Sense & Sensuality

an excerpt

Chapter One

Alan lifted his head from the pillow and looked around his bedroom with bleary eyes. His head ached, and his tongue felt as though somehow it had been replaced with a wedge of sandpaper. Ow, ow, ow! Why had he stayed out so late and got so drunk? He knew better than that. His binge drinking days in college were long over. He'd sworn never to repeat those times when vast quantities of beer and whisky were consumed, followed by endless puking and hangovers that lasted for days.

He had a lot more sense these days, at least until last night. Okay, he did have an excuse of sorts-the inheritance John Shaw, his grandfather, had just left him. Man, but that had come completely out of the blue. He always figured the old man had no time for him. Just goes to show you can never really know what another person is thinking. If only he'd ever seen anything close to affection in John Shaw's eyes when the old geezer had looked at him. Seems like he remembered only a disdainful criticis—m in that cold blue stare. No warmth, no grandfatherly smile of encouragement, and certainly no love.

Alan had always reckoned it was because he was the grandson produced by John Shaw's second marriage, his first wife having died giving birth to their only son George. John had waited three years before marrying Alan's grandmother, Elizabeth. This time John became the father of a lovely girl, Margaret, Alan's mother. Margaret, known for being headstrong and not one to listen to parental advice, married Don Robinson, a navy pilot, who was killed when his plane crashed during training maneuvers two years after Alan was born.

Margaret, fiercely protective of her little boy and wanting him to be a part of the Shaw family, moved back into the mansion that had been her home for twenty-two years, until she married Don. Her father was less than welcoming, but Elizabeth, her mother, could always charm the old man into anything, and so Alan had lived under his grandfather's disapproving eye until he went to college, never returning home apart from the occasional visits at Christmas or Thanksgiving.

George, Margaret's half-brother, married early in life and also produced a son, Matthew. Alan adored his cousin Matthew, and their friendship remained strong, undeterred by the hostility that surrounded them and the often harsh words between Alan's mother and Matthew's parents. Jealousy and anger flew about the Shaw mansion on an almost daily basis, but the two boys did their best to ignore it, finding their escape in each other's company, and eventually, in the adolescent love they had for one another.

Groaning, Alan rolled out of his bed, heading for the kitchen, some coffee and several aspirin. He would have to call Matthew later, and commiserate with him. It can't have been easy for him to learn he'd been left such a pittance in his grandfather's will.

But I'll take care of that. No way was he going to let Matthew be left out. What the heck had the old guy been thinking? Matthew, who had been so much more the grandson than Alan had ever been, left with a measly ten thousand dollars, while he, Alan, had inherited millions-just how many millions he wasn't yet quite sure. No wonder Uncle George had almost keeled over from a seizure. And Aunt Jessica? God, he'd thought she was going to pull a gun and kill him on the spot, when the will had been read.

If only his mother hadn't laughed so darned loud.

That had just sealed the deal. Thank God, Matthew hadn't been there. He just couldn't have stood to see his cousin's sweet face crumple with disappointment. Not from the fact that he'd been left practically nothing. They'd both talked about that, and neither had expressed any desire to inherit their grandfather's millions. But Matthew would have been upset that his grandfather, to whom he had shown only respect and love, could have humiliated him like this.

"Damn him," Alan muttered, spooning coffee grounds into the coffee machine's filter. How much should he offer Matthew? One million...two...ten? As he waited for the coffee to brew, he poured himself a glass of water and downed three aspirin, relishing the feel of the cold water washing over his tongue and cooling his intestines. He made himself a silent promise, that no matter how many more celebratory parties he might throw, he would not get hammered like he had the night before.

The shrilling of the telephone at his elbow made him jump. He peered at the caller ID. Matthew. Oh, shit. "Hi, Matthew," he croaked. "How's it going in beautiful Waikiki?"

"It's goin' great," his cousin said, and Alan was relieved to hear the smile in his voice. "Jack got his butt burned yesterday at the nude beach, but apart from that we're having the time of our lives."

"Ouch. My commiserations. That's got to have crimped your sex life somewhat!"

Matthew chuckled. "Only somewhat. So, Mr. Big-shot, wealthier than shit, cousin of mine, how does it feel to be able to buy the White House?"

"Listen, Matthew, I am so sorry the old buzzard did this. You should have been the major beneficiary, not me. Look, when you and Jack get back from Hawaii, I'm going to transfer half of what I have to your account."

"Alan, for God's sake, don't be silly. The money's yours. That's what he intended."

"You know, I really can't believe that. Granddad didn't even like me that much. He loved you, for Chrissakes. I guess he just got feeble at the end, and made a mistake."

"Alan. I happen to know he rewrote his will two years ago."

"He did?" Alan immediately cast his mind back two years. What had happened two years ago to make their grandfather change his will? He couldn't think of a thing. "Two years ago? Did you do something to piss him off?"

"Don't think so," Matthew replied, on a half laugh. "But who knows. There was always so much crap flying around, what with our folks hating each other so much."

"Matthew," Alan said, softly. "I love you."

"Right back at you. This changes nothing between us, you know that, don't you?"

Alan felt tears well in his eyes. "Yeah, I know that. But we're still goin' to share."

"We'll talk when I get back. Jack says 'hi', by the way."

"He's not mad is he?"

"No, Alan, he's not mad. You think he married me for my money?"

"No. I know why he married you."

"Okay. We'll talk when I get back. Bye, Alan."

"Bye, Matthew. Call me, soon as you can."

Alan put the phone down and poured himself a cup of the freshly brewed coffee. As he slowly sipped the hot java, he let his mind slip back to when he and Matthew had first discovered their mutual need for one another. Alan had been mesmerized by Matthew from the start. His cousin, four years older, had always been taller, broader, more handsome than anyone else. In Alan's eyes, Matthew was perfect, and Alan had loved him with all his heart.

In the years that had followed, there had been others, of course, but Alan had always found it difficult to completely erase the memory of those first fantastic encounters with Matthew. Perhaps that was why he was still single. When he was totally honest with himself, he knew that there had never been anyone who could fulfill him as Matthew had. But Matthew had moved on, and Alan had rejoiced, then commiserated with him, through several earth-shattering relationships-until Jack. For the last three years, Matthew had been content and grounded, and Alan was happy for him, despite his own inability to find "the one" who would replace Matthew in his heart.

He knew why Jack had chosen to spend the rest of his life with Matthew. It was nothing to do with the fact that Matthew was handsome, masculine, blessed with a naturally toned body, sun-bleached hair, dazzling blue eyes and dimples on either side of a mouth that begged to be kissed. Well, perhaps it had a little to do with all that. But what made Jack stay, apart from the mind-blowing sex they still indulged in after three years, was Matthew's innate sense of joy, of knowing who he was, and his ability to make whoever he was with feel like the most special person in the world.

Alan had felt like that, and he knew Jack did too. He'd told Alan so, on many occasions. Alan liked Jack, so he always managed to keep his envy in check, hard as it had been at the start of their relationship. Jack happened along after Matthew had been single for over a year, and he and Alan had been in each other's company almost every day. Alan had begun to feel that Matthew might just be looking at him with more than just cousinly affection. Then, bam! there was Jack with his sunny smile and dark, Italianate looks that had lifted Matthew clear off his stool at the bar, and had him making a beeline for the man who now owned his heart.

Oh well, Alan had survived, was still surviving, and was now the inheritor of a vast fortune that he didn't have a clue what to do with. Clothes, travel, a house, a new car, cars maybe, were all within his grasp. One thing for sure, that boring, mind-destroying job of his at the bank was toast. His phone was ringing again. Mom. Oh, crap.