For Sarah, with love
It’s not that Jack Lincoln is a vain man. Truly he’s not. He knows he has a handsome face, a lithe body and more charm than is good for him or anyone around him—he’s not blind and he has a perfectly serviceable mirror—but Jack isn’t really, truly, horribly vain. He’s just aware of his attributes. Come to think on it, he’s very aware of his attributes and how to use them to his advantage. But he’s not vain.
Before he tangled himself up with Adam Hollister, Jack spent a lot of time trotting around the block with anyone he could persuade to trot with him. He’s always been open-minded, taking his chances where he sees them. Because of those attributes we mentioned, he’s wined and dined a lot of women and he’s wined and dined a lot of men. Opportunistic, Adam called him, when his sister was one of the chances Jack took, and Adam’s tone was not approving. Who could blame him? Livvie Hollister was left brooding and angry because she hadn’t seen what Adam had, that the Jack Lincoln of those years was devil-may-care and casual, body-hungry and heart-free, and no one who deliberately set out to hold him would succeed. Not the sort of man you’d want dating your sister. Or your brother.
Jack swears he’s a reformed character these days. But as a result of his rash, youthful experimentation, if anyone’s experienced in all the arts and wiles of allurement, it’s Jack. It stands to reason that he’s seen every possible shift and stratagem, the little deceptions that enhance the good and hide the bad—the eyes made bigger and brighter with kohl, lips reddened and softened ready for kissing, cheekbones highlighted to accentuate the good bone structure underneath, skin dusted with powder to even out the tone and hide the blemishes. And he has, of course, noticed how candlelight flatters and compliments, how it makes the skin and hair glow with soft gold, and how the shifting shadows make everything softer and gentler.
So when he’s the one who wants to make a good impression, memories of all these harmless enhancements flit through his brain, reminding him of this effect or that as he sifts through them to decide which might give him an edge. Not that he really needs one, of course, since Jack Lincoln is practically in the thesaurus as a synonym for ‘alluring’.
All right. Maybe Jack’s a little vain.
There’s a limit to his vanity, though. He’s not averse to darkening his eyelashes to make his eyes more noticeable, for example, but he draws the line at kohl. If you ask him, he’ll admit that he tried it once. I can’t use it, he once confided to an old university friend. Nearly put my damned eye out with the kohl pencil and, believe me, Ben, having to dab at a red and weepy eye all through dinner does not give your date the impression you’re irresistibly sexy. They’re more likely to be worrying about catching pink-eye.
Ben’s response isn’t recorded but it wasn’t likely to have been sympathetic. Ben may once have been burned himself, another moth fluttering at Jack’s bright flame, and he tends to look on Jack’s entanglements with a cynical eye. Not that Ben’s lack of empathy ever bothers Jack. Ben’s a good friend and Jack loves him, but he doesn’t love him. Not that way.
No. That love’s reserved for Adam. It took Jack a couple of years to realise that he could trot around the block until the sun cooled, and it wouldn’t be worth as much as ten minutes with Adam Hollister. Unfortunately, Adam being of the ‘loves Jack but isn’t sure about trusting him’ school of experience, it was another couple of years before Jack got his chance. Still, perseverance won out. He and Adam are an item now and Jack’s committed to keeping it that way.
He wants to woo Adam tonight. It’s the first time for weeks they’ve had the chance to spend uninterrupted time together. While Jack’s delighted that their newly-formed PR partnership is buzzing with energy and they have almost more work than they can handle, the downside is that this thing he’s started with Adam, this more-than-affair that has his blood singing and his heart hammering, has had to take a back seat to the need to smooch their clients and woo new business. Tonight’s the first opportunity he’s had for a month to plan the perfect seduction. And Jack Lincoln is not the man to waste an opportunity. A quiet, romantic dinner, a good wine to wash it down, and then… well, Adam has a nice big bed that Jack is keen to put to good use.
What you have to understand about Jack Lincoln is that he never had a lot as a kid or growing up. His parents died when he was in his early teens and he got himself through university on sheer talent and by working so hard that no one who knew him then could ever understand how he had any energy at all left for block trotting. But you know what that sort of history means: Jack never takes anything for granted. You maybe wouldn’t expect it, when you think about that ne’er-do-well, devil-may-care reputation, but Jack goes to a lot of trouble when his heart is really set on something. He knows that he could probably sidle into Adam’s flat after an evening dancing in the clubs and hustle Adam straight into bed, and Adam would let him. But that, he thinks, is a paradox: an emotionless passion. There might come a time when loving Adam becomes casual and ordinary, to be fitted in between a business meeting and a drink in a wine bar as if Jack’s become desensitised to the wonder of it. But that time won’t come if Jack can help it. This thing they have is too precious for that.
So, he’s made the effort to make it a night to remember. He’s sorted out the special dinner, getting a new and fashionable bistro to deliver the best from their a la carte menu. He’s sold his soul three times over for a bottle of wine of a vintage so rare that it costs almost as much as he made in salary last month. All that remains to do now, is make the best of those God-given attributes so that Adam’s so dazzled by them that the evening will end precisely the way Jack wants it to.
His eye twitching in painful remembrance of the physical risks of cosmetics, he finds time for a flattering hair cut, darkens his eyelashes with subtle delicacy, and opts for candlelight as a sure-fire way of making both Adam and himself look pretty and put them both in the mood for romance. Not that he needs to be put into the mood, you understand. This is Jack Lincoln we’re talking about here. He’s a walking stereotype of how the human male is pretty much always up for sex.
The room is dimly lit, its fashionably grey and mint striped walls softened by flickering shadows and mellow light. The candlelight is perfect. The meal is perfect. The wine is perfect.
And Adam is perfect.
Adam sips his wine, and Jack stares, fascinated, at the play of light on his face. Adam, damn him, has the sort of bone structure that never needs enhancement, and something inside Jack grows warm and surges up into his throat as he falls in love all over again, seduced by the way that the candlelight casts shadows in the little hollows under Adam’s cheekbones and under his jaw. Jack likes to kiss the spot under Adam’s jaw. He really likes to do that. Adam seems to like it too.
Adam puts down the glass. The wine glows a clear red in the candlelight, like a jewel trapped in crystal.
The warmth inside Jack grows until he wonders if he’s glowing too, a light to rival the candles. He has to take a minute to allow his breathing to even out before he can put the candelabrum to one side of the small table, careful of the little flames and the soft, hot wax. Adam’s smiling at him when he leans forward and he gives in to the urge to kiss that little shadowed spot. Adam makes a soft Ahhhh sound, tilts his head back and lets Jack do his worst. Or maybe it’s his best.
Jack’s mouth trails along the line of Adam’s jaw, making it into a line of little kisses. His lips touch every millimetre of skin, not letting one tiny morsel of it escape. When he reaches Adam’s mouth, it’s with the slow, delicious slide of Adam’s lips against his; Adam’s hot, wet tongue flickering out to lick him; Adam’s teeth nipping, gently, at his lower lip.
Jack’s almost sorry to pull away and sit back far enough to study Adam’s face, cupping Adam’s jaw in his hands. He’s awed. He’s pretty sure that’s the right word. Awed. What he feels is more than just pleased, more than just pleasure; it has something transcendental about it, something touched with might and power and a tiny smidgeon of terror. After all these months together, he’s still awed that he’s allowed to do this; to touch, kiss, hold, to look into familiar green eyes, a deeper, darker green than usual in the shadowed candlelight, and see himself reflected there.
He licks his lips, suddenly nervous, because the look in those eyes almost stops his breath. He feels the muscles move against his palms as a smile rounds Adam’s cheeks, Adam’s mouth curving up under his touch. Adam’s hands are on him, clamped on his upper arms, and they’re leaning in towards each other and this table is so tiny, that they’re in the same space, close and together. Adam is limned in golden candlelight and so beautiful that Jack’s breath hitches in his throat like a sob that he can’t hold back.
And the warm thing inside him swells and grows until it feels like he has a sun trapped beneath his ribs, bursting to get out and fill the world with gold. Because Adam leans in and kisses him and laughs, the choke of laughter that comes from deep in his chest, and Jack can feel every little tremor of it vibrating through his bones.
Copyright 2013, Anna Butler
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