Everyone needs a hunky fire-sex demon in their lives, don't you think?
“You must come in, sir.”
Max Raines stared at his canvas through narrowed eyes, not quite absorbing the words of his majordomo. Fever clouded his head; his body temperature spiking off the charts. Desperate for release, he stood, legs apart, atop the windswept bluff comprising the only wall-less boundary of his compound in Sleepy Hollow. Below, the green waters of the Hudson boiled. The stark cliffs of the Palisades, fringed with ragged trees, rose with dark majesty from the banks on the other side of the river, to the west and south, jutting into cloud-filled heavens. An ominous gray sky seemed low enough to touch. He couldn’t capture any of it. Not in any way that satisfied him.
“Damn it. Still not right.” A gust swirled the tails of his paint-spattered linen shirt, the sleeves rolled up to reveal his biceps, in a manner more suited to the dog days of August than the chill gloom of February.
“You haven’t eaten in two days. And the wind’s kicking up. Nor’easter brewing.” Bryce Blackburn put more iron insistence into his words this time. “Time to call it a day.”
Max tore his gaze away from the unacceptable painting at last. Irritated, he tossed his brush, a No. 10 bright, the hog bristles thick with cadmium green, onto the palette. Only the unfinished landscape stood between the predatory beast pacing with increasing agitation inside him and the rest of the world. His muse had deserted him.
“You picked a fuckin’ fine time to leave me, Lucille.”
Christ. Channeling Kenny Rogers? Who’s next, Justin Bieber?
Instead, the hard-driving intro of the Stones’ classic, “Satisfaction,” popped into his head. The unwelcome earworm taunted him. Yeah. He couldn’t get no. That’s for fuckin’ sure.
Raines dragged a finger around his collar, popping open the top button. If he couldn’t achieve release soon, he’d go mad. Jacking off into his fist gave him insufficient gratification. Human women proved too delicate and fragile, too breakable. Demons glommed onto him, far too needy, attaching themselves with the tenacity of barnacles, draining him of inspiration and clinging long past their expiration dates. He’d learned from bitter experience he could crisp any woman he touched. The infamous Maxwell Raines: a six-foot-six, two hundred twenty-five pound hunka burning love. And now I’m channeling Elvis.
Odd, all things considered. Usually he exhibited no more of a musical bent than he did humor. And in light of the bland landscape he’d committed to canvas, he had nothing to be whimsical about.
His heat, his ardor, his raging libido—all of them had to be expelled from his head and his body and poured into his work. But the painting before him remained flat, emotionless, devoid of his usual sensuality and passion, further frustrating him but offering no relief from the devils that plagued him and the sexual beast that howled within.
Standing patiently beside him, Blackburn shifted from foot to foot, clearly aware of his inner turmoil. The majordomo stamped his boots on the frost-glazed lawn and blew on his knuckles. At least one of them couldn’t get warm enough.
Without Blackburn, he’d be a total recluse. But the other man had been with him for years, knew his secrets, his needs, served him in every capacity from butler to valet to nanny. More family member than servant. He even acted as manager and art agent, most recently arranging the exhibit at the Night Gallery.
Now, he held out his employer’s overcoat, a muffler and a pair of leather gloves. Max turned to face him and met the other man’s eyes full on.
Blackburn whistled, but had the good grace not to recoil. “They’re red.”
“Can’t cool down.”
“Not a good sign.” Blackburn removed one of his own gloves and touched Raines’ bare forearm, then drew back as if his fingers had been singed. “Fever again.”
“Through the fucking stratosphere.” He brushed his hand through his hair.
“You’re getting worse, Max.”
Raines acknowledged the other man’s statement by packing up the art supplies. He hoisted the easel onto his shoulder. “Mind carrying my coat?”
“I’d carry you if I thought that would help.” Though no 90-pound weakling himself, no one would mistake Blackburn for The Incredible Hulk either. The smaller, slighter man eyed his employer up and down, craning his head to do so. Raines had at least half a foot on him and a lot of muscular poundage. “But I doubt I could without my knees buckling.” He stuffed Raines’ gloves in a jacket pocket. “There’s still some decent light in the studio…if you must keep at it.”
Max snorted but didn’t reply.
“The painting’s not helping?”
“Not going well.” He shifted the easel to a more comfortable position on his shoulder.
Blackburn opened his mouth then shut it again. But they knew each other too well. He considered his assistant a friend.
“Spit it out, man.”
The majordomo frowned. “You realize the paintings are getting darker and darker? More—”
“I was going to say sexual.”
“Same thing in my case, isn’t it?”
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