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*A ROMANTIC TIMES TOP PICK*

Romantic Times
Old maps, new adventures, getting lost, getting found, getting drunk, and being mistaken for an international criminal. In other words, normal summer vacation when you’re in your twenties.
Fresh out of college and recently dumped by his long-time girlfriend, shy and bookish Jefferson Blythe is touring Europe using an inherited vintage copy of Esquire Magazine‘s Europe in Style.

George’s smile was noncommittal. He eyed me thoughtfully. He had turned into a very good listener. Maybe too good a listener, because it suddenly occurred to me that every time I had tried to turn the subject to George, we had somehow ended up talking about me again.

I drew back and said, “Anyway, it’s bad enough that Amy and I aren’t getting married now.”

That time I succeeded in startling him. George said, “You and Amy were getting married?”

“Of course!”

I don’t know why I tried to make it sound so absolute. If it had been a matter of of course! we’d still be getting married. I think I spooked myself by opening the subject up. The last thing I wanted to think about was Amy.

“Amy Sedgwick from three houses down?”

“What other Amy would I be marrying?”

George seemed confounded. “But you’re…”

“I’m what?”

“Young. Very young,” George said, after a moment. And as if I still missed the point, “You’re both only twenty-two.”

Have your bags packed, because this light-hearted M/M romance will awaken your inner wanderlust and take you on an adventure featuring an international chase, mistaken identity, tons of humor, heartbreak and a couple steamy rolls in the sheets.

“What does that have to do with anything? Lots of people get married at twenty-two. My dad was twenty-five when he married my mom.”

“That’s not twenty-two.”

“So what? You’re not all that much older yourself, you know.”

What were we really talking about? I wasn’t sure. I didn’t think it was the difference in our ages. I wasn’t even sure it had to do with me marrying or not marrying Amy.

I’m twenty-five,” George said.

“You could get married if you wanted to.”

He gave me a funny look. I chickened out and excused myself to use the restroom. When I returned, George was paying the check.

Which I should probably be the one doing, but I’d seen some of the prices on the menu. Plus I wasn’t sure of the protocol. George had invited me, so was it rude to grab the check? Would he be offended? Once I would have just asked, but as comfortable and relaxed as the evening had been, I still felt like there was a distance between me and George. The thought made me melancholy. Or maybe that was the wine again.

The English twilight had given way to night when we stepped outside. The stars glimmered in the soft and misty sky. The scent of street and exhaust mingled with the moneyed smells drifting from expensive hotels and trendy cafés and bars.

“Did you want to stop for a drink?” George asked as we fell into step.

“Yeah. I’d like to.”

“I know a pub I think you’d like.” His cell phone rang. He pulled it out, checked it, muttered something. “Sorry. I’ve got to take this. I’ll catch up with you.”

“Sure. Okay.” I didn’t have friends who held conversations so private they minded me listening in.

George stopped beside a tall row of iron railings, and I continued walking. His voice faded behind me.

After a minute or two, I heard footsteps. I looked over my shoulder, thinking it was George.

Wrong.

“Hey, Joe,” a girl called. A small, skinny girl with hair as big and wild as any manga character.

The girl from the airport.

And this time she’d brought company.

I barely noticed him though. My attention was all on her. I stopped walking. “Are you following me?”

I didn’t see how she could be, but here she was, and that seemed like a pretty big coincidence.

She’d even had time to change into some kind of black T-shirt dress, so it wasn’t like she’d spent the day trailing me from Aunt Pat and Uncle Mike’s.

It was hard to tell in the wan light, but I thought her look was almost pitying. “Did you really think you were going to walk out on me?”

“Look, I didn’t—I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what it is you want.”

“I know who you are, and it isn’t Joe Berlinger.”

Oh. That.

I said, “I didn’t actually mean that I was Joe Berlinger…” I stopped, because even I could hear how it sounded.

“Right. We’re done faffing about. Let’s go.” She nodded to her companion. It was a Sic him, Bruno sort of nod, and, having finally got a good look at him, I shifted into reverse even before he started advancing on me.

It wasn’t so much that he was big, although he was big. It was the way he wore it. Big shoulders, big chest, big head. I kept backing up, and he kept on coming. You wouldn’t think there would be time for noticing details, but that’s the kind of brain I have. Visual. I see things in picture frames. Or maybe flip books. This guy had perfectly coiffed shoulder-length black hair and a long morose face. He wore the sort of expensive suit you mostly see in magazines, with the kind of tailoring that emphasizes every bulge of muscle. Or every bulge of whatever. Was there such a thing as fully dressed indecent exposure?

“Wait.” I held up my hands. “You’re making a mistake. She’s making a mistake.”

He lunged forward and grabbed my wrist, yanking me off balance so that I stumbled forward.

I sputtered, “Are you crazy? I’m not going with you. What—”

“Don’t kill him, Ray,” the girl said.

We did a kind of do-si-do as Ray twirled me around, wrenched one arm behind my back, and slammed me into a national monument.

Well, maybe not. Maybe it was just a brick wall. But it hurt monumentally. You’d have to have been slammed face-first into a wall to understand. My forehead and cheek hit a rough stone surface at about the same time, with a force that stunned me. I was wondering dazedly if my shoulder was dislocated. I was pretty sure I’d broken my cheekbone. I guess I should have been fighting back, but pain has a way of freezing you up. It’s hard to think past it. Beyond wanting, needing it to stop. Beyond complete and utter disbelief.

This can’t be happening…

Someone made inquiring noises from the distance. Not me, though I still had plenty of questions. My crazy-lady kidnapper said cheerfully, “Jetlag. We’re taking him home now.”

Ray swept me into a hug that was more like an affectionate chokehold and proceeded to tow me from the support of the wall. Belatedly, I began to struggle. Not very effectively, and Ray bounced me off the wall again.

From the hazy distance a familiar voice—in a hard, unfamiliar tone—called, “Hey.”

Ray said, “I wouldn’t, mate. Weally, I wouldn’t.”

There wasn’t a reply. I wiped the blood out of my eyes in time to see George, like a juggernaut, coming straight for us. He’d removed his glasses, and he looked so calm it was eerie. He didn’t speak, he didn’t hesitate, his gaze never veered from Ray.

“Ray,” the girl squealed. “Don’t bloody stand there!”

But it was already too late. Ray released me, putting his fists up, but George seemed to reach right through his guard and punch him in the throat. Ray made a strangling sound and doubled over, clutching his neck.

“You can’t do that,” screamed the girl. “Ray, do something!”

Ray continued coughing and choking and grabbing his throat. The girl turned to George, and I could see she was weighing her options.

“Weally?” George said.

He hooked a hand under my arm and we exited stage right.