Author: L.A. Witt
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Formats: ebook, paperback
“I never thought I’d say this,” Derek said, adjusting his backpack strap on his shoulder, “but I am really gladnot wearing leather right now.”
“No shit.” I scanned the hotel lobby’s thickening crowd as I tapped out my impatience on the upraised handle of my suitcase. This time tomorrow, the entire building would smell like a saddle shop, and there’d be enough leather visible to make the collective membership of PETA faint. Just the thought would normally make my mouth water.
Right now? Not so much, because it was ninety-seven degrees outside and the hotel’s air conditioner had picked this afternoon to crap out. Though I wouldn’t have guessed it prior to this moment, I realized then that if there was anything worse than standing in a long, slow-moving line, it was standing in a long, slow-moving line in a sweltering lobby surrounded by sweaty men inleather.
For the time being, there were a few people in leather, but mostly shorts and T-shirts. More shirts came off as more people crowded into the lobby; between the growing crowd and the thick black curtains covering all the windows to prevent passersby from seeing anything offensive this week, the temperature was rising by the minute.
Taped to a post, a photocopied sign tried to placate us:
The line inched forward, so we shuffled after it, stopping about three inches from where we’d been for the last ten minutes.
“Ugh.” Derek shrugged off his backpack and dropped it at his feet. “It is too. Fucking. Hot in here.”
And God damn him, he peeled off his white T-shirt.
I didn’t have to look. I did look, of course, but it wasn’t like I’d never seen him without his shirt. Smooth pecs, flawless abs, some elaborate Celtic knots tattooed across the left side of his ribcage. Not a single bruise or welt, though, which just twisted my gut a little tighter. He was a submissive and a masochist. Sex left marks on a man like him.
Except last night. Because last night, he’d insisted on keeping things vanilla.
He must not have realized that I’d distinctly remembered all the times he’d said sex wasn’t worth having unless someone drew blood or left a mark. And now, the morning after we’dhooked up, he didn’t have a single welt on him. Ouch, Derek. Ouch.
I definitely could have done without nine hours in the car with him on the way here. Hooking up last night meant I’d spent all damned day today obsessively wondering why a kinky sub like him was fine having plain vanilla sex with me, but nothing more. Having him right beside me while I gnawed on those thoughts was . . . less than comfortable.
Correction: Standing in a slow-moving line a sweltering lobby may have sucked, but it didn’t get any worse than checking into a week-long convention that promised to be as sexually charged as they ever were, during which I’d be sharing a room with the submissive I’d fucked last night but hadn’t actually topped, even though I’d wanted to. And I was still licking my wounds from my last sub deciding he’d rather . . . anyway. Whatever.
Oblivious to my inner grumbling, Derek gasped. “Oh my God,” he said in a stage whisper. “There he is!”
Didn’t need to ask who. It wasn’t hard to pick the guy out—even surrounded by other tall, hot men with broad, inked shoulders, the blond goatee and long ponytail gave him away. And heaven knew I’d seen enough pictures of him recently to pick him out of a lineup. Who else but the infamous Master Raul could make Derek flush more than an overheated hotel lobby already had?
Correction again: It didn’t get any worse than being too-recently single, checking into a week-long, sexually charged convention, rooming with a submissive I was dying to top, and knowing that said submissive had made it his mission to put himself on the radar of
And suddenly I realized why he hadn’t wanted me to leave any marks.
Fuck my life.
The line continued inching forward at glacial speed. The revolving doors kept whisking more people into the lobby than the desk clerks were whisking out, and the temperature kept rising along with the volume of voices. Derek’s shirt stayed off and his attention kept drifting toward that blond, ponytailed piece of distraction he’d come all this way to pursue. The only thing missing was my ex, and as far as I knew, he was still planning on attending, so every time that revolving door went around, I cringed.
A woman’s voice cut through the noise: “I can help whoever’s next.”
“Oh, that’s us.” Derek picked up his backpack and grabbed his suitcase.
At the desk, I set my own stuff down and reached into my pocket for my wallet. “Reservation for two. Last name’s Martin.”
She tapped a few keys. “Chase Martin?”
“Yes, ma’am.” I slid my credit card across the polished granite desk.
“And you’re here for the convention?” Her smile was friendly and genuine, but her eyes said nothing if not,
I nodded and returned the smile, trying not to look too amused. If she thought this was an unusual crowd, she hadn’t seen a thing yet. Poor girl. She wouldn’t know what hit her tomorrow.
“Okay,” she said, “I have you down for a non-smoking room with two queens—”
Derek snorted. I threw him a look, and he glared at me, but then cleared his throat and muttered an apology.
The girl’s cheeks darkened, and she offered a shy laugh before she went on, “Non-smoking room with two queen-sized beds, checking out on Sunday afternoon. Is that correct?”
“Yes,” I said.
She typed something else into the computer, then printed my receipt and handed us our room keys. “You’re in room 387. Elevators are down the hall.” She ran us through everything else—where to park, where to eat, the usual hotel spiel—and sent us on our way.
As we left the lobby, Derek said, “Think she’s ever worked a con like this before?”
I laughed. “Probably not.”
“Ooh, my.” He whistled, shaking his head. “It will be an enlightening week, won’t it?”
“Aren’t cons like this always enlightening?”
“Well, yes. But for someone who’s— Oh, good lord.”
I was about to ask what had caught his attention, but even before I turned my head, I’d answered my own question.
The great, coveted, ponytailed Master Raul. Much closer now, shirtless, leaning casually against a chest-high planter and talking with some other perspiring attendees as they all waited to check in.
“Why don’t you go talk to him?” I asked.
Derek glanced at me. Then he shook his head and kept walking. “I think I’ll wait until I’m not sweating like a pig, thanks.” He looked down at himself and wrinkled his nose. “Right now, I need a shower. Stat.”
I didn’t say anything, and tried like hell not to picture Derek showering in our shared bathroom. Oh, yeah. This was going to be a long week.
The elevator took us up to our floor, and when the doors opened, we were greeted by a rush of pleasantly cool air. Apparently, at least some of the A/C in the building was working, and we were so caught up in basking in the luxurious coolness the doors started to close, but I caught them.
Our room was a few doors down from the elevator. Close enough that it wasn’t stupidly inconvenient, far enough that we wouldn’t be disturbed when people came and went at all hours of the night. Perfect.
When we stepped into our room, it was actually cold enough to warrant turning down the A/C.
Derek sprawled across the bed closer to the windows. “Oh, thank. Some cool air.”
“And we don’t have to sleep in that horrible heat.”
“Uh-huh. And so help me,” he said, almost groaning, “if the A/C isn’t working down there tomorrow, I’m spending the entire con up here.”
I laughed. “You? Stay up here and miss all the boys and toys?”
He quirked his lips. “Hmm. Good point. Okay, so I’ll just come up here to cool off every now and then.”
“Hotel room’s not usually a place I’d go to cool off, but whatever turns your crank.”
Derek didn’t throw back one of his customary smartass comments. In fact, he didn’t say anything.
I unzipped my suitcase, and he still hadn’t spoken. “Something wrong?”
“No, nothing’s wrong.” Derek sat up and rested his hands on the side of the bed while I pulled things out of my suitcase. He cleared his throat. “But, um, since we’re sharing a room . . .”
My hands stopped moving. I glanced up. “Yes?”
“Well, I mean . . .” He lowered his gaze to the floor between the beds. “Look, we’re two single guys. Everyone here is kinky. So, I mean, you know . . .”
Before I could say anything, Derek took a deep breath and met my eyes again. “And especially after last night, I . . . I just want to make sure I know where we stand.”
“Where we stand?”
“Yeah. You know.” He shrugged with one shoulder. “Like, is it cool if we bring people back to the room? Or should we go torooms?”
It took every last ounce of restraint I possessed—and I was a Dom, for fuck’s sake—to pretend he hadn’t just verbally kicked me in the balls.
“Um . . .” I turned around and pulled open one of the dresser drawers below the mirror and TV. “I guess we could, uh, play it by ear.” I turned, glancing at him in the mirror as I put the stack of neatly folded clothes into the drawer. “But maybe it would be better if our default is to take it to other people’s rooms.”
Something unreadable flickered across Derek’s face, tightening his lips and furrowing his brow for a fleeting second before he shrugged again and pushed himself to his feet.
As he headed for the door, I stepped in front of him. “Wait.”
He halted. “What?” His tone was flat, but laced with impatience.
I hesitated. “Look, talk to me, Derek. Is something wrong?”
He held my gaze, and from the set of his jaw, there was definitely something wrong. But then he shook his head. “Nothing’s wrong. Don’t worry about it.”
“Sure about that?” I tried not to sound defensive. “Because we’ve—”
“Look, if you’d rather I stay somewhere else,” he snapped, “I can find another room to crash in. Just say the word, all right?”
“What? No, I don’t want—” I paused. “What gave you that impression?”
He raised his eyebrow and tilted his head in classic Derek “fucking” fashion.
“Am I missing something?” I asked.
Derek rolled his eyes again. He folded his arms over his chest. “What did we talk about in the car today?”
I thought back to the drive in. “I . . . don’t think we talked about much of anything, did we?”
“No, we didn’t,” he snapped. “Didn’t that strike you as a little odd?” His eyes narrowed. “You’ve barely said two words to me since you got into my pants.”
I blinked. “I—” Running through the last twelve or so hours or so in my head, I realized with a sinking feeling that he was right. I hadn’t been ignoring him, not by any means, but I hadn’t been talking to him either. “Jesus, Derek, I’m sorry. I . . .”more “I was preoccupied. It had nothing to do with you.”
He eyed me skeptically.
Okay, so he was right to question me. My silence had had everything to do with him, but not for the reasons he must have thought. Certainly not because he’d done anything wrong.
“I’m sorry,” I said again. “It was nothing you did. And it wasn’t because I’d gotten into your pants and then decided I had no use for you.”
“Then why?” All the fury in his voice and posture evaporated, replaced by a palpable hurt. “One minute we were all over each other, and the next . . .” He shook his head and lowered his gaze. “The next you acted like you didn’t want to be anywhere near me.”
“It wasn’t that at all.”But how to tell him I wanted more when he’d made it so clear that he didn’t? “I think last night, it just . . . it kind of came out of the blue, you know?”
“Tell me about it.” Now his tone betrayed nothing. No regret, anger, hurt. Nothing.
“But I don’t want things to be weird between us.”
Derek exhaled, and his shoulders relaxed a little. “I don’t either. I’m just worried they already are.”
“They don’t have be,” I said quietly. “Maybe it was a mistake, but we’ve been friends way too long to let something like this ruin that.”
His lips tightened. “True.” He looked me in the eyes. “So we should just put it behind us, then. Pretend it never happened.”
“Neither do I,” he said softly, avoiding my eyes.
I wanted so badly to put a comforting hand on his shoulder, but how much contact was welcome in a conversation like this? Touching him to reassure him while we agreed we couldn’t touch? Too conflicting. Mixed messages. Too goddamned tempting to—
“We don’t necessarily have to pretend it never happened,” I said. “We just can’t let it happen again. So we don’t screw this”—I gestured at him, then myself—“up again.”
Derek nodded. “I can live with that.”
“Good. Me too.”
“Okay.” He nodded toward the door. “Anyway, I stink. I’m going to go grab that shower.”
He brushed past me.
The bathroom door closed, and I released my breath. I nudged the drawer shut with my hip and met my own eyes in the mirror above the dresser.
A week. At a leather con. With Derek. In the same hotel, but maybe not always the same hotel
Once again, fuck my life.