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Mr. Player

___ETHAN POV

I sighed as I tugged at the tie around my neck, trying to loosen it a bit more.

“Ethan! Leave it alone. You look perfect,” Sophie insisted as she swatted my hands away.

“Seriously, Sophie? I look like, like. . . well, I don’t look like me,” I pouted.

“And thank god for that,” she snarked.

“Hey!”

“Hey what, Ethan? Your ‘usual’ attire just won’t cut it tonight, alright? This is an important night for me. This show always attracts a number of designers and agents, and if they like my stuff I might get an internship.” She tightened up my tie again, practically choking me in the process. “Besides, you look good and there’s somebody I want you to meet.”

“Sophia,” I whined.

“Shut up, Ethan. Olivia is a great girl.”

I huffed and shut up. I was sure Olivia was a great girl, and right there was the problem—she was a girl. I hadn’t come out to my sister yet, so Sophia took every opportunity to try to fix me up with girls she thought would be right for me.

Awkward.

“Honestly, Ethan. I don’t understand you. You’re so fickle. I’m not asking you to marry anyone yet, but at least go out, have some fun, get laid,” she grumbled.

I grimaced. I really didn’t want to discuss my sex life with Sophia or, rather, my lack of a sex life. I wasn’t a virgin, but the one night stands at the clubs inevitably left me unsatisfied. I’d even slept with a woman once, just to make sure. It was my high school girlfriend, Chloe, and I spent most of the time looking at the poster of Leonardo DiCaprio she had above her bed and pretending I was fucking him. That pretty much sealed the deal for me. Chloe and I remained friends after we broke up, and she was also the only person I’d come out to.

When I finally passed Sophia’s inspection we headed out the door. Our destination for the evening was her school. Sophia was graduating from art college, and that night there was an exhibit for several of the graduates to showcase their work. Sophia was a clothing designer, but she told me there would also be works by a couple of painters, a sculptor, and even a weaver.

I wasn’t looking forward to it. I’d always found the shows Sophia dragged me to pretentious, and usually didn’t like the artwork either. I hated the way people milled about talking about the artist’s “mood” or “influence,” or how the painting “evoked” a visceral reaction in them, when all I could see was something that looked like a child finger painted.

Don’t get me wrong, I was very proud of Sophia, but I’d already seen all of her designs, and, by nature, I didn’t mingle well. At the clubs it was different. I’d have a couple of drinks, the lighting was dim, the crowds were heavy, and I could lose myself in the anonymity. At events like Alice’s, I had to actually stop and talk to people I didn’t know, and discuss topics I had little interest in. All I wanted to do was stay home and work on my latest piece. My friend Lily told me her dance company was looking for some new music, so I was writing something specifically for her, to showcase her abilities.

We arrived and Sophia immediately began squealing with excitement, then she turned to me and warned, “This is important to me, Ethan. Play nice.”

I plastered a fake smile on my face, but under my breath I muttered, “Don’t push your luck little one.”

She stuck out her tongue at me before grinning, and I couldn’t help the real smile that crept across my face. My sister may have been a pain in the ass at times, but I did love her. And since our parents died, we only had each other. So, I linked my arm through hers and we walked in. And it was . . . exactly as I’d imagined it. Pretentious artists, mingling with pretentious wannabe art critics and collectors, all while being preened over by the parents of said pretentious artists.

I grabbed a glass of wine from a passing waiter and made my way around as Sophia detached herself from me to go check on her pieces. I looked across the room as she walked away, and nearly tripped and fell when my eyes landed on a thing of beauty. He was about six feet tall, had blond hair that fell across his forehead in lazy waves, and he was dressed casually—black pants that hung loose and low on his hips, a thin blue v-neck t-shirt, and a couple of necklaces completed his look. His face had a layer of scruff that gave him the look of someone who couldn’t be bothered to shave that day, and instead of looking affected it made him look sexy as hell. But what riveted me were his eyes; they were a vivid blue that made me think of sunny islands and the feel of hands rubbing lotion on my skin. Lost in my ogling, it took me a moment to notice that his lovely mouth—and dear god, those lips of his—had quirked up in a smirk, and I flushed to the roots of my hair as I realized that I’d been caught staring.

I spun away, nearly spilling my drink in the process and quickly walked to one of the alcoves on the other side of the huge room, where a series of sculptures were on display. I downed the wine and grabbed another one as a server walked past me. I took a few deep breaths, and a few more sips of wine, and tried to put the smirking beauty out of my mind. I started to tour the exhibits.

Boring.

Ugly.

Really?

Huh. Interesting.

The paintings were . . . interesting. No, not interesting, captivating—wild and yet, sensual.

“What do you think?” a male voice behind me asked; the southern inflection was unmistakable.

Without taking my eyes off the painting I told him what I thought and added, “The figures are anonymous, almost androgynous even, yet they exude such sensuality, and the brushstrokes are so big, so raw, it’s almost . . .”

“Almost?” he egged.

“Almost like the artist was finger painting,” I finished.

He moved closer and then his breath was against my ear as he whispered, “I was finger painting.”

My breath hitched and my body froze. Could it be him? I wondered. Gathering my courage, I turned around slowly, but no one was there. My eyes darted around the room looking for him, but I didn’t see him anywhere. My breathing started to come in pants and from across the room I could see Sophia with a tall tanned woman, and it was obvious she was looking for me. No way could I deal with meeting one of her friends at that moment. I turned and walked in the opposite direction, looking for somewhere to be alone for just a few minutes. I needed to collect myself, and I also realized that his low voice in my ear had me partially aroused. Jesus, if just a whisper from him could do that to me . . . I shuddered.

I found a small hallway with three closed doors. The first two were locked, but the third opened to a small storeroom. I sat down on a crate and loosened the stupid fucking tie Sophia made me wear, then scrubbed my hands over my face before putting them on my knees. I leaned forward and just concentrated on my breathing. When I’d calmed a bit, I thought about him. He was stunning, and talented, but what game was he playing? Why tune me up and then walk away? Was he just messing with me? Straight guy making an ass out of the gay guy?

“What the fuck?” I groused.

“What the fuck, indeed,” his low voice repeated.

I jumped from my perch on the crate and spun around; I never even heard the door. I found him leaning casually against it; legs crossed at the ankles, arms crossed in front of his chest. Those impossibly blue eyes of his were regarding me like I was a curiosity, but there was something else there too, behind the studied gaze, something . . .

“I’ve been watching you all night,” he drawled, and he pushed himself off the door and began walking toward me. “You’re not like the others, the ones who come to make themselves feel more cultured.”

I shook my head, but my mouth didn’t seem to want to work. My heart began thumping hard in my chest, and my body felt like it was buzzing. He took another step toward me, and for some reason I took one back.

“You liked my paintings,” he stated. Another step forward, another back.

“Yes,” I whispered, but I couldn’t take my eyes off his mouth. Two more steps and my back hit the shelving behind me. He kept moving forward until he was inches away from me. His right hand reached out and grabbed the shelf on my left, partially caging me.

“Why?” he asked.

When I didn’t respond, he gripped my chin in his hand and lifted it, forcing me to meet his eyes. “Mmmm, there you are. Now answer the question, chère.”

I gulped as I stared at him, his eyes pinning me in place. “Because they’re so sensual, erotic, it’s like you’re painting the people themselves, making love to them with your brushes or fingers, even though I can’t tell if they’re men or women,” I answered, ending on a whisper and a prayer.

His lush mouth stretched into a smirk as he leaned a little closer and said, “I am painting them, and I do make love to their forms as I paint, but I am also painting my lovers, and to answer your unasked question, some are women, some are men.” He pulled back a bit and allowed his gaze to roam over my body. “I’d love to paint you,” he said, his voice pitched low.

“But we’re not lovers,” I breathed.

“Well then, chère, we’ll just have to remedy that, won’t we?”

And then his mouth was on mine, commanding and insistent, and his lips were soft, full and warm, and when his tongue grazed me, seeking entrance, I moaned and opened to him, allowing him to explore and taste me. He pressed up against me, and I…

…I flung the door open and stormed out.

What was it with the guy and disappearing? How did he know my name? And when could we do that again? Because I’d just had the best fuck of my life.

I stepped back into the exhibit room, my eyes scanning for the beautiful blond painter, when I heard Sophia’s shrill, “There you are, Ethan!”

I closed my eyes and bit my tongue in frustration, but turned to face her. “Hey, Sophia.” To her left was the blond glamazon I’d seen earlier.

“Where have you been, Ethan?”

“Sorry, I just had to step outside for a minute for some fresh air.”

“Oh. I thought maybe you tried to sneak out without me,” she grinned. “I know you hate coming to these. Anyway, Ethan, this is my friend Olivia. Olivia, this is my brother, Ethan.”

I extended my hand and shook hers, polite as ever. “A pleasure to meet you, Olivia.”

“Likewise,” she said with the hint of a familiar accent. She moved slightly to the side and there he stood, in all his blond-haired, blue-eyed glory, a shit-eating-grin on his face. “This is my brother Elijah,” she said. “His work is on display here tonight, too. He’s wonderful,” she cooed, obviously proud of him.

“E . . . Elijah,” I stuttered, extending my hand to him and squeezing a bit harder than necessary.

He grinned wider. “A pleasure to meet you, Ethan. Alice has told me so much about you,” he returned.

I continued to grip his hand. “Why don’t you show me your work, Elijah,” I said with a slight snarl.

“Certainly,” he replied, pulling me toward him and placing his arm around my shoulders like we were long time friends. He looked over his shoulder at Sophia and Olivia. “I’m just going to show Ethan here my display. I’ll have him back to you in a few minutes, chères.”

I felt a shudder of desire course through me at the sound of that endearment. We walked back over to the spot we first “met,” and I turned to face him. “You mind telling me what’s going on here, Elijah?” I didn’t know if I should feel angry, hurt, used, or flattered . . . the entire thing was kind of surreal, and yet my body still leaned toward his, hungry for more.

“I’m sorry, Ethan. I didn’t plan any of this, truly,” he said as he brushed his hair off his forehead. “Sophia talks about you so much, I almost feel like I know you, and when she met Olivia and wanted to set you two up, I just assumed you were straight, and that was that. But after the eye-fucking you gave me earlier . . .” he took a breath. “Your family doesn’t know you’re gay, do they?”

I shook my head. “It’s just me and Sophia, and I haven’t told her.”

“It’s not really my business, but why not? She’s a pretty accepting person.”

“I don’t really know,” I laughed. “I guess it’s just not something you blurt out to your baby sister over your morning coffee.” I shrugged. There really wasn’t a good reason. It was just awkward and I was avoiding it.

“What about you?”

“Oh, my family knows about my ‘proclivities,’ as they call them. Only Olivia gets it. Our parents seem to think I’ll ‘grow out of it’ and settle down with a nice girl and give them lots of fat grand bébés.”

I laughed at the image. He took a step toward me and ran his thumb along my mouth.

“You really are beautiful,” he said. “Sophia was right about that.”

I blushed and tried to stammer a response.

“Hush now, chère. The only thing I want to know, is whether you want to get out of here with me right now?”

“Hell yes,” I replied.

He smiled wide and beautiful, then grabbed me by the hand and dragged me back over to Sophia and Olivia.

“We’re getting out of here,” he said without preamble and began to pull me along.

Olivia smirked at me, her eyes full of mirth, and I winked back.

“But . . . but . . . but Ethan!” Sophia sputtered, and chased after us. “What about Olivia? You know I just want you to meet somebody nice.”

I let go of Elijah’s hand for a moment and hugged my sister tight before whispering in her ear, “I did sweetie. I did.” I pulled back and placed my hand in Elijah’s again, and watched as her eyes went wide with understanding. I laughed, and as Elijah and I walked away, I yelled over my shoulder, “Don’t wait up!”

***

 

 

ELİJAH POV

I’d always been bisexual, and had experimented some before leaving home and coming to Chicago, but for a young man from a small town in Texas’ Golden Triangle—where roughnecks, refinery workers, and dockhands were the most common occupations, handed down from generation to generation, each father proudly gaining his son admittance into their chosen profession upon high school graduation; a rite of passage as ubiquitous as taking them to Aunt Maya’s two towns over when they turned fourteen to “make them men,” just as their fathers had taken them—the pickings were slim in the “experimental” department.

As the children of a grade school teacher and a local cop, Olivia and mine’s lives weren’t quite as circumscribed as others. Our horizons were expanded by books and music, and mom made a point of taking us to museums and exhibits, even driving us to Houston a few times a year. Still, they were the products of their own upbringings—meaning that they were staunch Catholics, with fierce ties to our family’s Cajun roots. Once a year we made the trek to Lafayette, back in Louisiana, for the annual Paxon family reunion. Daddy’s grand-pere moved out to Beaumont in 1901 when they tapped Spindletop, but the rest of the family was still back in Lafayette.

So all in all, despite being relatively open minded folk, my parents weren’t exactly excited when I told them I was bi. I think my momma’s exact words were, “Are you sure honey? Maybe we should talk to Father Thomas.” While Daddy got up, grabbed a beer from the fridge and walked out onto the porch.

I do have to give them credit though. They didn’t shun me, or turn me out like Austin Hemmen’s parents did when he came out. I heard his daddy didn’t even come to Austin’s funeral when he was found beaten to death, the word “fag” cut into his forehead.

Olivia, of course, took the news with the same unflappable attitude she had for everything. “Well it’s about fucking time. But if you ever try to sleep with one of my boyfriends, I’ll put Nair in your shampoo bottle.”

About a year after I moved to Chicago—and my parents were right proud of me for getting an art scholarship and being the first man in the family to go to college—I came home for Thanksgiving. I finished unpacking and as I headed back downstairs, I heard my parents talking.

“Maybe he met a nice girl,” Momma said.

My daddy just snorted. “In Chicago? If he wanted a nice girl, he would’a found one right here at home,” he said.

I walked into the room and it became too quiet. “So, I guess you don’t want to hear about my boyfriend?” I watched their faces, my father trying real hard not to look apoplectic. “Just kidding!” I said, holding up my hands. “I’m not seeing anybody right now.”

I heard my father breathe a sigh of relief, but to his credit he didn’t say anything. My momma on the other hand . . .

“Oh well, chère, I hope you’re not lonely out there in the big city.”

“Well now Momma, I didn’t say I was alone now did I,” I smirked and tossed a handful of peanuts into my mouth.

Momma blushed and Daddy huffed, “I will not have you parading your proclivities in front of your mother, Elijah!”

I felt myself bristle. “My proclivities?”

“Yes. Your proclivities. It’s damned . . . hedonistic,” he finally spat out.

I nearly choked on a peanut. There was my father: conservative, Catholic, a cop—a real man’s man—and he was taking me to task about my apparent promiscuity, not the fact that I slept with men. I shook my head in wonder. “Damn Daddy and Aunt Maya’s wasn’t hedonistic?”

“Mikel Paxon! You and I will be having a talk later,” Momma barked.

Daddy shot me a look that told me I was in a world of shit when he got me alone.

“Now chère,” Daddy said to Momma. “Don’t you fret your pretty little head about Aunt Maya’s. I just did what every daddy does for his boy. You know you’re the only woman for me,” he purred at her as he wrapped her up in his arms and planted one on her that left her breathless.

I grinned. Oh yeah, I knew exactly what side of the family my “proclivities” came from.

Momma smoothed back her hair and gave Daddy a swat on the arm, then turned to me. “You still seeing girls?”

I nodded.

“Well then, I’m sure you’ll meet the right one and get settled down. Your daddy and I are expecting lots of fat grand bébés .”

I laughed. “Alright Momma, I’ll do my best.”

Of course, I hadn’t told them about Elizabeth…

***

“…Why haven’t we done that before?” I asked.

I felt him laughing behind me, while Elizabeth reached over and ruffled my hair, and we all started to chuckle. And that’s what I loved about being with Elizabeth and Ruby; it was always easy, always light, always . . . fun. No strings, no expectations, just acceptance and fun. We all fell asleep tangled in each other, but I woke a few hours later and slipped out.

As often happened when I was with my lovers, I was wired and inspired. I made my way back to my loft and several hours later, I was staring at a mostly finished canvas portraying the three of us. Of course, no one would actually recognize who was in the painting, but I would . . . and I knew Ruby and Elizabeth would as well.

Before meeting them my work was tepid, restrained. But Elizabeth, and eventually Ruby, opened my eyes to my own sexuality, and to understand that it did not have to be confined by the small town, conservative mores I’d been raised with. After meeting them, my burgeoning sex life became reflected in my work; the freedom I’d found in sex mirrored in my artwork. It became more playful, more sensual, and eventually I found a way to outright combine the two—painting my lovers, inspired by them.

I met Sophia during our third year in school when I decided to a take a class on silk screening. She was cute and elfin, and I would have liked to fuck her to see if she was as limber as she appeared, but she was dating a guy named Varen at the time, total asshole, unfortunately by the time she figured it out and they broke up, Sophia and I’d become good friends and she wasn’t the “no-strings-attached” type. So, we just remained good friends. Good and platonic friends.

When she first started talking to me about her brother, Ethan, I thought maybe she was trying to set us up, but then she went on about this girl and that girl that she’d set him up with, and I assumed he was straight, particularly after Sophia met Olivia during Spring Break and decided to try and set them up. There were a couple of times I nearly met him, but the timing just never worked out.

Until the night of our graduation exhibits.

I saw them walk in together, and I knew it was Ethan immediately. Sophia had always complained about his wild, hair, and even though Edward was tall and broad shouldered, in comparison to Alice’s tiny frame, their coloring—auburn hair (which Alice dyed black), and vivid green eyes—coupled with their lush mouths, made it very clear that they were related.

And fucking hell was he gorgeous. As much as I’d wanted to fuck Sophia when I first met her, seeing Ethan was like pouring kerosene on a fire. Still, Sophia had insisted that we introduce Ethan and Olivia, so I tried to rein in my attraction. I stood along the back wall, watching them move through the crowd.

I saw Ethan tug lightly at the collar of his shirt, clearly uncomfortable with Sophia’s pick—and I had no doubt Sophia chose his clothes since she often wailed over his sartorial choices. I watched him eye the crowd warily. It was obvious he didn’t want to be there, and it was equally obvious that he didn’t care for the people present. I strolled around the edge of the room, studying him. I saw him grab a glass of wine, and as Sophia wandered off, his eyes found me.

I can honestly say I’ve never been so thoroughly eye-fucked in my life. I felt naked under his gaze. Exposed. Aroused. His face radiated desire and lust, and oh my fuck, it was exhilarating. When he realized he was busted, the most glorious blush spread across his skin, and I wanted to touch that heated flesh and see if it felt as good as it looked. He turned and tried to make an escape, although I did see him stumble. I followed him through the exhibits, standing to the back, keeping myself hidden by bystanders and pillars.

Nothing interested him, and I think I saw him snort in derision at one or two of the exhibits. I felt butterflies as we approached mine. What would he think? Would he be as contemptuous of my work as he was of the others? And since when did I care what someone thought of my work? I’d learned to shelve the need for approval in my artwork; striving instead to create what felt right to me, yet there I was hoping and praying that this beautiful man would like my paintings.

There was no snort.

There was no sneer.

There was no roll of his eyes.

Instead there was curiosity.

There was interest.

There was . . . excitement?

I saw Ethan stare at one that I knew was me and a lovely boy named Elijah, and although I always kept my subjects ambiguous, androgynous even at times, I couldn’t help but feel that Ethan was seeing the scene for exactly what it was.

And that turned me on to no end.

I walked up behind him and whispered in his ear, although what I really wanted to do was… myself . . . a little.

From the sound of his voice and his reactions to me as I continued to whisper in his ear, he was turned on and on edge as I was. But I saw Sophia heading our way and snuck off before she could corner us. I still wasn’t sure what was going on. Was Ethan bi, like me? In which case I would have to back off and give Olivia a chance. Or, was he in the closet and appeasing his family?

I kept an eye on Sophia, who’d found Olivia, who was busy ogling Levi Zane. Levi was a good guy; he took a couple years off of school to take care of his mom when she was dying, so he wasn’t going to graduate until after us, but the metalwork sculptures that he welded were just amazing. He was a big, good looking man. In fact, he looked more like an NFL lineman than a sculptor but he was absolutely Olivia’s type. I nearly lost sight of Ethan slipping into a supply room as I tried to get Olivia’s attention.

I jerked my head in Ethan’s direction, pointed at her and waggled my hand in the universal “so-what-do-you-think” gesture and she shook her head—not interested. Good. I’d never filch someone Olivia wanted. Then her eyebrows went up and she grinned at me. I nodded and laughed before heading off in search of Ethan.

Catching Ethan in the supply room was fun.

He was off his game. Awkward. Adorable. Shy. And a mess of other adjectives that all meant he was stuttering his replies and backing away from me, while still licking his lips and staring at my mouth. When I told him I wanted to paint him and he replied that we weren’t lovers, the “yet” hung so desperately in the air, I couldn’t deny him.

If catching Ethan in the supply room was fun,…

***

ELİJAH POV

So like the smart ass that I was, I kissed him, and thanked him using his name, knowing it would confuse him, and then beat feet out of there.

I have to admit to a perverse pleasure in watching Ethan’s facial expressions when we were finally “introduced.” Like I said, smart ass. But his reaction after, the way he squeezed my hand when we shook, the way he snarled in anger at me when he asked me to show him my work, made me realize that I’d taken things too far, and that Ethan was probably very confused and hurt. So I apologized to him for my deceit and honestly explained what passed between us. I was a smart ass, but I’ve always prided myself on not being a total asshole. It may be a fine line, but there is a difference.

As much as I tried to feel contrite and hold back, I couldn’t get over my attraction to him. He was just so fucking beautiful, and I couldn’t wait to get him back into my bed, or rather actually into my bed. I couldn’t wait to run my hands over his body once more, with more time to explore all that sensual energy he exuded. I couldn’t wait to see what other responses I could provoke and evoke. And I really couldn’t fucking wait to put him on canvas.

I reached out and ran my thumb along his mouth, imagining him sucking on it, his perfect, pink tongue flicking over it. “You really are beautiful,” I told him. “Sophia was right about that.”

That gorgeous blush of his resurfaced . . . I was going to need to create an entirely new color to define it. The stammering was back, but I silenced him and asked if he wanted to leave with me, praying inside that I hadn’t screwed things up between us, because I really was nowhere near done with him yet.

His enthusiastic response nearly made me hard again, and I grabbed his hand and pulled him over to Olivia and Sophia. And then?

He came out of the fucking closet.

Just like that.

It was the bravest, most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

And I think it was the moment I fell in love with Ethan Nash.

***

 

 

ETHAN POV

 

Elijah and I ran out of the exhibit hand in hand. My heart was racing and I could feel that my cheeks were flushed. My body was thrumming with excitement. We rushed outside without a care, and within minutes we were soaked to the bone by a sudden downpour.

I didn’t even know where we were headed, I just ran down the street, giddy with the adrenSophian coursing through my system, until I felt Elijah pull my hand and yell, “Ethan! Ethan!”

I turned to look at him and his eyes were shining with excitement, energy, desire. He pulled me under an awning and pushed me against the wall. “That is the hottest fucking thing I’ve seen in,” he paused for a beat, “I don’t know how long, but fuck.” The “fuck” was drawn out with his accent, and…

…wanting. “Tell me you live close by,” I panted as he moved his mouth across my jaw and down my throat.

“Close enough, chère” he growled.

Ten minutes later we were making our way up the stairwell of a building. We only had three stories to go, but it took us a good fifteen minutes to make the climb because we kept stopping to kiss and torment each other along the way. By the second landing my shirt was open, the buttons scattered somewhere on the stairs and I had Elijah pinned against the wall,.. high school kid with raging hormones.

His shirt clung to him, a second skin with his nipples showing hard against the fabric. His rain darkened hair was a wavy mess; it made him look wild and predatory. His eyes were darker, hungrier, and his lips were red and swollen from my kisses.

My mouth moved along whatever bits of skin I could find—his cheeks, his chin, his throat, his neck, his ears, I even pulled down the neck of his shirt so I could lick his collar bones. His hands scrabbled under my clothes and over my back, the rain having made my skin slick and slippery, until he finally gripped me by the hair and tugged my head back.

Looking me in the eyes he said, “I am… my bed, chère.”

I think the only response I managed was a whimper and a nod.

Elijah smiled, wide and beautiful, then grabbed my hand and pulled me the rest of the way up to his loft.

I hardly paid attention to a thing inside; all of my attention was on the stunning man in front of me as I allowed him to pull and push me to his bed. We fought our way out of our wet clothes, laughing as Elijah’s pants tangled around his ankles and at the difficulty I had removing my wet socks. Finally though, we were standing naked before each other.

I felt my skin heat as Elijah’s gaze roamed over my body. “Perfect,” I heard him whisper. My blush started at my toes and traveled through me, until I could feel the heat of it in the tips of my ears. I dropped my eyes. “Oh no, chère, don’t ever look away from me,” he whispered as he wrapped a hand behind my neck and brought his mouth to mine.

As frantic and desperate as we’d been in the stairwell, our movements morphed into something slower, softer, more deliberate. His arms wrapped around me as he kissed me deep, his hand skimming up and down my skin and, finally…

…me.

Then he noticed my tears.

“Oh god, baby, did I hurt you?”

I shook my head.

“Please look at me, Ethan. Please open your eyes.”

I opened my eyes, knowing that the tears were still coming, but I couldn’t stop them.

“You . . . you didn’t hurt me,” I managed to stutter out.

Elijah’s hand moved to smooth the hair away from my face, brushing the sweaty strands that stuck to my forehead over to the side. His eyes didn’t leave mine. “Then what’s wrong chère? Tell me what’s wrong.”

“Nothing, it’s just . . . overwhelming. I’ve never,” I shook my head. “I’ve never experienced anything like that. That was . . .” I felt like an idiot, unable to express what I feeling. “No one has ever made me feel like that.”

Elijah pulled out of me carefully and then kissed me. “I’ll be right back,” he whispered. He returned a minute later with a wet washcloth and gently, almost reverently, cleaned me. When he was done he tossed the washcloth to the side and gathered me in his arms.

We lay there quietly for a while, recovering our breath, our equilibrium.

“I’m sorry about before,” I began, ashamed of my reaction.

“Hush now chère,” he chided. “There’s nothing to be sorry for. In fact,” his voice lowered, “I can’t tell you how much I like the fact that I made you feel that way.”

“Yeah?” I asked, trying to gauge if he was just making me feel better or really felt that way.

“Oh yeah,” he responded, and pressed against me. I could feel…

“Beautiful, I haven’t even begun,” he whispered against my skin.

I don’t know how long we kept at it. I know that I’ve never…

***

 

 

I awoke to sunlight streaming through the windows. I turned to find Elijah, but the bed was empty. Quelling my disappointment, I wrapped the sheet around myself and got up. I chuckled as I moved a little stiffly, my muscles sore from the night before, unused to the rigorous workout they received.

I could hear music coming from the other side of the loft. I padded across the wood floors, enjoying the places where the sunlight that streamed in from the giant windows warmed the pine. The windows were set into a long expanse of brick that gave the space an older, lived in feel.

Canvases covered nearly every wall and I immediately recognized them as Elijah’s work. I walked into a space delineated by I-beams, a drafting table, and a low, flat file bank of drawers. An easel was set in the middle with a partially finished painting. I flushed as I reSophiazed the scene was of Elijah and I. Only I would know it was me, but the ecstasy on my face was so clear, it was almost embarrassing. I turned and caught sight of a sketchbook thrown on the drafting table.

It was open and I could see sketches of me, so I began to look. After the first I kept flipping pages.

Me looking at someone, eyes heavy lidded and lips parted.

My head thrown back, eyes closed, hands clutching the sheets.

On my knees in front of an unidentified torso.

A full body sketch of me sleeping on my stomach, my head turned to the side and resting on my arm.

A close up of me sleeping, on my back this time, arm flung over my head and bent at the elbow, lips slightly parted.

I heard a toilet flush and spun around to see Elijah walk out of the bathroom. He was wearing a pair of boxers, but nothing else, and there were smears of paint on his chest, his shoulder, even across his cheek.

“You’re awake,” he said with a grin.

“I . . . I . . . is this how you see me?” I gestured to the sketchbook, the canvas.

Elijah’s brows furrowed. “Why? Don’t you like it?”

“I do. It’s just . . . just—”

“Just what?”

“You make me look beautiful,” I whispered as I looked at the sketchbook again.

I felt Elijah behind me, his arms wrapped around my waist and his chin rested on my shoulder as we both looked down at the drawing of me in an obvious state of orgasm. “That’s because you are beautiful, Ethan. I don’t make you look beautiful. If anything, I feel inadequate to the task of showing the world how magnificent you are.”

I shook my head, unwilling to believe it. I knew I was a handsome man. I’d never had trouble finding a trick at the clubs, but what Elijah drew? It couldn’t be me.

“No. I’m not—”

“Hasn’t anyone ever told you that you’re beautiful, chère?”

“Only my mom, but, you know, she was my mom,” I said chuckling. “I knew she was biased.”

“No she wasn’t. She was honest,” he responded, then turned me in his arms and kissed me, pulling the sheet away from my body. “You are more than beautiful,” he said between kisses.

I could feel my body respond to his, as if it hadn’t been completely spent just hours before. I pulled away and wrapped the sheet around myself again, knowing I needed some coffee and something to eat before we went down that road again.

“Did you sleep at all?” I asked, gesturing to the studio.

“Nah,” he said as he shrugged. “Coffee?”

“Oh god, yes.”

Elijah lead me over to the kitchen and poured us both some coffee that was already brewed.

“I don’t sleep much usually, and when I get inspired,” he looked at me, heat radiating from his eyes, “I have to let it out.”

I blushed at his stare, and took a sip of my coffee. I was about to ask him why he didn’t usually sleep, when my stomach let out a rumble.

He grinned at me. “Well, I think it’s time for breakfast!”

I shook my head, thoroughly embarrassed by my body.

“Don’t be embarrassed, chère. You worked up one hell of an appetite,” he said with a smirk. He opened the refrigerator and began taking things out. “How do you like your eggs?”

I don’t know how Elijah pulled it all together or how much he prepared while I was still asleep, but twenty minutes later I was eating what he called “a real Cajun breakfast.” Eggs, grits, beignets, bacon and sausage. I was so hungry, I ate everything on my plate, and even grabbed seconds of the beignets with another cup of his delicious coffee, which I discovered was a chicory coffee from New Orleans.

I was sitting and twirling my fork in the remnants of my grits, when Elijah said, “Penny for your thoughts, chère.”

“Sophia.”

“Ah,” he replied.

“I really did come out to my sister last night, didn’t I? And then I just left. She’s probably furious.”

“Oh come now, Sophia would never hold it against you. She’s got no problems with homosexuSophiaty.”

“Elijah, I can promise you one thing: Sophia is angrier than a hornet right now.” I held up my hand to forestall his argument. “And no, you’re right, it’s not because I’m gay. It’s because I waited until now, until last night, to tell her.” I dropped my head into my hands and tugged at my hair.

“Hey there,” he said as he grabbed my hands. “It’s going to be fine. Sure, she’ll be a little bent out of shape, but she’ll get over it. ‘Sides, I have no doubt Olivia helped smooth her ruffled feathers last night.”

I groaned. “Oh god! She wanted to set me up with Olivia ! Your sister probably hates me now!”

Elijah snorted. “Do you think I’d horn in on my sister’s potential ‘date’ without clearing it with her first?” he asked. At what I’m sure was my stunned look he continued, “I made sure she wasn’t interested in you before I followed you into that storeroom, Ethan. I’m not a complete asshole.” He turned and began tossing pans into the sink.

I got up, wrapped my arms around him, and kissed his neck. “I didn’t think you were,” I said placating him. He turned and hugged me back, kissing me. I finally pulled away. “I have to go, Elijah. I have to talk to her.”

“I know,” he said.

I walked back to the “bedroom,” picking up my clothes along the way. When I got there, I dropped the sheet to get dressed and I heard a moan behind me. I turned, but when I saw the look on Elijah’s face, all thoughts of talking to Sophia flew out of my head. The clothes fell out of my hands as Elijah stalked over to me.

“I can’t let you leave yet.”

***

The door flew open before I even got my key all the way in.

“You asshole!” Sophia spat at me.

“Good morning to you too,” I replied as I stepped past her into my house. Although it was my house—I’d let Sophia keep our parents’ house after they died—she had a key and made good use of it.

“I can’t believe you never told me! Do you know how stupid I feel?”

“I’m sorry,” I said, because really, what else could I say?

“You’re sorry? You lied to me!”

“I never lied to you, Sophia,” I said. “I never told you I was interested in women.”

“A lie of omission,” she countered. “You let me set you up with all those women, Ethan! What the hell else was I supposed to think? And what? You didn’t trust me? Did you think I was so shallow that I couldn’t handle it?” Tears were streaming down her face. “I thought we could tell each other anything. I thought…” she choked up. “I thought since all we had left was each other that I mattered, but I guess . . .” she turned and began to walk away, grabbing her keys and her bag.

“Sophia!”

She kept going.

SOPHİA!” I shouted and ran after her, grabbing her by the shoulders and hugging her tight. “Please, don’t leave,” I choked out, tears leaking from the corners of my eyes. “Please. Let me explain,” I begged as I held her tight.

After a moment she nodded, and I slowly let her go. She turned and walked toward the kitchen, not even looking at me. I followed her, wiping the wetness from my face, and when she sat at the table I did the same.

“Okay, I’m listening,” she said.

So I explained it to her. I told her how I figured out I was gay when I was with Chloe during my senior year of high school. How I was embarrassed and confused. How it took me years to accept it for myself, and that not long after, before I could even decide if I wanted to come out, our parents died.

“Then it was just you and me, and I don’t know, Sophia,” I said. “I just didn’t know how to tell you. It wasn’t something I could just blurt out over breakfast. And you were so set on fixing me up with someone, that I wasn’t sure how you would take it,” I admitted.

She didn’t say anything for a few minutes, and then . . . “Does this mean we can go get manicures together now?”

“Jesus Christ, Sophia!”

She was shaking with laughter. “I’m sorry, Ethan! It was just a joke!”

I shook my head. “Not funny.”

“Admit it. It was a little bit funny.”

I bit my tongue, trying not to laugh and shook my head. “Nope. Not funny.”

Before I knew it though, we were both hysterically laughing. Finally, Sophia was clutching her stomach. “Okay, stop, please,” she begged.

I took a few breaths until I stopped laughing, and then asked, “You’re really okay with this?”

“Ethan, you’re my brother, and I adore you, of course I’m okay with this. How could you ever doubt that I would be? All those women? I just wanted you to be happy,” she said as she cupped my face in her hands. “You took care of me after Mom and Dad died. I just wanted to take care of you too.”

“You did, Sophia. You do,” I replied covering her hands with my own. “You’re the best sister I could have ever wished for.”

“Okay, now I know you’re gay,” she deadpanned.

“Bitch,” I muttered.

She smirked. “So, Elijah?”

I blushed and nodded.

“Well, I thought Olivia was right for you, but I guess I wasn’t too far off the mark if her brother floats your boat, was I?”

I laughed. “No, I guess you weren’t.”

“So? You spent the night? Did you sleep with him? Were you safe?”

“Sophia! I’m not getting into the details of my sex life with you!”

“So you admit that you had sex?”

I stood up, walked to the refrigerator and grabbed a Diet Coke. “I’m not listening,” I said.

“Okay, fine. Don’t share the details, but,” she hesitated. “I like Elijah, I really do. He’s a good friend, but Ethan, I’m not going to lie to you. Elijah is a player. I’ve known him for a couple of years now and he’s never had a boyfriend, or a girlfriend, never seemed to want one.”

I gripped the can tight, but tried not to show my worry.

“I don’t want to rain on your parade, Ethan. Really, I don’t. I just . . . I just want you to be careful, okay?”

I nodded at her, unable to trust my voice. She came over and hugged me, then wrinkled her nose. “Oh, eeewww. Go take a shower. I’ll see you tomorrow for lunch, and you are so buying.” Then she walked out and left.

I sagged against the counter. I don’t know why her words hit me so hard. It’s not like I expected someone I’d just met to be committed to me, but there was something there between Elijah and I, or at least I thought there was. What if this was just the way he was? What if there was no “next time?” The thought made my stomach clench.

I decided that I wasn’t going to worry about it just then. I had work I needed to do. Lily ‘s piece needed to be finished in two days, and as I lifted my arm and took a sniff, I also relaized Sophia was right—I really did need to take a shower.

One hour, a water tank of hot water, and another cup of coffee later, I was sitting at my piano working on Lily’s piece. It wasn’t until much, much later as I crawled into my bed and pulled the cool sheets over me that I allowed myself to think about Elijah, about the incomparable pleasure he brought me, about the way he saw me or, how secure I felt when he held me in his arms as I fell asleep.

***

 

ELİJAH POV

Loud banging on the door woke me up.

“Go away,” I muttered into my pillow.

The banging didn’t stop.

“Mother fucker,” I swore. I got up and padded over to the door. “This better be fucking good,” I complained, as I lifted the locking arm and slid the door open a foot.

“I always am,” Elizabeth answered.

I snorted and turned, heading back to my bed.

“Come in if you’re coming in,” I said. “You can cuddle up or watch me, but I’m going back to sleep.”

“You really do have a beautiful ass,” she said. “Do you always answer the door naked?”

I shrugged. “Someone dragged me out of bed.” I fell on top of the sheets, bunched the pillow up under my arms, and closed my eyes. “Now hush up, chère, and let me get back to it.”

I heard Elizabeth laugh and felt the bed dip with her weight as she curled up next to me.

When I woke again it was dark outside. I heard rain against the windows, and the low hum of the stereo told me that Elizabeth was still there. I fished a pair of sweatpants off the floor, pulled them on, and padded over to kitchen.

The coffee pot was half full and I sniffed it.

“It’s fresh,” Elizabeth said.

“Thanks,” I replied. I poured a cup and sweetened it just how I liked, then leaned back against the counter and looked at Elizabeth . “Not that I mind, but to what do I owe this visit?”

“When you didn’t show up to play with us last night, I got worried. But now I see that everything is fine. More than fine from the look of it,” she explained and gestured to where I had several sketchbooks and two canvases spread out.

“Last night?” I asked. “We weren’t supposed to get together until Saturday.”

“It’s Sunday.” Elizabeth spoke slowly. “Christ, Elijah, just how long were you up?”

“Sunday? It’s Sunday?” The exhibit and my night with Ethan had been on Thursday. After he left, I started working—sketching and painting in a frenzy. Ethan had ignited something in me, and I needed to get it out while it was all fresh in my mind.

“Elijah?”

“Crap, chère, I have no idea.” I rubbed my face with my hand. “You know how I get.”

“Yes, I know, mijo. I told Ruben you were probably caught up, but from the looks of things, I’m wondering just how caught up you are.”

Elizabeth looked at me, and when I say Elizabeth looked at me, I mean into the heart of me. I couldn’t ever bullshit her. She walked over to the sketches.

“Elijah, this is . . . different. Who is he?”

She was right, the work was different. The sketches were intimate, more so than usual, and the canvases were much more relaistic, less amorphous and definitely more evocative. I kept Ethan’s identity hidden in the paintings, in shadows or by turning his face away, but there was no doubt it was the same subject throughout and there was no doubting the intimate nature of the scene.

“He’s Sophia’s brother, Ethan.”

Elizabeth tapped her finger against her lip. “Sophia’s brother? Really?”

I rolled my eyes. “Don’t get any ideas. He’s the only one who doesn’t swing straight.”

She sighed. “I can always dream, can’t I?”

See? I wasn’t the only one who’d had a thing for Sophia.

I stood and looked at one of the sketches. It was Ethan in the stock room at the exhibit… and I suppose he was.

I felt Elizabeth behind me. She rested her chin on my shoulder. “He’s beautiful.”

“Yes, he is.”

“You seem quite enamored.”

“Inspired. There’s a difference.”

She knew it too.

“A new muse?”

“Jealous?”

Elizabeth shook her head. “Not my style, mijo.”

Elizabeth continued to look over what I’d worked on, and I listened to my messages. Olivia, Elizabeth, a pretty boy named Tyler from a while back, my mom, and Ethan.

I double checked the date stamp on the message, Saturday morning.

Hi Elijah, ummm, it’s me, Ethan.” Long pause. “I hope you don’t mind, but I got your number from Sophia. I was wondering if you wanted to get together later. Maybe grab a bite to eat? I know it’s the last minute, but ummm, yeah. Anyway, call me if you have some time . . .”

His voice trailed off after leaving his number and then he made an awkward goodbye.

“He sounds sweet.” Elizabeth lit a cigarette, which I promptly stole from her.

“He is,” I said. I licked my lips, took a drag and as I exhaled, I smirked at her and said, “So’s his personality.”

Her laugh echoed through the loft and she walked over to me. “Always with your mind in the gutter,” she teased.

“A trait you encourage,” I countered.

“True enough.” She ran her hand over my chest.

I captured it and shook my head. “I’m tired, Elizabeth, and I have some phone calls to make,” I said with a nod in the direction of the phone.

“The calls can wait. What’s…

…she said, “The sketches, Elijah? I haven’t seen you work like that before.”

“You’ve seen me sketch.”

“Not like that, mijo.” She lifted her head from my stomach and looked at me. “He’s done something to you.”

I snorted. “Done something to me? What? Do you think he’s ‘dazzled’ me? Ensorcelled me? I know, maybe he’s a brujo,” I teased.

Hijo de la gran. . .” She paused and took a breath. “Elijah, don’t be an ass. I know you. I know your work. This is different.”

I looked at her, at her dark eyes so knowing and earnest. “I don’t know, chère.” I ran a hand through my hair. “He’s . . . different, exciting. He’s responsive and sensual, and brazen, but he’s also innocent, you know? There’s no hard edges, no sharp corners. Shit, he only came out to Sophia on Thursday.”

At Elizabeth ‘s shocked expression, I continued. “I know, right? I mean he just grabbed my hand and did it and walked out with me. He… a storeroom, but he blushes when I tell him he’s beautiful. Not gonna lie, it’s a little intoxicating.”

“He got under your skin, baby.”

I shook my head. “No. No he hasn’t,” I said. I didn’t work that way. I didn’t let anyone get under my skin, and I cared for all my lovers in their own way.

“Yes, he has. It’s in every picture you drew out there, mijo.”

“Nah, chère, he’s just new and it’s fun.” I was getting hard again thinking about him. “Speaking of fun. . .”

The morning light filtered through the windows, but when I rolled over the bed was cold. It’s not that I expected Elizabeth to stay the night, she rarely did unless it’s because we were still fucking well into the morning, but for the first time I felt lonely waking up alone. I shook it off and headed to the kitchen.

After making myself some coffee, I wandered back out into my studio. I stared at the canvas I’d painted of Ethan and me, and something in me stirred. Maybe it was guilt. I hadn’t called him back yet.

I picked up the phone and dialed, but I hung up when I got his voice mail. I didn’t want to just leave him a message. I called Sophia.

“Hey beautiful,” I said when she answered.

“Hey, Elijah,” she replied, but her voice sounded off.

“What’s wrong, chère?”

“Nothing,” was her quick answer. Too quick. “What do you need, Elijah?”

“Hey, hey, what’s going on?” I asked. I sat back on the couch and lit a cigarette. “And don’t tell me nothing, Sophia.”

I heard a sigh. “Shit, Elijah. He’s my brother. Not one of your flings.”

“Sophia, I—”

“I know he called you, and I’m pretty sure you didn’t call him back. Am I right?”

“Jesus, Sophia. You freak me out sometimes with the shit you know. You really do.”

“So I’m right?”

“Yes, but it’s not what you think,” I said quickly. I didn’t want to give her a chance to get mad and hang up. “I was working. You know how I get sometimes.” Sophia had seen it, when we were in class together. “It’s why I’m calling you now. I tried calling him back, but he’s not there. I was wondering if I could get his cell number from you. Or, maybe you know where he is?”

“Working all weekend? I’m supposed to believe that?”

“I swear, Sophia. I started sometime Thursday night or Friday morning, and kept going after Ethan left. I have no idea when I crashed out, but I woke up yesterday and didn’t even know what day it was. So please, cut me some slack, okay?”

I heard her sigh. “Fine. I’ll give you his cell, but you can’t call now because I’m meeting him for lunch—”

“Lunch huh?” There was only one place she made Ethan take her for lunch. It was a neighborhood restaurant that their parents used to take them to. I remembered her telling me all about it.

“Elijah, don—”

I hung up because I didn’t have a lot of time if I was going to crash their lunch. After taking one of the fastest showers of my life, I slid into a pair of well-worn jeans that were so soft I never bothered with underwear, enjoying the way they hugged my ass and slid against my skin. I kept the rest simple: a white v-neck t-shirt, black Docs and my leather jacket.

Not gonna lie, I knew it was a look that kills and I wanted every advantage if I was going to make nice to Ethan. I walked into the restaurant and scanned the room. Sophia saw me and her eyes narrowed as I started walking toward them, but she couldn’t help the smile that twitched at the corners of her mouth. I put my finger to my lips, asking her to be quiet and she just looked back at Ethan, but I saw that she wasn’t saying anything.

I snuck up behind him, and over his shoulder I could see his plate of pasta. I leaned down to his ear and whispered, “Mmm, chère, that looks good, but I think you taste better.”

His head whipped to side, his eyes were wide, and his lips were almost touching mine. “Jesus,” he whispered, his breath ghosting across my mouth.

“Hi there, beautiful.”

And for a long moment that was it: just me and Ethan and that perfect fucking mouth of his so close.

“Oh wow.”

I turned and saw Sophia staring at us with the strangest look on her face. “Hey, Soph.”

She blinked once, twice, then, “Hey, Eli.”

“Mind if I join you?” I asked as I pulled out one of the chairs.

“What . . . what are you doing here?” Then he blanched a little. “Oh, yeah, please sit. Sorry.” He blushed, and out of the corner of my eye I saw Sophia trying not to laugh.

A flustered Ethan is very cute.

“You weren’t home and I didn’t feel like waiting, so I tracked you down.”

He looked at Sophia, “You knew and—”

“All I did was tell him we were meeting for lunch.”

He looked back at me and grinned. “Couldn’t wait until I got home?”

I shook my head. “Sorry I didn’t call back sooner.” He tried to say something but I cut him off. “I didn’t get your message until yesterday. I was sleeping.”

“Sleeping?”

“Yeah. Someone tired me out.”

“Elijah!” Sophia shrieked. “I don’t need to know that about my brother!”

Ethan’s blush was gorgeous. I stroked the back of my fingers against his cheek. Without taking my eyes off Ethan, I said, “Take your mind out of the gutter little girl. I was talking about all the work I was inspired to do.”

“Work?” He asked.

“Yeah, after you left I started painting.”

“But you hadn’t slept yet!”

I shrugged. “I was motivated.”

“Jesus, when did you stop?”

“Not sure,” I said. “Maybe Saturday? It kinda got blurred together.”

Just then the waitress came over and asked if I wanted anything. I threw Ethan a lascivious grin, but didn’t say anything untoward. Instead, I ordered a plate of pasta and a beer. After, the conversation turned a bit more mundane, as the three of us enjoyed our meal.

When we stepped outside, Sophia made a quick goodbye, kissing each of us on the cheek. But before she walked away she whispered to me, “Hurt him and I’ll kill you.”

“So,” Ethan began. “You really kept painting after I left?”

I shook my head as if to say “no,” but said, “Painting, drawing.” I stepped closer to him, put my mouth near his ear, and whispered, “Fantasizing,” before nipping the lobe of his ear with my teeth.

Ethan whimpered and turned his head, and this time he didn’t stop short of my mouth. Instead, he pressed his lips against mine and took my breath away. When he broke the kiss, he said, “I didn’t think,” he closed his eyes. “I thought maybe . . . I thought you didn’t want to see me again.”

I took his face in my hands. “Oh no, chère. I most definitely wanted to see you again.”

“And did I. . .” he blushed again. “Were you really painting me?”

“Would you like to see?” I asked.

He nodded.

I grabbed his hand. “C’mon then.”

“Now?”

“Yes, now. Unless you have something else to do.” I frowned, frustrated when I realized he probably did. Not everyone had my kind of free time.

“No.”

I felt my face fall.

“Oh shit, Elijah. I meant, no, I don’t have something else to do. I’d love to come see them.”

“Good,” I said with a smile. “Let’s go.”

My apartment wasn’t too far from the restaurant, so it didn’t take us long to walk there. It wasn’t the same, lust-filled run as the previous time we were together, but Ethan held my hand the whole way. It was sweet, innocent, and I liked it more than I thought I would. Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I was opposed to public displays of affection, but mine were usually of the kissing, touching, and groping variety. The hand holding was just . . . simple and guileless.

But when we started to make our way up the stairs, I saw him pause at the landing and flush. I knew exactly what he was remembering. “My offer still stands,” I told him.

“What?”

“I’d still be more than happy to fuck you against that wall.”

“Do you always do that?” he asked.

“What? Fuck people against the wall?”

He laughed. “No, say whatever you’re thinking?”

I shrugged. “Never saw a reason not to.”

We walked into the loft, and as I turned and began to remove my jacket, I heard a soft whimper. I looked back at Ethan and he was watching my movements with wide, dark eyes. I felt my lips curve up in a smile as I tossed the jacket to the side.

“See something you like?” I asked, walking to him.

He licked his lips and nodded.

I stopped just in front of him, my lips hovering millimeters from his and whispered, “So do I,” before kissing him. His mouth was pliable and soft and opened to me without hesitation. The kiss began tender and gentle; a welcome, a hello, a ‘damn you look good.’ It became more. It became passionate and forceful; a demand, an assertion, an ‘Oh God, I want-you-so-fucking-much.’

My hands…

***

“Thank you, chère.”

“I feel like I should be thanking you,” he said with a shy smile. And there it was again, the complete dichotomy that was Ethan.

I rolled my eyes. “C’mon,” I pulled him out of the bathroom.

“Hang on! My clothes,” he said as he reached for them.

“Fuck the clothes, Ethan. I like you just like this.”

It was his turn to roll his eyes, but he left his clothes and followed me out of the bathroom. I walked him over to where everything was spread out, and I could feel a touch of nerves in the pit of my stomach. It reminded me of the night of the show, and again I wondered why? Why did Ethan’s opinion matter so much to me?

Even Elizabeth , who I adored and respected and who knew me better than almost anyone, didn’t hold such sway over my work. Sure, she inspired it. She encouraged it. She introduced me to my agent, and bought some of my first pieces. Still her opinion over any specific items, while appreciated, never made me nervous.

But Ethan’s did.

I stood to the side and let him look at the paintings and sketches on his own. I watched as he stood before each canvas, and then as he took his time with the drawings. I observed the flush on his chest and his neck as he looked at them, and saw his breathing quicken a bit as well. The muscles of his back and ass flexed and pulled as he leaned over to look closely at one piece, before he turned his head to me.

He was biting his bottom lip. “I still can’t believe this is how you see me,” he said.

“Why? I mean, I can’t believe you don’t know how attractive you are,” I told him.

He shook his head. “Not like this. I’m not . . . this isn’t . . . God, Elijah, this is more than just whether I’m decent looking or not. This is so,” he paused looking for the right words. “Sensual and erotic. It’s wild.”

“I know.”

“But, but that’s not me. I’m tense, awkward,” he laughed. “Sophia says I’m ‘uptight’ and ‘unfun.’”

“Oh no, chère, you’re anything but.” I walked over to where he stood and pointed down at a sketch of him on my bed, his back arched as he lay beneath me, his eyes closed, his lips parted, a visual depiction of the word “wanton.”

“This is you. This is exactly how you look…

***

 

 

When I woke up, Ethan was gone. It was dark outside, and a glance at the clock told me it was already past eight. I stretched and rolled over, and saw a folded piece of paper on the coffee table.

Elijah,

Sorry to leave you without saying goodbye, but you looked so peaceful and I know you haven’t slept much lately, so I couldn’t bring myself to wake you up. I had to get home and ready to meet Lily .

Ethan had explained to me about the music he’d written for his friend, and that he would be presenting it to her that night.

I’m getting together with a couple of friends tomorrow evening, but I’m leaving you my cell phone number so you don’t have to go all “Mission Impossible” to track me down again.

Thanks, again.

Ethan

His number was beneath his signature, and I couldn’t help but chuckle at his subtle teasing of my stealth attack on him earlier in the day.

I made some coffee and ate a bagel, then got back to it. I was meeting my agent, Liam, in the morning and I wanted to show him some of my new work. I could feel it pulling me in a slightly new direction, and it felt good.

My meeting with Liam the next day went well, and he was excited about the new pieces. He was trying to get me a show at a nearby gallery, and took them to show the owner. I was pumped and happy, and I wanted to go out.

I knew Ethan was busy, and besides, I didn’t want to send the wrong impression. I enjoyed him. A lot. Probably more than anyone I’d been with in a long time, but I didn’t want to make him think there was something more between us than there was. I wouldn’t do that to someone. I wouldn’t lie or trick anyone like that. I also couldn’t lie to myself. Elizabeth ‘s comments about Ethan getting under my skin bothered me, and I wanted some distance from him. I remembered that Loren called, so I called him back and we made plans to meet at a club that evening.

The two of us made quite a pair on the dance floor—me with my golden boy coloring, and him with his Native American skin and black hair. He was wearing soft leather pants, and nothing else. We danced with…

…said, “Let’s go, chère.”

He turned to give me a dazzling smile, and grabbed my hand to leave the dance floor. When I looked up, I was stunned.

There, at the edge of the floor, looking indecently sexy in a pair of tight jeans and an even tighter t-shirt, was Ethan. He was flanked on either side by two men, both of whom were gorgeous, and huge. One of them was whispering urgently in his ear, and tugging on his hand.

But Ethan wasn’t paying any attention to him, or to the beautiful man next to him, who wrapped a possessive arm around Ethan’s waist when he saw me looking.

No, Ethan wasn’t paying attention to either of them, because he was staring straight ahead.

Directly at me.

***

 

ETHAN POV

My lunch with Sophia didn’t happen Saturday. I wound up so exhausted after my night with Elijah, that I couldn’t think straight, never mind write anything, and after a couple of frustrating hours I gave up and went to bed. The next morning I begged Sophia for a rain check, promising to take her to lunch on Monday. I also asked her for Elijah’s number.

She gave it to me and then, “Ethan . . .” She trailed off.

“What, Sophia?”

“Just . . . just be careful okay?”

That was the second time Sophia warned me to be careful about Elijah, but I couldn’t help but think she was just being the overprotective sister. It’s not that I didn’t believe her when she said Elijah was something of a player, that much was obvious from his artwork, and while my experience with men wasn’t extensive, I still felt like he and I had connected on a level that went beyond just sex.

“I will, Soph. I promise.”

I paced my kitchen for a while before finally working up the courage to call Elijah. When I got his voice mail, I left an awkward message. I didn’t know how to do this. It’s not like I’d ever even gotten the number for someone from one of the clubs. There was only one person I’d ever been with more than once, and that was an entirely different scenario.

I also realized that I had another phone call to make.

“Hello.”

“I told her.”

“Ethan?”

“Yeah, sorry, Alex. I told Sophia.”

“Oh wow. How’d it go?”

“Not bad actually.” I found myself smiling as I thought about how the night went. “But I think I need to tell Danial.”

“Yeah, you do.”

Alex had been pushing me to come out to Sophia and my other friends for some time. Alex was the only person, other than Chloe, that knew I was gay, and that’s because he and I spent our sophomore year in college mutually exploring our homosexuality. Chloe was the only person I’d ever actually “come out” to. Alex and I became friends our freshman year, and the following year after a party where we both got pretty hammered, he kissed me.

Alex and I were each other’s firsts. First kiss, first blow job, first everything. We explored, we experimented, we took turns topping and bottoming, until we each figured out what we preferred. In many ways we were perfect for each other, but Alex wanted to come out and I didn’t. Also, while I loved Alex, I wasn’t in love with Alex.

I remember the day it all came to a head so clearly.

We were walking back to my apartment after hanging out with some friends and Alex reached out to take my hand. I jerked away and hissed at him, “What are you doing? People can see.”

He jammed his hands into his pockets and looked away, but not before I saw the look of pain on his face. We got to the apartment and as soon as the door closed, I rounded on him.

Why did you do that?” I asked.

I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I just wasn’t thinking.”

He looked so sad and hurt that my anger just fizzled. I kissed him. “No. I’m sorry I snapped at you like that.”

I love you,” he said.

I closed my eyes. “I know.”

I can’t keep doing this.”

Alex, I don’t want to hurt you. I never. . . I. . . care about you, but . . .”

But you’re not in love with me.”

I shook my head and then looked at him. “No. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have let this go on. I shouldn’t have—”

He placed a finger over my lips. “No. Don’t be. I’m not sorry. About any of it. Sure, I wish you felt the same way, but I don’t regret a minute.”

I don’t either,” I told him honestly.

He put his head on my chest, I wrapped my arms around him, and we just lay there quietly for a while.

Eventually I asked, “Now what?”

I don’t want to leave,” he said. “It’ll really be over when I do, and right now I can pretend a little. Right now I can pretend that I’ll always have you in my life.”

Hey,” I said as I forced him to look at me. “You will always have me in your life. I’m not going anywhere, and I’ll be your friend for as long as you want me to be.”

Things were a little awkward for a time, but Alex and I managed to stay friends. In fact, he remained one of my best friends, and I can’t deny that when he did come out a couple of months later, I was a little jealous. And although he never said anything, I could feel the disappointment from him every time I went out on a date with a girl that Sophia pushed at me.

Danial was a friend of mine from when we were kids, almost like a brother. Our dads had grown up together in Washington, and every summer we’d go back there for a few weeks and spend some time on the reservation with Danial and his family. He transferred to Northwestern during our junior year, and when my parents died our senior year, he moved in and helped me keep it all together.

He’d never had a problem with Alex’s homosexuality, but I had no idea how he’d feel about me coming out.

“Will you come with me?” I asked.

“Of course I will. You know I’ll always be there for you, Ethan.”

“Thanks, Alex.”

“When do you want to do this?”

“Are you free Tuesday?” I asked. “I’ve got to finish this piece for Lily . I’m supposed to play it for her on Monday.”

“Sure. Where do you want to do it? Your place?”

“No,” I said. “I’m thinking neutral territory, just in case he freaks out.”

“He’s not going to freak out, Ethan.”

We argued a bit more, but eventually decided on a place. When we hung up I felt a little bit lighter. I was still nervous about telling Danial, but calmer knowing Alex would be there to support me. I called Danial and left him a message telling him to meet us on Tuesday, and I knew he’d call if it wouldn’t work for him.

I spent the rest of the day and the next working on the piece for Lil . I can’t lie; not hearing from Elijah upset me. I didn’t know what to think. Maybe he hadn’t feel the connection that I’d felt? Or maybe he was just busy. The optimistic side of me hoped that he was busy. The defeatist side of me took Sophia’s warnings to heart and assumed that I was just another one off for him.

So, when he crashed our lunch on Monday, I was pleasantly surprised. The moment he whispered in my ear, I felt my body respond to him, and when I turned to look at him, the rest of the world disappeared. Until I heard Sophia, and I felt myself blush. When Elijah told me he’d been busy painting. . . painting because of me, I was thrilled. Obviously our night together had meant something to him.

Walking back to Elijah’s loft, I felt happy. We held hands, and I couldn’t help but think of that evening with Alex and of the difference between the two days. Being out, being able to touch Elijah that way while walking down the street was a huge step for me, although I doubt Elijah understood it. Still, I was grateful that he didn’t pull away.

As we walked up the stairs to his place, I couldn’t help but replay our night together—the way we attacked each other on the landing, our touches and kisses, the idea that he would fuck me there in the open if I allowed it, all of it was playing through my head, and Elijah knew it. I couldn’t help but laugh when he repeated his offer to fuck me against the wall. He was so brash, so open, so comfortable in his own skin.

I’ve always been cautious, always worried about what people would say or think. But Elijah? Elijah revels in who and what he is. He lives his life out loud and without regret, uninhibited and brazen. It was intoxicating just to be around him.

After we were inside his loft, he made me lose control again. His power over me was a little terrifying, yet I couldn’t stay away from him. Just a look, a touch, and I was on the edge. Hell, we weren’t in his apartment for fifteen minutes and he made me come in my pants. Not that I was complaining, particularly when the resulting shower was so incredible.

But it was his artwork that astounded me. I’d seen some of his early sketches the morning after we’d been together, but the new work floored me. It was so intense, so intimate, so meaningful; I was overwhelmed with emotion looking at it.

I knew that I was good looking. I’d never had trouble finding someone to get off with the once in a while that I went to the clubs, but the way Elijah drew and painted me? Besides the fact that it was a bit embarrassing to see myself in the throes of passion, the pieces showed someone beautiful and electric, someone without pretense and utterly wild. I had no idea how he saw me that way.

I was always the one who was reserved, closeted, shy. Sophia always made fun of me and told me I was uptight. It’s not that I wanted to be that way, but I always felt the weight of responsibility on my shoulders. I always felt the need to make those around me happy, to make my parents proud of me, to take care of Sophia after they died. I can admit to needing the approval of those around me.

Elijah was the antithesis of all of that. His joie de vivre, his passion, his unselfconscious sexuality and openness was not only refreshing, but completely captivating and magnetic. He made me want in a way I’d never known possible.

And his words. The things he said to me.

…was really bad timing because I had to go meet Alex and Danial. I adjusted myself in my jeans, and headed out.

As I drove there, I thought about the day before, and how I’d had to leave him to go see Lily. He looked so peaceful curled up on the rug. We’d fallen asleep after yet another round, and barely managed to pull the blanket on his couch over ourselves. When I woke up, the sun had already set, but there was still a slight glow in the sky.

I felt wrong just leaving without a word, so I left him a note, with my cell number, and I fervently hoped he would call.

Lily knew something was up when we got together, but I wouldn’t tell her anything. I felt like I had to tell Danial first. He’d never forgive me if Lily knew before he did, assuming he didn’t freak out at the fact that I was gay in the first place.

I played the piece for Lily, and she loved it.

I think it’s one of the best things you’ve written in a long time, Ethan.”

Thanks.” I smiled at her and blushed.

Oh, Ethan. You’re gonna break someone’s heart one of these days with that blush.”

Shut up,” I muttered.

Seriously though, sweetie, this piece is good. Really good. Something inspire you?”

At my deeper blush she pounced. “Oh my god! There is something, someone, right?”

I shook my head.

Oh bullshit, Ethan. You have that look. That glow. Holy shit, it’s the well-fucked look!”

Alright, alright!” I held up my hands in mock surrender. “There’s someone, or well, there may be someone, but I don’t want to jinx it, okay? So please, just drop it.”

There must have been something in my pleading tone, because she did. “Fine sweetie. I’ll drop it. For now.”

I rolled my eyes, but smiled. “Thanks.”

I pulled up to the restaurant, and my heart started pounding. I sat in my car for a full five minutes, before a rap on the window startled me.

“You gonna go inside or did you plan on using telepathy to tell him?” Alex asked.

“I’m scared,” I admitted.

“And I keep telling you, you don’t need to be.”

I took a deep breath. “Fine, but if you’re wrong, you’re buying.”

He laughed. “Deal.”

“And I’ll be drinking a lot.”

He shook his head and laughed some more.

I got out of the car and Alex gave me a hug. He looked good. His hair had grown out some and he’d obviously been working out. When we were in school he’d been tall and lanky, and while he wasn’t body-builder big, he’d definitely filled out in all the right ways. Not for the first time, I wished things had worked out between us.

“You look good, Alex.”

He grinned. “So do you.”

“Let’s do this, huh?”

He nodded. “Let’s.”

We walked in and quickly spotted Danial at the bar talking to a pretty brunette. Alex and I exchanged looks and laughed. Danial could always be counted on to be making the moves on some girl or another. He spotted us and waved us over.

He made introductions, then small talk for a minute, and then we made our way to our table, the girl’s phone number safely tucked away in his pocket.

Danial was a good looking guy. He was tall, topping out somewhere around six-five, and with a build to match. His skin was a lovely russet, and he has brown hair. His eyes were dark and full of mischief, and his lips were lush. If he hadn’t been like a brother to me, I might have had a crush on him, but that thought made me fairly nauseous.

We sat and ordered a round of drinks, then discussed work and family for a bit before the waitress took our order.

“So, what did you want to talk about?” Danial asked me.

I took a deep breath and looked at Alex, who just smiled and nodded at me.

“I’m gay,” I blurted out.

“And?” Danial asked.

“What do you mean “and?”

“It’s not like this is earth shattering news, Ethan. Is that all you had to tell me?”

“That’s it? That’s your response? You’re not even the least bit surprised?”

The waitress arrived with our food at that moment, but as soon as she left, Danial grabbed a French fry and started eating. In between bites, he spoke.

“Ethan, I love you like a brother. We’re close like brothers. I know you kept going out with all of those girls Sophia set you up with, but I also knew your heart was never in it. Hell, it was obvious you were dreading it each time. And let’s face it, there was no shortage of women who wanted in your pants, but you never went for it. So, no, it isn’t a huge surprise.”

I sat there, somewhat stunned. “And you’re okay with it?”

“Why the fuck wouldn’t I be?” he asked around a mouthful of hamburger.

“I don’t know. I just. . .”

Danial put down the burger. “Dude, did you really think I’d have a problem with you being gay? I hang out with you and Alex all the time. What makes you think I’d have a problem with it?”

“I don’t know,” I whined. “It’s just, well, Alex. . . when you met Alex he was already out. It’s the only way you’ve known him. I thought maybe because it was me, and we’d grown up together that you’d have a problem with it. I don’t know, Danial. It was stupid, but yeah. There it is.”

“You’re such an ass, Ethan.”

“Thanks, Danial. Really.”

He took another bite. “But, I will freak out if you tell me you two are together and that you’ve been secret lovers all these years.”

I choked on my drink, but Alex looked at Danial. “Would it be that awful?” he asked, and something in his voice broke my heart a little. I looked at him and realized at that moment that he was still carrying a torch for me.

Danial ignored the undercurrent and continued with his banter. “Why? You wanna fuck Ethan over here?” he grinned at me. “Shit, wait, are you a top or bottom, Ethan?” he laughed.

His jokes broke the tension. “Seriously, though. What brought this on? I mean, why now?”

This was the question I was waiting for, and the one I dreaded because it meant telling them about Elijah, and I knew they would have questions that I didn’t have all the answers to. Also, I was suddenly worried about hurting Alex’s feelings. I’d lied about myself for long enough. I decided honesty was the best policy, so I told them about Elijah.

It wasn’t easy telling them about him without delving into the sexual nature of our relationship, but I managed to convey the gist of it. It was obvious that I’d been intimate with Elijah, but I didn’t give them any details.

“He sounds like a male version of Danial,” Alex said. “A total player.”

“Hey! I’m not a player! I’m just looking for the right girl,” he huffed.

“Yeah, while fucking your way through half the female population of Chicago,” Alex retorted.

“Guys! I think we’re talking about me right now,” I huffed.

“Sorry,” they both mumbled at the same time.

“You like this guy?” Danial asked.

I played with my drink for a few seconds before answering. “Yeah,” I said. “I do.”

“From what you’ve said, it sounds like he’s pretty into you too,” Danial continued. “Crashing your lunch with Sophia, painting you?”

“That’s just it, Danial. I don’t know. I mean Sophia says he’s a player. But then all those drawings and paintings . . . but then again, that’s his style, you know? Painting the people he’s ummm, intimate with,” I said, and I could feel my blush start at my toes.

“Oh man, look at him Alex. Just how many paintings of you did he make?” Danial asked with a crooked grin.

“Shut up,” I muttered.

We talked a bit more about Elijah, and I told them Sophia’s reaction to my coming out. I was so relieved that Danial took the news so well. I couldn’t imagine not having him in my life. When he left to use the restroom, I turned to Alex.

“You okay?” I asked. “You’ve been awfully quiet.”

“Yeah. It’s just . . .” he trailed off and looked at me, and there was something so sad in his expression. “It’s just that a small part of me hoped, and I know it’s stupid, but I guess some part of me hoped that when you finally came out maybe we’d have a chance, you know?”

When I opened my mouth to say something, he cut me off. “Don’t. It’s okay. Like I said, it was a small hope, a fantasy really. I’ll be fine,” he assured me. “I just want you to be happy, and if this Elijah guy can do it for you, then I’m all for it.”

I reached over and grabbed his hand. “Thank you, Alex. I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you’re here for me.”

He squeezed my hand in return. “Always, Ethan. Always.”

Danial came back and the mood at the table lightened, even Alex returned to his usual bubbly self.

“Hey, I know,” Danial said. “Let’s go dancing!” He turned to Alex. “Let’s take Ethan to a gay club and properly celebrate him coming out.”

“It’s not like I’ve never been to a gay club, Danial,” I muttered.

Danial’s eyebrows shot up. “I’m filing that away for later. Seriously, c’mon let’s go. It’ll be fun,” he pleaded.

I can’t believe I even worried about telling Danial. In fact . . . “Is there something about yourself you want to tell us?” I teased.

He fluttered his lashes and looked at Alex. “Well, now that you mentioned it, Alex here has been looking really good lately,” he teased as he ran his fingers up Alex’s arm.

“Ass,” Alex complained as he plucked Danial’s hand away.

Danial just laughed. “Seriously, Ethan. I’m just happy for you and I want to celebrate. This is a good thing.”

I realiaüzed Danial was right. Coming out was a good thing, and I was happy, so I agreed to go dancing. We paid our bill and headed out.

When we got to the club, Danial’s confidence and flirtatiousness didn’t wane, not even a little. He was completely unphased by the looks and come-ons he was getting. I wished I had just a sliver of his self-assurance. We spent a little time at the bar drinking, because I needed some liquid courage before dancing. From where we sat, we could see that there was a small circle on the dance floor, around what was most likely a hot pair of dancers.

We finally made our way out there, but what I saw brought me up short. Elijah was dancing with a pretty twink, although dancing was a loose term for the dry humping they were doing. I watched as the pretty boy ground his ass against Elijah’s crotch, and as Elijah encouraged him by grabbing his hips.

Alex and Danial took two more steps before they realized I wasn’t following.

“What’s wrong?” Alex asked.

“That’s Elijah,” I whispered.

“What?” Danial shouted above the music.

“Elijah,” I repeated louder. “That’s Elijah,” I said and tried to sound unaffected by what I was seeing, but Danial and Alex knew better.

“That motherfucker,” Danial muttered. “C’mon, let’s get out of here,” he said and pulled on my hand.

Alex wrapped his arm around my waist protectively. “Danial’s right, Ethan. Let’s go.”

But I couldn’t move. I couldn’t stop watching as Elijah…

…I’d been warned that he was a player. But the look on his face? I’d hoped, stupidly hoped, that I was the only one to put it there. I really was naïve.

He whispered something in the boy’s ear, and the boy smiled at him. He really was very pretty. In fact, he reminded me of a younger, prettier version of Danial. Then he grabbed Elijah’s hand and pulled him toward the exit.

And that’s when Elijah saw me.

For a moment, nothing happened. We just stood staring at each other, and at least for me, everything and everyone else faded away, until the only thing I could see was him. I was angry at him and at myself. At myself because even then and there, I still wanted him. And I thought why? Why couldn’t he want me the same way? I was angry at him for making me think that I was something special, when I really was no different than any other trick at a club.

I could handle that. That was something I was used to. When you hooked up with someone at a club, you didn’t expect anything more than what it was. But if Elijah was just looking to score, why did he act like I was something more. Why the seduction?

Then he was right in front of me and I heard him say, “Ethan.”

I felt Alex’s fingers dig into my side as he tightened his grip on me.

“Elijah.”

The boy with him piped up. “I’m Austin!” He turned and looked at Elijah. “They’re hot. I’m up for a party.”

I saw Elijah close his eyes for a moment, then he turned to Austin, “Can you give me a minute?”

He pouted at Elijah and ran his fingers over his chest. “Okay, but don’t make me wait too long.”

“Just wait outside for me. Please?”

Austin nodded and walked off.

Danial and Alex didn’t budge.

“Ethan, can we talk for a minute?”

“Sure, talk,” I said.

“Alone?”

“Whatever you have to say to me, you can say it in front of them.”

“Fine. Austin is an old friend,” he began.

I snorted. “Elijah, please. Stop, just stop. You don’t owe me any explanations,” I said, although a part of me—the part that believed him when he told me I was beautiful, that believed him when he said I was special—really wanted to hear one. “We had a good time. You didn’t make me any promises.” I shrugged and tried to appear nonchalant.

“Ethan, it wasn’t like that.”

“Oh no? Really? Tell me then, what was it like?” I spat, my façade of nonchalance fading. “You know what? Never mind.” I looked up at Alex, then back at Elijah. “By the way, Alex, Danial, this is Elijah. Elijah, Alex and Danial. They’re old friends of mine too,” and I intentionally inserted as much innuendo into the comment as I could.

Elijah’s lips pressed together in a thin line and he looked, upset. I pushed further. “Your friend is waiting. Don’t make him wait too long. He may take someone else home.”

“Ethan,” he tried again.

“Bye, Elijah.”

I grabbed Alex by the hand and pulled him toward the dance floor, and started to dance with him. Out of the corner of my eye I could see that Elijah was still standing there, watching us, with Danial next to him.

I don’t know why I did it. . . okay, I do know why, I wanted Elijah to feel what I was feeling, but I reached up, grabbed the back of Alex’s neck, and pulled him in for a kiss. I felt him hesitate for a moment before he wrapped his arm around my waist and pulled me in closer, kissing me deeply. The kiss went on and on, and I could feel Alex get hard as he pressed against me.

When we broke off the kiss, Alex leaned his forehead against mine. “Ethan?”

I looked up at him. “Make me forget him, Alex. Make me forget.”

Alex’s eyes widened, then darkened and a moment later his mouth was on mine again. “God, Ethan,” he breathed as he worked his way over to my neck. “I will. I’ll make you forget,” he promised. “Let’s go.”

We turned to leave, and I saw that Elijah was gone, but Danial stood there scowling. “Alex, go get the car,” he said. “I need a minute with Ethan.”

Alex looked at me, his face full of promise before he walked away.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Danial asked.

“I don’t think it’s any of your business, Danial. But if you must know, I’m sure someone here can teach you the mechanics.”

“Fuck you, Ethan. Don’t take this out on me! I meant what do you think you’re doing to Alex? That boy has been in love with you for years. Don’t you dare fuck with his head.”

I really needed to start giving Danial more credit. He’d seen what I refused to acknowledge until that night: that Alex was still in love with me.

“Danial, you’re my best friend, but what goes on between me and Alex is none of your business.”

“What goes on? This isn’t the first time? Jesus, Ethan. And don’t tell me it’s none of my business,” he continued. “Alex is my friend too. I don’t want to see him hurt. I don’t want to see you hurt.”

“It’s fine, Danial. I’ll be fine,” I lied.

“I wanna beat the shit out of him, Ethan. I want to make him hurt for hurting you.”

“Stop it, Danial. I’m a big boy. He didn’t make me any promises. You can’t even say we’re dating, since all we’ve managed to do is spend most of our time fucking. I have no right to be upset. So, don’t, Danial. Just drop it.”

I walked away, heading toward the exit. Danial caught up to me. “What about Alex?” he asked.

“What about him?”

“Are you going to do to him what Elijah just did to you? You gonna lead him on?”

I stopped walking and hung my head. Because Danial was right. I couldn’t do that to Alex. “Will you make sure he gets home? I’ll take a cab back to the restaurant and get my car, okay?”

“We can get your car tomorrow, Ethan.”

“No Danial, really. I think I need to be alone for a bit. And frankly, I’m not sure I’d be able to say no to Alex right now if he pushed me, okay?”

He pulled me into a tight hug. “I’m here for you, okay? And if you want me to go break his face, I will.”

I laughed. “I know you would. Go. Take Alex home.”

I waited a few minutes for them to leave, then headed outside to find a cab. I spent my time going home thinking about Elijah and Alex. I was ashamed that in my hurt, I was prepared to use Alex. I was angry at myself for letting Elijah get to me that way. I meant what I said to Danial. Elijah had made me no promises. I knew what he was when I got together with him. He told me he paints his lovers, and there were several paintings at that exhibit. Sophia told me he was a player, and yet I went back to his place a second time.

He probably made all of his subjects feel as special as me. I was the one who was a fool for believing it was something more. But the real kicker was that I still wanted him. My body craved what he did to me. I hadn’t been lying when I told him no one had ever made me feel like that.

What I had to do was decide if I could have Elijah on his terms; no commitment, no promises. I didn’t know if I could do it, hell, I didn’t know if he even wanted me anymore, but I realized as I pulled into my garage that I needed to try, because I wasn’t ready to let him go.

***

Sequel to Mr. Player is now available on Payhip!

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The Player Game


Mr. Player

  • Author: Branden Estel
  • Published: 2016-05-16 11:50:07
  • Words: 16707
Mr. Player Mr. Player