A PAIR of firm lips descended toward him. Gabriel Mason’s breath hitched in that fraction of second before they touched. A soft tongue slid across the seam of Gabe’s lips. He opened, welcoming the now familiar taste of his soon-to-be lover. The kisses they’d shared were the best in Gabe’s experience. Soft or hard, explosive or tender, each and every one of them made Gabe’s toes curl.
Gabe’s heart beat rapidly in his chest, the tips of his fingers tingled with desire to touch the warm resilient skin hidden beneath the elegant clothes. His lover’s tongue slid inside slowly and tangoed with Gabe’s. Spicy flavors from their dinner mixed with the natural musk of man. Gabe moaned as his pulse increased, and his cock thickened behind the barrier of his jeans. One large hand cupped the back of Gabe’s head and the other slowly slid down his back, heading for the mound of Gabe’s ass. The intimate touch sent Gabe’s blood pressure skyrocketing. One finger pressed into the seam centered directly over Gabe’s hole and -
“Earth to Gabe!”
Gabe shook his head to break away from the daydream. It had been so real this time. The firm hands that had caressed his body, and pressure from the most perfect pair of lips against his. Most importantly, Gabe had believed in the unspoken love about to be consummated.
Gabe looked to his left and saw his best friend Phil Alcorn watching him with a disgruntled expression. “What?”
Phil rolled his eyes. “Okay, where were you this time? The beaches of Capri? Ski lodge in the Swiss Alps? Watching a sunset in Sedona?”
Gabe slammed the locker door in front of him. Phil’s teasing firmly destroyed any vestige of the fantasy still lingering in his mind. “What are you going on about?”
“You had that look again. That dreamy ‘I’m with the most magnificent man in the world, and we’re riding off into the sunset together’ look.”
Gabe crossed his arms and stared down at his best friend. “There’s nothing wrong with hoping there’s somebody special out there.”
“I guess, but why are you always waiting for that someday moment? What about today? Life is not one of your Shakespearian plays, Gabe. Perfect men do not exist. There’s no such thing as a knight in shining armor who will come sweep you off your feet. You are such a dreamer. Stop searching for Mr. Right, and find a Mr. Right Now. A few hot sessions between the sheets are never a bad idea. All you need is a good come to clear those clouds from your brain.”
“I don’t want a Mr. Right Now. I don’t want meaningless sex in dark hallways. Call me old-fashioned. I don’t care. But when I sleep with someone, I want it to be special.” Gabe slung his laptop messenger bag over his head. “And not that it’s any of your business, but I can come just fine.”
Gabe was glad there was nobody left in the locker room after practice. Not that he hid the fact that he preferred men over women, but that didn’t mean he wanted his sexual business reverberating off the locker room walls. Voices carried too well for his taste in that room. Gabe pushed at the heavy wooden doors to the pavilion and jogged down the steps. The lowering sun was bright over his left shoulder, and Gabe dug his shades out of his bag. He took a deep breath. Despite the shower, the lingering scent of chlorine clung to his skin. At this point, the chemical was probably bonded to the structure of every cell in his body. His times in the pool today weren’t bad, but not fast enough to be on target to reach his goal for the season.
His performance at their first meet against Nevada was disappointing, and their second meet against Cal Poly was in a couple of weeks. He was driven to step up his game. Gabe was determined to nail the backstroke spot on the two hundred and four hundred meter relay teams this year. A top eight placement in the two hundred yard freestyle and backstroke at the NCAA championships would be icing on the cake.
He would have loved to spend the night lazing around the apartment, but with taking twelve credit hours this fall, and practices and meets, his schedule was jam-packed. As with the tangible objects he often desired but his meager bank account refused to support, free time was a luxury Gabe couldn’t afford. He needed to visit the library and do some research for his paper in the Medieval England course he was taking this semester. As he took one step forward, his stomach rumbled loudly. Maybe some dinner first would be a good idea. He almost always stopped in the ProShop after practice to grab a bite, but Phil had gotten him so flustered in the locker room Gabe had stomped off in a huff, forgetting to grab his usual meal.
Gabe spun around and slowly trudged back up the steps. As he passed through the massive concrete portico of the building, Gabe paused with his hand on the handle to the door. Phil was still inside, and Gabe would most likely run into him. He didn’t relish having another one of their debates on Gabe’s lack of social life, but it was probably better to get it over with now versus waiting till tonight when he got back to their place. At least this way Gabe could concentrate on studying, and not fret over his friendship with his much more outgoing and charismatic room and teammate.
He made his way through the halls of the sports complex. When he reached the ProShop, Phil was standing next to the juice cooler with a furrow in his brow.
“What took you so long? I’ve been waiting here for five minutes.”
“I was on my way to the library when?”
“Your stomach reminded you that we spent the last two hours slogging through the water and demanded sustenance?”
Gabe ran his hand over the back of his still-damp hair. “Maybe.” He walked over to the row of glass door chillers. “Move over, will you? I want a?”
“Peach mango V8 Fusion?”
A low growl rumbled in Gabe’s chest. “That’s really annoying.”
Gabe shoved Phil to the side and picked out the juice bottle. He almost went for the pomegranate blueberry just to show Phil he wasn’t that predictable, but in the end he figured wasting meal plan credits on a disgusting drink wasn’t worth making a point.
“What can I say? I know you, Gabe. After practice you always have a V8 and chicken Caesar salad, hold the Caesar of course.”
Gabe took his items up to the counter and had the attendant swipe his Cal Card. Phil stood next to him, fiddling with the energy bars sitting next to the register.
“Tell me, why do they make energy bars with names like double fudge brownie and nutty butter crisp? Isn’t the whole point supposed to be that you are eating healthy? Not snacks full of saturated fats, sugars, and chemical preservatives I wouldn’t even use on my canvases.”
Gabe’s lips twitched, but he didn’t allow the smile to blossom completely. He was still annoyed with Phil. “Maybe even health-conscious people like to think they’re indulging every now and then.”
“I guess, but I still think they taste like processed chalk.”
Phil dropped the offending colorfully wrapped piece of chalk back into the display box. Gabe retraced his path toward the entrance, Phil walking beside him in silence. Gabe pushed open the doors for a second time, and slid his sunglasses down from the top of his head. Phil casually walked beside him, hands shoved loosely in his cargo shorts and flip-flops flopping on the pathway.
“So, are you going to give me the silent treatment all night?”
“Are you mad at me?”
“Where are we going?”
“I’m going to the library. You know that place that holds all the books?”
“Hey, I’ve been there once or twice in the last three years. My life hasn’t been all about pretty colors and arts and crafts playtime you know.”
Gabe laughed. He couldn’t hold it in any longer. He never could stay mad at Phil. The man was a genius with a paintbrush, and his sculptures were undeniably mesmerizing. The first time Gabe had seen one of Phil’s bronze sculptures during freshman year, his breath had gotten lodged in his chest. The two-foot high idol had depicted a man in the throes of an orgasm. It was at that point that Phil had told him the inspiration for the piece had been a memory from the night of his high school graduation. His friend could frequently be found working alone in the studio till the witching hour, but Gabe still loved to give him trouble for his seemingly lackadaisical schedule.
“Name one class you’re taking this semester that requires you to actually crack a text book.”
“I’ll have you know that I’m taking American Art 1800-present.”
“Fine. Meanwhile I’m cramming together a course on the Ottoman Empire, a research seminar, a medieval England course, and History of the US: World War II to the Vietnam Era.”
Phil skipped ahead a few steps and spun around so he was walking backward, facing Gabe. He pointed at Gabe. “You are the one who wants to be a smarty-farty history professor. I, on the other hand, dream of a world filled with the feel of cool clay beneath my fingertips and endless splatters of paint staining my skin till I become a living rainbow.”
They were approaching the main building of the library system, and Gabe noticed that Phil was about to run into one of the stone balustrades that surrounded the classical revival structure.
“Hey, Michelangelo? Turn around.”
Phil spun around, and ended up ass over teakettle as he flipped over the wide railing. Gabe burst out into laughter when Phil’s head popped up over the railing as if he were a prairie dog and looked around to see who had witnessed his elegant tumble. Gabe’s stomach hurt he laughed so hard, and tears tracked down his cheeks from beneath his shades. He clutched the plastic container holding his dinner, but his bottle of juice landed on the walkway and rolled several feet.
After he caught his breath, Gabe retrieved his juice and stepped up to the banister. Peering over the edge, he asked, “You okay?”
Phil looked up at Gabe from where he sat on the stone courtyard. “I suppose you think I deserved that for earlier?”
Gabe smiled and held out a hand to help Phil up. “Maybe a little.” He patted the top of the banister next to him. “Come on, have a seat.”
Phil sat next to Gabe, facing the opposite direction. Gabe popped open his salad container and dug in. The first bite of the seasoned chicken and lettuce caused his mouth to water, and he let out a little moan. Another bite resulted in another soft moan.
“Stop having sex with your food in public.”
Gabe took a swallow of his juice. “What?”
“Your little moans sound like you’re fucking your food. It’s a tad disturbing. If eating turns you on that much, you’re worse off than I initially thought.”
“Phil,” Gabe warned.
Phil held up his hands. “I’m just saying, is all.”
“Look, I get it. Casual works for you. I’m glad you’re happy, but it’s not for me. I want?”
“Candles and romance and fairy-book love, I know.”
“It doesn’t have to be a fairytale, but I need something more than a quick grope followed by a walk of shame. Do you even remember your first time?”
“Sure, it was with Andy Bingham under the bleachers after homecoming, junior year of high school. He was a completely closeted football jock. Every cheerleader constantly stared at his ass during school, but I plowed that stunning piece of All-American muscle till he came as if he were Old Faithful.”
Gabe tilted his head in thought. That was actually more than he’d expected Phil to say. He’d even detected a hint of nostalgic longing in his friend’s voice. After another few bites he said, “Under the stars on a dark night could be considered romantic. Did you continue to see each other?”
Phil snorted. “Hell no. The next day he acted as if we’d never even met. But I knew and he knew that I’d rocked his world.”
“See, that’s what I mean. I don’t want my first time to be with a guy who’s likely to turn away in order to avoid eye contact the moment he pulls out.”
Gabe tilted his face up and caught the late afternoon sun on his face. When he opened his eyes, he noticed that the sky was starting to take on an amber hue as the sun set. He turned to his right and looked up the hill. The low light caused the white exteriors and red roofs of several buildings to glow. It was a nice sight.
“Did you just say ‘first time’?”
Gabe’s sip of juice slid down his throat like a block of concrete. Crap, he hadn’t meant to reveal that little tidbit. Oh well, the cat was out of the bag now. “Yeah.”
“You’re a virgin?”
He set the now-empty container beside him, raised his sunglasses, and looked Phil in the eye. “Yes.”
“Well, shit. I always thought you were selective, not uninitiated.”
“It’s been my choice. I could’ve had sex, it’s not like I haven’t had offers. I’m not a one-hundred-percent virgin. I’ve made out with guys and even got a blowjob once.”
“Did you return the favor?”
“I stroked him off.”
“Anybody I know?”
“No! And I wouldn’t tell you even if you did.”
“Spoilsport,” Phil mumbled. “So how are you going to find this paragon who’s going to pop your cherry? You’re so busy studying and practicing that you never go out with me or any of the other guys in the complex.”
“I don’t know. I can’t afford to slack off on either one. You know my goals for the PAC-10 and NCAA championships this year, and I have to maintain my GPA to keep my scholarship.”
Phil’s hand landed on Gabe’s shoulder. “Bro, it’s the third week of school. You’re going to crash and burn if you don’t blow off a little steam every once in awhile. Look, tomorrow is Friday. After practice come out with me. We’ll go over to San Fran and hit a club.”
“I don’t think?”
“Some drinks, a few dances. There will be good music, flashing lights, pretty men with their shirts off gyrating on the dance floor. Even if you don’t do anything, you can’t deny the prospect of enjoying some delicious eye candy. I promise not to abandon you for a backroom blowjob.”
Gabe knew that Phil would be relentless until he caved, so with a reluctant nod, he agreed. Gabe had been to a club the night he turned eighteen and again on his twenty-first birthday. He didn’t think all that much about the scene. Phil was right about the plethora of good-looking men, but when the music stopped, most patrons he’d encountered had nothing to talk about beyond the latest trend in clothes, drugs, or celebrity gossip. Gabe didn’t drink, he didn’t do drugs, and he couldn’t have given a rat’s ass about what music performer was back in rehab or whose baby momma was currently spread out across the tabloids.
Gabe was sure not all the men who frequented the clubs were like that, but he couldn’t seem to find the good ones. Gabe didn’t entertain the notion that he was better than the gossip gabbers. He simply didn’t have anything in common with them. In the end, Gabe usually ended up feeling awkward for most of the evening, but he’d go to satisfy his friend because Phil really did mean well.
SEVERAL hours later, Gabe stumbled through the door to their apartment. They shared a two-bedroom apartment with a couple of guys from the water polo team in one of the student housing complexes. Gabe and Phil had one room and Dan and his twin brother Dominic shared the other. Four guys in an apartment could get a little crowded sometimes, but it usually worked out because Dan and Dom were on different practice schedules than Gabe and Phil. Therefore, they had different class schedules and so forth.
When Gabe came into the living room Dan, Dom, and Phil were spread out avidly staring at the television. They were all psyched about the new Hawaii Five-O show. Phil had set up their DVR to record the season premiere earlier that week, and tonight it was showtime. Dan and Dom’s hands rose in greeting, and Phil managed to tear his eyes away from the screen long enough to look in Gabe’s direction.
“How were the dusty tombs?”
“Fine, but I’m wiped. I think I’ll hit the sack.”
Gabe made his way back to their bedroom. He flipped on the light sitting on his desk at the foot of his bed. His book bag landed with a thud, and Gabe groaned as the weight left his shoulder. Man, those history books were thick. It didn’t help that his laptop was also in there. He so wanted to collapse face first on his bed, but knew he’d regret it in the morning. So Gabe shucked his T-shirt, kicked off his flip-flops, and stripped his jeans down his legs. He went to flick them away with his toes when Phil walked in.
His best friend caught the flying denim and tossed it on the floor of Gabe’s closet. “Nice catch.”
Gabe had gone sans underwear after practice because he’d forgotten to throw a pair in his gym bag for afterward. He wasn’t shy about nudity. Years of changing in locker rooms had cured Gabe of any modesty, but it was a tad strange of Phil to comment on the attractiveness of his anatomy.
Gabe strode over to his dresser and pulled out a pair of boxer briefs. He preferred to sleep in shorts and wore briefs under his clothes. Maybe it was a decision influenced by years of being stuffed into Speedos. He didn’t like the feel of swinging free when walking around; support was a good thing.
“Are you going to start gabbing? Because I have to warn you, I’m about to pass out.”
“No gabbing. I’ve been thinking?”
“Always dangerous.” Gabe yawned as he pulled back the blanket on his extra-long twin bed.
“Very funny. Why haven’t the two of us ever gotten together?”
Gabe froze and then turned to face his best friend. “Are you serious?”
“Well, yeah. I mean, I wouldn’t exactly turn you away. What are your stats? Six foot two, one seventy five? You’ve got those bright green eyes that stand out against your perpetual tan. Thick, dark hair, whipcord muscles. We’re good mates, and they always say the best lovers were friends first. I know you think I’m flighty, but I also know you like that about me. I’m the yin to your yang.”
Gabe slowly walked toward Phil. He stopped when little more than an inch separated their bodies. Gabe’s hands came up and framed Phil’s face. Phil’s brown eyes flared when Gabe smoothed his thumbs over Phil’s cheekbones. Gabe was a couple inches taller than Phil, but they were close enough in height that when Gabe tilted his head their lips touched with minimal adjustment. The kiss stayed soft for the first several seconds. It was a stalemate, neither of them willing to take the touch any deeper. Phil’s lips felt good against Gabe’s. They were soft, and when Gabe slid his tongue across the seam, he tasted whatever salty snack Phil had been munching on before Gabe came home. Phil opened, and Gabe slid his tongue inside slowly. His tongue teased and moved against Phil’s. When Gabe pulled back, Phil stood right where he had before.
“Well?” he asked.
Gabe pulled Phil into his arms and whispered into his ear, “That’s why, Phil. Other than good friendship, there’s nothing between us. No spark, no flare of lust, no ache of need.”
Phil’s arms came around Gabe’s waist. “You sure don’t kiss like a virgin.”
Gabe’s chuckle was low in the semi-dark room. “Thanks. I think.” He stepped back from Phil. “Best buds, yeah?”
Phil’s bright smile allowed Gabe to see how his friend was able to charm his way into the pants of whomever he desired.
“Good friends are harder to come by than good fucks anyway.”
Gabe crawled into bed and then turned on his side to look at Phil still standing beside Gabe’s desk. “And that, my good friend, is also why.”
Phil frowned. “Sorry. Maybe someday I’ll find a man who’ll inspire me to recite sonnets, but till then….”
Phil started walking toward the door, but Gabe saw the droop of his shoulders. He didn’t want his last comment to hurt his best friend.
Phil stopped halfway through the door, one hand braced on the frame. He didn’t look back at Gabe. “Yeah?”
“You know I don’t think less of you, right? To each his own and all that.”
Phil did turn then with a little smile. “Thanks. Now get some sleep. Tomorrow we embark on a quest to find your knight in shining armor.”
Gabe settled down onto his pillow, his brain and body exhausted from the day’s activities. Would he meet someone tomorrow? Was it possible to make a meaningful connection with someone in a meat market? He’d promised Phil he would go, and Gabe made another promise to himself: that he would keep an open mind. He wouldn’t drink, not during training, but he would dance. Social butterfly he was not, but neither was he a hermit. Maybe he would relax at the bar and wait for someone to come to him. It seemed to work in the past.
Gabe had no problem with being friendly. The part he hated was making the initial contact. How Phil was able to walk up to a man, introduce himself and end up laughing over childhood stories within five minutes astounded Gabe.
His eyes got heavy and his breathing slowed. Gabe’s mind drifted, and he was no longer in his apartment but standing on a battlement of Dover Castle in England.
A man in full maille armor strode toward him. The wind coming off the coast whipped around them. The knight clutched a longbow in his gloved fist, and a quiver of arrows was strapped to his back. Gabe couldn’t tear his eyes away from the vision of masculinity. His knight came closer, and Gabe’s breathing accelerated. The knight’s features were hidden in the dark, but Gabe felt no fear. Excitement coursed through his body, he knew this warrior for the crown. He knew every inch of his body beneath the armor. He knew the flavor of the knight’s kisses and the taste of his seed.
“You should not be here,” the knight whispered.
“I had to come. I had to see you again.”
“It’s not safe. The French will attack before dawn. You must get down into the tunnels. If we do not break through, all hope is lost.”
“Give me one last kiss? Should you fall, let it be with my taste on your lips.”
The knight’s arm dragged Gabe against him. Their mouths collided, their tongues thrashed. Gabe’s arms wrapped around the knight’s neck. His maille aventail bit into the flesh of Gabe’s bare arms. His hauberk rubbed against Gabe’s nipples, causing the buds to peak and hunger for more stimulation. His knight pushed Gabe against the wall of the battlement, rubbing their bodies together. Gabe’s hunger grew, and when the knight pulled back, Gabe let out a small whimper.
“Live or die this night, our hearts shall never be torn asunder, my love.”