If It Drives (A Market Garden Tale), page 1
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the authors’ imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
If It Drives (A Market Garden Tale)
Copyright © 2014 by Aleksandr Voinov and L.A. Witt
Cover Art by L.C. Chase, http://lcchase.com/design.htm
Editors: Carole-Ann Galloway and Rachel Haimowitz
Layout: L.C. Chase, http://lcchase.com/design.htm
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If it flies, drives, or fornicates, it’s cheaper to rent it.
After driving James Harcourt, his wealthy banker boss, around for a year and a half, Cal isn’t surprised by much anymore. Not even James’s regular trips to Market Garden, London’s most elite gay brothel.
But when James leaves the Garden alone one night and turns to Cal instead, Cal’s floored. After crushing on his boss for ages, it’s his wet dream come true . . . until the awkward morning after. Cal still has a job to do, but he wants to offer more. Yet James doesn’t take him up on it; he keeps Cal at arm’s length and continues his chauffeured jaunts to Market Garden.
As Cal learns what James needs from the rentboys, he tries to fill that need himself. But there’s more to James’s penchant for rentboys than Cal realises, and it may be one role that Cal can’t fill without overstepping his duty.
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That was a first.
Callum sat up straighter, watching in the limo’s side mirror as his employer headed down the sidewalk towards the car . . . alone. James never left Market Garden alone. Oh, no . . .
Cal tossed aside his spiral notebook and pen, grabbed his black cap off the passenger seat, put it on, and got out. At this point in the evening, he was usually biting down on some red-hot jealousy while a sexy, leather-clad rentboy slid into the back of the car with James, but he couldn’t even find any relief that it hadn’t happened tonight. It took every shred of self-control he had not to jog across the pavement and put his arms around his boss. He schooled his expression and posture, refusing to let his concern or surprise show.
Not that James would have noticed, and that in itself was weird. He was usually outgoing and exuberant—well, as much as any dignified British man could be—but he was strangely subdued tonight. Shoulders down, eyes down; even his customary scarlet tie seemed to sag, the knot lower than usual. He was definitely not himself. He was always tense and sometimes even a little depressed when he asked Cal to take him to Market Garden, but never when he left.
“Ready to leave, Mr. Harcourt?” Cal asked cautiously.
James’s eyes flicked up, briefly meeting Cal’s, and he grunted an affirmative. Definitely not himself.
What’s wrong? Talk to me!
But Cal said nothing. That fantasy of being James’s confidant and source of comfort was just that, a fantasy. In the real world, Cal was the help, and that meant he couldn’t help James the way he ached to.
With his heart in his throat, he pulled open the door and stood aside while James climbed into the back of the car. No way had he been knocked back by any of the guys. If his jaw-dropping good looks didn’t attract the rentboys to him—and Cal couldn’t begin to fathom that—the contents of his wallet surely would.
Cal shut the door and went back to the driver’s seat. He looked in the rearview and said over his shoulder, “Home, sir?”
“Yeah.” James’s gaze was fixed on something outside the window. And not Market Garden, either. “Let’s go home.”
This wouldn’t be a late night, then. Thank God. Market Garden nights usually weren’t—Cal would be dismissed shortly after dropping James and his rentboy du jour at the house—but some nights, James met colleagues from the office or entertained clients, and partied into the early hours of the morning before arriving home in the grey predawn. By that point, Cal would be shattered and James would be drunk or already asleep. Getting him out of the car, through the door, and up the stairs into bed was a whole operation. Many times in the year—had it been that long?—since the man’s wife had left, Cal had been the one to take James upstairs, pull off his suit, and put him to bed after those liquored-up outings. Okay, so it wasn’t exactly in his job description, but he couldn’t bear the thought of leaving James to show himself to bed when he was in that state. A little bit of awkwardness and frustration were a small price to pay so James could maintain his dignity.
On the way home tonight, James left the privacy screen open. Cal was used to that except on Market Garden nights. If they were heading home from the brothel, that screen was invariably up, leaving Cal’s fertile imagination to provide the details. Sometimes Cal heard things—leather creaking, a groan, and once in a while a laugh so sadistic he wondered if James had Loki himself back there—but he never saw anything. Whenever James emerged from the car with one of his rentboys, he’d be flustered, visibly hard, and sometimes already sweating a little. What Cal wouldn’t have given to know what exactly the rentboys did to him during that thirty-minute drive.
What I wouldn’t give to join them.
He shivered and gripped the wheel a little tighter, focusing on manoeuvring down the narrow streets on the route back to the house. A route he’d driven so many times, he could almost do it in his sleep. But tonight, with that screen open and James just sitting there, alone and staring off into space, Cal struggled to concentrate on the road.
Glancing in the rearview again, he cleared his throat. “Is, um, e
Leather creaked softly behind him. James sighed. “Everything’s fine, Callum. Don’t worry about it.”
Cal gnawed his lip, but didn’t say anything more. Sometimes, when he wasn’t preoccupied with business, James chattered endlessly from the backseat, going on about anything—a client’s antics, whatever he and the children had done during their visit the previous weekend, something in the news—and at least appeared happy to have Cal’s full attention. It didn’t seem to bother him that Cal was paid to be there and it was only professional for an employee to listen politely to his employer and comment when asked. Then again, that didn’t bother James about the rentboys, either. It took a lonely, lonely man to ignore the fact that someone was being paid to give him their undivided attention.
Other times, James was like this. Quiet. Withdrawn. Except that was always before a visit to Market Garden. Never after.
The drive tonight felt like it took three times as long as usual, but finally, Cal pulled up the long driveway that wound around to the front of James’s lavish home. He parked, left the engine idling, and went around to James’s door.
It seemed to take all the energy James had to extract himself from the car and stand. He was sober, that much Cal could tell—he rarely drank all that much at Market Garden—but he looked exhausted.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” Cal asked.
“Yes.” James faced him and smiled, but it was thin lipped and didn’t reach his eyes. “I’m fine.”
Cal nodded silently. He closed the door after James had stepped away from the car, and waited.
James looked up at his house, and Cal watched him, wondering what was going through the man’s head as he stared at his massive, empty house and its closed front door. His gaze was distant. Gravel crunched and his dress shoes creaked softly as he rocked back and forth from his heels to the balls of his feet.
Again, Cal fought the urge to put his arms around James and comfort him. Something was off, and whatever it was, Cal desperately wanted to fix it. Change it. Help him somehow. Hell, just hold him the way he’d imagined doing so many times.
Cal tried to force that thought out of his mind. Maybe that was one fantasy that needed to stop. Imagining himself having sex with a man who was out of his league was one thing, but imagining himself consoling someone who was standing right there, looking that lost and that vulnerable . . . it wouldn’t take much for the line between fantasy and reality to blur. And if that line did blur, he’d probably realise it one awkward hug too late.
Eyes still fixed on the house, James broke the silence. “Would you like to come in for a drink?”
Cal’s heart skipped. Really? This night just kept getting stranger.
James turned his head, and a weak smile appeared on his lips. “Yes. A drink.”
“I . . .” Shouldn’t. No way. Cal, don’t . . . “I should park the car.”
“Just leave it outside the door.” James fiddled his keys from his pocket. “Not like I’m expecting visitors.”
Cal glanced up at the overcast sky, but London weather was all over the place, and though it didn’t look like rain, it might very well rain tonight. He really didn’t want to leave the car out in case the weather turned nasty, and putting it away would give him a moment to come to his senses and—
“Don’t worry about the car,” James said quietly.
“All right.” Bad idea. Very bad idea. But Cal took off his cap and placed it on the driver’s seat, then killed the engine and locked the doors. Heart racing, he followed his boss through the front door and into the enormous living room.
James always left several lights on when he headed into the city, which made the house less empty and forlorn, but that illusion didn’t last for very long.
“I could put on the fire.” James sounded undecided, certainly not quite there.
“If you like, sir.”
“I love the flickering. Do you?” He looked at Cal, hazel eyes brownish in the warm light.
Cal had never lived anywhere that had a live fireplace; they seemed unnecessary and inefficient. The house wasn’t cold, but maybe James found it comforting. Cal nodded. “I do, sir.”
“Good.” James took off his jacket, walked over to the fireplace and crouched down to start the fire with paper and kindling. Cal found himself staring at the man’s fine white shirt pulled taut over his body, and the small, trim arse just hovering over the heel of his polished black shoes.
Snap out of it, Cal. You shouldn’t even be here.
This was a mistake. It wasn’t a good idea to do social time, but now that he was here, he couldn’t really bow out without being impolite. He’d have to make up some kind of excuse to vanish into the tiny cottage behind the house. The living quarters were one of the main perks of the job, even if they seemed a little too close tonight.
“What are you drinking, Callum? Wine?”
Wine, whatever. He’d drink what the boss was drinking, but not much. Just enough to be sociable. “Yes, sir.”
“I’ll grab a couple of bottles from the wine cellar.”
“Actually, I—” His last-ditch attempt to bail and get the fuck out of there halted when James looked into his eyes again. Cal swallowed. “Uh, I can get the wine.”
“Are you sure?”
No. God, what am I doing? But something was wrong, and Cal couldn’t walk away from James and just leave him here with whatever was on his mind, and if company and a glass of wine were what he needed, then maybe Cal could give him that much. “I’m sure. Any, um, preference?”
James smiled, and some tension seemed to melt out of his shoulders. “It’s downstairs. Past the game room, second door on the left. Get us a couple bottles of red, if you would? The French ones are all favourites. Pick whatever you like.”
“Sure.” Cal followed James’s instructions, and peered at the extensive collection of bottles. Pick whatever you like? Some of those bottles were five hundred a pop. Others just fifty or so. Did it make a difference if he went for the cheap ones or the expensive ones? He chose blindly, picking out two bottles of French reds.
He returned with the bottles, one in each hand, and the fire was flickering, James standing back.
Cal swallowed. “Should I, um . . .” He nodded towards the kitchen as he set the bottles on the coffee table. “Get a couple of glasses, sir?”
For the first time all evening, James smiled. Not broadly, but genuinely, as if the fire had warmed something in him during Cal’s brief absence.
“You don’t have to call me ‘sir’ anymore tonight. James is fine.”
“All right.” Cal swallowed again. “Uh, James. The . . .” He’d asked a question, hadn’t he? Had James answered him?
James gestured at the couch. “Make yourself comfortable. I’ll get the glasses.”
James brushed past him, not quite touching him but almost, and then Cal was alone in the massive living room with two bottles of wine, a crackling fire, and a few million questions on his mind. But he sat at one end of the couch, leaning his elbow on the armrest and trying not to fidget or chew his thumbnail or otherwise let on that he was nervous.
And why the hell was he nervous, anyway? Just because this was out of the ordinary and perhaps a little too close to how his most delicious fantasies had begun didn’t mean a thing. Maybe James was just lonely tonight. That was probably why he’d gone to Market Garden in the first place—he’d been in an exceptionally depressed mood when they’d left the house, Cal realised now—and maybe he just wanted some company without the leather and the—
Oh, God, don’t think about all that. He squirmed on the cushion, forcing himself to think unpleasant thoughts to keep from physically reacting to those fleeting images.
James returned with two glasses. He put them on the table, opened one of the bottles, and poured them each half a glass. As he handed one to Cal, he smiled. “I hope I’m not keeping you fr
“No, s—uh, I mean, no. No plans.” He took the glass and swirled it slowly. “I’d expected to be on duty for a couple more hours, so I hadn’t made any.”
James’s smile faltered briefly, and his gaze turned distant as he lifted his own glass. “Well, you’ll still be paid for the same hours. I hope this is all right?”
“Of course.” Cal sipped the wine. The heady, sweet flavour made his head spin a little, as if he’d already drunk an entire bottle or two. Maybe it wasn’t the wine. With James sitting this close to him, barely a couch cushion between them and without the safety of a privacy screen, Cal probably didn’t need to drink anything at all to get his head spinning.
“How do you like the wine?” James asked.
Cal swirled it slowly. “It’s, uh, it’s nice.”
“It is.” James smiled. “Château Margaux is always nice. Good choice, Callum.”
“Thank you.” He wasn’t sure what else to say. In response to James’s comment or, well, at all. Why the hell am I here? He lifted his gaze and met James’s eyes. And why aren’t you yourself tonight? But those weren’t questions he could make himself ask. James’s personal life was off limits, and Cal wasn’t sure he wanted to know exactly why he was here and a Market Garden rentboy wasn’t.
“Callum?” James tilted his head slightly. “You’re awfully quiet.”
Cal took another drink and then put his glass down. “Forgive me if I’m out of line, but are you sure everything’s all right? You’ve been a little, uh, out of sorts all evening.”
James shrugged. He was better than two-thirds of the way through his glass already. “Could just use a little company, that’s all.”
Isn’t that why I took you to Market Garden?
Cal bit down on that question. This degree of intimacy was disconcerting enough without probing into James’s unusual sex life.
James swallowed the last of his wine. He put the glass between the bottles, but made no move to pour himself any more. Sitting back, he slung one arm across the top of the couch, his hand dangerously close to Cal’s shoulder. Cal struggled to breathe. He was tempted to reach for his wine, but was afraid he’d drop the glass. Not that a splash of red wine on the white sofa and pale carpet would be any more mortifying than saying or doing the wrong thing right now. Like moving closer to that casually draped arm. Or moving away from it. He was certain any movement at all, even a millimeter in either direction, would be the body language equivalent of a scream of “get the fuck away from me” or a bright red neon sign buzzing with “please, please touch me.” So he stayed completely still.