“Who is that?” Chris eyed a sexy blond dancer. He hoped the man hadn’t noticed the hard time he’d had ordering. The bartender seemed preternaturally aware that Chris wasn’t from New York and had seen fit to make the transaction as embarrassing as possible, acting as if Chris spoke a foreign language. The fact he was only nineteen and still underage didn’t make it any easier.

Ten minutes earlier, his companion, Sebastian, had had a much easier time obtaining a drink. He’d sauntered within range of the bar, nodded to the bartender, and his vodka and tonic appeared on the counter. For Chris to live and work here, he would have to learn that trick.

Turning to see whom Chris referred, Sebastian exhaled, seemingly very put upon. “Oh him? That’s Jason. It’s best to ignore him.”

Still staring, Chris sipped what tasted like weak tea. Being served swill like this proved everyone knew he’d transplanted from Texas. “He’s kind of hard to ignore.”

Jason was gorgeous. He stood at least six-foot five-inches in his glittery pointy-heeled boots. He’d knocked a go-go dancer out of his cage and taken over, busting moves that would make a professional stripper die of jealousy.

“Is he a gymnast?”

“No. But I’m sure he’d say he was in the Olympics if you asked him.” Sebastian swigged the last of his cocktail and set down the glass, then turned and leaned against the bar.

At the ripe old age of twenty-four, Sebastian was considered geriatric by their agency. With a dearth of bookings, the agency paid him a modest fee to introduce Chris to the right designers and otherwise show him the ropes.

When asked, Sebastian claimed a desire to transition from the empty-headed world of modeling to the supposedly more satisfying vocation of acting. Even with his bronze skin, shoulder-length dark hair, and striking blue eyes, the best jobs Sebastian had managed were minor soap opera roles. Despite his oft-repeated mantra of, I need to move to L.A., Sebastian showed no signs of leaving New York City. From what Chris had learned, the man subsisted on mentoring new models and assisting with casting calls.

Next to Sebastian, Chris felt mousy with his dime-a-dozen twink frame, wavy brown hair, and scruffy chin. Geek chic was in, which kept Chris booked. After that trend, he had no idea how to market himself.

Jason’s market, if he bothered with one, would be fabulousness. His blond hair was sleekly razor-cut and he wore eyeliner and bright red lipstick that brought his deep cupid’s bow to the forefront. His leather boots were laced up to his knees, his leggings tucked into their tops. The collar of his gauzy white top fluttered as he dropped into the splits before an adoring crowd who tossed cash at his feet. Jason gave the money a contemptuous look and pushed it off the end of the stage before springing back up and kicking his leg so the thin heel of what looked like a very expensive boot tangled with the pole.

Sebastian’s voice broke into Chris’s observations. “He’s awful. Seriously. Do yourself a favor and forget you saw him.”

Chris couldn’t tear his eyes away. “He’s hard to forget.”

Sebastian made a face like he’d tasted something sour. “Not in a good way. Believe me.”

The statement roused Chris’s curiosity. Despite what people in Texas thought about male models, he found it lonely being gay in his profession. Most of them were straight, and many were incredibly shrewd businessmen. For a computer science-major dropout, the whole scene of beautiful, smart, straight boys was intimidating.

Sebastian gestured for Chris to follow him and then headed into the crowd. He pointed at a line of people studiously avoiding meeting anyone’s eye, and said something. Chris caught the word “important.” Or maybe Sebastian said “not important.” As they neared the speakers, which blasted bass so heavily it felt like a defibrillator sparking on his chest. It became increasingly difficult to discern Sebastian’s words.

Chris nodded and smiled as if he understood. He hoped he didn’t agree to something he’d regret.

As he shook hands with non-descript people, Sebastian mouthed the word “designer.” Chris smiled and carried on the polite pantomime conveying his pleasure at meeting them.

This seemed par for the course. He wondered if anyone had real conversations in New York. But then, so many creative things happened here, someone had to be talking to someone somewhere. Just not in this club.

When Chris’s ice cubes ran dry, Sebastian provided him with a fresh drink. After a few burning sips of real scotch, Chris realized he didn’t care for it. He’d thought ordering it would make him seem manly. Gagging, however, was not manly at all.

He wasn’t sure how long he’d been glad-handing the movers and shakers of the fashion world when he turned to find he’d been back to back with the infamous blond. Jason wore something completely different now: a hot pink satin bolero jacket with exaggerated puff sleeves and a collar that stood halfway up his scalp. From here, Chris could see the close cut up the back and a very unusual diagonal crop where his hair had been smoothed straight and hung over his ear.

Chris consulted his glass, wondering how long Jason’s quick-change had taken.

Jason whirled to face him, staring Chris down, his eyes now rimmed with ornate flowers and swords trailing down his perfect, airbrushed cheeks.

“Hold my purse.”

“What?” Without waiting for Chris to agree, Jason shoved the bejeweled pistol-shaped bag into his free hand. “But I…”

Too late. Jason swirled away, squealing in delight and hugging one of the designers Chris had met two minutes earlier. The designer seemed wary at first but didn’t protest. Whatever Jason said with his extravagant gestures hit the right note. Soon the designer smiled and nodded.

Though Chris had met the industry people present just moments before, it wasn’t until they realized he was carrying Jason’s purse that they truly noticed him. Some appeared jealous; some wore looks of pity. Sebastian pressed his lips together and shook his head.

When Chris, still holding the purse, held up his hands, in a gesture of helplessness something in the bag knocked against the side.

“That’s a gun, I hope you know,” Sebastian yelled even though he was close enough to Chris to be heard from a few feet away.

“I see that.”

“No, I mean inside the purse. He carries a gun.” Sebastian gave Jason a meaningful nod.

What could Chris say to that? He’d grown up in Texas. A gun in someone’s purse? Not unusual. Sneaking a gun into a club, however, was impressive.

“Why does he carry a gun?”

Sebastian gestured at Jason as if the answer was obvious.

When they’d started this discussion, Jason had been out of earshot. Now he stood right there, watching them with a tight-lipped smile. The look was armed with full-power semi-automatic snark.

“Sebastian!” Jason’s overenthusiastic voice attracted attention from the crowd. “How are you and that tiny cock of yours? Did the surgery do anything for it? You know, I’ve heard a penis pump might work. I bet I could track one down for you, sweetie.”

The flashing lights of the club couldn’t disguise Sebastian’s furious flush. His fists balled at his sides. Without missing a beat, Jason ducked in and hugged him like a long-lost friend and didn’t let go. Though it wasn’t necessary, he shouted every word for the benefit of his audience.

“Oh honey, I know you’re getting older, but did you mean to put on those extra pounds?” Jason pulled back, holding his arms out as if he’d grabbed something huge. He puffed out his cheeks a moment and then exhaled with a kiss. “But never you mind, Sebby. I think all that blubber looks good on you. More to love!”

Sebastian crossed his arms. He shook with restraint. “I hate you.”

Jason batted his lashes. “Hate you too, baby doll. Kiss, kiss.”

Sebastian narrowed his eyes, and his lips formed a hard, impenetrable line.

Jason stretched his arm across Chris’s shoulders and pulled him toward the exit. As they made their way to the door, Jason waved to people Chris assumed were his friends, saving a special, girly-sarcastic finger wiggle for Sebastian.

Chris couldn’t help but laugh. He should’ve felt sorry for Sebastian, but after a whole night of enduring his insufferable arrogance and ability to get anything he wanted, seeing him humiliated was satisfying.

Chris had heard New Yorkers were more direct than Texans, but he hadn’t yet seen a display that outrageous.

Jason surveyed Chris from the side. The corners of his lush lips turned up, the smile reaching his eyes.

“Liked that, did you?”

Chris nodded.

“Good. Because Sebastian’s a jackass.” When he looked away, Jason’s smile turned to a sneer that he directed at everyone.

Once they were outside, chill air hit Chris in the face, luxurious after the heat of the club. Light beamed from the streetlamps, but not enough to overpower the neon glare of competing advertisements. A line wound down the block, potential patrons stamping the ground like frustrated horses, blowing smoke into the air.

Considering what had just transpired, Chris worried how he would get home.

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