Excerpt for His Heart's Desire (The Looking Glass 3) by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

This page may contain adult content. If you are under age 18, or you arrived by accident, please do not read further.




The Looking Glass 3:



HIS HEART’S DESIRE







PENNY BRANDON

His Heart’s Desire - The Looking Glass 3

Smashwords Edition

Copyright © June 2018 by Penny Brandon

Published by Penny Brandon

www.pennybrandonauthor.com


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of author imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


All rights reserved.

This book is licensed to the original purchaser only. Duplication or distribution via any means is illegal and a violation of international copyright law, subject to criminal prosecution and upon conviction, fines, and/or imprisonment. Any eBook format cannot be legally loaned or given to others. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law.


Warning

This e-book contains sexually explicit scenes and adult language and may be considered offensive to some readers. My e-books are for sale to adults ONLY, as defined by the laws of the country in which you made your purchase. Please store your files wisely, where they cannot be accessed by under-aged readers.



His Heart’s Desire – The Looking Glass 3 © June 2018 by Penny Brandon

ASIN: B07D8TLTV3

Published by Penny Brandon

www.pennybrandonauthor.com

Table of Contents

Blurb

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

About Penny Brandon

Finding Penny Brandon

Free Short Stories

More by Penny Brandon

Blurb


As the keeper of a magic mirror that shows those lucky few their one true love, Simon dreams of the day it will show him his, but he never dreamt of a punk-assed kid with ripped jeans and rainbow colored hair. Devastated, Simon tries to push Alex away, refusing to tell him they were fated, but Alex keeps coming back, showing all the signs of a man drawn to his soul mate. Realizing he’s made a terrible mistake, Simon figures the only way to fix it is to be the man Alex wants because Alex is the man Simon needs if he’s ever to have a future.



Never before has Alex fallen so hard for a man who obviously doesn’t like him, but Alex is sure there’s a passionate man beneath Simon’s prickly exterior. Peeling away Simon’s layers is like ripping off a bandaid, but it’s worth it when Alex finally has Simon in his arms. The problem is, though he may have Simon’s body, he doesn’t have his heart, and that’s the part Alex wants most. Until he finds out Simon has lied to him.


Chapter One

“That’s a neat trick. How does it work?”

At the sound of the unexpected voice behind him, Simon whirled, hand at his throat, eyes wide, pulse racing.

A man leaned casually on the corner of the antique desk that Simon used as his service counter. That in itself ruffled Simon’s feathers because the man obviously didn’t appreciate the age and beauty of the piece, and he also didn’t seem the least bit contrite at nearly giving Simon a heart attack. In fact the man was smiling. A bold, bright smile that was so inappropriate right then that Simon felt indignation bite deep.

“How does what work?” Simon asked, striving for politeness even as he felt like ordering the man out.

The man’s smile widened, showing complete nonchalance as if he didn’t have a care in the world, which ruffled Simon’s feathers even further.

“The mirror. I looked into it and—”

“The mirror?”

“Yeah. It’s quite fascinating. I couldn’t see any wires, and though I assume the image is on a loop of some sort, there’s no obvious—”

“You looked into the mirror?” Simon glanced toward the rear of the shop where the mirror was housed, and he scowled. He used to love enlightening those drawn to the mirror. He used to love telling them the image they saw was of their one true love. But now… Shaking his head, Simon turned back to the young man still leaning on the desk and scowled even more.

No matter how much Simon knew it was wrong, he couldn’t help wondering what it was about this man that made him better than Simon. Why was he special? Why was he getting a chance to find that happily ever after? Studying him, Simon cynically observed the well-worn jeans, the scruffy black T-shirt, the scuffed shoes, the statement colored hair, and couldn’t find a damn thing.

As if sensing Simon’s resentment, the man eased off the edge of the desk. “Um, so how does it work?” he asked.

As the mirror’s keeper, that was a question Simon had asked himself over and over. “I don’t have any answers,” he said. “I’m just here to show you.”

“I don’t understand.”

Simon gritted his teeth. Neither did he, but it was his duty to try to explain, so he grudgingly headed toward the back of the shop, assuming the man would follow.

“I’m Alex, by the way, and you’re Simon, right?”

Turning to see Alex holding a small white business card he’d evidently picked up from the desk, Simon merely nodded, not wishing to engage in polite conversation. As soon as he told Alex what the image in the mirror meant to him, that would be the end of their association. Simon would never have to see Alex again, never have to look into those vivid blue eyes and feel a bitterness he could no longer repress.

“This is a nice place. You have some nice things.”

Alex sounded sincere, and for a moment Simon allowed pride to push aside his animosity. “Thank you.”

“You own the shop?”

Simon paused then glanced over his shoulder, tightening his jaw as he did so. Own it? No, he was a damn slave here. Something hard and bitter crawled up his throat, and it took some effort to push it down. It was times like these he had to force himself to accept the job he’d been given and do what it dictated of him.

“No,” Simon said quietly. “I just work here.” He carried on toward the mirror, wanting to get this over and done with.

“But you manage the place?”

Unsure why Alex was asking so many questions, Simon nodded. He guessed he could say he ran the shop. He bought the stock and sold it, and there was no one to tell him what to do. No one.

“So do you manage security as well?”

“Security?” Simon stopped again, turning to face Alex’s open-faced curiosity. “Why?”

“Oh. I own a security firm, and I was wondering if you were interested in gaining some additional safety measures.”

“From you?” Simon didn’t mean to sound belligerent, but the guy was barely twenty, and he looked like someone off the streets. How would he know anything about running a successful business?

“Well, yes. I see you’ve got a few cameras, but what about a back-to-base alarm, or an on-call guard?”

“I’m fine, thank you.” Seriously, did Alex genuinely think Simon would discuss the shop’s security? How naive could Alex be? God help the man Alex was meant to fall in love with. He’d need to be pretty well-balanced and sure of himself to cope with Alex’s childish gullibility.

However, that wasn’t how the magic worked. Those seen in the mirror were the ones who needed help, who needed the strength and love of the one who saw them, or at least that was how Simon thought it was supposed to be. He wasn’t exactly privy to the mirror’s intent or the magic behind it, but over the years he’d noticed how most of the men who stood in front of the mirror had a certain air about them that spoke of confidence and an ability to get things done. Alex, in his scruffy clothes and colored hair, didn’t seem capable of holding himself together, never mind someone else.

Simon shook his head as he realized he was being derogatory. It didn’t matter what he thought, and it wasn’t his concern. Alex was going to have to sort it out. After all, he was the one who’d been given the chance to be with his soul’s other half.

“Okay, but if you need something, I’ll be happy to help,” Alex said.

Searching for and finding the honesty in Alex’s eyes, admitting that at least was an admirable trait, Simon attempted a brief smile. “I’ll think about it.”

The optimistic grin he got in return was like a tiny balm to the irritation still festering within, but he’d yet to show Alex the mirror. That was when Simon knew his resentment would swamp him. Sighing, he continued to the back of the shop, maneuvering through a labyrinth of furniture before finally coming to stand in front of the mirror.

As usual, to him the mirror reflected nothing. Its impenetrable black surface seemed to mock him, as if it knew there was nothing in his future, nothing to look forward to, nothing to live for. A large part of him was beginning to hate the mirror, and he no longer truly believed the promise and potential it supposedly offered. He went through the motions of course, but during the last few months, each time he’d told others they were seeing their heart’s desire, he’d felt a little part of his own heart die.

“It doesn’t look like it belongs here, does it?”

“Pardon?” Simon turned to face Alex who was gazing at the dusty, plain-looking mirror. Its oval shape could have given it a timeless elegance, but it appeared shabby rather than refined and neglected instead of cherished.

“Well, I mean everything else here is beautiful and obviously of high quality. That looks like it came from a bric-a-brac store. No offense.”

“None taken. I didn’t pick it. It was already here, but regardless of its appearance, it’s actually priceless.”

“Really?”

The look of astonishment on Alex’s face made Simon smile despite the pain he knew was going to come. He took a sustaining breath, his gaze fixed on Alex’s smiling mouth. Alex might be unkempt, young, and a tad idealistic, but he must be worthy, and it wasn’t Simon’s right to judge. “Yes, really. It’s what it does that makes its worth immeasurable.”

“You mean showing me an image of you?”

WHEN SIMON PALED to the point where he looked like he was going to pass out, Alex reached for him.

Simon pulled back, shock and alarm widening his pale blue eyes.

“Me?”

“Well, yes. That was what I was trying to find out—why the mirror was showing me an image of you instead of my own reflection.”

“No. That’s not right. It can’t be.”

Alex took a quick look at the mirror. It still showed Simon as clear as day, so Alex knew he hadn’t made a mistake, and for some reason he had a feeling that was exactly the image he was supposed to see. Puzzled, Alex turned his attention to the distraught man next to him.

“Do you want me to get you a drink of water or something? You don’t look too good.”

“It’s not fair,” Simon whispered. “After all these years being its keeper, how could it do that to me?” Falling into one of the chairs surrounding a beautiful mahogany table, Simon shook his head, his overly long dark brown hair flopping in front of his eyes. Alex instinctively went to push it back, but Simon flinched. “Don’t.”

Realizing Simon’s wasn’t just upset but angry, Alex put his hands up, palms facing outward to show he meant no harm. “Sorry.”

“Sorry?” Simon glared, fury putting color back into his cheeks, but also making his eyes appear cold as ice. “Sorry? Is that all you can say? Well, that’s not good enough. You can’t come waltzing in here and expect me to just… No. No way. That’s not happening.”

Not sure what Simon was going on about, Alex took a slight step back. Antagonizing what he’d hoped might be a prospective client wasn’t going to help his cause any, but the way Simon was looking at him, as if Alex had grown two heads, maybe the damage had already been done. “That water…”

“Get out.” Simon stood so quickly the chair he’d been sitting on nearly toppled backward. “Out. I don’t want you here.”

“But—”

“We’re not discussing this. I don’t care what the mirror showed you. That was supposed to be my right. I earned it. I get to see, not you.”

Though Simon continued to glare, it wasn’t difficult to see Simon was hurting. Alex knew what that was like, feeling one emotion but hiding behind another. Simon didn’t do it very well though. His emotions were as plainly visible to Alex as the image in the mirror. It was also plain to see Alex had caused that pain, even though he had no idea how.

He hesitated, not sure whether to leave as Simon asked or to try to find out what it was Simon thought Alex had done. He didn’t like the idea of walking away from someone he’d hurt, and Simon seemed to need a hug more than he needed desertion.

“We don’t have to discuss anything. We can do whatever you want, but I don’t want to leave you while you’re like this,” Alex said, keeping his voice soft so he wouldn’t aggravate Simon even more.

“Like what? Pissed, frustrated, disappointed? Take your pick. I’m everything right now, and what you want is not my concern. I’m done.” Simon shook his head and pursed his lips. “Seriously, I’m not doing this.”

Before Alex could ask Simon what it was he wasn’t doing, Simon strode off, muttering under his breath. He headed to the other side of the shop and exited through a doorway, slamming the door behind him.

Staring after him, Alex knew for certain he couldn’t leave now, not with Simon so stressed out. Alex didn’t know the man and therefore didn’t have any obligation to make sure he was all right, but that just wasn’t who Alex was. Since he was little, his mother had always told him he was overly caring. Alex liked to think of himself as just a nice guy, and that meant not walking away from someone who obviously needed his help.

Taking a quick look at the mirror, knowing that was the main trigger of Simon’s unhappiness, Alex frowned. He wished he hadn’t said anything about seeing Simon in it now, but how was he to know the kind of aggravation it would cause?

Following in the direction Simon had gone, Alex wondered if the door led to a back alley. Maybe Simon had just gone out for some fresh air. Still, it wasn’t sensible to leave the shop unattended. From experience Alex knew the kinds of people who took advantage of such a situation. Leave anything without it being nailed down, and he could guarantee it would end up being sold from the back of a truck somewhere.

The door was a simple internal door, so it didn’t lead outside. He paused at the threshold, then tentatively reached for the handle. It could be a storeroom, and Simon could be huddled up in the corner or something, and he could hate that Alex was going to intrude, but to Alex that was better than abandoning Simon to suffer in misery. Alex pushed open the door and stepped through into what looked like a small studio apartment.

A single bed and bedside table were squashed alongside the far wall, while what resembled a kitchenette was neatly placed to the left. On the right was another door, which Alex assumed led to the bathroom, and that was all. There were no shelves, no television, no rug, no table and chairs, nothing. So it wasn’t where Simon lived, but maybe he used it occasionally when working late?

Seeing no sign of Simon, Alex guessed he was in the bathroom. Alex waited a moment and then took the few steps to the other door. From there he could hear running water and something that suspiciously sounded like crying. His heart squeezed at the thought of Simon being so miserable, so even though Alex knew he was intruding, he did what he believed was right. He knocked.

The door jerked open, and a disheveled and slightly red-eyed Simon stood at the threshold, a look of absolute disbelief on his face.

“What are you doing in my home?”

Alex cringed at Simon’s tone, acknowledging that trespassing had definitely not been a good idea. Second on that thought was that Simon had called this little room his home. So he did live here?

“Sorry, but I was worried about you.”

“Why?”

“Well, you were upset and—”

“That’s not any of your concern, and I’d appreciate it if you’d leave. Like I asked you to.”

“Only if you tell me you’re okay.” Alex knew he was pushing it, but he had a feeling there was something he could or should do to help. From the moment he’d seen Simon in the mirror, Alex had felt an irresistible need to be close to him. It was like there was a magnetic force attached to Simon, and Alex was being pulled to him, drawn to him. Alex didn’t understand it, but understanding didn’t matter, not right now.

“I’m okay. Now please leave.”

“Nope, I don’t think so.” Because Simon wasn’t all right. Any idiot could see that.

“Alex, please. You being here is completely inappropriate.”

Alex wanted to smile as Simon said his name, but that would be inappropriate. Instead, he took a fortifying breath because, despite the fact Simon wanted him gone, Alex experienced a sharp sense of rightness about being here. He didn’t want to cause Simon any more distress, but leaving—even the thought of leaving—seemed as alien as deciding he no longer needed to breathe in order to keep on living. “I can’t walk away with you hating me, and though I’m not exactly sure what I’ve done wrong, you’re still upset and—”

“I’m not upset!” Simon ran a hand over his face, disheveling his hair in the process. He blew out an uneven breath, then closed his eyes for a moment as if trying to compose himself. However, when he opened them again, he didn’t seem any closer to being calm. “I don’t hate you. I don’t feel anything for you, and that’s not going to change, so you’re wasting your time. And what you’ve done wrong is invade my privacy and refuse to respect my wishes.”

“Which I’ve apologized for, but there’s something else, isn’t there? What did you mean when you said you weren’t doing this? What is this?”

“I also said I wasn’t discussing it.” Frustration pinched a line around Simon’s mouth, and Alex decided it was time to back off. A little.

“Are you going to leave your shop unattended like that? It’s not safe, you know.”

“Is that your expert opinion? Because if it is, you’re wrong. No one comes into this shop without a reason, certainly not anyone thinking of stealing.”

“Are you sure? I could easily have stolen something. I was here for about fifteen minutes before I approached you, and in that time I could have taken any number of things.”

“You came in here to steal?” Under normal circumstances, Simon’s surprise would have made Alex smile, but this was not a normal situation, and Alex had no intention of aggravating Simon further.

“Well, no. I don’t know exactly why I came in, but I’m trying to make a point. Your security isn’t tight enough, and—”

“I’m not interested in upgrading my security, but I appreciate your attempts at promoting yourself. Now if that’s all, I need to get back to work.” Simon inclined his head dismissively and went to walk past. As he did so, Alex instinctively grabbed Simon’s arm.

Simon flinched, holding completely still. “I don’t like being touched,” he whispered. “Please let me go.”

Worried he’d overstepped boundaries Alex quickly dropped his hand. “I wouldn’t hurt you. I’m not like that,” he replied, concerned he’d really given Simon a reason to hate him.

A pale blue gaze met Alex’s as Simon nodded again but this time in acknowledgment. “I know, because you wouldn’t be—” Simon’s eyes widened, and color rushed to his cheeks. “Never mind.” He opened his apartment door and held it, waiting for Alex to walk through.

Alex half expected Simon to slam the door behind him, but Simon followed, unceremoniously ushering Alex toward the front of the shop.

“I believe our association is over. Thank you for your interest in this establishment, but please don’t take it personally when I ask you not to return.”

Alex did take it personally. Not the rejection of extra security, because if Simon honestly didn’t want Alex’s offer, then Alex couldn’t push it on him, but Simon’s clipped pretentiousness was something Alex took to heart. He stopped just inside the glass-fronted entryway to the shop, disappointed and bewildered with the cold, indifferent manner Simon adopted. Did Simon not feel that connection between them? That magnetism? Alex could, like a tiny frisson beneath his skin. It tingled along his spine, tightened his balls, and made him wonder if there was something wrong with him.

A bell tinkled as Simon pulled the door open, but Alex stood his ground, trying to figure Simon out.

Alex was good at judging people or at least he thought he was, but he couldn’t see much beneath Simon’s prickly exterior. Alex had witnessed cynicism along with vulnerability within the layers he suspected made up Simon’s psyche, but Alex had also glimpsed a level of sincerity and warmth. However, unearthing that side was going to take some work, and Alex didn’t know if he had it in him to dig for it.

“Look after yourself,” he said as he finally made a move to walk out the door. He didn’t look back, nor did he pause as he heard the door close behind him, yet as he trudged up the alleyway that had brought him there, he had a feeling he hadn’t seen the last of Simon.

SIMON CLOSED THE door, and before he could stop himself, he sank to his knees, all composure gone as he watched his chance of happiness walk away. A small sob erupted from his throat as the pain of loss bit deep. He’d never get another chance now, and the sense of betrayal felt like a stab to the heart.

Not once in all the years he’d been the mirror’s keeper had he imagined he wouldn’t be the one to see his one true love, his soul’s other half. It was what Simon had yearned for with every cell of his being, a decade long obsession, but instead of being given his heart’s desire, he’d been relegated to someone else’s.

Curled up into a ball on a cold floor, Simon couldn’t believe how everything had gone so appallingly wrong. He’d undertaken everything asked of him, everything his job entailed, but he must have royally fucked up if Alex was his reward.

Alex was the absolute opposite of who Simon had always imagined his ideal partner to be. Simon had always wanted someone older than him, someone with experience, someone who knew how to treat a man. Alex was young, brash enough to be intrusive, and the way he was dressed… Simon groaned as disappointment shot through him like a double-bladed knife. It wasn’t as if he’d expected to meet someone with impeccable taste in clothes, but he most certainly hadn’t anticipated someone who didn’t give a shit. Unless Alex thought his ripped jeans and stained T-shirt were a fashion statement.

It took a moment for Simon to realize he was not just being a snob, but an ungrateful snob. He should have been rejoicing in the fact there was someone out there for him. Instead he was bemoaning the how and the who. Did it matter? Shouldn’t he just accept the mirror’s gift like all those other men before him? Simon winced as he remembered the way Alex had blithely walked into the apartment without regard to privacy or etiquette. Also the way Alex had grabbed Simon’s arm. Feeling the echo of that unwanted touch, Simon shuddered. No, Alex was not a gift. He was a bloody nightmare.

Cold eventually seeped into his consciousness, exacerbating his misery but at least forcing him to come to his senses. He blinked, noticing the darkness outside his windows. Having no idea how long he’d been lying there but guessing it had been several hours, Simon slowly pushed himself into a sitting position. His limbs groaned in protest, but it was the crushing pain behind his eyes that had Simon moaning.

He took a deep breath to clear his head a little and then wiped away the wetness on his cheeks. Moping wasn’t going to help him sort out this situation; he knew that. However, he had no idea what would. He could very well be released from duty as the mirror’s keeper because he had refused to tell Alex the reason behind the image, or he could be forced to stay here as punishment, forever showing other men their heart’s desire while knowing he’d never have his.

Right then neither of those possibilities were something Simon wanted to consider. He had nowhere to go, not from here. The shop had not only been his place of work, but also his home. It had provided food, clothes, and a roof over his head. It had also given him a purpose over the years, one he’d been happy to fulfill until he’d become jealous and impatient.

Castigating himself for being such a fool, Simon got up off the floor, then automatically locked the door before making his way to his apartment. He bypassed the mirror, ignoring the pull that had drawn him toward its darkened face every night since he’d been its keeper. He used to stand before it, his heart filled with hope, with expectancy, waiting for his chance to be shown a glimpse of his soul mate. That had now been stolen from him, and never again would he allow himself to be mocked by the mirror’s blind cruelty.

Chapter Two

When his glasses slipped down his nose for the umpteenth time, Simon cursed. He hung his head and took his glasses off, dropping them onto his desk before he succumbed to frustration and threw them across the floor. His concentration was shot and trying to make sense of the numbers in front of him was proving impossible.

He wasn’t going to get them to add up, and conceding that point, Simon pushed away from his desk and straightened his shoulders. Tension pulled at his muscles, but he was grateful to feel the ache because it was something tangible, something he could focus on, which marginally lessened the numbness filling his mind.

He glanced toward the door, shuddering slightly at the thought of someone walking in. He’d almost left it locked that morning, not having the energy or the forbearance to face anybody, but being the mirror’s keeper meant he had to be there for those who were lucky enough or worthy enough to be shown an image in the mirror; those obviously deemed more worthy than him. However, up until that point, Simon hadn’t felt undeserving. In fact, when the mirror had chosen him to take over from the previous keeper, Simon had believed it was because he was special. Over the years he’d served the mirror with integrity, and he’d never regretted it, until yesterday. Still, he’d made a promise, so he opened as normal, regardless that his insides felt they were being torn into tiny confetti-like pieces.

Deciding to try to work on the figures tomorrow, Simon shoved the paperwork into a drawer, releasing a sigh as he did so. There was about an hour before closing, and without anything else to do, he picked up a tin of polish and a soft cloth and strolled to the back of the shop.

He’d always found the manual labor of dusting and cleaning therapeutic. He also loved to see the beautiful antiques gleam as they would have done when first crafted by expert hands. It had taken some time to learn the value of each piece and to build the collection that now covered nearly every inch of floor space. Being the mirror’s keeper was his primary vocation, but he also had to run the store, keeping it profitable so he didn’t starve. He’d succeeded, far better than he would have believed that day he’d first walked through the front door, and that pride kept him from neglecting the finely constructed furniture, despite wondering how long it was still going to be his.

He’d never thought he’d be the custodian this long, if truth be told. He’d expected to be shown his soul mate after a year or two and then hand everything over to the next keeper. Love, that was the key. Find love, find freedom, but Simon doubted he’d find love now, and as a result he could end up being here until the day he died.

It was just as Simon had finished with a circa 1720s’ Queen Anne dressing table that he heard the small bell above the front door tinkle, announcing the arrival of a customer. Simon groaned, wishing he’d had the balls to leave the closed sign facing outward. Why now? Why couldn’t he have gone one day without having to pretend to be polite to someone? Sighing, he replaced the lid on the tin of polish, gently putting it down before making his way to the front of the shop.

Halfway there he staggered to a halt, grasping the edge of a console as he recognized the person who’d walked in. Disbelief coiled in Simon’s chest while his heart started frantically trying to burst through his rib cage.

Thrown, Simon schooled his features. “Alex? What are you doing here?”

Alex’s bright smile slowly died as he stopped a few feet away. “Nice to see you too.”

“I’m serious. Why did you come back?” Simon didn’t mean to sound as shocked as he felt, but seeing Alex after believing he’d never do so again caused disturbing butterflies in his stomach.

“To find out if you were all right. I was worried about you.” Alex leaned against a large walnut table, casualness oozing from every line of his body. Or it seemed that way until Simon saw the narrowness of Alex’s eyes and the frown between his brows.

“You don’t need to be worried. I’m fine.” Simon continued toward the front of the shop, overly conscious of Alex following him. Had the mirror drawn Alex here again? Was it trying to force them together? That wasn’t going to work, despite Alex no longer looking like some grunge band member. Except for the hair. It was still dyed every color of the rainbow.

Without thinking about it, Simon switched over the sign on the door and then engaged the lock. He turned, leaning against the cool glass, concern pinching his mouth even though he tried not to show it. What if Alex wouldn’t leave him alone? But what if Alex did, what then?

That piercing sense of loss Simon had experienced yesterday came back in full force. He gasped, shaken. How could he fear losing Alex when they weren’t right for each other? The mirror had got it wrong. It had to have. Yet that pain stayed in the middle of Simon’s chest, forcing him to consider why it was there.

“You don’t look it. In fact you look worse than you did yesterday.” Alex moved to within a couple of feet. Way too close for Simon’s comfort, but he wasn’t going to say anything in case Alex figured Simon found him disturbing. A stark blue gaze settled on Simon’s, scrutinizing, assessing. Simon tried to stare back, but with the couple of inches in height difference, he decided Alex’s mouth was easier to look at.

Two seconds later Simon changed his mind. Alex’s luscious lips were more disturbing than his proximity. “I’m fine,” Simon said again, hoping his voice didn’t betray the sudden and ridiculous nervousness running riot down his spine.

“Have you eaten?” Alex’s low question came as a surprise, both for its content and the odd, sexy way he said it.

Simon shook his head, though he wasn’t answering the question, more refuting the way Alex seemed able to disorient him.

“Then how about I take you out to dinner?”

Dinner? For one heartbeat, Simon imagined a darkly lit restaurant, soft music, and fine food—a dream he’d held for years. But in that dream, Simon would be gazing into his soul mate’s eyes while knowing that he was needed, that he was someone’s strength, someone’s hope. Not the other way around.

“No.”

Alex cocked an eyebrow, his dismay genuine. “Too soon?”

“No. I mean, I don’t go out.” The second Simon uttered those words he knew he’d made a mistake. Alex didn’t need to know how Simon lived, nor did Alex need a reason to poke at Simon’s resolve.

“You don’t go out? Why not?”

Because he wasn’t allowed. However, Simon couldn’t very well explain that to Alex, not without explaining the mirror and the role as its keeper.

“I’m agoraphobic,” Simon said, wincing at the lie but unable to think of anything else that might sound plausible. He fidgeted, just wanting Alex to go, to forget about him, to find someone else to love. Wouldn’t that be better for both of them, even if it hurt? Simon absently rubbed at the biting ache in his chest but then straightened his shoulders, determined not to give in to the faithless mirror that had caused it.

“Really?”

Simon merely nodded, unwilling to voice the lie again in case Alex figured it for what it was.

“Then what about takeout? Or I could rustle up something in your kitchen while you go and have a shower.”

Wanting to scream, literally, Simon bit his lip instead. What was it going to take to get rid of Alex? Was the man being deliberately obtuse or was he just that dumb? Or was the mirror’s magic that powerful? Frustrated, Simon sucked in a steadying breath, praying for strength or guidance, only to see Alex’s eyes darken. Simon watched, fascinated, caught up in those amazingly gorgeous blue eyes. He hesitated, suddenly confused. “You’re not cooking for me,” he stated.

“Then I’ll order in. What do you like? Chinese, Italian, Mexican, Thai?” Alex smiled as if he’d just won a battle. It wasn’t exactly smug, more like delighted, and Simon realized his second mistake. Alex wasn’t dumb, and he wasn’t going to be put off easily.

Before Simon could say anything, however, Alex pulled out his mobile phone and then started tapping on the screen. Simon ignored the impulse to watch. He’d never owned one of the new smart phones as he didn’t have anyone to call outside the antique shop’s circle of buyers and sellers, and for that he used the landline.

“Well? What would you like?” Alex held his phone up. Simon glanced at it. The screen showed what looked like a list of different restaurants. Assuming Alex intended to pick from one, Simon shook his head.

“I’m not hungry.”

“Wow. You don’t compromise much, do you?”

Compromise? From the moment he’d been old enough to understand what the damn word meant, all Simon had done was compromise. How could he be expected to keep offering more? He’d forfeited over ten years of his life as the mirror’s keeper, and for what? To continue putting his own wants aside and settle for the wants of others? To lose his dream in order to give someone theirs?

“No.”

“Couldn’t you try? Look, if you let me do this, I’ll stop worrying.”

Simon was just about to say no again when he considered Alex’s proposal. If he let Alex buy dinner this once, then Alex would no longer bother him. “Chinese,” Simon said, annoyed that he was giving in when he’d been determined not to. He just hoped he wasn’t going to regret it.

“Chinese it is.” A slight twist of Alex’s lips snagged Simon’s attention. Alex had full, well-shaped lips, turned up at the edges so even when he wasn’t smiling it seemed like he was. Simon didn’t mean to stare, but it was difficult not to. Those lips looked soft, moist, and seriously kissable.

Alex tapped the screen of his phone once more and then grinned. Simon felt his stomach spiral at the sight and immediately regretted agreeing to have Alex buy dinner. How was it possible to keep Alex at bay if the man kept smiling like that? Simon stood beside his desk, ignoring the impulse to tell Alex he’d changed his mind. Now what was he supposed to do? Did they wait here until the food was delivered? Did he invite Alex into his living quarters? Simon frowned. He didn’t want Alex in his home.

“Why don’t you go and have a shower. I’ll wait here for the food.” Alex propped his hip against Simon’s desk. The small action instantly grated on Simon’s nerves. It wasn’t that Alex was showing no respect for the furniture, but that once again he simply didn’t seem to have any real concerns. He looked totally at ease, as if there was absolutely nothing he couldn’t achieve, nothing he couldn’t conquer. Did that include Simon?

“Get off the desk,” Simon snapped. “That’s probably worth more than you earn in a year.” Knowing he was being rude didn’t stop him from storming off. If he stood here much longer, he was going to totally lose it, and then they’d be back to square one where Alex would insist on pestering him again.

Simon weaved his way through to his apartment, his anger barely tempered. This wasn’t Alex’s fault, and Simon knew he shouldn’t be taking his frustration out on the younger man, but since Alex had walked into the shop yesterday, Simon had felt as if he’d been cut loose from everything he’d ever known.

He opened the door to the place he’d called home for the past ten years. This had been his haven, his refuge since becoming the mirror’s keeper. He looked around the small room. Really looked. All it contained was the kitchenette, his bed and… There was nothing else of his in here. He owned nothing, and that was what his life had now become. One big fat nothing.

While pulling off his tie, Simon walked over to the tiny bathroom and stepped inside. He started the shower and then stripped, needing to distract himself from the pressure closing in around him. Once Alex left, Simon knew he was going to be alone, permanently, but wasn’t that better than not having his perfect man? The man he could love, cherish, and be happy with?

Unwilling to contemplate his future right then, Simon ignored the uncertainties running riot in his head. He stepped beneath the warm spray, intent on ridding himself of the emotional turbulence and the tension he couldn’t seem to purge. The water beat on his head and shoulders, but it did little to ease the sharp pain behind his eyes or the lingering ache in his muscles. He grabbed the shampoo and poured a generous amount into his hand before rubbing the thick liquid through the strands of his hair.

It was an effort to achieve a lather, to put any energy into soaping up and actually getting clean, but after a few minutes, Simon rinsed and turned off the water. Then he stood there, his forehead resting against the tiled wall, wondering if he had the strength to walk out and face Alex.

“Simon?” Alex sounded close enough to be in the bedroom.

Simon sighed, then gave himself a couple of seconds before he slid back the curtain and stepped out of the shower. His suit pants were still hung over the chair where he’d left them, but his shirt had fallen to the floor and was now sitting in a wet puddle.

Great, just great.

He eyed the door, wondering what would happen if he went out there shirtless. Would Alex think Simon was coming on to him? Simon huffed out a small laugh, seeing the funny side of that thought. More than likely, Alex would take one look and demand Simon cover up. Looking down at his torso, Simon realized he should have put a little more effort into building some muscle. He wasn’t flabby, but with his slim form and slight frame, he was certainly not buff. Irritated that he’d let what Alex might think affect him, Simon toweled himself dry, then pulled on his pants, sans underwear. He ran his fingers through his damp hair before opening the door onto what he hoped would be the last time he saw Alex.

The young man was sitting on the bed, which wasn’t much of a surprise since there wasn’t anywhere else to sit. Simon ignored the look Alex gave him and rummaged in the small bedside dresser. The dresser held his clothes and the few small possessions Simon owned from his life before the mirror. They evoked memories he sometimes tried to forget, others he wished he knew more of.

He drew out a white T-shirt and self-consciously tugged it over his head. He could feel Alex’s gaze on him, burning into his back, and though Simon didn’t want to react, he couldn’t help but clench his jaw. It would be stupid to show Alex how disturbing it was having him here. Alex would probably say something about it, and Simon didn’t need Alex to do, say, or feel anything.

“I wasn’t expecting that,” Alex said, his voice soft.

Simon turned while pulling his T-shirt partway over his chest. Alex was staring, and Simon’s skin prickled at the heat he thought he saw in Alex’s eyes.

“Wasn’t expecting what?” he asked before remembering it was probably best he didn’t.

“Your abs. I mean, wow.”

“My abs?” Simon frowned as he glanced back down at his flat stomach. There was some definition, but he certainly wouldn’t have said it was noteworthy. He automatically ran a hand over the tight muscles and then realized what he was doing. Embarrassed, he quickly dragged his T-shirt the rest of the way down. “I’m assuming the food is here,” he said, distracting himself from thinking about what Alex’s comment meant.

At Alex’s nod, Simon opened a cupboard and pulled out the two plates that had come with the apartment. Plain white, they matched the two bowls and two mugs that had also been here when Simon moved in. He hadn’t any need for anything else, but as he held the plates, he became aware of how lacking his home really was. There was nowhere to eat. Not wanting to sit next to Alex on the bed, Simon didn’t particularly want to sit on the floor either. He considered the antique dining tables and chairs in the shop, but wasn’t sure that was a good idea. Alex might spill something and—

“I’m not going to bite, you know. But if you feel more comfortable, I can scoot right over to the edge.” Alex indicated the end of the bed, his smile both easy and knowing.

Feeling like he’d already made a fool of himself, Simon didn’t want to appear more of an idiot. He perched as far away from Alex as possible without it seeming as if he was doing just that. Alex untied the bag holding the cartons of food and then flipped open the tabs holding the cartons closed.

“I got a mixture because I wasn’t sure what you liked. There’s chicken curry, sweet and sour pork, Mongolian lamb, satay beef, dim sims, fried rice, and noodles.”

Appreciating Alex’s choice, Simon wanted to thank him, but would that constitute encouragement? Caught between politeness and a need to keep his distance, Simon handed Alex a plate and then, using the provided chopsticks, helped himself to some rice, chicken, and one of the dim sims. He loved the crunchy, deep-fried dumplings stuffed with pork and vegetables. They were his favorite. He dipped the morsel into the plum sauce they came with and then took a bite, unconsciously moaning in approval.

“Good,” he mumbled, glancing up at Alex. Alex was staring again, his mouth slightly open. Simon dropped his gaze, awkwardness suddenly eating at his appetite. He fidgeted, playing with the food on his plate.

“I like them too,” Alex replied. “If I’d known how much you did, I would have ordered more.”

“No, this is fine. Thank you.” Risking another glance, Simon observed Alex as he copied Simon’s movements, dipping the dim sim into the sauce before taking a bite. A drop of sauce caught on the edge of Alex’s mouth, and as Simon watched, Alex stuck out the tip of his tongue and licked the little droplet away.

For the first time in years, Simon found himself completely mesmerized. It had been so long since he’d sat opposite someone while they ate that he’d almost forgotten the simple pleasure of such an act. Alex seemed to enjoy his food. He didn’t rush, but he didn’t delay in trying the different dishes and their flavors.

“Eat up; it’s going to get cold,” Alex said after he’d swallowed a helping of noodles. At least he didn’t talk with his mouth full.

Simon forced himself to pick up a piece of chicken and pop it in his mouth, but he was seriously self-conscious of Alex watching him. Alex smiled while nodding in satisfaction. He leaned back against the wall, seemingly at ease in a situation Simon found anything but.

“Have you worked here for long?” Alex asked.

Simon quickly chewed before answering. “Just over ten years.”

Alex raised an eyebrow, his look of surprise almost comical. “How old were you when you started?”

Simon didn’t want to answer. However, he figured if he didn’t say something, Alex would more than likely keep pestering him and at least this was a safe enough topic. “I was eighteen. Nearly nineteen.”

“That’s really young.”

Yeah, it was, but the alternative of not becoming the mirror’s keeper was something Simon didn’t want to think about. “It was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse. Anyway, I like working here.” Or at least he did.

“So antiques are your thing?”

Shifting on the bed, uneasy, wary, Simon shook his head. “Not really. I mean, I’ve grown to appreciate them, but I wouldn’t have chosen selling antiques as a career.” At his confession, Simon frowned. He’d never said that to anyone. Actually, considering no one had ever asked him, it wasn’t all that strange, but having now admitted it, he realized how much it was true.

“Then what would you have chosen as your career?” Alex asked.

“I…” Not sure how to answer, Simon hesitated. As a child he’d had one goal: he’d wanted to be a policeman. That purpose had disintegrated when his stepfather found out Simon was gay and kicked him out on the streets. At sixteen, homeless, penniless, and with no friends or family to turn to, Simon had been forced to fend for himself. He’d found out the hard way that in order to live he had to put aside some morals. He’d never done drugs, and he’d managed to stay clear of prostitution, but he’d become adept at stealing. Mainly shoplifting, but occasionally pickpocketing. He’d suffered extensive guilt, especially considering he was breaking the law he’d once wanted to uphold, but it was either that or starve to death, and at the time he hadn’t been ready to give up on life.

“I’ve never thought about it,” he answered finally. There was no point now because he didn’t know if the mirror was going to release him or not. If it did, he could decide then. If it didn’t, then it didn’t matter.

Alex’s indrawn eyebrows indicated he didn’t quite believe Simon’s statement, but Alex refrained from voicing his thoughts, and because of that, Simon’s estimation of him went up a notch.

“I always wanted to become a public prosecutor.” Alex grimaced and shook his head. “Worst mistake of my life.”

“Why? It would be an admirable career choice, and it would give you something to strive for.” Knowing it wasn’t a good idea to appear encouraging, Simon nevertheless added a brief smile. It couldn’t hurt if Alex tried to better himself.

“I thought so, but once I graduated, I couldn’t stand the politics involved, but thank you for thinking I could be one.” Alex grinned as if he knew Simon’s thoughts.

“You graduated? You mean you are a lawyer?” That couldn’t be right. Alex didn’t look anything like a lawyer. He wasn’t old enough for a start.

“Technically, yes, but I don’t practice. That had a lot to do with the company that hired me. I won’t say they were corrupt, but there seemed to be more arbitrating going on behind closed doors than there was in the courtroom. Not my style. I’m upfront and honest, and I expect the people around me to be the same.”

Simon’s stomach dropped. Had Alex meant that for him? Could Alex know about the mirror’s magic? For a second Simon almost panicked, but then logic prevailed. If Alex had known, he definitely would have said something. Still, Simon felt uneasy once again. He’d underestimated Alex, and felt bad and a fool for doing so.

Disconcerted, Simon pushed off the bed and started gathering the empty and half-empty cartons of food. He put everything back into the plastic carrier bag it had all come in and held it out, but Alex shook his head.

“You keep it. You can have it for lunch or dinner tomorrow.”

“I don’t want it.” Simon had already taken more from Alex than was prudent. It didn’t seem right to take any more.

“Simon, I’m not taking that home with me. Either eat it or throw it away. I don’t care.”

“But that’s a waste,” Simon protested.

“It’s not if you eat it.”

Deciding arguing was only going to prolong Alex’s departure Simon quickly placed the bag on his bench top. “Fine.”

Alex’s bright blue gaze studied Simon, making him feel like he was being judged. He probably was, but there was no point in worrying over Alex’s opinions or assessments. Alex would be gone soon, and then whatever he thought of Simon wouldn’t matter.

So why did Simon feel like it should matter, and why did that pain in his chest flare brighter at the thought of Alex walking out of Simon’s life again?

Simon hesitated long enough to wonder if he wasn’t making a huge mistake. A ball of dread settled in his stomach. If Alex left and didn’t come back, that would be it. Simon would be alone forever. Did he want that? Did he hate the mirror so much that he was willing to throw away the possibility of falling in love?

“It’s getting late,” he said, in case Alex hadn’t caught on it was time to leave.

“And I’ve overstayed my welcome. I get it.”

There was no point in denying Alex’s statement, though as Simon witnessed Alex’s deflated shrug, a tiny sliver of shame jabbed Simon’s chest, right next to the part that already ached.

Simon opened the door to his apartment and then made his way to the front of the shop. He unlocked the glass-paneled door but then paused with his fingers wrapped around the handle.

“Thank you for dinner,” he said as Alex stopped beside him. As much as Simon wanted Alex gone, Simon couldn’t help his ingrained nature. He’d been incredibly rude to Alex since yesterday, and there was no reason to be so now.

“I’d like to say it was a pleasure, but you know, you’re not an easy person to get on with,” Alex replied.

Stung by Alex’s words, even though Simon knew he deserved them, Simon pulled open the door. The little bell tinkled above it, and as Alex glanced up, he frowned.

“What have I done to deserve your disdain?” Alex asked.

“You haven’t done anything,” Simon said, once again irritated that he was allowing Alex to get to him.

“Then why don’t you like me?”

Unable to answer, Simon shook his head. Alex sighed.

“Are you really agoraphobic? Or was that something you said in order to put me off?”

Almost groaning, wanting nothing more than to have this day over and done with, Simon honestly didn’t know how to respond. He could just say yes and that would be the end of it, but Simon’s guilt once again resurfaced. Alex was just trying to be nice. He had no idea of the mystic force behind his being here.

“Did I put you off?” Simon asked, knowing he wasn’t making this easy on himself. He should be pushing Alex out the door, but the energy and will to do so had suddenly taken a backseat. Alex did that whole assessing thing again, and then he smiled. Simon’s stomach fluttered, as if a troop of fairies had taken up residence there.

“No, even if that was your intention.” Alex’s smile widened, his gaze searching.

“Alex, I…” Simon didn’t like Alex standing so close, being so close. Simon’s heart started a mad race, unease and anxiety back in full force. He hadn’t let a man touch him in years, fear and pain still too fresh in his mind. Another reason why Simon didn’t understand the mirror’s choice in Alex. Alex was young. He’d want sex, would expect it, and Simon didn’t think he’d be ready for that intimacy anytime soon. However, when Alex slowly slid his arms around Simon’s waist, Simon didn’t protest. Instead he waited, watched, his muscles tensing, but strangely not with the primeval fight-or-flight instinct.

In actuality, Simon knew he had nothing to be afraid of. The mirror didn’t match men only to have one live in fear of the other, but did that extend to love? Was there any chance that Simon could fall in love with Alex? There wasn’t; there couldn’t be, but just as Simon was about to voice his objection, Alex closed the distance between them and brushed his lips along Simon’s.

A spark of breathtaking hunger lit Simon up from the inside out, catching him unawares. He shivered, involuntary parting his lips and unwittingly allowing Alex to slip his silky tongue inside. Simon moaned, unable to prevent the soft sound as Alex gently yet confidently explored Simon’s mouth. Sensations shot down Simon’s spine, hot and prickly. His pulse thudded more rapidly, his skin suddenly felt too tight, and blood pooled thick and heavy at his groin.

In an effort to stop from winding his fingers through Alex’s rainbow-colored hair, Simon tightened his grip around the handle he was still holding. He needed to pull away, to back off, but Alex tasted so good, so warm, so inviting. Then Alex withdrew, the sudden loss of his arms, his mouth, shattering the bubble of security and confidence Simon had unexpectedly found. He abruptly opened his eyes and was met by a narrowed blue gaze. Alex looked confused and slightly uncomfortable, and the smile he’d shown just before he’d kissed Simon was gone.

Alex glanced at the open doorway, at the darkness of the ally beyond, and just as Simon thought Alex was going to say something, he turned and walked out.

Chapter Three

Alex stopped halfway up the alley and leaned against the closest wall. His legs had lost some of their strength, and his chest seemed to have a thick band wrapped around it. Simon’s taste continued to linger on Alex’s lips and tongue, and the feel of Simon’s body still left tingles running across Alex’s skin.

He wanted to go back, wanted to taste Simon’s mouth again, wanted to wrap his arms around Simon, to hold him, caress him. The incessant need clawed at Alex, pulled at him until it felt as though every nerve in his body was clamoring for a man he wasn’t sure he even liked. Yet the memory of Simon’s small moan continued to tear at Alex’s insides, making him wonder if he was going slightly mad. He’d never wanted anyone the way he wanted Simon, and all Alex had shared was just one kiss.

Pushing away from the wall, Alex turned to look at the shop where it stood in darkness. He couldn’t go back there, not feeling like this, because he’d likely do or say something he’d regret. Simon didn’t need Alex to be pushy right now, and Alex wasn’t sure he had enough self-control not to be. Closing his eyes, Alex thought about it. Simon had some serious issues, and he didn’t seem to like Alex either, but there was something about Simon that Alex couldn’t ignore, couldn’t walk away from.

Confused, Alex shook his head. Right now he needed to put a little distance between them, just to get his head on straight, to figure things out. He continued toward the main road, his footsteps echoing off the cobblestone path while Simon’s moan still echoed in Alex’s mind.

It didn’t take long to get to his office, and as he let himself in, he saw his employees all sitting there waiting for him. Alex took a quick look at his watch, surprised to see he was late. He frowned, realizing he hadn’t taken any notice of the time when he was with Simon, which was the complete opposite of how Alex did things. Embarrassed, he glanced around the faces staring at him, knowing the people around the table expected some sort of apology. It would have been no less than he would have expected if someone had turned up late to a meeting.

“Sorry, guys,” he said. He didn’t give an excuse because he didn’t actually have one, and telling the men and women he worked with that he’d lost track of time over some guy wouldn’t particularly go down well. It wasn’t that they didn’t know he was gay, but as an employer he required a standard of professionalism, and that went both ways.

“So let’s get started.”

As the reports came in, Alex took notes on his tablet. Of the eight field agents, six stated they’d been instrumental in catching shoplifters, their prime objective. Alex was impressed, but Thursday nights were always busy. He focused on the two agents who had nothing to recount.

“What happened?” Alex asked.

Nigel, one of Alex’s more experienced agents, grinned. “We frightened them off. No one has even dared trying to rip off the client since we’ve been prowling.” Nigel high-fived Amanda, a petite redhead who also grinned.


Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-28 show above.)