Bring Scott tonight.
Levi hadn’t seen his friend in days, but Javi’s random afternoon text was so very him: slightly abrupt, a bit demanding, and devoid of any greeting. Theirs was an easy friendship, born of dumb luck and weaned by a pragmatism Levi respected. He’d always liked that Javi got right to the point.
The point today, it seemed, was getting Scott’s ass to Sanctum for Midweek Tea, the code phrase they used for lounging at the salon. Not quite a gallery, not quite a restaurant, and definitely not a bar, it was still the trendiest place to be on a Thursday night.
Javi could have brought Scott himself, but having Levi do it ensured that Scott would get into VIP, and made for the precise sort of illusion Javi liked to cast for his clients. Cut-rate matchmakers engineered dates. Top-tier matchmakers made it so that the client never felt on display and the mark didn’t even know he was being fixed up. Javi considered himself to be the latter.
Javi had never mentioned that he had Scott in mind for one of his clients, but texting Levi for the hookup was good-as-anything proof that he did. Too bad Sanctum was like a fortress. Even Javi couldn’t just waltz into the place. If they wanted in to VIP, Levi would have to walk them all in—a line of grown men daisy-chaining their way inside.
Sorry, man. I’m out for tonight, Levi texted Javi back quickly. Tied up through the weekend too.
Can Darius get us in? Javi shot back.
Not without me, he tapped out.
When Levi heard the whoosh of the double doors, his fingers froze and he craned his neck. Texting with Javi was distracting him from his real task: scanning for Adam.
When are you gonna get with that hot owner so all of us can get in? Javi texted.
Levi’s gaze fell back to his phone, the chime of yet another alert breaking his concentration. It had been asked before. Sanctum’s very tall, very dark, and very handsome owner had a habit of flirting with Levi.
We’ll all go next weekend, Levi wrote back, too distracted to remind Javi to back off about playing Cupid with him and Paul. Levi had no problem helping his friend help other people find true love—as long as he didn’t try to help Levi.
Levi craned his neck again to look toward the doors. Adam’s flight had landed. The status on the airline app had told him as much.
You on a shoot? Javi asked.
It was a good guess. Levi’s career as a photographer had taken him on location all over the world.
Picking up a friend at SFO. He’s in from out of town, Levi sent back.
Come out tonight. Bring him! Javi implored.
For the briefest of seconds, Levi tried to picture Adam at Sanctum—his hotel mogul friend hobnobbing it with queer San Francisco’s artist elite. But Adam would charm them all—impress them—never mind that nothing bored his best friend more than art. Charming people was what Adam did.
Trust me. It’s not his scene, Levi tapped out quickly before navigating to his contacts list. He grabbed Scott’s number and texted it to Javi. Not that Javi would use it, but getting Javi off his case would let Levi go back to watching intently for his friend.
No sooner had Levi slid his phone into the back pocket of his jeans than Adam’s form came into view. Levi would know the cadence of his gait and the cut of his rectangular jaw anywhere.
Three things happened to Levi every time he saw Adam: anticipation prickled his neck, he quelled the impulse to wet his lips, and his dick got a little hard. Then there was the tunnel vision thing—the way that, when Adam walked into a room, noises dulled and periphery faded for a pregnant moment and there was no one but the two of them.
They weren’t alone, of course. Adam was never alone. Today, a gaggle of smartly dressed flight attendants flocked around him.
“Fucking Adam,” Levi muttered. Even as he shook his head, Levi’s lips curved into a smile. Adam didn’t notice him at first. But that was the way it always was—Adam busy noticing whoever’s pheromone he liked best, and bystanders busy noticing Adam.
Levi had forgotten how comical it could be. Adam had that kind of charisma. When he walked into a room, records scratched to astonished silence, and people stopped what they were doing to look. Levi had seen babies stop crying to smile at him and fierce-looking dogs leave their masters’ sides to be petted by this man. It wasn’t just Levi. Everyone was attracted to Adam.
Recollection of what a nuisance Adam’s ridiculous magic could be didn’t stop Levi’s grin from widening. The man was a golden-eyed god. He had his Iranian-born parents to thank for regal bone structure, pouty lips, and luminous, polished-bronze skin. Levi appreciated Adam’s utter perfection as a specimen of the male ideal just as much as anyone else. But unlike everyone else, Levi saw Adam for more than sex on legs. Levi knew his heart. They’d known one another since they were boys.
“Come out with us tonight.” A flight attendant in a dark pencil skirt suit smiled with suggestive lips painted in the same shade of vermilion as the ascot around her neck.
“Sorry, babe… I got plans.” Adam said it with a billion-dollar smile. She leaned in and gazed at him dreamily, as if he’d just invited her to join him in a suite at the Kerr instead of turning her down flat. Adam was the only person Levi knew who could hand someone a steaming, stinking shit burger and have the person he served it to beg him for more.
And just like that, Adam’s gaze slid right to Levi—with precision—as if he’d known where Levi stood all along. Adam kept walking, never missing a beat, disentangling both women from beneath his arms.
“Sonofabitch,” Adam said, the corner of one lip quirking into a smile and his eyes glowing soft embers as he looked at Levi; it was a frat boy thing to say, but Adam was kind of a bro. Adam threw his arms around Levi and they shared a bear of a long hug.
“I missed you, brother,” Adam murmured a second before releasing his embrace and holding Levi by the shoulders, at arm’s length. He said it with earnest intensity that got Levi every time.
“Ladies….” Adam let his eyes linger for a final moment before shifting his gaze to the women who hung on his every word. It bought Levi time to swallow the lump in his throat. “This is my best friend, Lev.”
Apart from family, Adam was the only one who shortened his nickname with correct pronunciation. Most people Americanized it to sound like the jeans. Levi’s parents were Argentinian. Back in the motherland, it had a short e.
“Lev can come out with us too….” This from a different flight attendant. They had all stopped when Adam stopped, including the ones who hadn’t been tucked under Adam’s arms. They all looked hopeful—even the adoring pilot. If any one of them could’ve torn their gaze from Adam, Levi could’ve shot a commiserating glance.
Sorry, guy. He’s taken. And his girlfriend’s completely gorgeous, the glance would’ve conveyed.
“I’ve been away for….” Adam looked at his watch, then looked at Levi. “What is it now? Nine months?” It was cheesy as hell, but Adam pulled it off. “Me and him have a lot of catching up to do.” He turned to his entourage and gave a small bow. “It’s been lovely. I mean it. Thanks.”
Levi didn’t miss the small folded paper that Red Lips pressed into Adam’s hand before whispering something in his ear and kissing his cheek, or the rueful, silent waves of the others. Levi watched Adam as Adam watched Red Lips walk away. Adam slid his gaze back to Levi, who was shaking his head again. If Levi had missed Adam’s incorrigible flirting, Adam had missed Levi’s mock-disapproving looks. Levi stared at Adam and Adam at him, each of their grins growing as the moments passed.
God, it’s great to see his face.
“You look good, man.” Adam clapped a hand on Levi’s shoulder. “San Francisco’s treating you right.”
“I love it here,” Levi admitted. He’d said as much the one time they’d seen each other in all that time. They’d met for dinner one night, when they both happened to be in London for business. Adam had asked Levi when he was moving back to New York. Levi had simply said that the project that had lured him to San Francisco had been ongoing. He hadn’t said that New York no longer felt like home, and he wouldn’t say—not right now—that his project had been over for two months. That he planned to sell his family house in Queens and stay in San Francisco.
But Adam’s project was over, and he was moving back stateside. San Francisco was a four-day stop. After a long weekend catching up, Adam would go back to headquarters in New York.
“You got luggage?” Levi asked. By then they’d begun walking.
Adam held up a small duffel Levi hadn’t noticed before. “If I need more clothes, I’ll stop by the hotel.”
Levi had forgotten how light Adam traveled. Being heir to a hospitality empire meant that Adam had a closet and a place to stay in every major city. It wasn’t until they started toward the doors—until the gaggle of flight attendants had disappeared from view—that Levi pulled out his phone.
“Lemme call an Uber,” Levi said. It was a short ride into the city. Brutal during rush hour but not bad at one o’clock on a Thursday afternoon.
“No need. The hotel sent a car.”
Adam lagged behind Levi, just by a step, as air from outside blew in along with the whoosh of the sliding double doors. He hovered his fisted hand over a trash can, and when he opened his fingers, the pink folded phone number of the flight attendant fell to its demise.
Adam wouldn’t have actually hooked up with the flight attendant—not as long as he was with Leila. But he might have given her a call to find out where the party was. No. Adam wasn’t a cheater. He was a party animal, an attention whore, and a flirt. And he didn’t spend much time alone.
“So it’s true….” Levi smiled his most nonchalant, most supportive-best-friend, and utterly-unaffected-by-Adam’s-love-life smile, even though this was a moment he had dreaded. “Your days of flight attendants are over. You popped the question. Leila’s finally gonna make an honest man out of you.”
Adam stopped outside, right on the other side of the doors, where the air was cool and the wind was sharp, as it tended to be on late spring afternoons this side of the bay. Levi needed him to say it—to speak out loud the big news Adam had insisted he be there to deliver in person, and ask the favor he wanted to ask face-to-face. It had to be that he and Leila were engaged and that he wanted Levi to be his best man.
“Leila and I broke up.”
The tip of Adam’s nose had begun to pink, and his cheeks were doing the same. Levi wished them back inside, wished to divine whether Adam’s color owed to emotion or to the winter of San Francisco spring wind.
“When?” Levi blurted inelegantly.
Adam scanned distractedly. If they wanted to reach the limo line, they had to go to an outer curb across the street. Adam started walking and Levi kept in step, barely heeding traffic to study Adam’s face. On the crosswalk, Adam replied, “A couple months ago.”
Puzzlement pierced through Levi’s stark relief. It was stupid, the way he was happier when Adam was single. Such news delivered the same foolish rush of hope that swelled over Levi when one of his celebrity crushes filed for divorce or came out. So what if Adam broke up with his girlfriend or fine-ass Wentworth Miller came out of the closet? It didn’t mean Levi had a chance.
The color on Adam’s cheeks as he spoke his confession was definitely a blush of shame. What kind of best friend forgot to mention for “a couple of months” that it was Splitsville between him and the girl his father wanted him to marry?
“You wanted to tell me in person you broke up with your girlfriend? That’s your big news?”
Adam had the decency to look chagrined. “None of it has to do with her.”
“You’re being cryptic,” Levi pointed out. “Adam. What the hell is going on?”
Levi’s heart raced faster than it had when he’d merely believed his best friend, whom he’d nursed no small crush on over the years, had taken himself permanently off the market. But Adam was being weird—his Adam, the most shameless and least apologetic person Levi had ever met. Had he screwed up in Tehran and put the company in jeopardy? Lost his fortune? Committed a crime? And what was the favor? Did Adam need Levi to hide him in Argentina with his grandparents, or to donate a kidney? Oh God. Was Adam sick?
Adam looked over his shoulder, paranoid, as if he would be recognized at any moment. He was far from famous, but he’d had his share of press.
“Let’s talk about it in the limo,” Adam whispered, splitting his attention between placating Levi and signaling to the car bearing his hotel’s name. “It’s nothing bad. It’s just… not public yet.”
“What’s not public?” Levi pressed the moment the limo stopped at the curb.
Adam threw him a pointed look and sighed. “I’m coming out. Again.”