"Why did you come?" Sebastian asked accusingly.
"He left me a letter." Gabriel placed his hand defensively over his jacket pocket. "He kept talking about the Carnival. He told me to come."
"He left me one too." Sebastian put a hand on his hip pocket. "I'll be in Plaza Mayor—"
"Catch me if you can," Gabriel finished. "Get here first and I'm yours. I wondered what he meant by that. Then I saw you at the airport. I should have guessed."
Sebastian snorted. "He's certainly got some brass, doesn't he?" He looked up and down the alley again.
"Yes, he certainly does." Gabriel adjusted his mask from slipping down on his sweaty skin.
"Maybe we should go this way," Sebastian said, pointing to the opposite end of the alley. "He might be down there."
"He's probably laughing at us," Gabriel said. "With that sexy little laugh of his."
As if on cue, the exact sound Gabriel described issued from above, and they both looked up.
Alejandro stood on the balcony above them, leaning on the railing, smiling sweetly. "Are you tired?" he asked, turning something over in his fingers.
"Or did you get lost?" The blue eye mask rested atop his head, his dark hair pushed up in wild clumps. His eyes sparkled, his face glowed.
Gabriel eyed the key in his hand, flashing in the light.
"Alej!" Sebastian said beseechingly. "You got us here. Are you going to keep playing with us?"
Alejandro looked thoughtful, a smile on his lips. He stood up. "Sixteen," he said.
"What?" Sebastian asked.
Alejandro flung the key into the air; it fell, twinkling in the light, and Alejandro disappeared before it hit the ground.
Gabriel and Sebastian scrambled wildly and collided as they both tried to catch the prize. The key bounced off Gabriel's fingertips and tinkled on the stones. They both dove forward. A mad scuffle ensued, the two of them pushing at each other, Sebastian's elbow digging painfully into Gabriel's ribs as he tried to force him down. Gabriel yelped and pounded his fist between Sebastian's shoulder blades. Sebastian shoved him and knocked him off balance, and scrambled away a second later with the key in hand.
"Fuck you!" Sebastian laughed triumphantly. He raced to the door of the building.
Gabriel shot after him in a surge of fury. Sebastian fled through the door and slammed it behind him. Gabriel yanked the handle but the door had locked. He ripped off his mask, the cold air chilling his hot face, and looked wildly up at the balcony.
"Goddamn it!" He flung the mask down.
It wasn't over, though. He wouldn't concede so easily.
After a furious minute of pacing and calculating, he reasoned the balcony hovered about eight feet off the ground. Alejandro Salvador held the position of Olympic-bound Spanish gymnast, beguiling the world with his coy charm and impeccable skill, but Gabriel had trained him, at least, in the skill department. The bars of the wrought iron railing were spaced far enough apart to grab. Gabriel looked around and spotted a metal trashcan with a lid. He sat atop the lid to test the can's strength, and the metal didn't give. He pushed the can over beneath the balcony.
Gabriel walked backward, pushing his sleeves up. The alley wasn’t very wide, but he could get enough speed if he took off quickly. His back pressed against the wall opposite the balcony, he took a deep breath. His muscles were plenty warmed up from chasing Alejandro.
The trashcan lid buckled when his feet hit it with so much force, which didn't give him quite the height he wanted, but his momentum propelled him. He caught the bars with both hands, glad they were smooth so he had a strong grip. He swung a leg up and wedged his heel between two of the bars, applied all his upper body strength, and used his foot to push. Once successfully up, he had only to vault over the railing. He hadn't lost a bit of grace since his own days on the bars.
"You're about to get a big surprise," he muttered as he crossed the balcony, muscles burning, heart thudding. He stopped and took a moment to compose himself, pushing his sleeves down and running a hand through his hair. Then, with shoulders squared, he yanked open the balcony door.
On the other side was a hotel room—airy and lavish, with high, rounded windows and a marble-tiled floor. A huge bed sat in the middle of the room, with a dark oak headboard and posts without a canopy. Lamps in the corners chased shadows up to a cavernous, molded ceiling. The room possessed a lovely, old-world charm, but a different Spanish charm interested Gabriel.
Alejandro stood near the bed . . . with Sebastian. Sebastian had removed his mask and it dangled from his hand; his colorful hair hung around his face. He looked horrified when he saw Gabriel. Alejandro just smiled, his dark eyes twinkling.
"How the hell did you get in here?" Sebastian asked.
"Talent." Gabriel stared him down. "You're just his promoter. I'm still a gymnast. I didn't need to take the stairs."
"Well, well." Alejandro folded his arms, his voice a soft lilt. "This is interesting. What shall I do now?"
Gabriel and Sebastian glared at each other, gazes locked fiercely, but after a long moment they both softened with a knowing, shared frustration. They'd come all the way to Madrid, chased Alejandro through the streets, fought over the key to his room, and sacrificed their pride to get to him first. Both were tired and worked up. Both had a right to the prize.
"You know," Sebastian said, "he has put us through a lot."
"Quite a lot," Gabriel replied.
"It wasn't very nice of him."
"No, it wasn't."
Alejandro looked between them, wariness in his eyes. Gabriel and Sebastian moved in.
"What . . . ?" Alejandro looked from one to the other and gasped softly when Gabriel pulled the mask off his head. He tossed it to the floor. Sebastian ran his fingers through Alejandro's sparkling hair. The glitter showered down his back and fell like gentle rain to the tile.
"This is what you wanted," Gabriel whispered in Alejandro's ear. Alejandro smelled like the Carnival, like the cool evening air.
Sebastian caressed a finger beneath Alejandro's chin and turned his face to him. Gabriel grasped the opportunity to kiss the silken skin of the Spaniard's neck.
"You wanted both of us," Sebastian said. "You can't decide, can you Alej? That's why you played this game."
"And what a lovely game it was," Gabriel murmured against his neck. He nibbled at the tendon there. "But we're in charge now."
Alejandro seemed overwhelmed but not resistant. Sebastian slid an arm around Alejandro's slender waist and Gabriel gripped the bottom of his shirt. He tugged the fabric up over his smooth, flat belly and caressed him. Gabriel felt his abdominal muscles pull in, quivering.
"Don't," Alejandro said weakly. He turned his face to Gabriel as Sebastian nuzzled the other side of his neck.
Gabriel slid his hand up, gripped the collar of Alejandro's shirt, and tugged the fabric aside. He slid his teeth over his bare shoulder. Alejandro gasped.
"Don't?" Gabriel asked. "Are you sure that's the word you want?"
"I don't think it is," Sebastian said. He traced Alejandro's trembling, glistening lips with his fingertips. Alejandro opened his mouth, eyes slipping closed, his dark lashes fluttering against his cheeks.
Gabriel whispered, "I think the word you want is . . . ."
"Si," Alejandro gasped. He titled his chin up as their mouths explored his neck, his shoulders, his collarbone.