Authors: Cara Dee
Copyright © 2014 by Cara Dee
Lisa A. Hollett
Disclaimer: This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This e-book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with others, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This book is fictitious. All references to ancient or historical events, persons living or dead, or locations and places are used in a fictitious manner. Any other names, characters, incidents, and places are derived from the author’s own imagination. Similarities to persons living or dead, places, or events are entirely coincidental.
The author acknowledges the trademark status and trademark owners of any wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction.
This story contains some violence, drug use, and scenes of an explicit, erotic nature between two men and is intended for adults, 18+. Characters portrayed are 18 or older.
Special thanks to Lisa, Deb, Emma, Tina, Annie, Nance, Jennifer, and Bonnie. I couldn’t have done it without your support and help.
Never in his thirty-nine years on this planet had the simple task of cleaning a bartop felt as gratifying as it did now. A smile kept tugging at the corners of Chase's mouth, but because he was so used to hiding his feelings, he didn’t unleash even an ounce of the satisfaction he felt. But inside him, it was a whirlwind of emotions.
I did it
, a voice repeated over and over.
I fuckin' did it
Something often threatened to pull him under again, but he wasn’t gonna allow anything to ruin this moment. This belonged to
. This moment, this goddamn day, and even this bar. He'd named it Joshua's Place, the sign outside dominated by the letters "JP" and a silver Knucklehead—his favorite bike, his favorite engine.
It was bound to attract fellow bikers, and he hadn't been disappointed at the grand opening tonight.
Merely an hour ago, the place had been packed. Once the doors had closed at two in the morning, Chase had sent home his one employee. He then spent some time quietly wiping down the eight tables, straightening the chairs, returning a few misplaced stools to the bar, and preparing for tomorrow.
What had once been a menial job—twenty fucking years of being someone else's bartender—was now his chosen career. Coming from nothing, it mattered a lot to put "bar owner" to his name.
Doing a final sweep with the rag, Chase deemed the wooden bartop clean. He looked out over his place and drew in a deep breath.
I did it
He was sure it was no big deal to outsiders, but the memories of two parents who'd been buried in debt had scared him away from ever taking a loan. Which meant he'd saved up all on his own, all while helping his little sister with her college tuition.
It was okay to be a little proud, right?
Heading to the fridge, Chase grabbed three beers, and then walked over to his two remaining patrons—or friends, as they had become in the past few months.
Austin Huntley and Cameron Nash
They ended their private conversation when Chase sat down.
"Thank you." Austin smiled as he opened his beer. "So, how does it feel?"
Chase showed a ghost of a smile, not sure how to answer the question. He wasn’t used to having friends, which made things awkward sometimes. Growing up, he'd been too busy working—even as a kid—making friendship new territory. He didn’t wanna be obnoxious and overshare, but he didn’t wanna be rude, either.
"Feels…good." He nodded slowly, choosing his words. "Kinda overwhelming?" He glanced out over his establishment and could almost hear the laughter, clinking bottles, and rock music from earlier.
"I can imagine." Austin's eyes always showed a sense of warmth that made Chase feel…
was probably a fitting word. Warmth Chase hoped to see in his own eyes one day. But as it was, when he woke up every morning and looked into the mirror, all he saw in his deep blues was resignation. "Was it overwhelming back when your brother opened his garage, too?" Austin smirked at Cam.
Cam snorted. "Like I attended that spectacle." It was no secret that he stayed away from crowds, so that made Chase appreciate his coming here tonight even more. Cam smiled tightly. "But tonight we're celebrating, right? Freedom and shit."
Another reason for tonight being significant.
Today marked the three-year anniversary of seven men's escape from the hands of a fucking lunatic named Ben Stahl.
Chase loathed thinking about it, and it almost made him thankful his parents were long dead. Guilt flared up too easily, as did embarrassment. The reason he'd been in the wrong place at the wrong time and had gotten himself kidnapped was nothing he wanted anyone to know about him, least of all his pops.
"You don't wanna associate with those fags, son."
Despite what these three men had in common, the history they shared, the memories that haunted them, they remained private people. The ten guys who had been taken three years and some five months ago had all been paired up in cage-like cells, and even the year of therapy that followed for the survivors hadn't resulted in any friendships for Chase. He hadn't felt close to Victor at all, the man he'd shared a cell with.
No one to share truths with.
Hell, Chase hadn't heard from any of the men in a couple years—not counting the two in front of him now, and it was a fluke how they'd ended up in each other’s lives again.
Once group therapy was over, Chase had focused on restarting his life. Nearly two years had passed. Then, one day this past February, he'd found himself in this corner of Bakersfield scouting a location for his bar.
In a diner, he'd grabbed some lunch, and he remembered the squeak and the thump as a little girl had crashed into him. A girl he'd recognized vaguely as Austin Huntley's daughter.
Chase had bent down and asked if she was okay, to which the girl had apologized profusely. Meanwhile, another man had rushed over to ask the same question. Just as Chase had noticed it was Cameron Nash, the girl had giggled, rolled her eyes, and said, "I'm
, Dad. Stop worrying so much."
It'd taken a while before things had added up.
Now… Chase's mouth quirked up a fraction as he thought about it. Austin and Cam had gone from strangers sharing a small cell to falling in love with each other in the aftermath. They were married and raising thirteen-year-old Riley together in a house nearby. It was the three of them and two dogs.
Chase twisted the cap off his beer and took a swig. Austin and Cam were wrapping up a conversation about Landon, Cam's older brother, and his wife and twin girls. There was supposedly a family trip planned by Landon, and the two men were weighing the pros and cons about letting Riley tag along.
"As long as she calls often." Cam shrugged. "Ten times a day oughta do it."
"Listen to you." Austin let out a laugh. "Ten times."
Chase wasn’t really paying attention, but at the same time, he was. While he didn’t care much about the topic at hand, he observed and admired the dynamic between Cam and Austin. Both were quiet, straightforward, and laid-back. They weren’t overly affectionate in public, but the bond was evident nonetheless. It was present in Austin's eyes as they seemed to take in Cam's every move; Austin registered the littlest things about Cam. It was present in the way Cam's chair was turned slightly in Austin's direction.
Small touches spoke volumes. How Cam brushed away some invisible lint from Austin's Henley, how Austin grinned and bumped their shoulders together when Cam said something funny, how Austin could calm down a usually fidgety Cam with a simple hand on his leg, how Cam sometimes absently reached over and brushed his thumb over the rings on Austin's finger…the list went on.
They were in tune with each other and they were happy. Chase envied that. For more than one reason.
He did his best to come off as content with his life as it was, but he wasn’t sure he pulled it off well. He could sit all casual-like in his well-worn and usually holey jeans, vintage T-shirts, and dusty biker boots, but he could never shake the feeling of being out of place.
Waiting to be judged
Or to be called "disgusting little queer," which had been Ben's favorite.
Chase didn’t give a shit about his appearance, often letting his dark scruff grow and never taming his messy hair, but that was different. His exterior was the least of his problems. It was what was on the inside that kept him on edge.
His chiseled jaw clenched with his struggle to keep up his defenses. Especially when he looked at the couple in front of him. Austin and Cam had been tortured half to death, yet they'd returned to the world of the living and were thriving now.
It embarrassed the shit outta Chase to even think about complaining. He hadn't been the one who'd returned to Bakersfield with broken bones, punctured lungs, and gunshot wounds.
Aside from the deep scars that lingered around his wrists after being cuffed for so long, he hadn't shed a single drop of blood.
His old therapist, Gale, had loved to remind him that his pain was as real as anybody else's, but it wasn’t about suffering as much as it was about not being able to help. He didn’t want to get shot, for fuck's sake. But he did despise the memory of having to sit still, unable to do a fucking thing, while the other men had screamed in despair.
hated feeling helpless. Five months of not being able to do jack shit had only made it worse. If he saw a problem, he wanted to fucking fix it. It was in his blood.
Snap out of it, Gallardo
Chase's shoulders stiffened and he took a deep pull from his beer. So he was ashamed and lonely. Big deal.
He always had his little sister—Adriana. And he had friends now, too. That was enough.
"Are we supposed to make a toast or something?" Cam's voice broke the silence in the dimly lit bar. "I don’t know the protocol for kidnapping anniversaries."
Austin laughed quietly and adjusted his sleek, black-rimmed glasses. "You don’t know the protocol for
kind of anniversary."
"Fuck you." Cam's mouth slanted into a smirk. "If you're gonna bitch, maybe I should just give you flowers and chocolate next year."
"Beats the blow-job coupons you gave me." Austin grinned wryly, and Chase huffed a small chuckle.
Cam shrugged and scratched his bicep. "Landon told me Jules likes that shit."
, baby," Austin pointed out. "But don’t worry. It's your birthday soon; maybe I'll just give you the honor of blowing me ten times."
"Are you sure you've only been together three years?" Chase was amused. "Sounds more like fifty-three."
"Eh." Cam shrugged again. "I'm gonna grab a smoke." He jerked his thumb over his shoulder and went for the door.
Austin shook his head and smiled, facing Chase. "We should probably head home soon. Riley will be home from soccer camp pretty early tomorrow."
Chase nodded and fiddled with the label on his bottle. Because Cam and Austin lived so close, only a couple minutes away, they had stopped by every now and then—often with one of their dogs—to say hey and offer help.
Well, mostly Austin. Chase was more like Cam when it came to being social. Austin was hardly Mr. Social either, but he took more initiative and was more welcoming. For which Chase was grateful today. Acquaintances, old coworkers, one new employee—that was one thing…but no friends until now.
His pops had always worked two jobs, and from an early age, Chase had accompanied his dad to the second gig. After a long day in the oil fields, Pops was a salesman who went door-to-door, and Chase was the assistant to an exhausted man. All of which meant there was no time for friends or after-school activities.
"It's hard times, son. Everyone has to help out,"
his father would say.
"It's what makes us family."
So Chase had been shocked and hurt when he'd moved out from under his parents' roof at eighteen, only to learn that Pops would no longer accept his help. It was then a new line of lecturing had begun.
"If a grown man can't stand on his own two feet without help, he ain't worthy of bein' called a man. I'll be damned if I gotta take help from my grown-up son. There's no pride in that."
Nevertheless, Chase hadn't been able to stand by and watch as the bills piled up on his folks' kitchen table. Instead of hanging out with peers and finding out what this friendship deal was all about and maybe working to pay for college, he'd worked in order to be able to slip his ma money whenever he could. Medical bills, stuff for Ade, food, loans… Having friends hadn't mattered.
"Everything all right?" Austin wondered.
"Yeah…" Chase blew out a breath and tried to relax back in his chair. "It's all good." He nodded with a dip of his chin for good measure. "Pretty hard to believe it's been three years."
Little by little, the agony had faded. He no longer went to therapy, and he wasn’t afraid of the dark anymore. Yet…sometimes, something would trigger him. He'd dream vividly about the hell he'd endured and wake up drenched in sweat and ready to pounce.
"Sometimes it feels like time has flown, and sometimes…" Austin trailed off, frowning to himself.
Chase agreed with that. Sometimes it felt like it was only yesterday they ran out of that burning house and back to freedom.
"Where's Adriana tonight, by the way? I thought she'd be here."
Chase checked the clock on the wall behind the bar, noticing it was nearing four AM. "Right now I hope she's in bed." He grinned a little at the thought of the oops baby in the family. "But she's at home—in LA." In the apartment she shared with two girlfriends she went to college with. He was damn proud of her, and at times he felt more like a father than a brother. That wasn’t weird, though; Ade was only twenty-one, a whopping eighteen years younger than Chase. After their parents died ten years ago, he had slipped into the role of a parent instead. The fact she had been shipped off to a foster family until she'd turned eighteen because Chase hadn't been able to prove he could support her financially didn’t matter. He was the one she turned to first. "She's taking classes over the summer too, and she's got some paper to hand in on Monday." Austin nodded in understanding. "I told her to stay home and study."