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Damaged is a novella set in the Necessary Evils world.
Each book follows a different couple and can be read as a standalone.
Please note: This listing is for the e-book edition.
- Childhood Friends
- Touch Him and Die
- Abuse Survivor
The first time Dimitri Castallanos experienced obsession, he committed a felony. He was five. Dimitri is a psychopath. And he’s still obsessed with just one person.
Arlo Miller was born a victim, raised as his father’s punching bag and his mother’s scapegoat. Dimitri was his only protection, and they took him away.
As children, they clung to each other. As adults, they pretend neither remembers, while both harbor secret crushes on the other. Dimitri hides his feelings behind a mask of indifference. Arlo hides his by falling for very bad men.
When one of those men confronts Dimitri, this time it's Arlo who commits a felony. Murder. But Dimitri won’t allow Arlo to take the fall. With the help of Dimitri’s mother and seven psychopaths, they now have twenty-four hours to fake an alibi, hide a body, and confess their true feelings for each other, once and for all.
Which is harder? Falling in love or getting away with murder?
Warning: This book contains depictions of and discussion of intimate partner violence.
LOOK INSIDE: CHAPTER ONE
LOOK INSIDE: CHAPTER ONE
It was impolite to stare. It was something Dimitri’s mother had drilled into his head from the time he was little. Don’t stare. Don’t obsess. Don’t let people see who—no, not who, but what—you really are. Normal people didn’t like that, didn’t find his stalkerish tendencies romantic or flattering.
The thing was, Dimitri had never obsessed over anybody but Arlo, had seen nobody but Arlo from the moment he’d dragged his mat next to Dimitri’s in Mrs. Faison’s preschool class and confessed he was afraid of the dark. Dimitri had assured him that he was afraid of nothing and that had reassured Arlo enough to fall asleep.
Arlo didn’t remember that, and he didn’t remember Dimitri. After Dimitri had set Arlo’s parents’ bed on fire, his mother had moved them away, away from prying eyes and away from Arlo. But Dimitri had found his way back. The moment he’d gotten his license, he’d learned where Arlo was, what he was doing, and had found a way to make their paths meet again.
Not that Arlo knew any of that. As far as he knew, he and Dimitri were just friends due to circumstance. They both needed money, so they both worked at the campus coffee shop, which was where Dimitri now sat, taking his thirty minute break with a group of people he called friends. Well, who called him a friend. Truthfully, he wouldn’t care if a hole opened up and swallowed them up right in the middle of Hallowed Grounds.
“You’re going, right, Dimi?”
Perfectly manicured fingers appeared, snapping an inch from his face. Dimitri dragged his gaze from the boy behind the counter to stare blankly at the blonde-haired girl before him. “What?”
Mandy rolled her eyes. “You never listen to me.”
“To be fair, you never stop talking,” Jason said. “It’s hard to keep up.”
Mandy gave him the finger and a pissy look, which only made Jason more bold. Mandy liked the attention, though. She liked any and all attention. But Jason was right, she never stopped talking. And never about anything that interested Dimitri. She talked about frat parties, and football games, and, well, Dimi. She’d been trying to get with him since the start of senior year, and not even his sexual orientation seemed to stop her constant attempts to trick him into a date.
But Dimitri only had eyes for Arlo. Sweet, soft, dangerously pretty Arlo. As if he could hear his thoughts, the boy looked up from behind the counter and gave him a timid smile. It didn’t meet his eyes. Arlo hadn’t given him a genuine smile since that piece of shit, Holden, had shown up in his life.
“I can’t. I have to work,” Dimitri said. “I’m closing tonight. Remember?”
Mandy pouted, her bottom lip pooching out in a look that wasn’t nearly as cute as she thought it was. “Can’t you get somebody to cover for you? Like that kid with all the acne.”
The kid in question was Remi, and he would have laughed if he’d heard Mandy’s assessment of his looks. Remi’s skin wasn’t clear but that didn’t stop the girls from throwing themselves at him. He was smart, funny, and his family was filthy rich. And, somehow, he was still a nice guy.
But no, Dimitri couldn’t ask Remi to cover for him because Remi was already scheduled to close with Arlo. Dimitri would be off in twenty minutes. But he wasn’t about to tell Mandy that. She was like a dog with a bone. She wouldn’t let it go until she either dragged him to the party or he lost his shit and told her to get lost. Neither of those things were particularly appealing to him.
“I’ll ask,” Dimitri lied.
“Yay,” Mandy said, bouncing on the balls of her feet and clapping her hands like she was about to break out in a cheer. Jason rolled his eyes, returning his gaze to his laptop. He’d been pretending to study since they’d sat down, but really, he was keeping an eye on Mandy. Jason really liked Mandy.
Dimitri made a production out of pulling his phone free and typing out a text to Remi, just not the one Mandy expected. Can I take your shift tonight?
The reply was instantaneous. Shit, pretty boy. You can take all my shifts.
Dimitri did his best to hide his smirk. I just need this one. Thanks. Oh, and if anybody asks, I was always scheduled to work this shift. Cool?
The eyeball emoji popped up, then, Anybody? Would anybody be stalker Barbie?
Dimitri’s only response was a thumbs up. With that settled, he slipped his phone back into the pocket of his apron and shrugged. “He said there’s no way. It’s his mom’s birthday.”
Mandy scrunched up her face. “I thought his mom was dead?”
Was she? What the fuck did he know? “Maybe he meant existentially. We’re all a little dead inside, right? Maybe some other time.”
Jason smirked behind Mandy, knowing full well that Dimitri was jumping through hoops trying to disentangle himself from her.
“You say that every time,” she said, voice sullen.
And yet, you just keep asking. “I gotta get back to work.” Mandy frowned, looking around the deserted shop, but he didn’t give an explanation, just some semblance of a smile that faded as soon as he turned away from her. He heard the door open and close, signaling they’d left, but he didn’t look back.
He entered the back area using the side door in the hallway. Arlo was cleaning the steam valve with a white cloth, his up and down movement unintentionally suggestive. Dimitri would give up almost anything to feel Arlo’s hand wrap around him that way.
Arlo dropped the rag, giving Dimitri a lopsided smile. “Did you just lie to get out of a party?”
Dimitri returned his smile. “I didn’t lie. I took Remi’s shift for him.”
Arlo narrowed his eyes. “When?”
Dimitri grinned. “Just now.”
Arlo’s responding grin was a gut punch, stealing his breath. Mandy described Arlo as a pretty twink, but he wasn’t just pretty, he was perfect. He had golden skin and golden blonde hair that he wore swept back off his face like some actor in a vintage movie. Remi said he looked like James Dean. Dimitri could see the resemblance but Arlo was just sweeter, softer, innocent. He had this perfectly symmetrical face with high cheekbones that looked like they’d been sculpted by the gods.
And then there were his lips. Full and always cherry red, like he’d been chewing at them. Dimitri often thought of those lips when he was alone at night. Normally, they were glossy from chapstick or from Arlo’s tongue sweeping along his lower lip several times a day. Today, those lips were swollen, the bottom one split and red with dried blood. A purple bruise marred the left side of his mouth.
Arlo always had bruises. He made excuses. He walked into the wall, fell down the stairs, bumped into an open cabinet door. Just clumsy. I’m always daydreaming. It was a lie. It was always a lie. They both knew it. But something in Arlo’s eyes always begged Dimitri not to say it, not to say the thing out loud that would make it real.
Dimitri kept quiet. The last time he’d interceded on Arlo’s behalf, he’d lost sixteen years with him. Maybe it was selfish, but he didn’t want to risk losing him again. But he planned. He dreamed. He fantasized about the day he’d get revenge for what Arlo had suffered.
And he did suffer. Black eyes. Finger-shaped bruises on his arms and neck. A spiral fracture that he claimed he’d gotten from slipping on ice. Dimitri knew those kinds of fractures only happened for one reason—somebody had twisted his arm behind his back hard enough to break it.
No, not somebody. Holden. Arlo’s closeted, dick bag, football player boyfriend from a rival school. Holden had money, connections, and had clearly never heard the word no. Arlo, like many abused kids, had transitioned from abusive parents to abusive boyfriends without much fanfare. It would almost break Dimitri’s heart…if he’d had one.
Still, the bruise on his face was new. It hadn’t been there last night when they’d closed. He gravitated closer until he was directly behind Arlo, who gasped when he spun around and saw Dimitri directly behind him, trapping him against the counter.
Dimitri reached out and caught Arlo’s chin between his thumb and forefinger, watching as Arlo’s honey brown eyes went wide, a small gasp leaving his lips. Dimitri wanted to swallow that sound, wanted to feel his pulse flutter beneath his fingers, wanted to hear Arlo gasp his name.
Instead, he dragged the pad of his thumb across the cut on Arlo’s lip, his temper flaring when Arlo winced.
“What happened?” Dimitri murmured. “Did he do this to you?”
Before Arlo could answer or give him some lame excuse, the bell over the coffee shop door swung open. Arlo instantly ducked from under Dimitri’s arm. “Thanks for visiting Hallowed Grounds…” His voice trailed off.
Dimitri turned to see Holden standing there, his expression mutinous as he looked back and forth between the two of them. “I need to talk to you. Now.”
Holden was two inches shorter than Dimitri’s six foot two, but he was a walking brick wall of bulging muscles and testosterone. The idea of somebody that big throwing around Arlo sent a shock of adrenaline firing through him. Some caveman part of Dimitri pictured slamming Holden’s face into the counter until his teeth shattered and blood spewed from his caved-in face. Nobody touched what belonged to Dimitri.
But Arlo didn’t belong to him. Not really. Not in any way that would matter. Dimitri didn’t want to be another thing that happened to Arlo, another destructive force tearing away the pieces that were left.
Arlo trembled visibly. “I’m working.”
“It will only take a minute,” Holden said between clenched teeth.
Arlo gave a small shake of his head. “I said everything I had to say last night.”
Holden’s nostrils flared, and he took a step towards Arlo, who instinctively took a step back. “Don’t be like this.”
Arlo’s jaw thrust forward, and he crossed his arms over his chest. “Like what? Somebody who has boundaries? Somebody who won’t let you keep using them as a punching bag because you can’t handle the fact that you’re gay?”
Holden snarled, lunging towards Arlo, who stumbled back, even though there was three feet of mahogany between them. “You shut your fucking mouth, you little fucking who—”
“I would highly encourage you not to finish that statement,” Dimitri said, allowing all humanity to leech from his voice.
Holden’s gaze tore from Arlo to glare at Dimitri, as if only noticing him there for the first time. “Is this him? Dimitri, is it?” Had Arlo mentioned him? “Is this the reason you’ve been so fucking irrational the last couple of days? Because you’re fucking your co-worker?” Holden snapped.
Dimitri tried to process Holden’s words. He thought Arlo was fucking him? Why? How? If Dimitri ever managed to make Arlo his, Holden wouldn’t have stood a chance. Dimitri would have already ripped out his vocal cords and showed them to him.
“Irrational? How am I irrational? Because I told you we were done?” Arlo asked, his voice rising higher.
Holden sneered. “You’re always so emotional. Can we please go somewhere so you can calm down and we can talk?”
Arlo’s gaze slid to Dimitri, who gave an almost nonexistent shake of his head. Under no circumstances was he going to allow Arlo to leave with him, and he didn’t care if that made him seem like some kind of caveman.
Arlo squared his shoulders. “I’m working. Besides, I said everything I had to say on the phone last night. We’re over. Done. I don’t know how much clearer I can make it without getting the police involved.”
In an instant, Holden’s rage disappeared, a calculating smile appearing in its place. “My father’s a fucking federal judge. Do you think cops scare me? The chief of police came to my tenth birthday party. You’re just prolonging the inevitable. I always get what I want.”
Arlo swallowed audibly. “I said no. I meant no.”
Holden took a deep breath and forced it out through his nose. “You can’t just walk away from me. I know where you live. I know where you work. Hell, I know where your mom lives. Maybe I should tell her you’ve stopped taking your medications. She’d believe me, you know. She loves me, remember?”
Arlo’s eyes filled with tears. “You stay away from my mother. Stay away from me.”
Holden’s gaze hardened. Arlo had shown weakness, and now, Holden had the upper hand. “They’ll send you back to the loony bin. They’ll lock you up and throw away the key. Hell, maybe your old friend, Melvin, still works there. I bet he misses your late nights together.”
Arlo’s face grew chalky, sweat beading on his upper lip and forehead. “Shut up,” he whispered.
Holden doubled down, advancing on the counter until his hands were planted against the wood. “You don’t want to fuck with me, you little bitch. I’ll ruin your life.”
Dimitri was moving without thought, vaulting over the counter and snatching Holden by his hair, smashing his face against the countertop, then holding a paring knife to his carotid artery. “One more fucking word and I’ll end yours. You decide.”
Holden’s breathing increased, and Dimitri knew he was trying to decide if he was serious. If he would really kill him in the middle of the campus coffee shop. The answer was yes. Yes, he would. He’d kill him and go to prison and never look back.
All the fight left Holden as he seemed to realize there was no way out. Dimitri released him, and he stumbled back a few paces. “You fucked up, bro. You fucked up so bad. I’ll bury you both. Just wait. I’ll fuck up your whole world.”
With that, he was gone. Dimitri hopped the counter a second time, cupping Arlo’s face and forcing him to look at him. “Hey. Hey, you’re okay.” Arlo’s eyes were dull and hazy, like he was locked in his own head. Dimitri let his thumbs rove over his cheekbones. “Hey, listen to me. You’re good. I won’t let him hurt you anymore.”
Arlo took a step back, and Dimitri let his hands fall.
Arlo walked towards the double doors that led to the employee restroom before looking back over his shoulder at Dimitri. “He’s right, you know. He’s going to fuck up my whole world.”
No, the fuck, he wasn’t.