Quinn blinked a few times to help adjust his vision to the dimness of the club. Compared to the bright, sunny day outside, the black walls, carpet and low-lit sconces gave the entryway a tunnel-like effect. The rapid eye movement caused his world to tilt a bit—or that might have been the gnawing hunger. He’d spent his last few dollars on a stale sandwich more than twenty-four hours ago and he was beginning to feel the drop in blood sugar. God, if I don’t get this job, I’m totally screwed. He’d have to implement Plan B, and given that it meant selling his body on the street, he prayed that wouldn’t happen.
The short hall led to a massive, two-story club room. For a second, Quinn stood and stared at the gorgeous opulence that was Lux, according to the sign on the door—a private gentlemen’s club. The open floor plan contained a sunken dance floor surrounded by plush circular booths all along the edges. A shiny, dark wooden bar ran the length of the back wall and high-tops of the same material dotted the railings of the interior. Everything here was black, too, trimmed with silver and red.
What caught his attention the most, however, were the small, round stages at the four corners of the dance floor. Each one had a stripper pole imbedded in the middle. That was where he’d be working—if he got the job and if he didn’t pass out from lack of food or an overload of adrenaline. Why did I think coming to Boston would be a good idea? He should have stayed in Michigan and found some low-paying work until he could afford to be bold. Right now, he felt like a lost kid in the big city. Thank God, he hadn’t stopped in New York. The Big Apple would have eaten him alive in five seconds.
Instead of the two days that Beantown is threatening to take.
“Hey, kid, what’s doing?”
Quinn jumped at the sudden question, issued in a booming voice to his left. Turning, he saw a huge man lounging at one of the plush tables against the wall. He had black hair in a Mohawk cut, pale skin and impressively large muscles bulging out of a tight, dark T-shirt. He had ‘bouncer’ written all over him, yet regarded Quinn with an appraising intelligence that made his empty belly quake even more.
The only thing breaking up the frightening façade was a red-headed twink curled in the guy’s lap like a cat. The boy sported a half-shaved hairstyle where one side was stubble and the other had thick, straight strands curved against his jaw. Silver hoops twinkled around the shell of his ear. Quinn envied the edgy look and wondered if he could pull it off. That was, if he started making money, which wouldn’t happen if he stood there with his mouth open.
Mustering the last of his courage, he answered, “An online ad said you were hiring go-go boys. I’m…ah, here to apply for the job.” The fact that the club was advertising for boys, not girls, told him it was for gay patrons. The sight of the bouncer-guy with the twink confirmed it.
The hulk and his boy toy stared some more at Quinn. He tried not to shrink under the attention. He knew he had a scuzzy appearance, having traveled by bus for a couple of days and catching what sleep he could on a park bench the previous night. He’d at least gone to the nearby train station and washed in the men’s room as best he could. He’d also put on the last of his clean jeans and a rumpled button-down that his grandmother had given him the previous Christmas—before he’d come out and turned into a wicked child undeserving of anything.
The man licked his lower lip. “How old are you?”
“Eighteen, sir.” He knew he appeared younger and hoped that would earn him both a job and more tips. God, it sucks counting on the world being populated by pervs in order to make a living.
The man shot him a skeptical look. “You got ID.?”
“Yes, sir.” Quinn walked to the table while he fished his wallet from his front pocket. He pulled out his driver’s license and offered it.
The man reached over without having to move—his arm being that long—and plucked the plastic card from Quinn’s trembling hand. He was so hungry and stressed that he felt like he was going to fly apart—or pass out. Face-planting on the thick carpet was a definite possibility.
“Relax, kid. I don’t bite…much,” the bouncer added with a flash of gleaming white teeth.
The redhead giggled and snuggled closer to the broad chest he curled against. Something predatory flashed in the boy’s one visible eye. Quinn ignored it. He wouldn’t mind putting up with some bitchiness if it meant earning a living without having to suck off strange men in alleys.
With a grunt, the man handed back the card. The action caused their fingers to touch and the bouncer’s felt oddly cool. “Seems legit, although I’d swear you’re no older than sixteen. I suppose the members will like that, though,” he added with another blinding smile. “Go take him to the boss, Mackie.”
The boy made a little mew with his pouty, full lips, but slipped off the man’s lap, anyway. He looked incredibly slutty to Quinn, wearing a white sleeveless crop-top hanging off one shoulder and skinny jeans that hugged his thin body.
Cocking his hip, the boy raked his gaze up and down Quinn with his lips pursed. “You sure you can hack being a go-go boy? At a glance, I’d say you just got off the bus from get-me-the-fuck-out-of-here, Iowa, or something.”
Quinn squared his shoulders. He wasn’t going to let this kid get under his skin. “Close. It was Michigan, actually.”
The twink opened his mouth and a yelp came out because the man had swatted his ass. “Be nice, Mackie, and do as you’re told…or else.”
Mackie gave a petulant sniff and glanced over his shoulder. “You’ll punish me later?”
Jesus, the guy sounds eager for it.
The man gave him an indulgent smile. “Yeah, except it will be the kind you don’t like.”
“Humph.” Mackie turned his gaze to Quinn. “Come on. Let’s go see the boss. I suppose you’ll be okay,” he added with a flick of his wrist.
“Thank you, sir.” Quinn gave the man a quick nod before falling into step beside Mackie.
They walked over to one end of the bar to a small elevator recessed into the wall.
Mackie pushed the call button. “Just an FYI, sweetheart, Val is all mine.”
“Val?” The door swooshed open and they stepped inside.
Mackie pushed the top button for the fifth floor. “Yeah, the man I was recently and happily groping until you arrived. He’s the head bouncer and the boss’ right-hand man,” he added with a flip of the long part of his hair. “They’re also cousins or something. This is mostly a family-run business, except for a few outsiders like me. I’ve been here for over a year already,” he added, as if proving his standing. “Val and I have been an exclusive item for most of that time. Neither of us is into sharing, either.” He shot a warning at Quinn.
“Oh. No worries. I’m here for a job, not a boyfriend.”
“Great, then we should get along famously.”
The short ride caused sufficient movement to make Quinn lightheaded again. When they stepped into a small vestibule, he had to take a deep breath to steady himself. Mackie pushed a button on an intercom by a large door opposite the elevator. Like everything else in the place, the color scheme ran to black, red and silver and the lighting was muted.
“Yes?” A deep, rich voice floated out and right into Quinn’s nervous system, causing goosebumps to rise on his arms and the back of his neck.
Mackie glanced up and following his gaze, Quinn saw a small camera mounted in the corner. “Val sent me for you to interview a dancer.” The boy jerked his thumb in Quinn’s direction.
There was no response for a few seconds, and once again, Quinn straightened his back to put on the best appearance. He could feel invisible eyes judging him. A clicking sound came from the door and Mackie twisted the handle to open it. Apparently, the boss was a man of few words.
The apartment they walked into followed the same décor as everything else. It was done in an open loft plan, yet it managed to convey a sense of coziness. Probably the dim lighting. Quinn felt as if he’d entered a cave—a lair, really—and its inhabitant didn’t do anything to dispel that feeling as he strode toward them. Quinn’s breath caught in his throat and his steps faltered.
If the bouncer, Val, had seemed big to him before, that was no longer true. While not as beefy, the boss gave the appearance of being at least taller and his shoulders were as broad as any linebacker. He had the same jet-black hair and pale skin as Val did, although he wore it swept back in a queue of unknown length. The style accentuated a sharp widow’s peak. His untucked button-down shirt was a deep red, while his slacks were as black as his hair. He walked with a kind of grace powerful men often possessed and his amazingly violet eyes would have made Liz Taylor jealous.
The man stopped at the bottom of the three steps leading to a sunken living room and stuck one hand in a front pocket. “Who do we have here, Mackie?”
The boy shrugged. “Some kid from Minnesota who thinks he can dance.”
“Michigan,” Quinn corrected in a voice too hoarse to impress anyone.
Mackie shrugged again. “Same dif.”
Because the other boy made no move to join the boss in the living room, Quinn planted himself in the entryway, too. He worked up some moisture for his dry mouth. “My name is Quinn Cooper, sir.”
“Quinn,” the man repeated, and this time, his voice held a hint of some kind of accent. “I’m Alexandru Stelalux. Everyone calls me Alex.”
Okay, that explains the accent. He must be from somewhere in Europe. Quinn now had too much spit in his mouth, so he swallowed before speaking. “It’s nice to meet you, sir. I hope you’ll consider me for the job.”
Mr. Stelalux—Alex—stared at him for a moment. His gaze made Val’s perusal seem like a casual glance. “Do you have a resume?”
Quinn fixed his attention on his feet. “Um, no, sir. I’m sorry I didn’t think of that. I’ve only ever worked at my family’s hardware store, anyway. I have no dancing experience other than in school plays.”
Mackie smirked at the confession and Alex chuckled, except it didn’t sound like he was being contemptuous. “Well, that’s all right. It’s not like I’m considering you to tend bar or keep my accounting books. My clientele likes pretty boys to dance for their amusement. They don’t even really care how skilled you are, either, so long as you look good doing it. The only real job requirement is having the right body.”
He paced closer and cocked his head. “You’ve got a nice one from what I can see. All that shaggy blond hair and those bright blue eyes will certainly turn heads.” He stepped to one side. “Yes, lovely profile. You’d make a nice contrast to the other boys. Don’t you think so, Mackie?”
The other boy studied his nails. “I suppose.”
Alex’s expression became stern. “Don’t be bitchy, Mackie. You know I can’t abide that.”
Mackie straightened and appeared contrite. “Yes, sir.” He slanted his gaze toward Quinn. “He’s very pretty, and we haven’t had a blond since Blake left.”
“Exactly. Come here, please.” Alex stepped back and flung himself on the end of a large sectional sofa. Then he braced his arms on the back of it, slung an ankle over a knee and watched as Quinn entered the living room area. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to strip. Nothing fancy, just take everything off except your underwear. We’re not a nude club—not on the dance floor, anyway.”
Quinn’s head really began to swim and his palms turned sweaty. He told himself it was no big deal as he placed his scruffy backpack on the carpet by a chair. He would have to get used to being mostly naked in front of a big crowd. If I can’t do it now with only two guys watching, what hope do I have of keeping the job?
Silent and self-conscious, he toed off his sneakers, pulled off his socks and unbuttoned his shirt. He folded the clothing and placed it on top of his pack before unsnapping his jeans. His vision blurred and he took deep breaths to keep oxygen pumping into his lungs. The sound of the zipper of his worn jeans lowering rang in his ears at an exaggerated decibel. As he slid the cotton down his legs, the room tilted enough that he grabbed the arm of the nearby chair to keep from tipping over. When he’d stripped to his boxer-briefs, he stood with his arms behind his back and his gaze fixed on the floor. His cheeks felt as though they were on fire.
“Hmm, a bit on the skinny side.” A sigh crossed the room. “Then again, some patrons do like that sort of thing. I think you could use a few good meals, though.”
The mention of food made Quinn’s stomach grumble in protest before it clenched in pain. Quinn couldn’t hold back the gasp. He wrapped his arm around his waist and listed to one side. Once more, he grabbed the arm of the chair, except this time, it wasn’t going to be enough to keep him from falling. His vision blurred then closed to an ever-smaller circle of light before going completely black.
The last thing he was aware of was a rush of movement and something strong catching him.