CHAPTER ONE

-Nicholas & Christian-

Pulling his long coat tight around himself, Nicholas tramped down the snow packed sidewalk. There were quite a few slippery spots, so he was keeping a careful eye out, but mostly he was just enjoying the warm burn of alcohol in his belly and the solid presence of Christian's arm wrapped around his. He couldn't help giggling as they passed the bottle of vodka back and forth, the crackle of the brown paper bag striking his fancy.

He glanced at his friend. "Are we having fun yet?" He spoke with what might be described as a posh British accent, but his English pronunciation was purely American.

Christian snorted, though his look was fond. "I always have fun with you, darling," he said in his deep, smooth voice. It always sent a shiver down Nicholas' spine and he took great delight in making his friend read various articles to him.

"Just so you know, Francis is going to be terrible tonight," Nicholas said. "He seems to think that my friends are his friends, but his friends are his friends."

"Say that ten times fast." Christian's blue-black hair was being tousled by the wind and his bronze skin looked as though the cold couldn't touch him. He wore a heavy wool coat and a rust colored scarf wrapped around his neck.

"You really should have worn a hat." Nicholas reached up to adjust the navy blue knit beanie he'd pulled down over his own blond locks. "It's colder than a witch's tit out here. I don't want to see you getting frostbite or something." He smiled slyly. "I have need of your parts later."

"Don't worry your head, darling, I am always careful to keep all my... parts... attached and in working order. I know how you can be." Christian pulled Nicholas closer against him and Nicholas gave a delighted hum, burrowing his face against the side of Christian's neck, nuzzling his cold nose in past the soft wool of the scarf so he could breathe in the warm scent of Christian's skin and the expensive cologne he favored.

There were other people hurrying up and down the streets, but it felt as though they were in their own world as they hurried toward the brownstone that had dozens of cars parked in front of it and released a careless burst of music and laughter every time the door was opened. The light was weak, the sun setting early in the winter, and there was the taste of snow on the air waiting to add itself to the earlier load.

"One more sip, darling, then we'll enjoy your brother's open bar," Christian said. He tipped the bottle to his own lips and took a swallow before nudging the bottle against Nicholas' lower lip until he laughed and opened up, taking a mouthful.

Nicholas swallowed, then tugged Christian toward the brownstone. "Come on, let's get in out of the cold. I feel like dancing!"

Christian gave a warm chuckle as he hurriedly screwed the lid back on the bottle and tucked it into his coat pocket. "You always feel like dancing."

Nicholas turned so he was walking backward, grinning at Christian. "Just for that, I've put your name down on my mental dance card. Save one for me!"

"Always," Christian said, then reached out to catch Nicholas' arm and pull him out of the way before he slammed into a woman bundled up against the cold, her head lowered against the wind. "Careful."

There was no resisting the delighted laughter that bubbled up out of Nicholas' throat. He felt warm and happy and...

"Silly," he said, then shrugged at Christian's questioning look and wrapped his arms around his friend, hugging him. "I think I'm just a bit more than tipsy and the party hasn't even started. Will you keep an eye on me tonight? Make sure I don't fall into bed with someone skeazy that will take advantage of my delicate nature?" He quirked an eyebrow at Christian, who shook his head and tugged him toward the stairs.

"I always keep an eye on you," Christian said.

"Because I can't be trusted to take care of myself," Nicholas laughed.

"Exactly."

They reached the bottom of the stairs and as they went up, careful on the snow-cleared, yet wet looking steps, the door above opened and a young woman with vibrant red hair came out backward, her laughter high and bell-like. "I'll see you later, Frankie!" She turned and trotted down the stairs, sparing them a glance out of bright green eyes, her lashes a dark fringe that brushed her cheeks with every blink. "Hey!" She gave a chin jerk, but didn't slow down before hitting the sidewalk and hurrying up the street.

Frankie stepped outside in his jeans with the knees worn out and a black sweater that he'd pushed up past his elbows, leaving the tattoos that covered both arms bared, his only jewelry the silver medical alert bracelet on his right wrist. He held a sweating beer in his hand and used it to wave at Nicholas and Christian. "There you are. I was starting to think you were going to blow me off."

"Never to family," Nicholas said with a cheeky grin. "Though I was starting to worry that we might not make it. The cab dumped us off nearly three blocks away and we had to hoof it. Like animals."

"Those idiots were supposed to clear the sidewalks, but no one's come this way yet. If I'd known how useless they were going to be, I would have paid some school children to shovel the way clear. Hopefully no one falls and breaks their neck." Francis took a slug of his beer, his Adam's apple bobbing. His dark brown hair was getting long; the ends brushed his collar when he tipped his head back. "What a way to ruin the fucking party."

"Thank you for that, your care and concern for your guests is truly appalling." Nicholas shook his head, then couldn't help snorting a laugh. "Oh, you bastard, why don't you give me a hug?"

"A hug? How 'bout a kiss? Get your ass up here and give your big brother a smooch!"

It felt perfectly natural for Nicholas to hurry up the stairs and into Francis' tight embrace, letting his head be tucked under Francis' chin as those long arms wrapped around him. There was the heavy scent of hot alcohol breath against his neck and face, then there was a wet, smacking kiss against his cheek.

Nicholas laughed and hugged his brother hard, barely avoiding knocking the beer out of Francis' careless hand. "I've missed you."

"I missed you too." Francis smelled of beer and cigarettes and the leather jacket he favored in all weather, and beneath it all was Francis himself, warm and drunk and alive. "I've been waiting for you to show your face all day."

"Well, go me for doing something nice for you - bringing me to your party." Nicholas stepped back from his brother and reached out to grab Christian's arm and pull him forward. "And you know Christian, of course."

"Of course." Francis rolled his eyes, but flashed Christian a smile that almost looked real. "Hey Christian, how you doin'?"

"I'm fine," Christian said and shook Francis' hand.

Nicholas smiled proudly. They'd never really gotten along, so Christian and Francis acting civil to each other could only be counted as a win.

The last time they'd seen each other things had gotten ugly. Francis decided to make things physical, which was a mistake considering Christian was 6'4" of hardened muscle and the kind of attitude that refused to take any shit. There was still a slight bump where Francis' nose hadn't healed correctly.

"Well, come on you two. It's fucking cold as fuck out here." Francis pushed the door all the way open and beckoned them inside. "Let me get you guys something to drink."

Nicholas nudged the door closed and kicked his boots off, lining them up with the rest against the wall. He was careful not to step on any stray wet spots with his socked feet.

The music was loud and there might have been too many people milling around, but he couldn't think of anywhere else he wanted to be.

He hadn't seen Francis since Christmas and their visits were sporadic at best for the rest of the year. They kept in touch through email and the occasional webchat, but seeing him in person had been worth the three hour flight and all the snow. He felt no shame in admitting that he was Francis' biggest fan.

He'd always looked up to Francis. The six years difference in their ages meant Francis had moved out of the family manor before Nicholas was even a teenager. And Francis had taken advantage of his role as cool older brother to keep the hero-worship alive. It was one of the few things Christian openly teased him about, and Nicholas didn't even care because Francis was larger than life.

With his tattoos and the way he dressed, Francis looked like he should have been a punk rocker, but he'd built up his reputation as "The Crooner." From the time they were kids he'd said he wanted to be the next Harry Connick Jr. Instead he'd built up his legend as the Frankie Beauregard.

Nicholas had all of his brother's CDs and the limited edition vinyl records. He had posters and copies of every magazine Frankie had ever been featured in. He probably had the world's best Frankie Beauregard collection and he wasn't even ashamed because Francis was really really good. He had a truly spectacular voice and he loved what he did, which showed itself fabulously.

Nicholas looked at his brother across the room. Francis had three beers balanced in his hands and had been on his way back from the kitchen. He'd stopped to talk to a woman in a green sweater and he mouthed something that made her toss her head and laugh.

Francis had always been the funny one, Nicholas the charming.

"Are you nerding out over your brother again?" Christian's warm voice breathed in his ear and Nicholas turned to grin at him.

"Maybe I kinda was," he said. "It's just that he's so amazing that I can't believe he's really my brother. That whole age-difference thing means we grew up completely different. Look at him... We look nothing alike. How can I compare to him?"

"You don't have to," Christian said, and there was something serious in his gaze. "I don't know where you got the idea that you have to compare yourself to anyone. You're fine just the way you are."

Nicholas shook his head. "I know that in my head, it's the rest of me that's confused. It's one of my Crazy Things."

"Fine. Then I'll keep an eye on it for you," Christian said. He was fully prepared to handle every bit of Nicholas' crazy and kept great long lists of each trigger and response. It made him feel better to handle the things Nicholas could not.

"You go ahead and do that." Nicholas tried real hard to keep the pout out of his tone. A few shots of good vodka and the emotional punch to the gut of seeing Francis, and he turned back into a needy kid again. He wanted to reach out and hug Christian to show he was cool with being nannied, but he crossed his arms instead. "I don't know why I had to be the dreamboat blond. Francis would have appreciated it more."

Christian gave him a one side of the mouth smile, just a quick quirk up. His eyes laughed though.

"Here you guys go!" Francis called loudly, pushing through the room toward them. Anyone that didn't get out of his way fast enough was gently bumped aside.

Nicholas reached out and grabbed one of the beers, the neck sweating under his hand. "Thanks."

"So, what all are you guys doing here?" Francis handed Christian his beer. "Some kind of incredibly important DeLongeria Enterprises thing? Are you here to change the world for us little people?"

Nicholas squinted at his brother in annoyance, but Christian just groaned. "Really, you're coming from that angle? I think you're losing your touch," Christian said.

Francis mock-frowned. "You were a lot easier to deal with when you were a kid. Your face would go all red and you'd start flexing your jaw. When did you get so together?"

"When I started handling millions of dollars," Christian said. "It's also why I gave up gambling and smoking - too expensive for a man in my position."

Nicholas rolled his eyes and took a drink of his beer. Christian had never been interested in gambling; he only went to casinos to keep Nicholas from blowing too much money or having sex with a serial killer.

"Well la-dee-da," Francis waved his fingers, "I am so impressed. Now that that's out of the way, it's good to see you both."

"Like we'd turn down a party," Nicholas scoffed. He reached out and grabbed Christian's hand, twining their fingers together, and tugged him closer to Francis. "Why don't you introduce us to some of your guests? I want to see some of your life."

Francis blinked, then shrugged. "Come on, I'll intro you."

Nicholas walked next to Francis but had his arm bent back to stay connected to the trailing Christian. Their hands were clasped tight, neither one willing to let go.

-DAVID-

He was half-dancing with some girls and he ignored the voice in his head telling him he'd maybe drunk too much. He was at that floaty stage of inebriation, the one dangerously close to dizziness and nausea without crossing over. The last thing he wanted to do was throw up on someone.

David took one last swallow of his Spiked Punch before handing the bottle to a guy in a stupid zebra striped vest. "Here dude, I'm done for a while."

The guy blinked, then took the drink and kept walking through the crowd.

There was a bit of a wake behind the guy and the crowd shifted and it was like clouds breaking, revealing a glimpse of sun. Gold-tipped blond hair caught his attention first, then smooth fair skin and sculpted cupid bow lips and a straight curve of a nose.

The man was breathtaking and in David's drunken state the sight of him was burned across David's brain. The swirl of lights and press and bend of bodies, and there was the man in a long coat unbuttoned in the front to show the dark gray sweater vest, white shirt collar, and the vibrant blue of the knot of his tie.

Every single thing about the man was precisely put together. He could have just stepped off a catalog shoot. He looked like a stylist had just been over him and the sight made David swallow hard as he stumbled across the room to somehow introduce himself to that beautiful man.

If he'd been sober he wouldn't have been able to do it. Throwing himself at random strangers had never worked for him in the past, but to his drunken mind it seemed like the best idea ever. And there was no ignoring that kind of euphoric self-confidence.

David wished his balance was better and he could only shove at his hair since he'd lost any kind of fine control over his hands, but he kept his eye on the blond man. He was single-minded in his focus and managed to work his way across the room without knocking into anyone too badly.

"Hello, handsome," he purred sexily, then blinked when the object of his affections snorted a disbelieving laugh. "What?"

"Seriously, that's the line you want to use on me?" The man shook his head.

"It was the least cheesy line that popped into my head." David had to jerk his chin back up from the head-duck he'd started to do. He hated all that "ah shucks" stuff he'd catch himself pulling. He wasn't that guy anymore.

"It was terrible," a familiar voice said, and David blinked to find Frankie Beauregard standing next to the man of his dreams. "Nicholas, this is David Jacobson. David, the man you're trying badly to pick up is my little brother Nicholas. And by the way, Nicholas, when he's sober David's a much smoother social networker, so cut him some slack."

David wanted to glare at Frankie for trashing him in front of his brother, but Nicholas was laughing. Then David thought that maybe Frankie had given Nicholas the "he's okay" nod and he appreciated it.

"I would ask you to dance with me, but I've had one too many tonight and I don't like hitting the floor," David said. He was trying to figure out as much as he could about Nicholas with just his eyes.

It was impossible for David to ignore the tall good-looking guy attached by the hand to Nicholas. He was seriously wondering if he was hitting on a guy in a relationship, but he couldn't help himself.

Even if Nicholas and Unintroduced Guy were together, David was still going to at least flirt with Nicholas. That face craved flirting and flowers and the sweetest of sweet old timey romances. And David would enjoy all that and more as long as he was allowed to worship those perfect lips until they curved up for him alone.

He wanted to be the center of Nicholas' world, which was crazy since they'd barely just met.

"We should go out," David blurted, then wanted to smack his forehead. "I mean... oh shit. We should go out," he said again, "for lunch or something. You know, when I'm not stumbling over my own feet or making a fool of myself trying to talk."

"You're not doing too bad," Nicholas said, looking amused. He probably had people awkwardly hitting on him all the time. "You're only slurring a little bit."

"Small favors." David fought to keep himself upright, his right shoulder feeling much heavier than the left which sent him listing to one side. If he could have gone back in time, he would have told himself to hold off on the sauce, but it was a little late for that. "You're very shiny."

Nicholas quirked an eyebrow. "Thank you?"

David shot a helpless, pleading look at Frankie, who seemed to be having too much fun laughing at him. What a dick.

"Give me your phones," Frankie commanded, holding out his hand imperiously.

David wanted to object that he didn't trust Frankie as far as he could throw him, but when Nicholas calmly handed his brother his phone, David sighed and pulled his out of his pocket. He didn't want to look like even more of an asshole in front of the beautiful man he was failing to impress. He could get a new phone if he had to.

Frankie was wearing that terrible car salesman grin he'd made famous, but he didn't seem out to screw with David, so that was a definite plus.

"There," Frankie said, handing Nicholas his phone back before negligently tossing David's at him. "I've given Nicholas your phone number," Frankie said, "he'll call you tomorrow and you can take him to lunch."

David's mouth opened and closed soundlessly as he clutched his phone to his chest. "What?"

"The words you're looking for are 'Thank you, Frankie, for being the greatest man on Earth.' There is only a very short list of people I would allow my darling little brother to spend any time with." Frankie gave David a serious look. "Don't fuck it up."

There was huff from Nicholas. "Don't I get any say in this?" he asked. He'd put his phone away and was clutching his beer in what could only be described as a sarcastic manner.

"Of course you do." Frankie gave him a patronizing pat on the shoulder. "I didn't give him your number, so you're the one with all the power." He turned back to David. "Why don't you go get some water and I'll call you a cab?"

David wanted to say that he didn't want to leave, but Frankie headed him off.

"If you're going to be able to make it to lunch tomorrow, you're going to want to rest up for it," Frankie said.

That was a good idea, David couldn't deny that. He'd need a full night's sleep if he didn't want to be a sloppy mess tomorrow.

He looked at Nicholas one more time, taking in the flush of his cheeks and the shy way his bright blue eyes wouldn't meet and hold David's. It was a struggle to keep from reaching out and touching; he wasn't that drunk or bold enough to use it as an excuse.

"Will you really call me tomorrow?" he asked, reluctant to leave without some kind of assurance.

"Sure." Nicholas patted the pocket holding his phone. "You're pretty cute. I wouldn't mind sharing lunch with you. Then maybe, if you're lucky, I might let you buy me coffee." There was definitely something flirty in the dark sweep of his lashes.

"Now go drink some water," Frankie ordered, holding his cellphone to his ear. "I'm calling you a cab right now and you'll have to meet it at the end of the street."

David wanted to stay and stare at Nicholas longer, but he did have some self-control. It was strange for him because he'd never met someone he was so immediately attracted to, but there was just something about Nicholas that called to him.

"Tomorrow," he entreated, fighting to keep from slipping sideways. The room was beginning to take on a slow-motion spin, which experience had taught him wasn't exactly a good thing.

Drinking himself stupid had seemed like a good idea when he'd shown up. He'd had the kind of week at work that had sent lesser men screaming for the hills and he'd just kind of bulled his way through the horrors until the weekend and freedom. Now he felt like an idiot because if he'd had a few drinks less he'd be able to strike up a conversation with Nicholas, something he knew he couldn't do now without sounding like an utter cretin.

David had never been that great at holding his liquor, which is why he rarely indulged himself, sticking mostly to soda and flavored water. It was better than making an idiot out of himself in public.

"Tomorrow," Nicholas said, his smile gentle. David couldn't help smiling back even as he followed the command inherent in Frankie's shoo gesture.

He stumbled his way into the kitchen where he drank two glasses of water, then he went about the task of tracking down his coat. He'd left it on the bed in the guest room and somehow it had ended up at the very bottom of the pile, cozied up to a purple trench coat of all things. He idly had to wonder who had been wearing the orchid monstrosity, but he wasn't that curious.

It must have taken him longer than he'd thought, because when he came back into the living room Frankie immediately nudged him toward the front door.

"I don't want to seem like I'm booting you out, man," Frankie said, "but the cab driver called to say he's already there waiting. I told him you'd have to walk to him since the street hasn't been cleared here, but you shouldn't keep him waiting too long. He's got a job to do."

"Sure, sure," David zipped his coat closed, "I'll see you around." He was none too subtly looking around for Nicholas, but the man seemed to have disappeared somewhere. He couldn't help a surge of disappointment at not being able to see him one more time.

"I'll make sure Nicholas calls you tomorrow," Frankie said.

"Thanks, man." David gave him a quick back slap, then went to grab his boots and go.

It seemed much colder when he stepped outside than he'd thought it would be and he immediately shoved his hands into his coat pockets and ducked his head against the icy wind.

Night had fallen and the street lamps reflected their light off the snow. He could see the yellow of the cab waiting for him at the corner, steam rising in lazy tendrils. He could see the driver doing something beneath the glow of the dome light.

As he was trekking down the sidewalk, David wondered if Frankie had lied to him about putting his phone number in Nicholas' phone. It would have been the worst kind of brush off, but he wouldn't have been able to blame the guy.

"Hello, handsome." He shook his head. Worst first line ever.

-NICHOLAS & CHRISTIAN-

"Seriously, is there some reason why you're pushing me to go on a date with some guy that doesn't know how to handle his alcohol?" Nicholas raised an eyebrow curiously.

"Because David is a great guy," Francis defended. "He's just terrible at holding his liquor and it was obvious he wasn't going to leave until he talked to you."

"So because your friend doesn't know how to drink like a normal person, I have to sacrifice my virtue?" Nicholas sighed. "I hope you know that I don't put out on the first date."

"Oh, ew, gross." Francis shook his head like a dog with something in its fur. "There's no way I want to hear anything about you and sex. That's disgusting."

"Then what do you want me to do with your friend?" Nicholas asked. It was hard keeping a straight face, but Francis was fun to tease. Especially when he was being the riled up older brother.

"Not have sex with him, that's for sure, or at least don't tell me about it." Francis shuddered. "Go to lunch with him, enjoy the free food, maybe you guys will hit it off, maybe you won't, but at least he won't be whining forever that it didn't work out because he was drunk."

"You're too soft," Nicholas teased, "and I want you to know I'm only going to go out with your friend because you said he was all right. So if he turns out to be a serial killer..."

"I will weep over your grave every day and bring you your favorite flowers." Francis rolled his eyes. "Are they still skunk weed?"

Nicholas shoved his shoulder. "Ass. Now finish introducing me to all your friends."

"Your wish is my every command." Francis obligingly completed the interrupted circuit of the room. He was even careful to keep to Christian's rule that he not be introduced unless someone asked, then only as "Christian" with no famous last name.

-DAVID-

It was the next morning that David saw what Frankie had done to his phone. There was a memo note left open and he couldn't help laughing a little nervously:

Do not fuck this up. Nicholas is my baby brother. Make him cry and they'll never find all of you.

It was probably just an idle threat, but David wasn't one hundred percent sure. There were rumors going around that Frankie had links to organized crime and he'd said before that he'd dated a mob boss' daughter and lived to tell the tale.

Then David thought of blond hair and big blue eyes and he didn't care about what could happen, not if that amazing man ever gave him a chance.