Cover art: Winterheart Designs
Length: novel / 352 pages / 107,000 words
Published by: MLR Press
Venice is supposed to heal Dan’s heart—not make him lose it all over again.
After a bad break-up, London photographer Dan wants time to himself in Italy’s glittering jewel. He’s not looking for a holiday fling but, when he meets shy, closeted schoolteacher, Cesare, neither man can deny their passionate attraction. As lust deepens into something more, can their romance outlast the suntan?
After breaking up with his boyfriend, London-based photographer Dan takes a trip to Venice. All he wants is a little time alone, and to lose himself in the city he’s dreamed of visiting for years. He isn’t looking for a holiday fling… until he meets shy, closeted schoolteacher Cesare. The attraction between them is undeniable but, as flirtation gives way to passion, both men are drawn to each other with an unexpected intensity.
Once the dreamy, hedonistic days of Venice are over, neither really wants to let the other go, but can the fantasy they lived ever become truly real?
“Nothing is simpler than to lose oneself in Venice; and nothing is more fun than to be in this labyrinth without a Minotaur, as a Theseus without an Ariadne’s thread.”
~ Jean-Louis Vaudoyer
Venice was sinking, so they said. Dan stood at the open window, camera in his hands, and looked out across the terracotta-tinted wedding cake rooftops that led down to the Piazza di San Marco, kissed orange and gold by the dawn. It was impossible to believe, because nothing this beautiful should ever change.
He didn’t normally get up so early. In fact, after the nightmare of a flight from Heathrow-three hours of purgatory, with some ghastly child doing a foot drum solo on the back of his seat-Dan was surprised he was conscious at all.
He’d made it to the hotel late last night and pretty much just dumped his cases, then flaked out on the bed, barely bothering to undress. Yet the magic of Venice must already be working on him, because he’d woken feeling good, eager to get out there and explore.
His friends had said he was mad to come here on his own, but they hadn’t understood. Chris-whom he’d known since their student days at Saint Martins-said it was like going to Paris to go trainspotting. “It’s the capital of romance, you prick!” he’d wailed. “You can’t just…just go and walk around taking pictures!”
Dan smiled at the memory of his friend’s indignance.
Raising the camera, he reeled off another succession of shots of the dawn. Each frame would be just that little bit different, catch a slightly altered tone or fleeting bounce of light. Dan paused, holding the camera strap in his teeth as he fiddled to fit a wider angle lens.
What no-one realized was, this time was all his.
It didn’t matter if it was a sort of working holiday. Any pictures he took out here were for him-not for yet another arrogant teenage girl’s modeling portfolio, or some foul-mouthed celebrity chef’s new cookbook. It was all about what he wanted to do, what he wanted to see…and after the past couple of months that was valuable to Dan.
He glanced at his watch, wondering how early it was worth striking out for San Marco.
Funny, really, but time didn’t seem to matter here. Even the seconds passed grudgingly, as if they preferred to linger in the city’s ancient embrace. Dan zoned the camera on the ruffled horizon, pricked by the shapes of a hundred tiny churches and ancient palazzi, wrapped around with the dusty, orange-gold light. Out there, beyond the rooftops, the hazy canals glittered, gleaming ribbons that snaked through the city, changing its very essence to something ethereal and quite apart from all other places, for water is always a gateway to distant worlds.
Dan bit his lip. It felt like the place was calling, beckoning him. Sure, he’d only just arrived, but he couldn’t wait to get out there and learn its secrets, to touch the crumbling stucco and stonework and find its hidden places.
Oh, he knew that was silly. He’d read all the magazine articles that tutted over the city’s economy, the property prices pushed up by rich incomers and an unsustainable level of tourism, until the Venetians themselves could neither afford nor abide the place. Dan supposed he should feel guilty about adding to the problem, but he’d been looking forward to this so much, and for so long, that he couldn’t feel bad about anything.
He shivered a little as the cool air brushed his bare arms. He’d chosen one of the quietest times of the year to visit, right between the February Carnivale and the Venetian high season, which ran pretty much from mid-April to October and picked up again in time for Christmas. It meant fewer crowds, comparatively, but chilly, damp days and cold nights. Not as if that fazed him-England was hardly renowned for its sunny climate.
Dan turned from the window, changed the camera lens over again and zipped his kit back into its case before setting it on the square, pine-effect hotel dressing table, along with the tripod and the bag that held spare batteries and memory cards.
Paul had always said they’d come here together. Venice, Florence, Rome…just do that whole Italian tour thing, take six weeks away from it all and spend the summer pretending they were gap-year students again, no responsibilities and no worries.
Dan stretched his arms above his head, linked his fingers together and let the tension creak out of his back. Obviously, Paul had never actually done half the things he said he was going to do-although they had gone to Magaluf one year. Dan recalled an expensive hotel room and several hours of lying beside the pool, reading cheap spy thrillers.
A shower would be nice, he decided.
It wasn’t that Paul had hurt him. Dan ran his fingers through his mouse-brown hair, stale and sticky with recycled plane air, and scratched at his scalp. No, he was definite about that. Not…hurt. But they’d grown too used to each other.
Dan shucked off the t-shirt and boxers he’d slept in and padded through to the pristine white bathroom. They’d met at a club-one of the self-consciously hip and trendy cocktail-slinging bars Chris insisted on dragging him to-and for weeks nothing else had mattered. Paul had been everything he thought about, slept and breathed. They didn’t know each other well enough for Dan to judge whether or not he even liked the guy, but Paul had made him moan, made him cry…made him think he could be in love.
Dan fiddled with the shower controls, catching his breath as first icy, then scalding water hit his chest. Oh, they’d had good times. The sex had always been good…often great. Sometimes mind-blowingly incredible. The trouble was, there didn’t seem to be much else besides it. It hadn’t seemed like that, not at first. Paul worked for an art gallery, and they had that to share. They had the hundred little details of life that jumped out and made it seem like they might be happy ever after, but eventually he and Paul had found they had less and less to talk about, and less and less to care about and, because Dan couldn’t stop it sliding away from him, that hurt. It became somehow awkward to share the same space and, despite the bewilderment of his friends, Dan had realized that he wanted out.
Chris had said he was crazy. “He’s amazing. Drop-dead gorgeous, steady job, can’t get enough of you. What the hell’s the matter with that?”
Dan hadn’t been able to explain then. Later, he’d realized Paul belonged to clubland, to the weekly round of hook-ups that followed a few too many vodkas and a few too many hormones. Sure, wonderful relationships could start like that, but something about what he and Paul had died if you took it out of the dark. It was the growing up that everyone had to do and, like all growing up, the only thing Dan wanted was for it to be over, to find himself in the arms of the one who would make it all unnecessary. It didn’t mean he could face the thought of looking at Paul over the breakfast table every day for the rest of his life, trying desperately to think of something to say.
He’d thought, somehow, that falling deeper into the rut they’d created-Paul’s books on his shelves, CDs in his car, sharing laundry and future plans and bills-would make up for the way they’d drifted apart.
He’d thought that, somehow, they could muddle along.
Dan reached blindly for the complimentary sachet of hotel shampoo and wrestled with the little plastic packet. He’d thought he’d found the right one; they’d lasted three years, hadn’t they? Longer than David, who’d taken his virginity and his heart at sixteen, then left him to go to university; almost as long as Luke, who’d promised him an eternity, but only managed to deliver four years before moving on to greener pastures and a family in the suburbs. So, Dan thought, he’d been wrong. Again. What was new?
Still, he reflected, finally winning the war and squeezing the shampoo out into his hand, Paul hadn’t hurt him. Endless indifference might leave a soul hollow, but it didn’t cut like true cruelty.
Dan massaged the shampoo into his hair, sniffed, and wrinkled his nose. Great. He was going to smell like an elderly auntie’s knicker drawer. So much for packing light. He would have to buy some essentials for the fortnight.
He’d left just before Christmas…nearly four months ago now. Perhaps he had been cruel, but-if Paul did love him, like he said he did every time he came-then Dan reasoned it would hurt. It would hurt so badly it would knock the breath out of him. But it hadn’t seemed to. Paul had just looked very sad, then shrugged and said, “Okay. If you think that’s best.”
It had been so simple, so amicable. So infuriating. And Dan still dreamed of his touch, still dreamed about being fucked until he ached from being held so hard, sore from beard burn, wet with kisses.
His soapy fingers slid over his body like other hands, other lips on his skin as he closed his eyes, letting the warm water flow over his face and ears, drowning out everything beyond his own head. Chris kept trying to push him back into the game, setting him up on date after date; some excruciatingly embarrassing, some tepid, others almost bearable. None of them made it easier to connect. “Dry spell,” Chris had said, trying to cheer him up. “Nothing to worry about. You’ll get your mojo back.”
Dan had been tempted to tell him exactly what he could do with the mojo, oldest friend in the world or not. Instead, he’d smiled, said nothing, and booked himself a holiday. Time out, time away…somewhere completely different. You couldn’t get much more different than Venice, right?
He stepped from the shower, contemplating the vast stretch of time before him, islanded and perfect. No-one looking over his shoulder, no responsibilities, no ties… It would be wonderful.
Dan tossed the once-fluffy and now damp hotel towel onto the floor and picked through his luggage. He slipped on fresh briefs, relishing the feel of crisp, clean cotton, and flicked through a couple of the guide books he’d slipped into his case. So much to do, so much to see. He could have made an itinerary, but Dan couldn’t see the point of that. Some time was made to be wasted.
He smiled to himself as he slid on a pair of old, comfortable shoes, stuffed the deep, secure pockets of his worn jeans with photocopies of his passport and papers, and pulled on his beloved tan leather blazer. He’d had it for years, bought from a Camden flea market, and now so vintage its elbows were thin and shiny, and the leather had developed a rich patina full of good memories and lazy summer afternoons.
Dan gave himself a brief but critical glance in the mirror, popped a stick of gum and ruffled his damp hair, leaving it laying in dark honey waves at his temples. He’d do. He just wanted to get out there and get hopelessly lost, to spend the day walking and discovering unexpected, unsought treasures. The Falk map he’d bought at the airport suggested-perhaps optimistically-that it would be easy enough to explore the city if he stuck to one district at a time, and Dan was prepared for the challenge.
He checked his watch against the clock in the room-almost eight fifteen-picked up the camera bags and left, humming cheerfully under his breath as he jogged down the winding stairs of the small, family-run hotel. Golden sunlight spilled into the reception area from tall windows. Piles of complimentary leaflets and allegedly easy-to-read maps stood by the front desk, all crammed into a single, overstuffed stand.
Dan paused to take a look, picking up fliers for local galleries, studios and museums that he’d otherwise never have known existed. Then, of course, there was the Murano glass blowing…his mother collected glassware, and would never speak to him again if he didn’t bring her something back. Dan snagged a leaflet showing how to get to the factory on Murano Island, noticing as he glanced at the pictures of various colorful vases and mirrors, another leaflet pushed in behind the first. The bright logo caught his attention, as did the picture of the tanned, well-oiled dancer beneath it, airbrushed muscles rippling and digitally enhanced eyes smoldering.
Dan’s fingers lingered over the edge of the leaflet. The Capitano Bar. Well, it figured, given the little white hat perched atop the airbrushed dancer’s ebony curls. Still…there wasn’t any harm in checking out the nightlife, was there?
The concierge-a well-spoken young Venetian whom Dan supposed to be the hotel owner’s son or nephew-had seen him at check-in last night, and had been depressingly eager to impress even then. Now, he noticed Dan, and breezed across the desk, smiling, to say good morning.
“Ah, Signor Wright! You have good sleep, I hope? You are taking your breakfast in the hotel, or to go out?”
“Hm? Oh…yes. Thank you.” Dan slid the brightly colored leaflet into the stack of others he’d picked up. “Um. I thought I’d go out. I’ve heard so much about the coffee rooms on San Marco, I thought I’d take a look.”
“Oh, si! Si, signor. Piazza di San Marco is very beautiful in the mornings. Many excellent cafe. Il Cafe Quadri, it is very good. They open in 1775, so plenty of time to get the coffee right, yes?”
Dan smiled obligingly as the young man started to get in a drawn-out story about how coffee had been brought to Venice from Istanbul, and how the coffee-houses that had sprung up in the Piazza became hotbeds of scandal and political intrigue. Politely, Dan listened to how legendary figures like the great Giacomo Casanova had slipped between the carved panels and frosted glass lamps of the cafes, evading the doge’s guards and the threat of the bleak, damp prison cells at Pozzi, and felt his morning slipping slowly away.
“…and then, while you are there, you must see the Basilica di San Marco, of course. And the Musea Archeologico e Museo Correr-che bello pittura! The Palazzo Ducale is worth the time you spend to queue. Will you spend all your day in the Piazza and the Canale?”
“Probably not…I thought I’d just go exploring. I had been planning to go to Castello.”
The concierge frowned. “There isn’t much in Castello, signor. All the big palazzi, and the most beautiful churches, they are not in Castello.” He shrugged. “Nothing in that sestiere but old men drinking grappa and grandmothers making lacies, si? You want to see the treasures of Venezia; you should stay here in San Marco, or go to San Polo, or Dorsoduro, across the Canale… Dorsoduro is nice. There is the Galleria dell’Accademia-it has many great paintings and works of art. Very…uh, come ti dici? Funky.” He gave a little wriggle of his shoulders. “Many artists, sculptors. Lots of old palazzi, chiese, beautiful buildings. You must go to Chiesa dei Carmini, is wonderful church. You will make many beautiful photograph, signor!”
“I hope so.” Dan patted his camera bag. “I’m due to go up to Cannaregio tomorrow, to the Spanish synagogue. They’re letting me take some pictures.”
The concierge’s face lit up.
“Si? This is very good, signor…they have just finished rebuilding. Is much history there. You must go to the Madonna dell’Orta, and to Santa Maria dei Miracoli, also. Very famous, beautiful chiesa.” He smiled shyly. “I am getting married there, at Santa Maria, in two month. My Giulietta.”
“Congratulations,” said Dan dutifully, wondering if he was going to get out of here any time before midday. “I’ll bear what you said in mind…”
“Si, signor. You should see the Rialto too, e San Polo. For your shopping, the Rialto is best. My cousin, Stefano, he has a shop in the Ruga. Very nice jewelry. You find him, you say Italo send you, he will give you very nice price, all right? Here, I show you best way for to go.”
Dan passed over the map and let him mark where the various churches, gallerias and family businesses were to be found. He hid a resigned sigh. He’d been hoping to get out without being caught, but for all he knew the poor kid might be on a commission for feigning interest in guests. Besides, it paid to get someone who knew where things were to lend a helping hand, as-according to the travel guide-Venice’s streets and canals, where they actually were numbered or signed, had most likely been codexed by a madman.
Then again, Dan supposed there probably wasn’t much point in relying on logic in a city built mostly on water.
After what seemed like hours, he got away.
“You have a wonderful day now, Signor Wright.” The concierge beamed widely at him. “This is beautiful day in the most romantic city in Europe. Who knows? You might meet a beautiful signorina, eh?’
Dan smiled uncomfortably, thanked the concierge and gave him another tip just to shut him up.
Outside, in the cool, crisp air, he breathed deeply. He had been right, it was the quality of light. Like the reflections of blue tiles in a swimming pool, or leaves above a woodland creek, it made the whole place shimmer slightly. Of course, it could just have been the sense of expectation that hung over the city. Hundreds of thousands of people, all coming to Venice and expecting it to meet the image they’d imagined, the fairytale City of Isles, guarded by four winged lions; a beautiful swan on the water.
Venice was quieter now than in much of the year, and even more so in the morning. As he walked through the narrow pathways that led from the hotel down to Piazza San Marco, Dan had only to deal with straggly crowds of tourists, instead of the sweaty, gridlocked mass he’d been warned to expect in the high season.
He let his fingertips brush the rough brickwork and stone of the tall loggia he passed, pressing back against the walls to allow for the crush of foot traffic on narrow walkways. There were few enough parts of Venice you could get to on foot, so people made the most of them. The sun rose higher now, warming the city gently, waking it like a lover. He breathed the cool, damp, slightly salty air, and smiled.
The great, wide expanse of the Piazza San Marco, seen fresh for the first time on foot and on the level, took Dan’s breath away. Despite the gaggles of people that thronged the square, the scale and sheer openness of the space was impressive, palpable.
Anchored by the Basilica di San Marco-rising at the far end in a mass of Byzantine domes and tangled, ornate arches-the massive Campanile, and the high, white walls of pilastered and balustraded Renaissance buildings, were something entirely set apart.
Two tall white columns, complete with the heraldic winged lion of St Mark, and the figure of St Theodore, rose from the paving, topped by pigeons. Those birds, in their thousands, congregated in the arches and window ledges above, and on the intricate black iron streetlights, their cooing battling with the clink of china and the bustle of waiters. Some hardy diners were taking breakfast outside, braving the faint chill and the extra cost of paying for a table with their coffee and croissants, the handful of natives as obvious as the tourists, unfolding their copies of L’Arena or Il Gazzettino, and trying to carve a small window of peace amid the bustle.
Farther away to the left, the piazzetta led gently to the water, a once-symbolic gateway to the city so perfectly framed that any architect worth his salt, arriving by boat or barge instead of airport or train, and walking into this immaculate postcard painting, would immediately burst into uncontrollable tears of joy at its sheer perfection.
Dan, his back lodged up to the front of a high-class gift shop, took out his camera and reeled off fifteen or so shots of the view towards the Basilica, then of as much of the piazza as he could get in without changing lenses, and another twenty of the view out to sea, where the city’s wonderful improbabilities joined together; the light, land and water fused in a perfect band of hazy blue. The gift shop was one of more than a dozen that peppered San Marco and its surrounding side streets and, though he hadn’t planned to be distracted by them, Dan couldn’t help but notice the display of Carnivale masks in the window.
They were just as improbable as the city itself-ridiculously expensive artistic confections, but incredibly beautiful. The traditional farfallina masks-bowed shapes covering the eyes and bridge of the nose-came in so many styles, from deep-colored velvet and harlequin cloth edged with thick gold brocade, to intricate veins of gold and silver wire, threaded into ornate floral designs. Stick masks, their delicate barley-twist handles striped like the city’s piers, held serene, perfect faces with hollow-cut eyes and mouths painted into cherubic pouts. Crests of raven-black feathers sprouted from heavily decorated piume masks, while the traditional Venetian bauta, with their molded, blank features in plain white and black, leered eerily from between the mischievous, cheeky grins of brightly colored jester faces.
Aware he was grinning like an idiot and not caring, Dan zipped the camera back into its bag and decided to contemplate his next moves over breakfast. He gravitated towards the Quadri Coffee Rooms, bought an espresso and a warm, freshly-baked croissant, and slotted himself into the crush between the rather oppressive mirrored walls and overwhelming panel work, probably very little like the original eighteenth century designs. He ate his croissant con marmellata-trying not to cover his chin in apricot conserve-standing up, with the rest of the patrons who hadn’t wanted to pay double for a table.
It was delicious, nonetheless, and he wondered what time of day the gondolas on the canal would best catch the light while, around him, parts of conversations flowed, snippets of sights and smells that would stay with him flittered past, and the city continued.
* * * *
Dan passed the morning in San Marco, content to let the life of the place wash over him, and to be a tourist among other tourists. He did all the expected stuff; queued up to see the Palazzo Ducale, took the tour that showed the duality of its pink-and-white fairytale faÃ§ade, its gilded public rooms and the stark, white offices from which the city had really been run, and, for once, found himself happy to be lost in the crowds.
He enjoyed watching them. There were Swedish, Spanish, British, Australian tourists…Italians, too, on day trips or weekends from the South. Tour groups filed obediently after guides like flocks of awestruck sheep with cameras. Children grizzled, failing to see the finer points of the city’s beauty. There were women, elegant and demurely dressed-no-one could visit the churches and Basilica with bare shoulders, arms or knees-and men, young and loud, old and quiet…all extremes and all kinds of people.
Dan saw one or two clutches of young Italian guys out on the town, all perfect hair and teeth and metrosexuality, and smiled to himself. Perhaps it would be worth it, despite the crowds, to come back in the summer and sit on the Lido, watching half-naked beautiful people frolic in the surf. He doubted it, but the option was always there…like the electric moment between checking a guy out and seeing whether he smiled back or not, the few precious seconds of delicious uncertainty that signaled the game.
He shook himself. Chris would crow, to know he’d started thinking like that again. Chris would poke him in the ribs and tell him to put on a tighter t-shirt and see what the nightlife had to offer.
Chris, Dan supposed, would have looked at that flier by now.
He slipped the paper out of his pocket when he stopped for a coffee in the Museo Archeologico, a Renaissance confection of incredible proportions, all pilasters and porticos in white stone grayed with time and the faint but pervasive, sickly sense of inevitable Venetian decay.
He sat in the overpriced coffee shop, drinking another espresso, the thick crema silky on his lip, and looked at the flier. The Capitano Bar was obviously new; it proclaimed itself Venice’s first and best gay nightclub, although it didn’t say much about the quality of the venue, given the lack of competition. There wasn’t much information available, except the bar’s location and opening times. Dan tucked the flier back into his pocket, thinking no more of it. After all, this was time for him. If the weekend ritual of dressing up-a bit more hair gel, a slightly tighter t-shirt-had become depressing at home, left him feeling old and unattractive, what would be different here?
Dan finished his coffee, wandered back through the Museo’s floors, winding his way past the silent marble figures, and left after an hour or so, feeling languidly cultured and a little hungry. He made his first tourist error when, slipping into a small trattoria off the Zattere for lunch, he didn’t realize that he’d turned up in the traditional workmen’s break that ran from twelve until one. Dan ate the midday special-a huge bowl of pasta and half a bottle of red wine-surrounded by middle-aged guys in construction boots and dusty overalls, and tried not to stand out too much, with his Mark Jacobs cologne, Ben Sherman shirt and bags of expensive camera equipment. No-one made a comment; although, he reflected, he wouldn’t have understood it if they had. He smiled to himself and decided it was definitely one to jot down on the postcards.
After he’d eaten, Dan started the walk out to Castello, one of the city’s less glamorous districts. It had once been a center of the shipbuilding trade, with thousands of arsenalotti on hand, able to construct a galley in a matter of hours. No longer a city-state bent on political domination and power, Venice now had no way to support a navy, and the mystical marriage of La Serenissima and the sea had lapsed.
Dan wandered aimlessly through the sestiere as the sun grew warmer, unable to believe his luck as he stumbled on perfect view after perfect view-old houses with window boxes on their balconies, terracotta-red render and soft brick cradled by thick, balmy light, making the whole scene look as if it had been sketched in chalks. Quiet canals crisscrossed with little bridges were still, only a few launches and private boats bobbing in their moorings, sending gentle ripples across dark water that might else have been a mirror.
He lost himself that afternoon, traipsing through the endless narrow backstreets where buildings seemed to meet above him, old wooden shutters blind to the sky. Here and there, he found a deserted square or garden, a quiet place where the city’s pulse thrummed distantly, washing over the gray-blue paving stones and the dark greens of neatly clipped olive trees. He sat on a bench beside a tiny church that was closed for renovation, watching birds circle in the sky, high above, while an old woman shook freshly washed linens out of her apartment window, pegging them to a line that ran right across the canal. From within, Dan could hear the indistinct, tinny noise of a game show on a television. He wished he was a poet, or a painter.
Instead, he took some pictures of the cloth, billowing white against the sky in that perfectly clear spring light; pictures of the scaffolding and the gantry holding up the church; pictures of the olive trees, so close it was hard to see anything among the leaves. Finally satisfied, or at least needing to change his memory card, he slung the camera bag across his back and set off again.
He stopped on the way back to the hotel to do some postcard and gift shopping and, after battling his way back through the Rialto and the Mercerie, Dan was tired and staggering slightly under a pile of mass-produced idiocies. There were beautifully drawn and photographed, gate-folded postcards for everyone he knew would want one. For his sister’s kids, cheap, mass-produced but nonetheless attractive sculptures of the lion of St Mark, a gondolier with detachable gondola, pole and straw hat, and a Pulcinella, the carnivale figure, plus laminated wall chart maps and apparently historical sealing wax kits that looked suitably messy and entertaining. And, of course, for Chris, a gondolier’s hat, which he would probably wear while drunk and singing extremely bad fake opera.
Exhausted by the time he got back to San Marco, it disappointed Dan slightly to see the Piazza coming to life with the impending evening. Restaurant musicians and street orchestras competed not just with each other, but also with the piped music of trattorie and clubs, and the tourists that thronged in placid groups by day, unchained from their guides, now pinballed all over the place in loud, irritating numbers. Dan slipped up a side-street-pleased with himself and feeling quite the local-and found a small trattoria he remembered seeing that morning. He ordered bigoli con l’anara, a Venetian pasta special with duck sauce -or at least, sauce made from parts of a duck- and followed it up with sgroppino, the sweet, sticky treat made from lemon sorbet and fruity, sparkling Prosecco.
After more coffee, Dan was getting a second wind. By the time he got back to his hotel, he was wide awake and buzzing. It could have been the caffeine, the wine at lunch, or the thought that, just over twenty-four hours ago, he had been stuck in the stuffy London office of Calypso, the magazine Chris worked on, being diplomatic and polite to the editor when he’d have preferred to tell her to stick the changes she wanted made to his most recent photographic submission.
Here, Dan didn’t need to pretend. Tonight, this was his time, his place, lost between worlds and without responsibilities.
Dan went up to his room and stowed all the crap he’d bought in his case, promising himself he really would write those postcards sooner than the day he was due to travel home. He emptied his pockets onto the nightstand, including the handful of crumpled fliers, the one for the Capitano Bar among them. Dan picked it up between two fingers and looked again at the two-dimensional stud on the flier, wearing nothing but a silly hat, a white jockstrap and a bottle of baby oil.
Well…maybe he did deserve some fun. A few drinks, maybe a dance, maybe more. A little bit of freedom. After all, what happened in Venice could stay in Venice…so, what the hell?
Dan narrowed his eyes, then dropped the leaflet back to the nightstand. If he didn’t go tonight, if he didn’t make the most of this sudden sense of liberation, he wouldn’t go at all. After a quick shower, he rummaged through his luggage for a fresh shirt and, pulling on a bright blue tee, glanced at his reflection in the mirror.
He wouldn’t bother shaving, he decided. Let there be a touch of stubble and some raw machismo. Dan grinned crookedly at himself and set about tucking the essentials into his pockets-condoms, lube, gum, photocopies of his paperwork, just enough money and no more-and shut the rest of his personal effects into the nightstand.
He cast an eye around the room and wondered whether he really would bring anyone back here. His stomach tightened at the thought, part in excitement and part, he was surprised to find, in a stab of anger at Paul or, at least, at the memory of him. They’d been at their best in bed, and it was hard to forget. Worse, it awoke in Dan the cold and gnawing fear that, whatever else was out there, it wouldn’t be as good.
In that moment, he hated his ex-boyfriend, both for that, and for the way that just thinking about him, even now, made his throat tighten as fast as his underwear.