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by beetle
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Gay/Lesbian · #2143574
Mac Chau gets left at the altar. Enter an unasked-for Benedick just aching for a Beatrice.
Summary: Mac Chau gets left at the altar. Enter an unasked-for Benedick just aching for a Beatrice. Mac obliges. Thus, begins the first day of the rest of their lives.
Notes/Warnings: Drunkenness, anger management issues, baggage, failed wedding.
Prompt: Your character is left at the altar. What, why, where, how, who? Is it good or bad? Prompt #1, for "The LGBT Writing Contest - reopens 2021.
Word Count: 4,962

. . . And Other Unsuitable Noise

Beatrice (to Benedick):
A dear happiness to women; they would else
have been troubled with a pernicious suitor! I thank
God and my cold blood, I am of your humour for that;
I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear
he loves me

—William Shakespeare, “Much Ado About Nothing,” I.i.120-124

* * *

“Waiting for someone?”

Noah MacIntyre Chau—still dapper and pulled-together in his tux, yet not as dapper and pulled-together as he had been just before The Wedding That Wasn’t had crashed like the Hindenburg—didn’t bother to straighten, or even look up at the low, accented rumble.

He merely smiled and studied his fancy black shoes. His left shoe was on the shallow, second-lowest front step of the reception hall. His right was on the sidewalk and it was coming untied.

It was rare, indeed, that Mac ever looked just so, or stayed that way. He always found ways to lose track of his appearance. Or something happened that made it moot.

“Nah. I’m . . . I think I’m done waiting,” Mac said, unable to stifle a rueful laugh as he did. The fiery light of an April sunset winked off a second pair of shoes that drifted into his vision from the left. As fancy-shiny as Mac’s shoes were, these shoes were even fancier-shinier . . . and perfectly tied, to boot. The trouser hems that fell just so on them were a medium-gray.

“Hmm. That sounds . . . admirably proactive,” the voice observed mildly. “They say good things come to those who wait, but I, myself, have never found that to be true. I’m an advocate of making good things happen.”

“Smart man. Wish I’d caught that memo growing up. Or even just two years ago.” Mac snorted and wiggled his naked, ringless fingers. His hands were dangling uselessly between his knees, as they so often seemed to.

If I could go back to tell Dad one thing, he realized as his vision blurred with tears of grief, loss, and loneliness, it’d be: You’re right. Not being proactive never got anyone anything they wanted. Hoping instead of working is no kind of plan at all, just wishful thinking and laziness. Or lack of ambition and stupidity.

Mac had always been a dreamer and wisher. But never lazy. Which only left lacking ambition as his rationale. And stupidity, of course.

Snorting out a shaky sound that could’ve been a laugh or a sob, Mac swiped at his overflowing eyes. But after thirty seconds of doing so, his eyes and face were no drier, his vision no less blurry. He was also fighting gasps that wanted to be sobs. Or possibly a panic attack. Or far, far worse.

“Ah, hey,” Shiny Shoes said with gruff concern, moving closer hesitantly. Lean, but strong thighs clad in fine wool—probably finer and more expensive than Mac’s waiter get-up tux—entered Mac’s vision.

A gentle, firm hand landed on Mac’s left shoulder for a few moments, squeezing reassuringly, then falling away. Before Mac could even decide if he missed it, Shiny Shoes was sitting next to him on the sixth step with a sigh. He was close enough that in the mid-spring chill, Mac could feel the warmth of him, but not close enough that they were touching. Nonetheless, Mac shivered. Blinked away the worst of his tears with effort, then wiped his eyes.

This time, when the tears didn’t seem inclined to force their presence, Mac sniffled and looked over at Shiny Shoes. Then he blinked some more even as his eyes widened and his brow furrowed.

“I . . . don’t know what’s got you down, but if you’d like a nonjudgmental ear—who you don’t know from Adam, and thus won’t be likely to rat you out to mutual acquaintances—then I’m more than willing to be that ear,” Shiny shoes said with a warmth that seemed to surprise him, more than it did Mac. He was tall, dark, and handsome, like a soap opera-star. Inky, shoulder-length hair; skin the color of the aged, Bowmore single malt Mac’s father had loved; and mint-green eyes the color of the Fenton Art glass pieces Mac’s mother used to collect and which Mac had inherited.

Shiny Shoes’ smile was knowingly charming, but also . . . slightly quirked and sincere. As if even though he was offering, he completely understood why Mac, or anyone else, wouldn’t choose to use his particular ear, and took no offense.

Frowning and furrowing even more, Mac opened his mouth to thank Shiny Shoes and polite his way out of a conversation that wouldn’t help or solve anything for anyone. Then he closed his mouth after only a sigh emerged, accompanied by a rebel tear, which he dashed away.

“I got ditched at the altar a few hours ago,” he heard himself say in an even, matter-of-fact enough voice made only slightly hoarse from tears and the holding back of.

Shiny Shoes’ eyes were the ones to widen, now. “Ah . . . that is . . . disheartening, indeed.”

Letting a crooked smirk of his own cross his face, Mac nodded. “It is pathetic to get dumped by your fiancé in front of a packed venue of relatives, friends, and well-wishers, yes.”

“Quite,” Shiny Shoes agreed with commiserative sanguinity, his Fenton Green-eyes taking Mac in, in a slow, appreciative once-over. “But I find it far more . . . difficult to believe that anyone not suffering a head injury, or a monastic calling would leave you at all. Let alone when they’re about to . . . put a ring on it, as it were.” Shiny Shoes’ dark brows lifted, and Mac found himself blushing and looking down. “At any rate, my condolences on your canceled nuptials. I can’t imagine how that must feel . . . nor can I imagine that someone so deeply invested in the tying together of two lives would deserve such an ignominious let-down.”

“That’s kind of you to say. You’re . . . kind,” Mac said, another sigh drifting up and out of him as he met that compelling gaze again. He even found a nearly-real smile for his companion, who hummed.

“I’m hardly kind, merely . . . offended that right now, some utterly addled bride—or groom?—considers you a bullet worth dodging, when you’re clearly the sort of bullet one gladly takes to the head. And the heart.”

Mac’s face went up in another fierce blush, but this time he didn’t look away. He held that challenging, flirty, and curious gaze as steadily as he could.

“Groom. And, uh . . . Andrew’s a lotta things, but addled? Nah. He’s . . . always known what he wants. And for a time, what he wanted was me. And I was . . . lucky. And content.”

“Hmm.” Shiny Shoes’ smile grew a bit pensive. “Content. But not happy?”

“I—” Mac blinked and bit his lip. “There’s a difference?”

“For many people, there isn’t.” Shiny Shoes looked down at his . . . shiny shoes, and shrugged broad shoulders that were showcased in charcoal wool. His tie and matching pocket-square were an opalescent shade of green that complimented his eyes. “Happy is rare and worth reaching for, even if we know our reach will always exceed our grasp. Happy is a horizon one must always chase without the promise of getting or keeping. Contentment is . . . what many settle for because they lack the vision or guts to reach for something better, bigger, and riskier.”

When those eyes met Mac’s again, he found himself shivering. “Is settling so wrong, then? Finding something comfortable and secure and . . . nice that you can trust not to get twisted or bitter, or completely destroy you?”

“I suppose not. If, in fact, you can trust whatever you settle for to not destroy you.”

Mac blanched then blushed so fast under Shiny Shoes’ pointed stare, that even as he stood up, he nearly fell over. “Right,” he said, wavering between going back into the full-swing reception—Mac had seen no point in wrecking everyone’s afternoon of free food, booze, and watered-down power-ballads just because his entire life had been knocked off course—or maybe just going home. No one would expect him to keep up appearances and be his usual, responsible self, today. “Point to you, my clever friend. Have a good evening.”

“Wait! I’m . . . I shouldn’t have said . . . that was unkind of me. Pointlessly and undeservedly so. Unworthily so,” Shiny Shoes added and Mac, already shuffling off down the sidewalk, merely shrugged, shoving his hands in his pockets. “I apologize.”

“When you’re right, you’re right. No apologies necessary. Have a nice one.” Home, it is, Mac decided. He could text his sister, Lana—who had still been dancing pretty exclusively with Mac’s old college-buddy, Jan Wexler—once he got home and got his waiter-costume off, and just ask her to handle the rest of everything.

And Mac was prepared to keep shuffling to the corner of the hall, thence to make his way around to the parking lot adjacent to it, when he suddenly got company.

Shiny Shoes was keeping pace with him. Was again close enough that Mac could feel him, but not close enough that they were touching. Though—considering that they were almost of a height, with perhaps an inch in Shiny Shoes’ favor—that their shoulders, at least, didn’t brush was surprising.

“I’m not always a complete asshole to attractive and interesting men who’ve just had their hearts broken,” Shiny Shoes said in a soft, rueful, but earnest rush. He sounded angry and, when Mac glanced over at the other man, looked angry, as well. Though not at Mac, if that frustrated set to his handsome face was any indication.

“Not always, huh? Well, I must be special, then. As special as everything else about this awesome day,” Mac mused with fake-wonder, and could see Shiny Shoes flinch, from the corner of his eyes.

“Ah,” was the reply, along with an uncomfortable laugh. “You do strike me as special, but in ways that I’m guessing are . . . refreshing. And compelling. And . . . sweet.”

Mac snorted. “Uh-huh. Do you always waste your best come-on lines on down-on-their-luck idiots you randomly stumble across?”

“Hmm. Nothing I’ve said so far has been even close to my best come-on lines. I’m off my game, tonight,” Shiny Shoes admitted absently, and Mac snorted again, then laughed. That earned him Shiny Shoes’ surprised glance. There was something almost painfully hopeful and apologetic in it.

“Well. That much is true, I suppose. I sure won’t argue with it.”

“Thanks. I think.” More of that simple sincerity, dilated Fenton Green-eyes, and a small smile that wavered, as did Shiny Shoes’ step. Mac blinked and frowned as he realized that, despite his suaveness and self-possession, the other man was likely quite drunk.

Indeed, Mac was catching faint whiffs of Bowmore Small Batch coming from his left. Not the same label Mac’s Dad had most favored, but one of his top three: light, almost tropical, but mule-kick strong.

Ignoring his own wave of nostalgia, Mac looked forward again. Let the silence stand as he turned right, into the huge parking lot attached to the reception hall. Shiny Shoes followed without comment or hesitation.

Mac paused, however. He couldn’t remember for the life of him where he’d parked his car. He’d left remembering exactly where to Lana, because Lana never lost things and never got lost. And, anyway, Mac’d thought she’d be the one driving his car back to his place at the end of the evening.

Now, he supposed, from the sparks flying between them, Lana’d be getting a . . . ride from Jan.

Smirking then sighing, he dug his keyfob out of his pocket for a rousing game of Follow the Car-Alarm.

The beep of horn and flash of brights was, indeed, some car-lengths distant.

With another sigh, Mac shoved his hands and keyfob into his pockets, and strode off car-ward. Shiny Shoes followed him contemplatively, clearly lost in his own sloshed thoughts.

“Angling for a lift home?” Mac asked dryly, sardonically. Shiny shoes blinked over at him and yeah, he was almost completely loopy. Mac must’ve been extremely distracted to have not noticed that haze of whisky attending the other man, if not the blitzed luminosity of his eyes.

“Noooo,” Shiny Shoes exhaled, glancing around the lot as if hoping to spot something. Mac instantly went cold.

“If you’re even thinking of driving, skunked as you are, I will tackle you and wrestle the keys from your fingers, even if I have to break ‘em. Even if I have to break you,” he informed his companion grimly, only to get a confused and incredulous expression, which cleared into a smile that was bemused.

“I took a taxi here. I plan to take one home.”

Still scowling and suspicious, Mac held the other man’s gaze until that bemused expression became a warm, throaty chuckle.

“You . . . really are something, aren’t you?” Shiny Shoes murmured, giving Mac a once-over that lingered at Mac’s shoulders on its way down then, upon returning upward, at his eyes. That Fenton Green-gaze was warmer than his smile, bordering on heated. “Dazzling.”

“Because I won’t let you drive your drunk ass home and possibly kill others, as well as yourself?” Mac shook his head. They’d stopped walking next to a blue, late model Volvo SUV. “Your threshold for dazzle is depressingly low.”

“Not at all.” Shiny Shoes laughed again. “When it comes to men, at least, it’s always been rather high. For better or worse. Higher than it is for women, anyway.”

“Right. Is that your subtle way of informing me that you’re bisexual?”

“Pansexual. And yes, if you find the information pertinent and useful. Or might, in the future.”

“Look,” Mac said firmly, stalking off toward his far-car, once more. With Shiny Shoes at his side. “I get that you’re a flirt, and that’s . . . it is what it is. But not only have we been acquainted for, like, barely five minutes, but in that time, you’ve insulted me and the ex who I happen to still love since, you know, he literally only left me a few hours ago. And pretty much broke his own heart, too, while doing so.” He shot a glare at Shiny Shoes, who was apparently listening with rapt-drunk attention. “Plainly put, your sexuality and relationship status won’t be pertinent and useful to me ever. Not even in the future. You’re wasting your time. I’m not on the rebound yet and even if I was, it wouldn’t be with you.”

Shiny Shoes blinked, then grinned. “Oh, rest assured, a one or few nights-stand, while you’re on the rebound—as intense and delightful as that might be—isn’t exactly what I’m reaching for.” His grin widened in wry self-deprecation.

Snorting, Mac shook his head. “Well, if you’re expecting something more than that . . . even the one night-stand isn’t within your grasp, reaching though you claim to not be. More, whatever that is, isn’t even in the same room as the table, let alone on it.”

Shiny Shoes tilted his head as if taking Mac’s measure and reading between his lines. Through force of will, Mac didn’t fidget under that drunk-but-keen gaze, merely served Shiny Shoes a cool, unimpressed smile in return.

“I would like to be your friend . . . actually, no,” Shiny Shoes amended, that wry smile curving his mouth further. “I would like to be a lot more than that, I think. But if all I ever am to you is a friend, I think that would be . . . not at all a consolation-prize. I would like to know you in whatever capacity suits you, whether or not it deepens in the future.”

“I—you—” Mac massaged his temples for a minute, with his eyes closed tight. After counting to ten then back down to one, he opened his eyes and lowered his hands. Shiny Shoes was watching him with both curiosity and that startling concern from before. Stung, for some reason, Mac glared and spoke before the other man could ask him if he was alright. Or otherwise extend a sympathy and compassion that was, Mac knew, sincere, if nothing else about the man was. “A guy like you must have lots of friends and admirers—hangers-on and hopefuls. Why’re you wasting time with me?”

Shiny Shoes frowned. “Perhaps because I can’t imagine any time spent with you—in any way—could be considered time wasted.”

“Yeah, well, you’re pretty short on imagination, then. And wrong. Dead-fucking-wrong. My own fiancé couldn’t convince himself I was worth some time. A few years, or even months or weeks. Hell, even I wasn’t stupid enough to hope for a lifetime. But a little while would’ve been. . . .” Mac’s vision doubled, then trebled, then cleared as tears ran down his cheeks. He didn’t bother wiping them away, since Shiny Shoes had already seen. And anyway, Mac didn’t care what the other man thought of him. Especially since Shiny Shoes had already expressed his low opinion of him. “I get that you’re trying to be nice and apologize for what you said before. Apology accepted, all’s forgiven. But the brutal honesty of what you said doesn’t make it any less true. I’m an idiot and a coward and . . . a disappointment. That’s always been the case. You picked right-up on that—hole in one, by the way—and called it like you saw it. Like a lot of people eventually see it. That’s not something your kindness and good intentions in the aftermath can fix or help. So, thanks for the pity, but no, thanks. Have a good night.”

Mac turned away and started walking again, his heart racing, his eyeballs throbbing, and his head pounding. He was anxious and angry, and felt as if he was careening toward out-of-control speech.

And out-of-control behavior, as well.

The last thing he wanted was to have a repeat of what’d happened in freshman year of high school. Didn’t want to get so enraged he blacked out during the middle of what’d feel like a plain, old panic attack. Only to crawl out from under a universe of midnight and find himself in the back of a squad car with a bloody nose, bloody fists, and no memories of a fight that’d follow him forever. That would dog his path from his fancy private high school, to the military academy across the country his father had shipped him off to.

He really, really didn’t want that. But between the throbbing, pulsing, and aching of head, blood, and throat—his fucking throat felt like it was convulsing, and he couldn’t breathe right—he was suddenly sure that what he wanted and what was actually going to happen wouldn't have much in common.

As per usual.

“Hey,” Shiny Shoes said softly, catching up to Mac quickly and keeping pace no matter how much Mac tried to ignore and out-walk him. Mac didn’t even realize his fists were clenched and that he was panting, gusts of air whistling in and out of his flared nostrils, and with his eyes narrowed again to slits of blurred, trebled vision. Shiny Shoes’ extended his hand as if to clasp Mac’s shoulder, like he had in front of the reception hall. Mac shrugged off the kindness, shaking his head and with his own hand held up in warning.

“No, don’t . . . it’s not,” he managed, then shook his head again, hanging it and closing his eyes. Asshole-ish tendencies aside, Shiny Shoes didn’t deserve a beat-down and hospitalization just because Mac’s anger was apparently not as managed or calmed as he’d long since believed and hoped. “Stop following me. I don’t wanna hurt you.”

“That’s . . . appreciated,” Shiny Shoes said, still strangely earnest, and solemn, as well. Mac hunched his shoulders, lowered his head, and kept walking. He didn’t even know where he was going, anymore. He knew he should hit the alarm on his keyfob again, but didn’t think what was left of his pride could stand admitting his own scattered, shattered state in front of a witness. “What’s your name?”

“Seriously, could you please just be somewhere I’m not? Aren’t there friends and colleagues you can drunk-text, or something?”

“I’m Laurent Alves,” Shiny Shoes went on, relaxed and friendly, though Mac could sense the effort and tension behind it. And it must’ve been extra effortful and tense, if he could sense it beyond his own consternation and ire. He pinched the bridge of his nose, but knew that whatever was brewing in his skull wouldn’t be staved-off by such a simple trick. He really, really needed to go home and medicate. Self-medicate. Injudiciously, even. And stay that way for the next few days. “I, myself, am here for a wedding, too. In the east hall. My ex- . . . ex invited me to her wedding purely out of spite. Since she went to all the trouble to do so, I felt it would be rude of me to not attend the event, in the same generous spirit. My wedding gift to the happy couple is me making a show of eating my heart out.”

Mac barked a startled laugh. “Now, there’s something kitschy and fun that probably wasn’t on the gift registry.”

“Indeed.” Shiny Shoes—Laurent Alves—chuckled, throaty and wicked, and Mac found himself smiling a little. “Plus, there’s an open bar and Livia’s lucky prey—er, husband—has fantastic taste. In alcohol, at least.”

“And suddenly his true motivations reveal themselves. . . .” Mac huffed through more laughter. Laurent shrugged.

“As they always do, eventually.”

Mac glanced at Laurent and rolled his eyes again. The other man was watching him with unhidden appreciation, and smirking like a man with a secret. “Indeed.” Mac gave him a frosty, haughty as if-look. Laurent chuckled again, cleared his throat, and looked ahead.

They were getting close to the chain link fence that demarcated the end of the reception hall lot and the west parking lot of the old Pathway Security Systems complex. The facility had been empty as far back as Mac could remember. The grounds had always looked haunted and forgotten, and only looked more so with time.

Mac had always pitied the real estate company tasked with getting someone to take the property on. . . .

“You still haven’t told me your name,” Laurent noted as they reached the final row of cars before the chain link fence.

“Well-spotted.” Mac, his face red and shoulders tense, paused at the bumper of a gray-brown Land Rover. He almost leaned on it, but didn’t, in case the alarm was sensitive. But he figured that Laurent had to know that he was just bluffing and stalling. He could only hope that Laurent would wander off before Mac had to admit that he had no clue where his car was.

After another knowing laugh, Laurent proved Mac’s hypothesis right. “I believe we passed the vicinity from whence came your lights and horn. Some rows back, in fact, and an aisle further to the right. . . .”

“I find you infuriating and smug,” Mac snarled, whirling on Laurent so suddenly that the other man took two steps back, seeming surprised and wary. But only for a moment. His charming smile made a quick comeback and he winked at Mac before taking several steps closer. Into Mac’s personal bubble.

“You aren’t the first,” Laurent claimed with what sounded like pride. Mac sneered, though he wasn’t used to making such an expression and it faltered almost instantly.

“Color me shocked.” He crossed his arms over his chest and made the mistake of inhaling deeply to calm himself.

This close Laurent, of course, still smelled of Small Batch, but he also smelled clean and alluring. Masculine, but not overwhelming: musky-sweet, like cedarwood and vanilla . . . with bright hints of orange, and darker notes like sage, too.

And his eyes were. . . .

Blinking and blushing and confused, Mac took a step back—or tried, and was halted by the gray-brown Land Rover. For a moment he was just glad the alarm didn’t go off. Then, he was gasping as Laurent stepped closer.

Way closer. And his eyes didn’t seem nearly as giddy-drunk or sad-drunk as they had been, at turns. They were sober and intense. Naked.

“Even just a first name? Please?” he entreated, but held and commanded Mac’s gaze. Blushing even deeper, Mac looked away, off toward the Pathway compound’s cracked, weedy, and abandoned lot.

Mac,” he heard himself say, bit his lip, then closed his eyes and shook his head ruefully. “Noah, actually. But everyone calls me Mac.”

“Hmm. You . . . don’t look like a typical Highlander.” Laurent’s voice seemed lower and more intimate. And even closer. Mac didn’t open his eyes to confirm that, but the faint heat-scent of Small Batch ghosted across his face. A strange, desperate, scared laugh bubbled up out of him.

“That’s because I’m only half-Highlander. My . . . middle name’s MacIntyre, my mom’s maiden-name. I, apparently, inherited the MacIntyre personality-type and . . . temper. My family’s been calling me Mac since I was a toddler.”

“Ahh. Families and their affectionate pigeon-holing,” Laurent mused, with no small amount of rue, and Mac was surprised into opening his eyes. Laurent was, indeed, closer—almost kissing-close—but staring off back toward the reception hall. His expression was brooding and melancholy. But it soon snapped back to Mac, considering and wry again. “You look more like a Noah, to me. But if Mac is what you prefer, I’ll happily call you that.”

“I. . . .” Mac could only gape at first, then sputtered out: “It doesn’t matter, since we’re not likely to ever meet again. And certainly not on a familiar nicknames-basis.”

Laurent’s dark brows lifted. “That remains to be seen. Regardless, I’d like to know which you prefer, so that when I wake up in the morning, hungover and alone, I can lament, ‘Ah! To be so thoroughly rejected by such a lovely man as’. . . ?”

“Wow. You’re at least several different kinds of asshole. Some of them simultaneously,” Mac observed, and Laurent laughed.

Noah, it is, then! Something in your snarky deflection leads me to believe being Mac has been wearing thin for a long time,” he added off Mac’s dismayed and exasperated expression. His smirk widened, then softened into a wistful smile as his gaze dropped to Mac’s mouth. “You know, I’ll bet that if I kissed you right now, even if you enjoyed it, you’d punch me in the face on general principle alone.”

Another spot-on assessment of me! Impressive, Mr. Alves!” Mac exclaimed with faux heartiness, digging out his keyfob. A few moments later he was shoving past Laurent, off to the right, and back toward the reception hall and his car. This time, it was clear after even a few yards that Laurent Alves was not following.

Smiling, Mac clutched at his keyfob and nodded to himself with grim satisfaction.

But a few yards further on, that smile felt like a gritted grimace. The sort that could potentially crack tooth enamel.

Another few yards, and Mac had stopped. And though he told himself not to look back the way he’d come, he did.

Then, after staring at a slump-shouldered, sunset-limned Laurent Alves—who was staring off at the Pathway parking lot, as if he had nothing better to do and nowhere better to be—Mac shook his head once more. He was still angry, but his blood had gone from boil to simmer, his headache from near-nuclear to nuisance.

Ugh. He was right. I’m a fucking idiot, Mac thought, incredulous and amazed at himself. But instead of making him angry again, it made him smile for-real. It was small and hopeless, that smile—hapless—but it was still a smile.

“Hey, Alves!”

Laurent spun away from the Pathway lot after a sluggish startle-and-flail. Even with the bit of distance between them, his eyes were bright and luminous. Mac sighed and just . . . went with it. With all of whatever shenanigans and trouble he was inviting, simply by giving his gut and heart free rein . . . as he hadn’t done in so long.

“If, uh—if you’re ready to stop torturing yourself as a wedding gift to your ex, I can, um . . . I mean, since I’m leaving, anyway—ah, fuck, d'ya want a ride home, or not?”

Laurent’s smile was slow, but pleased. And, by the time he drew even with Mac, beaming and hopeful.

Blushing again—deeper than ever—Mac silently lead them to his car, with only one more locating beep-n-brights.

“You live in town, right?” he asked as he nodded to indicate his car. Laurent made a soft sound of approval and appreciation, stopping dead in his tracks for a few seconds.

“I do. Vista Park, not far from the university.” Laurent sounded distracted and impressed. Mac smiled just a little.

“I know it. Fancy digs.”

“Eh. I’ve lived in fancier,” Laurent said dismissively, as he stood near the passenger side bumper of Mac’s baby. “Chevelle SS 454, right? Seventy-one?”

“Seventy, actually.” Now, Mac was the one impressed, however unwillingly. “You like classic cars.”

“I like striking character, gorgeous lines, and an outstanding body.” Laurent’s gaze met Mac’s briefly—challengingly—then dropped back to the car between them with a smirk. “And . . . Chevelles are certainly all of that. And more, besides.”

“Right. Um.” Mac flushed, and knew he was about to say something stupid. Or angry. Or telling. To cut that inevitability off at the knees, he unlocked the car and curtly gestured at Laurent to let himself in.

“Thank you, Noa—er, Mac.” The other man beamed at Mac again, quirky and pleased and genuine. Mac swallowed a persistent lump in his throat and he looked away, opening the driver’s side door. Laurent was but a moment behind him, and they slid into their respective seats and buckled up.

“It’s, uh . . . Noah,” Mac said softly, then started the Chevelle. As his baby rumbled to purring, powerful life, he focused on backing her out of the spot. But he could still feel those shrewd, approving Fenton Glass-eyes on him like moonlight. “Noah Chau.”

Mac didn’t have to look over at Laurent to know the man was smirking. Maybe with Mac, this time, and not at him.


Good enough to be going on with, Mac decided.

With a revved-up roar, he piloted the Chevelle out of the lot at speed, then hung a hard left. In seconds, the reception hall was lost to the sunset behind them: just another sad bit of the past put in the rearview . . . obscured by forward momentum and road-dust, and laid to rest by the hope of better times ahead.

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