BLURB: Marc's straight, always has been and thought he always would be, but when he's shown his true love in a magic mirror he's shocked to find out his true love is a man. Not only that, it's up to him to convince his true love they're meant to be together. All bad enough, but after finding Liam, the only way he’s able to persuade Liam to go out with him is to offer him sex -- even though that's something Marc's definitely not ready for.
Liam thinks Marc is crazy. Marc's straight but he's talking about true love and making a life together. Liam doesn’t believe in love and he certainly isn’t going to fall in love with a crazy straight guy regardless of how sexy he is. But he hasn’t reckoned on Marc’s pushy attitude or his offer of sex which, no matter how much he knows he should, Liam can’t turn down.
EXCERPT: Simon glanced up from his incessant paperwork as the light tinkle of the bell above the door announced the arrival of a customer. Glad of the respite, he pushed the bundle of inventory notes to the side. He stood and slipped out from behind the vintage walnut desk which functioned as his service counter, and approached the man.
“May I help you?” he asked, smiling.
The smile the customer attempted to give back was filled with confusion. “I’m not sure. I don’t actually know what I’m doing here; I was on my way for coffee...”
The silence which followed the bemused confession was interlaced with the loud and continuous ticking of the antique grandfather clock situated at the far end of the shop. Sometimes soothing, sometimes irritating, never unnoticed, it ticked off a few seconds while the customer grew more confused, especially when he looked around and saw where he was.
Simon nodded slowly and brushed a dark strand of hair from his face. He was familiar with customers like this, searching for something though they had no idea what it was. He was going to have to show him.
He looked the guy over. Youngish, around midtwenties, neatly dressed, suit and tie, smart haircut. Not his type, though cute if you went for the office look, but if the man was here for the reason Simon suspected, being his type would not have made the blindest difference in the world. The customer belonged to someone else.
Inwardly smiling this time, Simon inclined his head and took off his glasses, tucking them into his shirt pocket. “I think you may find what you’re looking for over there,” he said, indicating the back of the store.
“But I’m not looking for anything.” The tightly voiced remark only confirmed what Simon had thought.
“Then maybe something is looking for you.”
He motioned for the customer to follow as he headed toward the rear of the shop, noticing light brown eyes narrowing before the man reluctantly trailed after him, though he kept pausing and his eyes kept darting to and fro. He seemed more confused than ever which was no less than Simon now expected. A lot of his clients were confused when they came here, but they all had a compulsion to find out what it was Simon offered to show them. That was what Simon was there for.
As they walked through the antique furniture and collectibles, the customer occasionally brushed his fingers against the larger, more opulent pieces. At one point he stopped and picked up an ornate frame, his fingertips caressing the heavily carved wood. Sensual, Simon noted, and smiled wistfully. Not my type, belongs to someone else, he reminded himself. Yeah, but it had been years.
The monotonous ticking got louder as they neared the far wall. The antiques here were older, bigger, heavier, and had been in the shop a long time--as had the piece which Simon needed to show the man. At the further expression of bewilderment on the man’s face, Simon guessed he didn’t go for antiques; that his tastes ran toward a more contemporary look. That was okay. Simon wasn’t trying to sell him anything.
“Perhaps you’ll find something of interest in that corner,” he said, pointing. The man looked at him, his expressive eyes full of speculation. “Trust me,” Simon added, indicating the corner once again.
The man took a step toward the dark recess which housed the shop’s oldest piece. His steps were hesitant at first, but as he glimpsed reflected light, he became curious and moved closer.
The mirror stood six feet tall, its scratched and dented teak oval frame plain and simple while the glass surface was speckled and dusty. It did appear old, but not as in ancient, just neglected and unwanted. In reality it didn’t even look like it should be in a shop like this. Maybe in some secondhand junk store with the bargain-basement pieces, but unlike the rest of the items in the shop, the mirror was priceless; its worth immeasurable.
“Do you see anything?” Simon asked.
The man glanced back at him, then stood in front of the mirror and gasped.
Some found the mirror on their own. Others, like this one, needed to be shown. All of them reacted the same way.
“What is it?” the man asked, his hand outstretched, his fingers a hairbreadth away from touching the surface. He wouldn’t touch it. No one did.
Simon smiled again. He always liked this part.
“It’s your one true love.”
* * * *
“My what?” Marc glanced at the shopkeeper and then back at the mirror. The reflection was fascinating, simply because it wasn’t his own. It didn’t make sense, but then nothing from the first moment he’d walked into the shop had made sense.
He didn’t even know where he was or how he’d gotten there. He’d been heading toward his local coffee shop when he’d felt compelled to suddenly change course and enter a small nondescript alley. He’d never been down the alley before. In fact he didn’t ever remember seeing it before, and once there he’d been even more compelled to push open the door of a little antique shop and step inside. Weird, but not as weird as looking at the mirror and not seeing his own image.
The man on the other side of the looking glass was tall, dark, and incredibly handsome. Okay, it was an old cliché, but Marc couldn’t think of any other way to describe him. He didn’t normally think of any way to describe a man. He didn’t particularly look at men at all, except in the friendly mate kind of way. But the reflection was different. It seemed to emphasize all that a man should be, all that this man was--graceful, elegant, and sexy. Shit, where did that come from?
“Your one true love,” the shopkeeper repeated.
“How?” And why and what the fuck! Marc didn’t voice the last of his thoughts, but the shopkeeper seemed to know what he was thinking.
“I don’t have any answers; I’m just here to show you.”
Marc tore his gaze from the image long enough to look at the man standing by his side. The shopkeeper was a little smaller than himself, his dark hair swept back off a high forehead. His eyes were a pale blue, and they stared at him with a quiet sincerity which was both disquieting and reassuring.
Marc pointed to the mirror, the image, still as confused as before. No, make that more confused. This wasn’t right, it couldn’t be. “But he’s a man.”
The shopkeeper cocked his head to the side. “Is that a problem for you?”
“Of course it’s a fucking problem.”
“I’m a man!”
“Ah. I see.”
“Do you?” ’Cause Marc didn’t. How the hell could a mirror show him his true love and how could he love a man?
“The mirror never lies.”
“Well it’s lying its ass off right now.” Marc glanced back at the image again. The man was smiling. He had an incredible smile. Marc bit his lip to stop himself responding. Since when did he ever notice a man’s smile? God. He curled his hands into fists to stop himself from reaching toward the mirror again. True love? Was any of this real?
“Is it magic?” he asked, needing an answer, an explanation even though the shopkeeper had just told him he couldn’t give him one.
“It’s just a reflection of your heart’s desire.”
“I don’t desire a man.” Of that he was sure.
“But you desire true love, and he is the one who can give it to you.”
The shopkeeper sounded like he knew what he was talking about, but Marc had trouble accepting. Who wouldn’t?
“Do you know him?” The shopkeeper pointed at the mirror but didn’t look at it.
“No, I’ve never seen him before. Do you know him?”
“I can’t see him. Only you can. Only the one whose soul and heart belong to him can see.”
“I belong to him?” Oh, this was getting better and better.
“And he to you, but...”
“But what?” Did he want to hear more? Wasn’t he better off getting out of there before he started to believe?
“But he knows nothing of you. He will not recognize you as his love. You have to convince him of that.”
“I have to?” Marc shook his head. “You mean I have to convince a man I’ve never met that he and I are fated to be together?”
“Even though I’m not attracted to men?” Marc really wanted to get that point across.
“Like I said, the mirror never lies.”
Taking a deep breath and trying to get his head around this whole bizarre mess, Marc tried one more time. “It’s never got this wrong?”
“Not to my knowledge.”
Marc tried not to keep staring at the image, but he found it really difficult to take his gaze off it. “Do you think he’s like me, or um...gay?”
“It would be a good bet he’s gay. It would certainly make it easier.”
“On who, him or me?”
“True love never runs smooth.” The shopkeeper smiled, which Marc noted but only in an offhand way. He certainly wouldn’t have said the smile was anything special. Not like the smile from the man in the mirror.
“Well mine’s off to a rocky start.” Marc glanced at the mirror again. The man’s eyes were a dark brown. They were beautiful. Jesus. “And where do I meet him?” he asked, a little stunned he was beginning to take this seriously.
“I’m afraid I don’t know, but my suggestion would be somewhere you don’t normally hang out, if you’re straight and he’s gay.”
“If I’m straight? That isn’t in question.” Or maybe it was. He sighed, no longer sure of anything. But how did someone go from being straight to gay, from liking women to liking men? No, not men, just one man. Just the one in the mirror. His man. Fuck.
“So I find this man, tell him he’s my true love and see how it goes from there?”
“You can tell him if you wish. Might not do you any good, though.”
Marc groaned. He took a long, lingering look at the man in the mirror and then faced the shopkeeper. The man seemed utterly relaxed and at ease, as if he had to do this type of thing every day. Perhaps he did.
“Who are you?” Marc asked, surprised he hadn’t actually asked what are you.
The shopkeeper smiled, emitting a sense of complete reliance. “My name is Simon. I am the mirror’s keeper,” he said, and then he turned and headed back to the front of the shop.
Marc followed, though he didn’t feel ready to face this new future that had been thrust upon him. He needed to think about this, work out what he was going to do, what he was supposed to do. He didn’t look at the mirror again. He didn’t need to; the image of the man with the dark eyes, the man he was apparently going to fall in love with, was imprinted indelibly on his mind.
“Thank you,” he said automatically as the shopkeeper--the mirror’s keeper--went to open the door.
“You’re welcome. And good luck.”
Luck? He was going to need a hell of lot more than luck. He was going to need a plan.
* * * *
Goddamn it. The distraction Marc hoped to find while staring at the incredible view of Sydney Harbour outside his apartment window was not forthcoming. His mind wouldn’t switch off. It wouldn’t stop thinking of the image he’d seen in the mirror. Of the man who was his true love.
Who was he? Where was he? And why the fuck could Marc not make a decision about what he was supposed to do about him?
For the past few days, he’d been trying to come to terms with the idea he was to fall in love with a man. That he was to fall in love with someone wasn’t the problem; he’d always known he would eventually. He just hadn’t found the right person, and now he guessed he knew why. He hadn’t been looking in the right places, or more specifically, at the right gender, which was not a comforting thought. How could his life have been turned upside down like this? What kind of sick joke was it that he was now supposed to share his life with a man when all along he’d been thinking along the lines of a wife?
Frustrated, confused, Marc glanced out the window again. The dark water below sparkled with little diamonds of light reflected off the city skyline. Sydney Opera House, its sharply defined roof ablaze with man-made illumination, sat on his left, the Sydney Harbour Bridge on his right. The coat hanger, as it was affectionately known, was busy. Cars flew over the steel bridge, driven by people with lives, futures, loves. Looking down at them, Marc felt distinctly envious, not an emotion he was comfortable with. Hating this feeling of helplessness, Marc turned from the lights of the city, their sparkle no longer appealing, the hum and buzz he could see and feel irritating instead of soothing as it usually was. Sighing, Marc sat on the edge of his soft leather lounge but didn’t relax. His body was tense, a balled-up bundle of stress. He didn’t think it was supposed to be this complicated and suspected that whatever force was behind the image was expecting him to just get up and find his true love. But it wasn’t as easy as that. He had to make a decision, had to make a choice. And he couldn’t. At least not on his own.
* * * *
Tapping his fingers nervously, Marc glanced around the small café again. Six other tables partnered with two chairs each were scattered around the timbered floor, all within close proximity of each other, and all of them occupied. Careful about the possibility of eavesdroppers, Marc had picked the table in the corner, the one farthest away from the rest and with some small degree of privacy, but he still wasn’t happy about the location Stella had picked to have this conversation. But then she didn’t know what type of conversation they were going to have.
To some extent he had come to terms with what Simon had told him and what he’d seen reflected in the mirror, but there was so much he couldn’t get his mind around, and he needed another person’s perspective. Someone not as analytical as he was, someone who had a more emotional outlook, and someone who could tell him what to do. Someone like Stella. And thinking of his sister...
Squeezing through the maze of tables and patrons, a petite woman grinned as she approached, giving Marc a little wave which he didn’t quite feel disposed to return. The coffee he’d ordered for her sat in front of the second chair, and that was where she planted herself just after she’d landed a quick kiss on Marc’s proffered cheek.
“Hi, bro, how’s it hanging?” Her greeting was typical Stella, and though Marc was tense about what the next few moments could bring, he couldn’t help but smile.
“I’m fine. Thank you for coming.”
“Anything for my baby brother, but what’s so important you couldn’t wait for the weekend?”
Glancing into warm brown eyes so much like his own, Marc shook his head a little. “It’s not that I couldn’t wait until the weekend, it’s just I wanted to tell you something and not have everyone listening in.”
Stella took a quick look around the café, and her face fell. “Oh, so this might not be the best place to chat?”
“It wasn’t my ideal location, but as long as you don’t freak out and make a show of yourself, we should be all right.” At his statement he could tell Stella was both intrigued and worried.
“Are you all right? I mean, you’re not sick or anything?” Stella reached a tiny hand across the table and grabbed his. Her grip was strong, but Marc wasn’t surprised. Though a small woman, his sister had an inner strength that came across physically when she wanted it to.
“I’m fine. Well, I’m not sick, but what I have to tell you may question your previous evaluation of my mental health.” Marc tried a smile to soften the melodramatic effect of his words, but he wasn’t sure it worked, because Stella not only tightened her grip, she also frowned.
“Marc, you’re scaring me.”
“I don’t mean to, but hear me out before you ask any questions, okay?”
Stella nodded, her dark brown hair, currently tied up in a neat ponytail, bouncing her agreement. Marc watched her for a moment, then nodded also. “You remember when we were children and you told me there were fairies at the bottom of the garden?”
By the look on Stella’s face it was obvious that was not what she’d expected him to say, but give her her due, she didn’t say anything other than to acknowledge his question. “Yes.”
“I believe you.”
“And what’s changed your mind?”
If it had been anyone else, Marc wouldn’t even try to explain, but this was Stella, his sister, believer of all things unbelievable. “I saw this mirror. In it I saw an image. The image wasn’t mine.” Marc waited a moment to see if Stella would say anything. She didn’t. “The guy who showed me the mirror told me the image was of my one true love.” Again Marc waited, again Stella didn’t say anything. “The image was of a man.”
That got her. “Fuck!”
“What are you going to do?”
Marc almost smiled. See? Not a thing about the mirror and the true love part of the story, because as far as Stella would be concerned that wasn’t impossible or even improbable, but at least she understood the problem about it being a man.
“I don’t know. I can’t get my mind around it, and when I start to think I have, it all gets blown away. I understand that love has no bounds, and I also understand that somehow, for some reason, this man has been chosen for me, but what I don’t understand is why. Why a man instead of a woman when it’s going to ruin all my plans?”
“And what plans are those, Marc?”
A little surprised at the question, Marc stared at the quiet thoughtfulness that shone in his sister’s eyes. “A wife and family and the happily ever after like Mom and Dad have. The same thing you and Pippa have.”
“Mom, Pippa and I don’t have wives. We have husbands.”
“You know what I mean. I wanted to get married, raise children. How am I supposed to accomplish that now?” The calm, steady gaze Stella settled on him stopped Marc from adding more. He wanted her to help him, so he had to give her a chance to do so.
“Okay. You want to get married, which really means you want a life partner.” It wasn’t a question, so Marc didn’t answer. “The mirror showed you a life partner.”
Marc held his tongue, resisting the instinctive denial that he wanted a man as his life partner. Stella would know that so there was no use in pointing it out, again. “What about children?”
“Adopt them.” The conclusive statement coupled with Stella’s firm tone couldn’t be argued with, and Marc had no intention of doing so. But he was curious.
“What went through your mind when you found out you couldn’t have children naturally?”
“I was devastated, and I felt like I’d let Derek down. I worried he’d be so disappointed I couldn’t provide children for him that he’d leave me.”
“Derek wouldn’t do that. He loves you.”
Stella smiled. “I know that, but it took him a while to convince me he didn’t mind, that he just wanted me. He was prepared to put aside one kind of happiness and settle on another. He knew he had me. That was enough for him. It was enough for both of us.”
“But now you have two beautiful boys.” Marc remembered when Stella and Derek had come home with the two babies, remembered the joy on their faces. He glanced up into Stella’s knowing face. “Okay, I can adopt. But what about the rest?”
“The happily ever after? You’ve been shown someone you’re destined to be with. What’s not to be happy about? I would have loved to have conclusive proof that Derek was my soul mate. It would have saved a lot of grief when things got tough, because I would have known there was no chance he’d end up walking out on me.”
Absorbing that fact, Marc thought back to that moment he’d known Simon was telling the truth. The man in the mirror was meant for him. He was Marc’s heart’s desire, and Marc desired true love and happiness, the kind his parents and sisters had. Therefore this man would make him happy.
Sighing, he dredged up some courage to stare his sister in the eyes. “What about the sex?”
The grin that crossed his sister’s face was not the one Marc wanted to see. It was barely decent and held so much more he didn’t want to think about. “Now that’s the interesting part.”
“Interesting? I’d call it nigh on impossible.” Marc shook his head as he came to the real reason he couldn’t immediately accept the whole happiness thing. How could he be happy not having sex?
“Really? You don’t think you can have sex with him?”
“I’m straight, Stella. Of course I can’t.”
“Are you sure? Have you ever tried it?”
“No, and before you say anything, I’m not homophobic, but I’ve never even imagined being with a man. It’s just not something that crossed my mind until...”
Trust Stella to pick up on his one lack of conviction. He glanced around the café and discreetly pointed to a couple sitting at a nearby table. “Describe them to me,” he said.
Stella peeked over, then looked back at Marc. “They’re about forty years old, obviously married. He’s tall, well muscled, handsome in a rugged kind of way, dark hair but starting to go gray, couldn’t tell the color of his eyes, but he’s happy. She’s shorter than him, slim, blonde hair, blue eyes, also happy.”
“I saw the same woman you did, but I would have added pretty. The man? I noticed nothing about him except to acknowledge he was probably her husband.” He paused for a moment to let that sink in. “I look at men in a perfunctory way, Stella. I don’t see them as objects of desire.”
Marc closed his eyes a moment. “But when I saw the image of the man I’m supposed to fall in love with, I saw a man who was graceful, elegant, and sexy.” It was hard to confess something like that, even to Stella.
“Isn’t that a good thing?”
Instead of answering her question, Marc asked her one. “If you found yourself attracted to a woman, what would you do?”
“Before Derek? Honestly?”
Marc wanted honesty; that was the only way he and his family worked. “Yes.”
“I’d explore it. There would have to be a reason for the attraction, and though I might wonder why I’d only been attracted to men before her, I wouldn’t just discount the feelings because they went against everything I’d known before.”
That pretty much laid to rest most of what Marc had been worried about. He knew it wasn’t wrong to explore new avenues, and his family would certainly support him if he did bring home a man, but he still wasn’t sure if he could actually have sex with a guy. At his contemplative silence, Stella reached out and touched his hand.
“Your soul belongs to him, Marc. The mirror has made sure of that. Now all that’s left is to allow your heart, body, and mind to follow.”
“My body? So you’re saying that once I meet him, my once heterosexually orientated body will magically turn gay?”
“I have no idea, but you did say he was sexy.”
“Yes, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to go to bed with the guy. I’d have to give him my heart first before he could have my body.” The little giggle coming from Stella’s mouth had Marc looking up at her in consternation. “What?”
“I never knew you were such a romantic.”
“Shut up. I’m not.” But Marc knew he was. He would often take a woman out on several dates before going to bed with her, and if a woman insisted on sex too soon, he more than likely wouldn’t see her again. Call him old-fashioned, but he wanted to respect a woman in the morning and have that respect given in return.
“So, when are you going to meet him?”
Staring back into a sincere gaze, Marc shook his head. “I have to find him first. But do you really think I should?”
“What have you got to lose? Other than your one chance at happiness.”
Marc winced. God, his sister certainly didn’t pull any punches, but that was why he’d asked her, to get her unbiased opinion. “But is this my one chance, my only chance? If I don’t look for him, if I say no and turn my back on him, is there any possibility I can still find love with someone else?”
“I don’t know. The choice is yours, but you have to ask yourself if you could be really happy knowing that a piece of your soul is out there, waiting.”
“So it’s him or nothing.” Marc didn’t want to sound morose, but it was hard not to feel a little dejected when everything he’d thought he’d wanted was no longer his to have.
“Hey, don’t think of it that way. Think of it as knowing for certain you’ll have someone to love for the rest of your life, someone who is meant to be yours and only yours.”
Blowing out a deep breath, Marc looked at his sister and wondered if there wasn’t something magical about her too. He still wasn’t totally convinced, but she’d certainly made him think, and thinking was what he was good at. That, and planning.
* * * *
Eight nights and eight gay bars later, Marc stood in front of another and wiped his sweaty palms down the front of his suit pants. He’d loosened his tie and undone the top button of his shirt, but he still felt hot. He was nervous, as he’d been every night he’d decided to start searching, but at least he was doing something and not acting the coward he’d been before he’d spoken to his sister.
He still hadn’t made that final decision about what would happen when he found the man who matched the image, but for his own peace of mind he needed to at least find him and see if the mirror was right. Then, and only then, would he choose what to do about him.
Ignoring his twisting gut, Marc shoved open the door and walked in. The bar was like the last few he’d been in, clean and filled with music and men. A few glanced up at him as he entered, while some took more interest. Marc carefully and slowly looked around the room. He’d quickly learned that if he seemed to be searching for someone in particular, no one approached him. It was only when he looked lost or unsure did men come up to him. It had been embarrassing at first, but after several nights of being sidled up to and offered drinks, he’d gotten used to it. He was getting some pretty good experience in turning men down.
Gazing around the slightly dim interior, Marc noted the dark paneled walls, the timber floors, and the half-crescent booths that lined the walls. Together they all seemed to hint at a bygone era. Quaint, and not what he expected. Marc actually felt a little more comfortable than in the other places he’d been in, and a little more optimistic--until his scrutiny included the faces of the men in the bar and came up empty. He sighed, disappointed, the tension in his body worse than it had been before he’d stepped through the door. Contemplating a future entirely different from the one he’d planned was scary enough, but he was also beginning to worry about what would happen if he didn’t find the man he was looking for. What would his life be like then? Empty? Lonely? Not wanting to even think about the possibility, Marc squared his shoulders and decided to wait. It was early, and the man might still turn up. Spotting an empty booth tucked away in a corner, Marc started toward it, then stopped dead in his tracks.
A man angled toward him from what appeared to be the bathroom. He was tall, his long, jean-clad legs bringing him quickly across the wooden floor. Slim hips, slim waist, flat stomach, broad chest and shoulders covered in a tight black T-shirt and a loose button-down shirt. As the man got closer, Marc focused on his face. Strong jaw, full lips, straight nose, beautiful dark brown eyes, and dark, almost black, hair.
In that instant, as the man glanced his way, as their eyes met and held, recognition hit so powerfully that Marc nearly staggered backward in shock because the recognition he felt didn’t just come from the physical apparition which strode in his direction, but the absolute and unmistakable knowledge that this man belonged to him.
Stunned, Marc stood rooted to the spot, his body suddenly becoming alive with an awareness he never expected to feel. Something pulled at him, something deep inside which woke up and started a little happy dance while a hot need lit up every nerve ending until Marc thought he’d combust. It was obvious what was happening to him, but even as Marc tried to refute it, his stomach clenched at the sight of those long legs coming toward him. His heart skipped a beat, his mouth went dry, but worse, so much worse, was his cock undeniably stirred at the interest which suddenly flared deep within those dark brown eyes. What the fuck?
No. No way! He wasn’t gay, he knew he wasn’t, but despite that conviction, Marc wasn’t stupid enough to try to deny his body wanted this man, especially when he passed and Marc turned to watch, awkwardly appreciating that broad back and tight ass and inexplicably wondering how it would feel to run his hands over every muscled inch. He groaned, low and deep in his throat. What the hell was he thinking? But it was at that point Marc realized he was still thinking. Though his body had gone completely gaga, he was still able to process thoughts and feelings and knew he could easily separate the two. Relief flooded him. He could still walk away from this if he wanted to.
But he didn’t want to. Not yet. Marc didn’t need to remind himself he’d gone looking for this, looking for love, but was he going to find it in this man? According to Stella his soul was already bound to him, and the last few seconds had just proved his body didn’t seem to be having a problem, but what of his heart and mind? He hadn’t felt that love-at-first-sight thing, which was another relief, but now he had to make the decision whether he wanted to offer his heart to someone who might not even want it.
He settled his gaze on the jean-covered ass now seated at the bar, and his body gave a small shiver of awareness. Disconcerted at the way his body was reacting, Marc wondered how far it was willing to go, or how far he was willing to let it. Taking a deep breath, Marc took a few hesitant steps toward the bar. His stomach roiled, but he wasn’t sure if it was because of nerves or excitement, until his dick started clamoring for some sort of contact with the hard body he now approached. God. Unbidden thoughts and images made their presence known, ones he would never have contemplated before now, and disturbed, Marc pushed them deep into the back of his mind. His body might want, but Marc definitely wasn’t ready to admit he desired sex with a man. Not even this man.
The guy turned toward him as he sat down. Marc gazed at him for a second, at the face he knew he would never be able to forget. He was just how Marc had seen him in the mirror, but more compelling, more alive and real. He was not just an image anymore. He was flesh and blood, skin and bone, and though Marc reserved judgment on how all this was going to pan out, he couldn’t deny the effects this guy had on his psyche.
Drawn to him in a way he hadn’t thought possible, Marc couldn’t help but stare for a moment until the guy cocked an eyebrow over dark brown eyes which stared back. Realizing he needed to do something and not just sit there, realizing also this was his last chance to change his mind, Marc put both faith and fate in his hands and held out one, hating the fact it was shaking a little.
“Hi, I’m Marcus. Marc. Can I buy you a drink?”
The man glanced at Marc’s hand and then slowly took it. His grip was firm, warm, the palm and the tips of his fingers as he curled them around Marc’s slightly rough, calloused. Marc felt the heat of his touch, but before he could reflect on it, the man let go, skimming his thumb over the softer skin at the back of Marc’s hand. Marc shivered.
“Liam. And no, I’ve already got one.” He smiled, and Marc felt his gaze drawn to Liam’s mouth. He had a wide mouth with full lips, and one side turned up at a crooked angle.
“That’s okay, I can wait until you’ve finished that one,” he said, recognizing with surprise he’d just checked Liam out, again.
“You might be a long time waiting. I don’t drink more than one a night.”
“Oh.” Marc was suddenly at a loss. Was that a let-down? Was he being rejected? He hadn’t actually gained any experience in picking up a guy, so didn’t know, but Liam’s smile was still there and so was the interest in his eyes.
“You’ve never done this before, have you?” Liam asked, saving Marc from racking his brain about what to say next.
Liam leaned back against the scarred timber bar, his arm extended. “Didn’t think so, but I don’t know if I’m flattered or offended.”
“Offended?” Shit he wasn’t supposed to offend the guy. “Why?”
“Do I look like an easy lay?” Though Liam’s tone had a teasing edge to it, there was something harder in the look he gave Marc now.
“No! You don’t look anything like that at all. It’s just that, well...” This was it. This was where he explained about the mirror. It was only fair he told Liam what he was after and why, because coming on to Liam without him knowing the reason was tantamount to telling a lie, and Marc didn’t lie. During rehearsal he’d tried to make it sound logical and perfectly reasonable. Now, however, as he launched into his speech he began to realize how stupid it sounded, and by the look Liam gave him, he seemed to think so too.
About halfway through, Marc knew he was making a big mistake and ground to a halt. He was never going to explain the feeling he’d got when viewing Liam’s image in the mirror, never going to convince him of the deep-seated knowledge that what he’d been told was true, and never in a million years was he going to be able to describe what he’d felt upon seeing him or how his body had reacted, and he realized now he shouldn’t have tried. Liam leaned away from him, and Marc wished the ground would suddenly open up beneath his feet. Liam took a big swallow of his beer and carefully put the bottle back on the bar.
“Let me get this straight,” Liam said, squarely landing his gaze on Marc’s face. “You saw me in a mirror, realized I’m the man for you, you’re not gay, but you want to spend the rest of your life with me?”
“To be honest, I’m still trying to figure that out. You’re supposed to be my true love, but I’m not sure how that could work. I mean, I know it’s supposed to, but, well...”
“I’m a man.”
“So why the fuck are you talking to me?”
Liam looked decidedly pissed, and though Marc knew why, it was hard not to be upset. “Because I needed to find out. If the mirror was right and you do belong to me, then I honestly couldn’t turn my back on you, on loving you.”
“Belong to you? Are you for fucking real?”
Oh God, this was not going well. “Look, I know this sounds crazy--”
“Can’t you hear me out?” Now Marc was pissed. Shit, couldn’t the guy have just believed? But then why would he? Why would anyone? Marc knew if the roles had been reversed, he wouldn’t.
“I think you’ve said more than enough.” Liam stood, and Marc panicked. He grabbed Liam’s wrist and quickly realized how strong Liam was. His arms were solid muscle, and despite Marc using all his strength, Liam was easily able to pull free.
“Wait, please. Maybe I should try to explain it a different way.” Was there a different way?
“There’s nothing to explain. I don’t do relationships or crazy guys. Try someone else.” Liam turned; Marc grabbed his arm again.
“There isn’t anyone else,” Marc said anxiously, fully coming to terms with what all this meant. Liam was the one. Liam was his one chance at love. That’s what he’d been shown, what he’d felt, and despite not understanding why, Marc wasn’t willing let his chance go. Even if the person he was supposed to love was a man. Why didn’t matter anymore, nor did how. It just was. He tightened his grip. “Can’t be. That’s what I was trying to say. You’re mine.”
Liam turned back, and something deep within his eyes flashed. “I don’t belong to anyone, Marc.”
Marc knew if he hadn’t been so focused on Liam, he might have missed it. As it was he seriously didn’t know if he was right or not, but even as Liam denied the future they could have together, Marc was sure he saw longing deep within those dark brown depths. It floored Marc simply because the way Liam was acting, he would have said Liam definitely didn’t believe in love.
Encouraged, Marc strove for a way to change Liam’s mind. “Maybe not now, but couldn’t you at least be open to the idea? Wouldn’t you like having someone special in your life, someone special to come home to, talk to, share your problems with?”
“I just told you I don’t do relationships.”
“What if I was gay? Would that make a difference?”
A sigh of exasperation passed Liam’s lips. “You said you were straight.”
Marc nodded, then twisted his lips in what he hoped was a semblance of a smile. “Well, that’s the weird part. When I saw you walking across the room, my body reacted in a way I definitely hadn’t expected.” Not sure if he was saying the right things, Marc waited, fully aware he was still holding on to Liam’s wrist. Liam’s skin was warm against his, the strength of muscles different, but surprisingly not unpleasant.
Liam glanced down at where Marc held him, his gaze jerking back up when Marc unconsciously stroked his thumb across the back of Liam’s hand the way Liam had done to him earlier.
Thankful he’d grabbed Liam’s attention, Marc relaxed a little. “It wanted you.” He said it simply, because that was how it had felt. He may not be okay with the idea just yet, but his body definitely was.
“It? Is your body a separate entity or something?” There was amusement in Liam’s tone, which Marc was grateful for.
“Right now it is. To be honest, I still can’t get my mind around the idea of having sex with you.”
“You’re really fucked-up, aren’t you?”
Marc wasn’t sure if Liam meant that as derogatory term, or if he was just stating the obvious. He was fucked-up, but still determined to do this. He just had to prove to Liam he could. “I guess, but that still doesn’t alter the fact I want you.”
Liam sighed and sat back down on the stool to face him. “Marc, you seem like a nice guy. Fucked, but nice. But you’ve got the wrong man. What you’re looking for, I can’t offer you. I don’t do relationships. I don’t even date.” Before Marc could ask, Liam continued. “I hook up. I go with guys for sex, that’s it. I don’t want anything more in my life.”
If Marc hadn’t seen the look in Liam’s eyes earlier, he might have believed him, but that coupled with the experience with the mirror had Marc knowing otherwise. He thought for all of one second before realizing what he had to do to get Liam to change his mind. “So, if I offer sex, will you go out with me?”
Liam rolled his eyes but didn’t get off the stool to leave again, which Marc took to be a good thing. “Fuck, you’re pushy.”
Marc grinned. “I know, but then I’ve got a lot to lose if I don’t persuade you to at least give this a try.”
“Just one date. Please. See if you like it.”
“I’ll only like it if there’s sex involved. Do you really want that, Marc? Do you really want me pushing inside you, fucking you?”
Marc inwardly winced--he couldn’t help it, but then he nodded. “If that’s what it takes, yes.”
“Prove it.” Liam slid off the stool and moved closer, his hip brushing the inside of Marc’s knee. As if it’d been touched by an electric current, Marc’s body became fully aware again, lighting up and seeking more contact. Marc bit back a curse, shocked at the way his body was instinctively reacting.
“How?” he asked, holding himself still, willing his body to behave. Though he acknowledged it was definitely going to make it easier when it came to having sex with Liam, it was still fucking strange.
“Kiss me.” The words were softly spoken, and at first, Marc didn’t know if he’d heard them correctly.
“Kiss me,” Liam repeated. This time it was a challenge.
Was Liam serious? He looked serious. Marc shook his head, conscious of the people around him and how his stomach did a somersault at the idea. “I don’t do public displays.”
“Pity.” Liam moved away.
Liam stopped, waiting. The challenge was now in his eyes, and Marc was all too aware if he didn’t kiss him, Liam would walk away, and this time Marc wouldn’t be able to stop him.
Knowing he had no choice, not if he wanted any chance to pursue this, Marc gave in, hoping Liam wasn’t always going to be so demanding. “Okay,” he said, trying not to sound intimidated or afraid. How did you kiss a guy? Was it different from a girl?
Liam nodded and then sliding a hand along the top of Marc’s thigh, placed himself between Marc’s legs. Marc tensed, overly conscious of the strongly muscled thighs wedged against his, of the heat of Liam’s hand, the pressure of his fingers, of the fact that a man was caressing him, holding him. He chanced a look into Liam’s eyes and saw something he hadn’t expected--amusement edged with desire. Shit, was Liam just playing with him, or did he really want Marc to kiss him?
This close, Marc could feel Liam’s warm breath fanning across his face. It smelled faintly of beer, and as Marc licked his lips, he swore he could almost taste it. The pressure on his thigh increased as Liam’s gaze dropped to his mouth before focusing on him again. Was that a nervous gesture, or was Liam just impatient?
“You gonna do this or just keep staring at me?”
Both, Marc decided and couldn’t help a little smile. Liam tightened his grip, and Marc felt a distinct brush of a thumb against his thigh, and without any warning he became instantly hard.
Never, not once, had the touch of a man done this to him. Hell, not even a woman had managed to evoke such a response from just a touch so quickly. Yet whether it was because he was expecting it or he’d already become used to the idea that his body was betraying him in ways he never envisioned, Marc didn’t react, until he saw the brown in Liam’s eyes darken to almost black. Liam had noticed, and it was his reaction which got to Marc.
He shook, fighting the need to get off the stool and either run out of the bar or throw himself into Liam’s arms. He wasn’t going crazy, he knew he wasn’t, but goddamn this was hard to take. As if he understood, Liam relaxed his grip, but he didn’t remove his hand. Another challenge, and Marc knew he had to rise to it, or he would never earn Liam’s respect, and getting that was tantamount to getting Liam to believe him. At the glint in Liam’s eyes, Marc took a deep breath and forced himself to relax. He could do this. He had to do this. Sitting at eye level with Liam, Marc couldn’t miss the light lift of Liam’s mouth, one side turning up in that crooked way of his.
“Whenever you’re ready,” Liam goaded.
With his stomach twisting in desire--something Marc tried to ignore--he leaned forward. He only had one moment to change his mind, one infinitesimal speck in time to really consider what he was doing before it was too late. Or perhaps it was too late from the moment he’d seen Liam’s image in the mirror. Either way, Marc didn’t stop. Instead he closed his eyes against the expectation in Liam’s and slowly met Liam’s lips with his own.
That was when he froze. Overwhelmed and suddenly scared shitless he’d fuck it up, he couldn’t seem to remember what to do. The only thing he was conscious of was the panic that was eating him up from the inside. Forcing it down, Marc also forced himself to do something other than just sit there like a moron. He took a mental deep breath, then carefully and oh so slowly slid his tongue against Liam’s lower lip.
When Liam opened up for him, Marc nearly froze again before finding an inner strength to inch into the damp recess beyond. Shaking, he cautiously explored, probing the soft bed of Liam’s tongue, the edge of his teeth, the silky glide of the inside of his cheek while inwardly applauding himself on getting through this.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Liam pulled away, an appalled expression on his face.
Startled by Liam’s abrupt outburst, it took Marc a couple of seconds to figure out what he meant. “Kissing you.”
“That’s not kissing; that’s more like a medical examination.” His expression turned into a disgusted frown. “Christ, if that’s how you kiss, forget about it.”
Frightened he was blowing it, Marc snaked an arm around Liam’s waist, stopping Liam from pulling away. “Sorry,” he stammered. “It’s just that I’ve never kissed a man before. It’s different.”
“I wouldn’t know.” Liam’s body tightened beneath Marc’s restraining arm, but he didn’t put any pressure on it to pull free.
“Let me try again. Please. That’s not how I normally kiss, I promise. I was just...” God, what the hell was he doing, analyzing?
“Are you sure you want to? You look about ready to throw up.”
“No, I’m fine, and yes, I want to.” And he did, Marc realized. He really did.
Liam compressed his lips, but then he sighed. “Look, I get this is your first time, but you’re obviously thinking about it way too much. A kiss is supposed to be enjoyable, so stop worrying about it and just do it, okay?”
Marc nodded and took a deep breath; then as he exhaled, he thought fuck it. He grabbed the back of Liam’s neck and, while pulling him close, leaned in, and this time when their mouths met, he didn’t freeze. Without thought he pushed his tongue inside and with a hard sweep encouraged Liam to suck on it. The sudden blast of pleasure was a shock, but taking Liam’s advice, Marc didn’t think about what he was doing and pulled Liam closer, cradling him between his thighs. Heat spread from where they touched, and Marc instinctively opened his legs wider, overly aware of how close his straining prick was to Liam’s. He deepened the kiss, working his mouth over Liam’s soft one. Without the distraction of fear, Marc was surprised at how responsive Liam was, how perfectly their mouths fit together, and how amazing Liam tasted. His fingers tightened a little on Liam’s waist, and Liam’s palm curved around his hip. The heat melted into Marc’s skin, making him even more conscious of what he was doing, but for some reason he didn’t care, until somewhere in the middle of his first proper male kiss, he groaned, and Liam groaned with him.
Tearing his mouth away, Marc sucked in a hard, sharp breath and only just managed to stop from bringing trembling fingers to his lips. Well, fuck! Suddenly remembering he was supposed to be trying to make an impression, Marc quickly schooled his features and willed his now throbbing body to calm down.
“Better?” he asked, glad his voice didn’t betray how hard his heart was racing or how much he wanted to do that again.
“Much,” Liam answered, his tone low and gravelly.
Marc searched Liam’s eyes, looking for and finding approval, and seeing something he hadn’t expected--Liam affected by the kiss just as much as Marc was. “So, will you meet me here tomorrow?” Marc asked now, more hopeful than he was a few minutes ago.
“You really want this, don’t you?” Liam asked.
“More than I can explain. And I did try.”
Liam sighed and then slid out from between Marc’s thighs, but it was only to sit back down on the bar stool. The look he gave Marc this time was less promising.
“Please just come out with me tomorrow, and we’ll see how it goes.” Marc didn’t want to plead, but he wasn’t above it if it got him Liam.
Liam’s slight nod made Marc sigh in relief. But that relief was short-lived as unease began to thread back into his veins. He’d just made a date with a guy. A guy he’d just kissed, in public. Not sure if somewhere along the last few minutes he’d lost his mind, Marc knew he needed to go, needed to think about what he’d just done, what he’d promised to do. He climbed off the stool, thankful he’d got his body back under control, hoping he could keep control of it long enough to get him out of here with some dignity intact. But he couldn’t just leave without first making sure Liam would keep his own promise.
“Can I have your number?”
Liam’s eyes narrowed. “I’ll be here. I don’t go back on my word.”
Marc finally tore his gaze away and pulled a coaster toward him, then spotting a pen on the bar, wrote down his number and passed it to Liam. “Will you take mine?” At Liam’s questioning gaze, Marc added, “In case something goes wrong.”
Liam looked at it but didn’t pick it up. Though disappointed, Marc decided not to push his luck. Liam was obviously not used to men insisting on dates. Hell, Marc wasn’t used to making them. He eyed the door, needing that escape.
“Thank you,” he said, not sure what he was thanking Liam for. For the date? For not throwing him on his ass the second he’d started talking about the mirror? The kiss? Shit, Marc didn’t know. Probably all three, though he was thinking about the kiss more than anything else.
At the door he paused and looked back and was a little disheartened when he saw that Liam hadn’t watched him walk away, but then he saw Liam pick up the coaster and fish out his mobile phone. Marc suddenly grinned, feeling stupidly happy, and then instantly confused he felt that way. How could he be happy? He was a straight man who’d pretty much sealed his fate with a gay guy. Liam had it right. He was crazy.
Copyright © Penny Brandon