Thirteen – Ian
Of all the things I expected to see Butch bringing home to me that cold winter night, Shin would never have been on the list. A puppy, sure. Maybe a skittish kitten. But the man who had been haunting my every waking and sleeping moment? Never.
I shot to my feet from the couch and opened my arms. Shin flew into my embrace, his slender body racked with tremors. I cupped the back of his head, my fingers seeking all that glorious long hair that I’d so loved. He burrowed his face into my throat. God, he was cold.
I met Butch’s hazel eyes. “Thank you,” I mouthed.
“I’ll go make cocoa,” Butch said, easing out of the living room to put the kettle on. Shin clawed at my sweater, his muffled sobs ripping me apart. I stroked his wild short hair, rubbed his back, whispered and cooed at him until he calmed a bit. Then I slowly eased away, just enough to look at his face. His cheeks were bright red and wet, his lips dry, and his cheek bruised and scabbed. I tipped his head gently, letting the light from the lamp shine on the nasty gash on his lovely cheekbone.
“Who did this?” I asked, cupping his skull tenderly. “Was it Kennedy?”
“Yes,” he replied, peeled himself away from me, and swiped at his face with his hands. “Can I take a shower? I’m freezing.”
“Yes, of course. Do you remember where the bedroom is?” He shook his head, so I took his icy hand and led him down the hall, past the two guest rooms, the gym, and my office, to the largest bedroom at the end of the hall. He followed me silently. Once we were in the master bath, I turned on the dual showerheads, dug out a clean towel that I placed on the marble countertop, and ran my hand along his jawline. “Take as long as you wish. When you’re ready, I’ll be out in the living room.”
“Okay,” he whispered in reply, his gaze touching mine for a second. He rose to his toes to press a kiss to my cheek. I smiled at him, my heart filled with joy and concern simultaneously. Then I left him to wash and compose himself.
Butch looked up from pouring hot water into two white ceramic mugs when I entered the kitchen.
“He okay?” he asked, placing the kettle back to the smooth stovetop. I went to stand beside him.
“I think so, yes. Did you get into Gems, then?”
“Oh, hell no.” He picked up a teaspoon and began stirring the contents of one of the mugs. The rich smell of chocolate tickled my nose. “I’d left and was heading back here when I passed a guy on the street who looked like your boy. Had to circle the block to get behind him. Still wasn’t sure it was him. That short hair threw me. But as soon as he looked at me, I knew it was him, and I knew something was up. Parks don’t let his employees just wander the street at one in the morning in mid-November. If anything, he should be with a bidder.”
“Did he say anything to you about what happened?” I took the mug he’d readied with a nod of thanks.
“Nope, never said a freaking word to me after he called me out for thinking about leaving his ass on the street,” Butch admitted with a casual ease that grated instantly. “Don’t even start.” He held up his stirring spoon. “I know a losing fight when I’m involved in one. Plus, the way you’ve been moping around the past week, lying on that fucking couch day after day, I figured the only thing that would get your ass up was Opal.”
“His name is Shin and thank you for bringing him to me.”
“Meh, yeah. I still think you could do better. I took you to that damn place to get laid and move on from losing a love. I didn’t take you there so you could leap into another love affair. He’s still a whore, Ian. I know that’s harsh, but we boys from the southside, we don’t fluff up life with rosy glasses and flowery terms. He’s a hooker and you’re a fucking rocket scientist.”
“Propulsion and small satellite expert,” I tossed out and got a dour look.
“Same fucking thing. The point is you generally don’t let a mutt into the kennels with your purebred bitch.”
I winced visibly. Butch shrugged. “Sometimes your candor is like a brick in the face.”
“I’m going to go home and let you two talk and shit. I’ll see you at work tomorrow?”
“It depends on how Shin is doing. Fiona runs that place perfectly without me.” Butch stirred Shin’s mug of cocoa then tossed the spoon into the sink. “I’ll let you know.”
“Okay. Try not to give this kid your whole heart, okay?”
“It’s far too late to worry about that. Let me walk you out.”
“I know the way.” He clapped my shoulder and left me with two mugs of hot chocolate and several dozen questions. I’d no sooner carried the mugs out to the living room and placed them on the chunky Bolivian walnut coffee table when Shin appeared like a wraith.
“I borrowed some of your clothes. Mine were wet and dirty,” he said, his voice shaky and timid.
He was rather lost in my old wool sweater. The sleeves were far too long, as were the pantlegs on the soft gray lounge pants he’d pulled on. He’d found socks as well. I should have thought to get him clean clothes. Shame on me. His hair was wet still, sticking out at odd angles, but it looked good on him in a way. It made his sharp cheekbones and gorgeous eyes really stand out. He was adorable in a waiflike way that made me want to protect him from everything forever.
“It’s fine. Come and sit down, I think we need to talk. Butch made cocoa.”
Shin padded around the table, sat on the sofa, one leg tucked under his ass, and smiled at me. Then, because he was Shin, he slipped into my arms, draping himself over my lap. His head came to rest on my shoulder.
“I missed you so much, I thought my heart would wither inside me and I’d die from sepsis,” he whispered, his weight on my thighs and the smell of my soap on his skin slowly beginning to ease a weeks’ worth of stress and desperation.
“My feelings were much the same.” I slid an arm around him, then reached for the cocoa. He gently took the mug from me. “Drink it. It will do wonders.” He lifted his head and took a sip. “I need to know what happened to you once Butch dropped you off last week. Can you tell me about it?”
He sat on my lap and talked. For a good five minutes, he filled me in on everything that had taken place since our night on the town. As he spoke, I could feel a rage unlike any I had ever felt before burbling to life inside me. Kennedy had struck him, had cut off his hair, and had kept him under incredibly tight security. And Kennedy had sent men to him expecting him to perform for them after being manhandled and humiliated. I was going to kill Kennedy Parks. I’d kill him, then drop his miserable corpse in the Southside river for the fish to eat.
“… sure what to do now. I should go back.”
That statement jarred me from the bloody fantasy I’d been having. “There is no way in hell you’re putting one foot back in that place.”
“He’ll take my running away out on the others; I know he will. Whenever we fuck up, he calls us all into his office, shows us what we did wrong, explains what our mistake has done to the group, and then he hits us. If I’m not there to take the blows, he’ll hit someone else. I can’t let that happen.”
“It won’t, I promise. I’ll think of something. People tell me that I’m kind of clever.”
“You had better be. I signed that contract of employment. If he sues me…”
“What exactly is this contract? What does it say?” I sipped on my cocoa, keeping one hand on his back.
“I don’t remember exactly, it was three years ago, but it said I was legally indentured or something to be in his employ until I reached the age of twenty-five, then we’d renegotiate the terms, but that’s just a way out for him. He rarely keeps any Gem past the age of twenty-five. Diamond is the exception.”
“Wait, you’re how old? The truth,” I teased, and got a flimsy sort of smile.
“That’s what I thought you had told me once. So, if you signed that contract three years ago you were…”
“Yeah, I kind of fudged about my age a little. I had nowhere else to go and the place was like a mansion. I’d have my own room and be able to make way more money than I did working the streets.” Someday, we’d have to talk about why he had been on the streets at seventeen, although I suspected I might have known. “It was only a month difference.”
“That tiny deception is going to be your saving grace. The fact that you were hired when you were underage is a skewer we can slide up his ass and roast him on. He broke innumerable laws with that little thirty day difference. That gives us a huge legal advantage when it comes to terminating your employment and negating that contract. Leave that to me. I have lawyers. Pricey lawyers. We’ll get you freed from that bastard.”
“What about the others? I can’t leave them behind. And the money is good. There’s no shame in being a sex worker,” he informed me. “All of us were hooking on the street before Kennedy took us in and paid us so well. If not for you, I’d be happy to remain there.”
“I’d imagine most of you would be averse to leaving behind such a lucrative job. I’m not sure what your percentage was but it had to be nice paycheck at the end of the week with bidders paying ten thousand dollars per night.”
He blinked at me over his cocoa, then his slim eyebrows tangled. “No, you’re way off. You didn’t pay that much a night. Kennedy told us that most bids topped out around five hundred or so.”
“Then he was lying to you. I can show you my bank withdrawals.” I reached for my phone. He sat deathly still, his pink cheeks slowly losing all the nice color they’d just recovered. “Ten thousand a night, every night, for nearly a month, paid to KP Gems Entertainment LLC.”
I passed him my phone, opened to my online banking app, and waited for the fallout. “He told us we were getting twenty percent of the five hundred dollar bids and that no bids ever went over five hundred.” His gaze lifted from my phone to mine. The poor, sweet thing was crushed. It broke my heart to see fresh tears welling up. “That miserable fucker was lying to us all this time. He gave me a hundred bucks and pocketed over nine grand?”
His hands began to shake. I took the mug of cocoa from him, then wrapped him tightly in my arms. We sat back, letting the thick sofa swallow us, and I held him as he raged and wailed and wept and cursed.
“I’m an asshole,” he coughed, when the worst of the anger and pain had been purged. I stroked his hair and kissed his soft eyebrow.
“No, you were young and desperate for stability.”
“Stupid. Fucking stupid. No wonder he has such a nice office and apartment. And all that gold and clothes and that stupid Lambo he’s so proud of. Fuck, I am so…argh!”
“I think we need to sit down with your fellow workers and present them with this evidence. Any chance you can set something up?”
“Maybe. In the morning.” He curled up into me, like a cat seeking a tender hand. “We’re going to bring that fucker down, right?”
“Oh, yes, we are.”
“I love you,” he whispered. “I can’t believe you paid ten grand a night for me.”
“I’d bankrupt myself just to taste your lips and hear your laugh.” I inhaled his warm smell and let my eyes close. I was so tired. I’d not slept well for over a week. With his soft exhalations fluttering over my throat, sleep finally settled on my weary shoulders.