The Bone Collector
The Bone Collector
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The Bone Collector is book one in The Watch series.
Each book follows a different couple and can be read as a standalone.
Please note: This listing is for the paperback edition.
- Age Gap
- Touch Him and Die
- Best Friend's Son
- Forced Proximity
Park Chen has spent most of his life as a killer—a deadly, deep cover operative known as the Bone Collector. Now, he’s been benched. Reassigned as an instructor at Project Watchtower, he’s tasked with training a school of psychopathic assassins while trying to keep a promise to his friends.
Gift Ayutthaya isn’t treated like a gift at all. If anything, his parents treat him as a burden, though a spoiled one. After an attempt on his life, they pass that burden onto someone else. Park. The man Gift’s been fantasizing about for years. A man who sees him as an adorable but incompetent distraction.
It’s no secret that Gift doesn’t belong at the Watch, but Park’s made a vow to keep him safe. Gift has made a vow, too. He’s going to use every weapon in his arsenal to find a way to seduce Park and make him love him, once and for all. Or die trying.
Loving Gift was never the issue—Park’s already there. But assignments at the Watch aren’t optional. To stay, Gift has to prove himself, something Park just can’t allow. Can Gift get Park to see that, when it comes to murder, Gift is aptly named? Or will he be relegated to the sidelines in both school and in love?
Warning: This book contains brief mentions of assault, past loss of a child, and well-deserved violence.
LOOK INSIDE: CHAPTER ONE
LOOK INSIDE: CHAPTER ONE
“Is your homework finished, Kla?”
Gift swallowed the bite of his coconut curry before setting down his spoon and smiling politely at Park. “Yes, hia.”
The barest hint of a return smile twitched at the corners of Park’s lips but then disappeared. Or maybe Gift had just imagined it.
Hearing Park use his given name gave him goosebumps every time, but he did his best to ignore them. Just like Park did Gift.
Park’s stare was intense, even if his facial expression was one of indifference. It sent a shock of awareness through Gift every time their eyes met. “How is your food?”
Once more, Gift smiled politely. “Very good, hia.”
Park preferred hia to Gift using his name. Gift didn’t really know why, other than maybe propriety. Park was not his brother. He was barely even a friend. He could have understood calling him Phi, as he was much older, but Park insisted on hia, so hia it was.
Gift had been essentially brother-zoned.
He sighed inwardly. Park was nothing if not proper. Even though school had ended hours ago, Park was still in his dress pants and white button-down. His only concession had been rolling the sleeves to his elbows, revealing perfectly muscular forearms that made Gift’s mouth water.
Park’s obsession with societal rules made no sense to Gift. Park had grown up in the U.S.—his mother was Thai, but his father was Chinese American. He’d lived in Thailand for high school, but only moved there once he’d become a diplomat like Gift’s parents. That was how they’d met.
But despite Park spending his formative years in America, he was determined they honor their Thai culture—was insistent upon it, really. Park insisted on many things. Proper honorifics. Proper attire. Proper mannerisms. He even made Gift go to the temple once. He fed him Thai dishes almost every night. He insisted they dine together every night.
It was…weird. Especially given how indifferent Park was to Gift’s presence. He’d tried several times to switch up their dynamic. Everybody else in the facility called Park by his given name. But when Gift did it, he just received a hard stare that told him he’d made a mistake. Sometimes, Gift would call Park lung—uncle—just to watch him short circuit. Given their age difference, it was a much more proper title, but Park had been…displeased.
Gift shook the thought away. If he thought about it too much, it just made him teary-eyed, and the last thing he needed was anybody there thinking he was even more immature than they already believed him to be. It wasn’t his fault he’d been gifted with a face that made people instantly adore him and want to take care of him.
Well, people who weren’t related to him, anyway.
Gift fought the urge to look at his phone to check the time. Their food was almost gone, so at least the evening was winding down, but these were the minutes that felt like hours, with a tension building between them like an overfilled balloon Gift was just always waiting to pop.
If nothing else, their nightly interactions were pretty much scripted at this point. Park would ignore him for most of the meal, then ask him the same four questions with the same level of disinterest, confusing Gift on a cellular level.
“How are your grades?”
“Did you call your mother?”
“Did you eat enough?”
“Did you finish your homework?”
He hadn’t thought it was possible that anybody could treat him more like a child than his own parents, but Park somehow managed it, acting as if he were this cute but incompetent moron. He was surprised they let him shop for his clothes in the adult section.
Before this last week, Gift had at least been able to converse in Thai, but now, Park had decided Gift needed to work on his English. Which would have been fine if Gift didn’t already speak perfect English.
Park just didn’t know that.
And Gift refused to tell him.
Instead, he’d smiled and nodded, pretending to stumble his way through a language he’d been speaking since his parents had shipped him off to an international school. He didn’t know why he didn’t want to tell Park—or even his own parents—that he spoke English almost as well as a native, other than maybe pettiness.
If they’d wanted to know something about him, maybe they should have checked up on him when he was in boarding school. Besides, it gave him an advantage when they all chose to talk poorly about him in English—usually, right in front of him, which was surprisingly often. Or had been before he’d been moved to the U.S. and ended up at a school where his closest friends were now training to be assassins.
His life had become a movie and he wasn’t even the main character. He wasn’t even the quirky sidekick or the comic relief. Gift was average in every conceivable way. Average grades. Average intelligence. Average sports prowess. Just…average.
His only real advantage was that the universe had made him rich and just adorable enough to manipulate people into getting what he wanted. Except, he didn’t. Because he had a conscience and that would be mean. And Gift was a lot of things, but he wasn’t mean.
Which was why he suffered through these dinners with Park. He had no way of politely declining. And if he did, Park would have immediately told his parents. Gift stared at Park from under dark lashes as the man brought his spoon to his lips, ignoring Gift once again.
He didn’t know why the man even wanted to have dinner with him. Something about Gift seemed to make Park feel troublesome, yet, every night, he was forced to come and sit and make awkward conversation about the one topic Park didn’t really seem to care about.
It didn’t help that Park never truly looked at him. If anything, he looked through him—something people had done to him most of his life. He was used to it with his parents, but it hurt more with Park. Maybe it was the enormous crush Gift had developed on him since the day they’d met. He supposed it said a lot about him that the one and only crush he’d ever had was on a man who treated him like a huge imposition.
Just like his parents.
Gift supposed he was a huge imposition to Park. It was no secret Gift was only accepted into the handler program as a favor. Gift’s parents had saddled Park with the task of keeping Gift safe. Park had then saddled the school with admitting Gift into the school as a condition of his employment.
His parents had nicknamed him Gift, but, really, he was just a burden. To everybody.
Gift picked up his spoon and continued eating, stealing glimpses of Park when he could. It would have been easier to see Park as simply an older brother figure if he wasn’t so…hot. But he was. Frustratingly so. He had fierce dark eyes, perfect lips, and hair so dark brown it almost appeared black in the right lighting.
Like Gift, Park looked younger than his age, which was thirty-seven according to Gift’s mother. Park looked so young that he often tried to make himself look older by wearing wire-rimmed glasses and slicking his hair back. Maybe that was why he was always wearing suits and business casual.
The problem was, Gift had seen behind the curtain. Living with someone allowed a level of intimacy he’d never had before. He lived in the dorms now, but while he’d stayed at Park’s condo in Bangkok, he’d seen just how sexy Park was when he wasn’t even trying.
He’d seen Park stumbling from his bedroom to the kitchen in nothing but pajama pants that clung for dear life to narrow hips. He’d seen him half awake and groggy, sipping his coffee. He’d seen him barefoot with his hair freshly washed and curling over his forehead in a way that made him look almost as young as Gift.
Park was perfect.
Perfectly oblivious to Gift.
Time stretched as the silence between them grew until Gift couldn’t sit there another minute without wanting to peel off his own skin. He jerked to his feet, wincing as the chair legs dragged loudly over the tile floor. “I’ll be leaving first, then,” he said in Thai before hurriedly switching to English. “I need to shower before bed.”
Park seemed startled by Gift’s abrupt attempt to exit but stood as he always did, revealing black trousers that fit him like a glove, temporarily snagging Gift’s attention.
“Alright. I’ll see you tomorrow,” Park said, walking him to the door and opening it just enough for Gift to see the hallway but not escape to it.
No matter how awkward dinners were, the goodbyes were worse. So much worse. Park would hold the door for him and say, “Be good.” Then he would reach out and pat Gift’s head with a level of hesitation that made Gift’s insides shrivel with embarrassment.
Park hated him.
Still, Gift tried not to savor the moments when Park’s hand was on his hair. It was nothing to touch someone—at least, there in America—but Park’s touch made him crazy, his body reacting to every accidental caress like it was a kiss.
Which it wasn’t. Because Park would never. Ever. His gaze strayed to Park’s lips. He’d never even been kissed. Gift was going to die a virgin. But not quickly enough to put him out of his misery.
Gift was so busy with his internal pity party, he failed to register Park’s movement. When his palm came to rest on Gift’s head, he flinched, his chin coming up, knocking Park’s hand from his hair to his cheek. He sucked in a breath at the heat of Park’s skin on his face.
Park looked equally shocked, but he just stood there, cupping Gift’s face, as frozen as one of the statues that graced the halls outside. Gift stared at him, wide-eyed, his heart trying to beat its way out of his chest. Park was staring at him, too—staring at him with an intensity that made his insides shiver and his pants feel too tight.
Park took a step towards him and Gift forgot how to breathe. What was happening? He swallowed hard. He could feel himself trembling. Park had never looked at Gift like that, had barely ever looked at him at all, and Gift was glad. If Park had ever looked at him like this when they’d lived together, Gift might have lost his mind and begged Park to be the one who took his virginity. Gift’s tongue darted out to lick over his lip and Park’s gaze fell to his mouth. Did he…?
Footsteps fell on the tile outside, breaking whatever spell they were under. Park stepped back, dropping his hand and swinging the door wide. “Goodnight, Kla.”
“Night, hia,” he managed breathlessly before bolting out the now open door.
Kla might mean brave, but Gift had never actually lived up to his name.
* * *
“What do you mean, he touched your cheek?” Dove asked, threading her fingers through Gift’s hair.
Now that Gift was back in the safety of his room, he felt like he could breathe again. He’d been grateful to find Payton sprawled on his bed. But he hadn’t been alone. Dove had sat on the edge of the small mattress, painting black polish onto Payton’s toenails.
“Just what I said,” Gift said with a sigh. “He was patting my hair and then I…flinched, and then his hand was on my face. His palm was touching my cheek and he was looking at me like...”
“Like…” Dove prompted.
Gift shook his head. “I don’t know… Like he wanted to devour me?”
“Kinky,” Payton murmured.
It wasn’t unusual for Dove to hang out in their room. Usually, her best friend, Morgan, was in attendance as well. It was weird for Drake to be there, though.
He was Payton’s and Gift’s new roommate, and Gift still couldn’t quite figure him out. He was tall and blond with pool-blue eyes and a square jaw like a superhero. Neurodivergent like Payton and Dove.
Despite this being Drake’s room, he was rarely there. Nobody really knew what he got up to at night, but, sometimes, Gift wondered if it had something to do with the boy sitting on the floor beside his bed.
Remi. He was another mystery. For as tall and broad as Drake was, Remi was the opposite. He was small and thin with chestnut curls, huge green eyes, and freckles that made him look like people would mistake him for a teenager forever.
He was like Gift. Neurotypical.
They had all been chatting animatedly when Gift had fallen through the door, but had gone silent at his clumsy arrival. Luckily, Dove had almost immediately abandoned Payton to let Gift burrow into her lap and wallow over Park. Again.
“You’re acting like he dragged you to his bedroom. All he did was touch your face?” Drake asked.
Gift flushed from his neck to the tips of his ears. “You don’t get it.”
Gift didn’t get it, either. Park had gone from Arctic Circle cold to Sahara Desert hot in thirty seconds flat, and now, Gift couldn’t stop himself from…feeling things. All the things.
Dove giggled, dropping her hands to his cheeks to cup them. “Oh, you’re blushing like some scandalized maiden. You really need to get laid. You shouldn’t be this flustered from someone touching your face.”
“Yeah, we touch your cheeks all the time,” Payton said. “Who wouldn’t? Look at them,” he mocked, like he was talking to a baby.
Dove squished his face between her surprisingly strong hands. “You are insanely adorable.”
Gift rolled his eyes. He’d been hearing this his whole life. From the neck down, Gift might be considered attractive. He was six feet tall and fit, but his baby face kept anyone from finding him sexy. If anything, he looked like he should be fronting a K-Pop group. The most he could hope for was pretty.
“You don’t get it,” Gift said again. “P’Park doesn’t touch me except for that frustrating head pat thing he does. But now, I’ve felt his skin on mine and it was—” He fumbled to find the right word. “Nice.”
Drake snickered. “When are you just going to admit you want your ‘big bro’ to bang you like a pinky toe on a coffee table?”
Gift felt his face flush even hotter. “Shut up.”
Drake grinned, his gaze straying to Remi just long enough for Gift to watch the younger boy blush, too, before quickly looking away.
Gift dragged his attention back to Dove’s face. “What does it matter? I’m invisible to him. He thinks of me as his nong. That’s it.” Gift kicked his feet on the bed in frustration, his lower lip pooching out. “Why can’t he just see I’m an adult?”
“Probably because you look like a chubby-cheeked toddler and you throw tantrums like one, too,” Payton said. “Especially around Park.”
“I do not,” Gift said, indignant.
Dove cackled. “You so do. You’re a totally different person around him.”
Gift bolted upright, criss-crossing his legs in front of him before giving them each a look.“That’s not true,” he said.
Dove batted her lashes, her face taking on a serene expression before she smacked her palms together in a praying hands motion. “Yes, hia. Thank you, hia. No, hia.” She fluttered her lashes at him.
“Shut up,” he said again, giving her a gentle shove.
“She’s right, man,” Drake said. “Whenever Park’s around, all of a sudden, you act like you’re in the presence of royalty.”
“I act like I’m in the presence of an elder. One who is close friends with my parents. The people who pay my bills,” Gift clarified.
“No. You act like you want Park to pay your bills,” Dove teased. “You would make a perfect sugar baby with those cheeks and this skin. And this mouth. And that ass.”
Gift gaped at her. They were so forward here in the States. He finally shook his head. “I don’t want to be a sugar baby. I just want Park to…look at me like he sees me.”
“There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be spoiled,” Dove said with a sniff.
“You can be a sugar baby, then,” Gift said.
“Oh,” Dove said excitedly. “Let’s be sugar babies together!”
Gift rolled his eyes. She really was ridiculous.
Drake grinned at him. “If you want Park to see you as someone fuckable, you best start being more aggressive in your pursuit because he’s never going to relent unless you show him that you’re more than just his friend’s much younger son.”
“How am I supposed to do that?” Gift said, flinging himself back onto the pillow in Dove’s lap.
Gift sat up on his forearms to look at Remi. “What?”
Remi shrugged, flicking his gaze to Drake for a solid five seconds before dragging it back to Gift. “Seduce him. Go after him. Like Drake said, be aggressive.”
Gift collapsed once more, hands flailing. “How? I’ve never even kissed another person before. How am I supposed to seduce someone almost twice my age?”
“You could start by telling him the truth,” Payton said.
“What truth?” Gift mumbled.
Dove sighed. “How about that you speak English? Or that you aren’t the simpering cupie doll cupcake you pretend to be?”
Gift made a noise of frustration. “But what if I am?”
“What if you are, what?” Dove asked.
“What if all I am is this simpering cupie doll cupcake?” Gift asked.
“Then change it,” Payton said, swinging into a sitting position. “If you want to, anyway.”
Gift stared at him. Payton was no cupie doll. Even wearing striped pajamas, his crazy hair standing on end, he looked cool, confident, sexy. Gift sighed. Maybe it was the benefit of being a psychopath. When you didn’t care about the opinions of others, maybe it was easy to be whoever you wanted.
Gift didn’t have that luxury. He was an only child. He carried the weight of his entire family’s expectations with him everywhere. He couldn’t just not be who they wanted him to be. What would that even look like?
“I gotta go,” Remi said, standing. “They’ll be looking for me at the dorms. I still have to turn in that project for Suri.”
Drake snagged his arm and pulled him down onto the bed until they were eye to eye. “Do mine for me?” he asked, giving Remi a look that made Gift feel like he was invading their privacy.
“Do it yourself,” Remi said, voice hesitant. “Have you ever done a single project of your own since you got here?”
“Sure. But you’re so much better at that stuff than me. Please?” Drake said, giving Remi puppy eyes. “Pretty please?”
They all watched as Remi licked his lower lip. “You’re emotionally manipulating me.”
Drake grinned. “But is it working?”
Remi’s gaze fell to his lap, shoulders sagging. Gift didn’t get their relationship at all. Drake called them friends. They were together often. It was clear Remi wanted to be around Drake all the time, but when he was, they were usually bickering or play-fighting. Their friendship made no sense to Gift. But he supposed it was none of his business.
Remi rolled his eyes. “Fine. Whatever. You’ll just nag me until I do it anyway.”
Drake ran a finger along Remi’s cheek in an intimate gesture that made Gift a little envious. “You’re the best.”
Remi scoffed, shoving Drake hard enough to tip him backwards before he caught himself. “You’re an idiot.”
“You’re pretty,” Drake countered.
Remi gave Drake his middle finger, then hurried to the door like he feared Drake might follow.
When he was gone, Dove threw a pillow at him. “What is wrong with you?”
Drake snickered. “What? He likes it.”
“He likes you pretending you’re into him so he can do your homework? What is this, eighth grade?” Dove asked.
“He likes my attention. My time is valuable. I give him my undivided attention and he gives me free time to pursue other things.”
Dove snorted. “Other people, you mean?”
Drake shrugged. “He’s got a little crush. You know how neurotypicals are. He’ll get over it eventually when he realizes I’m a monster, and he’ll be better for it because he won’t let his other charges do to him what I’m doing now. I’m a life lesson.”
Gift shook his head. “You’re a cautionary tale.”
Drake grinned. “At least I’m not a twenty-one-year-old virgin.”
“Better a virgin than a man-whore,” Payton countered.
“Hey, whose side are you on, anyway?” Drake said, feigning hurt feelings. “You can’t let the feelings faction get to you.”
That was what their instructors called the handlers behind their backs. The feelings faction. It wasn’t an insult. If anything, the program went out of their way to distinguish the students by anything but what they were. They used words like neurodivergent. Neurotypical. Handler. Asset. Psychopath. Sociopath. Feelings faction. Anything to avoid saying what truly divided the handlers from the assets: those who felt remorse and those who didn’t.
“If the instructors find out you’re using Remi as your personal slave in exchange for that bizarre eye fucking thing you were just doing, they’ll kick you out of the program,” Dove warned.
“How will they know?” Drake asked. “Besides, I’d fuck him with more than my eyes if I knew he wouldn’t fall in love with me.”
“You really are a monster,” Dove said, but with no real heat to her words.
“We all are,” Drake countered. “That’s why we’re here.” He looked at Gift. “Well, not you, cupcake. You’re here as Payton’s pet human.”
Payton launched himself onto Gift’s bed, wrapping his arms and legs around him. “Don’t listen to him, cupcake. You’re not my pet human. You’re my baby. My cute, puffy-cheeked body pillow. I just like to squish you.”
“He’s my baby, actually,” Dove countered, trying to wrestle Gift free of Payton’s hold. “Come to Mama,” she teased.
For all of Dove’s and Payton’s manhandling and attention, they were still, at their core, psychopaths. They lacked guilt, empathy, remorse. But their care felt real. It felt sincere. And Gift was starved for affection. He was okay with being their school project if it meant he got to pretend someone loved him. Maybe that was how Remi felt, too? Any affection was better than none at all.
Park suddenly popped into his head. What would Park’s affection look like? What would it feel like to have him look at Gift as something other than a burden? To have him give him that heated look like he’d done just minutes ago but…mean it? To have him touch him and tease him and play with him in a way that had nothing to do with familial obligation and everything to do with pleasure?
Gift would do almost anything to find out. Could he seduce Park? The thought of just kissing him made him flush from head to toe, but it also stirred something low in his belly and made him half hard just thinking about it. And he couldn’t afford to think about it while Dove and Payton still fought over him.
Instead, he just closed his eyes and concentrated on the warmth of their embrace, not wanting to think too hard about how two psychopaths had become the closest thing he had to a real family.
It was only hours later when he, Payton, and Drake were lying in their beds, shrouded in darkness, that Payton said, “You awake, G?”
“Yeah,” Gift said, staring up at the ceiling.
“If you want Park, I can help you get him.”
The abruptness of the statement stole the air from Gift’s lungs. Did he want Park? Of course, he did. Was he willing to try, even if he knew he would most likely fail? Failure meant losing everything.
“How?” Gift managed, choking on a dozen emotions suddenly flooding his system. “How are you going to help me get Park?”
“I emotionally manipulate more people before seven a.m. than most people do all day,” he teased.
It was true. Nobody said no to Payton. Not even the teachers. Well, one teacher. The main teacher. The headmaster, technically. Boone. And Payton was working on breaking Boone down more and more every day. If anybody could teach Gift to get under Park’s skin, it was Payton.
Gift chewed on the inside of his cheek for a moment before finally saying, “How do we start?”