Cam Boy (A Murmur Inc. novel)
This title is part of the Murmur Inc. universe.
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Their chemistry is undeniable, but he knows better than to mix business with pleasure.
After years of making minimum wage, twenty-one-year-old Josh Clemmons may have found his salvation. Murmur Inc., a local adult entertainment company, is hosting auditions for new performers, and Josh has been invited to try out. If he can make it as a porn star, he can kiss his money troubles goodbye.
Mike Harwood is a loud-and-proud professional adult entertainer. In the past three years, he’s starred in dozens of films, and he’s very good at what he does. But as focused as he’s been on work, he’s neglected everything else, including his love life. He’s so used to faking attraction, he can no longer tell when something real is staring him in the face.
Josh gets the job, but when porn fails to live up to the fantasy, he quits to do cam work instead. But he can’t stop thinking about the one scene he filmed, and the captivating man he filmed it with. Their chemistry is undeniable, but Mike knows better than to mix business with pleasure. Then again, with true love on the line, this unorthodox office romance may need a second take.
This title comes with no special warnings.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
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“Someone call for a plumber?” grunted a burly man in blue coveralls that barely contained his bulging muscles. “I’m here to snake your drain.”
A smaller blond man batted his eyelashes at him. “You’ve come to the right place. My pipes are in desperate need of a good snaking.”
“Well, bend over, and let me take a—”
Josh shrieked and dropped his phone. It landed on the granite countertop with a clatter, but thankfully didn’t break. He snatched it up again, scrambling to hit the Home button in the hopes of closing the video before—
It was too late. His boss appeared next to him, and judging by the sour look on her face, she was pissed. “Are you watching porn at work?”
“No, Sana! I swear.” Josh flashed an innocent smile.
Sana plucked the phone out of his hands. “Then what do you call this?”
“Hey, give it back!” Josh swiped for it, but Sana held it above his head. Thanks to the heels she was never seen without, she was as tall as he was. He couldn’t reach it. “Damn your treelike stature.”
Sana glanced at the screen. “Not porn, eh? Look, I know gay smut when I see it. Either that hairy bear is about to bend that twink over, or I’m the Easter Bunny.”
“I’m telling you, it’s not porn.”
“You’re such a liar.”
“No, really. They’re just porn intros.” He stood on tiptoe and managed to finagle his phone away from her. He angled the screen so she could see the title of the YouTube video he’d pulled up. “I’m watching ‘Top Ten Cheesiest Gay Porn Openers.’ Let me tell you, some of these are bad.”
One of Sana’s thick eyebrows rose to the top of the bright-purple headscarf that covered her hair. “You know what else is bad? Watching porn at work.”
“I already told you, I’m not. And besides—” Josh waved a hand at the near-empty coffee shop around them “—it’s dead today.”
Sana muttered something familiar under her breath that—after a day of extensive googling—Josh had identified as an Islamic prayer for strength. “Joshua. We need to talk.”
Uh-oh. Now I’ve done it.
“You and your recent obsession with the porn industry.”
“I’m not obsessed with—”
Sana held up a hand, silencing him. “I don’t know why you think this behavior is acceptable, but it’s not. It’s not appropriate for a workplace. I don’t care how long you’ve been working here. If I catch you on your phone again, I will write you up. Customers or not, there is plenty around here to do. Busy yourself.” With a swish of her long black dress, she disappeared into the stockroom. Probably to do some breathing exercises. Josh had that effect on her.
When he was certain she was gone, he puffed his cheeks up and exhaled, making a rude noise. Sana was a good boss on most days—fair, flexible, and not too demanding—but she never let him have any fun.
For a brief moment, he considered going back to his video, but Sana wasn’t one to make idle threats. If she caught him on his phone again, she’d probably send him home. He couldn’t afford to lose half a day’s pay.
Being broke sucked.
Grabbing a clean dish towel from one of the cabinets, Josh wiped spilled coffee grounds and milk from the counters. Sana was right about one thing: there was always something to do around here.
The Globe, where he’d worked for the past three years, was one of few independent coffee shops that had stood against the march of time and Starbucks. Probably because it appealed to a very specific demographic, which Josh could only term “liberal as fuck.” There was a rainbow flag undulating outside the door, and the walls were covered in local abstract art. The front of the counter had been layered with bumper stickers over the years that bore pride colors and catchy slogans. The smell of their organic, locally sourced coffee beans was thick in the air.
Josh glanced out the large entryway windows at the aluminum sky. It was an unseasonably cold and gray day, befitting his mood. Summer was normally the time when Los Angeles came alive. The sun seemed to energize the millions of people who lived here, like fields of sunflowers. But the sun was buried beneath leaden clouds, and it reflected in the hunched backs of the people walking down the streets.
The stormy sky added to the ennui that settled over Josh like mist. Sana might not understand his sudden “obsession,” but he knew exactly where it’d come from. Well, if he were being totally honest, he’d discovered a healthy interest in porn a long time ago, but his recent interest in the industry was another matter.
It’d started when one of their long-time employees, Pete, had quit a couple of months ago. That sounded innocuous enough, but Pete had left after it was revealed that he’d been working as a porn star on the side for over a year. Talk about moonlighting.
Not that he’d left because his secret got out. If this were a small town, that might have caused a scandal, but this was LA. The land of starving actors doing whatever they had to do in order to survive.
No, the revelation had been a whimper as opposed to a bang, excuse the pun, to most everyone. Everyone except for Josh. He didn’t know for sure why Pete had quit, but he had to assume it was because the money was incredible. LA was the porn capital of the world, after all. If you wanted to star on Broadway, you moved to New York. If you wanted to become a famous porn star—a Jenna Jameson or a Ron Jeremy—LA was the place to do it.
Famous. Damn, he liked the sound of that.
It’d certainly gotten him thinking. And thinking had led to googling. Googling had led to a fever Josh couldn’t seem to sweat out. Especially when he’d seen how much porn stars made. Jesus. The numbers refused to exit his brain no matter how many times he shooed them out. He was no math whiz, but he didn’t need to be: he could get paid more for an hour of sex than he netted in a week at minimum wage.
The bell above the door jingled, startling him back to the present.
Josh shook off his thoughts like water and plastered a smile on his face. “Welcome to the Globe! Let me know if you need any help.” He poured extra solicitation into his tone, in case Sana was listening.
The woman who’d walked in barely glanced at him in favor of consulting the baked goods display. After a moment, she jabbed a finger at one of the rows. “I’ll take an orange-vanilla scone, um—” she adjusted her glasses and squinted at his name tag “—Joshua. You don’t go by ‘Josh’?”
“I do.” Josh opened the case and used a pair of silver tongs to grab her selection. “With family and friends. Joshua is my professional name.” He puffed out his chest. Going by his full name totally made him sound like an adult.
“Sounds kinda pretentious if you ask me.”
He deflated like a punctured hot-air balloon. “Anything else I can get for you?”
“Glass of water, please.”
He grumbled under his breath as he filled a to-go cup from the tap. He plunked it down on the counter, rang her up, and sent her on her way with a smile that had shifted from cheerful to manufactured. When the door closed behind her, he collapsed dramatically on the counter, his face tucked into the crook of his elbow.
“Still slacking off, huh?”
He peeked to the side. Sana had reappeared, and if her voluminous eyelashes were any indication, she’d touched up her makeup.
“I literally just finished with a customer.”
“Uh-huh. I believe you.”
“I did! And I was the epitome of service with a smile.”
“Sure, and Schwarzenegger is gonna run for president next.” She frowned. “Although I guess these days that would be a marked improvement.”
“I can’t believe you. When have I ever lied to—” Josh stopped as half a dozen examples popped into his mind.
Sana pinched the dirty dishcloth between two manicured fingers and held it up. “Get back to work, please.”
Josh snatched it from her and, tongue pressed between his teeth, excused himself to the milk station. There, he spent the rest of his shift cleaning up spilled cream, refilling sugar packet dispensers, and topping off cinnamon shakers. Truly, he was living the dream.
The sun had sunk beneath the morose horizon by the time he hung up his apron, clocked out, and said good night to Sana, who usually stayed late to close up. He hauled two bags of trash out to the dumpster behind the Globe and then began the trek home. Twenty minutes of walking and one bumpy, smelly bus ride later, he was in Lincoln Heights, one of the worst neighborhoods in all of LA.
Home sweet home.
The streets around here glittered not with gold but with broken glass. The buildings were run-down at best and collapsing at worst. He wasn’t sure why, but he’d always thought the area smelled like . . . beige, somehow. Not the benign, sterile beige of hospitals and dentists’ waiting rooms. But of colors that had been bright once, before they’d been beaten down by the sun and grime and decay.
Depressing as it was, it was all Josh could afford. He rented a single bedroom in a derelict house that he shared with three other guys. It wasn’t much, but it was his. If nothing else, he always had something to bitch to his friends about.
As he approached the ratty house, he noted for the hundredth time that its yellowing edifice looked like an old man with a squashed face. The gutters sagged like a bad comb-over, and the windows were his clouded, beady eyes. Every time the front door was opened, it swung loosely on its hinges like a single crooked tooth.
“Another day in beautiful California,” he muttered to himself as he dug his keys out of his pocket and unlocked the dead bolt. He eased the door open—always concerned that one of these days it would topple right over, bringing the house with it no doubt—and shut it behind him. He flung his shoes off in the entryway and noted two other pairs there: A.J.’s Birkenstocks and Chris’s knockoff Vans. Great. He’d have to fight for control of the TV.
After making his way down a short hallway, he poked his head into the living room. Sure enough, A.J. and Chris were piled on the threadbare sofa they’d salvaged from a friend’s shed last year. It had been rained on, judging by the watermarks, and what might have once been a pattern of roses now looked like angry red blobs, but free was free.
The blue light from the ancient TV flickered over his roommate’s faces, illuminating how incongruous they were from one another. Chris looked like he’d fallen out of a Hot Topic display, and A.J. could have been a page from an Abercrombie catalog. Between hair gel and eyeliner, they probably put the same amount of time into their appearances.
“Hey,” Josh greeted them. “Will’s not home?”
“Nah.” A.J. dug his hand into the bowl of popcorn in his lap and crammed a fistful into his mouth. He chewed for a moment before a wad appeared in his cheek. “He’s shacking up with some girl. Said he won’t be back tonight.”
“Word. Is anyone making dinner?”
“Fuck no.” Josh grimaced. “Unless you want three packets of ramen served in a plastic mixing bowl.”
“Better than what I’ve got.” Chris flicked black emo bangs out of his eyes. “If I have to eat canned beans and rice one more night . . .”
“You’ll what?” A.J. punched him, the sleeve of his salmon polo shirt rising up over his bulging arm muscles. “Finally gain a pound? Be careful, or you’ll split your skinny jeans.”
Chris opened his mouth—perhaps to deliver an acerbic retort—but Josh backed out of the room before he could hear it. He wasn’t in the mood for their squabbling tonight.
His stomach growled as he bypassed the kitchen and made his way to the second bedroom on the right. He’d left his door unlocked, not because of some sacred bond of trust he had with his roommates, but because he had little worth stealing. It opened with a horror-movie-esque creak, revealing an unmade twin bed that took up half the room, a pile of dirty laundry, and a battered dresser that was covered in crap, including his laptop.
He flopped onto the bed and immediately shot up again with a yelp. Fuck, his keys. He dug them out of his pocket again and threw them into the pile of laundry. They landed with a soft plunk. His wallet and phone got honorary spots on the wooden crate next to his bed, and then he tried his flop once more. This time, he stuck the landing.
With a sigh, he stared up at the watermarked ceiling. His single window let in barely enough light from the streetlamps to illuminate its craggy surface.
“This place isn’t you,” he whispered to himself. “None of this shit is you.” It was a mantra he’d taken to repeating whenever his lack of earning potential started to get him down. He’d said it so many times, it was noise to him now.
He forced himself into a sitting position, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. His laptop sat next to a pile of dusty textbooks he hadn’t been able to sell after his ignominious departure from higher education. One bachelor’s-degree-turned-associate’s later, he had a useless piece of paper that didn’t qualify him for jack. But at least he hadn’t flunked out entirely.
Along with his degree, he also had the super-expensive laptop he’d shelled out for, certain that it would help him become a star student. So much for that theory. He settled it on his knees and opened it. The screen showed a loading symbol for a moment before revealing his desktop wallpaper: a headless, muscular torso dressed in tight underwear. He’d picked a black and white photo so he could claim it was artistic.
He double-clicked on his internet browser of choice, and twenty tabs popped up. He’d had them open for so long, he’d become emotionally attached to them. Job postings, Craigslist ads, and calls for him to donate a stunning variety of fluids. He could find something decent among all the crap if he were diligent enough to sift through it every day. Too bad that wasn’t a word anyone would use to describe him.
His gaze wandered to the crate next to his bed. It sported a collection of cheap picture frames he’d picked up from a thrift store. His friends smiled at him from one: Ashley, Darius, and Monica. His parents waved from another. The pics were grainy and bleached of color—he’d printed them on copy paper in his school’s computer lab before he’d graduated—but they never failed to cheer him up.
Come to think of it, he was pretty sure his mom had texted him earlier. She was off with husband number three, but she liked to check on him. Had he ever responded to that text? Life’s little mysteries.
Just as he had every day for the past few months, he opened a new tab and typed in a search phrase: gay porn LA.
The first ten or so results were all links to videos. He knew better than to click on those, or else he’d get . . . distracted. He scrolled down until he found what he’d been looking for: postings from various local entertainment companies that were looking for “adult performers.”
“Why can’t they come out and say it?” Josh mumbled to himself. “They’re looking for porn stars.”
There was one company he’d had his eye on for a while now. Murmur Inc., located not twenty minutes from where Josh worked. The name had caught his attention from the get-go—it was light-years subtler than the other porn producers’—along with their expensive-looking website and the fact that they were one of the only companies that wasn’t holding an open call. The others seemed like anyone could walk through the door and get work, but Murmur Inc.’s auditions had been closed for weeks now. It had become Josh’s habit after work to check their website and see if anything had changed.
Today was no different. He clicked on the home page and spent a moment admiring its sleek design before he headed to the New Arrivals section. There, all the latest stars had head shots, biographies, and teaser videos displayed for the world to ogle. In order to see the full-length vids, he’d have to pay the subscription fee. Too rich for his blood. Instead, he contented himself with scanning the fresh faces and imagining his own head shot among them.
Not that he would, uh, ever be in porn. It was just a thought. An inkling. A fantasy, even. It must be a hell of a life, though. Getting paid to fuck hot guys, do sexy photoshoots, and have thousands of people view your face every single day . . .
Josh had twelve followers on Twitter, and he was related to one of them. His Instagram wasn’t any better. What would it be like to have people notice he existed when they weren’t waiting for him to finish brewing their coffee?
He dragged himself away from that train of thought before it could plow through him. He finished checking out the new arrivals—it was sparse, which made sense considering how long auditions had been closed for—and clicked on the tab for open calls. He needlessly scanned the block of text that outlined the requirements for auditioning; he’d memorized it weeks ago. His eyes moseyed down the page to where bold black letters would declare that they weren’t accepting new performers, just as it had every day for the past few months.
Once, twice, three times Josh read the final sentence before it finally sank into his brain.
Murmur Inc. is now holding auditions for new talent of all ages, body types, and genders.
Josh stared at the letters until they’d burned themselves into his retinas. Auditions were finally open. This . . . this was, like, a sign. Right?
He tossed his laptop onto the bed and stood up, pacing the length of his bedroom. It was all of three steps and too cramped for him to move like he wanted to. He tripped over his laundry pile and sent his keys skittering under his dresser, but he paid them no mind.
Was the universe trying to tell him something? Or, with him checking Murmur Inc.’s website every day for months, was this bound to happen? If he were being realistic, he’d have to say it was the latter.
Then again, maybe the real sign was the fact that he’d never stopped checking. He could have lost interest weeks ago, but something kept drawing him back. To porn and to Murmur Inc. in particular. Why that company?
They were local, for one thing. Established. And they had a hell of a reputation, from what he’d seen on google. All their shit was high-quality. Like, Hollywood levels of production value. He’d read actual, academic reviews of their porn. Some might call it artistic. Not Josh, but someone. If he got the chance to star in one of their films . . . Man, he could make a name for himself. He could have fans. And money. Oh, how he wanted to have money.
He collapsed onto his bed again. He was getting way ahead of himself. It was one thing to be curious; it was another to go through with it. Besides, if Murmur Inc. was as quality focused as their reputation suggested, they’d want people who could act. People with movie-star good looks too. By conventional standards, Josh was a handsome young man, but he didn’t have the chiseled six-pack and nine-inch cock that featured in every porn he’d seen.
Then again, maybe he was jumping to conclusions. Murmur Inc. had proven to have different standards from regular porn. Plus, Pete—the ex-coworker who’d quit to go be a big gay porn star—was above-average looking on a good day with the right Instagram filter.
Craning his neck, Josh caught sight of his reflection in the half-length mirror he’d tucked in the corner next to his lamp. Green eyes set in an angular face and ringed with light eyelashes looked back at him.
Yeah, he was confident he had the face. And his body wasn’t bad. He might not be shredded, but he was tall and lean. Maybe he could scare up some abs if he started doing crunches. He was more of the cardio sort, but beauty was pain.
That just left the acting bit. A trip to the gym wouldn’t be enough to help him in that department. He’d watched every teaser Murmur Inc. had on their website—or the gay ones, at least—but it was difficult to tell how much acting was required. The performers never seemed like they were acting, to him. Was that how good they were? Maybe he should break down and subscribe to their site.
For the low, low price of $19.99 a month.
His last bank account statement flashed through his mind. Fuck. Much as his impulsive nature was screaming at him to blow the money, he literally couldn’t. Not until he got paid on Friday, and by then, the auditions could be closed again.
Opening yet another tab, he did a quick search for pirated Murmur Inc. films. Google came up with zilch. Their shit was under cyber lock and key. Jesus. If a man couldn’t rely on internet pirates, who could he rely on?
So much for that. The last thing he wanted to do was sign up for an audition only to embarrass himself. Then again, his parents had always told him he was an Oscar-worthy drama queen. Maybe that was enough.
Why not give it a shot? The worst they can do is say no.
Before he could totally overthink it, he opened a blank document and drafted a résumé according to the instructions. First and foremost, they wanted to know all his “stats”: age, height, weight, etc. Easy enough. Twenty-one, six foot, and . . . He scrunched his nose, trying to think of the last time he’d weighed himself. He was one-sixty? One-seventy? Would they make him get on a scale? That seemed doubtful. He plugged the numbers in.
Next, he had to list his acting experience. That was easy: none. He wrote eager to learn and accumulate knowledge instead. After that came any other relevant skills. He grinned. How about twenty-one years of being gay? He’d had experiences in LA’s club scene alone that were hotter than any penny dreadful. He wrote a paragraph on that and moved on.
The final section prompted him to add any additional details. Hm. He had work and school history. Those couldn’t hurt, right? He listed his degree and three years of gainful employment at the Globe, with some filler shit he always saw on résumés: effective time management, good at multitasking, takes direction well.
The familiar platitudes took on vastly different meanings in the context of a porn audition. He thought about adding works well in groups but decided against it.
The final instruction was to include two photos of himself: one of his face and one of his body. Nudity was preferred but not required.
His mouth puckered into a thoughtful moue. He didn’t have any nudes at the moment. He’d used Snapchat to send a few to his last boyfriend, but that had been . . . God, a long, depressing time ago. He could take one right now with his phone, but he doubted a company with a rep for quality would be impressed by a selfie taken in a dark, messy room.
If nudity wasn’t required, maybe he could skate by without it. He pulled up Facebook and hunted through his photos. Most of them were taken at the various gay clubs he frequented with his friends. He didn’t think sending in a photo of him sweaty and drunk with smeared eyeliner would be a good idea.
After some scrolling, he came upon the photos his cousin Lacie had taken at Christmas. Jackpot. She fancied herself an amateur photographer and always had a giant camera hanging from her neck. The photos she’d tagged him in were high-res and as close to professional quality as he could get. He selected a group shot where he was flashing a cute smile and cropped it so only his face was visible from the chest up. Then he filtered through the rest of the album, looking for a suitable body shot.
Luck was on his side. They’d had Christmas at his great aunt’s ranch in Oregon. She kept horses, and Lacie had snapped a photo of Josh petting one. He wasn’t looking at the camera, focused as he was on the beautiful animal before him. He had a sort of dreamy expression on his face. It was the softest Josh had ever seen himself look, especially considering he was the sort to smirk or stick his tongue out for photos. Plus, he was dressed for a family dinner: a polo shirt, a nice jacket, and fitted jeans.
Yup. That was the winner. He saved both photos and the résumé onto his desktop and then composed a new email. He filled out the subject line as instructed and then wrote a brief introduction in the body detailing why he felt he’d be a great fit for Murmur Inc. Much as he wanted to enumerate his physical virtues again, he had the good sense to talk about Murmur Inc.’s impressive reputation instead.
A voice in the back of his head warned him that he should go back and write his résumé in the same serious tone that he’d used for the email, but he brushed it aside. This was a porn company, after all. They spent their days taking dick pics that people actually wanted to see. Even if they were high-end, how serious could they be?
When everything was attached and ready, he sent the email. Now all he had to do was wait for a response. He had a feeling he’d be hella distracted at work tomorrow, but that was a concern for Future Josh. Right now, he wanted to get some shut-eye.
He replaced his laptop on his dresser, wiggled out of his work clothes until he was lying in only boxers, and fell asleep right as his face touched a pillow.
He woke up the next morning to his phone blaring the opening song from The Lion King. After shutting it off, the first thing he did was grab his laptop and check his email. It was silly, he knew. There was no chance they’d get back to him that fast, and his eyes were so bleary he couldn’t read, but he’d dared to dream once already . . .
He nearly pissed himself when he spotted an email in his inbox. When he saw it was from Murmur Inc., he almost made himself go to the bathroom before a tragedy occurred.
Was it one of those automated responses to say they’d received his submission? He clicked on it with trembling fingers and scanned it, eyes jumping all over the place in an effort to get the most crucial information first.
A handful of seconds later, he let out a whoop.
We are delighted to invite you to a private audition.
They wanted to meet him. He made himself read the email again in sequential order, no matter how much he wanted to toss his laptop aside and dance around his room.
They wanted him to audition later that day. If that went well, they’d book him for his first film, and they’d pay him—
Holy shit. Josh gaped at the screen. He’d known porn paid well, but Jesus Christ, that was more money than he made in a week.
Thoughts flitted through his mind like birds startled out of a tree. He’d expected to debate with himself about this. Hell, despite his cocky attitude, a part of him hadn’t thought he’d hear back. But now that the opportunity was here, right in front of him, he wasn’t as conflicted as he’d thought he would be.
Not that he didn’t have doubts. There was no denying this was a porn audition, no matter how many times the email referred to it as a “performance.” If he showed up, it would mean he was agreeing to have sex for money in front of a camera. For the whole world to see. And he knew from experience that the internet never forgot anything. He still had some junior prom photos from the year he’d gotten a bowl cut that his friends liked to haunt him with.
That was another con right there. What if his friends saw his videos? Or his parents? Oh God, he’d die. And there were other risks too. Rejection. STIs. Physical harm. At least he couldn’t get pregnant.
A hundred valid counterarguments filled his head, but from looking at the dollar amount attached to a single video alone, all those concerns sailed right on by. One hour on his back could net him that elusive dream known as financial security. Hell, he could work twice a week for Murmur Inc. and make enough money to pay his bills, and move out of this shithole, and eat food that didn’t say Just add water! on the box.
There was one other tiny, miniscule problem, though. He was working the evening shift at the Globe, and his audition was scheduled for the middle of his shift. Maybe he could email back and ask them to reschedule.
And they’d probably tell him to get lost. They clearly had no shortage of people who were clamoring to work for them, or they wouldn’t need to close their auditions.
He imagined hundreds of dollar bills with little white wings soaring around his head only to fly off into the sunset, never to be seen again.
His phone was in his hand before he could process the movement. He found Sana’s name in his contacts and typed a quick text.
Sana, I can’t come in to work today.
He was about to set his phone down when it buzzed in his hand. It was Sana. Gulp.
Is everything okay? Are you sick?
The prospect of lying flashed through his mind for a microsecond before he discarded it. He owed Sana more than that. No, there’s something I need to do. He didn’t elaborate, largely because he had no idea how to explain.
Her response was instantaneous. Joshua, you’re on thin ice. If you miss work today without a good reason, don’t bother coming back.
Josh’s fingers hesitated over the screen for only a moment. Then I quit. I’m sorry.
The polite thing to do would be to give two weeks’ notice, or at least call her and deliver the news himself, but there was no time for that. There was so much he needed to do to get ready for his close-up.
He was going to be a star.
Mike Harwood started his day as he did any other: balls-deep in another man.
A sweaty, gorgeous man who was currently moaning like Mike was trying to kill him with his dick.
“Oh God,” the man groaned. He threw his dark head back in an exaggerated way. “Yes, Sean, right there. Fuck me just like that.”
Mike wanted to grimace at the cheesy dialogue, but he kept his face frozen in the expression of bliss he’d had for the past twenty minutes. A camera flash went off to his left, and he had to blink away spots. Fucking photographers. It was hard enough to concentrate on what he was doing—or who, in this case—without them buzzing around. Especially when his costar brought so much ham to the scene, he wouldn’t need to eat for a week.
What was the guy’s name again? Dante? Damian? Something like that. Not that it mattered. The names around here were as fake as Hollywood itself. All that ecstatic mewling was starting to throw Mike off, along with the way the guy kept bucking his hips up on the offbeat.
Good thing Mike—or Sean Hardwood, as he was known to the porn world—was a seasoned vet. He’d starred in dozens of films, and the one he was making right now wouldn’t be so much as a blip on the radar. Thank God. He had a reputation to think of.
But hey, money was money. Sex was sex. Though he had to admit, having men moan his fake name instead of his real one didn’t have quite the same charm.
“Cut!” called a woman’s voice to the left.
Mike paused mid-thrust and stilled. He yearned to pull out, and the guy beneath him was squirming with discomfort, but they’d need to pick back up in the same spot when filming resumed. “What’s up, Colette?”
The blonde woman in jeans and a pink crop top eyed him from behind the main camera. “Any particular reason why you started sucking all of a sudden?”
Balancing his weight on one arm, Mike wiped his sweaty brow. “Sorry. I lost focus.” He didn’t bother making excuses. He’d been working with Colette long enough to know she wouldn’t buy what he was selling. Normally, all he had to do was smile pretty and flex to get what he wanted, but Colette was too sharp for that. People didn’t build successful empires like Murmur Inc. by being naïve, and she could smell bullshit from here to Santa Monica.
“I can’t say I blame you for getting kicked out of the moment.” She shifted her keen gaze to the other man. “Your costar was doing a decent impression of an overeager actor with one line. Diego, what do you have to say for yourself?”
Diego. That was it.
Diego grinned lazily and wriggled beneath Mike, making the mattress squeak. “Would you believe I was having that good of a time?”
Mike rolled his eyes and glanced at Colette in time to see her do the same. “Not with that acting, I wouldn’t. Tone it down, please? We have quality standards to maintain. We’re not just producing porn here.” She gestured to the half-dozen crew members that were all crammed in the bedroom with them: sound and light techs, a camera operator, and of course, the photographers. “We’re selling a fantasy. And for fantasies to work, they need to be believable. Good sex can be subtle too, okay?”
“Whatever you say, mami.”
Colette looked like she wanted to lecture him some more, but she refrained. They were on a schedule, and time was money. Mike hadn’t met the owners of the house they were filming in, but since it was in Bel Air, it couldn’t have been cheap for Colette to book it. No doubt she wanted to get everyone in and out.
Nice choice of phrasing, Harwood.
“On your marks, gentlemen.” She signaled to the camera operator and the photographers. When they gestured back, indicating that they were ready, she called, “Action!”
Mike resumed thrusting into Diego with the same enthusiasm as before but more concentration. He rolled and flexed his torso so every well-cut muscle in his abdomen got a chance to shine. That was, after all, what the viewers were here to see.
Diego let out another groan, but it was more controlled this time. Colette must have been satisfied, because she didn’t call for them to cut again. In fact, this time, they made it all the way to the “big finish” without incident. Mike pulled out, removed the condom, and came on Diego’s chest as directed. His orgasm wasn’t bad, in a perfunctory sort of way, but he could have done without Diego running his fingers through the semen and moaning like it somehow gave him pleasure. He knew people who were into come play, but that was a bit much.
As flashes burst around him, capturing the big finish, his thoughts overtook him again. Why had the moaning bothered him so much? The women he performed with overdid it too, and he didn’t find that irksome. Then again, they were encouraged to. Apparently straight guys couldn’t tell real moaning from fake if it screamed in their ear. The gay market was different. Less forgiving, for sure. If it didn’t pay so well, Mike might say to hell with it and make the switch.
But then, corny acting or not, he’d be hard-pressed to give up cock.
“Cut!” Colette clapped her hands. “Nice work, gentlemen. Let the photographers get some final shots, and then we’ll wrap.”
As soon as Mike was cleared, he rolled over and sank onto the bed, exhausted. The silk sheets and mountains of throw pillows might have seemed luxurious to some, but all he wanted to do was lie on a flat surface and stretch out his back. Of course, Diego chose to lounge right next to him, elbows and knees touching, though there was a whole bed. Mike wanted to shove him onto the floor. He didn’t, though. He’d love to claim it was because he was too polite to be rude to a coworker, but in truth, shoving him would involve touching him, and after hours of skin-to-skin filming, that was the last thing Mike wanted to do.
Diego made a single attempt to strike up a conversation with him, but when Mike responded with a wordless grunt, he wandered off to find his clothes. Mike watched him go with vague interest. As soon as he’d dressed and Colette had assured him that he’d get paid by direct deposit, Diego scuttled off. Probably to catch a happy hour or something, judging by his flashy clothes.
Mike tsked. A man without fashion sense was like a muscle car without a paint job.
Does Diego owe you money? Why are you being so harsh?
He wasn’t the catty sort, under normal circumstances. Professional courtesy was an important part of the biz; he knew that better than most.
Oh well. It didn’t matter. He’d never see Diego again. It was rare for two porn stars to film more than once together, and not simply because audiences were always looking for something new. Few porn stars stuck around as long as Mike had, and he’d only been at this for three years. Either the others were quitters, or they were a lot smarter than he was.
Whoa, where did that thought come from?
He let his mind wander as the crew finished packing up the equipment around him. What was up with him lately? He gave himself a little shake to dispel his sour mood, but it clung to him like stale cigarette smoke.
Maybe it was because everything from his back to his cheek muscles was sore from having to act like he was having breathtaking sex while bent like a pretzel. But he’d never been bothered by porn’s artifice before. They were all here to put on a show. They all acted like they were turned on by things that looked good on camera but felt like their spines were going to crack. Mike had a bloodstream full of Viagra right now to keep him, well, at attention. It was his job, and it’d been good to him these past few years. Why, then, was he suddenly so put off by how fake it all was?
Because it’s been a long time since you’ve had anything real.
He pushed that thought away. Since when was he so maudlin? He was probably being moody. He’d perk up when he got his next fat paycheck. Speaking of which.
“Hey, Colette,” he called, propping himself up on his elbows. “I was wondering if you have any new projects I might be good for.”
Colette, who was bent over a laptop set up on a folding table, looked up. “You just finished filming one. How can you be thinking of your next gig already?”
He shrugged, both answering her question and testing his back. He’d recovered enough to get dressed. He rolled off the bed and pulled on his boxers, which Diego had flung next to the nightstand two hours ago. “You know me. Always the workaholic.”
Colette went back to reviewing the footage on her laptop. “That’s true. You’re one of my most dedicated performers. And one of my highest earning. Which is why I’m surprised you’re fishing for all these small-time gigs. You got a gambling problem I don’t know about? Gotta keep a bookie off your back?”
“Would you care if I did?”
“Of course I would. I want all my employees to be happy and healthy.” Colette blinked long, synthetic eyelashes at him. “So you can make me lots and lots of money.”
“That’s the spirit. Got anything coming up?”
“I was actually going to ask if you mind staying late tonight. I have an audition coming in.”
Mike frowned. “You mean like a new recruit? I thought you preferred to vet them on your own first before introducing them to anyone else.”
“I do, but in this case, I think it’d be best to have him do a scene with a pro.” She slipped a file folder off the table and flipped it open. “The guy’s résumé was . . . Well, let’s just say I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time, and not in a good way. I expect new applicants to be green, but this guy actually wrote a paragraph about how being gay makes him a prime candidate for this. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or call the ACLU and report a hate crime.”
“Sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. How do I fit in?”
“Considering your experience and delightful no-nonsense attitude, I figure you’re the perfect person to put him through his paces, so to speak. I want you to see what he’s got.”
“I’m not going to babysit some newbie.”
“All right, no need to be grouchy.” Colette held a hand up, palm facing him. “This is a request, not an order. If it were that important to me, I’d have asked you earlier. But I figured since you’re here and asking for work, and we have the space booked already . . .” She paused. “And you’d be compensated for your time.”
Mike peaked an eyebrow. “Same rates as before?”
“Do I have to fuck him? Because I’m good, but even I only have so many in me per day.”
“Sex is optional. In fact, I’d prefer you didn’t. We’re losing the light, and I have an early morning.”
Mike considered it. He didn’t need the money, per se, but that was because he worked hard to keep it that way. Colette might think these little gigs were beneath him, but they made ends meet when he was between projects and work was scarce. There was no such thing as a salaried porn star, and he had a lifestyle to maintain.
On the other hand, did he want to deal with yet another amateur today? The sound of Diego’s embellished moans hung in the back of his mind like an irritating-but-catchy pop song. Plus, he hadn’t been kidding when he’d said he was burned out.
He knew one way to settle this.
“You got a photo of the guy?”
Colette beamed. “Yup. I printed some out along with his résumé.” She handed the file folder over.
Mike glanced at it. The résumé was on top, and Colette was right: it was a joke. The guy—whose real name had been blacked out with Sharpie; Colette was a stickler for protecting the identities of her employees, including potential ones—had listed some of the most rambling and irrelevant credentials Mike had ever read. The guy sounded like a college kid who was taking a stab at writing his first résumé. Mike peeked at the potential’s stats. Twenty-one years old. That explained a lot. Mike was only twenty-five, but he knew better than anyone what a difference four years could make.
He flipped the résumé to the side, revealing the photos, and his heart twisted in his chest. He’d been expecting the typical porn fare: a greased-up shirtless guy lounging on a bed. Instead, the man in the photos was fully dressed, in normal clothing too. No booty shorts or mesh or glitter. In his head shot, he was smiling, sans dicks in the background or come on his chin. It could have been a yearbook photo had he not been wearing a goofy Christmas sweater.
The full-length shot went one step further: it looked candid. It plucked Mike’s attention out of the air and held it in a firm grip. Not because the guy had an amazing body or anything—though Mike liked his whole tall, lean thing—but because his posture was so . . . open. Genuine. The angle caught his face in profile, but Mike could see that he had a relaxed, dreamy expression as he reached for a horse’s muzzle with a long-fingered hand.
Of course, there was no way the shots weren’t staged. Even a complete amateur wouldn’t send in nonprofessional photos. Mike had to give him points for creativity, though. The horse was a nice touch.
This guy must have some serious acting verve to pull off a shot like this. Most of the male performers Mike knew relied on having washboard abs to get them work, and it showed. Maybe tonight wouldn’t be such a waste of time after all. Plus, Mike had to admit, the whole blond, clean-cut look was doing it for him. He had a grittier image, and he was a sucker for taking angelic twink types and dirtying them up. It was almost enough to make him wish sex were on the table.
“Well?” Colette grinned. “Can I take that silence as approval?”
He cleared his throat, not wanting to appear overeager. “He’s hot, I’ll give you that.”
“Hot enough to convince you to join us this evening?”
Feigning nonchalance, he closed the folder and handed it back. “I guess it can’t hurt to stay. I could use the money.” The lie felt heavy on his tongue.
“Wonderful.” Colette’s brown eyes twinkled. “I’m sure you and the money will get along famously.”