The bar at 101 might have been a bad choice for David Rose to nurse a drink and a broken heart in, but, well, he was here now. It was busy and noisy like any good hotspot, so the mini bar in his suite would have been a better option. Quieter, easier to cry in, and he could send for the massage therapist and aestheticians. Depression made his skin so dry.
Not that a massage would have relaxed him, but tight pores and a good mani/pedi would go a long way toward making his abandonment in Reykjavik endurable.
Fuck Sebastien Raine. Fuck him to death, David thought. He motioned for the bartender to bring him another Aviation and shifted uncomfortably on his bar stool. His back hurt from throwing Sebastien’s photography shit at him—those bags were heavy—and David was pretty sure he’d wrenched his shoulder, too. At least tomorrow he’d be up at Blue Lagoon, where the thermal springs awaited and he could soak away some of the surface pain. Thank god they’d finished the new luxury hotel in time for this visit.
David would have just gone home when Sebastien had dumped him, except Alexis had taken the jet to some backwater South American “sanctuary” that was supposed to be hip because of its lack of civilization and she was ignoring his texts.
Everyone here was hot in a Nordically virile sort of way, which only depressed David more. He wanted to go home, to be around people who were vigorously mediocre and tragic, where he could feel good about himself again. Superior, to them and to the kinds of people who thought Sebastien was talented and the way he spelled his name wasn’t pitiful.
He was just about to text his sister one more time when a hand gripped his shoulder, really hard—right on the goddamn pulled muscle or dislocated socket or whatever it was. The large man belonging to the hand yanked the seat next to David out roughly, clutching David’s shoulder the whole time, and then he huffed out a breath like a bull and turned to him with a glare. A scar ran from above one eye to his cheek and David couldn’t decide if that was terrifying or sexy—or both. After giving him the once-over, the guy turned his head slightly to the other side and touched his ear, darkly grumbling in a low, throaty voice, “There’s no fucking way this is Max, you moron.” After a pause, he added, “Of course I can fucking tell, he’s wearing, like, a skirt or something over his trousers and a goddamn ladies’ blouse.”
“Excuse you,” David snapped, “this is Dries from next spring’s line. No one’s even seen it yet except for me, and the Paris shows are weeks away.” David wrenched the man’s huge, beefy paw off his achy shoulder and tilted away, because the guy radiated an extremely negative aura, sort of maroon red and ochre and pea green, just the most nauseating colors. You’d have to be some kind of maniac to manifest that palette.
The guy’s eyes narrowed and his mouth opened in surprise. He could definitely improve his moisturizing game, and some exfoliation wouldn’t hurt, not that he wasn’t still one handsome hunk of salted butter. And absolutely huge. David was no size queen, far from it, but it would be...interesting to find out if the huge hands were an indication of what was happening elsewhere.
Dropping his stubbled chin—that face deserved a better razor—toward his chest, the man spoke to someone else on his Bluetooth again. “No. No fucking way. I told you this was a waste of time... He doesn’t sit alone in Icelandic bars... Jensen! I will cut out your fucking tongue if you don’t shut up right now.” He squinched his eyes shut, seething.
If David wasn’t who...Jensen and this guy were looking for, then why was he sticking around? He wasn’t helping David’s chill and it would be wonderful if he took his escaped-convict energy somewhere else, like maybe a dive down at the harbor for mercenary sailors. With his ratty Henley and combat boots and mechanics’ pants worn in an unironic way, he certainly looked like he didn’t belong here. Fucking Sebastien would have no doubt drooled at the chance to capture his homeless-chic undercover-cop flavor. “And it’s not a ladies’ blouse, it’s my blouse. You are clearly not qualified to judge anyone, what with”—he held his hand out and circled it around in front of him—“this...whatever it is...going on.”
The guy turned toward David, asking, “Was that—are you sassing me?”
Before he said anything else he could get beaten up for, David swallowed the last of his drink, shaking his head. “Mm-mm. Wouldn’t dream of it.” His biceps were bigger than David’s head. No one who looked like that should dress that way. “Sounds like you and...Jensen...are having some issues. One sympathizes.”
An eyebrow shot up, the one with the alarming scar, and his mouth tightened. “Whatever the fuck you’re thinking, you got it all wrong.”
David flashed him a despairing look at the too-vehement denial. “It’s all right—this is a safe space.”
“He’s just an asshole I fucking work with.” It was a shame about his personality, because he had a real Idris Elba thing going on and it was totally working for David.
“If you say so.”
He glared and took out the earpiece, held it up so David could see it, before putting it on the counter as though that was some kind of proof there was no relationship. “Roque.” He held out his hand, like he’d suddenly remembered he had manners.
“David Rose. You don’t seem like you usually patronize an establishment like this.”
“We thought you might be someone we were...looking for.”
“I could still be.” He tried a sexy pout but he wasn’t sure if it worked—Sebastien had shaken up his game a lot. When Roque only stared at him blankly, David tried to cover up his disappointment with, “Someone who owes you money? Understandable, this is an expensive place. Or maybe this is a work trip, with your...co-worker?”
Roque looked slightly nauseated at that. Still, he wasn’t leaving, so David decided maybe there was hope.
“That’s why I’m here, for what it’s worth. I came with my boyfriend on his work trip, but when we got here, he chose this special time to dump me.” Some bullshit about David being too negative, a vampire draining Sebastien’s creative life force. “And my sister has the jet, so I decided to wait till it’s free and see the Northern Lights.” His first thought had been an exotic ice hotel, but for a country with “ice” as part of its name, there was a startling lack of them. Turned out their snowy realm didn’t have the kind of easily accessible, permanent ice a hotel like that required, so David had opted for thermal springs instead.
“You know there’s like at least eight airlines that fly out of Reykjavik.”
“I don’t fly commercial,” David said with scorn. “Icelandair doesn’t even have first class. It just reinforces why I shouldn’t.”
Wrinkling his nose, Roque said, “This is a posh place. Get the concierge to find you an airline that does.”
David motioned to the bartender for another drink. Conversation with Roque was kind of irritating, so he should probably just head upstairs, but then Roque said to the bartender, “I’ll have the same,” like he drank cocktails all the time.
“Oh, that’s not—your type of drink,” David said. And it was probably going to end up on his bill.
“How do you know what my type of drink is?”
“You seem like...a beer guy. I’m familiar with the type.”
“When in Rome.”
Just then, a Björk song came on, and David groaned out loud. At Roque’s scowl, he pointed at the ceiling. “My boyfriend was here to photograph her. ‘Björk in middle age’ was his big idea—he wanted to show how female creativity grows with age instead of draining away, like in the male. So he was going to shoot her up on some glacier or lava field or something, naked and cavorting with Fjord ponies. ‘This land is a study of contrasts,’ that kind of bullshit, because it’s all ‘fire and ice, the pastoral and commercial.’” David made air quotes.
“He sounds like a dick.”
“Just my type.” David watched Roque take a sip of his drink and make a face. Predictable. “So who did you think I was?”
Roque blinked. It wasn’t that he had resting bitch face so much as resting kill you with an axe face. For a few beats, Roque considered something, and then he said, “A motherfucker who’s been making our lives a living hell.”
Roque was about to respond to that when a guy sidled up next to him: bad-bleach-job twink hair, little wire-framed glasses that did nothing for his strong-featured face, and the most unfortunate facial hair David had ever seen, which kind of ruined the twink vibe. Also conflicting with the twinkiness was his astounding shoulder-to-waist ratio, and as immediate as David’s desire was to find out what biting the guy’s plump lower lip would be like, he just as immediately had second thoughts when he read his T-shirt: Cinco de Drinko.
“Hear me out,” Tragic Hottie said to Roque, who rolled his eyes and scooped up the little Bluetooth thingie. “Just hear me out, I have an idea.” This must be Jensen, the “co-worker.” If Roque wasn’t hitting that like a target off the clock, then he was an idiot.
“No,” was all Roque said, loud enough that other people turned to look. Behind Jensen, a guy with a cowboy hat sat down at a table with some other people, sprawling out, scanning the room like he was keeping watch for them. He had a sort of Rico Suave thing going, although once again, terrible taste in clothes. Where did they work that this was acceptable? How had they even gotten past hotel security? It was way too cold here for those sorts of outfits.
“No, dude, just think about it. Aside from how much he’s fucked up our lives, what do we actually know about Max?” He turned to David and held out his hand. “Hey, man. Jake Jensen.”
“Oh, um...” David shook his head a little, tried not to smile. “David Rose.”
Jensen bounced back to what he’d been saying after giving David a look, as though he thought he recognized him from somewhere. “He’s a total cipher—somewhere between thirty-five and fifty-five, white, dark hair, always wears a glove on one hand. That’s it, that’s all anyone knows.” He took Roque’s drink and knocked it back. “So think about it: we got someone right here who could easily fit that description, who in fact our own intel mistook for Max. The embassy’s just down the road, you know there’s some spooks there who’ve probably heard of Max, but they’ve never seen him, either.” He faced David again. “What are you, early thirties?”
“Rude.” Jensen waited expectantly, so he huffed and said, “Early-mid, kudos to my lotion consultant and creamist, I guess.” They stared at him for a beat, and then at each other. “So, I think I’m heading back to my room, as...surreal as it’s been meeting you both.” He waved a hand back and forth between them, trying not to sound scared out of his mind, because this had moved from the kind of weird encounter in a hipster Iceland bar you told people about later and laughed to something where three very fit and sketchy guys were considering doing something that involved him. His motto throughout adult life had been to never do anything that could result in a body-cavity search; he knew enough from witnessing Alexis’s Midnight Express lifestyle that he would pass out at the first snap of a latex glove or glimpse of a cell stuffed with ten guys but one toilet. He wasn’t made for this.
As David hopped off the bar stool, he said, “Feel free to put your drinks on my room, I can afford it,” and they obviously couldn’t, but Jensen blocked his way and Rico Suave got up and came over. Oh god, I’m being kidnapped. Suddenly, business class seats that didn’t even lie flat sounded very desirable.
“Let him go,” Roque said, “it’s a stupid idea.”
“Stupid brilliant,” Jensen insisted. “This is Cougar, by the way. He’s with us,” as he motioned at Hat Guy. David longed for the chance to traipse around icebergs with Sebastien for his pretentious art, freezing his nuts off, breathing in wet pony smell. “We do all the work, set it up so he doesn’t have to say a single word, just sit there and nod sinisterly. Then the embassy gives us the temporary paperwork we need to get home and start clearing our names.”
They wanted to abduct him for that? “If all you need is some paperwork to get out of the country, believe me, you don’t need that kind of ruse. I am an expert at things like temporary passports and building disguises and misleading foreign personnel. You’re making way too big a deal of it—the Iceland embassy isn’t exactly a hotbed of international intrigue. There aren’t...spooks...there.”
“See?” Jensen turned to Roque, smug. “Helpful.”
“They know too much about us,” Cougar interjected. Why were they all so gorgeous? It was infuriating. “We’ll never get in without someone they think has credentials.” The way his accent rolled along “credentials” made David shiver a little.
“This is fucking stupid,” Roque said. His face said he was wavering, and considering how they could push David into agreeing with Jake’s plan. David was intimately familiar with people wanting to manipulate him, and while it wouldn’t work, David thought it was cute that he tried. He imagined Roque was the kind of man who was never nice unless he had no choice in the matter.
“You could be saving our lives,” Jensen insisted, ignoring Roque. “Seriously, all you’d have to do is give us an hour of your time, two tops.”
“Mmm...hard pass.” David tried moving around the slab of prime beef in his way. If they’d asked him about getting documentation, he’d consider it, but no way was he going to a secondary location.
“We could make it worth your while,” and David wasn’t sure Jake really knew what that sounded like. They were all way too close to him, and way too intense, and their weird energy was making David feel sweaty and panicked. His heart had picked up speed, and his lungs were tickly and he needed to cough.
“Are those—are those tears?” Roque asked with what sounded like disgust.
Shaking his head manically, David gave an “mm-mm” and waved his hands. “Maybe. Yes. They’re usually just queued up and all you have to do is press Play.”
Cougar seemed concerned and shot Jensen a look.
“I have to go now.” David’s head swam, the room had somehow gotten dimmer. “Oh no,” he mumbled, fingers clutching the lapel of his jacket. “Man down,” and the room went black as he dropped to the floor.
David found himself somewhere dark, but he could hear voices all around—and then he realized that his eyes were closed. So he cracked one open to find the men from the bar looming over him, and behind them, two more guys he didn’t recognize. Also, David was on the floor in what certainly looked like his suite. “Uh...” He couldn’t find any more than that.
“Hey, welcome back,” Jensen said, patting David’s shoulder vigorously. Oh right, they were trying to kidnap me to make me impersonate a bad guy. With a burst of panic, David felt at his chest and legs, fearing they might have stripped him while he was out. Who knew what they were into? “You fainted.”
“Passed out,” David insisted, clutching at some threads of dignity and his clothes.
“Nah, man, you fainted,” Roque said gruffly.
“Leave him alone,” snapped the rumpled but more formally dressed Daddy type standing behind Cougar. There was a weird vibe between them, you could tell that even with just those few words.
The other new guy said, peering around the room, “Is everything in this hotel so bleak? It’s like they don’t know there’s such a thing as color. Everything’s black and white except for the freaky wood sculptures.”
“It fits my aesthetic,” David said, and he wanted to sit up but there was something too intimidating in the way they were all staring down at him. And they’d left him on the goddamn floor. “Why am I on the floor?”
“More room,” Roque said, as though that made any kind of sense, and “We didn’t want to mess up your bed,” Jensen chimed in at the same time.
“How did you know where my room was?”
“We’re trained operators, it’s what we do,” Jensen said breezily.
David licked his lips and touched his forehead to see if he had a fever, he certainly felt like he had one. Ugh, all he’d wanted to do was kill time until he could head to the resort; now he was in the middle of a Jason Bourne movie. “I don’t—I don’t know what that means. Like...a telephone operator?”
They glanced around at each other, chuckling, which was kind of gross. “No, man, U.S. Special Forces.” At David’s blank look, Jensen added, “You heard of Navy SEALs? Like that, only Army. And you’re a Rose as in Alexis Rose, right?”
David huffed in response, but Bald Guy asked, “Who the hell is that?”
“Hot, social media trendy type,” Jensen explained. “Their dad is the guy behind Rose Video, you know, Blockbuster’s biggest competitor till the video market died? He bought up all those electronics stores, too, corporate-raider style.”
“No wonder you can afford this place and a private jet,” Roque commented.
“Mmm, I don’t know about that,” David said from his position on the floor. “That makes him sound more cunning and capable than he is.”
“You got a private jet?” Bald Guy asked, super invested now. “Once we’re done here, we could use a way back to Bolivia,” he said to the Big Daddy.
“Bolivia?” David moaned. He wasn’t Alexis—if it wasn’t Rio at Carnival, he wouldn’t be caught dead in last season’s best resort pieces anyplace in South America. He shuddered. “That’s not a place you go, it’s a place you end up.”
“He’s not wrong,” Cougar said, and smiled a little, and David thought “uh-oh.” He and Jensen also had a vibe, like they might be a couple, and while David had never had a three-way, there was no better time than after a broken heart to try something new. Maybe he could help them out, maybe. If what Jensen had said in the bar earlier was even really true.
“Who says we’re going back to that shithole?” Roque asked, visibly angry. “We just have to be patient and we’ll get a real twenty, it’ll actually be Max. If we gotta chase this bastard, then I’m staying in Europe. I don’t care how bad the food is here, nothing’s as bad as Bolivia.”
“Mmm, no, disagree. The food scene here is very hot.”
Bald Guy said, “He hates all the fish. Won’t even eat the little crawdad things.”
“Langoustines—they’re lobsters.” My god, they’re philistines. “You should try Icelandic hot dogs, then, they’re probably more your style,” David said, trying not to be snide but honestly, they were so barbaric. Gorgeous, but barbaric.
“Will you please focus,” Big Daddy barked, and David flinched.
“I don’t have the jet right now, so I can’t help. It’s with my sister, you know, the hot social media trendy one.”
“He came here with his photographer boyfriend but got dumped,” Roque explained, and okay, it certainly sounded stupid coming out of his mouth.
With a sharp exhale, David tried to defend himself, though he didn’t know why. It’s not like he owed them anything. “He said I wasn’t a synergistic mesh with his future-facing spirit because I didn’t want to carry his equipment on some glacier or active volcano or something while Björk communed with Fjord ponies.”
“Harsh.” Jensen made a face. “And by equipment, did he mean—”
“It wasn’t a euphemism,” David groaned. “This is his schtick, he does a lot of celebrity portraits. I used to show them in my gallery.”
“FYI,” Jensen said, “they have Icelandic horses here, the Fjords are more Norwe—”
“Jensen! Shut the fuck up!” Roque barked, and Jensen held his hands out, muttering, “Right, yeah, not the time.” That seemed to be about ninety percent of Roque’s communication.
Big Daddy looked like he wanted to kill himself.
“What even is your life, dude?” Jensen tried to get back on track, although he wasn’t saying that with admiration. “So much drama. Though I admit, that photo shoot sounds kinda cool—”
“Okay, you know what?” David snapped, sitting up. “I was considering helping with your plan if I could, but commentary on my misfortunes is completely unwelcome and unwarranted.”
Cougar’s brow arched—it wasn’t David’s imagination, there was definitely a spark. Maybe he’d invite Cougar up to the Retreat with him—and if Jensen behaved, he could come along too.
“I apologize for these losers I call a squad,” Big Daddy said, extending a hand to help David up from his ignominious position. “I’m Clay, since these feral idiots didn’t bother to introduce us, and this is Pooch.” He jerked a thumb at Bald Guy. “Listen, it’s Jensen’s idea, which means it’s inherently a stupid one, but it’s all we’ve got right now. We came a long way for this, it was our first opportunity to get our lives back. If you’re willing to go with us on this, we’ll do our best to make it simple for you, and then I swear we’re out of your hair.”
David looked around the room, grimacing, sighing. It was probably the only way to get rid of them, and they were all easy on the eyes. He wondered what Cougar would look like without the hat on—and his clothes—or Jensen without the cretinous T-shirt. There was really only one way to find out.
“So I became an international man of mystery for the rest of the trip,” David said triumphantly.
Stevie, Patrick, and Alexis all shook their heads. “You’re lying, David,” Alexis said smugly, “you’re a lying liar. Ugh. I get that you feel you need to compete with me and you don’t have any interesting stories to share, but that’s just sad—ew, David. Ew.”
“Why w—why would I ever want to compete with you? Oh my god. How could I make that up?” David threw his hands up in outrage. “I didn’t even know what that kind of thing was before I met them!”
“I think you’ve been reading too much fan fiction,” Stevie suggested, and David mouthed “fuck off” at her. She beamed. “But I get it—who doesn’t want to fantasize about being mistaken for an arch-villain? It’s sure kept me busy on draggy days at the desk.”
“I saved their lives, they said. Pooch’s wife was pregnant and he was able to get back in the country in time for their gross...baby...birthing classes. Jake sends me Christmas cards!”
At least Patrick must have believed him, because he was smiling sweetly. Until he said, “Maybe you’ve seen too many of those cheesy Netflix action movies. You weren’t really watching them just for the cute actors, were you.”
Rolling his eyes, David declared, “Okay, you know what? I’m not letting any of you take this away from me. If you don’t want to believe a totally true story just because it was me helping the fine, good-looking men who’ve served their country so selflessly, that’s fine. It’ll be between me and my incredibly jacked boys.” He got up to leave the café, yanking Patrick up to come with him. The rest of the table erupted into giggles behind him.
“Oh, your boys,” Patrick laughed as they stepped outside. “I don’t know, David—I always knew I couldn’t compete with Mariah, but now I find out there’s a bunch of real-life Avengers types who owe you their lives. You might be playing too far out of my league now. I don’t know how I even got a chance at bat, if all this is true.”
“You know I don’t get that, but you never have to worry. I only use my powers for good now.”