it easily and grinned again, but this time he chuckled. And I could feel myself getting hard.

We exchanged a few taps, skirting around each other. I landed a few good shots, as did he. But I was distracted, and he landed some rib shots and a few face shots. Not that he hit me hard, just a gentle tap to prove he could really hit me if he wanted.

One thing I learned real quick—getting tapped in the face and jabbed in the ribs does little for hard-ons. The more he hit me, the less turned on I got.

And just so I didn’t get a fully fledged hard-on, I let him win.

I lowered my hands, just a little, and I didn’t move my feet.

“Oh, come on,” Mitch yelled at me. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, Elliott? You can fight better than that!”

I knew I could, and I thought this Frankie guy knew it too, because not long after that, he called it quits.

Kurt and Tony crowed their victory, and Chris proudly clapped his new trainer on the shoulder. Mitch scoffed at me. “Yeah, thanks, partner. You cost me twenty bucks! It’s your damn round. So get your ass to the bar and get buyin’.”

I nodded, unwrapping my hands. “Yeah, yeah,” I mumbled with a laugh. “Meet you there in five.” I didn’t even watch them leave.

Because then it was just me and him.

“Are you okay?” he asked, pulling strapping tape off his hand. “You were holding back on me.”

I thought he’d picked up on that. I ignored his question. I ignored his smile and I ignored the fact we were alone. “You do martial arts?”

He nodded and smiled. “Yeah.”

“I could tell,” I said. “The way you lift your foot. It’s a defensive move for kickboxers.”

I looked at him then, and he was staring at me.

Fuck.

“Good detective work, Detective,” he said with a grin. “Now why did you hold back? You don’t seem the type to be intimidated by a little martial arts.”

I snorted out a laugh at the likelihood of that. “I’m not intimidated.”

He smirked and stepped closer to me. His eyes were so goddamn piercing, so brown they were almost black. His jet-black hair was damp and messy, and his perfect lips were smiling, just a little, in a smug kinda smirk.

Right then, I wasn’t the kind of cop who could hold his own. I was a deer caught in headlights, mesmerized by this man, how beautiful he was. How close he was…

His voice was quiet. “So if you’re not intimidated, are you interested? Because you look at me like you could be interested. And I have to say, I wouldn’t mind.”

Jesus.

I took an automatic step back from him, breaking my dazed trance, and pulled roughly at the tape on my hands. I cleared my throat. “I um… I ca—I can’t.” I was fucking stammering. And breathing too hard. “I have to go. They’re expecting me.”

Like some shit-scared little boy, I all but bolted out the door and into the showers.

Fifteen minutes later, cold-showered and somewhat clear-headed, I walked into the bar certain of two things.

If I was going to stay in my very comfortable closet, I needed to avoid my new boxing trainer.

And I needed a fucking drink.


Chapter Two


I never drank. Well, correction… I rarely drank. Four, no, make that five… five drinks and I was feeling it.

The guys were looking at me funny.

I knew they were looking at me funny, but I was pretending I didn’t notice. I was keeping mum about my run-in with Frankie… Frankie… That really fucking sexy Frankie. I groaned and shook my head.

A smug Tony asked, “Could the ever-elusive Matthew Elliott be having girl trouble?”

“Know what?” I pointed my beer at him. “Fuck you.” I swigged my beer proudly.

Tony scoffed. “Oh, I think it might be.”

“Yeah, come on,” Kurt said too cheerfully. “First, you take a beating from the new trainer guy, then you hit the beer? Spill the details, Elliott.”

I downed the last of my drink, and when I pushed off my stool, the room tilted. I tried to reach for the table, but it was somehow not as close as I thought. Then the room tilted again, and Mitch had hold of me.

Mitch. The best partner a cop could have. I told him this, of course, and he agreed.

“Get him home,” someone said. Kurt. Kurt said that.

I told him, very seriously, “I can get myself home, thank you, Detective Webber.”

Kurt and Tony laughed at me. They were laughing at me, and it should’ve bothered me. Actually, it did bother me, but Mitch was pushing me out the door.

Ah, Mitch. My partner. “Haven’t you got a movie date tonight with Anna?” I asked.

He looked at his watch. “Plenty of time,” he said. “It’s not even eight.”

Fuck. It wasn’t even eight and I was smashed. The fresh air and city lights outside the bar seemed to make me drunker.

I looked at Mitch. “Whose idea was it to have beer?”

“Mine,” he said with a snort. “But it was your idea to have bourbon.”

Ugh. Bourbon. I hated bourbon.

“Oh, here’s Frankie.”

No. No, no more Frankie.

Mitch was mumbling about his jacket, and I turned around and was looking at dark, almond eyes and perfect lips. And then the sidewalk tilted.

Fuck.

“Here, hold him up,” Mitch said. “I left my jacket inside.”

Then big hands were on me. Strange hands, unfamiliar hands… Warm, strong hands.

I watched Mitch walk away and looked at this Frankie guy. “It’s your fault,” I told him. Because it was his fault.

“What’s my fault?” he asked with a smile.

“That smile,” I groaned. “It’s too beautiful.”

So he smiled again. Of course he did.

Didn’t he know what he was doing to me when he smiled? Didn’t he understand at all? “You’ll give me away.” I leaned in so I could whisper, “No one knows about me, okay? No one knows.”


BUY LINKS HERE (Kindle exclusive)


Up Next For N.R.


Coming Soon


N.R. Walker’s currently working on giving some Aussie boys their happy ever after; a light and fluffy story called Finders Keepers, which should be out in early 2018. Set in beautiful sunny Queensland, with white sandy beaches and aqua clear oceans, it’s the perfect backdrop for summer sun and fun. Griffin finds a lost dog and calls the number on the name tag. He finds Dane, the dog’s owner, and the man of his dreams.

Next up will be a futuristic look into love in 2068. Something different, that’s for sure.


Awards


Last year, N.R. Walker’s The Weight Of It All was:


2016 BOOK OF THE YEAR  at Love Bytes Reviews


1st Place in BEST CONTEMPORARY / MAINSTREAM  ~ 2016 Goodreads Members' Choice Awards


2nd Place in BEST HUMOROUS ~ 2016 Goodreads Members' Choice Awards



Keira Andrews



After writing for years yet never really finding the right inspiration, Keira discovered her voice in gay romance, which has become a passion. Her heroes include Amish virgins, werewolves, pirates, spies, athletes, soldiers, and average guys. Some are looking for love and others resist it, but they all find it in the end.

Keira aims for the perfect mix of character, plot, and scorching sex. She writes contemporary, historical, paranormal, and fantasy fiction, and—although she loves delicious angst along the way—Keira firmly believes in happy endings. For as Oscar Wilde once said, “The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.”


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The Chimera Affair - MM Romance


His mission was seduction—not falling in love.


When young Sebastian Brambani meets a sexy and exciting older man, he’s easily seduced. But for spy Kyle Grant, it’s all business. Sebastian is simply a pawn in Kyle’s mission to acquire a dangerous chemical weapon from Sebastian’s criminal father. Kyle’s life is his work for a shadowy international agency protecting the world from evil, and he can’t worry about what will happen to Sebastian when the job is done.

Sebastian’s unwitting role in Kyle’s plan is the last straw for his ruthless father, who has been embarrassed by his gay son for the last time. But when Kyle discovers Sebastian could be the key to finding the deadly Chimera, he rescues him from a hired hitman and fights to keep him alive. Can a hardened spy and naïve college student take down a criminal kingpin, stay one step ahead of the killers on their trail—and fight the scorching attraction between them?

This gay romance from Keira Andrews features sexy spies, an age difference, a sheltered and passionate virgin, action and adventure, and of course a happy ending.


* * *


BONUS STORY INCLUDED: The Argentine Seduction, a sequel for Kyle and Sebastian featuring unexpected jealousy, protectiveness, and a dangerous mission in the simmering heat of Buenos Aires. (And of course a happy ending!)"


BUY LINKS HERE


The Chimera Affair - Excerpt


Chapter One


As his father’s booming laugh echoed off the marble archways, Sebastian took another gulp of champagne. It fizzed pleasantly in his throat, and he beckoned a waiter, plucking his fourth glass from the man’s tray.

Another server appeared as if out of thin air. “Arancini?”

Sebastian waved off the offer of deep-fried cheese-and-rice balls and leaned back against a column. He stood on the landing of the large staircase, watching the hundreds of party guests below. The great hall of his father’s mansion was carved in Carrara marble of white and grayish blue, with ornate columns and sculptures throughout.

By the fountain in the center of the hall, Sebastian’s older brother, Beniamino, stood at their father Arrigo’s side. They spoke animatedly to one of the local politicians, a particular favorite among the many who were regular guests at the mansion. Perched on the shore of Lake Como, surrounded by the Alps soaring to blue skies, the mansion was Arrigo’s pride and joy. Second perhaps to his regard for his firstborn son, but Sebastian felt it was a toss-up.

The floor-to-ceiling glass doors leading to the terrace were closed against the surprisingly robust June heat. Even in late evening with the air-conditioning working overtime, sweat gathered at the nape of Sebastian’s neck, and he tugged on the collar of his tuxedo. Oh, what he’d give to be able to sneak down to the lake for a dip.

“Why don’t you come down and meet Signor Scali?”

Sebastian hadn’t noticed his brother’s approach. “I’ll leave it to you, Ben. You know you’re better at all that.”

Ben hitched a shoulder. “Yes, but I’d much rather be spending time with Signor Scali’s niece, Valentina.” He nodded across the room toward a young woman in a beaded sea-green evening gown. As he caught her eye, she smiled coyly, wrapping one of her long, loose blonde curls around one finger. Ben groaned softly. “I’ve seen her every chance I’ve had this summer. She’s exquisite.”

“Yes, she’s very pretty.” Left him utterly cold, but Sebastian could at least appreciate the girl’s beauty.

“Let’s hope her uncle will be kept busy. And perhaps she has a friend for you, Basi.”

Sebastian’s stomach clenched, and he drained his glass. “Perhaps. But I’m fine on my own. Thank you.”

Ben’s expression clouded. Square-jawed, with dark, wavy hair and a strong nose, he was the spitting image of their father. Sebastian, on the other hand, favored their fair mother, with green eyes and golden hair. On more than one occasion, usually in the midst of a frightening temper, Arrigo had questioned Sebastian’s paternity.

“Basi, it’s the best way to move on. You’ve moped around for a month. Father’s patience wears thin. If you still want to go back to Harvard this fall, you’d better show that you’ve learned your lesson. You’re twenty now. Time to be a man. You were just”—he waved his hand around—“experimenting. Now it’s out of your system, right?”

Wrong. “You think he might let me go back?” A glimmer of hope flared. After the embarrassment Sebastian had caused, he didn’t think his father would let him out of arm’s reach again. He’d been waiting for his father to force him into a job at his company. Probably thinks I’m too useless.

“If you play your cards right and listen to your big brother. Come join me and Valentina after you’ve finished brooding.”

Something clicked in Sebastian’s mind. “Wait, is that Valentina Bruno?”

Ben nodded, a goofy grin on his face. “I think she likes me, Basi. Really likes me.”

“Isn’t her father the…”

Businessman from Naples? Yes. But I don’t care what her father does. It’s nothing to do with her. And just look at her.”

Sebastian chuckled. “I’ve never seen you so head over heels before.”

“You should try it, Basi. I’ll see if she brought a friend.” With a wink Ben was off, weaving through the crowd before Sebastian could tell him not to bother.

Taking another glass of champagne, Sebastian wondered how much longer he had to stay before he could slip away to his room and get out of the tuxedo. He didn’t know why his father cared if he was at the party or not—it wasn’t as if Arrigo paid the slightest bit of attention to him.

Still, he’d insisted Sebastian attend, and with Sebastian’s luck the one time his father actually wanted to introduce him to someone would be tonight. Plucking a smoked salmon delicacy from a passing waiter, he watched his father holding court. As always—in public—Arrigo was garrulous and lively, greeting guests with kisses and hugs.

His parties were always popular, drawing many neighbors and even guests from several provinces. The food and wine were plentiful and decadent, and as Sebastian took another gulp of champagne, he had to admit his father had excellent taste.

Down below, Ben was speaking closely with Valentina, and Sebastian groaned to himself. Please let her be utterly friendless. It would certainly be the capper for the night if he had to dance with some girl and pretend to be interested. But maybe if Father saw, it would help. I could kiss her, even. For everyone to see.

He imagined it for a moment and sighed. It would be a lie, and the mere thought of pretending to be what he wasn’t made his stomach churn. No, he would abide his father and keep his true feelings to himself, at least at home, but he wouldn’t be part of any charade.

Sebastian desperately hoped he wouldn’t have to stay home for longer than the summer. He wanted to return to Harvard more than anything. Arrigo had allowed him to finish his first year of studies, despite the “incident,” and when Sebastian arrived home, he’d briefly thought perhaps his father wasn’t as upset as he’d expected. The sting of his father’s hand and his purple-faced reprimand had quickly put an end to that notion.

In the weeks since, Sebastian had done his best to avoid Arrigo. He’d been so excited to get away from home and go to America. Although he and his father had never been close, Arrigo hadn’t hesitated to send him to the school he’d requested. He knew his father saw what Sebastian had done as the ultimate betrayal. Not only of his generosity but of their family name.

Finishing another flute of champagne, Sebastian wondered if he should attempt to speak to his father. Make a good public showing. Perhaps if he did well tonight, Arrigo would soften toward him enough to allow him to return to school in the fall. Pushing off the wall, Sebastian took a deep breath and straightened his tie.

“Excuse me? Where’s the bathroom?”

The question was asked in shaky Italian, and Sebastian turned to answer. However the words lodged firmly in his throat as he peered up into the warm, gold-flecked eyes of a beautiful man. “Huh?”

About thirty years old, the man was at least six-two, substantially taller than Sebastian’s own five-eight. His tuxedo was sharp and fit snugly across broad shoulders and down over lean hips. He smiled tentatively. “My Italian isn’t great. I’m looking for the—”

“Bathroom. Right. There are several. Dozens, actually.”

“Ah, another American! I was beginning to feel lonely here.” The man’s smile bloomed, brightening his face and sending Sebastian’s somersaulting.

“No, I’m not American. But I’ve been working on my accent since I was a kid. I watch a lot of American TV. I just finished my first year at Harvard.” Please let it not be the last.

“You’re Italian? Wow, your English is amazing.”

“Thank you.” Sebastian fought the urge to grin like an idiot at the compliment. “So, the bathroom.” He pointed to the second floor. “If you go up and turn right, you’ll find a bathroom halfway down the hall. Should be quieter than the ones on the main floor.”

The man smiled. “Thank you. Up and right, and at the end of the hall.”

“No, not the end. The middle.”

“Sorry, I’m terrible at directions. I’ll probably get lost on the stairs knowing me.” He chuckled self-deprecatingly.

“I can show you if you want.”

“You wouldn’t mind?”

“Of course not.” Sebastian left his empty glass on the ledge of the wide railing and led the way up the second flight of stairs and into the east wing. Away from the great hall, the house was much quieter, the sounds of chatter and the strains of the string quartet fading away.

As he stopped by the bathroom door in the long hallway, he sensed the man standing very close behind him. “Well, here you go.”

“Thank you.” The man brushed Sebastian’s shoulder and arm as he stepped around him. “I’m Steven, by the way. Steven McBride.” He extended his hand.

As Sebastian clasped their palms together, he swore sparks actually traveled up his arm and right down his spine. His throat was dry. “Sebastian Brambani. Well, Sebastiano, but only my father calls me that.”

“Brambani?” Steven still held his hand. “So this is your party?”

“My father’s.” Sebastian pulled back and shoved his hands into his pockets. “What brings you to Como?”

“Business.” Steven’s gaze raked down Sebastian’s body and back up again. He stared intently. “And perhaps pleasure.”

As Sebastian tried to formulate a response, Steven ducked into the bathroom. Sebastian’s mouth opened and closed again, his pulse racing. Did he just…was he…did he want…?

Peter’s words echoed in Sebastian’s mind. “It’s all in the eyes. That’s how you know. It’s about the stare. The understanding. Trust me; you’ll know it when you see it.”

At the thought of Peter, the familiar ache stabbed and twisted. Longing, regret, and anger coursed through him, and Sebastian gritted his teeth as he pushed it aside. As he stood there dumbly, trying to get his mind under control, the bathroom door opened and Steven stepped out.

“Can you show me around the rest of the house? Or do you have to go back to your guests?”

Sebastian thought of his father and his expectations, and of Ben and pretty young women in glittering gowns. “Sure, I can give you a tour. Too hot down there anyway.”

Dimples appeared in Steven’s cheeks as he smiled. “Thanks.”

As they made their way through the upstairs rooms, Steven listened attentively and asked insightful questions about design and art. At the end of the hallway, he paused by a watercolor painting of red stucco roofs. “Is this Florence?”

“Yes. Have you been?”

“Not yet, but I’ve always wanted to go. To Rome too, of course. I’d love to see the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo is one of my favorites.” Steven chuckled. “I suppose he’s many people’s favorite.”

“My father owns a Michelangelo. A sketch.”

“Really? An original Michelangelo?” Steven’s face lit up.

Sebastian felt foolishly proud. “Yes.”

“I’d love to see it.”

“It’s in my father’s private suite of rooms, I’m afraid.” He waved his hand to indicate the locked door beyond them. “I’m not even allowed in there.”

“There’s no way we could sneak a peek?”

“I don’t know the security code. Sorry.”

“Of course, I understand.” Steven shook his head, blushing slightly. “I’m sorry to even ask; I’m letting my passion for Michelangelo get the better of my manners. Thank you for the tour. It’s been a pleasure. We should get back to the party.” He started to walk away.

“Wait, I can still show you…” Sebastian cast about, trying to think of something—anything—to keep Steven to himself for a few minutes more. But perhaps he’d misread the signals earlier, as Steven hadn’t shown any further interest in anything but art. “Um…never mind. I’m sure you’re right. We’d better get back.”

As he turned, Steven’s hand closed over Sebastian’s forearm and he stepped in close. “Are you sure there’s nothing else you want to show me?”

Heart pounding, Sebastian faced him. This close he could smell the musky scent of subtle cologne and maleness. “I…I…” Sebastian stammered.

Steven leaned down, his breath tickling Sebastian’s ear. He murmured, “I can think of something.” Then his hand closed over Sebastian’s cock, which jumped to life.

His exhale more of a moan, Sebastian rubbed himself against Steven. It had been four long months since Peter had disappeared from school, and Sebastian had only had his own hand since then, too afraid of being caught to pursue anyone else.

But now there was another hand on him that was not his own, and he rutted against Steven, yanking his head down for a kiss. As he slid his tongue inside the other man’s mouth, Sebastian thought he heard a sound of surprise, but it was soon swallowed as Steven gripped his head and kissed him.

His dick was already hard and leaking against his tuxedo trousers, and Sebastian broke their kiss, panting. “Let’s go…”

Steven squeezed him. “Where?”

Sebastian’s room was in the west wing, and they’d have to pass the great hall to get there. His raging hard-on would be impossible to hide. “Any of these roo—” His words were strangled by a sharp gasp as Steven’s hand stole into Sebastian’s pants and wrapped around his shaft.

“Sure you can’t get into the master suite?” Steven grinned. “Wanna make you come in front of a Michelangelo. You remind me of David. So beautiful.” He nipped Sebastian’s earlobe. “So hot.”

Sebastian moaned. “I might be able to guess the code. But my father would kill me if he found out.”

Withdrawing his hand from Sebastian’s trousers, Steven sucked on his index finger. His eyes locked with Sebastian’s as he slid his hand down the back of Sebastian’s pants this time, finding his hole. He teased it lightly and whispered, “All the more exciting.”

His thighs trembling, Sebastian bit back a loud gasp as Steven pushed the tip of his finger inside. He’d only been penetrated with his own fingers, but this was so much better. Thrusting against Steven’s hip, his orgasm was building already, his balls tightening as the pleasure boiled up and—

Suddenly Steven’s hand was gone, and he took a step back. Eyes glittering, he nodded to the closed door. “Come on. Give it a try.”

Breathing heavily, Sebastian went to the keypad. Part of him felt a forbidden thrill at the idea of being with a man inside his father’s private suite. He knew he’d only have one shot at the code—an alarm would sound even on only one false try. A security guard had been fired on the spot last year for making an input error.

With a deep breath, Sebastian punched in a sequence of numbers and pressed Enter. The red light disappeared, and a green one illuminated in its place. He exhaled, excitement thrumming in his veins as he pressed down the steel door handle.

“Shh! What was that?” Steven glanced around nervously. “I think someone’s coming.”

Sebastian’s excitement was tempered with fear, and he stepped back from the door, letting the handle lock back into place. The red light on the keypad turned back on. He strained to listen beyond the distant sounds of the party. “I don’t hear anything,” he whispered.

Steven indicated the closest bedroom. “I’ll wait in there. Maybe you should go back to the party for a minute and make sure you haven’t been missed. I swear I heard someone calling your name. A woman.”

Sebastian groaned. “Probably the girl my brother’s lined up for me.”

“Go tell her you’re not feeling well.” Steven kissed him, his fingers strong in Sebastian’s hair. Then he rolled his hips forward, rubbing their cocks together. “I’ll be waiting.”

Sebastian practically ran, fortunately realizing before reaching the great hall that his trousers were still embarrassingly tented. He shucked his jacket and folded it over his arm, holding it in front of his waist. At the top of the staircase, he scanned the crowd for Ben and the girls.

Ben waved to him, and Sebastian resisted the urge to take the stairs two at a time, walking calmly instead. Ben slung his arm around Sebastian’s shoulders when he reached them. “Ladies, this is my brother—”

A piercing alarm filled the air, and partygoers clapped their hands over their ears. Security guards appeared, storming up the stairs and disappearing into the east wing. Sebastian’s heart thumped against his ribs. What if they found Steven? What if…

The alarm’s shriek matched the icy chill that took hold. The code to his father’s suite. Steven. “Oh, God.” Sebastian rocked on his feet, and then he was off and running, his jacket flung aside, his brother’s confused shout in his wake.

When he made it to the end of the main hallway, he rushed into the bedroom where he’d left Steven.

Empty.

Angry shouts emanated from his father’s nearby suite, which was the last place Sebastian wanted to be. Still, he crept as close as possible and caught a glimpse of the suite’s sitting room—and the open safe. With a terrible sinking sensation, he ducked back into the empty bedroom and rushed to the window, peering into the darkness. A wall surrounded the estate’s grounds on three sides, but by the water’s edge, he caught a flash of movement.

Steven.

Guards raced through the gardens and across the wide lawn. Sebastian’s eyes widened as he realized they’d raised their guns. Shots rang out, but they were too late. Illuminated by the faint moonlight, he watched as a small motorboat sped off into the night. As the alarm was silenced, his father’s bellow of rage took its place.

And in that moment, Sebastian really knew fear.


Chapter Two


By the time he approached the lakefront in the village of Bellagio, Kyle was ready for a nice cold beer. Preferably a Bud, but he was willing to settle for whatever European brew he could find. It had been a long walk from where he’d abandoned the boat, but at least his T-shirt and jeans offered a little respite from the heat compared to the stifling tux.

He was just about to curse Marie for being late when her lilting French accent floated over to him on the gentle breeze. “Bonsoir, my darling!”

Putting a smile on his face, Kyle opened his arms to her and kissed her passionately, caressing her through the soft cotton of her sundress. As he held her close, he felt Marie’s small hand steal into the front pocket of his jeans and remove the three-inch vial.

“Oh, how I’ve missed you, mon cher.” Marie sighed, gazing at him lovingly. A few years older than Kyle, she was quite a beauty.

With a final kiss, Kyle took her hand, interlacing their fingers as they strolled along the water, one of dozens of couples. At night the promenade became a lovers’ lane, and Kyle nuzzled Marie’s brown curls affectionately. She looked up at him with a loving smile on her beautiful face, dark eyes gleaming.

She spoke quietly. “Any trouble, Mr. Grant?”

“None,” Kyle replied, his tone equally hushed, yet casual.

“The boy was no match for your charms?”

“Of course not. Putty in my hands.” They always were. Men, women—didn’t matter. He always got the job done.

Marie’s moony smile remained, but he could hear the smirk in her tone. “One day I’d like you to meet someone who can resist you.”

“But I’ve met you already, my sweet.”

“Ah, but I fear you wouldn’t be giving me your best work, given my deficiencies. Lack of a prick, for starters.”

Chéri, your balls are bigger and more fearsome than any man’s.”

She laughed genuinely, pressing into his side. “On that we can agree, Mr. Grant.” They arrived at a small, two-story hotel. Standing on tiptoes, Marie whispered in his ear. “Wait for further instructions.” With a final kiss, she melted away into the humid darkness.

In his small room Kyle gazed out over Lake Como. By now his abandoned boat would be found, although the rumpled tuxedo was safely disposed of in a pizzeria dumpster on the outskirts of Bellagio. Brambani’s men would certainly be searching for him, but they’d expect him to leave the Como area as soon as possible.

There was no fridge in the room, so instead of a beer he had to satisfy his thirst with tepid tap water. Kyle stripped off his clothes and stepped into the shower, hoping for half-decent water pressure. It was passable, and he tried to relax under the spray.

His mind replayed the night’s events. It had all gone smoothly, at least. Sebastiano Brambani had proved to be as pliable as expected and also as clever with numbers as Kyle’s research showed. Kyle recalled the few hours he’d spent reading through the blog Sebastian had kept during his year at Harvard.

Not the typical writings of a wealthy son of a crime boss. Math had never been Kyle’s favorite subject in school, yet Sebastian wrote with a passion, clarity, and wit that had intrigued Kyle and made him think about the subject in ways he’d never considered before. Cursory research was usually all he needed, but with Sebastian he’d found himself tracking down all the details he could. According to his research, Sebastian had done almost no partying at school, focusing his attention on studying and a friend or two.

As he rubbed shampoo into his short hair, Kyle mused that with that kind of stimulating mind and Sebastian’s looks, it was a shame it hadn’t been a longer assignment. He would have enjoyed taking a few days to get close to him. In his line of work, Kyle had seduced countless women, and it was rare to get to charm a man. And Sebastian hadn’t disappointed him, proving just as bright and appealing as he’d seemed.

If there’d been more time, Kyle would have greatly enjoyed seeing if Sebastian was as creative in bed as he was with numbers. Shaking his head, he decided he really needed to find the time to get laid after the mission was completed. Clearly it’d been too long since he’d had a man if he was getting this distracted by the idea of a math geek with a pretty little body. Kyle groaned and reminded himself that Brambani’s son was just a tool he needed to do his job, and he snapped his focus back to that night’s mission.

He’d known there was no way around the internal alarm he knew had to be in the safe in Brambani’s private room, but by gaining access to the room itself, he’d had precious minutes to crack the combination. It had been easier than expected, although of course the internal alarm sounded as soon as he removed the vial from the weight-sensitive interior. A quick shimmy down one of the house’s ornate columns and a sprint to the water had been child’s play.

Now he’d move on to the next mission. Move on to the next country, another city or town. He hoped Marie would have the assignment in the morning. He didn’t like waiting or staying in one place too long. Made him restless. Always better to be moving forward.

As Kyle rinsed his hair, his mind stubbornly returned to Sebastian. He’d liked listening to Sebastian talk. Liked touching him. Of course he hadn’t been able to truly enjoy it at the time, not mid-mission. But he could now. What would it hurt? He gave in and allowed himself the luxury of a smile at the memory of the boy’s surprisingly aggressive kiss.

His hand slick with another squirt of shampoo, Kyle spread his legs and leaned back against the tiles, letting his mind go. His eyes drifted shut as he stroked himself to hardness, remembering the sweet taste of Sebastian’s mouth, the warm panting of his breath as he eagerly leaned into Kyle’s touch.

Sebastian wasn’t Kyle’s usual type, which was older and experienced. Rough and ready, with no emotions to get in the way. But there had been an unexpected heat between them that had gone straight to Kyle’s dick. He twisted his palm over his cock, squeezing his nipples with his other hand.

He thought of how tight Sebastian’s hole had been on his finger. Despite his indiscretion at college, Kyle had a feeling Sebastian’s ass was virgin. There was still an innocence about him that was unmistakable. The sound Sebastian had made when Kyle kissed him echoed through his mind, and he wondered just what other noises Sebastian would make. As Kyle sped up his strokes, he imagined bending Sebastian over and plowing into him.

He’d be so tight and hot around Kyle’s cock as Kyle took him and made him beg for more. Sebastian would moan prettily, spreading his legs wider and pushing back as Kyle claimed him. Kyle would come inside him, or maybe pull out and fuck Sebastian’s mouth, those full red lips wrapped around his cock as he—

With a ragged exhale, Kyle spurted onto the wall of the shower stall, shuddering with pleasure as he roughly milked himself. It was rare that he didn’t have to fake attraction to a mark, but with Sebastian Brambani, there had been no imitation of desire necessary. If anything, Kyle had been forced to hold back; Sebastian’s kiss had been almost distracting enough to make him wish he could forget his mission. Too bad he’d never have him properly.

Kyle snapped off the water and toweled himself. His was not a business of regrets.


* * *


The rap at the door was so sharp with irritation that it could only be Marie. Once inside, her mouth was a grim line. “It’s not the right compound. This is little more than pepper spray. Maybe he was expecting an extraction attempt and had a decoy in place. The Chimera prototype is still out there, and Brambani has it. Word is he’s upped the asking price.”

It was barely eight in the morning, but Kyle wanted that cold beer more than ever. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he pondered their options as he yanked on his jeans and T-shirt. “I could try the son again. Although getting to him would be difficult. Getting to anyone will be difficult now that Brambani’s guard is up.”

“Forget the boy. He’ll likely be dead by noon.” Marie paced the short length of the room. “And yes, Brambani’s guard will certainly be up. Very up. We had one chance at this, and you failed.”

Kyle clenched his jaw. “Failed? I was told the vial of powder would be in the safe. Other than what I extracted, there were only diamonds and gold bars.” Something else Marie said registered belatedly, and his stomach strangely somersaulted. “You think Brambani would take out his own son?”

“Our contact says it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Brambani is a ruthless man. He killed his wife for less.”

“But Sebastian’s…”

Marie frowned. “What?”

Kyle didn’t have an answer. Sebastian was a good kid? Lots of collaterals were good people, solid citizens. Nothing made Sebastian different from any of those who’d lost their lives in the past—not his passion for numbers, or his clever way of writing, not his wide eyes, his aggressive kiss, or his tight, round ass. He was like any other guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, Kyle told himself.

Or like any other guy whose father couldn’t accept him. With a deep breath, Kyle bit back the unwelcome memories of his own father’s fury. He needed to forget the past and forget Sebastian Brambani.

“The boy’s irrelevant.” Marie continued pacing. “We need to figure out where Brambani’s hiding the Chimera. Our sources say the sale to the terrorist cell is on for Friday. We have to get to the weapon before he can hand it over.”

Five days. “Even if we find this prototype, what’s to stop him from making more?”

Marie paused. “This is high level, but we’ve eliminated the source. The formula has been destroyed. Brambani doesn’t know it yet; he’s just the dealer. But if we don’t get to the vial first, the buyer will be able to analyze the compounds and recreate it.”

“Why don’t we just kill Brambani before he makes the sale?”

“You know why. Politics, Mr. Grant. The Association has its reasons. And—” Marie broke off as her phone vibrated. She answered and listened. After about five seconds, she said, “Understood,” and hung up. She glanced at Kyle. “We’re out. Take the black Ferrari outside and drive to Geneva. You’ll fly to New York from there.” She reached into her purse and tossed him a set of car keys.

“No other assignment?” Kyle didn’t like going back to his threadbare Hell’s Kitchen apartment. He needed to keep moving. Keep hunting.

Marie already had a hand on the doorknob. “They’re not happy. After Rio and then that fuckup extraordinaire in Singapore, you needed this one. If you’d successfully extracted the Chimera, things might be different.” She seemed to want to say more but finally smiled softly. “Get some rest, Kyle.”

The hairs on the back of Kyle’s neck stood to attention. “Marie…”

But she was already gone.

Downstairs a minute later with his battered duffel bag in hand, Kyle walked around to the hotel’s small parking lot. He examined the underside of the Ferrari, the trunk, and the engine. No sign of explosives. Still he hesitated, Marie’s farewell ringing in his ears. She hadn’t called him by his first name once in nine years.

Turning on his heel, he left the Ferrari behind. He needed to catch a boat to the other side of the lake. He’d find the Chimera yet.

Kyle Grant wouldn’t be put out to pasture.


* * *


The sun had been up for several hours, but the house was still silent. Sebastian strained to listen at the door of his room and couldn’t even hear the staff going about their daily duties. He dressed in black slacks and a dark red button-down shirt. His father disapproved of sloppy clothing.

He’d spent the long night huddled on his king-size bed, waiting. While part of him hoped he was tying himself into knots for no reason, he knew it was extremely unlikely. He hadn’t slept a wink as he imagined the ways his father might punish him. Sebastian had no doubt it wouldn’t take long for Arrigo to discover his son’s role in the robbery. Steven’s image had undoubtedly been captured by one of the outdoor cameras as he made his escape, and surely someone had noticed Sebastian and Steven together.

Steven. At the thought of the bastard, Sebastian began pacing the length of his room. How could he have been so stupid? How could he have thought an older, gorgeous man wanted him? Steven—or whatever his name really was—had only been after one of Arrigo’s treasures. He wasn’t sure what Arrigo kept in that safe; perhaps his mother’s jewels? He wasn’t about to go and ask.

So he waited. After running through the hexadecimal approximation of pi, he calculated Fibonacci sequences. But he kept losing his place as images of Steven leaning down to kiss him flickered through his mind. He’d never been kissed like that before, and he couldn’t help flushing with remembered desire. “Think of what Papa will say,” he muttered to himself.

Yet his father didn’t come. The silence was even more terrifying than one of Arrigo’s rages, when his face would become red as a tomato as he screamed a litany of curses that would make a Napolitano street criminal cover his ears.

There was a quiet sound from beyond the door, and Sebastian froze, holding his breath as he listened. Then a furtive knock. “Basi?”

Relief coursing through him, Sebastian ushered his brother in. “What’s happening? Is Father very upset?”

Ben’s normally golden skin was decidedly ashen. “Basi, how could you be so foolish? Is it true? Did you open the door to Father’s suite?”

“I… How did you know?”

“How do you think?” Ben exclaimed. “You think Father doesn’t have eyes everywhere in this house?”

“I’m sorry. He just wanted to see the Michelangelo.”

“Your lover?”

“No!” Sebastian’s cheeks flamed. He and Ben had never directly discussed what had happened at school with Peter. They’d sidestepped around it agilely. “I don’t even know him!”

“Yet you let him into Father’s private rooms.”

“I…” Sebastian searched for a response that would not incriminate him further.

“How did you know the code?”

“I guessed.”

“You guessed?” Ben’s eyebrows shot up. “How on earth did you guess?”

“You know I always have a good memory for these things. It was just a sequence of numbers and dates that are important to Father. Your birth date and the founding date of his company.”

“The founding date of his company?” Ben shook his head, amazed.

“But, Ben, I was going to go in with him! I wouldn’t have let him steal anything! He thought he heard someone calling for me, and I closed the door. It was locked.”

“Clearly he watched you put in the code.”

“Yes, he must have.” Lying bastard. “Do you think he was after Mother’s jewels?”

Ben shook his head. “Basi, how can you still be so naive? Jewels are the least of Father’s concerns.”

“Then what was stolen?” The acid in Sebastian’s stomach churned.

“Apparently the thief didn’t get what he was looking for. I don’t know what it was. I do my job, and I don’t ask questions. I know Father’s business is about much more than energy, but he hasn’t trusted me with details yet.” He took Sebastian by the shoulders. “Basi, you must plead for mercy. Promise that you’ll never look at another man again. Date Valentina’s sister. Marry her, for fuck’s sake. Whatever it takes.”

“But…”

Ben’s fingers dug into Sebastian’s flesh. “Do you want to end up like Mama?”

“Mama? That was an accident. The road was slick, and—”

With a groan, Ben stepped back and ran his hands through his hair. “You really are that naive. Basi, she found out about Father’s new business dealings. How do you think we went from living in a four-bedroom house in Milano to this?” He waved his hands around. “This palace?”

Sebastian realized he’d never considered it. “But…Father loved her.” Sebastian had been twelve when she died. He still remembered every moment of the day when he woke to find seventeen-year-old Ben at his bedside, his brave brother’s face terrifyingly tearstained.

“Yes. He did. But she was going to leave him. He couldn’t allow it.” Ben’s throat seemed suddenly thick with emotion, his voice gruff. “She shouldn’t have been so foolish.”

Sebastian’s head spun, his legs like jelly as he leaned against the bed. “He…he killed her?” He found himself on his knees, stomach roiling as memories of his sweet, wonderful mother raced through his mind. “You knew?”

Ben swallowed thickly. “Not at the time. There are a lot of things about Father—about the things he does—that I wish I didn’t know. Believe me, Basi, I wish I didn’t have to tell you.” He crouched down and brushed back Sebastian’s hair. “I wanted to keep you out of all of this, but I thought you’d figure it out by now.”

“He killed her.” Sebastian said the words again, still unable to believe them. Is this a nightmare? “How? She was…she was so good.”

“She was,” Ben agreed. His voice cracked. “Too good.”

“Didn’t you love her?”

“Of course I did, Basi! And I love you too. That’s why you’ve got to—”

“I don’t understand—how can you work with him?” Anger flashed through his veins, and he shoved at his brother. “How can you even look at him? How?”

Without a knock, the door flew open. A man Sebastian recognized as one of his father’s security guards towered in the doorway. “Come with me.”

Rage gave way to terror. “Ben?” Sebastian’s voice trembled. He wanted to hide behind his brother as he had so often as a child.

Ben pulled Sebastian to his feet. “Remember what I said, Basi. Please, do whatever it takes.” Ben pressed a kiss to his forehead. “Go on. Don’t make him wait.”


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