Most people disliked Sunday for the simple reason that Monday loomed ahead. For Paul, the seventh day of the week ranked high on his list of guilty pleasures. It was the one day he allowed himself to indulge his passion for reading, forgoing any sort of schedule.
A warm breeze blew in through the open French doors of his bedroom, rifling the pages of the New York Times that were laid out on his bed in neat piles. His weekly ritual consisted of a slow appraisal of each section of the paper as he got caught up on world news and local events. The editor in him couldn’t help zeroing in on typos, overused words, or poorly chosen phrases. It was just a part of his personality and something he couldn’t put on hold, regardless of which day of the week it was. It was distracting at times but ingrained in him and as natural as breathing. Paul took a lot of pride in his work and was always surprised whenever he found errors in other publications that were easily avoidable.
Another unexpected gust turned the neat stacks into an unorganized mess, spurring him to get up and close the doors to prevent any more disruptions. When he glanced out the panes of glass, he was struck by the beauty of the colorful display of annuals overflowing the varied pots strategically placed around his brick-covered rooftop garden. He knew the temperatures would spike toward noon, but for now, the warmth felt good against his bare chest, and so he ventured outside. If he closed his eyes, he could pretend he was in an exclusive resort instead of his twenty-room apartment overlooking Central Park. The soothing sound of the recycling waterfall in his pool added to the illusion.
Paul sat in one of the comfortable lounging chairs and let the early morning sun beat down on him. He must have dozed for a second because the next thing he was aware of was Baxter shaking him gently.
“Good morning.” Paul smiled at his assistant, who stood over him with a breakfast tray. He wrapped his long fingers around the handle of the steaming mug of French roast Baxter had prepared and took tentative sips, loving the taste of the strong brew that was always made to perfection.
“Good morning, Mr. Alcott. I’m surprised to find you out here.”
“I thought it might be nice to stop and smell the roses. Literally.” Paul grinned.
“It’s a beautiful day, sir. You should sit out here and relax for a change. Shall I go and get your paper?”
Baxter put the coffee paraphernalia down on the table, along with a basket of croissants and the accompanying butter and assorted jams. Normally it was coffee and Danish on the run as Paul strove to get to Alcott Press by eight, but it was Sunday, after all, and the only day of the week his employer didn’t even wear a watch.
Baxter headed back toward the bedroom to retrieve the newspaper without another word. His talent for making himself invisible was one reason he’d lasted in the Alcott employ. Paul had faced the difficult decision of dismissing his deceased father’s entire household staff, claiming that he no longer needed them since he’d sold the Long Island estate. Manhattan was his city of choice, and he’d made that perfectly obvious after investing over two million dollars in renovating the family penthouse at Alcott Terrace. No more traipsing back and forth, fighting traffic and road rage. Even the use of the company helicopter had not dissuaded him from selling the property. It was a relic of times past, and he had neither the need nor the desire to retain it.
Paul had kept Baxter on as his majordomo, a position he’d claimed for the last thirty years. He was a fixture in Paul’s life and the one constant he’d had growing up. It was Baxter who had stood in for his father whenever he was out of town on business. Baxter had attended school meetings, accompanied him to doctors and dentists, held his hand and comforted him whenever he’d fallen off a skateboard or a bicycle. Baxter had taught him how to swim and drive and knot his tie. He’d been there when Paul had announced he was gay. Baxter had stood outside the library door listening to a seventeen-year-old Paul defying his father for the first time. He was the one who had taught Paul how to use a condom while lecturing him on the perils of unprotected sex. Baxter was, in essence, the mother he’d never had, and the idea of dismissing him was out of the question. Paul did change his title to assistant, since the word “majordomo” was as obsolete as the Long Island mansion. Baxter was an intelligent and sensitive man who had chosen to serve and protect the Alcotts, yet he never took advantage of his position. And for this reason he was respected, and most definitely loved, by both father and son. The hefty sum Paul Senior had bequeathed Baxter assured him a retirement fit for a king; however, he chose to stay on, opting to work in lieu of being a gentleman of leisure. The very thought of such an existence made Baxter shudder.
Baxter was, in fact, a majordomo of the old school, and as such he was in charge of everything that touched Paul Alcott’s life: his clothing, medication, transportation, food, and any other creature comforts, including the replenishment of his supply of condoms. Baxter felt a great sense of pride and satisfaction in knowing that he’d played a significant role in shaping Paul. Despite the opportunity to be a world-class playboy and hedonist, Paul had surprised everyone by turning out to be a productive, resourceful, and hard-working individual with an excellent eye for detail. Paul Senior had died in peace knowing his only child was more than capable of filling his shoes.
Conversely, Paul was spoiled rotten. There was no denying that fact, but he shrugged it off by pleading birthright. He hadn’t chosen his status in life―being born into one of the wealthiest families in America―but there you had it. He wasn’t about to change and dress in rags to make others happy. He worked hard and played even harder, so if he indulged in an old world perk by having Baxter waiting on him hand and foot, he felt entitled.
Paul’s love for the written word and succinct speech had made him even more famous than his late father, founder of Alcott Press, one of the most esteemed publishing houses in America for over fifty years. Paul was first and foremost a book editor. Authors would cringe after receiving a manuscript from Paul Alcott Jr., looking in horror at the sea of red slashed all over their precious words, which were usually unnecessary and could be reduced by half. Now, he no longer did much editing, preferring to leave that to his staff. Only the big name authors were subjected to his nasty red pen, and lately there were fewer.
An editing software program he’d invented was a byproduct of his career choice. It was ranked highest in the nation, making him money while he slept. Paul’s talent was well known by those in the business―any author lucky enough to employ him was guaranteed a bestseller.
“There’s a message from your old friend Michael,” Baxter said, after placing the stack of papers on the table.
“Do you mean Mick Henley?” Paul’s voice rose in shock.
“The very same,” Baxter replied. “I thought he lived in Spain?”
“He does. You remember Mick, don’t you?” Paul asked.
“How could I forget him, sir? He practically lived on the estate. You went to college with him and were joined at the hip until he became published. You and he were very close, as I recall.”
Paul snorted. “Your very proper way of saying we fucked a lot. Jesus Christ, Baxter, you know we were lovers for years.”
“I was in charge of your condom supply even then, Mr. Alcott. Believe me when I say I’m quite aware of who Mick Henley is.”
“Remember that time you caught us in the pool house?”
“Um… an awkward moment, sir, considering your father and his dinner guest were right behind me.”
Paul grinned as he recalled everyone’s shocked faces. “It was hot, though. It was the first time I let Mick fuck me in the―”
“Sorry, Baxter,” Paul choked on a laugh. “TMI?”
Baxter’s cheeks were blood red. “I’ve already lived through that once, sir. I don’t need to revisit.”
“Ahh, but I do,” Paul said as his thoughts flew back in time. He closed his eyes and envisioned Mick rolling the condom on his cock seconds before he plowed into Paul. The memory was scorching hot.
“Mr. Alcott,” Baxter huffed, noticing Paul’s pajama pants tenting obscenely. “Are we done?”
Paul sighed and opened his eyes. “Did he say what he wanted?”
“A call back, from what I understand.”
“You don’t suppose he wants to get back together?” Paul’s question had an almost wistful tone, which didn’t really surprise Baxter. The two men had been inseparable, and no one had replaced the young author as far as he could tell.
“I have no idea, sir, but don’t get your hopes up.”
“Please. I haven’t been holding my breath for seven years. Why start now?”
“Because he’s back in town, and because you still care.”
“Is it that obvious?”
“You haven’t had anyone steady since.”
“Shh… don’t tell anyone. It’ll ruin my reputation.”
“Oh? Which one, sir? Is it the heartbreaker who tires of his liaisons quickly, or the cutting-edge publisher everyone listens to whenever a new idea flits through his head?”
“Jesus, Baxter. Is that how people see me?”
“You don’t let too many people into your circle, sir.”
Paul shrugged. “They’re not worth letting in.”
“What’s the old cliché? ’Tis better to have loved and lost…’.”
“Stop right there,” Paul said. “I don’t need a lecture on love.”
“I’m just stating the obvious.”
“Oh really? And what is that?”
“You still care for Mick.”
“Well, we’re about to find out, aren’t we? In the meantime, let’s drop it.”
“Would I ever nag you?” Baxter asked, feigning outrage.
“You do it all the time, but quite politely,” Paul teased. “I know you have my back. You always have, and I’m grateful.”
“Sir.” Baxter’s normally placid face creased into a doting smile.
Seeing his stodgy assistant so flustered touched Paul, and he got up and hugged him impulsively. “I’m off to shower,” he announced, leaving a thoughtful Baxter watching his backside.
Paul shucked his pajama pants and stood in front of the full-length mirrors which covered two walls, appraising his body ruthlessly. The slope of his chest and his taut belly reassured him that he still had the physique of a thirty-year-old, even though he was about to turn thirty-six in a few days. Age notwithstanding, he looked damn good. Keeping himself free of any body hair helped the illusion of youth as well. It was a phobia of his, started years ago when he saw his father’s chest hair turning gray. He swore it would never happen to him, and the only way to avoid it was by waxing off his body hair before it was apparent. Now the very idea of furry men revolted him. It was the first thing he asked of his lovers if there was any interest after the initial encounter.
Paul continued with his perusal, zeroing in on his penis, which was long and thick and uncircumcised. Thoughts of Mick were making him hard again, and he watched himself in the mirror dispassionately. His cock filled and lengthened in direct proportion to memories of Mick swirling around in his brain. They were each other’s firsts, and as such, unforgettable.
The curly black hair and deep violet eyes were impossible to forget, regardless of the order in his life. Michael Henley was a beautiful man. Black Irish, his father had called him with a little bit of disdain. Paul had had no idea what that meant when he was seventeen, but he’d looked up the term and assured Mick that his father was referring to his olive skin and dark hair. Years later Paul realized that the words had other connotations, religious and political, and not always clear, but very often unflattering; Mick’s initial reaction of anger had been spot-on. The Alcott bloodline traced back to early eighteenth-century England and carried with it the many prejudices imbued into their upbringing. Paul Senior’s disrespect for the entire Irish nation wasn’t uncommon for his day and age.
Paul, on the other hand, had been enthralled by Mick. They met when they were seniors in high school, and their relationship lasted through college and many years after that. Mick was everything Paul wasn’t. He was annoyingly lackadaisical about most things in life, running by his own personal clock, which was always broken, according to Paul. Mick never arrived on time, choosing to savor life’s moments to their fullest. He had no concept of the words “deadline” or “hurry,” and discipline was only something he learned when he dabbled briefly in the BDSM scene. The flipside was an intelligent, articulate, and deeply loving man who could bring Paul to sexual heights that no one else had ever been able to achieve. It was the image of Mick on his knees that made Paul come within minutes. He watched himself in the mirror, spraying ropes of spunk all over the marble floor.
He gave himself one last tug and stepped into the shower, turning on the triple-headed unit, reveling in the ultimate luxury of separate showerheads bombarding him with a stinging-hot spray. He moaned with pleasure, not so much from the massaging effects of the water as from the memories of Mick and everything they’d shared.
He wondered if he’d changed. It had been almost seven years since they’d parted ways, following a horrible scene of recrimination and anger. He’d wanted to hurt Mick, and he had, in the worst way possible. Finding Paul in bed with another man was not reason enough for Mick to leave, but learning that Paul would no longer be editing for him was the ultimate betrayal. Mick’s first novel had just made the bestseller list, and the accolades and good reviews were pouring in. Readers and publishers were begging for a sequel, and Mick was stunned when Paul told him he wouldn’t help him anymore.
Paul never gave him a reason that made sense. Mick probably assumed that he’d fallen out of love and was moving on, abandoning him in the process. The reality had been far more complex: Paul couldn’t bring himself to tell his lover that he burned with jealousy for his writing skills. Paul was honest enough with himself to realize that his talents lay elsewhere. He could dissect a story without qualms, reducing writers into puddles of tears after his scathing edits. He was ruthless but effective, easily able to figure out why a story wasn’t working, yet he couldn’t do it for himself. He was a closet writer who would never see his name on the great American novel. He knew the mechanics necessary to write a book, but he was missing a key ingredient and refused to use his position in the company to publish his own novel if it was not up to par. The fact that his lover and best friend had made it was galling. Paul had the money and wherewithal to move mountains, but he couldn’t write a simple story, which was what drove the wedge between the two men. Mick was never the wiser, and Paul went on to develop the software program that made him more money than he could ever spend in this lifetime.
He finishedhis shower and stepped onto the lush cotton mat, sidestepping the lines of come that glistened against the black marble floor. He grabbed a hand towel and cleaned up the evidence of his desire, thus avoiding any more flak from Baxter. He’d had no idea that his torch was so obvious, but then again, no one knew him quite as well as his assistant, so he supposed it was okay. God forbid people took pity on him―he could have any man he wanted. While he hadn’t found anyone as perfect as Mick, it didn’t mean he never would. And maybe this argument was a moot point. Mick was probably thirty pounds overweight and balding. The thought made Paul chuckle.
He walked back into his bedroom stark naked, unperturbed by Baxter’s presence. His inscrutable assistant held out black silk boxers, and Paul slipped them on wordlessly.
“Where’s that phone number?”
Baxter passed him the Post-it. “Give me a minute,” Paul said. “I’ll buzz you when I’m dressed. Oh, Baxter?”
“Have them bring the car around in approximately forty minutes.”
“Are you driving or will you need a chauffeur?”
“I’m not driving.”
“Very well, sir.”
Paul looked at the number on the Post-it. It was a Manhattan number, which meant that Mick had moved back to the States, or had a local SIM card. Whatever the reason, Paul couldn’t resist calling. Curiosity was getting the best of him, and he hoped that he wouldn’t live to regret this move.
Mick answered on the second ring. “Paul. How are you, old friend?”
Paul felt his stomach drop to his knees when he heard Mick’s voice. It was that same sexy, slightly gravelly timbre that always made him feel like they were the only ones in the room. It was Mick’s secret weapon; Paul succumbed to it immediately.
“Well, well. If it isn’t the hottest writer this side of the universe,” Paul said softly. He shut his eyes and clutched the phone so hard his hand hurt; the strength of his reaction shocked him. He hadn’t realized how much he missed the man until this moment. His entire body seemed to come alive after being asleep for seven years, a self-imposed state of suspended emotion that had encased him like a protective shield. He felt it falling away from him in large chunks, crashing to the floor and awakening him as he listened to the voice of the only man he’d ever loved. He’d tried not to think about Mick for years, and he’d almost succeeded, or so he thought. The earlier conversation with Baxter made it very clear that he wasn’t fooling anyone but himself. Whatever bad feelings he may have had disappeared in the wake of Mick’s phone call.
“Paul?” Mick interrupted his thoughts.
“I’m… here,” Paul stumbled over the words, feeling blindsided.
“How’s it going, sweetheart?”
Mick’s easy use of the familiar endearment just about did him in. He made every effort to get himself under control, struggling to keep his voice devoid of emotion. “Everything’s great, Mick. Are you in town for long?”
“I’ve moved back.”
“Really? I thought you loved Spain?”
“I adore Spain and San Sebastian in particular,” Mick said quickly, “but I have some things that require my attention over here. I did keep my apartment though.”
“I see. So you’ll be going back eventually?”
Paul found that statement rather odd. Mick had never been a practicing Catholic, so the easy reference to God seemed out of character. “What can I do for you?”
“I’d love to see you.”
“How about today?”
“Today?” Paul voiced his surprise. “I’m not sure if I can. I do have a schedule, Mick, not that you know the meaning of the word.”
“Don’t be a priss, Paul. It’s Sunday, and I’m sure that even the great Paul Alcott has one day of rest.”
Paul wondered what was going on. “Where do you want to meet?”
“How about right here?” Mick offered. “I’ve rented an apartment in Chelsea.”
“All right. Give me the address.”
Paul scribbled on the back of the note and was getting ready to hang up when Mick said, “We can’t wait to see you.”
“Yes, Tono and I.”
“Who the fuck is Tono?”
“We’ll see you around five, okay? Don’t have a big lunch because we’re making paella on the Weber. Save your appetite.”
“I’ll bring the wine,” Paul answered in a daze. He had no idea why Mick would want to see him, especially now that he had learned his lover was in tow. So much for the great make-up scene, he thought disappointedly. Pictures of Mick at different stages of undress flashed through his head like a slide show. His body reacted swiftly, but he pushed back his desire, along with whatever hope he may have had that this might just be more than a casual meeting between two old friends. Paul adjusted himself into place before pulling up the zipper on the pair of blue jeans that lay snug on his ass. The fitted gray shirt came next, followed by a liberal spray of Drakkar Noir. His navy blue cotton sweater was an afterthought, but he draped it over his shoulders on the off chance that it would get cool later on that night. He could have passed for a fashion model; his natural blond hair, always a source of pride, was cut and styled to perfection, and the accompanying blue eyes were the classic combination that turned heads. Paul’s look was enhanced by color choices that were meticulously chosen for maximum effect. He slipped sock-less feet into his Gucci loafers and grabbed his wallet and keys. One last glance in the mirror satisfied him: if nothing else, Mick would be pleased to see that Paul had only improved over time.