Billionaire with Benefits (A Romancelandia Novel)
It’s just a friend thing.
Before confessing his gayness to his best friend, Tierney Terrebonne’s sex life is strictly restroom. After confessing his gayness to his best friend . . . it doesn’t improve much. Why bother trying when the man he’s loved for fourteen years (see: “best friend”) is totally unattainable? Good thing Tierney is an old hand at accepting defeat; all it takes is a bottle of bourbon. Or fifty. Repeat as needed.
Dalton Lehnart has a history of dating wealthy, damaged, closeted, lying, cheating, no-good, cowardly men, so of course he’s immediately attracted to Tierney Terrebonne. Fortunately, Tierney is so dissolute that even Dalton’s feelings for the man would be better described as pity. Which becomes sympathy as they get to know each other. Followed by compassion, concern, caring, and hopefulness as Tierney struggles to change his life. When the man comes out very publicly and enters rehab, Dalton finds himself downright attached to Tierney. And as everyone knows, after attachment comes . . .
But post-rehab Tierney can’t handle more than friendship, so Dalton should be safe from repeating his own past mistakes, right? Right?
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Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:drug use, explicit violence
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
Themes: addiction, alcoholism, angst, coming out, commitment, family, financial gap / class disparity, first time, friends to lovers, homophobia / transphobia, recovery, self-discovery / self-reflection, trust issues
Fourteen Years Ago
One night in October, Tierney discovered an honest-to-fucking-God glory hole. He’d been on the way back to his room from a midweek party and stopped at Cambridge Hall to visit the facilities, going all the way to the basement restroom for a little (drunken) contemplation.
As soon as he sat on the throne, he spied the opening in the stall wall. His palms went sweaty. He’d watched enough porn on the internet to recognize it, but still thought he might be hallucinating. Any moment it would disappear.
He leaned sideways—barely keeping his wasted butt on the john—to look through the hole.
Shit! There was a guy in there. Tierney’s pulse really took off then, all the blood draining from his head. Instinctively he leaned forward, putting his face between his knees—and into his briefs, hanging between them—to keep from fainting.
Tap tap tap. For a split second he knew it was his mother’s habitual knock on his bedroom door, and he jerked his head out of his underwear, eyes opening so wide they strained his lids.
Tap tap tap. It was a shoe. In the stall next to him. The shoe of the guy in there. And he was tapping. Like, knocking. Like he wanted to send a signal or wanted—
“Dude.” A voice floated through the hole. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” Tierney squeaked. “I just, you just. Surprised. Me. Um . . .”
The guy didn’t answer, but his foot moved. He was standing now, taking a step. Tierney heard the door lock opening over the drumming in his ears. He’s leaving. “Wait!”
The shoes stopped. “Yeah?” the anonymous voice asked after a second.
“Uh . . .” His heart thumped so hard he shook with it. Something he hadn’t experienced since realizing that, as a Terrebonne, he’d never be allowed to kiss a guy or touch someone else’s dick or feel male hands touch his.
Or get an anonymous blowjob through a glory hole from a man.
“Dude,” the anonymous man in question said, sounding twitchy, calling Tierney fully back into his current situation. In a men’s room stall that happened to have a hole to another dimension where a guy would suck his dick.
Next thing Tierney knew, he was hugging the wall like a gecko, hips straining to push even farther into the opening, the rough edges of particle board and laminate biting into the skin of his thighs, and then—thank fuck—someone’s breath on his cock. Tierney grunted when he felt the heat of the dude’s mouth on his skin, taking him in, no playing around like girls did because they didn’t really want to taste dick.
This isn’t a girl.
The guy’s lips wrapped around him and sucked hard, and seconds later Tierney was coming. Groaning, then panting so loudly he nearly drowned out the dude bitching about how fast he’d shot before slamming out of the stall. Tierney closed his eyes and rested his cheek against the cool surface, listening to the door to the restroom swing open, and then footsteps fade away.
Oh God. He’d done it. Anonymously. The Terrebonne family name would never even know.
Weeks later, lying in bed the night before Thanksgiving vacation, Tierney let his mind revisit his most recent trip to the glory hole. He’d pictured his friend Ian in the neighboring stall. Ian was so butch and blond and built all the good “B” words. He kept his hair trimmed short and didn’t go for the sloppy grunge look like the other guys in their dorm. All the guys but Tierney.
Ian was like him in other ways too. They had similar backgrounds in emergency services, except Ian’s family was blue-collar. They were all firefighters, while Tierney’s were all ambulance company owners. Ian smelled like engine oil and saltpeter—not that Tierney knew what saltpeter really smelled like. Sounded masculine, though.
They weren’t roommates—Tierney paid extra to have his own room—but they lived on the same floor. Ian liked his dad about as much as Tierney liked Grandfather, and somehow that led to the two of them hanging out a lot.
Like with other friends over the past five years, Tierney knew his desire to be with Ian was a little different than the normal straight guy’s impulse to chill out with dudes. But he mostly ignored that, until the day Ian had said, “Chicks are more trouble than they’re worth.”
That made Tierney start to wonder. He had no other reason to think Ian might lean his way, just a feeling. A strong one. There had to be other guys around like him, right? Ones who were into dudes, but not exactly gay. And maybe . . . Ian could be one?
There was only one way to find out.
The night after Tierney returned to school from the holiday, he had Ian in his dorm room, drunk on bourbon he’d brought back from home. The dude’s eyes were glassy, and he was working to focus them. But was he drunk enough for The Plan?
Tierney swallowed down a hysterical giggle with another swig from the bottle. One more test.
“So, like, you feel horny, man?” he asked, slouching against the side of his bed. Look casual. He was just a regular guy who talked about sex. Yep, nothing freaky here.
Ian’s eyes went wide, showing the whites all around his irises. Then he mirrored Tierney’s slouch. “Well, yeah. Always.”
“I can fix that for you, dude.”
Ian froze for a second before squinting. “What’re you talking ’bout?”
“Just, you know.” Tierney shrugged. “When I’m hurting, there’s a place I go to get taken care of.” He wanted to take another pull off the bottle, but his hands felt shaky. He didn’t need to showcase that.
“Like, you mean hookers’r something? ’Cause I’m n—”
“No, dude. No money changes hands. Just, there are people out there who like giving head as much as others like getting it, and I know how to find them.”
Ian’s tongue flicked out across his lower lip.
Oh yeah, he was into it.
After that, everything unfolded in flashes of activity. Are we really doing this? Must be, because he and Ian were going together across campus, moving in sync. Tierney watched his foot land on the asphalt path at the same instant Ian’s did, orangish in the glow of the security lights.
“Where are we going?” Ian’s question came out on clouds of breath, puffing into Tierney’s peripheral vision.
“Cambridge,” he answered, because one word was all he could manage.
Then they were there, and he yanked the door open, swinging it wide so nothing could block Ian’s path to the glory hole. Glory. The sound of their feet pounding down the stairs echoed in his ears. “It’s in the basement.”
He ignored the question, pulling ahead once they reached the hallway, footsteps keeping time with his heartbeat.
What if there isn’t anyone here? Had to be. Too important. He shouldered the men’s room door open, forcing swagger into his walk, only glancing into the mirror for a split second to make sure Ian was following him.
There were feet in the left stall. As far as he could figure glory hole etiquette, the guy who wanted to get sucked off stood in the one on the right.
He opened that one just as the lower half of a face appeared in the hole. He and Ian halted, and Tierney stared at the whiskered, dimpled chin and plump lips waiting there. So obvious it’s a man. The guy’s breathing echoed around the bathroom, or maybe just in Tierney’s ears. Fuck, what if he’d been wrong and Ian was about to freak? Too late to wimp out. He shoved his buddy inside. “Open your jeans and stick your dick through, dude. He wants it.”
Ian shifted his stance a couple of times, hands resting on his package, but his fingers hesitated on his fly button. “You gonna watch?”
Thank fuck, he was really going to do it. “No,” Tierney scoffed, moving far enough away to seem like he wasn’t looking, but keeping Ian in his peripheral vision. Tierney heard the sound of unzipping, and saw a flash of flesh as Ian untangled his cock from his pants. Tierney couldn’t not see that—turning his head, he caught a brief view of the tight skin and protruding veins of a raging erection before it disappeared through the hole.
Oh fuck. He could hear it. The slurp and suck, and then a hmmm, like the other guy enjoyed Ian’s flavor, and it was all Tierney could do to just stand there and let it happen. For the first time, he wanted to be in the left-hand stall but only because Ian was in the right. Only totally gay guys sucked dick. He wasn’t into that.
Except, if Ian was into it, Tierney would offer. On his knees, with lips parted.
The slam of a palm hitting the stall wall made Tierney flinch, but the moan that accompanied it—low and throaty and quickly cut off—told him Ian wanted this. More than liked it, because that noise had been laced with the same ache Tierney had had every time he’d been here.
He’s into it. He’s into guys.
Ian stumbled out, jeans still open, lurching forward, and hit the tile wall next to the sink, then slid down to sit on the floor, facing the glory hole.
Tap tap tap. The sucker wanted more, and Tierney was right there, as hard as he’d ever been. The whole time he was being blown, he watched Ian. The dude barely blinked, gaze fixed on the action. When his hands crept toward his groin, and the bulge in his briefs, Tierney came almost as fast as he had the first time. But this guy didn’t bitch, maybe because he’d had two loads. Tierney faked cool, doing up his jeans and stepping out to offer a hand up to Ian, who seemed too freaked to see it shaking. “Ready to go, or you want more?”
Ian shook his head, and pushed himself up to standing under his own power. “Let’s go.”
The whole way back to the dorm, Tierney kept having to remind himself to breathe. Ian was silent, walking rapidly with his hands shoved in his coat pockets. Tierney’s nerves stretched taut, waiting for him to say something, but Ian didn’t even look his way.
Had he fucked up?
Tierney stumbled, lurching into Ian’s side, brushing elbows. Ian jumped away, like contact with Tierney sent a thousand volts of revulsion right through him.
Oh fuck. Going up the stairs behind him, Tierney didn’t even watch the guy’s ass like he normally did, too caught up in internal panic. He’s never going to speak to me again. What the fuck had he been thinking? He’d exposed his own desires to someone else. Someone who knew him, who’d seen his face, unlike the guys in the Cambridge Hall men’s room.
Someone he liked.
What if he tells everyone I’m a homo?
“Later, dude,” Ian muttered when they reached their floor, hunching his shoulders around his ears and walking down the hall. Away from Tierney. It was late, the dorm was quiet, but the common areas were still well lit. Anyone who looked Tierney’s way could see it all right there in the glaring brightness: his fear and his insecurities and his stupidity. Maybe someone could even see the sinkhole that opened up in his gut. But no one was watching him; he was all alone, standing there long after Ian had reached his room and gone in.
Tierney didn’t sleep all night, totally wired and steeling himself for the imminent public shaming. So preoccupied that, at five when he crept out to piss, he didn’t see Ian in the hall until he nearly ran into him.
“Hey,” Ian grunted, then yawned and ran his hand through his hair.
“Hey,” Tierney echoed.
As Ian passed, heading back toward his room, he added in a mumble, “See y’at breakfast.”
Tierney slumped, resting his weight against the wall until his leg muscles firmed up again.
Ianisn’t going to tell everyone.
The relief Tierney carried for the next couple of days made him feel light, and vulnerable to other positive emotions, like hope. Hope that maybe, just maybe, Ian was into guys, but he’d somehow missed the message that Tierney was too. Tierney had no reason to think so—they were nineteen, most guys their age would take any blowjob they could get even if the mouth came with a mustache—except for one thing: Ian was too careful to act “normal.” Before, if Tierney showed up for breakfast and there wasn’t a seat at the table, Ian wouldn’t have done shit, but now he told the other guys to shove over and make room. Things like that kept hope alive, like a small candle flame in Tierney’s heart. But it wasn’t until Ian searched him out in the common area the morning before they went home for Christmas that Tierney’s hope drove him to act.
“Wanna hang out tonight?” he asked, faking interest in a letter from his mother. She was always sending him stupid shit, reminding him of social obligations, or simply wondering how he was. Why couldn’t she call and leave a message he could pretend he never got?
“Sure.” Ian shrugged. “You care if I bring my girlfriend?”
Skid marks on my heart. He totally got the song now. But the deflated lungs got left out of the lyrics, so did the sputtering, dying flame of hope in his chest and the ringing in his ears.
“T? You okay, man?”
“Fine,” Tierney forced out. “I didn’t know you were seeing someone.” Muscles in his jaw wanted to clench and grind, but he fought them off.
“Yeah, uh, just started.” Ian licked his lip. “Her name’s Sherri.”
“Huh.” Mother. Fucker. “Guess I shouldn’t mention what happened the other night in front of her.”
And there it was, a flicker of emotion just before Ian’s face went completely blank. It told Tierney everything he needed to know: as far as Ian was concerned, that blowjob never happened.
“Our first date was the day after,” Ian told him in a monotone.
Part of Tierney wanted to stay and hit the prick. Punch him right in one of those opaque eyes of his. But a much bigger part of him was injured, hemorrhaging pain, and had to get the fuck away. “I forgot, I have shit to do tonight,” he choked out before turning and walking blindly down the hall to the exit. Outside, the cold hit him, scraping his internal organs with shards of ice. He needed a coat, but he wasn’t fucking going back. He might see that traitorous dick and do what-the-fuck-ever to him. Punch Ian until he loved Tierney back.
I love him?
I must. His eyes were blurring with tears, and his lungs were doing a weird shuddering thing, almost like sobs, except he wasn’t crying, just trying to survive. That had to be love, right? A black hole opened up inside him. He recognized it from a night five years ago, when—like his father and brother before him—he’d been required to have dinner with his grandfather on the eve of his fourteenth birthday. That night, Milton Terrebonne had made a point of telling Tierney that giving in to any deviant physical longings was not done. “As a Terrebonne,” Grandfather had intoned gravely, “it’s your duty, to yourself and the family, to master any unnatural urges. Not only because of our social standing, but because of your financial future. Am I clear?”
He’d been clear then, and many times since. And this situation with Ian, that was just another kind of reinforcement. Another message to Tierney’s secret self that it had to stay hidden. In the closet. Sex with guys had to be anonymous, and love . . .
Love sucks the big one.
Fuck this. Tierney went back to his room and finished the bottle of bourbon he’d shared with Ian that night. Then the tequila he’d brought as backup.
He wasn’t crying then, either.
The next day, he drove home hungover as fuck. When he arrived, he only told Agatha, managing to completely avoid his family before crashing in his bedroom.
Hours later, something woke him. He lay on his stomach, hugging his pillow, trying to figure out what it might have been.
Tap tap tap. His mother’s knock. Knuckles on wood, not a foot on linoleum.
“Yeah?” Tierney called, rolling over onto his back
“Darling,” Mother began before she’d even fully entered the room. “We don’t say, ‘Yeah,’ when we answer the door. You should say, ‘Come in,’ or, if you’re feeling brusque, you could say, ‘Enter,’ the way your grandfather does, but only rarely.”
“Sorry, Mother,” Tierney answered on autopilot, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands.
“Your grandfather is expecting you to join him for an early dinner.”
Tierney froze. “Huh?”
“Tierney, we don’t say ‘huh.’ You may beg my pardon or, on occasion, even ask, ‘What?’ like your Grandfather Milton, but ‘huh’ is unacceptable.”
He sat up, watching his mother settle into the chair she’d insisted he have next to the window. “Um, what?”
She fixed him with a firm eye. “I beg your pardon?”
“I beg your pardon?” he parroted. He must not have Grandfather’s chops yet. Excuse me, we say “gravitas,” not “chops.”
“I said Grandfather is expecting you to join him for dinner.” She arranged herself, adjusting the folds of her dress. “In an hour.”
Fuck. He’d hoped his years of private dinners with the old guy, full of veiled comments and probing inquiries into his activities, were over. “Do I have to?”
Mother tilted her nose up slightly, but made no correction to Tierney’s “inelegant” question this time. “I’m certain I don’t need to answer that.”
Tierney swallowed his sigh. No way he was getting out of it; he should’ve known that already. Sucks. “Thanks, Mother. I better get dressed, hu—right?”
“Yes.” But she sat there a second, regarding him. “Don’t worry, darling. You haven’t done anything to make your grandfather disappointed in you . . .”
He could hear the have you? she didn’t tack on to the end of that statement hanging in the silence between them. “Nothing he knows about,” Tierney muttered, too low for her to catch.
“Don’t mumble,” she admonished him, then went on in a gentler tone. “Is something wrong, darling? You look a bit rough.”
Heart thumping, he nearly said it. That little candle of hope started flickering again, encouraging him. Could he actually tell her? What would she do? What was it he even needed to say? Or ask. Are Terrebonnes allowed to like dick? He opened his mouth, ready to try.
“Drinking is no way to get through college,” she said before he could let free whatever words wanted out of him. “Remember, even at a state school, you’ll make friendships that can turn into valuable contacts in the future. You don’t want them thinking you’re only interested in partying. If there’s some reason you’ve been imbibing so much, some sort of problem . . .?” She lifted her brows.
Tierney snapped his jaw shut, shaking his head. Thank fuck. How could he have thought she’d understand?
“Well, darling.” She sighed, pushing up out of her seat and clasping her hands. “Please try to remember how important this period of your life is. Drinking is fine, but not in such excess. Not all the time.” She smiled briefly, but then her lips turned down again. “If there is a problem, maybe you could have yourself examined by a professional?”
A professional what? Homo-exterminator? Could someone just gas or cut it out of him? He nearly laughed, but then Mother would want to know why, and Tierney was still too close to the edge. If he got into an argument with her it would all come spilling out. That’d be just like him.
“Fine, Mother,” he said. “If I have a problem, I’ll get it taken care of.” By the guy in the left-hand stall.
That was good enough for her. Her expression read pure relief as she excused herself and left. God fucking forbid he have a problem she had to deal with.
He scooted his butt to the edge of the bed and got up, heading for his bathroom. To the bourbon he kept stashed in his medicine cabinet. Alcohol was necessary when he needed some extra backbone.
The problem with taking a couple belts of booze, just enough to feel it but not enough to really catch a buzz, was that it made him all contemplative. While shaving, tilting his jaw sideways and stretching his skin taut, watching the long stroke of the disposable razor gliding along his neck, he got all caught up in thinking. About how Mother had almost offered some support, but then bailed.
Made sense. Wasn’t as if she could help him, anyway—she was as much under the Old Guy’s thumb as everyone else in this fucking family. The dude ruled through fear and uncertainty, kept them walking on eggs, never sure quite what the bastard’s expectations were or how they were failing to meet them. Like, with Tierney, he never came out and said anything, just made sidelong references to unnatural urges and hinted that deviating from “The Terrebonne Way” would negatively affect Tierney’s inheritance. Grandfather had never once said “homosexual,” but it didn’t matter what words he used, the meaning was clear: Terrebonnes weren’t gay. Period.
“Ouch!” He’d nicked his Adam’s apple, bad. Blood was seeping out, dribbling down from the cut. Staring at the growing red line, Tierney had one of those moments of clarity he usually tried to avoid. Slit my own throat. How fucking Freudian.
That’s what he was doing by listening to Grandfather, wasn’t it? Abiding by the dude’s rules, like the spineless fucker he was. Because the old guy knew his one weakness: Tierney couldn’t stomach being cast out. Every time he thought about defying Grandfather, he felt the truth of it—the yawning emptiness that would rip him apart, an intense ache of nothingness in his gut. That’s what he’d be. Nothing. An abomination.
Snatching up the towel and pressing it against his wound, Tierney yanked the door of the medicine cabinet open, getting rid of that fucking reflection of himself. Of his self-inflicted wound. He grabbed the bottle of bourbon, because alcohol was good for cuts, right? A few more gulps and sense began to return as the burn slid down his throat and into his gullet.
Mother had shut him down because she didn’t want to face it, just like Ian had. It was another message to his hidden self. No one wanted him to be gay. Not his family and not the guy he was in love with. He had no one to be gay for.
It’s not me. It’s him. Them. They were making him be straight.
Thank God, because for a minute there, he thought he might have some of his own expectations to live up to.
Sunday was a day to play a game commonly called “rugby” but which Tierney thought of as “bloodletting and beer with a ball.” Sometimes he remembered the ball. Tierney’d always looked forward to Sundays, but when Ian had moved to the city and started playing on Tierney’s team, Sunday became the best day of Tierney’s week.
For a couple of months. Until Tierney figured out that, while he’d always thought of Ian as his closest friend and backup plan, Ian pretty much saw Tierney as not much more than an old college buddy.
Then, last week, when Tierney’d gone to pick him up for their scrimmage, Ian had been freshly showered and seemed too fucking loose. Relaxed.
Sated. As if he’d been banging some chick all night long.
A chick he had, like, feelings for.
Knocking on Ian’s door this particular Sunday afternoon, Tierney couldn’t shake his foul mood. So foul he was ready to quit playing rugby if his friend was going to be a dick. Last week, Ian had taken forever to answer. If that douche took too long to answer this week, Tierney’d—
Ian opened the door. “Hey man.”
Tierney’s anger switched gears. “Nice of you to show right away this time.” Stepping forward into the entry, he started forming his plan of verbal attack. “You ready or—”
A nearly naked guy stood in Ian’s bedroom doorway, blinking like he’d just woken up.
Christ. Tierney’s mouth was an uncharacteristic beat or two behind. “Dude?”
“Just a sec,” Ian said from the end of an echoey tunnel. “Almost ready.”
Sam. That was his name, the guy in Ian’s place. That skinny, flaming waiter Ian had met a few weeks ago. Tierney couldn’t breathe, blackness creeping into his vision from the sides, narrowing his focus down to a pinprick. Until all he could see was his closest friend in the world, the guy whose image he’d jacked off to a million times and who he’d fucking been holding out for, walking up to that emaciated pale twink on the other side of his living room and—
Jesus fucking Christ. Tierney’s palm hit the wall, holding him steady.
—Ian kissed Sam.
Halfway to their rugby game, during the tense, silent ride, a thought surfaced out of the white noise in Tierney’s head: that kiss was for show—Ian’s way of coming out to him. He’d figured out a while ago that Ian was, at least sometimes, into guys, and since he’d figured that out about Ian, the guy must know about him, right? And if Ian did know about Tierney, but hadn’t ever done anything about it . . . Motherfucker.
For fourteen years Tierney’d waited for a sign from Ian that the dude was interested in him, and it never came. Never an indication that he was ready for them to be together. Nothing. And now Sam happened along and stole Ian away before Tierney even knew he was a threat. Couldn’t the dude see that Sam was too femme and too gushy and too dorky and just not right for him? It was pretty fucking obvious to Tierney.
Except Ian had chosen Sam. Because he doesn’t want me.
When they neared the field, Tierney jumped out of Ian’s truck as soon as the dude had slowed enough to make it safe. Ish.
He’d make a much more appropriate partner for Ian. Couldn’t the dude fucking see that? “Obviously not,” Tierney muttered to himself just as he reached the group of players. One of his teammates gave him some side eye, but Tierney bared his teeth, and the guy averted his attention. Or at least his eyes. But the dude had to be perking his ears up, because Tierney was making a spectacle of himself, pacing and gesticulating.
This morning, Ian had killed the future Tierney’d waited for all this time. Hadn’t even thought about how it would affect him, had he?
“Goddamned coward.” He jerked around to find the pansy himself heading toward him. Tierney glared, trying to wither his friend where he stood, but Ian kept coming, until he stood almost toe to toe with Tierney. Close enough for spittle to fly in his face as Tierney let loose. “You motherfucking traitor!”
The gasp clued him in that the other rugby players were slowly circling them, rubbernecking.
Ian had the balls to fucking laugh. “Traitor to what?”
“To men.” Tierney’s fingers bit into his palms as he tried to hang on to his temper. “Straight men.” Guys who didn’t admit their secret longings.
Ian’s face went expressionless in that way he had. Cutting him out. “Why’s that, Tierney?” he asked. “’Cause I never told you? Maybe I thought you’d act just like this.”
“So it’s true? You’re fucking that fairy?” he half yelled, but he didn’t need an answer. “Just tell me one thing.” He could hear that little note of achiness in his voice. Hope that this could somehow be salvaged. “Why him?”
“Why not? Me being with him should mean fuck-all to you.”
He body-slammed Ian and knocked him on his ass, and something broke inside him. An internal organ he hadn’t even known he had, full of pus and bile he’d been storing up for the last twenty years. It hazed his vision with sickly green and plugged his ears so all he could hear were the things he was screaming to his best fucking friend, as Ian lay on the ground, gasping for breath. “Get up you fucking faggot! Bet you can’t fight a real man since that little nellie boy got you up his ass, can you? How is he, huh, Ian? Does he squeal like a pig when you—”
Ian hooked Tierney’s legs at the knee, taking him down and shutting Tierney up with his fist. Then it was all about fighting dirty. “Fourteen years. Fourteen years.” He couldn’t stop saying it, in between getting whaled on by Ian and doing his share of damage in return. He got in one good punch to Ian’s eye and was rewarded with a fierce surge of joy, burning away some of the sickness filling him. He redoubled his efforts, took his fourteen years of pain and fed it to Ian via bodily harm, cleaning himself out a little more every time his fist connected with flesh.
He’d never felt rage like this, or wanted to hurt another person so much.
Then he was being pulled away, up to standing, fighting the arms pinning his behind his back, unable to focus on anything but Ian’s face and his own desire to cave it in. Make Ian fully pay for those lost years.
Make him pay for caring about someone else enough to come out.
By the time the guys had let go of him—after Ian’d left—Tierney had gone numb, except for the parts of him that hurt from Ian’s fists. But that was physical pain, which was fine. He could deal. The emotional pain would kill him once he started feeling it again.
He had to get home before that happened. To the oblivion bourbon offered. One of the guys on the team gave him a ride back to his car, right in front of Ian’s place.
Before taking off, he had to rest his head on the steering wheel for a minute, squeezing his eyes shut and fighting off the first wave of his returning emotions. The little creatures he’d learned to keep trapped inside. The inmates he kept under lock and key so he could fulfill the role he’d been assigned. The role he’d thought he’d escape only if the stars aligned and Ian gave him the out.
Fourteen years of sacrifice and avoidance in his past and never letting himself look for another man because he had his fallback. Fourteen years of glory holes and women he didn’t really give a fuck about. Fourteen years of hiding, and being a lying, homophobic dick.
Fourteen fucking years.
Yeah, he was done with rugby.
It was a little over an hour until Dalton would meet the guy his boss, Ian (and Ian’s boyfriend Sam) had set him up with. He’d been unable to think of anything else since lunch, and now that it was the end of the day, he’d finally given himself busywork and let his mind dwell on his first real date in five years. While working his way through college, he’d only had time for casual encounters of the sexual kind and the occasional friend with benefits, so he was a little out of practice in the dating department. Thank God Ian and Sam were going to the Exposed Innerds concert too, so it wouldn’t just be him and the unknown guy named Miller.
Except, judging by the phone call he’d overheard earlier—Ian really didn’t understand the concept of a “private voice”—Sam and Ian might not be going. Not unless Ian apologized for whatever he’d done.
What had he done?
“I need to see Ian Cully. Now.”
At the sound of the voice behind him, Dalton dropped the forms he’d been tallying. Oh no. He was the face of the office, the first thing people saw when they walked in, and it was important to give the proper impression. Sucking in a quick, calming breath, he spun his chair around, fixing his most professional smile on his face.
“May I help you?” Even as he said it, the guy’s body language was answering, telling him he couldn’t