He turned to face me once again, his eyes very bright, his pupils dilated. “That was so intense, Dan. Where the hell did that come from?”
I didn’t know what to say. My body was still humming with the pleasure of orgasm, but I’d never really been keen on post-mortems of sex. “Just felt good.”
He nodded, but he kept a half foot or so of space between us, as if he was wary of me for some reason. “Sure. You don’t need to tell me that. But you don’t—”
I frowned. “You’re telling me again?”
His mouth closed abruptly and he flushed. It looked bloody good on his handsome face.
“I’m teasing,” I said, more softly. But I had to know, of course. “What don’t I?”
“You don’t often do it like that. Take control. And the talking, you know? Dirty talk.”
Dammit, I should have taken it a little easier. I grimaced, hoping he’d see it as a rueful look. “You didn’t like it?”
He laughed. “Hell, yeah! I’m just used to you being more… restrained. Discreet. Whatever you’d call it.” He was still flushed and his large eyes gazed at me. He looked happily well-fucked but slightly wary, too. “Hey. No problem, right? It was hot. Different.”
I was beginning to think I was wrong about the sex between us always being good. “Just playing.”
He started; his eyes widened further. But he recovered quickly, though his smile was more brave than happy this time. “A game, yes. I understand. Like I said, it was hot.”
“You’re sure?” I shook my head and felt the water drops on my lashes. I had hair cropped to above my ears and it felt thick. I liked the way it lay close to my head, though I didn’t think it put me centre stage in the looks department. Not like him. “Well, maybe we can work some more on all that.”
His eyes sparkled and he suddenly looked younger. Much happier, not that I’d realised he looked troubled before. “Don’t tempt me, not just now. We should both get dressed, right?”
“Right.” What time was it? What was I getting dressed for? We both stepped out of the shower. The familiar way I snagged towels for us both was the final confirmation that this was my place. As I twisted one around my waist, I saw him watching me closely.
That’s when things first shifted. When I first felt the emotional conflict inside me. The affection in the other guy’s expression was clear, but I found myself wondering, what was it affection for? For me? Or just for my fucking? The uncertainty worried me, and it felt like a long-established concern. The adrenaline high had abandoned me surprisingly quickly. Instead, something lay heavily in my gut, like I’d eaten bad seafood or drunk too much the night before, though I knew instinctively I hadn’t done either of those.
I didn’t say anything to my lover. I backed out of the bathroom, looking along the corridor. One of the doors was wide open and I walked into the bedroom. There were familiar clothes on the chair against the wall, and I gathered them up.
“Are you coming with me back into town?” He passed by, his hand brushing my hip. He was still half-smiling. “I know my shift doesn’t start until twelve, but Matty said he could use me for the morning stock delivery. Pete needs to learn his way around that. He and I can sort it out while Matty opens the bar as usual.” When I continued to stare at him, he added, “You’re due at the site by ten, right?”
“Right. Yeah, that’d be good.” I pulled out the top drawer of the chest and found clean underwear. Lucky guess. I put the other clothes on—faded jeans, spattered with paint and plaster, an undershirt and a heavy flannel shirt. I could see a pair of boots flung carelessly at the foot of the bed. Big feet, on a scale with my hands.
He went to the far side of the bed and picked up another pile of clothes, far more neatly placed than mine. He opened a drawer in the unit beside the bed and pulled out a pair of clean boxers. I knew then that he didn’t live here with me—everything about this place cried “I’m a messy singleton”—but if he kept spare clothes here, it looked like he stayed over a lot. The pleasure warmed me inside, like a flicker of flame from a smouldering log. He tugged the boxers and a pair of jeans up his legs, then rolled a bright T-shirt over his head. It was a very stimulating sight, watching the muscles of his belly tighten up as he moved. He now sported the logo Matty’s Meet, Chelsea Creek, clinging attractively to his torso. God,he was gorgeous.
“Dan,” he started, but we were both distracted by a shrill buzzing noise. He frowned and reached for a mobile phone that lay on the top of the unit. Pressing the receive button, he answered, “Ricky Holloway.” He listened intently for a moment. “It’s not really a good time now.” His gaze flickered to me then away. “No, really… Yes, I understand. No, I’m not being… yes, I’ll call you later.” He disconnected and dropped the phone on the bed.
I didn’t know what was going on, but suddenly I felt myself disconnect, just like the phone itself. The thrill and happiness of the time in the shower abruptly shifted to misery and anger. Ugly feelings. I looked at Ricky, smiling back at me rather nervously, his cute body, his strikingly good looks, his youth and charisma…
Dear God in fucking heaven, I wanted him. And not just sexually; I realised I cared a lot for him. In fact, the emotions would swamp me if I let them take a hold. But at the same time, I wondered what the fuck he was doing with me? I wasn’t sexy like him; he was a real looker. A precious gem of the male kind. A true catch.
And nothing like me.
I sat down heavily on the edge of the mattress. The dip from Ricky’s side was already smoothed out, his half of the covers pulled over neatly, like he’d never been there at all. An ache caught in the back of my throat, as tight and painful as a fish hook.
What the bloody hell was up with my host?
Ricky came around the bed to stand in front of me. He slipped a hand around my neck and leant down. “You look so good, Dan.”
“I’m sure.” My voice sounded tight. Seemed I’d remembered a whole bunch of other things, and none of them bolstering my self-esteem. “Dan the builder. Plain old labourer, see my fucking work clothes. Feel my rough hands.”
He frowned at me and pulled back from the almost-kiss. “That’s rubbish. What does it matter what you do? I’m only a bartender, right?”
I stared at him, still feeling the warm pressure of his fingers on my skin. “Right.” Some kind of hot, some kind of not-my-class bartender. Fuck.
“Dan, I’m…” He shook his head and frowned. “Things are odd this morning. I don’t understand.” He looked like he was struggling to find the right words, but I didn’t feel like offering to help with that. He ran his hand down my cheek, smooth skin against my harsh shadow. “You’re great, I’ve always thought that. I liked you the minute you came into the bar.”
“Fixing the bloody kitchen wall. Putting up some ceiling tiles.”
He shrugged. “Whatever. Didn’t matter why you were there.” He smirked. “Hey, I could see you were good with your hands.”
I rolled my eyes at the cliched tease, but I was pleased to feel some of the tension inside me easing. Ricky could do that for me.
Dammit, my host was besotted, far as I could tell. But he was also suffering with it.
And then he turned his head and looked straight at me.
His eyes glittered; he blinked slowly. I told myself he couldn’t have known for definite I’d been watching him. It was too dark and busy at the counter, and we were too far apart for that. Bartenders darted back and forth, sweating and grinning and shouting out orders; beer bottles chinked together and shot glasses lined up, sparkling with weird layered concoctions. But the man’s eyes stayed on me—wide and deep coloured, reflecting the glint from the optics on the wall and absorbing it at the same time. The effect was hypnotic. Things stood like that for all of ten, maybe twenty seconds. Then he lifted his glass very gently, saluting me, and his mouth twisted into a slow, encouraging smile.
No, I thought.
His head inclined a little, as if he were calling me over. He didn’t say anything, though there was no way we could have heard any words over that din.
No, I thought again. I knew that game too well to want to play it, right? But my feet moved instinctively. A group of men in matching leather shorts, braces, and firemen helmets had just arrived at the bar beside me. They were shouting and laughing as they handed out bottled beers among their group. I pushed right past them, and walked over to the mystery man.
I stopped close enough so no one else would force their way between us but far enough apart that we wouldn’t touch accidentally. His eyes were still on me, but he’d put the glass back down on the bar. I don’t know whether it was the fact I’d been drinking or the astonishing glow in those fabulous eyes, but an aura sparked off him like electricity. I didn’t even have to touch him to feel it. I felt the current through my whole body.
I knew this was a really bad idea. I didn’t have the time or appetite for strange fascinations or lustful hookups, not even with a man whose grip around a plain glass made my nerves shudder with the anticipation of feeling that grip on me. No, I wasn’t into the party and club life anymore; I didn’t want to catch anyone’s attention. I wanted to keep myself to myself and try to get things straight in my life. Definitely.
So what the hell was the matter with me tonight? I was staring quite openly at him. Bloody rude of me. Maybe he reminded me of Stewart. The same shade of black hair, the same lean face, maybe a similar determined look in his eye. By the time I got closer to him, I saw they actually looked nothing alike. But perhaps that was why I was drawn to him, who knows? It wasn’t enough to explain the thrill inside me.
I was struggling to speak—my throat was as tight as a fist. My nerves were strung as tightly as a guitar string and hummed excitement about as tunefully. Inside my jeans, I felt my balls shift and lift with physical need.
A really bad idea.
It was still difficult to make out speech, but I got the word from the movement of his lips. He was watching my mouth, maybe for my reply, maybe just for the hell of it. All I knew was, it was very arousing. His eyelids slid down over dark-bright eyes and back up again. It was as if he wanted to take full measure of me in those brief moments.
I shook my head.
He frowned. “You look like you could use—”
“I’ve had enough tonight—”
We spoke together, then both laughed. I’d tuned into his voice, or maybe we were both speaking louder to be heard over the music.
“I look like I need a drink?” I asked.
“Like you need something,” he said, his voice deep. He leaned into me and I smelled him—slight sweat from the damp skin around his throat, the tantalising trail of an unknown but probably expensive cologne. It wrapped itself around me as strongly as a real and irresistible binding.
“You were watching me,” he said.
I blinked hard, trying to think of something cool to say. “Just watching. That’s all.”
“It’s okay. It’s good.” His eyes were still on me, a smile teasing the edges of his mouth. “I was watching too.”
“Me? I didn’t notice.”
He nodded and shrugged. “You weren’t meant to.”
He frowned again. “Why? Because it doesn’t matter. Because I wasn’t….” He never finished the sentence.
“You didn’t want me to notice?”
His shrug was almost imperceptible. “I said it doesn’t matter.”
“Maybe it does.” I didn’t know what had got into me, challenging him like this. It felt weird and confusing, and I wasn’t in any mood for stupid pickup games. But something warm and irresistible crept along my veins, and I knew the seductive feeling had nothing to do with the mass of bodies around us. “Tell me.”
He frowned as if puzzled. “I’m not here for anything in particular. For anyone.”
“Me neither.” We both stared each other down for a few more seconds, our concentration giving that whole exchange the lie.
“Okay.” His smile was slow, and I felt stupidly pleased to take it as the first climbdown. “I know somewhere we can go. Want to come with me?”
Did I? Hell, yeah.