Joey was steaming by the time they arrived back home. How dare that man threaten to put those photos online? That was if he hadn’t already. When they locked the door behind them, he pulled his phone out and called a woman he sometimes used to help with his media presence. Ani did a fantastic job, but she wasn’t a professional. Polly, on the other hand, had many years under her belt working with reporters and dampening down stories.
“Hey, Polly. Sorry to disturb you on a Sunday, but we have a situation.” He spent the next half an hour explaining what was happening and how David fit into everything.
“Okay. Leave it all with me and I’ll see what I can find out before I come back to you. We might not be able to stop the photos from being leaked, but we can cause an uproar to whoever does it.”
Joey wished there was a better answer. “Thanks, Polly. Anything you can do is great.”
It took her nearly two hours to come back to them, but when she did, it was with some good news, some bad.
“I’ve spoken to several news outlets. They said they won’t run the photos if they’re sent to them, though take it with a grain of salt. And there were several who declined to stop their stories from printing, so I don’t have great news. But I’ve emailed you a statement you can put out if they leak the photos. It will call out the man who took the photo and the ones trying to make money from them.” She sighed. “I’m afraid there’s not much more we can do until we know if the photos are online or not. It could be smoke and mirrors to distract you from something else, so keep your eyes and ears peeled.”
“Will do. Thanks, Polly.” Joey turned to Ethan. “I’m sorry about this. If I wasn’t in the limelight, none of this would matter.”
Ethan slid his arms around Joey’s waist. “It still doesn’t matter. What happens, happens. We’ll deal with it. Do I want everyone to see us in a compromising position? No, but it doesn’t matter if they do.” He grinned. “Everyone will want what is mine.” He winked.
Joey chuckled, letting some of the tension release from his body. “And what is mine.”
“Someone who’s ‘adorable?’” Ethan teased.
Joey swallowed hard as his cheeks heated. He shook his head and closed his eyes. “You won’t ever let me live that down, will you?”
Joey kissed him. It was the only thing he could do. Because he was adorable. Damn adorable and sexy and amazing and submissive and…everything Joey ever wanted in a person.
Two days later, they stood between their cars in the car park behind the shop, clinging to each other. Why was it so hard to let him go when they’d only been together less than two weeks? And some of that was spent apart, anyway. Joey didn’t want to let Ethan go, but he had to work and Ethan had to see his family.
“It’s two days, but it feels like more,” Ethan said into his neck.
“I know. How crazy is it that we’ve only known each other a short time, but we’re already not wanting to be apart?”
“Super crazy.” Ethan pulled back and inhaled. “Okay. I’m going.” He kissed Joey, and when he went to pull away, Joey clung to him again, kissing him deeper before letting him go.
“Have a safe journey,” he said, brushing his thumb across Ethan’s cheek.
“You, too. Call me when you get there.”
“Make sure you stop along the way, Ethan. It’s a far longer drive for you than it is for me.”
Ethan chuckled. “I will. I couldn’t do what I did on the way down here. That was nuts.”
“Exactly my point.” Joey kissed him again and then pushed him towards his car. “Go.”
The way he said it made Joey’s blood heat, and he cursed the man as he reversed out of the parking space. Ethan waved, and Joey returned it, watching until the car turned out of the alley. Joey exhaled hard and then inhaled and climbed into his car. Ethan had over five hours of driving to do, whereas Joey only had around two and a half, depending on the traffic.
They hadn’t heard anything more from David and his threat to release the photos, and Polly had kept in touch to say none of the news outlets she’d been in contact with had heard anything either. Yet. It gave them a sense of standing on the edge of a cliff and waiting for the wind to blow them off.
He’d just entered Bath when his phone rang, and he smiled, anticipating Ethan’s name on the screen. That smile disappeared when he saw a number he didn’t recognise. He pressed the button on his steering wheel to answer as he concentrated on the road towards his client’s house.
“Joey? It’s Grey.”
Joey’s body didn’t relax. “Hey, Grey. How’re things?”
“Yeah, not bad.” His voice was less than convincing. “I’m sorry to call, especially as we agreed for me to contact Ethan, but… I’m not sure what to do, Joey.”
“Give me a minute, Grey.” Joey spied a layby and pulled into it, giving him a few much-needed seconds to gather his concerned façade so he could figure out if Grey was telling the truth or not. “Right, talk to me. What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know. Robert’s acting strange. He’s been around here more than usual as if he’s checking up on me.”
“Has he said anything?”
“Nothing unusual.” Grey sighed. “I’m probably overreacting. I’m just so…” He didn’t finish, but Joey heard the exhale.
“Just carry on as normal, Grey.” He purposefully didn’t mention that the police were still investigating. “Don’t do anything that might spark his interest.”
“I think something already has. What if he’s gearing up to bring me in to whatever he’s involved in? Elliott didn’t want that, but how can I stop it?”
“Stand your ground. If you stick up for yourself, it’ll be harder for him to wear you down.”
Joey wanted to ask why Grey hadn’t told them he’d been at the party, but he didn’t want to tip the guy off if he was playing them. He needed to keep pretending that he believed everything Grey said, even though his belief was tenuous at best at that moment.
“Okay. Thanks. Sorry to have bothered you.”
“Not at all. Call anytime. Oh, have you made the tattoo appointment yet?”
“No. I’m working up the courage.”
Joey forced a chuckle. “It’ll hurt more in your head than in reality.”
“Probably.” Grey huffed. “Where are you headed?”
Joey frowned. “Sorry?”
“I can hear the engine.” He paused. “Sorry, it’s none of my business.”
Joey cleared his throat. “I’m in Bath. I have an appointment.”
“Oh, nice town, I’m told.” He sighed. “I’m going to go. Thanks, Joey.”
The call ended, and Joey stared out of the windscreen, thinking over their conversation. Something niggled at him, but he couldn’t figure out what it was. Shaking his head, he started back off, heading for his client, a rough-and-ready motorcycle club member who didn’t venture far from his hometown. Joey had been tattooing him for years. There wasn’t much skin left to decorate.
When he arrived, he sent a message to Ethan, letting him know he’d arrived and to remind him to stop and eat along the way.
“Joey!” Ryker said, clasping his hand and bringing him in for a back slap hug.
“Hey, Ryker. How’re things?”
Ryker grinned, his gold teeth gleaming in the sunlight. “Ah, same old, same old. Old being the operative word here. My bones creak a little more, but my bike stays true and pure.”
Joey chuckled. “That’s all that matters then.”
Ryker led the way to his study, his burly body leading him to a room Joey had been in many times, and Joey started setting up as Ryker brought him up to speed on his news.
“I’m sorry to hear about Elliott.”
Joey paused and flared his nostrils, trying to reign in his emotions. Elliott had joined him on this particular visit a few times. “Thanks.”
“He was such a bright light in this world. He’ll be sorely missed. Even here.”
Joey couldn’t respond, so he concentrated on finishing the set-up. When he was under control, he turned to Ryker. “So, what’re you having this time?”
“I want motorcycle handlebars on my lower back.”
“Okay. Let me see what space I have to work with.”
They talked specifics of the design, and Joey drew something for him, adjusting it with details Ryker asked for until he was happy. Once he started, they fell into easy conversation with periods of silence.
After one such silence, Ryker said, “How are you really, Joey?”
Joey lifted the needle and sighed, giving his back a stretch as he considered his words. “I’ve been better, but I’ve been worse, too. I have someone important helping me heal.”
Ryker craned his neck and raised his eyebrows, and Joey chuckled. “Lay down and I’ll tell you the story.” He waited until Ryker was back in position, and he started back on the design. “I went a bit off the rails after I found out about Elliott. Started driving and just carried on. Stopping here and there to sleep and get food when I had no choice. I was in a bad place.” He sighed again. “I stopped in Whitby and headed for a bar, trying to drown my sorrows and sleep it off. But a guy approached me. He offered me a sliver of light. It was supposed to be one night, that’s all, but he saw me sleeping in my car and decided it was his business to get me out of my funk.” He chuckled. “His name’s Ethan. We spent a few days together in Whitby until the reporters found me, and then I split, thinking it would be better if I wasn’t there.”
“Stupid ass,” Ryker said, and Joey laughed.
“Yeah. I’m so glad Ethan took the chance and drove down for Elliott’s funeral. I don’t know where I would’ve been if he hadn’t been here the past few days.”
“Sounds like a great catch.”
“He truly is.”
“So, where is he?”
Joey wiped at the design and continued. “He’s gone home for a couple of days to get things sorted. He’s moving in, and he’s going to be my assistant.”
“Good for you, Joey. I’m so glad.”
It took another two hours to complete the design, and then Joey dressed it and packed up his stuff.
“Are you hanging around?” Ryker asked. “Merry is setting up the barbecue this evening?”
Joey shook his head as they exited the room. “I wish I could. I have a room booked in Cardiff tonight.”
“Well, at least let us feed you before you leave.”
“Is that you, Joey Reynolds?” a shrill but warm voice said.
Joey smiled. He couldn’t help it. Merry wasn’t a typical biker’s old lady. She was a biker herself, first and foremost. It had taken Ryker six years to persuade her to take a chance on him, but they were perfect for each other.
“You know it, Merry.” He slid his arms around her, hugging her tightly.
“I’m sorry, honey,” she whispered.
Joey blinked back the tears and smiled, pulling back. “Thanks.”
“Are you staying for dinner?” Joey shook his head again and explained his plans. “Pfft. You can stay for a bit. It doesn’t take that long to get to Cardiff from here.”
Joey didn’t argue any longer, wanting to spend time with people he considered friends. “Okay. I’ll drive over when we’re done.”
Merry patted his cheek. “Glad to hear it.” She turned to leave, but Ryker grabbed her and pulled her into him, whispering something in her ear. She turned sly eyes on Joey, and he chuckled, knowing Ryker had just spilt the news about Ethan. “Ooh, story time!”
His phone rang, and he answered it with a smile. “Hey, you.” Merry’s eyes gleamed as she watched him, and he raised his eyebrows at her, but she just crossed her arms over her chest.
“Hey. How are you doing?” Ethan asked, the tiredness clear in his voice.
“Good. Are you there now?”
Ethan sighed. “Yeah. I’ve just dropped onto my sofa.”
“Have a nap and then visit your parents. Don’t do it while you’re tired.”
Ethan yawned. “I think you’re right. Did you get the job done?”
He wandered over to the window and looked out at the garden, slowly filling with people attending the barbecue. “I did. Not long ago, actually.”
“Ah. You’re heading for Cardiff soon, then?”
“No, actually.” He chuckled. “I’ve been browbeaten into staying for dinner.”
“I heard that, young man!” Merry shouted.
Joey laughed again. “Sorry, Ryker’s wife just reprimanded me.”
“My client. I’ll explain later.” Ethan yawned again. “Okay, get some sleep, and call me later.”
“Let me know when you leave there and arrive in Cardiff.”
“Love you.” Ethan sounded like he was already dozing off.
“Love you more.”
There was no response, so Joey ended the call and hoped Ethan would sleep long enough. He set his alarm to go off in two hours so he could call Ethan and wake him if he wasn’t already. He wouldn’t want to sleep through the visit to his parents.
“You’re so in love with him it’s beautiful,” Merry said, slipping in beside him.
“I truly am. He’s the best part of me.”
Merry slapped the back of his head. “No, he’s not. You’re the best part of you. He’s the best part of him. Together, you’re perfection.”
“You’ve not seen him.”
“I don’t need to. I can see it in you. If he’s as good as your expression tells me, he’s perfect for you.”
“When did you get so sappy?”
Merry slapped him again. “I’m not. I’m a realist.”
Joey chuckled and followed her out to the back garden. This was a place he didn’t have to worry about reporters. The club didn’t allow them into their private houses or on their land. Something they had decided upon way before Joey came into the picture. Meeting some other members that he’d not seen for a while was a boon he hadn’t expected. The hours passed and bar the phone call he made to Ethan to make sure he was awake – he had been – he forgot about everything happening back home. It was nice to relax in a different way from how he did with Ethan, though that idea brought many pleasurable images into his mind.
“Stop thinking about him,” Merry teased as she passed.
Joey shook his head and smiled. “Can’t help it.” He checked his watch. “I really must be going now. Thanks for having me.”
Ryker waved him away. “You’re always welcome. You know that. Next time, bring Ethan.”
“I plan to.”
He shook hands with several of them, hugged Merry and aimed his car towards his next destination after sending Ethan an update. When he finally arrived at Cardiff, it was just before eleven that night, and he was exhausted, but once he’d settled into his room, he sent a message to Ethan to see if he was still awake. The phone rang seconds later.
Ethan’s voice was a balm he hadn’t realised he needed, and Joey lay back on the bed and closed his eyes, imagining Ethan was lying beside him, talking right into his ear.
“Hi. How are your parents?” he asked.
“They’re fine. Mum is grumpy because she can’t do as much as she wants to, but she’s managing. I think Dad’s worse off because he’s having to put up with her moods.” Ethan chuckled. “He doesn’t mind. Not really.”
“I didn’t doubt for a moment he did. How is the house?”
“Same as I left it, though I should’ve thought to empty the fridge before I left. There was some nastiness in there I never want to smell again.”
Joey laughed. “Oh, god. I can imagine.”
“How was your evening? You mentioned someone called Ryker. That’s an interesting name.”
Joey slid an arm behind his head and explained about the whole motorcycle club thing and how he came to be the one to tattoo them. “Ryker is actually called Ryan. One of his friends started calling him Ryan the Biker, and it ended up being shortened to Ryker. And it stuck.” Until that evening, he hadn’t realised quite how close they had become, and he finally moved them into the “friend” category he always saved for those he knew before his unexpected climb to fame.
“Have you had any problems since you’ve been there?” he asked. “David’s not been in contact or anything?”
“No. I’ve not heard anything from him. Christi called earlier to confirm tomorrow’s night out, but that’s it. I’ve not heard from anyone but Ani.”
“Yeah, she messaged to make sure I got here safely.”
Joey smiled. “I’m glad. I had a feeling you would become best friends in no time if you ever met.” Ethan’s laughter filled his soul, and Joey sighed. “I miss you.”
He could almost feel Ethan’s smirk through the phone line. “It’s only been fourteen hours.” He paused. “Not that I’ve been counting or anything.”
“Fourteen hours too many, in my opinion.”
“I agree. Not long to go, though.” Ethan sighed. “How has this become my life?”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve found a man I love, I’m moving to London and I’ve found a job I believe I will enjoy all in the space of two weeks. How is it possible to have everything fall into place in such a short time? It seems inconceivable.”
“It does, but it’s right for us.” He remembered the phone call from Grey. “Grey called me earlier. He said Robert had been hanging around more, checking up on him. I don’t know what to think about him now that we know he’d been at the party.”
“Me either, in all honesty. I took everything he said originally at face value, but maybe we should find out more before deciding if to trust him completely.”
“I might get a friend to look into him and see what they can find.”
“It certainly wouldn’t—Holy shit!”
Ethan’s outburst coupled with the sound of glass smashing had Joey sitting upright. “What? Ethan? What happened? Ethan? Ethan!”
Chapter 19 coming soon