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Excerpt for Castle No Exit by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Castle No Exit

A Gay BDSM Romance

by

Parker Avrile

♥♥♥

The Castle is more than just another gay BDSM club. A lot more...

Hammond and Jason are friends with benefits who work hard and play harder. Love? Forget about it. Hammond figures his life is already perfect. Nothing needs to change, and nobody needs to get hurt. At least not any more hurt than they want to be...

And then he stumbles upon an explosive secret― the castle that nobody ever escapes. Jason knows something. In fact, he makes a point of warning Hammond away. Every bit of knowledge you gain at the Castle comes at a cost.

Which only pulls Hammond in deeper.

The Castle might be the ultimate environment for elite BDSM practitioners. It provides an immersive full-time fantasy dungeon where men are pushed out of their comfort zone to confront their most hidden desires.

Hammond thought his hidden desire was for power exchange.

He isn't ready to admit his deepest desire might be for Jason to become more than just another friend.

And he's never going to admit it's impossible to escape the Castle.

This steamy friends-to-lovers gay romance novel features intense BDSM elements including physical and psychological dominance/submission between consenting male adults. There is no cheating, but the main characters do participate in group scenes involving multiple partners.

Copyright & Credits

DO NOT UPLOAD OUR WORK TO FREE OR SHARING SITES, AS IT HARMS OUR ABILITY TO KEEP PUBLISHING THE SPICY GAY BDSM STORIES YOU LOVE!

All characters are consenting adults over age 18. This novel includes explicit scenes of consenting sex between adult men into BDSM and should not be read by those offended by gay D/s themes.

Except for brief passages quoted for reviews and/or recommendations in magazine, radio, or blog posts, no part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying or recording, or by information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.

This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to anyone, any time, or any place is not intended and is merely coincidental. The cover model appears for illustration purposes only and has no relationship to any events in this story. Brief mentions of real persons, places, or products are used fictitiously and in accordance with fair use. All trademarks remain the properties of their owners.

Parker Avrile offers a free gay romantic suspense novella to new members of the Parker Avrile Reader's Group. Sign up for your chance to read free stories and get the latest information on our sales and new releases at the official Parker Avrile Steamy Gay Romance website.

Table of Contents

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Epilogue

More Books by this Author

About the Author

Prologue

Don't you get it even now, after you've seen this place? You've left that world where submission is only part of life and one of the least important parts. The world where your deepest needs are given maybe thirty minutes a day max, the last thing you do with your day, somewhere way down on the list after buying groceries and filing your tax returns. This is it, this is your whole life now. I warned you, everybody warned you. Don't come here, don't do it, you're not ready, but you have to always know better than everybody else, and, well, if nobody can tell you anything, then the only way to find out is to live it for yourself.”

His cock was stiffening. As was mine. I swallowed and said, “You're really getting into this part.”

There's no fucking part. There's no fucking role-play. This is it, man. You signed a power of attorney. They've got fifteen slobbering real estate investors bidding on your fucking condo right this very fucking minute.”

I'm sorry, Jason...”

Don't call me that. Jason is dead. Jason died to follow you here.”

Come on, Jay, man, all right, but it's just the two of us here.” The two of us and whatever listening devices they had in the wall. We might be doing leather, but this wasn't the Den. They seemed to have the same rule about no diseases or drugs, but the rule about no devices? Not so much. It took a fuck-ton of monitoring― a metric fuck-ton of devices large and small― to keep a place this size running smoothly. The Master Himself might be listening. “That dude's got a thing for you. He's playing you some kind of way. He lured you here using me.”

No, my friend. He didn't. You lured me here. You.”

I closed my eyes. I felt him breathing.

Then I felt his lips.



Chapter One

“Mmmmphfffff!”

Ah, the distinctive sound of an impatient man trying to order me around through the sunflower-yellow ball gag clamped between his teeth. I go back and forth trying to decide what's more humiliating― bright yellow or bright red. Either way, a ball gag makes a man look a little goofy, which is always good for keeping the sub's ego in check.

I made my right hand into a fist and used it to rub my knuckles against that intrusive rubber ball. It was shiny with fresh, warm spit. This guy drooled a lot, a fact which made him terribly unhappy. In his other life, he was a corporate honcho based in Vancouver who wore a lot of bespoke suits from Hong Kong. Drool wasn't part of his personal self-concept.

For that matter, the hogtie he wore wasn't doing all that much to enhance his personal dignity. I'd used bright yellow nautical rope to bind his hands to his feet. The shade of yellow was almost perfectly color-matched to the ball gag. They say science has proven that gay guys have a better sense of color. Maybe not all gay guys, but I could sure appreciate the perversity of the more garish hues of sunshine and canary.

“You're gorgeous like this. Absolutely beautiful.” I can be a real sweet guy to my subs. Just ask anybody. I went from knuckling the ball gag to ruffling his hair. He's a young honcho, thirty-two at the most, and he had a lot of sandy hair that felt like silk. “Is there something you'd like to tell me? I'm all ears.”

“MMMPHFFFF.”

He rocked around some on his belly. Nice ass on the guy. A little boxy, but it had one of those dimples in the right cheek, and it knew how to wobble when he struggled against his ropes. Sometimes, I regretted the Blue Dragon Den no-devices policy. Wouldn't it be nice to have video of this guy rolling around on his naked belly, his ice-blue eyes flashing over the yellow of the spit-shined ball gag sticking out of his spread lips?

Alas, in our sorry century, video has a way of escaping into the cloud. The cloud, the cloud, the omnipresent fucking cloud that knows when you've been naughty and knows when you've been nice. If it's in a device, it can get into the cloud. If it's in the cloud, it can get all across the universe. And there you have it in a nutshell, the reason why we can't have nice things.

Didn't matter. If you have to make a mental video, you pay more attention anyway. I squatted to check the knots securing his ankles to his wrists. Once I took a personal class from a sailor about how to tie knots that don't slip. He had painful ways of making sure you paid attention. My knots never slip.

Two o'clock on a Thursday afternoon, not the biggest party time at the Den. A pair of coupled-up guys were hanging out, one of them wearing black leather hot pants with a cut-out in front to show off the package. The matching black leather collar was attached to the slim gold leash being held by the dom. Trinity, the dom called himself. He said it was after the bomb, but I suspected it was after the chick in The Matrix. Trinity liked watching, and I knew he was hoping for a scene between my guy and his. Not a bad idea, if only I had world enough and time.

I looked at Trinity's leashed sub, a slim waxed twink who spent a lot of time and money on skincare. The sub had a name in his other life, but he didn't have one here. Not yet, maybe not ever. Neither of the subs present right now in this room had names, not even in my head. They had statuses. My guy was Hogtie, and Trinity's guy was Collar.

I need to catch a plane.” I used the round toe of my black engineer's boot to nudge into my hog-tied sub's naked flank. “Would you like to take over here?”

Shit, yeah,” Trinity said. “I owe you one, man.”

I hate to leave you feeling obligated.”

He took the hint. Yanking the leash, he put Collar on his knees. “Suck this guy off, and don't waste my time. We all have places to be.”

Yes, Sir.” Collar's eyes twinkled as much as Trinity's did. Some men are good at getting into their roles. These two were good at showing the pleasure they took in the games they played.

The humiliation of Hogtie was complete. I'd just handed him off to another dom, and yet nobody was looking at Hogtie. Not his new dom, not his brother sub, and not me. He rocked back and forth in a fury and ended up falling onto his side, but those knots securing wrists to ankles still didn't have any give. “Mmmphfff!” The shiny ball gag shifted in his mouth but didn't pop free.

Collar had a well-trained mouth. No huge surprise there. You didn't last long as a sub at the Den if you didn't give good mouth. His lips were stretched tight over his teeth, and all I felt was velvet.

Beyond the bouncing head on my cock, Hogtie struggled to roll himself back on his belly, a position which allowed him to grind his beer-can hard-on into the mat. His eyes, fiery with fake fury, met mine for a long moment before he blinked away. Safewords weren't possible with the gag in place, but he had a safe signal he could make with the fingers of his right hand.

Guess who wasn't making it.

♥♥♥

Wheels up, wheels down. My exact destination was privileged information. At a commercial airport in one of those states with mountains, I rented a gray late-model sedan with unlimited mileage. In theory, it could tattle about how far I'd gone and where I'd gone but, as long as I bought all the fancy insurance and returned the vehicle at the appointed hour, the rental car company didn't much give a shit. In most cases, this was good enough secrecy. In theory, some worker-bee could be bribed to share the information with somebody trailing me, but I counted on the fact nobody would know enough to bribe the worker-bee in the first place.

It sounds all very CIA, doesn't it? Sometimes, in my fantasies, I am in the CIA. Not always my healthiest fantasies...

What actually pays the bills is simple in theory and difficult in execution. I scout ghost towns for a large corporation that might, or might not, decide to buy said towns. You'd recognize the name of my employer. Some guy in the most remote village in Papua New Guinea would recognize the name of my employer. Buying up physical resources isn't necessarily the first thing people think about when they think about these guys. We all know they intend to own the world, by which civilians assume they mean the digital world.

Nah. Why would they be happy to own only the virtual world when they could own it all?

This particular property involved a sad story about an abandoned silver mine. Some of the shafts had collapsed, and what was left of the town had collapsed too. Check the price of silver lately? This town couldn't be saved. I'd suspected as much before I ever stepped on the BART platform heading for SFO, but you've always got to double-check live and in person. Sometimes, you stand in a place and see something else, some potential that doesn't show on geological maps or old deeds. Or you don't even see it, so much as you smell it. The hair stands up on the back of your arms, and you just know there's something special about the place, if only you can work out what it is and how my employer could turn it into cold green American dollars.

It's the chance of striking gold that keeps me going. Mostly, you don't but, when you do, it's the best feeling in the world. You're a genius, an all-seeing god among blind men.

Not this time.

This place was a hole in the ground, and a hole in the ground it would remain. The town center itself had collapsed into a ragged scatter of rotten brick and unenthusiastic weeds. To judge from the faded graffiti on the lone wall that still stood above waist height, some skateboarders had come through a couple of decades ago.

There are more of them than you'd think, these empty towns in the middle of the country where nobody lives anymore.

I got back in my gray sedan and drove off, a rooster trail of reddish dust blowing up behind me.

The thing about being a prospector searching for rare nuggets of gold? Gold is fucking rare. Sometimes, I advise the board to buy one of these lost towns. Mostly, I don't. The abandoned mine is played out and will never be re-opened. The soil has blown away and left behind cheatgrass. The historic town center has been digested by the efficient guts of the Formosan Termite. Most ghost towns don't have a future. They only have a past.

My phone sang a familiar tune.

Digame,” I said. Talk to me.

Being too lazy to practice my Spanish, I'm free to dedicate that word as a smartphone command. In this case, the phone understood it was supposed to pick up so I could talk hands-free on the nearest set of decent Bluetooth speakers― which, at the moment, belonged to the gray sedan. The only traffic was a tumbleweed blowing in from the right, but I still liked to keep my eyes on the road.

Where are you? I mean, never mind where are you. What I mean is how far out are you?” Jason Bullard is my friend with benefits, not just a mere co-worker, so I tend to pick up when he calls. Today, he sounded a little fussed. He knows I don't like to share my location information on the phone.

Ten hours or so.” I flicked an eye at the clock on the sedan's instrument panel. “Possibly twelve. Depends on flight delays.”

You want to play at the Den tomorrow?”

Every guy should have a Jason. Tall, slinky, and thirty-two, with an unhealthy taste for leather. The kind of boy you don't bring home to mother.

Always. Is there a good time?”

Mmm. Four, maybe.” There wasn't anything particularly unusual about him suggesting a time when he knew there wouldn't be a lot of people at the club. Jason liked to play, but he wasn't always into crowd scenes. That's his phrase, not mine. I'm not necessarily opposed to a crowd scene if by, “crowd scene,” you mean, “orgy.”

Still, his distracted tone caught my attention. He was one of the many corporate lawyers employed by my company the complete opposite of your absent-minded professor type. Like many people into BDSM, he was usually very much in the moment.

I had questions, but I couldn't ask them now, and he wouldn't expect me to. The questions would have to keep until we met at the Den.

See, the guys we work for are always listening. Not just to me, but to you, to everybody. Everything you say on the phone or to your phone is stored as audio data in that big computer somewhere in the cloud. Actually, there are a lot of clouds, so your voice is stored and backed up on redundant systems around the world. Not just your voice but the voices around you. The beat of your heart. The gabble from some TV show you've got on in the background. Every time you tell your smart refrigerator to order another carton of Chunky Monkey, that's part of your permanent record somewhere, just like that your fourth-grade teacher said.

Right now, my phone was listening, Jason's phone was listening, and the rental sedan's system was listening. Three was the absolute minimum number of devices eavesdropping on our friendly chat.

“You alone?” I asked.

“At the office, but the door's closed.”

“Lock it.” There are some secrets you don't have to hide anymore because your phone has already picked them up years ago and shared them with all the relevant databases. You don't have to keep a secret that's already out there in the wild.

“Yes, Sir.” From the sound of it, Jason nearly knocked over his desk in his eagerness to obey.

“Get your cock out.”

“What if I say no?”

“What if I say I'm going to reach through this phone and kick your ass?”

A loud unzipping noise came crackling out of the speakers. My zipper doesn't sound that loud coming down, not even in person. I'm not sure how he does it. Maybe there's an app involved.

“Stroke yourself three times,” I said.

“Ah, come on. Is this a teasing situation?” Of course, Jason was the one playing the tease.

I kept my hands at two and ten on the wheel, but they twitched with the desire to reach through the phone to grab him by the scruff of his neck. Or maybe somewhere a little further south. “You have an actual complaint, or you're trying to earn an ass-kicking for real?”

“All right. All right. All right.”

“Are you nice and leaky?”

“Don't you dare leave me like this.”

“I like it when you're hard. Hard and leaking. It's less interesting to think about if you've already splashed.”

“Hey, man. Don't do that. Don't crank me up and leave me hanging. Pul-lease.” Jason too had a safeword. “Please” wasn't it.

“Why not? It's the best part of the phone call.”

My own cock tented my gray slacks. I play every role, but at heart I'm a dyed-in-the-wool masochist. Why else would I want to bounce down this rural highway at fifty-five wearing a hard-on tall enough to scrape the underside of my chin?

Chapter Two

Don't expect neon signs on the Blue Dragon Den building. The only clue to the fact that it's an operating club is the two large bouncers stationed at all times near the front entrance. They wear security uniforms, flashy badges, and an assortment of large weapons meant to be visible from a long distance. A Taser, a SIG Sauer, a nightstick. Even the heavy law enforcement grade Maglite could double as a defensive weapon.

Nobody's getting into the Den who isn't invited. Playing safe is about a lot more than safewords.

“Afternoon, Hammond,” said one of the guards, the older one who kept his arms folded to project some attitude.

“Afternoon,” I said.

The younger guard scanned my driver's license, even though he'd seen me a thousand times and knew exactly who I was. It was just the way the club checked people in and out. If you came from outside the US, they scanned your passport instead. Of course, it meant the cloud was keeping a record of your visits to the Den, but we had to accept that, just like you have to accept that somebody knows about it every time you whack off online or on the phone.

It wasn't giving anything away. As the song says, everybody wanks, right? Anyway, there's a public record made to the cloud every time you walk down the street. Our friendly devices that we're all carrying are always listening. There's a reason your phone, your tablet, or your computer can double as a heartbeat monitor. And it isn't just audio. There are cameras on every city street and every intersection. Cameras on the front of your work computer, cameras on the phone you're using to sex some guy on FaceTime.

You know this. You've always known this. We all do. We've been tracked for years. It's life in the goldfish bowl. Swim or die, as they say. I prefer to swim. Bottom line: The computers owned by my corporate masters know every time I walk through the heavy oak doors of the Blue Dragon Den. They can clock me in and out, and anybody who wants a look at the data can figure out I'm not a mere tourist in kinky world. I'm a regular, the real deal. There's no hiding who I am. The closet is somewhere back in the twentieth century somewhere.

“You're good to go, sir,” the younger guard said after a moment. “Have a nice time.”

I was in a toppy mood and grunted instead of saying, “Thank you.”

The lobby is wide, white, and sterile, which makes it look larger on the inside than it does on the outside, even though the entire wall on the right is endless stacks of metal lockers, which would normally give you a crowded, closed-in feel. There's a long counter that runs down the left wall, with all the supplies your twisted little heart could ever desire behind it. Today, Clive manned the counter in question. “Hammond,” he said. No hello. Clive tends to be economical with words.

“I don't think I need any equipment right now,” I said.

“Locker thirty-two.”

I stripped down to skin and stuffed everything into the locker. No need for a padlock and key, although I could have asked for one. When I was new, I always locked up and wore the key on one of those wrist bracelets, but eventually I wised up to how ridiculous it was. Nobody was going to fuck with anybody else's locker stuff. BDSM is, first and foremost, about trust. If you can't trust a guy to respect your limits, you don't have the guy as a member of the club in the first place. These days, I didn't bother with locking up, because I didn't want the nuisance of that key bracelet dangling from my wrist all night.

It was a little chilly without clothes, but it would be warmer on the other side.

There were two doors at the back of the lobby. One goes to the clinic where you get the cheek swab and the various assorted health tests. I was up to date from yesterday's visit, so I didn't need to stop there. I just needed to get naked, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars, just stuff everything in that locker because the second door is called the airlock, and you don't go through in a spacesuit. You go through butt-naked.

In this dirty world of snoops, the Den guarantees the three Ds― no devices, no diseases, no drugs. Maybe you're one of those admirable people who have nothing to hide, but most visitors to clubs like this have a universe of things to hide. The Blue Dragon Den is for men like us.

When I was bare-ass, Clive came out from behind the counter to run a scanner over my exposed skin. He was barefoot in black jeans, a good look for him. I enjoyed the wiggle and shake of his bubble butt underneath the form-fitting leather while he squatted to scan me from the toes on up. It might seem like an unnecessary precaution, but we're in the tech industry, know what I mean? There are implants no bigger than a parakeet's microchip. There are wires no thicker than a strand of hair.

None of that crap was getting through the airlock. I stretched out my arms and scooted my bare feet wide apart. Clive leaned in, his scanner beeping a soft, steady beep like a heartbeat monitor in the movies. When he was done, he didn't spout any needless verbiage about having a nice day. He simply nodded his chin in the direction of the door. There was a clunk, the sound of a hidden lock coming unlocked.

Right before the airlock door, I paused at the wall display of coiled whips and riding crops. Nothing makes me feel quite so butch as a black-and-fuchsia braided riding crop. Um, that's a joke. Anyway, today was about Jason needing a secret place to talk, not about riding crops. If my instincts were wrong, I could always back up and start over, but they weren't wrong.

Without taking a whip, I pushed through the airlock into the Den.

I'm comfortable being naked around naked. The place wasn't busy at this hour, but I immediately spotted the hairy bear who seemed to be permanently mounted over one of the Victorian leather whipping benches. The leather was some old-fashioned shade of deep forest green, allegedly the original color. It clashed with the large fuchsia dildo protruding from his ass. I flicked it as I walked by because it seemed only courteous to give him some of my attention, but I didn't linger.

So, like I said, my corporate masters know how often I come here. They think they already know my secret― I'm kinky, I do public sex in a gay leather club. They figure they don't need the details. Ha. If they knew I conducted business here, maybe they'd have a different opinion. It's the only place in town where there's still a kind of privacy.

The club was a complicated space, with a wide public area and multiple doors leading off to various rooms of doom. Most people here didn't close the doors, and I could see a pair of guys doing a scene that involved a lot of shiny clamps attached to sensitive places. I didn't invest much time looking their way. Although I'm never opposed to mixing business and pleasure, I was here for a purpose, and the purpose wasn't distraction.

I knew the guy behind the bar, although I didn't give him a name since I'd never seen him when he wasn't subbing. He wore a studded collar and a matching studded cock ring on a perfectly waxed body. His dom wasn't around, which wasn't unusual. He liked to think of his sub working in menial jobs while he was off doing something allegedly more important.

“It can be green, but no kale,” I said.

“Is spinach all right, Sir?”

“If there's a lot of citrus involved.”

“Yes, Sir. Coming right up, Sir.”

They don't serve alcohol here. It comes under the “no drugs” rule. For some reason, there needs to be a complete separation of kinky sex and the other vices, or else some bureaucrat somewhere would have an excuse to shut down the Den. A scary thought in this gleaming city of the future where device-free meeting places were an endangered species.

My employer would love to catch somebody delivering bottles to this place. The CEO will spunk himself in his own face the day that happens, because my employer is the sworn enemy of any business, however small and niche, that enforces a no-devices policy.

The spinach drink had a strong flavor of satsuma. I'm sure it was all very health aware.

No way of knowing the time without my phone or my watch, but it was four-fifteen when I walked up to the building, so Jason was running late. Fine. He usually did so because he was cruising for a bruising, as the saying goes, so I sipped the drink and looked forward to that. I don't always top, but I often do, especially with Jason.

The bartender would have sucked me off if I ordered him to, but I preferred to keep my edge. The fact that his little subbie eyes were all hurt and frustrated from being ignored wasn't my problem.

A couple came shambling out of one of the semi-private rooms. The bigger guy still had two metal clamps swinging from his nuts. They were sweaty and smelled of spilled spunk, and the bartender wasted no time in providing them with healthy rehydration. Sparkling water with lime for the dom, some garish greeny-yellow sports drink for the sub.

“Did you just come in?” asked the dom.

“Yeah. The fog's burned off,” I said. “It turned into a nice day.” Even pervs do a certain amount of bullshit small talk.

“Great. Great.” He turned to his sub. “Finish that drink, and lick the nice man's cock.”

I swung on the bar stool and spread my knees. “Not too much. Just a tickle for now. A tease.” I was saving myself for Jason, if you want to know the truth. Our meeting was ninety-nine percent certain to be about business, but like I said before, I've never objected to mixing business with pleasure. Which is a very good thing when you have to hold your secret meets at a place like the Den with all that sweet, sweet temptation and testosterone.

The subbie's meaty tongue struggled to sweep over my flesh with the light touch of a butterfly kiss. The clamps on his balls swayed. My cock stretched like it was doing warm-up yoga. I had no urgent desire to blast in this guy's mouth, but I enjoyed the rise in the room temperature.

The airlock door thunked and swung open. Jason at last. He strutted in wearing thick leather cuffs on his wrists and ankles. Each cuff was fitted with a heavy stainless steel D-ring, a convenient place to attach a metal leash or to thread in stout rope. He was definitely in the mood to be restrained.

Without ceremony, I yanked my cock away from the sub's tongue and pushed off the bar stool. The other couple wasn't offended. Short encounters weren't unusual at the Den. I strode over to Jason and put my hands on my hips in a stagy gesture of fury. “I hope you're ready for an ass whipping. You're an hour late.”

Jason shrugged, an elaborate gesture that included the kind of head toss that makes his hair move in and out of his wide brown eyes. His chin somehow ended up pointing at the room mostly known for its standing St. Andrew's cross. Conveniently enough, it was unoccupied. He didn't bother with apologies. It was more fun for both of us if I tortured those sorries out of him.

“Report to your cell,” I said.

Chapter Three

“Yes, Sir.”

The distracted Jason of the phone call was gone. Live in person, naked and cuffed, his long bare toes digging into the thick carpet of the Blue Dragon Den, Jason was fully present in the here and now. Some guys get off on pain, and some guys don't, but everybody in the scene gets off on the way the possibility of pain makes you focus.

Jason is the proud possessor of a high, arched ass that fits nicely in the cup of my two hands. My palms twitched to grab him then and there, but I forced myself to hang back, the better to watch him prance ahead of me. Business meet or not, his head was already in the game. I hesitated at the door, wondering if I should slam it closed or leave it open.

“Close it,” he said. Not a command, not taking charge. An answer to my unspoken question.

The doors don't lock from the inside. That's the kind of compromise you make in a place where there are no hidden cameras to monitor the private action. Here, though, you don't need to worry about the lack of locks. It's the same principle as the lockers. The BDSM community is about trust. As long as that door was closed, I could trust everybody to give us our privacy.

I manhandled him up against the St. Andrew's cross, the better to have him where we both needed him to be after this meet was over― a standing spread-eagle face out. “Start talking.” Four lengths of short stainless steel chain dangled from each of the four stainless steel O-rings set into the arms of the cross. It was the work of two minutes to link each chain to its respective D-ring in Jason's wrist and ankle cuffs.

No “yes, Sir,” this time. Lawyer Jason was speaking, not subbie Jason. “I've had a look at your next assignment.” Nothing unusual about that. Legal usually went over the paperwork, including the old deeds and titles, long before I visited any of my ghost towns in person.

“Mm-kay. I gather you noticed something interesting.” Something we didn't want our employer to know we'd discussed. And the only way to be one hundred percent sure of that was to hold the discussion at the Den.

Being chained to the cross does interesting things to most men's cocks, and Jason's was no exception. After I strapped him in, I did a little thing where I rubbed my two hands together with Jason's cock caught between them. Mmmm, that felt so nice. At least for me. It teased the fuck out of him.

He closed his eyes briefly, took a deep breath through his nose, then blinked them open again. “I want you to recommend a pass on this property. I can't advise you to spend a lot of time checking the place out.”

His cock, hard enough to cut stone, thrust forward of its own volition. For the moment, we both ignored it. “I think I know how to do my job, and taking short-cuts isn't what I do.”

“This time, Hammond, yes. It is what you do.” He looked me dead in the eye. Using my first name, instead of “Sir,” underlined how serious he was. Real first names were a rarity in this room.

“You're going to have to explain.”

“No. You're going to have to trust me.” He sighed heavily to make his chains rattle.

“You're going to have to trust me. If there's a problem with the property, I'll find it. If it's worthless, I'll recommend against the purchase.”

“Shit.” It wasn't an angry curse but a frustrated one. “How do I explain this to you?”

“Why don't you tell me the truth?”

“There are things I'm not allowed to say. Attorney-client privilege.”

We both had the same client. Not really a client. Our employer. “This is getting a little out-there, Jason. If you have something to say to me, just say it.”

“I'm trying.” The interesting thing about deep brown eyes is the way they change color when a man looks inside himself for the right words. Sometimes they're more chocolate, sometimes they're more gold. “How about this? The property has value but not to headquarters. It's absolutely worthless for their purposes. All you can do is cause problems for the people who are already there.”

“What people are those, Jason?” I lowered my voice, although it wasn't to protect us from being overheard. We wouldn't be, not here. “What exactly are you mixed up in?” His cock had finally softened, and so had mine. No sex game now, even though he was standing in chains. I put a hand on each of his bare shoulders, the better to brace myself as I stared into his eyes.

He swallowed. His Adam's apple going up and down is a hypnotic thing, but I continued to gaze hard into his eyes. I wouldn't look away, and he better the hell not try to look away either.

Scouting ghost towns isn't a job for wimps. Even if a town says “abandoned” on all the official maps, even if it's the property of the Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management, there's almost always somebody making use of it. Meth manufacture is the least of it, although I'll tip the DEA off all day long if I catch some creepy motorcycle gang cooking that stuff. Entire white supremacist militias drill in some of these places. Escaped prisoners control little cults of vulnerable runaways. Serial killers hide out in the great nowhere. Bomb builders do too.

So you've got pretty much the complete nuts-to-wackadoo buffet. Everything's on the table ranging from smalltime Flat Earthers with too many guns all the way up to safe houses for international crime organizations.

Nothing I don't already know, in other words.

I'm an alert guy. I know how to step away from the shit. Jason, snug on the twenty-ninth floor with the rest of the junior legal department, might not know everything I face in the field. But he should know that much.

“Talk to me, man,” I said. “I need more.”

“What I'm telling you can't leave this room.”

“You know me, man. You fucking know me.”

“I do know you.” He swallowed again. “All right, Hammond, but this really is as much as I'm prepared to say. The town itself is pretty much a termite mound. The buildings are going to collapse if you touch them with a finger. There's no infrastructure there, nothing of value. The mine... well... there's some cores still extant from the eighties. You'll see the geology on that for yourself.”

A core was a small sample drilled out of the earth. My degree was in geology, and my first job out of college was working as a land agent buying mineral rights for oil and gas companies in the likes of North Dakota and Oklahoma. If I hadn't been able to handle myself, the recruiter for my current employer would have never come knocking on my door. “All right.”

“The mine's played out. It was probably never any good in the first place. A salted mine is my guess.”

The Old West was built on fraud. There was a real Gold Rush, but there were a lot of fake ones too. Again, so what? This wasn't information Jason needed to tell me at the Den.

“Fuck, dude, sure, it's been a few years since I graduated, but my geology isn't so rusty that I've forgotten how to analyze a core. I would figure that out for myself, and we both know it.” I glanced over at a display of whips hanging from the wall, but we weren't playing right now, so I didn't reach for one. “Tell me why we're really here.”

Jason squirmed in his chains. Maybe it was unintentional. More likely, he was trying to remind me how cute he was and what a great thing it was to have a friend with benefits who looked good chained naked to a standing cross. “There's one structure that might catch your attention.”

“Uh huh. What structure might that be?”

“It's a castle. A genuine German castle built in the fourteenth century that was transported stone by stone to its location on a high peak overlooking the town.”

If true, this castle would have enormous potential as the centerpiece of a resort. Tourism isn't oil, but in some places, it brings in more dollars than oil.

I brushed a loose strand of hair off his forehead and kept looking into his beautiful eyes. We both knew I couldn't overlook an entire castle.

“Nobody who ever went into that castle ever came out,” Jason said. “Nobody. I've checked the records. There are police reports from the mid-nineteenth century all the way to 1932 when the town was officially abandoned, a steady stream of ongoing complaints. People go in, they disappear, they're never seen again.”

I faked a chuckle in case he was joking. He had to know how ridiculous he sounded. There may well have been some kind of cult or serial killer operating in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, but those guys wouldn't still be there. “You do know what I do, don't you, Jason? It won't be the first time I go into a structure and find old bodies. Skeletons don't freak me out, and I know the procedures to arrange for a respectful burial.”

He shook his head. “You're still not getting it. This isn't about some cold case from two centuries ago. It's a big county, and the sheriff's department doesn't often get up to the old town, but there are current reports. People go in, they disappear, and they never come out again.”

Fucking hell. Jason Fucking Bullard was fucking me around with a fucking ghost story.

“I should whip your ass,” I said. “Whatever you're involved in, whatever you want me to look away from, at least have the decency to give me the truth. Like they say, don't feed me chickenshit and call it chicken salad.” I squatted to unclip the chains from his ankle cuffs. Stood up to unclip them from his wrists. He was conveniently splayed out for me in that standing spread-eagle, but I don't play BDSM games when I'm this pissed-off. Crossing the line between play and abuse is something I won't do. Not for Jason, not for anybody. That's a dealbreaker. “Get off that fucking cross, and talk to me.”

“I'm sorry, Hammond.” He shook out his arms, although they hadn't had enough time to develop that pins-and-needles feeling from being held overhead. “I've already told you all I can.”

“You haven't told me anything. Except that you're mixed up in something so wrong you can't even tell me about it here, in this room, where we've never had any secrets between us.” I turned to open the door.

He squeezed my arm, a way of asking me to wait. We stood like that a moment, eye to eye, his gaze refusing to drop no matter how hard I glared at him. Whatever he was mixed up in, he wasn't ashamed of it, so how bad could it really be?

I looked at my friend. He was somebody I cared about, maybe more than I knew until this moment. “We both know I have to take this assignment. They're going to send somebody. If it's me, maybe...” I let my voice trail off. Maybe what? “Maybe I can keep us both out of trouble.”

“Don't involve yourself. Please. I'm begging you.”

I shook off his arm and walked away. We had nothing more to discuss. This meet was over.

Chapter Four

In dreams, we walk through our fears. Sometimes we run, sometimes we fly. In this dream, I was being blown backward by a wind machine or perhaps an actual hurricane. The world around me was the blue-black of the moment before a lightning bolt crashes down from a thundercloud.

Then, somehow, I was cuddled up with Jason, both of us naked, the white sheets of a hotel bed tangled around us. He had vinelike properties, one of the best things about him. His leg coiled around my leg, keeping me close. How could I feel the warmth of a man in a dream? The warmth and the post-fuck stickiness?

“Don't involve yourself.” Or so I thought he said. Voices in dreams can be so fuzzy.

“What?” Did I ask out loud, or did I just think it at him?

“Involve yourself,” he said.

I jerked awake in a cold bed.

What are you caught up in, Jason? Where did you go wrong?

My balls throbbed. Leaving the Den without getting off wasn't the best idea I ever had. Good thing I had soft socks with gold toes. One of them would do the job quickly and efficiently before I headed out to the airport.

♥♥♥

Another gray rental with three thousand miles on the odometer, another contract for unlimited mileage. This time, I'd asked for a four-wheel drive SUV instead of a sedan. Full tank of gas.

Another yappy GPS unit. This one kept bitching me out about where I was trying to go.

“You have missed your turn. In one thousand feet, turn right.”

Girlfriend and I didn't agree about where to turn, and I wasn't about to follow her advice off the side of a mountain. This town was located at a higher elevation than the last assignment. No cheatgrass and tumbleweeds here. Once I passed through an area of black, charred timber, evidence of fire within the last few years, but mostly I was driving through tall evergreens.

“You have missed your turn. In eight hundred feet, turn right.”

Eight hundred feet came and went. Another squandered opportunity to drive off the side of the mountain. Mapmakers have a nasty little habit of including a few intentional mistakes in their work, the better to catch the plagiarists. I was starting to think I'd found one of them.

“You have missed your turn. The next turn-off is in two miles. You have missed your turn...”

“Shut the fuck up. Excuse me. ‘All right, Girlfriend,’ shut the fuck up.”

The SUV went silent, but you sensed she was bitter about it.

As the vehicle went around and around, I started to wonder if my final destination was above the treeline. It hadn't looked like it on the topo map, but who knew? If the satellite view was wrong, maybe some of the older maps were wrong too. Hell, maybe the GPS was copying an error handed down for generations.

The technical definition of a ghost town is that it has a population of zero― an ideal situation we seldom achieve in the real world. The Census Bureau hadn't recorded any residents of Yellow Rock since 1970, when there were two, both of them over eighty with male names. Mountain men, I thought, holdovers from the nineteenth century and long since deceased.

Yellow Rock wasn't the real name of the town I was investigating, of course. If I told you the real name, I'd have to kill you. Um, that's a joke.

Maybe it's a joke.

Higher up, the road hadn't been maintained in years, which made me wonder who built it in the first place. The forest service, maybe. I went slower and slower to dodge the potholes. This wasn't a place you wanted to get stuck, especially since I hadn't seen another vehicle in over an hour. Good thing I went with the four-wheel drive.

There was a small pullover at the place where the paved road finally gave out. I stopped there, thinking. If you peered through the weedy screen of overgrown vegetation, you could see blue mountains and green valleys spread out for miles. People once stopped and took pictures here, but it had been a long time. Whoever stopped maintaining the road stopped cutting back the weeds at the overlook too.

Nobody cared anymore. A forgotten place. Which could be good or could be bad.

The SUV was capable of taking on the unpaved road. The only reason I paused was Jason. There was something waiting for me up there, and I didn't know what it was. Was he afraid of something? He didn't seem afraid, not for himself.

He seemed more... sad. Sad for me.

The crisp air tickled my nose. It smelled green. Red and yellow crossbills chittered in the trees.

This road would be impassible in winter and, by winter, I meant the months running from September through May. Who would live here? If you couldn't drive in most of the year, it was hard to imagine there would be any non-criminal population remaining. Of course, there were different kinds of criminals. Drug organizations, the good ones, had pilots. They could fly in and out of a high airfield, weather permitting, for most of the year. Well-heeled cult and terror organizations might do the same.

Jason wouldn't be involved with drugs or terror. Considering his sexual interests, I couldn't imagine him in your average religious cult, either.

Hmm.

Isolated places without electricity or indoor toilets sometimes attracted the self-appointed pioneer types. The hate group members who crapped on the modern world. The fugitives on the lam from twisted crimes like serial thrill-killing.

Jason wouldn't need to warn me about those guys. He knew I could handle them because I'd handled them just fine for the last five years. The press wasn't told, but everybody at headquarters knew I'd helped the FBI pick up some of their most wanted. It was part of the job and a good way to build ties to the federal government. If you want to take over the world, it helps to have a friend in Washington.

Why did you feel a need to warn me off? What could be more dangerous than the snakes I've already poked in the past?

I had to move forward to find out. Onward.

My phone, via its Bluetooth connection to the SUV's speakers, had warned me some time ago that we'd left wi-fi behind. Now it spoke up to say we didn't have phone service either. Fine. I hadn't expected to.

The GPS went dark.

My devices were still here, and the phone and the SUV were undoubtedly still collecting data, but they couldn't send it anywhere until I was back in the world again. I didn't have forever privacy like I did behind the doors of the Den, but I had real-time privacy. It could be hours or even days before anyone figured out where I was or what I was doing.

I should have tried to call Jason one last time before the phone bricked.

No, I shouldn't have.

If he wouldn't talk in the club, he wouldn't have talked on the phone.

There was no real road anymore, just a place where the weeds mostly lay horizontal instead of growing upward. A deer track, you'd call it. The sides of the shiny new SUV that started out this morning with three thousand miles on the odometer were getting all scratched to shit. Too bad, so sad, that's what the extortionate insurance was for.

Around another corner, I reached a relatively open space. The trees weren't straight and old and evergreen. They were scrawny weeds missing most of their foliage thanks to the tender attentions of the local mammals. The town itself was a wide place in the road. Its crumbly buildings reminded me of a one-horse town from a movie Western, except all the roofs on the buildings had relocated to the floor. Maybe they'd collapsed one at a time as they rotted on their individual schedules. Maybe they'd all fallen down in the same moment courtesy of some mountain earthquake. Either way, I didn't have to get out of the vehicle to see the town couldn't be restored. It could only be burned down and rebuilt.

I got out anyway. Kicked a pile of bricks that was probably once the town saloon. This wasn't a place. It was barely the shadow of a place. Jason didn't need to warn me about this. There was nothing here.

Then I looked up.

Chapter Five

If you're picturing the so-called fairy-tale castle or its modern copycat in California, don't. This wasn't a lovely white palace fit for a snoozing beauty into group sex with a gang of short dudes. This was a large blunt beige stone structure complete with four blocky watchtowers at the four corners― an aggressively ugly fortlike thing that could have secured the residents of an entire city in the event of siege. Which, I suppose, was the entire purpose of fourteenth-century German castles.

It was situated in an artificial hanging valley some distance below the peak that provided a commanding view of the erstwhile town of Yellow Rock, the twists and turns of the mountain road below, and the vast sweep of the countryside all around us. A castle with such a wide view was, of course, itself easily seen from a large distance.

My infrared scanner picked up a couple of perched Bald Eagles and a badger den. Farther down the slope was a large herd of some grazing mammal, probably mule deer or maybe pronghorn. No humans, at least not anywhere in town. I wasn't in range of the castle yet, so there could still be people up higher.

Wanting the wide view, I didn't raise my binoculars just yet. Your peripheral vision is often the sharpest. Was there a flash of color that didn't belong? Or a tell-tale glint off somebody else's optics?

Nothing.

Finally, I lifted the binoculars and began to inspect the castle with more care. It didn't look all that bad from the outside, although there was some evidence of the passage of centuries. Could you really think of it as fourteenth-century if it had been moved and rebuilt stone by stone in the nineteenth?

The castle had a mind-boggling view, which meant everybody within a hundred square miles had seen it sitting up here on its perch. The mountain was located in an isolated county, but nobody's so isolated that entire castles go unseen. Why didn't anyone come up here? My company couldn't have been the first to scout the place for its tourist potential.

A ghost story wasn't a problem. These days, a ghost story was a selling point.

Call it intuition, call it my spidey sense, call it being the proud owner of a suspicious mind, but I had a strange feeling about all this. I didn't drive up to the castle door. Not yet. Instead, I turned around and headed back the way I came.

It's easy to drive downhill too fast, but I rode the brakes to take my own sweet time. Eventually, the 3G connection came back, then the 4G, then the internet. The GPS had been lit up for an hour. I pulled into yet another scenic turn-off to consider my options. As I suspected, several small towns in the area would have a view of the castle, and none of them looked prosperous.

Their lack of prosperity was my opportunity.

My phone sang. A voice call from Jason.

Digame,” I said.

“You've seen enough to file your report.”

We couldn't argue about this, not on the phone. “I want to check some things out.”

He tapped a pencil on the desk. Jason doesn't use pencils for any other purpose. He doesn't even own a pencil sharpener. When he taps, it's because he wants you to hear him tap on the invisible line between the two of you.

You learn a lot about how to read a man when you do BDSM together. I knew exactly what he was telling me.

Get your ass out of there.

What I didn't know was why.

“We have some unfinished business from the other day,” I said. “You look so cute in chains.” There. Assuming anyone was eavesdropping, they'd think the awkwardness between us was about some sex thing.

“Could be it's your turn to wear the chains.”

“Could be you're right.”

Call ended. People don't talk on the phone anymore because they can text and not be overheard. But, also, people don't talk on the phone anymore because they're aware of how their voice is always being recorded to the cloud. We're becoming superstitious about our voices. The man or device who can steal our voice might be able to steal our soul.

This thing with Jason. I'd been telling myself it was friends with benefits for five years. If that's all he was, why didn't I drop him once he started getting weird? In an age where everything you do is recorded to the cloud, true weirdness doesn't lead to a happy, prosperous existence. That much I knew for sure.


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