Authors: K. Sterling
Mason’s eyes snapped open and he gasped, desperately trying to fill his lungs with air as his mind struggled to pull pieces of reality into a coherent whole. He forced his fingers to unclench and release the sheets and his toes to uncurl as his chest continued to heave. He sat up and looked down his sweat slick body and his eyes flared.
“Christ!” He whispered when he saw the mess that was quickly cooling on his stomach and thigh. Mason collapsed back on the pillows and groaned as he pushed his hands through his hair. He hadn’t had a wet dream since he was a teenager. And that dream… that had been… a lot.
Succubus? Incubus? Mason frowned as he stared at the ceiling. How would he classify his tormenter?
Why am I worrying about that?
He wondered as he sat up and swung his feet to the floor. Obviously, it had to be backwards in his dream.
But it had been very hot. Seriously hot.
Mason shivered as he made his way to the bathroom. Whatever category it fell in, the dream about the guy next door had been intense.
He rubbed the back of his neck as he flipped the light switch and squinted until his eyes adjusted. Mason considered the shower but decided on wiping himself off and going for an early run. He was already drenched in sweat, he might as well burn off some of his frustration before he got ready for work.
It was only a little after 4 a.m.. Mason pulled on a pair of boxer briefs and rolled out the yoga mat. He was brave, but not running before sunrise in Manhattan, brave. He tried to clear his mind but it betrayed him by pointing out that it was a morning run that had started it all. He snorted as he pressed his hands together in front of his chest.
Mason had been aware of the guy in 12C for over a year but it hadn’t turned into borderline obsession until The Elevator Incident two weeks earlier. He had a free morning and decided to go into work later. He was jogging in place, cooling down in front of the elevator, waiting to go up when the doors opened and he collided with 12C. Mason was messing with his smartwatch and 12C was reading something on his phone as they rushed into each other. Mason gasped in shock at the impact. Solid heat pressed against him from chest to thigh and a faint grunt escaped 12C’s throat as he braced himself. Mason inhaled and his eyelids fell as the smell and warmth of 12C wrapped around him. He became lightheaded as he felt 12C’s hand press firm against his lower back. His intent had been to steady Mason, to keep him from falling back on his ass but Mason’s knees almost gave out as he felt 12C’s breath against his lips.
Mason decided as he felt 12C’s fingertips press into his back, along his spine. He saw 12C’s jaw twitch before his hand slowly slid away and Mason had to bite his lip to keep from groaning. Mason stepped back as deep, grey eyes searched his. 12C cleared his throat before his tongue darted quickly across his lips and Mason bit his lip harder.
“Sorry. I… I should know better than to try to read and walk at the same time.” 12C’s voice was a velvety rumble and Mason felt it roll through him.
Oh, sweet Jesus,
Mason complained as he tried to appear relaxed. 12C’s brows pulled together and his head tilted. “Are you all right?” He asked as his hand closed around Mason’s arm. Mason smiled and nodded.
“Fine!” He tried to chuckle as he fell deeper into those eyes that just got darker. “It was my fault.” Mason insisted as he squeezed 12C’s arm in return. Of course it felt like marble under fine wool. “I was goofing off with my watch and I’m probably a little under hydrated.” Mason lied as he let his eyes slide along 12C’s impossible cheek and jaw bones. He was plenty hydrated, it had just been too long since he’d been laid. And being this close to what might be the most beautiful man alive wasn’t helping. The elevator door started to close on Mason, hurling him back to reality. He grinned sheepishly as he stepped to the side. “Sorry. I’m sure you hadn’t planned to spend your morning trapped in the elevator.” Mason saw 12C’s jaw twitch again before he ducked his head and passed. Mason went to reach for the 12th floor button when 12C’s hand stopped the door from closing.
“Drink plenty of water and try to watch where you’re going.” His eyes and grin were teasing before he released the door and turned. Mason waited until the doors were closed before he collapsed against the wall behind him.
“Holy shit.” He whispered shakily as he stared at the doors.
Holy shit, indeed,
Mason scowled as he pressed his hands to the mat and tried to push the memory away and focus. His mind refused to cooperate and started hurling insults at him. He was an idiot and a coward. There was definitely something there with 12C but every time Mason saw him, the best he could manage was a smile and a jaunty nod. 12C would smile and nod back and they’d go their separate ways without so much as a “Hello”. Mason was pretty sure the ball was in his court but he was just too nervous to make the next move.
You used to be a player. You would have been all over him six years ago.
He lectured as he pulled in his core and leveled his back as he held himself in Chaturanga. Mason snorted again as he reminded himself that he was a very different man than he was six years ago. Ryan had definitely changed that.
It might have been the yoga but Mason was feeling rather philosophical as he thought about his ex. Normally, he’d wish for something violent to happen to Ryan or for him to experience the same soul crushing heartbreak he’d brought upon Mason. This morning, Mason was mindful of the perspective he'd gained from their relationship; he knew that he could never go back to one night stands and empty, pretty boys, he wanted something real, something that would last. Mason wanted everything he thought he would have with Ryan, just with someone that wasn’t a selfish prick. He was truly over Ryan, it had taken a year for him to get there but Mason knew he was better off without him. Unfortunately, a year after getting over Ryan, he was still too wary and unsure of himself to get back into dating.
Once the heartbreak fog had lifted, Mason noticed 12C. Not that 12C had just appeared, Mason was pretty sure 12C had lived in the building for years before he moved in. Mason just hadn’t been conscious of everything around him enough to notice.
How the hell did I miss THAT?
Mason wondered one Sunday afternoon as he was leaving his apartment and 12C was entering his. He almost smacked himself on the forehead when he recognized the coffee cup in 12C’s hand. He’d seen him in the coffee shop a few times. Ryan had really done a number on Mason if a man like 12C could exist in such close proximity without Mason noticing.
After that morning, Mason paid very close attention to 12C whenever they crossed paths. His gaydar was either broken or missing because Mason couldn’t get a read on 12C. He spent several months trying to piece together clues as they passed each other in the hall or shared the elevator. Now and then, Mason found himself craning his neck to peek over 12C’s shoulder as he sifted though his mail. Aside from a casual smile, 12C seemed otherwise unaware of Mason. Or that Mason
be stalking him.
Mason had learned a lot about 12C in the following months: Bespoke suits and tailored shirts from England. 12C liked England. From the tags on his luggage, he traveled there every few months. 12C was meticulous in his grooming; from his expensive haircut to his manicured nails to his definitely not from a department store cologne and aftershave. 12C took his appearance very seriously. Mason appreciated his efforts. 12C was an intoxicating blend of bergamot, citrus, patchouli, mint and a hint of chlorine. Mason thought 12C must be an avid swimmer, he aways smelled as if he’d been to the pool. Which caused all sorts of visions to drift through Mason’s consciousness. 12C didn’t have the stereotypical swimmer’s body, not that that mattered. Mason had often been told he had the body of a swimmer and he only swam recreationally. 12C was tall with a broad chest and shoulders, he had a narrow waist and long legs. Mason was fascinated by his hands, they were long and lean and constantly moving. When 12C was on the phone, they gestured and when he was waiting for the elevator they flicked against his thigh or the coffee cup in his hand. Based on 12C’s hands, Mason would have guessed he was a surgeon if he hadn’t overheard 12C on the phone. Lawyer. An important one, from the bits of conversation Mason had overheard. From the few grocery bags Mason had observed, 12C drank sweet red wines and stout beer, he rarely ate at home but was fond of cherries. Cherry yogurt, dried cherries, cherry cough drops, cherry frozen yogurt… Mason had even spied a bag of cherry gummy candy in 12C’s bag once.
The only thing Mason hadn’t observed was any trace of a love life or a hint of 12C’s sexual preference. 12C worked, exercised regularly and stayed in on the weekends if he wasn’t traveling. It would have seemed strange to Mason if he hadn’t lived an almost identical existence. It was a little sad; a man like that, single, practically on Mason’s doorstep and Mason too scared to make a move. Before The Elevator Incident, Mason told himself that it would be awkward if 12C wasn’t gay and they had to avoid each other for the rest of eternity. After, well… that would have required Mason to man-up and do something. Because of Ryan, Mason wasn’t comfortable with making his interest known if he wasn’t sure it was mutual.
Mason knew he was being a complete ass. 12C’s interest had been pretty obvious during The Elevator Incident.
What’s the worst that could happen? You’re wrong and you pine away in silence for another year. At least you’ll know you tried,
Mason argued. He nodded decisively as he rolled up his mat then went to dress for a run. He would do something next time. It was Thursday. Mason would ask 12C if he wanted to go for coffee before the weekend was finished, at a minimum.
Once the vacuum cord was wound tight and secured, Avery looked around the apartment and frowned. Everything was in order, there was nothing left to clean. He put the vacuum away and went into the kitchen. It was Friday night and he’d already dusted and organized inside the cabinets and drawers, cleaned the fridge, moved and cleaned behind the appliances and polished all the steel fixtures.
There go your weekend plans,
Avery thought as he opened the fridge. Not that he expected there to be any food. Food required cooking and cooking made a mess. He shrugged and decided he’d change and go for an early dinner.
He mentally inspected each room as he pulled on a pair of navy slacks, trying to think of anything he could clean or organize when he returned. Nothing. Avery sighed as he buttoned a grey shirt and tucked it in. Since the run in with the guy from 12B, he’d been too restless whenever he was home to relax and stayed up late into the night dusting, scrubbing and folding.
Avery had nicknamed him Adonis when he’d moved in two years ago. The first year, Adonis practically sleepwalked through the building and whenever Avery spotted him on the sidewalk or at the coffee shop. He would have suspected drugs if Adonis hadn’t looked so lost and empty. He’d overheard Adonis on the phone once insisting he was fine and that he was moving on. A breakup. The idea was ridiculous to Avery. Who let a man like that go? How could a man like Adonis let someone that was obviously an idiot and worthless cause him so much heartache for so long? It was a relief when Adonis started smiling and greeting people as he came and went. The first time they made eye contact in the hall had been electrifying for Avery. Adonis’ lips curved in a friendly smile while awareness and desire flashed in his eyes. He finally noticed Avery.
After that, Avery had to fight to maintain his composure every time Adonis was near. He could always feel Adonis’ eyes on him and it drove Avery crazy. Silently, he pleaded for Adonis to say something, anything, but months passed and nothing beyond a friendly smile or a nod occurred. It always ended with Avery berating himself for not saying or doing something.
You can take down corporations and titans but you can’t manage a simple “Hello” and ask him if he’d like to go for coffee? Pathetic.
The law and business, he could handle. Romance and sex? Not a chance. Avery didn’t know the protocol for approaching a man, especially if he wasn’t sure if said man was gay.
Which was why Avery had never been in a relationship. Hell, he’d never even been on a date. There had been two weekends at Harvard that amounted to very little but nothing beyond that. And the only reason anything happened at school was because Avery hadn’t had to make the first move. Teddy Harker had come to Avery, drunk and horny and pounding on his door at 2 a.m.. After that, no one had ever tried and Avery got good at ignoring his physical needs as he excelled in every other aspect of his life. At thirty-six, Avery was feared, unstoppable and at the top of his game. He rarely needed to step into a courtroom but when he did, it was a slaughter. Yet, in his apartment, he was terrified of disorder and he became completely tongue-tied around the only man he had ever truly desired.
God, he wanted Adonis. Avery could keep him at bay when he was at the office but as soon as he walked into their apartment building, the man overwhelmed Avery. He wasn’t sure what Adonis did but he was an executive of some sort. During the week, he came and went in tailored suits and carried an overstuffed, leather messenger bag. On the weekend, Adonis lived in jeans and t-shirts with rock band logos. Unless he was dressed for a run or a workout. Then, he wore one of his t-shirts and track pants or shorts. Adonis had an amazing ass and legs, Avery had devoted hours to fantasizing about them. Especially after a run or workout, when his clothes stuck to his body.
When Avery wasn't imagining Adonis after a workout, he wondered how he passed his time. He was constantly staring at the wall that divided their apartments, wondering what Adonis was doing on the other side. Avery’s heart would race when he smelled Adonis’ scent in the elevator. It almost drove Avery out of his mind, that smell. It reminded him of something but he couldn’t place it. It was during a trip to London when Avery finally put it together. He was in his room at The Savoy and a whiff of Earl Grey had his body tightening and Adonis’ image floated before him. He smelled like lavender with a hint of citrus and pepper and Avery's stomach would twist in knots whenever they saw each other or he drank a cup of Earl Grey tea. After the crash in the elevator, Adonis started filling Avery’s dreams, doing unspeakable things to Avery’s body with those full, soft lips.
He wasn’t sure what had possessed him to tease Adonis just before the elevator doors closed but Avery wished he could summon that demon every time they met. Initially, he’d stuttered and stared like a moron, the shock of feeling so much of Adonis pressed against him had totally destroyed Avery’s brain. Without thinking, he’d wrapped his arm around Adonis to keep him from falling and it had taken a herculean effort not to let his hand explore the hard, hot body beneath the thin t-shirt under his hands. In his dreams, Avery’s hand would slide over Adonis’ tight, round ass. He’d fill his palm with Adonis’ flesh and then pull him hard against his groin as their lips met.
Avery groaned as he pulled on his socks and brown leather oxfords. Warmth was flooding his groin and the last thing he needed before heading out for a solitary meal was a hard-on. Nothing would come of it and he’d spend the evening frustrated and feeling even more disgusted with himself. Avery grabbed his wallet, his phone and his keys and pulled his door open. His eyes automatically flicked to the door of 12B as he pulled his shut and locked it. His steps were slow and he paused as he stared at the door.
You could knock, see if he wants to grab a bite to eat,
the brave part of his brain whispered. The knuckles of his right hand began to tingle as he imagined them tapping at the panels. A tremor passed through Avery and he sighed as he continued toward the elevator.
Everything would have been fine until Adonis opened the door. Then, Avery would get trapped in those too blue eyes or the soft golden waves that were always falling over Adonis brow would distract him. Or, Adonis would flash one of his amazing smiles and Avery’s brain would short-circuit. Worst case scenario: Adonis would say actual words and the soft, silky warmth of his voice would cause Avery to drool and babble like a lunatic. Adonis would probably slam the door in Avery’s face, afraid he’d start barking and try to bite his own ear. The worst, worst case scenario would be that all of those things would happen and Adonis would be fresh from a run or a workout and still be in his sweat damp clothes. Avery wouldn’t survive that. He’d have a stroke. Adonis was tall and sleek and when his shirt clung to his body, Avery could see that the muscles of his chest, stomach and back were toned and well defined. After having Adonis pressed against him in the elevator, Avery tortured himself all day, pressing his sleeves and lapels against his nose trying to find any hint of Adonis on his suit. Adonis’ usual, delicious scent had combined with his sweat and wind and it had taken all of Avery’s strength not to lower his head and inhale deeply when they were chest to chest in the elevator. His jaw had twinged and his mouth watered, Avery wanted desperately to lick the skin of Adonis’ neck.
Next time, he would say or do something, Avery vowed. He would conjure that flirtatious demon and he’d find some of his legendary courtroom confidence and he’d introduce himself to Adonis, at the very least, and ask if he wanted to go out for coffee.
Avery commanded as the elevator doors opened and he strode through the lobby.