He took a deep breath and entered the Red Room. When he danced on stage, distance and shadows divided him and River. Here, only a couple of meters separated Ricky from the man lounging on the couch with a beer in hand. Without obstruction and bad lighting getting in the way, Ricky was treated to full disclosure, to the man candy eyeing him the same way he did.
River was built like a fighter, every inch of him padded with lean and beautiful muscle. He had the signature Vivaldi features with vivid emerald eyes and short hair the color of beaten gold, but River wouldn’t mistake him for Prince Charming or for that matter, a gentleman. Working at a strip joint in gangland territory made Ricky and the other strippers privy to the latest rumors, and River was made out to be a kind of bogeyman from what he heard.
Frozen solidly in place, it took everything of Ricky to stay put. To not furiously work the buttons of River’s designer suit, shirt, and trousers so he could unveil and devour the sight of his golden flesh. Run his hands all over those hard pectorals, abdomen, and tight stomach, before freeing the bulge pressing against his pants.
“Good evening, Declan.” River’s voice sounded deep and amused.
It took Ricky a second to realize River used his stripper name. Ricky’s gaze moved up River’s body to rest on his face. His breath hitched when River’s green eyes pinned his, like a predator assessing its prey. Ricky swore River’s pupils flickered to an intense and darker shade of green, clearly showing interest. Despite the air-conditioning in the room, Ricky felt the heat emanating between their bodies, and his heart suddenly hammering hard against his chest.
What the fuck? Ricky never had this kind of reaction with any other man. Jesus Christ. He needed to get his head back in the game. Finish off this engagement as quickly as possible, because Ricky had a feeling tangling with River Vivaldi wouldn’t be different from playing with fire. River wouldn’t just devour him in bite-sized bites, he’d burn him, and Ricky refused to let another man tear his heart to pieces again.
He’d moved in to Stocoma City with Greg, his boyfriend from back home. They weathered through bullies, high school, and a very conservative Christian town, but apparently their relationship couldn’t survive Sin City. Greg dropped Ricky the moment he snagged a wealthy advertising big shot he met during a company party. Well, good-bye, bastard. Ricky valued the lesson Greg left him—never trust anyone too much, especially when it involved high stakes.
“Tongue-tied?” River asked.
Ricky silently fumed. He glared at River, because the arrogant asshole probably knew how to use his good looks like a weapon, although Ricky didn’t doubt River knew his way around a violent and bloody fight. Ricky straightened his shoulders and sauntered over to the stripper pole in front of the couch. He tossed River what he hoped was an indifferent and uncaring look.
“Don’t flatter yourself, handsome. Decided to take a break after breaking some bones and wrecking our neighborhood?” Ricky said unthinkingly.
He clutched at the cold metal pole tightly when River let out a snarl, the sound more animal than human. Come to think of it, despite his black suit, Ricky could see spots of—oh, God. Was that blood?
Probably none of it belonged to River. A wiser man would have treaded carefully, but Ricky refused to apologize or grovel in front of an asshole who never had to work an honest day in his life.
River could have anything and everything he wanted, so why should Ricky make it easy for him?
“When you’re here with me, never talk about other men,” River firmly told him. To Ricky’s chagrin, River didn’t do more than thumb the skin on his inner wrist. “Do we understand each other? You’re mine.”
Ricky shakily found his voice. “Well, only for now. After this half hour ends, I’m no longer yours.”
Mine. Why did that single word reverberate through his body? It felt like something had woken inside him. Frightening awareness that deep down, despite his cynicism after his relationship with Greg, Ricky wanted to belong to someone. Have another man look at him the way River did, like River couldn’t see anyone else but him in a room full of people.
River frowned, and Ricky couldn’t help but notice the little scar there, right below his left jaw. He didn’t know why he leaned over, and his tongue darted out, licking the mark from tip to end. Ricky felt the sudden change in River’s breathing. He couldn’t understand why he was reacting irrationally like this with a customer, heck, a stranger, but it didn’t seem to matter. River clasped the back of his neck, urging him forward, and suddenly slammed his lips over Ricky’s.
Heat leaped from River’s mouth to his. River didn’t kiss, he conquered and devoured. Refusing to take it like some damsel waiting for her prince to take the lead, Ricky responded with equal passion. Their tongues and lips tangled for dominance, but when River pressed a hand over his bare chest, right over his thumping heart, Ricky yielded. He opened his lips wider, so River could thrust his tongue down Ricky’s throat.
River didn’t let go. His hand wandered past Ricky’s chest, and down his flat stomach. Ricky wasn’t buff. He’d always had a lean runner’s build, but River didn’t seem to mind. River released his lips. Ricky panted, looked up at River, and tried to process the thoughts running through River’s head.
He let out a little sound when River traced the hem of his chaps. Unlike some shifters, River wasn’t in any hurry. He rested his hand over the bulge straining against Ricky’s pants, keeping his hand there like a brand. Was it because shifters had hotter body temperatures compared to average humans, or was it something simple like chemistry and undeniable lust?
God. Ricky dared River with his eyes to go lower, to ramp up the game. Clearly, River didn’t ask him here for a private dance, but was Ricky ready?
No other man, even Greg, had ever elicited this kind of reaction in his body, or ever made him feel frighteningly excited about letting another human being take control. Usually Ricky set the terms and did the driving, but there was something erotic and hot about letting a powerful shifter like River take the reins.
River unzipped his bottoms, but Ricky grabbed his hand. “Wait.”
“Wait?” River demanded. It was obvious River wasn’t used to receiving commands.
“Way to go on the romance, River, but then I suppose you are paying for my time,” Ricky grudgingly said.
“Like you said, you’re mine to do as I please, but time is running out.” River flashed Ricky the slightly pointed ends of his canines. Was Ricky supposed to feel threatened by that? Ricky let out a huff, but River eliminated any thought of resistance brewing in his head. River finally drew out his cock, which already stood at half-mast.
“Getting aroused from just one kiss?” River’s grin widened.
“Oh, shut up. I’m not the only one sporting the hard-on here,” Ricky argued. He groaned when River flicked the pre-cum off his tip.
“Good point, Declan.”
“Ricky. That’s my real name. Declan is my stripper name.” Good God. Ricky had no clue why he would reveal that to River, practically a stranger. By tomorrow, River would probably forget his name.
“Ricky suits you much better,” River conceded.
He continued pumping Ricky, stroking him from tip to end, watching Ricky’s every reaction with his intense green eyes. Ricky let out a surprised yelp when River caught his bottom lip again, and completely stole away Ricky’s ability to think.
The taste and heat of River spread through him again, from his chest and all the way directly to his groin, which came to life under River’s ministrations. A fire had sparked inside Ricky, threatening to burst into an uncontrollable inferno.
River released his lips and Ricky panted, pressing his head against River’s shoulder. He gasped when River suddenly increased momentum, stroking him close to bursting point, but the bastard instantly stopped.
“What are you doing?” Ricky demanded.
So close. Did River stop on purpose? River’s silence and amused expression had been answer enough.
“I don’t want you to come yet, not without my permission,” River mused, zipping him back up.
“You bastard,” Ricky accused.