The Murder Between Us by Tal Bauer

“I had a great time.” Noah smiled, and he turned his hand over, grabbing Cole’s. It was simple, but it was also heart-stopping and grounding, all at once. He was holding a man’s hand. And not just any man. Cole was… He hadn’t found the words yet. The way Cole looked at Noah—looked into him—and drew him out slowly, until here he was, holding Cole’s hand moments away from the neon glow of the Strip.

Cole was someone Noah wanted to spend more time with. Someone he wanted to get to know. Cole was, when he allowed himself to think that far, the kind of man he hoped to one day meet. When he imagined falling for a man, he imagined a smart, sensitive, sophisticated man, someone who could talk football and enjoy a quiet evening of music at the same time. Someone gentle enough not to rush him but who still pushed all of Noah’s buttons. He’d thought he was imagining a fairy tale. A fantasy. But, hell, it was his daydream, so he made his fantasy man exactly the way he wanted. Someone who looked at him with kind, gentle eyes, who smiled and laughed and held his hand, and who wanted more of who Noah was.

Why did it feel like he’d gone and met the man of his dreams, on a Wednesday night right here in Las Vegas?

“What about you? Taking out a guy who doesn’t know what he’s doing can’t be that fun. Hardly an exciting night.” Noah shrugged, tried to laugh. Cole might be his Prince Charming, or Noah might be projecting a million fantasies onto a mystery man he didn’t know anything about, but Noah had to be a charity case to Cole. How much fun was it to play with Noah’s shoulder and collarbone for hours?

“I had a fantastic time,” Cole said. “And you’re wrong. Taking you out tonight was better than every other night I’ve spent in Vegas.”

Noah snorted.

“I’m serious. Thank you for letting me buy you a drink, and for allowing me to take you on your first real date.” He held his champagne out for a toast. “Those aren’t small things. I’m honored.”

“I think I should be thanking you.” He sipped his champagne, letting the bubbles float through him, fill his veins. “This was the best date I’ve been on in years. Maybe ever.”

“Only maybe?” Cole arched an eyebrow.

“I took out Casey Peters in eleventh grade. She was a varsity cheerleader, and we made out in the back seat of my dad’s Volvo for about two hours.” Noah chuckled as Cole tipped his head back and laughed. “I don’t think anything has ever beaten that.” The rush of hormones, his father’s car, the first time another person had touched him, and a thousand fears and hopes and questions surging in his blood. He’d been a rocket with no destination, looping in the sky of his life.

“What position did you play in high school? On the football team.”

Noah flushed. “Quarterback. How did you know?”

“Midwestern men. God bless ’em. Nearly everyone plays football, and you have the look of someone who was a leader on the field. Plus, I can imagine you in football pants.” Cole winked again, his smile turning wolfish before he finished his champagne. He set the glass down on the table and squeezed Noah’s hand. “I have one more question for you.”

Noah nodded, gulping half his champagne in one go. Cole’s thumb was back, stroking over his skin, leaving lines of fire in the wake of his touch.

“I had a great time tonight. Really, I did. You’re a great guy, Noah. There will be a million men out there who crave exactly who you are. I have a feeling you’re going to find the answers you’re looking for, and you’re going to find the man who makes your whole world spin right.”

“I’m sensing a but.”

“No buts.” Cole kissed his knuckles. “If you’d like, we can finish here, and Gregoire will take you back to your hotel. You can remember tonight however you want to: a moment in time, a search for answers. Moonlight and neon and great jazz with decent company.” Cole smiled. “Or, if you’d like, I can take you upstairs to my room and try to answer a few more questions for you. I can, hopefully, show you a great time.”

Noah’s breath hitched. Stuttered to a stop. Cole clenched down on his hand, and Noah squeezed back reflexively. His eyes searched Cole’s.

“It’s your choice,” Cole breathed. “I’m happy to walk you back to the car. To end this here. We’ve had a great evening together.” He turned Noah’s hand over, uncurling his fingers before he pressed a kiss to the center of Noah’s palm. “But I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I want to be your first kiss, Noah. I imagined kissing you the whole time we were at the Parrot Room. Turning your head, holding your face in my hands…” His breath ghosted across Noah’s skin, his palm and his wrist. Now, suddenly, the side of his face. They were so close together again. As if they couldn’t stay apart.