Rene plastered a smile on his face as he greeted yet another patron at the exhibition. The thrill he’d felt at being asked to make this trip had long since worn off. Of course, he was honoured that his art was receiving such recognition and the sale of so many pieces certainly filled the bank account, but oh how he longed to go home. It felt like he’d been away for so very long; he hadn’t felt the warmth of Zack’s arms in forever. All he wanted to do was run from this shining modern glass and steel building and return to the simple life in Jade Heights. If he hadn’t signed the contract to stay in Toronto for the remainder of the show, he’d have been on the first flight home. Hell, he’d have gone home the day after arriving here.
Zack had the pharmacy to run and he certainly couldn’t get away for such a long exhibit. Rene accepted this, but still he longed for his husband and their home.
His reverie was interrupted by the glittered and sequined presence of Jojo Grant, the gallery owner and Rene’s self-proclaimed biggest fan. He pushed another champagne glass, the fourth of the evening, into Rene’s hand.
“Rene darling, you’re a smash hit again! Everyone adores you! You must come and meet Mrs. Machado. She just bought your Celtic piece. She’s dripping in money and wants to talk to you about a commission.”
An hour and two more glasses of champagne later, Rene glanced at his watch. Nine o’clock; another hour before he could return to his hotel room and fall into bed. It was only six in Jade Heights. Zack would just be closing the pharmacy for the evening. If he were home, he’d be in the kitchen making dinner for his husband. Instead he was at this horrible gathering drinking far too much champagne and eating nothing but a handful of tiny canapes.
Jojo was seeing the snooty Mrs. Machado to her car, so Rene found a quiet corner of the gallery and leaned his head against the cold marble on the wall. He was feeling a bit dizzy from the drinks and didn’t notice Jojo’s return until he felt an unwelcome kiss pressed against his lips.
“Sweetie, you’ve got to perk up. Just a few more patrons to meet, then I’ll take you back to your room and we can make you all comfy.” Jojo’s hand slid behind Rene and squeezed his butt.
Rene spluttered and pushed back staggering slightly. “Jojo, you know I’m married.”
“Of course you are, darling. So am I,” Jojo giggled. “Speaking of which, I should let the old cow know I’ll be late tonight.” He sighed. “The things I must do for money.”
Zack rubbed his hands together in glee. “Yes!” he happily exclaimed. “Everything is falling into place.”
“Now there’s a look that at one time would make me suspicious,” a voice said behind him.
“Papa, when did you get here?” Zack turned and greeted his father. It was not that unusual for Todd to ignore the ‘Employees Only’ sign and enter the small room behind the dispensing area of the pharmacy. “And just what did you mean by ‘suspicious’?”
“When you were younger that gleeful expression usually meant you were planning mischief or had already committed some,” Todd explained with a laugh before embracing his son. “So, Piglet, which was it this time?”
“Neither,” Zack chuckled, returning the hug with gusto. “I’ve just this minute finalized my plan to surprise the love of my life.”
“Not so rough, my boy,” Todd complained as he tried to wiggle out of his son’s arms. “You don’t know your own strength.”
“Sorry, Papa.” Zack grinned. Heaven forbid either man even thought about suggesting Todd’s ageing might have something to do with the additional aches and pains he experienced. “I guess you’re here to pick up your prescription. I’ve got it ready.”
“Well that and invite you to join your father and me for supper. But first I want to hear all about your plan to surprise Rene. I know how much you are missing him.”
“Tell you what; I accept your invitation and I’ll share all with both of you while we’re eating. Okay?” Zack laughed at the expression on his father’s face. Both knew Todd’s curiosity far outweighed his patience when there were secrets flying about. “Come on, I’ll follow you out and lock up for the night.”
Sometime later, Zack sat at his parents’ dining room table and shared his plans for the next day. “I was able to get a few days off thanks to an employee’s earlier than expected return. During his check-up this morning, Lawrence was given a clean bill of health and permission to resume work. He was more than happy to take on extra shifts to make up for those he missed. Arranging flights proved a tad more challenging.”
“But you managed to do so, right?” Todd inquired as he stood up and began gathering up the dirty dishes. He already knew the likely answer and easily assumed what would follow.
Hayden reached across the table and took Todd’s hand in his. “Give Zack a moment to finish his story, love.” He smiled indulgently at his exuberant husband. Todd could barely contain himself when he knew surprises were being planned.
Zack placed his elbows on the table, knitted his fingers together and rested his chin on them. He let out a sigh, knowing he was about to request a huge favour that could prove to be somewhat of an imposition. “To get an affordable fare and a half decent time travel, I was pretty much at the mercy of the airlines. The flight I ended up with leaves Kelowna at seven-thirty tomorrow morning. There’s a two and a half hour stop-over in Calgary, arriving in Toronto at six in the evening. It’ll make for a long day but be more than worth it.” He looked pleadingly at his father. “Dad, I’d really appreciate a lift to the airport. I’ll be renting a car in Toronto.”
“You must really be missing that gorgeous young man of yours to go to all this trouble, Piglet,” Todd commented as he paused next to his son.
“That is definitely the case, Papa. I know we’ve been apart before; several times in fact. Once even longer than this time around. One would think it would get easier, but it hasn’t. In fact, I think it’s become even harder.” Zack found himself verbalizing the feelings he’d been dealing with for the past few days. “Phone calls and texting will never replace the happiness and comfort of sleeping spooned around the one you love, nor the joy of waking up with him beside you or at least within hearing distance.”
“I understand, son.” Todd planted a kiss on Zack’s bowed head and gently patted his shoulder. “So, what’s your answer to our boy’s request, Hayden?” he asked before leaving the room to get the dessert he’d made, a smile of amusement and acceptance hidden from the others.
“Hmmmm, for a seven-thirty am flight you’ll need to be at the airport by six o’clock, which means leaving Jade Heights no later than five.” Hayden hemmed and hawed as if considering the idea, when in fact he would never turn down his son’s request.
“Yeah, and I know I’m asking a lot,” Zack readily admitted. “I could leave my own car in the airport’s unsecured, long-term parking, but I hate to do that as I’ve heard they’ve been experiencing break-ins recently” He sat up straighter and crossed his fingers for luck under the table as he waited patiently for his father’s response. It was an old habit dating back to his childhood.
“Well I suppose this old man could manage to get you to the airport on time,” Hayden replied with a grin. “After all, who am I to stand in the way of two starry-eyed lovers spending time together?”
“Thanks, Dad.” Zack glanced up as Todd entered the room carrying in the last course of their meal. His eyes beamed when he saw what it was. “Wow, Russian Raspberry Cream. You’ve really put yourself out, Papa.”
“Nothing’s too good for two of my favourite men,” Todd adamantly declared.
Zack swallowed down a spoonful, closed his eyes, and let the creamy treat tease his taste buds. “That was delicious, Papa, and I’ve over-indulged once again. The roast beef was tender and done to perfection. This raspberry cream to finish off the meal is superb.” His sincere praise had Todd beaming. “I think I’ve missed Rene’s cooking almost as much as his company,” he mused as an after- thought.
He pushed himself back from the table. “Sorry to eat and run, but if I don’t leave now I’m be late in making a very important phone call.”
Rene somehow managed to close the hotel door in Jojo’s rather unhappy face. He staggered into the bathroom, dropped his clothes on the floor and turned the shower on as cold as he could tolerate. Standing under the chilling spray seemed to clear the fog of alcohol from his brain. He quickly scrubbed the smell of the evening from his skin and turned off the shower. He glanced in the mirror just as he was wrapping a towel around his waist. ‘What the hell?’ He twisted around to look closer at the mark. He had a very visible bruise on his butt where Jojo had pinched him. Zack would not like that. His husband was not the jealous type, but still he was a Top and somewhat possessive of Rene. He would not like another man leaving a mark on him.
Rene ran his hand sadly over the spot on the back of his neck where Zack always left a love bite. Rene loved the feeling the bite gave him. It made him feel special: marked and owned by his husband. But it was faded away now since they’d been apart for so long. As much as he missed Zack, perhaps it was good that it would be another ten days before he would return home to Jade Heights. The bruise Jojo had left should be as faded as the bite on his neck by then.
Not bothering to dry off, Rene dropped the towel and wandered into the small suite to sit naked and wet on the bed. It was almost eleven o’clock. Zack would be calling at any minute. The highlights of his days here in Toronto were the calls from Zack. Every morning at ten am and every evening at eleven pm the hotel phone would ring and Zack’s voice would be there. During the day there were always a couple of texts and photos on his cell phone, but it was the deep, reassuring voice during those calls that keep Rene going.
Meanwhile, Zack had arrived home, placed his keys on the hall table and tossed his jacket over the banister. He’d hurriedly made sure all the doors were locked and set the alarm before making his way upstairs to their bedroom.
Stripping down to his boxers, he stretched out on the bed and picked up the phone. He smiled in anticipation of hearing his lover’s voice as he punched in the numbers of the hotel Rene was staying at. He almost laughed aloud when his call was answered before the first ring finished.
“Hello, gorgeous. How was your evening?”
Rene swallowed the lump in his throat and put on as normal a voice as he could muster. “Other than missing you, it was pretty good. The cocktail party was boring, but I sold two more paintings and got a commission for another. Although I did make it clear the commission would be completed and shipped from Jade Heights. I only have to do the sketches from here in a couple of days. How was your day?”
“Missing you too, babe. Fortunately, a busy day helped the time go faster. I had supper with my folks. Dad and Papa said to say ‘hello’ and they send their love. It sounds like the show is going well.” Zack felt something was wrong but couldn’t quite put his finger on what was amiss.
“The show is going well, but I’m tired of it now: especially all the pretentious people who claim to ‘know art’.” Rene sighed. “I wish I could have been there for one of your papa’s homemade dinners. I’m sick of restaurant food! What did he make today?”
“I’m not sure I should tell you. It might make you more homesick than you already are.”
“Come on, Zack give. If I couldn’t have Papa’s dinner, I at least want to know what it was.”
“All right then. Papa prepared a perfect prime rib surrounded by a mixture of roasted vegetables. He topped it off with that delicious Russian Raspberry Cream dessert we all love. Are you still happy about begging me to tell you?”
Rene groaned, his stomach rumbling at the thought of the delicious meal. The few canapés and champagne he’d had tonight hardly constituted a proper dinner. “That sounds wonderful, and I’m glad one of us got to enjoy it.”
“Is that noise I’m hearing coming from an empty stomach? Your empty stomach, Rene? Just what did you actually eat tonight? Or should I be asking just how much you had to drink?” Zack had noticed the slight slur in his husband’s voice.
“My stomach isn’t empty. I ate at the cocktail party. As far as drinks go, it was only some champagne and that really doesn’t count as drinking.” Rene answered quickly, hoping to deflect this sudden attention to his state.
“Ya think? You know I expect you to take better care of yourself, Rene. Aside from missing me and not eating properly, is there anything else bothering you.” Knowing how hard it was for them to be separated for so long, Zack decided to make no more of the poor meal choices.
Rene didn’t want to tell Zack about how handsy Jojo had become, but neither did he want to tell a direct lie to his husband, so he aimed for deflection. “Nothing bothers me more than missing my handsome, sexy Top.”
Zack easily recognized the young man’s diversion technique but refrained from pushing it. Although Rene had no way of knowing it, they were going to be together soon enough to take care of any rising problems. He lowered his voice and made an unexpected request. “Rene love, I want you to lightly rub your fingers across the nape of your neck.”
Rene smiled and let out a quiet moan. Zack was a master at phone sex. He did as his Top requested and ran his hand over the spot where Zack usually kept him marked. “Okay, I’m doing that.”
“You can imagine my mark there, but you can no longer feel it. That’s all right as it will be one of the first things we take care of when we’re back together.” Knowing the effect his voice and words were having on his lover, Zack huskily asked, “What are you doing at this moment and what are you wearing?”
Zack’s words caused a shiver to travel up Rene’s spine. “I’m sitting on the bed, fresh out of the shower and in the nude,” he answered with a gulp.
“Turn the speaker on low and place the phone on your pillow. Lay down and get comfortable. Now listen closely and follow my instructions,” Zack murmured seductively.
In a very short time, Rene was well-satiated and sleeping soundly; Zack was busy packing his bag in preparation for tomorrow’s surprise.
Rene wandered into the hotel coffee shop at ten-thirty the next morning. He found an empty seat and studied the menu; not that the menu was any different than it had been every morning he’d been staying here. He usually just got a toasted bagel and coffee, but Zack had admonished him about not eating properly and he’d promised his husband he’d have a proper breakfast today. He placed an order for scrambled eggs and toast with juice and coffee, knowing that would satisfy his husband’s requirements.
Zack’s ten am call today had been a bit short and strange; it was only seven am in Jade Heights and he’d said he had to get to the pharmacy for an early delivery. Although that wasn’t unheard of, Rene couldn’t quite figure out why Zack’s voice sounded like he was in a big hollow space rather than a smaller area in their own home. When he questioned his lover, Zack said it must have been a poor connection. Still Rene was sure he heard other voices talking in the background just as Zack said good-bye.
Once he’d eaten, Rene decided to take a walk along Queen Street and poke in some of the wonderful shops. It was one of the few things he really enjoyed about his time in Toronto. He’d picked up several books and a couple of art pieces since he’d been here. He was especially pleased with a rare book he’d found of very intimate sketches of gay men. What was so unusual about the book was that it was printed in the 1950’s when such behavior could get you arrested. But some brave underground printer had produced the book and a few copies managed to survive today.
After an hour or two of looking, Rene didn’t find anything of interest. He’d sent Zack a couple of texts along with a selfie in front of a rather trashy looking leather shop, but didn’t hear back from him until after twelve. Zack usually sent Rene a selfie from work or someplace around Jade Heights but today he only got a text. Rene told himself that his husband must be busy. He headed back to the hotel as he had to meet with Jojo at the gallery by three o’clock. Well at least he only had to be there until eight this evening. Then he could go back to his room and watch a movie on pay per view while waiting for Zack’s evening call.
Upon his arrival at the gallery, Rene was greeted by the ever enthusiastic Jojo, who quickly engulfed the younger man in an unwanted hug.
“Rene darling, how are you feeling today? I just felt terrible leaving you at the hotel last night when you were so tipsy. I do hope you were able to get to sleep in that cold room all by yourself.”
Rene quickly extracted himself from Jojo’s arms. “I was fine thank you, Jojo. I had a nice long talk on the phone with my husband after you left,” he replied emphasizing the word ‘husband’.
“Oh, you see that’s what I was afraid of; you were lonely for some male companionship! I knew I should have stayed to comfort you. You artistic types are very sensitive and need care. I understand that, darling.” Jojo took Rene’s hand between his and petted it gently.
Rene snatched the hand back and was about to explain for what he hoped would be the last time that he wasn’t interested, when a customer walked into the gallery and interrupted them.
Jojo immediately went to talk to the potential buyer, leaving Rene alone at least for the moment. The rest of the day Jojo and Rene were both kept busy talking with clients and dealing with gallery business. It was nearly seven-thirty when they were alone again.
“Well darling, that was a very good day. We close in just over half an hour and then I’m going to take you out for a celebratory dinner. We have reservations for eight-thirty at Portage. I just know you’re going to love it there.”
Zack stood unseen in the doorway of the gallery, soaking in the sight of his handsome husband. Rene and another man, who Zack assumed was Jojo Grant, had their backs to him and seemed to be having a bit of a conflict in which one of them was apparently unaware of Rene preparing for flight. Zack frowned when he overheard the invitation Jojo issued.
Stepping forward, he put a smile on his face and announced, “I’m afraid Rene already has a dinner date for this evening.”
Rene spun around at the sound of that voice. His face broke into a huge smile when his eyes landed on his husband. “Zack!” He threw himself into the older man’s arms. “I can’t believe you’re here!”
Zack tightly embraced his husband, lifting the somewhat shorter man off his feet. He closed his eyes and deeply breathed in the familiar scent. “God, I miss you!” he softly declared for his lover’s ears only.
Jojo frowned at the reunion taking place in front of him. So, this was Rene’s husband. The man was big and from the way he spoke and was embracing Rene, he was possessive too. ‘Well damn, now I’m going to have a challenge getting that boy where I want him,’ Jojo thought. ‘I hope he’s only here for a brief visit.’
Zack gently kissed Rene’s lips. He would have done more had they been alone. Setting Rene back on his feet, Zack placed a possessive hand between his husband’s shoulder blades and let his fingers soothingly caress the nape of Rene’s neck. He stared at Jojo, instinctively sensing the man could not be trusted. Although Zack uttered not a word, his body language spoke volumes.
Rene leaned back into Zack’s caress, drawing comfort and strength from his husband’s presence. “Jojo, this is my husband, Zachary Pierce. Zack, this is Jojo Grant, the sponsor of my show here and owner of the gallery.”
Jojo put on a broad smile and extended his hand to Zack. “I’m so pleased to meet you Zachary…Pierce, is it? How sweet and old-fashioned of you to have taken Rene’s name.”
Rene jumped in before Zack could reply. “You have that wrong, Jojo. I was the one who very proudly took Zack’s name when we got married. It might be old-fashioned, but it felt right for us as a married couple to share the same name.”
Zack accepted the extended hand. His smile, like Jojo’s, didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Hello, Mr. Grant. I want to thank you for sponsoring my husband.” Zack didn’t think it was necessary to emphasize ‘my husband’. Jojo wasn’t a stupid man; just a rather cunning one. Turning back to Rene, he asked, “Will you be ready to leave soon, love?”
“It’s still half an hour until closing time. I have to stay…” Rene replied.
“Nonsense! Off you go now,” Jojo interrupted. “Zachary traveled a long way. I’m sure he wants to spend every minute he can with you before he must head back home to his little shop in…what’s the town again? Garnet Hills?”
Zack ignored the deliberate blunder of their hometown’s name and the innuendo that their lives back there were mundane. “You heard the man, love. Let’s get out of here and go back to the hotel. I’ve got a rental car parked across the street.”
Jojo sighed as he watched the two men depart. He’d hoped Rene’s husband would have said how long he was staying, but no such luck. He only had Rene on contract for another eight days so there would be little time left to take his pleasure with the beautiful boy, especially if the husband was staying more than a couple of days. He’d been a fool to wait as long as he had. He realized now he should have made his move soon after Rene had arrived. However, he’d still been using the little tart from Montreal up until two days ago and thought he still had time to have fun with his new protégé. ‘But then again….’ he thought, ‘there just might be a way to extend Rene’s stay.’ He’d have to call Delilah Machado and see if he could do something about adding to Rene’s commission work for her; something that would keep the pretty boy in Toronto for another week or two.
Rene went with Zack out to the waiting car. “I can’t believe you’re here,” Rene repeated as he leaned into the warm strength he’d been missing. “You never even hinted that you were thinking of coming. And your phone call this morning…hey, you said you were going to work for an early delivery!”
“I lied,” Zack boldly admitted. “I very much wanted my visit to be a surprise and couldn’t come up with anything better. I hope you’ll forgive me.” He smiled down at his husband; as if there was any doubt.
“It was a fabulous surprise and I totally forgive the little lie that made it possible.” Rene settled into the rental and smiled as Zack watched him do up his seatbelt. Zack never started a car until Rene had his seatbelt securely fastened. “The hotel is just down the block. The parking is underground. It will only take us a minute to get there.” He pointed down the street. “Are you hungry? Did they feed you on the plane?”
Zack turned on the ignition. He knew it was quite possible that Rene had not eaten yet. “I am sure the airline thought they’d fed us, but I could still eat again. Does the hotel have a proper dining room or just a lounge? Hopefully one or the other that serves a decent meal. Or we can find somewhere else to go if you prefer. Either way, I’d like to take my suitcase up to your room and change into something more casual.” He checked the traffic and then drove out of his parking space.
“There is a nice dining room in the hotel. We can call down for a table once we get to the room.”
They were at the hotel moments later. Rene kept looking at Zack as they walked down the hallway to his room. He still couldn’t believe that his husband was here with him. Suddenly his lonely time in the city seemed a whole lot brighter. “I can call the dining room while you get changed,” he suggested as he slid the key card into the slot. “We can stop at the lobby before dinner and get you a key card as well.”
Once inside the room, Zack dropped his bag and pulled his husband into his room. After soundly kissing him, he murmured seductively into Rene’s ear. “How about putting our supper plans on hold for a little while? Maybe we can order room service later.”
“Now that sounds like the best idea I’ve heard all day!” Rene took Zack’s hand and led him through the tiny lounge and into the bedroom of the hotel suite. “Is this venue better than the dining room?”
“Oh, yeah! Much better.”
Rene tossed his overcoat onto a chair and smiled as Zack did the same. “I kinda figured this is what you had in mind.”
“You’ve become very adept at reading my body language. Now get out of those clothes.” Zack grinned rakishly as he quickly started to remove his own clothing.
Rene began to do as he was told. He unbuttoned his shirt and tossed it onto the pile of coats, then toed off his shoes, undid his pants. Just as he was lowering them, he remembered the bruise on his butt cheek. He did not want to have to explain it to Zack right now, so he turned to quickly pull down the blankets on the bed before shucking his socks and shorts. Then he sat on the bed, keeping the bruise from his husband’s sight.
Zack walked over to the far side of the bed, got under the top sheet, and pulled his lover into his arms. He gently kissed his husband’s lips for several moments before his tongue pushed into Rene’s mouth to taste the sweetness there as his hands slowly began exploring the beautifully toned body. How he’d missed the scent and feel of this man. Hands and lips quickly picked up speed as the sexual tension grew; they’d been apart way too long.
“I’ve missed you so much.” Rene’s voice was husky with desire. “Please…make me yours again.”
Shifting his husband until the younger man had his back to him, Zack used his own pre-cum to prepare Rene to accept his girth. When satisfied his lover was ready, Zack slowly pushed his way into the inviting body while gently sucking on the nape of Rene’s neck.
Rene moaned as his husband entered him. God, he needed this. No one had ever made him feel so loved and possessed as Zack did, and nothing else in the world mattered when his husband was inside of him, filling him.
Once his mark of ownership had been restored, Zack set up a rhythm that would allow him to last a while. He wanted Rene to feel this for hours afterwards to remind his husband to whom he belonged. When Rene reached down to stroke himself, Zack smacked the hand away and took Rene’s straining penis in his own hand. He took his time teasing and touching just enough to keep his love on the edge but not allow him to climax until he himself was ready. As he felt the tightening in his balls that signaled he was about to cum, he gave Rene several long firm strokes, simultaneously pushing them both over the edge.
Zoning out in the aftermath of their lovemaking, Zack reigned soft kissed down on the sweaty head resting on his shoulder. His hand lazily moved up along Rene’s side and back, eventually ending up curled around one firm buttock. He gave it a loving squeeze and was jolted out of his peaceful state when Rene’s body stiffened as if in pain.
Zack immediately straightened up, threw back the sheet covering them, and rolled Rene onto his stomach to better check out the problem. His mouth tightened when he saw the bruise on his husband’s backside. He gently probed the discoloured skin. Suspicious of how it got there, he softly inquired, “How did this happen, love?”
Rene attempted to roll back over and hide the mark, but Zack’s firm hand held him in place. “It’s nothing…just a bruise.”
“Rene?” Zack’s voice held a warning edge.
“I…well…I’m sure he didn’t mean anything.”
“Who didn’t mean anything?” Zack prodded.
“Jojo. He had a bit too much to drink last night at the cocktail party. He just pinched me, is all.”
“And this happened at the gallery in front of witnesses?” Zack worked to keep the anger out of his voice.
“Well, it was in the gallery, but I’m sure no one saw it happen.”
“Either way, you do realize this is sexual harassment?”
“No, it’s not like that. Jojo’s not a bad guy; just a little handsy. I don’t think his marriage is very good and he is bi. I was able to get rid of him last night at the hotel room door when he followed me up. It’s not like he tried to force his way in when I was drunk…” Rene stopped talking when he realized that perhaps he’d said more than he’d intended to about the previous evening.
“Hmm, and just how drunk are we talking about here, Rene?” Zack had his misgivings; not just about the amount of drunkenness, but also about just how ‘handsy’ Jojo would have like to have been.
Rene turned his head to look at Zack whom he could see was frowning at the sight of the bruised butt. “The cocktail party was kinda boring and Jojo kept bringing me champagne. I guess I lost track of how much I was drinking until I was pretty drunk. I’m sorry. I know I promised you I would be responsible and not over indulge at these things. Am I in trouble?”
“Not this time,” Zack sighed patiently. “But I think there may be trouble brewing if you keep turning a blind eye as to Jojo’s possible motive for plying you with alcohol. Absolutely no one has the right to put a mark on you, Rene. I hold that privilege exclusively and will do whatever it takes to preserve it. I can be very possessive as you well know.”
Rene gulped and replied. “Yes sir.” He felt a familiar tightening in his groin at Zack’s words. He always found his husband’s possessiveness to be thrilling, but there was something so exciting about having Zack express in words the way he felt. It made Rene feel that he belonged to Zack and Zack alone. Even when they were apart, Zack never let Rene feel that he was free to do as he pleased; there was always a level of control exerted. Many people would find such behavior to be oppressive and possibly unhealthy but between them it felt so good, so right. The discipline relationship Zack had insisted upon from the start had helped them forge a deep and mutually satisfying partnership. If he was Zack’s possession, then he was very proud to be so.
Zack smiled and turned Rene around until they were facing each other; it made cuddling a lot better. “As long as you know I will be keeping a close eye on things during the coming week, my love. For now, let’s get a bit of sleep.”
Rene nodded his head. It felt good to be in Zack’s arms again, even if his husband was predictably sleepy after sex.
They both indulged in a brief nap and then enjoyed a nice meal from room service. After dinner, they ordered a movie from pay per view and fell asleep less than a half hour into it.
Rene awoke early the next morning but lay in bed with his sleeping husband for almost an hour before he decided to get up and shower. He knew that Zack’s body was still running on Pacific Time and thought he would sleep for a while yet, so he was startled and jumped when the shower door opened, and Zack slid into the cubical behind him.
Zack chuckled and kissed his surprised lover before taking the sponge from his hand. Turning the shorter man around, he began washing his back. He was gentle when touching the fresh mark on the back of Rene’s neck; the one he took pride in putting there. He knew it would still be sensitive from last night. He frowned when he once again spotted the bruise. They had discussed it and there was nothing further to be said on the subject; unless of course, something else reared its’ ugly head.
“So, my love, any plans for today?” Zack inquired nonchalantly, planting soft kisses along Rene’s shoulders as the soap was rinsed away.
“Actually, I’m free today. The gallery is closed on Mondays, so I was thinking it would be nice if you and I could go do a bit of exploring around the city. Toronto has a lot of things to see and do; great shopping, shows, sites. Maybe we could go up the CN Tower. I hear they have a really good revolving restaurant and if it’s a clear day you get a spectacular view of the city and lake.”
“Sounds like something we’d both really enjoy,” Zack responded unreservedly as he stepped back and squeezed more soap on the loofah.
They were just stepping out of the shower when they heard the phone ring. Rene grabbed a towel and ran dripping across the floor to pick it up. He depressed the speaker button while he dried off. “Hello.”
“Rene, darling,” Jojo’s voice enthused. “I’m so glad you’re up. I’ve had a call from Delilah Mechado and she wants you to come out this morning to see her house and discuss the commission. She’s absolutely dying for you to get working on the piece. I’ll pick you up in half an hour.”
“Jojo, this is my day off. I was making plans with Zack. Can you suggest that I come out to her place tomorrow?”
“Rene, you do not suggest putting off Delilah Mechado! When she asks for you, you jump! She’s a very important woman in the world of art and culture; she can make or break a career. Now don’t be silly. I’m sure Zephram will be fine without you for one day. I’ll pick you up by the hotel entrance in thirty minutes. Don’t be late.”
With that Jojo hung up, leaving Rene staring at the phone with his mouth open.
Zack’s eyes narrowed at the tone behind the brazen summons. “You’ll not be driving around the city alone with him,” he announced in a voice that left no room for arguing. “We can either get this woman’s address or we can follow Jojo in our own vehicle.”
Thirty minutes later Rene was standing by the side of Zack’s rental at the hotel entrance.
Jojo’s sleek black Mercedes pulled alongside. He honked his horn and motioned for Rene to get in.
Rene opened the door and leaned inside. “I’m going to go with Zack in his car. We’ll follow you to Mrs. Machado’s house.”
“Rene, Mrs. Machado requested you to come out today, not your husband. Zeb is not an artist and was not invited.”
“Zack! His name is Zack and if he doesn’t come, neither do I.”
Jojo shook his head. “Very well, but he can wait in the car.” Jojo pulled out his phone and typed in some information. “I’m sending you a text with her address. Try not to get lost.” As he pulled away, Jojo was cursing under his breath about interfering husbands.
Rene climbed into Zack’s car. He smiled as he looked down at the coffees and breakfast sandwiches sitting there. There’d be no skipping meals when his husband was around. He pulled his phone from his pocket. “Okay, I’ve got the address. Let’s get this over with so we can get on with our day.”
“Turn on the GPS and give me directions as we go, love.” Zack couldn’t help but chuckle. He had easily picked up on Jojo’s ire and had found it amusing. ‘I do believe we are in for an interesting day,’ he mused to himself.
A short while later they were pulling into the circular driveway of an impressive looking home.
Jojo was out of his car and pulling Rene’s door open before the young artist had a chance to remove his seatbelt. “Rene, bring your sketch book.” He then looked pointedly at Zack. “I don’t know how long we’ll be. Why don’t you take a drive and Rene can call you when he’s finished?”
“I don’t think that’s going to happen, Mr. Grant.” Zack’s eyes sparkled with amusement. The other man read like a cheap novel; abet one with a rather fancy cover. “I’ve missed my husband and the idea of being apart even for a short time is intolerable.” He felt no shame at all in goading Rene’s manipulative sponsor. Confident of his relationship with his husband and the love they shared, Zack wasn’t at all worried about Rene being unfaithful. However, he was concerned about his young lover being hurt. And while part of him wanted to step in and protect Rene, the other part of him knew Rene had to learn the danger signs and figure things out for himself. But Zack would always show him that he didn’t have to do it alone, even of that meant only hovering in the wings and quietly observing.
“Oh for heaven’s sake!” Jojo muttered. “Rene is here to work. Don’t be in our way.” With that he turned heel and headed towards the imposing front entrance of the house, fully expecting Rene and his shadow to keep step behind him. Though they took a moment to catch up, but by the time his ringing of the doorbell was answered, Rene and Zack were standing hand-in-hand by the front entry.
A maid dressed like one from a 1950’s movie opened the door and ushered the three men inside. “Mrs. Mechado is expecting you. Please follow me.”
They followed her down a corridor into an exquisitely decorated solarium filled with tropical plants. Delilah Mechado put down her tea cup and stood as they entered the room. She was dressed in a long flowing floral robe; her hair done up in a complicated-looking bun. She crossed the room and greeted Jojo with a hug. “Jojo my darling, I see you brought our lovely Rene and who is his handsome friend?”
“Rene’s husband, Zeke. He insisted upon coming.”
Rene sighed. “My husband is Zackary, Mrs. Mechado. It’s a pleasure to meet you again.”
Zack bowed his head slightly in their hostess’ direction, gently captured her hand in his and kissed the back of it. He received a gracious smile in return before she turned her attention back to Rene.
“Oh, I do love to encourage budding young artists such as yourself, Rene. Always so eager to please. Now why don’t I take you and show you what I’m looking for with this commission?”
The three men followed Mrs. Mechado back along the hallway they’d taken only minutes before and up the grand staircase. Double doors lead them into a huge master suite. A massive bed stood at the far end of the room and a beautiful bay window with two chintz-covered chairs and a matching chaise lounge stood at the other end. Mrs. Mechado immediately shed her flowing robe, tossed it haphazardly over one of the chairs and posed herself on the chaise lounge wearing only a red satin night gown.
“I’ve always wanted a boudoir portrait done and after seeing your work, Rene, I knew you were just the man to capture me on canvas.”
Though still an attractive woman for her age, Delilah Mechado was well into her seventies and her age showed on the loose wrinkling skin. Rene knew immediately that she would not be happy with a true rendition of herself. This woman wanted a painting that would forget the passage of time and capture a more youthful radiance.
“I only hope I can do you and this beautiful room justice, ma’am,” Rene replied with a smile.
“Delilah. My name is Delilah and you must call me such. I don’t want to hear ‘ma’am’ again; it makes me feel old. Now let’s get started. I know that such works can take many sittings and I cannot hold this pose for more than an hour each day.”
“Of course,” Rene responded as he took a seat on one of the chintz chairs and opened his sketch book.
Zack moved to stand behind Rene and watched as his husband’s artistic hands began to sketch out the figure before them.
Delilah watched as Rene turned his head to look up at Zack. She didn’t like her artist’s attention taken from her even for a moment. “Jojo dear, why don’t you take Zackary downstairs while Rene works and ask Hilda for some refreshments.”
Zack knew the job would get done faster if Rene was able to work without his presence distracting him. He also recognized Delilah’s need to have Rene’s consciousness focused completely on her. Also, the necessity of keeping an eye on Jojo had temporarily been removed. He winked down at his husband and gave his shoulder a loving squeeze before following Jojo out of the room.
Back in the solarium, Zack took a seat and sat facing his unenthusiastic companion. Jojo didn’t appear too pleased with having been dismissed. The art dealer was obviously unaccustomed to such treatment. His need to be included almost rivaled Delilah’s need to be the center of attention.
“Coffee will be fine, thank you, Hilda,” was Zach’s response when asked if he’d like something to drink.
Jojo decided to make the best of being alone with Rene’s husband and get some information out of the man. “Zeb, I do hope you enjoy your few days here in the big city. I’m sure it’s very different to the small town you are from.”
“Actually, Bobo, I grew up in Vancouver so I’m well versed in city living.” Zack decided to step out of character and play the ‘name-game’ with Jojo. He sat back and stretched out his legs, crossing his ankles and relaxing while sipping the hot beverage he’d been handed. His eyes twinkled as he surveyed the other man through the steam rising from his cup.
“Dear Rene has been having a wonderful time visiting the museums and galleries. You know an artist of Rene’s caliber needs to have a good cosmopolitan environment to inspire him so that he may live up to his potential.”
“Is that what you think?” Zack asked with an air of moderate indifference. He had no intention of debating with this man, especially when it would get down to personal opinions or his having to defend where he and his husband choose to reside.
“Yes, I do. Trust me in this. I know the art world inside and out. I can do a lot to further Rene’s career.”
“I would never question your knowledge, Jojo; but I think Rene’s very contented with where his career is going.”
Suspecting he’d not get too far in arguing with the man before him, Jojo placed his cup and saucer on the coffee table and abruptly got to his feet. “I trust you can get back to the hotel on your own and I am far too busy to sit around chatting inanely about a topic you know very little about. Tell Rene I will see him tomorrow afternoon at the gallery.” With that the art dealer turned on his heel and practically stomped out of the room.
Zack chuckled at the man’s petulant attitude and sat back to enjoy his coffee in peace. Thus began the pattern that the following week would adhere to.
After having breakfast together and doing a little sightseeing, mid-mornings would find them driving out for Delilah’s sittings; after which she always insisted they stay for lunch before heading back to the gallery.
They learned that not only was Jojo not invited to these private visitations, but that he had been point blankly ordered to stay away. It got his nose out of joint and made his dislike of Zack, who he held responsible for the snub, even more conspicuous to whoever was nearby. Unfortunately, it did little to curtail his on-going pursuit of Rene whenever the smallest opportunity present itself.
But it was at the luncheons that Rene learnt the most about his client, and that was mostly due to Zack’s winning way with people.
It was then that Delilah would drop her haughty manner. The men discovered she was not only very lonely but was in truth extremely kind and gracious. She had not always lived a life of wealth. In fact, quite the opposite was true. She and her late husband had both grown up in impoverished circumstances. They had met in their early twenties and had struggled relentlessly to build a business of their own. After his death at the young age of fifty-two, Delilah had dealt with her loss by working almost no-stop to expand their already successful company and amass a small fortune in the process. Her haughty façade was merely a self-protective shield of sorts.
They steadily grew to admire her, and Rene desired nothing more than to make her happy with the work she had commissioned him to do.
Afternoons were spent at the gallery with Rene conversing with many of the patrons while Jojo hovered and simpered.
Zack would pass the time keeping a close eye on Jojo. He also struck up conversations with several young people who had at one time been protégés of the art dealer; a couple of whom had been badly hurt by the man. Some of the discussions confirmed Zack reservations about the man. However, he suspected Rene still hadn’t accepted the fact that his want-to-be mentor had a hidden agenda.
Cheerfully, with Zack accompanying him everywhere, Rene discovered the final week of his stay was nowhere near as arduous as the first two. The time just seemed to fly by and soon they were packing to return home.
Rene dropped down onto the large armchair and put his feet on the hassock. Except for last minute items, their bags were packed for tomorrow’s flight. He closed his eyes and dreamily reviewed the past few days, a soft smile on his face as he took advantage of this short time on his own to just absorb all that had taken place during his trip. Zack had gone for a run; a habit he’d developed in preparation for an up-coming long day of relative inactivity.
The phone’s shrill ringing unexpectedly disrupted his peaceful reflecting.
“I want you to come to the gallery immediately!” Jojo demanded.
“Because I have decided I want to give you your cheque in person rather than mailing it to you.” It was a poor excuse, but Jojo had become frantic in his efforts to have his way with this gorgeous young man; and he’d never been a good loser.
“You don’t have to mail the payment, Jojo. There are several options at your disposal.”
“But, Darling, none of them allow me to see you one last time. I just want a few minutes to bid you a proper farewell. Is that too much to ask after all I’ve done for you?” His voice took on a slightly calmer quality to coax the man into complying.
Rene knew Zack would not approve, but he also knew he owed Jojo a lot. He also felt a bit guilty of spending so little time with the man since Zack’s arrival. Maybe this would give him a chance to make it right.
“Okay, I’ll be there as quick as I can……but just for a few minutes. I can’t be gone too long. Zack will be returning from his run soon.”
Jojo rubbed his hands together as he mused to himself ‘that’s all the time I need,’ before verbalizing, “I’ll be in my office, but I’ll leave the door unlocked.”
Rene had only just reached his destination when Zack returned to their hotel room. The older man frowned when he discovered their suite empty, and although it didn’t take much to figure out where his husband had disappeared to, Zack was still left speculating why. He didn’t even bother to shower and change; he just headed for the gallery.
“Okay, Jojo, I’m here,” Rene announced, looking around the room and wondering why the lights were turned so low. Music softly playing in the background also puzzled him. But that was only until he was grabbed from behind and roughly turned around.
Before Rene could utter a protest, Jojo’s mouth repulsively flattened over his and he felt hands tearing at his clothing. Having been pushed to the point of desperation, Jojo had banished all thoughts of employing his usual gentler and polished means to get what he wanted; but time having run out, he felt he had little choice.
Struggle as he might, Rene was unable to push off his attacker. It briefly flashed through his mind that Zack had been right in cautioning him. He only now wished he had heeded the warnings.
As suddenly as the assault had begun it ended as Jojo was wrenched from him and flung against the far wall. Rene immediately found himself yanked into a pair of strong, welcoming arms. Three hearts were beating rapidly; all for varying reasons.
Not quite able to fathom what had just happened, Rene merely clung to his rescuer, thankful he’d arrived in time. “I-I’m s-so sorry,” he shamefully stammered into Zack’s shirt.
“We’ll discuss it later!” Zack growled as he pushed the younger man to arms’ length to check him over. Then he turned his attention toward the man cowering on the floor behind them. “Get up!” he commanded, hauling the terrified gallery owner to his feet. “You can hand over the money due my husband now or after I pulverize you.” Zack knew it was an idle threat but hoped Jojo didn’t. “The choice is yours.” Zack was breathing hard and his heart was pounding painfully. He was finding it a grueling challenge to maintain his self-control. Fortunately, his common sense was gaining on his almost overwhelming desire to badly injure this man.
Unable, or wisely unwilling, to offer any objection, Jojo cautiously did as he was told and gave Rene a certified cheque. He maintained a nervous watch on Zack in case the large alpha male decided physical retribution was still on the agenda. He expelled a long sigh of relief when the two other men, apparently satisfied that the monetary transaction was in order, merely turned and walked out of his establishment. He fervently hoped it would be the last time he saw them. He would forever grudgingly acknowledge, if only to himself, he’d got off lightly. Even his inability to accomplish his goal failed to unsettle him as it would normally have.
Back in their hotel room, Zack quickly devested Rene of his clothing and, with a stinging smack on his bare bottom, sent him scrambling to get in the shower. It was after they’d cleaned up and were sitting on the bed in their boxers that Zack opened the conversation with, “Why?”
Although Rene had used the time since Zack’s timely arrival at the gallery to think of how he’d explain his actions, he had yet to organize his thoughts. He sadly shook his head and murmured, “I really don’t know. I guess when he called I kinda felt I owed him.”
“You owed him nothing, my lad. Jojo Grant made a hell of a lot of money on your efforts. It was your talent and hard work that made this showing a success. It is him who owes you.” Zack moved on to the more critical issue. “That man is a dodgy individual with narcissistic tendencies. You were forewarned, were you not?”
“Yes,” Rene reluctantly admitted in a voice barely above a whisper. He’d certainly stepped over the line this time.
Zack sighed and announced, “We’re going to hold off further discussion until we get home tomorrow evening, Rene.”
The younger man glanced up in surprise. This was so unexpected as Zack rarely put off a reprimand; especially one as well-earned as this.
“Is making me wait additional penance, Zack?”
It was Zack’s turn to be surprised. He immediately realized his intentions had been misconstrued. “Not at all, pet. Think about it.” He paused for a moment, then explained. “I had several reasons for waiting. First, we are in a relatively public place. The hotel is full and while some sounds from fellow occupants might be expected, spanking you isn’t one of them. Secondly, we have a long flight ahead of us and sitting for that length of time will be uncomfortable enough without having to so do on a very sore backside. I thought you might appreciate waiting. Lastly, you put yourself in danger, Rene. That is unacceptable and deserving of more than a hand-spanking, but I don’t have your paddle here.”
Rene cringed, but at the same time felt a sense of relief at Zack never travelling with the paddle. “Yeah, you’re right,” Rene readily agreed to postponing what had to happen.
Zack got to his feet and began pulling down the bedding. “Besides, it late and we need to get some rest.”
Both men got under the covers and Rene relaxed into the comfort of Zack’s bigger body spooned around him even though he correctly assumed sleep would likely prove evasive.
Zack and Rene stood off to the side of the large conservatory. It had been six weeks since they’d last been in Delilah Mechado’s home. Rene had his hands behind his back with his fingers crossed. To quell his nervousness as he waited for the painting to be unveiled, he thought back to their arrival home after their last trip to Toronto.
The flight had been long but uneventful. Zack’s dads had picked them up at the airport and taken them out for dinner. Once in the comfort of their own home, they had settled in the study to discuss in more detail the issue weighing on their minds. Both knew the outcome.
Rene was unaware of flinching at the recollection of being across Zack’s lap. He’d started twisting and kicking when the paddle was applied, wondering when it would be over. Then he remembered that Zack needed to be sure of his complete acceptance of the punishment and why it was happening
As always, when it was over Zack had carefully turned him over to slowly rock him until he calmed down. And as always, he zoned out at the welcomed emotional release brought about by Zack’s soothing mantra of forgiveness and love.
Rene didn’t enjoy spankings but, in all honesty, felt they help him stay safe and become the man he was proud to be. For some reason still not fully understood by him, he reveled in the act of submitting to the older man.
His mind was brought back to the present when he felt Zack’s arm tighten around his shoulders. He glanced up to see what had attracted his husband’s attention. Following Zack’s line of sight, he spotted the art gallery owner in the company of a tall woman whom Rene had met once before. It was Elisha Grant. Although she had probably never been considered beautiful or even relatively pretty, she was somewhat striking in her own way. Unfortunately, she also had a bearing about her that made her appear unapproachable. ‘Hmmm, maybe it’s just a shielding disguise,’ Rene thought.
He grinned slightly while pondering the change in Jojo’s demeanor. The man appeared rather cowed, his haughty attitude diminished, the falseness of his smile now so easy to discern. Rene wondered how he has missed it when first meeting the man.
“Guess the rumours might be true after all,” he murmured for Zack’s ears only. “I had heard through the grape vine the last young man Jojo took advantage of, decided getting revenge would heal injured feelings. Story goes he had a long talk with Jojo’s wife so now she seldom lets him out of her sight.” Rene couldn’t stop himself from snickering at the idea of Jojo’s actions being so heavily monitored.
The two men watched as Jojo’s eyes slowly surveyed the large room. The eyes widened slightly as they landed on them and quickly turned away, indicating their owner’s apparent discomfort.
Everyone’s attention was directed to the raised platform at the front of the room when Delilah clapped her hands, demanding all eyes and ears be exclusively on her.
She graciously thanked her guests for coming and launched into a speech on the reason for this gathering. She expounded Rene’s talents and boasted of her good fortune in being able to acquire his services.
Then the moment was upon them and she invited Rene to stand beside her while her portrait was being unveiled.
“Come up with me,” Rene whispered to his husband, taking his hand.
“No, my love,” Zack shook his head at the pleading look in the younger man’s eyes. “This is your moment. I’ll watch from here.” He gave Rene a smile of encouragement and a gentle push.
Delilah and Rene stood side-by-side. Delilah’s expression was one of joyous anticipation mixed with a corresponding amount of uncertainty. Would the picture meet her lofty expectations? Rene’s, on the other hand, was one of reserve and acute wariness at being part of the main attraction.
The braided rope was given a tug and the silk cover fluttered to the floor. A hush fell over the room as the painting came into view.
Rene turned to Delilah upon hearing her gasp. Her hand was over her mouth and her eyes were filling with tears. But were they tears of joy or disappointment?
She reached for Rene’s arm and clung tightly to it. Her head moved slowly back and forth as she struggled to find the words to express herself. She was elated! The portrait surpassed her wildest dreams.
The woman gazing back at her was ageless. She had a softness about her that few people would recognize while at the same time acknowledging that most of them had known her for years; some even for most of her adult life.
The artist had grasped the real person behind the outward façade of aloofness she maintained.
Delilah smiled brightly up at Rene before throwing her arms around him. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she murmured, “I can never thank you enough.”
Rene glanced over her shoulder to see Zack clapping along with the others and beaming with pride.
Although he had not been in attendance to count the tireless hours spent in the studio or to see the painting in progress, only Zack knew the immense amount of time and immeasurable effort that had gone into this work of art. Only he in his heart knew it had been a work of love and adulation for a lonely woman they had both come to think highly of and care about.