Time After Time

an excerpt


Chapter One


For the umpteenth time in twenty minutes, Michael Ballantyne glanced toward the diner entrance to see if his brother Brad had yet deigned to arrive for their lunch date. “Where in hell is he?” he muttered to himself, sucking up half his iced tea in frustration. He caught the waiter’s eye and ordered a burger. No point in waiting any longer—looked like Brad was a no show.

He tried to shuck off the feeling of disappointment that his brother hadn’t even bothered to call him to say he couldn’t make it, but just as the waiter took his order, Michael saw a red-faced Brad dash into the diner and scan the crowded room. On seeing Michael wave at him, he hurried over to the booth.

“Shit, sorry,” he said, sliding onto the seat opposite Michael. “Had a client who just wouldn’t get off the phone. What’re you having?”

“Cheeseburger…”

“I’ll have the same,” Brad told the waiter, “and a beer.”

“Drinking at lunch time?”

“I’m taking the afternoon off. I’ve been working way too hard lately.”

Michael chuckled. “Who told you that?”

“I told me that, my boy, and it’s the truth. Five closings in one month, two of ‘em utter bastards—I’m exhausted.” Brad slumped in his seat to emphasize his words.

“You should be pleased; everyone else I know in real estate is bitching about how slow it is.”

“That’s ‘cause they don’t know how to play a bad market.” Brad grinned at his brother. “So, how’re you doin’?”

“Okay.”

“Still seeing Steve?”

“I guess…”

“You guess?”

Michael gazed at his brother’s handsome face, his forehead now creased by a frown. “Well, he’s out of town right now on a business trip trying to find new clients. I haven’t seen very much of him lately. I think he’s losing interest.”

Brad raised an eyebrow. “What a clown. Losing interest in a good looking dude like you—if you weren’t my brother, I’d be putting the make on you myself.”

Michael laughed softly. “You’d have to turn gay too. I don’t think Miranda would approve, do you?”

“Probably not.” Brad touched Michael’s hand. “He’s not good enough for you, bro. Miranda and I both agree on that.”

Michael shrugged. “Steve’s all right. He’s just a businessman first.”

“Huh…” Brad fell silent as the waiter delivered their burgers and his beer. “So, you said you hadn’t been sleeping too well lately. What’s up with that?”

Michael hesitated. Did he really want to tell his brother about the strangely erotic dreams he’d been having? Dreams that would wake him in the middle of the night and keep him awake with the memory of how incredible they were—how incredible the man in his dreams was. He felt his face flush as he remembered.

“What’s wrong?” Brad was staring at him with concern.

“Nothing. It’s just that I’ve been having these strange dreams for the last three weeks or so. It’s a bit embarrassing…”

“How so?”

Michael shifted in his seat and couldn’t meet his brother’s eyes as he answered. “Um… they’re kind of erotic…” He cleared his throat. “You don’t want to hear this.”

“Try me.”

“Well, there’s this guy, and he’s making love to me.”

“And it’s not Steve, I take it,” Brad said through a mouthful of burger.

Michael shook his head. “No, it’s not anyone I know, or have ever known. I’d like to know him,” he added with a shaky laugh. “He’s English, and he’s quite, uh… incredible.”

“English, huh? So what’s the problem?”

“There’s no problem. I’m just a bit confused as to why I should have the same dream about the same guy night after night.”

“Some kind of wish fulfillment maybe,” Brad suggested. “I mean, it sounds like your relationship with Steve isn’t going anywhere, so you’re compensating by dreaming of a guy who’ll love you unconditionally.”

Michael stared at his brother. “Okay, when did you become a budding Freud?”

Brad chuckled and picked up a napkin to wipe his mouth. “Nothing very complicated there, Michael. You’re horny, so getting off in your dreams works like a charm.”

“Brad!”

“Well, doesn’t it?”

“Trust you to take it to the lowest common denominator.”

“And trust you to make more of it than it is,” Brad said, grinning. “Every guy has a wet dream now and then, Michael—especially when they’re not getting any.”

Michael groaned and shook his head. “I knew I shouldn’t have told you about this. Now you’re going to give me shit about it every time we’re together. Don’t tell Miranda!”

“Are you kidding? She’ll love this. She’ll think it so romantic that her brother-in-law has a dream man in his life.”

“That’s the problem—he’s not in my life.”

“Nor is Steve by the sounds of things. You know what I think?”

“No, but I know you’re about to tell me.”

“I think you should tell Steve to go to hell. He keeps you dangling there for his own convenience. You know, Miranda and I have talked about this—”

“Oh great,” Michael moaned. “My brother and sister-in-law sit around talking about my love life.”

Brad chuckled. “Or lack of it. But seriously, I haven’t said this before, but Steve’s not the guy for you. He’s just way too self-centered…”

“Well, he’s got a lot on his mind. Running your own business is a full-time commitment…”

“Yeah, yeah,” Brad made a dismissive gesture. “But that night we all had dinner together, I couldn’t get over the fact that every time the conversation strayed to something that didn’t directly concern him, his eyes sorta just glazed over, and he lost all interest in what we were saying. I mean, what d’you guys talk about when you’re together? Is he remotely interested in what you do?”

“Of course he is.” Michael looked away from his brother’s searching gaze. “Well, I think he is…”

“Well, he should be. Graphic art is… is art for Chrissakes. You’re a talented guy. What does he do? Sells computer parts—no talent needed for that, is there?”

“Brad, you’re being very judgmental all of a sudden.”

Brad’s eyes narrowed as he stared at Michael. “I don’t want to see my little brother get hurt, that’s all. It doesn’t take an analyst to see you’re unhappy. Dreaming about getting laid instead of getting the real thing means you’re compensating for what’s lacking in your life.”

Michael sighed. “Okay, I admit I’m a tad ticked off he doesn’t seem to want to spend more time with me, but I really don’t think the dreams have anything to do with Steve. They’ve just started recently…”

“Because you’re frustrated…” Brad gave him a mischievous smile. “Tell me, how d’you feel when you wake up from one of these dreams? Are you, uh… damp?”

Brad!” Michael felt his face grow hot. “You really are too much.” He looked around the crowded diner, praying no one could hear their conversation, but the noise level was reassuringly high.

Brad laughed at his brother’s embarrassment. “Michael, you and I have shared just about everything in our lives. There’s not much you and I don’t know about each other—we’ve slept in the same bed, shared the same tent on camping trips, skinny dipped together—and then there was that time when we…”

“Okay, now you’re really embarrassing me,” Michael hissed under his breath. But what Brad had said was true. Unlike a lot of siblings, he and Brad had always been close, with a bond that had grown even stronger after the unexpected death of their parents. Now he gazed fondly at his brother’s smiling face, at the sparkle in his eyes, and knew he could tell him just about anything.

“All right, yes I’m… I’m…”

“Wet.”

Michael groaned. “Yes.”

“And the guy?”

“Incredible, like I said. He’s like a god come to life. Dark hair that falls in curls over his forehead, eyes so dark blue they’re almost cobalt, lips that… Jesus, why am I telling my straight brother all this?”

“Because you want to share, and we always share, remember? You listened to me when Miranda and I were having our problems; and despite the fact that I’m straight, I love my gay baby brother, and I want to see you happy—and laid.”

Michael’s laugh was followed by a smile of real affection. “I love you too, big brother—and you’ll be the first to know when it happens.”

“Well, after you, hopefully,” his brother kidded him.

§ § § §

Later, as he entered his apartment, Michael immediately noticed the flashing light on his answering machine. Steve? He could only hope. He hesitated before pressing the message button. What Brad had said about Steve still bothered him. Was he being blind to Steve’s faults simply because he didn’t want the relationship, such as it was, to fail?

“Oh, come on,” he muttered. “Get a grip.” He pressed the button and sighed with disappointment as a voice rasped in his ears. It wasn’t Steve.

“This message is for Mr. Michael Ballantyne. My name is Ronald Fortescue of Fortescue, Reynolds and Haversham, Solicitors. My office is located in London, England, and we represent the estate of Mr. Lionel Burroughs. Mr. Burroughs, I regret to say, passed away quite recently and has left a will that names you, Mr. Ballantyne, as his sole beneficiary.”

Michael stared at the answering machine in disbelief. “What the hell? Is this some kind of joke?”

“If you would care to phone my office as soon as possible, I will make arrangements to inform you of the exact details of Mr. Burroughs will, along with the conditions of your inheritance. Here is my number…”

Michael had to play the message twice more before his shaking fingers could write the number down. This had to be some kind of a hoax, like one of those emails he got now and then telling him he’d won a million dollars on a lottery he’d never entered. But the man had left a phone number… He glanced at his watch. Six o’clock. London was what… eight hours ahead? No point in calling right then. He’d do it first thing in the morning. Should he call Brad and tell him? No, he’d wait until he’d spoken to this Fortescue guy. Maybe the whole thing was one big mistake; they’d gotten the wrong Michael Ballantyne. Yeah, that was it… there had to be a hundred Michael Ballantynes in the Los Angeles phone book. They’d just picked the wrong one.

Maybe he should call Brad after all. Quickly, he punched in his brother’s number. “Hi Brad, it’s Michael.”

“No kidding. I do have caller ID y’know.”

“Right. Listen, I just got a weird message on my answering machine.”

“Well, this is L.A., Michael.”

“Be serious. Some guy from England is telling me I’ve been left an inheritance or something…”

“Sweet. How much?”

“I don’t know that—but Brad, I’ve never heard of this guy, a Lionel Burroughs. Have you?”

“Burroughs? Nope, can’t say I have.”

“You think he might have been a friend of Mom and Dad’s?”

“I have no idea, Michael. I don’t recall them ever mentioning a Lionel Burroughs. They were only in England that one time, remember?”

Michael remembered only too well. It was shortly after that trip that his parents had been killed in a deadly freeway accident involving multiple vehicles. The memory of that terrible time sent an involuntary shudder through Michael’s body.

“Yes,” he said quietly. “I remember… Anyway,” he continued after clearing his throat, “I have to call this solicitor guy in London tomorrow. I guess he’ll be able to tell me what the connection is.”

“Can’t wait to hear more, bro. Call me soon as you’ve talked to him.”

“Will do… I’ll talk to you later. Tell Miranda I said ‘hi.’”

With another glance at the phone number he’d written on the notepad he kept by the phone, Michael walked through his bedroom and into the bathroom to undress. He had no plans for the evening and was looking forward to lounging in sweats in front of the television with a pizza and beer. He stood for a moment in front of the mirror as he removed his shirt and gazed at himself critically.

What was it about him that Steve found so easy to resist?

He wasn’t bad looking. Even Brad said he was good looking. He kept himself in shape, and he always made sure he smelled nice. But it wasn’t enough obviously, he thought despondently. Sighing, he ran a hand through his chestnut-brown hair and threw his shirt into the laundry basket. As he met his own green-eyed gaze in the mirror, he wondered if Brad had been right about those dreams. Was he simply dreaming this beautiful guy to replace the man he could tell was slipping away from him?

Wow, that’s really pathetic, he thought, grimacing at his reflection. Yet, those dreams seemed so real—the man felt real, warm and hard bodied under Michael’s hands, his skin so smooth, his lips so soft, his kiss a sweet hunger…

Jesus! Michael stepped back from the mirror. He was hard as a rock. “Pull yourself together,” he muttered. The phone’s strident ring brought him back to reality. He picked it up in the bedroom.

“Michael Ballantyne.”

“Mikey, how are you?”

Steve. He was the only one who called him Mikey and got away with it. Michael hated that particular abbreviation, but from Steve he’d grin and bear it.

“Hey, it’s good to hear your voice.” Michael sat down heavily on the bed. “Where are you?”

“Still in Vancouver, but I’ll be back in a couple of days. Wanna get together?”

“That’d be great…” He paused, then said quietly, “I miss you.”

“Yeah… miss you too, Mikey.”

“What are you doing?”

“Right now I’m lying in bed watching Canadian television. It’s even worse than the dreck they serve up in the States. What are you doing?”

“I just got home. Going to kick back and watch some dreck on TV, too.” Michael had a vision of Steve lying on the hotel bed, his muscled, quarterback physique stretched out in all its glory, his blond hair rumpled by the pillow. He was hard again.

“Well, you have a good evening,” Steve said. “I’ll call you when I get back.”

No, don’t hang up yet. Talk to me some more. “Oh, okay, Steve. Look forward to seeing you when you get back.”

“Right… Take it easy. See ya, Mikey.” And he was gone.

“Damn,” Michael muttered, putting the phone down. Why couldn’t he have thought of something to keep Steve talking on the phone longer? Why hadn’t he told him about the call from England? Surely that would have intrigued Steve. His hand strayed to his crotch, gripping the hard flesh through his slacks. He lay back on the bed, but the face that swam before his closed eyes wasn’t Steve’s… it was the man in his dreams.