Titanium

 

Chapter 1

Raffael

 

Nothing gets me in deeper shit than someone saying, “I dare you.”

My excuse? I have none. Thrilling challenges are my weakness. One day, they’ll be my downfall for sure. The one tonight only costs me my integrity, thank God. And maybe a little bit more, but that remains to be seen.

My butt is glued to the seat of the horrible brown rust-bucket that almost died of exhaust pipe cancer when I drove it here. All the way through London, pitch-black smoke rose from the 1981 Ford’s rear end as if a genie were trying to worm its way out of that porous pipe. Unfortunately, the fog does little to shield me from the judging eyes of the racing community as I roll through the fifty-something pimped cars that turned up to show off and maybe race for some money. Not a bad Friday night.

I kill the engine and get out of the car, leaning against the door. The dubstep beats blaring from all sides of the parking lot behind the closed supermarket in Enfield vibrate through my body. Everything here pulsates, not just the pussies of the two dolly-birds sashaying in my direction. Felix, sitting on the hood of the hot, carbon-gray car that doesn’t fit him at all, checks out the twins in their cut-offs and bandeau tops with their knee-high boots. He grins at me. I know what he’s thinking. They could save me. But even with the way they look down their noses at me and hold back smiles, I can tell they won’t come anywhere near me as long as I’m hanging around this butt-ugly car that I’ve been forced to drive around with this week. Or for much longer if I can’t get one of the many play-bunnies here to kiss me before midnight.

Making out doesn’t usually present much of a difficulty for me. Girls like my Nordic-blond hair that is buzzed short on the sides and left long on top. It keeps falling into my eyes as I level dominant looks on them, my gaze eating them up. But getting close to one of these haughty pigeons with a pile of scrap metal tied to me in a place where the cheapest car still costs more than fifty grand is a challenge. One I might have underestimated. Damn Felix for baiting me so easily with an offer of an airbrush painting for my car. But he’s a genius when it comes to that, and what I want will take him days.

What’s more, the prospect of fucking Tanja in my playroom was too hot an offer to decline. Tanja, in her black mini, looks a lot better against the shiny Corvette than Felix does. Double wagers with my two best friends—surely, my death.

I’ve done Tanja on more than one occasion. The slim, ebony-haired beauty loves fetish sex as much as I do, and ever since I eased her into the world of bondage and discipline three years ago, I knew no one else could fulfill my needs as perfectly as she does.

It’s almost a shame that I couldn’t agree to the relationship thing with her when the subject came up. She’s always wanted the full package. Cuddling and stuff. Not just bondage and punishment. Well, not only. Unfortunately, I’m not a cuddly person, and I’m definitely not the right boyfriend for her. Felix would be a lot better in that department. He enjoys keeping her until breakfast after they’ve slept together, but he’s not into kinky sex. Too bad for Tanja. But, all in all, it makes us the perfect little band of friends—with the occasional stranger-fuck once in a while.

“Want me to call some of my friends to kiss you free, Björnsson?” Tanja taunts me with her mega-watt smile. Oh, that will bring her an extra spanking, and not a gentle one—at least once I rightfully win her for the coming weekend.

“I don’t need your mercy, sweetness,” I tell her through a lopsided return-smile. “I’ll have none for you either.”

She laughs, but I detect that she’s thrilled to the bone about what I’m going to do with her. I can see it in her gleaming brown eyes. Felix loosely drapes an arm around her neck, his black leather jacket riding up as he levels me with a sporting glance. “Don’t hurt her too bad. She’ll cock-block me for days if you go too rough on her.”

Rough is what they call me.” I waggle my brows. And it’s true. In more than one way.

A low-riding white Honda cruises past and glides into the empty parking space behind my current ride, dragging my gaze away from the girl I want to tie up and screw. It’s the only free spot left, or the driver likely would have found a space far, far away from the rust-bucket that also sports a tin watering can on the roof. Felix is a sadist. He’d actually do well in a playroom.

The guy who gets out of the Honda wears a shit-eating grin and flips his black ballcap around. The strip between the fabric and the adjustable band captures a few strands of dark hair and makes it flop against his forehead. I’ve never seen him or his car before at one of these illegal street races, but if he can drive as well as his car is sexy, he definitely came to the right place. If you can handle a sports car, it’s easy to make a few grand a night. Most guys here put more effort into pimping their rides than honing their driving skills, though. It’s actually shocking how often they overestimate themselves.

I own an apartment in Mayfair, one hundred and eighty square meters on two levels, right beneath the roof of the ninth and top floor. To be fair, half my money came from an inheritance from when my grandmother in Iceland died. She willed me some land that I could sell when I started my architecture studies. But the rest comes from illegal races all over London. I’m good at what I do. In my playroom and on the street.

The guy with the hat walks around my hood, not sparing me or the old banger a second glance. I didn’t expect it anyway. He aims straight for the Corvette and circles it with a covetous gleam in his eyes, his gaze locked on the car’s flawless finish, twenty-one-inch rims, and the license plate that reads: ROUGH. Done with his inspection, the man stops in front of Felix, with his hands in his pockets, and narrows his eyes at my best friend. “Are you Raffael?” he asks with a dark south-coast accent.

Oh. Now it’s getting interesting. I straighten a little in my lean against the rusty ride and cross my arms over my black and white t-shirt, listening in on what the dude has to say to the Stingray C7’s real owner. Tanja casts me a skeptical glance, but I just shake my head.

“Who wants to know?” Felix retorts, keeping his cool.

“My name is Sebastian Rhyse.” He holds out a hand, frowning with obvious confusion at Felix’s stark red hair. Somebody must have given him a description because I would bet my car—my real car—that he expected platinum blond. “I’m new in town and was told the Stingray makes for fine competition.”

Felix eases his arm from around Tanja’s shoulders and smacks his hand into Sebastian’s to shake. “Felix Tyrone. That’s not my C7.” He sneers at me, then continues speaking to Sebastian. “But it might very well change owner tonight.”

I laugh. “You wish.”

Sebastian casts me a look over his shoulder. I can see when realization clicks into place at the color of my hair. He tilts his head and lets his gaze roam down the length of my body in a way that holds a surprising amount of interest. His eyes take a while to fix on mine, and then the left corner of his mouth hikes up. “You are Raffael?”

I shrug, a cynical smile riding my lips. “True, I look young for twenty-three years, but I’ve got my driving license, I promise.” I push away from the rust-bucket, unfortunately taking the door handle with me. It clatters to the ground, and I stare at it for a moment with my hands in the pockets of my black skater pants. Yeah, that’s just…shit. Sighing, I leave it be and turn to the stranger. “What do you want with my car?”

His sneer makes his eyes gleam. “In the best possible scenario, the ownership papers.” Black Maori tattoos emerge from beneath the rolled-up sleeve of his black shirt and run along his entire right forearm. I find the pattern strangely relaxing. Everything is structured within the lines. Rules have always centered me. When I look closer, I see he sports a simple, beautiful leather bracelet on his left wrist that harmonizes well with the New Zealand-style tattoos. That he wears his black watch on his right wrist irritates me a little, though. It’s the wrong place for a watch.

“You want to race me?” I demand.

“You’ve got a reputation. I’m always up for interesting challenges.”

Yeah, me, too. I’ve won several cars in the past, mostly selling them for good money afterwards. On rare occasions, I lost them again in other races, yet I barely ever bet my Corvette. My baby is holy to me. But right now, I only have the scrap metal behind me to offer. And Sebastian doesn’t look as if he’ll accept the papers to that one. “Sorry to disappoint you. At present, I’m not really in a position to decide on my car.”

I’m not even allowed to drive it. And since tonight’s race will start in just a few minutes, it’s doubtful that a cute bunny will kiss me free before all racers roll toward the starting line. Especially since I haven’t even begun to flirt any of them close yet.

Sebastian’s straight, dark brows tip toward the bridge of his nose.

“Stupid bet. Long story,” I explain without him asking the question out loud.

Felix pulls Tanja between his legs and folds his arms beneath her breasts. With his chin on her shoulder, he chuckles. “A voluntary kiss from anyone here before the race is over while leaning against”—he nods toward the Ford—“that?”

“Ah, yeah…” Sebastian rubs his neck, looking around the place brimming with beautiful people and even more beautiful rides. He definitely seems familiar with the shallowness of the scene. “That’s going to be hard.”

Hard, but not impossible. Though I should stop chatting with strangers already and get down to business.

“What are the rules?” he demands, swinging back to Felix. “Girls only?”

What kind of stupid question is that? My friends both grin like lunatics, and Felix waves a relaxed hand. “If Raff thinks he can attract some guys to make out with him, he can do so as much as he likes.” He throws his head back and laughs. “Damn, now I wish I’d made this a rule from the start.”

The level look in Sebastian’s dark eyes raises a weird feeling in my gut as his gaze travels over me once more. He smirks at Felix. “No, you don’t.” One second later, he closes the distance between us in two determined strides. The next thing I feel is the door of the rusty Ford against my back, and a male body pressed flush to my front. It knocks the wind out of my lungs. Sebastian grabs my face with both hands and lays a fucking kiss on my lips.

Jesus Christ!

My whole body goes rigid. Only my hands clash against the metal of the rust-bucket for help, support, anything. But there’s no escape from this moment.

The two inches Sebastian has on my six-foot-one frame are unnoticeable as he dips down and tilts his head sideways. When his tongue slips into my mouth and drags across mine in a sensual caress, I can taste his last cigarette on it, mixed with something sweeter, perhaps a Coke. To my utter astonishment, a man’s tongue feels very much like a woman’s. Only his light stubble scraping against my shaved skin makes the kiss different—and fills it with an unexpected carnality. Hell, this is odd.

And even stranger is that my body wants to give in. Fuck, I’m not enjoying this, am I? Well, no way in hell! My hackles rise at the awareness that the entire racing community of London might be watching this.

The moment is over as fast as it started, and Sebastian lets me go. Lips still in a sensuous curve, he takes a step back and tucks his hands into the pockets of his ripped jeans. He’s cool.

I’m not.

With a deep, confused frown, I place my fingertips on my mouth. “Thanks…?” I murmur, not really sure if that’s the right thing to say. Then I quickly wipe my palm over my mouth, my gaze darting around the place to check people’s reactions. But no one seems to have noticed. Other than my two best friends, that is.

Felix’s laughter bounces between the cars as he comes forward and smacks the keys to my Corvette into my open palm. “Here you go, pal. You earned it. That was one hell of a kiss.”

“Yeah, get a grip,” I snarl, rolling my eyes, fighting to regain the full power of my voice. The raspy sound is so much unlike me…outside my playroom anyway.

Ignoring Sebastian’s still-intense gaze, I push through the guys and head straight for the two sweeties I just won. Tanja smirks at me, watching me come closer. I grab her neck and haul her toward me, pressing my mouth to hers for a hard, deep kiss in an attempt to rid myself of the taste of Sebastian on my tongue.

“See you in my playroom,” I purr against her lips, finally centered and back to myself. “Tomorrow at ten.”

Letting her go in the next instant, I slide my fingers over the air slits in the Corvette’s hood, tracing the smooth finish along the frame of the windshield. “Hey there, beautiful. Miss me?” My heart pounds in anticipation of finally getting back behind the wheel of my baby.

The door opens with the familiar low click, welcoming me in. I glide into the driver’s seat, one leg in and one outside the car, my foot still on the concrete. Immediately, the smell of leather surrounds me. No need to slide the key into the slot to start the engine. It works via pushbutton when the key is inside the cabin. The vibration of 490 horsepower shivers beneath me. Caressing the sporty steering wheel like the body of a sexy woman, I close my eyes and revel in the feeling of being back in my personal heaven.

“When you’re done fucking your car, come meet me at the scratch line.”

I open my eyes to Sebastian’s chuckle and give the man, who’s draped one arm over my open car door, a curt nod.

Let’s race, baby!

The asphalt is still warm from today’s scorching temperatures this late June. Best conditions for the tires. They’ll stick to the tarmac like a train to its rails.

My heart thumps in sync with the bass from the speakers as I roll in a crawling pace to the starting line. Four cars rev at the scratch, and I take up the space in the middle. The white Honda waits to my left, its driver leveling a daring look at me through the open passenger window. “Bet your car, pretty boy?” he shouts.

The races we stage always require an entry fee of one grand, straight-up. That’s standard. Winner takes all. But in rare instances, the drivers unofficially raise the stakes by betting their cars.

An electric feeling rushes through me as I bite my bottom lip. I have no idea what kind of driver he is. Fearful, safe, stupid, reckless? I’ve never seen him race before. He could be a crack-brained imposter, challenging me even when he’s obviously heard of my reputation. Or he could be my match. Losing my Corvette again tonight would so ruin my week. Winning his Honda could make it, though.

My heart beats in my throat. Ah, fuck it. I nod. And Sebastian grins, slowly turning to face front again.

Nikki, a slender doll in black hot-pants and heels so high they could put her level with a skyscraper, walks down the line and takes the entry fee from each driver. I blow her a kiss and wink when I hand her my thousand pounds, a thick wedge of bills that I draw from my pocket. She wishes me luck with a curve of her stark, red-painted lips.

With the money secured with Rob, one of the five line judges, Nikki grabs two checkered flags and takes up position in front of us. Elliot and Master B have been monitoring the police radio. The Japanese genius and the pothead with his shoulder-length dreadlocks are hacking specialists and responsible for giving us the green light. Literally. It’s a cakewalk for the programming students to sneak into the traffic system and manipulate a few stoplights to give us free rein down the next two miles of Old-Park Ave and around Bush Hill Park. It’s a lap I’ve done several times already, but not recently. Still, I know every bump in the road, the degree of each curve, and the places where one should ease their foot off the gas if they want to finish the course.

When Nikki raises the flags high above her head, the engines of the white Honda and the dark red Nissan to my right roar like horny lions. I briefly tap the accelerator, too, just to say hello. With her last check to the hacker boys, Nikki’s ponytail flies over her shoulder. And then she swings the flags down like the wingbeat of an eagle.

I stomp the accelerator all the way down to the floor and release the clutch. The updated transmission enables abbreviated shifting, and I hack my way through the gears. The Corvette is a sporty little job, easy to handle, and ready for mischief. We fly down the street, passing cars that wait at side roads because of their unscheduled red lights. I don’t need to look at them to know their drivers’ heads are snapping from left to right in astonishment.

Two-hundred and fifty meters into the race, the Honda, the Nissan, a black BMW, and I are still neck-in-neck. The violet Golf with probably just short of 400 horsepower falls behind. My blood is on fire as we near the first hard curve to the left. This spot will determine who’ll take the pole position, as there isn’t enough room for four cars to round the corner. We’re all good handlers. And we’ve all got fast cars. But only the most reckless driver will take the lead. And I’m determined to be the one.

I shift down, quickly step on the brakes, and then press the accelerator again, aiming for the shortest possible way around the curve. We’re losing the Nissan, and the BMW reacts a nanosecond too slowly, as well. I drift elegantly around the bend, the screeching of the tires promising that I’ll soon need a new quartet for the Stingray. The Honda drifts next to me—along the outer curve. It costs him. And here we go… Pole!

Sebastian’s Honda snoops at my ass. He’s so close, I can’t see his headlights or even the hood in my rearview mirror. This is the short side of the park. He’d be crazy to try and overtake me here since I own the track right next to the sidewalk, and he’d lose half a second anyway, being forced to take the outside curve on the long side again.

The Nissan, the BMW, and the Golf are done. Unless Sebastian and I knock ourselves out in this part of the race, the game is completely over for them. No chance at the cash prize.

But the Honda is still a pain in my ass. I can see in the rearview mirror when it gets ready to overtake me, but my accelerator is flat against the floor. Sebastian fights for every inch on the road, and so do I. And when we near the finish line right behind the last curve, our front tires seem like Siamese twins.

One hundred meters left. Enough for the asshole to acquire half a car length of the lead. But I’m still in a better position to drift into the finish. I shift down, tap on the brakes, and feel the Corvette’s rear coming along. With no more than two feet of distance between my car door and his, Sebastian does the same and, as if one, we drift around the final curve together, slithering over the finish line with hundreds of celebrating people on both sides.

Fuck! It’s not easy to tell who got the crucial final inches to win the race.

With my heart pounding a brutal beat, I pull the Corvette to a halt in the middle of the parking lot and get out. Sebastian has already slammed his car door. While the line judges will need to evaluate the videos and photos on their cell phones to name the winner of the five thousand pounds, Sebastian comes forward, holding his hand up at chest-level. I smack mine into his, giving it a quick press. So much better than kissing the guy. “Awesome race,” I compliment him. “Respect.”

Sebastian smirks, letting go of my hand. “So it’s true what they say. You’re one of a kind, Raff.”

I don’t think I am any longer. He really is my match. Damn, I just hope I didn’t lose—

“Tie!” Rob shouts from the huddle of line judges who, until now, had their heads together. “It’s a fucking tie!”

“What…?” The word breaks from my hoarse throat, and I can feel the color drain from my face. Rob and Lauren come running toward us, both holding out spectacular finishing shots on their phone displays, the Corvette and the Honda gliding across the line, completely in sync. If this weren’t my car, I would have whistled through my teeth in awe. Right now, I’m as silent as a falling snowflake in winter.

“Shit, no!” Sebastian lays his hands on his head over his cap, but he takes it with a lot more amusement than I do and laughs incredulously.

I don’t care that the prize money will be split in two and I’ll more than double my entry fee. I’m going to fucking lose my Corvette tonight! Again! Because a tie means—

“We need to trade cars,” Sebastian deadpans.

Yes. We have to. It’s in the rules. But I don’t want to give up my ‘vette! What am I going to do with a fucking Honda?

I’m still a little beside myself when Nikki hands each of us our share of the prize money and I slip the wedge of bills into my pocket. A clap on my shoulder makes me snap up my head again. “Now that was impressive for once!” Felix cheers, but his features change, and he cringes the moment he sees my face. “Sorry, dude.”

Tanja lays her fingers under my chin and smirks, a daring look in her eyes. “Naw, don’t do the sad puppy, Riff-Raff. The Honda is a sexy car, too. You just need to make a little contact, get used to each other.” She pulls up her nose like a bunny, taunting me. “She’ll love your quirks.”

I grab her wrist hard and pull her hand away. The girl obviously wants to get spanked until her ass is the color of a strawberry field. She wouldn’t call me Riff-Raff if she didn’t want the punishment. Rather roughly, I pull her closer to me and snarl through a smile. “Tomorrow, sweetie. Tomorrow…”

Tanja groans in anticipation. She tugs her hand away when my grip eases and then returns to Felix’s side. Lacing her fingers over his shoulder, she rests her chin on them and flashes me a fiery look. She’s edible when she does the provocative, wild-cat routine. Too bad I only eat my meals shackled and blindfolded in my dining room.

 

Chapter 2

Sebastian

 

I won the Corvette.

I lost my Honda.

Cheer, or ram my fist into the wall?

Fuck, no clue.

This is my first tie, and I hardly ever lose. Sure, I’ve wanted this dark beauty from the moment I laid eyes on her twenty minutes ago—and maybe the platinum blond one, too. But trading was never my intention.

In the unlikely event that I lose my car in races, I always bring the papers. They’re locked in the glove compartment. I’ve no idea how Raffael will handle this, so I lean against the Honda, my ankles crossed, my arms folded over my chest, and give him a moment to banter with his friends before I cut in. “Are you ready to let go of your ride? Have all the car papers with you?”

He drags his attention away from the girl who seems to be with his red-haired friend—then again maybe not—and nails me with a hard stare. “I haven’t been driving my car for a week. Papers are at home. You can follow me.”

Nope, he’s not happy about the trade, either.

I nod and watch him slip behind the wheel of the Corvette without another word, his forehead creased in frustrated lines. When he pulls the door shut and starts the engine, I get into my own vehicle and push the button to let it purr like a jaguar. The police will likely be here in a few minutes anyway. What the guys did with the traffic lights won’t stay undetected for long. The crowd has already started to scatter.

I reverse and line up behind Raffael as he waits with one arm braced on the open window next to his friends. “Key to the Ford is in the lock. Bury it in whatever shithole you dug it out of,” he says with a snide grin. It makes me chuckle. Damn, what stupid wagers do these kids come up with when their PlayStations don’t work?

Then again, I probably should stop seeing them as kids. Raffael said he’s twenty-three. That’s only two years younger than I am, even though he was right. He hardly looks his age. I almost felt like a pedophile when I kissed him earlier. Yeah, okay, no, I didn’t. His eyes have a chilled dominance that more than makes up for the experience his boyish face lacks.

I would say he’s absolutely my type. But that would be a lie because I don’t actually have a type. I fuck just about anything that promises some good fun—pussy or ass, I don’t care. Too bad he doesn’t seem to play for both teams. It was evident that I was the first male kiss of his life—it was etched on his face and in his initial tension when I slid my tongue between his lips. Still, not a bad first kiss at all.

When he leaves the parking lot and weaves into the once again flowing traffic, I’m glued to his rear bumper and follow him through London. We pass the bend to my place on Primrose Hill and head straight on to Mayfair. Rich boy, huh? The Corvette said as much, but then it could be his piggybank, too. The moment we turn onto Brook’s Mews, and he eases the speed and heads down into the underground car park beneath the tower block, all my doubts are wiped away.

I follow him along the serpentine path to a place that screams “money” from all ends. Porsches, Audis, lots of BMWs and even a Lambo in a striking cherry red are all tucked in to sleep here. Raffael aims straight for spot 37 next to a shiny black Jeep that could house a bear family. I park the Honda in 37A, probably the place for his guests.

After turning off the engine, I take a few more seconds just sitting here, my fingers closed tightly around the wheel. A sigh leaves me. I love this car. It’s like a loyal pet. A dog that I took in as a rollicking whelp and helped to shape into the finest companion possible. The Corvette is a good trade, though. An upgrade for sure. If it’s got character, we’ll see.

I retrieve the papers from the glove compartment and finally get out.

Raffael seems to have similar feelings about his Corvette. He strokes his hand along the roof’s edge and down the windshield bar. I swear his lips form the silent words, “Take care, beautiful.”

When I sit on the hood of the Honda and wait for him to get his paperwork from his apartment, he looks at me and nods toward the aluminum doors of the elevator on the far side of the space. “We can do all the formalities upstairs. Wanna come up for a beer?”

Sounds better than waiting in the basement. “Sure.” I follow him through the garage, marveling at the status symbols surrounding us. The brief cheep my car gives when I press the lock button on the key fob is like a last goodbye.

There are two elevators down here, a few meters apart. Raffael calls the one with the Private sign, and a red box appears around the square button when the up arrow lights up. Moments later, the doors slide open, and Raffael walks in first. The vertical row of floor numbers is secured with a numeric keypad, and he punches in four digits after pressing the ninth floor. He doesn’t make a secret of the code. 2-1-1-2. Perhaps his birthday in December?

The stall is big enough to hold five or six people, marble and mirrors all around. Raffael leans with his back against one side wall, ankles crossed and fingers gripping the handrail at waist level to either side of his hips. I lean against the wall opposite him, my hands deep in my pockets.

Since neither of us speaks a word, it gives me plenty of time to study his face as we ride up to the ninth floor. Penthouse. Man, he’s got style. And eyes so Arctic blue, they could freeze the air inside the elevator—even without him doing his best to kill me with a glare. With his platinum hair and the pale skin that he probably can’t help, the guy resembles a glacier. A fucking hot one.

“Norway?” I give it a random guess.

The elevator stops, and the doors slide into the walls. “Iceland,” he retorts in a cold voice as he exits directly into the living area of his apartment that is illuminated by sporadic spotlights in the ceiling. More come on automatically when he walks farther inside. I push away from the mirrored wall and follow his unspoken invitation, looking around the enormous place.

Graphite-colored slate tiles make up the floor, the white leather couch in the middle of the space between the elevator and the giant windows overlooking Mayfair standing like a crown. The L-shaped sectional faces a low coffee table set on a turquoise angora carpet, and some glass vitrines stand like silent guards in the background. The gaming headset and controller on the coffee table make me grin and search for the entertainment center. Found it. A monstrous flat-screen attached to the wall on the right with a PS4 plus an X-Box One on black shelves beneath it. I knew he was a gamer.

While Raffael turns left into the open dining and kitchen area, I’m still hung up on the winding stairs, obviously leading to the second floor of this apartment. “Damn!”

Raffael chuckles at my impressed cuss, the sound accompanied by the clanging of bottles in the refrigerator door as he pulls it open. I join him, leaning one hip against the giant kitchen island, folding my arms after dropping the Honda’s paperwork onto the dark marble surface. He slams the fridge door shut and brings over two bottles. Hooking the cap of the beer on the edge of the counter, he smacks it open and places it in front of me. Then he unscrews the top of his water bottle and holds it out.

“Don’t like to drink before bedtime?” I tease him and grab the beer, clinking it to his anti-drink. “Cheers.”

“I don’t drink alcohol.” He lifts the bottle to his mouth then adds, “At all,” before he takes a sip.

In slight wonder, my eyebrows ride a low line as the cold beer trickles down my throat. My unspoken question coaxes his nonchalant shrug. “I like maintaining control.”

“Control?” Now the guy whose body seems well-defined though not as muscular as mine has got me seriously curious. “Of what?”

“Of everything.” He screws the cap back on his water and puts the bottle down, keeping his slender fingers around it. “People. Cars. But especially…myself. My mind. Alcohol makes you do stupid things.”

I raise one taunting eyebrow and speak with the bottle’s mouth touching my lips. “Like landing your ass in a bet with a brittle Ford and a kiss?”

“No.” He smiles, but it stops short of his eyes. “That was a very controlled bet.”

It sounds intriguing. And sad. “You don’t let go easily, do you?”

“Never.” Raffael laughs. Fuck, even that is a controlled sound, and it makes me want to dig deeper into this guy’s psyche. Lots deeper.

He leaves the kitchen and disappears into a room next to the stairs. When he comes back with a pile of papers that must belong to the Corvette, I imagine the room is some kind of office. He throws everything onto the kitchen counter with a blue pen on top. In the racing scene, it’s customary that you have a sales agreement for your car ready. Apparently, London runs no differently than Eastbourne, the town where I was born and grew up—and where I’ve been attending illegal street races since I was eighteen.

I grab the pen and sign both contracts in the specified places. Then I hand over the pen, and Raffael pulls the paperwork towards himself. “It’s Friday night,” he points out while signing everything next to my name. “You won’t find any insurance institution or DMV open before Monday morning to do all the formalities with deregistering the cars and legally changing ownership.” He looks up, slowly setting the pen down. “I guess you want to trade tonight regardless?”

Oh yeah, I do. With a grin, I nod. “We can both get a little acquainted with our new rides over the weekend. Damn, I’m dying to find out what your beauty hides under her skirt.” He doesn’t react to my taunting, only pulls the keyring from his pocket and unfastens the one for the Stingray. With a melancholic sigh, he places it on the pile of car papers. And he gets mine in turn. “I’ll come by next week to seal the deal.”

Raffael watches the black chip-key for the Corvette disappear into my pocket. “I won’t have much time to test the Honda this weekend. A friend’s staying over.” Only now, his gaze travels up to my eyes. “But you can knock yourself out with mine.”

His words ring with the pieces of conversation I overheard him having with Felix’s sort-of girl. “The black-haired one?” I probe, taking another sip from the beer. “What is that threesome you and your friend have with her?”

He tilts his head and studies me for a second, his lips curving into a smirk. “Now, wouldn’t you like to know?”

“You bet.” I put the half-empty bottle down and push my hands into the back pockets of my jeans. “But if you don’t want to reveal anything, you could tell me how a guy your age finances this incredible place instead.” I spin on the spot, taking everything in once more. It’s exceptionally clean. Even the kitchen looks as if it’s never been used. “What do you do for a living, dude?”

Raffael laughs—bloody hell, an honest one this time. The sound draws my gaze back to him. “Had a rich grandmother in Iceland,” he admits. “And won a few swanky rides I sold.”

“Okay, a nice inheritance and some luck at street races. Got it.”

He shrugs off my honest impression. “Want a tour of the apartment?”

I must confess that I’m curious how he lives, so I nod, and he leads the way. Following him into the room that he disappeared into before, I find out that I was right. It’s a study, but not only that. There’s a huge desk in front of a window to the left, and some barbells along the right side. Above the pressing bench, my attention snags on three tall photographs, perfectly in line with one foot of space between them that, when put together, show the Aurora Borealis over what I assume is Iceland.

“How long have you lived in London?” I demand, strolling toward the windows and looking down at street lights far below. His foreign accent is barely there but, after knowing where he comes from, one can detect it if you’re paying attention.

“My family moved to England when I was seven. After my grandmother died, my parents returned to our homeland and live in her house again.”

“Without you?”

“I guess I’ve become a real London kid. Too much space and silence in Iceland. Also, there’s the uni here. I hate to quit.”

I turn around and find him half-sitting on the edge of the desk, his arms crossed, hawk eyes trained on me. I join him and shove a few papers aside that appear like architectural drawings of a shopping center or something. “Did you do these?”

He unfolds his arms and grips the desk’s edge beside his hips, his head dipping to look at the plans. “It’s a project for my courses.”

“You study architecture?” I lift my gaze and frown. Raffael nods, so my next question comes out a little more incredulous than it was meant to. “Why?”

“Why not?” He mirrors my challenging look.

“I don’t know. I guess with all the racing stuff you’ve got going on, I thought you’d be into something more…”

“Reckless?” He smirks, helping me out with the missing word. When he pushes away from the desk and leaves the room, I follow, closing the door behind me. “Well, I kinda like the structured work as a draftsman,” he explains, taking the stairs up. “I find it soothing when things follow the rules, and everything is within defined lines.”

I chuckle, loosely running my hand along the curved stainless-steel railing as I follow two steps behind him. “Ah, the control thing.”

Raffael casts an intense look and lopsided grin over his shoulder and down to me. “Exactly.” Fuck, his light blue eyes play a game with the darkness in a way that makes me tighten my fingers around the handrail.

When he faces front again, I let my gaze roam the huge apartment from an eagle-eye perspective once again. Everything is freaking flawless. There are no dirty dishes in the kitchen, and not a single sock is lying around, which I find highly unusual for a guy his age, living alone. “Who cleans up here? You?”

“Rosa. She comes twice a week, but I try not to make too much of a mess and keep her work easy.”

A housemaid. Why am I even surprised?

The landing upstairs splits in two directions with one room at each end and two doors in the middle. The first room he shows me is his bedroom. We stop on the threshold, this obviously being the closest he’ll let me get to his sheets. It’s just what I expected. A king-size bed made up with dark, satin sheets centered against one wall, and more floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the city.

“Nice.”

There’s just enough time to catch a glimpse of a seating bench in front of the windows and a door that probably leads to a walk-in closet beside a low dresser before he shuts the portal to his private space.

The next door leads to a luxurious bathroom done up in stone optic with a walk-in shower behind a completely see-through glass wall and a detached bathtub. I whistle through my teeth. There’s a double washbasin made of dark marble, but I have a suspicion that Raffael lives here by himself.

We walk past the second door in the middle of the landing—on purpose, I believe—and he lets me throw a look into the room opposite his bedroom. “The guestroom,” he points out.

It’s furnished for women. Everything looks much softer and warmer than his own bedroom. The sheets on the queen-size bed are deep red and appear luxurious. There are also several small rose pillows and a makeup table with a tri-fold mirror. Candles are scattered around the place, and on the windowsill sits the only potted plant that I saw in the entire apartment.

“What’s her name?” I can’t resist asking, leaning against the doorjamb opposite him and folding my arms over my chest to await his answer.

“Who?”

“The girl you and Felix seem to share. I believe she’s the one using this room from time to time, no?”

Raffael pulls his bottom lip between his teeth, scanning my eyes as he obviously deliberates. “Tanja,” he admits at last, smiling a little. Apart from him keeping his hands hidden in his pockets most of the time, we lean in an exact symmetrical manner in the doorframe, our toes almost touching in the middle. His wide, tricot-like t-shirt that is parted perfectly into black and white begins to appear like a reflection of his mind to me. He has an utterly beautiful smile but doesn’t allow himself to show it because it might be against the rules of his world. It’s the Arctic cold versus a strange boyish softness. Both parts are equally hypnotic.

I let the thought pass and stay on track. “So, she’s sort of with your friend, but you get to fuck her occasionally, is that the deal?”

Look at that, Raffael has dimples. “I get to play with her a little.” His warming gaze switches briefly to the door he didn’t yet open. “And they aren’t a couple. The three of us have been hanging out and fucking around for like…forever.”

Yeah, they actually made that kind of obvious. I laugh and then turn to the secret room. “What’s in there?”

“Playground.” Even his voice is playful right now. “It’s all for experimenting.”

“Can I see?”

His upper body tips slightly forward to help him get away from the doorjamb without using his hands. But he pulls one out of the pocket anyway and wraps it around the knob of the mysterious door as he stops, turning my way. “The key to this room is your safeword.”

Ah, now it’s getting interesting. With a lewd grin, I prowl toward him and halt only inches from his body. I can feel the warmth of him. With a level gaze into his eyes, I lay my hand over his on the knob, close my fingers, and turn to open the door behind him. “I don’t do safewords,” I drawl, almost too close to his lips.

 

Chapter 3

Raffael

 

Sebastian’s hand is warm. And a little rough. Most likely callused from turning the steering wheel with the heel of his hand, the other always on the gearshift.

I feel his breath on my face, his body intruding on my personal space as if my privacy means nothing to him. Or as if he’s doing it on purpose to provoke this gut-twisting feeling. When he turns the knob under my fingers, I move with the opening door to escape him. I’m not usually someone who backs away from confrontation. Tonight, I’m just backing away from too much intimacy.

Sebastian only chuckles at my response and walks into my playroom. I flip the switch next to the door, and a dim, indirect light shines from the gap line along the edge of the ceiling. A mahogany bed is set against one wall, the mattress draped with deep violet sheets. The shape reflects in the windowpanes along with Sebastian’s form slowly wandering around the room.

The cupboards and racks are made of the same dark wood as the bed and line the walls painted a neutral latte macchiato color. I hate glaring hues, especially if they create a skanky atmosphere in a room that is made for aesthetics. Nothing in here is obscene.

I don’t need much fancy play furniture either. Or dirty toys. The padded manacles coming down from the cross-piece of the bed really are my favorite. Tanja looks amazing when she hangs from them, blindfolded and quivering for what’s to come.

I cross to the bed and lean against one of the posts at the foot of it, observing Sebastian’s exploration of the place. The drawers and shelves hold a nice set of floggers and maybe one or two whips. But most of the classy storage room is taken up by ropes of all sorts, chains, cuffs, belts, and bars. I don’t need to be brutal to my submissives. Bondage really is my kink. Having absolute control over them. It soothes me like a lullaby does a baby.

When Sebastian wanders past the sound system, he presses the play button, and a hypnotic song drifts from the hidden speakers around the room. He pulls some random drawers open, taking out an item here and there and inspecting it more closely. His fingers glide over the selection of cuffs on the black felt inside one drawer. Then he grabs the sturdy metal eight next to them and turns a curious stare on me, folding it open by squeezing the mechanism to unlock it. “This is how you like to fuck?”

Yes. I much prefer the controlled pleasures in here over going home with a girl where she can get too giddy with excitement in her bedroom. I’m not a big fan of Duracell bunnies. A nonchalant shrug is all Sebastian gets in answer, though.

His gaze on the metal item in his hand, he opens and closes it several times then weighs it on one palm, tilting his head. “Quite heavy.”

It is. And it’s only the small edition. Tanja has fragile forearms. Most of the stuff in here is fit especially for her needs. It would probably not close around Sebastian’s strong wrists. Mine? Perhaps.

I walk toward him and reach for the metal eight to put it back in the drawer, but Sebastian quickly pulls it away, and I grab air. At the same time, he catches both of my forearms and winds them behind my back faster than I can protest. “What the—?”

A click follows, and I feel the heavy metal encircling my wrists, keeping them in a tight lock. Startled and pissed, I try to look over my shoulder, but I almost bump noses with Sebastian. His face is so close that I hold my breath with shock.

His fingers are still around my wrists, holding them in place, even though I obviously can’t move them. His warmth seeps into my skin. “What’s your safeword?” he rasps with a deep look into my eyes.

Shit! I laugh. “That’s none of your business. Now, let me free.”

“Mmm, I don’t think so.” He reaches around me to grab a black band from another drawer he’d left open. A dangerous sneer on his lips, he unfolds it and holds it up in both hands, a dirty promise in his chestnut eyes. In utter confusion, I frown at him, taking two steps back until the wall stops me. He’s in front of me before I can escape and lays the blindfold over my eyes, tying it at the back of my head.

I stiffen. Fucking hell, everything is dark. My breathing hitches to match my accelerated heartbeat.

“This room is for experimenting?” Sebastian’s hot breath dampens the skin behind my ear with his whisper. He’s setting off the weirdest kind of goosebumps all down my neck. “So, let’s experiment.”

My lips part, and I pant. Jesus Christ! I need to get out of here.

But I can’t see a thing, and the stupid cuffs at my back only open with the right push of the mechanism—which I can, no way in hell, reach. This toy isn’t made for playing alone.

Gentle fingers grab my chin, turning my head exactly where Sebastian wants me. His voice is so calm and low, it creates a multitude of edgy shivers running along my body. “Your safeword, Raff?”

I haven’t spoken the word out loud in years. I’m never, ever at that end of the deal. “Come on, you’re not playing this kind of game,” I try to reason. “Take off these fucking cuffs and, for Christ’s sake, the blindfold.”

“Why?” He slips his hands under my shirt, running his fingers slowly upward over my taught abs. I jerk, but there’s no chance of getting away from here. His hands glide to my back and down over the curve of my ass. “Don’t like being…” He squeezes. Good God! “At my mercy?”

I’m getting much too warm, which again spikes a panic inside me. My neck bristles. Burning waves of adrenaline shoot through my veins. Everything centers in my lower gut. Holy fuck!

“Safeword…” Sebastian drawls against my lips. “Now.”

The unfamiliar scent of sun-warmed skin beneath a light layer of musky shower gel invades my nose. I squeeze my eyes tighter beneath the blindfold and tilt back my head. The asshole starts kissing my neck. And though I hate him for it, I can’t regret the sensation.

What the fuck is wrong with me?

As he paints slow circles on my skin with his tongue, I hoarsely groan one single word. “Titanium.”

“Good…” Sebastian’s chuckle against my throat is dangerous, confusing as hell, and all I can concentrate on. “I’ll try and keep that in mind.”

When his hands move back to the naked skin on my stomach and chest, a tremble overtakes my body. “Seriously, I’m grateful that you kissed me free from that heap of scrap metal at the race,” I croak. “But I’m not into guys.”

“Are you sure?” He shoves up my tee and sinks to his knees to kiss a trail along the valley between my abs, giving my belly button a flick with the tip of his tongue. “Because there’s a bulge in your pants that says differently.”

I know that. Shit, this can’t be happening!

“It’s not what it seems.” I swear.

Sebastian’s fingertips brush my skin right above the waistband, and my muscles twitch. Trapped against the wall, I sense when he stands up again. “Is it not?” His dark voice comes much too close to my ear, and his stubble rubs against my cheek. “Or is it perhaps exactly what I think, and you’re already imagining what my tongue feels like on your cock?”

My nostrils flare with my too-fast breathing. This is getting out of control. I can’t have things out of control. Ever.

Sebastian grabs my belt, and my hips jerk at his rough pull as he unbuckles me.

My heart bangs so violently against my ribcage, I fear it might knock me out. I lean my head back against the wall. There’s only one word on my mind now. “Ti—”

Sebastian crushes his mouth to mine, cutting off every sound. He presses his tongue between my lips and hard against my own as if he wants to push the word right back down my throat. And all I can do is let him.

His fingers let go of my belt and hook beneath the blindfold instead. As he pulls it off my head, his face is still so close that I can feel his breath. He growls through a tiny, amused smirk. “You little fuckin’ coward.”

Only inches separate our eyes. Our gazes lock with an intensity that burns into every cell of my body. The moment between us seems endless as the air around us ignites with fire. I can barely breathe. Then he leans in the last inch and molds his mouth to my lips once more. His tongue has lost the last bit of cigarette smoke and gives way to a minty flavor. It drags against mine, sensual and slow, causing my eyes to almost shut. His body presses harder against my front as he reaches around to my back and slides his fingers through mine, squeezing briefly. My fingers close, too.

In the next instant, Sebastian unlocks the cuffs. The weighty metal slips free of my wrists and into my hands. It’s something to hold on to when he eases away from the kiss. My eyes snap open again.

Warmth surrounds the darkness in his eyes. As he takes two slow steps back, there’s just the slightest twitch of the left side of his mouth. “Thanks for the car, Raff…”

Then he walks out of the room and, by God, I can’t follow him. Sagging against the wall behind me, I need a minute to catch my breath.

Or maybe five.

I rub my hands over my face, then shove them through my hair, resting them on the back of my neck. My gaze nailed to the ceiling, I feel every inhale and exhale scorching through my chest. What. The. Fuck!?

Struggling to get a grip again, I close my eyes and run my tongue over my lips. I can still taste Sebastian inside my mouth. He shouldn’t have—

And I shouldn’t have…

This is so wrong.

Blowing out an extended breath, I open my eyes again and focus on the door that he disappeared through. When I finally manage to make my shaky legs carry me downstairs, the place is quiet and empty. Sebastian has left. And he took the papers to the Corvette with him.

 

*

 

Counting sheep is pointless. Really. In the end, I only managed to keep my mind from wandering back into the playroom for a time while lying on the satin sheets in complete darkness. And how far did I get? 3567. When the sheep started to turn into white Hondas, I tossed the covers aside and trudged downstairs to grab a glass of water. Then I started the X-Box. Grand Theft Auto is a better solution to bringing one through a night than counting fucking sheep jumping over imaginary fences.

I got a couple of hours of sleep on the couch near morning. And dreamed of cigarette kisses. Man. My body was drenched in sweat when I woke up.

For nearly forty minutes now, I’ve been standing under the shower behind the glass wall, trying to wash away the awkward feeling of having broken the rules. Well, one rule. The rule. Jeez. I press more shower gel into my hand and lather up my body from neck to toe—for the fifth time since I turned on the water. But the feeling of wanting to arrange things in tidy lines won’t go away.

Eventually, I turn off the spray and towel myself dry. Then I brush my teeth—for like seven minutes or something, but that helps as little as it did last night. I can still feel Sebastian’s sensual touch on my tongue. Squeezing my eyes shut, I add another minute of cleaning, then I rinse my mouth and rub my face dry with a fresh, soft towel. It feels comfortable against my skin. Perhaps if I press it over my mouth and nose long enough, I’ll fall into a coma and can reboot my brain. Clear out all these strangely sweet memories of yesterday.

My cell phone ringing in the kitchen stops me from knocking myself out. I hang the towel back on the rack bar and trot downstairs, barefoot, wearing only baggy, black pants and a fresh gray t-shirt.

Tanja’s name flashes on the display.

“Morning, sweetie. What’s up?” I greet her.

“Sad news. I can’t stay overnight this weekend.” Regret rings in her voice. “My auntie Clarissa invited the whole family for brunch tomorrow. Mom will kill me if I don’t go.”

Squeezing my eyes shut, I let out a deep growl.

“You want a raincheck for a full weekend next month, or split the days?” she gives me the choice.

I need to fuck. A girl. Soon. “No cancelling. Today is fine.”

“Okay, I’ll be there in an hour.” She hangs up, and I toss my cell phone back onto the counter. Then I open the fridge, needing to sort something. Anything. Five beer bottles are lined up in the inside pocket of the door. Last night, there were six. I turn them so their labels are all perfectly in line. They’re for visitors—primarily for Felix when he comes over. Sprite and water, the two main things that keep me hydrated through my life, fill up the top shelf in the fridge, and beneath those, there’s a box with some leftover Mexican food from my last lunch. I open the lid and smell. Still good enough for a lonely dinner tonight after Tanja leaves.

Closing the lid, I put it back, centering it on the glass shelf since there’s nothing there to arrange it with. Then I divide the apples in the bottom shelf into two groups. Sweet ones on the left, and sour ones on the right. There’s one that is neither red nor green, really. A fucking mix that doesn’t fit into either side. I take it out and eat it, slamming the door shut.

Ten minutes later, I tidy up my desk, reordering the papers that Sebastian shoved aside last night, and then I press some weights on the bench. I’m not a fan of people blowing their body up to balloon versions of themselves, but I like to keep in shape, and keep my muscles decently defined.

Sebastian is a little burlier than I am. I assume he started working out quite early in his youth so his body shaped up into its current dominating form. It looks natural on him.

Jesus Christ, when did I even notice those things?

Clenching my teeth, I press the bar faster and more aggressively until my biceps burn, and sweat beads on my forehead.

The doorbell rings. I hook the bar onto the rack, wipe my face with the hem of my t-shirt, and pad through the apartment. I don’t need to ask or look through the peephole to know who’s outside. It’s ten o’clock. Tanja is always on time. And she never takes the private elevator to my flat.

I open the door and grab her arm, pulling her in without a word of greeting. Her brown doe eyes grow even bigger as she stumbles into my apartment. “Nice to see you, too,” she mutters, but immediately presses her lips together at my silencing scowl. I let her step out of her sandals that match her short, white summer dress, then grasp her wrist and haul her upstairs, right into the playroom. Still in the doorway, I rip my belt from my pants, wind both her hands behind her back, and tie them together roughly. It coaxes out a little groan of surprise from her. I don’t give a shit. Instead, I push her forward so she falls onto the violet bed sheets. Then I slam the door shut, yank off my t-shirt, and fling it at her chest.

***

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