Ethan’s wide eyes met Joey’s, and he immediately stepped closer, resting his hand on Ethan’s shoulder. He couldn’t hear what Alan was saying, but the lines on Ethan’s face deepened the more he listened.
“Okay. I’ll call Kole and, if he doesn’t answer, Christi. I can be there in a few hours.”
Joey’s heart skipped a beat. What had happened? When Ethan said goodbye and dropped his arm, his chin trembled, but his lips pursed. A sure sign that he was angry.
“Kole was attacked during a ghost tour. Dad doesn’t have much information, so I need to call Kole.” He punched at the screen of his phone and put it on speakerphone. It rang and rang. When the voicemail came on, Ethan left a brief message and hung up, and then called Christi. “Christi! Is Kole okay?”
“Hello to you, too.” She yawned. “God, sorry. I’m knackered. Yes, he’s fine. A little bruised, a lot pissed off, but he’s good.”
“Who was it, and did they catch them?”
“It was a guy who Kole had spent a night with who didn’t want to take no for an answer. He jumped him during the tour. Initially, the customers thought it was part of it, but when the guy started screaming at Kole, some of them pulled the guy off and held him until the police came.”
“Jesus Christ.” Ethan swiped a hand over his face. “I’m glad they caught the fucker. I’ll get on the road tonight and be there in a few hours.”
“No, you won’t.”
Ethan frowned. “Why?”
“Because Kole is fine. He’s bruised, but he’s fine. He’s going out again tonight.”
“What?” Ethan stared at Joey as if he could smash some sense into Kole, which was exactly what Joey was thinking.
“He doesn’t want this one thing to affect him, Ethan. He believes if he doesn’t get out there again tonight, he never will.”
“That’s not true. He’s—”
“Isn’t it? It scared the fuck out of him, Ethan. If he doesn’t go back out there sooner rather than later, he’s going to make it a big thing and then all we’d get is moaning and groaning from him.” She chuckled, though it sounded forced. “He needs this. I’ll be with him, and so will a plain-clothed police officer. Although they’ve caught the guy, they want to have someone with Kole for the next three days to make sure. Nobody knows this but us, though.”
Ethan sighed. “That’s something, at least.”
Joey slid his arm around Ethan’s shoulders, pulling him into his chest. “If you need anything at all, Christi—you or Kole—you let us know, okay?”
“Oh, hey, Joey. Yes, thank you. We appreciate it, but we’ll be just fine.”
“Ethan, why don’t you take this upstairs? I’ll finish up down here and be there soon,” Joey said, pressing his lips to Ethan’s temple.
Ethan nodded and lifted his head for a kiss before heading out of the reception area. Being so far from his friends would come at a price—like that day when Ethan couldn’t get to them as quickly as he used to—and it was an added complication that Ethan needed to decide he was ready for.
“Stop frowning. You’ll end up with more lines,” Ani said.
Joey glared at her. “Do you need anything from me?”
Ani leaned on the counter and stared at him. “You know I don’t. You wanted to give Ethan some time alone with his friend, so sit your butt down and wait patiently.”
“Why did I ever employ you?” he grumbled as he sat.
“Because nothing would’ve ever got done if you hadn’t.”
She wasn’t wrong. Joey rested his head back against the window and closed his eyes. He didn’t have an appointment until the following day, so he had time to kill. The bell tinkled as someone entered the shop, and Joey glanced over. Two men entered wearing black suits and long coats, and he immediately recognised them as police officers. Or detectives, whatever they wanted to be called.
“Good afternoon. How can I help?” Ani said with a smile.
“We’d like to speak with…” The first man paused when he met Joey’s gaze. He turned towards him. “Joey Reynolds.” He moved closer, lifting his identification with one hand and holding out his other hand. “Detective Harmon. This is Detective Keith. Can we ask you some questions, please?”
Joey stood and shook hands. “What’s it about?”
“I thought the case was closed.”
Detective Harmon nodded. “It was, but we have had new information come to light. We’re following up on it.”
“What kind of information?”
Harmon glanced at Ani. “Can we go somewhere private?”
Joey frowned. “My studio is this way.” He headed for the stairs. “Ani, can you let Ethan know where I am when he’s done, please? He can come in at any time.”
He led the officers to his tattoo studio, and Keith closed the door behind him.
“So, what’s this about?” Joey asked, resting his hip against the sideboard and crossing his arms over his chest.
“Some pictures have come to our attention. From the night of the party,” Harmon said. “We’d like you to look at them and see if you can identify the people in them.”
Joey nodded. “Sure.”
He handed over a folder, and Joey opened it. A large picture with Elliott front and centre sent a wave of grief through him. He stared at his best friend for a long moment, wishing things were different, and then focused on the others.
“Anyone in particular?” he asked, ignoring the crushing sensation in his chest.
Harmon stopped beside him. “Him and him,” he said, pointing.
“That’s Dennis Carter. You know the guitarist from The Ports?” The detective nodded. “The other is…” He stared at the face, mind whirling. “The other is Grey Kennedy.”
“A relation to Elliott?”
Joey swallowed hard. The true relation was not known by many. So did Joey tell them the lie about Grey being Elliott’s cousin or the truth about them being brothers? Before he had to answer, there was a knock and Ethan came in.
“Hey, Ani said I could come in.” Ethan looked unsure but strong, and Joey waved him over.
“These are Detectives Harmon and Keith. They have questions about the night of the party.” Joey showed Ethan the photo when he stopped beside him. “They want to know who these are.”
Ethan tensed, but Joey doubted anyone else had noticed. “Dennis Carter and Grey Kennedy. I’m assuming you know who Dennis is, but Grey is Elliott’s cousin.”
There was the answer Joey needed. They were going with the lie for now. Had Ethan come to the same conclusion that Joey had?
“Father’s side or mother’s?” Harmon asked.
“Father’s. Robert Kennedy is Elliott’s uncle,” Joey said.
Harmon glanced at Keith, who nodded. “We have reason to believe there was an altercation that night, but we don’t have information as to who the involved people were, besides Elliott. We’re trying to find out because there was additional bruising found on Elliott’s body that was unaccounted for. Initially, we put it down to—” Harmon stopped himself and blinked before continuing. “We put it down to cause and effect, but now we’re not so sure.”
Keith’s phone rang, and he excused himself to a corner to answer it.
“And you think one of these men had something to do with it?”
Harmon shook his head. “We just want to talk to them.”
Keith came up to them. “And we’d like to know what you and Dennis Carter spoke about today.”
That’s what the phone call had been about. They’d found out about their meeting.
Joey stared down at the photograph. As much as he wanted to keep Elliott’s secrets, he needed to find out the truth. He glanced at Ethan and sighed. Refocusing on the officers, he said, “Dennis and Elliott had been seeing each other for a while. I don’t know exactly how long. Dennis was in the closet, and they met up at the parties. I don’t know if they met up outside of them as well.” He sighed again and pointed at Grey. “Grey is not Elliott’s cousin. He’s Elliott’s brother. Grey visited us yesterday and told us that Robert had an affair with Elliott’s mother. They had Elliott, although John appears to have claimed him, but when Melinda fell pregnant with Grey, John insisted she put him up for adoption. I’m only going by what Grey told us Elliott had found out.” He stared at Harmon. “I’m not convinced Elliott’s death was a suicide.”
“Why?” Harmon asked.
“He had too much to live for. His relationship with Dennis, his brother, and Grey said Elliott was trying to keep him out of Robert’s clutches.”
Harmon’s jaw clenched. “Yes, we know about Robert’s possible activities.” Harmon scratched his head. “Anything else you think we should know?”
Joey shook his head. “Not that I can think of.”
Harmon handed him a card. “Call me if you think of anything or if anything else happens.”
“Will do.” Joey handed the folder back to him.
After they’d seen the officers out and filled Ani in on the events, they went back to the apartment. Ethan didn’t talk, but he took Joey’s hand and led him to the bathroom. Ethan set the bath running. Pushing Joey back against the sink, Ethan tugged Joey’s shirt over his head and nuzzled into his chest. He dropped to his knees and kissed above Joey’s waistband.
Peering up at him, Ethan said, “I bet I can get you off before the bath overflows.”
Joey’s breath stuttered from his lungs as Ethan went to work on his zip. By the time he was naked, Joey’s cock was throbbing. He doubted it would take long at all. Ethan wrapped his hand around the base, opening his mouth to take him in, but Joey gripped his hair and tugged him away.
“Just your mouth,” Joey ordered.
Ethan’s eyes darkened. “Yes, Sir.”
He removed his hand, and Joey guided him forward. Ethan’s tongue licked at the head of Joey’s cock, and Joey stared down at him, needing more but knowing he was making himself wait. Making them both wait.
“Hands behind your back.”
Ethan did, while his tongue and lips marked every inch of Joey’s shaft they could reach. It wasn’t easy when Ethan couldn’t use his hands to keep it still, and Joey certainly wasn’t going to help him. After all, Ethan had made the bet, but he hadn’t stated the terms.
Joey rested both hands behind him on the sink and let Ethan do what he could with what he had. Ethan rose on his knees and opened his mouth over the head, taking him in. Then he sucked at it, using his tongue to rub against the underside.
“Fuck,” Joey growled, tightening his abs so he didn’t thrust, no matter how much he wanted to. He glanced at the water level. Only halfway. Fire streaked through him, and he hissed in response to a strong suck.
Ethan bobbed up and down, taking him into his throat and back out again at a rapid pace. When he stopped with his throat full and swallowed around Joey’s dick, Joey palmed the back of Ethan’s head and thrust further. Ethan choked, and Joey pulled him off. Tears streamed down his face. Joey smeared them across his cheeks.
Ethan took Joey down again, swallowed, and Joey held him in place. The flexing of Ethan’s throat triggered him, and he pulled back a bit and came into Ethan’s mouth. As Ethan was trying to breathe, he couldn’t keep everything in his mouth, but he caught it with his hand. Joey dropped his head back against the mirror as his orgasm released him. Peering down at Ethan, Joey watched him lap up his release until his hands were clean.
“Your turn,” Joey said, pulling him up.
Ethan’s nose crinkled. “No need.” He glanced over his shoulder and pushed at Joey, switching off the taps not a moment too soon. “Bloody hell, that was close.” He pulled out the plug, letting some of the water out. There was no way they’d be able to climb in without the water flooding the bathroom. “Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea.”
Joey pulled him closer, palming his groin and feeling the wetness from his release. “You came.”
Ethan lifted his head. “I did. That was fucking hot.”
Joey kissed him. “I’ll remember that.”
“Please do.” Ethan slid his arms around Joey’s neck and fused their mouths. The sensation of Ethan’s fully clothed body against his own naked skin was arousing, to say the least.
“Let’s forget about the bath. I can think of a better way to spend our hours,” Joey said.
Two hours later, they lay in bed with Ethan’s head resting on Joey’s chest. Joey’s fingers trailed up and down Ethan’s arm as he stared at the dark ceiling.
“I wish I knew what the hell was going on,” he said. “It reminds me of a film I saw called The Thirteenth Floor. It was about a man who worked for this company to create an alternate universe, a world within a world type of thing. Eventually, he found out he was in one of those worlds himself and it blew his mind. That’s where I am.”
Ethan’s hand smoothed across his skin. “It’s understandable. Elliott wanted to protect you from this, but you’ve been brought into it, anyway. My concern is that Robert is going to do something. We don’t yet know what he’s truly capable of, only what we’ve been told.”
“As if we didn’t have enough to worry about already.” Joey sighed. “Why didn’t Grey tell us he was at the party?”
“I don’t know. Did you see his expression in the photograph?”
Joey had, and he didn’t like it. “Almost like he was pissed off or disgusted?”
“Yeah,” Ethan murmured. “It looked like he was looking at Elliott and Denny, but we can’t be sure. For all we know, that picture could be a fake.”
“I took everything Grey told us at face value. I didn’t check anything. Maybe I should have. Maybe Grey is the one pulling the wool over our eyes. Or maybe Denny is. I’ve no idea.”
“Hopefully, the police can find out more information. I’m sure they’ll let us know if they’re telling the truth or not.”
They dropped into silence, and Joey’s mind went over everything that had happened since Ethan turned up at Elliott’s funeral the previous day. Had it really been only two days since he’d been back with him? With everything that had happened, it seemed like they’d been to-ing and fro-ing for weeks.
“I’d like us to go to my parents’ for dinner tomorrow. Is that okay with you?” he asked into the quiet.
Ethan blew a hot breath across Joey’s chest. “Sure. I made you meet mine, so it’s only fair, after all.”
Joey chuckled and pressed a kiss to Ethan’s hair. “True. But if you’re not ready, we can do it another day.”
“I’m ready. It’s fine. I look forward to hearing all about your childhood.”
Joey groaned. “On second thoughts…”
They laughed and settled down again.
“Get some sleep, sweetheart,” Ethan said. “I’m right here and going nowhere.”
Joey wrapped his arms around Ethan and sighed. “I love you.”
“I love you. Now sleep.”
Joey closed his eyes, listening to Ethan’s breathing, and allowed himself to relax. He wouldn’t be able to sleep, that much he knew, but he could pretend so that Ethan could get some rest.
He went over every piece of information he had about the party, the events afterwards, the new people involved, and he kept coming back to one thing: who was telling the truth and who was lying?
Denny seemed like a good enough guy from what Joey knew of him, but he had a reputation to protect. Grey was a clean slate, someone he didn’t know and hadn’t researched. He could be working for Robert or running from him. Robert was an issue Joey had never considered.
As another thought crossed his mind, he frowned. Had his visit to Whitby set more in motion for Ethan’s friends and parents to deal with? He’d speak to his lawyer to find out what he could do, or maybe he could just employ a private investigator. It wouldn’t take much to find out if there were problems there, surely. Ethan hadn’t mentioned any blowback from Joey’s presence, other than David’s taunts, but that was easy enough to deal with. Unfortunately, it seemed that the main problems were from right on his doorstep.
Was he putting Ethan in more danger by having him there with him? Probably.
Could he give Ethan up to protect him? Probably not.
Would he if he had to? Absolutely.
He just hoped he wouldn’t have to.