The kisses were soft and sweet, the older man wanting to show that he felt more than simple lust for Ryan. They caressed each other gently, the tender touches conveying more succinctly what might have been difficult to put into words.
* * * * *
Ryan gave a bone-weary yawn and, for the umpteenth time in just a couple of minutes, rechecked his ponytail was still secure as he adjusted his cap. Tony, owner of the small fast-food café/take-away, would be furious to know that at 1.30 a.m. he was alone in the shop. Ryan had already decided to start cleaning up and closing down. Sometimes the place could be open till 4.00 a.m. but this was midweek and most clubs closed by 2.00 a.m. It had been particularly quiet, that was why he had been unable to refuse Cameron’s plea to be allowed to go join his friends half an hour earlier. He had already cleaned the kitchen and most of the food was now securely packed away. All he had left to offer were burgers and chips. He rubbed at heavy, ocean-blue orbs, trailing his fingers over his high cheekbones as he always did when tired. He did not like the fast-food business, but for the last month it had provided an income when he needed money to get by. He suppressed a groan as two men swaggered into the shop.
The men wore a grungy mix of leather and denim; one had a shaven skull, the other long, dark unkempt hair. Ryan disliked both on sight and schooled his features into a bland expression. The quicker this was over the better in his opinion. Shaven-skull was smaller than his companion, but bulkier; Lank-hair was tall, thin and had an expression that made Ryan uncomfortable. He really regretted letting Cam go.
“What can I get you, guys?” Projecting as much confidence into his speech as possible, Ryan let a half-lie slide out easily. “I’m just on closing. The cleaner’s put most things away, but I can do burger and fries.”
“Burger ‘n’ fries twice,” Lank-hair rasped.
Ryan set to work instantly. Frozen fries were tipped into the counter-top fryer, whilst two burgers and some chopped onion were put on the electric skillet. He got two bread buns out and opened them.
“Salad, cheese?” he asked.
“One with cheese, no salad,” came the short reply.
It was with relief that Ryan completed the order and took the money. As the men ambled towards the door, Ryan followed ready to lock it. He was taken by surprise as Lank-hair turned, catching him in a tight embrace, and ground his mouth hard against Ryan’s. The young man tasted cigarette, beer and garlic in a stomach-churning mix and squirmed frantically to get free.
“C’mon, baby, lighten up. We’re just havin’ a little fun,” Lank-hair laughed coldly.
One hand pawed roughly at Ryan’s groin, the other pulled tightly on the younger man’s ponytail, bending Ryan’s head back at a painful angle and he tried desperately to think of a way out of his predicament as Shaven-skull’s cruel laughter echoed in his ear.
“Get your hands off my boyfriend!” The voice was deep, commanding and well-modulated and the words were spoken in a low, deadly tone.
Ryan was released and stared at his rescuer. The older man was easily six inches taller than Ryan’s modest five feet eight inches. He was dressed in a black suit and tie, a pristine white shirt visible as the suit jacket was open. His hair was dark and close-cropped and his arctic-blue eyes glowered menacingly at Ryan’s attackers. For a moment they raked over Ryan and the younger man felt naked and pinned beneath the piercing stare. He found that he was hoping the stranger liked what he saw.
“You ok, baby?” the big man asked, putting his impressive body between Ryan and his tormentors.
“Just great, big guy,” Ryan threw back. He received a flash of strong, white teeth which sent pleasurable shivers down his spine. “They were just leaving,” he added, peering around the bigger man to see Lank-hair and Shaven-skull slinking out of the door.
“Make sure you don’t come back … boys,” Ryan’s savior added, steepling his fingers and cracking his knuckles ominously.
Ryan’s eyes widened at the array of ostentatious gold rings the man was sporting. Somehow they seemed out of place with the rest of the man’s apparent understated ease. As soon as the two men had exited sullenly, Ryan pounced on the door to lock it and pulled down the blind before leaning back, his body relaxing from its adrenaline high.
“Thanks, man,” he said sincerely.
“Whatever possessed you to carry on working here, at this time, on your own?” his rescuer growled
“What … how …?” Ryan stuttered.
“Cam came into ‘The Club’ with his friends,” the man explained. “He said how great you were letting him finish early. He conveniently omitted to say he’d left you alone, but I knew Tony only usually has two in the shop at this time so I decided to come and check.” He gave a wide, easy smile. “I had intended to come and say ‘Hi’ at some point. So, hi, my names James Ross,” he extended a hand.
“Ryan Ballentine,” Ryan said automatically, letting his smaller hand be engulfed by James’. “And it’s a real pleasure to have met you, James,” he added.
“You ready to leave now?” James asked, moving the blind a fraction to gaze out at the deserted road. This place was fine when the clubs were getting rid of the bulk of their patrons. Many people walked this way heading for taxi ranks and the town’s bus station. However, midweek, with few people around, James was unhappy at them simply walking outside; especially when his normally impeccable instincts were making the hairs at the back of his neck raise.
“Just give me five minutes, man,” Ryan said, his face in a bright smile.
James returned the smile, deciding against worrying the younger man unduly. Instead he hit a speed dial number on his cell phone. He spoke tersely, watching Ryan store the last of the food away and wipe down the surfaces. He also saw the young man’s start of fear at the tap on the door that came after two or three minutes. James held up his hand in a placatory gesture. He glanced through the small gap in the blind and then opened the door.
“Don’t worry,” he smiled at Ryan, who stood as if transfixed.
Ryan took in the sight of the newcomer. The man was as tall as James, if a little thinner. His hair was blond and spiked with gel. He was dressed in torn jeans and a shapeless sweatshirt. Intelligent eyes, the same arctic blue as the darker man, silently assessed him.
“Anything?” James asked.
“Saw a guy lounging on the corner. What’s going down, bro?”
“A couple of uglies tried to make unwanted moves on Ryan here,” James said. As he was speaking he moved closer to the smaller man. He was pleased to feel Ryan step forward so that their arms now brushed together. “Ryan, I’d like you to meet my baby brother, Tim,”
Ryan received a second bone-crushing handshake. At first glance, the brothers seemed totally unalike. However, Ryan’s practiced eye took in the bone structure of their faces and the curl of their lips, seeing the tiny indicators that spoke of a shared heritage. He smiled back at the blond.
“Where to?” Tim asked, peeling back a little of the blind to watch outside.
“‘The Club’,” James said. “You ready, Ryan?” he asked.
“Just let me grab my jacket and I am so outta here,” Ryan said, reluctantly leaving James’ side. He had felt secure there, despite both men’s cautious demeanors.
“It was close, Tim,” James whispered into his brother’s ear as he, too, looked outside.
“You’ve mooned over this kid for weeks,” Tim grinned. “Don’t blow it, bro,” he added, squeezing James’ forearm.
“No way,” James said decisively. “Not when I could have lost him before we even stood a chance.” The bigger man smiled as Ryan came back out from the kitchen and felt a warm glow from the wide grin he got in return.
“Good to go, guys,” Ryan said, bouncing a little as the adrenaline began to spike once more.
“I’ll go first and start up the cab,” Tim said decisively.
Ryan watched the blond check up and down the road and then move swiftly to the black hackney cab.
“Your brother drives cabs?” Ryan queried.
“He owns half a dozen,” James said nonchalantly. “That one’s his baby. She’s a souped up model with all kinds of mod cons. Tim only ferries ‘special’ clients. On the nights I work he makes himself available exclusively for anyone I have who needs a ride.” James noted the wave from his brother and ushered Ryan outside. He stood protectively as the smaller man locked the door and then, as Ryan turned, enveloped him in his arms. He felt Ryan open to him and he swept his tongue inside to subdue the shyer muscle, sucking it slowly, feeling the slighter body move closer and melding to his. With a reluctant groan he pulled away, a thumb tracing the now swollen lower lip of the younger man to soothe any perceived rejection.
Ryan had *heard* about kisses that made people’s toes curl, but he had always been skeptical … until now. Not only were his toes curling but he was certain he could hear angels singing … or maybe that was just the blood rushing through his ears. He was sure of only one thing; he did not want this to end, breathing was *way* over-rated. He felt the reluctance as James pulled back and, as a thumb gently traced his lip, he smiled. He let himself be guided into the cab, still glowing from the kiss.
James forced his attention from the tight, jean-clad ass that swayed, unconsciously erotically, before his eyes and checked the area around the cab. If anyone had been watching, they would have seen him all but devour Ryan. Not that James needed any ulterior motive to have kissed the smaller man senseless. He took a deep breath //Don’t blow it, bro// rang in his mind. Tim was right. As much as James wanted to ravish the beautiful young man, he needed to move a lot slower. He did not want Ryan to look back and feel pressurized in any way. He was surprised at how easily his normally restrained, slightly cautious, nature, seemed to vanish the moment oceanic blue eyes looked at him. Despite his mental admonishments, he still held out a hand to Ryan and was exceedingly pleased when Ryan’s slid into his.
Ryan looked at the plush entrance to ‘The Club’. The doormen were impeccably dressed in the same attire as James. Ryan’s sharp eyes noting they also wore large gold rings on several fingers. They looked authoritative rather than intimidating and the red carpet was a nice welcoming touch. It flew the rainbow flag and some of Ryan’s friends occasionally went there. It was one of several gay bars in the area and one where there was generally a mix of clientele. Ryan had thought about it but, as money was usually tight, opted for cheaper bars if he went out. Sometimes he cooked and invited friends to bring beer or wine, but the size of his living space meant he could only invite a very small number.
Inside he gazed at cream walls, black leather chairs and sofas and small black tables. The bar was glass, chrome and mirror and Ryan could see it held an extensive array of drinks. The lighting was muted, without being overly dark the way some places could be. It succeeded in giving the intimate ambiance some strived for, but failed to attain. A barman stood at one end of the bar, shaking a cocktail, as a couple of men smiled at each other and flirted with him. A further two servers looked after customers at the bar, smiling and chatting, and another served drinks to people sitting at a table. The music was at a tolerable level and Ryan could see that the dance floor had a few people dancing to a popular record. He wished he was able to come here. It was somewhere he knew he would be comfortable.
James gently urged his auburn-haired beauty through to his office. He had seen how impressed Ryan was with ‘The Club’ and was both pleased and proud. Tim had his ‘baby’, ‘The Club’ was his. Cam had let drop the little titbit that Ryan was gay and that had made him all the more determined to go and speak to the smaller man. He gave an affectionate smile at Ryan’s wide-eyed gaze as he looked around James’ private room.
Ryan was as appreciative of the office as he had been of the bar. The walls here were also cream, the large desk and leather chair black. The desk held a laptop and phone and Ryan could see a fax/printer on a smaller table against the wall to the right of the desk. To his right, was a black leather sofa and small table and, what Ryan had initially thought was a black cupboard, was a refrigerator.
“Do you like it?” James asked, breaking into Ryan’s appraisal.
“The owners must be really proud of the way you run this place. It’s awesome and the staff all looked like they were enjoying what they did,” Ryan enthused.
“”The Club’ is mine.” He gave a soft laugh. “You’ll catch flies, babe,” he said, as he lifted Ryan’s dropped jaw. “Tim has his cabs, I have this place and we are joint owners of a couple of small restaurants.
Ryan was stunned. James had to be mega-rich. He wondered what someone like the dark, handsome man could possibly see in him.
“Help yourself to a drink from the cabinet,” James said, waving a hand at the fridge. “It’s always well-stocked. I don’t like to drink when I’m working and it was much easier to have a choice at hand than constantly call out to the bar,” he explained as Ryan moved. “You hungry?”
As if answering for itself, Ryan’s stomach growled loudly, causing the young man to blush furiously. //Way to go to impress a man// he thought angrily.
“Sorry,” he said out loud. “Normally I grab salad stuff from the cafe and eat when I get home.”
“You like pizza?” James asked, the phone already to his ear.
“Love it, man,” Ryan smiled, as he opened the fridge. He blinked. He had a choice of still or sparkling water, plain or flavoured as well as assorted fruit juices and a couple of smoothies. The lower shelves held a selection of fizzy drinks as well as beer and some wine. Ryan guessed that the older man must keep those to offer guests. Ryan selected a fresh orange and looked over at James.
“Plain, still water for now,” James said. “I’m thinking of classing myself as off-duty very soon.” The last words were spoken in such a sexy rasp that Ryan felt himself instantly harden. Swallowing past a dry throat, he allowed the cool of the fridge to take the heat out of his ardour. More under control, he took the water to the bigger man.
James took the proffered drink and watched rapaciously at the way the younger man’s Adam’s apple bobbed up and down as he drank. Visions of himself sucking there had James shifting to discreetly adjust a growing bulge. There just seemed to be some kind of primal connection between them.
Ryan gave a sigh of contentment as he slaked his thirst and put down the bottle. He smiled at James and, as though at some unspoken command, both moved closer.
“I really owe you, big time, man,” Ryan said, his voice low and husky.
“I meant what I said about wanting to come into the café to chat to you. I was hoping you might consider going on a date with me.” Cam had also let slip that Ryan was unattached. Mentally cringing, James hoped that Ryan failed to notice the faux pas. He did not want Ryan to think he quizzed Cam about the beautiful young man — even if he had.
“I’d totally love to go on a date with you,” Ryan beamed. Treacherous parts of his body tried to signal their approval, but before he could embarrass himself, there was a loud knock on the door. At James’ shout, a member of the bar staff came in carrying pizza boxes. Ryan was touched that James had been considerate enough to get one large meat pizza and one large vegetarian. Whilst Ryan was not vegetarian, he did not eat a great deal of red meat and devoured most of the veggie pizza appreciatively.
James grinned happily. Making another call, the unfinished pizza was taken away.
“If I know Danny, the left-overs will be quickly taken care of,” James laughed. He became a little more serious. “Will you have a drink with me?” he asked.
“I’d love to,” Ryan said.
James led him out into the main club and to a small, secluded booth. Both men opted for a beer and James smiled as Ryan sat close, their legs touching from thigh to knee.
Ryan found the warmth of James’ body, the alcohol, the effects of the attack and the lateness all combined to make him exceedingly sleepy. He apologized as he yawned once more, unconsciously sinking closer into the bigger man’s personal space.
“Been a long one?” James sympathized. He gave a wry smile as Ryan nodded. “Ok, let’s get you home.” He signaled to a server and asked them to find Tim and to send him over. As he waited for his brother, he could not resist the temptation to run his hand up and down Ryan’s thigh. He growled softly as Ryan’s legs instinctively drifted wider apart, offering more intimate access. He could see the younger man struggling to keep his eyes open and staunchly refused to take advantage. He kept his hand away from the auburn beauty’s groin and simply drew abstract patterns on the slender thigh. He was quite certain Ryan was barely aware of the subconscious, submissive invitation.
“Ready to go?” Tim said brightly. “Oh, man, he’s already gone hasn’t he?” he said, looking at Ryan’s head on James’ shoulder and the tightly-closed eyes.
“Ryan,” James said, carefully shaking a slim shoulder. “I need your address, babe.”
“‘K,” Ryan murmured.
It took another try, and a very attentive James, to decipher the muttered response. In deference to sparing the smaller man’s blushes, James managed to sleep-walk Ryan rather than carry him as Tim laughingly suggested. In the cab, Ryan’s head rested against James’ thigh, the older man allowing himself the liberty of ghosting his fingers over the slumbering young man’s face. As the cab pulled up outside the old Victorian house, in which Ryan had a flat, James sighed longingly. He really wished he did not have to leave the younger man.
“I’ll take him up and be back in five,” he said.
“Yeah, right,” Tim scoffed. “It’ll take you more than that to carry his dead weight to the top of this old place. He laughed out loud at James’ unintelligible growled response and got out of his cab. Leaving his brother to carry the sleeping beauty, Tim took charge of Ryan’s keys and opened the outer door and, running quietly up the stairs, unlocked the door to the young man’s flat. He grinned widely as James, red-faced and wheezing slightly, caught up with him after a couple of minutes.
“Don’t say a word,” James warned, earning another guffaw from his brother. He stepped past the blond and went inside with his insensate bundle. From a tiny hall, he went into what could only be described as a bedsit. There was a minute kitchen area and the living space was little more than a settee, table, chest of drawers and floor cushions. Settling Ryan down, James checked the other door off the hall, finding a tiny bathroom. He tried the final door, at the end of the corridor, but found it locked. Shaking his head, he went back to the sleeping man. He shook Ryan gently.
“Where do you sleep, babe?” he asked, his voice edged with concern.
“F’ton,” Ryan mumbled.
James looked at what he had laid Ryan on, now recognizing it for what it was. He went to the front door. Tim looked expectantly and James shook his head.
“Need a hand,” he said.
Tim followed his brother into the tiny living space.
“Where does he sleep?” Tim asked.
“The futon he’s lying on, except I need him off it to open it up. The cushions and throws must be his bedding. Our wardrobes are bigger than this,” James said, his tone sad.
James divested Ryan of his trainers and jeans, leaving the cartoon-adorned boxers and black t-shirt. He took out the hair tie and luxuriated in carding his hand briefly through reddish-gold tresses. He then scooped Ryan into his arms.
“I expect our pay packets are bigger than his, too, bro,” Tim offered as he began to make up Ryan’s bed whilst James held his precious bundle. “We worked our way up to what we have.” He stepped back to let James lay Ryan down. He watched with an affectionate smile softening his face as James fussed over the oblivious red-head. The sleeping man was tucked in as best as his brother could do with the small amount of bedding.