One desperate night, a rent boy hot enough to scorch the motel sheets, and Christian is doomed to burn for love.
Christian Ryder is rich and lonely. When the people around him keep dying, Christian forgoes personal attachments. The thought of his Pyromancy hurting anyone else, isn't something he's willing to risk.
Tanner O'Bannon is broke and desperate. The recent loss of his father has thrown Tanner into a tailspin of debt he can't afford to pay. Working as a rent boy allows him to pay the mortgage and his college tuition, but it's eroding his soul in the process.
Through the machinations of Male Companions -- the escort agency for which Tanner works -- the men are thrown together. Through a series of startling revelations and danger, Tanner and Christian both face changes. Smoldering embers of desire fan the flames of love, but will it be enough to make Christian overcome his fear of love, or to save Tanner from the fire? Only one thing is certain; both men will burn.
Christian Ryder sat in the dark, slowly stroking his fist up and down the length of his swollen cock. His gaze was locked on the flickering television screen, where two men were in the final throes of orgasm. The brunet top -- his body heavily laden with muscle -- gripped his thick prick around the base and took aim, spraying cum all over the younger blond man's upturned face. It was a hot scene, one that never failed to get him off.
As the ending movie credits began to roll across the screen, Christian exhaled a disgusted huff and released his semihard shaft. He reached for the remote control lying next to him on the bed and hit stop on the DVD player. Turning off the TV, he plunged his bedroom into darkness. His frustration mounted as the hollow sound of his pulse pounded in his ears.
It'd been over six months since he'd gotten laid. The last time he'd taken a chance and risked being with someone else, it hadn't gone so well -- a fucking disaster, really. The end result had tested his rigid self-control almost past the limits of his endurance.
The guy he'd picked up and brought home had taken offense at being asked to leave right after they'd screwed, and had thrown a temper tantrum. Not something he'd expected from a six-feet-tall body builder who'd claimed he was only interested in a good time. By the time Christian forcibly removed the man from the property, his body temperature had been dangerously high and his head was spinning.
After that close call, he'd decided it was too dangerous to indulge in one night stands, which left him with few options other than his own left hand. Especially since he already had a self-imposed rule against developing anything long-term or risking the emotional attachment that came with it.
Mixing emotions and sex fucked with even the most normal person's head. For the people around him, it could mean much more than a broken heart -- it could be deadly.
Security lights from outside filtered through the miniblinds covering his bedroom window in sporadic spurts of light, briefly illuminating his damp and sweaty body lying atop tangled, white cotton sheets. He kicked at them, unraveling himself.
Irritated, Christian sat up. He leaned back against the cool brass headboard and flipped on the bedside lamp. His gaze flittered down to the big, red numbers on his alarm clock. Almost midnight.
Restless and exasperated, he picked up yesterday's newspaper off the side table and spread it out over his lap. Since jerking off wasn't going to work for him, maybe he could bore himself to death by reading the paper. It was worth a shot. Losing sleep made control over his curse temperamental.
Page by page, Christian skimmed over the paper until he reached the personal ads. Those babies were like the funny pages to him. Why someone would put an ad in the newspaper, hoping for a good outcome, was beyond his comprehension. Only the fugly and desperate sunk to that level.
He read over a few ads, laughing, until a small square down on the bottom, right-hand corner caught his eye. It was an advert for an escort agency. One that claimed to cater to men of his persuasion: gay men looking for nothing more than a hot body to warm their lonely beds. The agency, Male Companions, promised anonymity and, more importantly, clean bills of health for all their available staff. He never fucked anyone without a rubber, so it was a bit of a moot point, but the words comforted him somehow.
Before Christian realized his intent, the cordless phone was in his hand, his fingers tapping out the number. A feminized male voice answered, saying, "Thank you for calling Male Companions. Nigel speaking. How may I help you?"
Christian opened his mouth to speak and froze. What the hell was he doing? He didn't want to pay for sex; doing so went against every moral he had. He clicked the off button, hanging up.
He exhaled, relieved he'd come to his senses before doing something he knew he would later regret. His gaze wandered over his bedroom, hovering on the fifty-two-inch plasma TV, the only other thing in there besides his bed and nightstand. Not a single picture or piece of artwork marred the clean lines of the bare, white walls. Whereas the stark sterility of his room usually appeared simple and clean, it now felt barren and depressing, not unlike his personal life.
His hands shook as he picked up the phone and redialed the number.
* * * * *
Tanner O'Bannon sat slumped over his kitchen table, trying to balance his checkbook. Money was tight, his balance down to just above two bucks, but at least he wasn't in the negative anymore. He couldn't afford the outrageous overdraft fees the bank charged. The last two charges had forced him to eat ramen noodles for a month. If he never saw another pasta dish in his life, it would be too soon.
Tanner's eyes blurred as he ran through the figures once last time before flipping the checkbook closed. He folded his arms and laid his head on the cool surface of the mahogany table. He was exhausted, but needed to stay awake for just a little longer. On call for work until three a.m., he couldn't afford to fall asleep or miss a single phone call. He needed the money too badly to risk losing his job, even if it was one he was ashamed of. Necessity overruled pride.
With heavy-lidded eyes, Tanner jerked his head up and shook it, trying to force himself to stay alert. He rose to his feet, walked over to the sink, and splashed icy water on his cheeks. As he mopped his face with a clean dishtowel, the phone rang. Only one person would be calling this late.
He didn't know whether to be happy or sad. On the one hand, it meant money; on the other, degradation. His father would be rolling over in his grave if he knew what his only son was doing to pay the debts he'd left behind.
Tanner crossed the room and picked up the phone. He listened for a moment then set it back in the cradle before jogging up the stairs. Upstairs, he hopped into the shower and quickly scrubbed himself from head to toe with citrus-scented body wash. He stepped out and yanked a dry towel off the rack, briskly rubbing it over his hair and skin while he fumbled through a drawer under the sink for lube and a butt plug.
He squeezed a dollop of lube into his hand and ran it over the plug, liberally coating its short length. He reached behind to swipe the remaining moisture through the crease of his ass. The toy in his right hand, he leaned over the toilet and braced his left hand on the back of the commode. He spread his legs shoulder width apart and took a deep breath, trying to relax his muscles as he pressed the blunt rubber tip against his asshole. Due at the motel in thirty minutes, there was no time for finesse. He exhaled and shoved it home, wincing at the sharp burn of his anal ring stretching around the plug.
The things you have to do to make a buck, Tanner thought, as he grabbed the washcloth he'd used in the shower and wiped off the excess lube around the wide base of the plug. He dropped it in the sink and headed into his bedroom to dress.
It was time to go to work.
* * * * *
Waiting inside the modest motel room he'd rented for the night, Christian glanced at his watch for the umpteenth time. Perched on the end of the bed, his sock-clad toes tapped an unsteady rhythm on the cheaply carpeted floor, his body practically vibrating from anxious anticipation.
He was nervously trying to figure out what would happen once the escort showed up. Payment for the guy's services had already been rendered over the phone -- apparently even hookers took American Express these days -- so at least he didn't have to worry about having that conversation. Things would be awkward enough as it was.
More pertinent was how things would play out. Was he supposed to strip and get right down to business as soon as the guy got there, or make small talk first? Would he inadvertently break some kind of silent rule if he asked the man anything personal? Could they even exchange more than first names? How would they decide who did what to whom?
He wasn't stupid enough to think the escort would turn down anything he asked for, but would it be possible for him to tell if the guy really wanted to do it or not? Was it just a job for him, a way to make a buck, or would he really enjoy it? The thought of fucking someone who just laid there and went through the motions repulsed him.
So many unanswered questions floated around in his head he was beginning to get a headache. Sweat beaded his brow, and his knees cantered up and down. Maybe it wasn't too late to cancel. He could call. Whether they refunded him his money was of little concern. They could keep it; he had more than he'd ever be able to spend anyway.
He didn't think he could go through with this after all. It seemed too cold, too impersonal. A little voice in the back of his mind screamed, "That's the point, jackass. You need cold and impersonal. Do you want to be responsible for someone else's death?"
That thought chilled him. Christian forcibly shut down his memories before they transported him back to a time he didn't want to visit. He pushed away his reservations and tried to consider why he'd called Male Companions in the first place.
He was lonely. Though he didn't like to admit it, even to himself, it was the truth. The acquaintances he'd made over the years at work, on the rare occasions he deigned to go in and check up on things, and at the firehouse where he volunteered, only went so far. During the day, he was fine. It was at night, after a long day at work or returning from an emergency fire call, that the loneliness crept in and haunted him.
He realized that this wasn't even about sex, not solely. Sure, he wanted to get off, but what he really needed most was simple human contact, companionship. Sadly, that was the one thing he could never allow himself to possess. Attachments meant caring about someone, making himself vulnerable. In essence, losing control. That was something he could never allow.
Christian took several deep, calming breaths. He could do this. He had to. There weren't any other options left for him. It was anonymous sex or nothing. Though he doubted it, all he could do was hope it would be enough to sustain him.
* * * * *
Tanner arrived at the motel with five minutes to spare. Town had been dead, not a car in sight on his way over. A good thing since old Bessie -- his ten-year-old Mazda -- had sputtered and died twice during the trip across town. It was only a matter of time before the old clunker finally gave out for good.
Part of him wished he'd hung onto his dad's car instead of selling it when his father was killed six months prior, but at the time he'd needed the money even more desperately than he did now. The debts his father had left behind were astronomical. Even after he'd sold off everything of value besides the house itself, he still hadn't brought in enough to cover half of what was owed. Hence, the reason for his shady new career.
For the last four months, he'd been working nights for Male Companions as an escort. Selling his body to the highest bidder wasn't the most respectable line of work, but he hadn't known what else to do. It wasn't like he could make enough to cover his college tuition and pay the mortgage, along with making payments on all the other debts his father had left on his shoulders. He supposed he could have sold drugs; he knew enough small-time dealers. He could have easily bought a little pot and divided it up for resale. Unfortunately, his conscience wouldn't allow him to do that. Drugs killed people, and no matter how often his buddies tried to convince him marijuana never hurt anyone, he just couldn't quite believe them. A drug was a drug, plain and simple. Having sex for money, degrading as it was, didn't hurt anyone besides himself. Besides, it wasn't like he hadn't had his share of casual sex along the way, just like everyone else. The only difference was now that he got paid for doing it.
Or so he tried to convince himself as he hustled through the motel lobby toward the service desk.
Though he'd been told which motel to go to and given a name, he hadn't been given a room number. That meant he had to go to the desk and ask, something he dreaded every time he was forced to do it. He always imagined the clerk knew exactly who he was and why he was there. It was humiliating.
He rang the bell and waited, tapping his fingers on the hard surface of the beige counter. A bored looking blonde, somewhere around his own age of twenty, sauntered out the back room, long, blood red fingernails plastered over her widely yawning mouth. Her eyes lit up when she saw him. "Oh, hello." She smiled. "Can I help you?"
Tanner groaned inwardly. He was used to being hit on by women, but that didn't make him any more comfortable with it. "I'm supposed to meet a friend here." Damn, what was the name he been told to ask for? Chris...or Christian? "His name is, um, Christian, Christian Smith." God, he hoped that was right. The last name was easy. It was always Smith. People had no imagination.
The smile on the girl's face dimmed a bit as she turned to the computer and began to type. Silently, he watched her, wondering how she could type at all with those god-awful nails in her way.
She nodded down at the computer screen and then glanced over at him. "I'll have to call up and ask permission before I can give you any information." She turned away from him and picked up the phone. From over her shoulder, she said, "It'll be just a moment."
"Sure," he mumbled, his eyes scanning everywhere and nowhere. He just wanted to get to the room, do what he was being paid for, and go home. Afterward, he would be one day closer to financial solvency. One trick closer to owning the home he'd grown up in, free and clear.
He listened as she quietly spoke with someone, her side of the conversation consisting of mainly "yes, sir" and "uh-huh." Finally, she hung up and faced him. "Mr. Smith says to send you up. He's in room 204."
"Thank you," he uttered, already striding away from the desk. There was an elevator, but he bypassed it, choosing the stairs instead. He jogged up them quickly, without breaking a sweat, and shoved through the entrance door onto the second-floor hallway.
The walls were adorned in hunter green wallpaper with a burgundy trim. The floor was carpeted in the same deep shade of green. The minute details were absorbed as he hustled to the end of the hall, glancing at room numbers along the way. Room 204 was on the right, near the end.
He stopped outside it and took a breath, giving himself a mental pep talk. You can do this. Just keep your eyes on the prize and get through it, same as always. It was no different than picking someone up at a club. No different at all.
He raised his clenched fist and knocked, his gaze dropping to his feet. Beginnings were strange. Some men wanted him to come in and bend over, take it up the ass like a good little whore and leave, while others wanted to make polite chitchat first. Out of the two, he wasn't sure which he liked best. Probably the fuck-and-run guys -- at least those assignments were faster.
He was still wondering what tonight's call would be like when the door swung inward. Tanner looked up, and higher still, craning his neck back to gaze into the eyes of his client for the night. The standard greeting he recited to each of his johns died in his throat.
Saliva pooled in Tanner's mouth. Fuck. The man was easily six and a half feet of yummy muscle and lean, bottled sex, dwarfing his own five feet eight stature.
Tanner's brain turned to mush as all the blood in his body drained south and squeezed into his cock, making his balls draw tight inside his Levi's. His gaze cruised from the man's tousled, short black hair to his socked feet and back up, absorbing all the details in between. Brooding eyes, square jaw, broad shoulders, and trim hips -- every inch sex incarnate and designed to entice a man like Tanner to his knees in supplication.
The man was exactly the sort of guy who got Tanner's motor running in overdrive. The kind of hunk he would've tried to pick up in any one of the bars he used to frequent, back when he actually had a life. A man he would've happily fucked for free, under other circumstances.
Except this was business.
A sheet of ice fell over Tanner, cooling his ardor, easily putting him back in his place. He wasn't here on a social call. He was here to fuck for money.
Tanner schooled his features into a smile he'd carefully rehearsed in front of the mirror at home. It was supposed to look seductive, but something about the tight feel of his skin stretching out over his cheekbones told him it fell flat tonight. Oh well, he thought ruefully, another night, another dollar.
He met the big man's gaze and held it. "I'm Tanner. The agency sent me."