by Lynn Kelling
Brayden Clare never wanted to return to small town life. Blond, athletic, and struggling with his sexual identity, a casual relationship on the beach in Florida suits him much better. When a family emergency calls him home, he is forced to trade his personal freedom for a job as a bartender in a town where everybody thinks they know who he is, and nobody has a clue—including Brayden. Jenner Parrish is the owner and operator of Parrish Pub, the social hub of Robertsville, Pennsylvania. Jenner is charming, dominant, and popular since they were both in high school together. Brayden finds his new boss intimidating, and is daunted to find that turns him on. Jenner finds his new recruit intriguing but mustn’t dare to ask an employee to submit to him. The two men find what they’re seeking at a masked BDSM ball in the next town over, and are startled to discover their desires rest much, much closer to home. (M/M)
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Chapter 1: Surrender
Roughly two-thirds of the way north, on a long drive straight from Miami, Florida to Robertsville, Pennsylvania, Brayden Clare stops at a gas station in Maryland to fill up. The middle-aged woman at the next pump stares openly at him while he pumps the gas.
That’s just your raging self-consciousness talking again. You’re projecting, being paranoid. She’s probably staring at the massive, obnoxiously colorful surfboard wedged in the back of the Jeep.
He tosses his hair back out of his eyes and peeks, trying to make it seem like a natural, casually disinterested glance.
Nope, she’s staring at me, he finds, and smiles politely.
“Hey. Afternoon,” he nods to her. He has found, through much trial and error, that sometimes it’s better to make the effort to confront life’s awkward moments rather than pretend them away. Ignore them all you like, if they’re there, they’re there.
She hadn’t expected him to say anything, he sees, as her eyes widen comically. Blushing and dropping her gaze, she giggles nervously, playing with her keys. “Um. Hi. Yeah, um…” Rolling her eyes at herself, she gives him a little wave and ducks behind her car, sliding back in behind the wheel. Through the window, he sees her cover her face with a hand.
Chuckling softly with sincere amusement, his heart becoming a little bit lighter, Brayden pulls the gas nozzle from the Jeep and finishes the transaction. Usually he’s the furthest thing from cynical. It’s been his greatest source of pride over the past four years, how he’s slowly learned how to be able to smile, often, and mean it. It’s the drive to his old home that’s affecting him, turning him, mile by mile, back into someone he has vigorously tried to no longer be.
His phone buzzes in his pocket, startling him slightly. Uncertain who could be calling, he fishes out the phone and sees from the caller ID that it’s Andre. A tiny photo flashes on the screen, identifying him—dark brown skin glistening like chiseled marble in the sunshine, white smile beaming.
“I thought I got rid of you,” Brayden says as he answers, lacing paper-thin annoyance into the words, thinking, God, I’m glad he called. It’s proof that Andre is still thinking about him, that the act of leaving the state hasn’t automatically removed Brayden from everything, and everyone, left behind.
“I’m not that easy to get rid of,” Andre retorts. “As you know well. What state are you in? Besides confusion.”
“Funny. Really. That’s hilarious. I’m in Maryland.”
“D’ya miss me yet?”
Brayden smiles. It’s genuine and for the first time in two days, warmth sparks in his heart, melting some of the gathered chill. He gets back in the Jeep to finish the call.
“Nah, I’m good,” Brayden teases. “How about you? Find someone to replace me?”
“Mm, might be a little tricky. There were some definite benefits to rooming with you…”
“You could always specifically ask for a slut when you advertise.”
Through the surprisingly good connection, Andre laughs loudly. “Oh baby, don’t you get it? What I like best about you is what a reluctant slut you are. That’s rare. ’Specially in Miami.”
“Mm,” Brayden grunts. “Yeah, guess so.”
There’s a pause, and Brayden waits for it, Andre’s insight, now that the joking has broken the ice. “What’s wrong, Marsha?”
“Nothing’s wrong. It’s been a shitty drive. It’s cold. Hey, did I leave my sandals there?”
“No, something is definitely wrong. You don’t sound like yourself at all. Is this about—”
Brayden cuts him off. “I’m kind of dealing with a lot right now. Of course I’m stressed. That’s all.”
“You should tell them.”
“There’s nothing to tell. It was fun while it lasted but now I’ve gotta go back to reality and act like a grown-up. That’s all.”
“‘It was fun while it lasted?’ Are you seriously telling yourself that? This isn’t some phase you’re going through, Braydy.”
“So that’s it? You’re going to just pretend to dig on pussy for the rest of your life because it’s easier than facing the truth?”
“I’m hanging up. Wh-why did you even call me? Don’t you think I’m miserable enough right now?”
“I offered to make the drive with you,” Andre says softly.
Brayden’s face twists up as some of his tightly bottled emotion surfaces momentarily. Holding his breath until it burns in his lungs, he presses his fingertips to his eyes. He listens and tries to find the balls to hang up on Andre like he threatened to. Betraying him, his imagination supplies the fantasy of having Andre’s massive form beside him in the Jeep, the sheer weight of muscle testing the shocks, Andre’s bald head nudging the plastic roof. It’s a wonderful thought, but it also makes Brayden queasy. He would never be able to let the different facets of his life bleed together like that. Andre is the past now. He’s the city, with all of its heat, bustle, action and decadent freedom to act spontaneously without scrutiny or judgment. Nana and Emma are the future, even if they’re also his small home town, full of ghosts and bad memories, where the name Brayden Clare will bear many specific labels, assumptions and expectations from the moment he shows up. He draws a line down the middle, right between them in his head, keeping them away from each other.
“This isn’t who you are,” Andre urges.
“Yeah. It is now. I’ll call you soon.” He hangs up and turns off the phone.
In retrospect, Brayden realizes how desperate he was when his big sexual epiphany happened. At the time, though, it was a whole other story. He was naïve, young, and uncomfortable in his own skin.
He knew Andre was bisexual, just as he knew that wrestling—watching it, doing it, thinking about it—was a huge, intensely secret turn on. The man-on-man, body-against-sweaty-body struggle for dominance unfailingly made his dick stiffer than any of his actual, hands-on attempts to get interested in girls. Even when Brenna James sucked him at the bonfire a few years back, he had to fantasize about the match he’d gone to see the night before just to get it up.
The wrestling aspect, therefore, played a big part in his epiphany, but Brayden also knew that the best way to lose some of his many inhibitions was to get good and drunk.
So, he got drunk. Really drunk. It was a Sunday night. Andre, a pre-law student, was doing class work. Brayden kept giving Andre beers, though. One after the other until Andre gave up the pretense, left the books behind and joined him on the couch instead. Then, Brayden got out the hard alcohol. One shot for Andre, one for himself. Over and over again. When Andre told him to slow down, Brayden insisted, calling it a long-overdue chance to blow off steam.
Things became unsteady—his body as well as his resolve to do or say something about the way he had been feeling. He accidentally spilled a whole glass full of tequila all over his chest and lap a few hours into the binge. Andre was laughing his ass off, telling Brayden he smelled like a liquor cabinet and looked like a wet dog, so Brayden took a shower.
When he reappeared, Brayden could see the change happen in Andre’s expression. Freshly bathed, skin damp, dressed in only a small, white towel wrapped around his narrow hips, it was the most naked he’d ever been when alone with another guy, even if it was for innocent reasons. His lean swimmer’s body was toned in all the right places thanks to long hours spent at the gym and in the ocean. The way Andre was looking at all of that exposed, suntanned skin was different than any look Andre had ever given Brayden before. It was darker, heavier, and full of intent.
“You’re in my way, bro,” Brayden warned, like he was picking a fight. He stepped to the side as if to go around, and Andre just slid sideways into his path.
“Oh, am I?” Andre countered, playing along as he always did. “What’re you gonna do about it?”
All at once, Brayden was aware of their size difference and every single one of the eight inches in height that Andre had on him. Many years of training in the wrestling ring sang out in the thick, bulging muscles popping over the length of Andre’s body, clad in only loose shorts and a sleeveless shirt. Used to having to look up at the majority of other men, the effect of having to do so in that situation—tipping his chin up to meet Andre’s eyes—felt different in the same way Andre’s expression did.
Awareness of his arousal made him panic with how stark his need was to hide it.
Brayden didn’t consciously decide to charge at Andre, he was driven to it by his desperation. Andre stood between him and the closet where his clothes were. The alcohol made it seem like a great idea to try to sprint past the giant in his path in order to get to those clothes. Gritting his teeth, green eyes flashing with the fire of determination and madness, Brayden “Braydy” Clare tensed every muscle he had and growled as he ran at the man standing in his way.
Thank god the floor was carpeted with ugly, thick shag.
Andre clotheslined him, sending him falling flat on his back, gaping like a beached fish for suddenly hard-to-find oxygen. Angry, Brayden recovered quickly, scrambling back to his feet.
They grappled while standing up, knocking into furniture as they spun and cursed. Brayden struggled. Andre laughed, not mockingly, but in admiration for his much-smaller-friend’s spunkiness. Noticing Andre’s roughened breathing, proud to have caused it, Brayden kept up the fight.
Andre swept Brayden’s legs. Then it was a floor match. They rolled and Andre let Brayden think there was a chance in hell for him before getting Brayden on his back and pinning him easily.
Andre was on top. He glistened with a thin sheen of sweat from the heat rather than the exercise. Legs like tree trunks trapped Brayden from the thighs down. One forearm like an overgrown python crossed Brayden’s upper chest, pressing higher and higher until it was against his throat so that both of Brayden’s hands were kept occupied trying to pry it off his windpipe in order to keep the air flowing into his lungs.
Andre wasn’t lying down on him. There wasn’t much contact at all between their middles. It was harmless, or so Brayden told himself, at first—they were just expelling excess energy and goofing off.
Except that wrestling always made Brayden hard. His cock had started to rise from the moment Andre started to look at his mostly naked body in non-friendly ways. Having Andre’s warm, slick skin and firm body in his grasp, in addition to being overpowered so easily—it just intensified everything.
It made it so much better.
Hearing Andre breathe near his ear, feeling his larger body press him into the floor, it swelled Brayden’s interest to dangerous levels. His dick was tenting the towel and he suddenly realized he couldn’t move at all. He was very effectively trapped where he was.
He was fully erect and wearing a towel that was probably coming undone, likely to fall off at any moment, and Andre would see, would know.
Andre shifted to make sure he wasn’t really hurting Brayden. There was a slight dip of his pelvis and that was it.
He felt it.
His hyper-intelligent brown eyes fixed on Brayden’s face, studying it like Brayden was his homework now. Staring at the far wall instead of the massive man holding him down, his head turned slightly to the side, Brayden pretended that his erection hadn’t just dragged against Andre’s hip and said nothing. All he could do was wait for the inevitable backlash and tidal wave of humiliation to come crashing down.
Grunting and pushing upwards with his body, all of his limbs, he tried to dislodge Andre. He didn’t say ‘get off me’ or ‘enough’. He struggled, knowing it wouldn’t do any good, or maybe, rather, because he knew it wouldn’t do any good.
As if he was only trying to one-up Brayden’s breathy, somewhat sensual little gasps and grunts by giving him something to really cry out about, Andre acted.
He reached down between their bodies and grabbed. Brayden’s mind overloaded and shut down. Thick fingers wrapped around his erection through the towel’s terry cloth. Engulfing the swelling flesh, Andre’s hand tightened and slid over it.
There was nothing accidental about it.
Brayden froze. His expression was blank, his eyes stared at nothing. The only response was a slow rising blush as he stopped breathing and told himself there was no way it could really be happening.
With a shrewd gaze, measuring and judging every subtle reaction like the expert prosecutor he would someday be, Andre tugged once, then let go only to reach lower and drag his hand up over the waxed-smooth skin of Brayden’s inner thigh, pushing the towel up and out of the way.
Exhaling sharply through his nose as his breath refused to be held any longer, Brayden’s lips sealed tightly together to hold in a moan. He tried to slip free somehow, but of course couldn’t, which was precisely why he was so turned on in the first place. As Brayden tried to twist his hips, Andre’s hand closed up around his genitals, getting a handful of his sac and his dick.
It was the very first time another man had touched Brayden like that and the effect was powerful. Twitching into the touch, unable to disguise a hard moan, his body vibrated with pleasure. Simultaneously, he needed much, much more, and also had to make it stop, no matter what. The chaotic clash of lust and horror made him lash out. Grabbing at Andre’s left arm, Brayden clawed at him, denting the skin.
A voice in the back of Brayden’s head told him to fight, to shout in protest, to do something, but as Andre gently fondled him, Brayden could only lay there and take it, shuddering. A warm palm dragged up the underside of his bare cock; it rolled over his balls, pressing them up against his shaft. Fingers played along his length, mapping it, feeling it thicken and jump at the attention. Then Andre simply cupped his hand around the head and applied gentle pressure. Fluid pulsed from the slit. Brayden grunted thickly and bucked, his back arching off the floor.
The whole time, Andre never stopped staring at his face with calm confidence and plenty of curiosity. Brayden felt the weight of that scrutiny, unable to look his friend in the eye, or even get close. A quivering exhale over parted lips provoked Andre to give him a tighter stroke, root to tip, using precome to slick the shaft. Brayden writhed and Andre only tightened his focus, watching his lips form a plaintive gasp, tugging again.
He gasped again and it wasn’t with pleasure this time, it was filled only with all of the hurt Brayden felt.
Never had he felt that helpless, not with everything he’d gone through as a teenager. It was too tangible, too physical and intense. It was everything he usually tried so hard to avoid, bombarding him all at once.
Andre backed off just a little, right away, just enough, and Brayden’s panic won out.
He rolled free.
“Where you goin’? Come on. B! Brayden!” Andre called, his voice filled with care and concern. Brayden hastily grabbed up the dislodged towel and scrambled to the bathroom, slamming the door shut.
They didn’t talk about it or even acknowledge it happened for a full week afterward. Both of them pretended everything was normal. Everything was just fine. It might have been convincing enough to be true if not for the fact that all week long, Brayden wouldn’t look Andre in the eyes. In theory, it might have gone on like that for much longer, maybe even long enough to become intolerable. It might have gotten bad enough that Brayden would have moved out, in search of a more comfortable living arrangement.
But it didn’t go on longer than a week. The next Sunday morning, Brayden was staring out at nothing, his eyes half-lidded with drowsiness, his sun-lightened hair falling over the side of his face in soft waves as he lingered a little too long at the coffee pot. He stayed there like that, a weary, somewhat defeated statue, as Andre got closer and closer. There was no protest or search for escape as Andre got right up in his personal space to whisper in an ear, “It’s nothin’ to be ashamed of, you know.”
The coffee sloshed in the mug as Brayden’s hands started to tremble.
Andre plucked the mug free and set it aside before the steaming liquid could spill and scald. With nothing to hold on to, Brayden broke from his spell, answering the soothing words the only way he knew how. He elbowed Andre in the gut, catching him right under the ribs.
Sighing tiredly, Andre easily caught Brayden’s arm. When Brayden twisted away, Andre simply caught the other arm, too, spinning him in order to pull both arms behind his captive’s back.
Panic—hot, liquid panic—washed through Brayden’s body and he fought as hard as he could, but Andre simply moved them closer to the wall like he was prepared to hold him against it and wait out the fit until Brayden was ready and able to talk about what was happening. The left side of Brayden’s face pressed to the drywall. Andre twisted Brayden’s arms up higher behind his back, making his heart pound with frightening speed and force. Telling himself it was fine, it was under control, it was harmless, Brayden denied the truth. That was bad enough, but when Andre’s knee slipped easily between Brayden’s thighs, parting them, making him widen his stance, things turned a sharp corner and permanently altered their course.
Because then, Brayden moaned.
Heat surged under Brayden’s skin, shooting out in twisting tongues of fire through his whole body.
A broken cry wrenched free.
Andre sighed by his ear, “Fuck.”
Brayden pulled against the hold on his arms, but not to get free. The more he struggled, the tighter Andre clamped down on him.
“It’s okay. I’ve got you. I’ve got you,” Andre promised. In moments, Brayden, lips parted and eyes shut, couldn’t move at all. His whole body thrummed with nearly electric energy.
Andre shifted his grip on Brayden’s arms to one hand and reached his freed hand around, cupping Brayden’s genitals through the thin cotton pants he had slept in.
His already gruff voice roughened with lust, Andre asked, “This what you want?” The flesh jumped at the words, but it was the only response he got.
“Or maybe this is what you want…”
Swiftly, Andre tugged the elastic-waist pants down in front, just enough for Brayden’s cock to spring free. A hard, shuddering groan emitted from low in Brayden’s throat as Andre took hold of him and began to stroke in long, slow squeezing pulls. Brayden’s fight instinct kicked back in, but Andre was standing flush behind him and the more Brayden pushed back into him or tried to twist free, the quicker Andre’s hand would pump and the more cruelly Brayden’s arms would get twisted up behind his back.
Seething, blowing out every breath, Brayden didn’t once say stop, just as he never stopped fighting. Soon his arms burned from the strain and his cock was like hot iron, riding Andre’s loose fist. Grinding his forehead into the wall, Brayden growled. Andre began to jack him even more rapidly and with a whimper, Brayden bucked and thrust forward into each downward squeeze, riding counter to Andre’s hand. Faster and faster they moved until Brayden was shamelessly rocking in and out of the fist.
He was right on the edge. His release was close enough to taste, ready to explode like spectacular fireworks from him in the best orgasm of his life.
But Andre let go of his dick, wrapping the arm around the front of Brayden’s chest instead. Flushed a deep, dark red, Brayden’s cock strained painfully up against his belly, slick with precome. His balls felt heavy and were drawn up tight.
“What the fuck are you doing?!” Brayden seethed in a needy, growled tone of voice that Andre had never heard from him before, rediscovering, at last, the ability to speak.
“What’s the matter, Marsha?” Andre teased, intentionally using the nickname that he knew Brayden hated, a play on his more commonly used nickname ‘Braydy’. Brayden bucked and twisted in his arms, pushing off from the floor with his feet, throwing his head back. He even pressed his ass back harder into Andre, but that only caused Andre’s disturbingly thick erection to press snugly, and obscenely, between Brayden’s butt cheeks. “Want me to let go?”
Nothing. No answer.
“Or do you want me to finish jacking your cock?”
Still no answer, but Brayden pulled so hard at his trapped arms that he whimpered with the pain. Andre nuzzled into the warmth of Brayden’s neck, breathing him in.
“Ask me,” Andre prompted.
“I’m not touching unless you ask.”
Brayden pulled harder than ever on his arms and was probably about to dislocate his shoulders. In response, Andre reached down and directed a firm slap to the underside of Brayden’s painfully swollen cock. “Stop it!”
Brayden gasped, writhing and still wordlessly trying to pull free.
Andre drew back and slapped again. Precome pulsed thickly from the slit. Brayden’s eyes rolled as he blew out his next breath.
“You like that, huh? Say you like it. Admit it.”
Not saying a thing, Brayden bit his lip and squeezed his eyes shut. Andre opened his hand wide and took hold of Brayden’s testicles and shaft, squeezing them a little.
Brayden made a sobbing, breathless sound, doubling over, trying to draw his legs up. Andre relaxed his grip, then retightened it and pulled.
“Ahh! Please. Please.”
It seemed to be all that Andre needed. With two twisting, corkscrewed squeezes up Brayden’s cock, he brought him off. After Brayden spilled thick and hot over his roommate’s hand, he was let go and slowly staggered away to get cleaned up.
“Brayden,” Andre tried.
Brayden just waved him off.
The talk they should have had never happened, because Brayden wouldn’t talk. For the next couple of weeks, things continued and progressed down a dangerous path. Their friendship remained paramount, but it was never quite the same.
Then, at the worst possible time, the call came, the one that removed Brayden from Andre’s life for the foreseeable future, giving him an out and letting him escape revelations only just beginning to bloom.
Sitting at a traffic light, only an hour from his hometown, Brayden looks at himself in the rearview mirror. His face is a classically handsome one, though he doesn’t see it that way. All he can see is the boy he was, called pretty in mocking ways, always with laughter and sneers. Tucking a stray tendril of his shoulder-length brown hair, laced with sun-kissed streaks of blond, behind an ear, Brayden examines the person in the mirror, a stranger to him. Fear and misery sit right beneath the surface, in the glassiness of his eyes, in the pout of his lips. He wonders if he’s running toward something or away.
The call came a week ago. Brayden could not ignore it, no matter how much he might have wanted to. His peaceful life on the beach was interrupted.
He quit his job as a lifeguard, gave Andre notice that he’d be moving out, packed his Jeep and prepared to migrate back to everything he thought he left behind for good. The years he spent growing up in Robertsville, Pennsylvania were miserable ones. They were all about survival. Survive school and the ravenous rumormill of that too-small town, escape, find happiness—those used to be his goals.
And he did. He did what he set out to do and he was so close to finding happiness. For the first time, things had finally started to make sense. It was a miracle, that elusive understanding. He got a real glimpse of it, like the twinkling of a star. Then it was snatched away as the dark closed in.
Because Brayden’s Nana can’t keep up with her bills anymore.
She admitted, humbly, to having a hard time providing for her ward, Brayden’s young cousin, Emma Leah. There is no one else left who can help them, only Brayden. Lara’s Brayden. Lara, who exists as more of an idea than a mother, or a daughter, though she is those, too. Brayden is Lara’s son, but he is his father’s son as well, and Brayden suspects it was the latter that got Nana to pick up the phone, and to hope. Even at twenty-two, he understands what it must have cost his Nana to do that much.