When the last car load of stuff was brought in and deposited at the foot of the stairs, it seemed official. There was nothing left to go back for, all evidence of the last inhabitant having been either thrown out or wiped clean.
Stewart flung an arm around Marcus’s neck and drew him close for a kiss.
“Welcome home, darling,” he breathed into Marcus’ ear.
With a slight flush, Marcus kissed him back. “It feels kinda strange, even though I’ve practically been living here for the last few months.”
“I hope it’s a good kind of strange then,” Stewart said with a smile and released him as Ben and Philip came down the stairs. “Hey, thanks for your help guys.”
“No problem. Glad to do it.” Philip hugged Marcus and Stewart in turn. “Congratulations, you finally did it.”
Ben was grinning from ear to ear. “And about time too.” He turned to Marcus, speaking with the confidence of one with experience. “So have you returned the keys to your landlord, cleared your fridge, disconnected your power, collected your rental deposit ….what else?”
Marcus rolled his eyes for form’s sake, but mentally ticked off all the items Ben mentioned. He had refused to make a list like Ben advised but he had secretly paid attention. So yeah, checked for all of those items. He was done indeed. And then out of nowhere he felt a kick in his gut. As if his life, at this particular point in time, had become totally uncluttered and at the same time totally unhinged.
Everything that he had in his tiny apartment had been reduced to a few boxes, and the refuge (no matter how undersized and cramped) that had been his and his alone for the past four years was suddenly gone. With a quickened heartbeat, Marcus realized he would actually be homeless if something happened now and he couldn’t stay at Stewart’s house. He would have nowhere to go – he didn’t think he could ever go home, not after all this silence – and the daunting realization made him swallow hard.
With a half-sigh half-moan, he turned into Stewart and leaned into his partner, seemingly holding on for dear life. Stewart immediately held him close, arms comfortingly tight around his body. Over Marcus’ head, his eyes met Phillip’s.
Nodding with understanding, Philip steered Ben towards the kitchen, asking casually, “now where’s the bottle of champagne you promised? Is it in the fridge? Time to get it open. Ben, come help.”
By the time Philip and Ben came back with a chilled bottle and four wine glasses, Marcus had pulled himself together.
Marcus adjusted his tie for the fifth time that morning.
“Here, let me do it,” Stewart said, coming over and pushing Marcus’ nervous hands away. Deftly, he retied the piece of silk and turned Marcus round to look into the mirror. “There, perfect. What do you think?”
Marcus looked critically at the tie, a present from Stewart when he got his first job offer. “It looks good, thanks.”
“I was talking about the young man in the mirror, not the tie.”
Standing behind Marcus, Stewart held his shoulders firmly. “This is a picture of a self-assured, capable and intelligent young man, ready to take on the world. Not to mention cute and hot. Can you not see him?”
Marcus gave a lop-sided smile, feeling slightly better as he gazed at his reflection. He did look rather good in his suit and tie. “Actually I prefer the other guy behind him, the one with the dreamy eyes and hungry lips.”
Stewart leaned over and kissed Marcus’ neck. “You mean these hungry lips?” he whispered, as his teeth nibbled at the soft skin.
“Oh God, that feels good. I wish we had time …” Marcus groaned. “Why don’t we …?” he suggested hopefully.
Stewart gave him a smart swat on the seat of his pants. “Much as I am tempted we don’t have time! And you are not going to be late your first day on the job. Stop stalling; you’ll do fine, just relax.”
Marcus drew in a deep breath and slowly let it out.
He had been hired by a small but fast-growing engineering corporation. He didn’t really care how big or small the company was; he was just glad he had landed himself a job and would be getting a steady income. He had stopped looking to his dad for money and support for a long time and if not for Stewart he would long have been reduced to washing dishes and eating baked beans for dinner. He had toyed with the idea of getting a part-time job to help with his finances but Stewart had been adamant.
He wanted Marcus to focus on getting through his final year with no distractions.
In the end, Marcus had graduated near the top of his class. With Stewart’s guidance and strict supervision Marcus had passed the exams well beyond his own expectations. Looking back he often wondered how he had managed to put in such long hours.
But he knew.
How often had he chafed at Stewart’s restrictions? Stewart was immovable when it came to Marcus’ study regime. As the finals drew nearer, Marcus became more pugnacious and Stewart got firmer. Marcus spent a not inconsiderable amount of time in the corner – almost as much time as he spent at Stewart’s desk in the study it would seem. More than once, his butt burned as he pored over his text books. But it was strange that twenty-minutes of corner time usually calmed him down enough for him to really concentrate and absorb the words he was reading. And although a sore butt made it terribly uncomfortable to sit and study, it also spurred him on to complete his assignments. So all in all …. the last few months had been grueling but Marcus had to admit it had paid off.
Stewart turned Marcus around and looked deep into his eyes. “Good luck baby. I am very proud of you.”
Suddenly catching Stewart’s hand, Marcus brought it to his lips open-palmed and kissed it.
“What?” Stewart asked with a smile, his eyes questioning. Marcus was a daring and spontaneous lover and Stewart had found him more adventurous than the average man, but Stewart had also come to appreciate the fact that Marcus had a deep reservoir of reserve and he didn’t easily share his emotions. He seldom turned serious like that.
Marcus’s eyes dropped and he said with a slight flush. “Just … thanks.”
Stewart lowered his voice. “You did it, darling. Your hard work. Your efforts. Your credit. You passed the exams on your own.”
Marcus shook his head. “No. I passed the exams with you. Without you, I would never have done it.”
Not wanting to argue the point, Stewart graciously accepted the compliment. “Well then, I am glad that we did it. Together. We’re a good team.”
“I’m not entirely sure about this team thing. Seems to me I’m the one who usually ends up sore at the rear end.” A dimple peeped out from Marcus’s cheek as he smiled and Stewart caught his breath. He had not seen that look for a long time; it was a mixture of innocence, faith, mischief and a little of the magic that was Marcus. Tightening his hold on the young man, Stewart bent and kissed him possessively, tongue intruding into the warm cavity.
It turned out to be an incredible day for Marcus. There was a feeling of high excitement as the new recruits were registered and then taken through an extensive orientation program. Loads of company literature was handed out, everyone was issued a laptop each and they all had to sign numerous declaration forms and remember a whole bunch of numbers and passwords and codes. People were friendly, the offices ultra-modern, and the coffee Starbucks grade.
By the end of the day, Marcus was mentally exhausted but exhilarated. Whatever nervousness he had felt at the start of the day was gone. Instead he felt very much in his element and he couldn’t wait to tell Stewart all about it. But there was one more item on their agenda before he could pack up and call it a day. They were supposed to gather at the top floor of the building for a welcoming party.
He made a quick call to Stewart to tell him he would be slightly late coming home.
“I can’t skip it – it’s apparently an important event, and the new recruits would get to meet with senior management.” Marcus explained.
“Sure,” Stewart said easily. “I understand, take whatever time you need. How’s it going so far?”
“It’s going really well,” Marcus said happily. “I am already loving working here.”
He felt Stewart’s smile. “That’s great, honey.”
“Let’s go out for dinner together tonight?” Marcus suggested. “My treat.”
He heard Stewart’s laugh. “Sorry darling. No go.”
“What?” Marcus was surprised.
“You’ll have to take a cue. Tonight’s dinner is already planned.”
Marcus grinned. “So what is happening tonight?”
“You’ll just have to wait and see. Don’t drink more than a glass if any liquor is offered.” Stewart advised. “I don’t want you tipsy till much much later!”
“I doubt there will be any,” Marcus replied with a gurgle of laughter, and then said very softly, “And I have no intention of letting anyone else make me drunk except you.”
“Keep that thought honey.”
Marcus saw someone waving him over. “I gotta go. The company’s board meets here once a month and today’s the meeting, so we have to wait for that to be over first. And it looks like they are almost done. All the senior management team is tied up in there. Once we say hello, I can leave. Love you honey, see you in a bit.”
Marcus snapped his phone shut and went over to join a few of the guys who were admiring the magnificent view and attempting to identify the various landmarks. It was a nice day to be out in the open, they were all young and eager and feeling literally on top of the world. The fresh air was invigorating and nothing seemed impossible.
Christian Lowen leaned back in the deep leather seat, bored. Another typical presentation, another dull set of executives, another tedious board meeting. If not for the fact that he was required to show his face out of courtesy, he would not have attended the meeting at all. As it was, he suffered through approximately two hours of this bullshit every month and counted himself lucky if the board didn’t include dinner in the agenda.
He stifled a yawn and let his gaze wander. At least the people at Gamma Corporation had good taste, he thought to himself. Their offices were stylish and the décor modernistic, with a lot of glass and a clever inter-play of stone and marble. That had won them major points when he was studying the proposed acquisition. Besides their emerging technology, it was important the company reflected good taste and class. Christian would never consider buying into anything cheap and distasteful.
From the boardroom, they could see right through to the sun deck and open bar – another plus point in the deal. Few corporations were bold enough to install such a frivolous luxury at their place of work and Christian liked their daring, creativity and originality. A group of young men were gathered on the deck, pointing into the distance, obviously discussing the view. He was about to turn his attention back to the presenter when his attention was caught by one of them who was standing a little apart, talking on his mobile phone.
There was something which held his attention. His eyes remained trained on the distant figure and for a while he could not quite place it. Narrowing his eyes, he studied him more carefully and suddenly his breath caught. It was a face from his past, one whom he thought he would never see again.
Christian was so startled that he almost lost his balance on his swivel chair. Luckily it was darker in the room and the glass panels were tinted, so it wasn’t likely that he had been spotted by the man outside. However his sudden jolt had produced a different effect in the room. Aware that the eyes around the long table had turned to him and the presenter had even stopped in mid-sentence, looking at him inquiringly, Christian pretended to cough. Hiding his embarrassment, Christian smiled and murmured a soft apology about nothing in particular. They were wrapping up the meeting. Christian totally lost interest and stared outside again.
The young man was smiling animatedly as he talked and there was something so incredibly haunting about the way he looked that Christian felt claws tighten around his throat. Yes, there could be no mistaking it; Christian was convinced it was him. He was looking incredible, even from a distance. Christian thought he could make out some added muscles along the lines of his shoulders, although he was as trim as he remembered. God, he looked so damn hot! Marcus’ hair was cut stylishly close to his head which if possible, made him even more attractive. The greatest difference, however, was in the way he held himself. Gone was the awkward college student, trying to cope in a grown-up world. There was now a self-confidence about him that Christian had never seen before.
A fierce hunger burned inside Christian. With a vicious wrench to his gut, Christian realized that time had done nothing to diminish the attraction he had once felt for Marcus. It had taken him months to get over his loss, to stop smarting at the humiliation of rejection, and to stop thinking of him. In the blink of an eye, Christian found himself right back at where he was two years ago.
Goddamn it! He had wondered often where Marcus had gone but more significantly he had hungered to know why Marcus had left! He could not imagine what could possibly have driven Marcus away when he had treated him so well, and that was what ate into him. Christian Lowen was the one who tired of boys and discarded them, not the other way round. He called the shots and he was the one to decide when the relationship ended. Marcus’ going was a terrible blow to his ego. He was owed an explanation and by God! he was going to get one.
The meeting came to an end and Christian made a quick decision.
Oliver had traced Christian’s movements and he now parked himself along the side of the tall building, keeping an eye on the front entrance. He had no idea how long he would have to wait but he had time on his hands, if nothing else. He grinned cynically at himself; he could afford to be patient. Leaning against the cool marble wall, he pulled out a crumpled pack of cigarettes, lit one and settled down to wait.
When he saw Christian’s sleek limo draw up to the curb, he grounded out his third cigarette and pushed himself off the wall. Sauntering casually up the sidewalk, he waited till Christian appeared at the building entrance, walking with his characteristic purposeful stride towards his waiting car. Oliver automatically adjusted his speed, reaching the waiting vehicle just as Christian reached for his car door.
“Hi Christian,” Oliver said coolly.
Christian’s head whipped around and he stared at Oliver, eyes uncomprehending for a second.
“Oliver?” Christian ran his eye over the slight frame in front of him, sub-consciously appreciating the open-necked shirt which revealed a smooth hairless chest and the very tight jeans which showed off Oliver’s ass admirably. “What are you doing here?” he asked in a frosty voice.
“Waiting for you.” Oliver’s shrug was theatrical and his response cocky. He had rehearsed the encounter and he worked hard to look nonchalant, but there was the hint of a tremor in his voice. He stared back as Christian’s eyes bored into him and try as he might, he couldn’t help but feel as if the older man was staring into his soul.
Despite himself, Oliver rushed to explain, “I was hoping to talk to you.”
Christian raised one eyebrow. “What about?” he snapped.
Oliver was a little taken aback. Not two nights ago, Christian had been overly friendly and insistent, propositioning him shamelessly, offering outrageous rewards. This was a different man. He was cold, hard, calculating and distant. What happened? Had things changed so fast?
Recovering himself with as much aplomb as he could muster, Oliver said haughtily, “The other night you offered me a rather interesting proposition.…”
And this is not the right time or place to be telling me that!
Irritated, Christian looked around quickly. The other members of the board were beginning to spill out of the building and several of them were looking at them with curiosity. They were a horribly mismatched pair – one in an expensive Italian tailored suit and the other dressed more for a night out at some hot club.
Christian suppressed a curse as Oliver returned the stares. Not wanting to create a scene, Christian jerked his head. “Get in,” he ordered curtly.
Oliver looked undecided for a moment, not quite sure if he had heard correctly. He had half expected to be left standing at the sidewalk like an idiot while Christian was whisked away in his limo.
“I said get in!” Christian hissed under his breath again, and practically pushed the young man into his car.
Oliver tumbled in, landing on the soft leather with a thud. He wasn’t altogether sure if he should be pleased that his strategy had worked or afraid that he had put himself completely at Christian’s mercy.
But then fear was never an emotion he showed to the world.
I fucking hope I am doing the right thing.
“So,” Christian turned to look at Oliver as the car pulled away from the curb. “Tell me again why you wanted to talk to me.”
Oliver licked his lips. “Um … you said … you said if I should change my mind …” he left the sentence hanging, watching the older man under his eyelashes.
Christian studied his companion for a few seconds. Then he leaned forward and said to the chauffeur. “Take us to the penthouse, Norm.”
Norm nodded his head, his expression totally blank. He kept his eyes carefully away from the rear mirror.
Christian leaned back again, his actions more relaxed. A derisive smile crossed his face as he slowly reached over and pressed a button. A soft whirling sound was heard and a glass pane rolled up, effectively cutting off any communication to the front. Oliver swallowed and pressed his hands into the seat to keep them steady. It wouldn’t do to show how nervous he was.
He raised his eyes and found Christian staring intensely at him.
“So, have you changed your mind, hm?” Christian asked in a silky voice, letting one hand rest on Oliver’s thigh.
Obedient to the pressure of the hand, Oliver shifted closer. The butterflies in his stomach settled; this was familiar territory. Christian had unnerved him earlier with his coldness but now Christian was looking at him with a sly smile and his hands were possessively wandering. This Oliver could handle.
Having lived by his wits for the last six years, Oliver was no stranger to the games of seduction. He had learnt early that everyone wanted something and you had to give before you could get something in return. Bending his head, Oliver allowed a little shy smile to escape from his lips. “Well … I couldn’t stop thinking about you. And what you said.”
Christian breathed into Oliver’s left ear as his hand moved to cover his crotch. “Tell me then. What exactly did I say?” His fingers squeezed and he was pleased to feel the bulge hardening beneath the jeans.
Oliver tried not to squirm. “You said you I should come to you. I am here now.” His voice was a perfect combination of bashfulness and seduction.
Christian drew in a shuddering breath. The submissiveness in Oliver was immensely appealing and exactly what he needed right now. His ego craved it. The image of Marcus swam before his eyes. Damn! Just as well he had another hot little body to keep him occupied.
Holding Oliver’s chin Christian kissed him fiercely, enough to bruise the soft trembling lips. Oliver opened his mouth willingly enough. Again this pleased Christian. Whatever his intention, the boy knew what he was doing and he was doing it just right. He would be a delightful toy for a while. How long his interest in the boy would last Christian had no idea, but the timing was perfect. He would be a very welcome distraction while Christian laid careful plans to track down Marcus.
Oliver curled up in the big bed and closed his eyes. He was sore all over. Christian had been rough and extremely thorough. The man was like a bull – and his stamina had astonished Oliver. He would have thought a man his age …
Firmly relegating the memories to the back of his mind, Oliver decided he needed something more pleasant. He ran his hands over the silk sheets. They were smooth and cool and so comfortingly familiar. And the huge down pillows supported his head as if he was sleeping on clouds. This was the kind of living he was used to. Lavish comfort, elegant furnishings, expensive taste. And that brought him to Simon.
He squeezed his eyes shut as his heart filled with ache.
Oliver’s earliest memory was in a foster home. He had no clue who his real parents were; no one ever told him and he didn’t bother to ask. He was a quiet child and kept mostly to himself. Because of his reticence and perceived sullenness he ended up being moved from one home to another and finally at age fifteen he ran away.
With very little money in his pockets and no plans of any kind, he wandered around the city streets with an old back pack slung over one shoulder. With the optimism of youth, he had entertained some vague hope of finding work and a place to sleep or perhaps meeting a kind soul who might take him in. Instead he met a man who offered him a ride on his motorbike and the promise of dinner. Having no better option, Oliver went along with him. He enjoyed the speed of the huge bike and was given a burger and fries at a truck stop as promised. He ate hungrily, trying to ignore the looks, smirks and snide remarks that were being passed around as well as the overly friendly way the biker was touching him. After dinner, the biker brought him back to his place, which was nothing more than a dump. There, amidst piles of dirty clothes, Oliver lost his virginity.
Because he didn’t know what else to do, he stayed with the biker for a while, considering his options. He was given enough food and shelter and all he had to do was endure the man’s advances at night. When the biker found out Oliver was not even sixteen years old, he got angry and threw him out.
Once again, Oliver was back on the streets, only this time more street-wise. He had seen the insides of a few bars and dance clubs by that time and he instinctively made his way there. The first time he was in a dance club, he had gawked at the male dancers. Remembering the way they swayed and gyrated their bodies to the music, Oliver was sure he could do the same. In fact, with no other skills that seemed the only option. He boldly approached the first dance club he came to and asked for an audition. It was the first time he had ever danced in front of an audience; hell, it was the first time he had ever really danced at all. When the music came on, he was awkward and shy and embarrassed and horribly out of sync with the beat. The owner shook his head.
At the second club, he fared much better. Prepared this time, he guardedly approached the routine he had worked out in his head. He let the music sweep over him, and then used his shoulders, his hands, and his hips to swing to the rhythm. He was a natural and he wasn’t even aware of it. His movements had a hint of sensuality which made the portly club owner sit up, and when he looked straight at him the man licked his lips.
Oliver waited for the verdict and was thrilled when club owner told him he could start that night.
“Where you from, boy?” the owner asked.
The owner nodded knowingly. He’d heard that one before; it meant he had no family, no roots. “Yeah? OK, whatever. Hey, you got a place to stay tonight?”
“Um, not really …”
The owner nodded again. He looked appraisingly at Oliver, eyes narrowed. Finally he made a decision. “OK. I’ll do you a favor. You can stay a couple of nights with me till you find something. I don’t normally make this kind of offer OK? But you look like a decent kid. You watch yourself, boy. Any trouble, and you are out! OK?”
He said OK with every second sentence.
Oliver nodded solemnly, praying he wouldn’t be asked to show any ID. He performed his first show that night, with four others, all teenage boys. They were all much more experienced and went through their routine without effort. Oliver watched them, took his cue from them and copied their moves and soon found his own style. When they packed up for the night, the owner came over and clapped him on his back.
“Not bad, for a first timer,” he said. When he saw the surprise on Oliver’s face, he laughed. “Did you think I wouldn’t know? OK, don’t look so worried, you did ok. Now get your things together if you are coming with me.”
Oliver followed the man back to his apartment. It was small but tidy and clean and Oliver was shown the guest room. Over a late night snack, the owner told him he lived alone, had been divorced three times and was currently in between wives. However he didn’t tell Oliver this was also the time he indulged his hidden self. Oliver was startled when the older man came into his room in the middle of the night. Without a word, he climbed into bed with Oliver, laying a tentative hand on Oliver’s hip. When the boy did not protest, he began to stroke him and kiss him. Oliver held his breath when the man undressed him, then touched him all over. The man’s hands were hot and urgent and he purred as if he had found a prize catch. He undressed himself clumsily and quickly went back to fondling Oliver. When he had brought Oliver’s cock to attention, he lubed him and proceeded to slowly fuck him.
Oliver stayed about a week and they had sex every night. The club owner always went to bed by himself but would creep into Oliver’s room in the middle of the night very much like the first time. His routine was always the same. They never talked during sex. And when it was over, the owner slithered away to his own room.
By the end of the week, Oliver had found himself a cheap room and he packed his stuff. The owner shrugged when he was told the news, and was good-natured enough to take Oliver out for a nice dinner on their last night together.
For the next three years Oliver continued to work at the dance club, picking up useful tips from the other dancers. He was thrifty and saved his hard-earned cash zealously. Occasionally the club owner would approach him and take him out for a meal and Oliver would accept and then let him have his way with him. He felt he owed him that much, hadn’t he given him a job, offered him a place to stay when he had nowhere to go? He had no feelings for the man but he didn’t despise him either. In a way, he understood his loneliness. To Oliver, it was a business transaction, a fair exchange.
The year Oliver turned nineteen, he met a man named Simon and fell in love.
Stewart was walking up the stairs when a jogging shoe came flying out from their bedroom, landing precariously on the banister. He leaned over and picked it up, and then went into the bedroom. Holding the shoe up, he asked innocently, “Lose something?”
Marcus looked at him sheepishly. “Um. Oh yeah, I was wondering where it got to. Thanks.” He held out a hand for it but instead of handing it over, Stewart used it to land two hard smacks on Marcus’ bottom.
“That will teach you not to throw your shoe, or anything else for that matter, in a fit of temper.”
“I didn’t!” Marcus objected hotly, without thinking.
Stewart calmly turned him around and promptly smacked his behind again. “Really? Want to try that again?”
Marcus glowered. “Oh, all right! I did throw that stupid shoe. Happy? I’m sorry!” he quickly added when he saw Stewart’s brows rise. “I wasn’t thinking! It was stupid. I know!”
“Well, that’s not much of an apology but for the sake of your butt I will accept it anyway.” Stewart dropped the shoe and pulled Marcus in for a quick hug. “You’ve been a bear all week. Tell me what are you upset about?”
“Perhaps you need to spend some time in the corner? Help you clear your mind?” Stewart asked kindly.
Marcus glared at him. “Not funny.”
“Neither is lying. You know what I classify as lying don’t you?”
Marcus’ chest heaved. “Why do you always do this? It’s so unfair!”
Stewart sat down on the bed and patted it. “Sit. Talk. Spit it out. You’ll feel much better, I promise.”
Marcus sank down next to Stewart and leaned heavily against him, smiling when Stewart’s arm circled his waist. That gesture spoke volumes – strength, intimacy, support, care.
“Is it about work?” Stewart asked gently when Marcus didn’t speak.
“Yeah, it is,” Marcus conceded, burying his face deeper into Stewart’s shoulder. “I think I am messing it up big time!”
“Why do you say that?”
“I don’t know,” Marcus said with a shrug. “I just feel like that.”
“I thought you liked your job. Is someone giving you a hard time?”
“God no, I love what I am doing and I like the people I work with, but sometimes I wonder if I am way out of my depth. I mean, there’s this huge project which is terribly important, high focus from the top and everything. I know some of the senior engineers would kill for a chance to get in and I just don’t know why or how come, but for some reason I’m selected to be in the team.”
Stewart’s hand began to rub Marcus’ back, a soft but soothing rhythm. “This could be part of an overall development program, you know?”
“I don’t feel like that is. No one else from my batch is in. Junior engineers get all the small crappy projects, never the big fancy ones like this.”
“Maybe there’s been a change in policy? Or maybe they just think you are cute?” Stewart lightly teased, hoping to change Marcus’ mood.
“Yeah, sure!” Marcus scoffed. “Anyway, at least there’s one good thing to look forward to. A nice reward at the end of the project. I hear there will be an off-site week-end, where we will have the opportunity to mingle with the high and mighty, and present the project to our bosses, and if they like what we’ve done, they may approve a bonus or something.”
“Sounds exciting,” Stewart said, looking thoughtful.
“Yeah, it is exciting from what they tell me.”
“Where’s the weekend meeting?”
“Apparently the location is being kept a secret. Even the team members don’t know.” Marcus suddenly grinned. “Isn’t this a bit bizarre? Like some silly mystery movie!”
Stewart narrowed his eyes. “That’s a little odd.”
Marcus shrugged. “The others don’t seem to care too much. Everyone in the team wants the glamour and the recognition. I’m just going along with the flow. I’m happy as long as my part of the job gets done.”
Stewart pulled Marcus’ head down so they could kiss. “Listen honey – don’t stress yourself over it, ok? Ask your supervisor if you need help and do the best you can and it’ll work out.”
“Yeah, that’s what I intend to do.” Marcus snuggled deeper into Stewart’s arms. “Thanks.”
The ringing of the telephone jerked the two of them apart. “Fucking gave me a heart attack,” Marcus mumbled under his breath, earning himself a smart slap on the side of his thigh. He stuck his tongue out at Stewart and reached over to pick up the phone. ““Hello? Oh hi Robert. Yes, we are well thank you. Did you want to speak with Stewart? Just a sec.”
With a curious lift of the eyebrow, Marcus handed the receiver to Stewart. Robert had never called them before. He put his ear as near to the phone as he could, hoping to catch a few words.
“Hi Robert,” Stewart greeted him, at the same time firmly pushing Marcus away with a warning look. He listened for a while before speaking. “That’s great. Look forward to seeing you. And I insist you stay here with us. We have plenty of room.”
More silence as Robert spoke. And then Stewart was saying, “not at all, no trouble whatsoever. You’re family. Right then, we’ll see you in a couple of days. Bye!”
“What?” Marcus demanded the minute Stewart hung up. “He’s coming here? To stay with us?”
“Yes, he is.” Stewart replied. He leaned back against the headboard and pulled Marcus with him. “He needs to visit some building contractors in this area and he thought he would visit for a few days. Actually he asked me to recommend a decent motel and help him book a room but I invited him to stay with us instead. Is that ok with you?”
“Of course,” Marcus responded at once. “It is your house!”
“No honey, it’s our house. And I didn’t think you’d mind. Otherwise I would have checked with you first.”
Marcus’ eyes warmed. It had been one of the things he had loved about Stewart from the beginning, his generosity and kindness. The willingness to reach out to help whenever he could, his spontaneity to offer assistance when someone needed it. His absolute fairness. Marcus remembered how Stewart had gone out on a limb to help him when he had been desperate and at his wits ends. His heart filled with love as he leaned his forehead against Stewart’s.
“I think I love you.” Marcus murmured.
Stewart smiled. “You think?”
Marcus took a moment, looking serious and pretending to ponder. “Um, no I am pretty sure I do.”
Marcus threw his head back, mouth open and gasping for breath. He arched his neck, a taut line against the bump of his adam’s apple. With the back of his head pushing on Stewart’s shoulder, trapped within the net of Stewart’s arms, he came hard. A fine sheen of sweat glistened on Marcus’ back as he slumped against the solidness of Stewart, and then both of them crumpled to a heap on the bed.
Remembering how Stewart had entered him from behind made Marcus tremble. He had gritted his teeth as Stewart pulled him into a kneeling position, his back tight against Stewart’s chest, all the while conscious of Stewart’s hard presence inside him. With Stewart’s arms wrapped around him, Stewart had slowed his strokes, sometimes stopping altogether to nibble at his ear, deliberately taking his time. That had really turned Marcus on. Stewart had refused to let Marcus rush him, taking his time with long slow strokes and it had driven Marcus mad.
“That was some hot sex!” Marcus smiled.
“That was indeed.” Stewart inhaled deeply, his heart still pounding.
“What a great way to wake up on a Saturday morning!”
“We can have a repeat performance in a bit.”
Marcus opened his eyes wide. “Really? You sure you’re up to it?” Marcus taunted.
Stewart leaned over and playfully nipped Marcus’ nipple, making him yelp. Giggling and fending Stewart off, Marcus jumped out of bed. “Stop! That hurt! I’ll scream if you do that again and Robert’s gonna think you are abusing me.”
With a groan, Stewart rolled out of bed as well. “I forgot we have a house guest. Oh well, I guess that means you are saved till tonight. Come on – we’ll go fix breakfast before Robert starts thinking we are a pair of sex-crazed weekend slobs.”
Marcus laughed uproariously at the description. “Hey, I like the sound of that!”
“You would,” Stewart said dryly.
They tiptoed past Robert’s room so as not to disturb him as they made their way to the kitchen. Robert had driven in the day before, met up with his business associates and by the time he arrived at their doorstep, it had been pretty late. They figured Robert would want to sleep in a little.
Through long practice, they synchronized well in the kitchen’s limited space. Without a word, Marcus put the coffee on while Stewart began to whip up the eggs. Marcus retrieved bread from the pantry and Stewart the pan from the cupboard. Stewart hummed softly as he cooked and Marcus stole quick kisses as he moved between the stove and the kitchen table.
“Good morning!” Robert greeted as he walked into the kitchen. He was dressed casually in an open-necked shirt and dockers and yet he looked every inch the gentleman. “Is that coffee I smell?”
Stewart smiled at their guest. “Good morning Robert. Yes, coffee’s ready, help yourself.” He handed Robert a mug. “Sleep well?”
“Yes, I did. Thanks once again for putting me up. This beats any motel!”
“It’s great that you came to visit.” Stewart began to dish up the eggs. “Sit down, we can eat now.”
Robert smiled at Marcus. “Good coffee! Can I help with anything?”
“You can do the dishes afterwards?” Marcus suggested helpfully and winked at Robert when Stewart glared at him. “What? You said he’s family!”
“Thank you, that should make me feel right at home!” Robert said, winking back.
They caught up on family news and chatted about random topics over a leisurely breakfast. Then Robert filled them in on the purpose of his trip.
“I’d like to share some news with you, and perhaps get your perspective on things. I’ve had a very attractive offer to buy my business.”
Stewart’s hand stopped in mid-air, the coffee mug suspended above the table. “Really! And you are considering it?” He couldn’t imagine Robert selling his business.
“To be honest, I wasn’t keen in the beginning. I’d built the business myself as you know, and there’s a lot of attachment naturally. But these people kept coming back, talking and discussing. Sharing with me their plans and projections. They even offered me the option to stay on – as their employee of course. This has been on-going for about year now.”
“Sounds like they are serious! And you are really considering the offer?” Stewart asked, still finding it hard to believe. Robert was a careful person; he didn’t rush recklessly into schemes. Would he actually consider selling something which was so much a part of him?
“Oh yes, they certainly are determined,” Robert said with a wry smile, avoiding a direct response. “Because they’ve kept up the communication over the months, feeding me with more information and stuff and letting me know that they don’t mean to take the company apart or destroy it, I kind of starting looking at it from different angles. I couldn’t stand it if they did – destroy the company I mean.”
Stewart took a sip of his coffee, realizing Robert had actually made up his mind even if he didn’t know it yet. “No, of course not!”
“Well finally I thought what the heck, no harm in hearing out the proposal. So I came to meet with the buyer. He is in the midst of expanding and he wants to acquire small businesses – like mine – which are complementary to his core business. My company is perfect for him, not too big, not too small. Horizontal integration. Fastest way to grow these days.”
“Is he making you a fair deal?” Stewart asked.
“More than fair!” Robert sighed. “Which is what makes it so difficult. I mean, what am I going to do if I sell my business? This is all I know.”
“What if you don’t sell?” Marcus asked.
Robert looked at him, a ghost of a smile on his lips. “Good question. I asked myself that many times in the past few months. Nothing changes if I don’t sell; I stay on in Ashley Downs, doing what I’ve been doing for the last twenty years. Safe and comfortable.”
“And doing it well, if I may say so,” Stewart said softly.
“But boring?” Marcus raised an eyebrow.
Stewart frowned. “Marcus.”
“No, he’s right.” Robert interjected and winked at Marcus. “I agree with Marcus. It is getting boring and mundane, the routineness of it all. I’ve had mostly a good run and I am comfortable as I said. I’ve been lucky as far as the business goes,” he said modestly and his eyes sparkled at the memories. At the same time they also looked rather sad. “The thing is … I am not sure if this is all there is for me.”
“What do you mean?” Marcus asked, wrinkling his forehead.
Robert looked over at him, a twisted smile on his lips. When he spoke, his voice was soft and poignant. “I have been questioning myself. Have I been too cautious, always chosen the safe path, have I missed out on something? And somewhere in my heart I am thinking there’s got to be more than this.”
Marcus quickly looked away, unable to meet the honest hunger in Robert’s eyes.
Stewart drained the last of his coffee and nodded his head sympathetically. “I believe that is something all of us go through at some point in our lives. Perhaps you’ve outgrown Ashley Downs.”
“Perhaps,” Robert agreed, his voice very quiet. “Perhaps I have.”
Oliver wandered around the spacious penthouse, restless and fidgety. He had been with Christian for almost three months now. Most days he was left alone, with strict orders not to leave the apartment or to let anyone in. He could watch TV or play video games if he wanted, soak in the magnificent sunken bath, or admire the skyline of the city. But he was not allowed to step outside, or use the telephone or answer it if it rang. It virtually made him a prisoner but those were the rules.
Oliver hated it.
Staring at his reflection in the mirror, he saw an unhappy and weary face looking back at him. No one knew he would be turning twenty one in a few weeks. No one knew and more importantly no one cared. He bit his lower lip firmly to keep it from trembling and his eyes turned belligerent.
The first month with Christian had been quite enjoyable. He had had a taste of the good life when he had been with Simon and he appreciated the creature comforts - things like deep hot baths and luxuriously soft towels, mundane as they were. He liked his creature comfort. Things started to slide during the second month; he was sick of the rules and being left alone so much. And now … oh well, nothing good lasted long in Oliver’s life. He had come to expect that. He counted himself lucky that he was staying in a gorgeous penthouse, ate good food and wore nice clothes. Christian could be generous and Oliver had managed to assemble a small but decent collection of classy designer clothes.
He was still staring at himself in the mirror when he heard the elevator open. He quickly jumped into bed and pulled the silk sheets over him, listening to the footsteps outside. When the bedroom door opened, he quickly closed his eyes. He hoped that Christian would leave him alone if he thought he was asleep but it obviously wasn’t going to work. He felt the bed move as Christian climbed in. The silk sheets were unceremoniously flung off, and a hot mouth descended on his neck.
“Sleeping again? You’re getting lazy, boy! I think you’ve had enough sleep my pet,” Christian said with a slur in his words. His breath smelt of liquor. “Time to play.” His hand slipped in between Oliver’s legs, groping till it found the flaccid cock. “What’s this?”
With an effort, Oliver turned onto his back and opened his eyes, smiling seductively. “Hey,” he murmured sleepily. “You’re home. I missed you.” He managed to ooze hot sex appeal into his voice as he held his arms open.
Christian ran his hands over the tight supple body, marveling again at its perfect proportions. He undressed Oliver slowly, noticing with approval the boy’s arousal as each article of clothing was peeled off. Oliver was a little too practiced in the art of seduction and too experienced in sex for his liking. Christian preferred his boys naïve and scared, which Oliver definitely was not. Lucky for Oliver, he was cute enough to compensate for that little flaw and Christian sorely needed a plaything, something or someone to occupy his mind. Oliver was the perfect answer.
Pushing Oliver down to his knees, Christian ordered. “Suck me!”
Oliver obediently opened his mouth and took in the swollen appendage.
“Ah … oh God …” Christian moaned, moving his hips. Oliver did a fantastic job in pleasuring him, another reason he had kept him around for so long. Closing his eyes, Christian easily imagined it was Marcus kneeling before him. The mental image gave him a huge kick.
“Yes,” he hissed, thrusting harder.
Impatient to complete his conquest, he pulled away and flipped Oliver onto the king-sized bed, faced down. What a shame, Christian thought, that Oliver’s hair was so much darker than Marcus! Averting his eyes, he reached for the lube. He pressed out only a small amount and smeared it on Oliver by quickly inserting two fingers. He liked the friction and avoided lube when he could; when he couldn’t he used precious little. He didn’t really care how uncomfortable it would be for his partners once he had them in his power. The only exception had been Marcus. With Marcus, he had been more gentle than with anyone else.
Raising his hand, he slapped down hard on one cheek, then the other. He smiled as his handprint appeared, pink and beautiful on that smooth firm skin. Oliver hardly made a sound. Pulling the taut cheeks apart, Christian positioned his erect cock at the ridiculously tiny puckered entrance. It filled Christian with a tremendous sense of power as he poised, imagining accomplishing a task that appeared seemingly impossible.
He heard Oliver cry out as he forced his way in.
Oliver soaked in the huge bath and brushed the tears away. He had just endured another ugly session with Christian. The man was impossible to please lately. Gritting his teeth, Oliver scrubbed his skin till it was red and raw, wishing he could scrub away all traces of Christian as well.
You miserable sex maniac! Simon never treated me like this.
Living on his own had toughened him. Combined with an innate practicality Oliver never allowed himself to be dragged down for long. That was a luxury he couldn’t afford. So with an effort he stopped any more tears from escaping and resigned himself to his lot in life. He turned his mind towards things in his past that had made him happy. He didn’t have that much of a repertoire to choose from, which he optimistically told himself was a good thing because it made it easier.
Without fail, he always chose to think of Simon.
Oliver was working at the dance club when he and a few of the other dancers had been hired for a private party. It was an exclusive gathering of high-profile men and they were handsomely paid. A shining limousine was sent to fetch them. Champagne was served when they were ushered into a bedroom and they all grabbed a glass each, delighted. Giggling and whispering animatedly, they downed their wine faster than they should have and waited nervously. Oliver, who had lived mostly in squalor and poor surroundings, fell in love with the style and elegance even if he was a bit intimidated.
They didn’t have to wait long. Someone came to fetch them and led them down a long corridor. Everywhere the décor was beautiful and stunning. The room they were led to was huge and dimmed so that the audience looked like vague bumps in the dark. Only the space where they would be dancing was lighted. Dance poles had been installed. The music floated in and the dancers automatically began to move, working the poles. They synchronized well having had lots of practice together, swaying in time with the beat.
Once he overcame his initial nervousness, Oliver lost himself in his performance. This place had so taken his breath away that he wanted to do it justice. He danced from his heart. He had come to love dancing over the last few years; it was both a means to survival as well as an easy way to escape from the dankness of his world. With the champagne infusing his brain, he imagined he was dancing for someone special, that one person who mattered in the darkened room. Imagining an unknown face that was watching him and him only put wings on his feet. His arms, body and movements all spoke a message – of longing for love, of yearning to belong.
Oliver was exhausted when the music ended and he looked slightly dazed. He hardly heard the enthusiastic but polite applause, accompanied by low murmurs of appreciation. Inhaling deeply, Oliver peered searchingly into the dimness but could make nothing out of the distorted shapes. Disappointed, he turned away. The exhilaration he had felt earlier melted away, leaving him empty. He had felt something for a fleeting moment and now it was gone.
Oliver was about to follow the other dancers back to the bedroom when someone blocked his path. He looked up into a pair of aging grey eyes.
“What’s your name?” The voice was soft and cultured.
Oliver stared with his mouth open. “O-oliver, sir.” The last bit was added as an afterthought as a show of respect. The man was certainly old, by Oliver’s standards. He looked to be at least sixty.
“Oliver…” the word rolled off the man’s tongue, making it sound slightly magical. “It suits you.”
The others had disappeared and Oliver looked around nervously. He was suddenly alone with the man in the deserted corridor. Feeling incredibly shy and awkward.
“You are a beautiful dancer.” The man sounded sincere. “I was moved by your performance.”
Oliver felt his heart lift. He had never heard this kind of praise. Sure, he had been told by lots of people that he was hot and sexy and cute but no one ever mentioned his dancing. No one understood or appreciated how much work he put into it. It pleased him no end that he had been admired for his art which he worked so hard at, instead of his face or his body. He peered up at the lined face and stammered, “I – I have to get going …”
“Stay, Oliver. I would like to talk some more with you.”
Oliver looked up at the man with big round eyes. He was mesmerized. “Stay here?”
“Do not be afraid. I will not harm you. I just want to enjoy watching you dance again.”
And that was when Oliver knew he had indeed been dancing for that one special person.
“Pack enough for a weekend,” Christian ordered. “You’re coming with me.”
Oliver looked up in surprise. “Where are we going?”
Christian turned and cuffed him. “Do I keep you to ask questions?” he demanded. “Just do as you’re told. I am going to need a suit as well as casual wear. Make sure we’re ready to go by the time I return. ”
Oliver rubbed the side of his face, glaring at the door after Christian had left. “Fuck you,” he grumbled. “Am I your bloody valet?”
Silently he went about packing two valises. He found he was actually looking forward to be going somewhere even if it was with Christian and he had no idea what the plan was. He had been kept locked up so much lately that he thought he was going mad. In fact Christian had hardly spent any time with him, except when he wanted a quick fuck. And those had been just that, no tenderness, no joy and absolutely no feelings.
Looks like its time to move on. Again …
Oliver bit down on his lip firmly and focused on the job at hand. Nothing to be gained by wishing for what is not there. With his usual pragmatism, he finished packing and waited patiently for Christian to return. A car came to pick them up and they drove to a large enclosure where some private planes and helicopters were lined up. The car brought them onto a concrete helipad where a helicopter was idling. The pilot was at the controls, ticking off a chart.
“Are we ready to go?” Christian yelled to the pilot as soon as they got out of the car.
Two men came running up, each clutching a carry-on luggage. Oliver scowled when he saw them.
Chad and Chester - Christian’s slimy sonabithces buddies.
“What took you so long? We’ve been waiting ages,” Chad said by way of greeting.
“I had to go pick him up,” Christian replied, with a brief nod at Oliver.
Chad looked over at Oliver and smirked. “As cute as ever. You sure know how to pick ‘em, Christian. Glad he’s finally gonna join the party.” He let his eyes deliberately trail over Oliver, moving slowly up and down, and smacking his lips in a suggestive manner.
Chester grinned and flung an arm around Oliver’s shoulder. “About time too. We’re gonna party all right.”
Oliver shoved Chester’s arm away and glared. “Get away from me,” he spat.
Chester’s grin turned nasty. “Hey! Who the fuck do you think you are? Don’t you dare …”
Oliver’s hands curled into fists, ready for a fight.
Christian looked over at them and shook his head. “Cut the crap you guys. Time for that later. Let’s get this baby up in the air first.”
Oliver turned away and quickly slid into a seat and buckled himself up securely. He was tempted to ask where they were going but he wasn’t sure if Christian would tell him and he certainly didn’t feel like talking to either of the two goons. Putting the unpleasant encounter out of his mind, he looked around with curiosity. He had never been in a helicopter before. His eyes sparkled as the helicopter took off, slowly spiraling upwards until they were about 200ft above ground. Then it began to move forward, picking up height and speed gradually.
It was difficult to converse above the noise and since Oliver had zero inclination to chat with anyone that was fine, but he was grateful that Christian had taken the seat next to his. He didn’t even mind when Christian flung a hand possessively on his lap. Anything was better than the pair of idiots. He closed his eyes and pretended to sleep when he found Chester looking at him.
Marcus packed with care. A crisp dark suit, white shirt, tie and black shoes that he had polished till they shone. He would wear this for the project presentation on Saturday morning. They would be gone for the entire weekend, so he also put into the bag a couple of casual t-shirts and jeans. God knows what they would be doing the whole weekend but according to the email that had been issued, there would be a dinner party on Saturday night. Apparently quite a large mixed group had been invited.
“So did you find out where you will be going?” Stewart asked as he came out of the en suite, toweling his hair dry.
“Not the exact location but its some old castle that has been turned into a retreat – or something. I don’t really know. It’s mostly used for group meetings and stuff like that. God, there’s nothing to do there, Stewart! That place is worse than a desert.”
“I guess they didn’t want any kind of distraction. How are you getting there? Are you taking the car?”
Marcus snapped the case shut. “No, we’re getting a ride in together and we should arrive at the castle late tonight. Right after breakfast tomorrow, we do the presentation - which will probably take up the whole morning – by which time I will be mentally exhausted. And then Sunday I come home. I can’t wait to get this over with.”
Stewart smile sympathetically. “You’ll do fine. You’ve worked so hard the past few weeks, you should be proud to get the chance to show what you’ve done. You know the stuff well, so just relax and it will be all right.”
“I hope so!” Marcus grunted. “The worse part is you can’t duck out after the presentation if you don’t feel like sticking around. I just want to get it done and come home but we’re like captive guests. Anyway, there’s a dinner party on Saturday night. I cannot imagine how stuffy that will be.”
“You have to eat,” Stewart said with a shrug, as he returned to the bathroom to hang up the towel. When he came back out, Marcus looked up expectantly. Stewart hadn’t said a word, he just stood there, but Marcus’ attention was held nevertheless. He straightened up as Stewart spoke.
“Don’t forget your phone charger. I want you to call me right after your presentation to let me know how it went.”
Marcus nodded at once. In that tone, it was not a request but an order. Stewart’s voice held a level of sternness, intentionally providing Marcus with an anchor for the weekend.
“I also expect a call before you sleep every night. Is that clear?”
“Yes.” Marcus nodded solemnly; a deep knot in his stomach slowly unraveling. He couldn’t say it but deep down he was grateful for Stewart’s strictness. Far from invoking any shred of rebellion or resentment at the imposed control, it instead made him feel secure and safe, somehow protected even from a distance. He had not even realized how much he needed to feel the authority of his Top, and he gladly gave him the power of control, however remote.
“Oh, and don’t forget I will be going to Willcott with Philip for the weekend,” Stewart reminded Marcus in his normal tone as he climbed into bed. “There’s quite a bit of repairs that we need to look into. Aimes has been desperately calling for help. So call my mobile phone instead of the house.”
“I will,” Marcus replied. “I wish I was going with you to Willcott instead. I love that place.”
“I know; we all do. That’s why it’s important for us to keep up with the maintenance. There’s only so much Aimes can do. One man against a mountain of work.”
“Doesn’t he ever get tired of being alone?” Marcus snapped off the lights and joined Stewart in bed. “He is up there, all by himself, all year round.”
“He’s always been a loner,” Stewart said, drawing Marcus against his side, enjoying the warmth of his body. “That’s in his nature but I believe it got worse after the incident with Clay. I am sure he gets lonely at times. He just won’t admit it, the stubborn old fool that he is.”
Marcus grinned. “You wouldn’t dare let him hear you say that!”
“Of course not,” Stewart said calmly, while in truth there was enough friendship between him and Aimes to make it possible for them to be brutally honest when the occasion called for it. Aimes was a hard man to know and most would call him cold and obstinate – two qualities that Aimes particularly enjoyed being associated with. It made it easier for him to keep his distance.
Marcus stifled a yawn. “Isn’t Ben going with you guys?”
“No. He’s rushing for some deadline – yes, again! - so Philip has agreed to let him work through the weekend. Just as well we’ll be away or I forsee fireworks in that household in the next few days!”
Stewart turned to give Marcus a quick peck on the forehead. “Good night sweetheart. You need to get a good night’s rest to prepare for your weekend.”
The group stared with slackened jaws at the castle as their car drove up the long driveway. The lawns were extensive and well manicured. In the late evening light it looked awesome, magical like some cut-out picture out of a Disney coloring book. Two smartly dressed footmen were waiting at the imposing entrance to welcome them and to show them to their rooms. There was no check-in required, this being a pre-booked function.
They later learned that the castle was not as big as they had thought. In fact, it was not even a real castle – just a modern structure built to resemble one. It had an east and west wing that housed the rooms but no north or south. It was intentionally spread out on both sides to create a façade of grand expanse. The centre portion which joined both ends consisted of meeting rooms, a formal and informal dining area, and some offices and common spaces.
All the project members were given rooms at the east wing. The rooms were spacious and lavishly furnished. Not quite my taste, Marcus thought wryly as he twirled around, but he admired the huge four-poster bed, complete with rich hangings, tassels and embroidered bedcovers.
Wow – I wish Stewart could see this. Better still, I wish he would be sleeping here with me tonight in this monstrous bed.
Marcus unpacked quickly, and then joined the rest of the group at the smaller dining room for a late supper. Another few cars had arrived with more members of the management team. The atmosphere was convivial and jovial. Even Jacob, the most stuffy and somber manager in the team came dressed in slacks and a casual shirt and looking quite unintimidating. He loosened up enough to laugh and crack a few jokes with them. Marcus, who had felt slightly awkward at first, being both the newest and youngest person in the group, lost his shyness and began to enjoy himself. It wasn’t so bad after all.
Half-way through the meal, they heard the flapping echoes of a helicopter. Everyone looked upwards, as if they could see through the high ceiling.
“Is that a helicopter I hear?”
“Who could that be, arriving by helicopter?”
“I thought we had the castle to ourselves?”
“Apparently not. We only have the east wing.”
“I heard there’s another private party taking the west wing.”
Marcus listened with half an ear to the conversation, not particularly interested. He was more anxious to escape early so he could get ready for bed and then call Stewart. He also wanted to go over his presentation package one last time before the real run the next day. So as soon as it was polite to do so, Marcus got up and excused himself. He walked slowly back to his room, slightly pre-occupied with the arrangement of his slides. He took a left into the corridor that led to the east wing and did a double-take.
He turned back to stare and caught the back of a man disappearing into the west wing.
Marcus was itching to slip away the minute the presentation was over. He was excited at how well it had gone and he wanted to share the good news with Stewart as much as obey his order. He fidgeted while Jacob thanked the team for their efforts and congratulated them on their success. Once the man had finished his long and boring speech Marcus quietly excused himself.
Lunch was being served out on the patio – people were beginning to line up at the buffet table. Distancing himself from the group, Marcus turned off into a secluded corner. He fished his phone out of his pocket, pressed the quick dial and waited for Stewart to answer.
“It went great!” Marcus said before Stewart could even say hello. He quickly went over some of the details and then asked eagerly, “So how’s everything at Willcott? How’s Aimes?”
“He’s fine, just a bit frazzled at the number of things that require fixing and the speed they are falling apart. He’s worried about the cost but we keep telling him it’s under control. Ben’s been making sensible provisions and … hey, you don’t need the details now; you should be celebrating with your colleagues.”
“I wish I was with you Stewart.” Marcus sighed.
“I know babe. I wish you were here too.”
They chatted a few minutes more but Marcus knew he had to get back to the group or he would be missed. “I guess I better go, darling or I’ll miss lunch. I’ll see you tomorrow!”
“Go on now, have a good time and enjoy yourself. Call me tonight ok?”
“Of course,” Marcus promised and making sure his back was turned, blew a kiss into the phone, chuckling at his own silliness. He slipped the phone back into his pocket, grinning to himself.
The grin froze as he turned around. It took a few seconds for his brain to register the face before him and to realize that it was not playing tricks on him. Then his knees almost buckled.
“Ch...Christian?” Marcus’ face paled.
Christian smiled coolly at him. “What a surprise?” He instinctively held out a hand when he saw Marcus sway, meaning to steady him.
Marcus flinched and drew back immediately. “What are you doing here?” he stammered.
Christian laughed softly. “Why, I am spending a quiet weekend here with some friends. What? Did you think I was stalking you?”
Marcus swallowed. “No, I don’t know … it’s just …”
Christian was enjoying himself. Marcus was so cute when he was flustered. It brought Christian back to when he had first met Marcus, how shy he had been, and how embarrassed he had looked when Christian had finally seduced him. Marcus had been almost apologetic, as if it had been his fault.
“Excuse me … I … I need to go …” Marcus took a step forward, expecting Christian to step aside.
Christian stood his ground and put up a hand to stop Marcus’ progress. “Wait!”
Marcus began to look panicked. “I really need to get back to my group. I’m here with those people.”
“Fine, I will let you get back to them now but I want to see you later. Tonight.”
“No!” Marcus was horrified.
“I just want to talk to you, Marcus.”
Marcus’ eyes widened. “Are you crazy? We’ve got nothing to talk about.”
"Oh yes, we do. You ran away without a fucking word.” The words came out with unexpected fury, accusation mixed with pain. Christian stopped himself, shocked at how angry he felt. Seeing Marcus face to face had shaken him more than he had anticipated. Disgusted with himself, he drew in a deep breath. With an effort, he said in a milder tone. “I think you owe me at least an explanation.”
Marcus shook his head, licking his suddenly dry lips. “I can’t Christian, please let me go. Please.”
“Not before we talk. That’s all I am asking!”
A movement made Marcus look over Christian’s shoulder and he groaned. “Oh Christ, no.”
Christian whisked his head around and bit back a curse. Jacob was bearing down upon them.
“Mr Lowen?” Jacob’s voice was full of surprise. “What a pleasure. What are you doing here?”
Christian wanted to snarl but instead he forced a smile to his lips. “Jacob, hello. I didn’t realize you were doing the company retreat here. What a coincidence! I came with some friends for the weekend.”
Marcus was shocked at how smooth and suave Christian sounded. He sounded cheerful, and he looked relaxed and casual. Not a sign to betray how agitated he had been moments before.
“We were very lucky to get a booking,” Jacob said. “I hear this place is usually full if you didn’t book at least six months ahead.”
Christian nodded serenely. “That’s quite right. This is a lovely place, ideal for a weekend getaway. So how’s the project progressing?”
“Fine, just fine. We completed the presentation this morning, and it looks like the management will propose to the board to proceed with the recommendations. You’ll be hearing about it soon.” Jacob’s eyes darted questioningly between Christian’s cool smile and Marcus’ flushed face. “Um, I didn’t realize you two knew one another. Marcus is in the project team, by the way.”
Marcus reddened but Christian responded smoothly. “Is he? Wonderful. Marcus and I are old friends. We just ran into one another and are catching up. ”
“Oh … really …?” Jacob looked even more surprised. What business did a young executive have with a big-shot like Christian Lowen? “Well, that’s great...”
Christian held out a hand. “Well Jacob, its good seeing you again but I shouldn’t be keeping you two from your group any longer.” Turning back to Marcus, Christian smiled. “Marcus, it’s good seeing you. Keep in touch, and good job on the project.”
Marcus and Jacob watched in silence as Christian walked away.
Jacob quirked an eyebrow. “How on earth did you get to know him? And why the hell didn’t you say something earlier?”
“We’re just casual acquaintances,” Marcus said tightly. “And my knowing him has nothing to do with my job, or the project!”
“He is a major shareholder in Gamma, you know?” Jacob cast Marcus a sardonic look. “His company acquired us some months ago. In fact, he has been showing a strong interest in this very project.”
Jacob slung an arm over Marcus’ shoulders with uncharacteristic warmth and walked him towards the patio as if they too were old friends. He bent and said in a conspiratorial whisper. “He sure has! We report the progress at the monthly board meetings and he knows what questions to ask. He keeps track. It’s no wonder he’s so successful. I wouldn’t be surprised if this visit wasn’t a coincidence at all. Know what I mean? Very little escapes him, he is a very shrewd man.”
Marcus felt his stomach roll and managed not to shrug the heavy arm off his back, or roll his eyes.
16 hours earlier …
“What are we really doing here, Christian?” Chad asked as he and Chester came through the adjoining door into Christian’s suite. “This place is dead!”
“It’s a resort!” Christian responded with an eloquent shrug. “They’ve got a heated pool.”
Chester snorted. “Yeah – like we needed to come all this way to swim in a heated pool.”
“Chester’s right. What the hell are we gonna be doing this whole weekend?” Chester demanded, sinking into the sofa. His eyes travelled to Oliver, who was removing clothes from a valise and hanging them into the wardrobe. In an undertone, he remarked, “Now that could be entertainment.”
Christian glanced over at the slim figure. It was not unusual for him to pass his ‘playthings’ to Chad and Chester once he grew tired of them. He had had his fun with him – the boy was quite delightful in many ways and Chad and Chester would have a ball with him – but he needed Oliver for this weekend. Christian pursed his lips in silence.
Encouraged at the signs, Chad leaned closer to Christian. “Are we really getting a piece of that ass or are you just fucking baiting us Christian?”
“Shut up,” Christian snapped; he hated to be pushed. Raising his voice, he spoke to Oliver. “Sweetie, if you are done here, go next door and unpack for Chad and Chester.”
Oliver glared at the group but didn’t say a word. It was his job to serve and to obey Christian; the deal didn’t include his stupid friends. But he couldn’t outright refuse the request, and so with studied indifference and as much dignity as he could muster, he made his way to the adjoining room without a second look. Chad and Chester’s eyes were glued on the stretched jeans as Oliver disappeared from sight and gave a collective sigh.
“That’s some tight ass,” Chad said with a smirk. “I could so get into his pants.”
”Oh man, so could I,” Chester agreed with a snort. “So what’s the plan?”
“Patience boys! When have you known me not to have a plan huh? OK, here’s the deal,” Christian said, lowering his voice. “Don’t react but … Marcus is here.”
“Who? Oh shit, what did you say?” Chester screeched.
“I said don’t react!” Christian admonished. “And keep your voice down.”
Chad screwed up his forehead. “Marcus? That college kid, the one who just disappeared? What the fuck is he doing here?”
“He’s on some management retreat – he is in the east wing, together with that group we saw earlier.”
Chad and Chester looked at Christian in silent disbelief.
Christian continued softly. “Here’s the plan. I will invite Marcus here, alone … because I need to talk to him, ok? And I want you both to keep out of sight when he’s here. And I want you to keep Oliver with you as well.”
A barrage of questions came flying out from Chad and Chester.
“Talk about what? He’s been gone like – forever!”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Hey, did you know he would be here? Is that what this weekend is about?”
“Oh shit Christian, what the fuck are you doing?”
Christian narrowed his eyes. “Enough questions. I brought you here for a reason. There’s no free lunch, and you should know that by now!”
“Jesus, what is it with you and that kid?”
“He owes me,” Christian said simply.
Chad shook his head, staring at Christian curiously. He simply could not understand the fascination Christian had with Marcus. Christian had certainly taken Marcus’ departure hard at first, but he had got over it and gone on with his life. He had continued his lavish lifestyle, he hadn’t said no to the numerous partners they had thrown in his way; he had treated them all with the same callousness he had always shown. Oliver was a good example. Chad didn’t believe for a moment the boy meant anything more than a toy to Christian. Once he tired of him, Oliver would be discarded. In fact it looked pretty much that was about to happen soon.
“What do you want from him, Christian?” Chad asked softly.
“That is none of your business.”
Chad raised his eyebrows and glanced at Chester, who was looking equally surprised. Christian told them just about everything.
“I thought you’d got him out of your system,” Chester muttered darkly.
“He’s not IN my system, ok?” Christian replied in a tight voice. “There’s just some unfinished business I have with him.”
“But why here, for God’s sake?” Chad wanted to know.
“Where else can be better?” Christian shot back. “Do you know how much trouble I went through to arrange for this to happen? This is perfect. He can’t run away. He can’t ignore me. He has to be nice because he has his managers and colleagues around. He has no choice but to pretend to be friendly.”
“I still don’t understand what you hope to achieve.” Chad sounded perplexed.
“You don’t need to.” Christian’s tone was short and crisp. “All I want is for you to provide me with an excuse to be here, and for that your reward is in the next room waiting for you. That’s all you need to know.”
Chad shrugged, realizing there was no point in pushing. When Christian had that look, it meant he was not about to share his thoughts. And he didn’t like to be pushed. Turning the conversation, Chad asked instead, “So when is this meeting supposed to take place?”
“Are you sure he’ll come?”
“He’ll come.” Christian sounded confident. “You don’t have to worry about that. That’s my job. Your job is to stay clear and to keep Oliver occupied. You can have some fun with him then … isn’t that what you want? Here’s your chance.”
Both men looked at one another, considering the possibilities.
The encounter had shaken Marcus more than he liked to admit. He hardly tasted his lunch and he listened in a blur while the conversation flowed over his head. When he filled up his coffee cup he realized his hand was actually shaking.
He declined the invitation to join the others on a tour of the country-side and made his way to his room instead. In his mind, he played over the possibilities. He was convinced the encounter with Christian had been no accident. He was convinced Christian had somehow arranged for them to be here at the same time. The man had unlimited resources and an uncomfortably conniving brain. Nothing was below him.
The minute he opened his room door, he saw the note. It had been pushed in under the door and it lay there on the carpet, a little white rectangular envelope. He stared at it for a long time. Then with nervous hands, he bent and picked it up. He stopped breathing as he read it.
Room W33, 5.00pm Come or I will go look for you. CL.
Marcus felt the breath knocked out of him. He sat down on the edge of his bed, his knees suddenly weak. Instinctively he reached for his cell phone, meaning to call Stewart. He had to let Stewart know what was happening. He would know how to handle the situation. Stewart had saved him once from Christian, he would do it again.
Even as his fingers pressed the speed dial, he let the phone drop onto the bed. He couldn’t call Stewart. For one thing, Stewart was so far away, there was nothing he could do except worry. But more importantly, this was something he had to take care of himself. He was no longer a frightened college kid, who had stupidly dug himself into a hole he couldn’t get out of. He was a man now. An adult. He had a job, with responsibilities; he should be able to stand on his own two feet, able to handle stuff like this.
He needed to do this on his own.
Marcus thought back to the first time he had run to Stewart – and what Stewart had told him. Stewart had said that he didn’t need to submit to Christian if he didn’t want to and he didn’t have to run away from him. Stewart had told him that he had the right to decide what he wanted and no one could force that decision on him. Marcus had been too scared to listen at that time, unable to see the options in front of him. All he had thought about was getting away, disappearing, and escaping from Christian’s clutches.
With a groan, Marcus fell back onto the bed and closed his eyes.
After all this time, it slowly started to sink in. He did have a choice. Christian had once upon a time robbed him of his independence and self confidence but that was a thing of the past now. There was no reason why he could not stand up to Christian. If nothing else, Stewart had shown him the way.
Feeling the nausea calm in his stomach, Marcus sat up in bed. He ran his hands down his face, taking in deep breaths. In his heart, he already knew what he had to do.
Oliver snored lightly as the buggy approached the castle, sandwiched snugly between Chad and Chester and rocking gently against their arms. The two men looked down at the sleeping figure and then at one another and smirked. Things were going better than they had expected.
Christian had announced right after breakfast that he had some business to attend to and in order to keep his companions occupied, he had (in his usual grand and presumptuous way) arranged for the three of them to go on a tour of the country-side in an old-fashioned buggy drawn by a pair of horses. It was a beautiful day and the landscape was gorgeous. Despite his apprehension at being left with the two goons, Oliver had reluctantly agreed to go. Sure beat the hell out of staying cooped up in the hotel room.
There were a couple of similar horse-drawn buggies carrying people being driven along the country roads as well. Looked like those from the east wing group. The place was populated with a number of small lanes and paths crisscrossing one another and they would have been quite lost if not for their driver. He drove them into a deep thicket and then unerringly directed the horses back onto the well-worn tracks. Altogether it had been more fun than Oliver had anticipated and for once Chad and Chester had behaved quite well. No sly looks, no snide remarks.
They had had a late lunch at an old tavern, obviously erected in line with the castle theme to cater for the sight-seeing guests. The place brought them back to medieval times and was absolutely charming and appealed greatly to Oliver’s sense of adventure. He had never done anything like this before. Chad had ordered a bottle of wine and Oliver accepted two rather full glasses. By the time they headed back to the castle, it was late afternoon and Oliver was nodding off. There was something hypnotic about the swaying motion of a horse-drawn vehicle and the sunny weather with a cooling wind in your face. He didn’t object when they arrived at the castle and Chad put out a hand to help him down, but he did pull his hand away when Chad held it a fraction of a minute longer than was necessary.
The three of them headed to their rooms and Oliver stopped at the suite he shared with Christian. Still drowsy, he knocked on the door but got no response.
“He’s probably not back from his meeting yet,” Chad said indifferently. He jerked his head towards their room. “Why don’t you come wait in our room?”
Oliver was undecided. One afternoon alone didn’t make the two of them desirable companions. They might have shared lunch and a buggy ride but that didn’t make Oliver change his opinion of them. On the other hand it was better than waiting in the lobby. Christian hadn’t given him a spare key and he didn’t want to ask the front desk for one without Christian’s permission.
“I’m going to go for a swim.” Chad had already opened his room door. “Either of you wanna come?”
“Good idea,” Chester chimed in with enthusiasm. “Wash off the dust and sweat.”
That clinched the decision for Oliver. If both of them were going off to swim, that meant he would be left alone in peace. “Um, no thanks. I will wait in your room for Christian, if you are sure its ok.”
“Sure,” Chad said with a careless shrug. He and Chester grabbed their trunks and disappeared.
Oliver sank down onto the sofa and promptly fell asleep.
Christian was waiting in his room by 4.30pm. To his surprise, he found that his palms were clammy. Striding to the mini-bar he poured himself a stiff whiskey. Dammit! He had to get a hold of himself. God, he didn’t think he would get this rattled but the thought of seeing Marcus again, alone … it was enough to make him quiver with excitement. He rubbed his hands against his trousers, smoothing them over the silky material, silently rehearsing what he wanted to say to Marcus.
Do not sound angry or accusatory, he told himself; act cool. Slightly aloof would be good, that never failed to rattle these young raw ones. Keep your voice low and even. Tell him all you wanted was to catch up, find out how he was, show concern, and ooze sincerity. That should melt him; wear down whatever barriers he set up. And the clincher - be assertive yet kind. Christian was an old hand at working the ambivalent emotions. It confuses the hell out of them and had them believing he could offer them the world. Marcus used to soak it up. Heck, he’s just a kid after all.
And he once worshipped the ground you walked on.
Christian felt as if a fist had landed on the soft tissues of his abdomen. What the hell had happened between them?
Christian drained his glass and quickly poured another one. An uncomfortable knot made itself known in his chest, somewhere below his ribcage. Or was it in his stomach? He couldn’t quite pin down where it was hurting. The knot grew as the minutes ticked away. It felt horrible, as if it was clawing a hole right into his center. He wondered if he should swallow some pills but decided against it since he had had quite a few drinks.
Glancing at the clock he went into the bathroom and stared at his reflection in the mirror. Marcus should be there soon – Christian was sure he would come - and he wanted to look his best. Christian reeled back slightly as he saw his eyes gazing back - dark, angry and haunted. Shit! precisely what he was trying to avoid. He was gunning for calm and affability; looking anxious and obsessed was certainly not in his favor.
He blinked and tried again.
The same gripped expression stared back at him. Impatiently he splashed cold water on his face, ran a hand down it and then tapped it dry with a towel. No improvement. Not only that but the knot had now grown into a ball of simmering ache, as unfamiliar as it was despised.
A timid knock sounded on the door and Christian spun round, and then stood frozen for a moment. His heart gave a little jump; he had come! Downing the rest of the contents in his glass, he steadied himself and went to open the door.
Oliver felt a hand on his face and opened his eyes. There was a moment of blankness suspended in sleep and then his instincts jerked him awake.
“What are you doing?”
Chad’s face was right in front of him and he was smiling. “Hello there.”
Oliver sat up and shrank back, trying to put as much distance as possible between himself and Chad. Chester was standing there, looking at them with a stupid smirk on his face.
“I fell asleep. W-what time is it? I should be getting back to my room …”
Chad sat down on the sofa and touched Oliver’s arm. “No hurry, my little darling. In fact Christian is … occupied … and he thinks you should stay right here with us. Isn’t that so, Chester?”
Chester nodded his head, silently observing the two of them on the sofa.
Oliver felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise. “I’ll go look for Christian.”
Chad sighed. “I told you – he’s busy and does not want to be disturbed.”
Oliver hesitated. “OK, I’ll go wait in the lobby then.” He started to get up.
“Hey! What’s this? I thought we are friends? We practically spent the day together. Didn’t you have a good time with us?”
Oliver looked at Chad in disbelief but managed to stammer, “Uh, sure … thanks for the company …”
“So what’s the hurry?”
“I – er, need some air.”
“Come on, don’t go.” Chad insisted.
“Yeah, we just want to get to know you better.” Chester said, coming nearer. “Let’s be friends.”
Oliver wanted to stick his tongue out at the remark. Restraining himself, he said, “I’m tired. Sorry.”
“Tired? So rest here.” Chester’s eyes ran over Oliver, making him squirm. “You can sleep on the bed,” he suggested.
Yeah, sure. Oliver almost snorted.
“How about I give you a back rub?” Chad suggested. “You look like you need one.”
“No thanks.” Oliver’s response was clipped and immediate. “Look guys, thanks for the … er, hospitality but I really need to get going.”
Tired of the game, Chad grabbed his arm and stopped him. “Oh no, you are not going anywhere.”
Chester nodded his head firmly. “Christian says you are to stay here, with us. And that is what you are going to do, ok?”
Oliver tried to shove Chad’s hand away but found his own hands captured in Chad’s bigger and stronger grasp. “What do you think you are you doing?” Oliver gasped. “Let me go!” He tried to kick Chad off.
“Oh you little cat,” Chad said with a laugh, obviously enjoying himself. “Hold his legs!” he ordered Chester.
Oliver found himself lifted up between the two men and carried over to the bed. Struggling wildly, he tried to break free and almost succeeded when Chester dropped his feet.
“Ow!” Chester rubbed his face where Oliver had managed to kick him.
“You idiot!” Chad glared at Chester.
“He kicked me!” Chester protested, and made another dive to get control of Oliver’s legs. He managed to grab them and tuck them under his arms and together they tumbled Oliver onto the bed.
“You bastards! Let me go!” Oliver shouted. “NO!”
“Quiet!” Chad ordered, promptly sitting on Oliver to pin him down. “Listen kid, do yourself a favor. This is going to happen no matter what you say or do. Its part of the plan, and don’t tell me you don’t know it. Christian always shares with us. OK? Its not like you haven’t done it before. So just calm down and we can all enjoy ourselves!”
“Screw you!” Oliver flailed his arms and tried to knock Chad off him but Chester had already moved to the top of the bed and once again captured and immobilized him.
Both the captors laughed rudely at his remarks. “We are actually thinking just that, my boy!” Chad chuckled.
“Oh … I hate you!” Oliver grunted in despair, feeling totally helpless.
Chester leaned over and breathed hot air into his face. He tongue appeared and slowly licked Oliver’s cheek. “Hmm … I like what you just said … its been on my mind for a long long time you know, and we have every intention to screw you just as you said.”
“And its up to you whether you get to enjoy it or not.” Chad’s voice was clear and calm from the other end.
Oliver felt a hand on his crotch and stiffened. Oh Lord no! He used to be able to do this, but not after Simon. His time with Simon had changed everything, changed him entirely. When he had first run away he had blindly stumbled through life with only one thought - to survive. He had struck out on his own having no self value because no one ever told him what it was. That task had been left to Simon.
Thinking of Simon made him suddenly cry out. “No, please don’t do this. Please … I beg you. It’s not right. Please let me go!” The anger was gone, replaced by sorrow instead.
There was the sound of a zipper being drawn and Oliver felt a warm hand slip inside his jeans, cupping his flaccid cock. Involuntarily he began to struggle, screaming loudly.
The connecting door was flung open and Christian came striding in, his face flushed with annoyance. “What the fuck is going on?” His voice was low with suppressed fury. He glared at the three figures on the bed.
“Christian, help …” Oliver strained to get up and renewed his struggles.
“He’s a bitch!” Chester complained.
Christian’s eyes blazed. “Keep him quiet! Or you won’t get him at all!” he ordered sharply. And without even a second glance at Oliver, he turned and left.
Christian slipped back into the sitting area of his suite and closed the door firmly behind him, facing Marcus. He had pulled the door shut when he had gone to Chad and Chester’s room to investigate but he couldn’t be sure how much Marcus had seen or heard.
“Chad and Chester – getting a bit rowdy,” Christian said casually with a little smile, as if he found them amusing. “You remember them, don’t you?”
Marcus shrugged. He did but didn’t care to. Not his most favorite people in the world. Keeping his eyes fixed on Christian, he waited.
“So … where were we? Ah … ” Christian pointed to the sofa and invited. “Why don’t we sit down?”
Marcus drew in a deep breath, walked over to the winged chair and gingerly sat down. Being in the same room as Christian was surreal. Facing Christian after their abrupt parting was horribly uncomfortable. Marcus just wanted to flee but he had come to deliver a message and he was determined to get it done. In a way he was glad he had been cornered into this situation. Left on his own, he would never voluntarily seek Christian out but if he were honest with himself, he knew he needed this closure. Not for Christian but for himself. Marcus didn’t want to go through the rest of his life hiding from Christian and wondering if he would ever be free of his clutches.
“Can I get you a drink?” Christian inquired politely, as he went and poured himself a fresh drink. He was once again totally in control of himself, exuding confidence and elegance.
“No,” Marcus said, shaking his head. He was surprised to find his voice quite steady. “No thanks. I won’t be staying very long.”
Christian smiled urbanely as he carried his drink over, sitting opposite Marcus on the sofa. “First of all, tell me how you’ve been.”
“I’ve been good, thanks,” Marcus replied shortly.
If Christian was disappointed Marcus didn’t reciprocate his concern, he hid it well. “I’m glad to hear it. You do look good Marcus. In fact, you look great!”
The sincerity in Christian’s voice was real and Marcus opened his eyes. “Thanks,” he said lamely.
Crossing his legs gracefully, Christian continued as if they were old acquaintances chatting over afternoon tea with all the time in the world. “I assume you’ve graduated since you are now working at Gamma. It’s a great company with a lot of potential and that’s why I bought into it. I hope you like working there. If you ever encounter any problems all you need to do is give me a call, you know that don’t you?”
Marcus cleared his throat and made himself look at Christian. “Listen Christian, I don’t know why you invited me here … and to be honest I wasn’t going to come at first.”
Christian’s eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly. “So why are you here?”
Marcus’s eyes dropped and he stared at his hands, clasped tightly between his knees. “There’s something I want to say to you.”
“Go on. I’m all ears.” Christian’s voice was teasing.
“I – I just wanted to say I am sorry. For disappearing … for running off without a word.”
Marcus forced himself to look and he stole a glance at Christian. A rigid mask had descended on his face. There was still a smile on it but it wasn’t a real one. When Christian looked like that Marcus had no idea what he was thinking. But at least he was listening quietly. Marcus hadn’t known what to expect but he was thankful Christian was being so calm.
Wanting to get this out of the way as quickly as possible, Marcus continued in a rush.
“I know this is way late, and I should have explained … but at that time it wasn’t … I didn’t know …” Marcus took another deep breath and pushed on. “… anyway, what I did was cowardly and … I am sorry. I wanted to tell you that.”
“Is that all you have to say?” Christian asked softly, but a tiny muscle had begun twitching at the corner of his mouth.
Marcus shrugged. “I guess that’s pretty much it.”
Christian gave a slight nod of acknowledgement. “I see.”
Marcus heaved a sigh of relief, amazed at how good he felt all of a sudden. He looked over at Christian again and couldn’t for the life of him imagine why he had been so afraid of him in the past. For a long moment, neither said a word. The silence built and thickened between them. Christian was staring back at him, a rigid frozen smile on his face. Finally he spoke. “Why?”
“I beg your pardon?”
Marcus saw Christian’s throat working soundlessly, as if he was trying to speak but couldn’t get the words out. Strange that Christian would be so inarticulate. In all the time Marcus had known him, he had never been at a loss of words. When he finally did speak, his voice was husky. “Why did you … leave me Marcus?”
Marcus couldn’t miss the emphasis on the words ‘leave me’ and he bit his lower lip and shrugged.
“Did I not treat you well?”
Marcus shook his head.
“When I found you, you were nothing but a struggling student bogged down by a demanding shrew of a woman. You were miserable and going nowhere. I rescued you. I taught you everything. I showed you the world, how to live. I took you places, gave you the best. Was I not generous enough with you?”
Marcus’ eyes were troubled.
“I gave you everything,” Christian said so softly that Marcus wasn’t sure if he heard right.
Swallowing uncomfortably, Marcus mumbled the only thing he could think of. “I’m sorry.”
“I don’t want your bloody apologies!” Christian suddenly burst out. He stood up abruptly and did a quick turn, obviously fighting for control. “God dammit!”
Marcus sat very still, hardly breathing. The unexpected outburst had startled him and all he could do was stare as Christian began to pace.
“Do you know how long I searched for you? I was so goddamn worried! I thought something had happened to you. I imagined you were in some accident, hurt maybe, needing help. I was going crazy - I imagined the worst. I was even contemplating calling up your family. God Marcus ….” The words came fast and unrestrained, as if they were wrenched out of him raw and tormented.
Pale and shaken, Marcus looked up as Christian loomed over him. He saw a face that was contorted with anguish.
“You were mine!”
With a sickening thud in his heart, Marcus got to his feet, backing away and distancing himself from Christian. “I’m sorry, I have to go …”
“No! Stop!” Christian reached out a hand, imploring.
Marcus was retreating, almost at the door.
“Wait Marcus, don’t ...” Christian grabbed Marcus’ arm and swung him around to face him. “Listen to me. I’m not going to hurt you. I just want to talk to you.”
“There’s nothing to talk about Christian,” Marcus said, shaking off his hand.
“You can’t go yet. Not before you hear me out. Marcus, whatever it is you are looking for, I can give it to you.”
“I want nothing from you Christian,” Marcus said as gently as he knew how. He already had all he wanted with Stewart. But how was a man like Christian able to understand that?
“You are not thinking this through, believe me. Do you know how powerful I am? Christ! Marcus, you have no fucking idea what I can do. Anyone would be falling over themselves to be in your position. You are young yet, there’s so much waiting for you, you have no idea. And I can give it all to you. All you have to do is stay … with me!”
Their eyes met and suddenly both of them fell still.
In a flash Christian realized he had been babbling and he shut up, folding his lips tightly. He had never put himself in such a vulnerable position with anyone before and he was inwardly horrified and yet desperate that it might work, that he might yet win Marcus back.
Marcus averted his eyes, as a wave of sympathy welled within him. He remembered the first time he saw Christian Lowen and how enamored he had been with the man. He had had such presence and he had swept Marcus right off his feet. Marcus had hung on his every word, fascinated with Christian’s power and command. Christian had opened doors for Marcus, haunted his dreams and once upon a time not that long ago he had even filled his world.
“Good bye Christian,” Marcus whispered, not realizing there was a tear in his eye.
Christian’s mouth hung open, slack with sudden comprehension. He watched in dread silence as Marcus pulled the door open, step out and then disappeared. For a long time, Christian stared at the closed door. The earlier knot he had felt came back with a vengeance, making him clutch his abdomen. With a hand over his stomach, he staggered over to the sofa and sank down into the soft cushions, not caring that he had knocked his drink over and the amber liquid was now staining the plush carpet.
He leaned back and closed his eyes, too tired to get up. He should go get some antacid, he told himself but he couldn’t make the effort. It was probably some form of gastric pain. Too much whiskey probably. Breathing deeply, he felt the pain subside into an ache and then without warning flare again, sharper this time, nearer his heart.
Shit! Was he having a heart attack?
Christian sat up and looked around the vast and luxurious room, feeling the walls press in on him. It didn’t feel like a heart attack but if he were having one right then, he wouldn’t really have minded. Perhaps that might put the guilt into Marcus, bring him back.
The knot was moving again, looking for a place to lodge itself, somewhere to latch on to so that it could grow and fester.
Christian groaned, powerless to stop it.
So this was how you felt when there was nothing you could do to make it better, when you were totally at the mercy of something or someone.
Throwing back his head, Christian opened his mouth and laughed aloud, letting the air fill his lungs and then exhaling all of it, as if trying to purge everything out of him. The irony of his situation hit him full in the face.
As abruptly as it had begun, the laughter died and he finally figured it out - what he felt was simply despair.
Oliver leaned against the bed head and tried to breathe calmly. He twisted his hands behind his back, trying to slip them from the bonds holding his wrists together. So far he hadn’t been able to do much, not at all like in the movies where the hero always managed to break free. How on earth they did that he had no idea, especially when both hands were tied behind you at a damn uncomfortable angle.
Chad and Chester were sitting at the sofa, playing cards and drinking steadily while casting occasional glances at him. They had also gagged him, in an attempt to keep him quiet. Knowing Christian, if Oliver continued to scream, that would really tick him off and he might very well withdraw his permission. They would lose their grand prize – which at the moment was glaring daggers at them.
“’ … et ee oosss …ooo …” Oliver gurgled incoherently around the gag, at the same time giving a couple of kicks at the mattress.
“Patience darling,” Chad laughed. “We’ll come to you soon enough.”
“Can’t wait?” Chester taunted. “Well, me neither!” He nodded his chin at Oliver’s direction and said to Chad. “You know, he can’t scream with the gag. Damn, seeing him all trussed up like that sure is a turn on.” He got up and walked over to the bed, laying a hand on Oliver’s hair. “Christian sure is taking his time, isn’t he?”
Oliver tried to kick out at Chester but the man was out of reach. Chester sat down at the side of the bed and began to run his hands down Oliver’s torso. He slowly unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it open, baring Oliver’s smooth chest. Oliver screamed in his throat as Chester began to pinch his nipples, but the screams were swallowed by the gag and all that came out was a babble of subdued sounds.
Seeing what was happening, Chad eagerly joined his partner and sat on the other side of Oliver. He watched Chad for a while and then he began to touch Oliver as well. Oliver did his best to avoid their hands but it was a losing game and he knew it. He could see how much his captors were enjoying his squirming and struggling and he fumed with frustration.
“What a gorgeous body,” Chad whispered, almost reverently. It had been ages they had had someone so young and beautiful.
“I like it.” Chester licked his lips and stroked Oliver’s thigh.
Oliver closed his eyes as he felt his pants being pulled down. It was inevitable; it was going to happen. He stopped the tears from forming and blanked his mind. It was not as if it would be the first time he had been used by strange men, but he had hoped it would never happen again after he had been with Simon.
Oliver hardly noticed when the hands stopped and his two abductors paused at the sound of the connecting door opening. Seeing it was Christian, Chad smiled. “Hey Christian, we kept him quiet. Care to join us? We could make an interesting combination.”
Oliver’s eyes flew open and he stared at Christian, calling out silently. Christian avoided looking at him, just shaking his head at the invitation.
Shrugging, the pair resumed and managed to pull Oliver’s pants completely off, leaving him clad only in his briefs. Oliver groaned as Chad proudly gestured to him, as if presenting a trophy. “What a prize! He is beautiful, Christian, as you say.”
“Is he as tight as he looks?” Chester grinned wolfishly. He reached down to tug at the skimpy white underwear. “Who’s going to go first? Christian, do you want?”
Christian had not said a word since coming in but he came up to the bed and for the first time looked at Oliver as he twisted and kicked. Oliver’s eyes were still boring into Christian, spitting anger and at the same time pleading.
Please, Please. Christian don’t let them do this, please. The deal was only you, not to be shared or passed around.
Oliver’s eyes shone with betrayal.
Chad and Chester looked up at Christian.
Christian’s tone was cold. “Let him go.”
A petulant look crossed Chester’s face. “Why?” He began to feel annoyed that his fun was being taken away. “I don’t fucking believe this! This was supposed to be our reward!”
“I said let him go!” Christian snapped, and then he reached behind Oliver and tugged the knots loose.
Chad shook his head in disgust and Chester glared and cursed.
Stunned and relieved at the same time, Oliver rapidly pulled his clothes back on and then moved to stand apart from the three men, rubbing at his wrists which were both sore and red. Across the room, the tension was building up as a separate drama unfolded. In a voice filled with bitterness Chad said, “In all the years I’ve known you, you have never gone back on your word like this Christian.”
“This is fucking unbelievable!” Chester exploded.
Christian shrugged. “I changed my mind, sorry.”
“Yeah, right, just like that huh? Where does this leave us?” Chester demanded, frustration obvious on his face.
Christian’s eyes flashed but he managed to speak in a controlled voice. “I will make it up to you when we get back. That will have to do for now.”
“How the hell do we know you won’t change your mind again?” Chad asked scathingly.
“You’ll just have to take my word for it.” Turning to Oliver, he ordered brusquely. “Get our things packed. We leave first thing tomorrow morning.”
Without hesitation Oliver turned and fled via the connecting door.
Marcus was aware that he was shaking by the time he got back to his room. He closed the door and leaned against it, drawing deep breaths. When his knees eventually stopped shivering, he crossed the room and went and sat down on his bed.
Oh God! He couldn’t believe what he had done.
I stood up to Christian.
The ghost of Christian Lowen had been laid to rest. A smile touched Marcus’ lips, and lingered there. He felt invincible and he savored the feeling, knowing full well it would be a fleeting emotion. This kind of high didn’t last forever and soon enough the euphoria would disappear but while it lasted, it felt damn good.
The smile widened.
In fact he felt on top of the world - there was nothing Christian could do to scare him now.
Suddenly Marcus needed to be outside instead of cooped up in his room. He needed to feel freedom, needed the fresh air to cleanse his senses. He decided a brisk walk in the grounds as the sun set would be just the thing. Grabbing a light jacket and his room card, he made his way out.
There was no one around the vast grounds. Marcus walked for about twenty minutes before turning back. Dinner had been arranged for 7.30pm and most people were already in their rooms getting ready. Marcus knew his group would be celebrating that night after weeks of grueling hard work, ready to let their hair down and party the night away. He sighed heavily, wishing he didn’t have to stay. The success of the project suddenly seemed unimportant. He certainly didn’t feel like celebrating with his team and in fact wanted nothing more than to be back at his own house with Stewart.
He closed his eyes and imagined Stewart’s arms around him, squeezing him comfortingly, smoothing away his tension. Oh God, how he missed him. And the question popped into his head - how the hell was he going to explain that he had not only run into Christian but had gone to meet him in his room? It was innocent enough but somehow Marcus felt a pang of guilt shoot through him.
Marcus sucked in his breath.
In his head, he began to rehearse how he would tell Stewart. Why hadn’t he called him earlier? He should have done so instead of going to meet Christian, alone. He swallowed. No – there was no way he could tell him that. Or should he not mention the encounter at all? That option seemed suddenly quite attractive.
Marcus was so absorbed in his thoughts that he almost walked straight into another person as he was entering a side gate.
“Oh, excuse me …” Marcus apologized, immediately stepping aside.
“S-sorry, I didn’t see you …” The figure had his head bent but Marcus could see immediately that he was visibly upset and possibly crying as well. His voice sounded hoarse.
“Hey …” Marcus’ hand shot out on reflex. “Are you ok?”
A pair of hunted eyes flickered up at him and then quickly dropped to the ground. He ignored the hand and the question and instead hugged a valise close to his chest, then quickly looked over his shoulder with apprehension. “Sorry,” he said again, softly and began to move away. He slid past Marcus out the gate and began to hurry down the path.
Marcus looked after him for a moment. From his clothes, Marcus knew he couldn’t be one of the hotel staff or some delivery boy. There was also no reason for a staff to act so suspiciously. A little nagging thought began to beat at the back of his mind.
Apart from his own group, Marcus knew there was only one other party in the hotel – Christian’s. Did he belong to Christian’s entourage or could he be another hotel guest who had perhaps just checked in? If he did, then why was he running away; and he certainly looked like was running away, scared and in a hurry to disappear. It just didn’t make sense. Moreover the furtive look in his eyes and in his mannerisms made Marcus feel acutely uncomfortable.
On impulse, Marcus turned and ran after him.
“Hey, you there, stop!”
The figure continued walking, picking up speed immediately. Marcus broke into a run and tapped him on the shoulder. “Hey!”
“What do you want?” The slim figure turned and glared at Marcus.
The two of them looked at one another in silence, each sizing the other up. Finally the young man spoke. “Why are you following me?”
Marcus took a step back, unsure how to proceed. “Please … don’t misunderstand. I’m not following you. I just wanted to be sure you are ok. You look kinda …” Marcus shrugged, not wanting to sound rude or appear too presumptuous. “Look, my name is Marcus and I’m a guest here. I don’t mean to intrude or anything. I just wondered if you needed any help?”
“Marcus?” The eyes opened wider.
Marcus looked suspiciously at him. “Yes. Why? Do we know one another?”
The young man sniffed. “No. We don’t.”
“Are you a guest here?” Marcus asked.
When no answer seemed forthcoming, Marcus narrowed his eyes much in the same way he had seen Stewart do it when he himself was trying to avoid telling the truth. Imitating Stewart’s voice, he asked firmly, “What are you doing with that bag? Steal something?”
“No! Of course not!” the young man cried out hotly, his cheeks reddening. “This is mine!”
It worked! Marcus thought gleefully. Pushing his luck, he continued. “How do I know you are telling the truth? If you are not a guest here, then why are you …?”
“I AM a guest here!”
“Yes really,” he shot back, obviously disliking Marcus’ tone. “And I am not a thief!”
“So which is your room?”
“I – I am on the west wing!”
“Obviously, since we’ve taken up the whole east wing.” Again Marcus repeated the eye gesture. “And what is your name?” he asked firmly.
Another hesitation, then softly, “Oliver.”
Somehow, without even realizing how or why, the words slipped out from Marcus’ lips. “Oliver? Your name is Oliver?”
“Are you running away from Christian?”
Marcus moved closer, prompted solely by instinct. “Look, its ok. I am not stopping you and I don’t mean to harm you in any way. This is your business and I don’t care but I just want to offer my help. I know Christian, and I know what he is capable of.”
A look of relief mixed with suspicion crossed Oliver’s face. Not knowing what else to do, he said quickly, hoping he wasn’t trusting the wrong person. “I need to get away.”
Marcus looked around and thought quickly. They were miles away from nowhere and unless Oliver planned to walk, the only other way out was to get a car sent around. And in order to do that, they would need to go through the hotel concierge.
“How do you plan to do that?” Marcus asked, looking at the bag and the shoes Oliver had on his feet. Neither item looked as if they were made for a long hard trek.
Marcus shook his head. “You won’t be a mile away before you find you can’t walk in those shoes. Stupid plan. Actually, standing here talking isn’t really all that smart to begin with.” A distant memory stirred in Marcus’ mind and he understood the look in Oliver’s eyes. “Listen, if you want, you cab hide out in my room. For now anyway, till you figure out a better plan.”
“You’d let me do that?”
“Yes,” Marcus replied without hesitation. “I’ve got a dinner party to attend and I need to get moving or they will come looking for me. But afterwards, as soon as I can slip away, we can discuss how best to get you away.”
The plan sounded good to Oliver, since he had no better alternative. For once, he felt really helpless. All his years of street living wasn’t doing him any good here. “All right, thanks. I … appreciate it.”
“Do you know where you are running to?” Marcus threw in the question as an afterthought.
Oliver shook his head.
“Thought not,” Marcus said with a resigned sigh. “Well, let’s get moving before anyone comes looking for either of us! We can make our way back in from the east wing. Ready?”
Oliver nodded and together the two of them stealthily stole back into the building, keeping close to the trees and bushes till they arrived at the side entrance. Luckily they met no one and the darkened shadows provided cover for most of the way. They hurried down the carpeted corridor until they arrived at Marcus’ room. Marcus slid his room card into the slot and pushed Oliver unceremoniously inside.
Both young men sighed with open relief once they had locked the door.
Marcus kept a tense lookout for Christian throughout the entire dinner but did not catch sight of him or of his goons. He had half expected Christian to come barging into the dining room and yank him off his feet, demanding to be told what he had done with Oliver. By the time dessert was served Marcus began to feel more at ease. He reasoned it out that even if Christian suspected he had anything to do with Oliver’s disappearance, he couldn’t very well accuse him of it openly. It would be too embarrassing and damaging for Christian’s reputation to expose himself in that way.
The dinner dragged on tediously, with a lot of silly toasts and even sillier jokes. Several other colleagues had come in over the course of the afternoon and the dining room was filled. There were a lot of congratulations going around; Marcus got his fair share of the credit. His mind however was far removed from all the praises he received. Instead he kept thinking of the young man in his room, and wondering what the hell kind of trouble he had got himself into.
By the time he went back to his room, it was past 11pm. Oliver was sprawled on one corner of the bed, asleep. Marcus shook him awake.
“Are you hungry?” Marcus asked. “I brought you something.”
Oliver sat up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. His stomach growled at the mention of food. They had earlier agreed they should not draw any attention to his presence by ordering any room service, which meant he had not had any dinner.
“Here – eat this,” Marcus said, placing a packet wrapped in a napkin into Oliver’s hands. Inside was some bread and an apple. “Sorry this is all I managed to get, without being too obvious.”
“This is fine,” Oliver said. He had known hunger before and it was a hardship he could easily withstand. “Thanks.”
Marcus sat down and watched Oliver eat. He had thought of little else the whole evening and he was dying to ask questions and get some answers. Remembering the altercation he had heard when he had been talking to Christian, he had put two and two together and now wanted confirmation.
“Were you in the room with Chad and Chester earlier in the afternoon?”
Oliver finished the bread and brushed the crumbs off his hands. He looked directly at Marcus and nodded. “Yes.”
“Well … I was in the next room. With Christian.” It sounded bad when he said it out loud and Marcus blushed.
“I know.” Seeing Marcus’s surprise, Oliver continued. “I knew Christian was arranging to meet with you. That’s why he sent me to the other room. With those bastards.”
“He told you he was meeting me?” Marcus asked, astonished.
“No, he didn’t have to. I pick up a lot of things by just listening.” Oliver said that matter-of-factly. “How did you know it was me in the other room?”
“You were … er, rather loud.” Marcus paused and then asked as delicately as he could. “What were they … um, did they … hurt you?”
Oliver’s eyes darkened. “No, not really. They tied me up and gagged me, but … Christian made them let me go. “Oliver swallowed. “… You know them; I don’t need to say it.”
“No, you don’t,” Marcus said solemnly, suppressing a shudder. “So you know me?”
“I’ve heard your name here and there.”
“Oh.” Marcus squirmed, feeling his flesh creep. Not really wanting to delve further into that, he asked instead, “So how long have you been with Christian?”
Flashes of memory swept past Marcus’ mind. He found himself asking, “Are you exclusive to him?”
“That was the deal I made with him. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. He agreed that I would be exclusive to him. Until now. He broke the agreement.” Oliver sounded bitter although his face was impassive.
“Why did he change his mind?” Marcus wondered. “He did let you go?”
Oliver sighed. “Yeah, for now. But I can’t trust him any longer. It would be a matter of time before he changes his mind again and gives in to his pals’ demands. There’s no way I can go back to the penthouse with him. No way!” Oliver looked and sounded desperate but a mask descended over his face as soon as the words were out.
“So … what is your plan?” Marcus looked at Oliver expectantly.
Oliver’s eyes darted around the room, as if hoping to find inspiration. The truth was he had no plans, only the fervent desire to escape before he could be forced into all sorts of unpleasantness. The thought alone made him want to puke.
“Well, if I could make it back to the city, I would be able to work something out,” Oliver replied carefully.
“Do you have friends there? Or family?” Marcus looked skeptical. Believing that the time for diplomacy had long flown out the window, he came directly to the point. “Or were you with someone else before Christian?”
A look of pain crossed Oliver’s face. Without a word, he turned away and stalked into the bathroom. There was the sound of water running, and he emerged a moment later with his face washed and his hair slightly damp at the temple and forehead. “Where do you want me to sleep tonight? Sofa?”
Marcus raised his eyebrows.
Ah! Touchy subject.
“Yeah, you can take the sofa – you should be able to fit.” Marcus threw a pillow at Oliver.
“Can you help me get back into the city?” Oliver asked, hugging the pillow and coming to stand in front of Marcus, looking ridiculously young. “We came by helicopter so there’s no way I can return in that.”
Before he could answer, Marcus’ phone buzzed. Glancing at it, and then at his watch, he groaned and then cursed. He looked over at Oliver and put a finger to his lips as he pressed the green key. “Hi honey,” he greeted cheerfully. “I was just about to call you.”
He went into the bathroom, and closed the door.
“I was getting worried,” Stewart said. “Has the dinner party just ended?”
“Um, yes … I just got back into the room.”
“Must have been some party. So how was the rest of your day?”
“Oh nothing much ….”
Little white lies are harmless ... that’s why they are called little white lies …
There was a pregnant pause and Marcus winced, almost certain he had given himself away.
Stewart’s voice came over, calm and casual. “Well, it’s late. I just wanted to see if you are ok. You must be tired.”
“Yeah – kinda. It’s been a really long day.”
If only you knew …
And then the words slipped out on their own volition, a little more passionate than Marcus had expected. “I can’t wait to come home, Stewart. I miss you!”
Stewart’s low chuckle could be heard. “Well if that is the kind of reaction I get after a weekend apart, I must say it’s quite worth the exercise. I miss you too sweetheart.”
Marcus exhaled, wishing with all his heart Stewart was with him right at that moment. Trying to keep his voice steady, he managed a smile. “Good night darling. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Oliver regarded Marcus carefully when he reappeared. “Any trouble?”
“No, not at all,” Marcus replied.
“Was that your partner?”
“Yeah, that was.” It felt so good to be able to say that.
“Will he mind you helping me?” Oliver asked shrewdly. Much as he needed it, he had no wish to embroil anyone in his affairs if it meant trouble.
Marcus frowned. “Stewart has the kindest heart in the world. He would want me to help anyone in trouble. Only thing is …”
“What?” Oliver held his breath.
“I … um, he has no idea Christian is here and I am not sure what his reaction would be if he knew. You see,” Marcus swallowed the lump in his throat. “I and Christian go back a bit. We were … he and I were … well he …”
Oliver shrugged. “You were lovers?”
Marcus blushed darker. “Yes.”
“Is this gonna get complicated?”
“No, no!” Marcus protested. “I’m not involved with Christian in any way now. I haven’t seen him in over a year now. The only reason I went to his room was … well, to settle whatever unfinished business there was between us. Things didn’t exactly end well between us you see. I just took off, which I must acknowledge was wrong and I owed him an …”
“Hey, you don’t need to explain.” Oliver interrupted.
Marcus caught himself up with a self-conscious laugh. “Yeah. I realize that. Anyway, I merely wanted to ensure you didn’t jump to the wrong conclusions …”
“I wouldn’t,” Oliver said in a gentle voice. He went over to the sofa and settled down on it. “I wouldn’t judge you either,” he continued softly.
Marcus scrutinized Oliver quietly. His demeanor was totally opposite to that of the nervous and edgy young man he had met in the gardens earlier. There was an air of calmness about him which Marcus had not detected earlier. He decided he liked Oliver.
Catching the look, Oliver smiled for the first time. “I’ve slept on many sofas in the past but this is one time I feel quite good about it. Thanks for helping me; otherwise I would be out in the cold right now.”
“Well, I hope you won’t be too uncomfortable on the sofa. And don’t worry about tomorrow – we’ll figure something out in the morning.”
The minute he said it, Marcus regretted it. Oliver wasn’t his responsibility; he was only trying to help him but that didn’t make him responsible for the boy. He didn’t need to find a solution for him.
“All right.” Oliver’s response was instant and trusting.
Oh heck, Marcus thought. What have I got myself into now? He didn’t want to get involved in Christian’s business just as he had escaped from it, but the boy reminded him of Mike - his younger brother who was nineteen that year.
“How old are you?”
“Old enough. Why?” Oliver’s response was short and curt.
“Just wondering. Don’t answer if you don’t want to!” Marcus snapped back. If he didn’t want to reveal his age, that was entirely up to him.
Jesus, not even twenty-one yet? Now what?
Sighing, Marcus decided to ignore the information and asked instead, “Do you know Christian’s plans for tomorrow?”
“I know he is planning to leave first thing tomorrow morning. They will likely go back by helicopter, same way we arrived. It was neat actually. I had never been in one before.”
Marcus tried not to roll his eyes. “Cool. But won’t he come searching for you when he finds you gone?” Marcus asked.
Oliver pondered a moment and then shrugged. “I don’t think he will care much. My time with him is up anyway.”
Marcus hesitated, not sure how to respond. Oliver confused him. In the few short hours he had been with him, he had seen many sides to Oliver that was conflicting. His first impression of a scared and anxious young man had quickly been replaced. Once settled Oliver had revealed a cool composure that belied his young age and yet at the same time he could appear ridiculously childish. Neither had Oliver muttered one word of complaint, simply making the best of his situation. That showed maturity.
But the most unsettling had been his open and obvious trust in Marcus.
What a fix!
Looking at the clock, Marcus saw that it was almost 1 am, which explained why his brain was threatening to shut down while his eyes were beginning to grow heavy. Deciding nothing much more could be achieved, he said, “why don’t we continue this discussion tomorrow morning? I’m really sleepy now.”
Oliver immediately curled up on his side. “Yeah, me too. I’m so tired. Did I thank you for the bread? At least I didn’t need to go hungry tonight.” He smiled at Marcus, eyes trusting. “Oh, this is nice and comfy! Good night, Marcus.”
Marcus swallowed the sudden lump in his throat. “Good night.” He quietly watched Oliver snuggle deeper into the cushions and promptly fall asleep, a hand beneath one cheek. He looked really young and sweet and innocent – and it was no wonder he had fallen into the clutches of Christian once their paths had crossed.
A sudden flare of protectiveness arose in Marcus.
Six hours later, they awoke to the flapping sound of a helicopter. Both pairs of eyes flew open, and they scrambled out of bed at the same time and rushed to the window, only to realize that they could see nothing from that angle.
“Let’s go out and see,” Marcus suggested. “I want to be sure they are really leaving.”
Oliver was already pulling on his pants.
Oliver turned out to be right. By the time Christian had sobered up enough to look around him and realized Oliver was nowhere to be found, it was the next morning and almost time to leave. More upset that Oliver hadn’t packed than with his disappearance, Christian had thrown whatever clothes and toiletries he could find into the one remaining bag and barged into Chad and Chester’s room.
Let’s go!” he barked.
“Where’s the boy?” Chad asked sullenly.
“I have no fucking idea.”
“You’re just gonna leave him?”
Too proud to acknowledge that his ‘boy’ had run away, Christian had just sneered. “He‘s not here is he? And I sure as hell don’t give a shit.”
Chad and Chester shrugged, not particularly interested to debate this point. As far as they were concerned, Oliver was a lost cause. They had no idea what had happened after Christian had left them. Ordering room service they had found solace in one another’s company and had totally ignored Christian for his betrayal.
Two pairs of eyes watched as the surly group walked to the helicopter pad. It was obvious Chad and Chester were sulking in silence and equally obvious that Christian’s mood encouraged zero conversation - the trio sat in stony silence as the helicopter took off.
As the helicopter took off, Marcus turned to Oliver and realized he had been holding his breath. “They’re gone!”
“Of course, I told you they would leave first thing in the morning. So now what?”
Marcus was prepared. “I’ve given it some thought about what we should do.”
Oliver stared at him, quite prepared to listen attentively.
“I’ll just say you are an old friend I ran into yesterday, and you need a ride back to town with us. I am pretty sure there’s room in one of the cars and I don’t think anyone would question too much.”
Oliver couldn’t find any fault with Marcus’ plan. “Sounds like a good plan to me.”
“Thanks!” Marcus responded, pleased with himself.
Once they had gone back to their room to wash up and change, Marcus brought Oliver casually in to the breakfast parlor and coolly introduced him to several of his colleagues. Most were heavy-eyed and slightly hung over and did no more than wave a careless hand.
“Oh will we have space for an extra passenger?” Marcus inquired innocently. “Oliver’s riding back with us.”
“Sure. Why not?”
“No problem. I think Jimmy’s car is one man short.”
And that settled it. No one showed any curiosity or suspicion and luckily for the two plotters, no one demanded to know where Oliver had come from, or why he was there, which was just as well since neither had an answer.
Marcus took out his car keys and disarmed his car alarm. “So where do you want me to drop you off?”
They had arrived back at the office and everyone had quickly dispersed to their respective vehicles, in a hurry to get home so they could recover from their weekend. Oliver had automatically followed Marcus to his car, and he looked unsure at Marcus’ question.
“You don’t really have anywhere to go, do you?” Marcus said, in a gentle tone.
Oliver shrugged. “I’ll be fine. Just drop me off at the bus stop or train station –whichever is more convenient.”
Marcus drove silently, chewing his lower lip thoughtfully. When the bus stop came into view he slowed down and looked at Oliver. “Are you sure you’ll be ok?”
Marcus was about to pull over when he swerved out into the road again.
Oliver turned to him in surprise. “Hey, what are you doing?”
“I think you should come with me,” Marcus replied in a firm voice, much firmer than he felt in his heart.
“Where to?” Oliver asked suspiciously.
“Oliver, you don’t have anywhere to go to!”
There was a strained silence. Then Oliver let out a breath and slumped in his seat. “I can stay a couple of days with you?”
“Yes, of course.”
Oliver nodded his head. “That’s all I need, I swear. A couple of days. I won’t be any bother.”
“I’m sure you won’t be.” Marcus gripped the steering wheel, steeling himself to sound confident. How in the world was he going to tell Stewart? What was he going to tell Stewart?
As if reading his mind, Oliver asked. “Will your partner be ok? Bringing a strange guy back to your house?”
“Stewart. His name is Stewart. And I told you. He is the kindest person in the world.” A slight pause. “But he can be rather … strict. Just so you are warned.”
Oliver’s eyebrows rose. “What do you mean?”
Marcus shifted in his seat. “You know … he has rules … and he’s … well, he has these rules?”
“What kind of rules?” Oliver was beginning to sound alarmed.
“Nothing scary, I promise you. Just basic rules like what normal folks would have. No lying, be respectful, inform him if you are going to be late, that kind of stuff.”
“I wouldn’t imagine it would affect you much, being a guest and all – so you don’t need to worry about it.”
“I’m not worried.”
Well, you would be and you should be if you were staying with Stewart!
Aloud Marcus said, “That’s fine. I just wanted to alert you in case Stewart said something …. He can be pretty direct sometimes, and I don’t want you to feel offended.”
“Don’t worry about me, Marcus. I’ve been with all kinds of folks; believe me I don’t rattle easily.”
He glanced over at his passenger. “Good!” He smiled to himself, deciding that was as far as he could go for now without spooking Oliver. His smile widened as he turned into their street, unprepared for the warm feeling that burst in his heart as their house came into view.
“Home!” Marcus announced as he drove up their driveway.