“Don’t waste your money. He’s not gonna take a drink from you.” The bartender gave me a snide look like he thought I was a moron as he started to walk away.
“Guess you don’t want a fifty then.” Shrugging as I not-so-subtly waved the folded bills around, I turned to head back over to my table where I knew the twink that’d been serving us would do what I wanted in a heartbeat.
“Wait.” The asshole bartender who thought he was hot shit leaned against the counter and studied me. “You have thirty seconds to satisfy my curiosity or I’ll have security toss you out.”
God, he was so full of himself.
It made me wonder if he knew that Niko only kept him around because he thought the guy was hot and he didn’t flirt with the dancers. I was starting to get the impression, though, that the only reason he was so professional with the other staff was because he was straight.
This asshole wouldn’t set off anyone’s gaydar.
Niko just hadn’t noticed that because he had no gaydar and had a thing for straight guys.
“You do that and I’ll tell the owner you’ve been skimming off the top.” I was going to tell Niko anyway, but dangling it in front of the dickhead first was more fun. “Niko would be very interested in some of the sales I’ve seen you ring up in just the last few minutes.”
Niko had been a doll and let me see the books so I could understand the accounting better, and that’d made it even easier to spot.
I could see the questions in the idiot’s eyes, but he tried to play it cool. Lifting one eyebrow, he gestured between us for me to continue. Fine. If he still wanted to play it cool, who was I to tell him he looked like a dickhead. “Fifty for you as a thank you for about five minutes of your time.”
If that much.
“I just want you to call in an order to the sub place next door. Order him his usual and a bottle of water on me. That’s it. I want it to be you that calls and for it to be a sealed container for the drink so he knows there’s no funny business.” To put it mildly, the object of my fascination seemed a bit skeptical of other people’s intentions.
“That’s it?” Asshole man was finally starting to realize how easy the fifty was going to be.
“Yes.” I held out my hands and shrugged. “That’s it. You don’t have to lie and you don’t have to talk me up. Just answer his questions if he asks.”
No point in hiding the fact that I wanted his attention.
I wasn’t exactly playing hard to get here.
“Why?” The way he shifted to one side and glared at me said he really didn’t get it. He had no idea why I’d want to buy my fascination dinner and take care of him rather than try to get him drunk when he never drank alcohol at the club?
Where was Niko hiring these morons?
This was why we needed a real BDSM club in town.
“Because he’s been dancing longer between breaks lately and isn’t eating enough.” Duh. How had everyone not noticed? “He needs the reminder tonight.”
And I knew that because I’d been nosy and asked around.
The consensus was that my fascination was stressed and hadn’t been taking care of himself right. He’d also been skipping breaks and working more often.
None of which I’d liked hearing.
The bartender rolled his eyes as he took the bribe and the money for the food from my hand. “Fine.”
He walked over to the phone mumbling about me being a stalker under his breath, but since he was possibly right in the most technical definition of the word, I ignored it.
When it was clear he’d made the order and hadn’t just wandered off with my money, I headed back over to my table to talk shop and obsess over the lithe little dancer who was shaking his ass in a cage over the dance floor.
To say that his round ass was barely covered would’ve been an understatement, but it was his long legs and the bliss on his face that were my favorite things to obsess over. But I only allowed myself a quick glance at the sexy man before I forced myself to look away.
I was obsessed, but I wasn’t a dick and didn’t want to make him uncomfortable.
Ignoring the smirks that were aimed at me, I glanced around at the lunatics I called friends. “Where were we?”
“You were drooling?”
“You were obsessing?”
“We’d heard for the third time that he hadn’t taken his break yet?”
They were assholes.
“Help me remember to put down on my list that I need every level of staff to understand what a healthy BDSM dynamic looks like.” Ignoring the rest of their nonsense that’d all popped out at the same time, I focused on the important things…my club and watching the back door to see when the delivery guy arrived.
“The bartender is an idiot who couldn’t recognize a bad date, much less a bad BDSM situation.” That would not work for a BDSM club and it really shouldn’t work for the bar we were currently in either. “He didn’t have any idea why I’d want to make sure my bird up there actually eats.”
Some people were stupid.
It was clear that my friends would’ve lumped me in with the other stupid people but they were shortsighted.
Instead of making more drooling comments, Sam smirked and leaned back against the bench. “Fine. It’s a good idea either way. Everyone who’s there when the club is open, from the bartenders to the cleaning staff, needs to understand the club rules and what’s healthy behavior.”
We’d talked about the room monitors and people like that needing to be well versed, but after talking to the well-put-together idiot, it was obvious we needed to take it further.
“Agreed.” Rick seemed to have decided to move on from commenting on my obsession and focus on the plans. “But that means you’re going to have to draw up lists about what is healthy behavior.”
As I started to get an ulcer from adding one more thing to my to-do list, Jeff finally spoke up with something productive. “That needs to be something a professional works up. I know a shrink who’s into the lifestyle. He’d be willing to help with it.”
As I rolled my eyes and dug my phone out of my pocket, Sam spoke up again. “Pretty sure that’s not what you should be calling him.”
Jeff laughed, obviously not worried about offending anyone. “He’s a little. He thinks it’s funny.”
Ignoring their chaos, I stayed on point and focused on the now snickering Jeff, who was trying to dodge Sam’s hand since it was currently trying to smack his head.
We really should’ve done more talking before they’d gotten drinks.
I let the chaos continue for what seemed like an eternity before I gestured between the slightly tipsy morons.
“Focus, please. If you wouldn’t mind asking your friend, that would be great.” It’d get one more thing off my plate as long as his friend was truly a therapist of some sort.
I glanced down at my phone to look at my list. I was about to make them help me work my way through a few more decisions when they all went silent. Even with the loud, thumping noise of the music in the background, it was noticeable, so I looked up to see them all googly-eyed.
My bird had come down from his perch.
He had the strangest glare on his face as he held up the food I’d ordered for him. “Really?”
I couldn’t tell if it was an angry glare or a you have big balls glare. I’d seen him use both on people but never from this close.
“I’m going to need more words before I understand what to do next.” The barest flash of a grin as his eyes sparkled had me feeling braver. “Communication is the key to every successful relationship, even between a stalker and the…stalkee?”
As my fascination rolled his eyes, I turned to Sam, who usually had the best vocabulary. “Is that a word? Stalker and stalked just doesn’t sound right. He’s not some kind of tomato plant.”
Sam was just gaping like he’d never expected the sexy bird to actually come down to visit the peasants who worshiped him. Idiot. “You’re useless.”
Looking back to my bird, I frowned. “Do you affect everyone like that? It has to be frustrating. How do you go grocery shopping?”
My bird seemed to be trying to decide if I was insane or not, but luckily he had Jeff to help him. “He wears more fucking clothes when he’s grocery shopping and no one else finds that glare as sexy as you do, moron.”
That made my birdie grin. “I can’t decide if I’m turned on or offended.”
I was a total asshole.
“Both?” I looked back up at his face to see that sexy smirk back in place. “Definitely both.”
“You’re very interesting.” His expression hadn’t changed much, so I took a chance and hoped that was a good thing.
“Thank you.” My possibly stupid response had him shaking his head.
“You’re coming with me.” He held up his sandwich and his bottle of water. “I need company unless you’re not finished here?”
The idiot trio were still watching stunned.
“They’ll be fine without me.” Banging my fist on the table like a gavel made them jump like rabbits. “Meeting adjourned. Everyone has their assignments and we’re doing lunch on Wednesday, right? Regroup and make sure we’re on track?”
All I got were three vacant-eyed nods, but that worked for me because I wasn’t going to waste my chance with my fascination. “Alright. Have fun. If you drink any more, take a fucking cab home.”
More nods had me rolling my eyes.
This was why I didn’t drink in public.
When I turned back to the birdie, he’d cocked one hip out to the side and was staring at me like I was insane again. “Work meeting?”
I nodded, which was completely not what he was expecting by the looks of it. “My lawyer. My accountant. My annoying friend who knows everyone. They’re helping me start a new business.”
“You’re as weird as I thought you were.” With that, the sexy bird turned around and started walking back toward the staff room behind the dance floor. He didn’t look back but he called over his shoulder to me. “Last chance.”
And I wasn’t going to waste it.
“See ya.” Following my birdie through the dance floor where everyone had completely stopped to stare at us with more wide-eyed expressions, I glanced over at the bartender and flipped him the bird.
He was so getting fired tomorrow.
I’d enjoy it too, but that pleasure would have to wait until my birdie had decided if he was going to trust me at all.
I wasn’t holding my breath, but he was the most incredible, insane man I’d ever met, and I knew he was meant to be mine.
He just didn’t know it yet.
Yep, not creepy at all.
I was so screwed.
But until things exploded in a fiery mess of drama and a screaming banshee, I’d see what happened. Yep, I was going to have completely reasonable expectations. No insanity here.
Not even when he headed back into what was basically the break room and sat down at the small table, just glaring at me. I wasn’t sure if it was to break me down like he was some kind of CIA interrogator or not, but I wasn’t easy to fuck with.
As he just stared, I nodded toward the door. “Alright, what’s your opinion on the music for a BDSM club? Classy. Think old school gentleman’s club like the robber barons would’ve had, not a strip club. I’m thinking sexy jazz in the background but with a good sound system that can mix it up sometimes. What do you think? Jeff keeps saying it’ll sound like we’re all in an erotically themed elevator.”
Seconds ticked by in utter silence.
“In DC? A gay one?” The simple questions said he’d been listening, so I nodded and managed not to ramble anymore. “Then old-fashioned jazz. Yeah. There’s a lot of edgy moving into town and there’s a lot of raunchy in interesting places, but the big money and the regular Joe kind of people would never be comfortable there.”
I liked the way he thought.
Leaning back, I had a feeling I knew where his point was going. “And before you can get people to make themselves uncomfortable, they have to feel comfortable.”
“Bingo.” He jerked his head toward the door and out toward the mass of bodies. “Under brighter lights and having to actually talk about what they want, they’d never do it because they don’t feel safe enough here for that kind of stuff.”
“I want them feeling so safe we’re like a second home but one where no one has to clean up the dirty dishes.” My cheeky response had his eyes sparkling again.
“It’s going to take a hell of a background check and a lot of discretion to make people around here feel that safe.” My birdie glanced back at the door as he finally unwrapped his sandwich.
As I got to see him eat the food I’d gotten for him, I shrugged as he swallowed the first bite, sending a ridiculous amount of pleasure through me. “That’s the easy part. I know people. He just wants one of the first memberships.”
“One of the Three Musketeers out there?” He wasn’t expecting me to say no. Curiosity flashed in his eyes as I shook my head. “What do you need me for?”
“For myself.” As he swallowed, just the way his neck moved had me wanting to kiss down his throat. I was a complete goner…and probably an idiot. “I want you for myself, but I promise, I don’t mind an audience.”
All it took was one look for Ben to know he’d found his forever.
He just needs to figure out how to get the enchanting man to come down from his gilded cage and see what is waiting for him down below. But when the stunning dancer in the cage spends more time hiding from the world than embracing it, Ben knows he’s going to have to get creative if he wants to catch the pretty bird’s attention.
All it took was one look for Conner to know the man standing in front of him was insane.
It also only took one look for Conner to realize he might have a thing for crazy men with big dreams. Something about the passion in the bold man’s eyes pulls him in, but what captures Conner’s imagination are the tempting promises and the way the man sees more than just a naughty bird dancing high above the crowd.
**Author’s Note** This is a standalone novella that shows the start of the relationship between Ben and Conner, the owners of the Bound & Controlled club that have appeared in several of my books. You do not have to read those books to enjoy this story.