Action (A Murmur Inc. novel)
This title is part of the Murmur Inc. universe.
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Pete Griflow is the last person anyone would suspect of being a porn star. He’s quiet, gawky, and can’t even talk to guys without turning red. But on camera, he’s a different person. In the porn world, he’s Jaden Prime, a coquettish power bottom who’s been tantalizing fans for over a year now.
Pete is in a rut, though, and he knows it. And what’s worse, his boss knows it. If he can’t reignite his passion for the biz, he’s going to have trouble paying his none-too-cheap college tuition.
When Pete is given the opportunity to star in a huge summer production, sparks fly between him and his costar, Kyle Darko. Kyle is Pete’s opposite: he’s daring, achingly sexy, and in love with the sex industry. Their chemistry is palpable on and off screen, but dating on a porn set is tricky. Even pros struggle to separate fantasy from reality, especially with a script dictating their seduction. But what’s building between them can’t be ignored, and it’s so much more than getting some “action.”
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Pete drew a shuddering breath and moaned. “Oh God, that feels so good.” He arched his back, biting his lip in what he hoped was an enticing way.
“You feel good,” grunted the man above him. Antoine. Or at least that was his stage name. He was hovering over Pete, naked except for his underwear. A thin sheen of sweat glistened on his skin. He’d inserted one of his legs between Pete’s, spreading his thighs.
Pete’s gaze dipped once down his toned body before he looked squarely at him. “I want you so badly.”
Antoine skimmed his lips along Pete’s jaw. “I can’t wait to fuck you.”
“Cut!” snapped a voice to their left.
The production team groaned in unison. The light shining in Pete’s face lowered, allowing him to see beyond it for the first time in twenty minutes. Not that it did him much good. The set was doused in murky shadow. A handful of amorphous figures scurried to adjust the equipment dotting the periphery.
Pete propped himself up on an elbow, making the faux leather sofa he was reclining on squeak, and sought out a familiar silhouette. “What is it this time, Colette?”
“It’s not you, Jaden,” Colette reassured. “Your costar keeps ruining my shots.”
Just then, the light tech adjusted the umbrella lamp back toward them. Pete blinked red spots out of his eyes and squinted in Colette’s general direction. Though he couldn’t see her face, he was willing to bet she was wearing her trademark scowl.
“Hey,” Antoine protested, twisting his body toward her. “I didn’t do anything wrong.” When he shifted, he unwittingly jammed his elbow into Pete’s solar plexus.
Pete—or Jaden, as he was known on screen—winced but didn’t complain. This was far from the most uncomfortable he’d been during a scene. In fact, between the hot lights and Antoine’s considerable weight crushing him, he was grateful to still have feeling in his limbs. He wiggled his toes just to be sure.
“Oh really?” Colette said sourly. “Because I could have sworn you were whispering sweet nothings to Jaden just then.”
“Uh, yeah, I was.” Antoine’s full lips tilted down. “You told us to talk dirty to each other.”
“The key word there is talk, not whisper. You have to speak loudly enough for the mics to pick up what you’re saying.” She pointed to one of the fuzzy boom microphones hanging over their heads. “Every time you speak against his skin like that—hot as it looks on film—we can’t see your pretty face anymore, and more importantly, we can’t hear you. The sexiest dirty talk in the world is worthless if our viewers don’t know what the hell you’re saying.”
“Oh. Whoops.” Antoine grimaced.
Colette pinched the bridge of her nose. “Look, kid, I get that you’re new, but I need your learning curve to be less of a gentle merge and more of a tire-squealing Tokyo Drift.”
“Okay,” he agreed, nodding. “I think I can do that.”
“Can you? I’m beginning to have doubts. Your call time was eight this morning. What time is it now?”
His face blanked. He scrambled for his phone, which he’d tucked between the couch cushions the moment he’d gotten on set. Every time they had a break, he dove straight for it, leaving Pete to either watch him text or find ways to occupy himself. Pete had already had six cigarettes this morning as a result.
Antoine clicked a side button, and the screen came to life. “It’s a little after eleven.”
“Which means . . . it’s almost lunchtime?”
A world-weary sigh sounded from the darkness. If Pete were a more poetic person, it might have given him some existential anguish.
“It means,” groused Colette, “that between sound checks, lighting checks, and the actual filming, we’ve been at this for over three hours. And you know what we’ve got to show for it? Jack with a side of shit. Unless of course you think our subscribers are going to pay to watch two shirtless dudes make out for ten minutes. Because for that, they could just as easily turn on HBO.”
The shadowy figure that was Colette shifted, her arms moving like she was massaging her temples. “I know I told you not to be shy with the foreplay, but for fuck’s sake, get to it. We still have a whole anal scene to go.”
Pete wanted to put a pillow over his head and block them all out. He hated it when Colette was pissed off, even if it wasn’t directed at him. He had to admit, though, she was right. Antoine kept screwing up every time they got remotely close to the “big moment.” Pete was surprised his costar had managed to stay hard this whole time, considering how little they’d done. He’d have to ask him afterwards how he did it. Probably Viagra or TriMix or one of the other classics.
Colette’s voice broke Pete from his thoughts. “We’re going to take a break. When we come back, Antoine, you’re going to get your shit together and perform like you mean it. Are we clear?”
Antoine nodded, but his eyes had already strayed to his phone.
Colette muttered something under her breath and then directed her attention at Pete. “A word, Jaden?”
It sounded like a question, but her tone said otherwise.
He began the process of extracting himself from beneath Antoine, which was easier said than done. Partially because Pete was all limbs and partially because Antoine wasn’t much help. He rolled onto his side but otherwise didn’t move, fingers flying over the screen of his phone.
“New boyfriend?” Pete asked as he extricated himself.
Antoine smiled without looking up. “Girlfriend, yeah. How’d you guess?”
“I was glued to my phone just like that not too long ago. Didn’t end well, though. Here’s hoping you and your girl have better luck.”
When he was free, he stepped carefully over the cords crisscrossing the floor, bypassed the large, imposing cameras, and edged up to Colette. All he had on was a thin pair of boxers, but he wasn’t hard, and the crew members were too occupied with their equipment to bother with him. He’d worn less in front of bigger crowds. Considering his profession, it wasn’t like he could afford to be modest anyway.
Colette’s attention was fixed on a nearby review screen, on which the camera feed was playing in real time. Even just fiddling with his phone, Antoine looked good. Fit. Muscular. Pete made a mental note to do some weightlifting the next time he was at the gym. He cleared his throat in case she hadn’t heard him approach. “What’s up?”
“Where’s your head at?” Colette asked without preamble.
He folded his arms across his chest. “What do you mean? Was I not good?” He gave her a surreptitious once-over, trying to gauge if he was in for a scolding. He didn’t know much about his boss, except that she’d been in the biz for decades, and she suffered exactly zero fools.
She was dressed casually in jeans and a pink sweater, and she’d twisted her blonde hair up into a cute, messy bun. Wearing street clothes was always a good idea at Murmur Inc. They had no dress code to speak of, and anyone who spent time on a porn set ran the risk of . . . Well, the term splash zone came to mind. Her demeanor matched her relaxed attire, thankfully. Maybe he’d be spared.
Colette answered, “You were fine. In fact, I’d almost call you convincing.”
She considered him. He fought a strong desire to shield himself with his hands. “When I said you weren’t the issue, I was being generous. I’ve worked with you long enough to know when you’re not giving it your all.”
Damn. He’d thought he’d put on a pretty good show. “What do you mean? I moaned in all the right places, and—”
“Is it your costar?” she interrupted. “Not doing it for you?”
He glanced at Antoine. He was shorter than Pete but cut like marble, with gorgeous bone structure and legs that declared a love of jogging.
“No, he’s attractive. I think we can both agree on that. I’m just used to a little more . . . professional courtesy.”
“Ah, so he’s not flirting with you? I noticed you two weren’t talking much. That’s never a good sign.”
“Pretty much, yeah. I mean, it’s not like it’s a requirement, but having sex with a complete stranger is easier if they at least pretend to like you. Helps to grease the wheels, so to speak.”
Colette nodded. “I get it. I remember that from back in my day. So, is that all it is? You two don’t have chemistry?”
“That must be it.” Pete pretended to survey the set, hoping she’d lose interest.
It didn’t work. “You know, this isn’t exactly a new occurrence. You’re normally one of my better actors, but you’ve seemed distracted in the past few films I’ve cast you in. Even when you hit it off with your costars, the energy is never quite right. Is there something else going on?”
“No.” Pete unfolded his arms, hoping to look less defensive, but that left him with nothing to do with his hands. His fingers itched for a cigarette. He prayed he didn’t look as maladroit as he felt. “What could be going on?”
“You tell me. Something with school? Or your mom?” She looked at him sidelong. “Maybe you’ve got a new boyfriend on your mind?”
At that, Pete burst out laughing.
Colette glowered. “Laugh all you want, but I’ve lost some of my best actors to love. It happens.”
Pete wheezed. “Not to me. See, to have a boyfriend, I’d have to actually speak to a man without falling all over myself.”
“You manage pretty well when you’re on camera.”
“That’s different. That’s Jaden talking.”
Colette made a rude noise. “I don’t have time to play counselor. I have a lot of bland footage to painstakingly edit until it looks like you and lover boy over there are doing more than flopping halfheartedly against each other. But, for the record, dating is seldom easy for people like us, introverted or not.”
Pete couldn’t help but quip, “‘Us’? You haven’t starred in a film in, what? Two decades?”
“I don’t mean porn stars, Jaden.” She swept her hand around the room in a broad gesture. “I mean the men, women, and variations thereupon of the adult entertainment industry. You think anyone at Murmur Inc. has an easy time with relationships? News flash: dating involves getting to know one another, and eventually people ask what you do for a living. Just picture it. ‘Hi, I’m Joe, and I spend my days having phone sex with strangers.’ Or better yet, ‘My name’s Kim, and I masturbate in front of a webcam for money.’ That tends to cut first dates short.”
“Well, you don’t have to worry about me. My complete lack of allure has ensured I’m not going to steal someone’s heart anytime soon.”
Colette looked beseechingly heavenward. “Like I would let you star in so many of my films if you weren’t attractive. You may not have the same appeal as Antoine the Chiseled, but lots of people are into the baby-faced, big-eyed twink thing you have going on. Plus, you’re tall.”
“Wow,” Pete deadpanned. “That’s exactly what a man likes to hear. I may not be built or conventionally attractive, but at least most porn sites have a category devoted to me.”
“Last I checked, that was a good thing in this industry. But whatever. Wallow in insecurity if you want.” She pulled a phone out of her pocket and checked it. “Take fifteen, and then we’ll try again. Hydrate, do some stretching, and above all else, work out whatever it is that keeps pulling you from the moment. People don’t want to watch you think. They want to watch you get off.”
Pete shifted from foot to foot. He wondered how many years he’d have to work in the sex industry before the frankness stop fazing him. “Yes, boss.”
“Good. See you in fifteen.” With that, she strode off, her black pumps clicking on the tile. When she reached the door, she threw it open, revealing a scene that was almost shockingly incongruous with the studio.
The hustle and bustle of Murmur Inc. lay beyond the door. The soundproof filming booths made it easy to forget there was a whole office waiting outside. And, at any given time, it was packed with people engaged in a variety of tasks, from phone sex to actual office work.
Colette’s exit drew the attention of a few nearby employees, but none of them took notice of Pete. A half-naked man wasn’t exactly an unusual sight around these parts. Even if it were, the door slammed shut again too quickly for them to register his lackluster presence.
Pete hunted around for his clothes, intent on having his umpteenth cigarette. His pants were strewn on the floor where Antoine had unceremoniously tossed them. He yanked them on and stuck his hands in the front pocket. When his fingers closed around a crumpled pack of cigarettes, he breathed a sigh of relief. Next he located his shirt and the long-sleeved flannel he’d thrown over it. His shoes and socks were a bit more difficult, but he managed to tug them on without tumbling over.
“I’m going for a cig,” he announced to no one in particular.
None of the crew members looked up from what they were doing, and Antoine seemed even more disinterested in him than before, if that were possible. It wasn’t personal, he reminded himself, but it still stung. He slipped out the door before his sense of rejection could reach critical mass.
The office looked like any other: there were cubicles, harried interns buzzing around, and even a break room featuring free, mediocre coffee. What set it apart, however, was the line of soundproof booths running along the wall. The tinted glass was impossible to see through, but a few of the red Live lights were on—including the one next to the booth Pete had just vacated.
The way he heard it, Murmur Inc. had once been a recording studio, but it had gone out of business sometime between eight-tracks and CDs. Once Colette scooped it up, however, she’d transformed it into one of Los Angeles’s top adult entertainment companies. It had started out just filming porn, but with the advent of the internet, evolution had been obligatory. Now, it dabbled in a bit of everything.
Pete headed for the exit on the left, dodging scantily clad nurses and men in bondage gear as he went. He slipped through a double door and into a poorly lit staircase. Two flights of stairs later, he hit the outside air, and crisp sunlight left him blinking for the third time in the past ten minutes. It was a clear day, and freezing, but he took a deep, savoring breath.
He scanned the parking lot, surprised to find it devoid of people. Pretty much everyone at Murmur Inc. smoked. He couldn’t say if it was the sex part or the office part that did it. Both seemed equally likely. When he wanted a moment to himself, it was difficult to find. It seemed luck was on his side today.
He stuck a cigarette between his lips and lit it with a cheap, plastic lighter. He sucked down a lungful of smoke. Eyes closed, he luxuriated in the sweet, satisfying nicotine. He exhaled, took another puff, and hugged himself for warmth. LA had mild winters, but his skinny frame provided no insulation. The wind cut through him like he was made of tissue paper.
Still, the cold helped to clear his head. Colette was right. He wasn’t in it today, and that needed to change yesterday. She hadn’t harped on him about it yet—not really, anyway—but if his work continued to slip, she wouldn’t hesitate. Desperate young actors were a dime a dozen. If she wanted to replace him, all she had to do was take a stroll down Hollywood Boulevard with a sign that read, No Experience Necessary.
Pete couldn’t risk burning a bridge with one of the biggest porn producers on the West Coast. Whatever mental block he was undergoing, he needed to take a wrecking ball to it.
At least he knew what his problem was. Well, sort of. The immediate issue was he kept getting sucked into his own head. There were so many little things to worry about in front of the camera. Was he making a weird face? Was his hair messed up? Were his abs flexed? Were his limbs in the way? He could go on.
The idea that porn was considered “easy money” made him want to laugh and cry at the same time. In reality, it was ten percent sex and ninety percent stamina. A twelve-minute clip took hours to film. It was grueling, even for a seasoned actor like him.
But that wasn’t all that was holding him back. He’d never admit it out loud—Colette would fire him on the spot—but in truth, his job just didn’t excite him anymore. The idea seemed strange, even to him. What could possibly be a bigger rush than life as a porn star? That was what Pete had thought when he’d first started. He’d hoped porn would get him out of his shell, make him more adventurous . . . Maybe even get people to notice him.
And in the beginning, it had.
He came alive in front of the camera. He said and did things he never would in real life. Now, however, it was a year later, and he wasn’t the new kid on the block anymore. A fresh batch of porn stars was always right around the corner: new faces willing to do more for less. Every day, Pete found himself less and less motivated. The regular sex was still nice, but gone was the shivery, almost guilty thrill he’d felt the day he’d stepped foot on his first set.
In short, he was restless.
It wasn’t like he’d planned on doing this forever. Few people did. He knew some women who joked about making grandma porn someday, but they were the exception, not the rule. Porn wasn’t most people’s end game.
Regardless of Pete’s future plans, he needed to get it together, or Colette would decide it was time for him to retire whether he was ready or not. He couldn’t let that happen. Tuition wasn’t cheap, and he had no intention of graduating with back-breaking debt like his classmates.
He took one more drag before tapping his cigarette out and tossing it in a nearby trash can. Then he squared his shoulders and whispered, “‘Once more unto the breach.’”
Back inside, he stopped at a water fountain and gulped down a few much-needed mouthfuls before heading back into Booth Eight. Everyone was more or less where he’d left them, though Colette had returned. She was fiddling with one of the cameras, minutely adjusting a series of switches. She looked up when he approached. “Ah, Jaden. Right on time. Strip down to your skivvies, and be snappy about it. We need to get going.”
Pete rushed to comply, shedding his clothes in half the time it had taken to put them on.
“All right,” she said when he was once more standing in his underwear. “I want you two to really go at it. Show me some passion. Antoine, you need a minute?” She waved vaguely at his crotch.
Antoine fondled his considerable erection through his boxers and then gave her a thumbs-up. “I’m good.”
Pete stared despite himself. He really needed to find out what Antoine used. As something of a professional bottom, Pete was seldom required to be hard, but still. It might come in handy.
“Jaden, you ready?”
He nodded and slid onto the couch. “Yeah.”
“Then we’ll pick back up with kissing. Don’t linger too long on that, though. We have plenty of shots of you groping each other. I want cocks out and lube on in the next five minutes.”
They both saluted, and this time, when she called action, they kissed with enthusiasm. It was sloppier than Pete liked, with too much tongue and not enough lip play, but he bet it looked good on camera. At the end of the day, that was all that mattered.
When Antoine reached for Pete’s underwear, he moved to help, lifting his hips so they could slide easily off and join his pants on the floor. His exposed cock was soft, but Antoine didn’t seem to care. He spent a moment palming Pete for good measure before moving on, sliding a hand between his ass cheeks. Pete, for his part, acted like every touch was ecstasy, letting out exaggerated moans at all the right times. Even he thought he sounded into it.
Antoine hands grew surer on Pete’s body. Within seconds, he reached for the bottle of lube they’d stashed next to the couch ahead of time. He handed it to Pete so he could make a show of preparing himself, though that too had been done in advance. Pete slipped two lubed fingers easily in, and this time when he moaned, it was genuine.
Moments like this reminded him why he’d stuck around for as long as he had. He was being paid to masturbate while a sexy man got ready to fuck him senseless. He could think of worse gigs.
Antoine procured a condom from between the couch cushions and rolled it down his length. He lined himself up and waited for Pete to withdraw his fingers before pressing forward. There was no build up, no pause of anticipation before the big moment, just a blunt, stretching sensation that made the bright lights dim in comparison.
Pete breathed in and out, relaxing as much as he could. Antoine, to his credit, gave Pete plenty of time to adjust before he sunk home. They had to stop a few times to get direction from Colette—which meant freezing in place, mid-fucking, while she arranged their limbs the way she wanted, like flowers in a vase—but for the most part, the scene was going smoothly.
At one point, Antoine flipped him onto his stomach and started fucking him in earnest. When that happened, Pete lost himself in the simple pleasure skittering up his spine. He even managed to get off, though his orgasm was only superficially satisfying. He had a newfound appreciation for the phrase scratching an itch. And the scene didn’t finish when Pete did. They both had to keep going until the director told them they could stop. And Colette was nothing if not thorough.
The four-hour mark passed with no indication that they were nearing the end. Pete’s energy flagged in a big way. His back ached, his muscles screamed, and all he wanted was to take a nap. Alone. Without anyone touching him. But Antoine was going strong. His dick jamming repeatedly into Pete was enough of a reminder.
Mercifully, about ten minutes later, Colette announced, “We have enough now to piece something together. You can come whenever you’re ready, Antoine. Make sure the camera can see the big finish.”
Antoine laughed and made a point of sinking deeply into Pete. “I could do this all day.”
Pete spasmed, more from overstimulation than from pain. Even if he wanted to feel good at this point, he wasn’t sure he could. It was all beginning to be too much.
It wasn’t the most honest move, but Pete knew what he had to do.
He angled his hips up, allowing Antoine to sink deeply into him, and then clenched his sphincter muscles.
Antoine swore behind him, and his most recent thrust quavered. “Jesus, you’re tight. Stay just like that.”
“Oh yes,” Pete moaned, barely keeping himself from sounding bored. “Fuck me, please. I love your cock.”
He kept his muscles taut, his body stretched out like a bowstring, and after a few more sumptuous groans, Antoine’s rhythm faltered. Even if he weren’t a sex worker, Pete would know what that meant. Sure enough, Antoine only managed to rock into him half a dozen more times before he pulled out with a cry. He massaged the base of his cock as the tip of the condom filled.
Pete twisted around and pretended to watch rapturously. They held their positions until Colette called, “Cut! Wrap it. Or unwrap it, in Antoine’s case.”
A chorus of laughter sounded from the crew, and with a signal from Colette, it was over. The crew members started breaking down the set before Pete had even moved into a sitting position.
Antoine got up on shaky legs and offered him a hand. Pete waved it off with a polite smile. Standing wasn’t a viable option for him just yet. Antoine shrugged and headed for a trash can, likely to dispose of the condom.
Pete watched his bare ass as he walked away, and then threw an arm over his face, blocking out the light. He was exhausted, his bangs were matted to his brow with sweat, and he was sticky all over.
He was going to sleep well tonight.
“Jaden? Got a moment?”
Pete uncovered his eyes and lolled his head in the direction of the sound. Colette was standing next to the couch, eyeing it like she wanted to sit but had the good sense not to.
“Need something?” he asked, slurring slightly. He yawned, mouth wide open.
“You did good today. After our conversation, at least. It was nice of you to help Antoine.”
“I didn’t do anything special.”
“Don’t deny it. It’s a particular talent of yours. Not only can you convince the audience that you’re into it, but you can convince your costars as well. It makes them perform better. If it hadn’t been for all that moaning and writhing you did, the whole film would have fallen flat.”
“Thank you.” He hesitated. “I don’t deserve it, though. I was just doing my job.”
“Sure you do. I wouldn’t have said it otherwise. But as it turns out, your job is precisely what I wanted to talk to you about.”
His heart somersaulted.
She snorted. “Jesus, calm down. I didn’t think it was possible to go from sexpert to skittish rabbit in three seconds flat. I have a proposition for you. The role of a lifetime, assuming you don’t screw it up.”
He raised a brow. “Right now?”
“Course not. That’d be cruel.” Her smile was angelic.
Phew. Thank God.
Pete’s groan sounded like an elephant’s death wail. Just the idea of filming again made his ass clamp up. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can. I’m spent, in an imaginative variety of ways.”
“Hear me out. I’m planning a new summer series.”
Her eye roll emphasized the prodigious length of her fake eyelashes. “Brilliant observation, but as you should damn well know by now, anything with a summer release date needs to be filmed in the winter. We have quality standards to maintain. You want our films to look cheap?”
“Perish the thought.”
“Exactly. So, like I said, it’s going to be a big summer blockbuster. I’m talking heavy promos, teaser trailers, multiple filming sessions, the whole shebang. I’m going to call it Heat Wave. Pretty sexy, right?”
“Sure,” Pete agreed. “What does that have to do with me?”
“Don’t be coy. Obviously I’m thinking of casting you in it. You fit right into my artistic vision.”
Pete would have scowled if he’d had the energy. “Meaning I look the part. I’m guessing you need a twink type to play opposite some muscled bear.”
“More or less.” She shrugged. “Is that such a bad thing?”
“The whole big top with little bottom thing is so played.”
“Which is why we’re going to deviate from the script a bit. Heat Wave isn’t just porn. It has a story.”
“Yeah. It’s about a shy college student who blossoms over summer vacation with the help of an experienced lover. It’s a classic coming-of-age story. With lots and lots of fucking. You’ll love it.”
“I dunno. Sounds pretty typical to me.”
“Don’t write it off so quickly. This role isn’t like anything I’ve offered you before. There’s actual acting involved, for one thing. And scripts and photoshoots. Clothed ones. You used to model, right?” She nudged him with her foot. “When was the last time you were in front of a camera without your cock out?”
“I can’t recall.” Pete’s mind was shutting down in rebellion.
“Hey, focus.” She snapped her fingers in front of his face just as his eyes started to drift shut. “Tell me you’ll think about it. This is a huge opportunity. And, frankly, you’re lucky I’m offering it to you, considering how off your game you’ve been.”
Pete frowned. “Not to push my luck, but why are you?”
“Because you’ve made me a lot of money in the past, and we all have bad days. I see potential in you. If you give it your all, I think you’ll do great.”
Coming from Colette, that was high praise. “Is the role mine, then?”
“Do you really think I’d make it that easy for you? You’ll have to audition, but if you and the lead have the right chemistry, it’s steady work. And steady pay.”
At that, Pete perked up. “How much are we talking?”
“More than you’ve made doing the odd anal scene here and there.”
Pete wavered. In this industry, even the big names had no guarantees about where their next paycheck was coming from. Job security was worth more than gold. And if he said no, Colette would be certain to remember this the next time a big role was up for grabs. Still, he had to look after himself. He wouldn’t be any good to anyone if he sexed himself ragged.
“Who’s the lead?” he asked. “Or are you auditioning for that role too?”
“Oh no, we know exactly who your potential leading man is. He’s something of a rising star. I’ve been dying to work with him, but he’s a crossover.”
“Ah. He does straight porn too?”
“Did straight porn. My understanding is he’s crossed over for the last time.”
“Really?” Pete rubbed his chin. “So, is he straight, or bi, or what?” He knew a lot of gay men who thought banging a straight guy was the ultimate fantasy, but Pete preferred partners who weren’t likely to have an identity crisis in the middle of a shoot.
“No clue. He’s probably like your new buddy, Antoine. Straight as a wicket, but he knows there’s way more money in gay porn, so here he is. That’s the kind of business acumen I admire in today’s youth.” She flashed a toothy grin. “Either way, he comes with a whole truckload of logistical complications, thanks to how the straight side of porn handles STIs. I had to wait for him to get tested and cleared before I could cast him in anything.”
“Jesus. Call me old-fashioned, but I vastly prefer Murmur Inc.’s policy: condoms, condoms, condoms.”
“Well, if you do well in your audition tonight, you can double bag it for all I care.”
He started to cite something he’d read once in a pamphlet about how that was actually less safe, but then he realized she was joking. “This guy must be an amazing fuck if you’re willing to go through all that just to work with him.”
Colette gave him a stern look. “I know we’re sex workers, but you don’t have to be so crude.”
He smiled sheepishly. “Sorry.”
“I’m just fucking with you. It’s nice to see you unclench. And you’re right, by the way. He’s extra effort, but he’s worth it. If I have my way, he’ll be a regular addition to our roster.”
“Do I get to know his name?”
“No, I know you. You’ll google him and make all sorts of assumptions. I want you to meet him and let first impressions speak for themselves. I have a feeling you two are going to hit it off. I’ll text you the time and place of the audition. Say you’ll be there?”
After a lengthy pause, Pete said, “I’ll think about it.”
“Wise decision.” She patted him on the shoulder and then wiped her hand on her jeans. “I’ll let you recuperate. Go shower or meditate or whatever it is you need to do. I’ll see you later.”
When she’d gone, Pete sagged back against the couch, not even caring that he was still naked. He felt like he’d just waged some sort of battle. And lost.
Antoine had disappeared—he’d probably scurried away before Colette could get him in her sights—but the production team was still packing up. Pete watched them idly while he mulled over Colette’s proposal. He needed the money. He always needed the money. But could he really handle two shoots in one day? Colette had said it was just an audition. That usually meant sex, but not always. Maybe he wouldn’t have to do much.
The internal debate must have overwhelmed Pete, because the next thing he knew, he was waking up. He looked around, bewildered by the unfamiliar couch he was on and the blank walls all around him. A moment later, he remembered where he was.
“Shit,” he said to the empty room. Everyone else was gone. It wasn’t unusual for porn stars to nap between sets, so probably no one had thought to wake him. Pushing himself onto shaky legs, he located his jeans and slid his phone out of his back pocket.
“Shit,” he repeated when he saw the time. He’d been asleep for hours. Good thing he’d had the foresight to tell his mom he might be late for dinner.
His notifications alerted him to a new text he’d received. An address and a time flashed onto the screen. Colette’s audition. He would love to pretend he’d forgotten, but he suspected even his unconscious self had been fretting about it.
The address looked like a residence at first glance. That wasn’t surprising. Porn was often filmed at people’s houses. From the zip code, Pete guessed it was in Pasadena. He could google it to be sure, but he estimated it’d take him twenty minutes to drive there.
He took stock of himself. He felt better than he had before his nap, but that wasn’t saying much. The smell of sweat and sex oozed from his pores. He desperately needed a shower. And to brush his teeth. And to take care of a few other maintenance issues.
Fuck it. Colette can be as pissed as she wants. I’m done for the day.
He was about to send her a halfhearted excuse when his phone buzzed in his hand. Colette had texted him again. He frowned. It was a photo this time. Why would she . . .?
He opened the message.
In case you need some inspiration, it read.
But Pete barely noticed the text.
The photo was of a young man, and the moment Pete laid eyes on him, he knew he was fucked.
Forty-five minutes later, Pete lurched up to a swanky house on Del Mar Boulevard in his derelict sedan. He started to double-check the address only to realize he didn’t need to. There was a conspicuous cluster of cars parked out front, including Colette’s red Mustang. It was safe to say he’d found the right place.
He parked his clunker by the curb and stepped out, not bothering to lock the doors. If someone stole it, the joke would be on them. The fading sun cast the street in hazy orange light interspersed with deep shadows. Out here in the suburbs, there were no monstrous buildings to block the sky, and so he had an unimpeded view of the sun’s golden crown as it dipped below the horizon. The cold seemed to make the colors more vibrant, the contrast more vivid. He would have appreciated the simple beauty of it if he were one iota less nervous.
Standing in the driveway, he smoothed his clothes and ran trembling fingers through his wet hair. He’d stopped off at home to shower, rushing to avoid being late. His shaggy brown hair was heavy with water, plastered to his angular face. He’d thrown on his favorite blue hoodie for luck without thinking. His red flannel shirt peeked out at the sleeves, clashing horribly with it. He probably looked like he’d tumbled out of a washing machine. Anxiety trailed a cold finger down his spine. Maybe he should blow off the audition after all.
The photo Colette had sent him flashed before his eyes. His feet began walking up the driveway of their own accord.
The house wasn’t a mansion by any means, but it made Pete’s place look like a roach motel. He approached the double front doors, trying to ignore his erratic pulse. When he knocked, one of them swung open on its own. He absently wondered if Hitchcock was directing this gig.
He stuck his head in and was met by the sound of distant voices. He entered a well-lit and pleasantly decorated foyer, sneakers squeaking on the polished hardwood floor. No one appeared to welcome him, so he followed the voices down a short hallway.
When he rounded the corner into a living room, it took everything he had not to visibly react. The room had cheerful, coral walls and modern décor. Gray throw pillows decorated two large white sofas, and a patterned rug covered the floor. The recessed lights had been dimmed, creating a relaxed and intimate atmosphere.
But Pete’s attention was captivated by six young men lounging on the sofas: his competition, undoubtedly. They were all lanky and waifish like Pete, with fair complexions and boyish features. Only someone had swapped out his gawkiness and replaced it with model-like good looks. There wasn’t an average one in the bunch.
Pete swallowed. Well, this was off to a fabulous start.
“Hi,” he greeted the room, raising a stiff hand. “The door was open, so I just, um. Yeah.”
Two of them glanced at him, but no one replied. His face burned. There wasn’t room on either sofa for him to sit, so he lounged in the doorway. Or at least, he attempted to. As was often the case, he had no idea what to do with his hands. He started to shove them into his pockets, but then changed his mind and crossed his arms over his chest. A moment later, he decided that looked too hostile. He let them hang at his sides, wondering if it were physically possible for him to be more awkward.
Voices to the right drew his attention to an open doorway he hadn’t noticed before. Through it was a formal dining room. Colette was seated at a marble-top table with a mountain of paperwork stacked in front of her. A middle-aged blonde woman was sitting next to her; they were deep in conversation.
Pete couldn’t hear what they were saying, but he was willing to bet the woman was the owner. She kept glancing at the men in the living room with big, moony eyes. He’d seen that look before. Must’ve been her first time. She was probably signing a release form right now.
Before he could attempt to get Colette’s attention, a man strolled into sight.
“Are you done yet?” the man drawled. “I wanna get this party started already.”
Colette said something back, but Pete wasn’t listening. He froze even as his body temperature spiked. Though he’d never seen the man before, Pete instantly recognized him.
Christ. His photo hadn’t done him justice.
The man had a swimmer’s build: tall and lean. Pete could tell because he was wearing nothing but an unbuttoned black coat and gray briefs. Despite standing half-naked in a room full of people, confidence oozed from him. Pete wanted to reach out and see if he could actually feel it radiating from him like heat.
But if he were going to reach for anything, it’d be the man’s glossy brown hair. It had been swept up into soft peaks that begged him to grab a handful. Pete’s fingers tingled at his sides with the urge to touch it. The man had no body hair to go with it—porn stars seldom did—but he did have a hint of stubble on his sharp jaw, no more than a shadow. Pete could vividly imagine how it would feel scraping against his throat.
The man bent over the table to look at one of the papers in front of Colette, unwittingly highlighting the curve of his back. Fuck, if Pete had that body—and those cheekbones, for that matter—he’d be confident too.
Pete was staring. He knew he was, but he couldn’t stop. Part of him wanted to write Colette a thank-you note, but another, much more paranoid part wanted to ask if she somehow knew how much the man looked like him. Pete’s very own Evil Ex-Boyfriend. His Moby with an emphasis on Dick. Most people had a “one that got away.” Pete had a “one who hurt him so badly, he wished they’d never dated in the first place.” He still didn’t like to talk about what had gone down between them.
Though that certainly hadn’t stopped him from showing up for the audition. He must be some sort of masochist. Here he was, dead tired and looking like a mess, and yet he’d dragged himself out to the ’burbs for . . . what? A chance to confirm with his own eyes that his ex had not, in fact, become a porn star? Because that would have been hilarious, and so fucking hypocritical—
He shook his head, slamming a mental door shut on that train of thought. Regardless of who he looked like, his possible new costar was a five-alarm hottie. That was enough to pique Pete’s interest, even as his insides squirmed.
As if on cue, the man glanced up and locked eyes with him. Pete tried to look away—he really did—but was rooted to the spot. Maybe it was the light, but Pete swore he’d never seen eyes that dark before. Pupil and iris were indistinguishable from each other. While Pete stood there helplessly, the man’s gaze slid once, oh so slowly, down his body, and when he looked back up again, his eyes blazed.
Pete had been right. He was definitely fucked. It was as though the phrase tall, dark, and handsome had just been personally demonstrated to him.
The man turned to Colette—Pete could expound about the length of his neck—and whispered something. Colette’s head shot up, and she looked directly at Pete.
Well, I wonder who they’re talking about.
The man left as quickly as he’d appeared, though not before Pete got an eyeful of his plump ass. Jesus. His underwear might as well have been painted on.
When he was gone, Pete dragged his eyes back to Colette. She was watching him, her pink lips curled up in amusement.
Colette turned to the blonde woman and said something he couldn’t hear. They stood up and made their way into the living room.
“Gentlemen,” Colette announced, “thank you for your patience. Joyce and I have tied up the last few loose ends, so if you’ve all got your IDs and paperwork ready, the auditions can begin.”
A cheer rose up from the potentials. Pete stayed quiet, however, ruminating. There was no guarantee he was going to get this part, but he suddenly wanted it very, very badly.
“Chris, Chaz,” Colette continued, turning to two of the men, “you’re up first. Darko is waiting for you in the bedroom.”
Darko? Like the movie? That was an odd choice for a stage name. Kinda gothic-sounding. Though it was light-years more interesting than Chaz. Sometimes he wondered what his colleagues were thinking.
Colette beckoned toward the door that Darko—was that his first or last name?—had just used. Chris and Chaz scrambled to their feet and disappeared through it. Judging by their eagerness, they’d also seen something they liked.
When they were gone, Colette made a beeline for him. She was grinning in a way that made Pete want to fall back a step. Like a lioness who’d just spotted a limping antelope. “Glad you could make it, Jaden. I had a feeling you would.”
“Well, that picture was hard to ignore,” he admitted. “But I’m sure you knew that.”
“I had an inkling. I take it you like my newest star?” She raised a suggestive brow.
Pete hoped the flush crawling up his neck wasn’t visible. “He’s pretty gorgeous. You said his name is Darko?”
“Kyle Darko, to be precise. He’s relatively new, but I have high aspirations for him. And for you, for that matter. Somehow, you managed to make an impression already.”
Pete’s heart thudded in his chest. “What do you mean?”
“When he spoke to me just then, he expressed a desire to work with you.”
Pete frowned. “That sounds . . . bland.”
“His exact words were ‘I’d hit that at Mach five.’”
Electricity crackled up Pete’s spine. His voice was embarrassingly breathy as he asked, “Really?”
“Yeah. Assuming you don’t blow your audition, I’d say your chances are good.”
Excitement flooded into him unchecked. Colette had wanted him to get his old spark back, and it seemed Kyle had already lit a fire within him. If Kyle could make him feel all this with a look, Pete could only imagine what actually touching him would be like.
So far, so good, though when the audition rolled around, he’d have to curb himself. If he appeared too eager, he’d look like a newb, or worse, a creep. Besides, he’d worked with some of the hottest guys in the industry. This was nothing new.
He needed to remember what was really important here: a chance to secure a steady paycheck for a couple of weeks. Every other job he’d booked had consisted of him showing up, having sex, and then leaving. If Colette was serious about having multiple filming sessions, this was going to be the most involved role he’d ever landed.
“I’ll do my absolute best,” he said in what he hoped was a casual way. “This role is a great opportunity. I really hope I get it.”
“Me too. We’ll see what Darko says after he’s finished with the others. Some of them have a lot more experience than you.”
“Is he picking his costar? I thought you were.”
“A little of column A, a little of column B. Obviously I value his opinion. The chemistry needs to be just right, so if he says a guy is out, he’s out.”
Pete whistled to cover the anxiety that pierced through him. “Wow, you must really want him to be so accommodating.”
“You’ll understand when you meet him. He has this . . . magnetism. Just you wait.” She patted him on the shoulder. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to check on how my new star is getting along with Chris and Chaz. It’s still anyone’s game.”
She sashayed away, leaving Pete with a strange, uncomfortable emotion churning within him. It was sort of like competitiveness, but more incorporeal than that. Whatever it was, it made him burn up inside.
A mental shake failed to dispel the sensation. Jesus. He needed a cigarette.
He poked his head into the dining room and spotted a sliding glass door leading out to a patio. Perfect.
Joyce was still standing nearby where Colette had left her. Pete waved to get her attention and then jabbed his thumb toward the door. “Do you mind if I smoke? I promise I won’t leave any butts in your yard.”
“Sure thing, honey,” she chirped. “In fact, if you’ll give me a minute to grab some wine, I’ll join you.”
“Oh, okay,” Pete said, surprised. “I’ll wait right here.”
“Want a glass?”
“No, thanks. I don’t drink on the job.” And I’m also not old enough.
She pushed open a door on the other side of the room, revealing a sliver of a neat, modern kitchen. Pete waited with his hands in his pockets, fiddling with his lighter and cigs. He caught one of the other men studying him out of the corner of his eye, sizing up the competition no doubt. No one attempted to speak to him. He’d forgotten how catty some porn stars could be when a gig was up for grabs. Not that he had room to talk. He wasn’t exactly organizing a group outing, and he was definitely coveting the role.
Joyce reappeared with a glass of white wine in one hand and a pack of fancy, organic cigarettes in the other. “Shall we?”
Pete slid open the door and gestured for her to go first. A burst of cold air blew his now-mostly-dry hair into his eyes, but he held his position.
“What a gentleman,” she cooed as she moved past him. She was dressed stylishly in a black cocktail dress and had thrown a short white jacket over her shoulders. If Pete had seen her at Murmur Inc., he would have assumed she was there to film MILF porn. Perhaps renting her house out was a way of getting her feet wet. That, or Pete had been in the biz too long, and he was starting to see porn stars everywhere.
Joyce led the way across the deck toward a set of tasteful patio furniture facing a wooden railing. A spit of moonlight-drenched yard lay just beyond it, ending in a tall fence. It was a clear, crisp night, though not a single star was visible. They seldom were this close to the city.
Joyce took a seat on a sofa and then patted the cushion next to her. Pete fell gracelessly into the space, all limbs as per usual. She handed him a lighter without speaking.
He took it. “Thank you, Ms. . . .?”
“Call me Joyce,” she replied. “What’s your name?”
“That’s a cute name for a cute boy.”
He almost choked midpuff on his cigarette. He handed the lighter back to buy himself time to recover. “Thank you.”
“If you don’t mind my saying, you look a bit young for this.”
“I get that a lot, but I’m twenty, I swear. Plenty old enough. And we get ID’d and screened and all that before filming starts.”
She took a dainty drag on her cigarette and exhaled away from him. “That’s good to know. Thanks for not taking that wine I offered you.”
“No problem. Colette would have kicked me off set anyway if she’d caught me drinking.”
“Very responsible. Tell me, Jaden, why is someone your age doing this instead of . . . well, just about anything else?”
Pete restrained the sour expression that wanted to crawl over his face. Joyce meant well, he reminded himself. They almost always did. But man, was he tired of getting asked that.
“I do other things,” Pete droned, reciting from a script. “I’m a student, and I have a part-time job. Porn is something I do on the side to make ends meet. I’ve actually only been in thirty or so films in the year I’ve been performing.”
Joyce grimaced. “Sounds like a lot to me.”
“Trust me, it’s not. I have costars who have been in hundreds.” Granted, they were seasoned vets who put “porn star” on their taxes, but he didn’t mention that.
“My questions aren’t bothering you, are they?” Joyce asked.
“A little bit, yeah.”
Joyce stared at him, and in a flash, Pete realized she hadn’t expected him to say yes. He quickly amended, “Just a tiny, tiny bit. Barely noticeable.”
That seemed to mollify her. “I’m not trying to pry, I swear. I’m just curious. I’d never met an actual porn star before today, and suddenly I have a living room full of them.”
He grinned. “I thought as much. I pegged you as a first-timer when I walked in.”
“To me, it is. I recognize first-time jitters when I see them. Nervousness and excitement and a little edge of guilt, right?”
“Spot on. How’d you know?”
“That feeling is what got me into porn, more or less.”
Joyce laughed. “That sounds like a story I’d like to hear one day, when I’m not hosting the gay Olympics at my house.” She studied him again, eyes bright with curiosity. “You said you’re a student. What are you studying?”
“I can’t tell you that, sorry. It’s one of those privacy things. If it got out to my classmates that I’m a porn star, I could get harassed. In fact, I would get harassed.”
“Ah. I’m guessing Jaden isn’t your real name, then?”
“Not even close. No one uses their real name in this industry.” Which means I’ll never know Darko’s real name. That was an oddly disappointing thought.
“Seems like there are a lot of rules. And here I thought I’d just have to wash my sheets after.”
“That might not be as big of an issue as you’d think,” Pete said. “Clean up, I mean. Condoms are common practice in gay porn.”
“No offense, but I’ll likely wash them anyway.” She wiggled the fingers of her left hand, making a large diamond ring glint in the moonlight. “Is the money as good as they say?”
“Depends.” He shrugged. “This is one industry in which women absolutely make more than men, so there’s that. And you get paid more for doing the ‘harder’ stuff. Like group sex and double penetration and the like. A lot of guys end up doing gay porn as a result, regardless of their orientation. It pays way better.”
“Oh, so the men in there might be straight? What about you?”
“They might be for all I know, but I pitch my tent firmly in the gay camp.” He flinched. “I regret the way I chose to phrase that.”
She laughed again. “Sorry again for bombarding you with questions. Ever since my divorce, I’ve been looking for a hobby. Right on cue, I met Colette at a party, and she suggested renting my house out. Before I knew it, here I was.” She hesitated, pressing her lips together. It seemed like there was more she wanted to say but didn’t know how to say it. He waited patiently while she gathered herself.
Eventually, she asked, “You said you’ve been doing this for a year?”
“Reflecting back on it, if someone came to you and asked if they should get into the porn industry—maybe just to try it out—what would you say? Would you tell them to go for it?”
He did her the courtesy of considering it before answering. “I like my job. It’s not what I plan to do forever, and the work itself can be challenging, but there’s never a dull moment.” Taking one last drag on his cig, he crushed it out in the ashtray. “I suppose I should check to see if it’s my turn yet.”
“I’ll check for you.” Joyce stood up. “I need more wine anyway. Have another cigarette. I have plenty more questions.”
Before Pete could protest, she disappeared inside. He wrapped his arms around himself and tried not to shiver. Good company or not, he wasn’t certain how much longer he’d last out here. And he certainly didn’t want to be frozen through when his turn rolled around.
Joyce had offered a welcome distraction, but now that he was alone, preperformance butterflies swarmed in his abdomen. He still didn’t know if the audition was going to involve sex or not. Despite his exhaustive session earlier, he found himself hoping it did. He usually had to psych himself up for a scene, but in this case, he was ready to go. He wondered how much of his attraction to Kyle had to do with his ex, and if it was fucked up for him to be turned on anyway.
Despite the cold, he didn’t want to go inside only to be ignored by the potentials. He couldn’t just sit here, though. He climbed to his feet and paced the length of the small deck, hoping to get his blood flowing.
He’d walked the perimeter twice before the sliding glass door opened.
“That was fast.” He spun around, smiling. “Is it my turn?”
His smile evaporated from his face. Oh God yes.
Kyle was standing at the other end of the patio, his head tilted to the side as he regarded Pete. The outside lights cast deep shadows beneath his chin and cheekbones. He was still shirtless—and pants-less, for that matter—but he’d tied the coat shut around his waist. Pete couldn’t decide if he was happy about that or not. It certainly did wonders for his cognizance.
Because, fuck, Kyle was even better looking up close.
Instead of speaking, he gave Pete a thorough and unabashed once-over. Pete was suddenly much, much warmer.
“Hey,” Kyle finally said. He took a step closer, grinning. Or was it smirking? “Sorry if I startled you. I meant to announce my presence, but . . .” he bit his lip, and when he met Pete’s gaze, he was definitely smirking, “I couldn’t resist the opportunity to get a good look at you.”
Pete’s brain promptly crashed. He heard the screech of an old dial-up connection in his head. He attempted to reboot, but the whole system started spitting off angry red sparks. He probably seemed like he was having some kind of fit. Smooth.
He managed to clear his throat. “It’s Kyle, right? I’m Jaden.”
“I know. I asked Colette. You can call me Darko if you want. Everyone does.”
“I’ll stick with Kyle if that’s all right. I’m not manly enough to call people by their last names.”
Kyle chuckled, and the sound brushed against Pete’s skin. “You’re cute. I like that.”
Pete wasn’t certain how to respond to that. Saying thank you didn’t seem quite right, so he went with, “What are you doing out here?”
“Looking for you.”
Pete started to ask why but stopped himself. Duh. Colette had sent him to say it was his turn. “Right. Sorry you had to come get me. Are you cold?”
Kyle tilted his head to the other side in a distinctly feline way. “No. I was just fooling around with those guys. Sharing body heat and all that. I’m actually still sweaty. See?” He pulled his collar aside and angled his torso toward the light. A few beads of sweat were running down his chest. His extremely well-formed, beautiful chest.
Pete had to swallow several times before he could speak. “Ah, I see. I guess round one went well?” His stomach sank.
“Not really.” Kyle propped a hip against the railing a few feet down from Pete. His coat fell open. Twin cuts of muscle peeked out the top of his underwear. He had that beautiful V-shape going on. Pete salivated.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Kyle continued, “they both performed well, and I know from past experience that Chaz has the stamina of a stallion, but they’re not quite what I’m looking for.”
Pete wanted to focus on what Kyle was saying, but he was too busy staring. He scrutinized Kyle’s face in what he hoped was a subtle way. The more he studied him, the less he saw the resemblance between him and his ex. There was something else about him that caught Pete’s attention and squeezed. Something that made his blood sizzle. But what? Kyle was handsome, no question about it, but wouldn’t stand out in a room full of male models, and Pete had just vacated one.
“R-right,” he stammered, realizing he was taking too long to respond. “What are you looking for, if you don’t mind my asking?” He told himself he just wanted inside information. Anything that might give him a better shot at landing the gig. The lie sounded weak even in his own head.
Kyle’s grin was wicked. He stepped closer, leaving just a few inches between them. “That’s what I’m trying to find out. Though when you walked in, I felt like I had a much better idea.”
Pete forgot how to breathe. He knew what Kyle was doing, of course. Flirting with him. Building a rapport. Getting him all hot and bothered so he’d be ready to go when their session started. It was exactly what a good porn star did, what Pete had wanted Antoine to do earlier that day.
And God, was it ever working. It was enthralling . . . and a bit unsettling. He’d never felt anything like this, and he didn’t know quite what to make of it.
Kyle reached out and fingered one of the drawstrings on Pete’s hoodie. Christ, even his fingers were sexy: long and thick. Pete didn’t dare think about the implications.
“I like that you didn’t dress up for this,” Kyle murmured. Pete had to lean forward to hear him, and the second he did, he wondered if Kyle had meant for him to. Now their faces were close. “All the other guys in there might have just walked off a runway. It’s so . . . calculated.” He wrapped his hand around the drawstring and pulled on it lightly. Then he met Pete’s gaze. “You look like you just tumbled out of bed and are dying for someone to drag you back. Would you like that?”
Christ. If this guy is straight, then I’m Cher.
Pete scrambled for an answer. Something suave and sexy. What he ended up saying, however, was the truth. “I don’t know.”
He was turned on in a big way, yeah, but when he prodded at his feelings, he found hesitation buried under all the lust. He’d wanted to be flirted with, even considered it part of the job. A professional courtesy. But this . . . this was setting off alarm bells in his head. Maybe he just couldn’t get past the resemblance thing. Or maybe it was how genuine Kyle’s flirting seemed, as if he were actually into Pete.
That was the problem, he decided. There weren’t any cameras on them out here. Kyle didn’t need to put on airs, and the false intimacy of it was jarring. They were porn stars. If they ended up having sex, it would be because someone paid them to. There was no reason to make this feel so . . . right.
Kyle rolled with it. “I can help you make up your mind, if you like.” He put his free hand on the railing at Pete’s side. “I love a challenge.”
Fuck. Kyle was good.
He should return the favor, Pete thought. Flirt back. Whether Kyle meant what he was saying or not, Pete still wanted this role, and it needed to seem like attraction between them was mutual. It wasn’t just on Kyle to make this work.
Unfortunately, Pete couldn’t seem to do more than stand upright and sputter. He couldn’t tell if he was hot or freezing, and his thoughts were muddled with a mixture of arousal and bewilderment. Despite what he’d just thought, Kyle’s flirting still seemed real, and his body thought it was real too.
“You’re shaking,” Kyle said.
Pete willed himself to hold still but couldn’t control the tremble working through him. “Sorry.” He couldn’t think of what else to say.
“Is it from the cold?” Kyle asked, his voice deepening. “Or something else?”
Pete couldn’t begin to answer that question, but Kyle didn’t seem to want him to. He lifted a hand slowly, almost lazily, and brushed his fingers over Pete’s cheek.
“You’re plenty warm,” he whispered. “Must be something else, then. Am I coming on too strong? I can back off.”
“No,” Pete answered immediately.
“Then what is it?” The dare in his tone was unmistakable.
If either one of them leaned forward, it would bring their faces together. And for one magnetic moment, it seemed Kyle was going to do precisely that. His eyes floated from Pete’s eyes to his mouth. Then, with enough deliberation to make Pete ache, he licked his lips.
Please kiss me, Pete thought dizzily. Please, please kiss me.
And just like that, it was over.
Kyle stepped away.
Pete almost followed him. He stared uncomprehendingly at Kyle’s back as he headed toward the door. “Um, wait. Where are you going?”
“Back in,” Kyle said without turning around. “It’s freezing out here. You should head home before you catch a cold.”
“But, I— Um. What about—” Pete raised a hand only to drop it again. “What about my audition?”
Kyle stopped just as he reached the door. “That was your audition.”
Without another word, he disappeared inside.
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