Fallen Idol - Shelley Munro - ebook
Opis

Space captain Rafi Mura has a guilty secret. He loves his best friend Roberto “Bob” Azam in a romantic, sexual kind of way. Not that he’s fool enough to confess since friendships have died for lesser reasons.Bob is a renowned Sex Idol champion who has fallen on hard times after a tricky Kama Sutra move leaves him badly injured. Now dubbed the Fallen Idol all Bob wants is to reconcile with his former partner Fifi and regain her love.Rafi is horrified when circumstances throw them together. Temptation. Promises. Stupid promises. He wishes he’d never agreed to help Bob prepare to go out on the sex circuit again.Each sensual touch places Rafi constantly on edge and he hungers for more. Much more. Rafi needs to walk away yet he can’t bear the thought of anyone else training with Bob, touching his lover. Each lingering stroke, each compelling kiss is pure torture. Rafi doesn’t know what to do. He can’t admit the strength of his feelings because he’ll lose everything—lover and best friend—but he can’t help thinking that guilty secrets have a way of biting the unwary in the butt.

Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:

Androidzie
iOS
czytnikach certyfikowanych
przez Legimi
Windows
10
Windows
Phone

Liczba stron: 270

Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostepny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacjach Legimi na:

Androidzie
iOS

FALLEN IDOL

Shelley Munro

Table of Contents

Introduction

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Epilogue

Excerpt – Last Wish

Excerpt – Curse Across Time

About Shelley

Other Books by Shelley

Copyright Page

Introduction

Space captain Rafi Mura has a guilty secret. He loves his best friend Roberto “Bob” Azam in a romantic sexual kind of way. Not that he’s fool enough to confess since friendships have died for lesser reasons.

Bob is a renowned Sex Idol champion who has fallen on hard times after a tricky Kama Sutra move leaves him badly injured. Now dubbed the Fallen Idol all Bob wants is to reconcile with his former partner Fifi and regain her love.

Rafi is horrified when circumstances throw them together. Temptation. Promises. Stupid promises. He wishes he’d never agreed to help Bob prepare to go out on the sex circuit again.

Each sensual touch places Rafi constantly on edge and he hungers for more. Much more. Rafi needs to walk away yet he can’t bear the thought of anyone else training with Bob, touching his lover. Each lingering stroke, each compelling kiss is pure torture. Rafi doesn’t know what to do. He can’t admit the strength of his feelings because he’ll lose everything—lover and best friend—but he can’t help thinking that guilty secrets have a way of biting the unwary in the butt.

Prologue

In the early 21st century, reality shows were popular, drawing huge audiences.

As time passed, the shows evolved becoming racier and attracting contestants who gained large public followings. Previously low budget shows now claimed big advertising dollars.

Then, in 2057 a new, unknown disease felled a sizable part of the adult population.

Dubbed the smooching disease because the virus transferred from person to person during the act of kissing, this infection shifted opinions about carnal relations.

Kissing became passé, mouth-to-mouth contact unpopular.

The process of sex became less intimate and people needed something….

Suddenly, reality shows featuring sex grew trendy as a means of foreplay.

And the ad-men raked in increasing profits.

Reality show competitors became the darlings of the entertainment world, as did the celebrity judges of these contests.

New industries broke out to run in tandem with the reality shows—sex aids and toys, body enhancements and schools to educate young adults and prepare them for the sex circuit. Wealthy parents used these schools as a way to finish their offspring’s education.

In 2087, the Brady Conglomerate announced the biggest show to date—Sex Idol.

The winner received a huge cash award, advertising and endorsement contracts, a prestigious trophy.

Now in 2103, the sex reality show business is still big on Earth and off-planet, but thankfully, the smooching disease is no longer a danger, due to modern medicine.

Chapter One

2103 Sydney, Australia, Earth

Rafi Mura parked his hired sports hover outside a dilapidated apartment building on the Sydney waterfront. The throaty roar of the engine died when he switched off the power, leaving ringing silence.

What a dump.

Rubbish littered the rutted street. Paper. Food containers, and a few things he didn’t want to scrutinize. The decay was overpowering, making his eyes stream. Rafi breathed through his mouth while surveying the rest of the street. The wreck of an old hover vehicle lay on its side, pushed up against the brick warehouse opposite the apartment block.

Overhead a spaceship flew in a holding pattern, waiting to land at the new spaceport on the outskirts of sprawling Sydney. The screech of the engines set the brick and mortar buildings vibrating. His hover shook and the road beneath his feet pulsed, shooting weird tingles up his limbs. A hint of rocket fuel filled the air.

His eyes narrowed, his attention caught by movement at the far end of the street. Four youths loitered, sending him and his hover surreptitious glances. They were rough street kids, the sort who preyed on the young, aged and unwary. He fit none of the categories and would stay safe but wouldn’t bet on his unguarded hover remaining untouched.

Shit, why was Roberto living in a neighborhood like this? It was a junkyard. A ghetto. And as a successful sex circuit competitor, Roberto could afford better, even if he was off injured at present.

Rafi climbed from his hover and slammed the door. The sharp thud was like a gunshot in the silent street. A kid with black dreads dove behind a rubbish skip. His friends’ raucous laughter rang out making Rafi grin.

“Hoy,” he shouted. “Wanna earn currency?” Rafi waited while they nudged each other and decided how to proceed. Cautiously they edged closer, closing the distance between them. A ragtag bunch dressed in castoff shirts and synjeans. Bony knees and elbows poked through ragged fabric and wary eyes watched him with suspicion.

“Whatcha want us to do?” The clear mistrust in teen’s voice told Rafi of the rough life they led, the dangers.

“Nothing illegal. Keep an eye on my hover while I visit a friend.” Rafi dug in his pocket and pulled out four small denomination currency discs. He tossed one to each of the kids. “I’ll give you more if my ride is intact when I come down. Deal?” Rafi looked each of them in the face, maintaining eye contact for an instant, long enough to show his sincerity.

“That’s all we gotta do?” The bravest of the kids sniffed and swiped the back of his hand over his runny nose. He sniffed again and hitched up his baggy black trousers. “Make sure it don’t git stolen?”

“Yeah. That’s all you need to do. Deal?”

Their self-imposed leader considered his request for a fraction longer before nodding. “Deal.”

“Thanks.” Rafi held out his hand out to seal the deal. “What’s your name, kid?”

The leader hesitated, his eyes widening. He stared at Rafi’s hand before meeting his gaze.

“Don’t worry.” Rafi worked to keep the bite from his voice. “The color won’t wash off and stain your white skin.”

“Jeez, I don’t care about your color, man.” The kid stepped from foot to foot and hitched up his trousers again. “I…I…dammit, man. No dude ever wants to shake hands with the likes of us.”

Rafi laughed with cynical understanding. He’d experienced discrimination. Although he was thick-skinned these days, there was still the odd remark that jibed the wrong way. “A handshake is the best way to seal our deal.”

The leader stuck out his hand and they shook. “My name is Akio.” He indicated the others. “This is my brother Junzo. Able and Rick.”

“I’m Rafi. I’m not sure how long I’ll be since I’m visiting a friend.”

“No problem, man. We’ll be here guarding your ride.”

Rafi nodded and strode over to the main entrance to the apartments. It was a nondescript building made of concrete and steel. Lurid tags in neon-colored paint covered the walls. An old advertising screen hung drunkenly from the wall, ripped loose by people objecting to soy protein foods, judging by the tags. He scanned the wall for an intercom system. Finally, in frustration he tried the door. It swung inward at his touch.

His palms were sweaty, so he wiped them on his black trews. Rafi laughed at himself, his nervousness at seeing Roberto again. They’d been friends since they were kids growing up in Melbourne and had met at the education center. Roberto hadn’t cared about the color of his skin or his mother’s racy reputation. They’d liked one another, having a lot in common.

One of them more so than the other. Rafi lips twisted into a grimace. He’d fallen in love with Roberto while his friend had fallen in love with Fifi Da Groux and gone out on the Sex Idol circuit with her. Roberto had broken his heart and hadn’t even known it. They hadn’t seen each other for two years, but Rafi had held memories of Roberto close since the day they’d said goodbye. Sap.

“Nah,” he muttered, shaking his head to negate the notion. “Just goes to show I have good taste.” And was weird for talking to himself.

Rafi entered the apartment foyer, wrinkling his nose at the overcooked vege rations and scorched soy meat. Cracks exposed colorful wires and holes peppered the thin inner walls. Tags in red and neon green plastered the synwood. The interior wasn’t much better than the outside. Rundown and only suitable for those on the lower income scale. Rafi didn’t understand why the great Roberto Azam was living in this dump, given his earnings on the Sex Idol circuit.

Roberto.

Rafi pictured the man he loved. Tall and golden-skinned. Broad shoulders. A slim waist that tapered to a tight butt. Rafi envisioned stroking his hands across Roberto’s golden skin and shivered. His cock chose that moment to react to his lusty imagination. Ah, but Roberto was worth it. His muscles rippled when he moved. No body sculpting salons or any of the artificial enhancements. Those hard muscles came from good genes and honest exercise in his father’s warehouse during his teenage years.

Rafi thumped on the button to call the lift. Nothing happened. Shrugging, he searched for a stairwell to reach Roberto’s flat on the fourth floor. As he climbed the stairs, he calculated the amount of fuel he’d need to fill his spaceship for the trip to the outer territories.

Anything to help his erection subside and save embarrassment. Roberto did not understand how Rafi felt about him, and Rafi intended to keep the status quo. All he needed to do was get through this visit. Masochist. Roberto was his friend. Fifi made him happy. Rafi needed to accept that and move on with his life.

After climbing the dark stairwell, he exited on the fourth floor. There were six apartments on each floor. Rafi stalked down the wide passage toward number four, anticipation and apprehension cartwheeling inside him as he stepped over trash and passed tagged walls. Seeing Roberto again would put him back at square one, ripping the plasters from his wounded heart. But not seeing him—that was even worse.

He turned the corner and came to a halt. A pyramid of empty vroom flasks littered the passage outside number four. Rafi frowned. Vroom was a rough liquor produced on the planet Marchant. People became addicted to the pale white alcohol if they weren’t careful. Eyesight faltered into blurriness. In extreme cases blindness occurred along with lack of coordination and muscle wastage. The muscle melted away, replaced by excess fat. Rafi checked the pile of bottles again and shook his head. Surely they didn’t belong to Roberto? He knocked on the door.

“What the hell do you want?” a masculine voice demanded. “Go away.”

Rafi pounded harder, a tiny grin playing across his lips. Roberto’s voice. Familiar, it brought back memories. The husky growl still made his cock jump with anticipation. Rafi’s grin died.

Friend’s box, remember? Roberto wasn’t interested in him in that way and all the wishing in the world wouldn’t change the facts.

“Go the fuck away!” Roberto’s rough tenor rumbled through the door, slurred but recognizable.

Rafi shuddered at the abrasive texture of his friend’s sexy reply. He’d never met a male who turned him on so fast with just a word. After taking a deep breath, Rafi knocked again.

The door flew open.

“I told you before, man. I have nothing left. You’ve taken everything.”

Rafi gaped at his friend. He was still tall and dark, but the bronzed god from his memory had vanished. Roberto was pale as a nip of vroom. An overweight ghost. His muscles had disappeared, sinking into inches of blubbery fat.

The sight of Roberto’s bare chest and protruding gut made Rafi nauseous so he glanced at his friend’s face instead. His dark hair was long, scruffy and lank as though he hadn’t washed it for weeks. And his face—hell, his beautiful face was bloated and puffy. One bloodshot blue eye scowled at him while the other was black and swollen shut. A cut, red and raw decorated his jaw, and when Rafi studied his body again, he noticed bruises. Someone had bashed his friend and done an excellent good job.

“Roberto.” Rafi hesitated in the open doorway, uncertain for once in his life. Didn’t Roberto have clothes? That stomach…it… Hell! It needed camouflage. Rafi stared with fascinated horror as Roberto’s belly jiggled with each hoarse inhalation.

His crew would have gaped with open mouths if they’d seen their indecisive captain. In the past, the two men would have exchanged a quick hug and clapped each other over the back. Rafi would’ve savored the contact. He’d imagined Roberto’s arms around him from the moment he’d looked his friend up between trips to the outer territories. Instead, awkwardness simmered between them. Appalled silence practically deafened him. It was difficult looking at that blubber, but touching it?

He shuddered and hovered outside the apartment. Part of him wanted to leave, to run away, but no. He refused to flee. His legs remained planted in the passage while his mind told him to deal with his shock. No matter what Roberto was still his friend.

“Rafi?”

Rafi muscles tensed and he steeled himself, forcing his real feelings deep so nothing showed in his body language. “Yeah, man. I stopped by the Gratham Apartments. One of the security men said you’d moved here.” Not bad. His voice had emerged calm. Even.

“I don’t suppose you’d leave if I asked you?” A tinge of shame colored Roberto’s cheeks and his gaze slid away to stare at the floor.

Rafi forced himself to meet his friend’s gaze. He was so…so… Hell, he reminded Rafi of an albino whale. His gaze flitted across Roberto’s features before darting over his friend’s shoulder to study the apartment interior. Another heap of opaque vroom flasks lay beside a wooden chair.

The apartment offended Rafi’s nose. Soy dog wrappers littered the cheap plastic table. An open suitcase lay on the floor and someone had strewn the contents across the grubby gray carpet in haphazard heaps. Rafi gave a cautious sniff before frowning. The fetid, eye-tearing stench…was that coming from Roberto? He wasn’t certain, but whatever the source, it was disgusting.

Rafi straightened. “Why would I leave? Roberto, I came to see you.” Roberto was a friend in need. Rafi refused to bolt.

Roberto’s brow knit into deep lines. “My name’s Bob. I was born Bob and looks like I’ll die Bob.” Bitterness shaded his voice. “Call me Bob, like you used to when we were kids.”

“Ah, sure.” Rafi frowned. What the hell? What had happened to his friend since his well-publicized injury? Roberto had always radiated confidence and had a life plan. Ambitious from childhood, he’d set his mind on becoming a successful sex competitor and focused on his goal until he’d succeeded. He hadn’t minded when Bob had wanted everyone to call him by his stage name. Rafi understood dreams and the craving for a better future, which is why he’d appreciated Roberto. Rafi had always wanted to explore the uncharted territories, and that day had almost arrived.

Since it didn’t look as if Bob intended to ask him inside, Rafi gave him no choice. He stalked past Roberto—Bob—and recoiled at the stench. Gasping, he headed straight for the window.

“Won’t open. It’s nailed shut,” Bob said seconds before Rafi attempted to wrestle for fresher air.

Rafi winged a glance at his friend. “Man, you need to do a little cleaning.” His eyes streamed and he drew breath through his mouth, trying to filter out the worst of the rotten odor. Didn’t work. “And you need a bath.”

“Keeps the debt collectors away.” Bob’s top lip curled with irony and he shrugged with unconcern. “Most of them.” His blasé attitude wavered, and he winced. Obviously, the bruises on his body were still painful.

“Get cleaned up and I’ll buy you a meal.” Irritation at his friend gripped Rafi. He’d been looking forward to seeing him, and even though he’d known Roberto wasn’t interested in him romantically, he’d expected to slip back into their easy friendship. Rafi’s gaze slid across Roberto’s pale, bloated face. This man was a stranger.

“Go out?” Bob made a theatrical gesture with his hands and struck a pose, one Rafi had seen him make onstage. He recalled the surge of jealousy when Roberto’s female partner had trailed her hands over Roberto…ah…Bob’s tanned, muscular body when he’d stood in this manner.

Yeah, they’d looked great together on the stage but it hadn’t lessened Rafi’s longing. He’d imagined thrusting into Bob, running his hands over the smooth muscles, clutching the weight of his cock in his hands…

“I don’t have a thing to wear,” his friend said in a harsh voice.

God, just when he’d been getting into his imagination and had filtered out the stink, the present dragged him back, smack-bang into a nightmare. His friend’s fleshy frame with its rolls of fat and the stench…

He suppressed a shudder and reminded himself, yet again, this man was his friend. They’d made a promise when they were kids—friends to the end—and he refused to leave because Roberto had fallen on bad times.

“Roberto, quit the bullshit, man. Go shower and get dressed.” Rafi’s eyes narrowed and his gaze flicked down to the dark skin on his forearms, the same dark skin that covered his entire frame. “Unless you’re worried about being seen with me.”

“The name’s Bob. Roberto no longer exists.” He must have sensed Rafi’s ruffled feathers because he forced a conciliatory smile. “Ah, man. It’s not what you’re thinking. I don’t care about your color, your religion, your profession or who your parents were. If you were black with white stripes, I’d still talk to you. I’m worried about you and your image. I didn’t think you—a successful businessman—would want to go out in public with the Fallen Idol.”

Rafi scowled at the reminder of his privileged upbringing in the royal concubine quarters on Maxis before his mother had moved to Melbourne, Australia on Earth. “You’re my friend. You’ve stood behind me all these years. Why would I turn my back on you?”

It was true, but he was having trouble reconciling the puffy man in front of him with the sex idol champion Roberto, his ultra-confident friend.

“I’m not here for long. I have a trip scheduled for the day after tomorrow.”

Bob sighed. “Wish I could run away.”

“Have a shower,” Rafi repeated. “We can talk over a meal.”

Half an hour later they exited the apartment and walked over to Rafi’s car. Bob limped and his breathing labored, reminding Rafi of a sick man on a ventilator. Bob’s pale blue shirt was clean but it strained over his gut. He hadn’t been able to find a pair of trousers so he wore the same baggy black sweats he’d been wearing on Rafi’s arrival. At least he smelled better.

What the hell had happened to his friend? Rafi remained silent instead of firing the questions burning inside him and slowed his pace to match Bob’s. He opened the passenger door of his hired hover and waited for Bob to climb inside.

Rafi grimaced in a self-mocking smile. Bob’s current situation helped to keep his libido under control. Instead of contemplating sex and the resulting anxiety of giving his feelings away, concern for Bob’s bad health anchored him in friendship.

Rafi dug into his pockets and flipped the street kids several currency discs. “Thanks, Akio.” He lifted a hand in farewell.

The kids nodded and waved in return. Rafi hid a smile at their pride and their attempt to remain cool and not display their pleasure. The ragtag group sauntered away, nonchalant to the end.

Rafi centered himself and opened the driver’s door to his hover. A mixture of uncomfortable emotions assailed him. Disquiet. Confusion. Yearning. The craving for love. It would be so easy to turn his back but he couldn’t, no matter how embarrassed this situation made him.

Yep, no doubt about it—he must love Rob…Bob if he was willing to push to discover the source of his friend’s troubles. Yes, for an instant he’d considered leaving and spending his day on more pleasurable endeavors, but when it came to the doing, the rejection didn’t feel right.

Rafi climbed inside the hover and slammed the door. In the filtered sunlight of early morning, his friend looked even worse, if that were possible.

“What’s up with you, man?” he demanded as he switched on the ignition and pulled out and upward.

“You don’t have to go out with me in public.” Bob swallowed, the audible gulp of a man lacking in confidence. “No one else wants me around.”

“Fuck, stop feeling sorry for yourself. You’re talking to me. Rafi. Just tell me the truth. What’s up?”

Bob glanced out the window. His meaty hand curled to a fist on his lap before he spoke. “I sustained an injury during training. We were practicing a move for a special display—an exhibition for important bigwigs. It was an advanced move from the Kama Sutra with four of us participating. I’m not sure what happened or how. One moment everything was fine and the next, I was at the bottom of the pile with my leg sticking out at a weird angle. I’d broken the bloody thing.” Bob’s hand clenched even tighter, the tension clear in his taut shoulders. “It broke in two places. Things went downhill from there. My sponsors pulled out of the sponsorship deal because I was off the circuit. Fifi told me she didn’t love me anymore and moved out of our apartment.”

“Fifi is a bitch,” Rafi snarled.

Rafi and Fifi had never played well together, avoiding each other where possible. Fifi had sensed the depth of feeling he’d had for Roberto. Shit, Bob. It would take some doing to remember to call his friend by the different name. Yeah, jealousy. Fifi had sensed it and Rafi understood the emotion all too well, how it ate at a person.

“Go on. That doesn’t explain why you’re living in that dump.”

“Fifi and I were leading the Sex Idol competition. The bookies reckoned we’d win. At the time of the accident we’d reached the quarterfinals. We were living high. It didn’t matter. The money was easy because we were doing well. After the accident, the debts caught up with me. They were more than I’d expected. Fifi—no matter. The creditors wanted their money.”

Fifi had screwed him in all directions. Not that it surprised him. Rafi slowed to turn onto the main highway. He merged with the other hovers, taking the Passover route. Everywhere he looked advertising hoardings displayed the latest in sex toys from Robinson’s. They were a mega company worth millions since the success of the inaugural Sex Idol contest and resulting spin-offs and merchandizing.

Below the highway, the sprawling city of Sydney bustled with activity. As they headed away from the waterfront and the ruins of the historic Opera House, the buildings became smarter. The advertising hoardings were fewer in number since strict local council laws limited them to specified areas. Tall glass apartment buildings sparkled in the sunshine and Rafi felt a sudden desire to go to the beach, to enjoy the cool sea air on his face and the sand beneath his bare feet. A little sunshine and exercise wouldn’t hurt Bob either.

Coming to a decision, he took the next turnoff and headed up the winding coastal hover route. He knew just the place, about an hour up the coast.

“Sounds like a tough time. You should have called me,” Rafi said.

Bob snorted. “Yeah? And what would you have done?”

His tone pissed Rafi. He might love the man but he wouldn’t take any crap either. “I don’t know,” he replied in an even tone. “I would have been a friend at least.”

“You’ve done well building up your freighter business.”

Rafi fought to maintain his composure. Bob had cared enough to keep up with his progress. Pride filled him at his success. Not bad for a scrawny kid with no future. “Yeah. I have a loyal crew. We make a good team. What are you going to do?”

“What can I do?” There was bitterness in his tone and that irked Rafi. This was crap. There were always options.

“Pick yourself up and start again. Man, you’re a natural on the stage. The viewers love you. That’s what you should be doing. Using your natural talents.”

“Like this?” Bob gestured toward his belly, the movement setting his rolls of fat jiggling.

Rafi frowned as he glanced at the obscene amount of excess flesh. Bob had a point, but it was nothing training, exercise and a better diet wouldn’t fix. “Go back into training.”

“I have scars on my leg. Doctors say I’ll always limp. They had to delay the repair because it was a bad break and there was so much swelling. After they canceled my contract, I didn’t have the money for corrective surgery.” He snorted. “I could have it done now, but the chances of coming up with the fee are nil to never.”

“Use a strategic costume to cover them. They’re on your leg, anyway. I don’t think it matters.” Rafi smirked. “You still have a penis.”

Bob snorted. “Sex competitors have to be perfect. Besides, I don’t have a partner.” A flash of pain contorted his features.

“Find one.” Hell, he didn’t remember his friend ever acting so negative. This fall from grace had hit him hard. Hell, if Fifi Da Groux had been present, he’d have wrung her scrawny neck.

“It’s not that easy. All the good females have partners.”

“So? What about a male? Last I heard it doesn’t matter which sex you partner with on stage.”

Bob’s head snapped around and he stared at Rafi in shock. To his horror, the tips of Rafi’s ears heated. Luckily, it wouldn’t show on his dark skin, but Rafi cursed himself. Why had he mentioned that?

“I suppose I could,” Bob drawled.

Rafi’s breath eased out when he spotted the turnoff to the beach he’d chosen. He took a right and tried to concentrate on the road, the scenery, instead of the wrenching in his gut. Someone else partnering with Roberto…Bob, dammit!

“You should consider it,” Rafi suggested, even though the words almost choked him.

It wouldn’t take Bob long to get back in performance shape. If that was his goal, and he could kick the vroom. He bit down on his tongue to stop the swell of jealousy inside him. They could never be more than friends. He was leaving in two days. He had a job, crew to support, a business to run. True, he didn’t have sex or someone to love, but no problem. Somewhere there must be a lover for him, someone who would love him back and accept him for what he was—the black-skinned son of a royal concubine.

Chapter Two

Bob contemplated Rafi’s suggestion. He sifted through the names of possible partners and came up with not a single prospect. Everyone who was any good had partners.

Hell, who was he kidding? The only partner he wanted was Fifi.

Although she’d left him hanging, he still loved her. They’d invested a lot of time into the relationship—both business and personal. Bob shoved aside the slash of pain that seared him each time Fifi drifted into his mind. He grunted. Guess that made him sad and desperate.

Rafi pulled up in a hover park not far from a beach. Bob scanned the area and frowned. God, he hated going out in public, the way people looked at him with such pity and distaste. Not that their reactions should surprise him. It was one reason he’d remained holed up in the hovel of an apartment. Embarrassment. Shame. A shred of false pride.

He had let himself go a little.

But starting at the beginning again. It scared him. Performing in the regional shows and clawing his way up to the top…

Bob shook his head, not sure he wanted to go through the demanding work again. Yeah, he’d sleep on it and see if the idea sounded remotely interesting the next morning.

Rafi switched off the ignition and the rumble of the hover engine died. “There’s a great café down near the water. After we eat, we can go for a walk along the beach. I’ve been dreaming of the ocean for months.” His sensual lips kicked up in an engaging grin, reminding Bob of how much fun it was to spend time with his friend. He’d missed Rafi and hadn’t realized it because he’d been so wrapped up in Fifi. Unfortunately, Fifi and his best friend weren’t comfortable with each other and the last time he’d met with Rafi, she’d had flown into a jealous rage insisting he choose her over the son of a concubine.

“Sounds great.” A big-arse lie. A couple who had arrived in an electric-blue sports hover stared at him with a mixture of shock, horror and disgust, and he wished he’d brought a hat, some glasses. A disguise of sorts.

Bob ignored them—or tried to—but their gazes burned into his back as he limped after Rafi.

If he went back on the circuit, he’d have to face a lot more of the same reaction along with sniggers and back-stabbing. He trailed Rafi and wondered if he wanted to put himself in a vulnerable position. Nah, too much trouble.

Rafi stepped into an expensive café and asked for a window table. After a brief glance at Bob, the waitress acquiesced, showing them to a private table at the far end of the café with a view over the ocean. The windows were wide open and a whiff of the briny ocean filtered inside to Bob. A white bird hovered on the air currents, letting out a caw of warning when another flew too close. A family was picnicking farther down the beach. Bob watched a young child attempting to build a castle from the white sand. As she industriously filled a bucket, memories of when he was a kid growing up in Melbourne spilled through him.

“Are you going to do it?”

Bob’s stomach did a loop-d-loop at Rafi’s words. “I don’t want to go out on the circuit.”

Rafi shrugged. “It was just an idea. I’m sure you know best. What are you having for lunch? I’m having seafood and salad. You have no idea how tiring it is to eat dehydrated rations for months at a time while we’re out in space. I’ve been craving fresh food.”

Bob opened the menu and gave it a cursory glance. “I’ll have the same with a side of double fried potatoes. A vroom to drink.”

Rafi nodded and signaled the waitress over to their table.

Bob looked at his friend, really looked for the first time since he’d pushed his way into his apartment. He was tall, an inch or two taller than his own six two. He’d had his dark hair cut brutally short, but it suited him. With his dark eyes and dark skin, the man was handsome. Despite Rafi worrying that people looked down on him because of his color and upbringing, he was a striking man. Attractive. Bob would bet he had sexual partners lining up to service him and envy flickered to life in him.

Sex…

Hell, he hadn’t had sex since the morning of the accident, and it hadn’t been that great. He’d sensed reluctance in Fifi. Yeah, should have listened to his instincts screaming at him that Fifi needed to talk more than she needed sex. She was confused about Roger, their manager. She’d told him she loved Roger more than she loved him. Instead, he’d ignored the dragon in the room—namely Roger—supremely confident that Fifi and he were great in both their personal and professional lives.

Not that his cock was up to the job of pleasuring anyone. He couldn’t even jack himself off. Just showed how low he’d fallen. He’d need to buy shares in an erectile dysfunction company just to afford the pills to do the job.