MARK'S OPENING GAMBIT
The son of a wealthy business man, Mark Addison is an expert at chess and hiding. Mason Grant labors with his hands in a menial position; he's open about who he is and what he wants in ways that terrify Mark. Their paths shouldn't have crossed, but now that they have...
They came from different backgrounds, yet each adheres to his own version of family duty and responsibility. One would make any sacrifice for his family's well being. For Mason Grant that means leaving school at sixteen and working hard while living as a man of integrity to set an example for his brothers.
The other would sacrifice anything to keep his family life calm. If that means hiding who he really is from his high society, narrow-minded parents, then that's what Mark Addison will do. He just wants to run his shop, host a few tournaments, play a few games of chess.
When Mason meets fussy, precise chess tournament director Mark, he isn't expecting much more than a few hours of uncomfortable sleep in his car while his brother plays.
One disdainful look from Mark changes that.
Mason surreptitiously glanced around the neat interior of the Mark's Opening Gambit. The café-slash-chess parlor wasn't his first choice of places to spend a Saturday, but when his brother begged a ride to the tournament, he'd caved immediately, despite the exhaustion and body aches he'd earned the night before. Unloading trucks and stocking shelves at the grocery store wasn't a mentally challenging job, but the night shift paid a dollar an hour more and the extra money came in handy. Times were tough, and a guy without a high school diploma didn't stand a whole lot of a chance of doing something better. It also left his mom free to take the day shift at the hospital where she worked, and he was available during the days to ferry his brothers around to their high school events and activities.
Such as chess tournaments hosted by button-down dress shirt-wearing, hot as hell, snooty men. He might have been a bit more eager to play chauffeur if he'd realized the Mark his brother had spoken of glowingly was such an eyeful. He'd stepped through the shop door behind Johnny to find his gaze locked with a pair of eyes so deep and golden it was like he'd stepped into honey. He couldn't glance away for the longest time, and it took the other man's slow flush to make him realize he was being rude. That first sight of the tournament host had sent a warm awareness through him. He really wished that the sight of Mark Addison—Jesus, even his fucking name was holier than thou—wasn't so appealing. Mark was perfect. Fucking perfect, or perfect for fucking, with his neatly trimmed brown hair, touched with golden highlights, his slim, wiry body, not the product of a gym but of a man who led an active life. His lips enticed Mason, and he wanted to pull the puffy lower one between his teeth and bite down, to suck it into his mouth and devour the man with kisses. He wanted to touch the pale skin and see if it was as soft as it appeared, as cold as it seemed, to stroke away the distance in those eyes and make the other man notice him.
The golden-brown gaze didn't warm in the slightest under his own admiring regard, but scanned his faded Levi's and tight T-shirt with disapproval. Mason half expected to be informed he didn't meet the dress code for the elegant little shop. Instead, Mark Addison looked him over and dismissed him as though he were beneath notice.
Shrugging off the snobbery, Mason slapped his brother on the back. "Go get 'em, kid. Or whatever you guys call it." He hoped to sleep in his car while his brother played and turned to leave immediately.
Addison's eyes again, tried for a smile, but the arrogant
host stared right through him. "Students participating in the tournament
are to be supervised by adults at all times."
The inflectionless voice grated on his nerves as much as the pronouncement. It wasn't like these were two year-olds, for God's sake. It was Chess Club. By virtue of their very geekiness, they were mature, well-behaved teens.
Too bad such a sexy voice and face belonged to such a prick. Unfortunately for Mason, he couldn't focus on Johnny's progress through the tournament. All he seemed able to focus on was that slim figure moving between the tables, the unconscious grace of the small man's movements, the seductive draw of tightening khaki across his backside as he bent to survey a board or pick up something from the floor.
He scowled as Mark glared at him again, turning and facing resolutely out the window into the parking lot. In the reflection the glass provided, he watched Mark excuse himself from Ainslie, the kids' coach, and head in his direction, a determined expression on his face.
Good. The self-righteous prick had noticed him. Mark stopped right next to him, and they stood staring out into the parking lot together.
"Stop staring at me like that."
Mason snorted, turned to look down at the shorter man. "Like what?"
The older man twitched and licked his lips. Mason stifled the groan that wanted to escape. He shifted restlessly.
"You know. Like...that."
"Like I want to throw you over my shoulder and take you out of here and fuck you? Sorry. Can't do that." Fascinated, he noted the flush on Mark's cheekbones deepen, heard the hitch in his breathing, and knew that he'd been right. Chemistry burned between them.
"You..." Mark glanced cautiously around the shop at the kids concentrating so fiercely on their chess games, the proud parents and coaches peering anxiously at their little darlings. Mark stuttered to a stop before starting again. "Not here. We need to talk privately. Meet me behind the shop in ten minutes."
Whoa. He hadn't expected that. Maybe Mark's buttoned-down appearance was deceptive. Mason looked forward to cracking that calm reserve and proving to the man that the clothes they wore didn't define their roles. He nodded in acknowledgment, and Mark wandered away to check on the progress of the tournament. Mason headed straight to the front door, aware all the while of Mark's furtive glances. He exited the shop and headed to his beat-up old Jetta, so at odds with the shiny BMWs and SUVs that surrounded it in the parking lot.
A brief stop at the car to pick up some things he'd need and he strolled casually around the corner of the building, thankful that the chess café was at the end of the strip mall and not in the middle. Behind the shop was a dumpster, and strangely enough, a wrought iron table and two chairs on the cemented area that should have been an unloading bay. Mason noted with interest the ashtray and coasters on the table. A few potted palms provided a bit of shade and some privacy but not enough for anything too intimate. Mark had created a little garden back here. Mason's absorption in the details of the environment convinced him that he'd overestimated Mark's intentions. More private than the store itself, yes, but hardly secluded enough for any real interaction of a physical sort.
He spied Mark peering through the back door of the shop. At the grocery store where Mason worked, the back doors were battered and grimy. Not so at Mark's Opening Gambit. The door to the back room of the shop was a shiny, pure white, fresh scrubbed, or painted or whatever. Not so much as a fingerprint marred its pristine surface, much like not so much as a hair on Mark's head dared stray out of place. It made Mason want to grab a crayon and write on the walls, muss up the environment just like he wanted to muss up those locks of brown hair. Mark's sweet lips pressed tightly together, and his cheeks flushed, from anger or arousal maybe, as he caught sight of Mason.
Mason found his gaze drawn to those lips, wanting to pry them apart and soothe the tension from them with caresses of his mouth and tongue. He licked his suddenly dry lips in anticipation as Mark approached.
Honey-colored eyes sparkled with emotion as Mark came within touching distance. Mason fought the urge to yank him even closer as Mark halted, gazing up. He felt again the strange drowning sensation as he stared down into those eyes, unable to glance away. Thank God Mark seemed to experience it, too, because whatever angry words he'd been about to spout died on his lips as Mason ran a big, calloused palm along the smooth-shaven curve of Mark's jaw, feeling his indrawn breath as much as he heard it. The softness of Mark's jaw on his own work-roughened skin was thrilling, and Mason bent down, tilting his head to the side before smoothly bringing their lips together. With the merest brush of contact, he paused to allow Mark the chance to refuse the kiss, to pull away, to slap his face, to ream him out for having the gall to touch.
When no protest came, he sighed with relief. His eyelids drift shut, and he pressed his parted lips more firmly on the soft, sweet lips below his own. Carefully, ignoring the throbbing demands of his body, he tasted the plump curves that had held his gaze. Not wanting to startle Mark, Mason ran his tongue lightly over those sensual lips, sliding his hand from the taut line of jaw around to the nape of Mark's neck, burying his fingers in the fine, silky strands of hair there.
Mark's unresisting acquiescence was far from the response he wanted. He guided the man's head to a better angle and slipped his tongue into the waiting cavern. Mark trembled in response. Mason wanted Mark to burn as he did, to feel the same urgent desire to throw caution to the wind and make love here in the open behind the shop. He wouldn't go that far in this public setting, of course, but he wanted to strip away the distance in Mark's eyes and make him a part of the present, force him to respond, to reach for Mason with the same urgency that Mason yearned for him.
He'd nearly given up when Mark shoved him abruptly away, glaring at him with angry golden eyes. Instead of the passion he'd hoped to inspire, the other man appeared scared, panicky even. Mason stepped forward, guilt urging him to offer comfort.
Mark scowled at Mason and pushed backward, dropped into one of the wrought iron chairs, and reached into a pocket to pull out a packet of cigarettes. His gaze darted left and right as though searching for someone. "No. What the hell do you think you're doing?"
Guilt at causing Mark's near panic, anger at being pushed aside, and to some degree sheer exhaustion had words spilling from Mason's mouth before he could evaluate them. "Hey, I get it. No means no. Yeah. Like I'd want to kiss a wax doll again anyway."
He spun on his heel and stalked away from the little oasis in back of the strip mall, ignoring Mark's harshly indrawn breath behind him. He shoved a hand into his pocket and curled his fingers tightly around the condom and lube he'd shoved there. Thinking with his dick. Fucking lucky he hadn't gotten knocked on his ass literally instead of figuratively.
Mark inhaled the smoke of his cigarette, striving to get his heart rate back under control. He glanced cautiously around the back area of the shop. Foolish to be so paranoid, but he really couldn't take the chance that any of his father's other tenants would see and mention the kiss. Shrugging off his unease, he stubbed the cigarette out in the little ashtray and returned to the shop. He closed the door carefully behind him. It was regrettable that Mason Grant had misunderstood his comment. He'd have liked to explain that it wasn't the kiss he objected to. Dear God, what a kiss that had been! No, it was the location of the kiss.
He couldn't do PDAs. He'd meant to flirt a little, maybe exchange phone numbers, but the passion in those brown eyes had rendered him speechless, and before he could do anything, he'd been wrapped up in a kiss that hit all his buttons. He was fortunate he'd managed to break away before they'd ended up engaged in sexual relations right there on the patio behind the store.
Maybe inviting Mason Grant to the back patio had been the wrong thing to do. He stood in the tight confines of the hallway, bracing himself to enter the fray once more. Sally, his mother's bridge partner's youngest daughter, stood serving coffee behind the counter. He couldn't be sure that she would report anything she saw to his mother, but there was always the possibility.
Ainslie, the kids' chess team coach, was a bit safer. He was gay as well, but his family had accepted his preferences. However, Ainslie was his father's partner's son and could easily let something slip in casual conversation that would send Mark's father on a rampage and his mother into a cold silence. Ainslie wandered between the tables studying his players' moves, putting a comforting hand on a shoulder here and there. They'd been friends since birth, but he couldn't ask Ainslie to keep his secrets any more than he could share with Ainslie the bitter traumas of his youth. If you hadn't lived it, it was unimaginable.
The shop was his life, his dream, his most treasured accomplishment. His parents had reluctantly agreed to allow him to open the shop as a sort of consolation prize, for giving up what they termed his "foolish preferences." It might be his intellectual haven, but it wasn't a safe place to be attracted to someone. His parents could and would cancel his lease and shut down his business if he didn't follow their life plan, which included vetting the type of people he dated. Mason Grant was too blue collar, too brash, too male for his parents. Someone male definitely would not make their list of approved partners for their only son.
Through the shop window, he tracked Mason to a faded red Jetta. Strolling casually among the tables, he kept one eye on the handsome, younger man. He was reluctant to let Mason go but couldn't see how he could make arrangements to see him again without behaving suspiciously.
Mason got into the car and leaned his head back, stretching his arms over his head. Mark stifled a groan as he visualized that broad chest bare. Mason slumped forward to rest his head on the steering wheel of the little car, the picture of defeat. He rested that way a moment before sitting upright and fumbling a pair of dark sunglasses on. The seat reclined completely, taking Mason out of Mark's view.
The tournament was entering its final three rounds. Several tiers of participants had been eliminated already, though most stayed to observe the remaining games. Each participant received a gift certificate for a free beverage, which Mark donated. Encouraging kids to learn and play the Game of Kings was his only incentive to host these tournaments. From here on out the winners would receive a variety of prizes from books and equipment to private lessons.
Mark kept a close eye on the kid who'd come in with Mason earlier. Johnny Grant was a player who showed great promise. He hadn't been to a tournament here before, so Mark was sure he was a novice, but he had a great deal of potential. Unfortunately, his raw skills weren't balanced by knowledge, and he didn't seem to plan his moves very far ahead. The kid would probably do very well with a few private lessons.
Mind made up, Mark approached Ainslie for a whispered consultation. Ainslie agreed with him, beaming in approval. Mark hastily shuffled back to the office to print the gift certificate he wanted before the round ended. Four players would be eliminated this round, and each of them would need to receive the same certificate for six private lessons.
As predicted, Johnny was eliminated in the round. As the youth got up from the table, struggling to hide his disappointment, Ainslie approached him and the three other students who'd failed to advance. He gathered the boys at the back of the shop while Mark rearranged the tables and materials for the next round. Sally came from behind the counter to help fold and put away the extra chairs while the boys walked around stretching their legs. Mark tried not to cringe as young hands curiously touched leather bound books and priceless statuary.
The ding of the clock announced that the semifinal round was beginning, and the four players took their seats at the tables. Mark waited just a moment to see that the opening rules were followed and then scurried back to the youths waiting near his door. He presented each one with their certificate of participation and ranking, and the prize he and Ainslie had decided upon. Johnny Grant lit up with excitement when he saw the certificate for free lessons, but then his expression dimmed as he thanked Mark politely.
"What's wrong, Johnny?" Ainslie asked.
"I'm not going to be able to take these lessons." The boy's disappointment was clear. "My brother... He works at night, and driving over here after school, then getting back in time for his shift at the grocery store, it would be hard for him."
Mark forced his face into calm disinterest. "Would it be better if I came to your house?"
The youth perked up again. "Could you?"
"Sure. Let me talk to your brother about it, okay? I'll walk out with you." He shoved his hands in his pockets to hide his own trembling excitement at approaching Mason again. Private lessons in the boy's home would give him the opportunity to get to know Mason better as well.
He walked out to the car with Johnny, explaining that each lesson would last an hour and require homework on Johnny's part. As they approached the car, Mason sat up and rolled down the window but didn't remove the dark glasses. Mark wished he would. He wanted to see those brown eyes again, to see if the pure passion he'd seen before was still there. The remembered lust in Mason's gaze gave him courage that he normally didn't have.
Instead he pulled a business card from his shirt pocket and handed it through the window. "Johnny has won private lessons. He tells me transportation is an issue, so I offered to give the lessons at his home. Please call me at this number to make arrangements."
Mason Grant nodded, cleared his throat, and then spoke in a husky, sleep-worn voice. "We'll call." The window rose before Mark could add anything to the conversation, and he turned back to his shop and the tournament, discouraged. It seemed unlikely from the animated conversation the two brothers held in the car behind him, that he would be getting that phone call.