KYLE ANDERSON was about to breathe a sigh of relief that he hadn’t been caught leaving the house this time. He’d gotten quite successful at sneaking out unnoticed over the last few months, the need for money driving him to a second job. His uncle refused to pay him a decent salary for the work he did as a chauffeur for Anderson Limousines. The money Kyle received from his curmudgeonly uncle barely covered the cost of gas for the ancient Corolla he was allowed to use and the odd drink when he went out. He’d had to find another job. What choice did he have if he ever wanted to become financially independent? His need not to be dependent on anyone for anything was deeply ingrained, and had only become stronger with the rejection that had become part of his life after his accident.
Giving him food and a roof over his head after his parents had kicked him out two years ago was plenty of compensation for the work Kyle did as far as Uncle Gary was concerned. While Kyle was grateful he’d found a safe place to stay, he didn’t agree it was all he needed. He hated his day job and the constant pitying glances customers gave him when they noticed his disfigured face. It wasn’t a job he could see himself doing for the rest of his life, open to criticism from pretty much everyone he encountered.
“Where are you off to at this time of the evening?” Uncle Gary’s voice sounded gruffer than usual. It came from the direction of the living room.
Damn, normally his uncle fell asleep in front of the TV long before now. Kyle had been about to close the front door behind him, but now he’d have to face his uncle.
“Just going out.” Kyle didn’t want to reveal where he was headed. It was none of his uncle’s business.
“Surely you’re not going to tell me you have a social life.” His uncle chuckled, and his voice sounded much closer.
Thanks for reminding me about my ugly scar! Kyle reluctantly turned around to face his uncle standing in the middle of the hallway, his eyes puffy with TV-induced sleep as he scratched his belly. His mousy brown hair was mussed, his glasses were askew on his bulbous nose, and one sock had gone missing.
“I’m meeting some friends.” Kyle smiled, trying to look harmless. It wasn’t a complete lie. He and two other exotic dancers had become a lot more than coworkers over the last few weeks, protecting each other from overly eager clients.
“You have no business meeting friends.” His uncle yawned, not bothering to cover his mouth. “You need your sleep. I want you fit for tomorrow night’s business dinner at the Seabird.”
“What?” Kyle almost fell over backward. There were just too many surprises in that one sentence for him to be able to hide his shock. “What business dinner?”
“That’s right. I guess I haven’t mentioned it to you yet.” Uncle Gary grinned. “I’m about to land a major contract with Tomahawk Industries. They want us to provide all their executive transportation, including long-distance drives to Milwaukee.”
“What does that have to do with me?” Kyle had never been informed about any of his uncle’s plans, and now it sounded as though his uncle wanted him to participate. What the hell?
“I want you there. That’s what it has to do with you.” Uncle Gary rolled his eyes. “Look, I know I haven’t involved you in any of my business decisions or how I run things. But that was because I didn’t know if I could trust you. I had to wait and see if everything would work out first. After all, you just turned twenty-one, and since you spent your childhood as a fancy model instead of going to school, I wasn’t sure you’d understand the business side of things. On top of which the accident has left you, let’s say, less than attractive-looking. Even your own parents kicked you out. It’s a good thing I hate my brother, or I wouldn’t have given you a second look when you turned up here. Never mind a home!”
I know I’m a fuckup. At least his uncle had taken Kyle in, albeit reluctantly, when he’d turned up out of the blue. When Kyle had realized the year spent in rehab hadn’t helped his facial scar heal the way it should have and his parents no longer wanted anything to do with him, he’d hoped against hope one of his four older siblings might take him in. He should have known better; they’d all been jealous of his “special” status over the years, claimed their own families were more important, and had basically slammed their doors in his face.
Rather than live on the street, he’d decided to seek out the only other relative he was aware of, an uncle in Sheboygan. Due to a long-standing family feud, nobody had been aware of the details of Uncle Gary’s life. Family rumor had it that he’d left New York after a major fight with Kyle’s father several years earlier. Hoping his family’s enemy might be his friend, Kyle had used the last of his money to buy a Greyhound ticket to Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
Kyle looked down at the floor, unable to bear his uncle’s contempt any longer.
“Be that as it may though, you have proven to be a reliable employee over the last two years. I think it’s time to involve you in the way I run things.” Uncle Gary cleared his throat. “After all, who’s going to take over the business when I retire in a few years’ time?”
“You’re going to retire?” Kyle looked back up into the grinning face of an uncle he didn’t recognize any longer. “And you want me to run the business?”
“Sure, it’s not like I have kids myself.” A dark cloud seemed to pass over his uncle’s face before he wiped it away with a slightly shaky hand.
“Okay.” Kyle needed some time to adjust to this new development.
Run the business in a few years from now? Holy shit; that would finally give him the wealth he’d longed for since he’d realized how much money he, or rather his parents, had made off his modeling. Not that it had done him any good. His stupid parents had wasted it all on an extravagant lifestyle they were no longer able to afford after Kyle’s accident. Instead of being worried about the permanent damage that had been done to the left side of his face, they’d bemoaned the loss of their source of income.
When they kicked him out, Kyle had realized an income source was all he’d ever been to them. From the moment he’d been “discovered” as a child model when he was seven years old, he’d become the breadwinner. As the youngest of five children, he’d been ecstatic to finally be something special, only to see it all come crashing down around him when he’d wrapped his car around a tree on his way home from celebrating his eighteenth. He hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol since, but it was too late. To make matters worse, though the scar that ran from just under his left eye, across his cheek, and almost to his upper lip was much less visible than right after the accident, it had been treated incorrectly, and he didn’t have the financial means to get it fixed.
Having the kind of money he could make as a business owner would make people less reluctant to deal with him, money being the great equalizer.
“You’ll need a decent suit, better than the uniform you wear for work, of course.” His uncle nodded as if to show he agreed with himself. “We can go shopping for one tomorrow morning.”
“I guess.” Kyle nodded absently, trying to imagine what eating at the Seabird would be like. It was one of the best restaurants in Sheboygan and not exactly cheap. His uncle was right. He’d need to get a more expensive-looking suit for that.
Shit, he also needed to find someone to cover for him tomorrow at the Pink Circuit. Lou, the owner and resident slave driver, would have a fit if Kyle didn’t show up. Despite the prospect of things looking up financially, that was still a few years from now. A lot could go wrong, and he wanted his own money. This was not the time to quit his second job on an impulse, no matter how tempting.
KYLE WAS still in a daze from his uncle’s change in attitude when he made it into one of the three Pink Circuit’s slightly grungy dressing rooms. He shared it with two other dancers. Chris was already dressed, ready to go on stage, while Tom was putting the finishing touches on his costume.
“Glad you’re able to join us.” Tom’s grin was infectious as he slapped Kyle’s shoulder in welcome. The man wore his cowboy outfit tonight and looked more than scrumptious with his short blond locks and streamlined body.
“I’m not that late.” Kyle grinned back.
He put the duffel he kept in the back of his car on the low sofa and turned to his friend Chris. The man looked amazing with his broad shoulders, trim waist, and thighs muscular enough to evoke thoughts of a bodybuilder. His skin was a light milk chocolate and dark wavy hair and black eyes completed a picture of a rogue ready to cause all kinds of mayhem. Chris usually did the uniform dances and made as good-looking a fireman as a police officer. Tonight being Friday though, one of their most lucrative nights of the week, he’d gone all out and worn his white fantasy Navy dress uniform.
“Yes, you are.” Chris, of course, was ready to take his turn on the stage almost ten minutes before he was actually up. The man was too organized for his own good. Maybe wearing all those military uniforms he liked to don was rubbing off on him.
“Okay, I’m late.” Kyle opened his duffel to pull out his Zorro costume.
It was one of the many identities that allowed him to wear a mask. He never took off the masks and had gained quite the reputation as a consequence. It seemed clients loved the mystery his various disguises created.
“As long as you admit it.” Chris sat down next to Kyle’s duffel, opened a bottle of water, and guzzled half of it in one go.
“I had a good reason.” Kyle started stripping, unself-conscious about his nudity in front of his coworkers. “In fact, I’ll need your help because of it.”
“Oh?” Chris raised his eyebrows.
“This oughta be good.” Tom stood next to the door, ready to leave when called, but clearly eager to hear what was up.
“Apparently my uncle has decided to involve me in the business. He wants me to attend a business dinner with a new client tomorrow night.” Kyle slid his boxer briefs off, exchanging them for the much too tight black jockstrap.
“He does?” Chris leaned forward. “Man, it’s about time. He’s been ignoring you for two years.”
“Yeah, he has.” Kyle paused to look at Chris. “And I’m not sure this is going to change anything or how long it’ll last for. So I’m not quitting this job, but I do need you to cover for me tomorrow night, please.”
“I don’t normally do Saturdays….” Chris frowned.
“I know, but this is an emergency.” Kyle smiled. “I’ll make it up to you by covering for you next time you have an exam the next morning. And I’ll even let you have my tips.”
“How could I refuse an offer like that?” Chris laughed. “There’s a lot of midweek exams coming up, so, yeah, I’d be happy for the support.”
“You’re up, Tom!” The booming voice of the stage manager yelling through the flimsy changing room door made them all flinch.
“Be sure to tell me all about your ‘business dinner’ on Sunday.” Tom smiled and left, already walking with his trademark strut.
“Thanks, Chris. I owe you for this.” Kyle continued getting dressed, pulling on the silky-feeling pants. He was sure Zorro never could have worn pants this tight and gotten on a horse without tearing them to shreds.
“Yep, you do.” Chris got up, ready to go on next.
Kyle wasn’t worried about that. The man was honest, and they’d already helped each other out many times. After locking his wallet and car keys in the small locker there to secure personal effects while onstage, Kyle stuffed his street clothes into the duffel, donned his mask, and made sure it covered the ugly scar. Tying it securely in the back, he was ready for his performance.
The booming rhythm of the music had been present all along, but when he opened the door and made his way backstage, it became gradually louder as he got closer. It had taken a few months to get used to how loud it was, but the music helped psyche him up for what he was about to do.
He’d posed for photographs in all kinds of dress and undress. Kyle had never gone totally nude, but he’d come close a few times working for underwear companies. He’d enjoyed the attention people paid to his good looks and had taken good care of his body. Stripping for a live audience, though? That was totally different. Not only were the reactions more immediate, there were sounds and smells and gropes to go with the experience.
He still worked out regularly, so he was in good shape. Seeing people admire his body, unencumbered by his ugly face, had given him back some of the self-confidence he’d lost after the accident. But the perpetual fear of his mask coming off and finding that pitying look in the customers’ eyes marred the experience considerably.
Tom had come off the stage, sweaty and smiling, and Chris had taken his place by the time Kyle returned to reality. Holding a fistful of notes, his tight jockstrap stuffed with money, Tom dragged his cowboy accessories with him and vanished into their dressing room to clean up and don his next costume. He had some time, since five other men would take turns before Tom was on again, but it was always best to be ready.
All too soon, it was Kyle’s turn to make an appearance. He took a deep breath and stormed onto the stage, brandishing the toy saber in a way he was sure would have made the real Zorro proud.
The crowd of watching men was raucous as usual. Some of them were already well on their way to being drunk, while others were naturally boisterous. All of them leered at him as if ready to pull his clothes off for him, rather than let him proceed at his own pace.
Doing his first walk around the stage while pretending to be a big, prowling cat, Kyle took his time to observe the audience while they were checking him out. It was always good to spot potential troublemakers before he started to strip. There were a couple of bouncers whose job it was to stop the worst from happening, but they weren’t always fast enough, as he’d learned during his first week here. Being pawed by an older man with greasy hair and grubby fingers had been one of the worst experiences of his life. The guy had almost succeeded in tearing off his mask, accompanied by shouts from the crowd yelling “off with the mask” loudly enough to almost drown out the music.
He’d escaped unharmed, face covered, but had never taken his eyes off any of the audiences he’d performed for since.
Done with his first round, having spotted a swarthy man in the second row whose tongue was almost hanging out as he stared, Kyle turned his attention to the seats farther back. The men there might be less immediately dangerous, but he needed to make sure.
The vision in the fourth row almost made his heart stop and his steps falter.
The man was a wet dream come true. Ass on the edge of the chair, legs spread to display an impressive package, he leaned back with a knowing grin as his deep brown eyes raked Kyle’s body. He’d laid one muscular arm across the backs of two empty chairs to his right, and held a beer glass with the other hand. He was wearing the tightest jeans in existence and a black muscle shirt that showed off his pecs, large nipples, and phenomenal abs to perfection.
He had high cheekbones, a narrow nose, and skin so flawless he could have been a model. His short black hair was almost the same color as his eyes, and longish bangs covered his forehead.
The man winked, one cheek dimpling as his smile deepened.
Kyle almost stumbled.
Man, what he wouldn’t give to get himself a piece of that ass!