The next five days were among the worst of Drew’s life. Amara had been incredibly lucky in that the bullet missed everything of importance, passing through muscle and exiting without too much damage being done. However, despite the best efforts of the hospital, an infection set in that almost cost him his life.
Aria had refused to leave his bedside and barely ate or slept the whole time. Drew, of course, stayed right there with him and drove himself insane with worry about both of them.
In between all that, Drew had to cope with the police investigation, which was ongoing due to the mysterious “friend” Julianna had repeatedly referred to and who had not yet been identified. Julianna herself had been admitted to a mental institution and by all accounts was not doing well. For Drew’s part, he hoped she rotted there. The only sadness he felt was for her unborn child who was, after all, innocent.
The bright spots in the nightmare came when family rallied around. Lady Jane and Henley visited, both separately and together. They were in the process of negotiating a reconciliation. It exhausted Drew to think of the relationship between mother and son being negotiated like a business deal. At least that’s the way it came across to him. It was one of the many things that made him realise the world Aria and Amara lived in may as well have been a different planet compared to his own.
Alicia also visited daily and although the atmosphere was strained at first, Aria forgave her very quickly, partly, Drew thought, because it was in his nature to be forgiving, and partly because he was well aware that no matter what her reason for being with them, she genuinely cared. It was the latter reason that gave Drew grounds for forgiveness, not that he really had the right to forgive or not forgive.
The brightest spot of all, as far as Drew was concerned, was that his mother turned up on the second day. The visit came out of the blue and pulled him from a dark place. She, Ceriann and Jay persuaded both Drew and Aria to take a long overdue break and they walked to a fancy café just around the corner, where Jay insisted on buying everyone lunch from a menu he had to translate for Drew, Cerrian and their mother. They took the opportunity to order a seemingly enormous quantity of takeaway treats that didn’t last very long once they hit the ward.
Drew’s mother and Ceriann had booked into a hotel, but Aria insisted they stay at their house. It felt strange and wonderful when Aria clearly included Drew when he referred to it as “our house”. It was one of the many moments that hammered home the understanding of how very different his life now was. Another was having to sneak in and out of the back door of the hospital in an operation worthy of Special Ops, just to avoid the press.
When Amara turned the corner and started to improve things got both better and worse. Amara was not an easy patient and was fractious and impatient. Drew bore his petulance and tantrums stoically, but Aria floundered. As soon as she realized what was going on, Drew’s mother had a talk with Amara which resulted in a calming of the waters. Even so, Amara was unhappy during his entire stay in the hospital and it was a relief to everyone when he was discharged. Drew thought it was too early, but after being called overprotective by more than one person, he tried hard to put aside his fears.
The fact was, he’d been shaken to his core when he thought he might lose Amara. He felt deeply guilty that he’d allowed his fear for the boys to cloud his mind and dull his trained responses. He held himself entirely to blame for what had happened to Amara. For the first few days he’d beaten himself up over it so much Jeff took him aside and threatened him with physical violence if he didn’t pull himself together and get over it. He didn’t mean it, of course. At least Drew didn’t think so. Now, he found it difficult not to treat Amara as if he were made of glass. No one else did, and Amara didn’t want them to.
Drew’s mother had stayed on to help and she organized the household, freeing Alicia to deal with the media storm that still raged as hot as ever, especially as Jay had effectively been “outed” after a leak from the police enquiry. Drew would have liked to think it wasn’t by a police officer who had an issue with Jay’s sexuality or gender identity, but he was too cynical for that. As a result, a shell-shocked Jay was staying with them for the foreseeable future. This wasn’t entirely a bad thing, because it took the twins’ minds off their own problems, but it made for a crowded house. Drew spent much of his time longing for peace. Yet in the rare moments he found it, he missed the twins so much he wasn’t able to enjoy it.
Two weeks after the incident, the hornet’s nest was stirred up again, with the arrest of Sir David Carpenter-Bell, who turned out to be the mysterious “friend” Julianna had been raving about. Instantly, the media circus started up again.
During the course of the police investigation, Drew had struck up an accord with the officer in charge, DI Johnathan Stacey. It was Jonathan who broke the news to Drew, coming to the house to speak to him personally. They met in Alicia’s office.
“It’s good to see you again, Drew.”
“You too, although I’m not sure why you want to speak to me alone.”
“I want to speak to you first. I’m quite happy to talk this through with all of you but given the circumstances I’d like your opinion on the best way of approaching Aria and Amara, as it’s likely to be distressing to them.”
Drew was immediately on his guard. “Distressing? In what way?”
“We’ve arrested Sir David Cameron-Bell for his involvement in your case.”
Drew wracked his brain but couldn’t place the name at all. “Should I know him?”
“Probably not, but the twins will. He’s a well-known socialite and the twins have attended a number of parties at his home.”
Drew’s mind flashed back to the party he’d attended after Amara’s concert in the O2. He had a clear image of the slimy creep trying to drag Aria up the stairs, thinking he was Amara.
“What involvement does he have in the case?”
Johnathan sighed, running a hand through his hair. “Julianna made several comments about an accomplice who was intending to take delivery of the boys, as she charmingly put it. Of course, she’s in no state mentally to be interviewed properly so we can only go on information she’s voluntarily provided prior to her arrest.”
Drew’s blood turned to ice in his veins. Images of Julianna describing what her friend was going to do to the twins, superimposed with Aria’s terrified face at the party. “He’s the friend.”
“Has he admitted it?”
“Not at first, but when we found his secret dungeon he didn’t have much choice, given the amount of evidence we found there.”
“What kind of evidence?”
Johnathan hesitated in a way that sent more icy water pumping through Drew’s veins.
“This is the crux of the issue, Drew. It’s not pretty and I need your guidance on what, how much and when to tell Aria and Amara because the juicier details are going to come out sooner or later, probably sooner.”
“How juicy do they get?”
Johnathan got up and paced, as much as he was able given it wasn’t a particularly big office. He kept running his hands through his hair.
“You’ve seen the photographs.”
It wasn’t a question, but Drew answered it. “Yes.”
“They were bad enough, and it was easy to match up the backgrounds, even though we never found the mannequins. What we did find was worse.”
Drew shivered. “You didn’t find other victims?” Nausea washed over him. Johnathan gave him a look that stopped his heart.
“No, but there were books and books full of meticulous notes that made it clear there were other victims. He noted everything from physical descriptions—all of which are fairly close to Aria and Amara—to blood types, to how much each “subject” could stand of each individual piece of equipment, physical or mental abuse before they broke or passed out or…” He paused and paced again.
“Died,” Drew finished for him. “The sick bastard used innocent kids to figure out how far he could push Aria and Amara before they died.”
“It seems that way, yes. That’s the directions the notes led. There was one, particularly ornate book that…well it was an itinerary of sorts, a detailed plan of what he intended to do to each of the twins from the moment they came into his hands to…well…you can imagine.”
It took everything Drew had not to run for the bathroom to vomit.
“Have you read them, the books?”
Johnathan stopped pacing and faced off to Drew. “Yes, I have.”
“How do you do it? How the hell do you read things like that and keep your lunch, or keep your hands off bastards like him? Don’t you have nightmares?”
“Thankfully, there aren’t many bastards like him. As for the rest—yeah, I have nightmares sometimes. It goes with the job. I hurt for those we couldn’t save, but at the end of the day I keep it together because of the ones we do save. There are kids out there, right now, whose only chance is my clear head, or that of someone like me. You should know that. You’ve been in the same position.”
Drew let out a mirthless laugh. “Something like it, I suppose. Although in my case I usually got to shoot the bastard.”
“I envy you that.”
“What’s the likelihood of this getting out?”
“You know the score, Drew. We do our best but something like this is going to get out sooner rather than later, and better if we give enough details to keep them satisfied up front or the rumour mill will take them god knows where. The last thing the boys want is for crazy rumours to be flying around. We’ll probably be making a statement later today, so I just wanted to prepare them…and you.”
Drew shrugged. “You don’t have to worry about me, but I don’t know what this is going to do to them. The biggest thing I’m worried about is that they’ve had dealings with this man before. Nothing like this,” he hurried to add. “Well, not that I know of, but enough to have their minds going in loops.”
“Do you want me to talk to them?”
“No.” It came out too fast and Drew hurried to qualify. “Let me. I… I need to talk to my family and figure out the best way to do it.”
“I understand, but don’t take long. The wave is going to break on your doorstep any time now.”
Drew nodded, understanding only too well what that meant. “Thank you for talking to me first.”
“No, thank you. This is one of my least favourite parts of the job. Thank you for taking it off my shoulders.”
When Johnathan left, Drew remained where he was, staring at the desk. His mind was racing. It kept replaying over and over every moment they’d been in the presence of Sir David Cameron-Bell, every word, every action and especially the expression of terror on Aria’s face. Had Aria known something Drew hadn’t. Had the boys been in that dungeon? No, surely they would have recognised it in the photograph. Maybe they had.
“Is everything alright?”
Drew glanced up and nodded to Alicia. She sat and he quickly filled her in on what Johnathan had said. She grew paler as he spoke.
“We can’t tell the boys that,” she burst out as soon as he stopped speaking.
“We have to. If we don’t, someone else will and I’d rather it come from me than from some scumbag pushing a microphone and camera into their faces.”
Alicia sighed and covered her face with her hands for a moment. “Is it ever going to end? Are they ever going to have peace?”
“They will. I’ll make sure of it.”
The smile Alicia shot him clearly indicated that she didn’t believe he could.
Aria, Amara and Jay were in the living room binge-watching Stella. Ceriann had hooked them on it and kept up a steady stream of asides about the location, which was around the valleys where they lived. The television was paused more than it was playing sometimes, while Ceriann regaled them with what she’d got up to on that mountain and in those back streets when she was a kid. She’d calmed down when her mother was there, but the boys were still fascinated and bombarded her with questions when she was around. Today, they were quiet because Ceriann was out somewhere with their mother. They were, all three, curled up together like kittens in one corner of the sofa. Amara looked as if he might be sleeping. Drew almost turned around and walked away but Aria spotted him.
“Drew, where have you been? Who were you talking to?”
Jeff sat up and Amara uncurled sleepily, wincing slightly as he did so, whether from the still healing ribs or the stitches in his bullet wound, Drew couldn’t tell. Neither did he care. Amara was hurting and that hurt Drew, whatever its cause.
Caught in the glare of three pairs of eyes, Drew froze, his mind racing. Damn. He should have thought this through. He should have waited until his mother was there. He should have talked to someone. It flashed through his mind that he should lie until he’d talked to his family and maybe Tammy, the psychiatrist who was helping all three boys come to terms with what had happened to them. After only one session, Drew had seen a difference, especially in Jay. There was a sense of freedom about them now, a giddy carefreeness that seemed to have built a natural barrier against all the darkness that had come their way since their story broke. Thankfully, the darkness was far outweighed by the light. If anything, the twins seemed to be rooting out and getting hurt by it more than Jay.
He took a breath and straightened his spine. No, that wasn’t going to happen. He was never going to lie to the boys, at least not if he could help it. It would not be a good foundation for a relationship and once trust is broken it’s all but impossible to mend completely.
“It was DI Stacey.”
“Johnathan?” Aria frowned. “What did he want? Is it something about, Mother? If it is, I don’t want to hear it.”
“Not exactly.” Drew sat and Aria scrambled onto his lap. Jay paused the television. Drew buried his nose in Aria’s hair and closed his eyes.
“They’ve caught the other person involved. The one your mother referred to as her friend.”
He felt Aria stiffen and the air around him suddenly became brittle.
“Do we know him?” Amara asked, after a long pause. He sounded breathless.
“Who is it?” Amara demanded, his voice stronger now.
Drew glanced at Amara, who was sitting as straight as his injuries allowed. His eyes were dark and angry but there was a spark of fear in there and Drew knew for sure it would catch and grow as soon as Drew spoke the name. So, he hesitated.
“Who?” Amara demanded again.
Aria pulled back a little and gazed up at Drew. “Who is it, Drew?”
“Sir David Cameron-Bell.”
The colour drained from Amara’s face and Aria made a choking sound.
“I told you he was creepy,” Jay said. “I told you to stay away from him.”
“I know,” Amara whispered.
Drew straightened and met Amara’s gaze. “Did he hurt you,” he asked. He hadn’t intended to, but that terrified, haunted expression was too much for him to bear. “Did that sick bastard hurt you?”
Amara closed his eyes, his jaw working.
“He didn’t hurt me, Drew,” Aria said. “Only that time when you were there, and it was only a little bit. He did scare me though.”
“He didn’t scare me,” Jay announced, “but he is creepy. I wasn’t happy when he started showing up and I told you not to go to those parties.”
“I know, but Ben said—” Aria gasped. “Oh shit. It was him. It was Ben who started pushing us to go to those parties. He was the one who included Dave in everything.” He sagged against Drew’s chest and started to sob quietly. “But it wa-wasn’t, was it? I-it wasn’t B-Ben. It was…was her. She wan-wanted h-him to hurt us. Only, I-I never…never went with him. It was…was…A-a-amara.”
“What did he do to you?” Drew ground out.
Amara shook his head, keeping his eyes closed. He was grey and tears leaked from under his lashes.
“Did he take you to the dungeon?”
Amara shook his head, then he paused and shrugged, biting his lip.
“What does that mean?” It came out sharper than Drew had intended and he cursed himself when Amara winced.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m a complete dick. It’s not your fault. It’s just… I hate the thought that bastard ever had his hands on you and I’m burning to send him to hell where he belongs. There’s no excuse for taking my anger out on you. I’m sorry.”
Amara opened his eyes and gazed at him, still chewing his lip. The tears were coming faster. Amara locked gazes for a long moment, then nodded, dropping his head.
“He used to give Ben drugs. A lot of drugs. I thought that’s why Ben was so cosy with him. It makes more sense though that it was all down to Mother. I could never understand why David would have anything to do with someone like Ben. He’s as much of a snob as Mother, and I would have thought Ben would be far, far beneath him. Actually, he never seemed to like him, David, that is. Ben loved that he was being accepted into those circles, even if it was reluctantly.”
“Nothing at first. David would creep us out, but he kept his distance. He always had some kid hanging around him. Oh not—” Amara glanced up sharply. “Not a little kid. A young guy, you know. A twink I guess you’d call them. About halfway through the party he’d get bored and wander off with his guy. That’s usually when the serious drugs came out and I’d back off. When it all started, I was sixteen and nothing sexual happened until months later, when I was seventeen. It was all legit. I was legal. I was willing.”
“Were you? Were you really?”
“Yeah. At first. I loved the attention. Who wouldn’t? You’ve seen David, he’s gorgeous, and I was flattered to be invited to his parties. Everyone seemed so grown up and sophisticated and they spoiled me. Aria hated him, so he didn’t come often. He’s my better half. If he’s not there to save me from myself, I do crazy things.”
Aria reached out and grabbed Amara’s hand.
“What happened? When did he start hurting you?”
“I don’t know what happened. We had sex a couple of times and he wanted me to…do things I didn’t want to do.”
“What kind of things?”
Amara squeezed his eyes shut, sagging against the couch. He looked ill and Drew was sick at himself that he didn’t just stop everything and hold them both and make it go away. But part of him wanted…needed to know.
“He wanted me to…us to…”
“He wanted you and Aria to sleep together?” Drew was shocked to his core, but he got the impression from the fact that Aria didn’t as much as twitch that Aria had known. Of course he had.
“But you didn’t.” Thank God it didn’t come out as a question. Drew realised a split second after the words had left his mouth that if there had been a shred of doubt in them neither twin might ever have forgiven him.
“No. It was an absolute hard line, even when he got us stoned.”
Drew silently ground his teeth and wondered how he’d go about getting access to Davin Cameron-Bell. Just for a few minutes.
“But I did agree to…” Amara swallowed hard. “It wasn’t always just us—me and David. Sometimes there were two, three even four.”
“He handed you around his friends?”
Jay made a wounded sound behind him, but Drew couldn’t take his eyes off Amara.
Amara’s eyes flew open. “No. It wasn’t like that. We slept with each other. All of us together. With each other.”
“Okay. That’s okay. I’m not judging you ‘Mara. You’ve got to understand that. I’m not judging you. I’m judging him.”
“I know,” Amara whispered, “but I am judging me.”
“Then don’t,” Jay said firmly. “Remember all the things you said to me, and don’t.”
Amara sent a watery smile over Drew’s shoulder. He swallowed again. “There were only a couple of times when… That’s why when he wanted to “play” with Aria I made him switch. Looking back, I think Mother had cooked something up with him, because that’s when she started putting pressure on Aria to…open up. When he thought I was Aria, he’d give me drugs and then he’d…hurt me.”
“What? You didn’t tell me that. You didn’t. You said it was okay. You said you were having fun.” Aria sounded distraught and Drew pulled him closer.
Amara hung his head. “I couldn’t tell you the truth, Aria. We were in too deep. We couldn’t stop, and if you knew… I was afraid you’d do something and they’d hurt you, too.”
“Do something?” Aria sounded confused.
“Make me let you go with them? Tell someone? I had to protect you. Don’t you understand? I had to.”
Aria was still holding Amara’s hand and he squeezed it. “I know. I’m not cross with you. I promise.”
Amara relaxed a little and smiled at his brother. “There’s no big sordid story, Drew, not really. I’d get high, he’d whip me, or whatever and we’d go home. It wasn’t often. It happened maybe three times?”
“Did he take you to the dungeon?”
“I don’t know. To be honest I was so fucked up I don’t remember most of what happened. Just the pain and being scared of him.”
“Well, it’s over now. He’ll never do that to you again, or anyone else.”
“What was in the dungeon, Drew?” Aria asked and Drew gritted his teeth again.
Drew reached out to Amara and drew him closer. He took a deep breath. “It was a BDSM dungeon. Do you know what that is?”
Aria snorted. “Well d’uh.”
“I don’t think it was a normal one. It was…extreme. At least that’s the impression I got from Johnathan.”
“Okay,” Amara said guardedly.
Drew took another steadying breath. “They found books. I’m only telling you this because Johnathan is pretty sure some of the details are going to get out, so the police are going to make an official statement about it.”
“Books? What kind of books?” Aria asked, sounding confused.
“Notebooks. He…made notes about the things he did to…people…boys.”
“The ones he was with at the parties?” Amara sounded flat, hopeless. He knew what was coming. Drew was sure of it, and he hated himself for having to put Amara’s fears into words.
“What did he do to them?” Aria asked, still sounding more curious than horrified. “Did he hurt them?” No, definitely more horror in there now. Realization was clearly beginning to sink in.
“Yes. He hurt them. He hurt them a lot.”
“Did he kill them?”
“And he was going to do that to us, too?”
Silence fell, and both the twins and Jay remained perfectly still. Drew let them have their space. He had no intention of telling them that the boys who had died were in any way linked to the twins, or that they had their own notebook made up in advance. He was fairly confident those were details that wouldn’t go into the police statement, and he prayed Johnathan would be able to keep it secret. If the boys knew that others had died for no other reason than to perfect a plan for them, they’d take responsibility and it would crush them. As if they hadn’t been crushed enough.