Disclaimer: Once again, I don't own these GW characters and make not even a dime from spending hours writing about them.

Warnings: AU, sexual situations, yaoi 1x2, 3x4, and various past relationship

The Pretender
Chapter 4
by Dyna Dee

Waking up the next morning, Duo had no idea which activity the day before had made sitting up so painful: horseback riding or having sex for the first time. He was pretty sure it was a combination of both. Feeling both stiff and sore, he took a couple of ibuprofen then dressed in black jeans and a white oxford shirt, deeming his clothing casual enough for Charise's working-vacation dress standards. Despite his physical discomfort, Duo found himself smiling at his reflection in the bathroom mirror after brushing his teeth. For the life of him he couldn't seem to keep the smile off his face.

He'd done it. He'd actually had sex.

He was finally liberated from the heavy mantle of fear and guilt his aunt had placed on him, trying to keep him from what she deemed a life of perversion. Of course he wasn't entirely free from all feelings of guilt. He felt pretty bad about leaving Tex as he had, waiting for him in an upstairs bedroom, anticipating his company for the night. It couldn't be helped, he consoled himself. He wasn't anything like the forward, sexually indulgent person the handsome man believed him to be. He wasn't Laredo. That persona, fueled by his vivid imagination, had served its purpose by helping him have sex with a virtual stranger. But Laredo was only a fantasy, and now with a full workday ahead of him, he had to be firmly anchored to reality. He had a great job, a cool apartment, a boss who depended on him and friends who cared. Leaving Tex like he had was probably the rudest, most cowardly thing he'd ever done, especially after what they'd done together, but Duo didn't regret parting ways before the man learned of his deception.

Thinking about the day before another thought came to him. What would Charise think of him if she ever learned he'd had sex at the brothel up the hill from her ranch? No doubt her first reaction would be shock. After calming down, she'd scold him until his ears burned for acting so carelessly and being irresponsible, then she probably skewer him with the look of disappointment he hated being on the receiving end of.

His boss was, at times, his friend and confidant, and she knew something about his intimacy problems, so she might even be happy for him that he'd passed that enormous hurdle, but she definitely frowned on things she considered debasing. The woman made no secret about her views on pornography, prostitution or adultery. She was no Bible thumper, far from it, but she personally felt those things to be detrimental to healthy relationships. Charise would know about building a strong relationship, Duo figured. She'd been married once, and it was "A love match beyond compare", she'd say to anyone who cared to listen. Seven years ago, her "darling Harry", husband of twenty years, died in a scuba diving accident off the coast of Australia while they were on vacation together. Charise had been so devastated by his sudden death and the loss of her once-in-a-lifetime love, that for the first time in her life she couldn't bring herself to care about anything. Following her doctor's orders, she'd taken a year off work to mourn him and pull herself together. Duo felt like he knew Harry DuFrame, as Charise spoke often and fondly of the man, and always with tears filling her eyes.

Because she'd been lucky enough to have known true love, a good and loving relationship was what Charise wanted for him also, which is one of the reasons why she would be so upset about his having sex with a prostitute. A brothel was probably the last place she would have expected him to lose his virginity. She would definitely be disappointed in him if she learned the truth. That was why, no matter what, he couldn't tell her about Tex, not how they met, what the man did for a living and definitely not what they'd done together.

Studying his reflection, he turned his head and looked at his face from all angles, wondering if he looked any different after having had great sex. He was pretty sure the blush that popped up on his cheeks every time he thought about being in the hot tub with the cowboy was a clear give away that something had changed. It wouldn't do to have Charise or his co-workers question him about his flushed face, that might lead to other questions he wasn't about to answer. The problem was, he couldn't stop thinking of Tex and recreating in his mind the scene in the hot tub. The only solution was to keep his thoughts occupied with other things, like the busy day ahead of him. But damn, dismissing the cowboy might prove nearly impossible when the memory of those deep blue eyes and the teasing tilt of Tex's lips was something he wasn't quite ready to let go of .


Ten minutes before the morning meeting was scheduled to begin, Duo in his place, alone, in the conference room. He had just opened his laptop when a familiar voice called out to him from the doorway. "Duo!" Charise walked into the room where her design team met daily. "There you are. I didn't see you at breakfast."

"Morning, Charise," he replied calmly, purposely keeping his eyes to the screen as it came to life. "I wasn't hungry this morning."

"You should have been. You missed dinner last night. Was the horseback ride too much for you?"

Charise knew he hadn't ridden before, so she must know that he was sore. But her concern was laced with a touch of teasing. Rather than tell her he'd been soaking his sore arse in the whirlpool bathtub all evening, dreaming of a dark haired cowboy, he stretched the truth. "I was feeling a bit achy, so I decided to take a long bath and watch some T.V. in my room. You more or less ordered me to relax and have some fun this week, and that's exactly what I did last night."

"The horseback ride wasn't relaxing?" she asked, moving to stand behind his chair.

"It was very nice, though a bit long for my first time in the saddle." That wasn't the only "first" he'd experienced yesterday, he thought with a internal snicker.

"Well, I suppose you'll be happy about getting back to your apartment tomorrow."

"I have to shop for the week and a mountain of laundry to do on Sunday," he admitted.

"All work and no play will make my Duo a very lonely boy," Charise said, concern in her voice as her hands came to rest on his shoulders and began massaging them.

"I can't help it you are a tireless task master," he teased, then turned the tables on her. "When do you make time for anything other than business?"

The hands on his shoulders stopped moving as the older woman thought about the question. "I guess I don't. I can't remember the last time I had a date or went to the movies, at least one that wasn't a premiere where my presence was deemed necessary for publicity. Do you happen to know of any straight, handsome, decent, older and self supporting men, Duo?" Charise then sighed deeply and added, "I'm beginning to think they're a dying breed."

He grinned at her over his shoulder. "Not too picky, are you?"

"One has to be, when it come to matters of the heart." She smiled softly in return, though there was a wistful look in her eyes. He got the message that Charise was ready to move on, past her grief for her deceased husband. But there was still a part of her that held onto Harry, and probably always would.

"I'll be on the lookout," Duo assured her, placing his hands over hers, which were still resting on his shoulders. "And you do the same for me, minus the straight requirement. I'm thinking that if we can find someone to occupy your evenings and weekends, the rest of us will get to work a regular 40-hour week." He was teasing, but not. His own social life was nearly non-existent due to the long hours spent at the office and then often spending part of his weekends helping Charise with some of her personal business or escorting her to fashion industry events. Hell, he was often so wiped out at the end of the day that it was a chore to fix dinner and a rare night when he watched T.V. What free time he had on the weekends, his body usually demanded he make up for his lack of sleep by taking long naps or sleeping half the day away.

"We've got a deal," Charise agreed with a feminine chuckle. Moving to the chair at the head of the table, she sat down and set her briefcase on the flat surface. It took a few moments for her to pull out the reports and files she needed that morning.

After laying them on top of the table, she glanced up at her assistant once again and thoughtfully studied him for a moment. A slow smile tilted the corner's of her mouth as she observed, "You are absolutely glowing this morning, Duo. I think the fresh country air must agree with you. You have the look of someone who just got laid." But after Duo failed to respond to her teasing, her humor suddenly waned.

He was mortified. How did she know? What if everyone else could read him like his boss had? Damn, he wasn't that obvious, was he?

Charise was quick to apologize, believing she'd offended him. "I'm so sorry, Duo. That was tactless of me. I..." She stopped short, sensing she was digging herself in deeper with every word uttered. "Anyway, what I meant to say was that you look more delicious than usual." She waited until he looked up and smiled, letting her know that all was forgiven, before she relaxed.

"Now, let's hope that my highly paid staff has come up with some fantastic ideas for the Spring Fling." No more than ten seconds passed before said fortunate staff began to trickle into the room. After a brief greeting, they took their seats.

Duo stayed busily occupied for the remainder of his stay at the ranch, leaving him little time to think about Tex. On Saturday morning , in a rented limo, he returned to the small airport in Lake Tahoe, along with Charise and several favored employees, where they boarded DuFrame Design's private plane and flew back to L.A. The other staff members would find their way home in the cars they'd driven up or one a commercial airliners, their tickets provided by Charise.

Unlocking the front door to his apartment, Duo stepped in carrying his three bags, relieved at being back in his own living space. From habit he re-locked the front door then took his luggage to the bedroom. He set everything down and removed his light jacket and stretched out his arms. Deciding to deal with unpacking later, he grabbed up his phone and speed dialed Dorothy. She'd given him her cell phone number in case he had needed of her while he was out of town.

She picked up just as he sat on his. "How was your trip?" she asked, without bothering to say hello. He knew she had caller id, but would it kill her to greet him properly?

Putting aside his slight irritation, he answered triumphantly, "I did it." With a smile on his face and phone in his hand, he flopped back onto the mattress.

There was a moment a silence followed as Dorothy digested what he'd said. "Define, exactly, what ‘it' is."

"I had sex with another man."

He could imagine Dorothy smiling, her straight, pearly-white teeth exposed as she replied excitedly, "Tell me all about it. Was it good?"

Duo grinned back. Leave it to a sex therapist not to ask the who, what, where, when or why questions that he was sure to get from Quatre or anyone else he told of his newest achievement. "It was better than good. It was fantastic. I know you and everyone else told me it would be, but I really didn't expect it to be so... fulfilling the first time."

"You didn't panic?"

"No, but I felt like it a couple of times. I caught myself and used the escape technique you taught me, and it was hot." Now that he was talking about the incident, he found it hard to stop when he had such an eager and understanding listener. "You know I was going to Charise's ranch, right? Well, she arranged for me to go on a horseback ride, and my guide took me to a big yellow house cut into a hillside called The House.."

"On the Hill." Dorothy finished for him and then laughed. "Oh, Duo. Don't tell me you had your virginity taken in a whore house?"

Duo wondered why she was so amused. "Who said I was taken?"

Dorothy's amusement continued as she asked, "What else have we been preparing you for? Isn't that what you wanted?"

"I also want to experience being on top," he protested. He knew his former boyfriends, usually the strong, handsome and dominant type, had made no secret about how they wanted to take him. Since he always went for that kind of guy he should be willing to give them what they needed, or so he thought. But that didn't mean he'd be content to be a bottom every time. If his first time having sex revealed anything about him, it was that he wasn't adverse to being a bottom. His friends and therapists had told him most guys are either top or bottom, but he figured he wouldn't know for certain what he preferred until he tried both.

"And now that you've taken this first step, you will. Tell me, who was this miracle man? A professional?"

"He was dressed like a cowboy." He could feel his face flushing at the mere mention of Tex.

"Ah, that's perfect. You've always been partial towards men in tight jeans and chaps."

Without going into as much detail as she wanted, Duo told her what had happened between himself and Tex and was getting aroused describing that afternoon. He rubbed the swelling at the front of his pants as he finished telling her how the other man had held and kissed him afterwards. A lovely gesture, but unfortunately it was soured by his having fled the scene while Tex, ignorant of his departure, waited for him in his room upstairs.

"So, did he work there or not?" Dorothy asked, sounding confused.

"Honestly? I don't know, but I assumed he did. He had a room up stairs, after all. Besides, this guy kissed exactly the way he looked. He was perfection personified."

"Then you got his services for free?"

Duo's eyes widened. The thought that he'd stiffed the man who'd done so much for him had never even entered his mind, and he was horrified by his actions, even though his thoughtlessness had been unintended. "Shit," he answered, wide eyed. "I didn't even think to pay."

Dorothy thought about that for a moment, then suggested, "You can always send them a cashier's check, or an envelope of money, explaining your hasty retreat as embarrassment, not an intended slight."

Duo nodded distractedly, thinking about that. It was bad enough that he'd run off and left Tex waiting for him upstairs, but to leave without paying for services rendered was stealing from the man. Tex had to have felt cheated and insulted. He decided then and there to write a note of apology to Tex and send him five hundred dollars. Was that enough? He had no idea and no one to ask without a lot of explanations. Surely Dorothy wouldn't know how much prostitutes from that particular establishment charged for a life-altering, half-hour quicky.

"So what are your plans?" Dorothy's question cut into his thoughts.

"What do you mean?" His mind was still focused on sending money to Tex.

"Are you going to start dating again?"

"Oh," he blinked, not realizing they'd changed topics. "I guess that's the next step, isn't it?" he replied. "I just have to find the time to get out and meet someone. Now that I've gotten over my issues, I'm free to start looking for the man of my dreams."

Even though Dorothy wasn't in the room, looking at him with that penetrating stare of hers, the one that made him squirm in his chair, the long pause from her end of the phone somehow made him feel like she was examining him under a microscope.

"I'm not so certain you should consider your "issues" to be over," she finally said, her tone thoughtful. "You've definitely made progress, but there is a latent reason for your phobia. That reason hasn't gone away, as far as I know, but you have just successfully gotten around it. Dr. Winner, I hope, is helping you deal with that aspect of your mental health." After taking a deep breath, she added, "Now, as for moving forward, I would suggest that you begin putting your toes into the proverbial gay waters by going out next weekend. I've got a few connections and can get you into the Palomino Club. They have a higher class of clientele, mostly business professionals, who I'm confident will welcome you with open arms."

Duo suddenly became anxious at her suggestion of going into a gay club alone, especially the exclusive one Dorothy suggested. Of course he'd patronized them before, during his college years, but those nights didn't hold the most pleasant memories. Too much had been expected of him by the guys he'd met in those loud and dark establishments. Even the few decent guys he'd given his cell phone number to had expected him to have sex with them after the first or second date. He'd disappointed quite a few hopefuls and earned the reputation as a cock tease when he couldn't go any further than making out.

"I haven't been to a club in years. Are you sure that's the best place for me to go?"

"Absolutely. If it will make you feel better, I could meet you there. It's not safe these days to go any where alone, especially in the city."

Duo frowned. "I don't need you to hold my hand, Dorothy."

"I know that. I just thought you might feel more comfortable walking into a new place with someone."

"I don't think walking into a gay club with a woman on my arm is going to help my cause," he replied.

"I could bring a date?"

"Then I'd look like I was in a threesome, and that's definitely not the impression I want to give when looking for a date. I think I'm better off doing this by myself."

Dorothy thought about this a moment then sighed. "As long as you promise me that you'll actually go to the club and stay for at least an hour. And don't go alone. I'd never forgive myself if something happened to you."

He wondered why the woman was so paranoid about his going out alone? Hell, he'd been on his own for nearly a year since Trowa's departure, and nothing had happened to make him as exercise the kind of caution Dorothy was asking of him. Maybe something had happened to spur her concern. He really should take the time to watch the news, get caught up on currents, especially if we was going to start dating again. The problem was he was either at work on asleep when the evening news came on.

"I have to stay an hour, huh?" Duo pondered that for a moment, then nodded his head. "All right. I can do an hour."

"We're making real progress here, Duo." The therapist sounded pleased. "I'm so proud of you. I have every confidence that you're on the way to having the relationship you've been wanting for so long."

Duo grinned. "Hum... a hot and heavy romance."

"Maybe more than one, two or ten," Dorothy replied. "The possibilities are endless."

There was that churning in his stomach again. Something about the blonde's insinuation that he could have a string of lovers just didn't sit right. He initially began seeing Dorothy because he was sick of being alone and dumped for someone who had more to offer, physically, to a relationship. Frankly, he had been desperate to overcome his fears so that he could finally enjoy a full-fledged relationship with another man. He'd always been selective about who he let into his life, and had been cautious about who he confided in with regards to his intimacy problem. Those few had initially promised to be patient as he tried to work out his issues, but none of them had been able to wait long enough to enjoy the end result of his therapy.

Trowa had been the last to leave him. And though he'd told Quatre that he was over that defection, he really wasn't. Since their breakup, he'd been afraid to let anyone else get close to him. His fear of rejection and of being abandoned had been earned the hard way, by a history of heartbreak and letdowns.

As his conversation with Dorothy drew to a close, Duo promised to look for the tickets she'd be sending to his apartment for the Palomino Club, and that he'd call her the morning after his visit to the club to report on his evening.

Work was frantic the next week. Duo's day at the office began at 6 a.m., and lasted well after 9 p.m. He returned home, too tired to eat and with barely enough energy to throw off his clothes and fall into bed. He cancelled his appointment with Quatre and his weekly racketball game with Trowa with the legitimate excuse that he was just too busy to leave the office. With the winter fashion show taking place that weekend, he found very little time to dwell on Tex much less anything else regarding his sex life.

A note from Dorothy arrived by messenger on Thursday afternoon. It included two tickets to the trendy club she'd spoken of the weekend before. With so much on his mind, Duo had actually forgotten about it. He took a moment to study the invitations before placing them in his wallet; he had too much going on at the moment to even think about using them. It looked like his love life would have to take the back burner, at least until after the show on Saturday.

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