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Breathless

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“Listen to me. Make no sound. We’re not alone.”

 

You opened your eyes to James Conrad’s voice in your ear, low but unmistakably commanding. His hand covered your mouth, gentle but firm, giving no room for argument. His body pressed into yours on the thin mattress you’d spent the night together on - fully clothed in case a situation like this arose.

 

You nodded, shaking off the vestiges of sleep. Conrad removed his hand. “Quick as you can, shoes, gear, and out of the window.”

 

The flimsy lock on the motel room door rattled as you scrambled to do as he’d bid you in that hypnotic voice, James Bond with a lick of sin. Not that you’d had much time to appreciate anything about Conrad while on the run like this.

 

You slipped your feet into the scuffed boots and slid your pack over your shoulders. Conrad did the same, the moonlight from the cheap sash window catching on the hints of caramel in his old-gold hair, mussed from sleep, a few curls flopping on to his forehead.

 

“Ready?” he mouthed.

 

You nodded. As you’d ever be.

 

He gave you boost so you sat on the ledge of the open window. It creaked and you looked down at the rickety fire escape. You could make the jump if you had to - and you had, you supposed. Conrad made an impatient noise as you hesitated, then let go. As you sailed the short distance down to the metal structure, praying it held, you cast your mind back to the previous day when you’d met the soldier for hire.

 

*****

 

The dingy bar was badly lit, the music from the jukebox something easily forgettable. The patrons of this bar, and the term was used very loosely, hadn’t come to listen to good music. They came to drink and to forget.

 

You glanced at your hand, where you’d scribbled James Conrad in biro after bothering shady-looking men in a previous bar known for its biker and mercenary patrons. The barman had taken one look at you and shaken his head. When you’d pleaded, he’d mouthed the name you now had on your skin and pointed you at this bar, The Dragon’s Kiss, down a dark alley.

 

With no idea what you’d find, but little other choice, you’d followed the tip.

 

Three weeks ago your brother had disappeared without a trace. His cell phone rang dead. His Facebook hadn’t been updated. The only clue you had was that he’d been telling a friend on the internet about buying a ticket to Malaysia to explore the jungle. Why? With who?

 

As orphans, you and Ben had always been very close. He told you everything, or so you thought. You trusted him with your life and he felt the same. Or so you’d thought.

 

As the older sibling, you had control of your family’s considerable wealth. But you denied Ben nothing. Although he wouldn’t be able to access his trust fund for another three years, he had everything he could ever need. He was in the middle of a promising Business Degree at Harvard - why would he leave? A woman? Debt? What?

 

So you needed to get yourself a people-finder.

 

Your eyes scanned the crowded, dirty bar space, and your gaze finally settled on the tall westerner playing pool in the corner. You headed towards him, admiring the line of his back in the sky-blue button down he wore. His jaw was scruffy and unshaven, his burnt-caramel hair thick and curling at the edges. His mouth was a compressed line in his face of planes and angles, and eyes the shade of a stormy sea blazed above high-knife-edge cheekbones.

 

He made every hormone inside you sit up and beg.

 

As you approached, the man reached for a pile of money on the pool table. You opened your mouth to cry a warning as a local hustler made to move him, but Conrad anticipated it. Within a matter of seconds, he’d put down the would-be attacker and another goon and hardly broken a sweat in the process.

 

The little mouse of fear trickled down your back.

 

“James Conrad?”

 

He lent on the pool cue, raising an eyebrow lazily. The face of his watch glinted in the stark overhead lights above the pool table. “Who’s asking?”

 

******



Kuala Lumpur’s narrow streets closed in on you as Conrad set a punishing pace, tugging your hands as he expertly navigated his way from your motel to somewhere safe. At least, you assumed that was his goal.

 

“Who are they?” you asked breathlessly when he pulled you in against a brick wall, warm from the city’s oppressive heat.

 

He glanced around furtively, his azure eyes ever alert, his back military straight. “Could be thieves thinking we’re tourists. Could be related to your brother. Either way, stay in the shadows.” His hand went to his jeans and you saw the flash of a knife as he armed himself.

 

Your breath lodged in your throat; your heart hammered, feeling like it was in your mouth. Movement skipped past you and you instinctively grabbed him so his body covered yours, hiding you both in the shadows of the overhanging balconies from apartments overhead. This cheaper part of the city was a honeycomb of yuppie apartments for full time employees wanting city sophistication on a shoestring and families crammed into a few rooms. It would be very easy to get lost in these rat runs and never be found.

 

You lifted your face infinitesimally, and breathed in the scent of Conrad’s skin. The tang of coffee, a whisper of last night’s beer, overlaid with clean sweat and just the faint kiss of honey. Why he should smell of honey, you had no idea, but nothing about this man was as you expected.

 

He tensed against you and your body reacted to that hard man physique next to yours. However inappropriate it was, you wanted to climb him like a tree.

 

“Do you think they’re gone now?” you whispered. 

 

“Hard to say.” He kept his body tense as he looked around. He hardly moved his head but you’d bet he could see far and wide. His body was a well trained machine, and even though you were paying him an obscene amount, you sensed that he would have kept you safe for a penny. He was a good man; you’d learned that much in twenty four hours alone with him. He could have undressed and ravished you in that motel, yet your clothing wasn’t so much as a stitch out of place, and he hadn’t run off with your bags or passport, either. “I know someone a few streets away. He might have some information on your brother - he’s got a lot of fingers in a lot of pies. However, he’s a womaniser and has even less morals than me. So I’d like us to pretend to be married.”

 

You opened your mouth and shut it again. “Er….”

 

“We might need to stay there until dawn, and if he thinks you’re mine, he won’t touch you.”

 

Heat zinged through your veins at just the idea of being James Conrad’s woman, even for a ruse. “If you think it’s necessary.”




Chapter Text

 

Conrad banged on the plain wooden door under a decorated stone archway twice. Paused, then knocked twice again.

A tall, built man with a pile of raven’s wing hair streaked with kisses of grey opened the door. He looked swarthy, like a modern day pirate, dressed entirely in black, muscles everywhere, a very old scar bisecting his eyebrow. “Well, well, English. Why are you darkening my door at past midnight?”

 

“We need somewhere safe to sleep until morning,” Conrad bit off without preamble.

 

The stranger opened the door. “You’d better come in, then,” he responded in a thick Texas drawl.

 

You caught the scents of orange blossom, alcohol and heavy perfume from inside as the older man slammed the door behind you both and led you through a maze of corridors. Snatches of laughter and music eeked out from behind the doors you passed, along with some grunting that was unmistakable.

 

This was a brothel. And Conrad knew the owner. Why that made you feel so uncomfortable, you couldn’t say. You just couldn’t imagine that a man like him would need to pay for sex.But what did you know?

 

The stranger stopped at a door and fished out a key, handing it to Conrad. “It’s been recently cleaned.”

 

“Thanks,” Conrad said shortly.

 

The stranger stood infront of the doorway, arms folded, gaze moving over you with unapologetic curiosity. “And who’s this?”

 

Conrad introduced you by name. “This is my wife. We’re just married.”

 

If the stranger’s eyebrows went any higher they would have disappeared into his hair. “Well, what a turnout. Congrats, brother. Didn’t figure you for the marrying kind.”

 

Conrad took your hand and linked your fingers. His palm was warm against yours.  “You can’t help who you fall in love with, Bill.”

 

Bill - which seemed such an ordinary name for a Texan who owned a brothel in Kuala Lumpur and looked like a pirate smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. His gaze caught yours and held it. “You ever get bored of the Brit, come find me.”

 

You shifted closer to Conrad. “I’m quite satisfied, thank you.”

 

If Bill thought you were lying, he didn’t show it. He simply moved out of the way of the door. “You need anything, Jin’s out back.” He moved past, his shoulder brushing Conrad’s in such a way that it didn’t seem friendly.

 

Conrad hissed out a breath and opened the door. The room smelled of pine air freshener and looked clean. A small double bed greeted you, along with a thin oriental style rug on the wooden floor. A door was ajar to show a sliver of a simple en suite bathroom.

 

“This is a brothel, isn’t it?” you whispered.

 

“Well, beggars can hardly be choosers.” You heard irritation in Conrad’s voice as he shrugged off his pack and dumped it by the side of the bed. 

 

“I wasn’t complaining,” you added softly. “Just surprised. You don’t strike me as a man who would need to… pay…. For company.”

 

The moonlight from the cheap window kissed the stubble framing his jaw. “You don’t strike me as someone who’d know about men who pay for company.”

 

“Touche.” You sighed and yawned. You’d only grabbed a scan hour of sleep before Conrad had woken you in the cheap motel, and the bed beckoned. With another sigh, you lay down on top of the covers - the heat in Malaysia was such that no sheet was wanted. 

 

When Conrad simply stood there, his hands in his pockets, his expression like a boy outside a sweet shop window who’d run out of pocket money, you patted the bed. “Lie down and get some sleep. I trust you.”

 

He frowned, those blue, blue eyes darkening. “You shouldn’t.”

 

Curious, you leaned up on one elbow. “I don’t see that I have much choice,” you teased.

 

Conrad’s frown remained in place, but he shucked off his combat boots and lay down next to you, flat on his back, his eyes staring at the ceiling. The bed was narrow for a double, and a scant half foot of space separated your bodies. Heat radiated off his long, lean body.  

 

You closed your eyes, but your heart pounded at his nearness. His scent carried to you across the small space between you. You glanced down. If you moved your hand an inch, your fingers would touch.

 

“You’re thinking very loudly,” he said into the darkness. 

 

“Can’t sleep.”

 

“Try.” There was a world of sarcasm in the word, bit out in his cut glass British accent.

 

You sighed internally, squeezing your eyes shut, but a pounding on the door startled you. Conrad was on his feet in a second, striding to the door and opening it a crack. “What the fuck do you want, Bill?”

 

“Interrupting something, am I?” the Texan asked through the small opening. He must have seen you fully clothed on the bed because he added, “Or not. I’d have thought you two would be at it like rabbits, given that you’re newlyweds.”

 

Fear turned your stomach. You’d interrogate Conrad later as to why Bill was so keen to figure out if you two were really together, but for now you obviously needed to convince him that your relationship was kosher.

 

You stroked a hand over the bed. “Who’re you talking to, Jamie?” you cooed. “Come warm me up.”

 

Conrad glanced over your shoulder, surprise parading over his face, but he quickly concealed it. “Be right there, darling.” His voice dropped half an octave on the endearment and had heat coiling in all the private places of your body.

 

“What are you doing here, Bill?” Conrad asked tightly. His back was ramrod straight, his free hand curled into a fist. He looked ready to move at a moment’s notice. 

 

“Came to see if you needed anything,” you heard the Texan say. A big fat lie if ever you heard one.

 

“We’re fine. I’ll find you in the morning, shall I?”

 

“Count on it,” Bill replied, a hint of menace colouring his tone as Conrad shut the door unceremoniously in his face.

 

He locked it and pocketed the key, then stalked over to the bed. For a moment he simply stood and looked down at you, moonlight bathing the planes and angles of his handsome face. His honey-gold hair was ruffled and messy, loose strands curling wildly. The blue of his eyes looked almost slate grey in the darkness, his poet’s mouth an unforgiving line.

 

“Thanks,” he said simply. “For pretending.”

 

“No problem. You’d have done it for me. Do you think he’ll come back?”

 

Conrad lay down next to you again, tension in every muscle. “Not sure. But I wouldn’t put it past him to have someone spy on us.”

 

You gazed at this man. Yes, you’d paid him. But he was putting a lot on the line for you. Maybe he had his own reasons. Maybe he didn’t have anything else to live for. But whatever his story was, you’d never been attracted to anyone the way you were to him. You might - you prayed - find your brother tomorrow, and then you’d never get another chance like this.

 

Swallowing, you pushed aside your reservations and thought how you wanted to live without regrets. Quick as you could, you climbed on top of him, noticing the flash of shock and then simmering heat, in his eyes.

 

“Then we’d better make spying worth their while, hadn’t we?”

Chapter Text

"Darling-" Conrad began, but you kissed the words out of his mouth.

 

"Let me have this."

 

His hands gripped your thighs and he closed his eyes, looking like a man exercising the very last shreds of his control. "This is extremely...immoral."

 

You snorted, smiling down at his furrowed brow, rotating your hips against the hardening evidence of his desire for you. "Didn't you say you had hardly any morals left?"

 

His cock flexed beneath you. "Fuck," he bit off shortly in that sexy-as-all-hell British accent.

 

"That'd be nice."

 

His eyes opened, narrowing as he gazed up at your face. "What has gotten into you?"

 

You brushed the tousled hair back from his face. "Honestly? Losing my brother like that made me think. And what I think is that I've led a rather sheltered life. And that you are the most exciting man I have ever met. And that I want you, before I lose the chance."

 

Conrad bit off a sigh. "You're making it difficult for me to maintain a professional distance."

 

You traced your thumb over his lower lip. "So don't. Loosen those morals a little further."

 

His tongue flicked out to lave the tip of your thumb; his eyes burned with azure fire. You held his gaze and nodded once.

 

In a hot second, you were flipped on your back, his long, lean body pressing you into the mattress. He kissed you gently at first, his lips soft and chaste against yours, a butterfly kiss, testing the waters.

 

You weren't going to give him any reason to back out. You wrapped your legs around his hips, pulling him closer so the edge of his cock settled into the vee between your legs. He groaned against your mouth and you took the opportunity  to slide your tongue between his lips. 

 

That snapped Conrad's tether, and he ravished your mouth. His stubble pleasantly scraped at your skin and you sighed as he licked into your mouth. You slid your fingers into his tumble of caramel-gold hair, keeping him anchored against your body with your legs.

 

He braced himself on his forearms as he moved down your body, kissing your neck, his whiskers rough,  the sensation of his almost-beard erotic on your skin.

 

You gasped his name as he caught the hem of your serviceable linen shirt and eased it up, exposing your plain black bra. Eager, you released the front clasp and his eyes went dark with lust at your exposed breasts.

 

When his mouth closed over one nipple, you arched desperately into him, seeking that contact, the stroke of his warm, wet tongue over that sensitive nub sending heat streaking through to your core.

 

He thrust lazily against you as he licked at your nipple, and the constant pressure piled on heat at your core.

 

"Please," you heard yourself gasp out.

 

Conrad glanced up at you, his face dark with pleasure. Quickly he divested you of your clothes, dropping them to the floor, his hands greedily stroking every inch of flesh revealed.

 

Your gaze ate him up as he stripped at the foot of the bed. There was nothing overtly sexual about the way he undressed, but the kiss of moonlight on his exposed skin made the naked soldier for hire almost magical, pure wish fulfillment turned human for a single, spellbound night.

 

You opened your arms and he lay down in them, his skin hot against yours. Leaning up on one arm, he trailed his other hand across your body, parting your legs, stroking the place where you burned for him. Within a few talented circles of his fingers you were flying apart in his arms, and he kissed you to silence your cries of pleasure. As you came down from the little aftershocks, he braced himself over you, the tip of him settled right where you wanted him. His eyes met yours, silently asking for permission. 

 

“I don’t have anything, darling.” He swallowed, and you saw a muscle tick in his jaw, exercising that control again. “But I swear to you, I’m clean. However-”

 

“I’m on birth control.” And you wrapped your legs around his hips and pulled until he slid inside you, and you kept the pressure up until he bottomed out. You heard his breath hiss out with the pleasure of it, and you clenched around him, loving the feel of him against you, touching all your secret places.

 

You combed a hand through his hair and leaned up to gently bite the side of his neck, and the contact seemed to snap something inside him. He set a fast rhythm, fucking you into the mattress until you saw stars behind your eyelids. You no longer cared whether anyone was spying on you or not; your world had narrowed to this bed and the man inside you, his coffee and bergamot scent, the feel of his heated skin under your greedy hands. You came in a sudden rush, his name on your lips, and he followed within a few seconds, his body coiling against yours as he shuddered. You held him through the tremors, and kissed the curve where his neck met his shoulder as he collapsed on top of you, his weight warm and pleasant.

 

Whatever tomorrow brought, you knew you’d never regret having tonight. No matter that it had been in a baudy house in the middle of a country you didn’t know, you’d tuck tonight away in your locked safe of memories, to take out again and savour when Conrad was far away. When he’d likely have forgotten your name, you’d still have this.

 

After a moment that stretched, Conrad rolled off you and pulled you into his arms so your head pillowed on his chest. He stroked a hand through your hair, perhaps soothing you as much as himself.

 

“That was unexpected.”

 

You smiled against his shoulder, breathing him in. The room smelled of sex, and it was intoxicating. “I don’t regret it, you know. I’d only have regretted not doing it.”

 

He breathed out, and you interpreted that quiet rush of sound as an expression of relief. Then he sighed, turning his head to look at the moon, hanging high in the black sky. “We’d better get some sleep. I’ll no doubt owe Bill a favour in the morning.”

 

Conrad pulled the sheet up over you both, and you cuddled into him as your heart rate slowed down, as your body cooled off from the orgasm.

 

“Will you tell me about him?”

 

He stifled a yawn and buried his nose in your hair. “We saved each other’s lives, once. But he did some things I can’t overlook. These days, he tends to run more illegal than legal ventures. He probably thinks we’re likely to expose anything he’s doing under the table, if we find out about it.” That muscle ticked again in his jaw as he thought over his words. “He’s never trusted easily. It’s an occupational hazard in our line of work.”

 

“That’s sad,” you murmured, meaning to talk more. But the steady beat of Conrad’s heart under your ear lulled you into an exhausted slumber.

Chapter Text

 

You came awake slowly to the sound of floorboards creaking gently. You opened eyes hazy from sleep, blinking to let yourself adjust to the light eeking in from the shutters on the window. You were still naked, but already the Malay heat meant you didn’t feel cold.

 

Kuala Lumpur. Ben still missing.

 

Bill and his intense pirate vibe.

 

James Conrad.

 

The man in question lay on his stomach by the door, facing the crack between the bottom of the door and the floor. He had his face pressed up against the gap, inspecting something silently.

 

“Conrad?” you whispered.

 

He got to his feet, all panther-grace and silent. You’d have to ask him later how he did that. Did the military teach you how to move without a single fucking sound?  

 

Guess so.

 

“Sleep well?” he asked in that low, intimate voice he seemed to save only for you. You hugged your arms around yourself, wondering what he would do and where he would go when this was over. When you parted ways.

 

“I think so. My head feels fuzzy.” Should you feel self-conscious around him, taking into account your nakedness. You didn’t. What that said about you, you weren’t sure.

 

He sat next to you on the bed and passed you a plastic cup of water. You drank greedily, your throat dry.

 

“What were you looking at?”

 

“Someone was there last night. Outside the door.”

 

You swallowed back a sudden lurch of bile. “When we-”

 

“Hard to say exactly when. I couldn’t find a hole in the wood, though. So they’d only have been able to listen.”

 

He held your gaze for a heartbeat, and you knew he felt as vulnerable as you in that single moment. He just hid it much better; a lifetime living as he had would do that, you supposed.

 

“I meant what I said. Before. I don’t regret it,” you whispered. “I’d do it again.”

 

“Would you.” His gaze fell to your lips, and his words weren’t a question.

 

Something passed between you then, in that poky brothel room with the light splintering in on to the bed, something wordless, primal, powerful. You opened your mouth to speak but instead you lunged for him. Conrad caught you, rolling you under him, and as you automatically spread your legs in welcome you felt the tip of his erection right where you wanted it, and you sighed against his mouth, his name falling from your lips.

 

He kissed you fiercely, drinking you in like a man denied water too long. You surrendered to the wave of desire that seemed to live in you around him. You didn’t prepare for a man like Conrad, you couldn’t, you simply buckled in for the ride and hoped you lived to tell the tale.

 

You arched your hips up to his gentle thrusts. He wore plain black boxers so he couldn’t come inside you, but the friction was perfect and unbearable all at once. This was what you needed; his tongue in your mouth, his body heavy and hot on yours, the taste of him on your lips, the coffee and bergamot and clean sweat scent of him everywhere, you’d be happy if you never got to smell another man ever again.

 

Conrad groaned your name as he kissed his way down your face and nibbled on the sensitive curve where your neck and shoulder met. You tunneled your hands into his hair, tumbled from sleep, the strands like tattered silk between your fingers.

 

His clever mouth latched on to one of your nipples and he worried the other with his fingers, until you were writhing underneath him. You tugged at his hair impatiently, practically dragging him up and over you. Your palmed his fantastic butt, pushing the boxers down his legs, then wiggling your hips until he pressed right there, and with a single breath he was inside you, seated to the hilt.

 

“Fuck.” The single word was whispered against your mouth and he dropped his forehead to yours, taking a deep breath.

 

“I want it all, Conrad,” you said softly. “Give me everything.”

 

He took you at your word and set a punishing pace, his body snapping against yours as he fucked you both into oblivion. You saw stars as you came in a sudden rush, your muscles spasming around him driving him to his own climax. He gritted out your name as his hips froze against yours for a second. You held him through the tremors as he came down from the high. His scent was all over you, and you welcomed it, knowing you’d both need to shower and not looking forward to it.

 

A pounding on the door made Conrad lift his head from where he’d been murmuring sweet nothings into your hair.

 

“Up and at ‘em,” Bill’s deeply accented voice came through clearly despite the wooden door. “Time to tell me what you’re really doing in my house.”

 

********

 

“And that’s all of it?” Bill asked, eyebrow raised.

 

“Yes.” You nodded. Conrad held your hand under the table, and you were grateful for his steady presence beside you. He smelled of the plain soap provided in the tiny ensuite bathroom of the bedroom you’d shared, his hair damp, the ends curling. His face was set in serious soldier mode, but his eyes were clear and sharp, missing nothing. “I need to find my brother. He’d never have taken off like this.”

 

Bill’s gaze darted to your free hand, cupping the mug of hot tea he’d had a woman called Jin bring to you. “No wedding rings.”

 

“We’re not materialistic,” Conrad said shortly.

 

Bill pursed his lips and took a drag on his cigarette. “Right.” He drawled the word out, and a prickle of fear slid, snake-like, down your spine. “How’d you two meet?”

 

Panic clawed at your throat, but Conrad shrugged one shoulder. “How does anyone meet? You’re scraping the barrel, Bill, and you know it. Thank you for the room; we appreciate it. But we need to find my brother-in-law, and time’s running out.”

 

“I’ll make enquiries.” The big Texan got to his feet. “Sit tight. I’ll have Jin bring you some breakfast. Wouldn’t want to go hungry after last night’s…. Exertions.”

 

The way he looked at you made your stomach turn. You swallowed it and pasted on a polite smile as he left the room, finally.

 

You turned to Conrad and he curled his arm around you tight. “We’ll be on our way, soon.”

 

“Forgive me if I don’t share your confidence,” you said in a small voice.

 

Conrad’s mouth firmed. A deadly look passed over his movie-star handsome features. “If I have to kill him to get us out, then so be it.”

Chapter Text

The woman called Jin brought you two bowls of cold rice layered with cooked meat. Your stomach growled as she placed the food before you.

 

Conrad said something to her in what must have been the native language, because she inclined her head and smiled slightly before leaving.

 

You lifted the spoon in your bowl and hesitated, but Conrad pulled his portion towards him and dug in with gusto. When you eyed him, he gestured to your meal. “Go ahead. It isn’t poisoned.”

 

“And you know this because…”

 

“Bill Torres is a many things, but he isn’t a backstabber. If he wanted us dead, we’d be dead.”

 

The matter of fact way he said the words between mouthfuls made a chill skate down your spine again. It reminded you of how different your life was to Conrad's. What he'd had to learn to survive. It made your heart ache for him.

 

“So he’d kill you to your face. That’s comforting.”

 

Conrad’s expression softened as he glanced at you. “Eat, darling. You need your strength.”

 

The endearment warmed you. You watched Conrad for another few moments as he ate methodically. When he’d almost reached the bottom of the bowl without passing out, you took a tentative bite. The savoury flavours were delicious, and even though at home you’d never have eaten cold rice porridge for breakfast, your stomach sat up and begged for more. Within a few minutes you’d demolished the entire portion, and felt contentedly full.

 

“Thankyou,” you murmured at length.

 

Sitting back in the chair, Conrad caught your gaze. “For what?”

 

“Not telling him about my, you know. Money.”

 

He shrugged one elegant shoulder. How he managed to be so built and yet so graceful all at once blew your mind. “Your money is your business.”

 

I’d share it with you in a heartbeat.

 

I’d give it away to have Ben back.

 

You voiced neither thought. Did you really know Conrad just because you’d made the beast with two backs? Did he really care for you, or just for what you were paying him?

 

The door opened again and Bill filled it, and the thoughts tumbled from your head. Conrad reached for your hand and you laced your fingers with his willingly, glad of the comfort of his touch, his solid warmth.

 

“Made enquiries.” Bill leaned his shoulder against the doorjamb. “Be a couple hours ‘til I hear back from my runners.”

 

You opened your mouth to protest - Ben might not have a couple of hours! - but Conrad squeezed your hand, and you closed it without any sound coming out.

 

“Fine,” your fake husband said calmly.

 

“In the meantime,” Bill started, his tone entirely too slimy for your liking, “I believe you owe me a favour for last night. Shelter and all.”

 

You shifted in your seat, uncomfortable. Despite the sweat-incuding Malay heat, the temperature in the room seemed to have dropped a degree. You fought the urge to sidle closer to Conrad, although he kept a tight hold of your hand. You thought you saw him stiffen beside you.

 

“Where’s this going, Bill?” he asked, a dangerous, sharpened knife edge to his tone.

 

The burly Texan raised a dark eyebrow. “Seeing as you two’ve just wed, you’ve probably not got a dime to your name, do ya?”

 

You made a non-committal noise. No way did you want Bill knowing about your trust fund. Or that Ben would come into his own soon. Fear stirred in your stomach, disturbing your hastily eaten breakfast, the fear that your little brother was tied up somewhere at the Texan pirate’s behest. You forced yourself to swallow. “We’re on a tight budget for sure,” you lied, hoping that you were a better liar than you thought.

 

Conrad didn’t look at you, so you had no way of knowing whether he thought you’d fooled the American or not.

 

“Well, do me a little favour just this once, we’ve solve both our problems,” Bill said lazily. The place between your shoulder blades itched.

 

“What is it?” Conrad asked, that steel edge still sleeping under his words.

 

“There aren’t many western girls available here. You’d make a fast buck if you gave me a single night. We’d split it fifty fifty. You get some green to fund your travels, and I get my back scratched for putting you up last night.”

 

Your mouth dropped open. “You can’t be serious.”

 

His gaze held Conrad’s. “What, your dearly wedded husband here didn’t tell you this was a whore house? Sure you’ve worked it out by now.” 

 

Conrad bit off a curse. “She’s not on the table, Bill.

 

“No, but I guess that’s only because there wasn’t a table in your room last night,” he drawled out, and you bit your lip. He knew. He knew you’d been moaning under Conrad last night, knew the sounds of your helpless sighs and Conrad’s guttural groans. And that intrusion made you want to vomit and scream and claw his face until you drew blood.

 

“One night,” he added. “She’d earn enough to fly you two back home. First class.”

 

You barely saw him move, but in a heartbeat Conrad lunged over the table and hit Bill in the solar plexus, taking him down in the doorway. The big cowboy reacted too slow. Conrad was leaner but quicker, pounding the Texan with a mean left hook, straddling his hips. You stood up behind the table, your heart in your mouth as they fought. Bill’s right arm scrabbled for something behind him. There a glint of glass in the light from the window, and you yelled Conrad’s name.

 

Your shout prevented him from being stabbed with the edge of a broken beer bottle. Conrad rolled away, but Bill was fast and rolled on top of him, taking the lead in the struggle again. He held the broken bottle inches from Conrad’s face. The mercenary’s arm muscles strained as he fought to keep the glass from cutting his skin.

 

Frantically you looked around for something, and for want of anything else, you spied the porcelain bowls you’d been served dinner in. Grabbing them, you stacked them together. A club they were not, but you didn’t have anything better.

 

A feral growl sounded in Conrad’s throat as he struggled with the bigger man. It was now or never. The edge of the glass hovered perilously close to Conrad’s neck, to the pulse beating below his jaw, and you knew instantly that if he died, a giant hole would yawn open inside you and never, ever close.

 

You rounded the table and brought the bowls down on the back of Bill’s head as hard as you could.

 

He passed out cold, dropping the bottle. It rolled away, hitting the door with a clunk.

 

Conrad looked up at you, his expression a mix of dazed surprise and respect. “Whoa.”

 

“I had to do something.” You offered him your hand, and he pushed Bill off him before taking your palm with his. You pulled him up, and he yanked you into a hard embrace, kissing you fiercely, his tone stroking yours. You couldn’t get enough of the flavour and scent of him.

 

“You’re quite something, darling,” he breathed against your lips.

 

“I-” Something in Bill’s back pocket caught your eye and you bent to get it, pulling a New York Jets scarf out. “Oh my God. This is Ben’s.”

 

Conrad’s gaze dropped to it, all business again, his eyes sharp and assessing. “You’re sure?”

 

“It even smells like him. He was here, James. I know it.”



Chapter Text

"He's ko'ed, for sure," Conrad said shortly, nudging Bill with his boot. "You pack a punch, darling."

 

"He deserved it." You clutched the scarf, inhaling your brother's scent, your heart squeezing painfully

 

"He did. Come on. Let's see what Jin might have to contribute." He yanked a key from Bill’s back pocket and locked the door of the small room behind you both, then tossed the key down the hallway, not bothering to look at where it landed. “It’ll be some time before he wakes up, likely with a sore head, and longer before he gets out of there.”

 

You nodded, satisfied, and Conrad took your hand, lacing your fingers with his. He led you through the maze of corridors in the brothel. Even at this time of day, the building smelled of heady orangeflower and hibiscus, overlaid with the unmistakable aroma of sex.

 

Jin was at her post at what loosely served as a reception area, tapping something into an ipad. The sleek device looked somewhat out of place in the interior of the brothel, which looked like it hadn't seen a lick of paint since the 80s. Then again, having seen Bill, you weren’t surprised.

 

The Asian woman looked up when you and Conrad approached, a polite but wary smile on her features. She set the ipad down under the counter.

 

Conrad spoke to her in her native language and she hesitated, then asked a question.

 

Turning to you, Conrad repeated it. "Do you have a photo of Ben on you?"

 

You dug your smartphone from your pocket. You'd been keeping it turned off to save the battery, but you didn't need to turn it on for this. You slipped off the protective rubber cover and eased out a folded piece of photography paper. "This is him."

 

The picture was from several months ago, of Ben smiling into your camera, his tumble of hair framing his cheeky grin, and your eyes stung as you thought of him laughing as you'd snapped the memory of him, holding a cup in each hand at your favourite New York coffeehouse.

 

Jin's face lit, and your heart pounded. She spoke to Conrad in a sharp, musical stream of words.

 

A frown passed over his angular face as he turned to you. "Ben was a customer here. Six.. no, she says, seven days ago."

 

"No. Impossible." Ben didn't need to pay for sex. He had a girlfriend, who was just as worried as you were. "No way would he hang out at a brothel." Nerves and fear ate away at your stomach lining and you worried the photo between your fingers. “No way.”

 

Jin’s features creased in sympathy. She didn’t need to be fluent in English to understand your frustration and upset. She said something to Conrad. His eyes narrowed as he listened, nodding once, then turned back to you.

 

“She says even when you think you know someone - everyone has something to hide.”

 

You swallowed back a sharp retort and breathed in deeply. “Not Ben.” But the words had shifted something inside you. Made you think what if. What if he’d been hiding something from you? You’d both been hit hard by your parents’ deaths. Who wouldn’t have been? Ben had clung to you to begin with, and you’d been happy to take on the lion’s share of everything that needed to be done, to protect him from the world, from the sadness of the fact that you were both suddenly, breathlessly, alone.

 

What if I was wrong?


 

Conrad looped an arm around you, pulling you into his solid warmth, and you relaxed into him. You barely knew him, but the press of his lean body against yours calmed you beyond measure. Beyond reason. You only knew that you wanted him by your side more than you wanted your next breath. And that was dangerous.

 

“Who did he… see?” you asked Jin. Conrad translated. 

 

“Nurjahan. She won’t come in until later.”

 

You shivered at the thought of staying in the brothel, or whore-house as Bill had so delicately called it. 

 

“We have a few hours,” Conrad began, turning to catch your gaze. “I suggest a little sightseeing. I realise it sounds frivolous,” he added, when you face must have fallen, “but Nurjahan is the best lead we have. By the time we come back, Bill’s runners may also have returned with some news.”

 

Your mouth twisted. “Assuming he wants to speak to us after that little stunt.”

 

His face darkened, and an expression you’d not seen before today came over his face. Unyielding. The face of a man who’d seen and done things for his country that you couldn’t comprehend. “Oh, he’ll speak to us.” 

 

You didn’t doubt it.

 

The picture of congeniality once again, Conrad thanked Jin for her time. “The Perdana Gardens, perhaps?”

 

You halted him as he opened the door to the little room you’d shared last night. You tried not to think of what else might have happened in that room, and with who. In your free hand, you still clutched Ben’s scarf. “Conrad…”

 

He closed the door behind you, and folded you into his arms. “You’ve been running on empty since before we met. If you don’t get some downtime - other than sleep - you’ll be no good to your brother at all. Three hours. That’s all I ask. Three hours to clear your head and do something for yourself.”

 

You couldn’t help it, you melted into him, your arms twining around his neck. You breathed him in, clean soap and the kiss of bergamot that seemed ingrained into his skin. He dipped his head to yours and brushed his lips over yours, once, twice, each pass as gentle as butterfly wings. Although the touch was light, it still stoked desire deep in your belly, and you took a moment to tuck Ben’s scarf into the pocket of Conrad’s jeans before your busy fingers worked on the fly of the garment. Holding his gaze, you dropped into a crouch, tugging the denim over his hips. He was commando, and his cock sprang up, already hard.

 

He bit off a curse. “I said something for you.”

 

You smiled. “Oh, make no mistake, this is for me.” Out here in a foreign country, you had control over precious few things. But giving pleasure to the man who'd been your rock - that you had control over.

 

Your name tumbled from his lips as you licked him lazily, as you would your favourite ice cream. He braced a hand on your shoulders, and you felt him adjust his position. The thought that you made him weak fuelled the fire in your belly, and you took him deep, reveling in the litany of profanity that dropped from his lips in that James Bond, roughened silk accent. You reached up to cup his balls with one hand, gently teasing the place where the curve of his erection met the sac, and he jerked against your tongue. You kept playing, keeping up the pace, until his hips moved of their own volition and he came in a staggering rush, breathing hard, his eyes closed, head tipped back. It was one the most erotic things you’d seen, and you wondered, seriously wondered, if you’d be able to let him go when this was all over.

Chapter Text

The opulence of the perfumed gardens stunned and relaxed you. Well, as relaxed as it was possible to be with all the horrible things you had hanging over your head.

 

Conrad paid for the tickets and even bought you a cute little ice cream in a sugar-frosted cone - stracciatella, his favourite, vanilla with a cascade of tiny chocolate chips - to eat as you wandered around, hand in hand. You offered him licks of the cone and every so often he gave you this look from under his lashes, like he was remembering you sucking him off earlier in your little room.

 

The arousal made you edgy, but you tried to concentrate on the beautiful garden displays. Other tourists milled around, taking photos with selfie sticks. You leaned on Conrad in front of a stunning array of ixora, the needle-like petals red and vibrant.

 

“Excuse me?”

 

You tensed for a moment as Conrad turned to see an older woman in big sunglasses. “Can I help you?” he asked, ever the gentleman, ever so polite.

 

“You make such an adorable couple!” she gushed loudly. “Should I take your picture?”

 

You swallowed. “I, ah, don’t have a camera on me.”

 

The woman grinned at her friend. “I just bought this polaroid thingy off the internet! It’s instant, just like when I was younger! Humour me, will you?”

 

Her younger friend offered you and Conrad a long-suffering smile. “She’s very enthusiastic about her new toys.”

 

You glanced at Conrad and shrugged. Truth be told, your heart squeezed at the thought of a photo of him, something to keep with you on the many lonely nights that would follow after you two parted ways. “Is it okay?” you murmured.

 

“Sure.”

 

You relaxed into him as the woman lined up her camera. Her red lips were glamourous under the body of the camera for a moment, you allowed yourself to believe that you and James were here on holiday, nothing more pressing to do than look at flowers and eat ice cream cones. You felt him rest his chin on the top of your head and suddenly you felt almost unbearably sad, your eyes burning.

 

All too soon it was over. The camera flashed and you and Conrad watched as the polaroid printed. The woman waved it around by her fingertips to dry it, then presented it. “Here you go!”

 

You thanked her. The friend rolled her eyes good naturedly as the two strangers moved on, no doubt to take pictures of more tourists. Conrad took the photo from you and examined it. 

 

“We look happy,” he observed.

 

You touched an edge to make sure it had dried, then tucked it in your pocket. “It’s nice to have something to remember Malaysia by,” you quipped, because you couldn’t say the words in your overflowing heart.

 

Together you stopped a little longer to admire a wall-climbing display of a famous national plant, the Pagoda flower, and then it was time to head back to the brothel, to meet yet another stranger who might have some answers about your brother.

 

****

 

There was no sign of Bill back at the brothel, and that relieved you. No doubt he’d not have been too pleased to see either you or Conrad, regardless of their dubious friendship. Was he still trapped in the locked room? You couldn’t bring yourself to care, right now.

 

Jin sat in her spot at what could very loosely be termed the reception area. She looked up when you walked in, and nodded, then said something to Conrad.

 

“Nurjahan is just eating. You’ll find her in the third room on the left,” he translated. He thanked her. Jin looked at you with those ageless eyes for a moment, and you wondered what her story was. But you had more pressing matters, and the answers lay with a woman down the hall, who sold her body to make ends meet.

 

You knocked on the door. 

 

“Come,” called a female voice.

 

Conrad opened the door and you saw a young woman wearing her long dark hair twisted up in a bun. She looked perhaps twenty years old, and sat cross legged on a bamboo mat. She had a bowl of noodles in front of her and held, incongruously, a smartphone in her hand. She set it down as you entered the room.

 

“Nurjahan,” you began, “thank you for seeing us.”

 

“You want to know about the man called Ben?” she asked in perfect English, bidding you to sit. You and Conrad obeyed, lowering yourselves to the big bamboo mat. On the shelves around the three of you, bags of rice and bowls and other meal paraphernalia were stacked. Through an open window, birdsong and tinny music from a boombox warred.

 

Nurjahan’s phone vibrated but she ignored it. 

 

“Yes please,” you said, forcing yourself to be calm. “He’s my brother.”

 

“He didn’t come and see me alone,” Nurjahan replied, idly stirring her bowl of half-finished noodles.

 

Conrad reached over and laced his fingers with yours, and just that little spark of contact made warm spiral inside you. He knew exactly what you needed, when you needed it.

 

“Go on,” you managed.

 

“He wasn’t alone. He had a girl with him. A westerner.”

 

You glanced over at Conrad. The lines of his face were set, no emotion betrayed. Questions rolled around in your mind.

 

“What did she look like?”

 

“Blonde hair, short. Very pretty.”

 

Nurjahan could have been describing Ben’s girlfriend, Trish. But… Trish was back home. Worried sick. It was Trish who’d raised the alarm to begin with. She’d sworn blind that Ben wouldn’t have gone without her. But had you spoken to her face to face? No. Only on the phone. Your stomach churned. What the fuck is happening?

 

“What….. Did they want?” you asked, a bitter taste in your mouth.

 

Nurjahan raised one elegant shoulder. “What does anyone who comes to a place like this want?”

 

“No, no-”

 

Conrad squeezed your fingers. “Can you think of anything either of them said, or did, that might be helpful to us? Or where they were going next?”

 

“They seemed like….. What is the term in English… thrillseekers. The girl spoke about a bungee jump, and your brother,” she directed the words at you, “seemed keen to go white water rafting.”

 

After Conrad asked a few more questions, which went nowhere, you numbly thanked Nurjahan for her time and closed the door, leaving her to finish eating in peace. Your head span and you were more confused than ever.

 

Conrad cupped your face in his hands, kissing you deeply. “It will be all right. I swear I will get to the bottom of this with you.”

 

Your heart sank. “I believe that you believe that, James. But I’ve no idea what I believe any more.”





Chapter Text

Conrad led you back to the room where, some hours ago, he’d locked up Bill after your little stunt with the rice bowls. He tried the handle. You held your breath for a moment,  but the lock held. You cast your gaze around for the key, finally seeing it wedged under the rudimentary sideboard of the hallway. You handed it to James, and he nodded once, and unlocked the door.

 

Bill sat with his head in his hands, looking nauseous and groggy. The remains of the bowls you’d smashed on his head littered the floor, grains of rice scattered amongst the porcelain fragments.

 

He raised his eyes when you entered the room and made to get up, but Conrad held a hand out.

 

“I’d think twice about that if I were you.”

 

Bill seethed silently, but stayed where he was, one hand still cupping his head. He had quite the lump there, you thought, pleased with your handiwork.

 

Conrad stood still for a second. You knew he was giving Bill his patented hard stare. Bill seemed a tough nut to crack, but he’d already felt the brunt force of your anger and hopefully that would go some way to loosening his tongue.

 

You held your breath as Conrad pulled Ben’s scarf from his jeans pocket. The memory of stuffing it there before you’d performed fellatio on the mercenary heated your cheeks. Who knew if you would get to share anything like that with this brave, kind, enchanting man ever again. With difficulty, you pushed all your clamouring emotions aside for now.

 

“You know where Ben is,” Conrad began, steel lacing his words. “And believe me when I say that I have no qualms about using my very particular skill set to encourage you to part with the information you have. We’ve already spoken to Nurjahan.”

 

The older man didn’t look surprised by this. He spat on the floor, hate in his dark gaze.

 

“And no more horseshit about runners. You never put any enquiries out, did you?”

 

The flicker in Bill’s eyes confirmed it. You itched to have another round with him - you could easily use the porcelain fragments to make some interesting cuts. The thought turned your stomach - the thought of intentionally hurting another human - but he knew about Ben. Ben your brother. You’d kissed his knee when he fell, helped him study for math tests. Cuddled him to sleep after you lost your parents. Ben was all you had in the world.

 

Conrad shifted beside you. All I had in the world until now, you amended. How you were going to hang on to James Conrad, you didn’t know. But you had to hope you’d be given enough time to figure that out later.

 

Bill twisted position on the floor. “He paid me,” he finally groused. “To delay you. So he and his cute little side piece could get where they were going before you showed up.”

 

Fear and adrenaline shot through your veins. “And Nurjahan…”

 

“I didn’t expect her to speak to you,” he said thoughtfully. “But your brother and his girl, they seem like thrillseekers on the trip of a lifetime. Why you want to interrupt that-”

 

“He would have told me!” you exploded. “I looked after him after-” you stopped short. You didn’t want Bill to know any more than necessary. “He would have said something.” The disquiet in your stomach gnawed away, acidic. Was Trish with him? Why?

 

Conrad moved closer to the door, sending a clear message that Bill wasn’t leaving until satisfactory answers were obtained. “Where did they go, Bill? Believe me when I say that I will find out from you, no matter how long it takes.” His voice had gone low, almost a whisper, but the hard edge to it had your nerves scattering. 

 

The fight seemed to go out of Bill. His shoulders slumped and for a moment he looked old, and haggard, and so tired. “I don’t know what they told Nurjahan, but you’ve already talked to her, so. They’re headed to Pulau Ketam. He asked Jin about the ferry there, about places to stay. That’s all I know. I swear. I need water.”

 

You shook off any instinctive sympathy you might have had. “You’ll get it when we’re ready,” you snapped. Conrad glanced at you, his brow arched and what might have been surprised respect crossing over his face. “At the motel, our first night in KL. That was you, wasn’t it?”

Bill’s face hardened again. “Ben’s idea. To scare you off in case you did the stupid thing, in his words, and tried to track him down.”

 

Your heart clenched. My baby brother. He couldn’t have….

 

No, you refused to believe this two-bit crook. You’d get the truth from your brother yourself, or lose everything trying. He’s the only family that matters anymore.

 

“I think we’ve got what we need,” Conrad muttered. He spared Bill a withering glance. “We saved each other’s lives, Torres. At one time that might have meant something.”

 

Bill spat again, and when he finally spoke his voice was laced with venom. “Speak for yourself. In this world, it’s every man for himself.”

 

Conrad clenched and unclenched his fists. Emotions ran across his face but you stayed his arm, silently communicating that the other man wasn’t worth any further energy expenditure. You needed to get to the ferry port without delay. Who knew what you’d find, but you couldn’t rest without seeing Ben again, even if this twisted adventure led to something you’d forever regret.