“Sweetheart, I need to sell you.” My mother’s insipidly sweet tone had me looking up from my menu. I hated the restaurant and we’d been here a thousand times over the years, but studying it was better than making small talk.
“Excuse me?” It wasn’t the weirdest thing she’d ever told me over lunch, but I had a feeling it would end up being in the top ten at the very least.
Her smile just went sweeter and she reached over the table and patted my arm. “It’s for charity.”
That didn’t make it any less weird.
“What kind of charity?” Getting that information seemed like a good place to start.
“The LGBT Educational Center.” When she paused and smiled, I just blinked. That earned me a sigh and she pretended to be disappointed in me. “Many young LGBT youth don’t get the same opportunities that you did, sweetheart. It’s our responsibility to help those that are less fortunate.”
I knew better than to fall for this polite line of shit.
She’d never cared one way or the other about who I slept with as long as they were from the right family. This we have to be charitable to the LGBT community bullshit only started when my cousin came out as pan and that’d been a lot trendier than just general run of the mill wants to sleep with dudes gay.
So now she and Aunt Maggie were in some kind of weird competition that seemed to involve me.
“Yes, you and Dad went to a lot of trouble to make sure I got the degrees you wanted.” Two could play the polite asshole game.
I’d learned from the best.
That got a wince from her, but she quickly smoothed out the frown. “The Center had their annual charity auction last night.”
“Yes, the gallery donated a painting and a short-term internship to help build a resume.” The auction was well-known for having a variety of interesting things to bid on. They didn’t just want rich people throwing money at a problem; they wanted them to have to compete socially too.
It was fascinating to watch and it would’ve pissed me off if it hadn’t been my idea a few years ago.
But it looked like that was coming back to bite me in the ass because my mother was still smiling.
If the auction was already over…
“What did you do?” Not bothering to hide my frustration or my skepticism as she smiled, I narrowed my gaze and leaned back in the little bistro chair that was as uncomfortable as it’d always been. “I will make a scene so dramatic you’ll never be able to come back. Remember Antonio’s?”
In my defense, I’d been a terribly awkward-looking sixteen-year-old and she’d just tried to tell me that she’d volunteered me for a local charity drag show. She’d somehow been under the assumption that telling me in public would keep me from arguing with her.
Where she’d gotten that idea I’d never know, but we still hadn’t been back to Antonio’s.
I knew I was in trouble when she gave me her wide-eyed but I’m your mother, why don’t you love me look. Cutting her off before she could get it going in full swing, I kept up my glare. “You can’t sell people, Mother. What did you do?”
Of all the nights to miss the auction, I’d had to miss this one. “Antonio’s, Mother.”
She winced, smoothing out her skirt as she frowned at me. “Please stop calling me that. It’s manipulative.”
She had to be kidding?
“Mother, you just told me you sold me at a charity auction where I’m on the board. We’re not going to compare manipulation techniques right now.” I’d have been there to stop the shenanigans if someone hadn’t tried to break into the gallery last night for literal pocket change.
By the time I’d handled everything with the police, the event had been over and I’d just gone home. That’d clearly been a miscalculation on my part.
“You’re so dramatic, sweetheart.” Shaking her head like I was a pouting teenage girl, she let out a sigh that should’ve landed her a role on daytime TV. “Fine. The gallery’s submissions weren’t enough. Your Aunt Maggie donated a makeover and time visiting some Hollywood set. I had to improvise. But you’ll be pleased to know you were highly sought after and you sold very well.”
There were so many things wrong with that explanation I didn’t even know where to start.
The worst part was that I wasn’t even sure I could get out of it without the Center having problems, possibly legal ones depending on what she’d done. At the very least, it would cause drama they didn’t need. We’d worked hard to make sure the Center had an impeccable reputation.
We worked with teenagers for fuck’s sake.
Doing my best not to let her see how frustrated I was, I stayed focused on what seemed to be the most important parts. “Who purchased me, Mother, and what does that sale entail?”
Hopefully, that was the right place to start because I wasn’t sure how patient I could be.
Thankfully, she didn’t make getting that information difficult. Sitting straighter, she actually looked very pleased with herself. “Edna Randolph. She wants you to spend a weekend with her grandson mentoring him. We were mingling after the auction and she said she thought you would be a wonderful example for him.”
That was annoyingly vague.
“That’s it? Nothing about the gallery or the board?” What was I supposed to be helping him with? And which grandson? The reigning grande dame of the Randolph family was about a thousand and she had at least twenty grandkids…and those were only the ones that popped up in the social scene on a regular basis.
The Randolphs might’ve been rich but they bred like rabbits.
I’d managed to get stuck having to attend entirely too many of her functions over the years and I couldn’t have picked more than a few of her grandkids out of a lineup. Hell, for all I knew, they could’ve been the two idiots who’d jimmied open the side door because they thought rich people paid cash for paintings.
I definitely couldn’t get out of it. On the bright side, though, she couldn’t ask me to do anything illegal or just plain weird because it might get out into the community. But…I really didn’t like how deliberately vague she’d been.
The old bat was ancient, but she wasn’t stupid.
“Of course not.” Mother huffed, looking at me like I was being ridiculous. “I wouldn’t take chances on your job, Gray.”
Yeah, just my reputation and possibly my safety.
“I appreciate that and I’m sure it will be good publicity for the Center.” Buttering her up just enough to make the rest easier, I tried to dial back the anger so she’d think she won. “We’ll have to make sure Amy gets some kind of recognition for helping you with the idea.”
Amy was one of the volunteers who was very competent but who enjoyed manipulating people and wanted to work her way up the social ladder by any means necessary. That’d first started out by trying to convince my mother that being gay didn’t mean I shouldn’t have the right partner—aka Amy—on my arm at social events.
It’d taken a startling amount of time to make my mother realize that as a gay man, it would look weird if I showed up at social events with a woman.
Mother beamed, clearly not sensing the danger just out of sight. “Yes, she was very thoughtful. But I think she was upset when she didn’t win. The bidding got completely out of hand, though. You went for quite a lot.”
And she was very proud of that fact.
I had a feeling my sales price was going to be mentioned in her yearly Christmas card at the very least.
“I will be sure to thank her for her thoughtfulness when she’s escorted out of the building later this afternoon.” Anyone who made decisions like that didn’t need to be allowed unrestricted access to teenagers who didn’t always think things through.
Mother just blinked like her android brain couldn’t process the information, so I decided to help. “You both lied to at least a half-dozen different people or falsified the information to slip it in at the last minute.”
They’d done something ridiculous because the event staff was always very careful.
“Nothing like this was supposed to make it through to the auction because we’re doing our damnedest to prove those kids aren’t circus freaks to parade around. If this gets out, we’re a laughingstock and no one will take us seriously next year.”
Some days I was amazed at my father’s patience for having lived with her for ten years before they’d divorced.
Somehow her utter lack of reaction made me angrier than if she’d had some stupid illogical argument to defend herself.
“I—and a lot of other people—worked very hard to make sure the events and objects that were auctioned would be sought after and coveted.” That finally had her wincing. “The gallery only gives out three of those internships a year and one of them always goes to the auction.”
Well, we only did three because it was slim pickings finding teenagers who actually wanted to learn about art, but I wasn’t going to point that out. If a parent wanted to pay a ridiculous amount of money to make sure Biff or Buffy got exposure to the arts, we’d suffer through it because it would give another kid a fabulous leg up in life.
“You sold your son because a woman who won’t take no for an answer wanted to buy me for a weekend.” God. Just… “I bet she even tried to talk you into helping her buy me.”
And that had her eyes narrowing.
“You knew I would’ve said no and you went behind my back. You have no idea what situation you’ve exposed the gallery, the Center, and me to.” My only saving grace was that Edna Randolph hated any kind of negative publicity.
The chances of it going front page news wrong were slim.
“I told you after the Christmas party shenanigans that if you did this to me again, there would be consequences.” I’d have loved to do something truly drastic, but she owned twenty-five percent of the gallery. “I will no longer be attending any social events with you for the rest of the year, and you will not be allowed anywhere near the auction from here on out. Indefinitely.”
And I might ban Aunt Maggie too because she’d probably started this insanity.
“You can’t.” Mother was now properly horrified because I was the well-dressed mannequin she dragged around to look good in photos with her. “What about—”
I cut her off before she could start listing the almost weekly events that were never-ending. “Not a single one. Including that stupid garden party coming up.”
Pushing back from the table, I finished off with the one thing that would definitely make her see how angry I was.
I left her to eat lunch by herself.
“Good day, Mother.” Heading out of the restaurant, I was glad she’d pulled her stunt before we’d actually ordered. But that meant I hadn’t eaten lunch and I was going to have to call Edna Randolph on an empty stomach.
Taking a deep breath, I let it out slowly as I made my way down the block toward the gallery. Work was usually a good distraction but nothing would help until I knew why I’d been purchased. Edna Randolph did not just randomly buy men at charity auctions.
She’d probably had a heart attack just thinking of doing something that tacky, so there was definitely something going on.
Which grandson had she purchased me for?
Had Mother actually said grandson?
Yes. Yes, she’d said grandson.
She’d also said something about mentoring a grandson and that I was a good example or I would be a good mentor. The first thing that came to mind was the gallery, but while Edna Randolph was a patron of the arts, I’d never heard of any of her family actually being artistic.
I couldn’t even remember any of the ones from my generation even being in the same art classes as me or anything remotely similar. I had a vague recollection of one of them playing a piano at some kind of event and another getting recognized for flower arranging.
What the hell could she have bought me for?
Taking another deep breath, I headed around the corner and slipped into Rico’s Deli. Manny was behind the counter and waved at me. “Hey, man. You’re late.”
Rolling my eyes, I flipped him off, which had him grinning. “I was supposed to meet for lunch with the dragon. We’re just going to say it went as badly as I expected.”
Mr. Rico himself had named Mother that the one time I’d tried to bring her in to get lunch. It hadn’t gone well, but at least they’d understood why I’d spent so much time here as a teenager hiding out.
He winced as I heard a cackle from the back of the small restaurant.
Ignoring Mr. Rico and his terrible sense of humor, I focused on Manny before nodding to the small staff table at the back of the dining area. “The usual, please. Are you okay if I make some calls?”
“You’re family.” He waved me off as he started my sandwich.
The one good thing was that it was late enough the lunch rush had already come and gone. Hiding at the back would give me plenty of privacy and I wouldn’t have to deal with work yet. I was starting to understand why I’d gotten some odd looks this morning.
As I sat down, I pulled out my phone and hit one of my top contacts. He started apologizing as soon as it connected. “I had no idea. I thought you’d done it as some kind of joke until I realized you weren’t there. Amy said it was your idea and you were okay with it. I’m so sorry I didn’t check with you. I know your mother.”
For some reason, he always thought she had good intentions.
“Jeffrey. Somehow the Center let my mother sell me.” Letting a breath out slowly, I did my best to sound calmer than I felt. “We don’t do this. It’s bad PR. We’re not a gimmick.”
“I know.” I could hear the wince in his voice. “I didn’t hear anything about it until the MC started introducing you last. It just…I don’t know what Amy was thinking.”
Because he was entirely too nice.
“I am not mad at you.” Because he’d never forgive himself if he thought I was. Jeffrey was the ultimate worrywart. “Amy is done, though. This is the last straw. I also want my mother and my aunt banned going forward. None of them are to have anything to do with the auction or the Center. If I need to lay this out for the rest of the board, I will.”
“No, no, no.” I could almost picture the nervous man waving his hands around. “I think that is a good course of action and no one will question it. There were…there were concerns last night and I wasn’t sure if I should wait for your call or not.”
The thought of calling me had probably given him hives.
“You did the right thing, Jeffrey. I wasn’t aware of it until just a few minutes ago.” Scrubbing my hand over my face as Manny brought over my sandwich, I mouthed a quick thanks as he waved me off. “There’s nothing we can do about it now. Going forward, we’re going to lay out stricter rules and we’ll have another layer of…something.”
How was it my family that made us have to hire extra security?
“We’ll figure that out at some point. For now, I’m going to be calling Edna Randolph this afternoon and I’m going to take it one step at a time.” And I was going to remember to breathe and not scream at anyone because that wouldn’t help.
Jeffrey’s nervous sigh had my blood pressure trying to decide if it would go up or down. Clearly, we weren’t done with the insanity.
“Just spit it out.” I knew that sound. There was something he really didn’t want to tell me but he wanted to tell me.
“You made a lot of money. A lot. You brought in twice the amount that the Hollywood gofer thing earned.” He let out a nervous laugh as I groaned. “One of the biggest donations ever. So, thank you? Um, okay, bye.”
Well, at least I’d be able to rub it in Aunt Maggie’s face at Christmas.
When getting unexpectedly sold in a charity auction is the most interesting thing that’s happened lately, Gray knows something has to change. Unfortunately, he first has to figure out why he’s been purchased and if the crayons around the cutie’s house and ABC chicken nuggets he’s served for dinner have anything to do with it.
Camden’s pretty sure he didn’t order the attractive, slightly frustrated man online, but with him standing on his front porch and glaring so strikingly, he can’t rule it out. He knows he’s slightly disorganized and easily distracted, but he would remember ordering Gray to be delivered, right?
When two meddling family members butt in where they don’t belong, a new Daddy and a sweet little with a passion for junk food and crayons might find true love…but they’re still hoping to drop a house or two on some meddling busybodies.
This is a standalone age play romance. However, Gray was originally a side character that showed up in Lane, book three of the Leashes & Lace series. You do not need to have read that series to enjoy this book.
Daddy’s Little Artist is part of Daddies for Dollars multi-author series, where every book features a swoon-worthy Daddy, a boy he adores, and a happily ever after helped along by a fundraiser event. Brought to you by six popular M/M authors, each book stands alone, but with so many delicious Daddy pairings to choose from, why not read them all?