Magnus trudged into his apartment building, mentally exhausted after a long day of reviewing contracts. It had been a week since the Angels had secured their spot in the playoffs and he was finally caught up on the work he’d set to the side to accommodate Alec.
Like every other day this week, they’d shared more than a few texts today. Messages that had started out purely business then somehow ended up in a discussion about Brazilian politics that evolved into a back-and-forth on where to find the most authentic Hungarian goulash in the city. Magnus’ head was bursting with facts about paprika he didn’t know he ever needed to know.
He’d been getting hints for weeks that Alec was intelligent, but by now he was well aware that Alec was not just a goalie. It seemed like no matter what topic they landed on, Alec brought a new perspective to it, or a fact Magnus wasn’t aware of. There were now whole sections of the city where Magnus couldn’t walk without thinking of something Alec had told him.
Magnus’ thoughts were dominated by Alec. And Magnus wasn’t sure when that had started to feel…commonplace.
“Mr. Bane?” Magnus’ doorman called out, pulling him out of his reverie. “A package arrived for you today.”
Magnus accepted the package with an arched eyebrow and waited until he was in the elevator to examine it. It was a new box, not reused, with a return address of a shipping store in Dallas, Texas. On the bottom right corner there was a note written in scrawled black letters: Open me carefully.
Magnus cradled it while unlocking his door, then dropped his bag and keys in the entryway and set the box on his counter. Chairman rubbed up against his ankles, weaving between his legs.
“My apologies,” Magnus said to Chairman. “I would pick you up but I don’t know what’s in the box. I suppose that on the list of risks I’ve taken just today, opening a mysterious package—from an unknown sender with an ominous message on the outside—ranks pretty low. I don’t have that many enemies do I?”
Chairman Meow, well…he meowed.
Magnus shook his head. “No, I don’t think Ragnor and Catarina would plan an elaborate enough funeral. I should really inscribe my wishes into some kind of legally binding contract.”
He slipped a knife down the seam—with utmost care, as not to upset the enigmatic sender—and peeled back the upper folds, revealing a card with his name on the front and two kraft-paper-wrapped packages inside.
“No explosion or white powder. A minor victory, but a victory nonetheless.”
Satisfied that both he and his cat deemed the contents safe, Magnus unsealed the envelope and drew out the card, opening it. All the note said was:
Call me before you open these.
Magnus tipped his head. Reading the note again.
“Alexander sent me a package,” he said to Chairman.
Chairman tipped his head in the opposite direction.
“Indeed,” Magnus answered his cat.
Magnus picked up his cell, thumbed over to his contacts and hit the button to call Alec.
“Hey, Magnus,” Alec answered his cell, his voice sleep rough. “Isn’t it late there?”
Magnus glanced at the clock on his stove. It was barely past ten pm. “Not terribly. Where are you?”
“I don’t know,” Alec said through a yawn. “Florida maybe?”
Magnus toyed with the card between his fingers, smiling. “That would be in the same time zone as the fine city that is our permanent address.”
“Oh.” Alec chuckled lowly. “Yeah, I guess so.”
“I can call back if you’re sleeping,” he offered. “I’m sure you must be exhausted between practices, games, googling paprika facts…. Oh, and your daily lack of grooming….”
Alec laughed, the unguarded sound making Magnus go silent so he could listen to it.
“You noticed the stubble, huh?”
Magnus set down the card—leaving it open on his counter—and ran his hand over his own jawline. He hadn’t shaved since yesterday and could wait another day before he had to. “That so-called stubble would probably take me an eternity to grow.”
“I get it now.”
Magnus furrowed his brow. “Get what?”
“You’re jealous of my superior facial-hair-growing skills.”
Magnus leaned a hip against his counter and scoffed. “Does it scratch?”
“Your manly chin hair that grows like majestic corn in a sun-drenched field. Is. It. Itchy?”
“I see no reason to be jealous, Alexander.”
Alec began to laugh again, but the hypnotic reverberation was cut off with another yawn. “Did you call me for a reason, Magnus?”
“Yes, actually I did—”
There was a muffled oomph then, “Shit. Yeah, yeah, yeah….” Magnus listened as Alec huffed out a frustrated breath. “Hang on, Magnus. I woke Jace up. He threw a pillow at me.”
“You shouldn’t disturb Goldilocks,” Magnus chided him.
“He is surly if everything isn’t just right,” Alec mumbled. There was the sound of a door closing. “Okay. So the reason I’m sitting on a cold ass hotel bathtub in my boxers is…?”
“I got your package.”
Alec was quiet for a moment, then, “You got my package.”
“Hence, my call to you.”
“Did you— Um. Did you open it?”
Magnus took in Alec’s stuttered words and the underlying nervousness they betrayed. He picked the contents out of the box and laid them out on the counter next to Alec’s note, studying them all. “Your note explicitly stated not to open anything until I called you.”
“I didn’t think you’d actually listen.”
Normally he wouldn’t have listened, but this was a request from Alec. A new weakness he wouldn’t admit to out loud.
“I was too distracted trying to figure out how you got my address,” he deflected.
“Privileges of being sort-of-famous,” Alec answered. “And Clary told me.”
“That traitorous biscuit!” Magnus said with mock offense.
Magnus smiled as he ran a finger over Alec’s inked name on the card. “What was that laugh about?”
“Nothing,” Alec dismissed. He took a deep breath. “Anyway, the package is two books. Since you insist on reading about hockey I figured I’d add to your collection. Go ahead. Open the first book.”
Magnus paused. “You sent me a gift?”
Alec gave a nervous laugh. “Two actually.”
Magnus let the shift from Alec’s easy banter to a vulnerable Alec filter through his thoughts as he unwrapped the package that had been on the top of the stack. The title The NHL: A Centennial History was written in bold letters on the shiny black cover.
“I had some free time when I was in Dallas,” Alec explained. “I needed to get away from the arena and hotel for awhile, so I wandered over to a bookstore. Anyway, I saw that book, read the blurb, and laughed. It said something about men who loathed each other working together. And that it was the story of what happened on the ice and behind the scenes of the league. It seemed appropriate considering you and I—” Alec cleared his throat. “Anyway, I don’t know if you like history, but I thought I’d give it a shot.”
“I love history,” Magnus admitted. “That one, as you might say, hit the back of the net. ”
Alec chuckled—a sound Magnus was getting much too accustomed to—and an ease returned to his voice. “Good. You can open the second one now. It’s a first edition of the paperback copy of Anatoly Tarasov’s Road to Olympus. He was the father of Russian hockey.”
A first edition? This book was much different than an impulse buy at a chain bookstore….
Magnus carefully pulled the paper away from the second package and settled his cell between his ear and shoulder so he could use both hands to open the book. The pages were yellowed from age, and the spine was curved but not bent—as if it had been read multiple times but handled with great care. He had the feeling this book was important to Alec for more than it’s age or subject matter.
Magnus went with his instincts. “Tell me more about Tarasov.”
“Anatoly Tarasov is a legend,” Alec said. Magnus swore he could hear the smile on Alec’s face. “He said that a hockey player must have ‘the wisdom of a chess player, the accuracy of a sniper, and the rhythm of a musician. Above all, he must be a superb athlete.’”
The quote rolled off Alec’s tongue as if it was well-practiced. Magnus was…fascinated.
“I’ve always taken that to heart. Maybe a bit too much,” Alec continued, chuckling softly. “There’s no off season for me. The league doesn’t do things the way Tarasov did because the players would revolt. He was extreme, had a vicious temper, and he was a genius. I wish I’d had the chance to meet him before he died. Anyway, I hear this edition is pretty rare. It’s more of a collectors item than something fun to read, but I don’t know…. I was sort of assuming you have shelves of collectable books?”
Magnus noted the slight upturn at the end of Alec’s sentence. Alec was worried he’d made an incorrect assumption, but it was obvious to Magnus that Alec had put great thought into choosing this book. He’d considered Magnus’ interests and how they could possibly meld with Alec’s own. It was touching in a way that wasn’t unexpected. The Alec he’d gotten to know in the last week was thoughtful. More aware of others than himself most days.
“I do,” he reassured Alec. “Especially rare texts. This is perfect. Thank you.”
“Two goals,” Magnus replied, sticking with his hockey themed metaphor, since anything hockey seemed to give Alec joy, “and I’ve given you nothing. You’re playing a potential shut out here, Alexander.”
“Huh. When you put it that way…. It’s no fun playing with an empty net.”
It was a hockey term Magnus wasn’t familiar with. Yet.
“I don’t follow.”
“I’m in St. Louis in two days. Take your best shot, Magnus.”
“Why didn’t you tell me your agent’s assistant is hot, Lightwood?”
Alec stopped in his tracks, rubbing the water from his hair with a towel as he emerged from the bathroom. He tossed the towel back into the bathroom, made sure the one around his waist was secure and looked at Jace, who was casually slung back in a chair with his feet propped on the desk.
“When did you see Clary?”
Jace was flipping Alec’s cell in his hand, a much too satisfied smirk on his face. “Your cell rang when you were in the shower. I saw the name and that she was trying to Facetime you.”
“So you picked up the call? Really, Jace?”
Jace grinned and dropped his feet to the floor. “I have no regrets. Why didn’t you tell me she’s so hot? I have a thing for red heads.”
Alec scoffed as he dug through his suitcase. “You have a thing for women.”
“You protecting Clary from me?”
Alec shook his head. “Clary can take care of herself.” He pulled out boxers, sweats, and one of his college sweatshirts from his suitcase and faced Jace. “Honestly? She’d dominate you.”
Jace’s brow furrowed, his ever-confident exterior cracking. But those moments rarely lasted long with Jace. Jace shrugged it off and tossed Alec’s cell on Alec’s bed. “Anyway, she was calling to tell you that your agent sent a package over with contracts you need to sign and send back. It should be at the front desk.”
Alec stilled. It had been a hellish two days of continual travel, practice, and games since Tampa. He’d forgotten about his challenge to Magnus. Was the shipment from him really contracts or…that?
“At the front desk, huh?”
“Apparently.” Jace stood. “I’m going out with a few of the guys. Celebrate having home ice for the first two rounds of the playoffs. You coming?”
“I’m done. Going to crash early.”
“See you later, bro.” Jace paused in front of him, gripping Alec’s shoulder. “Amazing game tonight.”
Alec smiled at the praise. “You too.”
As soon as the door was slamming shut behind Jace, Alec got dressed and called down to the front desk, requesting the package to be delivered up. Five minutes later, there was a knock on the door and Alec had a bulging express mail package in his hands. But before he opened it, he sat down on his bed and called Magnus.
“Congratulations on the shut out tonight,” Magnus answered his cell. “Isabelle is furious that she’s never going to be able to wear anything besides angel wing pajamas for the rest of her life.”
Alec chuckled. Izzy, Max, Clary, Simon and Magnus had gotten together again tonight to watch the game, sending him a now-very-normal flurry of texts and ridiculous pics. Messages that helped him start games in a much better mindset.
“She’s going to be even more furious when I make her wear them to the arena during playoffs.”
“You wouldn’t.” Magnus sounded horrified.
“Don’t underestimate hockey players and superstitions. But I won’t. Those pajamas are home-based game watching traditions. Tell her to pick out her outfit for the arena carefully, though—it should be something timeless.”
“Isabelle can handle herself,” Magnus asserted. “I’m more nervous about mine.”
The possibility of getting Magnus to a live game had gone from ‘a cold day in hell’ to Magnus shopping for an outfit to wear to the arena? Alec smiled, but didn’t bother to point out that fact. “I got your package.”
“Spectacular,” Magnus trilled. “And?”
“And what? I didn’t open it.”
“I gave neither ominous warnings nor vague instructions like you did.”
“I still waited.”
“Hack away at that package, beard-wielding lumberjack. I sent the last part of the Gallant addendum for you to sign and an envelope to return it to Clary.”
Alec slid the contents of the massive envelope onto the bed, finding a stack of papers with colored tabs indicating where to sign, the return envelope and…nothing else.
Alec was…disappointed. “That’s it?”
“Shake the envelope, Alexander,” Magnus said with a hint of humor in his voice. “Getting everything in took some work, but, lucky for you, I’m experienced with generous sized objects and tight spaces.”
“Inappropriate, Magnus,” Alec said. He picked up the envelope again and shook loose what he’d thought was just packing material at the bottom. “There’s a paperback and an envelope.”
“That’s it. I know you will be shocked by this, but there are times I can go overboard—”
Alec grinned. “You? Never.”
Magnus huffed and continued on, “However, I held back and only sent two books. The paperback is Ice Station by Matthew Reilly. The main character, Shane Schofield, is a magnificently built Marine who’s called Scarecrow—”
“Scarecrow?” Alec asked, his face scrunching up as he surveyed the cover. “Tell me this isn’t horror. Horror…. I can’t do it. It scares me.”
“I believe that’s the point of that genre,” Magnus said dryly. “No worries, my trembling mountain man. This is action not horror. He’s called Scarecrow because he has scars running down his eyelids from when he was tortured in Serbia.”
“Got it,” Alec said. A book with Marines, torture, and action wasn’t anything he would’ve guessed Magnus would send him. “Is this one you’ve read?”
“I picked it up on a dare from a friend who challenged me to not always be so aristocratic. I ended up enjoying it immensely but lied to my friend. He’s insufferable when proven right.”
Alec laughed. “Of course you did.”
“It’s been a few years since I read Ice Station, but if I remember right, Scarecrow getting shot and dumped into a pool of killer whales—while there’s a nuclear bomb heading for him—isn’t the most exciting part. It’s more absurd than a Michael Bay summer blockbuster and just as mindless and entertaining. A distraction for the copious hours you spend in planes, buses, hotels, and avoiding shaving. There are four more in the series if you enjoy this one.”
“I love these kind of books,” Alec responded genuinely. “We’re at two-one now.”
“The second one…. Open the white envelope. Inside you’ll find an encrypted jump drive. On it is one book—The Charioteer by Mary Renault, a gay literature classic. It was groundbreaking when it was released in 1953. Some of the ideas about homosexuality are cringe-worthy by modern standards, but at its heart it’s a beautifully written love story between men. I assumed it would be safer for you to have this book digitally than in physical form. You’ll find both the ebook and the audiobook on there.”
Alec held the black USB drive between his fingers, his stomach flipping, nerves tingling where he was gripping the drive tight. He’d never dared to own anything that could tip him off….
“I hope that choice wasn’t an overreach, Alexander,” Magnus said quietly.
“No,” Alec answered immediately, even though his voice was rougher than he would’ve liked. “It’s more than— It’s… I’ve never read any gay lit. I didn’t know anyone…and I haven’t—”
“I assumed that as well,” Magnus cut in, sparing Alec from stumbling more over his words. “This is one of my favorites, so I’d love to hear what you think. And there are more books like this I can recommend, if you want. As long as you feel safe.”
As long as you feel safe.
Alec turned Magnus’ words over in his head as he turned the USB drive over in his hand.
Magnus was offering space to talk. Offering Alec a connection to a community he’d always been on the outskirts of. Magnus didn’t agree with Alec’s choice not to be out, but by sending the book this way, he was offering Alec safety. Alec gripped the drive tighter, closing his fist around it. The drive was so small, but what Magnus was offering him was enormous.
Alec had to pause to find his voice. “You said this is encrypted. What’s the password?”
“Bane of my existence. All lowercase, all one word.”
“A password I won’t forget,” he tried to joke, but he knew….
Magnus was supposed to be a man he didn’t like, and yet, he knew Magnus Bane was becoming one of the best pieces of his existence.
Alec could barely find his voice to say, “Thank you, Magnus. We’re tied. Two-two.”
“Only because I held back,” Magnus said. His voice was light, teasing, as if understood how deeply affected Alec was, yet needed that fact not be acknowledged out loud.
Alec swallowed, a tightness in his chest that was foreign, but…right. “You never score if you don’t take a shot, Magnus.”
Magnus hummed thoughtfully. “I’ll see you in LA.”
Magnus shifted his position on the couch set off to the side in the photography studio. He tried to keep his focus on his phone while he waited for Helen to allow him access to Alec, but he was restless, to say the least. Alec didn’t even know Magnus was here yet.
Magnus’ flight had been delayed, bringing him in hours later than he’d thought he’d arrive and leaving Alec to fend for himself. Ever the professional, Helen Blackthorn had orchestrated Alec’s arrival and ensured he was comfortable and taken care of—since Magnus couldn’t be there. Magnus trusted Helen, and he trusted Aline to take photos that would be just as stunning as the other campaigns they’d worked on together. It never sat right with Magnus when he wasn’t available for his clients when they needed him, though, and his lateness today really didn’t sit right with him.
This wasn’t a client. This was Alexander.
He sat forward and glanced again through the gap in the door of the room where they were getting Alec ready. He could see flashes of movement but nothing to clue him on when Alec, Aline, and the crew would move into the main studio for the actual shoot.
“Losing your patience?” Helen asked, her lithe form leaning against a chair as she tapped away on an iPad in her hands.
He eyed her. “Why can’t I go back there?”
“He’s fine. Trust me. He was…insecure when he got here.” Helen smiled fondly. “But Aline calmed him down.”
Magnus blew out a long breath and sat back. “You and Aline are surprisingly adept at soothing the male species.”
“Don’t be an ass, Magnus.” Helen tipped her head in the direction of the back room. “They’re coming out now.”
Magnus hadn’t heard or seen anything to indicate that they were done in makeup, but ten seconds later the door opened and Aline entered first, trailed by Alec.
Magnus hesitated for only a moment, his heart kicking up a beat at the sight of Alec. He stood and buttoned his jacket, waiting quietly, and watching Alec from across the room. It had been weeks since he’d last seen Alec in person. Weeks of talking, texting, Facetime, emails. Weeks of learning the way Alec moved while Magnus watched him on screen. Weeks of listening to Alec talk, coming to understand what it meant when Alec paused or stuttered or took a deep breath. Weeks that made this first sight of Alec much more familiar than it should have been.
And Magnus found he was…nervous?
Aline noticed him and lifted a hand in greeting, which made Alec’s gaze slide away from Aline, finally finding Magnus. A slow smile spread across Alec’s face as their eyes caught.
Magnus couldn’t help smiling back.
Alec broke away from Aline and approached, his eyes flickering down, taking in the lines of Magnus’ linen jacket. “Hey. You look…good. Ready for the warm weather…and, yeah, all of…that.”
Magnus started to give Alec the same once over, but had to stop when he realized how little the robe Alec was wearing covered. He arched an eyebrow, trying to appear unfazed. Alec was nervous too, and he wanted to put him at ease. “I would say the same for you, but this robe is practically indecent. Didn’t they have something that is meant for a man more your size than mine?”
One corner of Alec’s lips tilted up. “Jealous of the stubble and the robe now, huh?”
“An itchy face and cold thighs. Yes, there is much to be jealous of,” he quipped, earning a full smile from Alec that made his heart beat even faster. “How is it going so far?”
“Aline is pissed at me,” Alec said, leaning in so only Magnus would hear him. He ran his hand over his cheek. “I wouldn’t let her shave my stubble off.”
Magnus surveyed Alec’s fingers scratching over his jawline. Long fingers, marked with nicks and scratches of hard work, twisting in a thick, dark-haired beard that accentuated Alec’s lips…. He wondered what the hair would feel like under his own fingertips—
Shocked that thought had crossed his mind at all—and with the proximity of Alec’s all-encompassing masculinity suddenly so very, very close and on display—Magnus took a beat longer to respond than he usually would.
“It is”—Magnus cleared his throat—“more of a beard than stubble now.”
Alec didn’t seem to notice his hesitation. “I trimmed it myself back there, but no one else can touch it. The playoffs, Magnus. Playoffs.”
The playoffs. Business. Yes. Representing Alec—his client—was the only reason he was here.
“I understand.” Magnus held up a finger for Alec to hold that thought. Alec gave a lop-sided, blinding grin and Magnus leaned around Alec. “Aline. If anyone else tries to touch Alec’s sacred playoff chin hair then I will claim possession of your favored camera and use it to take excruciatingly detailed naked selfies.”
Aline silently glared at him, then her gaze slid to her wife—who was also her operations manager.
“I already told him not to be ass once today,” Helen responded to Aline’s unvoiced question. “If he didn’t listen the first time he won’t the second time.”
Aline merely rolled her eyes and kept working with her equipment.
Satisfied there wouldn’t be any forced shavings happening, Magnus refocused on Alec. “I’m sorry I’m late.”
“It’s not like you were flying the plane.” Alec reached out and smoothed down a corner of Magnus’ lapel, thumb grazing across the skin exposed where Magnus had left the top buttons of his shirt undone. “I’m just glad you’re here now.”
Magnus opened his mouth to speak, but with the warmth of Alec’s words—so genuine—and heat of Alec’s touch—still lingering on his skin—he couldn’t think of one thing to say.
It was like the swish-click of a lighter, igniting a spark inside Magnus that he hadn’t realized was there at all….
“Alec,” Helen called out. “We’re ready for you.”
“We’ll talk more after,” Alec said.
Then Alec patted his chest, oblivious to how that simple touch had inexplicably become akin to dousing Magnus in gasoline.
Alec gripped the collar of his robe and dropped it off his shoulders into the hands of a waiting assistant. This may have been his second shoot with Aline—and he was feeling much more comfortable with her, especially since he’d met her wife—but being nearly naked in front of a large group of people wasn’t something he’d ever get used to.
“Alec,” Aline said as she stood behind her camera. “Let’s go over this one more time. We’re going to be doing macro shots and overall body shots around the theme of what an athlete is made of. It’s going to be a lot of detail work, time, and patience, with subtle shifts to the position of your body. You’ll need to pay attention to small movements that keep the larger, overall purpose in perspective.”
“He’s a goalie, Aline,” Magnus called out from where he was slowly pacing at the back of the room. “That’s what he does every day.”
This was what it was like to have an agent who got him. Magnus understood him in ways Hodge had never tried to learn.
He’d had quite a bit of contact with Hodge at one time—trying to build up a partnership he could trust. But his experience with Magnus was different. He and Magnus talked, a lot, on the phone and over text and via email and well…just a lot. There was always something to do with business that he and Magnus could discuss. More than often not, though, they ended up discussing books or music or absolutely nothing. For longer than they probably should.
That wasn’t the only difference between his old agent and new one, though.
Hodge had never looked at Alec the way Magnus had looked at him earlier. And Alec had never been aware of Hodge the way he was with Magnus.
He could feel Magnus’ eyes on him as the shoot started.
And it made Alec want to stand taller.
Magnus loved LA.
There were a slew of beautiful people in LA—a slew of beautiful people in this room alone—but Magnus was having difficulty keeping his eyes on any of them besides Alec.
Magnus had been through this once before. Watching Alec in that first photo shoot stripping down to almost nothing. Talented, professional hands working on his hair, face, and body—over his arms, legs, back, and chest—to accentuate the angle of his cheekbone, the cut of his jaw, and the raw power of the muscles he’d perfected with years on and off the ice. Yes, Magnus had sat in on a photo shoot with Alec before.
This shoot for Gallant was decidedly different.
A month ago, Alec Lightwood had been a client, a product. That view had been insulting and degrading, and it had tainted the way Magnus had viewed even Alec’s physical form. He’d never been into men who were more on the bear spectrum—burly, hairy, and very masculine. But bearish and athletic wasn’t all of who Alec was.
He knew Alec now. Understood why the women who touched him brought an innocent stain to his cheeks and the men brought a steeliness to his resolve. He was getting to know the man beneath the facade and he liked Alec. It was fair to say he’d begun to think of him as a friend….
Magnus slipped his jacket off and draped it over a chair, the room suddenly way too hot.
Right now, though, he wasn’t looking at Alec as either a client or a friend….
He didn’t know what to do with that.
Alec wore only a skin-tight set of black briefs and he should’ve been hot under the glare of the studio lights. Pink-cheeked because of the scrutiny of Aline and her crew.
But he blushed profusely when he caught Magnus’ eyes fixated on him.
And he shivered when Magnus began to lose layers of clothing as well.
First his suit jacket, and his scarf. Then the sleeves of his shirt unbuttoned and rolled to just below his elbows.
Alec tracked Magnus as he paced around the room. Anytime they caught eyes, Magnus’ features would soften, as if he was attempting to wordlessly tell Alec that it was okay. That he was doing well.
More than once Aline had to remind Alec to keep his eyes on her.
Gradually the buttons on Magnus’ shirt were undone by Magnus’ graceful hands—one by one, until Magnus’ necklaces were hanging against bare skin.
Alec tried not to notice each new hint of skin that appeared as time wore on.
Hour after hour, with muscles burning despite what was a relatively inactive day, Alec had to work to maintain his focus. To ignore bracelets on muscled forearms, glitter on bronzed skin, white teeth nipping at gloss-stained lips….
At the end Alec was exhausted.
And it wasn’t because of the Aline’s relentless pace.
The studio lights clicked off and Alec ignored the minuscule robe in favor of downing the bottle of water handed to him as he watched Magnus approach him in his peripheral vision.
“Do you have to be up early for practice?”
Alec finished the water, licked his lips, and tried to keep his gaze solely on Magnus’ eyes. “No. I’m, uh, flying back to New York tomorrow. No practice until Friday. Everyone else they…flew out today.”
Magnus twisted the rings on his hand. The motion was hypnotic. Innocent yet suggestive. “I booked a suite at your hotel. Come by room 2804 if you want to have dinner later. Your choice.”
Magnus twirled around on his heel, swiping his jacket off the chair and settling it over his arm. Alec wasn’t checking out the sway of Magnus’ hips or the roundness that was right there as Magnus walked away. He just wasn’t—
Alec’s eyes snapped back up as Magnus turned.
A slow, satisfied smile inched up Magnus’ lips as he gestured at Alec’s briefs. “Whether or not you decide to leave those on is also your choice.”
For not the first time in his life, Magnus had no idea what he was doing.
He was well-practiced at faking it. Sliding into a second skin of cool confidence and loquacious nature meant to distract from how uncertain he was inside. It was rare when he was so rattled that he couldn’t settle into that head space.
He was decidedly rattled right now.
Ragnor’s voice repeated in his head—you’re going to fall in love with him—over and over and over again. His friend knew him too well. Magnus fell faster than buttonless pants and harder than Thor’s hammer. But Ragnor wasn’t going to be right about this.
“You’re not going to fuck him and you’re not going to fall in love with him,” Magnus muttered to himself as he stared into the mirror, applying his lash primer. “But first, you’re absolutely not going to fuck him.”
Alec was his client. His friend. His closeted friend.
All of those were grounds for striking Alec out of the realm of possibility.
It was likely Alec wouldn’t even show up tonight anyway. He’d looked wrecked after the shoot. Alec had been so worn down that he—a shy man by nature—had foregone his robe when Aline finally called the day to an end. Not that Magnus could find fault in that oversight. All of that skin, and defined lines of muscles, curling chest hair, unguarded smile—
Right. That wasn’t what Magnus needed to be focusing on either.
He sighed and picked up his mascara.
“He’s a closeted friend who is your client,” Magnus stated. Holding strong.
Magnus’ hand went flailing when there was a knock on his door. He rubbed out the streak of mascara on his forehead and took a deep breath. “Alec deserves better than you. You know that.”
He scowled at his reflection and went for the door.
Standing outside his room was a freshly showered Alec, his hands stuffed in his pockets, his chin tipped down and a soft smile on his lips. “Still up for dinner?”
Magnus gripped the door tighter and stepped back for Alec to enter. “Finishing getting ready now. Would you like a drink?”
Alec brushed past him, an innocent upturn on his lips. “Sure.”
Magnus went to the bar, putting all of his focus into placing ice cubes in two glasses and picking up the crystal tumbler of amber liquid with care so he didn’t send any of it careening to the floor with his unsteady hands.
Alec stepped up next to him and quirked an eyebrow. “Whiskey?”
Alec was too close and Magnus was too aware of him and Magnus bristled without thought. “I’m not as stereotypically flamboyant as I come off, Alexander.”
Alec’s brow furrowed. “That’s not what I meant. I love whiskey. It’s just…another thing we have in common.”
“My apologies,” he backtracked immediately. Magnus finished pouring the drinks and handed one to Alec. “It’s been a long day.”
Alec accepted the glass, frowning. “We don’t have to do this.”
Magnus’ shoulders slumped. He couldn’t allow his own adolescent hormone surge to set Alec off-kilter. “No, Alexander. I want to.”
Alec’s eyes darted over Magnus’ face—as if he was assessing the truth of Magnus’ words. Seemingly satisfied, Alec smiled again and lifted his glass. “The whiskey will help then. To us.”
Alec winced at the first bite of whiskey across his lips and Magnus restrained a smile at the reaction.
He liked Alec.
Alec was a friend.
Magnus had a responsibility to protect him, and not just because it was his job. He wanted to.
He had to put everything else to the side and not allow his control to slip.
Alec deserved better.
Magnus set his glass down and went to his dresser to put on the rest of his jewelry. “We don’t have to talk business all night, but you should know I was contacted by Sebastian Morgenstern at the egotistically named Morgenstern & Morgenstern. He’s taken over control of the company with this father’s…extended hiatus. He wanted me to let you know that they will continue to work to recover any money they can and hope to earn your trust again so you may rekindle your prosperous relationship.”
Alec barked out a laugh. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”
Magnus smirked. He popped his ear cuff on and picked up his drink again. “Sadly, I am not. I shouldn’t be saying this nipping so close on the heels of how our first interactions went, but I don’t like him. It would be my professional opinion to seek alternative financial council.”
Alec flopped into the wing-backed chair by the windows, grimacing. “I don’t have any money left to manage.”
“More than most.”
“And more than I was raised on,” Alec admitted. He leaned forward and set his elbows on his knees. “I try not to forget that, but sometimes it’s hard.”
“You and Isabelle have done well for yourselves,” Magnus said, settling onto the couch in the spot closest to Alec. “It seems as if your brother is on the same track. You should be proud.”
Magnus ran his fingers over the condensation on his glass. They’d already broached the subject of Alec’s upbringing and there was a topic that Magnus had been attempting to reconcile since the first night he’d met Max. “Alexander. I’d like to ask you something that’s personal.”
“I’m in your hotel room. Drinking. Doesn’t get much more personal than this.”
Magnus arched an eyebrow in silent reply.
Alec’s cheeks turned a blushing shade of red that was obvious despite his hotel room’s low light. “Alright, it could be more personal. Anyway. Go ahead.”
“Simon and Clary told me that you never came out, but your brother said you’d been disowned by your parents. Even if the diverging stories hadn’t made me wonder, there is more to who you are, and only you can tell me those pieces. I was hoping that maybe we’d reached a place where you could.”
Alec scrubbed a hand over his beard. “That is personal.”
“And you don’t have to answer if you’re not comfortable,” Magnus insisted.
Alec shook his head. “It’s okay. Both of them are right. I didn’t ever have a coming out that was public in any way, but my parents did find out. I was outed by my ex-boyfriend.”
Magnus heaved a sigh. “I’ve only been told about one ex.”
“That’s because there’s only one. He— Raj—” Alec winced at the name, took a deep drink. “He decided a year later that he needed to ask my parents forgiveness for not helping Max. While he was there, he shared how he’d gone down the path of ‘fixing’ what was wrong with him—that he wasn’t gay anymore. Then he offered to assist in my recovery from the ‘stain of homosexuality’ too.”
Magnus was horrified. “He’d undergone conversion therapy?”
“Apparently. I wasn’t home when he was there, so I don’t know exactly how it all went down—just what my parents yelled at me later. It was all very…unpleasant.”
“It sounds like a violation.”
Magnus gritted his teeth. “I gather your parents were not as enraged as I am right now.”
“They were—just not about the right thing. What’s really fucked up is that I don’t know if they had more of an issue with me being gay or the color of my ex’s skin. I’m still not clear on it and both options are disgusting. I didn’t give them a chance to explain—I moved out the night they confronted me.”
That was worse than any scenario Magnus had imagined in the last two weeks. He took in the line of Alec’s hunched shoulders. “You don’t need to be fixed, Alexander.”
Alec ducked his head, then looked up at him with determined eyes. Resolute. “I have a hell of a lot I could fix, but being gay isn’t on that list.”
Magnus took a deep breath and leaned forward, mirroring Alec. “You’ve been betrayed by too many people who should have protected you.”
Alec chuckled darkly.
“We’re still learning about each other,” Magnus said quietly. “So I won’t say you should trust me. But I hope to earn your trust some day.”
Alec’s brows were stitched together in confusion. “I already do trust you, Magnus.”
That was exactly why Magnus had to draw a definitive line between Alec being a friend and being more.
He would do everything in his power to maintain Alec’s trust.
“Thank you, Alexander.”
Alec smiled sadly and took another drink. “Anyway, I received legal notification about a week after moving out that I’d been removed from their estate plans. We grew up poor, but both of my parents are loaded now. As long as Izzy and Max are taken care of, I don’t care that I won’t see a penny of their money.”
“It’s not about the money, though.”
Magnus settled into the couch again, slinging his arm across the back. “Parents are supposed to love unconditionally, but that’s not always the truth of the situation. You’re lucky to have Isabelle and Max.”
Alec’s face brightened at the mention of Max’s name. “You’ve spent a lot of time with Max in the last two weeks.”
“Izzy told me he was in usual form the first time you met.”
“He made Isabelle admit that he could marry a man if he wanted,” Magnus said. “Then he made an innuendo about hockey sticks and penises.”
The corner of Alec’s mouth tipped up and he scoffed fondly. “Max.”
“Any chance he’s not straight?”
“Doesn’t really matter, right?” Alec replied. Magnus shook his head to let Alec know he agreed. “Right now, though, he’s all about—in his own words—challenging Izzy’s heteronormative bias. I didn’t know what that meant until I googled it.”
“He’s a smart kid,” Magnus offered.
“Smartass,” Alec clarified.
“Usually goes hand in hand.”
Alec smirked. “You would know.”
“Likewise, Alexander.” Magnus finished the rest of his drink and set the glass on the coffee table. “So, do you want to go out?”
“Yeah,” Alec said. His entire demeanor much more at ease now that they’d gone back to their usual banter. “That sounds fun. What did you have in mind?”
Alec tried not to blink. He was seated on the edge of the massive jacuzzi tub and Magnus was between his legs, one steady hand tipping Alec’s chin up and the other brushing a thin twist of eyeliner on Alec.
“I can’t believe I’m letting you do this.”
“Your eyes are stunning, Alexander. They should be properly framed.”
Alec tried to ignore the way his heart beat faster at Magnus’ casually delivered compliment. And that Magnus was close enough for Alec to smell his cologne and pick out the individual specks of glitter on Magnus’ chest. And that with the way they were positioned Alec could easily have grabbed on to Magnus’ hips and tugged him down—
Alec cut that thought off as fast as he could. “I’ve worn makeup before. I was always Izzy and Max’s test subject because they said I had the best bone structure. Max may be just as good at this as you are.”
“That would not surprise me at all,” Magnus said. He leaned back and surveyed his work. “Can I do a bit more?”
“Just some black eyeshadow. Put a spotlight on your masculine inapproachability and natural aura of mystery.”
Alec chuckled. “Sure.”
Magnus dipped his finger into a silver container. “Close your eyes.”
Alec obeyed, feeling Magnus’ breath against his cheek when Magnus leaned in. It had been a long time since he’d been this close to a man who wasn’t a relative or a teammate, let alone someone he was attracted to.
Alec remained as still as he could, breathing in Magnus’ closeness, letting his presence calm Alec.
There was no denying it anymore for Alec—he was attracted to Magnus. What he wanted to do with that, if anything, left his head spinning when he tried to make sense of it. So for now, he was just living with this new reality.
A new reality that apparently included him agreeing to the insane idea of going out to a gay club with Magnus.
“You’re sure this place is safe?” Alec asked. Again.
Magnus’ finger glided across Alec’s eyelids, then Magnus stepped back and told Alec he was done.
Alec opened his eyes and watched Magnus wipe his hands then systematically begin to clean brushes and close up containers.
“Anyone at this club is there because they’re queer too,” Magnus reassured him. Again. “It’s an exclusive club where membership or the recommendation of a member is needed. They’ll want their secrets known as much as you do.”
“The more you talk about this, the more it’s starting to sound like the intro to a BDSM porn.”
Magnus laughed. “It’s not a BDSM club. Just a safe haven with excellent food and drinks. It’s more of a social club than a nightclub, but there will be music and dancing if you want.”
Alec stood and tugged at the hem of his black henley. “And this is okay to wear?”
“Your overall aesthetic is flawless, Alexander. If you don’t want to come back to the hotel alone then you won’t.”
Alec frowned. “I won’t be alone. I’ll be with you.”
Magnus smile looked too brittle—too forced—for only a heartbeat, then he was waving a hand in the air and exiting the bathroom in a flourish of clinking bracelets. “You don’t have to babysit me. Leave your options open.”
He followed Magnus into the main room, watching as Magnus undid a few more of the buttons on his shirt and removed a necklace only to replace it with another that fell almost to his waist. Alec leaned against the wall and crossed his arms.
“Are we cabbing it?”
Magnus tilted his head and gave a dramatic eye roll. He gracefully swept the hotel phone up and hit a button. “Anna, the car can come around now.” He paused, listening. “Of course. Thank you.”
“She knows all, sees all, can accommodate all—that is morally defensible—and says nothing. She’s wise, wily, and a distractingly curvaceous woman.”
Alec quirked an eyebrow in silent question.
Magnus sniffed. “She’s much too upstanding to ever think of bedding the likes of me.”
“I like her already.”
Magnus shot him a pointed look that made Alec chuckle.
Alec patted his back pocket. “I should run down to my room and get my wallet. I forgot to grab it earlier.”
Magnus swept the door open and held it for Alec. “You won’t need it.”
“Where exactly are you taking me?” Alec asked as he walked past Magnus into the hallway.
The corner of Magnus’ lip tipped up, but before he could say whatever mischievous thing was coming next, Alec noticed there was a woman with a jaw-dropping hour-glass figure in a red shirt and black pencil skirt striding confidently down the hallway in their direction.
Alec tipped his head toward her. “Anna?”
Magnus leaned his head into the hallway and grinned. “Anna, darling.”
“Magnus,” she greeted him. “It hasn’t been nearly long enough.”
Magnus let the door fall shut behind him and pulled her close, kissing both her cheeks. “Still recovering from the bail hearing, I suppose?”
“I would tell you there’s no bail fund tonight, but I’d be lying. I automatically up the emergency funds when you’re in town.”
“Anna,” Magnus introduced. “This is Alec.”
Anna extended her hand and shook Alec’s. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. Follow me.”
Anna slid her hand in Magnus’ offered arm and led them to an elevator tucked behind a corner at the end of the floor. She extracted a keycard from the pocket of her pencil skirt and a button lit up. “Your car will be waiting directly outside the doors on the underground level. I’ve already instructed the driver of your destination. She’s to wait for you there until you leave or wish to go elsewhere. If you need anything—no matter the time—text me.”
Magnus kissed her cheek again. “As competent as always.”
She held the door when the elevator arrived, allowing he and Magnus to enter, but remaining in the hallway. “Alec, lovely to meet you. Make sure to get my number from Magnus for the next time you’re in LA. I’d be happy to assist you with anything you may need.”
Alec could only get out a rushed thank you before the doors were sliding shut and the elevator was in motion. “I may be gay, but wow. Distractingly curvaceous was an understatement.”
“Anna is in love with her body and for very good reason.”
Alec shifted from foot to foot, leaning against the wall of the elevator. “Is a woman like her your usual type?”
Magnus’ gaze was unflinching. “If you mean dark hair and soulful eyes, then yes.”
Alec bit back the question he really wanted to ask when the doors opened. There was a sleek black town car at the curb and a woman in all black outfit who stood next to the open backseat door. “Good evening, Mr. Bane. Anna left a bottle of Louis XIII in the car for you and your guest. Let me know if you need to stop anywhere else on the way.”
Magnus expressed his thanks and motioned for Alec to climb into the car first, then slid in next to Alec as the driver closed the door behind them.
Alec looked around the refined interior and shook his head. He hadn’t know what to expect when Magnus had told him to stop by his suite for dinner, but it wasn’t any of this. “I thought I was supposed to be the semi-celebrity, but you live on a whole other plain.”
Magnus crossed his legs and shifted so he was facing Alec. “Trappings of the business, Alexander. I’m not wealthy, but my clients are. They’re wooing you, not me.”
Alec grinned. “It’s working.”
Magnus picked up a bottle with reddish amber liquid and glass spikes on the side. “Louis XIII?”
“I don’t know what that is,” Alec confessed.
Magnus pulled the stopper out and poured servings into two glasses. “Ridiculously expensive and yet totally free for you, what else?”
Alec reached for the glass. “Definitely.”
“So what are you?” Alec asked in a hushed voice as they trailed behind the maître d’.
Magnus set his hand on the small of Alec’s back and looked up at him. Maybe it was the cognac in the car, or the fact that the restaurant was filled with tables of same-sex couples, but Alec hadn’t stopped smiling since they’d arrived and Magnus was having trouble concentrating on anything besides making sure Alec stayed happy. “I’m sorry, what am I what?”
Alec peered down at him, his eyes bright. “You said this place is for members or guests of members. Which are you?”
“Ah, a member. The dues are astronomical but I convinced Imogen the expense was worth it a few years ago. Anything we eat or drink will be expensed to the IE account. But no guest names are ever recorded. No one at IE will know you were here with me.”
The maître d’ motioned to a private table at the side of the main floor and Magnus nodded his agreement.
Alec took the seat opposite him. “I don’t know what else to say besides thank you. I know all of this”—he made this sweeping motion with his right hand—“isn’t the way you’d like for things to be. You’re doing it for me, though, and I’m not quite sure why. But it— It means everything to me. I just…. I felt like I had to say that.”
Magnus couldn’t pretend that being this secretive didn’t reopen old wounds, but he didn’t need to repeat himself. Alec was here—in a place that was a known queer space, looking way less than straight—and he was smiling. Grateful. Magnus was very sure he would continue doing whatever he could to make Alec more and more comfortable with himself, however long it took.
So he gave Alec the only response that mattered.
“You’re welcome, Alexander.”
Magnus clapped his hands over his mouth, but it was too late. Heads were turning in their direction at the high-pitched, uncontrollable giggle coming from Magnus’ lips.
Alec didn’t care. They could all fuck off as far as he was concerned.
Making Magnus laugh—really laugh, not just an ironic twist of his lips—was better than any high he’d experienced off the ice or on.
Alec didn’t bother waving the waiter over. He picked up their bottle of wine and divided the rest of the contents between his and Magnus’ glasses. “So anyway, that’s why I have this scar through my eyebrow and Jace will never, ever get close to another duck again.”
“Remind me never to go running with you,” Magnus said as he blotted the tears from his cheeks.
“I get the feeling that won’t be a problem.”
Magnus accepted the glass Alec handed him and eased back in his chair. “True. I shun all physical activity as a rule.”
“Except when it involves orgasms, I’m sure.”
Magnus raised his glass in acknowledgement. “There’s an exception to every rule, Alexander.”
“So tell me. What are yours?”
“My rules or my exceptions?”
Alec was getting used to this. Magnus had this way of deflecting that was masterful in its subtlety. His intelligence was his best defense. If questions were hockey pucks, then Alec had taken quite a few shots on goal tonight, and Magnus had let very few of them slip through.
“Doesn’t formalizing an exception just make it a new rule?” Alec challenged him.
Magnus narrowed his eyes. “There are always exceptions to the exceptions.”
“So, really, there aren’t any rules.”
“You—” Magnus rubbed his forefinger and thumb together as he seemed to do when he was deep in thought. “You, Alexander, are too intelligent for my own good.”
Despite not getting an answer, Alec considered that shot on goal a success. “I think you enjoy things that aren’t good for you, Magnus.”
Magnus simply smirked and took another sip of wine.
“You lied to me!” Alec sputtered.
Magnus was offended, and he was happy to defend his point when Alec scrunched his face up adorably like he was doing now.
“I did not deceive you,” he asserted.
Alec pointed his fork at Magnus, glaring. “You did. You didn’t tell me that The Charioteer is the gay version of Twilight.”
“First of all, no,” Magnus protested, holding back a smile. “That may be the most outlandish thing you’ve said tonight and I heard every word of the duck story. Second, you read Twilight?”
Alec speared a potato off Magnus’ plate. “Your aristocratic inclinations are showing, Magnus. I never read the books but saw all the movies. Izzy has a thing for vampires.”
“‘The gay version of Twilight,’” Magnus scoffed. He pushed his plate closer to Alec and rested his arms on the table. “Mary Renault has to be somersaulting in her grave.”
“It’s not Bella, Edward, and Jacob for sure, but I didn’t expect for there to be a love triangle.” Alec finished off the food on Magnus’ plate and sat back. “There’s so much hyper-intelligent subtext in this book. I went online to download a discussion guide and help me through all of it.”
Magnus preened. Alec had sought out additional information on a book Magnus had given him.
“How subtly she handles the relationships between Laurie and Ralph and Laurie and Andrew can be daunting to piece together,” Magnus allowed.
“That’s the thing—it isn’t for me. I thought I was missing something because everything I read online said it can be difficult to understand, but I get it. Maybe—” Alec rubbed at that spot on his left hand. “Maybe too well.”
Magnus had to rein in the urge to take Alec’s hand in his. To offer a new sensation from the numbness that was there. Maybe even a touch that could temper the echo of old wounds. He hadn’t even considered Alec’s closeting when he’d given that book to Alec. The Charioteer was gay fiction, but a book that would’ve been banned had it been more forthright about the relationships it portrayed. That Alec could readily identify with the underpinnings of how heavily gay relationships had to be cloaked over sixty years ago—when it should’ve been very different for all of them now—was tragic.
It reminded Magnus that Alec didn’t want to be closeted, but didn’t know how not to be at this point in his life. It was a fact that Magnus would have to keep closer to his heart.
He resisted reaching across the table to comfort Alec, but barely.
“Well, now that you’ve finished your food and mine,” Magnus said, shifting the subject for both of their sakes, “do you want dessert?”
Alec picked his napkin off his lap and tossed it on his empty plate. “Actually, you said there’s dancing here?”
“There’s a nightclub in the basement. There’s also a library, private meeting rooms, a cigar bar, a spa, and a gym.”
Alec’s eyes went wide. “Is there a place like this in New York?”
“Of course. There are chapters in every major city, and some minor cities where there are pockets of wealth.”
“Maybe…. Maybe we can go to the one in New York when I’m home?”
Magnus should’ve had a different answer, but he didn’t. He couldn’t. “I’d like that.”
“On one condition, though.”
“Oh, and what is that?”
Alec’s eyes lit up. “You have to dance with me. Tonight.”
“Absolutely not,” Magnus replied. He was barely holding strong with Alec a table length away from him, let alone within touching distance.
“Magnus. This is my first time in a place that’s as close to a gay bar as I could get for a long time. I can’t dance alone—” Alec’s smile fell away. “Shit. You don’t want to dance with me.”
Magnus swore his heart skipped a beat. He had to tell Alec the truth, just like he always did, even if it was pushing against a boundary that Magnus was fighting desperately to maintain.
“There’s nothing I’d love more.”
The lights were pulsing, his limbs were pleasantly loose, and Magnus’ hand was clasped in his as Alec wove through across the dance floor for the back corner.
He’d never done this before—never dared to be seen anywhere in public holding another man’s hand—and it was a rush. His heart thudded in time to the driving bass as he turned, bringing Magnus in front of him.
Alec had been watching Magnus enough to know Magnus moved with ease. But he had no idea just how fluid, how graceful, Magnus could really be. Alec could hold his own thanks to Izzy, but Magnus could dance. Every movement a synchronous ripple from hips to feet, languid hands with rings that shone in the lights, necklaces swaying with the sensual twist of his torso, strips of golden skin revealed as Magnus matched the pounding rhythm of the music.
Song after song, Alec hungered for more. Wanted Magnus’ hands on him. Needed to know how they’d feel on his skin.
Alec lost track of time and let his inhibitions fall away, gradually closing the distance between them that Magnus seemed intent on maintaining.
“Come on, Bane,” he teased into Magnus’ ear. Magnus’ hair tickled at his cheek. “Stop holding back.”
A bead of sweat trickled down his spine as Magnus’ body pressed up against his.
Alec dropped lower, settling his hands on Magnus’ hips, and drew him even closer.
Everything about Alexander Lightwood was sheer, apocalyptical devastation.
Alec parted Magnus’ legs with a subtle shift of his knee, fitting them together tightly. Alec towered over him, sheltered him. Everything except the feeling of Alec’s body against his and the driving beat of the music disappeared. He circled his hands around Alec’s biceps and held on.
Alec’s hands gripped his hips, fingers teasing at the skin there, then hands inching up his torso in tentative exploration. Magnus dropped his forehead into the curve of Alec’s neck, lips grazing exposed skin when Alec ground against him. Maddening friction that was too much and not nearly enough….
If Magnus didn’t stop this now, there would be no turning back.
He dug his fingers into Alec’s chest, went up on his tiptoes and put his lips to Alec’s ear. “I think we need to go.”
Alec sucked in a ragged breath that Magnus could feel reverberating through his fingertips and into his bones.
“Yeah, I think so.”
Alec could barely remember how they’d made it into the elevator, let alone back to the hotel. He was sober, yet half-drunk—and it wasn’t the wine that left him feeling like his world was tilting on its axis. Being with Magnus was intoxicating in a completely different way.
It was like everything in Alec’s life was so clear and yet completely blurring out of focus. It made his head spin and his skin warm and he wanted more. But there were rules, and exceptions to those rules, and exceptions to those exceptions, and Alec had unknowingly dropped himself into a game in which he had no idea how to strategize.
There was no playbook when it came to Magnus Bane.
Magnus stood in the opening of the elevator, keeping the doors from closing, his back leaned against the jamb, arms crossed as he silently looked at Alec with a small, but exasperated, smile on his lips.
Alec moved to stand across from him in the cramped opening, settling his leg next to Magnus’ and sliding down until they were eye to eye. “Thank you for tonight.”
Magnus shook his head. “Thank you for trusting me.”
“Always.” Alec leaned forward and set his hand on Magnus’ jaw, swiping his thumb across Magnus’ cheek, where the glitter eyeliner had started to flake. “I’m sorry for ruining your flawless aesthetic.”
Magnus closed his eyes at the touch, pressing into Alec’s hand, his lips opening just a fraction as he inhaled deeply.
“Magnus, I—” Alec began to say.
Magnus’ eyes snapped open. “Don’t.” His voice was soft. Regretful.
He circled his fingers around Alec’s wrist, pulling Alec’s hand away. He squeezed Alec’s hand once, and again—as if he was reluctant to let go at all—then stepped into the hallway. “I’ll see you in New York, Alexander.”
Every word Alec wanted to say felt like it was burning a path through his lungs in a desperate bid to escape. All he could manage to get out was, “See you there.”
As soon as the elevator doors closed Alec collapsed against the side.
“Shit,” he mumbled to himself. “What the hell am I doing?”
Magnus swore under his breath as the elevator doors closed.
His heart was beating out of control, his skin was tingling, he couldn’t catch his breath, and, fuck, he could smell Alec’s cologne on him.
He trudged into his room to take a very, very cold shower.