“How’s your week been?” I asked my companion.
He gave a half-smile, as if he knew I was trying to put him at his ease, yet he was grateful for the small talk.
“It’s been crap. That’s why I’m here, actually. I didn’t want to go straight home after work tonight.”
I murmured in an understanding way and carefully put both my hands on the top of the bar, fingers spread. I was inviting him into conversation. Didn’t want to look grabby.
“Do you know what you want, instead? Are you ready to talk about it?”
His laugh was more of a bark. “Do I still look like I’m confused?”
Yes, I thought, but didn’t say. “It’s just that I find it’s better to be frank. Practicality clears the air. Lets us all know where we are.”
“Practical. Yes. I guess that’s what this place is. What the whole… thing… is.”
I nodded again. Because it was.
He took a slow breath and seemed to settle. “Well. I’d like someone experienced.”
“Most of us are.”
“Oh. God, yes, I’m sure. I mean, someone who’s mature. Calm about it all. I’m not looking for melodrama. Nothing out of the ordinary.”
God, he was gorgeous. So serious, so sensible, talking about what his body needed, what he might be craving. His gaze was steady, but the flicker in his eyes was incendiary. So bloody needy, even if he didn’t admit it to himself.
“Any preference as to age? Looks? Ethnicity? Build?”
He swallowed. His gaze ran quickly, guiltily over my forearms. I’d rolled up my sleeves while I was helping Arne in the kitchen earlier, and never bothered to smarten myself up again. My muscles were thick, I knew. I was proud of them. But I’d loomed over him as we walked into the bar, like some hulking bear beside a more graceful, fragile creature. My hands must be half again the size of his.
“Well, maybe,” he said, his voice low. “Someone who will… Oh, shit.”
“Just say it. You can’t shock anyone here, believe me.”
“Someone who’ll spend time with me. I know what I want to happen, but…”
“You’d like some courting.”
“What an old-fashioned word. But, yeah.” He looked ridiculously relieved. “I haven’t… well, that’s a kind way of putting it.”
“We don’t throw you on a bed and ravage you,” I said, but gently, so I hoped he saw the joke. “Unless you ask for it, of course.”
He chuckled. “I know. I mean, someone told me this was a safe space. A place I’d be understood.”
I’d have to find out who recommended us to this lovely young man. They deserved thanks.
“As I said before, you’re the client,” I continued. “You can ask as much or as little as you like. We follow your instructions.”
“You do?” There was another spark of lightning in those winter-wind eyes. “And the escort is my choice?”
“Yes, of course. You can have all that, everything you described. The Haven can give you that.”