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Book 2: Together Bound
Todd and Nick Ruger have settled into their life and work, the master/slave bond in New Colorado tying them together in a sacred rite of service, protection, and—in their case—love. But out of the blue, Todd receives a letter from the vice chancellor of New Colorado threatening their bond, demanding ownership of Nick under eminent domain.
It turns out Vice Chancellor Clarke desperately needs the help of the sentries, especially Nick, to investigate a problem involving the Chancellor. With New Colorado on the verge of war with West Caldera, a rift in the government would be disastrous. Todd and Nick agree to help, and Nick enters the orphan slave compound while Todd joins the Estate security force.
They don’t expect the danger they discover. Now the target of an unimaginable threat, Nick and Todd will face terrors that lead to murder, imprisonment, and the threat of separation forever as the hopeless battle escalates into full-scale war.
TODD’S hand shot out, and he gripped the doorjamb so hard his knuckles went immediately white and his hand and arm cramped.
This wasn’t happening. It wasn’t goddamn happening. No one could do this. It couldn’t possibly be legal. He couldn’t let Nick see this, he couldn’t. Yet he had no way of not showing him. Nick would have to know. Nick was going to freak.
He’d heard the rumors and stories of special slaves for years and had no idea how Nick or his ability were involved, if at all. Todd wasn’t even sure he completely believed all the rumors; they were sketchy at best. Even those rumors didn’t do anything to explain this.
Mind racing, he went through scenario after scenario, not wanting to face any of them and completely panicked by the realization he’d have to face them all.
Pounding on the door made him start and gulp air into his constricting lungs. Three days, the letter said three days; why was someone here now? It took a few seconds for him to process that someone on the other side of the door was calling his name and it was a voice he recognized.
Todd staggered from the kitchen to the front door and yanked it open without checking to see who it was, something he’d never done before. Apparently Nick wasn’t the only one who was going to freak. Todd was well into his own freak-out. His vision swam, and he stood staring at the man in front of him for a few more seconds before choking out, “Jimmy?”
The older man brushed past him and shut the door firmly behind him. Hands gripping Todd’s shoulders hard, Jimmy gave him a slight shake as his eyes scanned the apartment. “Where’s Nick?”
“They can’t do this.” Todd pulled away a step. “No one can do this. They can’t just take him. Can they?”
“Hell, kid, I wouldn’t have thought so. I don’t know. Todd, where is he?”
“Eminent domain is for property, to build roads and hospitals. Not to take people.”
“Todd! Where the hell is Nick?”
Blinking, Todd lifted his gaze from the paper in his hand to Jimmy’s face. “He’s… it’s Sunday.” Jimmy literally snarled at him. Shaking his head, Todd cleared his throat and concentrated. “It’s Sunday. When we’re in town, we get breakfast at a café near here. He went to pick it up. That’s where I get the coffee you and Nick like so much. Nicky loves the coffee….” Todd’s voice trailed off.
Did Jimmy mean to imply they’d snatched Nick off the street?
Gaze going back to the letter, Todd scanned the words again.
In accordance with governmental rights of eminent domain you are hereby ordered to remand custody of one slave, Nick Ruger, to the Vice Chancellor’s office immediately. Failure to respond to this letter by August 30, 2423, will result in imprisonment.
You are expected to appear with the above mentioned slave in my office upon receipt of this notification.
Vice Chancellor Geoffrey Clarke
“Why are you here?” Todd stammered, focusing more intently on Jimmy.
“Ya damn fool, they sent me one too. I got mine a few days ago. My name is on record on the bill of sale and listed above yours as owner, so I was notified first.”
“We have to…. I have to go meet…. Would they grab him off the street?”
“If they were going to do that, Todd, I doubt very much you or I would get an official letter.”
Todd balled the piece of paper inside his fist and headed to his weapons locker. “I have to go get… make sure…. They can’t just take him. Why? Why would anyone even want to? Have you seen how much he eats?” After checking the load of his pistol, Todd tucked it back into his shoulder holster and dropped that on the bed. He pulled a knife from the locker and strapped it to his ankle.
Everything stopped, and Todd’s vision narrowed down to a pinpoint when the door swung open and Nick lumbered through, a bag in each hand. He kicked off the sandals he wore in the warmer weather and padded barefoot across the floor. The kid simply wouldn’t keep shoes—or a shirt—on no matter what Todd did or said. Why the hell couldn’t Nick wear shoes like everyone else?
“Hey, Jimmy, I had no idea you were here. I can go back and get more.” Nick smiled and set the bags on the low table near the couch.
Todd grabbed Nick with one hand and reached around him with the other, slammed the door shut and locked it, then pulled Nick firmly against him.
“Todd, what’s wrong?”
Nick’s words were cut short when Jimmy reached out to put a hand on Todd’s shoulder, making his grip on Nick tighten. Growling low in his throat, Todd stepped away from Jimmy, hauling his mate with him. He knew this was going to send Nick all sorts of alarm signals. Todd rarely was physically demonstrative in front of others; yanking him away from Jimmy was only going to fuel that fire.
When Todd’s hand fisted in Nick’s hair, tugging him even closer, Nick squirmed in his grasp. “Todd… ow… you’re hurting me….”
“Did you have any problems getting back?”
“No. Why would I? Todd, you’re scaring me.”
“Were you followed?” Jimmy asked quietly.
“Followed?” Turning in Todd’s arms so he could talk to Jimmy but maintain contact with Todd, Nick glanced from one to the other. “What’s going on? Did I do something wrong?”
Pulling air into his too-tight chest, Todd knew he had to calm down or he could never explain this to Nick. There was no way to keep it from him, as much as Todd desperately wanted to. Nick was going to be freaked out enough for the both of them. Todd needed his head screwed on straight, and he needed it that way fast. Moving his hand away from Nick’s hair and brushing his thumb over Nick’s cheek, Todd whispered, “No, Nicky, of course not.” He had to get control of this situation right now. “Sit down, Nicky.”
“Sit.” Todd kept his voice low but firm, leaving no doubt it was a command, not a request.
One final glance at Jimmy, and Nick walked quietly to the overstuffed chairs and sat down. He wouldn’t move until given permission. Todd rarely invoked such control, but when he did Nick obeyed him completely and without question. He locked his gaze on Todd with wide, frightened eyes.
Not knowing how to say it, Todd simply held the letter out to Nick for him to read. Tears sprang from Nick’s eyes. He sucked in a breath and let the paper flutter to the floor. “You promised me.” Nick’s words came out in a sob. “You promised no one would ever take me away from you. Now you’re going to just hand me over? Todd? Please? You promised.” He was pale, shaking, chest heaving, with tears running unstopped down his cheeks.
Nick actually thought Todd would follow through with this? That just pissed him off. Vice chancellor or not, this asshole had no right to do this to Nick—to them. Nick shouldn’t have to worry about being forced away from his master and his home.
“God, Nick, no! Never, I’d never do that. How many times do I have to say it? Do you really believe I’d so much as give something like that a second’s worth of thought?” It was a knee-jerk reaction on Nick’s part, that Todd understood, but it still hurt that Nick would think he’d be so easily and quickly given up.
“No. I-I’m… I don’t know what I think.”
“I showed you so you can help me work this out.” Todd settled on the arm of the chair and laid one arm across Nick’s shoulders. At once Nick’s long arm snaked out and circled him, Nick’s wide hand spread open against Todd’s side. Nick pulled himself as close as possible with the chair arm between them.
“Todd.” Jimmy spoke quietly. “You’ve been asking the important question: why would the vice chancellor, or anyone, for that matter, want to do this? Why would they even think of doing it?”
“We can’t let them,” Todd said.
“You promised if anyone tried, we’d go away. We can pack up and go away.” Nick looked up, fingers digging into Todd’s waist and his grip tightening.
Anger swelled again in Todd’s chest. This was wrong. “Do you like this apartment, Nick? Our home? Going to the café and the other places I take you?”
“You’re more important to me than those things.” Fresh tears threatened to spill down Nick’s cheeks.
“Aww… Nicky, you’re way more important than those things, but why should you have to give them up? Why should we? We didn’t do anything wrong. We didn’t break any laws. We’ve done everything we’re supposed to, and that bastard has no right to take what we have away.”
“What are we going to do?”
That was a question Todd didn’t have a ready answer to. “I don’t know, buddy.”
“You boys stay here. The main library will be open soon. I’m going to see what I can dig up on Vice Chancellor Clarke.”
“What are we supposed to do, just sit here?” Todd stood but didn’t move far from Nick.
“You’re a helluva lot safer here.”
“You mean me,” Nick said quietly, gaze focused on his knees.
Todd sighed. “This isn’t your fault.
“Look.” Jimmy crossed the room. “We don’t know that someone isn’t watching you or won’t try grabbing Nick. You’ve got a stack of newspapers over there. Go through them and see if you can find any clue as to what this guy wants Nick for.”
Nodding, Todd followed Jimmy to the door, closed it softly behind him, and checked twice to be sure the locks were in place and secure. “Guess we’d better get at it.” He pulled the newspapers off the floor and dropped them onto the kitchen table. Dipping his head at the bag Nick had abandoned when he came in, Todd sighed. “We might as well eat while we do this.”
Nick stood and grabbed the bag, again recognizing Todd’s subtle command, for which Todd was grateful. To him it meant Nick’s trust in him hadn’t diminished or even been tarnished. He set the bag on the table beside the papers and sat in one chair. Todd pulled the items out and set Nick’s in front of him. “C’mon, Nick. You’ve got to eat, and there’s no sense in letting good coffee go to waste.”
“I’m not really hungry.”
“Nicky, eat. We’re going to work this out. Don’t worry. Please?”
Nick nodded, pulled his plate closer, and grabbed up one of the newspapers. Todd crossed to their study, took a couple pads of paper and pens, and returned, setting one down for Nick and one for himself before swinging into his own chair.
Hours later, Nick had moved to the couch and was half asleep with a newspaper spread over his chest. Todd had decided a break was in order and was fixing them sandwiches when Jimmy reappeared. He took Todd’s offering of a sandwich, biting into it as if he hadn’t eaten in days.
Gaze drifting to Nick, Jimmy smiled fondly. “How you guys doing?”
Todd shrugged and rubbed the back of his neck. “Okay, I guess. Did you find anything?”
“Yeah, this Clarke guy is the squeakiest clean politician ever.”
“That’s about what we found out too. There’s nothing on him in any recent news that might account for that letter.”
Nick sat up and blinked at them. He shoved the paper away and ran a hand through his hair a few times. “There are some odd reports about the chancellor and a few incidents at the Chancellor’s Estate.”
“We’re going to have to go talk to this man. I’ll send a message to the office here in town in the morning.” He turned from Nick and faced Jimmy. “You’re welcome to stay here with us.”
“Naw, you two need to be alone, and I’m not very good at being a guest. There’s a small hotel a few blocks over. I’ll stay there.” After patting Todd’s shoulder, Jimmy crossed the room and grabbed Nick’s foot, giving it a shake. “Make sure he behaves himself.” He winked at Nick and tipped his head toward Todd.
Smiling up at him, Nick nodded. “Yes, sir.” He fell silent until Jimmy had left and they were alone once again. “Todd?”
Todd slid onto the couch beside him, brushed Nick’s bangs away, and kissed his forehead. “You remember the rules of being a hostage?”
“Yes. Blend in, keep up my strength, follow their rules.”
“Right. If this is some trap, you keep your head. If we get separated, I will come for you. Got it?” Todd suppressed a shiver, remembering Nick’s words when he’d thought Todd had died. I wanted to be with you. “I’m not dead until you see my body.”
“Yes.” Nick nodded soberly. “I don’t want to go see that man.”
Todd sighed. “Me either, but I don’t see that we have a choice. He wants you for something, and I just keep coming back to one thing: you’re a sentry and owned by a sentry. We’re sentries, and if he’s in trouble somehow, or even if he just thinks he is, then it’s our job and our responsibility to help him. But this thing goes south, if it’s some kind of trap or not a hunt, we’re gone. I promise you, Nicky.”
They spent the rest of the evening preparing to leave in a hurry if need be. Their night was far from restful. A line of thunderstorms rolled through after midnight, making Nick even jitterier. Todd gave up on any sleep and was up before dawn. He wrote a reply to the vice chancellor, left Nick a note, and slipped out of their apartment.
The early-morning air was cool and still damp from the earlier storms. Later there would be heat and humidity, but now in the grays and golds of morning, the air was fresh and clean. He headed to the messenger depot a few blocks away, pleased to find a few already on duty. His short note requesting an appointment on its way to the vice chancellor, Todd hurried back home, not liking the idea of leaving Nick alone for too long. His message would get to the vice chancellor’s office probably before it was even open, so he was expecting an answer later in the morning.
When he stepped through his apartment door, Nick was just wandering out of the bathroom.
“I sent a message. I imagine we’ll hear back this morning sometime.” Todd kept his voice soft. Nick nodded, lifted a towel to his head, and rubbed it over his hair. He crossed to the closet and pulled out a pair of loose-fitting cotton pants with matching shirt for Nick and dress pants and shirt for himself. “We should probably wear something nicer than jeans. They’ll search us for weapons—none are allowed in the government offices without permits—so keep your eyes open, stay on your toes.”
Todd watched as Nick dressed, admiring how Nick’s shoulders and arms filled out the material that just accentuated enough the V formed by broad shoulders tapering to a narrow waist. The outfit was dark green and offset Nick’s eyes and skin tone beautifully. The pants fit snugly around Nick’s waist, but the material draped straight down off his hips, which somehow came off as incredibly sexy. Nick knew how much Todd liked seeing him in those clothes, and Todd figured it would give Nick an extra boost of confidence. The material was light enough that even in the heat of the day, he’d be comfortable. It had the added advantage of being loose enough that if any sort of fight broke out, Nick’s movement wouldn’t be constricted.
They were nearly done with breakfast when there was a knock on the door. Todd saw how the color dropped from Nick’s face and how he gripped the table edge until his knuckles turned white when Todd opened the door and a messenger handed him an envelope.
“I’m supposed to wait for a reply.” The girl was maybe twenty. She smiled at Todd and leaned in the doorway as if that might impress him.
Barely glancing at her, Todd nodded. “Okay, give me a few minutes.” He let the door swing shut and glanced over at Nick. “He wants us to meet him at his office at eleven.”
Nick bit his lower lip and nodded tightly.
After writing his reply that they’d both arrive at the vice chancellor’s office at the requested time, Todd gave the note and a tip to the girl waiting in the hall. She took the money, let her eyes trail up and down Todd, pouted, and left. Shutting the door, he couldn’t help rolling his eyes and shaking his head.
“We’ll stop by the hotel Jimmy’s staying in, let him know what’s going on. I’ll give him an extra key too. Any trouble, you know to go to him.”
Todd was going to be a much happier man when they arrived across town and got this whole stupid mess sorted out.
Elizabeth Noble started telling stories before she actually knew how to write, and her family was very happy when she learned to put words on a page. Those words turned into fan fiction that turned into a genuine love of M/M romance fiction. Being able to share her works with Dreamspinner is really a dream come true. She has a real love for all things sci-fi, futuristic, and supernatural and a bit of an unnatural interest in a super-volcano in Wyoming.
Elizabeth has three grown children and is now happily owned by an adorable mixed breed canine princess named Rosie, and two cats, Murphy and Yeti. She lives in her native northeast Ohio, the perfect place for gardening, winter and summer sports (go Tribe!). When she’s not writing she’s working as a veterinary nurse, so don’t be surprised to see her men with a pet or three who are a very big part of their lives.