Mickie B. Ashling © 2017
All Rights Reserved
“I’ve heard rumors you’re in denial,” the guy from Chatty Man commented.
Leaning forward, I waited to hear Adam Lambert’s response. I’d been ignoring the interview so far, but now I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the flat-screen, not after hearing that accusation.
Warily, the superstar asked, “About what?”
“Being a ging.”
Adam smiled, showing off those gorgeous white teeth. “I’m not in denial, just quiet about it.”
“What was it like for you at school being a ginger?” Alan Carr asked.
“Unremarkable. You know,” the stud confided in a mock whisper. “We’re said to have a lot of secret powers.”
“We can go for hours,” Adam replied, bursting into laughter.
“Yeah, right,” I slurred, flipping him the bird. Disgusted, I got off the couch and went to refill my drink. Super powers, my ass. If that were true, then how come the guy dyed his hair black? Because it’s a myth, I concluded scornfully. Like the correlation between fingers and dick sizes.
“A face without freckles is like a night without stars,” someone in the audience commented.
God…give me a fucking break.
My knee-jerk reaction to that old cliché was another shot of tequila. I was on day two of a monumental bender. Thank God, the weekend was almost over. Tomorrow, I’d be back to normal—innovative, focused, and coolly competent—despite this setback. Dealing with clients in my current state of mind wasn’t an option and could end up a financial disaster. A large part of my success as a top-tier exec at one of the most successful advertising agencies in the world was my inscrutable façade. It would have been the kiss of death to show any sort of weakness among Hong Kong’s movers and shakers. The majority of my clients were from the PRC. They asked to work with me, because I was born and raised here. Even though I looked like your average American, I spoke fluent Mandarin and Cantonese and knew the drill. Emotions, good or bad, were viewed as a character flaw. Men who allowed feelings to interfere with business were usually dumped like yesterday’s pork bun.
I tried making out my reflection in the glass cabinets above the bar and only saw a reddish blur where my head was supposed to be.
“If you’ve dated a redhead, raise your glass, if not…raise your standards.”
What in the ever-loving fuck was this guy yammering about? I turned my attention back to the TV screen and muttered, “Piss off!”
To my surprise, Adam looked me right in the eyes, with a sly grin plastered on his gorgeous face, and purred, “Make me.”
Blinking rapidly, I stared at the flat-screen. Was I hallucinating or what? Had the overpriced tequila finally destroyed my few remaining brain cells?
I staggered toward the sofa and threw myself backward, hoping the cushions would catch me, so I wouldn’t end up on the floor with a mild concussion. They did, thankfully. Never losing sight of the flat-screen, I took another shot of the aged Patrón and shuddered as it went down my gullet.
TV Adam snickered.
“Are you making fun of me?” I grumbled.
“You started it, honey.”
Grabbing the remote, I pointed it at the TV and made stupid pew-pew noises, hoping it would blow up. The room was plunged into darkness, and the abrupt silence was a much-needed reprieve. I waited a few minutes to see if Adam would goad me again, but nothing happened. All I heard was the soft hum of the central air. Good. I could chalk this up to an overactive imagination and some wormy tequila.
When I woke up on Monday morning, daylight seeped in through the vertical blinds. The noises in my head had been replaced by a relentless pulse of pain. I gritted my teeth, forcing myself to focus on my goals. Aspirin, shower, change, meet with the client, close the deal, and send them on their merry way. Now was not the time to dwell on my love life or lack thereof. Glancing at the digital clock on the nightstand, I saw that I had two hours to get my shit together and walk into my meeting with a studied look that oozed calm and confidence. It would be a stretch given my current condition, but I knew I’d pull this off. I had to. There was no one else on staff who could deal with Minister Xiang Guo. She was a formidable negotiator and set in her ways. It was my job to open her eyes and help her understand that, if the Chinese hoped to improve their status abroad and lure in more tourists, they needed a serious makeover.
I sat up and swung my legs off the bed, immediately regretting the sudden move. My head was spinning and I cradled it between my hands, hoping that would help. When the room stopped tilting, I inched my way toward the bathroom, grabbing on to the wall whenever I found myself lurching. My earlier assessment would need a hard edit. This hangover was going to be a bitch. I reached for the bottle of aspirin, shook two in my hand, and used the shower water to chase them down. Under the stinging spray of oscillating heads, I recalled how this binge had started.
On Friday evening, I’d stood at the bar, nursing my first drink and scanning the crowd. Despite the extravagant makeover, Pandora was the same dance club I’d walked into eight years ago. Time had stood still for the people in this room. Faces were unrecognizable, but the shirtless dry humping was the same. Everyone was looking to get laid and that included me.
You’d think two thousand nine hundred and twenty-one days would be enough time to shed youthful fantasies, but that wasn’t always the case. Take Peter Wei for instance. He was the same recalcitrant party boy I’d left behind, only this time around, he owned the dance club and, as such, had first pick of the pathetic selection scattered around the room.
The man I had hoped to share my life with hadn’t had an epiphany while I’d been away pursuing my business degree at Wharton. I’d given him the space he’d requested, all the time in the world to rethink his priorities, but judging by his actions so far, it had been for nothing. He had remained in a state of suspended animation, unwilling to accept the fact that he was thirty-five years old.
Most of our friends had settled into committed relationships. Why couldn’t Peter understand that it was just a natural progression, a move in the right direction? Instead, he saw monogamy as a ball and chain. Fantasizing about our grand reunion had only fueled my hopes. They were dashed as soon as I walked into his office and caught him boning a guy over his desk. He only greeted me after he’d shot his load and sent the latest boy toy scurrying away. I didn’t stick around to listen to his bullshit excuses but made my way back to the bar to drown my sorrows with shots.
Suddenly, there was a shift in everyone’s body language. I felt it myself so I turned my attention away from Peter—now at my elbow, apologizing—to the man who’d walked out onto the dance floor. I heard a bystander asking if anyone recognized the new arrival. The question was muffled by the roaring in my ears as adrenaline raced through my veins like a controlled substance.
I recognized Gerard immediately. He was in his usual getup: tight paint-splotched jeans, sleeveless black T, and a backward-facing ball cap keeping his shaggy chin-length hair out of his face. He rolled his shoulders as he scanned the room. The movement made the colorful dragon tats on both arms come to life. I couldn’t take my eyes off the amazing body art he’d designed, a tribute to his zodiac sign. The scales of the magnificent creatures seemed to move of their own accord as they climbed up his sinewy arms and wrapped around his neck. Honey-colored eyes zeroed in on mine, and I responded the way I always had in Gerard’s presence. A hot spark of desire sent blood rushing to my groin. Men were pushing each other aside, trying to get at him. Even Peter moved forward with interest.
I predicted the outcome of this chase with deadly precision as Peter made his move, cruising Gerard with his usual audacity, expecting him to just bend to his will the way all the others had.
Instead, Gerard ignored him and moved deeper into the crowd. Peter followed and was back after several minutes, looking pissed.
I knew he’d been rejected. That must have been Gerard’s plan all along. What I couldn’t figure out was how the hell he’d found me? We hadn’t exchanged contacts because we both knew our hookup had been temporary and fueled by need. I was still in love with Peter and had no intention of jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Gerard was also Asian, an only child, with a boatload of expectations on his shoulders. It didn’t matter that he was an amazing artist, bohemian in every respect, and more interested in men than women. Parental expectations on future grandchildren would most likely be sky high.
We’d met in Vegas of all places. Slathered with layers of the highest SPF possible, I was sitting by the pool checking out the eye candy. My creamy complexion burned at the slightest provocation, but that never stopped me from enjoying the sun. I was killing time before meeting my afternoon client, who owned a chain of hotels in Thailand. As part of the team in charge of his advertising, I was asked to appraise a series of murals created by a new artist, someone recommended by a friend of a friend. I wasn’t an art expert, but it was my job to know trends, and Gerard Sun was generating a lot of hype. As it happened, he caught my eye, hours before our face-to-face meeting. I almost swallowed my tongue when he climbed out of the pool, water sluicing down his chest past his well-toned abs and disappearing into black trunks that were plastered to his junk. He reminded me of Lee Byung-Hun, whom I’d fallen in lust with after seeing G. I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra, only this guy was younger and way hotter. I had a thing for Asian men and Gerard was fucking gorgeous.
Before I could make a move, my cell rang, pulling me out of my lusty haze. It was Peter, the love of my life, heir to the Wei fortune, and a chief source of aggravation to his elderly parents. James, his younger brother by six years, had been my schoolmate, and that’s how we’d met. I’d fallen for Peter when I was only fifteen. He was everything I wasn’t—suave, Oxford educated, adventurous, and devastatingly handsome. I turned into a hot mess whenever he wandered into his brother’s room to play video games with us. James knew I was infatuated and had warned me to stay away, but I’d been too far gone to listen. Peter owned me, body and soul, ever since I let him take my virginity at sixteen.
I remember being excited to hear his voice that day. He didn’t call very often. Perhaps he was finally coming to his senses and missed me as much as I missed him.
“What are you doing?” he’d asked.
“Getting ready to meet a new artist. We’re picking murals for the hotel lobby today.”
“I thought that was all done?”
“No. I wish you were out here to advise me.”
“How hard can it be, Bambi?”
Bambi. Long ago, Peter had decided my fawn palette reminded him of his favorite Disney animal, and nothing I said could dissuade him.
“Choosing the right art work is a monumental task.”
“He could probably tip the scales in his favor by giving you a good blowjob.”
I was silent for one second longer than I should be. “It’s not always about sex, Peter.”
“Sure it is, out there more so than anywhere else. Stop acting like some fucking ingénue, Niall. You know it’s the truth.”
I wished it weren’t so, but very often in business, it was all about who you did, when you did it, and how often it was done. Las Vegas was living proof that sex was a great commodity.
“I miss you.”
“Find someone to entertain you until we meet again.”
Instantly, my mind went back to the guy at the pool and dismissed him in favor of Peter. It had been far too long and I was craving his touch. I needed him like other guys needed booze or blow. Just hearing his voice made me hard.
Peter must have caught the vibe because he said, “I want you to go to your room right now.”
“I’m at the door,” I replied, entering my suite.
“Turn on your laptop so we can connect.”
“Give me a sec,” I said, grabbing my laptop and positioning it as best as possible for what was about to happen. “It’s done.”
“Take off your clothes.”
I was all fingers as I fumbled with buttons. Finally the shirt came off as well as the trunks, and I lay there, naked and exposed, waiting for directions from a man who was thousands of miles away.
“You ready for me?”
“Look at you, all pink and beautiful. That’s all mine, isn’t it?”
“Stick your finger in your mouth and pretend you’re sucking me,” he said in that seductive bedroom voice that turned me to butter.
I followed his instructions and heard him groan with pleasure.
“Spread your legs for me, Bambi. There you go…beautiful. I’m going to stick my tongue in the tight hole and make you scream. You feeling this?”
“Fuck…yes.” I was thrusting into my right hand while my left hand was busy with two fingers up my ass.
“That’s it, Niall, perfect. Can you see my eyes? I’m looking at you, Niall.”
My gaze flicked over to the laptop, and I could see him sitting behind his desk in his banker’s suit, eyes hooded with desire, and his left hand jerking himself out of my view. The sheer audacity of his actions made my head spin. Anyone could walk in and catch him in the act, but as usual, he didn’t give a shit. He wanted to get off and to hell with the consequences.
“Jesus,” I moaned.
Peter’s come sounds pushed me over, and I was spurting all over my stomach.
“Hang in there,” he said gruffly. “You’ll be home soon.”
“I love you.”
“I’ve got to go,” he said abruptly and disconnected.
Reassuring my fragile ego wasn’t part of Peter’s aftercare. He’d never said the words, even though I continued to cling to the illusion that I was special to him.
But that had been a while ago, and now I was back in Hong Kong, hoping things would be different. They weren’t. The only thing new was the object of Peter’s desire, and it wasn’t me. Gerard had made an impression tonight and being rejected only made him more desirable.
My evil twin wanted to brag, to tell Peter I’d had Gerard, but I couldn’t bring myself to stoop so low. I asked for another drink instead. There was a presence behind me, and I turned to see my sexy artist giving me that intense look I found irresistible.
“Hey,” he said.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, putting him on the defensive.
“I wanted to see for myself.”
“My competition.” He turned toward Peter to study him. Swaying with another guy in his arms, Peter acted oblivious, but I knew his pride had been wounded. He was watching our interaction while pretending to be caught up in the dance. Gerard looked at me again. “He’s an asshole, Niall, and doesn’t deserve you.”
“This is really none of your business, Gerard.”
“Have dinner with me tomorrow.”
“I told you I’m in love with Peter.”
“He tried to get in my pants just now.”
“Sex means nothing to him,” I replied, pathetically defending Peter again. “I’ve always known what he’s like.”
“Come back to my apartment and let’s talk.”
“I’m not leaving with you. Even if Peter and I don’t work out, the last thing I should do is start a relationship with someone who won’t give back one hundred percent.”
“That’s harsh, Niall. How can you judge when you hardly know me?”
He did have a point, but my weakness for unobtainable men had only gotten me into trouble so far. I didn’t want to risk another heartbreak.
“Maybe this will change your mind,” he said softly. He reached over before I could react and pulled me toward him, kissing me full on the lips, reminding me of the first time many months ago.
I shoved him away. “Stop it.” I was pissed as hell because he was breaking every rule of hooking up. “We had great sex, nothing else. I thought I made that clear when we met.”
“You did,” he admitted. “But things changed. Don’t pretend you didn’t feel a connection.”
His voice was gravely and sent signals straight to my groin. I wanted to throw caution aside and tell him he was right. Something had sparked between us that was increasingly harder to deny. Especially after the reminder kiss. My grand reunion with Peter had been disappointing, and I was tempted to take up Gerard’s offer, but I knew I’d regret it in the morning.
“I’m sorry if you thought there was more,” I continued. “I never meant for that to happen.”
“Does Peter know you and I were together?”
“We were never together; we fucked.”
He flinched, disgust twisting his features. “You’re just like him.”
Although the accusation hurt, it was better to end this now. “Perhaps all these years of being around Peter have rubbed off.”
“You’re both screwed up.”
“Whatever. I don’t really care what you think of us. You should go back where you came from.”
“When I’m good and ready,” he said.
“Do you live here? Have family in the area? I thought you were based in the USA?”
“It’s none of your business.”
“It is when you show up out of nowhere and start making waves.”
“How am I making waves?” he asked.
I couldn’t tell him that his presence was affecting Peter and his rejection even more so. I refused to give him that satisfaction.
“What’s the real reason you’re here?”
“I had a commission in Singapore, and since I was already this far, I thought I’d drop in and see my folks. You left Vegas in a big hurry.”
“Yeah, well, my job was done, so here I am. But going back to my original question. How did you know I was in Hong Kong?”
“I called your agency.”
“You’ve turned stalker?”
“Don’t be absurd. I was interested in seeing you again and wanted contact info. I sent you an email and got one of those auto responses, telling me you’d be away on business. Naturally, I called your office back, and they informed me you were here.”
“Remind me to fire my secretary when I get back.”
“Come on, Niall. I’m an old acquaintance who wants to get together for dinner.”
“Not right now, but thanks for the offer.”
“Here’s my card…take it,” he said. “Call me tomorrow when you’re in a better mood.”
I glanced at it and saw that his name, Gerard Sun, had been artistically inserted in the folds of dragon wings. There was a phone number and nothing else.
“I’ll be happy to show you where I live when you call.”
“Yeah,” I said, avoiding his eyes. I pocketed the card and turned away as he walked out. Peter was by my side within seconds.
“You know that asshole?”
“Answer my question.”
“I don’t have to,” I snarled, heading toward the exit.
There was a short line of taxis at the curb, and one of them drove me to my temporary apartment at the Mid-levels, where I began my drunken binge, ignoring my mobile, which started ringing as soon as the cab pulled away. I turned it off when I got home.
When I switched it back on this morning, I was astounded by the number of missed calls from Peter. Maybe a little competition was all he needed to get going in the right direction. I decided to listen to his messages later or I’d never leave the apartment. My love life would have to take a back seat for now.