Mason began rubbing the back of his head and grimaced. Now, what the hell could he say in his defense? He didn’t believe for one moment that confessing to having have talked to Toby all this time was the wise decision. So, a lie had to do as much as he hated it.
“It’s hard for me to admit --” he started, but his tongue became cloyed with guilt.
Rhys’s eyes were on him; Mason didn’t have to look to know. Ah, damn it, why did it have to be so hard? He had promised himself to be honest in all his dealings, and he had told Rhys he wouldn’t lie to him.
“Even if it’s hard, you should try it,” Rhys said in a gentle voice.
Mason read compassion in those words right away. That had to mean that Rhys already thought he knew what was going on.
Therefore, the easiest way out was to ask. “What do you think I was doing?” His voice was tense.
Rhys came closer and put his hands on Mason’s shoulders. “It sounded to me like you were giving yourself a pep talk.”
A pep talk! That was genius. Mason grabbed at the straw being handed out on a silver platter with the benevolence of someone who truly cared. “Yeah, I felt like I needed one.” For the sake of all that was holy, he hoped Rhys couldn’t see through his charade. He was no good at this.
“Why?” Rhys rubbed his shoulders, and it felt so nice that Mason could feel his body relax.
“Because you’re here,” he blurted out, and this time, it was half a truth.
“And? Mason, you’re granite. Don’t tell me I impress you.”
Rhys leaned in closer, his voice gaining a teasing quality that could make a stronger man falter.
He only needed to move his head, and their lips would touch. From that moment onward, there would be no turning back. Mason could feel the pleasant fragrance Rhys wore, and a brief look to the side convinced him that those lips were as soft and ripe for the taking as he remembered.
Damn all the temptations he was put through. Sinners needed forgiveness, too, or more so, compared to everyone else. He crossed that line, filled in that distance, and kissed Rhys with all his heart. The little voice inside his head condemning him for this cheap trick was ordered to silence.
As expected, Rhys responded, his lips parting and receiving Mason’s tongue deep inside his mouth. They both knew what a thirst for affection could mean, and quenching it meant there was only one way.
He lifted Rhys from the floor without difficulty, and lean limbs wrapped around him like vines around a tree. Good thing his apartment was so small; shortly, they were in the bedroom, and soon on the bed.
Rhys caressed his face and searched his eyes. “Aren’t we searching for trouble?”
“Maybe, yeah,” Mason admitted. “But it’s the only thing we’re good at, aren’t we?” He didn’t have to lie, after all.
“You think so, too?” A small grin told him that he would be forgiven, regardless of his trespassing.
That he could inhale the smell of Rhys’s skin was all he wanted at that moment in time. It wasn’t true that time never sat still; maybe it continued to flow for the outside world, like an unstoppable river. The pay for the stolen time would come later, but those were worries for another time.
“I have a weakness for you,” Rhys confessed and covered Mason’s mouth with his.
He, as opposed to everyone else. Confessions like that didn’t come often. Mason moved his hands over the lithe body under him, freeing it from all the clothes getting in the way. He pressed his lips against Rhys’s throat and bit and licked. From there, it was easy to go lower and feast himself on the chest carved in marble and the small pebbles made of lust.
The way Rhys arched his body off the bed and his nipples turned to warm stone in Mason’s mouth was maddening. It was like he almost wanted to keep it all in but couldn’t handle it. Mason adored the fact that he was the reason for that loss of control.
Rhys laughed and made him roll on the bed as he tried to get Mason out of his clothes, too. He laughed, but his eyes were moist, and his hands were feverish as they touched everywhere.
If there was a boundary between affection and lust, Mason couldn’t see it. He wanted nothing else but to squeeze Rhys in his arms so hard it hurt, but he also dreamed of nothing else but to be able to keep him safe, protected from all the evils of the world.
He was swimming against the current, and that he knew it well. Nothing mattered, but those stolen moments in time he could now claim for himself and Rhys.
“Seeing how you just showed me a vulnerable side of you, would you be okay with me on top?” Rhys asked breathlessly.
Mason steadied his slender hips, and they were already humping each other, skin against skin, capable of producing something akin to electricity. “I would,” he admitted.
“Anything here I could use for, you know?” Rhys asked.
Mason pressed one finger against the soft lips and used one hand to search blindly for what he had just been asked. Rhys smiled against his finger.
“Let me,” Mason ordered.
Blue eyes flashed with amusement. “The point of having someone else on top for a change --”
“I know, but I don’t trust you. And I like to feel you,” he offered a confession of his own.
His fingers had to be rough against that pale skin. He had said no lies about his desire to feel Rhys in every way, so when he felt the rising heat and the way it gave in as he prodded forward, he knew everything he had ever wanted was in his arms.
Rhys moaned softly. “So tough and kind … how can you be both, Mason?”
“You won’t find me kind forever.”
Rhys glued their bodies together, seemingly not bothered by having his behind scissored to allow entrance. “Then I’ll take what I can.”
Fair enough. Mason kissed Rhys again to distract him for what he was about to do and positioned himself for entering. He had worried Rhys would be impatient, and he was now guilty of that.
Rhys arched his body away from him and took matters into his own hands. He adjusted himself and helped Mason delve again into the heat of his body. “Let me take charge,” he said with a small smile.
If he could take a picture and frame it, that would be everything, Mason thought. It wasn’t just the outer beauty that made Rhys so irresistible. His eyes were shining, letting his soul bare, and that was beautiful, too.
Mason raised his arms so that he could bury his hands in Rhys’s hair. It was a measure to help him impose a rhythm, and soon they found it. Rhys’s strong thighs kept his hips in place, but Mason liked to fight against the pressure. It took the edge a little and helped him gain in stamina what he lost in sensation.
He straightened himself into a sitting position and pulled Rhys’s body to him. They moved and slammed against each other, as their voices became hoarse with too much want. It was easy for them to kiss, too, and Mason took advantage of every moment, knowing how much each of them would mean, later on.
“I know it must be a selfish question, but do you always fuck like this?”
Neither of them smoked, but Mason felt that watching blue swirls of wasted nicotine floating toward the ceiling would make the moment complete. They were both on their backs, which was as good an excuse as any to avoid looking at each other. Still, their silence was comfortable, so time as they know it, could wait at the door, patient as a dog, and mean like one, too.
“I don’t always fuck like this,” he offered in all honesty.
“Hmm, does that make me special?” The teasing was back in that mellifluous voice, and Mason smiled to nothing and no one in particular.
“You know it does. It doesn’t make you cute to ask for confirmations, though.”
“Cute, huh? I don’t care too much about it, though.”
“You don’t? What kind of celebrity are you?”
“I’m not a celebrity at all. When fame came, I didn’t know what to make of it. Toby, though --”
Mason grimaced. It wasn’t the fact that Rhys was mentioning Toby, but that hesitation that was opening the door for the real flow of time to slip in. He pushed himself up.
“I’m sorry, Mason.”
“Don’t be.” He wasn’t curt on purpose. “We shouldn’t forget what we’ve gathered together for.”
“Your lovers might find it so easy to break up with you, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know. Never asked.” That was well aimed.
There was movement behind him, and he wasn’t surprised when warm arms wrapped around him. “Maybe you should start. A change can be nice, sometimes.”
“Are you teasing me?” Mason placed his hands over Rhys’s arms and caressed them.
“No. I talk about Toby because, for the most part of my life, he was it. Not in it, but it.”
Mason nodded. “I have nothing against that. You should know. And we’re just fucking, right?”
“Hmm,” Rhys purred and moved his lips over Mason’s ear, “so, we’re like two dudes, in an extraordinary situation, and they can’t find any other outlet to release the tension but fuck?”
A shrug could be the safest reply. “Yeah, kind of.”
Rhys laughed right into his ear. “Sounds like the synopsis for a B-rated movie.”
“Then we might just star in one, right now.”
“Yeah. We would look great on the poster.”
“You would. I don’t know if I’d be included.”
“Why wouldn’t you? You’re the main character.”
“I’m the main character? Aren’t you?”
“Mmm … nope. You see, I was floating without a purpose and then, you walked in, and the movie all started to make sense. That’s the main protagonist for you.”
“You’re just pandering to my insecurities.”
“I would never,” Rhys promised. He moved so that they could sit side by side. “You’re keeping to yourself at lot, Mason. How many times do we have to fuck for you to start telling me things about yourself?”
“What kind of things?”
“You could start with your childhood.”
“That far back? That would make a pretty boring movie.”
“I’m sure it wouldn’t.”
Mason could feel his heart closing up. But maybe telling Rhys a few truths about himself would erase the fact that he had lied to him earlier. Or only the guilt. It could work.
“I didn’t know my parents,” he started. “All my early memories are nothing but crowded rooms, fights, and being moved from one place to another, like a broken piece of furniture.”
Rhys placed one sympathetic arm around his shoulders.
“You don’t have to feel bad about me,” Mason said, but the arm didn’t move, and he didn’t want it moved, either. “It made me tough. But I had one respite in that kind of life, and it changed everything.”
Rhys waited for him to continue without saying a word.
“An old lady took me in, and then, I guess, I started to feel happy. She was like the grandmother I’ve never had. And she gave me my name. The one I had before didn’t matter.”
“How old were you?”
“Around nine. She was quite the character.” Mason laughed at the memory. “We lived in a rundown house, but she made it feel like a palace. Too bad it wasn’t meant to last.” He paused, the emotions from a long time ago, rough against the inside of his chest.
“What happened?” Rhys asked gently.
“She had some family left. Strange people who sometimes came, a man and a woman, asking for money. She always said that she didn’t want any trouble, so she gave them everything she had. Even as a nine-year-old, I thought it was unjust. So, one day, I tried to tell those scumbags to beat it. As you can guess, I was nothing like I’m today. They beat the living crap out of me.”
He paused. Was it all right to admit to his mistakes? Would he be judged? He liked to think that he would be forgiven. “The old lady, she came home, and found me bloody, with them towering over me. As gentle as she always was, she got mad. And then --” The words stuck in his throat for a moment. “The man, he pushed her. And she hit her head and just remained there, her eyes still open.”
“Oh god,” Rhys barely managed.
“I think they were drunk because the next moment, instead of caring for her, they began searching the house for money. I was forgotten, for some reason only their alcohol-addled brains could know.”
“And what did you do?”
Mason could feel his face turning into a mask. “I snuck out of the house and called the cops on them. The policewoman I talked to told me to stay put, but I didn’t. Right then, I thought of nothing else than how fucking unjust this stupid world is. I was given one chance, and I blew it. So, maybe it was fair. I knew that I couldn’t go back to being tossed around, from one foster home to another. I ran. I ran and ran, and never looked back.”
Rhys embraced him and held him close. He began kissing his head, with unhidden affection. “You grew up tough. You made it, Mason.”
“I suppose I did.” He wasn’t the kind to cry. But he wasn’t the kind to speak about his past, so there he was.
“And you had that old lady who cared about you, even if for a little while. Remember her as she was.”
“I guess that’s good advice,” Mason said, trying hard to find his footing again. “For such a long time, I could only remember her face when she died.”
Rhys nudged him gently. “Don’t think of that. Tell me something about her. Something quirky and fun, as you told me she was when alive.”
Mason smiled at the memories now. “She put nutmeg in cherry jam.”
“And we had our own dancing club on Thursdays.”
“That sounds cool.”
The next words flew from Mason’s mouth without him being aware of them and their meaning. “And she believed in ghosts.”
Mason remained frozen. She had believed in ghosts. Was that why he –
“Mason?” Rhys grabbed his cheek gently. “What is it? Now you look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”
If only he knew. Mason shook his head. “It’s nothing. Come on. We should go out to eat. I compromised dinner.”
Rhys held him down. “This is not the only one time you tell me about your past, okay? I want to know you.”
“Isn’t it clear? I want to know everything about you. Because I want you.”
Mason didn’t have a suitable retort to that and didn’t get a chance to find one because his phone rang.
Billy’s voice, on the other end, was strange. “Guys, when you can, drop by. I found some things.”
He didn’t need to add any details. So Billy had managed to break in Toby’s phone.
They had lost their appetite, so in less than one hour, they were at Billy’s. The silence had stretched between them, and neither appeared in the mood to take guesses at Billy’s findings. A touch of bleak was already contaminating the aftermath of their earlier sexual congress, but it was a herald of the future that couldn’t be kept at bay.
Billy welcomed them, and his serious face left nothing of his usual cheerfulness show. Mason read embarrassment and pity in the way he moved as he invited them inside.
“Do you guys want some coffee? Tea?”
Mason put one hand on Billy’s shoulder and leaned in enough so that he could whisper, “It’s not a social call. Out with it if you can.”
Billy nodded. “At least, sit down.”
The small apartment was less of a mess than earlier, a sign that Billy had been busy with putting an order in that chaos, after all. And with that on his hands, he had still found the time to deal with Toby’s phone. Quite the boy scout, Mason thought and looked around, not knowing exactly what he was expecting to see.
“What did you find?” Rhys’s question was direct, and Mason admired him for it.
Billy hesitated for a moment. “Maybe I should start with what I didn’t find. Was there a micro SD card in Toby’s phone?”
Rhys nodded. “It should have been. I admit that I didn’t even look for it. I kept Toby’s phone as a memento, not as something usuable.”
“The card is missing,” Billy explained. “But not the SIM, so --”
“Somebody must have taken it,” Mason concluded.
“I should ask the police about it, right?” Rhys said.
“No.” Mason stared at Billy, and the same knowing look was reflected at him.
“Right. They don’t care.” Rhys remained pensive. “Toby used it to store our selfies and small videos, as far as I know.”
“Any compromising ones?” Billy asked, and his question was addressed in a flat tone.
“Compromising in what sense? We weren’t the type to make sex videos,” Rhys replied.
“I’m not talking about that. Anything sensitive, I don’t know. We’re just shooting in the dark at this point.”
“Not that I know of,” Rhys offered. “So the memory card is missing. What else did you find out?”
“Toby called some people that night.”
“Who?” Mason asked, bracing for uncomfortable truths.
Rhys exchanged a quick look with Mason.
“And Renzo Ora.”
“Renzo?” Rhys was surprised. “But he never told me he spoke to Toby that night.”
“His calls weren’t answered by what I can tell.”
“We’ll have to pay Mr. Ora a visit,” Mason said in a cutting voice. “What about Levine?”
“There was a conversation for sure. Only that questioning him about it might be tricky, seeing how neither of us is any longer in his graces,” Billy explained.
“We never were,” Mason said.
“I will ask him,” Rhys intervened. “He owes me an explanation if Toby talked to him that night.”
“Let’s not bet on that. Was there anything else?” Mason ignored the pointed look he got from Rhys. He couldn’t let him go back to that asshole.
“There was.” Billy hesitated for a moment and looked away. When his eyes set on his guests, they were moist.
A sinking feeling in his gut told him that whatever Billy had found was bound to be painful.
“Let me show you.”
They followed Billy to another room with a computer on the desk.
“Toby was writing a message, but he never had the chance to send it,” Billy said in an apologetic, pained voice as if he was guilty in some way for the reason that had happened. “It was addressed to you, Rhys.”
He made a gesture for Rhys to sit in front of the computer.
Mason stood behind, aware that the respective message hadn’t been addressed to more than one pair of eyes. He examined Rhys’s face with anxious eyes. A mist of sadness covered his beautiful features.
Rhys rubbed the back of his neck and cleared his throat. To Mason’s surprise, he began reading.
“I know we’ve been fighting lately. So I’m going to tell you everything as soon we get home. I have something to trade for our safety, and it’s going to be okay. I know I don’t make a lot of sense right now. Just know this, Rhys. I love you. I haven’t said it lately, but I’ll say it again and again. I love you. I love you. I love ...”
A small sob escaped Rhys’s lips. “This is how it ends. He must have been killed while still typing this message,” he said in a weak voice he had a hard time controlling.
Everyone in the room was silent. Mason and Billy allowed Rhys a few moments to compose himself.
When Rhys lifted his head and looked at them, there was a new kind of determination shining in his eyes. “We need to talk to Renzo.”
“Then let’s go. Call him to see where he is,” Mason replied. He knew Renzo wasn’t telling him anything, and he couldn’t trust that man, at least not entirely.
“I’m coming with you, guys.”
Mason was no longer surprised by Toby’s sudden appearances. He stole a quick look at him to see if he had been present while Rhys had read his last message. By how hollow his eyes were, he must have been.
“Billy, I should tell you,” Mason addressed his former partner. “You don’t have to put yourself in a hot spot. You’ve helped us a lot already. Renzo, like Levine, is a powerful man in this city, and going against him, as we plan to do that, could get you in trouble. If you want to sit this one out, it’s fine. Don’t you think so, Rhys?”
“Guys, I told you I’m in. All the way. What would Kung Fu Panda do in this kind of situation? I’m telling you,” Billy said with a grin that sucked in some of the gloomy air in the room, “that guy would never desert his friends. And that guy, according to you, chief, is me.”
Mason put his palms up in defeat. “I suppose that this is what I get for giving you that nickname.”
Billy’s grin grew broader. “Let’s go, gang. We’re going to get to the bottom of this, without a doubt. I’ll drive.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s like nothing changed, right?”
Billy nodded. “As I told you. We’re on the same team. The one with the good guys.”
Rhys stood up and embraced Billy shortly, much to the other’s pleasant surprise. He wrapped his hand around Mason’s arm. “Whatever the truth is, I’ll face it.”
No other words were needed. They had a mission on their hands.
“He’s waiting for us at Dreamland,” Rhys explained as he slipped his phone back into the back pocket of his jeans.
Mason placed one hand on his knee. “Are you okay with that?”
Rhys pursed his lips and nodded, but his eyes were distant, avoiding contact. “If it’s about finding out who hurt Toby and took him away from me, I’m okay.”
“That asshole could have said something the last time we were there,” Toby said, and Mason exchanged a small look with him.
Funny how being accompanied by a ghost now and then no longer seemed out of the ordinary. If Aimee Knight were still alive, she would believe him, for sure, no questions asked.
It was not the right time to take a trip down the memory lane and remember Aimee and how good she had been to him. There had been something otherworldly about her, or maybe that was just the dust of memories making it all appear as looked at through a smudged lens.
“Strange,” Rhys murmured.
“What?” Mason asked.
“Renzo wasn’t surprised by my phone call. I’d say that he was even expecting it.”
“Did he say that?”
“Not directly. But he did say that he would be glad to talk to us, without asking what we want.”
“Maybe he thinks we just want to hang out,” Mason offered.
Rhys shook his head slowly, and he appeared lost in thought. “Renzo, as charming as anyone might see him, always calculates his moves. He must know something.”
“And we need to know what,” Mason agreed.
“We’re here, guys. Ready to rumble?”
As Mason stepped out, a nagging sensation at the back of his brain startled him. Again, there was something he was missing, and he couldn’t tell what it was.
Billy opened the door to the club and held it for them. “Coming?”
Faint music poured into the street from inside. It was almost dark, so the regular schedule must have started already. Mason took Rhys’s hand and held it tightly as they walked in.
There are still many missing parts, I know, but from this point onward, the action will pick up until the final revelations. Thank you for reading, and let me know in the comments what you think of Toby's last message to Rhys. As always, feel free to speculate on what the guys will learn from Renzo the following chapter.
Until next time,
All the best,
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