Prologue (The Manx Cat Guardians)
Ignoring the strange looks he was receiving from the other passengers at the departure gate, Ellie checked his watch. His flamboyant appearance always caused a bit of a stir. Today was no different. A pink puffer jacket and matching jeans were not typical attire for a cold winter’s day in February. And that was precisely why he’d picked them. People didn’t tend to see the person. They saw the hair and clothes, and this was the best way to stay hidden while remaining in plain sight. The crazier the outfit, the less visible he became, and that more than worked for him.
There was an empty seat next to the gate, so he made a beeline for it. Sitting down, he didn’t make eye contact with anyone, but he couldn’t fail to miss the man tripping over his own feet while gawking at him. Ellie hid a chuckle behind his hand and rolled his eyes at the more than obvious nudge the guy gave to the woman with him.
The vibration against his wrist pulled his attention to an incoming text message. He glanced down at the name flashing across his watch, which instantly made him fret. He inhaled before touching the watch face to read the text.
Where are you, Ellie?
Tiny trembles rolled up his body at the benign question, though there was nothing harmless about the demand behind the query. His fingers shook as he clasped his hands together. Why, even after a year, hadn’t he blocked and deleted Seb’s number?
Daddy wouldn’t like it.
His lips trembled at the answer.
How many times do I need to reinforce that I’m no longer the child who Seb had found crawling in the back alley outside his restaurant? Until it sank and stayed put. Ellie exhaled at the flood of old memories that took him back to a time he wanted to forget.
Uncertain of the time, Ellie guessed it was late by how deserted the streets were. November had come in with a vengeance. The sub-zero conditions were not conducive to survival on the streets, as he was finding out. He shoved his grubby, freezing hands into his dirty jeans. His threadbare jacket and ripped trousers were no barrier to the icy wind that seemed to find every hole in his clothes and take great pleasure in stabbing at him.
He shivered so violently his teeth rattled, and his silver eyes wheeled, looking for somewhere he could hide out of the cold. Spying a side street on the opposite side of the road, he ran across the tarmac. His trainers slapped against the ground, the noise oddly reassuring.
He stilled at the entrance of the alleyway, hesitating at the total blackness and the sound of scratching he heard over the whistling wind. His eyes narrowed, squinting to see through the inky black. He chewed on his chapped lower lip when his pulse skipped a beat. His wild imagination conjured all sorts of bad things that could be lurking in the dirt and garbage. Indecision warred with the hunger pangs he was doing his best to pretend weren’t cramping his stomach.
The wind picked up, and the scent of food had him edging slowly into the alley. The shivers racking his body increased with each step that took him off the main street and deeper into the darkness. “Please let there be something to eat, please,” he mumbled while praying nothing would run across his feet or try to scamper up his leg.
He whimpered, wrapping his arms around his waist as his body jerked. The aroma of cooked food was far too tempting to ignore, especially when the mouth-watering scent bolstered the hunger pains. He couldn’t recall the last time he’d eaten more than a few scraps scavenged from bins.
The last few weeks were a blur of cold, hungry, abject misery, alone on streets that were no one’s friend.
His stepfather’s ugly-as-fuck face swam in front of his eyes. The urge to curse out loud had him kick the ground with his scuffed trainer. His arms tightened around his body in the hope of warding off the pain of his mother’s betrayal. Who lets their new husband kick their child out of the house?
A quiet sob left his throat. Mine.
Tears stuck at the back of his throat in a ball of grief, choking him. The desperation increased with each day he spent on the streets and had him teetering on the edge of doing the unthinkable. The rough sleepers all spoke about what they’d done to survive. In the first few days, Ellie had been stupid enough to think someone would come and rescue him from the streets and fix his life. He didn’t even want to think about how quickly that hope had died and how frantic he now was. Desperate enough to consider selling the one thing he had—his body.
Shivering into his thin jacket, he sucked in the screams his raging fear wanted to force from him. He reminded himself he could go to a shelter. No, no I can’t. They’ll send me to one of the group homes.
Again, the street vagrants were more than happy to share all their ghastly stories of what happened in those places. What had they called him?
His waif-like appearance, blond hair, and being a short arse made him look younger than his fourteen years. With no birth certificate to prove his age, the busybodies would only report him to social services. And those fuckers would never let go once they got their claws into you. He didn’t want to go into a system where no one gave a fuck, or worse would fuck him. He’d had enough of that to last him a lifetime. He was fed up to the back teeth of being treated like the shit on someone’s shoe and being walked all over.
No, being on my own is better. It has to be!
He hated how teary the voice in his head sounded. Sniffing, he wiped his nose on his sleeve. The buzzing in his ears was ignored when the darkness sucked all the light away, leaving him blind. Hesitantly, he took a few faltering steps, anxious not to fall over something he couldn’t see.
His eyes watered as sudden bright light flooded the alley. Blinking repeatedly, he rubbed at his eyes, too startled to run. He stood rooted to the spot, his pulse running wild.
A tall figure towered over him, the shadows making it impossible to make out their features.
“What are you doing scurrying around out there? You wouldn’t be trying to burgle me, would you?” asked a masculine voice, full of menace.
A ball of fright cut off Ellie’s airway. His fingers went to his throat as he struggled to drag in some air, but it didn’t work. His head got fuzzy, and his eyes blurred. The ground tilted, and then blackness filled his vision.
Ellie snuggled into the softness underneath him, willing the lovely dream he had to continue. He inhaled deeply, rubbing his nose into the pillow. The unfamiliar scent of freshly laundered bedsheets cleared the fog from his mind as his eyelids fluttered open, revealing a strange room. He blinked, then blinked again, the lamp sitting on the bedside cabinet offering a soft glow to the unfamiliar room.
The blood in his veins froze in fright. Where the fuck am I?
He gulped. His eyes wheeled wildly around the bedroom. Leaf-patterned autumnal wallpaper complemented the pale green carpet and matched the bedsheets he was lying on. The luxurious mahogany furniture gave the room a perfect showroom appearance. Nothing was out of place, no dust or mess covered any of the flat surfaces. He wondered for a moment if he’d died and this was heaven.
Memories of the dirty back alley flooded his mind, giving him a rude awakening. He bolted upright.
Shit, I’m in someone’s home.
Had the guy kidnapped him?
Unsure what to do, he nervously glanced at the open door. God knows where that led to. His heart jackhammered against his ribcage. He pushed back the duvet cover with shaking hands, and his eyes widened. Where were his jacket and trainers?
He whimpered, looking about the room—the urge to cry too much when he couldn’t see his stuff. Tears flooded his eyes, flowing down his cheeks. What if the guy was a sex trafficker?
A sob caught in his throat. Stop that. It’s so not helping right now. His mind didn’t listen and decided to replay every horror story he’d seen on the TV about abducted children.
He shuddered, then scrubbed at his cheeks, sniffling. “Come on, think,” he muttered.
“Ah, you’re awake. I thought I was going to have to call the GP to come and check you over. You’ve been out for the count for more than twelve hours.”
His body jerked back, hands gripping the duvet and tugging it back over himself. His tongue glued itself to the roof of his mouth as he clutched at his chest. His gaze moved over the man standing in the doorway as a face worthy of any catwalk model smiled kindly down at him.
Ellie’s pulse beat wildly.
The guy had it all: face, height, and a body to die for. The broad chest was covered with a tight-fitting vest. A vest, Ellie noted, that didn’t conceal the bulging muscles underneath, and neither did the sweatpants that hung low off slim hips.
The saliva dried up in his mouth. Shifting uncomfortably at how his body was taking notice, he released the duvet and dropped his hand into his lap, trying to conceal his growing problem.
The guy stepped into the room and towards the bed.
“Wh… what…d… do… youwantfromme…” Ellie stuttered, rushing to speak past the lump in his throat.
The guys lifted his large, tanned hands in an unthreatening way. “Calm down. I promise you’re safe. I’m not looking to harm you. I just wanted to make sure you were all right. I found you in the alleyway at the back of my restaurant right before you keeled over at my feet. Do you remember? I couldn’t leave you out there, now could I?”
Ellie wasn’t fooled. No.
The guy might be stunning, but that didn’t make him a nice guy, even if he sounded believable.
He nibbled on his lower lip. What should I do?
“Can I have my stuff back so I can get out of your hair?” He didn’t like the way it came out more of a question than a request, slapping his head in frustration when the guy simply raised a brow and shook his head.
“No. It’s obvious you haven’t eaten in some time, and you stink. You need a good feed and a bath. Now, you’re gonna be a good boy and do as you’re told and follow what I say.”
Warmth filled Ellie’s chest at the look of genuine concern on the guy’s face before he walked back to the door, indicating he should follow. He wasn’t sure why he did as he was told so readily, but he got off the bed and walked behind the guy’s retreating back.
“What’s your name? I’m Sebastian, Seb to my friends.”
Ellie faltered, his finger going to his mouth so he could chew on his nail. Should he give his real name in case the guy decided to ring social services?
“Come on, what is your real name?”
The demanding tone and emphasis on the word real had Ellie answering without putting up a fight. “It’s Ellie.” He rolled his eyes when Sebastian gave him a nod of approval before walking off down the hall.
Ellie worried. Why am I so compliant? Did the guy drug him? I’m never like this for anyone.
His brows arched. Was it the way Sebastian spoke to him like a real Daddy? His head tilted. He recalled the porn sites he’d secretly visited and the Daddies who took care of their boys. His body heated, remembering how he’d dreamed of being someone’s boy. He stared after Sebastian. Was he a Daddy?
Ellie gave a disgruntled snort only a teenager could achieve. You’ve known him all of two minutes. Now you think he’s a Daddy. The awkwardness of his thoughts had him halt at the bathroom door.
Sebastian beckoned him in. “Strip off. I’ll take those clothes and throw them in the wash, though they look more fit for the bin.” The tone brooked no argument.
Ellie blushed, looking at the washed-out, dirty long-sleeved top and his grubby ripped jeans. Three weeks of living on the streets, yeah, he was bound to be stinking. The idea of having a bath or shower and clean clothes was appealing. He just wasn’t sure he could strip and bare all in front of a stranger. Hell, he’d never been naked in front of anyone before, not even his mother since he was a baby.
“I won’t ask again, Ellie. Do as I say.”
There it was again, that urge to please. He found his hands doing as they were bid, stripping down to his underpants. His hands hovered, uncertain. When a towel was thrust towards him, he released a relieved sigh. When Sebastian turned away without saying a word, Ellie trembled as he wrapped the towel around his hips before wriggling out of his underwear.
He glanced under his lashes at Sebastian’s dark, almost black eyes when he turned back. He was unable to look away, and heat spread up his chest, neck, and face at the feel of those dark eyes scrutinising him. He was sure they missed nothing from his thin body to his skinny, knobbly knees.
The urge to run and hide had his hands clutching at the towel.
“It’s all right. You won’t come to any harm here. I mean it. I want to make sure that you’re safe. You’ll never need to hide from me.”
Jostled from the side by a handbag clouting him on the arm, Ellie blinked in confusion. His mind was still firmly in the past with the words ringing in his head, clearer than a bell. He couldn’t stop himself from searching the crowded departure gate for Sebastian. His pulse kicked up a notch, and his hands curled into balls, fighting the urge to run and hide.
Words replayed over and over, making it impossible to think about anything else, “You’ll never need to hide from me.” Would he ever escape the past? Would Sebastian let him go and see that it was over between them?
Icy fear coated his skin, making him shudder and pull the puffer jacket tighter to him. He’s not here, so stop being melodramatic. When was the last time I saw Da… Seb?
Months, it was months ago, so, behave.
The noise level rose as people collected their belongings for boarding the plane. The anxiety that had been riding him harder than a jockey on their racehorse decreased a little as he stood and gathered his carry-on bag. Following the rest of the passengers, he boarded the plane.
After storing his bag, he sat and buckled himself in, resting his head back against the seat. His eyes closed while he sent a silent prayer to whatever god was listening. Let Daddy find someone to make him happy.