About this Title Genre: LGBT Suspense Times are tough in the Rust Belt, where once mighty industries now wither and die. As a city struggles for survival, two men find passion, comfort, and redemption in each other’s arms. Seth is scarred, body and soul, by his experiences in the Pit, an illegal fighting ring where men are brutalized for the entertainment of the crowd. Though he managed to escape, Seth will never forget those he had to leave behind. When he meets David, he is instantly attracted to him but knows that the sexy, bookish blond is far beyond his reach. Then David is attacked on the street and in an eye-blink, Seth alters both of their lives forever. For lonely, virginal David, Seth comes out of the night like a hero from one of his favorite books, only hotter. Seth’s passion and tenderness pierce the protective shell of isolation David has drawn around himself. In the wake of their shatteringly erotic encounter, David asks Seth to live with him. But just when it seems like happily ever after can happen even in Detroit, Seth’s past comes back to threaten everything they hold dear. Publisher's Note: This is a sequel to a book released by another publisher, and contains explicit sexual content, graphic language, and situations that some readers may find objectionable: Anal play/intercourse, male/male sexual practices, violence. .
Chapter One “Want some Thai noodles?” Seth looked up from the trash can he'd been sorting through and into the most beautiful brown eyes he'd ever seen. They belonged to a young man about his own age, on the short side and slight of build, with blond hair and cute, pert features. Seth had seen him around before, had covertly admired his ass as he made his way to and from his job at the little bookstore across the street. But until now he hadn't realized how much he looked like the Kid. The resemblance hit Seth like a mallet to the face, and he took an involuntary step backward. “Hey, easy. I'm not going to hurt you. I just saw you and…” He lifted a Styrofoam box. “I couldn't finish my lunch, and I thought you might…” Seth blushed, though whether it was because this guy actually thought he was afraid or simply because of being caught rummaging through the trash, he didn't care to examine. He ducked his head and accepted the noodles. “Thank you.” “No problem.” The guy turned and walked back across the street to the bookstore. It was a cozy place with a green awning and old-fashioned brass fittings on the door. It stood sandwiched between a bakery and the Thai restaurant. Seth watched him go, noting the way his brisk strides made his butt move. Sudden wistfulness overcame him. “Not for you,” he whispered to himself. .
Rust Belt 37 Chapter Two Seth was blindfolded, but the shouting of the other men around him pounded in his ears, and he could sense Howarth behind him, could hear the clang of metal as he took out his next instrument of “training.” His heart hammered. He wasn't supposed to be here. He'd gotten out and vowed never to return. But still, here he was. The cold metal cuff of the spreader bar snapped closed around his ankle with a click barely audible in the surrounding fury. The men bayed for his blood like dogs. Seth felt Howarth's hand on his other foot. He kicked. “Ow!” Seth sat up at the unexpected voice. The Pit disintegrated around him, and the roaring of the voices became his own harsh breathing—panicky gasps in the dark. David blinked up at him. “Seth?” The relief at finding himself here with David and not back…there…undid him. David reached for him and Seth collapsed into his arms, clutching him tightly, not even caring, at the moment, that he was shaking all over. David's wiry arms wrapped around him just as tight. He pressed his lips to the back of Seth's neck. “Shh. It's okay, just breathe. You're here with me. Feel me?” Seth was pressed against his chest. “Feel my breath?” Seth nodded. “Just breathe with me. Feel my breath and breathe with me. That's all you have to do.” Seth felt David's chest rise beneath his, and he breathed in with him, shutting out the memories that battered his senses, focusing on the feel and .
54 Jessica Freely Chapter Three “Here,” said David one day, handing Seth two objects wrapped in newspaper. He'd taken a felt-tip marker and drawn stars all over each one— wrapping paper. Like for presents. “What are these?” asked Seth. “They're for you; open them and find out.” “You shouldn't be giving me presents, David. I haven't done anythi—” “If I want to give you presents, I'll fucking well give you presents. And don't tell me what you deserve. You're obviously no judge, because you deserve the whole world. So just shut up and open them. Besides, they're practical gifts.” The corner of Seth's mouth quirked up in a grin, and he ducked his head. “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir,” he said in mock submission. Then, taking real joy in opening the first present he'd received in five years, he tore the paper from the larger of the two. It was a spiral notebook with a pebbled, green plastic cover. He flipped it open. Pages and pages of blank lined sheets. And in the back, a pocket. Seth swallowed. He opened the smaller, rectangular package. It was a pen and pencil set—handsome, brushed stainless steel with a gold-tone clip. Seth took a deep breath. “They're for your homework,” said David. “My homework?” David nodded. “While I'm at work I can't read with you, but that doesn't mean your education has to come to a standstill. I figured it out.” He held out his hand for the notebook and the writing instruments. Seth gave them to him. .
72 Jessica Freely Chapter Four Seth would never have even known about the Conant Community Café if it hadn't been for the Lions. He'd been on his way to Ace Hardware when he'd spotted five of them on the corner. Just hanging out. Seth pretended not to have seen them and turned the corner, walking fast, but not so fast as to draw attention. He walked a couple of blocks, then stopped, waiting in the shelter of an apartment entranceway, to see if they'd spotted him and were giving pursuit. From a green-and-yellow-painted storefront across the street, he heard shouts. Suddenly, the door banged open and a scruffy-looking guy came storming out. “Fuck this, I'm outta here!” A skinny, twentysomething black woman was hot on his heels. “It's too much to ask you to show up on time the day of our big event?” “This is too much pressure, Yolanda,” the young man whined. He untied his white apron and pulled it off over his head. “Barry, you can't bail. We need all hands on deck today!” “Screw it,” said Barry, throwing the apron on the ground. “It's a stupid idea anyway.” Yolanda put her hand to her mouth and then reached out to him. “Wait. Okay. I'm sorry I lost it. Just…just work the rest of the day. Please.” But Barry was already walking away. Yolanda stood watching him, her fists on her hips. Seth saw the expression on her face go from outrage to defeat, and her shoulders slumped. He started across the street. “Excuse me.” .
Rust Belt 93 Chapter Five In the morning, Seth walked David, Sabatini novels in hand, to the bookstore and then went around the corner to talk to Yolanda. “You're who-what?” she said, nearly spilling her coffee as she jumped up off the couch in her small, crowded apartment. Two toddler boys and a five- year-old girl watched cartoons on the television while Karine packed lunches in the kitchen and their grandmother got ready to go to work. The coffee mug hit the glass-topped table with a snap, and she grabbed Seth by the arm. “You're the guy who caved in Sam Sam's head?” That got the attention of the rest of the household. The children stared at him wide-eyed, and Karine's mouth hung open. Mrs. Thomas, Yolanda and Karine's mother, popped her head out from the hallway, looked him up and down, and then came to stand next to Karine, her arms folded. She didn't look pleased. “He was attacking David. They were…” He glanced at the children. “They were going to hurt him real bad.” Yolanda nodded. “Fine. I told you, I got no problem with that. But why you got to make the Pit your business, when it means you got to leave us high and dry with no cook?” Seth shook his head, at a loss. “But you…you said I should. You said that the guy should step forward and help them shut down the Pit.” “Mommy, what's the Pit?” .
106 Jessica Freely Chapter Six It took Seth exactly two days of hanging out at the bus station to encounter the Pit's recruiter. It was the same guy. He didn't recognize Seth, which was no surprise. It had been a few years. “Hey, you need a job?” Seth let the guy drive him to the west side of town, to an area that had once been devoted to industrial activities. They came to a chain-link fence with a rusted sign on it that read GREAT LAKES SALT CO., and over it a red and white sticker that said CONDEMNED. The guy got out and unlocked the padlock on the chain holding the gate shut. They drove through. “Don't worry, we're not putting you to work in the mines,” he said. “You'll find out what this is all about at orientation.” Yeah. Orientation. That was what Seth was worried about. Orientation consisted of being drugged unconscious and waking up in a wire-mesh cell. He was still hoping someone in management would recognize him before that happened, and maybe they could skip that part. He and the recruiter walked across a yard littered with old, rusting mining equipment to a corrugated aluminum structure. “You're going to love this,” said the man. They got into a metal cage attached to a large steel enclosure, and the cage started to move downward. It was a shaft elevator. They were plunged into darkness. The recruiter put a hand on his shoulder. “Stay still.” Then Seth felt the bite of a needle in his biceps. The next thing he knew, he was on a couch in a room that appeared to be carved out of living rock. The rough-textured walls were a dirty white, the room lit by bare lightbulbs strung on a wire. Across from him was a desk and behind the desk sat Mr. Carruthers, owner and manager of the Pit. He wore his .
122 Jessica Freely Chapter Seven The men dragged David by the arms down a long tunnel. The roar of a crowd grew louder with every step they took, and then they shoved him through an archway. He was in a large circular arena. It was hard to focus for the glaring lights, the roar of the crowd, the wide-open round ring carved into the rock. His high school now seemed a quaint and friendly place. He would gladly trade those faces for these. But that wasn't going to happen. The cops were still not here, obviously. No one was coming. He didn't know where Seth was. He was going to die here, and Seth…Seth was lost. But as long as he could stay alive, there might be something he could do. He staggered, got his feet under him, and then, shaking his head, finally spotted the other occupant of the ring. It was Seth. And he was in bad shape. Blood covered much of his body. David could make out many wounds but could not tell if any of them were serious. Seth's hair was matted with sweat and blood. His chest heaved with exhaustion. But the worst part was his eyes. Twin pits stared back at him, atavistic and full of rage. If he didn't know better, he might not think this was Seth at all. David ran toward him. Were they kidding? His next opponent was short and thin. Clearly not a fighter, and clearly no contest for Seth. This was the kind of guy they'd give the fighters to get used to killing. Was that all this was, some sort of interlude before the big finale? Seth could finish this one off quickly or take his time with him, depending on what the crowd wanted. Somewhere deep inside something .