“I’m looking for a new home,” he said, unable to meet Marque’s eyes. His fist was curled painfully tight in his lap. “And I’m hoping to find one here.”
He flinched as soon as the words were out of his mouth, regretting them instantly. More than a home, he was looking for a sanctuary, a place where he could stop running at last. It had been over two years now since his family had died, but some part of him was still afraid that the nameless men who had murdered them would somehow manage to track him down and finish what they’d started. The thought of being employed at an establishment that was large enough to hide him—to protect him—was enormously appealing.
When he dared to look up again, he expected to be met by a flash of amusement or pity in the other man’s eyes. It was a surprise when he saw neither.
Marque’s expression was serious. “Come here, Vincent.” He held out one hand in invitation.
Tentatively, Vincent pushed himself to his feet. His heart was starting to thunder in his chest, making his palms sweat. He didn’t know why he was so nervous; Marque was just a man, after all… albeit a very intense and disarming one. Vincent had shared his body with scores of strangers during his months on the road as he’d fled his homeland, and he knew very well how the game was played. Men tended to find him alluring, or exotic, or at least amusing, and he didn’t hesitate to take advantage of that.
He couldn’t afford to. Not anymore.
Marque’s fingers were strong around his, pulling him in close as Marque rose to his feet. Vincent stared up at him, fighting a wave of dizziness as the other man’s heat rolled over him. Marque had the most penetrating eyes he had ever seen; they seemed to bore into him, peeling away his skin layer by layer until they focused on the weary heart that quivered beneath.
“It’s going to be okay,” Marque said, tucking Vincent’s hair back behind his ear. Vincent closed his one good eye and shivered. Marque still hadn’t let go of his hand.
It wasn’t a surprise at all when Marque’s fingers brushed the underside of his chin, turning his face upward. The caress was ginger, tentative, as if he were giving Vincent the opportunity to change his mind and pull away. Which was sweet, really, but any choice Vincent might have had about this course of action had already been made before he’d gotten here.
He responded readily when Marque kissed him. The kiss wasn’t particularly demanding, but there was an implacability to it that Vincent found somehow comforting. He sensed that he was being evaluated even in this, that his every reaction was being held up on display for this man to dissect and pass judgment on. He turned his mind away from that knowledge and tried to focus on making the kiss good for Marque… on showing that he could be good for the House of Silence.
Marque smiled at him. “I understand you’re here to apply for a job?”
“Oh! Yes, of course.” He moved around from the back of the bar and stood next to Marque, remembering why he’d come here. “I’d very much like to find employment in your establishment.”
Marque gazed at him consideringly as he walked toward the long sofa next to the fireplace, taking another sip of his drink as he sat down and made himself comfortable. Tam moved to sit at the other end of the couch, tucking one foot up underneath himself.
“Have you ever traded sex for money before?” Marque asked.
“Well, no. Not for money.” Tam made a face. “That always seemed a little déclassé, if you know what I mean.”
“And yet you’re here asking for work now?”
“As it turns out, déclassé is exactly what I’m into at the moment.” He hesitated, wondering if he’d said too much. But Marque’s gaze continued to be coolly evaluating, without any kind of censure. “Not that there’s anything wrong with whoring per se. I mean, it’s all perfectly legit, right? No legal complications?” It would have made the job even more appealing if there were, but he didn’t say that part out loud. He was still so pissed at his old man that he was willing to do just about anything to shrug off the Temetria name. “It’s just got a reputation. A little seedy, maybe a little sordid.”
“A seedy occupation appeals to you?”
“Sure it does.” He leaned forward, tightening his fingers around his glass. “But there’s more to it than that. It’s different here. I mean, a big, ancient place like this one, with this House’s reputation? It’s kind of seedy and glamorous all at the same time.”
Marque’s mouth twitched in what might have been a smile. “I see. So you’re attracted to the glamour of it all.”
“Well, no. Not exactly.” Best to quash those kinds of notions right at the start. “It’s the seediness that appeals to me, pure and simple. I mean, I’m not proud. I’ll do whatever you want me to do to make the customers happy. I’m looking forward to it, actually.” He only wished his father could find out someday what vocation he’d chosen to pursue; he was tempted to send him a postcard detailing that very thing, except that he wasn’t near brave enough to do it.
Reiji’s eyes narrowed. Taking a quick step forward, he reached out to press his palm against the door and slammed it shut in front of Marque’s nose. Marque’s eyes flickered toward him in surprise; Reiji might be a skinny little punk, but he was stronger than he looked.
“I’m having an awfully hard time reading you,” Reiji said, glaring at him.
Marque raised his eyebrow. “I think I’ve been refreshingly direct with you.”
Arrogant bastard. “Stop fucking around. First you buy me dinner, then you tell me you own a whorehouse and offer me a job. Then you bring me to your place and give me this absolutely ridiculous room to sleep in. And then,” he narrowed his eyes even further, “you act like you’re just going to walk out of here without cashing in. Can we just get to the part where I pay you already and have done with it? The suspense is killing me.”
Marque regarded him in silence for a moment. Then, “No.”
Reiji stared at him. “No?”
“No.” Marque’s voice was infuriatingly calm. “Not like this.”
“I don’t think you understand what—”
“The dinner,” Marque said, speaking over him, “is free. The use of the room tonight is also free. Anything further, we’ll discuss in the morning after you’ve rested.”
Reiji’s face heated, which made him even angrier. “You’re a fucking coward.”
Marque sighed. “Will you please release the door now so I can leave? I do have a business to tend to.”
“You bastard. You’re lucky I didn’t lay you on your ass when you grabbed me on the street tonight. I’ve been practicing martial arts for years, you know.”
“It’s a good thing you didn’t try. My chauffeur would not have taken kindly to the attempt.”
His chauffeur? What the hell? Like some overpaid servant who drove a car for a living was going to be any use to Marque in a brawl. “I could lay you on your ass right now if I felt like it.”
This time when Marque looked at him, there was a glint of warning in his eyes. “I really wouldn’t recommend it.”
That glint made Reiji draw up short in his tirade, an uncomfortable shiver moving down his spine. He shook the feeling off angrily, dropping his hand to his side. “I just don’t know what the hell you want.”
Marque seemed to consider the question. “Right now,” he said, “I want to return to my work. I want to know that you’re comfortable here in this room for the evening, and that you’ll still be here in the morning. Then I want to pick up this conversation again with you after you’ve slept, and talk more about you coming to work here.”
Reiji stared at him for a moment. Then he took another step forward and pressed his palm against the front of the other man’s slacks, curling his fingers around the flesh there. “Are you sure you want to leave this room right now? I’m here, and I’m willing, and you can do whatever you damn well want to me in exchange for letting me stay here tonight.”
It had to be Reiji’s imagination that Marque shivered, just slightly. He dipped his head forward with a small smile and reached down to pull Reiji’s hand away from his body. “No, Reiji.”
Reiji yanked his wrist out of his grip. “Coward,” he said again, sneering.
Danny steeled himself; this was where Marque would ask why a kid his age wasn’t living at home where he belonged. He’d already made the decision that if he was asked, he was going to tell the truth about his circumstances, regardless of how difficult it would be for him.
To his surprise, Marque let the matter go. Leaning back in his chair, he fixed Danny with another of those weighing gazes. “You do realize what we do here?”
“Yes.” That was very firm. “I’m not a child, Mr. Marque. I’ve had sex before, dozens of times, with a lot of different men. I get a lot of offers.”
Marque smiled slightly at that. “No doubt.”
The heat in Danny’s face deepened, but he plowed ahead relentlessly. “I’ve never sold myself like this before—not that I’m against the idea,” he amended hastily. “I mean, it’s different on the street, you know? It can be dangerous.”
“Very.” Marque nodded seriously. “A lot of people choose to do it anyway.”
“I’m not that desperate.” Yet, he amended silently. A bite of despair rose in him at the thought; he hoped Marque wouldn’t be able to see it. Curling his hands into fists on his knees, he leaned forward, holding Marque’s gaze. “But this place is different. Kadin tells me there are protections in place here, security, and that each of the guests is thoroughly investigated before they’re ever allowed inside. It’s safe here.”
“Is that what you’re looking for, Danny? Safety?” Marque seemed sincerely interested in his answer.
“Partially.” He’d promised himself he was going to be honest. “I think I mostly just want a place where I can feel welcome, where I can work and earn my keep and be around other people who are like me. A… a home, I guess you could say.” He smiled dryly. “It’s been a while since I’ve had one.”
He couldn’t read the expression in Marque’s eyes at all, or begin to guess whether it boded well or ill for him. It surprised him when Marque stood up abruptly and held out one hand toward him. Danny pushed himself to his feet hastily and took hold of the offered hand, feeling Marque’s fingers curl around his. Marque’s palm was dry and cool against his own.
“Danny,” Marque said, looking down into his eyes with a serious expression. “I’d like to take you into the other room now and determine just how suited you are to working in this House.”
Danny swallowed hard, his chest tightening. He didn’t have to be a mind reader to understand what that meant.
“Yes.” He was proud that his voice didn’t wobble at all when he said it. He tightened his fingers around Marque’s hand, trying to show that he wasn’t afraid. “I’d like that.”
“I want this one, Charon.” Montgomery’s voice was clipped. His eyes didn’t leave Reiji’s face. “I trust you can have him ready within half an hour?”
This time Charon’s eyes narrowed, just slightly. He glanced at Reiji, frowning a question at him.
Reiji shrugged. He wasn’t about to be intimidated by this arrogant asshole of a lord. “I’m game.” He finished off the rest of his water, feeling suddenly thirsty. “Starting work early this afternoon means extra wages, right?”
“Splendid.” Montgomery smiled tersely at him, having turned his attention away from Charon entirely. “I’ll expect you to be showered and dressed in suitable attire. Bring whatever accoutrements you customarily provide for your customers’ use. Until then.”
It was an obvious dismissal. Reiji glared at him, but Montgomery was already turning away and walking toward the lobby. Probably to let his driver know he was going to be staying for the evening; Reiji wondered if the poor man was going to be expected to wait in the car outside until his boss was finished playing.
“My ‘accoutrements’?” Reiji let a hint of incredulity creep into his voice. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
Charon looked worried. “Don’t feel you have to go through with this, Reiji. Lord Montgomery isn’t one of the House’s usual guests.”
In later years, Reiji might learn to have more trust in his boss’s instincts, but as it was, he bristled at the suggestion that he might not be capable of doing his job. “Don’t worry about me, Charon. I’ll take good care of him.”
Seeing the ferocity on Reiji’s face, Charon sighed. “He’s never been a guest in this House before, but I know he likes hurting boys, Reiji. If you’re not ready for that—”
“It’s not the first time I had a client who likes to play the pain game.” Reiji didn’t get off on the whole BDSM thing himself, but he knew how to go through the motions of it if the pay was right. “It won’t be anything I haven’t done before.”
For a moment he thought Charon was going to say he’d changed his mind, and he was going to choose another boy for Montgomery that evening after all. Reiji braced himself for a fight, annoyed by the thought that Charon might not have faith in him.
Charon gave him a considering look, then nodded and turned back toward his office. “You’d better go get ready, then,” he said. There was a weight to the words that made Reiji uneasy. “Lord Montgomery isn’t going to be happy if you’re late.”