LEAD. IT felt like a hunk of lead pressed down on his chest. What the hell it was there for, he had no idea.
Robin cracked his eyes open. A cat sat in the middle of his chest, blinking slowly at him.
“Schnitzel. What are you doing here?” Robin groaned, remembering he’d left the window open again. God, had he had that much to drink last night that he couldn’t remember getting into bed? Robin sat up, and Schnitzel jumped down and raced away. Though the old boy was the neighbor’s cat, he acted like he owned the place. He must have gotten out again. Poor Mrs. Kleindinst must be worried sick.
“You don’t live here,” Robin said as the cat stopped just outside the sleeping area, blinking at him as though Robin were stupid. Maybe he was. Robin certainly needed to remember to stop at two glasses of wine. His mouth felt like someone had filled it with cotton and poured glue in to make sure it stayed that way for a damn long time.
He walked around the screen that created his bedroom and out into the “everything else” area of his tiny Frankfurt apartment. Not that it bothered him. He could afford it, and the amount of space didn’t really matter so much because he was rarely there.
Schnitzel yowled to voice his displeasure, and Robin scooped him up. Schnitzel turned to him, blinking a few times, doing his best to look pathetic and hungry. It didn’t work. The gray-and-white tiger cat weighed fifteen pounds and usually ate better than Robin.
Still in his sleep pants and T-shirt, Robin carried Schnitzel across the hall and knocked quietly on the door. Mrs. K cracked it open, and Robin pushed the cat into her line of sight. She gasped and opened the door, filling the hallway with rapid-fire concern and even a touch of embarrassment in Frankish, a German dialect Robin still struggled to understand.
“You come in. Have breakfast,” she said in heavily accented English. “You need. Too much beer.” She smiled, and Robin seriously considered taking her up on her offer. She was supremely kind to him, seeming to have adopted him in a way. Mrs. K didn’t have family as far as Robin could tell, or they never visited, which was even sadder as far as he was concerned.
“I have to work today,” he said in High German, and she nodded, patting his cheek gently. “I’ll bring you some chocolate.”
She smiled. Mrs. K had a real love of chocolate, so he always brought her back something unusual from his various tours.
Robin padded back to his apartment, closed the door, and then stripped off his clothes. He squeezed into his tiny bathroom and ran water in the tub for a shallow bath.
Twenty minutes later, he was dressed and had packed his things in a single, rather small bag. He’d gotten used to packing light. After all, he wasn’t the one on vacation. His basic work wardrobe of tan pants and a blue or white shirt with the Euro Pride Tours logo on the front didn’t take much space. Whether seven or eleven days, it was all pretty much the same. His extra shoes took up more space than anything else.
Robin checked the clock and instantly wished he’d taken Mrs. K up on her offer. He prepared the apartment to be empty for a week and a half, turned off all the appliances, and made sure there was nothing perishable anywhere. Then he grabbed his jacket, locked the door, and walked down to the train station.
“YOU MADE it,” Albert said as Robin entered the office, dragging his bag behind him as though it weighed a million pounds.
“Yeah. I almost called and told you to find someone else.” He set the bag behind the desk and flopped down into one of the chairs Albert reserved for customers, but he didn’t care. “The train broke down in one of the tunnels.” Robin swore under his breath.
“I heard about that,” Albert said, glaring but not asking Robin to move. There was no one in the office but them. “I have the details on your group.” Albert handed him a packet of information. “This one is mostly Americans. That’s why I gave it to you. Hopefully they won’t notice the grumps you’ve had for the last six months.” He flitted around behind his desk and sat. “What’s with you anyway? People go on vacation to be happy and have fun, not be led by Oscar the Grouch.” He smiled at his own little joke. “It’s your job to make sure they have fun.”
Robin humphed. This wasn’t the first time they’d had this conversation. “I know. My groups always have fun.” And they did; Robin worked very hard to make sure of that.
“Yeah, but when you think they aren’t watching, you….” Albert looked at Robin with his big cow eyes and wild blond hair, the epitome of style and fun. “Well, you look like that.” He pointed and waved his hands. “All scrunched up and sad. It’s depressing.”
“When was the last time you got dumped?” Robin asked as he looked over the paperwork. Americans. God. Why couldn’t he have a nice group of British tourists? They were always so pleasant and usually wanted a no-stress, relaxing holiday. Robin craved people like that. Americans wanted to go, go, go and be entertained every second of the day. He sighed and closed the folder. At least this was a mixed group and not all gay men—sometimes that helped.
“I never get dumped. I do the dumping when they get all clingy and needy and shit.” Albert batted his lashes, and Robin could see why. Guys would come running for his lithe little body and amazing eyes. He was German, but he’d spent years in the US, so he spoke English very well and loved Americanisms. “You need to give it a try.”
“What?” Robin looked up from the itinerary he’d been reading.
“Haven’t you been listening?” Albert asked testily. “I was saying that you need to get over whoever this guy was and get on with it.” He rolled his eyes like the drama queen he was. “Whoever this guy was… is… whatever… you kicked him to the curb, so find another one to make your engine purr.” He actually rumbled like some huge cat, and it was Robin’s turn to roll his eyes. “And not me.”
Robin nearly fell out of the chair. “Please. You think every guy wants you.”
“And most of them do. I work hard to keep things in top condition.” Albert stood, walked to the door, and turned like he was a model on a runway. He had style, there was no doubt about it, and he could play the young party boy even as he looked on in fear as forty approached the horizon. He sat back down, the chair rolling a little as he did. “Enough about all this. Let’s talk about this tour, shall we?”
“It’s what I live for,” Robin retorted, and Albert smiled.
“That’s the spirit. Be funny. People like that.” He typed at his computer, and Robin tried to figure out what he’d done that was funny.
“What’s this?” Robin asked, pointing to the sheet. “I have someone joining the tour late?”
“You might. I have someone—he’s in Germany for a while—who was interested in the tour. He was going to join you in Würzburg Thursday evening. We don’t normally do that, but there’s space and, well….” Albert waved his hand, but Robin already knew the answer. Albert wasn’t going to turn down business, no matter what his own policies were. Money talked, and everything else was secondary. It was how Albert had managed to stay in business as a small tour operator when everyone else was either gobbled up by the big operations or simply went away.
“All right. How will I know this guy?” Robin asked, grabbing a pen to make notes.
“I’m waiting on his payment, which he was going to call in today. If he makes it, then he’ll meet you at the hotel where dinner is booked, so everyone will be there. He’ll ask for you. It shouldn’t be a problem. Just make sure he has a copy of my email, and everything will be fine.” Albert continued typing while they talked, and Robin jotted down the information.
“Okay. Is there anything else I need to know?”
Albert shook his head, already getting sucked into his work and forgetting about nearly anything else. “Just make sure they have a good time. These are gay tours, so for God’s sake, keep the gay in them. Make them happy. Take them to clubs in the evening. You have the list of the ones we work with. Just show them a good time. Think of yourself as a party planner as well as a tour guide.” Albert lifted his hands away from the keyboard, rocking to some music that only he could hear.
Robin groaned inwardly. He’d taken this job because he thought it would give him a chance to get his feet under him again. His mom and dad wanted nothing more than for him to fly back to Milwaukee and tend the bar in the family German restaurant—just what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. Not that he was all that much happier with what he was doing now, but at least he was on his own and taking advantage of his dual citizenship.
“I have never planned parties. But I get your point and I’ll try.” He managed a smile. “When is everyone arriving?”
“They’ll start getting here any time now. The bus will arrive at eleven.”
“Who is the driver?” Robin asked. “It isn’t that Romanian guy who nearly killed us all, is it?” That had been a near disaster—no pun intended. Yuri had stayed up all night for some reason, and he’d fallen asleep behind the wheel and nearly driven them all off a cliff. Robin had taken over driving as well as guiding the group for the last two days.
“No. I fired him. Your driver is Johan. He worked with you a few months ago, and to my surprise was willing to do it again.” Albert turned away, half hiding behind his computer screen. The coward.
“What’s with that crap? I’m always good to my drivers.” Robin glared at Albert, who had the decency to blush a little. He was nice to them all, even Johan, who reminded Robin of Cousin Itt, with his loose hair nearly down to his butt and a thick black beard that would make Hagrid proud.
“Yes, you make sure they are treated nicely, but you’re so dang depressed all the time. Poor Dieter, your last driver, is on a vacation of his own so he could get some sunshine and happiness. People do this job because it’s fun and makes them feel good. They want to be happy. You’re like a big, huge ball of sad.” Albert made a face like he’d just sucked a lemon. “So for God’s sake, try to be happy. Take some pills if you have to, please. You can’t keep going like this.”
“Fine.” Robin grinned and stood to wander to the window. “I’ll be perky, chipper, and a bundle of happiness.”
Albert pushed away from his desk. “Don’t go too far. I don’t want your head to explode. Just show them a good time and try to have one yourself. This is a great itinerary. You’re going to the baths in Baden-Baden, so take the time to go in yourself, get a massage.” Albert grinned wickedly. “Take Johan in with you and get him to give you a massage.” He fanned his face dramatically. “Just have fun, okay?”
“Yeah.” Robin figured he could fake it for eleven days. Things couldn’t be that bad, and it was time he pulled his sorry ass out of the funk he’d been in. It was either that or go home and help his parents in the restaurant. “I’ll do my best.” Robin grabbed his folder and left the office, the outside door whooshing closed behind him as people began approaching.
“Euro Pride Tours?” asked a huge young man with testosterone rolling off him. An older man approached behind him, pulling a large suitcase on wheels. The young guy rolled his eyes, set his own suitcase aside, hurried back, and took the older man’s bag. “Come on, Oliver.” He lifted the suitcase as though it weighed nothing, looking like he was about to burst out of the überthin, skintight shirt that showed every ripple of muscle. “Everything is going to be fine. This is the place.”
“Then why did we have to walk eight blocks in the wrong direction first?” Oliver complained as he approached the office, breathing deeply.
Oliver was white-haired and pale, even kind of frail-looking, whereas his companion was young, virile, tanned, and toned. Oliver wore a silk shirt that flowed and shimmered in the light breeze. His pants were linen, flowing over his thin legs, and the rings on his fingers sparkled in the sunlight. He clearly had money, and his partner… well, it didn’t take much imagination to understand the basic dynamics of their relationship.
“This is Javier Montel, and I’m Oliver Justinian,” he told those already assembled.
Javier stepped closer to Oliver, putting an arm around his waist to show they were together.
“I’m Robin Fuller, and it’s a pleasure to meet both of you.” He shook their hands. “The bus will be here about eleven,” Robin explained as he ticked their names off his list and gave them both a boarding ticket. “If you like, you can go inside. There are a few chairs. Tag your luggage with these.” He handed over plastic rainbow luggage tags to both of them, and Oliver handed his to Javier immediately. “You can put your luggage against the building. I’ll stay out here to wait for more of our group.”
“Go on inside and sit down, Oliver,” Javier said. “I’m going to stay out here in the sunshine.” He smiled, and Oliver shared a look with Javier that Robin wished he hadn’t seen. Then he went inside and sat down.
“Are you looking forward to your vacation?” Robin asked.
Javier stood away from the building on the sidewalk, looking up at the sky as the sun broke through the clouds. He was a stunning-looking man, and Robin turned away to review more of the folder. “Another day….” He shrugged, then stood still.
Robin read the last of the details as a group of people approached. “Euro Pride Tours,” he said, and the group all smiled and nodded.
A tall man in his midtwenties approached and shook Robin’s hand enthusiastically. “Grant Harcourt.”
“I’m Robin Fuller.” He managed to pull his hand away before Grant shook his arm off. “Excellent. You can put your luggage there until the bus comes.”
Grant stepped closer, still vibrating with excitement. “Will you be giving us a tour of Frankfurt?” He looked all around as though fascinated.
“No. Frankfurt was nearly completely destroyed during the war, and there is little of historical interest left.” Robin turned to address the group. “Once the bus arrives—” He checked his watch. “—which should be soon, we’ll get set and boarded, and we’ll go directly to Würzburg.”
“Oh, okay.” Grant fished a guidebook out of his worn messenger bag, opened it, and leaned against the building to read. Robin left him to it and turned to a pair of young men about college age.
“Kyle North and Billy Thomas.” The taller of the two spoke for both of them, pointing as he said their names.
Robin gave them their tags and boarding tickets.
“Luggage over there?” Kyle asked, turning to the others. “He and I are best friends,” Kyle overexplained as he looked at Javier with barely disguised interest. Oliver came out and joined Javier, slipping an arm around his waist. Kyle turned away and talked with Billy.
This was definitely going to be an interesting group.
Two other couples joined them, Mary and Helen from Indianapolis, and Harold and Gerald from Texas. They joined the rest of the growing group of people, talking excitedly about their tour and what they hoped to see.
A voice carried across the sound of traffic, followed by a blaring bus horn. Robin looked up as their bus lurched to a stop for two women racing across the street.
“I told you to get up earlier.”
“I thought we’d have plenty of time.” The women hurried up to where Robin stood as the bus pulled in. “Lily Martin,” one woman said with a nervous smile. “This is my friend Margaret Hansen.” Lily played with her nails nervously.
“Welcome, ladies.” Robin handed them their tags as the tour bus pulled to a stop beside their group. “The driver will load the luggage when he’s done parking.” Robin checked over his group. They seemed nice enough and excited—well, all but Lily, who stood near Margaret almost defensively.
“I don’t know why we had to go on a gay tour,” Lily said just loud enough that Robin was able to hear.
“Because I’m a lesbian, and you said you wanted a nice, relaxing vacation without men. Well….” Margaret motioned around her.
Robin turned away, smiling to himself. Okay, maybe he could be happy, or at the very least, less depressed and sad all the damn time. So he’d gotten dumped after five years. It was time to move on and get over it. He stood waiting until Johan had the bus parked, soaking in some of the energy of his tourists.
The bus farted, which was what it always sounded like to Robin when the brakes released. Thankfully this was the smaller kind of bus that held about twenty people when fully loaded, though there was still plenty of space for everyone in the group to spread out. No wonder Albert had taken the extra fare. There was room, and he was paying for the bus, driver, and Robin, no matter how many people there were.
“All right. Johan will load the luggage, and I’ll check everyone in as you get on the bus. Then we can go.”
The group all gathered around him, with a few grumbles that they should have gotten something to eat first. Robin, prepared for that, pulled granola bars out of his bag and passed them out.
The bus door opened, and Johan stepped out. Robin’s mouth went dry and he looked longer than was necessary, but he couldn’t help it. Gone was Cousin Itt with the beard and superlong hair. Hello clean-shaven, black hair flowing down to his shoulders, god among men. Robin had no idea what the hell had happened, but one thing was for certain: all the guys, and Lily, turned and gaped as Johan strode off the bus.
“Are you ready for me?” he asked in a soft voice, and it took Robin a second to get his mind out of the gutter.
Robin nodded and swallowed once again. “All the luggage is tagged and ready to be loaded.” He pointed to the line of bags, and Johan nodded, walking over to heft two bags to the bus and load them into the luggage compartment underneath. Robin turned away from where Johan worked and stood by the door to the bus. No one moved, the guys enthralled by Johan, watching him work. Robin cleared his throat, and they seemed to come back from whatever fantasies had gripped them. Not that Robin didn’t understand. He suddenly found himself with his own fantasies, and they weren’t professional in the least.
One by one, Robin checked off each of his tour members as they got on the bus. Javier got on first, half leaping into the bus, then pausing at the top with a sigh as Oliver climbed in more slowly. The ladies all followed, and then the others filed on, with Kyle and Billy bringing up the rear, chatting a mile a minute.
“Will we be stopping at any clubs and things?” Kyle asked, Robin repressing a smile as Billy rolled his eyes from behind Kyle.
“We have plenty of free time for things like that. Robin doesn’t have to act like a wingman.” Billy zipped past Kyle and got on the bus.
Kyle shook his head and followed.
“Is that everyone?” Johan asked from where he stood near the luggage compartment.
“Yes.” Robin sighed. “We might have another joining us in Würzburg tomorrow evening.”
Johan nodded and closed the luggage door.
“Shoot,” Robin muttered and hurried into the office. He grabbed his own suitcase, then returned. Johan took the bag, his fingers brushing lightly over Robin’s, sending heat along his skin. Robin pulled back more quickly than was necessary. Hopefully Johan hadn’t noticed. “Now we can go.” Robin followed Johan onto the bus and they were off.
“Guten Morgen. I’m Robin, and I’m going to be your tour guide for the next eleven days. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the itinerary, and as far as I know, there aren’t any changes that we are expecting. Our driver, Johan—” He paused, and Johan waved quickly before merging into traffic. “—and I will be here to make sure you get where you need to. At any time during the trip, I will be happy to answer questions. Now, for most of our day trips, Johan will lock the bus, so you can feel free to leave your things in the overhead compartment, or we can put them in the locked compartments.”
“Even my laptop?” Grant asked, his hand shooting in the air.
“Yes. Your laptops, sweaters, jackets… all of it. We don’t recommend that you leave things on the bus overnight, because Johan will need to park it and he’ll be at the hotel with us.” Robin gazed out at the faces all looking back at him expectantly. “The drive to Würzburg is going to take about two hours with traffic, so I thought I’d give you a little overview of the country we’re going to be seeing. The country we know as Germany didn’t always look the way it does today. Up until a hundred and fifty or so years ago, it was many different sovereign states—Prussia, Franconia, and Bavaria, to name a few of them. They each had their own rulers and royal lines. You may have heard of some of them.”
“What about East Germany? Was that one of them?” Billy asked, and Kyle nudged him sharply.
“No. That’s because of the war,” Kyle interjected.
“What we know or knew as East and West Germany resulted from World War II. East Germany was the part controlled by the Russians. Germany was reunified in 1990.” Robin took a deep breath and continued. “We are going to see palaces, castles, and Roman ruins, taste wine….”
“And get drunk…,” a couple said together, and everyone laughed.
Robin tried to laugh along with them, but failed, waiting them out instead. Kyle and Billy started talking about beer, and the conversation took off on its own. Popping and hissing sounds followed, and both Kyle and Billy sipped from cans, offering them to others as well. Soon almost everyone was drinking, and Robin wondered how they’d gotten that much beer on the bus right under his nose. He was going to have to keep an eye on those two. Giving up on imparting any more information, he sat down and let the group talk while they rode.
“It is okay,” Johan said from just in front of him. “They need to get to know one another, and this is a good time for them to do it.”
“I suppose. I usually have get-to-know-each-other games,” Robin explained, and Johan snorted. “What?”
“I remember those games. The beer is better.” He returned to his driving, chuckling under his breath. Robin wanted to smack him, but as he turned to look at the rest of the group, he had to agree that the beer was better. They were having a good time, talking and laughing. Robin faced forward, watching the road and scenery out the front window as they entered the Autobahn. He opened the file and reviewed it once again, needing something to do.
AS THEY approached the outskirts of Würzburg, Robin stood up, holding on to his seat back. “As we come into town, we’re going to park near the restaurant for lunch. Then you’ll have the afternoon to look around. At four, we’ll meet at the hotel to check in and have dinner. The evening is on your own, and tomorrow we have a guided tour of the town and the Würzburg Residence, the Prince-Bishop’s palace, which is truly amazing.”
“Should we take our things with us?” Javier asked.
“Take your handheld things. The rest will be safe until we get to the hotel. It’s a short walk to town from the bus park, so you probably don’t want to trek back.”
Johan parked the bus in the lot and turned off the engine, and Robin got off the bus, directing everyone into the nearby restaurant.
“Lock up the bus and join us.”
Johan nodded. “Save me a seat?” He smiled, and Robin’s belly did a little flip of excitement.
“Sure.” He grabbed his bag and left the bus, walking briskly to catch up.
Inside the restaurant, he gave the hostess their information, and they were seated at a long table against the far dark-paneled wall. Soon drinks and salads were brought out, followed by plates of schnitzel with fries. Robin made sure everyone was seated and had food before taking his place at the one end. Johan came in and sat at the other end of the table, where a plate waited for him.
“How long have you been driving buses for tours?” Grant asked from next to Johan.
“About four years,” Johan answered, his accent a little thicker than it had been earlier. Maybe Johan was a little shy when it came to talking about himself?
“How old is this town?” Kyle asked.
Johan set down his fork and swallowed but didn’t get a chance to answer.
“The first cathedral was built in 788 and it was consecrated by Charlemagne. The current one dates to the eleventh century. So the town is over 1300 years old at least.” Grant sounded like one of the tour guidebooks he’d been reading.
Robin took over when Grant ran out of steam. “It’s beautiful, with buildings of all styles. Take a walk through the cathedral—it’s breathtaking. Germany’s most famous wood-carver, Tilman Riemenschneider, was also the mayor of the town. So you’ll see plenty of his work. Look for pieces in the cathedral itself. Otherwise, look through the shops and markets. Enjoy yourselves and be at the hotel between four and five to get your rooms.”
“Where is it?”
“The Hotel Charlemagne is just down the street toward town, about two blocks from here,” Robin explained. “If you walk into town, you can’t miss it. Have fun for a few hours.”
They all finished their lunches, and the tourists left the restaurant in small groups until only Robin and Johan remained with Lily and Margaret, who sat at the other end of the table, speaking quietly. Then after a few minutes, they stood as well.
Robin pulled out the chair next to him. “You can join us if you’d like. We’re just finishing up.”
“We wanted to see some things, but….”
Lily and Margaret moved closer and sat across from Johan.
“Is there something I can help you with?” Robin asked.
“I didn’t know this was a gay tour, and….” She leaned closer and lowered her voice. “Margaret thought I understood, but I didn’t know, and I feel really out of place.” She reached for a napkin and wiped her eyes.
“You know no one is going to mind at all,” Johan said, and Robin nodded his agreement.
“But I’m not gay,” she said softly. “What if I do something wrong?”
Margaret put her arm around her friend to comfort her. “I’m sorry. I thought you knew. I booked a tour so you wouldn’t have men bothering you.” Margaret met Robin’s gaze with steel in hers. This was a strong person. “She and her husband—”
“Margie,” Lily said softly.
“There’s nothing he can do to you now. You know that.” Margaret held her tighter. “Do you think I’d let that ass get within a hundred feet of you?” Robin supposed that was Margaret’s way of comforting and it seemed to work, surprisingly. “Her husband….”
“He cheated,” Lily said and sniffed. “A lot.”
“This is a safe place,” Robin said. It sounded lame to him, but it was true. “You don’t need to worry about any of us. You’re safe, and gay or not, we’ve got your back.” Damn, this wasn’t the way he wanted to start the tour.
A server approached the table, and Robin asked for a glass of water. She brought it and continued on her way, and Robin passed it to Lily.
“What do you want to do?”
“Kick the bastard in the nuts and….” She drank from the glass and wiped her face. “I think I want to get out of here and have some fun.”
“That’s the spirit,” Margaret told her. “Don’t let the ass win.” She got up, and Lily did as well. “Let’s go see some fun stuff.”
Lily nodded, and Robin watched them both go, feeling like shit. He sat at the table for a while, resting. There was plenty of time, and he knew he needed to take advantage of a couple hours of quiet. Robin pulled out a paperback, ordered another drink, and let the group explore a little and get to know each other on their first day.
“Are you ready to go to the hotel?” Johan asked, and Robin realized he’d been lost in his own thoughts and wondered if he’d been staring at something embarrassing instead of his book. As he feared, from where his gaze seemed to have drifted to Johan’s chest and the way it filled out his shirt so… completely.
“Yes.” Robin pushed back his chair and verified with the hostess that the charges had been covered. Then he and Johan went back to the bus. He sat, watching out the front window, as Johan slowly navigated the bus through the narrow street and up to the front of the hotel.
It was a family-run place. The last time Robin had stayed here on a tour, the couple’s fourteen-year-old son had actually checked them in. The half-timbered exterior was exactly what he thought of when he imagined a German hotel. The inside was as quaint and, well, as old-fashioned as the exterior. Not that there was anything wrong with that. It just didn’t always meet the expectations that some Americans had for their European holiday.
“Guten Tag,” the lady behind the counter said, then smiled. “Robin, you are back.”
“Yes,” he said, delighted that she remembered him. “I need to get the room keys for my tour group.” He handed her the sheet with the details, and she looked it over, nodded, and handed him the keys in an envelope.
“You stay two days?” she asked, and Robin nodded.
“We have one more person joining us tomorrow,” he explained, and she nodded as she checked her book.
“We’re full tonight, but, ja, I can give you the key then.” She smiled again, and Robin returned it.
He then sat down with his sheets and keys to make sure everyone got what they paid for. The deluxe room was easy—Oliver had paid for that. It had its own full bath and a small sitting area. The other rooms he assigned and came to the end with only one room left. Robin checked again and groaned. He pulled out his phone to send Albert a message, and received a reply that the number of rooms was incorrect.
“What’s up?” Johan said as he carried in the last of the luggage, placing it in the currently unused breakfast room.
“We’re a room short,” Robin said. “It looks like you and I will have to share.” Robin wondered if Albert had planned things like that for the entire tour.
“Okay. It is no big deal,” Johan said, and left without another word.
Robin gaped and then pulled his attention back to his records and off Johan’s retreating ass. Groaning, Robin wiped his face, then reviewed the room arrangements again, making sure the room he and Johan were in had two beds. Not that he’d mind sharing a bed with Johan, but they worked together, and….
Robin rolled his eyes at himself for the thought. He knew he wasn’t the most handsome guy on the planet, and his ex had certainly made that clear in their last conversation-slash-fight, so it only followed that, gay or not, Johan wasn’t going to be interested in him. There were certainly guys on this tour who were better-looking and a lot more fun than he was. That was, if Johan was into guys and got involved with the people he drove, and…. Jesus, even his thoughts were rambling. He needed to put a stop to it.
His phone vibrated, finally pulling him out of his circular-running thoughts, and he pulled it out, expecting it to be Albert, but it definitely wasn’t. “Hey, Mom,” he said with as much happiness as he could muster.
“You’re alive,” she teased.
“I called last week, and I’m on a tour right now, but everything is fine,” he rushed to reassure her, maybe too quickly.
“Are you sure?” she asked, and Robin groaned.
“Yes. I’m taking my pills and watching what I eat as best I can. I always do.” He kept his voice light. After years of his mother taking care of him, worrying over him, and then coddling him, or trying to as he got older, he should be used to this routine by now.
“I worry. Why can’t you come home? We love you, and you can work with your father and me. Your dad is always saying that he wants to slow down, and if you came into the business, then he could pass some of what he does to you.”
“I know you worry, but I’m fine.” Robin spoke softly so he wouldn’t be overheard. “Really. I like it here, and I get to see parts of the world I never could otherwise. And I get to use my language skills.”
His mother cleared her throat nervously. “But what are you doing? Leading tourists around when you could be here with your family where we could help look after you?” Old habits were hard to drop, and his mother was finding letting go extremely difficult.
“I need to be on my own. I’ve told you that.” So much of his life had involved his mother watching him like a hawk, getting ready to rush him to the hospital at the first sign of a cough or fever. Robin had been surprised when his mother had let him actually have a boyfriend. Both his parents had been supportive and caring. That wasn’t the surprising part. They had both backed off during the relationship. But as soon as it had ended, they’d returned with the same nearly intrusive care, just like before. “Just let me be. I call, I stay in touch, and I can take care of myself.”
She sighed loudly, followed by a small whimper. “You’re special, and you can’t do all the things other people can. You know that.” Robin could imagine her wiping her eyes. “You have to be careful, and I worry about you all the way over there without anyone looking after you.”
Robin rubbed the back of his neck, glancing around to make sure no one was listening. “You’ve told me all this before, and yes, I know that I’m probably not going to live as long as most other people. But I want to have a good life and enjoy what I do have.” And unfortunately for his parents, that didn’t mean his sitting behind the counter of the family restaurant, taking people’s money, spending the rest of his life perched on a stool so his family would know where he was. “I don’t know why you’re so wound up all of a sudden.”
His mother heaved another sigh, and Robin waited for some sort of explanation, but none was forthcoming. His mom would wait out an ice age if she wanted to, and she clearly didn’t intend to spill whatever was bothering her.
“Mom, I need to go. I have to finish getting my tour checked into the hotel, see them to dinner, and then I can rest for the night.” He could almost feel his energy being sapped away by this conversation. Not that he didn’t love his mother—he did, truly, and Robin knew she loved him a great deal. But being on his own was what he needed so very much. “I’ll call you later in the week, and we can text if you want.”
She groaned. “You know I can never use that thing.” His mother and technology didn’t seem to go together.
“Maybe if you let Dad get you a new phone,” Robin offered.
“But then I’d have a new number and no one would be able to call, and I’d have to tell everyone and….” She went on, and Robin waited until she wound down a little.
“You can keep the same number,” Robin told her, and she paused. “You’d also have an easy way to send messages, instead of using that old flip phone.”
“All this new stuff—”
“I know, but it works, and Dad could show you how to use it. You and I could even FaceTime and talk using the camera. Then you could see me.” Maybe that would be enough of an incentive. “I have to go and get back to work. It’s later here than it is there. You have a good day, and I’ll talk to you soon.”
“Okay, I love you.” She sniffed, and Robin hesitated to let her go.
“I love you too, Mom.” Robin hung up and put his phone back in his pocket, and while he was thinking about it, he rummaged in his bag, pulled out a small bottle of water, and took his afternoon pills, then drank the rest of the water and threw the bottle in the recycling bin in the corner.
Oliver and Javier joined him in the lobby. “Is our room ready?” Oliver asked, looking a little worse for wear as he fanned himself.
Javier stood behind him. “You’re fine, Ollie. Just a little warm.”
Robin got his last bottle of water and handed it to Oliver, who grasped it gratefully and then downed it all.
“I guess I wasn’t expecting it to be so warm.”
Robin handed him his key. “Johan brought in the bags.” He motioned behind them. “You can get settled and relax if you’d like. Dinner is at seven in the same place we had lunch.” He smiled, and they left, with Javier loaded down with all the bags.
One by one, the others returned and hauled their luggage up the stairs. By the time everyone had checked in and he had answered half a million questions, Robin realized he only had an hour until dinner. He was tired already and feeling a little run-down.
“I got the bags,” Johan said, carrying both of them.
Robin led the way to their room. There were two beds, one double and a tiny cot that looked about as sturdy as a three-legged chair. Robin sighed and opened the window for fresh air as Johan set down the bags.
“Do you want me to see if there is a different room?”
“There isn’t,” Robin said. “The hotel is full.” He looked over at the cot and then at Johan. “Go ahead and take the bed. I’ll be fine.” He rolled his suitcase next to the cot and sat on the far side of the bed. God, he wanted to lie down and rest for fifteen minutes. At least their room had its own bathroom.
“Are you sure?” Johan asked.
“Yes.” There was nothing Robin could do about it. It wasn’t like he was going to ask one of his tourists to change rooms so one of them could sleep on the cot. “I’m going to clean up and get ready for dinner.”
AFTER DINNER, the group had taken a night tour of the town. Most of them had settled in a small café near the town center for coffee and dessert. Robin made sure they knew their way back to the hotel and then went back himself. He needed to try to get some sleep.
He unlocked the room and stepped in, just as Johan came out of the bathroom, a small towel around his waist that barely covered his bits and butt, leaving strong legs and sexy abs exposed to Robin’s hungry gaze. He turned away and went right to his bag, busying himself as Johan moved behind him, hopefully dressing.
“Are you going out?” Johan asked.
“No. Most of the group found a café. Billy and Kyle went off to find some nightlife.” Robin carefully sat on the cot, relieved when it didn’t collapse, though it definitely groaned. “I’m going to go over the things for tomorrow.”
Johan rolled his eyes, and Robin got up the courage to actually look up at him. Johan had pulled on a pair of jeans, but he was still bare-chested, and the temperature in the small room spiked at least ten degrees. A visual feast of golden skin, lean muscle but by no means muscle-bound, and a dusting of dark hair sent Robin’s pulse racing. He turned away again, because lusting after his coworker was so damn wrong on so many levels.
Robin’s brown curls—his mom called them shaggy—fell into his eyes, and he used them as cover to look a little more. Johan walked closer to the window, his belly at perfect eye level, a dark trail slipping into his pants, leading to… well, Robin’s imagination could certainly fill in any gaps, and it did in spectacular fashion.
“Maybe I will go out,” Robin said softly. Lord knew if Johan stayed in the room, especially like that, Robin wasn’t going to be able to breathe. Robin grabbed his messenger bag and hurried to the door, almost forgetting his key, before leaving the room and hurrying down the hall to the stairs.
Outside on the cobbled street, Robin took a deep breath and slowly walked toward town. There was a small convenience-type store a few blocks away, and it would be good if he got some more water and a few snacks.
Robin gritted his teeth and turned to find Johan striding toward him.
“You didn’t have to leave the room so quickly.” He fell into step with him.
“I’m Robin, not Robbie,” he said firmly. He hated that nickname.
“Okay. You still didn’t have to leave.” Johan looked at him with his big, almost-mysterious brown eyes for long enough that Robin felt heat rising at the base of his spine. “Are you one of those prudish Americans who keeps himself covered all the time?”
“I’m not prudish,” Robin said. “I just needed some fresh air and to get a few things.” He continued on his way, doing his best to keep his attention on the way ahead and not on Johan’s hotness.
“Do you not like guys? Is that it? You work for a gay tour company.” Johan walked faster as Robin sped up. He hadn’t meant to, but his legs just kept moving more quickly. “Maybe you’re one of those people who doesn’t like to be happy or something.”
Robin came to an abrupt stop, opening his mouth to give Johan a tongue lashing, but he realized he was standing in front of the café where half his tour group sat, watching them. Well, they were watching Johan. No one ever paid that much attention to him.
Robin whirled on his heels and continued toward town. How dare Johan try to get into his head. “For your information, yes, I like guys, and I’m not a prude. Though you seem to have exhibitionist tendencies. Is what you’ve got really worth making sure everyone sees it?” He turned to Johan and cocked his eyebrow.
Johan smiled and didn’t retort, which pissed Robin off a little more and actually raised his curiosity level. Damn it all to hell. Why was he doing this to himself? They had a job to do.
“Okay. So you’re gay and not a prude. Got it.” Johan continued walking behind him, and Robin did his best to ignore him. Maybe if he left the guy alone, he’d do the same for Robin. “But you are unhappy.”
Robin stopped. Johan had to be the most un-German German he had ever met. As a rule, Germans tended to be somewhat reserved… well, they also tended to think that the German way was the best way to do everything, so maybe Johan was just too German for words. Robin wasn’t sure, but he was pretty convinced that Johan was trying to drive him crazy.
“What makes you say that?” Robin paused just long enough to make the accusation and then turned away, seeing the store he wanted. They seemed about ready to close, so he ducked inside and got some water and a few snacks. Robin hoped Johan would go about his business, but Johan was waiting for him at the counter. Robin didn’t remember him being this big of a pain. Of course, he also didn’t remember him as anything other than a guy doing his best impression of the ape boy in a sideshow either.
Robin paid for his things and left the shop.
“You never smile.”
“I do too,” Robin countered while waiting for a car to pass. Then he purposefully headed back the way he’d come. At least he hoped it looked that way and not like he was trying like hell to run away.
“No, you don’t,” Johan said from farther behind him, but the tone, one Robin wasn’t so sure about, made him pause. Johan closed the distance between them. “You smile when you think you’re supposed to and when you don’t want to cause the tourists distress, but you never really smile, not for yourself.” He came even closer, sending heat racing through Robin, and Robin wondered if Johan was going to kiss him. They were certainly close enough. Johan’s breath was fresh and smelled like minty sunshine. “You never smile with your eyes as well as your lips.” His rumbling voice sent ripples through Robin. “You need to find what makes you happy.”
“I’m happy. I like my life and what I do. I’m good at it and….” God, his protest sounded lame even to him. “I’m fine.”
Johan nodded, and Robin turned back toward the hotel once again. He could feel Johan’s gaze behind him every step of the way. At the café, he thought about stopping for a drink, but he needed to rest, so he waved and went to the hotel.
JOHAN HADN’T followed him all the way back. And Robin was tired. It had been a long day. The first day of a tour often was. After that, everyone usually fell into a routine and things became easier. God, he hoped so.
Robin used the bathroom, cleaned up, took his medications, and got into bed, the cot squeaking a little as he settled his weight. Robin hoped the damned thing didn’t crash to the floor under him. He tried to find a comfortable position and finally settled on his side. Facing the wall didn’t work, but lying on his other side was okay. He reminded himself that he only had two nights of this. He could muscle through.
Robin had just closed his eyes when the door to the hall opened, casting a slice of light through the room. He kept his eyes closed and tried to sleep. Johan was quiet, saying nothing as he used the bathroom and eventually climbed into bed. Robin cracked his eyes open as the lights turned out and got a flash of a perfect tight butt as Johan got under the covers. He bit his lower lip to stop the groan from knowing Johan was naked in the bed just a few feet away. Robin closed his eyes once again and tried to go to sleep. Somehow he managed to do it.