Fighting for Family

an excerpt

Chapter One

Khit wrapped his muscled arms around Rad and tugged him tight against his chest. "My mind's a mess, lover. I've been asking myself who I am--or should be--and my frigging answers are a jumble of contradictions." Khit nuzzled Rad's neck at its most sensitive spot.

Rad squirmed. "A legitimate question--a bit heavy for bedtime talk." Rad gripped the fingers caressing Khit's abs under their goose-down duvet. "I'm sorry I tease you about your titles." He turned to face Khit and chuckled. "You do have a lot though. Your Grace, Duke of Kinelvadon, Duke of Mersey, Marquis of Dál Riata, and six or so others I don't remember." Rad grinned and bowed his head in tribute.

"A year ago, a marquis was a vague concept. I didn't know one person might hold multiple titles. And I was unaware I was one of those guys. You have a few yourself, My Lord, Earl of Brokenhurst." Khit kissed Rad's forehead.

Khit and Rad did not resemble typical peers. In their mid-twenties and each over six feet tall, both were fit athletes with exercise-magazine bodies and movie-star-handsome faces. Blond, with blue-green eyes and a fair complexion, Rad's English-American heritage combined English peaches-and-cream coloring with California-sunshine hair. Khit's Scottish-Thai mix gifted him with deep-copper hair, honey-toned skin, sapphire eyes, and exotic Eurasian features.

"Your teasing isn't a problem. It's not the titles, but a basic understanding of what I should be doing that's screwed up." Khit ran a finger along the scar on Rad's jawline. "Life before I met you was not easy, but things were straightforward. I did not question my role in life."

"Why are you questioning yourself now? You moved to Scotland and climbed the social and economic ladder--"

"I didn't climb," Khit interrupted. "One day, I was at the bottom--the next day, the top. I was beamed up."

"But you're the same intelligent, handsome, strapping man, my love." Rad ran his hand down Khit's torso. "If I've understood our Buddhism lessons, one needs to follow only a handful of Buddhist teachings to be a worthy person. None of them relate to money or status or what others think."

"Flattery might earn you special favors in a few minutes, lover." Khit tugged Rad's hand away and kissed each finger. "Life's changed a lot, including my sexual identity and marriage to you. Doing the right thing isn't so simple." He rolled onto his back, looking up at the colorful, Thai-silk canopy covering their oversized, four-poster bed. "Problems are building up. Hatred over our gayness. The attacks on us over the last eighteen months. Our need for constant security. The public visibility. I feel guilty about my wealth and exalted social position, which I did nothing to earn. Korn and I are just members of the lucky sperm club, Grey Ghost."

Khit used Rad's nickname, Grey Ghost, only in private. The term referred to the silver bonefish, one of the sleekest and fastest fish in the ocean, as grey ghosts. The media penned the moniker when Rad broke the United States 200-meter butterfly record.

Rad leaned on one arm and traced a smile line from Khit's nose to the sides of his lips. "You keep telling me luck doesn't exist. Sperm's not the issue, my love. Your bloodline is. Like mine. The fact that you, and everyone else on the planet, only recently learned of your grand heritage only dramatizes your inheritance. You were born with blue blood."

"Stupid expression." Khit scowled. "I bleed red. I know--I've shed a lot in the last year."

"The phrase has an interesting history, Blaze. Look it up sometime."

When Rad called him Blaze in their intimate moments, vignettes from the past flashed across Khit's mind. Sharing a hospital room with Rad, a complete stranger, following the tsunami that killed their parents. The lousy sex with his girlfriend. Making love with Rad for the first time next to the fire at Dreamcatcher Chalet. Proposing to Rad on a cliff-diving platform in the bay off Krabi.

Khit remembered the first time Rad used the name, peering into Khit's eyes in the Phuket hospital. Khit's jaw was wired shut, his face and head bandaged except for the eyes and nose, and he could not speak. Rad recounted important events from his life while Khit listened, hoping he would live through the day. Rad called him Blaze because of the small, white star on the edge of his left pupil.

"You're floating off far away, Blaze." Rad sang the first line of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and passed a palm over Khit's eyes.

Khit blinked and swiveled his head back to Rad. "Sorry. Scattered memories of our past." He wiped his eyes with his fingertips. "Soppy song," he added, smiling.

"A classic. I like soppy songs."

"Back to my angst. Do we continue to live in gigantic Castle Gailleann, drive around in fancy cars, fly luxury private planes, and relax on our own mega-yachts or at one of our many grand homes?" Khit bit his upper lip. "My body likes the comfort, but my mind rebels. Studies show that the richer the person is, the less likely he or she is to show empathy. I'm scared that might be me one of these days."

"Angst, is it? Another of your weighty words." Rad touched the cleft in Khit's chin. "You'll never lose your empathy--it's embedded in your core. And our money is useful. Through our foundations, we're helping thousands of people. This last year, you gave each of your Krabi friends a house and car."

"Maybe I tried to buy their friendship because I had money for a change." Khit clenched a fist.

"Bullshit. They're close friends who never expect anything from you." Rad stroked Khit's cheek. "You never distort reality. Don't start now, Blaze."

Khit said, "Indecision is keeping me from following my core Buddhist principles."

Rad turned to gaze into Khit's sapphire eyes. "How would you react if our luxury lifestyle disappeared tomorrow?"

"Relieved." Khit rolled on his side to stare into the blazing fireplace on the side of the room.

"Me, too, but remember, money--like matter--never disappears. The stuff keeps moving around. If we didn't have this wealth, someone else would, and they might be greedy, selfish, arrogant assholes. The stars planned things this way to keep the money away from those destructive creeps. Doesn't your mentor monk in Krabi emphasize everything in the world is impermanent and constantly changing? Aren't we supposed to accept change as natural?"

"Yes, he does. You're wise this evening, lover, but we can support our foundations without this stuff around us." Khit's jaw muscles clenched.

"True, but this stuff helps us maintain our privacy and security, which we desperately need. The media wants to make us highly visible celebrities to sell their stories, and bad guys want our money. All the while, each of us has a historic heritage and our family's reputation to protect. We'd upset a lot of well-meaning people if we didn't take our ancestry seriously."

Khit rubbed his chin. "This is all a huge responsibility. I didn't understand being a wealthy peer came with so many not-so-good...fucking horrible add-ons."

"I told you my life of 'a spoiled-brat rich kid,' as you eloquently stated, was not endless days of massages and cocktails by the pool. Or nights dancing in exclusive discos before screwing my brains out."

"No, I didn't believe you. Poor people want the rich to live happy-ever-after lives, or what's there to aim for?" Khit ran his fingers through Rad's wavy, blond hair. "I'm still not sure about the screwing part, though."

"You're bad." Rad whacked Khit's back. "I also worry our families will be attacked. I have nightmares of being kidnapped again. I fight like hell to keep from going on another drinking binge. I agonize I might be disappointing you." Rad eased away from Khit. "I'm not always in a happy place either, my love, but let's stop this woe-is-me soul searching. Angst is depressing."

"You're talking me out of my guilt trip. Very Buddhist of you, Grey Ghost." Khit tweaked Rad's nipples. "Buddhism has nothing against vigorous, loving sex--even between men."

Rad stroked Khit's rising shaft. "A sensible religion, Blaze."

Chapter Two

Joost, a gleaming Holland & Holland Royal rifle lying across the arms of his wicker chaise, studied the herd of jostling elephants shuffling toward the water's edge. A cloud of billowing dust surrounded them.

A wizened old bull with five-foot tusks raised his trunk and trumpeted a don't-fuck-with-me warning. A bachelor brace of six elegant sable antelopes glanced at the newcomers and ambled fifteen feet downriver. White ibis, ramrod-erect, waded in the water, ignoring the tetchy intruder and his mates. A small dazzle of zebra, whipping their tufted tails in circles to chase away biting insects, continued drinking nearby. They were warier of the pack of African wild dogs resting in the shade than the much larger beasts. The matriarch, tromping past the bull, led the elephant herd into a placid pool formed by water backing up against a rocky outcrop jutting into the fast-flowing river.

The Hulk doesn't get much damned respect. He's not cunning enough--needs to be like Tessie, who leads with a brazen ruthlessness. She's the fucking dangerous one.

Tessie's herd splashed and sprayed themselves near the crest of foaming rapids. They stayed away from a bloat of snorting hippos, floating with only their nostrils above the surface. Below the rocks, a pair of four-yard-long crocodiles warmed their gnarly, cold-blooded bodies in the afternoon sun.

Lions and buffalo would come to drink at dusk in another hour. An occasional rhino joined the daily river party, which, by mutual, inborn understanding, came under a tenuous truce. The moment an animal wandered away from the watering spot, the usual laws of nature took over.

I've learned a lot about stalking and attacking prey from these animals.

Joost's sprawling, thatched-roof house stretched along the top of a twenty-foot bluff on the Namibian side of the Zambezi River at the eastern tip of the Caprivi Strip. He had fortified his property with strong embankments and electric fences. These precautions protected him from wandering predators, animal and human.

Joost gulped cold Windhoek Lager from its jade-green bottle before standing and lifting his rifle, a superb killing tool. His tropical-weight khaki shirt and trousers outlined a strong, muscled body. He braced himself against the deck's railing and aimed the double barrel, bolt-action rifle at Tessie, centering the elephant's broad forehead in the sights. He squeezed the trigger.

A sharp click echoed through an empty chamber. He shifted his weapon to target one of the majestic Black Sables with its high-arching, ridged horns. Another click.

I'll bet the Devil's horns are no match for those.

A low, smoky voice from behind interrupted Joost. "What are you doing, darling?" Long fingers brushed his powerful neck.

Joost turned and replied, "Practicing. You want a go, Tess?"

"No, thanks. I don't need practice, and I never aim an unloaded gun."

Both true.

As she strode to the bar under the wide overhang of the thatched roof, Joost studied Tess, who was not aware Joost named the elephant after her. She walked with a confidence born from success. Her white blouse and snug black jeans showed off her curves, the envy of the best-looking women in southern Africa and the cause of sudden hormonal surges in the men.

Tess mixed a drink and opened a beer before asking, "Any particular reason for the practice? Planning a hunt?" She pushed a strand of lustrous, red hair away from her face.

The two of them enjoyed testing their survival skills against dangerous prey. Unlike most of the trophy hunters from around the world, they stalked quarry on foot with a single guide. They never used telescopic sights, and in dozens of big-game hunts, both felled their animals on the first shot. Each time he pulled the trigger, Joost sprung an erection, which amused Tess.

Tess complained on their last hunt. "You need a lot more stimulation to get your dick up for me."

"Try yelling 'bang, bang' next time." Joost smirked.

Joost did not hunt near his home. The rolling boom of a high-powered rifle would be noticed in this isolated area. He considered silent bow and arrow hunters beneath contempt--pseudo-macho imposters--unlikely to make a clean kill. He and Tess traveled to the private reserves, catering to the wealthy, in Botswana and South Africa.

Joost sat and relaxed in the chaise. He gazed at the scarlet blossoms smothering the flame tree hanging over the terrace. "I'm going after the faggot duke again."

"You're pushing things. Be careful. You've sported a hard-on for the duke for a long time. Why?" Tess removed the condensation drops from her glass with a finger and licked it clean. "Have you gone queer?"

Joost laughed. "With you around, that's impossible." He leaned over and slid the barrel of the Holland & Holland between Tess's legs and up to her crotch.

Tess grabbed the gleaming metal shaft and twisted the gun away from her. "Be careful, or your two-hundred-thousand-dollar, double barrel rifle will be rammed up your single barrel ass." Tess sipped her Campari soda.

Joost took another swig of his beer. "Capturing him will bring in millions--more than a bunch of other kidnappings. He's at the apex of big fucking game..." Joost pointed across the river and mimed a shot. "Although his wealth is a well-kept secret, reports place him near the top of the world's richest people. Maybe the richest."

Tess asked, "Aren't you rich enough?"

"No. I plan to retire in comfort soon."

"At thirty-five? Then what would you do?" Tess chuckled. "You'll go bonkers with boredom." She paused to drink. "I need to go to Kolkata in India next week to meet my Burmese contact. Do you want to come?"

Tess owned a successful online shop for women's safari clothing, bought for wearing in the fashionable, high-class areas of stylish cities rather than the bush. This enterprise provided a legitimate front for her major, illegal activities.

Joost shook his head. "I hate Kolkata. The city's a putrid shit heap. No, I'm flying to Glasgow to attend a liquor expo." His public persona was a South African wine dealer, which took him around the world and masked his own criminal pursuits.

Tess shrugged. "Kolkata's the kind of place I can stay hidden among the chaos and crowds." Tess stared at him. "Is going into your prey's territory wise?"

"I'll be careful. The exhibition is excellent cover, and Scotland's the best place to talk to my various contacts. One of my guys has blackmailed a Castle Gailleann staff to spy on the family. I've learned a lot. I can now pressure the Duke of Fucking Kinelvadon from all sides without him knowing where I am."

"The duke may be smarter than your lackeys." She glanced at the animals relaxing across the river.

"I hired the best for my first salvo in this round of attack. A team's been organized to shoot the duke's aunt. She's important to the duke and his brother." Joost emptied his bottle with three big gulps and watched a pair of sinewy lionesses approach the water.

Exhausted prey is much easier to stalk and capture.