Mark was perfect. Or nearly, anyway. He had luscious black hair that contrasted beautifully with his deep blue eyes. Several years of wrestling, surfing, and rock climbing had given him a wonderful musculature beneath skin that remained pale no matter how much time he spent outdoors. It was the Irish in him.
He was even a decent guy. Even though Reggie rarely said yes, Mark generally made an effort to invite him along when going to a concert or other event. And when Reggie did go, Mark shut down his friends when they tried giving Reggie shit. Sometimes he’d even take Reggie out, just the two of them, playing the big brother. The man really only had two glaring flaws. The first is that he was straight.
Reggie glanced at the door to his room before turning his attention back to the screen. Mark was in the shower, water dripping from his body as he shook his head under the stream of water. Mark was straight, and it really wasn’t wise to have a giant crush on his stepbrother. If the hidden cameras in Mark’s room were found, he’d have a lot of unpleasant explaining to do.
Fortunately, Mark didn’t have a lot of interest in tech. He supported Reggie’s interest, even showing up to cheer him on at the robot wars. Reggie turned the feed off as soon as Mark was dressed. A few minutes later, Mark knocked on the door before sticking his head in. “Hey, Reggie, I’m heading downtown. Want to come?”
“Yeah, if you don’t mind.” Reggie reached for his laptop case. “Could use some out of the house time.”
“How is the new bot coming along?” Mark glanced at the man in the passenger seat. Reggie was only a month younger than he was, but sometimes seemed a lot younger.
“I plotted out the redesign, but the full rebuild is going to have to wait until we fly home.” Reggie leaned back.
Aspen was nice, but most of the activities available were athletic in nature. Not exactly Reggie’s forte. “If you have some time later, mind looking at my camera? I wiped out on the slope pretty hard yesterday and now it’s making a funny noise.”
“No problem.” Reggie shrugged. Their parents were supposedly here on business. Reggie’s dad was negotiating some business. Here in Aspen, most of it was legal. Some properties or something. Mark’s mom was there doing a charity fundraiser.
“Mom says she’s going to stay a couple more days.” Which would mean she wouldn’t be back until Christmas Eve. Reggie’s dad always insisted on Christmas at the island house. Just family.
“Are you staying, or flying back with me and Dad?” Reggie raised an eyebrow.
“Flying back with you, unless you want the flight attendants all to yourself.” He grinned. “The red head was making eyes at you.”
“Were you standing behind me?” Reggie rolled his eyes.
“Yeah…” He elbowed Reggie. “Think that had anything to do with it?” Reggie wasn’t exactly bad looking, and the guy was smart. Not to mention he was his father’s heir. Several of his female friends had been quite annoyed they hadn’t managed to attract Reggie’s attention away from his tech. Mark was starting to have his doubts that Reggie was interested in women at all. Maybe he should try introducing Reggie to Leo and see what happened.
His father gave him a proud smile. “You should show some respect.” Gustavo waved at the chess board. “Let your father win sometimes.”
“Another?” Reggie started putting the board back together.
“Three defeats a night is my limit.” His father stood, patted his shoulder, and headed up toward the front of the plane.
He chuckled, then glanced over at Mark. “You want to take a turn?”
“I’d lose in three moves.” Mark looked up from the magazine.
“I don’t think that’s actually possible.” Reggie tilted his head. “Pretty sure the minimum is four.”
“I think you underestimate how bad I am at this game.” Mark set the magazine down before coming over to claim the seat Gustavo had just vacated.
Contrary to Mark’s estimate, it took Reggie about twenty-five moves to win. “You’re getting better.”
“You were taking it easy on me.” Mark winked at him.
“Well…” Reggie shrugged. “I mean, a little.” He glanced over his shoulder at where his dad was talking to a couple of the bodyguards. “He wants me to take over one of the subsidiaries.” He looked back at Mark. “One of the legal ones. I think he intends to give it to me for Christmas.”
“Can I have a real job, or are you going to make me start in the mail room?” Mark started setting the board back up.
“Valet.” He smiled a little. Mark wasn’t dumb, but he also wasn’t Gustavo’s son. His father was willing to pay for Mark’s education and indulge him sometimes, but Mark wouldn’t be taking over any of the family businesses. He wasn’t even sure Mark had any inkling of just how illegal some of the family businesses even were, though Mark was smart enough to have picked up that not all the family dealings were above board.
Gustavo had married Linette mainly for her respectability. Her husband, Mark’s father, had been a war hero who’d died when Mark was very young, and Linette herself was a product of good breeding. She had both English and American aristocracy, and her charity work and bubbly personality opened doors that might have otherwise been closed to him. Their five-year marriage also seemed to make Gustavo happy, which was reason enough for him tolerate Linette even if she didn’t know how to relate to him. “Eh…” Mark shrugged. “I can work with that.”
He heard a door slam open, and started to blink awake. His light came on. Before he could even sit all the way up, hands were grabbing his arms and hauling him out of the bed. Mark blinked. He recognized Gustavo’s guards, but… “What the…”
“Shut up.” They dragged him toward the door.
Mark tried to set his feet, to get enough leverage to stand up or at least stop himself from being pulled backward down the hallway. “Let me…” He tried to yank his arm free, but the men holding him were strong. “Dammit, let me go.”
The door to Reggie’s door opened, and his step brother stuck his head out of the room. “What…”
“Reggie.” Mark renewed his struggles. The men had paused their forward motion when Reggie emerged, and he started to get his feet under him only for one of the guards to kick his legs, sending him back down.
“Go back to your bed.” One of the guards, Gil, shook his head at Reggie. “Your father gave us orders.”
Reggie disappeared back into his room as the guards started walking again. A few moments later, Reggie emerged, wrapping a dressing robe around himself and putting a phone to his ear as he followed. Mark was torn between relief and concern for Reggie’s safety. These men worked for his father, but… He tried pulling his arms free again. “Where are you taking me?”
“Shut up.” They hauled him down the stairs and out through the garage to one of the storage rooms. Mark swallowed when he saw Gustavo was there. So was Andrew, his mother’s assistant and longtime friend. Andrew was sitting in a chair, his hands secured behind his back and his ankles bound to the chair legs. He’d been gagged.
“Gustavo…” Mark shook his head as he was hauled to another chair and thrown into it. There was a video camera sitting on a tripod near the wall. Handcuffs were closed around his wrists, securing him to the sturdy metal chair. “Dad, what…”
Gustavo struck him across the face, hard enough to have him seeing stars. “You are not my son.” Gustavo shook his head. The man’s face looked furious.
Blood trickled from his split lip. He could hear Andrew screaming protests into the gag. “Please, what’s…”
“Your whore mother…” Gustavo glared at him. He held up a cell phone, and Mark swallowed when he saw the image on the screen. It had been taken with a telephoto lens, but clearly showed his mother and Andrew in bed together. “She does this, after all I have done for her.” Gustavo shook his head. “And for you.” He thrust the phone at Reggie as Reggie entered the room, and he saw Reggie’s face darken at the image.
As soon as his mouth opened to protest being tied to a chair, he felt something shoved into it. Gil tied the gag tight enough that he could almost feel it cutting into the corners of his mouth. Fear settled into the pit of his stomach as he saw another of the guards go to the camera. Mark started shaking his head, then heard himself scream into the gag as one of Gustavo’s men picked up a gas can and began emptying the contents over Andrew.
“Where is she?” He kept his voice quiet.
“She gave my man in Aspen the slip, and ran.” His father was staring at Andrew, his face red with fury. “We will find her.” Gustavo smiled. “And show her some home movies.”
Reggie glanced over at where Mark was tied to a chair. His eyes widened when he saw Clint pouring gasoline over Andrew. He looked back at Mark, then at his father. “Both of them?”
“She takes my reputation, what is important to me.” Gustavo narrowed his eyes. “She makes me a fool, a cuckold.” He nodded to Clint. Gil focused the camera as Clint struck the match.
The gag wasn’t enough to silence Andrew’s scream as the gasoline caught fire. Reggie wrinkled his nose, then glanced again at Mark. His blue eyes were wide with horror as he watched his mother’s lover burning alive. There was a second gas can waiting against the wall. He doubted that had escaped Mark’s notice. Reggie swallowed. Mark was… “She’s still free?”
“Not for long.” Gustavo shook his head.
“She knows about some of your business.” Reggie glanced at him. Andrew was still screaming, writhing and twisting as he burned. He hadn’t realized just how long it took someone to burn to death. “What if she talks?”
“She…” Gustavo clenched his fists. “Then she’ll die.”
“She’s going to do that anyway…” He glanced at Mark. Mark was struggling against his bonds, his face pale with terror. “But if she thinks her silence can keep her son alive.”
His father looked up at him. “You want me to…” He started to sneer.
“No.” Reggie shook his head. “You can’t let Mark go. He’s seen too much. But if you kill him now, you lose your leverage over her.” He put a hand on his father’s arm. “Besides, Mark might know something about where she’d go, or who else she might have…” He jerked his head toward Andrew. Andrew had stopped screaming, though the fire hadn’t gone out yet. “Let me take care of it, Dad.”
A whimper escaped him as he felt the gasoline poured over his head. The fumes made him dizzy as the liquid soaked into the sweat pants he’d worn to bed. It stung where his struggles had abraded his wrists. He started begging, though the gag muffled his words. Andrew was dead. The man had coached his little league team, and now he was dead and burned and… The gasoline made his eyes sting.
The guard who’d set Andrew alight moved toward him, holding the matchbook. Mark felt tears escaping his eyes. He could hardly breath behind the gag, and when he did all he could smell was gasoline and burned flesh. Andrew was… Oh god…
Across the room, Reggie was still talking to Gustavo. It was disturbing how calm Reggie’s face was. A man had just been burned alive a few feet away, and Reggie didn’t even… Mark swallowed. Then he heard himself whimper again as he saw Gustavo wave a hand at the bodyguard. The man stepped back, and Mark felt a thin tendril of hope start to grow.
Gustavo walked toward him. Mark started to look up at him, and then felt the man backhand him across the face again. If he hadn’t been tied to the chair, he’d have been knocked out of it. “Your whore mother abandoned you. Stayed behind with her lover, and let you come here…” He spat at Mark’s feet. “Cut him loose. We need him alive a little longer.”
Mark breathed a sigh of relief as his ankles were freed. The handcuffs were unfastened from the chair, but not removed from his wrists. Nor did they remove the gag. Reggie nodded to one of the guards, and then Mark was hauled roughly to his feet. When Reggie started for the door, Mark was shoved after him.
Tony shoved Mark through the door with enough force to send Mark forward several feet. Mark fell, unable to regain his balance with his hands still cuffed behind his back. He landed with a thud, and groaned. “I’ll need a few things.” Reggie quickly wrote a list, and handed it to Tony. “By breakfast, if you would.”
“Yes, sir.” Tony nodded. Reggie held out his hand, and Tony put the handcuff keys into it before leaving the room. Reggie locked it behind him.
Then he went to where Mark still lay on the floor. The other man had rolled partially onto his side, drawing himself into a semi-fetal position. “Mark?” He began unfastening the gag. “Mark?”
“Oh god.” Mark’s voice was barely more than a whimper. “Oh, god. Andrew. Andrew, he…” Mark shook his head. “Oh god, Reggie, they killed Andrew.”
“Yeah…” He put a hand on Mark’s shoulder. “And if you’re not careful, Mark, they are going to kill you too.” Mark stared up at him, and he rubbed Mark’s shoulder. The other man was still covered in gasoline, and had his hands cuffed behind his back. He doubted either fact was lost on Mark. “You’re going to need to do exactly as I tell you.”
“You…” Mark nodded. “Yeah, you…” He took a few deep breaths. “You convinced your father to…”
“That you were more useful as a hostage than a corpse.” Hopefully, Linette would remain ahead of his father’s men long enough for Reggie to put his plan into motion. “And that I’d handle that matter.”
“I…” Mark swallowed. “Reggie…”
“You’re a prisoner, Mark. But if you do what I tell you, I’ll be able to keep you safe, alright?” He caught Mark’s chin, making Mark look up at him. “Mark, do you understand?”
“I, uh…” Mark nodded. “Okay. Yeah. Just need to play along for a while.” He nodded. “I can do that.”
“Dad’s not going to risk letting you off the island, Mark.” Reggie shook his head. “And there is no place for you to go here. You need to stay put. You’re safe as long as you stay in here and do what I tell you.” When Mark didn’t immediately respond, he brushed a thumb over Mark’s chin. “Mark, do you understand?”
“Andrew’s dead, he’s…” Mark made a soft whimpering sound. “I understand. Stay in here. Do what you tell me.” He nodded. “I understand.”
Reggie shifted to unfasten one of Mark’s wrists from the cuffs. “Come on. Let’s get that gasoline off you.”
“Thank you…” Mark hugged him after Reggie helped him to his feet. “Thank you.”
He hugged Mark back. “It’s going to be okay, Mark. I’ve got everything under control.” He smiled.
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