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Jacob Richmond looked around the bar, searching among the moving bodies and flashing lights for his cousinâ€™s familiar face. The pounding music pulsed in time with the migraine throbbing through his skull. After a long international flight, exhaustion dragged his steps, and he could barely see through the pain jabbing behind his eyeballs. If he hadnâ€™t promised David heâ€™d meet him at the club, heâ€™d have checked into a hotel and called it a night. However, David wanted Jacob to meet his friends, and besides, Jacob needed to pick up the key to his cousinâ€™s apartment.
Jacob spotted his cousinâ€™s distinctive red hair across the crowd. Working his way through the sea of people, Jacob headed towards where he thought heâ€™d seen David. He was forced to stop several times along the way to slap intrusive fingers off his body.
Apparently â€˜noâ€™ was code for â€˜grab my assâ€™. It was an eye-opening experience for Jacob, who usually worked long hours and didnâ€™t have a lot of time for bar hopping, no matter how many countries he visited. It was never a good idea to show up for a modelling gig looking tired and hung-over. Some of his co-workers partied hard and came to work looking less than their best the next day.
There wasnâ€™t a quicker way to piss off a photographer.
Hoping to eventually work behind the camera instead of in front of it, Jacob tried not to alienate any of the photographers or fashion designers he might want to work with in the future.
His reputation as an even-tempered model who always delivered the perfect picture had served his career well.
â€œHey, David,â€ he called out as he approached. Five other people sat around the crowded table with his cousin.
They all stopped talking to stare.
Jacob tried not to feel too self-conscious. People usually watched him. However, normally a camera lens or a rope stood between him and any onlookers.
â€œJacob.â€ David jumped to his feet then rushed over to give Jacob a hug. â€œSorry to drag you out here, but I really wanted my friends to meet you,â€ he admitted with a shy smile.
Jacob knew David wanted to show off his cousin the model while desperately trying not to look like it.
â€œIâ€™m happy to meet your friends anytime.â€ David was one of the few relatives who didnâ€™t drive Jacob absolutely bonkers. He figured the least he could do was meet Davidâ€™s friends since his cousin was letting Jacob crash at his place for a while.
â€œDavid, introduce me.â€ A short, dark-haired kid gave Jacob a slow, skin-crawling once-over.
â€œShane, this is my cousin Jacob. Heâ€™s a fashion model,â€ David said proudly.
Shaneâ€™s eyes widened. â€œI know you. You did that ad where you stood on the beach looking at the water wearing that tiny, tiny swimsuit. I wore out my hand jerking off to that one.â€
â€œUm. Thanks.â€ He tried to sound polite since he doubted Shane really wanted to know how much his comment creeped Jacob out.
â€œNo problem. Iâ€™d love to do it with you sometime in person.â€ Shane leered at Jacob as if he were a blow-up doll one second from being used.
David shoved Shane away. â€œStop being a perv. Youâ€™re going to freak out my cousin.â€ He gave Jacob an apologetic shrug. â€œSorry. Iâ€™ll pay you back for the club cover charge.â€
â€œThere was a cover charge?â€ Jacob wondered if he shouldâ€™ve paid something when heâ€™d entered. The bouncers had waved him through with no mention of money. One of them had groped his ass but so had half the other people heâ€™d passed. This was definitely the sort of meat market Jacob tried to avoid.
David laughed. â€œProbably not for you.â€ He reached into his pocket and pulled out a key. â€œHere. I made you a copy for your stay.â€
â€œThanks, man.â€ Jacob snatched at the key like it was the answer to his prayers. All he wanted was a pillow where he could lay his pounding head and find a momentâ€™s peace. â€œI appreciate you letting me crash at your apartment. Iâ€™m so sick of hotels. I should probably look into getting a place of my own again, but I hate paying rent when Iâ€™m never home.â€
David slapped him on the back. â€œYou look tired. Go ahead and get out of here. I know clubs arenâ€™t your thing.â€ David glanced to the left, over Jacobâ€™s shoulder. â€œBut if you could put your arm around my waist and pretend to be interested in me for about three seconds, Iâ€™d totally appreciate it.â€
Used to his cousinâ€™s odd ways, Jacob slid his arm around Davidâ€™s waist. Leaning over, he whispered into his cousinâ€™s ear, â€œI donâ€™t care who youâ€™re trying to attract, Iâ€™m not kissing you.â€
David burst out laughing. â€œDeal.â€ After a moment, he shoved Jacob away. â€œHeâ€™s not paying me any attention anyway.â€
It was probably for the best. David had an abysmal track record with men. Jacob had lost count of the number of men moving in and out of Davidâ€™s life. Luckily for Jacob, his cousin didnâ€™t currently have a live-in lover, so there was no one to object to him staying there for a few weeks.
â€œIf you need a gimmick to get him to come over here, he isnâ€™t the one for you anyway.â€
â€œEasy for you to say.â€ David rolled his eyes. â€œYou just show up, and they trip over their tongues.â€
â€œSometimes that makes it harder, not easier,â€ Jacob confessed.
With the key in his pocket, he kissed his cousinâ€™s cheek and headed back through the mass of dancers, trying to limit the groping as much as possible. David hadnâ€™t introduced Jacob to his other friends. However, if they were all as bad as Shane, heâ€™d rather not meet them.
Jacob spotted the exit sign glowing like a beacon and zoomed in on it, the door to freedom and migraine medicine almost in his grasp. A large man with dirty-blond hair stepped in front of Jacob, blocking his path.
â€œHello, gorgeous,â€ the man said. A creepy smile crossed the strangerâ€™s face and Jacob didnâ€™t like the odd light in the guyâ€™s eyes. Heâ€™d probably consumed more than alcohol that evening. It made Shaneâ€™s leer look almost angelic in comparison.
â€œHello.â€ Jacob moved to go around the stranger, too tired to put up with anyoneâ€™s shit. His flight from Paris had drained him, and he never did well with the time change. All he wanted was a nice soft bed, a fluffy pillow and no more people trying to grab his ass.
The stranger clamped one hand on Jacobâ€™s shoulder, holding him in place. â€œWhy donâ€™t you let me buy you a drink?â€
Jacob shoved the man away. He really hoped he wasnâ€™t about to get into a fight. He didnâ€™t need any bruises for tomorrowâ€™s shoot. Stepping to the side to avoid the dirty blond, he almost growled with frustration when the blond moved to block him again. The stranger wrapped his meaty hand around Jacobâ€™s arm in a hard hold to prevent him from leaving.
â€œYou think youâ€™re too good to have a drink with me, donâ€™t you?â€ the guy accused Jacob.
â€œI just need to get home. Iâ€™ve got a shoot tomorrow.â€
The big guy smiled, tightening his grip on Jacobâ€™s arm. â€œGreat, you can take me home with you. Iâ€™ll make sure you get a good nightâ€™s sleep.â€
Before Jacob could come back with a polite, but definite no, a man even larger than the one attached to his arm ripped away the blondâ€™s hand.
â€œThe man said no.â€ The new guyâ€™s deep voice rumbled so low Jacob could have sworn he felt the vibration in his chest, rather than hearing it over the loud music. Jacobâ€™s saviour mumbled something indecipherable to the jerk. Jacobâ€™s assailant turned pale and rushed for the exit, trampling more than one too-slow-to-move dancer.
Jacob found himself face to face with a big man in a tight T-shirt and painted on jeans. For a minute the lights in the club reflected off the newcomerâ€™s deep blue eyes and they appeared to glow, an eerie effect. Jacob shook off his nerves and held out his hand. If he werenâ€™t so damned tired, heâ€™d offer to dance with the man as a thank you. It wasnâ€™t every day someone this big and hot crossed his path. Most models Jacob worked with were in the tall and slim category. This man was in a class all his own, more predatory animal than slick fashion clotheshorse.