A Sinner Born
Syren Rua is at war. He battles painful childhood demons and his intense need for the first person who makes him feel. As Faro, Syren makes deals with the worst while taking the steps necessary to bring his family’s killer to justice. He isn’t one to indulge in selfish needs, but he’ll make the time in this instance. Syren has been watching Kane Ashby, craving the grieving man for his own. He’s always stayed away from temptation, but that’s about to change.
Kane isn’t over the death of his long-time partner. He’s certainly not ready for a relationship, sexual or otherwise, but Syren isn’t a man who takes no for an answer. The unpredictable Syren offers nothing but secrets and brings with him memories so dark, they could wipe out any chance the two might ever have. Syren brings Kane’s heart back to life. But it is also Syren who could inflict the most damage.
Inside Scoop: One of our heroes has a panty fetish. And it’s hot. This book also contains brief references to rape and child abuse.
A Romantica® gay/lesbian erotic romance from Ellora’s Cave
As much as Syren expected the blow, the sting of the bull whip across the upper half of his back still hurt like the devil.
A moan fell unchecked from his lips and he swore inwardly. The last thing he wanted was to give Ricardo Delatorre more satisfaction than he already got from stringing up and whipping Syren until he bled or begged for it to stop. He’d never beg, so they always ended when the pain and blood made him pass out.
Behind him Delatorre cackled, an abrasive sound Syren went to great lengths to avoid hearing. The whip whistled through the air and came down on him, harder this time. Syren controlled his reaction, letting the tightening of his fingers on the ropes that held him suspended be the only outward acknowledgement of where he was and why.
Blood scented the air, a heavy, coppery tang Syren welcomed. With blood the end drew near. Sweat ran down his body, seeping into the freshly made cuts and the reopened wounds on his back. The blows didn’t let up, not for an instant. Sure strokes rained down on him mercilessly, not that he expected anything else.
Pain, fire-hot, grayed his vision. Nothing new to someone like Syren, nothing he hadn’t already felt, but it didn’t stop him from attempting to shy away. Hide from it.
He arched from the blows and they moved with him, catching him above his right shoulder. His legs collapsed and Syren hissed as the ropes jerked him upright, preventing him from folding to the floor. Tears blurred his eyes, not that he could’ve seen anything before then. He squeezed his eyes shut, trapping the sign of his weakness. Thick fog crept up, spreading over his mind and body, numbing the pain.
Syren let it happen. He watched as if outside his body as he let go. His head lolled to the side and his muscles went lax.
The dark came.
He came back to himself to find his face buried in whatever softness he lay on. Syren held himself still and listened. Nothing moved, no one breathed or spoke, so he lifted his head.
Christ. It hurt to blink. To think.
His back flamed. Thank God he’d been positioned on his stomach. Gritting his teeth to smother a cry, he looked around.
He was in his apartment. How he came to be there when he’d been at Delatorre’s Hollywood Hills hideout was the million-dollar question. Thinking of his boss brought the memories of the recent whipping rushing back. Syren’s heartbeat picked up speed, climbing higher and higher until the organ threatened to leap out of his chest. He dropped back onto the pillow face first and worked to control his gasping breaths.
In and out. In and out. Steady. Cold sweat gathered at his hairline and turned his palms slippery.
Out then in. Out then in. He breathed in the familiar scent of fabric softener his cleaning service used on his bedding.
Out then in.
He lifted his head again, taking more care this time and gulped air through his mouth. The dizzy spell receded, and he moved to get off the bed.
He had to clean his wounds.
With anguished grunts, Syren crawled to the edge of the mattress, each move of his limbs stretching the raw cuts on his back. A shot of pain to his scraped-up right knee captured his attention and he glanced down his body, only then realizing his nakedness.
Syren froze, frantically trying to remember what he wore to Ricardo’s. A suit, of course, he always wore a suit, but—
“God.” The relieved word dropped like a bomb in the stillness of his bedroom. He was safe. There’d been no slip and his secret—well, that particular one—remained intact. Still only his. Syren didn’t know which secret he dreaded Delatorre finding out; his true identity or the other one.
The other one he refused to name. Maybe if he did put a name to his obsession, his compulsion, he’d make it real. One more thing to cloud his focus, to take his concentration from where it needed to be. Ricardo Delatorre warranted all his attentions and the less time Syren spent worrying about hiding that other part of himself, the better.
He eased off the bed headfirst, shivering when his torso made contact with the cold floor. Pulling himself into a crouching position, Syren crawled across his bedroom floor to the bathroom with a slightly hysterical laugh. Delatorre would love this, him crawling, helpless. Syren had set himself up for a fall with the dangerous game he played and he knew it. He also knew he’d endure the whippings and more—hell, he’d already been through worse—to secure the future he’d bargained for and to avenge the death of his family. Four deaths; his parents, older brother and Syren.
His childhood and his innocence. Stolen. His future. Taken. The beatings were nothing, he’d take them any day of the week.
In the bathroom, Syren used the sink as leverage and struggled upright. Bracing a hip against the cold porcelain, he pulled sterile gauze and hydrogen peroxide from the medicine cabinet. The whippings were frequent enough now for him to keep supplies on hand. As much as he brought in money for Delatorre and maintained most of the business, Syren didn’t fool himself into thinking he was indispensable. The time rapidly approached when Delatorre would tire of playing with him and he’d overstay his welcome.
He gathered the supplies on the edge of the sink and hesitated for a second before yanking away the black plastic he’d taped over the bathroom mirror and all the other mirrors in the place.
Quickly turning his back, he gazed at the wounds over his shoulder. They weren’t as bad as they felt when compared to those from before. He quickly cleaned the ones he could reach by dabbing at them with gauze soaked with the peroxide, and tipped the bottle over so the liquid could reach those he couldn’t. He shivered when the cool antiseptic danced along his skin.
When he finished he promptly covered the mirror.
His legs wobbled only a little, but he managed to remain upright and with measured footsteps made his way back to his bedroom. He yanked open drawers, selecting clothes to wear as his phone vibrated across his nightstand. Syren ignored it, holding up the purple robe in his hand instead. He smiled and gathered the material close to his chest, inhaling it before he pulled it on.
Then he removed the blade taped to the underside of his sock drawer.
Syren dropped the slender knife on the bed and walked out the room. He looked the place over thoroughly, making sure nothing was amiss. He double-checked the locks and closed all the blinds, and then he turned on the music player. He’d left the tape in from the last time and immediately, soft, mournful instruments filled the room. In the bedroom he spread two thick black towels in the middle of the bed then climbed on and sat on them cross-legged.
With a twist of his finger he unsheathed the weapon and swiped the sharp, gleaming blade with alcohol swabs before tipping his head to the heavens. As the music in his living room swelled, so did the tears, because that music never failed to bring the memories. And those were the only times Syren felt anything. The only time he felt human. The only time he felt alive.
Wait for it. He swallowed and braced himself. The music climbed higher, reaching for that particular note and when it achieved its goal, Syren struck.
He sank the blade into his right hip. Deep enough to draw blood, but not enough to do serious damage—he’d leave that to Delatorre. The pain wasn’t immediate, but when it finally hit the sensation yanked away all his air. For a moment he thought he’d finally die like that, with the pain scraping along his nerve endings. He tried taking deep breaths but his heavy lungs wouldn’t allow it. Shards of light pinged behind his eyelids, moving to the music. The palpitations in his chest actually burned, but Syren didn’t shy away this time.
Unlike before, he welcomed this pain, meeting it head-on because he knew what lay beyond it. The payoff wasn’t long in coming. Warmth surrounded him. Time and place fell away. Laughter filled his ears and sunshine kissed his skin.
Tears rolled down his face and Syren smiled.
This euphoria made any pain worth it, made his sufferings appear bearable, and worth it too, in that instant. The only time he got to really remember who he’d been before it all crashed down on him.
If nothing else the innocent little boy laughing in his head needed to be fought for. Needed to be avenged. There was nobody else left to remember him, to fight for him.
Syren promised. He’d made a promise and he fully intended to deliver.
Warm liquid coated his fingers and slid along his skin. Syren opened his eyes and glanced down at the glistening red as it disappeared into the blackness of the towels he sat on. Perfect choice in color.
His phone went off again, startling a gasp as it vibrated on the nightstand. Syren twisted around, wincing at the pain, and picked it up, scowling when he saw the caller’s identity.
“Thiago.” He answered the phone with the expected purr in his voice. Within his four walls he was Syren Rua, but out there in the world and especially with the Delatorres he was Faro, and as Faro he had a role to play.
“Are you well?” The concern in Ricardo Delatorre’s only son’s voice always surprised Syren when he thought of exactly how callous the father was.
He nodded then spoke. “I’m fine.”
“He was rough this time. Too much so.” Thiago grunted in Syren’s ear. “Why do you do it?” he asked in perfect English.
Syren moved the phone from his ear and frowned. Had Thiago met his father? Did he think if Syren had a choice he’d volunteer for that prick to do what he did? He released the knife and held up his bloody hand. It didn’t waver.
“Did you bring me home?” He hated those moments when he wasn’t alert. Hated that he needed someone else’s assistance to do anything.
“Along with my driver,” Thiago answered. “He helped me get you presentable and into the car.”
“Ah.” Then Thiago would have brought him up to the apartment himself. They’d done that particular dance many times before, after all. “Thank you.”
Thiago ignored his words of gratitude. “Why do you do it, Faro?” His voice dropped an octave and Syren braced for the familiar words. Thiago didn’t disappoint. “Be with me. I’ll protect you from him.”
The same old refrain never failed to bring a genuine smile to Syren’s face. Protect him. Thiago thought he needed protecting and was willingly signing up for the job. Too bad he was years too late. Back then Syren had needed protecting from Ricardo Delatorre. Now, not so much.
He used the towels on the bed to wipe the blood off his fingers as he gave Thiago his token response. “I can’t ask you to choose your father over me. I got myself into this mess and I’ll get myself out.”
“It is a mistake, Faro,” Thiago said forcefully. “You underestimate him. He will not be so easily stopped next time.”
Honestly, how had Ricardo ended up with a bleeding heart like Thiago for a son? No wonder the two men never got along.
“It is my mistake to make, Thiago.” Syren kept his voice firm. “Remember that and let’s finish this conversation.”
The length of the ensuing silence made Syren think Thiago had fallen asleep on him until the other man cleared his throat.
“Very well. If that is your wish.”
“It is.” Syren rolled his eyes heavenward. “Is there anything else?”
“Yes,” Thiago spoke grudgingly. “He wanted you to take me with you on your trip to New Orleans tomorrow.”
“Not a problem.”
* * * * *
LeBeau’s establishment was smack dab in the middle of Bourbon Street. No fancy lights, no bright awnings, just a nondescript door snuggled between a karaoke bar and a burger joint, all belonging to the man Syren came from LA to see. Otis LeBeau.
Flanked between Thiago and some guy Thiago brought along as bodyguard, Syren climbed the narrow staircase stiffly and entered the dark room. Within those thick walls, services were bartered and sold, services of the sexual kind. Anything that could be dreamt up happened in LeBeau’s.
Male and female plied their trade in the hidden spot accessed only by referral. Syren didn’t need a referral since he didn’t do sex. With anyone. Even if he did, he sure as hell wouldn’t pay for his fucks. Delatorre owned Otis and his businesses.
Syren didn’t shit where he ate.
In the dim space serving as both lounge area and bar, Syren made a beeline for the back of the room and sank into a cushioned seat with a smothered sigh. His back and head ached. He’d foregone any use of pain pills but maybe he should rethink that.
Syren looked up as Otis stopped at his table. Syren nodded in acknowledgement and Otis held out a hand.
“I had no idea you’d be coming by.” Otis’ eyes pierced into him.
“Surprise visits are called that for a reason.” Syren shook the other man’s hand then Otis shook Thiago’s while nodding to the bodyguard.
“What can I do for you, gentlemen?” Otis waved at the half-naked men and women milling about, staring at Syren’s table with open interest. “Pick your flavor and I’ll set you up right.”
Thiago and bodyguard’s tongues were practically dragging on the dirty floor as they surveyed the room, taking in the bounty laid out for their taking. Syren grunted. “None for me,” he told Otis. “Get me my usual drink so we can get this meeting started.”
Otis disappeared with a nod and Syren coughed to get Thiago’s attention. The younger Delatorre turned to him with a sheepish smile.
“You can play if you want to,” Syren told him. “I’m used to dealing with Otis by myself. Your presence isn’t required.”Why his father thought to send him along Syren didn’t know.
Thiago’s face lit up at Syren’s words. “Are you certain?”
Thiago grinned then stood and motioned to a skinny blond male. The dark-skinned female next to the male pouted and Thiago laughed. He walked over to the man and woman and put his arms around them both. Together, they disappeared up the stairs.
Bodyguard soon paired off with a busty brunette.
Syren shook his head with a grin. He couldn’t remember a time when he’d been that carefree. Hell, he didn’t know a time when he willingly went anywhere near a bedroom with anyone. He’d smothered that part of his life into nonexistence.
“Water with a slice.” Otis appeared out of thin air with Syren’s drink. He motioned to a door behind the bar. “You ready?”
Together they made their way across the room and into Otis’ pretty cozy office. Syren took a seat and Otis did the same across his desk crowded with a computer and a thick stack of binders. Security monitors were positioned over Syren’s left shoulder and an air conditioner hummed nearby.
“The old man doesn’t trust me?”
Otis’ words brought a twist to Syren’s mouth. “The old man doesn’t trust anyone, you know that.”
Otis tugged on his ponytail. “I make good money here, Faro. Got a couple cops in my back pocket and a silent understanding with a few big money players.” The diamond stud in his left ear winked when he smiled. “We’re doing good and we always will.”
“I want to see your books,” Syren said. He didn’t doubt Otis made money, the question was did he make enough to keep the place viable. “I’ll look them over tonight and let you know what’s what tomorrow.”
Otis pointed to the binders on the desk. “All yours.”
Syren stood and gathered them. As he turned to the door, his attention drifted to the security monitors and he stopped.
“Otis, can you zoom in on the camera at the bar?” He swung around.
Syren shrugged and watched closely as Otis used the computer on his desk to zoom in. A man sat sideways at the bar in jeans and a dark pullover. His gaze jumped from the club’s entrance to the room at large while he held a glass of something dark and frothy.
Syren knew that man.
“Give me more on his face, Otis,” he murmured as he narrowed his gaze. The color display zeroed in on light-blue eyes and an angular jaw accompanied by a square chin, but the last time Syren saw a photo of that particular man, the gray hadn’t been mixed in with his short, dark hair.
Still, Syren knew this man.
“You’ve got a law enforcement problem, Otis.”
Otis looked up from behind his desk. “You know him?”
“Maybe. How did he get in, do you know him?” Syren didn’t take his gaze off the monitor for a second.
“No,” Otis answered. “But I got a call from the local PD earlier today. They’re hunting a runner from back East and think he might be coming here.”
“And it’s business as usual while they go about their stakeout?” Syren wouldn’t have thought Otis to be that stupid, but apparently he’d been wrong.
“They’re looking the other way.” Otis offered him a sheepish grin. “I got the word from the commander himself. Besides, money needs to be made.”
“I hear you.” That son of a bitch was out of his mind and blind too. Like the NOPD would simply look the other way. Naturally this shit would end up in the con column. Syren opened the door and stepped out. “Tell the men I came with I’m back at the hotel.” He’d be damned if he’d wait around for Thiago and bodyguard to finish whatever they were doing.
He stood outside Otis’ office and watched the guy at the bar, the one who’d held his interest for far longer than five minutes ago. He wasn’t too obvious, but Syren knew what to look for. The other man’s mouth moved when he lifted the beer to his lips, close enough that anyone would think he was drinking. He wasn’t. His gaze swept the room slowly, carefully, before it settled on the entrance.
Way back when, Syren had this man and his brother followed. A favor for one of the very few friends he’d allowed himself to have.
Under Syren’s scrutiny, the man stiffened and lifted his gaze. He took his time, but finally he stopped at Syren.
They stared at each other, the other guy’s eyes hard, his expression sullen. A tough nut. Not unlike his brother.
Syren snapped a salute with two fingers and winked when the man frowned.
Chuckling to himself, Syren walked out of LeBeau’s.
* * * * *
After a night spent going over Otis’ books, Syren’s eyes were heavy and red from staring at the man’s ledgers. He managed to speak with Ricardo before the other man left the States for his other home in Brazil, the one keeping his wife and young daughters hidden from enemies looking to exploit weaknesses.
Ricardo decided and Syren agreed, for once, that they couldn’t allow Otis to continue as he’d been. All cocksure and without consequence.
Otis would not keep his whorehouse.
Syren combed his hair away from his forehead and gulped down the hotel’s foul-tasting coffee as the chauffeured car rolled to a stop in front of Otis’ place. He’d managed to do what he needed to without Thiago and his mute bodyguard waking up and hopefully by the time he got back to the hotel they’d be all packed and ready to head to Vegas.
Syren didn’t like having to wait on people. Waiting worked on the patience he barely held on to. He exited the car and ordered the driver to wait. He didn’t anticipate a long delay; Otis shouldn’t be surprised at the outcome and more fool him if he were.
That early in the day the place was a graveyard, but as Syren stepped up to the bar he spotted a familiar form sitting there.
The Feds were still casing the place. How was this acceptable? This was how Otis conducted business, allowing law enforcement to lay claim to his place with a smile and a complimentary fuck?
He leaned against the bar and waited for the female bartender—a toffee-colored beauty with thick braids, large hoops in her ears and barely covered tits—to notice him. In his position Syren stood near enough to the Fed to feel his body heat, but he ignored the other man and allowed a predatory smile to spread when the bartender met his gaze.
Her big eyes flashed as she sidled closer. “Back again, love? What can I get you?”
Syren leaned closer and she did the same. “You know what I like.” He winked. Her nipples beaded under the thin material of the white wife-beater torn up to under her breasts. “Give me my usual.” He dropped his voice an octave. “And when you’re done with that get me your boss.”
Disappointment clouded her face for a hot second then she licked her bottom lip and pulled back. “Sure.”
He watched as the bartender—Lisa, that was her name—dropped a lemon slice in his water then handed it over. Syren brushed her fingers with his when he took the glass. Her nostrils flared.
“Where’s your boss?”
Lisa stared at him for a second then blinked. “Back there.” She jerked a thumb in the direction of Otis’ office.
“Thanks.” Syren smiled at her. She smiled back, quite a looker that Lisa. If only.
A throat cleared and Lisa jumped then swung away with her gaze downcast. Syren turned toward the sound as he sipped his water. Yep. Fed was staring at him with gruff disapproval.
What was with that?
Syren raised an eyebrow. “What?”
Federal Marshal Kane Ashby had the nerve to scowl at him.
“What?” Syren asked again. “No, go on. Speak your shit. I mean you interfered, right?”
The marshal’s fingers tightened around the bottle in his hand. “You were toying with her.” His words were halted, voice rough and rusted as if he didn’t use it much.
Syren could see that about him.
“Uh-huh. So what, I should have been toying with who, you?”
The chilly look Ashby leveled at him would have had a softer man quaking in his Italian loafers. Syren waited, but Ashby didn’t speak to him again, instead he focused his attention on the mirror over the bar, the one looking out over the people in the room. Guess he still hunted the runner from yesterday, which reminded Syren. He strolled past the marshal and over to Otis’ office.
The nerves on the back of his neck prickled and he itched to turn, see if Ashby watched his departure, but he didn’t look back. Instead he yanked open Otis’ door when he found it unlocked and entered.
Otis apparently had no idea Syren stood there, because he was about six inches deep in a chick bent nearly in half over his desk.
Syren leaned back on the locked door and crossed his ankles as he watched the show. “Sampling the wares, Otis?”
Otis looked up mid-thrust, sweat glistening on his brow. “Gotta relieve some tension.” Breath huffed out from him as he worked the squealing female under him.
Caught up as he was in his pleasure, Otis didn’t seem to notice or care about the fake sounds as the woman rocked under him, legs splayed wide.
“You want some?” Otis motioned to the woman. “Shelley can take us both.” And from the look in his eyes, Otis clearly hoped Syren joined in.
Yeah. No can do. Syren smothered a shiver of disgust and forced a bored smile. “No thanks, I’m not the sharing kind.” He waved a hand and turned away. “Finish up, you and I have business to discuss.”
Syren watched Kane Ashby on the security monitors as the sounds behind him grew in volume. An occasional “yeah, fuck me harder” from Shelley and Otis’ animalistic grunts brought a reluctant smile to Syren’s face. He didn’t like the way Otis did business, but he could give the man props for getting his where and how he could.
Naturally, Syren had to punish him for that, but still.
Finally the two horny kids behind him quit with the yelling and the grunts and Syren turned around as they straightened and got their appearances to rights.
Shelley patted her dull red hair and flashed Syren a dazzling smile while her breasts heaved. Her cheeks and neck were flushed, her black stocking torn. She did look just-fucked.
Syren gave her a thumbs-up while Otis fixed the stuff on his desk. Nice performance, Syren mouthed. Shelley winked and flounced out the door. Too bad she didn’t take the scent of heavy perfume mixed with brandy and sex with her.
“Right then.” Syren gave Otis his undivided attention. “The old man has made a decision. I have to say I don’t agree with him on many things, hell, I don’t agree with him on anything…except this.”
Otis watched him, eyes searching.
Syren slid his hands into the pockets of his tailored suit and shrugged. “The way you conduct business is just shitty, Otis.” He nodded to the monitors. “The Feds are all up in your business, man. You’ve given them carte blanche so that when they need to take you down, they can. At any time.”
Otis grew paler the more Syren spoke.
“You should’ve expected this and the fact that you haven’t speaks volumes.”
Otis sank into a chair. “So what?” he asked. “You and the old man cast me to the side after all I’ve done for you? I pull in more money than the place out in Phoenix.”
Syren nodded. “You do, but unlike you the guys out there know how to keep their shit off the radar.” He gave Otis his back and put a hand on the doorknob. “Bad form to shit where you eat, Otis. I know you know that.” He stepped outside and closed the door on Otis’ protest. As Faro, he did his job and he did it well.
Outside in the main area, the marshal was nowhere in sight. Syren stood for a second, trying to catch Lisa’s attention as she worked the bar. When she looked up, he gave her a smile and a wave. She reciprocated and Syren laughed out loud. With one last nod he turned and walked out. Halfway down the staircase a hand landed on his shoulder. Syren froze in place, his body tense.
“Don’t know who you are,” Syren spoke without looking around, “but you must be braver than the average to put your hands on me.”
The pressure on his shoulder disappeared. “I wanted to know if you’ve seen this man.”
Oh goodie. The marshal.
Syren swung around. Kane Ashby stood there with an eyebrow raised and a hand holding up a photograph. Syren squinted.
“Really? Because you couldn’t do this back at the bar where there’s actual light?”
Ashby lifted a shoulder. “You were busy ogling the bartender.”
“Jealous much?” Syren jerked his chin toward the photo of a man in a dark hoodie and sagging jeans, swastikas tattooed on his shaved head. “Missing boyfriend?”
A muscle in the other man’s jaw ticked. “Have you seen him?”
“First, I don’t know who you are, mister.” Syren actually liked the way Ashby’s eyes grew smaller the more he frowned. He swallowed a laugh. “Second, I don’t get involved in lovers’ quarrels.”
Ashby huffed out a breath and closed his eyes. “I’m a Federal Marshal.” He opened his eyes, pinning Syren to the floor with a hard stare. “His name is Anton Radcliffe and he’s wanted for multiple murders.” He thrust the picture back in Syren’s face and shook it. “Now, he’s a regular customer here so I ask again, have you seen him?”
Syren decided Kane Ashby had a decent sort of voice and he’d like to hear it again. He cocked his head to the side and eyed Ashby up and down. “You got any proof?”
Confusion slid across Ashby’s face. “Huh?”
Oh, speechless. He liked that.
“Proof of what?” Ashby asked.
“Yeah, you know.” Syren smiled. “Proof that you are who you say you are.”
“Christ,” Ashby muttered under his breath and fumbled in his pockets. “Here.” He shoved his badge at Syren. “My badge.”
Syren chuckled. “Well yeah, I can see that. Got a card or something?”
Ashby rolled his eyes but produced a card with just his name and a phone number. Syren snatched it and slid it inside his jacket pocket.
“Extremely.” Syren turned and continued descending the stairs, talking as he did. “Listen, Marshal, thanks for the card. I’ll be sure to let you know if I see your guy around here.”
Syren chuckled all the way back to the hotel. Once inside his room he dialed a number. The phone rang twice.
“Anton Radcliffe.” He spelled out the name as he shrugged off his jacket. “Find him.”
“Who is he?”
Syren searched out the pack of cigarettes he kept in his pocket for emergencies and brought one to his lips. “The marshals want him for murder.” He struck a match and watched the tiny flame dance. “I want him first.”