Guilt twists Brian in knots, leaving him feeling empty and unsatisfied with life. He knew about Mark's secrets and even shared in them. Now he has the opportunity to make it up to Shane, but will he stop at being a friend or will he try to split Nick and Shane up before they have an opportunity to be lovers? Brian wants what he's never had before—true love. But who exactly will he find love with?
Shane dropped his bag in the entryway and sighed, trying not to think of the good times, or what he'd thought were good times that had happened in Mark's home. His personality was all over the place, from the art to the furniture he'd picked out when decorating. This apartment was supposed to be his home forever, but now he couldn’t live here, not after what happened. Nick Jenkins, his best friend and if things worked out, his lover, had offered to let him crash at his place, but he sure has hell didn't want go from living with Mark to living with Nick. He needed time to adjust.
None of the furniture was his so he wouldn't need a moving van, only boxes for the few items that belonged to him. Five years had gone by and he had nothing to show for it other than a few pieces of clothing. Last night as he thought about retrieving his things, he realized he had nothing larger than a packing box, not even one large piece of art was in his name.
Leaving New York and heading to the islands had seemed like a good idea at the time, of course after Mark left him at the altar he hadn't really been thinking. He should have stayed here and packed up his stuff, but if he'd stayed, he wouldn’t have found love.
Shane slid to the floor, depression filling him. Nick was the best guy he'd ever known. Why hadn't he seen it years ago? When he'd met Mark, he'd been too shallow to look beyond how impressive of a package Mark could deliver, thinking that money would make him happy. Of course, he'd been very poor and very young. Mark seemed nice and caring. When they first got together he acted like the most loving man in the world. Shane hadn't seen the cracks or the thin veneer that hid the truth. Before Mark, Shane hadn't had any serious boyfriends only puppy love.
His longtime relationship with Nick had stayed in the friendship zone, never once straying into intimacy. They'd been buddies since college, and hadn't wanted to ruin what they had, but now he wished they'd hooked up at least once. If they had, Shane would have known Mark really was a crappy lover and he could have dumped him before the man stole such a huge chunk of his time.
Mark had wooed him, and he fell hard. He'd convinced himself it hadn't been about the money. Looking back, he realized he'd lied to himself, settling because it was nice to have money. It felt good not having to worry about making rent or having enough for groceries. He'd been shallow, giving up so much because he thought he owed Mark once the man started paying for his things.
Mark was flashy and Nick was sweet but poor. Had he looked beyond the glitz and the glam of Mark's existence he would have see how solid Nick was. Now, five years were missing and Nick had been there for it all. How could his best friend still want to be with him? He'd been stupid, making the wrong choice and sacrificing real love for a guy who only wanted arm candy and was willing to pay for it. Of course at the time, Nick never showed any interest in a relationship. Had he said something, life may have turned out different for both of them.
After pouting over his circumstances for twenty minutes or so, he pulled himself up, intent on packing away his things and vacating Mark's place, never to return. He'd retrieved all of his clothes from the closet and was working on the dresser when the front door opened. His heart sank when he realized Mark was home, cutting off his hope of escaping without seeing the guy.
"Shane, I thought you'd be gone by now."
"Sorry, the plane was late."
"Can I help you?"
Shane stared at Mark over the bed, unsure if Mark were being real or if the punch line would include Mark trying to make a pass at him. "I think I can do this on my own."
"Please, let me help. It's the least I could do. I mean I know I screwed up."
"Let's not go there."
"Okay, but let me help."
Shane nodded once, his gaze straying to his clothes. "I need to get these into a box."
Mark took a step toward him though the bed still separated them. "Where will you be staying?"
"You can forward my things to the office."
"What if I want to see you?"
This was exactly what Shane didn't want. "I can't."
"Shane," Mark whispered and stepped around the end of the bed getting close in two strides.
Shane held up his hand and shook his head. "No."
"No?" Mark bellowed.
"Just leave me alone," Shane begged.
"Five years. Are you really willing to throw away five years of us being together for some punk ass jerk?"
"Excuse me? Nick isn't some punk ass jerk. He's my friend."
"Seriously, he's fucked how many guys while you've been with me? You deserve someone who actually cares about you. Not some guy who's likely to cheat on you."
Shane's face heated and he backed up, putting space between them. "That's it. You need to leave me alone."
"Hey, this is my place and I'll stay here if I want. It's not my fault you're dating some skanky asshole who is probably putting you at risk for HIV or worse."
Shane drew in a deep breath and exhaled. "Is that really how you see Nick? He's been my friend for years, long before I met you."
"You sure know how to pick 'em."
Shane gathered his clothes then dropped them. He strode into the kitchen and rooted through the pantry for plastic bags.
Mark followed after him, his breath hot on Shane's neck. "What are you doing?"
"I was going to go find some boxes but I don't want to wait. I'll just grab some garbage bags and leave."
The barb hurt but Shane ignored Mark, focusing on gathering his things. He pulled together his clothes, stuffing them in the bag, checking the drawers for anything left behind. Packing with Mark hovering over his shoulder was impossible. The asshole's true nature was showing and Shane had never felt so humiliated as Mark argued about who owned what. In the end, Shane left Mark's apartment, the place he'd called home for almost five years, with four trash bags stuffed with clothes, two suitcases filled with items he'd fought Mark over, and his laptop.
He shut the door to his car and the tears fell. Not only had Mark yelled at him, he'd rubbed Shane's face in the fact that he'd paid off the note on Shane's car. It would be a miracle if the man didn't report it as stolen. After drying his eyes, Shane dialed Amy, hoping she'd let him spend the night. She answered on the first ring.
"Shane, OMG, Mark just called me to see if you were staying with me. He threatened to call my landlord and tell them about the cat. So who are you going to stay with?"
The sob was automatic. Mark would go through his list of friends. Anyone he stayed with would be threatened or worse, harmed by Mark.
"Shane, are you still there?"
"Amy, I'm sorry. I had no idea he'd be this way. I can't put you at risk."
"Who are you going to stay with?" Amy pressed and Shane had the sinking suspicion Mark was bribing her to get the information.
"No one. I'm going to find a hotel room on the cheap and stay there."
"There is nothing inexpensive in the city."
"I'll sleep in my car. I don't have much choice, do I?"
He hung up, regretting being so mean to Amy but if she hadn't stood up to Mark, no one would. Mark was rich and powerful and Shane was a nobody. He thought about calling Nick, but he wasn't going to put that on the guy. They'd agreed they wouldn’t move in together, not yet. He wanted time to get their relationship off the ground and not sabotage it by living together too quickly.