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LACE



K.C. Wells



SMASHWORDS EDITION



Copyright notice

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.



Lace

Copyright © 2017 by K.C. Wells

Cover Design by Meredith Russell



Cover content is being used for illustrative purposes only and any person depicted on the cover is a model.



The trademarked products mentioned in this book are the property of their respective owners, and are recognized as such.



All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law.



Acknowledgments



Thank you to my wonderful team – Jason, Helena, Bev and Mardee.

And a huge Thank You to Meredith Russell, who really outdid herself with the cover.



Table of contents



Copyright

Acknowledgments

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

This series

Available titles

Who is Tantalus?

About the Author



~ 1 ~


“You take sugar in your coffee, don’t you?” Shawn called out as he spooned coffee into the mugs.

“Nah, gave it up,” Dave called back. “I’m sweet enough.”

Shawn smiled to himself. Never a truer word was spoken. Dave was all kinds of sweet, always had been since they were kids. Shawn’s mum used to say Dave didn’t have a mean bone in his body, and she had a point. Dave was the peacemaker, the one who could always see everyone’s point of view, and as a result, everyone liked him.

Shawn really liked him, but that was another story.

He poured boiling water into the mugs, before reaching into the fridge for the milk. “You still haven’t told me what you’re doing here.”

He caught Dave’s snort. “Wow. Feeling the love. Do I need a reason to visit my mate on the weekend?”

“No, of course you don’t.” Shawn put the milk away. When he spied the packet of chocolate-covered biscuits standing next to the biscuit tin, he grinned. The way to a man’s heart, and all that. And the way to Dave’s heart was definitely chocolate.

Except his heart’s taken, remember? Caroline? The receptionist from the gym?

Shawn didn’t want to remember. Dave and Caroline had been dating for about three months, ever since Dave had taken the plunge and asked her out. Hence the reason why his visits had become more infrequent. Considering that he and Dave had previously spent a good deal of their weekends together, Shawn wasn’t coping well with the separation. Of course, it didn’t help matters that he’d been in love with his mate for virtually the whole time they’d known each other.

Not that I’m ever going to share that particular piece of information.

A lot of Shawn’s gay friends often told tales about seducing straight guys, but that just wasn’t Shawn. What made him even more sceptical was that a lot of their stories revolved around copious amounts of alcohol and subsequent loosening of inhibitions. When Shawn brought a guy to his bed, it had to be because they both knew what they wanted.

The thought made his heart sink. And when was the last time you brought a guy home? Long enough that he was thinking about buying shares in a company that manufactured lube…

Shawn pushed down hard on his brief flare of frustration, and carried the mugs and biscuits through to the living room where Dave was sprawled on the couch, shoes kicked off, long legs crossed at the ankles. Fuck. He had bare feet. There was something about bare feet that really pushed Shawn’s buttons.

Except that bare feet could be added to a list of Shawn’s buttons, and as buttons went, that was one of the more innocuous ones.

Dave craned his neck to look at Shawn, placing his phone face down on his belly. His eyes lit up. “Aw, choccy biscuits. Mate!” He scrambled into a sitting position and reached for the packet. “How did you know? God, I need a chocolate fix.”

Shawn chuckled. “When do you not need a fix?” He put Dave’s mug on the coffee table, before taking the armchair, curling up in it and tucking his feet under him.

Dave tore open the packet and the top biscuit shattered into a million crumbs all over his jeans, sprinkling themselves onto the carpet. “Fuck. Sorry.”

“Leave it. I’ll run the hoover round later.”

Dave nodded and tipped what crumbs were left carefully onto the table. He took out a biscuit and bit into it. “Mmm, plain chocolate. My fave,” he said around a mouthful of digestive. As he got another out of the packet, he sighed. “Can’t remember the last time I had chocolate.”

“Really? How many times have you been here and there hasn’t been chocolate in some form or another?” Then Shawn smiled. “I forgot. You haven’t been around here for a while.” He kept his tone light. It was the closest he’d get to censure, and the moment he said the words, he feared he’d gone too far.

Fortunately, Dave appeared to have missed that part. “Yeah, well, I’ve been watching my figure, haven’t I?” he said gloomily.

“What the fuck for?” Shawn gazed incredulously at Dave’s toned body, the well-defined arms, the muscled thighs encased in tight jeans. He knew exactly what that gorgeous body looked like—he’d seen it often enough when he accompanied Dave to the gym. Although he always made sure to avoid taking a shower at the same time as Dave.

Shawn didn’t need any more torture.

“Had to keep in shape for Caroline, didn’t I?” Dave huffed. “Not that it matters anymore.”

Waitwhat?

“Why not?” Shawn’s heart hammered as his mind leaped to the obvious answer. They’ve split up. He’s single again.

Not that either of those options did Shawn any good. There was no way he was about to make a move on his very straight best friend.

Dave shifted on the couch, until he was perched on the edge of the seat cushion, his hands wrapped around the mug. “We had a huge row last weekend,” he confessed quietly. “Then she dumped me.”

In spite of his racing heartbeat at the confirmation of his hopes, Shawn felt badly for him. “Aw, I’m sorry. But maybe you just need some time apart. Maybe you—”

Dave shook his head. “Nice thought, but it’s not gonna work. Just leave it.” He took another biscuit from the packet and gazed at it in appreciation. “Hey, at least I get to fill my face with choccy biscuits again, right?” He gave a half smile.

Shawn wasn’t fooled by the attempt at humour.

“Wait a minute. You two were together for three months. That has to mean something, right? For all you know, this is just a hiccup,” Shawn insisted. He loved Dave enough to want him to be happy, even if it was with a woman.

Dave raised his chin and looked Shawn in the eye. “No, mate. It’s way more serious than a hiccup. You see, a lot of stuff came out last Saturday, and… ” He shook his head. “Let’s just change the subject.”

Shawn was starting to worry. He regarded Dave closely. “No. Let’s not. What stuff?” When Dave lowered his gaze, his face flushed, Shawn was intrigued. “Dave?”

Dave sighed. “I suppose I might as well tell you. Besides, the next time we go to the gym, someone’s bound to tell you. Not like that lot to keep quiet when there’s juicy gossip, right?”

Now Shawn’s interest was well and truly piqued. “What… juicy gossip?”

Dave took a mouthful of coffee. “You see, the thing is… ” Another mouthful of coffee.

Shawn had never known Dave to be so tight-lipped. “Hey,” he said softly. “You know you can tell me anything, right? I mean, how long have we been friends?”

Dave nodded. “Yeah. I know. But this was sort of personal.”

Shawn straightened, unfolding his legs. “Since when has something been so personal that you couldn’t tell me?” The confession stung him a little. Dave had been the first person Shawn had come out to, back when he was fifteen. The one person Shawn confided in, trusted… loved, outside of his family.

Dave winced. “Look, Caroline was on reception at the gym the other day, all right? She came looking for me to ask me something. And… she found me… flirting with someone.”

Shawn gaped. “She dumped you over flirting? That’s a bit extreme, don’t you think?” He peered closely at Dave. “Who were you flirting with?” He racked his brains to recall the other girls who worked with Caroline. Or maybe it was one of the women who used the ladies gym.

Dave groaned, put down his mug and cupped his head in his hands.

Okay, that was weird. “Dave? What’s the matter?” For some reason all the hairs on Shawn’s arms were standing on end.

Dave was still avoiding his gaze. “You know Jake? That guy who’s always working out in the weights room? The one who watches himself in the mirror when he’s lifting weights?”

Holy fuck.

“You were flirting… with Jake?” Shawn’s jaw dropped for a second. “Since when do you flirt with guys?” No response. “Dave? Since when does a straight guy flirt with another man?”

Dave raised his head and peered at him through his eyelashes. “Since he discovered that he’s not totally straight, but bi?”

Holiest of fucking Holy Fucks.

So many questions crowded their way into Shawn’s mind. How did you work out that you’re bi? Are you attracted to Jake? Have you ever done anything with a guy?

Of course, that segued into the most vital question of all.

Do you want to?

Sod’s Law being what it was—an outright bastard—Shawn didn’t get the chance to ask any of those all important questions, because that was the moment his phone chose to ring.

Or rather, his mother chose to call.

He gave Dave an apologetic glance, while holding on tight to the agonized groan that demanded to be set free. God, her timing sucks.

“Hey, Mum, what can I do for you?” Shawn kept his gaze focused on Dave, silently willing him to be patient, to not decide to leave—at least until Shawn had had the opportunity to ask what the hell was going on.

“Hi sweetheart, I know it’s short notice, but do you think you could come round for dinner tonight?”

“Dinner?” For a moment the word didn’t register, as if it was an alien language. Dave has turned my brain into mush. That’s what it is.

“You know, that meal at the end of the day?”

He pushed out a low growl. “We’ve talked about you and sarcasm. You’re not a good fit.”

“Well, what do you expect when you say it in that tone? Anyone would think you’d never heard the word before.”

He had to give it to his mother—sometimes her intuition was scary.

“Why the sudden invitation? I thought Saturday was your ‘stay at home with a takeaway and watch Casualty’ night.” And his idea of the most boring way to spend an evening on the planet.

“Tonight’s different. We’ve got guests coming for dinner, only one of them had to cancel, and I thought you might like to join us.”

Oh God. Sitting around the dining table with friends of his parents. Shoot me now.

“Shawn?”

He tore himself away from what was turning out to be a very distracting conversation to find Dave stuffing his feet back into his shoes, before rising up off the couch. Shawn pressed his phone to his chest and whispered, “What’s wrong?” Apart from the fact that you just confessed to being bi-sexual. His heart pounded. Don’t you dare leave. Don’t you even think about leaving.

Dave’s face was flushed. “Look, you talk to your mum. I’ll… I’ll call you later, okay? I know you have a ton of stuff to do at the weekend.” He left his mug of coffee on the table and grabbed his jacket from where he’d left it over the arm of the couch. “I’ll let myself out.”

Before Shawn could stop him, he was gone, the click of the door closing after him the only sound in the quiet flat.

Except for the muffled voice of his mother against his chest.

Shawn closed his eyes and counted to three. Slowly. Then he brought the phone to his ear. “Sorry about that, Mum. Dave was here but he had to leave.” The reason for Dave’s abrupt departure was bloody obvious. His best mate was embarrassed as hell.

“Aww. I didn’t know. I’d have asked you to say hi for me. So, about dinner,” she continued, with all the finesse of a steam roller.

“Sure. Fine. What time?” Shawn was in no mood to argue. He was still preoccupied with Dave’s shock revelation.

“Be here for six, okay? That way, we won’t be in a rush.”

“Sure. I’ll see you at six.” He finished the call, his thoughts focused on Dave. He’s bi?

Shawn wasn’t an idiot. He knew it took two to tango. But it had to be something, knowing that both of them now danced to the same kind of music, right?

Right?


* * * * * *


Dave got behind the wheel and closed the car door.

Shit. I can’t believe I told him.

He hadn’t gone there with the intention of blurting out what had happened, but as usual his mouth had run away with him. And once the words had begun to tumble from his lips, he couldn’t look at Shawn anymore. He didn’t want to see what was on his friend’s face, just in case it wasn’t good news.

Wait a minute. Good news? Just what did I expect from him?

Then he snorted. Dave regarded himself in the rear view mirror. “Did you really think he’d think badly of ya?” This was Shawn, for God’s sake. His best mate, through thick and thin. Maker of Mischief, Keeper of Secrets…

Except for the one secret Dave had thought too big to share—the reason why he’d first realized he might be bi-sexual.

When did it happen? When did my best friend morph into something different?

Dave knew that was bullshit. Shawn hadn’t changed—this was all down to him.

I guess the question should really be, when did I start looking at my best mate like he was more than a friend? Because he’d never looked at Shawn the way he’d looked at him just now. And that phone call couldn’t have come at a better time, because if not, Dave might have said something really stupid.

There was no way Dave was about to risk a friendship of so many years because he’d suddenly worked out he had the hots for his best mate.

Then it occurred to him that Shawn could look out of his window at any time. What would he think if he saw me still here, talking to myself?

Another snort. “He’d think I’d lost it.”

Dave had a sneaking suspicion Shawn wouldn’t be all that far off the mark.

Time to get out of there before he was spotted. He’d be back, of course. He’d have to apologize for leaving the way he did. Only there was another reason, wasn’t there?

Dave needed to know something, before he really did go off his head.

Is this just me getting all mixed upor is what I’m feeling real?



~ 2 ~


Shawn let himself into his parents’ house and sniffed the air. Chicken, garlic, spices…

He smiled to himself. Lovely. She’s made my favouritebutter chicken curry. His mum certainly knew how to spoil him.

Talk about a guilt trip. It had been ages since he’d been there. Not his fault—he’d only been avoiding it because Mum had an annoying habit of trying to fix him up with every stray gay guy who crossed her path. On occasions it had proved downright embarrassing.

“Hi, it’s only a burglar,” he called out. It was a standing joke every time he let himself in. Shawn had wanted to give back his keys, but Mum wouldn’t hear of it. His argument that it was no longer his home fell on deaf ears.

“We’re in the kitchen,” Mum yelled back. From the living room, Shawn caught the sound of the TV, and he couldn’t help chuckling. Guests or no guests, it seemed nothing would keep his Dad from his Saturday afternoon football. Shawn stuck his head around the door.

Dad was sitting in his armchair, slippered feet resting on Mum’s tapestry-covered footstool-cum-sewing box, his newspaper spread out over his lap, and the largest mug known to Man beside him, full of tea. On the TV screen a match was drawing to a close.

Shawn squinted at the screen and groaned. “Aw, for God’s sake. They’re losing again?”

Dad groaned. “Not so loud. They might hear you.” When Shawn frowned, he pointed to the screen. “They need all the luck they can get.”

Shawn chuckled. “I doubt they can hear me through the TV, Dad.” He inclined his head toward the kitchen. “So, who are the guests?”

His dad blinked. “Guests? There’s only Tristan.”

It took all of three seconds for Shawn to digest the information and arrive at an unfortunate conclusion. He recognized the name.

Judging from his dad’s expression, he’d just worked it out as well. “Oh, Christ. She’s at it again, isn’t she? What did she tell you this time?”

“That I was making up for a missing guest.” Shawn fought hard to keep his cool. The last time it had been on the pretext that someone wanted his accounting advice, except that the ‘someone’—Ethan—had turned out to be Mum’s new—and flamboyantly gay—neighbour. Shawn regarded his dad in dawning horror. “This Tristan… he’s her hairdresser, isn’t he? I’m sure that’s what she said his name was. Is he like Ethan?”

Dad sighed heavily. “From the glimpse I got of him when he arrived, he could be Ethan’s twin brother.” He gave Shawn an apologetic glance. “I’m sorry, lad, but you know what she’s like. She wants to see you settled down, you know, with a husband.”

Shawn’s sigh echoed his father’s. “It’s not that I mind so much, it’s the type of guys she keeps finding for me.”

Dad chuckled. “You know why, don’t you? She always goes for the ones who are obviously gay. The ones she’s not afraid of offending if she asks them.”

Shawn snorted. “You mean the camp ones. There are plenty of gay men who aren’t that obvious, you know.” Then he started laughing.

“What’s so funny?”

“Well, there was that one time, remember? When she asked the manager of the jewellery store if he was gay, and—”

“And it turned out he had a wife and two kids.” His dad shook his head. “I think if she’d been a guy, he’d have decked her.”

“Shawn? Where are you? Did you get lost on your way to the kitchen?” A couple of loud giggles followed.

Shawn exhaled loudly. “Oh well. No use putting it off, I suppose.” He winked at his dad. “Wish me luck.”

“Shawn?”

He paused at the open door. “Yeah?”

His dad grinned. “Be gentle with him. All he did was accept an invitation to dinner, remember? He has no idea about your mother’s nefarious plotting.”

Shawn pretended to consider it. “I suppose I can play nice. But if he’s as obnoxious as the last one? The gloves are off.”

Dad laughed. “Go get him. I’ll have an ambulance on standby.”

He chuckled. From the kitchen at the end of the hall, he could hear a lot of laughter, which boded well. Shawn took a deep breath and pushed open the door.

Mum was standing with her back to him, talking animatedly while she spread garlic butter over rolled out pizza dough, her version of garlic bread. Beside her was a tall drink of water with long, black hair that gleamed in the lights from above the stove. He was leaning against the fridge, in his hand a—

“Since when do you have cocktails in this house?” Shawn exclaimed, his head spinning. God Almighty, the number of times he’d suggested a cocktail he felt sure Mum would like, only to have her poo-poo the idea. And yet here she was, enjoying what looked like a Cosmo: her glass stood on the counter top.

Mum whirled around quickly, and a blob of garlic butter sailed from her knife across the room and landed on Shawn’s black shirt. He gaped as the greasy concoction slid off the black cotton and landed on his newly cleaned, shiny black shoes.

Tristan stared for a moment, mouth open, and then burst into a torrent of laughter. “Oh my,” he said, wiping his eyes.

Shawn arched his eyebrows at the pitch-perfect mimicry of George Takei. “So glad I amuse you,” he said coolly. He inclined his head toward Tristan’s cocktail glass. “I take it there’s one for me?”

Mum blinked. “I don’t even get a hug?”

“Only if you want to get garlic butter on your best blouse,” Shawn said with a sweet smile. He walked over to her and kissed her cheek. “Hi. So when are the other dinner guests arriving?” He wasn’t above making her squirm a little.

“Oh. Yes. Well.” Mum giggled nervously. “Actually, it turns out that only Tristan here could make it. Plenty more for us, then.”

“Really.” Shawn folded his arms across his chest, careful to miss the buttery stain.

She gestured toward the oven, from which emanated the delicious odours that had held his nostrils captive since he’d entered the house. “I made your favourite,” she said, smiling widely, as if this made up for the fact that she’d lied her arse off, and what was more, now realized he knew it too.

Tristan saved her from further embarrassment by pouring out a cocktail from the shaker and handing it to Shawn. “I hope you like Cosmos. I brought them with me.”

Shawn paused, the glass a scant inch from his lips. “Them?”

Tristan nodded and grabbed a nearby can, holding it out for Shawn to examine.

“Cosmo in a can. Handy.” Shawn took a sip and winced. “Bloody hell, it’s pure sugar.”

“I like it,” Mum said brightly, her discomfiture forgotten. “You were right, you know, all those times you told me I’d love cocktails.”

“Hmm, imagine that,” Shawn murmured. “A gay man who knows about cocktails. That’s right up there with queers who love show tunes, those who live for fashion and sassy sarcasm, and… ” He couldn’t resist. “What about that other oft-used gay stereotype that we know and love—the gay hairdresser?”

Tristan pursed his full lips. “Not every hairdresser is gay, you know.”

Shawn took one look at Tristan’s eyes, noting the mascara, then the regulation skinny jeans and tight-fitting T-shirt, and finally the smooth sheen of his hair. “Mm-hmm.”

Tristan snorted. “I mean, if you’d just met me on the street, could you tell I was gay?”

Shawn blinked. His mum blinked. From their mouths came one word in perfect synchronization. “Yes.”

Tristan opened his eyes wide. “Really?”

It was all Shawn could do to keep from laughing out loud. He’s got to be kidding! Tristan was camp enough to set off every gaydar within a hundred mile radius. Then he realized he was really underestimating Tristan’s range.

This is getting way too surreal. I’m gonna need a ton more alcohol if I’m gonna survive this dinner.

Shawn downed his cocktail, wincing at its sweetness, and then held out his empty glass. “Got any more?”

Tristan’s face lit up. “Sure.” From a plastic bag on the floor, he pulled a couple of cans. “I’ve got Mojitos and Sex on the Beach.”

“I’ll have the sex, please,” Shawn said with a grin, loving the gasp from his mum. He was past caring. Dinner had all the makings of The Meal From Hell, and he figured the more alcohol he consumed, the less likely he’d be to remember even one second of it in the morning.


* * * * * *


“That was delicious,” Tristan declared, dabbing his lips with his napkin. “I would never have thought of serving pizza garlic bread with an Indian curry, but it just goes to show, I don’t know everything.” He put down his napkin and steepled his long fingers, the nails perfectly manicured.

Understatement of the decade was the first response to flicker through Shawn’s mind. Instead he went with polite. “Actually, Mum makes it because it’s my favourite.”

Tristan beamed at her. “Aww, Sharon. You spoil him something rotten.”

For some reason the comment stuck in Shawn’s throat, but before he could get a barb in, Tristan turned those big brown eyes on him. “So. Sharon tells me you’re an accountant. That sounds… interesting.”

Next to him, Dad winced.

Shawn snorted. “What you really mean, but are too polite to say, is boring.” He waved a hand dismissively in the air. “You wouldn’t be the first.”

His response appeared to have emboldened Tristan. “Yes, well, since you said it first… ” He laughed. “I mean, who decides that it’s their dream to be an accountant?”

Across the table, Mum blinked, and then her gaze flickered nervously in Shawn’s direction. Dad shook his head slowly, and gave Tristan a pitying glance.

Shawn had no such sympathies.

Okay. The gloves are officially off.

Shawn gave Tristan a sweet smile. “So, Tristan, you’re a hairdresser.”

Tristan flinched ever so slightly. “I prefer the term, ‘stylist’ myself.”

“I’ll just bet you do,” Shawn said, making sure not to dim the wattage of his smile. “Do you own the salon?”

Tristan shook his head. “Marie owns it. I just started working for her last month.”

Shawn opened his eyes wide. “Last month? My, you must have only just graduated from sweeping the hair off the floor. Does Marie let you cut hair, or haven’t you progressed that far up the professional ladder yet?” He caught his dad’s smothered chuckle.

Tristan’s mouth tightened. “She says I might be cutting hair in a month or so. Right now I’m on blowdrying.”

Shawn nodded sagely. “That means she has you working with all the pensioners, right? She’s not ready to let you loose yet on the general public with a pair of scissors.” Before Tristan could get a word in, Shawn leaned forward. “But you want to have your own salon one day, right?”

Tristan nodded eagerly. “That’s my dream. I—”

“Well, when that day arrives, you’re going to need someone like me, because without me, the tax man is going to take you for every penny he can. And it’ll be someone like me who advises you on how to make sure that doesn’t happen. Bet you won’t think accountants are boring then, will you?” Even as he said the words, Shawn regretted them. He was being a first class bitch. Worse still, he knew why he was doing it, and it had nothing to do with Tristan.

It had everything to do with his mum interrupting what could potentially have been a really crucial conversation with Dave. It had everything to do with her trying to fix him up with any old boyfriend, when who he really wanted was Dave.

Tristan pushed back his chair and stood. “Excuse me, I… just need to go to the bathroom.” He left the dining room in an awful hurry.

Dad coughed. “I think I’ll just step out the back door and smoke my pipe for a minute.” He gave Shawn a keen look before leaving the room. Shawn couldn’t miss his dad’s shaking shoulders as he exited.

Mum wasn’t amused, however. Not in the slightest.


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