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Stallion Men

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Guillaume’s hands are rough.

It’s hard not to notice when the rest of him is so polished, from the sweep of his dark hair through the elegant lines of his suit. It feels like he was meant to be at the center of this ballroom, bathed in golden light from the chandeliers, surrounded by the swell of music and a swirling mass of other dancers. Matteo knows how to dance, of course – knows exactly how close to stand, how to step back as Guillaume steps forward so their bodies never quite touch – but he’ll never match Guillaume’s elegance. And yet, his hand in Matteo’s is rough, calloused by work.

It was Guillaume’s hands that caught Matteo’s attention, back in the coffee shop, before he even knew his name. Their hands had brushed, and Matteo had paused, his heart skipping. He does what he does because he’s interested in people’s stories, and if there’s anyone with a story, it must be this man – perfectly poised, strikingly handsome, wearing an expensive suit and drinking expensive coffee, but with years of hard labor etched into his palms.

Now it’s Matteo’s job to find out Guillaume’s story, but he still hasn’t managed it. In their sessions together, every question about his past is deflected, every moment of honesty sidetracked by a flirtatious comment. Matteo was required to attend the ball for the Interpol investigation – if the thief is going to strike, he’s going to do it tonight – but he’d told himself that, either way, it would be an opportunity to get closer to Guillaume. To see him in a different setting.

But Guillaume is perfectly at ease here, and it’s Matteo who’s off balance. He can’t stop dwelling on Guillaume’s hand in his, warm and rough. The steady pressure of Guillaume’s other hand on his lower back. He already had one too many glasses of champagne, but Guillaume’s scent is more intoxicating still – a sharp, clean smell like lemon and bergamot, with the tantalizing promise of something muskier underneath.

Normally Matteo only gets hints of the scent – when he leans in to kiss Guillaume’s cheek in greeting like a proper Parisian, or lingering by Guillaume’s chair after he leaves Matteo’s office. But now that they’re dancing, it’s all Matteo can breathe, and his head is spinning with it.

Matteo’s very used to being certain. His life has had a straightforward path, and he followed it. Now he finds he doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t know, still, the man whose palm is pressed to his spine.

“You look thoughtful,” murmurs Guillaume.

Matteo meets his eyes, his heart pounding. He needs to try something, to find a way in.

“I’ve always wondered,” he says carefully, shifting his hand so he can trace the callouses at the base of Guillaume’s fingers. “Your hands –”

Guillaume’s eyebrows go up, and Matteo stops, suddenly uncertain. What is it that he’s trying to ask?

(Are you really who you say you are? Are you the one stealing the horses?

Are you lying to me?)

“What about my hands?” asks Guillaume, low. He folds his fingers around Matteo’s and slides his thumb down Matteo’s palm. “I haven’t heard any complaints about them so far.”

The touch sends a shiver rolling down Matteo’s spine. He grips Guillaume’s hand, stilling it, and shakes his head. “I’m sorry. My mind was wandering. I apologize.”

“Ah. Where was your mind wandering to, I wonder?” Guillaume pulls Matteo’s hand to his mouth and presses his lips to Matteo’s knuckles. His breath plays warm across Matteo’s skin as he murmurs, “Anywhere interesting?”

Matteo steps back, snatching his hand from Guillaume’s grip. “Don’t.”

Guillaume lets his hand drop calmly. The two of them are an island of stillness amid the rest of the dancers. “My apologies.” A smile flickers across his face. “It seems I’m always annoying you.”

“No, no,” says Matteo. But it’s true, in a way. It’s exhausting to live here on this fine line, to get Guillaume’s wicked smile and his sure touch and his intoxicating scent and not be allowed anything more. “I simply want to remain –”

“Professional?”

“Exactly.”

“Why do you put up with me, then? You should know well enough I’m not going to change my ways.”

Guillaume’s tone is teasing, but his gaze is jewel-bright and piercing. Matteo swallows. Is Guillaume searching for Matteo’s true motives – the directive from Interpol to find out what he can about Guillaume’s connection to the horse thefts? Or is this just more flirtation?

He forces himself to smile. “In my line of work, you have to believe in people’s capacity for change.”

“Don’t hold your breath,” says Guillaume, offering a sharp-edged smile. “But I am sorry. Do you forgive me?” He holds out his hand.

What can Matteo do but take it? “Of course.”

“Good,” says Guillaume, and he steps forward and pulls Matteo close. Even closer than before, close enough that when Matteo draws in a sharp breath, he feels the solid press of Guillaume’s chest against his. A helpless rush of heat spills through Matteo’s body.

“The song’s not over yet, Matteo,” purrs Guillaume, his breath against Matteo’s ear. And he pushes them forward along with the music, so that they’re dancing again, so close together that their thighs slide together with each step.

It’s a taunt, Matteo knows. A clear signal that Matteo’s protests mean nothing, that Guillaume controls the situation entirely. Matteo should pull away, should make it clear that this is unacceptable.

But he doesn’t. He knows all about this – about the allure of the forbidden, about how wanting something can be enough of its own reward to keep a person trapped in an unhealthy place. But knowing it isn’t enough to fight how good this feels, the warm press of Guillaume’s body, the heady scent of Guillaume’s skin. He wants to drown in it. He knows he can’t.

Guillaume’s voice is low. “You don’t have to be trapped like this, you know.”

“What?”

“You are as much a wild thing as any creature, Matteo – you deserve to be free.”

Matteo’s heart pounds. It’s strange to talk like this, cheek to cheek, so he can’t even see Guillaume’s expression. “What do you mean? I’m not trapped.”

“You are. You’re too scared to take what you want from me, and I’m never going to give you what they want from me. So you’re trapped.”

Matteo’s stomach drops at the word they. Does Guillaume know? How?

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he tries, pulling away.

But Guillaume’s arm is tight around his waist and he can’t step back. They end up face to face, no longer dancing but still in each other’s arms.

Guillaume’s bright eyes find Matteo’s. “I know you’re not a fool, Matteo. Don’t take me for one, either.”

Matteo stares back at him, his heart drumming against his ribs. He feels like Guillaume can see right through him, and part of him wants to flinch away, but part of him wants to let it happen. To let the layers of secret identities and hidden motivations between them burn away in the heat of Guillaume’s gaze.

“I won’t,” he says finally.

Guillaume’s eyes search Matteo’s face, and finally something softens in his expression. “I know you can’t say anything. Those are the rules of the game, no? But I meant what I said. You don’t have to be trapped.”

He says it so gently. Like he’s offering Matteo a lifeline, a way out of this churn of secrets and lies, of desires that can never be fulfilled.

And Matteo wants to take it. Wants to damn the rules and Interpol and his own better judgment, and take what he’s been aching for for so long.

Distantly, the music is soaring towards a crescendo.

Guillaume’s eyes never leave Matteo’s face. His mouth is curved into a hint of a smile. A very familiar smile – the smile of someone who’s patient only because he knows he’ll get what he wants in the end.

Matteo closes his eyes, and takes hold of Guillaume’s jacket, and kisses him.

It’s a sudden, hard kiss, the press of their lips like a promise of everything that could come next. A thrill courses through Matteo’s body, and he wants to pause here, to enjoy this as a single stolen moment, unrepeatable.

And then Guillaume tilts his head, and his hand curls around Matteo’s cheek, and the kiss blooms like a hothouse flower into something deep and hungry.

Guillaume tastes like champagne, sweet but forceful on Matteo’s tongue. He tastes hot as sin and just as tempting. He’s never yielded a single bit of himself before and yet he offers his mouth to Matteo without hesitation, and Matteo tangles a hand in his hair and takes it. The first kiss was a promise, but this is not a resolution, just a hundred promises more.

They don’t pull apart until long after the song has ended. Guillaume is smug and beautiful, his hair mussed and his lips pink. He takes Matteo’s hand and kisses it.

“Thank you for the dance, Matteo.”

Matteo doesn’t pull away. Maybe this is a mistake – the largest mistake he’s made so far in a career of always doing the right thing. But if it is a mistake, he wants to make it again and again.

He squeezes Guillaume’s hand, feels a last shiver run through him at the rough friction of Guillaume’s palm. He opens his mouth to say something, but Guillaume is already pulling away.

“Now, if you’ll excuse me… There’s something I need to do.”

And he slips out of Matteo’s arms and disappears into the crowd.