Ethan wished with everything he had in him that Joey would open up to him. He had no right to ask it of him, though, which was the only reason he’d kept quiet. But he could see whenever Joey was in pain, and it hurt Ethan, too. Whatever had brought Joey to Whitby and had him sleeping in his car weighed heavily on the man.
As they walked down the street towards Kole’s meeting point for the ghost tour, Ethan pushed down his need to pry. But when Joey pointed to something in the distance, Ethan was distracted by the plastic wrapped around his wrist. Ethan grabbed his hand and pulled him to a stop.
“Oh, god! Did I hurt you that badly?”
Joey tried to pull his hand away. “No. I’m fine. I…” He sighed and stopped fighting, letting Ethan look over where his teeth had gouged into Joey’s skin.
Ethan frowned. He couldn’t see anything at first, then his eyes focused on the black lines where his teeth marks would’ve been. He glanced up at Joey, frowning.
Joey sighed and looked away, then refocused on Ethan again. “I wanted to keep the reminder with me,” he whispered and dropped his gaze to his wrist.
Ethan licked his lips and stared at the tattooed marks of his teeth. Something warm unfurled inside him, but he couldn’t get his hopes up. Not until he knew more about the man who had fallen into his life when Ethan had least expected it.
“When did you get that done? Did you go out after I went to bed?”
Joey shifted and gritted his teeth. “No. I…did it myself.”
Ethan stared at him. “You what?”
“I’m a tattoo artist. It’s what I do,” he murmured, looking away again. “That’s the business I mentioned.”
Ethan couldn’t decide what he felt about that admission, but he was glad to learn something more about him. His stomach flipped with the image that entered his mind. The image of Joey tattooing Ethan somewhere no one but him could see. Him being Joey. He gazed at the tattoo again and raised Joey’s wrist to his lips, gently kissing the covered skin.
“It looks good on you,” he said, his voice hoarse.
He didn’t let go of Joey’s hand as they continued on their way. Instead, he threaded his fingers through Joey’s thicker ones and stepped closer, resting his head against his shoulder. They didn’t say anything, which Ethan was glad about because he wasn’t sure what he could say. He couldn’t explain how he was feeling because he didn’t understand it himself. It was too soon to feel anything heavy. At least that’s what he kept telling his heart. It didn’t seem to want to listen, though. Luckily, they arrived at the Whalebone Arch, the first stop on the ghost tour.
“Welcome to the Ravenwood Whitby Ghost Tour,” Kole said a few minutes later. “I’m your host, Kole, and I promise you fun, stories and scares for the next hour and a half.” He grinned, ruining the effect his makeup—a half skeleton—and outfit had on his guests. His cloak wouldn’t have been out of place with Dracula, and his suit was perfect for a wedding—or a funeral.
Ethan wasn’t scared about the stories themselves, as he’d mentioned to them the previous night. It was the people who sometimes jumped out at them during those stories that scared the shit out of him. Having actors dressed up like ghosts and goblins while roaming the darkened streets of Whitby could easily give the least scared person a run for their money.
Kole began his first story, a tale he’d told Ethan before, and Ethan tuned out, more interested in studying Joey. His…friend seemed engrossed in the words tumbling from Kole’s mouth, a small lift to the corners of Joey’s mouth whenever he laughed at something Kole said. But even though his outward appearance showed humour and happiness, his eyes showed the truth. His eyes were filled with a pain Ethan wanted to soothe, but he didn’t know how he could help when he had no idea what Joey was dealing with.
Ethan screeched as a man dressed as a pirate jumped out from a shadowed doorway. Instinctively, his fist rose to protect himself for a split second before everything else came back to him.
“Holy fuck, Kole!” he said as his heart rate calmed. Ethan swiped a hand over his forehead while the other guests chuckled.
“You weren’t the only one,” Joey said when they started walking again. “There were at least four others who screamed.”
Ethan shook his head and sighed. “I knew this was a bad idea.”
Joey slid his arm around Ethan’s shoulders. “I’ll protect you from the big bad.”
Ethan poked a finger into Joey’s side, causing him to laugh and squirm away before settling back against him. “Are you enjoying it?”
Joey smiled and nodded. “I love the stories. I can imagine them being turned into films. Elliott would be perfect for—” He stopped, and Ethan glanced at him, waiting for him to finish, but he didn’t.
Patience was something Ethan had plenty of, but he wanted to know everything about Joey. More than he should. More than he needed to.
Before long, they crossed the Swing Bridge and wandered through the alleyways to the base of the 199 Steps.
“And this is the end of the first part of the tour. For those who are not joining us for the last stretch, I thank you for your company and hope you join me again soon.” Kole spoke to a few people, while others departed.
“Are we continuing?” Joey asked.
Ethan shrugged. “We might as well. It’s a long way to climb, though.” He smirked, side-eyeing Joey.
“I’m up for it.”
Ethan nodded. “Okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Seven minutes later, they reached the last step, Ethan resting his hands on his knees as he panted to regain the air his lungs so needed. Joey wasn’t faring much better, and Ethan snorted.
“Fuck, man. I didn’t realise how steep they were. And when you said climb, I didn’t think you meant at a speed close to jogging. Bloody hell.” Joey put his hands on his hips and exhaled heavily, staring out across the view.
Ethan tried for a laugh, but it came out as more of a snort. “Welcome to Whitby.”
Kole came over to them, a smile on his face. “What did you think?”
Joey clapped his shoulder. “It was great. Loved the sound effects.”
Kole’s chest puffed up, and Ethan bit back a chuckle. “I’m glad you liked it.”
“How long have you been doing this?”
“Four years now. Originally, it was a side job, but when I saw how much potential it had, I went full time.” He rocked his head. “Well, as full-time as this can get. It pays the bills, if nothing else.”
Joey held up his hands. “No shade from me. If you enjoy your job, then you’re where you should be, as far as I’m concerned.”
“Do you fancy a drink?” Kole asked Ethan.
Ethan shook his head. “I need my beauty sleep.”
Kole scoffed but turned to Joey. “You?”
Joey hesitated, then said, “No, sorry. Not tonight.”
Kole blew a raspberry. “Party poopers. Okay, fine. I’ll drink for the both of you.” He dragged Ethan into a hug and did the same for Joey before waving and starting his jog down the steps. Kole was used to the damn steps because he climbed them almost every night.
“You could’ve gone with him if you wanted to,” Ethan said, though he didn’t like the idea of it. He didn’t own Joey, so he couldn’t keep him by his side forever, as much as he seemed to want to.
“I’m not in the mood, to be honest.” Joey sighed, sliding his hands into his jeans pockets and facing the view again.
He didn’t say anything for a long while, but Ethan didn’t want to interrupt whatever musings he was having. The view can have that kind of effect on people, especially on a night like that where the moon was bright in the clear sky, the sea calm and the surroundings quiet.
“I own Life in Ink in London. We do tattoos for people from all walks of life, often travelling to wherever the person is who wants work done. It could be two miles down the road or two thousand miles on a plane. Lots of celebrities.”
Ethan was gobsmacked. He hadn’t heard of the business, but he knew about tattoo artists who travelled because they’d had them stay at the hotel before, and he’d also heard about them through the gossip mills.
“Busy then,” Ethan finally said.
Joey glanced over his shoulder. “Extremely.”
“Where’s your favourite place you’ve visited?”
Joey turned back to the landscape spread out before them, and Ethan stepped close enough for their arms to touch.
“Italy. Absolutely stunning. My retirement plan.” Joey smirked.
“Sounds lovely. I’ve never been out of this country.” Ethan hummed. “Okay, yes, I have. But not since I was a teenager. My parents took us to France every year for a week during the summer. I stopped going when I finished school. Since then, I’ve not really wanted to go anywhere.” Not until now.
“France is nice, too.”
“Where’s the furthest you’ve had to travel for someone?” Ethan shivered, the sea air finally making itself known.
Ethan gaped at him. “Seriously?” Joey nodded. “Don’t they have tattoo artists in America?” Ethan bit his lip. “Sorry, no offence intended. I know you’re great at your job.”
“How do you know?”
Ethan waved to Joey’s wrist. “You must be to be able to get those marks so well done on yourself.”
Joey chuckled. “It doesn’t take much to be able to tattoo.”
“You’re being modest. You have to be an artist to be able to tattoo.” Joey nodded. “Why don’t we head home?” Ethan murmured when Joey said nothing further.
“Race you to the bottom?” Joey said.
“No chance.” Ethan snorted. “I’d fall and break my neck.” Joey stared at him, and Ethan could see his face paling even in the weak light. He reached out and gripped Joey’s biceps. “What’s wrong?”
Joey licked his lips and opened his mouth, but no words came out. Instead, he panted as if he couldn’t get enough air, and Ethan settled him on the top step and pushed his head between his knees, keeping his hand on Joey’s nape and stroking his skin. What the hell? It must’ve been something Ethan said because there was nothing else around them. He thought back over his words. I’d fall and break my neck. Ethan frowned. Had something similar happened to someone Joey knew? Had Ethan inadvertently brought up the pain that Joey had been fighting hard to keep down?
“It’s okay, Joey. I’m here. I’m here.” He kept murmuring words over and over until Joey lifted his head.
“I’m sorry,” Joey whispered.
“You don’t need to be sorry. How are you feeling?”
“I can imagine. Are you ready to head down? We can get a taxi home when we get to the bottom.”
Joey inhaled and stood slowly. Ethan stayed beside him and held onto him to make sure he was steady. He didn’t want Joey falling down the steps and hurting himself. Threading his fingers through Joey’s, he took them down the first few steps, Joey tightening his hold on Ethan’s hand more than he expected. There was a noticeable shake to it, which made Ethan hold tighter, too.
Ethan wanted—no, needed to know what was going on. He hated that Joey was streaked with pain at every turn. Even when he seemed to have fun, there was a telltale sign he was somewhere else in his mind. He couldn’t ask, though. All he could do was be here for when Joey wanted to open up. If he wanted to open up.
When they reached the base of the steps, Joey seemed to relax. Not completely, but enough for their hands to loosen their steel grip on each other. They didn’t let go completely. Ethan led Joey to where the taxis usually waited for customers coming from the pubs. It didn’t take long to find one or get home, and once they were locked inside the house, Ethan stopped in front of Joey.
“How are you?”
Ethan cupped his jaw. “Never feel stupid about that. Panic attacks happen. It’s not my first rodeo.”
Joey turned away, rubbing a hand over his face and head, leaving his arms over his head for a long moment. Just as suddenly, he turned back. “It’s mine.”
Ethan frowned. “What’s yours?” he said, having lost track of the conversation.
“I’ve never had a panic attack before.”
“Not everyone does. And some people go all their lives having them every day.” He moved closer. “Whatever you’re dealing with, Joey, there’s someone who can help. I promise you.”
Joey stared at him, but Ethan knew his answer. He could see it in his eyes. He wasn’t ready yet. Ethan held out his hand. “Let’s go to bed.”
Ethan spent a long time undressing Joey, showering him with affection as best he knew how, and when they settled into bed with Ethan as the big spoon for once, his heart broke all over again for the man he barely knew. How long would Joey stay around before his demons caught up with him? How long did Ethan have to hold him? Those types of questions kept Ethan awake most of the night, watching over Joey as he restlessly tossed and turned.
When Joey finally roused around five o’clock in the morning, Ethan was exhausted, but he was happy that Joey’s eyes were a little clearer.
“Morning,” he said.
“Hey,” Joey rumbled in his sleep-drenched voice, rolling closer to Ethan. He rested his head on Ethan’s pillow so they were only inches apart. “Thank you for yesterday.”
“No problem.” As he looked into Joey’s slate-coloured eyes, he was again reminded of how much he didn’t know about him. And how much he didn’t care that he didn’t know much about him. He should care. He should worry about having a complete stranger in his house. He should be concerned about introducing him to his friends and family.
But he didn’t.
There was something about the connection between him and Joey that he couldn’t explain, but he didn’t want to lose it. He didn’t want to push the man away and lose what they could have. What he was beginning to believe was their potential. Yes, Joey lived in London and had a business there. It wasn’t like he could leave it behind… Only he had done, hadn’t he? At this moment, his business was still running from what Ethan believed, and yet Joey was here. Could they figure out a way to make a relationship work between them? Would Ethan be willing to leave everything behind if they made a go of a relationship?
He wasn’t sure, and that more than anything else kept him from announcing what thoughts were running rampant through his brain.
“Fancy watching a movie in bed, as I don’t have to be at work until later today?” he asked instead.
Joey lifted up and reached across to the drawer in the bedside table. The drawer slid open, and Joey grabbed something, but Ethan was too busy staring at his chest, which was warm and covered with some amazing ink. He still hadn’t the chance to trace every line with his tongue.
And he wouldn’t that day either if those handcuffs were any clue to Joey’s plans.
“How about we do something else first?”
Ethan slid his arms up Joey’s arms to his shoulders, then let go and laid them on the pillow above him.
“I’m sure the movie will be there when we’re done.”
Joey clicked his tongue. “I don’t know. This may take a while.”
He straddled Ethan’s chest, bringing his impressively erect cock to the forefront of Ethan’s vision and attention. His mouth watered, but he couldn’t do anything until Joey said he could. He also couldn’t keep his eyes away from that magnificent dick.
The cool leather wrapped around Ethan’s wrists as Joey fastened the cuffs. When he finished, he slid the key into Ethan’s hand.
“Hold tight to that.”
Ethan gaped. “You can put it on the bedside table. I might let go and lose it.”
Joey stared at him with a look that both set fire to his groin and had him curling into a figurative submissive ball.
“Yes, sir.” He tightened his hold around the key. He had a spare, but he couldn’t remember if it was in the bedside drawer or not.
Joey didn’t need to explain. Ethan opened his mouth, and Joey rested the head of his cock on Ethan’s lower lip. Ethan wanted to lick it, but he stayed still, eyes fixed on Joey, awaiting orders. Joey’s mouth curved.
Ethan did, almost groaning with the taste that exploded over his tongue. He always loved the slightly musky taste and smell of his partners, especially if they’d just woken up. Sleep musk, he called it. The name might catch on one day.
His eyelids fluttered closed as his tongue lapped and licked and laved the head. Then Joey slid further inside, and Ethan moaned. He tugged on the cuffs, wanting to touch Joey, wanting to pull him closer, but he couldn’t. He could’ve lifted his head, but where was the fun in that?
Joey slid deeper and deeper until he touched the back of Ethan’s throat. Ethan had been expecting it, so he didn’t gag, and he loved it. Being held in place with the cuffs while Joey gave him enough cock to stop his breathing was everything he ever imagined it could be.
Maybe he enjoyed breath play a little more than he realised.