He’s just always gone it alone.
Now he’s got the wrong people breathing down his neck, and the only way out demands placing his trust in the unlikeliest of heroes: Duncan Rook, a gruff cop whose ethics are as solid as his body.
Cozying up to a criminal is hardly what Duncan’s reputation on the force needs—especially when that criminal is temptation personified. Ghost is Duncan’s polar opposite, and the last person he expected to fall for.
So then why does every imaginable scenario for taking down their common enemy end with Ghost in his arms?
This book is approximately 122,000 words
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Don't do it. Ghost aimed the silent warning to the teenage boy sitting three spots down from him, who was currently glancing toward the bathroom with a pained expression. The kid had the nervy air of a new colt, all trusting blue eyes and tentative smiles, and at the moment, the fidgety body language of someone who needed to take a piss. Badly.
Don't do it, Ghost thought again toward the guy. Tobias, Ghost was pretty sure his name was. A rich name for a rich boy, and both the name and the money would do exactly zip for the kid if he did something stupid now. Wait until class starts. There will be fewer of them.
The cafeteria in the Woodbury Residential Treatment Center couldn't have been more institutional if the administration had tried — long tables with attached benches instead of chairs, plastic silverware, cinder block walls painted white, and linoleum the color of olives, dark enough to conceal suspicious stains. The windows were thick, scratched glass, warped and dirty and alarmed, lending a mediocre view of the rest of the sprawling campus: half-full parking lots, the overgrown courtyard — rarely, if ever, used by students — and the eleven cottages housing three hundred boys on the verge of manhood — if they hadn't tipped over it already.
The boys around him began to return their lunch trays, but Ghost only sat and watched Tobias struggle to make up his mind. He was around eighteen, a good four years older than Ghost, but he clearly had the survival instincts of a toddler.
As evidenced by the purple bruises half-hidden beneath the sleeve of his T-shirt.
And the surprisingly dignified, in-chair potty dance. Which was understandable. Ghost had heard about the rule Gibson's crew had laid down for the new guy. Hell, everyone had heard about the rule. Except the staff, but they didn't count anyway. Normally the hazing took the form of having to stand up in class or group therapy and say something humiliating. A onetime thing with no real consequences. Tobias, with his expensive jeans and perfect posture and countless small courtesies to the staff, had a target on his back big enough to be seen from space, and the ire directed his way had risen accordingly.
It didn't sound like much, earning a punch from every guy in the bathroom each time you pissed, but when you considered that the vast majority of the day was scheduled so that each cottage or class took bathroom breaks together — twenty guys at a time, minimum — that shit added up. While some of the guys took pity and ignored the whole mess or delivered love taps, if there was a guy in Gibson's crew who pulled his punches, Ghost hadn't met him.
With a last anguished, not-remotely-sneaky look around the cafeteria, Tobias got up and wound his way through the crowd to bus his tray, an apology in the flesh, darting out of the way of other boys. Ghost suspected he hadn't made eye contact with anyone who wasn't staff since his second day here. He couldn't have been a victim more clearly if he'd had a neon sign above his head flashing the word in bright, glaring red. Hurt me, the sign might also say. I won't fight back.
Oblivious too. Gibson — a big, muscle-bound skinhead in the making — got to his feet in Tobias's wake, slapping the backs of his buddies' heads as he passed through the crowd, dodging staff and other boys, following the smaller boy out into the hallway, and Tobias never noticed.
Don't do it, Ghost thought, this time to himself.
It wasn't his problem.
It wasn't his business.
He didn't give a shit about this kid. He'd never had a single conversation with him. This was Ghost's second time through Woodbury; the other guys came and went with the tangibility of clouds. He'd forget Tobias soon enough.
Plus, intervening could turn into a thing if Gibson decided to take offense, and while Ghost wasn't afraid of Gibson, he could see the situation getting physical. Having to cut someone up would stall out Ghost's program. It'd mean more time in Woodbury before he got released, and definitely a loss of privileges.
Nothing took the starch out of a guy's spine like using kiddie scissors in class.
Besides, there were only about three minutes before the bell would ring and cleanup staff would start searching for guys who weren't in class as expected. Someone would check that bathroom eventually. Someone would find them.
Maybe not before Tobias lost a tooth or something, though.
Fucking fucking fuck.
He got up.
He wound his way through the crowd, considering how to play it, pretty sure he couldn't make the first move, not when there would be five or six of them at least. The only way to manage those odds was to marshal up some legit head games, get them unsettled, make them want to cave. As long as Gibson could save face by offering Tobias up instead of being pushed into letting Tobias go, maybe it wouldn't turn into a problem.
The halls were nearly empty as he made his way to the bathroom at the far end of the Science Corridor. Quiet enough that he could hear the sounds of the scuffle through the bathroom door. He checked to make sure no one was watching, staff or otherwise, and pulled his blade, the small paring knife he'd stolen from the kitchen three days after he'd arrived. He put his game face on — impersonal curiosity and a hint of the feral.
He opened the door. Drifted inside. Paused in the doorway to watch. Left his hand visible at his side.
He wasn't sure who saw him first; he kept his gaze on Tobias, Tobias crying fat tears and trying desperately to muffle the sounds, Tobias with the blood from his busted nose streaking across his cheek, glinting dull maroon in the yellow light of the caged fluorescents. There were no windows in the bathroom, only cheap drains with thin, bent grates in the floor and chipped sinks and dirty mirrors reflecting the six boys looming over the one crumpled in the center of them. But eventually someone did see Ghost, and finally even Gibson fell still, his foot coming back to the ground after he landed one last kick.
Ghost let the silence vibrate for long seconds before he spoke, a nonsense story that rambled out of him without his attention, because the real conversation was happening elsewhere, between the blade in his hand and the boys watching him, the slow tap of his blade against his thigh a subtle reminder to everyone in the room about what'd happened the last time someone fucked with him.
Getting dragged to the Intervention Unit in the middle of the night while covered in someone else's blood and your victim lay in the hallway screaming left an impression. The news that Booler had lost a testicle had spread like a cold through the cottage. The icing on the cake had been that, because Booler had been an inoffensive guy, everyone assumed the incident had been unprovoked. Ghost's rep for being a head case had grown exponentially overnight. A useful thing.
Ghost sure as shit wasn't going to be the one to share the fact that nothing would've happened if Booler had kept his dick in his own fucking bed. Ghost might be a whore from nine to five, but he didn't get friendly until cash changed hands, no matter how much bigger the guy sliding between his sheets might be.
Ghost let his voice drop as he spoke, let his hand twitch occasionally so the light reflected off his blade. Remember, he told them without words, remember that I'll jump anyone without warning, remember that the odds won't figure in my crazy brain, remember that I'm good at breaking people, that I go for the balls, remember.
Gibson lifted his hands in a soothing movement. "Ghost, hey, hey, we wouldn't have if you'd just said, man. All you had to do. He's yours, fuck, have at him. Keep him off my dick, though, yeah?"
Which was fine. Let Gibson save face by pretending he was being the decent, honorable bastard he never was, respecting an ownership claim. Never mind that hardly anyone tried to pull that bullshit because there was too much supervision in Woodbury at night to make it worth the effort, or that everyone knew Ghost didn't touch other people. They all knew what was really happening, but at least this lie came without blood.
To cement the moment, Ghost put on one of his fugue-acts. Or how he imagined he looked to others when he was in one of his fugues anyway. He kept his mouth slack and his eyes dead, staring at one fixed point no matter how much every instinct swore at him to track the hands of the boys shuffling past him, to keep Gibson in sight. But the creepy robot stillness worked; Gibson nearly dislocated his spine trying to get his big body past Ghost in the doorway without touching him, and then it was Ghost and Tobias and the soft drip of a leaking faucet in one of the sinks.
Tobias sat up, face tipped to the ground, swallowing hard, the curve of his throat vulnerable as his Adam's apple bobbed, his hand shaking as he wiped off blood and tears, and Ghost jerked his gaze away. Witnessing it felt like an attack somehow.
He stood there while Tobias went to a sink to wash up. Not that anything could conceal the bruises on his face or the twisted angle of two of his fingers on his right hand. Broken trying to block a kick, Ghost suspected.
When some of the riotous flush had left Tobias's cheeks and the blood had been mopped up, Ghost headed for the door. "I'll walk you to the infirmary."
Tobias's gaze flicked to the clock, and suddenly it all slipped into place — Tobias's willingness to brave the bathroom during lunch break instead of holding it for literally three more minutes to ensure safety and privacy while Gibson's crew were in class.
"Please tell me that you didn't risk your life because you were scared to be late," Ghost said, his hand pausing on the doorknob, "in a school where calling the teacher a bitch only nets you an essay?"
Tobias stared at his shoes.
Ghost sighed. "You fell down the stairs."
"I fell down the stairs," Tobias repeated quietly, obedient as a well-trained dog as he followed Ghost out of the bathroom.
Tobias watched him like he was a rabid animal over the next few days, body tense, going still whenever Ghost moved unexpectedly. He barely said five words that first week, too busy waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the next blow to land, and it should've made Ghost angry. He should've wanted to be mean, to punish Tobias for making him have to think so much about these sorts of things, for putting him in this position, but Ghost didn't feel angry or mean.
He understood that kind of waiting.
He found himself being gentle with Tobias, saying stupid shit he thought might be comforting, words that felt misshapen and awkward in his mouth, anything to take that flinch out of the flesh between Tobias's hunched shoulders, the flinch that struck Ghost behind the breastbone without even trying.
What the fuck do you think I am? But asking it would take him a little too close to no stop I avoid looking back, so mostly he made Tobias help him with his homework and tested out bullshit stories on his gullible ass, timing how long it would take for Tobias to figure out he was getting played.
At first, Tobias only stared at him with confused, anxious frowns. But after a few days, those anxious stares shifted. Became curious and intent. Like Ghost was a lock he couldn't decide how to open. He began to smile when Ghost gave him bullshit answers. He started tentatively telling stories of his own — true ones, though, about his family and friends back home, about school, about how he was going to be a doctor like his father, a complicated mixture of love and exhaustion lying heavy in his words.
One day Ghost realized he'd miscalculated. Instead of taking on a lost, broken puppy he could send to get shit from the cafeteria for him, he'd gotten stuck with a guy who thought they were friends, a guy who got Ghost snacks not because he was afraid of what Ghost might do if he refused, but because he thought it might make Ghost happy.
A bizarre turn of events.
"I think you're stupid to spend this much time on homework," he told Tobias once.
"I know." Tobias settled onto the couch beside him and rolled his eyes, but with an indulgent air, as if he found it cute that Ghost said these things, as if he'd somehow figured out why Ghost said these things even though Ghost had barely any understanding of it himself.
"Hey, what'd you get for number five?" Tobias asked, holding out one of the snacks from the vending machine.
"X=tits," he said, amused despite himself at the way Tobias flushed at his crude language. He took the chips.
He did like sour cream and onion.
"I have this vintage chicken coop in my basement," the man said, breath already huffing as Ghost knelt in front of him. "It locks and everything. To keep foxes out."
"Uh-huh," Ghost said. Gravel dug into his knees through his jeans. He shifted his weight. Didn't help. Still, it wasn't as bad as the cramping pain in his belly where his stomach seemed intent on reminding him that it'd been almost two days now with nothing but cake mix to eat. Which was maybe most people's ideas of a good time, but for Ghost it had more to do with getting the maximum number of calories into his body on the minimum number of dollars. Cake mix was cheap and it kept his motor running, but he'd shank Bambi for a burger at this point.
"It's warmer there. We could go there." The man's breath fogged as he spoke. "The bricks are really cold, is all."
Ghost wasn't sure what the guy had expected from an alley by an overpass on a December morning, but he wasn't wrong about the temperature. Still. Foxes trying to get to chickens in a basement? For fuck's sake, how stupid did he think Ghost was?
"As much fun as your murder basement sounds," Ghost said politely, "I'm afraid I'll have to pass."
"Okay. Sure. Fine." The guy nodded in little jerks. "Can we still, um, do this?" "If you'll shut up."
"Okay." He shoved his boxers down and waited, his skinny thighs vibrating, his hands with their dirty nails twitching in the air like he wanted to grab Ghost by the hair but didn't dare.
Ghost reached up, giving the guy's dick a few tugs while he did the junk check, looking for sores and crabs and other gross things, but people who raised chicken coops for prostitute murdering apparently took good care of themselves. Ghost looked up, caught the guy's eye. He had, objectively, a not-ugly face. For a potential psycho, he appeared normal enough.
Ghost gave him a few more lazy tugs, slid one hand into the waistband of his jeans to pry the hilt of his blade up — just in case — and leaned in.
The guy tasted like he smelled — clean sweat and hidden-away skin, the small jogs of his hips probably involuntary as he let out a moan and —
Ghost blinked. The world wobbled around him. Daytime. Noises he couldn't make sense of. His body had turned into raw meat. He couldn't move from where he lay on his side. Where was his blade? It — he needed it. He couldn't — his arms unlocked finally, and he fumbled at his jeans, but the pocket he'd sewn into the waistband at the small of his back was empty. Panic snarled in his chest, ran liquid through his veins.
Where was his knife?
Blade in the left hand meant he came back fast from a fugue, his thoughts instantly intact. He didn't know why. Just was. With an empty hand it was always like this. Like swimming to the surface of a pool full of syrup.
He glanced around. In an alley. Near the overpass. Empty lot to his left. A broken crate with rotting cabbage spilling out, a sick-sweet reek. A grody Dumpster down the way. The main road about a block's distance away. Not a lot of cover. Anyone driving by would see.
A low cry came from somewhere behind him. He lurched to his knees and turned. A guy was sprawled on the ground, struggling, cursing, getting the shit kicked out of him by — Ghost shook his head, trying to get his brain cells working. Was that — Fuck. Vasily Krayev.
He had to get up. His limbs were noodles. But he had to get up. He knew what Krayev wanted. He'd been shaking down every hustler who worked the boulevard for a few weeks now, finding the whores who didn't have protection, offering his "services," regardless of whether they were needed. Ghost had evaded him until now, but say what you liked about the egotistical hothead, he'd picked his moment well this time. Ghost didn't always fugue during tricks, and there were different degrees to it anyway, but Vasily had caught him in a doozy today.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Rough Trade"
Copyright © 2018 Sidney Bell.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Rough Trade by Sidney Bell The Woodbury Boys #3 Grabbed me and kept me glued to the story from beginning to end! I cared and felt and hoped and wished and was so glad that eventually Ghost and Duncan managed their HEA. I loved them both and only wanted the best for them. What a tortured soul Ghost was and yet he was so giving and charming and wise and strong and damaged. Duncan was the perfect partner for Ghost even though it was NOT an easy relationship for either one of them. With more than one villain to thwart the two had a lot to contend with. Car chases, shooting, corrupt police and so much more made this action-packed romantic suspense just what I needed on a cold rainy day! This is the first book I have read by this author but it definitely won’t be the last. Thank you to NetGalley and HQN-Carina for the ARC – This is my honest review. 5 Stars
4 Stars Review by Elizabeth Late Night Reviewer Up All Night w/ Books Blog Rough Trade is installment three in the Woodbury Boys series by Sidney Bell. I have not read the first two installments in the series so I went in blind. I do have to say, Rough Trade was a good read. I may not have read the previous two installments in this series but I will be reading them as soon as I can. Rough Trade is a slow burn story about so much more than romance. The main character, Ghost, has had a rough, tragic life and it broke me. I am not one for angsty reads but this one was just too good to put down. This is not your typical MM book and that is what I loved about it. I had so many feels while reading and I shedded countless tears. I cannot really say a whole lot without giving it away. I will warn you that there are some sensitive topics (abuse). If you have not read this book, read it.
the final book in the woodbury boys series, rough trade, finally sheds light on the ever-enigmatic ghost. abused in every way possible, ghost's moral compass is somewhat lacking. but he's trying to do the right thing. his problem is that the right thing keeps blowing up in his face. on his way to share some important evidence with duncan rook, an honest police officer on medical leave, ghost is left fighting for his life with the evidence he was meant to put to use completely destroyed. duncan isn't sure what to do with ghost, except he believes him, and he sees all his broken pieces and wants to help. but ghost is so damaged, it's hard to fathom that it would ever be possible for him to be whole and healthy enough to be the person duncan believes he could be. this series is gritty and suspenseful and tells these beautiful love stories. there's so much angst and anger and pain, but there is also romance and this astounding love and healing that these characters go through. this is the perfect series capper and i look forward to seeing more from this author. **rough trade will publish on december 3, 2018. i received an advance reader copy courtesy of netgalley/carina press in exchange for my honest review.
I really loved this story. It's grittier than what I usually read and I haven't read the first two books, yet I LOVED this one. Ghost was just amazing. I loved every second of him. I loved his tenacity. And his ability to want. He just really wowed me more and more as the story went on. It started with Ghost running from his cop 'caretaker' and Mama, the head of an underground sex slave ring. His only ally is taking him to a bear of a man, who's also a cop, named Duncan Rook. The rest of the story is them on the lamb, learning about themselves and each other, getting closer, pushing each other away, and trying to do the right thing. "You told me to pay for things. So I did... I'll pay for things now because you want me to... But the rest of being good...I don't know how." Ghost was just heartbreaking and tender. I just loved how much he tried. And then there was Duncan. Oh, man. He was the most patient, passionate, understanding man. "You're at the base of the mountain and I'm at the summit. There are things I can see that you can't." He just got it. He got Ghost and Ghost got him and it was perfect. Great read. Loved it all. *Galley copy provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.*
Ghost hasn’t had it easy and is used to fending for himself but he is in it deep this time and could use a bit of help even if it comes in the form of a cop. Ghost tore me up and spit me out. I fell for Duncan right away and was right there with him wishing that Ghost would want to want more for himself. I loved this story. It took me a bit to get into it because I hadn’t read the first two books (a situation I plan to remedy quickly) but I was able to follow and make some assumptions as the story progressed. This story will make your heart go pitter pat. You will laugh, cry and sigh.
Well! If you’d have told me a week ago that Ghost’s story would give me all the feels, and have me almost in tears, I would have asked you what you were smoking, because during the first two books he most definitely does not give off cute mushy vibes. At all. Sidney Bell most definitely saved the best ‘til last. I was dying to get into Ghost’s psyche, desperate to find out what made him tick. Duncan Rook apparently. I can’t say I blame him either. Duncan was adorable, the perfect gay book boyfriend, he was strong and caring, he listened and he never ever pushed Ghost beyond his boundaries. Another suspense, action romance, good versus evil, if you will, with Ghost and his gang facing off against Mama, Kellen and Spratt. I was hooked from the get-go. I hated having to go to work and having to wait for my next instalment. A full five star read from me. I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is my honest opinion
Fantastic M/M RomSus ~ Can be read as a standalone. ✩ ✩ ✩ ✩ ✩ 5-STAR ✩ REVIEW ✩ ✩ ✩ ✩ ✩ > > Judging a Book by its Cover > Looking Deeper Third-person This was a LONG book but wonderfully written and NOT a hardship to read whatsoever! Ghost is a street-savvy survivor, a hustler, and occasional prostitute. His childhood is riddled with abuse and neglect. He lives and breathes manipulation. When he gets mixed up with the wrong people, he finds himself on the run. Duncan Rook is a good man, honest and loyal. When his mentor calls with a favor, he does not hesitate to agree to help Ghost. Both men got more than they bargained for… with bloodshed and bullets flying, they were kept on their toes, even while laid up with injuries. Only with the help of a few well-trusted friends –and one unlikely, untrustable ally- could they hope to make it out alive. Though this was labeled as a GAY ROMANCE, there was little romance or sex. There were developing emotions and a relationship/bond formation, but the traditional, romantic element was sparse. Sexual tension was present but sex was more of an avoided topic [due to previous experiences] than frequently present in the plot. The plot was fantastic, the characters were well ranged in personality. The predictability was low. The conclusion, while providing as a flash-forward indicating an HEA for the men, was not as solidly set as I’d prefer. I would highly recommend this to those that like Romantic Action/Thriller/Suspense and Gay Romance. Note: Although this is the third book in the series, this was the first I’d read and it is my opinion that it was able to stand strongly on its own. . Rating: [R] ~ Score: 4.525 ~ Stars: 5 ========================== ⭐ ⭐ **** Disclosure of Material: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley and the Author/Publisher with the hope that I would voluntarily leave unbiased and unsolicited feedback. I was not asked, encouraged, or required to leave a review - nor was I compensated in any way. I am posting this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising". ***** ⭐ ⭐
At last, we get to learn Ghost’s story! Ghost is the enigmatic, semi-feral figure appearing in books one and two, central to the story arc for this series. He likes to think he cares for no one but he remains loyal to Church and Tobias, no matter how he tries to deny it. This will stand alone to an extent but I highly recommend reading the first two books. The author does a fabulous job fleshing out a deeply troubled Ghost and the circumstances that shaped him. Duncan Rook is a cop with his own firm ethics, that don’t necessarily align with the law or the expectations of the brotherhood of police. Good thing because Ghost fiercely tests his boundaries. There’s a lot of action from start to finish and it breaks up long periods where the two are forced to hide out, and that’s where they build their connection. There is little sex in this one, which only makes sense as Ghost’s full history is revealed. There’s no graphic or on-page description of his abuse but his suppressed memories provide enough for imagination to fill in the blanks. This isn’t just slow burn as it takes a good part of the book for Ghost and Duncan to even begin to understand each other. It was fascinating seeing how the author brought two people with such wildly different backgrounds together. Much of that rests on the experience and instinct given to Duncan as a cop, allowing him to tease out the puzzle that is Ghost. I adored Duncan and his steady support against Ghost’s demons but Ghost is the type you want to wrap up in a hug, except he’ll cut you if you do. Even when he treats Duncan rather badly, his reasons made me mad at Duncan for not forgiving him right away. This is an excellent trilogy and the individual plots and overall arc are well conceived and executed. I highly recommend this story in particular. #NetGalley #RoughTrade *An ARC was provided by the author, publisher or a promotional service and I have chosen to publish a fair and honest review*
Rough Trade is a dark, gritty, and rough M/M contemporary romance. It's the third in a series but it easily read as a standalone. This is my first book by Ms. Bell but after enjoying her smooth writing style, unique characters, and intriguing storytelling I quickly became a fan. In this book we have Ghost. A streetwise hustler who finds himself in more trouble than even he can handle. Thankfully he ends up in the care of a stoic yet sexy cop named Duncan Rook. Ghost doesn't trust easily but with his life on the line and dirty cops after him how much does he have to lose by leaning on Rook? I highly recommend this one!