Even hot messes need a happily ever after.
the quiet help of his wealthy family, Sebastian “Baz”
Acker has successfully kept his painful past at bay. But as the end
of college draws near, his friends—his buffer zone—are
preparing to move on, while his own life is at a crippling
standstill. With loneliness bearing down on him, Baz hooks up—then
opens up—with Elijah Prince, the guy Baz took a bullet for last
year. The aftershocks of their one-night stand leave giant cracks in
Baz’s carefully constructed armor. For the first time, the
prospect isn’t terrifying.
Accustomed to escaping
his demons by withdrawing into his imagination, Elijah isn’t
used to having a happy herd of friends. He’s even less
comfortable as the object of a notorious playboy’s affections.
Yet all signs seem to indicate this time happiness might be within
his grasp. When Baz’s mother runs for a highly sought-after
public office, the media hounds drag Baz’s and Elijah’s
pasts into the light. In the blinding glare, Baz and Elijah face the
ultimate test: discovering if they’re stronger together…or
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copyright of this work.
book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and
incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been
used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any
resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale, or
organizations is entirely coincidental.
Heidi Cullinan, POB 425, Ames, Iowa 50010
Copyright © 2017 by Heidi Cullinan
Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced
in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the
case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
First publication 2015
For K.A. Mitchell.
Table of Contents
Books in the Love Lessons Series
books by Heidi Cullinan
thanks to Elizabeth Perry for alpha reading and letting me bleed off
some production nerves during the initial draft, Damon Suede for
helping me clean myself up, Sasha Knight for being my favorite editor
in the entire universe, Kanaxa for the amazing covers, Dan Cullinan
for doing all the dishes, laundry, and general cleanup, Anna for
eating weird things out of cans instead of actual meals while I holed
up in my office, and Pastor Larry Trachte for being the best campus
pastor there ever was. Thanks also to Sandy C for some excellent
eagle-eye notes, and as always huge, huge love to Lillie for combing
through this series on the second edition and helping me make it a
bit smoother all around. I am Lillie for life.
Thanks as always and
especially to my patrons, especially Rosie Moewe, Pamela Bartual,
Erin Sharpe, Tiffany Miller, Sarah Plunkett, Sarah M, Sandy C, Chris
Klaene, and Marie. I couldn’t drive the Tesla without you.
I think we ought to live happily ever after.
—Howl in Howl’s Moving Castle
FAR AS Elijah Prince was concerned, gay weddings could choke
on their own cheery goddamned glitter and die.
He sat alone in the
back of the overflowing reception hall, framed by floral, ribbon, and
balloon garlands aesthetically balanced on the head of the most
fabulous of pins. The decor came courtesy of the high-priced wedding
planner one of the grooms, Walter, had imported from his native
Chicago, because only the best would be procured for his darling
Kelly. The chairs and tables, decorated with runners of Italian silk,
were Disney-movie themed, because Kelly ate, breathed, and farted
The grooms had arrived
at the reception via a fucking horse-drawn carriage. The
wedding party’s table was bedecked in Tangled colors and
paraphernalia: little-girl purple and Rapunzel-hair gold weaving
between toy figurines and play sets. The space for parents and
immediate family sported colors and action figures from Beauty and
the Beast, a sea of bright blue and a gold which should
have clashed with the Rapunzel yellow yet somehow didn’t.
Elijah was at one of
the sections reserved for the choirs and orchestra. His table’s
theme was light blue and white, for Frozen. It made him want
to gag. He was the only social orphan at the music table, possibly at
the entire wedding. Giles Mulder, Aaron Seavers, and Mina Stevenson
were at the table legitimately. Giles and Mina were in the Saint
Timothy orchestra, Aaron choir, and they all three had roles in one
form or another in the all-male and all-female a cappella groups from
Aaron had already
broken ranks, leaving the wedding party to snuggle at the music table
with Giles, but though Elijah attended Saint Timothy too, he was in
zero musical groups. No doubt someone, probably Aaron, had pleaded
with Walter and Kelly on Elijah’s behalf to give him an
exemption to sit with the musical people.
It didn’t matter
how bitter and nasty Elijah was. Giles and Aaron had decided to adopt
him, and apparently they intended to never leave him behind. Elijah
often loathed the level of their intrusion, except when he was weak
enough to admit it was sometimes the only thing keeping him going.
“What are your
plans for this summer, Elijah?” Mina asked this as Aaron made
his Anna figure flirt with Giles’s Kristoff. When Giles had
Kristoff respond with bald innuendo, Mina laughed and launched a
handful of table confetti at them so it appeared to come from her
Elijah nudged his plate
hard enough to knock his Sven figure onto its side as he slumped
deeper into his seat. “Pastor Schulz got me a job at the
cafeteria. Doing dishes and taking out the garbage.” He felt
bad about the note of complaint and cleared his throat. “I’m
glad to have it.”
still moving into the White House with us this fall, right?”
Elijah nodded without
enthusiasm. The White House was the old mansion north of the music
building that traditionally provided off-campus housing for music
students. Aaron and Giles would be there, as would Mina and her
friend Jilly. Elijah was slated to room with Giles’s old
roommate, Brian, who with Elijah would be the other non-music person.
It was all tidily arranged.
Except everyone else
would be paying rent, whereas Elijah’s portion would be paid
out of the pity fund Walter Davidson, née Lucas, had set up
for Elijah because he was now officially without parental support.
The money in the trust would cover his tuition and any books and
supplies his summer job wouldn’t.
A familiar chuckle sent
a shiver down Elijah’s spine, and he let his gaze slip to the
tall, smiling young man wearing sunglasses at the other end of their
table. Baz Acker would be at the White House too.
Mina caught Elijah’s
hand discreetly under the table and squeezed. “Let people care
for you, okay? You’re owed a little kickback from the game of
“It feels weird.”
Elijah buried his Sven figure deeper under his plate and cast a
caustic glare Aaron’s direction, waiting for him to point out
Elijah used to hate how no one would help him.
Aaron fixed his gaze on
his plate, his pretty-boy expression taking on shadows. “I
know. But it gets easier, I promise.”
It should have
comforted him, this reminder that yes, Aaron did understand. He’d
been a stalwart protector of Elijah since he found out they both had
remix variations on shit-tastic parents. But as usual, Elijah
exhibited an allergic reaction to kindness. “Maybe I should
find an even sorrier sap than me to coach through his hell, since it
worked so well for you.”
Giles glared at Elijah
and punched him in the arm.
going to be fine. It hasn’t been long since…everything.”
Mina put a hand in the center of Elijah’s back. “Give
yourself space to find your feet. Take comfort in people removing
some of your concerns.”
helped myself since I was in middle school. I don’t like this
attention, the owing people.”
This comment turned the
gentle massage at his back into a pointed nudge. “When you were
helping yourself in middle and high school, your parents hadn’t
attempted to gun you down in the middle of a college campus.”
“Yeah, well, they
did plenty of shit almost as bad before, but nobody saw.”
“I think it’s
why we want to help you. We know you faced worse, and it upsets us.”
“Yes, but these
people donating to the damn trust fund don’t know me. They only
feel sorry for me.” Given the burgeoning tally of how much poor
Elijah money Walter had collected, a whole lot of people felt
sorry for him. It weirded him the fuck out.
feel sorry for you if they talk to you for more than five minutes,”
Giles drawled. This time Aaron punched him in the arm.
Mina ignored them both
and kept soothing Elijah. “Maybe some feel sorry. But anyone
there that day, any of our parents and families—we understand
exactly what kind of hell you were living with. We want to take some
of it away from you.”
erase hell with a check. Before Elijah could figure out a less
caustic way to phrase that, Walter’s friend Cara stood up to
make a toast, and the conversation came to a blissful end.
The first attendant’s
speech was cute, but a little too much so. When it ended with someone
clinking a spoon against a wineglass, inspiring the grooms to kiss,
Elijah slipped a flask of cheap whiskey out of his suit coat pocket
and took a heavy pull. When everyone whooped and catcalled because
Walter pulled Kelly across his lap and kissed him deeper, Elijah
emptied the flask some more.
“Go for the
tonsils, Lucas,” Baz Acker called.
Elijah tipped his head
all the way back, fully intending to drown himself in blissful,
drunken oblivion, but before he could, Giles leaned across the table
and swiped the flask from Elijah’s hand.
Elijah glared and tried to retrieve his alcohol.
Giles moved it out of
reach. “You’re sleeping in the same room as me, and I’m
not spending the night listening to you retch into the toilet.”
He tucked the flask into his jacket pocket and passed over a bottle
of water. “Salvo is going up to sing. Mina will want you to
Elijah pasted on a
polite expression as Salvo assumed their position on the stage.
Though Elijah still didn’t want to be here, Giles was right
about Mina, and he kept his grouchiness to himself.
They performed an a
cappella version of “Something That I Want”, which Elijah
knew from watching the girls rehearse was a song that played over the
credits of Tangled, Kelly Davidson’s favorite movie of
all time. The song was cheesy and this Disney movie shit was totally
fucking OTT, but Mina sang wicked lead, and Elijah tapped his toe
despite himself. Kelly got up and danced with them, sort of singing
but mostly vacillating between blushing and flirting outrageously
with his groom, who sat on a chair in front of the stage and ate up
the performance with a spoon.
As the song concluded
and the audience clapped, Salvo retreated to the wings, and the
Ambassadors got up from the table to take their place.
Saying the Ambassadors
were hot was like saying water was wet. Each member was either
out-and-out gorgeous or exuding so much raw character their rougher
mugs only added to their draw. They smelled good as well—this
close up, one good deep breath filled Elijah’s sinuses with
enough man sweat to give him a semi. Aaron was in the Ambassadors,
and while he wasn’t Elijah’s type, he wasn’t
painful to look at, especially when he was lost in the joy of a song.
In the same way Kelly had joined Salvo for their number, Walter
became an honorary Ambassador, and his winks and smiles poked through
Elijah’s natural crankiness and cranked up his libido. Walter
was Exhibit A of gay-boy crack: flirty, charming, sexy. It was no
accident Walter was the one singing about being a heartbreaker
tearing girls apart. Anyone with a pulse would go home with
There was another
Ambassador Elijah couldn’t stop watching, though while he was
even more handsome than Walter, he also came with an overwhelming
sense of guilt and shame. Intellectually Elijah knew the limp and
occasional hitch as Sebastian Acker danced was from the hush-hush
accident in high school that had severely eclipsed his vision and
graced him with a partially titanium skeleton. Yet there was no
question the harrowing events of the nightmare afternoon with
Elijah’s parents only a few short months ago had done anything
but aggravate those ancient wounds.
How did you say I’m
sorry when your dad shoots someone in the shoulder? When someone
takes a bullet so you and others around you don’t have to? What
did it mean when said hero had already saved you once before—but
then, as now, never had so much as a casual smile for you in the
Baz smiled tonight—a
dark, delicious leer pulling at Elijah’s gut.
Elijah endured the
performance in sullen and sadly sober silence. Beside him Giles
whooped and applauded when Aaron sang solo. When Walter descended
into his adoring audience during the final chorus and the Ambassadors
urged everyone to close in on the groom, Giles rose, laughing, to
Unfortunately, at the
last second he also grabbed Elijah’s hand.
Elijah clamped a hand on his chair to keep himself from being dragged
off to the gulag.
Giles tugged Elijah to
his feet. “Yes. It’s a fucking wedding. You can resume
being a caustic asshole tomorrow, but today is Walter and Kelly’s
happily ever after, and today you’re going to dance.”
Elijah wanted to argue,
to wrestle out of Giles’s hold and describe the full detail of
how he wasn’t dancing at a wedding, ever, but Giles was
stronger than he seemed for a scrawny geek with big ears. And Elijah
might be a caustic asshole, but no, he couldn’t make a scene.
Not today, not with these people.
It was hell. The whole
day had been acid down his back, but this dance, this moment,
surrounded by the great music nerd herd, Baz less than six feet away
from him as he flirted with Walter and Kelly’s friends—this
was dancing on knives. Everyone smiling. Everyone happy. Everyone
laughing, connected, joyously united for those they loved.
Everyone but Elijah.
He moved woodenly,
trying not to stand out. Trying not to look like the short, skinny
freak he was. Mina drew him into a circle with her and Jilly. When
the song was over, Mina squeezed his hand. He stiffened, thinking
she’d haul him off for yet another fucking heart-to-heart/pep
talk, but she let him go and went to the stage. There must be another
Whatever. Elijah wasn’t
staying for it. He’d done his time. He’d danced and faked
merry. Now he needed to find somewhere to hide until this was over,
do his best to forget it ever happened. Retreating to his chair, he
scooped up his jacket, made sure his cigarettes were still there,
then dug inside Giles’s suit coat for his flask.
He’d closed his
fingers around it when the music started up. Soft, lyrical strings
caught the edge of his heart. Glancing up, he saw Giles, Mina, and a
few other orchestra people playing at the edge of the stage. In the
center, Aaron and Walter’s friend Rose stood at the mic as
Salvo and the Ambassadors fanned out around the room.
On the dance floor,
Walter and Kelly stood alone, poised and ready to dance.
The song was “I
See the Light”, another Tangled number. Aaron sang the
male part of the duet, and Walter’s friend Rose did a
less-than-Mina soprano, but mostly the music fell away in the
brilliant presence of the two young men on the dance floor. Walter
glided with suave grace, and Kelly followed with an untutored gait as
charming as Walter’s practiced moves. Around and around the
floor they spun, the soft lighting mimicking the lanterns from the
song’s source scene in Tangled, the whimsically elegant
atmosphere amplifying the moment until it resonated like a string.
It shafted Elijah
through the heart.
The flask fell from
Elijah’s hand, as did his jacket. Hypnotized, he watched the
two men dance, the song cracking open the rough leather casing he’d
wrapped around himself.
ending. Walter and Kelly Davidson would end up in a fucking suburb.
They’d adopt, or have a surrogate for their kids. Same went for
Aaron and Giles—oh, Elijah had seen their faces. They wouldn’t
go quite this fucking Disney, but they’d be just as goddamned
cute. Probably do some big song-and-dance number for the proposal
too. They’d have the singers strung out around the perimeter
same as this. They’d have an equally exquisite moment for the
ceremony itself, one defining and celebrating the two of them. They’d
have each other forever, and their union would be witnessed by a
The song ended, and
everyone clapped, many also wiping away a tear. Elijah bent to
retrieve his things, but his hand trembled, and when he dropped the
flask a second time, it skittered away from him into the crowd. He
thought about leaving it, but only for a second. He may not get a
happily ever after, but he damn well was having his fucking whiskey.
This time when he
picked it up, he gripped it tight, clutching it to his chest as he
rose. He stood on the edge of the dance floor, which was filling up
with the wedding party as the orchestra-chorus began “You’ve
Got a Friend in Me”.
Elijah glanced around
desperately for an exit. He found one, but not before his gaze once
more grazed Baz, and weakened by the hole in his armor, Elijah let
his gaze linger as the truth seeped into his heart.
going to have this. Not this kind of family. Not these kinds of
friends. Not with an Aaron or Kelly or Walter or Baz or anyone. No
one’s ever going to love me this way. I wouldn’t know
what to do with it, even if they did.
He let himself have one
moment of wallowing in misery, and then he packed the pain away, back
into the dark corner it had lived in since as early as he could
remember. He ducked through the beaming, swaying guests and escaped
out the side door, safe in the knowledge nobody was going to miss a
scrawny, scowling loser, knowing while he wasn’t ever going to
get a happily ever after, he could still find a way to get high.
THE WEDDING guests applauded, Sebastian Acker tracked Elijah’s
exit behind the darkened panels of his glasses. That last, naked
glance ghosted on his conscience the same way everything about Elijah
did. Leaning over to Marius, Baz spoke quietly in his best friend’s
ear. “Gonna nip outside.”
Marius frowned and
nodded at Damien, the third leg of their dynamic trio, who was also
the Ambassadors’ student director. “Don’t be long.
He said something about doing last call, in case people go to the
Last call. The
comment sent a jolt of sorrow through Baz, which he did his best to
smother from Marius’s notice. “Right. I’ll keep it
“If you miss it
because you were getting high in the Tesla, I’ll never forgive
With a squeeze of
Marius’s shoulder, Baz wove his way through the crowd, winking
and flirting in an attempt to hide his discomfort. When Baz slipped
around the corner of the building, he found Elijah a polite distance
away from an amicable group of middle-aged smokers. His shoulders
hunched as he sucked on a cancer stick between swigs of alcohol.
Safe and sound.
Elijah was out of the woods, Baz returned to the reception. Howard
Prince was in jail, and there was no way he could shoot an Acker and
do anything but stay there. Except no matter how Baz reassured
himself, the urge to shadow Elijah, to protect him, hadn’t
faded away after the shooting.
For now, however, Baz
had an entirely different dragon to slay.
As Baz returned to the
reception, Damien nodded toward the rest of the upperclassmen
Ambassadors leaving the banquet hall. “We’re going
downstairs. Marius found a room we could use, where we can have some
privacy. I have everybody but Aaron. You mind fetching him?”
Baz spread his fake
smile as wide as it could go. “Not at all.”
He was glad for his
sunglasses as he approached his friend, who was chatting with Giles
and two Salvo members near one of the speakers. When Baz smiled,
nobody knew the gesture didn’t make it all the way to his eyes.
have one final performance of the year.” He ruffled Aaron’s
hair. “Let’s go.”
Aaron followed Baz out
of the room. “Is something wrong? You look upset.”
wrong. Nothing I didn’t know was coming, anyway.”
“You learned the
Pink Floyd song, right? The one Damien handed out before the
Through the heavy tint
of his sunglasses, Baz saw Aaron blink. “Yes, but what—Oh.”
The Ambassadors had
been Baz’s lifeline since he joined as a freshman. They hadn’t
given a shit he was gay—some, of course, were happy to hear it
and had shown him a good time. They didn’t care about his
senator uncle and crazy political family except to crack a few jokes
about where was his Secret Service. They did care about his grim high
school history and the reason for his disabilities, but they loved
him enough not to bring it up, to help him move away from the past.
The Ambassadors were
everything to Baz. But once a year, they had to have this moment,
when the graduating seniors sang their last song. This year the
remainder of Baz’s first-year class would say goodbye—not
Baz, because he’d put off reality as long as possible. He’d
had an extra year to avoid the inevitable because anyone in music
therapy or other five-year program was still with him, but that year
was up. He couldn’t make time stand still completely.
He couldn’t keep
his Ambassadors around forever.
They wove their way
through the crush toward the basement of the marina, passing silent
rooms, a small kitchen, a storage area. In the distance, Baz heard
the other Ambassadors speaking in hushed voices.
In the center of the
room, Damien cleared his throat. “It’s been a hell of a
year. We got six new amazing members. We gained a sister choir—and
don’t think for a minute they’re not gonna kick your
asses in any tournaments you enter together.” He squeezed Baz’s
hand tight. “We had our scares. Our challenges. But we made it
through. Every man here is a hero. A brother.” He let out a
shuddering breath and lowered Baz’s hand. “I’m
gonna miss each one of you like a fucking arm.”
Baz told the tears to
fuck off. “You’ve got a lot of arms, man.”
Damien swung Baz’s
hand, lifting it, a quiet acknowledgment. “Yeah. I do.”
He pulled out a pitch pipe, blew the note and counted them in.
For the fifth time in
his life, Baz sang the graduating Ambassador brothers goodbye.
The group had been
singing “Goodbye Cruel World” at their final concert
since the early eighties, when pulling a Floyd was current. The
arrangement was pretty pedestrian, but it never altered. Maybe the
original composers could have done better, but this wasn’t a
moment for flash. This was sending graduating members home.
Baz didn’t let
himself dwell on that, not during the song. He pushed Damien up under
his solo. He felt Marius beneath him, rumbling the basement floor of
the bass section with a resonance no one would ever be able to
replicate. Baz swelled with his brothers, with Aaron and Sid and all
sixteen of the Ambassadors. He belted the last chorus with his whole
soul, his heart. The final note hovered in the air, held until the
last Ambassador ran out of breath. They kept still another four beats
after, suspending the moment as long as they could.
Then it was over.
They embraced. They
man-patted, they wept, they whispered promises to stay in touch, vows
they all knew would be more difficult to keep with each passing day,
until they were the old Ambassadors lingering alone in the homecoming
crowd, grasping for their ghost of this moment, this time. Aaron and
the other first-years had the same stunned look of horrible
realization they all did when they were the newbs—comprehension
that this was only the first goodbye, and someday it would be them
singing their last note.
If Baz could have
gotten his shit together, this would have been his last call.
Someday it would have to be. But the panic this thought instilled in
him made his paranoia about Elijah’s safety seem a moderate
worry in comparison, so he boxed the fear in the mental cell it had
crawled out of.
Baz deliberately left
embracing Damien and Marius for last. He flirted with Aaron, teasing
him about how he’d have to be Baz’s choir wingman now. He
baited Sid about being the old man in the White House with him. He
put off approaching his best friends as absolutely long as he could,
but at last they found him, and the bastards hugged him together.
goodbye.” Damien’s voice was gruff. “We’re
only moving into the Cities, and I’ll be in town a lot until
Stevie graduates in December.”
were already salt-streaked as he spoke in his calm, steady voice, so
sexy he could seduce a nun. “I’m not moving out of the
White House until the end of the month. And as Damien said, I’m
not moving far.”
Baz shut his eyes
tight. “I know.” But Marius would be in med school. How
much time for hanging out would he realistically have?
Marius removed Baz’s
glasses, bringing an uncomfortable wave of brightness that threatened
a headache, but Marius had already pulled Baz in low, blocking out
the light with his hands. “I’m not leaving you alone. I
don’t give a fuck how you try and shut me out, you can’t.
You’re my brother, and I’ve got your back. Damien and I
both do. Always.”
Damien’s vows couldn’t soothe Baz’s soul. They said
they weren’t leaving, but they were. They were starting their
real lives, ones where the three of them didn’t share a living
room and a daily schedule. Damien was getting married. Marius would
be right behind him as soon as a girl hooked him in the mouth. People
moved on. Everyone did, eventually.
Everyone but Baz.
Damien clutched Baz’s
head, kissed him on the cheek, sighed. “Enough. This isn’t
goodbye, and we have a wedding to dance at. And one of us has to stay
sober enough to drive to the hotel.”
“Well, thank God
that’s not me,” Baz quipped. “Though I suppose I
have to audition a new driver soon.”
Marius hooked his arm.
“You still have a driver.”
Baz punched Marius in
the arm, teasing him about how was he going to survive without Baz’s
sick wheels. He did what he could to distract himself from the heavy
truth. No matter what they said, this was the end.
never came cheap to Baz, and lingering with people he was about to
lose did him no favors. He knew he should celebrate this last moment,
drink up their companionship one last time, but he couldn’t.
Every second with them now was a reminder they were almost gone. What
he needed was a way to check out. He had a handful of narcotics and a
few other pharmaceuticals in his car, which combined with the fifth
stashed in the glove box would go a long way to smoothing out the
jagged edges the evening had left on him. Sex would be good too—a
rush, a release, and a blissful crash. Except everyone at this
wedding came with strings.
The memory of Elijah’s
naked gaze returned, but Baz shoved the thought away the same as he
always did. Elijah was off-limits. Baz wasn’t able to
articulate why. He only knew it was the same kind of instinct as the
one urging him to protect Elijah. Ignoring those impulses
never came with pleasant consequences.
something had changed. Tonight Elijah lingered in Baz’s mind
like a cancer. Made his feet itch, sent him to the bar for four too
many whiskey sours. Made him yearn for the pills and better booze in
Sent him out the door
via the patio where he’d last seen Elijah.
This time he didn’t
tell Marius or Damien where he was going. He was too busy talking up
a mental justification for seeking Elijah out a second time,
preemptively staunching the panic he’d feel if Elijah wasn’t
still standing there or somewhere else equally obvious. It kept
mingling with the memory of that terrible gaze, sending his anxiety
His breath caught in
exhausted relief as he saw Elijah huddled on the deck, staring out at
the lake with the same hollow expression.
Emboldened by alcohol,
driven by a loneliness scraping the bottom of his soul, Baz sauntered
over to Elijah with a rakish smile. “Hey, sailor. Care for a
BAZ GRINNED at him and waited for a reply,
Elijah, king of the acid quips and one-liners, could find nothing to
Better yet, he
completed his village-idiot look by letting his mouth hang open. Was
this a joke? Would Marius and Damien pop out of the bushes
giggle-snorting at how moronic Elijah was? Would he end up on the
stage holding flowers, and they’d laugh as pig’s blood
splashed on his head?
With a chuckle, Baz
plucked the flask from Elijah’s hand. “Whatever this is,
it must be good, if you’re numb already. Mind if I give it a
Elijah continued his
impression of a potted plant. His erection thickened as he watched
Baz’s Adam’s apple work against the whiskey, but this was
as animated as Elijah got.
Baz lowered the flask
and spat, making a face as he wiped his mouth. “Holy shit,
it tastes like rancid, hairy ass. What the hell is it, and how in
God’s name are you swallowing it?”
burned. “It was the cheapest.”
remained unreadable behind his glasses as Elijah chastised himself
for finding infinite ways to be a tool in front of the one guy he
wanted to impress. He tried to crawl into his trick head, the mental
fortress allowing him to blow anybody and sleep like a baby after,
but he couldn’t get there. All he could do was stew in the
knowledge that the only thing he was blowing right now was the
remotest prayer of Baz ever speaking to him again.
What a fuck of a
nightcap to the greatest shitshow on earth.
Except Baz didn’t
laugh, didn’t roll his eyes. He said, “I have an
eighteen-year-old bottle of Oban in my glove compartment. It’ll
ruin you for other stuff forever, but if you’re okay with that,
I’m more than willing to share.”
Baz was looking at
Elijah the same way he had the day in the parking lot in March, his
glasses knocked away and his shoulder bleeding out onto the snow as
he regarded Elijah with the strangest cocktail of hope and relief.
Rakish grin in place, Baz held out his arm.
Telling himself he
finally understood why Carrie had gone with Tommy to the prom, Elijah
tucked his slim hand into the crook of Baz’s elbow.
They walked in silence
around the marina to the parking lot, where Baz strode with purpose
toward the farthest row. For a moment Elijah tried to guess which
vehicle was Baz’s, then got completely distracted by a sleek
red car tucked beside a copse of trees. It looked about two seconds
old and slightly space-age. Elijah entertained a delicious image of
getting fucked over the hood, imagining the fit the stuck-up
middle-aged asshole who owned the thing would have if he knew a
scrawny gay kid was thinking about using his midlife crisis as a
Except they kept
getting closer to the car, until the only conclusion Elijah could
reach was that this wet dream of a machine belonged to Baz.
Baz grinned at Elijah.
“Nice, right? I’ve wanted a Tesla forever. Got it last
week. They were holding off until I got my ass together enough to
graduate, but me taking a slug in the shoulder made them soft.”
Tentatively, Elijah ran
his hands over the frame. The car was sexy as fuck, largely because
it was so quiet about it. “It’s incredible.”
“I tricked out
everything I could. I wanted the Model X for the Back to the
Future doors, but I soured when I realized it’s more of an
SUV. Plus my ceiling was $100k, and I’d get less bells and
whistles with the X.”
One hundred thousand
dollars. This car costs one hundred thousand dollars. If Elijah
had one hundred dollars, he felt dizzily rich. Of course, with his
poor Elijah fund, he could technically buy this car. And feel
guilty as fuck for wasting other people’s money. He ran his
hand over the trunk, trying and failing to comprehend the gap in
economics between the two of them.
Baz beamed like a proud
father. “I love the all-glass roof. With the performance
package, it smokes down the road. Well—so I hear. Rides pretty
driven your own car?”
locked up. “You—can’t? My dad—?”
“No. I haven’t
been able to drive since I was sixteen. In fact, I got in one good
day and one godawful night before I was done for good. Your dad had
nothing to do with this. But even if he did, it would have nothing to
do with you.”
That was a load
of shit, but Elijah was so busy being relieved he wasn’t
responsible for Baz not being able to drive his own car, all he could
do was exhale in relief.
Baz punched Elijah
lightly in the arm. “You want to molest the outside a little
longer, or you ready to sit in the cockpit?”
Elijah lit up. “You mean—drive?”
“Not after your
cheap whiskey and the good stuff I intend to offer you once we’re
inside. But we can put it on the agenda for later. Go on. Get in the
They were going to have
a later? Elijah cast a sidelong glance at Baz, again wondering if he
was walking into some kind of a setup. What the fuck is going on?
You’ve acted as if the sight of me revolted you ever since you
discovered we were attending the same college. Except for the time
you saved my life.
He couldn’t ask
any of those things, though, because as soon as he went to open the
driver’s door, he paused. “Um—where the fuck are
the door handles?”
Baz’s grin split
his face as he kept walking closer. “They’re right there.
The silver things.”
silver things flush with the side of the car. How am I supposed to—”
He stopped talking as
the handles popped out.
“They retract for
aerodynamics. Also, because it’s bitching cool. Reappear when
the keys get close.” Baz cracked the door and held it open for
Elijah. “Your car, sir.”
Elijah slid into the
Tesla. The seats were butter. It didn’t just smell like a new
car—it smelled like money. Money and geekery and
excellence. He ran his hands over the steering wheel and ghosted his
fingers over the huge glass panel on the dashboard between the wheel
and the passenger side. It was almost a built-in iPad. It was dark at
the moment, and Elijah itched to see it light up and blow his mind.
dashboard control center.” Baz gestured at it as he climbed
into the passenger side. “Full touchscreen, controls
everything. It has internet too—all but video.”
Elijah was about to ask
for the keys, but he couldn’t see an ignition switch. “How
do I turn it on?”
“Put your foot on
Elijah did. The lights
lit, the fan purred softly, but the car itself made no sound.
louder than this.” Baz gestured to the hood. “There’s
no engine there. It’s in the rear, between the wheels. About as
big as a breadbox. So in addition to the hatchback, we have storage
at the front end—they call it the frunk—where the
combustion engine would be.”
Elijah let out a sigh
full of arousal. “Holy shit, this is so fucking cool.”
“Oh, honey, this
dog has so many tricks it needs a circus. You can raise and lower the
suspension manually or let it adjust itself according to weight. You
can manipulate how the sound comes out, so it’s perfectly
situated around you as the driver or balanced between us.”
Baz whipped through a
dizzying array of features, all of them fifty times more decadent
than anything Elijah would have ever thought to dream of, let alone
expect to actually have in a car. Elijah was still hung up, though,
on the first magic trick. “How did you start the car without a
Grinning, Baz pulled a
black fob out of his pocket and dangled it between them. “This
is the key. Just needs to be in the car. Pretty standard on new
vehicles these days, but I like to think the Tesla’s is cooler.
I don’t think many start by a foot on the brake. It turns off
when we get out too, and locks itself after thirty seconds, sucking
the door handles in.”
Elijah had no idea
magic keys were standard now. He thought of the 1996 Oldsmobile his
parents had occasionally allowed him to drive, wondered briefly what
had happened to it. Since his mother was in a mental institution and
his dad in prison, neither of them could drive it right now.
Baz opened the glove
compartment and withdrew a bottle of golden alcohol. “Care for
Yeah, Elijah could
handle a little oblivion. He accepted the bottle, and after a glance
at Baz to make sure it would be okay, took a hit straight from the
fifth. The buttery, smoky scotch played on his tongue, making goose
bumps break out across his skin.
taste kept exploding in his mouth, long after he’d passed it to
Baz. “God, it makes me want a cigarette.”
“Go for it.”
Baz touched the glass screen, slid an image on the panel, and half
the car roof peeled away to reveal the increasingly purple sky.
smoke in your brand-new car.”
“Why not? I’m
going to.” Baz pulled something else out of the glove
compartment—a baggie full of small, white, rolled joints.
“Unless you have a moral objection to weed.” He waggled
his eyebrows over the top of his glasses. “They’re
“I only mind if
you don’t intend to share.”
The grin splitting
Baz’s lips gave almost as good a buzz as the lit joint he
passed to Elijah.
Leaning back, Elijah
stared up through the moonroof as the scotch and marijuana unkinked
his brain. The rawness and tension seemed to mist out of his body,
rising up toward the jet trails above. “This is nice. The only
thing that could make it better would be if I still had the Xanax
they gave me in the hospital.”
Popping the console
between them, Baz withdrew a brown bottle and tossed it into Elijah’s
Elijah stared at it. He
remembered well the blissful unplugging the drug gave him, and he
hadn’t been kidding when he’d said it would make the
moment perfect: the scotch, weed, and Xanax combined would untether
him completely, sending him blissfully into happy land. But he also
knew it came at a steep cost.
He gripped the sides of
the bottle, running his thumb over the label prescribing the medicine
to Sebastian Percival Acker. “If I take this, I’m
gonna turn into a pile of mush. I’ll grin like an idiot, dance
like a hooker, and sing like a canary.”
“Sounds good to
It did to Elijah
too…except. “I’ll also offer to blow you. A lot.
And if you don’t let me, I’ll wander off and keep trying
until someone does.”
He glanced to the side
to check how that comment was received but mentally cursed as he
remembered the glasses rendered that impossible. All he got was Baz
settling into the corner between his seat and the door, rolling the
bottle of scotch on his upraised knee. “So Xanax makes you
Elijah thought about
letting the remark stand, then decided, fuck it. It had been fun to
ride the fairy tale of Baz Acker actually giving a shit about him,
but he knew firsthand fairy tales were a lot more Grimm brothers and
much less Walt Disney. Time to lay his cards on the table. “No.
More shuts down the part of me keeping me from wandering around like
a fucking idiot. Xanax puts my internal babysitter to sleep. I’ll
want to have a good time.”
With you. Because
I’ve wanted a good time with you for a long, long while.
Baz kept quiet, moving
only to retrieve the joint and take a long drag. “It more puts
the demons to sleep for me. Though I’m impressed. I don’t
think I could cut loose enough to want to fuck just anybody.”
Elijah slugged some
scotch before he could bring himself to reply. “Less cutting
loose and more…letting out the lonely.” He played numb
fingers over the steering wheel. “I wouldn’t sleep with
“But you would
sleep with me, because I’m not just anybody? You’re gonna
give me a big head, Prince.”
I want to give you
all of the head. But the ribald response got swallowed by another
wave of guilt. “You saved my life.”
Beside him, Baz went
still. “Is that what this is about?”
Elijah frowned, not
sure what this was. “Why I want to sleep with you? No.
That’s because you’re hot. But the other thing…makes
me feel weird. And bad.”
respond right away, and Elijah kicked himself for fucking up getting
laid. He should have refused the Xanax and ridden the scene out.
Except he knew he’d have broken at some point. It was too
It was fucking unfair
how he had to go and be rational and cautious right now. Why couldn’t
he have one good night? One good time? Wasn’t he fucking owed
Baz cleared his throat.
“You still haven’t said if you want a Xanax, only
what will happen if you do.”
Say no. Be safe.
The thought drifted into Elijah’s conscience before being
drowned by a slosh of Oban. “Oh, I want one.”
Fuck those fucking
glasses. “So you were letting me know what I was buying?”
He retrieved the pill bottle from Elijah and rolled it around in his
Elijah tracked the
movement, all his emotions and fears smashing against the weed and
booze in his system. Baz cracked the medicine cap off with one hand
and split a pill with the deftness of one who’d done it a lot.
After pocketing the bottle, he held up the half-circle.
Elijah stuck out his
Laughing, Baz put the
pill between his teeth and dropped it into Elijah’s mouth.
As Elijah swallowed the
Xanax with scotch, Baz whispered kisses along his jaw, trailed down
the center of his throat, mimicking the medicine’s descent.
Elijah shut his eyes and slid his hands over Baz’s shoulders,
into his hair. When Baz pressed the nearly spent joint to his lips,
Elijah took a deep hit, holding the smoke inside him as long as he
could, wanting to fly as high as possible.
Baz brushed a dry kiss
over Elijah’s parted lips, catching the lower mound of flesh
with his teeth. “I haven’t shown you the Tesla’s
backseat.” He ran fingers down Elijah’s chest, popping
one button, another. “I can still drive there, baby.”
Elijah leaned into
those exploring fingers, wishing the futuristic Tesla had
teleportation capability. Since it didn’t, he only let himself
shiver under the blistering heat of Baz’s touch a moment before
he said, “Race you there,” and opened the door of the
ELIJAH STUMBLED out of the front seat, Baz
clutched the bottle of Oban and tried to gauge how big of a fuckup
he’d initiated. He hadn’t meant to let it go this far.
The idea of hanging out in his car with Elijah had felt so good, so
safe, he couldn’t stop himself.
Elijah opened the
passenger-side door and glared. “Fuck. You’re having
second thoughts, aren’t you. I knew it.” He pushed away
from the car.
Baz grabbed him before
he escaped his reach. “Slow down, tiger. You’re not going
If Baz hadn’t
held him so tightly, he’d have lost Elijah in the squirming.
“The fuck I’m not. I can read that expression
through those fucking glasses. Take your pity somewhere else.”
With a growl, Baz
yanked Elijah onto his lap. He winced at the impact on his bad hip,
but he swallowed the yelp of pain and focused on the more important
issue. Pulling off his glasses, he held Elijah’s chin tight.
pity you. I wouldn’t fucking do that to you.”
The manhandling and
rough tone took some of the wind out of Elijah’s sails, but not
all. “What are you doing? You’ve been fucking with
me ever since we met in Saint Paul. You haul me out of a nightmare,
but when I try to thank you, you shove me on a bus to South Dakota
with a wad of money like the sight of me revolts you.”
Baz winced. “I
“I was there. You
fucking did. And when you saw me years later in the computer lab at
Saint Timothy, you all but vomited on your way out the door. You
looked away anytime you saw me on campus—right up until you
leapt in front of a fucking bullet for me. But then you ignored me
until tonight, when you get me drunk and high and promise me sex,
don’t follow through, and I catch you wearing that face.
So fucking figure it out. You want me or not?”
Jesus Christ. Baz
opened his mouth to argue, but Elijah shifted and let in a shaft of
setting sunlight directly into his eyes. This time he did cry out, a
tight gasp of exquisite pain as he slammed his eyes shut and hunched
forward to reclaim the shadow.
Swearing under his
breath, Elijah pressed Baz’s glasses clumsily onto his face.
“You shouldn’t have taken them off.”
No, he shouldn’t
have, not facing the setting sun with a headache from the wedding
already killing him. “You said you couldn’t read my face
with them on.”
what you listen to? You won’t fuck me, but you’ll blind
yourself? What kind of screwed up are you?”
Baz pushed his glasses
into place. “I wasn’t pitying you. I was trying to decide
if I’d fucked up by hunting you down. For once I thought I’d
try to see the train wreck coming and stop it. I don’t pity
you. I worry about you.”
“How would you
fuck this up by doing me? Do you have some stupid idea I’d get
all gooey over you if you put your dick in my ass? My name’s
not Aaron Seavers, thanks.”
“I fuck shit up.
I worry about you.”
“The name is
Prince, bitch, not princess. I can take care of myself.” He
flicked Baz lightly on the nose. “You’re a lot wetter
than I thought.”
Baz nipped at Elijah’s
fingers as he pulled them away. “This the Xanax kicking in?”
“Yes. I warned
Baz skimmed his hands
up Elijah’s sides, lingering on his hipbones. Stared up at that
dark hair framing his pale face, angular features. Angry eyes that
couldn’t hide his arousal. “Still wanting to fuck me,
even though I’m wet?”
more damp than wet.” Elijah ran his fingers through Baz’s
hair. “Plus you’re one of those assholes who looks hot
when you’re emo. So, yes.”
“Climb into the
moonroof and I’ll blow you.”
To his surprise, Elijah
pouted. “But I was going to blow you.”
Baz squeezed his hip.
“Climb up there now, hooker, or I won’t put my finger in
Elijah skimmed his body
over Baz’s on his way to the roof, pausing to suck briefly on
Baz’s bottom lip. “Crying shame. I’d be the best
you ever had.”
Baz pinched his nipple.
“Up. Roof. Now.”
tipped Baz’s erection from semi to full-on painful wood. “Yes,
His foot slammed into
Baz’s hip a second time. Biting his tongue, Baz moved it to the
console and arranged Elijah’s knees against the seat, putting
his groin level with Baz’s mouth.
Elijah’s torso undulated as Baz undid his dress pants and
tugged the waistband down. “Hard to keep my balance. This
moonroof is huge. Nothing to hold on to.”
Baz skimmed the trousers to Elijah’s thighs and let the mound
of tiny ass fill his hands. Before him, Elijah’s long, red cock
swayed in front of his face.
A pinch of Elijah’s
ass sent those hands onto either side of Baz’s head. “I’ll
end up pulling it.”
sucked on the patch of skin above the dark nest of Elijah’s
groin, rubbing his chin in the wiry hair. He smiled as Elijah’s
abdomen quivered, going concave as his cock teased Baz’s
throat. Baz buried his nose in the thatch, drinking in the sweat and
smell of dick. It did more to erase the shadows from his brain than a
bottle of scotch, a bale of weed, and a basket of Xanax ever could.
“Fuck, suck it
already.” Elijah didn’t pull Baz’s hair, but he
buried his fingers deep. “And where’s the finger in my
Baz licked Elijah’s
belly and slapped his butt. “Bratty.”
gotten laid since…before.”
Empathy washed Baz out.
He stroked Elijah’s ass, his thighs. Baz licked the underside
of Elijah’s shaft. “Then let me make it good.”
want it good, I—” He gasped, tugging Baz’s hair as
Baz sucked on his balls and teased one finger at Elijah’s
As one hand kept up
insistent pressure, Baz reached the other into the console for the
vial of lube. When he found it, he switched his mouth to the other
sac and greased his finger.
Elijah cried out in
falsetto when the finger breached his ass, and he thrust his cock
into Baz’s face. “Ohgod. Please. Please.”
leave you hanging, baby.” Baz sucked on the creases of Elijah’s
thighs, moving counterpoint to the finger gently fucking from behind.
“It feels so
good.” Elijah ripped at Baz’s hair now, desperate,
crazed. “Everything feels so good.”
“Let me make it
last.” He whispered the words over Elijah’s skin, pausing
to slide his tongue up the dick brushing his cheek. “Let me
make it better.”
come—ah.” He panted as Baz added a second finger
inside him. “I’m sticking out the roof of your car. It’s
pretty obvious what we’re doing.”
Baz sucked on the tip
of Elijah’s cock, digging his tongue in the slit before pulling
away to speak. “Stick your head out the roof and enjoy your
blow job.” Baz reached for the dashboard controls with his free
hand. “We need music, though. Who’s your favorite
that’s not good make-out music. Try Hi Fashion. Unghf.
Oh my God, your fingers are long.”
Baz hadn’t heard
of the band, but Spotify had—except as soon as he keyed them
up, Elijah jerked out of euphoria.
the 70s shit. Hi Fashion. H-I Fashion, not H-I-G-H Fashion. ‘Amazing’
and ‘Lighthouse’ and ‘I’m Not Madonna’.”
Baz tried again, and
sure enough, there were all the songs Elijah had rattled off. He hit
random play, and as a bass backbeat thumped through the Tesla, he
pushed deep into the sweet ass and took Elijah’s cock into his
right—everything felt so good. His car, sexy and sleek and
keeping them safe. The music, which was kind of distilled Scissor
Sisters. The sweet abandon of Elijah’s body as Baz made love to
it, fucked it, sucked it down. The tug of Elijah’s grip on
Baz’s hair. The buzz of drugs and alcohol—it all swirled
around them, erasing the pain and darkness, leaving them with nothing
Baz wanted to make it
“I want you to
fuck me.” Elijah thrust deep into Baz’s mouth, whimpering
as a third finger speared his ass. “I need you to fuck me.”
answer, mouth too full of dick, but he didn’t have to reply as
sensation quickly overwhelmed Elijah’s ability to speak,
leaving Baz to focus on the feast. Elijah was a perfect handful,
perfect mouthful. If they moved to the backseat, Baz could sit in the
center, have Elijah straddle him backward or forward—or
both—and as the song they listened too suggested, park and
Except the two jabs to
his hip and the flash of sun in his eyes had exacted their toll.
Sometimes the right kind of bang could make all his metal insides
light up, and they did now, a nice complement to the spiderweb cracks
of pain across his skull. He needed topical analgesic for his hip,
two oxycodone and twenty minutes for it to kick in before he could
entertain any action. His flagging erection was testament. Pain could
be an aphrodisiac, yes—but not this kind.
So he drove Elijah to a
punishing climax, making him howl into the marina parking lot. He
swallowed the spray hitting the back of his throat in three thick
gulps, teasing deep into Elijah’s ass to milk him as much as
possible. Spent, Elijah went limp, and Baz lowered him to his lap,
carefully arranging him away from the angry hip.
Elijah collapsed on
Baz’s shoulder, breathing rough against his neck as he returned
to earth. Baz shut his eyes and cradled him close, aching at the way
he fit. The song playing now was sweet, and it wrapped the moment in
safety and softness.
I don’t want
this to end.
The thought sent an
electric thrill of terror through Baz. It had to be a side effect of
the drug cocktail—projected yearning from last call, watching a
high school friend get married and chase down a life Baz knew he
couldn’t have anymore. Yearning to keep Elijah close couldn’t
be real, because Baz Acker was the dictionary definition of
dissatisfaction and distraction.
Yet he couldn’t
shake wanting this moment with Elijah to stay. When Elijah pressed a
drugged, open-mouthed kiss on Baz’s neck, Baz shut his eyes and
sank into a well of safety he would have sworn ten seconds ago didn’t
This was worse than
wandering around agitated and lonely. This was what had led him
chasing after Aaron last year and eventually breaking his friend’s
heart. He couldn’t hurt Elijah. He couldn’t let anyone
hurt Elijah. He needed to text Marius, have him take Elijah to the
hotel, pour him into a bed, and apologize on behalf of his asshole
best friend. Again.
Elijah lifted his head.
Baz touched his smooth cheeks, grazing the barest hint of fuzz on his
jaw. He stared into those dark, endless eyes and got lost all over
“How about you
have a cigarette and fill your flask with Oban while I take a few
pills, and we go in and dance?” When Elijah’s mouth
flattened into a thin line of complaint, Baz pulled Elijah’s
lip into the pout he loved. “Then I’ll bring you back
here and fuck you.”
He expected a
protest—not naked yearning. “You’ll change your
Baz stroked the open
line of Elijah’s neck. “No.”
“You really want
to dance with me? In front of people?”
Baz pressed a reverent
kiss on his chin. “Especially in front of people.”
Elijah still seemed
wary. Baz vowed if he did nothing else tonight, he would wash that
DRUGS COULD make Elijah feel the way being with Baz Acker did,
he’d have died of an overdose years ago.
Baz kept his hand on
Elijah at all times, usually on his ass. When people gave them
questioning glances, Baz became more proprietary, all but pissing a
circle around Elijah.
They had to linger at
Baz’s end of the table, where he reassured Damien and Marius he
was fine, just occupied, which he punctuated with an open
grope of Elijah. For his part, Elijah tried to play giddy trick,
which wasn’t hard, but he came up short when Damien started to
“Do you think
that’s appropriate?” A darting glance indicated Elijah.
Setting his teeth in a
feral grin, Elijah leaned into Damien. “Oh, sweetie. I’m
sorry. Were you jealous?”
A feminine gasp
reminded Elijah Damien had a fiancée, but Baz’s bright
laughter cut through before panic could set in. “Down, Cujo.
He’s being a nice guy.”