Javier had been shocked and hurt when Stephan had chosen the latter. He’d been giving Stephan the silent treatment ever since, avoiding him at parties like this. He’d even left the room at the sight of Stephan for several months after the breakup. Stephan had been crushed by the whole thing.

I had understood that Javier was hurt badly, but I still thought he’d been an asshole about the breakup.

Still, I’d been upset about the breakup as well. Stephan had never looked at any guy the way he looked at Javier, and I’d really hoped, at the beginning, that the relationship would work out for them.

Javier saw me staring at him, and his smiled died a quick death. He’d always been polite and courteous with me, but I’d sensed that I made him wary. Not a lot of people understood the relationship between Stephan and I.

Javier surprised me by striding to me and enveloping me in a soft hug. “I’m so happy to see you well, Bianca.”

I hugged him back automatically. He didn’t let go for some strange reason.

“You don’t hate me, do you?” he whispered in my ear.

I blinked, meeting Stephan’s sheepish eyes over Javier’s shoulder.

“Why would I hate you?” I asked him quietly. He’d thrown me for a loop.

“For being such a bastard to Stephan for so long. My heart was totally broken, but that’s no excuse for the way I treated him. And I wasn’t exactly nice to you. I stopped speaking to you as well, even though none of it was your fault. Stephan even tells me that you defended me, up until I threw a fit at that Valentine’s party and embarrassed myself.”

Javier had been on our crew for the month when he and Stephan had started seeing each other. I had never even given a thought to the fact that Javier hadn’t spoken to me either, since the breakup. All things considered, I had just expected it.

“I know it sounds crazy, but I was jealous of you. I had myself half-convinced that something was going on between the two of you, and that was why Stephan couldn’t seem to commit to being gay.”

I stiffened. He hugged me tighter, though his hold was still soft. I doubted that the slender man had it in him to be rough.

“I know. Crazy, right?” Javier continued. “But me and Stephan have been talking again. Please, tell me you’re okay with it.”

I nodded, though I wasn’t really sure what to think. Javier’s about-face was just so sudden and unexpected, and Stephan hadn’t said a word. I had just barely caught up with the fact that he wasn’t seeing Melvin anymore.

“Yes, of course. I’m not Stephan’s keeper, contrary to popular belief.”

He kissed my forehead, pulling back to look at me. “I know, but you’re his family. I just want us to be cool.”

His eyes were earnest and pleading now, far from the cool way they usually looked. It gave me hope.

Perhaps he just acted cool, to hide his feelings. I could well understand that.

I smiled at him. It was stiff, but not for lack of effort. “Yes. Okay. I want whatever makes Stephan happy. Always.”

Javier nodded emphatically, finally stepping away from me. “Good. Great. Stephan was worried you wouldn’t like us seeing each other again.”

I sent Stephan a baffled look. He was still watching us, looking distressed.

“He should know better,” I said.

Javier moved back to Stephan. I was floored by what happened next. Stephan threw an arm over Javier’s shoulders, messing up his hair playfully. He released the smaller man almost instantly, but it was still the most affectionate thing I’d ever seen him do in public with another man.

For some reason, I felt my eyes getting moist.

Stephan caught my eye, walking over to me. He pushed me into his chest, leaning down to speak into my ear. “Are you really okay with this?”

“What kind of a question is that?” I asked, my voice muffled against his pale orange polo. “And why is this the first I’m hearing about it?”

He was running a hand up and down my back soothingly. “It was just weird timing. I kept meaning to, but things have been so crazy. I could never find the right time. He actually called me because he heard you’d been hurt, and he wanted to make sure we were both okay. That’s sweet, right?”

I pushed back, nodding at him. “What about your…issues?”

He swallowed, hard. “Javier and I talked about it. And I realized he has a very good point. I don’t have to make an announcement to the world. I don’t need a coming-out ball, yanno? But I don’t need to lie about it anymore, either. I can just live my life. I don’t owe any explanations to anybody. I always said I just wanted my private life private, but I’m beginning to see that there was more to it. And I have nothing to be ashamed of, right?”

He had tried to make it a statement, but I still heard the question in there. I gripped his arms, hard. “Not a thing. I’m so proud of you, Stephan.”

He squeezed my arm. We avoided eye contact for a long minute, both blinking back embarrassing tears.

Finally, composed, he just nodded, heading back to stand near Javier. He gripped the other man’s shoulder briefly before folding his arms across his chest, listening to whatever Jessa was ranting about.

I felt a little in shock about Stephan’s sudden, drastic change of heart. But it was a good shock.

I watched the two men for several minutes, dazed by the change in Stephan. It wasn’t full on PDA, but he kept playfully poking Javier in the chest, or tugging on a lock of his hair. Javier kept his hands carefully to himself, but he was giving Stephan the warmest, sweetest looks. I thought it was beautiful.

Murphy and Damien were the next to join our group, and made the rounds, hugging everyone. I realized that our little group had grown rather large and loud.

I searched the spacious lounge, thinking that James might have a hard time spotting me in such a large group, but I saw no sign of him.

I did spot Melissa across the room. She was sitting by the bar with Captain Peter. She was wearing a skin-tight red dress, staring at our group sullenly. I wondered, a little cattily, why she insisted on wearing colors that clashed with her hair. I mentally chastised myself. She was an unpleasant person, but that was no excuse for sinking to her level.

I gave her a little wave when our eyes met, resolving to at least be polite since she was a member of our crew for at least another month. She just nodded back, then looked away. At least she hadn’t flipped me off.

I focused back on our growing group as we were joined by two more.

It was Judith and Marnie. They’d been on our crew a few months back. They were inseparable party girls. Judith had long black hair, and Marnie was a platinum blond. They were both very short with great figures and cute faces. They sort of reminded me of naughty pixies. Half-drunk naughty pixies at the moment.

I remembered that they often introduced themselves to men at bars as Ivanna Humpalot and Alotta Vagina. They rarely went back to their rooms alone, sometimes even sharing men with each other. They were a funny pair, but not for the faint of heart. Stephan and I had been at Judith’s twenty-first birthday party about two months ago. It had been crazy. She’d made out with at least three men that I’d seen, and dragged two of them to her hotel room.

Marnie was a year older than Judith, just twenty-two. I was older than both girls, but the two of them had me beat by a lot of years in experience. They both thought any woman who had lasted to fifteen with their virginity intact was a prude. I didn’t imagine they even had a word for someone who had lasted until age twenty-three, like I had.

Judith squealed in delight when she saw me. She rushed over and hugged me.

“I heard about the attack. How are you doing?” she nearly shouted.

I hugged her back stiffly, wishing she hadn’t spoken so loudly. “Good. How are you?”

She cast a sidelong glance in Damien’s direction.

“How much you wanna bet I’ll wake up in Damien’s bed tomorrow?” she whispered. “Then I’ll be good. Marnie hooked up with him a few months ago. She says he’s hung. The last guy I hooked up with was a real disappointment. It had to have given me some like good cock charma, right?”

Her words surprised a laugh out of me. I hadn’t known about the hook-up between Marnie and Damien, but I wasn’t surprised.

“TMI, Judith,” I told her with a smile. “I have to work with him every week.”

Marnie had sidled up next to us, squeezing between us to hug me softly. “If Judith goes after him tonight, I’m joining them,” she said with a wink. “I swear to god, if any man can handle two women at once, it’s him. He’s a marathon man.”

Judith wrinkled her nose at Marnie. “I never get the really good ones to myself. She always wants a piece.”

I didn’t even try to hide my laugh. She was complaining, but her tone was more amused than upset.

Damien caught my eye from a few feet away. He didn’t walk over, just gave me wide, questioning eyes. I was sure he was worried what they were telling me about him. I just smirked at him. He covered his face with his hands, and I swore I could hear his pained groan. I didn’t feel real bad for him, since I was willing to bet he’d end up with the feisty girls by the end of the night.

“I heard a rumor that you lost your V-card. Finally. And to some super hot rich guy. Is it true?”

I grimaced. The rumor mill was alive and well, and apparently held some truth. “Yes. Please don’t say it so loud.”

I was still mortified that the two girls even knew I’d been a virgin. They had guessed it, strangely enough, considering I knew few people who knew less about being virgins themselves. We’d been in Judith’s hotel room, watching some romantic comedy on a layover, when the two girls had started in on their favorite sex stories. They’d asked me to share, and I’d just blushed. They had guessed, with no little disgust, that I was a virgin. I had to give them a firm talking to when they wouldn’t stop trying to find men to relieve me of the ‘problem’. Marnie had even volunteered to lend me her on-again off-again boyfriend at the time. I had not taken the offer well. I’d gotten over it, though, knowing she was a little oblivious to other people’s feelings when it came to things like that.

“Well, congratulations. Was he any good? Sometimes the really good-looking ones are horrible in bed.

It’s that whole, I’m so hot I don’t even have to try, mentality. Yanno?” Judith elbowed Marnie playfully in the ribs while she spoke.

I just shook my head, wide-eyed. I most certainly didn’t know anything about that. I couldn’t imagine there was a man on the planet who was better in bed. I didn’t particularly want to share that information, though.

“So he was good? Your first time was good?” Marnie pried.

I nodded, very uncomfortable. The sharing personal information thing was so not for me.

“On a scale of one to ten, what was he?”

I sighed. They were not gonna let up. “How would, ‘I want him to fuck me to death, and he just might’, rate on that scale?”

The women hooted with laughter, but their laughter died as they looked up and to my left.


Tags: R.K. Lilley Up in the Air Erotic
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