Dangerous Games

When you play dirty games, the stakes are dangerously high …


Reese Armstrong is striving to get his life on track. He’s started a new career, gotten a new apartment…now he has to figure out how to shake his longtime friend and lover who insists on controlling his every move. For years, Reese took part in the deviant bets orchestrated byhis wealthy lover, Hank. He’s told himself he’s done with all that, but the terms of this latest bet are more than Reese can refuse.

As head computer programmer at a software company, Luca Hartman’s professional life is soaring. But his personal life is a lonely mess. When the hot new sales guy takes an interest in him, a world of possibility opens. But Luca’s been burned before, and he’s wary of the sudden attention. Why would Reese, who could have any man he wants, choose geeky, stuttering Luca? Is he truly sincere or should Luca be on the lookout for a string of malicious code?

Disarmed and enchanted by the shy, brilliant Luca, Reese has to make a choice: reject Hank’s dirty tactics or follow through and destroy the potential he sees with Luca. But even if Reese wants to be done with their dangerous games, Hank’s not through with him…

This is Book 1 of the Games of the Heart M/M series. Though your experience will be enhanced by reading the two books in order, each of these novels is a stand-alone with no cliffhangers. Be sure to check out Book 2 – Turning the Tables.

Excerpt – Chapter One

“Can I get you anything else, Mr. Seeley?”

Reese could almost hear the gears clicking in Hank’s head as he slowly, insolently moved his dark gaze over the young man. Good physique. Bad haircut. Too needy. Too young.

The waiter, dressed in the country club’s staff uniform of white shorts and a dark blue polo shirt, had a yearning, hopeful expression on his face. His Adam’s apple bobbed, a visible bulge appearing in his shorts as Hank undressed him with his eyes.

Not that Reese could blame the kid. Hank was seriously hot. There was no denying that. It wasn’t his smooth skin, even features, sculpted body or firm jaw that made Hank so compelling. It was his eyes, which had always drawn and held Reese, from the first time he’d seen him in homeroom in eleventh grade, a lifetime ago. Those eyes were dark and brooding, with an inner spark that could flare into fiery passion in an instant. A quiet, dangerous power lurked in his gaze. He wasn’t especially tall, maybe only five foot nine or ten, his body compact and muscular. But he gave the impression of being taller, somehow dominating whatever space he occupied. He was like a sleek predatory animal who hypnotized his prey before he pounced.

“No, thanks,” Hank finally answered with a lift to his lips that could have been a smile or a sneer. “We’re done here.” He stood, tossing his linen napkin to the table.

As the waiter drifted away, Hank turned to Reese. “Let’s go back to my place.” This was code for, “Let’s have sex.”

Reese shouldn’t have agreed to the late lunch in the first place, but he’d been putting Hank off one time too often lately. It had been easier, in the end, just to say yes to lunch, but it wasn’t going to go any further than that. “Sorry,” he said, his excuse already prepared. “I have to swing by the office and pick up some stuff for my client call tomorrow.”

Reese was a new sales rep for Strata Systems, a Denver software company that designed applications for robots used in the manufacturing industry. He’d been working in construction since the day he’d graduated high school, and this was the first job he’d had where he showered before work instead of after.

Hank grunted, clearly annoyed. “I liked your old job better, boy. You had predictable hours.”

And you had more control.

It was funny. The term boyused to excite him, drawled in Hank’s slow, sexy voice. Since Hank had first introduced him to exciting bondage games way back in high school, they’d always incorporated BDSM play into their sex lives. Ever since that first time in Hank’s bedroom at his parents’ house when Hank had tied his wrists to the bedpost with long silk scarves and playfully spanked his bare ass, Reese had been hooked. How his heart had hammered that first time Hank had pressed him against a wall and kissed him with a passion that left him breathless and hard as steel. He still enjoyed the hard, stinging spankings Hank sometimes delivered before ordering Reese onto his hands and knees, lube at the ready.

Back then, it had been easy for Hank to send Reese into a submissive headspace. He adored the thrill of the forbidden and the obliterating passion that wiped everything else away. Through the years, it was their BDSM connection that had kept things alive for so long. When Hank brought out his toys, Reese could forget everything else, focused entirely on their hot, sweaty passion.

When had things started to turn sour?

If he were honest, it had been a slow, steady decline for years. Now, it seemed, they were all too often only going through the motions.

In response to Hank’s comment, Reese replied, “You didn’t have to work my old job.” He held up his hands, which were scarred and calloused from years of heavy labor. “It was fine when I was eighteen, but I’m pushing thirty now. It’s exciting to be using my mind for a change, instead of just my back.”

Hank flashed a smile as he playfully ruffled Reese’s hair. “Good for you, Reese. I’m proud of you. It’s the first time you’ve actually gotten a job all on your own. That must feel good.” The smile edged slightly downward, his dark eyes liquid with concern. “You know complex thinking isn’t your strong suit. Don’t forget that disastrous semester at community college.”

There it was. The praise and then the kick. The reassurance and then the insinuating doubt. The dynamic had been established back in high school, when Hank was the effortlessly straight-A student, while Reese was the fuckup who spent as much time in detention as he did in class.

After high school, Hank had applied to and been accepted by a number of Ivy League universities. But he’d remained in Colorado, attending the University of Denver so they could stay together. Ironically, after graduation Hank had never held down a real job, his sizable trust fund making it unnecessary. Reese, of course, had worked nonstop for Hank’s father.

It had been tough back then to listen to Hank’s stories of fraternity parties and what fascinating courses he was taking, while all Reese could aspire to was maybe getting to be a construction foreman someday.

When Hank was a junior, it occurred to Reese he might be able to find better work if he, too, got a college degree. Without the grades for a scholarship, Reese had enrolled in the local community college. Hank had been all for it at first, but after a while he’d been annoyed when Reese was never around, being either at work or at school or studying for an exam.

It was true—Reese had taken on too much, what with working full-time on top of school, and he’d ended up dropping out after one semester. “We’re not all made for academics. You have other strengths,” Hank had said, cupping Reese’s crotch with a suggestive leer. “Don’t worry,” he’d added. “I’ll take care of you.”

Thus, the balance of power, always tilted in Hank’s favor, remained intact. And for a long time, Reese had accepted that. But things were different now. He was determined to make them different.

Hank had been openly skeptical of Reese’s taking a job based primarily on commissions, and Reese was determined to prove him wrong. Unfortunately, the initial learning curve had been steeper than he’d expected and now, nearly three months into the job, he’d pretty much run out of what meager savings he’d had. He was already a month behind on the rent of the new studio apartment he’d taken, but he refused to panic. He was very close to getting two big potential clients signed on, and then his money worries would be over.

Of course, he could have gone to Hank and asked for a loan, but he was damned if he’d do that. It wasn’t only the “I told you so” Hank would be sure to crow. He was done taking favors from the Seeley family.

Despite the initial obstacles of breaking into the business, Reese liked working at Strata Systems. No one in the small, progressive company had a fixed schedule. He could come and go as he pleased and the business was an interesting one. Not to mention, the owner, Robert Sanchez, was openly gay, as were several of the staff. If he could just hang on a little longer, he’d get those clients, earn a nice, fat commission, and be on his way to a new life and professional career.

As if listening in on his thoughts, Hank said with studied nonchalance, “You know, you could move in with me while you’re getting yourself established in your so-called career. Better yet, you could quit. No reason for you to remain in the rat race, Reese. What’re you trying to prove anyway? You know you belong at my feet, and the rest is just for show. I could give you a very generous allowance—you know that. And you’d be doing the work you were always meant to do, which is serve me, 24/7. I’ve always wanted a live-in sex slave.”

Sex slave. As a fantasy, it actually sounded kind of hot—for about an hour. And what a relief to just let it all go—the constant financial struggle, the uncertainty and fear of facing something new. How easy it would be to just give in at last and become Hank’s fulltime toy.

Mentally Reese shook his head, shaking away the untenable fantasy. This new job was the first one he’d gotten on his own—without the intervention and favors of the Seeley family lurking somewhere in the background. It was about more than just the job. It was his chance, finally, to stand on his own two feet, beholden to no one.

He forced a laugh. “Yeah, that’s just what I want to be when I grow up—your personal whore. Me and the houseboy could share the servants’ quarters.”

“Certainly not,” Hank said, lifting an eyebrow. “As my personal whore, you’d sleep in mybed. Or at least at the foot of it.”

“As tempting as that sounds,” Reese said dryly, “I like my own space.”

“Whatever.” Hank shrugged. “When you get tired of living in that concrete shoebox, the offer still stands.”

“Good to know I have a safety net,” Reese replied as they walked to the front of the clubhouse, where Hank’s driver was waiting. He ignored the dig at his studio apartment which, admittedly, wasn’t much bigger than Hank’s walk-in clothes closet. “Thanks for lunch. You can just drop me at my place. I’ll ride the motorcycle to work.”

“Don’t be silly. I’ll take you to your office. It’s about time you showed me around. You know I’ve been dying to see your, uh, cubicle, is it?”

Reese’s impulse was to refuse. He didn’t want Hank horning in on this new thing in his life. But if he protested, Hank would only become more determined. The inevitable power struggle wasn’t worth it. Reese sighed inwardly.


Once they were settled in the backseat of Hank’s Mercedes, Hank said, “We haven’t made a good bet in a while. I’m in the mood for something nasty.”

Reese responded more out of habit than interest. “Oh yeah? What’s in it for me?”

Hank appraised Reese, lifting the corner of his mouth in a sardonic smile. “What’s always in it for you? The power of the conquest. The knowledge you can get any guy you set your sights on. Not to mention, serving me in a way that pleases me, boy.” He let that linger for a while, fixing his dark, sexy gaze on Reese. When Reese didn’t reply, he added, “Oh, and of course, I’ll make the pot sweet.”

Though he knew better, Reese couldn’t resist asking, “How sweet?”

“Depends what we come up with. It’s been a while. You need a challenge.”

It was a game they had played for years. It turned Hank on to watch Reese seduce other men, not because he cared for them, but because he could. It was understood between them that Reese was always the one to make the play. It was beneath Hank, in a twisted way. He controlled the strings and Reese danced to his tune. That was the real crux of the matter—power.

For years, Reese had gone along, caught in the net of obligation, debt and desire that had formed the framework of their relationship these many years. He couldn’t deny that their sex was infused with an added intensity after he had hunted and captured his query for Hank’s cold amusement.

But Reese had grown tired of the game. The glitter of seducing and then discarding guys, just because he could, had tarnished. What used to be a grand adventure now seemed like a mean game to play on some unsuspecting guy. Reese didn’t like who he’d become under Hank’s wing. He was trying to make something new—something that didn’t include, or at least wasn’t controlled by this man who had been the one constant in his life over the past twelve years.

He glanced at Hank, who was regarding him from beneath those thick lashes, his sensual, cruel mouth pursed as he waited for Reese’s inevitable capitulation. As always, Reese was drawn to the magnetic power of Hank’s gaze. In spite of himself, Reese’s body responded to the pheromones that still whizzed between them, his damn cock hardening in his pants.

He forced himself to look away. “Count me out on this one, Hank. I’m getting too old for that shit.”

Hank threw back his head and laughed. “Twenty-nine is too old to get someone into bed? Last I checked, you were in perfect working order, my friend.” He squeezed Reese’s thigh with thick, blunt fingers, his hand edging toward Reese’s now bulging crotch.

Annoyed with both Hank and himself, Reese pulled away.

“Come on,” Hank urged, his tone almost wheedling. “Don’t play coy with me. Don’t forget, I know you. I’m the only one who really knows you, Reese.”

Reese said nothing to this. He stared resolutely out the window.

“Okay, okay,” Hank said, as if giving in to a bargain Reese hadn’t been trying to strike. “I’m feeling expansive. How does ten thousand bucks sound?”

Reese turned from the window to gape at Hank. Was he serious? The bets carried a monetary prize for Reese, but usually only a few hundred bucks, a thousand at the most.

Ten thousand dollars.

Reese thought about his past-due rent, and the fact that his motorcycle was in desperate need of new tires. He hadn’t confided any of this to Hank, no longer willing to accept his handouts, which invariably came with lots of emotional strings. But a bet was different. He wouldn’t be begging for help, he’d just be playing the game. No question, ten thousand dollars would give him the cushion he needed while he built up his clientele at Strata. It was like a lifeline thrown to a drowning man. But at what cost?

“Are you serious?” he said, almost hoping he’d misheard so he wouldn’t have to decide.

“You heard me. Ten thousand bucks to do what you do best.”

“What’s your twisted brain up to now?” Reese asked, trying to keep his voice light. If only Hank hadn’t dangled that kind of money in front of him, damn him.

“That’s why I need to come to your office. I need to see what we’ve got to work with at this job of yours.”

“Oh, no you don’t.” Reese interrupted, the fantasy of ten thousand beautiful dollars receding rapidly. “This bet will notinvolve anyone I work with. I’m not going to fuck this opportunity up, Hank, so you can just forget it.”

“Relax, boy,” Hank said soothingly, running his hand lightly over Reese’s thigh. “We’ll play it very cool. I just want to take a casual stroll around the place. I’ll pick the guy. You get him in bed and you win the money. Easy as pie for a stud like you. Ten thousand dollars, Reese. Cold, hard cash.”

There was always a catch. “And if I lose?”

Hank cocked an eyebrow, half his mouth lifting into the whisper of a smile. “You lose, I get your ass. You agree to be my personal sex slave for a solid week. You will stay at my place, and be available at my beck and call when you’re not at work. I’ll keep you naked and on your knees. I’ve got some yummy new toys I want to try out on that sweet little ass of yours.”

At one time in his life, Reese wouldn’t have hesitated to leap at the offer. He would have considered it a win-win, no matter how the bet turned out. Though he couldn’t deny the magnetic pull that still existed between them, Reese chafed with the need to assert his independence. The idea of spending all his free time naked and chained in Hank’s huge bedroom no longer appealed.

Still, the odds were he could win the bet. Schooled for years by the best of them, Reese knew how to turn on the charm. He could be what others wanted him to be, even if there was nothing behind his smile or his words. He almost always got his man, once he set his sights on the conquest.

Ten thousand dollars…

He mentally scanned the men in his office, trying to think who Hank might pick. He might choose Gary, who was over sixty and had grandkids. Or maybe Robert Sanchez himself, which Reese would categorically refuse. Robert wasn’t bad looking, for an older guy. But attempting to seduce the boss was a sure way to get fired. Maybe that was Hank’s underlying goal. It wouldn’t surprise Reese in the least.

“Not the boss. No one over fifty and no women,” he said staunchly. Shit, had he just said that? Was he going to do this? Was he going to compromise himself yet again for Hank?

But that amount of money would buy him the time he needed to build his client base. He was so close to clinching several deals, but time was running out. He’d considered asking Robert for an advance, but didn’t want to admit the defeat that would imply. He would make it on his own, or not at all.

“Deal,” Hank agreed. “The usual rules apply—you provide me with the recorded proof of the deed, with the guy’s face clear enough to identify.”

Reese nodded. It was easy enough to set his phone on video record in a discreet corner of the room. Assuming he could win the bet. And if he didn’t? Well, he’d leap off that bridge when he came to it.

The driver pulled into a parking spot in front of the large, one-story converted warehouse that housed Strata Systems and jumped out of the car to open the door for Hank. “We shouldn’t be long, Carson,” Hank said with a wave of his hand.

Reese used his access card to unlock the front door, and they entered the space together. It was really just one huge room. Not even the boss had his own office. Instead, there were what Robert referred to as “creative spaces” set along the perimeter of the room for the programmers and marketers, with a large central area in the middle for hanging out and brainstorming. One area had been turned into a kind of snack bar/game area, complete with a well-stocked refrigerator, a snacks cabinet and a fancy espresso machine, along with old-fashioned free-standing arcade games like Ms. Pac-Manand Mario Brothers.Non-support staff came and went as they pleased, any time of the day or night. That day there were about twenty people scattered throughout the space—primarily the computer programmers and secretaries. The other sales reps were probably out in the field, drumming up business.

Reese moved toward his desk, Hank behind him. Once Reese had collected the files he needed, Hank said, “Take me on a tour. Let’s see what we’ve got to work with.” Some people glanced up at Hank as they passed, but, as he’d come in with Reese, they simply nodded or smiled and went back to their business.

Reese led Hank through the room, apprehension prickling his skin. Hank walked slowly, casting his appraising eye over various guys bent over their keyboards or milling around in the game area. When he got to the farthest corner of the building, Hank pointed toward a desk that was partially obscured by a divider screen. Hank moved closer.

“Who’s that?”

Not him, Reese silently prayed. Leave it to Hank to find the guy least likely to succumb to Reese’s supposed charms.

He couldn’t let Hank know of his reservations, however, as that would seal the deal in Hank’s sadistic mind. “Luca somebody,” he said with studied casualness.

Though Reese had spoken under his breath, Luca looked up suddenly, his eyes meeting Reese’s for a second before he ducked his head once more over his keyboard, his unruly brown hair falling over his eyes.

“Luca who?” Hank persisted as Reese steered him firmly away.

Fuck. He was going to do it. He was going to pick Luca.

“Hartman. Luca Hartman.”

Luca Hartman was a total geek, as far as Reese could tell. He’d never said a word in Reese’s hearing, except to stammer painfully when asked some technical question by another developer. Reese had caught him staring at him a time or two with a puppy dog expression, but Reese hadn’t encouraged him in any way. Luca was one of those painfully shy, socially awkward guys who could barely put two words together, but could write the code to program a robot to do anything from building a car from the ground up to designing a telescope for use on a space shuttle. He was the kid in middle school whose lunch money you stole, the nerd in high school who went to Science Olympiad and played on the chess team.

They headed around the rest of the building, moving slowly toward the front door. As they walked, Hank asked questions about a few of the other men, and Reese answered them as best he could, aware he was going to have to work for that damn ten thousand dollars.

He could still say no.

Neither spoke as they climbed back into Hank’s car and Hank directed Carson to Reese’s apartment building. As they eased into traffic, Hank said, “I choose the nervous-looking dweeb in the corner with the horrible haircut. You have two weeks. That should be plenty of time to get even the shyest social misfit into the sack, even a straight one. Though something tells me that boy is one of our own.”

Reese smiled grimly. Luca was actually a very good-looking guy, if somewhat scruffy. He always seemed to be in need of a haircut and his clothing was usually rumpled, like he’d rolled out of bed and pulled on whatever he’d tossed on the floor the night before. He dressed in T-shirts with obscure geek logos that were incomprehensible to anyone who wasn’t a computer programmer, and holey blue jeans he’d probably had since college. But underneath all that, Luca had potential.

They were quiet the rest of the brief drive to Reese’s place. As Carson pulled up in front of the building, Hank said, “Do we have a deal?”

He shouldn’t do it. It was childish. It was mean. It was unfair to Luca. But as he opened his mouth to refuse, he found himself shrugging. Ten thousand beautiful dollars dangled before him. Luca was a grown man. It wasn’t like he was going to rape him. It would be consensual, even if they were playing by different rules.

“Yeah. What the hell,” he muttered, refusing to meet Hank’s eye, aware of the triumph that blazed there.

As Reese placed his hand on the door handle, Hank said, “Wait. Before you go, let’s be sure we both understand the terms. You have two weeks to seduce that computer nerd hiding in the corner, that Luca whatever his name is. You will record the action and present me with the proof. Once you do that, I’ll hand over the cash. Ten thousand big ones. But if you fuck up and can’t seal the deal, then you agree to be my sex slave for one solid week. Got it?”

Reese should refuse. It was a potentially dangerous bet because he and the guy worked in the same office. But he reallyneeded the cash. Asking Hank for a loan was out of the question. He was already deep enough in the guy’s debt from a lifetime of gifts and handouts.

He’d actually gone to his bank to ask for a loan, but he had no collateral to offer, and working on a commission basis now, he had no steady paycheck to produce to prove his ability to repay. It was a catch-22—he needed the money to cover the gap, but he could only have it if he didn’t really need it in the first place.

He knew in his heart this bet was a dumb idea. He’d been working so hard to distance himself from the guy he’d always been with Hank—a guy who treated anyone not in their little bubble of two as less than, as not worthy of real consideration. If only it weren’t so damn hard to break away. The habits of a lifetime were tough to change, even if he were determined. Not to mention, that kind of money would give him the leeway he needed to make the final break. One last task—one last game to play for Hank’s amusement—would be enough to get him through until he succeeded on his own.

He opened the car door and climbed out. Turning to face Hank, he replied tersely, “Got it.”

As he was closing the door, Hank called out, “Oh, and Reese?”


“Don’t fall in love.”

Reese snorted. “No chance of that. I don’t even know what the word means.”

The sad thing was, he really didn’t.