“You better not call me an asshole or tell me I’m selfish or any other bullshit for the rest of our motherfuckin’ lives,” Asher Penaz growled at his friend.
Of course, it was entirely possible that Oliver couldn’t hear him or wasn’t listening. There was no way for Asher to know because there was a wall of nearly naked women between them. He pulled yet more money from his wallet, tucked it into the tiny string holding up the almost-too-small-to-bother bikini gyrating in front of his face, and thought about how he’d never once expected to find himself in this position.
It wasn’t that Asher was opposed to nudity—far from it. But the female form wasn’t what did it for him. Not that any of this mattered to Oliver, as evidenced by the fact that the man had dragged him to this place.
“A selfish asshole is the perfect description for a guy who can’t let me enjoy my last weekend of freedom.” Oliver’s voice floated over across the sea of flesh. “It’s my bachelor party, Asher. Quit making it all about you, as usual.”
Asher threaded his fingers together and pulled his hands up, cracking every knuckle. After endless weeks of his old friend’s needling, he had agreed to come to this ridiculous bachelor-party weekend and sealed his own fate. Okay, so the unfortunate decision was his own fault, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t kick the crap out of Oliver for nagging him into it.
Oh, that little image made him feel a whole lot better. He leaned back in his chair and stretched out his long legs, hoping to discourage future lap dances, and thought of how he could use his broad, muscular, six-foot-four-inch frame to inflict the most pain on his friend without leaving marks that would show up in wedding pictures. No reason to upset Shirley on her big day, even if she was making a remarkably bad decision by marrying Oliver.
Predictably, thinking of inflicting pain managed to do what two hours’ worth of wiggling tits and grinding hips had not, and Asher’s cock hardened against his thigh. It was Thursday afternoon and he was stuck in Vegas on Oliver’s madcap adventure until Sunday. Maybe he could escape for a few hours and find his kind of bar—one with hard bodies covered in leather kneeling at his feet. Yeah, that would make the trip almost bearable.
He moaned out loud at the thought of a tight ass raised and spread, waiting for him to take his pleasure. Oliver claimed he was selfish, but the subs Asher had been with hadn’t ever complained, so no harm no foul as far as he was concerned. Well, maybe there was a little bit of harm, but that was kind of the point.
“I’m not selfish,” Asher muttered defensively, more to himself than to Oliver, but the women who had been dancing between them had moved on to other customers, so his friend heard him.
“Oh, yeah? What do you call a guy who gets his rocks off by hurting other guys?”
“They get off on it too, Oliver,” Asher growled. “That’s the whole point. Just because I’m not into vanilla sex doesn’t mean I’m selfish.”
Oliver rolled his eyes. “You whip ’em, beat ’em, fuck ’em, and leave ’em. It’s the last one that makes you selfish.”
Asher’s body temperature went up and he tried to keep himself calm. He tightened and relaxed his fists repeatedly and then ran his hands up and down his pressed, dark-washed jeans.
“I just haven’t found the right guy yet. That’s all. I’d be happy to have a relationship if I ever found someone compatible outside of the…bedroom.” That wasn’t exactly an accurate description of the place he most frequently had sex, but saying sling, club, or dungeon wouldn’t help make his point. “And, by the way, I don’t need commitment advice from a guy about to embark on his third marriage. You might want to try my approach and wait for someone compatible before you walk down the aisle next time.”
Oliver’s usually jovial expression changed, and he looked truly offended. “Shirley and I are compatible. She’s great. This one’s going to work out. You’ll see.”
One blood-inducing tongue bite later, Asher nodded his shaved head with as much sincerity as he could muster. “I’m sure it will,” he said, not meaning a single word. “And Shirley is great.” That part he actually meant. As far as Asher could tell, Shirley’s only flaw was crappy taste in men.
“Seriously, though, Asher. You’re, what, forty-four, forty-five now?”
“I’m thirty-nine and you fucking well know it, you piece of shit.”
Oliver chuckled. “Right. Thirty-nine. So you’ve had about two decades worth of dating, and in all that time, not one guy was good enough to be with you if he had his clothes on. Think about that, my friend. Think about it.” Oliver tapped his index finger against his temple as he spoke. “The department has that shrink on staff and you can go to her anytime, even if it isn’t ordered. You might—” Asher’s hand clenched into a fist and flew out on its own initiative, making solid contact with Oliver’s bicep. “Ow! What the fuck, man? I’m not one of your little boy toys, Asher. Keep your damn hands to yourself or I’ll show you that a real man knows how to defend himself.”
Coming in at just a couple of inches shy of Asher’s imposing height, with the same muscle mass, just covered with an extra layer of padding, and looking every day of his forty-two years, Oliver certainly wasn’t what anybody would describe as little or a boy toy.
Asher laughed out loud at his friend. “You think just because a man enjoys pain he can’t defend himself? I have news for you, Ollie—staying still on your knees while a cane connects with your back isn’t something a weak person can handle.”
“You beat them with a cane?” Oliver shuddered in horror, his brown eyes going wide. “Jesus! I’ll never understand why that gets you off.”
“It’s not the beating, at least not for me. I’m not a sadist,” Asher said, trying to articulate why he enjoyed, no, why he needed something nontraditional in his sex life. “The power exchange is what’s important. Inflicting pain is secondary. The cane, the whip, the rope, they’re just tools to demonstrate that I can do anything I want to him, and he’ll take it. That for those few minutes, I own him.”
Oliver looked stricken, so Asher let the subject drop. He wasn’t ashamed of his needs, wasn’t ashamed of who he was. But he realized that even the most open-minded people, like Oliver, would never be able to understand what made him tick. Hell, most of the guys he knew in the scene didn’t really get him, so he shouldn’t expect more from an outsider.
“So what’s on the agenda for the rest of the day?” he asked, changing the topic. “Are we gonna hit the tables?”
“Uh, I guess that depends on what the rest of the guys want to do,” Oliver replied. “They should be getting in soon. Let’s settle up and go to the hotel, and then we can figure out a game plan.”
“Sounds good.” Asher raised his glass to his mouth and drained the last of his beer. Then he unfolded his large body from the less than comfortable chair and waited for Oliver to do the same. “So remind me, again, who else is joining us on this”—various adjectives were considered and rejected as being unnecessarily harsh before he gave voice to them—“uh, trip?”
They began weaving through the tables, making their way to the exit.
“Well, most of the guys I know said two bachelor parties was their limit, so they aren’t coming this weekend.” Oliver frowned as he spoke, clearly frustrated with the fact nobody seemed to be giving much thought or respect to his third marriage. “But a couple of single buddies from the service can make it and so can my little brother. It’s probably better this way, anyway. We can all fit at one table when we go to dinner.”
Asher decided to go along with Oliver’s attempt to whitewash the situation.
“I still don’t understand how it is you’ve never once mentioned you had a brother in the ten years I’ve known you, and suddenly the guy is coming to Vegas to celebrate your marriage. Or, as you so promisingly called it, your last weekend of freedom.”
Oliver rolled his eyes, but didn’t verbally acknowledge the dig. “We have different mothers, just like with all my sisters. And he was raised on the other side of the country, so it’s not like we were close. He couldn’t make it to my other weddings, but he’s available now and he’s my only brother, so I want him here.”
They took a cab to their hotel on the Strip and walked into the casino, then made their way to the lobby. They hadn’t even gotten to the elevator before two men called out to Oliver.
“Ollie! Hey, dude, we’re ready to parteeeee!”
“Hey!” Oliver shouted and hurried over to his friends, where they exchanged fist bumps. Asher managed not to snicker. He trailed behind, not feeling in any kind of hurry to join the rowdy group that was starting to draw attention. And that was really saying something, considering how some people in this city chose to dress. By the time he caught up to the guys, they’d said their hellos and apparently made plans.
“My brother should have been here by now, but he hasn’t called.” Oliver checked his phone and shook his head. “Well, since the rest of us are here, we may as well hit a few more clubs before dinner. You need anything from your room or are you ready to go, Asher?”
Was there a third option available?
“You know, how about I let you guys catch up and we can all meet for dinner? I could use a little rest.” From the naked women and the grown men acting like frat boys.
Thankfully Oliver agreed and the three men laughed their way out of the hotel, leaving Asher sighing with relief. He collapsed onto one of the couches in the lobby and enjoyed the relative silence of the space. Sure, he could hear slot machines, music, and the combined hum of many conversations, but at least he didn’t have to deal with Oliver’s annoying friends, unwanted advice, and overall intrusiveness.
Asher’s eyes drifted shut for what felt like only a few seconds, but could have been longer, when one voice from the crowd somehow penetrated through the others.
“Oh, I’m sorry! Sorry. Oh, shoot! Sorry about that.”
He raised his eyelids slowly and turned toward the source of that almost panicked litany of apologies.
Messy hair, golden blond with streaks of light brown, a ridiculously huge sweatshirt weighing down what looked like a slight build, and jeans that, based on the frayed hems and torn pockets, had seen better days. This was the vision Asher saw spread out on the marble floor of the richly appointed lobby. Toppled luggage and grumbling people surrounded the red-cheeked man. By the time Clumsy managed to get himself back onto his flip-flop-covered feet, the people had retrieved their fallen suitcases and walked away. Huge brown eyes blinked rapidly, creating a dazed expression on an intriguing face.
Asher got up and tugged at the sleeves of his crisp white button-down shirt, making sure it lay straight. Then he found himself following Clumsy through the casino and out the door. He stayed just a few steps behind. The streets were crowded in Vegas at any time of day, and this was no exception. Asher’s stony expression managed to deter the dozens of people shoving pamphlets at the tourists, but the man in front of him seemed to be gathering a collection, thanking every person who handed him a piece of paper. Okay, clumsy and polite. One pamphlet seemed to catch the man’s attention, because he stopped and talked to the solicitor.
“Do these run all the time?” Asher heard the timid voice ask. A nod was the only response the guy received and then the solicitor was off, handing out more pamphlets. Narrow shoulders slumped and Clumsy examined the piece of paper he was clutching carefully. He caught his bottom lip between his teeth and darted his head around before choosing a direction and walking down the Strip.
About twenty minutes and two outdoor escalator rides later, the man was walking back the way they came. Skinny arms shot into the air and fisted hands pumped excitedly as he approached a kiosk. Asher couldn’t hold back his smile as he watched the small man celebrate his victory in taking almost half an hour to locate a building that had been right behind him when he’d accepted the brochure.
If Asher didn’t know better, he’d think the man had taken the most circuitous route possible because he was trying to evade him. But there was no way Clumsy had noticed him. First off, Asher had been in law enforcement long enough to know how to tail a subject without being noticed. And secondly, the number of times the guy tripped indicated he had enough difficulty being aware of his own limbs to be able to focus on anybody else.
After dropping his wallet not once but two times and halfheartedly trying to chase after dollar bills that blew away, the man finally approached the kiosk. Asher tore his gaze from Clumsy, which was incredibly difficult for no discernible reason, and looked up at the sign above the kiosk—Double Decker Bus Tours.
“I’d like a ticket for the next bus tour, please,” the quiet voice said to the salesperson. Asher heard a pause, a deep sigh, and then the man looked down and shifted from foot to foot. “Just one,” he croaked.
A bus tour. Asher thought it over and then shrugged. Why not? It wasn’t as if he had anything else going on. Not that this explained why he felt the urge to follow a stranger around Las Vegas, but he wasn’t in the mood for self-analysis. Besides, he didn’t have time. Clumsy had already walked away clutching his ticket and not looking at anything but his own feet. Asher needed to buy his own bus pass if he wanted to follow the man on what was sure to be the longest journey possible to the bus stop, which was adjacent to the exact opposite side of the kiosk from where Clumsy was headed.
As much as Asher enjoyed the impromptu tour of the Strip as the man he was tailing walked from Paris to Treasure Island, a quick glance at his gleaming metal watch told him that if they didn’t turn around, they’d miss the bus tour’s departure time. For a person who liked to arrive at airports at least two hours before takeoff, this was already cutting it close enough that Asher should have been well past frustrated and deep into ticked off. But oddly, he didn’t feel either of those things. If anything, he was amused by the direction-challenged stranger. Still, amusing or not, the man clearly needed help or he’d never find the bus stop.
When his unwitting companion stopped on top of a walking bridge to buy a bottle of water from a vendor, Asher got a little closer, trying to come up with an opening.
“Shoot! I could have sworn I had a few ones in here.” The guy looked inside his hemp wallet long enough to make Asher wonder whether he thought money would magically appear. Then the bus ticket dropped from Clumsy’s hand, just as the money had at the kiosk, and Asher saw his opportunity. He squatted down and picked up the ticket.
“You dropped this,” Asher said, then glanced down at the ticket nonchalantly. “Oh, you’re doing the double decker tour too?”
The man turned his head and fixed soulful brown eyes on Asher, causing an unfamiliar sensation in his stomach. Asher smiled and the guy blushed, dropping his chin and shifting from foot to foot.
“Yes, I was planning on it.” He lowered his voice even further. “Course I’m having trouble finding the bus stop.”
Honest. Not trying to hide a shortcoming. Fucking adorable. Where had that last thought come from? Asher had always been attracted to tough, not adorable. And besides, since when did someone with holes in his barely-managing-to-stay-up jeans and various stains on his stretched-out sweatshirt meet the definition of adorable, or anything else positive?
Asher couldn’t hold back a small grin when the guy quickly looked up at him. It turned into a broad smile when that fair skin flushed and the gaze dropped back to the ground. Turning to the vendor, Asher pulled his wallet out of his pocket.
“Two waters, please.”
He handed over the cash and twisted open one bottle, handing it to Clumsy before opening his own water.
Those brown eyes did that confused blinking thing and a long-fingered hand reached for the bottle before hesitating. Asher covered the distance and pressed the water into his hand. “Should we?” he asked.
The man immediately nodded and then furrowed his brow. “Should we what?”
Knowing Clumsy had agreed with him without knowing what he was being asked caused an involuntary hardening in Asher’s pants. Damn, but did he ever like a guy who could follow orders. What else would the stranger agree to do?
“I thought we could walk to the bus together,” Asher explained. “Let’s go.” He smirked when the guy followed him without hesitation. “So, what’s your name?”
Clumsy turned in his direction. “Daniel. Daniel Tover.”