“These are stockings,” Eggsy said, disbelievingly.
“Hm,” said Roxy, “looks like they are.”
“I’m not wearing stockings.”
“Yes, you are. You’re shaving your legs, putting on those panties—”
“What panties?” Eggsy yelped.
Roxy opened the other Gossard box, bound as it was in a shiny red ribbon, and…
“No,” said Eggsy, in horror. “I am not going to put on that monstrosity of lace and—and lace.”
“I thought you were more open-minded than that.”
“This isn’t about being open-minded! It’s a crime against humanity. Nobody should be forced to wear lingerie if they don’t want to.”
“Then maybe you should quit this job that requires you to go undercover as a very specific category of stripper. Somebody else can take your case. And get all the credit. And the pay rise.”
Eggsy grumbled to himself, flipping through the file he’d been given on Maynard Haynes. “Why did the biggest drug lord in the northern hemisphere have to be into blokes in lace?”
“He’s into what he’s into.” Roxy shrugged. “The question is, are you about to do it, or is the case—and the promotion—going to Digby?”
“Digby’s an arse.”
“At least he’s got an arse.”
“Oi! My arse would look better in panties.”
“Feeling more favorably towards them?”
“Ha ha,” Eggsy said, flatly, just as Merlin strolled into the briefing room. The very accurately named briefing room, since there were actual briefs in it. Christ.
“Agent Unwin,” Merlin said. “Are you ready to take on the Haynes case?”
“No,” said Eggsy. “But I’ll do it anyway.”
“That’s the spirit. As you are already aware, you are to become a performer at the strip club frequented by Mr. Haynes, and plant a bug on him while… establishing rapport.”
“He means lapdancing,” said Roxy, in a stage whisper.
“Thank you, Agent Morton.” Merlin’s tone was dry. “Now, pay attention, Unwin. Your first priority is planting the bug on Haynes, but if you can plant bugs on his associates, as well, that would be most excellent. You were selected for this investigation in part because Haynes has a certain partiality for young men of your description, so you should not have to perform at the club for more than a month prior to catching his attention and earning a private… assignation.”
“He means lapdance,” whispered Roxy, again.
“Joy,” said Eggsy. “I’ll be stripping for the slavering masses, twerking and pole-dancing and—” He didn’t want to imagine the rest. “Who’s my contact on our side?”
“Agent Hart will visit the club as a patron, and will supply you with a fresh bug at every visit, as the bugs lose their efficacy after a period of 24 hours, being biochemical in nature. After you have planted the bugs on Haynes and two of his allies, your mission will terminate, and you will return to headquarters.”
“What’re these bugs, then?”
Merlin’s eyes lit up, as they always did around new tech. He pulled a lipstick out of his pocket, slid it across the table toward Eggsy, and said, “Once you don this lipstick, any individual with whom you have an oral association—”
“He means kissing.”
“Thank you, Agent Morton. Any individual on the receiving end of this lipstick will absorb invisible nanobots into their skins, bioengineered nanobots that should remain active within their bodies for a single day. Hence the 24-hour limit. With the assistance of those nanobots, we hope to gather sufficient evidence from Haynes to put him behind bars, and to locate his hidden warehouses.”
“Won’t it be difficult to, er, avoid kissing random people before I get around to Haynes?”
“No, Agent Unwin, it won’t. The club has a strict policy of no physical intimacy that the performers do not consent to, and thus, you will be able to decline unwelcome suitors. You, and you alone, will be the instigator of any… kissing.”
“He means—oh, bugger.”
“Terribly sorry to rob you of your entertainment, Agent Morton.”
“Also,” Eggsy said, “can you please not use the word ‘bugger’? The club might have a policy or whatever, but you can’t tell me that the rules don’t get bent for Maynard bloody Haynes. The bastard’s a mafia don. What if he wants to do me up the old dirt road?”
Merlin made a moue of mild distaste. “Your specificity and professionalism are, as always, admirable. We leave it up to you to ascertain for how long you can lead Haynes on before making the situation—challenging—for you.”
“Is this a shoot-the-dog kind of thing? Am I supposed to be all right with peddling my behind?”
“That is entirely up to your judgment. Haynes has no previous history of sexual assault, and is known for preferring his partners willing. Nonetheless, should you ever find yourself in danger of being forced into intimacies undesirable to you, you are not to engage Haynes in direct combat, as you must maintain your cover identity. It is Agent Morton who will come to your rescue, in the unlikely event that you need rescuing.”
“Where’s Roxy going to be?”
“Bartending.” Roxy grinned. “Can’t say I’ll mind. Free shows, free drinks…”
“You just want to ogle the girls on the stage.”
“Can you blame me?”
“Nah. I’m relieved I have you as backup.” Eggsy buried his face in his hands. “Fucking hell. I hope Haynes rots in jail for the rest of his undeserving life.”
“No way.” Eggsy stared at the razor that had been handed to him. “I have to shave my pubes?”
“Of course,” said Miko, brightly. Miko was half-Japanese and half-Irish, a post-transition transsexual and the top-ranking showgirl at Bare. “It won’t do to have a shaved happy trail and shaved thighs, only to have a sudden outcropping of unwanted foliage in the midst of that flawless, golden expanse of skin.”
“But I like my foliage,” Eggsy said, weakly.
“You liked your leg-hair, too. And that has long since departed for Twinkland.”
“I’ve shaved everywhere except my head,” said Eggsy, glumly. “I’m like a reverse monk.”
“If monks were as fetching as you, darling, they’d have a hard time keeping their oaths.” Miko winked. “Emphasis on hard.”
Jason, another stripper, snickered from where he sat at his make-up bureau. “There’s an art to stripping, Gary. The art of hiding in plain sight. Without your pubes, those lacy knickers of yours should expose just enough of your cock.”
“Enough for what?” Eggsy demanded.
“Why, tantalizing your fans, what else?” Miko fluffed up her hair; it was purple, today, with shiny silver ends that matched the silvery hue of her mermaid outfit. “That’s what they’ll pay for, dear. They’ll be itching to tuck notes into your panties, just so they can paw at that lovely package.”
“Isn’t unsolicited touching banned?”
“Off-stage, yes. But you can’t very well strut up and down that stage without the odd drunk smacking your arse, and the more you let them touch you, the more you make.”
Jason leered. “Who knows? You might even learn to enjoy it.”
“I don’t think so,” Eggsy said.
“That’s the spirit, chicken.” Miko puckered her lips at her reflection in the art deco mirror. “Don’t think at all. Let your body move to the music, and let your clothes fall away.”
“I’m keeping the panties on.”
Jason shook his head. “That’s what they all say. But when you have the fans cheering for you, begging for you—”
“It’s a wonderful high,” Miko agreed, sighing like a Disney princess. “It makes you feel powerful.”
Eggsy didn’t see how being mostly naked and without any weapons could make him feel powerful, but these were the experts, so he’d have to trust their judgment on this mission, like he’d trust a senior operative’s judgment out in the field. “Roger,” he said, saluting.
“Oh, I dig that military chic!” Miko exclaimed. “Maybe we’ll have you be a soldier-boy, next? With a uniform that doesn’t stay on? What do you think, Jase?”
Jason looked Eggsy up and down, a tad too appreciatively. “It’d suit him.”
“Wouldn’t it just? He has the muscles for it.”
Pamela—a twenty-year-old uni student paying her fees with strip money—stuck her head into the changing room. “Five minutes until you’re due on stage, Miko. Fifteen minutes after that, it’s Jason and the newbie. Where’s Fred? He’s a part of the routine, isn’t he?”
“Called in sick,” Jason said. “It’ll have to be a duo instead of a trio. Which is a pity, because the routine won’t make nearly as much of an impact without our third, heh, member. But the show must go on, I guess.”
That was an unwelcome reminder of Eggsy’s junior standing at the club. It was a week into his employment at Bare, and this was his first official show; he’d only been getting trained, so far, with Pamela teaching him how to swing on the pole (“You’re a natural, like you do Parkour as a hobby,” she’d said, which was disturbingly accurate) and Fred teaching him how to dance. Eggsy hadn’t earned the chops to perform solo, yet—which meant he didn’t have the center-stage exposure he needed to catch Haynes’ attention. Still, if he proved himself, he might get to go solo, after all. He had to. The sooner, the better.
“I gotta shave,” he mumbled, and escaped into the connecting bathroom, shutting the door behind him. God, his heart was pounding. He was so nervous, it was making him sick.
It wasn’t different from arming himself for any other kind of mission, he told himself. And he could always successfully seduce his targets, so a club full of people in various degrees of inebriation couldn’t be that tough, could it?
Yeah, right. Chatting up the sweet-faced daughter of an American senator was miles away from baring all to rough-and-tumble men that wanted to sodomize him. By force, if necessary.
Thank god Roxy would be there, serving up drinks in the background, armed with dozens of bottles that could be shattered and made into deadly weapons at the drop of a hat… or a pair of panties.
Not that Eggsy was going to drop his panties. Because he wasn’t.
“Hurry up and get back out here so I can slather you with glitter,” called Jason, from beyond the door.
Joy. Eggsy’s modesty would be protected by nothing but lace and fairy dust. Maybe he could just turn into Peter Pan and fly away.
Ten days after his debut, Eggsy finally had his first solo performance. And for this performance, he was wearing the fancy, salmon-pink Gossard panties issued to him by the agency, rather than the generic panties he’d been sporting until now.
These ones were… special. Very special. As in, they belonged in the special hell. Possibly, they were manufactured in the special hell.
“This is bollocks,” Eggsy said, trying to adjust his panties so they wouldn’t… cling quite so much. They felt lewd, satiny and strangely intrusive, like a touch, or a lick. A lick from a cool, dry, silken tongue.
“Your bollocks are on display,” said Pamela. “Great view.”
“Fuck.” Eggsy readjusted the panties. The root of his cock was clearly visible through the lace, although the rest of it was, thankfully, behind solid material. Still, the thinness of that material made the shape of what was within it patently obvious, like tracing paper. A sketch artist could probably draw a portrait of his dick from memory, after seeing it through its gauzy cage.
“Don’t worry. We chose a novice’s routine for you, mellow and downtempo. The Jeff Buckley remix, remember? We’ve practiced it all week. It’s more artsy than energetic, so you don’t have complex moves you can mess up. All you have to do is entertain the audience.” Pamela gave him a comradely clap on the shoulder. “They’ll adore you.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Eggsy muttered. He pulled up his thigh-high stockings, climbed into the pair of ripped jeans and the sequin-spangled mesh shirt that he’d be stripping out of, as well as the cowboy boots and matching hat. The appeal (Miko had said) was to appear macho to begin with, and then to gradually expose his “sexy, vulnerable, feminine side.”
God help him.
Eight minutes. That was it. Eight minutes with, as Pamela had said, a simple routine. No inversions, no flips, just a few floor-to-pole and pole-to-floor transitions. He could do this. He’d pretend he was dancing in an empty room, all by himself, like he’d been doing thus far. It had worked before. It’d work again.
He didn’t get sick with the jitters, anymore. And this was his chance to get on Haynes’ radar… if Haynes turned up, that is. He’d turned up two nights ago, for a short interval, ostensibly to conduct business, since he was more preoccupied shaking hands with a known drug smuggler than he was watching the strippers. Hopefully, he’d stop by for leisure, tonight.
“Good luck,” Pamela said, ruffling Eggsy’s gelled hair like he was a brat.
“Hey!” Eggsy objected to that treatment.
“It’s sexier if it’s a tad untidy.”
So the stripper aesthetic was the opposite of the Kingsman aesthetic.
“Off you go!” Pamela jabbed her chin at the door. “Jason’ll be done, soon!”
Eggsy squared his shoulders, admonished himself to strut like a sex symbol, and headed for the stage. The sparkling purple curtains awaited him, and beyond them, he could hear Jason’s routine winding down, accompanied by boisterous applause.
Jason ducked under the curtains, gloating cheerfully and clutching his clothes, and said, “They’re all yours, mate.”
Miko’s voice over the speakers announced “Gary’s” arrival with too many intimidating superlatives—superlatives that included “gorgeous” and “built” and “kinkier than he looks.” Blimey. No pressure.
The curtains parted, and Eggsy stepped out into the abrupt hush. The spotlight was on him, not as blinding as he’d have liked it to be, but he set his legs apart, bent his knees, and ran a fingernail along the fly of his jeans, half-taunt and half-advertisement.
The hush erupted into whistles.
Eggsy wrapped himself around the pole, to the tune of Jeff Buckley singing “Everybody here wants you.” He pressed his crotch against the pole’s cold steel, undulating his hips like he was fucking it, or fucking himself on it, in grinding circles, as if it were a cock. He matched each grind with the beat of the music, not quickening his pace, keeping it languid, like Eggsy was with a bloke he’d picked up and liked a lot, liked enough to really take his time, to ride him nice and easy until they both came apart.
The illusion shattered when the color of the spotlight changed from a warm orange to a vaguely rosy glow, but Eggsy kept going, doggedly, reminding himself that he wasn’t doing this for fun. This was a mission. And while some missions could be fun, seducing an unattractive arsehole of a drug lord definitely wasn’t.
Eventually, the repetitive movement of his hips made his purposefully loose jeans dip… just enough to give his onlookers a glimpse of his panties.
The crowd went wild, tossing notes onto the stage.
He had them. Which meant that he—potentially—had Haynes.
Covertly cataloging the patrons from under the shadowy brim of his cowboy hat, he abandoned the pole, dropping to the floor and into what Pamela called the “dick split,” kicking off his boots in the process. He couldn’t locate Haynes, but there was a familiar figure at the dimly-lit end of the club, a man in an expensive suit seated at a square table, cradling a whiskey, eyes fixed on Eggsy.
Eggsy’s pulse thudded in his ears, so loudly that it drowned out the music.
It was Harry.
Eggsy floundered, his routine momentarily forgotten. He’d been informed about this; he’d been aware, in the back of his mind, that Harry would have to attend Eggsy’s strip shows in order to establish himself as a daily patron, and to pass the bugged lipstick to Eggsy every twenty-four hours, in case Haynes showed up in the interim.
Still, that was—that was completely different to having Harry here, watching him, his attention as palpable as a touch. Harry’s theoretical attendance paled in comparison to his physical presence. Roxy was here, too, behind the bar and not readily discernible from the stage, but her watching him was somehow far less unnerving than Harry doing so.
Harry raised his glass for a contemplative sip, sliding his fingers down the condensation along its sides, just as his gaze slid down Eggsy’s body.
Eggsy felt himself go red. Which was ludicrous, because strippers didn’t blush. Not proper, professional ones, at any rate. He had to focus on his routine, and ignore Harry. That was all.
But as Eggsy spun up and out of his split and took off his hat and mesh shirt to the sound of catcalls, he found that he couldn’t help the way his blush deepened, and that he hesitated before toying with his nipples like he’d been instructed to do. He flicked his left nipple, and then his right, and he tried to think of it as something technical, a part of the process, step number 15 in a routine with 43 steps in total. Harry being there to watch him doing it shouldn’t matter. It shouldn’t.
It certainly shouldn’t be making Eggsy’s breath speed up, shouldn’t be making him feel it, each swipe of his own calluses against his nipples electric. They soon stiffened into painful peaks, because Eggsy lost patience with fondling them and tugged at them cruelly, hoping half-insanely that if he made them hurt, they would cease feeling good.
Eggsy promised himself not to glance up, not to check if Harry had noticed how Eggsy’s swollen nipples throbbed and burned, but of course Eggsy did, because he was daft and stupid and—
And Harry’s grip on his glass was tighter than before. His expression was stark, strange, hungry.
Eggsy gasped, and suddenly, he was getting hard. Jesus. He was on-stage, in front of all these people, and he was—
Harry was merely playing the role of an interested patron. That’s what Eggsy reminded himself of. He reminded himself and reminded himself, in a mantra he repeated continuously, but by the time he had to shed his jeans, he was beginning to tent his panties, and it was… it was visible. For a horrified instant, he stood there, his bare torso glimmering with sweat, clad in nothing but panties and stockings and garters, getting harder and harder, like he wasn’t in control of himself.
Well, this was what Jason had said happened to some strippers, so it wasn’t unusual, but… but it wasn’t supposed to happen to Eggsy. His cock was betraying him, pushing up against the criminally, unfairly revealing fabric of his lacy underwear, and he could only imagine what it must look like, what he must look like, wanton and wanting.
The audience had gone rabid. There was hooting. There was hollering. There was high-pitched shrieking. There were men and women grabbing at him, clustered as closely around the stage as they could be, and Eggsy had to sidestep them or risk tripping up.
It was like inciting a riot. It was like what had happened at the church, but with an orgy of explicit, shouted suggestions instead of violence, the air ripe with such a thick miasma of lust that Eggsy was horribly sure there were customers masturbating to him.
Harry, though—Harry remained still, like the eye of the storm, his regard unwavering as a flame, searing even from a distance. Or so it was to Eggsy, as he wound himself around the pole again, sinking down it in agonizing, dragging inches, the metal relentless against his prick and not helping in the least. He had a brief, crazed fantasy of rutting against the pole with abandon and just letting himself come, letting himself shoot in his panties until they were soppy, until Harry could see how soppy they were, sodden and heavy and transparent, adhering to the shape of Eggsy’s softening cock.
Eggsy shuddered as he pulled away from the pole, his panties growing damp in a widening patch as pre-come welled out of him, the leaking tip of his erection threatening to force its way past the elastic and make a very public spectacle of itself.
No. No. He wasn’t going to come on a stage. What was wrong with him?
He peered desperately at the laser clock above the stage.
Forty seconds until this nightmare was over.
Eggsy was panting, practically vibrating with the need to come, and he cast a beseeching look at Harry, wordlessly pleading with Harry to turn away, to have some bloody mercy, to not utterly humiliate his protégé by witnessing him at his worst and most unprofessional, but Harry was frozen, unmoving. It was a miracle the glass hadn’t shattered in his grasp, by now, white-knuckled as it was.
The song began to ebb into silence, and Eggsy completed his performance to cheering so loud that it was deafening. Strippers were meant to gather their clothes—and their money—before leaving, but Eggsy stumbled blindly off the stage and behind the curtains, and went straight to the loo.
He’d scarcely yanked his cock out of his panties before he was coming, ropes of semen arcing into the toilet bowl, and Eggsy swayed like he’d been hit, stars going off behind his eyeballs.
He collapsed onto the seat after flushing away his mess. He was shaking, and it was only when he’d composed himself—more or less—that he got up, washed his hands and exited the toilet.
Eggsy immediately ran into Miko, who was hovering directly outside and brandishing Eggsy’s earnings, which she’d strapped into an impressive, rubber-banded wad of cash. She tucked the money into Eggsy’s garter and patted it, for all the world like a proud mother patting her child on the head.
“Hurry!” Miko said. “I get that you had to wank off, but you just had a rollicking show, and you’ve got to capitalize on it! Get out there and get lapdancing!” Miko shooed him toward the staff door into the club lounge, beaming triumphantly. “I’d wondered if the solo would do it for you. It’s grand, innit, being the sole recipient of all that… enthusiasm from the crowd?”
But it hadn’t been the crowd that had done it for him. It had been Harry.
Eggsy was so, so fucked.
Up next: The lapdance. At last!
Eggsy had never been the sort to be terrified easily, but he was more terrified of lapdancing for Harry than he’d been since he’d been strapped to those train tracks. The fact that it was inevitable, that it was necessary, didn’t reassure him.
He hadn’t been prepared to react to Harry the way he’d done.
At least his panties had dried.
Putting on his most winning, most cheeky strut, Eggsy paraded through the club in a haphazard fashion, so that his path to Harry wouldn’t be overtly conspicuous. He dodged his gropers with friendly aplomb, and adopted a greedy grin as he approached Harry—the same grin he’d seen on Jason, when Jason spotted a wealthy patron.
“I saw you, from up there.” Eggsy gestured at the stage. “Did you like my dance?”
“Very much,” Harry said, as Eggsy leaned against his table, sinuous and enticing. Harry followed the flowing lines of Eggsy’s pose with an ill-disguised appetite for more. Very in-character. All Eggsy had to do was get them into a booth, so Harry could pass him the bug.
“Would you like a private version?” Eggsy extended an ankle, rubbing it against Harry’s. “It feels even nicer than it looks, you know.”
“Does it?” Harry said, distractedly, as Eggsy stole Harry’s glass and took a sip from it, parting his lips along the rim. They left a smudge of lipstick in their wake, but Eggsy would wager that the whiskey had given them a lush, honeyed sheen, because Harry seemed bewitched by them.
“I’ve been told my arse is the eighth wonder of the world,” Eggsy bragged, and it wasn’t even a lie. He had been told that. “Imagine it on your lap. All over your lap, even.”
“You’re the devil incarnate,” Harry said.
“Heh. That I am. If you visit this weekend, we’ll be having a ‘Heaven and Hell’ party. I’ll be wearing horns and a tail. A devil’s costume.”
“I’d prefer you out of that costume.”
“Would you?” Eggsy had to caution himself against believing this was the genuine article. This wasn’t Harry flirting with him; it was a client flirting with a stripper. “And what about having me on your lap?”
“I’ve never… purchased a lapdance,” Harry said, with artful bafflement. “Price is no object, but—”
“Let’s start with a twenty-minute song. Thirty quid.” Eggsy sketched an impish bow. “I’m Gary. Lemme take you to a booth.”
“A paradise just for us.” Eggsy sashayed off toward the curtained booths, with their buttery leather seats upholstered in a tasteful wine-red. Unfortunately, his self-assured slinkiness abandoned him when he got into a booth, because it dawned on him that this was it. This was him, lapdancing for Harry. It was a jarring, intimidating realization that robbed him of his confidence. He hadn’t lapdanced for anyone else, but to begin with Harry? Was like a punishment. He’d have to be at the top of his game, without any practice. He’d have to feign indifference to having Harry so close.
Harry sat gracefully, all while examining Eggsy covetously, like a man might examine a jewel—from every angle, from corset to panties, from garters to heels. “May I touch you?”
“Not the naughty bits,” Eggsy said, smiling in what he hoped wasn’t too wobbly a manner.
“Every bit of you is a naughty bit,” Harry said, “from those lacy ribbons on your stockings to those sinful panties, and what they contain. They don’t hide an awful lot, do they?”
“They’re designed not to,” Eggsy answered. The song had begun automatically as he had closed the curtain—a pulsating, rhythmic, pseudo-pop confection whose lyrics were drowned out by a surplus of bass. Eggsy straddled Harry’s thighs, as casually as he could, like this was nothing. Like Eggsy wasn’t acutely conscious of how muscular those thighs were, and how firm, and how Harry. Because Harry was only a gentleman on the outside; his body was a well-honed knife, brutal and obsessively sharpened, and his suit was simply that blade’s sophisticated, deceptively refined sheath.
“The color of these matches the shade of your mouth. Soft. Pink. Obscene.” Harry slipped a thumb under the edge of Eggsy’s panties, and slid it sideways, along the hipbone, until it just brushed the base of Eggsy’s cock.
Eggsy jerked, shocked.
“So smooth,” Harry murmured. “You shaved, didn’t you? Would you let me shave you?” His thumb stroked back and forth, so lightly that it was barely tangible. “Here?”
Eggsy’s mind went blank. “You’re not allowed to touch me,” he said, but it was like he was outside of himself, hearing himself uttering nonsense that didn’t make any sense.
“My apologies,” Harry said, with that insincere sincerity of his. He withdrew his straying thumb, even though his eyes gleamed. “But I can inhale you, can’t I?”
“The scent of you.” Harry’s nostrils flared. “Through that silk. All musk and monsoon. I can smell that you came, and came recently. Were you thinking of me watching you? As you worked that delightful cock of yours?”
Eggsy’s lungs seized; his breaths stuttered to a halt. He had never heard Harry speak like this. He wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to stop, that he wouldn’t hear Harry saying filthy things in his ear, whenever Eggsy touched himself, or whenever he was alone. “Don’t,” he whispered, dizzy from a lack of oxygen.
“Don’t what?” Harry’s smile was indulgent. Evil. “I’m not touching you, anymore.”
No, Eggsy thought, you’re fucking me up. You’re making me think you want me. You’re making me think this is real.
“Ah, you precious boy,” Harry said. “Our song’s nearly over, and you haven’t even given me my dance.”
“Maybe I’d have been dancing if I hadn’t been getting molested,” Eggsy accused, and Harry laughed, low and hoarse.
“Maybe your multitasking isn’t up to scratch.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t be talking like you’re my mentor instead of my john.”
“John? But I haven’t paid you for sex. Not as far as I’m aware.”
“You haven’t paid me for anything, yet.”
“Then you’d better perform. My boy must earn his pocket change.”
Harry talking like that, it was—
It wasn’t turning Eggsy on. It wasn’t. He wasn’t getting hard, not so soon after wanking off. He wasn’t—
Hell. He was.
Harry tilted his neck back, still with that sharklike hook of a smile. Like a fishing hook. Did he expect Eggsy to wriggle like prey, then? Eggsy would be damned if he gave in. This was his job. His mission. He wouldn’t lose his composure like a firstie.
So he smirked right back, albeit nervously, and ground down on Harry. Slow and steady. With the music. He could handle this. If he kept this deliberate, mechanical, he could handle it.
“You’re both brave and foolish,” Harry commented, and he sounded perversely approving, which…
…was making Eggsy harder. “More brave or more foolish?” Eggsy said, breathlessly, bracing his hands behind himself, on Harry’s knees, and gyrating as the song reached its climax, arching until his crotch met Harry’s.
Oh. Oh, god. Harry was hard, too. Painfully hard, not that Harry’s predatory placidness gave him away. It was as though Harry could sit there forever, all hawklike poise and feral equanimity, waiting for Eggsy to crawl to him and—
“Fuck,” Eggsy rasped. “Fuck, you’re…”
“Hard for you, yes. Can you honestly say you’re surprised?”
“Uh, yeah, I am.” Eggsy knew it was futile to torment himself with what he could never have, but he couldn’t resist bearing down on Harry’s erection once more, just once more, so he could later recall the shape of it, the length of it, the girth—
“What indecencies are you picturing?”
Fucking myself with the hugest toy I have, because you’re just that huge. “Noth… Nothing.” So much for being deliberate and mechanical. The cadence of Eggsy’s dancing faltered, off-beat and clumsy, and his palms grew sweaty, skidding on the fine wool of Harry’s trousers. His own prick felt excruciatingly sore, like an injury or a sprain, agonizing.
“Are you sure I can’t touch you?” Harry asked, and the question was dead serious.
“I…” Eggsy couldn’t take it. “Please, Ha—”
And that, of course, was when the music stopped.
Eggsy hung there, gulping in air, stunned. His arms trembled as he held himself a millimeter above Harry, and he hauled himself off, staggering.
He’d almost said Harry’s name.
He’d almost broken his cover.
What if there had been a bug in this booth, like the bug Eggsy was here to plant on Haynes?
“Gary,” said Harry, and, shite, there was such disappointment in his tone. Because he remembered this was just a charade. He didn’t have any issues with separating fiction from reality. Yeah, he was hard, but so what? Harry must get hard for all the targets he fucked, on missions. He wasn’t a sentimental idiot like Eggsy, trumping up an ordinary biological response into some pathetic daydream in which Harry—immaculate, handsome Harry—wanted Eggsy for real.
Eggsy shrank in on himself, even as he put on a merry mask. It was a reprieve to not be in contact with Harry, any longer, to not be duped by Harry’s false facsimile of desire. “Um! That’s it for your dance. My shift’s finished, and I have to—please pay me, so I can go.”
Harry considered him, unreadable as a Sphinx, and Eggsy fidgeted under the scrutiny. “Here,” Harry said at last, gravely. He retrieved his wallet and folded a roll of twenties securely into a gap in Eggsy’s fishnet stockings. The lipstick with the bug must be in the center of that roll, because it didn’t squash as flat as it might’ve, otherwise.
“You’re very generous, sir,” Eggsy simpered, like he wasn’t sickened by Harry’s swift emotional withdrawal, by Harry’s effort to inject the appropriate distance between them, an effort he wouldn’t have to make if Eggsy hadn’t made a fool out of himself. “I’d love dancing for you on the regular,” Eggsy hinted, as per the plan, and Harry obligingly picked up the slack.
“It would be my pleasure.” But Harry’s reply was stiff and formal. Not outright uncomfortable, but their usual banter had disintegrated, their mutual chemistry replaced by a horrible awkwardness.
“With a tip like this? You ought to get a free drink. My treat. Go to the bar and tell the bargirl I sent you.”
“Alas, I fear I must go home,” Harry said. He looked regretful, as well he might, given that his recruit had failed so spectacularly. “I will return on the morrow, however.”
“Brilliant!” Eggsy walked backwards and out of the booth, reopening the curtain as he went. “I’ll be seeing you!”
And then, clutching his tattered pride to himself, he fled.
EGGSY Y’EEDJIT HARRY ISN’T DISAPPOINTED IN YOU HE’S JUST DISAPPOINTED THAT HE DIDN’T GET TO MAKE YOU COME
Harry did return the next day.
The problem was, so did Haynes.
Well. That wasn’t a problem, was it? That was the point. The whole point, even. And if Eggsy was relieved that he could sail past Harry, like Harry didn’t exist, that was neither here nor there. He’d put on the bugged lipstick as soon as he’d identified Haynes’s bomber jacket and ridiculously square jaw from behind the backstage curtains. Now, all he had to do was keep his mouth unoccupied until he got it on Haynes.
Harry turned as Eggsy passed him, the very picture of a devotee ensnared by Eggsy’s charms, eager for another taste. But Gary-the-stripper had bigger fish to fry, today; every employee of the club was cognizant of Haynes’s status as an important man, and if anybody ever won his patronage on an ongoing basis, they could probably retire on the proceeds.
As Eggsy blithely ignored Harry’s—no, the john’s—crestfallen dejection, Eggsy could practically hear Miko calling him a “stone-cold bitch” admiringly. Stone-cold bitches must be Haynes’s type, though, because his eyes rose and caught on Eggsy, on Eggsy’s thigh-high black boots and viciously spiked heels, on Eggsy’s charcoal lace panties and distinctly catlike gait.
Eggsy had gotten Pamela to do his make-up: sooty, inky kohl that made him sloe-eyed and seductive, combined with a midnight gloss that edged his lips in a contrasting outline around the blood-scarlet lipstick Harry had given him. That, coupled with the latex gloves which clung to his forearms and all the way to his elbows like a particularly shiny tar, gave him the semblance of a carnivore on the hunt.
Gone was the fumbling novice of yesterday, who’d failed so spectacularly. Eggsy had taken Jason’s advice to imitate a “sexy shark” to heart, and he was going to show off every one of his glinting teeth. People would beg to be devoured by him. He had to believe in himself, in how irresistible he was. As Jason had said, Eggsy had to look like he’d make even murder feel orgasmic. Given what Eggsy’s actual profession was, that was the most suitable, applicable advice he’d been given thus far.
So Eggsy prowled up to Haynes like Haynes falling for him was a forgone conclusion—like Haynes had already fallen for him, and just didn’t know it yet.
And Eggsy sat on Haynes’s lap, just like that, without an invitation.
Eggsy was the hunter, after all. He wasn’t prey.
Haynes might be a drug lord, an alpha male and a ruthless killer, but he didn’t have many people asserting themselves around him. He was used to being bowed and scraped to. Perhaps that was why, instead of kicking Eggsy off, he only narrowed those cool, clever, ice-grey eyes of his. It was like looking at a pair of drawn knives.
“Ambitious of you,” Haynes said, his upper lip curling.
“Fortune favors the bold.”
“Does it? I tend to crush the bold beneath my shoes.”
Eggsy let his lashes sweep downward, coy and flirtatious. “Only because they aren’t as pretty as I am.”
“That’s true.” Haynes surveyed Eggsy, the black corset that ended just under his nipples, and the panties that matched.
Eggsy spread his knees for Haynes’s appraisal.
Haynes’s eyes darkened. “You’re a calculating little money-earner, aren’t you?”
“The word you’re searching for is whore,” Eggsy said, amiably. Brazenly.
“Oh? That pert behind of yours is on offer, is it?”
“Might be. Might not be. Depends on how convincing you are, mister.”
“And cash is how I convince you, I presume?”
“It’s my job to convince you to convince me.”
“You’re a remarkable salesman.”
“No, I’m not.” Eggsy pouted. “I haven’t made a sale, yet.”
Haynes chuckled, appearing startled by his own amusement. It was unnerving, however, that the iciness of his eyes didn’t warm, instead becoming dangerously barbed, like a wire crackling with tension. “Oh, you’re just perfect, aren’t you?”
“Not as perfect as my mouth,” Eggsy said, and kissed him.
It would have been perfunctory, were it up to Eggsy, because this was basically about getting the nanobots in the lipstick on Haynes. But “Gary” had a sale to make, and so, Eggsy made the kiss teasing. He made it delicate and subtly fiery, a gentle suckle followed by a coquettish dip of tongue. He let it linger just enough to hint at more, to hint at heat and slickness, before drawing back.
And he had to make himself feel it, because a criminal mastermind as paranoid as Haynes would detect the slightest prevarication. When Eggsy exhaled shakily as their lips parted, it was because the kiss had been good. Because Haynes had bitten him, ever-so-slightly, and Eggsy had a weakness for that.
It was more difficult to be the “remarkable salesman” of before, to be cavalier.
But Eggsy managed it. With Harry overseeing him and judging his performance, Eggsy had to manage it. Even when Haynes’s fingers swept up his inner thigh, along the lining of his panties, and an unexpected arousal flashed through Eggsy, because Haynes’s fingertips were callused, just like Harry’s were. Gun calluses. God.
Eggsy didn’t quite squirm, but he couldn’t suppress an abortive twitch of his hips.
Haynes chuckled again, but this time, the chuckle was ragged. “Are you always this easy for everyone, pet, or am I special?”
You’re nothing special, you arsehole, Eggsy wished he could snap, but instead, he permitted his discomposure to speak for him. Men saw what they wanted to see, and now? Haynes wanted to see a whore used to selling sex but not to giving it up, not to getting off on it. Not until the right man took him apart.
That Eggsy had driven Haynes to envision that—to envision Eggsy undone, kohl smeared with tears and corset stained with come—was how Eggsy knew he’d succeeded. His success was written all over Haynes, whose eternal vigilance had been briefly bypassed by sheer animal need. The need that made his fingers spasm into claws on Eggsy’s left buttock, where they had unconsciously relocated to, even as Eggsy craftily lifted himself off. The preview was over. Anything else would have to be paid for.
“So?” Eggsy said, daringly. “A lapdance is the least you owe me for that.”
“What I owe you is a thorough fucking.”
“That’s what they all say,” Eggsy said, primly. “But do they deliver? No.”
Luckily for Eggsy—who had to tempt Haynes into coming back, and couldn’t do that if Haynes was satisfied by their very first engagement—Haynes was interrupted by a bald-shaved bodyguard with a flaming yellow goatee. Eggsy had noted Goatee’s position earlier, but hadn’t been concerned by it, given that a mafioso of Haynes’s rank had to have a bodyguard. Or three. (There were two more, stationed by the bar and by the exit.)
The goateed bodyguard gave Haynes a buzzing iPhone, and Eggsy espied the beginning of an American area code—California?—on the screen.
Haynes’s transformation from bloke-with-a-stiffy to super-villain was amazingly fast. Stony calculation replaced whatever humanity Haynes had gained.
“You’re late,” Haynes said into the phone, brusquely, and got up to leave.
Eggsy thought himself dismissed, until Goatee sidled into his space and said, confidentially: “Be here on Sunday.”
Eggsy could’ve hugged him. Yes! Eggsy had nailed Haynes! Er. Not nailed, per se, but—
He’d aced the most crucial part of the assignment: entrapment. Keeping the chemistry going was all that remained.
It was Friday, and Eggsy would be planting more nanobots on Haynes on Sunday. Merlin would be over the moon. Merlin might, even, run away with the spoon.
Giddy with accomplishment, Eggsy swanned through the lounge toward the backstage, crossing Harry’s table without pause, even though he wished he could share his victory.
He had to pause, however, when Harry’s hand shot out to grab his wrist, bruisingly tight.
“Sir!” said Eggsy, as if astonished. “There you are! I didn’t—”
“Yes. You. Did.” Harry’s voice was the consistency of gravel. “You saw me. But he’s a valued client,” Harry spat, “is he? What happened to the house rules? You didn’t protest when he touched you.”
It was a consummate portrayal of jealousy. Eggsy had to exhibit a bit of fright, a bit of flightiness, even as he attempted to mollify Harry. No, not Harry. The john. “Of—of course not! He has a history with Bare, is all. Just like you’ll have a history, soon! We strippers can relax with customers that have histories.”
“Will you relax with me?”
“I. Yeah. Yeah, why not? My shift’s up, but I swear I’ll lapdance for you tomorrow, how about that?” This was convenient, as Harry had likely intended it to be. Haynes was due the day after; dancing for Harry tomorrow would be the ideal set-up for Harry to give him Merlin’s Kingsman-issue lipstick. “I’ll wait for you,” Eggsy said, placatingly. “What’s your name?”
“Harold,” Harry said, and released Eggsy’s wrist. There were, indeed, bruises on it.
“Tomorrow, then!” Eggsy backpedaled hastily, waving at Harry before vanishing into the relative safety of the staff-only area. “Whew,” he said theatrically, when he saw Miko. “I escaped.”
Miko, unusually for her, was frowning. “I’ll admit you’re impressive, bagging Mr. Haynes like that. But he’s bad news, Gary. Very, very bad news. There’s a reason we aren’t all fawning over him.”
“Jason is,” Eggsy pointed out.
“Jason is a moron. And poor Pam is in more debt than Greece, so she has to do what she has to do. But do you have to do it?”
“I…” Eggsy trailed off. “Yes, I do.”
Miko sighed. Her towering pink hairdo, which Eggsy guessed was meant to mimic candy floss, teetered alarmingly when she embraced him. Her burly arms and tiny breasts and lilac perfume were oddly comforting. “I’m just worried you’re a baddie magnet, dear. That other fellow? The suit? He had this scary look while you were with Haynes. Like, a mass-murder look.”
It was probably not the opportune moment to reveal to Miko that Harry had, in fact, committed mass-murder. “I’ll be all right, Miko.”
“Will you? That psycho—”
“Psycho?” Eggsy said, skeptically. The character Harry was portraying was too mild for that.
“Yeah, Gary, psycho. That’s what stalkers act like. Like they own you.”
He does own me, Eggsy didn’t say. I’d love it if he would.
“You’re in student housing with Pam and Frank, aren’t you? Don’t go home alone. Go with them, when they’re done with their shifts. Just in case Daddy-o is following you. I hate that fake gentleman bullshit,” Miko said, vengefully, “even if the bespoke suits are sexy.”
“Just the suits?” Eggsy asked, playfully.
Miko huffed. “The body in the suits is sexier than the suits are. Not denying it. Just saying that sexiness doesn’t excuse creepiness. If he gives you trouble, you tell me or the manager or the bouncer, got it?”
Miko pecked him on the forehead. “You were dazzling tonight, babe, but honestly? You’re going from sweet summer child to professional incubus like a Maserati going from zero to sixty, and I have no clue who’s in charge of the steering wheel.”
“I am,” Eggsy said, defensively.
“Oh, darling, no. You’re not. You don’t even realize you’re in a Maserati.”
“Is… that a backhanded compliment? Are you comparing me to a sports car?” Eggsy tsked sadly. “That’s blatant objectification, Miko. For shame.”
“Now you’ve done it,” Miko declared, putting Eggsy in a truly punishing headlock. “When you accuse me of siding with the patriarchy is when you die.”
“Not the patriarchy,” Eggsy croaked. “The matriarchy.”
“Aaaand you’ve just redeemed yourself,” Miko said, merrily, freeing Eggsy and patting him as he wheezed. “There, there. Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird. Or, to be more realistic, a Snickers bar. From the vending machine.”
“Not the mommy kink,” Eggsy said, with put-upon horror, as Miko proceeded to whack the vending machine into submission. In a motherly way.
Tra-la-la, it seems Eggsy wasn't the only one whose cover slipped...