Chapter twenty-six by Clare K.R. Miller
The Hotel Room
Pudge fell asleep the moment his head hit the thin, hard cot. Luis was on the cot above him and Manuel and Pocho bunked across the narrow metal hall. Despite the dampness in the air and the constant knocking from the sub's hull, despite his recent narrow escapes and the horrors he had seen, he dreamed not of monsters, gore, or death.
He dreamed instead of love ... and hate...
Pudge trailed his hand along the wall to steady himself as he walked back to his hotel room. He wasn't sure he needed it, but it was better to be safe than sorry. His head was fuzzy with exhaustion and wine. He made up his mind to avoid the post-business socializing at these conferences in the future. He probably wouldn't remember he'd made that decision in the morning, but maybe if he decided it enough times, it would stick someday.
He fumbled with the card key to his hotel room, and then finally got it to open. He stumbled inside, fully intending to fall directly onto his bed (hotel sheets were just too annoying to unmake in his state) and sleep for at least several hours. But once he was inside the door, he could tell something was wrong. He stopped with his hand on the lightswitch. What was it? There was something strange about this room…
He felt arms slip around his neck and a body press firmly against his back. "Hello there, Rob," a voice whispered in his ear.
Pudge's exhaustion fell away at once. "Eduardo!" he cried with delight--softly, the door was shut, but these hotel walls could be thin--then turned to face his lover, a grin spreading across his face. Even if he hadn't recognized the voice, the nickname would have given Eduardo away immediately; he was the only person to ever call him that. His brother and, consequently, everyone else he had ever met called him Pudge. Probably in reaction to the nickname, his parents refused to call him anything other than Robert. The first time he and Eduardo had met, the younger man had immediately dismissed both names as unsuited and began calling him Rob. That was probably part of the reason Pudge had fallen in love with him. That and the strong body, the silky hair, the strong cheekbones, the supple tongue that was at this moment working its way around his ear...
Pudge stopped thinking for the better part of an hour.
When his brain started working again, he and Eduardo were both naked, damp with sweat, and lying atop the thoroughly unmade hotel room bed. Eduardo's head was pillowed on Pudge's arm. He closed his eyes for a moment, thinking carefully. There were a lot of things he wanted to say, but now was not necessarily the time for all of them. Better start with the most urgent. "Eduardo?"
"Hmm?" Eduardo's black eyelashes fluttered most alluringly.
Pudge tried to ignore it. "How did you get in here anyway?"
Eduardo laughed. "I made promises to one of the bellboys." Pudge frowned. Eduardo continued, opening his eyes and looking earnestly up at Pudge, "Promises I don't intend to keep."
Pudge relaxed at that. Not that he should care. To whom Eduardo made promises and whether he kept them shouldn't affect Pudge.
He forced himself to speak again. "No one saw you, did they?"
"I doubt it. With all the wine flowing at that party? I could see you weren't at your best, and I doubt anyone else is much better."
"Was that a complaint?" he asked playfully.
"Mmm. Hardly," said Eduardo, giving him a catlike smile and walking his fingers up Pudge's bare chest. "I think you could manage again..."
Pudge shook his head and pushed Eduardo's fingers away. "Look, Eduardo, we both knew this couldn't last forever..."
"No," said Eduardo, nestling his head down again on Pudge's chest. "Just for fun. Kicks and giggles. Mmm."
"Well, I'm... I'm probably getting a promotion, and I'll... be a lot more in the public eye." He took a deep breath. He hated to do it; Eduardo was lovely, good, generous... if he'd thought it wouldn't be a career-killer to marry this man, he might well do so. But his career was more important than anything in his personal life. "I think now is the time to end it."
He was greeted with silence. Then Eduardo abruptly sat up, pushing against Pudge's chest and making him cough. "Do you really mean that?" Eduardo asked in a quiet voice with a hint of a whine in it.
Pudge squeezed his eyes shut and nodded. "Yes. I'm sorry."
He didn't open his eyes, but he felt Eduardo standing up, then heard him getting dressed and collecting his things. When the door slammed, Pudge finally dared to open his eyes. It was dark, and he was alone.
At the next day's brunch--during which he was relieved to find that he was one of the attendees to show the least discomfort after the night before--he saw, through the glass dining room doors, Eduardo and a young man in a bellboy's uniform talking quietly and laughing. Eduardo stroked the other man's neck, then turned deliberately and smiled at Pudge. Pudge looked away. He wasn't jealous; to his surprise, when he told himself that, it sounded like the truth. He could deal with this. It was for his career.
The next day, back at the office, Eduardo kept walking past Pudge's door. He was a secretary on the same floor, but he had no real reason to be walking back and forth like that. Pudge knew the real reason. He ignored it steadfastly.
He kept thinking he heard someone calling "Rob," but when he looked around, no one was there.
A week later, it stopped. He didn't see Eduardo again. He breathed a sigh of relief and got on with his job.
A week after that, he was called into his supervisor's office. He thought it was for the promotion. It wasn't. He never got the promotion, and had to settle for being grateful that he wasn't fired. When they stepped out of the office, Eduardo turned back to Pudge with a hopeful expression on his face. Pudge realized in that moment that his ex-lover had hoped that by sabotaging Pudge's career, he would get him back.
It backfired. Pudge turned his back and walked away, harboring no regrets. Well, almost none. But now he would never stopping looking for ways to get his career back on track.