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The waiter brings me my coffee and I lounge back in my chair contentedly. The place is quiet on this crisp late November morning. The décor is suave, the staff efficient and the delicate aroma wafting from my cup tells me the coffee’s brewed to perfection.

Everything is faultless.

There’s a general sense of well-practiced serenity pervading the scene and I feel at ease and in synch with it.

Only a week ago, I’d have fled this sort of place, feeling out of my depth and in enemy territory. Only a week ago, I’d have turned down the Ice King’s invitation and buried my head further in the sand. But that was then, and this is now.

I’m finally back in town, if not in business.

Finally back on the predator side of the food chain.

The lingering weakness is gone. The breathless ineptitude a thing of the past. I got rid of my addiction: I’m free and it’s the best feeling ever.

It’s surprisingly true what they say. When you hit rock bottom, there’s only one way left to go and that’s up.

And “up”, in this instance, has blue-grey eyes, a smooth, hard body and the kind of megawatt smile that could light up a whole town.

Up’s name is Cameron. He’s my nicotine gum, my twelve-step plan, my methadone program – my Ice King patch.

I won’t lie: he looks like Daniel. The build, the height, the hair, the eyes are similar. A pervasive, not-quite-there kind of resemblance – something in the line of his cheekbones, in the set of his shoulders and in the taut curve of his luscious ass that fools my brain and my body.

Besides, Cameron is a nice, fun guy. Simple. Wholesome. Ex-military. We met through friends of friends. Right time, right place – it worked.

We kinda clicked.

He’s hot for me and I’m really into him.

Often.

Vigorously.

It’s not a rebound thing. It’s actually more like a sex therapy of some sort. A therapy that’s been working wonders so far.

Yeah, things are definitely looking up.

Today’s friendly rendezvous with Dr Jackson in a select café is going to be a cake walk.

“Hello, Jack,” says a velvet voice behind me.

I repress the shivers that trickle down my spine.

“Hey, Daniel.”

He sits at my table, all understated geek chic elegance and a slight, pleasant curve to his lips.

“I’m glad you could make it,” he tells me warmly, plopping his folded newspaper next to my coffee. “How’re you?”

“Fine. Never been better, actually.” The cat that got the cream, that’s me.

“Good,” he holds my eyes in his ice blue gaze for a second. He looks good, damn him. “I’m happy to hear that.”

The waiter arrives diligently, an eager smile plastered all over his face.

“Good morning, Dr Jackson,” he greets. “What can I get you?”

“Hello, Donovan. The usual, thanks.”

Donovan disappears; he seems so foppishly giddy to wait on his highness, I half expect him to drop a curtsey and leave walking backwards.

“Come here often?” I drawl.

Jackson just smiles, his nose scrunching up cutely. “You could say that.”

I ignore the exquisite tendrils of warm pleasure slowly spreading through my guts. This is much too close to flirting for my taste. I didn’t intend it that way, but my question somehow came out like a cheesy come-on. What I need now is a subject of conversation. Something safe. Something mundane. Something that fills the awkward silence that is bound to settle between two strangers who don’t have much in common – apart from stellar, out-of-this-world sex.

“So,” I begin, dosing my coffee with sugar like I’m manipulating explosives – with slow moves and a knot in my throat. “Doctor Jackson. We’ve established that one of those PhDs is in Archaeology; what’s the other one in?” It’s artificial and a little stilted, but it’s safe talk.

And so we talk. About his studies, about my deployments. Our travels. Nothing very specific.

I do get a glimpse of his character, though.

I always thought I was a rather well-traveled, worldly kind of guy, but it turns out I’m a poor amateur in flip-flops compared to him. He knows North Africa and the Middle East like the back of his hand, and speaks of Europe like it’s his backyard – with South America as his veranda.

It’s not a pissing contest, though. Nothing of the sort. We’re simply covering random places and reminiscing about them, with silly, embarrassing anecdotes thrown in.

Behind his half-admissions, I get that he’s vastly educated and depressingly smart. Behind my cagey explanations, he probably gets that I’ve killed people for a living.

It’s uncomplicated. Surprisingly so. But then the conversation revolves around what we’ve seen, not who we are.

At one point he asks me if I like hockey – he might as well ask me if I like breathing. He goes on to tell me he can get us some tickets for the next game; he offers to have the ticket dropped at my place in a couple of days. I realize the game will be our next get-together, and the fact that he’s telling me about it now means the present rendezvous is probably coming to an end.

The slight ripple of regret I feel is soon smoothed away by the knowledge that this little friendly meeting has gone rather well. As bland and as uncompromising as I could hope for.

If this is what friendship looks like from his point of view, I have nothing to worry about.

He drains the last of his by now tepid coffee and gets up to leave, apologizing for his tight schedule.

“Don’t forget your newspaper,” I remind him with a nod.

“No, it’s for you,” he says strangely. “Bye, Jack.”

A sudden cold feeling clutches at my guts, and I watch him leave without another word. I don’t even need to look at the folded paper more closely: I have a pretty good inkling of what I’ll find hidden in there. An envelope filled with brand new hundred dollar bills.

My wages for our little motel escapade.

My, isn’t that neat.

The cold feeling swiftly blooms into something scarily venomous.

I shouldn’t feel insulted, I shouldn’t feel dirty. I should simply pocket the money and get on with my day. Done this a hundred times, though never quite in such a ridiculously clichéd way.

I’m sorely tempted to leave the damn thing on the table, though. The only reason I take it is because I don’t want ‘Donovan’ to find the disturbing evidence of my shady dealings with his favorite client – my so-called friend.

Some fucking friendship. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

And I’m not bitter. I’ve moved on, thank God. Besides, he probably doesn’t realize how obnoxious he is.

No problem. None of my business.

My life is good.

Lots of things to give thanks for at Thanksgiving this year. And at the top of that list is Cameron’s hot, tight ass. A piece of callipygian poetry in motion of which I duly partake on Thanksgiving morning. Gotta love those hunky types: they like to play rough and can take it like a man.

Cameron is all lust and muscles – with the welcome addition of hand to hand combat training. A tumble in the sheets with him does help to build an appetite for the unasked for gigantic turkey he brought and promised to prepare.

I have to say, I haven’t properly celebrated Thanksgiving in years, but I let myself be won over by Cam’s enthusiasm. The guy has skills when it comes to convincing me. In the end, he all but invited himself over for a couple of days, which is fine by me. A fuck buddy and some good food, all free of hassle? I’m not going to complain.

I watch him work and waltz around my kitchen like he owns the place. It’s barely 10 am and he’s energetically peeling, coring, slicing, dicing, boiling and sautéing the living daylights out of stuff I don’t even have a name for. He’s exhausting to watch. You’d never think the guy was enthusiastically bouncing on my dick and begging for harder just half an hour ago. Jesus, to be young again.

I leave him to it and head for the shower. The bathroom is a mess of course, what with my guest being a slob. He’s an ex-military for crying out loud – where did all that training go?

The warm water is a blessing, ridding me of the aches and sweat of hard, raging sex. I spend just a little too long under the hot spray but I figure I’m entitled to a measure of indulgence. I’ve set my life back on track and today’s a national holiday, after all.

I’m still somewhat basking in the combined afterglow of sex and a much-needed shower when, upon coming out of the bathroom, I’m met with an abominably improbable scene. My blood runs cold at the sight of what can only be described as a fine example of pure cosmic irony at work.

At the door of my apartment stands Dr Jackson, every inch of him in full Ice King mode, regally handing an envelope to Cameron who takes it and then turns to me with a fucking twinkle in his eyes.

“Hey, Jack. Hockey tickets!” my buddy announces, like he’s won the damn lottery.

“Hello, Jack,” his highness greets quietly. “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to intrude. I just came to drop off the tickets I’d promised you.”

On Thanksgiving morning? In person? Uh-huh.

“S’okay.” No biggie: life’s just turning into some sort of dark joke before my eyes. “Thanks.” Can’t quite keep the sarcasm from my voice – bad timing doesn’t even begin to cover what this is. If I didn’t know better, I’d call it a sting operation.

“There’s a parking pass with it,” Jackson goes on unnecessarily, his slightly too polite smile not even pretending to reach for his steel blue eyes anymore.

“Club suite!” Cam apparently feels obligated to add. Chirpily.

Surely, I’ve slipped and hit my head in the shower: I’m going to wake up with a concussion any minute, right?

“Cool,” I nod. Couldn’t give less of a shit, to be honest.

To make things worse, I can sense Cameron’s level of whatthefuckedness rising by the second. He doesn’t know me very well yet, but the subtext here isn’t exactly hard to figure out. I’m going to have loads of fun explaining to him who the haughty guy distributing hockey tickets is.

“Jack, can I speak to you for a moment?” Daniel asks me, his stern gaze turning arctic as it briefly settles on my… um, paramour.

“I’ll just… take care of that turkey, shall I?” Cam says perceptively, throwing a thumb over his shoulder.

And as he trots back to the kitchen, I lean on the door, clearly signaling to my visitor that this conversation is on a timer.

“Glad to see retirement is working out for you,” Daniel smiles with a clever bite of something resembling spite. “Boyfriend?”

“Fuck buddy,” I spit out, barely managing not to cringe at the unsavory term.

“Oh. No performance issues, I take it?” the little shit mumbles.

“None.”

“He looks… friendly.” And since when did I ask for his opinion? And what does he mean, ‘friendly’? Like Cam’s a fucking pooch or something.

“Can you come to the point, Daniel? We’re kind of in the middle of something,” I grind out. We’re not, but he doesn’t need to know that.

“Right. My apologies.” I see him purse his lips and frown in preparation for something unpalatable. “I just wanted to know if you could give me Dustin’s phone number. You know, the… the man you once told me about.”

My heart stops for a couple of dead seconds, then valiantly starts beating again as some black unnamed feeling crowds my throat.

Dustin.

As in, Dustin the Escort.

Of course. Because it makes perfect sense that if I can move on, then so can he. It’s actually way easier for him than it could ever be for me – he doesn’t have to contend with fucking feelings. All he has to do is pick up the phone and call another escort. And who better than the guy I personally recommended a few months ago in a moment of madness?

My throat feels tight and my mouth desert dry when I finally find the breath to answer, “Sure. Gimme a sec.”

I release the door from my death grip and go get my cell phone. In my peripheral vision, I’m aware of Jackson’s polite gaze taking in what he can see of my apartment, which thankfully is not much. As I tap and flick through my contact list, a single thought spreads its cold poison all through my veins, numbing my brain and my fingers.

One single mind-chilling, heart-constricting thought.

He wants to have a taste of Dustin now.

Dustin.

Tall, athletic, good-looking Dustin, who’s at least fifteen years younger than me and has a big, talented cock.

I give him the number and he swiftly enters it.

Dustin, who also happens to be a genuinely nice guy who will win Daniel’s lonely heart in a blink of his devastating, clear green eyes.

Fuck.

“Thank you,” Dr Jackson says absently, eyes on the screen of his device. He’s very much the man I met on our first appointment: his expression is closed off, his bearing standoffish. All the walls and shields are up and impenetrable.

“Welcome.”

“I’ll leave you to it, then,” he mutters, finally bringing his wintry eyes up to mine – it’s a Siberian steppe in there. “Goodbye, Jack.”

“Right. Happy Thanksgiving, Daniel,” I throw in afterthought as I close the door on his retreating figure.

“Likewise,” I hear him say.

God, but he’s the master of subtext insults.

I join Cameron and his shit-eating smirk in the kitchen.

“He’s kind of a class-act for an asshole,” Cam remarks after letting me simmer quietly for a couple of minutes. “He added a ticket for me.” He briefly glances up at me through the steam from his casserole.

“Good for you,” I snipe.

“Jilted lover?”

“No.”

“Prospective lover?”

“No.”

“Wanna talk about it?”

“No.”

“Wanna fuck it out of your system?”

God, yes.

When I don’t answer, he raises his head again – a slow, filthy grin at the ready.

“Silence gives consent,” he warns me.

A clench of my jaw is apparently all the confirmation he needs. He turns off whatever it is he’s been preparing, grabs a front pocket on my jeans and drags me off to the bedroom.

We don’t even make it that far.

I fucking hate him. Daniel, I mean. Fucking hate Daniel Jackson and his money and his coldness and his fucking loveless heart.

And I fucking hate myself as I thrust fast and furiously into Cameron’s warm, easy ass.

This is wrong on so many miserable levels. I was an escort for over six years and no one ever made me feel so fucking dirty and messed up.

Fuck you, Dr Jackson.

Fuck you sideways with bells on.

Speaking of which…

“Hey, Jack!”

The phone call I dreaded comes a day later.

“Hello, Dustin. How’s things?”

“Not bad, dude,” he chirps. “How’s retirement?”

“Quiet.”

“No shit. I give you two weeks before you change your mind and get back in business,” he chuckles. “Listen, I just got called by a guy you referred me to. A certain Daniel?”

Dammit.

Nice to know he bothered to give his first name this time around, though.

“Yeah?” I close the door to block out the racket Cameron is making in the bathroom – the poor bastard couldn’t sing to save his life.

“Yeah, I have to tell you, I’m not desperate for new tricks, but he insisted,” Dustin adds. And I know exactly how very insistent his highness can get. “Can you give me the lowdown on this guy?”

“Sure,” I reply as my chest caves in. “He’s okay.” …He’ll only steal your heart... “He likes to be in control.” …Bring you to your knees… “Nothing dark or creepy.” …Enslave your soul… “He just gets a kick out of giving kinky orders.” …And shred your sanity to tiny, meaningless pieces.

“And loaded, right? So where’s the catch?” my shrewd colleague asks.

Other than the fact that you will be swept off your feet, fall love with him and curse the day you crossed his path?

“No catch. He really is an okay guy,” I promise airily. Then I wait a beat for effect: I only have one shot at this. Have to nail it in one. “He may get a little clingy, though.”

Wait for it…

“Clingy,” Dustin echoes. And I can just hear it, that subtle change of tone. He’s a smart guy: he gets the message loud and clear.

“Yeah, a little.”

If there’s one thing we try to avoid at all costs in this industry, it’s stalking, obsessive head cases. And I was expensively trained to kill, lie and manipulate – sue me.

“Okay,” he says a tad more unsurely. “He any good in bed?”

Oh God…

“He’s… okay.” Mind-blowing. And… fucking mine.

“All right,” Dustin says. “Thanks for the heads up, Jack. I owe you one.”

My pleasure.

A couple of days later, we go to the game, Cam and I. And yes, they’re fucking club seats, which means we are led to a nice, comfortable suite overlooking the ice rink.

A plaque on the door soberly says “Ballard” and so there are a dozen other people with us, all guests, directly or indirectly, of one Dr Daniel Jackson, and all sharing in the plush amenities of this private little lounge and its adjoining box seats. There’s enough finger food and drinks to feed a regiment, a fabulous view over the rink, and a young, impeccably groomed waiter to cater to our needs.

Our honorable host arrives a few minutes after us, frosty as an icicle and subtly breathtaking in the same smart, black casual suit he wore on my birthday. While he doesn’t seem quite entirely delighted by this socializing context, he does seem to be familiar with the exercise. He gives a nod of recognition here, a quirk of the lips there and readily addresses anyone who approaches him; his manner is smooth and his voice a quiet, grounding presence amidst the buzz of conversations. I keep my distance.

As soon as the puck drops, Cam and I go out into the box and settle in the lavish leather seats in the front row. Ten minutes into the first period, he sits at the end of the second row – as far away from me as possible, though it could be that it’s the only seat available at the time.

I’m pleased to see Dr Jackson’s guests are true hockey enthusiasts compared to the blasé elite in the boxes on either side of our own. It’s a good game – intense, fast-paced, with enough power-plays to make it uncertain. The first period flies by, and at the break everyone retreats to the lounge for a drink and some snacks. I find him leaning against the bar, an orange juice in hand, tangled in a one-sided debate with some old fogey who seems intent on boring the pants off him with pointless hockey stats.
I could fly to the rescue. The pale blue eyes meet mine and seem to waver for a second, but then the cold, sleek veneer of aloofness settles over his features – I decide to let him fend for himself.

The second period is as gripping as the first one, and we’re exchanging expletives, jokes and vocal disappointment at the missed goals with the other guests – this is turning out to be an unexpectedly fun night.

At the end of the second period, it’s back inside again where Cam engages in a heated debate with a guy and his wife about the best Blackhawks goalies ever and then the best NHL goalies ever. I leave them to it when he starts mentioning the Wichita Thunder – I mean, seriously, the Wichita Thunder? Has the guy no shame? I decide it’s time to pay my respects to our host.

I have to bide my time on the sidelines for a few minutes. He’s momentarily trapped in a conversation he seems to have only a token interest in with a handful of guests who are apparently bent on making him admit out loud that no other sport compares to hockey.
I use the delay to observe him: something doesn’t seem quite right. The set of his shoulders is tense, there are tired lines around his eyes and his jaw seems locked in a permanent clench. Beyond the annoyance that I can see build up behind the cold blue eyes and the chevronned brow, he looks… off. Down. Dog tired and unwell, if I had to venture a guess. Like he’s fighting a pounding headache.

As soon as politely possible, he escapes the conversation, drops a few words to the waiter, then beats a retreat to the comparative seclusion of the deserted box.

The waiter looks baffled: I see him prepare a tumbler of whisky at the bar, then retrieve some pills from a bottle he digs out of a drawer. Then he stops what he’s doing and stares at the tray in front of him. That’s right, kid, you don’t serve alcohol with painkillers. I watch him look around, probably in search of someone who might validate his misgivings and make it an order for him.

Before I can stop myself, I grab the pills from the tray. “He’ll have a glass of water with that,” I tell him.

“Yes, sir.” There’s a mute, relieved thank you in his eyes as he hands me the water.

The box is in relative darkness and the air is cooler here. There’s a low beat of pop music in the arena, mingled with the monstrous, dull buzz of thousands of people talking, laughing, sharing a good time; but for all of this, Dr Jackson couldn’t look more forlorn and isolated, standing alone on the steps beside the two rows of empty seats. There’s something vulnerable in the way he holds his arms folded over his chest – from where I stand, it almost looks like he’s hugging himself. The posture is so at odds with what I’ve always seen of him.

I stop by his side in the narrow aisle, my arm softly brushing his. I think he doesn’t need to look around to know exactly who’s encroaching upon his private space. I can feel my skin tingling with slow-burning shivers.

I present him the pills in my open palm. There’s an awkward pause where his eyes briefly close and his lips pinch into a wry smile. Then he takes the painkillers – the move is slow, his fingertips brushing over my skin. The touch feels intimate and I clench my teeth to fight the warmth spreading into the pit of my stomach. Then I hand him the glass of water.

“This is not what the doctor ordered,” he remarks, his voice soft and quiet.

“I’m pretty sure no doc worth his salt would recommend a whiskey with painkillers.”

“Doctor,” he reminds me, pointing a forefinger to his chest.

“Colonel,” I mimic, gesture and all.

“And that’s supposed to impress me?” he raises a skeptical eyebrow.

“No, that’s supposed to outrank you.”

He snorts – a cute, tired sound.

He takes the glass from my hand, and again there’s unintended skin contact. He pulls a face as the pills are washed down.

“Meant to say thanks, by the way,” I say, biting the bullet.

“For?”

“This,” I elaborate, circling a finger at the United Center. “The tickets, the evening. You’ve got a cool suite.”

“I guess,” he admits, non-committal.

“Do you even like hockey?”

“Hockey is all right,” he sighs, smoothing his fingers over his brow. “It’s well-meaning hockey fans I dread.”

I hide the quirk of the lips that his words are close to getting from me. I don’t want this. I don’t want the warm sensation coiling in my guts, and I don’t want him to be able to make me smile. Most of all, I don’t want the bittersweet wave of protective feelings currently washing over me.

I have to remind myself that he isn’t mine to protect, he isn’t mine to look after. He isn’t mine, period.

“I don’t suppose…” he begins, only to be interrupted by the roar of the crowd as the players hop back onto the ice and scatter across the rink.

“You were saying?” I prompt once the cheers have died down somewhat.

“No, never mind,” he gives a vague, slow, dismissive wave of his hand. “It’s probably not a matter I should be discussing in public anyway.”

A thrill of something indefinable quivers deep down in my guts. I don’t know if the teasing is unintentional or if he’s just good at manipulating me.

Everyone in the lounge is hastily coming out to resume their seats, and I take the opportunity to brush his elbow with my hand, signaling he’s to follow me inside.

The waiter is cleaning up the counter and putting away glasses; he turns to us expectantly when we reach the bar. I give him a look and tip my head towards the rink. The kid gets it but waits for Dr Jackson’s silent confirmation to leave us.

“So?” I ask, when it’s finally just the two of us in the empty lounge and 20000 noisy people beyond the glass doors.

“So I was going to ask if you might recommend me someone else,” he says quietly.

A cold sweat suddenly breaks down my back.

“You mean…?”

“Yes.”

“Problem with Dustin?”

“No, Dustin’s all right,” he murmurs reluctantly, then winces, a sour half-smile twisting his lips. “No, to tell you the truth, Dustin’s all wrong.” He folds his arms again in that strange defensive posture, and something in me itches to just break through it.

“But… have you… already met him?” I ask a little inanely.

I don’t understand. I only gave him his number a couple of days ago: I can’t believe he’s already had an appointment with him. How the fuck would that be possible?! I thought Dustin was going to turn him down! And how could the guy be all wrong for him? I thought he’d find him attractive. We have the same body type, the same build. He looks a bit like me, only better and younger – and with jade green eyes and a huge dick for fuck’s sake!

“Yes, Jack, of course we’ve met,” he spits irritably. “Which is how I know I need someone else.”

“Need?”

“Want,” he corrects through gritted teeth. “Want someone different.”

“Did he do something wrong?” I need to know if I’m responsible. I did sabotage their ‘relationship’ in a way. Sowed the seed of doubt in my colleague; made Daniel sound like trouble.

“No, he was… nice. Attractive. Skilled,” he develops stiffly, his eyes evading mine for a second. “I just want someone different.”

I take a moment to digest this. He looks on edge, a stubborn steeliness slowly beginning to creep into his blue gaze – I don’t know if it’s because he’s in pain or if it’s simply because talking about this is embarrassing him.

“Could you be more specific?” I need more intel.

But he lets his head fall forward and pinches the bridge of his nose.

“No, Jack, I can’t,” he promises testily. “Just give me someone different!”

I stare at him in disbelief. He wants me to give him someone different? What am I, a magician pulling whores out of a hat?

“You know what I mean,” he waves, half apologetic.

“Not really, no.”

He huffs in annoyance, “Okay, forget it.”

He unwinds his arm self-consciously, radiating tetchiness all of a sudden, and pushes from the counter to leave me – until I press a hand to his firm chest to hold him back.

“Daniel, I want to help,” I promise him. “But I can’t do anything if you don’t tell me what it is you’re looking for.”

He seems about to throw a sharp retort in my face, but abstains, aware of our surroundings and somehow self-defeated. He probably realizes he’s not making much sense at the moment. He takes a deep, calming breath instead.

“Listen, I don’t want to keep you from your friend or from the game,” he tells me simply, fighting to keep his composure. “Let’s just meet up somewhere to talk about it tomorrow, okay? Somewhere we can discuss it in private. I’ll send you a text tomorrow morning, and in the meantime I’ll try to come up with a wish list of some sort.” The tired, half-smile he then gives me is bitter but genuine, and it sends a pang of something damningly sweet, deep in my chest.

I nod in agreement.

I leave him in the lounge and return to my seat next to Cameron who throws me a funny look. And the rest of the evening is a bit of a blur.

Our team wins the game.

I go back home with Cam. Give him the hard, efficient fuck he wants from me.

Stare at my ceiling in the dark for what feels like two or three hours.

And finally sink into dull sleep.

When I knock on the door the next day, I have an ominous sense of déjà vu.

Somewhere we can discuss in private turns out to be that damn hotel. Not our suite, but still. Talk about a neutral ground.

The whole thing smacks of ambush.

He opens the door and waves me in. He’s on the phone and he’s got a face like thunder. Whoever is on the other end of the line is lucky not to be in the same room as the Ice King at the moment. If looks could kill…

“I don’t want to hear it,” he grinds out, pacing back to the large conference table at the other end of the suite. There’s a slick laptop on it, surrounded with papers and files strewn far and wide. He throws himself back down in his seat, anger and tension written in his every move. “There is no need to intervene or change anything: this business is doing fine.” There’s a mountain lion growl in his voice.

Maybe this is not a good time.

I ponder coming back later, but he turns to me and raises a few fingers to tell me to wait. So I stay put, quietly taking in the lay of the land. With Dr Jackson’s paraphernalia scattered all over the place, the place looks like an office more than a hotel room. Which is when my host’s victim of the day says something utterly preposterous that releases the Kraken.

Dr Jackson leans forward on the edge of his seat and plants an imperious forefinger on the hard, shiny surface.

“There is nothing wrong with it and you know it,” he counters dangerously. “The finances are sound, the order book is full for the next couple of semesters, R&D have three innovative projects on the go and the market studies couldn’t be more encouraging. I won’t be meddling with something that works,” he warns heatedly.

And I can see it now, how he spends his days. I take a look at the papers on the table and the spreadsheets on the laptop – an unholy amount of boring data stacked up and organized for him to decipher and exploit. Rows of numbers, columns of percentages, pages of colorful pie charts that mean dick all to me, but definitely make sense to him – and to everyone else in his world.

And I know he’s smart so of course he can do these things with his eyes closed and his hands tied behind his back, but God, the mind-numbing drudgery it must be for someone like him. He could do so much better. He could be so much more. Someone so passionate should be doing something daring, something ground-breaking, something that changes the fate of humanity. Or, well… at least something that makes him happy.

And yet, he is passionate, even now as he defends some business from the invisible threat wielded by his interlocutor.

I watch him rub a hand over his brow, eyes closed, the chevron of doom etched deep. Despite the tiredness I read in his body language, there’s righteous determination written all over his scowl. Something tells me that no matter how exhausted and broken he might feel inside, Dr Jackson is definitely a force to be reckoned with in any sort of confrontation. I pity the fool who thinks he can actually win an argument against the Ice King in full battle mode.

“Stuart, listen to me very carefully,” he finally purrs, having apparently reached the end of his patience. “I’m not streamlining that company just so your dear shareholders can have their third yacht for Christmas. Do I make myself clear?” The threatening asperities in his educated voice send pavlovian tingles trickling down my spine and nestling in my balls.

Fuck.

“That’s right, you do that,” he bares his teeth with almost feral satisfaction. “Goodbye, Stuart.” He disconnects and drops the phone on the table in disgust. “Money-craving assholes,” I hear him mutter bitterly.

“Hey. I can come back later if you need to sort things out,” I offer as I leisurely park my ass against the table. Not sure wild horses could drag me away from his side now that I’m here, but...

“No, it’s all right; that should take care of it. He won’t dare confront me for at least another couple of weeks now.” A wry smile pulls at a corner of his mouth. He looks up at me, his blue gaze clear and sharp. “Hello, Jack.”

There’s something about the way he says my name. Like it’s the best guarded secret in the world and it’s his exclusive property.

Makes my cock sit up and beg every single time, dammit.

“Hi, Daniel,” I play along with a suave half-smile of my own. “So, have you written your letter to Santa?” That’s what I’m here for, after all: to find someone who can fit the whims and needs of his highness. I’ve somehow inadvertently leapt up the corporate ladder – from prostitute to pimp – which could be regarded as a rather doubtful promotion, I suppose.

“Santa being… you, in this instance?” he questions, frowning at the reference – and the possibly disturbing mental image.

“No, I’d rather not. Think of me as one of Santa’s little helpers.”

“No, I’d rather not,” he echoes, briefly rolling his eyes. “You strike me more as a Rudolph, actually.” The impish grin that ghosts over his lips dissolves any remaining tenseness lingering about his features.

“I can leave, you know?” I sniff loftily, crossing my arms over my chest. Well, I can, technically. He doesn’t know about the wild horses and all that.

He chuckles, raising his hands in mock surrender, and leans back in his seat. “Okay: fearless, dashing Santa’s helper it is.”

“Right,” I state, vindicated. “And now that we’ve established where I stand in this chain of command, why don’t you tell me what was wrong with Dustin so I can find someone more suited to your tastes.”

He sighs and closes his eyes at the unsubtle reminder of the reason for my presence here.

“No, I promise you,” he breathes. “There was nothing wrong with Dustin. He was nice and sexy and, really… he did nothing wrong.” He opens his eyes again and places a thoughtful, closed fist over his mouth, his forefinger butting against the lower lip. “I’m probably the one with an issue.”

“No contest from me.”

“Fuck you,” he lobs sweetly.

“I rest my case.”

He quashes a smile, seems to ponder something, then looks my way and asks more soberly, “Why did you pick Dustin?”

“Because you wanted a replacement.”

“No, not the first time you mentioned him. What I wanted, at the time, was an appointment with you. You tried to get rid of me – which incidentally seems to be a bit of a recurring pattern – and you tried to pitch for Dustin instead,” he reminds me, his memory scarily precise. “So, why him?”

“Because I thought you liked our body type,” I tell him honestly.

He frowns pensively.

“You look a bit the same.” His agreement is measured and careful.

“Except he’s younger, of course,” I point out unnecessarily. Fifteen years younger to be exact. Can’t fight against youth.

“He doesn’t have any scars,” he murmurs strangely, like he’s not sure a flawless skin is actually desirable.

“And he’s fitter.” All lean, ripped abs. And an ass that just won’t quit, I’m sure.

“He has green eyes,” he adds, like that’s somehow a fashion faux-pas.

“And he’s got a big dick.” Huge. Talented. Or that’s what they say, anyway.

“I know,” he says, taking me by surprise with the open admission that ruins the back-and-forth thing we had going on. “I know exactly how big,” he taunts me, leaning forward to rest his elbows on the table.

“Yeah. You know,” I echo, suddenly unable to cover up the bitterness in my tone. Then a horrible thought crosses my mind. “Did he hurt you?” Because if the little fucker hurt Daniel, even unintentionally, I swear I’ll…

“No, he didn’t hurt me,” he says soothingly, an indulgent smile playing over his lips.

“So why don’t you want him?”

“Because he’s…” he bites his lips before the end of his sentence, huffing and tapping on the table in frustration. Which is clear as mud.

“He’s what?!” I prompt unhelpfully, with hand gestures and all.

“It’s not about what he is, it’s about what he isn’t.”

“Okay,” I offer gingerly in an encouraging, ‘go on’ kind of tone.

“I don’t need a watered-down, lower-market version of you,” he grates out.

My heart trips up on its feet, then recovers its dignity a little.

“What do you need, then?”

He dips his head, makes a helpless, aggravated sound, and rakes both hands through his hair in annoyance. “I don’t know, Jack.”

“Then how can I be of any help if you don’t even know what you need?”

He keeps his head down for a long minute.

“I think I need a lobotomy,” he finally sighs in defeat, his pale blue eyes straying up to my face again, like he expects me to do something about it.

“Don’t look at me,” I tell him stupidly. “I’m just good at fucking people’s brains out.”

Shit.

“Interesting choice of words,” he muses archly.

A long pause follows, where we both ponder the loaded meaning of what I just said.

But that’s not what I came here for. This is not a professional appointment. I’m not his escort anymore; I’m not his rented piece of dick anymore. I’m his friend. Or… well, I’m his pimp at least.

His cell phone breaks the silence and now’s really not the time. I think I hate that thing.

He reaches out for it but his eyes just can’t seem to leave mine for some reason. So much so that he doesn’t take the call immediately, lets the thing ring and ring and ring until the shrill beeping noise starts getting on my nerves.

“Turn the fucking thing off,” I snap gruffly.

And against all odds, I see him do just that. I’m pretty sure he meant to answer that call eventually – but he doesn’t. He turns the phone off instead.

Just like that. No second thought, no hesitation. He strictly obeyed my command. The thing is off.

Dead, on the table.

And that gives him pause. With a perplexed frown, he finally looks at the device for a moment – as though he doesn’t quite understand what just happened. Have to say I didn’t expect him to comply so readily. I mean, he is all about being in control.

Which makes this lapse all the more intriguing.

Puzzling.

Kinda thrilling, too.

I see his hand close into a fist, like he’s fighting the itch to switch it back on again.

“Give it to me,” I ask, experimentally sliding an edge of authority in my voice.

His eyes stay riveted to the phone as he takes it slowly, turns it between his fingers thoughtfully – and finally hands it to me.

I’m convinced most of his work life is in that phone. I’m convinced this is as inconceivable for him as my giving the keys of my truck to a stranger.

I slip it in my back pocket nonchalantly. He watches it disappear behind me with a nervous twitch of his lips.

“Might as well switch off the laptop, too,” I point out smoothly.

I know I’m pushing it, but there’s something at work here. A choice is being made somewhere inside that brilliant, overworked brain. I can almost tell the second when he reaches a conclusion and his decision is consciously made.

Relinquishing control.

His body shifts minutely, his posture sliding into something more appeased.

And this time his response is slow with deliberate intent: his hand finds the button unerringly and maintains pressure until the device powers down. He didn’t even close the windows or save the open spreadsheets, he just did as he was told and switched the thing off.

“Stand up.” My voice sounds hoarse and I’m not sure why I’m going along with this anymore.

The look in his eyes is difficult to read: there’s a spark of anticipation in the ice blue depths, and his pupils are growing blacker and bigger with each passing second as he pushes from the table and gets to his feet unhurriedly.

I think I’ve proved a point. This experiment should stop right here, right now.

He tilts his head to the side a fraction.

I realize he’s waiting for something.

The next order.

Shit.

I’m not ready for this.

I know how to give orders, but I’m not ready for this.

He will do anything I say. I can sense it. Anything I order. Anything. And I have so much anger and frustration inside me. There are so many reasons why we shouldn’t play this sort of game.

I try to think of all the reasons why I needed to push him away. I try to think of all the mind-fucking complications he’s brought into my life. I try to think of Cameron and his oh-so-willing ass.

But all I can see now is that burning, ice blue gaze on me. The tip of that tongue nervously licking the sinful lips.

Before I know what’s happening, my right hand grabs hold of his face – fingers splayed over his cheek, thumb resting on the other side of his mouth. It’s not a tender gesture; it’s not even a friendly gesture. It’s harsh and a little domineering. I shouldn’t be holding his beautiful face like this. No one should, and I’m thinking no one ever has.

But he’s not stopping me. He’s passively accepting whatever this gesture potentially is – rejection or caress.

Christ. Don’t do this to me.

Don’t make it so easy.

You have no idea.

My heart sinks and soars as my left hand cups the back of his head, then slides down his neck until my thumb is resting in the hollow at the base of his throat. I have him at my mercy and he doesn’t even move. Doesn’t realize the danger he’s in. Or maybe he does, but…

I lean forward, until our lips are a mere breath away – then stop, suspended. He parted his lips as soon as he saw me leaning towards him – tilted his face up a little. He’s ready and ripe for the picking. Needy in a way I’ve never seen before. And I make it last, make him wait, because I know it’s cruel.

Something dark in me wants him to suffer, wants to treat him like dirt and speak to him like he’s so much shit on my rangers. Something in me wants to make him hurt for every single minute of doubt and pain and excruciating pleasure I’ve endured since I met him.

We’re barely an inch away and I can smell him, smell a faint trace of his rich boy aftershave. His eyes are lowered, riveted to my mouth, and I can hear him breathe. God, I can hear him breathe too shallow and too irregular – like he’s desperately trying to control himself and failing miserably.

I like that. I like the idea of him failing at something because of me. I want to make him pay so badly. I want to make him pay for doing exactly the same thing to me. For putting me through the wringer, for making me weak and then breaking me.

And then I want to make him pay for going with another man. For baring his skin for another man’s hands. For spreading his thighs for another man’s cock. For moaning and swearing and deriving wet, sticky pleasure from another man’s thrusts.

He’s been unfaithful.

I know it’s outrageous, but that’s how it feels. I know I’ve been fucking countless men and women and he’s only gone with one single guy since me. I know I’ve been promiscuous, and he’s been lonely. I know I’m just a whore and he’s not my boyfriend.

But he went with another man and let him fuck him and he had no right to do so – even if the guy was someone I’d damn well recommended. He had no right to go to bed with another guy and then reject him because he’s too much like me.

Not when all I’ve been thinking of, every time I’ve been with a client over the past few months, is him. Not when I’ve been comparing every single warm body I’ve pushed into, to his delicious heat. Not when the fuck buddy I chose to fill my loneliness with looks so like him it makes me want to gouge my fucking eyes out.

He’s slept with one man and he’s been unfaithful, while I’ve slept with dozens and they were all him because I couldn’t get him out of my head.

My hands tighten over his face and at the base of his neck. Our lips are so close we breathe the same air.

“You’re filthy,” I tell him hoarsely. “Go shower.”

A soft, broken gasp escapes him, and he sways in my grasp.

He wasn’t expecting this, but he blinks and his eyes are wide and impossibly black now. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him this turned on.

His hands clutch at my waist in reaction. He tries to lean forward, tries to push through and take the kiss I’m withholding, but I’m still keeping his face inches away from my own and there’s nothing he can do about it.

His arms snake and tighten painfully around my middle – he’s growing desperate and I see doubt start to spread in his eyes.

“You don’t deserve my kiss,” I purr meanly, tilting his head back so I can graze my teeth along his jaw.

“Jack,” he pleads breathlessly. And I see it in his wide blue eyes – how unsure he is. He doesn’t know if he can do this, if he can trust me to that extent. He’s afraid of his own reactions because this is scarily unknown territory for him.

I’m aware that we are walking a very fine line here. Neither of us has actually given any kind of thought to this. Nor voiced any sort of consent. Wearing a blindfold was way easier than this, because it was his decision right from the start. Here, the game is apparently on and we’re still figuring out the rules as we go. So many things could go wrong.

I lean into him, nuzzle the side of his head and bring my lips against his ear. “I’ve got you, sweetheart,” I whisper softly. That’s all I can say. That’s all the reassurance he’ll have. If he needs more from me, then we might as well stop this game right now because he’s not ready for it.

I break away from him, push his face away from mine not very gently – our lips still haven’t made contact.

“You’re filthy and you stink of him,” I rasp accusingly. “Go shower.”

He stumbles back a little but he’s on board this time: a brutal fire in his eyes, defiance in the slight pinch of his lips. I see his chest heave with the excitement of it.

I cock my head to the side, signaling my impatience. He dutifully heads for the bathroom.

Christ, what the fuck are we doing?

When did I even agree to this? Hell, why did I start this?

Daniel is already naked in the shower when I finally push open the door to the bathroom. Standing still under the spray, hands propped against the wall – he’s waiting, lost in his thoughts.

I’ve taken off my clothes; I’m down to my black boxer briefs and I fully intend to keep them on as long as I humanly can. I’d have kept my jeans if it had been possible, but I don’t have a change of clothes, I don’t have any of the usual supplies and I feel starkly unprepared for this.

He startles and straightens up awkwardly as I open the glass door to the shower. He eyes me up and down, his gaze pausing at my underwear. I walk under the spray of water and he doesn’t really back off. He just stands there, all broad shoulders and dripping skin. I realize he doesn’t know how to look submissive. I’ve seen him arrogant, I’ve seen him slutty, I’ve seen him flustered, but at no point has he ever looked anything but fully in control of who he is and what he does. No, that’s not true: I have seen him lost and vulnerable, but those were stolen moments when I caught him off guard. The persona he chooses to show to others is that of a guy in control.

Submissive is something he’s going to have to learn. And maybe the hard way.

I take a step towards him and grab his face again, my open hand reaching from chin to cheekbone, with my thumb resting along his jaw and the forefinger brushing the corner of his eye. I push him back and he gives a soft grunt when his shoulders bump into the tiled wall.

“What are you waiting for?” I growl. “Wash yourself thoroughly. You’re filthy and tainted and I’m not getting anywhere near you until you’ve scrubbed him off your skin.”

His hand shakes a little as he reaches for the diminutive bottle of complimentary shower gel, but he goes about his business fairly efficiently – his eyes straying back to mine every so often and always finding them on him.

“Stop, that’s enough,” I interrupt him just as he’s done washing his genitals and backside. I let him rinse himself off under the spray. “Now you wash me.”

His breath hitches in his throat at my unexpected order. His eyes are more black than blue and his half-hard cock twitches and fills as he pours gel into his hands and works up a lather. With a soundless sigh, he strokes my chest in slow, slippery circles, his palms lingering over my nipples and his fingers tracing the silvery blemishes of scars with mute wonder. He then washes lower down my torso, sliding hypnotically back and forth over my abs, a curious thumb dipping into my navel. His strong hands next turn their ministrations to my right biceps, massaging the muscle lightly before moving down to the elbow, forearm, slowing down over my wrist and rubbing gentle swirls all over my hand with his thumbs. Then he repeats the process for the other arm, and I fight the purr of utter contentment I can feel building in my chest.

It’s pure heaven. I’ve never had anyone do this for me – or never with such careful, single-minded dedication. My eyes never leave his face as the sight is just too compelling. He’s flushed, his lips are parted and he’s intently watching his magical hands work over my skin. He adds more bodywash from time to time to keep them slick and soapy.

When he tries to slip his fingertips under the waistband of my soaked underwear, I stop him. Frustration registers in the clench of his jaw, but he obeys and moves on.

My legs are next. He crouches and wraps his hands around each thigh in turn, rubbing and kneading the muscles with long relaxing sweeps that he prolongs past my knees and right down my calves and ankles to the tip of my toes. As he moves back up my thighs, his head sways close to my groin as if by chance, but I catch him just in time before his lips reach to mouth my erection through the black material.

“Don’t even think it,” I growl, my voice hoarse beyond recognition.

He stands up without a word, switches bottles and pours shampoo into his palm then raises his hands to my head – I hadn’t even thought of him washing my hair, but I don’t stop him. He’s getting off on all of this and standing mere inches from me, his lust-drenched eyes drinking mine. His cock butts and drags heavily against my boxers when he finally sinks his hands into my hair. He starts at the nape of my neck, the gesture bringing his arms around my neck, and he works his way up my scalp in soft, soothing circles.

As he reaches my temples, he leans in for a kiss – I turn my head aside, neatly denying the contact. The disappointment I see in the blue gaze feels… well, I have no other word for it but delicious. And it is. Just purely delicious.

I put that disappointment there and my heart’s hammering in my chest with the perverse pleasure of it.

Once he’s done with my hair, I dip under the spray for a rinse then turn around, intimating that he’s yet to wash my back. I hear the softest, breathiest moan escape him before his lips brush at the top of my spine and his hands glide over my flanks. His cock catches against my ass unsubtly.

“Wash,” I remind him sternly.

After a moment, soapy hands slide over my shoulders and down my back, rubbing and kneading in gentle circles. He’s really good at this – if I let myself go, he’d soon have me utterly boneless and sated.

His hands come to rest on my waist when he considers his job done, and he gently pulls me back under the spray to wash the suds away. I feel his mouth on my shoulder this time, his tongue obsessively lapping at the water clinging to my skin. I put an abrupt end to it and face him again.

With his heavy, hooded eyes, his wanton, parted lips and his relentless erection, he looks wet, hot and utterly debauched.

“Turn around,” I order.

He turns to face the wall with a tiny, infuriating curve to his lips he probably thinks I can’t see, the little fucker. He thinks he’s got all this figured out, but I barely give him enough time to widen his stance before I grab a handful of his silky, drenched hair and push him up against the wall with a little too much force.

“You can wipe that smug smile right off your face because I’m not going to fuck you in the shower,” I growl in his ear. He yelps in discomfort: I know the wall feels hard and cold against his flushed chest, and his head is twisted to the side so he doesn’t eat tile.

I then drag him under the water, drape my left arm over his left shoulder and settle my hand loosely around the base of his throat – just ready to squeeze.

“Jack,” he breathes pleadingly. I know he’s not used to surrendering control, and I know what he’s learnt of my past life is not going to reassure him in the slightest. He’s seen the scars on me and he’s smart enough to know some of them were left there by people who tried to off me. People whose lives I ended. I don’t blame him for being afraid.

So, I nuzzle the sweet spot under his ear, and gently whisper the only thing I can say: “I’ve got you, sweetheart.”

The game is still on, but I’m still here, looking out for him. I’m hoping he knows that. I feel him shift in my arms, regain a little equilibrium.

I turn the faucet. The water stops, and so does the soothing sound of it.

We’re alone and he’s naked in my arms in the comparative quiet of the bathroom, with just the occasional drip-drip to highlight the lonely silence.

“Now, this is where it gets interesting,” I breathe into his ear, my voice a low unsettling purr. “I’m going to ask you questions and all I want to hear from you are truthful answers. Can you do that?” I can actually feel his heart pounding in his chest and it’s the best rush ever.

He nods his assent.

“Yes or no,” I prompt.

“Yes.”

“Good.” I brush the back of two fingers approvingly against his cheek. “Now… How about I bury my cock up to the hilt into that sweet ass of yours?”

He sways and chokes back a moan, but doesn’t provide an articulate answer.

“What do you say, Daniel? Do you want me to fuck you? Want me to get balls deep inside you?”

Still no answer. I realize he’s grabbed the base of his cock and is fending off an orgasm. And I love how helpless he is.

“I asked you a question, Daniel.”

“Yes,” he finally says under his breath. “Yes, I want you to fuck me.”

The dutiful rephrasing makes me smile in spite of myself. My, aren’t we a fast learner.

“And do you think I’d like that? Think I would come from fucking your tight little ass?” My growl is low and obscene in his ear.

“Yes. I think you would.” His voice is hot and tense and he sounds rather sure of himself, the little shit. Time to bring him down a peg or three.

“You’re wrong. I wouldn’t,” I tell him, my tone deep and raspy. “I don’t like sloppy seconds.”

I feel shock register in his whole frame. I don’t know if it’s the ugly words or the reality behind them that’s making him reel.

“Because that’s what you are, aren’t you? Nasty sloppy seconds. You’re still all soft and slick from yesterday’s pounding, and you think I’m gonna just slide right in where Dustin had his dick… How many hours ago?”

He just shudders and makes a pitiful sound at that. And my soul is splintering apart, because I love him. God help me, I love him so much and I don’t want to hurt him, but he’s fucking with me and don’t know how else to make it stop!

“How many hours ago?” I grind out again.

“Eighteen,” he admits.

5pm, yesterday. Christ, a couple of hours before he showed up to the fucking game! My fingers clutch harder at him. A scared, feral part of me wants to tear him apart so bad.

“18 hours,” I grunt meanly. “You’ll be no good to me. Your hole’s probably all stretched and disgustingly loose. No thanks.”

“Fucking…” he starts to snarl, lashing out suddenly.

“Oh no you don’t!” I snap as I tighten my arms and clamp my hand over his mouth to smother his expletives. “Don’t forget the rules of the game: you answer when I ask a question and that’s all.” He struggles briefly, then grows quiet again, breathing a little too hard.

“I was on the phone with Dustin earlier this morning, you know. We do that from time to time: compare notes, discuss techniques, share a laugh about our most pathetic clients. He said you were a good little bitch in the sack. Said he liked the noises,” I lie mercilessly.

He tenses against my arms but remains silent.

“I told him the noises were part of your charm. Entertaining once you get used to the volume.”

A shudder courses through him – I don’t know if it’s misery or anger. Probably a bit of both. His breathing ratchets up a notch again.

“No need to get upset, your highness: I meant it in a good way. But I’ll change subject, shall I? How ‘bout you give me feedback on Dustin’s big dick, eh? How nice did those 9 inches feel, rammed up your tight little hole?” I resume my questioning with quiet cruelty.

He doesn’t answer straight away, so I start to squeeze his throat a little.

“Say something,” I push darkly.

“I don’t know what you want me to say,” he pushes back.

“Give me a review.”

I feel and hear him gulp, then he tilts his head in defiance.

“He’s bigger than you,” he snipes viciously, and I can’t help but chuckle bitterly.

“Yeah, no news there.” Then I make my voice as dirty as it can get. “You enjoyed every inch of him, didn’t you? Enjoyed the thorough workout he gave your ass?”

He shivers. I can see goose bumps rising all over his arms. His nipples are so tight and erect they could cut glass.

“I asked you a question, Daniel,” I remind him sharply. “Did you enjoy getting your ass split in two? Did you feel every inch of him as he fucked you?”

“Yes,” he confesses on a broken whisper. And I don’t want to hear it. I know he found pleasure with another guy, and the pain and the jealousy are searing through me, tearing me apart from the inside.

Yet I can’t stop asking questions. Dark, intimate, disgusting questions that have plagued me and kept me awake all night.

“How long did the appointment last?”

“I don’t know. One hour.”

“How many times did he take you?”

“Once.”

“From behind?”

“Yes.”

“Bareback?”

“No.”

I pause for a second and try to quiet my relieved, racing heart.

“Did you try to make it last?”

“No.”

“Too eager to blow your load, were you? You’re such a slut,” I mutter disparagingly, tightening my hold. “I bet you just went on all fours, spread your cheeks and let him ride you hard.”

I see his face blush and his nostrils flare while his heart pounds in his chest, but he doesn’t reply to the outrageous taunt. That makes it even worse, somehow – it makes it somewhat true.

“Tell me, did you prepare yourself with that little dildo of yours? Did he have to work hard to screw that big cock of his into you?” I hiss, my teeth tracing the sweet flesh of his shoulder. I had those images in my brain all night. I want them out.

“Yes,” he gasps, with new determination. Like he doesn’t want to let me shame him.

“Yes to which question?”

“Both,” he bites, now relishing the provocative edge.

He doesn’t know what his answers are doing to me. He simply has no idea of the torture I’m putting myself through here.

Time to change tack a little.

“I see. How does it feel to be more of a whore than I’ll ever be?” I scoff lightly.

“What?”

“You’re a loveless slut, Daniel. You know that, right?”

He goes incredibly still in my arms. “How dare you…”

“You call a prostitute, spread your legs, get thoroughly fucked, sleep it off and move on to the next one. How fucking lonely and sleazy is that? At least I do it for money,” I point out cynically. “You do it for free. Worse, you pay for it. So desperate for a bit of cock that you just slap a wad of cash on the table, roll over like a bitch in heat and let a total stranger fuck you.”

That jab reaches its target and I feel him jolt and buck beneath my grip.

“Oh you may not like hearing me say it, but that’s exactly what you did yesterday,” I insist. “You picked up your phone, called my replacement and let a complete stranger use your ass and pound your hole for the sordid, lonely kick of it. And you’ll keep on doing it until you’ve fucked your way down the list of all the male escorts in North America by the looks of it. Never seen such a cock-hungry little slut in all my life!”

“I fuck whoever I want,” he counters with a snarl, finally defending himself, though his voice is rough and breathless with shock. “And it’s certainly not a lying old whore who’s going to give me any lessons about virtue.”

Something in me snaps and I whirl him around, grab his face with my right hand again and slam him back into the tiled wall.

“At least I’m honest about my needs,” I purr. “You think I want to be around someone like you? Someone who obviously craves just about any cock up his ass 24/7? Someone who’s so fucked up in the head he’d rather pay for sex than date another human being?” I rage, using words I have no right to use. Throwing reproaches I have no right to make.

“You fuck strangers all the time,” he snaps aggressively, anger precipitating in his icy gaze.

“That’s right,” I agree viciously. “It’s my job. I’ll fuck anyone for money.” I let out a cruel bark of laughter “Hell, I even fucked you, unfaithful, fucked up little slut that you are!”

“Does Cameron get a special rate?” he spits.

“No, I fuck Cameron for free, but that’s because he’s pretty and because I like him.”

“I’m just as good-looking as him,” he counters absurdly, making my heart freeze painfully in my chest.

“Yeah, maybe to some. The difference is… I don’t like you.”

Unmistakable pain contracts his brow for the briefest instant and something perverse in me relishes the flicker of despair that flashes in his pale blue eyes.

“That’s right, your highness. I don’t like you and I don’t want you,” I add in a vindicated purr. “I don’t need you. I don’t crave you. I just let you pay me to pound your pert little ass. An ass that’s probably all stretched outta shape now anyway, thanks to my oversized colleague. I bet it’s so damn soft and wet in there now it’d feel like fucking a pussy.”

“Shut your FUCKING MOUTH!” he suddenly roars with pure venom in his voice as his hands claw up my chest and go to my throat. The game is fast unraveling, and in less time than it takes to say it, he’s pressed face first against the tiles again, and I have his right arm in a lock so painful that he doesn’t dare move anymore.

“Well done, fuck boy,” I challenge. “Attacking me must be at the top of the list of the ten most stupid things to try. I believe it’s right up there with peeing against the wind.” I get comfortable against his broad back.

“Why are you doing this to me?” he grunts, breathing heavily.

“You tried to choke me.”

“No, why are you saying these disgusting things to me, Jack?”

“What? The thing about your ass feeling like a pussy?”

“For fuck’s sake, stop talking like that!” he growls impatiently.

“I’m just guessing, of course.”

“Well don’t guess, then. See for yourself,” he purrs menacingly.

“Be careful what you wish for,” I chuckle at his baiting.

“Try me,” he taunts, his voice low and filthy.

I free my right hand and bring it to his mouth, stroking my middle finger lightly over his lips.

“Suck,” I order hoarsely. “And know that if you bite, I’ll break your arm.”

His heart beats hard against my ribs as my finger sinks into the heat of his mouth. It’s unbearably sexy and the sensation is mind-blowing. He sucks on my finger tentatively at first, almost grudgingly, but he eventually goes to town, lapping and suckling it with growing gusto when he feels my trapped erection hardening against his ass. He wrenches a moan out of me, the bastard.

Then I withdraw my spit-slick finger from his mouth and place it over his opening.

I push into him and realize it’s tight as fuck in there: I barely get the first knuckle past the first ring of clenching muscles.

“Let me in,” I growl into his neck.

“Say please,” he grunts back.

God, how I love his competitive streak.

“You agreed to follow my orders,” I remind him.

“No I didn’t,” he corrects. “You gave orders and I went along with them, but I never formally agreed to anything, Colonel. Nor did I agree to let myself be called degrading names.” His voice is raspy and low and just a little smug. Sonuvabitch. The balance of power is shifting.

I release his arm and reach around to wrap a tight fist around his erection instead. He gasps in surprise, then tilts his head back and hums low in the back of his throat. Damn him.

Game over.

It doesn’t matter: I’ve had my answers and I’ve said what I needed him to hear.

My left hand strokes his erection lovingly and I soon forget about everything else when his ass muscles loosen their strangling grip and my finger starts to sink into his ass.

He lets out a breathy ‘ohgoddd’.

“You are an easy slut, Dr Jackson,” I comment warmly into his ear. “That much is true.”

“Bastard,” he gripes.

“That’s also probably true.”

He grunts in displeasure as I gently ease my finger out. I quickly coat my fingers in shampoo, then slowly push back inside him – with two fingers this time. He widens his stance and braces against the wall with telltale alacrity.

I twist my hand around and brush the sweet spot inside him, which earns me a deep, throaty “ahhh”.

“I’ll give you one thing, though,” I purr into his neck. “Your ass doesn’t feel like pussy at all.”

“Shut up,” he growls as he turns around to face me abruptly, thereby forcing my fingers out of him. His ice blue eyes are still black with need but it’s the fire in them that is their most remarkable feature at the moment. “Shut up and put that dirty mouth of yours to good use,” he orders in a head-spinning reversal of roles.

So I go down on one knee.

“Make yourself forgiven,” he dares me filthily as I lick the tip of his cock. He props a foot up against the glass wall to grant me access to his opening.

And I oblige by greedily sucking his cock and stroking his prostate into a massive, toe-curling, spine-wracking orgasm that leaves him winded, blinded and speechless for all of five minutes. To the point where I have to half drag, half carry him out of the shower and into bed.

I get him under the sheets, get rid of my soaked boxers and join him there, all the while studiously willing my erection to die the fuck down.

I lie behind him, as usual, one arm pillowing my head, the other thrown over his waist.

I consider what we’ve just done – the little game we played but never really finished. I guess I said all that I needed to say. I don’t know if it’ll change anything to our relationship, whatever that word means where we are concerned.

“That was interesting,” I hear him say, his soft, educated voice less out of it than I would’ve expected.

“Somewhat.”

“You called me names. Disgusting names,” he accuses me.

“I did.”

“Can’t say that I liked that.”

I did,” I grin behind his back.

“Yeah, I got that,” he scowls.

An easy silence stretches between us, and I bury into the pillow and tighten my arm around his middle, bringing us closer, making us more comfortable. His body is perfectly warm and pliant against me, and I’m glad to say my erection isn’t as desperate or as rigid as to be impolite.

“Don’t you want me?” he asks, his tone carefully neutral.

“I do,” I agree.

“You said you didn’t.” The spike of reproach in his light accusation goes right through my chest.

“It was just a game, Daniel.”

He wriggles out of my arms, destroying the perfect cocoon I’d arranged in order to lie on his side to face me. He plants his elbow into his pillow and props his head on his hand to better observe me.

“Do you find me attractive?”

“What kind of question is that? What do you expect me to say? You’re my…”

“I’m not your client anymore,” he interrupts me. “I’m your friend, we agreed on that.”

“Feels more like I’m your escort supplier these days.”

“Please, I need an honest answer.”

“My dick finds you attractive, at any rate. I find you arrogant and argumentative.”

His lips curve at my admission.

“Do you like me?” he asks, his pale blue eyes drilling into mine.

God help me, I do. So much that it stopped being funny months ago. “I guess.”

“Ditch Cameron,” he then rasps out of the blue.

What?!

“What?”

“Don’t go to him. If you need a fuck, don’t go to him. Come to me.”

Is he fucking kidding me?

“What the hell are you…?”

“I’ll be your fuck buddy,” he cuts in, absolutely sure of himself.

“I already have a fuck buddy. Why would I give him up?” I blurt. “He’s available. Anytime, any place. He’s always ready and up for it.” Cam is reassuring and dependable in ways I didn’t realize even mattered to me until now.

“I’ll make myself available, and you know I’m always up for you.”

“You’re being territorial,” I wave him off nicely. “You just don’t want to have to share your toy.”

“I want to be your fuck buddy.”

“You’re not reliable.”

“I am.”

“You’ll spread your legs for anyone when you get a bit lonely. Now I may be a tad old-fashioned, but I like my fuck buddies to exert a little bit of restraint when it comes to fucking about behind my back.”

“Yet, you just blew me in the shower. Interesting double standards,” he snipes evilly. “Is Cameron that understanding?”

The little bastard.

“I don’t get it,” I tell him, narrowing my eyes at his smart-assedness. “Just a couple of hours ago, you said you didn’t want someone like me.”

“I said I didn’t want a knock-off version of you. I want the real thing.”

“Dustin is the real thing.” Handsome, nice, fun to be with, I suppose – he’s fun to talk to at any rate.

“He’s vapid and predictable, and all his standard-issue good-looks and his crystal green eyes will never make up for that.”

Daniel leans towards me, an intense look in his cold blue gaze.

“I want scars,” he breathes huskily as he brushes the tip of a finger over the scar in my eyebrow. “I want brown eyes and silver hair and… and that maddening smile. I want you, Jack.” He sounds sweet and a little desperate and his soft, low voice goes straight to my balls – as always.

He leans down a little lower until his forehead rests against mine. I see him close his eyes briefly. If I didn’t know better I’d say his heart’s doing the same sick backflip as mine.

“Please.” The word is so strange, so foreign in his mouth when it’s not uttered in the throes of passion.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” I deplore sadly, my hand smoothing over his hard shoulder in spite of myself.

Unreliable, oblivious, arrogant, and so damn detached it’s not even funny. He’s a fucking island unto himself: it’s like he doesn’t need anyone.

Actually, I realize I’ve never seen him accompanied by anyone. Someone of his status should have personal assistants, drivers, bodyguards, minions, and even parasites and freeloaders of some sort, all orbiting him relentlessly. And I know he has all these staff, like that Val girl who called him while we were at the motel. Like all those people he talks to on the phone. But I’ve never seen anyone around him. Not even in passing. At the museum inauguration, he came alone. Last night at the game, he stood alone.

He’s always been alone.

He’s simply the most self-sufficient man I’ve ever seen.

The loneliest, too.

I don’t understand it. What is it that makes him shun other people’s company? Doesn’t he need anyone’s help in anything? Doesn’t he need someone to support him when his job becomes too much? To comfort him when he’s in pain? To make him smile when he’s down?

Doesn’t he need someone to hold him at night?

He’s handsome, rich, smart, funny – he could have anyone. Anyone. Man or woman, they’d be his in a heartbeat.

All he has to do is reach out and pick someone he fancies, someone he relates to.

And yet he calls escorts. Professionals. Strangers.

Gets naked, gets on all fours and lets escorts fuck him from behind. It’s almost like he wants to be alone even during sex. Any piece of cock will do, as long as he gets his rocks off.

“It’s the best idea you’ll ever have,” he whispers, nipping at the corner of my lips. “When did I ever not follow through on my promises to you?” he asks with more aching vulnerability in his tone than I think he realizes. “I was faithful to you from the day we first met to the day you sent me to Dustin.”

And I don’t need to know this. I don’t want to know this.

I’m sure I had more clients during that time period than he cares to know about.

“How long have you known Cameron?” he asks me.

“I assume you mean ‘biblically’? Two weeks,” I sigh. I don’t know where he’s going with that.

“Two weeks is nothing,” he scoffs. “You’ve known me for a year and a half.”

“I’ve known a lot of people, and some for way longer than that: I’m an escort, Daniel.” He has to understand everything that word means. “A whore.”

“Retired,” he amends stubbornly.

I have to try a different tack. “I thought you wanted to be my friend.”

“You don’t want a friend.”

“Everyone wants a friend,” I reason.

“Not you. Clearly, you want a fuck buddy. And I’m telling you I can be that. I’ll gladly be that,” he whispers almost against my lips, a devious little smile curving his mouth. “Do you use condoms with Cameron?”

“Yes.” Of course I do. I never even considered not using them with him, and Cam never questioned it.

“We can do it bareback,” he promises sinfully. “We can get tested again, and we can do it without a condom, and I’ll never let anyone else touch me.” The words he purrs against my skin trickle heat down my spine as his hand closes leisurely around my renewed erection. “Just skin to skin. Nothing between us,” he says, softly kissing my mouth.

I recognize his tactics – I’ve used them before myself. I know he’s playing me, and I know he’s using my weakness to further his own agenda, but God he feels so good in my arms, his voice is so low and earnest, and his kiss is so achingly gentle and longing. Killing me.

So I die and kiss him back.

My whole being dissolves and I kiss him back. He purrs in victory and I kiss him with everything I have. My tongue delving into his mouth and chasing him, tasting him. I love him, and he doesn’t care, but I can have him. That’s what he’s saying. I can have him. As often and as deep as I want. No appointments, no rubber and no goddamn money exchanged. He’ll be my fuck buddy.

He’ll be mine – body, if not soul.

I wrap my arms around him, cup the back of his head and we never break the kiss as he moves to lie on top of me. I open my thighs to accommodate him and it’s insane how well our bodies fit together. We’re a tangle of clinging limbs and it feels perfect. His hand grabs my hip and slides down my thigh proprietarily as I hook my calf behind his knee. He knows he’s won this battle – maybe even won the war – and he kisses me like he’s finally got access to something precious and invaluable that he desperately needed.

And then the kiss gets steamy with labored moans and panting breaths as he starts rocking into me. Luxuriously mashing our needy cocks together with slow, powerful thrusts that melt my brain and set my nerve endings on fire. Every push of his body into mine consumes me with heat – I grip his ass in encouragement, thrust and grind into his undulations. Soon enough his rhythm falters, his hips stutter and his tongue becomes more desperate, his mouth leaking hot whimpers that do my head in.

He finally abandons the kiss because he needs the air, and buries his head in my neck, his mouth breathing hard over my skin.

One viciously good crush of his body on mine sends me spiraling out of control and before I know it I’m digging my head back into the pillow, gasping my pleasure and spilling come messily all over my belly. He growls at the warm, slick sensation and thrusts harder, his burning cock slipping and sliding in my release in a way that soon pushes him over the edge.

He howls against my throat, the vibrations of his voice rippling through me, shaking every particle of me.

It takes ages for the insistent drums to stop thrumming in my ears. It takes ages for Daniel to come down from his high. I hold him to me as we pant, radiating heat, sweat and confusion. He’s boneless and heavy: I’m dizzy, I feel like I’ve been run over by a train and I can barely pull enough air into my compressed lungs.

But worst of all, I feel like I’ve been made love to, and that can’t be right. He didn’t say anything, he didn’t even do anything special, but that’s what it felt like. Like being made love to.

I know he can’t have meant it that way.

I’m not sure he even knows how to make love to someone.

“Get rid of him, Jack,” he murmurs after a whole lot of silence has calmed the mood and he’s got his breath back. “Have me instead. I promise you, you won’t regret it.”

He’s now half-lying on my side, his fingers lightly scratching through my damp chest hair.

“I’m thinking I might.”

“Have me?” he says hopefully.

“Regret it,” I correct.

“Think about it. We can do whatever you want. We can play games. I’ll even let you call me terrible names, provided I can do the same,” he says, a hint of a grin in his voice as he starts to lick pensively at my nipple. “I’ll make myself available, I promise. I won’t let you down.”

“Okay.”

“I will m… What? Really?” he blurts, utterly stumped by my quiet agreement. It’s not often I can make him speechless – in conversation, that is.

“Yes, we can try it. See how it works. See if you’re worth the hassle. Ow!” I grouse as he bites my nipple harder than necessary.

And then, after several silent minutes of him sending my arm to sleep as he dozes on my shoulder, reality seeps back into our bubble.

I get up, get dressed. I’m going commando courtesy of my soaked boxer briefs. I let him dispose of them as I can’t exactly see myself walking out of here with wet underwear in my pocket.

I hand him back his phone, and he takes it with a flippant quirk of the lips.

He accompanies me to the door, and it feels familiar in a way I don’t like. It feels like this was just another appointment. I think he feels it too: I can almost hear him wondering about hourly rate, calculating my tip and adding interests for delay of payment.

And I have to tell him.

“Listen, I don’t know how this is going to work out, or even if it’s going to work out, but in any case, I have to warn you,” I tell him seriously as I cup his cheek and lean towards him. His pale blue eyes suddenly go wary and sharp. “Whatever we do, however this turns out, if you ever pay me again, Daniel… if I ever see a single one of your dollar bills anywhere near me… I swear to God, it’ll be the last you see of me.” I mean it. If he ever tries to pull that shit on me again, I won’t stand there and take it politely.

He nods with a slow blush – embarrassment more than anger, I think.

“From now on, you come for free,” he assures me.

“You betcha. Doesn’t mean I’m a cheap lay, mind you.”

“The thought never crossed my mind,” he grins like a shark. “Am I allowed to feed you?” he asks with a filthy sparkle to his ice blue gaze.

“It’s even recommended.” I grab the back of his neck and kiss him hard.

Then I let go of him and fuck off, closing the door hastily behind me before I push him up against the wall and do something stupid.

As soon as I walk out of the hotel into the gathering dusk, I grab my phone and speed-dial the number.

“Hey, Daniel, buddy. Are you available next week?”

 

***End of Chapter 9***