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by Lyn Gala
Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
Description: Vinnie Bernardi wants to leave his past as a repressed rich boy behind and find himself as a proud, gay submissive. Unfortunately, there's only one man who has ever successfully dominated him, and that man is unattainable. But Vinnie is slowly falling apart and needs a top to help him hold it together, so he decides to go ahead and make his move on Charleston, the military academy instructor at the center of his very favorite fantasies. Instead of finding his dream come true, Vinnie discovers the reality of Charleston's world is darker, more brutal, and more dangerous than he ever suspected. When Vinnie bumbles his way into Charleston's attentions, he stirs up ghosts from the other man's mysterious past--phantoms deadly enough that Vinnie begins to fear he might not survive long enough to get what he truly needs: love and a firm hand to shelter it.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2010 2010
eBookwise Release Date: September 2010
48 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [367 KB]
Reading time: 243-341 min.
The afternoon sun stabbed across the sky, and Vinnie narrowed his eyes against the glare. The wide lawns had been mowed today, and the smell of cut grass made his nose itch, but he couldn't scratch it. He needed both hands to scramble high enough into the oak tree to hide in the dense leaves.
The school's bells chimed at two p.m. exactly, the same as every day. Even though the sound drifted out through state-of-the-art speakers, the sound was actually a recording of old fashioned church bells. Vinnie wondered if the headmaster thought it would give the military school more dignity.
Whatever the reason, the sound of a dozen old brass bells chiming slightly out of time with each other had grown to be Vinnie's favorite aphrodisiac. Who would have thought that simple bells could be so kinky, and yet they were. Sometimes Vinnie felt like one of Pavlov's dogs, only instead of drooling, he got hard every time those slow, solemn bells rang.
He shifted on his branch and pushed on a higher limb to get a few more leaves out of his way. They would be coming soon: the runners.
Two years ago, Vinnie had been one of those runners. He'd listen to those bells and dread the coming order to fall out into companies. That had been before Joshua Sawyer Charleston had come. Rumor had it that wasn't his name, although Vinnie couldn't imagine why someone would choose a name like that, so it was probably his.
Considering the amount of time he and his classmates had spent discussing Commander Charleston and his mysterious identity, Vinnie found it more than a little ironic that now he really was living under an assumed name. No one at this school had ever known him as Vinnie, and the desperate little boy he'd been all the way up though his junior year had vanished along with his long-forgotten name. Of course, if Charleston really did have some reason for changing his name, he'd have a better reason than Vinnie. His story would involve gangsters and witness protection or foreign wars and enemy spies. Charleston was the sort of man who walked around with this air of leading-man confidence that made him seem larger than life.
Sometimes Vinnie had fantasies about finding Charleston's secret identity. Hell, most of his fantasies included Charleston in one form or another. But some of his favorites focused on finding some hidden clue to Charleston's mysterious past. Back when Charleston had just been one more instructor ordering him to do pushups, the fantasy had included blackmailing him. Oddly, even in Vinnie's fantasies, Charleston had kicked his ass rather than pay. However, by midterms Vinnie had pretty much fallen for the guy, and he'd grab his cock late at night and imagine some gangsters showing up on school grounds.
If Vinnie's real name showed up in this neck of the woods, it wouldn't be nearly as interesting. Oh, his father was sure to come looking. Lawyers and psychologists would descend on him along with threats about being cut out of the will, but Vinnie tried not to worry about that. He preferred to stick his head in the sand and hope that his past would just give up and move on. He was proud of his new name, though; he chose a name to show off his pride in his Italian heritage. Vinnie. It was a solid name with a long history of tough guys, and it gave him more confidence when he stepped out into the night or when he trespassed on school property to climb up a tree and watch a company running past.
Settling himself down in the crook of the branch, Vinnie slipped a hand inside his pants and watched as the company crested the hill. The upperclassmen were in front, their packs sticking up like hunchbacks. The front one was the captain, a pimply-faced boy with strong legs that Vinnie vaguely remembered from his own inglorious days in the academy.
Behind that group, came the middle-classmen who were allowed to run without packs. These were the ninth and tenth graders, and a few female faces appeared in this group. Vinnie always had good eyesight, and even from this distance, he could see the horror on one girl's face. Her hair had come loose and was winding around her body in long blonde waves that were definitely going to earn her demerits for being out of uniform. However, she kept running. And the reason for her unwillingness to break formation crested the hill.
Commander Joshua Sawyer Charleston. He was wearing shorts today, the summer heat beating down so that his shirt was already showing the first signs of sweat stains, and Vinnie groaned. Oh god. This was so worth risking getting arrested. Charleston ran at a steady pace beside the pack of students, his long legs hitting stride while younger ones scrambled to keep up.
Vinnie couldn't decide why he was so obsessed with the man, but the very sight of his gray hair and his strong body made Vinnie start to harden. The others whispered that he'd been a war hero--some sort of special forces or sniper, and Vinnie could believe that rumor. Charleston moved with power, without doubt, without fear. When the headmaster had walked in, and every other academy instructor had gone stiff with either respectful fear or fearful respect, Charleston had simply looked over with a lazy gaze before going right back to counting off the pushups he'd ordered Vinnie to do.
Fuck. Charleston did love giving orders. He had certainly loved giving Vinnie orders, and Vinnie had been shocked to find that he actually reveled in getting ordered around. For seventeen years, his father had tried ordering Vinnie to stop fucking up, ordering him to stop torturing nannies or soon-to-be stepmothers or soon-to-be ex-stepmothers. It turned out that Vinnie wasn't particularly good at orders until it was Charleston with his ice-cold gaze ordering him to hit the ground and keep doing pushups until he was permitted to stop or until his arms fell out of their sockets.
Vinnie stroked his thumb along his cock and groaned. Charleston was staring straight ahead, his gray hair streaked with the last remains of black that refused to fade away. That was the perfect metaphor for Charleston. He was just too stubborn to yield, even to time. His body certainly hadn't yielded. It was hard, curving muscle, and as the company jogged closer, Vinnie could see the way Charleston's body shone with sweat. He imagined his hand sliding over the smooth flesh and Charleston smiling at him with that odd, crooked smile that always looked just a little sarcastic. Charleston would reach out and grab the invading hand. Maybe he would pin Vinnie against some wall with his body, or maybe he would twist Vinnie's arm around and slip his other arm around Vinnie's neck, trapping him.
Vinnie's cock was hard now, hard and hot and ready to come, but Vinnie denied it. Permission denied, he told himself with a low chuckle. Instead, he slowed his strokes, torturing himself as the group jogged closer. The path was a good fifty yards from Vinnie's tree; he'd chosen it for its safe distance as much as for the view, but every time Charleston brought his company to that bend in the path closest to the tree, fear added its own spice to his lust.
What if Charleston caught him? Would the man remember him as the punk recruit he had taken in hand his first year here? Had Vinnie become one more faceless student who had taken a little more discipline than the others to bring into line?
That was a fear Vinnie always pushed to the side as fast as he could. He didn't want to be invisible, not to Charleston. He'd rather have the man hate him than forget him. He wanted to believe that Charleston had truly seen him every time the man had ordered him to do pushups in the center square or do pull-ups until his shoulders screamed with pain or ordered him to run the obstacle course in the pouring rain. He'd endured all that just to get one look of respect from those storm-gray eyes Charleston had. Some days he'd even earned it.
By the time Charleston was done running Vinnie ragged, Vinnie had been too tired to raid the girls' dorm or the kitchens. He hadn't even considered stealing the gardener's car and taking it for a quick ride that was sure to piss his father off. He hadn't even bothered cheating on his Latin exam by scaling the side of the main building and going in a half-open window the way he had his junior year. Of course, it helped that Charleston would quiz him on everything from Latin verb conjugations to the military history of Blackfoot Indians while making him do pushups, something about a good soldier being able to think and work at once.
Honestly, Vinnie hadn't given a shit about being a good soldier, but he had found himself considerably invested in pleasing Charleston. The man was sexy. And unlike most people, he didn't fall for Vinnie's charm or take an almost instant dislike to him.
Vinnie found most people had a pretty visceral reaction to him the moment they met him, and that reaction rarely had much to do with anything he'd done. It had to do with his green eyes and his dark hair, his broad shoulders and tanned skin and sultry good looks. People wanted him or they envied him, and Vinnie had learned to manipulate both of those responses. However, Charleston had been something new--something unexpected. He had charmed Vinnie instead. Vinnie had worked so hard, that every night he'd just fallen asleep until morning came, and Charleston roused them from bed with quiet threats of extra miles for anyone too lazy to get himself moving.
By the end of the year, Vinnie had been toned and hard--in more ways than one. He'd won three medals in the interscholastic athletic competitions his senior year, and even his father had been forced to express something that came close to pride at Vinnie's accomplishments. Of course, that had made it even more delicious when Vinnie refused to go to college. The old man's spluttering and Charleston's single raised eyebrow were forever linked in Vinnie's memory.
The group was approaching the bend now, and Vinnie held his breath, his hand wrapped tightly around his hard erection. The lack of oxygen played games with Vinnie's balance until the whole earth seemed to buck and heave under him. With his free hand, he hugged the tree limb while taking soft, panting breaths.
"Company halt!" The voice was so loud that it made Vinnie jump in his hiding place. Shit, shit, shit. What if Charleston caught him? Oddly, Vinnie's cock only grew harder as the danger increased. "Kestler, get that hair secured. Adams, either fix that shoe or head back to the barracks, and you and I can do our own run after chow."
Vinnie rested his forehead against the rough bark and groaned. He remembered Charleston's private runs. Run double-time some, get ordered to the ground for a dozen pushups, run double-time more, get ordered to do two dozen sit-ups with Charleston holding your legs. Equal parts heaven and torture.
Someone must have said something, because Charleston's commanding voice answered, "I don't care how you do it, but secure that hair or head back to barracks and report after chow for a private run with Cadet Adams."
Vinnie slowly allowed his hand to run up and down his hard cock. The end had wept enough precum that his shorts clung to his skin, and the pain of his delayed orgasm turned into a living creature that wrapped around him, squeezing until coming was all Vinnie cared about.
"Robinson, set pace. Quail, pick it up or you'll be third on tonight's run." Charleston's voice demanded obedience--unquestioning, immediate obedience, and Vinnie ached to be one of those cadets under Charleston's command again. Leaning to the right, Vinnie watched while Charleston paced the group, his sharp gaze watching as the company formed straight lines. Robinson called out for the group to start, and the students fell into a slow jog and started down the wide path. Charleston stood and watched them, critical, evaluating. God help anyone who fell short of his demanding standards.
Vinnie couldn't control his breathing anymore. He gasped for air, gulping it hungrily as his lust rose up around him, uncontrollable and uncontrolled. Oh God, he wanted to come. Fuck. If he could only come. However, Vinnie had never been a quiet fuck. He cried out, shouted, flailed and fucking sang soprano if his partner was good enough. Right now, his body was tingling and his cock aching so bad that he felt on a knife-edge, ready to come with a fucking scream, and if he did that, Charleston would see him... would know. But he had to come. Vinnie clung to the last of his control, his arms shaking. The last cadet jogged out of sight, and Vinnie devoured his last look at Charleston.
Then, without warning, Charleston turned and storm-gray eyes found Vinnie, pinned him to the tree as neatly as a butterfly pinned to a collector's page. Vinnie cried out, coming all over his hand and his shorts in a burst of need so strong that it wiped away all common sense and fear. One eyebrow twitched up, and that half-sarcastic, twisted grin graced Charleston's face for just one second, and then, it was like nothing had happened. Charleston turned and headed down the path, running double-time to catch up with the others, and Vinnie was left, panting and clinging to the tree-limb and still lost in that gray storm.
* * * *
That moment haunted him as he wandered through his day, dazed... and oddly sated from his orgasm. After he'd slunk home, he'd half-expected Charleston to come pounding on his apartment door. Hell, he had fantasies about it. In half his fantasies, Charleston had pushed him back into the wall and pinned him there while he quietly rattled off rules about how Vinnie's ass was his. One call to the police, and Vinnie would be in a world of shit for trespassing and public indecency, and that sort of police report would definitely attract the attention of Vinnie's father. Charleston would lay the blackmail out in simple terms that Vinnie could not debate, and Vinnie would be so very neatly caught in a trap of his own making.
In the other half of his fantasies, Charleston had pushed him back into a wall and then introduced him to Officer Friendly who promptly arrested him for public indecency. That one wasn't as much fun. He'd watched the afternoon courtroom shows with dread and hope curling in his stomach.
He tried to tell himself that he was safely hidden. His new identity had kept his father's goons off his back. Either the old man hadn't bothered to hire top of the line private eyes, or the forger who had sold Vinnie the papers had been as good as he'd bragged. However, Vinnie had the odd feeling that Charleston could still find him. He wasn't sure if he was being realistic about how screwed he was or romantic and stupid by trying to make Charleston out to be some kind of superhero, but his gut was twisted up so badly that Vinnie jumped every time the downstairs neighbor slammed a door, and he kept going to the windows, scanning the quiet street for some sign of either Charleston or Officer Friendly.
The sun had eventually started to sink, staining the sky pink, and Vinnie slipped out of his apartment slowly and cautiously. Every step, he'd looked around for Charleston, certain the man was going to leap out at him. In school, it seemed like Charleston had some sort of odd kink for sneaking up on him.
Just days after Charleston had first shown up to take over for the old physical trainer, Vinnie had been in back of the garage taking the headmaster's car apart. He'd had most of the bolts for the door off when he'd caught a flash of green against the stone wall. He'd turned, and Charleston had simply been there, leaning, watching. He wasn't standing near any door. In fact, the only door to the area was through the garage and Vinnie could see that. If Charleston had walked around the garage, the dogs would have made a god-awful racket, and they'd been silent.
To this day, Vinnie still couldn't figure out how Charleston had managed it--not unless he tunneled up through the ground or rappelled down from the roof, and those seemed a little extreme. Okay, they seemed a lot extreme. Charleston had ordered him to reassemble the parts and had promptly ordered Vinnie to the ground for about a million pushups. But then he had escorted Vinnie back to the dorms without telling anyone--not Vinnie's father or the headmaster. That had been the first time Vinnie had truly understood that he was out of his depth with Charleston. The man couldn't be manipulated or predicted.
And that belief that he was out of his depth followed him as he walked down the dark streets, searching every shadow for Charleston. He wasn't sure if he was relieved or disappointed when he got safely to work.
"Vinnie," RJ greeted him, her feet sticking out from under the counter, so he was guessing that the beer hoses were acting up again.
"How are all my favorite pervs?" Vinnie greeted the room enthusiastically.
The bartender pointed at him with the towel. "Speak for yourself. I happen to be a very normal faggot." Dan laughed at his own joke.
Vinnie laughed too. "You'd better watch the language in front of the boss."
RJ's only response was to reach out from under the counter and show them both her middle finger. Vinnie opened his mouth, right on the verge of saying something about how unladylike that was, but he liked his cock and balls still attached to his body, so he closed it without being a smart ass. "So, any big news tonight?" he asked instead. Dan was already pouring him a Coke.
"The toilet in the third stall keeps running."
"Ah, but that is definitely boss-lady's thing. I clean the toilets, and given my charm and good looks, that is clearly a waste of my considerable talents, but trust me, you do not want me touching anything mechanical."
"After the mess you made out of the register tape, I can believe that." Dan's snort made his disgust clear, but Vinnie just smiled prettily, and the man shook his head, a grin already tugging at the edges of his lips.
RJ pulled herself out from under the counter, her shirt streaked with gunk that Vinnie just did not want to think about. "I still feel like putting you over my knee and spanking your bare ass for that mess." Standing up, she wiped her hands on her jeans before testing the beer tap.
"Mmm. I've never turned down the offer of a good spanking," Vinnie said. RJ's narrow-eyed look sent him into full retreat, but he still managed to give her a little hip wiggle and a wink as he went. He might not have the genitals that she preferred, but if he had been a woman, he would have thrown himself at RJ and bared his ass. She scared him nearly as much as Charleston, and he liked scary.
"You're going to get yourself into trouble, boy," she warned. "Get the damn wall cleaned." She turned and headed for the back, and Vinnie sighed as he faced his work for the evening. No wonder he was so bored that he was off spying on really hot ex-teachers. The chalk wall was covered in graffiti, the floor had layers of broken chips and dust and general disgusting gunk that Vinnie did not want to think about, and the bathrooms... Vinnie sighed again. He should probably start there if RJ was going to have to fix a toilet. RJ in a bad mood was a tsunami; all you could do was get the fuck out of her way. He definitely didn't want to contribute to her bad mood.
Wrinkling his nose and letting himself feel one second of longing for the trust fund and inheritance he'd walked away from, he headed for the back where he kept the cleaning supplies. He'd finished cleaning the bathroom and was moving tables to sweep before RJ headed into the men's room with her toolkit.
Vinnie was scrubbing at chalk with an eraser when she came back out. The back wall of the club was a chalkboard that, by the end of the night, was usually full of stick-figure pornography. It amused the drunker patrons, and RJ was all about keeping the customers amused and drinking. He swiped the eraser through a pink stick figure of a man getting taken by three stick-Doms at once.
"I'd fire you, but then my wall would never get cleaned," RJ said as she came up behind Vinnie.
Vinnie gave her one of his charming smiles--one that worked on juvenile court judges and young women and customers in the strip club. RJ just looked at him. She was a little like Charleston that way. "Right. On it," Vinnie quickly said, scrubbing the stick lovers into oblivion. When Vinnie had first started working here, he'd been on the mortified side of embarrassed. He'd worked through that and reached lustfully interested, and now it was just all too boring. And when Vinnie found sex boring, his life was truly on the wrong path. He rubbed the wall a little harder and faster.
"Hey," RJ reached out and caught his arm, stopping him. Vinnie stopped and looked at his boss. She was a proud, dyke, cock-woman who loved to embarrass the shit out of virgins and loudly debate the physical attributes of just about anyone. The first night Vinnie had slunk into the bar--back when he was still using his real name and going to the military academy--RJ had found him and promptly started discussing how large his cock might or might not be. Then she'd found out he was underage and promptly kicked him out with a well-placed boot to the ass.
"Don't make me do this emotionally supportive shit," she sighed unhappily. "Just tell me what bug crawled up your ass and died." She ran her hand over her short, spiked hair, plopping down on top of one of the tables Vinnie had dragged to the side so he could sweep and mop easier.
"You're just sweet talking me because you want to get your cock up my ass," Vinnie told her with an impertinent wink. RJ might be gay as they came, but she'd been known to throw a few men over a tabletop before pegging them with her favorite strap-on harness. She wasn't an Amazon of a woman or even particularly large, but her five-foot, six-inch frame was all muscle and scary as hell. Vinnie had eight inches on her and a longer reach, and he still wouldn't tangle with her... not unless he was in a mood to lose and get pegged. Looking at her strong arms and her dark hair just starting to gray at the temples, Vinnie realized that it might not be half-bad to get pegged by RJ.
For a second, she just looked at him. "Babe, I could get my cock up there any time I put my mind to it. Your kinks are not exactly state secrets." RJ slid off the table and strode toward Vinnie so fast that he didn't have time to move out of the way before RJ had him backed up to the wall. Bringing her knee up, she put it into his crotch and then leaned forward into it. Vinnie froze. Right now he was pinned and uncomfortable, but one inch to the right, and that knee was going to make him sing soprano.
Bringing her hand up, RJ caught Vinnie by the back of the neck. "Get your head on straight or get out of the bar. With those big wounded eyes of yours, you're going to smell like catnip to any abusive son-of-a-bitch that walks through that door right now. Sometimes I swear you are too pretty for your own good." With a light slap to his face, RJ turned and headed back to the bar. "I'm not kidding," she said over her shoulder, "if you can't get your head out of your ass, finish the cleanup and head home. I'll find another dancer to take your shift."
"Great, I do all the shit work and someone else gets the glory." Vinnie thought he'd muttered that softly enough that no one would hear it, but RJ stopped near the bar and turned around to give him a murderous glare.
Vinnie cringed. "Which would be only fair if I couldn't get my head out of my ass, but my head is well on its way out, RJ!" he finished with a bright smile. RJ rolled her eyes. Turning back to the wall, Vinnie erased with feigned enthusiasm. Even if RJ was right, Vinnie resented her just a little. Maybe he wanted to be a bit abused. Besides, it wasn't like he was any of her business. She was just his boss. Once he reached the end of the wall and the very last pornographic stick figure--this time a man doing something that would not be advisable with a horse--he looked over.
She was doing the books, but her gaze kept slipping over toward him, and Vinnie gave her another bright smile. There wasn't anything that a good old-fashioned Vinnie smile couldn't fix. Her eyebrows drew down, and Vinnie took that as a signal to get the hell out of dodge, at least until the boss-lady was busy elsewhere.
Taking the two erasers he'd used on the wall, he headed out to the side entrance where the liquor came in.
"Hey, Vinnie," one of the others greeted him as he trotted up the side stairs, a bag with this dance outfit slung over his shoulder. He was just a dancer--he didn't do the clean-up or prep work Vinnie did. He danced a few nights a week and then went to school to be some hot-shot lawyer. He had student loans to make up for what dancing couldn't provide, so no scrubbing toilets for him. Vinnie felt a flash of unfamiliar jealousy. Of his many faults, that generally wasn't one.
"Hey, Tom. What's hanging and how low?" Vinnie asked with a salacious eyebrow wiggle. Tom just shook his head and went inside. As the heavy service door drifted closed, Vinnie groaned at his own idiocy. Tom was one of the few dancers who definitely weren't gay or even bisexual, so he was probably not the one to make low-hanging testicle jokes with. Damn it. Vinnie was totally off his game today, and he could not get back on it.
Leaning over the metal railing around the low stairs, Vinnie prepared to beat the erasers together when the bar's cat came wandering down the alley, hunting or patrolling or whatever he did when he wasn't getting spoiled by the cook who left scraps for him outside the kitchen doors. Vinnie pounded the erasers together, and a pastel cloud of chalk dust rose into the air. Whites and pinks and yellows swirled together before they slowly settled toward earth. The leading edge caught the cat's shoulder, and the animal darted forward, scattering the rest of the cloud with his tail; however, a long streak of pink was left along the animal's black flank. The cat gave Vinnie a yellow-eyed stare and then strutted past, feigning indifference to the pink chalk that dusted its coat. Vinnie could practically hear the animal accuse humans of being juvenile.
"Nope, not humans, just me," Vinnie confessed. He watched the cat vanish behind the dumpster with an angry tail twitch. "Just me." Gaying up the cat with a little pink dust was nothing compared to this afternoon's escapades.
What if Charleston contacted his father? The school would have that contact information; after all, his father hadn't moved his fat ass in over forty years, so he sure as hell hadn't moved in the last three. No, the old man would only move if forced, and if Vinnie's mother hadn't been enough to shame him into moving, Vinnie doing a runner sure as hell wouldn't.
Turning his back to the rail, Vinnie leaned back and wondered if he shouldn't call his mother and check to see if that bridge was still open and ready for him to make a full retreat. While he hadn't seen her in close to fifteen years, she took his collect calls. She cared... in her own drunken way. Then again, after being married to Vinnie's father, the woman deserved to indulge a little. Richard Martello had married her, humiliated her, driven her into the bottle, and then divorced her without sharing one cent of his many millions.
Family trust money was not actually owned by family members--only held in trust. Vinnie remembered his father coming home from court and bragging about that bit of legal maneuvering that had left Vinnie's mom penniless and homeless. His father had celebrated that night, and a couple of very well-endowed women had been happy to help him spend the money that Richard had not been forced to turn over to his ex-wife.
If Charleston called his father, Vinnie's whole life just might unravel in a series of angry accusations and blackmail. If his father couldn't control Vinnie's life, he'd ruin it, and Vinnie didn't have a whole lot of doubt on that front. Shit. He never should have taken such a risk. His mom would take him in and give him a home, if by home he was willing to accept a musky and ready-to-be-condemned apartment in the worst part of Fort Worth. Vinnie liked his life here. He liked dancing for men. He loved the look of lust that came into men's faces when they saw Vinnie on stage.
And he'd risked it all. For what? Vinnie felt a wave of self-loathing. He'd risked everything to indulge in a stupid fantasy about a man who was probably straight as a fucking ruler. Even worse, his cock was hardening even now at the very memory. Charleston's blue-gray eyes captured him for that one moment, and Vinnie was just pathetic enough that one second of life caught in that stare was worth all the risk.
"RJ's right," Vinnie said softly to the universe at large, "I am so headed for a fall." But sadly, Vinnie had no idea how he was supposed to avoid hitting the ground at full speed. In fact, he was already falling, and catching himself midair... well, the cat might be able to do that, but Vinnie had always been more for falling on his ass and then charming everyone with a smile to convince them it hadn't hurt at all.
"Vinnie, move your cute ass," RJ's voice snapped him back to reality.
"Coming!" Vinnie called, not willing to push RJ's buttons. Plenty of nights he had fun with that, but tonight he didn't want to get eaten alive by the boss-lady. "Am I doing the warm-up show, oh grand queen of my world?" Vinnie asked as he trotted into the back of the club with his best grin on his face. If his life fell apart, he'd deal, but right now, he wanted to feel the power of making others helpless with lust. RJ kept telling him he could be a headline stripper if he learned to work the crowd, but Vinnie preferred to find one poor sap and pour all his charm into making one man lose all coherent thought.
RJ gave him a dirty look that made it perfectly clear he was on her shit list. "Do the food runs," she ordered him. Vinnie's grin faded as he faced his punishment.
"RJ, come on," he pleaded. She turned around and pinned him with a look that promised pain. He was starting to wonder if she was Charleston's long lost sister or something, because they did share one seriously cold glare.
"You know the law. You keep yourself fully covered. You do not touch patrons, and you do not make any offers that could be construed as prostitution."
"Hey," Vinnie objected, but RJ's glare shut him up. Once or twice he had been tempted into a little side work, but it wasn't the money. Sometimes he just wanted to know that he had the power to make men pay for it, but he'd always kept any business far away from RJ's place.
"I get one fine, and it's coming out of your backside. Not your pay--you. And if I put you over my knee, I promise that you are not going to enjoy it for even one second. Got it?" RJ demanded.
"Got it," Vinnie agreed, hiding his frustration. At least he thought he was hiding it; from the evil look RJ was giving him, maybe not. Damn. He'd needed the control tonight. He'd needed to walk the stage and manipulate some middle-class jerk who came to a gay joint to get his rocks off before going home to the wifey and pretending to be straight. He needed men to look at him with desire.
The memory of a single, curious raised eyebrow flashed though his mind. He needed to erase Charleston, and he couldn't do that if he got stuck carrying chip bowls and emptying ashtrays. It wasn't exactly a glamorous job. And RJ wasn't a woman who backed down once she gave an order. Vinnie sighed as he went to grab cheap tortillas out of the pantry. Count on RJ to know if one bowl went empty tonight, and Vinnie did not need that grief.