Chapter 1

Seattle, February, 2014

“Gin! Dude, you’re history!”

Tommy laid down a set of fours and a run in hearts and laughed in triumph. The words and the laugh sounded garbled, thanks to the damage to his throat and palate, but Michael understood him just fine.

“Damn, man! You are wicked lucky today.” Michael Lamont shook his head, trying to look disappointed. But he didn’t really mind. Making Tommy laugh was more than worth losing a few card games.

“Well, Monday is my lucky day,” Tommy said with a wink. He pushed his chair away from the table.

“Are you flirting with me?”


“I see how you are. First, you trounce me, then you try to butter me up. Do you wanna play again?”

Michael asked because he always asked. It was part of their routine. Three rounds of gin, which Tommy won more often than not. After cards came the massage. But Michael asked anyway, even when, like now, Tommy had pushed back from the table and already had the start of an erection in his shorts. The look in his eyes said he’d forgotten all about gin rummy.

“No more cards,” Tommy said quietly.

“Okay, champ.”

Michael stacked the cards neatly while Tommy went over to the bed. A large photo of the Seattle Mariners, inscribed with “To Tommy, best wishes,” and signed by all the players, was framed and hung over Tommy’s bed. He’d gotten that, Tommy had once told Michael, when he was in the hospital after the fire, and they didn’t know if he would live. It was one of Tommy’s most prized possessions.

Tommy dropped his shorts, leaving on his oversized T-shirt and briefs and sat on the edge of the mattress. He watched while Michael put his gym bag on the table and unzipped it. Michael carried everything he needed in there—a large bottle of Eucerin lotion, massage oil, wipes, condoms, a few styles of vibrators, and a few simple toys. He rarely used the toys, but he carried them all the same. He removed his shirt and folded it neatly on the bag before picking up the bottle of Eucerin.

He stood at the side of the bed while Tommy looked at him. Tommy liked to start by gazing at Michael’s chest for a while, and then touching it lightly with his damaged fingers, getting himself aroused. When he was ready, he laid down on his stomach. As always, there were no blankets on the bed, only sheets, so clean they smelled of fabric softener. A few small towels were stacked on the bedside table. Tommy himself had been freshly bathed, and even his ever-present baseball cap looked new. Michael appreciated the effort. He knew Tommy’s mother was very particular about his care. The house was on Lake Washington in the Madrona district and was easily worth several million. But he had a feeling it was Tommy himself who insisted on everything being perfect on Mondays. The thought caused a small ache in Michael’s chest as he gently tugged up the hem of Tommy’s T-shirt and rolled it tight near his shoulders.

Tommy didn’t like to have his shirt removed. Michael thought it gave him a sense of modesty to be able to pull it down over his scars quickly, even if he never did. Michael squeezed a line of lotion up his ravaged back.

Tommy’s life had been devastated one terrible night six years ago. He’d been sleeping over with a friend when the house caught fire. Michael had never been told what had caused the fire or the details of what’d happened, only that Tommy had been severely burned over seventy-percent of his body. Despite years of what must have been painful surgeries, including extensive cosmetic reconstruction, no one would ever look at Tommy and not see a burn victim. No one, that is, except Michael.

His fingertips soothed the lotion into the scar tissue, rubbing in circles. Tommy gave off a little moan.

Michael took his time. He massaged Tommy’s back, then pulled his briefs down and off and worked his arms and legs. The scar tissue had been well cared for. It required daily massage to avoid getting painfully tight. Tommy’s mother or his PT routinely massaged him, but Michael’s massage was different. He kept it sensual rather than functional. He placed both hands on the backs of Tommy’s thighs and massaged firmly up to the cheeks of his ass, repeating the move a dozen times before massaging Tommy’s buttocks. They were only mildly scarred, and Tommy liked to have them handled.

“Wanna turn over,” Tommy said, in a rough voice.

“Go ahead, champ.” Michael removed his hands and let Tommy turn.

Tommy’s penis was mercifully undamaged, thanks to the way he’d protected his core by curling up into a ball. He was fully erect and red. Michael squeezed some lotion on it and stroked for just a minute before moving on to Tommy’s chest and the front of his arms and legs. He knew what Tommy liked, and Tommy liked to take it slow. He liked to make it last, like a favorite dessert he only got once a week. His moans of pleasure were loud, but there was no one to hear. Only Tommy’s mother was in the house on Monday mornings, and she stayed out of the way, tucked away downstairs in the kitchen.

Michael drew his fingertips lightly over Tommy’s belly, causing him to shiver and groan, before finally taking him in hand. Michael was erect too. He always got that way when working with clients. If Tommy had wanted to see or feel Michael, he would have been happy to oblige. But that had never been what Tommy wanted. Nor was this about relieving Tommy of sperm. His hands were damaged, but he could hold his cards and a pen, type on the computer—he could get himself off. No, what Tommy needed from Michael was human touch, loving touch, to feel that he was not alone, that he could have sexual contact with a cute guy his own age, someone who would not look at him with horror. That was a privilege his twenty-one-year-old peers took for granted, gay or straight.

Michael touched Tommy lightly until he indicated with a panted “Go” that he was ready to come. Then Michael stroked him firmly until he climaxed hard.

Michael cleaned Tommy up and pulled his briefs back on. He always wanted to sleep afterward, no talking, no fuss. So Michael leaned over and kissed his cheek, smiling.

“See ya next week, champ. I’ll remember to bring that Stephen King book I’ve been promising. And I swear I’m going to beat you at rummy one of these days, at least two out of three.”

Tommy laughed, opening his eyes only long enough for one last fond look. “In your dreams. Excellent work today, Maestro. Laters.”




Mrs. Chelsey was waiting for Michael in the kitchen as usual. But this week, when he popped in his head, she looked up at him anxiously.

“Would you like a cup of tea? I made us a pot.”

She’d set the table in the kitchen with two cups and a china pot, like some sort of fancy B&B. Michael hesitated.

“Unless you have to be somewhere?” Mrs. Chelsey's worried tone said she shouldn’t have presumed.

Michael glanced at his watch. “No, I’m good. I’d love to try that tea.” He smiled and joined her at the table.

Mrs. Chelsey was an attractive brunette in her late forties, her body slender and her face drawn with perpetual worry. Still, she was always very pleasant to Michael.

“How did he seem to you today?” she asked as she poured the tea. “There’s cream and sugar.”

“Black is good, thanks. I got the impression he was a little down when I first got here. But he creamed me at three rounds of gin, and that cheered him up considerably.”

Mrs. Chelsey seemed relieved. “He’s been depressed lately. His friends are all graduating from college, getting married, moving on with their own lives… I’m worried about him.” She eyed Michael’s face with a searching gaze as if somehow he could provide the understanding she needed. “He’s always better on Mondays, though. I can’t tell you how much your visits mean to him.”

Michael was glad Mrs. Chelsey and Tommy were happy with him, but it was never easy for him to accept compliments. “Just doing my job.”

“You don’t have to play cards with him, though, hang out, and treat him like a friend. That means a lot.”

“Tommy is a friend. He’s a client but… I’m happy to call him a friend.”

Mrs. Chelsey smiled sadly. “My friends would never understand about you. I don’t even… not even Tommy’s father knows that I hired a sex surrogate.”

Michael wanted to argue with her, to say something like “It’s not a big deal”, or “It’s not that unusual.” Because he truly felt that way. But he knew other people—most people—saw sex surrogacy as a very big deal.

Michael loved being a sex surrogate. It felt entirely natural to him. He’d graduated from nursing school at twenty-one and did an internship with a VA hospital in Seattle. A few of the patients there were young, just recovering from injury or PTSD. One in particular, a sweet boy named Wayne, had lost a leg and was severely depressed. Michael was fairly certain Wayne was gay, and he was so devastated by his injury. Sometimes, Wayne would look at Michael, then look away. There was pure need in that look, a need so deep it ran red with blood. Michael had a strong urge to hold Wayne, to comfort him, to, yes, give him relief in any way that he could. Instinctively, he sensed that Wayne needed physical contact, needed someone to make him feel like a man, to remind him that being alive meant the possibility of great pleasure, not just pain.

Of course, as a young nurse, such a thing would have been entirely inappropriate. Michael had never acted on it, but it started him thinking. He researched online for types of therapy that involved touch. That’s when he discovered sex surrogacy. He fell in love with the idea literally at first sight. He applied to the IPSA, the International Professional Surrogates Association, and took their 100-hour course via mail part-time while he worked. A year later, he was licensed.

He believed so strongly that love and intimacy were key components of healing and mental health. But he’d learned that very few people were capable of understanding what he did.

So instead of arguing with Mrs. Chelsey, he just said, “Well… you’re a very cool mom. Tommy is lucky.”

Mrs. Chelsey laughed. “A cool mom would give her son a little weed, not sex. I’ve done the weed too, on occasion.”

Michael looked at her in surprise. He’d never smelled it in Tommy’s room.

“A few years ago when there was more pain,” she explained. “We got it prescribed. Thank God for the Medical Cannabis law. But Tommy doesn’t want it much anymore. Says it makes him fuzzy. Anyway, I just… I feel he’s missing so much in life. Anything I can give him, I will give him.”

She said this last fiercely. Michael’s heart ached for her. He reached over and stroked her hand. “Hey, Tommy is lucky to have you, to have this beautiful home, and to be so well-cared for. You’re doing a great job.”

She clutched desperately at the hand Michael offered and, with the other, took a casual sip of tea as if she hadn’t a care in the world. It reminded Michael of that saying about one hand not knowing what the other was doing.

“I just wish our lives weren’t about me taking care of Tommy. I wish he was out there being a normal twenty-one-year-old, having fun, even getting into a little bit of trouble.”

Michael wasn’t sure what got into him, but he stage-whispered, “Well, he did just have sex upstairs.” He waggled his eyebrows at her.

She barked out a laugh. “You don’t say.”

“I have it on good authority.” Michael tried to release her hand, but she clung on. He let her.

Mrs. Chelsey looked down into her cup, took a couple of deep breaths. “It’s my fault, you see. His father and I were newly divorced, and I… I got a little crazy. That night, Tommy didn’t want to go to Samuel’s house. He wanted to stay home, play his video games, and chat with his pal in Norway. But I insisted he go. I had a date.”

Michael swallowed down a painful wave of empathy and rubbed his thumb over the top of her hand.

“I’ll never forgive myself for that.” She looked up at him, her eyes bright.

Michael got up and went over to Tommy’s mother. He hugged her, leaning down and holding her tight. She took the comfort, placing her arms around his back and tilting her face against his shoulder.

“It’s not your fault. A million other times that same scenario would have gone fine. Tommy would have come home the next morning like always. You couldn’t have known.”

She nodded, but she didn’t say anything. She hugged him back for a long moment, the tension of grief thick in her body, until at last, she relaxed. Michael’s mother had worked as an intensive care nurse for a while, and she always said her job was as much about helping the relatives deal with what was happening as it was about the actual patient care. Michael’s job wasn’t often like that, but now he understood what his mother meant. That fire had devastated Tommy’s mom as much as it had Tommy.

Mrs. Chelsey pulled back. “Thank you.”

“Any time. You know, you have needs too, not just Tommy.”

He said it sincerely, but when Mrs. Chelsey quirked an oh really eyebrow, he laughed. “Oh. Um… I didn’t mean those kinds of needs.”

“Good. Because, no offense, Michael, but that would be really weird.”

“Right.” Michael laughed, embarrassed. “Well, on that graceful note, I should probably get going. Thanks for the tea.”

Mrs. Chelsey stood up to show him out. He headed for the kitchen doorway and his gym bag.

“Oh! Just remembered. I saw something in Sunday’s newspaper, and I clipped it for you.” She took a newspaper page off the refrigerator and brought it over. “Tommy said you like science fiction?”

“Love it.”

“Well, maybe you already know about this, but when I saw it, I thought of you.”

It was an ad for “Science Fiction week” at Elliott Bay Book Company. “Excellent,” Michael said politely. His eyes scanned down the list of events and his heart stopped. “Oh, my God. No way!”

“What is it?”

“J.C. Guise? Seriously?”

Mrs. Chelsey shrugged, obviously not getting it.

“I don’t believe it! J.C. Guise is doing a book signing at Elliott Bay on Friday night. He’s like… my favorite author in the world, and he never does book signings. He’s a legendary recluse. He doesn’t go to conventions, he doesn’t do Twitter or Facebook, he’s a ghost. He has a one-page website that lists his books, and that’s it. I can’t believe this!”

“That does sound exciting.” Mrs. Chelsey looked pleased that her small offering had been so well received.

“Exciting?” Michael laughed. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Mrs. Chelsey, but right now? I freaking love you.”


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