AN: So, I might be watching too many cheesy Hallmark Christmas movies… It's not my fault, the semester is over so I have a lot of free time and I swear they play 'Borrowed Hearts' every night on TV (okay, maybe I have it PVR'd). Anyways, I needed to get this out of system and after the holidays it will be right back to 'Kailin's Keeper'. Promise :P
Husband for the Holidays
Through the slush, Preston jogged across the parking lot and down the side alley leading to the employee entrance of the private club. The bright blue, neon FORUM sign lit up the side of the building. He pushed open the heavy metal door with its flaking silver paint; at the same time adjusting the shoulder strap on his bag. Fuck, he was late, and on a Friday too, their busiest night. The large, burly bouncer just inside the door gave him a nod as he rushed past, heading for the break room. It was empty and Preston dumped his bag in his locker, cursing the city buses which were always running behind. Tonight it had taken nearly 30 minutes longer than usual: like everyone forgot how to drive after the first snowfall of the winter. He stripped off his red, hooded sweatshirt (courtesy of Wal-Mart) and dragged on a sheer, black sleeveless top. The thin material moulded to his torso. He was already wearing the rest of his uniform: fitted black, leather pants and new-looking black combat boots. In deference to the holiday season, he grabbed the red Santa hat on the bench by the door and jammed it on his unruly blond hair before rushing out.
He could feel the thumpa-thumpa of the music before he could hear it. And as he pushed open the back entrance into the club floor, he let the vibrations and the sound of the music wash over him. The club was filling up fast, the lights and smoke machines already going strong on the dance floor.
Half a dozen of the Forum's male dancers were holding court on the main stage, in various stages of undress. Preston torn his eyes away from the provocative scene and made a beeline for the long bar.
"You're late, Handsome."
Dodging a barstool, Preston leaned against the edge of the dark, shellaqued bar top. He looked at the shirtless stud who had addressed him. "Sorry, Julian. The bus was behind again, the roads were hell."
"Are you going for a studious look tonight? I have to tell you, it isn't going to net you more tips."
Preston stared at him, "Huh?"
Reaching over the bar, Julian Martinez, bartender and bar manager, tapped a finger against the arm of Preston's dark rimmed glasses. "Forgetting something?"
"Shitfuck," Preston made a face. He had forgotten to put his contacts in before leaving the apartment.
"Want to leave them behind the bar?"
Preston considered it briefly. True his tips might suffer a little, but he'd probably lose even more money if he had to pay for all the drinks he'd spill wandering around the club half-blind all night. "I think I'll have to keep them, Julian."
"Suit yourself. Your farm-boy looks almost make up for it anyways."
"Ha ha." Preston responded sarcastically, taking the ribbing in kind. Though his father had never been in his life, Preston's mother had shown him and his brother pictures when they had been younger. His father had been from Polish-German stock, amongst the first Europeans to populate the prairies. He and his brother had both inherited that same fair-haired, broad-shouldered, farm-boy look Julian referred to. "Where do you want me tonight?"
The latino bartender wiggled his eyebrows, "Behind this bar on your knees would be great."
Several of the patrons at the bar heard the response and laughed. With a roll of his eyes, Preston asked again, "C'mon, Julian."
Julian answered more seriously, flinging a tray on the counter and beginning to load it with drinks. "Section eight. We have some VIPs that requested you in particular. And don't be late again, or I'll sic the Enforcer on you."
Though he knew Julian was just kidding about the Enforcer, Preston's eyes flittered over to the stage. One of the more popular entertainers at the club, the Enforcer was working that night. Real name Erwin Ross, the Enforcer was dressed in a black speedo lined with metal grommets, and a leather mask. He was equipped with a soft suede flogger which he was currently using on a very appreciative audience member. The heavyset audience member was wearing a custom-tailored dove grey suit, the pants of which were pulled down to expose an amazing ass. Despite the dim light, Preston could tell his ass was already a rosy pink. The Enforcer strikes again.
Preston had been working here since he was 20 and even after five years, the patrons' exhibitions still turned his head. Some of the things people would do in public were shocking. Preston supposed seeing those sorts of things went with working in the city's most exclusive gay, gentleman's club (know in less affluent circles as a glorified strip club).
"Drinks are ready, Preston."
Preston gave Julian a nod and picked up the heavy, drink-laden platter. Expertly balancing the tray on one hand above his head, Preston navigated through the dance floor towards section eight.
Section eight was the VIP section in the upper level, overlooking the dance floor. Preston climbed the double set of stairs up to the loft. It was dark, lined with several high tables and low couches and currently occupied by 8 or 9 businessmen. Several of the clubs attractive, young dancers draped over the businessmen, clearly doing what they were paid to do, providing stimulating conversation…or lap dances, whatever the clients wanted.
The club's owner, Carter Jameson, was lounging on the middle couch; a dancer wearing a white satin halter and black shorts was half on top of him. The businessmen on either side were leaning all over themselves trying to keep the Carter's valuable attention.
In his mid to late 30s, Carter Jameson was an imposing figure. The chiselled, clean-shaven jaw, the clef in his chin, and his long, straight nose, gave his face a completely masculine edge. He certainly wasn't a beautiful or pretty man, perhaps not even handsome at first glance, but the square features and dark, navy eyes grew on you. His short, barbered hair was classically styled, with a hint of grey at the temples. He was wearing his usual business suit, though the slate-coloured, silk tie was loosened and the top few buttons of his shirt were unfastened at his throat, showing off a hint of chest hair.
The moment Preston hit the platform, Carter's dark eyes latched onto him. "McCall."
Hearing his name called in that smoky, stern voice made Preston's heart rate pick up. Which was ridiculous, because Carter was his boss and they had been working together for years. But, the reaction was uncontrollably, the man had always had that effect on him. Even after five years his body still jolted when Carter called his name.
Preston walked up to the coach, tray popped against his hip. "Boss. The usual?"
Carter nodded briefly.
Preston looked over the drinks Julian had given him and picked out the straight double scotch. He handed it to his boss with a smile.
Carter took a sip, eyes not leaving Preston's. "Late tonight?"
"Ah, yes, Boss. The buses…" He bit back the excuse. "Never mind, sorry."
"And the schoolboy look?"
Preston touched the glasses uneasily. "Right. Forgot my contacts. Did you want me to get someone else to cover the section?"
"It's fine, McCall, makes you look younger though, I hope no one gets the notion I hire underage kids." Carter took another sip of his drink. He continued, tongue in cheek, "Besides, that's what I get for hiring school-boys in the first place."
Preston rolled his eyes, "Ha ha."
"How are your classes going?"
Carter was aware Preston was in school, when he had first started working at the Forum he had been in the middle his Bachelor of Commerce degree. Carter had even allowed some of the other staff to throw Preston a grad party at the club with the theme 'Money, Money'. Now he was working on his Master's of Management and Professional Accounting program.
With his undergraduate degree, he could probably another job in his field, but none that paid him enough to get by and pay his tuition working only four evenings a week. The set-up was perfect because the club schedule never interfered with his classes and it gave him plenty of time to work on his assignments. "Classes are good. I finished all my exams last week. So now I'm free until January when winter semester starts up. I've already told Julian I can pick up some extra shifts this month."
"Perfect, December can be busy," Jameson smirked, bringing his glass to his lips. His eyes warmed looking at Preston, "Lots of lonely men around the holidays looking for a…festive time."
Preston's lips pinched a little, playful, as he gestured to the Santa hat. "So that's why you make us wear this shit."
"Nah," Carter reached out and placed his now empty glass on Preston's tray. "I do that because I know it annoys you so much." As his hand pulled back, it grazed Preston's arm. "Now you better deliver the rest of those drinks before all the ice melts and I get the reputation of serving watered down liquor."
A flirtatious smile slipped into place as he walked away from Carter. Being friendly meant more tips, especially with a rich crowd like this. Stopped in front of the next man on the sofa and made a show of looking the businessman over appreciatively. Scanning his tray Preston teased, "Now, you, sir, must be the…dry Manhattan."
"Good guess." The man smiled good-naturally.
Preston looked more closely at the man as he handed over the drink. It was fun sometimes speculate about the men who came here. Was he a married man looking for some fun? A big-spender looking to have one-on-one time with a dancer? This man looked a little uncomfortable, his finger tapped against his glass uneasily. He hadn't even leered at Preston's 'uniform'. Perhaps this man wasn't a member of the club, just an investor or someone looking to work with Mr. Jameson.
Preston moved onto the next man, smiling charmingly. He even managed to keep his dimples in place as this man groped his ass after his drink was delivered. It wasn't the first time one of the patrons of the club got handsy with him; it wasn't even the hundredth time. It wasn't ideal, but he was confident in his ability to handle just about anyone, and if he couldn't, if someone got too forceful, well, that's what the club security was for. Now though, he just smiled and gave his hips a little extra swish walking away.
Preston worked his way around the room. The last glass on his tray was for a man in a flawless, black suit seated on a low, leather chair by the railing. He was a regular at the club and a friend of Carter's. Stephan St. Novell was movie-star gorgeous. And completely intimidating at first. Over the years, though, Preston had gotten to know him and knew he wasn't the hard-ass he looked like.
"And the last drink." Preston stopped in front of Stephen, tray held behind his back mischievously. "Shirley Temple, right?"
Stephen cocked a brow and held out his hand. "You maybe be gorgeous, McCall, but you are not funny."
Preston grinned and took the dirty martini out from behind his back, setting it in Stephen's waiting hand.
"Why don't you take a seat for a minute?"
With a cocky grin, Preston fluidly slipped over man's lap, straddling his hips. "This what you had in mind, Mr. St. Novell?"
Stephen chuckled, a deep, rich sound. "No, but it'll do." The older man reached up and gave the pompom on the end of Preston's Santa hat a tug. "What's up with the get up?"
"I know, right? I've been petitioning Mr. Jameson to get rid of his ridiculous December policy for years now."
Stephen eyed the rest of Preston's outfit, hands skimming the mesh top and stopping at the waist of the leather pants. "Doesn't really go with the rest of the uniform."
Preston's grin widened, dimples deepening, "Didn't you know Santa was secretly a fan of naughty boys?"
"McCall." They both looked up to find Carter standing over the chair. His eyes were shadowed by the lighting, making his expression unreadable. "I'm not paying you sit around."
Stephen pulled a face at his friend, giving Preston's flanks a pat, "Really, Carter, don't be a Grinch."
Carter pointed a finger, "Back to work, McCall."
"Yes, Boss." Grin still in place, Preston untangled himself and grabbed his tray, standing.
Flashing his perfectly white, perfectly straight teeth, Stephen tucked a small roll of bills into Preston's back pocket. "Keep the drinks coming tonight, Santa baby."
"You got it."
He could have sworn he heard Carter growl as he walked back towards the stairs and then Stephen and Carter exchanged cross-sounding words. Between the music and the hushed tones they used, there was no way Preston could make out what they said.
XoX XXX XoX
Preston worked his way back through the dance floor and past the dance stage. At the bar, he gave Julian his new orders and Julian to fill his drink orders so he went back up to the VIP section.
A smoky voice called out from behind him, "Well, aren't you a sight for sore eyes."
Preston smiled as the lovely woman sashayed up to the bar, setting her own tray down and calling to Julian, "Two boilermarkers and a G and T, Jules-honey."
When she looked back to him, Preston greeted her with a smile, "Hey, Cora."
She smiled seductively, lips thick with crimson lipstick. Her outfit was a garish red corset and tiny, leather skirt that was so short there were several inches of garter-clad thigh showing before her artfully torn, stockings kicked in. Her nod to the holiday dress code was a set of candy canes worked in the bundle of maroon hair piled on her head. "How's your night going, sugar?" The sugar came out sounding like 'shu-gah'.
"Can't complain yet. Yours, Cora?"
"As easy as sliding off a greasy log backward."
Preston laughed. He didn't know where she picked up her sayings. The southern accent was flawless, despite the fact that Preston knew it was affected. He knew because without the outrageous clothes and make-up and wig, as Cory, Cora didn't have an accent.
"I have the stage seating tonight," Cora offered. "You're in section eight?"
"Mmm." Preston nodded, narrowing avoiding getting a pompom in the eye. "Good guess."
"That was no guess, sugar. I saw the big boss heading up there earlier; he always has you do his sections."
"He doesn't." Did he? Preston flipped through assignments. He did get Carter's section an unusual amount, but surely not all the time.
Cora arches a perfectly pencilled-in eyebrow.
"It's just a coincidence," Preston decided.
"Now, sugar, I don't blame him. Who wouldn't want to see that tush running around all night?"
Preston felt his ears heat up. "Cora!"
"Fine, fine, my lips are sealed."
"I've got something you can seal your lips around, baby!" A passing guest cut in rudely, giving Cora a lecherous once over.
"Sorry, honey, you have be this big to get on this ride," She held her manicured fingers a few inches apart and then returned his onceover, "And you clearly don't qualify."
He retreated with a mumbled, "Bitch."
"That's right, honey, and don't you forget it."
Timothy, one of the club's big bouncers and part time body guard for CArter wandered over. The middle aged man had been a cop at some point and it showed in the way he walked, eyes scanning the crowd. "You want I should show him in the door, Miz Cora?"
Cora smiled and fluttered her long, artificial lashes. She placed a hand on the black tee shirt stretched over Timothy's barrel chest. "No, that's okay, Papa Bear. He's harmless."
Preston watched with a smile. They made an odd couple, but a nice one.
A roar went up from the crowd. Preston turned towards the stage. One of the dancers had a camera with an arching plastic arm coming out from it, a bunch of mistletoe hung from the arm. Fuck, not the mistletoe cam.
Every year, the club's promotions staff put together little extras this time of the year. The mistletoe camera was Preston's most hated part of the tradition. The camera sent the live image to a projector which splashed the picture all over the stage. The dancer worked his way through the dance floor, dangling the mistletoe over several couples. In turn, each couple tied to outdo each other with tongue and grope-filled kisses, putting on a show.
Preston immediately started to turn and walk away, thinking perhaps he could hide in the shadows until it was all over. He wasn't that lucky. The camera moved in the direction of the bar, effectively trapping him there.
To the sound of wolf whistles, Timothy gave Cora a kiss a few feet away, dipping her theatrically. The mistletoe arm then veered towards Preston and with it, he could feel the weight of a thousand eyes in the club. The man who just happened to be standing next to him at the bar looked nice enough, just exhibitionism just wasn't Preston's thing.
The crowd heckled good-naturally and behind the lens the dancer with the camera smiled wickedly; the little shit wasn't leaving without the kiss. With an embarrassed sigh, Preston turned, offering his cheek the other man. He let his eyes drift closed to avoiding watching himself on the huge screen.
He could feel the man moving in; smell the cigarette smoke on his clothes.
Then suddenly, the crowd starting cheering and going crazy. Preston had no clue what had happened until he felt a hand close over his shoulder, pulling him back around the other way. His eyes popped open.
Carter was standing there. There wasn't a member in the Forum who didn't know who the club owner was and the catcalls were almost deafening. Preston stood there like a deer in head lights. What the hell?
Carter's thin, straight lips pulled into a small smirk. His hand travelling up to curl around the back of Preston's neck. It would have only taken a second but time seemed to move much slower for Preston. Carter's other hand came up and pinched the arm of his glasses, pulling them off. Preston's vision blurred immediately and it wasn't helped by the sudden flurry of camera phones flashing. He felt Carter pull him forward, using the hand on his neck, then he felt Carter's dry lips brush down against his own. It started off softly, lips just feeling and teasing. Preston felt his lips part automatically, following Carter's lead. His heart was beating so loudly, he was sure Carter could feel the drumming pulse under his hand. No thoughts more complex than Holy shit and Oooh were able to be formed in his brain.
Thankfully his response was automatic, he returned the kiss, angling forward a little bit more, mouth asking for more. Carter obliged. The control the kiss effortlessly flowed back and forth between them until Carter lifted his lips off Preston's. Their breaths mingled for a moment before Carter let go of his neck, allowing him to straighten up again.
Preston felt his glasses being placed back on his nose. Eyesight corrected, he was able to see Carter's cocky grin before the man walked away, disappearing into the crowd. Thankfully, the camera disappeared as well.
"Preston?!" Cora's tone of voice made it obvious she had called his names several times now and had gotten no response.
"Huh? Yeah? What?" Preston turned in her direction, shaken.
She smiled and shook her head, "That must have been some kiss, sugar."
Preston tried to laugh it off. It took a significant amount of self-control not to reach up and touch his mouth. The sensation of Jameson's kiss lingered on his lips the rest of the night.
XoX XXX XoX
By the time the last guests left the club it was nearly 3 a.m.
Some staffer, probably Julian, had put a slow Blake Shelton track, an odd shift from the pulsing dance and club music that had filled the air for hours now.
A rag thrown over his shoulder, Preston had just finished wiping the tables in the VIP lounge and was upturning the stools onto the tables to clear the floor for sweeping.
"How was the night, McCall?"
Preston jumped at the low voice though he quickly placed the speaker. He turned and found Carter, as expected, leaning against the pillar at the top of the stairs. There was a half-finished drink in his hand and his tie was unknotted completely, hanging open around his neck.
Preston fingers played with the hem of the rag until he forced himself to stop. He would NOT fidget like a teenage girl just because his boss had given him one little kiss as part of a stupid club publicity stunt.
"Fine, Boss. Your friends here polished off five bottles of Dom and two of Macallan on their own. And the other sections looked busy, too."
Carter's eyes didn't leave Preston as he swirled his drink slowly and questioned, "What was the year on the Macallan?"
"1841 replica," Preston answered without missing a beat.
Jameson chuckled, a low inviting sound. "I remember a time you used to answer that question 'Friggin', old, who cares?'"
Preston found himself returning the man's smile, relaxing and leaning back against a table as he answered, "Yeah, well, I have figured out the tip I get on a 350 dollar bottle of 1841 replica is so much better than on a 50 dollar 2003."
"It's good to see that commerce education going to good use."
Preston resisted the urge to stick out his tongue childishly and instead flipped his boss the bird. Carter just laughed.
The footsteps sounded on the stairs and then Stephen St. Novell appeared, he appeared even more in disarray than Carter, having lost his jacket sometime during the night and his shirt sleeves rolled up sloppily. The man looked between them and pouted, "Damn."
Carter lifted an eyebrow, "Problem, Stephen?"
"Not at all, Carter. Just disappointed. I was hoping to catch an encore of your earlier performance. Dare I ask if it was rehearsed? You both seemed pretty practiced. Is there something you wanted to tell me?" He laughed as Preston's rag sailed across the space and smacked him in the chest.
"You're crazy." Preston snickered. "It was just a forgettable, little kiss for the camera. Of course there's nothing like that going on. Between me and Mr. Jameson? Come on." The denials came out, tripping over each other. He knew he was denying too fervently, but he was embarrassed and he didn't want them to think he was some starry-eyed idiot who read too much into a kiss. He didn't want to scare Carter into thinking he would expect something to come from it. He was twenty-five now and fully grown men kissed each other all the time without it meaning anything.
Stephen looked at him. "No?"
"No!" Preston swore vehemently, "Absolutely not. Never. Tell him, Boss."
Carter looked perfectly composed and expressionless, except for the tightening of his hand around his glass, his knuckles whitening slightly. "Obviously nothing is going on between us. Let it go, Stephen, clearly the idea bothers him."
"It doesn't bother me," Preston contradicted, mumbling, "It's just an absurd suggestion is all."
"Don't forget to mop the stairs."
It took Preston a moment to follow Carter's abrupt change in topic. He straighten up, "Yes, Boss."
Carter turned, dismissing Preston and starting down the stairs. "Come back to my office, Stephen, I'll show you the designer's plans for the new stage show."
"See you around, kid." Stephen gave Preston a nod before he followed after his friend.
Preston gave him a small salute before going back to work, trying not to think about Carter's odd behaviour.
XoX XXX XoX
Preston was just finishing up the stairs when to saw Julian waving him over from the bar. He propped the mop against the stairs and jogged over, wiping his hands on the rag.
Julian had a stack of glasses drying on the bar. "There's a phone call for you. I've sent it to the break room."
That was unexpected. No one called him at work. All his friends would just call his cell and leave messages. "Can't you take a message, Julian? I'm not quite done yet"
Lips set into a grim line, Julian answered, "You better take it. I'll get someone to put the mop away."
With a shrug, Preston hurried into the back and into the break room. His palms were sweaty with a growing feeling of apprehension. The line was blinking on the phone and he picked up the receiver, pressing the connection button. "This is Preston McCall…Yes…Yes…Oh, God…When...? Where…? I'll be there as soon as possible."