Authors: Felice Stevens
Loose Id Titles by Felice Stevens
A WALK THROUGH FIRE
A Walk Through Fire
Copyright © November 2014 by Felice Stevens
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Editor: Maryam Salim
Cover Artist: Valerie Tibbs
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To my children. Don’t let anyone ever kid you. Going to work every day is the easy part. Being your parent is the toughest job I’ll ever love. I’m proud of the adults you are growing up to be and happy you want to share your joys and sorrows with me still. I love you to the moon and back.
I can’t begin to acknowledge everyone who touched my life while writing this book, but there are those who, without their encouragement, help, and virtual bottles of wine, this book would never have been written.
To my wonderful editor, Maryam Salim. Thank you for making this book the best it can possibly be. I’m lucky to have you. Hopefully one day I will learn my characters can only do one thing at a time.
To all the amazing readers I’ve met online, I give you all the biggest virtual hugs and kisses. Thank you for taking me into your home and my characters into your hearts. It’s every writer’s dream to be published and read. I’m the luckiest person to have found you all. I hope to live up to your expectations.
To the authors I’ve met who have given their advice so freely and unstintingly, this novice thanks you. Your help has meant more to me than I can ever express. You will always be my inspiration to strive to be the best I can possibly be.
To my RWA-NYC chapter-mates, you all have been the most amazing cheerleaders. I don’t know of a more supportive group of men and women. You guys are all amazing.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank a few of the people whose off-line and often off-the-wall help made this story possible. Julia Tagan, thank you for your encouragement, insight, and intelligence. Your support and our lunches mean the world to me.
To Danelle Harmon, I thank you for your continued love, friendship, and insight to this crazy world.
To Lindsey Ross, I don’t even know where to begin. I’ll start with a thank-you for being my friend and one of the few people I can always turn to no matter what. Your love for these guys is one of the main reasons these books are happening. Don’t ever let anyone dim your sparkle; you are an amazing woman.
To Sandy Owens, thank you for your friendship, your critiquing, and overall help. I feel lucky to share this journey with you. Thank you for loving my guys and joining me in embracing this genre, where love is love. One day I’ll make it to North Carolina, and we will share that glass—who am I kidding—those bottles of wine in person.
Death comes in all forms. Asher Davis usually wasn’t this morbid or pensive reviewing divorce or separation agreements that passed his desk, but the dissolution of a marriage after only six months seemed depressing, even to a jaded and cynical person such as himself. All the dreams the happy couple had planned must have crashed and burned in an inferno of pain and anger so devastating, any thought of repair was impossible.
“Let this be a lesson to you, Walker.” Ash slid the file to the associate sitting across from him at the conference table. “It probably would’ve happened sooner or later. For some reason, men and women insist on pairing off and remaining faithful, despite evidence to the contrary that it isn’t normal to do so.”
The newest member of Frank and Davis shot him an uneasy smile, and Ash suddenly remembered Walker himself was a recently engaged man.
Even though he’d never been married, never even come close to a relationship with anyone, for that matter, he’d seen and heard enough gruesome stories to know how hard people had to work to make a marriage work. Compromise, trust, and that thing called love. He shuddered, swallowing hard.
Not his problem. He was there to make sure his client, the young and lovely Jackie Klein, got out of her marriage with everything she had coming to her so her rich daddy could pay the firm’s retainer. The rumor of her immediate postmarital infidelity didn’t trouble him in the least. He wasn’t being paid to care about anything.
“Have you finished reviewing the file, Walker?”
“Yes, Mr. Davis. It appears Mrs. Klein was seen on numerous occasions leaving the brownstone of David Westlake. These appointments would take place at random times of the day, while her husband was at work.”
“Walker.” The associate’s gaze met his over the table. “Mrs. Klein is our client. I’m not interested in who else she was fucking.”
Walker’s face flushed, and he gulped. “Um, right. So, Drew Klein, from everything we can see, went to work at the same time every morning, came home at the same time each evening, and aside from a weekly night out with his friends, stayed home every night.”
“Sounds like a crashing bore,” drawled Ash. “No wonder she cheated on him.” He flicked his fingers on the table. “Go on. Please tell me something interesting.”
“I’m afraid that’s it, sir.”
“So it’s basically a no-fault. They’ve passed that magic six-month period, and now we, the greedy legal team, get to hammer out all the goodies in the divorce agreement. At the end of the day, she gets her freedom to screw her way through the city if she wants, he gets his freedom from a cheating bitch, and we get our money.” He stood and smiled down at Walker, who closed and stacked the files in preparation for the client meeting. “Let’s go and end this farce. I’ll meet you in the conference room in five.”
He watched Walker stride down the hallway to the conference room where the parties were meeting. As he did before every meeting, Ash took a moment inside his office’s private restroom to check his reflection in the mirror. Navy-blue suit, white shirt, and bright green tie, all sharp, clean, and fresh. No matter that this was his firm and his name now joined Jacob Frank’s on the door, he still had something to prove to himself, that he wasn’t that poor little gay kid from the wrong side of the tracks. The one whose parents had abandoned him.
He was Asher Davis, and he mattered.
From his wallet he pulled out the only snapshot he’d ever possessed. It was taken on his law-school graduation day, of him and the firm’s founder, Jacob Frank. He towered over the tiny man, but only physically did he best Mr. Frank. The man was his better in every way possible. Asher had managed to secure the scholarship Mr. Frank set up at his law school, and had worked like a dog to make sure he would have a place at the law firm of Jacob Frank when he graduated. No one had been a tougher negotiator than his boss, and there was no one he’d wanted to work for more.
Why Jacob Frank took to him, Ash would never know. Mr. Frank often joked that Asher was the son he’d never wanted, but it was said with such fondness in his warm brown eyes that Ash would get a funny feeling in his chest. Then Mr. Frank would brusquely ask him to recite the facts of his next case and drill him to make sure he was always prepared for class.
Looking down at the picture in his hand, Asher blinked against the surprising burn in his eyes. Though he’d been gone two years now, some days Jacob Frank’s presence was still as strong as if he’d risen from his chair a moment before. Ash would never forget Mr. Frank’s final words to him.
“Ash, my son. Let go of your past. It’s the only way you can take control of your future. Rise above your pain. Don’t grow old, alone and unloved, like me. You have been the greatest source of comfort and joy to me. I wish you love and peace in your heart.”
“I’ll always try to make you proud, Mr. Frank.” He touched the man’s face. “You did fine on your own, and so will I.”
Replacing the picture carefully, he smoothed back his hair and, like a chameleon, wiped away any evidence of sorrow and loneliness, replacing it instead with his confident, devil-may-care smile. He left his office and closed the door behind him.
As he pushed open the doors of the conference room, Ash scanned the room. Of course he’d already met his client and her father, Richard Sachs. “Hello, Jackie, dear. Hello, Richard.” He kissed Jackie Klein’s cheek and shook her father’s hand, then turned to greet her soon-to-be ex-husband, Dr. Drew Klein, and Klein’s attorney, Peter Dent.
“Peter, how the hell have you been?” The two shook hands, and Ash smiled his first real smile of the day. He and Peter had been inseparable in law school since they sat next to one another in their section, and neither would’ve made it past that horrific first year without each other’s help. “It’s been way too long.” Peter Dent was lucky in that his father was one of the premier family lawyers in the city, ensuring him a job when he graduated. Ash had needed to keep his grades high enough to hold his scholarship.
“Ash, my man, I’ve been meaning to call, but you know how it is with the wife and kids.” A faint tinge of red crossed Peter’s cheeks, but Ash let it ride. He didn’t begrudge Peter his family life; heck, he actually liked his wife, Lisa, even if she did think she was the gay matchmaking princess with all the men she’d tried to fix him up with over the years.
Ash’s gaze slid to the pale, dejected man at Peter’s side, and extended his hand. “Dr. Klein, I presume? I’m Asher Davis.”
Drew Klein met his gaze, and an iron fist punched Ash in the stomach. Holy fuck. The man was gorgeous. Too thin and too pale, but even that couldn’t hide the high cheekbones, straight nose, and strong chin of a perfectly sculpted face. Sadness and defeat radiated off him in waves. His dry palm, however, was warm and solid, and for some inexplicable reason, Ash’s heart beat a bit faster as they shook hands.
“Hello, Mr. Davis.” There was no friendly smile to Klein’s lips, nor did his green eyes show any spark of life. Even his voice was low and quiet, as if he hadn’t the strength or desire to expend any effort. Obviously the dissolution of his marriage weighed much more heavily on his mind than on his soon-to-be ex-wife’s, who was busy chatting with her father and texting on her phone.
Somewhat taken aback by his unorthodox response to this man,this obviously straight man, Ash cleared his throat and backed away. “Shall we get on with the meeting?” For some inexplicable reason, his voice shook. He strode to the side table and poured himself a glass of water. After gulping down the cold liquid, his throat loosened, and he felt more like himself. Perhaps that third cup of coffee had messed with his equilibrium.
“This should all go quite seamlessly, as I see it. Mrs. Klein is not contesting the divorce, and Peter, I think your client is aware that under the terms of the prenup, the parties will be leaving the marriage in the same position as when they entered it.”
Dr. Klein snorted, and Ash caught his eye. He cocked his head. “Dr. Klein?”
Klein arched a black brow. Damn, the man was too sexy for words. “What of our wedding gifts? We’ve barely unpacked and set up our joint account. I presume everything is fifty-fifty?”
For the first time Jackie Klein showed an interest. “No way. My friends gave us better gifts than your lousy friends and family. All that cheap crap we have is from your relations.” Her sneer was palpable, and Ash cringed at her words. “You’re not getting a penny of my daddy’s money to waste on your stupid clinic. You’re a doctor; make it yourself. I want out.” She grabbed at Ash’s sleeve. “I thought this was going to be easy, but he’s making it difficult like he does everything.”
Instinctively, he patted her hand. “Don’t worry, Jackie; that’s what I’m here for, to make sure everything is taken care of properly.” He turned back to Dr. Klein, who listened with a quiet intensity to whatever Peter was saying in his ear. When they finished, Ash smiled at both of them.
“The gifts will be split by the giver. The groom’s side back to you, Dr. Klein, the bride’s side back to her. For mutual friends, it will be split fifty-fifty. The apartment is in Jackie’s name, so you will have six months to find a new place to live. I presume, Dr. Klein, you haven’t been living there since the petition was filed?”
Dr. Klein gave a brief shake of his head, and Peter squeezed his shoulder, Ash noted. He reminded himself to make a lunch date with Peter and get the story on this guy.
They spent the rest of the afternoon going through the couple’s securities and stocks, matching it up with the formal paperwork. At the end of a grueling two hours, the papers were drawn up, and the marriage of Jackie Klein and Drew Klein would be officially and legally dissolved no later than six months from this date.
Jackie and her father had already left the office, she breezing out with a wave, loudly stating her plans with her boyfriend, which included dinner and the theater, necessitating a trip to a trendy, high-end boutique on the Upper East Side and the hair salon.
Peter hung around with his client, talking to him in that friendly, brotherly tone he always used for comfort. Ash remembered it all too well from law school. On those rare occasions when he’d become overwhelmed, his tongue loosened more than it should by heartache and vodka, Peter had been the one Ash unwittingly spilled some of his past to. If anyone could lift Dr. Drew Klein out of his misery, Ash bet on Peter. He left to attend to some phone calls.
After about half an hour, Ash strolled back into the conference room, on the pretext of a forgotten file, but mainly to see if Peter had worked his magic on his client. Once again his friend did not disappoint. The transformation in Dr. Klein was magical. Instead of the subdued, morose specter, Ash came face-to-face with a handsome, charming, though still somewhat serious man. Klein’s pale skin had flushed a healthier color, and his green eyes glowed as he and Peter shared a laugh. Staring in amazement at the total transformation in the man, Ash’s blood quickened, his body swept away by desire.
Shit. This had never happened before. Certainly he’d lusted after men, men with far more sexual sophistication than the quiet Dr. Drew Klein. But the need pounding through him went beyond any physical reaction he’d ever had toward any man. What made matters worse was that Peter, goddamn him, knew what he was feeling. He could tell by the fucking little smirk the bastard made no attempt to hide.
“Oh, Ash, could you come here?” Peter the innocent, with his big baby blues so wide and bright, waved at him from across the conference table.
Shaking his head, Ash dropped down in a chair to hide the sudden tightness in his pants. “What is it, Dent?” He scowled at his friend, wishing all sorts of evil stomach maladies to happen to him on a packed subway car. In the dead of summer. “I have other meetings today, and I’m not renting you my conference room. Don’t you have your own office anymore?”
Peter stopped laughing and left Dr. Klein’s side to come sit by him. “Ash, settle down. I wanted to talk to you about a project Drew is spearheading.”
Against his better judgment, he glanced over at Dr. Klein, but the man was busy checking his phone. With an aggravated huff, he returned his attention to his friend. “What is it, and why should I be interested?” He knew he sounded like a growly, petulant child, but he didn’t care. It had been too long since he’d gotten laid, and as it wasn’t happening with Dr. Straight and Miserable, he needed to have his itch scratched.
Serious for once, Peter kicked his foot. “Asher. Come on. It’s me. Give over and stop acting like a prick. Drew is starting a clinic for underprivileged kids, and I’m helping him. He’s seen too many who’ve been on the wrong side of a fist wind up with permanent damage to their faces. He’s donating his services to treat them, and he’s gotten his friends, one of whom is a dentist, the other an orthopedist, to help as well.” The two friends locked gazes.
What he really wanted to do was punch Peter Dent in his nice square jaw and tell him to go to hell, because he knew what Peter wanted. But that was the thing about Peter. Ash wouldn’t treat him like everyone else. Peter was probably the one person who knew Ash better than he knew himself.
Ash’s body stilled. His fingers dug so deep into the fabric of the chair that it shredded under his nails. “What.” He cleared his throat, his mouth suddenly dry as chalk. “What do you want from me?” Stupid question. He knew what Peter wanted. And goddamn him, Peter knew there was no way he could refuse him, or refuse those kids.
Because he too had seen kids who had been on the wrong side of an adult’s rage and fists. Adults who were supposed to protect children and, if not love them, at least make sure no harm would come to them. Too many adults took in children to care for, not because they loved them or wanted to give them a better life, but because of the money they received from the state. And God help the children who ended up with those people, if they didn’t clean their rooms or cook the meals or…
Ash shook his head free from his nightmarish thoughts, focusing on his friend’s sympathetic face. His stomach roiled at the sight of all that compassion in Peter’s knowing eyes. “Yeah, damn you. You know I’ll help him. Tell me what you need me to do.”
Why did he have a feeling he’d made the biggest mistake of his life?
Thank God he was home, with this miserable bitch of a day behind him. After their last bitter confrontation, Drew had dreaded seeing Jackie again.
Who could blame him? The last time he’d seen her, she’d been on her knees, giving his former friend and one of his Wednesday night poker buddies what looked to be a spectacular blowjob.
The familiar sense of nausea rose in Drew’s throat, but he fought it down as he entered his apartment. Throwing his keys in the bowl on the table by the door, he paused and surveyed the spartan, one-bedroom apartment he’d rented in Brooklyn Heights after leaving Jackie’s luxurious loft in Tribeca. He’d never felt comfortable there. It was always her place, never theirs.
Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of his cat hopping off his perch by the window, coming to greet him with a loud, rumbling purr. Black-and-white with big yellow eyes, Domino had proven to be a much more loving family member in the two months since he’d rescued him from Animal Care and Control than his wife had ever been. After letting the furry creature rub against his legs for a moment, Drew picked Domino up and carried him into the bedroom, where he deposited him on his bed while he changed out of his suit.
“What’d you shred today, buddy?” When he scratched under Domino’s chin, he was rewarded with even louder purring and demanding “pet me, scratch my chin,” head butts. He begrudged the animal nothing. The workers had told him when the cat was brought in, he’d been half-starved, spray-painted pink, and so flea-bitten they didn’t think he’d make it. Running his hands through Domino’s now thick, glossy fur, he could barely feel the animal’s ribs. “Maybe you need to go on a diet, huh, buddy?”
As if he understood, the purring abruptly stopped, and Domino gently swatted Drew’s hand. “Okay, okay, kidding.” After spending a few moments giving the cat more scratches under his chin, Drew changed into jeans and a T-shirt, hung up his suit, then went into the kitchen to get a beer from the fridge. Luckily he’d stocked up earlier in the week, as he knew after today’s meeting, his friends would come over to help him commiserate.
As if on cue, the phone rang. It wasn’t one of his friends though. “Hey, D. how’s my big brother?”
His baby sister, Rachel, had called him by the first letter of his name since she was a baby, and it stuck with everyone close to him. Although she was two years younger than him, in the dating world she’d always watched over him like a mama bear, offering advice whether or not he asked.
“Did you see her today? She have the nerve to show up?”
He couldn’t help but smile. “Yes, Rach. She was there. It’s fine, and in six months I’ll be free again. All done.” He drank down his beer, then flopped on the couch, picked up the remote, and switched on the TV, looking for the Yankees game.
“Was it awful?”
His stomach clenched at the concern in her voice. He so didn’t want his little sister worried about him. “Rach, I’m thirty-two years old. I can handle it. I never should’ve married her. You were right.”
Rachel, finishing up her PhD in child psychology, had the grace not to tell himI told you so.
“So listen to me now. Don’t rush back into the dating scene again. I think you need your friends and family more than anything.”
“Don’t worry, honey. The last thing on my mind is getting involved with another woman. I’ll see you at Nana’s this weekend though, right?” They always went together to visit their grandmother every Sunday. When he was a junior and Rachel had started college, their parents were killed in a head-on collision by a drunken truck driver on the New York State Thruway. Their grandmother had taken care of them from that day forward. Even though she was now well over eighty years old, her fiercely independent nature only allowed them to do the littlest things for her. But they never missed a Sunday visit. Another thing Jackie had complained about having to do with him.
“Of course. Love you, D.”
“Love you too, Rachey.” He clicked off and was about to settle in to watch Jeter take his turn at bat when his doorbell rang. Sighing, he knew this would be the beginning of a long night of companionship with his buddies, whether he wanted it or not.
Standing at the door were his two best friends. One had two boxes of pizzas from Grimaldi’s. Another had bags that smelled like meatball heroes from their favorite place in Carroll Gardens, resting on top of a case of beer.
“Holy shit, guys. There’s only the three of us.” He gestured them inside, and Mike, the one holding the sandwiches and case of beer, made a beeline for the kitchen.
“Listen, D, we were so happy you were finally getting rid of that cheating bitch, we didn’t know what to do first.” Mike shoved the case of beer into the fridge alongside the bottles already there. “But beer, pizza, and heroes work, right?” He flashed a grin.
“Thanks, man.” Drew grabbed him around the neck for a quick hug, speaking into his good ear. Mike Levin had lost almost all the hearing in his left ear after being wounded during his tour in Iraq.
Drew cast a fond glance at Jordan, busy opening pizza boxes and arranging the heroes on foam plates. They’d been best friends all their lives, ever since their moms met at the playground when they were babies. They’d stuck through everything together, his disastrous marriage, Mike almost getting killed in Iraq and his long road to recovery, and Jordan’s coming out.
“Thanks to you guys for being there for me. It actually went a lot easier than I thought. Yeah, she was there with her father, of course, but my lawyer and hers are really good friends so they worked it out. Six months from today I’ll be a free man, and now I can concentrate on getting the clinic off the ground.”
They all gathered their food and sat on either the sofa or the floor. After watching the Yankees kick the Red Sox’s asses for a while, Drew muted the set. “So you guys are all still on board with me, right? It’s going to make such a big difference in these kids’ lives, knowing that they can get the medical and dental care for all the issues they face.”
Jordan chewed the last of his pizza and then took a drink of his beer. “Are we dealing with mostly teens, D? And you said many of them are gay?” Jordan Peterson was a premier orthopedic surgeon in the city. He and his partner, Keith Hart, an NYPD detective, spent many hours at local LGBT programs helping teens with bullying issues, as well as other family problems. Jordan’s parents had never been anything less than fully supportive of their son and welcomed his partner Keith like another one of their children. Keith’s parents, devout, Bible Belt Christians, had cut him off when he’d told them he was gay. He’d neither seen nor spoken to them in years.
“Teens, young adults, I think that’s why they’re getting abused. Either at school or at home, they are bearing the brunt of someone’s anger and abuse. Rachel said she’ll come by and talk to any of the kids who want to, giving them a way to ask for help if they need it.”
“And I have the mobile dental clinic ready to help with chipped and broken teeth, as well as crowns and bridges,” said Mike. “Whatever they need. D-man, this is a great thing you’re doing.
Drew popped some chips in his mouth. “I’ll never forget the show I saw on cable about kids who lived in foster care in this one home, and instead of being taken care of by their foster parents, they were made to work almost like slaves.”
He glanced at the food he’d left on his plate, remembering how one boy interviewed said he’d sometimes only been fed bread and water for days at a time. But that had been the least of the boy’s problems. “Many of them were also sexually abused. It upset me so much I called Rachel and told her this is what I planned on doing with some of my settlement from the lawsuit from our parents’ case.”
“That’s great, man. I feel sorry for these kids, you know? It’s bad enough to have no family and be part of the system.” Jordan stroked Domino, who’d come to lie on his lap. “They should have some kind of legal recourse to get these bastards who abuse them.”
“Jordy, I spoke with Keith, and he said if the kids are willing to make statements, the police department would be more than happy to work toward arresting these bastards.” Drew liked Jordan’s partner. Keith was a blond, blue-eyed giant of a guy, with a wicked sense of humor. The one thing Keith never found funny, however, was the abuse of children—something he constantly came across on his job.
“What’s also really good is that I talked to my lawyer today, Peter Dent? You guys met him.” They both answered with nods. “Well, he and his friend, the lawyer on the other side, have agreed to give legal advice to the clinic and kids on a pro bono basis. That’ll be a huge help to any who want to press charges.”
“Who’s the other lawyer, D?” Jordan had his hands buried in Domino’s fur as he watched the Yankees’ pitcher give up a grand slam home run. “No, goddamn it. You gotta be kidding me. Fucking Sox.”
Drew shook his head in disgust at the television. “Uh, I think his name is Davis? Let me get his card.” He scanned the card Peter had handed him with the man’s cell phone number. “Yeah, it’s Asher Davis.”
Domino meowed loudly in protest as Jordan’s hands dug into his fur. “Shit, ow, sorry, Dom.” He lifted the cat off his lap, extracting the cat’s claws from his thighs, and placed him on the sofa. “Fuck ’Em and Duck ’Em Davis? Oh man, you must be joking.”
Drew looked at him in surprise. “You know him, Jordan?” He’d paid only slight attention to the other lawyer, not recalling anything about the other man which would’ve elicited such a strong reaction from his friend.
Snorting, Jordan accepted another beer from Mike, who sat on the sofa next to the cat. Domino transferred his affection to Mike, stretching his length across Mike’s chest.
Mike groaned. “Man, D, this cat’s getting huge. You gotta stop feeding him.”
Drew threw a chip at him. “He’s not big; he’s healthy.” He prodded Jordan with his foot, wanting to hear his story about the other lawyer. “Now finish telling me why this guy has that rep.”
Jordan rubbed his thighs with his hands, then cracked his knuckles. “Uh, yeah, you could say I kind of know him.”
“Sounds like a story. Spill it,” Drew ordered.
Jordan grimaced. “Before I met Keith, while I was a resident, I had to give a deposition on a malpractice case. Davis was the attorney on the other side. He was good-looking.” Jordan’s pale blue eyes glinted. “I was interested at first, but something about him rubbed me the wrong way, so when he asked me out, I turned him down.”
“Oh man, that must’ve pissed him off.” Drew chuckled and helped himself to another slice of pizza. “He seems pretty full of himself. Kind of arrogant and cocky.”
“Ahh, you could say that.” Jordan picked at the label of his beer bottle. “He’s wickedly sharp and never takes no for an answer. It makes for a good lawyer, I guess, but not what I was looking for in a lover.”
“So what was the problem, then?” Mike questioned. “You said no and that was that, right?”
Jordan shifted in his seat, and Drew became even more intrigued. One thing about Jordan, he never let anyone get the better of him.
“Uh, not quite. Later that night I went out to a club with some of the other residents, and Davis was there as well. He insisted on buying me a drink, and I refused, which pissed him off even more.”
“Christ, did he stalk you?” Drew hitched his chair closer to Jordan. “He sounds like a predator.”
Jordan shrugged. “Somehow he got my number, and he’d call me every few days, asking me out. He’d show up where I was and ask me out. I knew some of the guys he did go out with during that time, and all he did was screw their brains out and leave.” He took a deep swallow of his beer. “He never called them for another date or even stayed the night with them. You know that’s not my scene.”
Pushing Domino away with his foot, Drew took another slice of pizza. Perhaps he did need to cut down on slipping the cat extra food. “Maybe he’s calmed down since then. He seemed pretty quiet today at the meeting.”
Jordan snorted into his beer bottle. “Doubtful. About four years ago I caught him getting a blowjob from one of the panelists at some dinner function we were both attending. I’d forgotten my jacket in the banquet room and went back inside. There was Asher Davis, up against the wall, pants down at his knees, having his dick sucked by the chief of neurology of one the finest hospitals in the Midwest.” He chuckled. “Guys must’ve thought they’d be hidden by the tall, potted plants, but that’s not something one can hide, know what I mean?”
Holy crap. Mike groaned, but Drew was interested in the rest of the story. “What happened? Did he see you? He must’ve been a little embarrassed.” To think he used to be too shy to even kiss a girl in public, and this guy. Wow. A sudden image popped up in his mind of the man he saw today, his head flung back in the throes of an orgasm. He rubbed his eyes hard, willing that picture out of his head.
“Not at all. He stared me straight in the eyes and grinned.” Disgusted with the final of the game, Jordan changed to the Mets game, where the score showed they were also losing. “If I remember, I think he even winked at me.”
Drew couldn’t stop himself from asking the next question. “Jesus, Jordy, did you really stand there and watch?” Mike looked at both of them, his mouth open in amazement.
At least Jordan had the grace to look a little embarrassed. “Yeah, I’ll admit, I did for a few minutes.” He shrugged, a defensive tone creeping into his voice. “Hey, it was hot; what can I say? I was younger and hadn’t met Keith yet. But that’s Davis’s rep. From what I’ve heard about him, he came out of nowhere as a scholarship student, and Jacob Frank took him in and made him who he is. Even left him the partnership in his law firm in his will when he died. The guy’s smart as a whip and hard as nails in the courtroom, but a complete asshole in his personal life.” He reached over and grabbed the last piece of meatball hero. “He’s drop-dead gorgeous but only after as much cock as he can get. There’s never been a steady partner I’ve seen him with at any function. As far as I know, he lives and breathes his work.”
Mike laughed. “Except when he has some random guy sucking his dick.”
They all laughed. Drew loved his friends. There was never any holding back or nervousness about saying the wrong thing in front of one another. They’d known each other so long nothing could ever come between them.
His cell phone buzzed. Scrolling to read the message, he chuckled.
“Well, speaking of the proverbial devil, it’s Mr. Asher Davis. He wants to meet tomorrow evening to discuss the clinic and the role I see for him.” It took a minute of silence before he looked up from his phone’s screen to see two sets of worried eyes trained on him. “What’s with the looks?”
Mike looked to Jordan, and Drew’s eyes narrowed. “What the fuck is going on?”
“Uh, look, D, don’t take this the wrong way, but you just broke up with Jackie, and you’re kind of vulnerable now.” Jordan played with Domino’s tail, which flicked back and forth between him and Mike. “In my opinion, Asher Davis hasn’t changed. When he decides he wants something, he stops at nothing until he gets it. Then once he uses it, he’s done.”
Drew sat with his mouth open. This was too fucking crazy. “Are you trying to tell me Davis would hit on me? Like, he’d want to screw me?” Sputtering, he waited for his friends to correct him and tell him how wrong he was.
“You’re insane. First of all, I’m not gay. Second of all, I don’t sleep with men, and third of all, what the fuck?” Were these guys actually serious? Him and a man? “Why would you even think that was an option?”
“Let’s face it, you aren’t me. I’m stronger than you are. The man is a relentless pursuer when he wants something. And if he thinks he’s got you for even the briefest second, he’ll pounce.” Jordan turned off the game and tossed the remote. All the laughter fled from his voice. “I don’t want you in his crosshairs.”
Once again, like he’d done all his life, Jordan was trying to protect him. “Jordan, you’re making no fucking sense. You’re the one who always says you can’t make someone gay, that they’re born to it. So how can meeting with him make me vulnerable if I don’t have those feelings?”
Drew faced his friend and saw actual fear in Jordan’s eyes. “Because, D, and don’t get mad at me, for a few seconds earlier when we were talking about him getting the blowjob, you got a look on your face, like, I don’t know.” Drew froze as he continued to listen. “It looked like you were imagining what it might be like.”
His face flamed, and denial sprang to his lips. “Come on, you guys, that’s ridiculous. Peter Dent is my friend and his as well. He’s also going to be there, so there’s nothing for you to worry about.” Silence reigned for a few moments.
“Look, Jordy, if you don’t have any plans, why don’t you come tomorrow night too? That way you can see how wrong you are about everything, okay?”
Jordan agreed and with that, his friends relaxed, but Drew’s mind continued to whirl.
“Christ, Asher, what’s your problem?” Peter tossed the keys to his car at the valet outside the restaurant. “Slow down and relax.”
Ash flipped his friend off and strode into the bar, his eyes adjusting to the dimness. A smile teased his lips, which quickly faded. “Ouch.” He rubbed his side where Peter poked him from behind. “What’s wrong with you?”
With a surprisingly firm hand and an equally surprising stern face, Peter pushed him into a chair at a nearby table. “Now listen to me. I know you better than anyone, and that’s still not a whole lot. But you like to play games, chew guys up, and spit them out when you’ve had your fun.”
“Hey, thanks for the high opinion, friend,” Ash protested, albeit not that strongly. It wouldn’t be the first time Peter had called him out on his bullshit. And he happened to be right.
“Shut up and listen, Ash. Drew’s a friend, and he’s been fucked over badly. He’s at his most vulnerable right now, and I won’t allow you to do to him whatever is in that sexually perverted mind of yours.”
Peter’s tone and face were both uncharacteristically harsh, but that did little to soothe Ash’s outrage at how his friend spoke to him. “Who the fuck are you?” Furious, he spat out his words in angry bullets. “What the hell are you thinking talking to me this way? You ask me to do a favor, and here I am. Other than that, you don’t run my fucking life, so back off.” Leaning back in his chair, he stared at the door, unwilling to meet Peter’s eyes. Knowing deep down his friend was right.
After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence, Ash raked his hand through his hair. “Look, even if I was maybe thinking of something like that, out of deference to you, I’ll pull back.” He could find an easy lay anywhere in the city. He couldn’t find another friend like Peter, and it wasn’t worth risking their friendship. Besides, Klein most likely was a boring straight guy who wouldn’t think of stepping outside his comfort zone.
Vanilla. And vanilla was his least favorite flavor, unless some interesting special mix-ins were added to spice it up.
Peter grinned, his good humor restored. “I’m glad I can count on you. Ah, there he is.” He waved at the man standing by the entrance to the room, searching the crowd.
Ash paid little attention to Peter as he focused on the lean form of Dr. Klein crossing the room. If Ash thought Drew good-looking when they first met, tonight he was nothing short of mouthwatering. Seeing Drew Klein in a green shirt that brought out the glow in his eyes and tailored black trousers that hugged a fine-looking tight ass, Ash couldn’t hold back his admiration. “Damn.”
Peter squeezed his shoulder hard and shot him a warning glare. “Behave.” He left to meet Klein halfway. It was then Ash saw another man join them and shake Peter’s hand. Ash’s grin and good thoughts fled at the same moment. Shit. Jordan Peterson. Ash remembered the handsome man from their first meeting about five years earlier. Peterson had been a medical resident, and Ash had been working a malpractice case and sat in on the depositions, assisting Mr. Frank. He’d been instantly attracted to the blond-haired, blue-eyed doctor giving his testimony, and tried everything he could to get the man in his bed, but got rebuffed at every turn. It was the first time he could remember not being able to seduce the man he wanted.
As he watched the three men, he recalled that not only had Dr. Peterson not reciprocated the spark, he’d made it a point to tell Ash how he felt about him.
“You’re a player, Davis. I spotted you a mile away. I’m not interested in a quick fuck, and I’m not easy. I value myself too much.”
Ash rubbed his chin, that conversation still rankling after so many years. So this was one of Klein’s friends who’d be working with him on the project. Interesting. He wondered if the sanctimonious doctor would even remember him. As they approached him, he stood, an easygoing smile on his face, never alerting anyone to the turmoil of his inner thoughts.
“Dr. Klein, good to see you again outside the confines of the conference room.”
“Yes, I’m glad to have put that behind me and don’t hold any grudges against you, Davis. You were doing what you were paid to do.” He turned to his friend. “I’d like to introduce you to one of my best friends, Dr. Jordan Peterson, who’ll also be working with us on the clinic project.”
The obvious look of distaste on Peterson’s handsome face left no doubt in Ash’s mind that the good doctor remembered him all too well. “Dr. Peterson.”
“Davis. It’s been years, hasn’t it?” Their gazes met, and Ash couldn’t tell what the man had going on behind his sneer. Had he mentioned their brief acquaintance to Klein? Did he tell Klein how Ash tried to seduce him?
Why the fuck did Ash even care?
Before he could answer, the hostess came to seat them, and they followed her into the dining area of the restaurant, where they were shown to a round table in the corner.
Once they all took their menus, Ash, brushing aside his annoyance, plastered a wide smile on his face. “It has been quite a few years, yes. Good to see you.”
“I was surprised to hear you were involved with this project. Didn’t really seem like your speed.”
He caught the warning look that passed between the two men, and yep, Peterson had spoken to Klein about him and that pissed him off.
“Peterson, you know nothing about me and let’s keep it that way. Suffice it to say I have my own reasons and motivation for becoming involved here, and I don’t owe any explanation to you. If you have a problem with me working at the clinic, that’s too fucking bad. Get over it. I’m not pulling out because you don’t like me.” He called over the waiter and ordered a vodka on the rocks. Ordinarily he would flirt with the handsome, slim-hipped young man, but he was too pissed at the moment. “Now, are we ready to talk business or is everyone at this table going to continue to obsess about my sex life?”
Peter laughed out loud, Peterson rolled his eyes, and Klein merely looked confused for a moment before giving the blushing waiter his drink order. They sat in uncomfortable silence until their drinks arrived.
Klein took a drink of his beer and then pulled some papers out of the thin leather portfolio he’d laid on the table. “So here is my vision. Obviously I’m not up on the legal ramifications, so that’s what you and Davis are here for, Peter.” He passed out several typed sheets of paper for them to look over. “We need to make sure we have all the legalities in place, as well as having you both on board to help these kids in case they want to press charges for abuse, discrimination, or sexual harassment.”
Ash studied the papers. It was a solid proposal—one that had taken a tremendous amount of thought and caring. If only he, Luke, and Brandon had someone like this.
Taking another gulp of his drink, he waited for the burning in his chest to subside before he continued. “Can I ask why you’re doing this? I mean, you’re a successful plastic surgeon who could make tons of money doing face-lifts and boob jobs. What made you want to help these kids?” Genuinely curious, he wanted to know why someone like Dr. Klein, young, obviously wealthy, and seemingly untouched by any of the ugliness the world had to offer, cared about the unwanted kids society had no trouble throwing in the trash heap.
“Because everyone matters, that’s why. And everyone’s life should have some kind of meaning; otherwise what’s the point in getting up in the morning? When my parents were killed, I didn’t want to live, but after a while I realized I was only punishing myself.” Klein rubbed his thumb over the rim of his glass, and Ash couldn’t take his eyes off that sensuous stroking motion. “They would have been horrified if I gave up my life to mourn their deaths. I was lucky enough to have my grandmother to look after both my sister and myself. These kids have no one to make sure they get up in the morning and have something to look forward to.”
Ash’s gaze remained transfixed on Klein’s long fingers as they gripped the glass and brought it to his lips. Yeah, these kids were lucky to have someone, even a stranger, care about them. Most of them didn’t have that reason to want to get up in the morning.
As he cleared his throat, Peterson’s harsh voice broke Ash’s internal musing. “Can you make time in your schedule, Davis, or is this going to cut into your busy social life? We need people who are dedicated to these kids and willing to give of their time. Peter’s generously giving us legal advice, but he also said you have knowledge of family court and the intricacies of the system?” He cocked a blond brow as if challenging that statement.
“I do, yes.” Without any need to further that conversation, he turned his attention back to Klein. “Dr. Klein, I commend you on this project. I’m more than willing to help in any way possible. Have you thought about setting up a help line for the kids to call in? Sometimes knowing there’s a person who cares, might be the lifeline a kid needs.”
“Please call me Drew. And yes. My sister, is finishing up her PhD in child psychology and has arranged for volunteers to man phones on a twenty-four-hour basis. She’s trying to get it hooked into the school’s counseling system for us.” He scribbled down some notes, then smiled at Ash. “That was a great question, Davis.”
“If I’m calling you Drew, then call me Ash, please.” He smiled back at the man, ignoring the disgusted “you’ve got to be fucking kidding me” from Peterson. “Where’s the clinic going to be located? I’m not that familiar with Brooklyn.”
“It’s in Red Hook. There’s a family court that operates nearby so we can work with the kids who come through the system there. The construction on the clinic is about finished or should be this weekend. We’ll have two examining rooms, an outpatient operating facility for simple procedures, and a room set aside for counseling. Our other friend, Mike, is a dentist, and he’ll have a mobile dental van set up to take care of any oral problems that may present.”
Ash knew only too well how teeth could be loosened or knocked out and jaws broken. Not to mention the infections and other diseases the kids might pick up from lack of oral hygiene or other, more troubling situations. His hand tightened on his glass as unbidden memories, ones he thought he’d managed to bury, stormed to the surface. A wave of dizziness and nausea hit him, and his vision wavered.
“You all right?” Peter murmured in his ear. “Maybe you want to take a minute.”
Sweat beaded on his brow. “Yeah.” He managed to grit that one word out as he stood. Without further explanation, he fled to the back and managed to make it to the restroom before locking himself in a stall. He slid down to the floor, heedless to the fact that it was a bathroom, and pressed his head against the coolness of the tile wall.
After several moments, the nausea and trembling passed, and he wiped his face with some tissue and stood on shaking knees. It had been months since he’d experienced anxiety such as this. Mortified at what the others at the table must think of him, he unlocked the stall door and came face-to-face with Peter.
“Better now?” Peter handed him a bottle of cold water, which he gratefully accepted. After drinking down half of it, Ash placed it on the shelf and braced his hands on the sink.
“Yeah. Thanks.” He closed his eyes for a moment, then met Peter’s somber reflection in the mirror. “What are they saying out there? You can tell me.” His laugh rang bitter within the confines of the small restroom. “I’m sure Peterson’s having a field day bashing me.”
Peter looked uncomfortable. “He isn’t your biggest fan, but I don’t think Drew is paying him too much attention. I suggest you go back and pretend like nothing happened.”
After another drink of water and a few deep breaths, Ash felt steady enough to return. He squeezed Peter’s shoulder. “Thanks. At least I know I have one friend.”
After they returned to the table, Drew simply handed him a fresh drink and picked up the conversation as if it was perfectly natural for a man to break out in a sweat and bolt from the table, only to reappear after ten minutes with no explanation.
“I took the liberty of ordering some food.” Drew handed him a menu, meeting his eyes over the top of the heavy booklet. “We haven’t ordered our main courses yet.”
No damage done, and with confidence running warm through his blood once again, Ash resorted once more to his cocky, self-assured persona. “Thanks, Drew. Guess I forgot to eat lunch today, and it all got to me suddenly.”
“No worries. Happens to all of us.”
The same cute waiter returned with the appetizers previously ordered, and Ash’s interest perked up for more than the food. When it was Ash’s turn to order dinner, he chose the house chili, extra spicy. The waiter’s eyes widened.
“Ah, sir, just to let you know, our chef already makes his chili quite hot.”
Ash chuckled and winked at the waiter, bringing a blush to his fair cheeks. How adorable. A ripple of lust flowed through Ash. “I like things extra hot and spicy.” He licked his lips and watched the eyes of the man widen, then darken with unmistakable desire. Perfect. His evening entertainment was now guaranteed. “Thank you for your concern, however.”
Flashing Ash a nervous smile, the young man collected his menu. When it came time for the waiter to take his menu, Ash made sure to brush his fingers over the young man’s hand. From the corner of his eye, he noticed the waiter bite his lip. His cock hardened, and he imagined that full mouth wrapped around his rigid cock. If he had anything to say about it, he wouldn’t be leaving the restaurant until he paid the waiter a personal visit to show him appreciation for a job well done.
Dinner progressed without further incident, and Ash remained impressed with how quickly Drew had set up this clinic. Peterson continued to be a thorn in his side making snide comments or simply shooting him glowering looks. Ash ignored Peterson completely.
Before he knew it, it was past midnight and the restaurant had emptied out. Peter had made his farewells about an hour before, needing to get home to his wife and kids. Ash caught the eyes of the sweet-faced waiter, hovering near the bar, and grinned to himself.
“Well, gentlemen, it’s been fun, and I look forward to working with you both and meeting your other friend.” He shook their hands. “I’d better get going as I have an early morning client.”
Peterson nodded, distracted by a text he was responding to, while Drew shook his hand. Once again, Ash enjoyed the strength and warmth of the man’s hand in his, but his mind was already on his planned rendezvous with the adorable waiter, who’d given him a signal with his pretty eyes to follow him down the darkened hallway by the restroom. “Good night, Drew. Talk to you soon.”
He pushed open the swinging doors to the dimly lit hallway, then walked past the restroom. Upon turning the corner, he spied the young man. “Why, hello there. Waiting for me?” In two long strides, Ash pinned him against the wall, loving the feel of the man’s slim body curving to fit his. The soft exhalation of breath in his ear stoked his fire.
“Yes. I don’t even know your name, though.”
Ash clasped the waiter around the waist, listening to his groans of desire. Their erections rubbed through their pants as Ash swiveled his hips. The waiter tried to kiss Ash on the lips.
“You don’t need to know anything except how to unzip my pants and suck me blind.” Ash pulled his face away, his hands hard on the man’s shoulders. He never kissed anyone. Ever. “Are you up for that?” He jerked his hips against the waiter and watched with satisfaction as the man’s eyes glazed and his hands reached for Ash’s pants.
“Oh God, yeah.”
Ash was so ready he almost came from the slightest touch.
With shaking fingers the waiter undid Ash’s belt, then popped the pants button and pulled open his fly. His erection tented out through his boxers, hard and hot.
“This is what you kiss. Not my mouth, not my lips. This.” He palmed his cock and stroked it as his pants sagged to his knees. Ash leaned against the wall, legs spread slightly, and waited, an imperious king, for his subject.
The waiter sank down on the floor before him and, with impatient, fumbling fingers, pulled down Ash’s boxers and hungrily swallowed his cock to the root. The rush of heat, the fact that they were in the open only added to the excitement and spurred Ash’s lust.
Shit. Nothing felt as good as someone’s mouth on him. He closed his eyes and leaned his head against the wall, hips pumping as the eager mouth swirled, licked, and sucked at him like he was a fucking ice-cream cone. Gasping for air, he clutched the man’s hair. “Fuuuck me, man. You were made for this.”
Too long, too long. Ash couldn’t remember the last time he’d had sex, with all the work he’d piled on. But now, with the wet warmth of a talented mouth on his cock, he wondered how he’d ever lived without it. He fucked the waiter’s mouth harder. “Oh God, yes, that’s it.” The words of encouragement were a precursor to one hell of an orgasm he sensed building within his body. “Right there, don’t stop.”
The man on his knees before him moaned as he sucked Ash deeper while stroking his own erection. Within moments, Ash knew he was there, coming with a blinding intensity that had him stifling his own shout of ecstasy by shoving his fist in his mouth. Shuddering with the aftereffects, he pulsed a few more times before slipping out of the man’s mouth. The waiter stiffened, then groaned, coming in spurts on the floor in front of Ash, narrowly missing his shoes.
Minutes passed before Ash could catch his breath. He pulled up his pants, tucked in his shirt, then zipped himself up. The young man still breathed heavily, lips pouting and gleaming wet in the hazy lighting of the hallway. With the pad of his thumb, Ash traced the seam of the young man’s full mouth. “You were amazing. Thank you.”
“Will I see you again?” The hopeful note in the young man’s voice gave Ash a momentary twinge of regret as the kid licked Ash’s thumb, then sucked it into his hot mouth. The guy had a very talented tongue.
“If I come by and eat here again, I’ll make sure to look you up.” It was only fair of him not to string the kid along. He wasn’t made for relationships.
A sound from farther down the hallway snapped Ash out of postorgasmic bliss to full awareness of how open and foolhardy they had been. Although his table was the last one occupied in the restaurant, there were still waitstaff about, and Ash hardly thought the management would appreciate one of their employees blowing a patron in full view of anyone who might walk by. He didn’t care who saw him, but he didn’t want to get the kid fired. Contrary to what people might think of him, he did have a conscience, sometimes.
“Well, see you around.” He rubbed the young man’s shoulder, then walked away. As he approached the entrance, he noticed the swinging doors to the hallway were in motion, as if someone had recently passed through them.
Did someone see him with the waiter?
After Jordan left the restaurant, Drew sat for a few moments, sipping his coffee, reviewing what they’d discussed. The night had been a success as far as he could tell, and now everyone was in place with their job to do. For a brief moment he wondered about Davis and his disappearance from the table, but Peter had been quite closemouthed about it, and Drew didn’t was to press it. Besides, he’d seemed back to normal when he’d returned, even so much as to flirt with the waiter. That hadn’t gone unnoticed, at least by him. Jordan was right. The man was an incorrigible tease.
Time to head back home. Needing to make a stop at the restroom before he hopped on the subway, he headed to the back where he’d seen Ash disappear to earlier. He used the urinal and washed up. As he exited the restroom, he heard a noise behind him that sounded like a groan of pain. Drew stood still, his ear trained. Someone could be hurt and need medical help. Once again he heard the sound, like a drawn-out moan; it cut off abruptly, as if someone had clapped a hand over his mouth.
Heedless to what he might find, Drew hurried down the darkened hallway and turned the corner. His eyes widened in shock as he took in the scene before him. Instead of a potential mugging victim lying on the ground in pain, Ash Davis was spread-eagled against the wall getting an impressive-looking blowjob by the waiter he’d been flirting with earlier. Neither man knew he was there, as wrapped up in each other’s bodies as they were.
Drew remained frozen in place. The air seemed to thicken, and the small gasps, moans, and pants echoed in the dark, all magnifying the illicit nature of the encounter. His eyes were drawn to the act, the waiter’s mouth on Ash’s cock. He could see it gliding wet and hard between the man’s lips, and Drew’s response to the explicit picture before his eyes, stunned him
Holy shit. This was like what Jordan mentioned he’d seen. And damn if, Jordan wasn’t right. Hell, Drew might be straight, but watching the erotic scene unfold before his eyes was sexy as hell. Gone was the man who’d bolted from the table, a pale, sweating mess. In his place was a man in the midst of a sexual encounter that, from the sounds he made and the look on his face, had him hovering on the brink of a violent orgasm.
Drew shook his head. What the hell was he doing standing here? He had to get out before Davis opened his eyes and caught him watching. Tearing his gaze from the scene, he turned on his heel and hastened back down the hallway and out of the restaurant. In no mood now to wait for the train, he hailed a cab and soon found himself speeding down Broadway. A sudden rainstorm splatted fat drops against the windows, steaming them and cocooning him inside the cab, alone with his thoughts.
The closer he got to home, the clearer his mind became. He pulled out the business card from his wallet and, knowing it was the coward’s way out, dialed the office number rather than Davis’s personal cell.
“Um, hello, Davis. This is Drew Klein. I was thinking, and I’m not sure you’d be a good fit for the clinic, so I’m releasing you from your offer. I appreciate your willingness to help, though. So, uh, thanks and bye.”
Smooth, Drew. Well, he never was great with words. It’s why he became a doctor. He paid the cabbie and ran into his building, only getting slightly wet. As soon as he opened the door, he was greeted by Domino, weaving his furry body between Drew’s legs.
“Hey, big boy, miss me?” He picked up the cat, who head butted him on his chin. Funny how he enjoyed having a pet to come home to. Despite the lousy start he’d had in life, Domino was a loving creature, always happy to see him come through the door.
Drew gave the cat one more cuddle, then placed him on the floor. Domino, proclaiming his displeasure, meowed loudly. Drew, who could deny the cat nothing, gave the cat a few more scratches, then stood and tossed his keys in the bowl on the table by the front door. As he passed through the living room to his bedroom, he dropped his jacket on the sofa. Finally comfortable after changing into a T-shirt and sweats, Drew logged on to the computer to check his e-mails. The first one that caught his eye was from Mallory Construction. Jason Mallory had e-mailed him to let him know the job would be finished Monday, and he would meet Drew at the site for a walk-through.
Drew was thrilled. Not only was the job finished ahead of schedule, but it exceeded what he’d originally planned. Mallory had gone the extra mile to make sure the clinic looked welcoming and would be a place where disenfranchised young adults would want to come for help.
Once Drew discussed the reason behind the clinic with Mallory, the man had confided that he himself was gay and had had a difficult time with some members of his family during his coming out. All that seemed to be behind him, though, as he introduced Drew to his partner, Ryder, whom he was marrying this summer.
Closing down his e-mail, Drew rested his head against the pillows of his sofa and closed his eyes. Had he really loved Jackie, or was it his desperate need to have someone to come home to, someone to touch, to hold? Losing his parents so unexpectedly had left a hole in his heart he’d never been able to fill. He’d drifted through relationships, allowing his friends to set him up with woman after woman, but he’d never found that attraction or spark to take any of them seriously. Their main interest had been he was a doctor. As he grew older and reverted back into his shell of loneliness, it became all too easy to let his friends and sister tell him what to do in his personal life.
After all, Jordan had Keith, Mike was a party animal with more women than sense, and Rachel…well, Rachel was a mother hen and insisted she knew what was best for him.
When he’d ventured out and met Jackie, he’d thought she was the one, not heeding his friends’ and family’s warning that she only wanted to be married to a plastic surgeon with a lucrative career path. She’d been loving and inventive enough in bed to hold his interest while they’d dated. Everything had been fine before they’d gotten married. He fell for her hard and fast, proposing marriage after only dating six months. But things changed soon after their honeymoon, swiftly going downhill. Once he’d told her of his plans to open a clinic for abused teens and young adults, she’d pulled away, uninterested in that or any other topic he brought up for discussion. Eventually she withdrew from their marriage altogether.
It hadn’t even taken him three months of living together to realize what a vain, self-centered person she truly was. Shit, he’d obviously been a very poor judge of character, because seeing her on her knees blowing his friend had come as a total surprise to him. Once again, he thanked God the marriage was as short-lived as it was.
Well, no matter, as he wasn’t ready for a new relationship or even to date right now. His sister was right. He had the clinic and those kids to think about. Hopefully they could find another lawyer to replace Davis. Jason Mallory had mentioned a friend who was a Legal Aid attorney. Maybe Drew would give that attorney a call, as the legal work would likely be too much for Peter to handle on his own.
His phone buzzed with a call. “Hey, Rach. What’s up? I was thinking of you.”
“Hey, D. Great minds, big brother. Wanna meet for coffee Saturday? I haven’t seen you in a while since I was out of town and couldn’t come to Nana’s last week. We need a hang-out day.”
Drew’s chest tightened. No matter how shitty he felt, talking to his sister always made him feel better. Not that he’d ever admit it to her. “Sure, honey. Where and when?”
“How about the new coffeehouse by Union Square? The one on Eighteenth Street by the park? We can walk around the farmer’s market afterward.”
An idea popped into his head. “Sounds perfect. I’ll get some fresh fruit and make Nana a cobbler for Sunday.” He hadn’t indulged in his love of cooking since his marriage, as Jackie barely ate anything. She’d always been on some diet or another.
“Ooh yumm.” Her moan was long and drawn out. “I love your cobbler. Maybe you’ll be a nice big brother and make an extra one for me? Pretty please?”
Pretending to grumble, he agreed. She knew he’d make it for her. “Well, all right, but you’ll have to help me carry the fruit home.”
“Not a problem. Gives me a chance to come over and see Domino. How fat has he gotten?”
“Hey. He isn’t fat; he’s healthy.”
After she stopped laughing, they agreed to meet at noon. “Save me a seat and get me a hazelnut latte if you get there first, D.”
“If? If I’m there first? When have you ever been on time for anything?” He chuckled, even when she blew a raspberry in his ear and hung up on him.
Swallowing the last of his beer, he closed his laptop and put it on the couch. When he got up, the cat followed him, waiting outside the bathroom until he finished and then trailing him back into the bedroom. No use in pushing Domino off the bed; he’d hop right back on.
“Well, come on. Up you go.” Domino regarded him with those big yellow eyes, swished his tail, and jumped, stalking over to the foot of the bed and curling up. Feeling happier than he had in a while, Drew slipped into the bed, allowing his body to unfold. Toes curling, hamstrings tightening, and arms over his head, he enjoyed a full-body stretch before relaxing It had been a long day of patients, then that bizarre dinner meeting. The back of his neck cracked. Well, he sure wasn’t twenty anymore. After he’d hit thirty, he’d taken up running to make sure he could stay in shape with his long hours and infrequent meals.
His phone buzzed on the night table. Oh Christ. Hopefully it wasn’t some emergency. He picked it up, his eyes squinting at the bright light in the dark of his room. Crap. Asher Davis.
What the hell was that message about, Klein? Call me back.
Screw him. He didn’t owe the guy anything. He threw the phone on the opposite side of the bed and buried his head under the pillow. Of course, now that the guy had texted him, Drew couldn’t get that scene of Ash getting sucked off out of his mind. He finally understood what Jordan meant when he said it was hot to watch. He’d never admit it to anyone, but for just a moment while he was watching it…damn if it didn’t turn him on. Just a bit.
Shit. There went his dick again. Fuck. This wasn’t supposed to happen. He liked women, for God’s sake. Even though there was no one else in the room, his gaze darted furtively from side to side. Drew touched himself through his thin sweatpants, groaning at the feel of his already swollen, hard cock jumping.
A vision of the dark-haired Ash, looking like a wicked angel, head thrown back and gasping for breath, stirred a dark fantasy Drew didn’t know existed in the deepest recesses of his mind. The slick, liquid sound of the waiter’s mouth on Ash’s cock, as well as Ash’s harsh groans, were the impetus Drew needed to push himself over the edge. To his disbelief and dismay, and before he could stop himself, he reached under his sweats, grabbed his cock, and pulled at the leaking head, stroking hard down the shaft. After only a few moments and several strong tugs, he pulsed and came, spurting into his hand, his rough, choked cry echoing against the walls of his bedroom.
Unable to catch his breath for a moment, he reeled from what had occurred in his bed. Did he really jerk off thinking of another man? Un-fucking-believable. What was going on with him?
His phone rang. Shit, nighttime calls were always bad news. What if something had happened to Nana? Without looking at the screen, he connected. “Hello? Who is this?”
“Klein? It’s Davis. Asher Davis. You owe me an explanation for why you summarily dismissed me from the project.”
“It’s almost two a.m. I don’t owe anyone explanations at two in the morning. Least of all you.” Yeah, he knew that sounded rude, but the fact that he’d jerked off to the vision in his mind of the guy getting a blowjob embarrassed him enough that he didn’t give a shit.
A long expulsion of breath indicated how pissed off Davis was. “Why are you being such a bastard?” Now he merely sounded confused. “Can’t we talk about it?”
Did he owe the guy an explanation? Not really. But maybe he owed it to Peter, since Peter was the one who had gotten Asher involved. “Okay. Meet me at eleven thirty Saturday morning at the new coffeehouse on Eighteenth and Broadway.” He clicked off and muted the phone. After cleaning himself up in the bathroom, Drew returned to bed and buried his head under the pillows, willing himself to go to sleep.
* * * *
On Saturday, a few minutes before he was supposed to meet Ash, Drew entered the coffeehouse, ordered himself an iced coffee, and found a table. Stretching out his legs under the tiny table, he wondered why he’d made this appointment. He wanted this clinic to safeguard the kids from predators. While Ash wasn’t that bad, he didn’t need the distraction of wondering whether or not Asher Davis was behaving himself and not seducing the very kids they were trying to protect.
A shadow fell across his eyes. “Okay, Klein.” Ash dropped into the seat across from him. His silver eyes glittered like ice chips, nor was there warmth to the tight smile on his lips. “What the fuck happened between dinner and you coming home that made it so imperative for you to call my office at one thirty in the morning and dump me from the project?”
Drew toyed with the lid to his coffee cup before answering, his gaze taking in the man’s agitated state. “For the life of me, I can’t understand why you’re so upset. I had a change of heart.” He shrugged. “Maybe I don’t want to work with my ex-wife’s lawyer.”
“I’m calling bullshit on that. You had no problem last night when we talked about it. You even liked my ideas.”
Why would a man like this care so much about this project? Did he still have a thing for Jordan and hoped to get through to him this way? “You are aware that Jordan’s in a committed relationship now.”
A look of confusion crossed Ash’s face, before his lips drew up in a sneer. “You think I want to do this because of Peterson? Did he tell you that?”
Nervous, Drew leaned away from Ash, craning his neck to catch the people walking in the doorway. For once in her life couldn’t his sister be early for something? No such luck. His gaze returned to the angry man before him. “No, but I know you had a thing for him once.”
Ash snorted. “Listen. Tell your friend with the overinflated opinion of himself that because I hit on him four or five years ago, doesn’t mean I’m still interested. Tastes change.”
Finally, Rachel walked in and waved to him. Thank God. Before he could stop himself, the snarky comment burst out of his mouth. “Yeah, I know. You’re into waiters now, right? Or should I say they’re into you.” Getting up from his seat, he greeted his sister. “Hey, Rach, how are you, sweetie?”
Her eyes flickered from him to Ash, who sat stunned, frozen in place. “Um, do you want to introduce me to your friend, D?”
“I don’t think so, Rach. We’re not friends, merely acquaintances. I don’t think we’ll be seeing each other after today.” When he looked at Ash over his shoulder, a momentary twinge of regret rippled through his chest. “So long, Davis. See you around.” With his hand on Rachel’s back, he steered her toward the door, hardly paying attention to her complaining that she didn’t have a chance to get her coffee.
“Forget it, Rachel. I’ll buy you lemonade. Now let’s go. I need to buy the fruit to make a cobbler for Nana tomorrow.”
As he passed by the windows of the coffeehouse, he looked through to see if Ash remained. The table was empty, however. Guess he got the message.
Or not. He turned to find Asher Davis right on his heels, a sheepish expression on his face.
“Listen, Ash, there really isn’t anything to talk about.”
Of course Miss Nosy Pants couldn’t be left out of the conversation. “Hi, I’m Rachel, his much more well-mannered sister.”
In an old-fashioned gesture, Ash picked up Rachel’s hand and kissed it. “Lovely to meet you. Maybe you can convince your brother that I honestly want to help these kids.”
Drew stood observing the exchange between his sister and Ash. He decided to let her form her own opinion of the man. Next to his grandmother, she had the best sense of anyone he knew, not that he’d ever tell her that. Some things a brother never told his sister.
They continued walking down Broadway to the corner of Eighteenth Street, then crossed to enter the park and the crowded farmer’s market. Drew dropped back, letting Rachel talk to Ash. Later he’d press her for the details, but for now he was content to sit back and study the guy.
Was Ash honestly interested in those kids, like he insisted, or was he using it as a way to meet men? It appalled him to think this way about another person, but Jordan’s comments, plus the sexual encounter he’d caught the man in and now outed him about, made him wonder. His face heated as he again recalled the blowjob in the darkened hallway of the restaurant. All the years he and Jordan had been friends, he’d never had any sexual feelings toward him, and merely listened and offered advice whenever his friend began or ended a relationship. Jordan was a buddy, a friend. Nothing sexual with him at all.
This was different. He couldn’t get the memory of Ash Davis’s blissful face out of his mind. Nor could he, if he confessed only to the deepest, darkest part of his mind, forget the sight of Ash’s cock sliding in and out of the mouth of the man sucking him off.
He stumbled. Shit. When was the last time he’d gotten laid? He couldn’t even remember. Months and months. That had to be it, the reason for his strange fascination with Ash’s sex life. Snapping out of his head fog, he heard Rachel laughing at something Ash whispered to her.
“Rach. We need to get the fruit.” Her smile faded at his unusually hard tone.
“Um, okay.” She gave him a frown and a side-eyed glare. “It was nice to meet you, Ash. Maybe I’ll see you around.” She shook his hand.
“That all depends on your brother, I think.”
Drew scowled. “We’ll see. I’ll get back to you this week and let you know my final decision.”
“Can we talk for one second?” Ash gestured with his head to an empty bench. “Rachel, would you excuse us?”
“Sure.” Her uncertain smile flashed for a brief moment. “I’ll, uh, go start picking out the fruit for you, D.”
He nodded and followed Ash to the bench, choosing to sit as far away from him as possible without looking too obvious. “You’ve charmed my sister, which is no easy feat. But—”
“But you still think I’m nothing more than the guy you saw in a hallway getting a blowjob by the waiter, right?”
Ash’s glittering eyes captured the green of the leaves, the blue of the sky, and the brown of the trees, reflecting back at Drew the emotion he held within. Making it impossible for Drew to look away.
“Are you?” Drew held his breath. Footsteps pounded past them, and laughter drifted through the sweet, late spring air as the crowds in Union Square Park walked by. No one paid them much attention, but for Drew, for whatever reason he couldn’t fathom, this conversation became as imperative as breathing.
“Look, Drew, we barely know each other, and you’ve already been prejudiced, not only by your friend but by what you saw the other night. I want you to know, though, that I have my own reason for helping those kids.” He shifted his gaze, focusing on the sidewalk. His black hair swung forward, hiding his face from view. “It’s, uh, too personal to get into now, but I would never, never do anything to hurt any of those kids.” He pulled his hair off his face. “They deserve every chance to live their life.”
What struck Drew—and changed his mind right then about Asher Davis—was the raw and obvious pain in the man’s voice. Whether or not Ash revealed his past, it was clear to Drew this man had suffered greatly in his life. It explained so much about him. A stranger still, yet Drew could sense Ash’s need to be wanted and liked by everyone. It all made sense now, the grasping anonymous sex with men he barely knew and the air of untouchable loneliness he carried with him.
“Hey.” Drew placed his hand on Ash’s shoulder, but to his surprise Ash quickly pulled away. That brief touch, however, gave rise to emotions so intense it rattled Drew to his core.
What the hell is that about?
“You don’t need to talk about it. I can admit it was wrong of me to make a hasty decision. I can see now, my opinion of you was mistaken. I have to get back to Rachel, but I would like you to work with us. I’ll call you?”
His question hung in the air as Ash continued his study of the ground beneath his feet. After a moment, Drew noted the slight jerk of Ash’s head, an acceptance of his words. “Good. We’ll talk. So long, Ash.”
Without waiting for a reply, he left Ash sitting on the bench, all alone in a sea of strangers.
“Let’s raise our glasses to my parents and the realization of a dream come true.” Drew held up his glass and, with his arm around Rachel, smiled at the group of people who’d made this night possible. “To the Audrey and Maxwell Klein Home Away From Home Clinic.” He drained his glass of champagne and immediately poured another. His apartment might be small and crowded, but it was filled with the people he cared most about in the world. His sister; their grandmother who sat, wiping the tears from her eyes and smiling her sweet smile at him; his two best friends, Mike and Jordan, who was, of course, with his partner, Keith. Also included in their circle now was Peter and his pretty wife, Lisa, as well as Asher Davis. For the past two months while construction was going on, Peter and Ash had helped with getting all the legalities in order, and Peter’s father’s influence had helped with all the necessary permits. His contractor, Jason Mallory, and Jason’s partner, Ryder Daniels, had shown up at the party as well.
Drew moved through the groups of his friends, trying to get through to speak with Nana, but to his amazement, when he got to her chair, she was sitting and laughing with none other than Ash.
“Drew, darling, why haven’t you ever introduced me to this handsome young man before?” Her blue eyes twinkled as her lips curved in a smile. “He’s been so sweet to sit here with me, telling me naughty jokes.”
Ash took her hand and kissed it, then placed a finger to his lips. “Shh, Esther. That was supposed to be between us.” He winked, and she laughed out loud.
“You, young man, are what was known as a rogue in my day.” She winked back at him. “I’ve always had a thing for the bad boys.”
“Nana?” Drew stood, dumbfounded by the scene in front of him. Was this his fierce, independent Nana, flirting with a man over fifty years her junior?
“Yes, dear. Can I help you with something?” She didn’t take her eyes off Ash, and for some reason that irked him.
“Well, no, I wanted to say hello to you and invite you down to the clinic to give you a tour.”
That got her attention. She took his hands in her little ones and squeezed them. “Your parents would’ve been so proud of you, and I know that they are looking down at you and your sister with all the love they have for you and Rachel.”
His heart hurt. Physically. He coughed to try and relieve the pressure in his chest, but it didn’t help. The second glass of champagne slid down his swollen, dry throat. “Thank you, Nana. I still miss them. Every single day.” Hanging his head, he felt her hand stroke his face.
“I do too. But they are here with us, giving us strength. If I didn’t believe that, I couldn’t get up in the morning.”
Ash handed him another drink. “Go on, take it. Seems like you need it. Let go for once.”
Drew held his silvery gaze and smiled. “Thanks, man. I think I do need it, and I’ll take my lawyer’s advice.”
“Is it true that you’re actually the lawyer for that horrible woman? The one who broke my grandson’s heart?” She shot Ash a stern look, and Drew had to laugh. He patted her hand.
“Don’t worry, Nana; she hardly broke my heart. It was a simple agreement, no fighting, and in a few months we’ll be finished.”
“She was a horrible person, wasn’t she?” Nana whispered to Ash, who surprisingly, nodded his head.
“She was indeed. Not nearly good enough for Drew in my opinion.”
A speculative gleam appeared in Nana’s eyes. “Do you have any nice girls for him to date, Mr. Davis? Maybe your girlfriend knows someone.”
Oh brother. The last think he wanted to do was talk about Ash’s sexuality with his grandmother, for God’s sake. He took a big gulp of his drink. Ash, however, came to his rescue.
“Mrs. Klein, I don’t have a girlfriend. I’m gay. That’s why I was so anxious to help Drew with this project, so that no one would ever have to suffer for being different.”
Nana sat for a moment, her gaze shifting from Ash to him. An unreadable look crossed her face. “I see. Well, I could never understand the fuss people make about it. I mean, why is it anyone’s business who you love? Look at those husbands and wives who kill their children. That’s who society should shame, not someone like you.”
To his surprise, she leaned over and kissed Ash’s cheek, then his. “If one of my grandchildren came and told me they were gay, I could never love them any less. Let that be a lesson to you both. Never settle for anything less than true love.” She stood, brushing off their helping hands. “Now I’m going to get a snack. Drew, don’t hover over me. Mr. Davis, I hope you won’t be a stranger.”
Ash took her hand and kissed it again. “You must call me Ash, then.”
She squeezed his arm and walked away. Drew finished his drink, realizing he was a little light-headed. “She’s a firecracker. And she took a real shine to you. That says a lot. My grandmother is the best judge of character.” He tracked her progress across the room as she stopped to socialize with people. Too bad he didn’t pay attention to her opinion about Jackie, but he’d stubbornly insisted on doing what he wanted.
Jordan and Keith came over then, pulling him away. He looked over his shoulder and mouthedthanksto Ash, who stayed where he was, a drink in his hand.
* * * *
Ash loved Lisa, he really did, but before this party was over, he’d have to tell Peter he was not interested in his wife’s gay hairdresser or decorator. There was only one man he wanted, and that hadn’t changed since they’d first met two months ago. He wanted Drew Klein in his bed and under his body. He wanted to slide into the man and bury himself, balls to the wall, so to speak. Instead he was stuck listening to her extol the virtue of her decorator’s blond hair and perfect tan, when all he wanted to touch was pale skin and soft, dark curls.
“Lisa, sweetheart. I know you mean well, but I’m not interested. I’m not into dating or having a relationship.” He smiled down at the pretty redhead. Her green eyes narrowed, and he braced himself for her lecture.
“Ash, come on. You can’t go through life having one-night stands. I’m afraid for your health. Besides, you need someone to love. Everyone does.”
He barked out a laugh. “Oh please. Look at Peter’s friends. These men aren’t tied down. Well, except for Peterson. But you know what I mean.”
She scowled at him. “You’re laughing at me, but one day you’ll understand what I’m talking about, and you’ll want to stop this drifting through life with no meaning.”
He kissed her cheek. “I’ve been told I’m very meaningful, sweetheart—where it counts. If you want, I’ll get you references. Now I’m getting another drink; catch you later.” Ignoring her gasp of outrage, he walked away. Conversations ebbed and flowed around him, and he listened with only half an ear as he poured another vodka. Drew, he noticed, looked to be flying high and in a silly, playful mood with his friends. His lips curved in a smile. Perhaps he could end this celebration with a bang after all. Casually, he walked over to a small table by the window and slid his sunglasses behind a grouping of pots holding cacti.
By the end of the evening, there were only a few people left. Rachel had taken her grandmother home. That lady was truly a sweetheart, and when she’d kissed him good-bye, she’d surprised him.“Don’t be a stranger, young man. My grandchildren and their friends stop by every Sunday to see me. I expect to see you one day.”She’d pierced him with a pointed look, and he’d nodded before he knew what he was doing.
Peter and Lisa had left an hour before, as they needed to relieve their sitter, and Mike had a date. Right now it was Drew, who was drunk, Jordan, and Keith. Ash knew Jordan still didn’t trust him fully, and if the good doctor knew what Ash planned for his friend, he’d be right. For a moment a shot of guilt speared through him, but he ignored it. All he wanted was one taste of Drew Klein, and then he’d be satisfied.
“Well, Drew, looks like you need to sleep it off, so we’re gonna go, right, Davis?” Peterson jerked his head toward he door. “Drew needs to take some aspirin and go to bed.”
He’d make sure Drew would go to bed, but if Ash had anything to say about it, the man wouldn’t be alone. “Sure. Drink lots of water, Drew, and we’ll see you Monday for the grand opening.”
Drew threw his arm around Ash’s shoulder. “Yeah. Thanks for all your help. And boy does my grandmother love you, Ash. Couldn’t stop talking about you.” He pushed back the dark curls that fell over his forehead, a crooked smile transforming his face into someone young and vulnerable. Sweet. Ash swallowed hard. An unaccustomed wave of both protectiveness and lust coursed through him. He clapped Drew on the back.
“She’s very cute. Well, everyone, I’ll see you at the center. Have a great night.” He left and, after exiting the building, hung around the little grocery store buying gum and a few granola bars, until he saw Jordan and Keith leave the building, get into their car, and drive away.
He paid for his items, slipped them in his pocket, then left the store and hurried back across the street. He buzzed Drew’s apartment.
“Hey, it’s Ash. I think I left my sunglasses there. Can I come up and look for them?”
“Sure.” A second later the buzzer rang, and he opened the security door and took to the stairs, two at a time. Within a minute he was at Drew’s door. It was partially open and Ash pushed it wider, catching sight of Drew standing in the hallway.
“Come on in.” Drew extended his hand. “Look around, wherever. I’m a little wasted, so I wouldn’t be that much help in looking.”
That sweet crooked smile sent the blood racing straight to Ash’s cock. He needed to touch this man. Soon. Ash entered the apartment and closed the door behind them both. “Why don’t I get you some cold water; then I’ll look for my glasses?”
“Sure.” Drew wandered off into the apartment, yawning and scratching his head. After getting some ice from the freezer, Ash poured Drew a glass of water. His pulse raced in anticipation.
When he returned to the living room, he found the man lying on the couch, eyes closed.
“Hey, Drew? I have your water.”
“Mmm, thanks.” He kept his eyes closed but smiled.
“Do you need some help sitting up?” Oh, he was bad, but he wasn’t about to stop, not when his cock was hard and the man lay all spread out before him like a delicious buffet, waiting to be sampled.
A few birds chirped from the branches of the old oak tree outside the window. Drew’s cat, who’d done little more than glare at him, was nowhere to be found. The air stilled as if in anticipation. Ash lowered himself to the couch and slipped his arm around Drew’s shoulders. His weight was negligible as Ash lifted Drew into his lap.
And froze in shock, as Drew opened his eyes and slung his arm around Ash’s shoulder. “Wanna know something weird?” Drew’s lips were close enough that if Ash turned his face, they would touch his.
He swallowed, fighting the unaccustomed urge to press his mouth on Drew’s. “Sure, tell me.”
Drew’s slightly unfocused eyes met his. That sweet, irresistible smile remained on his lips. “When I saw you that night with the waiter, it was the hottest thing I’d ever seen.”
It took all his strength of will to keep his voice calm and steady. “Really? I’d have thought you’d be shocked.”
Drew chuckled and rubbed his face against Ash’s shoulder. “Nah. Jordan was right. It was hot. You were hot. I came home and jerked off, so I guess I liked it, huh?” The rubbing turned into nuzzling, and Ash’s body couldn’t help but harden under the constant touching. Drew continued to laugh. “A little too much information, huh?” He hiccuped, closed his eyes, and settled back against Ash’s chest with a sigh.
Ash gazed down at the man cuddled in his arms. What the hell was he doing? With shaking fingers, he brushed back those damp, curling dark waves off Drew’s face. Drew’s eyes opened, and though reddened and heavy-lidded, their focus remained steady on his face.
“I’m so lonely.” The green eyes closed, and Drew’s head fell back to rest upon Ash’s shoulder once again. His murmur was almost lost against the blood roaring in Ash’s head. “I don’ think you’re as bad as Jordy says you are. Jus’ lonely too, like me.”
Hell, he couldn’t do this, couldn’t take advantage of a man when he was so drunk. When it came to having sex with men, he’d made mistakes too numerous to keep track of. More likely than not, he could fuck Drew, and they’d both enjoy it. For the first time in Ash’s life, he couldn’t take advantage of the situation. It wasn’t enough. He wanted more.
What the hell was he thinking?
“Why can’t I get you out of my head, Dr. Klein?”
A soft snore rent the air. With regret he looked down at the sleeping man, wishing he could stretch out and join him. For the second time that day he shocked himself. He’d never spent the night with anyone. He’d never spent more than the time it took afterward to zip up his pants and button his shirt with anyone he fucked. A yowl came from the doorway as Drew’s big black-and-white cat stalked into the room. After some growling and warning sounds, the cat jumped on the couch, stretching out at its head, his baleful yellow eyes glaring at Ash as if he knew Ash had taken advantage of the situation.
Watchcat on duty.
All at once, shame flooded though him as Drew turned and settled in his arms. How could he have thought to take advantage of the man? Besides, this cuddling with Drew was kind of nice, now that he thought about it. Another first. He didn’t do cuddling. By this time he would normally be dressed and out the door, the man’s face forgotten.
Now he didn’t want to leave. And that emotion, the flare of protectiveness fucking scared him. Before he knew what he was doing, he touched his lips to his fingers, then pressed them to Drew’s lips.
“Good night, Dr. Klein.”
There was no throw on the couch, and Drew looked so sweet and vulnerable lying there, so Ash took the one from the bedroom and covered the sleeping man. He rubbed his hands over his face and on silent feet left the apartment, the weight of the cat’s evil, accusing stare boring into his back.
The end of the world had arrived, heralded by a head about to explode like a melon blasted by a bazooka and a churning stomach that would likely never be normal again. Even the gleeful chirping of the birds outside his window grated. Why wasn’t Domino out there making Happy Meals out of them? Drew tried to think of who would be willing to shoot him and put him out of his misery.
What on earth possessed him to drink so much yesterday? He usually never drank more than two beers. Something had goaded him from within, to let loose after all the years of holding himself back. To feel something new and different.
Maybe to feel anything at all.
A nudge to his chin accompanied by a deep, rumbling purr brought him back to the painful reality that it wasn’t only him anymore. Domino relied on him for survival now, and as corny as that might sound, it felt good to be needed by someone, even if that someone had four legs and fur.
“Okay, buddy.” The effort to open his eyes was monumental, involving several aborted attempts and failures. Finally his vision focused, his gaze landing on the large yellow eyes of his cat.
“Meow.” Domino swished his tail and licked his hand with a small raspy tongue.
“I know. I’m getting up now.” Shit. He hadn’t even realized until now that he’d fallen asleep on his couch, let alone covered himself with a blanket. That seemed bizarre to him, but yesterday was a bizarre day—full of emotion, sentiment, and the inevitable guilt at seeing his parents’ names up on the wall. Normally, he tried not to think about them too often, for the pain over their loss, even after all these years, still tore at him.
Scrubbing his face with his hands, he then took a deep breath and pushed himself to an upright position. He didn’t feel like throwing up, which he considered a good thing. When he glanced at his watch, he saw it was only ten in the morning. At least he hadn’t slept away the entire day, especially since he had so much to do to get ready for the grand opening of the clinic tomorrow.
It looked like it would be warm today, as the sun was already bright overhead, and the blue of the sky seemed endless when he stuck his head out of the window to get some fresh air into his lungs. That and several cups of coffee would kick-start his day. After feeding Domino, he made himself a cup, then stood in the kitchen, gulping down the hot elixir of life. The rest of the carafe he put in the refrigerator to cool down for iced coffee later on.
He popped two aspirin in his mouth and swallowed them down with the coffee. Not exactly the right way to take medicine, but desperate times and all that. Still working through the fog in his mind, he padded his way through the living room, straight into the bathroom. He turned on the taps to the shower and, after shucking off his clothes, stood with his eyes closed under the stream of heated water. For some reason, as it had been for weeks now, his mind fixated on Asher Davis with a stubbornness he couldn’t push away.
Ever since they’d met, that man had gotten under his skin, first in a negative way, when Drew watched Ash have sex in the restaurant, then slowly morphing into a person he might like, revealing he had substance under his fine suits and handsome face. There was more to him than Jordan had initially said. It wasn’t only sex and fucking. Call it what you will, but he’d formed a kind of camaraderie with the man. Drew sensed his loneliness and could relate. There could’ve been a hundred people in his apartment yesterday, yet Drew still would have felt alone. Nothing broke the emptiness inside of him, no matter how he filled his life with friends and family.
Yesterday, though… His mind strained to hold on to a memory that teased at the corner of recollection. With his eyes still shut, Drew fumbled for the soap. He lathered and stroked himself, wondering if he should start dating casually. Maybe Peter’s wife could set him up with a friend. But instead of a beautiful blonde or brunette woman, the memory of Ash Davis in the hallway with that man flooded his mind. His cock hardened, and the sound of his rough breathing echoed in the small tiled shower. With one hand braced on the wall, he slid the other, slick with suds, up and down his erection. Why did that scene, and nothing else, cause him to swell even thicker, until all he could visualize was Ash’s open mouth and his thick, gleaming cock sliding in and out of the waiter’s mouth.
What the hell! Damn Ash Davis. The man was a notorious tomcat, a living, breathing erection on demand who probably fucked any man who gave him the side eye of interest. Cursing him was of no use, however, as Drew’s cock had a mind of its own and his orgasm hurtled upon him. Spots danced before his eyes as he came, spurting against the tiles of the shower wall, his essence swirling its way down the drain. He turned off the shower and wrapped himself in a towel, all the while his mind racing, splintering off in a thousand possible directions.
Holy hell. What was going on in his fucked-up psyche that all of a sudden he lusted after a man. He wasn’t gay. Was he? Could someone become gay in one day? Did he want to be with a man? Before now, he would’ve laughed at the thought, but standing in his bathroom, contemplating these questions freaked him out. Yeah, the fact that he fucking jerked himself off thinking about Ash Davis totally freaked him out. Shit, his head hurt.
He pulled on jeans and a faded Stones’ T-shirt. Maybe he’d bake his grandmother some cookies, visit her later in the afternoon, and everything would be fine. One thing he’d learned since his parents’ deaths was to compartmentalize things. If he didn’t want to think about it, he sealed it off in his brain, with the other things he didn’t ever want to discuss. Like jerking off to images of another man.
Feeling better now that he’d pushed his emotions under the proverbial rug, he puttered around his apartment a bit, trying to straighten up after the party last night. While watering his plants, he stopped by the arrangement of cacti he had grouped on the table and tested the dirt. Dry as a bone, so he gave each pot a small dollop of water. Something caught his eye in the grouping of the pots. He reached in and pulled out a pair of expensive sunglasses. It took him a second to recognize them as belonging to Ash.
Slipping them in his back pocket, he then returned to the kitchen and pulled out his baking pans, along with everything else he needed to bake his grandmother’s favorite cookies. He mixed the batter and added in extra-large chocolate chips, and put some butterscotch chips in as well. He washed his hands as he waited for the oven to preheat. When the oven beeped, he slid the pans inside and set the time for fifteen minutes.
He drank another cup of coffee, this time ice-cold and refreshing, and wandered back into his living room. With nothing to do except wait for his cookies to bake, then cool, he stretched out on the couch and flipped on the TV. For an early Sunday afternoon, it was quiet on his block. There were no screams from playful toddlers running down the block or cars revving in the street. The silence unnerved him. He shook his head at the strange thoughts in his mind. Maybe he was still a little drunk.
He roamed the channels and found a repeat of last night’s Yankees game. As he settled back to watch, once again he had the strangest feeling someone else had been there with him yesterday after the party. The sunglasses in his back pocket dug into his ass, and not wanting to break them, he took them out and left them on the table. A thought popped into his head, and he opened his laptop, then logged on to that dating site he’d seen on TV—Big Apple Meet Ups. There was a free seven-day trial, so he created an account and the faces of hundreds of women, all dying to meet him, filled his screen.
After three pages his eyes glazed over. So many women. Christ. Each one seemed perfect for him. But then again, he’d thought Jackie was perfect too, although if he’d looked closer, maybe he would’ve seen the warning signs his family and friends tried to point out. Hindsight was easy after the fact. What a waste. Yeah, the sex had been okay, but he couldn’t forgive himself for being so easily duped. Guess he wasn’t as great a judge of character as he thought. Either that or she was a damn good actress when she wanted something, which was more likely the truth.
He wanted to prove to them all—his sister and his friends—that he could make his own decisions about his life without the need for their well-meaning intervention, or, in the case of Jordan, his arrogant opinions.
Jackie had made no secret from the moment they’d met at the rooftop bar of the Tribeca Grand that she wanted him. Badly. If he were the type of guy to score on the first date, he could’ve had her in his bed that night. And she was more than willing, he realized as he recalled her attempts in the cab they’d shared, to get him to come home with her. Maybe that was his problem. He took sex seriously and couldn’t understand people like Jackie and Asher Davis, who threw it around like it meant nothing at all.
No more thinking about the past. Lucky for him, he’d extricated himself quickly and painlessly, with nothing more than a bruised but not broken heart. Luckily, Jackie hadn’t gotten pregnant. She didn’t want to have any children, and he’d always expressed a desire to adopt. He didn’t need to have his own children, and after learning about the tragedy of the foster care system, maybe he would think about becoming a single dad in the near future.
The oven timer dinged, and he returned to the kitchen to pull the cookies out of the oven. They smelled wonderful as he set the pans on the counter to cool. Domino sniffed at his toes and swatted his ankles.Looks like someone wants a treat. Drew took out one of the bowls he kept on the counter specifically for that purpose and bent down to feed and pet the purring cat.
A beep sounded from the living room. “Come on, kitty. Let’s go and see who wants what from me.” He plopped down on the sofa and peered at the slightly blurry computer screen. Damn. Maybe he did need to start wearing those glasses the ophthalmologist said he needed. Until then, he’d make do with squinting.
Oh wow. Turned out he had an IM from a woman. That was quicker than he’d expected.
Hi. I’m Alyssa. How are you?
Hmm. A little strange to do it this way, but he shrugged. Technology was the way of the world now, so here went nothing.
I’m good, thanks. How are you?
Great. I saw your profile, and I live near you and wondered if you’d want to get together for a coffee or a drink this week.
Just then the downstairs buzzer rang. He wasn’t expecting anyone. Domino jumped off the couch and ran into the bedroom.
Hold on for a few? My doorbell rang.
Sure. Not a problem.
He spoke into the little speaker box. “Who is it?”
“Hey, Drew. It’s Ash. May I come up?”
Funny, he’d never noticed the slight Southern drawl in Ash’s voice. An unexpected shiver raced through him. “Sure,” he said and pushed the button to release the door lock.
Within seconds, footsteps pounded up the stairs, and he opened the door to watch Ash climbing the last few steps. Ash pushed his hair off his forehead, then met Drew’s gaze and grinned. “Damn. You couldn’t live on the first floor?”
An image chased in his mind and out just as quickly, of Ash bending over him on the couch. Since that made no sense, he blinked one or two times to clear his mind and held the door open wide. “Come on in. Are you going somewhere?”
Ash cocked his brow and followed him into the apartment. “No, why?”
Drew gestured with his chin. “I dunno; you’re kinda dressed up for a Sunday morning.” His gaze raked over the man who was in a white button-down shirt and black pants. “I’m like a slob compared to you.” He laughed and rubbed his chin.
Like a breath being held, an anticipatory waiting for something to drop and cause havoc and mayhem, a heavy silence hung in the air. Ash’s glittering eyes scrutinized him, traveling with slow precision up his body. Though he stood several feet away, it was as if Drew could feel the press of Ash’s fingers on his back and the hush of Ash’s breath on his skin. His skin prickled with the heat rising in his face. He never could control his blushing. It drove him crazy.
“Don’t be a fool. You’re perfect.”
Drew let out a self-conscious laugh. “Ah, yes. Must be why the women are beating down my doors.”
Ash’s face shuttered, closed and dark. “Perhaps you’re looking for the wrong person.”
Their eyes met, and once again the silent air fairly vibrated with tension. Drew licked his lips. “Um, go ahead and sit down. You want some iced coffee or a beer or something?”
“The coffee sounds great, thanks.” Ash strolled into the living room while Drew fixed the coffee. He brought the cups in, but there was nowhere for both of them to sit, as the blanket still lay on the sofa.
Ash placed his cup on the table, took the blanket, and folded it. “Here, why don’t you let me put that back in the bedroom?”
Puzzled, Drew looked from the blanket to Ash’s face. “How did you know where it came from?”
Ash froze at the entrance to Drew’s bedroom, a guilty expression coloring his face red. “I, uh…” He looked up, down, and everywhere but at Drew’s face.
“You came back here, didn’t you? I thought I was going crazy with the thoughts in my head.” Drew pressed the heel of his palm hard into his eyes. “Shit. I really have no recollection of what happened. I’m no drinker.”
“Yeah, that was obvious.”
He tried to look affronted, but Ash huffed out a laugh. “Come on, Drew, you were trashed.”
Finally he broke out in a grin. “Yeah, I’m kind of a lightweight when it comes to booze.” He licked his lips, nerves skittering inside him at the question he was about to ask. “Um, so what happened when you were here?”
Ash returned to the couch and sat next to him. His soft voice, the drawl a little more apparent, sparked a confusing, heated response in Drew’s blood. “What makes you think somethin’ happened?”
If a fire truck plowed into his apartment right now, it couldn’t have pulled his attention away from Ash’s strong jaw and firm lips. Or that little wedge of skin, so soft looking even with the dark curl of chest hair peeking through. The man smelled like warm sunshine and coffee. Heaven and desire.
“I, um, I had some weird dreams,” Drew choked out, embarrassed now that Ash sat before him. But the man wasn’t smiling. In fact, he looked terrifyingly serious.
“Did you now?” It didn’t seem strange at all for Ash to reach over and brush back the curls that insisted on falling into his eyes. “Why don’t you tell me about them?”
He shook his head, unsure where to begin, afraid he might reveal too much of the confusion inside.
A ding from the computer broke the mesmerizing spell between them. “Shit. I forgot about her.” With reluctance, he turned his attention to the computer and the series of chat messages with the woman he’d been talking to. What was her name again? Alyssa, right. Wow she had a lot to say.
Are you still there?
I guess you aren’t that interested.
A warm breath teased his ear, sending chills rippling down his spine. “Are you? Interested in her?”
Drew found it hard to swallow. Ash’s lips, his mouth were a mere breath away from touching his hair. Much as his mind sought to ignore it, his body responded. With supreme strength, he wrenched away from the magnetic pull of the man and shut the laptop, effectively ending the conversation with poor Alyssa.
“I, um, don’t know. It’s only the first time I’ve done that.” For the life of him he didn’t know why he sounded so defensive. It wasn’t as if he owed Ash an explanation. And speaking of explanations…
“You never did say why you came by yesterday after the party.”
Ash frowned, staring off into the distance. “To pick up my sunglasses, of course.”
On inspiration, Drew blurted out, “Do you want to come with me to my grandmother’s today? I have to bring her the cookies I baked…” His voice trailed off as Ash cast him a look of disbelief. “Oh, sorry. That was stupid of me. I’m sure you have better things to do than hang around with my family all day long.”
But to his utter shock and surprise, a wide smile brightened Ash’s face. It was as if a switch had been flicked on from inside of him. “I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my Sunday than to see Esther again.” His smile faded for a moment. “Are you sure she wouldn’t mind me butting in?”
“Mind? You remember what she said. She’ll be thrilled. Someone new to flirt with.” He punched Ash on the shoulder. “Help me wrap them up, and we can take off. I usually get there by one o’clock. First I have to stop at the deli and pick her up a corned beef sandwich.”
Ash’s eyes lit up. “Nothing like a good corned beef sandwich. Mr. Frank used to bring them in whenever we worked late on a case.” And as quickly as his face had flushed with happiness, it drained of joy.
“You miss him, don’t you?” The bleak expression on Ash’s face hurt Drew’s heart. It was obvious the man had meant the world to Ash.
”Every fucking day.” The pain in Ash’s voice was pitiful to hear.
Drew gave Ash’s arm a sympathetic squeeze. “Then spending a day with my grandmother will help.” He patted Ash on his back, noting the flex and play of muscle under the fine cotton of his shirt. Why, all of a sudden did he notice these little, intimate details about Ash’s body?
Ash stilled under his touch, and Drew found he couldn’t pull away. Their gazes locked. Drew stepped back quickly, withdrawing his hand. Disconcerted, he frowned to himself. What the hell was happening here? “Uh. Let’s get going.” They wrapped up the cooled-down cookies and left the apartment. Ash had his car so he drove, and the silence between them spoke louder than any words could.
One month later, after getting out of a cab, Ash stood on the sidewalk outside the clinic, surveying the activity. Teenagers entered and left the building. It was good to see those who left, more often than not, had a relaxed, hopeful look about them, as if they’d found the secret answer to the problem troubling them. With any luck, the clinic had done its job.
He sipped his coffee, and as they had done so very often in the past month, his thoughts wandered to the founder of the clinic, Drew Klein. For the life of him, he couldn’t figure out what the attraction was. The man was good-looking, with his dark curls, light green eyes, and sweet smile, but Ash had never lacked for good-looking men in his bed. Drew had the slender, slightly smaller physique Ash favored in a lover. The sight of the man’s tight ass, encased in those faded jeans, his lean runner’s legs showcasing the muscles of his thighs under the thin fabric of the jeans was enough to give Ash a hard-on every single time.
It was more than that, though. Ash was the first to admit he was shallow in his choice of bedmates, often only caring that the man had visual appeal. But when it came to Drew, it was something more than his outward appearance. Drew’s innate goodness and the dedication he showed to these kids only added to his attractiveness. Ash had never known anyone quite so damn nice before. The man’s heart was as wide open as the sky.
Ash pushed open the glass front door, absently greeting Marly—the teenager with so many facial piercings it hurt to look at her. He slipped a small bakery bag on her desk. “Good morning.”
“Hi, Mr. Davis.” Her gaze landed on the bag. “What did you bring me today?” A gleam in her pale blue eyes indicated she already knew it would be something she would like.
Ash leaned over the top of the counter and ruffled her hair. “I know you’re going to want to taste it.” His eyes held hers, willing her to agree. Sixteen-year-old Marly had been with them from the beginning, coming to them half-starved and sexually abused. Without saying a word, Ash had taken it upon himself to make sure he did everything legally possible to put her father behind bars for a long time. The case was still wending its way through the system. Thank God they had gotten her out of her abusive household and in with a wonderful foster care family.
Still somewhat mistrustful of strangers, she’d taken, oddly enough, to him. No one in the clinic could understand the unusual friendship between him and the frightened, bedraggled teenager, but it wasn’t any of their goddamn business. He had his reasons, and one of them was the way her lips now curved in a smile and her pale eyes shone with laughter, not fear, as she peered inside the bag to see her double fudge cupcake.
Fear was a companion he’d grown up with, lived with each night of his life until he’d turned eighteen and left his foster home. He’d made sure he got away. He could only hope his foster brothers—the boys he’d left behind who were too young and scared to leave with him—had made it out as well. He’d never stopped trying to find them, but the private investigator he had on their trail for years kept running up against dead ends.
“Oooh, Mr. Davis, you shouldn’t have.” But her finger sank into the two-inch topping of fudge and came away with a big glob to stick in her mouth. Her eyes rolled back in her head with undisguised ecstasy. “Yumm. It’s so good. Thank you.”
“Make sure you finish it, and don’t let anyone sneak a bite.” He jerked his head at Javier, the other teenager manning the reception desk. The teenage boy snorted, shaking his head.
“Man, I’m not gonna steal her food. Especially when her nasty finger’s already touched it.”
Outraged, Marly took a huge bite, leaving a glob of frosting on her nose. “My hands are clean, buddy boy. As opposed to yours, which were probably down some guy’s pants this morning.”
Javier’s face flamed. “Not true. Marquez and I broke up.”
Instantly, Marly turned from teaser to comforter, and Ash enjoyed seeing how the two formerly wary, friendless teens had bonded as she consoled him. “Bastard. You’ll find someone better than him; don’t worry, baby.”
“Okay, kids, do I have anyone scheduled this morning?” Ash reached for the printed schedule Marly glanced at.
“Um, yeah, but not until later. It’s the kid who came in last week, pretty bad off.”
Stevie North. Ash’s gut tightened. “Thanks.” With what he hoped was a casual tone, he asked, “Boss man here?”
Fortunately Marly was busy cutting off a slice of her cupcake to give to Javier, so she didn’t pay much attention to him. “Uh yeah, Dr. Drew came in about an hour ago and Dr. Rachel’s here too.”
Inwardly Ash groaned. While he thought Drew’s sister cute and funny, she loved to psychoanalyze the shit out of him, coming uncomfortably close to the truth too many times. More often than not, he avoided her and her good-natured, nosy questioning.
“Thanks. See you two later.”
Neither answered, their mouths full of cupcake.
As he walked down the hallway, he greeted the other volunteers who came every Saturday and Sunday to meet with the kids who stopped by. They had Rachel to thank for them. She’d gotten ten of her fellow psychology classmates to volunteer to sit with the boys and girls who came in and talked to them. Fortunately the problems weren’t always that bad. More often than not it came down to a simple miscommunication with their parents or siblings or a teenager being a teenager. They talked for a while and went on their way with a better understanding of how to handle a parent or a brother or sister.
Those were the lucky ones and fortunately constituted most of their cases.
But then there were cases like Marly’s, or fifteen-year-old Stevie, that made what Drew had set up here worth everything.
Immersed in his thoughts and not watching where he was going, he ran straight into the man who occupied his mind most of the time.
“Ooof.” Their bodies collided, and Ash’s head made painful contact with Drew’s, a hard edge slicing into his cheekbone as their bodies flattened against one another. He had to admit that for a moment he saw stars.
Staggering away, Ash felt the warm trickle of blood run down his cheek. “Ow.” He touched his cheek, and it came away bloodstained. “What the hell?” The words died on his lips as he saw Drew, a concerned look on his face, wearing glasses that made him look hot as shit. The pain in his head forgotten, he wanted nothing more than to flatten the man against the wall and kiss him senseless.
“When did you get the glasses, Doc?” The man looked like a sexy professor, except no professor he ever had in law school had a face or body like Drew’s. Desire prickled through him, hardening his cock even as the blood dripped down his face.
Drew stopped rubbing his head. “Shit, Ash. Come on to the examining room. I have to see if you need stitches.” He pointed to the door on his right. “This one is free.”
Ash entered and hopped up on the table, forcing himself to raise his gaze to Drew, who stood over him with a wet gauze pad, cleaning up the blood. “I’m sure it’s nothing.”
Drew’s lips twitched. “Last time I checked, you went to law school, not medical school, so shut up and let me look.” He took off those sexy professor glasses and came close to Ash’s face.
Warning bells went off in his head. Shit. He’d never been this close to the man, except when Drew was too drunk to notice, or in his X-rated dreams. The reality was so much better. His touch was deft yet gentle, and a clean fresh scent emanated from his skin, as if he’d stepped out of a shower only a minute before. Unwittingly, Ash groaned out loud.
Immediately, Drew’s expression turned concerned. “Does it hurt very badly? I might need to put in a stitch or two near your eye. That’s where the cut is the deepest.” The tips of his fingers touched Ash’s cheek, and his eyes clouded with obvious distress. “Shit, I’m sorry. I really didn’t see or hear you.”
Without thinking, Ash covered Drew’s hand. “Not your fault. I was the one not paying attention.”
Neither of them moved; then Ash watched as Drew’s gaze flickered over to their joined hands. A sweet blush colored Drew’s cheeks as he pulled away his fingers. “Uh, anyway, let me see if we can get away with a butterfly bandage on this and then you won’t need the stitches, ’kay?”
Shit. He didn’t mean for that to happen. Sure he lusted over the guy, but Drew was straight and never gave any indication he’d be interested in crossing the line. That time Drew made his drunken confession about jerking off while he thought about Ash was probably a mistake. Everyone had weird dreams now and then. It didn’t mean Drew wanted to change his sexuality.
“Sure. Have at it.” He closed his eyes and relaxed as Drew cleaned and dressed the cut.
“Not as bad as I thought. The skin’s so thin in that area it bleeds a lot, but it wasn’t too deep. Keep it covered, and in a few days I’ll check it to make sure it doesn’t get infected.”
Ash opened his eyes to Drew’s back as he cleaned up and rinsed his hands. It gave him a chance to appreciate the man from behind. “Thanks, Drew. Appreciate it.”
“No problem. Always good to have a doctor in the house, right?” Drew winked over his shoulder at Ash, not realizing the torment he put Ash through. Now, even though he’d only known the man a few months, Ash respected him and wouldn’t think to do anything to jeopardize their friendship, including touching him or kissing him.
But goddamn it to hell, he was dying to do that. As he continued to watch Drew clean up, Ash focused on the part of his neck between where his hair curled at the edges and his T-shirt ended. There was nothing more he wanted to do in this lifetime than lick that teasing bit of flesh. Lost in the fantasy of him driving into Drew on the examining room table, gripping the man’s hips as he pushed into Drew over and over again, he almost jumped a foot when Drew tapped him on the shoulder.
“Whoa, what’s up with you today? You’re jumpy as all hell.” Drew laughed and stepped back with his hands up. “You almost clocked me again.”
It took every effort of Ash’s will not to move and drag Drew up against his hard-on. The last thing he needed, however, was Drew finding out the extent of his feelings, especially as confused as he was about them himself. “Restless night. I have a nasty case coming up I’m not looking forward to.” Big fucking lie. He never let any of his cases get to him, approaching them as a means to an end. The only thing that really mattered to him at this point in his life were the kids he was helping here, and finding the foster brothers he’d left behind in Georgia.
When his body calmed down sufficiently for him to move, he slid off the examining table and held out his hand to shake Drew’s. “Thanks, Doc. I appreciate it.” Drew had those sexy glasses back on again. “You never answered me. When did you get those?”
Drew reddened. “I went to the eye doctor since my vision was getting a little blurry close up. He said I should wear them.”
“They look good. Make you look like a professor. Women will love them.” Ash gave him a two-fingered salute and walked out the door, not waiting for an answer. He didn’t want to think about Drew dating women.
The day flew, and by five o’clock he was on his last appointment. His heart squeezed when he saw Stevie’s name. One of the unlucky ones, Stevie was a target for every homophobic bully he came in contact with. Small, thin, and pale, he was almost pretty enough to pass for a young girl. When his foster siblings would come to him in the middle of the night, hold him down, and abuse him, he was too weak and ineffective to hold them off. It never mattered to them that Stevie didn’t want to be touched. They heaped threats on him, vowing to cut off his balls and stuff them in his mouth should he ever breathe a word to anyone about what they did to him. The bruises they inflicted were crafted to remain hidden under his clothing, but from years of experience, it didn’t fool Ash. He knew where to look.
At their first meeting, Stevie almost vomited, he was so nervous. He kept glancing at the door, later confessing he’d thought someone would burst through it to drag him out and kill him. Only after several weeks could he relax enough and begin to confide his horror story. But only to Ash. When Ash told him he’d have to go to child services or the police to report what Stevie told him, the boy freaked out.
“I’ll run away and never come back if you do that. Please. Let me come here and talk to you.”
Sitting behind his desk, Ash’s fingers tightened on the folder that held the details of all of Stevie’s personal sessions. He understood what the boy lived through each night. The only hope was for Stevie to gain strength and report the abuse. And then they could get him to a good and caring foster family. As of today, he was too scared. Ash could hardly blame him for his very real fear.
There was a knock on the door. “Come on in.” The door opened, framing Stevie’s slender body. At fifteen he had yet to acquire any height, bulk, or facial hair. He looked as smooth as a twelve-year-old.
“Hey, kiddo, come on in.” He smiled at the young boy, noting with a fury he’d learned to keep well hidden, the boy’s swollen lips and the bruises that peeked out on his neck from underneath his longish brown hair. “Rough night?”
Stevie’s face reddened as he stared at the floor and nodded. “I tried, Mr. Davis. I tried to tell them no, and that I would call the police, but they laughed at me. Said all faggots wanted it, even when we said no.”
“Where were your foster parents?”
“They went out for the evening. Bowling or something. My foster dad’s in a league and had a tournament or something.” Stevie still couldn’t look at him.
“Stevie, this can’t go on. Those boys have to be stopped, or they’re going to hurt you worse each time.” Ash came from around the desk to sit in the chair next to Stevie.
“I can’t tell no one. Don’t you understand?” Stevie raised his big brown eyes to Ash, whose heart was breaking. “They’ll hurt me even more. Jimmy’s gonna go off to the army soon, so that’ll leave only Donny. He’s gentle and doesn’t hurt me.” Stevie’s voice had dropped to a whisper. “He tells Jimmy to stop when he gets too crazy. After they both leave, Donny usually comes back to make sure I’m all right. I think I can be okay with him at home.”
Ash put his hand on Stevie’s shoulder. “Do you like Donny?”
After a moment, Stevie gave a little shrug. “He’s okay.”
“Hey, kiddo, don’t worry. Maybe I can talk to him—”
“No. You can’t. I can’t have anyone know I was here. If they ever found out…” Stevie shuddered. “I think Jimmy might kill me.”
“And your parents?” Ash’s lips curled at those words. How oblivious were these fucking people? “Don’t your foster parents have anything to say? Don’t they care?”
Stevie nodded his head. “No, you don’t get it. They’re really nice to me, and Mrs. Harding especially helps me with my homework and everything, but I can’t tell her what goes on, ’cause Jimmy will beat me up.” He tucked his hair behind his ears. “They already hate me because they think she favors me. She gives me extra helpings at dinner and slips me a few extra dollars every week to get snacks after school and stuff.”
Big, sad brown eyes locked with his. “I’m so scared, Mr. Davis. Why is this happening to me? I know other kids in foster care who have older brothers and sisters who look after them. Why can’t I get so lucky?”
At one time he was that kind of brother. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for his brothers. Before he’d fucked everything up and ran away. Before he became the selfish prick he grew up to be. “If you let me contact child services, I can help you, Stevie. You should let me call the cops.”
“I-I don’t know. I gotta think about it. I’m still afraid that if I report it, Jimmy will find out.” Stevie checked his cheap plastic watch. “Oh shit, I better go or I’ll be late.” He jumped up, got to the opened door, and turned. “Thanks, Mr. Davis. I’ll think about what you said and see you next week, all right?” He gave a small yet hopeful smile.
Ash stood and drew the boy into a hug. His skinny shoulders were like the fragile wings of a baby bird. How soon before they were permanently broken? “I’m always here for you if you need me. Here’s my card with my cell phone. Call me anytime. I mean it.” He took out his wallet and gave Stevie his card, which he was happy to see went into the boy’s wallet. “Bye, kiddo.”
Stevie waved and hurried out of the room. Ash, totally drained, returned to sit, all but collapsing from the emotional struggle within him. No matter what Stevie said, he was going to talk to Drew. They had an obligation to report it, but they had to keep Stevie’s name out of it. Maybe Jordan’s partner, the detective, could help. That poor, poor kid.
Without warning, a flashback rose before his eyes, himself at fourteen, helpless in his bed late at night, as his “father” cuffed him to the bed, blindfolded him, then touched him all over, kissing him, thrusting first his thick tongue in his mouth, then his thick cock everywhere else. His first kiss, a brutal memory. Any thought of hope, destroyed forever by the acts of violence against him. Since then, he’d never allowed any man to kiss or fuck him. Sex was never about love; it was power and control.
“No, no.” He groaned out loud as he rocked back and forth, helpless to stop the tidal wave of emotion crashing over him. Memories flooded through him of his own degradation and exploitation by adults who should have been protecting him, nurturing and caring for him. He couldn’t shake off the fact that he’d left the other boys behind. He’d tried to report what was happening in his house, but he knew they wouldn’t take him, a gay kid from the street, seriously. Not against a respected police officer. He was as bad or worse than his foster father, leaving them there, but he couldn’t stay or he’d have ended up killing himself. “Stop, stop it.” The tears fell unchecked as he hunched within himself, shaking and moaning. “I’m sorry. I tried. I’m so, so sorry.”
Warm, strong arms encircled him. Without thinking, he grabbed on to the person and held him tight, burying his face into a hard chest. Confused, he lifted his head and met the equally confused gaze of Drew.
Today was one hard, long-ass day. Mike had performed magic on the teeth and jaw of a sixteen-year-old who’d been beaten in a schoolyard brawl, simply because she came out as gay. Just because they lived in New York City didn’t mean the people weren’t as prejudiced and homophobic as any other place. Ignorance existed everywhere.
Flexing his fingers, Drew stretched his arms over his head, feeling the kinks unwind from his back. He’d patched up scrapes, stitched up gashes, and was happy to persuade at least two teens to talk with Keith about pressing charges. He removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. That reminded him. He wanted to speak with Ash about the two kids and the legal process they might have to face if they did decide to go forward with prosecution. A noise from the hallway caught his attention, and glancing at the clock, he frowned. Six o’clock. Everyone should’ve been gone already.
He got up from his seat and peered out into the hallway. Spying the receding back of young Stevie North, he shook his head. There was a young man with troubles, and he’d latched on to Ash for some reason. A crash reverberated farther down the hallway. Drew could hear a moan and then a rhythmic squeaking noise. Fearful of what he might find, Drew sprinted toward where Ash’s office was located. He stopped short outside the open door, staring in amazement and consternation.
Clutching himself, tears pouring down his face, Ash was in the middle of a full-fledged meltdown of some sort. This wasn’t something Drew had expected to see, but his gut instinct to protect and care for another person in such obvious pain took over. Without thinking, he entered the office and sat on the love seat next to Ash. There was no hesitation to take Ash in his arms, giving him whatever comfort he could offer. The wetness from Ash’s tears soaked through Drew’s T-shirt, but he couldn’t move, stunned by the overwhelming emotional connection that flowed between the two of them.
He continued to hold Ash as shudders racked his body. Like a child, Drew settled Ash more firmly within his arms, murmuring soothing, crooning nonsense words. For a brief moment their eyes met and warmth spread throughout his body. As if he instinctively knew what Ash needed, Drew rubbed his broad back, feeling the play of the man’s strong muscles underneath his hands. With the tips of his fingers, he pressed and circled Ash’s tense shoulders, and Drew closed his eyes, hopeful his touch brought some comfort.
Without realizing it, however, his lips had moved from Ash’s hair to his forehead, merely resting on his warm skin. He trailed his fingers down Ash’s cheek, the roughened stubble strange yet fascinating under his fingertips. A slow ache built inside Drew, along with a shocking need to protect this man and keep him safe. Curious, he explored Ash’s face, tracing the slant of his cheekbones and the hollows of his eyes. Ash’s mouth remained pressed against his chest, his breath fanning out in short, hurting gasps.
Was it strange or wrong that he desired to be close to this man? Drew had never felt this way before, not even with his best friends, the men he considered to be his brothers. Yet in the past few months, he and Ash had grown close, spending long hours setting up the clinic and working together, often having dinner if they both stayed late. They’d become friends, and Drew genuinely cared about Ash. To his great shock, Ash had even taken to visiting his grandmother on his own, a piece of information Nana was only too happy to tell him. Drew sensed Ash might be attracted to him but had never acted on his feelings.
Not once in their talks, though, had Ash revealed anything about himself, even though Drew knew something terrible had happened to him. Call it insight, but it seemed obvious some form of child abuse existed in Ash’s closely guarded past. When he’d spoken to Peter about it, his friend shook his head.
“Ash is my friend, Drew. What’s even more important is that he considers me to be his friend, and God knows he hasn’t anyone in his life he can count on. I’d never betray a confidence of his.”Peter had raked his hand through his hair, looking exasperated.“Hell, I don’t even know half of what he’s lived through, but I assure you, it wasn’t pretty. If he wants to talk to you about it, he will.”
Shudders still rippled through Ash’s body. What horrors had he seen to make him so lonely? The memory of that night in the restaurant hit him as he recalled Ash running from the table, returning pale and shaken a while later. Was this the same thing? Did he have some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder that triggered at certain events or times? He’d talk to Rachel about it. Maybe she would know.
“Hey. How’re you doing, buddy?” He smoothed Ash’s hair back from his face, keeping his touch light and gentle. “Feeling better?”
Ash shook his head, still pressed against Drew’s chest. “I’m mortified. I never meant for you or anyone to see me like this.” His words were somewhat garbled, but he made no move to pull away from Drew’s embrace.
“Don’t be ridiculous. Everyone has a breaking point. I was a basket case when my parents died. I cried for weeks.”
“Different,” Ash mumbled. “You couldn’t help yourself. This was my fault. By now I should be strong, able to handle myself.”
Without thinking, Drew took Ash’s face between his hands, staring deep into his fathomless eyes. “Not everything that happens to us is within our control, my friend. Sometimes life gives us a swift kick in the ass, and we have to do the best we can with what we’re given.” Before he thought too hard, he bent down but caught himself right before his lips made contact with Ash’s bristly cheek. He remained suspended there for a moment, feeling the sharp inhalation of Ash’s breath, sensing the tenseness of Ash’s body beneath his arms. Ash had closed his eyes, his long black lashes like fans on his skin. With the lightest touch, Drew caressed Ash’s face.
“Drew, what are you doing?” But Ash made no move to draw away.
“Damned if I know.” Not one damn clue. But Drew didn’t stop.
Ironically it was Ash who pulled away. “What’s happening here?”
“Why don’t you tell me? I walked in, and you were suffering. I’ve never seen anyone so broken and hurt.” Drew put his hands on Ash’s shoulders. “Don’t turn from me. We’re friends now. Talk to me.”
“I-I can’t.” His gaze remained pinned to the floor.
With a resigned sigh, Drew moved back. “What are you doing tonight?”
That clear, glittering gaze lifted and held his. Drew was pleased to note, a small grin quirked Ash’s lips. “I have no plans, Doc. What were you thinking?”
“Get your mind out of the gutter. Want to visit my grandmother with me?”
To his utter surprise, Ash’s eyes lit up with a pleased glint. “I’d love to see Esther. I promised her some cookies the next time I came, so we’ll need to stop at a bakery.”
What an amazing transformation. In what Drew knew must be some kind of survival technique Ash employed to get him through the embarrassment of breaking down in front of someone not quite a stranger, not quite a friend, the man’s whole demeanor changed, and he slipped back into his charming, careless personality. Drew decided not to press the issue, thinking when and if Ash wanted him to know, he would tell him.
“Great. Everyone else is gone. I’ll lock up the offices and meet you in front.”
“Sure. And Doc.” Ash’s eyes glimmered for a moment with emotion, then reverted back to their normal, blank facade. “Thanks for everything.”
Desperate to keep it light, still unsure of his own strange feelings swirling around in his head, Drew cracked a smile and shrugged. “Sure. No big deal.”
Within ten minutes, the two men were on their way to his grandmother’s house. They stopped in Carroll Gardens, and while Ash picked up some cookies, Drew ran into the cheese store to pick up some of his grandmother’s favorites, as well as his own. He spent a little time tasting both the cheeses and the crackers that accompanied them, and decided to buy several different kinds. That, along with the wine and the cookies, would make for a nice visit.
After storing their purchases in the trunk of Ash’s sporty car, they were on their way again, to his grandmother’s house in the heart of Flatbush. After WWII and her escape from Poland, Nana had found the few remaining members of her family here in Brooklyn and never left. It was the only place, she once confided to him, she felt safe. He and Rachel loved the small house she and Papa Seymour—“Sy” as everyone called him—had shared. It was their safe haven. All his best childhood memories revolved around Rachel and him visiting, spending many weekends helping Papa in the garden growing vegetables and Nana cooking in the kitchen.
They pulled up to her modest, wood-framed house and parked in the driveway. Her impatiens were in full bloom in the front yard, the interspersed pink, white, and red color reminding him of peppermints, while the pots of crimson geraniums lined the steps up to her redbrick porch. A faint scent of barbecue from a nearby house tickled his nose, causing his stomach to rumble with an ungracious noise. Summertime was great, as the daylight lasted near to nine at night.
Ash chuckled. “Hungry?”
His face heated. “I missed lunch, so yeah.” Hoisting the bag, he spoke over his shoulder. “The cheeses and rest of the stuff will tide me over, though.”
Ash grinned. It seemed once again he’d managed to push aside his emotional disintegration, forgetting how close to complete collapse he’d been. In a way, Drew understood. Didn’t he do the same, shoving aside his fear of being alone, the loneliness so deep and black sometimes he stayed up all night rather than succumb to sleep and his nightmares? Adopting the cat had solved only a small part of his problem.
“Nana? Where are you?” He stepped into the small entranceway, decorated with framed pictures of his family, all the way back to when Nana came to this country from Poland. There were no pictures of her as a young child, or any of her relatives, as she’d come with merely the clothes on her back. All her immediate family, her parents and three siblings, had been lost in the war. Turning to Ash, he beckoned. “She must be in the kitchen, listening to the radio. Follow me.”
“I have been here before, you know. I know where to go.” Ash’s grumble brought Drew up short.
Why someone like Ash wanted to spend time with Drew’s elderly grandmother was still a mystery to him. Another intriguing puzzle piece of the enigma that made up Asher Davis.
Now it was Ash’s turn to flush red. “Esther invited me to come whenever I wanted.” A defensive note crept into his voice. “I bring her cookies.”
By this time, they’d reached the kitchen and Drew saw he was right. The back door was open, as was the window overlooking the garden. The radio was tuned to one of her favorite talk shows, and there was a comforting smell of fried onions, garlic, and potatoes.
“Nana.” At the sound of his voice, she turned, a smile breaking out across her lined face. He took her in his arms and hugged her. Please God, he thought to himself, don’t let anything happen to her for a long, long time.
“Hello, sweetheart.” She gave him a kiss on his cheek, and the old-fashioned scent of rose water she always wore reassured him for some reason. All was right in the world as long as his grandmother was around.
“And you brought one of my other favorite boys. Come give me a kiss too, Asher.”
“Hello, Esther. You still won’t call me Ash, will you?” Ash dipped his head to kiss her cheek, then picked up her hand and kissed it as well.
“I like the name Asher. It’s a fine, strong name you should be proud of. Did you know it is a Hebrew name meaning happy or blessing? I think you should remember that, dear.” She patted him on his arm, and Drew studied the incongruous couple as he unpacked the bags.
Never in this lifetime would he have predicted a man like Ash Davis would willingly spend time with his elderly grandmother. Then again, he couldn’t imagine why the sight of Ash with his grandmother sent his heart thumping in a peculiar rhythm. “Is anyone else coming, Nana?” He noticed quite a bit of food in the refrigerator when he put his purchases inside.
“Well, the other boys said they might stop by, and Rachel always stops in to check on me, even though she says it’s to say hello.” Hands planted on her hips, she fixed him with a pretend glare, her blue eyes kindled like a gas flame. “You two don’t fool me, you know. I see right through everything.”
“We love you and want to make sure you’re okay.” Drew popped a mozzarella ball into his mouth. “I don’t see anything wrong with that.” He opened the box of crackers and sat at the table. “Do you, Ash?”
His chin propped in his hands, Ash stared out of the window to the backyard garden. “I think it would be nice to have people who care enough about you to want to make sure you’re safe, but I’m not the person to ask.”
Nana threw Drew a sharp look to which he could only shrug his shoulders. With a determined look on her face, she placed herself next to Ash, the top of her head barely reaching the level of his bicep. She waited only a moment before putting her hand on his arm and speaking so softly Drew had to strain his ears to hear.
“Asher, darling. What’s the matter? You look so sad today. Do you want to talk to me about it?” Her hand remained on his arm.
Drew could’ve told her not to waste her time or breath, that a man like Ash would never reveal himself to her. He turned his attention back to the cheese and reached for a bottle of Malbec.
“You know, Esther. I think I’d like that very much.”
Holy shit. So of all the people in his life, his best friend Peter, Peter’s wife, Drew, anyone, Asher Davis had chosen to unburden himself to Drew’s grandmother. Fucking unbelievable.
The living room where Esther brought him to sit and talk was a comfortable room. It had that cozy lived-in feeling, and Ash imagined her husband would come in here after a long day of work to put his feet up on the overstuffed ottoman and settle into his club chair with a drink and the newspaper.
That actually sounded like a perfect ending to anyone’s day, now that he thought about it. He waited until Esther sat in her favorite chair; then he brought her a white wine before settling into a club chair with an iced vodka. He chose not to put his feet up on the ottoman.
Esther surprised him by talking first. “The Chinese place I sent Drew to pick up dinner from takes a while, so we can have a nice long chat.”
It was impossible to be in this woman’s company and not smile. “I see. And why do you think I couldn’t speak freely with Drew around?”
“Because you’re in love with him.”
He choked on his drink, then wiped his mouth and set the glass on a small nearby table. “Esther, I can’t imagine why you’d say something so ridiculous but—”
“Deny it to my face.” Her bright blue eyes challenged him.
He opened his mouth, then shut it. Then opened it again. “I’m not in love with Drew.” Even to his ears, his muttered denial sounded weak at best.
“Asher, dear, I know life has not been easy for you, am I right?”
He jerked a small nod, his gaze darting between the floor and her gentle face.
“The first thing you have to learn is to love yourself and believe you’re worthy to receive love. Only then can you have a healthy relationship with another person.”
At that he barked out a harsh laugh. “Love, love, love. All this talk of love. You say I’m in love with Drew, that I have to love myself. I’m sorry, Esther, but I gave up on love, Santa, and the Easter Bunny when I was a young boy.” He rubbed his arms. “None of them ever appeared in my house when I was growing up.”
“Someone hurt you, didn’t they?” Those knowing eyes held his. “I’ll never repeat what you’ve told me, but after all these years it might feel good to get it off your chest.”
Never had he been this vulnerable, not since Mr. Frank had taken him in. But Esther had those same wise eyes. Eyes that looked as though they’d seen things too, things she could never forget.
Ash needed several deep breaths of restorative air, before he finally answered her. “I was only a child, but I was made to do and see things that no one should have to endure.” He reached out to her, and she grabbed his hand. “I can’t speak about it, still. I want to, but seeing these kids now, helping them brings it all back into full focus.” Her little hand held his in a surprisingly warm, firm grip, and he held on to it as a lifeline for the moment.
“I haven’t been sleeping well, and today one of the kids got to me in a way that hasn’t happened in a long time. Drew found me, and it…well, let’s say it wasn’t my finest moment.”
Esther said nothing, merely held his hand, giving him a squeeze of support every now and then.
“I shouldn’t be telling you this, should I? That when Drew found me and comforted me and I…I…” He gulped nervously, embarrassed to continue, but what the hell. He’d come this far already; his humiliation might as well be complete. “I wanted him to hold me and not let go. For the first time in my life I wanted…I felt…” He dropped Esther’s hand, burying his face in his shaking palms. “Oh God, I’m so sick of life. It’s too much for me sometimes.”
“I know, dear boy—”
“I’m sorry, Esther, but you don’t know. You don’t know the deep dark hell that some people go through every day of their lives. The despair they feel that life is hopeless and why bother to get up in the morning.” He faced her, his eyes streaming. “You can’t understand.”
She sat silent for a while, her face turned toward the window. “How little you young people know about what my generation has seen. Or you do know but choose to forget.” Ash stared in silence as she pushed up the sleeve of her sweater to reveal the numbers tattooed on her arm.
His throat seized, and he lost the ability to speak. Not Esther, not this sweet, loving woman. How had she managed to make it out alive?
“Man’s inhumanity to man, they said.” Her voice quivered slightly. “I saw it all. I won’t burden you with my own tales of horror.” Finally she looked him full in the face, her eyes shining with tears. “But I know about despair. I know about fear.” Once again she reached out to him. This time he slipped down to sit at her feet, clasping her hand in his. “But one thing I never gave up was hope. When you give up hope, then you are truly lost. Never give up hope, darling Asher. Never.”
“What I hope for, Esther, can never come to pass.” A brush of his forearm over the wetness of his eyes cleared his vision in more ways than one. “I’m sure you want Drew to marry a nice woman, settle down, and have babies.”
Simply saying those words hurt his heart. Never in his life had he been more confused. This wasn’t him. His only goal had always been pleasure, whenever and wherever he could find it. To fuck and be fucked. Feelings, personal involvement, none of it ever entered his plans, but somewhere along the way, he’d gone off course, now with disastrous results.
Through the open window he heard a car door slam and Drew’s voice, along with his sister’s and his other friends’, drifted into the house. “Drew’s back. I don’t want him to see me like this, and I appreciate your willingness to keep our conversation private.”
“You have my word. But know one thing.” She stopped his departure from the room by the tone of her voice. “The only thing I want for my grandchildren is for them to be happy. They’ve had enough tragedy in their lives. However and whomever they choose to love and spend the rest of their lives with is up to them.” She walked out and left him, standing in shock.
* * * *
Drew thrust one of the bags of Chinese takeout into Jordan’s hands. “Here, make yourself useful and take this.”
“Chill out, man. What’s crawled up your ass?” Jordan hefted the bag and passed it to Mike. He reached for one of the others in Drew’s hand. “Here. Give me another one.”
Rachel pulled up in her car and beeped her horn. “Hey, guys.” She slammed the car door shut and ran over to give Drew a kiss. “How’s it going, D, Jordy?” She turned to say hello to Mike, who scowled at her. “What’s the matter with you?”
“You didn’t lock the car, did you? Didn’t I warn you last night—”
The bottom dropped out of Drew’s stomach. “Last night? How did you… Wait. You mean you two…” His gaze ricocheted between his best friend and his sister, both of whom wouldn’t meet his eye but were blushing bright red. He dropped the bag of food and pinned Mike against his car. “Sneaking around behind my back with my sister? What the fuck, Levin? You couldn’t come and tell me?”
Rachel pulled at his arms, crying in his ear. “Mike wanted to tell you, but I said not to.” Tears dripped down her cheeks. “We weren’t sneaking around; it sort of happened. Can’t you understand that?” Sniffling, she pressed against Mike’s chest, and Drew’s jaw tightened when his friend’s arms drew her close. “Haven’t you ever been unexpectedly attracted to someone before?”
“What’s going on out here?”
His gaze jerked to the front door of his grandmother’s house as he heard her calling out. She stood on the steps, peering over at them, Ash by her side, a frown twisting his lips.
“Everyone come inside, now.”
On silent feet they traipsed into the house and stood in the kitchen as Esther, with Ash standing next to her, grim and resolute as a granite-faced sphinx, flayed them with her tongue as if they were children, not grown men over thirty.
“What is the meaning of arguing in the street like common hoodlums? If you have a disagreement, you come inside and discuss it like civilized people.” Her gaze shifted to Drew, and he swallowed hard, uncomfortable at being the first under her sharp regard.
“I gather she told you about her and Michael.”
Stunned, he lost the power of speech momentarily. “She…she told you?” He raked his sister with an accusing glare, watching her wilt against Mike. “I thought we were closer than that.”
“Oh no, don’t try and make her feel guilty.” Nana’s voice cut through him like a whip. “There are some things women talk about with each other first, before we discuss them with men. Do you know Rachel’s main concern was how you would react? It wasn’t the happiness of being in love. It was about you.”
He shoved his hands in his jeans pockets and kicked the toe of his sneaker back and forth across the kitchen floor. This was the last thing he’d ever expected. Mike? Fun-loving, hard-partying Mike? With his little sister? From the corner of his eye he could see the tenderness with which his friend held Rachel, soothing her as she buried her face in his shoulder. His gaze then rested on Ash, who also concentrated on Mike and Rachel, but with a confused and uncertain expression.
But Nana wasn’t finished. “Who are you, Drew, to tell your sister or anyone who they should love? This isn’t the same thing as when she warned you about that snake you were marrying. She was truly a bad person. But Michael?” She gave him a fond look, and Drew remembered how much Nana loved his two friends and how she’d visited Mike as often as she could in the hospital during his recovery. “Michael is a wonderful young man who loves her.”
The full force of her blazing blue eyes turned back on him. It didn’t matter that he was her only grandson; she would never let him get away with what she perceived as a wrong. And obviously, not supporting his baby sister and his best friend as a couple was wrong.
“No one has the right to tell anyone who they should or shouldn’t love. Maybe one day you’ll fall in love again, and the person won’t be someone we would’ve expected.” When she slipped her arm inside the crook of his elbow, only then could he tell by the shaking of her slight frame how emotionally overwrought his grandmother was.
“It’s all right, Nana; I’m sorry. Don’t get so upset.”
“Don’t treat me like a china doll. I’m more aware of what goes on in this world than you think.” With her free hand she beckoned Rachel to come stand by her. Mike rubbed her shoulders and whispered in her ear. Rachel nodded and came over to them. “Sweetheart, tell your brother how you feel.” Nana withdrew her arm from his and shooed out Jordan and Ash. “Come, boys. Let’s leave them alone now.”
Ash leaned over and kissed Nana’s cheek. “Actually, Esther, I’m going to head out. I have a case I need to prepare for.” He made his good-byes and left.
Shocked over Ash’s precipitous leave-taking, Drew nevertheless concentrated his full attention where it belonged. On Rachel and Mike. “So. How long have you two, you know…?” Shrugging he couldn’t go on. What was he supposed to ask—how long his sister and best friend had been sleeping together? Um. No, thank you.
“Look, Rach, forget it. Nana’s right. It’s none of my business. I wish you could’ve told me sooner. But I understand why you thought I might freak out.” Their gazes caught, and they both burst into laughter at the same time. “I love you, sweetie pie. If you want to be with Mike, it’s fine, but God only knows why when there are so many better men in the city.”
“Douche bag.” Mike snorted.
“Hey.” Rachel hugged him tight. “Thank you.”
“Love you, Rachey.”
“Love you too, D.”
Now to deal with his friend. “Levin, come here.” He folded his arms across his chest, glowering at Mike, who gave back as good as he got. For the first time in a while Drew looked at Mike as someone who might be his brother one day. Tall, brawny, and blond, Mike Levin had never lacked for female companionship, despite the loss of almost all the hearing in his left ear. Now that Drew thought about it, recently Mike had been quieter, more settled than he’d ever been in the past.
When they were face-to-face, Drew poked him in the chest. “If you ever hurt her, I’ll kill you.”
“If I ever hurt her, I’ll let you do it. But I won’t, D.” He threw a loving glance at Rachel. “I never saw it coming, but she’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
And that was that. Nothing else mattered, did it? Anyone with half a brain could see the chemistry between Mike and Rachel now that he was aware of it. The man couldn’t take his eyes off her. That’s the way it should be, and once again Drew was reminded of his own failure of a marriage and lack of a love life.
“Well, all right, man. Be good to her.”
The three of them hugged, but it was Mike she stayed with now, her face glowing and Mike’s arm remaining in a possessive hold over her. Drew heard a sniffle and glanced over his shoulder. Nana stood in the doorway, wiped her eyes and smiled.
“I’m glad that’s settled. Drew, will you help me heat up the food, please?” With neat, precise movements she put on her apron and pulled out the foam plates they would eat the Chinese food on. “Why don’t the rest of you go outside and enjoy the nice weather?” After shooting each other quizzical looks, Jordan, Mike, and Rachel headed out to the backyard.
Obviously, his grandmother had something on her mind she wanted to speak to him about. He took out multiple boxes of food and set them on the counter. “Can I ask you something, Nana?”
Her hands stilled on the door of the microwave. “You aren’t still angry about Rachel and Michael, are you?”
“What? No.” He shook his head. “I get it, and I’m fine with it.” Jordan and Mike tossed a football around in the backyard with Rachel in the middle, laughing and screeching at them to let her catch it once. A smile crossed his lips. Maybe it was inevitable that Mike and Rachel would fall in love.
And as usual, he was the odd man out. Jordan had Keith, and now Mike had Rachel. Not that Drew missed Jackie, at all. What he missed was someone to wake up with, to hold and to hold him.
He hated being alone. Even as a child, he’d beg to go wherever his parents went, even if it was only to the supermarket. It was part of the reason he’d gotten the cat after his marriage broke up. But as much as he loved Domino, it wasn’t the same as having someone to share his bed and his body with.
“What happened with Ash when I went to get the food? Everything was fine until you said you wanted to talk. The next thing I know, he looked miserable and hightailed it out of here as fast as he could.”
For the first time his grandmother looked disconcerted. “We spoke, and I told him of my past, in the camps.” A tear rolled down her face, and in an instant, he went to her, holding her close. “That poor boy has seen so much pain in his life. I never knew his trouble ran so deep.”
A current of unease ran through him. “What are you talking about?”
Nana’s head tipped back to look into his eyes. “You mean you and he have never talked?” Her voice rang with surprise. “I thought you two were very close.”
For a few moments he studied her face. He spoke sharper than usual. “What does that mean? Very close?” Jesus, he’d never acted this rude to his grandmother before. Biting back another harsh retort, he managed to control his temper. “Why would I be close with him? You don’t know him very well, Nana, but he isn’t a nice person. He sleeps around, he has few friends, and he doesn’t really care about anybody except himself. There’s a reason he’s alone. He likes it that way.”
But even as he spoke, Drew recalled those unguarded moments when he’d seen Ash in a different light. The time he’d bolted from the table at the restaurant, wild-eyed and sweating. And today, when Drew had held Ash, trembling in his arms. The ugly past Ash tried so hard to silence and bury under an arrogant, uncaring facade was too strong and ran too deep to hide forever. Drew’s conscience pricked at him, as if to chide him for his own mean-spiritedness.
He wished this conversation had never happened and hoped it had come to an end, but he should’ve known better. Only once before could he remember seeing his grandmother so angry, when at the trial for his parents’ case against the trucking company, the defense attorney had alluded that maybe his father had been drinking himself. It was a sight to remember, but she’d gathered her shattered emotions and instead, at trial, made an impassioned victims’ speech to the judge and jury that left everyone in the court in tears.
Now, here in her kitchen, was the second time. “You should be ashamed of yourself, Drew. I’m ashamed for you and surprised. You are basing your beliefs on what others have told you.”
Knowing it wasn’t possible for him to tell his grandmother of Ash’s sexual escapades, he still stuck to his opinion of the man. “Look, I know you have a soft spot for him, and I like him well enough, but he’s a loner, Nana. Yes, he’s charming and handsome, but he isn’t someone you can get through to.” Even as he spoke the words, sadness filled his heart. He’d thought Ash could, somehow, meld into his family dynamic as another friend. Sure, the strange sexual attraction he’d felt around him was disconcerting, but he could’ve dealt with it until he started dating again.
”Believe me, no one likes to be alone. That boy needs people around him. Trust me, I know. He is crying out for help, and I’m afraid if one of us doesn’t take him in hand, something terrible might happen to him.” The worry in her eyes unnerved him, as she was never one for histrionics. Rachel must have finally caught the ball as her shrieking and Mike and Jordan’s teasing from outside had stopped.
“Did he talk to you?” For Ash to confide in his grandmother would be nothing less than shocking.
“No, not much. He locked himself up as tight as a clam and refused to say a word. But I see beneath the smile that never reaches his eyes.” With a fierceness he didn’t know she possessed, Nana grabbed his arm. “I’m worried after our talk he might do something bad to himself. You think I’m too old that I don’t understand the ways of the world. I know he’s a homosexual, gay. Why should that matter to me? But something’s not right with him. He was very depressed. Promise me after dinner you’ll go check on him. For me?”
Although there was nothing less he’d rather do than play babysitter to Asher Davis, he agreed, because he’d do anything for his grandmother. All throughout dinner, he allowed everyone to think his silence was still the result of his surprise over Rachel and Mike’s relationship. The pleasant dinnertime chatter washed over him, and he made sure to nod at all the right times to keep them from thinking he wasn’t paying attention to what they were saying.
In truth, he could only think about Ash.
It was the usual bitch of traffic up the F.D.R. Drive to Ash’s apartment on the Upper East Side, but it gave Drew time to think. He’d already made peace with his sister and Mike and let them know he was happy for them. Someone ought to be happy in his family, and since his life was nothing more than work and coming home to collapse in front of a ball game on TV, he wished Rachel the happiness she deserved.
With the radio playing classic rock, and no end to the headlights in front of him in the foreseeable future, he allowed his mind to drift to Ash. It was obvious that whatever Ash and his grandmother had spoken about affected him in a way Drew had never seen before. From the brief time they’d spent together, Drew had learned that sharing emotions and personal entanglements wasn’t part of Ash’s makeup. Drew remembered that Peter, who was supposed to be Ash’s best friend, knew only slightly more about the man than Drew did after a mere three months.
Finally he got off at the exit nearest to Seventy-Second Street and made the turn up Park Avenue. Ash’s apartment was located on Eighty-Sixth Street and Park Avenue, and thankfully there was a parking garage down the street. He told the valet he’d be several hours and handed him the keys in exchange for his ticket. It came as a shock that Ash lived in one of the premier addresses in the city. How the hell did he afford a place like this? These old, prewar apartments ran in the millions of dollars.
An elaborately uniformed doorman greeted him at the front of the apartment building, and Drew entered the beautiful formal lobby. There was a vast expanse of inlaid marble both on the floor and in the high soaring columns. Various sofas and delicate gilt chairs were grouped around an indoor arrangement of plants and flowers. A magnificent crystal chandelier hung over the concierge desk, with smaller, yet still elegant lighting fixtures leading down the hallway to where Drew presumed the elevators were located. His entire apartment could fit into this lobby.
While he and Rachel had received payment from his parents’ life insurance policies as well as a large, multimillion-dollar settlement from the trucking company, Drew had invested most of his capital and lived frugally. He didn’t need a lot and preferred to spend his money on supporting his favorite charities. This type of luxury was beyond his comprehension, yet somehow, it didn’t surprise him to find Ash living here. The man was an enigma and had been since the day they’d met. The fact that he’d been a scholarship student and now lived in a multimillion-dollar neighborhood only added to his mystique.
Drew approached the concierge desk—a beautiful slab of granite surrounded by gleaming mahogany. The young man, in a dark uniform with more discreet gold braiding than the doorman, looked up with a practiced smile. “Good evening, sir. How may I help you?”
Funny, though he might be a successful doctor, he felt underdressed and woefully out of place. “Uh, I’m here to see a Mr. Davis?” Somehow he hoped he had the wrong address, and he’d find out Ash really lived in a small, cramped apartment like himself.
“Yes, sir. Whom may I say is calling?” The young man had the house phone in his hand, an expectant look on his face.
“Um. Tell him it’s Drew.”
Although it was late, after eleven o’clock, people still came and went with regularity through the gilded front doors. The men and women passing by him dressed for the evening in clothing that screamed luxury. Their jewelry winked glints of diamonds and who knew what other treasures. Drew didn’t know much about high fashion, but living with Jackie for the short time they were married had opened his eyes to how expensive a woman’s wardrobe was to put together. With a rueful look, he glanced down at his sneakers, faded jeans, and T-shirt. Perhaps he went too far on the other extreme, but he valued comfort over trend. Maybe Ash dressed so formally to keep up the image he felt he needed to project living here. He’d never seen the man in anything other than a long-sleeve button-down shirt and dress pants, never jeans.
His fashion contemplation was cut short by the young man at the desk. “You can go up, sir. The elevators are down the hallway to your left. Mr. Davis is in apartment 19C.”
After thanking the man, Drew followed his reflection along the mirrored walls of the hallway. What stared back at him was somewhat disconcerting. He laughed to himself as two women sidled away from him when he stepped inside the elevator, choosing instead to stand by the elevator operator. He wanted to take out his business card and say,See, look. I’m really a doctor. Don’t worry.
They reached the nineteenth floor without incident, and after thanking the young man operating the elevator, he exited onto a hushed hallway. The walls were papered in ivory, and the floors were a dark high-gloss wood. Each door had a lighted button next to it, and the apartment letters were in gold on the door itself.
Feeling somewhat nervous, he pushed the button and heard the soft chime ring within the apartment. After a moment, the door swung open, Ash’s unsmiling face greeting him. The apartment loomed as a dark void behind him.
“Uh, hey, Ash. Sorry if I woke you—”
The heated intensity in Ash’s crystal-like eyes unnerved Drew. He so did not want to do this, but he’d promised his grandmother, and he’d never broken a promise to her, so…
“Can I come in? It won’t take long. I promise.”
Without speaking, Ash stepped back and opened the door wide. Drew entered the darkened apartment and gaped. Ash had lit candles, placing them on various tables through the apartment, but that didn’t hide the grandeur of the overall space. The entranceway was wide, with hallways that branched off to other unknown parts of the apartment. Directly in front of him, a large picture window showcased the glittering lights of the city at night. The living room, from what he could make out in the dim candlelight, was large and airy, with an ornate mantel over a fireplace.
“Christ, Ash, this place is amazing.” He glanced over at Ash, who hadn’t said a single word.
“It was Mr. Frank’s. He left it to me in his will.”
That made sense. Jacob Frank had been an extremely wealthy man. He must’ve lived here until his death. For some reason no one had been able to figure out, Frank had taken Ash in and groomed him as his successor. Somewhere along the way, the two of them had grown close, close enough for Jacob Frank, childless and with no other family, to leave Ash everything when he died.
“That was very kind of him. I heard from Peter he was an amazing man.”
Moving across the entranceway, Ash led him into the living room and waved a careless hand at the sofa. Drew spotted a half-empty bottle of vodka and an ice bucket on the table, a full tumbler next to it. After picking up his drink, Ash sat at the far end of the sofa and finally spoke. “He was the finest human being I’ve ever met.”
There was nothing Drew could say to take away Ash’s pain. The dripping wax hit flame and the candles spit and the firelight danced, casting flickering shadows across Ash’s bleak face.
“Have a drink, Drew, and tell me why you’re here.” Ash sipped his vodka and stared at Drew over the rim of his glass.
“No, thanks, I’m driving. But I do want to talk to you.” The man was a study in contrasts. Drew couldn’t think of a time he hadn’t seen Ash perfectly dressed, every hair in place, looking like he’d stepped out of a men’s fashion magazine.
Tonight, however…well, he looked off-kilter. Though he still had on his clothes from earlier, that white button-down shirt and black slacks, the shirt was wrinkled and unbuttoned lower than he’d ever seen. Dark stubble shadowed along his jaw, and his hair lay unkempt and disheveled. Drew shifted on the sofa. “Look, I know this may sound stupid, but my grandmother was concerned about you, so she asked me to stop by and check up on you.”
“And of course you do everything your nana says.”
Drew’s face flamed. “Fuck you, Davis.”
A tiny smirk hit the corner of Ash’s lips. “What’s the matter, Doc? The truth hurts?”
The bastard. After all the nice things his grandmother had said about him, how she’d worried about him, this was his response? To act like the snide sarcastic son of a bitch he’d been at their first meeting? How dare he treat her concern as if it were nothing? And to think he’d actually thought they were friends. “What the hell do you know about the truth, huh? No one knows anything about you; you have no friends, no lover.” He stood, ready to leave. “No wonder you’re all alone. No one cares about you. You aren’t worth it.” Shit, he’d never spoken so cruelly to anyone. But then again, no one had ever gotten under his skin like Ash Davis.
Like a snake uncoiled, Ash jumped off the sofa and grabbed him by the shoulder. “Take that back.”
“What’s the matter, Davis? The truth hurts?” He mimicked Ash’s earlier words and saw a flare of anger gleam in those colorless, glittering eyes.
“You fucking bastard. Who are you to say I’m not worth it, that no one cares about me? I have friends. People like me. Don’t you ever say I’m not worth it. I matter, goddamn you. I fucking matter.”
Ash tried to grab on to him, but Drew wrenched away and took off for the door, speaking over his shoulder.
“People don’t like you, Ash; they want to fuck you because you’re beautiful. That’s not liking. That’s not a friendship. How many relationships have you ever had with another man? You’ve never even had a boyfriend or a permanent relationship, have you, because you have to have a heart. You have to care about someone. How can you value someone else in your life when you don’t even value yourself?”
Ash grabbed him. “Don’t think you can say that and then fucking walk away from me.” He shoved Drew against the wall. “Who the hell do you think you are?”
Ash’s hand tightened on his bicep. It hurt, and Drew pulled away. He didn’t get into physical fights with people. He didn’t believe violence solved any problem, ever. “I thought I was your friend. But now I see I’m not. You don’t know how to be a true friend. You run at the first sign of closeness and make fun of relationships. Relationships require effort, a give-and-take. You don’t know how to give because you’re always the taker.” His breath came out heavy and uneven.
Ash slammed him back into the wall. For the first time, unease rippled through Drew as Ash’s hard body pressed against his. Unease and something dark and sinuous uncoiled in his stomach, but he ignored it and tried to wriggle out of Ash’s unrelenting grip.
“Let go of me. I want to leave.”
Instead of moving away, Ash pushed harder against him. There was no mistaking that thick ridge between the two of them. Drew’s heart sped up until he could barely hear Ash through the pounding in his head.
“You said people don’t like me; they only want to fuck me. Then you said I’m a taker.” Before Drew could breathe, Ash grabbed his hands and pinned them above his head, forcing their bodies to press against one another. “But you need to know, Doc, that nobody fucks me. So tell me. You want me to take you?”
Drew thought he might faint when Ash’s lips touched his temple, his warm breath drifting past Drew’s ear. A surge of lust lurched through him as his nighttime fantasy unfolded into reality, there for him to experience if he wanted.
Ash’s voice whispered in his ear. “I want you so fucking much. I’m ready to explode. I don’t know why, and I don’t care. I’ve wanted you for what seems like forever, and tonight I’m not letting you go until I make you mine. And, baby, you will be mine, make no mistake about it.”
With that, Ash buried his face in the curve between Drew’s neck and shoulder, his lips and hot, wet tongue finding Drew’s skin and nipping, licking, and sucking at the flesh. If Ash hadn’t been holding him, for certain Drew would have fallen from the power of the hunger that exploded inside him. Never in all his years of dating women had his body responded like this. Helpless, as his hands were still held by Ash, Drew wanted to speak, but the electric rush through his blood and the tingling at the base of his cock told him that all too soon he would be ending before he began.
“Nooo, stop.” Drew’s head banged back against the wall, but he hardly registered the pain. “Ash, stop.” His cock strained so hard against his jeans he couldn’t move his legs for fear he’d come immediately.
Ash pulled away, his hair in wild disarray, his breath panting, unsteady and heavy. The man looked totally debauched and disreputable, not like the usual in-control, polished executive. Ash swallowed and pulled himself together, raking his hands through his hair, then yanked down the sleeves of his shirt. “What-what’s the matter? You don’t want this?”
Before Drew could answer, Ash’s fingers slid into the palms of Drew’s hands, then up farther to entwine with Drew’s, flat on the wall. They stood, cheek to cheek, hip to hip, their erections resting against one another. Unlike the harshness of only moments before, Ash’s touch now was gentle and soft. Almost caring.
“No, yes, I don’t know.” Drew leaned his head against the wall to gaze up at the ceiling and licked his lips. “All I know is that if you didn’t stop, I was gonna come in my pants.”
“How about you come in my mouth, instead?” Ash cupped Drew’s jaw and rubbed the pad of his thumb over Drew’s lips. “I want you. I want to undress you and touch you, lick you all over. I want you hot, naked, and sweating in my bed so I can know what you’ll smell like on my sheets.”
The words barely registered in the muddled soup of Drew’s brain. His gaze slid over Ash’s face, but instead of Ash’s usual, arrogant smirk, the man before Drew could have been a stranger. His silver eyes shone with hope but also uncertainty, an emotion Drew had never seen before on Ash’s usually confident face.
“I don’t know what to think anymore,” Drew admitted, then sucked in his breath as Ash flexed his hips, thrusting their erections against each other. The room spun, and then the last candle sputtered out, sending them into a veiled, shadowy darkness pierced only by thin streams of pale moonlight. “I never thought I was gay.”
“You think too much.” Ash let go of Drew’s other hand and with sure, strong fingers popped open the button tab of Drew’s jeans. “That can get you into trouble, you know.”
Drew didn’t know anything except that he wanted Ash’s hands on him. “I think I’m already in trouble.”
”Tell me to stop, then. I will if you say so, but I don’t think you can. You want this, don’t you, baby?”
Ash’s voice, with that tantalizing slight, Southern drawl, came as if from a distance. All Drew’s senses concentrated right there at the juncture between his legs where Ash’s fingers pressed, first hard with a firm, sure grasp, then so light his body ached for another touch. Is this what he wanted? Ever since the time he’d caught Ash in the restaurant having sex with the waiter, no woman had piqued his interest or been the subject of his nighttime fantasies.
It had only been Asher Davis.
If Drew allowed himself this night with Ash to experience everything he’d secretly imagined, he’d get it all out of his system and be ready to return to dating and his regular life. It would be a one-time thing, a curiosity they both wanted to experience. Drew was too plain and innocent, his tastes not flashy or sophisticated like Ash’s. He was beer and pizza; Ash was champagne and caviar.
Drew’s mind began to wander, and the reality of Ash returned as Ash’s heated breath and wet tongue slipped over Drew’s stomach, poked into his belly button, then lapped at the trail of hair leading into Drew’s yet unzipped jeans. Drew dug his hands into Ash’s hair and wound his fingers around the silky strands to tug him even closer to his body.
“I want it all.” He shocked himself, hardly recognizing his own strangled voice, distorted by fear, desire, and need.
Ash stared up at Drew, eyes wide and diamond bright.
“Let’s go to bed, baby.”
And when Ash smiled, Drew knew right then, his heart would be broken if this man left him in the end.
Whatever alcohol fogged his mind was swept clean away, as if a sudden cool rain shower drenched him. Ash waited only a moment, stood, and grabbed Drew’s hand, feeling it tremble, then grasp Ash’s fingers tight. That small, subtle indication of Drew’s trust touched Ash in a way he’d never experienced before with a man he was about to have sex with. He didn’t understand it, but before Ash knew what he was doing, he stopped and pulled Drew close to hug him tight.
It would be a night of firsts. First time for Drew to have sex with a man. First time for Ash to have anyone in his bed. That it was a man he knew and cared about scared him, but Ash pushed his fears aside to concentrate on Drew. He rubbed Drew’s back. “Shh. It’ll be all right. I promise.” No use alarming the man by telling him how Ash ached for him night after night, not even understanding himself the yearning that brought him to make this move. “You’re not afraid of me, are you, baby?” His palm cradled Drew’s jaw, and Ash could feel the jumping pulse beneath Drew’s skin.
In a surprising move, Drew turned and burrowed into Ash’s arms, his lips spoke against Ash’s throat, where he’d buried his head in their embrace. “Maybe, a little, I don’t know.” Drew’s familiar scent enveloped Ash, mingled with an underlying scent of sweat and fear.
“Let’s go inside and lie down.” Ash broke their hug and took Drew’s hand again, entwining their fingers. They walked down the darkened hallway in silence, but Ash could feel Drew’s nerves in the lag of his body and the dampness of the palm of Drew’s hand.
With the sheets freshly laundered and the bed turned down by the maid earlier in the day, the room stood hushed and still as a tomb. The linens, his comforter, everything in his bedroom was of the purest white. He needed the cleanliness, that purity around him. Ash always left instructions that the window, no matter the time of year, should be cracked open. Perhaps for the reassurance that the outside world existed. Or perhaps, he thought, it could be one more escape route should he ever need to run again, no matter it was nineteen stories above Park Avenue. Old habits, especially ones born of fear and pain, die hard, or never at all.
“Come in and sit. Slip off your sneakers.” With a little tug, he pulled Drew nearer to his bed. “Don’t be afraid of me. I don’t bite.” He wrapped his arms around Drew to whisper in his ear. “Well, not unless you want me to, and in that case the pain is all part of the pleasure.”
A shudder ran through Drew, and Ash massaged his back while his lips found Drew’s ear. “What’s your pleasure, baby?” He blew a gentle stream of air into Drew’s ear, following it with his tongue. Drew’s body surged forward as he moaned against Ash’s shoulder. “Want you bad, Drew.” Ash nibbled and nipped his way down Drew’s neck, the pulse of Drew’s vein a thumping rhythm under Ash’s mouth. “Don’t be afraid. I’ll never hurt you.”
With one sure movement, he slipped his hands under Drew’s T-shirt. Finally, after months of teasing glimpses and erotic dreams, his hands roamed over the man’s smooth, soft skin. He slid the tips of his fingers down the waistband of Drew’s jeans, and with a gentle, yet deliberate touch, brushed the top of Drew’s ass. “Lie down with me, baby.” A whimper broke free from Drew’s throat as Ash unzipped him, slid the jeans off his body, and pushed him onto his bed.
In that white cocoon, those black silky curls spilling over Ash’s pillow were the only smudge of color. The sight of Drew curled up in his bed spurred Ash to join him. His usually sure fingers fumbled as he tore off his pants and boxers, leaving on his shirt, as he joined Drew on his bed. Normally he was neat and fanatical about his clothes being put away properly, but right now, with Drew, warm and mouthwatering, lying almost naked in his bed, he couldn’t care less, leaving them in a rumpled pile on the floor.
The pale skin of Drew’s chest shone where the strips of moonlight hit. Ash couldn’t help but reach out and run his hands up that tight stomach, loving the silken feel of the curls as they passed through his fingers. From underneath lowered lids, the glint of Drew’s eyes watched his every move.
The men Ash slept with, gleaming, waxed, and tanned within an inch of their life, had always been his preference. Yet all that silky curling hair and the sight of Drew’s creamy skin dotted with freckles caused an unfamiliar tenderness and need to swell within Ash’s chest. He reached Drew’s boxers and rested there, unmoving, on Drew’s thick cock. Ash smiled at the dampness underneath his hands. Drew might not understand what his body wanted, but Ash did, and the heat and musky smell emanating from Drew’s body told Ash all he needed to know.
Drew’s gaze rested on him, his eyes black hollows in the near darkness. “I know I’m stupid for telling you how I feel, because you’ll think I’m weak. I’m the desperate one here, the one who’s out of control. You’re in command, and I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Ash stretched out on the bed and pulled Drew into his arms. His chin rested on top of Drew’s curls as they lay side by side. “Is that what you think, that I’m the one in control and strong? Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s you. You alone have the power to bring me to my fucking knees with your body, your skin.” Almost choking on his emotion and passion, Ash swallowed and breathed deep to stop his voice from shaking.
“Do you know your heart shines in your eyes every time you get excited, and I can’t look away? And you say I have the power?”
He laughed, his mouth still buried in Drew’s hair. The smell of Drew’s citrusy shampoo filled his senses. “Baby, I haven’t even been inside you, yet there isn’t anything I wouldn’t fucking do for you.” The tightness in Ash’s chest loosened somewhat, and the smile fled from his face. This night was turning out to be nothing like what he’d expected. His cock hardened, and his hips moved as if they had a will of their own in a slow and steady rub against Drew’s. “Hold on to me, now.”
Drew placed his hands on Ash’s shoulders, and Ash rocked his hips, their shafts bumping and rubbing. The friction was tantalizing but not nearly enough for Ash. He pulled down Drew’s boxers, freeing his cock. Throwing one leg over Drew’s hip, Ash drove his hips forward, thrusting his cock alongside Drew’s until they found a rhythm. He grasped their two cocks, stroking, sliding, rubbing, as their bodies, slick and heated, heaved against one another. Drew stiffened, his chest, abs, and cock pitching up against Ash, frantic and out of control. With a hoarse, strangled cry, Drew came, pulsing spurts across Ash’s stomach and chest. Only a few strokes behind, Ash’s body tightened, his cock rigid and hot as he jerked and came. Stars sparkled behind his eyes, and he lost his breath for a moment; then he fell back against the pillows.
They lay side by side, panting in tandem. Ash glanced over at Drew, and though his eyes were closed, Ash knew Drew wasn’t asleep. As his own breathing slowed and his erratic heartbeat returned to its normal tempo, Ash reached over to take Drew’s hand, but froze before their fingers touched.
What the hell was he doing? Nervous and confused, he pulled his hand back and rolled over on his side, away from Drew.
“You know, I’m not waiting for you to tell me that you love me. I told you I wanted this. Nothing’s changed, and I’m not sorry.”
Somehow, Drew’s quiet voice made him feel even worse. “It’s not that.”
“Oh no?” The hint of a smile in Drew’s question relaxed him somewhat. “What is it then?”
Ash rolled back to his other side, still marveling that he had this man in his bed. Naked. Drew lay facing him, propped up on one arm, chin resting in his palm. The moonlight brightened the room with a pale glow, picking up the green glints in Drew’s eyes.
Funny, he could talk circles around his opponents in court and had no qualms about fucking men he barely knew, but now, the simplest of pillow talk with this gentle man, someone he thought of as a friend, made him nervous as hell. Probably because he’d never done it before.
“Uh, I’m not used to this.” He bit his lip. “I, um, usually don’t talk or entertain. Afterward.”
Even in the dimness of the moonlight, Ash could see the hurt enter Drew’s eyes.
To his shock, Drew rose from the bed, fumbled around on the floor, and slipped on his jeans. “I’ll be going then.”
Fucking hell. “No. You misunderstood me.” He’d never forgive himself if Drew walked out now, feeling as though he’d been screwed and dismissed. With long strides, Ash reached the bedroom door before Drew and grabbed his arm. “Stop. Where are you going?”
Drew yanked his arm away, then pulled his T-shirt over his head and kept walking. “I’m leaving. You made it clear you were done.”
Christ, were they ever going to be on the same wavelength? “Drew, wait.” Naked except for his shirt, he nevertheless sped after Drew, sensing that if he didn’t stop him now, something vital and precious would be lost forever. “Please.”
To his immense relief, Drew’s footsteps faltered, then stopped. He stood with his back to Ash, but Drew’s stiff posture and folded arms broadcast his obvious hurt. Ash knew he owed the man an explanation. Above anything else, they were friends first.
“I wasn’t talking about you and me.” He licked his suddenly dry lips, wishing like hell he had a drink. Something, anything to calm the sudden firing of every one of his nerve endings. Shit, even his hands shook. “I meant that I’d never done it before because I never wanted to. And now I do, but I don’t know how.”
When Drew turned around to speak, the hurt look had been replaced by a sort of wary, puzzled expression. He raked his hand through his hair.
“I don’t get it. What don’t you know how to do?”
“Forgive me, but I tend to argue a point better when I have clothes on.” The sense of relief that the night hadn’t all gone to shit hit him with a force so overwhelming, he braced himself against the wall. He held a hand out to Drew. “Will you please come back to bed?”
Although Drew did nothing more than nod, those gorgeous green eyes of his flared for a moment, giving Ash hope that the night had not yet ended for them. And as Drew’s hand slipped into his, Ash gave it a gentle squeeze, then laced their fingers together. He could almost hear Mr. Frank’s voice in the hallway, speaking to him.
“Take a chance, Asher. Open your heart.”
Even though that wasn’t about to happen, he wasn’t ready to let Drew go. Not yet. He sat at the edge of the bed, placing his hand on Drew’s chest, holding him in place. By now, the moon had shifted, taking its luminescence with it, leaving the room in near total darkness. The way he liked it. The way he needed it.
Without any words, Drew once again removed his shirt, and Ash slid the jeans and boxers down to his ankles. The outline of Drew’s smooth, pale cock was visible in the darkness, and without any hesitation, Ash bent down and took it in his mouth, drawing a yelp of surprise, then a long-drawn-out moan of pleasure from Drew.
And for him? No fear. Only desire.
This wasn’t him lying helpless and alone, unable to fight back. He was in charge. He was in control, and that thought spiked Ash’s own pleasure, causing his cock to swell with need. Ignoring his arousal, Ash ran his tongue on the underside of Drew’s cock, then, sucking the head and tonguing the slit at the tip, drew the shaft deep into his mouth. He held on to Drew’s slim hips, rubbing his fingers on the smooth globes of Drew’s ass, all the while keeping up the sliding friction of his mouth on this man’s cock.
Deeper and deeper Drew thrust into Ash’s mouth, and instead of fighting it like he thought he would, Ash welcomed it, wanted it in fact with an intensity that shocked and scared him to his core. For his entire life he’d denied himself the taste of a man in his mouth, thinking only of his degradation and debasement by his foster father. But with Drew pumping faster and harder, whimpering his pleasure, thrusting deeper into his mouth, Ash suddenly couldn’t get enough.
He released Drew for a moment but kept swirling his tongue around the smooth head of Drew’s erection, muttering against the glistening tip, “Go ahead, baby, fuck my mouth. Do it.” Then he slid his lips down Drew’s cock, relaxing his throat, taking him deep.
Drew held on to Ash’s shoulders, his fingers biting into the skin as he threw his head back, groaning his pleasure. “Shit. Oh my God.”
Ash slid his index finger into his mouth, wetting it with his saliva and precum. Then with a gentle swipe, he inserted it in the crease of Drew’s ass.
Like Ash knew would happen, Drew came, harder and noisier than he had before, his salty-sweet essence pumping into Ash’s mouth and down his throat while Drew’s cry of pleasure echoed throughout the room. Ash swallowed it all, then pulled away. For the briefest of moments the old fear grabbed at him, only to be knocked aside as Drew knelt down next to him, laying his head in Ash’s lap.
No pain, no hate. No fear.
“I want to do the same for you.” Drew’s breath puffed by Ash’s erect cock, and he touched Ash with hesitant, gentle fingers, but Ash brushed him off.
“You don’t have to, baby.” He took Drew’s hand in his and kissed his palm. “This night is for you. My pleasure is to give you pleasure. Now come.” He lifted the soft white comforter. “Climb in and rest some. I’m going to take a shower. You look beat, and you’re gonna need your rest.”
With a sweet sleepy smile, Drew stretched out and snuggled into the fluffy pillows. “I like that Southern accent.” He yawned and patted the bed. “Come on and join me. You need to rest too, considering you did all the work.”
Tempted as he was, Ash knew he needed to shower. He was sticky, sweaty, and needed to be clean. And clear his head about what had happened.
“I’ll be a few minutes.” Resisting the urge to kiss him, Ash turned on his heel and left for the bathroom. Once inside he stripped off his shirt and avoided the mirrors as usual. He turned the water on steamy hot and stepped in. He squirted out his favorite vanilla-scented soap and lathered himself up, washing away the sticky remnants of his and Drew’s cum. With his eyes closed, he stood under the heated waterfall of water, letting it pummel his face and roll off his back.
Without any warning, Drew yanked the shower curtain aside. “Hey, I thought I’d come and join you.”
He jumped, narrowly missing hitting his head on the shower fixture. “Fuck it, Drew. Why couldn’t you wait in the goddamn bedroom?” The pounding water beat down over his head as he tried to hold his arms behind his back. His gaze remained rooted to the shower floor, and he watched the rivulets of water swirl down into the drain.
He had no idea how long he stood there, until he noticed the water had stopped and Drew stood next to him, his dry warmth pressed up against his wet, shaking flesh.
“Ash,” Drew whispered, kissing his cheek. “Come out now. You’re clean. Let’s dry you off.”
Like a child, he allowed himself to be led out of the shower, wrapped up in a towel, and patted dry. After leading Ash back to the bedroom, Drew tugged him into bed and together they lay down on the rumpled sheets.
Finally, Drew spoke against his shoulder. “Whenever you want to talk to me, I’m here for you. But like you said earlier, make no mistake. You will talk to me, Asher Davis.”
Tired of it all, of everything in his whole fucked-up miserable life, he turned in Drew’s arms and snarled back at him. “You wanna talk? Well, all right, let’s talk. What do you wanna know?” He pointed to the white ridged scar on his wrist, a smile twisting his lips. “You want to know about the first time I tried to kill myself, or the last time I cut myself for fun?” he asked, pointing to a fresh new gash.
“Where do you wanna start?”
Drew couldn’t take his eyes off Ash’s arms. Up and down, from wrist to elbow, his skin was riddled with scars. Many were older, thin white lines, but several were short, thick, and ugly twists of healed, ridged flesh. From the severity of the scars, there was more than likely some nerve damage that could never be repaired.
What troubled him more were the other ones, reddened, fresh and new, which told him this remained an ongoing problem for Ash. Drew knew how painful it must have been for Ash to cut himself that way. What demons did this beautiful, tortured man battle, even now, that caused him to maim himself like that? Drew’s grandmother was right to be afraid.
Whatever it was, Drew knew it somehow related to Ash’s past, the past he refused to talk about no matter how hard people pushed him to. Drew, Peter, even Drew’s grandmother couldn’t force Ash to reveal the horrors that gnawed at his soul. With a sinking realization in his heart, Drew recognized this night should never have happened, for so many reasons. It wasn’t that he regretted it. On the contrary, he’d been willing to go much further, if all had gone well.
Forcing Ash into a corner, hoping to get him to reveal his secrets was not going to help either one of them. But neither was pretending all was well and they could continue on as if nothing had happened. While Drew’s heart broke for Ash, the man had some serious issues to deal with that needed professional help.
“I’m not asking you why or to tell me anything you don’t want to.” Drew kept his tone nonconfrontational. “I’d hope that as a friend, you’d feel comfortable enough with me to maybe talk things out. Sometimes that helps.”
Shooting him a strange look, Ash scrambled out of the bed and, after rummaging around in his dresser, pulled out a thin sweatshirt and slipped it on. Once covered, Drew could see how Ash visibly relaxed. “Nothing will help. But thanks for the offer.”
Drew wanted to deck him. “Thanks for the offer? What am I, a salesman? For Christ’s sake, Ash, I’m sitting here naked in your bed, and you’re treating me as if I’m a fucking stranger.” Considering how this night had degenerated, he climbed out of bed as well and got dressed.
Ash shrugged. “There’s nothing to discuss. You got what you wanted and so did I, so let’s say good night.”
It was as if he were sitting at a board meeting. Hello, good-bye, thanks for coming. Literally.
“How do you know what I wanted? You never gave it a chance. I was willing to—”
“To what, Drew? Let me fuck you to see what it’s like? We still could, you know.”
“Why are you acting like such a bastard? I understand you’ve been hurt.”
Like a lion, Ash pounced on him, pushing him back onto the bed. “You understand? You think you understand? Why, because you’re lonely and took a walk on the wild side tonight with me? You know fucking nothing about me or my life, and that’s the way it’s going to stay.”
Caught by surprise, Drew lost all power to move once those glittering icy eyes pinned him. “I’m your friend, if nothing else, and that’s what friends do, they help one another.”
“I don’t need friends, or a lover, or anyone trying to make me part of a family. I was fine before I met you, and I’ll be fine when you’re gone.”
Drew shook his head in disbelief. “You think you’re fine? Look at yourself. You’re a mess. One moment you’re decent, kind, and caring; the next you’re a cruel, hurtful bastard. You run from everything and everyone you think might get close to you.”
“Isn’t this where we started tonight?” Ash’s strained drawl didn’t fool Drew now. As if he were a balloon, Ash deflated, his shoulders slumping, and his head hung down.
“Yes, I remember now. You told me I wasn’t worth it. And you know something; you’re right. I’m not worth it. So go home, Doc, find a nice girl to fuck, and let me be.” This time he walked out of the room, and Drew followed.
Ash returned to where he must have been seated before Drew showed up tonight. The club chair stood by the dark, cold fireplace, the bottle of vodka and ice bucket resting like sentinels on the small table, awaiting his inevitable return. In his heart, Drew knew this was where Ash spent most of his time when he was at home. In that chair, with a bottle, staring off into a dark void of nothingness. What ghosts did he see as he sat all alone, deep into the night? Was it shadows of his past come to haunt him in the present? Once again Drew saw those twisting, ugly scars, and his own body winced in sympathetic pain.
“Ash, I said I was wrong, and I’m sorry. I spoke out of anger.”
The ice must’ve melted, as Ash peered into the bucket, shook his head, then sloshed some vodka in his glass and, with a practiced flip of his wrist, drank it off in two gulps. He poured another and repeated the action. Only then did he answer. “No, you merely spoke the truth, what I was always told.” He poured another glass and drank it down as well. “I’m not worth it. Jus’ a poor kid with no family.” He stood and began wandering around the spacious room, then tipped his head back to stare at the ceiling. Flinging his arm out, he spun around. “But I showed them all, didn’t I, Mr. Frank? You said I was smart and I could make it.”
His heart breaking for this tortured man, Drew approached him with care. There was no way he’d leave him alone tonight in his fragile condition. He’d never forgive himself if something happened to Ash.
“Hey, buddy, why don’t you lie down?” Drew placed his hand on Ash’s shoulder. “I’ll help you back into the bedroom.”
Having stopped spinning, Ash stood swaying in the middle of the room, looking decidedly pale and ill. “I don’ feel so good.” He squinted into his empty glass. “Wha’ happened to my drink?”
He plucked the glass out of Ash’s hand. “No more drinks for you, my man. You need to lie down and go to bed.”
The hopeful note in Ash’s voice struck a chord in Drew’s heart. There was still so much about Ash he didn’t understand and wanted to learn. He wasn’t ready to dismiss the man, and certainly, after the revelations tonight, he knew he couldn’t. It had nothing to do with the sex, although his face warmed remembering the feel of Ash’s mouth on his cock.
Now wasn’t the time to think about that. He slid his arm around Ash’s shoulders and pulled him close. It was a little difficult, as Ash had several inches and at least twenty pounds on him, but after a few stumbles, he managed to push Ash back down the hallway and rather indelicately dump him into his bed. Drew turned on a night table lamp, casting a low glow over the room.
“Ow.” Ash rolled onto his back, his bleary face turned sideways as he mumbled into the pillows. “My head hurts.” Quicker than Drew thought possible, though, considering the man’s drunken state, Ash grabbed Drew’s T-shirt and pulled him down on top of Ash’s hard body.
“Oof.” He landed with his pelvis nestling in perfectly with Ash’s. As expected, Ash was most definitely aroused, but Drew had already made up his mind not to engage in any more sexual games with Ash until they had a chance to clear the air.
“Hey, none of that. You’re drunk, and I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
A heavy hand clamped around his waist, and Ash’s lips found his neck. “I’m usually drunk when I fuck someone, so I think it’s a great idea.”
It was as if an icy bucket of water had been dumped on Drew’s head. His erection wilted almost instantly and, with a strength that shocked him, he wrenched away from Ash’s drunken nuzzling and stood up, spitting in anger.
“I’m not ‘somebody.’ I’m not some fucking piece of ass you picked up at a bar to screw and forget. I’m your friend, goddamn you. Friends are different.” Christ, he almost let this guy… Shit, it was too much to imagine. Almost without thinking, he stuck his face in Ash’s. “I’m different, or at least I thought I was.”
Ash merely stared back, unblinking, with those silvery eyes.
“So, you’re telling me I’m no different than that waiter who blew you in the hallway, the same as all those anonymous men you’ve fucked?”
Ash opened his mouth, then closed it, bowing his head. “The fact you’re even here, in my home and in my bed, and we’re having this conversation, shows how different you are.” He fell back onto the pillows. “Drew, what the hell do you want from me?”
Good question. He hadn’t a clue. As a friend, he would help any of the people dearest to him, no questions asked. But Ash had suddenly become more than a friend. What had happened between them tonight had carved a special place in Drew’s heart, even if they never took it further. Above all else, Drew hurt for Ash as a person. The pit of ugliness Ash had lived in prior to his arrival in New York must have been so deep and black it was a miracle he’d been able to climb up out of it.
“I want you to talk to me.” With a gentle hand, he stroked Ash’s sweating face. “Please tell me about it. Maybe I could help you.”
Ash’s laugh rang bitter. “Help me? You’re nice, Drew. Good and pure at heart. You see the best in people and always think of how to help them.” He rolled onto his side, presenting Drew with his broad back. “It’s impossible for someone like you, who grew up normal, loved and sheltered by a family, to understand what can happen to the children left behind. The ones no one wanted.”
Drew sat on the bed, his weight tipping the mattress, forcing Ash to slide closer to him. The warmth of his large body tempted Drew to reach out to hold and comfort him, but he didn’t want to break the spell of Ash revealing even the smallest piece of himself. Something, anything, though, would be helpful in unraveling the mystery of this man. “Talk to me, then. Tell me about it.”
Ash’s dark head burrowed farther into the pillows. “I can’t drag you into the mess of my life. As it is right now, you know more about me than anyone else. You don’t understand how hard I’ve worked to put it behind me, but I can’t. It’s like a horrendous jack-in-the-box that keeps springing up when I least expect it, to scare the shit out of me and drag me back down.”
“That’s why you relate so well to those kids at the clinic, right?” He took a deep breath. “To Stevie? You know what he’s going through, don’t you, because something similar happened to you; am I right?”
At Ash’s quick nod, Drew instinctively touched his shoulder in sympathy, but Ash flinched away. “We were all thrown in together. The kids no one wanted. No family who cared whether we lived or died, but we had each other, you know? Years we spent waiting for someone to help us. And they looked up to me ’cause I was older, but I couldn’t help myself; how could I help them?”
Drew stayed silent, knowing Ash was inside himself once again, reliving his youth.
Ash flipped over to lie on his back, eyes flat and blank, his handsome face ravaged by inner torment. “We thought he cared at first, our foster father. He’d buy us candy and take us to ball games and the circus. Our foster mom was timid, churchgoing, and clueless.” He hugged the pillow to his chest. “Later on we found out he’d hit her if she didn’t do what he said, when he said it. Dinner on the table and beer in his hand when he walked in the door. If not…” Ash punched the pillow. “But never where anyone could see. Or bad enough so she’d haveta go to the doctor. She’d lie for him anyway. He was a cop, a good ole boy. Who’d they believe, him or us?”
It was worse than Drew had imagined. These were the stories he’d only heard about, the ones he saw on the television that made him start the clinic in the first place.
Ash let go now, the words spilling from him like water. “When he moved on to us boys, I let him do whatever he wanted to me, ’cause they were littler, you know? I tried to protect them from him.” A lone tear trickled down his cheek. “I thought when I left they’d come with me, but they were too afraid to leave.”
“Who were they, Ash?” Drew covered Ash’s hand, shocked at the cool, clammy feel of his skin.
“The closest thing I’ve ever had to brothers. But I abandoned them, left them with him.” Ash’s eyes, huge, wounded, and now shiny with tears, captured Drew and pulled him into their gray depths.
“I didn’t want to leave, but I knew I’d end up dead if I stayed. I never thought they wouldn’t come with me, but at the last minute Luke changed his mind and Brandon was too young. I shoulda stayed.”
“You don’t know. Maybe it worked out for them. Maybe he left them alone.” Drew stroked his hand, trying to soothe his agitation.
“No, no, I know something terrible happened.” Ash sat up, pale and trembling. “You don’ understand.” He put a hand to his mouth. “I’m gonna be sick.”
Stumbling out of the bed, he rushed to the bathroom. Drew followed him silently, watching as he retched in the toilet. He slid down next to Ash and put his arm around his shoulders, holding him close, letting the man lean against him. He smoothed back the sweat-drenched hair and murmured quiet, nothing words of comfort into Ash’s ear until he finished. Without saying a word, he rinsed out a hand towel in cold water and placed it on the back of Ash’s neck.
A moan broke free from Ash. “Drew, why are you still here?”
“Because you’re my friend. And I don’t abandon my friends when they need me.” Without giving it a second thought, he brushed the hair off Ash’s face and kissed his cheek. Ash grew still, and Drew immediately sensed his withdrawal.
“Uh, I think I need to rinse my mouth and brush my teeth.” Although Ash stood without help, Drew noticed he still needed to brace his hands against the sink to steady himself. Their eyes met in the mirror. “I can take care of myself.”
Stung by Ash’s aloof and cold behavior, he nodded and withdrew to sit on the bed. After waiting several moments, a horrified thought crossed his mind. Was Ashhurtinghimself in the bathroom? Visions of the man bleeding had him up and off the bed, halfway across the room, when Ash opened the bathroom door, wrapped in a robe.
“Are you all right?” His gaze flickered to Ash’s arms. “I, was, uh getting a little worried.”
Ash’s hands tugged at the sleeves of his robe; a gesture Drew now knew to be a defensive one of long-standing habit. “About what? Thinking I was doing something to myself in the bathroom?”
There was a cruel tinge to his words, but Drew, knowing Ash better now, understood. It was his way of keeping him at arm’s length so he wouldn’t find out more or get any closer to him. What Ash didn’t know was that Drew had an infinite level of patience. The man could take as long as he wanted, but Drew would find a way to help him.
“Are you back to being that asshole from when we first met? Is that how you think you’re going to push me away? Maybe Peter is afraid to step on your toes, but I’m not.” Drew tipped his head back a little to stare into Ash’s eyes. For a moment he thought he saw something flicker in those clear, silvery depths before the shutters came down, blanking out any expression.
Ash opened his mouth, but the phone rang, cutting off whatever spiteful remark he might have planned. Drew watched the alarm flare in Ash’s eyes before he hastened over to the night table and picked up.
“Hello?” His breathless voice caught, then became sharp with excitement. “No, no, it’s not too late. I told you to call no matter what the time. Are you sure, Martinson? Tell me everything you know.” He listened for a moment, and Drew could tell by the expression that lit up his face, something important had happened. “Wait, can you hold for a moment?” Ash put the phone down and gave him a sideways glance.
“Um I have to take this call, and it’s private, so…” Ash shrugged, his gaze flickering back to the phone.
Son of a bitch, he’s dismissing me as if I worked for him. Hurt, Drew gave a tight nod. “Sure. See you around.” Ash had already returned to the phone as if he didn’t care what Drew’s answer was.
Before he left the room, he heard Ash’s voice, raised in excitement. “You found both of them, or one? Tell me everything.”
I’m doing this to try and help him. That was the justification Drew played over and over as he listened in the doorway, trying to make sense of the conversation.
After he hung up the phone with Martinson, instructing him to spare no time and expense to continue his search, Ash glanced at the clock by his bed. Surprised to see it was only one thirty in the morning, and restless enough to know he wasn’t ready for sleep, he threw on a pair of pants and a shirt, drank a bottle of water in a few gulps, and left his apartment. His body hummed with excitement as he exited his building, automatically heading toward a bar he frequented when he wanted anonymous, hot sex.
The dim, below-street-level bar was packed, he noted with satisfaction. There would be no problem with him working off the buzz of pleasure that had built up in his body during Drew’s aborted visit.
At the thought of Drew, regret slammed through him, hard and vicious, but he quashed it down, unwilling to face those feelings at the moment. He slid into a seat vacated at the bar, and Danny, his usual bartender, had his vodka poured and ready.
Though still somewhat light-headed from the evening’s earlier drinking, he needed the sweet, beautiful oblivion only alcohol could give him, to help him forget what a piece of shit he’d been toward Drew.
“Hello, Ash, how’s it shaking tonight?” Danny winked at him as he shook a martini for another customer.
“Good, my man.” The vodka slid down his throat like water. “Another one, Danny. It’s been a bitch of a night.”
The bartender laughed as he poured his drink. “I know how you feel, bro. Some nights all you need is a stiff one.”
He looked at Danny, and they shared a laugh. Ash gulped the second one as quickly as the first, wanting to drown out the voices in his head scolding him for his shitty treatment of his friend. Two drinks in this short a period of time, coupled with his earlier vodkas, had him swaying on his seat, slightly dizzy and unfocused.
As he tossed down half of his third drink, a hand touched his back and caressed his shoulder. The heat of the man’s palm seared his skin through his shirt. He jerked away, stood, and faced the man whose hand remained on his body.
Long, buttery-yellow blond hair framed a pale, high-cheekboned face. Deep brown eyes stared at Ash with a hunger that kick-started the blood singing through his veins. Ash raised a brow as he pushed the hand away from him. “Can I help you?” He knew he was drunk but didn’t give a shit. Fire gnawed at his body, and he needed to quench its hunger.
A slow smile crept over the blond man’s face. “I know I can help you.” He took Ash’s hand. “Let’s go to the back.” The press of the crowd pushed Ash’s body against the stranger, and he could feel every dip and curve of the man’s lithe yet muscled torso through his thin T-shirt.
This was what he was here for, to drown himself in another hot, willing body. As he walked to the back, Ash couldn’t wait to feel the man’s lips slide over his cock. He needed to bury himself inside of someone, anyone to forget about Drew.
“Hey, man. This is good, right?” They entered the restroom, and the man locked the door behind him.
Ash didn’t answer, having no use for petty small talk. He unzipped his pants, then closed his eyes and stroked himself, picturing the face of a hot, green-eyed angel with silky dark curls staring up at him. His head spun from all the vodka he’d gulped down at the bar.
Wet warmth enveloped him as a twisting, flickering tongue swept over the head of his cock. He widened his stance, bracing his back against the wall, and none too gently began thrusting into the willing mouth.
His mind blanked until all feeling and sensation centered around his groin, and he grabbed the head of the man on his knees before him. “Christ, Drew, fuck me yeah.”
Hazy with desire, he opened his eyes, expecting to see the dark-haired Drew at his feet. At the sight of his hands buried in blond straight hair, not black curls, Ash grew confused. His blurred mind couldn’t separate who was between his legs, with who was in his head and he yanked himself away, his erection wilting.
“Wait, what the fuck is going on? Where’s Drew?”
The blond let go of his cock with a wet, sucking sound, his hand still wrapped around his own erection. “What the hell, man? Are you on something?” His pale face, flushed with lust, tightened. “I was close and so were you.”
Dizzy and slightly nauseated, Ash shoved his now limp cock into his pants and zipped himself up. “Uh, look, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have come in here with you.”
By now the other man had finished jerking himself off and stood, brushing his knees with his hands. “You’re right. I don’t know who this Drew guy is, but you need to figure it out if you’re gonna call his name when your dick is in someone else’s mouth.”
The stranger unlocked the door and opened it. “Better get your fuckin’ head together, man.”
Ash leaned back against the coolness of the tiled wall. A fucking perfect ending to this shitty night. He relieved himself, washed his hands, and splashed cold water on his face. After leaving the bathroom, he wove his way through the crowd and left the bar to go home.
By the time he reached home it was three o’clock in the morning. Ash fell into a restless sleep, where the old nightmares mingled with new. He jolted upright to a sitting position in the bed, eyes wide open and bulging with alarm, a name on his lips.
Then, with a sinking heart, he remembered he’d sent Drew away, and not nicely either, but rather dismissively and brusque, as if they’d finished a business transaction. Sort of like the way he usually ended all his sexual encounters, except this time he knew the man’s name and had to see him again.
“Shit, I really fucked this up.” Wide awake now, he peered over at the glow of the bedside clock. Five thirty-five. Well, wasn’t that fucking wonderful. Knowing there was no more sleep for him tonight, he tossed back the covers and walked naked into the living room. The bottle of vodka awaited him like a long-lost friend, offering warmth and forgetfulness. Exactly what he needed after the complete shit storm of a night. He poured a little in the glass and drank it back straight.
Warmth, such as it was, seeped into his chilled body but couldn’t erase the coldness of the way he’d treated Drew. “Fuck.” He poured out a little more, the neck of the bottle knocking against the rim of the glass, but he couldn’t bear to drink this one warm. With a sigh, he grabbed the bottle, crossed the living room, and entered the kitchen. After filling his glass with ice, he poured it full and waited a moment, letting it chill, as he wrapped his mind around the phone call from Martinson.
The news he’d received tonight was the closest he’d ever come to concrete information about one of his friend’s whereabouts. Luke might be in New York City. Even knowing how many millions of people lived in the city, the fact that he and Luke might see each other soon set his heart pounding. Once again, he allowed alcohol to numb his fear. He was such a goddamn coward. That’s why he’d pushed Drew away, or tried to, at least. At the thought of Drew, he drank a little more vodka. How many did that make tonight? Not nearly enough to dull the pain that seared through him, remembering how he’d basically thrown the best man he’d ever met out of his apartment.
Could he finally let someone share his hurt, his life? Could he tell Drew about what really happened to him as a child and young man? He grasped the edge of the countertop, then pulled open the drawer. He was a little drunk, to be sure, but in the twilight of early morning, he knew the ritual and could do it with his eyes closed.
The smooth edge of the knife handle comforted him in a macabre sort of way. Still holding his drink in his left hand, he slid to the floor, his legs pressed up into his chest so his chin rested on his knees. With deliberate care, he placed his drink on the floor, then rubbed his right arm, searching for a smooth, yet unblemished spot.
As the thin blade slipped into his skin, he welcomed the sting. A thin line of blood appeared, and he smiled.
Each cut on his body reminded him not only of how he’d failed his friends, but in a twisted way gave him strength to push the nightmare of Paul Munson’s abuse behind him. Now he could add the cruel and callous way he’d treated Drew to his litany of failures. It didn’t matter if it made no sense to anyone. He knew. It was his body and his choice to do with it what he wished.
The knife clattered to the white tile floor, sending tiny drips of blood splattering across the pristine surface. He watched with almost clinical disinterest as the tiny rivulet of red trickled down his arm to land on his knee. Years of experience now enabled him to judge when to stop to prevent losing too much blood. In the early years he’d had some close calls and the heavier, deeper scars to show for it.
Drew would know how to help him prevent further scarring, but he wanted them, needed those scars to prove he was still alive and capable of feeling pain.
Most of his life, he’d felt nothing at all.
Being the selfish bastard he was, until he’d spoken with Esther and understood the horror she’d not only witnessed but endured and triumphed over, he never thought about anyone else’s pain. That tiny woman had wormed her way under his skin like no one else had. After leaving her house yesterday, he’d planned to hurt himself, badly, but then Drew had come by.
Drew. It all came back to him and that damn sweet smile he couldn’t get out of his mind. “I really fucked up, didn’t I?” he groaned to no one in particular. Maybe not. Feeling more tired than drunk now, he lifted himself off the floor and, after rinsing his arm off in the sink, picked up the phone on the counter.
After four rings a husky, sleep-roughened voice answered. Shit, the man sounded so fucking sexy, even half-asleep.
“Ash? What the fuck are you calling me at six in the morning for?”
Half-asleep and angry as well. He suddenly lost his nerve and swallowed hard.
“Are you all right?” Now Drew sounded awake and anxious. “Do you need—”
“I need you, Drew.” He leaned against the countertop, the hard edge digging into the naked skin of his back. “I fucked up, and I’m sorry.”
“Hold on a minute.” In the background he could hear rustling, and all Ash could picture was Drew naked in bed. Though his mind ached with vodka and tiredness, his body proved itself wide awake as he looked down to a large, healthy erection bobbing in front of him. He walked to his bedroom and lay down, slowly stroking his cock.
“I wish you were here with me.” His lips pressed against the receiver as he breathed the words into the phone.
Drew sighed into the phone. “Come on, Ash. You told me to leave, dismissed me, as a matter of fact. Let’s leave it at that.”
“No, I can’t.” He continued to stroke himself and couldn’t contain a groan that came from his lips.
“Are…are you jerking off, while you’re talking to me?” Drew’s voice rose with incredulity. “Seriously?”
“I wanted you so bad tonight. I can’t stop thinking of your body and your cock. You tasted so sweet.” His hand was slippery with all the wetness leaking from the engorged head of his cock. It was easy to slide his hand up and down, faster and faster.
“Ash, please.” Drew’s voice came through the receiver, pained yet curiously short of breath.
“Are you hard too, baby? Did you like it when I took you in my mouth, hmm?” Ash’s hips thrust upward now, pushing his cock through his fist.
“I can’t believe you’re doing this over the phone.”
“Touch yourself, baby. Go on. Do it where my mouth was and pretend I’m there with you now. Remember how my mouth was on you? All hot and wet and tight?” Ash jerked his cock a few more times, and then his orgasm came upon him, thundering in his chest and lighting up his balls. He spurted hot, creamy jets across his stomach and chest.
“Did you, um, come?” Drew’s voice, strained and thin, only made Ash wish he was with him in the flesh, able to touch Drew’s sinewy, tight body.
“Mmm. Yeah. I was thinkin’ of you, baby. Of your hot sweet mouth and your tight ass.”
He heard Drew choke over the receiver. Now it was time to give this man some pleasure. “Hold yourself, baby. Rub your cock hard while you think of me and what it would feel like for me to be inside of you. I came all over myself thinking of you.” There was no sound, and for a moment he feared Drew had hung up.
“Are you there?”
A heavy sigh blew in his ear. “Yeah. I don’t know, Ash. We have so much to talk about.”
“Talk is overrated. Stroke yourself, come on. Harder and faster. Think of how good it felt before. Remember me licking you, sucking you, and touching you all over? Your skin is so soft, baby. Like a juicy ripe peach.”
A small sound came through the earpiece. “Aaaash.” Drew moaned. “What the hell?”
“I wanted you so bad tonight, Drew. I wanted to sink into that beautiful, creamy white ass of yours and take you over and over, hard and fast, pound you into my bed. I wanted to make you mine. Can you imagine me inside you, baby? Are you hot and hard for me?”
The sweet little grunts and groans he heard through the receiver let him know Drew enjoyed his dirty little phone talk. He wished he was there to help Drew clean up the mess, starting with kissing every inch of Drew’s pale body.
“Are you there, baby?” He could hear the heavy breathing as Drew struggled to catch his breath.
“Yeah. That was crazy.” Drew still sounded winded, as if he’d returned from a hard run. “I’ve never, ah…”
“Had phone sex?” He chuckled. “Obviously. But everything I said was the truth. I know I fucked up earlier.”
“Well, I know how you can make it up to me.”
“You’ll come over tonight, and we can finish what we started?” The pleading tone in his voice at one time would’ve made Ash’s skin crawl if he’d heard it from another man’s mouth. How quickly things changed, how he’d changed. But the fact remained that he wasn’t yet willing to let Drew slip out of his life.
“That’s not what I was thinking.”
With a sinking heart, he knew exactly what the good doctor was thinking. “Oh?” His casual tone didn’t fool himself. It certainly wouldn’t fool Drew.
“Look, Ash. Like I said earlier, aside from whatever this physical thing is between us, tonight disturbed me on so many levels.”
“There’s nothing to discuss.”
The frustration in Drew’s voice came through the phone receiver loud and clear. “Are you fucking kidding me? I know something terrible happened to you when you were young. Your arms are covered with self-inflicted scars, and you say there’s nothing to talk about?”
“It’s not for you to get involved in. It’s my personal life.”
“You are fucking unbelievable.” Drew laughed, but there was zero humor in him. “I shouldn’t get involved because it’s your personal life? Ash. My dick in your mouth is about as personal as two people can get with each other. Shit, if things had gone on…”
He swallowed hard, and Ash closed his eyes.
It seemed as if they were two immovable objects banging against one another, neither willing to give up an inch. Like a wave smashing against a rocky cliff, the wave would forever pound against that immovable wall, but the cliff would always stand strong and battle it back.
“It’s my life, Drew. There are certain parts of it I don’t share, not with you, not with anyone. I can’t.” He got off the bed and, still naked, pulled the curtain back and stared out the window. Park Avenue was already alive, even at this early morning hour, with the cabs beginning their early morning pickups.
“What are you afraid of? Can I at least ask that?”
Letting the curtain fall, he turned his back on the window and returned to the bed. “I don’t know. My whole life I’ve been afraid. When I was younger, I was afraid to be alone, without a family. Then when I was taken in”—his voice caught, and he coughed—“I was afraid for the younger boys in the house. After a while I became afraid of the person I was becoming.”
“What type of person? I’m not afraid of you, even though you try and hide behind a mask, like you don’t care about anyone or anything.” Drew’s comforting voice had Ash curling up in his bed, hugging the pillow to his chest. This was nice, talking to Drew, almost normal, but he knew it was all a facade.
“Someone without a soul. Someone who wouldn’t think twice about killing another person.”
“But I’m sure you had a reason.” No hesitation or doubt in Drew’s tone. Like he agreed with him and was restating the facts of a case like an attorney.
“My fear and selfish actions left my friends,my brothersalone with him and defenseless. I should’ve been stronger and fought back, or found another way to deal with it.” Funny how talking it out now released a bit of the tightness in his chest. For the first time in forever, he could breathe a little deeper.
“Ash, how old were you when all this happened?”
“I was eighteen when I left there.” Eighteen, scrawny, and scared to death. He’d never even been out of the small town in Georgia until he ran away that night.
“You were a kid, for Christ’s sake. Stop beating yourself up over it.”
“You don’t understand, Drew. I left because I couldn’t take it, and I knew if he kept coming to me, one night I was gonna kill him. So I left when I shoulda stayed and had it out with him.”
Drew scoffed. “Don’t be an asshole. You said the guy was a cop. He would’ve put you in jail or killed you himself and made it look like an accident.”
Visions of Luke’s tearstained face flooded his mind. He’d never forget how he’d pleaded with him not to go. “Maybe it would’ve been the best thing.” No more pain.
In the yawning silence from the other end of the phone, Ash’s heart throbbed in a gruesome concert with the throbbing in his cut arm.
“Is that why you do it? Hurt yourself.”
The man should’ve been a psychiatrist, not a plastic surgeon. Ash blew out a harried breath. “Drew, like I said before. You’re good, and I’m not. I’m bad, and if you get too close, bad things will happen to you. I should’ve stayed away from you, and from now on I will.” He looked at the clock. It was now almost six thirty in the morning. The room had lightened around him, and the angry honking of the cars on Park Avenue filtered even up to his floor. “I have to get ready for work. I’ll see you at the clinic.”
“Bye, Drew.” He set the handset down on the bed and rolled over, still hugging the pillow, staring at nothing for a very long time.
It had been weeks now, and Ash continued to avoid him. No matter when he showed up at the clinic, if Ash was there, he was either meeting with kids or managed to slip away before Drew could catch him to sit and talk. The one time Drew had swallowed his nerve and gone back to Ash’s high-end apartment building, he was informed by the concierge that“Mr. Davis isn’t home for visitors.”
The one thing he couldn’t deny was how good Ash was with the kids, especially the ones who came in, leery of the clinic’s good intentions, and disbelieving that anyone could help them. Then they met with Ash, and something resonated between him and those kids that validated all the hard work Drew had put into setting up this clinic. They talked to Ash, and he gave each child his life experience, giving them hope they too could escape and become a success.
Everything he’d ever dreamed could be accomplished in his life was happening.
Rachel had submitted her doctoral thesis, and she and Mike were stronger than ever. Jordan and Keith were planning a wedding in the not too distant future, as Keith had proposed to him over the summer. As usual, he was the one left alone.
He finished his chart on the last girl who’d shown up with a facial laceration she said she received from banging into the door when she woke up in the middle of the night. To Drew, the mark looked like the cut from the sharp edge of a ring, as if she’d been slapped and it cut her face. Though she vehemently denied it, she wouldn’t let them call her mother, coming instead with her older brother who stood to the side, his jaw clenched and hands fisted.
Drew knew that pugnacious look. The young man was spoiling for a fight, and Drew had no doubt he would go home and want to beat the crap out of whomever he thought had done this to his sixteen-year-old sister. He’d had Rachel talk to the two of them, and by the time they’d gone home, both had calmed down, and Rachel later told him she’d given them the number of someone who would talk to them free of charge about family abuse.
He threw down his pen and took off his glasses to rub his tired eyes. As it so often did when his mind wandered, he found himself thinking back all those weeks ago to that one amazing, intense night with Ash. Nothing could have prepared him for the feel of Ash’s mouth on his cock. No blowjob he’d ever gotten from a woman had even come close to the blinding, white-hot desire that had flamed through him. The mere thought of it set his cock twitching, swelling with an insistent need he’d neglected for far too long.