Authors: Kay Ellis
“Bad feeling?” Jesse echoed in disbelief. “You raâ”
“I misread the signals, sweetie,” Antonio interrupted sharply. “I'm sorry, you can't blame me for finding you so terribly handsome. See it as a compliment.”
“A compliment? That you forced me?”
is such a strong word.” Antonio seemed oblivious to Jesse's anger. “You're not entirely innocent yourself, darling. You could have said no.”
“I did! I told you I didn't want to.”
“Are you sure about that?” Antonio challenged. “Because I don't remember you saying any such thing. Are you sure you used those exact words? Did you ever
“Yes! No... I don't know....” Jesse glanced toward Devon, frightened and confused.
“Antonio, I think you should go now,” Devon said, stepping between them. Jesse was shaking visibly and close to tears. Whatever game Antonio was playing, Devon was not going to stand by and let him get his sick thrill from watching Jesse crumble before his eyes.
“Not until you agree to talk to me,” Antonio said stubbornly.
“Fine, we'll talk. But not here and not now. Come by the office tomorrow.”
“It's a date.” Antonio gave Jesse a last lingering look and turned to go. “I miss you, Devon. Don't let this silly situation with some boy ruin our friendship.”
âthat was all Jesse would ever be to Antonio. A temporary distraction. A fuck-and-dump, as Devon had heard Antonio refer to young men countless times before. He must have been appalled to realise Jesse would be staying. Devon almost felt sorry for him. All the future held for Antonio was an endless string of meaningless conquests. He had known Jesse was with Devon and he had gone after him anyway because he couldn't stand for Devon to have something he didn't.
As soon as he had seen Antonio out the front door, Devon returned to the living room to see Jesse had disappeared. It was no surprise. He hoped this incident wasn't going to set Jesse back just as he was getting over the last one.
He found him in the bedroom, huddled on the bed with his arms wrapped around his long legs. Crossing the room, Devon perched on the edge of the bed beside him.
“I will be.” He gave a weak smile. “I wouldn't blame you, you know. You've been friends with him forever. If you want to choose himâ”
“But if you didâ”
“Jess, will you listen to me, please? You could never come between me and Antonio. He's the one trying to come between us. And in case you hadn't noticed, I already chose you.”
“You mean it?”
“Yes, I mean it,” Devon promised, leaning toward him with a wicked smile. “And alsoâin case you hadn't noticedâI'm not wearing any underwear.”
Jesse grinned and pulled him into his arms.
THE MEETING with Antonio did not go well. He sailed into Devon's office, all airs and graces, expecting Devon to fall to his knees and beg for forgiveness. What
needed forgiving for, Devon could not fathom. For a while, he listened while Antonio talked. It soon became apparent that, while Devon featured heavily in Antonio's plans for the future, Jesse did not. Was that really what Antonio thought? That if Devon was friends with him again, Jesse was out of the picture? If that was the plan, what the hell had his poor excuse of an apology been about?
Eventually, when Antonio paused for breath in between describing all the expensive trips they were going to take and the lavish dinner parties they would host side by side, Devon told him straight: Jesse was staying. And for as long as Jesse was around, which Devon hoped would be a very long time, Antonio was to keep the hell away from both of them.
Naturally, Antonio took offence. After that he argued, pleaded with Devon to reconsider. And then he got angry. He called Jesse every name under the sun, even though Devon couldn't see how any of it was Jesse's fault. It ended with Antonio swearing Devon hadn't heard the last of the matter before he stormed out of the office, slamming the door behind him. It would blow over, Devon thought, ignoring the knot of worry gnawing at his stomach. He would protect Jesse at home and ask Kenny to keep an eye on him at work. The worst Antonio could do was call his mother, and Devon was determined not to allow either of them to ruin things for him.
On the up side, finally secure in the knowledge Devon had chosen him over his friendship with his arch-nemesis, Jesse flourished. There was the offer of another lucrative advertising campaign on the table and, despite the sleazy exec's threat of having him blacklisted, he was talking to a production company about another reality TV show. Big things were happening for Jesse, but apart from work, he barely left Devon's side.
And while it was all very well acting like an old married couple at Devon's age, Jesse was still in his teens. It didn't seem right for him to spend every evening at home, curled up on the sofa in front of the television, but much as Devon tried to persuade him, Jesse wouldn't have it otherwise.
A couple of weeks after the disastrous meeting with Antonio, Devon's mother turned up at the office. He had been expecting her. The only surprise was that it had taken her this long. Devon had no doubt Antonio would have told Erica everything the moment he failed in his bid to split up him and Jesse. Should he be worried Erica had spent two weeks plotting before making her move?
As usual, Erica swept past Emily without so much as a cursory acknowledgment and bowled into Devon's office. She lowered herself into the chair on the other side of the desk and stared down her nose at him. No hug, no kiss hello; strictly business, then. Devon could live with that. Probably best to avoid the topic of Jesse altogether.
“Mother, how wonderful to see you,” he said dryly. “Although I thought you detested coming into the city these days.”
“One has to get to see you somehow, dear, and as you refuse to come and visit me....” his mother replied. “Besides, I have concerns about the way in which my business is being run.”
“Excuse me?” Devon stared at her in shock. Where the fuck had
come from? He was conducting business no differently than he had before. For Erica to suggest there was a problem was ridiculous.
“This is still my company, Devon. You would do well to remember that. If I disagree with the direction things are heading, I'm more than entitled to do something about it.”
“I see.” Devon leaned back in his chair and glared at his mother across the desk. “This is about Jesse, isn't it?”
“You know damn well who, Mother.”
“Oh, you must be referring to the child you're currently living with. Antonio did mention the boy had wormed his way back in. And into your home this time! Really, dear, is it any wonder I'm questioning your judgment?”
“My being with Jesse has nothing to do with the way I run this company,” Devon said furiously. “And Jesse is not a childâfar from it!”
“He's only with you for your money. Why do you refuse to see that?”
“Mother, in case you hadn't noticed, he's one of this country's top models. He has his own money.”
“I'm sure he's not averse to the idea of having more.” Erica sniffed. “I want you to finish with him. End this ridiculous relationship and find someone more... suitable.”
Direct as ever, Devon thought, but when had his mother ever held back on her opinions, however offensive or hurtful? His whole life he had listened and obeyed, changing his plans, university, career choice, and his friends, all because Erica told him it was the way things had to be. Well, not this time. Jesse was too important.
“Sorry, Mother, but I'm not giving Jesse up.”
Erica pursed her lips in displeasure, unaccustomed to being disagreed with. Folding her hands in her lap, she regarded him calmly. For a moment she seemed deep in thought, wondering how best to proceed.
“I want to meet him.”
The very idea of Jesse being in the same room as Erica was horrifying. If Jesse was traumatized by Antonio, Erica would finish him off altogether. There was no way Devon was putting him in that situation. Erica wouldn't like being defied again, but Jesse came first. And he was too fragile to meet the mother-in-law from hell.
“Sweetheart, I'm afraid I must insist,” Erica said in a tone that bore no argument. “I'm staying at the Hilton. I'll book a table for half seven. If you really want to keep this boy in your life, you'll be there.”
“Fine.” Devon gave up. Sometimes it was easier to just agree to his mother's demands. Jesse wouldn't like it, but if he really objected to going, Devon wouldn't make him. “Half seven. We'll see you then.”
Seemingly satisfied, Erica nodded and got to her feet. A moment later she was gone, leaving only a waft of expensive perfume in her wake.
Sighing, Devon picked up his phone. He dialled Jesse's number and listened to it ring out before going to voice mail. Leaving a curt
message, he hung up with a frown. He didn't remember Jesse saying he was going out, and Devon was sure there had been no mention of work. Maybe he was in the shower, or asleep. God, he sounded so possessive!
It was a whole twelve and a half minutes before Jesse returned Devon's call, and hearing the breathlessness in his voice, Devon was instantly suspicious. The unwelcome image of Jesse naked on a bed mid-orgy came to mind and, try as he might, he couldn't push it away. What was Jesse doing to get so out of breath at this time of day? Was he with someone? Was he cheating...
As soon as he thought it, Devon felt ashamed. Jesse had been different back then; their relationship was different. Even so, he couldn't stop the questions pouring from his lips.
“Where are you? What are you doing? Is anyone there with you?”
“I'm at the gym. I'm working out. I'm with Kenny,” Jesse replied, somewhat abruptly. “Is that okay with you?”
Shit! Now Jesse thought Devon was unable to trust him and he was mad at him. Hardly the perfect moment to bring up the small matter of dinner with Erica. However, it had to be done. Springing it on him tonight would only make things worse.
Jesse listened quietly while Devon explained his mother's visit, and how she had demanded they dine with her that night. Devon finished speaking and there was a lengthy pause before Jesse answered.
“Are you kidding me?”
“Do I have to?”
Devon understood his reluctance. Shared it, even. Dinner with Erica would be a nightmare for both of them, but there was no way out of it. Maybe a miracle would happen and she would see Jesse wasn't the demon she imagined. Maybe she would even come to like him. Devon had to give Erica a chance and trust she had asked to meet Jesse because she was prepared to give him a chance in return.
“Please, Jesse,” he said. “Just this once, and if she's not at least halfway decent toward you, I promise you'll never have to see her again.”
LATER that evening, they took a taxi to the hotel. Devon thought he would need a few stiff drinks to see him through the evening. Jesse looked stunning, tall and handsome in his charcoal suit and black shirt. It was only the anxiety in his dark eyes that revealed his nervousness. During the ride to the hotel, he reverted to the frightened child he became when faced with any difficult situation. He worried his thumbnail with his teeth until Devon took hold of his wrist and gently pulled his hand away from his mouth. He squeezed Jesse's hand in encouragement as he led him across the busy restaurant and to the table where his mother waited for them.
Erica eyed Jesse coldly as he slipped self-consciously into his seat. The half-hearted smile of greeting died on his lips beneath her steely glare and he looked to Devon for reassurance. Devon gave a small shake of his head, silently telling him not to rise to the bait.
“Sweet Jesus, he's even younger than I thought,” Erica said, addressing Devon and ignoring Jesse altogether.
“I'm nineteen,” Jesse mumbled, the heat rising in his cheeks.
“Well, doesn't that make everything okay, then?” Erica snapped, shooting him a look of utter contempt.
“Mother!” Devon was forced to intervene sooner than he had hoped. But with Erica launching into full attack mode from the outset, and Jesse looking set to flee the table, he had to say something. “If you're not going to be nice, we won't stay. Why ask us here if you're not prepared to give Jesse a chance?”
“Fine. Let's order, shall we?” Erica glanced at Jesse over the top of her menu. “I assume you can read, but it's probably best you let Devon order for you. Although I'm not sure chicken nuggets are on the menu.”
Jesse stared at her for a long moment before turning to Devon with his sexiest smile. “I
you to order for me,” he said in a husky whisper. “After all, you know
what I like.”
Ducking his head behind the menu to hide his smile, Devon felt inordinately proud of him. Jesse could so easily have crumbled under Erica's animosity, but instead he chose to fight back. And he was doing it in a way he knew would irritate Erica the most, by flaunting his relationship with her son. Devon couldn't have done better himself.
While they waited for the food to arrive, Devon made a strained attempt at polite small talk with his mother. Jesse sat in silence and toyed with the stem of his empty wine glass. He wasn't enjoying the evening, Devon could tell, but he was prepared to try and make his peace with Erica. Not an easy task when, if she wasn't allowed to insult him, Erica was opting to ignore him instead. Devon wished he had the nerve to do as he'd threatened and simply walk away, but there was a small part of him that wanted to see where this was heading and if Erica had any intention of giving Jesse a break.