Author: L.A. Witt, Aleksandr Voinov
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
That was a first.
Callum sat up straighter, watching in the limo’s side mirror as his employer headed down the sidewalk towards the car . . . alone. James left Market Garden alone. Oh, no . . .
Cal tossed aside his spiral notebook and pen, grabbed his black cap off the passenger seat, put it on, and got out. At this point in the evening, he was usually biting down on some red-hot jealousy while a sexy, leather-clad rentboy slid into the back of the car with James, but he couldn’t even find any relief that it hadn’t happened tonight. It took every shred of self-control he had not to jog across the pavement and put his arms around his boss. He schooled his expression and posture, refusing to let his concern or surprise show.
Not that James would have noticed, and that in itself was weird. He was usually outgoing and exuberant—well, as much as any dignified British man could be—but he was strangely subdued tonight. Shoulders down, eyes down; even his customary scarlet tie seemed to sag, the knot lower than usual. He was definitely not himself. He was always tense and sometimes even a little depressed when he asked Cal to take him to Market Garden, but never when he left.
“Ready to leave, Mr. Harcourt?” Cal asked cautiously.
James’s eyes flicked up, briefly meeting Cal’s, and he grunted an affirmative. Definitely not himself.
But Cal said nothing. That fantasy of being James’s confidant and source of comfort was just that, a fantasy. In the real world, Cal was the help, and that meant he couldn’t help James the way he ached to.
With his heart in his throat, he pulled open the door and stood aside while James climbed into the back of the car. No way had he been knocked back by any of the guys. If his jaw-dropping good looks didn’t attract the rentboys to him—and Cal couldn’t begin to fathom that—the contents of his wallet surely would.
Cal shut the door and went back to the driver’s seat. He looked in the rearview and said over his shoulder, “Home, sir?”
“Yeah.” James’s gaze was fixed on something outside the window. And not Market Garden, either. “Let’s go home.”
This wouldn’t be a late night, then. Thank God. Market Garden nights usually weren’t—Cal would be dismissed shortly after dropping James and his rentboy du jour at the house—but some nights, James met colleagues from the office or entertained clients, and partied into the early hours of the morning before arriving home in the grey predawn. By that point, Cal would be shattered and James would be drunk or already asleep. Getting him out of the car, through the door, and up the stairs into bed was a whole operation. Many times in the year—had it been that long?—since the man’s wife had left, Cal had been the one to take James upstairs, pull off his suit, and put him to bed after those liquored-up outings. Okay, so it wasn’t exactly in his job description, but he couldn’t bear the thought of leaving James to show himself to bed when he was in that state. A little bit of awkwardness and frustration were a small price to pay so James could maintain his dignity.
On the way home tonight, James left the privacy screen open. Cal was used to that except on Market Garden nights. If they were heading home from the brothel, that screen was invariably up, leaving Cal’s fertile imagination to provide the details. Sometimes Cal heard things—leather creaking, a groan, and once in a while a laugh so sadistic he wondered if James had Loki himself back there—but he never saw anything. Whenever James emerged from the car with one of his rentboys, he’d be flustered, visibly hard, and sometimes already sweating a little. What Cal wouldn’t have given to know what exactly the rentboys did to him during that thirty-minute drive.
He shivered and gripped the wheel a little tighter, focusing on manoeuvring down the narrow streets on the route back to the house. A route he’d driven so many times, he could almost do it in his sleep. But tonight, with that screen open and James just sitting there, alone and staring off into space, Cal struggled to concentrate on the road.
Glancing in the rearview again, he cleared his throat. “Is, um, everything all right, sir?”
Leather creaked softly behind him. James sighed. “Everything’s fine, Callum. Don’t worry about it.”
Cal gnawed his lip, but didn’t say anything more. Sometimes, when he wasn’t preoccupied with business, James chattered endlessly from the backseat, going on about anything—a client’s antics, whatever he and the children had done during their visit the previous weekend, something in the news—and at least appeared happy to have Cal’s full attention. It didn’t seem to bother him that Cal was paid to be there and it was only professional for an employee to listen politely to his employer and comment when asked. Then again, that didn’t bother James about the rentboys, either. It took a lonely, lonely man to ignore the fact that someone was being paid to give him their undivided attention.
Other times, James was like this. Quiet. Withdrawn. Except that was always before a visit to Market Garden. Never after.
The drive tonight felt like it took three times as long as usual, but finally, Cal pulled up the long driveway that wound around to the front of James’s lavish home. He parked, left the engine idling, and went around to James’s door.
It seemed to take all the energy James had to extract himself from the car and stand. He was sober, that much Cal could tell—he rarely drank all that much at Market Garden—but he looked exhausted.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” Cal asked.
“Yes.” James faced him and smiled, but it was thin lipped and didn’t reach his eyes. “I’m fine.”
Cal nodded silently. He closed the door after James had stepped away from the car, and waited.
James looked up at his house, and Cal watched him silently, wondering what was going through the man’s head as he stared at his massive, empty house and its closed front door. His gaze was distant. Gravel crunched and his dress shoes creaked softly as he rocked back and forth from his heels to the balls of his feet.
Again, Cal fought the urge to put his arms around James and comfort him. Something was off, and whatever it was, Cal desperately wanted to fix it. Change it. Help him somehow. Hell, just hold him the way he’d imagined doing so many times.
Cal tried to force that thought out of his mind. Maybe that was one fantasy that needed to stop. Imagining himself having sex with a man who was out of his league was one thing, but imagining himself consoling someone who was standing right there, looking that lost and that vulnerable . . . it wouldn’t take much for the line between fantasy and reality to blur. And if that line did blur, he’d probably realise it one awkward hug too late.
Eyes still fixed on the house, James broke the silence. “Would you like to come in for a drink?”
Cal’s heart skipped. Really? This night just kept getting stranger.
James turned his head, and a weak smile appeared on his lips. “Yes. A drink.”
“I . . .” . . . “I should park the car.”
“Just leave it outside the door.” James fiddled his keys from his pocket. “Not like I’m expecting visitors.”
Cal glanced up at the overcast sky, but London weather was all over the place, and though it didn’t look like rain, it might very well rain tonight. He really didn’t want to leave the car out in case the weather turned nasty, and putting it away would give him a moment to come to his senses and—
“Don’t worry about the car,” James said quietly.
“All right.” . But Cal took off his cap and placed it on the driver’s seat, then killed the engine and locked the doors. Heart racing, he followed his boss through the front door and into the enormous living room.
James always left several lights on when he headed into the city, which made the house less empty and forlorn, but that illusion didn’t last for very long.
“I could put on the fire.” James sounded undecided, certainly not quite there.
“If you like, sir.”
“I love the flickering. Do you?” He looked at Cal, hazel eyes brownish in the warm light.
Cal had never lived anywhere that had a live fireplace; they seemed unnecessary and inefficient. The house wasn’t cold, but maybe James found it comforting. Cal nodded. “I do, sir.”
“Good.” James took off his jacket, walked over to the fireplace and crouched down to start the fire with paper and kindling. Cal found himself staring at the man’s fine white shirt pulled taut over his body, and the small, trim arse just hovering over the heel of his polished black shoes.
This was a mistake. It wasn’t a good idea to do social time, but now that he was here, he couldn’t really bow out without being impolite. He’d have to make up some kind of excuse to vanish into the tiny cottage behind the house. The living quarters were one of the main perks of the job, even if they seemed a little too close tonight.
“What are you drinking, Callum? Wine?”
Wine, whatever. He’d drink what the boss was drinking, but not much. Just enough to be sociable. “Yes, sir.”
“I’ll grab a couple of bottles from the wine cellar.”
“Actually, I—” His last-ditch attempt to bail and get the fuck out of there halted when James looked into his eyes again. Cal swallowed. “Uh, I can get the wine.”
“Are you sure?”
But something was wrong, and Cal couldn’t walk away from James and just leave him here with whatever was on his mind, and if company and a glass of wine were what he needed, then maybe Cal could give him that much. “I’m sure. Any, um, preference?”
James smiled, and some tension seemed to melt out of his shoulders. “It’s downstairs. Past the game room, second door on the left. Get us a couple bottles of red, if you would? The French ones are all favourites. Pick whatever you like.”
“Sure.” Cal followed James’s instructions, and peered at the extensive collection of bottles. Pick whatever you like? Some of those bottles were five hundred a pop. Others just fifty or so. Did it make a difference if he went for the cheap ones or the expensive ones? He chose blindly, picking out two bottles of French reds.
He returned with the bottles, one in each hand, and the fire was flickering, James standing back.
Cal swallowed. “Should I, um . . .” He nodded towards the kitchen as he set the bottles on the coffee table. “Get a couple of glasses, sir?”
For the first time all evening, James smiled. Not broadly, but genuinely, as if the fire had warmed something in him during Cal’s brief absence.
“You don’t have to call me ‘sir’ anymore tonight. James is fine.”
“All right.” Cal swallowed again. “Uh, James. The . . .” He’d asked a question, hadn’t he? Had James answered him?
James gestured at the couch. “Make yourself comfortable. I’ll get the glasses.”
James brushed past him, not quite touching him but almost, and then Cal was alone in the massive living room with two bottles of wine, a crackling fire, and a few million questions on his mind. But he sat at one end of the couch, leaning his elbow on the armrest and trying not to fidget or chew his thumbnail or otherwise let on that he was nervous.
And why the hell was he nervous, anyway? Just because this was out of the ordinary and perhaps a little too close to how his most delicious fantasies had begun didn’t mean a thing. Maybe James was just lonely tonight. That was probably why he’d gone to Market Garden in the first place—he’d been in an exceptionally depressed mood when they’d left the house, Cal realised now—and maybe he just wanted some company without the leather and the—
He squirmed on the cushion, forcing himself to think unpleasant thoughts to keep from physically reacting to those fleeting images.
James returned with two glasses. He put them on the table, opened one of the bottles, and poured them each half a glass. As he handed one to Cal, he smiled. “I hope I’m not keeping you from any other plans.”
“No, s—uh, I mean, no. No plans.” He took the glass and swirled it slowly. “I’d expected to be on duty for a couple more hours, so I hadn’t made any.”
James’s smile faltered briefly, and his gaze turned distant as he lifted his own glass. “Well, you’ll still be paid for the same hours. I hope this is all right?”
“Of course.” Cal sipped the wine. The heady, sweet flavour made his head spin a little, as if he’d already drunk an entire bottle or two. Maybe it wasn’t the wine. With James sitting this close to him, barely a couch cushion between them and without the safety of a privacy screen, Cal probably didn’t need to drink anything at all to get his head spinning.
“How do you like the wine?” James asked.
Cal swirled it slowly. “It’s, uh, it’s nice.”
“It is.” James smiled. “Château Margaux is always nice. Good choice, Callum.”
“Thank you.” He wasn’t sure what else to say. In response to James’s comment or, well, at all. He lifted his gaze and met James’s eyes. But those weren’t questions he could make himself ask. James’s personal life was off limits, and Cal wasn’t sure he wanted to know exactly why he was here and a Market Garden rentboy wasn’t.
“Callum?” James tilted his head slightly. “You’re awfully quiet.”
Cal took another drink and then put his glass down. “Forgive me if I’m out of line, but are you sure everything’s all right? You’ve been a little, uh, out of sorts all evening.”
James shrugged. He was better than two-thirds of the way through his glass already. “Could just use a little company, that’s all.”
Cal bit down on that question. This degree of intimacy was disconcerting enough without probing into James’s unusual sex life.
James swallowed the last of his wine. He put the glass between the bottles, but made no move to pour himself any more. Sitting back, he slung one arm across the top of the couch, his hand dangerously close to Cal’s shoulder. Cal struggled to breathe. He was tempted to reach for his wine, but was afraid he’d drop the glass. Not that a splash of red wine on the white sofa and pale carpet would be any more mortifying than saying or doing the wrong thing right now. Like moving closer to that casually draped arm. Or moving away from it. He was certain any movement at all, even a millimeter in either direction, would be the body language equivalent of a scream of “get the fuck away from me” or a bright red neon sign buzzing with “please, please touch me.” So he stayed completely still.
Apparently oblivious, James absently loosened that rich red tie with his finger. “Do you recall that one rentboy I brought home not long ago?”
Cal cleared his throat. “I’m not sure.”
“The blond kid. Nick.”
Nick. Oh yes. He’d only come home with James once, but Cal remembered him well. He’d had a commanding air about him, like well-earned arrogance, that was hard to forget. Not that he’d interacted with him much, just letting him in and out of the car, and then offering coffee the next morning before driving him back into town as he sometimes did while James slept off the night before. And he remembered feeling the need—which he’d managed to resist—to subtly encourage Nick to
Cal coughed again and lifted his glass to his lips. “I think I remember him, yes.”
James sighed. “I was hoping he’d be there tonight.”
Something tightened in Cal’s chest, and he gritted his teeth. “Wasn’t he?”
James shook his head.
“Is that why . . .”
“I was hoping to hire him tonight.” James smiled, gaze distant, but then he shook himself and lifted his arm off the back of the couch. He reached for the bottle again. “Anyway. He’s not there anymore, apparently. Moved on to bigger and better things, I suppose.”
“You, um, liked him, then?” Of course he did.
James laughed softly. “You could say that. I’ll have to find someone else who can do the things he did. Was only that one time, but there was just something about him that . . .” He glanced at Cal, and his cheeks darkened a little as if he’d suddenly remembered who he was talking to. “More wine?”
Cal waited for James to stop pouring and resisted the urge to toss the Château Margaux back like vodka or some medicinal tonic that might blur his mind so it would stop taunting him with those images: James’s body, how he looked and moved when he staggered out of the car with one of his rentboys. How he’d refocus, usually just long enough to tell Cal he’d have the rest of the night off. James had no idea how many hours Cal would spend after leaving them, imagining himself in the rentboy’s place. Not that Cal believed he could really do whatever it was those guys did. James had a thing for the cocky, arrogant rentboys, the ones who radiated attitude from their pores. Controlled, sometimes bossy. No, bossy. What they did when they were alone, Cal could only imagine—and often did imagine—but he doubted they turned passive or obedient once they were behind closed doors.
And the next day, James would sleep like the dead and be in a great mood for the next few days. What Cal wouldn’t have given to be the reason for James’s relaxed good spirits.
He took a mouthful of the wine and swallowed, then glanced at James. What was going on here? Was James trying to get him to relax, perhaps so he could take advantage? Considering the calibre James sought, Cal wasn’t in the same class. He was all right, he figured, but nothing like those leather-clad men from Market Garden. James could do much better and usually did.
James sat back with his topped-off wineglass, laying his arm across the back of the couch again. “It’s never occurred to me until now, but . . .” He met Cal’s gaze, and paused for a long moment, eyes narrowed just slightly as if he were looking for something in Cal’s expression. “Does it— The night jobs. The trips to Market Garden.” He tilted his head. “Does it bother you that I’m . . .” He paused again, breaking eye contact and absently swirling his wine as if trying to find the right words. “That I’m involving you?”
“N-no, sir. James.” Cal swallowed most of the contents of his glass in one go. “I’m only here to drive you from place to place. Beyond that isn’t my business.”
“You would object if I had you drive me somewhere to commit a crime, wouldn’t you?”
“Well, you do work in the financial sector.” Cal laughed cautiously. “And I still drive you to work, don’t I?”
His boss stared at him. Cal’s throat tightened. Too far. Shit. Way too—
James snorted, wagging a finger at him. “Touché, Callum. Touché.”
Relieved, Cal laughed softly. “To answer your question, though, it doesn’t bother me. It’s your business. Not mine.”
“Perhaps it isn’t. But should it ever become an issue, you can speak up.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Cal drained his glass. He was tempted to refill it, but resisted. Two glasses that fast and his head was definitely getting light; any more than that and he was liable to put his foot in his mouth. Again. The finance joke had been uncharacteristically risky for him. Thank God James had seen the humour and not taken offence, but Cal silently chastised himself for it. He’d definitely had enough alcohol, so he left the wine well enough alone.
He sat back. A split second too late, he remembered James’s arm behind him. His shoulder blade bumped James’s hand, and Cal sat up sharply as James jerked it back.
“Sorry,” they both muttered.
This was definitely a bad idea. Social hour with the boss was fine and dandy when it didn’t reduce them both to inarticulate schoolboys. Though they had recovered from more awkward moments. Like the time when a very, very drunk James had slid a hand over the front of Cal’s trousers while Cal had been helping him into bed. Over a year later, Cal still heard that hiss of breath and the groaned “oh my, Callum” in his dreams, and he still felt that clumsy but very deliberate squeeze. That had only made things awkward for a day or so. Mostly because Cal wasn’t entirely certain how much James remembered.
Cal chanced a look at James. His usually confident boss met his eyes.
“Sorry,” James muttered again.
“Don’t worry about it. My fault.”
More silence. More eye contact. There was no hope of pretending one or both of them wouldn’t remember this tomorrow. They were both relatively sober tonight.
Cal’s eyes flicked towards the open wine bottle and the empty glasses. They were both relatively sober tonight
He faced James again. That uncertainty was still there, but strangely mixed with renewed confidence. Determination, maybe. A decision made, but not quite enough bravado to go through with it.
Cal cleared his throat.
James put his glass on the table. Then he casually rested his arm on the back of the couch again, relaxing a little as he returned to the position he’d been in when they’d made that unexpected contact a moment ago. He held Cal’s gaze, and the decisiveness still lingered in his expression.
“Do you remember, oh, a couple of months ago? When I hired that pair from Market Garden?”
Cal shifted, trying to get comfortable without leaning back against his boss’s arm. How the hell could he forget those two? That cocky kid and his slightly shier—but strangely cocky in his own way—partner. Maybe it had been part of their gimmick, but Cal thought they might’ve been a couple. “I remember them, yes.”
A knowing smile pulled at James’s lips. “You weren’t fond of them, were you?”
“What?” Cal sat up a little straighter. “What do you mean?”
James lifted one shoulder in a barely noticeable shrug. “Am I wrong?”
Cal gulped. “I barely saw them. Just on the way in and out of the car.” And he’d heard devilish laughter through the privacy screen. Caught the scent of sweat and leather when they got out of the car. He hadn’t missed the way James’s cheeks had been flushed and the slightly quieter rentboy had wiped at his lips just before stepping out of the car. Cal had ground his teeth until long after the three of them had gone into the house, and had fantasised about letting them find their own bloody ride back into—
James chuckled quietly. “That’s what I thought.”
Cal’s face burned. “What exactly are you getting at?”
“You tell me.”
Fuck. James wasn’t as out of sorts as he’d been earlier, that much was for sure. Two glasses of wine? Really? That was all it took?
“I’m just curious.” James’s hand rustled softly on the couch behind Cal. “Was there something about them that you didn’t like?”
He cleared his throat. “They just gave me an odd vibe, I guess.”
“Care to elaborate?”
Cal’s mouth went dry. His boss’s scrutiny unsettled him, but he couldn’t make himself look anywhere but right at James. “I. Um.”
Cal? Not Callum? That was a switch.
“I’m . . .” Cal took a breath. “Why exactly are we having this conversation?”
James opened his mouth as if he were about to speak, but hesitated.
Movement drew Cal’s attention to the back of the couch, and he shifted his gaze just in time to see James lift his arm. He held his breath, watching James’s hand hover in his peripheral vision for a couple of seconds.
And then his hand was on Cal’s shoulder. Warm. Heavy. Undeniably
He looked James in the eyes, and that confidence in James’s expression faltered.
Cal’s heart pounded. James swallowed hard. His hand lightened slightly on Cal’s shoulder.
To hell with it. They’d already crossed the line, hadn’t they?
James took a breath. “Cal, I—”
Cal grabbed the loosened red tie, dragged James across the cushion between them, and kissed him. He did have the wine as an excuse. James had telegraphed what he wanted, and the fact that James didn’t jerk away, didn’t push him off or so much as protest, gave him confidence.
Instead, James opened up to him almost immediately, tasting of wine and need, and all Cal’s restraint just went out of the window. He grabbed James by the shoulder, pulled him closer, sensing all the coiled strength in that body, as if he were ready to fight, because that was what those damned alpha males did all day, anyway, right? But James didn’t fight him. Didn’t seem intent on fighting him at all.
The kiss made Cal’s head spin. He pushed James down across the cushions with his own body weight, worried that James would tell him to stop, or to loosen his grip, but James let himself be pressed against the cushions. Cal let go of his shoulder and ran his fingers down the man’s chest, brushing a hard nipple almost by accident on his way down, then reconsidered and twisted it. James gave a muffled sound into the kiss, and Cal twisted it harder, then rubbed it. God, this was hot, but he wanted skin.
Except that meant getting undressed, which meant letting go.
Maybe skin was overrated.
He moved further down, felt James breathe hard, felt the muscles under his touch with nothing but a fine white tailored shirt between skin and skin. The heat bled through, and the rest was visual memory, of his chest and abs, that body from running and weightlifting. He wrecked himself every morning in his own damned gym—Cal had seen him through the window a few times, and what had really turned him on was the sweat, the exertion, and those grunts that came through the open window when James battled on despite the pain.
Cal ran his hand up the front of James’s shirt, feeling those toned abs quivering under his touch. Though he’d been a little alarmed when James had thrown himself extra hard into his gym routine right after the divorce, the man hadn’t injured himself, and the —fuck, the results. He curled his fingers and ran them downwards, nails trailing across James’s shirt with a soft hiss.
James broke the kiss, arching his spine and tilting his head back. “Cal . . .”
Cal dived for James’s neck. He kissed the exposed flesh from the stubbly jaw all the way down to the collar of his shirt, and damn it, now he needed that skin to skin contact, even if it meant letting go.
He pushed himself up, and as he hooked his finger in the knot of James’s tie, their eyes met. James’s gleamed with the same hunger Cal felt. No, not quite the same. He was somehow more subdued than earlier. Heavy-lidded eyes, blissed-out smile; he was calmer, whereas Cal was getting more and more wound up by the second.
As Cal pulled the tie loose and the knot disintegrated into a slightly wrinkled ribbon of silk, James started unbuttoning his own shirt, his hand brushing Cal’s. He struggled with the buttons, but managed to get two, three, four undone.
“You should . . .” He licked his lips. “Yours . . .”
Cal glanced down, suddenly aware that he was still dressed. He pushed himself up, and with equally unsteady hands, started stripping off his own shirt. He tried not to think about the fact that he was now straddling James, who was lying across the couch, because then he couldn’t concentrate on buttons and getting his arms out of sleeves and complicated things like that.
Ignoring James’s hard-on wasn’t easy, though, not when it was so close to Cal’s that the slightest movement made their cocks brush through their trousers. He’d think about that in a moment. He’d focus completely on that and get lost in that and get all these fucking clothes out of the way—a—but not until he’d figured out how to get these damned buttons to—
James tugged at Cal’s shirt, pulling it free from his waistband. His hands slid under the shirt, and Cal forgot what he was doing. His fingers were still on a button that was halfway through the buttonhole, but all he could think about was those warm hands sliding up his abs. He closed his eyes and pushed out a long breath, which only made things worse—better?—because his muscles moved under James’s gentle, exploring touch.
“Before we get too carried away,” James whispered, out of breath already, “maybe we should move this into the bedroom.”
Cal opened his eyes and looked down at him. “The bedroom?”
James nodded slowly.
Cal pushed the button through its buttonhole. As far as he knew, James never took any of his “companions” into his own bedroom. The morning after, they always emerged from one of the guest rooms.
Something told Cal they were too carried away already.