The rise of Gems to the upper echelon of Midwestern escort services hasn’t been a smooth ride. The men of Gems have faced down hatred, bigotry, and a corrupt city government. Now, they’re going to have go toe-to-toe with the most powerful crime lord in Colchester. Which empire will be standing when the dust settles?
Onyx has always desired the finer things in life and those dreams have finally been fulfilled. His beauty, refinement, Southern charm, and flair for fashion has propelled him from being a poor boy from the bayou to one of the highest paid X-dressers in Gems history. He’s always turned heads, but now he’s finally caught the eye of one of his employers. He’s not quite sure how to handle the gruff, burly bulldog of a man, but he’s eager to figure it out.
Butch grew up in Colchester and is a true son of the city. His background is steeped in mystery and heartache. Growing up on those dirty streets has made him rough, gritty, and unpolished. Not at all the sort of man a refined thing like Onyx would ever entertain spending downtime with, let alone romancing. Not that he has time for courting a sophisticated beauty like Onyx amid the danger that’s about to engulf Gems and all who work there. They’re all going to be too busy just trying to survive…
Chapter One – Butch
The Colchester River ran deep and dark.
Standing on one of twin brides that spanned the waterway, you could smell the slow moving secrets that lingered in the murky depths. I’d played along the river when I was a kid, skimming rocks, trying to spear fish with a sharpened stick, wading out into the water to swim or dunk one of the other roaming curs that I called friends under the stinking foamy waters. Back then, we didn’t give a shit about the runoff from the factories that lined the river. We were a pack of overheated wild dogs left to prowl the south side unattended. The shit we did in the dark of night made me shudder now. Muggings, beatings, robberies; you name it, we did it, and we did it with relish. Which was why, to this day, no one on that pissy side of the river could hotwire a car faster than Beauregard Hurler. I also knew where all the eddies and whirlpools were. No, I didn’t have a degree in fluid dynamics or any such shit like my boss probably did. My knowledge of where to drop unwanted things into the river came from years of experience of destroying evidence.
My skin was clammy now, sticky from the chilling sweat of my morning run. I liked to jog from my tasteful apartment on the right side of the waters every day, just as dawn was breaking, and return to the river. In some fucked up way, my moments overlooking the familiar watercourse kept me grounded. Inhaling the stench of the shit that used to coat my skin reminded me that I was, and would always be, a southside punk.
No matter who I worked for, the fancy SUV I drove, or the stupid amount of money I was paid, I was the first born son of a junkie whore mother and a crooked cop. No amount of fancy ass soap that Ian bought me every Christmas could remove that stench, nor could my brief stint in the Colchester police department. Two years spent trying to clean up a city that refused to come clean had been enough. You can only be the lone cop fighting corruption and greed for so long. Then you either give in or give up. I gave up. Shame on me for being such a pussy. Quitting the force was just one of a few hundred shameful things that I kept buried way down deep. Not even Ian knew about my ill-fated run as a cop. He did know all the rest, though, or most of it. Southie kids didn’t generally emote all over the place. Emotions were weaknesses. Weaknesses got you dead.
I glanced from the river to the southside, to where Gems sat among the scum and smut. Somehow I’d grown fond of the place and the men who worked there. Somehow being around them had eased the burning hatred for prostitutes that I’d carried for all my adult life. Somehow I’d become friends with them. Somehow I’d become infatuated with one of them, the most beautiful jewel among a fucking treasure trove of precious stones.
“Fucking Ian,” I mumbled as a bright image of Onyx dressed in a lime-green dress with a puffy skirt rose up like the new sun, only his likeness shone a thousand times brighter. I’d never known a man like him. One that was so refined, so classy, so loving and kind, so everything that I wasn’t. “Should have quit for real when you forced me into that fucking place.”
Maybe I’d quit again today. It felt like a good day to pull up stakes and roll. I’d done it before, way back when, I could do it again. The Feds coming into our sandbox was reason enough to move across the globe and take up weaving hats out of monkey fur.
Yet, as soon as the thought entered my empty skull, it withered. There was no leaving Ian. He was the only family I had. Well, him and a bunch of male escorts. I’d come full circle. I’d been born in a whorehouse and I’d probably die in one if Carlotta Bianchi got her wish.
Using my shirt to wipe off my face, I turned from the river and ran back home. My place was a one bedroom apartment in a renovated waterfront warehouse. Ian had found it for me after declaring the room that I’d been renting unfit for human habitation. That had been seven years ago, and I still wasn’t really at home here. The views of the river, the metrosexual neighbors, the infusion of cash… it all reeked of gentrification. Maybe I’d be happier over the river, among the street rats, junkies, and hookers. Pretending to be what I wasn’t didn’t work well, but Ian was nothing if not fucking persistent about moving in an upward direction. Whatever. A gutter punk like me was happy to have a room that overlooked the back of a dive bar. What the fuck did I need with exposed brick walls and modern furnishings? You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, Mom used to say. Ian MacDougald, the pushy prick, had other views on pigs and handbags.
A quick shower and shave, a blind rush through my closet, and a travel mug of coffee got me moving. Morning traffic was sluggish and I used the time to jolt my system with caffeine and listen to some 60’s Motown. The Temptations “My Girl” stayed in my head as I parked in the underground parking area and rode to the penthouse of One Colchester Place. I’d not seen one security man upon my arrival. That was unacceptable. The upper crust paid a shit ton of cash to be protected from any riff raff that may straggle over the bridges. Little did they know one moved among them in an old Brooks Brothers suit and scuffed loafers.
Using my key card and a thumb recognition scanner, I moseyed into Ian’s penthouse, blinded by the sun flowing in the windows as well as the bright colors his new decorator had slapped up on the walls. And floors. And furniture. Muttering about ocular damage, I strolled into the kitchen and right past the two men trying to see which one could jam their tongue down the other’s throat the furthest. I’d put money on Shin. He had been a Gem for years. They probably could do things with their tongues we mortal men could only dream of.
“Your new décor makes my fucking eyeballs bleed,” I said, then sniggered to myself as Ian and Shin leapt apart, lips puffy, breathing ragged.
“I have a doorbell,” Ian snapped as he tried to pull his vest down over his boner. Shin simply hid behind the hulking Scot to adjust his dick.
“And I have a key card and a thumb.” I found a pod for the Keurig and studied it. “Who the hell drinks blueberry coffee?”
“I do,” Ian replied. I gave him a raised eyebrow.
“Blueberries belong in muffins, not coffee. Don’t you have any plain coffee? No cinnamon or pumpkin spice or coconut, just coffee. Plain old coffee with no fru-fru new age yuppie bullshit flavors.”
“I don’t think anyone uses the term ‘yuppie’ anymore,” Shin pointed out before he left the room.
“What term do they use?” I asked after shoving the fancy pod holder case back to the wall.
“Gen Z, I think.” Ian slid his arm into a dark gray suit sleeve then shucked it up over his shoulder. “Not that you’ll stop using the term yuppie.”
I shrugged. “When something works…” I turned to look at the redhead straightening his lapels. “You need to complain to the tenant association about the lack of visible security.” He sighed. I folded my arms over my chest. “Scoff if you want, but when Carlotta Bianchi shows up on your doorstep with an AK-47 and a raging case of PMS, don’t come running to me. Speaking of which…”
He sighed again, this time much more dramatically. “Butch, I highly doubt anyone is going to take a pot shot at me when I’m walking the hallways of Blue Moon Propulsion & Aerospace Systems.”
“No, because I have men patrolling that place like the Queen and her tiny dogs lived there. You go other places though, like to drop Shin off, don’t you?”
His jaw stiffened, but he yanked off his jacket and flung it to the breakfast nook bench. The look he gave me could have melted iron ore, but I merely shooed him off. He and Shin might think wearing a Kevlar vest or a bulletproof hoodie out the door was stupid, but they didn’t know organized crime like I did. Also, it was my job to keep Ian, and now Shin, alive. I’d done damn well for twenty years. I wasn’t about to let a two-bit hood soil my spotless record. Nearly spotless.
Shin arrived with his black hoodie on and an armful of textbooks. I had to give the kid credit, he’d aced his GED test and was now cramming his head full of online business courses. He’d wanted to do the campus thing, but I’d shut that down hard. Until the Bianchi situation was put to bed, I was keeping both of them as close as possible.
“He really hates that vest,” Shin muttered, then drained his coffee mug.
“He’d hate a bullet in the heart more. And he could wear the hoodie like you and be super cool. What? Oh, fuck you. Cool is a great word. What do you call it? Being spank?”
That made him choke on his coffee dregs. “Just how old are you?”
“Old as me, but I look better,” Ian chimed in as he reentered the kitchen, his thick vest strapped snugly around his torso. “Soon as we get to Blue Moon, I’m taking this off.”
“That’s fine. As long as you don’t leave your office without escort.” I heard him grunt but ignored him. “Let’s get going. We’re working on a scattered schedule with varying departure and arrival times. I hope the Feds have something to tell us today. My granny could be showing more initiative.”
“Your grandmother is dead,” Ian pointed out as he grabbed his briefcase.
“That’s my point. Let’s roll.” I proceeded them out, sweeping the elevator then locking the door to anyone entering until we landed in the parking garage. Once there, they waited with really sour faces in the elevator while I scoped out the parking lot. “Still no signs of security. I’d demand a refund on that chunky wad you cough up every year for onsite protection.”
I didn’t give them any time to chit-chat. I herded them into my SUV and took off, the two of them in the back. I let the oldies play just to tweak the Millennial in the back, but he and Ian were too busy whispering about things lovers whispered about. Crossing the bridge was a slow go, and I glanced down at the water quickly then eased forward another few feet. Forty minutes later we pulled up behind Gems. I hustled Shin inside after Ian kissed his boy long and hard.
“Do not leave this building until I return. No going for coffee or looking for motherfucking Pokémon or skipping off with Amber to buy avocado toast.” Hand on his elbow, I steered him right to his office, past the juice bar that was sitting silent until the juice barista or whatever his job title was, showed up.
“Like there’s one damn place to find avocado toast on this side of the bridge,” Shin snarked, tossing his shoulder-length hair from his face. A few of the employees were sitting in the game room with a couple of our breakfast customers. We had a few men who came in to share breakfast treats with a few of our escorts. No sex. That wasn’t on the menu, even though I knew damn well most of the older Gems were still servicing men off hours. They might think that they’re fooling me, but they’re not. I got a dick. I know that men aren’t simply taking our escorts out to dinner and dropping them off with a peck on the cheek. Dicks don’t work like that. You sit across from something desirable and beautiful all night and your cock is going to want to sample that gorgeous young thing.
“Well, look at what the songbirds brought us to brighten our day.” I knew that soft, sweet Southern voice instantly. It did things to me.
My hold on Shin’s elbow slackened when I looked down the hall to see Onyx sashaying toward us. I kind of stalled out like an old Studebaker. Jesus, he was fucking magnificent in pure white pants and a jacket that played off his walnut skin. His legs went on forever and his smile robbed me of my breath. He was wearing a blond curly wig, a floppy white hat, and chunky white sandals. He was everything a man like me dreamed of and everything a man like me could never have.