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by Madeleine Urban, Abigail Roux
Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica
Description: Cameron Jacobs is an open book. He considers himself a common waiter with normal friends, boring hobbies, harmless dogs, and nothing even resembling a secret... except a crush on a tall, dark, devastatingly handsome man who dines alone at his restaurant on Tuesday nights. All it takes is one passionate night with Julian Cross to turn Cameron's world on its head. Julian's love and devotion are all Cameron could have hoped for and more. But when his ordinary life meets and clashes with Julian's extraordinary lifestyle, Cameron discovers that trust and fear can go hand in hand, and love is just a step away from danger.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2009 2009
eBookwise Release Date: November 2009
232 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [429 KB]
Reading time: 285-400 min.
...a wonderful edge of your seat book. 5 or 5 Divas Jen @ Dark Diva Reviews
* * * *
"Cam? He's back."
The waiter looked up from the bottle of wine he was corking. "He?"
Miri Taylor rolled her expressive eyes and tipped her head to one side, sending the long blonde tail of hair off her shoulder. "Yes. He. You know; tall, dark, devastatingly handsome, always comes alone on Tuesday nights, always writing in the little notepad--"
"Always orders the special and no dessert. Yes, I remember," Cameron Jacobs answered hastily, going back to the bottle in an effort to hide the little jump in his nerves.
"Well, Mr. Nichols put him in your section again," Miri informed him with a smirk. "Did you ask for him to be seated in your section? That's like six times in a row!"
"Is it?" Cameron asked nonchalantly, although for the past month and a half he had looked forward to Tuesday nights like nothing else for that very reason. "I hadn't really thought about it," he lied. "I do work sixty-plus hours a week, you know," he reminded her. "I don't always remember everyone."
"Yes, you do," Miri argued.
Cameron gave her a sideways glance and tried not to smile.
"Well, you'd better get out there," she urged as she glanced through the slats of the fashionable wooden shutters that hid the service area from the rest of the restaurant. "That man is so fine," she muttered to herself.
Cameron stifled a laugh. He finished with the bottle and took a deep breath to calm the sudden racing of his heart. "Put this back in the cooler, would you?" he requested as he handed Miri the bottle and headed out to the floor.
Carefully recessed lights, candles on every table, and tiny, twinkling lights reflecting off the soaring glass ceiling lit the dining room. Large, clear windows along one wall offered a look at Chicago's sparkling skyline, and tables dressed with fine linen, crystal, and china were spread about the ample space on varying levels. Soft jazz filled the air, just under the quiet buzz of voices highlighted by the clinks of utensils on plates and the scratch of chairs moving on the floor. Keri, the restaurant's chief hostess, escorted a couple from the full waiting area to a solitary open table while many other patrons waited patiently, plied with champagne and light hors d'oeuvres.
Because at the four-star restaurant named Tuesdays, the food and service were said to be impeccable.
Cameron moved silently through the tables, his slight frame ghosting along in the all-black wait staff uniform. He wasn't the type of man one tended to notice right off; he was trim and a little wiry, of average height and build, and he kept his brown hair cut short and neat. His quiet personality and tendency toward introversion made him naturally discreet while working, and his pleasant but unremarkable appearance made him perfect for scooting behind chairs and reaching around people with plates, coming and going without garnering attention or interrupting a patron's meal.
He was perfect for what he did, and he enjoyed it. But tonight there was a little more to it.
Pausing near a burbling fountain, Cameron looked across the room at his goal: a quiet alcove for two, where one man sat alone.
He'd been coming to the restaurant sporadically since it had opened eight years ago, but in the past year or so he'd become a regular. Met at the door of Tuesdays by the restaurant's owner every time he came to eat, he always sat at the same table. He was there once a week, always on a Tuesday, whether by design Cameron couldn't have guessed. He always ordered the special--without looking at what it might be that day--and the house wine, but declined dessert.
Cameron knew these details like he knew hundreds of other tidbits about his regular patrons, people who frequented the fine restaurant and valued the renowned service. It was one of the many traits that made him excellent at his job.
His competence gave him confidence he wouldn't otherwise have had. Here at Tuesdays, he could handle these repeated encounters with the mysterious him.
Cameron came to a silent halt at the table and spoke softly. "Good evening, sir. The evening special and house wine?" he offered knowingly. It was the same thing he asked every week. He'd stopped introducing himself several months ago.
The dark man looked up at Cameron's approach and nodded wordlessly. Cameron bowed slightly and collected the untouched menu. The patron had always been this way. The first night Cameron had served him, a long finger had jabbed at the specials card and the house wine listing. He had never said a word then or since--at least not to Cameron--only nodding or shaking his head. Cameron never pressed him, and he'd started making an effort to ask questions in a way the man could answer without much trouble. He'd wondered more than once if the man could speak at all.
"Bring an extra glass, please," the man asked abruptly as Cameron turned away. His voice was barely there, much quieter than his large frame and dark, slightly ominous looks suggested it would be. It was as if it had wilted from disuse.
Cameron turned back, eyes a little wider than usual. "Of course," he said, hoping the surprise didn't show. "Anything else?" he asked before inwardly berating himself for sounding like an idiot as he stared at his normally silent customer.
The man shook his head curtly, the motion one sharp jerk of his chin to the left.
"Yes, sir," Cameron murmured, and he went on his way.
The man's voice, hoarse and raspy, echoed in his head. Cameron was sure he'd never forget the sound of it. And another glass? The enigmatic customer was one of the staff's favorite mysteries and thus a near endless source of gossip and intrigue. Each person had a theory, fantasy, or story about him. If anyone had seen the man speak to him, it would send the entire wait staff into a tizzy. Every little tidbit they could glean simply fueled their interest.
Cameron's heart beat a little faster as he thought about the extra glass, and he wasn't quite sure why. He collected the wine and the glasses from the bar, checked to make sure there were no smudges on the crystal, and returned to the table, the whole time telling himself to be cool. There was nothing to get excited about, he repeated silently as he deftly set down the glasses and started uncorking the wine.
The patron's eyes followed his movements unerringly. "I'll do that tonight," he said, his voice low, though a bit stronger than before. "Thank you," he added as he raised his head and looked at Cameron with dark, shadowed eyes. They reflected the candlelight like polished obsidian.
Cameron's hands stilled, and after a moment spent caught in the man's gaze, he offered the linen-wrapped bottle.
The man took it and nodded. "Thank you, Cameron," he said softly. There was a hint of a polite dismissal in the words.
Cameron stared for a moment before snapping out of it. "You're welcome," he said as he placed the corkscrew within reach before stepping away. Hearing his name on the man's lips made him shiver. It was... seductive. Without ever meaning to be, Cameron was sure.
The man waited until Cameron moved away before he deftly uncorked the bottle and poured himself an unseemly full glass. He looked up at the empty glass on the other side of the table for a long, motionless moment, then leaned over and poured a dainty glassful for the absent person who would sit across from him.
"Cam, what's he doing?" Miri demanded curiously as soon as Cameron returned to the service area.
Cameron deliberately avoided looking out into the dining area, instead going to work on filling a bread-basket. "What do you mean?" he asked, feigning ignorance in the hope that his own curiosity wouldn't show.
"He's got two glasses tonight. Is he meeting someone? Was he talking to you? What'd he say?" Miri asked excitedly.
"Don't you have work to do?" Cameron coaxed. He didn't want her to know that as soon as he'd heard the mystery man's voice, he'd fallen just a little more for him. It had been a long time coming, he knew. It was embarrassing enough to have a crush on a patron. It was worse to have a crush on someone who'd never actually spoken to you before.
Miri huffed and crossed her arms. "Well, it's a slow night. You could share a little, you know? That guy is the biggest mystery most of us have going! Let me live vicariously!"
Cameron wouldn't admit he felt the same way. He prided himself on his professionalism, and gossiping about patrons was not something he did or intended to start doing. "There's nothing to share," he insisted. "He asked for an extra glass; that's all."
Miri puffed her bottom lip out petulantly and turned to look out into the dining room. At the mostly hidden table for two in the far alcove, the mysterious man lifted his glass, toasted the one across from him, and then took a genteel sip of the expensive wine.
"That's really weird," Miri muttered as she watched.
"I've got work to do," Cameron said quickly before he could cave and go to look. He lifted a crystal water pitcher in one hand and the bread basket in the other and then fled the prep area to the floor, filling water glasses and making inquiries as he slowly worked his way toward the man who sat alone with his two glasses of wine.
Upon arrival, Cameron set down the basket and filled the water glasses. Both of them.
No matter how much he wanted to, Cameron couldn't come up with a question to ask in hopes the man would speak again. He'd seen other servers try to engage him in conversation, and it always made the dark man look annoyed or frustrated. Perhaps that was why he stayed in Cameron's sections now, because Cameron never pressed him.
Cameron turned to leave, giving the man his privacy once more.
"How long have you worked here?" the man asked suddenly.
Arrested, Cameron turned to face him, trying not to show his continuing surprise. "Since Tuesdays opened eight years ago," he replied warily, wondering why the man would ask.
The dark man looked at him steadily, his face expressionless and shadowed by the low mood lighting. "Do you enjoy what you do?" he asked.
Cameron felt unable to escape, pinned by those black eyes. He tried to avert his gaze by studying the man's face instead, something he had never allowed himself to do at such proximity. It was all hard lines: a high forehead, triangular jaw, sharp cheekbones. This close, he was even more handsome than Cameron had thought. His close-cropped dark hair was just barely graying at the temples, and his neatly trimmed mustache and beard were impeccable. He always wore dark clothing, blacks and charcoal grays, which did little to disguise his tall, muscular body once he shed his heavy winter coat. That color--or lack thereof--suited him in a way Cameron couldn't quite identify.
He was like a dark angel, to Cameron's mind.
After a moment, Cameron focused on answering the question. "Yes," he said. "I do enjoy it. Why else stay so long?"
The man's eyes slid away, and he turned to look back at the untouched wine glass. "Why, indeed," he agreed, the words clearly signaling the end of the conversation.
Cameron glanced to the second wine glass and back to the man. When dining here, the man had always been silent and polite, but surprisingly approachable in his own way, once Cameron got used to him. Tonight he just seemed... off. The fact he was speaking at all made this evening an unusual thrill. But the change in the man's routine also worried him.
"Are you... is everything all right?" Cameron ventured in a hushed voice.
The man looked back at him as if surprised to see Cameron still standing there. He answered with a curt nod and looked away once more. This time the dismissal was clear.
Disappointed but not offended, Cameron moved away, only casting one look over his shoulder as he stopped several tables away to fill more water glasses. The man in the alcove didn't look to have moved; he was still staring at the wine glass. The only movements he made were to bring his glass of wine to his lips and set it back down again. His eyes rarely strayed from the glass across from him as he waited for his dinner.
Cameron couldn't help but wonder about him. What was he doing? And more importantly, why was he doing it? What was different about tonight? It was obvious that no one would be joining him, so who was the glass for? With a quiet sigh, Cameron shrugged off the questions and headed to the kitchen to check on the special.
It was about ten minutes after leaving him that Cameron arrived back at the table with the tray, setting it on a stand and serving, trying not to let his eyes settle on the man despite the urge to study him up close again.
As Cameron placed the plate in front of him, the man's suit coat emitted a discreet dinging sound. He reached into his inner pocket and withdrew a cell phone, looked at the display briefly, and then looked up at Cameron.
"Could you bring the check, please?" he requested with a sigh of what might have been annoyance. It was, perhaps, the first hint of emotion he'd ever displayed to Cameron.
Cameron raised an eyebrow and nodded. "I can box this for you," he offered.
"No, thank you," the man responded as he replaced his phone. "Just the check. Quickly, please."
"Yes, sir," Cameron said, gathering the empty tray and leaving the dining room to fetch the requested item. He was back with it in only a few minutes, and he offered the black leather folder silently.
The glass across the table from the dark man sat undisturbed, a third full. His own glass was empty, and his food only slightly touched. He had obviously eaten what he could as he waited. He took the check with a nod.
Cameron stepped back to wait so he could complete the transaction as quickly as possible. He watched silently as the man reached into his suit jacket and removed a leather billfold. He withdrew three bills, slid them into the folder, and handed it back to Cameron.
"I won't be needing any change," he said. Cameron could barely hear his voice even though the background noise was slight. "Thank you for the advice," the man said as he stood and reached for his overcoat.
Cameron had never been this close to him when he was on his feet. He guessed the man was taller by at least four inches, perhaps even more. As he shrugged into his heavy overcoat, the black wool had the effect of making him appear even larger than he already was, and the overall impression was that he simply towered over Cameron.
Confused and slightly distracted by his physical presence, Cameron just nodded. He had no idea what advice he may have given the man, but he wasn't about to question him. He actually had to tip his head back a little to look up at him. "Have a good night," he offered. His voice was flustered.
The man gathered his belongings. He nodded at Cameron as he buttoned his overcoat. "Tuesdays are always good nights," he murmured.
Cameron tipped his head to one side, even more confused, but he knew better than to say anything else. He wasn't sure his tongue could actually form any more words anyway.
With a last nod, the man walked away from the table and Cameron, who watched until he was out the door.
Out of sorts, Cameron shook his head and cleared the table, the folder securely at the small of his back. Once he finished with the dishes, he went to settle the receipt and found three hundred dollars. One hundred would have covered the dinner, wine, and a pleasant tip. Cameron stood there looking at the money, wondering just what had happened tonight.
* * * *
Cameron spoke pleasantly with an older couple that dined at Tuesdays a few times a month before turning to head out of the dining room. The dinner crowd had thinned to almost nothing around nine, and business had slowed accordingly. Although the restaurant stayed open until midnight, Cameron knew it wouldn't pick up again. He had time now to work on his receipts. But that just meant he had time to think, as well.
It was Tuesday night, and he kept thinking about the Tuesday night two weeks ago that had rocked his world. He'd gone over it in his mind, closing his eyes to hear the dark rasp of the man's voice. When he hadn't come to dinner last week, breaking a months'-long streak, Cameron was terribly disappointed.
He still wondered what had happened to the mysterious patron and if he would see him again. All Cameron knew for sure was that he would've liked to have heard his voice again.
Now it seemed another Tuesday had passed without him.
Him. He of the tall, dark, and handsome variety, who stuck in Cameron's head like some sort of brooding fantasy. Cameron sighed. Fantasy. A man like that was certainly nothing but a fantasy to Cameron, someone who was too far out of his league in every way.
As he pondered, he heard Keri greet a new guest, followed instantly by the distinct voice of Blake Nichols, the owner of Tuesdays, greeting the same person warmly. When Cameron moved to peer through the fronds of the large plant next to him, he saw Blake shaking the guest's hand and directing Keri to lead him to an alcove table.
It took Cameron a long moment to actually realize who he was seeing. It was him.
Cameron stared for a long moment, unable to make himself move as his heart rate picked up. After a few frozen moments, he shook himself, entered the prep area, and picked up a bottle of house wine and a clean glass before moving to the table.
As he got closer, he could see that the man wasn't quite himself tonight. There was a tight line of stitches above his left eye and his right arm was in a sling. He was carefully shrugging out of the restrictive brace when Cameron approached the table.
Cameron took a few quicker steps and set down the bottle and glass. "Let me help," he requested before thinking about it. He lifted the strap that was catching on the man's jacket. He took a steady breath to ease his nerves over the liberties he was taking, and in so doing got a brief whiff of the man's subtle cologne. He shivered and tried not to react to the intoxicating scent.
The man froze as Cameron touched him, but he relaxed quickly and lowered his head, allowing Cameron to help him out of the sling before he sat down. Cameron carefully pulled the fabric straps free and stepped back, simultaneously exhilarated by the contact and relieved to be moving away. He folded the sling and laid it in the chair opposite where the man settled.
The big man rolled his shoulder carefully and looked up at Cameron with dark, unreadable eyes. "Thank you," he said. His voice was low again, the words barely audible.
Cameron's polite reply was totally forgotten as he looked over the man's face critically, taking in the stitches and fading bruises before meeting his eyes. "Are you okay?" he asked instead.
The man gave the customary jerk of his head in answer without moving his eyes from Cameron. Then he smiled slowly, one side of his mouth curling upward into a slight smirk. It made his face far less severe and foreboding, and if possible, even more handsome. "I'm fine," he answered, sounding bemused. "Thank you," he repeated.
Cameron nodded slowly, entranced by that slight curve of the man's lips. "You're welcome." He blinked several times and finally recovered. "The evening special and house wine?" he asked awkwardly, gesturing to the bottle he'd set on the table.
"What do you recommend for dessert?" the man asked him in response.
Cameron's brows jumped, and he had to grasp for something to say. He wasn't accustomed to being so off-balance when taking someone's order. The process was generally pretty cut and dry. "Ah. The praline cheesecake has been popular this evening," he managed.
The man's gaze didn't waver. "What do you recommend?" he repeated slowly.
Cameron swallowed, feeling a little warm as the man kept his eyes and attention focused solely on him. "The pistachio creme brulee." Why he was unnerved, he didn't know. He gave recommendations all night. But for this man to ask for his own favorite, it made his entire body warm.
"That's what I'll be having then," the man responded with a slight twitch of his lips that might have been another smile.
Cameron wondered if the man noticed how his waiter stared at him. Probably. He seemed like the type of man who noticed a lot. Cameron's cheeks heated, and he licked his lips nervously. "After dinner?" he asked.
"For dinner, if you please," the man answered with that ghost of a smile and even an amused light in his eyes. He obviously enjoyed how disconcerted Cameron was.
"Ah. Okay," Cameron said. He sighed as he realized the man knew he was embarrassed. "Do you want the wine?" he asked clumsily.
The man's black eyes drifted over the bottle and then back to Cameron slowly. "I do," he answered gently.
The nonthreatening tone helped Cameron find his composure, and he took shelter in the familiar movements, pulling the corkscrew out of his back pocket and picking up the bottle to open it. The man watched him the entire time, his eyes intent and shadowed. Cameron pulled the cork free and offered it to him, his other hand tight on the bottle. He felt the unusual nerves easing, and he was able to straighten his shoulders and recover his usual poise, even though he could feel those black eyes following his movements.
The man nodded at the cork and met Cameron's eyes. "Do you still enjoy what you do?" he asked out of the blue, his voice gruff and somehow intimate in the way he kept it at a whisper.
Cameron swallowed as the sound of it sent awareness zipping through him. Just like the first time, Cameron nodded. "Yes." But this time he asked, "Why?"
"Because you appear content," the man answered immediately.
Cameron blinked and then gave him an open and honest smile. "Yes. I suppose I am." He placed the cork on the table and poured a couple swallows into a glass for him to approve. "I'm good at it," he said with a shrug.
"Yes," the man murmured as he picked up the glass. He sampled the wine and nodded his head in approval. "Being good at what you do does help. Thank you, Cameron," he said softly.
"You're welcome," Cameron said. "Your dessert will be out shortly." He put down the bottle and left the table, taking the corkscrew with him and fighting back the fluttering in his chest.
"You know, I think he likes you," Miri asserted with a slight smile as soon as Cameron stepped into the service area.
"For God's sake, Miri," Cameron muttered as he blushed deeply.
"He likes you, and you are totally missing it. Would you even know what to do about it?" she challenged slyly.
Cameron made an aggravated sound and deliberately ignored her question. "How in the world is this either relevant or remotely appropriate? You're talking about a loyal customer, one who Blake always greets personally," he reminded pointedly.
Never mind that Cameron thought about him fairly frequently. Wondered about him. Even fantasized about him and that rough, quiet voice.
The waitress shook her head. "Wow, Cam," she said. "I bet if you made a move, he'd respond," she hinted.
"I don't want to make a move," Cameron insisted stubbornly.
"Why the hell not?" she asked in shock. "I would if I thought he'd go for it!" she claimed with a laugh. "No man who dresses that nice would be straight, though," she muttered. She peered through the blinds with an exaggerated sigh.
"If you're this bored, I'm sure we can find you something more to do," Cameron threatened as he glared at her.
She turned around and winked at him, patting him on the back. "Fine, Mr. Head Waiter, sir. I'll take his dessert out then," she taunted, swooping in to take the plate and ramekin that had just appeared, setting it on a small, linen-covered tray, and heading out to the dining room.
Cameron caught his objection at the last second and watched her go before he turned narrowed eyes on a couple of the other waitresses who huddled at the end of the bar. They scurried back to work with a flutter of giggles. Cameron groaned. This was all he needed. Miri and the other girls would pester him about it forever, never mind that he was technically their supervisor. He didn't know what Miri hoped to get out of this little interaction, but he hoped she was satisfied with whatever it was.
As much as he hated to, Cameron went to the slats and peered through, watching curiously.
Miri composed herself and approached the man's table. "Your dessert, sir," she offered as she presented the plate.
The man watched the plate as it was set in front of him. He slowly looked up at the waitress, his expression blank for a long moment before simply nodding his thanks.
Miri offered him a polite, charming smile. "May I bring you anything else?"
The man gave her his usual jerk of the head in answer as he placed a linen napkin in his lap with his good hand.
"Feel free to flag us down if you need anything," she told him happily, pausing for a few breaths before moving along to make her way back out of the dining room.
Once through the dark doors, she marched over to Cameron and waved her hand at the blinds. "See?" she said triumphantly.
"No, I don't," Cameron responded, looking up from the coffee service he was preparing. Yes, he'd given in to the urge to watch Miri talk to him, but she didn't need to know that.
"He was annoyed with me," she informed him with a smile. "He only wants you, Romeo," she crooned with a smile before heading off again.
Cameron stared after her before turning to check the dining room. He watched the man for a minute, examining the set of his shoulders and searching for signs of annoyance before frowning and shaking his head. Why would a man like that be interested in someone like him? First of all, he'd have to be into guys. And even if he was--which was a long shot in Cameron's opinion--why pick up a mere waiter? The man looked rich and successful and powerful. None of which Cameron was.
As he watched, Blake Nichols appeared and approached the table. The restaurant's owner stood for a long while as they talked, and then he sat on the edge of the chair across from the man, speaking with what was obviously concern. The patron's expression didn't change, but Cameron sensed he was speaking to Blake somewhat heatedly, if the motions of his uninjured hand were any indication.
The men were a study in opposites. The unnamed man had a tall, firm frame with tight muscles under his well-tailored clothing, jet black hair with those little hints of gray at the temples, his ever-present well-groomed beard and mustache. Blake Nichols, on the other hand, was clean-shaven with fine blond hair that always looked as if he'd been dragging his socks against the carpet. Fashionably messy. He wasn't as tall or as broad, but he was still trim and in very good shape.
Another difference between the two men: Blake wasn't shy about expressing himself verbally when his smooth, polished persona wasn't required on the dining floor. Cameron was extremely familiar with that. And Blake was a warm, friendly guy who tended to be easily distracted. In Cameron's experience, the patron had always been Blake's polar opposite, cold as ice and unflappable. But now Cameron was seeing true emotion, seeing the dark-haired man come alive, even if it was with some sort of frustration. And he was magnificent.
Cameron cursed under his breath. Now he'd never be able to get rid of the damn crush.
Soon enough, Blake stood and placed his hand on the dark man's uninjured shoulder before leaving him to his dessert. Cameron watched as the man sat silent and blank for a moment before pulling a small, beat-up moleskin notebook from his seemingly endless supply of pockets and placing it carefully beside his plate. He then extracted an expensive-looking pen and opened the notebook.
He ate his creme brulee carefully with his injured right hand as he wrote in the notebook with his left. It was something he did often, writing in the little book while eating his dinner. Cameron had noticed that he used either hand to write, and he'd often wondered what the man was doing.
None of it was any of Cameron's business, and he realized that he was ignoring his responsibilities. He just couldn't help himself. Cameron scrubbed his hands over his face and pressed his lips together in resignation before lifting the tray and getting back to work. He served coffee to two tables that were finishing up, and he'd brought an extra cup, just in case. After a look toward the alcove, he took a deep breath to bolster his confidence and decided to go over.
"Would you care for some coffee?" he asked, pausing on his way past. He hoped he sounded calm and collected.
The man didn't look up from his writing. He gave a simple shake of his head in answer.
Put at ease by the more usual reaction, Cameron went on his way. He'd just let himself be distracted by attempting personal interaction when he was better served forgetting his silly fantasy and doing his job; that was all. Satisfied and back on balance, Cameron went to finish up the checks for the remaining tables.
Then Blake passed by the man's table on his usual rounds of the patrons. The man reached out without looking up and snagged Blake by the arm, stopping him without a word. He didn't even stop writing as he held onto Blake's wrist. Blake stood there for a moment as the man wrote. Then he gently extricated his arm and slid into the seat opposite the man.
Cameron wondered how it was that Blake knew him. Besides greeting him personally at the door like he did only a privileged few, Blake actually sat and talked with him. Cameron had never seen Blake do that with anyone else.
Blake said something more, and the man raised his head slightly, ran two fingers over his lower lip in thought, and then looked down at his book with a frown. Blake nodded and stood once more, strolling away from the table with a small smirk, one hand casually in a pocket, obviously pleased with whatever he'd said to make the dark man think.
Frowning, Cameron wondered what in the world was going on. He shook his head and told himself again it wasn't his business, no matter how gorgeous the guy was. He headed out to clear a vacated table, deliberately keeping himself from peeking back at the alcove.
When he did happen to glance over at the table, the man caught Cameron with his dark eyes and inclined his head slightly. Now this Cameron was used to.
"Are you from here in the city?" the man asked him when Cameron arrived at the table.
The question totally threw Cameron again. He'd been expecting a request for the check or perhaps more wine. "Yes," he answered tentatively.
"Do you know it well?" the man inquired, either not noticing or not caring about Cameron's discomfort.
"Yes, I think so," Cameron answered, slightly more confident.
"Do you know of a place called The Zenith?" the man asked, his voice holding a hint of barely hidden frustration to it. "Anywhere that could be called that? An establishment, a location, a landmark. Anything?"
Cameron's cheeks immediately darkened, and his eyes widened as the man spoke. Just when he thought this man couldn't surprise him anymore, he out and asked about something like the Zenith. Great. Was this what he and Blake had been discussing? Blake wouldn't know about a club like the Zenith, would he? Cameron blushed further and cleared his throat.
The man's observant eyes did notice his reaction this time, and he tilted his head inquiringly.
Cameron cleared his throat again, shocked by how uncomfortable one little question could make him. "That's the name of an exclusive club," he answered with a nervous smile. "Caters mostly to gay men, I believe," he hedged.
The man cocked his head and looked away thoughtfully. He pursed his lips and looked back down at his notebook. "Interesting," he murmured to himself. "You can have the woman bring the check now," he ordered without looking up again.
Cameron swallowed hard. "Yes, sir," he practically whispered.
Once in the back, he stiffly set down his tray with a muted clatter and leaned his head against the wall. The man had asked a question, and he'd answered it. And for that he was not just dismissed, but replaced with another server?
Cameron rubbed at his eyes. What was it about this man that threw him so easily off kilter? With a sigh, he headed into the kitchen to find Miri.
The next time he looked out across the dining room, she was stepping back from the man's table. She spoke and then turned smartly on one heel and walked away.
The man looked up quickly and narrowed his eyes, glancing around the restaurant slowly as if he were looking for someone. His eyes returned to the kitchen door where Cameron had disappeared and narrowed further.
Cameron, watching from the service area, fought not to shrink back from those piercing eyes. If he hadn't known better, he would have sworn the man knew he was there behind the blinds.
The man removed a bill from his wallet and placed the money on the edge of the table without looking away from the blinds. Then he walked away with his coat over his arm, not bothering to struggle back into it despite the cold weather. Just before he got to the door, Blake emerged from the hallway that led to the private offices and stopped him for a few words.
The man towered over Blake, but Blake Nichols' presence alone could overpower a room. Blake had been a medic in the Special Forces, though Cameron had never had the nerve to ask which branch or for how long. Blake carried himself like a capable soldier as well as the affluent businessman he had become. He was a hard man to outshine.
Cameron watched nervously, knowing his boss was asking the dark man about the service and what had happened. The man pointed at the slats with his good hand and spoke to Blake heatedly. To Cameron's horror, Blake actually laughed in response. Cameron stepped back so fast he almost knocked down another server. Jesus, what was he telling Blake to make him laugh like that?
He cautiously crept back to the shutters to try to see what was going on. The man said something else, and Blake laughed harder. He took the bigger man's arm and led him toward the door, helping him into his coat as they went. Surely if Blake were amused, it wasn't anything bad. Right? Cameron swallowed hard, replaying the evening in his head. There wasn't a single thing he could see that had been done wrong, aside from knowing the answer to that question. And Blake knew Cameron was gay, so that wouldn't come as a surprise to him or anyone else who knew Cameron even remotely well.
Blake actually walked out of the restaurant with the man into the lobby of the top floor of the building to the elevators. Cameron held his breath for a moment and let it out slowly to calm himself. It was okay, he told himself. Everything was okay. And he had work to do before he could go home and try not to dream about the man again.
Several minutes later, Cameron just happened to glance up while clearing a table, and he froze. He stood motionless, like a rabbit caught in the eyes of a cougar, as Blake moved toward him. No point in running, after all.
Blake went by the alcove table and swept his hand across the linen tablecloth as he made his way over to Cameron. "May I speak to you for a moment?" he asked politely as he passed Cameron by and crooked his finger, indicating he was to follow.
Cameron reminded himself this was just Blake. He was the restaurant owner and Cameron's boss, yes, but he'd also become a good friend over the years. He nodded and placed the used glasses back onto the table before following. They walked to the front of the restaurant and into the hallway off the front foyer, where Blake led Cameron into his private office. He ushered Cameron in.
"He wasn't upset with you, kiddo," he told Cameron as soon as the door closed.
Cameron blinked. "Excuse me?"
"He wasn't upset with you," Blake repeated slowly as he reached into his breast pocket. He handed Cameron a hundred-dollar bill and nodded at it. "Your tip."
"What?" Cameron looked at the folded bill in his hand. "I don't understand. He told me to..."
Blake smirked, obviously trying not to show his amusement. "He was trying to bring to your attention that he doesn't appreciate Miri waiting on him," he told Cameron with difficulty, since he was clearly trying not to laugh.
Speechless, Cameron stood there just looking at Blake. "I don't understand," he finally said. "Appreciate?"
Blake allowed himself to laugh softly. "He doesn't like Miri, kiddo," he told Cameron sympathetically. "Says she's too nosy. Don't let her bring his food again."
Cameron shrugged helplessly. "Okay?" He looked down at the money again. "He could have just said so. But there's only so many of us here who work the floor. He's bound to be put in her section sometime."
"No." Blake laughed as he opened the door for Cameron to shoo him out. "No, he's not."
Cameron wandered back out onto the floor, more confused than ever. He still held the money between his fingers and after a moment slid it into his pocket. Shaking his head to clear the daze, he went back to work. He'd have plenty of time to ponder the mystery of the dark man who came every Tuesday when he was done.
* * * *
"Happy anniversary," Cameron offered with a wide smile, placing the special dessert on the table in front of the wife's wide eyes. The husband smiled and nodded, and Cameron left them to the remainder of their romantic dinner.
It was a busy Saturday night, finally starting to wind down at almost eleven. The restaurant was running perfectly, and Cameron was in his element, mostly directing the wait staff and making certain the patrons enjoyed their dinners. On Saturday nights, there was enough staff working that Cameron didn't have to actually wait tables. Other duties required his attention on these busy nights, and he liked the variety.
He breezed through the service area in time to catch several of the bus-boys peering up at the television in the corner.
"What are you doing?" he asked them in annoyance. That TV wasn't even supposed to be on during service hours unless there was bad weather or a big game the patrons might inquire about.
They scrambled as the sportscaster finished up his spiel of NFL predictions for the next day's games. Cameron shook his head and looked around for the remote to turn it off.
"And in local news," the television droned on as he searched. "The body of a man found in Lake Michigan this morning has been identified as Mr. Steven Bosley. Bosley disappeared roughly three weeks ago after a night out at the Zenith Club in downtown Chicago. The authorities initially thought Bosley left the country to avoid prosecution for his dealings with local organized crime syndicates, and police are calling his death a homicide. Speculation from an inside source claims his murder to be the result of a, professional hit."
Cameron clicked off the television, shaking his head. The mention of the Zenith Club immediately brought his obsession to mind. The mysterious man hadn't been spotted at the restaurant for nearly a month, and Cameron was certain he wasn't coming back. He'd almost gotten the handsome stranger off his mind--until now. Cameron sighed and gathered two wine bottles to take back out to the birthday party in the private room.
Several minutes later, Keri edged into the party room, got Cameron's attention, and pointed at a four-spot along the wall of windows. It had a lovely view of the snow-covered city from the restaurant's top-floor location, and a man sat there alone.
It was him. Him.
Cameron stood there for more than a minute, studying him. He wasn't at his usual table. He wasn't even anywhere near Cameron's usual section. But Cameron knew without asking that Blake had directed that he wait on this table, and he had a pretty good idea why. Cameron walked across the dining room slowly as he tried to suppress the nerves bubbling inside him.
"Good evening," he said once he stopped in front of the table.
The man tore his gaze away from the cityscape and looked up at Cameron, his eyes registering the briefest glimpse of surprise. When he turned, the lighting of the main floor highlighted fading bruises on his cheek and upper neck. They were different from the ones he sported before, and Cameron would have sworn the bruises above his throat were fingerprints. The cut over his eye that had been newly stitched the last time he'd come to Tuesdays was now a fading scar, barely visible. Whoever had done the stitching was very good.
Tipping his head to one side, Cameron looked over the man for just a moment. Perhaps he was a professional fighter of some sort? He had the size for it.
"The evening special and house wine?" Cameron asked instead of allowing himself to ponder. The time that had passed since the man's last visit to Tuesdays and the unpleasant way in which it had ended had helped alleviate the fixation he'd developed, and Cameron was easily able to keep his composure. For now, anyway.
The man nodded and tilted his head to the side discreetly, as if he were aware of the light hitting him and highlighting the bruising. Cameron acknowledged him silently and deliberately lowered his eyes; he didn't want to make the man uncomfortable. Apparently, they were back to the silent dance.
Cameron returned five minutes later with the bottle of wine and a crystal glass, setting them down along with the bread-basket from a tray he handed off to another server. He started working on uncorking the bottle, pausing to look out at the falling snow with a pleased smile before returning his attention to what he was doing.
The man watched him contemplatively, his expression giving away nothing else as he waited for Cameron to finish. Humming just slightly under his breath, Cameron looked up at him as he set the cork aside. The man had never examined it before, and Cameron didn't figure he would now, so he went ahead and poured a few blurbs into the glass.
"We'll be needing another," the man said to him as he poured, his voice barely above a whisper, as always.
Cameron's hand shook a little as he pulled the wine bottle back. "Of course, sir," he said. He wondered if the odd ritual from that night weeks ago would be repeated. He wasn't sure he wanted to see it; that was when his fascination had gone into overdrive. But if the man wasn't going to repeat that gesture, that meant he was actually meeting someone.
The dark man reached out and took the glass gently, his big hand cupping the crystal and bringing it to his lips without even disturbing the liquid inside. He tasted it slowly and nodded his approval as he set the glass down on the table.
Cameron's mouth curled up at one side. He would never tire of watching this man sample wine, he knew that much. He left the man sitting for a few moments before reappearing with the other glass, placing it carefully with the other place setting, and departing without comment.
The big man stood suddenly as Cameron moved away from the table. His eyes were on the entrance, and his fingers deftly buttoned his suit coat as he stood straight and tall. The movement nearly startled Cameron into turning toward him again, but he managed to keep moving as he glanced toward the entrance.
Keri was escorting a woman to the table. She was tall, blonde, and thin, pretty in a fake sort of way, her long legs accentuated by her stiletto heels and the high slit in her black dress. The man greeted her with a murmur of words and kissed her cheek as he pulled out her chair for her.
As soon as he reached the service area, Cameron had to hold himself back from darting to the shutters to try to see what was going on. He reminded himself to act properly, to be respectful of the customer and his privacy, and then he sighed, knowing it was a losing battle.
"That's the first time he's ever had someone with him," Miri said as she stopped next to him and peered through the shutters.
"Quit spying," Cameron chastised, even though that was exactly what he wanted to do. Miri looked at him with a raised eyebrow, and Cameron bit his lip as he looked at her. "What are they doing?" he asked, almost against his will.
"He's definitely talking to her," Miri answered with a wry smile as she turned back to watch some more.
Cameron sighed and picked up a water pitcher. If the man had someone at the table with him, then he needed to go check on them. It had never happened before, and it struck him that he might be slightly jealous. Cameron thought of the man's time at Tuesdays as his, no matter how unrealistic it was. And if it were a date, it was poking all kinds of holes in Miri's theory.
He unobtrusively approached the table, silently taking up first her water glass and filling it, then his.
"I received your offer this morning," the woman was saying in a low, pleasantly smoky voice as Cameron filled their glasses. "That's not the price we agreed on, Julian."
"It's the price, nonetheless," the man she addressed murmured as he leaned back and looked up at Cameron. He nodded his thanks.
Cameron swallowed hard on a knot of nervous excitement. Julian. That was the man's name. Finally, after all these months, he knew the man's name. It was such a rush and a relief. Why had he never thought to ask Blake?
"What's good here?" the woman asked as she picked up her menu. "I assume you're footing the bill?"
Julian merely nodded.
"The special tonight is braised boar marsala over creamed potatoes with baby peas," Cameron offered after clearing his throat. "The house favorites are vegetable penne in lemon sauce and marinated shrimp in champagne beurre blanc." Somewhere inside, he was turning over the man's name. Julian. Julian. The dark man looked like a Julian.
"Shrimp sounds wonderful," the woman responded with a smile that showed a glimpse of perfect teeth. She closed her menu and handed it to Cameron. "I'd also like a cosmo," she added. She looked at Julian and grinned mischievously. "You don't mind if I drink on the job, do you?" she teased.
Julian narrowed his eyes and cocked his head slightly. "If it will improve your performance," he responded with all seriousness.
Cameron pressed his lips together to keep from frowning. He took the menu with a soft murmur of acknowledgment and turned toward the bar. One cosmo, coming up. Surely to God the woman wasn't what she was talking like. She looked far too classy for that, and the man--Julian--certainly he'd never need to pay for companionship.
Cameron put in the woman's order and couldn't keep his eyes from straying to the mirror to watch them. They were obviously talking, the man still stoic as the woman waved one hand around lazily. Cameron's eyes widened as he saw the woman's foot rise and deliberately rub along the man's calf. Julian tilted his head and said something in response.
Coughing slightly, Cameron picked up the drink. He headed back over to the table, delivering it silently, trying not to listen to the end of their conversation and failing.
"Do I look like a whore?" the woman asked him before he could back away from the table. Cameron's eyes widened, and he could only blink at her.
Julian barked a laugh and shook his head. The sound sent a jolt through Cameron's gut, and he found himself flustered again despite telling himself he wouldn't be. Cameron glanced quickly to Julian, who was looking out the window, probably to hide his smile. It made him unbelievably gorgeous. His dark eyes watched Cameron's reaction in the reflection on the glass.
Despite his surprise and the sudden heat under his collar, Cameron tore his attention away from the man's transformed face, tipped his head, and answered with the first thing that came to mind. "If you are, ma'am, there's no way I could afford you." Cameron bowed slightly and turned away, hoping his haste wasn't overt as he fled the table. His heart pounded so hard that he felt lightheaded. He stopped at a nearby table of several people to answer questions.
"At least you're an expensive whore instead of a gold-digging married woman," Julian said to the woman with a smirk while Cameron was still within hearing range.
The woman sighed loudly and shook her head. "I thought they said you were professional about these things," she groused. Julian remained silent, merely raising an eyebrow in response. She sighed heavily again and began tapping her wedding ring against her glass nervously. "So, how do we go about this?" she asked.
"Leave that to me," Julian responded, his voice low and calm. "You've already done your part simply by coming here. As soon as I receive payment, we continue."
"And if I change my mind at the last moment?" she asked with a hint of uncertainty in her voice.
"Will you?" Julian asked her in that oddly calm, smooth voice.
She stared at him and then looked down at her drink with a frown. She inhaled deeply and then shook her head. "No," she answered. "No, I want to do this."
Julian nodded wordlessly. "Then enjoy your dinner," he suggested, "and stop worrying about what comes next."
Making his way back to the service area, Cameron didn't know what to think about what he had overheard. The woman was obviously joking about being a prostitute. There was no way she would advertise so blatantly if she really were one. He stepped through the doors and walked over to the counter, thinking that he certainly hoped it was a joke. Julian was too gorgeous a man to pay for sex. Then he stopped still, staring at the wall. What if Julian wasn't the one paying? That last snatch of conversation he'd heard certainly sounded incriminating.
"What's wrong with you?" Miri asked as she whisked by him.
Cameron shook himself. "Uh. Just thinking," he said weakly. "I'm okay."
Miri stopped and looked at him doubtfully. Cameron waved her off. "Just got too much going on," he said. "Go on."
"All right," she responded with a frown as she took her next tray of food and made her way back out into the dining room.
Fifteen minutes later, Cameron emerged with both dinners, setting the tray down expertly before moving to place their plates. He glanced between them to wait for their attention.
Julian watched him as he worked, his eyes following unerringly as his dinner mate looked out the window and rambled about how much she hated Chicago winters. As Cameron arranged the china, he noticed Julian watching him closely and raised an eyebrow in question.
"Thank you," Julian said to him, the soft words and intent look in his eyes making Cameron feel like the only person Julian saw at that moment was him.
Cameron straightened, smiled nervously, and nodded as he tried to tell himself that he was imagining these things and to calm down. "You're welcome," he murmured.
"Are you always this pleasant?" the woman asked Julian dryly.
"Not often," Julian answered without taking his eyes off Cameron.
Cameron stepped back with the tray, glancing to the woman before looking back at Julian. "Enjoy your meal," he said solely to the dark man, feeling a jump in his pulse at his own boldness. Then he edged back from the table.
Julian's black, unreadable eyes followed his movements, and Cameron paused for a moment, feeling that odd flutter strengthen; then the woman's chattering voice broke the moment, and he turned to leave.
"If you'll bring the check back with you," Julian requested softly.
Cameron looked back at Julian, nodded obediently, and departed; he didn't even realize he was smiling until he got into the back and one of his fellow waiters gave him a strange look. "What?" he asked suspiciously.
Charles shook his head and grinned impishly. "You're so completely screwed," he said with a laugh before moving on with his own tray of food.
Cameron sighed and rolled his eyes. Miri had obviously been talking. He got the check together as requested, despite several of the others chattering around him as they took advantage of a lull in the Saturday night crowd. He wasn't flustered, just... fascinated, right? Yes.
He sighed, forcing himself to be honest, at least with himself. He was infatuated. Maybe it was the voice; it was always low and husky, sometimes practically not there. And that one laugh he'd heard...
His mind wandered back to the thought that this Julian might be the "escort"--a crazy thought, for sure. But with looks like that, Cameron could imagine the man would command whatever money he wanted. It would explain why he was so well off but had to jump up and run at the ring of a cell phone.
Nose wrinkling, Cameron told himself to quit being silly. He put the check in the folder and headed back out, stopping at several tables along the way before heading toward the window table.
Both Julian and the woman were standing; he was helping her into her coat. She placed her scarf around her neck and gave him an improperly long farewell kiss, then whispered something into his ear as she slid her hand into the pocket of his suit coat and placed something inside it. She practically looked through Cameron as she turned away and walked toward the door. The heads of several men in the restaurant turned to watch her go.
The display didn't do too much for dispelling Cameron's little theory, even though he supposed if the woman were paying for sex, Julian would probably have left with her.
Julian waited until she left the restaurant before he returned to his seat, discreetly wiping her lipstick off his lips and cheek with his napkin. He reached into his pocket and extracted a piece of paper. He tilted his head as he read it, shook his head, and tossed it carelessly onto the table.
Cameron waited until he was done to approach with the check. He set the folder at Julian's elbow before silently picking up the woman's plate. He resisted the urge--only barely--to make eye contact again. Or to glance at the slip of paper.
"Would you do me a favor if I asked it of you?" Julian inquired quietly.
Now Cameron couldn't resist, and any unfounded thoughts about the man's profession melted into the background, overpowered by the man himself. He turned his chin to look at Julian as he straightened slowly. His answer wasn't the ready-to-please answer he'd usually give. It was simply, after studying Julian for a few breaths, "Maybe."
Julian produced a small electronic device, seemingly from nowhere, and he slid it onto the table, his palm on top of it as he looked up at Cameron. "Can you give this to Mr. Nichols after I'm gone?" he asked. "Without anyone seeing you do it?" he added pointedly.
It wasn't at all what Cameron expected to hear. His eyes flickered from Julian to his hand, flat on the table. Without speaking, he reached to take up Julian's plate with one hand, set it on top of the woman's plate already in his hand, and reached again to pick up the linen napkin, dragging the cloth over Julian's hand. "Let me just get this out of your way."
Julian watched him as their hands touched, and he nodded, his eyes as unreadable as ever. "Thank you," he murmured sincerely.
Cameron gathered the item in the napkin, holding it securely. "You're welcome," he offered, looking at Julian directly and enjoying the way it made him feel just to meet the man's eyes.
Julian reached under his jacket for his wallet and extracted several bills, never looking away. He slid them into the leather folder and offered it before Cameron could even turn away.
Cameron shoved the bunched-up napkin into his pocket and reached to take the folder. He finally dragged his eyes from Julian and noted the heavy falling snow outside the window. "Be careful out there," he said, knowing he meant more than one thing by it when he walked away.
* * * *
It was late before Cameron had time to seek out Blake Nichols in his office. The little recorder burned a hole in his pocket all evening, and despite pulling it out and studying it, wondering what it meant, Cameron hadn't found the nerve to turn it on. He turned the corner, stopped at the office door, and knocked quietly.
"Enter," Blake called from inside his office.
Cameron opened the door and stepped inside. "Evening, Blake," he greeted. Blake had threatened him into dropping the "Mr. Nichols" almost six years ago.
Blake looked up from the papers on his desk and smiled widely. "Good evening, Cameron," he greeted in the same friendly manner he always did. "What can I do for you? How's the night going?"
"Really well," Cameron said, smiling. "I think all three parties went off great, the people were happy... and they drank a lot of wine," he added with a knowing smile.
"Wonderful," Blake commented wryly. "The better the tips, right?" he joked as he picked up his pen and tapped it against the papers on his desk. "Was that all?" he asked, still friendly and open but obviously distracted.
Cameron hesitantly slid his hand into his pocket and took the three steps to Blake's desk. "He asked me to give this to you." He pulled out the recorder and set it down.
Blake looked down at the recorder, his body suddenly noticeably tense when he glanced back up at Cameron. "He?" he questioned softly without touching the recorder.
Cameron shifted uncomfortably. "Him. Julian."
One of Blake's eyebrows edged up, and he looked down at the recorder again. "Did you listen to it?" he asked evenly.
Cameron shook his head, looking at Blake steadily.
Blake hummed thoughtfully and picked up the recorder, turning it over to examine it before pressing the rewind button briefly and then hitting play. Julian's deceptively soft, deep voice filtered out of the tiny speaker almost immediately:
"I trust you know never to come back here.
"Of course. In twenty-four hours I'll be in the Caymans, mourning my dead husband. I have no reason to come back."
"Good. Finish your meal."
Blake cut off the recorder with a click and looked up at Cameron with a small smile. "Thank you, Cameron," he said in a pleased voice. "You didn't hear that," he instructed with a grin.
Cameron shrugged. "I don't hear a lot of things," he said with a small smile, though he thought the exchange exceedingly odd. A lot of people talked about delicate things at restaurants, forgetting the help that moved around them silently. He didn't know what was going on, and he didn't think he wanted to know.
"Well, you've done your good deed for the week, at any rate," Blake informed him as he picked up the phone at his elbow and dialed. "What did you think of the woman?" he asked slyly as he waited for an answer.
Cameron's lips twitched. "She asked me if she looked like a whore," he said significantly.
"She might as well be," Blake grumbled good-naturedly. "We'll see how she likes a nice eight-by-ten cell," he added with relish. "Don't put me on hold!" he shouted into the phone, and then he cursed under his breath and looked back up at Cameron. "Julian, huh?" he asked with a small, knowing smirk.
"That's what she called him," Cameron offered weakly. "You asked--"
"That is his name," Blake assured him. "What do you think of him?" he asked, the smirk growing into one of his signature mischievous grins.
"Think of him?" Cameron echoed with a slight crack to his voice. His mind raced as he tried to think of something appropriate. "Uh. He tips really well, and he doesn't ask for outlandish things. He's a good customer," he finally said, not sure what he could say without revealing how he felt.
"He certainly is," Blake agreed with a nod, though his smile didn't fade. "Did he say anything to you about this?" he asked as he waved at the recorder on the desk. "Or did he just thrust it at you and grunt like he usually does?"
Cameron thought about it, his eyes going out of focus. "He asked me if I would do him a favor if he asked. I said maybe." He shrugged again.
"Slightly foolhardy of you, considering the man asking the favor," Blake chastised as he tapped his pen impatiently, still holding the phone to one ear.
Cameron snapped out of it and answered without thinking it through. "What about him? It's not like I know him. I mean, if a gorgeous woman asked you for a favor, wouldn't you say yes?"
"Probably." Blake laughed softly. "Ha!" he exclaimed suddenly. "No no no; don't put me on hold," he growled into the phone. He looked up at Cameron and grinned wickedly. "Go ahead and take off, Cam," he advised with a jerk of his head. "Let the others clean up tonight."
"Okay," Cameron responded in amused confusion. Blake was obviously doing something he was enjoying immensely, and when Blake was enjoying himself, it was hard not to be amused.
He gave Blake one last look as the man turned away and started talking. At least Blake hadn't teased him after that "gorgeous" line. As he walked down the hall and toward the kitchen to get his coat, Cameron told himself to stop thinking about the man named Julian. He rolled his eyes. As if that would do any good now.
* * * *
The man known as Julian Cross paced restlessly as he waited for midnight. He held his phone in his hand, had been holding it long enough that it had grown warm, in fact, and he glanced at the time display every few seconds as the hour neared. Finally he allowed himself to dial Blake Nichols' number.
"I wondered how long you'd wait," Blake said in greeting.
"Shut up," Julian grumbled as he forced himself to stop pacing. "Did you get it?" he asked worriedly. He'd harbored doubts about using the waiter as a delivery service, but Blake had more than once assured him the man was reliable and discreet, and Julian's own slight infatuation had pushed him into being incautious. He'd been fretting over it ever since--something he wasn't prone to do.
"It's safe right here in my hot little hands," Blake answered. He paused. "Did you really think Cameron wouldn't bring it to me?"
"Hey," Julian grunted in annoyance. "When something leaves my hands, I worry, okay? That's what I do. I don't trust you or your harebrained ideas any farther than I can throw you."
Blake chuckled. "Well, you can stop worrying. Cameron delivered it just like he said he would. He didn't even listen to it first." He paused again. "Why'd you ask him? Why not bring it to me directly? You knew I was in my office."
Julian pressed his lips together and then pursed them thoughtfully. He thought about pointing out that there was always the possibility that he was being followed and traipsing back into the private offices to see Blake whenever he wanted probably wasn't a good idea. But Blake already knew that. He was simply poking at one of Julian's very few vulnerable spots. Blake knew Julian was interested in Cameron, and he just couldn't help himself from teasing Julian mercilessly about it.
"He's more fun to look at than you are," Julian finally answered instead of giving a more serious answer.
Blake's laugh rang out. "You're an ass," he responded delightedly. "Oh, by the way, did you know you're gorgeous?"
"Yes, I was aware," Julian answered without missing a beat. He waited a moment before he gave a suspicious, "Why?"
A snicker came across the line. "Never mind. I made the call, and they'll get this thing to the right people. Good job, by the way. She wasn't as smart as we gave her credit for, huh?"
"Not nearly." Julian groaned. "I'm almost embarrassed I put so much effort into her. Did you know she wrote me a fucking check? Talk about a paper trail."
"What'd you do with it?" Blake asked in amusement.
"Burned it when I got home."
"Well, lessons learned," Blake replied easily. "Will you be here next week? It's a holiday, you know. I'll be out of town."
"If you'll be out of town, why do you care where I'll be?" Julian countered.
"I don't want to think about you sitting in that mausoleum of a house alone on Christmas Eve," Blake answered sincerely.
"How sweet," Julian responded flatly. He sighed softly and looked out at the falling snow. "But since you won't be here, regardless, again I ask: what do you care?"
"Jackass," Blake accused fondly.
"Yeah. There's always Christmas Mass," Julian muttered.
"That doesn't count as company," Blake pointed out.
"Yes, well, it'll do," Julian assured him, thinking to himself that if he could muster the nerve, he could probably find himself some of Blake's brand of company. His mind turned again toward thoughts of a dark-haired, blue-eyed waiter.
"Take care of yourself, Julian," Blake advised knowingly. "Unless something breaks, you're free 'til Christmas. Good night."
"Sweet dreams, you bastard," Julian offered with a small smile.
"Of course they will be. Emily's back from Paris," Blake said with a laugh, and he hung up.
Julian smiled and shook his head. He folded his phone and tossed it onto the nearest piece of furniture, wondering what in the hell he was going to do with himself for the next several days without any jobs to work or research. He stared out at the snow, pondering the memory of the way the waiter's lips had curved into a smile when he'd watched the snow falling outside of Tuesdays.
He growled slightly, shaking his head in defeat. He thought about that man far too much for it to be healthy. He couldn't help but wonder, though, if Cameron would respond favorably if he made a move.
Julian cocked his head and stared out the window, letting himself wonder and think about a man he didn't really know.