Chapter Ten

This is important. For all of us. I want to keep you as far out of it as I can. For your safety, for your mother's.

"In that case I'd like one of those muffins because this poor sucker is starving to death." Noah chuckled and moved to get it for Maddie. "You know my sister's high school did that show and it was awful. I was young enough that I didn't fully understand why it wasn't like the movie I'd seen."

He placed the plate in front of her and grimaced. "I helped out at some high school shows: Murder." She pinched off a chunk of muffin and pushed the plate to be in front of them both so he took a little. "Though the theatre I worked at in Branson had some tours come through that were amazing. There was this one that was all these different kinds of juggling."

"Like guys with flaming swords and stuff," she said around another pinch of muffin.

"Some, but mostly really original, things you'd never even think of."

"Like eggs or lamps or moose heads?"

"No. Like people and these hourglass shaped things. There was this couple who had them on strings swinging and slinging them back and forth between them while they did some kind of ballet. It was beautiful."

"Sounds great."

"It really was."

"I tried to juggle once." He smiled at the image, at how easy it was again. "I broke a vase, a ceramic dog, and gave my little brother a concussion." They laughed over the sound of the door creaking. "So no more juggling for me."

"Oh, come on. Maybe you just need practice." He nudged her in the side and she giggled.

"No, I'd burn something down or kill myself. God, ick, no."

She was still laughing when Luke entered his eye line, "Hey," he enthused before processing the look on Luke's face.

"Hey, what should Maddie never do?"

"Juggling," she came back still being easy, friendly, the way the three of them had been years ago. "Never ever." But Noah was looking at Luke's face now and saw the tightness there he recognized and wondered if it was his family that had him so upset.

"We were just hanging out." Noah said testing the waters, watching Luke's face so he saw when it tightened again and turned to face him.

"I thought I'd walk home with you. If you wanted, after you closed up."

And the sharp edges in Luke's eyes seemed to drain all the fun from the room. All the joy he'd gleaned from just those minutes of hanging out with Maddie.

"Yeah," he said. "I just need to put up the chairs and lock up the cash drawer."

"Oh, I can help. I do this a lot in my manual labor job." She winked and grinned trying to infuse the rest of the night with the camaraderie from moments before.

"Oh, I can help Noah. We don't want to keep you."

"No trouble, really. The only thing you're keeping me from is listening to Henry whine over the ketchup somebody spilled on his insert-couture-men's-designer-here shirt. Really." Noah left her and Luke to turn up chairs while he took care of the business end of things and soon they were all standing on the other side of the door as he locked it.

"Night guys," Maddie called a minute later from the down the streets of Old Town.

Luke had his hands stuffed into the suit pants he was still wearing. A sure sign he'd been kept late at the office with Damian.

"Ready to go?" Noah asked and watched Luke nod as he headed off towards their apartment. Noah grabbed the back of his dress shirt and hauled him back against him. "Aren't you forgetting something?" When Luke just stewed Noah leaned his head against the back of Luke's. "She's having a hard time with the whole Casey-Ali thing. I guess it's hard for her to move on from her first love and I can sympathize." He felt Luke shift uncomfortably beside him. "I don't ever want to move on from mine. Even though he was a bit of a jerk to his friend Maddie tonight."

"I am a jerk." Luke said, hurt but confessing. Noah nodded against him, still holding him. He turned his lips into Luke's neck. Luke sighed then and moved away, pulled his hands from his pants, kissed Noah briefly and took his hand before starting to lazily walk home. "I'm sorry Maddie's upset."

"I don't think it's so much upset as it is frustrated that she isn't happier for Casey to have found someone who makes him happy."

"Must be hard."

"I think it would be easier if she wasn't still trying to be a good friend to him. If they hardly ever saw each other it wouldn't bother her so much."

"Why do you suppose she doesn't pull away a bit then? You know, only see him at the big stuff where they can't really not see each other."

"Maybe because she misses him."

"I'd miss you, Noah."

"I miss you, Luke."

Which stopped Luke in his tracks. "I'm right here," he said squeezing Noah's hand.

"I know. And that… That's good."

"It's the best," he said, the air moving against Noah's face before he brought their lips together.

"Noah," Luke grumbled. They'd only been to sleep a few hours before so his rustling around to get ready to work the morning news was not the way he wanted to be spending the here and now.

"Sorry, I'll be gone soon." The thought of which only made him groan deeper and reach around on the bed for a Noah appendage. "I meant to tell you last night but you distracted me," Noah smacked his ass and his eyes popped open.

"Huh, what?"

"Articulate, Snyder."

"Pre-dawn, Mayer."

Noah leaned down and kissed him. "I talked to Dusty yesterday. He came in for coffee. He's known and worked with Wendy Denby for a while, on and off. Says consulting." Noah sat on the bed to tie his shoes and Luke started to run a hand over his back, staring at the still moving lips on his lover's face. "He seemed to know a lot more about her, be friends even, but after a minute he told me that, if I had questions, to just ask her. She's staying at The Lakeview. And if you don't knock it off Luke I'm going to be so late and then fired and then a dependant housewife."

"I'd settle for sex slave," Luke said still running his hand over Noah's back until a quelling glare from Noah himself stopped him.

"Bye." Noah kissed him again and ran out before Luke had a chance to drag him bodily against him.

Leaving Luke awake, aroused, and alone to watch the sunrise—which isn't romantic without someone to watch it with.

Luke found himself more or less pacing in front of the door to the office conference room. While he wasn't comfortable with the pacing, with the anxiety of knowing that Giorgio and Vivian were in there battling something out with Damian, something that could possibly hold his life in the balance, he'd take it over being caught red-handed at the childhood indignity of having his ear pressed to the door.

He was an adult now. He'd left high school far behind and, while college hadn't exactly worked out, he had a professional job, he had an assistant—which he shared with Damian—he was old enough to vote, join the military, get married—not that the government would let him marry the person of his choice—buy porn, make porn, gamble, and before much longer he'd be able to buy his own alcohol. Not that he'd drink it. So such childish attempts at eavesdropping were behind him. He eyed the door and nibbled his thumbnail. Regrettably.

He groaned and dropped his hand and went back to his desk.

There wasn't a lot on it. Well, there was plenty on it—pictures of his family, friends, Noah, his laptop, office phone, in and out boxes—just no real work. Damian's desk however was piled with proposals and bids and all manner of interoffice paperwork. Luke took a stack of it—Damian wouldn't be out of his "meeting" with the new, significantly older if no less crazy, Grimaldi twins to do so anytime soon.

He started to page through a prospectus for a company Damian had been courting before the NuovoTwins had come to town. Damian was trying to convince the CEO to buy one of his yachts in the company name but, based on the company's details, the way their stock had taken to performing in the last quarter and the desperate spin job they had done in their prospectus, Luke felt like they were a bad idea. Sure, they might lay down the payments to start the ball rolling but if the company continued to circle the drain they'd never get the final payment. Re-spec-ing once they'd started for another client later was almost as costly as starting from scratch—one luxuriously rich tycoon rarely wanted the same things as another.

He gathered the rest of the information on Du-Rite Chem off Damian's desk, flipped through it cursorily, and stacked it all on one corner with a memo on top about his opinion on the situation and a suggestion that they file the info way for if, or when, Du-Rite picked back up and had a more solid financial future.

Damian walked in just as Luke was hauling up another pile of work from his desk to complete for him.

"Luciano, what are you doing?" His voice seemed suspicious, even annoyed.

"Just trying to get some Gimaldi Shipping work done while you're focusing on La Familia di Grimaldi work." Luke was a little annoyed himself as he pulled up to his desk again.

"Luke, I'm sorry. There's a lot on my desk that you won't know how to handle. Perhaps—"

"There is a lot I have left to learn Damian but there's a lot you do that I can get done while you are 'otherwise engaged.' That way what little time you can devote to the company can be spent on things that you have to do."

"I…. Thank you, Luciano. This is important. For all of us. I want to keep you as far out of it as I can. For your safety, for your mother's."

"Is she in danger?"

"No. I want it to stay that way." Damian sighed, rubbed his eyes, then looked from his desk to Luke's. "Just don't work too hard."

"Yeah," he said and watched Damian leave again, his shoulders tight, his gait tense.