Thank you for signing up! As promised here’s your exclusive preview of Part Three of the Pleasure Hound series.
Just when Chanyn believes she has the family she’s always dreamed of, Khial disappears, abandoning her. Chanyn calls on the one man who’s never let her down: Jian. But even if Jian forsakes his vows and his brotherhood to find the grief-stricken Khial, how will he let go of the woman he loves all over again?
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The moon pulled anchor and sailed high into the heavens while the sun released its hold on the horizon and sank. Somewhere between the two celestial bodies, Khial drifted. He’d wandered around for days. Two days? Three, maybe? Time scattered around him, stretched and distorted like the pieces of a popped balloon.
Looking up at the moon left Khial light-headed. The white orb filled the sky, its body swollen, its seams set to burst. Memories of old swirled in Khial’s head, sending him back to boyhood.
As a boy, to escape the incessant mind games played by his parents during mealtimes, one day Khial ventured out into the street market. Khial’s first trip to the market was also his last. He clutched his throat, watching a man fry gray meat in a grease-laden pan. His toes curled at the screeching of a three-piece, musical ensemble. He flipped up his collar at the sight of two scrawny, unwashed street boys near his age.
Turning his back on them, Khial spotted a blue orb. The balloon stretched and yearned for the sky, but was tethered to earth by a silver string. Its captor, an old man with gray hair and clear gray eyes, like a reflecting mirror, gazed down at Khial. His gnarled hands twisted oblong balloons into animal shapes.
Khial reached in his pocket and withdrew a piece of copper. In exchange, the old man handed him a contorted balloon in the shape of a lion. Before turning away, Khial cast one final glance at the captive blue balloon. It bobbed and weaved, testing the restraints of the string. And then suddenly, it was yanked down, free.
Khial blinked as the gnarled hand placed the string before him. He reached into his pocket before reaching for the proffered balloon, but the old man shook his head. He released the balloon into Khial’s hand, with a wink.
On the way home Khial’s hands were full. He cradled the lion in one arm, in the other hand his five fingers wrapped around the silver string, tight. No one had ever given him a gift before.
Khial returned home to the sounds of fists popping jaws. His fathers were fighting over his mother once more. His mother, Lady Danyell, stood at the top of the stairs monitoring her mates’ progress.
Early in his young life, Khial believed his mother was the Goddess, Herself. Her skin was as dark as the fertile earth, her hair a fluffy cloud that haloed around her face. The vacancy in her eyes proved his infantile theory wrong.
Lady Danyell held no tablet in her hands to record whatever experiment she’d set into motion. She possessed a photographic memory that catalogued and compartmentalized everything she witnessed, read, or heard. His mother was fascinated with the emotions of jealousy. Not being able to feel the emotion herself, she doubted, its existence and used her husbands to test its variables.
The crash of one of Khial’s fathers falling startled him, and his grip relinquished the silver string. His gift sailed up to the high ceilings, far beyond his reach. His face fell. His eyes teared. Before he could correct his mistake, his mother appeared before him.
Danyell’s calculating gaze looked from her son’s face, to the floating balloon before settling on the contorted material still in Khial’s arms.
“Why are you crying.” There was no inflection in her voice to indicate that the statement was a question. For Lady Danyell it was a problem, a hypothesis she meant to investigate.
“It’s still present,” she indicated the floating balloon. “It’s simply beyond your reach.”
She cocked her head to the side at her statement, turning it over and over again in her clockwork mind.
She held her hand out for the contorted balloon that remained in Khial’s hand. Khial knew it was fruitless to deny her. He shuttered himself against further loss and handed the balloon over. Without preamble, his mother squeezed the balloon until the air burst from it, rending the elastic into pieces. The stretched and distorted pieces landed on the floor in a quiet crash.
“This one is also still present.” She held up the pieces, ticking off the variables. “This one is in your reach. Though its function is now useless.”
Danyell tick-tocked her head in the opposite direction, investigating from a different angle. Khial focused on his mother’s shoulder, his head high, his teeth grit, his face blank.
“So, why is it that you cry? Is it the loss of function or the loss of proximity?”
Khial didn’t answer. They stood there for a long, silent moment. Until another crash broke her contemplation. Lady Danyell tick-tocked her head in the direction of her mates and followed in the wake of their debris.
Khial ran out of the house and hid in the woods. That day he stayed in his hiding spot until it grew dark.
It was dark out now. Khial didn’t know where he was, nor how he’d gotten here. The last thing he remembered was the light go out of Dain’s eyes and the silence that crashed around him. Dain’s body remained present, perfectly intact, but empty and beyond Khial’s reach.
Khial glanced up at his surroundings. He was far from the clean, wealthy side of town where women lived. He was beyond the market where the rich and working class bartered. The three story high-rises crunched together on dirt patches of land signaled that Khial’s wanderings had brought him to the end of genteel civilization. Only male bodies, young, mature, and elderly, littered these streets. The discarded thirds and enterprising second sons ruled these outskirts. Many hungry, calculating, desperate eyes landed on Khial like a swarm of flies on a carcass. What little self-preservation he had left told him he needed to get off the streets if he wanted to make it to morning.
Khial stood still.
He’d drifted for days in an effort to untether himself from this world. Perhaps if he stood still long enough, someone would come by and pop him off. The idea held merit, but Khial’s legs wobbled. Perhaps in the morning, he would stand firm in the middle of the streets and wait for oblivion. For now, Khial ducked into a boarding establishment.
Though the Sisterhood had no care for or reach into the outskirts, their charity provided a number of free shelters where males could get a cot and a warm meal for the night. Looking around the interior of one such establishment, Khial realized he’d never seen so much squalor. He could make out each grimy fingerprint on the wall. Cakes of dirt decorated the corners of the room. Filth stained the cot mattresses, a chorus of rusty springs sang lullabies. The men all smelled. Khial took one look in the showers and turned the other way.
It baffled him. He’d always thought women held high standards for the shelters of the city’s discarded boys. He’d been told the discards lived in clean homes and received three square meals a day. His stomach protested as it tried to digest the stale bread, bruised vegetables, and questionable meat.
He couldn’t complain too much. In truth he’d taken a step down when he came to live with Dain and his family. Dain’s family home had been a small cottage compared to the splendor that was his mother’s royal estates. Khial never felt a sense of belonging amidst the jeweled fixtures, the priceless art, and the antique furnishings of his status. He walked away from all of that to be with the boy he loved and his infamous parents.
Color vibrated from every corner of Dain’s home. Nothing in glass, nothing broken. Shouts of joy rang out morning, noon, and night. His family gave gifts frequently, never taking them back to measure a child’s response or condition a behavior.
Khial would often sit on the sidelines and watch Dain’s fathers play with him. Watch the affection they had for each other and their wife. Watch them hug and kiss. They offered the same affection to Khial, but soon realized that it was difficult for him to receive. Khial remained wary of grown men and women.
The only person whose embrace felt right was Dain’s.
There was an ancient saying: Home is Where the Heart is. Whenever Khial laid his head at Dain’s heart he felt peace, he felt safe, he felt home.
And now his home was gone.
The rusty bed groaned as Khial slumped down onto it. His shoulders caved in, curling around his chest. He’d chosen a cot in the corner, the farthest away from the others. As the night settled, the room began to fill with bodies. They were a haze to Khial, who couldn’t see much farther than his hands. He clenched and unclenched his left hand. At turns trying to dull the ache in his chest. At other points trying to get feeling once more in his limbs.
“Did you hear me, turd? I said, that’s my bed!”
Khial looked up slowly. The thick body of a man came into focus. Slightly less filthy than the others, this man looked young, younger than Khial.
The man surveyed Khial from head to toe and then back again, as though Khial’s two halves didn’t quite fit. Khial knew he must look filthy from wearing the same clothes for days. He hadn’t taken anything with him when he left the house. When he’d felt Dain’s spirit leave his body, Khial felt himself become untethered to this world. What need did a balloon have of clothing? Cloth was like string and Khial wanted to be free.
The man peered down at Khial, his menacing mug changing slowly to something else. “If you’re comfortable there, I would consider letting you share with me.”
“I beg your pardon?” Khial tilted his head to the side, his foggy brain grasped for comprehension.
The man grinned. “Oh, I’ll make you beg.”
In a flash, the grin turned to a leer. A hand reached out and cuffed Khial at his ear. For a moment, Khial stared at that meaty palm. His chin pressed into the soft flesh left by the space between the man’s thumb and forefinger. Khial realized with amusement that he was being manhandled. Literally.
A chuckle broke the surface of Khial’s fogged brain and then his world turned off kilter as the meaty fist gave him a powerful shake.
“You think yourself funny, you little pansy?”
Khial met the man’s eyes and startled. His head ticktocked the other way, and then swung back again as he grasped for focus. The man’s eyes were green, like Dain’s. Only there was no mischievous light in the man’s eyes. Khial glanced behind the man to see a crowd had gathered. They stood at a distance, no one willing to lend their own hand.
“It’s clear you don’t belong here, pansy. But since you stopped by I’ll make you mine for the night. What you show me under the sheets will tell me what I do with you in the morning.”
Khial’s head straightened. He faced the vile man head on. Of all the insults hurled at him, the man’s claim of ownership brought Khial out of his stupor. The only man who could lay that claim was gone. Khial clenched his hands to get feeling in them. Clenched them once more and then swung his arm.
The element of surprise must have been on his side. The man released him and stumbled back. Both he and Khial stood there in shock. The man must not have thought it in Khial. Khial could not have blamed him. Though he’d watched his fathers do it time and again to each other, he’d never hit another human being before.
It felt good. Getting that aggression out of him. For half of his life people had looked at him as though violence would burst from his person at any moment. That he would unleash the monster his mother had created. Though he’d never committed a single act of violence in his entire life, people in polite society would cringe as he walked by. Khial would often cringe as he caught sight of himself in the mirror.
When he looked again at the man on the floor, bile rose in Khial’s throat. His meal threatened to encore. Gone was the elation at releasing the aggression. Khial reached out his hand towards the man. He was met with a swift kick to the face.
Khial fell back sideways onto the bed. By the time he sat up, the man had regained his feet, and he didn’t stand alone. Two other men stood beside him. The man charged towards Khial.
Khial clenched his fists once more, willing the adrenalin, the anger, the aggression to return to him. It didn’t.
He unclenched his five fingers, releasing his tie to the world. He envisioned the blue balloon sailing off into the heavens.
Khial closed his eyes and waited for the pop of impact.
Then, he heard it. Pop! But he didn’t feel it.
And then another. Pop! Followed by a succession of pops. Khial opened one then another eye. A flurry of robes flashed before him.
The monk moved like Khial played. Fluid, never ceasing the melody. Khial watched the notes form as the monk’s feet spun, spread, and came back together. His arms spread wide, striking out but wrapping around a neck instead of punching. His hands came together cupping an incoming fist and twisting it to its limit without snapping the joint.
When the monk had finished, the three men lay in heaps on the floor. Incapacitated and bruised, but not bloody. The fight had been elegant, no brute force used.
“Out! Out!” The shelter manager bellowed from above.
Jian looked up at the man. The fight seeped out of his rigid shoulders, an inscrutable looked settled on his handsome face. It may have been shame. That would make sense. The man was a monk. Didn’t monks swear never to harm?
Jian turned to Khial and motioned for him to precede him. Once outside, Jian looked around, appearing lost for a moment. The moon glowed bright as the sun in the dead of night. The silent streets had emptied of all souls.
“What are you doing here?” Khial asked.
Jian tilted Khial’s head back and surveyed his bruise. “I came for you.”
The cradle of Jian’s warm palm threatened to tether Khial once more to the earth. But then Jian’s harsh tone snapped the string.
“Those places are dangerous,” the monk admonished. He placed both hands on Khial’s shoulders and gave him a shake. “They’re no place for a lord.”
Khial could only focus on the warm feel at his shoulders. Moments ago, they had been numb, but he could still clearly feel where each of the monk’s fingers touched him, pulling him down to the ground.
Khial shook the sensation off. “I’m not lord of anything.”
“Your birthright made you a lord.”
“My birthright?” Khial laughed. “My birthright is one of insanity and murder.”
The monk shook his head. “We write our own pasts, Lord Khial.”
Khial ignored that. “I didn’t know monks could fight.”
Jian put them both in motion towards the inner city. “The great thinker, Buddha, had a constant adversary: Mara. After a time, Buddha saw Mara lying in wait to trap him. Buddha did not run from his adversary. Buddha told Mara, I see you. Can you guess what he did next?”
“Buddha sucker punched Mara in the face?”
Jian made an amused sound in his throat. “No,” he said.
He eyed Khial as his grade school teacher had when he’d tried to teach him something. Khial’s grade school teacher knew he was smart. Knew that Khial listened, but refused to allow the lesson to penetrate.
“The Buddha said to Mara, ‘Come have tea.’ Buddha wanted to understand his adversary, for only then could he truly defeat him.”
“I didn’t see you ask any of those thugs for tea,” Khial challenged.
Jian’s laugh was humorless this time. “No, I understand men like that. I was a street turd before I was a monk.”
Jian reached out and put a hand on Khial’s shoulder. Again, the heat from his fingers penetrated through the fog of Khial’s brain.
“I am sorry for your loss, my lord. I know you must be grieving, but your family needs you.”
“I don’t have a family.”
“You have a wife and a child.”
Khial’s chin dropped to his chest. He hadn’t thought of Chanyn in the last three days. He’d assumed she would not care to keep the bond with him, especially after losing both the baby and Dain. But the monk had said wife and child.
Khial thought back to the day of Dain’s death. They had been together, Dain and Chanyn. Dain had said he felt the Goddess, that she’d blessed the union. She’d blessed Dain and then took him away, out of
Khial’s reach, leaving an empty vessel behind.
“Dain was my home and now he’s gone.”
“Dain is at your home,” Jian said.
Khial’s breath hitched, his eyes widened. Jian rested his hand once more on Khial’s shoulder. The compassionate expression on the monk’s face deflated any false hope that seeped into Khial’s chest.
“Dain lives inside your wife’s womb. That child is a part of him. As much as Chanyn cared for Dain, she didn’t know him as you did. That child will need to know its father, both fathers. That child will need you, Lord Khial.”
Khial looked up into the night’s sky. The stars twinkled at him, beckoning him to sail away.
Jian began walking once more, back to civilization. Behind him, Khial followed. His feet heavy with each step on the earth, each strike of his heel a new tether.