Jesse Hamilton is at the end of his rope. No money, no job--he’s going to end up on the streets if he doesn’t do something. He only has one thing left to sell—himself. Desperate times require desperate measures. Jesse decides to find himself a sugar daddy at the art exhibition he’s managed to acquire a ticket to.
Anton Ascot isn’t a huge art fan, but having received a ticket from his son Drew to a prestigious exhibition in Santa Cruz, he decides to go. There he runs into Drew’s friend Jesse, and the attraction he’s long felt for the young man sparks anew. Something is wrong with Jesse, though, and all Anton’s protective instincts come to the fore as he rides to the rescue.
What began as a ruse could become so much more, if both men are willing to give love a chance. Maybe one night can turn into forever…
Jesse Hamilton straightened his tie for what had to be the fiftieth time that evening. He felt like an impostor. A bad actor in a grade Z movie with co-stars who were clearly past their prime but nobody had the nerve to tell them yet.
Not that Jesse thought he belonged to that group. Nope. At twenty-three, Jesse was clearly in his prime. Young. Handsome. Successful. At least, that was the role he was attempting to portray that night.
He could barely afford the borrowed suit he was wearing. And he’d plundered his piggy bank so he could pay his Uber driver. With a defeated sigh, he looked out the car window and took in the many cars surrounding him, most of them expensive as hell. He was close to the gallery now.
Jesse was at the end of his rope. If this scam didn’t work out, he’d soon be homeless and begging for food. He refused to crawl back to Wyoming to ask his conservative father for help. First, that would feel like giving up. Admitting he couldn’t make it on his own. And second, Jesse wasn’t willing to spend the next few years immersed in conversion therapy.
So not happening.
Jesse checked his jacket pocket and sighed in relief. Beneath his fingertips, he felt the sharp, gold-rimmed edges of the engraved invitation to the private preview of Santa Cruz’s most prestigious annual art exhibition. If he played it cool tonight, this could be his ticket out of poverty. Out of despair.
He quickly checked his ancient cell phone—one with actual buttons instead of a touch screen—and sighed again. Beads of sweat popped out on his forehead. No missed calls or messages from any of the restaurants he’d applied to for a wait job. Big surprise.
When the car pulled to a stop alongside the curb, Jesse’s jaw dropped as he took in the many immaculately dressed people making their way toward the huge doors leading to one of Santa Cruz’s most famous art galleries. This building had once housed a factory and was a mix between industrial charm and modern art deco.
Jesse’s back felt sweaty now as well. The bigwigs of Santa Cruz would probably see right through his disguise and recognize him as lower class. Jesse quickly paid the driver from the constantly shrinking wad of cash in his wallet and got out. His knees shook badly, and he felt almost as nervous as when he’d attended prom. Alone. In a purple suit that screamed look at me being all out and proud. He still had the scar on his nose to prove that insanity had really happened.
Just do it.
Jesse straightened his shoulders, tugged at his suit jacket, and pulled out the invitation. He sent a silent thank you up into the sky, hoping his friend Andrew Ascot knew how much he appreciated this. Andrew—Drew to his friends—was an aspiring comic artist working with famous author Calvin Richardson. Both men had been invited to the preview, but neither was able to attend. Hence, Drew had given one of their invitations to Jesse.
Jesse handed the card to a spiffily dressed older man who was manning the light-filled glass entrance. The soles of Jesse’s shoes almost vanished in the thick red carpet. He gave the doorman a strained smile, trying to look as though he belonged, then ventured into the gallery.
The set-up was amazing. The gallerist had decided on an open concept. Strategically placed black walls, maybe eight feet high and six feet wide, interrupted the old factory’s vastness, creating dark, almost intimate nooks in some places. Spots illuminated the paintings hanging on the walls and the sculptures placed on equally black pedestals.
Jesse promptly jumped out of the way when a woman with an insanely wide and swishy skirt threatened to run him over. Her companion shot Jesse a glare. Hell, he hadn’t even done anything.
Feeling his nervousness spike, Jesse quickly grabbed a glass of surely expensive champagne off a tray a committed waiter carried past him. He needed the bubbly support. Desperately. Because Jesse wasn’t here to admire the art on display. He was here to do something way more sinister. Something Jesse never even would’ve considered a month ago.
Despite the elaborate plan he’d crafted during the many sleepless nights since he’d been fired, Jesse found himself unable to resist the lure of art. Giving the people around him a cursory glance, he realized nobody was paying him any attention anyway. He had time. He could mingle and enjoy the scenery before he put his plan into action.
Jesse leisurely strolled from one painting to the next. He snorted when he heard a self-proclaimed expert try to explain the artist’s intention to an unsuspecting audience of three women. Ignoring the guy, Jesse sipped his champagne and wondered why people paid so much for the stuff. The champagne texture was kinda icky on his tongue.
After a while, Jesse knew he couldn’t stall any longer. He’d seen enough of the art—it was time.
Acting as casually as he could, he stole stealthy glances at the many men who surrounded him. Most males were part of a couple. Hetero couples. Maybe some of those men would ditch their pearl-laden wives later that evening to tie one on in one of Santa Cruz’s gay bars. Jesse wasn’t after one of them, though.
Those were men who wedged dollar bills into slim, gorgeous guys’ G-strings and slurped champagne—gag—out of their pierced navels. Jesse wasn’t slim enough to look good in a G-string. And he wasn’t athletic enough to dance around a pole either—at least not the kind that was fixed between floor and ceiling. He’d gladly dance around another kind of pole.