Ryan is a young artist hoping to make a name for himself. When he meets a man who offers to help him advance his career, he accepts. His career takes off when Merrick arranges two shows for Ryan at a local gallery. Ryan is elated, especially when their relationship becomes more personal. What he doesn’t expect is to end up being abused, physically and emotionally, as Merrick tightens his control over the younger artist.
After a vicious beating, Ryan manages to escape, naked except for a bedspread wrapped around himself. Policeman Shaun Levitt finds him cowering in an alley. Taking the battered young man under his wing, Shaun begins the slow process of helping Ryan come to grips with what happened.
Will Ryan learn to trust again? Or will he forever look at any man who might be interested in him as another potential abuser ... including Shaun?
"How did you end up out here?" Ryan asked as he continued sketching (Merrick), flipping to a new page every couple of minutes. "Okay, probably because you inherited the house."
"Partly. I also met a man who was looking for someone to buy into his agency. It was fortuitous both things happened within six months of each other. Two years later, I bought him out and I've been running it ever since."
"Nice." Ryan set down his pencil, flexing his fingers.
"If you'll allow me ..." Without waiting for a reply, Merrick took Ryan's hand and began massaging it. Ryan was obviously startled, but didn't pull away. "Better?" Merrick asked.
"Yes. Thank you! Can I hire you to do that on a regular basis?"
"I'm expensive," Merrick teased.
"It might almost be worth it." Ryan picked up the pencil and began sketching again. "Are you married? Have a girlfriend? Well, woman friend I guess, at your age."
Merrick laughed. "That makes me sound like I'm in my dotage."
"I didn't mean it that way," Ryan replied, looking embarrassed. "I don't think you're much over thirty."
"Thirty-three and counting. To answer your question, no I'm not married, and no girlfriend. I like women. Some of my best friends are female, but that's all they are -- friends. If I were looking for more, it would be with a man." Merrick watched Ryan as he said that, seeing what he thought was relief in his expression, as brief as it was. "Does it bother you?" he asked, wanting some verification Ryan might feel the same way.
Ryan shook his head. "Not at all. Why should it?"
"Some people take umbrage with the fact a person can be attracted to someone of their own sex."
"That's their problem, isn't it?" Ryan pointed the pencil at Merrick, saying, "Are you trying to find out if I'm gay, too? If so, you should just have asked, instead of beating around the bush."
"All right. Are you?"
"Yes." Ryan rotated one finger, indicating Merrick should turn the other way, facing the yard. He started to draw again, his concentration on what he was doing, so Merrick let the subject drop -- for the moment.
Several minutes later, Ryan said, "That should be enough for now."
Merrick got up, coming to stand beside him. "May I see?"
"Sure. They're only impressions. I'll use them to put together some full drawings. Then you can choose which one you like best and I'll go from there."
Merrick saw what he meant as Ryan turned the pages. Some of the sketches were quite abbreviated -- his nose, his lips, his eyes, the arch of an eyebrow. Others were complete, showing him from the front, the sides, and three-quarters. He put one hand on the table, purposely leaning lightly against Ryan's shoulder as he bent forward to tap one sketch. "I like the feeling in this one."
Ryan didn't move as he looked up at him. "Because you're smiling?"
"I think so." Merrick realized in most of the others, he hadn't been. "Am I really so much of a sobersides?"
"Not that I've noticed." Now, Ryan eased away. "I think you were a bit uncomfortable, although you'll deny it. Most people are when they know someone's drawing them, or taking their photo as far as that goes."
"True." Merrick went back to his seat, pouring more lemonade for both of them, even though Ryan was putting away his pencils and pad. "If you'd like, I'll give you the tour of the house I promised."
"I'd like to see it, but not right now, unfortunately. I have to get to work."
"It's that late already?" Merrick asked in feigned surprise, since he knew it was.
"Yep." Ryan took a drink before saying, "Maybe next time."
"When you have something to show me? How long will it take?"
"It depends how productive I am. I'm off tomorrow, so I'll start working on the preliminaries first thing in the morning. If it goes well, it might be tomorrow night. I'll call you, either way." He stood, slinging his bag over one shoulder.
Merrick nodded as he stood as well. "If it is, how about I make us dinner."
Ryan seemed surprised. "You don't have to do that."
"I'd like to. You're good company, which is something I don't get much of." Merrick wondered if he'd pushed the loneliness button too soon when Ryan frowned.
Then Ryan said, as they walked around the house to his car, "I get what you mean. Between my job, and my artwork, it seems as if I never have time to do anything with friends."
"So you will let me fix dinner?"
Ryan laughed. "I have the feeling I can't stop you."
"Exactly." Merrick waited until Ryan was in the car. It was an old one, what he thought the kids called a beater. If, no, when things progress the way I want, I'll get him a better one.
"I'll call you tomorrow afternoon," Ryan said. "No sense in you cooking if I have nothing to show you."
Merrick grinned. "It's called bribery, to make sure you do."
"I'll keep that in mind," Ryan replied, returning his grin before backing out onto the street and then driving away.
Merrick waved, though he doubted Ryan saw it. Soon, Ryan. Soon you'll be mine, then my ... our lives will be perfect.