The Murder Between Us by Tal Bauer



“Is this your first time?” The question was quiet, the man’s voice soft. Gentle.

He barked out a quick laugh and looked away, squinting at the bottles of top-shelf liquor. He was going to jump out of his skin. “Is it that obvious?”

“Well, I saw you shoot down the waitress—who, I might add, a hundred other guys would give just about anything to get a smile from. I thought I might have a better chance with you than she did, but… now I’m thinking I might be the first guy who has ever asked to buy you a drink.” His eyes peered into Noah’s, searching.

Noah swallowed. Lifted his chin. “You are.”

“Was my offer unwelcome?”

It was an off-ramp, a way to escape this conversation. Escape the question, escape his own question, escape his search for answers. “No. It was welcome. You’re right, though. I’ve never done this before. I’m not sure what I’m doing.”

“What did you come here for?” The man was still staring at Noah. The rest of the bar faded away: the shouts, the jingle of the slots, the electronic chimes and whirs. Even the sales guys and their boisterous, drunken laughter. Everything disappeared except the two of them and the inches that separated them. The heat of the blond’s knee where it brushed the back of Noah’s.

“I was…” He was what? Coming down here to look at men? How did that sound, when he said it outside the four walls of his hotel room? He sounded like a creep, like someone he would investigate and expect to find a string of sexual complaints behind, maybe some Peeping Tom activity or stalking. It hadn’t sounded that ridiculous before. Let yourself look. Let yourself pretend you’re allowed to.

God knows he’d wanted to.

He’d imagined meeting a man so many times, dreamed it and yearned for it and hungered for it, the skin of his hands itching from wanting to reach out and…

He wanted to know what it was like. Was the reality anything like the wanting?

“I was giving myself permission,” he said.

Smiling, the man held out his hand. “My name is Cole.” His smile made his whole face light up, turning the strong angles into gentle curves. “If you’d like, I’ll buy the next round and we can chat for a while.”

He has kind eyes. Whirlpools of warm wood, dark velvet and starlight. Cole’s eyes went right through Noah. That clench he’d carried for years was back, a constriction in his chest like his heart couldn’t beat right. “I’m Noah.” He took Cole’s hand. His skin was warm, smooth. His fingers were long. Jesus, he was gorgeous. “I’d love to have a drink with you.”

Cole beamed.





2





They talked about everything and nothing, working through one round and then a second. It was neither of their first times in Vegas, but Cole enjoyed the nightlife while Noah confessed this was his first time out without his friends in all the years he’d been coming. They were both there on business, but Noah didn’t elaborate—he didn’t want to drag the FBI into tonight, into this moment that didn’t seem real—and neither did Cole, following his lead. Cole loved football and hockey, and they argued about the NFL and the division rankings before Cole tried to explain hockey to him. They both hated golf.

The conversation veered back toward the personal, and the reason they were even talking, after the second round. “Are you questioning, curious, or…” Cole’s eyebrows flicked up, and he took a sip and waited as Noah stared into his own drink.

“‘Or,’ I think. I mean, I’m curious, but it’s more than that. I think I’m…” Gay. You think you’re gay. He gestured at nothing with his glass. Shrugged. “And I want to know.”

“Is this a recent question?”

Maybe Cole was a psychologist. He seemed to know just what to ask, and when. “No, not recent. I’ve been curious since I was a teenager. I shoved it away when I was younger. Coming out in high school twenty years ago, it wasn’t totally acceptable.” There were things he’d wanted, things he’d imagined in his life, that he thought would be forever off-limits to him if he was gay. So he decided he wasn’t, and that was that.

And here he was. “I only started thinking about finding out for sure in the last couple of years.”

“And tonight was the night you decided to do so? On a Wednesday in Vegas in the middle of your conference?” Cole was poking fun at him, but there was a serious question hidden there, too.