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Rated: 13+ · Chapter · Action/Adventure · #2317591
In which feelings change.
Bel’s stomach growls.

Kam steps back, and Bel’s heels—inadvertently raised to make it easier for him to reach Kam’s lips—clunk back down to the floor.

“Hungry?” Kam is smirking, and Bel wants to punch him.

Of course I’m hungry, jackass. But did my damn stomach have to let me know that right now?

“I’m craving Italian.” Kam has stepped all the way back, allowing Bel to gather his scattered thoughts.

“Huh?” Bel’s stomach gives another loud protest, and his heart is still doing the skippy thing, and Bel wants to crawl under the Alpha Romeo and stay there.

“There’s an Italian place I like around here.” Kam clarifies. “We could probably eat before you have to go get ready for work.”

Food, Bel. Kam is talking about Italian food.

“Ok,” Great, Bel got a two syllable word out of his mouth. Next, he should try a sentence.

The “Italian place” turns out to be one of those open air venues, with tables both inside and outside. Bel goes straight to one of the outside tables and Kam follows. Neither speak again until they’ve ordered food.

“You looked funny when I said I’m craving Italian,” Kam says as he hands the menu back to the waitperson.

“My grandma was Italian.” Bel actually got a sentence out. “My dad grew up in Little Italy.”

“In New York?”

“Yeah.” Bel feels a little better. Yes, let’s make small talk. Small talk is good. Small talk is safe. Small talk will bring his heart rate down. “I used to visit her for Christmas sometimes, and she’d make cannolis and gelato and we’d go see the Christmas lights and stuff.”

“So your dad grew up in Little Italy, then left New York and met your mom in London, then moved back to Thailand, then sent you and your sister to NYU.”

“You remember all that?”

“A babysitter should have a good memory.”

Bel smacks him.

“Actually, Nina chose NYU and graduated summa cum laude. I got chewed up and spit out within a semester.”

Bel’s mentioned this before but seems more inclined to talk about it now, so Kam feels no qualms about his next question.

“Why? I mean, uni is supposed to be hard, but—“

“I know that,” Bel doesn’t sound defensive. He sounds defeated. “But you know what makes it harder? When you don’t know what the hell to do in the first place.”

“Meaning?” Kam’s push is gentle. The waitperson comes back with their drinks and Bel takes a sip before he answers.

“I mean…you go get a higher education for a reason right? Because your parents expect you to study what they did and then help run the family business right? Or because you want to study something that you probably want to spend the rest of your life doing right? So what do you do when you have no fucking clue what that something is?”

Kam blinks at the onslaught of words. The only response he can think of is, “Don’t you?”

“No,” Bel blows out a breath. “I hated every single class I took and had no clue what I wanted to focus on, so I didn’t study. What I did do was buy a full cocktail set and provide drinks for campus mixers and things. I had more fun doing that then I did with anything else.”

“Your friends must have loved coming to visit you.” Kam means it. Why go out for drinks when you knew someone who could make them for free?

“They did,” Bel nods. “And then I flunked all my exams. No, not flunked—the exams destroyed me. My entire transcript was full of zeros. I’m not like anyone else in my family. Nina has a successful career, and so did both my parents. I came back here on a gap year that hasn’t ended yet and now I tend bar.”

“And what’s wrong with that?” Kam asks. Bel looks at him in surprise.

“What?”

“What’s wrong with not being like everyone else in your family?” Kam repeats. “My dad sold cars. I flip and customize them.”

“You still both work with cars.”

“My grandfather was in real estate,” Kam’s mouth twists a little bit. “Let’s just say when my dad told him he was more interested in working with cars than houses, the first conversation they had about that was not a great one. But my dad proved himself and my grandfather eventually came around.”

“So you’re saying I should prove myself?” Bel is confused. “To who?”

“What I’m saying is you don’t have to be like everyone else,” Kam says. “Because you’re not. And you don’t have to feel ashamed because your life didn’t turn out like—“

“Nina’s?” Bel still doesn’t look like he’s feeling any better.

“Like Nina’s or Silo’s or mine, because you’re not any of us. You’re you. If everyone was the same, then the world would be a lot less interesting.”

“That sounds like it should go on a plaque somewhere.” Bel says. Kam smiles at him.

“It’s something my mom used to say. Look, do you like what you’re doing right now?”

The food has come, so Bel takes a bite to think about the question. Kam doesn’t say anything, just waits for Bel to figure out the answer. Finally, Bel nods.

“Yes. Yes, I do.”

“Good. Then what’s the problem? You don’t have to be like anyone else.” Kam pushes another plate of food toward him. “Eat. You can tell me if it’s as good as your grandma’s. I got you a whole plate of cannolis.”

Bel eats every one of the cannolis. He also smiles like an idiot. That smile keeps appearing on the drive home, and while he changes for work, and on the way to work, and—

“What did that cocktail shaker do to you that made you smile at it so much?” Em asks. “Or is it something your boyfriend did?”

“Something Kam did.” Bel had given up denying that Kam is his boyfriend, partly because he knows Em won’t believe him, and partly because…well there was no other “partly”. Em just wouldn’t believe him. “I notice you didn’t come alone tonight either.”

“Yeah,” Em rolls her eyes in the direction of Talay, who is sitting with Kam. “Talay is helping Silo with something in exchange for a date with me.”

“Right. One date.” Bel raises an eyebrow. It’s not as good as Kam’s Eyebrow Thing, but pretty close. “I’m sure that’s all it is. Ow, what hell!”

“Don’t be a baby,” Em says. “I didn’t kick you that hard. I still think Kam looks like that one guy.”

“From the motorcycle show?” Bel rubs his sore shin with the opposite foot. “Who do you think Talay looks like?”

“If you mean do I think the guy I’m dating is cuter than your boyfriend,” Em says. “Then yes. But that’s because Talay is more my type.”

“‘Guy you're dating’.” Bel teases. “Not ‘boyfriend’?”

“You have another shin, Bel, and I will kick it.”

“This ‘something’ that the ‘guy you’re dating’ asked Silo to help with,” Bel makes sure his back is tuned to the dining room when he asks his next question. “It doesn’t have something to do with certain files and a certain someone standing next to you who might be on someone’s hit list? Don’t stare at me like that, Em, I’m not stupid.”

“There was a much simpler way of saying all that,” Em says. “But yes, I know all about that and yes, that’s what Talay is doing. Only don't tell Silo I know.”

“I’d prefer not to have your brother squash me.”

“Does that mean you won’t say anything or you will?” Em’s smile means she already knows the answer. “Aren’t you scared?”

“Yes, it means I won’t say anything,” Bel says. “And yes, I’m scared. And confused about why anyone would want to kill me.”

“Well, now you’ve got me and Kam looking out for you while you’re here.” Em says. “I know that doesn’t sound very—”

“It sounds great,” Bel hastens to reassure her. “You know the regulars better than Kam does, so you can help me spot any potential threat.”

“Unless Gulf’s gorilla of a security guard spots them first.” Em nods at the hulking man in the same corner he’s been standing in every night. “He could subdue a threat faster than either of us. That’s why Gulf hired him after all.”

“Listen to us,” Bel can’t stop himself from rolling his eyes. “We sound like characters in some spy novel.”

“If this were a spy novel, it would be more exciting.” Em says.

“Are you saying your job is boring?” Gulf has overheard them.

“Did you come to ask me where my brother is?” Em counters.

Gulf jerks his head in the direction of Talay. “I see his assistant is here. Talay seems to be spending a lot of time around here lately, so I’m assuming he came with you?”

“Are you going to criticize who I date now, too?” But Em says it without heat. “Silo has to work late tonight. He told me to tell you he’ll be in later so wait for him.”

“He’s working with Nina?”

Bel turns to face Gulf at the sound of his sister’s name. “I thought you weren’t jealous.”

“I’m not,” Gulf shrugs. “I’m curious. And I wish Silo would make up his mind.”

Em snorts. “Silo doesn’t like being forced into commitment. I thought you knew that.”

“I know that,” Gulf agrees. “But that doesn’t mean I like it.”

Over at Kam’s table, someone else is getting a grilling: Talay.

“So Silo pulled you into this too, huh?” Kam asks.

“You make it sound like I didn’t have a choice,” Talay says.

“Did you?” Kam’s question is rhetorical and they both know it. “I’m guessing Em is helping too, and Silo isn’t supposed to find out?”

“What are you, psychic?” Talay quips. “It’s just looking through old cases. I don’t know why it’s such a big deal.”

“Someone’s tried to kill Bel twice now and it’s not a big deal?” Kam keeps his voice low, but the look on his face speaks volumes.

“Twice?” Talay raises his eyebrows. “I heard the Ducati was aimed at Bel, but the car was aimed at you.”

“I can confirm that,” Gulf makes himself comfortable at Kam’s table. He ignores the looks he gets from the other two men. They can’t exactly tell him to leave, since the seat was empty anyway, but that doesn’t mean they like who is occupying it.

“You were here that night,” Talay says, just to have something to say. Gulf nods, equally aware that the question is rhetorical, but willing to answer anyway.

“There wasn’t anyone else in the parking lot, and the car was definitely aiming at Kam. If Bel hadn’t pulled him out of the way, he’d be in the hospital or worse.” Gulf turns to Kam. “I hear you flip cars.”

Kam’s eyebrows shoot up toward his hairline. “I own a car restoration business, yes. Why?”

“If I had a car for you what would your asking price be?”

Kam studies Gulf’s face for a minute before repeating his question. “Why?”

“I just told you,” Gulf doesn’t look the least put out by the look that Kam is giving him. “It’s a 1977 Aston Martin V8. I’m guessing you know what that is.”

Kam doesn’t so much as blink, but Talay stares. The car that Gulf has offered to sell Kam is not only one of the rarest in the world, but also one of the most expensive. It’s also a car that people are familiar with since it’s been featured in several James Bond movies, all of which Talay has seen, and he’s sure that Kam has too. Gulf just keeps looking at Kam, waiting for an answer, or a reaction or both, Talay isn’t sure. But Kam’s face is completely expressionless, as is his voice when he asks his next question.

“Where did someone like you find a car like that?”

If Gulf was supposed to be insulted or confused by that question, Kam is disappointed. Instead, Gulf keeps smiling. “Actually, it’s been sitting in my family garage for years. It was purchased from a friend of a friend some years ago, and it’s just been sitting gathering rust—literally. You don’t believe me? Take a look.”

Gulf hands his phone over to Kam, and Kam looks down at the photo on the screen. Gulf was not lying about the condition of the car. What Kam is looking at is the rusted out skeleton of the famous car. All four tires are missing, the windows and windshield are shattered or missing their glass entirely and an interior that looks like it had made mice happy for years. Kam feels a little nauseous looking at it. Who the hell would let that happen to a car? Talay peeks over Kam’s shoulder and sucks his breath in through his teeth.

“Shit, you weren’t kidding.”

“It could be beautiful provided the person doing the restoration job knew what he was doing.” Gulf takes the phone back from Kam. “Are you interested?”

“How much are you asking for it?”

Gulf pulls a folded piece of paper from his pocket and slides it across to Kam. Kam’s eyebrows drop and his eyes narrow as he reads the numbers on the paper.

“You’re practically giving it away.”

“I told you,” Gulf says. “I want to give it to someone who cares about it, rather than let it take up space in the family garage. Think about it and let me know, will you?”

“What’s with the face?” Talay asks as Gulf walks away.

“I don’t like him,” Kam says. “And I don't know why.”

“I can run a background check on him if you want.” Talay is only half serious, but Kam is seriously tempted to take him up on it.

The evening passes without incident. Silo doesn’t come, so Gulf is a little annoyed, but that’s the only wrinkle and one Em says can be remedied if Gulf calls him. After closing, Em goes with Talay, and Bel goes with Kam. Gulf is on his phone as everyone else drives away.

“What did Gulf want?” Bel asks on the drive home.

Kam smirks at him. “Jealous?”

“Curious,” Bel sounds defensive. “He’s dating Silo, so why is he flirting with you?”

“He has a car.”

“Everyone has a car. Ow, don’t flick my ear!”

“A car he wants me to flip, jackass. ’77 Aston Martin in need of a restoration job.”

Bel rubs his stinging earlobe. “I didn’t know Gulf was the classic car type.”

“He’s not,” Kam says. “That’s why he wants me to restore and flip it—so it doesn’t keep taking up space in his family’s garage.”

“You sound like you don’t believe him.”

“I don’t,” Kam speaks without hesitation. “But I’m not sure why.”

“So are you going to take him up on his offer?” After seeing the showroom, Bel is beginning to understand how Kam feels about cars, and the way he said ‘restoration’ made the car in question sound like an abandoned newborn.

Kam pulls the car into the driveway and turns off the ignition before he answers. “I’m going to think about it. You’re doing that smiley thing again.”

“I was thinking about what you said earlier today,” Bel says. “You’re right, I don’t have to be like everyone else.”

“I really like it when you smile,” Kam says. “It’s cute.”

Bel’s face heats up and he concentrates on opening both the car and the house door without fumbling. He knows Kam is right behind him; he can feel the heat from Kam’s body on his back.

“What are you doing?”

“Finishing what we started in the showroom.” Kam’s arms are locked tight around Bel’s waist. His breath is warm, and he blows kisses in a line of fire from one side of the back of Bel’s neck to the other.

Bel turns in Kam’s arms, so that they are eye to eye. He lifts his own arms, pulling Kam closer. His breath hitches when the kisses are blown across the front of his neck, too.

“You don't need to be afraid of me.” Kam murmurs in his ear.

“I’m not—“

Kam’s finger on his lips stops Bel mid-protest. The skippy flip-flop thing starts in Bel’s heart again.

“All you have to do,” Kam emphasizes each word with a kiss just below Bel’s ear, along his jawline, on the side of his neck. “Is tell me to stop. Do you want me to stop?”

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Kam’s touch is sending liquid warmth throughout Bel’s body, and sending other sensations to other places Bel really shouldn’t be thinking about right now. Or should he?

“I didn’t hear you say anything, Bel.” This time Kam’s voice is not in Bel’s ear. One of his hands is cupping the back of Bel’s head, and his eyes are locked with Bel’s. Kam wants to make sure Bel knows this is a serious question. “Do you want me to stop?”

Bel doesn’t even hesitate. “No.”

Kam smiles. He kisses the hollow of Bel’s throat, and then his nose, and then Bel’s mouth is crushed by Kam’s lips.

Bel’s heart isn’t skipping anymore.

It’s pounding.

Pounding in tandem with Kam’s.

Kam’s shirt is off, and then Bel’s.

Bare skin to bare skin.

Touching, stroking, exploring.

The sweep of Kam’s tongue across Bel’s lower lip is subtle at first, but soon Bel is unable to tell where Kam’s mouth started and Bel’s mouth begins.

I like this.

I like him.

I like my watchdog.

I really like him.

A lot.

Bel tangles his fingers into Kam’s hair, worrying Kam’s bottom lip with his teeth, and then his top one. He slips his own tongue into Kam’s mouth, wanting to taste that combination of pecans and whiskey and dark chocolate again—and it’s delicious.

Kam’s teeth scrape along the sides of Bel’s neck, down across his collarbone, and then he nips, once, twice. Bel squeaks, so Kam does it again; and now Kam’s hands are moving. Moving from behind Bel’s head, down past his ribcage to the small of his back, circling his waist, lower, and lower, until…

Until Bel’s hand grasps Kam’s, holding it tight and keeping it from moving beyond the top of Bel’s waistband. Bel looks at Kam. He doesn’t say anything, but he doesn’t have to. Bel’s grip on Kam’s hand isn’t harsh, or a reprimand. But it’s a very clear and definite “no”.

Kam moves his hand away. He does it slowly, so Bel is aware that he’s not angry, and Bel doesn’t need to push him away. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” There’s no reprimand in Bel’s eyes either, any more than there was in his body language. “Just—not yet.”

“I understand,” Kam shifts his hand, so that his long fingers intertwine with Bel’s tiny ones. “I’ll wait.”

Both of them know he means it. Kam moves his free hand back up, cupping Bel’s face, and then moves his fingers behind Bel’s head, tangling in that black and turquoise streaked hair, drawing Bel’s mouth back to his.

And Bel’s phone buzzes.

Then it buzzes again.

And again.

Damn. Damn, damn, damn!

“You should probably get that,” Kam steps back enough to allow Bel to pull his phone from his pocket. Bel’s forehead knots up as he sees a location on the screen and reads the text that accompanies it.

“What the hell…”

He flips the phone around, so Kam can see the text, too.

GULF: CALL ME RIGHT NOW.

“Put the phone on speaker.” Kam says.

Bel dials Gulf’s number. Gulf picks up halfway through the first ring, and doesn’t even bother with a greeting.

“Someone tried to strangle Nina,”

Bel almost drops the phone. “What?”

“If I repeat it in English rather than Thai will it make more sense to you?”

“That’s not funny, Gulf!”

“No, it’s not,” Gulf agrees. “I’ve called Silo, and he wants you to meet Nina at my condo.”

“Is that where she is now?” Bel glances at Kam, who already has the car keys in his hand.

“I’ll text you the address,” Gulf says. “Get here as soon as you can.”

"14. Circling

read from beginning "1. Phone Calls in the Dark
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