Deserves to be Adored

an excerpt



Chapter 1



The shrill ring of an incoming phone call interrupted the dulcet tones of Adele flowing through the speakers. Joey hit the answer button on his Bluetooth.

"Hey, boss," he said as he set his book aside.

"Where are you?"

Joey rolled his eyes. His uncle wasn't much on polite conversation. "I'm waiting for Candice. When she's done, I'm driving her home."

Frank grunted. "No. Text her and tell her to call Rocky when she's done. Her fucking client takes hours. I need you to go somewhere for me."

Joey didn't argue, though he didn't really want to go anywhere else. He knew Candice's guy and had been looking forward to having three hours of uninterrupted reading time. He'd gotten a new book and would've liked to be able to get into it. He wasn't the smartest guy. Reading was hard for him, but he did it because he learned new things from the stories he finished.

"Yes, sir. Where do you want me to go?"

"Go see Raleigh. He hasn't had any clients the last couple of days, plus Lorna says he hasn't called her either," Frank ordered.

Joey started the Cadillac. "Do you think one of the clients got a little rough?"

Frank muttered something, and since Joey couldn't make out the words, he assumed they weren't for him. "No. Lorna vets the clients carefully. They all know the danger of bruising the escorts."

He knew that to be true. Any client who hurt one of the girls--or boys--found himself on the wrong end of a beating, and Frank wasn't gentle about his retributions either. Of course, he couldn't be. Not with Joey's mama looking over his shoulder.

Lorna Santiago might have been born into a blueblood family living on West Central Park, but she'd taken to being a mob boss's wife like a duck to water. With Antone Santiago in jail, Mama had taken over the family until Cecil, Joey's older brother, finished his travels. Everyone knew Antone still had his fingers on the pulse of the business, but when Cecil got back, he'd take over until Pop got out.

Joey worked construction for his uncle, but he enjoyed driving the most. He got to see different parts of Jersey and New York. Places a guy like him would never get to see on his own.

He headed toward Raleigh's apartment, hoping nothing bad had happened to the guy. Joey liked Raleigh, though he didn't see him often. Raleigh was one of the older escorts, and he had his own designated driver when he went out. He also had a set list of clients and rarely took new ones. The Santiagos charged a lot of money for a night with Raleigh. From what Joey heard, he was worth it.

The women and men who worked for the Santiagos were treated well. They actually got to keep a good portion of their earnings. Mostly because Lorna believed that people who were good at their jobs should be paid what they're worth. Even if they're whores and rent boys. It kept them happy, and happy workers meant less hassle for the family.

After leaving the car in the parking complex a block from Raleigh's building, Joey strolled up the steps to the intercom, then pushed the button for Raleigh's apartment.

A few minutes later, Raleigh said, "Hello?"

He smiled at the faint accent in the man's voice. Raleigh had moved up north when he was sixteen, but he still had a slight Southern drawl.

"Hey, Raleigh, it's Joey Santiago. Uncle Frank sent me over to check and make sure you're okay."

"I'm fine, Joey. You tell Frank I'll call him tomorrow."

Joey's gut didn't like how Raleigh rushed out those reassurances. "Ah, you know it doesn't work that way. He'll just keep sending me back here until I lay eyes on you. So you might as well let me in this time."

Raleigh's tired sigh came over the intercom, and Joey wanted to wrap the man up in a tight hug. Which was weird because Joey only tended to hug the girls and would never presume to touch Raleigh in that way. Not because he was a guy or anything like that.

Hell, Joey'd fucked a couple guys when he wanted to get his rocks off and there weren't any girls around. He'd never thought about whether he was straight, bi, or gay. Sex was sex, no matter who he did it with.

No, that wasn't why he'd never thought about touching Raleigh. There was something elegant and regal in the way Raleigh carried himself. A way that said he might sell his body for money, but he'd never sold his soul. His self-worth wasn't tied up in what he did for a living, though Joey wouldn't be shocked if Raleigh wasn't damn proud of how he'd paid his way through college and could support himself rather well with this job.

Raleigh never seemed ashamed of who he was and what he did. It was that self-acceptance and confidence that both scared and attracted Joey, and caused him to treat Raleigh differently from the others.

"All right, Joey. I'll let you in."

The buzzer sounded, unlocking the door. After Joey entered the foyer, he waited until the door shut and relocked, not wanting someone who didn't belong there to slip in behind him. He'd seen enough movies and TV shows to know that was one way bad guys got into places they shouldn't.

Once the entrance was secure, he wandered to the elevators, then punched in Raleigh's floor. While riding up, he pulled out his phone and sent a text to Candice about getting Rocky to come pick her up when she was done. She was a good girl and wouldn't complain since Rocky was a cool guy.

Uncle Frank had to be careful about hiring guys to drive around the escorts. A lot of the drivers seemed to have the idea their job meant they could get free pussy. Joey and Rocky talked to each new hire, letting him know the escorts were off limits, unless the girls--or guys--themselves said it was okay.

He knocked on Raleigh's door and waited.

"Is that you, Joey?" Raleigh called through the wood.

"Yeah, Raleigh. It's me."

His smile disappeared when Raleigh opened the door, revealing a split lip and black eye. Joey pushed in, not waiting for Raleigh to invite him inside. A slight tingle ran over his skin as he stepped over the threshold. He studied Raleigh in a new light. The man must have some kind of power, maybe as a witch, because all the protection spells Joey had tied to him were sparking from Raleigh's wards.

After shutting the door, Joey cradled Raleigh's face in his hands, tipping it up so he could get a good look at it.

"Oh, honey, what happened?" Joey touched his fingers to Raleigh's lip.

Raleigh blinked up at him, drawing Joey's attention to the endearment he'd used. He probably shouldn't have used it, but he wasn't going to apologize for saying it.

"Nothing."

"This isn't nothing, Raleigh. I'm betting your clothes are hiding other bruises. Who beat you up? It wasn't a client, was it? You know Uncle Frank will take care of him, whoever did it." Joey eased Raleigh down the hallway to the living room. "Have you taken anything for it?"

"No." Raleigh sat on the couch where Joey guided him. "I haven't had time to get it before you arrived."

"Where's your bathroom? I assume you keep your meds and aspirin there."

Raleigh looked rather overwhelmed, but Joey wasn't going to stop until he was sure Raleigh was taken care of.

"It's the third door on the right," Raleigh said, as he started to climb to his feet. "I can get it."

"No." Joey touched his shoulder. "Sit and try to relax a little. You need to take better care of yourself, honey."

"Umm...okay."

Joey headed out to find the aspirin and some water. When he got back, Raleigh was sitting in the corner of the couch, head resting on his knees. Joey sat close and smiled when Raleigh met his gaze.

"Here you go. Take these, then tell me what happened."

He kept an eye on his friend until Raleigh swallowed the pills and all of the water. Once he took the glass and set it on the coffee table, Joey turned to look at him. He traced the slope of Raleigh's upturned nose.

"Who did this to you, Raleigh? Why didn't you tell Uncle Frank or Mama?"

"It wasn't a client, so it's not anything they needed to be concerned about." Raleigh eased his head back, forcing Joey to stop touching him. "I appreciate the concern, Joey, but I'll be fine, and it's not important."

He wasn't telling the truth. Joey could tell just from the way Raleigh wouldn't meet his gaze. Yet there wasn't any way he could get him to tell him the truth if he didn't want to. Sighing, Joey moved to the other end of the couch. He flopped back, stretched out his legs and folded his arms over his chest.

"Fine, Raleigh. I can't make you tell me what happened. You make sure you call Mama or Uncle Frank about clients when you're up to it. If whoever hit you comes back, you call me. I'll make sure he realizes you're not a punching bag."

"How do you know it wasn't a girl?"

Joey snorted and rolled his eyes, making Raleigh smile. "Dude, you're not big or tall, but you're tough. You can take care of yourself in a fight, and there's no way you're letting some girl beat you up. Nope. A guy hit you and I'm pretty sure it was someone you know."

Raleigh stared at his bare feet. "Why do you say that?"

"Again, you're not going to let some stranger beat the shit out of you. I saw you hand a mugger his ass one night. Nothing about you says weak, but you are the kind of guy who wouldn't hit someone back if you knew them. So I'm saying it's someone you care about. It seems stupid to let a friend hit you." Joey reached out to tap Raleigh's toes.

"You mean that, don't you?" Raleigh studied him for a moment. "You really think I'm tough enough to handle things on my own."

Joey shrugged. "Usually. But not at the moment if you're letting someone in your family beat up on you." He frowned. "Of course, I didn't realize you had any family nearby. I thought they were all down South or wherever you're from."

"So did I," Raleigh muttered.

Ah...so it had been a member of Raleigh's family who'd beat him up. Joey hadn't been a hundred percent sure, though he'd meant what he said about Raleigh being able to handle himself. Most of the escorts Joey worked with were tough--mentally and physically. They had to be because sometimes the clients liked to get rough and they had to deal with them. If that happened, as long as they explained themselves to Uncle Frank, they were rarely punished for it. The clients were usually blackballed from using Santiago escorts again.

"Just because you're an escort doesn't mean you should let people beat you up. Unless that's the kind of escort you are, then I guess you'd know your limits and will allow only so much, right?" Joey wrinkled his nose. "I don't think Uncle Frank has people who do that sort of thing. None of the girls I drive are into that kind of thing."

Raleigh shrugged. "I don't think so. Lorna has never asked me to do BDSM. You could ask her if you're interested."

Joey jerked back and caught Raleigh's smirk as he shot the man a weirded-out glance. "You're a snot. Like I'd talk to my mama about that kind of thing."

"Joey, your mom is basically in charge of the whores your family runs. I'm pretty sure she could handle talking about that with you." Raleigh laughed.

Joey shook his head again. "I don't talk about that stuff with anyone in my family. For all I know, Mama thinks I'm a virgin."

Raleigh punched him in the arm. "Honey, your mom isn't dumb. She knows you've fucked the girls."

"Only when they offered. I never forced myself on them." He was horrified that Raleigh might think he made the girls sleep with him.

"I know that, darling." Raleigh rubbed Joey's arm where he'd hit him. "You're not that kind of guy. Plus, your uncle wouldn't allow it."

"Hey, why isn't Tommy around?"

Tommy was Raleigh's personal driver, but Joey just realized he hadn't seen the other man lately. He should've thought about it sooner, considering if Tommy had been around, Joey wouldn't have been sent over here.

"Tommy got a legit job, doing web design for some computer company." Raleigh smiled. "He was driving to pay for school. He graduated last month and got hired right away."

"That's awesome." Joey was thrilled for the guy. A thought hit him. "Raleigh, you have a degree, don't you?"

Raleigh nodded.

"Why don't you use it? Why still do this?" Joey wasn't judging. He was truly curious.

"I do use my degree. I'm an accountant for a few people, but not enough to be able to pay for this place. I'm not interested in moving at this point in my life."

"You sound like you're old or something," Joey joked. "You're not much older than me."

"I'm thirty-five, Joey. To be honest, I'm getting too old to be an escort. The clients like their boys young and cute." Raleigh touched the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes.

Joey jolted in surprised. He was twenty-three and he'd always thought Raleigh was only a year or two older than him. Raleigh's light brown hair showed no sign of gray. The wrinkles on his face were from smiling and laughing, not from getting older, or so Joey had thought. He was slender and petite, but like Joey had said, he wasn't weak and had never given the impression that he would be a pushover.

"That's not old, and you don't look your age at all." Joey saw the tired smile Raleigh flashed him and thought he should probably get going. As much as he liked spending time chatting with Raleigh, he had places to be and girls to pick up.

"I should get going. Have to pick up Tracy and take her to a client's party. You call Uncle Frank or Mama tomorrow, but I'll let them know you're all right. It's up to you if you want to tell them what happened." Joey stood, then he did something he'd never done before. He leaned over to brush a kiss over Raleigh's temple. "Promise me something, Raleigh."

Raleigh blinked, seemingly as surprised as Joey at the kiss. "What?"

"You'll call me if whoever did this to you comes back. Don't open the door to him until I get here. I'm afraid something worse will happen the next time."

Raleigh opened his mouth, and Joey placed his finger to his lips as he shook his head.

"Don't say no. Just tell me yes. You're more than just an employee. I consider you a friend, Raleigh, and if I can help you out, I want to." Joey's phone buzzed in his pocket and he sighed. "I have to go. Can I stop by tomorrow afternoon? I'll text you before I come over."

"All right and I promise, Joey. I'll call you if he comes back." Raleigh stood, then hugged Joey tight. "I appreciate you coming to check on me and for not being an ass about what I do to make money."

"How can I when I drive you around? Well, not you particularly, but the girls to their clients. It's a little hypocritical of me to judge you." Joey rested his cheek on Raleigh's curls for a second before he stepped away. "I'll see you tomorrow."

It wasn't until he was riding the elevator back down to the lobby that Joey texted Tracy to let her know he was on his way. He also called his uncle to tell him Raleigh was all right and would be calling him tomorrow.

As he climbed into the Cadillac, Joey thought about the kiss he'd given Raleigh. He'd never been given to such displays of affection, especially not with Raleigh, since they'd never been close before. Maybe that could change. Joey liked the idea.