Hellion Club Prequel by Aiden Bates
Pete took a deep breath and looked up at the building his client had just finished renovating. Not to put too fine a point on it, but he hated it. He hated the Gothic-type roof and its ridiculous dormers. He hated the arches. He hated the decorative patterns on the facade. Pete just hated it.
He didn’t mind old buildings, but 1910 wasn’t old. Maybe it was old for New York, but a place like this was barely a century old. There were people still alive in this city who were older than the stupid building. Okay, so this Cunningham guy had gutted the old dump and put in real, modern wiring. Didn’t that mean he’d also stripped out any remaining charm? Didn’t people buy into these places for the “charm” of the pre-war buildings?
Pete liked his old buildings old. He liked houses with floors on which Alexander Hamilton himself could have walked, or Jefferson. Lincoln, if that was the best he could do, but while Lincoln was certainly an outstanding statesman and American he was dangerously young. If Pete couldn’t get a truly old building, and those were rare in New York, he’d rather just go for modern. He liked glass and steel, sleek concrete and eye-watering drops.
This in-between stuff was for the birds.
Still, this was his life now. He had an income from the agency, sure, but how was he supposed to explain living in New York without having a job? His agency allowance was enough to let him live in New York, but it wasn’t enough for him to have much of a life. And Pete wasn’t exactly the “creepy recluse watching the city move by” type. So he decorated other people’s homes, and they paid him, and at least once a week he wondered if he’d made the right choice.
He headed into the lobby and announced himself to the doorman, who yawned. Pete didn’t think he would have had a lot of interest in the job either. Sure, it was rude to sit there and yawn in people’s faces, but he couldn’t exactly blame the guy. At least the doorman did call Cunningham, and did buzz him through. “Sixteen-B,” he said with a sniff.
“Got it.” Pete headed for the elevators. “Thanks for your help.”
The elevators looked original to the building, which made Pete remember the prayers he thought he’d forgotten back in grade school. Once it started moving, he realized it was just a very clever recreation. Whoever had designed the thing had clearly wanted the building to look as original as possible, but he hadn’t skimped on convenience or safety.
The sixteenth floor had two apartments. Pete walked up to the one with the elegant brass “B” on the door and knocked. Would his client be old, like the last developer he’d had to deal with? Young, like his last client? Some smug, self-satisfied jerk like his ex?
The man who answered the door stood about six feet tall. He had steely gray eyes, which lit up when he turned toward Pete. He would have been handsome. Pete would have been flattered, if not for the green-and-gold plaid suit he wore over a body suit representing all of the internal organs.
“That’s me.” Cunningham held out a hand. “You must be Pete DeAngelis.”
Pete shook it, gingerly. With an outfit like that, he couldn’t be sure the hand wouldn’t deglove itself or something. “That’s me.” It had been a couple of years by now. He’d gotten used to the new last name. “Are you ready to get started?”
Cunningham’s responding grin was warm and effusive. “I’m beyond ready. You know, I’ve spent so much time looking at the inside of this space, and I can’t think of a damn thing to do with it. You’d think I’d have a few ideas, but no. I just mostly want it to not look like my dads’ place.”
Pete nodded slowly as he walked into the empty condo. It was a good sized place, as befit the owner unit of a building like this. Some of the rooms had odd shapes or sizes, and some had exposed brick, but Pete could work with that. “It has a lot of light,” he mused. A familiar scent piqued his interest. “You obviously had the walls painted recently. Did you pick white to have a fresh palate to start with, or because it wouldn’t clash with anything in your wardrobe?”
Cunningham laughed. “You got me. I like white. It reflects the light best, I think. It makes the room look open. I know it’s not necessarily authentic to the original building, but neither are some of the green features we put in either.”
Pete laughed in spite of himself. He wouldn’t have thought a guy dressed like that would know the first thing about interiors or color choice, but appearances could be deceiving. “Okay, I can work with that. What features of your fathers’ home don’t you want to see here?”
“Any of them.” Cunningham’s jaw tightened for a second. “They’ve got a place on the Upper West Side, it’s this huge old pile and they keep it pretty authentic to the original. It’s dark, no matter what kind of lighting you use and what time of day it is. It’s kind of gross if you ask me, which they should have. It’s an old family place. I’m going to sell it to the cheeto-looking guy as soon as they kick off, and he’ll tear it down and replace it with a hideous gold-plated tower and I won’t care one bit.”
Pete shuddered. “Nothing’s that ugly.”
“You don’t know my dads.” Cunningham grinned brightly. “So do you think you can work with this?”
Pete looked around. “Oh, of course. I’m thinking you want comfort, a bit of elegance, and a whole lot of white. Am I right?”
“Perfectly.” Cunningham smiled and stuffed his hands into his pockets. “All right then. I’ve got a contract on the kitchen counter. If you don’t mind, I’m closing on some lower-income properties in the Bronx. I can’t wait to fix those suckers up. I’ve had my eye on them for years, but the landlord wouldn’t budge. They’re going to take a lot of work, but it’s worth it, you know? By the time I’m done, no one’s going to know they’re Affordable Housing.” He rubbed his hands together.
Pete stared after him. He had no idea what Cunningham could mean by that, but knew he’d find out.
Keegan grinned all the way out to the Barton Gardens complex. His new interior decorator was something special. More than that, he was hot. Tall and slim, with long, wavy dark hair and piercing blue eyes, he stood out as one of the prettiest guys Keegan had ever met. Keegan knew a lot of pretty guys. Hell, he had his pick of pretty guys at the Hellion Club, any time he wanted one.
Pete DeAngelis was different.
And yeah, DeAngelis was different because no part of his job involved flirting with Keegan. That was probably part of the appeal to be quite honest. If Keegan was going to earn his affection, he would have to actually work for it. It was a pipe dream anyway, Keegan was far too busy to sit around hounding some poor omega to accept his love and affection or whatever, but it gave him something to smile about on his way out to the Bronx.
Barton Gardens had been a dump when Keegan first set his sights on the complex. The landlord hadn’t done much to it since then. Now the old man was gone, and his heirs couldn’t wait to sell to that dumb sucker Cunningham. The old man had been at least nominally religious. Keegan wasn’t, but he wished he could take comfort in the idea of the bastard facing some kind of final judgement right now.
Ty met him at the entrance to the community room. The kid looked like a funeral director. Keegan understood that his firm was most kindly described as “stuffier than a turkey on Thanksgiving,” but would it kill Ty to use a little bit of color?
“I see you’re taking this seriously.” Ty looked Keegan up and down, lips puckered in disapproval.
“You’re going to get wrinkles if you keep doing that.” Keegan tossed his little brother his best devil-may-care grin. “Has the Tenants’ Association shown up?”
“They even brought crowbars.” At least Ty stopped making that face that made him look like he was sucking on a lemon. “Are you sure you don’t want to bring the police in for safety?”
“I’m sure. Once I’ve told them what I’m going to tell them, I think they’ll be a little less hostile.” He headed inside, Ty right on his heels.
When he walked into the community room, he immediately regretted involving Ty at all. Sure, Ty was an adult and all that, but Keegan was the big brother and Ty’s alpha until he found one of his own. It was Keegan’s job to take care of Ty and keep him safe until a quality guy showed up to take that role on. While Keegan still had confidence in his mission and the rightness of what he was going to do, he’d seriously underestimated the hostility of the crowd.
There wasn’t anything he could do about it now, though. He ignored the knot in his stomach and pushed through. “Hi, everyone. I’m Keegan Cunningham, President and Managing Partner of Cunningham Properties LLP. As most of you know, I purchased Barton Gardens about a month ago, and the deal closed a few days ago.”
A murmur ran through the crowd. Most of the tenants were women, primarily women of color. All of them were angry. Keegan would be angry too, if this was him. “One more slumlord here to squeeze us dry!” shouted a woman with a heavy accent in the back.
Keegan managed a grin. “I can see why you’d think that. You don’t have any reason to think otherwise. First things first - effective on the first day of the month, all of you will see a reduction in your rent. The amount is going to be determined by a formula administered by my handsome and charming attorney here.” Ty waved.
“Second, all of you had your homes inspected as part of the purchase process. I apologize for that. I know it wasn’t exactly fun for you, but it’s a normal part of purchasing any piece of real estate and I needed to know exactly what I was taking on. Most of these buildings are close to being condemned, but that’s not any secret to any of you.” He looked around and met a few of the tenants’ eyes. “I’m renovating every unit, every building, but my priority has to go to the units that are in the worst shape. So Ms. Suarez, I know your sink is dripping. I’m going to get to it. But the floor under Mr. Carmody’s bathroom is squishy, and I don’t want his toilet to land on the crib underneath. So…”
A few people chuckled. Keegan warmed up a little, and the knot in his stomach unclenched. “There are going to be some inconveniences. And I’m sorry. I’m not evicting anyone, and I’m not moving in a bunch of rich folks to gentrify the neighborhood. This is always going to be your space, okay? My lawyer has drawn up documents ensuring that this complex will stay in this income bracket for as long as the law can demand. I’m going to get maintenance training for some of you so you can be building supers, for which you will be paid. And we’re going to make sure that your homes are livable, and comfortable, and someplace you can be proud to call home.”
Keegan huffed out a little laugh. “There’s no catch.” He tugged at his collar. “I’ll be honest. I’ve had my eye on this place for a long time. I had a friend who used to live here. He went to my school, got tetanus from a rusty nail and died on vacation. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time, in honor of Juan, but the old owner wouldn’t sell.” Ty put a hand on Keegan’s back, giving him strength.
A few people in the crowd nodded. “You’ll keep us posted?” a younger woman with a scar on her face asked.
“He will.” Ty stood up a little straighter. “Any changes will be communicated in writing, in English and in Spanish, as far in advance as circumstances allow. There may be emergency situations that don’t allow for much advance notice, but every effort will be made.” He held up a stack of cards. “If there are any problems in that regard, call me or him directly. We’ll make it right.”
The tenants murmured quietly amongst themselves, and Keegan and Ty were able to leave without having to call for reinforcements. Keegan was in almost as good a mood when he left as he was when he’d shown up.
The next time Pete saw Keegan Cunningham they met in a bar and his tailored silk suit was printed with flamingoes. His dress shirt matched in bright flamingo pink, and he’d gone so far as to wear a flamingo charm necklace around his neck in lieu of a tie. Pete wondered if he was signing his own death warrant by being seen in public with this guy, but then again no one would notice Pete. Everyone’s eyes would be on Cunningham and his atrocious flamingo suit.
“So,” Pete began, averting his eyes. “I’ve ordered everything you should need. Delivery of furniture should start on Thursday, and I’ll bring fixtures and decor by once the big stuff has been delivered. Does this work for you?”
“You bet. And once that’s done, I won’t be crashing at my brother’s place anymore?”
“Is that what you’ve been doing?” Pete bit his lip to stop himself from asking the obvious question.
“Yeah. It’s nice of Ty to let me crash and all that, but let’s be real. Ty is about as exciting as tapioca. He’s a good kid, and his heart’s about as untarnished as a lawyer’s heart can be, but oh my God he’s boring. He gets up. He goes to work. He comes home. Lather, rinse, repeat.” He rolled those expressive eyes of his. “He’s got cats, for crying out loud.”
“Not a fan of his cats. They hate me. He’s got this one ornery evil thing, Sekhmet, who draws blood on every human she meets except for him. He’s had her since he was a kid, rescued her from death row.” He made a face. “She’s a killer, I’m telling you.” Keegan grimaced and took a gulp from his drink, like it could fortify him against the ordeal to come.
Pete made himself relax. “My ex hated cats too.” Talking about Dmitry would help push his growing attraction to Keegan down, right? That was how these things were supposed to work, anyway. “I don’t have strong opinions about them either way, but my condo association isn’t a big fan of pets so they’re not an issue.”
“And that’s a good thing. And I don’t hate cats. My brother’s cats hate me.” He scrawled something down on his napkin in some kind of chicken scratch Pete couldn’t read.
“Is that even in English?” Pete scratched his head.
“It is.” Keegan waved a hand. “My ideas flow too quickly for me to worry about petty things like legibility. No, I just wanted to make sure I don’t put in pet restrictions in the renovated units over at Barton Gardens. I want the tenants to be able to live a nice life. They don’t have much money, but everyone deserves to be able to live a decent life, you know?”
Damn it, why did Keegan have to be like this? Why couldn’t he have a personality to match his terrible clothes? Handsome, funny, and renovating dilapidated low-income housing with the tenants’ joy in mind. Why couldn’t Pete have met him ten years ago? “I guess. It’s your complex.”
Keegan grinned. “You know what? It is. Anyway, I know you design apartments and condos and stuff. How do you feel about designing common spaces for buildings like that? You know, like the community room, the rental office, the hallways and the elevator areas and all that.”
Pete blinked. Keegan had the attention span of a gnat on a sugar high. “Um, I’ve done a few public areas. It’s not something I’ve done a lot of, but I’m certainly capable of it.”
“Awesome. I’m going to have to redo all of the public spaces in these buildings. I want them to be safe, and I want them to look nice. I want my tenants to feel comfortable going into these places, and not like they’re about to be shot or something.”
“Those will be harder to do, and we’ll have to make some structural changes there. But I’m pretty sure if I can get windows into the stairwell we can make them a hell of a lot safer for everyone.” Keegan didn’t hesitate.
“Show me your proposal and your budget, and I’ll tell you what I can pull off for that kind of money. It won’t be gold plated or anything, but it’ll be something I think your tenants will like.” Pete ducked his head. “It’s nice you have so much confidence in my abilities when I haven’t finished your place yet.”
Keegan chuckled. “I’ve seen your design. I’ve seen the receipts. Unless you somehow substitute some ghastly thing my brother would wear for the things you actually ordered it should all be good.”
Pete raised his eyebrows. “Maybe I secretly ordered a flamingo print couch.”
Keegan winced. “Oooh, I hope you didn’t do that. I like the birdies for a day or so, but I have to change it up. I’ve got to be free, man. I’ve got to express myself, unfurl my wings a bit.”
“I can see that.” Pete toyed with his drink. He tried not to drink much these days, as a general rule. The agency said he was as safe as safe could be, but that didn’t make getting blitzed a great idea. Otherwise, he might say too much. He could well reach out and touch, too, and Keegan was a client. That would just be inappropriate.
Knowing it would be inappropriate and not wanting to do it anyway were two very different things.
“We can head over to the Gardens maybe tomorrow, if you’re free. I’ll show you my plans and the space as it exists now, and we’ll see where it leads us.” Keegan lifted his glass. “To the beginnings of a beautiful partnership.”
Pete couldn’t very well turn away from that. “To us,” he said, and smiled.
They finished their drinks, and Pete headed home after that. He would be content with a professional partnership. It was all he could afford.
Keegan knew a lot of people thought he was pretty stupid. He might have even taken steps to ensure people made that assumption. He hadn’t started dressing oddly to make people think he’d replaced part of his brain with tater tots, but when he saw how much he got away with as a result he’d eaten it up. The drinking was another part of his ruse. His tolerance was obscene, better even than most alphas, but people watched him sink drink after drink and wrote him off. They told him all kinds of things, figuring he wouldn’t remember any of it.
Then he blew them out of the water, come morning. They never saw it coming.
He spent a lot of time observing people. He understood them pretty well, and he knew the signals they gave off. He was ninety percent sure Pete was into him, but Pete wasn’t doing anything about it. Pete got that blush in his cheeks when he looked at Keegan, and he always smiled even when Keegan was at his corniest. His stunning blue eyes lit up whenever he saw Keegan, too, and that counted for a lot.
But he didn’t say anything. He didn’t so much as reach out and put a hand on Keegan’s arm. It was frustrating beyond words. Pete probably had his reasons, though. Maybe he had a boyfriend. Maybe he was already married - he didn’t have a ring, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything. Plenty of guys just didn’t like jewelry. Maybe he just had a lot of baggage and didn’t want to be bothered with the whole dating thing.
Keegan was curious, sure. He’d love to know exactly what was going on in that gorgeous head of Pete’s, but he refused to obsess over it. If Pete wanted him to know, Pete would open his mouth and use his words like an adult. In the meantime, Keegan had things to do. He had a brother to watch over, Lord knew no one else was going to help the poor kid out, and the Hellion Club’s finances weren’t going to sort themselves out.
He headed over to the club after finishing up at Barton Gardens on Tuesday afternoon and headed into the management office. Not too many people here knew he had a key. Most members knew, at least peripherally, that Keegan was on the Finance Committee. They’d voted him in unanimously, probably as a joke.
Only other Committee members knew he was the chair.
He sat down and dug into the accounts. They had a bookkeeper, a professional, to take care of the day to day operations. They had a CPA firm to deal with taxes and audits. Keegan’s job, or part of Keegan’s job, was to oversee all of that. When he’d taken over, their finances had been a mess. They hadn’t had a bookkeeper or a CPA firm. They’d had a ninety-seven year old Hellion who alternated between thinking they were still fighting WWII and wanting to bury all of their assets in a backyard that had long since been eminent domained for the Interstate. For all the wealth in their membership and the opulence of their decor, the Hellion Club had been about to lose its lease.
Things were much more stable now, but Keegan didn’t think it was good to get complacent. He checked the accounts every day. Today everything seemed to be in decent working order, so he could feel free to go about his business and relax.
He stretched and headed out into the main club room. At this time of day most of the members present were older. The younger folks would get here later. The omega servers and dancers made their rounds all the same, though. The older folks still tipped, although not as well, and they weren’t always as aggressive with their attentions.
He headed up to the bar and ordered a martini. The bartender, Oliver, did a double take. “Are you feeling okay?” He was a pretty young guy, with abs Keegan could scrub clothes on. “Usually you order something challenging.”
Keegan huffed out a laugh. “Yeah, I guess I’m in the mood for something a little more restrained today.”
“Put all your effort into the wardrobe today?” Oliver winked and set about fixing Keegan’s martini. “Not that it’s a bad look, mind you. Not everyone can rock disco sequins, but you manage.”
Keegan laughed. “Subtle. I like it. Keep throwing that subtle shade and you’ll go far in life, my friend. No, I was just thinking of someone.”
Oliver wisely didn’t say anything. He just passed Keegan his drink and moved on to the next customer.
Keegan didn’t have time for witty repartee anyway, as it turned out. One of the younger members showed up not long after Keegan got his martini, and he hadn’t come to party. Gavin Kellogg, the drummer for the band Riot Dogs, stormed into the club room and made a beeline for his manager. He grabbed his manager by his lapels and hauled him to his feet, ignoring the conversation he’d been having with another older alpha. “I told you to keep your filthy paws off of him!” Kellogg roared.
Keegan slid off his barstool and ambled over to the scene, even as the rest of the late afternoon crowd gaped. When the Hellion Club had first been established, this kind of thing had been commonplace. Now, it was cause for alarm. No one would know how to intervene anymore, not without making a bigger mess.
Keegan put his hand on Kellogg’s back. The manager, whose name Keegan never could remember, had gone pale, but he scowled back up at Keegan and at his assailant. “Simon is mine,” he spat. “He signed the contract.”
Ah, geez. Unfortunately, Club rules established exactly two criteria for membership. Men had to be alphas, and they had to be filthy stinking rich. They didn’t have to be good people. “Look,” Keegan said, speaking softly into Kellogg’s ear. “You can’t beat the snot out of him in the club room. Then you’re the one who gets kicked out, and you’ve got no recourse. Plus you wind up in jail, which is a sucky place to be.”
Kellogg curled his lip. “He’s forcing himself on my lead singer.”
Keegan grinned. “Not just your lead singer, if I’m reading this right. But hey, who’s keeping track, right? Maybe you guys haven’t actually gone there? And it ain’t my business, but dude, it’s the twenty-first century and we don’t own omegas anymore.” He turned to the manager. “Or sign contracts like that.” He reached out and carefully disengaged Kellogg’s hands from the manager’s clothes. “If you’re going to fight about it, take it to the Ring. Otherwise, talk to the guy with the pipes like normal people.”
The manager fell to the ground, while the drummer stood over him. “Get in the ring, you son of a bitch. You have ten minutes.”
“I’m not fighting you.” The manager used a chair to haul himself to his feet. “I have a contract!”
“I’m guessing you’ll find your contract ain’t worth the paper it’s written on, if it requires sexual services. We can double check with a lawyer though.” Keegan let his grin go wolfish. “What do you say, boys? Anyone want to go to bat for this guy, or do I call someone in?”
Everyone knew who he’d call. Ty hadn’t been a member of the bar for long, but he worked for a firm of well-known bastards and he was making a big name for himself.
“Go get your boy,” Keegan told the drummer. “Call my brother. Ty will take it from there.” He patted Kellogg on the back and went back to his martini.
It was going to be a long day, but thinking of Ty’s look of irritation when he heard about Keegan offering up his services would make it all worthwhile.
Pete met Keegan at a bar near Murray Hill, which wasn’t particularly close to his apartment. He couldn’t say for sure why Keegan wanted to meet here, but Pete had been working with Keegan long enough by now to realize that Keegan did things for reasons of his own. They didn’t necessarily make sense to anyone else and they didn’t have to.
Pete kind of liked it. He didn’t want to. He didn’t think he should. But he liked it. He’d had to forget a lot of his old fun, frolicsome ways after he’d left Damian, along with his old name and his old habits. He understood why he had to do that, but he missed being able to just relax, cut loose, and have some fun. He wished he could just sit back and relax, and enjoy himself the way Keegan seemed to.
Not everyone seemed to appreciate Keegan’s joie de vivre. Pete and Keegan hadn’t been seated for more than ten minutes before a third man stalked in. He wore a bland suit in dark gray, with a lighter gray dress shirt, and a teal tie. Pete couldn’t figure out who the guy was supposed to be, but he was absolutely pissed at Keegan.
“You,” the stranger said to Keegan, “owe me.” He enunciated slowly and clearly, so that no one could possibly mistake his meaning.
Keegan chortled. Pete had previously thought the term “chortle” was an anachronism, something creative writing teachers railed against now, but the sound coming out of Keegan’s mouth right now could only be termed a chortle. “I take it Riot Dogs showed up?”
“As a matter of fact they did.” The uptight stranger sat primly in a chair and ordered a Manhattan. “They not only showed up, but the guitarist - his name is Beagle, in case you’re curious - was still drunk from two days ago and threw up in one of the office potted plants. The bassist curled up under the receptionist’s desk and went to sleep, which would have been less traumatic for her if he didn’t growl and bark while napping like some kind of adorable flea-ridden pit bull, and your friend Gavin whipped out his meat and threatened to urinate all over Mr. Clarke’s office if he didn’t get ‘his omega’ out from under a contract to ‘that son of a bitch’ right now.”
Pete covered his mouth to hide his snicker. He didn’t want to offend whoever this guy was, and he was pretty sure that the situation was a lot funnier since it wasn’t happening to him. Keegan was just giving the stranger a cheesy grin. “Sounds like them. I only really know Gavin, though.”
“One of your Hellion Club buddies.” The intruder spoke through gritted teeth. “I should have known.”
“Probably. But hey, you can always charge him double now.”
“Keegan, as soon as he mentioned your name the firm was going to charge him double. That’s just standard with your ‘sales.’” The fussy little man used air quotes. “After that mess? Triple, plus a surcharge to replace the plant and have the carpet flea-bombed.”
“Come on, little bro. I don’t think Pitty Love has actual fleas.”
“Tell that to Janice. Who found the fleas crawling on her leg, I should add.”
Keegan looked and sounded unbothered, in spite of his words. “I don’t see what you’re complaining about. You still get credit for all of this new business. Pete, this is my little brother Ty. Ty, this is Pete DeAngelis, he’s working with me on some interiors over at the Gardens and a couple of other projects.”
“Please tell me you’re not letting him choose the fabrics.”
This time Pete didn’t bother to hide his laughter. “No, no. I value my reputation. I have a budget guideline and the rest is all me.” He looked from brother to brother. “So you’re actually related?”
Ty made a grumpy face. “Allegedly. I still want a DNA test.”
“And I still think our dads found you under a cabbage patch.” Keegan looked up as the server delivered their drinks. “So how are things coming with the paperwork for the Gardens?”
“They’ve raised a few eyebrows from the City housing department, but there’s nothing illegal about them.” Ty shrugged and took a gulp from his drink. “If there was anything illegal about being weird you’d have been locked up for life a long time ago, Keegan.” Ty’s phone went off, but he ignored it.
“I thought you lawyer types were married to your phones.” Keegan frowned at him.
“We are. But Beau’s been going on about some guy, and he hasn’t stopped calling me since like ten this morning. I’m so done already and we haven’t even met.”
“Can’t you just tell him no?” Pete scratched his head.
“Like that would stop him. For all I know Beau would just show up on my doorstep with this guy in tow. Pierrick. His name is Pierrick. The third investment banker Beau’s tried to fix me up with this year.” He shook his head. “Anyway, we’re not here to talk about that. I’ve got some papers for you to sign, Keegan. Do you still have a stake in that office building down on Wall Street?”
“I sold it last month, don’t you remember? You were the lawyer.”
“They all run together, to be honest. It was the right time to get out. A foreign company just bought the main tenant out, and they’re shutting it down. You’d be stuck with a lot of empty space.” His phone rang again, and he tossed back the rest of his drink before looking at it. “Duty calls, I’m afraid. It was nice meeting you, Pete, but it looks like one of my clients got locked up again. I’d better go and take care of this. I’ll see you around.”
Pete watched Ty go. “That’s really your brother?” Ty was like a whirlwind, not sitting in one place for more than ten minutes.
Keegan snorted and swirled his drink around in his glass. “Yeah. Yeah, that’s him. Mr. Big Shot lawyer right there.”
“Nah, he’s just short. He’s twenty-six. But they work him like a dog at that firm. He never did have the first idea how to sit back and take it easy, though.” Keegan smirked. “Or how to dress.”
“On having fun?” Keegan winked. “Hell yeah.”
Pete met his eyes, and it wasn’t the booze making him warm like that. Getting together with Keegan in any way would be a terrible idea.
He knew he would do it anyway.
Keegan couldn’t have put his finger on exactly what changed over the past month, to take Pete from sure, this alpha’s not hard on the eyes to let’s go back to his place. Maybe he’d jettisoned whatever baggage held him back before. Maybe Pete wasn’t the kind of guy to go home with a guy on the first date or whatever. Maybe he was just sick of looking at Keegan’s terrible suits and wanted them off, which was half the reason Keegan wore them in the first place.
Whatever Pete’s reasons, Keegan wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. He called for a Lyft and they headed back to Keegan’s place right away. Keegan didn’t think about asking to go back to Pete’s. He liked the place Pete had designed for him and he didn’t feel a strong need to go elsewhere.
Pete didn’t spend a lot of time admiring his handiwork once they got to Keegan’s place. He bent his head and devoured Keegan’s mouth, taking the lead in a way Keegan rarely saw with omegas. He tasted like gin and like winter - brightly decorated shop windows, the scent of roasting cashews, and the promise of a quick warm-up and a delightful gift in just a few moments.
He ran his fingers through Pete’s long, dark hair, just as he’d wanted to do for a month. It was just as soft and thick as he’d imagined. Pete let out a little sigh right into Keegan’s mouth, and Keegan pulled back with a chuckle. “You like that, huh?”
“I’ve always liked having my hair played with.” Pete ducked his head a little, but he didn’t try to hide his face or anything like that. “It’s kind of a thing, I guess. Is it weird?”
“No. Not at all.” He pulled Pete’s face back down to his and licked his way back into his willing mouth, guiding him back toward the master bedroom all the while.
He ran his hands along Pete’s lean sides. He wallowed in the heat of his body even through his clothes. How much better would it feel when he got them off? He slipped a hand under Pete’s sweater and let his fingers taste Pete’s silky-smooth skin underneath. “Is this okay?”
“It’s perfect. It’s the whole point.” To emphasize his meaning, Pete pulled his sweater over his head. It was such a simple gesture, but perfectly graceful at the same time.
Keegan grinned and got rid of his own jacket and shirt. He wasn’t as graceful as Pete, but he could admit he was probably biased at this point. Pete had every beauty and every grace in his willowy body, with tight, compact muscles and a long torso Keegan just wanted to run his tongue down for days.
Pete wasn’t going to give him time to do that, though. He was already getting rid of his pants, and Keegan couldn’t see anything else right now. “My God you’re beautiful.” He couldn’t think of any flowery words right now, or even any snarky comments. All he could think about was the gorgeous man in front of him.
Pete was eager to get right down to business, but Keegan wasn’t that kind of lover. For him, that showed an appalling callousness on the part of the alpha or top. He could see that that Pete was hard, but he wanted Pete to be absolutely starving for it by the time he slipped inside of him. He wanted this to be more than a transaction for them. He wanted them to do more than just get off. He wanted them to remember this night, even if they never did it again.
He mouthed his way along Pete’s collarbone, and he teased Pete’s nipples. Pete definitely seemed to like that, gasping like no one had ever done that for him before. When Keegan slunk lower on Pete’s body and wrapped his lips around Pete’s cock, that was definitely a revelation to the beautiful omega. Keegan could have cried at the thought that no one had ever done this for him before, and maybe he would later. Right now, he was too busy rectifying that gross oversight.
He swallowed everything Pete had to give, and kept right at at it until Pete was soft. Only then did he let Pete slip from his lips and reach for the lube and condoms. His own erection throbbed painfully, but Keegan knew the value of patience. It had clearly been a while for Pete, because Keegan had to work to open him up even though he was clearly relaxed and happy.
He worked his way into Pete with short, shallow thrusts and gave him a minute to adjust. That was the hardest part. The hot, tight walls of Pete’s body pressed in on him, driving his need past the point where he thought a rational man could survive. Only the fact that this was Pete, a guy who’d clearly never been properly taken care of before, held him back.
When Pete told him to move, in a breathless and shaky voice, Keegan let go. He snapped his hips back and drove back into Pete. Pete’s pale skin glistened with sweat as he looked up at Keegan, eyes wide and mouth a perfect “o” of amazement.
Keegan knew he was getting close. He reached between them and found that Pete’s cock had taken an interest in the proceedings again, so he wrapped his hand around it and gave a few tugs. That was all it took, and Pete came again with a strangled cry. When Keegan felt him clench around him, he couldn’t hold out any longer. He let go too, and collapsed onto Pete’s sweaty chest.
He picked himself up to get rid of the condom and clean them both up. Apparently he’d done well, because Pete startled when Keegan touched him with the wet cloth. “Wow,” Pete said with a smile. “That was… beyond what I expected.”
Keegan glowed and climbed into bed beside Pete. He knew some guys who were so confident in their own prowess that they didn’t need to hear that kind of thing, but they weren’t the kind of guys who had a lot of interest in the omegas involved. His brother’s ex had been like that.
“I’m glad. I had fun too.” He took Pete into his arms and stroked his long, dark hair. “We’ll have to do it again. Maybe not tonight though. I’m not eighteen anymore.”
Pete chuckled and nuzzled Keegan’s chest as he drifted off to sleep. Keegan wasn’t far behind, but just before he gave in to the darkness he noticed some patches of even lighter skin on Pete’s back. Was it his imagination or were those scars from tattoo removal?
Pete knew he shouldn’t have given in to his desires when it came to Keegan. On the one hand, Keegan was everything Pete’s ex wasn’t. He was funny. He was charming. He was affectionate, he wasn’t controlling at all, and he didn’t seem to feel a need to put a label on their relationship. He didn’t press for information, either.
They did have one conversation about the past, the day after their first sexual encounter. Apparently Keegan noticed the old tattoos, or where the tattoos had been once upon a time. His comment was off-hand, made in the shower while he washed Pete’s hair. “So what, did you get sick of your old tats or did you realize the one of Taz peeing on a Chevy logo was just gauche?”
Pete thought he might have been having a heart attack, but he played it cool. He had to keep it cool. Standing in the shower while you got your hair washed by the greatest lover you’d ever had was not the place to talk about Witness Protection. There wasn’t ever an appropriate place to talk about Witness Protection.
“State secrets,” he told Keegan with a wink.
Keegan just laughed, and he kept massaging Pete’s scalp like it made him happy to do it. “Whatever,” he said, and gave him a peck on the cheek. “If you got the tattoo removed it’s probably not something you want to go advertising anyway, right?” And that was it.
If Pete had gone to the Creator - God, the Wizard, some other kind of omnipotent being - with a list of attributes for a perfect husband, knowing what he knew now, the Creator would have given him Keegan. That was part of the problem, and Pete’s handler was the first one to point that out when Pete brought him up at their next check-in. “How well do you know this guy?” Marshal Copeland asked him with a smirk. “You know what he does for a living, but not where his money came from. Have you met his family?”
“No. Well, I met a brother. He’s a wound a little tight. Tyler Cunningham.”
“Okay, well, I’ve at least heard of him. He’s making a name for himself as an attorney, and quickly, too. But this guy, this Keegan, and the rest of them, you don’t know. I can tell you he comes from money, old money, and his father’s a dirtbag slumlord.” Copeland shrugged. “Here’s the thing, they’re exactly the kind of people who would advertise if their precious alpha son went out and got married or something.”
Pete rubbed at his face. “It’s way too early to think about that, seriously, but that would be a major problem.”
“You think?” Copeland snorted. “Look. You’re an omega. You’ve got, er, drives, and stuff like that. I get it, sort of. I do. But you can’t just get attached like this. Your ex, Dmitry, he wasn’t on an island or something. That’s not how organized crime works.”
Pete rolled his eyes. “I know. I was there.” He stood up. “And I don’t want to get Keegan hurt, or put him in danger.”
“I respect that about you, Pete. Here’s the thing. Keegan Cunningham isn’t my problem. Keeping you safe is my job. You getting all tangled up with the Cunninghams would make my job harder, to the point where it would become nigh impossible. You feel me?” Copeland raised an eyebrow at him.
Pete did “feel” Copeland, intellectually anyway. The problem was that he also “felt” Keegan, intellectually, emotionally, and physically, and it was quickly becoming an addiction. He also worked with Keegan on a few projects, which would make disentangling their lives that much harder.
To complicate matters that much further, Pete picked up on increasing fatigue in himself about three weeks after he and Keegan started sleeping together. His sensitivity to smells increased, too, and he developed a strong aversion to any food with pork in it.
He’d never been all that paranoid when it came to pregnancy. He’d always figured if it happened, it happened. That had been before, before his marriage and everything that came with it. Dmitry had informed him, in no uncertain terms, that children were not an option. This is no life for babies, Piotr. Not that he’d been willing to take steps on his own to make sure he didn’t conceive, no. Pete had just known what would happen if he had any “happy accidents.”
And there hadn’t been, thank God. That didn’t mean condoms were any less of a roulette game then than they were now. The odds had just caught up with him, and he guessed it was better now than back in the day in San Fran. He wasn’t necessarily opposed to babies, as long as he could keep them safe.
That was an awfully big caveat, if he stopped to think about it.
He went out and got a pregnancy test, just to to confirm his suspicions. He wasn’t surprised when it came back positive.
He looked around his apartment. He had two bedrooms. It wasn’t a big space, but he could handle another person in his space. He could make this work, damn it. He could. And having a small space meant they wouldn’t accumulate a lot of stuff, which would mean less junk to pack up if Dmitry caught up to him and they needed to flee in the middl of the night or something.
Thank God, or whoever, for the Witness Protection program. He probably wouldn’t be able to afford any of this otherwise. Keegan could, but Pete couldn’t count on Keegan and not because there was anything wrong with the goofy alpha.
Copeland wouldn’t want him to say anything to Keegan at all, but that would be wrong. He had to tell Keegan eventually. He had the right to know. Pete just needed to find the right words.
Keegan kicked Ty’s shin under the table. He didn’t kick hard. He wasn’t trying to hurt his brother, not this time anyway. He just wanted to wake him up and take away some of the glazed look on the kid’s face. The kid was supposed to be a hotshot lawyer, he already had bad guys backing down at the mere thought of facing him in court. Why did he turn into a damn doughnut every time he walked into their dads’ house? It wasn’t natural or right.
Ty jumped a little and gave Keegan a pissy look. Keegan grinned, took a swig from the wine Beau had chosen for them tonight, and belched. Beau had probably spent a fortune on tonight’s wine. He’d almost certainly consulted with the wine snot at the Wine Gallery down near the art gallery downtown, the one with the pretty young alpha who worked there who had those washboard abs and not a spare penny to his name or a spare brain cell to his brain. Whatever, it wasn’t like Keegan gave a crap what Beau did in his spare time. At least he wouldn’t care if the wine wasn’t so awful.
“Try to listen, Tyler,” Beau snapped, and straightened his napkin so it was perfectly aligned with the edge of the table. “St. James will pick you up at seven tomorrow night —”
“No he won’t. I have a working dinner with the partner in charge of the Bodnar vs. Hummel case.” Ty poked at his food, shuddered, and put his fork down.
“Don’t interrupt, Tyler. St. James is a busy and important man. If he’s willing to make time to take you to dinner you will make yourself available to him.” Beau pointed at Ty with a crooked finger.
Keegan snorted. “St. James? Really? You don’t think that’s just a little bit pretentious? Besides, he already told you he’s got a work thing.”
“It’s not like he’ll be keeping the job when he and St. James get married.” Ed, Keegan and Ty’s alpha father, rumbled from the head of the table. “Come on, Keegan. It’s not like you’d let your omega keep a job, if you were ever to get married. Not that you would ever take that kind of responsibility onto yourself.”
“You wouldn’t want him to anyway. He obviously got every defective gene in both of our families.” Beau darted a vicious glare at Keegan. “Anyway, Tyler, St. James likes omegas in soft colors, so you’ll wear a nice pastel purple, I picked you out something —”
Keegan tuned them out. He had plenty of confidence in Ty’s ability to resist Beau’s importuning. Nothing got between Ty and his career, for better or worse.
When his phone buzzed with an incoming text, he made a show of pulling it out and looking at it. Sure, it was rude. So were his parents. Under other circumstances he’d probably behave better.
The text came from Pete, which put a massive smile on Keegan’s face. He hadn’t known Pete long, but he couldn’t get Pete out of his head. Was it love? That seemed a little unrealistic, considering the time frame. Could Keegan let it become love? He didn’t see why not.
Keegan frowned. I’m @ my parents’ place rn. Give me time to get home.
I don’t want to interrupt anything.
Gives me an excuse. Their wine sucks. Keegan stood up. “Well, I gots to go. Places to go, eyes to wreck, you know how it is.” He stretched and looked over at his brother. “Ty, want to share a Lyft?”
“Oh hell yes.” Ty jumped up so fast he almost knocked his wine glass over. That would have been a pity. The dining table was an antique and it would have been a shame to watch the swill corrode it. “Got to go, see you, bye.” He ran for the door before Keegan could even call for the ride.
“This isn’t over, Tyler!” Beau called. “You’d better be ready and waiting at your front door when St. James shows up for you!”
“Quit beating a dead horse, Beau.” Keegan opened the Lyft app. “He’s not going to be there, and you know it.” He headed out after Ty.
The Lyft dropped Ty off first and then Keegan. Keegan couldn’t say he minded. He wanted to talk to Ty about this St. James guy, but Ty wouldn’t have talked to him about it anyway. Besides, if Pete was sending “we need to talk” texts Keegan needed to focus on his own mess right now.
Pete showed up exactly an hour after his original text. The first thing Keegan noticed about his lover were his lips. They were chapped and raw from biting, and that wasn’t like Pete. Keegan grabbed Pete’s hand. “What’s wrong?” he asked, guiding him over to the bright white couch Pete had picked out.
“That obvious?” Pete threw him a self-deprecating grin. “Sorry. I don’t want to make you worry.”
“People who care about you are allowed to worry, Pete.” His cheeks felt hot, and he looked down. “Sorry. I don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable, but it’s not like I’ve been trying to hide it or anything.”
Pete blinked a few times. Keegan looked into Pete’s eyes, and when he saw the reflected shine of the light there he realized he was blinking back tears. He squeezed Keegan’s hand and took a deep breath. “There’s no easy way to say this. I’m pregnant.”
The world stopped. “Are you sure?” Keegan’s own voice sounded like it came from far away.
“Um.” Keegan tried to catch his breath. He knew the baby was his. He didn’t need to ask. “First of all, whatever you want to do, it’s your choice. I’m not going to try to pressure you or anything, either way. But, um. I think you’d be a great dad and you could only make beautiful babies, because you’re the kind of beautiful that only happens in statues or fine art or something, but I have to say my genes are not the best and I’m a little bit scared right now.” He bit his lip. “I’m babbling.”
In spite of his obvious nerves, Pete laughed. “It’s okay, Keegan. I’m scared too. But we’ll figure it out.”
Pete had time to figure out what to do about the baby. After all, he still had eight months and change before it showed up. He did need to let Copeland know sooner rather than later, though, because Copeland needed to plan around the pregnancy and the baby in case he needed to escape. And Pete needed to warn Copeland he was going to tell Keegan about the program.
“I’m not going to tell him everything,” he said as they sat in Copeland’s office downtown. “I’m not. I get that’s dangerous and I don’t want to put him or anyone else in more danger than I have to. But he does need to understand why the kid and I might just disappear one day.”
“You could leave the kid with him and disappear.” Copeland folded his hands together. “That’s an option.”
Pete clutched at his chest. The thought of leaving Keegan made him want to throw up, which was a little much for the amount of time they’d been together but whatever. The thought of separating from his child, who was at this point still a collection of cells too small to be seen with the naked eye or even an ultrasound, made his chest physically hurt. “No. No way. Plus, Dmitry would just hurt the baby to get at me.” He sighed and rubbed at his wrist. There wasn’t anything wrong with it, not anymore, but it still ached when he thought about his ex-husband. “I probably should have gotten sterilized when I left Dmitry, but I was afraid to be vulnerable for so long. I’m looking forward to the baby, I am, but I’m scared.”
“You should be,” Copeland told him sourly. Then he softened. “Look. I’m sorry. This is a happy situation and I’m being a dick. The baby complicates things, but I am happy for you. But you’ve got to figure out what you want to do with this Cunningham guy.”
Pete did need to figure out what he wanted to do with Cunningham. He spent the next month figuring out what he wanted to do about the baby, and what he wanted to do about Keegan. He knew Keegan was thinking about the same thing, because his wretched wardrobe was so tame that he even wore gray clothes in public.
A month went by. Finally, Keegan brought Pete over for the weekend. He brought Pete breakfast in bed, with fruit and French toast and decaffeinated tea. “Look,” he said with a little smile. “I know there’s stuff you’re not telling me.”
Pete toyed with the blanket. “There’s an awful lot of stuff I’m not telling you.” He took a deep breath.
Keegan chuckled and took Pete’s hand. “I said it’s cool. There may come a time when you’re ready to tell me those things. And there may not. I’m okay with it. I don’t need you to confide every detail of your life in me just because we had a little incident with the condom, okay? I’m not that guy. Obviously, whatever it is has an effect on your decision.”
All of the tense muscles in Pete’s back, muscles he hadn’t even known he was clenching, released. “You’re not human. You’re a hallucination. It’s the only explanation for your awful wardrobe.”
Keegan looked down for a moment, a weird kind of grin on his face. Then he looked back up. “I’ll tell you a secret. Those clothes?”
“Yeah?” Pete leaned forward.
“So, my parents are kind of stuffy. And they have these ideas about what a ‘real alpha’ is, and a ‘real omega’ too. They wanted me to be some kind of soulless clone of my dad - a slumlord with nothing better to do with his time than flit around paying attention to money and myself. They’re awful snobs, too. They had an omega picked out for me by the time I was twelve, I swear to God. So I started doing this.” He gestured. “Wild, out there - I showed up to some idiotic thing at my dad’s country club with an actual peacock tail on.” He grinned widely, showing all of his teeth. “That’s why. And now it’s a habit. I’m a little terrified that whatever genes made them who they are will somehow creep into your perfect baby and I’ll accidentally give you a demon.”
Pete stroked his face. There was probably a lot more to it than just parents with weird expectations, but then again Pete didn’t come from money. He knew plenty of people who did, and a lot of them had similar tales. “I can’t tell you everything, but there are good reasons for that. And they’re not because I don’t trust you.” He kissed Keegan’s pale lips. “I’ve been married before. It didn’t go well.” He rubbed at his wrist.
Keegan was a smart man. “You’re in hiding.”
“I am. My divorce is legal and everything, but he’s not the kind of guy who cares. I can’t… I can’t do anything to attract attention to myself, Keegan. I can’t let him find me, I can’t let him come for you, and I definitely can’t let him find out about the baby.” He looked down at his flat stomach. “I don’t know the baby yet, but I love him. I can’t let anything hurt him.”
Pete expected Keegan to be mad about that, but he wasn’t. Instead, he smiled a brilliant and genuine smile. “Pete, honey, you’re singing my song. I’m not going to let anything happen to you. I’m not going to let anything happen to that baby.” He smirked. “Believe it or not, I love the little zygote too, even if it doesn’t have a face yet. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to keep you and the baby save.”
Pete bit his lip. “Even if it means I have to take the baby and run without a word?”
Pete wiped at his eyes. “I don’t deserve you.”
“You deserve better. But hey - I’m here, and you’ll never have to go into hiding from me. My peacock suit, on the other hand…”
Pete laughed, and Keegan stole his strawberry.
Keegan sighed with relief when he found out that Pete had a nasty ex-husband. It sucked, and the thought that his omega and the father of his child had to live in fear like that made him absolutely furious. It just wasn’t the worst possibility of all of the things that could have gone wrong for them.
He knew what he wanted, of course. He wanted to go out and rent St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He wasn’t Catholic, or religious at all, but it was a huge landmark church and he was flamboyant as hell, so it was a good match. Plus, Pete was the kind of guy who deserved to be celebrated. This ex, whatever his issues might be, had taken that from him. Keegan’s job was to give it back.
Keegan’s primary responsibility was to keep his omega safe. He didn’t buy into much of the old-school alpha and omega BS that Beau and Ed tried to lather onto him. Sure, there were some instincts that ran a little stronger, but not all instincts needed to be acknowledged. People had the instinct to relieve themselves in the street, too, that didn’t make it a good idea.
He did still acknowledge that he did have some responsibilities, as an alpha and as a man. It was his job to keep his man safe, and he knew Pete felt the same way about him.
That didn’t mean he was going to beat his chest and start following Pete around like some kind of nincompoop. That would be stupid, and while Keegan could more than hold his own in a fight he wasn’t exactly eager to bruise his knuckles that way. He might want to hunt the ex down and maybe rearrange the guy’s face in a few places, or make him look like a Picasso, but that wouldn’t be productive.
And how exactly was he supposed to support his family if he got his sorry ass sued for taking the first swing, anyway?
No, he had to do some out of the box thinking on this one. He had one asset he could call on, in the form of Ty. Ty was already overworked and he was justifiably cross about some of the cases Keegan had sent his way, so Keegan didn’t want to play that card if he didn’t have to. Plus, he couldn’t tell his brother anything about Pete’s situation without Pete’s specific permission.
Then there was the whole “Pete” thing. If he was in hiding, there was no way “Pete DeAngelis” was his real name. Pete was a smart guy, too smart to do something dumb like that. So Keegan couldn’t exactly have Ty look into his case if he didn’t, technically, know who Pete was.
It did occur to Keegan that he probably ought to be dismayed at the thought of having a baby with someone he didn’t technically know. He dismissed it. He knew enough. He knew Pete’s personality. He knew his work ethic. He knew his morals. He’d trust Pete over Ed and Beau any day.
That was another issue with bringing Ty in. Keegan trusted Ty. He did. Ty was, however, under an awful lot of pressure to settle down and give Ed and Beau the grandchildren they so desperately wanted. He might be tempted to let something slip in an effort to relieve the pressure. Not that he’d want to, of course, but Keegan understood how desperate he must be getting.
He could do something, though. Keegan dropped in on Ty on a Sunday afternoon, when he knew Ty would be sleeping off his week of excessive work and playing with his cats. Isis, the youngest of the cats, bit Keegan when he arrived, but Keegan didn’t take it personally. He was wearing a gold lamé disco suit, he’d probably bite himself if he hadn’t chosen it.
Ty looked over at him and shuddered, pulling a pillow over his head. “I’m having my locks changed,” he vowed. “Why are you in my bedroom? I’m twenty-six. My older brother should never be in my bedroom. That’s just gross. What if I had a guy in here or something?”
“I’d go pop some popcorn. Or maybe some champagne.” Keegan flopped down on Ty’s window seat. “How long’s it been for you?”
Ty flipped him off. “A year, and go to Hell, Keegan.” He squirmed under his bedclothes. “I’m too tired anyway. It doesn’t matter.”
Keegan wrinkled his nose. “Maybe there’s something to all that nonsense Beau keeps spouting about how you should quit your job. You can’t let them abuse you like this, bro. You deserve better.”
“I worked damn hard to get to this point, bro.” Ty sat up. “Why are you here on a Sunday?”
Keegan handed him the coffee he’d brought over. “I wanted to run something by you. I need your big old brain.”
“My big old brain has the day off.” He closed his eyes and sipped from his coffee. “What is it?”
Keegan grinned. An offering of coffee got him everywhere with Ty. “I’ve got a tenant with a problem over at the Gardens.”
“We.” Ty stiffened his back. “I’m an owner there too.”
“Fine, fine. We. But anyway. It turns out she put a fake name on the lease.”
“That’s definitely a problem. Not ours, but it’s a problem.” Ty leaned against the headboard and grimaced. “Wait. It is our problem, isn’t it? Because you already know why she put a fake name on the lease. She’s hiding from an abusive ex, and we need to figure out a way to make it all legal and help her keep tabs on the ex without giving her up to said ex.”
“You’re a genius, little bro.” Keegan stretched his legs out and watched Ra pounce his shoelaces.
“I am, actually. I also worked a case just like this that ended last week, but from the other side.” He sighed. “Thankfully, we lost the case, we were always going to lose the case, because the absolute stain of a husband couldn’t prove the ex had been the one to try to surveil him. Oh, and the ex he was going after was an omega, not a woman. But anyway, we told him up front he didn’t have a case but we took his money anyway.” He shrugged.
Something itched, right around the base of Keegan’s spine. “I don’t suppose you’d tell me where or who?”
“You know I can’t say anything, dude. If I could, it would probably be that this guy’s very bad news and I hope he doesn’t call us for his legal defense. He thinks he traced the ex to New York, so he’s on his way here.” He scratched Sekhmet, his ancient and homicidal cat, under her chin. She purred. “I alerted the US Marshal Service.”
Keegan had never realized just how much gold lamé could act like plastic wrap until he started to sweat.
To say that Pete was unenthusiastic about Keegan speaking to Ty about his issue would be like saying the Sonoma wildfire was just a little campfire. He was livid. “I trusted you!” he hissed. “I trusted you to keep a secret!”
“And I did.” Keegan’s eyes flashed like steel, but he didn’t lift a hand. “I told him it was a tenant at the Gardens, which we co-own. You’re angry and you’re scared, so I can see why you’re missing the point, but you are missing the point. He worked on a case, with an angry ex who thinks his ex husband was having him surveilled and is now heading to New York.”
Keegan’s even voice cuts through Pete’s anger. “I - crap.”
“I didn’t say anything to him, Pete. I played it very cool, but I’ve got to know and I’ve got to know now. Are you in Witness Protection?”
Pete took a deep breath. The apartment was spinning. Some complete ass had put the building on a turntable, and now it was going at 78 RPMs. “Yeah,” he squeaked.
“Okay. Look. You’re not doing so hot. Do you have a handler or something? Give me his number. I’ll call him, we’ll talk and compare notes. I’ll make sure we’re all on the same page.”
Pete reached into his pocket to get his phone, but he put it back before he could give it to Keegan. “Wait - no. If you tell him, he’ll make me leave. He’ll take me away from you and I’m not - I’m not ready for that yet.”
Keegan put a hand on his shoulder. “I thought you were pissed at me,” he teased.
“I am. But I still want you around.”
“Good. Because I’m not going anywhere. We’ll talk this out and come up with a plan.” He held out his other hand, and Pete handed his phone over.
Keegan stepped into another room to make the call, and Pete curled up under the covers. He couldn’t believe this was happening. Not now, not when everything was still so new and uncertain and good. It had been years since he’d left Dmitry. Surely Dmitry would have just written him off like a bad debt by now? He wasn’t a threat to anyone, not anymore. He could just stay where he was and not bother anyone, Dmitry could stay in San Francisco and creepily creep, it would all work out.
But no. While hunting down an omega might be bad for business, whoever had made Dmitry feel spooked had put a huge target right on Pete’s back. And he knew it. He hadn’t been the one to try to track Dmitry down, but that didn’t matter. Dmitry had never been one to let facts get in the way of a good paranoia bender, after all.
Where could the Marshals send him now that wouldn’t put him afoul of Dmitry? They’d picked New York because it was so big and so diverse. Pete had figured he wouldn’t stand out here. Maybe if he went to Texas? Dmitry’s accent would make him stand out over there - but it was close to California, or at least closer than New York.
Keegan returned to the bedroom and held him until Copeland got there, when he escorted Pete into the living room and hovered over him there like some kind of overprotective vulture. Copeland didn’t look all that impressed. “You really put your foot in it, Pete. You’re pregnant, and your husband is on his way here to finish what he started in San Fran.”
“Ex husband,” Keegan said, crossing his arms over his chest. “You know this for sure?”
“No one on the ground in California has seen him in days. He did contact a New York law firm after he picked up on our surveillance, but he seems to have done that from Idaho.”
“Idaho?” Pete scratched his head. “What’s a Russian mobster doing in Idaho?”
Copeland gave Pete a look that spoke volumes about his estimation of his intelligence. “Well, now that that cat’s out of the bag, we were suspicious about some insurance fraud issues in Boise. But that’s neither here nor there. His lawsuit was unsuccessful, but the attorney the firm assigned to that case did call us and let us know he might be on his way.”
“That would be my brother.” Keegan pressed his lips together. “For the record, Ty doesn’t know anything about me and Pete. As far as he knows, Pete’s just a decorator.”
“Oh come on, he’s smarter than that.” Copeland curled his lip in disgust. “He’s the guy who sued the Transit Authority and not only won but made the director cry.”
“He’s still my little brother. And if there’s one thing he can’t tolerate it’s the thought of me and sex. Which is a good thing, trust me. It’s saved my skin a few times and now it’s going to save Pete’s.” Keegan took a deep breath. “The apartment across from this one is vacant.”
“Okay.” Copeland spread his hands wide. “Are you suggesting we club Dmitry Volkov over the head and hold him here until you’re all safe? Because that seems a little impractical.”
“Ha. Ha ha ha ha. You’re such a card, Copeland. You slay me.” Keegan scoffed. “No. I’m offering it up, to Pete. You were going to make him move, change his name again. Well, move him here. That way he’s got someone nearby who can help in an emergency, who knows what’s going on.”
Pete gasped. Would Keegan really want to do that? “You could get millions for that unit, Keegan.”
“That’s so far outside the agency’s budget I can’t even count that high.” Copeland shook his head. “No way.”
“I’m not selling it to the agency. I’m giving it to him. You can draw up whatever paperwork you want, but that way it’s his. He’s not dependent on me.” Keegan rubbed his hands together.
Copeland gave Keegan a long, penetrating stare while Pete held his breath. “Do you know anything about a place called the Hellion Club?” he asked after a moment. “Dmitry is a member. We’ll take you up on your offer, if and only if we can find Dmitry. He’ll go there.”
Keegan laughed so hard he doubled over. “Do I know it? I’m the head of the finance committee. Have someone sit here with Pete. We can go over there right now.”
Pete slumped against the wall. “You can’t go confront Dmitry, Keegan. He’s an animal.”
Keegan kissed his forehead. “Don’t worry about a thing, Pete. It’s a public place, and I’ll be surrounded by friendly faces. It’ll all be fine. Trust me.”
Dmitry didn’t show up that night, although Keegan made sure he gave the doorman Dmitry’s picture. The Hellion Club, technically being a secret society, had a policy of not voluntarily cooperating with law enforcement as far as members were concerned. It was only a technicality, though, and Keegan didn’t think it applied to a guy like Dmitry.
Besides, this related to his omega and his baby. He felt morally justified in lying through his teeth. He told the entry staff he only wanted to make sure he caught up to his good friend Jimmy and to make sure and let him know when he showed up. Then he got a room in the hotel to which the club was attached and settled in to wait.
Copeland waited with him for the first day, but as a beta he couldn’t stay long. He didn’t want to, either. “This whole place gives me the creeps,” he complained. “It’s like I stepped back in time to the 1890s, but with the sleaze of early sixties Vegas mixed in.”
“You wound me, Copeland.” He passed Copeland a visitor’s key fob. “If anyone asks where you got it, give them my name.”
Dmitry didn’t show up the next day, or the day after that. Keegan was starting to worry that something might have scared him off, but he finally arrived on the fourth day. Keegan recognized him immediately, even before he got the text from the door.
Only a Russian mobster would show up to a place like the Hellion Club in a damn Adidas track suit, for crying out loud. Some people had even worse fashion sense than Keegan.
He was about as tall as Keegan, with classic Russian features that had started to sag as his forties crept up on him. He had a fit body, a huge gold cross on a thick chain, and cold blue eyes that took in the whole room without pity.
Keegan took a deep breath and forward the doorman’s text to Copeland. Then he hopped off his barstool and sauntered up to meet his erstwhile rival. “Jimmy! Buddy! Good to see you!”
Dmitry curled his lip, just a little bit. “I don’t know you.” He put a hand on Keegan’s shoulder and tried to brush him aside.
Keegan stood his ground. He didn’t look like much right now, especially not in a silk suit printed with three-eyed happy faces, but Keegan was a solid guy. He wasn’t moving without the entire New York offensive line to move him. “You’re right.” He dropped his voice so only Dmitry could hear him. “You don’t know me. But we do know someone in common. I know why you’re here, Dmitry.”
Two bright spots of red popped up in Dmitry’s cheeks, and he reached for his waistband. “Take me to my husband this instant. Piotr has neglected his responsibilities for far too long.”
“Pete ain’t your husband anymore, sunshine. Keep your hands away from your gun. This isn’t the place for that. We don’t solve our problems that way here. You got a problem with another Hellion you take it to the Ring.”
Dmitry didn’t even pretend to hide his disdain. “You? Fighting me? Fine. Grab someone to lead the way.”
Everyone in the room had been watching with bated breath. It had been a long time since anyone had challenged anyone else to a fight in the Ring. One of the football players in the club led them down there, keeping a watchful eye on both of them. The rest of the members followed, eager.
They surrounded the ancient boxing ring while Keegan and Dmitry undressed. Keegan almost paused when he got a good look at his opponent. Dmitry was all but covered in old blue tattoos and scars. He’d been through a lot to get to his position. Keegan came from a lifetime of wealth and privilege. Who did he think he was, challenging a man like Dmitry?
Dmitry saw him looking and grinned widely. He knew what was going through Keegan’s mind. It was probably what went through all his opponents’ minds. Keegan stood up straighter, stretched himself out, and shook himself loose.
He wasn’t here for shits and giggles. He was here because he had a family to protect. This man - this foul and evil creature - wanted to take Pete away and hurt him, kill him. Keegan was the only thing standing between this man and the omega and child he loved.
Alden Delaney, the kind of foul old creature that gave the Hellion Club a bad name, would act as referee. That was fine. He might be a disgusting old man but he had a good respect for tradition and he knew boxing. He wouldn’t let anyone get away with anything. Just as Keegan had expected, he frisked them before letting them start.
Dmitry had already sized him up and he came out swinging. In the Russian-mob trenches, he wouldn’t have had time to screw around. He would have had to come out fast and get the job done right. Keegan blocked a flurry of punches, one right after the other. He’d have bruises on his arms for a week or more. Dmitry hit like a truck, and they weren’t using gloves or safety equipment. He had to be on his toes, or Dmitry would kill him.
As they bounced around the ring, Keegan figured something out about his opponent. Dmitry attacked fast and hit hard, but he didn’t have a lot of stamina. Most of his opponents probably either died fast or ran away. For the first two minutes all Keegan could do was block, but after that he was able to get in a few hits of his own.
And Dmitry didn’t block a single one of them.
Keegan sensed his advantage and pressed it. This man had hurt Pete. Bam! He smashed an uppercut into his jaw. He’d come here with the intention of killing Pete. Slam! He plowed his fist into Dmitry’s nose. When Dmitry staggered back, Keegan decked him on the side of his head.
Dmitry went down like a tree.
The other Hellions cheered, only to disperse as a stranger walked among them. He carried two drinks, and he walked up and handed one of them to Keegan. “I should probably cuff him,” he said, looking at Dmitry’s unconscious form.
“I’d drink to that.” Keegan took a gulp from his martini.
Pete had been waiting in Keegan’s austere, white apartment for Keegan to return from the wretched Hellion Club for days. At this point, he officially hated the color white and anything to do with it. Various U. S. Marshals had rotated through to guard him, but they’d hardly broken up the monotony for him.
The thing that stuck out for Pete over those few days was that he was scared, and he was used to being terrified whenever anything related to Dmitry came up. He knew better than anyone else what Dmitry was capable of. He wasn’t scared for himself, though. He was scared for Keegan. Keegan was a great guy, and he meant well, but Keegan didn’t have the wherewithal to deal with what Dmitry could dish out. Keegan was a rich kid from the Upper West Side and Dmitry was a thug from the uglier side of Moscow.
When Keegan walked through the door with nothing wrong with him beyond a few raw, bloody knuckles, no one could have been more shocked than Pete. “I’m dead,” Pete declared, gaping at his lover. “I’m dead, and this is Heaven.”
Copeland walked in behind Keegan and looked Keegan over. “If that outfit is your idea of Heaven we’re going to have to rethink this whole ‘reliable witness’ thing.”
Keegan flipped Copeland off. “Dmitry is in jail,” he said. He didn’t take his eyes off of Pete. Even though Pete was the taller partner, he felt tiny and protected in that moment. “He’s well guarded and he’s going to stay there.”
Pete threw himself into Keegan’s arms. He needed to get as much of him as possible, kissing him and tasting him and breathing him in. He couldn’t believe it. He was desperate to believe, but he didn’t dare. “How?” he asked, when he came up for air.
Keegan smirked. “When Copeland here mentioned Dmitry was a Hellion, I figured the best way to get to him was through the club. And through our traditions. He’d feel safe enough to respect those, so I rolled with it.”
Copeland snorted. “Then you beat the shit out of him. It was almost funny, actually.” He looked them both over critically. “Look. He stinks. He’s been fighting, he’s been hanging around, he needs a wash. And I’m sure he’s tired. I’m going to have some guys in the hallway, but other than that you’re on your own.”
He left, taking his agents with him. Keegan looked over at Pete. “He’s right about one thing. I do stink. I need a shower.”
Pete followed. He didn’t know if Keegan would be up for anything, but he didn’t want to let his lover out of his sight. As it turned out, though, Keegan was more than happy for Pete to join him in the giant walk-in shower.
Steam built up around them as Pete reached for the washcloth and the soap. “I can wash myself,” Keegan told him with a little smile. “I’m not hurt.”
“I know.” Pete soaped up the washcloth and got to work.
He scrubbed every inch of Keegan, working up a gentle lather and massaging his hard body as he went. For some reason, a reason he couldn’t quite understand but loved anyway, Keegan used a rose-scented soap. Pete loved it. He inhaled deeply as he worked his way down Keegan’s long, muscular form, and then he let Keegan rinse off.
Then he sank to his knees. He liked to blow Keegan, just like Keegan liked to blow him, but this was different. He looked up into Keegan’s eyes, and Keegan stroked his hair. “You don’t have to do this, Pete. I did it because I wanted to. Because I love you and because it was right. And because it felt good.”
Pete huffed out a laugh. It probably had felt good for Keegan, at that. “Okay, but I want to do this. Because I love you, and it feels right. And because it feels good for both of us.” And then he took Keegan into his mouth and swallowed him down.
Keegan was incredible at times like this. He was such an over the top, showboat-y guy that a person would expect him to be aggressive or to pushy when getting head. He wasn’t. He showed a lot of restraint, even more than Pete did sometimes. He didn’t force himself further than Pete was ready to take him and he didn’t get at all rough. He let Pete run the show, and just let himself enjoy the ride.
He came with a bitten-off cry, shuddering and gasping. Pete worked him through it, and then he stood up. “Can I bring you to bed?”
“Please.” Keegan slumped against the tile wall of the shower stall, boneless with his release.
Pete beamed and dried his alpha off. Then he brought him back to their bed. He curled in beside him and tucked them both in. The danger wasn’t completely eliminated, but tonight still felt like Pete’s first true night of freedom. He was proud to spend it at Keegan’s side.
Keegan hadn’t really expected all of their problems to go away if he knocked Dmitry out in the ring. It was a nice idea, but not terribly realistic.
Organized crime didn’t work like that. Copeland took pains to explain that to both of them, because he apparently thought they were both concussed bunnies or something. Dmitry had been a big player, and the immediate threat from him was gone now, but Pete had given testimony about Dmitry’s organization and the possibility would always linger that they would come for him.
He would never truly be able to come out of the shadows and live a public life.
For the most part, Pete was okay with that. “I never wanted to be famous or anything ridiculous like that.” He shrugged. “I was a ballet dancer but I never expected to be Nureyev or anything like that. I’m too tall. I’m happy being a decorator and raising my kid.”
Keegan wanted to do the right thing by Pete. He wanted to marry him and to tell the world that he loved Pete. “But that creates a few problems of its own,” he sighed. “Not the least of which comes from my family.”
“You don’t like them very much,” Pete agreed. “But would they even have to be involved?”
“They’re huge snobs. They’re happy to go to the ballet, but they’d never tolerate their grandchild coming from a ballet dancer. Not that I give a crap, but they’d harass you about it on the daily.”
“Good thing Copeland won’t let us get married, then.” Pete sighed. “And honestly, I’ve been married. I love you. I want to be with you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I don’t need a piece of paper to complicate things, you know? What if things go bad and I have to run?”
“I’ll take out anyone who thinks about hurting you or our baby.” Keegan rubbed his knuckles absently. “But I see your point.” He pulled a ring out of his pocket. “I want you to have this anyway.”
Pete’s stared. “Keegan, we can’t get married.”
“No. But we can get engaged. We don’t have to tell anyone. It can be our secret, for the rest of our lives. And if it’s a secret, we don’t have to do any stupid wedding planning. All the good parts of getting married, with none of the stress.”
Pete stared again, and then he threw his arms around Keegan’s neck. “You’re amazing.”
And so they got engaged. Pete moved into the apartment across from Keegan’s, which turned out to really be both of them moving into the apartment across from Keegan’s. Somehow none of Keegan’s relatives picked up on the fact that Keegan’s apartment was essentially unoccupied. Pete decided he didn’t want to think about that. Their son was born at full term, an average sized baby with a perfect temperament who they named Tyler Peterson.
Dmitry was on trial for years. He didn’t have just one trial to face. He had a federal trial of his own, federal trials as a co-defendant with several other bad guys, and state trials in New York, California, Illinois, and Florida. He was found guilty in every trial he sat through and he would never get out of prison. Keegan considered reading Ty in to try to get some of Dmitry’s money for Pete, just in case something happened to him and his parents tried to contest the will or something, but the marshals wouldn’t let him.
Keegan could live with that. In the end, he liked his life. He was proud of Pete, and of baby Tyler, but he liked the way everyone thought of him as a playboy when he had a secret life as a family man at home. It was kind of like the ultimate bird-flip to his dad.
Most importantly, he and Pete had each other. They had their happily ever after, in a way that worked for them. Keegan didn’t care what anyone else had to say about it.
Turn the page for your preview of Book 1, The Family We Make!!!
The Family We Make
An unexpected reunion offers an Alpha and Omega a second chance…
Ten years ago, omega Alex Cary’s fiancé broke his heart and left him with nothing. He’s got a good career as a home chef, but he’s lost his ability to trust.
Alpha Sol Delaney loved Alex more than oxygen, but he was dependent on his father’s money. When his father demanded he break things off with the foster kid from the Bronx, Sol had no choice.
Ten years later, a freshly divorced Sol has returned to New York with his young son in tow. He wants Alex back, but it’s not that easy: Sol’s ex-husband and his mother in law are trying to drag Sol back, and there’s no length to which they won’t go.
This intense 85,000-word omegaverse romance is overflowing with passion, drama, and of course, clothes-ripping sex. Hot and descriptive bedroom action makes this gay paranormal mpreg romance suitable for adults only!
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