"First the tide rushes in, plants a kiss on the shore . . ."

Matt often started a set with something quiet and slow, like "Ebb Tide," when there was a convention or two in the hotel, like there was today--electricians and bankers. What a combination. Something quiet tended to settle and quiet them down to the point that he could stand it.

It wasn't a question of being a prima donna and needing the people in the bar to hang onto his piano playing and singing no matter how many years he'd gone to a first-class music school to learn these skills. He knew he was only there for background. But raucous noise put him off his game. It reminded him too much of Peter--the man he returned to during the day, the man who wasn't taking his recent forced retirement by a hostile buyout of his company well and who was taking much of his ire out on Matt. And Matt had the bruises to prove it.

The smooth, low, slow strains of "Ebb Tide" were working to some extent. The conventioneers close to the piano were speaking in lower tones than those out on the fringes of the room: bankers closer in, electricians packed in beyond and raring to go. Beyond a certain point his music couldn't be heard, so there was no consideration being given to the thought that someone was performing. He didn't resent them. They'd been penned up all day in meetings and this was their first chance to unwind. And the first opportunity to become frisky, for those who took advantage of out-of-town conventions to let loose in ways they wouldn't do at home. And this, after all, was Las Vegas, where the ads told you to let it all hang out.

This was OK with Matt too. He had put this to his advantage--increasingly so in recent weeks, having made the decision that the answer for this whole thing with Peter was for the two of them to split. The only problem was that virtually everything the two had belonged to Peter. It was the way he wanted it. If Matt was going to break away, he needed the means to do it--and to leave any backlash from it here when you went home.

The drinkers at one table nearer the piano were speaking louder than the others in his vicinity and Matt couldn't help but turn his ear in their direction and pick out the discussion. There were two women and two men, and one of the men was doing everything he could to put the moves on a younger, strikingly good-looking woman. From the dress of the men, Matt assumed they were executive level and from the youth and looks of the women, they were probably secretaries--or, as they called them these days, personal assistants. The man was concentrating on his moves on the young redhead so intensely that he probably didn't even know that Matt was playing the piano nearby and crooning softly into a microphone. The young woman, though, was listening to Matt--or at least pretending to, perhaps to try to tamp down the man's advances.

The man addressed the young woman as Laura, his voicing cutting right through the background murmuring. Almost unconsciously, Matt segued from "Ebb Tide," into "Laura."

"Laura is the face in the misty light . . . footsteps . . . that you hear down the hall . . ."

Matt had the young woman's complete attention. The man didn't notice, of course. He was on a mission and had his landing approach all mapped out and in gear. But the redhead--Laura--certainly paid attention. The dreamy-looking man with the curly blond hair and the smooth-as-silk voice at the piano was playing for her--directly for her. And he was looking at her and smiling at her, for her.

"Excuse me," Laura said, after having jotted something on a cocktail napkin and standing up from the table. "I need to powder my nose. Coming with me, Tiffany?" She was speaking to the other three at the bar table, but she had eyes only for Matt, who smiled back at her--as he smiled for anyone in the audience giving him their full attention.

It probably hadn't even occurred to him that he had transitioned into "Laura." So well trained were his fingers that they could manage a complete set on their own while Matt's thoughts were elsewhere all together.

The two young women walked away from the bar table with the campaigning executive looking slightly surprised and trying to keep track of where he had left off in his pitch so that he could pick it up again when Laura returned.

Laura and Tiffany brushed past the piano on the way out of the bar, and Laura dropped her cocktail napkin in his tip hat. This Matt noticed. He kept close tabs on that tip hat of his. That was undeclared income. Undeclared to Peter. It was for the stash Matt was trying to build to get out from underneath Peter.

After Laura and Tiffany had safely passed and were exiting the bar, Matt checked the hat. No added money. Just a napkin with a room number written on it. Room 717.

Matt sighed. He got room number notes like this three or four times a night. And sometimes he welcomed them when they led to added income. But not when they came from a woman, even one as gorgeous as Laura was.

Thus interrupted in his playing, Matt's fingers picked up a new tune, one reflecting his mood. The check of the hat showed that he was behind the curve on tonight's take. This put him into a "Deep Purple" mood.

"When the deep purple falls over sleepy garden walls . . ."

He sensed someone at the side of the piano. It wasn't unusual for a bar patron to come to the piano and lean over it, savoring his playing, wanting to hear better amid the background noise of the drinkers, or waiting patiently to request a song. Matt welcomed such a presence. The patron usually dropped a few bills in the hat before drifting away. He turned his face up, bringing the brilliant smile to his face that always disarmed whatever patron it was bestowed on--male or female.

But it was only one of the bar hostesses.

"Hi," he said to Emily, keeping the smile, as it always was good to keep the other bar employees on your side. Emily had somewhat of a crush on him, so he was careful in traveling down the middle of that road with her--a tease of suggestive teasing and nothing more. She probably knew he didn't lean that way, but there was no reason to press that point. She looked good--dressed like the queen of tarts to celebrate Valentine's Day the next day, no doubt. She didn't look as good as the Laura who had slipped him her room number, though. So, he would be looking elsewhere if he was going to be tempted . . . which he wasn't. Not in that direction.

"Hi yourself, handsome," Emily said, giving him a sultry smile. "I come bearing a couple of fives and a twenty, the latter with a request for a song."

"Twenties are nice; fifties are finer," Matt said, as she dropped the bills in his hat. "Hope it's a song I know."

"You know all the songs. It's a good one."

"What's the song and who's the requestor?"

"He wants to hear 'Strangers in the Night.' That beautiful South American man over there."

Matt turned his face toward the crowd, directed by Emily's turned chin, and then he froze. The man by the elevator on the ninth floor.

Obediently, of their own, his fingers moved on the keys.

* * * *

It had been after his first set of the evening, another napkin dropped in his hat, with a fifty and a room number--932. One of the conventioneers. Middle-aged, maybe a bit of a paunch, but otherwise well-muscled. Ugly as sin in the face, but, in the dark, who cares? All he'd wanted to do--at least then--was to suck Matt off and stroke himself as Matt gave him sounds that made him feel Matt was having a really good time. He said he'd like more later, but couldn't wait for at least this.

He'd wanted a kiss at the door as Matt left, too, though, while murmuring that they could do more later that night, after the businessman had attended his last session at the convention. Matt was noncommittal. After his last set, he'd do whatever was the most advantageous at that time.

Farther down the hall, the elevator door opened, and there he was. The hunk. A well-dressed, extremely well-put-together South American. Walking out of the elevator, his progress arrested as he saw the other man and Matt, close together, kissing, at the door of a room down the hall.

It was only a brief moment, but it had embarrassed Matt. The man at the elevator was so much more than the man who had pulled him close and surprised him with a kiss at the door to his room. Matt was still in the process of tucking his tux shirt into his trousers, so there wasn't much for the man at the elevator to misconstrue.

Maybe if the man hadn't smiled before he turned and walked the other way down the hall. Maybe then his image wouldn't have emblazoned itself in Matt's mind. Maybe also if the man hadn't been such a hunk--so much more so than the guy who paid fifty dollars to blow Matt and was angling for more later--at his convenience. Not bothering to ask Matt what would be convenient for him.

* * * *

The Hispanic hunk across the bar, maybe pushing forty-five, but not pushing it hard, and a beautiful man, with sensuous lips, was smiling the same smile. He inclined his head slightly to establish a connection with Matt from the smoky distance. Matt automatically acknowledged the salute and, with trembling fingers, began the refrain of "Strangers in the Night."

"Strangers in the night . . . exchanging glances, wondering in the night . . . what were the chances we'd be sharing love . . . before the night was through?"

Matt sensed a presence at the side of the piano. He raised his eyes a bit, permitting his fingers, their strength increasing, to do what they did on the piano by habit. The gold cufflinks with the diamond insets were the first things that caught his attention. Then the manicured hands, meaty and strong, but very well taken care of, came into view.

The man was leaning his elbows on the top of the piano, comfortably, like he belonged there, in full command.

"Strangers in the night . . . two lonely people we were. Strangers in the night . . . up to the moment when we said our first hello . . . little did we know . . ."

"My name is Enrique," he murmured, as their eyes met. "After your last set tonight."

Matt watched as a business card, with a hundred-dollar bill wrapped around it materialized in one of the hands and was deposited in the hat. Then the man--Enrique--was gone.

Matt, shuddering slightly, his fingers, on their own, shifting into "The Shadow of Your Smile."

"The shadow of your smile when you are gone . . . will color all my dreams . . ."

He didn't bother to check the hat. He knew that the business card would have a room number on it. It did. Room 1425. One of the hotel's junior suites.

* * * *

He was all Matt ever wanted--or could want. More than Peter was; more than Peter ever could be. Expert, forceful, controlling, yet solicitous. And long and hard and thick. Virile. Fast to recover; unrelenting. The young, blond musician had no idea how Enrique sensed that he melted to slight bondage, something Peter never wanted. Matt's wrists were tied behind his back with the Brazilian's--Enrique having told Matt that was his nationality--silk necktie. Not enough to actually incapacitate Matt if he wanted to break away, but enough to give the illusion of control having been relinquished.

Matt didn't mind the act with a stranger as long as there was the illusion that he wasn't complicit.

Enrique, solid and strong, heavily muscled, dusky-skinned, slightly hirsute with black, curly hair, sat on the side the bed, an arm encircling the slighter, nearly alabaster-white blond's waist, as Matt sat in his lap, facing him, knees bent and calves flat on the bed, encasing Enrique's meaty thighs, and arched back over the bedroom carpet, bound arms dangling toward the floor. Enrique's other arm moved from a hand cupping the back of Matt's neck to fisting and pumping the young musician's respectable--but put to shame by Enrique's--cock, while Matt raised and lowered his hips, ever more rapidly on the cock buried in his channel with the strength of his knees.

Starting with Matt fucking himself on the cock, at the Brazilian's command, both of the men wanting to establish that Matt wanted it but that Enrique, his cock moving inside Matt's channel, caressing every undulating wall, controlled it. Then the finish of Enrique turning Matt, shoulder blades on the surface of the bed and bound arms over Matt's head, while the muscular Brazilian crouched between the young musician's thighs, spread wide and raised with Enrique's hands fisting Matt's slim ankles, and, pulling the young blond's pelvis off the bed to meet his, the forceful, experienced older man pounded, pounded, pounded Matt's slowly opening channel. First Matt, and then Enrique, ejaculated in noisy, animated explosion, punctuated with Matt's tenor-baritone and Enrique's bass flood of dirty fuck words off the street--some of Enrique's in Portuguese--that would seem out of character for each man in more controlled circumstances.

Enrique's laughed, "That was good. That was very good."

Still buried deep inside Matt's channel, Enrique stood at the foot of the bed, bringing the younger man up with him into his arms. Matt hooked his knees on the muscular Brazilian's hips and, initially, nuzzled his face into the hollow of the Brazilian's dusky and slightly hair-matted chest as Enrique held the younger man close and rocked back and forth, the lubricated slipperiness of the sheathed cock giving off a sucking, slap-slap sound as, healthy, needy, and virile, his cock regained girth and length. He pushed Matt's shoulder blades back onto the surface of the bed with his head, his lips finding the young blond's nipples, as Matt threw his bound arms over his head again and moaned to the sound of the forceful Brazilian's suckling at the younger man's nipples and the moist slap-slap of his cock inside Matt's channel, pulling Matt's hips toward him with each deep--deeper, thicker than the previous time--thrust, thrust, thrust of the insistent, digging cock.

Matt arched his back and emitted a little cry of passion as the two came simultaneously. Too exhausted now to say anything dirty, knowing now that the Brazilian needed no egging on.

Afterward they sat at the table by the window of Enrique's junior suite, he in a hotel robe, Matt naked, as they feasted on what was either a very late supper or a very early breakfast the Brazilian had ordered from room service.

The two explored each other in discussion in a way Matt had never done with any other man who had brought him to a hotel room from the bar for a far tamer tryst than the two had just enjoyed--in fact in deeper and more intimate detail than Matt had ever conversed with Peter.

In what was refreshing to Matt in these encounters, Enrique showed no reticence in talking about himself, and, seeming to understand that Matt was a bit skittish about it, he talked first.

"No, I'm not married. I've never made it secret that I'm a man's man. And, yes, my heritage is Brazilian, but I'm an American citizen. Ties back to Brazil, of course--mostly financial ties; I'm in international banking. But I've lived and worked in New York for over twenty years."

None of this seemed to be put on. Enrique had given him a business card with his room number on it. It identified him as a New York banker, manager of a branch of a Brazilian bank, and it gave a full name and contact numbers. Unless he'd stolen the card from someone and was playing with a false identity, he was being open with Matt. He certainly seemed to be Brazilian. Matt even got him to speak a bit of Portuguese--the words Enrique had spoken in Portuguese during sex, words that made Matt blush upon hearing the translation--which were offered without hesitation or embarrassment and were quite fluent--certainly graphic-- as far as Matt was concerned. And there was a banking conference going on at the hotel.

"I don't usually do this when I'm on the road. But, you know, it's Vegas, and you are such a delicious treat. Achingly luscious. Compliant and resilient at the same time--and what you can do with your channel muscles. I don't often find a young man like you. And I have a weakness for young blonds."

His brilliant smile and openness disarmed Matt completely. In truth, he'd already laid Matt completely open with his lovemaking. Matt had thought of it as that--lovemaking. Not just fucking. It was something that Peter and he had, briefly, attained at the beginning of their relationship. Now, though, they just fucked. And argued.

"Me?" Matt, in turn, asked. "Why am I in Las Vegas? To play the piano and sing. Not much money in it in Tennessee, where I came from. Certainly not what can be made here."

Then, in embarrassment, Matt went silent, his mind on that hundred-dollar bill that Enrique had dropped in his hat, confident that it would buy him what it had, indeed, bought him. Matt's thoughts went to what he had been denying to himself. He was just a whore. And Enrique had paid him generously for the lay. By talking about money just now, he'd sounded so mercenary.

"I'm not really money hungry," he blurted out, wanting to move to higher ground. "I'm making a change and need more than the piano playing pays to move on. It's just temporary . . . what I'm doing here."

"Temporary? I got the impression you enjoyed me fucking you."

"Yes, of course. That's not what I mean. I mean . . . that . . ."

"I understand. You aren't really a prostitute, not really. That's fine. You are an outstanding musician, and drop-dead gorgeous. That should be--"

"Now you're mocking me," Matt said, a bit distressed.

"And you're an outstanding lay," Enrique said, with a laugh. "And men who enjoying it shouldn't deny any opportunity they have to do it. I know I don't."

Matt, completely disarmed by Enrique's openness--and compliment--laughed as well. He felt the tension draining from his body.

"A bad relationship? Is that why you need to move on?"

Matt felt completely naked before the Brazilian. He was physically naked, yes, but Enrique was completely stripping away all of his reservations, everything he'd been keeping to himself--and he found himself relieved and exhilarated by it.

And he opened the floodgates of his reserve and told Enrique of it all. Of Peter, who had swept him off his feet soon after he'd arrived, straight from Julliard, in Las Vegas and had begun working on the Strip. Of how forceful Peter had been, taking full control and taking care of Matt's every need. Just as Matt liked it.

So open was Matt that he told Enrique exactly what he wanted from a man, and Enrique murmured an "I've gathered as much."

Matt told Enrique of how Peter had founded a company that rented out party and restaurant supplies and that had done well in Vegas, even with Peter micromanaging everything--and despite his volatile temper. It had done so well, in fact, that it had attracted the attention of a larger company, which had worked to put Peter's company in a financial corner, had acquired the company in a hostile takeover, and had booted Peter out to an early retirement while he was still in his mid-fifties.

Although the takeover had made him comfortably rich, Peter was too young to retire and too old to start over again and was railing at everyone and everything, including Matt. His violent temper extended to the physical. He hadn't put Matt in the hospital--yet. But it wasn't out of the realm of possibilities.

It was only a matter of time before he threw Matt out--his eyes were already roaming elsewhere--and Matt needed to find other arrangements before he was out on the street with no idea where to go. He'd always been taken care of. He wasn't a virgin when he'd come to Las Vegas. He'd had a forceful man to take care of him ever since he'd entered college. He'd still be back at Julliard if his mentor hadn't died. Matt had a "thing" for older, controlling men.

"So, you need an older, stronger man to take care of you," Enrique summarized. "And you enjoy the fuck--being fucked."

Matt wanted to object to the bald statement of it, but he couldn't say Enrique hadn't summed it up correctly. And Enrique already had another hundred-dollar bill out and was looking at him meaningfully.

"That's not necessary," Matt said. "I want it again as much as you could. I couldn't . . . now . . ."

"It will be here if you change your mind," Enrique said.

"Say those words again," Matt said. "Speak dirty to me in Portuguese again."

Enrique rose, smiling and letting his robe part, and moved around the table to pull Matt up close to him and whisper in his ear in a throaty voice. "Trepar, fodor, funicar, sexo, porra," he whispered. "Fazer sexo com alguém. Gostava de fazer sexo com Mateus."

"That last. What . . .?"

"I said I enjoyed fucking Matthew."

Matt shuddered and grabbed Enrique's buttocks under the robe, holding the Brazilian close to him and feeling Enrique's cock rise under his balls, penetrating between his thighs.

This time Enrique made slow, deep, quiet, total love to Matt, both of them stretched out on the bed, but changing positions so that Matt was on his belly with Enrique on his back and then Enrique side-splitting Matt, and, finally, Enrique on his back, with Matt, facing the ceiling, stretched over him, feet and elbows digging into the surface of the bed and his buttocks rising and falling on the ever-hard, thick, and long cock. Throughout the early-morning hours, they were plastered to each other with Enrique's cock deep inside Matt's channel.

They slept through what was left of the early morning. Embracing. Matt cuddled into Enrique's chest, Enrique's cock still possessing Matt's channel. When Matt awoke, Enrique was gone, a note had been left saying he had sessions to attend for his conference. The hundred-dollar bill was still on the table by the window. Matt was tempted, but he left it there.

Matt went back to Peter's apartment, just down the street from the hotel and two blocks off the Strip, wary that there would be a scene with Peter for staying out all night. No matter what tricks Matt took at the hotel--which Peter didn't know about anyway--Matt had always been back home by 3:00 a.m. Always before. Not this morning.

But when Matt got home, there was no evidence that Peter had been there in the night either. Matt quickly mussed up his side of their bed, finishing just as he heard the front door to the apartment close. He came out of the bedroom drinking coffee, as if he'd just gotten out of bed himself. Peter didn't bother to tell him where he'd been--and, more important, didn't ask where Matt had been. He just grumbled and jabbed at Matt about this and that not having gotten done around the apartment and went straight to the bathroom and turned on the water in the shower.

It was the first time that Matt was happy that Peter wasn't showing any interest in what Matt was doing.

* * * *

"Winds may blow over the icy sea . . . I'll take with me the warmth of thee, a taste of honey . . . a taste much sweeter than wine."

He had been there, at a table with four other three-piece suited men, in a back corner, when Matt had arrived in the bar for his first set. Matt hadn't intended to open with "A Taste of Honey," but his fingers, as they often did, just did their own thing--matching his mood, again, as they often did.

Enrique was deep in conversation, and if he turned his face toward Matt in acknowledgment, Matt didn't catch it for a while. But then he was looking over toward Matt and speaking to the man sitting to his right, another nearing middle-age, well-heeled-looking business executive, who also was giving Matt the eye while the two businessmen conversed.

The man Enrique had been talking to rose and moved toward the entrance to the bar, brushing past the piano in passing, and, Matt noticed, while he was playing "What I Did for Love," dropped a napkin wrapped in a bill into the hat on the piano. The man returned in a few minutes--probably from the men's room--and gave Matt a smile as he passed the piano. Matt automatically flashed back his "keep the patrons happy" smile. It was only as he was getting to the end of his set that Matt looked into the hat.

Another hundred-dollar-bill wrapped around a cocktail napkin. As, usual, the napkin had a room number written on it. But, to Matt's surprise, it wasn't room 1425, Enrique's room, but 1240. Matt's eyes went immediately to Enrique's table. Enrique was looking away but the man who had dropped the note in the hat was looking at Matt, smiling at him.

Matt felt his stomach lurch and an immediate depression set in. His fingers went to the keys.

"When Sunny gets blue, her eyes get gray and cloudy. Then the rain begins to fall."

It had hit him like a sledge hammer--both that he cared and that Enrique obviously didn't. There was no reason--no right--for him to have thought otherwise, of course. But it came as such a surprise--both that he cared and that Enrique obviously didn't. He was just another whore, good for a throw down and then a toss away.

Somehow Matt made it through the rest of the evening, the next three sets, punctuated with rest breaks standing in front of a sink in the men's room, soaking his face in cold water. Pretending that some of the moisture wasn't tears.

During the first two sets, he let his fingers play whatever they wanted. It would be a morose evening for the patrons of the bar. He knew that, but he didn't care. He wouldn't go. The man would have to tell Enrique the next day that his helpful bit of information on getting a good lay hadn't panned out. During the last set, though, he knew he'd go to room 1240. More than ever before, he needed a change. He needed to be done with Peter--to be done with all men who used him and threw him away. And for that he needed money. A hundred dollars was a hundred dollars.

Matt went out on the Strip and walked up and down for an hour after his last set. It only made him feel more isolated--everyone swirling around him was exuding happiness. Many of them probably weren't happy inside, but this was Vegas. Having gotten here, they were going to have fun if it killed them. Suddenly everything in life was such a fake; nothing mattered much at all anymore. Having any scruples or principles--or hopes or dreams--didn't matter either. He laughed a dry laugh. He certainly was in the right city for that.

He returned to the hotel, threaded his way through the casino, where people were throwing their money at the machines with grins on their faces and gin and tonics fisted in their hands. Determined to have a good time being fleeced by impersonal machines. He hesitated before knocking on the door to room 1420, still struggling with himself on whether he was enough of a whore just to carry on with this. But then he knocked . . .

. . . And his eyes went big when Enrique, only wearing a hotel robe, opened the door.

"You're . . . this is 1240 . . . this isn't . . ." Matt stammered.

"Plumbing problems in my other room. They switched me. It's late. I thought you might not come. I saw my world collapsing."

Matt tried not to tear up as Enrique pulled him into the room.

Hours later, after they had fucked in more positions than Matt had ever known existed, and lay, exhausted, watching the dawn creep in through the gauzy curtains on the window, Enrique whispered something in such a low voice that Matt had to ask him to repeat it.

"They have hotel piano bars in New York, you know."

"So I've heard."

"I'll take good care of you."

"So I hoped."



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