The Côte d'Azur had everything: beautiful water, beautiful weather, and beautiful people. It had long been one of Danny Wilde's favorite haunts, and he enjoyed it even more in the company of Lord Brett Sinclair. He would've been having the time of his life right now -- if Lord Brett Sinclair wasn't trying to kill him.
Danny paced his hotel suite, his brown and gold dashiki billowing behind him, absently munching on a piece of toast and trying to convince himself he was wrong about Brett. It didn't make any sense. They were friends. Sometimes rivals when it came to girls, cars, and gambling, but nothing serious. Not serious enough for Brett to want to snuff him out.
Danny paused in front of the mirror and tapped his forehead. "Imagining things," he said to his reflection. "The water-ski incident coulda happened to anybody. An accident." His reflection smiled and nodded in agreement. "And Brett dragged me to that remote overlook, so what? He was right, it was gorgeous up there. Until the rockslide almost flattened me. Splat." His reflection had lost the smile and Danny resumed pacing.
Brett had seemed pretty shaken up by that rockslide, too, he reminded himself. Brett had clutched him by the shoulders, holding him back from the crumbling edge of the cliff. Remembering, Danny could almost feel the warmth of Brett's breath against the back of his neck. Ah, another time, another place, in other circumstances...
Danny shook himself out of his daydream and told himself sternly, "Another accident. Gotta be. And the skeet shooting..." He trailed off. The skeet shooting episode was a little harder to brush off.
They'd been having a great time, trading teasing barbs to crank up the competition. Everything was perfect until Danny had wandered off to flirt with a passing chick while Brett was preparing for the next shot. Honestly, how long did it take the man to unbutton a few buttons on his shirt and roll up his sleeves? Danny had had more than enough time to chat with the babe, find out if she had a friend, and invite them on a double date. He'd just called Brett's name to tell him the good news when =bam!= Next thing Danny knew, he was ducking for safety and the babe was shrieking and running away.
That was when, despite his heart's reluctance to believe it, Danny began to suspect Brett was out to get him. He'd invented excuses yesterday to stay away from Brett, and he'd secretly been hoping he'd have another accident, this time without any involvement from Brett, just to prove it was his own rotten luck. Unfortunately, he'd had a fantastic day motorboating with the beautiful babe he'd met at the skeet shoot and her equally beautiful friend. No drowning, no near-death experiences, not even a broken fingernail.
Danny stopped in front of the mirror again, brushing some crumbs off his dashiki, and sighed. He pointed to his reflection and said, "You're too suspicious, you know that? Brett's a little strange, yeah. He's British, whaddya want? But a killer? An assassin?" It was laughable. Trouble was, his reflection wasn't laughing.
Danny had just settled comfortably by the hotel's pool, the beautiful babe and a cool morning cocktail by his side, when a large shadow fell across his bare chest. Danny blinked up through his sunglasses at Brett blocking the sun. Brett held up a wicker basket.
"What's that? Your laundry?"
Brett quirked his lips and an eyebrow. "Did you forget? Our picnic date?"
Danny hadn't forgotten, but he'd hoped Brett had. Or hoped that he'd be able to dodge Brett for another day. On the other hand, looking at Brett standing there in his sleek white sweater and holding that ridiculous basket, Danny felt the familiar pull toward his friend. He sat up and finished his cocktail in one swallow.
"Oh yeah, yeah. The picnic. You said you found a nice scenic place." Danny slid his feet into his slippers and gathered his swimming robe. "Just tell me there's no rocks there. I've had it with rocks." He patted the beautiful babe's knee and kissed her cheek. She gave him an adorable little pout reminiscent of the one Brett often wore, and Danny smiled at her. "Brett, this is... Annette, isn't it? Annette. This is Lord Brett Sinclair, of the Sinclair gargoyles."
Brett graced her with a charming smile and quick bow over the wicker basket before murmuring, "Come along, Daniel." Danny fell into stride with him, hurrying a little to keep up, and it wasn't until they were in front of Danny's room that he stopped short.
"What am I, a dummy? Don't answer that," he warned Brett. "Annette. Lemme go get Annette. And she has a friend, a real doll, too. Mindy or Mandy or something."
Danny swerved toward the elevator, but Brett set the basket on the floor and caught Danny by the arm. "Daniel, please. Let's just... Go get dressed first."
Danny eyed Brett carefully but saw nothing but a slight impatience cross his handsome, tanned face. Silently telling himself to stop being so suspicious, Danny opened the door, joking, "No pools where we're going, huh? No need for swimming trunks?"
There was a moment's pause before Brett said, "No," with a peculiar flatness in his voice. Danny, pulling clothes from the closet, glanced back over his shoulder. "What's wrong, kid? You look a little funny. Funnier than usual, I mean."
Brett walked over to the window, looking away. "Nothing's wrong, my dear Daniel, although you would oblige me by putting on your trousers."
Danny, who'd shed his swimming trunks as soon as he was inside the room, rolled his eyes at Brett's British stuffiness. "Oh, for-- We're all boys here. There. Happy now?"
Brett's glance fluttered over him. "I will be once you've zipped."
"Hang-ups. That's what you've got. Some real hang-ups," Danny muttered as he finished dressing. "Okay, all covered up. This meet with your approval, or should I wear a veil?" Danny held an ascot over his face.
"Don't be ridiculous. Now may we go?" Brett said, holding the door open and resting his hand on Danny's back to usher him through it. Brett collected the picnic basket and led the way to his car.
They were on the road winding away from town before Danny remembered Annette again. Ah well, he figured a guy worried about his best friend trying to kill him had a good excuse for forgetting a beautiful babe.
The picnic spot Brett had found was perfect for getting away from the world and relaxing with good company: a remote, gently sloping field of grass and wildflowers lazily waving in the soft breeze.
It was also a good place to dump a body. Danny immediately brushed this thought off.
Brett set up an open-sided tent for shade and laid a small blanket on the ground. He smiled and patted the blanket, inviting Danny to sit.
"Well, here we are, finally," Brett said. "What do you think?"
Danny looked around, but his attention was on the wine bottle Brett was lifting out of the picnic basket. Danny took it from his hands and inspected the cork for signs of tampering, pretending to be admiring the vintage. "Huh? Oh, very nice. Yeah, nice place here. No rocks. No rifles. No water to drown in."
Brett took the wine bottle from him and opened it, pouring two glasses. "What are you mumbling about? Here. Let's drink to good fortune."
Danny tapped his glass against Brett's. "To good fortune." He watched Brett take a healthy drink and swallow.
Brett frowned at him with a little pout. "You're not drinking?"
Danny held his glass up and tsked. "Give me your glass. There's a spot on mine. How can I drink from a spotty glass?"
Brett's pout became a look of bewildered exasperation as he traded glasses with Danny. They clinked glasses again and Danny drank the wonderful wine with an easy mind. He leaned back in the shade and watched the flowers sway in the sunlight. The wine and perfect weather warmed him into relaxation. Brett unpacked the basket, producing plates, napkins, silverware, a variety of crackers, cheeses, and fruits, and thinly sliced dry-cured ham. The breeze ruffled his sandy, sun-bleached hair, and there were hints of red on his strong cheekbones.
Brett the killer? Danny thought, looking at him. No way.
Then Brett handed him a plate of crackers with goat cheese and ham, and Danny hesitated before nibbling the edge of a cracker.
"You're barely eating! After all the trouble I've gone to," Brett complained. "Here, try these dates, at least. Delicious."
Danny tilted his head away from the date Brett held before his lips.
"Danny. What is wrong with you? Just taste it."
Danny scooted away, half-way off the blanket, saying, "Will ya just leave me alone about the dates?"
He put his hand into the grass to steady himself, staring at Brett and trying to understand if there was something sinister behind Brett's insistence. A clump of dry, scaly grass beneath his hand stirred, slithered, and struck before Danny knew what was happening. He cried out in pain and held his hand by the wrist. The viper casually slithered away, completely unconcerned that Danny's hand was swelling up like a balloon.
If Brett was an assassin, Danny had it hand it to him: he played the role of concerned friend well. He rushed Danny to the hospital, leaving all the picnic paraphernalia behind. He stayed on vigil in the hospital until the doctor had treated the bite. He practically carried Danny back to his hotel room, until Danny protested that his hand had been bitten, not his legs. And he didn't leave Danny's bedside until Danny shooed him away, insisting he wouldn't get any sleep with Brett's beady eyes staring at him all night.
No, Danny was forced to reach another conclusion as he rested in bed that night. He and Brett were jinxed. Or rather, when Brett was around, Danny was jinxed. But it amounted to the same thing. How much longer could he pal around with his lordship before something worse happened? Something lethal?
Danny didn't normally go for superstitious explanations, but he was running out of alternatives. And none of the answers made him happy, because they all ended with the same result: he was going to have to stop seeing Brett.
After another whole day of rest and regretfully fending off Brett's attempts to play nursemaid, Danny knew he'd have to confront the problem head-on. He wasn't one to slink out of town without saying good-bye, and besides, Brett knew him so well he could track him down with a minimum of effort.
Still, deciding what he had to do and forcing himself to do it were two different things, and Danny put it off until it was evening, and there was Brett at the door, looking like a million bucks in a navy suit, pink shirt, and paisley ascot.
"You're feeling better?" Brett asked brightly, smiling and taking Danny's hand. "The swelling's gone, I see."
Danny pulled his hand away. "It was the other hand, but yeah, the swelling's gone." He held up both hands for Brett's inspection.
Brett clapped him on the shoulder. "I'm so glad." His hand lingered there, eventually moving to Danny's upper arm. "Now you're coming with me."
Danny winced, knowing now was the time he'd have to tell Brett everything. But he couldn't keep from asking, "Where're we going?"
Brett subtly rubbed Danny's arm to coax him along. "Why, to dinner, of course. You haven't eaten yet, have you?" He looked at Danny with as much worry in his eyes as he'd had when taking Danny to the hospital.
Danny moved forward, his arm naturally sliding with Brett's to form a link. He told himself it would be easier to say good-bye once they were out in public, in a cheery restaurant filled with gorgeous chicks and pretty waiters.
Only problem was that they weren't going to dinner in public. Brett guided Danny to his hotel room, where a candlelit table for two had been set up.
Brett unlinked his arm and went to the table, uncorking the champagne and pouring two glasses. "A cause for celebration. Your recovery."
Danny stood where he was, a few feet away from the table, and mechanically took the glass from Brett. "Yeah. Uh, look. Brett. Your lordship. There's something I..." Danny frowned, looking at Brett standing there by the perfectly arranged table, smiling at him so happily.
"C'mere." Danny gestured him closer. Brett approached with a small, puzzled smile. Danny rested his palm on Brett's forehead. "Feels normal."
"Daniel, what on earth are you doing?"
Danny looked him over. "You haven't been brainwashed lately, have you? No? Yeah, I didn't think so. Then we got a problem."
Brett's puzzled smile was almost too charming for its own good. "What problem? What are you nattering on about?"
Danny resolutely set his champagne glass down. "See, there's one of two things going on here. Either you're a jinx every time I get near you or you're trying to kill me."
Brett's dismissive laugh was cut short because Danny was serious. Brett's eyes widened. "Trying to kill you? Danny, I've been trying to..." He cleared his throat and paced to the table to set his glass down. His hand shook with a curious tremor that jostled the place settings. "All I can say is that, on my honor, I have not been trying to kill you."
Danny took Brett's hand, pulling him closer, and patted Brett's arm. "Well, I'm very glad to hear that, kid, but we still got a problem."
"Your candlelit dinner just caught on fire."
By the time the fire had been put out, and they'd paid damages to the hotel, packed, and moved into another hotel across town, it was too late to go to a restaurant and neither Danny nor Brett felt like nightclubbing.
Danny collapsed onto his new bed and stretched out. Brett wearily sat down beside him and after a moment stretched out, too.
"Do you really think I'm a jinx?" Brett asked gloomily.
Danny didn't want to answer that, and besides, he had a question of his own. "Back there, before the fire, you started to say something. You said you'd been trying to -- what? What've you been trying to?"
Brett was silent for a long moment, then sighed heavily. "I guess it won't matter now if I tell you. I've been trying to woo you."
Oh. Danny frowned up at the ceiling. What a dummy he'd been. All those little situations they'd been getting into, all of Brett's attempts to get him alone. Of course, not that Brett would've needed any of that in the first place. All he had to do was say something... They were both dummies.
Danny sat up and looked down at Brett, whose pout was too adorable to be glum. "'Woo'? You actually say stuff like 'woo'?"
In an instant, Brett's expression hardened. He sat up, saying crisply, "Please, Daniel, there's no need to mock."
Danny placed his hand on Brett's chest. "Easy, there. I'm not mocking." He slid his arm around Brett's shoulders. "Why don't you just come back here?" He eased Brett back down to the bed and neatly arranged and patted Brett's ascot before untying it. Brett's cheeks were pink and he gazed at Danny warily.
Danny tapped the tip of Brett's nose -- something he'd longed to do for as long as he'd known Brett -- and said, "Sweetheart, you don't need to woo me."
"No?" Brett relaxed and wrapped his arms around Danny.
"Consider me wooed," Danny said, and kissed him deeply.
Brett returned the kiss and caressed Danny's back through what Danny now thought were way too many layers of clothes. He reluctantly broke the kiss so he could shed some of his threads, but paused when he saw Brett's serious look.
"But what if what you say is true? About the jinx," Brett said.
"Jinx, what jinx?" Danny said dismissively, tossing his jacket to the floor. "Those were accidents. Mishaps." He kissed Brett sweetly. "Don't worry your pretty little head about it, kitten." He helped Brett out of his jacket and went to work on unbuttoning Brett's shirt.
Brett caught his hands and pulled him into another slow, delicious kiss. "Well, if you say so," he murmured with a smile. He ran his hands down Danny's back and untucked his shirt, kissing Danny's neck.
Danny combed his fingers through Brett's hair. "I do say so. And what's more, I'll tell ya. If anyone ever tries to kill me again, it better be you. 'Cause this kind of killing, I could get used to."