“Kind of early for you to be leaving the party, isn’t it? Especially when it’s your birthday they’re celebrating.”
The corners of Roman’s eyes crinkled up when he smiled. Matthieu reflected, not for the first time, that he’d be a fine-looking man when he was old.
“Are you surprised?” He cradled his guitar safely in his arms and scooted over to make room on the edge of the dock.
Matthieu chuckled. “Not really, cher.” He toed off his boots before sitting beside Roman, the wood cool and rough beneath him. The night sky seemed to stretch on forever above him, black and smooth. “Guess the shenanigans are more my thing.”
“And that’s why you’re here with me, not there.”
“Who says I didn’t come to take you by the scruff and haul you back?”
Roman murmured to his guitar with soft notes. “Because I know you’d rather be out here where it’s quiet. I know you.”
“Too sharp for your own good, aren’t you?” And not wrong.
Looking at him, Matthieu wanted to rumple Roman’s hair; he wanted to laze the night away out here on the floating dock and take his leisure.
Take more than that, come to think of it.
He cleared his throat instead. “Still. Party or not, it’s something to celebrate, being eighteen and a man grown. All that world out there you can burn through. As much freedom as you could want, and no one tells you what you can’t do.”
“They never could.”
“From what I’ve seen, isn’t that God’s own truth?”
“You tell me.” Roman glanced sideways, puckish, at him. His fingers drifted across the strings of his guitar, playing random chords that might or might not become a song.
“Bah.” Matthieu intended to leave. He found himself lingering. There was more appeal to the quiet than the clamor, and Roman’s music... “What’s that one called?”
“Don’t know yet.” He lightly thumped the solid body of the guitar with his knuckles. “But I will.”
“Always so sure of yourself, aren’t you?”
“About some things, yeah. I am.” Roman’s sideways glance lingered, older and more thoughtful than eighteen. More knowing than men Matthieu’s age, than Matthieu himself, even with the fifteen-year age difference between them. Sometimes Roman made him feel ancient.
And sometimes he made Matthieu feel like a kid again.
Roman dabbled his toes in the water, flicking small ripples over across the tops of Matthieu’s feet. “I’ve only been here a week,” he said. “Seems like longer.”
“It can, out here,” Matthieu agreed. The swish of water made him almost sleepy. “Time forgets itself around this lake.”
Roman’s quiet laugh wasn’t as deep as Matthieu’s, but it had a certain something to it. A sort of charm.
“Hey, now. What’s so funny about that?” Matthieu splashed him with a small wave, a lazy, playful surge of water.
“Everything. Nothing.” Roman stroked the curve of his guitar, scuff marks and signs of wear and tear and all.
Matthieu hardly knew a six-string from a banjo, to tell the truth, but he thought the old instrument Roman favored wasn’t any great prize. Yet the music he could coax from her...
He propped himself on his arms and turned his half-asleep gaze to the skies above him. Stars were just beginning to pop out in the deepening dark blue. “Suit yourself, then.” Lord, but he knew he should leave.
Yet he didn’t.
“Just thinking that you’ve spent your life here.”
Matthieu shrugged. “Not all my life.”
“You grew up here.”
“I did, and moved away.”
“But you come back.”
Would you listen to him?
Matthieu knew without looking Roman would have jutted his chin, even if he smiled too. A born debater, that one. “I come back for the summers because my sister lives here. You know Justine. Nothing means more to her than family.”
Roman shrugged. “Still. You come back. That’s the main thing.”
“For a few weeks in the summers. No more.” Matthieu tilted his head back, toward the world behind them. “I’ve got a life to be living. Work to be done. The company tells me where to go fill in as foreman on construction sites, and I go.”
“Is that what you want to do for the rest of your life?”
Matthieu wanted to look back at Roman. So much that he ached with it, but Lord, didn’t he have to be on his guard around this one more often than not? It was too easy to give in and let him have everything he wanted. Too tempting to claim the things Matthieu knew he should not let himself take from a boy meant for far more than wasting his nights by a lake.
“It suits me well enough,” he answered at last. “It’s what I choose for myself.”
“Mmm.” Roman plucked an idle trio of chords.
Matthieu didn’t strain himself trying to understand what the kid meant. Just waited for it. Roman always explained himself. Sometimes too distinctly for comfort, but still. He could be relied upon to be himself.
For good or ill it was a rarer commodity in a man than one might think.
“Every summer for a few weeks,” Roman said, stroking his guitar strings in a way that drew Matthieu’s attention to the grace and strength in his fingers. He might be young, but he had a man’s hands. Clever, supple, skilled... “A collection of seven days plus seven days plus seven days. By my count you’ve only been here for one. You’re not staying longer this year?”
Seven days. Matthieu shook his head. Hard to believe he’d only known this young man for a week. Seven days by a cluster of lake houses with the smell of grilling forever in the air and the sultry sunlight baking them all brown.
Seven days to fall for him. Head over heels.
“Best I be going early this year,” he said. Safer for all of them. He only had so much restraint, and he’d used most of it already, keeping on his guard against this beautiful, confusing man.
Get through one more night, then send Roman on his way to live the life he deserved and put this summer behind him. Might not be what he wanted, but it’d do. Matthieu knew how to make do.
Still. No need to be rude either. “Eighteen. It’s a hell of a good age.” Matthieu plucked up a leaf that’d fallen from the trees above the dock and sent it spinning into the lake. “Your life starts with this summer. Don’t waste it, eh?”
“Believe me, this summer isn’t something I’m ever going to forget. Ever.
Lord, I shouldn’t be sitting this close to Roman out here by ourselves.
Too easy to be tempted, and whether Roman liked parties or not, Matthieu could smell one celebratory shot of whiskey on his breath.
Roman seemed unaffected by the liquor, except for the depths to which he looked inside himself, lost in thoughts that emerged as a scattering of slow chords. Matthieu had seen it before. Some of his best music came from that place, plucked from his heart.
He could watch Roman like that for hours. Might have, if the boy hadn’t slipped on the strings and broken a chord between notes. At that, he grimaced and ceased playing altogether.
Last thing Matthieu wanted was for Roman to stop being happy. The desire to comfort the boy made him unwise, usually. “What’s going on in that head of yours?” Matthieu kept his hands to himself. No easy task. “Enlighten me, cher.”
He thought Roman might have gone slightly pink, though it was hard to tell in the dim reflections of moonlight off the lake. “I like that you do that,” he said, awkward for once in his life. “Call me ‘cher,’ I mean.”
“Just habit. Don’t take it personal.”
“You don’t call anyone else sweet names.”
“Yeah, well.” Matthieu paddled his feet in the water, enjoying its silky, cool swish. He could feel Roman looking at him. He’d been doing that more often than not lately. Thoughtful, like he was measuring him up.
Matthieu broke the silence by rubbing the scruff on his jaw. Time for a shave. And a change of topic. Not that he’d call himself a master of conversation, more apt than not to throw out a hook and see if someone bit.
“If not back at that party, where would you rather be?” he asked Roman.
Roman’s answer was immediate. “Right here.”
Only the young could make up their minds like that, snap
, so easy. “I meant if this dock wasn’t here. Then where would you be?”
“Easy.” Roman looked forward, as if to the future. “At a cafe. Somewhere like New York. Chelsea maybe. Or San Francisco. Or a small town in the middle of nowhere. Someplace where the lights are soft and the room’s small, but there’s people grouped and people alone, drinking espresso and listening. Everything’s...full...with words and music.”
He warmed to his topic as he went on, growing animated and plying the strings of his guitar again, the notes both lighter and calmer. The kid came to life when he talked about his dreams.
“Keep on going. It’s a good story. Where are you in all of this, sitting in the crowd?”
“No. I’m on stage. It’s a small stage, just big enough for one person at a time. It’s just me, playing whatever I want.”
That was how it should be, but better. Ignorant of music’s finer points or not, even the deaf, dumb, and blind would have to confess that Roman’s gifts were made for more than playing at cafes. He’d see that himself, sooner or later. Probably sooner. Matthieu remembered being that age and how he’d known what he wanted only to change his mind a day later.
He missed that sort of conviction, truth be told. Even if it was fleeting.
Matthieu slapped his hands on his thighs, muscles bunched in preparation to rise. “Then what are you sitting around here for? Go make your dreams come true.”
Roman laid his hands flat on the guitar, one on the body and one on the flank. “Can I ask you something?”
No harm in it, he guessed. They’d move on to music and looking toward the future; safer topics, those. “Speak your piece.”
“You think it’s worth dreaming about impossible things and chasing those dreams? I mean, do you think things that shouldn’t, could
Matthieu rubbed the stubble on his chin, giving himself time to think. Maybe he’d grow a beard. He’d lived enough to know the answer to that one, but if anyone could best the odds of a world that rolled in nobody’s favor, he knew it’d be Roman. “I wouldn’t put anything past you if you put your mind to it,” he said at last. “Why?”
Roman lit up from the inside out, a low roll of fire that illuminated the something rare about him that’d captured Matthieu from the moment they said hello. “Because of this.”
He was so close. Too close, whiskey scenting the inches of air between them. Matthieu tasted it on the young man’s breath as Roman turned toward him and drew him along in his wake.
His first touch, a light stroke of guitar-calloused fingertips over Matthieu’s cheek and down his throat, scraping over stubble, shook Matthieu’s promises to himself to pieces. “Because if anything’s possible...then this must be too.”
Matthieu found the strength to stop him. Somewhere. Somehow. One last time. The brat was strong in limb and body, but Matthieu had worked construction since he was younger than Roman, and no one could ever call him a lightweight. He wrestled free of those eager caresses and planted his palms flat on Roman’s chest. “Don’t push me, boy.”
Roman wouldn’t be stopped, and he laughed as he straddled Matthieu, one knee to either side of his hips. He pushed Matthieu onto his back, then paused there, balancing himself, fighting back, asserting himself, all three at once.
By God, he was beautiful. Something a little more than human, as Matthieu had thought he’d be when he couldn’t stop himself from imagining Roman this way.
And yet...Matthieu could see the tiny hints that gave his uncertainties away: the way he caught his lower lip between his teeth to bite the plump flesh, the tiny shiver in the thighs that bracketed him, and the flashes of pleading that made him squeeze his fists.
A stronger force of nature Matthieu had yet to meet, but by God if Roman didn’t make a man want to take care of him too.
“I know myself,” Roman said quietly and in a way that could never be mistaken for a lie or a bluff. “I know I want this. Anyone else would be a poor substitute. So don’t you tell me I don’t know what I’m doing, and don’t you dare tell me I don’t want you
, because I do.”
Damn him for his insights. He wanted to reach out and take hold of Roman, and that rascal knew it.
Roman’s smile turned sleek and predatory. He reminded Matthieu of his music: beauty and fire woven together into something that would so overcome a man as to make him reckless about the scars. “I’m not a virgin. You’re not the first man I’ve had sex with.”
“Hasn’t happened yet, boy.”
“No. Call me cher. It sounds right. I want to hear it again. Don’t want to stop hearing it.”
He moved, only a little, sufficient to prove himself knowledgeable enough to settle himself on Matthieu. To nestle the temptation of his pert little ass against Matthieu’s groin. Leaving nothing to doubt, not for either of them.
Roman began to rock into him, hard, without grace or finesse but with all the power with which he played his six-string. He pressed Matthieu’s arms down to his sides and stretched himself atop Matthieu inasmuch as he could. Close enough to kiss, to tease -- to drive him mad -- with kittenlike flicks of his clever tongue across Matthieu’s lips.
“Now tell me you don’t want this,” Roman whispered. He undulated somehow, a flowing wave that dipped and rose. “Tell me you don’t want me too.”
“I told you not to push me,” Matthieu said. He no longer meant it, and Roman knew that full well.
Roman’s lips curved maddeningly, reminding Matthieu of a satisfied cat. “I am. I want to. I will.”
He pressed those sweet lips to Matthieu’s neck, biting kisses down to his shoulder, dancing his hands over sides and hips. Each sinuous twist of his body brought them closer together, the clothes that separated them chafing more by the moment and his body demanding to be free of them.
Matthieu might still have walked away if it hadn’t been for Roman’s lips tickling beneath his chin and his warm, whiskey-scented breath on his jaw, or when Roman whispered, “Please...”
Matthieu shut his eyes tightly.
“Don’t say no.” Roman slid back to rest on Matthieu’s thighs. He rested his palm over Matthieu’s cock, hard and ready and wanting him. “Let me?”