SWEAT stung his eyes. His muscles cramped. The overexertion burned, sizzling through shoulders to biceps shuddering with effort. The weight bar slipped in Harper Cole’s damp grasp. The massive weight dropped, stopping inches from crushing his neck. He gripped the bar tighter. Pain radiated through his jaw from clenched teeth. He panted. I’m like a fucking woman in labor.
“Put your back into it!—One more. Come on, you fucking wimp,” his spotter screamed.
“Fuck you.” Harper dragged in a deep breath, gritted his teeth, and shoved from his gut.
The barbell slammed into the frame. Giddy from exertion, Harper slowly rolled up. Although he wanted to cuss out his cousin, Josh, he grinned. “That’s enough for today. Thanks for spotting me, man.”
“Enough?” Josh eyed him critically. “You spend too much time in your office. You’re getting soft.” He raised a brow. “You used to be fit, man. Fuck, only two years ago you were rocking out on stage with Too Hotz and doing world tours. Being a millionaire has turned you into a pussy.”
Harper peeled the long, sweat-soaked strands of hair from his face and secured the shoulder-length mass with a strip of leather. “Soft? I work out every day.” Admittedly, not like the torturous session he had endured today. Josh had pushed him to the limit. Fuck, his arms ached like a bitch.
“You need to be moved out of your comfort zone.” Josh shrugged. “Or you’ll end up with a barrel instead of a six pack.”
With a grunt, Harper glared at Josh. “I can beat your best by ten presses, wimp.”
“Oh yeah?” Josh raised a brow. “Are you challenging me, cuz?”
“Fuck yeah. Every morning, here, at eight,” Harper growled. “No one beats me.”
“You’re on.” Josh narrowed his eyes. “One week will sort out who has the biggest balls.”
“I’ve won already.” Harper smirked and rolled his numb shoulders. His gaze drifted across the gym. A vision of male perfection sliced into his line of sight. Wearing nothing but a baggy blue T-shirt and a towel slung low about his narrow waist, the young man moved with seductive grace toward him. The delectable apparition stopped less than five feet away. A sharp stab of awareness curled in Harper’s balls. Damn. The sweet thing went up on his toes to collect a fresh towel from the stack beside the door to the sauna. The vision reached up to the shelf and exposed a glimpse of tight buttocks.
This twink had everything Harper craved in a sub, from the small nubile body and delicate features to the shock of ruby hair. The man had cut his hair very short above his ears. From the crown of his head silken strands fell over one side of his face. The rest of the long center mass had been styled in a wide Mohawk fashion. The top spilled over, sending a cascade of red tumbling down to the twink’s shoulders. Harper’s gaze dropped to the diamond studs glistening in both ears. Hmm—high maintenance.
Groaning inwardly, Harper took in the arched brows, the full lips held in a sullen pout. Hot damn, the look of insolence in the boy’s deep blue eyes made Harper’s cock throb in anticipation. He shut his mouth with a click. Shit, had he been staring openmouthed at the tempting man? How fucking infantile was that? Dragging air into his lungs, he lifted his chin toward the young man heading into the sauna. He pounded a fist against his heart. “Have… mercy.” His gaze followed the guy across the room. Fuck, he would get off just rimming the sweet thing’s navel. “Now that is a wet dream walking.”
“Don’t waste your time.” Josh ran a hand through his hair. “The boy is vanilla all the way. Trust me, many have tried to get close but that guy might as well live on a different planet.” He threw a towel at Harper. “Not even you will be able to win him over.”
With a growl of disgust, Harper turned to his cousin. The man had a “you’re fucked” grin. “Is that another challenge, cuz? Nah, don’t bother. That sweet boy is mine.” He scratched the itchy day-old bristles on his chin. “What do you know about him? How old is he?”
“That delicious piece of ass is a dancer by the name of Flame. I met him on a shoot I did last month for ,i>Rock On magazine. He does a lot of work on music clips and a spot on Friday nights at the Lala Club on Grove. I’d say he’s around twenty-three. The Lala doesn’t allow strippers to work underage, and Flame’s danced there for over a year. He’s one hell of a stripper.” Josh headed for the locker room. “I’m guessing you’ll want a sauna about now?” He turned and grinned at Harper. “I’ll join you until things get too hot.”
Harper relaxed the tension in his jaw. Being attracted to a barely legal boy was not his style. Okay, so he liked his men small, but not wimps. He craved a sub with an in your face attitude. Oh yeah, to have one submit to his flogger would be a dream made in heaven. Fighting the urge to lick his lips, he followed Josh into the changing room, stripped off, and then made his way to the sauna. Wrapped in a white fluffy towel barely covering his aching cock, he sat on a bench opposite the young man. Apart from Josh, propped up in the corner at the far end of the room, and sweet thing, the room was deserted. He smiled into the steam. The boy had stripped off his shirt to reveal pierced nipples. So, you’re not opposed to piercings. Fuck, I’d like to suckle those tight little buds. Harper unconsciously fingered the bar stud in his nipple and had the sudden inexplicable desire to drop his towel to display the stud piercing his shaft. He glanced at Josh, stretched out on a bench with his eyes shut. The memory of the dare, which resulted in his cock stud, flashed through his mind. He vaguely remembered making the bet with Josh during an evening of drunken stupidity. Harper groaned inwardly and recalled how neither of them would back down. Man, he’d never forget the subsequent weeks of forced celibacy he had endured following that night.
Harper’s gaze traveled over the young man. The smell of Flame’s sweat, fresh and intoxicating, drifted over him. His heart raced at the sight of lickable, smooth, hairless skin on the dancer’s chest, belly, and legs. He ran his tongue around his mouth imagining the taste of damp, waxed flesh. A tattoo of a blue dragon wrapped around the delicious guy’s left side, disappearing around his back, and circling his waist. The long forked tail curled tantalizingly around one thigh. Harper fought the overpowering desire to grab the offending towel obscuring his vision. Damn, he wanted to see where the rest of the dragon lay. Perhaps the dragon’s head rested in a nest of flaming red curls. Fuck, the thought alone made his cock rear up for action.
Apart from a body Harper craved to lick slowly all over, the young dancer had the face of an angel—well, not angelic—ethereal. The sweet thing would make one hell of a fae character in one of his stories. Although small, Flame had sculpted muscle—the kind that bunched under restraints. Hell yeah. Harper licked his lips. Over taut muscle stretched white unmarked skin—the kind that blushed under his flogger. Fuck, he would start to drool at any moment.
With a sigh, Harper lifted his gaze from the man’s delicious body and met a pair of inquisitive eyes. Harper shrugged, swiping the sweat from his face. “Sorry to stare, man. I recognize you from somewhere. Have we met?” He held out his hand. “Harper Cole.”
“Flame.” He acknowledged Harper’s handshake and continued in an educated British accent. “We haven’t met but I get around. You may have seen me on TV or at the Lala.” He raised a brow. “I do recognize you. In fact, I’ve read all your books.” He waved toward Josh. “I thought Josh was you for some time. You look very much alike.”
Would you like to know me better, boy? “Yeah, we’re cousins but my eyes are green.” Harper chuckled. “And Josh can’t write a word. He’s into photography as you probably know.” He gripped the edge of the bench and leaned forward. “Flame is an unusual name—it suits you. I would love to see you dance one day… Flame.” Oh yeah, dance just for me, sweet thing.
“The Lala doesn’t have a ban on authors as far as I know… Harper,” said Flame dismissively. With a sullen pout, he rose gracefully to his feet and walked to the brazier. He lifted the scoop from the water barrel and poured a long stream over the hot stones.
Harper peered through the billowing steam. He swallowed. Flame blatantly avoided him, dropped his towel, and climbed on the bench with cat-like grace to stretch out deliciously naked on the wooden slats. The dragon’s open maw sat gaping above a mouthwatering, hairless package. He noticed Flame had pasted a small smile on those petulant ruby lips. The sweet thing knows exactly what he’s doing to me?—Christ, he’s using the mindfuck—On me, the king of the mindfuck! The next moment Josh appeared through the white cloud and stood beside Harper with an amused expression. Harper dragged his gaze from the naked perfection before him and glanced up at his cousin.
“I’m hitting the shower.” Josh winked. “Take your time. I’ll wait for you in the coffee shop across the road.”
“Sure, give me ten.” Damn it, now the boy would think he planned to hit on him. He dashed a hand through his damp hair. With effort, he pulled his attention away from a drop of sweat running from the dragon’s eye tattoo like a tear, to spill down Flame’s flat belly, in a trail of gloss over his cock and apricot-shaped sac. His mouth went dry. Oh Lord, he could almost taste those perfect balls. He cleared his throat. “No, I haven’t seen you dance at the Lala. I’ve just moved in on Roseland this week. I’m looking for mental stimulation for my muse.”
“In Ropes, no doubt?” Flame opened his eyes a slit. “I’m sure you will find plenty to write about in that place.” He rolled over and rested his head in one hand. “Although your stories show the tender side of love, not the brutality of BDSM.” He swiped his tongue across his lips. “I had no idea you were into the BDSM scene. Your books are so… so moving.”
“Actually, I’ve just finished writing a story about BDSM; it’s called The Beast in Me.” Harper grinned. “It’s a compassionate story about a sweet little sub.”
Flame scrutinized Harper under long lashes. “You look like a Dom and yet write with compassion. Is there a compassionate side hiding beneath your badass exterior?”
Shit. Another guy who thinks BDSM is all about sadism. Harper rubbed the back of his neck. “Oh, I can be gentle, hell yeah, cuddling is an important part of every scene—we call it the cool down.” He sighed. “You have the same misconception of BDSM as many people in the vanilla world.” Trying to keep his gaze off the guy’s generous cock and hairless lick-me-all-over balls, he lifted his chin. “I don’t get off on beating my lovers.”
“Then why do you flog your subs?”
Harper coughed to cover a growl of frustration. This kind of crap drove him crazy. “Unless you’re down with the scene, our way of life is hard to explain. BDSM doesn’t turn normal people into raving lunatics; most times, it’s a release of everyday stress. You would be surprised how many guys in high-powered positions want to let go of the day’s tension by submitting absolutely to their Dom.” He shrugged. I guess you are worth the time to explain. “Trust plays a part. A sub trusts his Master to know what turns him on. A good Master considers his sub’s enjoyment paramount to his own pleasure.”
“I find it hard to believe whipping a man tied to a post is enjoyable to the one being brutalized.” Flame cupped his balls and shuddered. “It seems barbaric to me.”
Arrogant, self-assured, you would be a joy to train. “The sub being brutalized as you say would have requested that particular scene.” Harper met the intense, blue gaze boring into him. “Let me put it this way.” He pointed to Flame’s chest. “Why did you get your nipples pierced?”
“That is not the same thing at all.”
“Do you like the thrill of your lover pulling them with his teeth?” Harper leaned back and gazed into the man’s eyes. He dropped his voice to a whisper. “The pleasurable pain goes straight to your balls and heightens your sexual experience, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, but that is not the same.”
“The thrill you feel is exactly the same, just a different degree of pleasure. There are a multitude of scenes to play out.” Harper mopped the sweat from his chest. “Some subs like to be kidnapped, restrained, and fucked. Others want to be spanked, flogged, whipped or whatever.” He stood up, letting the towel drop to the floor. “Some prefer to be tied up and licked all over. That’s not barbaric, is it?” Harper fingered his nipple ring. “I attract subs who like to be intimidated. It’s a rush for them for me to order them to lick my leathers in front of other Doms, or feel my tongue dominating their ass. Everyone is different with varying degrees of need, and as a Dom, I take all needs into consideration. I respect my subs’ wishes, I’m not a brute.” He bent down and placed his face an inch away from Flame’s cheek. The guy’s pupils had dilated to the extreme. “If you needed me to suck on your nipple rings, then that’s all I would do.” He slowly licked his lips in a blatant invitation. “Do you need a Dom in your life, someone to drive you to a state of arousal you could only dream of, a person you can trust to take care of you?”
“No.” Flame smiled thinly. “My body pays the rent. No one wants a bruised and battered dancer in their troupe.”
Harper traced a finger down Flame’s arm. Christ, the man’s scent would drive him over the edge. Lime mingled with all-male musk, the sweet, fresh kind that only came from exertion or hard, sweaty sex. His cock strained toward the twink. Grinding his teeth, he fisted his aching shaft. Fuck, he wanted those cherry lips on him, the stripper’s hot little mouth opening to take him deep. “Oh, I wouldn’t bruise you, but I’d make you come screaming my name.”
“Many have tried.” Flame pushed Harper away from him. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an appointment.” He slid off the bench and bent to pick up his towel. He wrapped the damp material around his waist. “I will look forward to reading your next book.” He walked across the room toward the door. “A tender Dom… hmm, an interesting idea. Perhaps you should write about a man like you, a Dom who actually cares about his sub.” He turned and gazed at Harper for a long minute. “Not that BDSM is my flavor.”
“You’ll never know unless you try. I’m good at what I do, Flame.” Harper pumped his throbbing shaft. “I’m here same time every day if you change your mind.”
“I won’t.” Flame pulled open the door and left in a cloud of steam.
Well, that went well. Harper sank back on the bench. Flame’s scent lingered, sex with a hint of lime. Could a man go insane with desire? He groaned and wrapped the towel around his hips, willing his erection to recede. He decided to give Flame a five-minute start before heading toward the showers.
After taking a long, cold shower, Harper made his way across the road to the coffee shop. He strolled over to Josh’s table and took a seat opposite his cousin. After ordering coffee and a slice of apple pie, he met Josh’s inquisitive gaze. “What?”
“From the scowl on your face, I’m guessing you didn’t break through Flame’s cone of celibacy.” Josh stirred sugar into his coffee. “Listen to me, grasshopper… Dom who lusts after a vanilla fuck gets large, painful balls.”
Harper stabbed a fork into his pie and growled. Okay, so he could not remember the last time anyone had turned him down cold. So what? In truth, no man had stirred him as much as Flame had. Fuck, the stripper made his balls ache. “I didn’t say I’d given up and I won’t. It will just take a little longer, that’s all. Hell, Flame said he reads my stories. Maybe I’ll take an autographed copy of my latest release to the gym tomorrow.”
“Holy crap. I can see the headlines now. ‘Badass Dom, Harper Cole, seduces dancer with a copy of… Suck my Balls…’ or whatever.” Josh grinned broadly. “Aw, come on, Harp, you can do better than that. The guy is a dancer, and as far as I remember, you have a few sexy moves. Seduce him with your body, big guy.”
With a groan, Harper stared at the food on his plate. “Yeah, yeah… look, just forget it, okay? I know exactly how to get what I want. There’s a connection between us, I just gotta get Flame to recognize it. Now tell me about your wife.”
“My partner.” Josh groaned. “Mike is my partner or husband if you prefer, not my fucking wife. I’ll drop by after lunch and introduce you to him if you like?”
“Yeah, come over. I can’t wait to show you my new apartment, and I’d like to meet any guy who can put up with you for more than one night.” Harper grinned. “Is he sweet?”
“Hell yeah. He was a virgin when we met and is still, you know… innocent.”
“Hmm, I like innocent.” Harper played with his fork. “They are a joy to mindfuck.”
“You will behave yourself, won’t you?”
Harper crossed his heart. “Hell no.” He met Josh’s gaze. “Flame tried to mindfuck me—me, for fuck’s sake.” He stabbed at the pie. “The asshole read my mind like he knew I wanted to see what he had under his fucking towel.”
“Well, I guess it was the beast in you that tipped him off.” Josh cracked his knuckles. “You get that hungry look, man—like a wolf. You telegraphed what you wanted and Flame gave you a taste of what you’re missing. Oh yeah, he mindfucked you, no doubt about it… that guy knows exactly how he affects men.” He smiled. “We’ll get down to the Lala and you’ll see. The moment Flame hits the stage and starts to move, he could have any man in the room.”
“But he doesn’t. You mentioned celibacy, so why the fuck does he put out this ‘come and lick me all over’ vibe? It doesn’t compute.”
“Look, I don’t know too much about the guy.” Josh leaned back in his chair, making the wood creak under his weight. “I do know the hard ‘fuck you’ exterior is a barrier he uses to keep people away from him. I did hear a rumor he’d been in a bad relationship in London and since moving here hasn’t been seen with anyone.” He grimaced. “He lives with a girl—a dancer.”
Harper dropped his fork on the plate. He glared at his cousin. “Don’t try to tell me he’s not gay. Fuck… fuck. I’ve never made a move on a straight guy in my life.”
“Whoa… did I say he was straight?” Josh narrowed his eyes. “I’m guessing Flame uses the roommate to discourage unwanted attention. If a guy follows him home, he can tell them he’s living with his girlfriend. There’s nothing wrong with that. I know many guys who do the same thing. Mostly those who don’t want their families to know they’re gay.” He pushed back his chair and got slowly to his feet. “I work with a lot of models, so some of my best friends are girls. I can be myself with them—no strings. I like women. I just don’t want to fuck them.” He grinned and dropped a few bills on the table. “I gotta go. I’ve planned a scene with Mike. We’ll drop by later this afternoon.” He turned to leave and then stopped. “I’m glad you decided to get an apartment here. It’s gonna be good having you around permanently.”
Harper raised a brow. “You mean the little wife—I mean, partner—is gonna let you out on the wild side with me?”
“Ah well, let’s say I’m planning to give Mike a small taste of the wild side.” Josh chuckled. “Like I said, he’s still an innocent and I’m gonna keep him sweet for a while longer.” He gave Harper a full hand salute and strolled out of the coffee shop.
With a long sigh, Harper lifted his coffee and took a sip. The image of Flame hovered in his consciousness. He caught the whiff of intrigue behind the sweet man; Flame may be a story he needed to write. His Muse immediately began to weave an outline. He put down his cup and got to his feet. Oh yeah, the story would be a doozy.
Harper walked the block to his apartment, grabbed the mail, and took the elevator to his floor. He glanced down at the pile of envelopes. His agent, God bless her, had tried a new publisher for his latest series, inspired by Josh’s constant referral to his own inner Dom beast. The Beast in Me had been a labor of love. His trial readers had hung on every word. The news of the story’s rejection had stunned him. He cursed the fact his computer still sat in a box on the floor of his new apartment and tore open the envelope. He stared in disbelief at the email forwarded by his agent. The words filtered through his mind. The opening lacks power. It reads as a paranormal.
Tossing the letter on his desk, he sank into the leather chair. What the hell? He had fucking lived in this story, cried—yes, damn well—cried for the emotionally battered sub. He reached into his pocket for his cell phone and dialed his agent. “Hey, sweetheart, I got the bad news.”
“Well, you know not every story suits every publisher.” Gloria Pritchard’s voice was firm and a little apologetic. “You’re a bestselling author, Harp. The Beast in Me will sell, don’t worry about it.”
Harper ground his teeth. “I’m not worried, but I like a publisher with a great promotions team—they seemed so perfect.” He sighed. “I’ll do a rewrite of the beginning if you think it needs it?”
“Don’t you dare change a word. I’m sure this story will be stellar elsewhere. I like it just the way it is, Harp. We could pitch Angel’s Sub to them.”
Relief flooded through him. He hated rewrites. “I like it the way it is too.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “No, don’t pitch anything else to them—fuck them, they don’t deserve me.”
“Every author receives rejections. Have you read that article Stephen King wrote on the subject?”
Harper listened intently to his agent’s encouraging words. “Yeah, I know everyone gets rejections and I’ve read what Stephen King wrote on this subject.”
“You really shouldn’t let this worry you, Harp.”
“To be honest, sweetheart, I don’t give a damn. The fans are eager for a new release, so pitch it to a publisher who wants to make money.”
“Not a problem. You’re not letting one rejection cramp your style, are you? Have you written anything interesting since you moved?”
He rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I’m working. I have a new story about a hot little stripper just waiting to hit paper.” He turned on his laptop. “I’ll leave my career in your capable hands and get back to work… catch ya.” Harper closed the phone and stared into space.
Of course, he would change the names to protect the innocent. Harper chuckled. “No sub will be harmed in the making of this story.” He typed the title Sizzle. Oh yeah, I’m gonna write one hot story about my obsession with that sexy little stripper—Flame.