Portland's Men 3: Ascend

Michelle King

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Bohai Bradley Tran. Illegally imported and placed into service by a ring of pedophiles when his mother conveniently vanished, and who aged up enough to fight his way out before a cull. Since then he’s been living the only way he...
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Bohai Bradley Tran. Illegally imported and placed into service by a ring of pedophiles when his mother conveniently vanished, and who aged up enough to fight his way out before a cull. Since then he’s been living the only way he knows how: using his body as a commodity.

Diego Villanueva. College student, tattoo artist, judoka and younger brother of a vice cop. Ideally, life should be interesting, but lately he's been a glorified shuttle driver for visiting extended family on their visits to Portland, Oregon.

Three lives converge, an assembly born of violence and hate. One wants to destroy, one wants to heal, and one wants to live. The balance of power is poised on a knife’s edge—the very knife clutched in the hands of a killer.

  • Note:Ascend was previously released under another title by another publisher, but has been revised and re-edited in this version.
Excerpt
His passenger slept the entire trip home, but Diego didn’t mind. By the looks of him, all skinny arms and legs and the beat-up face, the poor guy could use the rest. Sleep fixed all sorts of things, or so his grandmother had sworn when she was alive. Soup also, he remembered, usually albondigas.

His abuela would’ve taken one look at Bo and immediately plied him with soup and a nap.

He didn’t think he could offer the traditional meatball soup, since he couldn’t remember if he’d bought any recently, but he could heat up some cans of Campbell’s chicken and rice as well as deliver some decent grilled cheese sandwiches. Oh, and a place to rest safely that wasn’t the seat of a car or a bench at the train station.

The trip down Twelfth Avenue wasn’t a long one, but it was filled with hazards, most of them the college student kind. The crosswalks and sidewalks were filled with co-eds wearing the standard summer undergraduate uniform of light shirts, backpacks full of books and folders, jeans, and high-top sneakers or boots. In general, one hand held a smart phone and the other a cup of iced coffee.

He didn’t mind dodging college students. Hell, three weeks ago it would have been him walking that walk. But he’d taken the summer off, from both college and the tattoo shop. Assigned the chore of hauling visiting family to and from wherever was the reason why he’d been at Union Station today, waving “bye” to his cousins from Seattle as they boarded the northbound train.

Thank God he had been there. Otherwise, Bo could have turned up as yet one more statistic, dead and stuffed into a metal trash bin in some lonely alley. “I didn’t say you could leave, boy!” Diego’s hands tightened around the steering wheel at the ugly memory.

The green light ahead went yellow, then red. He eased the car to a stop and flicked on his turn signal. The entrance to his apartment complex came soon after this intersection. As he waited for a green light, he studied his sleeping passenger.

Worry lines marred Bo’s forehead. He snored from his swollen nose. Beneath closed eyelids, the eyes shifted with an anxious pattern. His arms lay across his chest, his free hand bunched into a fist. Plainly, he wasn’t in a restful, healing sleep.

The sound of screaming pulled Diego’s attention to the rearview mirror. In that reverse vision, he watched a drama play out, more frozen with disbelief than actually interested.

A heavily pregnant woman struggled from the passenger side of the car following his. The driver didn’t want to let her go, gripping her skirt, but she was clearly determined. Her shrieks and flailing had also caught the attention of the crowd nearby.

Before any of the witnesses could do more than start toward the car, hesitating and confused, she’d torn free and bolted, leaving behind a handful of fabric in the driver’s hand. He lunged across to her side of the car, but she slammed the door closed, blocking any attempt to grab her again. Hands on her pregnant belly, she fled into Clara’s Corner Cache, her battered purse dangling from one elbow. The angry driver slid back behind the wheel and gunned the motor. He swung the car into a U-turn that smoked the tires and raced back the way they’d come.

Out of habit, Diego took note of details Luis would find helpful. Dark blue four-door. Not too old, maybe this decade. By the taillights, he guessed an import, maybe Honda or Hyundai. Did he see a broken driver’s side window?

Helluva domestic dispute. Someone’s home life just took a turn into Shitsville.

The light in front of Diego was green. For how long, he couldn’t say. But since he wasn’t the only distracted driver on the street, he’d been spared the honking of car horns. He pulled his foot off the brake and steered for the fourth driveway down, about fifty feet from the intersection.

No one was ahead of him at the gate today. Sitting in the turn lane while a visitor scrolled through the list for a resident’s name and then buzzed the apartment to get inside was no fun. Less fun was dodging the reversing car when no resident answered the gate’s summons and the visitor tried to back out of the entrance lane.

Luis had long ago lectured on the dangers of letting “just anyone” inside the gates. “It’s there for a purpose. To keep you safe!” He knew he was the oddball out. Most of his neighbors who drove up behind a visitor engaged in the process simply used their remote to open the gate and let them in, annoyed by the inconvenience of having to wait and having zero concern for other people’s health and safety.

As a rule, people sucked.

He shifted his car into park and searched for his gate remote. The clip was busted, so the damned thing wouldn’t stay on the sun visor. His request for a replacement had never been fulfilled. He’d given up trying to jimmy a fix for the clip and usually put the thing in the—ah!

Diego palmed it, aimed it, and pushed the button.

The gate rattled upward. The noise woke Bo, who jerked into awareness with a gasp, a twist that slammed his elbow into the armrest, and an instinctive cringe behind the shield of his upraised arms. Diego winced.

“Easy…easy…” he chanted, trying to keep his voice calm. “Didn’t mean to scare you. I forgot the gate was so frickin’ loud. Sounds like a derailed train, doesn’t it? Helluva way to wake up.”

“Yeah,” said Bo, sounding bleary and confused.

The gate banged to a stop. The indicator light turned green, letting him know it was safe to proceed. So he put the car in gear and goosed the gas. The car bumped over the road spikes-slash-rain drain and they rolled inside the parking garage.

His assigned parking slot wasn’t far, but he had to drive past a panel van with smoked out windows sitting in the repair lane, a SUV bearing the logo of Portland’s Crime Scene Unit parked near the elevator, and a low-rider, flame-red El Camino that faced the street and displayed fuzzy dice dangling from the rearview mirror. A man with a scraggly beard and a vato bandanna pulled low over his eyes leaned on the back bumper and puffed a cigarette.

Three teams total, he noted to himself. One covert surveillance van, one CSU to collect the prints, and Luis himself undercover. His brother had pulled out all the stops, God love him.

Diego parked, exited the car, and waved his brother off when he started forward. Luis shifted his path and crouched down beside a tire, as if that had been his intention all along. Bo grimaced his way out of the car and closed the door behind him and followed Diego toward the stars.

In moments, the panel van’s lights and engine went on and it pulled out of the garage and away. Dismissed by Luis or making a sweep of the area? When he and Bo left the area, the CSU team would get to work and collect evidence from his car. Yeah, nothing like having a big brother who works in law enforcement and takes hate crimes very, very seriously.

Diego lead the way across the garage.

The elevator pinged, and the door groaned and stuttered open. Diego frowned as he stepped onto the fifth floor. Looked like he’d need to send another e-mail to the property manager’s corporate office and complain.

“That didn’t sound good,” said Bo, as he followed him down the hall.

“Tell me about it. Last time it crapped out, it took two months to get it fixed. Backordered parts, or so they said…and that was only two months ago.” He located his key and stopped in front of the door marked 507. “I’m not looking forward to another stretch of hauling groceries up five flights of stairs.”

“It did great things for your ass.”

Bo’s flirty words and impish tone snatched his attention. Stilled, the keys dangling from his fingers, Diego threw a look over his shoulder. The small smile that hitched one side of Bo’s mouth sent bubbles of relief through his guts.

“Ahh, you noticed,” he teased. Diego had never been able to resist playfulness.

“Tough to miss, hard body, but—”

“I know. I know,” he interrupted, with a sigh of opera level dramatics and returned to working the series of locks. “The store’s closed. However, I have to point out that”—here, he gave Bo a covert wink as he shoved open the door—“I’m not the one window shopping.”

“Busted.”

Bo followed him inside and closed the door behind him. Diego set his keys on the mail table next to the coat closet and tugged off his shirt. What the hell, it’s hot and muggy outside. Okay, yeah, and it’s also nice to be leered at. But for fuck’s sake, don’t flex.

Bo didn’t look away. In fact, he watched Diego bare his chest and toss aside the T-shirt with an interest that caused his dick to lurch like an out-of-control tent pole. It twitched and filled, as the molten heat of sexual hunger warmed him from the inside out.

But no means no, so get a grip, he told himself. The store is closed, per the owner. “First things first. Let’s get you fed.”

Bo’s gaze dropped to his crotch, causing Diego to lock his knees against the dizzying rush of lust. His dick lunged into full size, ready and willing to play.

“Fuck.” He heard the strangled sound of his voice, but couldn’t do shit about it. “You’re honestly over eighteen, right?” Sainted Mother, don’t let me be perving a kid.

Bo’s wore a half-smile that cut cute grooves into his bruised cheeks. He pulled out his wallet and flipped it open to display his identification card. Diego glanced at it, even as he held his breath.

Bohai Tran.

Five-five. One hundred and eighteen pounds.

Black hair. Brown eyes.

He found the birth date and exhaled his relief. Over eighteen by five years, thank Christ.

The home address was a fake one, unless people were hanging up their shirts at city hall. He knew the address because he’d been there not too long ago to get his tattoo license. But the picture…the sight of the regular-looking Bo caused his heart to skip a beat, then start to pound a furious, primitive rhythm.

“You’re gorgeous,” he murmured.

Such a cheesy word, yes, but fitting.

The crappy DMV photo showed a touch of gold on Bo’s Asian skin that was like a dash of spice added to an unexpected meal. Straight and short ink-black hair that he’d shaved on the sides, the style drawing attention to the high cheekbones. His dark brown eyes were rounder than normal for a person of his race, which hinted at European blood somewhere in his family’s history.

That was something they both shared, then. Diego had white blood on his mother’s side.

“The bathroom’s down that hall.” He indicated with a jerk of his chin. Now it was his turn to eyeball a fine ass. “There’s Tylenol. Take two. And there’s Anbesol in the medicine cabinet for your chipped tooth. Swish between your lips and gums, but don’t swallow.”

Bo glanced over his shoulder. The seat of his artistically torn jeans tightened across one ass cheek. “You stock up on toothache medicine?”

“My brother cracked my molar a while ago. After the repair, the dentist told me to swish and spit.” Diego shrugged.

This time, Bo turned all the way around.

“Your brother likes to punch people?” His glance flicked to the front door.

It took a few seconds for Diego to understand the actual question. Then he smiled.

“He likes to make sure I can defend myself. We spar every second Tuesday at his martial arts studio.” Luis was a protector, not an abuser.

The information didn’t appear to calm Bo, so he tried again.

“A while ago, when we were sparring, I was distracted at the wrong time. Luis tried to pull his elbow to my jaw, but there’s not much room for mistakes when ground fighting. He felt so bad he puked. My fault, though.”

“Ground fighting?” Bo echoed. “You study judo?”

Diego nodded. Bo’s gaze again ran across his shoulders and chest, his crotch and legs. He tried not to—he really did—but he flexed, making sure to show off the tattoo on his left deltoid. That ink meant much to him and on so many levels.

“Yeah. Hard body.” Now it was Bo’s voice carrying the roughened tone of lust.

“Store’s closed.” The smile that stretched Diego’s face made his cheeks ache.

“Just window shopping.”

They both laughed as Bo vanished inside the bathroom.

Copyright © Michelle King

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