The Murder Between Us by Tal Bauer

“I wasn’t going to do anything tonight. I thought I’d grab a drink and tell myself… ‘Someday.’ I don’t know, it sounds stupid to say it out loud. Like I was doing a dress rehearsal or something.”

“It’s not stupid. Everyone has their own process.”

He smiled. “This is the only time I can try, or do whatever I’m doing. I can’t be like that back home. I thought maybe letting myself feel the attraction I wanted to feel would be something. Some small step.”

“Well, I don’t think you’re lost on a river in Egypt.” Cole held out his glass for a small “Cheers.” “I’m impressed. I wasn’t nearly so calm and collected about my own coming-out.”

Noah chuckled. “I am far from calm and collected.”

“You look that way from here. Trust me, I’ve seen plenty of men get drunk, fall into bed with someone they didn’t expect to, and then wake up to a colossal panic attack and the kind of psychological crisis that can undo a person if they’re not willing to face the questions that come up after such an event. But here you are. You’re not running away from your curiosity or trying to hide from it.”

“Not anymore. I want to know.” What he’d do after he knew… Well.

“How’s your experiment going so far?” Cole swirled his drink before taking a sip. His gaze, so warm and serene and kind, sparked. Fires smoldered in its depths as he stared at Noah.

Noah’s mouth went dry. He licked his lips. Cole’s eyes darted to his tongue, then back to Noah’s eyes. Heat pooled in Noah’s belly. He shifted, one thigh brushing against Cole’s. They were standing so close together. “I’m having a great time.”

“Care to keep the night going?” Cole set down his empty drink, and Noah stiffened. “No, sorry. I meant, would you like to come with me? I’m heading out to watch a late-night jazz set. They don’t start until one a.m. at this place. It’s a tiny hole-in-the-wall, very anti-Vegas. No flashy lights, no slots, no big stage. There’s maybe six tables in the whole spot. But it’s my favorite, and I guarantee, you’ll never hear better live music.”

“What kind of jazz?”

“Fusion. The guys playing tonight are a little more bluesy and have a little bit of rock in their sound. If you like the darker, more moody kind of jazz, they’re perfect for you.”

Noah smiled. “I happen to love blues, and blues rock, and moody jazz.”

Cole, again, beamed, turning the full force of his breathtaking smile on Noah. “Let me take you on your first date with a man, Noah.” He held out his hand.

Jesus. His breath stuttered, his stomach flip-flopped, and his heart went wild, pounding so hard Cole had to hear it. Hell, he had to feel it with how close they were standing. Why were they so close together? When had that happened?

This was way, way more than he had been expecting from tonight. Or had ever imagined would happen. But was it too much? Should he just thank Cole for the drinks and go back to his room? He was stealing this night from his life, and nothing that happened here would mean anything. Not really. Not when it was back to the FBI office and back to his real life. Why tease himself with something he couldn’t have?

Though, if all he had was tonight, why not seize it—and Cole—with both hands?

He took Cole’s hand and smiled. “Show me.”

The Parrot Room was indeed a hole-in-the-wall, a cramped, crowded, smoky bar. Instead of a stage, there was a corner marked off with duct tape, and six tiny tables lined two walls. The tables were large enough for a couple of drinks, the cushioned bench seats pushed against the wall only large enough for a couple to cuddle close. Four were occupied, couples huddled together in the dim light thrown off from the flickering candles. Long legs, high heels, men’s dark pants.

Cole led him to one of the last open tables, settling in while leaving as much room as possible for Noah. Even so, their hips and thighs were pressed together. A server appeared to take their drink orders, and before Noah could argue, Cole had passed her his credit card to open a tab. While they sipped their drinks—whiskey for him, a margarita for Cole—the band finished their warm-ups. The bassist noodled out a slap rhythm as the guitarist riffed, and the drummer stretched after he put in his earbuds. Noah and Cole talked as much as they could, picking up their conversation from the walk over. It was easy to talk to Cole. Easier than Noah had thought it would be to talk to a man he was attracted to. And, whoa, was he attracted to Cole. His pulse was still wild, his palms still sweaty.