Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Excerpt: Covet Thy Neighbor

Title: Covet Thy Neighbor (Tucker Springs #4)
Author: L.A. Witt
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Formats: ebook, paperback


Chapter One

Rain rolled off the awning above the front window of Ink Springs. On shitty days like these, Lane and I didn’t even bother putting on the stereo. By the time we turned it up enough to hear it over the weather, it’d be too goddamned loud. So, the soundtrack for the day was thunder, rain, and buzzing tattoo needles, with occasional bits of conversation to fill in the gaps.

Not much buzzing today, though. As a rule, people didn’t casually wander in here during storms, and half of this afternoon’s appointments had called and canceled. Half the other ones probably wouldn’t show up. Which meant two of my favorite things in the whole world: a slow, boring day, and not a lot of money. 

Fucking yay.

I scrubbed my workstation with a wadded, disinfectant-soaked paper towel while Lane sketched, pencil scratching across paper. Good thing he didn’t mind chatting while he was drawing, because he’d probably be all the company I had today.

Lane got up from his chair to stretch, and glanced at the window. “Oh, man. I would not want to be moving on a day like this.”

I looked up from cleaning. “Moving?”

He gestured out the window. Someone was backing a U-Haul into one of the parking spaces in front of the store.

“Aw, damn.” I tossed the paper towel in the wastebasket and stood. “I forgot Robyn was moving out today.”

“She is? Where the hell’s she going?”

“Her girlfriend’s got a house on the other side of town. They’re shackin’ up.” I put on my jacket and started toward the door. “Since we’re dead right now, I’m going to go see if she needs any help.”

“Have fun. Don’t get wet.”

“Yeah, right.” I stepped outside. Right next to the storefront was the doorway to the stairs leading up to my apartment. Up until today, the apartment across the hall from mine had been Robyn’s. As she got out of the U-Haul, landing with a splash in a small puddle, I shouted over the rain, “You’re really moving out? On a day like this?”

“What can I do?” Robyn held her jacket over her head and trotted up to the sidewalk and out of the rain. She lowered her jacket and shook off some of the water. “My lease is up tomorrow, and I can’t change the weather.”

“You sure it’s not a sign from God, telling you to stay here?”

Robyn threw her head back and laughed. “Yeah, right. I believe that about as much as you do.” She gave me a playfully condescending look. “Now, Seth. We’ve been over this, sweetheart. I still love you, but Krissy and I are moving in together.”

I stomped dramatically on the wet pavement. “Fine. Fine. Just abandon me to whatever miscreants move into your apartment.”

She patted my arm. “They’ll fit right in around here, won’t they?”


She giggled. “Am I wrong?”


“Whatever.” Robyn elbowed me hard. “You’re such a brat.”

I laughed. “Anyway, you need any help?”

She shook her head. “There isn’t much left. We’re just down to the big stuff I couldn’t fit into my car. Krissy’s on her way, and she and I can handle that.”

“You don’t need a big strong man to carry the heavy stuff?”

“If I needed a big strong man, I’d come ask you who I should call.”

“Ooh. Ooh. Robyn, I bleed.”

She snickered. Then she plucked a white cat hair off my collar and flicked it away into the wind. “I am going to miss visiting Stanley, though.”

“Well, you can always come see him,” I said. “Door’s always open for Stanley’s buddies.”

“You can’t bring him over for a playdate with Jack and Sunny?”

“Um, no.” I held up my hand and pointed at a couple of scratches. “Cats and car trips? Don’t mix? Remember?”

“Oh, yeah.” She smothered a laugh. “Big tough man getting his butt kicked by a fluffy kitty. That’s so adorable.”

I scratched my jaw with my middle finger.

“Such a gentleman. Anyway, I— Oh! I forgot to mention. Al called last night, and I think someone’s coming to look at the place later this afternoon.”

“Already?” I put a hand over my heart. “Well, I promise you I won’t move on quite as quickly as Al has. I’ll take some time to properly grieve and all that.”

“Aww, you’re such a sweetheart.”

“I’ll make sure to stand outside your new front door and serenade you with Justin Bieber tunes while—”

“Krissy has a twelve-gauge.”

“Never mind.”

Robyn laughed. “Okay, I should get to work before Krissy gets here and drags me upstairs by the ear.”

“I’d pay to see—”

“Fuck you.” She nodded toward my shop. “Get back to work, you slacker.”

“All right, all right. But drop by the shop once in a while, will you? Let me know you’re still alive?”

“I will.” She hugged me tight. “Take care of yourself, sweetie.”

“You too.”

Robyn went upstairs to finish moving her things out of the soon-to-be vacant apartment, and I went back into my shop feeling just a little bummed out. Neighbors came and neighbors went, but after a string of really obnoxious ones, Robyn had been a refreshing change. We’d been good friends since about a week after she moved in.

We’d stay in touch, of course—it wasn’t like Robyn was leaving the country or anything. It was her replacement who worried me. Much as I didn’t believe in karma or any of that superstitious bullshit, it wouldn’t have surprised me if the price for having a cool neighbor for the past three years was living across from a fucking psycho for the next three.

We shall see.

The U-Haul left, and the afternoon went on, getting progressively grayer and nastier by the hour. Fortunately, some bored and adventurous college students came in for ankle tattoos, which meant we had both cash flow and something to do. By five, I’d almost forgotten about impending Neighborgeddon, and was lost in inking a flowery design across a whimpering blonde girl’s foot.

“Breathe, hon. The worst is almost over, I promise.” I pressed the needle as carefully as I could over the bony spot I was working on. “It’s always worst right on the bone.”

“Oh, God . . .” She groaned.

I lifted the needle off her skin. “You all right?”

She nodded. “Just didn’t think it would hurt this much.”

Behind me, the front door opened, and I caught the last part of my landlord’s sentence: “. . . can meet Seth. 
He lives in the apartment across the hall from the one you’re interested in, and he owns this shop.”

Over my shoulder, I said, “Be right with you, Al.”

“Take your time, son.”

I took my foot off the pedal and, as the needle’s buzzing subsided, looked at the mirror above my workstation. This gave me a discreet vantage point from which to catch a glimpse of my potential new neigh—

Oh, fuck.

I’d joked with my buddy Michael for the last couple of weeks about all the different kinds of nightmarish neighbors who might take Robyn’s place. Drunks who’d come home from benders and puke on the shared stairs. Horndogs who didn’t realize how thin the walls were. Moochers. Serial killers. Drummers with insomnia.

But what had I not considered? The worst possible kind of neighbor.

Smoking hot eye candy.

With a goddamned boyfriend.

I didn’t know which one was the neighbor, which one was the boyfriend, or if they were both moving in. 
Didn’t matter, because they were both fucking hot.

Especially the slightly shorter one. They were both ridiculously fuckable. Like, “Don’t even bother buying me a drink, I don’t care what your name is, just drop trou and let’s go” fuckable. But that second one, the one who was currently craning his neck to check out some of the art along the top of the wall, needed to spend some serious time bent over my bed. Even from here, his smile alone was enough that all that breathing and blood-flow bullshit was suddenly not happening the way it was supposed to. Intense, dark eyes. A short, perfectly trimmed beard framing his lips. Sharp cheekbones and jaw. If he had half a brain and a sense of humor, I was a dead man.

A cute twink with a devilish grin could turn me into putty, but this kind of guy? The fit, laid-back type who was effortlessly sexy even in a parka and with wind-messed, rain-dampened hair? Kryptonite-tipped arrow in my goddamned Achilles heel. Fuck.

I turned to my client. “Would you excuse me for just a second?”

She exhaled. “I could use a break for a few minutes anyway.”

I smiled. “It won’t take long, I promise.”

While she rested her head against the chair and took some slow, deep breaths, I set the gun aside and peeled off my gloves. Then I headed toward the front of my shop to say hello to my landlord and the hotness that I hoped was moving in next door. Maybe I couldn’t touch, but I could sure as hell take in the eye candy.

“Ah, here he is,” Al said.

As the three men faced me, I extended my hand and even managed to choke out my name. “Seth Wheeler.”

The shorter one looked me right in the goddamned eye as he shook my hand. “Darren Romero.” Then he let me go and added, “This is my brother, Chris.”

Brother? Well. That changed everything, didn’t it?

As I shook hands with Chris, Darren gestured around the shop. “So you’re an artist.”

Chris didn’t make a sound, but as he let go of my hand, a flicker of distaste crossed his expression. A slight curl to his lips, one eyebrow lifting in the slightest, briefest arch. Oh well. Fuck him.

I shrugged. “Artist. Skin defiler.” I glanced at the girl who was still breathing deeply at my workstation. “College student mutilator. Really depends on who you ask.”

Darren laughed when Chris rolled his eyes. “Oh, relax.”

Chris glared at him. “You really think living in this part of town, on top of a tattoo shop, is such a good idea?”

The humor instantly vacated Darren’s expression, and he said through his teeth, “We’ll discuss this later.”

The whole shop was suddenly tense. Even the girls who’d started chatting while Lane worked on one of their tattoos fell quiet.

“Anyway.” Darren turned to me again and smiled, and the tension broke.

The girls resumed chattering. The tattoo needle buzzed back to life. Chris scowled and found something other than me or his brother to focus on.

I muffled a cough. “Uh, before I forget, there’s a move-in discount.” I nodded toward the artwork on the wall. “First tattoo is on the house.”

Darren grimaced. “Oh. No. I don’t do needles.”

“Or tattoos,” Chris grumbled.

Darren eyed him. “The needle kinda negates that part.”

Chris started to say something more, but a pointed look from his brother shut him up.

“Well, damn.” I sighed. “That’s usually how I get to know my new neighbors.”

“Is it, now?” Darren asked.

“It gets them in a chair for a conversation, anyway,” I said. “Assuming they can handle the pain.”

Darren shuddered. “I’ll pass, but thanks for the offer. We’ll just have to find another way to get to know each other.”

The boldness of the statement startled me. Probably because I immediately read way too much into it.

I met his eyes, and he grinned, and it was one of those little yeah, I’m flirting right back grins. Read way too much into it, my ass. One eyebrow rose so slightly I was probably the only one in the shop who noticed, but it was more than enough to fuck up my balance. And he was going to be living across the hall from me? Right then and there, I gave it a week before he smiled at me or something and I ended up tripping over my own feet and going down the stairs on my ass.

And we were still staring at each other.

I broke eye contact and cleared my throat. “So are you new to the area? Like, just new to this part of Tucker Springs? Just moved here from another planet?”

Darren shifted his weight and glanced at Chris, but then smiled again—and damn, it seemed forced this time—as he said, “I just moved here from Tulsa.” He gestured at his brother. “He’s been here a few years and suggested it, so here I am.”

“Yeah, but I wasn’t expecting you to move into this part of town. Especially . . .” Chris scowled, giving the shop a sweeping look of obvious disapproval. “Are you sure you want to live on top of a place like this?”

“Don’t worry,” I said with a dismissive wave. “The Light District is totally quiet and safe. And as for living above a tattoo shop? All that nonsense you’ve heard about ink fumes bringing gremlins to life and causing buildings to teleport into parallel dimensions? Nothing more than unproven pseudoscience.”

Darren laughed, but his less-than-amused brother said, “I’m more concerned about the people who hang around tattoo shops.”

“Chris.” Darren glared at him. To me, he said, “Sorry. I’m really not concerned about—”

“It’s a tattoo shop in a college town,” Chris growled. “With bars and clubs within vomiting distance.” He pointed out at the street. “That sleazy club I told you about? Lights Out? It’s right up the road.”

“Actually, it’s that way.” I nodded in the other direction. “And it’s not that sleazy.”

Chris grumbled something I didn’t understand. Then, to Darren, “How do you know this neighborhood’s not going to be crawling with drunks and loud people at all hours of the night?”

I gritted my teeth. “Just don’t bring your friends by, and we won’t have to worry about any unsavory riffraff.”

Al glared at me. So did Chris.

Darren just laughed. “I think the neighborhood’s fine. Really.”

His brother scowled again, but shrugged. “Well, you’re the one who has to live here, not me.”

Darren rolled his eyes. “If it gets unbearable, I’ll come stay with you and Mona. Anyway, the neighborhood seems pretty nice. Might be better if management did something about”—he gestured outside—“the precipitation problem, but I suppose I can deal with it.”

Oh, for fuck’s sake. A dry sense of humor. I’m a dead man.

Al laughed and clapped Darren’s shoulder. “I’ll put in a request and see what I can work out.” To me, Al said, “Assuming his credit and background checks go through and he doesn’t change his mind, he wants to move in on Thursday. Would you and Lane mind parking behind the building that day?”

“Sure, no problem.” I turned to Darren. “If you need a hand with anything, let me know. Thursdays are pretty quiet around here.”

He smiled, which threw my pulse out of whack again. “Thanks. I should have it under control, but I’ll keep it in mind.”

Al herded Darren and Chris out of the shop, and I’d be damned if Darren didn’t throw me one last glance—and one last holy fuck smile—before they continued out of sight.

I needed to get back to my client and finish her tattoo, but for a moment, I just stared at the empty doorway.

So Darren Romero was my new neighbor.

Hot. Potentially single. Potentially gay.

Maybe Robyn moving out wasn’t so bad after all.
Chapter Two

As predicted, Darren moved in on Thursday. At least it stopped raining shortly before noon. Otherwise Chris would have had one more reason to glower and grumble when I came out to see if they needed a hand. Good thing Darren was the one moving in. Chris and I might’ve come to blows before the first day was out. Or he and a piece of furniture might have taken an unfortunate tumble down the stairs. This neighborhood didn’t need another negative jackass. That was my job, damn it.

Chris’s brother, however, was welcome to stay as long as he wanted.

Fortunately, I had plenty to distract me while that gorgeous piece of temptation moved in upstairs. Unlike most Thursdays, today was one appointment after another, all the way up until seven o’clock.

As the door banged shut behind my last client for the day, I closed my appointment book. Another day down, and a pretty damn productive one.

Lane had already gone home, so I cleaned up my workstation, locked up the shop, and headed outside for the horribly strenuous thirty-foot commute to my apartment.

I was reaching for the door to the stairwell when it opened. And just like that, I was face-to-face with Darren. He didn’t look much different from earlier, though his damp hair was casually arranged, so he must’ve just had a shower. Still, his presence struck me like it had the first time, and there went my heartbeat and brain waves.

“Oh.” He stopped. “Didn’t realize you were off work already.”

“Already?” I checked my watch, pretending my pulse hadn’t just jumped. “It’s quarter to eight.”

“Aren’t tattoo shops usually open late?”

“Yeah, on the weekends. Thursdays are . . . eh.”

“Gotcha. So, um.” He tucked his hands in his pockets and rolled his shoulders. “I’m still learning my way around this place. Anywhere you can recommend for a beer?”

How about my place? “All kinds of restaurants down that way.” I gestured past him, toward the Light District’s Town Square. “Just depends on what kind of atmosphere you’re into.”

“Something quiet is good,” he said.

“I’d try Jack’s. Just opened recently, and it’s not one of those loud sports bar types.”

“I think I’ll give that one a try, then. Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it.”

He started to go, but paused. “Do you, um, want to join me?”

I coughed to keep from choking on my own breath. “I—really?”

Darren shrugged. “Hey, I’m new in town. I’m all for any opportunity not to eat alone.”

“So you’re just using me for company until you make friends.” I sighed and shook my head. “I’m touched, Darren. I really am.”

He laughed. “Have to start somewhere.”

“True, I guess you do.” I put my keys in my pocket. “Sure. Let’s go.”

We started down the sidewalk. The only evidence of this morning’s torrential downpour was the odd puddle, and the evening was cool but hardly unpleasant. Not a bad night for a stroll with the newest hot guy in Tucker Springs. As long as I managed to keep my feet under me, I was golden.

“So this seems like a nice neighborhood so far,” he said after a while.

“Your brother didn’t seem to think so.”

Darren laughed softly, if a little halfheartedly. “He’s just protective. You know how older brothers are.”
The comment smacked me in the chest, but I didn’t let it show. He couldn’t have known.

I forced a smile. “Yeah, I know how they are.”

“Sorry if he was a bit, um, abrasive the other day. And today.”

“Don’t worry about it.” I sidestepped a small puddle. “But tell him you can pass the move-in discount on to him if he wants some free ink.”


“Sure.” I paused. “Can’t promise I won’t take a few liberties with his design of choice, but . . .”

Darren laughed with a little more enthusiasm this time.

Toward the end of the block, we slowed down beside the rainbow-festooned Pride shop. Flags, banners, posters, books; the place had it all. Darren scanned the colorful merchandise in the window as we walked past.

“They have places like that in Tulsa?” I asked.

“Not in my neighborhood,” he said with what I thought was a hint of bitterness.

“You, um, you do know this is the gay part of Tucker Springs, right?”

“I do.” He looked at me as we kept walking. “That’s why I moved here.”

“Oh. All right.” So he was gay. Detail confirmed, target acquired. “Carry on, then.”

“So what do you do around Tucker Springs?” he asked. “When you’re not tattooing people?”

“Well, a buddy of mine and I know the biking trails by heart. You into mountain biking?”

“Mountains?” He threw me a sidelong glance. “I’m from Oklahoma. I get a bloody nose stepping onto a curb.”

I laughed, not sure if it was his sense of humor or just those eyes that made my heart go crazy again. “The second-floor apartment must be hell, then.”

“It’s an adjustment, let me tell you. It’ll be easier once my oxygen tanks get here, though.”

Goddamn, he was quick. I liked.

I cleared my throat. “Okay, things to do in Tucker Springs that won’t give you altitude sickness. There are some pretty good clubs around, especially here in the Light District. Buddy of mine owns Lights Out.” I gestured over my shoulder in the general direction of Jason’s club.

“Isn’t that the one Chris was talking about? The sleazy one?”

I waved a hand. “What would a straight guy know about a gay night club?”

“Oh, yeah. Good point. So it’s . . . a good one?”

“Probably the best on the singles scene.”

“Good to know. Though clubs aren’t generally my scene,” he said. “Too loud, too . . . just not my scene.”

“Understandable.” But he hadn’t mentioned that he was spoken for.

Jack’s wasn’t crowded, and the hostess quickly seated us by a window in the lounge area. We both ordered the local microbrew on tap, and then browsed the small menu in search of something edible. I’d been grazing all day long, though, and Darren wasn’t particularly hungry, so we settled on drinks.

“So, how long have you been in Tucker Springs?” he asked.

“Since college. About twelve years, now, I guess.”

“What’d you study? Art major?”

“No, I was actually majoring in music theory. Planned to teach, but . . . I never finished. Dropped out my junior year.” I took a long drink, as if that could begin to rinse the bitterness out of my mouth. “What about you? What brings you to Tucker Springs?”


The single word gave me pause. Maybe I was imagining it, but something about his tone reminded me of the bitterness I’d just tried to wash off my own tongue.

Before I could ask, Darren cleared his throat. “I’d been in the plains too long, anyway, and needed a change of scenery. Thought the mountains would be a nice switch.”

“Is it?”

He smiled. “So far, so good.”

“Good. I think you’ll like it here.” And you certainly won’t hear me complain about you being here. I took a quick drink. “Even if you don’t like it right away, though, the place does grow on you after a while.”

“I’ll keep that in mind if I start questioning my decision to come here.” He slowly swirled his glass, watching the remaining beer slosh inside. “So, the hiking is decent out here? Once I get used to the elevation, I mean?”

“The hiking is amazing. And some of the trails are fairly tame for wimpy lowlanders like you.”

Darren threw me a playful glare. “Well, I wouldn’t want to wind up on top of a hill and not be able to get back down, would I?”

I smirked. “Yeah, well, Search and Rescue only comes out if you’re above three thousand feet. Anything lower than that, you’re on your own.”

He nodded sagely. “I’ll keep that in mind. Maybe if I go exploring out there, I should take you along as a guide.”

Oh, yes. Please do. “I’m always happy to show a newbie around the trails. You ever want to go, just give me a holler.”

“I’ll do that.” He smiled, then sipped his beer. “So you mentioned the singles scene earlier. How is it in this town?”

I shrugged. “Not as big as it would be in Denver or someplace like that, but there’s plenty of single guys on the prowl around here.”

“You one of those guys?”

My throat tightened. “Are you asking if I’m single?”

He put his mostly empty glass down and looked me in the eye. “In a roundabout way, yes.”

“I am.” I reached for my beer. “And you?”

“For far too long, yes.”

“Is that right?”

He nodded. “Kind of took a break there for a while. Had some—” His expression darkened briefly, his eyes losing focus. Then he shook himself back to life. “You know how it is. Life gets in the way, and the next thing you know, it’s been forever since you’ve been out with someone.”

I nodded. “Oh, yeah. I know how that goes.” I raised my glass in a mock toast. “My last boyfriend and I split, God . . .” I paused, adding up the dates in my head. “Shit, it’s been almost four years now.”

“Wow, really?” Darren shook his head. “Hasn’t been that long for me. I’ve only been out of the game for two.”

“Well, I didn’t say I’d been out of the game for four years.” I grinned at him over the top of my glass. “Just said it’s been four years since I’ve had a boyfriend.”

“Ah, I see.” He returned the grin, and then drained his glass. “You want another?”

“I could go for one more.” I started to stand, but Darren put up a hand.

“This one’s on me,” he said.

“You sure?”

He nodded and got up. “Same thing?” He gestured at my glass. “The pale ale?”

“Yeah, that’d be great. Thanks.”

He smiled. “Be right back.”

I watched him go, and holy perfect body, Batman. His jeans weren’t quite painted on, but they didn’t leave much to the imagination. If they looked that good from this angle, then I needed to find something to hold my attention when he came back, or I’d be indulging my curiosity about how well they fit in the front.

Seth. Dude. What the fuck?

I shook my head and shifted my gaze out the window. It was too dark to see the mountains, but oh well. I focused on them anyway. Totally didn’t watch Darren’s reflection or anything. At all. Not even once. Especially not when he leaned over the bar. Or cocked his hip just a little.


I rubbed my eyes. Okay, so he’d thrown me off-balance when he’d come into my tattoo shop the other day, and even now just watching him made me dizzy, but he was too perfect. There had to be something wrong with him, and now I caught myself waiting for the other shoe to drop. That one quirk, that one trait or something, that landed him very firmly in the friend zone. Or even the neighbor zone. Something heinous enough to disqualify him from my not-terribly-exclusive “fuck once and call it a day” zone.

So far? No dice. This guy checked all the boxes. Hot as all fuck. Dry sense of humor. Intelligent. Direct. Presumably employed, if his job had moved him out here. I didn’t believe in bullshit like love at first sight, but the dial in my head had conspicuously turned from I’d fuck you to I could see myself dating you. Which would include fucking, so it’s all good.

You’ve known him for an hour, idiot.

That other shoe could still drop. There was still time. It had taken my ex a solid year to reveal his rampant douchebaggery, so there was most certainly still time for Darren to prove he was way too good to be true.

“One pale ale,” he said, drawing me out of my thoughts and back into his presence. He put the glass on the table before he sat across from me and wrapped his hand around his own drink.

“So, you mentioned before that work brought you out here,” I said, trying to tread lightly and gauge his reactions since this didn’t seem to be his favorite topic. “What is it that you do?”

Darren took a long swallow of beer. Then he set his glass down. “I’m a minister.”

Record scratch.

“Sorry, what?”

He laughed. “A minister.” He gestured outside. “Just started working for the New Light Church down the street.”

“Oh.” I took a drink. A long one. “Well, um, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m an . . .”


I blinked. “How did you know?”

Darren smiled. “God told me.”

“Oh yeah?” I smirked. “What else did he tell you about me?”

“Well, that you’d be interesting enough to be good company for a couple of beers.” He raised his glass. “I’d say He was right.”

I eyed him. “Okay, seriously. How did you know?”

He threw his head back and laughed. “The ‘Professional Skeptic’ sticker on your truck kind of gave it away.”

“Oh. Yeah. I suppose it would, wouldn’t it?” I gnawed the inside of my lip. “So you already knew about that before you asked me to come out here tonight.”

“No.” He shook his head. “While the bartender was getting our beers, I ran back to where you were parked and checked your bumper for incriminating stickers.”

“Smartass,” I muttered into my beer. I rolled a sip around on my tongue for a moment, then swallowed it. “Funny. Most people in your . . . profession aren’t too keen on having beers with guys like me.”

He traced the rim of his glass with his middle finger. “Well, you might find that I’m not like a lot of people in my profession.”

Excerpt: Meet Me In The Middle

Title: Meet Me in the Middle
Author: L. A. Witt
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Format(s): ebook, print (coming soon)


The Mallory-Solomon house was always loaded down with smoking-hot men. Seriously, on any given night, that place was a veritable cornucopia of gorgeous bodies and beautiful faces.

This evening was no exception. Rhett Solomon and his husband, Ethan, were both over the hill, but they sure didn’t look the part. Well, okay, Ethan was noticeably gray around the edges, and Rhett had a few lines on his otherwise oh-my-God gorgeous face, but time eventually did that to all of us. Besides, I was pretty sure that living with Ethan or Rhett would’ve had me aging beyond my years, so I’d say they were doing just fine.

Of course, Kieran Frost was there, sitting on a barstool beside the granite-topped kitchen island where Ethan and Rhett prepared munchies for the evening. In true Wilde’s bartender fashion, Kieran was walking eye candy, from his flawless body to his perfectly arranged, almost-black hair. He’d been the much younger plaything that Rhett and Ethan had both been fucking during that dark era a few years back when they’d split up. Apparently, men who fuck hot bartenders together, stay together. Who knew?

Kieran’s fiancé was also easy on the eyes. Alex had been naïve and shy when he first met Kieran—a virgin too, from what I’d heard—but Kieran had dragged him out of his shell and duly corrupted him. The kid had even started dressing a little less plainly, opting for some brighter—but still subdued by my standards—colors, things that fit a little tighter and showed a little more skin. The subtle highlights in his dark hair were a nice touch too.

And then there was, of course, yours truly. Like I said, smoking-hot men.

It was movie night in la casa de hot men, which was becoming something of a tradition. Bad movies, obscure movies, mainstream movies; we didn’t give a shit as long it was entertaining enough to keep us interested until the second or third bottle of wine kicked in. At that point, anything was interesting. Naturally.

Though odd numbers usually bred odd tension, especially when it was two couples and a single guy, that was never a problem with this group. They were affectionate with each other, but everyone flirted with everyone, so I never felt like a fifth wheel. I’d have stopped showing up a long time ago if I’d been the odd man out.

Sabrina Solomon and her boyfriend had been over to have dinner with her dads earlier in the evening, and shortly after Alex, Kieran and I arrived, the two of them were getting ready to go out.

“Well, look at you.” I gestured at Sabrina’s absolutely stunning black evening dress. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say a couple of gay men helped you shop.”

Rhett rolled his eyes. “You’re funny, Dale.”

Ethan muttered something and continued slicing cheese for the tray that was already half covered in artfully fanned-out crackers.

Sabrina just giggled. “Actually, it was just one gay guy this time.”

“You’re welcome.” Kieran winked.

“What?” I put a hand to my chest and glared at Kieran. “You never take me shopping.”

“That’s because you find shit for me to buy, and I end up broke before we stop for dinner.”

I shrugged. “Not my fault I have good taste.”

“Mm-hmm. Expensive taste is more like it.”

Tyson, Sabrina’s boyfriend, put an arm around her waist. “Well, at least she’s got someone to take her shopping.” He smiled, but it was a nervous look, which was odd on someone who was usually so calm and mellow. He seemed in a hurry tonight. Almost twitchy as he said, “Anyway, we’d better run. Doors open at seven.”

“Have a good time.” Rhett came around the island and kissed Sabrina’s cheek. “You know the drill. Call me—”

“If we have too much to drink. I know, Dad.” She gave him a pointed look. “Since you’re hanging around with these miscreants tonight, are you sure you won’t have to call me for the same reason?”

“Very funny.”

“Don’t worry about it, Mr. Solomon.” Tyson shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “We’ll just be downtown. We can get a cab if we need to.” To Sabrina, he said, “Ready?”

“Yeah, let’s go.” She hugged both of her dads, said good-bye to the rest of us, and then they headed out of the kitchen with Tyson’s hand on the small of her back.

Rhett and Ethan looked toward the hallway until the door had closed. Then they glanced at each other.

“Hundred bucks says he’s doing it tonight,” Ethan said.

“I don’t know.” Rhett shook his head. “I was sure he was going to do it last Friday night, and he didn’t.”

Kieran, Alex and I exchanged puzzled looks.

“What are you two talking about?” Kieran asked. “Is he going to propose or something?”

Rhett nodded. “I’m surprised that ring hasn’t burned a hole in his pocket already.”

“You know, he actually asked Rhett’s permission,” Ethan said to us. “I didn’t even think people did that anymore.”

“As if it’s my call.” Rhett gestured toward the door. “She’s the one he needs to ask, not me.”

I chuckled. “He was probably just making sure you didn’t sic Ethan on him or something.”

“Oh, ha, ha.” Ethan rolled his eyes.

“He’s got a point, actually,” Rhett said with a shrug. “You are a good deterrent.”

“What?” Ethan scoffed.

“Oh, please. You know damn well you’re more intimidating than I am.” Rhett snatched a piece of cheese off the plate and just barely avoided a swat for his trouble.

Ethan released a huff of breath and turned to Kieran. “See what I put up with? Son of a bitch just uses me to chase off guys who want to date Sabrina.”

“Pretty sure that’s not the only thing he uses you for,” Kieran deadpanned.

“Hmm.” Ethan shrugged. “Good point. Fair enough.”

Rhett laughed softly, but then he glanced in the direction Sabrina and her boyfriend had gone, and sighed. “God. It was bad enough when she started dating and when she graduated high school. Getting married?” He grimaced and shook his head. “That’s…a bit much.”

Ethan patted his shoulder. “Welcome to getting old, sweetheart.”

“Well,” I said, “at least you can find solace in always being younger than Ethan.”

Ethan glared at me. Rhett, Alex and Kieran all snickered.

Rhett wrapped his arms around Ethan’s waist from behind and kissed his cheek. “He’s got a point, you know. That’s why I keep you around.” Nuzzling Ethan’s neck, he added, “You make me feel young.”

Ethan elbowed him playfully, and they both laughed.

Alex turned to Kieran. “Hey, aren’t you joining that club soon?”

Kieran eyed him. “Which club?”

Flashing him a devilish grin, Alex said, “Why, the club of elderly gay men.”

“Oh, shut up.” Kieran rolled his eyes.

“What?” Ethan arched an eyebrow. “How do you get to join? You’re not even thirty.”

Alex put an arm around Kieran’s shoulders and kissed his cheek. “He’s just having a bit of a not-quite-midlife crisis.”

I laughed. “What the hell? Did you find a gray nipple hair or something?”

“If I did, then it would’ve meant I was in bed with you.”

“Ooh,” the other guys said in unison.

“Burn,” Alex said.

I flipped Kieran the bird. “You only wish you were in bed with me, darling.”

“Keep telling yourself that, Dale.” Rhett clapped my shoulder. “So what’s the deal, Kieran?”

Alex smirked. “He got an invite to his ten-year high school reunion.”

“That’s it?” Rhett laughed. “Ethan’s coming up on—”

“Zip it.” Ethan shot him a glare.

Rhett just laughed again.

“Ugh,” Kieran said. “I can’t believe it’s my ten-year reunion already. Where the hell did a decade go?”

Alex snorted, offering a less than sincere, “Sorry.”

Kieran glared at him but then laughed and rolled his eyes again. “You are such a brat, you know that?”

“That’s what you get for robbing the cradle,” Ethan said. “You get to hear about it every time some little milestone like this comes along.”

“You’d know all about that, wouldn’t you?” Kieran threw back.

“What? Rhett’s not that much younger than me.”

“You’re still the oldest man in the room, so…”

“Fuck you.”

Rhett snickered. “He’s got a point, you know. I mean, aren’t you coming up on your thirty-year reunion?”

Before Ethan could come back with something snide, Alex broke in. “We’re talking about high school reunions, not college.”

Ethan’s jaw dropped. Rhett, Kieran and I all laughed. Alex wasn’t always so forthcoming with the barbs, but when he threw one out there, it was always a good one.

“Well played,” Kieran said with a wink.

I rested my elbow on the kitchen island and looked at Kieran. “Well, if it’s any consolation, I just got the invite to my twenty-year reunion.”

“Your twenty-year?” Kieran’s eyebrow jumped. “High school?”

I nodded.

He cocked his head. “Did you graduate when you were twenty-five or something?”

What?” I scoffed and stood upright. “Just how old do you think I am?”

He shrugged and gestured at Rhett and Ethan. “Well, you hang around with these senior citizens, so—”

“As do you!”

“Yeah, but you’ve been part of the group longer. Figured you all evolved out of the Triassic era together.”

I exhaled sharply and looked at Rhett. “Why do you guys put up with him again?”

Rhett shrugged. “He gives good head?”

Alex choked on his wine.

“So you claim.” I gave Kieran a pointed look. “I have yet to verify this.”

Kieran grinned and wrapped his arm around Alex’s shoulders. “I have three witnesses. That’s enough to convince most juries.”

“Well, consider this jury hung,” I said.

All four men groaned.

“Oh my God, Dale.” Rhett face-palmed. “That was a bad one even for you.”

I put up my hands. “What? It’s true.”

“Mm-hmm.” Kieran shook his head.

I just chuckled and took another drink. To this day, I had no idea if Rhett, Ethan and Kieran had curtailed their “extracurricular activities” after Alex came into the picture. Sassy as he was, the kid had been a shy, naïve virgin before Kieran got his hands on him, but I had complete faith that Kieran had done his duty and turned Alex into a cock-hungry sex fiend. Whether or not that meant he’d turned their threesomes into foursomes, I didn’t know. And if it did, oh Lord, what I wouldn’t have given to watch that for a minute or five. Or be in the middle of it.

Before I got carried away with that little fantasy again, I shook myself back to life. “And anyway, yes. I’m going to my twenty-year reunion.”

Kieran scowled. “You’re actually going?”

“Of course. I haven’t seen some of these people in years.”

“Yeah, I thought that was kind of the idea,” Kieran muttered. “If I wanted to stay in touch with them, I would have.”

“Well, yes, but there are some I only want to see once every ten or twenty years. You know, see if time was as cruel to the jocks and cheerleaders as the movies always promise it will be.” I paused for a sip of wine and then turned more serious. “And I have lost touch with a few people over the years, and this can be a way to reconnect with them. A little more personal than Facebook, you know?”

“Exactly why I’m not going,” Kieran said. “I’ve got some friends from that era, but if I haven’t seen them in ten years, I’m not flying to California to get reacquainted with them.”

“You never know,” I said with a shrug. “Could be fun.”

“He’s right.” Alex nudged Kieran with his elbow. “You could have a good time.”

Kieran looked at him. Then he sighed. “Okay. Maybe. I’ll think about it.”

“Might as well go to this one,” Rhett said. “You know, before they start holding your reunions in old folks’ homes.” He patted Ethan’s arm.

“Keep it up,” Ethan said, “and you won’t have to worry about going to your next reunion.”

“You’re so adorable when you’re menacing.” Rhett turned Ethan’s chin toward him and kissed him lightly. Ethan tried to glare at him, but they both laughed, and Rhett kissed him again.

Then Ethan looked at us. “So are we going to watch a movie tonight or not?”

Rhett glanced at the clock on the microwave. “We wait too much longer, we’re going to fuck up Ethan’s bedtime.”

“Ass,” Ethan muttered. “Come on, let’s go see what god-awful DVD Dale brought this time.” He paused. “Rhett, would you mind grabbing another bottle of wine?”

“Good idea.” Rhett turned to the rest of us. “Anyone else?”

“I’ll take a glass,” Alex said and downed what was left in his glass.

“Same here,” Kieran said. “Can’t watch a movie with you guys without some wine.”

They all started toward the living room, but I hung back. “You’ll probably need an extra pair of hands to carry all that. I’ll help.”

Rhett glanced at me, but he didn’t say anything, and everyone but us cleared out of the kitchen.

As soon as we were alone, I said, “I need a little advice.”

“Sure, what’s up?” He leaned down to take a bottle off their well-stocked wine rack, but paused. Then he held up a finger and called over his shoulder. “We sticking with red, or does anyone want white?”

There was some murmuring in the other room before Ethan called back, “Red.”

“Red it is.” Rhett pulled a bottle off the rack. “Sorry about that. What’s up?”

I leaned against the kitchen island. “It’s about my high school reunion, actually.”

“You’re going, right?”

“I’m…not sure, to be honest.”

“Oh?” Rhett looked up from opening the bottle. “What’s wrong?”

“Well, there’s a lot of people I want to see, but…” I exhaled. “Let’s put it this way. If I could see a list of who else is coming before I committed and bought my ticket, that would help me make the decision.”

“Someone in particular you want to see?”

“Someone in particular I don’t want to see.”

Ooh.” He set the cork and corkscrew on the counter. “An ex?”

“Well, he’s not an ex, per se,” I said. “We never dated. We just…fucked. Once after graduation, and again at our last reunion.”

Rhett’s eyebrows rose. “I could see how that might make this reunion awkward.”

“You think?”

Brow furrowed as he thought for a moment, Rhett idly thumbed his wedding ring. “Mind if I ask something personal?”

I picked up the bottle of wine to start pouring the glasses. “Shoot.”

He hesitated. Then, “What would you do if you saw him again?”

I set the bottle down. The question hammered itself into my consciousness. Right into my bones. What would I do? I shook my head slowly. “I don’t know. I mean, it’s been ten years, but it’s…”

“Still raw?”

“For lack of a better word, yes.”

Rhett took the bottle back, and as he poured, said, “What exactly happened? I mean, obviously you slept together, but”—he gave me one of his patented “looks”—“you’ve fucked plenty of guys and never batted an eye. Something else must have happened.”

I watched the wine accumulating in each glass in turn, because that meant not acknowledging Rhett’s scrutiny. “It was…complicated.”

“Isn’t it always?”

“Sex? No.” I grinned. “Sex can be very, very simple.” My grin fell. I reached for one of the glasses he’d already poured, and swallowed most of the wine in a single go.

Rhett blinked. “Must have been really complicated.” He took my glass back and refilled it. “What happened?”

I exhaled. “Friendship gone sour after a couple of fucks that probably shouldn’t have happened.”


“Tell me about it.”

“Will there be people at the reunion you do want to see?”

“Probably, yeah.”

“Then go.” He set the bottle aside and looked at me. “Don’t let this guy control you and keep you from people you want to spend time with.”

“And if he’s there?”

Rhett waved a hand. “Don’t worry about him. It’s been ten years. You deserve to be able to go to this thing, see people from your past, and have a good time.”

I focused on the granite countertop between us. That was the logical solution, of course. “A little easier said than done, don’t you think?”

“Ooh, yeah.” When I looked at him, Rhett grimaced. “You may recall I’ve got some experience with being in the same building with someone I didn’t want to see.”

“Very true.” I was fairly certain the entire damned city remembered when he and Ethan were stuck living in the same house after they’d split up. The silver lining was that it had ultimately brought Kieran into our social circle, but the two-year downward spiral and the short period between breaking up and making up? Jesus. I thought they’d kill each other.

“Honestly?” I said. “Part of me wants to see him.”

Rhett’s eyebrows rose. “Which part?”

“Not that one.” I laughed, but it didn’t last. “I don’t know, I guess I feel like I need some closure after the way things went down before. It’s been bugging me all this time, and I can’t decide if seeing him again will just make it worse, or if it’ll give me a chance to put it to rest.”

Right then, Ethan appeared in the doorway, his lips curled into their customary smirk. “You guys letting the wine age or something?”

From behind him, Kieran called out, “Ethan doesn’t have time to wait for it to—”

“That’s enough out of you,” Ethan threw over his shoulder. He rolled his eyes and looked at us again. His smirk faded. “Everything okay in here?”

Rhett looked at me.

I smiled and picked up three of the wineglasses. “Everything’s fine.”

Ethan eyed me skeptically. “You sure?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Rhett said. They exchanged one of those long, loaded looks they’d perfected after almost a decade and a half together, and Ethan nodded like he’d received whatever message Rhett had been conveying. Then he disappeared back into the living room, and Rhett turned to me again. “You still have feelings for this guy?”

“I’m… Oh hell, I’m not even sure. I mean, we were close friends all through high school, and then we fucked at our graduation party, and then we didn’t speak until our ten-year reunion.” I released an exasperated sigh. “And then we fucked again and haven’t spoken since.” Pausing, I shook my head. “And it’s not even that simple. There’s…more to it. But…”

Rhett watched me silently for a long moment. “Can I offer one piece of unsolicited advice?”

“Rhett, darling, I pulled you aside to talk to you. Any advice is hardly unsolicited.”

He half shrugged. “Okay, point taken. But, listen. Whatever happened, you obviously have some lingering hang-ups about this guy.”

“So, you don’t think I should go to the reunion?”

“No, I think you should go. Just promise me you won’t fuck this guy if he’s there.”

I snorted. “Sweetheart, please. After the last two times? Anything he tries to put in me is getting cut off and handed back to him on a platter.”

Rhett threw his head back and laughed. “Ever the eloquent one, Dale.”

“And that’s why you love me.”

“I wouldn’t go quite that far. Now grab those wineglasses and let’s go see if this DVD is any good.”

Excerpt: If It Flies

Title: If It Flies (Market Garden Book #3)
Author: L. A. Witt, Aleksandr Voinov
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Format(s): ebook


Chapter One
“Trust me, Spence,” Percy said during a mostly liquid lunch. “If it flies, drives, or fornicates, it’s always cheaper to rent it.” A few other restaurant patrons gave him disgusted looks.
Spencer laughed humourlessly over the rim of a Moscow Mule. “Yeah. A lot of good that philosophy did you.”
“Now, now.” Percy wagged a finger at him. “It wasn’t the rentboy who cost me half of everything I own. It was the wife.”
“Mm-hmm. Because you rented something that fornicates, yes?” Married or not, Percy never could resist his penchant for rentboys, especially that gorgeous Jamaican guy he hadn’t managed to keep a secret.
“Wasn’t his fault. But her?” Percy shook his head. “Christ. With what that woman cost me, I could’ve thrown orgies with a pile of supermodels for years, snorting Class A drugs off the most expensive tits in London.” He shrugged, probably unaware he’d once again turned the heads of a few people at nearby tables. “Though you’ve got to admit, she does know how to skin a guy.”
The perverse, masochistic respect on his face gave Spencer pause, and he stabbed a bite of chicken. “There’s a dubious skill set.”
“And one of the biggest risks of the whole marriage trap.” Percy raised his glass as if in a toast. “That’s why you don’t buy, Spence. When you rent, you get all the good stuff and don’t set yourself up for a government-sanctioned bank account massacre.”
“Quite honestly,” Spencer muttered, keeping his voice down unlike his lunch companion, “I think I’d rather just find someone I didn’t feel the need to run around on.”
Percy waved a hand. “Just a fantasy, lad. Save yourself the trouble. You don’t need a relationship, you just need to get your arse into bed with someone who fucks off before dawn.”
“Charming.” Spencer eyed his own drink. It was way too early to be drinking, he knew that, but when Percy was buying, you didn’t say no, or a rumour might go round the firm that you couldn’t hold your liquor. Only problem was, his mouth was a little dry right now—these conversations never took long to get more personal than he liked—but his head was already light. Drink to wet the mouth? Or abstain to keep the head clear? Or maybe pick someone else to ask for advice to get out of this overstressed, undersexed rut he was stuck in? Percy was the only man at the firm who knew Spencer was gay, though, and Spencer wasn’t keen to let that information get around.
Unbidden, he wondered what crazy stuff Percy got up to—or off on—with his various rentboys, and quickly decided he couldn’t have lunch with the guy again if he knew. Bad enough he knew about Percy’s fetish for dark skin, which made their “friendship” a little bit awkward. He’d long go convinced himself that the man was not flirting, just loved riding his superiority complex with him, and left it at that.
“You need to loosen up.” Percy declared, and smacked the table with an open palm, rattling some cutlery and startling half the restaurant, Spencer included.
And on that note, drinking it was. Spencer picked up his glass and quickly sucked down two deep swallows of the Moscow Mule, a hellish concoction of ginger beer and vodka. Spencer’s eyes watered a little, and he coughed as he put the glass down again.
“Loosen up.” He held Percy’s gaze. “Which in this case means following your lead and finding a prostitute.”
“Why the hell not?” Percy asked like the idea made perfect sense. “You need to relax, mate. Every time I’ve seen you recently, you’re wound tighter than the time before, and you weren’t any better when you were still with that fuckwit boyfriend of yours.” He made a sharp, dismissive gesture, as if shooing away an apparition of Spencer’s ex. “Which further proves my point: Rent. Don’t buy. It’ll do you some good.” He winked, lowering his voice again to a conspiratorial whisper. “It’s worth the money, I promise.”
“It’s just not my thing. We’ve been over this.”
“Mm-hmm.” That damned eyebrow was like a fucking lie detector, and its current arch saidbollocks. “It’s not your thing? And being on the fast track to ulcers and a heart attack is your thing? Come on.” He shrugged. “One night. One trip. It’ll do you some good. I promise.”
Spencer gnawed the inside of his lower lip. He was on that fast track, wasn’t he, what with the last few months of stress—mergers and job cuts and bollocks, oh my!
Even though he knew it was a bad idea—but then, there was more Moscow Mule in his gut than in his glass—he finished the last of his drink and flagged down the waitress for another. He’d be taking the afternoon off now, that was for sure. Or at least barricading himself in his office under the pretence of studying contracts.
Before the second drink came, he tapped his fingers on the rim of the empty one. “So, this place you go to . . .”
Immediately, the judgmental eyebrow returned to its launch position, and Percy’s eyes lit up. “That’s my boy!” He folded his arms and leaned in closer like they were planning a murder or some bloody thing. “What about it?”
Spencer swallowed. Where’s that drink? “I’ve heard things about those places. Human trafficking and—”
“Don’t worry about that shit.” Percy waved the concern away. “Trust me, I checked their background, foreground, underground, whatever. Probably the cleanest whorehouse in the city.”
Drink? Please? Now?
“That’s not saying much, you know.”
Percy laughed. “Look, it’s not a bunch of underage kids working against their will. Most of them are jaded university students.”
Spencer blinked. “What?” Last thing he wanted was to walk into one of them as an intern in a year or so.
“Yeah. Crazy, isn’t it?” Percy picked up his own cocktail and took a drink, making Spencer’s mouth water. “Apparently, some of them start stripping between studying, and go on from there.”
Spencer couldn’t argue with that; it only made economic sense, sordid as it was.
“It’s ironic, you know?” Percy mused. “If the economy were better, we’d probably be working with these guys instead of fucking them.”
Spencer bit back the observation that he, as yet, hadn’t encountered a Jamaican lawyer—but who was he to judge? The banks were getting more “colourful,” even though the odd Indian or Pakistani were still assumed to be quantitative analysts rather than movers and shakers, and he himself still raised a few eyebrows as the one black corporate lawyer in the firm. Never mind he had the Oxbridge accent to prove that he belonged.
“Top talent always gets a place,” he muttered, trying to move the conversation elsewhere.
“I imagine it’s easier than working eighty-hour weeks to get onto the career ladder.” Percy was clearly enjoying himself way too much.
Thank God Spencer’s drink arrived.
He sipped the ginger-flavoured cocktail while Percy talked about whoring being the true equal-opportunity sector out there, though, in Percy’s typical way, even this romantic notion was distorted by a jaded lens. He cleared his throat. “Okay.”
“I’ll introduce you,” Percy said.
“Can’t I just go alone?”
“Na-ah.” Percy grinned at him. “I’d suggest getting a membership. It is quite classy—certainly a good variety, if you know what I mean. They even have a pair of shemales.”
Good God, this was not something he needed to learn during lunch.
“I’ll . . . have the usual configuration.”
“What about after work today?” That gleam in Percy’s eyes was equal parts unnerving and intriguing. “I’ll introduce you, you get a membership, and after that you’re on your own, stud.”
This was getting too familiar way too fast. Kicked along by the Mule, no doubt. Their relationship was friendly enough, but Spencer still felt a bit weird. As ex-head of sales in an investment bank, Percy likely knew every high-class prostitute in the City, and had very likely covered the partying under “expenses” when he “entertained clients,” so his experience on that front could clearly be trusted. Spencer had just never expected to find himself at the receiving end of Percy’s magnanimity.
“So.” Percy set his drink down sharply, emphatically, like he’d just closed a deal. “What do you say we meet at the Market Garden tonight? Say, nine-thirty?”
Uh, no, mate. No way. I’m not . . . there’s no . . .
But the Mule spoke before Spencer could: “I’ll be there.”
Chapter Two
There was only one problem with a liquid lunch. Well, okay, besides the fact that it meant Spencer’s mouth had moved before his brain did and he’d wound up walking into a place like Market Garden at nine-thirty, hanging back behind Percy like that somehow made him safer. Yeah, right. Percy was enough of a troublemaker for both of them. Nobody was safe with that guy.
No, the problem was that after three drinks at lunch, Spencer was already a little hung-over when he followed Percy into the club. His temples throbbed, a clear reminder why drinking with Percy during the day was a bad idea. But what was done was done, and now they were here.
God, Market Garden really didn’t go to any great lengths to mask its purpose, did it? Signs warning against cameras. Disco lights flickering off the polished bald heads of the massive—and numerous—bouncers standing around to make sure no one got too frisky with the merchandise. Not without paying for it, anyway.
Obviously Percy wasn’t the only man who “entertained clients” here. There was no shortage of patrons in suits pawing at scantily clad women.
“Thought you said this place catered to guys like us,” he said to Percy.
The man glanced at him, eyes narrow and sly. “They do. But when you want top shelf, you have to ask for it.”
Spencer just followed Percy deeper into the club. They stopped at the bar, which was staffed by half a dozen men, any one of which Spencer would have emptied his wallet to—
Slow down.
He shook his head. Apparently he was getting used to this idea faster than he’d thought.
Percy leaned over the bar and exchanged a few brief, hushed words with one of the bartenders. Then came the nod, the head tilt, and when Spencer followed the trajectory of the tilt, he saw a door tucked into the shadows at one end of the bar. It had windows, but they’d been blacked out, and a couple of the bouncers loitered nearby.
“Let’s go.” Percy beckoned to Spencer and strolled towards that blacked-out door like he owned the place.
Now his heart quickened, and he wondered if he should grab Percy, ask him to wait, and order himself a glass of liquid courage before he started traipsing into guarded, darkened back rooms in a bar full of prostitutes.
I should’ve just gone to the gym tonight.
One of the bouncers saw them coming and stepped in front of the door. A swell of panic almost stopped Spencer in his tracks, but instead of warning them away, the bouncer pulled open the door and gave them a “go on” gesture.
Even if the windows hadn’t been blacked out, there wouldn’t have been much light coming from the room on the other side. It looked like a huge, dark void, forbidding but attractive, pulling him in like the black hole it resembled.
The door shut heavily behind them. Percy pushed aside a thick curtain. And beyond the portal: the men of Market Garden. They all wore black leather in various configurations, though most went for leather trousers with either a skin-tight black T-shirt or a bondage harness. And no two guys were alike. Twinks. Bodybuilders. Girly boys. Guys who looked like they’d escaped a Goth convention with free mascara.
One guy in particular immediately caught his eyes. Slim, wearing low-riding leather trousers that revealed chiselled groin lines, and Spencer couldn’t decide what he wanted to touch more—the bulge in the guy’s trousers or the two pierced nipples that he displayed proudly without a T-shirt or so much as a harness.
“You look like you’re in a supermarket in front of fifty types of orange juice,” Percy whispered to him. “Definitely a membership for you. You can try them all.”
Spencer pulled at his tie. It was getting hot in here. “Not sure how I—” he managed to bite the rest of the sentence off before it escaped. How I feel about fucking a guy you fucked.But it didn’t really matter, did it? Would he rent a car that Percy had rented before him?
The guy in leather was just turning away with a laugh from a friend wearing a chainmail shirt.
“Drink?” Percy asked.
Best way to shed Percy, however briefly. The man’s peanut gallery comments were a serious distraction, never mind the potential for embarrassment. “Sure.”
Percy vanished in the gloom towards the bar, and Spencer watched the guy in leather for a minute or so. He must have been in his early twenties. Not quite a twink, but that lean build suggested a dancer or something. The guy couldn’t weigh more than sixty, sixty-five kilos. No, he hadn’t looked at profiles on Grindr too long. You could just tell the guy didn’t have a spare kilo on his frame. Maybe he was a go-go dancer rather than a rentboy?
The guy looked at him, and a smile curled the corner of his mouth.
And then he came walking over.
Not walking. Sauntering. Hell, he was strutting.
And looking Spencer up and down like he was sizing up a rental instead of being the merchandise on display.
A little too close—oh God, come closer—he stopped. Spencer was almost a head taller, but couldn’t shake the feeling that the leather-clad almost-twink was looking down at him. He wasn’t intimidating, per se, he just radiated a cockiness that tightened Spencer’s balls.
Spencer cleared his throat. “Um . . . hello.” Good thing nobody expected a client to come up with a pickup line. Though that one had been exceptionally lame.
“You got a name?” Direct. No surprise there.
He considered a fake name, but what the hell? Another quiet cough, and he said, “Spencer.”
“Nick.” With a faint smirk, Nick nodded towards the bar on the opposite end of the shadowy room. “You look like the kind of guy who could buy me a drink.”
Spencer’s breath tangled up somewhere in his airway. “I . . . excuse me?”
An eyebrow lifted. Not judgmental and telepathic like Percy’s always was. Purely challenging. A thin curve of “You heard me.”
“Look, I’m . . .” I’m sounding like an idiot already. Guess this isn’t much different from the dating scene. “I’ll be honest here. I’m new to this.”
“I know. I’ve never seen you here before, and you look lost.” Nick quirked his eyebrow again. “Your dad didn’t bring you here to lose your virginity, did he?”
At that, Spencer laughed. Well, that was something: he was breathing now. “No. Not quite. But I’ve, um, never done . . . this.”
“What? Had an awkward conversation with a prostitute in a whorehouse?” No smile cracked his lips, but Spencer could tell Nick was enjoying this. Immensely.
“Something like that,” Spencer muttered. “So, how does this work, exactly?”
“Well.” Nick tossed his head to get that blond fringe out of his eyes. “You buy me a drink, it’s a fiver. You want to lick it off me? It’s a hundred.”
Holy. Fuck.
Nick brought up a hand—long, fine fingers—and arranged his unruly fringe as he casually added, “And it just goes up from there.”
“Based on the number of drinks?”
“Based on the number of licks.”
Spencer blinked. This kid really knew how to catch a man off-guard, didn’t he? Getting his wits about him, he said, “And if I want you to lick it off me?”
Nick sniffed derisively and smirked. “Then you’re talking to the wrong whore.”
Spencer looked around, but his gaze returned to Nick’s nipple piercings, light sparking off them, making them shine like diamonds. Maybe Nick was the right guy, though he’d always assumed prostitutes were more—accommodating. He’d never hired a prostitute. He could have one-night stands; until a few months ago, he’d even had a relationship, of sorts, if falling asleep together over paperwork was a relationship. Normally, these days he expended his last bit of energy on porn.
The thing that tipped him over the edge was—Nick wasn’t selling. He didn’t try to influence the decision one way or the other. Spencer couldn’t possibly put into words how refreshing it was to not be sold to or pressured. In a world of BUY THIS NEW PHONE and YOU’RE NOTHING WITHOUT THIS WATCH, encountering a guy who didn’t bend over backwards to close a deal felt like stepping into a calm spot he hadn’t known existed.
“All right,” he said, eventually.
Nick nodded. “Get me a drink.”
He turned and headed to the bar, then, remembering Percy had gone to get him a drink, glanced around.
Percy had apparently forgotten about Spencer’s drink. He was sitting at a table with two prostitutes around him, one in each arm. From behind their backs, he gave him a double thumbs-up.
Spencer pushed through to the bar and bought two drinks. He tried for beers, but the bartender shook his head and handed him a beer and a cola, “For Nick.”
When he returned to Nick, he said, “Maybe we should sit down.”
Nick nodded and led the way to a somewhat more secluded booth at the far end. “I figure you’ll have less performance anxiety if your friend can’t see you.”
“Uh, yeah. Good idea.”
Nick glanced back in Percy’s direction, and said, “I’m sure he’ll keep them busy for at least . . . a couple minutes.” Then he turned away and slid into the booth, and Spencer couldn’t tell if he’d heard that little snicker or if he’d imagined it.
Nick moved far enough into the booth to leave space for Spencer, and in spite of his pounding heart and the “what the ever-loving fuck are you doing?” in the back of his brain, Spencer joined him. He wasn’t sure what the protocol was here. Treat it like a date? Arm around the shoulders leads to hand on the thigh leads to—
Oh, God, apparently we’re going straight to the hand on the crotch.
Spencer tensed, pressing back against the leather upholstery. “Oh. Wow.”
Nick snickered for real this time, and his breath tickled the side of Spencer’s neck. Spencer pulled in a gasp, but a firm-and-not-so-gentle squeeze below the belt knocked that air right back out.
“Fuck.” He put up a hand. “I . . . whoa. This is . . .”
Nick’s hand retreated to Spencer’s thigh. “You really are new at this, aren’t you?”
“Just . . . just a bit. Yeah.” He grabbed his drink and swallowed as much as it took to cool him off. Which was better than half the damned glass. Here we go again. “Sorry, I’m . . .”
“Relax.” Nick grinned. “I don’t bite.”
Spencer eyed him, waiting for the inevitable “. . . hard” or “. . . unless you want me to.” It didn’t come, though. In fact, Nick took his hand off Spencer’s leg and reached for his own drink.
It was quickly becoming apparent there wasn’t a thing Nick did that he couldn’t make sexy. Not overtly sexual, but sexy. Right down to the way his hand was arranged on the glass, like it was deliberate, even artful, every finger placed just so to make the simple gesture of picking up a drink look . . . elegant? Maybe it was just the fine bones of his wrist and hand. The black nail varnish didn’t hurt the effect, like staccato marks at the end of each finger.
With his other hand, he steadied the straw. No suggestive stroking or up-down motion, but he looked right at Spencer while he sucked some of his cola up into his mouth. His eyes—green, stunning pale green—locked on Spencer’s, narrowing just enough to make Spencer wonder what was going on in that mind of his.
Nick swallowed his drink, paused to run the tip of his tongue around the end of the straw. Spencer suddenly wanted to loosen his tie. He gulped, which only made the tie and collar tighter.
Nick’s eyes darted towards Spencer’s throat. “How can you even breathe in that thing?” Before Spencer could choke out a response, Nick’s glass clinked on the table and those slim, staccato-tipped fingers reached for his neck.
One finger hooked the knot of the tie and pulled. With a swift, precise gesture, Nick undid the top button. And for some reason, Spencer still couldn’t fucking breathe.
“There.” Nick drew back, smirking. “Much better.”
“Yeah. Thanks.” Spencer managed to grin. “Do I have to pay extra for that?”
Nick moistened his lips and turned his attention to the straw in his drink, which he’d pinched between his thumb and middle finger. “No. The first button’s complimentary.” He covered the end of the straw with his index finger and withdrew it from his glass. The vacuum held the cola inside the straw, and Nick paused, letting the opposite end drip for a second, before he brought that end up to his lips. “Any more than that? We’ll have to discuss prices.” He slid the tip of the straw under his tongue, and lifted his index finger so all the liquid slipped out and into his mouth.
Yeah. The tie and collar weren’t the problem. There wasn’t enough air in this room when Nick was around.
“So.” Nick slid the straw back into his drink. He sucked his index finger into his mouth and, watching Spencer’s eyes, slowly slipped it free. “What the hell is a man like you doing here?”
“Is that your way of asking what’s a nice guy like me doing in a place like this?”
“No.” He covered the end of his straw again and grinned at Spencer. “It’s me asking what exactly you’re looking for so I can decide how much you’ll pay me.”
God, but he was direct. Of course he wasn’t trying to sell anything or close the deal. It seemed that in Nick’s mind, the deal was already closed, and there was nothing left to do but sign on the dotted line, exchange money, and . . .
Holy fuck. He could afford it, that wasn’t a concern, but a night alone and naked with a man like this? Spencer would never have to give Percy details because there was no way he’d survive until morning. Or maybe Percy would have the good grace to leave him alone about it? Well, he could dream.
“Uhm.” He blew out a breath. “I’d be looking for a . . . a top.”
There, he’d said it. Somehow, his concept of male whores involved them getting it up the arse all night—which sounded like a pretty good deal, though it was likely humiliating.
Maybe he’ll be rough.
Spencer clamped down on that thought quicker than he’d have stomped on a cockroach in his student accommodations—what, ten years ago?
Nick kept looking at him. “And?”
So that part of the deal was on. “I’m in charge.”
“You’re the customer. Of course you’re in charge.” Those lips quirked with the most devilish little grin that made Spencer grateful he could just sit here for a while. That way, nobody had a clear view of his trousers.
“My place?”
“After you’ve done the membership application, yes.” Nick nodded towards one of the guys at the bar. “There’s a background check, but they’re discreet.” The grin was still there, as if the whole thing was an elaborate prank.
“How quickly can they do it?”
“Pretty quickly.” Nick nodded over. “You can do that now.”
Spencer hesitated, then figured Nick would probably wait those five or ten minutes, so he stood and headed over to the bar.
It took twenty-five minutes altogether, and he grew more and more impatient. Nick wouldn’t wait this long, would he?
But he had, chasing melting ice cubes around in his drink with the straw.
Spencer rejoined him in the booth. “All right. Paperwork is taken care of. So how much are we talking?” The implication—obligation?—in his own words rattled him.
Naturally, Nick wasn’t fazed at all. “Want an hour, half a night, whole night?”
“When do I have to decide that?”
Nick tsked. “Well, I need a baseline to give you a quote. Personally, I recommend more than an hour, so we can get to know each other better.” And how did he manage to be so suggestive without waggling his brows or giving him a wink? The inflection in his voice was so subtle the come-on was barely there.
Spencer exhaled. “Why don’t we start with two hours?”
Nick studied him for a little while. “Five hundred.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Two hours. Five hundred quid.”
Spencer grinned. “You’re charging partner rates.” Not quite. At his firm, partners didn’t get out of bed for any less than £650 an hour. Still, nice little student job if you could get it. Of course, Nick might have to pay off the establishment, possibly a pimp.
“You a lawyer?”
Spencer’s grin died. “Uh. Never mind. Five hundred quid is fine.” He’d hardly need dozens of hours—he wasn’t trying to solve a tricky legal problem. Besides, he did believe in paying specialists what they were worth, and Nick was making him hard just with his cocky arrogance. If he was any good at fucking—and he’d likely had the practise—that would be more than worth it. Spencer swallowed. “I’m assuming I can feed the meter if I want to go on longer?”
An incredibly subtle laugh curled Nick’s lips. There was no middle ground with this man: either everything was blatant and in your face, or subtle to the point that Spencer couldn’t always tell if it was really there.
“Feed the meter. Cute.” Nick dipped his straw in his drink and covered it with his finger again. After he’d released the liquid into his mouth, swallowed it—God, he could even make that sexy, the way he raised his chin to expose his entire throat—he put the straw back in his drink and said, “We can always negotiate extensions.”
This was strictly business to him, wasn’t it? He enjoyed it, got a charge out of it, but when it came to transactions, it was all black and white. Cash and sex. Nothing more.
“Two hours, then.” Spencer tried not to shift around, keeping both his nerves and impatience as far up his sleeve as he could. “What does two hours with Nick get me, anyway?”
Nick grinned. Nothing subtle this time, not even a little. “It gets you two hours with Nick.” The grin broadened a little more, pale green eyes narrowing like he could see right through to anything Spencer was trying to keep up his sleeve. “After all, Spencer, what more could you possibly want?”
He gulped. Nick laughed. So much for hiding a damned thing from him.
Nick drained his drink and pushed the glass away, sliding up next to Spencer so they were almost touching. “So. Two hours? Let’s go.”

“Does that two hours start now?” Spencer was already sliding out of the booth because according to Nick this was a done deal, and who was he to argue? “Or when we get to—”I’m really doing this? “—my place?”

Nick slid partway out of the booth, but didn’t get up. He pursed his lips and ran his gaze up and down Spencer’s body, a gesture that registered on his nerve endings like an actual touch. Their eyes met, and Nick pushed himself to his feet. “Assuming you’re local, we’ll start the clock when we get there.”
Spencer’s heart pounded. His wallet had hoped for that answer, but his body wasn’t entirely sure what to do with two solid hours of Nick.
He’d find out soon enough, though. Nick pulled a black leather jacket over his otherwise bare torso. Spencer got up and—oh God—Nick gave a nod to Percy, who gave him a two-fingered salute before he resumed making out with a blue-haired black twink, and they were out the door.
The back door, fortunately, rather than through the lounge where the female strippers did their thing, and then down an alley to a different road from where the cab had deposited Percy and him earlier. They had discretion down to a science in this place.