Rhys Matherton sipped his champagne, listened to the band play upbeat jazz on the deck of the ocean liner, and wondered what the hell he was doing. Taking a luxury cruise across the Atlantic wasn’t at all his style, and it certainly wasn’t what you were supposed to do right after you buried your mother.
Callous, one news site had said. Disrespectful. And those had been the kindest of the words thrown at him.
Maybe he was a coldhearted bastard, but he didn’t want to face his life yet, not with all that had happened. Flying back to New York from Vienna would have given him only fifteen hours of peace before he plunged headlong into the morass of friends, colleagues, and reporters. Never mind the creeping mass of people who wanted to be his very best buddy now that he was worth millions.
He swallowed the knot in his throat and chased it with the rest of the champagne.
Amazing what money did. Everyone wanted a piece of him. Even galleries that had snubbed their noses at his work now wanted to display his sculptures. Friends and ex-lovers called his cell phone so often he let the damn thing run out of power and hadn’t bothered to recharge it.
He didn’t even want to think about his e-mail.
A waiter offered to take his empty flute as the ocean liner slid past the waterfront at Southampton and made its way toward the channel. A second waiter came and offered a second flute, but Rhys declined. He wasn’t about to add another spate of drunkenness to his exploits bandied about the press.
Taking the slow boat, literally, gave him an entire week to put himself back together, to have a little calm before he stepped back into his upturned life.
It wasn’t his mother’s death that had thrown him off. He had known that was coming. They had mourned her stage IV brain cancer together, that last month.
No, it was the aftermath. The lies. Seeing his father again. Facing that man’s anger and loathing was one thing—he had done that most of his life. But witnessing the utter relief on Derrick Matherton’s face during the reading of the will had broken every wall Rhys had built over the years. The contents of the will shattered what was left. After it was all over, his father—Derrick
—spoke his first words to Rhys in fourteen years.
“I always knew you weren’t my son.
Rhys pressed his lips together and stared out at the tourists waving from the round block fort they passed. At least that secret had not been leaked to the media. But then, the solicitor had been from a very highly regarded firm, and Derrick had been given a tidy sum with the stipulation that he, too, would never reveal the truth.
Not his son.
Rhys inhaled the damp June air. Fuck the champagne. What he really wanted was a beer. And a lump of clay to pound his fists into. The latter would have to wait until he was back in his studio. The former—well, the ocean liner had a wide variety of bars. He chose the one farthest away from the band and the mingling crowds watching the liner pull into the channel.
To his dismay, the lounge was not empty. Several men and women stood at the dark wooden bar, more around nearby tables. A particularly loud group hushed when one of the women at the table saw Rhys. She whispered to her neighbor and then giggled.
Rhys looked down as he walked, his face warm with anger. Which story had they read? The one where he was a womanizer who slept with two a night? Derrick
would have greatly preferred that. It was so much better to have a son who went through women like tissue than a son who was single and gay.
Rhys looked up in time to see the tray of glasses before he ran into it. Neither he nor the waiter could catch the tray as it tipped sideways. It fell, sending a shower of stemware and cocktails down onto a man sitting by the window.
Glasses shattered on the tile floor. One fell into the man’s lap, spilling its contents and staining his dark trousers.
“Oh God, I’m sorry,” Rhys said. “Oh hell.” Great, just great.
He half expected a camera flash to go off.
The waiter shot him an exasperated look before addressing the man in the chair. “Mr. Quint! Are you hurt?”
“I’m fine.” Clipped words. The man stared at the glass in his hand for a moment. Then he set it down on the small table next to the chair. His movements were languid, but his knuckles were white.
Rhys wondered what the drink had been before something creamy had landed in it. It looked like shit now.
The man lifted a margarita glass off his lap and set that next to the other drink. The guy’s suit was ruined too.
“I’ll pay for it. For it all,” Rhys said. He looked at the waiter. “I didn’t see you. I… Shit.”
Servers with towels descended on them like locusts, pushing Rhys away from the scene. He stepped back and tucked his hands into his pockets to keep them from shaking. He spied several people with their cell phones out.
He didn’t need this. He was supposed to be relaxing, not fucking up someone else’s vacation. Not making the news. Again.
In short order, all the glass was picked up and removed. Towels sopped up much of the spilled alcohol from the tiles. Rhys heard the distinct sound of a cleaning bucket and mop clacking over the floor. In a few minutes, the results of his clumsy inattention would be a memory.
Except for the man he had completely pissed off.
A woman handed that man a towel. He used it to dry his face and blot his lap before he stood. He turned and glared at Rhys.
Even with cocktails dripping from his hair, the man was too close to perfection to be real. Beautiful, exquisitely anger. High cheeks, long jaw. Dark hair, brows.
Rhys knew his mouth hung open a little. He took his hands from his pockets, stood straighter. “Dry cleaning.” The words came out as a croak. “I’ll pay.”
“I have no need of your money.” The man balled up the towel and whipped it at the leather chair. “Use it to buy yourself a brain.”
Rhys felt the blood drain from his face. Well, he deserved that.
A moment later, a manager appeared. He ignored Rhys entirely and spoke to the dark-haired man. “Our most profound apologies. We’ll take care of your laundry and the tab—”
The man held up a hand. “Yes. Thank you.” There was less anger in his voice now. “This was not Vasil’s fault.”
The waiter who had been carrying the tray flinched.
Right. Rhys had no desire to ruin yet another person’s day. He stepped forward. “It’s my fault. I walked right into his tray.”
The manager frowned.
Rhys patted his jacket pocket. Thank God the business cards were still there from his last gallery opening. He pulled them out, handed one to the manager. “Whatever compensation you need.”
Rhys offered a second card to the dark-haired man. The guy stared at it as if it were a dead fish before he turned and stalked out of the lounge.
Rhys watched the man’s back vanish through the lounge’s entrance. “Wait a minute!”
The man didn’t even slow down.
Gone. Perfect. Beautiful. Utterly angry, and now gone.
He turned back to the lounge manager. “Honestly, I’m sorry. I’m good for it.”
The manager raised an eyebrow in that very British fashion and studied the business card. His expression changed. Considerably.
Of course he would recognize the name. It had been in every paper. WORLD-RENOWNED CELLIST SAMANTHA MATHERTON DIES. ONLY SON RHYS INHERITS MILLIONS.
The manager tucked the business card into his shirt pocket. “We’ll send you a bill, Mr. Matherton. Once we add up the expenses.”
“Thanks.” He lingered only until the manager turned his back. Then he fled the lounge. The stares had become too much. And if he left now, he might have a chance to catch up with that guy.
Short, loose black curls, like something out of ancient art. That tanned face needed to be carved into stone. Or sculpted in clay. Or traced with fingers and lips…
Not a chance in the world, not after dumping a tray of drinks on him. But the least he could do was try to set things right.
Rhys saw his target not too far down the hall. He caught up with the man and grabbed the guy’s arm. “Wait. Let me—”
The dark-haired man whirled about, pushed Rhys into a short hallway, and rammed him against the wall. Hard. “I said I don’t need your money.”
A rich, deep voice and eyes the color of honey. An accent Rhys could not place. The man had wrapped his fingers around Rhys’s throat. His other hand pinned Rhys against the wall. Strong. Fast.
A tick of apprehension traced down Rhys’s spine. “How about an apology?” His voice was steadier than he felt.
Maybe it was the alcohol clinging to the man’s hair and clothes. More likely it was the hot press of his body, but Rhys could barely draw a breath. Fear. Desire. God, he was hard already.
“I don’t need your apology either.”
That dismissive scorn unlocked anger in Rhys. He was so tired of people looking at him like he was nothing more than a simpering piece of shit. He pushed the man back but only managed inches of distance. “I’m trying to be nice here! What do you want? Should I get down on my knees and beg your forgiveness? Lick the drinks off your body?”
Oh fucking brilliant. What a thing to say.
The man chuckled. That, too, was rich and dark. “Would you like that?” The man shifted his body and pressed his thigh into Rhys’s crotch, right against his very hard cock. Pinpricks of heat ran up Rhys’s spine, spread around his head.
Rhys let out a soft moan. Damn it.
“Ah, so you would.” Mockery in the man’s words. Lust too. One hand kept Rhys pinned, but the other released Rhys’s throat. With those fingers, the man brushed Rhys’s lips.
Pineapple. Cherry. Heady flavors. Rhys couldn’t help it. He ran his tongue over the digit and then sucked it into his mouth. The man obliged him, feeding him one finger after another to clean.
Damn, this guy tasted good. It couldn’t just be the drinks. What the hell?
When there were no more fingers, the man leaned in even closer. “That was very well done.” Hot breath caressed Rhys’s cheek. “Let’s see what you can do with something else.”
He kissed Rhys. No. Kissing would have been gentle. This man devoured Rhys’s mouth.
Rhys answered back just as hard. If he was going to be felt up by a hot-ass stranger in a hallway, it damn well would be on his terms too. Rhys tangled his hands in the dark, sticky-wet curls of the man’s hair and sucked at his tongue. Rhys pushed his cock into the hard muscles of the man’s thigh and felt the answer against his leg.
God, it had been a long time since anyone had kissed him this way. Whatever had been on that tray smelled wicked on this guy. Sweet, then dark. Night descending on the jungle. Earth layered against the smell of mango and pineapple.
Rhys felt more alive than he had in weeks. Months, maybe. Every inch of his body hummed. He didn’t want it to end.
The man shifted, moving his leg away from Rhys’s cock.
There was a tugging at Rhys’s belt, then at his pants. Oh shit, the guy wasn’t going to—
Rhys moaned into the man’s mouth. Yes, yes, he was.
The fingers Rhys had sucked encircled his cock, exploring his shaft and teasing at first. Then the man stroked his thumb over the tip and set up a rhythm that sent lust down into Rhys’s feet and out to his fingertips.
He didn’t usually come from handjobs, but the heat of the man, his mouth, and his damn hand set every nerve in Rhys’s body on fire.
It didn’t even take that long. Rhys tried to hold back—wanted to hold on to this moment forever—but the heat in his veins curled into his balls and then rose. Rhys rocked against the man and came, his shout swallowed by the other’s mouth.
Once Rhys had come down a bit, the man broke the kiss. He trailed cum-covered fingers up from Rhys’s crotch, leaving wetness behind on his stomach. He stroked those same fingers against Rhys’s lips.
“Now you’re as sticky as me,” that velvet voice said. “An even exchange, don’t you think?”