And sometimes, just sometimes, it will do all of those things.
The kick in the balls, both literally and figuratively, happened to Noah Pierce a long time ago. Ten years to be exact, when, to cap off a brutal and horrendous four-year relationship with the man who claimed to love him, that man buried a butcher knife in his side. It was the final wound in a seemingly endless cycle of bruises, cuts, breaks, sprains and other things that sent him to the hospital. He thought he was going to die. But when he opened his eyes in that ER room and saw a stranger with kind yet determined eyes looking back at him and with his boyfriend nowhere in sight, Noah knew that life was going to change for him. And it did.
For ten years he was stronger, he was better, he was……hollow.
He didn’t realize that last part until he saw one man. One pair of haunting blue eyes beside the very man who had ruined Noah all those years ago. One pair of frightened eyes. One pair of hollow, hopeless eyes that Noah couldn’t have walked away from if he tried…..because someone else hadn’t walked away from him all those years ago.
Noah didn’t realize it at the time, but by saving Jesse Miller from the clutches of his ex, he was going to learn to fly….
Excerpt: “Fuck,” Noah whispered as he tucked back farther into the shadows and rubbed his hand over his face, as if he could scrub those memories away with a swipe of his hand. Like that was ever going to happen.
He should walk away. He should just fucking walk away. Walk out of this club and leave Jacob Knight behind, like he’d done ten years ago.
But he couldn’t.
Because Morgan hadn’t.
And because he knew this kid, with those blue eyes that were so striking you could see them even in the dim lights of the club, would haunt him for the rest of his life.
He pulled out his phone and dialed.
“Hey there. How are you doing? I heard the Op you did was a little intense,” Morgan said when he answered the call.
Noah squeezed his eyes shut and took a deep breath. Yeah that Op had been intense. He hadn’t been expecting that. It was supposed to be easy: pose as an escort, get fucked by the mark – Cole Gillette and place the listening device. Easy in, get laid, easy out. No problem, right? But then he’d felt Cole’s turmoil, his pain, his….the way he was so haunted by the man that he’d stared at on his TV screen while he’d fucked Noah, the man whose name Cole had called when he came in the condom in Noah’s ass: Kelly. Yeah, it’d been intense.
He chose to ignore Morgan’s comments, even though he knew the man would want to revisit them later. Time was of the essence here.
“I need your help,” he said, getting straight to the point.
He heard Morgan suck in a breath, “Anything Noah, tell me what you need.”
“I’m at Brubakers right now.”
“Brubakers, the club? Yeah, I know it. Are you drunk? Did something happen?”
“He’s here, Morgan.”
Dead silence answered him for at least half a minute. Noah had no doubt that Morgan would know exactly who Noah was talking about without saying the man’s name.
After a mumbled curse, “Has he seen you?”
“Get out, Noah. Leave by the back door if you have to but get the fuck out.”
“What? Why not?”
“He’s got someone with him, Morgan and he looks, fuck, he looks just like me,” he said, the last word coming out like a choked sob.
“You mean like a twin?”
“No, I mean like a shell, like a robot, like a dead man walking. He can’t be more than twenty-five, Morg. I can’t leave him here with him. I have to help him.”
There was a quietly growled curse from Morgan and then, “Okay, I’m on my way. But do not do anything until I get there is that understood?”
“If he sees you, do not confront him. Just run. Am I clear?”
“Do not engage in any way, do you hear me?”
“Yes, Morgan, I’ve got it,” Noah said with an eyeroll. Like he’d ever disobey any order or request from Morgan. He and Morgan both knew that. The idea of it almost made him snort out a laugh.
“I’ll call you when I’m in my car. I should be there in about fifteen.”
“Okay, and Morgan?”
The call ended and Noah continued to watch the young man for a few minutes.
When someone tapped him on the shoulder, he gasped and jumped in his seat.
“Relax, I’m a friend of Morgan’s. I’m Jake Brubaker, this is my place. He just called me. When he asks for my help, I don’t question, I just say yes. What do you need?” he said as he gave Noah’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze.
Noah opened his mouth to say nothing but then he noticed that some of the servers were walking around with Brubakers ball caps on.
“Do you have any more of those hats?”
“Absolutely,” he said as he turned towards the bar, “Hey Amy, can you hand me a hat, please?”
The young woman ducked down behind the bar and then stuck her arm out to Jake, who grabbed the hat and handed it over to Noah.
“I don’t know yet. I might need a place to hide out for a bit.”
“My office is yours. It’s got an electronic lock on it,” he said then he told Noah the code to open it. He looked back at Noah with a raised eyebrow as he waited.
“Can you up the alcohol content on the drinks you send to that table?” Noah said as he lifted his chin towards Jacob’s table.
Jake looked over his shoulder, “Done.”
“He’s a lawyer. This could get….messy.”
Jake snorted a laugh, “Please, I was a prosecutor for ten years. I used to eat assholes like him for breakfast. Don’t worry about me or my place.”
Noah nodded to him as he pulled the hat down low over his head, “Thanks.”
“If you need anything else, just holler. I’m always around.”
Noah nodded to him again and then watched as Jake leaned over the bar to say something to the bartender and then she added more booze to the tray of drinks on the bar in front of her. One of the servers picked it up and brought it over to Jacob’s table. As they were handed out, he saw the young man next to Jacob lean in and whisper something into his ear. He watched as Jacob started to stand with him but then the other men at the table laughed and said something to Jacob that made him frown and Noah knew that they were giving him shit about not letting his boyfriend go to the bathroom by himself. He knew it because Jacob had done the same thing to him.
After listening to the other men teasing him, Jacob turned to his young man and placed his hand on his cheek. He leaned forward and pressed his lips to the young man’s ear and Noah knew that he was giving him explicit instructions to not make eye contact with anyone, not speak to anyone, to go in and piss, wash his hands and return to the table without haste. Hell, even though it had been a decade, he could almost hear Jacob’s deep voice in his own ear whispering those same commands to him and a sick feeling shivered through his body like a snake.
This was his chance, this was going to be his only chance. It was now or fucking never.
He didn’t turn his head, just let his eyes track the young man as he made his way through the crowd and to the darkened hall that led to the restrooms. Then Noah’s eyes swung back to find that Jacob was doing the same thing, his eyes glued to that dark hall like a hawk.
Fucking hell. He couldn’t slip down there now or Jacob would see him for sure. How the fuck was he going to do this? He was beginning to worry that he’d have to come up with another plan.
Luther stepped in front of Jacob and blocked his view.
“I brought backup. Go,” Morgan said as he stepped up to Noah’s table and turned to watch his husband engaging Jacob and the other men at the table in conversation.
Noah knew that Luther would keep those men occupied for a while because even though Luther Santiago was no longer in his old line of work as a mob boss, he was still a highly respected, and feared, man who could command the attention of any room that he stepped into. And he currently held the rapt attention of those six men in that booth.
Noah slid out of his corner and ducked around the wall into the dark hallway and down into the men’s restroom.
He still wasn’t sure what he was going to say when he pushed the door open and saw the young man at the urinal but he knew he had to choose the right words or the young man would be lost. Forever.
He silently closed the door behind him and took a deep breath, “I used to be you,” he said quietly.
The man’s head whipped around and the terror in his eyes broke Noah’s heart. “What?” he whispered.
“I used to be you and he nearly killed me.”
The man’s eyes went wide and Noah could see not only the fear in them but also a thousand questions. But he knew the man wouldn’t ask him a single one of them, though, because that was how Jacob had trained him. Noah knew this because Jacob had trained him the same way.
“I, I’m not supposed to talk to anyone,” he mumbled as he quickly zipped up and moved over to the sink.
“What’s your name?” Noah said as he stepped closer to the man who was mumbling to himself as he washed his hands. As Noah got closer he realized that the man was counting how many times he rubbed the soap over his hands, like Jacob had burned it into his brain that if he didn’t wash long enough he wasn’t clean. Fucking bastard.
“J-J-J-Jesse,” the kid mumbled as he resumed his counting.
Noah stepped up to Jesse’s back and reached over to close his hands over Jesse’s, causing Jesse to hiss in a breath, “Broken ribs, three broken wrists, five concussions, two broken arms, two broken ankles, and a punctured lung from when he stabbed me with a butcher knife.”
“He, he doesn’t really hit me,” he whispered.
That surprised Noah for a brief second but then he realized…. “No, but he does other things that make you feel hopeless, helpless, humiliated.”
“I, I, I m-m-make him angry. I’m bad.”
“No, Jesse. I never did anything wrong and neither did you. You don’t have to live like this. I can help you. Let me help you, please.”
Jesse’s tear-filled eyes looked at Noah in the mirror, “How?”
“Come with me, right now. I’ll take you someplace safe where he’ll never find you, I promise.”
Tears spilled over onto Jesse’s cheeks as he looked down and ran his fingers over his forearm, “Yes he will, he’ll always find me.”
As Noah’s eyes darted down to Jesse’s arm, realization hit him like a freight train, “Fucking hell, Jesse, did he put a tracking device in your arm?”
Jesse silently nodded his head.
Kendel Duncan is the pen name for author Dara Nelson. Both her Healing Hearts series (Dara Nelson) and The Black Ops Heroes series (Kendel Duncan) garner such praise as: “Ah-mazing!”, “It’s a keeper!” and “One of the best books I’ve read”
A long-time reader of the romance genre, Dara (Kendel) writes tear-jerking, sigh-inducing romance and heart-pounding, exciting erotic fiction and lives with her husband on a small farm near Tacoma, WA. You can reach her on Facebook at either of her author pages listed below.
Some of her favorite authors include Riley Hart, Ella Frank, Devon McCormack, Aimee Nicole Walker, Sloane Kennedy, Dan Skinner and too many more to name.