It had had such a wonderful start. Illya hadn't argued too much, although Napoleon wasn't sure he was coming until the very last moment. Then Illya had thrown stuff into a suitcase, announced he was ready and headed for the car. He wasn't resentful, or moody, but actually talkative throughout the trip. If only she hadn't said that.
The weather had been odd all week, one day bitterly cold, the next foggy, the one after that a mixture of snow and rain. Napoleon was afraid everything would have to be called off because of bad roads. Illya insisted he could drive in anything, but Napoleon wasn't sure his nerves could take his partner's driving at certain times. The day dawned, dry and clear, the roads about as good as you could get in the winter. If only she hadn't said that.
Placerville was one of the many towns that they drove through and never stopped in, except this time they had. Napoleon had seen the numerous antique shops, the small eateries and local historical spots before and had put it on his list to visit. Now they were here and able to take advantage of everything. If only she hadn't said that.
He'd found the perfect bed and breakfast place. It was in the heart of the old town, close to the shops and the restaurants, full of quaint charm. He'd booked their best room and felt quite content with himself. If only she hadn't said that.
Napoleon looked at nothing, in spite of the fact that they were in one of the largest antique stores he'd ever encountered. He'd been looking for a salt spoon to surprise Illya with. They were nearly impossible to find and this store had eight of them to choose from, from simple to ornate. The owner had laid them out on a bit of crushed black velvet for Napoleon to study and yet he saw nothing. His mind kept going back to the scene at the B&B again and again. The shame and anger he felt, the annoyance as Illya herded him out the door and into the suddenly too bright sunshine. Illya's platitudes had irked him and he'd roughly pulled away from the man and stormed into the first shop he came to. And here he stood.
"Napoleon?" Illya's voice shook him from his stupor.
"What?" he snapped and immediately wanted to slap himself. It wasn't Illya's fault. There was no reason to take it out on him.
"There's a restaurant across the street. I think we should retire there for a few minutes and talk."
"There's nothing to talk about." If only she hadn't said that.
"I think that there is. Come on."
Begrudgingly, he slid the piece of fabric back towards the owner and murmured something about coming back later to make his final decision and followed Illya out of the shop.
It amazed Napoleon that cars actually stopped here and let you cross, providing you did it in a crosswalk. In New York, the drivers would have run you down and shouted at you for delaying their progress as they did it. Life in a small town did have its advantages. Of course, in Jackson, the town wasn't even big enough for crosswalks...
They walked inside and a shout from the bar immediately refocused his attention; he was even startled enough to have started to reach for his gun. It had seemingly been a hundred years since he'd been an agent.
"Chef, is that you?"
"What are you doing here?" Illya embraced the man as they pounded each other on the back. "I thought you quit and went back to the City." Napoleon knew that was Foothills speak for San Francisco.
"I did, but the lure of the mountains was too much, so here I am... again."
"Napoleon, this is Reynolds Dulac. He was in our class back at the Academy. No one does seafood the way he does. Rey, this is my partner, Napoleon."
Napoleon frowned, not recognizing the man, then he realized Illya meant his and Matt's class at the cooking academy. He offered his hand.
"Napoleon? The Napoleon of Vinea?"
That startled Napoleon a bit. He'd come to expect locals to recognize Illya, but this was a first. He accepted the hand and shook it firmly. "Yes, one and the same."
"We were in your establishment about a month ago. Your staff is incredible and your selection is impressive."
"Thank you," Napoleon said with a genuine smile as they released hands. That was always nice to hear.
"Not a problem, although my bank account took quite the hit by the time the misses was through." Rey glanced over at the bar where a young woman was polishing glasses. Then, slyly he added softly to Napoleon. "And you caught the big one, in a manner of speaking. Lucky man."
"Yes, I am," Illya answered before Napoleon could get his mouth open, beaming at Rey. "Do you have something towards the back? We need to have a private discussion."
"Sure, follow me." He led them deep into the narrow restaurant to the very last table. Not only was it well away from foot traffic, it afforded a view of the open kitchen.
Illya waited for the menus and water to be delivered before he leaned forward. "Let it go, Napoleon, or it will make you crazy."
"Did you know?"
"Why do you think I've been so involved with your choices for accommodations up here?"
"I thought you were interested."
"I was sparing you. Most of the places up here are all right, but there are a few."
"Like the one today."
"That one surprised me. Usually they are a little less blunt in their delivery."
Rey carried a platter to their table, a dozen oysters. "Compliments of the house."
Illya chuckled and reached for the closest oyster. He dressed it with some hot sauce and tipped it into his mouth. "Mmm, those aren't West Coast oysters," he said after swallowing. Napoleon followed suit.
"New Orleans, while they last."
"Tell me about Hawthorne House."
"Not much to say except stay away from it." Rey glanced around to see if anyone was listening. "There's an active movement among the long timers here to get rid of her. We don't need that sort of crap here." He stopped and then shook his head slowly. "You didn't?"
"We did," Napoleon admitted glumly. "It was an experience."
"I'm amazed she didn't set the dogs on you."
"Please, not dogs." Illya helped himself to another oyster. "But it wasn't pretty."
"Let me make it up to you. I don't want you going away thinking that Placerville is that sort of place."
"It wasn't your fault; I should have been a bit more involved," Illya said, pushing the tray closer to Napoleon. "Things are so easy in Jackson, sometimes I forget."
"Did you find some place?"
"Nice place, nicer owners. Make sure you don't miss their wine hour. I'd bet she'd love to talk to you, Napoleon." He glanced behind his shoulder at the bar and the people trickling in. "What are you doing for dinner tonight?"
"St. Paulie's. Napoleon's never been there."
"You will love it. Oh, you are so lucky—to be experiencing it for the first time." Rey looked at them expectantly. "So do you know what you want?'
"A pan roast, of course. I haven't seen one of those since leaving the City." Illya glanced over at the copper kettle. "Do you recommend the oyster or the shrimp?"
"How about one of each?" Rey rubbed his hands together with glee, Illya chuckled and Napoleon felt the screw in his head loosen just a bit. "What else? Wait, I know, I have some great wine you can try." He hurried away.
"Is he always this accommodating?"
"Rey? Pretty much. In school it would get him into trouble. That young lady behind the bar?"
"His daughter. Rey is gay as we... as I am." Illya sat back as a bottle of wine was delivered to the table and was uncorked. The cork was offered to Napoleon who sniffed it and then sampled the wine.
"You'll like this Illya, it's a little sweet and spicy... reminds me of someone." Napoleon winked at the girl, who smiled, poured, and then hurried away. He lifted his glass to Illya's. "To us... warts and all."
"Agreed." Illya sipped and then took a drink. "It's good."
"Did I lie?"
"To me, no." Illya took another drink and set the glass down to reach for some bread. "I'm sorry that happened to you today."
"It just sort of stunned me."
"Of course, you can come away from the experience knowing that you could buy her business out from under her a couple of dozen times."
"There is that as well."
"And I do love you." This was solemnly said. "And she is wrong, Napoleon."
"I just never felt so... dirty?"
"Because you love someone, what's dirty about that? I will tell you something, there are a lot of hetero couples in the world who would kill for what we have."
"A restaurant and wine store?"
"For friendship, loyalty, and true affection." He raised his glass to Napoleon and then to Rey, who beamed happily behind the cooker.
"Truer words were never said," Napoleon admitted, then added, "We're together because we have to be and want to be, not because it's expected or even encouraged. If that's not love, what is?"
Napoleon's world had become very small and very, very contained. He held his lover in his arms, moved within him, moaned his name again and again. Not that Illya wasn't giving it right back to him; he was right in step with his partner, demanding more, begging for more.
Napoleon's nerves felt abuzz with the adrenaline, his muscles fluid and capable of great things, but then suddenly control was taken from him. He'd held back as long as he humanly could, but abruptly a switch was flicked on and it was all about completion, his completion. Napoleon couldn't last a second longer and he snaked a hand around Illya's waist, searching for the penis he knew Illya was desperate for him to grasp.
He arched back and increased his thrusts until molten lava poured through his veins and made his head pound. He groaned out Illya's name and climaxed, not bothering with whether or not his partner kept up with him or not. For now, for this brief second, it was all about him, his pleasure, his completion. Man was so selfish at times.
The veil lifted and Napoleon felt his shoulders sag. His one hand was sticky and the unmistakable smell of semen scented the air. He should have been exhausted, but instead he felt exhilarated. Something his partner wasn't sharing.
Once he was sure Napoleon had finished, Illya plopped down onto the bed, and moaned slightly as his cooling semen made a wet spot below him.
"Why do I have to sleep on the wet spot?" he grumbled, but didn't move.
"Because I am not sleeping, you are." Napoleon stood and stretched his arms over his head. His penis seemed reluctant to leave behind its fun and games and remained at half staff, just in case Napoleon had other plans. "Down, boy," he spoke to the appendage directly.
"Pardon me?" Illya's voice was muffled by his pillow.
"Just talking to myself, partner. You get some sleep. I'm going to work."
Tuesday was a day off for them, but a group had contacted him a few weeks earlier, asked if they could have Vinea for a private wine tasting. Napoleon had considered refusing, but in the end, agreed with the stipulation that his staff be paid double time for the event. The organizers agreed. Matt and Illya had worked long into the night prepping the apps to be served. They only needed to be slipped into ovens for baking this afternoon.
While he wanted to help, Napoleon had instinctively known his presence would be best left outside Taste's kitchen and he retired early. He slept well and woke up around eight with a Russian in his arms and a hard on the size of All Outdoors.
Illya only mildly protested when Napoleon's hands started to roam, responding eagerly as he became more awake, more aware of his surroundings. Now, it was time for him to sleep.
Napoleon leaned over and planted a kiss in the blond hair, pausing to enjoy the luxury of a sated and sleepy Illya. It thrilled him to see Illya so relaxed, so content and know he'd been completely responsible for it.
Another morning and he'd have sung in the shower, but today he showered quickly and quietly, determined to not keep Illya awake a moment longer than he had to. Not that it was a danger. The man was dead asleep when Napoleon exited the bathroom, a low cloud of steam following him into the bedroom, swirling around his ankles like an overeager puppy.
Illya was softly snoring and Napoleon grinned, feeling as if he would burst. Only two things made his partner snore, too much to drink and really good sex. To his knowledge, Illya hadn't had a drop of anything alcoholic last night.
Beurre Noir was happily snoozing on his underwear; Napoleon had long since learned to keep anything he planned to wear hung up and out of cat reach.
"Do you mind?" he whispered as he encouraged her off his shorts. He dressed quickly, pausing to check his look in the floor length mirror before leaning over to kiss Illya's head one more time. Illya stopped snoring for a moment and sighed. Napoleon grinned again. Yes it was going to be a very good day.
He was just doing one last check of the tasting bar when the first of the group arrived, a true Mutt and Jeff couple. She was tall and rail thin, he was short and stout and Napoleon could tell from the moment he saw them, they were also madly in love with not only each other, but also their careers. That was nice to see.
"I'm Napoleon Solo, owner of Vinea." He offered his hand and they each took a turn pumping it madly, espousing great flattering compliments.
He'd worried about the weather, but the mild temperature had held and Illya had offered the restaurant as an alternate site should the weather have turned inclement. There were tables set up on the long porch for those who preferred to sit in the sun, tables inside for those who didn't. While Vinea didn't host many private functions, they were doing more and more of them and Napoleon wondered just how long it was going to be before he was going to have to open the place seven days a week instead of its regular five. More businesses should have his worries.
They were serving and advising when Napoleon saw her and his back went up. After turning him away from her establishment, she had the gall to show up here...
"I'll be back in a minute, Candice," he told his manager and slipped quickly out of the room and into the store room.
He paced the length of the room and fumed. Part of him wanted to walk up to her and verbally assault her; the rational part of him knew he didn't have that option and urged caution.
A whistling drew his attention and Rocky came in carrying a large cooking pan from Taste. "Henry thought you might be ready for some refills. And I'll be leaving now..."
"I think that's my line, Mr. S. You look mad enough to chew up iron and spit nails."
That was the steam valve Napoleon needed and he sighed, taking in a deep calming breath. "What would we do without you, Rocky?"
"Exist in a state of constant denial?" The waiter set down the tray and began plucking the puff pastries off the parchment paper and arranging them on passing platters. "Do you want to tell me what's happening? Trouble out front?"
"Of a fashion. Do you remember me telling you about our trip to Placerville?"
"Yes, and I'm still waiting to see that salt spoon."
"We were booked at a place called Hawthorne House, but because Illya and I are a couple, she refused to let us stay there. The proprietor said they didn't permit our kind there."
"Sad and stupid."
"She's out front. Probably never made the connection."
"Bet she dropped her teeth when she saw you."
"She hasn't... yet. I saw her first and came in here."
"You? Running from a fight?"
"That's just it, my young friend, I don't want a fight. I don't want to have her here, but I am not petty enough to kick her out."
"Then go for the biggest insult of all, Chief."
"Which would be?"
"Be gracious, be bigger than her. Which one is she?"
"The short brunette in a blue wool suit."
"Blue wool? This time of year? Maybe it's a hair shirt and you just don't recognize it." Rocky went to the door and chuckled. "Although, I think you've already gotten your revenge, Mr. S."
"Why do you say that?"
"Well, not only is she badly dressed, ignored by many, and very uncomfortable..."
"Chef's here and he's enchanting her, as only Chef can do."
"Oh, good God," Napoleon moved to join Rocky.
"Did she meet him before?"
Illya had paused before the woman and she was gone, Napoleon recognized the signs of infatuation all too well. Few women could resist Illya when he poured on the charm. "No, he was in the hardware store when I tried to check in."
"How much longer does this event have to go?"
"Another half an hour or so. Several of them have made reservations at Taste after this."
"You know what I would do, Chief?"
"Be charming and wonderful?"
"The best revenge. If anyone is going to make a scene, let it be her." Rocky handed him a tray and grinned. "Follow me."
Napoleon moved carefully around the room, chatting with people and offering advice and insight into the wines he stocked. He passed off the tray to one of his employees and returned to the wine bar. Several people sat and stood around the area, sampling one wine and then another. There was happy chatter, the steady clatter of the cash register and the clink of empty bottles. He was carrying around a bottle of a very satisfying merlot when he finally decided to bite the bullet.
"Try this, it has the bouquet of marigolds and the after taste of apricots and honey." He poured a small measure into her glass and then purposefully kept his face neutral as she recognized him and choked on the wine.
"You! What are you doing here?" She took a step away from him, towards Illya.
"What sort of an establishment would permit the likes of you to work within its confines? You are probably spreading disease to us all!"
Napoleon tucked the impulse to punch her away and smiled benignly at her. "What sort of establishment? That would be mine..." He looked at Illya and his smile grew as he gestured to his lover. "Well, ours, technically..."
Illya sipped the wine Napoleon offered him and frowned. "Yours, if you are going to try and slide that onto my wine list. What would I pair with that?"
"Your problem is, partner, you like things light and fruity."
"Thought you said I was more sweet and spicy."
"That as well." Napoleon turned back to the woman, who was frozen where she stood. "And unlike your establishment, anyone of legal age is welcome here. We are not bigots. Enjoy your event."
Napoleon moved away from her and back to the bar, biting his bottom lip to keep from laughing. A few minutes later Illya finished working the crowd came to stand beside him.
"Did she leave?"
"I think she was going to get herself tested for any one of the half dozen diseases she may have picked up from drinking your wine or eating my food."
"You know when I was in school, the term would be cooties. No one protested her leaving?"
"Honestly, I think more than a few were happy to see her go."
"Mr. Solo, Mr. Solo?" The event's organizer waved her hand in his direction and he touched the back of Illya's hand with gentle fingertips.
"Time to pay the piper, I guess. Wish me luck." Napoleon squared his shoulders and attended to the woman. "Yes, Mrs. Peterson?"
"Is there somewhere quiet where we can talk?"
"Of course." He led her back to his office and sighed at the quietness it afforded. "Please, have a seat."
"I saw you with Ms. Hawthorne." She sat hurriedly and glanced around her as if afraid of being overheard, then slipped off her high heels and sighed. "Pardon me from just a moment."
"Not a problem, Illya does that all the time."
"I should have realized that I'd be doing more standing than usual today. When I'm home, I tend to wear flat so I don't scare people away. Some people don't like tall women... or others who aren't quite cut from the same cloth." She slid her feet back into the shoes and shook her head slowly. "I don't want you to think we're like her. I heard all the terrible things she was saying about the horrible 'couple of perverts' who tried to check in to her establishment and how it was our responsibility to keep 'your' kind away from the rest of society. I had no idea it was you or your charming chef friend."
"And your thoughts?"
"Would you be willing to host our next function? Everywhere I look out there, I see happy smiling faces. Your staff is wonderfully trained and the wine and food are excellently paired."
"That's more my partner's doing than mine."
"I don't care. My group is enjoying themselves and I, for one, cannot wait for dinner this evening. To be honest, I've been trying to get into Taste for months now. It's hard to get away when you run a B&B."
"What about Ms. Hawthorne? She's likely to have something to say about that."
"To be honest, Mr. Solo, we stopped listening to her a long time ago. We are all small communities, but we don't have to be small people."
"Mrs. Peterson, I think I love you."
She giggled and waved a hand at him. "Oh, if I only had a nickel for every time I've heard that. I'd have... um, forty five cents!"
Napoleon laughed and opened his desk. He pulled out fifty five cents and handed it to her, winking. "You're worth at least a dollar."
"You seemed pretty happy with yourself tonight," Illya murmured as he entered the bedroom. Napoleon was still wearing his robe and had a pair of reading glasses perched on the end of his nose. He'd been staring at a latest best seller for the past half an hour waiting for Illya's return.
Moutard rolled over and meowed loudly as Illya sat down to untie his shoes. He sighed and flexed his feet before reaching over to scratch the furry tummy being presented to him.
"Have you thought about getting better shoes?" Napoleon reached for a foot and began to gently rub the instep.
"It's not the shoes, it's the duration. After nine hours, even the best shoes fail... ow." Illya flopped back on the bed and made a half hearted attempt to pull his foot free.
"You danced, now pay the piper. Hmm, that's the second time I used that phrase today."
"Your Mrs. Peterson seemed happy enough when she left this evening." Illya covered his eyes with an arm.
"No going to sleep fully clothed." Napoleon nudged him in the ribs.
"M'not asleep." He let his arm drop. "Dead, perhaps, but not asleep."
"Get undressed and into bed and I'll do your other foot. And yes, she was very pleased. She's already booked us for her fall fete. She took a half a ton of brochures with her. Good advertising." He watched Illya peel off his clothes and make a half hearted attempt to get them at least close to the clothes hamper.
Napoleon grinned. "Don't know and don't care. As long as there are people like Mrs. Peterson, Rocky... you, who needs the others?"
Of course, it was with great satisfaction when he read, three months later, that Hawthorne House was on the auction block and its owner had returned to the East. She complained about the hostile prejudice towards outsiders that existed in the Sierra foothills. Funny, he'd never experienced that, just the opposite, in fact. Small communities, huge hearts—Napoleon knew where he was going to stay.