C1 Ghost Train: Chapter One
“Four teas, my lovelies. Food’ll be out in a minute.” Mo, proprietor of the eponymous Mo’s Café, deposited her tray on the edge of the table before setting a steaming mug in front of each of her four customers. “You boys back for the summer then?”
“Why else would we be here taking in the delights of your homage to seventies décor, Mo?” Garth accompanied his words with a sweep of his hand, displaying black-painted nails. He got a clip around the ear for his trouble.
“Cheeky boy.” Mo grinned. “It’s good to see you. You all look the same—except you, sweetie.” She ruffled Stevie’s candy-floss hair. “This was blue last year, but the lilac suits you.”
Stevie blushed to the roots of his mop and started to play with the salt cellar. Zach squeezed his shoulder.
“It’ll go well with the products on your stall, Stevie.”
Stevie gazed at him, his silver-gray eyes huge. “I’m not working at the candy-floss concession this year, Zach. I’m going to be running the carousel.” He sounded proud.
“Wow! That’s quite a promotion. The carousel’s a prime spot and so much fun. Dad’s put me back on the helter-skelter, which I think is his way of telling me I need more exercise, and Garth is on the ghost train as usual.”
Garth grinned. “Where else would he put me?” He flicked an imaginary piece of lint from the shoulder of his black leather jacket. “I fit right in.”
“What is it they call all that black?” Mo asked. “Gouda, gaudy… No, neither of those sounds right. Ghastly?”
“He’s a Goth, Mo,” Zach explained, raising his voice to be heard above his friends’ laughter. Mo wandered back to the counter, muttering about weird fashion sense and clothing better suited to funerals.
Garth shrugged. “She loves me.” He extracted a black lipstick from his jacket pocket then applied a fresh coat. “Last year she asked me if I’d been an extra in Interview with The Vampire . That film came out in 1994. I wasn’t even born!” He sniffed and examined his fingernails. “What about you, Adam? What’s Zach’s dad got you doing this year?”
Adam pushed his shoulders back and stuck his chest out. “Security. Same as before. He said I have to keep you three in line.” He raised his mug of tea in a toast. “Though he also admitted it was a hopeless task.”
Garth gave his friend the once over, admiring his well-muscled physique. Adam looked exactly like the county and England rugby player he was. He was a head taller than the rest of them at six foot four. Garth only made six feet because of his thick-soled biker boots. Stevie, the smallest of the group, had topped out at five foot six and Zach only a couple of inches more. Stand them in a line and they made a great slope.
“You have more chance of convincing Mo not to serve black pudding with her full English. Never gonna happen.” Zach clinked his mug against Adam’s. “But have at it. Stevie at least will enjoy you telling him what to do.”
Adam’s half-laugh told them that he would enjoy that just as much. Stevie’s pale cheeks pinked.
“Don’t tease me,” he muttered, not making eye contact. “You’re no different.”
Garth had the chance to contemplate Stevie’s words as Mo arrived to deposit four heaped plates in front of them. His arteries hardened as he examined the fragrant display of fried food. He inhaled the aroma before stabbing a sunshine-yellow egg yolk with his fork. “This summer, we’re going to find the men of our dreams. Pride week will ensure there’s plenty of choice. It’s just a shame that blokes don’t come labeled. It would save a lot of time and angsting if you could just check a tag that said Dommy top, loves Shibari or Spankable sub seeks firm hand . That kind of thing.” He loaded his fork with bacon.
“So what would our tags say, genius?” Adam asked.
Garth raised a sculpted eyebrow. “I think Zach is the man to answer that one.”
Apparently realizing he was under intense scrutiny from all three of his friends, Zach chewed, swallowed then took a swig of tea.
“Well, Stevie’s easy. Sweet, shy size queen seeks extra-large Dom for pain-free pleasure.”
Stevie shrugged. “He’s good.”
“What about me?” Garth asked.
“Emo brat pain slut, loves bondage, the stricter the better.”
Scowling, Garth stuck his tongue out. Zach was spot on.
“He got you too, Garth,” Stevie crowed. “Now it’s Adam’s turn.”
Zach chewed on a piece of thick sausage, looking as if he were thinking it might provide suitable inspiration. “Over-protective Dom needs sub to take care of. Love of chastity essential.”
Adam shoved a loaded fork into his mouth. He chewed and nodded in tandem. “Tag me now. I’m in.”
“So what would your label say, Zach? Do you know yourself as well as you think you know us?” Garth asked. “It’s one thing to describe your friends’ kinks but entirely another to admit your own out loud.”
“Zach only has eyes for one man,” Stevie said. “A certain tall, dark professor in the maths department.”
Garth and Adam murmured their agreement.
“Shame he’s not interested,” Zach said. “My tag will read unrequited lust a specialty .”
“Professor Raynott is gorgeous,” Stevie admitted. “But scary. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him smile. Is he even gay?”
“He has a rainbow sticker in the back window of his Audi,” Zach said. “I live in hope.”
“Stalker!” Stevie waved a knife at him.
Zach shrugged. “My gaydar is non-existent. I wanted to know if I was barking up the wrong tree.”
“More like an over-enthusiastic puppy peeing on the trunk.” Adam snorted tea. Garth and Stevie fell about laughing.
“I’m glad you all find my love life, or lack of it, so amusing.” Zach chuckled. “Even if I don’t hook a duck with the hot professor’s number on it, the summer promises to be entertaining.”
“True,” Garth agreed. It wasn’t raining, Mo’s breakfast was scrummy and he had two months to earn some cash and have fun with his friends. If any of them got lucky in the love lottery, they would celebrate together. “Life is good.”
* * * *
Garth removed his leather jacket then placed it in the cubby reserved for his personal items. Ritual fashion humiliation came with the job. He could wear his own black trousers, but the royal blue polo shirt was compulsory. It had the amusement park’s logo emblazoned across the back and Garth wouldn’t have chosen to wear it if his life depended on it. He considered himself lucky to be working the ghost train. It was only two years old and state of the art—a much cooler place to work than the helter-skelter or the carousel. Zach would be run ragged, dragging coir mats around, and Stevie would be in a permanent state of giddiness.
The ghost train’s special effects were terrifying and passengers expecting the kind of bone-shaking cheesy ride they might have experienced in their childhoods got the shock of their lives. Each carriage traveled through the ride on its own and, inside the cavernous warehouse that housed the experience, the layout was designed in a way that meant no carriage ever passed another. There was even a second story reached by a ramp, a tunnel and a section across a pool of inky water. An automatic camera took pictures of each car as it came through the exit doors. The expressions on customers’ faces as they emerged into daylight were priceless.
The entire ride was run by a computer and a lot of complicated electronics. All Garth had to do was switch it on, recite safety instructions to the occupants of each car then press the button that sent them on their way. Customers could view their pictures on a big screen, but purchases were made via a central booth, so he didn’t have to worry about taking money. It was mindless stuff, but he still had to be alert for any issues with the ride.
Every now and again, everything ground to a halt until he rebooted the computer. If that did happen, he had a Tannoy system to reassure anyone stuck inside. It wasn’t difficult, the pay was okay and, best of all, he had plenty of time to give the occupants of the carriages a quick once-over in the hope of spotting Mr. Right. Of course, he hadn’t the slightest idea what he might do if he did find Mr. Tall, Dark and Dominant, but he had plenty of time to daydream about the possibilities. It gave his brain a break from the intricacies of molecular physics and his skin a nice dose of vitamin D.
A bell sounded, signaling that the park had opened. The noise level built as rides whirred into action and pop music mixed in a clash of discordant harmonies. Soon the air would fill with the scent of hot dogs, toffee apples and deep-fried doughnuts all fighting for control of the visitors’ olfactory senses. Garth focused on his building line of customers and got to work.
By the end of the day, his head was pounding. His back ached and his neck was so stiff he suspected a steel rod connected his skull to his spine. All he wanted to do was go home, soak in a hot bath for at least three hours, then crash. After a few days he’d get used to the work and the physical demands it placed on his body. Muscle memory didn’t last a whole year and sitting in lecture theaters or the university library didn’t prepare him for standing all day, bending over the cars on the ride. Home, however, was still a bike ride away.
Stevie always stayed with Zach over the holidays because his parents lived abroad, so he would catch a ride with Zach and his dad. Adam was a local like Zach, and lived within walking distance of the park, at his parents’ place. He had a fantastic bedsit over their garage. Garth’s student accommodation allowed him to rent year-round. He had a self-contained flat with its own bathroom and tiny kitchenette, which suited him down to the ground. His unit was one of several in a block, in an area of extensive student housing. Over the summer it was very quiet. Neither of his immediate neighbors had stayed for the vacation, so he could play his favorite Goth rock music as loud as he liked without upsetting anyone. He lived within a short stroll of the university library, which meant he could also get ahead with his coursework for the coming year. Physics fascinated him and he was looking forward to getting started on his dissertation.
He rolled his shoulders, groaning at the creaks. Cycling across town was not going to be fun. He did his final checks, shutting everything down. The last music went silent and colored neon turned to darkness. The quiet was a relief. Garth reached into his cubby to pull out his jacket and wallet then jumped at a touch to his shoulder. He yelped, banged his head on a shelf then fell back on his arse in an ungainly sprawl.
“What the…” He rubbed at his sore skull.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”
Garth raised his eyes to view his tormentor. His neck protested as he tipped his head back, then even farther back. He eyed the extended hand with suspicion but decided that, as he’d already made a complete idiot of himself, accepting assistance couldn’t add to his humiliation.
“Can I help you?” Garth was pulled to his feet so fast he lost his balance and stumbled. The stranger steadied him with a hand on the small of his back. Warmth soaked through Garth’s thin shirt.
“You okay? I don’t want you bruising that cute backside any more than it already is.”
Garth gulped before gathering his inner snark. “Do you think it’s appropriate to be commenting on my arse? We just met. Who are you?”
Even in the dim light, Garth could detect the glint of amusement in steel blue eyes.
“Clem Chadwick, Sentinel Computer Services. Nice to meet you, Garth.”
“How do you know my name?” Garth scowled, even though his traitorous dick was twitching with excitement.
“You mean, apart from the name badge pinned to your chest?” Clem chuckled. “Your boss told me. I have to install a patch on the ghost train computer and had to wait ’til closing to do it. He said you wouldn’t mind hanging around for a few minutes.”
“I suppose not—so long as it is just a few minutes. It’s been a long day.” Garth went to sit in one of the cars, feeling grumpy. “Help yourself. I haven’t locked the cabin door yet, but you’ll have to power up again.” He didn’t try to hide his irritation.
Clem quirked an eyebrow. “Quite the brat, aren’t you?”
“Again with the personal comments! I’m tired and cranky. Sue me.”
“Spank you, more like.” Clem turned away with a grin.
Garth gaped. He was torn between running away and shouting Yes, please!
“Jesus. Fuck. I must be more tired than I thought,” he muttered, watching Clem from beneath his lashes. The man was a vision in those black jeans and there was no harm in fantasizing. He drifted into a doze, imagining what it might be like to be under Clem’s control, bound in his ropes, arse exposed for his hand or cane. In his dreams, there was no way that Clem would turn out to be either straight or vanilla. He shuddered and a small moan escaped his lips.
“I don’t know what you’re dreaming about, boy, but it looks good on you.”
Clem was leaning over him. Garth blinked. He could smell mint on Clem’s breath and the scent of his shampoo, he was that close. Garth scrambled from the car as fast as he could in an attempt to regain some dignity, but the erection crammed into his tight jeans didn’t help. Nor did the knowing expression on Clem’s handsome face.
“I’ve got the van,” Clem said. “I’ll give you a ride home.” It sounded more like an order than a suggestion.
“My mother always taught me never to go with strangers. I’ve got my bike.”
“Your bike will fit in the back of the van and I’m not a stranger. We’ve known each other for a whole hour. Ring Zach, or his dad. I’m an old friend of the family. They’ll vouch for me.”
Garth gave him a hard look. The thought of not having to pedal across town in the dark was tempting. He pulled out his phone and stabbed at the Speed Dial button that connected him to Zach.
“Hey, Zach. You know a computer guy called Clem?”
“Sure.” From the sound of Zach’s voice, he was trying not to laugh. “Gorgeous, isn’t he? He was asking just the other day if you’d be back this summer. Not my type, but definitely yours. Dommy as hell. Has he got you in cuffs yet?”
“What the hell, Zach? He’s just offering me a ride home and I want to make sure he isn’t some psycho ax murderer.” He caught sight of Clem, who had a huge grin on his face.
“Ride home… Yeah, sure. If that’s what we’re calling it nowadays.” Zach made a sound somewhere between a snort and a grunt.
“He’s fine. I’ve known him for years. When I was a kid, he was a teenager and we knocked around together sometimes at family barbecues and stuff. He’s a genuine Dom though, so watch that smart mouth of yours or he’ll have a gag in it before you can say Goo Goo Dolls.”
“Okay. If I don’t show up for work tomorrow, the headlines in the local rag will be all your fault.” He ended the call. “A lift would be good. Thanks.” Clem’s smirk was disconcerting to say the least. Garth covered his confusion by locking everything up. He rolled up his jacket then shoved it into his backpack with his wallet and phone. “Good to go.”
Clem led the way to the staff exit at the southern edge of the park, using his security card to open the gate. His van was parked a hundred yards or so down the street. Garth liberated his bike from a long rack next to the curb before wheeling it to the rear doors of the van. Inside, the vehicle was immaculate. There was plenty of room to set the bike inside and Clem lifted it into position as if it weighed nothing.
Garth clambered into the pristine cab, wondering what the hell he was doing. There wasn’t a wrapper or empty coffee cup to be seen—not a comfortable environment for someone as messy as him. Clem got behind the wheel and Garth knew there was no question as to whether the vehicle would start. It wouldn’t dare break down. He fastened his seatbelt, very aware of the wide strap across his body, which seemed less like a safety device, and more of a restraint. He shivered.
“Are you cold? I can turn the heat up.”
Garth shook his head.
“Use words, boy.”
“Not a boy,” Garth grumbled because he felt he had to, not because he really objected to the term.
“But you are a brat.” Clem grinned.
“Screw you.” The words were muttered, but Clem had the hearing of an eagle owl.
“Your mouth needs to be filled with something other than that language and believe me, if there’s any screwing to be done, I’ll be doing it.”
“Don’t make promises you won’t keep.” Garth made eye contact, knowing he was treading on very dangerous ground. The fine lines around Clem’s eyes crinkled. His enigmatic smile didn’t need the accompaniment of words.
“Where are we heading?”
Garth gave his address and Clem steered the van through quiet streets, avoiding the busier roads near the beach. He didn’t attempt to make conversation, for which Garth was grateful. The silence wasn’t uncomfortable and with Clem’s solid presence beside him, Garth felt safe. When Clem pulled up outside Garth’s block in the student village, Garth found he was reluctant to leave the warmth of the vehicle. The chill night air brought goosebumps to his skin. Clem opened the rear doors to lift out Garth’s bike.
“Here you go. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Garth positioned the bike between him and Clem, his backpack balancing on the saddle.
“You will?” A thrill of excitement set Garth’s nerves tingling. Clem leaned across the bike, put a finger beneath Garth’s chin and tilted his head with gentle pressure.
Garth didn’t expect the kiss that followed. It stole his breath and any ability to move. The press of Clem’s lips was chaste but firm. Garth’s cock stiffened and he whimpered. The temptation to beg for more rode him hard.
“Sweet dreams,” Clem said, squeezing the nape of Garth’s neck before he got back into the van.
As Clem drove away, Garth doubted his dreams would be sweet. They were going to be steamy, pulse-pounding, XX-rated… He wheeled his bike toward home, tripping a couple of times in his eagerness to get back. He didn’t want to be excited about the possibility of meeting Clem again, but he couldn’t help it. There was something about the man that called to him and one kiss would never be enough.