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Maniac is book seven in the Necessary Evils series.
Each book follows a different couple and can be read as a standalone.
- Age Gap
- Father/Adopted Son
- Shared Past
- Enemies to Lovers
Thomas Mulvaney was just a child when an error in judgment cost him everything. He vowed then that he would do anything to atone for his mistake. And he did. He never strayed from the right path. Until Aiden.
Aiden Mulvaney doesn’t exist. He’s a lie created by the father who disowned him and by Thomas Mulvaney, the only man Aiden had ever begged to love him. But that was years ago, when he’d still believed in fairytales. Before Thomas rejected him.
Thomas has spent years trying to have Aiden in his life while keeping him at arm's length, but Aiden’s done with half-measures. He’s done with Thomas the martyr. He’s just done. So, he’s kept his distance. Trouble is, now, someone is threatening to expose a secret that affects them all.
No, not that one. A secret so shameful, Thomas won’t even utter it out loud. Can he and Aiden revisit the past and keep the family name intact, or will they both be buried beneath the weight of their memories as their old feelings resurface?
Warning: This book contains discussions of child abuse, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, suicide, and torture of bad people who totally deserve it.
LOOK INSIDE: CHAPTER ONE
LOOK INSIDE: CHAPTER ONE
Thomas sat in his office, a half empty bottle of whiskey beside him, the only light coming from his laptop screen and the image frozen on the display before him. A sea of unfamiliar faces. Five white coffins. And Thomas—a much younger Thomas—standing over them all. How long had it been since Thomas had seen that photo? Decades.
Hubris. That was what had led him to this moment. He scrubbed his hands over his face, trying to collect his thoughts as they swirled around his alcohol-soaked brain. It had only been a matter of time before his sins came to light. In truth, he’d managed to keep them hidden longer than he’d ever imagined. So long, in fact, that he’d let his guard down.
He took another large swallow of the whiskey in his glass, letting it burn its way down. He was fucking Icarus and he’d finally flown too close to the sun. His harsh laugh cut through the silence of his study. Christ, he was losing it. Had he ever really had it? Tears pricked at the backs of his eyes, and he dug the heels of his palms in until he regained his composure.
Thomas understood he was wallowing, his thoughts scattered, his timeline no longer linear. Memories he’d buried painfully deep erupted from the darkest recesses of his brain, tearing apart his carefully crafted lies in their wake. Bleached hair. Green eyes. That wicked smile. Those perfect teeth. That chain he wore that would brush against Thomas’s skin whenever he leaned over him.
“We’re the same. Nobody gets you like I do.”
It had been years since he’d heard that voice. Years. But it was still as clear as day. Low. Raspy. The pain in his heart was knife sharp, twisting until Thomas felt the tightness in his chest had to be from the bleeding. Yeah, he was fucking drunk. But what the fuck else was he supposed to do?
It had finally happened. He’d thought if he suffered enough, was miserable enough, was sorry enough, he could right his wrongs without ever having to admit what he’d done. Without having to admit who he was on the inside. But years of killing monsters couldn’t eliminate the monster within him. Years of suffering hadn’t alleviated the agonizing way his family had died.
Maybe this was karma? Though he was loath to admit it, these days he was happier more than he wasn’t. His children were healthy, happy, and thriving. He had two gorgeous granddaughters who looked at him like he was their hero. Maybe he’d gotten too comfortable? He’d let his guard down and the universe had taken swift action to rectify his mistake.
He’d thought if he denied himself the one thing he wanted more than anything, maybe the universe would just let him have the rest. He could compartmentalize. He could focus on Addy and Arabella, could focus on the work, could focus on his family as long as he didn’t have the one thing—the one person—he wanted above all other things.
Thomas picked up his half-full glass and flung it against the fireplace, the flames jumping as the alcohol made contact.
He scrubbed at his face once more, pacing. He should go to sleep. He could think more clearly in the morning once he was sober. But he wouldn’t do that. He couldn’t. His thoughts were too powerful. If he laid down, he’d feed those thoughts until they became sentient demons who perched on his chest, depriving him of sleep, reminding him he’d brought all of this on himself.
Once more, he pictured the palest green eyes he’d ever seen and the two of them on the floor of the ballroom gazing up at the hammered tin panels on the ceiling.
“I hate them.”
“You don’t mean that.”
“I do, though. I hate them. All of them.”
He glanced back at the laptop screen now facing away from him. Maybe he should just pay them?
Even as he thought it, he rejected the notion. Blackmailers never went away. Besides, that video was someone’s way of warning Thomas they intended to destroy him. They wanted him humiliated, defeated, brought to his knees. Only then would they pull the trigger and take it all from him. They wanted to see him suffer. He just didn’t know why.
Maybe it was time. Maybe this was always how it was meant to go. But Thomas wasn’t worried about himself. He was worried about the rest of them. His family. His sons. His grandbabies. Thomas had built a skyscraper on quicksand and now it was about to collapse and swallow them all.
He roared, the sound doing nothing to quell the turmoil churning within him. It wasn’t about the money. He didn’t give a fuck about the money. What they were asking for wouldn’t even put a dent in the Mulvaney fortune. But that wasn’t the point. This was personal. That video was personal. But it didn’t make any sense. They were all dead. Everybody who knew the truth was dead…weren’t they?
Thomas collapsed back into his office chair. He usually had all the answers. He almost always knew exactly what to do but, this time, he was lost. Usually, he could call in favors, get the boys involved, but he couldn’t do that with this. He couldn’t tell his sons what he’d done. He’d spent years drilling into their heads that there was only one unforgivable curse. One thing he could never forgive. How could he tell them he was the one who was unforgivable?
He picked up his cell phone, pressing the send button before he could even acknowledge what he was doing.
“It’s three in the fucking morning, Thomas,” a voice rasped.
Thomas. That was all he called him anymore.
Thomas got his agitation. He did. This wasn’t his first drunken call to the man he’d tried to call his son. Hell, he couldn’t count on two hands the amount of times he’d called Aiden when he’d had too much to drink. He’d made his suffering Aiden’s problem one too many times, but he didn’t know what to do. He was scared. Thomas was scared to death, and when the world got to be too much, there was only one person who quelled his fears.
“Aiden.” Thomas said his name like a plea, like a prayer.
“What’s wrong?” Aiden barked, far more alert than seconds before. “Is someone hurt?”
Me. I’m hurt. I’m bleeding.
He wanted to tell him everything but all that came out was, “I need you.”
Silence stretched before Aiden finally said, “I can’t fucking do this with you anymore. You can’t keep doing this to me. I won’t let you.”
That was fair. More than fair. Thomas had dragged Aiden down into his own shit again and again. It was only fair Aiden was done. But he had nobody else.
“I need you—your help,” he corrected. “I need your help. Please. It’s important.”
“Please…please, Aiden.” Thomas would be humiliated by this when he sobered up, but he couldn’t stop. “I’m begging. Please, help me. Please.”
* * *
Thomas would’ve liked to say he took the time before Aiden got there to sober up, but that would’ve been a lie. He finished off the bottle of whiskey, then fell asleep in his chair, only waking when Aiden slapped him hard enough to penetrate the fog of unconsciousness.
He opened bleary eyes to find Aiden on his knees before him, his cock taking notice of the position before his alcohol-soaked brain could catch up. Thomas reached for him, touching his bearded face before his hand fell, remembering Aiden wasn’t his to touch. Not anymore. Not ever, really.
Aiden seemed to forget that as well, reaching up and cupping Thomas’s face. “What have you done to yourself?” he asked, his voice that same low rasp that did things to Thomas’s insides.
Thomas did his best to focus on the question and not the way Aiden’s thumbs were gently brushing his cheekbones, like he was something Aiden cared about. Like he was someone Aiden still loved. “I fucked up,” he blurted.
Aiden studied his face like he was trying to figure out what the hell was going on. He probably was. It wasn’t like Thomas was making any goddamn sense.
“What are you talking about?” he asked, sounding almost hopeful at Thomas’s confession.
Thomas scanned Aiden’s handsome face in anticipation of his next words. “I-I did something bad. Really bad. A long time ago. I…lied. And someone knows it. And they’re going to expose me.”
Thomas watched in real time as the window on Aiden’s hopeful expression slammed shut, leaving behind his usual hostility. A well earned hostility. Thomas knew he was a bastard for doing this to Aiden…again, for constantly leaning on him while giving him nothing in return, but he didn’t have anybody else.
Aiden sighed, getting to his feet and hauling Thomas up by his arm, pushing him towards the office door. He allowed Aiden to manhandle him up the stairs and into the east wing to his bedroom. He didn’t even protest when Aiden shoved him into the bathroom and turned on the shower. He would have let him undress him, too, if he’d tried. He’d let Aiden do almost anything…but that was almost what put miles between them.
Aiden didn’t try to undress him, though. He just shoved a towel into his chest. “Sober up. I’ll be downstairs when you’re done.”
Thomas didn’t argue, just waited for the door to close before stripping down and stepping beneath the near frigid spray, letting the cold penetrate the haze of alcohol as goosebumps erupted along his skin. He leaned his forearms against the wall, the spray from multiple jets beating against him at once like tiny little daggers, driving away all his thoughts until his mind was blissfully quiet. Only when he started to shiver did he quickly scrub and rinse himself before turning off the water.
When he emerged from the shower, he spotted a pile of clothing folded on the counter. Gray sweatpants and a black Chanel hoodie. He couldn’t remember ever wearing the sweatshirt. It had been part of a swag bag he’d received after a movie premiere. He’d tried to give it to Adam, but he’d refused it, saying he already had something similar.
Thomas had no idea why he remembered that in that moment, but he let the thought come and go as he toweled off and dressed quickly, combing his fingers through his hair before heading back downstairs.
He found Aiden in his office chair, light from the laptop screen illuminating the lines on his face as he frowned at the video as it played. Thomas didn’t want to move closer, didn’t want to have to explain what Aiden was looking at, what was happening. But he’d have to. He couldn’t ask for Aiden’s help but not explain what happened to his family. At least, in part. But how much? How much could he reveal and still live with himself?
“What is this?” Aiden asked as Thomas came to stand beside his chair.
“Someone is blackmailing me, threatening to expose our family’s secrets. This is their way of letting me know,” Thomas said.
Aiden handed him an insulated cup. “Which family secret? The one where we kill people? The global conspiracy where we teach the government to do the same?”
Thomas took a sip, the bitterness biting at the back of his tongue before the coffee burned its way down. “No, those secrets are well protected. It’s something else. Something that happened a long time ago.”
“What is it? What do they have on you?” Aiden asked. “What does it have to do with these dead bodies? Those coffins are your family, right?”
Aiden knew about Thomas’s family? Of course, he did. He was a private investigator. The boys had probably all done a deep dive into the Mulvaneys at least once in their lives, curious to know their family legacy. But Thomas had never worried about them stumbling onto the truth.
Several people had worked in tandem after the tragedy to assure that what really happened that night would never see the light of day. Of course, those people never suspected Thomas was the real villain that night. But then again, that had been the whole point.
“Yes. My parents. My siblings. My…cousin, Shane,” Thomas said, the last part sticking in his throat just a little.
The shrill laugh pierced Thomas’s already throbbing skull as Aiden restarted the video, causing him to wince. Whoever had created the video knew the truth and they had a real flair for the dramatic. Superimposed over graphic images of his family’s dead bodies were words like guilty, sinner, liar along with their demands. It was all very over the top. If Thomas didn’t know the pictures in that video had supposedly been destroyed years ago, he might have just written it all off as a hoax.
But there they were, in full color.
In all these years, Thomas had never seen the crime photos. Pictures of his siblings’ bloated bodies. Pictures of Shane. What was left of him, anyway. They’d only been seven. Too fucking young for the horrors they’d endured that night. His uncle had assured him it was better that way.
He had only been fifteen after all, even if he was taking college level classes. Even if he had suddenly just had a fortune dumped in his lap. Even if he was suddenly expected to act as the head of a global empire. He had only been a kid.
“Why are they doing this?” Aiden asked.
Thomas shook his head. “I truly don’t know.” Aiden gave him a baleful look. Thomas sighed. “They want to hurt the family. They want to hurt me.”
“But why?” Aiden asked. “Who’s doing this?”
The fullness in Thomas’s chest expanded to the point of pain as he tried and failed to search for the right words, the right phrase, something that would explain this all away without having to say the truth. Finally, he just blurted, “If I knew who was doing this, would I have called you?”
Aiden flinched, then scoffed, his face contorting in disgust, though whether it was with Thomas or himself, he didn’t know. “No. I guess you wouldn’t.”
Something withered inside Thomas. “Aiden, I—”
Aiden turned the office chair back towards the laptop, hands flying over the keys as he opened Thomas’s email. “I’m sending myself an encrypted copy of the video. Did they send anything else?”
Thomas clenched and unclenched his jaw. He just couldn’t stop saying and doing the wrong thing when it came to Aiden. It was always just Aiden. He’d been Thomas’s undoing since the moment he laid eyes on him, and some small part of him wanted to vomit the truth about who he was and what he’d done so Aiden would finally cut him off, once and for all. It was nothing less than he deserved.
But doing that would endanger more than just him. “There’s a link to an offshore bank account embedded within the file. I’m assuming so I can transfer the money they’re demanding.”
Aiden turned the chair to face him, their knees brushing, sending a jolt through Thomas. How long had it been since they’d touched? Not since that last night. Right there in the study. Right where Aiden sat now. Only that night, it had been Thomas sitting right there when Aiden crawled into his lap. “Why can’t I stay away from you?”
But he’d stayed away after that. Far away. All the way across the country, only returning home for the occasional job, always careful to avoid Thomas. Had it really been almost four years since that night?
Thomas forced his attention back to Aiden as he said, “What do they have on you? Why are you even entertaining this bullshit? Call Kendrick? Call one of the fifty senators you have on speed dial.”
“I can’t do that,” Thomas said.
“Why not? You call in favors all the time. ‘For the good of the program,’” he air-quoted.
“It’s not that simple this time. These people—this person—isn’t making idle threats. They know something. They wouldn’t have those photos if they didn’t. If they know everything, it will ruin our whole family. It will ruin everything I’ve worked for. It will wreck your brothers—the others—” he corrected. “Their whole lives.”
“What? How?” Aiden asked, clearly bewildered.
“What we do…who we are…it’s all a house of cards. This family. Project Watchtower…it all exists due to mutually assured destruction. If the truth about my family comes out, the rest of our secrets will fall like dominoes. We cannot let that happen.”
For the first time, Thomas realized that was why he’d really called Aiden. That was what he needed from him most. Not comfort. Not a wake-up call. He needed a plan. He needed someone like Aiden. Someone who didn’t lack the capacity to feel, but someone who used those feelings to promote the suffering of those who deserved it. Aiden would find out who was behind this. Aiden would destroy that person. And when Aiden knew who Thomas really was, what he’d done, he’d destroy Thomas, too.
Thomas’s destruction at Aiden’s hands felt right. It felt just. And Aiden would make it hurt, make him suffer. But he’d do it quietly. He’d save the family the burden of bearing the weight of his sins. But not yet. Thomas wasn’t ready yet. He needed to see this through. He’d come clean to Aiden when it was necessary. But only then.
“What are you hiding?” Aiden pressed. “What did you do?”
This time, it was Thomas who went to his knees, shock rocketing through him as he took Aiden’s rough hands in his own much softer ones. He forced himself to look him in the eye. “Don’t ask me to tell you that. Not yet. Please. If you ever fucking loved me, just let me keep my sins to myself a little bit longer. Please, Aiden.”
Aiden thrust his jaw forward, clenching until the muscle there jumped, as he studied Thomas’s face with an anger and frustration he fully deserved.
“Please,” he said again.
“I hate you sometimes,” Aiden told him, voice raw. “So much I feel like I’m choking on it.”
Thomas nodded, trying to pretend Aiden’s words hadn’t just ripped through him like a bullet. “I know. I deserve that…but I’m asking just the same. Don’t make them suffer for my sins. I promise I’ll tell you before this is all over. And when you know the truth, I’ll accept the consequences. Just let me keep my secrets. I can’t deal with you hating me more than you already do. Not with this hanging over our heads.”
Aiden yanked his hands away from Thomas and jerked to his feet, grabbing Thomas’s laptop. “Pack a bag. We’re getting out of here.”
“What? Why?” Thomas asked, standing once more.
“Because whoever is doing this to you is clearly unstable. You want to keep the family out of it? Well, keep them out of it. All the way out. If they see me here, they’ll have questions, and once they smell blood in the water, they won’t let it go. If you want to keep your secrets, then you’ll come with me. That’s the deal. Take it or leave it.”
Thomas’s head was spinning. Being alone with Aiden would be nothing short of torture. Just the two brief touches they’d shared had Thomas in pieces. He kept distance between them because when they were in the same room, they were magnets, drawn together by something impossible to fight. Except now, Aiden hated him. Thomas was many things, but he’d hardly force himself on someone who didn’t want him.
What the fuck was he even saying? Why was he thinking about touching Aiden when someone was threatening everything he loved? He knew the answer. He suspected Aiden did, too. Because he loved Aiden most. He loved Aiden above all others. And he didn’t even feel guilty about it. He couldn’t. Because he’d never loved Aiden as a son. Aiden had never been his child and was barely a child when they met. The love he felt for him was nothing like the love he had for his sons.
Because he didn’t just love Aiden. He was in love with him. Had been for longer than he’d ever admit to another soul, even himself.
“Thomas,” Aiden said sharply, pulling him from his spiraling thoughts. Why did the use of his own name feel like a punishment?
“Yeah. Yeah, okay. We’ll do it your way.”