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"Oh, what a tangled web we weave..."
Reese and Hank are used to taking what they want, just because they can. They set their sights on the office geek, a painfully shy whiz kid named Jeff. Hank bets Reese he can't get the guy in bed within a week - he makes the pot very sweet with an offer of $5,000, if Reese can do the job - on tape.
Reese, usually so cocky and sure, is completely disarmed by the quiet but intense Jeff. What begins as a cynical seduction rapidly heats into flames of dangerous desire. Reese finds himself falling, hard, but disentangling himself from Hank is even harder. Jealousy, lust and unraveling lies threaten to shatter more than one heart in this tale of love and betrayal.
“I’m bored. Whose life can we destroy today?”
Reese laughed, aware Hank was only half kidding.
“Can I get you anything else, Mr. Seeley?” The waiter wore the white shorts and dark blue polo shirt that were the staff uniform at the exclusive Denver country club. Hank eyed the young man for a few seconds before responding, and Reese knew he was assessing the guy’s orientation and potential in bed.
“No, thanks. We’re done.” Hank stood, tossing his linen napkin to the table. When the waiter had gone, Hank said, “Let’s go back to my place.” This was code for, “Let’s have sex.” Reese wasn’t in the mood.
“Sorry, I have to swing by the office and pick up some stuff for my call on Monday.”
Reese was a salesman for Strata Systems, a Denver software company that designed applications for computerized robots used in the manufacturing industry. He’d only been there a few months, and it was the first job he’d had where he showered before work instead of after.
Hank grunted, clearly annoyed. “I liked your old job better. You had predictable hours.”
And you had more control. Aloud Reese said, “You kidding me? I’d way rather be sitting in nice restaurants schmoozing guys in suits than sweating my ass off on a construction site. And I don’t miss being forced to listen to a bunch of macho assholes trying to one-up each other on how much pussy they got that weekend.”
“Just don’t let me catch you blowing the boss for that promotion. You know I’m a very jealous guy.”
“I’ll remember that when he offers me the promotion.” For all their easy banter, Hank really was a jealous guy, or at least a possessive one. Since the beginning, the pattern had been established—Hank had claims on Reese he’d yet to shake off.
It wasn’t the first time Hank had complained about Reese’s new job, but Reese knew there was a lot more to it than just a career change. Hank resented Reese’s efforts to better himself without any help from the Seeley family. Since Reese was seventeen, he’d been beholden in one way or another to Hank’s family. Now things were changing. Reese was making them change.
For the first time he felt like he had a career, instead of just a job. He liked working at Strata Systems. No one in the small, progressive company had a fixed schedule. He could come and go as he pleased and the business was an interesting one. Not to mention, the owner, Bob Sanchez, was openly gay.
In fact, that was how Reese had got the job, or at least a shot at an interview. He’d met Bob at the party of a mutual friend. Reese had mentioned he was looking to find a new career, something with more potential for advancement, and the rest, as they say, was history.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing. He worked on commission and had yet to build up much of a clientele. As a result, the money he’d saved while working in construction had steadily dwindled, leaving him nearly broke, though he’d be damned if he admitted this to Hank.
“You can just drop me at my place. I’ll take the bike.”
“No. I’ll go with you,” Hank announced.
Reese’s impulse was to refuse. He didn’t want Hank horning in on this new thing in his life. But he knew if he protested, Hank would only become more determined. The inevitable power struggle wasn’t worth it, Reese decided with an inward sigh.
Hank’s driver was waiting outside the club in his Mercedes Benz SL65 AMG. Reese would have much rather been on his motorcycle—alone. Once they were settled in the backseat, Hank returned to his earlier theme. “We haven’t made a good bet in a while. I’m in the mood for something nasty.”
Reese responded out of habit more than interest. “Oh yeah? What’s in it for me?”
Hank appraised Reese, lifting the corner of his mouth in a sardonic smile. “What’s always in it for you? The power of the conquest, the knowledge you can get any guy you set your sights on. Oh, and of course, I’ll make the pot sweet.”
Despite himself, Reese found himself asking, “How sweet?”
“Depends what we come up with. It’s been a while. You need a challenge.”
It was a game they had played for years. It turned Hank on to watch Reese seduce other men, not because he cared for them, but because he could. It was understood between them that Reese was always the one to make the play. It was beneath Hank, in a twisted way. He controlled the strings and Reese danced to his tune. That was the real crux of the matter—power.
For years Reese had gone along, caught in the net of obligation, debt and desire that had formed the framework of their relationship these many years. He couldn’t deny that their sex was infused with an added intensity after Reese had hunted and captured his query for Hank’s cold amusement.
But lately Reese was growing tired of the game. The glitter of seducing and then discarding guys, just because he could, had begun to tarnish. But it was more than that. He was trying to make something new—something that didn’t include, or at least wasn’t controlled by this man who had been the one constant in his life over the past twelve years.
He glanced at Hank, who was regarding him from beneath his lashes, his strong, cruel mouth pursed in thought. He was handsome, with even features and a firm jaw, but his eyes were like dark, wet stones, flat and cold.
In spite of himself, as he always did, Reese felt the power of Hank’s gaze. He forced himself to look away. “Count me out on this one, Hank. I’m getting too old for that shit.”
Hank laughed. “Twenty-nine is too old to get someone into bed? Last I checked, you were in perfect working order, my friend.” He squeezed Reese’s thigh with thick, blunt fingers, his hand edging toward Reese’s crotch. Reese shifted, turning toward the window.
As if sensing Reese’s resistance, Hank added, “I’m feeling expansive. But you’ll have to earn it, my friend. Five thousand bucks.”
“What?” Reese turned from the window to stare at Hank. The bets always carried a monetary prize for Reese, but usually only a few hundred bucks, a thousand at the most. Five thousand dollars sure would come in handy, with the rent due and Reese’s bike in desperate need of new tires. It would give him the cushion he needed while he built up his clientele at Strata.
“You heard me. Five thousand bucks to do what you do best.”
“What’s your twisted brain up to now?” Reese asked, trying to keep his voice light. If only Hank hadn’t dangled that kind of money in front of him, damn him.
“You know,” Hank said, staring out the window with studied nonchalance. “The old offer still stands. You could move in with me while you’re getting yourself established in your so-called career. Better yet, you could quit that lousy day job and spend your time devoting yourself to me 24/7. I’ve always wanted a live-in sex slave.” Hank laughed to show he was kidding, but Reese knew he wasn’t.
“Yeah, that’s just what I want to be when I grow up, your personal whore. Me and the houseboy could share the servants quarters.”
“Oh no,” Hank said, lifting an eyebrow. “As personal whore, you’d sleep in my bed.” Again the outward joke continued, but in fact Reese knew that was just how it would be. Hank had asked Reese to move in with him several times over the years, assuring him a life of luxury and ease, but the price was far too high.
“Not gonna happen,” Reese said with finality.
“Whatever,” Hank shrugged with practiced nonchalance. “Back to the wager at hand. I want to come in and see what we’ve got to work with at this job of yours.”
“Oh, no you don’t.” Reese interrupted. “This bet will not involve anyone I work with. I just got this job. I’m not going to fuck it up.” Inwardly he sighed, watching the proffered five thousand dollars rapidly receding.
“Relax. I’m not gonna make a scene or anything. Just a casual stroll around the place. I’ll pick the guy, you get him in bed and you win the money. Easy as pie for a stud like you.”
“And if I lose?”
Hank cocked an eyebrow and offered a small, cruel smile. “You lose, I get your ass. You agree to be my personal sex slave for a solid week.” Reese was silent, appraising the offer. When Hank said sex slave, he meant it. Hank had a thing for whips and chains. He’d tried over the years to get Reese involved, but Reese wasn’t hardwired that way. Occasionally he’d let Hank tie him up, but it had never turned him on. Hank found other guys for that kind of play, which suited Reese fine.
Was the bet worth the price? Easy money, if he could pull it off. The odds were good he’d win. Reese knew he was good looking. He knew how to turn on the charm, too. He could be what others wanted him to be. He could reflect them back at themselves, even if there was nothing behind his smile or his words.
He scanned the men in his office in his mind, trying to think who Hank might pick. He might choose Gary, who was over fifty and had grandkids. The odds had to be somewhat reasonable or it wasn’t worth the risk. Jesus, you’re going to do it. Quashing any lingering hesitation, he said, “No one over fifty and no women.”
“Deal.” Hank’s grin was sly and Reese knew in that moment he’d lost whatever edge he’d had. Nothing had changed between them. Maybe nothing ever would. “The usual rules apply—you provide me with the recorded proof of the deed, with the guy’s face clear enough to identify.”
Reese nodded, thinking of the hidden camera Hank had bought him a few years back to record just such a scene for their shared amusement. It no longer seemed quite so amusing to Reese, but he shrugged. Worst came to worst, he would lose the bet. He could deal with a little bondage for a few days.
They entered the large, one-story building, with its high ceilings and huge skylights. Reese glanced across the open room, looking from space to space. Bob didn’t have offices in his building, but rather what he termed “creative spaces” set along the perimeter of the room for the programmers and marketers, with a large central area in the middle for hanging out and brainstorming. The building was always open in case a creative urge or sudden breakthrough propelled one of the developers to their computer.
Reese moved toward his space, Hank behind him. Once Reese had collected the files he needed, Hank said, “Take me on a tour. Let’s see what’s out there.” Some people glanced up at Hank as they passed, but, as he’d come in with Reese, they simply nodded or smiled and went back to their business.
Reese followed him through the room, apprehension prickling his skin. Hank walked slowly, casting his appraising eye over the twenty or so guys at their desks, clustered in the free space or playing pool in the game area. When he got to the farthest corner of the building, Hank pointed toward a desk that was partially obscured by a silk screen. Hank moved closer. The guy didn’t look up.
“Jeff somebody.” Reese scanned his memory for the guy’s last name. “Hartman. Jeff Hartman.”
Not him, Reese silently prayed. Jeff Hartman was geek extraordinaire. He’d never said a word in Reese’s presence, except to stammer painfully when asked some technical question by another developer. Reese had him pegged as one of those idiot savants who could barely put two words together, but could write the code to program a robot to do anything from building a car from the ground up to designing a telescope for use on a space shuttle. He was the kid in junior high whose lunch money you stole.
They stepped away and Hank asked, “Straight or gay?”
“No idea. He probably doesn’t know either.”
They headed around the rest of the building, moving slowly toward the front door. As they walked, Hank asked questions about a few of the other men, and Reese answered them as best he could. He could still say no, he told himself, he could always say no.
Neither spoke as they climbed into Hank’s car and Hank directed the driver to Reese’s place. As they eased into traffic, Hank said, “I choose that geek in the corner with the long hair. You have until Saturday. That should be plenty of time to get even the shyest social misfit into the sack.”
Reese didn’t respond. For the first time, he considered Jeff Hartman as a potential conquest. He supposed he wasn’t hard on the eyes, with longish dark hair and a slender build. He dressed in old T-shirts and holey blue jeans that made him look like a college kid. He didn’t have a clear read on Jeff’s sexual orientation, but that wouldn’t be too hard to figure out, if he took the bet, that was.
They pulled up to Reese’s small rental house in a modest neighborhood. “So, we have a deal?” Hank said, as Reese started to climb out.
Five thousand dollars… “Yeah. What the hell.”
As he started to close the door, Hank called out, “Oh, and Reese?”
“Don’t fall in love.”
“No chance of that. I don’t even know what the word means.”
The sad thing was, he really didn’t.