Where The Love Begins
This book is dedicated to everyone who supported me and my writing during these last years and encouraged me to take a leap of faith and publish. To my beta readers Eli Summers and François, who became friends. To my family, my husband and to my three amazing kids who gave me the time I needed to write and make this dream come true. To my amazingly beautiful sisters, Tina and Alessandra. To my friends Carole, Malou, Jamie, Josh. To every musician who kept me company while writing deep into the nights.
And last but not least, to everyone who reads my books, because, without you, I am nothing.
Andrew Dawson sat at his desk in his new office, looking blankly at the computer screen. He had looked at the same screen for several minutes, but he didn’t see the words that were written there. He shook his head and smiled, not believing his recent luck. He fell back in his chair and stopped pretending to work. Promotion. Finally, he had worked forward to it for such a long time and now he had been rewarded for all the times he had stayed late. Not that he minded too much though. Andrew was at the top of his game. He spun around in his chair, folded his arms behind his head and looked out of the window. A panoramic view of the city park unfolded at the foot of the building and Andrew’s smile broadened. He enjoyed seeing the beautiful late summer day and the people being relaxed and free at the park.
This was what Andrew had always wished for and he sighed contently. It was the last box to check on his five-year-plan. He felt serene and lost himself in the beautiful view that the sixteenth floor provided. Boxes were still stacked on every available surface and he knew that he needed to unpack them sooner or later, but it could wait, as did the pictures that leaned against the walls where they were supposed to be hung in the near future. For now he enjoyed the blissful moment of happiness and serenity spreading inside of him. Soon enough reality would knock at his door and he was needed to slip back into the role of the hard-assed money making man. He had a hard job keeping the budget for high-end constructions tight and steady and it was a job that didn't make him the most popular guy in the building, but it had to be done and Andrew loved it. He loved negotiating prices and finding the best deals for everyone involved. He loved being the link between investors and contractors, working with down to earth men as much as with wealthy investors. Andrew knew that he was feared for his work-ethics. He always expected everyone around him to give 100% and if they didn't, he had no qualms letting someone either know or go. It made him well respected too. Many of his co-workers avoided him and he met none of them outside the office. Not that he spent much time away from work anyway. With not much of a social life, he preferred to work anyway. He hadn’t reached his new position by kissing asses. Instead, he kicked them and he worked hard for everything he had ever achieved. And this brought him to the only thing that could fog his excitement about his promotion. He had to find a new assistant, again. It would be the fourth this year and it was only September. Human resources refused to send him any more applicants and job centers refused his pleading too. A new strategy had to be found, but Andrew seldom ran out of creative ideas, and he started posting ads all over the internet at the usual hiring sites. He hoped for at least one useful applicant to pop up and maybe one other to store away for later use if the one he had chosen beforehand proved to be a worth for nothing. He had a stack of applications lying on his desk ready for inspection, but he chose to ignore them for now.
There was the knock on the door that made Andrew return to reality again. He jumped startled and turned to glare at the door. He groaned and felt his back and neck tense. Without further ado, the door opened and to his dismay, his boss entered his office. Andrew instinctively knew what was coming his way. It was the usual talk.
“Dawson. I see you have made yourself quite comfortable here.” Conner Massey stated, sarcasm seeping his words. Andrew nodded curtly and Massey took a seat Andrew hadn't offered. Instead, he tapped away at his computer pretending to be busy.
“What can I help you with, Conner?”
“Oh you know, I only wanted to check on you.” The older man tried to answer elusively.
“And?” Andrew knew there was more to come.
“And to see if you have found an assistant yet. You need it. Look at the mess this office is. Besides, with your new position your workload will go up too.” Conner Massey waved about the messy office and fixed Andrew with a warning stare.
“Ah, I knew, that this wouldn't be a courtesy visit Connor.” Andrew leaned back and crossed his arms in front of his chest. Usually, he was on very good terms with his boss, he considered him a mentor or sometimes even a fatherly figure, but this topic always rubbed him the wrong way.
“Think about your reputation, Dawson. And that of our firm too.” Conner pleaded exasperatedly. He rubbed the bridge of his nose as if the mere thought of Andrew without an assistant gave him sleepless nights.
“I am on it, but HR is not really helpful at the moment,” Andrew complained.
“I know, I told them to not send you any more assistants. It's your job to find someone you can work with for more than a couple of months. They can’t find someone who fits, you have to do it on your own. Word is getting around that you are complicated and a diva...”
“Hey... I am a lot, but I am no diva.” And both men smirked knowingly lifting the heavy tone off the conversation. Andrew's sexuality was never discussed, but it was no secret either that he was gay and if an opportunity presented itself in a discussion he would gladly jump on it and try to make his opposite uneasy.
“... a diva, who nobody wants to work with.” Conner pressed on, trying and failing to hide his grin.
“What is wrong with being demanding? I want my assistants to know how to sort my files alphabetically and chronologically. I need them to do some things without needing to spell them out, copies, sorting the mail, being friendly on the phone, passing messages and keeping their eyes and ears open at all times. Working for me is a full-time job, Conner.” Andrew defended himself. Connor nodded.
“You are still too demanding. They are only assistants and not partners.”
“They should do their job. And the right way. I don't have the nerve or the time to show them every step and hold their hands while making me a cup of coffee. They need to work autonomously and pick up on the details themselves. I am too busy to be their chaperone.”
“And when do you want to start seeing people to occupy that position?” Conner Massey asked not even masking his annoyance.
“Well, I have a pile of applications here. I could invite the first people on Monday.” Andrew offered and patted the dreaded stack.
“Do your interviews on Saturday and let them start on Monday. The sooner, the better. And Dawson, find someone who will stay. People are talking...”
“I know what they are talking and you know as good as I do that those rumors are fabricated. I wouldn't touch a woman unruly if my life depended on it.” Andrew quipped.
“Don't be so dramatic, Dawson. Do your job and let them do theirs. Good day.” Conner Massey left Andrew's office and the happy, peaceful feeling he had been feeling earlier was taken away with him. “God dammit.” Andrew cursed and pushed the keyboard away frustrated. With one single sentence, Massey had sabotaged his entire plans for the weekend. Even though it was only Thursday now, but Andrew had planned to celebrate and let his hair down for once. He was tempted to press the button for the intercom and ask for a cup of coffee, but then he remembered that no one would answer and he grudgingly got up to walk to the kitchen and pour himself a cup. He would be in need of it if he was to sift through all the applications that were waiting on his desk. He added some sugar and a dollop of milk. He carefully took a small sip of the hot beverage and winced. The coffee tasted like it was a week old. At least his last assistant knew how to make coffee and it would be a requirement for the next one too. Andrew smirked as a plan popped up in his mind, he would incorporate making coffee in his interviews as a practical test. He poured the rest of his coffee down the drain and cleaned out his mug before he put it in the dishwasher. He was unpopular enough with his colleagues, no need to add to it by leaving his dirty dishes for others to clean away. He took a look in the fridge and it only had a small bottle coke and a can of Red Bull. Andrew knew that both beverages belonged to someone and he was reluctant to take them without asking, but he needed energy in a bottle right away. He wrote a quick note placing it on the fridge’s door and adding a five dollar bill for good measure. This way he had at least paid for it. No one could ever say that he didn't pay for what he took. He could have made a new can of coffee too, but Andrew didn't want to waste any more time than he already had. Back at his desk Andrew took a long swig of the ice cold coke and opened the first file of the stack. He sighed desperately at the many typos he saw and dismissed this one. It was the first on his stack of rejections. An hour later and the rejection pile was thirteen files high, the invite to interview stack counted eight files. The last application laid on a separate pile. It was promising, almost too good to be true, but it had no picture and, on top of that, it was a man. One of only four male applicants and three of them hadn't made it to the interview stack. Of course, most candidates for positions as assistants were still female. Andrew took that one particular file again and read again. The man sounded perfect for his needs and he reluctantly transferred it to the interview stack. Reluctantly, because usually not including a picture would be a straight 'No'. Andrew did not only require flawless work, but also impeccable looks. No piercings, no visible tattoos and an overall nice, clean and dapper appearance.
Andrew knew how hypocrite he was, being pierced and tattooed himself. But unless he rolled up the sleeves of his shirt no one would see the tattoos and unless he would strip off his shirt completely, no one would see his nipple piercings either.
Andrew pinched the bridge of his nose tiredly, stretched his arms high above his head and then loosened his tie with a sigh. It was time to go home, he was tired and his eyes burned from the intense reading he had been doing most of the day. He quickly sent emails to all his invites for the interviews on Saturday and switched off his computer. He put on his jacket and put some work in his briefcase, only in case he wouldn't be able to sleep at night and closed the door behind him. Most of his co-workers were already gone. As per usual, he was one of the lasts to leave the building. First in, last out that was how his workdays could be described in short. Andrew waited patiently for the elevator to arrive and brought him straight down to the garage. Once down at the garage, he was greeted by a security guard and showed his badge.
“Good night, Antoine.” Of course, Andrew knew the man by name and it made the guard stand that much taller and that much more approachable. He had made it a rule to be nice to everyone who made his life easier. He stood close to his car, opened it and threw his briefcase on the back seat. As Andrew started his car, the music started simultaneously and a distinctive classical piece started to play. Andrew shook his head and selected 'American slang' by the Gaslight Anthem to take him away to his well-deserved end of the day and drove out of the garage. His way didn't take him home straight away though. It took him to a bar where he liked to unwind some days. It took him to 'Sarry's', the bar of his best friend.
Andrew headed to his favorite bar and when he entered the dimly lit building, the woman behind the counter greeted him with a smile.
“Hello stranger. Long time no see.” She smiled invitingly and Andrew kissed her on the lips. Sarah, the bartender, was an old friend of Andrew's and his best friend too. She knew everything about him and he knew everything about her too. More than he had ever cared to know about any other woman. They had met years ago at a dinner party and they had hit it off immediately. The same kind of humor, the same taste in men and many other similarities had made them a strong union ever since. Sarah had recently married, but she refused to give up her job and play the well-behaved housewife. She liked working the bar and meeting the people. It wasn't precisely a gay bar, but it was known that most men who frequented ‘Sarry’s’ were gay anyway. Over time, it became a hotspot and when Sarah took over the bar she won most of the regular customers over too, even though she had changed the name and the décor considerably.
“You look like you need to get laid.” She teased Andrew, who laughed out loud. She always knew what he needed and this time it wasn't any different than any other time. It had been a week since he had a man in his bed and he felt his need rise. Andrew had not been abstinent for that week, but jerking off once a day was nothing compared to a hard male body taking him. His own hand did a good job, no doubt about that, but it was not the same as a stranger's hand.
“Any cute men around tonight?” Andrew asked hopeful and Sarah took a good look around the bar. “One or two,” she shrugged and winked before moving down the bar to serve beer to a patron who looked like it hadn't been his first of the evening.
Andrew waited for Sarah to finish making his own drink – a Vodka Tonic with a slice of Lemon – before he turned around to eye the men at the bar himself. Disappointed with what he saw he turned around again and finished his drink in a few sips.
“Another one?” Sarah asked and Andrew nodded holding out his empty glass to her.
“Can you bring it to the booth over there? I can as well get some work done.” Sarah nodded exasperatedly. She knew that Andrew was in need of a man, but while he had his head buried in his files no one would dare to approach him and he wouldn't see potential suitors either.
Andrew was at his third drink when the bar began to fill and the noise began distracting him in his work. He looked up fleetingly and looked back down to his files, but something or rather someone had caught his attention and made him divert himself from his work. Tall, blonde, good-looking. Just his type. He looked around the bar more closely but didn't spot the man he thought he had seen was gone.
Andrew sighed resignedly and started to clean the table from his papers and neatly stacked everything in his briefcase. He opened the knot of his tie and pulled it out from underneath his collar, folded it and put it in his briefcase as well. He reached for his glass and frowned when he saw that it was empty again. Waving the empty glass with one hand at Sarah and opening the first buttons of his shirt with the other, he waited to capture his friend's attention. She smiled when they made eye contact through the crowd and nodded understanding Andrew's gesture. Moments later, she cut her way through the patrons and sat down opposite of Andrew in the semi-privacy of his booth.
“Is it okay to spend my break with you?” she asked without waiting for an answer. Andrew just smiled at her and she smiled back. Of course, it was okay, but she asked anyway.
“So? Anyone around worthy of your time?” she asked teasing her friend.
Andrew looked around again but dismissed the men on display. Sarah shook her head disapproving.
“You are becoming picky with your old age. What about him?” she pointed with an unlit cigarette at a beefy man. He was muscly through and through and far from Andrew's type. He shook his head declining.
“Him?” she pointed at a little stocky man who grabbed his beer bottle as if it was the only thing keeping him from fleeing the grounds.
“Oh come on!” Andrew grinned and it earned him another one of Sarah's easy smiles.
“What? He looks like he could use someone like you in his life.” She finally lit her cancer stick, puffed out the smoke and looked around a little more. Her eyes stayed glued on one particular man and Andrew followed her gaze. He only saw a backside, but what he saw was right what he usually went for. He could imagine going home with this man. Broad shouldered, blonde hair, tall with long, lean legs, accentuated by very tight pants. He had a good fashion sense too and from where Andrew sat he could see long fingers holding a glass. His hands looked soft and as if they would not be used for hard labor.
“Know him?” Andrew asked, nodding in the man's direction and trying to sound nonchalant about it.
“No, but I would not push him out of my bed. Damn. Look at that beautiful ass.” Sarah practically drooled and Andrew couldn't have agreed more.
“With an ass like that the face becomes obsolete.” Sarah chuckled at her own comment, but this time Andrew didn't agree. He liked a man – even a one night stand – to have it all. A pretty face, or at least one that Andrew found appealing was mandatory. And, of course, the man needed to be an experienced top too.
Most people wouldn't guess that Andrew was an exclusive bottom. During the day, he was always in charge and rarely let anyone take control of his business. At night or in private it was different. He liked giving away his control and being dominated. Not in a BDSM kind of way – he had tried that once and found out that it was not for him – but he liked to give himself to someone else, let them take the reins. He needed someone who was willing to take charge at least in bed. Andrew was strong and controlling in his job every day, he needed an outlet that allowed him to let go of some tension once in a while and his sense of responsibility.
The object of his attention turned around as if he had sensed Andrew and Sarah staring at him. Andrew and Sarah simultaneously looked away and started to giggle like school girls.
“Busted.” Sarah chanted and took her cigarettes and her drink in her hands.
“Hey, where are you going?” Andrew wanted to know.
“Believe it or not, honey, some of us actually work.” She kissed his cheek and made a sign with her fingers to call her later. Andrew wanted to call something after her, but the good-looking stranger stood in front of him all of a sudden. Intense blue eyes looked down at him and bore into him. This man had so much presence, so much charisma that Andrew had troubles looking away. He licked his lips innocently but knew how it must have come across.
“Mind if I sit here?” the stranger's voice sounded like honey. Deep and rich, all consuming and touching Andrew at the core. He nodded and made a motion with his hand offering a seat.
“You come her often?” the stranger asked and started a light conversation.
“Yeah, pretty often. The bartender is a good friend. She owns this place.” Andrew bragged and immediately shook his head at his behavior.
“Looks like you are unwinding from a desk job.” the young man pointed at the briefcase on the table.
“Yes. I work a lot.” Andrew admitted. The conversation stalled and Andrew started to ask himself how he could coax the beautiful man to take him home.
“What do you do? When you are not sitting in bars with strangers.” Andrew smiled a shy smile and looked at the stranger intently.
“I am a model.” he stared at Andrew, challenging him to say something.
“Whoa. That, I believe right away.”
“It's not as glamorous as it may seem. I'm looking for a real job,” the man said pensively and Andrew wanted to lift the mood again when another shadow appeared above him.
“Hi honey, there you are. I'm glad you secured us a booth.” The man said to the stranger and pecked him on the mouth before turning to face Andrew.
“You!” Jimmy, Andrew's ex-boyfriend, spat out.
“Was he hitting on you?” Jimmy asked his presumed boyfriend jealously.
“Nope. Only chatting. You know each other?”
“He is the ex.”
“Oh. The ex,” the handsome stranger said as if everything was clear now.
“Jimmy? Jimmy is that you? I haven't seen you in ages.” Sarah squealed and fell around Jimmy's neck.
“Don't you have to work?” Andrew asked Sarah sharply. The breakup between him and Andrew had been ugly and Sarah clearly still liking him turned Andrew’s mood sour.
“Nope. I'm done for the night. The perks of being the boss.” she smiled and pushed Andrew further inside the booth to sit with him.
“The next round is on the house,” Sarah announced and waved one of the waitresses to the table to take their orders. Sarah and Jimmy started a happy conversation with many laughs while Andrew and the handsome stranger sat there feeling expendable. Andrew began to flirt with the model out of boredom and the stranger reacted with easy banter and he flirted back, giving back as quickly as Andrew dished out. The volume of the music at the bar was turned up and Sarah couldn't hold back her joy. She jumped up and looked expectantly at Andrew and then shook her head remembering that he didn't dance. She held her hand out to Jimmy, who joined her in no time on the dance floor.
Andrew and the model were all but forgotten.