Alder '04: Adonis

Generally speaking, I'm not much for charity functions. Always seem to be more about rich people wanting to be seen, to assuage their consciences', or to inflate their egos than doing anything really good for the less fortunate. And some part of me harbors doubt that any of the money they donate for a 'worthy cause' is ever really seen by the people who need it.

Sort of figured that if they really wanted to be generous they'd be like us. Three Aces Investigations takes more than a few cases pro bono every year. We work for people in Purgatory, trying to track down missing children and deadbeat fathers, or getting evidence to get drug dealers and pimps off the street. Wouldn't be hard for these rich and powerful sorts to spend the better part of month setting up a homeless shelter like Vin and I did. Or getting an after school program set up for teenagers that would hopefully give them somewhere safe to go like Ezra did.

But as Ezra is quick to point out…those things we do, good as they are, don't pay our bills. So schmoozing with the rich and famous is sometimes necessary evil. Or as I prefer to think of it, a hazard of the job.

Those self-important people are what keep Three Aces Investigations profitable no doubt about that. And sometimes the best way to stay close to them is to go to these black tie affairs, making small talk to small minds, ensuring they know we know what sort of kind-hearted, generous and powerful people they are so we'll be more inclined to take their case when they are down and out and desperate. Quite a few of the cases we've handled in the past few years have come from the upper echelon of Denver Society.

To be fair, a lot of the people we've helped are really good people, their bank account balance notwithstanding. They are hard working, honest, decent sort of people you find everywhere who happen to be better off than average. Just don't seem to find a lot of those people at these stupid charity gigs. At least I never have.

Ezra makes sure we attend at least a few charity events every year for the sake of our investigation agency. And he's good about making sure whatever we go to isn't too painful for whichever of us is going. Like signing Vin up for some sort of golf tournament.

Hell, I didn't even know he liked the game, but then Vin pretty much enjoys anything where it takes more than a bit of skill to hit your target. And it didn't really matter much if he didn't like the game. Ezra made sure the foursome he was partnered with were the sort of people Vin could get along with. Think one of them was a horse breeder, another was some sort of guru for alternative energy sources and the woman was some high powered attorney whose favorite hobby was backpacking. Vin says he had a great time and is looking forward to next year.

Tonight's little shindig is an art auction. Ezra asked me if I wanted to go…said he was willing to go alone if I'd rather beg off since he knows how I feel about these black tie things. I usually get to do the picnic thing they do in the summer time when they set up some sort of carnival for the kids in Purgatory. I am in charge of stuff like cotton candy and the dunking booth. Definitely more my forte than some art auction, especially when I'd planned to just kick back with a beer and watch the game tonight.

I was ready to tell him 'thanks, but no thanks.' Then I realized he asked me if I wanted to go when he was already pulling out that damn tux of his and laying it across our bed. I love that tux. I mean, I LOVE it. Ezra looks so damn good in that thing there ought to be a law against him wearing it out of our house. I won't ever pass up a chance to see my lover in it. Nothing doing. No way.

And I can't let him out alone in public in that thing. Hell no. I need to be on hand to beat off the hordes of men and women that are drawn to him like moths to a flame when he is suited up. So, I'm willing to put up with getting into my own monkey suit, and wandering around trying to look like I know something about art.

Ezra says I look good in my tux. I know he isn't lying about that because he's not the first person to tell me so. But truth be told, he's the only person whose opinion matters.

"So this art auction thing…"

"Yes?" Ezra's voice drifts to me from the bathroom where I know he's shaving.

"This going to be like every other auction I've been to?" I check my dress shoes. Shine looks good enough to pass muster.

"Not quite." Ezra's soft laughter reaches me easily making me smile even though I have no idea what he finds funny. He pokes his head out of the master bathroom to look at me, green eyes sparkling. "This will be a more reserved affair than a horse or car auction."

I sigh. Should have expected that. Ah well, it's not like I didn't know up front that this would be a stuffy sort of gig. Hopefully they will at least have something decent to eat at this stupid thing.

"There will be food and drink. And yes, it will be up to your exacting standards, love." Ezra assures me with an understanding smile, somehow reading my mind, as he moves past me to get dressed. Takes all the will power I possess not to reach out and grab him and try and convince him that this function is something we skip in favor or more physical pursuits. Not that he would object…much…but he wouldn't have planned to go to this thing if he didn't think it a worthy cause. Ezra's just as picky about the stuff he's willing to attend as the rest of us.

"I'm looking forward to seeing the artwork donated by Marta Hernandez." Ezra smile warms considerably as he adjusted the cuffs of his snow white dress shirt. "She's quite talented."

"Who's that?" Something in his expression piques my interest. I tell myself I'm just interested, I'm not jealous. Not like I don't have a few people in my past. No reason to be upset to learn Ezra's got a few in his.

"She is rather well known painter and photographer." Ezra reached to lightly caress my cheek. Clearly something in my tone gave me away. "She's an old friend, Buck, nothing more."

"You never mentioned her before." I do my best to sound casual.

"There was no reason to." Ezra shrugged, an elegant ripple of his shoulders under his still half buttoned shirt. "She only recently moved back to the Denver area after spending the last four years overseas."

I just barely catch what he said, a bit more focused on the half hidden chest easily within arm's reach. I'm reaching out to caress that silken skin, giving into that sweet temptation before I can even think not to. Don't even get close enough to brush my fingertips because Ezra's already stepped away with a 'not right now' look.

Know that look. Don't get it all that often, hardly ever truth be told, but I know it well enough. And I know better than to push. Never forced anyone before, and I sure as hell ain't going to start now. Ezra means too much to me to mess that up over something so stupid. 'Sides, every other time I got that look, all it really meant was he'd make it up to me later…more than make it up to me. Makes me warm all over just thinking about it.

Watching him get dressed is something of a guilty pleasure for me. Not sure what guilt I really feel…not like I feel bad about it or even regret doing it, but it does seem a little odd. Still, it is definitely a pleasure. Everything he does is so damn nimble and refined. No wasted movement, no awkward motions.

I always feel a bit like a huge dancing bear around him…only not quite so graceful. Ezra's told me more than once how much he likes to watch me. Says that I am poetry in motion. Personally, I'd think that was all just flattery if it weren't for the fact that I catch him staring at me almost as much as I stare at him. Hell of a boost for my ego to know I turn him on as much as he turns me on.

Doesn't take us long to head out. Taking Ezra's car naturally. Whenever we dress up to go somewhere it's always his car. Not that my truck isn't a good ride…it is, just not what you want to show up at some black tie affair in. Ezra's Jag just seems more appropriate when we're in our Sunday best. And I'm not gonna complain since he lets me drive. Love how quick and easy she responds. Purrs like a big kitten. Feel a bit like purring myself when I offer my hand to Ezra and he entwines our fingers as natural as breathing.

It's not the same car he had when we were with the ATF. Got this one just two years ago when he traded in the old one. The custom forest green color suits us both better than the black did. Got a suspicion that Ezra traded the old one off more because Maude bought it than anything else. Still don't quite understand their relationship, but seems to have evened out a lot since he quit working for the ATF.

I don't bother letting the valet park the Jag. Ezra would be fine with it, but I'm not letting them mess with her. Love this car almost as much as I love Ezra. No way am I trusting some pimple faced kid barely out of high school behind the wheel.

When I finally locate a spot and park, Ezra smiles and leans over and kisses me soundly. Ezra has a whole vocabulary of kisses. Took me a while to learn the lingo, but I finally mastered it through diligent practice. I recognize this kiss as a statement of his love and a promise of more to come. Not sure what I did to get that kiss, but I'm guessing it's because I came with him when he knows I'd rather do something else.

Not that I don't appreciate the sentiment, but it isn't really necessary. He does stuff for me all the time. Doing this for him isn't a big deal. Rather like the give and take nature of our relationship. Was one of the big reasons I figured we were in it for the long haul together.

As we head in together, I watch him smooth his jacket making sure everything lays the way it should. Can't help but picture those hands doing the same thing to me in a few hours. That image quickly shifts into me being able to touch him…hearing him make that breathy little moan, back arching, head tilted back to bare his throat for me to mark. Lord. I take a deep breath and then another, and try real hard not to look at him for a few minutes.

He raises an eyebrow at me. "You okay?"

"Fine." I smile tightly. "Just reining in my imagination."

Ezra chuckles, green eyes slanting slightly as he looks sideways at me. Can tell right away he knows what I was thinking, and he's not bothered by it. "You, Mr. Wilmington, are incorrigible."

I shrug. "You knew that when you met me."

"True." Ezra's dimples appeared, a glint of gold in his smile. "It is one of the things I like best about you."

I know he means that. Probably one of the few people who ever really got that about me. To most people my 'predominant focus on the sensual and erotic' as Ezra describes it would just make me seem like a randy dog looking for a leg to hump. But Ezra gets it. Really gets that I'm worshipping his body, reveling in the intimate closeness he is willing to grant exclusively to me, enjoying his pleasure knowing I'm the one causing it. That sex with him borders on a religious experience for me and I want to show my devotion every chance I get.

My shoulders tense a bit as we head inside and start to mingle. Never quite feel like I belong at one of these uptown shindigs. Not ashamed of myself, never have been, just don't feel like I fit in.

Ezra's hand lightly brushes down my back as he smiles at the mayor and his wife. I can feel the warmth of his touch through my clothes and it relaxes me. Never could quite figure out how he knew these things made me nervous. I mean, no one else ever had. Course, not like I went to a lot of these things or hobnobbed with the rich and powerful before I hooked up with Ezra.

We start making the rounds, looking at what's being offered while we talk to people. Well, Ezra talks to most of them. I just nod and smile more often than not. Ezra invariably knows everyone's name and occupation. Kind of amazing how he does that because I know for a fact a lot of these people he's never actually met face to face before tonight.

I catch the eye of a passing waiter. He's got one of those heavier than hell silver trays loaded with fine crystal glasses. I snag two glasses of white wine, ignoring the champagne knowing how much Ezra dislikes it. Can't say I care much for it myself. Would rather have a beer but I'll make do with this. Get a few appetizers while I'm at it.

I give the modern sculptures a look but can't say I can make heads or tails of them. Just look like so much spare parts I keep in the garage. Prefer the marble stuff Ezra has in the office at home. Has a twelve inch statue on the desk of replica of a larger piece. Said it was some Greek god. Forgot which one. But that thing is just so beautiful…so life like, I wouldn't be surprised if the little guy turned to look at me. And it doesn't hurt that Ezra could have been the model for that piece; Sort of endeared it to me right away.

At some point Ezra and I split up a bit. He's tied up making nice with a senator. And I just am not good at dealing with politicians. Too apt to be honest and tell him what I really think. More diplomatic than Chris Larabee ever was, but still nowhere near Ezra's league so I leave him to it.

Since the sculptures were a bust, I head over to the far wall where some of the photographs are hung. Don't figure there can be anything there too outrageous. And I've dabbled with photography myself…sort of had to with a background in surveillance, although most of my shots are taken for evidence and not for beauty or to make a statement.

I dismiss most of what I see pretty quickly. Standard pretty shots of Colorado type stuff you see on postcards. Nothing I'd object to hanging on the wall, but definitely nothing I'd pay what the asking prize at this charity auction is likely to be.

I wonder over to the next display. These are all black and white photos. There is something strangely appealing about the absence of color when done right. Not everyone does a good job with it though. Hard to get light and shadow to balance correctly to make the starkness engaging instead of just bland and washed out. Figure the best had to be Ansel Adams. Got a print of his hanging at the Three Aces office in town that Ezra got for me when I'd mentioned once how much I liked his work.

Ansel did mostly nature shots, these are all people. Real well done too. I sip my wine and nibble on another appetizer figuring, I'll be spending a few minutes right here.

One shot is an old woman's hands. Reminds me of Nettie Wells…hands that have known a lot of work. Can almost feel the history there, the stories this woman could tell.

Next one is a profile of what has to be the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. Way the shot is done makes me wish I could see her entire face. Although the way it is, with half her face in shadow makes her seem ethereal, mysterious, like someone out of dream.

Third and fourth must be the same woman, only the focus is on her entire body not just her face. Some part is always lost to shadow, keeping the shots discrete, enticing rather than pornographic. From the look of her, I'm guessing she's a dancer or something like that. Even in a static pose there's a suggestions of fluid movement.

I'm sipping more wine when I step to look at the next one. Name plate says it's titled "Adonis in Repose", and I'm thinking that's a damn fine name for it. Seen plenty of naked body shots in my day…mostly glossy, airbrushed shots in magazines wrapped in brown paper, but never saw anything quite this eye catching.

I am mesmerized by this one. Just…can't take my eyes off it. Lord have mercy but that man is definitely proof God must been one fine looking individual if humans were crafted in his image the way Josiah says they are.

The guy is lying on his stomach, looking like he's just napping on the couch. One leg is drawn up to naturally conceal anything that might push this photo from erotic into obscene. The play of light is enough to draw attention to well defined muscles that are readily apparent even in his relaxed position. His pale skin a sharp contrast to the dark couch he's stretched out on.

The overall brightness of the room, rays of sunlight bleaching color and texture from the foot of the couch and making the windows seem opaque easily told me it the time of day was mid to late morning. Cocked my head wondering if the guy was hiding his face from the sun and not the camera. Damn shame either way. With a body that beautiful, his face must be breathtaking.

I step closer to get a better look. Don't really care if I'm blocking someone else's view. Something about the model just seems so familiar. When I spot a scar on the guy's hip and another on his shoulder, when I spot a small birthmark on his ankle, I realize why I know him.

THAT is Ezra, MY Ezra. That luscious tight ass belongs to me. ME. It takes all my will power not to snarl at the couple nearby openly admiring my lover. I have to force myself to stop clenching my hand around my wine glass before I shatter it.

When the hell did he pose for this?! I take another careful look. Assessing every familiar inch of my mate, noting a few scars were missing, the lack of faint tan lines he currently has from working with the horses on the weekends. Couldn't have been real recent that he did this, but I'm still not sure when. I'm drawn out of my exacting scrutiny by a voice next to me.

"I see you found one of my favorites."

I glance toward the voice and realize I need to look down. Woman standing next to me is a tiny little thing that doesn't quite reach my shoulder. Her silver gray hair is cut as short as mine, styled into messy spiked look that probably took half an hour to create. Her face is youthful, belying the age her hair color implies, hazel eyes openly friendly.

"Normally, I favor the female form, finding their curves to be more aesthetically pleasing than the hard planes and more angular nature of the male." She raises her glass of champagne, finger pointing toward the photo. "But there is something about him that could tempt a saint."

Can't argue with her assessment. Ezra is definitely tempting. I clear my throat. "You…ah…you are the artist?"

"Yes." She smiles up at me. Her face is radiant, easily rivaling that of the woman in the photos I found so incredibly attractive.

She holds out her hand. "Marta Hernandez."

I'm shaking her hand and introducing myself out of habit. "Buck Wilmington."

"A pleasure to meet you, sir."

"Pleasure is mine, Ma'am." I force myself to smile, dredging up the charm Ezra says I just ooze naturally. It is only now that I remember Ezra mentioned her being an old friend. Name hadn't rung any bells sooner even when I saw it listed over the photos I'd been admiring.

"So you like 'Adonis in Repose'?" The question could have come across as if she was looking for praise, but it was said innocently, so honestly curious, I knew she genuinely wanted to know.

"Yes, Ma'am, I like it a lot." Like the model more than the picture, but I'm not going to tell her that. Might not be much of a diplomat but I'm no fool either. Her being an old friend of Ezra's don't mean she knows he's into men.

"You have any more like this one?"

"Unfortunately, no." She frowned slightly, hazel eyes relaying visible regret. "This is the only one the model would consent to pose for. And that took a fair amount of convincing."

Can't decide if I'm relieved or disappointed by that. Relieved to know Ezra didn't do any others and that he wasn't eager to flaunt himself to any and all, but given how much I like this shot wouldn't mind having more of them…just for me. Wonder if I could convince him to pose for me.

My next question about when Ezra had posed for the photo was interrupted by the appearance of the man himself. He tapped Marta on the shoulder, smiling warmly, green eyes alight with welcome. Know that expression, see it directed at me every day, and I have to remind myself that the man is with me…no matter how glad he is to see this woman, no matter if he did pose naked for her. He said she was nothing but an old friend, and I trust him.

"Marta!" Ezra is pulling her into a tight hug. She returns it just as enthusiastically.

"Ezra, my boy, so good to see you."

"Boy?" Ezra pulled back laughing. "You are only a few years my senior."

Marta lightly slapped his arm. "If fifteen years are but a few, well then I suppose you are correct."

"Still as lovely as ever." Ezra kissed her cheek. "No matter what age."

"Shameless flatterer you are."

"Well, you've have never managed to talk me into posing for you if I'd had much shame to begin with."

Marta tipped her head back as she laughed. It wasn't one of those polite little chuckles people are prone to at these things, but one that would have been right at home at the ranch when we all get together and start teasing each other. Found myself liking her in spite of my latent jealousy.

"I see you've met my partner." Ezra lightly pats my shoulder. "The one I told you about."

"Ah, yes." Marta gives us both a wide-eyed knowing look. She winks at me clearly getting that Ezra meant I was more than just someone he did business with. I can't help a rush of satisfaction at hearing he's told her about me, that he's comfortable with having an old friend know about us.

I mean, it's not like we are keeping our being together a big secret, but we aren't out there spray painting billboards either. Know better than to broadcast it around. Only close friends really know…Vin, Josiah, JD and Nathan…and their significant others. And Maude, of course.

Was sort of blown away when Maude took finding out we were a couple so well. Course Ezra said she knew about his preference for years, but I somehow didn't think she'd warm up to me. Guess my offering Ezra a chance to go into business and stop being a 'civil servant' sweetened the deal for her quite a bit.

Marta's eyes twinkle as she nods toward the photo of Ezra, drawing his attention to it and pulling me out of my thoughts. "I better understand Mr. Wilmington's interest in 'Adonis in Repose' now."

"Adonis?" Ezra grimaced, glance flickering toward the photo before meeting hers again. "I believe you may have overstated the case."

"Don't think so, Ez." I contradicted him immediately, getting him to look at me. "If I remember my myths correctly, that Adonis guy was a damn good looking man." My eyes never leave his. "Think that is an apt description."

He drops his eyes, a bit of color dusting his cheekbones. "Oh perhaps at the time." He makes a dismissive gesture with one hand so I know he doesn't really agree; he's just humoring me. "But that was a long time ago, so I seriously doubt I that lofty moniker would fit today."

Marta gave him the once over. Her measuring look made me want to step between them. She smiled. "Oh, I think you've seasoned nicely, young one. Very nicely."

Ezra gave her a dark look…whether it was for the compliment or the 'young one' I couldn't say. "Does Anna know you have a wandering eye?"

Again she laughed, a delighted peel of amusement. "My eye has always wandered, Ezra, seeking out beauty wherever it may be found, enjoying the simple pleasure it brings from just looking. My heart on the other hand is another matter entirely. Completely loyal to the one who holds it. Anna knows this."

She smiled slightly, voice suddenly softer, carrying only to us. "I suspect you and yours," she slanted another look toward me, "understand this rather better than most." One finger was extended to lightly touch the ring on Ezra's left hand. "You should have told me that you'd made a long term commitment. I would have sent a wedding gift."

"The commitment was made when I first wrote you about him." Ezra shrugs. He smiles at me and I can't help but smile back. Not that I didn't know that…but it is always nice to hear.

He sips his wine, once more focused on Marta. "The rings, though, are relatively new additions."

We've been together as a couple for three years, but only exchanged the rings about a month ago. Didn't take me long to get used to wearing it since I haven't take it off since. Would feel naked without it. Official ceremony or not, we are definitely married.

Marta nods sagely. "You still should have told me."

"And how would I have done that?" Ezra arches an eyebrow. "Your last missive, several months ago I believe it was, said you'd be in transit. No interim phone number or address was given."

Marta rolls her eyes. "Trust you to be practical."

Ezra grins. "I don't believe anyone has ever accused me of that before."

"First time for everything, my boy." Marta chuckles. She smiles warmly, an expression of welcome and affection as a tall, willowy blonde joins us. Marta takes her hand, guiding her to her side. "Anna…I'm sure you remember Ezra…and I'd like you to meet his partner, Buck Wilmington. Mr. Wilmington, my partner, Anna Stratton."

"Hello." Anna smiles at us, little laugh lines appearing around her eyes, the only indication that she is probably closer to Marta's age than mine or Ezra's. She leans forward to kiss Ezra's cheek, getting a hug in return. "It is wonderful to see you again, Ezra."

She extends a hand to me. I take it carefully noticing for the first time the braces on her wrists. "A pleasure to meet you, Anna."

Her eyes shift from a slate to dove gray, fingers warm in my hand. "The pleasure is all mine, Mr. Wilmington." No doubt she means that. In another time in my life I might have tried to capitalize on it, might have read more into it than she meant, might have engaged in some harmless flirting, but not anymore. I release her hand with a smile and a nod.

"The carpel tunnel is no better I see." Ezra comments, concern coloring his voice.

Anna shrugs, giving her wrists a rueful look. "I have finally agreed to surgery."

"About damn time." Marta states firmly. Get the feeling they've 'discussed' this issue a time or two. "I have no idea why you felt it necessary to wait until the pain became unbearable before electing to allow a doctor to do something."

"Because, Marta, it is elective surgery." Anna shot back mildly. "Which means I can choose when and who and how."

Marta gave a surprisingly lady like snort. "I still think—"

"Yes, dear, I know." Anna smiled, raising her hand to lightly touch Marta's cheek in a brief caress. "I also know we continue to have this conversation because you dislike seeing me in pain, but this is hardly an appropriate time or place to continue it."

That subtle chastise reminds me a lot of Ezra. Hell the entire interaction reminds me a lot of me and Ezra. Makes me wonder how long they have been a couple.

"Nearly twenty years, Buck." Ezra whispers, just loud enough for me to hear. I can never quite figure out how he knows what I'm thinking. Have had more than one opportunity to be grateful for it though.

Twenty years. Wow. Wonder if me and Ezra will make it that long. Hope so. We're off to a good start anyway.

Marta sighs and straightens her spine a bit. Know their 'conversation' is being tabled for the time being cause she's wearing an expression I know I've had on my face more than once. Whatever else she might have been going to say was interrupted by someone announcing the auction would be starting soon.

"You boys better find your seats." Marta smiles at us, patting Ezra's cheek in a motherly gesture that makes me feel foolish for being even remotely jealous. "There is bound to be something that tempts you."

Ezra catches her hand and places a gallant kiss on her knuckles, bowing slightly as he does. "Nothing could be more tempting than you or your lovely companion."

"You haven't changed at all." Anna chuckles, clearly amused by Ezra's actions.

Ezra hands both of them a card. "Please call once you are settled."

"We will. Perhaps we can have dinner together soon?"

"Oh most definitely." Ezra's tone makes that statement something of a promise so I know if Marta and Anna don't call to set it up, he will. "We'll be looking forward to it."

A pair of smiles as they move to head off to where ever they need to be. "It was nice meeting you Mr. Wilmington."

"Call me Buck." I grin, waving slightly. "It was nice meeting you both." And I mean that. Once I got over myself it is always nice to meet friends of Ezra's. They are invariably good people. I'm thinking dinner with them is going to be a real treat.

I'm guessing the artists have a special spot reserved for them because I don't see Anna or Marta again as we track down our seats and get comfortable. Ezra has a number so we can bid. Good thing because I want 'Adonis'. No way in hell am I letting someone else have that to hang on their wall.

Couple of blown glass pieces come up first. Ezra bids on one but is quickly out bid by someone else. If he'd really have wanted it, he has more than enough money to get it.

I give him questioning look. He just shrugs. "Didn't like it that much."

I file away the fact that he liked it for future reference. Never know when it might come in handy for a future gift. I make a note of the artist's name too. Could commission something if need be.

Neither of us are interested in the next bits of sculpture. That lack of interest makes me realize just how much slower and more 'civilized' this auction is than others I've been to. No wonder Ezra laughed when I'd asked earlier if it was like a horse auction. Man. Thank god the waiters are still milling about offering snack food and wine. Safe here to signal them to come over since the auctioneer only recognizes your bid if you raise a numbered paddle. Gotta admit I like that idea.

Couple of paintings are next. Nice stuff, but nothing I'd care to hang on the wall. Ezra doesn't seem too impressed. Couple of people are though… little bidding war goes on for a bit. Don't know what cause this shindig is for but they just made themselves a pile of money.

Next up are the color photos I'd seen earlier. Ezra and I make small bets on what the ultimate price each one would bring. I'm down ten bucks by the time the last one goes. Should know better than to bet against him, but I love seeing that smug little smile of his. Sort of like knowing he gets a little pleasure out of being right…all of us do and should, but it is rare that he shows it.

Finally, Marta's pictures are up. There are a couple of paintings I'd missed earlier. Nice stuff. She favors fine strokes, deep color and highly detailed. Like the abstract one that reminds me of sunset at the ranch. Ezra likes it too. He and one of the other patrons get into a pretty serious bidding war before Ezra bows out.

Her paintings all go pretty high. Little record Ezra's been keeping in the program shows that hers are the highest so far. Not really surprised given the quality and the fact that Ezra said she was well known. Figure some of the people who bought them are using them as investments. Will probably write them down on the balance sheet as an asset, store it somewhere and forget they own it until they need it for collateral or to show off.

Photos are next and I'm keeping an eye out for the one I want. Ezra gives me an amused look. "You never did ask me."

"Ask you what?"

"When I posed for it."

I turn to look at him. I'd forgotten about that. "When did you pose for it?"

"Seven years ago…not long after I first moved to Denver." Ezra smiled a bit ruefully. "In a weak moment, I agreed to Marta's request."

A weak moment? Hunh. If it was right after he moved to Denver then it doesn't take a genius to figure out what was going on at that point in his life. Transition from Atlanta to Team Seven wasn't all that smooth. Not unbearable but certainly a bit rockier than it had to be. I still feel like a schmuck for not helping him adjust more than I did.

"You regret it?"

Ezra graces me with one of those rare sweet smiles. And I know he gets that I'm not just asking about his posing for the picture. Mean the move to Denver, deciding to leave ATF, staying with me…all of it.

"I regret none of it." Ezra chuckles, dimples appear, eyes reminding me of a satisfied cat. "It turned out so much better than I expected."

I unobtrusively capture his hand, and squeeze gently. "No way it could have turned out as anything less than spectacular."

I am treated to another of those delicate blushes. Never ceases to amaze me how he can be embarrassed by getting a compliment or genuine praise. Don't think he's ever gotten much. Will have to do something about that.

"You don't have to buy it." He says quietly, redirecting the conversation back to its original topic.

"Have to?" I raise both eyebrows. "No have to about it, baby. I want it."

Ezra ducks his head shyly, a pleased expression gracing his features. I am more determined than ever to own that picture. I keep an eye out for it, but it 'Adonis in Repose' never comes up.

I frown in confusion. According to the program all of Marta's photos were in sequential lot numbers. It should be there. I look to Ezra and he shrugs.

Auctioneer makes some statement about lot number 47 being withdrawn from the sale. Every other time he's said that someone had negotiated a private purchase, a large percentage going to the charity, but some portion going directly to the artist. Guessing that was the reason most of the artists were present…chance to get commissions, get their names out there and maybe make a little money.

I am pissed. Someone else has my picture. Son of a bitch. I should have made an offer to Marta when we were with her. Hell, it was probably sold by then.

Ezra squeezes my hand. "You have the real thing." He leans close, voice a breath of warm air against my ear. "Whoever got it has only the fantasy, you have the substance. You can touch…taste…hear…see up close and personal night or day. That is worth more than any framed snap shot in time."

I shiver, barely suppressing a moan. God, when he does that…gets to me every time. I nod, letting him know I agree with what he's saying, because I do. He's right. Someone else might ogle that picture, but they would never have the chance to have that smooth as molasses voice ghost over their skin like warm water, to touch my Ezra, to cause those breathy little moans, to make him smile, to see his jade green eyes sparkle with humor or passion. Never.

We bid on a few more things, but don't actually buy anything. Not a big deal. Quite a few people are going home empty handed.

I'm ready to head out long before this thing is due to be over. Ezra gives me an understanding look and together we make our way to the door. Not the only ones leaving. People have been coming and going pretty regular.

We're in the lobby when someone with the auction house calls my name. Can tell he's with the auction house because he's got him a name tag that says so. He was also the guy who'd taken our tickets and signed us in when we'd entered.

"Mr. Wilmington? Wait a moment please."

I turn to look at him, waiting to see what he wants, Ezra standing next to me. Likely this guy just wants to drum up more donations and we look like good targets. Guy kind of reminds me of a British butler the way he called me and how he stands. He has a parcel with him wrapped in brown paper.

He offers it to me. "Ms. Hernandez requested that you have this before you leave."

I take it hesitantly. "What is it?"

"Adonis in Repose."

"Excuse me?" I am stunned, but Ezra doesn't look surprised. Course, he has his polite face on so it's hard to tell.

"She said, and I quote, donation of her artwork was strictly voluntary and she could take back any piece being offered before the sale if she so desired. She stated quite explicitly that she wanted this particular piece to belong to someone who would truly appreciate its worth." He smiles slightly and I can tell he admires her straightforward stance. "She was most generous with her other works, far more so than we expected."

So clearly they aren't going to pitch a big fit to her about her decision. I get what's being said there. "Thank you." I manage to say, unsure of what the hell it is I should say.

He nods, almost making it a bow, before stepping back and away. I look at Ezra wondering if he knew about this, but he shakes his head slightly. He didn't know but he's not surprised either.

As I think about it, neither am I. Only just met Marta but there's no doubt in my mind that she's a generous, good hearted sort. And she definitely knew how I felt about the photo. I'll have to find a way to thank her.

"You can ask her for a more detailed explanation and express your gratitude when we meet for dinner." Ezra says to me with a wink.

I nod. Maybe while I'm at it I can ask her for pointers on how to start taking my own black and white photos. Wouldn't hurt to get some guidance from an expert. Might have to ask her what she said to convince Ezra to pose of this one.

"Shall we head for home and see about finding the right place to hang it?" He looks up at me from under his lashes, voice dipping into that rough, husky tone I find to be such a turn on. "Or would you'd rather engage in an in depth study of the model? Perhaps a hands on comparison to the original?"

I take a deep breath, mind already seeing what I'd like to do. Rush of heat making it hard for me to get any words out for just a minute. "Thinking…ah…that second option… sounds like a good one." Definitely.

"Shall we?" He makes a graceful, inviting motion toward the door, eyes twinkling.

Oh hell yes. I am reminded of that earlier kiss that promised good things to come. About time I collect on that little I.O.U. High time indeed.