Just stay focused on the now. Don’t think about last night. Don’t worry about later. One moment at a time.
Alex felt ridiculous for giving himself a pep talk, but no one had to know he sounded like an inspirational Facebook meme when he was trying to get his shit together. Just focus.
He was so focused on finding his focus, in fact, he ran right into the tall, handsome woman lingering outside the prop tent. She had long dark hair, and her gown was clearly expensive, the kind of quality you only saw when someone could afford custom work. And she very nearly tumbled backward into an empty trough when Alex bumped into her.
“Shit!” he said, reaching out and catching her before she could fall. “Shit, I am so sorry. Are you okay?”
The woman brushed off her skirts carefully before giving Alex a long, slow once-over. Alex, for his part, refused to fidget; he knew what he looked like, wearing his wench gear, but fuck anyone who was going to judge him for doing what felt right. He’d told off more than a few judgmental assholes in his time, and one more rich bitch might even be what the doctor ordered. A little pick-me-up after the past twelve hours.
But then the woman smiled gently, inclining her head like a queen. “No harm done, good lad.” She paused, looking at Alex carefully. “Lass? Other?”
It wasn’t the first time someone had asked, not even the hundredth. But she sounded only as though she genuinely wanted to know. Considering most people didn’t bother, it warmed Alex to her instantly.
“Lad, more often than not,” he said. “Lass works as well, days like today. But really, I’m just Alex, my lady.”
“Alex.” She said his name thoughtfully, a hint of a smile tickling the corners of her mouth. “Alex, would you mind if I gave you a kiss? You seem sad, and I would love to see you smile.”
“I…I don’t even know your name, my lady. I’m not that kind of boy. Or girl.”
She laughed, face lighting up and turning her from merely handsome to an absolute stunner. Alex could only gape and wonder if this was the universe’s way of making up for getting dumped.
“You may call me Tish, my sweet Alex. I’ve always wanted to be called Tish.”
“Well then, Tish, I’m pleased to meet you.” Alex pulled his best bow, like he was playing a lord. “I’m Alex, storyteller and actor of the Faire. And I’d love a kiss from a woman as beautiful as you. That would make any dark day bright, I’m sure.”
“Oh, aren’t you a delight!” Tish cooed and stepped closer. She was a couple of inches taller than Alex and had to angle his chin up so she could press a soft, lingering kiss to his mouth.
Her touch was electrifying, and Alex’s fingers and toes tingled even as he gasped softly, leaning into her like a parched person to water. Instinctively, though, he knew to only take what she wanted to give, so all he did was whimper in complaint when she pulled back, breaking their kiss.
“I’ll be seeing you again soon, sweetheart,” Tish murmured.
By the time Alex had collected his wits and blinked, she was gone.
* * * *
Jeff rolled his shoulders as he sat back in his chair at their private campsite. They didn’t ache, exactly, but he definitely felt the work of the day. Dinner had been wonderful, definitely what he’d needed, and the ale didn’t hurt either. Sitting quietly, he let the sound of Alex’s and Bryan’s voices wash over him, underlined by the soft sound of the guitar never far from Quentin’s hands.
Lounging in his own battered folding chair on the other side of the fire, Bryan was still in his kilt, although he’d put his shirt back on. Jeff didn’t know whether to be grateful or not. Bryan’s body was beautiful and a frequent distraction. One Jeff didn’t need when he was on the way to being drunk.
Alex was looking not unlike a swashbuckler, wearing leggings and a loose shirt under a leather belt. He’d been jittery all night, unable to settle for more than a few minutes; Jeff couldn’t tell if he still had the corset on or not. He hoped not, if only because wearing it probably meant Alex was still hurting from being dumped. Jeff wanted to punch Brad for that. He’d known it wouldn’t last, knew Alex too well. But Brad had managed to find probably the most hurtful way imaginable to break up their threesome. The real problem was Brad loved himself more than he’d ever love anyone else. Jeff had a suspicion Julia would find that out for herself before too long. He shrugged. Not his problem, and it would serve her right for her part in hurting Alex.
Jeff turned his attention to Quentin, who seemed even more quiet than usual. His expression was unreadable and distant. Jeff never knew if it was because he was focused on music to the exclusion of everything else or if there was something else behind it. He suspected the latter. Quentin kept his cards close to his chest, always had, although he’d gradually become more open to the three of them over the past year. He wouldn’t talk about his parents, had barely mentioned a sister once. Jeff understood family tension and left it alone, but it worried him sometimes. He’d caught those flashes of pain and loss too often not to worry. He reached out to put a hand on Quentin’s shoulder, smiling faintly when Q looked up. “Buy you a drink?”
“Get me a refill too?” Alex called as he stretched out on top of their wooden picnic table.
“I’m not sure you need another drink. Not if you’re lying on the table already.” Jeff laughed and patted Quentin’s shoulder as he stood, then flicked Alex’s ear. “What about you, Bry?”
Bryan smiled, teeth bright in the growing twilight. “Yeah, I could go for another. My arm’s fucking killing me; the new kid hits like a damn train.”
Jeff nodded, then rested his hand on Quentin’s head briefly before running his fingers through the light brown hair that didn’t quite reach Quentin’s shoulders. “You didn’t say, Q—thirsty?”
“Sure.” Quentin shrugged. “May as well.”
Jeff gathered their mugs and refilled them from the cask he’d brought with them. He handed two of the mugs to Bryan. “Hold Alex’s for him until he gets off the table.”
“Fuck you. I’m comfortable,” Alex said with a grin.
“I could always drink both of these,” Bryan teased, winking at Jeff and sliding onto one of the wooden benches at the table.
The ploy worked, though, and Alex got up, making grabby hands for his mug. “Gimme.”
Quentin laughed as he accepted his mug from Jeff. “I kind of wanted to see Alex try to drink his while lying down.”
“I’ll have you know I can work magic with these lips. Magic
.” Alex smirked before sitting down next to Bryan again, picking up the thread of their earlier conversation about sword fighting for the stage.
“I’ve heard that about him,” Quentin said quietly to Jeff, who snorted out a laugh.
“Yeah, that’s the story.” Jeff settled back into his spot, foot smacking something on the ground. He bent to pick it up and found a flask he’d never seen before. It was generous in size, silver, with a crescent moon embossed on the side. “Is this yours, Q?”
Quentin shook his head. “Never seen it before. It’s a nice flask, though. Maybe it’s Alex’s?”
“Hey, guys?” Jeff interrupted the other two. “This either of yours? It was on the ground next to my seat.”
Bryan shook his head, but Alex looked at it curiously. “It seems familiar. Not sure why, though.”
“Anything in it?” Bryan asked. “Maybe it’s a gift from the fairies to help celebrate Midsummer.”
Jeff cocked an eyebrow at Bryan, even as he shook the flask lightly. “It feels full. Fairies, really?” He turned the flask in his hands. “If you think it’s from the fairies, then we definitely shouldn’t drink any. We shouldn’t anyway, not if no one knows where it came from.”
“Would be rude to turn away a gift,” Bryan said with a shrug. “Besides, who’s going to try to roofie us here?”
“Might not be a roofie,” Jeff said reasonably. He set the flask down on the table and took a deep drink from his mug. “There are all kinds of drugs.”
Quentin grabbed the flask and opened it, sticking it under his nose. He shrugged. “It smells like…I don’t know, like early morning. Clean.”
“There it is!” A man dropped down in the seat next to Quentin. He wore green leggings, a tan-and-gold doublet, and calf-hugging boots that fit too well to be anything other than custom-made. He looked to be pushing forty, and his dark hair was carefully styled, tall and vaguely reminiscent of Elvis.
Jeff had never seen him before in his life.
“I’ve been looking all over for that!” The stranger plucked the flask from Quentin’s fingers and took a quick nip before offering it to Jeff. When Jeff just stared at him, the man shrugged and drank again before screwing the lid back on. “You boys ready for the big spectacular tomorrow?”
“If we aren’t now, we will be by then,” Jeff said coolly. His head was vaguely fuzzy from the ale, but he focused on the man intently. “I don’t recognize you. Is this your first year at the Faire?”
“Oh, I’ve had many affairs in my time,” the stranger said with a laugh. He had the faintest of accents, like he was going for Irish or Scots and wound up somewhere out to sea instead. “But I don’t think I’ve been to this particular one before. I’m Puck.”
“Puck?” Alex said, frowning. “I thought Chris from the fortune-teller camp was playing Puck this year.”
“And I’m sure he’ll do a lovely job too. But I was telling you my name.” He shrugged. “My role, on the other hand, is a tad more complicated, though right now I’m mostly focusing on drinking as much of this moonshine as I can manage before I pass out.”
“Right.” Jeff shook his head. “Well, Puck
, I’m glad I found your flask for you.”
“Be nice, Jeff.” Quentin kicked him under the table. Jeff looked at him in surprise; this wasn’t Q’s style. Q shrugged. “He seems harmless.”
For some reason, that entertained the hell out of Puck, but he offered Quentin a hand. “Nice to meet you. Want a drink?”
Quentin nodded almost defiantly. “Yes,” he said. “I’m Quentin. Thank you.”
Jeff almost stopped him, but Q had the flask to his lips before Jeff could do more than blink.
“How about you boys?” Puck looked over at Bryan and Alex.
Alex was nodding before he’d finished the question. “Sure,” he said, already a little tipsy from all the ale.
“What’s in it?” Bryan asked, at least showing some common sense.
Puck grinned. “What else? Moonshine.”
Elizabeth Silver & Jenny Urban