Chapter One
You deserve so much more than this.


He found him in a whore house.

The place was disgusting, the wooden floor planks of the wide porch graying and rotted right through in spots. It took all of Talla's nerve to actually set foot onto them. His white-skinned hand looked grotesquely pristine against the peeling dark paint.

He didn't wait long for an answer to his knock. The door swung open almost immediately, giving Talla a vague impression of carrot-red hair and dated black silk before he was enveloped in a cloud of smoke.

He frowned. Kaley couldn't be here.

The smoke seeped off down the porch, leaving Talla behind with the woman who'd answered the door. She was holding a cigarette—the source of the smoke, Tally guessed or hoped—and smelled overpoweringly of cloves.

"Heya, sugar." The woman smiled, revealing nicotine-stained teeth. She was heavily made up and blinked slowly, perhaps inhibited by the pounds of eyeliner and mascara. "I'm Bella. What can I do for you?" Even her voice sounded cheap; a pale, sticky-sweet imitation of a soft Southern drawl. Talla should know, he hailed from the south himself.

"I'm looking for a boy." He cleared his throat, eyes straying to the inner walls of the house. An unfortunate choice of words—he could hear the moaning from here. "His name is Kaley. Kaley Desmond."

Bella's magenta smile became slightly frosty. "I'm afraid all of our young men are occupied at the moment. However, if you aren't particular…" She leaned against the door slightly, the gap at her robe's front slipping purposely. Talla, just as purposely, did not look.

He instead gave her a maddeningly polite smile and shook his head. "I am particular," he said firmly. "Kaley Desmond. He's about this tall, fair hair and coloring, quite thin…" A gorgeous naked body, the fullest lips you could ever hope for, eyes that could make you want to buy him a small foreign country…

Bella didn't seem to share his feelings for Kaley. Her already thin lips pursed until they'd all but vanished. "I'm afraid I can't help you," she said tightly, and went to close the door.

Talla's eyes widened a fraction as he spotted a hand flying out of the inner dimness to catch it.

Bella was plainly shocked. "What are you doing?"

"Isn't it for me?" But… it wasn't Kaley, the voice was too silky and deep, not breaking once. Talla's heart sank. His informant had found the wrong boy, some other Kaley Desmond. All these months of searching…

"Well… But…"

"I'll take care of it, Bella." The door pulled open again. Talla stared open-mouthed at a glimpse of bare chest and tousled hair, coming up to a split instant of a face as shocked as his own.

"Kaley—" and the door started to bang shut once more. Without thinking Talla thrust a hand forward to stop it. "Kaley…" He stepped forward, Kaley stumbled back. Talla didn't care. He was staring at him greedily. Not just the voice was different. Kaley was older, taller, his legs looking miles long in the jeans hanging low on his hips. The world ceased to exist for a moment; Talla didn't think about where it was he'd found him.

"What are you doing here, Michaels?" Kaley's voice was curiously flat. Talla ignored it and the use of his last name.

"I came to take you home. Kaley…" He stepped forward again and hugged him fiercely. Kaley might have been taller than before, but he still fit perfectly in Talla's arms.

But he was bizarrely stiff in them. "I am home."

"Don't be silly." Talla pulled back, searching through the pale, glinting depths of Kaley's eyes, which didn't look nearly as bright as they had last year. The silver had dimmed to a lupine gray. "This isn't your home. This is… disgusting, really." He looked with renewed distaste at the filthy floors and walls. Everything was cracked and stained. The sounds of sex were still overly apparent, and they hung between Talla and Kaley, making the air crackle with electricity.

Just as suddenly, Kaley's demeanor changed. "You can come in," he said, plucking a smoldering cigarette off the shelf by the door. For an instant Talla was too shocked to do anything but stare. Then he slapped it out of Kaley's hand.

"What are you doing?" He glared at the boy, and at that second, Kaley twisted to cradle his reddening palm. The hall's lackluster lighting caught something on his chest. Something shiny.

"And what is that?" He grabs Kaley's arm, probably too roughly. He cannot comprehend this, cannot begin to wrap his mind around the fact that Kaley is living in a den of prostitutes, that he is smoking, that there is a thin, sparkling little silver loop threaded right through his nipple.

"What the fuck does it look like?"

Talla lets go instantly. What has happened to Kaley in this place? His mind refuses to entertain the possibilities.

"Kaley…"

"Come on," Kaley interrupted. He didn't touch Talla or try to recover the cigarette, just turned and headed further down the hall, twisting off behind the decrepit winding staircase. Talla followed closely behind. He wasn't above admiring the sight of Kaley's ass in those faded jeans.

Around the corner, the lighting got even less conducive to vision. Kaley reached back and gripped his arm to guide him through the sudden labyrinth, making Talla start in surprise.

"Kaley…"

"It's Zane now," Kaley mumbled expressionlessly.

"Zane?"

He didn't receive an answer. Kaley pushed open a door scarcely staying on its hinges and waved him inside.

Talla didn't know what he had expected when he came here. He hadn't thought Kaley would be living at the Four Seasons. But he hadn't thought it would be this bad, either. The walls in the room were just as filthy as the ones in the rest of the house; the sagging mattress sat directly on the floor and Talla could see a bedspring sticking out from underneath the tangle of nondescript sheets.

He raised his eyes to see Kaley looking at him with the oddest expression of defiance. When their eyes caught, Kaley quickly looked away and started pulling at the button fly of his jeans.

"What are you doing here?" Talla's voice wasn't accusing. It wasn't even angry. Kaley's gaze came back to him again at the soft, sad note.

"Don't look at me like that."

Talla's hands rose, spread helplessly, and fell back to his sides. "You deserve so much better than this."

Just then, Talla detected something in Kaley. A hesitation, an eagerness to believe. Something. Just when he felt that he was on the verge of putting a name to it, it fizzled out and Kaley turned his back to him once more.

"No," he said simply. "I don't."

His pants were hitting the floor. Talla remembered Kaley in shy, virginal white underwear, an unexpected aphrodisiac, or in boxers, too long on his then-petite frame. Those—Talla couldn't even name them, an odd combination of men's brief and bikini—didn't seem right. They were not like Kaley at all. He stared anyway, but something in his heart ached.

"You're so thin…"

"I haven't been hungry." Kaley turned around, with that unspoken challenge in his eyes again. He gave a small, awkward gesture towards the bed. "Talla… Let's do this."

That gave Talla more of a shock than he would have admitted. Somehow, he hadn't seen it leading to this. Watching Kaley undress had given him no warning of what was to come. Seduction from Kaley had always been the barest brush of a touch under the covers, a shy glance through the pitch-black of their hotel room. Not this. Never this.

He swallowed. He couldn't deny it anymore. "How many have you had?" Kaley was a prostitute. Kaley was watching him, face expressionless. "Of course, everyone would want a cute little blonde. What is it, Kaley? One? Seven? A hundred?"

Kaley's face twisted. "Don't worry, Talla. I'm not cute and little for anyone." He stepped closer, gripping onto the front of Talla's shirt. It was expensive, an Italian silk button-down, and Kaley was crumpling it, but Talla couldn't bring himself to say a word. Kaley pulled him closer, close enough to breathe over his lips. His fingers slid to unbutton Talla's shirt.

It was all so wrong.

"Kaley. Come home, we'll—we'll do this there." It caught Kaley off guard; Talla could tell that much. He seized the opportunity and gripped onto the familiar shoulders, still so fragile beneath the strength of his fingers. "It can be like it was before."

It was the wrong thing to say, and Talla didn't know why. Kaley tore away from him. He took a button off Talla's shirt with him.

"I told you." Kaley was agitated, leaping up to pace the nonexistent floor space. "This is my home. Get out of here, Michaels. Just go."

Talla's heart twisted. He hadn't thought it would go like this. Somehow, over the months, Talla had managed to convince himself that Kaley would be happy to see him. That somehow, the past would have melted away, and Talla would be a knight in shining armor when he showed up to whisk him away to a paradise on Fifth Avenue. His fantasy had gone wrong from the moment he'd shown up and nearly been turned away.

Talla couldn't let it stop him. "You're coming home with me." He got to his feet. Grabbed Kaley's arm, just overtop of the red fingerprints he'd left at the front door. Kaley had always marked up easily.

The sound, a low, guttural whimpering noise that came from Kaley's throat, wasn't human. It was an animal in pain. "Get away from me," he choked raggedly.

"Kaley. We're going home."

"Get away!" Kaley broke away with his voice rising into a scream, and before Talla could grab purchase on his arm again, the noise continued. After a few seconds it formed into some sort of pattern, and Talla could dimly make out a name of some kind.

"Kaley, enough, be quiet!" But the door cracked open within a minute, and it wasn't Bella. Talla would have liked to have seen Bella, at this point. Instead he came face to face with the biggest man he'd ever seen.

"Is there a problem here?"

"No," Talla said, but Kaley was talking over him. Saying 'yes.'

"Kaley," Talla hissed.

"He won't leave." Talla could read the guilt on Kaley's face, could tell he was wondering if it had been a bad idea to call on whoever this man was. "And he's trying to make me leave with him."

Talla's lips pressed together hard. "This isn't what it looks like." He suddenly felt claustrophobic, stifled; he was suffocating in this tiny hellhole of a room with its barren gray walls and the cracked window that faced a brick building. What had Kaley done with his things, his clothes?

"Sure. Doesn't look like you're harassing a helpless kid, trying to get him to go with you for God knows what." The man leaned against the door. He was smirking in the most infuriating way at Talla. At any other time he would have been tempted to drop his name. Let the other know that Talla could buy and sell his entire family. At that moment, though, all he could see was Kaley. Kaley wouldn't look anywhere near him.

"You don't understand. I'm his—"

"Look, bud, I'm not here to judge. This is how we make our living. But I gotta get you to leave now." The man hitched a thumb over his shoulder, indicating the door. "You gonna go on your own or what?"

Talla's teeth ground. "If that's how you want it, Kaley," he snapped, staring hard at him. Kaley's face went bright red as he looked firmly in the opposite direction. "I'll be back tomorrow."

Kaley had turned his back. He wasn't even bothering to put his pants back on. Then again, why should he? No doubt, he would have a new customer in any moment… And then another, and another, and another…

It took everything Talla had not to throw up as he walked out the front door.