Mathias Jago started his shadow kickboxing session with a side kick. That was after forty-five minutes on weights, twenty on the indoor track and another ten on the elliptical machine. Though he hadn’t wanted to get out, it was a part of his everyday life. He had to keep his body in top shape if he wished to keep working as a stripper at the Thornless Rose. Sure, some guys let themselves go over the years and they couldn’t be fired because of employment laws. As time went by, their bosses would begin pushing them out with trumped up reasons—the clients booed or refuse to request them for private sessions.
Those were the ones Mathias hated the most. He’d be stuck in a luxury room, shaking his ass for some in-the-closet pervert who had too much money and way too much time on his hands. Still, it was one of the cards he’d been dealt so he might as well play.
A roundhouse kick gave way to a few jabs followed by an axe kick. Mathias picked up rhythm. Pulling his mind from the depression over how his life had turned out, Mathias tossed himself into getting through the workout. He imagined his opponent and went in for the kill. Uppercuts, knee and elbow strikes, and sweeping by dipping down to knock his imaginary opponent off his feet—all of it worked together, making Mathias sweat. By the time his routine was over, his T-shirt was soaked all the way through and perspiration slid down the center of his back.
That made Mathias smile as he paced for a few breaths before picking up his water bottle and towel and making his way to the change room. As he sat on the bench in front of his locker, he tilted his head back and squirted water into his mouth from the bottle. But it wasn’t satisfying. Mathias loved when it was so cold, simply thinking about it gave him brain freeze. He frowned and snapped the lid back in place then chucked the bottle into his locker. The sooner he could get showered and dressed, the faster he could get out of there and find some that was cold.
Mathias took a quick shower, more to wash the stink off than anything else. He was on his way home anyway and would take a more detailed one there. He grabbed a fresh towel from a pile sitting close to the shower entrance, chucked his dirty one in a nearby bin and walked, naked, to his locker. There he dried himself and redressed in a pair of black track pants and a blue T-shirt. He hauled on a sweater over that and was just shoving his arms into the sleeves of his winter jacket when the door opened behind him.
Mathias turned and extended a fist. “Hey, Collin. How’s it going?”
“It’s as cold as balls outside.” Collin Mullings touched his fist to Mathias’. “Why do we live in a place where the wind hurts our faces?”
Mathias laughed and continued dressing. “I don’t know, man. It’s just the way it is. Coming in for your workout?”
“Yeah. I couldn’t get out of bed this morning.”
“Yeah. It’s going around, man.”
“Listen, Jackson Stark has a new game coming out soon. He’s having a release party for people to test out the beta version of it. You want in?”
Mathias thought about that for a second then arched an eyebrow. “When?”
“Saturday—starts at ten in the evening.”
“Sorry. Working that night.” Mathias sighed. He rarely got to go out on a Saturday night anymore. “Let me know how that goes, okay? I just got through Divided We Fall and lord have mercy, that cat’s got talent.”
Collin nodded. The two hugged and Mathias pulled his bag from the locker and slammed it shut, making sure the lock clicked in place. Since he had a premium membership, he was assigned his own locker, which was nice. “I’ll see you later.”
“We need a night at some point.”
“For sure. I don’t seem to get time to do that kind of stuff anymore.”
“You get vacation time from that place, don’t you?”
“Eventually. But if I don’t work, the bills go unpaid. I’ll figure something out.”
Mathias left the gym feeling like the world was conspiring against him. But the thought was banished by the biting cold and the howling winter wind. He growled, tossed the strap of his bag across his body and pulled his hood up over his head. Once his head was as warm as it could be under the present circumstances, he shoved his fingers into his pockets and quickened his steps toward his car. When he was close enough, he hit the small remote and watched as the front lights on his SUV flashed. His engine roared to life and he frowned.
What’s the point of having an automatic starter if you forget to use it?
The damn thing was programmed into his cell phone. He could have started the car while he was chitchatting with Collin!
Mathias hurried over, tossed his gym back into the back seat then made his way to the driver’s side. It wasn’t as warm as he would have liked but at least he could only hear the angry wind blowing and it wasn’t slicing into his face anymore.
He knew he had to wait until the car warmed up so he played around on his phone, replying to emails and reading through others. Most were advertisements and so-called deals for supplements he knew were super bad for his body. He’d made the mistake of signing up for some newsletters at a fitness expo four years before and it was still haunting him.
Those he marked as spam and hoped they’d stop coming through to his inbox.
He checked Facebook, ignored the one hundred eighty-five friend requests he had. He’d stopped checking them. A few times he went through and deleted most of them but ten minutes later he’d log back in and the numbers would be high again. They were mostly from women and young gay men who’d either seen him at a show or heard from a friend of a friend that he was a stripper. He didn’t know any of them.
With a sigh, he replied to a few comments on his status before logging out. Mathias turned on the defroster to ensure his windows cleared, then the heat. The warmth exploded from the small vents, making him moan. Then and only then did he pull on his seatbelt, shift the car into drive and ease from the parking spot.
* * * *
With his day off over, Mathias took a shower, grooming himself carefully, then dressed in a pair of track pants and a sweater. He gathered everything he’d need for the night and headed for his car. The traffic into the city was almost nonexistent so he took his time, taking in the snow-covered trees around him and even sneaking a peek of the snowy mountains. By the time he made it into the Thornless Rose, he was an hour and a half before call time. He bumped fists with security and let himself in through the back. Mathias didn’t stop to speak to anyone. Instead he made a straight run for what he’d been using as his dressing room. It was the smallest of all of them but that meant he didn’t have to share. He decorated it how he wanted, and could relax on an overstuffed chair he kept there until it was time for him to get dressed. Yet, he hadn’t really felt the nervous excitement that would take him over the moment he closed the door behind him.
He exhaled and set about preparing. Once he was dressed in the suit he usually wore on stage, Mathias gave himself a final once over.
He turned and smiled. “Hey, Sergei, what’s going on?” They bumped fists. “How’s the house tonight?”
“Packed,” Sergei the DJ said. “I don’t know what’s happening but I’m not going to complain.”
“I hear that. You spinning tonight or is it Jason?”
“I am. Jason is off to Aruba with the fiancé, remember?”
Mathias had forgotten. In all honesty, Mathias had lost track of how many fiancés Jason Plumber had had. It seemed there was a new one every few months or so. Jason was either the unluckiest man when it came to love or he was just a slut.
“I wanted to know what you were doing tonight.”
“I didn’t tell you my music again.” Mathias sighed. “Old age. I’m sorry. Let’s start with Pony then go into First by Somo and end with Insatiable by Darren Hayes.”
“Nice.” Sergei nodded, patted Mathias on his shoulder and headed back down the hall before stopping. “Oh, and Pat wanted me to let you know that you have a private dance tonight in the Midnight Room.”
“Oh yeah? What time?”
“Great, thanks,” Mathias said. Once the DJ was gone and he was alone, Mathias sighed then frowned. He hadn’t been expecting a private show that night. But, luckily, he always kept a few things in his to-go bag just in case.
It took a moment for Mathias to move. But eventually he wandered to the backstage area and into the chaos of other dancers waiting to be called on stage. Though he hated the noise and madness that came with such an environment, he’d forgotten his iPod in his dressing room and was too irritated with himself to go back for it.
Come on, Jago. Pull it together.
One by one, the dancers did their thing on stage and soon it was his turn. Mathias just wanted to go home and sleep. Strange, he wasn’t into dancing that night. But the bills weren’t going to stop coming if he had an off night.
“Gentlemen, are you ready to be wooed?” Sergei’s voice boomed.
Cheers erupted from the other side of the curtains.
“Are you ready to be…catered to?” Sergei pushed.
Whistles were added to the applause and shouting.
“Give it up for the one, and only—The Gentleman!”
Like he usually did, Mathias turned on the charm. He approached the stage, fingers jammed deeply into his pockets. The audience fell silent, almost as if they hadn’t been breathing. The moment he moved his head to the right, the venue was filled with shouts and cheers. During his routines, he tended to remain on the stage, but someone caught Mathias’ eyes. He’d never seen the man before. The Thornless Rose was a pretty big and swanky place but he knew all the regulars. This man wasn’t one of those. As a matter of fact, he seemed a little uncomfortable being there, front and center. He seemed Indian, tall with a mouth that Mathias would like to kiss.
Mathias made his way over to him, stood astride the man’s lap and backed up until his ass hit a very hard chest.
Someone from behind the guest touched Mathias but he pushed the stranger’s hand away and reached for the object of his dance’s hand instead. He lifted it and placed it against his own thigh as he gyrated back on him.
As the dance progressed, Mathias felt the rise in the front of the man’s pants. The stranger might not want to be there but Mathias knew he was doing something right. Catching himself, Mathias dropped a chaste kiss to the man’s neck before returning to the stage. At the end of his routine, Mathias took his bow, and met the stranger’s eyes before exiting.
Backstage, he checked the time. He had twenty minutes before he had to be in the Midnight Room for his private show. Rushing by the other dancers with a smile and a wave, he darted into his change room, grabbed his things and fled the other way down the hall to the showers. He scrubbed, dried his skin, then used unscented cream to moisturize. After dragging a brush through his hair, he wrapped a towel around his hips and returned to his dressing room to haul on his backup suit. Once he was sure he was presentable, with three minutes to spare, Mathias rushed to take position in the Midnight Room, waiting for his guest.