Sparks Fly – Chapter 5

Nic straightened up slowly: he couldn’t stop a groan escaping. He’d been bent over one of the deserted desks in the IT department for an hour now, trying to keep some kind of order to their work. He’d lost his place several times in the current spreadsheet, and when he dropped the last set of printouts they’d all fallen out of sequence. It took him a precious ten minutes to sort that out. And it was the third time he’d done it, too.

He was beginning to hate being an analyst’s assistant, with something akin to homicidal mania. He breathed a silent sigh of relief when Aidan called a halt, logging out of the screen he was using on the other side of the room.

“There’s nothing more I can do for the moment.” Aidan hid a yawn, though not very successfully. “The program will need to run for some hours, and by then the office will be opening again.”

“What’s it searching for now?” Nic peered over at Aidan’s screen, trying to recognize an English word among all the code.

Aidan leaned back in his chair, running a hand wearily through his shaggy hair, gaze still concentrating on his work. “I’m accessing all of the systems, not just Sparks but your other shared management systems as well. It’s identifying potentially rogue IP addresses, appearing in directories that aren’t commonly used. There’s no reason for someone to have been looking in them without instruction, unless the password structure is weaker than the more recent ones I’ve established, and that may have offered an indirect way into the main programming. Then the search will cross-check those addresses against all the other addresses that have ever been used, to find out whether it’s been accessing any other parts of the system recently. Then I’ll extend that check to the external address books on system, see if it leads to a quick identification. Maybe it’s not malicious after all, or we can establish if it’s a corporate address or, as I suspect, an individual. If it’s a white or black hat hacker….” He must have suddenly realized that Nic had gone silent, and he glanced over.

Nic had nothing to offer except a rueful look.

“Ah. I was getting too geeky, wasn’t I?” Aidan smiled, not unkindly. “Anyway, I will review the results from home, later this morning.”

This morning? Nic tried to keep the horrified expression off his face. A glimpse at his watch showed they’d worked right through the night, and it was past two a.m. He ran a hand through his own hair, wondering what the hell he had on his schedule later today, whether he’d be fit to do anything. Wondering why—when he thought about it—he didn’t really care.

“I don’t need any more assistance now,” Aidan said quietly. “I don’t need to bother you any longer. I can go on by myself.”

“No. It’s fine,” Nic said. He took a quick inventory of the now tidy piles of papers and the makeshift filing system into which he’d organized all Aidan’s source reports and data lists. There were the remains of packaged sandwiches and cups of coffee, too—most of them empty, some of them abandoned—that Nic had kept them both supplied with. When he glanced up again, he was startled to see that Aidan had been looking at the same things.

“Thanks,” Aidan said, a little awkwardly. “For your help.”

Nic swallowed hard at the softer tone of Aidan’s voice. “No, thank you for all you’re doing for Sparks.” He smiled tiredly back at Aidan and decided to grasp his courage and pride in both hands. Hell, one of them had to, right? “Look, I know it all went a bit weird last time, but will you have a bite to eat with me again? It’s the least we can do to thank each other. Just breakfast. I’m starving!” And I promise not to mention anything personal … he nearly added aloud.

Aidan stilled. “I feel bad about that meal myself,” he said, surprising Nic again. “I handled things badly.” He bit back another yawn. “You know what?”

“What?”

“I’m pretty hungry too. And another thing…”

Nic just raised his eyebrows.

“I don’t have the energy to argue with you right now,” Aidan said. “So, let’s do it.”

That actually looked like the beginnings of a smile on Aidan’s face. Nic wasn’t going to lose his advantage, and pressed on, “There’s a bar I know that serves early breakfast. Really good, simple food. Is that all right?”

“Uh-huh,” Aidan nodded. “That’s all right by me.”

The waitress brought coffee to their table, then dragged herself away from Nic with their food order. She walked slowly—and backwards—to the kitchen, still simpering at him.

Aidan couldn’t help his sigh.

Nic had the grace to blush. “It’s nothing, honestly. I’m a regular—I like her, she likes me. It’s mutually good for the bar that we have fun. Nothing else, we just chat and joke.”

Aidan pursed his lips. “It’s no business of mine either way. But it seems to me you know a lot of restaurants and bars. Do you never eat in?”

Nic laughed. “Not often, I guess. I’m either staying in a hotel, or keeping odd hours. It’s not often I get the chance or the energy to cook.”

Aidan stirred his cup of coffee slowly, allowing himself time to relax a little, to think about his conversation. “You like cooking?”

“Yeah,” Nic replied. Aidan saw a swift, childlike excitement on his face, making him look as he must have done as a boy. “I’m pretty good, actually. I cooked a lot for my Mom before… when she needed help around the house. I’d like to spend more time at it, one day. Got a couple of hundred recipes I want to try. And you?”

Aidan hesitated. “Well, of course I cook.” When I remember. “It’s not good for me to order takeout all the time. But I prefer vegetarian dishes. Asian, Japanese, Mediterranean, cuisine like that.”

“That’s great.” Nic nodded. “I love vegetarian too, believe it or not. We could try some menus out sometime, I know this place—”

Aidan didn’t think he’d made either sound or movement, but Nic stopped abruptly.

“Sorry,” he said slowly. “I’m taking over again. I guess we better talk about work, huh? Maybe that’s our only safe subject. Last thing I want is for a repeat of—” He flushed again.

But Aidan didn’t rise to the bait. He was tired, but he was also more relaxed than before. This place was less formal than the restaurant he and Nic had been in. There were other patrons, brighter lights, more background noise.

However, he was socializing with Nic Gerrard again, wasn’t he? The weariness meant it was too easy to surrender to what he wanted, rather than what he should expect. He’d been aware of Nic in the background of the office tonight, all the time, even when the programming needed his attention. Nic’s cologne, his soft tutting when he dropped a printout—again—and the way the air seemed to vibrate when he brought coffee to and from Aidan’s workstation.

Aidan had been distracted—but he’d been thrilled too.

I am so screwed. He had to be way more careful.

The waitress returned with their food—a full breakfast for Nic, a mushroom omelet for Aidan, and plenty of juice and coffee—and this time they slipped comfortably enough into talking about other things. About food, about the décor in local restaurants, about the best and the worst of TV chefs, though Aidan confessed that he only watched TV programs in the office sometimes as a mental palate cleanser, when he was working late. Or, if he was honest, he just absorbed other people’s opinions as they chatted about it in the office. “You’ll think I live in another century,” he said wryly. It was what most people thought when he told them how few modern entertainments he enjoyed.

“You’re not missing much.” Nic shrugged, finishing a mouthful of steaming hash browns. “I’ve lost touch with everything I used to watch, before I launched Sparks and got dragged into the business world by my ears. But I can’t say I’ve lost sleep over it. Charlie keeps me up to date on the best and the worst of movies and boxsets, and I prefer to read my news and documentaries rather than watch them, with all the argument that follows.”

“When the hell do you have time to read?” Aidan smiled. The omelet had been really good and he’d been pleasantly surprised to find how enjoyable it was, for once, to eat someone else’s good cooking. He felt much better for eating a proper meal, too, having worked solidly through a couple of days and nights on the hacker problem. He felt comfortable here, and Nic had been good company. “You have the lifestyle of a rock star, so the media tells us. Everything you could want….”

Nic was suddenly still, his fork paused on the plate. “Yeah. I guess that’s how it looks. Fun and indulgence galore. Feel like swapping, Aidan?”

The harsh tone caught Aidan unprepared. “What?”

Nic shrugged, as if embarrassed he’d let that slip. But he was tired too, and the look he raised in reply was bleak. “It’s not exactly the joy it seems to others. Oh, I know I shouldn’t be complaining! The fame and the money… it’s been good to me, and I’d not want to lose it all. I’ve been poor, and I don’t want to be there again if I can do anything to prevent it. But it’s been a strain recently. I feel rather… stretched, I guess.”

“Stretched?” It was an odd word for Nic to turn on himself, though Aidan had heard Patti use it a couple of times, when she was scheduling Nic’s busy diary.

“Yeah. Between what I want in my life and what the businesses want from me. And…” He sighed. “And other people, too. That’s almost worse.”

Aidan blinked, trying to parse the genuine pain in Nic’s words. “You love people, or so I… well, I thought you did.”

“I do!” Nic protested, though not very strongly. “Most of ’em, anyway. And fuck, I sound like a whiny, ungrateful kid. But there are takers, Aidan, that drain even me. Hollow invitations, selfish expectations. There’s a special horror in feeling empty in the middle of a room full of others. Yet still knowing the pressure to smile, to give, to perform.

Aidan stared at him, truly amazed. Surely this wasn’t the Nic Gerrard that everyone knew? He spoke without thinking. “If it’s too much, why do you do it? Even Sparks… I’m surprised you’re still so involved. Why do you bother, when it’s just a business? You probably don’t need to be, it’s the most established. Especially with going public next week.”

Nic was silent for a minute, buttering some toast. He looked back at Aidan, and this time his dark blue eyes were calm again. “That’s where you’re wrong, Aidan. You have no idea how much.”

Aidan felt himself sinking into those sensual, dark pools of color. Eyes that were full of Nic’s thoughts; full—or so Aidan suspected—of his heart. What sort of man was this, who was so successful in the cutthroat commercial world, but could still seem so open, so vulnerable? Was it all some kind of a trick, the Gerrard effect?

Or was it true… and he was sharing it with Aidan?

Nic grimaced. “I’ve shocked you, haven’t I. I’m sorry. I don’t tell people about his side of it. In my experience, it’s the last thing they want to hear.”

“But you should be able to say what you think, what you mean.” Aidan knew he was out of his depth, but he felt an overwhelming need to stand up for Nic.

Nic blinked slowly, his eyes wide. “I… well, yes. Thanks for that, Aidan.”

It didn’t sound like sarcasm. Nic’s eyes looked suspiciously damp.

“And you see, the way I’m so inextricably linked with my business, I do need to be involved—and especially with Sparks. It’s what I want, anyway, because Sparks is not just a business to me. It was my first. I mean, people know that, but it was much more than just my first company. When I met Greg….” His voice trailed off for a moment, and he seemed to be lost in the memory.

Aidan tried to speak but couldn’t think of anything to say. He didn’t know if Nic was about to launch into some kind of intimate confession. He didn’t know how he felt about that.

Nic must have caught the flicker of discomfort in Aidan’s eyes, and turned a smile on him. “Hey, no worries. I’m not here to talk about past friends. Greg was the previous owner of Sparks, that’s all. He called it ‘Rapport’, did you know that? It never really got off the ground, but when he first started it up, he was damned fond of it, had all kinds of plans for it. That was the first time I discovered you could feel something for a business that was more than financial. That you should feel that, at least if you want it to succeed better than another—or if you want to get something far more rewarding out of it. That’s what Greg taught me, so much more than just the mechanics of business. The heart of it, too.”

Nic looked enchanted by that memory now, and Aidan felt an irrational and unjustified stab of jealousy.

“When he moved on, I was both proud and excited to take it over,” Nic continued. “Like I said, it was my first. And maybe nowadays, the only business I care about. Does that shock you too?”

Aidan was silent, but he couldn’t have torn his gaze away from Nic if he’d tried. He hung on every word, desperate to know more about Nic Gerrard’s life and past.

“It’s the whole concept, do you see?” Nic continued, his toast forgotten for the moment. His voice rose, full of a sudden passion. “It’s the joy of matching people successfully. It’s such a great idea that, from the very first day, I wanted to do it really well. I wanted to make it work where other agencies have taken people’s money and worn away their dreams with complacency and carelessness and broken promises. If I think I can’t place someone, I’ll say so. But otherwise, I know there’ll be someone out there for everyone. And I want to be the one who gets nearest to that dream.”

“Or achieves it,” Aidan added. He’d heard plenty of success stories in the office gossip. He was impressed with Nic’s enthusiasm for Sparks, almost despite himself. The man’s commitment shone through everything he said. And he was only now realizing it was so much more than an intellectual exercise for Nic.

“Yeah.” Nic’s eyes were sparkling again, his good humor restored. “That’s the greatest feeling of all! When someone calls back to say it’s gone well. That they’ve had the best date of their life. Dammit, that they’re getting married!”

“And for yourself?” Aidan bit back the words, but it was too late to stop them.

“What do you mean?”

“Your own desires. Dreams.” Seems like you don’t bother looking too closely into your own life, Aidan thought privately. “You spend all this time on others.”

Nic frowned. “I’m okay. It’s not about me. I don’t need the help others do. I’m out and about and surrounded by great people, aren’t I? I should be able to find what I want for myself.”

The rest was unspoken, but Aidan could imagine it. That’s what should happen, but maybe it didn’t. Maybe Nic didn’t know what he wanted. Or maybe he was just taking whatever was offered in the hope that he found his way eventually—even if accidentally—to something more rewarding.

He was making do. Aidan was startled with his new perception. Was it because he was in the same position?

“I know who I am, Aidan,” Nic continued, rather brusquely. “I’ve spent many years getting where I am today, and I’m comfortable with that. I’m not going to compromise, you know? I am as I am, all the good and the bad. I’ll have to take my chances with other people’s opinion.”

And as Nic gestured for a coffee refill, it looked like that was the end of the topic.

After the plates were cleared away, Nic excused himself to go to the restroom, and for a while Aidan sat there, the remains of his coffee growing cold in the cup in front of him.

There was no escaping it: the chill inside him was back. The strange, insidious feeling that he first discovered when he joined Sparks. That grew steadily worse as he spent longer and longer with Nic Gerrard. He’d thought it had passed, but now he was seeing more of the man again, and it was back. Back with a vengeance.

And the feeling was pain.

Be honest, said his mind’s voice, as it had many times before. He should follow Nic’s example; realize who he really was. What the pain really meant.

It came from being with Nic.

It’s a crush. It’s a fantasy. You need a proper vacation. Aidan berated himself with justification after justification, but the realization remained that he was drawn to Nic so seriously that it was affecting his health. All those months ago, as Nic Gerrard had seeped into more of his life than just the working hours, he’d been troubled with fractured sleep and a constant ache of frustration and humiliation. He’d struggled to suppress it, then to explain it away. Then to deny it existed.

But the troubled dreams were back. For the last few weeks, he’d had difficulty sleeping again. He was concerned about the new work on Sparks, and recently the threat of the hacker—but that didn’t account for all of his body’s reactions. His flesh ached some nights in places that he thought he’d put on ice for an indefinite time. He would wake with his hand between his legs, his fierce erection gripped in his palm, his skin burning with goose bumps and desire. Only a swift, anguished climax relaxed him, and even then, the memory and fascination didn’t wash away with his deliberately cold morning shower.

The thoughts of Nic Gerrard would still be with him, warm in spite of the chill water. The suggestion of the man’s hands on his body, washing him, the generous mouth laughing, but at something that he, Aidan, had said, the lithe body pressing against him, cajoling him back to bed, or maybe just to turn around, right here, right now….

Sure, he’d escaped the attraction for a while, when they ceased working so closely together. All for the better, he’d told himself at the time, with disproportionate relief.

But… now?

Now it was all going to be stirred up again. It was already happening.

I won’t give in to this, he told himself fiercely. He’d never had a personal relationship that had worked well. But then, he’d never felt quite this strongly about anyone before. So strongly that he seemed to burn when Nic was around. His skin felt as if it were rubbed raw. He remembered the thrill that could come from physical touch, not the betrayal and grief it had brought him before.

His own body was a traitor. And just who was that body responding to?

Nic Gerrard, everyone’s favorite entrepreneur. His employer. Nic, the playboy. Nic, the man who could—and did—have anyone he wanted.

Aidan nearly groaned aloud.

What the hell was he going to do?

Nic never returned to their table. Aidan watched him stop at the counter on the way back, presumably to pay for breakfast – without giving Aidan the chance to offer his share – just as another couple of guys came in to eat. They were noisy, laughing loudly. It looked like they’d come from an all-nighter, and the younger one was definitely still drunk.

“Nic!” he called with delight, and lurched up eagerly to the counter beside Nic. His friend looked around blearily, and slumped down in a chair over by the door, as if bored with the day already.

Aidan’s gaze fixed on the young man. He looked no more than a boy, though that was probably deceptive, and because he was so skinny and pale. His straw-blond hair was limp, his clothes too cold for the night air. His expression was weary with the look of too much drink and maybe drugs. There was a strange skittishness to his steps, his path weaving a little.

“Haven’t seen you since Bennie’s gig, Nic, you said you’d call!” His voice was too loud for the quiet bar. He was laughing nervously, and his hands were suddenly all over Nic. Nic smiled gently as he lifted one away from his waist, and he held the man back at arms’ length. But Aidan noticed that he wasn’t shocked by the attention.

“I’ll be with you in a minute, Aidan,” Nic called, drawing the blond man away to the side.

Aidan rose from his seat, and stood there, still watching. Nic and the boy talked quickly, with plenty of headshakes and hand waving from the blond. Their voices were too low now for Aidan to hear anything specific. At one stage the boy gave a small wail, and tried to grasp Nic’s jaw. But Nic turned away and beckoned over one of the bartenders. Aidan could see the frown on his face. He was obviously looking for some help to get the young man to leave.

Then, at the last minute, the blond boy gripped Nic’s shoulder, and fiercely twisted him around to face him. Aidan saw the flash of anger on Nic’s face. Even as a couple of staff reached them and put a restraining hand on the boy’s arm, he pulled Nic’s face down and kissed him fully on the mouth. Nic let it ride for a few seconds, then he pulled himself away.

“That’s enough, Jerry,” Aidan could hear Nic say, in a low, firm voice. “Go home. Find someone else, okay? I don’t want you coming after me again.” The boy flinched; his face crumpled. Then Nic deliberately turned his back. The conversation was over. The young man cursed, his voice muffled with what sounded like a sob, but he allowed the guys from the bar to draw him away. His caught his friend’s arm and they stumbled out together into the street.

Aidan stood stock still, examining the strange wave of emotion that shook through him after watching that scene. He remembered the comfort of the meal with Nic, the conversation that had been easier than with anyone else for a long time. It had been an oasis of pleasure that had begun to warm him.

Then he remembered the look on the young boy’s face, his pleasure at seeing Nic. A man Aidan didn’t know, but obviously another of Nic’s friends. And he recalled Nic’s harsh dismissal of him.

Why had Nic done that? Because he could, presumably.

Aidan cursed himself for, in all this remembering, he’d forgotten to watch out for himself. This was all going to hurt him badly: he knew that. Of course he did.

The only choice he had was whether he hurt now or later.

Aidan was standing outside the bar as Nic came striding out after him. Nic was relieved that Aidan was still there, but his pleasure turned swiftly to shock when Aidan snapped at him.

“How can you do that?”

“Do what? What do you mean?”

Aidan’s voice was hoarse, as if he had to force out the words. “Allow someone to touch you like that, then have them thrown out.”

Nic didn’t know whether to be upset or irritated. “Dammit, Aidan, it was hardly throwing him out! He was just… he was out of line. Though I suppose it was only a kiss.”

“You kiss strangers in bars a lot? Or let them kiss you?”

Nic almost laughed aloud, this scene was farcical! “He’s not a stranger. He’s an acquaintance. Was an acquaintance.” Don’t be such an asshole, Aidan. Why was the other man so upset about it? He knew nothing about the circumstances. “Leave it be.”

But Aidan wouldn’t. “He was pretty glad to see you. I don’t see why that’s out of line.”

“Look, I don’t know what this is about. I don’t want to talk about it, is all.”

“More than an acquaintance, I think. A friend?”

Nic stared at Aidan. What the fuck was going on? Why was Aidan nagging away at this? He was tired, he needed a nap before he could get on with the day’s work, and the scene inside had upset him. But he didn’t see why it was any damned business of Aidan West’s!

It was months ago that he’d told the boy in the bar—Jerry—to give up his drugs; that he didn’t need that shit to enjoy his life. Nic had offered to help him, too, though their sexual relationship had been brief and transitory. He didn’t preach to his lovers, and he had enough experience of life to have touched on recreational drugs himself, though they didn’t appeal to him now. But he’d had no idea how deeply Jerry was into it when he met him. The kid was bright and witty, but he was wasting a large part of his life in being high, rather than celebrating all the other things he could have been doing. Nic had wanted to help him out of it.

But it looked like Jerry had ignored him. He protested that he still wanted Nic, that he wanted to be with him, but every time he engineered these ‘accidental’ meetings with Nic, it was just an excuse to insinuate himself back in with the party crowd that got him his supplies. Those weren’t Nic’s people, and never had been—Jerry was using Nic’s name to open doors, to get him what he wanted, a trick that Nic abhorred. He used to look at the boy and feel sad; he’d likely be wasted within years. But perhaps he’d finally had enough of being used by him—or perhaps it was just this morning. Whatever the reason, he didn’t want to be drawn back into Jerry’s strange, painful world any more, and he’d not let the boy come on to him anymore. Enough was enough.

And he didn’t need grief from Aidan as well! They stood on the sidewalk outside the bar in the small hours of the morning, arguing about God knows what, while straggling, early workers and late revelers dodged around them. Nic definitely didn’t need this.

“Okay, he was more than an acquaintance, if you want to know. But less than a friend.”

Aidan’s gaze was cold and steady. “How do you measure that?”

“What? You want to write a program for it?” Nic couldn’t believe the tone of his voice, the bickering in it, the hostility. But he couldn’t hold himself back. He could feel his anger rising in the face of Aidan’s aggression.

“No, just interested.”

“I knew him closely for a month or so.”

“So… an acquaintance might be known, let’s say, for a week, a friend for much longer. People like that kid come somewhere in between. So let’s look at the other parameters. At what stage does the kiss come in? And how many weeks for a quick fuck? I assume that’s what he was?”

Nic was shocked at the crude language from Aidan. He was amazed that Aidan was disturbed enough to use it. What the hell had happened to the relaxed, friendly mood of just a short while ago? “Jesus, Aidan, you are so damned offensive! How dare you talk to me like that?”

Aidan must have had some kind of death wish, because he wasn’t letting go of it. “It’s an unforgivable abuse of people, Nic. You say you’re comfortable with yourself, but what about everyone else? You’re in the spotlight, it’s only natural that they come to you for attention, but then you use them—”

“Now wait a fucking minute! What sort of guy do you think I am?”

“Am I wrong?”

Aidan’s face was flushed. The expression on his face was pained. Nic had rarely known anyone fly into such anger, so quickly.

“So when they come fawning over you,” Aidan said, almost breathless. “Do you send them home before or after you’ve had your fun?”

“If it’s offered, why not?” Nic snapped back. “They’re adults—they can make their own decisions, can’t they?” And that’s not what he meant to say, because it wasn’t strictly true, he did care about the people he came into contact with, but, boy, did he hate people who made him lose his temper!

And Aidan was relentless. “That’s your philosophy in life, is it? Take anything and everything that comes your way?”

“Is this because you have a problem with me and guys? How dare you!”

“No—not that.” Aidan’s anger faltered for a second, but his words continued to spill out. “I don’t care who you fuck. It’s your promiscuity that’s so disgusting.”

Nic gasped. He couldn’t believe the bolt of pain that shot through him. “Who the fuck do you think you are, saying that? What if I am promiscuous? At least I’m connecting with people, not always hiding away behind a damned screen, judging things you have no real fucking knowledge of!”

Aidan’s eyes flashed in anger: his fists clenched at his sides. Nic couldn’t help his feverish reaction to this man; he saw the gold glints inside the deep brown irises, and he felt a rush of fury to his brain and desire to his groin—he’d never known such conflict inside himself. For that moment, the street seemed to clear—no one was nearby to hear this nonsense, to feel the fury in the air between them. Was violence on the cards?

Aidan’s sharp voice cut through all of it, harsh and low. “Connecting? That’s what you call it? Fucking everything in sight?”

“Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it!”

Aidan drew a deep breath, but it didn’t seem to calm him at all. “So you say I should try it?”

“Maybe you should, then you wouldn’t be so fucking holier than thou about me—”

Nic’s next words were lost as his breath was crushed under Aidan’s hands, hands that pressed hard on his chest, pushing him back against the wall. He was shocked at Aidan’s strength—the muscles he’d guessed at under the shirt were tight and perfectly controlled. Aidan bent his arm across Nic’s chest, forcing him into the cold brick, and the other hand gripped his chin.

And then he kissed him.

It wasn’t just a kiss—it was like a declaration of war! Nic didn’t know how someone could kiss so passionately and yet so damned aggressively. He was paralyzed, and for that moment, totally submissive. The whole smell, the whole feel of Aidan was suddenly swamping him, his face pressed against Nic’s, the mouth moist and sweet but hard at the same time, his tongue forcing through Nic’s shocked lips, to probe at Nic’s, to run fiercely around inside his mouth, seeking out the corners, the curves, the taste. Aidan’s hand moved from Nic’s chin and gripped him by the shoulder, hard. The other hand released the hold on Nic’s chest and grabbed behind his neck, tangling into Nic’s hair, tugging his head forward into Aidan’s embrace.

Nic could do nothing but respond. Fuck, he wanted to do nothing but respond! He’d never had a kiss like it, from man or woman. Almost shamefully, he felt his erection pressing hard against his zipper, and knew that Aidan would feel it too. There was an answering pressure from the other man’s groin, but before he could find out if Aidan was as aroused as he was, the invading mouth wrenched away.

“Jesus.” Nic gasped for breath. The movement of his fingers to his lips was completely unconscious. He thanked God he was still propped against the wall, doubting his legs would hold him up otherwise. His cock was swollen and ached beyond belief, straining against the front of his pants.

Aidan’s gaze darted down to Nic’s groin then back up to his face. “You want to fuck me?” he hissed. His lips were swelled with the fierce kiss, his eyes bright like ice in sunlight. Like a reflection in a sharpened knife, Nic thought, his mind still reeling. Aidan stepped back, away from Nic, swaying slightly.

Nic’s voice wouldn’t work, though he knew his body screamed its own answer. Aidan never gave him any chance to reply, anyway.

“You do, don’t you?” he said, his tone low and vicious. “Well, why wouldn’t you? I’m just another employee to you, another body, another consumable. But you can just get over it. Because—unlike all those other bodies—I don’t want to fuck you!”

Aidan was very pale and shaking, as if he was struggling to keep himself under control: as Nic stared dumbly, he saw the jerky pulse at Aidan’s throat. Then Aidan turned around abruptly and started to walk away.

Nic watched him in complete, stunned amazement; the straight back, the finely shaped legs, the most perfect ass he’d ever seen… and the fists, clenched again so tightly at Aidan’s sides that the knuckles were white.

Nic stood slumped against the wall, gulping in the early morning air like a drowning man and trying to calm his racing heartbeat.

So what the hell had all that meant?


 

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