Title: James and Merrick
Series: Take a Shot, Book One
Author: Jessica Skye Davies
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 07/05/2021
Heat Level: 2 - Fade to Black Sex
Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, Age-gap, arts (visual), friends-to-lovers, hurt/comfort, stripper, engagement, artist, maestro, tailor, London setting, Welsh ancestry
Merrick Rhys is a young Welsh transplant living in South London and working as a tailor and salesman in an upscale menswear shop. Previously supplementing his income by performing as a male stripper at parties, he quit after growing tired of the pressures and complications. He agrees to do his routine one more time for friends who are hosting a stag party and finds an intense mutual attraction with one of the guests. Unbeknownst to Merrick, that guest happens to be the groom.
James Carré is a successful, middle-aged London-based artist who is about to marry Michael, a man none of his friends think is good for him. James’s fiancé is controlling and demanding and James often finds it difficult to live up to his standards of perfection, but James feels that at his age he’s not likely to find anyone else willing to make a life with him. Certainly not someone as successful and good-looking as Michael.
When James and Merrick chance to meet the day after the stag-do, they hit it off immediately and find they have a great rapport. James questions the purity of his motives in hanging out with Merrick but also finally begins to question seriously if manipulative Michael is right for him. Merrick finds himself falling more and more for James over the course of a week, but also wants to take it slowly due to a past bad relationship. Everything comes to a head the weekend before the wedding when James finally decides he can’t in good conscience stay with Michael any longer, at just the same time Merrick reads the announcement of James and Michael’s wedding in the paper.
James and Merrick
Jessica Skye Davies © 2021
All Rights Reserved
Meredydd Rhys—Merrick to his friends—juggled a stack of post in one hand and his umbrella and house keys in the other as he locked the front door behind him. After standing the brolly in the corner to drip, he crossed his small but tidy sitting room, set the post on the kitchen counter, and hung up his keys on the peg, intent on getting the kettle on first thing after returning home from work. By the time he’d changed and put away his suit, the water was boiling, and he just had to transfer it to the pot and wait a few more minutes for the tea to brew up. The box of Yorkshire tea he’d opened just that morning still had that wonderfully fresh tea aroma that reminded him of golden sultanas and made the brewing wait time well worth it.
Idly flicking through the post and discarding most of the adverts, he found a postcard between an insurance solicitation and yet another pizza shop menu. He knew the ridge of hills depicted on the face of the card like his own name, and the sight of them nearly always gave him a twinge of longing. He hardly had to guess at the sender, and the message was no surprise either.
Ti’n dod gartref ar dy wyliau haf?
Merrick couldn’t help smiling. Sometimes his gran acted like he was still away at school, but he knew it was no senior moment on her part and was mostly just because she lived in hope for the day her grandson finally quit London and came home to the hills and valleys of his childhood. Before he had a chance to reach for his mobile, it started ringing. Not Mam-gu, but his mate, Theo. Merrick stuck the postcard to the fridge with a rugby-playing dragon magnet to remind him to ring home soon and answered the phone.
“All right, Theo. What’s occurring?” Merrick said, the rise and fall of his accent answering that of the hills and valleys on the postcard.
“Heya, kid, how’s everything?”
“Not bad, mate. How’s Nige?” Merrick responded.
“Nigel’s fine; we’re both fine. Uh…there’s just something I was wondering about. See, we’re sorta in a bit of a spot…”
“Oh?” Merrick had a feeling his mate’s call wasn’t purely social, but Theo had done him a lot of good turns over the years, so he didn’t mind a favour being called in.
“One of our mates is getting married, and we’re hosting the stag do this Saturday. Now, I know what you’re going to say—you don’t really do the dancing thing anymore—we know. But, due to an unfortunate slip from a bar top at some club on the weekend, we’ve now got no dancer and our mate needs this. He’s marrying the world’s biggest tosser. And it’s just gonna be us and a bunch of our ‘older’ mates from the Richmond Rainbow Club, nobody you’ve met. Besides us, obviously. We’ll make sure nobody gets out of hand, and there won’t be any bother about the groom either. He doesn’t want any sort of special attention or anything.”
Merrick took a deep breath, wondering how Theo could get that out all at once. “Right. I’ll do it, but only an hour, yeah? And just remind your guests I’m not available for private parties.”
“Yeah, of course, naturally. Don’t expect any of the people on our guest list will be at all problematic; it’s a pretty relaxed, mature bunch of chaps,” Theo promised.
“All right. Any special requests?” Merrick asked.
“Not really. And, no offense, but maybe Tom Jones is a bit predictable.”
“I won’t take offense as long as nobody throws knickers at me,” Merrick said with a laugh.
“Hey, do you still do massage as well?” Theo asked.
“I do the occasional massage, yes, but absolutely not combining with a strip show. Sorry. That’s just way too fraught with complications.”
“Fair do’s. Actually, I was just wondering because I was thinking of booking something for Nigel and I next month for our fifth year anniversary. But not telling him yet.”
“Gotcha. Just give me a bell if you decide on that. So, what are you thinking for this do? How many you expecting and all that?” Merrick asked.
As Merrick rang off with Theo after they’d chatted a bit, he wondered if he’d been mistaken in agreeing to revive his male stripper routine for a stag do. Those things so often got out of hand, with someone inevitably presuming that on-the-spot private parties were encouraged. That was a big part of why he’d started cutting back on dancing in the first place, even before his ex had wanted in on the game.
It was Nigel and Theo though, and Merrick felt reasonably confident there wouldn’t be those sorts of problems. They really didn’t have a common circle of friends in London, but he didn’t fancy two blokes as solid and practical as Nigel and Theo running with too wild a crowd.
As Saturday evening came around, Merrick also did his best to remind himself that a party like that wasn’t a place to meet guys, not when he was providing the entertainment. But, of course, if any of his friends’ crowd seemed nice…well, maybe there could be further conversation afterward. It had been nearly three years since his disastrous relationship with Seth, and now, as he wasn’t doing the dancing thing anymore, he thought maybe he didn’t have to adhere quite so strictly to his policy of independence. He had always been attracted to the proverbial gentlemen of a certain age, after all.
When Merrick arrived at Nigel and Theo’s place, he was pleased to find he had been correct about the type of mates Nigel and Theo had round—grown, professional-type men who mostly seemed to be getting a laugh out of the notion of having a stripper at a stag night. A rather more laid-back party than the young and perpetually randy crowd one usually encountered at such parties.
There was one guy who Merrick found himself drawn to repeatedly. He was handsome and quiet with an understated sort of masculinity and didn’t look like he was trying to impress anyone. His strong jawline was complemented by warm, observant grey eyes. His gaze followed Merrick’s movements appreciatively but almost shyly.
Merrick was taking a short break before the last half hour of the booking when Nigel asked if he’d be up for doing body shots as his last ‘act’ of the evening.
Merrick hesitated slightly; in his experience, that routine could get a bit sticky—in more ways than one. “Right, yeah, but just regular navel shots,” Merrick assented. “Not the tequila ones with the lick-salt-lime ritual, yeah?”
Nigel pulled a face. “What do we look like, mate? You know you’re the only one here under thirty, don’t you?”
“Doesn’t always feel like it,” Merrick laughed. “You clear a table; I’ll change leather pants for something easier to wash. I’ve got a pair of genuinely hideous aussieBums with cartoon bananas on that Henry sent me on my last birthday—that should go down a treat.”
“It’s cherry vodka we’re using,” Nigel said absently, as if trying to decide whether cherry would pair well with banana-printed pants.
Within a few minutes, the table was cleared and Merrick carefully arranged himself with his arms behind his head. It helped keep his abdomen taut but also elevated his head so he could give a reassuring smile and wink to the guys who seemed shy about sucking vodka out of a nearly nude stranger’s belly button. He knew they were just going along to be good sports. Then again, there were also those who stepped up to the makeshift bar grinning like Cheshire cats and usually stepped away only after an extra lick up his treasure trail. As long as it all stayed good-natured, Merrick didn’t much mind.
The last guy up was the one Merrick had been catching looks from all night. As he positioned himself beside Merrick, the rest of the guests cheered him on, but the tension between the two of them spiked. Merrick could tell the man was well buzzed, but by no means sloppy drunk. He fixed Merrick with that sexy look he’d been giving all night, only by now it was practically smouldering. Merrick knew he was returning the same look as the cold liquor was poured once again into the focus of his navel.
The man leaned in, deliberately keeping eye contact with Merrick as he put his mouth to Merrick’s abdomen and sucked up the vodka. He swallowed it down but didn’t step back straightaway, instead boldly swirling his tongue around a few times. When he looked back up at Merrick, an electric zing filled the space between them as their eyes locked. Merrick didn’t hesitate at all when the man moved from his stomach to his lips.
Merrick could taste the cherry vodka as the man pushed his tongue into Merrick’s mouth, and Merrick felt as though he was the one who had been drinking all evening. He couldn’t remember ever having been kissed quite like that, so sensuously, and he wanted more—a lot more.
Unfortunately, just as the nameless man pulled back a bit, Merrick realised that the partygoers were cheering wildly, and they’d just put on a fairly good show for them. Not that Merrick was at all shy about it, but he knew if things went any further just then, it might border on getting out of hand.
As the guy helped him up off the table with just a soft kiss of thanks to his cheek, Merrick checked the time and found he was done for the night. He thanked the guests for being a good crowd and collected the offered tips as he went to change back into normal attire. He considered Theo’s invitation to stay for the rest of the party, but he decided it was better to get home. Mixing business and pleasure was too often inadvisable, and if he stayed any longer he was rather sure he’d end up asking for that guy’s number.
Once home and in his own shower, Merrick wondered about ringing Theo and Nigel in the morning to ask about the guy. Give it a night to sleep on, he thought, and if he still found himself that interested, it might be worth enquiring. The attraction between them was plain enough, and that kiss had been downright sizzling.
His dreams that night, full of snogging handsome guys with bedroom eyes, had a rather predictable result by morning. He woke hard and aching like a randy teenager, glad he’d at least avoided a wet dream. Merrick decided he really did need to give it a few days before asking any favours about phone numbers; he wanted to put some distance between himself and this fixation. And to get a start on it, he decided to get dressed and go get some breakfast. His favourite place was just a few blocks away and would take his mind off the hot mystery man.