Mozzie called the number Jabir had given him. It rang twice before being picked up.
He recognized Burke’s voice immediately. “Where are you, Suit?”
A moment passed. Then, “Mozzie?”
“How soon they forget,” he joked, but he was on high alert. Peter really was in Paris, looking for Neal.
Peter chuckled, a sound he knew well. “It’s been a long time.”
“Two years.” Moz had been strolling down a street, but spotting an empty cafe table, he sat. Few people were outside when it was snowing. Even the tourists required warmth. “Why are you in Paris?”
“Let’s not play games, Moz. Neal’s alive. He’s here. I need to talk to him.”
“That’s my business.”
He wasn’t going to mention the stolen Monet. Nope. “To get to him, you have to go through me.”
“Still joined at the hip, you two, eh? Well, you can’t put a price on friendship.” The amusement went out of his voice. “Can you set up a meet?”
“You’re really not going to tell me what this is about?”
“I’m really not.”
“How’s Mrs. Suit?” He’d liked Elizabeth, commonly called El, a lot back when Neal was acting with and against the FBI.
“Changing the subject won’t help, Moz. Tell you what. I’ll be at the Restaurant de la Tour tomorrow at noon.”
“It’s near the Eiffel tower, right?” Mozzie thought he’d eaten there once or twice, but the memory was fuzzy.
“That’s the one.”
“I’ll tell him, but I won’t guarantee he’ll show up.”
“He’ll show up,” Peter said and ended the call.
Neal took Harris to his apartment. The maid had been in earlier that day, and the place was tidy and smelled good.
“I’ve had enough.” Harris took off his jacket and tossed it on a red armchair. “Nice place.” He looked up. “Christ, the ceiling.”
“Those round logs are what sold me on it.”
Harris circled the room, looking and touching. “You have a fuck of a lot of books.”
“The place came furnished. The books were already here.”
“And you read them.” He grinned.
Harris crossed the room and took Neal in his arms. “You can give me a tour later.” Cupping Neal’s face, Harris kissed him. It was light, not tentative but careful, giving him room to respond. Neal tasted wine, a little garlic, some onion. He didn’t mind one bit.
Harris was a good kisser. Just the right amount of moisture and pressure. He liked the feel of Harris’s lips on his and was surprised, and then he wasn’t. A mouth was a mouth. It could belong to anyone.
But that mouth belonged to Harris, not some woman he’d picked up on the Rue du Roi de Sicile on a Sunday, when cars weren’t allowed on the street, and pedestrians strolled and dawdled and made new acquaintances. He touched Harris’s chest and felt muscle, not a breast. The nipple contracted into a peak, and his cock filled and rose in his jeans.
Harris pressed against him. “Feel how hard I am for you?”
Neal grunted an answer, head muzzy with arousal and wine. What did it matter that he’d never been attracted to a man before? He was now… to this one. He’d never backed away from anything new or scary.
He led Harris to the bedroom and took off his red T-shirt, revealing a light covering of hair. He fingered it. “Always wanted chest hair when I was growing up, but then it went out of fashion, and I didn’t mind the lack so much.”
Harris laughed. “So I’m out of fashion? What other nice things are you going to say to me tonight?”
Neal’s cheeks heated. “Didn’t mean it the way it sounded. I like it.”
Harris pulled off Neal’s shirt. “Relax. Just fucking with you.” He sat on the bed and pulled Neal between his legs, running his hands up the inseams of his jeans, making Neal shiver. “Looks like a nice package. How about I unwrap it?”
After the pants were pulled down, Harris played with Neal, touching and teasing before finally taking him in his mouth. A jolt of electricity went through Neal. He stopped thinking altogether.
They were in bed, Neal lying against Harris, who was behind him, propped up by the headboard. His arms loosely encircled Neal. Snow fell past the two large windows on the wall opposite the bed. There would be little accumulation—the ground was above freezing—but it looked nice and reminded him of New York City.
“I want your life,” Harris said against Neal’s hair. “This apartment, its location, your clothes—all of it is so different from what I have.”
“Is your place so bad?”
“I share a two-bedroom walk-up with three others in a building with no elevator. One of the kittens bit my toe the other night, and I think it might be infected.” He laughed, and Neal joined him, though it was weak.
“Where do you paint?” He couldn’t create in chaos. How could Harris?
“On the roof when it’s warm enough. Otherwise I do it at school.” He nuzzled Neal’s ear. “Never mind. An artist must suffer to become great, and the roommates aren’t that bad. Just there, ya know?”
He didn’t know. After leaving home, he’d never shared his space with anyone other than the occasional sleepover. But he could imagine, and it made him cringe. “Paint here. I turned the second bedroom into a studio and workspace. It has excellent light most of the day.”
“That’s generous of you. Was I that good?”
“I enjoyed it, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“No regrets? You don’t feel a need to rend your clothes and wail about having given in to the wiles of a man surely sent here by the devil to temp you into depravity?”
He laughed and looked up into Harris’s eyes. “How about we enjoy it again?”
Before they got into things very far, the front door opened, then closed, and Mozzie called, “Neal?”
“Who’s that?” Harris was startled by the unexpected company, but he didn’t rush to dress or even pull the sheet over himself.
Neal’s response was more like panic. He had no idea how Mozzie would react to him being with a guy. He didn’t think much shocked Moz, but he’d never been in this situation before.
He jumped back into his jeans. “I’ll be right out, Moz.” Harris’s expression darkened. “Give me a chance to process this before I introduce you to friends,” he pleaded.
He didn’t linger to hear Harris’s response, or if he even made one, but hurried to the kitchen, where Mozzie was pouring scotch into two crystal tumblers. Not wine, but Johnny Walker Blue from the $500 bottle. Something was wrong.
Moz handed him a glass. “You’re gonna need this.” Drink in hand, he went past Neal into the living room and sat on the couch.
“It’s late, Moz. Could we maybe do this tomorrow?”
“I don’t think you want to wait that long to hear what I have to say.” He gulped half his drink, the looked up anxiously. “Oh! You’re not alone?”
Harris appeared, buttoning his shirt and looking—damn him—like he’d just gotten out of bed. His dark hair was messy and sexy as hell, hanging over his eyes. He brushed it back impatiently. “He’s not, but I’m leaving, so don’t worry about it.” He glanced at Neal. “I’ll find my way home. The Metro is right down the street.”
Neal put out a hand. “Don’t go.”
“Not a problem,” he said coolly. Retrieving his jacket, his slipped it on as he opened the door, strode into the hall, and closed it firmly behind him.
Something twisted in Neal’s gut, but he put it out of his mind and sat on one of the red armchairs across from Moz, cradling his glass. “What’s so important you had to come by this late?”
“Who was that?”
“A new friend. Your news?”
He looked like he was going to say something, stopped, then cleared his throat. “I spoke with Peter a while ago. He’s in Paris. He wants to meet you.”
The day he had both dreaded and anticipated had arrived. “Did he mention the Monet?”
“No, and neither did I.”
But what else could it be about? The FBI might not have jurisdiction in France, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t working with Interpol. He heaved a sigh, then drank the scotch in three swallows. “You’re right,” he gasped, his throat on fire. “I needed that.”
Mozzie gave him specifics of the meet. “You’re going then?”
“I have to.” He narrowed his eyes. “Two years, Moz. I want to see him again.”
“What if it’s a trap?”
Neal shook his head. “He wouldn’t do that to me. Besides, there’s no proof I stole the painting. Are El and the baby with him?” He smiled. “Bet he’s a cute kid.” They’d named him Neal. When Mozzie told him that, it had touched him deeply.
“He didn’t say, but I got the feeling he was here alone.” Mozzie took his tumbler into the kitchen, rinsed it, and put it in the sink. “I’m going with you.”
“Not this time.”
“You need backup when entering an uncertain situation.”
“It’s a restaurant. Not much can happen in a public place.”
“You know what they say about being overconfident.” Mozzie went to the door and opened it. “Overconfidence precedes carelessness, or as Neil Armstrong said, ‘When you get overconfident, that’s when something snaps up and bites you.’.”
The apartment was empty when he got home, except for the cats. That was so unusual, he thought he should do something to mark the occasion, like walk around naked or use the toilet with the door open, but he only took a shower and changed the sheets on his bed before getting under the covers with a book. The unexpected quiet was soothing. Even the jerk downstairs, who had a hard-on for ugly rap, was taking the night off.
But after reading the same sentence over and over without comprehension, he tossed the book aside. He kept thinking about Neal, remembering what they’d done in bed and smiling. There’d been hesitation and nervousness but also enthusiasm and intense excitement. It had been so fucking hot when Neal had finally sucked his dick. Just thinking about it sent delicious little tremors through him.
One of the kittens clawed its way up the blanket and onto his stomach, purring. Without thinking, he petted it, and the purring got louder.
“He was embarrassed about me when his friend showed up. He didn’t want the guy to know what we’d been doing.” The kitten batted at his fingers, then gently gnawed one. “He’s gonna cross back to the other side, I just know it. I’d be a fool to see him again.” But he wanted to see him again.
He was half asleep when his cell rang. He reached for it on the nightstand and fumbled, finally connecting. “What?”
He sat up, the motion tossing the cat off his chest. “Hi.”
“I wanted to apologize for not introducing you.”
“No need.” The kitten, undeterred, returned, curling up in his lap.
“I was rude.”
Yeah, he had been, but Harris kept that to himself.
“How about lunch tomorrow? Your choice of restaurant.” He paused. “I have a meeting at noon, but I could meet you after.”
“Your curiosity hasn’t been satisfied yet?” His tone was abrasive even to his ears.
“Curiosity isn’t why I want to see you again. I like you, and for some reason I don’t understand, I’m attracted to you, as well.” He huffed. “Don’t you think it would be easier for me to ignore that and chase women, like I’ve always done?”
“It isn’t smart to pursue this. We hooked up, we had a good time. Let’s leave it at that.”
“I could lose your number, but then I’d always wonder if I was passing up something special.”
Harris had slept with Susan, his high school sweetheart, multiple times, and he’d enjoyed it, but sex hadn’t really clicked for him until he met Jon his senior year. He learned he preferred men, and he’d stayed on that side of the Kinsey scale ever since.
But could he run into a woman tomorrow that rang all his bells and made him want to give up dick? It was possible. Not likely, but possible. So who was he to deny Neal the right to explore this side of himself? He’d be careful, though. Hold back. No way was he going to fall for someone who was essentially straight and only dabbling. Been there, done that, walked around with a hole in his heart for months.
“Lunch. You buying, or am I?”
Neal laughed. “I’ll buy.”
“Le Campanella, then. What time?”
“One thirty. I’ll make a reservation in your name, okay?”
“See you then.”
He ended the call and petted the kitten. “Did they name you yet?” He should find out.
Neal arrived at Restaurant de la Tour promptly at noon and spotted Peter immediately at a small side table. The place had wood floors, white walls, and plenty of bright lighting, making him easy to see.
Their eyes met as he wove through the tables to where Peter sat. He looked good, if a little tired. The bags under his eyes seemed more pronounced, and was that gray in his hair?
He’d no sooner taken off his coat than Peter was up out of his chair, hugging him. Neal hugged him back. Even after two years, Peter still had an important place in his heart. He probably always would.
“Nice to see you again,” Peter said, stepping back. “Still into suits, huh?”
“Always.” Neal looked him over. “You’re wearing a sweater and jeans. Does that mean your visit isn’t official?”
They took their seats. Peter searched his face. “What’s the real question, Neal?
“How did you find me? I could have been anywhere in the world, but here you are in Paris.”
He grinned and picked up a menu. “Let’s order first, then we’ll talk.”
Peter chose the beef in green pepper sauce, and Neal went with the chicken breast with mushrooms. When they were asked what they’d like to drink, Neal said, “He’ll have a beer, American, and I’ll have wine.”
Peter laughed. “You remembered.”
“Of course I did.”
They spoke lightly of Paris sights while waiting for their orders, but after drinks and food arrived, conversation took a more serious turn.
“You asked how I knew where you were.” Peter sliced off a bit of beef, put it in his mouth, and chewed. “Every dish in France comes with a sauce, but this is really good.”
Neal had already tasted the chicken. It was excellent—mouthwatering, in fact—but it was hard to go wrong in almost any restaurant in Paris. He and Mozzie ate out almost exclusively, and he’d sampled most of them, many more than once. He sipped a really fine red wine and tried to be patient while Peter sighed over his meal.
After drinking some of his beer, Peter said, “The newspaper you left in the storage locker. The one with the headline that referred to new security at the Louvre.”
“That was a while ago. I could have moved on by now.”
“The theft of the Monet convinced me you hadn’t.”
Neal briefly debated acting all innocent but remembered who he was dealing with. He bit back a denial.
“That theft had your fingerprints all over it,” he continued. “Using department connections, I asked to see footage from the street cams around the museum for a couple days before the robbery.”
“And I was on them.”
Peter nodded. “I already knew you were alive, thanks to Mozzie’s visit a year ago, but it wasn’t until the Monet disappeared that I knew you were still here.” He leaned forward. “Why, Neal? You’d successfully vanished. You were free. Why take the chance of being caught again?”
“Why do people climb Everest?” The question was rhetorical; everyone knew the answer. Maybe he’d wanted to get Peter’s attention, and the only way to do that was by pulling one of his signature jobs.
“You realize I have an obligation to report my suspicions to the local police.” He sat back, suddenly angry. “Damn it, Neal. How could you put me in this position again? After all we’ve been through.”
“They can’t prove I stole it, and I’ve already decided to return it.” He was glad lunchtime chatter around them was so loud, and they were speaking so softly. No one should overhear this conversation.
Peter stared, lips pursed. “Return it? Huh.” He drank more beer, scanning the room out of habit. “You do that, and maybe I’ll keep my mouth shut.” He forked the last of the beef into his mouth. After he swallowed, he said, “That’s what led me here, but there’s more.” He sucked in a breath. “June is dead.”