Four nights a week, and most days, Mike could almost convince himself that his life was the same as before. He could imagine that he was the same person as before, working as a bike messenger, writing term papers for lazy, entitled students, taking tests for them, and getting high whenever he had a little extra money.
It was those other three nights each week that demolished the illusion, the nights when the ding of his phone announced a text from Charles Forstman, containing only a first name and the address where he was required to present himself to that night’s high bidder.
Less routine, but worse, were the texts that stated simply, “dinner party tonight.”
Those three nights each week drove home the message with crystalline clarity that the fiction he fed himself the rest of the week couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Nothing was the same as it used to be, and it probably never would be again.
The day he agreed to make the drug buy for Trevor at the Chilton Hotel, Mike’s old life jumped the tracks in such dramatic fashion that half the time he no longer recognized himself, and the other half he spent in a state of denial that was both inadequate and pointless.
At the Chilton, the universe had offered him one last opportunity to avoid his fate. He’d recognized the undercover cops for what they were, correctly interpreting the subtle clues that told him they weren’t the hotel employees they tried to impersonate. He almost got away, almost made it to safety.
Sometimes he tortured himself (when life itself wasn’t actively torturing him) brooding about what ifs. What if he’d refused Trevor’s offer? What if he’d turned left instead of right when he hit the hallway on the twentieth floor? And what if later, at the police station, he’d had enough common sense to realize that some random benefactor wouldn’t simply show up to post his bail and pay for a top tier defense attorney without demanding something in return?
Without demanding everything in return.
If even one of those “what ifs” had played out differently, he wouldn’t be in the position he was in tonight, on his way to meet some man named Tony at the Plaza, to play his expensive, willing whore for the night.
Once a month, Forstman e-mailed Mike an accounting of precisely what he still owed for the bail money (or rather the insane interest on the bail money, which had already been recovered), Forstman’s confiscated suitcase of weed, Forstman’s attorney, the clothing he’d bought for Mike to better portray his role, and the pills he supplied for those times when Mike required a little extra help to fulfill his obligations.
Besides the weed, the costliest line item by far on the neat spreadsheet was his grandmother’s care. If not for that, the total he owed might have decreased, if only incrementally. Instead, with her long-term care and monthly medical expenses, the balance continued to climb, and his eventual release from his contract receded farther and farther into the future. At times, he was convinced that he would die in servitude to Forstman and the wealthy men he recruited for his auctions.
On this particular evening he was more certain of this than ever before, and feared that his demise would come sooner than he’d predicted.
There had been more than one Tony (“no last names”) in the seven months since the arrangement began. When the hotel door opened to Mike’s brisk knock, he nearly groaned out loud. He recognized the fifty-something-year-old with the meaty fists and thick, hard body.. This Tony was a repeat auction winner. The three previous times he’d won counted as Mike’s three worst nights of the past seven months.
The last time Tony had won Mike, he’d sent him home with bruises so severe that Mike had texted pictures to Forstman, who’d given him a few days off, and a promise that this particular Tony would no longer be invited to bid on him or anyone else in Forstman’s stable.
“Shit,” said Mike before he could catch himself. It’s you, he nearly added, but pasted on his practiced smile instead, and calculated the risks of simply backing up and walking away.
Refusal of a client – any client – was strictly forbidden by his contract, the contract he’d agreed to and signed. On the other hand, Forstman had promised there would be no repeat of this Tony. Before he could act on his impulse to flee, a strong hand clamped his arm and dragged him into the hotel room. The door slammed shut and locked behind him.
Pulse accelerating in alarm, Mike smiled more widely, desperately trying to summon the coy, cynical look he had perfected. Tony stepped toward him and Mike retreated.
“I, uh, can I use the bathroom first?”
Tony scowled, but nodded. “Make it quick.”
Mike had every intention of making it quick, and getting the hell out of here. He shut the bathroom door behind him, sat on the closed toiled seat, and pulled out his phone.
Forstman picked up on the second ring. “Michael,” he said, a note of amusement in his voice. “Problem?”
“Yes, problem,” he hissed, keeping one eye on the door. “It’s him. That guy. That Tony. You said he was banned, but it’s him.”
“Hmm. About that …”
Mike’s stomach flipped over. “You knew?”
“What can I say? The man has an awful lot of money. More than me, if you can believe that.”
Pinching the bridge of his nose, Mike strove to remain calm. “Remember what happened last time? He nearly broke my goddamn arm.”
“Don’t worry. He’s promised to go easy on you this time. Well, easier. No permanent damage.”
“Wait. What? You’re allowing this?”
“Did I not just mention all that money?” Forstman’s tone went ice cold. “It’s already been transferred to my account, and you have a contract to fulfill, so hang up the phone, get your ass in there, and fulfill your contract. Understood?”
It had been nearly six and a half months since Mike had experienced such a compelling desire to tell Forstman to go fuck himself, to rip up the contract and let the consequences be damned. The tight, protective wall he’d erected around his emotions in order to endure the sickening merry-go-round his life had become, carrying him from one unwanted encounter to the next, seemed to shiver at its foundation.
He sucked in a deep, centering breath, silently reminding himself of everything that was at stake, and allowed the chill that had become his near constant companion to seep more deeply into his heart and his bones.
“The higher bid will be reflected on my next monthly statement, correct?”
“And any medical expenses which may result?”
Forstman sounded almost kind when he answered, almost as if he gave a shit about Mike. “I’ll cover them. Gratis.”
There was nothing more to say, so Mike hung up. He reached for the small pouch in his pocket, unzipped it, and considered his choices. Viagra? Unnecessary tonight. He selected a Xanax, dry swallowed it, thought for another few seconds, and swallowed a Vicodin as well. Standing up, he flushed the toilet, turned on the faucet, and scooped a few handfuls of cold water into his mouth. Then, stiffening his spine, he regarded himself in the mirror and rearranged the bitter twist of his lips into something he hoped could pass for alluring and unruffled.
He opened the door.
“All right, Tony, I’m ready for you. So, tell me: what do you want?”
Tony’s answering smile was positively feral.
Although Tony’s brand of violence had not been the only one that Mike had experienced in the last seven months, it was by far the most brutal.
On those nights when things went south – when the fists came out to pummel him, or a foot found him doubled over on the floor and slammed into him, making him wheeze with pain – when this happened, Mike rarely knew what he’d done to cause it. Sometimes he suspected it had been inevitable, that the money paid out for him had been for precisely this reason, to purchase a living, breathing punching bag upon which frustrations could be exorcised without consequences.
Tonight, with Tony, who had hurt him before, Mike knew what was coming. He did his best to remain passive, to take the hits without complaint. He tried. He really did. One especially sharp punch to the kidney made it past the Xanax and Vicodin haze to wrench an earsplitting howl out of him. Hearing himself, he roused, if only for a few brief minutes, from his stupor. He momentarily forgot his bargain with Forstman, allowed the instinct for self-preservation to rush to the surface, and ran for the door.
He actually made it into the hallway, and wasn’t sure if it was his nudity, or the blood gushing from his nose that caused the middle-aged couple he encountered there to gasp and flinch back. Mike kept his lips pressed together, but his eyes were huge and pleading. Tony rocketed through the open door and grabbed him, savagely slapping the back of his head as he dragged him back inside and slammed the door.
With Tony now seemingly intent on making Mike pay for his escape attempt, his blows and kicks became more vicious. All Mike could do was curl up in a ball and do his best to protect his most vulnerable parts. He was starting to worry that Tony meant to kill him this time, when he threw Mike onto the bed and thrust into him with no prep, and no lube.
Mike shrieked. There was no other word for it. The pain was excruciating.
When hotel security and the police arrived at the door five minutes later, he was on his knees, sobbing, clawing at the headboard, begging for Tony to just, for the love of God, stop.
Tony ignored the pounding on the door.
“NYPD! Open up.”
“You’d better,” Mike gasped, “let them in.”
This earned him a rough elbow to his ear. He saw stars as the door flew inward and two uniformed officers charged into the room. Everything became confused. (More confused.) Tony was ordered off the bed and handcuffed. Mike insisted, through swollen, bloody lips, that everything they’d done was consensual. He couldn’t even begin to fathom Forstman’s anger if the night ended with Tony’s arrest.
In the end, that’s exactly how it ended. Despite Mike’s denials, there were witnesses who had seen Tony hurt him. The protocols for domestic violence calls were clear: remove the abuser and press charges, despite what the victim might have to say about the matter.
“I’m serious,” said Mike, wrapping a sheet around himself and limping into the hallway after the police. “H-he’s my boyfriend.” The words were harder to get out than he’d imagined they would be. “It was rough sex. That’s all. Please, please, don’t arrest him.”
His increasingly panicked pleas were shrugged off. Tony was hauled away as another officer arrived to take Mike’s statement. Sullenly, he refused to speak, refused to give his name. If he’d been quicker and more clear-headed, he might have gone for his wallet, which he’d left on the dresser, but the officer grabbed it first, checking his identification and noting his information in her report. He also might have argued the legality of going through his personal things without his permission, but he felt too paralyzed with fear and humiliation.
“Do you need to go to the hospital?” she asked.
“No,” he lied. He felt like he’d been torn open. His ribs ached when he breathed, and his left shoulder didn’t feel quite right, but he’d get himself to the ER, and make sure Forstman was billed for it. He desperately needed to be left the fuck alone so he could call Forstman and plead his case before Tony spoke to him.
The officer appeared highly skeptical of his denials, but she finally gave him a nod equal parts cynical and concerned. Before she left, she handed him a card. “You really should talk to a victim’s advocate. There are resources available to protect you and get you the help you need.”
She was wrong about that, but he didn’t say so out loud. He clutched the card in his hand and when she finally left him alone, he crumpled it and threw it in the trash. Then he picked up his phone and called Forstman, not sure how he was going to talk his way out of this catastrophe.
Surprisingly, Forstman did not rage at Mike as expected. He sighed deeply, and grumbled something about stupid motherfucker, which Mike was reasonably sure was directed at Tony, and not at him.
“How bad are you hurt? You need a few nights off?”
Mike had no clue how to respond to this. He could use the rest of his life off, but that wouldn’t help lessen his debt. Interest continued to accrue, whether he worked or not. “I’m heading to the ER. My face is a mess. My shoulder and my ribs hurt. Inside … it feels like there might be some damage. Maybe … let me have a couple of weeks to heal?”
He expected to be denied, but that was the thing about Forstman. He was a cold-blooded bastard who could occasionally fool you into believing he had a heart.
“Sure, kid,” he said. “All auction proceeds are non-refundable, so no harm no foul. He brought it on himself. I guess you’ve earned yourself a break. Go to the ER. Send me the bill. Come by in a week so I can see how you’re doing.”
Mike heard Forstman suck in a breath, and imagined him as he had last seen him, ensconced in his booth at his favorite dive restaurant, smoking his Cohiba in gleeful violation of New York City’s Smoke Free Air Act.
They hung up. Mike called for a cab and got dressed, wincing and gasping as each movement sent another stab of agony through him.
On the elevator ride to street level, his phone dinged. Forstman had sent him his monthly statement. Mike opened the attachment and his eyes widened at what he saw. In addition to the agreed upon higher credit for tonight’s work, Forstman had deducted an extra hundred dollars of debt, and had labeled it, “combat pay.”
The guy had a sense of humor. Still, Mike didn’t feel like laughing.
The unsmiling ER doctor patched Mike up with minimal commentary, which was a blessing. No stitches were required. He popped his shoulder back into alignment, taped up his ribs, cleaned the cuts on his face, applied two butterfly bandages, and performed a brief, impersonal examination of his rectum.
“A little tearing,” he pronounced, “but nothing that won’t heal. Soft foods only for the next few days. No anal penetration for at least a week. And I’m prescribing you a course of antibiotics, just in case.”
Seven months of being used and abused in nearly every way imaginable – and a few he had never imagined – did not prevent Mike’s hot blush of humiliation. He nodded mutely and waited for the doctor to go away.
Instead, the doctor hesitated, and then added, “I suppose it would be a waste of breath to suggest you press charges.”
“It was consensual,” Mike gritted past the sandpaper in his throat.
The doctor lifted an eloquent eyebrow. “Mike, I’m getting a little tired of seeing you in here.”
“Are we done?”
“Hmm.” The doctor scribbled something on Mike’s chart. “If you experience any problems – fever, bleeding – ”
“Yeah. I know the drill. If that happens, I’ll rush right back. Anything else?”
Without a word, the doctor reached into his pocket and withdrew a business card, which he handed to Mike before exiting the tiny exam room.
It was identical to the victim’s advocate card the police officer had given him. Mike choked down a laugh. For the second time in three hours, he struggled painfully back into his clothes.
It was after eleven o’clock at night when Harvey Specter got the call from Tony Giannopoulos. He’d been arrested on a domestic violence charge and was being held for arraignment. Because Giannopoulos was one of Harvey’s most important clients, he didn’t hesitate to grab his coat, call for a cab, and head down to central booking.
Alone in an interview room with Tony, he took a seat across from him. “What happened?” he asked.
“It was a setup from the start. You know who Charles Forstman is, I assume?”
Harvey hid his flinch of surprise and sat up straighter. “I do.” Like just about everyone else in Manhattan, he’d heard of the man, who was rumored to run the largest drug ring in the Northeast. He was almost certain that Giannopoulos neither used nor sold illegal drugs, nor would that explain the domestic violence charge.
“Well, he’s got these … these …”
If Harvey hadn’t known what a cold-blooded son of a bitch Tony Giannopoulos was, he might have thought he was actually embarrassed.
“Nothing you say will go beyond these four walls,” Harvey reminded him. “Start from the beginning, and don’t leave anything out.”
Tony expelled a breath, frowning deeply. “Forstman holds these auctions a few times a week. Sometimes online, sometimes in person at these elaborate dinner parties he throws. Ultra-exclusive. For billionaires only. He has a whole stable of boys and girls. Really prime stuff.”
“Boys and girls?” asked Harvey in a carefully neutral tone, even as his jaw clenched and his eyes widened in alarm.
Tony waved a hand dismissively. “Wrong phrasing. All of legal age, I assure you. Quite a mercenary little squad. I’m not sure what their cut is, but even at ten percent, they’re probably pulling in more per hour than you are.”
“I see. So, you bid on one of these ladies, and won?”
“Close. I bid on one of the boys. The hottest little piece of tail you’ll ever – ”
Harvey held up a hand to stop him. “That’s fine. I get it. Where did you take him?”
“We met at my suite at the Plaza. Everything started out fine. Romantic, almost, if you ignored all the money I’d just shelled out for him. He seemed so sweet at first. We had a drink together and started kissing. He got undressed, and then …” Tony shook his head as if in disbelief. “He claimed he had to use the bathroom. I undressed while I waited for him to come out, and when he did – ”
He shook his head again, a wounded look in his eyes. “His face was covered in blood. He started hollering for help at the top of his lungs and charged out the door into the hallway. A couple of guests saw him, undoubtedly assuming the worse. I coaxed him back inside, but he continued to go nuts, screaming and throwing himself against the wall, making an ungodly amount of noise. I finally managed to pin him to the bed to keep him from hurting himself any further, but wouldn’t you know it, that’s when the cops arrived. Hotel security must have provided a master to key to the suite, because they just busted right in and jumped straight to the most damning conclusion.”
Harvey’s instincts told him that Tony was likely twisting the truth to put himself in the best possible light. It didn’t matter, because he was the client, and Harvey was obligated to do whatever it took to get the charges dropped. “Why did they assume domestic violence? Why not simple assault?”
Tony licked his lips, as if searching for an answer. “Maybe because Mike kept insisting he was my boyfriend.”
Harvey nodded absently and jotted the name down on his legal pad. “Last name?”
“I don’t know. We only used first names.”
“I’ll get it from the police report. So, he didn’t know who you were?”
“Well, he must have, right? My face has been in the papers often enough. I get recognized on the street all the time. That’s why he’s trying to shake me down like this.”
“Shake you down? How much has he asked for?”
Tony’s gaze skittered to the side. “Nothing yet. It’s only a matter of time, though, and I cannot have that. This sort of publicity would be disastrous for business. The Board has been looking for the slightest excuse to curtail my power. If word gets out, this could also void the prenup my wife signed. She could take me for half of what I’m worth, and that whore might get the rest. This needs to go away. Now.”
Harvey knew the answer, but he asked the question anyway. “And how do you propose I accomplish that?”
Expression darkening, Tony leaned across the table and growled, “I shouldn’t have to spell it out for you, but I will. That goddamn hustler cannot testify against me. Do what you do. Do whatever it takes to convince him that it would be in the best interests of his continued health if he simply disappeared. If he gives you a hint of trouble, crush the little cockroach.” He paused for a beat. “Any questions?”
Harvey thought for a few seconds, a plan already beginning to form. “Tell me more about these auctions. How are they conducted?”
“Like I said, most of them take place online. There are photos and descriptions of the merchandise. Each individual auction takes maybe thirty minutes from start to finish. The winner has five minutes to transfer the money, or the next in line becomes the de facto winner. The, uh, merchandise shows up at your front door within the hour.”
“What about the dinner parties?”
“Those are wild. Forstman invites a dozen so guests to his penthouse apartment, and brings in three or four of his most popular boys and girls. I say ‘invites,’ but there’s a five-thousand-dollar entry fee just to get to the table. He serves up a fantastic meal and rivers of booze while the whores parade around the room, displaying their … attributes. Sometimes Forstman orders them to play with each other while the guests get drunk and horny, and go nuts trying to outbid one another. The last time he invited me, a fistfight nearly broke out.” He shook his head, smiling at the memory.
“And after the auction?”
“Forstman’s got this playroom in his apartment. There’s stuff in there for anyone’s tastes, but you only get an hour with your prize, which is why I prefer the online auction, where you can take all night if you want to.” He let out an amused snort. “Not like most of those old codgers could last that long. Luckily, the whores hand out Viagra like it’s candy.”
“How did you hear about the auctions?”
“Word of mouth.” He smirked. “You know. Billionaires’ grapevine.”
“And how does one obtain entry?”
“Me? My name and reputation did the trick. Not to mention my net worth. Forstman was practically salivating when I went to see him about it. Why? Are you thinking about applying?”
Harvey smiled thinly. “Sadly, my net worth is not quite at the same level as yours, but yes, it’s one of several options I’m considering to deal with your problem. Do you think you could get me into one of the dinner parties?”
“Probably. Why? What are you planning?”
“The less you know, the better. I’d also like access to the online auctions.”
“Am I getting out of here tonight?”
“Your bail is already being processed.”
“Great. I’ll messenger my laptop and password to you tomorrow.”
“I’ll call you with a progress report in a couple of days.”
A week after the incident with Tony, Mike slid into a restaurant booth across from Charles Forstman, who beamed at him.
“Michael. My best earner. How are you feeling?”
The swelling on Mike’s face had subsided, but the bruises had bloomed into showy, multi-colored masterpieces. His ribs still ached like crazy whenever he moved. As for the internal damage, he’d suffered through several highly uncomfortable days, but things seemed to have stabilized. He hoped he’d have another week before Forstman put him back to work, but if forced into it earlier, he would probably be fine if he was careful.
“I’ve been better,” he hedged, “but I’m doing okay.”
Forstman lifted his demitasse cup and sipped espresso as he eyed Mike, sizing him up. “Sorry, kid, but I can’t put you up for sale with those bruises. With some men, it might be an enticement, but that’s not the kind of reputation I want. I’m going to give you another week to heal. Take advantage of your time off, because you aren’t likely to have more of it anytime soon.”
“What about the guy who did this to me?”
“Much as it pains me to do it, I’ve suspended him for a while. Right now, he’s out on bail. I hear he’s hired himself some powerhouse attorney to represent him.” He took another sip, a secretive smile playing around the edges of his mouth.
“You don’t have to worry about me. I won’t testify against him.”
Forstman’s smile widened, growing almost mischievous. “Why not? If asked, I think you should. Just be sure to keep my name out of it.”
Mike didn’t know if he was serious, or if this was another one of his tests. Forstman thrived on playing games. Mike wasn’t certain what his sexual orientation was, only that he loved a good mind fuck. He let out a nervous laugh. “The case probably won’t go to trial. A rich guy like that? If they haven’t dropped the charges already, it’s only a matter of time.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that. Rumor has it our new district attorney is determined to go hard against vice and corruption.”
Lifting his eyebrows, Mike gestured between them. “Aren’t we vice, though?”
Forstman laughed, as if Mike had made an exceptionally clever joke. “That we are. Fortunately, I’ve got the whole corruption angle covered as well, so don’t you worry about me.”
The last person in the world Mike was worried about was Charles Forstman. He was also the last person he wanted to antagonize, so he gave him what he hoped was a grateful smile. “Was there anything else?”
Now wearing a thoughtful frown, Forstman reached into his pocket and produced what Mike, with a sinking heart, recognized as a billing statement from his grandmother’s assisted living facility. Part of his deal with Forstman was that he’d handle Edith’s expenses, but it continued to rankle that he saw the statements before Mike did. He made sure not to let that show on his face.
“When is the last time you went to see Edith?” asked Forstman.
“Uh. I’ve been busy.” In truth, he’d been too ashamed of his latest life choices to face her.
“How long, Michael?”
“A couple of months.” More like six, but that sounded so much worse.
“I think she needs to see you. The dementia is accelerating.”
“How could you possibly – ”
Forstman placed the statement in front of Mike and used one elegant finger to point to a line item. “They’ve increased her care level.” The finger slid down to another item. “And they’ve added another medication which is pretty pricey.”
Mike slumped in his seat, queasy and wracked with guilt. Grammy must feel so lost with the foundations of her reality steadily disintegrating around her. Lost and abandoned. God, he was worthless. “I didn’t know.”
“Which is why you need to go see her.” Before Mike had a chance to imagine that Forstman actually possessed a fully functioning heart, he added, “Your current earning level won’t cover these new costs.”
He’d already been thinking about this, and so didn’t hesitate to blurt, “I could add another night. Or you could book me for more dinner parties.” He hated the dinner parties, but his pay from one of those was typically up to three times more than the online auctions.
“Sure, sure. That’s one route we could go. But listen, Michael, you may be hot property now, but before too much longer you’ll be old news. My clients, they like variety. They crave new experiences.” He took a moment to light a cigar, and regarded Mike through a cloud of bluish smoke.
“I’ve never refused anything that was asked of me,” Mike said, voice tight. There had been a lot asked of him, some of which he revisited only in his nightmares.
“I know that. You’ve been a very good boy for both me and my friends. You’ve gained a lot of fans. In fact, a few of them have been hinting about long-term arrangements, and they’re willing to pay extremely well for the privilege. Most of them are based overseas, and can’t get into town often enough to enjoy your company.”
Mike squinted through the smoke. “What do you mean by long-term? How long?”
“I figure that even at what I would set as an opening bid, one year would earn you enough to pay your debt in full, with maybe a little left over to help you start a new life.”
Mike gaped at him. “A year? Of … of … what? Being a sex slave?”
“No,” soothed Forstman. “More of a paid companion who happens to sleep with the client.”
A sex slave, Mike confirmed silently. For an entire year. He breathed slowly, trying to calm his racing thoughts and reason it out. Could it be any worse than his life was now? At least there would be certainty about the sort of man he’d be forced to share his bed with. On the other hand, what if he ended up with someone like Tony?
“Would I have any say in who got to bid on me?”
Forstman smoked lazily, gazing past Mike as he seemed to consider all the angles. “You can exclude … let’s say up to three people. Tony, I’m guessing is a given.”
Mike grimaced. “Right. Tony is definitely out.” He realized how that had sounded. “But I’m not sure if I even want to do this. Can I think about it?”
“Of course. Here’s something to help with your decision.” He placed another sheet of paper on the table. It was a spreadsheet. “I had one of my accountants pull together some forecasts of how long you’ll be in debt to me at your current and projected future levels of earning. She factored in increases in Edith’s care costs, along with her eventual funeral expenses. This line here – ” He pointed to the spreadsheet. “This is if you continue at your current rate of three nights per week. And this line below it would be at four nights per week, including one dinner party. As you can see, you’re looking at six more years of work, versus five years. That’s assuming that you continue to draw the same level of bids that entire time, which, I’m afraid, is highly unlikely.”
Mike’s shoulders slumped even further, as if he could feel the weight of every single one of those days pushing down on him and crushing him into dust. No matter how he looked at it, it wasn’t a pretty picture. He’d be a worn out, used up whore, trying to compete with all the fresh young bodies Forstman would be drawing into his web every year. He wouldn’t be free to resume his life until he was past thirty, and when he did, he’d be starting from scratch, with no recent experience he could list on a resume, and no respectable references. Against all that, one year didn’t sound so bad.
Still, he hesitated. One year with the wrong person could end up breaking him. At least now he could go home to his own bed, with a day in between jobs to remind himself who he was, or who he’d once been.
He picked up the spreadsheet. “Can I take this with me?”
Forstman nodded once, as if granting him a favor. “Unless I hear from you sooner, you’re back on the schedule one week from tonight. I’ll welcome you back with one of my dinner parties. I’ll see if I can make it an extra special evening. Be at my place by seven.”
“After that, you’ll have two weeks to give me an answer regarding my proposal. I won’t offer it to you again. Understood?”
Mike nodded. “Understood.”
The next afternoon, Mike went to visit his grandmother, who greeted him with a cautiously polite smile. During the hour he spent with her, she called him by his correct name twice, called him by father’s name three times, asked him how he’d hurt his face half a dozen times, and lasted through five minutes of gin rummy before forgetting what they were playing, perhaps forgetting how the game was played entirely. He left before dinner was served, guilty at not staying longer, but unable to witness more of her deteriorating faculties. Even though he vowed to himself that he would come back at least once a week from now on, he recognized it for the lie that it was.
As he rode his bike home, he weighed Forstman’s offer. It occurred to him that if he accepted, whoever bid on him might not allow those visits to his grandmother. Would he even spend any part of the year in New York? Would he spend any of it in this country, or would his buyer (owner) want to travel abroad with him? Forstman had said most interested parties were based overseas.
When he got to his apartment, he scrounged up a pad of paper and began a list of pros and cons. By the time he put down his pen, he was forced to face the fact that he was seriously considering saying yes. The idea both terrified him and made him feel ill, but the alternative was so bleak that he believed he might actually go through with the long-term arrangement. If he did, that meant that the six days remaining in his “vacation” might be some of the last free time he had for the next year. Forstman had advised him to take advantage of his time off, and he intended to do just that.
The first thing he did was quit his bike messenger job. He’d called in sick the last week, and didn’t want to spend his last week of freedom subjecting his body to more pain than it was already in. He contacted his current term paper clients and informed them he’d be returning their money, and they were on their own. He briefly considered calling Trevor for one last night out, until he reminded himself that Trevor was the cause of all his current and future problems.
As the end of the week approached, he found himself wondering what he would do with his apartment after he was auctioned off. What about his possessions? He’d take the clothes Forstman had bought for him, he decided, and leave everything else behind. When his year was up, he’d be a different person than he was now. He didn’t want that new, future person touching his things. Maybe he’d burn them, or have them tossed into a landfill.
Settling more comfortably into his armchair, Harvey set his glass of scotch on the table beside him and typed in the user name and password from the slip of paper Giannopoulos had given him. The screen filled with perhaps a dozen thumbnails with names and timers underneath them, some running, some already expired, and several not yet activated. No Mikes, he noted.
At random, he picked a thumbnail labeled “Billy,” and clicked it. An image filled the screen of a young, beautiful, dark-haired man in a suit and tie, standing with one hand in his pocket and pouting at the camera in what was probably supposed to be a sexy, come-hither expression.
Harvey’s eyebrows lifted at the size of the current bid, which was steadily increasing. No user names appeared on the screen. The bidders were identified only with numbers one through twelve. He closed out of the screen and examined the menu, finally selecting “Catalog,” which turned out to be what he assumed was a full listing of everyone on Forstman’s payroll. He clicked on the first name and got a profile page with several photos, vital statistics (age, weight, height, coloring), standard opening bid, availability, services offered, and most astonishing of all, customer reviews in the vein of Yelp or Amazon.
He backed out of the profile and scanned all the names on the Catalog page. One Mike was listed. Harvey sipped his scotch, and then clicked on Mike’s profile. In spite of himself, he felt his pulse quicken at the image before him of a young man with dark blond hair and soft blue eyes. Clad only in a pair of faded blue jeans, Mike stood with his back to the camera, but despite the angle, he clearly had one hand down the front of his unfastened jeans, which had slid down his backside to expose most of his tight, muscular, delectable ass. He’d turned his head to stare over his shoulder, giving the camera a sultry, secretive smile, staring out at Harvey and inviting him to … well, just about anything, apparently, according to the services listed. He had a solid five-star rating.
Harvey took another drink and licked his lips. Mike wasn’t available for bid tonight, which was fine, since Harvey was still waiting for Giannopoulos to arrange his invitation, as well as for the results of Vanessa’s investigation. He would need all the ammunition he could get before confronting the scheming whore.
Curious, Harvey clicked on the reviews, scrolling quickly through some of the comments. Sweet ass. Best BJ ever. Up for anything. Had him gagging and begging for more. Loves a good spanking. Worth every penny.
Grimacing, he closed out of the app, set the laptop aside, and sat for a time, drinking steadily and ignoring the heat low in his belly which took a long while to subside.
Several days later, Rick, Harvey’s associate, barged Into his office without knocking, carrying a large manila envelope. “This came while you were in court,” he announced breathlessly.
“Please,” said Harvey, oozing sarcasm, “come right in.” He glared past Rick at Donna, who should have been guarding his door, but she avoided his gaze.
“You won’t be so cranky once I tell you what it is.” Rick paused for dramatic effect. “It’s from Vanessa.”
Rick was right, damn him. Hearing this immediately improved Harvey’s mood, which had plummeted earlier that morning when he discovered that the new district attorney, Terence Wolf, was going forward with the charges against Giannopoulos.
“Gimme.” He held out his hand.
The envelope was still sealed. He recognized Vanessa’s bold, red “CONFIDENTIAL” stamp across the flap, proving that it hadn’t been disturbed. Mentally, he awarded Rick points for managing to curb his usual nosiness. He ripped open the envelope.
It had been two weeks since Tony’s arrest. Two days ago, an email had been sent to him with details of Forstman’s next dinner party. Additionally, Harvey had logged into the auction every evening, but Mike had not yet been put up for sale. Yesterday, his profile page had been updated, announcing that he’d be the sole item up for sale at the dinner tonight.
Harvey needed as much information on him as Vanessa could provide in order to determine which soft, vulnerable spot to press to achieve the desired effect. That’s why the arrival of her report was so timely.
The photos she’d sent him were definitely the same person as the Mike he’d viewed online. His state issued ID and student ID from Columbia showed a grinning, rather guileless looking young man, who seemed to believe that everything he wanted in the world was still a possibility. More recent photos, taken with Vanessa’s telephoto lens, were closer to Forstman’s version, except the inviting gaze and enigmatic smile were gone, and in their place was a cynical, humorless, hard-eyed man with ugly bruises covering half of his face.
Self-inflicted bruises, Harvey reminded himself, meant to frame his client. This was the face of a thug and a petty criminal, the real face of Mike Ross, he concluded.
“Wow,” said Rick, who had come around the desk to peer over Harvey’s shoulder, “what did he do? Walk into a door, like eight or nine times?”
“That’s the standard story,” said Harvey, tossing the photos onto the desk and turning to Vanessa’s written report, “although not the one he’s been telling. I can take it from here. You go get to work on that patent application.”
Rick stayed where he was, continuing to read over Harvey’s shoulder.
“Rick? Patent? Deadline? Today?”
“He looks familiar.”
Harvey twisted to stare at him. “Familiar how?”
“I’ve seen him around the building. I’m pretty sure he’s one of those bike messengers.”
“Hmm. Why do you suppose a high-priced hooker is also working a job like that?”
The question was rhetorical, but Rick answered anyway. “The gig economy. Lots of my friends from school do the same.”
“Lots of your friends from school are high-priced whores?”
“No, and I believe the preferred term is ‘sex worker,’ not ‘whore.’ That’s just rude.”
“When did you become so … Never mind. I’m only calling it like I see it. Now kindly get out of here so I can concentrate.”
“You sure you don’t need me?”
Rick’s attempt at pleading puppy dog eyes was almost laughably off the mark. He was a cute enough kid, but Harvey had never really had a thing for redheads.
“If I do,” he said, not unkindly, “I’ll let you know.”
He spent the next half hour poring over the report and scribbling notes in the margins. Mike Ross had led a predictably depressing and mostly uneventful life. Orphaned at eleven, he’d gone to live with his grandmother, who was currently in a pricey assisted living facility. Mike had visited her just a few days ago, so the relationship was evidently a close one.
He’d been kicked out of Columbia for cheating, and done nothing of note after that until seven months ago when he’d been arrested for drug trafficking. Those charges, however had been dropped. That earned an eye roll from Harvey. Maybe he’d sucked off the judge or something. With the amount of pot he’d been carrying when he was caught, nothing else made sense. If that was the case, he must not have been all that skilled, since the record had not been expunged. Except the reviews on the auction app would seem to indicate otherwise vis-à-vis his skills. Practice makes perfect?
Harvey let out a low grunt of surprise when he saw the name of the attorney who had represented Mike. Travis Tanner charged nearly as much per hour as Harvey did. He was also the personal attorney of Charles Forstman. No way could Mike have afforded Tanner on his own.
As he thought it over, it made a certain amount of sense. Mike must have been running drugs for Forstman when he was caught. Had he switched careers after that? Or had he always been a multi-tasker?
None of that was important, he concluded after giving it some thought. The only thing that mattered was teaching the opportunistic little whore a lesson he would never forget, and ensuring he never showed up in court to testify against Giannopoulos. He’d determined that a sharp, one-two combination of humiliation and blackmail should do the trick nicely.
The plan was clear in his mind. All that remained was to show up at Forstman’s place and win tonight’s auction. He still had a full day of work to get through, part of which would likely involve shepherding Rick through the patent application he’d assigned to him. Stuffing the Mike Ross dossier back into the envelope, he placed it in a drawer and put it out of his mind.
Mike sat inside a dimly lit bar in downtown Manhattan, nursing a bottle of sparkling water, passing time until seven o’clock.
After two weeks of freedom, tonight’s auction felt unpleasantly like the first time all over again. His nerves were jumping like crazy, and he was tempted to order something stronger than water, but early in his contract he’d learned the hard way not to drink unless the client gave him permission.
If it felt like the first time, it also felt like an ending to this episode in his life. He’d spoken to Forstman on the phone earlier that day to verify that he was all healed and ready to earn once more. Then, with his stomach churning, he had agreed to the proposed year-long assignment, and listed the names of the three men he wished to exclude, one of whom was Tony. Forstman had sounded pleased. He would, he said, need a few days to set things up, to get the word out and stoke interest.
“Is your passport up to date?” he asked.
Mike had known there was a possibility he’d be traveling out of the country, but Forstman’s question had him quietly panicking. He sucked in a breath and answered as calmly as he could. “It is. I have two stipulations, though.”
“One, before I go anywhere, I get confirmation that you’ve paid my grandmother’s expenses in advance for the next year. And two, you also pay my rent in advance for the year so I have someplace to come back to.”
A brief silence from Forstman. “Let me think about it. I’ll let you know tonight.” He hung up.
Mike turned his bottle on the bar top, twisting it a quarter turn, another quarter turn, another. It was done. Probably. The wheels had been set in motion. He tried to construct in his mind a picture of a man he wouldn’t mind spending the next year with, starting with some of his least objectionable tricks.
Tom had been nice, younger than any of the others. They’d smoked weed together and played video games before Tom shoved him down on the bed and fucked him. Logan had been the handsomest of the lot, a thoroughbred in every way, suave and ironic, even when Mike was choking on his cock and pleading with his eyes to be allowed to breathe again.
It would likely be one of the older ones, he mused, someone looking for more than a night of uncomplicated sex. On the other hand, they could be looking for an entire year of uncomplicated sex. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe they’d actually enjoy one another’s company, or become friends of a sort.
He shook his head, laughing sourly.
Friends. Sure. That was going to happen.
He didn’t have the right to expect anything which involved soft emotions like kindness and compassion. His job was to lie on his back, or his stomach, or to crouch on hands and knees, or bend over the closest piece of furniture and get fucked without regard to how he felt about it.
The alarm on his phone went off, letting him know it was time to go. Mike stiffened his spine and drew in a long, slow breath before letting it out again on a hiss He gulped the rest of his drink and lay a five-dollar bill on the bar. The bartender gave him a shrewd look, as if he knew exactly what Mike was up to. Seven months ago, that look might have brought a hot blush to his cheeks. Now, Mike just gave him a cheeky wink and went to flag down a cab.
One of Forstman’s employees answered the door, keeping his face carefully neutral as he let Mike in and ushered him to the study, where Forstman sat waiting for him in a plush leather armchair.
“Michael, you’re looking much better. Ready to get back in the fight?” He broke into a rueful grin. “Bad choice of words.”
Ha ha, thought Mike, but kept the smile on his face.
“So,” Forstman continued, “it’s been a while since you attended one of these things. You remember how it goes, right?”
“Sure. We hang around during dinner, showing what we’ve got, and then when the whiskey and cigars are served, your friends bid on us one at a time. There’s still a one-hour time limit in the playroom, I assume.” That limit was the one thing that had made these affairs even slightly bearable.
Forstman’s mouth curved into the mocking smile that Mike knew signaled trouble for him. “Didn’t I tell you? You’re the only item on offer tonight.”
That surprised him, and he took a moment to try to decide if that was a good thing or a bad thing. At least he wouldn’t be forced to rub up against one of Forstman’s other whores, or simulate sex with them, or whatever else they were ordered to do to drive up the bidding. On the other hand, everyone’s attention would be on him.
He frowned. “What about the one-hour limit?”
“Perhaps we can be a little flexible about that tonight. What do you say?”
He certainly couldn’t say what he wanted to, and so answered with fake enthusiasm, “Great.”
“Let’s see what you’re wearing. Strip.” He snapped his fingers. “Down to your underwear.”
The looks Forstman gave Mike as he followed his instructions weren’t the least bit lascivious. He eyed him as if inspecting an expensive piece of merchandise for any visible flaws. “Very nice,” he murmured as Mike walked back and forth in front of him and turned to show his backside. “The bruises are nearly gone. Those boxer briefs I bought you fit perfectly. You should always wear that shade of blue.” He gave Mike’s ass a friendly squeeze. “You cleaned yourself?”
“Not my first rodeo.”
“No. No it’s not.” Forstman stood and walked to his desk, where he pulled open one of the drawers, retrieving a small round box from which he withdrew a blue pill Mike recognized as Viagra.
“I don’t think –” he started to object, but Forstman shushed him with a shake of his head.
He walked back to Mike and stood in front of him. “Open up.”
Knowing there was no point arguing, Mike opened his mouth and stood passively while Forstman placed the pill on his tongue. He pressed a bottle of water into Mike’s hand and watched him keenly while he swallowed the pill.
“It’s only meant to help you,” said Forstman, sounding almost kind. “You know how long these dinners can run. We’re going to have those rich bastards salivating over you so hard their bids will be through the roof.”
Mike nodded mutely.
“Oh, and before I forget, I’ve considered your requests, and I agree to both of your stipulations.” He handed Mike two separate receipts, and then grinned, rubbing his hands together. “I’m telling you, Michael, you’re going to make us both a lot of money.” He touched Mike’s ass again, this time letting his hand linger. “You and your million-dollar ass.” He gave him a sharp smack. “Okay, kiddo. Go wait in the playroom. Take your clothes with you. I’ll send someone to get you when all the guests have arrived.”
When Harvey arrived at Forstman’s apartment, he presented the gilt-embossed invitation he’d received and was admitted to the study, where he endured a brief interrogation from his host regarding his association with Tony Giannopoulos, and his expectations for the evening.
“I expect,” he replied, “to come out on top.”
Forstman smiled at that. “I don’t know, Harvey. You might have to resign yourself to disappointment. You’ve got some stiff competition.”
“I usually do.”
“Well, then, the best of luck to you.”
The dinner was every bit as decadent as Giannopoulos had described. Including Harvey and Charles Forstman, twelve men gathered around the long table in Forstman’s dining room. From amuse-bouche to dessert, every dish had been exquisitely prepared and presented. Perfect wine pairings accompanied the food. It might have counted as one of the best dining experiences of his life, except for the edginess of the guests, and the hostile, sidelong glances they gave one another.
None of them had been happy at Forstman’s announcement that only one item would be up for bid that evening. The atmosphere in the room went from genially anticipatory, to grimly cutthroat in a matter of moments. Harvey could only be grateful that he had Giannopoulos’ bank account at his disposal. It was clear from the moment Mike walked into the room that the bidding would be fierce.
Mike was … basically he was the flesh and blood version of the wet dream Harvey had viewed online, but ten times more alluring in person. Wearing only his underwear and an obvious erection, he strolled around the table, allowing himself to be touched and stroked, but not staying in one place long enough for anything more than that. As soon as one of the guests got too handsy, or tried to pull him onto their lap, he slipped away and moved on, always with a quick glance at Forstman.
Harvey kept his hands to himself, choosing only to observe as he enjoyed the food and mostly avoided the wine. Observing Mike was certainly no hardship. Even knowing what he was, and of what he was capable, Harvey found himself drawn to him. He was slender, and in excellent shape. His taut ass flexed as he walked and the unwavering bulge in his underwear led Harvey to suspect it was pharmaceutically enhanced. This didn’t make the sight any less mouthwatering.
By the time the last of the dishes were cleared away and whiskey and cigars were provided to the guests, the mood had grown positively ugly. At the head of the table, Forstman stood and addressed his guests.
“Gentlemen, we’ve now arrived at the main event of the evening. Several of you have enjoyed this young man’s company before, and know what a prize he is. As for the rest of you, I hope you took the time to read his profile online. If you did, you know that he is worth every penny he demands. Before we start the bidding, Michael, if you would, please?”
With efficient grace, Mike stripped off his underwear and accepted a hand from Forstman, who helped him step first onto a chair, and from there onto the tabletop. He strode slowly from one end to the next and then dropped to his knees to crawl back to the other end of the table, all the while smiling at the potential buyers, who called out lewd suggestions to him and reached out to stroke him as he passed.
“Touch yourself,” demanded one particularly intoxicated man who had to be at least seventy. “Show us what you’ve got.”
Mike glanced at Forstman, who gave a nod of assent. With permission given, he moved to a kneeling position and took hold of his erection.
“Turn around,” called out a man who Harvey was pretty sure was the CEO of a large international bank.
Again, after waiting for Forstman’s nod, Mike went to his hands and knees, and turned, presenting his ass to the guests. Forstman murmured something too low for Harvey to hear, and Mike pulled his ass cheeks apart, displaying his pink, puckered hole. A loud rumble of approval went through the group.
“Now that your appetites have been whetted,” said Forstman. “Let’s start the bidding.”
As was always the case at these gatherings, by the time the bidding ended, Mike felt emotionally flayed. Clouds of cigar smoke choked his throat and clogged his nostrils. The bids climbed as he stroked himself leisurely at Forstman’s direction.
Normally, he did his best not to watch the faces of the men who competed for the right to fuck him, and kept his gaze directed at the table. Tonight, he couldn’t seem to stop himself from staring at one man who was seated halfway down the table. Maybe that was because the man’s dark eyes remained fixed on him like a predator sizing up his prey, although so far, he hadn’t spoken a word. Unlike the rest of the group, he appeared to be mostly sober. He was also at least ten years younger than the next youngest man there, and startlingly handsome. Something about him sent a shiver down Mike’s spine. He wasn’t sure if he wanted him to win the auction or not. Since he didn’t appear inclined to place a bid, the question was probably moot.
One by one, the guests dropped out of the bidding, even as the amount rose higher than ever before. Two men continued to trade bids until one of them finally scowled, shrugged, took a long swallow of whiskey, and shook his head. That was when the dark-eyed man spoke for the first time, adding one thousand dollars to the latest bid.
The other remaining bidder, the seventy-year-old, rose to his feet with a furious expression on his face and added another thousand. The price climbed and climbed, until the seventy-year-old slammed his fist on the table and fixed his opponent with a venomous glare.
“Fine, you can have the whore,” he hissed. “I don’t know who the hell you think you are, but I swear if I ever see you here again – ”
“Now, now,” interrupted Forstman, “no need for that, Joseph. Nobody likes a sore loser.”
Joseph, it seemed, was not prepared to be mollified. With an indignant huff, he stormed out of the room.
Unperturbed, Forstman asked, “Any more bids? No? Then it seems that our winning bidder is Harvey.”
Lukewarm applause greeted the pronouncement.
“You’re all welcome to relax and finish your drinks. Harvey? Follow me to my study, please.”
Before leaving the table, Forstman helped Mike down, gave him a pat on the ass, and sent him back to the playroom.
“All right, Harvey. Here’s how this works. You transfer the money to this account.” He handed Harvey a sheet of paper with his account information. “As soon as I have confirmation that the funds have been received, someone will escort you to the playroom. Normally you’re allowed one hour with your prize, but this was a special evening, and I’m going to let you keep him for as long as you like. Let’s say, until the sun comes up.
“In the meantime, since this is your first auction, let me go over what you can expect. The room comes stocked with an extensive collection of restraints, gags, masks, paddles, floggers, you name it. The lube is of the finest quality, available in a variety of flavors, if that’s your preference. I also provide condoms, which are required, obviously.”
“In addition to the bondage table, cross, spanking bench and so forth, there is also a king-size bed with headboard and footboard custom made to accommodate any sort of restraints you might prefer. If you require something I haven’t mentioned or you have a special request, we can take care of that while you transfer the funds.”
Harvey smiled. “As a matter of fact, there is something I’d like.”
Mike wasn’t sure how he felt about being won by Harvey. Oh, he felt plenty of things – queasy, anxious, simmering, low level anger – but those were all routine.
In another situation – in another life – he might have been attracted to Harvey. Here, tonight, he could acknowledge his attributes, but they also unnerved him. Harvey was younger than most of the men who bought Mike, more physically fit. And there was something dangerous in his eyes and the cynical twist of his lips. So soon after his beating at the hands of Tony, he was more than a little worried to be alone with a man who looked as if he could take him out with one or two well-placed punches.
On the bright side, if things went south, help was only a few rooms away. Forstman might be a ruthless bastard, but he wouldn’t allow Mike to be hurt underneath his roof. Not hurt badly, anyway.
Inside the playroom, he paced agitatedly as he waited for the financial formalities to be completed. The furniture was all familiar to him. He’d been strapped or chained or tied to every piece more than once, and been fucked on every surface. Surprisingly – or maybe not – the bed was the most popular piece of furniture. Not everyone wanted to tie him up or mark his skin before they took him.
He’d long ago given up trying to predict what would be required of him by the night’s winner. Sometimes it was the mousiest looking septuagenarian who had the most wicked tastes. And sometimes the man with the harshest exterior proved to be the gentlest in bed. What would Harvey be like, he wondered?
He jumped when the door opened, but it was only one of Forstman’s employees. He knew what that meant. The winner – Harvey – had requested something particular. He braced himself for the worst.
“He wants you on your knees,” the man said, and pointed to the metal ring set into the middle of the floor.
Okay, not so bad. So far. The night was young, though.
Mike moved into place and held his out wrists obligingly for the cuffs which went around them. The man then secured him to the floor by way of a short metal chain attached to the cuffs. “Shouldn’t be too much longer,” he said to Mike, and left him there alone.
As Mike knew from past experience, the floor had padding built into it, so the wait wasn’t too uncomfortable. With his wrists cuffed in front of him, though, it was almost impossible not to brush up against his cock. He bit his lip, closed his eyes, and tried to think of anything else besides how achingly hard he was.
Harvey paused in the doorway, drinking in the sight in front of him. As he’d requested, Mike knelt on the floor, naked and hard, cuffed and chained in place. Harvey had asked for this for two reasons. First, he wanted to firmly establish his complete control of Mike. Second, he intended to prevent any repeat of the harm Mike had inflicted on himself to set up Giannopoulos.
Mike’s eyes were closed when he walked in, but when he heard Harvey enter he lifted his head to gaze up at him. Harvey was an expert at reading people, and for the briefest moment after Mike laid eyes on him, something flickered in his gaze, an interest that was not strictly professional. It was there and gone in an instant, but Harvey was sure of what he’d seen.
Harvey closed the door and leaned against it, staring down at Mike for a full minute without speaking. Instead of squirming, or appearing nervous, Mike lowered his head once more and fixed his gaze on the floor directly in front of him. God, he was perfect. At least, his presentation was perfect. Harvey felt an instant of regret that he was here in a professional capacity – that they were both here in a professional capacity – and then jettisoned any inconvenient attraction he felt for the young man so that he could get down to the business at hand.
Even kneeling on the floor, Mike was all long, lanky and pale, except for where the faint shadows of nearly faded bruises stood out over his ribs and thighs and shoulder. His hard cock jutted up and back to rest against his lean stomach. He’d obviously pulled his cuffed hands as far to the side as he could to avoid contact. Harvey felt a strong urge to bend down and touch him, to stroke him and order him not to come, just to see what he would do.
There would be no touching yet, though, not by him, not until he’d gotten every concession from Mike that he needed. After that, he had every intention of getting every penny of Giannopoulos’ money’s worth out of Mike.
Mike watched the floor, passive and waiting.
“Tell me about yourself,” Harvey ordered. With one hand in his pocket, he activated the digital recording device he’d brought with him. He could have used his phone for this part, but had other plans for it.
Surprise chased away Mike’s practiced pose, and he looked up at Harvey. “Tell you … what?”
“I want to get to know you better. Forstman called you Michael. Is that your real name?”
Mike nodded, but then frowned for half a second. “Or Mike, actually.”
“Okay. How old are you?”
Not quite managing to disguise the sigh that lifted his chest, Mike said, “I’m twenty-four.”
“What do you do for a living?”
Harvey could see that Mike wanted badly to fire off a snarky reply, but bit it back. His eyebrows drew down in confusion. “I’m sorry. What?”
Cocking his head to one side, Harvey gave him a disappointed look. “Mike. You’re here on my dime. I expect to be indulged. So, indulge me. Tell me what you do for a living.”
Mike shifted, spreading his knees a little wider and sitting back on his heels. “Fine. I’m a whore.” One eyebrow lifted in challenge before he took a breath and softened his tone. “I’m your whore.”
“Not ‘sex worker’?”
Mike’s mouth actually fell open at this, and he broke character again. “Excuse me?”
“Answer the question.”
Staring at the ceiling, Mike appeared to mull it over. “I think I’ll stick with ‘whore.’”
A harsh laugh. “I feel it more accurately captures the nuances of the profession.”
Good. He was starting to get underneath Mike’s defenses. “So, tell me about some of these, er, nuances. Describe a typical night at work.”
Mike’s expression was frankly suspicious. And hostile. “What’s with all the weird questions?”
“What? You never have clients who just want to talk?”
“Just? No. But the ones who want to converse at all only want to talk about themselves.” He sat up straighter and used one cuffed hand to scratch a spot on his chest. “What are you, a cop?”
“Nope. And I’m the one asking questions here, not you.”
Mike stared at him for several seconds, and then moved back into his original pose, looking up at Harvey through his eyelashes. “Tell me what you want,” he purred, sounding as if he’d repeated the line a thousand times before.
“I want you just like that, touching yourself. I want you to get yourself off for me. Wait, though. You need one more thing.”
A quick search of the room revealed a selection of hoods and masks. He selected a simple black mask and placed it over Mike’s eyes, adjusting it so that it sat snug against his face.
“There. That’s good. Perfect. Now touch yourself. Slowly. You won’t be allowed to come until I say so.”
Because of how he was restrained, Harvey could see that it was awkward for Mike to follow his instructions. Displaying the professionalism Harvey expected of him, he managed it by bending one wrist at nearly a ninety-degree angle, and dragging the circle of his palm carefully up and down his cock.
“Nice,” said Harvey. “Now, keep doing that while you tell me about your other clients. What do they like?”
Continuing to glide his palm up and down, Mike’s cocked his head to one side, as if considering how much to say. “They like to fuck me, obviously. They like me to go down on them, to suck their wrinkly little cocks until their stinky, old man come dribbles down my throat. Sometimes they want to spank me. That’s not so bad. It’s the ones that – ” He broke off, frowning, seeming to be caught in a memory. Moments later, the smile returned. “Sometimes, they just want to watch me play with myself. Like this.”
A soft moan worked its way out of Mike throat. Harvey might have thought his pleasure was real, if he didn’t know him for the lying hustler he was.
“And you take money for this? You’re well compensated?”
“What about the word ‘whore’ did you not understand?”
“Answer the question.”
Mike gave an odd laugh. “Sure. Of course. Why else would I be doing this?”
Deciding he needed to move things along, Harvey walked closer to Mike. “That’s nice,” he murmured. “You look good like that. Now finish yourself off. I want to watch you come.” He pulled out his phone and started recording.
Obediently, Mike continued stroking himself off, speeding his movements. His breath hitched and he moaned again, loud and theatrical.
Ignoring the hot coil of desire that invaded his lower belly at the sights and sounds of Mike pleasuring himself, Harvey walked in a slow circle around him, capturing all the angles.
“Keep going. Tell me how that feels.”
Mike let out another showy groan, porn personified. “So. Good,” he ground out.
“Go faster,” Harvey instructed, keeping the camera phone pointed at Mike. “Take yourself right to the edge, but don’t come yet.”
Mike was sheened with sweat, and his face was a study in concentration. He almost seemed to have forgotten about his audience of one.
“Say, ‘I’m a filthy whore.’ Nope, don’t stop.”
Mike mumbled the words in between grunts of exertion.
“Louder. Are you almost there?”
“Good. Remain focused on my voice. You can come anytime, and when you do, I want you to shout the words as loudly as you can.”
Arching his back, Mike grabbed himself with both hands and jerked his hips wildly. His body seized up and then started to shake. He sucked in a quick breath and huffed out breathlessly, “I’m a filthy whore.”
As he began to cream over his fists, he shouted the words, and then again. Either he was an excellent actor, or the words had an effect on him. He came so hard Harvey could hear his teeth click together.
Then he slumped, panting. His cock was still hard. He let go, and his cock sprang back to attention, brushing against his belly. Mike bit his lip, obviously sensitive, but made no complaint.
Harvey kept recording, walking close enough to Mike to yank off his mask.
Heavy lids lifted to reveal blue eyes which were more suspicious than sated. When Mike saw the phone in Harvey’s hand, he laughed, reverting easily back to the cynical hustler.
“If I’d known you wanted a souvenir, Forstman could have had someone set up the video equipment. Much better quality than that thing. All you had to do was ask.”
This was not the reaction Harvey had expected. He hid his surprise and stopped recording on his phone, but left the dictation machine turned on. Time for a little shock and awe, he decided.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” he said. “My name is Harvey Specter. I’m an attorney, and Tony Giannopoulos is my client.”
“Tony – Oh. That Tony.”
“Yes. That Tony. The one you thought you could set up, and extort money from. The one you sent to jail, whose business concerns earn more money between one heartbeat and the next than you’ll make in your lifetime.” He dragged a chair over, set it in front of Mike, and sat. “The one who, if you have any instinct for self-preservation whatsoever, you will forget you ever met.”
Mike gaped at him, struggling to catch up with what was happening. He lifted his hands, causing the chain to clink. “Any chance you could take these things off?”
“Not until I’ve said everything you need to hear.”
“What …” Mike’s face screwed up in confusion. “What do you want from me? I’m not extorting anything from that guy. He – ” His lips pressed together in a thin line, sealing in whatever he’d been about to say. “I’m not extorting anything. I tried to tell the cops it was all a misunderstanding. I haven’t even been asked to testify yet. If they subpoena me, though, there’s really nothing I can do about that.”
“I don’t think you’ve understood me. If you so much as set one foot inside that courtroom, I will destroy you.”
Again, Mike’s response was nothing like Harvey had expected. His eyes widened, and he choked out, “You’re going to … you’re going to destroy me?” He barked out an ugly, bitter sounding laugh. “Destroy? Me?” Shaking his head back and forth, he let out several more distinctly unamused snorts of laughter. “How in the hell are you going to do that? Take a look at me. How in the hell are you going to make my life any shittier than it already is? Because, I gotta tell you, I don’t think it can be done. But, hey, have at it. Let’s hear what you’ve got.” He sat back on his heels and waited.
“You know what I’ve got, Mike. I have you on video.” He lifted the dictation device from his pocket and showed it to Mike. “And I have audio of you admitting to performing various sex acts in exchange for money. If I see your name on the witness list when my client goes to trial, the first thing I’m going to do is send a copy of both the audio and video to your grandmother, Edith Ross, currently residing at the Lennox Hill assisted living facility in Brooklyn.”
The look of raw anguish on Mike’s face nearly stopped Harvey, but he plowed ahead, undeterred. “Then, if you persist in showing up to testify, I’ll use what I have to thoroughly discredit you in the eyes of the judge and jury, and anyone else who’ll listen. I’ll post everything online and you know what they say: the internet is forever. My client is a powerful man, with compelling reasons to have this whole thing simply go away, to make you go away.” He paused, watching Mike who, after his initial shock, had subsided into stony, sullen silence. “Have I made myself clear?”
Mike remained quiet for perhaps half a minute, and then he began to speak, softly at first, with a tremor in his voice. “My grandmother is in the final stages of dementia. If you show her that video, all you’ll accomplish is giving her the shock of her life. Who knows? Maybe that will be enough to finish her off. If not, five minutes after she sees it, she won’t remember a thing about it. If you want to do something so cruel to a sick old woman, I can’t stop you, but it won’t make any difference because – and I can’t stress this enough – I never intended to testify against your client.”
What Mike was telling him didn’t track with the report Harvey had received from Vanessa. She rarely missed something so key, and Harvey wasn’t certain whether to dismiss Mike’s story as another con by a seasoned hustler, or to be annoyed with Vanessa for her uncharacteristically sloppy work. He could usually smell bullshit a mile away, and Mike seemed completely sincere.
Ignoring the sensation in the pit of his stomach which felt suspiciously like shame (but couldn’t have been, because Harvey Specter didn’t indulge in anything so trivial), he continued relentlessly.
“Here’s my problem with that, Mike. You went to the trouble of injuring yourself badly. I saw photos of the bruises, so I know it had to have hurt. You ran into the hallway in order to round up witnesses, and then when the police arrived you insisted, more than once, that Tony Giannopoulos was your boyfriend, all but assuring that he’d be arrested for domestic violence. Now you expect me to believe you’ll just walk away from such an elaborate set-up, and won’t stick around for what was bound to be a lucrative payoff?
“Maybe you’re telling the truth about not testifying, but that only says to me that you’re looking to blackmail my client. His message to you is that he will not be meeting your price, and unless you relocate your grifter ass at least a hundred miles from Manhattan, the pain you inflicted on yourself two weeks ago will feel like a day at the spa compared to what he’ll have done to you.”
Head bowed, Mike pressed his lips together and gave a frustrated yank on the chain that held him in place. Even from a few feet away, Harvey could see Mike’s agitated breathing. A small part of him felt remorse for frightening Mike so badly, but the main thing he felt was triumph. After all, he was only doing his job. In a moment, Mike would yield to all his demands and Harvey could go back to Giannopoulos with the good news that he could write off the whole episode as a cautionary, “live and learn” incident.
Then Mike lifted his head. His eyes glittered with anger, and his mouth curled with what appeared to be mockery.
“And here, Harvey, is my problem with all of that.” With his wrist at an awkward angle, he lifted one finger at a time, ticking off his points. “First of all, you recorded me without my permission, and without informing me of your intent to do so. Inadmissible in any court I’ve ever heard of. Second, you’ve contacted a witness against your client ex parte, a definite no-no. Third, you’ve attempted to blackmail said witness. And finally, you’ve threatened the witness with grievous bodily harm. Taken altogether, that sounds like, what is the, term? Witness tampering? Witness intimidation? Either way, I hear the courts, and the bar association, frown on that sort of thing. I mean … you did claim to be an attorney, right? Are you new at this?”
“Now, look here – ”
“If it helps, I could cite the specific regulations you’ve violated.” When Harvey didn’t speak right away, Mike began to do just that.
“Stop.” Harvey gave him a level stare, doing his best to crush the grudging admiration he was starting to feel for him. Rarely did he find himself so firmly set back on his heels, having underestimated his opponent. “I concede that you’ve done your homework. What I would like to know is what you hope to gain from this scheme. Did you have a specific figure in mind? My client will never meet the full amount, but perhaps you could scale back your expectations and name me a price that will make this all disappear.” He’d pay it himself, just to make the problem go away.
Mike’s face tightened, and his brows drew down. “Scheme?” His voice dropped to a near whisper. “I hate to break it to you Harvey, but your client is a fucking liar. I didn’t harm myself to extort money from him. He beat the shit out of me. He bloodied my nose, dislocated my shoulder, cracked a rib. And then he – ” Mike swallowed hard, bracing himself against his next words. “And then he raped me.”
Harvey made a scoffing noise. “Raped? Nice try, but I’m not as gullible as your marks. You showed up that night to do a job. You sold yourself to the highest bidder, and you knew exactly why you were there. I’d think someone like you would be more than satisfied with that much money for so little work.”
“You think you know everything about me.”
“What is there to know? You get fucked. You get paid. I’m not judging you for that. We all make our own choices, and then we have to live with them. When you try to harm my client, however, that’s a whole different ballgame.”
“Choices? Let me just fill you in on my choices, shall I? I’m in debt to someone, so deeply in debt that for a long time it’s seemed like I’d never get out. This was the only option I had to even begin to make a dent in it. I didn’t choose this. I was trapped, threatened, forced to work my way out of debt. Forstman takes care of all the details. If I need anything, he gives it to me, but then he adds that onto the debt. Each month my grandmother’s bill arrives, and the debt increases. If I can’t make rent, he pays the difference, and the debt increases. So, don’t tell me I chose this. The only choice I had was to either accept my fate, or end up with a bullet in my skull.
“So, yeah, this is my life now. And you know what? Every time I present myself at some strange man’s door, and every time I’m sold off at one of these fucking dinner parties – every single time – it feels exactly like rape, Harvey. Just think about that. Seven months, three times a week. And that’s if they don’t decide to hurt me in other ways, like your client did. Your fucking liar of a client.”
Harvey tried to harden his heart against Mike’s words, and against the sight of him visibly struggling not to break down in tears. “Your own words just prove my case. You wanted to take a shortcut out of debt, and you thought you’d found just the guy to target. What happened? Did you recognize him that night? Or had you already done your research, and knew that he was vulnerable?”
“Open your ears and listen to me. I didn’t recognize him. I still don’t know who the hell he is, and I don’t care. I’m given a first name, and that’s it. I don’t want to know anything else. Why would I?”
Harvey wasn’t about to admit it out loud, but everything Mike said had a ring of truth to it. If he was acting, he’d missed his calling, and could be making millions in Hollywood. Harvey knew Giannopoulos, and believed him capable of everything Mike had said. He sighed, frowning, and gentled his voice when he asked, “He beat you up pretty badly?”
Mike said nothing, just stared down at the floor.
“Do I have your word that you won’t testify?”
Mike’s chin came up, and the look in his eyes was pure scorn. “I’ll do you one better. In a about a week, more or less, I’m leaving town. There’s a good chance that I’ll be out of the country for a year. With me gone, they’ll have to drop the charges. Is that enough for you?”
“You’re running? From Forstman?”
Mike smiled bitterly. “I’m not running. I’m leaning into my fate.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Does it matter? Your client can breathe easy. I won’t testify, and he’ll be free to beat the shit out of the next whore that comes along. I’m sure that will make your lawyerly heart burst with pride.”
Harvey let out a low grunt of surprise that nearly turned into a chuckle. The kid had spirit, that was for sure.
“Can I get up?” asked Mike, lifting his hands and tugging on the chain.
It took longer for Harvey to answer than it should have. His winning bid entitled him to more than just conversation, and his plan had been to cash in on it. He winced, recalling what Mie had just confessed. The thought of forcing him should have been repugnant. It was. Except … He could picture it so clearly. Him, holding Mike’s wrists, pressing them to the mattress, while he fucked into him, making him writhe, and plead and scream.
Harvey looked pointedly at Mike’s erection. “Has it been four hours yet?”
Mike glanced down. “No. It’ll go down soon. Maybe another half hour, if history is any guide.”
“You want me to do something about that?”
Mike seemed to freeze for a second, and then smiled lewdly. “You did win me, and we have all night. Tell me Harvey, what do you want?”
For a full minute, Harvey considered taking him up on the offer and collecting his winnings. He shook himself, feeling shame wash through him for the second time that night. “I already got what I wanted.” He stood and moved to squat in front of Mike, unhooking the cuffs from the chain, and then unbuckling and removing the cuffs. He tossed them aside and offered Mike a hand up. Mike hesitated, but took the offered hand and rose to his feet with a grace he shouldn’t have possessed after being forced to kneel for so long.
“So?” asked Mike. “Are you sure I can’t do something else for you?” He grinned at Harvey and hefted his cock, which appeared to have softened slightly in the time they’d been talking.
“You could tempt a saint. But, no. I’m going to take off. If you want to stay here and get some sleep, I’ll let the staff know that’s what I want with the rest of my time. Otherwise, you’re free to go.”
“Why would you do that?” Mike’s voice expressed utter bafflement.
Harvey thought about lying. Instead, he said, “Because Charles Forstman is an asshole. Tony Giannopoulos is an asshole. And I was an asshole tonight. Consider it an apology.”
“Don’t expect me to thank you,” Mike muttered.
“I don’t. And if you go back on your word, I won’t hesitate to follow through on every single threat I made tonight.”
“Good. Are you staying or going?”
Harvey turned, put his hand on the doorknob, and turned back again. “If Forstman asks, the only thing that happened in here is that I fucked your ass into next week, and went home happy.”
A shrug from Mike. “He won’t ask, but if he does, that’s what I’ll tell him.”
“See that you do.”
There was nothing else to say. Without another word, Harvey left.
Mike waited five minutes after Harvey left, hurriedly jacked himself off one more time, and then dressed and went home. When he got there, he treated himself to takeout from the Thai restaurant down the street, and grabbed a six-pack of beer at the bodega across from his apartment.
He sat eating and drinking, staring out the window at the street below and reviewing the events of the evening in his mind. It had been one of the weirder nights he’d spent working for Forstman, and Harvey hadn’t even touched him, except for incidental contact when he’d released him from the cuffs.
The way Harvey had been looking at him before he left, he’d half-expected him to insist on getting his full money’s worth. There had to be something fundamentally wrong with Mike, because he honestly would not have minded spending a few hours in bed with the handsome attorney, even if he was a complete, manipulative bastard.
“I am fucked in the head,” he mused, gulping down more beer.
It didn’t matter anyway. In a week or less, he’d belong to some as yet unknown man. Only time would tell whether or not it was the worst decision of his life. In a life filled with bad decisions, this new one would have some stiff competition.
When the beer was gone, he undressed down to his briefs and curled up on the couch, turning the television to a random station and letting it play softly in the background. His phone dinged with the signal for an incoming text just as he was sliding into sleep. He picked it up to read the message from Forstman.
“Pack a bag and stay ready. Auction is live and ends one week from tonight.”
Two days later, Mike’s phone rang, the screen displaying an unknown number. When he answered, he was shocked to hear Harvey’s voice on the other end.
“What about your grandmother?” were the first words out of Harvey’s mouth.
“Uh, hello to you, too. What about her?”
“If you’re really leaving town, who will look after her?”
Mike could scarcely believe he was having this conversation with the asshole attorney who had effectively threatened his life two nights ago.
“Not that it’s any of your business, but the cost of her care is being covered by Forstman. Well, me, but he pays the bills.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
Mike gave a huff of exasperation, ignoring the pang of guilt in his gut. “She won’t miss me. She barely remembers me, and can’t tell the difference between me and my father, who died thirteen years ago. The people at her facility are extremely nice to her. She’ll be fine. And why do you even care?”
“No, you’re not. You’re looking for holes in my story, trying to determine whether or not I was lying. Well, I wasn’t. As soon as it can be arranged, I’m leaving the country. Truly. Cross my heart.”
Mike heard him swallow, and pictured him sitting somewhere, kicked back in a recliner, sipping expensive scotch. “Is that all you wanted?” he asked.
The line went dead.
The following night, Harvey called again.
“How did you know all that?” he asked without preamble.
“Hey, Harvey. Hello and goodbye are social niceties that I think are highly underrated.”
“Answer the question.”
Mike wanted to growl in frustration. He took a long, calming breath and asked, “How did I know all what?”
“How did you rattle off the correct regulation numbers for all those laws I was violating? Allegedly violating. Just like that? I was still recording, and I looked them up when I got to the office the next day. You were spot on in every case. So, how did you do it?”
The man actually sounded impressed. Mike should not have felt such a ridiculous surge of pride over that. He tamped it down. “What?” he said, aiming to sound casual. “Like it’s hard? Today’s successful criminal needs to keep up with these sorts of things.”
Harvey laughed. “He does, does he?” Mike could hear him take a drink. “Are you in this for the long haul, then?”
“It’s only a steppingstone to bigger and better things.”
The silence on the other end of the line lasted for perhaps half a minute.
Then, “Mike …” said Harvey, and sighed. “You obviously possess a brain. Surely you’ve considered other options for your future.”
What future? Mike thought about asking this out loud, but he’d already revealed more to this near stranger than he’d ever intended. The truth was, whenever he tried to imagine life after Forstman, all he could picture was a huge grey void. After this was all over, he might be able to formulate serious plans, but for now he was in survival mode, and hope seemed both a luxury, and an impediment to making it through to the other side.
“Why do you even care?” he asked instead. “I’m giving you what you want. I promised not to testify against your client, and I meant it.”
Harvey muttered something so faint that Mike barely heard it. It sounded like, “I’ll be damned if I know.” Another pause, and then Harvey said, “Goodbye, Mike.”
They hung up. Realizing that was probably the last time they would ever speak to one another, Mike figured he should be happy that the brief episode of harassment had ended. It hadn’t felt like harassment, thought. And he wasn’t happy.
He felt like he had irrevocably lost something which he’d never been meant to have in the first place.
Harvey set his phone on his desk and stared moodily down at it. He wasn’t sure what had possessed him to call Mike for the second night in a row. He’d told himself it was in the interests of his client, to follow up on a loose end, so he could report back to him that everything had been taken care of.
It was more than that. For reasons he could not begin to fathom, he found Mike Ross intriguing. He was drawn to him a way that made no sense. It was more than simple physical attraction, although that was a strong component. He enjoyed talking to him. Despite their adversarial relationship, it almost felt like they were friends, and … yeah, it made no sense. It bothered him, somehow, that Mike was leaving town (assuming he was telling the truth).
He poured himself another drink. The office, at least in the immediate vicinity, was virtually empty. Somewhere on the other side of the floor, he heard a vacuum cleaner running. The janitorial staff had already been by to empty his garbage and recycling. Soon, he’d be completely alone.
The scotch worked its way through his veins, warming him, loosening up some of the tight knots of regret he felt over Mike, and Giannopoulos, and that asshole, Forstman.
In his mind, he called up an image of Mike’s profile picture on the auction site. Discreetly, he touched himself underneath his desk, running fingertips lightly along the hardening ridge in his pants. He closed his eyes, but couldn’t quite bring the picture into clear enough focus.
He opened his eyes again, stared into the hallway for several seconds, and then unlocked the desk drawer where he had stowed Giannopoulos’s laptop. Ignoring a wave of what might have been guilt, he opened the lid and logged in.
Although he didn’t wish to examine his motives too closely, not so deep down he knew exactly what he was doing. If he couldn’t keep his thoughts away from Mike, and if Mike was leaving the city, perhaps forever, maybe what he needed to do was put things back onto their original footing.
Maybe if he paid for another night with Mike, and used him as Mike had expected that first time …
Well, maybe if he did that, he could get him (fuck him) out of his system and stop this idiotic obsession.
He clicked on Mike’s profile to find out when the next auction would take place, only to discover it was already in progress. He gaped at the screen in disbelief. The starting bid of one million dollars had already been met and exceeded. As he watched, another bid came in, and the number inched upwards.
His gaze found an information box at the bottom of the screen, outlined in red, with the text in bold, black letters:
One Full Year to Winning Bidder. All Five Star Reviews. Foreign Clients Only. Send DM for further details.
Harvey shouldn’t have cared. He should have been relieved and satisfied that Giannopoulos would walk on the DV charges. Mike had been telling the truth. He was leaving town.
For a year. Sold into service to some stranger over the internet.
“I’m not running,” Mike had said. “I’m leaning into my fate.”
The first stirrings of anger whispered inside him. His fate? As dictated by Charles Fucking Forstman?
“Damn it,” he muttered. “Fuck.”
The smart thing to do was turn off the computer, lock it back up in his drawer, and try to forget that he had ever met Mike Ross. This thought occupied his mind as a viable option for perhaps five seconds.
He reached for his phone and dialed the district attorney’s office. Despite the late hour, Terence Wolfe picked up on the second ring.
“It’s Harvey Specter,” he said.
“What’s up, Harvey?”
“I assume you’ve heard of Charles Forstman?”
“The sleaze king of Manhattan? Sure. Who hasn’t?”
“How would you like to take him down?”
A weighted silence. “I’m listening.”
“Good. I have a proposition for you.”
Five Days Later
As ordered by Forstman, Mike had his bag packed and ready to go when he got the text confirming the sale had gone through.
Forty minutes later, a sleek black town car was waiting for him downstairs. The driver took his suitcase and hoisted it into the trunk. He held the back passenger-side door open for Mike. When he looked inside, he found Forstman in the other seat, staring at him expectantly, holding a lit cigar in one hand.
“Surprised to see me?” asked Forstman, his usual annoyingly smug smile playing over his lips.
Mike took his seat, leaving as much space between them as possible. “Here to protect your investment?”
“You should be proud, Michael. You drew some truly inspiring bids. You’re a valuable piece of property. If anything were to happen to you before I get you on a plane and on your way, both my reputation and my bottom line would suffer.”
He could have sent one of his goons, Mike thought, but then he would have missed out on the opportunity to witness Mike’s discomfort in person, and to gloat about another human he’d successfully manipulated and debased. He was like a psychic vampire, sucking every last drop of pain and humiliation out of his victims until there was nothing left to nourish him.
“Am I allowed to know where I’m headed?” asked Mike, not really caring.
Forstman tipped his head to one side, as if trying to decide. “I suppose it can’t hurt. Your eventual destination is Andorra.”
“It’s a landlocked microstate located – ”
“I know what Andorra is, and where it’s located. I also know it has no extradition treaty with the United States.”
Taking a leisurely draw from his cigar, Forstman exhaled slowly and eyed Mike through the resulting cloud of smoke. “That’s right. You’ve got that crazy memory.”
“So, my home for the next year is Andorra?”
“I didn’t say that. Your home is wherever the buyer chooses to take you.”
That wasn’t a comforting thought.
At La Guardia, the town car avoided the central terminal and headed for a less busy, less well-lighted area, away from the main runways. Next to a small hangar, a private jet was being fueled and prepared for take-off.
“Before you get on the plane,” said Forstman, “I’d like you to take this.” He held out his palm, showing Mike a white pill. It looked like aspirin.
“What is it?”
“Something to help you sleep on the plane.”
Mike swallowed it without hesitation and washed it down with the bottled water Forstman handed him.
“Andorra has no international airport, so my plane will take you as far as Barcelona, where you’ll be transferred to a private car. Your driver will provide you with a pill identical to the one you just took. Don’t look at me like that, Michael. It will make things easier for you. You’re just going to have to trust me on this.”
If Forstman thought Mike would ever trust him again, he was out of his mind. He kept that to himself. All he said out loud was, “Let’s get this over with.”
Forstman must have given the driver some signal that Mike missed, because he opened Forstman’s door, and then hurried around to open Mike’s. They both climbed out and watched the driver. He had the trunk lid up and was lifting out Mike’s suitcase when the world went crazy.
Blinding light illuminated them from all sides. Dark SUV’s screeched up, seemingly from out of nowhere, and men and women in tactical gear swarmed out, reaching them in a matter of seconds. Two of the cops, or agents, or whatever they were, grabbed Mike and wrenched his arms behind his back to place a pair of handcuffs on his wrists.
Forstman didn’t put up a fight, and was similarly cuffed while he wore a look of amused disdain. His driver made a half-hearted grab for the gun he carried in a shoulder holster, but he was rapidly disarmed and restrained.
The pilot and ground crew were rounded up. Mike couldn’t see if they were being arrested or merely questioned. By then, he’d been stuffed into the back of one of the SUV’s and read his rights. He couldn’t quite make himself believe this was really happening. He felt numb, his head stuffed with cotton. The pill, he thought blearily, the roofie, or whatever it was Forstman had given him, was working fast.
“Do you understand your rights as I’ve read them to you?” asked the stern-faced woman staring at him from the front seat. “Mr. Ross? I’ll need a response from you.” She snapped her fingers in front of his face. “Mr. Ross?”
He might have replied. He might have said yes. He might have wondered, in some misfiring portion of his brain, how the hell she knew his name.
The world wavered around him, buzzing and fading and buzzing some more.
The buzzing grew louder as the car started to move. He let himself slip then, collapsing inelegant and boneless onto the leather seat.
Movement. Was he in a car? Or on a private jet speeding toward a destination the average person couldn’t locate on a map?
The world receded, along with his questions.
When he surfaced again, he was being held, lifted, laid out on his back. He tried to struggle, to insist that he didn’t want this, he’d never wanted this, but he couldn’t even raise his head. He couldn’t move. The hard platform he was laying on seemed to levitate through space. Voices drifted in and out of his hearing. He desperately wanted to escape back into the darkness, but was roused again by an insistent voice.
“Mike. Mike? What did you take? Can you hear me?”
He opened his mouth, and disjointed, unintelligible noises spilled out.
“What was that?”
“I dunno,” he finally managed to slur. “Ask Forstman.”
“Can you repeat that?”
“Ask.” He panted, gathering strength to enunciate one more word. “Forstman.”
Reserves depleted, he let go and slept.
Mike woke in a hospital room with an IV stuck in the back of one hand, and the other one cuffed to the bed railing. Harvey Specter was pacing near the window, cell phone pressed to his ear. With eyes barely cracked open, Mike observed him for several minutes.
Nothing made sense. For once he couldn’t remember – couldn’t remember how he’d gotten here, why Harvey was here, why Mike wasn’t on a plane over the Atlantic Ocean.
“Hey,” he rasped. The single syllable set off a steady pounding in his skull.
Harvey’s attention snapped his way. “I have to go,” he said into the phone, and hung up. “You’re awake.”
“Nothing gets past you.” Mike shut his eyes as nausea welled up in him. “Why am I here?” He peered at Harvey with one eye. “Why are you here?”
Taking a seat in the chair next to the bed, Harvey crossed one leg over the other and carefully realigned the crease in his slacks. “What do you remember?”
He thought hard, doing his best to ignore the throbbing in his head. “I was in a car with Forstman, on the way to the …”
Swarming SWAT and FBI, the chilly circle of handcuffs and decisive, metallic click.
“Am I under arrest?” He lifted his cuffed arm and shook it. Metal clinked against metal.
“For the moment.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means you have some important choices to make that will determine how you spend the next few years.” He softened his voice and added, “Are you up to speaking yet?”
“Why should I talk to you? I want a lawyer.”
“I am your lawyer, dummy.”
“You?” Mike squeezed his eyes shut. Hadn’t he done this before? After his drug arrest a slick, immaculately suited attorney had shown up out of nowhere to represent him, and look how that had turned out. “I can’t afford you.”
“Do the words pro bono mean anything to you?”
“Why?” The niggle of unease blossomed into full-blown suspicion. “Why would you do that?”
“Because,” said Harvey, expression going hard, “Someone needs to protect you from yourself, and it was my turn this week. Plus, Forstman needs to go down.”
“No one asked you –”
“And yet, here we are. Right now, you have a decision to make, so I’ll ask you again, are you alert enough to hold this conversation?”
“Good. Let’s start with a question. Are you aware that Forstman drugged you?”
Mike might have rolled his eyes if he hadn’t been afraid his eyeballs would fall out of his head. “He handed me a pill. I took it.”
“Without asking what it was?”
Mike stared stonily back at him.
“Okay, let’s leave that for now. Second question: where was that plane headed?”
“Barcelona, but my final destination was Andorra.”
“That’s where the buyer was meeting you?”
“I didn’t say –”
“Mike, I know about the auction. I watched it take place online, in real time.”
Of course he knew. Mike wanted to shrink into himself, to fold up and become invisible.
Maybe Harvey sensed at least part of what Mike was feeling, because he said, “The size of the bids was impressive.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?”
Harvey allowed himself a small smile. “It is. I have something else to tell you that might be more effective. If you’re willing to testify against Forstman, regarding everything you know about his entire operation, the DA is prepared to offer you full immunity.”
“Why would he do that?”
“Because he’s not stupid. He knows you’re a victim in all of this.”
Mike jangled the handcuff again. “This doesn’t exactly scream victim.”
“We had to convince Forstman that you’d been arrested too.”
“Which is what he believes now. We need him to keep believing that.” Harvey eyed him, seeming to consider his next words carefully. “Forstman doesn’t know I had a hand in his arrest, and I’d like to keep it that way for as long as possible.”
Mike was beginning to grow sleepy once again. He blinked slowly at Harvey, struggling to understand what he was telling him. “How did you have a hand in it?”
Harvey looked disappointed, as if Mike had missed something absurdly obvious. “As I said, I had access to the auction site. I took what I had to Terence Wolfe, the district attorney, and convinced him to go after Forstman.”
“You had … wait a second. Those times we talked this week, you already knew I was being sold to the highest bidder? For a whole year?”
“I didn’t say that. I discovered it later.”
“How did you do that?” Mike’s eyes narrowed. “Why were you even on the site? I’d already agreed not to testify against Giannopoulos. There was no reason for you to go back to the auction site. Unless …”
Harvey’s eyes seemed to shutter. His gaze flitted to the side, and then back to Mike’s. “I was performing due diligence, nothing more.”
That sounded like such obvious bullshit that Mike wasn’t sure what to do with it. He couldn’t exactly be mad at Harvey, even though it felt like he should be. Due diligence? No, Mike could think of only one reason Harvey had been on the site stalking Mike’s profile. That line of thought seemed both dangerous and improbable, so he ignored it for now. He was too tired to dwell on it in any case.
“Why …” Mike yawned, finding it a struggle to keep his eyes open. “Why didn’t you try to stop it?”
Letting out a soft huff of laughter, Harvey leaned closer and placed a warm hand on Mike’s arm. “I did. And I succeeded.”
“Oh. Right.” Mike yawned again.
“We’ll talk later, after that shit is out of your system.”
“What was it, anyway?”
“Huh. He straight up roofied me. That’s kinda on the nose.”
The last thing he heard as he slid into sleep was Harvey’s quiet laughter.
When Mike woke up again, Harvey was gone, and so was the handcuff. As he blinked blearily around the small room, he realized that the IV was gone as well, and the cannula had been removed from his hand. What would happen, he wondered, if he were to get dressed (assuming he could find his clothes), walk out of here and never look back. He could leave the city, leave the state, let Forstman and Wolfe and Harvey Fucking Specter resolve their problems on their own.
The thought had barely formed when Harvey strolled through the door carrying a plastic bag. He had changed out of his suit and tie, and wore faded jeans and a black sweater under a black leather jacket. He looked … amazing.
“Ready to get out of here?” he asked.
“You read my mind,” Mike deadpanned. “Are my clothes around here somewhere?”
Harvey tossed the plastic bag onto Mike’s stomach. “Want me to wait outside while you get dressed?”
Mike had to smile at that. “Why bother? You’ve already seen everything.” For reasons he couldn’t fathom, he blushed at his own words.
Despite Mike’s permission, Harvey discreetly averted his gaze as Mike stood on wobbly legs and dressed in the same clothes he’d worn for the trip to the airport. “Are we going downtown?” he asked over his shoulder. He wasn’t sure what time it was, but it was light out, meaning he’d slept through the night.
“No. Not today. The charges against you have been dropped. Wolfe is satisfied with your promise to testify.”
Had he promised that? Mike didn’t remember specifically saying those words, but he seemed to recall that they’d discussed it. Harvey must have assumed Mike would go along with it. He wasn’t wrong. Mike would do almost anything to get out from under Forstman’s control. Even so, he had questions and reservations. He also found it weirdly amusing that the first time he’d met Harvey, he’d insisted that Mike not testify, and had threatened him if he did. Now, he wanted Mike’s testimony. This time, there hadn’t been any threats from Harvey. In fact, so far, he’d been extraordinarily kind.
Everything was happening so fast, and it all seemed too easy, too good to be true.
“Is Forstman in jail?” Mike asked, as the enormity of what he was about to do began to sink in.
“I got the word just a few minutes ago that he’s out on bail.”
Mike thought uneasily of the threats Forstman had made in order to get Mike to sign the contract all those months ago.
Harvey read his expression with uncanny accuracy. “We talked about protective custody for you,” he said.
Mike pulled his t-shirt over his head and turned to stare at Harvey. “What would that entail? Specifically.”
“Some sort of safe house. Wolfe doesn’t want anything to happen to you before you get the chance to testify.”
“But afterward is fine?”
“Afterward, Forstman will be safely locked away in a federal prison, and you won’t need to worry about him.”
“Hmm. So, I get stashed in some appalling fleabag motel for the next six months? Fuck my life. Andorra is starting to sound pretty good.”
“I know you don’t mean that. And, yes, normally you’d get the fleabag treatment. However, I’ve offered an alternative, to which Wolfe has agreed, if you’re amenable.”
“Well? Don’t keep me in suspense.” He sat on the edge of the bed to pull on his socks and shoes.
“You’ll come stay with me. Not for six months. Two months at the most. This trial has been fast-tracked. Even without you, we’ve got a strong case. Add your testimony, and I’d call it a slam dunk.”
Although Harvey had said it was up to Mike, it felt as if he wasn’t being given much of a choice. He wasn’t thrilled about the idea of going back to his own apartment and was even less thrilled about the theoretical fleabag. He assumed that a high-powered attorney like Harvey lived somewhere nice. However, there were a few things that needed to be cleared up before he agreed to the arrangement.
“This is just about me as a client and a witness, right?”
“What else would it be?”
Mike lifted an eyebrow and waited him out.
Harvey didn’t pretend to misunderstand. “I expect nothing of you beyond washing your own dishes, picking up your dirty socks, and keeping the noise level down when I’m trying to sleep at night.”
“No … favors?”
Harvey’s eyes darkened, and it took him longer to answer than it should have. “No quid pro quo required.”
Which sort of left the door open to voluntary acts. Not that Mike wanted that. Nor did Harvey, as far as he knew. And why was he even thinking about this stuff? After the last seven months under Forstman’s thumb, Mike wasn’t certain he’d ever be capable of a healthy sexual relationship, or even wish to seek one out.
Harvey was waiting for a response.
“Yeah,” Mike said. “Yeah, okay. We can give it a try. I’ll stay at your place.”
“Great. I’ll take you home and get you settled, and then I’ve got to go to work.”
Mike hovered near the front door, taking stock of Harvey’s place. At first, it seemed all sharp angles, metal and leather, in mostly neutral shades. Gradually, he became aware of the subtle colors in the textiles and eclectic art on the walls. Everything was perfectly coordinated. Someone – possibly Harvey, more likely a well-paid interior decorator – had put a lot of thought and care into selecting the right pieces, all of which fit together in expensive, harmonious sterility.
The only thing that didn’t fit was Mike.
Harvey set Mike’s suitcase near a black, leather couch, and looked at him expectantly. “Will this do?” He asked the question ironically.
“It’s, uh, nice,” said Mike.
“Glad you think so. Quit lurking in the doorway and come in.”
Mike edged into the living room. After considering his options, he took a seat on the couch, relieved to find it more comfortable than it looked.
“That’s where you’ll be sleeping,” said Harvey. “You can find sheets and blankets in the hall closet. The refrigerator and freezer are stocked. Eat whatever looks good. Stay away from the liquor, at least until you’re feeling one hundred percent.”
He showed him where the remote for the television was, gave him the wi-fi password for his phone, and pointed out the drawer underneath the television that held all the most up-to-date gaming systems and an extensive selection of games. As he pointed out one high-end item after another, Mike grew more and more uncomfortable. Finally, he interrupted Harvey’s instructions on how to use the professional quality coffee-maker/espresso machine to froth milk, to ask, “You remember I’m technically a criminal, right?”
“Aren’t you even the tiniest bit worried that I’ll rob you?”
Harvey went still and stared at him. “Are you going to rob me?”
“Well, no, but you can’t know that for sure.”
“I’ll take you at your word until proven otherwise. How’s that?”
Mike threw up his hands and then nodded.
“Good. I’m going to take a shower and get ready for work. Sleep if you want. Or fix yourself some coffee. You’re clear on how the machine works?”
“I think so.”
“Good,” he repeated, and then pointed a finger at Mike and said, “don’t rob me,” before winking at him and disappearing into the back of the apartment.
Mike’s days took on a similarity over the next few weeks which some might have seen as unbearably dull, but which Mike found soothing in their lack of drama. Early in the morning, he’d rouse to the sounds of Harvey moving around the kitchen, making coffee, collecting his briefcase and coat, and quietly exiting, taking care not to slam the door. He never drank the coffee he made, probably opting to grab a cup downtown. The pot he made every morning without fail was for Mike.
After Harvey left, Mike would luxuriate underneath the blankets for perhaps another hour or more. He’d check the weather and the news on his phone, do his daily drive-by of a couple of social media sites, play one of half a dozen games, and then yawn and stretch and pad into the kitchen in his underwear for his first cup of coffee of the day.
He was under strict orders not to leave the building. Even though Harvey insisted that Forstman didn’t know Mike’s whereabouts, he preferred they not take any chances with Wolfe’s star witness. Mike didn’t mind.
There was plenty to keep him occupied without even leaving the couch. He streamed movies and shows and played games until he thought his fingers might fall off. After the first week, Harvey suggested he take advantage of the building’s gym, and that helped alleviate some of his growing restlessness. By the third week, he was spending a few hours each day online, researching case law and precedents. It wasn’t that he thought Wolfe and his team incompetent, or that he didn’t trust the DA’s office to put together a rock-solid case. He did it to feel more of a participant, rather like a baseball geek who goes to the game and laboriously scribbles on the paper scorecard after every pitch.
Sometimes Harvey was home in time for them to eat dinner together. As one week gave way to the next, this occurred less and less often. Mike had always been a bit of a night owl, so he was still awake when Harvey arrived at ten or eleven at o’clock, but he was usually reclining on the couch by then, wrapped in his cocoon of blankets and intent upon whatever show he’d decided to binge that day. Harvey might grunt at him, and Mike would give him a half wave in return. Despite the limited interaction (or maybe because of it) the whole situation felt oddly domestic.
Eventually, Mike began to dread the day when he would finally be allowed to return to his own apartment. Although when it happened it would mean that he finally had his life back, it also meant he would have to resume his solitary existence, and his connection to Harvey, however tenuous, would come to an end.
It was no accident that Harvey had begun to arrive home later and later. Living in close proximity to Mike for so long had proved more difficult than he’d estimated. He wasn’t a bad houseguest. He cleaned up after himself, kept the noise to a minimum, and didn’t invite friends over for wild parties. (As far as Harvey could tell, he didn’t have any friends.) He didn’t jabber at Harvey. He barely spoke at all but when he did, both intelligence and humor shone through his quiet words.
The trouble was, he was simply too enticing. The day Mike arrived, Harvey probably should have stated, with zero ambiguity, that their relationship would never progress beyond attorney and witness. Instead, he’d unwisely left the door open a crack, all but admitting his attraction to Mike.
So far, the implicit response from Mike had been a resounding, “hell no.” Maybe if Harvey didn’t possess a video file of Mike masturbating while chained to the floor of Forstman’s playroom, a file which Harvey had copied to his phone and reviewed occasionally … Well, maybe if that wasn’t true, he could have cohabited with him without the accompanying blue balls.
He wouldn’t say he was obsessed, and he would never admit to himself or anyone else that not so deep down inside he wished that Mike would knock on his bedroom door one night and allow Harvey to demonstrate -- or remind him – that sex could actually be fun and sweet and wholly enjoyable. Mike never made the move, and Harvey let it be. Mike had experienced too much anguish in his young life and if he could help it, Harvey would not be the cause of any further pain.
When Harvey opened the door to his condo one evening, he discovered Mike slumped on the couch with his head in his hands, brow furrowed as in if agony. He dropped his briefcase near the door and hurried to Mike’s side, only to stand next to him feeling more than a little awkward. He raised a hand, meaning to give his shoulder a reassuring squeeze, but dropped it to his side without touching him.
Mike must have heard him come in, but he still tensed visibly when Harvey spoke his name. He lifted his head, and fixed Harvey with a dark look, filled with both anger and deep weariness. “I’m not sure I can do this,” he said.
Harvey sat next to him. He wanted to grab Mike’s hands, but settled for turning toward him and resting one arm on the back of the couch behind him. He’d been half-expecting some sort of freak out from Mike and if anything, was only surprised that it hadn’t happened sooner. He could proceed in several different ways here: tough talk, gentle encouragement, or a list of all the reasons he couldn’t back out.
“What happened?” he asked.
Mike lifted his phone, which had been lying next to him on the couch, woke the screen and showed it to Harvey. A series of texts from Forstman read, “We need to talk. Where the hell are you? Get your ass in here NOW. If I find your first, you will NOT enjoy the consequences. Your debt is not discharged.”
Harvey studied the words and then looked at Mike, one eyebrow lifted. “He sounds worried, which is a good thing.”
“Is it?” Mike rubbed his forehead. “What if he hurts Grammy?”
“That’s not going to happen. I’ve already got someone watching her place, but from what I know of him, that sort of thing isn’t his style.” He powered down Mike’s phone and handed it back to him. “In case he tries to track your phone. Keep it turned off. In fact, I’ll get you a new one tomorrow.”
“How much longer is this going to take? I’m ready to testify now. Shouldn’t there be a deposition or something?”
“I’ll talk to Wolfe, after …” Harvey winced,
“I have to go out of town for a few days.”
Harvey walked to the kitchen to fix himself a drink. As he stood behind the breakfast bar and poured, he saw that Mike was watching him. He held up the bottle of scotch in silent enquiry and Mike nodded his assent, so he fixed another drink and carried both back to the living room. After handing Mike his drink, Harvey stood in front of him, one hand in his pocket.
“I know it’s bad timing, but I have to fly to Miami to straighten some things out for a client. I should be back by Friday evening. I’ll call Wolfe on my way to the airport in the morning and see if he has time to depose you early next week.”
“Okay.” Mike scrubbed a hand through his hair, appearing slightly less stressed. “Okay. The sooner he’s locked away, the sooner I can – ” He broke off as if hit by the realization that he had no idea what his next move would be.
“Don’t worry about it for now. Life has a way of working itself out.”
A sad laugh from Mike. “That’s what I’m worried about. For me, it usually works itself out in the worst possible way.”
“I understand your skepticism, but try looking at it this way: life is giving you a reset. A do-over. Figure out what it is you want and make it happen.”
“Says the guy who had everything handed to him.”
Harvey shook his head, half-amused and half-annoyed that Mike thought he knew the first thing about him. “You might just be surprised,” was all he said, and then gave Mike’s shoulder a brief, friendly squeeze. “I’m going to pack and go to bed. You good for food while I’m gone?”
That brought a faint smirk to Mike’s face. “You have enough food stockpiled to see me through several nuclear winters and at least one zombie apocalypse.”
“It probably won’t come to that.”
“We can only hope,” Mike muttered from behind his glass.
The first night Harvey was gone, Mike dreamed about Tony Giannopoulos. They were back in the room at the Plaza, and Tony had Mike down on the floor and was kicking and kicking him, gouging holes in his body until he was swimming in his own blood.
He jolted awake, a scream trapped in the back of his throat. “Fuck,” he whispered, struggling to suck in enough oxygen to continue breathing. After a moment’s disorientation, he remembered where he was, in Harvey’s apartment, on his couch.
A glance at his phone told him it was just past three in the morning. Except for the occasional creak of the walls and traffic sounds far below, it was completely silent. He switched on the television to an infomercial, thinking that would help him fall back asleep and fill his brain with something other than ugly, distorted memories. An hour later, he was still shifting restlessly on the couch, trying to get comfortable and relax enough to drop off. The couch, which was normally fine, tonight seemed hard as cement, and so narrow he felt in danger of tumbling to the floor.
Grumbling to himself, he got up to use the bathroom. On the way back to the living room, he detoured to Harvey’s bedroom. He hadn’t been inside yet, but had taken one curious peek the first day he’d been here. Now he stood in the doorway and stared longingly at the huge bed, imagining how much more comfortable than the couch it would be.
He asked himself, what could it hurt? He was certain Harvey wouldn’t mind if he slept in here, just this one time. Still, he hesitated, and when he finally gave in to temptation, irrational guilt pricked him as he slid underneath the covers and sank down into a mattress which was somehow simultaneously cloud-soft and just the right amount of firm.
Familiar scents teased him. He caught a faint whiff of Harvey’s cologne or aftershave, mixed with the more earthy and herbal notes of his expensive hair product, along with a tantalizing hint of the essence of Harvey himself. He snuggled deeper into the bedclothes, a sense of calm seeping into him which made little sense. Nothing about Harvey in person was calming. Quite the opposite. He was a force of nature, too handsome for his own good – or Mike’s peace of mind – and a temptation that Mike would have preferred not to have to deal with daily.
Mike wasn’t stupid, or blind. He’d seen the way Harvey looked at him, like he was a particularly enticing slice of pie, and Harvey was on a diet and ready to binge. It should have been flattering. It was, in fact, flattering. But considering how they had met, and everything that Harvey knew about Mike and the choices he’d made, nothing could come of it.
It wouldn’t have cost Mike all that much, emotionally, to exploit Harvey’s obvious attraction for the sake of momentary comfort and the scratching of a mutual itch. He’d done far worse things this past year. Unlike the other men who had used him, Harvey had been decent to him, and had treated him with a great deal more compassion than he’d needed to, and certainly more than Mike deserved.
He grimaced at his thoughts, and at what he was not so unconsciously trying to justify to himself. Maybe Harvey was entitled to a thank-you fuck, but wouldn’t that be just another type of transaction, and not much different than the behavior Mike was trying to leave behind?
No quid pro quo required, Harvey had told him.
He groaned, rolling over and twisting the covers around himself. When had every single goddamn thing in his life, every choice and act and decision, become so complicated?
Rhetorical question. He knew the answer to that one. It had been the day Forstman entered his life and poisoned everything he touched. Once Mike managed to exorcise him, he’d be able to move forward in something approaching a normal manner. Right? He had to believe that, because the alternative was too depressing to consider.
After another half hour of tossing and turning and excoriating himself with pointless regrets, he gave into what seemed like the inevitable, grabbed his dick and got himself off with a swiftness and urgency that bordered on violence.
Afterwards, staring up at the ceiling and breathing hard, waiting for his heartrate to return to normal, he refused to acknowledge whose face he’d imagined, or whose ghostly hand had covered his own while a rough voice purred in his ear, urging him on with filthy exhortations.
Harvey wrapped things up in Miami a day early. He managed to find an earlier flight home, and walked in his front door just after midnight, ready to collapse. The first thing he noticed was that Mike was not on the couch. The sheets and blankets had been folded and left on one end, but Mike, it seemed, was gone.
“Damn it,” he muttered, filled with a disappointment which surprised him with its intensity. He had just begun to berate himself, and to blame his trip, and his dismissal of Mike’s fears, when he walked into the bedroom and froze in his tracks.
“Who is that sleeping in my fucking bed?” he murmured, bemused and feeling a little as if he’d walked into some dumb children’s story.
The lump under the covers stirred and was still again.
Harvey considered his options. He could turn around and seek out the couch.
He could shake Mike awake and kick him out of bed.
Maybe Mike hadn’t known he’d be back a day early, but even so, this felt too much like an invitation to be ignored. Still, he vacillated. It wasn’t like he intended to jump Mike. It was a large bed, and Mike was facedown, hugging the far edge. If Harvey stayed on his own side, Mike shouldn’t leap to any inaccurate conclusions. Just a weary traveler returning late who wanted to sleep in his own bed.
As silently as possible, Harvey undressed down to his briefs. Moving slowly, he peeled back half the covers and eased onto the mattress. He expected Mike to startle, but was taken by surprise when instead, he sighed in his sleep and rolled onto his side, bringing him closer to Harvey, as if drawn to his heat. The move brought him within touching distance. All Harvey had to do was reach over and place a hand on his shoulder, or his back.
If he did that, he ran the risk that Mike was sunk far enough in sleep that he wouldn’t realize at first where he was, or who Harvey was. The thought gave Harvey pause. His hand hovered over Mike, not making contact.
Cautiously, in the interests of not provoking panic in his houseguest, he whispered, “Mike?”
“Mike?” He touched one finger to his shoulder, and then did it again with slightly more force. “Mike. Are you awake?”
In the dark, he couldn’t see Mike’s face clearly, but felt his body go rigidly tense beside him.
“It’s okay, Mike. It’s just me. I got back a day early.”
As if spring-loaded, Mike sat up and scooted away, throwing his legs over the side of the bed. “Sorry,” he rasped, voice thick with sleep. “Sorry. I’ll just –”
Before he could leave the bed entirely, Harvey grabbed him by the elbow and held on tight. “It’s fine. Stay.” With his other hand, he reached past Mike and switched on the light.
Mike blinked like an irritated possum picked out by headlights. His hair stood up in messy tufts. “This isn’t … I didn’t think you’d be home tonight.” Before Harvey could reply, he clarified, “This, me being here, doesn’t mean anything. It’s not an invitation for … anything.”
“I never assumed it was.” Hoped, maybe, but not assumed. Curious, Harvey asked, “Why are you in here?”
Mike rubbed a hand over his face, one foot still on the floor, as if prepared to flee. “I don’t know. Or, I do, I guess. The couch isn’t bad, but my back felt like it could use a break.”
“Yeah, I get that. I’ve fallen asleep out there plenty of times, and I agree: it’s not exactly meant for extended use.”
“I’m not complaining.”
“I know you’re not.” For reasons he chose not to examine too closely, it seemed important that he keep Mike in the bed. “Look, we’ve known each other for a little while now. Do you trust me?”
“Sure. I guess so.”
No exactly a ringing endorsement.
Harvey tried again. “Well, I trust you. I trusted you not to rob me, right?”
Mike’s soft laugh contained only the barest drop of humor. “Was that trust, or just the inability to imagine that anyone would dare cross you that way?”
“Fine. Let’s call it the benefit of the doubt. Better?”
Mike shrugged. “Does it matter?”
“My point, Mike, is that I trusted you, or gave you the benefit of the doubt then. Now I’m asking you to trust me. Stay here, in my bed, and I promise that all we’ll be doing is sleeping.”
“Unless you had something else in mind?”
“Why would I? Oh, wait. Because of the whole being a whore thing?”
“Former. And I thought the preferred term was sex worker.”
“Your term. I know what I am. Was.”
The conversation was beginning to irritate Harvey. “What I am, is exhausted. I still have to go into work tomorrow, so if you could make up your mind one way or the other and let me sleep, I’d appreciate it.”
“You’re the one who – ”
He was quiet for a minute. “Just sleep?”
“Hm. Do you snore?”
“Do you?” countered Harvey.
“I don’t know. Probably?”
“Well, keep it down to a dull roar, or I won’t hesitate to shove a pillow over your face. Good night.” Harvey rolled to his side, turning his back on Mike. He didn’t hold his breath, precisely, as he waited to see what Mike would do, but when the mattress dipped and the covers rustled, indicating that Mike had moved back onto the bed, Harvey might have let a tiny smile curve his lips.
Not bothering with further discussion on the matter, they slept together every night after that. Mike got plenty of practice pretending he was not affected by Harvey’s closeness. It helped that Harvey always rose earlier than him, leaving him alone with his discreetly covered morning wood. After he heard the front door close behind Harvey, he could take care of his need in private. That Harvey was not similarly affected might have bothered him, but it was better than having to fend him off, or being chased back out to the living room to sleep on the couch.
Of course, the first thing Harvey did when he got up, without fail, was to take a shower. Who knew what he was doing while the water ran?
The day arrived for Mike’s interview with Terence Wolfe. Harvey accompanied him, and they were driven to the district attorney’s office by Harvey’s driver, Ray. Concerned about Forstman’s people watching the building, Harvey had Ray pull up to a side entrance. Once inside, they climbed a flight of stairs to the lobby. They still had to go through the metal detector at security, but it felt less exposed than coming through the main entrance.
Wolfe was an imposing man, tall and serious and every bit as sharp as Harvey. When Harvey introduced Mike, Wolfe gave him a long, assessing look. He seemed to be sizing him up as a credible witness, rather than judging his moral character, which was more than Mike had expected.
Mike was made to go through the whole story of how he met Forstman, how the debt was incurred, and what leverage he’d used to get Mike to agree to work for him. When Mike told him about his grandmother, Wolfe turned his gaze to Harvey.
“Is she being looked after?” he asked.
“Her bills are paid in advance for the next year, thanks to Mike’s bargaining skills, and I’ve got someone keeping an eye on her. Forstman’s people might be watching her place as well, as a means to locate Mike. No one’s bothered her so far.”
“Most likely, they won’t. Still, I’ll get her some official protection.”
Hearing this should have reassured Mike, but it only caused anxiety to grow inside him. He didn’t think Forstman would hurt her, but he couldn’t know for sure.
He continued with his story. Wolfe asked intelligent, pointed questions. It all felt fairly clinical, sort of like detailing some embarrassing physical ailment to your doctor. Wolfe maintained his poker face throughout it all, for which Mike could only be grateful. For his part, he blushed more often, and more deeply, than a seasoned whore probably should have.
Then it was over. Ray dropped him at home, and when Mike entered the apartment and shut the door, it felt as if he’d returned to the only safe haven he still had in the world.
As Harvey had promised, the trial was indeed fast-tracked. Mike only had a couple more weeks of moping on Harvey’s couch and sleeping – platonically – in his bed.
He received occasional updates from Harvey. The jury had been selected. Opening arguments had been offered. And then one evening as they sat at the kitchen counter sharing a pizza, he broke the news that Mike would be called to the stand the following morning.
“This is it then,” said Mike, nerves beginning to jitter and jump. “He’ll see me. He’ll know what I’ve done, that I’m the reason he’s going to prison. If he goes.”
“He already knows. The witness list has been available for some time now.”
“Right. And, oh, shit, what if he’s found innocent? I know he’ll come after me. He doesn’t take defeat well.” Mike set down a half-eaten slice and stared across the counter at Harvey. “What was I thinking? He won’t let this go. He’ll want revenge. I should leave town. I should definitely get the hell out of here.”
Harvey came around the counter to sit next to him, laying one hand on his arm. “Calm down. He’s not going to get off. You’re going to be fine”
Mike looked down at his arm, and Harvey’s large hand which still clasped it. Warmth seemed to flow from the touch, leeching into him. Despite the warmth, or maybe because of it, he shivered.
Harvey had seen, of course. His eyes darkened, and a moment later he removed his hand, a frown on his face. If Harvey was correct and Forstman was convicted and sent to prison, Mike would be going home in a few days. He should have been happy, relieved that this episode in his life was ending and he was on the verge of making it out of his living nightmare. Instead, the thought of walking out of here, never to return, made him feel hollow inside.
It couldn’t have been because of Harvey. What were they to one another, really? Adversaries turned temporary allies, nothing more. Bedmates, sure, but in a way that meant nothing. Harvey would probably be relieved to get his apartment back, and to see the last of Mike. Why Mike couldn’t say the same about Harvey was as baffling as it was annoying.
“What?” asked Harvey, and Mike realized he’d been staring blankly at the countertop.
He forced himself to meet Harvey’s gaze. “You’re right. I’m sure it will all work out.”
“It will. And you’re going to be just fine. I promise.”
Harvey woke up to arms and legs thrashing in the bed next to him, accompanied by muffled sounds of distress. An arm caught him on the side of his head, hard enough to surprise a savage curse out of him.
“No,” gasped Mike, and Harvey caught onto the fact that he was in the throes of a nightmare.
Mike continued to move wildly, flinging his limbs in every direction, as if in his dreams he was fighting an entire roomful of people. Acting on instinct, Harvey rolled toward him and wrapped both arms and legs around him, effectively trapping him and keeping him contained. Mike’s body vibrated and twitched as he fought to get free.
“Mike,” Harvey whispered urgently in his ear, and then louder, “Mike. It’s okay. Wake up. Wake. Up.”
It took him a minute or more to penetrate Mike’s nightmare and get him to listen. He could tell the moment he’d succeeded. Mike stopped fighting and went perfectly still. Harvey could hear him breathing in the dark next to him, could feel his heart racing.
“What are you doing?” asked Mike, voice shaking.
“You were having a bad dream. I was afraid you were going to put my eye out.”
“I’m awake now.”
The implication being that Harvey could let him go. He loosened his hold and untangled their legs but kept Mike secured inside the circle of his arms.
“What were you dreaming about?”
“Trust me, you don’t want to know.”
“Maybe you need to talk about it.” Even as he made the suggestion, Harvey wondered what the hell he was doing. If Mike did need to talk about it, it was to someone other than Harvey. He should let him go, move away, retreat to his own side of the bed.
Before he could do any of those things, Mike spoke again, his voice tight with what might have been anger, although whether it was directed at Harvey or someone else, he couldn’t be sure.
“I was dreaming about that night with Giannopoulos. He was hitting me. Kicking me. And then it wasn’t him. It was Forstman. Wolfe. Other clients. In the end, it was you.”
Harvey’s lungs seemed to seize up. “Me?” he choked out. “You have to know I’d never hurt you.”
“It was a dream, Harvey. You can’t take it literally.”
He knew that. Still, he was personally affronted to hear that Mike’s brain had conjured him doing such a thing, even if it had been dredged from the swamp of his subconscious. Without meaning to, his arms tightened around Mike. He whispered fiercely in his ear, “I’d never do that to you. Never.”
His lips were so close to Mike that they brushed his neck. Mike shivered and squirmed, not signaling that he wanted to get loose so much as reacting to the contact. His bottom pushed into Harvey’s groin and a growl came out of Harvey’s throat that sounded as if he was in pain.
He wasn’t in pain.
He’d sworn to himself that he’d let Mike make the first move, and to accept it if he never did, but in that moment, he was responding to a need that ran deeper than rational thought. His hand skimmed down the front of Mike’s chest, descending lower until he reached the front of his pajama pants. The hard ridge of arousal he encountered there was unmistakable.
“Harvey,” Mike breathed, a plea for … something . Stop? Don’t stop?
“Hush,” Harvey soothed. “Don’t say anything. Just let me …”
His slid his hand inside Mike’s pants. They each caught their breath at the same instant, as Harvey’s hand closed over Mike’s hot, satin-hard cock. Perhaps the darkness made it easier for them to let it happen. Each could pretend it was someone else here with them engaging in this intimate act.
Harvey stroked him slowly, softly at first, fingers trailing up and down his cock. Mike’s head jerked back and struck his shoulder with an almost savage force. He was breathing fast, body starting to arch into a taut bow.
Harvey’s grasp grew firmer and his hand sped up. His other hand brushed over Mike’s chest, searching out the tight excited nubs there, pinching and tweaking first one and then the other. Mike’s breath exploded out of him in a wordless exclamation.
“You like that?” murmured Harvey.
In response, Mike rutted frantically, fucking into the tight circle of Harvey’s palm. Harvey let him set the pace while he gnawed on Mike’s neck and flicked his nipples. It didn’t take long. Mike must have been close already, because his whole body tensed, the back of his head ground against Harvey’s shoulder, and he cried out, shuddering, shaking, and spilling hotly over Harvey’s fist.
The darkness prevented Harvey from watching his face while he came, but the wild, needy sounds that poured from him almost made up for it.
Before his shudders had even ceased, Mike tried to shift in his grasp and turn towards Harvey. “You?” he whispered.
Harvey knew what he meant. “No,” he said. “That was for you. No quid pro quo required.”
Mike laughed breathlessly. “It’s not,” he slurred, “q-quid pro quo. O-only good manners.”
It was tempting, but Harvey shook his head, even though Mike probably couldn’t see him in the dark. He would have loved the touch of Mike’s hands on him, but in that moment it seemed important to prove something to Mike by neither demanding or even allowing it. “We both need sleep. Big day tomorrow.”
Mike fell suspiciously quiet. Wanting to see his face, to reassure himself he hadn’t just made a huge blunder, Harvey reached over and switched on the lamp. The light came on to the sight of Mike’s back as he slid out of bed and headed to the bathroom. It seemed to take him forever to return. Harvey remained frozen in place until Mike padded back into the bedroom. Only then did he allow the breath to ease quietly out of him.
Mike hadn’t retreated to the couch, but he avoided eye contact with Harvey, rolling onto his side, as far away as he could get without falling off the bed. Harvey sighed, already questioning his impulsive action. He’d pushed Mike too far when he hadn’t been ready for that. Neither of them had.
Common sense told him he should maintain his distance now, maybe let them both fall back asleep and pretend it had never happened, but he couldn’t bear the thought of Mike huddled into himself like that, so far away. Taking a calculated risk, Harvey turned off the light and murmured, “C’mere.”
Mike’s hesitation lasted only a few seconds, but long enough for Harvey to mentally kick himself. Then the bedclothes rustled, and Mike rolled and scooted until he was next to Harvey, only a few inches separating them.
“What is this?” Mike asked, voice frankly curious.
This earned him another laugh from Mike. “Really?”
“Maybe I just want to get some sleep. Your last bout of late-night pugilism nearly knocked my teeth out.”
“Oh, I see. Preventative measures. Is that it?
”Sure. Call it whatever you want, just get over here.”
Mike let out a huff, but he didn’t waste any more time backing into Harvey’s embrace. Harvey felt him relax against him, and he in turned relaxed. He wasn’t sure which one of them fell asleep first, but neither stirred for the rest of the night.
Forstman and his lawyers were already seated at the defendant’s table when Mike walked into the courtroom ahead of Harvey. Forstman faced the as yet unoccupied judge’s bench, but turned and picked Mike out unerringly with his chilly blue gaze as soon as he stepped through the doorway. His mouth curved in a cruel smile and he gave a tiny nod of acknowledgement. That smile might once have scared him more than it did now, but Mike sensed it contained more forced bravado than true menace. Still, he froze for a second before continuing forward.
He saw the exact moment that Forstman spotted Harvey. The smile never left his face, but his cold anger would have been obvious to anyone in the room who happened to be looking his way at the time. A shiver ran down Mike’s spine. He glanced behind him at Harvey and saw a nearly identical expression on his face. They were like two rabid dogs. If they’d met somewhere else, somewhere with no rules and no witnesses, Mike had no doubt they would have both leapt forward at once and done violence to one another.
It was a struggle to keep one foot moving in front of the other, but he managed it somehow, and found a seat close to the front, behind the prosecutor’s table. Harvey’s body partially blocked his view of Forstman, which helped settle his nerves. The jury was seated, and then the judge arrived. They stood. They sat. The next thing Mike knew, he was being called to the witness stand.
As he was sworn in, he glanced nervously over at the jury box. All eyes were on him. This was it. He took his seat and braced himself to go on record, permanent and indelible, as both a whore and a weak, gullible fool.
He let that sink in. Anytime he applied for work, or school, or attempted a serious relationship, his name could be searched on the internet, and his past would be laid bare. As Wolfe began to question him, he went numb. He knew what would be asked of him, and he answered with no hesitation. With each word he spoke, he felt more and more exposed to the world’s judgment.
“Why,” asked Wolfe, “were you getting on a plane the night of the arrest?”
“Mr., ah, Forstman sold my services –”
“We’re talking about sexual services here, correct?”
“You’ll have to speak up, Mr. Ross.”
Mike cleared his throat. “That is correct.”
“And to whom were these services sold?”
“I never found out.”
Wolfe turned to face the jury, pretending to be astounded. “You were sold, sight unseen, to someone you’d never met, and whose name you didn’t know?”
“Well … yeah. That’s how it went with his auctions. I was given a first name, but that was so that I could verify I’d shown up at the right place.”
Mike understood what Wolfe was trying to do. He was hammering home the fact that Forstman alone had handled the business side of the operation, and that Mike had been both naïve and ignorant regarding any details. It was a strategy that made sense, but also served to make him feel more of a fool than he already did.
“Tell me about the dinner parties,” said Wolfe.
Slumping lower in his chair, Mike described a typical night. “The last time, it was just me, but usually there were two or three other, er, ones like me.”
“And Charles Forstman organized the parties, and invited the buyers?”
Wolfe finished his questioning, and handed off to Forstman’s attorney. Travis Tanner was an attractive, dark-haired man with piercing blue eyes, and the cold-blooded demeanor of a contract killer.
“Not to put too fine a point on it, Mr. Ross, but you’re a whore, correct?”
“Retired. I see. Tell me, why are you here, today, testifying against your former partner, instead of in jail awaiting your own trial?”
Mike darted a look at Wolfe, who gazed serenely back at him, and then at Harvey, who appeared angry, but gave Mike an encouraging nod.
After drawing in a slow, calming breath, Mike replied, “First of all, we weren’t partners.”
“The witness will answer the question,” said the judge.
Mike turned to glare at her. “I’ll answer the question, sure, but Charles Forstman and I were never partners. That is a complete mischaracterization of our relationship.”
“Your honor …”
The judge frowned, looking between Mike and Tanner. She even shot Wolfe a glance, as if expecting him to object. When he didn’t, she sighed. “Perhaps you could rephrase the question without the editorializing?”
“My apologies your honor.” Tanner smiled toothily and turned back to Mike. “What were you promised in order to get you here today to testify?”
Wolfe had warned him this was coming. “The charges against me were dropped, and I was given full immunity.”
“So, basically, the district attorney bought your testimony? Your services in return for something of value to you? In Forstman’s case, it was money, but it’s the sort of transaction you’re accustomed to, isn’t it?”
Wolfe actually stood this time. His mouth was open to object, but Mike spoke over him.
“That’s kind of how life works, isn’t it? I took money from a scumbag and provided sex. You take his money and then you go on the attack for him in here. We’re both whores in a way, aren’t we? The difference is, I never did it willingly.”
Things got loud in the courtroom for a few minutes, with Forstman, Tanner, Wolfe and the judge all trying to shout one another down. Mike kept his attention on Harvey, who was staring at him across the space that separated them as if he’d just performed some amazing trick. Fighting a smile, Mike tuned back into what the judge was saying.
“Do you have any further questions for this witness?”
The answer from Tanner was a distinctly sulky “no.”
Mike stepped down from the witness stand on unsteady legs, relived to have survived the ordeal. He assumed there would be other evidence and testimony, but his part was done, and all he wanted to do was get out of there and go home, and maybe hide his face from the world forever.
Harvey appeared at his side as he exited into the corridor.
“Come on. Ray’s waiting for us downstairs.”
They drove to Harvey’s place in near silence, and then sat at the curb for a few minutes with the engine idling.
“How long until we hear the verdict?” asked Mike.
“Testimony will probably wrap up today or tomorrow, followed by closing arguments. Once it goes to the jury, who knows? Juries are notoriously hard to predict.”
“Although I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s open and shut, it’s pretty damn close.”
“Do you think Forstman will cause us any problems?”
Harvey frowned, considering. “You’ve already testified, so there’s nothing he can do to prevent that. All that’s left to him now is revenge. From what I’ve seen of him, he’d rather break his opponent’s spirit than break their kneecaps.”
Mike laughed mirthlessly. “Yeah, well, mission accomplished.”
Harvey grabbed his shoulder, causing Mike to flinch. “You’re still here, and today you had the chance to fight back and you took it. I’d say you’ve still got a little spirit left in you.”
“Maybe, like, an ounce.”
“Hold onto that. Sometimes that’s all you need to get your life back on track.”
His hand lingered on Mike. Then he sighed and nodded at the door on Mike’s side of the car. “Go on. I need to get back to the office. I doubt I’ll hear anything from Wolfe today, but if I do, I’ll give you a call.”
Mike shot a look at the driver, Ray, whose attention seemed fixed on traffic. He came to a quick decision, and leaned in to give Harvey a hasty peck on the lips. He made his escape before Harvey had a chance to react, nearly falling out of the car in his haste to get away.
The car pulled away from the curb.
“Aw, fuck,” Mike muttered. “That was …”
A mistake, obviously, but if he’d felt the spark that ricocheted between them, he was certain that Harvey had felt it, too.
Mike was asleep when Harvey got home after midnight. He didn’t stir when Harvey slid into the bed next to him. This would likely be one of the last nights they slept in the same bed. Harvey expected that once the case went to the jury, they’d be quick to come back with a guilty verdict. He should be happy about that. Ecstatic. He was ecstatic, but he was going to miss coming home to this.
He almost laughed out loud. What was this? A warm body in his bed – three feet away? Except for that one time, they hadn’t touched one another.
Then there had been that kiss Mike had given him, tentative and over so fast that he could almost have imagined it. A thank you kiss, he decided. Or perhaps a goodbye kiss.
If it had been virtually anybody but Mike lying there next to him – Mike, with his history – Harvey might have slid closer, gathered him into his arms, and demonstrated would sort of feelings had developed inside him in the weeks since they’d been thrown together.
But it was Mike, and starting anything with him felt like stepping into a minefield. So, Harvey rolled over, putting his back to Mike, and pretended he didn’t hear the nearly inaudible sigh of disappointment that drifted over to him from the other side of the bed.
Testimony in New York State v Charles Forstman wrapped up the following day. Closing arguments were scheduled for the next day, after which the case was expected to go to the jury. In a very real sense, nine strangers held Mike’s future in their hands.
In the bedroom that night, just enough moonlight filtered through the window to allow Mike to barely make out Harvey’s face. He was awake, seeming deep in thought as he stared at the ceiling.
“Do you think they’ll find him guilty?” Mike had lost track of how many time’s he’d asked the question.
Harvey rolled onto his side, propping his head on one hand. “I’m as close to one hundred percent sure as I’ve ever been about a jury before. You have nothing to worry about.”
Mike stared back at him through the shadows, struggling to untangle the complex knot of emotion that filled him. There was gratitude, certainly, and admiration, and an attraction that he’d been doing his best to ignore. He decided to focus on the gratitude, which seemed safest at the moment. “Did I ever thank you?”
A brief silence from Harvey. “No. As I recall, you specifically stated that I shouldn’t expect any thanks from you. Change of heart?”
Mike remembered his own words, but he was surprised that Harvey had remembered them as well. They seemed absurdly churlish now.
“That was before …”
Before I knew you? Before you held me in your arms, whispered in my ear, and worked my body like it was your personal instrument, while you expected nothing in return?
“I don’t know. Just before.”
Another weighted silence from Harvey. “Go to sleep,” he said after a bit, shifting onto his back once more.
There was nothing premeditated about Mike’s next actions. Shocking himself, and probably shocking Harvey as well, moving fast, he rolled over on top of Harvey and pressed his mouth to his, slipping his tongue inside before Harvey could react. He’d meant the kiss to be sweet, a quick, belated thank you. Instead, his desperation and insane longing burst to the surface and took hold, and any finesse he might have possessed was abandoned in favor of a violent plundering which bordered on assault.
Although he had every right to protest, and could have easily pushed Mike away, Harvey allowed the kiss. After perhaps half a minute, his hands rose to cup Mike’s face and he took control, pulling away briefly before returning more softly, placing a series of almost chaste pecks to the side of Mike’s mouth, on his cheek and chin. Then he waited, as if to see what Mike would do, and how far he intended to take things.
Both of them were breathing hard. One minute stretched into the next, and Harvey didn’t move. Mike got the message: it was up to him whether or not they continued. Curious, he worked a hand between them and brushed his fingertips up the front of Harvey’s briefs, finding him hard inside the soft cotton. Mike was every bit as hard.
He settled himself on top of Harvey with more deliberation than before and kissed him again, distracted by the effort of trying to remember what the act was supposed to feel like when it wasn’t a performance, when each lick, or sigh, or rub of flesh against flesh wasn’t a strategy meant to expedite the encounter and hurry his client to completion.
“What do you want?” whispered Harvey, and stupid tears pricked Mike’s eyes. That was his question, his professional inquiry. No one ever asked him that, not anymore, not for a long time.
In reply, he hooked one ankle around Harvey’s calf and rolled onto his back, bringing Harvey with him. “I want you to fuck me,” he said.
Harvey froze, leaning over him. “As long as you understand – ”
“Please don’t say it. I understand. This isn’t anything but what it is.” When Harvey didn’t move, he added huskily, “I want you.”
This seemed to satisfy Harvey. He covered Mike with his body, pressing him into the mattress, and tongued into his mouth while his hips ground down onto Mike’s, rubbing their cocks together. He continued for long minutes, as if there was nothing he’d rather be doing in that moment besides making out like they were horny teenagers.
“Harvey,” Mike whispered.
“I’d rather not come in my pants, if it’s all the same to you.”
“Mm. Maybe you should. Maybe I’d like to see that.”
“It’s not what I want.”
It was on the tip of his tongue to say the words out loud, but he managed to stop himself before he made that blunder. There would be no other times after this one. By tomorrow, this would all be over.
“Then tell me,” said Harvey.
“I already – ”
“Tell me again.” He gnawed on Mike’s neck, just under his ear, causing him to squirm with pleasure.
“I – ah, God, that feels good.”
“I want – ah, Jesus – I want you to fuck me.”
Harvey lifted up enough to pull off his underwear, and then helped Mike out of his pajama pants and t-shirt.
The feel of Harvey’s skin against his – smooth in places, rough in others, dusted with hair, underlaid with dense, ropy muscle – coaxed a low groan from Mike. He wanted nothing more than to close his eyes, to sink into sensation and let Harvey take the reins. It would be too easy, he realized, to mistake Harvey for one of his clients, so he resolutely kept his eyes open and fixed on Harvey’s face. This proved difficult when Harvey leaned in for another kiss, but they remained open, even when Harvey pulled back and gave him an odd look. Maybe he understood, because he didn’t remark on Mike’s wide-eyed gaze.
He kissed his way down Mike’s neck to his shoulder, and then his chest, where his teeth teased his nipples until they were tight and hard and damp with his saliva. He might have continued lower, but Mike stopped him with a trembling hand on his shoulder.
“No need for the grand tour,” he gasped.
Harvey’s look in response to that was quizzical, but he didn’t argue with Mike. “Okay,” he said, and stretched across him to the nightstand drawer for lube and condoms.
Mike lay passively and mostly still while Harvey spent his time opening him up. He appreciated the consideration, even though he didn’t require that level of care. He found himself studying the ceiling, as he’d done too many times before. He had dozens of hotel ceilings committed to memory, and even more bedspreads, headboards, and a few carpet patterns.
Harvey’s hands stilled and he sat back on his heels. “What’s wrong?” he asked, a faint, accusatory thread in his voice.
“Did you change your mind?”
Mike rolled violently onto his side and hugged one of Harvey’s pillows to his chest.
“What did I –”
“It’s not you. It’s my stupid brain.”
A few seconds of silence, and then, “Ah.”
“Yeah. Ah. Maybe it will all fade away eventually, but …”
“But it may take a while.”
Mike let out a disconsolate groan. “I’m sorry. This was a bad idea.”
“I shouldn’t have pushed you.”
“You know you didn’t. And it was nice. Until it wasn’t.”
He felt the flat of Harvey’s hand on his back. The warmth of his touch seeped into him, growing hotter as the seconds ticked past, until his flesh burned at that one point of contact. He sucked in air and breathed out on a shuddering sigh. Harvey’s hand moved across his skin, sketching a path from one shoulder blade to the other, and then traveling down his spine to the upper curve of his ass.
Harvey’s lips followed the same path his hand had taken, pressing soft, swift kisses as he went.
Mike allowed Harvey’s “grand tour” this time. He didn’t object when Harvey repositioned him on his back and kissed the inside of his thigh, or when his tongue traced a slow path up his cock, or when his lips closed around the tip and applied slow, soft, tortuous suction. Mike cradled Harvey’s head in his hands, digging his fingers into his hair, lifting his hips in shallow, careful jerks.
Harvey swallowed him down and Mike cried out in surprise. “Jesus,” he rasped, and now he wasn’t studying the ceiling, or worrying about who, exactly, it was who held his cock in his mouth and throat. It still mattered, but his mind and senses were filled with Harvey, and no one else. Nobody else had ever pleasured him with such tender skill.
When he had Mike panting and mewling mindlessly, he pulled off and smiled down at him. “You still want to get fucked?” he asked.
Not trusting his voice, Mike nodded, and nodded, and nodded.
Harvey turned on the lamp because he had to see him. Mike was so beautiful beneath him, so pliant and wide-eyed and vibrating with need.
Harvey knelt over his thighs and rolled on the condom, taking his time, letting Mike look his fill while he adjusted it just so. He lubed himself, maintaining eye contact. Mike licked his lips, and moved his legs so they fell over Harvey’s, as flexible and agile as an eel.
Harvey lined himself up and pushed inside, slow and careful, unwilling to cause even the slightest, briefest pain. Mike thrust up, grabbing Harvey’s thighs, and impaled himself.
“Shit,” gasped Harvey. Tight heat enveloped him, and he groaned at the exquisite feel of it. He was so deep inside, he could feel Mike’s racing pulse, as if he was pressed right up against his heart. He gazed down at their joining, using one finger to trace the spot where he disappeared inside of Mike.
“Harvey,” Mike whispered, sounding half-broken and desperate with pure want. His hands slipped around Harvey to clasp his bottom, pulling him closer still.
Propping himself up on arms that had begun to tremble, Harvey asked, “What do you want?” and watched Mike’s eyes darken as his pupils dilated, nearly obscuring his irises.
“Move,” Mike pleaded, voice strained. “Just … move.”
Harvey repositioned first one of Mike’s long legs and then the other so that they draped over his shoulders. Then he stretched out Mike’s arms and guided his hands to the headboard. “Hold on,” he ordered.
Perhaps growing impatient, Mike clenched his ass around him, using his interior muscles to squeeze Harvey’s cock.
“Fuck …” Harvey hissed, shutting his eyes and taking quick, deep gulps of air to calm himself. He laughed shakily. “Do that again and this is going to be over way too soon.”
Mike said nothing, just smiled up at him, soft and mischievous.
With one hand on Mike’s hip, and the other braced against the headboard, Harvey flexed his hips and gave Mike what he wanted. He plunged into him slowly and pulled out, savoring the hot, damp slide, the friction and the pressure. Mike matched his movements to Harvey’s, and they strove together in unison, sweat-slick bodies tangled together.
Harvey shifted his angle of entry and relished Mike’s full-throated cry of pleasure as he found the right spot inside of him and kept nailing it, over and over again.
Performing a brief, precarious balancing act, he helped Mike unpeel one hand from the headboard, and guided it to Mike’s cock. Then he resumed fucking him while Mike stroked himself off. It was a race to the finish line that neither of them wanted to win. They crossed the line within seconds of one another.
Mike arched, groaning and spilling hotly over both of them. With a half dozen or so more quick, strong thrusts, Harvey froze and held deep inside Mike, shuddering and cursing while he came. Mike’s legs slid from his shoulders to thud onto the mattress on either of side of him. Harvey collapsed on top of him, arms wrapped tightly around him, feeling the wild thump of both their hearts and listening to their labored breathing gradually slow.
The pulled apart eventually, and Harvey disposed of the condom and did a quick, perfunctory cleanup before climbing back into bed and opening his arms up for Mike, who fitted himself next to him as if they had been doing this for years.
The next day, closing arguments were given. Towards the end of the day, Wolfe called him. The verdict was in, Forstman had been found guilty on all counts, and he’d been taken into custody.
After hanging up the phone, Harvey allowed himself a few moments to savor the victory, even if technically it belonged to Wolfe, and not him. Then he called Mike to give him the good news.
“I thought you’d be more excited,” said Harvey when Mike responded with the bare minimum of enthusiasm.
“Of course I am. It’s great.”
“You get your life back,” Harvey reminded him.
“Yeah. I get that back.”
They were both quiet for a few seconds.
“Okay then,” said Harvey, “I’ll be home in a few hours.”
As soon as he set foot inside his front door, Harvey knew that Mike was gone. He wasn’t sure what, exactly, tipped him off. Maybe it was the utter quiet inside his place. Maybe whatever buzz or crackle of energy Mike carried with him left a void in his absence. Or maybe he’d taken his unique gravitational pull with him, leaving behind a dull flatness that was palpable.
Whatever it was, the realization that Mike was gone felt like a gut punch. Just to ensure he wasn’t imagining things, Harvey strode through the apartment, checking every room, and found no sign of Mike. He’d taken his suitcase and clothes, and not even left a note.
Wearily, Harvey set the bags of takeout he’d brought home with him on the kitchen counter and reached for the scotch.
This was a good thing, he told himself, pouring a drink preparatory to enjoying his solitude for the first time in weeks. He eased into his recliner and took a sip, savoring the heat as it slid down his throat. Clicking on the television, he searched for a ball game, but found only a rain delay. The cameras panned past dispirited Yankees fans, huddled together beneath plastic rain gear.
Harvey turned off the television, sipped his drink, and shut his eyes. He could do this. It was just a matter of getting used to the solitude once again.
Three days later, Harvey still wasn’t used to the solitude. He went to find Mike.
Mike might be unemployed and nearly penniless, but at least he had a place to stay for the next year. He could get by financially on what he’d been doing before Forstman. Lenny would take him back at the messenger company, providing he sweet-talked him a little and brought him a bag of his favorite breakfast burritos. He hadn’t completely burned his bridges in the fraudulent term paper and test-taking world, although he’d keep that as a last resort. Staying on the right side of the law seemed more important than usual these days.
For the first time in three years he didn’t have to worry finding a way to pay for his grandmother’s care. Having that pressure gone was an enormous relief and bought him some time to regain his equilibrium.
This newest episode in his life was … good. He didn’t have to fuck strangers to pay off an impossible debt. He no longer had to hole up in Harvey’s apartment all day. He could get back out into the world and stake his claim to whatever passed for the “normal” life that other people managed with such seeming ease.
The only problem was, once he came home and closed the door behind himself, he couldn’t seem to cross the threshold again, not even to go visit his grandmother. He hadn’t had a decent meal since he returned.
By the time Harvey showed up at his front door, he was dining on cold, three-day old Chinese takeout.
When a series of brisk raps shook his doorframe, he knew who it was. Who else could it have been? As he asked himself the question, he acknowledged the slight chance that Forstman had engineered some sort of revenge on him from behind bars. One look through his peephole confirmed that his first instinct had been correct. Harvey stood in his hallway, arms crossed, waiting for Mike to answer his summons.
He looked angry, but that could have been the fisheye effect of the peephole distorting his face. Staring out at him with one eye pressed to the door, Mike experienced a moment of disorientation. He could count nearly the exact number of times it had been him on the other side of the door, waiting for it to open. Harvey, at least, had the advantage of knowing who was on the other side.
If Mike had had any choice in the matter, he wouldn’t have opened the door, but it didn’t seem as if Harvey was planning to go away anytime soon. He raised his hand to knock again, and Mike swung the door open. Harvey lowered his fist. They stared at one another, neither speaking for several seconds. Harvey broke the silence first.
“You left without saying goodbye.”
He sounded accusatory and even a bit hurt, which was ridiculous. It wasn’t as if they’d been dating. Not even close. They’d fucked once. Well, twice, sort of.
Mike let out a sharp laugh. “The goodbye was implied.”
“Is that supposed to make sense?”
“What do you want?”
When Harvey’s eyes darkened, Mike realized he’d unconsciously spoken what had become his standard opening line, spoken to every man who’d won him in an auction. Harvey had recognized it, and remembered.
Of course he had.
In an attempt to recover from the awkwardness of the situation, Mike backed away from the door, leaving it for Harvey to enter or not.
Mike began gathering up empty takeout containers. He carried them to the kitchen and tossed them into the trash.
“I’d offer you something to drink,” he said, “but all I have is water.”
“I didn’t come here to drink.”
“Why did you come here?”
Harvey stalked towards him. Mike edged around him, back into the living room, where he sat on the couch, watching Harvey pace up and down the length of the room with a restless sort of grace.
“I missed you.”
Mike frowned. “You what, now?”
“I missed you. It doesn’t make any sense, but there you have it.”
“Okay, so you miss me.” Mike tried to sound cynical, but not so deep inside he was performing a manic dance of triumph and joy. He’d missed Harvey too, but he didn’t give him the satisfaction of saying so out loud. What he said was, “What do you expect me to do about that?”
“Come back.” Like it was obvious, and so simple.
“Um, first of all, no. Terrible idea.”
“We barely know one another. What you do know about me should send up so many red flags that you wouldn’t be caught within ten feet of me.”
“I know plenty about you.”
“Yeah? Name one good thing about me.”
“Too easy.” Harvey smiled,
“Yes, I’m too easy. That’s a given.”
“Okay. That, right there. You have a quick wit. I like that.”
Mike twisted his mouth to disguise his smile. “Go on …”
“You’re smart. Resilient. Kind, in spite of how life has treated you. You’re brave.”
That prompted a click of the tongue from Mike. “Agree to disagree.”
“You place far too much trust in the wrong people.”
“And you’re the right people?”
Mike leaned back into the couch cushions, interlaced hands resting on top of his head. “Okay. I’m delightful. I suppose I could stipulate to that. You’re not too bad either. None of that is a reason for me to come live with you.”
“Did I mention that I miss you?”
The whole conversation was ridiculous, but Mike couldn’t seem to stop smiling.
“Geez, Harvey, maybe there’s a middle ground you haven’t considered.” He waited a few seconds, but when Harvey didn’t offer any suggestions, Mike continued, “Like dating? I’ll admit it’s been kind of a foreign concept for me lately, but I’d be willing to give it a try with the right person.”
“Am I the right person?”
Instead of replying directly, Mike said, “My rent here is paid for the next year.”
“And if you want to convince me to move in with you, that’s how long you have. Think you can make your case within that timeframe?”
“Hm.” Harvey’s eyes narrowed, and his smile was positively wicked. “I don’t think it will take me that long.”
“See, that right there. You get me.”
Mike’s heart had begun to pound with excitement. This would never work, that much was clear, but even the failing could prove to be fun. He could use some fun in his life.
“Okay then,” he said, rising slowly to his feet, “ask me what I want.”