Chapter One (The Playroom)
New Year’s Eve
I stood frozen, unable to get my brain and body to work together. The silence screamed at me from behind the wall which divided the cellar, stopping me from seeing what my overactive imagination was convinced was a dead Lenny. The anguished cries of seconds ago had at least given me hope, but now panic had left me a mere shell of a man, frightened to the very core of my being.
How would I survive if Lenny was… dead?
The chaotic thoughts that followed held me hostage, torturing me with the possibility of a world without my precious man in it. For what felt like forever, but was probably mere seconds, I stood, unable to bring myself to do more than let my terror control me. The dimness of the cellar transported me straight back into the hell of ten years before.
“English pig,” the big fucker shouted as he spat in my face. He held my head up with his filthy hands because I didn’t have the strength to do it myself any longer.
The white pain in my groin had left me defenceless and sucked away any hope that I’d survive whatever they would do to me next. The blood soaking what remained of my trousers left me in no doubt that unless they stemmed the bleeding, this would be it for me.
My swollen eyelids drifted shut as the ranting continued and I prayed for the darkness to take me. To let it blanket the pain that wanted to steal my sanity.
Fingers dug into my swollen and battered face, forcing me to open my eyes. The satisfaction on the fucker’s face lasted only a second before he spun towards the entrance they used. Through the layers of my misery, I registered the sound of gunfire.
A flicker of hope I’d thought long dead sprung to life. Then the bastard turned back to me and snarled in my face as his fist slammed into my groin. Mouth open, my scream pierced the air before the white searing pain was coated in nothing but darkness.
My whole body juddered at a scraping noise. It was followed by a thud and bottles rattling against wood. It transported me back from the world of pain to the cellar. Gasping, I blinked my eyes into focus while white-hot rage stole my breath and fought against my fear. Then I was running, my ears buzzing with what sounded like a million bees.
No fucking way was I going to let my past fuck up my future. Not now. Not ever again.
The conviction only lasted as long as it took me to enter the cellar. With not nearly enough time to have cleared away the past from my mind, it merged with the present causing me to halt mid-step.
My body braced as my gaze swept the room and everything seemed to slow down, my eyes widening at the horrific sight before me. Memories of other blood-splattered surfaces swam in front of my vision and I struggled to separate the past from the present in this room full of red. It covered the chair and table, dripping onto the floor and pooling next to the motionless bodies on the ground. Rapid blinking did little to change the overall picture as I tried to work out what the fuck had happened.
My hand fluttered to my throat, gripping it, while I fought to swallow past the dread.
Ferron’s battered and naked body lay on the wooden floor, lifeless, next to the prone figure of Devon. Lenny was slumped against the wine rack on the opposite side of the room, his grossly deformed face hardly recognisable. It was only his red hair and scarred body that told me it was him.
Please be alive, please be alive.
With my whole body trembling, I hesitated, frightened that my wish would be in vain. I watched Lenny’s chest for a few seconds, a breath I didn’t realise I was holding gushing past my lips as I ran to him. The sound of crunching under my boots held little interest as my sole focus was my man. Bending over him, I tentatively touched his face afraid I’d make matters worse. “Lenny, Lenny, can you hear me?” I choked out as my gaze swept over his body.
Dark red smears covered his chest, leaving little clean skin exposed. Where the fuck was he bleeding from?
I jerked at an icy touch to my hand and my gaze flew to Lenny’s face. His puffy eyes were slitted open. “Hey… I… told Ferron… you’d co…” His voice trailed off as his head lolled back against the rack and his eyes rolled into the back of his head. The bruising stood out starkly against his pallor.
“Lenny! Lenny! Come on baby, stay with me,” I cried, gently rubbing his cold, clammy cheek, needing to know that he was still alive. That he would fight for us.
Is he bleeding to death inside?
“Stop that fucking shit right now,” I growled to myself, not needing that in my head.
The sounds of sirens in the distance caused my heart to lurch. “Help is coming. Hold on for me, Lenny,” I encouraged just as Isaac burst through the main door into the cellar.
“Boss, boss, where the fuck are you?” Isaac roared, his voice sounding more like a bear growling than a human as he rounded the huge, wooden wine rack to enter the part of the cellar where I was.
Before I had a chance to respond to him, he’d dropped to the floor next to Ferron. If I’d had any doubt about his feelings for Ferron, they were washed away by the sheer depth of emotions playing over his face as he stared at the prone body before him.
Isaac cursed and grimaced as he shifted on the wooden floor, the sound of crunching accompanying it. He never hesitated from his single-minded focus: Ferron. Isaac’s hand looked impossibly large against the ghostly pale skin of Ferron’s neck. I watched helplessly as Isaac lowered his head till his cheek hovered over Ferron’s mouth.
His pinched face relaxed a fraction as he pulled back, his steely gaze meeting mine. “He’s breathing, but it’s shallow. What the fuck happened here? And where the fuck did you disappear to? You were there one minute and then gone the next,” he demanded, his gaze shifting over to Devon’s body and giving the man a deadly glare.
I gave a shrug and glanced towards the man laid on the floor surrounded by… fuck, was it glass? It glittered menacingly on the floor surrounding Devon.
How had I missed that?
My gaze swept the floor and the surrounding area as it scrutinised the dark red liquid. It’s wine, not blood.
The acidic scent made my nose twitch now that I’d noticed it. Relief that it wasn’t blood covering everything swept through me until I glanced back at Lenny. My pulse thundered inside my body making it impossible to hold still. There was no mistaking the drying substance covering my man for anything other than what it was.
What should I do? All my past army training had flown right out of my head. Ambulance, we needed an ambulance. Would the police have alerted the paramedics when I’d called them?
Unsure and not wanting to take a chance that they hadn’t, I patted my pockets, coming up empty-handed. “Do you have your phone on you? We need an ambulance, like now.” The panicked voice sounded nothing like mine as I flicked a glance at Isaac when he didn’t immediately respond.
I heaved a sigh as I saw him shifting backwards, his hand reaching into his back pocket. I sucked in a relieved breath when I saw the phone clutched in his fist. I was about to insist he dialled 999 when there was the sound of heavy feet thundering down the cellar stairs.
Shouts of “Police” reverberated through the cellar, a second before the room filled with chaos as men in protective armour invaded like a swarm of killer ants.
I paid them no attention, my mind too focused on Lenny, except to growl, “We need an ambulance,” to no one in particular.
“Sir, step away from the casualty.”
The voice of the officer who’d spoken was firm and authoritarian. I glanced up as he approached. His face was a hard mask as his hand hovered over the Taser he wore on his belt. His gaze didn’t waver from me.
Frustrated, I let go of Lenny and stood to my full height, towering over the guy. “He is not a casualty. He is my boyfriend and I’m the person that rang to report that there was a fucking problem,” I ground out, doing my best to hold onto my temper when I wanted to tag on “you arse wipe.”
The guy didn’t back down but then I supposed he did have a Taser. What he didn’t know was that I’d probably be able to disarm him before he could blink if he continued to piss me off by waving that thing in my face.
“Back down, Nathan. He just wants to check on Lenny,” Isaac said as he stood and let one of the officers check on Ferron.
“He can check all the fuck he wants once I know there is an ambulance on the way.” I shifted my gaze from Isaac and back to the copper still staring me down. I had to take my hat off to him; most men would have at least taken a step back from me by now. I was a good six inches taller than he was and had forty pounds of extra muscle on him.
“Nathan, I don’t want to hurt Lenny. I just want to see what I need to do to stabilise him before the ambulance gets here. They have been dispatched.”
As if to confirm what he’d said, the radio strapped to his stab vest crackled to life and a tinny voice announced that the ambulance had arrived on scene.
There was a flurry of activity as yet more men poured into the room. Their wary gazes as they passed between me and Isaac would have been funny if not for the situation. Far too pissed off for this shit, and with my heart doing a mad dash, I shouted above the din of voices. “I’m the owner of this business. I rang you guys. Go up to my office on the second floor, the staircase is to the left as you exit the cellar. I’m sure you’ll find whatever information you need on the screens there.” They seemed to listen, though only a couple of the men left the room.
That hadn’t stopped their questions and I’d found myself pulled from the room by Isaac before I clocked the officer who’d faced off with me. He’d started to ask me questions after the paramedics had arrived and didn’t seem to like my response of “I don’t know,” after I’d said it about ten times. My attention had been solely focused on my boyfriend.
After being given the okay by the officers and escorted out of the building due to it now being a fucking crime scene, I sat in my truck. Evidently I was no longer classed as a suspect in whatever had happened down in the cellar, not that they’d shared anything with me.
All three men had injuries and none of them were conscious, so they couldn’t tell us what had happened. I cursed the fact that I hadn’t been able to see the recording before I’d been shoved out of my own building. Devon, the bastard, had a lot to answer for, and if I had my way he would. I’d heard mention of a head injury as the paramedics had wheeled him away but I couldn’t muster an ounce of concern for the fucker after what I’d seen him do to Lenny.
Stop right there. He is going to be fine.
Then why is the ambulance still sat at the curb not moving?
Air trapped in my chest, refused to shift.
Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out. Come on. Lenny needs you to keep your shit together. The litany continued as I stared bleakly out the window of my truck. I gripped the steering wheel until my knuckles stood out starkly in the blueish light filling the cab.
The darkness of the street outside the club was lit up with flashing blue lights and teeming with police officers. Their dark clothing and body armour professed to the seriousness of the situation.
People gathered at the barriers to stare and chat excitedly, probably trying to guess at what all the fuss was about, but I hardly noticed them. My gaze was firmly fixed on the trio of ambulances sitting stationary at the curb. Their lights added to the blue glow casting shadows over me.
What were they doing?
Why was it taking so long?
The feel of a warm hand on my thigh had me grunt, “What?” My voice was hardly recognisable as it rasped past the tightness of my dry throat.
“Look at me, Nathan,” Isaac requested quietly.
Not shifting my gaze from the ambulances, I shook my head. “How long before they move that fucking ambulance? How long does it take to do whatever it is they’re doing?” I choked out past the sobs stuck in my throat. I swiped at my damp eyes and cursed.
“I don’t know, but they’ll do what they have to, to make sure they’re stable before they go to the hospital.” He offered a comforting squeeze to my leg, even though I could hear the doubt in his voice.
I continued to stare at the vehicles, willing them to move.
“What if… what if he doesn’t make it?” This time I couldn’t stop the sob from escaping. I buried my face in my hands, their backs resting against the steering wheel while the images of what I’d found when I’d entered the wine cellar continued to cycle through my mind on replay.
No matter how many times I tried to reassure myself that it was good that Lenny had spoken to me, I couldn’t stop the doubt that grew inside me with each torturous minute that passed.
“I never told him I love him,” I whispered as I lifted my head, unable to bear not seeing what was happening for a single moment longer. “What if I’ve lost the chance?”