It was unusual for Max to visit the day after I’d been entertaining a client. He liked to let me rest; it was one of his rules, and I’d always been grateful for it. So that warm June afternoon, I decided to relax in the secluded garden and watch the occasional blackbird picking at the bird-table.
I was dozing, half-dressed in boxers and a blue silk dressing gown, when someone touched my cheek, running his fingers down to my mouth. I jumped, but then caught the scent of spiced aftershave and smiled as I opened my eyes.
“Nice,” Max said. “Very nice indeed. How was last night?”
He sat down without waiting for an answer, shaking his head when I offered him a drink.
“So . . .?” he prompted.
“Very enjoyable. I thought Mr. Stenning might want to go out, take in a restaurant, but he didn’t. He’d had a hard week at work and just wanted to talk and make love. He needed to relax, though, so we took a bath together. Then we had a great evening.”
“What time did he leave?”
“Not too late. About 1:30, I think. I wasn’t really looking at the time. I must have gone to bed half an hour after that.”
“And your next client is scheduled for tomorrow?”
I nodded. Max knew my diary as well as I did, so he was obviously leading up to something. “Yes. Mr. Robins. He’s fairly new, but he seems to like me. We get on well.”
Max laughed. “Hell, you get on well with everyone, Adrian. It’s your fatal charm and generosity. A killer combination.”
I smiled. One of the many good things about Max was that he never talked about money or asked what the sex had been like. I wasn’t a whore and he’d never treated me like one. It was one of the reasons I stayed.
“And after that, your following appointment is Monday, right?” Max continued.
I nodded. My weekends were always free. Max wasn’t a slave-driver by any means.
To my surprise, he leant forward and put his hand on my arm, his expression serious.
“Would you be so good as to do me a favour?” he asked quietly. “I have an unusual potential client and I feel his needs are best suited to your abilities. He’s free on Sunday.”
Of course I said yes. Max was the boss, and he’d always been good to me. It was high time I paid back some of his generosity.
“Any background on him?” I was ready for whatever a client might need, but there was never any harm in knowing the details Max might have picked up beforehand.
Instead of answering immediately as I’d expected, he sighed and looked me straight in the eye. “Lots of background, actually. Dan is my cousin’s eldest.”
“Great,” I said with a laugh. “You’ll know a fair amount then.”
“Yes, I do, but I need to prepare you.” His direct gaze and serious tone wiped the smile off my face. “Dan was in an accident, just over a year ago. A lorry crashed into his car when he was travelling home from work, and he was badly burned in the fire.” Max shut his eyes and swallowed. “He was lucky to be alive. The lorry driver died on impact. Apparently his brakes failed, and Dan just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, but I didn’t think he was listening. When I touched his hand, he was trembling.
“It changed everything,” Max said, turning his hand round to hold mine. “Before the accident, Dan was like any young man, looking forward to life, with great plans to be a house and garden designer. Maybe even a relationship in the offing, I couldn’t quite tell. But after he was hurt, the bloke in question didn’t stay around long. Not that Dan was pleasant to him. On the contrary, he seemed to want to drive him away, and it worked. Still, I . . .”
He gazed out into the distance. I didn’t know what to say that could help, but I kept on holding his hand. He squeezed my palm and half-smiled.
“I remember it being reported on the local news,” I said. “I hadn’t realised it was a relative of yours. I’m sorry.”
“No need to be, and no reason for you to have known. I don’t talk about my life beyond the agency if I can help it.”
That was true enough. Max had always been a very private man, and it was something all the escorts respected. But he’d trusted me with this, and I wanted to help in whatever way I could.
“How is Dan at the moment?” I asked him, watching as he gently extricated his hand from mine and swept his fingers through his hair.
“Quiet,” he said. “Brooding. Unable to talk to anyone about what happened, though we do the best we can as a family. He’s frightened about how he looks. Half his face was severely burnt in the accident, and no matter how many operations he has—and he does have many more to endure—it will never be the same again. I think he understands that now.”
Max took a deep and shaky breath, and I let the silence flow between us for a while.
“All right,” I said at last. “Let me meet him on Sunday, and let’s see how we go from there.”
Dan was due to visit Sunday afternoon, so I spent the morning getting ready. Meeting a potential new client was always exciting. I enjoyed finding out about people and what made them tick. Some of the best things about being an escort were the chance for conversation and a life outside the bedroom. I’d always had expensive tastes, too—who didn’t appreciate good dinners and the prospect of visiting the latest exhibitions? Sometimes a weekend away was part of the package too, and I’d enjoyed entertaining clients in New York, Barcelona, and Prague, to name but a few. It was a good life, that was certain.
Dan would present a new challenge though. Even not taking into account the effects of the accident, he was Max’s relative and so all the more important. As usual, I bathed and shaved with care and tweezered a few stray hairs from my pubes. I wasn’t a particularly hairy man anyway and counted myself lucky in that respect. Then I laid a selection of outfits on the bed and, after deliberation, chose the simplest: light cotton trousers and a navy blue shirt to bring out my eyes. I never wore jewellery as it always felt cheap, and Max never pushed me on it, even though his other escorts wore a little light gold. There’d been no complaints in the five years we’d been working together.
Five minutes or so before Dan was due, I switched on the kettle and tasted the red wine before rinsing my mouth out with water. Some people didn’t like the flavour of wine on an escort, at least not at first greeting.
Then I waited in my living room, patio doors open onto the garden. Dan was half an hour late. Unusual for a new client; they were early more often than not, but I had nothing else planned for today. No double-booking was one of the delights of Max’s schedule. I could concentrate on one man without having to be concerned about anything else.
I spent the waiting minutes reading the Sunday Times, gazing out at the lawn and sipping my water. Perfect.
By the time the doorbell sounded, the sun had warmed me into drowsiness and I was almost reluctant to get up and answer it. Almost.
At the threshold, a young man slouched in profile, a red hoodie obscuring his features. I could just about see a few strands of curled dark hair poking out.
I smiled and stretched out my hand. “Hello, you must be Dan. I’m Adrian.”
He shrugged, feet jittering on the doorstep as if anxious to be away. “Yeah, I know. Max sent me. Didn’t want to come, but here I am anyway.”
I let my hand drop unshaken. “Thank you. Why don’t you come in?”
Stepping aside so Dan could enter, I held the door open and waited. He shuffled and hunched up as if unsure of whether to take me up on my offer, so I simply stood there, still smiling.
Finally, realising we might be in this position forever if I didn’t do something, I said, “If you prefer, I can bring you a drink out here. It’s not a problem.”
He shook himself and muttered something I couldn’t catch before brushing past quickly, as if afraid of touching me. “Don’t be stupid. I might as well come in.”
“Of course. The living room is the second door on your left.”
He made no response but wandered through the hallway, glancing at the set of Manet prints on display over the table before pulling up his hoodie further over his face. I didn’t even think it had fallen down.
In the living room, he sat down at the corner of the sofa, angling himself so his face was hidden in shadow. This encounter was going to be trickier than I’d imagined.
“Tea? Coffee? Or something stronger?”
Dan snorted and kicked out his legs. “Look, I know what you are, and I know what Max does. He doesn’t exactly hide it anyway. You’re a hooker and I’m getting a sympathy freebie because of the accident and because I’m family. So why don’t you just forget the coffee, let me screw you, then we can get on with our afternoon? What do you say to that?”
I didn’t say anything, but raised my eyebrows and took the seat opposite him. When I was comfortable, I licked my lips and smiled.
“Sex isn’t obligatory,” I said softly. “Sometimes, with my clients—maybe twenty to thirty percent of the time—we do nothing more physical than talk, enjoy whatever exhibition or show we’re seeing or the meal we’re sharing together. When sex does take place, it’s never simply on its own, but always part of the relationship we’ve built up. A celebration of that, if you like.”
Dan laughed, but there wasn’t any humour in it. “You really believe that?”
“I know it. If my clients only wanted sex, they could get it far cheaper elsewhere. I offer them something different, as do all of Max’s employees.”
“It’s still selling sex though,” he said.
It didn’t seem worth arguing with him, and I had the feeling whatever I said would make no difference. I wondered how Max had talked Dan into coming here at all.
“So,” Dan said, bringing me back with a jolt from where my mind had been, “if sex isn’t what I’m here for, then what is?”
“You might like to consider my original offer of a drink.”
Something in the atmosphere between us changed, became lighter for a moment or two. “All right. Coffee please, then.”
Whatever those more relaxed few seconds might have been, they were gone now. With a sigh too quiet for him to hear, I rose to my feet and padded into the kitchen. When I carried the tray back into the living room, Dan was standing by the patio doors, gazing into the garden.
“Would you like to go outside?”
He jumped when I spoke, returning from wherever his thoughts had taken him, before he scuttled back to the sofa. “No thanks, I’m fine here.”
“As you wish.”
I waited for the coffee to gain strength in the cafetiere, and then poured it into the cups. Dan refused milk and sugar and sipped his drink as if I might have poisoned it.
A moment later, he relaxed slightly, his shoulders unhunching a little. “Hey, this is good. Thanks.”
“Glad you think so,” I replied. “Perhaps that’s a pleasant memory you can take away from this afternoon.”
He might have blushed then, but again I couldn’t be sure. In any case, he said nothing for a while, and I let the silence settle. Part of being a good escort was knowing when to speak and when not to. Still, I found I was more comfortable with him than I’d anticipated, in spite of the edginess he’d brought with him. Or maybe because of it. Something about him felt alive, despite his pain. The honesty of his reactions, and the way he wasn’t trying to cover them up as he did with his damaged face, made me blink. It set up echoes in my memory I didn’t want to explore.
His next words, however, caught me unprepared.
“So, you’ll do anything with a client, will you?”