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Genre: Contemporary, Military, Romance
Rich, beautiful, and talented, Chris Dobbs is used to getting what he wants, and what he wants now is his dangerously handsome and intensely private boss, former Army Ranger, Jay-Cee.
Everything about the tightly-controlled, brooding artist drives Chris to knees in more ways than one, ways Chris realizes he’s always craved but never understood. He needs to know how Jay-Cee does it.
When Chris smashes through all of Jay-Cee’s hard-earned control, Chris learns that while giving Jay-Cee his body and his submission is as simple as breathing, Jay-Cee wants things Chris can never give him - his heart, his soul, and his trust.
Jay-Cee offered his brilliant young protégé everything, let him see parts of himself Jay-Cee had buried long ago in the mountains of Afghanistan. In return, Chris took only the pieces he wanted and rejected the rest, leaving Jay-Cee reeling.
Both haunted by their pasts, the deep connection holds the promise of healing for both of them, but if they are to build a sanctuary from the rubble of their broken hearts, they are going to have to risk losing everything.
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Chris walked over to Jay-Cee, stopping him mid-stride. “You okay?”
A month ago Chris wouldn’t have asked the question. A month ago Jay-Cee wouldn’t have answered it. Things change. “The essence of this piece keeps eluding me. It isn’t saying what I want it to,” Jay-Cee admitted.
Chris frowned. “What’s wrong with it? I think it’s gorgeous.”
Jay-Cee ran both hands through his hair, tugging at the longish silver strands. “I don’t know.” And that was the frustrating part. If he knew what was wrong with it, he would fix it. He shook his head. “I don’t know. Maybe my proportions are off? It’s missing something.”
Chris walked over to the piece. A nude Viking warrior about three feet high with a braided beard cascading down his chin was taking shape on the chicken wire and newspaper armature. “I think people will love the way you’re using figures from Norse mythology with classical Greek proportions.”
Chris looked at Jay-Cee for permission before gently running a finger over the rough-hewn clay. He stepped back to look at it from a few different angles. “This is a little different than the sketch we worked out. It looks stiffer somehow.”
Jay-Cee liked the way Chris said what he thought and trusted Jay-Cee not to react badly to constructive criticism. Jay-Cee knew some artists who had their assistants so cowed they would barely open their mouths. He couldn’t see how that would be helpful to anyone.
“It is stiff. I know.” He paced around the room again, feeling trapped. There was one thing he could do to work off some of this frustration and get a little control back. He didn’t often do it but he knew there were clubs down in Denver where he could get a safe, anonymous hookup. It had been a while.
He recoiled from the thought as soon as it surfaced. That had never really been his scene. It was too fake, too empty. The purely physical release it offered didn’t come close to touching his deep emotional need for connection. And if he was completely honest, his relationship with Jason, though it had been emotionally satisfying, had never really left him physically fulfilled. Jason would have been horrified if he had ever really known Jay-Cee’s desires. Not surprised, Jay-Cee had given up on finding someone to help join the two halves of him and make him whole.
He tried to remember if he had even touched another human since that night with Chris and came up blank. And how long had it been before then? Months? A year?
Chris walked next to him, matching him step for step though he was several inches shorter. “I think you need a change of pace. No pun intended.” He looked at Jay-Cee, eyes smiling. “We’ve been going full throttle for a long time now. You should get out of here. Go for a drive in the mountains. Walk by the river. Maybe it will knock something loose in your brain.”
“Right now I’m afraid that if anything gets knocked out of my head, it will simply leak down onto the floor.” Jay-Cee stopped in a patch of sunlight, enjoying the feel of the warmth on his body. He closed his eyes and tilted his head up to the window.
“Maybe if you get out of your head and into your body a little bit more you’ll feel more of a connection to these bodies,” Chris said softly near him.
Jay-Cee opened his eyes and tilted his head back down to look Chris in the face. He stood right in front of Jay-Cee. Jay-Cee wanted to lose himself in Chris’s body. He wanted to feel how soft his faded blue jeans and worn t-shirt were. The tips of Chris’s platinum hair were dyed the same shade of sky blue as his eyes. Jay-Cee wondered if they would feel spiky against his palms, or maybe they were softer than they looked.
“What do you suggest?” he asked, body swaying closer to Chris’s despite himself.
Chris licked his lips, eyes dropping to Jay-Cee’s mouth, and then lingering on the tattoos rising up from the collar of his t-shirt. He met Jay-Cee’s gaze. “I don’t know. Go for a run? It always, mostly, works for me.”
“Do you run regularly?” Chris seemed like an indoor person. Jay-Cee had a hard time imagining him jogging.
“Yeah. It was one of the things my sponsor suggested. When you stop using, you suddenly have a whole lot more free time on your hands. Plus I was in bad shape. I needed something to do that took my mind off stuff. I like the discipline, the way you can make goals. You can set a target and you either hit it, or you don’t. You can measure your progress quantitatively rather than,” he waved his hand around the studio, “guessing.”
Huh. He’d never thought about exercise that way before. Jay-Cee hadn’t let himself get too out of shape since leaving the Army, but he did PT more out of habit than any conscious decision. “When do you run?”
“Usually before work. Sometimes after. In the winter, sometimes I use the indoor track at the rec center. Or I go dancing. That works in a different way, but it works.”
Jay-Cee pulled one of the rolling stools over and sat on it, one foot propped up on a high rung. “Have you gone out dancing recently?”
“Not in way too long.” It was Chris’s turn to pace now. He swayed to some music only he could hear that had nothing to do with the soft classical playing in the background. He swiveled his hips. “Not since Pride. Maybe we need a dance party here?”
Chris sauntered over to Benny, calling for him over the music in his headphones. Benny didn’t react, caught up in the music or the paperwork or both. Chris pulled a piece of paper from his pocket, balled it up and threw it next to Benny on the table.
Jay-Cee appreciated the way Chris tried never to startle Benny. The young former Marine was still a little gun-shy from his time in the service, and it was best not to sneak up on him. Truthfully, it wasn’t Jay-Cee’s favorite thing either, but he was pretty hard to sneak up on.
Benny pulled the earplugs out and turned to look at Chris. “What’s up?” He blinked at the sunlight, stretching his neck out. “What time is it?”
“Almost lunch time. And I need some dance music. What have you got?” Chris draped himself over Benny’s shoulders, and Benny patted him absently while scrolling through his phone.
“I got everything and everyone. Are you feeling old school? Maybe some Madonna? Lady GaGa?”
“Perfect.” He turned to Jay-Cee. “Do you mind?”
Jay-Cee shook his head and disconnected his phone from the Bluetooth speakers.
Benny tapped on his screen a couple of times, and the sound of Madonna asking mercy from God came over the speakers before the dance music filled the space.
Chris grabbed Benny’s stool and rolled him into the middle of the studio. Benny held on with both hands and laughed. The music pounded, more sound coming out of the small speaker than Jay-Cee expected.
Chris dragged Benny around on the stool for a bit before pulling him onto the floor. Benny grabbed Chris’s hips pulling him tightly against his thigh. Singing out loud, Chris ground up against Benny, his hands running down Benny’s strong back and up into his hair.
They were young and happy and gorgeous together, Benny the dark to Chris’s light. Jay-Cee gripped the edges of his stool to keep himself from going over there and doing something crazy. What exactly that would look like, he didn’t know. He wanted to pull Benny off of Chris. He wanted to take Chris upstairs and screw his brains out. Maybe take both of them, they were gorgeous together. He wondered briefly what Benny’s very buff, very hot boyfriend would think of that. Probably wouldn’t go over well.
Chris turned his back to Benny’s chest and danced faster and dirtier; his ass pressed into Benny’s groin. Jay-Cee could tell by the look in Benny’s eyes that he didn’t mind at all.
“Wanna dance, boss?” Chris asked eyes laser focused on Jay-Cee.
Jay-Cee shook his head and fought to keep his breathing even and his face impassive as the song ended and Chris twisted his head to give Benny a solid kiss right on the lips.
Jay-Cee had noticed Chris and Benny shared a lot of casual touching during the day. They were both very tactile, and it made Jay-Cee’s palms itch to feel some skin beneath his hands.
Jay-Cee knew what it was like to feel touch-starved. To be desperate enough to need someone, anyone. When you couldn’t remember the last time somebody had hugged you in friendship, let alone in real passion.
Benny whispered something into Chris’s ear, and he grabbed Chris’s ass with both hands. They laughed before they separated.
“I’ll go grab some lunch,” Benny said, turning the volume down on the music. “I need to stretch my legs. Do you want me to pick up something?”
“Where you going?” Chris asked.
“I was thinking that taqueria down the block. I like to keep the Mexican stereotypes alive. It makes you gringos feel better.”
“Do you need me to come?” Chris asked as Benny took their orders.
“Nah. I’m good unless you want the walk?”
Jay-Cee handed Benny forty bucks. “Let me buy lunch. I’ve been making you men work hard this week.”
Benny took the money. “Thanks, boss. That’s awesome. I’ll be back in twenty.” Daylight streamed in through the door when Benny opened it, letting in the sound of distant cars on the road and the smell of dust from the parking lot.
Silence fell as his phone went out of reach of the Bluetooth speaker. Chris stood and looked at Jay-Cee as if he knew everything Jay-Cee had been thinking. He probably did.