Authors: Kay Ellis
“Antonio? It's Devon. Will you come and get me?”
IN THE weeks that followed, Antonio was his rock. He was there whenever Devon needed him, sitting with him patiently when he was down and feeling sorry for himself, dining with him almost every night of the week, flying them out to his villa in France at weekends. Not once did Antonio say
I told you so
or remind Devon he had accused him of rape. Threatened him with the police. In fact, as an unspoken rule, Jesse was not mentioned at all.
However, it was impossible to ignore Devon's former lover's existence completely. For the first few days Jesse had called and text constantly. Devon ignored him, hoping Jesse would get the message. Eventually, the calls lessened, and then they stopped altogether. Devon thought he would be happier once Jesse was finally out of his life for good, but the truthâand the one thing he could not tell Antonioâwas that he was miserable without him.
The damn billboards were all over the city, impossible to avoid whenever Devon left his apartment. Jesse's picture was in every glossy magazine, one of them even running an interview. Devon had Emily go out and buy it, stashing it his desk drawer for a week before he could bring himself to read it. Jesse didn't mention him once, leaving Devon to wonder whether he was more hurt or relieved. The whole interview was rather impersonal, Devon thought. There was nothing of Jesse's past; no mention of his brutal upbringing, of the abuse he suffered or the time he spent incarcerated. Jesse spoke only of his aspirations for the future and his delight at being chosen as the subject of a television programme that was to follow his meteoric rise to fame.
Well, that should be interesting, Devon thought bitterly. If the documentary was to be honest it would have to include Jesse's drug-fuelled orgies, and where would that leave him? How fast would his new-found celebrity last once people saw him as he really was? What advertiser would want a coked-up former male prostitute at the head of their campaign? Devon tossed the magazine back into the drawer and slammed it shut just as the intercom on his desk buzzed into life.
“Mr. Alexander? There's someone here to see you. He doesn't have an appointment.”
Devon sighed and glanced at his watch. It was almost noon. He had planned on lunch with Antonio before working from home for the rest of the afternoon. “Who is it, Emily?”
He waited impatiently, listening to the murmur of voices over the intercom while Emily asked the visitor for his name. The girl still had much to learn about being a personal assistant. Establishing identity should have been the first thing she did. For all she knew, the man could be a reporter prying into his connection with Jesse.
“He says his name is Mark Walker,” Emily finally said.
“Send him in.” Devon found himself with the first genuine smile on his face since he'd caught Jesse in bed with three other people.
The door opened and Mark stepped into his office. Devon had to admit he looked pretty damn good, dressed in a dark pinstripe suit, his blond hair swept back, green eyes sparkling. Mark pulled him into a bear hug, squeezing the air from his lungs. Devon was laughing as Mark released him, thinking he had never been so pleased to see a friendly face.
“What are you doing here?”
“Business,” Mark said, pulling a face. “And it's boring the crap out of me, so I thought I'd swing by and take you out to lunch.” He held Devon at arm's length and gave a questioning look. “That's if your fiancÃ© will allow it.”
“No fiancÃ©,” Devon told him ruefully.
“Come on.” He grabbed his jacket from the back of the chair. “I'll tell you over lunch. Where are you taking me?”
“Hey, you're the native here.” Mark grinned. “I'm trusting you to take us somewhere good.”
They left the building together, giving Emily instructions to call Antonio and tell him something had come up, and walked around the corner to a small Italian restaurant Devon often took his clients to for lunch. The manager greeted him warmly and gave them a good table in a quiet corner. Devon caught him giving Mark an appraising look when he brought the menu. Was there anybody who didn't think his love life was their business?
“So,” Mark asked once they were alone again. “Tell me what went wrong. I thought you were coming back to marry him.”
Devon shrugged. “You know how it is. You fly home to tell someone you love him, want to spend the rest of your life with him. And when you get there, he's in the middle of a rampant sex session with multiple partners, too stoned to get out of bed.”
“Ah,” Mark nodded wisely. “Don't you hate it when that happens?”
Despite himself, Devon laughed. “Anyway, marrying him suddenly didn't seem such a good idea. I wish I could say I haven't seen him since, but....”
He gestured toward the window at the front of the restaurant and the bus stop outside with Jesse's picture staring down at the passersby from the end panel.
“That's your guy?” Mark sounded surprised. “I can see how it would be tough avoiding him. His face is all over the city.”
“Tell me about it. Anyway, enough about Jesse. I want to be allowed to forget him for a bit.”
“I might have just the thing,” Mark said. “I have this boring charity dinner to go to tonight and I don't want to go alone. Come with me. As friends, of course. No pressure, no expectations, no strings. What do you say?”
“A night out with a good-looking man and no strings?” Devon pretended to give the matter some thought. Thanks to Antonio, it wasn't as if he actually needed a night out, but it would make a pleasant change to go somewhere on the arm of a handsome date. And Mark
pleasant company. If anyone could make him forget about Jesse for a few hours, it was Mark. Maybe they'd even get their picture in the papers and it would be Jesse's turn to wonder what Devon was doing and who he was doing it with. “I'd love to come.”
“Great. Give me your address and I'll pick you up.”
They finished their lunch, chatting about nothing in particular, comfortable in each other's company. Afterward, they exchanged numbers before Mark left for a meeting and, instead of going home to work as he had planned, Devon took a black cab into the city and shopped for a new suit.
Later, studying his reflection in the floor-length mirror in the bedroom, he was pleased with what he saw. Since his split with Jesse, he had lost weight and looked positively slim-line. His new charcoal-grey suit and lavender shirt, with black patent-leather shoes, fit him to a T. If Jesse could see him now, he would be beside himself with lust. There had been numerous occasions in the past when they hadn't made it out of the apartment after Jesse saw him all dressed up. He hadn't been dressed for long once Jesse got his way.
But enough of that. Tonight was about forgetting Jesse for a short while, not wasting time reminiscing about long-past liaisons. Devon grabbed his wallet from the dresser before heading downstairs to meet Mark.
Mark whistled appreciatively when he saw him. Leaning forward to kiss Devon's cheek, he whispered in his ear, “He was crazy to let you go.”
Much to Devon's relief, it was all Mark had to say on the subject. In the car he talked about his meeting, even going so far as to ask Devon's advice on how he should proceed. He had a good head on his shoulders, Devon discovered, and didn't like to be hurried when it came to making decisions. Privately, he resolved to find a way for Alexander Industries to work with Mark at some point in the future.
Devon glanced at Mark sideways as he weaved his hire car through the early-evening traffic. Erica would love him. Handsome, close to Devon's own age, and rich. Exactly what any mother would want for her gay bachelor son. He wondered how he would react if Mark made a move on him. Certainly he liked him, was attracted to him even, but was he sufficiently over Jesse to consider anyone else?
Laughing at himself, he turned to look out the window. He was getting ahead of himself. Mark had given no indication he was interested in anything more than friendship and, regardless of how Devon felt about moving on from Jesse, it was clear Mark was nowhere near over the death of his beloved Johnny.
THE CHARITY dinner took place in one of the city's most prestigious hotels. Devon had been to functions there a couple of times. Mark held his arm lightly as he guided him through the crowds of expensive suits and glittering socialites to their table. Devon took his seat and looked around the room with interest.
He recognized a few business associates at neighbouring tables, and several famous faces from film and television. To his surprise, Antonio was seated a couple of tables away with yet another new and boyish young man hanging on his every word. He hadn't mentioned the dinner, or the latest love interest, to Devon. After three months, could it be Antonio was tiring of babysitting him? Or did he simply want a rare night to himself and the chance to get his wicked way with a willing young man? Devon caught Antonio's eye and waved, but made no effort to go over. Let the man enjoy his evening without having to deal with Devon's problems for once.
Across the room, a large group gathered around one of the tables burst into raucous laughter, causing heads to turn their way. Devon glanced over, curious to know which celebrity in their midst was the subject of so much fawning attention. A few people moved away to take their seats, opening up a gap in the group, and Devon found himself staring into a pair of dark-brown eyes that were painfully familiar. Jesse smiled slightly as his gaze met Devon's, and Devon swore his heart flipped over.
God, Jesse looked good, a million miles away from the drugged-out mess he had been the last time Devon saw him. He was dressed in black Armani with a crisp white shirt and a pale-blue tie. Fuck, he was wearing the same tie he had tied Devon up with the night he broke into his apartment. Did that mean something? No, there was no way Jesse could have known Devon would be there. He was wearing it because it was a nice tie, not for sentimental reasons.
The group dispersed as the time for the meal to start neared and Jesse moved away, apparently reluctant to break eye contact until he was forced to by the woman who grabbed possessively at his arm. Devon recognized her. Stella Van Rooyen was only a few years younger than he was, a wealthy former glamour model who was something of a minor celebrity due to regular appearances on second-rate reality television shows and a long string of affairs with younger men. Why the hell was she with Jesse? Or, more to the point, why was Jesse with her? He was about to begin filming his own show. Surely he had no need of a bitch like Van Rooyen to help his career. Being seen as her latest conquest could only damage his reputation. Nobody would take him seriously once his association with Stella became public knowledge.
“Want me to go over there and kick his ass for you?” Mark murmured in a conspiratorial whisper.
Devon turned to look at him and smiled. “Thanks for the offer, but....”
“But you still love him?”
“It's not that.”
“It's exactly that,” Mark countered. “I saw your face when you realized he was here. You couldn't take your eyes off him.”
“Me and every woman in the room. Probably quite a few of the men, too,” Devon argued.
He glanced over to Antonio's table, where Antonio was deep in conversation with his date and seemingly unaware of Jesse's presence. Had he known Jesse was going to be there? Perhaps that was the reason he hadn't invited Devon to the dinner. Antonio knew Devon wouldn't be able to help himself. All Jesse had to do was crook a finger in his direction and Devon would go running back to him.
“Talk to him,” Mark said, adeptly reading Devon's thoughts. “My guess is, he'd take you back like a shot, but you need to remember you have a habit of hurting each other. Do you really think either of you can go through it all again?”
Turning away from him, Devon scanned the room. He'd lost track of Jesse while talking to Mark, and whichever table he was seated at, he was no longer in Devon's line of sight. Devon swallowed a bitter pang of disappointment, resolving to focus his energies on the man who was his date for the evening.
Mark was courteous and attentive, chatting amiably about anything and everything other than the fact Devon's ex-lover was in the room. If Devon had an ounce of intelligence or self-preservation, he would forget Jesse and see if there was any chance of taking things further with Mark. Mark would clearly be the safer option, but try as he might, Devon could only see him as a friend. A good friend, maybe, but nothing more. It was impossible to look at him and feel anything like the way he felt whenever he looked at Jesse.
The meal proved to be excellent and the auction was the most Devon had enjoyed himself in ages. He indulged himself by bidding on a pair of designer shoes, paying three times their worth. He would give them to Erica, who had a penchant for expensive shoes. Maybe it would go some way to rebuilding their relationship. Mark generously overpaid for a spa weekend, while Antonioârather conceitedly, Devon thoughtâbought one of his own photographs for an obscene amount of money. From the other end of the room, he could hear the shrill tones of Stella Van Rooyen bidding excitedly on a skiing holiday in France. Devon craned his neck to see where she was sitting, spinning back around in astonishment when Mark outbid Stella by a thousand pounds. There were loud protests of disappointment from the other end of the room as the woman grudgingly accepted she was beaten.
Mark met his dumbfounded gaze and shrugged innocently. “What?”
“I thought you said you didn't ski.”
“I don't, but I figured if she won, she'd take your boy with her. I didn't think you'd want that.”
“Well, thank you,” Devon said, more harshly than he intended. “But as I've already explained, Jesse and I are over. If he wants to embarrass himself by hanging around with some over-inflated airhead, that's his problem. It's none of my concern.”