After I left the Galleries, I headed to the dingy café in the Gallows where I’d told Stewart I’d meet him. He was waiting inside, looking eager and dapper in his fitted suit coat and starched white shirt, his deep brown skin stark against it. In other words, he looked like a polished gem in a dirty road: very out of place. In a daze, I asked him to follow me back to my apartment. He was practically bouncing by the time I shut the door behind us.
“Rua, tell me. Don’t make me wait any longer—what did Sir Liam have to say?”
“You were right,” I told him, shrugging out of my jacket.
“He does make one want to call him ‘sir’. Though he’s quite easy and down to earth.” I was babbling a bit as I stood and stared out the window. Partially, I was almost afraid to say aloud what had happened lest my acceptance somehow be revoked, and partially I enjoyed keeping the news to myself and making Stew wait.
He was watching me, brow furrowed, then shook his head. “You’re works were accepted, you little sly fox.”
Now I grinned. “Some of them.” Stew knew me too well; there was no keeping secrets. He crushed me in a hug and spun me about. “I knew it! I told you!” My laughter was muffled against his chest. “Yes, yes, you did. I admit it.”
Finally, he put me down, still grinning like a mad man. “We have to celebrate! We have to go out.”
I flicked his ear. “What was that for?” he snapped, holding his abused ear like I’d bitten him. Well, no, not like I’d bitten him. He tended to like that.
“It’s not even official yet. I still need to accept the offer.”
“What?” His face fell and he looked stricken, but that was the play of the light. The sun had just dipped past the buildings outside. “Why, Rua?”
His soft tone and worried eyes made me self-conscious. “I’m going to. Liam gave me time to consider it, so I’m letting myself think.”
Oh, dear, he’d crossed his arms and his eyes narrowed. “Don’t give me that look,” I huffed.
Waving a hand toward his face I told him, “That one. The one that says ‘What have you done now, little fox?’”
Stew gave a lopsided smile at my mimicking of his pet name for me. “What part of the offer, exactly, do you have to think on?”
“Well…” I sank down into my chair before my latest canvas and shrugged. I really didn’t want to discuss this. “It won’t just be my works displayed, I’ll be expected to be there to present them. Knowing how Society is, I’ll be a more interesting display than my art.”
Stew moved to pull up a chair for himself when a knock came at the door.
“Come in,” I called without getting up.
Stewart sputtered, “Wait, who—?” He couldn’t get the question out before marl sauntered in.
“Look what I’ve got,” Marl said, holding out a tray of what looked to be berry tarts. I scooped one up and moaned. “Daths so gwood,” I said around my full mouth. Stewart stood and I expected Marl to jump in surprise, but he simply turned to him and with a shameless grin asked, “Does he tell you the same thing when you stuff his mouth?”
Unaccustomed to Marl and his antics, Stew opened and shut his mouth and had no reply. “Marl. Don’t pick on him. Stewart, this is Marl. Marl Stewart.”
Marl was good enough to set down his tray and shake Stew’s hand, and he thankfully said nothing about Stew’s blush. “I finally get to meet you. I’ve heard good things.”
Stepping between them before Marl could start in on anything embarrassing, I grabbed a tart from the tray and handed it to Stew. “Try one. Trust me, his baked goods are much sweeter than his mouth.”
“True,” Marl said unabashedly.
Though he looked wary, Stewart ate the tart and his whole face lit up. “Wow,” he said after swallowing. “Do you have your own shop?”
“Hah! Here? No, but thanks for the optimism, big boy.” Marl patted Stew’s belly and plucked a few more tarts to place on my tiny kitchen countertop. [“You going to tell me about the Galleries?” jaw drops. ‘how?’ These walls are thin.’ Winks.
Then Stewart did the last thing I expected. Instead of ushering Marl out the door, he told him, “Rua here is thinking of turning them down.”
“What? They made you an offer?”
I nodded and prepared myself for annihilation. Again, I was met with a different reaction than expected. Marl bent to his knees and took my hand. I forgot how dramatic he could be. “Rua, you deserve this. What’s stopping you?”
“Oh, good grief. I never said I wasn’t going to accept.”
“But something about it bothers you,” Marl pushed. Yes, something did, more than what I’d said to Stew and my eyes immediately drifted over to him. “Oh.” Marl glanced between us and grabbed his tray. “I’ll be going then. Have a nice talk. Tell me everything later.” And just like that Marl spun out the door.
I heard Stew chuckle softly. “He’s a pistol.”
“You’ve no idea.”
“So, back on topic,” Stewart said, not missing a beat. I couldn’t really put off this talk, could I?
Standing up, I puffed out a breath. “You don’t like it here, do you?”
“Where?” He looked genuinely confused.
Flinging my hands out over the room, I told him, “Here. My apartment. The Gallows.”
He still looked bewildered. “What does that have to do with this offer?”
I groaned and sank back down onto my chair, head in my hands. “Everything.”
“I’m sorry, Ru. I don’t understand.” He stepped closer and I held up my hand.
“You don’t get it, do you? I like it here. I fit here. I don’t really want to move, even if I do well at the Galleries, even if everything else changes.”
The one word was so flat and so quiet. The sound tugged at my heart, but I’d known this was coming. Hadn’t I? My work, my art, that was what I dedicated my life to, and I’d always known we’d have to go our own ways eventually.
I was so focused on my brooding I didn’t notice him step closer until his hand was on my cheek.
“You make life so hard for yourself, love.”
My head jerked up at the epithet ‘love’, but Stewart kissed me and drove all other thoughts away before I could fully take it in. His lips were so perfect, strong and smooth yet somehow still tender when they parted and his tongue slipped into my waiting mouth.
I moaned. I couldn’t help it. My body had always melded with his so damn well. Our bodies had never had trouble communicating. Tugging his shirt out of his trousers, I slid my hands up his chest and shivered as he rumbled his approval. In the next instant, my shirt was pulled over my head. Our trousers quickly followed suit and were tossed in one corner or another—hopefully one free of paint. I’d cost Stewart more than one article of clothing due to paint stains. Not that either of us cared at the moment.
Stew led me down to my thin mattress on the floor, the one he disapproved of and was constantly trying to replace for me. I felt it served its purposes just fine. Leaning back, Stew climbed up over me, a wicked glint in his dark eyes. I sank my fingers into his curly midnight hair as his head dipped to explore me. His tongue lapped a nipple, his nose nuzzled against my ribs and near my armpit, making me squeak and smile. My lord, how could such simple things feel so good?
“Oh, yes,” he murmured as his hands gripped my hips and he grazed his lips through the kinky hair at my groin. Stew liked holding me still while he made me squirm, and I adored it. He was always so calm and steady and solid, but when we were alone, he could be a pushy, possessive bastard, in the best way possible. I’d had former lovers take that attitude too far, but Stewart respected me and trusted me; he simply enjoyed owning me in the moment, because I let him. That dynamic was always more heady and potent when we were at the Jewel House. All the others were participating in the orgy and taking turns on one another, but not us. Stewart would sometimes turn me to watch them, while his hands roved over me. Sometimes he would deny me and have me face him so I could only hear the moaning and skin slapping skin behind me. Either way, I knew he would take care of me and I would come so hard, every time. Stewart would also often nudge me down to suck him if the other “masters” came over to watch us. Every time the others moaned while I let him fuck my throat, I wanted to smile. They’d never have me. Our show was a declaration of our exclusivity.
Afterwards, I would always wonder exactly what that meant about us. I was forever telling myself our times at the House only meant our sexual desires meshed well. I never allowed myself to believe it meant more, that there was something beyond sex between us. Now, with Stewart’s mouth swallowing my shaft, I couldn’t fool myself any longer. Sure, he was quite good at giving head, but it was when he looked up, flashing those brown, glittering eyes at me while his lips were stretched about my shaft, that really did me in.
“Stew,” I whimpered, reaching for him and pulling him up by his shoulders to kiss me. “Do it,” I told him. He didn’t need any further words. Lining his cock at my hold—already wet from his attentions—he pushed against my tight hole and inched inside. “Oh, my…” I gasped.
“Rua, my sweet. My little fox,” he muttered, nipping my jaw and my throat as he slid deeper.
I wrapped my legs around him, pushing my heels into the small of his back in a silent plead to be fucked. He obeyed, pulling back a bit to thrust back in, all the way. He began pumping in and out, and I groaned loudly at the feel of his balls slapping against my ass.
I wrapped my arms over his shoulders, trying to hold him so tight while still wanting him to move enough to pound me. “You… This is…” I could form words. What was wrong with me? We’d fucked before, so many times. This felt different. This time felt like more.
“Look at me,” Stew panted, pulling back just enough to hold my face between his hands as he balanced on his elbows and knees and never faltered in his rhythm. My knees we bent to my shoulders and rocked against the outside of his hands with every thrust. My sac felt tight, every inch of my naked skin on fire. “Keep your eyes on me while you come,” he said. Then Stew angled his thrusts so his belly rubbed over my erection in the most delicious way and, my eyes fixed on his, I cried out, gasped, and came. And came.
Our bellies were slick and wet as Stew continued to pump, until his eyes squinted into mine, and his mouth opened in a silent cry. There were few things that could make me feel as wanted and wonderful as a spent cock slipping from me and slick jizz dripping out my hole. Stew’s arms tightening about my body as we clung together, slippery, sated, and trembling, I had to say this was almost as good.
We were both breathing heavy, and not just from physical exhaustion. There was a tight string of emotion tugging between us, making it impossible for us to let go. But eventually, our breaths evened, and Stewart sat up. Standing up, he grabbed a clean cloth and cleaned our bodies. His eyes avoided me.
As he moved to the sink to rinse the cloth, I sat up. “Stewart?” He continued to scrub, eyes on the sink. “Yes?” My heart lurched. My eyes stung. “What are we going to do?” My voice cracked and I hated it. This was why I avoided vulnerability. But Stew immediately looked up and, seeing my face, quickly dried his hands and knelt before me.
“What is it, love?”
Why did he have to use that word again? “I don’t know what to do…about the offer, about us…” I shrugged then let my shoulders slump.
Stew gave a soft smile. “My little fox, you’re tired. It’s been a long day.” He kissed my brow. “Let yourself rest.” Then he stood, dressed, and, with a nod and a smile, he left.
What the hell had just happened?