As his father’s booming laugh echoed off the marble archways, Sebastian took another gulp of champagne. It fizzed pleasantly in his throat, and he beckoned a waiter, plucking his fourth glass from the man’s tray.
Another server appeared as if out of thin air. “Arancini?”
Sebastian waved off the offer of deep-fried cheese-and-rice balls and leaned back against a column. He stood on the landing of the large staircase, watching the hundreds of party guests below. The great hall of his father’s mansion was carved in Carrara marble of white and grayish blue, with ornate columns and sculptures throughout.
By the fountain in the center of the hall, Sebastian’s older brother, Beniamino, stood at their father Arrigo’s side. They spoke animatedly to one of the local politicians, a particular favorite among the many who were regular guests at the mansion. Perched on the shore of Lake Como, surrounded by the Alps soaring to blue skies, the mansion was Arrigo’s pride and joy. Second perhaps to his regard for his firstborn son, but Sebastian felt it was a toss-up.
The floor-to-ceiling glass doors leading to the terrace were closed against the surprisingly robust June heat. Even in late evening with the air-conditioning working overtime, sweat gathered at the nape of Sebastian’s neck, and he tugged on the collar of his tuxedo. Oh, what he’d give to be able to sneak down to the lake for a dip.
“Why don’t you come down and meet Signor Scali?”
Sebastian hadn’t noticed his brother’s approach. “I’ll leave it to you, Ben. You know you’re better at all that.”
Ben hitched a shoulder. “Yes, but I’d much rather be spending time with Signor Scali’s niece, Valentina.” He nodded across the room toward a young woman in a beaded sea-green evening gown. As he caught her eye, she smiled coyly, wrapping one of her long, loose blonde curls around one finger. Ben groaned softly. “I’ve seen her every chance I’ve had this summer. She’s exquisite.”
“Yes, she’s very pretty.” Left him utterly cold, but Sebastian could at least appreciate the girl’s beauty.
“Let’s hope her uncle will be kept busy. And perhaps she has a friend for you, Basi.”
Sebastian’s stomach clenched, and he drained his glass. “Perhaps. But I’m fine on my own. Thank you.”
Ben’s expression clouded. Square-jawed, with dark, wavy hair and a strong nose, he was the spitting image of their father. Sebastian, on the other hand, favored their fair mother, with green eyes and golden hair. On more than one occasion, usually in the midst of a frightening temper, Arrigo had questioned Sebastian’s paternity.
“Basi, it’s the best way to move on. You’ve moped around for a month. Father’s patience wears thin. If you still want to go back to Harvard this fall, you’d better show that you’ve learned your lesson. You’re twenty now. Time to be a man. You were just”—he waved his hand around—“experimenting. Now it’s out of your system, right?”
Wrong. “You think he might let me go back?” A glimmer of hope flared. After the embarrassment Sebastian had caused, he didn’t think his father would let him out of arm’s reach again. He’d been waiting for his father to force him into a job at his company. Probably thinks I’m too useless.
“If you play your cards right and listen to your big brother. Come join me and Valentina after you’ve finished brooding.”
Something clicked in Sebastian’s mind. “Wait, is that Valentina Bruno?”
Ben nodded, a goofy grin on his face. “I think she likes me, Basi. Really likes me.”
“Isn’t her father the…”
“Businessman from Naples? Yes. But I don’t care what her father does. It’s nothing to do with her. And just look at her.”
Sebastian chuckled. “I’ve never seen you so head over heels before.”
“You should try it, Basi. I’ll see if she brought a friend.” With a wink Ben was off, weaving through the crowd before Sebastian could tell him not to bother.
Taking another glass of champagne, Sebastian wondered how much longer he had to stay before he could slip away to his room and get out of the tuxedo. He didn’t know why his father cared if he was at the party or not—it wasn’t as if Arrigo paid the slightest bit of attention to him.
Still, he’d insisted Sebastian attend, and with Sebastian’s luck the one time his father actually wanted to introduce him to someone would be tonight. Plucking a smoked salmon delicacy from a passing waiter, he watched his father holding court. As always—in public—Arrigo was garrulous and lively, greeting guests with kisses and hugs.
His parties were always popular, drawing many neighbors and even guests from several provinces. The food and wine were plentiful and decadent, and as Sebastian took another gulp of champagne, he had to admit his father had excellent taste.
Down below, Ben was speaking closely with Valentina, and Sebastian groaned to himself. Please let her be utterly friendless. It would certainly be the capper for the night if he had to dance with some girl and pretend to be interested. But maybe if Father saw, it would help. I could kiss her, even. For everyone to see.
He imagined it for a moment and sighed. It would be a lie, and the mere thought of pretending to be what he wasn’t made his stomach churn. No, he would abide his father and keep his true feelings to himself, at least at home, but he wouldn’t be part of any charade.
Sebastian desperately hoped he wouldn’t have to stay home for longer than the summer. He wanted to return to Harvard more than anything. Arrigo had allowed him to finish his first year of studies, despite the “incident,” and when Sebastian arrived home, he’d briefly thought perhaps his father wasn’t as upset as he’d expected. The sting of his father’s hand and his purple-faced reprimand had quickly put an end to that notion.
In the weeks since, Sebastian had done his best to avoid Arrigo. He’d been so excited to get away from home and go to America. Although he and his father had never been close, Arrigo hadn’t hesitated to send him to the school he’d requested. He knew his father saw what Sebastian had done as the ultimate betrayal. Not only of his generosity but of their family name.
Finishing another flute of champagne, Sebastian wondered if he should attempt to speak to his father. Make a good public showing. Perhaps if he did well tonight, Arrigo would soften toward him enough to allow him to return to school in the fall. Pushing off the wall, Sebastian took a deep breath and straightened his tie.
“Excuse me? Where’s the bathroom?”
The question was asked in shaky Italian, and Sebastian turned to answer. However the words lodged firmly in his throat as he peered up into the warm, gold-flecked eyes of a beautiful man. “Huh?”
About thirty years old, the man was at least six-two, substantially taller than Sebastian’s own five-eight. His tuxedo was sharp and fit snugly across broad shoulders and down over lean hips. He smiled tentatively. “My Italian isn’t great. I’m looking for the—”
“Bathroom. Right. There are several. Dozens, actually.”
“Ah, another American! I was beginning to feel lonely here.” The man’s smile bloomed, brightening his face and causing Sebastian’s stomach to somersault.
“No, I’m not American. But I’ve been working on my accent since I was a kid. I watch a lot of American TV. I just finished my first year at Harvard.” Please let it not be the last.
“You’re Italian? Wow, your English is amazing.”
“Thank you.” Sebastian fought the urge to grin like an idiot at the compliment. “So, the bathroom.” He pointed to the second floor. “If you go up and turn right, you’ll find a bathroom halfway down the hall. Should be quieter than the ones on the main floor.”
The man smiled. “Thank you. Up and right, and at the end of the hall.”
“No, not the end. The middle.”
“Sorry, I’m terrible at directions. I’ll probably get lost on the stairs knowing me.” He chuckled self-deprecatingly.
“I can show you if you want.”
“You wouldn’t mind?”
“Of course not.” Sebastian left his empty glass on the ledge of the wide railing and led the way up the second flight of stairs and into the east wing. Away from the great hall, the house was much quieter, the sounds of chatter and the strains of the string quartet fading away.
As he stopped by the bathroom door in the long hallway, he sensed the man standing very close behind him. “Well, here you go.”
“Thank you.” The man brushed Sebastian’s shoulder and arm as he stepped around him. “I’m Steven, by the way. Steven McBride.” He extended his hand.
As Sebastian clasped their palms together, he swore sparks actually traveled up his arm and right down his spine. His throat was dry. “Sebastian Brambani. Well, Sebastiano, but only my father calls me that.”
“Brambani?” Steven still held his hand. “So this is your party?”
“My father’s.” Sebastian pulled back and shoved his hands into his pockets. “What brings you to Como?”
“Business.” Steven’s gaze raked down Sebastian’s body and back up again. He stared intently. “And perhaps pleasure.”
As Sebastian tried to formulate a response, Steven ducked into the bathroom. Sebastian’s mouth opened and closed again, his pulse racing. Did he just…was he…did he want…?
Peter’s words echoed in Sebastian’s mind. “It’s all in the eyes. That’s how you know. It’s about the stare. The understanding. Trust me; you’ll know it when you see it.”
At the thought of Peter, the familiar ache stabbed and twisted. Longing, regret, and anger coursed through him, and Sebastian gritted his teeth as he pushed it aside. As he stood there dumbly, trying to get his mind under control, the bathroom door opened and Steven stepped out.
“Can you show me around the rest of the house? Or do you have to go back to your guests?”
Sebastian thought of his father and his expectations, and of Ben and pretty young women in glittering gowns. “Sure, I can give you a tour. Too hot down there anyway.”
Dimples appeared in Steven’s cheeks as he smiled. “Thanks.”
As they made their way through the upstairs rooms, Steven listened attentively and asked insightful questions about design and art. At the end of the hallway, he paused by a watercolor painting of red stucco roofs. “Is this Florence?”
“Yes. Have you been?”
“Not yet, but I’ve always wanted to go. To Rome too, of course. I’d love to see the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo is one of my favorites.” Steven chuckled. “I suppose he’s many people’s favorite.”
“My father owns a Michelangelo. A sketch.”
“Really? An original Michelangelo?” Steven’s face lit up.
Sebastian felt foolishly proud. “Yes.”
“I’d love to see it.”
“It’s in my father’s private suite of rooms, I’m afraid.” He waved his hand to indicate the locked door beyond them. “I’m not even allowed in there.”
“There’s no way we could sneak a peek?”
“I don’t know the security code. Sorry.”
“Of course, I understand.” Steven shook his head, blushing slightly. “I’m sorry to even ask; I’m letting my passion for Michelangelo get the better of my manners. Thank you for the tour. It’s been a pleasure. We should get back to the party.”
“Wait, I can still show you…” Sebastian cast about, trying to think of something—anything—to keep Steven to himself for a few minutes more. But perhaps he’d misread the signals earlier, as Steven hadn’t shown any further interest in anything but art. “Um…never mind. I’m sure you’re right. We’d better get back.”
As he turned, Steven’s hand closed over Sebastian’s forearm and he stepped in close. “Are you sure there’s nothing else you want to show me?”
Heart pounding, Sebastian faced him. This close he could smell the musky scent of subtle cologne and maleness. “I…I…” Sebastian stammered.
Steven leaned down, his breath tickling Sebastian’s ear. He murmured, “I can think of something.” Then his hand closed over Sebastian’s cock, which jumped to life.
His exhale more of a moan, Sebastian rubbed himself against Steven. It had been four long months since Peter had disappeared from school, and Sebastian had only had his own hand since then, too afraid of being caught to pursue anyone else.
But now there was another hand on him that was not his own, and he rutted against Steven, yanking his head down for a kiss. As he slid his tongue inside the other man’s mouth, Sebastian thought he heard a sound of surprise, but it was soon swallowed as Steven gripped his head and kissed him.
His dick was already hard and leaking against his tuxedo trousers, and Sebastian broke their kiss, panting. “Let’s go…”
Steven squeezed him. “Where?”
Sebastian’s room was in the west wing, and they’d have to pass the great hall to get there. His raging hard-on would be impossible to hide. “Any of these roo—” His words were strangled by a sharp gasp as Steven’s hand stole into Sebastian’s pants and wrapped around his shaft.
“Sure you can’t get into the master suite?” Steven grinned. “Wanna make you come in front of a Michelangelo. You remind me of David. So beautiful.” He nipped Sebastian’s earlobe. “So hot.”
Sebastian moaned. “I might be able to guess the code. But my father would kill me if he found out.”
Withdrawing his hand from Sebastian’s trousers, Steven sucked on his index finger. His eyes locked with Sebastian’s as he slid his hand down the back of Sebastian’s pants this time, finding his hole. He teased it lightly and whispered, “All the more exciting.”
His thighs trembling, Sebastian bit back a loud gasp as Steven pushed the tip of his finger inside. He’d only been penetrated with his own fingers, but this was so much better. Thrusting against Steven’s hip, his orgasm was building already, his balls tightening as the pleasure boiled up and—
Suddenly Steven’s hand was gone, and he took a step back. Eyes glittering, he nodded to the closed door. “Come on. Give it a try.”
Breathing heavily, Sebastian went to the keypad. Part of him felt a forbidden thrill at the idea of being with a man inside his father’s private suite. He knew he’d only have one shot at the code—an alarm would sound even on only one false try. A security guard had been fired on the spot last year for making an input error.
With a deep breath, Sebastian punched in a sequence of numbers and pressed Enter. The red light disappeared, and a green one illuminated in its place. He exhaled, excitement thrumming in his veins as he pressed down the steel door handle.
“Shh! What was that?” Steven glanced around nervously. “I think someone’s coming.”
Sebastian’s excitement was tempered with fear, and he stepped back from the door, letting the handle lock back into place. The red light on the keypad turned back on. He strained to listen beyond the distant sounds of the party. “I don’t hear anything,” he whispered.
Steven indicated the closest bedroom. “I’ll wait in there. Maybe you should go back to the party for a minute and make sure you haven’t been missed. I swear I heard someone calling your name. A woman.”
Sebastian groaned. “Probably the girl my brother’s lined up for me.”
“Go tell her you’re not feeling well.” Steven kissed him, his fingers strong in Sebastian’s hair. Then he rolled his hips forward, rubbing their cocks together. “I’ll be waiting.”
Sebastian practically ran, fortunately realizing before reaching the great hall that his trousers were still embarrassingly tented. He shucked his jacket and folded it over his arm, holding it in front of his waist. At the top of the staircase, he scanned the crowd for Ben and the girls.
Ben waved to him, and Sebastian resisted the urge to take the stairs two at a time, walking calmly instead. Ben slung his arm around Sebastian’s shoulders when he reached them. “Ladies, this is my brother—”
A piercing alarm filled the air, and partygoers clapped their hands over their ears. Security guards appeared, storming up the stairs and disappearing into the east wing. Sebastian’s heart thumped against his ribs. What if they found Steven? What if…
The alarm’s shriek matched the icy chill that took hold. The code to his father’s suite. Steven. “Oh, God.” Sebastian rocked on his feet, and then he was off and running, his jacket flung aside, his brother’s confused shout in his wake.
When he made it to the end of the main hallway, he rushed into the bedroom where he’d left Steven.
Angry shouts emanated from his father’s nearby suite, which was the last place Sebastian wanted to be. Still, he crept as close as possible and caught a glimpse of the suite’s sitting room—and the open safe. With a terrible sinking sensation, he ducked back into the empty bedroom and rushed to the window, peering into the darkness. A wall surrounded the estate’s grounds on three sides, but by the water’s edge, he caught a flash of movement.
Guards raced through the gardens and across the wide lawn. Sebastian’s eyes widened as he realized they’d raised their guns. Shots rang out, but they were too late. Illuminated by the faint moonlight, he watched as a small motorboat sped off into the night. As the alarm was silenced, his father’s bellow of rage took its place.
And in that moment, Sebastian really knew fear.
Copyright © Keira Andrews
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