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In the Name of Love

By Edward Kendrick


Published by JMS Books LLC at Smashwords

Visit jms-books.com for more information.


Copyright 2017 Edward Kendrick

ISBN 9781634865043

* * * *

Cover Design: Written Ink Designs | written-ink.com

Image(s) used under a Standard Royalty-Free License.

All rights reserved.


WARNING: This book is not transferable. It is for your own personal use. If it is sold, shared, or given away, it is an infringement of the copyright of this work and violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

No portion of this book may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the publisher, with the exception of brief excerpts used for the purposes of review.

This book is for ADULT AUDIENCES ONLY. It may contain sexually explicit scenes and graphic language which might be considered offensive by some readers. Please store your files where they cannot be accessed by minors.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Published in the United States of America.

* * * *

In the Name of Love

By Edward Kendrick

Chapter 1

He saw the handsome young man and instantly knew he had to have him. Oh, he wouldn’t kidnap him. After all, that was against the law. Instead, he would become friends with him. Then, slowly, he would begin to romance him, until the young man could no longer resist falling in love with him. But that was in the future. First, he had to find out all he could about him, beginning with his name.

* * * *

Ryan glanced from the sketch he was working on to the man and woman sitting a few yards away who were the subjects. It was obvious they were arguing. What he was trying to capture was their expressions and body language. He flipped the page to do another sketch, nodding when he finished it. Better. Not perfect, but better.

He was about to try again when someone said from behind him, “That is excellent. I can feel their anger.”

Turning, Ryan saw a good-looking man, at least five years older than his own twenty-five, if not more.

“Are you a professional?” the man asked, cocking his head to study the sketch again.

“I’m trying to be,” Ryan replied with a self-deprecating smile.

“Meaning?”

“I’ll have a few drawings in a show coming up at a local gallery, as part of their New Artists exhibition. If they sell, I guess that’ll make me a professional.”

“I would think, if this—” the man tapped the sketch, “—if this is an example of your work, they will definitely sell.”

“Thanks for confidence boost,” Ryan replied.

“Which gallery?”

“The First Street, on, no surprise, First Street. The show opens this Friday.”

“Perhaps I’ll check it out, umm…” The man looked at Ryan in question.

“Ryan.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Ryan. I’m—” The man’s cellphone rang before he could finish. He answered, walking away as he talked.

“Not terribly polite,” Ryan said under his breath. “Leaving me hanging like that.” Turning to a new page in his pad, he did a quick sketch of the man’s face from memory. He’d make a good subject for one of my drawings. Not like I’ll ever see him again to suggest it, I suspect, but he would.

Thumbing through the pages in the sketchpad, he decided he’d done enough for the day, so he stood, stretching to work out the kinks from sitting on the park bench for so long. He realized, as often happened, he’d lost track of the time. He had half an hour to make it back to his apartment, change clothes, and get to work.

Someday, I’ll be a famous artist, and then I won’t have to worry about holding down a day job to support myself. Ryan chuckled as he started down the path. Or at least middling well-known, to keep a roof over my head and food on the table. He was praying the exhibition at the gallery would be the first step in achieving his dream.

* * * *

Feeling decidedly uncomfortable, because he wasn’t used to wearing a suit and tie, Ryan pushed open the doors and entered the gallery on Friday evening. He wouldn’t be wearing the suit if it wasn’t for the fact that the gallery’s owners insisted their artists be presentable during an opening. To quote Mr. Foster, “This is a black-tie event. While we don’t expect our artists to rent a tuxedo, we do expect you to bypass grungy jeans and paint-smeared T-shirts in favor of something less ‘starving artist’.” He’d said it with a smile, so Ryan hadn’t felt as if he was being put down.

Thankfully, his boss at the restaurant had given him the night off without argument, once he found out why Ryan had needed it. He’d also tendered his congratulations, and wished Ryan good luck.

People were already arriving for the exhibition. At one end of the main room, a table had been set up with finger-foods, wine, sparkling water, and coffee. Some of the patrons had already gravitated to it. Others, as was to be expected, were wandering around, looking at the collection of oils, watercolors, and drawings hanging on the walls. Ryan was happy to see his drawings were getting their fair share of attention. Now, if only they’ll buy instead of just looking.

“Scary, isn’t it?” John, one of the other artists, said when he came in right after Ryan.

“More like terrifying. So many good artists competing for attention. It makes me wonder if all these people are questioning why I’m among them.”

“Tell me about it.” John shivered. “And we have to stand next to our stuff so people can ask us things like ‘Why did you choose that subject, style, color?’ etcetera.”

“I just ‘felt’ it,” Ryan said, chuckling.

John grinned. “I don’t think that’s the answer they’re looking for. Oh, well, I’d better—We’d better go take our places.”

An hour later, Ryan was ready to strangle the next person who questioned why he drew people, rather than ‘picturesque’ things like landscapes or building. “Because it’s what I like, and I’m good at it,” he grumbled under his breath. I’m a good watercolorist, too, but the owners wanted my drawings, so that’s what they got.

He looked around the now crowded gallery, wondering how many of the patrons were really interested in buying something. He had the sneaking suspicion at least half of them were there because it was a social event and they wanted to be seen as supporters of the arts by their peers.

Across the room, he thought he saw a familiar face. The man looked at him, then smiled as he wove his way through the throng to join Ryan. Rather than greeting Ryan, the man studied each of the drawings.

Finally, he said, “You’re as good as I thought you’d be, after seeing the sketch you did at the park.”

Ryan dipped his head momentarily, replying, “Thank you.”

“I never did get the chance to introduce myself. I’m Merrick Hampton.”

“Nice to have a name for the face,” Ryan replied, instantly wondering if it sounded as cliché to Merrick as it did to him.

Apparently, it didn’t, because Merrick didn’t seem put off. “How long have you been drawing,” he asked.

“Since I first knew what a pencil was for,” Ryan replied. When Merrick lifted an eyebrow, Ryan told him, “I’m serious. According to my parents, instead of learning to write, I’d draw trees and houses, and stick figures to go with them, whenever they handed me paper and a pencil.”

Merrick grinned. “In other words, you can’t spell worth a damn, but you can draw what you want to say, instead.”

“It’s not quite that bad, thankfully.”

“Either way, you’re a very good artist, in my opinion, Ryan. Keep it up, and you might have your own opening soon, without the competition.” Merrick nodded to another artist’s painting hanging next to Ryan’s drawings.

“It’s my dream, although I seriously doubt it will be soon, if it happens at all.”

“I believe it will,” Merrick replied. With a nod of affirmation, he smiled at Ryan and then moved on to look at another artwork. At that point, Ryan lost track of him when a couple started asking him the obligatory, as he thought of it, questions about his drawings.

It was almost time for the gallery to close, and the crowd had dwindled to a few dozen diehards, when Mr. Foster came over to Ryan. “Four of your drawings sold,” he said.

“Wow.” Ryan sighed with relief.

Mr. Foster smiled. “Don’t look so surprised. You’re a very good artist. We wouldn’t have made you part of the exhibition otherwise.”

“Thank you. This sort of validates the fact that other people must agree with you.” Ryan grinned. “Now, I’m a professional artist.”

“As long as you don’t let it go to your head,” Mr. Foster cautioned. “I’ve seen it happen one too many times. Then the artist decides he has to have his own show. He knocks out enough artwork to do so, finds a small gallery to rent, and falls on his face because the new stuff isn’t up to what he’s capable of.”

“I’ll remember that,” Ryan replied. “I wouldn’t mind being popular, I guess you could say. But not if it compromises what I’m doing.”

“That, Ryan, makes you a true artist, as far as I’m concerned. Anyway, as you know, your drawings will remain in the exhibition until it closes.” As he spoke, Mr. Foster affixed small green dots to the card next to each sold drawing. “Again, congratulations.”

“Thanks.” Not sure it’s ‘again’, since it’s the first time he said it, but I’ll take it in the spirit it was intended.

He wondered if Merrick had been one of the buyers, but knew there was no way to find out. The gallery kept such information classified so artists wouldn’t approach someone with more of their artwork, thus denying the gallery its percentage of a sale.

As Ryan got ready to leave, his thoughts once again went to Merrick. He wondered if he’d ever see the man again. Probably not. He might like my drawings, but it doesn’t mean he’s going to track me down to get more of them—or for any other reason. Which is kind of too bad. I’d like to do some more sketches of him, in person, not from memory. He’s got the dark, brooding thing going for him. He suddenly realized it was true. Merrick was handsome, to be sure, but there was something about him which said there was a lot more to him than just good looks. Kind of scary, but definitely fascinating, too. I could do an interesting series revolving around him, given half a chance. Won’t happen, though. Tonight was undoubtedly the last I’ll see of him.

Shrugging, certain it was the truth of the matter, Ryan headed home.

* * * *

Chapter 2

Merrick had no problem getting onto Ryan’s Facebook page, the next step in his quest to learn more about the young artist. All he had to do was put Ryan’s name into the search box and then look through the pictures of the several Ryan Westleys that came up for the one with collar-length dark hair. He had learned Ryan’s last name when he’d gone to the gallery for the opening.

When he found him, Merrick was pleasantly surprised to discover Ryan wasn’t one of those who hid his information from anyone who wasn’t on his friends list—a list which turned out to be very sparse, as were the number of things he posted. Apparently, Ryan wasn’t the sort of young person who spent hours online sharing his political beliefs or funny sayings, or letting everyone know what he had for dinner, or that his ‘Grandma Matilda’ was on her way to Europe for a month.

One thing Merrick had already learned was, there wasn’t a ‘Grandma Matilda’ in Ryan’s life—or any other close relatives, excluding an uncle. According to various sites set up specifically to find out about people, Ryan’s parents were deceased, the result of an unfortunate boating accident when he was seventeen. He had no siblings, and apparently, no living grandparents. There was the one uncle, on his father’s side, who lived with his family on the East Coast. Presumably, he and Ryan didn’t keep in touch via Facebook, as neither the uncle’s name, nor any of his family’s appeared on Ryan’s page. Merrick did find out that Ryan was working as a waiter at an upscale restaurant downtown.

Merrick had smiled when he’d found the last bit of information. The perfect place to run into him again, without seeming as if I’ve planned it.

* * * *

Ryan had just taken the orders from a party of four, seated in his section, and was on his way to deliver them to the kitchen, when he saw someone he thought he recognized come into the restaurant. It took him a moment to realize it was Merrick. The last time he’d seen him had been at the opening, almost a week ago.

After dropping off the orders, Ryan returned to his section to find Merrick had been seated at one of the tables for two.

“Well, this is a pleasant surprise,” Merrick said when Ryan approached. “When an acquaintance of mine suggested I try the food here, I never expected to have someone I know as my waiter.”

“I rarely get anyone I know as a customer,” Ryan replied, smiling. “Or, to be honest, never. The prices here are well beyond my friends’ budgets, I’m afraid.”

“Have you been working here long?” Merrick asked.

“I started during my last year in college,” Ryan told him, just as a customer at another table tried to get his attention. He told Merrick he’d be right back, asking before leaving if he wanted something to drink.

“I’ll let you know when you return. By then, I’ll probably know what I want for dinner, as well.”

The other customers, a couple in their mid-forties, had made their choices for dessert. “Five minutes ago,” the man said acerbically. “I thought you’d know we’d finished dinner, since the busboy had cleared away our plates.”

God save me from officious people. Ryan politely apologized, took their orders, and relayed them to the kitchen. Then he went back to Merrick.

“From the look on that man’s face, he’s the kind who expects a waiter to kowtow to him,” Merrick said, rolling his eyes.

Ryan nodded. “We get them now and then. Did you decide what you want to drink?”

“A glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. For dinner…” Merrick grinned at Ryan. “I told you I’d be ready to order. I’ll have the heirloom tomato salad, and the beef Wellington.”

“Coffee with the meal?”

“Yes, thank you.”

Ryan nodded, and returned moments later with the wine. He didn’t get a chance to talk any more with Merrick until the man had finished his dinner.

“Would you like more coffee, or dessert?” Ryan asked.

“Just coffee, thank you.”

Ryan refilled his cup, before doing the same for the people at two other tables. By then, it was late enough the restaurant was more than half empty. So, after Merrick had paid for his meal, Ryan had a chance to talk with him.

Or, rather, answer some questions from Merrick, starting with, “Have you sold any more of your drawings?”

Ryan knew he was bragging a bit when he said, “Almost all of them, believe it or not.”

“Wonderful,” Merrick replied. “Now you can retire from restaurant work and spend all your time creating more. And I think you said you do watercolors as well?”

Ryan didn’t remember telling him that, but the opening had been so exciting he figured he must have, during their brief talk there. “I do,” he replied. “The only reason there weren’t any at the gallery was because the owners felt there were too many other artists who specialized in them, and they wanted to balance it with oils and drawings.”

“Do you do oil paintings as well?”

“No. I much prefer doing what I’m good at, and oil painting is not my forte, as I discovered at art school.”

“Where did you go to school?” Merrick asked, looking at Ryan over the rim of his cup before taking a sip.

“Here in the city. I came out here right after high school, since they offered me a partial scholarship.”

“Impressive.”

Ryan chuckled. “It would have been more impressive if it had been a full one.”

“Did your parents help pay your tuition?”

“No. They…died in an accident when I was seventeen.”

“I’m sorry,” Merrick replied softly. “Would I be wrong in presuming you stayed with family until after high school?”

“My aunt and uncle. They were very nice about it, but they had a family of their own, so…” Ryan shrugged. Why is he so curious about me? Probably for something to talk about while he finishes his coffee, since we sort of know each other. I should return the favor and ask about him. He might have done so, if he didn’t have a couple of other tables which he realized he’d been ignoring. He excused himself then went to check on how everyone was doing. He started back to where Merrick had been seated only to see the man walking toward the restaurant’s front door.

I wonder if he’ll come back again. Do I care? He thought maybe he did. It was nice, having a good-looking man seem to be interested in him. Not that it means anything. I’m just the artist he happened upon in the park. If I hadn’t mentioned the opening, I’m sure he wouldn’t have shown up there. Still…He thought about the sketch he’d made of Merrick, which was tacked above his drawing table at the apartment. Wishful thinking? Definitely.

With that thought, he got back to what he was being paid for, dealing with the last of the customers in his section and then helping clean up before going home.

* * * *

“Now how do I make contact with Ryan again?” Merrick wondered aloud as he drove back to his house. “More to the point, when I do, what then? I want him. How do I make him want me?” He sighed. I don’t even know if men are his thing. He could be as straight as they come. The only thing which says otherwise is the fact that he did post some pictures on his Facebook page last year of his attending Pride. Including a few of him with his arm around other young men’s waists or shoulders.

Back to the main problem, though. How can I set it up to run into him again without seeming obvious about it? Or does it matter? He rapped his fingers on the steering wheel, then smiled when he came up with an idea which just might work.

* * * *

“Ryan, it’s David Foster from the gallery,” the man said when Ryan answered his phone late Thursday morning. “I had a call, about an hour ago, from one of our patrons.”

“They want some of my drawings? Ones that aren’t in the show?” Ryan asked hopefully, his mind half on the conversation, the rest on the drawing he was doing of an angry couple, based on the sketches he’d done at the park the previous week.

“Yes, and no. The man wanted to know if you do private work. He wants either a drawing or a watercolor of himself to give to his mother for her sixtieth birthday. I told him I’d check with you. If you’re interested, I’ll put you in touch with him.”

“Do you want a percentage, if I agree?” Ryan asked. “Not that I mind, if you do.”

“No. Your contract with us is only for what you sell through the gallery.”

“All right. Honestly, I’ve never done anything like that, but I’m willing to try.” He chuckled. “I suppose the worst that happens is he hates it when it’s finished.”

“I seriously doubt it,” Mr. Foster replied. “I’ll give him your phone number.”

“Thank you!” When he hung up, a feeling of elation washed over Ryan. “Maybe, just maybe, I’m finally on my way to becoming a real professional. Okay, so I already am, thanks to the show, but being paid to do someone’s portrait?” He looked around the bedroom in his apartment which he’d turned into a studio. “If he likes it, and tells his friends, then maybe I can get a real studio. I could live with that.”

* * * *

Thursday night at the restaurant, Ryan had kept an eye open for Merrick, on the off chance he’d come by again. He had to admit he felt disappointed when it didn’t happen, even though he hadn’t really expected it to.

As soon as he got up Friday morning, and had eaten breakfast, he went back to the angry couple drawing, and a watercolor he’d been working on. It was almost noon when his phone rang. He was tempted to ignore it, except for the fact it might be the man Mr. Foster had told him about.

“This is Ryan Westley,” he said.

“Hello, Ryan, this is Merrick.”

Ryan frowned. “How did you get my number?”

“From Mr. Foster at the gallery. He gave it to me when I asked him if you worked for yourself, as well as showing your drawings at the gallery.”

“That was you?”

Merrick chortled. “It was, unless they’ve had more than one inquiry about you.”

“I wish.”

“Don’t worry, it will happen. For the moment though, did Mr. Foster tell you what I was looking for?”

“Yes. A portrait of you, either a drawing or a watercolor. You want one to give your mother for her birthday.”

“Exactly. How much would it cost?”

“I…well…” Ryan had no idea what to tell him. “I suppose the same price they were charging at the gallery, depending on the size.”

“From three hundred to four-fifty?”

“Yes.”

“Ryan,” Merrick replied, “you’re undercharging. You’re not taking into account the time you’ll spend doing preliminary sketches, or your travel expenses coming out to my house.”

“You want me to come…Okay, obviously you do.”

“Unless you have a studio somewhere, and somehow I doubt it.”

“I could, you know,” Ryan protested. “But I don’t,” he admitted. “Another dream of mine, for the future.”

“When would you be available to start?” Merrick asked. “It would have to be in the evening. I have my business to run, during the day.”

Ryan worried his lip momentarily. “I’m off on Mondays and Tuesdays.”

There was a pause, then Merrick replied, “What about Sunday during the day? At least for our first meeting.”

“Sure. When? I’d have to leave in time to get to work by four.”

“Then let’s say eleven, if that works for you.”

“It does. What’s the address?”

When Merrick gave it to him, Ryan realized the man lived in one of the very high-class suburbs of the city. He smiled ruefully. Boy, am I outclassed.

“All right, I’ll see you then. You can park on the drive in front of the garage,” Merrick said. “Thank you for agreeing to do this. It will mean the world to my mother.”

“Thank you for offering me the chance,” Ryan replied sincerely before saying goodbye.

* * * *

“Step one completed.” Merrick took a deep breath, sighing with relief. Now, which room should we use?

He didn’t want one which would remotely suggest he had an ulterior motive for hiring Ryan, but he also didn’t want to set up in the living room, or the parlor. Too formal. He supposed they could use the library—the number of books he owned might impress Ryan—but it still didn’t feel right. Finally, he decided the small patio out back might be the best spot. The weather was predicted to be warm and sunny, a perfect spring day, and the small patio wasn’t roofed, so he figured Ryan would appreciate the natural light. After all, when I first saw him, he was outdoors in the park.

* * * *

Chapter 3

“Holy shit,” Ryan whispered as he drove past the front of Merrick’s home, searching for the driveway he’d mentioned. It was a huge, two-story Tudor, although he suspected from the steep roof, there must be a third floor whose windows would face the back yard. He really wanted to stop where he was to do some sketches. He could envision turning them into part of a fantasy series with knights and ladies wandering the grounds.

He resisted, turned the corner onto the side street, saw the driveway, and parked. Going around to the curved, turreted front entrance with its large, dark door, which stood out starkly against the red brick façade, he rang the bell. While he waited, he nervously fingered the strap of the messenger bag he used for his supplies.

“Welcome,” Merrick said a moment later, after opening the door to let Ryan inside. He was dressed casually, in jeans and a soft, blue shirt. Very different from the last few times Ryan had seen him.

The entry hallway had hardwood flooring. There was a flight of stairs to one side with an ornate iron railing. On the other side was an archway opening onto the living room. He saw a fireplace on the exterior wall, with draperied windows on either side. Facing the fireplace was a white sofa with two matching armchairs and an oak coffee table on a large, oriental rug.

Farther down the hallway was another archway. Beyond it, Ryan saw the dining room with a dark oak trestle table large enough to seat eight people. At the end of the hallway was a third archway opening onto a huge kitchen with a dining nook off to one side, as well as a center island which could be used for casual meals. Is that all he does when company comes? Feed them? Ryan smiled at the idea, although he did think all the dining areas was a bit of overkill.

They went through the dining nook to a pair of double doors opening onto a small patio—with a table and four chairs.

“I’ll show you the parlor, library, and media room later,” Merrick said. “Would you like something to drink before we start? I have coffee, wine, and lemonade.” He paused, adding with a smile, “And of course hard liquor, but it’s a bit early for that.”

“Lemonade sounds good,” Ryan replied.

Merrick left the patio, returning moments later with a frosty pitcher and two tall glasses on a silver tray. He set it on the table, then poured them each a glass of what Ryan was certain, after tasting it, was fresh, not frozen lemonade.

If he’s trying to impress me, he’s doing a damned good job of it.

After settling in a chair, his fingers laced around his glass, Merrick smiled at Ryan. “How do you want to do this?”

“Just be you,” Ryan replied, taking a pad and pencils from his bag.

“You don’t want me to pose?”

“Not at all.” Ryan began to do a quick sketch. “You don’t have sit, frozen in one place, either,” he said a bit later when he realized Merrick hadn’t moved—or talked. “Relax. Umm, tell me something about yourself.”

* * * *

The whole not moving had been an act on Merrick’s part. He knew, from having watched Ryan at the park, the younger man didn’t need his subjects to remain perfectly still. He’d caught the arguing couple perfectly in the two sketches Merrick had seen, despite the fact they were gesturing angrily, their expressions varying with their words. He’d been holding still to get a reaction from Ryan.

“All right,” Merrick replied, tapping one finger on his lip. “For starters, I own an advertising agency. Not the biggest one in the city, but it keeps me in, what’s the saying? Beer and skittles?”

“Something like that,” Ryan agreed. “Although from what I’ve seen of your house, it does quite a bit more.”

Merrick laughed. “True, although I inherited the house from my grandfather when he died, so there’s no mortgage to worry about.”

“Must be nice,” Ryan said with a wry smile. “My family wasn’t rich. All I got when my parents died, after inheritance taxes and burial fees were paid, was enough to pay the part of my tuition the scholarship didn’t cover. Housing, food, supplies, all the rest…” He shrugged. “They came out of my own pocket.”

“Which is why you had to work while going to school.” Merrick corrected himself, since Ryan hadn’t said anything to him about that. “Or, I presume you did. You said you’d been at the restaurant since your senior year at the art school.”

“Yep. Could you turn to the side, please?” When Merrick did, Ryan asked him, “Did you grow up here in the city?”

“No. My mother was from California. That’s where my parents met, and after they got married, they stayed there. I’m an Angelino born and bred.”

“How did you end up out here?” Ryan asked as he continued sketching, flipping to a new page every couple of minutes. “Okay, probably because you inherited the house.”

“Partly. I also met a man who was looking for someone to buy into his agency. It was fortuitous both things happened within six months of each other. Two years later, I bought him out and I’ve been running it ever since.”

“Nice.” Ryan set down his pencil, flexing his fingers.

“If you’ll allow me…” Without waiting for a reply, Merrick took Ryan’s hand and began massaging it. Ryan was obviously startled, but didn’t pull away. “Better?” Merrick asked.

“Yes. Thank you! Can I hire you to do that on a regular basis?”

“I’m expensive,” Merrick teased.

“It might almost be worth it.” Ryan picked up the pencil and began sketching again. “Are you married? Have a girlfriend? Well, woman friend I guess, at your age.”

Merrick laughed. “That makes me sound like I’m in my dotage.”

“I didn’t mean it that way,” Ryan replied, looking embarrassed. “I don’t think you’re much over thirty.”

“Thirty-three and counting. To answer your question, no I’m not married, and no girlfriend. I like women. Some of my best friends are female, but that’s all they are—friends. If I were looking for more, it would be with a man.” Merrick watched Ryan as he said that, seeing what he thought was relief in his expression, as brief as it was. “Does it bother you?” he asked, wanting some verification Ryan might feel the same way.

Ryan shook his head. “Not at all. Why should it?”

“Some people take umbrage to the fact a person can be attracted to someone of their own sex.”

“That’s their problem, isn’t it?” Ryan pointed the pencil at Merrick, saying, “Are you trying to find out if I’m gay, too? If so, you could have asked, instead of beating around the bush.”

“All right. Are you?”

“Yes.” Ryan rotated one finger, indicating Merrick should turn the other way, facing the yard. He started to draw again, his concentration on what he was doing, so Merrick let the subject drop—for the moment.

Several minutes later, Ryan said, “That should be enough for now.”

Merrick got up, coming to stand beside him. “May I see?”

“Sure. They’re only impressions. I’ll use them to put together some full drawings. Then you can choose which one you like best and I’ll go from there.”

Merrick saw what he meant as Ryan turned the pages. Some of the sketches were quite abbreviated—his nose, his lips, his eyes, the arch of an eyebrow. Others were complete, showing him from the front, the sides, and three-quarters. He put one hand on the table, purposely leaning lightly against Ryan’s shoulder as he bent forward to tap one sketch. “I like the feeling in this one.”

Ryan didn’t move as he looked up at him. “Because you’re smiling?”

“I think so.” Merrick realized in most of the others, he hadn’t been. “Am I really so much of a sobersides?”

“Not that I’ve noticed.” Now, Ryan eased away. “I think you were a bit uncomfortable, although you’ll deny it. Most people are when they know someone’s drawing them, or taking their photo as far as that goes.”

“True.” Merrick went back to his seat, pouring more lemonade for them both, even though Ryan was putting away his pencils and pad. “If you’d like, I’ll give you the tour of the house I promised.”

“I’d love to see it, but not right now, unfortunately. I have to get to work.”

“It’s that late already?” Merrick asked in feigned surprise, since he knew it was.

“Yep.” Ryan took a drink before saying, “Maybe next time.”

“When you have something to show me? How long will it take?”

“It depends how productive I am. I’m off tomorrow, so I’ll start working on the preliminaries first thing in the morning. If it goes well, it might be tomorrow night. I’ll call you, either way.” He stood, slinging his bag over one shoulder.

Merrick nodded as he stood as well. “If it is, how about I make us dinner.”

Ryan seemed surprised. “You don’t have to do that.”

“I’d like to. You’re good company, which is something I don’t get much of.” Merrick wondered if he’d pushed the loneliness button too soon when Ryan frowned.

Then Ryan said, as they walked around the house to his car, “I get what you mean. Between my job, and my artwork, it seems as if I never have time to do anything with friends.”

“So you will let me fix dinner?”

Ryan laughed. “I have the feeling I can’t stop you.”

“Exactly.” Merrick waited until Ryan was in the car. It was an old one, what he thought the kids called a beater. If—No, when things progress the way I want, I’ll get him a better one.

“I’ll call you tomorrow afternoon,” Ryan said. “No sense in you cooking if I have nothing to show you.”

Merrick grinned. “It’s called bribery, to make sure you do.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Ryan replied, returning his grin before backing out onto the street and then driving away.

Merrick waved, though he doubted Ryan saw it. Soon, Ryan. Soon you’ll be mine, then my…our lives will be perfect.

* * * *

Ryan caught Merrick’s wave in the sideview mirror and smiled. He’s a nice man. At least he seems to be. He didn’t have to offer to cook dinner. I wonder if he really is as lonely as he implied. He’s obviously well-off and owns his own business. I’d think he’d have more people in his life than he knows what to do with. Still…I guess it doesn’t mean they’re really friends. They could be hangers-on, because he has money. If I try to be his friend, will he think I’m like them?

He pondered the question. I hope not. I like him. Yeah, sure, part of it’s because he’s trying to help me, but there’s more to it, I think. I sure hope so. I’d hate to think I’m the kind of guy who would use someone for what they can give me. No. I do like him as a person, although I barely know him, yet. I would, even if he hadn’t hired me to do his portrait. Not that I’d have gotten to know him if he hadn’t. He chuckled. “I know I have a crush on him, as juvenile as it sounds. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have hung the sketch I did of him over my drawing table. It would probably shock the hell out of him, if he found out.” It was silly, he knew, but the handsome man appealed to him on a very basic level. And since I know he’s gay…He wasn’t about to take that idea to completion. He knew it was much too soon to delve into the possible ramifications of their friendship going beyond that to something more—if they truly became friends.

Ryan wanted to call in sick, so he could start to work right away on the drawings he was going to do of Merrick. He didn’t. Not only did he need the money, but he was too ethical. Not showing up would leave everyone in the lurch. Other waiters he worked with had pulled that, though thankfully not often. Trying to cover for them when they did was a pain.

He stopped at the apartment long enough to drop his bag in his studio and change into his work clothes. Then he was off to the restaurant, where he didn’t have time to think about Merrick until after it closed.

On the drive home after work, however, all he could do was picture Merrick in his mind’s eye, trying to decide how he would draw him. He almost went into his studio when he got home to limn out a few ideas. But common sense took hold. I need sleep if I’m going to do justice to his portrait. That kept him moving on to his bedroom. He undressed, showered, and slid into bed. The last image as he fell asleep was Merrick’s smile. His last thought was—he wanted to make him smile more often. Really smile, because he means it, not because he thinks he should.

* * * *

Chapter 4

Ryan spent all day Monday working on ideas for Merrick’s portraits. He wanted to do justice to them, but somehow, something was missing. It took him a while to figure out why. When I sketch people to use as the subject for a drawing, or a watercolor, I’m looking for a mood or a stance, not really caring who they are as a person. I let my imagination take wing. With Merrick’s, it’s different. He is the subject and I need to capture him. But, I don’t know him well enough to do that. I know the surface. What he’s been willing to reveal, but who is he inside? A lonely man, the way he implied? A man who loves his life? A man searching for something he hasn’t found, yet?

Until he discovered the answers to his questions, all he could do was draw a face which looked like Merrick’s, but not the soul behind the façade.

Nonetheless, he called Merrick in the middle of the afternoon to tell him he had some rough drafts ready to show him, and was working on another which would be finished within the hour.

“Wonderful,” Merrick told him. “I’m looking forward to seeing them. Can you be here around, say, six? It will give me time to get dinner started.”

Ryan agreed he could, and at five minutes to six he was parking in Merrick’s driveway. Taking his portfolio from the passenger seat, he walked around to the front door. It opened before he could ring the bell.

“I saw you drive by,” Merrick explained as he ushered Ryan inside.

Ryan laughed. “Window peeping in reverse?”

“I guess you could call it that. I knew you should be arriving any time now.” Closing the door, he suggested they go into the kitchen. “Dinner’s almost ready. We can eat, and then you can show me what you’ve come up with.”

“Whatever you made, it smells fantastic.”

Merrick seemed amused as he replied, “Says the man who works for one of the top restaurants in the city.”

“True, but I rarely eat there. By the time I get off, all I want to do is go home.”

“No hanging out with your friends after the restaurant closes? The guys you work with?”

“Rarely. I never was big on the club scene.” If Ryan were to put a name to it, he thought Merrick seemed relieved, although he couldn’t figure out why he’d care one way or the other.

The table in the dining nook was set for two, with a small vase of wildflowers in the center. At Merrick’s suggestion, Ryan put the portfolio down on the window seat, and then rejoined Merrick, who was lifting the cover off a slow cooker.

“And here I thought you’d slaved over a hot stove for the last hour,” Ryan said.

“Nope. I might have, but I figured this was easier, and safer, in case you put it off until tomorrow. It’s chicken in tangy barbecue sauce and reheats well.” Merrick dished the meal into a large serving bowl, put the rice which was in a pot on the stove into a second bowl, then took them to the table. “Coffee, iced tea, or wine?” he asked Ryan.

“Iced tea sounds great. It may still be early spring, but it’s warm enough outside to warrant it.”

“Tell me about it. Thank goodness for air conditioning.” Merrick got out glasses, poured iced tea for both of them, and then they sat down to eat.

“This is delicious,” Ryan said a few minutes later.

“Thank you. I’ll have to admit, I found the recipe online, a year or so ago. It’s become one of my favorites, when I actually eat at home.”

“You normally don’t?” Ryan asked.

“Cooking for one isn’t terribly exciting. You probably feel the same way.”

“Yeah. Fast food or pizza is me, more often than not.”

“We’ll have to change that, for both of us,” Merrick replied almost under his breath. When Ryan looked at him in surprise, Merrick shrugged. “Just an idea, since we’re both bachelors. Not every night by any means, but maybe every once in a while?”

“Possible, I guess.” Ryan wasn’t about to commit to his suggestion unless or until he got to know Merrick better. To change the subject, he asked, “Why advertising?”

* * * *

“Why not?” Merrick replied. “It’s as good a profession as any. All right, that didn’t sound too good. I majored in business, because my father wanted me to do something useful with my life.”

“What did you want to major in?”

“That was the problem,” Merrick replied, wryly. “I didn’t know. There was nothing that excited me. I’m afraid I was a bit of a dilettante. The result of growing up with parents who was more interested in partying and having their names in the society columns than in their only child.”

“But you just said your father wanted you to make something of your life.”

“He did, because it would make him look good.”

“Damn.” Ryan shook his head. “So you took your major and parlayed it into running an advertising agency.”

“Yep. I like being able to influence people and what better way to do it than to tell them what products they should like, which is all advertising is, Ryan. Convincing the buyer one brand of soap, or car, or what have you is better than all the others.”

“A rather cynical point of view, but I suppose it’s the truth.”

“Believe me, it is.”

They stopped talking at that point to finish eating. As they did, Merrick wondered how much of what he’d told him Ryan believed. It’s not as if I lied…much. I only shaded the truth to make him feel sorry for me. The poor rich guy who needs someone to care about him. He caught Ryan glancing at him once or twice, and read sympathy in his gaze. Looks like it worked. I guess I’ll find out, although I’m not pushing things. He has to believe it was as much his choice as mine when we finally get together as more than friends.

Once dinner was over, Merrick started to clear the table. Ryan insisted on helping. “I’m not going to sit around like some hoity-toity guest,” he said, bringing a smile to Merrick’s lips.

Then, with the table free, Ryan laid out the preliminary drawings for Merrick to look at. There were four in all, two done in pencil, two with charcoal. Merrick was impressed with all of them, but then he’d expected he would be. One in particular drew him in. It was a three-quarter view, done in charcoal. The shading emphasized his deep-set eyes and made his lips seem particularly sensual. Is that how he sees me…as passionate and sexy?

The problem was, it wasn’t the type of picture a son would want to give to his mother, and that had been Merrick’s stated reason for hiring Ryan to create a portrait.

“This one,” he said, tapping the corner of a much less intense drawing. “Mother will love it.”

“If you say so,” Ryan replied, but he sounded doubtful.

“You don’t agree?”

“It’s—They’re all missing something. I mean, they’re obviously you, but…it’s hard to explain.”

“Try,” Merrick replied, placing one hand on Ryan’s shoulder.

“I don’t know if this makes sense, but I don’t know you well enough to capture what makes you Merrick, and not just any man. Does that make sense?”

Merrick kept his elation well buried as he replied, “It makes perfect sense to me. Being able to capture every nuance is what separates the average artist from the exceptional one.”

Ryan’s shoulders slumped. “And I’m just average.”

“No.” Merrick gripped his shoulder now, urging Ryan to turn and look at him. “The fact that you realize you need to know the subject very well to do a portrait justice says you are above average, to my way of looking at it.” He smiled when Ryan seemed relieved. “Thankfully, Mother’s birthday isn’t for another month. It will give you time to learn me inside out.”

Ryan’s eyes widened in surprise, and then narrowed as the implication of what Merrick had said sank in. “Exactly how do you mean that?” he asked, taking a step back.

“Not the way you seem to be taking it,” Merrick replied. “You’re a nice young man, but I have no intention of seducing you.”

“Oh.” Ryan looked as if he wasn’t certain if he liked the idea, or not.

Merrick quickly decided not to probe. Let him think about it. The more he does, the more likely it is he will wonder what it would be like if I tried, and what his response would be.

Ryan turned away, gathering up the drawings. “How do I get to know you, then?” he asked.

“To begin with, I’ll do as I promised and show you the rest of the house.”

“Sure. Why not?”

* * * *

“Have you read all of these?” Ryan asked, looking at the three walls of the library which were covered with bookshelves.

“Of course. Why own a book if you’re not going to read it?” Merrick paused. “All right, I’ll amend that. I haven’t gone through the encyclopedia from A to Z, or either of the dictionaries, and a few of them are reference books which I delve into when I need to know something specific. But otherwise…”

“I’m impressed,” Ryan replied. From what he saw in a quick scan of the shelves, the range of books covered history, geography, a great many classic novels and some modern ones, as well as several biographies, and even a few by poets whose names he recognized.

“Do you read?” Merrick asked.

“When I can. I’ll admit my preference is for mysteries.”

“There’s nothing wrong with them. They’re good escapism.”

Ryan chuckled. “Damned with faint praise?”

“Not at all. Everyone needs to get away from real life now and then. Now, are you ready to see the upper floors?”

“Ah ha, I was right, there is a third floor.”

Merrick laughed. “Of course. Come, I’ll show you it and the second floor.”

The stairs leading up from the entryway ended at a long landing. There were six doors off it. One was for a storage closet and the rest opened onto bedrooms—each with their own en suite bathroom. The bedroom at the end of the landing was obviously Merrick’s as it also had a small parlor off it, with two chairs set beside a table. On the wall above them were, much to Ryan’s shock, two of his drawings from the exhibition.

“You were one of the buyers?”

“Of course,” Merrick replied. “How could I pass these up?”

“Easily?” Ryan said with an embarrassed grin.

“Ryan, will you stop demeaning yourself. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a dozen times, you are an excellent artist.”

“Thank you,” Ryan murmured. Needing to deflect Merrick’s praise, Ryan stepped into the bedroom. It was painted a pale blue, unlike the others which had soft gold walls. There was oriental carpet at the foot of the king-sized bed, and a chaise-lounge in one corner of the room. The bathroom was done in blue granite, with a step-up tub, as well as an enclosed shower stall. “Honestly,” he said, shaking his head, “this is as big as half my apartment.”

“I think you’re exaggerating,” Merrick replied, gripping Ryan’s bicep lightly to steer him back onto the landing.

“Okay, maybe a quarter of it?”

“Someday I’ll pay you a visit and find out.”

Ryan couldn’t decide if that idea excited or worried him. My apartment looks like a hovel, compared to his house. Still, the idea that he wants to see it…

They walked down the landing to a flight of stairs leading up to the third floor. The first room they entered was a private movie theater with two rows of seats facing a large screen. Ryan whistled in surprise. “I’ve heard of people having one of these, but this is the first time I’ve seen one. Do you actually use it?”

“Of course. Not often, but when I have a party for clients, if they like classic movies, I bring them up here.”

Merrick led the way through the theater to a doorway at the far end. Opening the door, he stood aside so Ryan could enter the next room. It was large and airy, and would be filled with sunlight if it was daytime, as there was a skylight which took up half the slanted ceiling, with several long windows on the wall beneath it.

“I’d give my right arm for a room like this in my apartment, with all the natural lighting,” Ryan said longingly. “Of course I’m on the fourth floor of a six-story building, so it’s not possible.”

“For your studio?” Merrick asked, looking around as if realizing the room’s potential for the first time. “I suppose it would make a very nice one.”

“Nice? It would be perfect.” Ryan sighed. He’d often envisioned what his dream studio would be like, if he could afford it. This room fit his vision perfectly. “Oh, well. Someday,” he said under his breath, before asking, “Have I seen everything?”

“Except the basement. It’s pretty utilitarian, if you don’t count the workout room.”

Ryan grinned as they walked back to the stairs. “Why am I not in the least surprised that you have one?”

“Because you’re getting to know me?”

“I’m beginning to know you a bit better,” Ryan replied. “I’ve found out you like your creature comforts, from the movie theater, to exercising—and I don’t need to see the basement to believe you do. I can look at you and know you work out. You also like to read, meaning you’re intellectually curious.”

“Would you think I was if all I had in the library were the latest popular books which can be found on the display tables of any bookstore?”

Ryan laughed. “Probably not, but since they aren’t, I think I’m correct.”

“I’m interested in a multitude of things.” Merrick looked at him for a long moment and smiled. “I like to learn…everything about anything.”

Embarrassed by Merrick’s scrutiny, Ryan turned away and started down the stairs. Is he interested in me as more than the guy he hired to do his portrait? It wasn’t the first time he’d wondered if Merrick was. He is sort of touchy-feely. Is he like that with everyone, or just with me? Does it bother me? Not really. Will anything happen between us? Probably not. We’re two very different men—the wealthy businessman and the starving artist. Okay, not starving, but for sure not in his class.

“You’re awfully quiet,” Merrick said when they got back to the ground floor.

“I’m thinking about how I can improve the drawing you chose for your mother,” Ryan replied, lying, because there was no way he’d tell Merrick what he’d actually been thinking.

“Now that you have more insight into what makes me tick?” Merrick asked with a slight grin.

Ryan waggled his hand. “A better insight, but far from complete.”

“Then come back again tomorrow, for dinner.”

“I will. Thank you.” As much as he didn’t want it to, his pulse quickened at the idea. “Right now, though, I’d better go home. I’ve taken up too much of your time, already.”

“Do you hear me complaining?”

“Not out loud. Inside your head?” He chuckled, telling Merrick he’d be right back, before going to the dining nook to retrieve his portfolio. He returned with it slung over his shoulder. “I had a very nice time, tonight.”

“I’m glad. So did I. I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

“Yep. Maybe, I’ll have a better version of the drawing to show you.”

“Ryan, don’t push yourself, trying to make me feel as if I’m getting my money’s worth. I know I am, and when it’s finished, I’ll love it.”

“I hope so.” Ryan held up a hand to stop Merrick from chastising him for not thinking positively. “I know you will.”

Merrick patted Ryan’s shoulder. “Much better. Now, off with you. And no working until tomorrow.”

“I won’t. I promise.”

Ryan kept his promise. When he got home, he watched the news then went to bed. In the back of his mind, though, his thoughts were of Merrick.

I might be reading things wrong, but I think he wants to mentor me, on top of hiring me to do his portrait. Or…Merrick’s comment about not planning to seduce me was interesting, and out of the blue. Was he teasing, or warning me not to get too interested in him? I don’t think seduction is going to happen. He’s way out of my league and I know it. I’ll stick with learning more about him, for the drawing, and accepting his help with my career, if he offers. Beyond that? Yeah, stay clear of any personal involvement because it would only end badly when he decides to move on to someone closer to his own age, who shares his interests.

* * * *

Chapter 5

Tuesday night, Ryan ate dinner at Merrick’s house, as planned. They talked about their personal interests, finding out they shared a love for action movies, and open spaces where they could hike, as well as dismay at the present political situation. After dinner, Merrick suggested they watch a movie. Ryan found it strange at first. Not the movie, but sitting in a simulated movie theater where they were the only patrons. He wouldn’t have been too surprised if Merrick had made a huge bowl of popcorn for them to share—but he didn’t. Neither did he make any moves, such as putting his arm around Ryan’s shoulders. In fact, he seemed to make a concerted effort not to touch Ryan, moving his leg away when Ryan bumped it while shifting positions to get more comfortable. Ryan wasn’t certain how to take that, finally deciding it meant Merrick had no designs on him, other than their being friends. Which is fine with me…I think.

They only saw each other once during the following week, when Merrick came to the restaurant for dinner. They talked, briefly, with Merrick suggesting they go to a movie the following Sunday, “Because I don’t own any recent ones. I feel sort of out of touch with what’s popular these days.”

Ryan thought it would be fun, and agreed to meet Merrick first at a restaurant close to the theater for an early lunch. They did enjoy themselves, especially when they critiqued the film afterward, debating whether it had lived up to its reviews—or down to them in the case of one critic who tore it apart.

As far as his artwork was concerned, Ryan balanced his time between creating more drawings for his portfolio, and trying to get his portrait of Merrick to work the way he wanted it to—with only marginal success. He wondered if he’d ever be satisfied with it.

He vented his frustration Monday evening when he went to dinner again at Merrick’s house.

“It’s like I’m almost there,” he said, after showing Merrick the most recent version, after dinner was over.

“I think it’s perfect just the way it is,” Merrick replied.

“Well, I don’t,” Ryan snapped, before apologizing for being so sharp with him.

“Hey, you’re allowed to show your feelings,” Merrick told him, smiling. “No one can be bright and cheerful all the time.”

“You are. Okay, you’re not a Pollyanna, but since we met, you’re not so serious all the time, either. You smile a lot more now, which I like.”

“I have a reason to. I’ve made friends with a very nice young man who helps me relax and enjoy life.”

“At least I’m good for something,” Ryan replied ruefully.

* * * *

“There you go again. I’m going to keep pushing until you stop putting yourself down. Understand?”

Merrick decided the time was right, so he gave Ryan a hug—a brief one, because Ryan pulled away. “Don’t,” Merrick said, putting a bit of exasperation into the tone of his voice. “There’s nothing wrong with a friendly hug, even if we are both men.”


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