Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Name of the Game Ch. 02

If You Play With Fire You're Gonna Get Burned

The first conscious move that Kieran Sawyer made the next morning was to try to turn over, and he almost fell off whatever he was lying on. He instantly knew he wasn’t in bed; the air didn’t smell of stale food and it was perfectly quiet. No shuffling feet outside his dorm room or the usual shouts of students hailing each other, and especially no pounding music from Trevor’s stereo system. Without even opening his eyes he knew something was different.

He stared up at the ceiling. Okay, now he was certain he wasn’t in Fraley Hall. Above him was a vista of the loveliest shade of ecru, unmarred, with narrow moldings on the corniced design in dark honey oak. The rich coloring continued down the wall on three sides anchoring tasteful artwork, and the fourth wall appeared to be all glass behind rich draperies. Where the hell was he?

Flanking an oval oak end table in front of the windows were two identical armchairs in a damask fabric of brown and peach floral print. Two matching tables stood at either end of the brown leather seven foot couch Kieran was reclined on and a larger coffee version held an assortment of items that he recognized as his keys, wallet, cell phone and a set of clothes. The planked wooden floor was covered by a large sisal rug, peach with a tan and brown design that accessorized the chairs nicely. He was covered by thick blanket, his head on a pillow draped with a fluffy towel and a bucket on the floor below him.

Someone had brought him home for the night. He gulped, having no memory of much of the evening before. Raising the blanket he was grateful to find that his clothing hadn’t been removed. Kieran quickly noticed that the wrinkled shirt wasn’t his but he had a vague recollection of a party, spilled beer and the loaner. His whereabouts were still a mystery but at least nobody had taken advantage of him.

For now, Kieran had to pee, and he wondered where the bathroom was. His head ached around his eyes, and his body felt stiff when he slowly pushed the blanket away and stood up. Picking up his cell phone off the coffee table he checked the time; it was a few minutes after nine.

Kieran padded over to the window and pushed aside the heavy drapes. Lovely etched floor-to-ceiling windows looked out over a long harbor channel of tied up boats and pleasure craft sitting under sunny skies and the white capped ocean beyond, indicating that it was a windy morning. He tried to look down and didn’t see the ground. So he was in someone’s high-rise, and the real estate said ritzy.

Through a high archway Kieran found himself in a vestibule at the junction of formal dining room with an oval table and matching chairs identical to the living room furniture and seating ten and a huge kitchen in peach and black with a center island and breakfast bar. The appliances, he knew, would all be top of the line. Wherever he was, the owner had money.

There were two doors off to the side. The first proved to be a closet and the second was the room he sought, sink and toilet but not tub or shower. With relief he whipped his flaccid dick out of his plain cotton boxers and let the heavy stream go. He washed his hands, enjoying the smooth almond scent of the hand soap, and dried them on a thick peach towel. Everything matched and seemed to follow the warm color scheme.

Stepping back out of the powder room Kieran listened for sounds indicating someone was up and heard nothing. He wondered if he had been left alone in the dwelling and thought that would be an extremely foolhardy move on the owner’s part. Curious but careful, he followed a passage that led towards the back, assuming he was heading for the bedrooms.

He came to a wide oak linen cupboard facing a much larger bathroom. To his left a closed door, and to his right a longer corridor where there were a door on each side, one shut and another slightly ajar. Kieran knew he should go back in the living room and wait, but he wanted to know who had brought him home with them and why, so he made his way forward.

Kieran found the condominium’s occupant half sitting up in bed, his tousled auburn hair curling into his sleepy eyes and his naked chest, sparsely covered with hair that was more golden then red across his tanned, nicely toned pectorals. Brant Fielding gazed up hazily at him with a smile.

“I thought I heard a toilet flush. How do you feel?”

Kieran just stared at him in shock for several seconds without saying a word. What in the world was he doing in Brant’s apartment? Well, obviously the man had brought him here but for what?

Brant could see the panic blossom and sat all the way up. “It’s okay, Kieran,” he said quietly. “You had too much to drink last night at the party. I couldn’t just leave you to sleep in your car.”

Kieran nodded slowly. Brant’s words had a ring of truth to them. More than once he’d had to sack out on the cramped, bumpy back seat of his Chevy Cruze. His roommate would decide to bring in his girlfriend and kick him out to shiver under a hastily scooped up blanket, emerging the next morning feeling as if his spine had been twisted by giants. He just didn’t understand about the alcohol part.

“I got drunk last night?” he asked stiffly. “I don’t drink.”

Brant let go with a chuckle that, Kieran strangely realized, didn’t feel like it was at his expense at all. “I’m sorry, but you did. That orange-colored stuff you were drinking at the party yesterday was loaded with at least three different kinds of high-quality liqueurs including one imported from South America that’s illegal here. I guess my friends weren’t aware of your status, and you must not have tasted it either or they would have found you a Pepsi or something. Patrick was falling all over himself with apologies last night when he discovered you could barely stand up.”

That’s right, Kieran thought, turning bright red. Patrick Ferris, one of the party’s hosts, had sent a friend after Carlos to tell him that Kieran had a ride home. He cringed at the scene playing in his head of him tripping and bumping into stuff, hoping he hadn’t made a fool of himself.

Again, Brant seemed to read his thoughts. “Relax, Kieran. It isn’t something we haven’t seen a hundred times before. In fact, it happens every time Patrick and Nic throw a house party. Besides, you’re cute when you’re buzzed. Your impression of the history professor, Mr. Hinkle, slapping at his roll of world maps with his pointer stick was right on.”

“Uh… thanks.” He wasn’t used to getting compliments for being witty.

“So, repeating the question, how are you? Would you like a cup of coffee? Breakfast? Or we can go out if you prefer.”

“Thank you for the offer, but you still haven’t explained why I’m here instead of in my dorm.”

Brant’s gray eyes went cold as a storm cloud at the thought of Trevor. “Let’s just say you have an roommate who has a banshee for a girlfriend. They wouldn’t take no for an answer and kicked you out.”

“Ah,” Kieran replied, his face brightening as the mist cleared. “You’ve met Sandra the Screamer. That can only mean one thing. She’s a piece of work, isn’t she?

“How do you stand living there?” Someone as quiet as Kieran matched with a pig like Trevor? The Barratt housing department had really goofed.

Kieran appreciated the verbal show of support and understanding. “It wouldn’t be so bad if he didn’t have the RA in his pocket or people didn’t expect me to rein him in. Sometimes it’s impossible and I have to grit my teeth.”

“You need to get a new roommate. Or live off campus.”

“I’ll go and put my name on the list on Monday,” Kieran vowed with a shrug. He was not going to bring up the fact that he couldn’t afford to live on his own.

“Good.” Suddenly without anything to talk about there was a heavy pause. Brant ended it by suddenly announcing, “Damn, I have to pee.”

Swinging his legs off the bed, he let the covers fall away. Brant stood up entirely naked and seemingly unashamed of it as he scooted to his adjoining bathroom. Kieran caught a glance of a thick, semi-hard dick that was circumcised and a golden peach color, as if fashioned to match the apartment décor. His toned, well-shaped ass was the same bronze as his arms and legs. Kieran hastily averted his eyes and gulped, thinking it was a finely sculpted as the rest of his body.

Brant couldn’t fail to notice his fluster and feigned remorse as he quickly trotted past. “Oh, sorry, I guess I wasn’t thinking,” he called over his shoulder. “There’s a robe hanging on a hook in my closet. If you toss it through the door I won’t have to embarrass you a second time.”

Kieran went to the other door and threw it wide to find a walk-in closet that was as large as a standard bedroom from his hometown. Brant’s expensive clothes were organized by color like a rainbow flashing across the shelves and hangers. He even had a section for evening wear and owned five complete suits.

Kieran reached for the luxurious navy robe, feeling the rich fluffiness of the fabric between his fingers. He shut the door and shook his head, knowing he was so out of his comfort zone here. Brant seemed clearly interested in him but, for the life of him, he didn't know what the attraction was.

He went out to the living room. Waiting for Brant to join him he took the opportunity to change clothes and put on his socks and shoes. He wanted to go back to his dorm where he might get shouted at but at least he didn’t feel as if he had sneaked into some superb showroom exhibit at a fine furnishings store and any minute the salesman was going to discover he couldn’t afford anything and kick him out.

Brant came out a few minutes later dressed in tight black jeans and another one of his remarkable t-shirts that looked as if they were made of silk. “I’m going to make coffee. Would you like a cup? It’s Arabica.”

Kieran didn’t have any idea what he meant so he just nodded and thanked him. He watched Brant remove a container of coffee beans from his freezer and grind a handful before pulling out a filter and adding the correct amount of water to the reservoir of the coffeemaker.

“Please let me take you out for breakfast or make it for you,” Brant pleaded, shooting Kieran a puppy dog glance with his big eyes. “You had such a rotten time at the party last night due to my friends I feel I owe it to you.”

Just as he expected him to, Kieran immediately protested how the party had been fun and he’d enjoyed himself. Knowing Brant was now uncomfortable, he allowed him to take him out for a meal, and they went to the local steakhouse for its legendary Sunday brunch. Brant drove the Mustang again.

“Okay, I remember this ride,” Kieran admitted with a smile as Brant parked it on the far side of the lot where it wouldn’t get scratched.

The brunch was typical for Sunday; fruit and vegetable salads, a variety of breakfast meats and sliced roasts, an omelet bar as well as pancakes, waffles and sweet rolls. They shared stories of their lives, and while Kieran could not begin to understand growing up with so much wealth, Brant got a glimpse of how hard the shorter man had to strive to make his way. Against his will he began to respect him for his tenacity and work ethic.

It was nearly noon when Brant dropped him off at Fraley Hall and they parted with a friendly wave. Kieran decided either he had misjudged the man, or Joel, Ryan and Amanda must be mistaken. Against all probability it looked like he had a new friend. Brant rejoiced over how the next time he asked him out Kieran was most likely to wholeheartedly accept, and he knew it wouldn’t be long before he hooked his little playmate. Winning him was going to be especially sweet.


Playing it cool, Brant let two entire chemistry classes go by before approaching Kieran for another date. It wouldn’t be good to appear too eager. It was Wednesday when they were making their way to the door and he turned and casually asked, “I was wondering if you’d let me take you to the cinema on Friday night.”

Kieran studied him carefully, wondering what to do. Brant was leaning in and hanging on his answer, a hopeful sparkle in his eyes. “Alright,” he nodded. “As long as you let me buy the popcorn and soda.”

Brant was going to object but saw the stubborn set to his jaw and decided not to make an issue of it. That he got him to consent to his invitation was a major step forward, and he cheered inside. “Okay.” He broke out with a grin that made his eyes almost glow silver.

Later he texted his friends: ‘First date on Friday.’ They sent back their congratulations and suggestions to keep it light and laid-back so as not to scare Kieran away. Brant already knew he’d have to move slowly.

At eight, Brant again used the Mustang to pick Kieran up, seeing as how much he liked the car. At the local movie theater they decided on the latest action-adventure movie and, surprisingly, the blonde was true to his word in his insistence on paying for their snacks. He relaxed into watching the film, which both of them judged not bad, and spent a pleasant evening with each other. Their fingers sometimes collided reaching for popcorn at the same time, but that was the extent of the bodily contact. Brant dropped him off on campus at midnight and didn’t even try to kiss him.

Over the next four weeks Brant and Kieran spent an increasing amount of time together, even if it was just grabbing sandwiches from the Kampus Kart before heading off to the library to study. Brant found out that Kieran’s favorite post-grunge band was coming to town and miraculously managed to get tickets for it. They saw more films than he had seen the whole previous year and went out to dinner at least three times a week.

Kieran had to fight his natural tendency towards feeling intimidated by affluence. It was nothing new. He had run across his share of teenagers at Carillo High School with wealthy parents, and more often than not they were snobs who were aloof and indifferent. It wasn’t even the same thing as the strutting performed by the punk-ass braggarts who thought they ruled the campus. It was like having money made a lot of them invincible and they believed they could buy their way out of anything.

Brant didn’t hide that he was wealthy. Thinking he was making an impression on Kieran by splurging on their dates, he wined and dined him as much as the blonde would allow. He knew the wait-staff in all the upscale restaurants and often would insist on one menu that he alone perused, ordering for them both so Kieran wouldn’t have a heart attack over the prices. Brant counted it a worthwhile expense knowing each outing brought Kieran closer to his bed.

But Kieran had to draw the line somewhere. “I’m not exactly poor,” he pointed out one Saturday morning as they were standing in the men’s department in Neiman Marcus. Brant was trying to talk him into accepting a Gucci brick red t-shirt with a blue-gray grid design that was, granted, very attractive but it cost over three hundred dollars. For a t-shirt.

“It will look great on you,” Brant purred, holding it up to him. “It brings out your eyes.”

“Thank you, but no,” he insisted, gently pushing the shirt away. “In good conscience, I wouldn’t even be able to wear something like that. Not when the amount on the price tag would buy me almost enough clothes for an entire wardrobe.”

Brant wished he could point out how the higher-priced item would be a better fit on Kieran than his bargain shop brand but he didn’t want to offend him. “Please let me do this for you.”

“It would be awkward if you paid that much for a shirt I don’t even need,” Kieran replied stoutly. “As long as they fit, look decent on me and the quality is reasonable, I don’t much care what I wear. Putting on something that ostentatious would make me uncomfortable.”

“But your expenses for Barratt,” Brant smirked. This had to be false modesty and he would give in after making a respectable show by pretending otherwise.

Kieran sighed heavily. “My scholarships and grants cover everything but incidentals, and I’ve been saving up my money from part-time jobs since I was in high school. Like I said, I’m not a pauper.”

“I certainly don’t want you feeling bad,” Brant agreed in confusion because he wasn’t running according to script. Maybe it would be wise to back off. “What’s the point of having a lot of money if you can’t spend it? Besides, I want to buy you things and dress you up.”

Kieran rolled his eyes. “You make me sound like some kind of doll. There is nothing special about me, believe me.”

Brant looked at him with narrowed eyes and was stunned to see he really meant it. “What are you fucking talking about? You’re gorgeous. Oh my god…”

“Nice distraction, Brant, but you aren’t going to talk me into the t-shirt.”

“Alright, then find something less expensive and let me get it for you.”

Kieran didn’t want this to turn into a battle, but he meant every word. He was going to be an equal in this friendship or they weren’t going to have one. He had never met anyone as rich as Brant and his crowd. The way they threw money around, it was almost like they were spitting in the faces of middle-class workers such as Kieran’s parents. Small third world countries could be fed on what he dropped on an average shopping trip at the Fashion Island Mall, and sadly, he didn’t need half the things he purchased.

Brant didn’t believe he was serious at first and kept finding ways to sneak money past him. Not until they were standing in the queu at the cinema where, in an earlier negotiation, he had promised to let Kieran purchase the movie tickets this time and was now whipping out his wallet.

“No,” Kieran said, softly but persuasively, staying his hand with his fingers closing over the edge of the expensive leather. He stared at him fixedly, his expression pleading. “You promised.”

“I lied.” Brant laughed boldly and without apology.

Kieran threw him a disgusted look and turned away. “Take me back to the dorm, right now.”

Open-mouthed, Brant watched him stalk towards the parking lot. Kieran couldn’t be serious, could he? “Don’t be like that,” he called, trotting after him.

Keiran whirled on him in frustration, his eyes flashing. “Like what? I don’t want to be a user like the rest of the people you surround yourself with. I may not wear three hundred dollar shirts or drive a restored Mustang or live in a penthouse apartment, but I have my pride and self-respect and they can’t be bought.”

Brant gaped at him, positive he had never met anyone like him. Even if his prior playmates were as poor as dirt and unused to being courted with expensive gifts and diversions, they always came around by the second or third date and eventually started asking him to buy them presents. Brant had a funny feeling that Kieran never would. He was a stunning example of genuineness and restraint. There was no artifice in him when he grumbled that the disparity of their financial situations didn’t mean squat and he would hold up his side. Against his will, Brant found him refreshing.

“Okay, Kieran, I’m sorry,” he finally apologized quietly. This was going to change the game plan a little. It was going to take more time than he first imagined seducing this man if he wasn’t allowed to buy him. Guilt had always been an excellent motivating factor in the past.

However, he knew that pushing him would cause Kieran to walk away entirely, and he already had too much invested to give him up. From that moment on he allowed him to pay at times. He even modified their entertainment based on what Kieran could afford. They still went out for meals and to see films, but they also spent evenings in, playing the latest video game or watching a DVD. Kieran organized a chemistry study group, complete with delivered pizza, in the campus commons. Brant discovered he liked art and took him to the latest opening for one of the area’s painters. Kieran returned the favor by securing tickets to a photography exhibit featuring classic cars of the forties through seventies.

As they got to know each other, Brant reveled in Kieran’s enthusiasm for life and the way he enjoyed the simple things. It could have been the artist in him that inspired him to show Brant how the light of the setting sun hit the water of the harbor at a particular angle in the late afternoon to create this incredible flash of intense light bathing his entire living room. Plant life and minerals in nature created the original pigments found in the various shades of paint, from white to black to every color of the rainbow. He loved to cook and thought paradise was found in Brant’s luxurious but underused kitchen, making tasty meals for his boyfriend for much less money and giving them a chance to be alone.

His boyfriend. Although Brant hadn’t specified what they were to each other or made one single move on him, not even a kiss, that’s what Kieran believed him to be. He was falling deeply in love with Brant.

He would have to be a marble statue not to. Brant’s sex appeal was more than his physical beauty, beyond the power of his prosperity, in addition to his suave reassurances that could con a tiger into giving up its stripes. Brant had charisma and self-confidence, and just basking in his presence made Kieran feel as if they could conquer the world.

He could scarcely recall the last time he’d told Brant, before the party at the Ferrises, that he didn’t want to go out with him and shuddered to think how bereft his life would be now if he hadn’t changed his mind. Brant made him feel like nobody had before, not only good about himself but seeing the world as a more positive place to inhabit. He wanted to shout to it that he was in love with an astonishing man. He only held back because the L-word hadn’t been brought up once, and he didn’t feel comfortable being the first.

Kieran’s other friends must have had Brant confused with someone else, he figured, because he’d been a perfect gentleman and cold, heartless and irresponsible were not words he’d use to describe him. Try sweet, considerate and attentive, even with their little tiffs over his spending habits. Brant acted like he enjoyed his company and didn’t seem inclined to rush him into a relationship. If anything he wasn’t moving fast enough for Kieran.

One of the things he liked the most about Brant was how he didn’t give idle praise, and it was this lack of flattery that finally made Kieran relax and believe they really were dating, and he wasn’t going to end up as a one night stand. So when Brant asked to see samples of his art and expressed dismay that he wasn’t majoring in it, Kieran began to believe he might have some talent.

“Didn’t your teachers ever talk to you about displaying your work,” he inquired, carrying a small canvas to his living room window where the light was better. The painting was of three sailboats on the sea and, held up against the real ocean beyond the glass, the picture looked completely natural.

“My art teacher in high school was a real dick,” Kieran grumbled, taking the picture back. “He had pre-set ideas on what our paintings should look like, and whatever didn’t conform to his viewpoint was wrong. He also played favorites in class and I wasn’t one.”

“That’s a shame,” Brant sympathized, leaning over to kiss him on the forehead. It was a comforting reaction that seemed to startle even him. Kieran looked away, his freckled face turning several shades of pink, and didn’t notice the pleased twinkle in Brant’s eyes.

There was no denying Kieran’s sexual status, Brant thought triumphantly. They had yet to discuss it but his bashful reaction to the simple peck made it evident he had very little, if any, experience. How lucky could a guy get? Untapped and so much potential.

Brant took the painting out of his hand and set it on the oval table, pulling him forward until they stood inches apart. Slowly he laid a gentle hand on Kieran’s shoulder and leaned into him until they could feel the small puffs of air between them. He met his stare with his own unwavering one, and it was like time hung in the balance.

“You are far too humble for your own good,” he whispered, pressing a gentle, closed-lip kiss against Kieran’s mouth. “You should learn to stand up for yourself. Act like an ass once in awhile.”

Kieran was having problems hearing, standing this close to Brant. He thought he said something akin to nice guys finish last. He had such a deep voice, like whiskey mixed with honey. All he could focus on was the warmth coming off the tall, male body in front of him and and what an attractive combination his steel-gray eyes and nape-length curly russet hair made and how all the features of his face worked together to create such beauty. That this rich, handsome college junior liked him seemed something of a miracle.

“I think I do a good job choosing my battles,” he managed to breathe. “Nobody likes a jackass.”

Lifting on tiptoes to line up their mouths, he couldn’t help but notice how Brant’s long eyelashes started red at the base and paled to gold at the tips. He steadied himself by taking hold of his waist. The second kiss was his response, also a mere grazing of lips but it was just as satisfying as the first.

Brant chuckled at the truth of his statement. “No, I guess not.” He gave Kieran another chaste kiss and settled back on his heels with a smile. “I should probably get you back to the dorm. It’s late.”

That’s it? Kieran was stunned. Just three little kisses? His body was finely tuned into the love he wanted Brant to make to him, and then he almost gasped audibly at his daring. Where had that come from? He wasn’t that kind of guy. He wanted flowers and fire and forever.

Brant turned away and grinned. Kieran was so cute… and so easy.

Kieran saw how it was. Brant must be keeping his distance because he knew Kieran was a virgin and didn’t want to claim rights without permission. There was a simple solution to it too. They needed to move forward and get around to talking about their childhoods and families. The sooner their pasts were discussed, the better. Lay it all out in the open so Brant didn’t have to guess.

Brant told Kieran had never known any kind of insecurity unless you wanted to count the impossibly superior attitude of his brother, younger by six years Graysen. He insisted with all sincerity that Brant, with his gay, slutty ways, was a disgrace to the family and their father would sooner or later figure it out and disown him, leaving Graysen his importing business. His other sibling, sister Fiona who had the good sense to be the middle child, balanced him out by being sweet-natured and kind, so he ignored one and did his best to please the other.

Both men had known they were gay since their mid-teens and experienced coming out to their families in similar fashion. What wasn’t similar was what happened next. Nobody in Brant’s prep school would ever think of publicly crossing him so his loud and proud announcement was met with tolerance if not outright approval.

Kieran told one person at school, Jared, a fellow member of the junior varsity swim team he had been infatuated with for over nine months. He finally confessed his attraction as their sophomore year ended, and that summer they began dating. In the closet style dating, meaning they met up several times a week at Kieran’s house. His parents were gone all day which gave them total privacy, and he blew the other boy off while he used his own hand to satisfy himself.

“We went back to school as juniors, and it was like I didn’t exist. Jared stopped accepting my texts and wouldn’t let me hang out with him and his friends. The second day of school he cornered me in the locker room and told me if I ever said anything about what we did at my house he would make me hurt. I believed him. He was bigger than me, and I decided the best thing I could do was stay quiet about being gay. If nobody knew they wouldn’t suspect.”

“He sounds like an ass,” Brant commiserated, tousling his blonde hair affectionately. “What a fucked up situation for you. So what about college… before you came here?”

Kieran laughed ironically. “Santa Rosa JC? It wasn’t much better than Carillo High as far as I was concerned. Too close to home with the same sort of peers I’d already spent four years with and only a slight rise in their maturity level. No, I wanted to wait until I moved out of the area…”

“And landed at Barratt,” Brant finished for him, putting his hand over Kieran’s. “Lucky me.” He was completely sincere.

Gray irises met Caribbean blue, and there was that spark they couldn’t deny. Brant cupped Kieran’s jaw and lowered his mouth for a kiss. He was so hesitant and careful, as if he was afraid he was going to rebuke him. They hadn’t indulged in anything other than simple embraces without any tongue, and he knew Kieran was getting impatient for more. That was a very positive sign, and it wouldn’t be long now before he had smaller man convinced that going to bed together was his own idea. This was the slowest he had ever moved with one of his playmates, giving him time to adjust so he would trust him. The trap was almost set.

And yet, down inside it bothered Brant. Kieran had such an amazing outlook on life for all that he’d gone through. Quiet and shy yes, introverted without question, maybe even childlike, he nevertheless managed to turn his retiring personality into a positive for himself. He was as honest as the day was long and had a deprecating sense of humor that never sank to the level of fishing for compliments. Brant usually didn’t go for the innocent types except that they made easier targets when choosing victims for his diversion, but he was enjoying Kieran’s guileless, straightforward friendship.

Brant’s chest seemed to seize up in distress when he realized this one was different from the rest. He had let him get under his skin, and in the end, it was going to cost him dearly. Brant had already weighed how much his final act was going to hurt Kieran and shuddered at the thought of putting him through that kind of pain.

Kieran would probably blame himself at first, asking himself a thousand questions about what he’d done to drive him away until he realized he’d been played. Then the rage and self-doubt would set in and tear him apart, but it would be over and nothing left to salvage. The only time they would spend together would be in class, and Brant was going to miss his easy companionship. For certain, Kieran would be smart enough to never try to speak to him again. Hopefully his torn heart would mend.

Brant was telling his friends about the conversation several nights later as they put their heads together for future date ideas. He related the last incident of shopping with Kieran, hopelessly trying to persuade him to accept a gift of some men’s cologne Brant thought would smell fantastic on him. Dirk and Nicole, who had just learned they each had lost their substantial bets by vastly underestimating how long it would take Brant to bed Kieran, were being good natured about it. This was the fun part of this set-up for their group, and they could afford it.

The others began to lightly tease Brant over why he was wasting so much time on Kieran and he waved them off. The only person who remained silent was Chelsea who stared at him with a pensive smile on her face. He called her on her attitude an hour later after the rest of the gang had left.

“Look, Chels, I know you hate me doing this, but can you stop judging me, please? It puts a serious damper on my creative flow.”

She broke out in a peel of ringing laughter. “Creative flow? That’s a good one.” She considered whether she should share her real opinion and decided, why not. Brant was a big boy, and she was probably the only friend he had who would level with him.

“To tell the truth, I wasn’t judging you.”

“Okay, so what were the looks about?

“If I hadn’t been watching your face when you were talking about how Kieran refused you, I don’t think I’d believe it. Have you finally met a man who doesn’t fawn all over you for the next gift you’re going to buy him or because he wants to wallow in the prestige being with you gives him? Someone with the nerve to tell you ‘no’? How extraordinary.”

“It’s not like that,” Brant denied, blushing and lowering his eyes so he didn’t have to stare into the girl’s empathetic hazel ones. Of all his friends, Chelsea was the gentlest, the dreamer who didn’t believe money made them better than others.

She laughed and shook her head, but it wasn’t about putting him down. “Maybe not, but he’s made an impact on you that you didn’t expect. Kieran may be poor, but he isn’t materialistic, and even if you won’t own up to it, you admire his modesty. In a lot of hidden ways he’s your equal, you know.”

“So what’s the point?”

“The point is that the past doesn’t matter. I think the whole concept of the game is beneath you, as you well know. Even if it was fun when we were younger, nobody but you is forcing you to keep playing.”

Brant plastered a skeptical pout on his face, unwilling to admit how much Kieran had come to mean to him and determined to soldier on. “Thanks for your opinion, Chelsea. If I can convince a cynic like you that my pretending to like Kieran is real, he’s going to believe it too and be that much easier to maneuver into fucking him.”

Chelsea winced at his crude language and the feelings he tried to hide behind it. Of course she should have known he would refute even a hint that he cared about Kieran. Brant was so damned afraid to own up to having normal human feelings it was blinding him to them. It was immaturity but it was fear too.

“It’s okay to decide to grow up and end this,” she said softly. “None of us would ever think badly of you. I can guarantee that you would sleep better at night too.”

“There’s nothing wrong with the way I sleep,” he growled. “Do me a favor and keep your inferences to yourself, okay?”

She didn’t let him fluster her and prepared to take her leave. “Sorry I mentioned it, Brant.”

It was another Thursday night and Brant and Kieran were returning from their date at a local go-kart track where they’d had a exciting time racing each other and Kieran discovered he liked driving small, open vehicles that moved like the wind. He was also pretty good and had beaten Brant frequently, much to the taller man’s chagrin.

The semester was flying by; it was now early November, and the evenings were sometimes nippy. As Brant escorted him up the sidewalk to his dorm, a breeze came gusting around the corner and made Kieran shiver. They paused at the entry door and Brant turned to him, wrapping his arms around his shoulders. “You’re cold, Kier. You need to wear something heavier than a hoody.”

“Okay,” Kieran nodded, his eyes brightening over both the new pet name and how good it felt being held like this. He wasn’t about to admit he didn’t have a heavier jacket— who would have known southern California got this cold in the fall— because Brant would insist on buying him a new one. Right now, he didn’t want to think about wind chill or coats or anything except Brant’s warm body leaning against his.

He looked up into stern gray eyes and watched them soften as they stared back. Time seemed to fall away between them and the shudder that tumbled through him had nothing to do with the temperature. Even the wind seemed to disappear. Could it be possible that Brant loved him too?

Brant had never felt like this before. He was tingling all over, his skin flushing hot like a burn when he fell asleep on the beach under a baking sun. Kieran was drawing him in, and he shouldn’t want it because it was breaking the rules. Brant wasn’t supposed to feel anything for his playmates except the satisfaction of successfully winning another game and the smugness of dismissing his conquests. He should have been bored with the whole thing by now. Somehow he didn’t think Kieran would ever bore him.

Gazing down at Kieran he could see the adoration in his face, and it made him elated and ashamed at the same time. He had done it; Kieran was in love with him and would be putty in his hands, but it gave him no joy. Brant struggled to shut down the part of him that was conflicted by guilt and go with his intuition.

Firmly he planted his mouth over Kieran’s and let his lips part. The other man was already there, hot and accepting, and with a small groan Brant allowed the exploration of his cavity. Tongues clashed in needy frenzy and lips clung, drawing in a flavor of sweet wine. They weren’t awkward together, almost as if this was one of many instead of their first deep kiss. His heart was already skittering around his chest in a riotous beat, and their breathing was loud in his ears.

The groan was the prettiest thing Kieran had ever heard. He locked his knees to keep them from buckling and his fingers swept up into Brant’s hair to feel the soft ends. He wanted to melt into him as he let euphoria wash over his body. It was a heady mix of the smoothness of Brant’s lips slanting against his own and the rasp of his stubbly jaw not to mention the thorough satisfaction from finally coaxing the kiss out of him. Tongues stroked slick and hot in an explosion of desire that made him instantly hard. He could feel his cock growing and searching for room in his tight jeans and he moaned.

Brant cupped his ass and pulled him closer, deepening the kiss. The six inches in height didn’t matter; it made him feel protective of Kieran and want to keep him safe. Yeah, safe, right… who was he kidding? The person he needed protecting from was standing right here shoving his tongue down his throat. He listened to his whimpers and sighs and they were so sexy. So needy. They made his dick ache, longing to complete the deed and take him right now. He had been denying Kieran as well as himself for far too long, and it was time to finish with this particular round before he was so utterly trapped he couldn’t get out.

Kieran could feel the rigid length of Brant’s erection against his thigh. Feeling such a visceral reaction to his own arousal was such a turn-on and he remembered that morning which now seemed ages ago when this same man had climbed out of bed with that beautiful, naked cock rising between his thighs on a jaunt to relieve himself. He wanted that same pulsing member inside him, filling him up and touching all the secret places in a dream of writhing splendor. Please, he wished he had the nerve to beg, just fuck me.

Then, Brant just released him and stood back. Kieran found himself a mass of confusion and again gazing up into sparkling gray eyes darkened to the color of thunderclouds. He heard him desperately gasping for air as he pushed Kieran away gently with a hand against his sternum. “Oh god!”

“Why’d you stop,” Kieran panted, straightening himself in his jeans. “You’re a good kisser.”

Brant blushed and stroked his cheek. His own pants were tight over his crotch and he shifted his hips to relieve the pressure. “So are you, but it’s late and we have class tomorrow.”

So, Brant was going to be a tease again, Kieran thought, cursing his own timidity for not letting him speak up and ask for what he needed. Take me home with you. Fuck me. Take me to bed and do anything you want. Just don’t send me alone to my dorm to argue with my shitty roommate when I can’t even jack off because he’s there.

Brant seemed to read his mind like he always did. “Hey,” he said softly, pulling Kieran back into his arms. “This just isn’t the right time or place. You know that, right?”

Kieran nodded, seeing his point but wondering when they were going to get time alone.

Brant licked his lips nervously. “Um… my parents are having a party on Saturday and I’m allowed to invite people. Why don’t I pick you up and we can go together?”

Surprised at the implications, Kieran could only stare for a couple of heartbeats. Was Brant going to introduce him to his family as his boyfriend? It certainly sounded that way. In joy he nodded and let Brant give him a quick kiss on his cheek before going inside. He was so happy he didn’t even pay that close of attention to the abuse heaped on him by the other dorm residents over Trevor’s music or let the big slob get to him. Something told him that Saturday was going to change his life.


On Saturday, Kieran was nearly ready to leave and awaiting Brant’s text message asking to meet him in the parking lot. That was their standard manner of discreetly getting together, avoiding Trevor who was now pacing around the dorm anxious for him to go. Therefore, he was surprised when he heard a knock at his door and opened it to find Brant smirking at him.

“Hi,” he breathed in confusion as he reluctantly let him into his disgustingly dirty room. His heart beginning to thump. Brant always had this reaction on him.

“Hi, Kier.” Managing to blush a bit and looking like a little boy with his hand in the cookie jar, he handed him a small Neiman Marcus shopping bag. The next words out of his mouth were a plea. “Look, I know you don’t like me buying you stuff, but I want you to accept this. Please.”

Out of the bag he drew this stunning long sleeved t-shirt of the softest cotton. Over a tan background was a pattern of surfboards, palm trees and ocean waves in shades of muted blue, cinnamon and spring green. It felt so good in his hand, and he could tell it would fit him perfectly. He wanted the shirt, and yet, he would feel bad wearing it if it turned out to be one of Brant’s usual high-ticket purchases.

Brant had already anticipated his reaction. “I know how you are about expensive clothes, Kier,” he begged, “so I left the price tag attached. It’s originally eight dollars, but it was fifty percent off this week, and Mom gave me this coupon she received in the mail for another fifty percent, so it only cost me twenty. I’d like you to wear it to the party, okay?”

Kieran sighed and capitulated, aware of Trevor scowling at them in the background. What was going on between him and Brant was only too obvious, and fighting over the shirt would just make things worse. He excused himself to the bathroom to change, pretending not to see the glares between the two men. Yes, the shirt felt great and looked fantastic on him.

Brant’s breath caught in his throat at the sight of Kieran, and he thought how lucky he was to be dating such an attractive man. His bright aqua eyes were snapping in pleasure, and his straight hair shone like gold to his shoulders. The two of them always turned heads when they went out together, and the new shirt was perfect for him.

They left, and Brant closed the door on the glowering idiot roommate who was already cranking up his stereo to ear-splitting volume. What was the matter with the guy? With guilt, Brant realized that Kieran probably wasn’t out to him, and Brant arriving and bringing gifts just gave the situation away. Oh well, if everything went according to plan, Trevor would no longer be his problem after tonight. But he’ll still be Kieran’s, a nasty little voice in his head reminded him.

The party at the Fielding home was in many ways like the one he’d attended at Nicole and Patrick’s except there were adults around. Lots of them. Brant’s parents, his friends’ parents, siblings, business associates. There were even a few trophy wives in their twenties trying to act as if they were interested in the goings on of men three times their age. The place was crawling with rich people all talking about business ventures, real estate and their latest acquisition.

And food. Platters of expertly carved fresh vegetables and exotic fruits, chicken and seafood delicacies and expensive canapés, both hot and cold, littered tables set up throughout the house and back patio. In the dining room was a huge bar staffed by two pro bartenders, and nobody was checking IDs. Piped in music of an earlier age wafted through speakers inside, while out by the swimming pool a live band played covers of the recent dance favorites.

Kieran was glad he had changed into the shirt. He was surrounded by people of wealth and influence, and he didn’t feel like the penniless relative begging for table scraps. Brant held his hand and led him through the house, introducing him to people. They found John, Nicole and Patrick on the patio.

“Where’s Dirk?” Brant asked, looking around for the blue-eyed brunette.

“Sorry, but he sent his thanks and excuses,” John answered, smoothing down the hair on his chin. “It’s Chelsea’s mother’s birthday. Command appearance, and they’re getting serious enough he needs to kiss the future in-laws’ asses.”

“Another good man bites the dust,” Patrick kicked in his two cents.

Nicole threw Kieran a wide-eyed look in inquiry, and it was all she could do to keep her mouth closed. Except for his handsome face which hadn’t changed, there was nothing remotely similar to the kid they almost had to peel off the floor five weeks before. He looked like a million bucks. Confident but as modest as Brant had described him, amusing in his observations while staying poised and articulate, he paid careful attention to everything around him without shrinking away or acting like he had no right to be there. Brant, who was drinking beer, had handed him a Coke as soon as they walked through the door without being asked, and neither seemed embarrassed by him avoiding the alcohol.

The most amazing part, however, was how he interacted with his boyfriend and the relaxed camaraderie between the two. With shock and remorse, Nicole realized that his trusting and sweet-natured heart was wide open and fixated on Brant. And he was going to break it on purpose.

A short while later Kieran said he had to use the restroom, and Brant showed him where it was before returning to his friends.

“Don’t do it, Brant,” Nicole warned, her sienna eyes soft and frightened.

“Do what?” His false bravado almost failed him; he knew what she meant.

“Fuck Kieran and then dump him. It will shatter him.”

John guffawed loudly, thumping Patrick on the back. “That’s the whole point, isn’t it?”

“Damn it, when are you guys going to grow up?” Nicole huffed, crossing her arms over her chest and glaring at the men. “Just because Kieran doesn’t have a bazillion dollar trust fund doesn’t mean he’s dirt. He has totally fallen for Brant, and he seems to be a really cool boy. Far nicer than any of the past playmates in the game, with their whining and drama queen theatrics.

“He doesn’t deserve what you’re going to do with him one bit, and if you were smart, you would make some kind of permanent decision about him. Admit you care and really date him the way you want to. Or, if you must break up, find a way to let him down gently. Lie to him and say you don’t like him and bow out of his life.”

Patrick heard his sister’s words and understood their inference. Admit you care? Lie to him? He stared at Brant whose cheeks were going pink after digesting the same sentences, and Patrick felt like something was gnawing at his insides. It couldn’t be true, not for Brant. It couldn’t possibly be true, not for Brant. Of course Kieran would succumb to the Fielding charm… that was intended. What nobody had deemed possible was Brant reciprocating those feelings. Incredibly, the almighty conqueror had fallen for one of his victims.

Reading him under the bluff was easy but where did that leave Patrick? He didn’t want to say it, even think it, but maybe part of him had always wanted him as more than a best friend for years. Maybe that was why girls left him feeling so unsatisfied, as if there should be more to romance than his shallow insignificance. But if Brant didn’t play this out correctly, he might never get rid of Kieran, and then Pat would have no chance with him at all.

John was clueless about the angst around him and continued to laugh, although with a nervous edge. Nicole’s warning sent an icy chill through him and, without comprehending the true state of affairs, it felt as if he was paying witness to the end of their slapdash uncomplicated childhoods. What with his cousin nearly engaged and the gang growing away from their high school craziness, growing up sucked.

“You’re over-reacting, Nic,” he admonished. “Let Brant have this one last playmate, and if he wants to be done with it, that will be up to him. He’s gone too far into this to back out.”

“I agree with John,” Patrick chimed in, desperately hoping Brant followed their advice. “He’s put so much time and energy into wooing the Sawyer kid. Let him have their night together and then end it.”

“You guys are so stupid,” Nicole jeered. “It’s not a waste of time if no one is hurt. If Brant were to get real and just look at what’s in front of him.” She eyed Brant with warmth. “Surely you have to see he’s unique. Not only because he’s the first one who isn’t manipulating you back, but because you care…”

“Stuff it, Nicole,” Brant yelled. He did not want to hear that he was in love with Kieran. He didn’t want to think about how he was going to hurt his new best friend. “Let me handle this my own way.”

His way was to walk away from them as soon as Kieran returned from the bathroom and take him around the house showing him things. They met up with his siblings, and while fourteen year old Graysen did his best to try to make Brant lose his temper by hissing the word ‘boyfriend’ at Kieran, Fiona, at seventeen, was just as charming as he had said she would be. She made him promise to eat lunch together someday soon.

Several hours passed, and Brant and Kieran were back in the house sitting on the floor behind the piano where nobody was paying attention to them. What had begun with a few playful nips to Kieran’s earlobe had turned into full-fledged making out, and his swollen cock was now trapped behind the zipper of his black jeans with no place to go. Brant was in a likewise state and had pressed Kieran back against the carpeted floor. He settled his body over the smaller man, taking weight in his elbows and proceeded to grind his hard, aching shaft into Kieran’s.

Chills swept over Kieran and he ground back, loving the intensifying pulses in his groin. So good to give himself to his man like this, kissing and shimmying together. Until his ankle connecting with one of the legs of the piano brought him back to reality.

“Stop,” he whispered desperately in Brant’s ear, knowing he was close to losing control. “You’re going to make me…um, you know… uh, and then everyone will see.”

Brant hadn’t realized he was so close and reluctantly pulled back. He flipped over next to him, thinking his over-excited embarrassment was kind of hot. His voice was hoarse when he said, “Then come home with me, Kieran. Come home and spend the night. Let me make love to you.”

Feverish eyes in sweaty, blushing faces took stock of each other and the words between them. Kieran loved and trusted Brant. He had wanted him for weeks. Now Brant was offering himself.

His mind made up, Kieran jumped to his feet. “Let’s get out of here.”

They sped across town to Brant’s penthouse and waited while the guard in the parking lot waved them through to his garage. Kieran knew the name of all six men who rotated through the days by now, having been at his place so many times. They were all courteous and professional.

On the fifteenth floor, Brant fetched glasses of water while they sat on the couch and cuddled into each other. Looking out over the darkened harbor they watched the coastal lights playing across the moon- shimmered ocean. Presently, Brant took his cup out of his hand and set it on the table next to him before leading him into his bedroom with the soft, wide king-sized mattress covered in silk sheets.

Brant gently stroked his thumb over Kieran's cheek from nose to ear, sinking his fingers into his long hair to hold it back from his face. Tilting in, he pressed his mouth tenderly to his with the barest connection of lip, almost like a tickle. Hesitantly, Kieran kissed him back and felt Brant's lips part. The tip of his tongue ventured out to explore and found its mate nearby to taste the flavors from the party.

With simultaneous moans, Brant and Kieran attacked with open mouths, and fused lips crushed together in wild abandon. Sucking hungrily at each other as if it was a last meal they tried to coordinate breathing and failed, giving it up to separate for air before desperately homing in again, hot and possessive.

Kieran let Brant pull his shirt over his head and lay him back against the black silk. He watched with needy eyes as he removed his own and stretched out over him. Skin to skin, the men resumed their kiss in a crescendo of emotional sparks, petting and stroking, finding eyelids and earlobes and collarbones.

Brant lifted his head to stare at the beautiful boy below him; the smile-framing dimples, the slight bump in his nose that Kieran had said was a family trait, the aqua eyes made hazy with desire and faith. His sun-kissed skin was translucent and he could see the veins beneath the surface. His chest had only wisps of hair around his flat pink nipples the size of peas. The torso and shoulder muscles, while not bulging, were built up firm from his sport.

Kieran thought for a second he is going to kiss him again. Their faces were so close, just inches apart, and he was hovering over him. Brant's hands moved down his sides and he could feel his breath on his neck, raising goosebumps. His lips brushed his skin as he whispered in his ear, “Tell me what you want.”

“You,” Kieran breathed raggedly, his senses swimming. “I want you.”

“More specific, Kier,” Brant urged him on, his hot mouth planting tiny kisses against his throat and making it impossible for Kieran to do anything but feel. “How far are we going tonight? It’s up to you.”

“Kiss me… and touch me,” he moaned. “Undress me first.” He needed his pants off because he could feel the constraints of the zipper against his hard-on and the dampness of his precum on the waistband of his boxer briefs.

Brant hunkered back against on heels to untie his shoes and rip off his socks before his hand located the fly of Kieran’s jeans and unfastened them. Kieran lifted his ass and helped work them down his legs along with his underwear. Brant's appreciative eyes took in his erect six-inch, rosy pink cock and swollen balls lying against groomed pubic curls of golden blonde. His manhood was cut and curved slightly to the left, thick at the base and tapering at the perfect bell shape of the red head dripping precum.

Kieran felt no shame lying naked under Brant’s gaze. On the contrary, he felt sexy and adored, and he wanted him to touch him. He needed his warm hands sliding around his skin, and he shivered with the idea of letting Brant make love to him. He wanted that too.

“Now yourself,” he told Brant, “so I can touch you too.”

He feasted his eyes on the redhead. Nikes and low rise socks fell to the floor, and he watched his fingers fumbling with the belt buckle before unzipping his jeans. First one leg, then the other emerged from the denim, and he was bending over, the smooth muscles of his ass flexing and making Kieran’s mouth water. Apparently he had nothing else on because he was naked when he turned around. There was his long, thick cock rising like a dusky snake from his groin, and he nearly cried out with wanting it inside his mouth and his ass.

Kieran took Brant’s hand and pulled him down to the bed so they could touch each other. Lips, shoulders, bellies meeting, heat swept over him in waves. Being shorter than Brant, his cock pulsed against his navel while Brant’s fit perfectly between his legs, resting against the crevice of his ass. Just a few inches away from his hole, he wriggled with desire as they kissed. He was so close to cumming.

Brant had never had such a sensitive lover. He ghosted gentle kisses down Kieran’s neck from ear to shoulder and the man below him tilted his head with a whimper to expose more of his throat. Lapping and nibbling at his nipples made him practically bend in half backwards trying to thrust his chest towards Brant's mouth. He stuck his tongue in Kieran’s navel, and he broke out in a rash of chills across his torso and moaned loudly. His dick weeping strings of clear precum on his stomach and thigh muscles jumping at each touch, Brant watched him quiver in delight.

Kieran’s cock was so hard it was lying almost flat and Brant licked the puddle of slick fluid off his abdomen. Kieran’s hands were everywhere on him, starting with pulling gently on his hair to flutter down his neck and back and finally massaging the muscles of his chest and shoulders. His fingers strummed his nipples, rolling them into hard brown knots and flicking them with his fingernails. Exploring and testing, it was like Kieran had left his timid nature behind with his clothes.

“What now?” Brant choked out. Kieran was working him up far faster than he expected. He had swapped out his mouth for his fingers and was now biting and sucking his nipples, and damn if it wasn’t sending a solid wave of need rushing through him. Brant was the one who was always in control, calling the shots during fucking, but tonight it felt like he was hanging on for the ride, and Kieran, inexperienced as he might be, was in the driver’s seat.

“Suck me and I’ll suck you at the same time,” Kieran husked, arching his back and thrusting against air, receiving no relief for his wet, aching cock. If Brant didn’t help him out soon he was going to explode.

Brant froze in surprise and made no move at first to comply with his wishes. He wasn’t used to his sacrificial partners offering themselves up like lambs to help him find his own release, and it only made him appreciate how extraordinary he was. Kieran took charge, for once reading Brant’s thoughts and seeing him hesitate, and moved around to get into the sixty-nine position. He faced Brant’s thick cock.

He was glad that Brant was circumcised like himself. It was one less anomaly to face, and he should be able to do this even though he’d never sucked a cock before. It was just movement and friction, right? And keeping sharp objects like teeth away from delicate organs.

He leaned in toward that gorgeous cock and balls he wanted in his mouth. The scent coming off Brant’s groin was a musky-spicy soap scent that filled up his senses and spurred on his exam. Tentatively he stuck his tongue out to lick the head. Precum bubbled up from the slit, and Kieran lapped at it eagerly, finding it slightly salty. Like a baby to a nipple, he began to suck the spongy, dark crown, knowing how sensitive it was. His tongue swirled against the smooth skin and along the back where the groove formed the shaft, and he was rewarded by a guttural moan.

Brant was snapped out of his reverie by the loving mouth now drawing him inside such bliss and he got busy with his own experimenting. Pro that he was, he knew exactly what to do to bring Kieran screaming into orgasm, and he began to suck languidly on Kieran’s warm, steely cock. Slurping on the tip and around the smooth head like it was a straw, his tongue swished along the delicate ridge. At the same time, Brant very gently lifted Kieran’s balls and rolled them over his fingers using a slight squeezing movement that was like milking him and had him crying out in pleasure with ever pull.

Speaking of pleasure, Kieran was doing an amazing job with his own mouth, but he was still a beginner in need of some instruction. “Try to take it deeper,” he grunted, letting Kieran’s cock drop away from his tongue for a few seconds and then getting back to business.

Kieran pushed his lips downwards, letting saliva pool under his tongue to coat the surface of Brant’s fully engorged flesh. Hands, he had hands and used one to massage the slick pole. He tenderly cradled his balls in his other, applying soft pressure with his palm and testing their weight and fullness. More of the spicy bodywash wafted upwards her every time his nose got close to his silky red pubes.

It was hard to concentrate, what with Brant fully engrossed in bringing him into rapture. The way he knew to coordinate each move of lips, tongue and fingers. Kieran’s chest vibrated with a deep moan, and he shut his eyes tight. “Fuck, Brant, that feels good,” he groaned around his rigid mouthful.

Encouraged by his frenzied outcry, his mouth descended the staff, bobbing faster and deeper with each slide, and he gripped the base firmly with his other hand. Kieran couldn’t help it; his groin began to thrust in rhythm to his ministrations until Brant had his entire cock enveloped in his warm cavern. Up, to suck on the head like it was his favorite piece of hard candy, and back down where he swallowed and lodged it deep in his throat, and all the licking along the veins in between. He could hear Kieran panting around his own dick and feel the heat building between them. It wouldn’t be long now.

Kieran was in heaven. This so far surpassed what his hand could do when he jacked off they weren’t even in the same category. He was going to cum and cum hard, and at times he almost stopped sucking Brant entirely to give in to his upwelling climax. He was straddling the line; his lover drawing it out by taking him just up to it before pulling back. Kieran buried a hand in those auburn curls and pushed him deeper. The crowning moment came when Brant dropped his hand to the tender skin between his nut sac and ass and massaged it deftly. He felt his balls tense and his seed racing through his pulsating dick.

“Oh god, oh god, oh god, oh god!” Kieran came flying apart with a hoarse scream, muscles quivering out of control and sweat pouring off him. Brant was there to take each offered burst on his tongue and swallow it. To hold on to his thrashing body and continue to suck on him until his cock was going flaccid. He felt Kieran let go of the death grip he had on his head and cleaned him up neat and tidy before staring lovingly down into his eyes. Licking drops of cum from the corners of his mouth, he smiled like a Cheshire cat.

With an insistent buck to remind him that he wasn’t finished with his end of the blowjob, Kieran returned to the task at hand. Pulling with his lips on the hard shaft, licking all around it and his tongue ever teasing, he was inflamed to make it good for Brant. He felt the man’s hips begin to undulate below him, rising and falling to meet his mouth. It caused him to gag a little but he didn’t panic and at the next plunge he didn’t bob as hard. Learning to breathe on the downstroke, Kieran’s tongue lavishly washed every inch of his velvety shaft.

Brant was twisting in ecstasy and sweating profusely. He had to admit that Kieran was good, maybe the best. And then all reasoning was blowing away and he felt his groin tighten and knew he was done. “I’m going to…” he cried out helplessly, his head thrashing against the pillow.

Just before he felt his cock briefly swell inside Kieran’s mouth, his body went totally still as if in wait. Then his muscles locked in rapture, his back arched upwards and he moaned, “Kier… shit, Kieran… oh fuck… ahhh, take my cum, take it all.”

Kieran sucked hard, listening to Brant’s groan rise in volume to a shout as the first gob of semen hit the back of his throat. He pulled back from his dick to let his cream fill his mouth so he could taste it and there was only a slight bitterness. His own heart swelled with pride and joy to behold the man he had come to care for writhing on the bed, knowing he was the cause. He swallowed and sucked and swallowed some more until Brant was done and lying loose-limbed and sated.

Sharing cum, they went back to kissing and stroking, quieter now that the desperation had worn off. Brant felt like shit. He couldn’t get Nicole’s voice out of his head, listening as her dire warning about hurting Kieran repeated over and over. Why did he want to? Kieran was the best thing that had ever happened to him. No, his boyfriend wasn’t wealthy or important, but he wasn’t an asshole like so many of his rich friends were. Brant was proud of him because he had proven he could hold his own in his crowd. He commanded respect, and he made others care.

Why not just end this farce, admit he loved the man and have done with it. He didn’t even have to tell Kieran it all started out as a game but somehow he knew he would understand. Even if he didn’t, it was what Brant deserved. He didn’t have to break up and shove him away.

“Are you okay, Brant?” Kieran asked concerned by his quiet sadness. He rolled into him and draped an arm over his chest wondering if he’d done something wrong. Maybe his technique had been bad and Brant was dissatisfied with him. “You’re awfully quiet.”

Brant kissed the top of his head with guilty lips. “Fine, Kier. I’m just resting.”

His voice wasn’t very reassuring. “Are you sure? I mean, I told you I’ve never done this…”

Brant could hear the confusion and hurt in his voice. Nice going, dickwad, he told himself. Now he had Kieran doubting himself. “You were great, Kier, believe me. Better than great.”

They relaxed against each other for a few minutes longer. Kieran shifted position again to run his fingers over Brant’s collarbone. “Would you make love to me?”

Brant went totally still, wracked with guilt.

This was supposed to be the goal, the epitome of the whole diversion. Fuck Kieran, dump him, and stand back to watch him flame out. Refuse to speak to him and ignore his phone calls and text messages. Pretend they had never been more than fuck buddies and the fun was over now, so it was time to move on. They had both gotten what they wanted, hadn’t they? Avoid him if at all possible until he finally got the point and drew back into his shell, feeling worthless, unloved and abandoned.

What was the matter with him, Brant accused himself? He had spent weeks on this one, trading time for money because Kieran didn’t want a fuss, and now he was his for the taking. Stop acting like a wimp and just do it. Fuck him and get it over with.

“Definitely,” he answered with an almost savage growl.

Brant was going to take Kieran forcefully and pound into his ass until he screamed his name. He planned to show him a real man, an experienced lover that he would compare every other man he would ever have to. Someone he would never forget, time after time, to ruin him forever. The next honest man coming along, his heart in his hand, would offer true love and Kieran would spurn him remembering how he’d been hurt.

Already in mourning, Brant didn’t want Kieran to move on to anyone else.

But there he was moments later, posing his boyfriend on his belly on top of a large towel, his hips lifted by pillows so he was ready and waiting for him. Brant retrieved a condom and lube, knowing he would spend a long time getting him opened up. He couldn’t guarantee pain-free, but he would do his best.

Brant quietly ran off the usual instructions. “Relax,” he told him numerous times, glad that Kieran couldn’t see his sorrowful face. How could he make this good for Kieran’s first time when he was full of such self-loathing? He had to grit his teeth and get through it, but damn, he was going to make sure Kieran felt treasured and came hard.

His first lubed finger through the portal of his bud produced a mild hiss from Kieran’s mouth, and with his other hand Brant massaged the muscles of his cute, well-toned ass to distract him. He was so tight. Gently he poked and prodded, adding more lube and running his finger around in ever-widening circles.

It hurt at first, but Kieran was trying to focus on the pleasant, not the pain and so far, the one finger wasn’t awful. Tonight Brant was going to make love to him and make them one. He was only bothered by one thing, and that was the way Brant kept fading out, as if he had something momentous on his mind. Kieran was reassured that he’d enjoyed the blowjob, but something was wrong. He hoped it was only that Brant was tired.

A second finger went in with just the barest of burning, but Brant knew what he was doing, and it quickly faded. By the time he had three fingers sawing in and out, the last twinge had vanished and Kieran was feeling nicely filled up. It felt so good to push back against those probing digits. He just wanted to be fucked, but Brant kept saying he wasn’t ready.

“Please, Brant, don’t make me wait. I feel so loose down there, and I know I’m ready.”

Brant had to chuckle at how cute he sounded when he begged. Kieran’s beauty was transcendent; his flushed face pressed against the black silken sheet with his eyes darkened with lust, drawn up on his knees while his hands gripped the covers convulsively and his ass high in the air dancing with arousal and following his fingers so wantonly. Bottle this as an aphrodisiac and he’d make a million dollars.

“Alright, Kier, let’s get you straightened out on your back.”

Brant sheathed himself in latex and covered his cock liberally in lube while Kieran watched him in anticipation with his knees drawn up and his hungry hole twitching for it. Brant crawled to him and pulled Kieran’s legs up to his shoulders, almost bending him in half. They locked eyes and Brant tried to soften his grim smile. “Are you ready to lose your virginity?”

“Yes,” Kieran whispered as a shiver wrapped around him, and he took him by the hand. “To do this with you, Brant, means the world to me.”

Brant could not look upon his eager innocence and lowered his eyes, feeling like scum. Fuck him hard, the devil on his shoulder insisted. Get it over with.

But he didn’t. He couldn’t. At this critical moment when Kieran was so impossibly vulnerable, so wide open to him, how could he trample on that and live with himself afterwards?

Carefully Brant lined his cock up with Kieran’s puckered hole and leaned in slowly. With barely a touch, he breezed through the rings of muscles, and the tip was lodged inside him. Kieran, who had expected agonizing pain, gave a startled grunt at the mild sting and grinned up at his lover. “It doesn’t hurt,” he rejoiced. “Keep going.”

Grasping his shoulder for support Brant began to slowly thrust his way into Kieran, lengthening the stroke until his balls came to rest against the round globes of his ass. He felt no discomfort, only the satisfying breadth and depth of a well-filled hole. Brant pulled his legs down and wrapped them around his waist. He began to rock back and forth inside him, nearly pulling out to the very tip before plunging relentlessly back in. Always searching for more pleasure he tried various angles, until Kieran let out a long, deep groan.

“Whatever you just did, do it again,” he begged, causing Brent to laugh.

Careful not to crush him, he gently settled himself between Kieran’s thighs and leaned into his neck, kissing and nuzzling him. His hand found his hard cock and began to pump it with each drive, and every forward motion nailed his prostate. Kieran could feel the upswing building and knew it wouldn’t be long now.

“God, Kier, you feel amazing,” Brant husked, his lips moving ceaselessly over sweaty skin and tasting the salt on his tongue. “The way your ass squeezes my cock…”

Kieran blushed at the graphic praise. “It feels good for me too,” he gasped breathlessly. His body was flirting with the mere edge of his orgasm, and he needed more. “Can you go harder?”

“Uh-huh,” Brant moaned, anything close to real words escaping him. He reset his knees to give him more power and began to drill Kieran good. Heat, wet and movement combined to make a squelching sound where skin connected, and tingles went up and down his spine. It was there, right there as if he could reach out with his hand and grab it.

Kieran didn’t need to grab anything except his sanity because he suddenly tripped, the fingers fluttering on his cock too intense. His whole body was tumbling when his nuts contracted almost painfully and began to send jets of sperm across his abdomen and chest and Brant’s fingers. “I love you,” he chanted into his ear.

His ass clamped down on Brant’s cock which began to spurt wildly into the condom as his orgasm tore through him. Tendons locking, he dug his fingers into Kieran’s shoulder and held on, fighting for air. Ecstasy danced across his torso and down through his thighs and up his back, and he opened his mouth to let out a hoarse scream of Kieran’s name.

Breathing like marathon runners, Brant and Kieran settled back to earth wrapped in each other’s arms. Brant’s cock fell out of Kieran’s ass, and he tied off the condom and threw it in the trash. He rested his cheek on his lover’s chest, trying not to feel as if he’d stolen a precious gift from him. He’d clearly heard Kieran’s vows of love, but he couldn’t respond. He argued with himself that he didn’t feel the same way, but it sounded hollow and weak in his heart. Guilt-ridden, he fought a need to come clean and in the end said nothing.

“How are you?” Kieran sounded anxious. He, too, was aware that Brant had not responded to his claim in either direction, and he seemed so distant. Kieran was beginning to have a bad feeling.

“Good,” Brant wheezed. “I’m good. Tired.”

Kieran nodded and began to get up. He was receiving mixed messages from Brant and didn’t even know if he was invited to stay or should prepare to go home. A hand on his thigh stopped him, and he looked down into one of the saddest faces he’d ever seen. He couldn’t keep the panicked quiver out of his voice.

“What’s wrong, Brant? Did I hurt you? Make you angry, or am I that terrible of a lover?”

Mortified that Kieran was taking his pain upon himself, Brant forced a smile. “I’m alright. Come back to bed. It’s late, and I’ll take you home tomorrow.”

Stringing out the agony. Procrastinating the inevitable. He rationalized by saying it would be wrong to kick Kieran out of his bed this late at night and send him back to his cold dorm to be further victimized by Trevor. He could make any excuses necessary to keep from facing reality.

Brant lay there with Kieran tucked into his side and his arms around him. It took him forever to calm down and relax, and when he finally did he slept the sleep of the damned.


Early the next morning Kieran’s opened his peepers and he smiled knowing exactly where he was and feeling as if he belonged there. He was no longer intimidated by Brant’s affluence. Even if he never got used to having him spend money on him, he could probably compromise and teach him a thing or two about being thrifty.

He stared up into Brant’s stunning face and noticed something interesting. He had a pinched look around his eyes that had begun to show up within the last couple of weeks, and he wasn’t sure of the cause. Brant was attentive and never seemed angry at him, so he was fairly sure it was nothing about their relationship. However, it bothered him that he would be going through trials and not sharing them with him.

He was about to get up and use the toilet when Brant began to moan next to him. Not the sexy kind of moan, but a sound like he was in pain. In fact he was mumbling in his sleep, and words like ‘sorry’ and ‘no’ were prominent. Then he heard a dark, angry “don’t Kieran”, and it chilled his blood. Brant was having a nightmare about him.

He was about to put a hand on his arm when Brant sat completely upright, his head on a swivel. When he saw Kieran in bed with him, he let out a sigh of relief and smiled sheepishly. “I had this terrible dream where we were fighting because I said…”

He froze, suddenly considering who he was speaking to. Fuck! He had almost told Kieran about the game. He was going to confess all about what he’d done, and there was no way he could unload his conscience like that. The devil climbed back up on his shoulder to remind him, that, coincidentally enough, it was the morning after, and time to tidy up the situation. Jettison current boyfriend and plan for the next conquest.

He shook his head, dismissing the angry, vindictive demon. “Coffee?” he offered. “Breakfast?”

Kieran smiled and settled back in bed next to him. Food and his bladder could wait. “How about you?” he asked seductively, snaking his hand around Brant’s waist and pulling him closer. Nestled back into his side, he climbed up his body and claimed his lips. His morning wood blossomed into a full erection which he ground against Brant’s hip.

Brant groaned. Kieran was such a sexy little thing and he wanted badly to take him up on his offer. But giving in would go against every speck of common sense he possessed. He didn’t need more time with him to feel responsible over. Besides…

Brant’s cell phone rang. Right on time. “Hello.”

From his position just inches away Kieran didn’t hear most of the conversation except he thought he recognized the voice. Something about him being needed at home as soon as he could get away, but not to put it off. He was expected within two hours.

Brant’s face reflected regret. “I guess that takes care of my day. I have to go see my mom and dad about some problem or other. I’m sorry about breakfast, but I’ll make it up to you.”

Kieran swallowed his disappointment and tried to look on the bright side. At least the problem that had been bothering Brant the night before seemed to have cleared up.

They tossed clothes back and forth to each other and redressed. Down the elevator to the garage where Brant’s current automobile, a silver Prius, was parked. He had been driving it for the past three weeks because Kieran was more at ease running around in it than the ‘Stang. Out into the parking lot where the guard, this one a man named Cal, opened the gate for them.

The trip back to Barratt College was atypically quiet. Brant had dropped back into his melancholy from the night before, and Kieran didn’t know how to bring him out of his funk. He had a terrible feeling something was wrong between them, but without input from his boyfriend, he couldn’t even hazard a guess what it was.

They swung into the Fraley Hall parking lot and Brant parked in the only spot he could find, down at the end under some Sycamore trees. His hands stayed on the steering wheel and he stared down at his knees, making no move to kiss Kieran. The shorter man sneaked a peek at him and his heart stuttered with fear at the determined frown there. Putting his hand on the door handle and preparing to swing out of the Prius, he felt what was almost like a physical tug at his left shoulder. Intuition told him not to move.

“I’m not going to ask you what is wrong,” he began in a low voice, “because I think you would deny a problem between us, but I can tell, you know? Maybe I said or did something wrong last night, so I’m sorry. Maybe it’s because I said I love you and it was too soon. I can wait. Please let me help and don’t shut me out.”

“It’s not you,” Brant claimed. “It’s me. I need to find out what’s going on with my parents.”

Kieran knew he was lying but he leaned over and gave him a kiss on the cheek anyway. “Call me, Brant,” he said before sliding out and making his way towards the dorm.

Brant stared after him feeling as if his whole world was walking down that sidewalk. He tried to swallow past a hard lump that was growing in his throat and nearly choked. He tried again, looking in the back seat for a bottle of water.

His cell phone chimed and it was a cryptic but clear text message from Dirk. ‘We’re here.’

Standard operating procedure: the morning after the seduction, one of his friends, usually Patrick because he loved doing it, called at nine o’clock and pretended to be his father summoning him home. That solved the dilemma of how to get the playmate out of the condo without a lot of drama. Brant was supposed to drop the reject off before driving to the harbor and meeting the gang for brunch. There they would discuss the highs and lows of the discarded relationship, pay off the one who had won the bet and plan the next attack.

Brant texted back, ‘See u in a few’.

He heard another ping and checked his cell to find that Nicole had sent him a text-photo. It was of her flipping him off with an infuriated pout on her pretty face along with the line, ‘Ur a dick and I h8 U 4 hurting K.’

He was still digesting this piece of news when two chimes on top of each other came in. My, he was popular this morning.

The first was from Chelsea, and it left no doubt about her feelings. ‘Agree with Nic. Stop. You love him. Hope it’s not too late.”

The last message was Patrick telling him the girls were just being silly, emotional fools and it was his life. Yes, his to mess up, he thought sourly.

His hand paused as he was preparing to start the car. Chelsea’s words… she hoped it wasn’t too late. It wasn’t, not yet. Aside from some awkwardness between him and Kieran, all he had done so far was lie about why he had taken him home early. Maybe it was time to stop lying, mainly to himself, put all the information into the hat and make a logical decision.

He was still sitting in the parking lot fifteen minutes later. It all boiled down to three simple statements. He was in love with Kieran. Breaking up was the stupidest thing he could do. But like the game, the breakup wasn’t set in stone. Since he was the only one aware of what he’d done, all that was required of him was to make things right. And be honest with Kieran.

Dirk texted him: ‘Where are you?’

Sometimes he hated text messages because it hurt his fingers on the small keys. He decided to call him back. “We expected you here ten minutes ago,” Dirk hooted without giving him a chance to even say hello. “What the hell are you doing?”

Brant laughed; a happy laugh for the first time all week and it felt good. “Growing up, hopefully. Tell the girls to keep sending positive vibes.”

“Does this mean what I think it means?” Dirk sounded shocked.

“I hope so,” Brant sighed. “I don’t know what Kieran is going to say once he finds out what I’ve done, but I hope he’ll take it easy on me. In the meantime, I’m still at Barratt so don’t wait breakfast on me. I might not make it.”

Dirk signed off, and Brant immediately got a new text from Chelsea that mysteriously said ‘C-U.’ He had no idea what that was supposed to mean.

Straightening his shoulders, Brant grabbed his car keys and locked up the Prius. He entered the dorm and headed in the direction of Kieran’s room. A crowd of students milled around the hall all focused on the door near the end where the sounds of shouting was coming from, interspersed with thuds from something hitting the wall. Trevor and Kieran arguing. Oh, the hell no!

He pushed through the throng, wondering why they all had grins on their faces and nobody was lending Kieran a hand in defending himself. Nearing the door, an unexpected sight met his eyes. Kieran was in the middle of it alright, but it was Trevor who was cowering, not his boyfriend.

Kieran looked like a small Tasmanian devil, arms folded across his chest and yelling at his bigger roommate about volume levels, intolerant students and filth so thick the room was going to be condemned. Trevor was throwing his belongings in anything he could find, and some of the dorm residents had hastily donated cardboard to speed the job along.

“What happened,” Brant couldn't help but ask a laughing blonde freshman.

“The short boy…” she pointed at Kieran… “was gone all night, and when he came home this morning his asswipe roommate had pushed both of their beds together so he and his girlfriend would be more comfortable sleeping. He flipped out and began shouting at him about respecting his stuff, saying he’s had enough of the fat slob thinking he makes the rules and walking all over people. Got right in his face too and didn’t bat an eye when he was threatened. So the roomie backed down and is moving in with his girl. Which is totally awesome because we all hate him.”

Brant stood back against the wall feeling proud of Kieran and letting him have his moment of glory. He watched as a few teens volunteered to help Trevor pack and soon they had an assembly line going of people eager to see him leave and quickly filling boxes with his stuff. Half an hour later, Sandra the Screamer appeared with her own crew, and they loaded Trevor’s stuff up in a pickup truck and drove away. The residents cheered and several clapped Kieran on the back.

For the first time, Kieran looked right at him and, grinning, raised his hand in a wave. Brant pushed with determination through the dispersing students until he reached him and enfolded him in his arms. “So Trevor is gone?”

“It sure looks like it,” Kieran smirked, his aqua eyes shining in joy and not caring who saw him. “I guess I’ll be getting a new dorm mate.”

Kieran didn’t understand why Brant was here. Wasn’t he supposed to be visiting his parents right now? The comment about needing a dorm mate… would he let that pass or bring up putting their relationship on a more permanent footing. Kieran could feel a whole new set of emotions rolling off him; something had been made right inside him in the past hour, but he saw fear in his eyes too. Brant was quick to explain.

“You and I need to talk,” he said gravely, raising Kieran’s fingers to his lips. “I have a lot to tell you. Some of it you probably won’t like, but I hope you’ll listen and try to understand.”

Silently walking back to the parking lot hand in hand, Kieran and Brant were startled to find John, Dirk and Chelsea waiting for them near the parked Prius. “We thought you would need emotional support,” John explained, bumping his fist.

For some reason, their appearance disconcerted Kieran. He had a bad feeling he was going to hate what Brant told him. They walked to an empty picnic table that would give them privacy just up the hill from the dining hall. Kieran waited for Brant to start, eying his friends suspiciously.

“Four years ago I was a cynical, spoiled, self-centered teenager with too much money and time on my hands,” Brant began quietly, looking anywhere but at Kieran’s face. “Everything bored me, and when it came to how I treated anyone outside my immediate circle of friends, I didn’t have any…” He paused, searching for a word that his childhood friends were only happy to supply.

“Kindness,” John hinted warily.

“Boundaries,” responded Dirk, the social science major.

Chelsea’s voice was cold. “Compassion for anyone of a lower social status. Not even a conscience.”

“Ouch, Chels,” Brant breathed, glancing at her mutinous face and knowing that nevertheless he deserved the harsh criticism. “Not much on forgiveness today, I see.”

She snorted but there was no levity in her face. “Just because we were only sixteen doesn’t mean we all lacked maturity like you did, Brant. We were in it from the beginning and saw how cruel your behavior was, but we ignored it because you were our friend. You had no respect for yourself, so how could you show respect for anyone else?”

By now Kieran was getting lost with the time shift back to high school and simply wanted some clarification. “What does this have to do with me?”

“A lot…” Dirk replied, scowling. He turned to Brant. “And nothing. I don’t understand why you’re telling him all this. It isn’t like you hurt him so why are you opening yourself up to…”

“I need to be honest, Dirk.” Brant fixed his gray eyes on each of them, lingering lastly on the confused face of his boyfriend who gazed back so fervently it made him blush. “One hundred percent truthful with him so there’s no misunderstanding.”

John shrugged but Kieran could tell he disagreed. “Okay, but it’s your funeral.”

Brant continued. “In my high school I found it was really easy to manipulate people, especially the ones who wanted to hang with the popular kids. I enjoyed sex…”

“Too much,” John broke in and was instantly shushed.

“I enjoyed sex,” Brant emphasized again, “so I used it to my advantage. Gradually I created a game out of it, and…” Here, he faltered. “I uh…”

“He still plays it to this day,” Chelsea finished, her voice softer, more empathetic now. “At least, he played it up until today.”

With a lot of stops and starts, enhanced by comments from his friends, Brant sketched out the picture of an angry, aimless boy with no scruples who destroyed other boys for sport. By the time he was done, Kieran had a clear image in his mind of what Brant was and the lives he’d wrecked. He was also seething with fury. Brant left no question about why they had begun dating.

Brant couldn’t meet Kieran’s eyes, he felt so terrible. Even from the start of the story he realized he was playing with fire; that his boyfriend would despise him for the malicious hurt he’d caused in the past, take to heart how he had maneuvered himself into his life and reject him. However, he would rather have a broken relationship based on honesty than hide what he had been for the rest of his life. He didn’t know what he would do if Kieran walked away.

“I’m sorry, Kier,” he mumbled, finally talked out. “I got into this for all the wrong reasons and until recently I planned to do to you exactly like I’ve done to the rest of the men… my… uh, victims. But I started to realize I had never met anyone like you. You didn’t like me for being rich or buying you stuff. You liked me for me.”

He took a deep breath, daring a peek at Kieran’s face. He was struggling to remain impassive, but the pain in his aqua eyes was tremendous, and in a flash, Brant saw he was going to lose him. This was beyond unforgivable, and Brant didn’t deserve someone like him in his life.

But he had to try. “I have been arguing with myself over what to do for weeks. Whether I deserved your love at all, and if I would have guts to walk away and treat you like the rest. I didn’t want to, but I also didn’t want to admit to myself that I fell in love with you. As if I was superhuman and could get by without it. But then I’d be with you, and the questions would all go away. I wanted this so bad and I couldn’t stand hurting you.”

The truth was in Brant’s eyes, but Kieran was too angry over being tricked to care. He got up and angrily strode away from the table. Brant stared after him, feeling as if his heart was being torn in two. Even knowing he'd earned it, the pain was immense, and he put his head down on his arms and began to cry.

Dirk and John just looked at him, feeling distinctly uncomfortable. Dirk lifted his hand as if to put it on Brant's shoulder and stopped, and John plucked at the hair on his chin. They had grown up with him and couldn’t remember the last time they had seen Brant like this. Not even at age thirteen when he fell out of a tree in his back yard and shattered his elbow, the bones all at weird angels…

Kieran heard Chelsea’s distressed “Brant” as he moved away from the group of friends at a fast clip. What was going on behind him didn’t matter. Brant had betrayed him. He had made him think he loved him, and it was just a game. He— all of them— had played him without any care over how he would feel being abandoned when it was all over. They were disgusting.

“Kieran, wait,” came a feminine voice behind him. He sighed and slowed enough for Chelsea to catch him. “Are you alright?” she asked, putting a hand on his arm.

“Do me a favor and tell him to go to hell,” he hissed, ignoring her question.

Her smile didn’t dim. “I already did that. Actually, he’s getting exactly what he deserves.”

Curious that one of Brant’s friends would take this attitude, he couldn’t help himself. “And that’s what?”

“You turning your back on him,” she crowed happily. “For the first time since this stupid thing started, not only is Brant unable to simply walk away from his last prize, he’s been miserable for weeks. Playing the game is so ingrained as a part of what he is, he almost can’t function without it. I knew at some point it would bite him in the ass. I tried to warn him there would be penalties but he wouldn’t listen.”

Kieran straightened up a little and pushed his blonde hair out of his eyes. “Why was he miserable?”

“That’s the best part,” she gushed. “He’s so in love with you he can’t stand it. Part of him feels badly for what he did to you and was going to do and wishes he could make it up. The other part was too stubborn to admit he cared.” She took a deep breath trying to ascertain the wisdom of sharing Brant’s secrets, but desperate times called for desperate measures.

“In all the time he’s been participating, I’ve never known Brant to fall so hard… really fall in love at all with any of the guys he’s been with. Something in you sparked an interest that was totally unexpected. You didn’t see him as a dollar sign to manipulate into buying you things. It made him come down off his mountain for once and mourn what he was going to lose. And then this morning when he was supposed to walk away, he couldn’t do it. He had to set aside his pride and confess he was in love so you both could work it out.”

“And what if I don’t want to work it out with him? What then? I’m not just his play toy. I love him but he doesn’t get a pass to treat me like this just because of who he is. He deserves every scrap of despair he’s earned. Now he knows how exactly how his victims felt.”

Chelsea smiled broadly. “Touché, Kieran. You’re completely right. He deserves it in spades. He’s done nothing to earn the respect of any of them, which would require him to apologize and ask their forgiveness. On the other hand, Brant was at least honest when he said he loves you, and I know that part is true because he and I argued about it last month.”

She looked back over her shoulder at the picnic table down the hill, and against his better judgment, Kieran did too. Brant’s whole body had crumbled and his shoulders were shaking with sobs. “Brant doesn’t cry, you know,” she said speculatively. “I have never seen him like this before. He’s actually ashamed of himself for the first time.”

Kieran was moved to sympathy over the wreckage of a man who didn’t know how to admit what he wanted. Well, maybe not in words. Kieran couldn’t deny what he had seen in Brant’s face. He might be incapable of speaking his love, but his feelings were there for anyone to read.

“The thing is, Kieran,” Chelsea advised, “you both have several directions you could go from this point. You could refuse to give him another chance in which case he goes back to being Mr. Cynical Bastard and playing the game until it bores him, he finds someone else or the consequences outweigh the gain. He would probably end up bitter over it. Or you could suck it up and admit that, yes, it hurts, and maybe some of the trust between you is lost, but you are in love with each other. Love means forgive and forget, and you can conquer the world with it. You’re good for him, and you know it.”

The picture Chelsea had painted for Brant without Kieran in his life was dismal but all too real. It wouldn’t take much to push him back into his suspicious, self-absorbed hole where love couldn’t touch him. At the farthest end of the scale, he might run from it for the rest of his life, and that would be a shame. After living through his entire adolescence without being in love, Brant had an excess of it to share with his lover and the world.

And what about himself? He loved Brant and didn’t want to give him up. His passion had touched Kieran and he longed to feel it again and again. Last night in his bed wasn’t about fucking; they had connected and made love to each other. Instinctively, he knew Brant hadn’t been just going through the motions. He loved him. No, he might not deserve to be forgiven, but he needed to be.

Quickly hugging Chelsea, Kieran returned to the table and stood silently behind Brant. The Copeland cousins didn’t say anything but got up and walked away, giving them privacy. Slowly Kieran leaned over and ran his hands across Brant’s shoulders and down his arms. Brant instantly recognized the comforting touch and pivoted on the bench to wrap his arms around Kieran’s hips and bury his wet face against his belly.

“I’m sorry,” he sobbed in a cotton-muffled voice, “so sorry. I love you, Kieran. You are so different than anyone I’ve ever known. I can’t live without you.”

“Shh, it’s okay,” Kieran comforted. “We’ll work it out.”

Brant lifted his face and looked up at him, his eyes bright with tears. “Do you really mean that? You forgive me?”

Kieran slid down to sit on the bench next to him. “I think so. It might take time but I want to try. I love you too.”

Brant kissed him then, hot and smoldering and putting all his feelings into it. Kieran let him in, running his fingers through the gorgeous curly hair he loved so much. When they finally broke apart panting, they giggled.

“Move in with me, Kieran,” Brant begged. “I don’t want you to have to live in that nasty dorm and wonder how your roommate is treating you. Besides, it gets lonely up on the fifteenth floor.”

Kieran wanted to, he really did, but it was easy to see this as rushing things. But maybe what Chelsea had said was right. This was the first test to their relationship, and it was a huge one. They had come through intact; hell, he had even gotten Brant to publicly admit he loved him. And he didn’t want to crush the hope in his eyes.

“Give me a couple days to think about it, okay?”

“Okay, but you know I’m going to keep bugging you about it until you say yes.”

Of that, Kieran had no doubt. Brant was tenacious that way.

“I’m hungry,” Brant said, interrupting his thoughts. “We should go get breakfast. I can introduce you as my boyfriend to my friends. My real boyfriend.”

Hmm, Kieran thought, that sounded like a great idea. He knew he’d already found acceptance in the three waiting for them nearby. They wanted Brant happy, and if he made him happy that was all it took.

“Alright, let’s eat,” he agreed, giving Brant a kiss on the cheek. They arose from the table and, hand in hand, made their way up towards their friends. They never looked back.

The End.

© 2013 by Janelle Caves