Watching the dilation of Ethan’s eyes was a wonder Joey would never tire of. He focused fully on the man, wanting to push away any encroaching thoughts about what had happened the previous evening. Despite Joey’s size, Ethan didn’t gag, which was a heady experience. Tears brimmed along his eyelashes, spilling over whenever he blinked, but Ethan kept steady while Joey used his mouth for his pleasure.
“Fuck! You’re so good. Taking what I’m giving you like you were born for it,” he murmured as he thrust and withdrew into the warm cavern. With gritted teeth, he pulled himself free and shuffled down Ethan’s body until they were face-to-face again. Joey wiped away Ethan’s tears. “Fucking perfect.”
Ethan’s nostrils flared as he regained his breathing, only for Joey to take it again with a hard and deep kiss. Joey closed his eyes, concentrating on the feel of Ethan’s tongue against his, battling for a dominance Ethan wouldn’t win. The cuffs rattled against the bed, and Joey softened the kiss, gently pulling back.
“Ready for more?”
Ethan groaned and rolled his hips against Joey’s body. “Yes, please.”
Joey wasted no time, prepping him as quickly as he could so Ethan would only feel pleasure when Joey entered. He rolled on a condom and slicked it, resting his cock against Ethan’s entrance. Meeting Ethan’s gaze, he pressed forward, ever so slowly, keeping eye contact the entire time. Ethan’s mouth gaped as Joey slid deeper. From the corner of his eye, he watched the flush cover Ethan’s chest and wanted to press his lips there to see if it was as warm as it looked.
Fully seated, he paused for a few seconds before withdrawing and sliding deep again. He did it a few times, then picked up his speed. Pleasure tingled down his spine, pooling in his groin. He stopped and panted, Ethan contracting around him even before his orgasm found him. Joey hooked his arms under Ethan’s legs and leaned down, resting his hands on the bed beside Ethan’s chest.
“You look fucking amazing like this.”
“Please, Sir! Please! I’m so close!” Sweat dripped down Ethan’s temples into his hairline, and he bit his bottom lip, writhing beneath Joey.
Joey didn’t reply. He held Ethan steady, withdrew and slammed back in, drawing a litany of chanted words from Ethan’s mouth. Joey pounded into him, chasing the ultimate pleasure. The slap of skin on skin, the words falling from Ethan and the sight before him sent Joey soaring faster than he’d ever come before. He kept his rhythm even as his mind blanked and Ethan contracted around him, finding his own release. Finally, he held himself deep and groaned through the last twitches of his orgasm before panting against Ethan’s chest. He released Ethan’s legs, but otherwise, kept his position, pressing his lips against Ethan’s sweat-slicked skin.
“Sorry,” he said. “I usually last longer than that.” Any other time, he would’ve felt bad about it, but he knew Ethan had climaxed, so that was the main thing.
“Sorry? Jeez. If you do any better, I’ll probably not survive it.”
The cuffs rattled, and Joey lifted his head. Wincing, he pulled free from Ethan’s channel and threw the condom into the bin by the bed. He reached up and pried open Ethan’s hand, where it had clutched at the key so tightly it had left an imprint in his palm. Joey unlocked the cuffs and massaged Ethan’s wrists to get the blood flowing again.
“Ah, pins and needles.” Ethan groaned, flexing his fingers.
“Sorry. Maybe you were in that position too long.”
Ethan shook his head, even as he grimaced. “No. It was perfect.”
“Let me get a cloth.”
Joey rose from the bed and wet a flannel in the bathroom, returning to clean Ethan’s stomach, cock and hole. The pucker twitched and made Joey want another go at it, but he didn’t want to push Ethan too hard.
“Thanks,” Ethan said once Joey finished cleaning him. “Get back in here so we can watch that movie.”
“Let me grab some food for you first,” Joey said, slipping on some boxers. “I’ll even bring you a coffee.”
“Don’t become even more perfect. I might not let you go.”
Ethan met his gaze, and something sparked between them, but Joey didn’t answer. Instead, he strode for the kitchen, trying to push down the butterflies in his stomach at the words. This was a stopgap only. He couldn’t put down roots here. He had a life. Though he didn’t feel the urge to go back as harshly as he had before.
And that was a problem he would eventually have to face.
A few days later, Joey knelt by a socket while he swapped it out for a new, unbroken one. He’d done it many times in the tattoo shop, so it wasn’t a hardship to do it here. It didn’t hurt that he was in earshot of Ethan, whose voice was like a balm to his hurts.
Listening to Ethan was the excuse he gave himself for not paying attention to his surroundings. From one minute to the next, he went from screwing the socket back in place to hearing a squeal and being surrounded by three women who were all talking over one another.
“Oh, my god! It’s you! I can’t believe you’re here! I never thought I’d see you in person! Oh, my god! Is it really you? You’re amazing! You have so much talent! I can’t believe you get to work with all those celebrities! Oh, my god! Oh, my god!”
Joey couldn’t differentiate which woman was saying what, but his heart hammered in his chest and his mouth went dry. He’d let his guard down, and now he’d have to leave. He tried to extricate himself from the woman, but they were tugging on his sleeves and had their hands on his chest as they spoke. His brain threw images at him, and he lost track of what was the present and what was the past. Memories of him laughing on a night out, drinking with friends, smiling for photographs with his clients, crying with his head in his hands, sobbing through the pain of his loss.
Until a voice blasted through it all.
“Excuse me, ladies. I think it’s time for you to head to your rooms, don’t you?” Ethan said.
“But we just—”
“You just got overexcited and need to rest now.” Ethan’s voice was firm, and the women stepped back, shocked. “Please head over to the reception desk, and my colleague will see that you are checked in quickly. Just over there.” He pointed towards the desk and herded the women off. They kept looking back but followed his lead. Ethan turned back to him and rested his hand on his biceps. “Come with me.”
Joey couldn’t do anything else. Lethargy claimed his body, and he stumbled next to Ethan, who kept a grip on him. They entered the staff room, where they took their breaks, and Ethan led him to a chair in the corner.
“Sit. I’ll get you a drink.”
Joey stared at his shaking hands, clenching them into fists and spreading them again repeatedly. His breath heaved in and out of his chest, and he tried to slow it down, but his heart had no qualms about continuing to pound hard enough to jump out of his chest. He ran his fingers through his hair, clenching at the strands and resting his elbows on his knees. What the fuck was he going to do? He had to get out of there before the media turned up because there was no way those women were going to keep quiet about his whereabouts. All he needed was for one post on social media to mention seeing him, and everyone would be here quicker than Concorde used to fly.
“Here you go,” Ethan said, plucking Joey from his circling thoughts. He knelt in front of Joey and held out a glass of water.
Joey’s hands shook as he took it, but Ethan cradled his hands around the glass, helping him to drink a few sips. The liquid was icy enough going down his throat that it settled him a little. His heart rate decreased, as did his breathing.
“Sorry,” he said.
“You need to stop apologising.”
Joey glanced up at Ethan, who had taken the glass once Joey had enough, and set it on the table near them. “I have a lot to apologise for. This especially.” He waved in the approximate direction of the hotel foyer.
Ethan lay a hand on Joey’s arm and squeezed. “You have nothing to apologise for.”
Joey snorted. “I have everything to apologise for. Except maybe bringing business to the hotel once my whereabouts are made public.”
Ethan raised his eyebrows but didn’t comment. He had every right to ask. “Let’s go home, and we can figure out what’s going on from there.”
Joey shook his head. “You have to work. I’ll be fine. I’ll—”
“Do as you’re told, for once.” Ethan’s expression brooked no argument, and Joey found his mouth twitching up into a smile.
Ethan nodded. “Stay here for a moment, and I’ll speak with Meredith.” He handed Joey the glass, which he took with now steady hands, and said, “Drink it all. I’ll be back in a minute.”
Joey blew out his breath once Ethan had closed the door behind him. There was no “figuring out” what he should do because there was only one option. He needed to leave before he brought more scrutiny to Ethan than the man deserved. The journalists were no joke to deal with, especially when they found a worthwhile story.
And Joey’s story was worthwhile in that he’d gone “missing” for far too long.
“I hear we have a celebrity in the house.”
Joey jerked his head up, having not heard the door open, and stared at David. Of all the people he hadn’t wanted to see, that man was at the top of the list. There was something about him that Joey didn’t like, and he was the last on the list of who he wanted to find out about what happened. Luck wasn’t in his favour that day, it seemed.
“They got it wrong.”
David’s mouth quirked. “Really? How unfortunate.” He stepped closer, and though still half a room away, it was too close for Joey’s comfort. “They seemed very clear that you were someone worth noting. If you’re hoping to keep your head down, it seems like it hasn’t worked.”
Joey stood. “I’m not who they think I am.”
“Okay.” David nodded slowly. “They seem adamant, though.”
Joey strode to the sink and placed the glass inside. He couldn’t wash it. He needed to get out of there. David was reaching for an answer Joey refused to give him. When he reached the door, his hand clasped around the handle, David spoke again.
“Gossip is a funny thing. It can take the most innocent of statements and tweak and fold and twist until it becomes something completely different. Be careful, Mr Reynolds.”
Joey didn’t look back, not wanting to see if David’s face revealed the truth of the threat he’d just made. It hadn’t slipped his notice that David used his real name, not the pseudonym he’d given Meredith. Ethan strode towards him as he exited, eyebrows raised.
Joey shook his head and headed for the exit, not caring if Ethan followed or not. He pulled his hat further down on his head and hunched his shoulders, shoving his hands into his pockets. Ethan’s car unlocked as he reached it, and he slid inside without a word. Ethan slipped in beside him and started the engine. He didn’t hesitate and drove straight home.
Staring out of the window, Joey worked through everything he had to grab from the house before he could leave. He needed to give Ethan an explanation, too. It was the least he could do, especially if journalists were going to be bugging him because someone told him of their connection. He had a feeling David wouldn’t be as quiet as people expected him to be.
When the front door of his recent sanctuary closed behind them, Joey faced Ethan. “I have some explaining to do.”
“You don’t need to explain anything you don’t want to.”
Joey snorted and shook his head. “Yeah, I do. I’ve drawn you into this, which means you need to know what might come your way.”
Ethan blinked at him. “Okay.” He sighed. “I think we need coffee for this.” He slipped past Joey and disappeared.
Joey waited a few minutes before following and settling into a chair at the table. He had no idea where to start with his story. He wasn’t even sure if he could voice some of it. But Ethan deserved the truth. His life might be irrevocably changed by hiding Joey away from prying eyes.
A mug appeared in front of him, the scent of coffee relaxing his shoulders. “Thanks,” he said.
Ethan sat opposite him and sipped the steaming brew, seemingly uncaring of scolding his mouth. “So…”
Joey wrapped both hands around the piping hot mug and let the heat warm him as far as it could reach. “My real name is Joey Reynolds. I own a tattoo shop called Life in Ink in London. That’s the truth. What I neglected to say was that I tattoo celebrities regularly. My business comprises four artists, including myself, who often travel across the country to meet with celebrities to tattoo them.” He licked his lips. “As you can imagine, I’m in the public eye a lot. It’s no secret what I do or for who, except for the NDAs I’ve signed, stopping me from sharing certain information I saw and heard. That means, when something happens, it becomes public knowledge quickly.” He scraped his lower teeth over his upper lip, unsure if he could continue.
“I’m assuming something big happened. You don’t need to tell me.”
Ethan’s simple acceptance of Joey’s words had his shoulders unwinding further. “I do. I need to tell someone. I need to tell you.” He glanced up, becoming ensnared in Ethan’s gaze. “You’ve given me so much. Even things I can’t explain. I owe you everything. Instead, I’m bringing chaos down on you.”
“Pfft. Chaos is good for the soul.” Ethan winked at him, making Joey chuckle, half-hearted though it was.
He blew out a breath, squaring his shoulders to take the weight of the pain he would feel once the words started flowing.
“Adam Kennedy.” He glanced up to see if the name registered with Ethan, but his expression stayed the same. “My best friend.” He huffed a laugh. “Always getting into trouble, ever since we met in high school. High on life. Loved without question. Fearless.” Joey swallowed, nostrils flaring as he tried to take in enough oxygen. “We’d been at a party. A fairly high-profile one. Adam was tipsy, the same as me, but not overly drunk. He disappeared for a while, as he usually did when he was on the prowl for a partner, but eventually, he made his way back to me. We called a taxi and headed home. I dropped Adam off first, then the taxi took me to my place.”
Joey inhaled, trying to stop the wave of emotion threatening to close his throat. His eyes burned, and he breathed through it all, pushing everything back.
“I visited him the next day as he’d asked me to tattoo him. I knew he’d be hungover, so I didn’t go over until after lunch, taking some food and coffee with me to perk him up.” His stomach roiled. “I let myself in as I always did. When he didn’t answer when I called his name, I went searching. I found him…” He exhaled. “I found him hanging from the bannister.”
Images flashed through his head, taking him through the scene over and over, still trying to figure out why Adam had done it. It made no sense. Joey had seen nothing to advertise that Adam had felt depressed or worthless or anything like that. It had come as a complete shock to him. He’d spent more hours than he wanted to admit trying to figure out what he’d missed. What had happened to make Adam desperate enough to end things? Joey had yet to find the answer. And that was something that hurt more than anything else. How could Joey trust himself when he couldn’t see that his best friend was in such pain?
“It wasn’t your fault, Joey,” Ethan said, reaching across the table to cover Joey’s hands with his own. “Sometimes, you can’t see inside of someone, no matter how close you are to them. Some people are good at hiding.”
“He was my best friend, Ethan. How could I not see it?” A drop of water hit his hand, his tears no longer held back.
“It’s not your fault.” The words wouldn’t penetrate Joey’s pain, though he understood Ethan was trying to help. “What made you come here?” Ethan asked.
“After I called the police and made a statement, people flocked to the shop, trying to get news and photos. It was a circus. I couldn’t deal with it. So I ran. Just up and left. Kept driving and stopping to sleep in my car, then driving again. I only answered messages from Ani, the assistant manager of my shop. I’ve not spoken to anyone else since, except for the police, and that was only once.”
“I can understand you needing to hide. That would’ve been overwhelming,” Ethan said.
Joey inhaled and met Ethan’s gaze. “I can’t stay any longer. I have to leave.”