Stevie cracked one eye open. He could see Dan's shadow on the other side of the curtain. Dan's scuffed and dirty workboots and faded jeans showed below the curtain as he paced back and forth outside. Stevie watched him, biting his nails and thinking hard. No one had ever taken care of him like this, not since he started working for Roy, anyhow. It made him feel warm and giddy and utterly terrified.
He pretended to be asleep when Dan shoved the curtain aside. He heard slow, heavy footfalls, then the creaking of a chair. Then, oh, God, Dan's gentle fingers in his hair, petting, stroking his cheek. His breath hitched, and his eyes welled up. He couldn't help it.
Dan's voice was very close. Stevie reluctantly opened his eyes, half afraid that Dan would be a dream, that what he'd see would be Roy's cruel face. But no, there was Dan, chocolate eyes and golden-brown skin, rich, dark hair all mussed like he'd just dragged out of bed. His expression radiated concern. Stevie smiled, ignoring the tears rolling down his face.
“Hey, Dan,” he said.
“You okay?” Dan brushed a thumb over Stevie's jaw.
“Yeah, I'm fine.” Stevie scrubbed at his face, blinked rapidly a few times, and finally got control of his runaway emotions. “Hey, um, thanks. For helping me out. It was really nice of you to bring me here and all; you didn't have to do that.”
Dan stared hard at the floor. “Why'd you say that?”
“What?” Stevie asked, though he knew exactly what Dan was asking.
Dan looked back up at him with confusion in his dark eyes. “That what that sicko did to you was something you wanted. How can you say that?”
Stevie shrugged. “Never said I wanted it. I didn't. But he paid, Dan. He paid a thousand dollars for me. One night, to use me like he wanted. That's gonna be more than four hundred bucks for me. I need that money.”
“Dammit, Stevie, when I found you ...” Dan broke off, shaking his head. His eyes were haunted. “I've never seen anything like that. Never. And you were scared just about to death. How in the hell can you let that kind of thing happen and not do anything about it?”
Stevie smiled his happy, plastic Sunshine smile. The one that lured men who swore they'd never picked up a hooker before. Men who told him he was beautiful. Men with a need inside, willing to pay plenty for Stevie's pretty face and sweet body to satisfy that need.
Sometimes he wished he'd never learned to smile like that.
“Yeah, well,” Stevie said, “I never had a john like that before. He scared me, sure enough. And I can't pretend it didn't hurt. But it's okay now, really. I'm okay. He didn't do any real damage, the doc said.”
Dan gave him an indecipherable look. Stevie kept the smile in place. He'd need that mask when Dan got up and walked out in disgust, saying he'd be damned if he ever helped a whore like Stevie again. He'd need it when he left the safety of the ER and went to face Roy and the other boys.
“You got someplace to go?” Dan asked after a minute.
“I got a room downtown. Not much, but it's four walls and a roof.” Stevie bit his lip. “I hope I get my cut from last night. I got enough bruises that I might not. Lost income and all that. Most guys don't want a boy that's all bruised and cut up,” he added, seeing Dan's brow furrow in confusion.
, Stevie thought. If that doesn't make him leave, nothing will
. They stared at each other, Stevie with his Sunshine smile painted on, Dan with a frown. Finally Dan stood up. Stevie kept smiling.
“'Bye, Dan.” He tried to keep the quaver out of his voice. “Thanks for everything, really.”
Dan frowned harder. “I'm not leaving. Well, not alone, anyhow.”
Stevie's smile slipped a little. “What?”
Dan grinned, and Stevie fought down a jolt of desire. God, who'd have thought the man could get any more gorgeous? But that smile ... that was something Stevie thought he could look at forever and never get tired of it.
“I know you thought you were gonna be rid of me, but you're not. You --” Dan pointed a stern finger at Stevie. “-- are coming home with me.”
Stevie's jaw dropped open. “Are you kidding me?”
“Nope.” Dan leaned down with his hands on the bed rails. “You can't go back, Stevie. You just can't. Look, I'll help you find a job, and you can stay with me until you make enough to get your own place. A new place, I mean. You go back to where you're living now, you'll end up right back out on the street. You need to get clear of that whole damn life before it kills you.”
Dan stopped, eyes wide as if he was surprised by his own impassioned speech. Stevie stared, shocked speechless.
“So,” Dan said. “What about it?” He ran a hand through his hair and gave a little half smile that made Stevie want to fall into his arms and stay there until the world ended.
“You serious?” Stevie asked. “You'd really do that?”
Dan shrugged and shuffled his feet. “Yeah, sure.”
Dan stared at him in surprise. “Why wouldn't I?”
Stevie laughed. “I'm a whore, Dan. What'll your friends say when they find out you've got a fucking rent boy living with you? What'll your boss say?” He shook his head. “You're awfully nice to offer, but I can't take you up on it. People would start talking bad about you.”
Dan's eyes narrowed. “What makes you think I give a damn what anybody says?”
“But nothing. Look, it doesn't matter to me that you've been selling yourself. What matters is what you do from now on. I want to help you out, Stevie. Just ... just let me, huh?”
Stevie knew he should say no, just tell Dan “no, thanks,” and go back to his filthy little room and Roy and the street. Back to the life he'd known for the last year, the life Roy said he was born to. But he couldn't do it. He couldn't turn his back on the offer of a hot shower and a safe place to sleep and the possibility of a job that didn't involve spreading his legs for anyone who'd pay. More than that, he couldn't say no to Dan's big velvety eyes and earnest expression.
“Okay,” Stevie said. “You talked me into it.” He gave Dan his biggest, brightest smile. “You've got yourself a roommate.”