A magical weekend, a breathless declaration, a happy ever after . . . Right?
When Malcolm Kavanagh took his first step toward emotional maturity by declaring his love to Owen Watson, that was just the first chapter in their story. Anyone who’s ever been in love knows that happy endings take a lot more work than that.
One problem: Malcolm has never been in love. He doesn’t know the rules of a relationship and isn’t confident enough to trust that his is real. He learns the ropes by sharing his life and his flat with Owen, but relationship boot camp proves a challenge. Everything is a struggle, from accepting Owen’s low-status job to putting his boyfriend above his personal trainer.
Luckily, Owen knows a little more about relationships, and labors patiently to survive the first six weeks of their life together. From the art galleries of Cambridge to the tawdry majesty of the Dominion theatre, Owen adapts to England while Malcolm adapts to the whole human race. Maybe, if Owen is patient enough and Malcolm learns to give, the two of them can make it past Relationship Armageddon to a real happy ending.
This title comes with no special warnings.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
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Week 1: Staples
The bad thing about a fictional Chinese prawns food poisoning was that it couldn’t possibly outlast a real one. Malcolm had done his research on the internet, and a real food poisoning would be over in a day or three. Another problem was that he felt guilty for having left the trading desk. He should be at work.
Oh, but Owen was so sweet in bed.
That’s where they’d gone right after the train station, where Malcolm (Malcolm!) had poured his bloody heart out and begged Owen not to leave. Bed. There would be time to hammer out the details later. Time to figure out jobs and schedules and Owen’s place in all of this? But Owen was here, in Malcolm’s penthouse, and that’s where they stayed for the next two days.
But today, he had to go to work.
Malcolm got out of the shower, shaved his maddening dark stubble carefully, and combed and gelled his hair until it would stay perfect for the rest of the day. He had one clean suit left, and the rest needed to be serviced. God . . . four days, five nights he’d spent playing. And now his life was falling apart.
Okay—that was a tad dramatic. But he did need to do some dry cleaning. And—
Owen was wearing one of his T-shirts and a pair of boxers, sitting at Malcolm’s table. His messy brown hair was sticking up like a tumbleweed, and his brown eyes were soft at the corners with sleep and sex. He’d made coffee and even dished up a soft-boiled egg and a grapefruit. (That was for Malcolm. The horrible boy was eating toast and butter.)
He saw Malcolm walk in, buttoning up his last fresh shirt, and there was that light in his eyes that made Malcolm smile, and everything was suddenly perfect, even at quarter past six in the morning, even though he would soon be devoured by the frantic pace of capitalism.
“Somebody’s got to keep the economy going,” Malcolm muttered to himself and finished the top button on his shirt, hooked a finger in and ran it along the collar. After his “holiday,” the collar was especially tight. Too many carbs, maybe, or just a sense of dread at returning to the bank.
“I’ve seen happier people on their way to prison,” Owen told him. He was disgustingly cheerful about it, too.
“You spoiled me,” Malcolm accused. “There I was, perfectly happy with a suck and a fuck and suddenly I’m taking a four-day weekend and becoming . . .” his shudder was only partially for show, “emotionally involved.”
Owen giggled. “Aw, that was precious. Would you like a bottle now, or do we need to pout some more?”
Malcolm kept his smirk back by means of manly diligence alone. “Coffee would be lovely,” he conceded, and Owen got up to get him some while he sat down gratefully in front of breakfast. “So, what’s on the roster for today?”
Owen poured him a mug of coffee. “Job first,” he mulled, “or at least scope out the ads.” He walked the mug to the table. “I’ll be out and about. Did you need me to do something?”
“Is there any chance you could go to the dry cleaners for me?”
Owen sat down next to him and gave Malcolm’s suited knee a bump with his own bare one. “Is there any chance you could eat that pathetically boring soft-boiled egg for me?”
Malcolm started tapping it with his spoon. The shell flaked off nicely and he indulged himself with a dash of salt. Josh would tell him off for it, but his personal trainer was not here, thank God. He took a spoonful of egg with some rich, indulgent yolk and sighed. “Yes,” he said after he’d swallowed. “I think I could probably do that.”
“Well, good. That way, I could do you an actual favor and take care of your dry cleaning.”
Malcolm smiled. “If you’ve got time around eleven, ring me up and we can have lunch together.”
Owen laughed softly. “Malcolm, I’m aware the world revolves around you, but you do realize I have no idea where you work, right?”
# # #
Armed with his iPhone map application, Owen emerged out of Moorgate tube station at quarter to eleven. The buildings here were tall and blocky and imposing and looked at least a hundred years old. He spotted the dry cleaners tucked in between two office buildings.
Once he’d dropped Malcolm’s clothes off there, he started looking around. Eventually, he found Malcolm’s bank. The building was clad almost completely in glass and looked like a plump, uncapped lipstick. Part of the facade to the side was covered in black stone, and the entrance had a security guard and a sign that said “Show passes upon entry.”
It also advertised an exhibition of Dali bronzes and sketches in the foyer. In the front outside, they had put up Dali’s five-meter tall Alice in Wonderland as a teaser, and for a moment, Owen forgot everything else.
She was lovely, whimsical and darling, and Owen began to see some of the allure of a big city. Big cities thought art worth having, even in the foyer of a bank. Owen paused. Where was he supposed to meet Malcolm without an entry pass? Maybe he could try to talk his way past the guard to look at the other Dalis?
Two bankers with similar suits to Malcolm’s and paper lunch bags walked past him, chatting amiably in Italian and German accents, and waved a card at the guard, who nodded and then seemed to zero in on Owen.
Just then, three girls in light summer dresses appeared and began snapping Alice on their mobile phones. One of them smiled brightly at Owen. He grinned and waved, and the girl made her way over.
“You’re a tourist too, right?” Owen heard California in her voice.
“Uhm,” he said, smiling, “yes and no. I was going to be a tourist, but now I’m mostly an unemployed friend.” The first cursory search through job websites had been discouraging, but not dismal. He’d signed up to half a dozen alerts with his keywords and hoped that the daily compilations would amount to an opportunity.
“So you’re planning to live here?” the girl asked, fascinated. “What does that take?”
Owen shrugged. “Well, a skill set they need for one. I had a friend of a friend vouch for me at the visa office, and then I found a good reason to stay.” He remembered Malcolm walking into the crappy pub he’d been sitting in, debating whether or not to drink the beer. Yes—well, sometimes chances to change one’s life came in unlikely hard-bodied packages.
“Oh.” The girl’s face fell. “Lots of paperwork then?”
Owen laughed. “Yes. Lots and lots and lots. It’s okay. I’m a tech guy. Paperwork doesn’t scare me.”
She laughed too, and he looked up to see her friends standing on the other side of the statue, eyeing the two of them with interest. It suddenly occurred to him . . . oh hells. Did she think they were flirting?
He pulled out his phone apologetically. “I’m just going to see if my friend can come down for lunch,” he said, texting Malcolm with frantic fingers.
I’m down here getting picked up on. Hurry.
“Well if your friend can’t, you’re welcome to join us.” The girl beamed, and she turned an encouraged glance over her shoulders at the other American girls.
Oh crap. She totally did think they were flirting. He’d thought they were just talking, but what really mattered was what Malcolm was going to think, and here he came through the door now.
Owen’s smile was especially shiny, mostly because it was extra especially relieved. “Actually,” he said, fidgeting, “my friend is here, and he’s—”
Malcolm bludgeoned through the doors like pocket rhinoceros in a suit. “There you are! I was worried you weren’t going to make it.”
Owen smiled brightly at the poor tourist, who was backing away from the pretty sculpture of Alice in Wonderland and the glowering businessman.
“No, just talking to a fellow American while I was waiting for you,” Owen replied, sanding at the fine edge of his exasperation rather desperately and smiling too brightly at the tourists. Malcolm’s bluster stopped in mid-whirl, and he took a moment to reassess his angle of approach before he crashed and burned.
He swallowed. “Uhm, yeah, mate. Quite right. Where did you want to go for lunch?”
Owen held up the brown bag that he’d filled with carefully chosen food before running the dry cleaning out. “Do you have anywhere you’d like to picnic?”
Malcolm glanced around—busy street ahead, busy street to the side, construction site to the back, and the bank behind them. There was a patch of grass in front, although it was fenced off and had more construction material cluttered about. He grimaced. “There’s a kind of community space upstairs on the tenth floor, but you might have bankers cheering at some sports channel,” he muttered. “Not exactly—private, either.” He indicated two guys sitting on black stone cubes that were the only convenient flat surfaces around the building. “And there’s already Francois and Dominic, the twat.”
“Sales guys.” The admiration and contempt in Malcolm’s voice practically dripped through the sidewalk.
“So, uhm, no fun for lunch,” Owen muttered. “Well, that’s happy. Is there anywhere we can eat?”
Malcolm shrugged. “Walk with me?” he suggested, and Owen, despite having been walking for what felt like his entire morning, decided to go with that.
Malcolm steered him around the danger zones of the girls and the sales guys, or tried to, when somebody shouted, “Hey, Malcolm! What are you doing away from your desk? I thought Penney kept you chained up there.”
Malcolm whipped around, and the flash of teeth could have been a grin or a snarl. “Hey, Francois, enjoyed the rugby the other night? Allez les Bleus, eh?” Whatever that reference was, it did end the conversation very quickly, and Malcolm hissed “That’s our chance,” and manhandled Owen down a side street.
“Should we eat on the go while we find a place?”
“Yes. I’m ravenous. So, how was the job search?” Malcolm asked him as Owen passed him chicken and tomato in a pita bread.
“Depressing,” Owen said, taking his own out and eating it. No, Owen didn’t need to watch his carbs, but it’s what Malcolm was having, and he might as well too. “I was thinking about maybe running around the parts of the city that weren’t quite so up with the tech. I’m not sure how different things are here, but I know in the States, a handshake and a smile opens a lot more doors than a computer application. You think?”
Malcolm chewed, swallowed, and took a couple more steps before answering. “I think that’s a decent idea,” he said, obvious reservation in his voice.
“But . . .” Owen prompted, and Malcolm grimaced, even though he was taking another bite of the sandwich. Owen had tossed it with a little bit of balsamic vinegar—it looked like that had paid off.
“Headhunters. That’s how anybody gets recruited into the good jobs. Now, I only know the finance tribe, but I can ask around and if you email me your CV, maybe I can spruce it up a bit and take a guy to lunch and grease the wheels, as it were.”
“There’s something else,” Owen said shrewdly. He’d heard it—a reluctance.
“I don’t know what you’re on about.”
They had reached a street where trees lined the sidewalks. Next to the trees was a bricked-in planter a little higher than their knees. Owen saw his chance to cop a squat and took it, taking off his hooded sweatshirt and putting it down on the bricks so Malcolm wouldn’t dirty his suit.
Malcolm sat down, eyeing him guardedly, and took another bite of his sandwich. “What?” he asked finally, and Owen raised his eyebrows.
“What’s wrong with those neighborhoods?” he asked, and watched as that pita sandwich suddenly became the most fascinating object on the planet.
“Owen, there’s plenty of work in the City.” Owen heard the capital C and knew by now that when Malcolm used it, it meant one of the financial districts. “The real economy is fucked, but there’s still money being made around here . . .” Malcolm managed to encompass the surrounding square mile or so with a circle of his little finger. “If you know people and know how to go about it. That’s what everybody does.”
“Everybody that you know,” Owen said firmly.
Malcolm eyeballed him. “You’re not eating.”
“I’m not hungry. I said everybody you know.”
Malcolm had the grace to look uncomfortable. “So?”
“So. You wouldn’t have chased down any of those other people in the middle of a train station, would you?”
Malcolm studied his shiny wingtips. “No.”
Owen nodded. “Then maybe I don’t want to work where those other people work,” he said, like Malcolm was a child learning his letters.
Malcolm’s black brows drew together. “What’s wrong with where I work?”
“It’s not making you terribly happy,” Owen said, because there was no way he’d ever pussyfoot around the “bleeding obvious,” as Malcolm would put it.
Malcolm’s frown deepened, then his features relaxed. “I don’t always love it, but it’s my job and I’m good at it.”
“I’m good at doodling, too. You don’t see me going into computer animation.” Owen retorted. “It doesn’t make you happy. I don’t want to work here.”
“Everywhere else, they’ll pay you only what they can get away with. In finance—hell, the whole financial system relies one-hundred percent on computers. I mean, you’re patient, you’re good with people—shit, if you can handle me, you can handle the other guys, too—you’d make twice the money some other place would pay.”
Owen bit back on a sigh of impatience. They weren’t going to resolve this here during their first lunch, that was for damned sure.
“Would I have to wear a suit?” he asked after an uneasy moment, and Malcolm looked at him in horror.
“Then no deal. I’ll see you back at home.”
Malcolm opened and closed his mouth like a landed fish, and then he stood up, scowling and serious. “Come here,” he ordered, and Owen raised his eyebrows.
“I’m standing right—”
Malcolm closed the distance between them and grabbed his shirt collar, hauling him down for a very public, very dominant kiss.
One touch of those hard, lean lips on his, and he forgot their argument and focused only on the taste of this man, who, in one grand, grumpy, romantic gesture had convinced him to change his vacation plans, and very possibly his life.
He opened his mouth and moved forward, putting his hands on Malcolm’s hips and allowing the kiss to wash over them both, hard and hungry, and then recede, leaving them panting.
Malcolm took two steps back and then straightened his tie knot. “Right then,” he muttered. “Thanks for lunch. Don’t go getting hired by some arsehole who’ll only take advantage of you while I’m gone.”
And then he stalked away, demonstratively checking his Rolex for the time. Owen only hoped that Francois and Dominic were smart or lucky enough to have adjourned back into the bank and would therefore escape the Malcolm-sized thunderstorm headed their way.
# # #
Amy Lane & Aleksandr Voinov are amazing writers of conflict and resolution. [C]ity Mouse was just perfect.
Incredibly (!) hot . . . I really enjoyed City Mouse and would definitely recommend it.
[T]he characters . . . have the undeniable tendency to grow on you, with all their flaws and quirks, the longer you spend time with them.
I had a nice warm and fuzzy feeling at the end of this story . . .
[C]ompletely believable . . . [A] delight . . .