Eben does what his brother, mob boss Nicky Flannery, tells him, even when he’s not so sure it’s right. Letting Nicky do his thinking for him is a lifelong habit. So is hiding the fact that he’s gay. Then Nicky buys a Hong Kong rent boy to expand the mob's escort business and Eben's life gets a lot more complicated.
Forced into prostitution, Song Xiu is an unsentimental survivor. He takes his pleasures where he can and leaves his clients weak in the knees. Xiu knows he's hot for Eben's powerful body, but it’s more than that. Eben's kind face and gentle touch give Xiu a strange feeling that no amount of sex or drugs can banish. Is this what people call love?
Eben is instantly attracted to Xiu's erotic beauty, but it's the sweet young man beneath the glossy surface that he falls for. When he learns Xiu's story, he begins to wonder if Nicky is really the hero he grew up worshipping, or something else entirely.
An unguarded moment leads to a passionate encounter that rips away all of Xiu and Eben’s illusions. Suddenly the answers to their questions become alarmingly clear. They have one last chance to rescue each other from their broken lives, but only if they can survive Nicky's retribution.
The door to Suite 2301 opened and Shoe stood there, wearing a pair of flannel pants with penguins on them and a faded Nike T-shirt. His hair was flattened on one side and he had sleep lines impressed in one cheek. He blinked at Eben as if trying to focus. "Jóusàhn. I mean, hello."
For a moment they stared at one another in silence. Then Eben said, "Is Rhonda here?"
"No. I'm sorry, she's out."
"Do you want to come in?"
"I caught you sleeping."
"That's okay. Come in." Shoe opened the door.
"I need to wait for Nicky," said Eben, walking past Shoe and into the living room. "I can just wait here and you can finish your nap."
"That's not necessary. I slept most of the day anyway." Shoe rubbed his face.
It was hard to put this person in a rumpled T-shirt and PJs together with the sophisticated professional who'd executed a three-way with the two meanest guys Eben knew.
Xiu wandered into the kitchen. "Want some tea?"
"Tea?" Eben followed him. "You got any coffee?"
Shoe looked around the kitchen. "Uh…" He spotted the coffee maker as if discovering an ancient artifact. "I think Rhonda made some this morning but..." He put his hand to the carafe and wrinkled his nose. "It's cold."
"Perfect. You got any milk?"
While Shoe checked the fridge, Eben started nosing around the cupboards. He found an open bag of Pepperidge Farm Sausalito Chocolate Chunk cookies. Score!
Shoe handed Eben the milk, then got cups down from the cupboard and put a kettle of water on the stove to boil.
Fifteen minutes later, they settled on the couch with their beverages and the bag of cookies.
"Mmm. These are good," said Eben around a mouthful of crumbs.
Shoe smiled that smile that made his dimple appear. "I think so too."
They stared at each other in silence. Again.
It seemed like some big thing -- too big for words -- lay between them, and all they could do was peer around it at each other. Eben glanced at the television. "Do you want to watch something?"
Shoe stared at him for two breaths "Like what?"
"I don't know. Vampire Huntress is on, or Animal Heroes on Pet Channel. I love that show."
Again that stare. Then Shoe raised his eyebrows. "Oh. You mean on TV. Watch something on TV."
Eben laughed. "Yeah."
"Okay. I thought maybe you meant -- never mind." Shoe gave him the sweetest smile Eben had ever seen. "Whatever you want to watch is fine with me."
Eben turned on Animal Heroes. A cockatiel had alerted its owner, an elderly man, to a gas leak and saved his life.
They watched in silence, but not the uncomfortable kind this time.
"This is nice," said Shoe.
"It reminds me of when we first met, in the coffeehouse."
Shoe set his tea down on the coffee table and turned sideways, so his back was to the arm of the couch. He sat cross-legged and bowed his head. "I wish to apologize."
"For what I did at your birthday party."
"Oh." Eben wanted to tell him that it had been his favorite part of the evening but that would be admitting he was gay, and he'd never told anyone that. Rhonda had figured it out all on her own. What do I say? "I don't want you to feel bad about that. You're a very good dancer."
Pink tinged Shoe's cheeks. "And you are very kind."
That's not what Jack Parker would say… "Nah."
"You were really nice to me that day you picked me up at the airport. I never thanked you."
"Sure. It's no big deal."
"Yes it is. You have no idea."
Eben didn't know what to say to that.
"It must be difficult to be in your line of work and be such a good man."
"I'm not." Guilt made his words harsh.
"Forgive me." Shoe bent his head. "I don't seem to know how to keep my place around you. I don't know why."
His place? "You don't have anything to be sorry for." Eben couldn't stand the dejection in the curve of Shoe's neck. He sidled closer and put a hand on Shoe's shoulder. Without thought, he squeezed and stroked it.
Shoe leaned into Eben's touch. He stared up at Eben, his eyes shining. "Rhonda won't be back for another three hours. The other women are all out too. Big party."
"Okay." Okay what?
"Do you mind if I lean against you?"
Eben wasn't sure what he'd been expecting, but it wasn't that. A sweet ache filled his chest. Without a word, he lifted his arm and gathered Shoe in.
Shoe nestled up against his side and Eben draped his arm over Shoe's shoulders. The warmth of Shoe's body lapped at him like water in a wading pool that's been sitting out in the sun all day. On the television, a dramatic re-enactment showed a shepherd mix carrying a baby to safety during a flood.
Eben remembered being really little, when Ma and Da were still alive, and Da used to tuck him into bed at night. He'd had this toy, a stuffed animal -- BunBun. Da would settle BunBun in the crook of Eben's arm and draw the blanket up over both of them, and then he'd kiss both of them on their foreheads.
What a weird thing to think of after all these years.