Truths & Chains – Chapter Eight


Elias shot up, heart pounding. As his eyes scanned the room, it registered that he was safe and sound in his own bed. The violent and bloody ending to a very hot, very naughty dream about one beautiful Italian thug had been nothing but his subconscious butting its way through the Great Wall of Horny and ruining what had otherwise been a pretty good time.

He tugged on his shirt collar a couple times, offering some much-needed air movement to his very warm skin. Elias couldn’t remember the last time his dreams had taken a turn for sex, though a ‘feeling up Vitelli’ dream was a far more accurate description of what his mind had come up with. They hadn’t exactly gotten to the sex part of his imagination before some faceless gangster burst into the room and gunned them both down. Elias figured that had more to do with his worry and anxiety about digging into his dad’s case than it did about him hanging around with Vitelli for one night.

Elias scrubbed his hands over his face before dropping them back to his lap. Clearly, he needed to meet up with Vitelli again. In reality, he hadn’t planned on going to O’Riley’s tonight to see him. Yes, he was pretty. Yes, his accent was wonderful to listen to. Yes, the tone he used when he whispered in Elias’s ears flipped and twisted his stomach in all kinds of delicious ways.

But Elias wasn’t a one-night-stand kind of guy, and he wasn’t someone who could sleep with a person he didn’t know, a person he didn’t trust. In the past, maybe, but that Elias had been gone for years, and he didn’t think that part of him would be coming back anytime soon. Yet, despite how much he had been certain of his lack of desire to see Vitelli again, his subconscious had cooked him up a lovely little fantasy with the man.

And who was he to deny his subconscious?

He still didn’t exactly plan on throwing himself at Vitelli or jumping his bones the moment he saw him, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t think about, right? Vitelli was wonderful to think about. It had been a hell of a long time before any part of Elias’s thoughts were occupied by an attractive man for good reasons. After his relationship with Nicholas had taken a sharp and drastic nosedive, he had done his best to close himself off from the charms of other men, but Vitelli had squeezed through one of the cracks in the wall, charm coming out full force every single time he opened his damn mouth.

Of course, the wall Elias had built up hadn’t been prepared for pretty Italian men covered in tattoos, intrigue, and—most importantly—rebellion from Elias’s ‘perfect’ little life, and earlier that morning, rebellion had seeped through every vein and artery in Elias’s body the moment his lips had touched Vitelli’s.

Sweet, sweet rebellion.

Elias blew out a slow breath and rubbed a hand down his throat before his palm settled on his still fluttering heart. He needed a cold shower, his meds, and breakfast. Then he needed to get out and about to question the witness who had apparently seen their motorcyclist with a gun. Assuming the witness was alive, anyway. He’d check with JJ after the shower, meds, and food or he’d forget about the importance of all three. Then he could think about his dad’s case and the witnesses and the questions he wanted to ask, and if he was lucky, later on, he could even think about Vitelli.


After breakfast, a quick chat with JJ had confirmed that their witness, Jack Harris, was still alive and well. Now, Elias sat in the passenger seat of JJ’s car outside Jack’s house, fiddling with the charms hanging from his neck. Jack was outside in the front yard, shoveling snow off the path from the sidewalk to his door.

Elias had told JJ she didn’t need to tag along, even though she had offered and claimed it was no issue at all. He’d spun some long-winded yarn about questioning witnesses being boring and she didn’t need to be subjected to it. Still, she had ended up convincing him to at least let her drive him to Jack’s place, but she had agreed to go grab coffee down the block while he did the questioning. In reality, it had nothing to do with the entertainment value of questioning and everything to do with the fact that Elias hadn’t done this in over three years, and he hadn’t wanted JJ to be there to see him screw it all up. JJ was one of the few people in his life that didn’t have to watch him stumble and fumble over himself and his words, and he didn’t want that to change right now. Maybe he’d have the confidence to risk changing JJ’s perspective and opinion of him in the future, but not now.

Elias squeezed his necklace charms one more time before climbing out of the car. He turned on his microrecorder and tucked it into the pocket of his jacket. He let Gordo out of the backseat, closed both doors, and grabbed his handle. With one last exhale, Elias forced himself to step up onto the sidewalk. “Umm, hey there. I don’t mean to scare you or anything, but, uh, my name’s Elias Payne. I’m investigating a cold case—”

“You some kinda cop? PI?” Jack raised an eyebrow at him, sticking his shovel in the snow bank to his right.

“No, sir. Just… a nosey former-reporter who can’t let go of his last job.”

“Mm.” Jack crossed his arms over his chest. “What do you want?”

“I’m looking into several cold cases involving some car accidents several years back, and I was hoping to talk to you a bit about the one you witnessed at the time.”


Elias licked his lips and squeezed Gordo’s handle. He had expected to strike out, but not immediately. Maybe another push would change his tune. “I’m sorry, it, uh, it would’ve been March of 2017.”

“No, I know when it was. It’s the only one I’ve ever seen with my own damn eyes. I don’t wanna talk about it. I talked to the cops when it happened, to the reporters after that, and I’m not gonna stand here and dredge it all up again.” He grabbed his shovel and went back to pushing snow off the path. When Elias couldn’t force himself to move, Jack lifted his head to meet his gaze again. “You want my advice, Mister… Payne, was it?”

Elias had a feeling he did not, in fact, want the man’s advice. Still, he nodded. “Yeah, Payne. Umm… what’ve you got?”

“You should keep your nose out of it. The crashes, I mean. The accidents. Digging up all that shit is nothing but bad news for everyone involved. Imagine how the families are going to feel when they find out you’re digging around in their tragedies for some… gotcha moment over your old employer.”

“It’s not a gotcha. And it’s not about my old job. I actually am one of the families.” Elias moved Gordo’s handle back and forth. “Gordo here is a service dog I need thanks to being in the ‘accident’ you witnessed.”

Something shifted in Jack’s expression. “You’re the kid,” he whispered.

Elias offered a smile. “I’m the kid.”


“Look, umm…” Jack cleared his throat. “I stand by at least part of what I said. You shouldn’t be digging around in this.”

“I’ve heard that before,” Elias said with a laugh. The fact that Jack was aware of the dangers of it too wasn’t exactly good news. The witnesses were alive, but they’d either been threatened or paid off. Questioning them wasn’t going to get him any more information than the redacted reports had. “Thank you for your time anyway, Mister Harris. And for the advice.”

“Sure, kid,” Jack said quietly. “Keep yourself safe out there.”


When JJ came back to the car with coffee, Elias set about scraping the caramel drizzle off the sides of the cup and stirring it into the rest of the drink, buying himself some time to come up with the best way to relay his thoughts to JJ. Regardless of her speech about her being a big girl and making her own decisions, he didn’t want to drag her any further into the investigation. Finding out the truth about what happened to his dad was his burden, and all the danger that came along with it was his cross to bear. Putting JJ in danger at every possible turn just because he couldn’t let it go wasn’t something he could live with, even if no one ever hurt her. Just the thought of it being a possibility twisted his stomach into tight, nasty little knots.

“So?” JJ asked.

Elias cleared his throat. “So?”

So, how did the Q and A with Harris go?”

“The witnesses know they shouldn’t talk bout it. They know they weren’t accidents, that… someone initially caused the crashes to kill the drivers. They know. They’ve either been silenced with money or silenced with fear.”

“Well, that’s not ideal,” JJ said.

Elias couldn’t help but laugh. “Yeah. Not ideal,” he echoed. He took a sip of his coffee, bought himself some more time. JJ would never let him continue the investigation into his dad’s death on his own. Their previous talks over the acceptance of life and death danger had been more than enough to determine that. But he couldn’t let her dig herself any deeper into the danger, not for the death of someone she’d never even met. Unlike Elias, JJ had a life outside of the case. She had a respectable career, friends, family. She went to parties and events, had fun. She lived her life. Elias didn’t. Risking taking JJ away from every other person in her life, taking JJ away from the life she’d built for herself, would never be worth it.

So for now, he’d lie, and when he finally figured out who took down his dad, he’d tell her, and she’d understand why he’d had no choice but to be dishonest.

Elias set his coffee in the center console’s cup holder, clearing his throat. “For… right now, I think it’s a good idea for us to back away from all of this. The redacted reports don’t help us, and the unredacted reports gave us the witnesses, sure, but there’s nothing else worthwhile in there, and the witnesses aren’t any good to us if they’re unable to talk. Right now, there’s nowhere for us to go with it, nothing else for us to do,” he said. “So I think we should… stop. We should stop looking into this before someone kills us for getting nowhere fast.”

JJ turned to look at him, one doubtful eyebrow raised. “You, of all people, want to stop digging into your dad’s case?”

“Temporarily. Just for right now. This here? This is us hitting the biggest dead end and brick wall I’ve ever come to in my time looking into the reports. I’ve hit hurdles before, I’ve hit forks in the road, but a complete dead end like this? I don’t even know where to start, JJ. And right now, I’m just… so damn tired,” he whispered. “And I can’t keep doing it, not now.”

JJ grabbed his hand and gave it a tight squeeze. “Maybe after the anniversary.”

“Exactly. Maybe after the anniversary.”

“And you’ll let me know when you’re ready to get back into looking? Because I’ll be right there with you, E.”

“I know you will. And… and yeah, I’ll let you know when I’m ready.”

“Good.” JJ squeezed his hand again before starting the car. Elias let out a breath, sinking back into his seat. There was a part of Elias that was still good at lying, at conjuring up a little story and spinning a yarn for his audience. Hopefully she’d buy the lie long enough to keep her far, far out of danger’s reach.

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