When glass artist Marco Ravel is commissioned to create a piece for a rich recluse, he's thrilled for the opportunity to stretch his creative muscle. He doesn't expect to fall for the man hiring him. For Henrik Schweitzer, the relationship blossoming between himself and Marco shakes his world to its foundation. He wants to keep what the two of them have together, but after eight years of near-complete solitude he doesn't know if he has what it takes to change. Marco and Henrik both know they can have something special, if they can conquer the mountain of fears in their path.
Marco snapped another photo of the dining room from the butler's pantry door. It was a wider shot than either of the last four he'd gotten, so maybe it wasn't a total waste of time.
He glanced over his shoulder. No sign of Augustina. She'd gone to check on her cousin at least twenty minutes ago. He knew he ought to be more patient, all things considered, but damn. Being left alone here made him uncomfortable.
Sighing, he crossed to the tall windows at the other end of the room and peered out at the lush green lawn and colorful flower beds in the front of the house. Mountain laurels lined the drive winding up the hillock on which the house sat, their branches covered with pink blossoms. The house faced west, toward the mountain, and its peak loomed green and tantalizing overhead. It was an unusual way to build. Marco wondered what the eastern view was like, down the mountain in the rear of the house. It must be stunning.
Marco turned, trying to move before the other man could run away again without moving fast enough to make him run away. Henrik hovered in the doorway, wearing a T-shirt that had probably been yellow once upon a time and a pair of jeans faded near-white. A hole gaped in the left knee, showing a tantalizing glimpse of thigh. His feet were bare, his hair wet and curling into fine wisps on the ends.
If he'd had a spoon Marco would've dug right in.
He smiled, hoping he didn't look quite as lecherous as he felt. "Hi." The wary look in Henrik's eyes stopped Marco from asking if he was all right.
"Hi." Henrik returned Marco's smile, still cautious but with an encouraging warmth. "I, um...I was looking for Gus. Um. Augustina."
Okay, that wasn't exactly what Marco had expected to hear. He set his camera on the table. "I thought she was with you."
"No. She left when I went to take a shower. I thought she'd be in here." Henrik glanced over his shoulder, running one hand self-consciously through his hair. "Huh."
"Hm. Maybe..." Marco thought about it, and laughed. "Hell, I have no idea. It's not like she could've just gone down the road to the store, could she?"
Henrik looked startled, then flashed a grin that made Marco want to molest him. "No, I guess not." He shifted from one foot to the other, glanced behind him again, then faced Marco with a level of determination Marco would've thought excessive if Augustina-Gus, that was cute-hadn't told him about Henrik's problem. "So. Marco. I wanted to tell you how much I love your vase."
Pleased, Marco smiled. "Thank you. Gotta say, I was pretty proud of that one." He eased closer, and let his smile warm when Henrik didn't seem inclined to run. "It's your vase now, though. I hope you're enjoying it."
"I am. I have an arrangement of mountain laurel blossoms in it right now." Henrik rubbed his palms on his thighs and took a cautious step closer to Marco. "What do you think about the dining room? The new light fixture, I mean. Do you have any ideas?" The startlingly blue eyes widened. "Oh, I haven't thanked you yet for taking this commission. You have no idea how much I appreciate it." He gestured at the chandelier. "This thing has needed replacing for pretty much my whole life."
Marco laughed. "Hell, I should be thanking you. I could use the money." He glanced around him, admiring the room for the umpteenth time. "Besides, I'm looking forward to this project. This room is beautiful. Designing a light fixture for it is going to be really exciting."
There went the sweet, sunny smile again. God, Marco was going to have a hell of a time keeping his hands to himself if Henrik kept up with this whole innocently-sexy thing. Which he no doubt would, since he obviously didn't know he was doing it.
Marco stuck his hands in the back pockets of his jeans. "To answer your question, yeah, I have some ideas. I'm thinking we should go more modern. Something that'll balance and enhance the traditional style of the room without getting lost in it, you know?"
"Yes. I think I see what you mean." Henrik began a slow circle around the table, studying the current chandelier with interest. "This one's too fussy, isn't it? The fake candles and gold tone don't belong in this room. It needs something more natural. More organic."
"Exactly." Marco watched Henrik's face, impressed with his insight. "You have a really sharp artistic eye, you know that?"
Henrik blushed. "Thanks." He eyed Marco from the other side of the table, his expression suggesting intense personal struggle. "You should stay. For lunch. Have lunch with Gus and me."
Surprised, Marco stared. "What?"
The blush, which had begun to fade, came back with a vengeance, coloring Henrik's pale cheeks a deep red. He hunched his shoulders. "You probably have other things to do. I shouldn't have-" His teeth dug into his bottom lip. "Sorry." Before Marco could process what was going on, Henrik strode toward the butler's pantry door.
Oh, hell no. You are not running away from me again. Marco sprang after him. "Henrik, wait." He touched Henrik's shoulder.
Henrik whirled around. His gaze locked with Marco's. This close, Marco could hear the other man's quick breaths and see the barely visible tremor in his hands. It hit Marco like a rock to the head that Henrik was holding a panic attack at bay by sheer force of will.
Marco took a step back, giving Henrik the space he needed. "I'd love to stay for lunch, if that's still okay." He peered into Henrik's eyes-those eyes that didn't seem able to hide anything-and decided to speak his mind. Or, well, part of it. "You surprised me when you asked me to stay, but I'm really glad you did. I'd like to get to know you better. I hope that's not being too forward," he added when Henrik's mouth fell open, "but you seem like a guy who appreciates honesty. So I'm just being honest."
Henrik studied him with undisguised suspicion. Marco's knees wobbled. The way Henrik's face betrayed his every thought and feeling made Marco's heart race like a prize greyhound. Which was weird, maybe, but he'd had one too many lovers who liked to play mind games. A man who didn't know how was rare enough that Marco found it incredibly attractive on multiple levels. He favored Henrik with his brightest smile.
Henrik laughed and shook his head. A lock of baby-fine blond hair fell across his eye. He brushed it away, which was a good thing because Marco thought he might've had to do it himself if Henrik hadn't. "Okay. Well, as long as you're being honest, I guess I can't very well do any less than that." He peered at Marco with an odd but compelling mix of amusement, shyness and desire. "I'd kind of like to get to know you better too. I'm sure Gus told you I don't exactly get out much. I love her, but it'd be nice to have someone else to talk to, even for a little while."
Standing close enough to touch the man he wanted like he hadn't wanted anyone in years, close enough to smell his shampoo and old clothes, Marco knew in his gut that a little while wasn't going to cut it. Not for him. Kind of scary, that.