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Gilded Ambition: A Gilded Fox Novel by Jason Collins (1)

1

Ben

The long black limo rolled to a stop in front of a building with a glistening, flat exterior and no signage to speak of. I took a long drink of my martini, smiling as I wondered what else might grace my lips by the time the night was over. I knew I was in for an adventure, and I was ready. My body needed it. I was headed to what I had been told was a party for a very exclusive crowd, and that usually meant the ride home would include someone’s hands on my thighs while he took a long drink from me. I was feeling tense, and it had been a while since I’d enjoyed the feeling of a man pressed against my body.

I peered up at the facade of the building in confusion before rolling down the window to raise an eyebrow at my uncle Charles, who was standing outside waiting for my arrival. A slow smile spread across his dignified features, and I could tell he was doing his best to stifle a laugh at my mystified expression.

“Is this it? Really?” I asked, narrowing my eyes at him.

“Yes, really. This is the place,” he said.

I gave my chauffeur a curt nod over the partition. He turned off the engine and stepped out to open the door. The June sunshine beat down on my shoulders through the slick fabric of my suit jacket as we approached the entrance. Considering the grandeur with which my uncle had described this place, I was having a hard time figuring out why it had such a modest front door.

“Not to accuse you of being senile in your old age or anything,” I began, “but are you sure this is the right address?”

“Definitely. This is it, Benjamin. Just be patient,” he chided me, as he had done many times over the years.

Inside the foyer was a typical hotel check-in window, the glass pane smudged with fingerprints. There was a woman behind the pane who glared at us impassively over the rims of her glasses until Uncle Charles stepped up and gave her a nod. A flicker of a knowing smile passed over her face, and she gestured toward the nondescript door across the foyer.

He strode over to the door as I leaned over his shoulder to whisper, “Are you sure we belong here?”

He turned back to look at me, and there was a twinkle in his eye as he replied quietly, “There’s no place on earth you belong more than here.”

As soon as we stepped inside, my jaw dropped and my eyes widened, trying to take it all in. It was like another world. In stark contrast to the foyer we’d just come through, this place had high vaulted ceilings, vintage decor, brassy mood lighting, and music mingled with the echoes of men laughing and talking. Along the walls were paintings that seemed too perfect, too expensive to be real, but my expert eye could tell they were bespoke works of art. In the center of the room was an elegant fountain, and behind that a glossy mahogany bar.

My heart stopped for a moment. Standing behind the counter was the most exquisite work of art I had seen so far.

A man with high, sculpted cheekbones, a tight body under his tailored clothing, and the palest, clearest, most enchanting blue eyes I had ever seen before. The golden lights above the bar seemed to cast an angelic glow over him as he poured drinks and offered bright smiles to his customers. I watched him roll his sleeves up to his elbows, revealing powerful forearms. When he turned around to reach for a bottle of scotch, I saw his taut ass, perfectly outlined in his jeans. When he smiled at a customer, I noticed with a thump of my heart that his cheeks dimpled. He seemed to almost glow from within, and I found myself wondering if he could even be real. He looked like he had stepped straight out of a magazine or perhaps out of a museum-- some marble masterpiece blessed with gleaming life.

He was gorgeous, and my entire body ached to be closer to him. Some mystical, magnetic pull drew me to him, and I found myself unable to focus on anything besides finding out his name. I could vaguely hear the muffled voice of my uncle lecturing me about the history and reputation of this place, as I was here for some kind of exclusive party. But I was totally distracted. I needed to speak to this gorgeous man. I was desperate to know him. And I was helpless to stop my mind from reeling away into vivid fantasy.

I thought about what I would do with him.

I would take him by the hand, feeling his pulse quicken at his wrist as we walked along together among the fragrant jasmine growing wild and purple all around us. We would stroll along a marble promenade in an evening thick and buzzing with bees and butterflies. The sun was sinking over the horizon, streaking the clouds with pink and gold against the velvety plum-colored backdrop of a summer sky. It was a courtyard I could barely make out through the windows at the far end of the club’s main hall, a place where I would find a quiet corner to wrap my arms around that beautiful mystery man. I would revel in the way his light blue eyes widened and glowed in the low light, the way his lithe body molded to mine when I kissed him. I wanted to taste those soft, sensual lips, trace the plush, rounded curve of them with my thumb as I locked eyes with him.

He looked a little shy, like he would almost shrink away from me at first, afraid to overstep his boundaries and take things too far. I would have to guide him, remind him that I was in control and I would never let any harm come to him. I would promise him nothing but endless pleasure, and then I would show him exactly what I meant. His hands, with their long, elegant fingers and soft palms, would tremble ever so slightly when I held them up to press gentle kisses into them.

My uncle’s voice pierced my thoughts and brought me back to reality for a moment, but I couldn’t focus. I quickly returned my attention to the man behind the bar and drifted back into my vivid fantasy, picturing my imaginary scene with him.

He would watch me with lidded eyes, those perfect lips barely parted, his chest rising and falling with every measured breath. I would press him to the marble pillar, rut against him gently until I could feel his member stiffening between us. I could clearly envision the bashful blush spreading over his cheeks as I reached down and began to slowly stroke him through his pants. He would reward me with a soft moan as he closed those beautiful eyes and tilted his head back, giving himself over to my touch.

I would kiss him again while my hand slipped down the front of his pants, under the thin waistband of his boxers. His silky cock would twitch with need when I wrapped my fingers around it and began to stroke him. I would relish the way he whimpered and panted, losing himself to the pleasure. I was hard, too, my cock sliding against his thigh while I stroked him closer and closer to orgasm under the protective darkness of evening. He would murmur my name as he rocked his hips, his hands clutching at my suit jacket as he slowly lost control…

“Ben?”

I jolted back to reality at the sound of my uncle’s curt voice. I blinked several times, realizing that he had led me across the room to the bar. To my surprise, I was now standing right in front of the very man whose body I had just been mentally ravishing. He was looking at me expectantly, those blue eyes so enchanting I wished I could just stand silently and let myself drift away in them. He was an angel on earth, and I couldn’t help but feel my face flush a little as we locked eyes. After all, I had just been imagining what his cock would feel like in my hand. I worried for half a second that he might somehow be able to read my mind.

But then he smiled, and all my worries melted away. My whole body warmed and tingled under the light of his smile. I held out a hand for him to shake.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Benjamin Cabot,” I said, smiling.

He nodded and shook my hand, sending shivers through my body at this innocent touch.

“Hi. I’m Noah Rowe,” he answered, and his voice was as sweet as honey to my ears.

I was so captivated, in fact, that I accidentally forgot to end the handshake for a few seconds.

I hurriedly let my hand drop to my side, and I grinned sheepishly. “Sorry. Must have zoned out a little,” I said quickly.

“See? I knew he would be overwhelmed. This place has that effect on people,” Uncle Charles remarked with a smirk.

“Never doubted you for a moment, sir,” Noah quipped brightly. “Will you two gentlemen be staying for a drink?”

“Absolutely,” I said.

“Not today,” said Uncle Charles at the same time.

We looked at each other, then at the handsome bartender, who chuckled. Charles sighed and gave me a shrug.

“Fine, fine. We’ll have a couple of old-fashioneds, then, Noah. Thank you,” he said.

“Coming right up, Mr. Cabot,” Noah replied and turned away to start mixing our drinks.

“Actually, could you make mine a Love Affair?” I piped up.

Noah looked at me with mild amusement as he tilted his head to one side and smiled softly. “Really? That’s not one I get asked for all too often these days. Vodka, cranberry, mint, lemon, and rhubarb. Very unconventional.”

“I guess I’m just an unconventional kind of guy,” I replied, my heart pounding. “Besides, rhubarb is a fine ingredient. Doesn’t get enough love.”

Noah chuckled and glanced at my uncle knowingly. “Ah, yes. I can tell you’re Charles’s nephew now,” he commented, making Charles laugh.

There was something so warm and inviting about Noah, and yet there was some invisible boundary drawn between us I could sense but not see. As though he was off-limits to me in some way. I realized with some dismay that it was a sensation I’d felt before, and I had a feeling I knew what it meant: that Noah was straight. Of course, he was. My heart sank. Uncle Charles and I sat down on our barstools, and I found it nearly impossible to drag my eyes away from the handsome bartender as my uncle talked.

“So, I assume by now you’ve realized this is not an exclusive party,” he said, clearing his throat to get my attention.

I managed to tear my eyes away from Noah long enough to answer. “Yes. I think I’ve figured that out by now. So why are we here?”

My uncle’s eyes gleamed with delight as he gestured broadly around the magnificent interior of the club. “Welcome, my dear nephew, to the Gilded Fox,” he declared.

I couldn’t help but grin at his theatrics, but as I glanced around the room, I took in the details I had missed before. First of all, every person in the club was male. Secondly, almost all of them were stealing furtive glances and whispering among themselves…about me. As though they all knew who I was and why I was here. Like they had been expecting me.

“These people…they know who I am, don’t they?” I murmured, frowning slightly.

Charles nodded. “Yes. Well, they know who I am, which means they recognize you by association. I’m a member of the council here.”

“Ah, okay. So you’re a big deal, is what you’re telling me,” I joked, nudging his shoulder with mine. My uncle snorted.

“You tease, but you’re also dead-on,” he remarked in an undertone.

A moment later, Noah slid our drinks in front of us. I grinned at the sight of my pink beverage, fragrant and fruity and perfectly made. I glanced up at Noah with an approving nod. This cocktail was the pinup of the cocktail world, made even sexier by the fact that it had been created by the sexiest bartender my eyes had ever seen. It was almost too perfect to drink. I wanted to talk to Noah more, but he slipped away to serve another customer, leaving me to listen as Uncle Charles told me more about the history of the Gilded Fox.

“This place is very special to me, Ben,” he commented, a faraway look in his eyes. “You won’t find another place like this one. Nowhere in the world can a gay man be so comfortably and joyfully himself.”

“It’s a gorgeous club,” I agreed, nodding as I sipped my drink. “How big is this place, anyway? It’s got to be massive.”

“Take a guess,” Uncle Charles urged me excitedly.

“Hmm. Judging by this room and that courtyard out back, it’s got to be at least ten thousand square feet,” I said, letting out a low whistle of awe.

“Try three times that,” my uncle whispered, giving me a wink.

“Wow. That’s a big chunk of real estate for the middle of Manhattan,” I remarked.

“You interested now?” he asked, grinning.

I chuckled, shaking my head. “I was intrigued from the moment you opened a secret door. Everything after that is just showing off, you know.”

He laughed, patting his knee. “Guilty as charged,” he said playfully. “But you can hardly hold it against me, right? I mean, look around you, Ben. Isn’t it wonderful?”

“Absolutely. This place is amazing. I can’t believe I’d never heard of it before,” I said.

“Well, that’s by design,” he admitted. “Part of the reason why the Fox is so successful as a safe haven for men like us is its secrecy.”

“Men like us,” I repeated, nodding. “So, gay men.”

“Yes,” he said, confirming my suspicions. “The Gilded Fox was founded during a different era. A time when we were desperately in need of a place to call our own. Where we could be ourselves. Live our lives happily and authentically away from the disapproving eyes of mainstream society. To the outside world, it wore the disguise of a private art gallery. But on the inside…well, you see the reality.”

I nodded, listening along. Even as I did, it was hard to keep my eyes from darting to Noah at every possible moment. Another patron had approached the far end of the bar, meaning Noah was facing him and Noah’s ass was facing me. Every time Uncle Charles so much as glanced away, I stole a glance of my own while making my way through the stiff drink.

“It started as something social, but it grew over the years into something more involved,” he went on. “Men like us needed, well, friends. Connections. Other men who could guide them and help them out in different ways, regardless of where they came from, how much money they had, or what kind of jobs they had. You know as well as I do that things haven’t historically been all sunshine and roses for gay men-- we’ve needed a helping hand here and there. This club exists to bring people together, to learn and to grow.”

“Wait, this isn’t a cult, is it?” I asked with a smirk, and Charles immediately threw up his hands and rolled his eyes, looking to Noah.

“You see what I deal with? This kid is impossible!” he joked, and Noah snickered quietly while I flashed him a smile. “See,” he said to me, “now you can’t call me the dramatic one. How am I supposed to compete with ‘secret gay cult’? You might as well go home now. I can’t top that.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll behave.” I laughed.

“I swear, you remind me too much of me sometimes,” he said, shaking his head with a smile. “But that’s a good thing, in this case. Let’s take a walk.”

We stood up, and I gave Noah one more grateful smile, which he returned with that delicious shade of pink in his cheeks before Charles led me away from the bar and into the courtyard.

Once outside, I could see that the place was even more elaborate than my fantasy had let me imagine. The building was hidden in the stonework of the surrounding buildings, none of which had windows facing the courtyard. No one could see in from the surrounding buildings. The walls did, however, feature beautiful geometric patterns painted long ago that were being invaded by ivy on all sides. It made it feel like a bundle of secrets nesting in plain sight, like the rest of the place. I could see a balcony jutting out from each of the two floors above the ground floor, with intricate stone carvings holding them up.

“Do you like it?” Uncle Charles asked when he saw me inspecting the place.

“It was impressive at a glance,” I said, looking over at the marble statue I’d made use of in my fantasy. “But it’s like one of those paintings with a hundred things hidden away in it that you don’t see until you really let yourself get lost in it.”

Yes, yes, that’s exactly it!” he said excitedly, grinning. “I told the council you’d be a perfect fit for this place.”

“Council?”

“Right,” he said, stroking his tidy gray beard. “As you might have guessed, we keep the Fox quiet. If you know about it, you’re either a member or one of the highly trusted staff members. New members get nominated by existing members,” he said, gesturing to himself. “I brought you up to the council, and they vetted you. Nothing too invasive, we just looked into your past, made sure you’re probably not a world-class jewel thief or anything like that.”

“Ah, good, so nobody will be suspecting anything when I rob the place blind,” I joked.

“Exactly,” he played along, rolling his eyes. “Seriously though, the selection process is no joke. You have to be impressive to get in here, and Ben, you are impressive.”

“Well…” I said, trying to brush off the compliment, but Charles was having none of that.

“Ben, I’ve seen how you work,” he said. “You’re only twenty-eight, but you’ve been raring to get involved in the family business for a decade. Our family has always been a giant in the fashion industry, but you? You’ve got real talent. I’ve seen the designs you’ve proposed, and I’ve heard how your business contacts talk about you. Your father might not be willing to hand over the reins yet, but you need an outlet for the sheer force of mind you have,” he said.

He was right, but I didn’t want to say it out loud. The Cabot family had been the leader in luxury men’s fashion for a long time, and it earned us our billions. I was constantly innovating, but there was only so much I could do while Dad was still calling the shots-- not that we didn’t get along.

“And that’s where the Fox comes in,” Charles said, as I suspected. “You see, I’m a council member myself. There are five of us, usually from the original five families that founded this club. And you’ll be proud to know that a member of our family has sat on the council consecutively for the club’s entire history.”

“Wait, really?” I interjected, surprised. “Have we had that many…?”

“Gay men in our family?” he finished for me, grinning. “Well, coincidences work in our favor sometimes, Ben, and we have a big family. It hasn’t been a direct line, obviously, but yes, a ‘confirmed bachelor’ of our line has always been a Gilded Fox member. And as it happens, I am about to retire.”

That took me by almost as much surprise.

“I know, I’m not exactly lacking in energy,” he said, and I sensed that he was hiding something. “But my time is past, and I’m more than ready to hang up my coat. There’s a cozy house in England with my name on it I’ve been touching up the past few years, and I don’t want to put it off any longer.”

“...and you want me to step in and take your place,” I said as the pieces clicked in my head.

“Precisely,” he said proudly. “You’re going to be taking the helm of our family business eventually, but I think you’re suited to something even bigger. Something like the Fox.”

I was stunned, and I didn’t know what to say for a few moments.

“That’s flattering, but…aren’t I a little young? And how would members feel about someone brand new stepping into a leadership role?”

“You’re not someone entirely brand new, Ben. You’re a Cabot,” he said with a grin. “That means something big around here, and my glowing endorsement just adds to that. That and your youth are actually huge advantages, if you ask me. There’s a certain something that’s been fading from the Fox in the past few years.”

“Such as?”

He struggled for the words for a few moments.

“We have some men on the council who are close to your age, but still, things don’t feel like they used to. You didn’t hear it from me, but I feel the air getting ‘stuffier’ lately, if you catch my drift. Old money looking down on new money, tensions that didn’t used to be there. What I mean is, I don’t want this place ending up like a fancy country club,” he said at last. “And I think your youth and brilliance and energy would be, well, an ideal cure. Spruce the place up. Maybe replace some of these gaudy statues,” he said, glancing around us at some of the art with a chuckle.

“Actually,” a voice came from behind us, and we turned our heads to see Noah entering the courtyard carrying a second round of drinks on a tray. “That statue there was donated by a member who went on to have a hand in some of the biggest expos the city has seen, at the time. It’s practically a piece of history.”

We stared, caught off guard, and Noah quickly realized he’d spoken out of turn and looked embarrassed. He hastily swapped our drinks with a sheepish grin.

“That’s not to say it isn’t gaudy, I mean, just that it was a show stealer in its time.”

“No, no, I think that’s fascinating,” I said quickly, grinning. “Uncle Charles mentioned this place was an art gallery as a front, right?”

“It almost feels criminal to call it a front, but-” Noah started, and I saw a glimmer of real interest in his eyes that made my heart race. “Well, I shouldn’t ramble, I’ve got drinks to make. Let me know if you need anything else!”

With that, Noah strode back inside, dignified and confident even when he was embarrassed for speaking out of line. I watched his ass as he went, then looked back to Charles, who was peering at me curiously.

“His family has worked for the club for a long time.”

“Really?” I said, smiling. “So-”

“Don’t even think about it,” Uncle Charles said, chuckling. “I really do hate to burst your bubble, but the staff are both straight and off-limits for what you’re thinking.”

“I see,” I said, glancing back toward the bar. “Let me guess, club policy?”

Charles smirked.

“Club policy.”

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