THE beat of the music was pounding into Quinn’s body, pulsing against him and around him and into him, making it hard to think, or even to feel anything other than the primitive rhythm. It was exactly what he wanted. It would be nice if it was a little bit louder, enough to make conversation totally impossible instead of just difficult, but other than that, it was perfect.


He wasn’t dancing, just leaning against the rail of the balcony, watching the bodies writhe on the floor beneath him. There were more women than usual, he decided, which was a bit of a nuisance. They kept him from getting a clear view of the male bodies on display, and if he couldn’t see properly, how could he make his selection?


His inspection was interrupted when someone pressed in too close behind him, grinding into his ass. It would be easy enough to go along with that invitation, but he wanted to choose, not be chosen. There wasn’t much in his life that he had control over, but this—this was his. He shifted forward, making his rejection as clear as possible without actually having to turn around and interact with whomever it was. Not that easy, though.


“Quinn. Hey, baby.” The guy eased away from Quinn’s ass at least, but instead of leaving entirely, he shifted over to stand next to Quinn at the railing. “It’s been a while. Where’ve you been?”


Quinn turned his head enough to see the guy’s face, then turned back. He recognized him, but couldn’t think of a name. He also couldn’t think of a reason to care. “I’ve been around.” Surely that was dismissive enough.


There was a bit of a pause, as if the guy had to regroup. “Well, you’re here now, right? Can I buy you a drink?” Something about the way the guy said it jogged Quinn’s memory. He remembered the lavish apartment, right downtown, with the incredible view over the city and the ocean. They’d been drinking something, champagne maybe, something the guy seemed to think Quinn should find impressive. And maybe there’d been coke—not Quinn’s favorite drug, but not something he’d turn down, either. But he couldn’t remember much else, and that wasn’t a good sign. Quinn might not be able to recall every fuck he’d ever had, but he liked to think he remembered the good ones.


He took another quick look at the guy’s face, and then down his chest. He was handsome enough, with a sort of aristocratic look and a long, lean body that would probably feel just right pinned under Quinn’s shorter, more muscular frame. But there was no flash of attraction, none of the instinctive pull that he liked to put his trust in when selecting partners. 


“I’m good, thanks.” He angled his body slightly away. He wasn’t trying to be rude, but he wasn’t worried about it, either. There are those who pull the bandage of rejection off fast, and those who pull it off slow; Quinn liked to pull it fast. It gave both him and the other guy lots of time to find somebody more interesting. Or interested.


But this clown really wasn’t getting the message. He eased in closer, the front of his body rubbing against Quinn’s side, and when he spoke, instead of raising his voice to be heard over the music, as he’d been doing, he leaned in and spoke quietly into Quinn’s ear. “I’ve missed you. I’ve been looking for you. Waiting for you.”


That was too much, and Quinn jerked away. Apparently he’d have to spell it out. “I’m not interested, buddy. Find somebody else to stalk.”


The man looked stunned, and Quinn noticed the reaction. The guy was hot, but not scorching, so he must have a hell of a lot of money, or something else going for him, to be so confident. Quinn wracked his brain, trying to remember the sex. He really didn’t think it had been too outstanding. So the guy was either rich, or maybe deluded. Either way, Quinn wasn’t interested. Hell, “deluded” could be a good time, maybe—it was “rich” that was making Quinn’s blood run cold. “Seriously, man. I appreciate the thought, but it’s not going to happen.”


“You appreciate… you appreciate the thought? Are you kidding me?” The man’s expression was changing, anger starting to replace the surprise. 


Quinn felt his body want to flinch away, but he forced himself to stand still. The guy’s expression was too familiar, too soon, but Quinn had never been a victim and he’d be damned if he’d start acting like one now. This shithead had just better have the sense to back down, because Quinn sure as hell wasn’t going to. “I’m not kidding. I’m just not interested.” He turned to face the man. Quinn was a little shorter, maybe, but the other guy was a twig; Quinn was a stone, and he let all the cold hardness show in his eyes as he stared the man down. 


It worked. 


Instead of letting the anger grow, the man’s expression shifted back to surprised, and then to hurt. Quinn was glad he’d seen the anger first, so he didn’t have to feel bad. When the guy spoke, his voice was uncertain. “But—we had a good time, didn’t we?”


“I have lots of good times, man. It doesn’t guarantee a repeat.” It was too bad, because Quinn liked his location, liked the view he had over the club, but discretion was the better part of valor, so he decided that he’d better find somewhere else to stand. “Cherish the memory.” 


That last part was a bit smart-ass, he thought as he turned and let himself melt into the crowd, but life was too short to be careful all the time. That philosophy had gotten him into trouble on more than one occasion, but he didn’t think this was going to be one of them. He was in a crowded, open place, and the guy had just been arrogant, not evil. Everything would be fine. Well, maybe not “everything,” in a cosmic sense, but this guy shouldn’t be a problem.


He forced himself not to turn around to check if he was being followed. He wasn’t a rabbit, trying to evade the fox. He was a fox himself. Or maybe a wolf. Hell, he was a tiger. The fox had better not mess with him. Quinn smiled to himself as he worked his way into the crowd around the bar. Yeah, his imaginary animal spirit could beat up anyone else’s imaginary animal spirit. That was a mature outlook.


He caught the bartender’s eye and raised his empty beer bottle, showing the label so he’d get the right kind as a refill. He wasn’t really too picky about beer, but bartenders always seemed to want him to care, so he tried. 


He paid for his drink and then turned to survey the crowd at the bar. It was quieter here, away from the dance floor, and people were having actual conversations rather than just yelling lines at each other. There were some half-familiar faces mixed into the crowd, and he nodded at Wade, down at the far end. They weren’t friends, exactly, but they were—something. If neither of them had found anything better by the end of the night, they’d probably go back to Wade’s place together. The sex wasn’t usually outstanding, but it was reliably good, and they both knew exactly what to expect from the other. There was no need to worry about Wade getting too attached, or thinking he had a claim on Quinn’s attention, or any of that crap. He and Quinn were two of a kind, and they both had sense enough to recognize it. 


Quinn ran his rough hands over the smooth wood of the bar, and moved his gaze farther along through the crowd. He was trying to pick up on that hint of attraction, trying to find someone who could excite him, pull him out of himself at least for a while. He’d almost given up, almost decided that he should just go buy Wade a drink and call it a night, but then there was movement in the shadows at the end of the bar. The want and need were twisting through Quinn’s stomach before he even fully understood what he was looking at.


The kid was beautiful. Tall and rangy, his shoulders taking up so much space that he was twisted around sideways, leaning into the wall in order to not crowd the man next to him. He was fair, with light skin and a disorganized thatch of blond hair, and Quinn had always liked the way that his own tanned body looked against someone paler. He liked the way it felt, even, his skin seeming warmer, as if it retained some of the heat from the sun that had darkened it. But that wasn’t what was drawing Quinn in; there were plenty of well-built, fair men in the bar. This guy, though. There was something else about him, and Quinn pushed himself away from the bar and started working through the crowd, trying to get closer. 


Nobody was talking to the kid, or even seeming to notice him. And that didn’t make sense, because maybe he wasn’t flashy, but he was definitely good-looking, by any standard. He seemed to be hiding in the shadows, as if he didn’t want to be seen, and against all the bolder displays in the room, he was just fading away. Quinn himself wouldn’t have noticed him if he hadn’t moved at just the right time, and Quinn had been looking pretty hard. 


Just as Quinn arrived, the kid moved again, setting his beer bottle down and pushing himself to his feet. Damn, he was tall. Quinn was almost six feet, and this guy was towering over him. And broad too, with those shoulders. He was wearing a simple, black button-down and loose jeans, so Quinn couldn’t get a good view of his body, but he bet it was good; there didn’t seem to be any fat on any of the parts that were visible. But the guy was moving again, shifting around as if trying to get past, and that spurred Quinn into action.


“Hey. You leaving?” The words weren’t smooth, but they were the best he could come up with on short notice. He tried to make his tone do the work for him, hoping that he sounded seductive rather than startled.


The kid shifted his eyes toward Quinn and then dropped them. When he looked back up, it was as if he was forcing himself to do it. “I was going to. Yes.”


Jesus, maybe he was just shy. Quinn normally didn’t like that crap, didn’t want to have to jump through extra hoops to get where he wanted to be, but somehow, on this guy, it was kind of adorable. “What’s wrong? You not having fun?” The kid didn’t look like he knew how to respond, so Quinn stuck his hand out. “I’m Quinn. Why don’t you let me buy you a drink? I can introduce you to some people, if you want.” He sincerely hoped the kid took him up on offer number one, but not offer number two.


The kid grasped the extended hand automatically, and Quinn could feel the warm strength in his grip. Damn. The guy had big hands. He still didn’t seem too sure, though, and again it seemed like he was forcing himself to interact. “Hi. I’m Aaron.”


“Aaron, huh? Like the aardvark?” Quinn didn’t know quite what he was doing—he’d wanted to put the kid at ease, but who would be at ease when talking to someone spouting random crap like that?


The kid surprised him, though. “Yeah, like the aardvark. I don’t fly an airplane, though.”


“Damn—I wasn’t even sure what I was talking about. But you’re right—Aaron the Aardvark, flying an Airplane. What the hell is that from?”


“It’s a kids’ book. Like an illustrated alphabet, I think. Aaron, aardvarks, airplanes—they’re all about the letter A.” Aaron eased himself back down onto the barstool. He still didn’t look entirely comfortable, but at least he wasn’t getting ready to bolt. And this aardvark thing was actually kind of interesting.


“Yeah, that’s right! There were, like, I don’t know, bunnies, maybe?” Quinn was trying to trace the memories down inside his tangled brain. “Well, and aardvarks, obviously.”


“Just the one aardvark, I think. Just Aaron.”


And that seemed like an opportunity to get this back on the track it was supposed to be on. As soon as Quinn had thought of the bunnies, he’d realized that he probably didn’t want to spend too much time chasing down that memory. “Yeah, maybe. Just the one. Just Aaron. Sitting all alone, at a bar….”


The lighting wasn’t great, but it was enough that Quinn could see the blush creeping up Aaron’s face. Yeah, the kid was shy. And, yeah, it was pretty damn adorable. “What are you drinking, Aaron?”


Aaron looked down at his hands as if hoping they held some clue, and then back up to Quinn. “A rum and Coke?”


It felt like a kid pretending to be all grown up, and not sure he was carrying it off. “You are of age, right? I’m not going to be corrupting a minor, or something?” Quinn smiled to show that he was mostly kidding, but he kept an eye out for a response even as he caught the bartender’s attention.


A shy half-smile as Aaron said, “I’m twenty-two.”


“All right, then.” Quinn looked at the bartender. “A rum and Coke, and another one of these.” He held up his half-empty bottle. He was pretty sure the kid wasn’t going to be a fast drinker, so he might as well have something to keep himself occupied. Something to distract him from staring at Aaron’s succulent bottom lip, or the strong tendons that led from his wrists up under his sleeves, up to hidden skin, skin that Quinn wanted to uncover. Damn, this kid was getting to him. He needed to get things back under control. “You live around here, Aaron?”


“Yeah. I just moved in, a few blocks away.”


“Don’t tell me you just came down for a drink, and didn’t know what kind of bar you were going to….”


Another blush, but Aaron didn’t look down this time. When he spoke, his voice was firm. “No. I knew where I was going.”


Quinn nodded slowly, and decided that it was time to press his luck. He didn’t know quite what he’d do if he got shot down, but he might as well find out; his strength was his looks, not his small talk, so if the kid wasn’t hooked by now, Quinn was probably not going to get anywhere. “And did you have something specific you were looking for, here? Or just a drink?”


This time, the look was bolder, as if the kid was warming up and getting into his act. “No. Not just a drink. I was looking for something specific.”


The bartender was back, then, and Quinn paid for the drinks, torn between being pissed off at the interruption and glad of the chance to regain his cool. This wasn’t like him, getting so worked up over a simple hookup. He was Quinn Donahue, and this was what he was good at. He was a tiger, damn it! He wasn’t going to get flustered by a cute little rabbit. Or even by a cute big rabbit. He watched Aaron’s fingers curl around the glass of dark liquid, and brought his own bottle to his lips. He took a deep swallow as he watched Aaron’s cautious sip. By the time he’d brought the bottle down to rest on the bar, he was back in control. “And this specific thing you’re looking for—any chance you’ve found it?” Quinn had to force himself to stop talking, to not babble about damn aardvarks or something, and he was rewarded, after an agonizing few seconds, with Aaron’s slow nod.


“Yeah. I guess maybe I have.” Aaron’s quick grin showed straight white teeth. “Or I guess maybe it found me.”


That was an excellent answer, but Quinn forced himself not to jump up in the air and start waving his arms over his head in a victory celebration. Instead, he returned Aaron’s smile, slow and easy. “Well, all right. You want to get out of here?”


Somehow, though, things had changed between them, shifted somewhere that Quinn wasn’t used to. He wasn’t supposed to be the one sitting there, waiting and hoping. And damn it if the kid didn’t feel the shift in power too. Aaron had set his drink down on the bar, and he reached for it slowly, lifting it to his lips and taking another thoughtful sip, his eyes never leaving Quinn’s face. He set the drink back down on the bar and waited for another several seconds before his head moved almost imperceptibly up and then down. “Yeah. Okay. Let’s go.”


Quinn fought to keep his cool. If nothing else, he had a reputation to protect. He took another long swallow of his drink before placing the half-empty bottle on the bar next to his earlier unfinished drink. Then he stepped back far enough to give Aaron room to move. “Your place? I’m not too far, but I’m more than three blocks.” And he didn’t bring hookups back to his apartment, not ever. He didn’t want people to know where he lived, and he didn’t want strangers in his space.


Aaron stood up as he said, “Yeah, okay.” Then he waited, and Quinn started for the door. He only hoped that Aaron was behind him, and for the second time that night, he forced himself not to look backward. He wasn’t sure what the hell had happened to his animal symbolism—when would a tiger hope that somebody was following him? He would certainly never care about a damn rabbit—but maybe he’d want to be followed by another tiger. In mating season, at least.


Quinn made it to the door before letting himself slow down and look back over his shoulder. Aaron was still there, thank God. He froze when Quinn looked at him, but then smiled nervously and edged forward. Quinn would have loved to be able to laugh at the guy for being nervous, but he was pretty damned edgy himself. “All right?” he managed to ask. When Aaron nodded, Quinn pushed the door open and stepped outside.


It was a warm night, and clear, and both of those were rare for Vancouver in late September, so Quinn took a moment to breathe in and appreciate the mild weather. Neither he nor Aaron had jackets, and there wouldn’t be too many more nights that they’d be able to get away with that. He glanced over and saw Aaron watching him. “Sorry. You’re ready to go?”


“Don’t be sorry. It’s a beautiful night.” Aaron stepped a little closer. “If there weren’t all these lights, I bet the stars would be really clear.”


Quinn glanced up at the sky, but it was just a dark backdrop to the neon of the bar’s signs and the bright streetlights. “I guess.” He looked back at the street, and then at Aaron. “Which way?”


Aaron wordlessly led him along the crowded sidewalk. They were on Davie Street, the heart of Vancouver’s gay village, and the area was alive with other men, all out enjoying the unexpectedly warm weather. Normally, Quinn would have been distracted by the skin on display, the beautiful faces smiling and laughing and flirting all around him. He was having no trouble keeping his focus on Aaron, though.


They stopped in front of one of the tall, concrete buildings that punctuated the more common low-rise structures of the area, and Aaron punched a code into the keypad. “This is it,” he explained belatedly. Quinn was pretty sure he’d been in the building before, with some other resident, but he couldn’t remember details. He followed Aaron inside, and then into the elevator.


They still didn’t talk as Aaron pushed a button for the sixteenth floor. The walls of the elevator were mirrored, and Quinn had to fight the urge to pull the emergency stop button. It would be delicious to undress Aaron in there, with the mirrors displaying every angle, every inch of skin, but Quinn didn’t think the kid would be into that kind of public display. He didn’t think he’d be into it himself, if it came down to it, but it was fun to think about. He let himself smile a little, and he knew Aaron noticed. He hoped he looked sexy and enigmatic rather than psychotic.


Another punch code got them inside the apartment. It was a bachelor, but a good-sized one, at least by downtown Vancouver standards. There were all the expected furnishings: a kitchenette in one corner, a two-person table, a brown leather couch facing a TV hung on the wall, and over toward the big window, a dresser, a bedside table, and a bed. Everything looked immaculate; the covers on the bed were even folded down, like they were in a hotel. 


“Did you just move in? Or are you actually this tidy?” Quinn took a few steps into the room and looked around for any sign that the apartment was lived in. The only things that even hinted at actual habitation were the two pairs of boots lined up by the front door. They reminded him of his younger sister; she’d been deep into horses, the last he’d seen her, and she’d had boots like those. Much smaller, of course. 


Aaron was watching him uncertainly, and when he spoke he sounded like he was justifying himself. “I’ve been here a few weeks. But, you know—I tidied up before I went out tonight.”


Ah. “Because you knew you were going to bring somebody home with you.”


“Well—I didn’t know. But, yeah, I thought I might.”


“So how come you were leaving, when I saw you? You’d given up?” It still didn’t make sense that this kid would have any trouble at all picking up, not if he put any sort of effort into it.


Aaron dropped his eyes, and the newly familiar blush made another appearance, creeping up from the neck of his button-down. Quinn took a step forward; he really wanted to see if the kid’s chest had the same beautiful pinkness. He stopped moving when Aaron looked back up. “I just felt sort of stupid, you know? I mean, I didn’t know anyone, and I was just sitting there.” 


“You don’t dance?”


Aaron’s laugh was more like a snort, but he controlled himself. “No. Not—not in a way that would make anyone want to talk to me. Possibly they’d want to sedate me, and get me back to the asylum.”


“Yeah, okay.” Quinn took another step forward, so close now that he could reach out and touch the kid, if he wanted to. And he absolutely wanted to. Aaron stood frozen as Quinn lifted his hand toward his face. Quinn slowed down, although he hadn’t been going all that fast in the first place. “You okay? This is what you wanted, right?”


Aaron nodded jerkily. “Yeah. It was. It is.” He lifted his own hand and brought it tentatively toward Quinn’s chest. 


Quinn shuffled forward enough that Aaron didn’t have to stretch very far, and they felt the first brush of contact, the tips of Aaron’s fingers against the cotton of Quinn’s shirt. Quinn wanted more, and he wanted it as soon as possible, but he was pretty sure Aaron needed things a bit slower. He curled his fingers around so that he could brush the side of the kid’s face with his knuckles instead of the work-hardened skin of his palms. Aaron’s eyes slid shut as if he’d been hypnotized. Hopefully that was a good thing. Quinn stretched his fingers out, rested them along Aaron’s jaw, and then curled them gently in, suggesting but not insisting.


Aaron responded, leaning down, letting himself be guided, and Quinn felt his already hardening dick throb a little more. He reached forward and gave a gentle kiss and felt Aaron’s lips move as he kissed back. Quinn deepened the kiss, and Aaron responded willingly, enthusiastically even. All of a sudden Quinn found himself being pushed backward, spun around so that he was the one with his back to the wall, and Aaron was the one on the outside. Aaron took advantage of his new freedom and moved until Quinn was shoved up against the wall by Aaron’s whole body, long and hard and strong. There was no break in the kiss, not as Aaron moaned, not as he arched his body into Quinn’s, and not as his hands raced all over Quinn’s torso, feeling his chest, his sides, then out to his arms. It felt frantic, as if Aaron wasn’t sure Quinn was real, or as if he thought he might disappear at any moment. Apparently the kid didn’t need things slow after all.


And that was just fine with Quinn. He pushed off the wall, and damn it, the kid was strong, but he wasn’t fighting Quinn, exactly, he was just a solid mass that needed to be moved. Quinn put a little more muscle into it and then Aaron was going along, letting himself be guided. This time it was Quinn’s turn to spin them and slam into the wall. But Quinn wanted to do more than just feel Aaron’s body through his clothes, and he pulled his face away while keeping their lower bodies lined up. They were both hard, pushing against their jeans. Quinn let his hips grind in. Aaron’s eyes were still shut tight, but he made a little whimpering sound that was far better than any soulful gaze could ever be. Quinn’s fingers attacked the buttons of Aaron’s shirt, twisting them loose. He had to pull the bottom out from where it had been tucked into Aaron’s jeans; he could see the effect that even that little bit of extra friction had on the kid’s cock. 


Once the buttons were taken care of, he shoved the fabric aside, and he got his first look at the chest in front of him. The kid was ripped, and the flush from his face was spread down over his chest, but it was arousal, now, not embarrassment. Quinn wanted to taste every inch, but he also wanted to keep staring, keep enjoying the view.


Aaron squirmed as if begging for attention, and Quinn brought his lips down to the warm skin in front of him. The kid tasted good, but the best part was the way he reacted to every kiss, every lick, every gentle nip that Quinn gave him. One of Aaron’s hands found its way to the back of Quinn’s head, not guiding, just encouraging, and when Quinn found a nipple and gave it a hard suck, the fingers tightened in his hair as Aaron gasped. Quinn had never gotten all that much pleasure from his own nipples, but he loved finding guys who were sensitive there—it made things so easy. And it was hot, seeing the reactions he could get from Aaron. Quinn gave each nipple some attention while his hands were busy unbuttoning his own shirt. He shrugged the fabric off onto the floor and then straightened, bringing his bare chest into contact with Aaron’s. It was skin on skin, more contact than they’d had so far. It felt perfect, especially when Aaron bent down and found Quinn’s mouth, pulling their tongues together into a writhing tangle. 


Then they were spinning again, and Quinn was back up against the wall as Aaron pushed in, just on the limits of too hard. Quinn shoved Aaron’s shirt the rest of the way off his shoulders and then went to work on the kid’s belt buckle, and then his fly. Quinn pushed the loosened fabric out of the way and eagerly felt for Aaron’s cock, as big and hard as the rest of his body, straining through the thin cotton of his underwear. The initial contact was enough to make Aaron gasp away from Quinn’s mouth, his breathing jagged and rough. Quinn didn’t release his loose grip, but he needed a little information. “You’re right on the edge, aren’t you?” Aaron buried his face in the hollow of Quinn’s neck, still gasping, but Quinn pulled him back so they were facing each other, and for the first time since they’d gotten started, Aaron opened his eyes. His pupils were huge, staring at Quinn like he was seeing a miracle, and okay, it was a pretty good ego-boost. 


“What’s your recovery time like?” But Aaron seemed to be beyond words, and Quinn figured he could take a chance. The guy was young, he was obviously horny, he could probably get hard again pretty fast. And if he couldn’t, what were they going to do, sit down and have tea until he calmed down a little? “Okay, man, I’ll take care of you.” He eased Aaron around so that the kid was leaning against the wall again, and then dropped to his knees and used one hand to reach in and support Aaron’s cock while the other pulled his underwear down. 


Quinn had the same conflict as before, torn between admiring from a distance and tasting from up close, and he made the same decision, leaning in and letting his lips gently close around the head of Aaron’s cock. The kid’s moan was more like a shout, and Quinn tried not to worry about neighbors. Instead, he pulled off, a wet, sloppy kiss, and then opened his mouth and went for it, bobbing down as far as he could go at that angle, then back up, fast and tight and almost rough. A few more times and Aaron was keening, his fingers back in Quinn’s hair, tightening, twisting, and Quinn pulled off far enough that he wouldn’t choke as Aaron arched his back off the wall, his whole body spasming as he came.


Quinn swallowed while he kept his tongue and his mouth working. The kid’s climax seemed to go on forever. It was exciting, feeling this sort of power over somebody else; and it was good to do something that somebody appreciated. Finally, Quinn figured he was done, and he gently moved away and then stood up. Aaron’s fingers stayed in his hair as he straightened, and as soon as he was upright he was pulled in for a kiss, Aaron’s lips loose and relaxed now, sloppy and easy instead of hard and demanding.


And that was all right as far as it went, but Quinn had his own interests to pursue, and he maneuvered around to bring his groin into contact with Aaron’s hip. Hopefully the kid just needed a reminder.


But Aaron seemed totally oblivious, kissing gently like he wanted to just make out for a while. Quinn figured it was lucky they were standing up or the bastard would probably be falling asleep on him. He rubbed his hard cock a bit more firmly against Aaron’s hip. “You still with me, here?”


Aaron’s eyes flew open, and there was that blush coming up again, and that made it pretty difficult to hold a grudge. “Shit! I’m sorry. I—uh—what should I do? I mean… I’m