The Blurb:When a snow storm strands Javier Castillo in Italy at Christmas, it almost ruins his chance to win back a client his advertising agency desperately needs. The situation isn’t improved by the presence of his colleague, Andrew Young, a silver-tongued account director infamous for having slept with a client. Javier has a hard time respecting a man who would do anything for an account, but proximity may prove that Andrew is not quite the man Javier thought. They might have the opportunity to forge a successful business opportunity—or even a life together—if they don’t get cold feet.
“Listen, I don’t want to hear it.” The longer
the conversation went on, the less likely Andrew would be able to rescue the
pizza from the oven. The handset’s ultramodern design had no sharp angles. He
couldn’t wedge it between shoulder and ear without it slipping away, and that
meant he needed at least one hand. Rescuing a pizza that was drying out or
already burning with one hand would mean he’d burn himself, and then it would
slide off the tray and land, most likely facedown, on the kitchen tiles.
“Andy, come on.”
“Fuck ‘Andy’. It’s Andrew, and you know it,
sugar puff,” Andrew growled into the phone. That shut Chaz up. Andrew hadn’t
been aware how nasty “sugar puff” could sound if he spoke it with enough venom.
“We’ve been through this a million times, and it’s getting old. Leave me the
fuck alone, or I’ll get a restraining order. I’m not fucking joking, okay? I
don’t want to hear it anymore. You broke it off with me; then you come crawling
back. I give you another chance; then you treat me like dirt again. I’m done
with this. I’m done with hot-cold, hot-cold. I get enough ups and downs in my
job. I don’t need you to kick me in the face when you feel like it too. You’re
a cocksucker, and not in the nice way. Fuck you, Chaz.”
“I can tell you work in advert….”
Andrew hung up, feeling weird because he was
shaking, and he wasn’t sure it was all rage. Eight months of this. I love you,
I hate you, I love you, I hate you. Sometimes those swings had come in the
middle of conversations. Some kind of mental health issue. Chaz was a classical
pianist—didn’t all those guys end up insane and hanging themselves?
He put the phone down firmly on the granite
countertop, then plucked two dish towels off the rack and opened the oven. He
still, with a part of his brain, expected the smoke alarm to go off at the
sudden wave of heat, but American flats were spacious, whereas his first flat
in Sheffield had had the smoke alarm installed in the corridor, just two steps
away from the oven. Making a full English always meant inviting the fire
brigade to share.
The pizza was dried out, the cheese toward the
rim had a dark brown skin, and some sausage slices had started to turn into
carbon. Andrew ignored the health warnings about carcinogens in burned food and
neatly cut out the unburned center. The phone rang again, and he stilled, aware
that he was clutching the cutlery. Five times. Seven. Ten. Silence, when the
answering machine took care of Chaz.
This whole drama had started when they’d
decided to do “open relationship” after three months. Or rather, Chaz had so
much as told him they’d be “open” from now on. And into what kind of trouble
had that put them? Chaz immediately acquired two or maybe three other toyboys
in the musical scene. Andrew wanted to be self-righteous, but he remembered his
own McGrady disaster too well. Mixing business and pleasure. And hell, in this
whole economic mess, with nobody knowing if they’d have a job come next week,
getting that kind of boost to the ego had been too damned nice.You’re
looking great today, Mr. Young. He was a sucker for men who
complimented him. But it hadn’t actually helped his relationship much. If that
train wreck of jealous calls and mutual stalking on Facebook and LinkedIn
counted as a relationship. Fuck Chaz.
The pizza tasted like burned cardboard. He’d
craved carbs after his last stint of diet, but this wasn’t worth it. Vaguely
disgusted, he tossed the half-eaten food into the bin.
The phone began to ring again.
Andrew shot it a baleful look and headed to
his wardrobe to pack for the business trip tomorrow, blanking out the calls,
selecting tailored suits and ties, shirts, socks, and managing to squeeze in
gym kit too. He pondered taking lube and condoms.
Ever hopeful, Andrew,he
thought when he placed them into the suitcase, even though the destination was
Singapore, where homosexual acts could get him caned. He didn’t expect to do
anything there. Especially not since he was going to travel with Javier
Castillo, the group creative director he’d gotten involved to rescue the
account and smooth things over. The agency had landed a big fish with the
Singapore client, but that fish, Ms. Li, was more barracuda than trout. She was
on the verge of a fit in that very polite Asian kind of way because the
previous creative team hadn’t successfully read her mind.
Castillo was a hard-ass, but he knew his job.
Maybe some good old Latino charm might work on the lady who decided whether
that account would be renewed or not. Keeping customers was important enough at
the moment that Andrew was perfectly happy to do what it took and make sure he
had the best shot he could get. He was, after all, the responsible account
director. He’d never have gotten that far up without being efficient and
At least he’d be out of the country over
Christmas. This year he hadn’t felt like flying over to England. His older
sister was going through a bad divorce and had holed up with their parents, and
Andrew didn’t feel he had the strength to be supportive. That he’d never liked
her soon-to-be-ex wouldn’t help either. The guy had grabbed him by the lapels
at the wedding reception and called him a fucking faggot to his face, which had
set the tone. Andrew had just about managed to refrain from sending her a congratulatory
e-mail when he’d heard the news from their mother.
In any case, he had a lot of things on his own
plate at the moment—the job, Chaz, maybe returning to England. Maybe a new job,
plans that terrified him just as much as they excited him.
At the very least, the business trip meant he
could get away from it all without feeling guilty. Busy rather than heartless.
He’d deal with all the rest when he returned, just in time for the new year. He
seriously hoped 2010 would suck less than 2009.
The phone rang again.
Therewere two kinds of frequent
travelers: the ones who got more enraged every time they experienced a setback,
expecting every need to be met immediately, and the ones who took setbacks with
the resigned, dull-eyed patience of someone who was entirely too used to this
kind of thing.
Javier Castillo was in the latter category,
though he may or may not have let his Latin temper get the best of him in his
younger years. Back then, he may or may not have been enraged at being stranded
in Italy two days before Christmas, with a colleague, instead of spending time
with his family in balmy San Diego. And all of this to try and save the
agency’s collective asses. That colleague was Andrew Young, a British account
director. Javier didn’t know him well. By reputation, sure. Everyone knew
Andrew’s reputation, and that wasn’t necessarily a good thing.
It was only convenient to take a taxi
together. They worked in the same open-plan advertising office (“open spaces
for open minds”), and they had to meet the same client in Singapore.Of
coursethe travel lady had booked them on the same flight.
“Jesus, twenty-six hours of flying. You’d
think the global village had shrunk the planet somewhat,” Andrew had said.
Javier had reacted with some grouchy reply and
regretted it immediately. It wasn’t Andrew’s fault they were being sent out so
close to the holiday, after all. Javier knew his own reputation: they said he
had no sense of humor at all, that he stalked around like an angry pit bull.
He’d suspected they’d simply stereotyped Latino aggression until he caught
himself in the mirror one day and realized they were right. He stood completely
straight, with the poise and coiled strength of a boxer, ready to bash
anybody’s face in. After the initial grouchiness, he made an effort to be
friendlier to Andrew and realized the Brit had been watching him, maybe trying
to size him up.
They’d spent most of the flight talking
business, a safe topic, and Javier had realized why Andrew was an AD. He knew
his stuff and knew his clients. Plus, he had the kind of natural charm that
outstripped Javier’s hard-won people skills.
As for Javier himself, he was more a creative
type than a salesman. He could talk frankly and directly about what he and his
creative team did. He could intrigue people with his art, but he’d never been
good at setting them at ease and making them smile. He left that to the ADs. He
wasn’t idealistic enough to feel that glimmer of hope that they might pull
themselves out of the fire just by charm alone, but maybe in Andrew’s case he
could. He really was charming.
Then,of coursethere would be a freak snowstorm in Northern Italy. About ten
hours later, and they were late, circling Malpensa like an eagle trying to
land. According to the pilot, there was some kind of fuck-up on the Italian
side (of course), and they circled for half an hour more. Two and a half hours
late. Not that it had mattered in the end; their connection was grounded by
They went to the Crowne Plaza for rooms, but
everyone else seemed to have had the same idea at the same time.
In the shadow of the huge, multicolored
Christmas tree, Javier shuffled forward with the check-in line, bumping
shoulders with Andrew as one or the other shifted his weight, and every time
they touched, he felt it for the next five minutes. Tired and travel-dazed as
he was, he found his gaze wandering from admiring the architecture to admiring
the line of that pale neck, the curve of his ear, the simple aesthetic of the
human body. That aesthetic was entirely sexual for Javier.
He knew there’d be trouble when the clerks
behind the counter started getting nervous, leaning to one side to see how long
the line was, conferring with one another. He suspected the hotel was nearly
filled with the other few hundred grounded passengers. They were third and
fourth in line now; maybe they’d get lucky.
He and Andrew stood shoulder to shoulder at
the counter; they stepped up simultaneously, and the clerk glanced uneasily
between them. “Only one room,signori.”
Javier hoped he had misunderstood and it was a
question. “There’s only one room left?”
The clerk nodded. Avoiding Andrew’s eyes,
Javier set the company credit card and his passport down on the counter,
shaking his head.What else, he thought.What
“Is it a double?” Andrew jumped into the
breach. “If that’s okay, Javier.”
“It’s fine.” Javier sighed and decided he
honestly didn’t care. He’d had to share a room with a travel partner before; in
spite of what some spoiled suits thought, it wouldn’t kill either of them. He’d
ignore Andrew’s proximity, too tired to do anything about it anyway, and they’d
be back on the metaphorical road in the morning.
“Double,signore,” the clerk agreed, and passed a key card across.
“We’ll need two,” Javier said. The clerk
seemed to take this as an insult and cast him a positively dirty look. Javier
was well-accustomed to dealing with affronted artists and won the stare-down.
The clerk programmed another key card and slapped it onto the counter with ill
grace. Javier glanced at the room number, then headed for the elevator,
muttering under his breath, “If the global village makes the world smaller, I
hope it starts by cutting Italy out first.”
Andrew burst into laughter, startling Javier.
He was still smiling when they entered the elevator, and Javier studied him out
of the corner of his eye. There was an odd lightness in his expression that
didn’t seem to fit hours of travel and delays. Was it phony, or was he just
He was too drained for further small talk, but
once the door shut behind them, he suddenly realized they were alone, in a
hotel room. The beds were pushed together.
“If you want the bathroom first,” Andrew
offered, and placed the suitcase on the nearest bed. He pulled the folded
clothes out and hung them up so they wouldn’t crumple, then shed his jacket,
pulled the silver cuff links out, and rolled up his sleeves, baring pale arms
covered with barely visible blond hair. Those arms were toned, probably from
the gym, and moved with quick, clever gestures. “Want anything from the menu?”
“They have any kind of fish?” Javier
studiously turned away from Andrew and the pushed-together beds and went into
the bathroom for a shower, waiting until he’d stripped to start the water. The
four-star hotel was classy enough to have adequate hot water—probably—but he didn’t
He hung his jacket on the rack outside the
door and shed his shoes, putting them underneath the rack. He peeled his shirt
and undershirt off with a relieved sigh. In the mirror, he caught sight of the
full-color tattoo of the Virgin Mary on his right shoulder, just outside his
shoulder blade. The ink was old, faded, the lines beginning to blur, but every
time he saw it, it startled him, as if he didn’t expect it to be there on his
“Uh. Grilled fish. Swordfish, I think,” Andrew
said. Javier spotted the other man’s face in the mirror, looking through the
partly open door. They broke eye contact simultaneously. “I’ll order that.”
Javier closed the door and took in a deep
breath before he pulled off his pants and started the shower. Christ, this was
a terrible idea. He could still feel those pale eyes on him, eyebrows lifted
slightly. Clearly checking him out. No. Absolutely not. It could not happen. He
made the shower quick, forcing his mind to a different topic, wondering what
his parents and siblings were doing, calculating the time difference to New
York and San Diego, deciding if he should call. But Andrew wouldn’t leave his
mind, and he only succeeded in making himself feel dirty. He surrendered the
shower with some perfunctory comment and waited to see if Andrew would leave
the door open even a fraction. He didn’t.