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Excerpt for The Runaway Millions by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The Runaway Millions

A Novel

by

Parker Avrile

♥♥♥

©2016 by Parker Avrile & Paris April Press

♥♥♥

Kyle and Bryce are falling hard for each other.

Then a competitor wrests away Bryce's fortune, while the immigration authorities ship Kyle back to England.

Can their love survive when they find an ocean between them?

Copyright and Legal Note

The Runaway Millions, The Runaway Model, and any other excerpts quoted in this ebook are ©2016 by Parker Avrile and Paris April Press and thus protected under the US Copyright Act of 1976 and all other applicable international, federal, state and local laws, and all rights are reserved, including resale rights. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. Please don't post my work to free or sharing sites, since it causes me many problems with my distributors. The small fee you pay allows me to be able to afford to keep writing. Thanks.

Cover design ©2018 by Paris April Press & Ming Destiny.

The cover model is just that, a model. No real person, including the model, was involved in the events of this entirely fictional story.

The Runaway Millions and my book excerpts are fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Brief references to actual celebrities, products, and places are used fictitiously and in accordance with the rules of fair use. Nobody paid the author or the publisher for product placement.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

About the Author



Chapter One

You know you're playing in the big leagues when you're taking a shower on a private jet.

Oh, it wasn't a very big shower. Kyle knocked his elbows against the walls a couple of times. But he didn't care. It felt so good to get clean.

He liked the citrus peel body shampoo. It was an expensive brand. Fifty-two dollars a bottle. A travel-sized bottle. Kyle liked to smell expensive, and he knew a hint of the citrus fragrance would linger even after he rinsed.

It wouldn't replace the three hundred dollar an ounce men's cologne Kyle usually wore. But it smelled a lot better than the vomit and dehydration he'd tasted as a kidnap victim.

Kyle closed his eyes and threw back his head. Opened his mouth a little. Let the water splash on him inside and out. Yes. He was getting clean. He was washing the perv's hands off his bare skin.

A knock.

"Kyle, you OK?" Bryce. That Lake Charles, Louisiana accent wasn't heavy, but Kyle recognized it even through a closed door.

East East Texas, Bryce once said. Many petroleum speculators came from that region. Many of them had cashed in on the fracking boom. And many of them were worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

But it was December 2014. The price of oil was a little shaky. Not many of them flew quite as close to the sun as Bryce did these days.

He spoke softly. He wouldn't want to disturb the team who'd helped him rescue Kyle from his stalker. They were entitled to grab a quick snooze in the jet's custom-designed lie-flat seats.

"Yeah, love, I'm OK. Coming right out." Kyle's northern English accent was thick on his own tongue. He was too tired to make much effort to practice his American.

It had been the longest twenty-four hours of Kyle's life.

"Just making sure." Bryce sounded worried. Kyle knew why.

The wanker who abducted Kyle fed him one drug and injected him with another. The cocktail might still be having some unpredictable side effects.

It would be terrible to send out an unauthorized paramilitary operation to rescue a hostage― only to have that hostage collapse and die afterward in his white knight's shower.

Kyle knew what he looked like when he stepped dewy and pink from the tight stall. Six feet tall and most of it legs. Tight ass barely the size of a ripe peach. The satin chest of a boy in an ad for men's cologne. Often, these days, the boy in the ad was Kyle himself.

Too tired to hold his arms above his head for long, he toweled briefly at the soaking-wet hair matted against his scalp. The shower had turned his brown hair black, all the better to frame mahogany eyes slightly too large for his face.

And, as always, the focus was on his crooked little smile. His lips curved upward at the corners, hinting at secrets he was laughing about somewhere deep inside. It was the smile that sold his look, his agent said. It was a smile that promised things.

Sweet things. Tasty things.

Forbidden things.

Bryce's nostrils flared visibly when he stepped close to wrap a larger towel around Kyle's sleek body. The citrus peel fragrance. As well as a slight musk that was all Kyle.

He knew what he was doing to Bryce. But Bryce was also doing it back to him.

Kyle's knees sagged for a moment. He should have been exhausted. But there was something intoxicating about being pampered by a fit all-American man who was a good ten years older.

He twisted around in the towel to grind against him face-to-face. Bryce's blue-gray eyes half-closed with pleasure. His sandy hair, neglected and grown slightly too long since Kyle had last seen him, had been brushed off his face to get it out of the way.

Bryce kissed him. Firm lips. A flirt of the tongue. "You need your sleep. We all do."

Of course he was right.

Bryce was wearing a pair of designer tracksuit bottoms. Turquoise velour. A dated look Kyle associated with middle-aged Russian mobsters. He'd have to teach Bryce a thing or two about real style.

But Kyle would never wear the clothes he was abducted in again. Not one fucking time ever.

When Bryce handed him a second pair, Kyle slipped them on without protest. At least they were gray.

He wished he could kiss Bryce again. But it wasn't the time or the place.

Some private jets are configured like a commuter plane― the kind of plane that reminds you of a public bus. An aisle too narrow even for a supermodel's hips. Two tiny plastic seats on each side of that aisle.

Not this one. It was configured more like a billionaire's flying RV, with a series of elongated rooms that ran from the bath at the back to the cockpit at the front.

The bath exited into a mini conference room complete with elongated table. Empty, of course. No one was in the mood for a business meeting after their long night.

The next section was a living area complete with a leather couch that could be converted into a bed. Arnold Geurne, Bryce's hacker friend, was currently stretched out there. He was only twenty-eight but it was an out-of-shape twenty-eight, and he snored audibly when he rolled over onto his back.

Next came the galley complete with a small breakfast nook. It was a litter of abandoned smoothie glasses and espresso cups.

The last major room before the cockpit looked the most like something you'd find in a conventional aircraft. Here were six leather seats― three rows of two seats each― that converted into fully lie-flat beds. Perhaps the jet's interior designer had imagined a rich couple with a trio of kids and a nanny. Each of the seats in the back and middle row was divided by the aisle, so that each of the three sleeping men had his own bed. At the front of the middle row, the aisle made an abrupt turn so that it ran along the left side of the aircraft. That put both front seats together on the right.

Someone had already converted those two seats into the lie-flat position.

On commercial airlines, there would always be a little barrier between each pair of business class seats. There was no barrier here. It was, in effect, a double bed. And it was expertly made up complete with full-sized pillows and soft-as-butter six-hundred thread-count linens. Kyle's deft fingers brushed the Egyptian cotton to be sure.

Of course there was no cabin crew on this quasi-legal flight. Bryce must have made the bed himself. It looked like he'd even thought to fluff the pillows. Sweet gesture, that. If Kyle's heart wasn't melting already, it was now.

Bryce started to touch Kyle's hip. Pulled back. "I don't know if you feel comfortable having anybody close right now. If you don't want me sleeping here, it's fine. I'm going to the galley for some coffee. You need to get some rest."

Kyle crawled into the window seat and patted the one next to him. "Don't be silly, love. Come here."

The darkness was coming. Not the drug cocktail's darkness. Just good honest exhaustion. Kyle felt himself glide down into sleep almost before he was fully under the sheets. Two minutes after that, he was curled against Bryce, his arms wrapping around and around the other man's firm waist.

But his sleep wasn't dreamless. Kyle's mind flashed on all-too-real memories of curling around Michel in their flat in Hell's Kitchen. In dreams Kyle saw a blurred snapshot of the two of them, Michel and Kyle, posing together for Kyle's very first modeling job. They'd been dressed as twins.

Kyle was safe. But Michel still needed rescue.

"My English twin."

"My brother."

There was nothing brotherly about Kyle's magnetic attraction toward Bryce. Nothing brotherly about his desire to run his hands over the older man's sturdy muscles. He was as tall as Kyle and probably twenty pounds heavier. But Bryce wasn't a self-involved bodybuilder with an eight-pack. He was a real man with real muscle beneath the lightly tanned skin.

Kyle snuggled closer. They were spooning. Slender Kyle was the big spoon today. Even through the trackie bottoms, even through the dreams, he could feel the suggestively firm muscles of Bryce's toned ass.

Kyle's dreams turned dirty.

Dirty and delicious.

Too bad it was only an hour flight.

♥♥♥

The voice of Vernyn Carter, the jet's pilot, jolted Kyle awake. "It's been a long night, folks, but it's time to prepare for our landing in beautiful Teterboro, New Jersey. Check those seatbelts, please."

It was well into a sunny December afternoon by this point. Kyle lifted the shades on the window to admire the view. Manhattan was only twelve miles away.

They weren't assigned to a gate. They didn't need one. They could land on a back airstrip and descend down their own retractable steps.

"Uh oh." The pilot's voice again. "We've got a welcoming committee."

"Shit. It's about deviating from the flight plan," Bryce said.

He started to get up, then remembered that he wasn't supposed to be out of his seat during the landing process. He pressed a button on an intercom that went directly to the cockpit. "Vernyn. The deviations are my fault. Blame it on me. I'll pay your fines. I'll make this right."

There was a pause. A crackle of static. Then Carter's deep voice: "Nobody's talking. I guess we'll find out after I land this bird."

Another brief silence.

"DEA," one of the guards said. "We say we deviated so we'd come down for an emergency repair over an uninhabited area. But they figure it's because we made a drug pickup."

"The jet's clean," Bryce said. "Let them search."

They were all looking out the windows now. There were seven black cars hanging back from the spot where the pilot would be expected to put down.

They weren't Crown Vics. Hell, they weren't any kind of Ford sedan any kind of way.

A bodyguard handed Bryce his field glasses. "Mercedes GL SUVs," Bryce said after a moment. "Dark tint on the windows. Bulletproof glass if I don't miss my guess."

"Fuck me," Arnold said. "No way those are feds. Taxpayers never bought those land yachts."

Kyle studied the black cars. He'd pulled on the trackie top, which looked large and sloppy on his slender frame. It had the name of a Lake Charles riverboat on it. Evidently the tracksuits were tacky casino giveaways. He'd feel more like himself when he got back to the flat and into some of his own clothes.

But right now it seemed like there would be a slight delay.

"They look like showboaters to me," Kyle said. "Rich fucks, isn't it then? Trying to make some kind of point about something we don't know about yet."

"Whoever they are, they want something," Bryce said. "We all have to stick to the script."

"The script," Kyle said. "I hope those wankers know their parts." He had plenty of reasons not to trust in the system. Starting with how long his stalker, a schoolteacher, had been free to track him down. Kyle would probably be on a secret flight to a hidden cavern in England at this very moment, if Bryce and his team hadn't broken half the laws in the states of New York and New Jersey to save him. The authorities would never have taken action in time.

They never did care, Kyle thought. Not about lost boys. Thief, illegal alien, hustler, whore... Kyle had been called a lot of names, all of them excuses for not seeing him as a human being.

Michel's fate was proof enough of that. You were supposed to have the right to self-defense but it didn't seem like you did really. Not unless you were a well-connected man with a gun.

A kid with a knife was written off as a vicious animal.

Don't think about Michel right now. One crisis at a time. He had to get through today and keep himself out of prison. It was the only way he'd be able to be there for his brother.

First trained as a pilot for the US Air Force, Carter made an expert landing despite the long hours he'd been on duty. Kyle wouldn't have expected anything less of a member of Bryce's elite team.

The black cars began to close in once the jet came to a full stop.

The unknowns did look intimidating. But they'd just landed at one of the world's biggest private airports during the hectic Christmas shopping season only miles away from Manhattan, one of the world's favorite shopping destinations.

Bryce's bodyguards wouldn't need their weapons. At least Kyle hoped they wouldn't need them, because they'd dumped into a particularly obscure bit of swamp once Kyle was safe. They knew their unscheduled stop for an alleged emergency would put them at a higher risk of being searched when they returned to the Manhattan area.

With Bryce's hundreds of millions of dollars, he could buy them all the brand-new weapons they wanted once they returned to gun-friendly North Dakota.

Please let it be OK, Kyle thought. Please God, I haven't put Bryce and his team at risk just for helping me and Stoney.

"I doubt I'm being kidnapped," Bryce said. "There's too many eyes on us. And if it is feds, I don't want to look like a douche with my own private army. They'd associate that with drug activity for sure. I don't want anybody to play bodyguard right now. Let's just leave the plane in natural order."

Kyle hooked his arm into Bryce's. Then he remembered that Bryce wasn't officially out.

Or was he? The older man made no move to distance himself. They'd gone through too much tonight for that. When Kyle stepped back a fraction of an inch, Bryce pulled him in closer.

The two of them deplaned first. Kyle's knees weren't really that shaky any more, but Bryce was taking care to help support Kyle's weight as he went down the steps of the steel ramp. Kyle liked the feeling of being taken care of. He'd had too little of that in his life.

The black armored cars made a circle around the jet. Whatever they wanted, they'd guaranteed that it couldn't take off again.

Kyle and Bryce were now back on solid ground. But Kyle couldn't feel entirely safe.

Bryce stopped. Kyle stood a little too close to him. He could tell from the squeeze of Bryce's arm around his waist that Bryce wanted it that way.

They waited.

It happened like a well-choreographed dance. All the car doors flew open at once. All the men in their cheap business suits stepped out at once.

Kyle was reminded of the service at a Michelin-starred restaurant where all the waiters arrived together so everyone's dish hits the table at the exact same moment.

There was a leader. Dark hair with silver at the temples. Botoxed tanned skin but a little crinkle left at the corners of his eyes to show he was a serious man. Fit but not muscular.

His suit wasn't cheap. Kyle recognized the designer. Hell, he recognized the suit. It was this season. Ready-to-wear but limited production. A cool twenty-six thousand dollars.

But the watch on his wrist was the real tell. Two hundred fifty-nine thousand dollars, so you could tell your friends you'd just bought a watch that cost "more than a quarter of million."

Poseur. Works on commission like one of those bloody ambulance chasers that gets so rich here in America.

It was too many cars to be somebody filing a lawsuit or a legal summons. But Kyle wasn't sure what else it could be.

"Bryce Auburn." Slight accent. Kyle thought it might be Norwegian. If so, he'd been educated in America or Canada for several years during his youth. "Are you Bryce Auburn?"

"You know perfectly well that I am. Who are you? What's all this about?"

"Bryce Yourself Petroleum has defaulted on one too many of its credit obligations. Under the terms of your loan agreement, you assigned this jet as collateral against your debts. So we're taking it. Now."

"The fuck you're taking my jet," Bryce said. "I need my fucking jet."

"We prefer to do business peacefully, Mr. Auburn. But if you want to force us to have you detained, we're certainly prepared to do so."

"The fuck? You have no authority to detain me. You have no authority to seize my jet."

"Actually, sir, it isn't your jet." Mr. My Watch Cost More Than A Quarter Million Dollars And Yours Didn't had an unpleasantly toothy smile. "It now belongs to the Norwegian Oil Network. We can and will have you arrested for grand larceny if you refuse to turn over our property."

"The fuck is this? I refused your offer. The Norwegian Oil Network has fuck-all to do with my business."

"That's where you're wrong, Mr. Auburn."

"This is a mistake. I'm telling you now. Let me talk to my banker at Lake Charles Lending. He told me I had plenty of time to settle up. I only need a few more weeks. The price of oil just can't stay this low. Look at the oil futures, for Christ's sake."

Unpleasantly toothy? Kyle decided the man deserved a role in the next remake of Jaws. He was a shoo-in for the role of the shark.

"You wouldn't accept a reasonable price from NON. But Lake Charles Lending was more than happy to take advantage of our generous offer to buy out your debt. I agree that LCL would have been delighted to give you more time to meet your obligations. They're a bank, not an oil company. They wouldn't know what to do with a bunch of North Dakota leases and a corporate jet. They just want the cash."

Kyle tightened his grip around Bryce's waist. Squeezed him a little. He was no longer worried about his own shaky knees.

He was worried about Bryce.

The wanker in the suit kept on talking. The words washed over Kyle, although he'd remember them later.

"But NON is an oil company, not a bank. We'd rather have the collateral than your money. Look on the bright side, Mr. Auburn. As of today, you're a free man. You had a highly leveraged business that was almost a billion dollars in debt. Now you owe absolutely nothing to absolutely nobody. It's all paid off. We've simply taken the collateral instead."

"The collateral," Bryce said.

"Yes," the suit said. "You do understand. The collateral. All of the collateral."

"All? My company? My oil leases? My fucking jet?"

"And of course the building in Bismarck."

"You're the ones committing grand larceny. You're the thieves. I borrowed from Lake Charles Lending, not from you fuckers. How can you pop up out of nowhere and take everything just because the price of oil dipped below fifty dollars a barrel for a few days? We all know it's going back up."

Kyle felt a stab of guilt. Bryce, the master negotiator, wouldn't be ranting like that if he wasn't exhausted from Kyle's rescue.

Judging from his untroubled smile, the well-dressed wanker was used to being yelled at by the bankrupt former rich. "We're stealing nothing. You gambled, and you lost. We offered you a very generous 800 million to buy out your company. You refused. We had to find another way to get those leases. And we did. It's legal. You signed the loan agreement. LCL sold it to us."

"Those leases will be worth twenty billion dollars in two years' time."

"We agree. That's why we acquired them."

By now, the bodyguards had all exited the jet and joined the little group. They'd heard most of the conversation. Kyle kept his arm around Bryce's waist, supporting him when he seemed to sway a little. He didn't know what else to do.

"You're stealing my company," Bryce said. "You're stealing my fucking jet. Why don't you steal the fucking boots off my feet while you're at it?"

He squirmed down suddenly and made as if to tug off his right boot. Kyle clutched at his hip to pull him back up.

"Don't," Kyle said. "Love, don't."

"What is this? Is this for real?" asked one of the bodyguards.

"I don't know," Kyle said.

"Probably," Arnold said. "The company was highly leveraged. He always knew it was possible he could lose everything if the price of oil dropped below a certain level. Fracking leases are really only profitable when oil is over sixty. And the Saudis don't like fracking. Too much of it and America becomes the leading petroleum producer again. They wouldn't need the Middle East reserves any more."

"Listen to your adviser," the suit said. "He sounds like he knows the score."

Kyle followed the music and fashion blogs. Maybe a few online gossip sheets. He wasn't sure what Arnold was saying. "The Saudis crashed the price?"

"Yeah. Basically. Most creditors would have let him ride a little longer. The price won't stay this low. Oil is a nonrenewable resource. But..."

Arnold didn't have to spell it out. The suit already had.

For a moment everyone went silent. At least Bryce had quit trying to take his boots off. He stood there, lost and dazed, as if he'd been struck by lightning out of a clear blue sky.

"It's a wobble in the market," he finally said. "Give me more time."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Auburn. I don't have the authority to do that. At the end of the day, I'm just doing my job. I'm following orders. And my orders are to take possession of this jet. If you could sign these papers acknowledging that you surrender possession..."

"Fuck you," Bryce said. "I've already signed too fucking many papers."

"If you have any personal items on the jet, we'll forward them to you as soon as you supply us with your new address."

"The condo too?" Bryce said.

"Yes, Mr. Auburn. The condo too."

Bryce began to march forward blindly. Kyle had to walk briskly to keep pace with him. Arnold and the three bodyguards followed only a few steps behind.

Chapter Two

Somehow they rented a limo. A multi-millionaire's version of broke was different from Kyle's version. Bryce still had a wallet full of platinum and gold credit cards. At least for now.

The three bodyguards kept their game faces on. "Good thing you paid us in advance, eh, boss?"

Bryce tried to smile.

But Kyle suspected they'd wanted more from Bryce than a good payday. They'd wanted a future with an up-and-coming young billionaire who could keep them in challenging jobs for years. Where would they go now?

For the moment, they headed for JFK, where the three of them would take flights to the holiday destinations of their choice. It was probably always how they thought the mission would end.

Except it wasn't how anyone in their wildest dreams ever thought it would end.

It wasn't a long ride. But it was a tense one.

When the driver parked at arrivals, Arnold hopped out at the last minute. "I think I'll be in Switzerland, boss," he said. "I'm pretty sure those accounts weren't part of the collateral but I'd like to check on them myself."

"It's less than three million," Bryce said.

"It's more than nothing," Arnold said. "You need to take some time off. I'll get this. You take a few days and get your head together."

"Yeah."

"We've come up from nothing before, boss. We can do it again if we have to."

"Yeah."

Now it was the two of them in back. Kyle remembered the last time they'd shared a limo. It was only this past April. But it seemed like a lifetime away.

"Shall we go to mine then?" he asked.

"Yours?" Bryce sounded baffled. Like he'd forgotten Kyle was no longer the runaway homeless boy he'd met in Vegas.

Kyle pressed the intercom button to give the driver his address in Hell's Kitchen. Bryce stared out the window. It got dark early in December. Christmas lights twinkled here and there.

"Do you remember?" Bryce suddenly asked.

"Of course I remember, love." Kyle squeezed Bryce's thigh. He wondered if he dared squeeze something more intimate. Maybe not just yet.

But he was glad he wasn't the only one thinking about that blowie in the back of the limo on Las Vegas Boulevard. To get away with something that sexual... it had a power of its own.

It wasn't about money. Maybe it was a feeling you couldn't buy with money.

The traffic in Manhattan was shit. A cab driver might have suggested they get out and walk. At four hundred dollars an hour, the limo driver didn't care.

Bryce had pulled out his phone and was texting away. Business, from the look of it.

Kyle pulled out his phone too. Oh God. There were dozens of voicemails and texts from Chance, his agent. He'd better get it over with.

"Kyle. Baby. Talk to me." Chance had never sounded more thrilled. "I need the inside scoop, baby. And I need it now."

Kyle choked down a groan. What was he thinking? He should have texted instead of calling. Bryce was sitting right here and could hear every word of Kyle's end of the conversation.

"I hate to disappoint you. There's no thrilling adventure after all."

"What happened? Did you find Stoney? What was he doing?" Chance, an inveterate gossip, had overheard enough to know that Kyle's stalker had threatened the hard-partying rock star. But he could never know that Kyle had agreed to trade his life for Stoney's, setting the scene for Bryce and his team to close in on the perv. Kyle's agent really, truly did not need to find out that his beautiful property was offering himself as bait in a hostage negotiation.

So Kyle thought fast. "Yeah. I found Stoney. He were in bed with a fan. Was in bed with a fan. He didn't want his people to know. It were― it was― a nineteen-year-old boy."

"But what about that stalker guy? I want to hear about Bruce Willis stuff. That's what's going to sell my movie script."

"There's no Bruce Willis. The movie script is a no-go." Kyle sighed, loud enough for both Bryce and Chance to hear. He wanted them to. "That wanker was fucking with our minds. He must have followed Stoney. Knew he was fucking around with a teenage hookup he met in a pub. So he decided to do me head in by pretending he'd stolen him. Stoney came back just fine on his own, and the stalker's in the wind."

Kyle wasn't letting Chance Lanconi get anywhere within a thousand miles of the true story.

"Well, have you seen Bryce Auburn?"

Kyle glanced over at Bryce. He was looking down at his own smartphone, but his shoulders had gone still.

"Because just a few minutes ago I heard an un-fucking-believable rumor about our Bryce."

"What rumor is that?"

"I heard he lost every penny and owes billions of dollars to the Russian mob."

The Russian mob? Where did Chance get this stuff? "You need to stay off Twitter."

"I heard he was in his private jet and it got repossessed at dawn by a whole team of Norwegian heavies."

Fuck. That was actually pretty close to the truth. "Who told you that?"

"Just now. It was on Twitter. Like maybe five minutes ago. This employee at Teterboro airport posted this photo of a bunch of black cars surrounding this jet."

"Could you see Bryce in the photo?"

"You couldn't make out faces. But they say it's his jet so..."

"Yeah, right." Kyle forced a laugh. "Seems legit."

"Well, you better stick with Stoney, babe," Chance said. "It's cooler anyway to be with a rock star. Nobody likes those fracker dudes. Everybody's rooting for them to lose."

"Yeah," Kyle said. "I've got to get off the phone. It's all cool about Stoney now. Try to avoid spreading too many rumors, OK?"

"I only spread the rumors I need to get you work, baby. Remember, I get twenty-five percent of your invoices. It's good for both of us if I create some mystique."

"Yeah, OK." Kyle couldn't really rag on Chance too much. He'd been guilty in the past of spinning a few tall tales to promote his fan blog. "I'll talk to you later."

"OK, later, but don't forget. We need to meet sometime tomorrow to talk about your outfit for PomoRetro."

Once inside, Bryce headed directly for the mini-fridge to root around for something to drink. He'd never been there before, but it wasn't exactly hard to find your way around Kyle's postage stamp of a flat.

The fridge held all the necessities of life for a fashion model. Vodka, cranberry juice, pomegranate juice, some limes. Bottled water. Fancy smoothie blends with names like Naked. Coke Zero.

Bryce took two cans and a lime. Opened the cupboards and rattled around until he found two glasses. A knife. A cutting board.

Kyle watched him make the Coke Zero with a twist of lime. He knew how to wield the knife to make a perfect curly zest. Had he once worked as a bartender? Strange to think of Bryce in a regular man's job.

"You heard," Kyle finally said. "Word's out. Soon everybody will know you're broke."

"I know, Kyle." Bryce handed him one of the glasses. Their fingers brushed together, and the hair on the back of Kyle's arm stood up as if electrified. "It's public information. Bryce Yourself is privately owned, but NON is traded on OMX."

He paused to sip his Coke. He must have realized Kyle couldn't know what OMX was. "That's a Nordic stock exchange. So... NON is a public company. People have a right to know. A big petroleum industry takeover wasn't ever going to be a secret."

"I'm sorry," Kyle said.

"It's business. I fucked up. I placed my bet on the wrong pony."

"Anybody would have done the same. Prices always go up, don't they?"

Bryce laughed. A single snort really. "No, prices don't always go up. That's amateur thinking. I'm supposed to be a professional. Prices wobble around. Sometimes unpredictably. The random walk, they call it. But the price of oil was over a hundred dollars a barrel at the beginning of 2014. I honestly didn't believe it could ever dip below fifty again in my lifetime."

Kyle's Coke tasted good. It was the hint of lime that did it. He wished Bryce could calm down. Get some sleep. They both needed sleep. But Kyle was all-too-familiar with the need to keep in motion when you were hit by something big. Let him talk it out.

"I could have stayed small and out of debt," Bryce was saying. "But then I'd never be worth more than a few million dollars. There are lots of Louisiana boys who are happy with that. Maybe I should have been happy too.

"But I saw a chance to build something. You don't create a multi-billion dollar business without taking risk. I borrowed money. Too much money, as it turned out. I must have made my banker nervous, or he never would have sold me to NON. I was going to make him a billionaire too. Now he's missed his once-in-a-lifetime chance. I'll never trust him with another deal."

Kyle drained the Coke Zero. Poured another glass. Bryce picked up the knife and without looking down cut out another curl of lime.

"I think me head hurts," Kyle said. "My head hurts."

"The drugs," Bryce said. "It will take a while to fully recover."

"Maybe you better kiss it and make it better."

Talking wasn't the only way to stay in motion. It wasn't even the best way.

The hideous tracksuits went flying. Kyle promised himself he'd arrange to have them burned. Later. Not now.

No, not now. Much too busy right now. The bed was small but it was all the world to them.

Kyle ran his tongue from Bryce's collarbone to his belly button. Squatting between Bryce's legs, he looked up through long flirtatious eyelashes to meet Bryce's hungry gaze.

"I can't just lay here." Bryce rocked his hips from side to side to make his long thighs squirm against Kyle's face. "I've got to do something."

Kyle shifted into the sixty-nine position. It was a favorite of his. So primal. You were eye-to-eye with a man's cock. And he was eye-to-eye with yours.

Tasting, licking.

Sucking.

Kyle half-closed his eyes to focus on the salty taste. His hands stroked the length of Bryce's throbbing shaft, while his lips targeted the join of stalk to crown. He liked to tease the little indented place there, first by grazing it with the tip of his tongue. And then by locking down his lips to suck hard.

Since he was on top, he made a point of dipping and bouncing in Bryce's face. Sometimes he thrust his cock within easy reach of Bryce's eager tongue― and sometimes he'd dance away.

They were too tired to get off fast, and Kyle was just as happy. Let it take forever. Let it be a lifetime out of a lifetime.

Kyle's stalker was a fading memory.

Bryce's business failure was a vague nightmare.

The only thing that mattered was what they could feel and touch and taste right now.

Bryce's mouth grasped him more firmly. Kyle danced back once more, a final tease, but Bryce's lips held on tight. The long length of his stretched-out mouth twitched around Kyle's shaft.

Yes. Fuck yes. There was nothing in Kyle's mind except sensation. He twisted here, sucked there, bobbed that way.

Time had no meaning.

All that mattered was the white-hot fire of their shared spasms.

♥♥♥

A shrill archaic ring. Bryce jumped. They must have been sleeping after all. Kyle could still detect the perfume of sexual sweat and spilled cum in the air, but it was fading.

"The doorman," Kyle said. "He's the only one who calls that number."

The landline was hanging from a cradle on the wall near the mini-fridge, so Kyle had to step out of bed to answer. He was naked but too comfortable in his own skin to reach for a robe. "Hello?"

"Delivery for you, Mr. Marchane."

"Hey, Tommy. I wasn't expecting a delivery, was I?"

"You want me to send him away?"

Kyle thought. It wasn't the first time an admirer had sent up a gift. Sometimes an expensive one.

"What do you think, Tommy? I trust your good eye."

"He looks legit to me, Mr. Marchane. He's got a fistful of balloons. We have his picture on our surveillance camera, and I think he knows it. He took off his shades when he stepped inside."

Bryce was shaking his head "no" but Kyle wasn't really looking at the bed. "I like balloons. Send him up."

He dropped the receiver into the cradle.

"You shouldn't do that," Bryce said. "My kidnap advisers told me that you never accept an unsolicited delivery."

"It's OK. I'm an eighteen-year-old fresh face in the big bad city. A few old boys think they're in love with me. They're harmless."

They pulled on the tracksuits. Russian middle-aged mobster look or not, they slid on quickly.

The doorbell played a little snippet of Stoney Rockland's "Granite for Granted." Michel had installed that ringtone himself to make Kyle feel more at home in New York.

Kyle looked into the peephole.

The delivery man looked like, well, like a delivery man. One of those triathlete types you see working in big cities sometimes. Long and stringy, with overly muscled tanned legs mostly exposed in his lime-green biking shorts.

"It's cool," Kyle said.

Bryce didn't try to stop him from opening the door. But he stood close, as if ready to go a few rounds of hand-to-hand combat if he had to. That protective instinct. It touched Kyle's heart.

"Kyle Marchane?" Delivery dude looked from Kyle to Bryce. It was obvious he didn't know who Kyle was or what he was supposed to look like.

"That's me."

"I've got a delivery for you from Stoney Rockland. Can I come in?"

Again Bryce shook his head "no." Kyle registered the gesture but he thought it was a little too over-protective. "Sure."

The man glanced around the tiny starter flat. "Where I should put this, sir?"

Kyle took the balloons and tied them to the near leg at the foot of the bed. The strings were long enough to let the balloons drift up to touch the ceiling even when they were anchored so low. A festive look, that. A bit like a birthday celebration.

"Thanks." Vegas to the core, Kyle had already pulled out a twenty-dollar bill for the tip.

The man handed him a small box with a crisp ivory envelope attached. "That's yours too. Would you mind signing?"

Kyle scratched the plastic pen over the electronic tablet. "Thanks again."

"Yeah, you too. Thanks a lot. I appreciate it." He looked as if he did, actually. Maybe twenty dollars was too much tip for delivering balloons in Manhattan. Maybe it should have been ten. But the man was already out the door.

"What's that?" Bryce asked. His eyes were more gray than blue. His mouth was a thin line. He'd come to Stoney's rescue, but he wasn't the singer's biggest fan. He'd done it for Kyle.

"I'm about to find out." He felt a little awkward about opening the box in front of Bryce. But he had nothing to hide, did he?

Silver wrapping paper. A velvet ring box inside.

Kyle swallowed. It couldn't be.

"Open it." Bryce's voice was tight.

Kyle did.

A flash of pink fire. It was the star sapphire pinky ring.

Stoney's ring. The one Kyle had stolen when he was just a sixteen-year-old music blogger with a dream. But he'd given it back. Took him long enough, but he did give it back.

Bryce didn't say a word. He didn't even breathe.

"I can't wear this," Kyle said.

"Open the letter," Bryce said. Tight? His voice was steel.

Kyle badly needed a professional manicure after the last twenty-four hours. His nails couldn't look any worse, so he didn't bother to hunt up the letter opener before he tore in.

There was only one word scrawled on the enclosed sheet of ivory stationery. Thanks.

A lot of drama for a thank-you note, Kyle thought.

Then he saw what the paper was wrapped around. Two tickets.

All access VIP guest tickets.

He and his plus-one were invited backstage for Stoney Rockland's farewell concert in Madison Square Garden.

♥♥♥

Bryce told himself he didn't have time to be jealous. He had to get in touch with his lawyers. Find out what he still actually owned. His feelings for Kyle ran deep― so deep he would spend any amount of money and manpower to save the boy's life. He'd just proved that in a swamp in New Jersey.

But Kyle wasn't his only responsibility. Bryce had an entire business, with dozens of employees and contractors who would be out of work because he'd lost control of his company. He needed to get back to North Dakota. Get what he could out of his building, assuming they let him into his building. What was once his building.

"It's tomorrow night, love," Kyle said. "It's the biggest concert of Stoney's entire career. Maybe the last concert. I can't miss it. Please. I want you to come. You deserve to be there."

"I can't," Bryce said. "I have to start picking up the pieces of my business, and I can't do that from the center of a screaming party in Manhattan."

"It's one more night. Tomorrow night."

"I have to go, Kyle."

"I thought we'd have more time than this. I thought― if the money's gone, the money's gone. You might as well enjoy your life."

"It doesn't work like that. People depend on me. I have to fix this. A lot of people's jobs ride on me. I can't just say, oh fuck me, I lost all me money so now I'm gonna go party like a rock star on a six-year drunk."

Bryce shouldn't have made the final comment in a bad imitation of Stoney's accent. Too late he realized how cruel it sounded. It seemed to go unspoken with Kyle that Stoney was an alcoholic. Why point it out now, except to divert attention from Bryce's own problems?

Ugh. It wasn't Stoney's fault Bryce lost his money.

"Just one night. One more night."

"Kyle." Bryce tried to soften his tone. "You go. You have a good time. But I can't."

"You didn't lose everything, love. You still have those oil leases in Colorado. That's what Arnold said. You still have that Swiss bank account."

"Those leases are tied up in anti-fracking lawsuits for the next decade. And don't kid yourself about that Swiss bank account. What's left there wouldn't cover two weeks of payroll. I've let down everybody who ever depended on me."

"You didn't let me down," Kyle said. He brushed a strand of sandy hair out of Bryce's face. "You didn't let Stoney down. You saved our lives when nobody else even gave a fuck. You're a hero in this world even if you never do anything else."

"Nobody can ever know about that," Bryce said. "I had to break a few laws to play hero."

"It will be our secret. But I'm sure Stoney meant for you to be my plus-one. He's not a risk-taker, our Stoney. I know he ran out on us at the airstrip. His team made him do it. They were protecting his future."

Bryce supposed Stoney did expect him to be Kyle's plus-one. But Bryce would have liked to have been invited in his own name.

And he didn't like it one little bit that Stoney was sending his boyfriend an expensive ring. What man would like that?

Kyle was nuzzling him again.

Bryce told himself he wasn't in the mood any more. But he was twenty-eight. Kyle was eighteen. The mood came back with a flutter of Kyle's devious tongue.

It wasn't Kyle's fault Stoney sent the ring back. Wasn't Kyle's fault any man would be attracted to his smile.

"Stay," Kyle said. "Stay." He breathed his whisper into Bryce's cock, a teasing tickle that was shockingly exciting.

"One more hour," Bryce said. He kissed the nape of Kyle's neck and then walked his tongue down his spine. "Just one."

It was two.

Chapter Three

The balloons bobbled against the white popcorn ceiling of an empty room. Kyle couldn't believe it. After all he'd done― after all they'd done― Kyle was utterly alone.

Say what you like about Chance Lanconi. The agent worked fast. Irika was Kyle's plus-one for Stoney Rockland's concert in Madison Square Garden.

The up-and-coming eighteen-year-old supermodel looked very rock-and-roll with her blonde hair slicked back in a duck's ass like it was 1954. She wore black leather jeans with multiple long slashes across thighs, knees, and shin. Shiny black Chelsea boots. A two-inch-wide eighteen-karat gold choker around her slender neck. Gold metallic eyeshadow not just on her eyes but on her lips.

Not just on her lips but on her nipples.

Yes, in theory, it was legal for women to go topless in New York City ever since some random court ruling in 1992. But it simply wasn't... done.

Not to a big-time event in Madison Square Garden. It wasn't going to happen. Not in any kind of way, shape, or form. Security would have you out on your arse in fifteen seconds flat.

Unless you were Irika.

Kyle, the beautiful man on her arm, was more conservatively dressed. A T-shirt from Stoney Rockland's 2012 UK tour. Black skinnies from Saint Laurent that hugged his long legs. A vintage 1980s distressed black leather jacket left unzipped because of course it was going to get hot, hot, hot.

"You'll be the most talked-about couple at the event," Chance said.

"I doubt that," Kyle said. "It's Stoney's farewell concert."

"Oh, his little concert will get some attention from the music media. But you'll be in People, TMZ, and Perez Hilton."

"They'll have to pixelate her nips."

"I'm sure they'll figure it out. She isn't the first star to have a wardrobe malfunction. She's just the first whose malfunction was forgetting to put on a wardrobe in the first place."

"You're an evil genius, Chance. I'm glad you're my evil genius."

"Don't kid yourself. This whole desnuda chic stunt was Irika's idea."

Kyle went back and forth with himself about whether or not to wear the pink star sapphire.

He was with Bryce now. He shouldn't wear another man's ring, even if it was just a thank-you gift.

But was Kyle with Bryce? Or was he just a toy after all? Something for Bryce to play with when he wasn't too busy with serious business. Something for Bryce to pick up and put down. Bryce liked saving people. He liked being important. But was he really going to be there for Kyle when it was just an ordinary day? So far, his track record wasn't great.

Besides, it was Stoney Rockland. The Stoney Rockland. For Kyle's money, the biggest thing to hit rock music in the twenty-first century.

If Stoney wanted him to wear the ring, he really kind of had to, didn't he?

It felt right having it on his pinky again. They'd been through a lot together, Kyle and that ring. He remembered the day Stoney had tried to pick him up, not realizing that his excited fan was only sixteen.

Kyle had slipped away, not to cheat Stoney of his pleasure but simply because he didn't want to cause problems for him in the future. Ideas about what was and wasn't right kept changing. Sixteen might be legal in the UK. But there were plenty of places where it wasn't legal in the US any more. Plenty of people who thought it wasn't ethical for a man a decade older to get involved with a teen.

He'd pocketed the ring on impulse as a memento of his meeting with his hero. A runaway on his own in Vegas, Kyle had nothing else in those days. He couldn't resist taking little things to even the score.

Stoney, of course, thought he was a thief.

Eventually Kyle gave the ring back. But it was way too late.

But now Stoney knew the truth. He knew Kyle would never do anything to hurt him. In fact, he'd exchange his own life for Stoney's. That's how the stalker got to him in the first place, playing on Kyle's love for Stoney.

The music was more important than any of them. Kyle still believed that.

So he slipped the star sapphire back onto his finger. The stone had to be there to soak up the psychic vibrations of Stoney's farewell concert. Call it a superstition. Kyle didn't care.

It's what his heart was telling him, and Kyle had to listen to his heart.

"So gaudy," Irika said. "So attention-seeking."

"At least I've covered me boobs."

"I've covered me boobs." She tried to mimic Kyle's accent without notable success. She'd come to New York when she was thirteen, and her blend of Brooklyn and Krakow was unique to Irika.

"Yes, love, with gold glitter. I'm sure it isn't what your mum had in mind for her little girl."

"Oh fuck me mum!" She giggled. "I speak British very well, don't I?"

"You know all the right words, love."

Kyle thought Pamela's face would crack from the effort of smiling when she greeted him and Irika. Stoney's tour manager made little secret of the fact that his label was less-than-thrilled that Stoney sometimes dated men. Oh, it was all very rock-and-roll to say you were bisexual, as long as you did a David Bowie and actually settled down with a lovely girl model.

He wondered how much Pamela actually knew about the events of the last few days. She would have known that Stoney went missing. She would have known that his security team suspected Kyle Marchane of stalking him. By now, she'd know that Stoney was safe and that he wanted Kyle backstage at his final concert.

Her unnaturally wrinkle-free eyes dropped to his right hand. Uh oh. She'd spotted the ring.

"So you two really did kiss and make up?"

Ah. Kyle got it now. She thought Stoney had slipped away to spend several days in bed with Kyle. He might as well let her continue to think so.

The fewer people who knew what really happened, the better it would be for all concerned. The perv was dead. He would never hurt Stoney or Kyle or anybody else ever again. Giving snoopy people the whole truth wasn't very important next to that.

"And what an intriguing plus-one. Irika, is it? Do you have a last name, Irika?"

Irika shook the fingertips of Pamela's extended hand. "No," she said.

"Oh. Well then!" Pamela made a point of not-quite-looking at Irika's gold metallic nipples. Stoney's roadies weren't quite as restrained. They all found a reason to walk by at least once. If not six or seven times.

There were a number of famous faces in the VIP area. Actors, rockers, music journalists. A director Stoney had used for several music videos. Everybody wanted Irika's photo.

Nothing new about that.

Not everyone recognized Kyle. Not at first. Some of the photographers asked him to step out of the photos. Chance wouldn't like it, but Kyle didn't care. There was pomegranate juice in the VIP bar, so he asked for a pomegranate martini and stood back to watch her pose.

By now, the supporting act was playing. Kyle didn't know the band. But he was too excited to give them a close listen. He drank the martini faster than he meant to.

His head was spinning.

"Some pictures with me boy," Irika said, trying again for the British accent. Probably only Kyle could tell. She wrapped her long arm around his waist, and he wrapped his arm around hers.

She was six feet tall― as tall as he was. Good thing the Chelsea boots had a low heel. They fit together like two pieces of a puzzle.

"Beautiful," someone said.

"Look this way, Irika."

"Irika."

And then Stoney was there, and all the cameras turned. He was wearing dark shades, the better to protect his eyes from the constant flash.

"Kyle," he said. "You came."

Stoney hugged him. Kyle felt drunk on the scent of whiskey, cigarettes, and Stoney's cologne. He was so warm. So real.

How many times had he dreamed of a moment like this when he was an underage music blogger in Las Vegas?

"I wouldn't miss it for the world."

Stoney tried to kiss him. At the last minute Kyle shifted his face, just a little. Just enough to be sure it was a kiss on the cheek, not the mouth.

"The cameras," Kyle said. "Pamela already hates me."

"Fuck Pamela." But Stoney didn't try for lips again. He wasn't quite out. He wasn't quite... anything.

"Not even with your dick, mate."

"I'll see you tonight? After the show?"

"Stoney, I'm with Bryce now. I have to give it a chance."

"But I thought... he's broke now, isn't he? Didn't I see that on CNBC?"

"They have CNBC on the tour bus?"

"I'm twenty-eight, aren't I? I have to think about me future. About me investments."

"Yes, love. He's broke. But I wasn't doing him for the money."

Stoney looked annoyed. "Is there ever going to be a right time for us?"

"Stoney, mate. I'm your biggest fan, love. But there's never been an us."

♥♥♥

"I want to dedicate this song to a good friend of mine. They know who they are."

Stoney's eyes darted stage left. Maybe everybody else thought he was looking at Irika's glittering nipples.

But Kyle felt an electric shock as Stoney looked directly into his eyes. Just for a minute. It was long enough for Kyle to get the message.

Then came the familiar chords of "Fuchsia Tree." At the bridge, Stoney's cigarette-and-velvet voice broke into a scream that seemed to be torn out of his soul. Kyle's eyes burned. Stoney Rockland was playing his favorite song for him at his farewell concert. It was every music blogger's dream.

"I can die now," he said to Irika.

"Don't die until we're seen together at PomoRetro. Me agency insists on it. We're supposed to be an official couple or summat, aren't we, mate?"

"Quit copying me accent. It's not a posh accent, love. You can do better."

"It's a cute accent. We're a cute couple."

"What does Mirian think about all this?"

Irika shrugged. "She likes the money I'm making."

♥♥♥

Was it still that night? Or was it closer to noon the next day?

Something about an afterparty. Something about too many drinks. Stoney wasn't there. Stoney wasn't anywhere.

Whispers. Stoney's manager Pamela. Stoney's head of security Marshall Daniels. An old girlfriend Pamela dug up. They didn't want any more photographs of Stoney and Kyle. Didn't want Stoney talking to Kyle at all.

Didn't matter. Kyle was with Irika now. Just ask the tabloids.

She was a good dancer. Her small high fashion model's tits never jiggled. Gold metallic glitter was more support than you'd think, if the dancer in question was only eighteen.

Even though it was a private VIP-only afterparty, there were a few non-famous faces. Up-and-comers like Kyle. Music bloggers. Girls invited in purely on the basis of their looks.

Some of the girls wanted Irika to autograph a napkin or a setlist.

Or a boob.

A couple of the girls wanted Kyle to sign something too.

He must be somebody because he was with Irika.

Chance would be over the moon.

They stayed out all night. Then Irika climbed into the back of a stretch limo where Mirian was waiting behind the tinted glass. And Kyle was alone in the back of a town car. The driver didn't look surprised to hear Kyle's Hell's Kitchen address. All he cared about was the hundred-dollar tip Kyle pressed into his hand.

It was daylight. Not the pink daylight of dawn.

Ten AM? One PM?

Kyle's head was spinning.

Had he just had the biggest night of his life? Or was it just another night?

A blank and a blur. He must have slept. Then, somehow, he was on Skype. "How did it go last night?" Bryce asked.

"He dedicated a song to me." Maybe I shouldn't have said that.

"Which song?" Bryce asked.

"'Fuchsia Tree.'"

"Your favorite."

Simple words. Yet they sounded so stiff on Kyle's ear. He'd slept naked but he'd slipped into a pair of ruby red boxers before he logged into Skype. Maybe it was time to glide out of them again.

"You're me favorite, Bryce. I wish you were here with me. Look what I've got for you." He slid his right hand down his own flank.

Bryce's eyes went wide.

Too late Kyle realized he was still wearing the star sapphire ring.

"I have to go, Kyle. I got a call on another line."

Bryce vanished.

Fuck.

♥♥♥

There was one music blog that ran with the photo of Kyle and Stoney embracing backstage. But most of the big gossip tabloids went nuts with coverage of "Topless Irika's Wild Afterparty With Stoney Rockland." Kyle's existence went unnoticed and unmentioned, although he did appear in the background of a few of the published photos.


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