Wordy Wednesday: August Ice by Dev Bentham
It takes a special kind of person to work in Antarctica. Max Conway, an ex-Navy Seal, loves working at the bottom of the world. Like any other diver, he's tough and hard drinking. Half the year he's stuck in the States traveling the commercial dive circuit and hitting gay bars every night. The other six months he's lead safety diver at McMurdo Station in Antarctica, reveling in the cold blue Antarctic Sea. The only drawback to life way down under is that Max feels like he has to tuck his libido into storage while he's on station, stashing all those free condoms for use back up north. That is until Andre Dubois, a gorgeous French scientist, shakes up his world. Not only is Andre out and proud, he's sober as the day is long. And the days are long during an Antarctic summer. Max must choose between his comfortable inebriated closet and a life in the sun with Andre.
Deep blue in all directions. Light streaming in pale shafts from the ice ceiling to the ocean bottom, which burned with deep red sea anemones. A flock of penguins swam close, their sleek black backs brushing against him like a lover. He was swimming with them, pressed by slick feathers on all sides, no tank, no regulator, no cold. It felt like flying.
* * * *
Somewhere a door slammed.
Max Conway squinted one eye open, then shut it tight against the stab of light. He wasn’t underwater. Wasn’t even in Antarctica. Not yet. He lurched to sitting, and pain rolled through his head like a bowling ball. His mouth felt like he’d been eating mothballs, and his stomach twisted painfully. God, he hated mornings.
He swung his legs off the bed and willed his eyes open a crack. No wonder his head hurt. Someone had left the curtains open. Max could see through to the hotel pool sparkling in the sunshine. Pool? Hotel? He closed his eyes again and tried to reconstruct the night.
The last thing he remembered was doing shots with the guys at some dive bar Bones had found in the eastern suburbs. He sneaked a peak at the room. Beige carpet, a red-and-gold-striped bedspread, a carving on the wall that looked vaguely Maori—typical Christchurch hotel fare. The question was, how did he get here?
“Ah, you’re awake.” A man’s voice, sounding deep, soft with a trace of an accent. Max turned toward the sound, trying to ignore the lurch of his gut at the movement.
A tall, thin man stood at the end of the bed, toweling dry a mop of dark hair and watching him through startlingly blue eyes. He had a classic swimmer’s body—strong-chested and slim-hipped—unlike Max’s own diver form, packed thick with bulging muscles earned swinging around fifty-pound dive tanks. Lean ropes of muscle ran down The Guy’s arms. A tattoo of inky spikes that looked like loops of barbed wire encircled a biceps. Ringlets of hair curled around his nipples and trailed down his belly. A pair of worn blue sweatpants rode low on his hips.
Max licked his lips. It was hard to believe he wouldn’t remember having some of that. His gaze traveled back up The Guy’s torso to settle in those Antarctic Ocean–blue eyes.
He cleared his throat and managed to croak out, “Hey.”
The Guy gestured toward the bedside table. “There’s water. You feel terrible, yes?”
Max started to nod and stopped at the vertigo. He turned, expecting to see one of those weenie hotel glasses, but instead, there sat a large red aluminum water bottle.
“Thanks.” The water tasted sweet. Max chugged it and waited while the wave of dizziness washed over him. What was it Bones called this, the morning freebie drunk?
Bones. Christ. Had the guys seen him leave the bar with a man? How the fuck would he explain that?
The Guy was watching him. “I’m assuming you don’t want breakfast.”
Max’s stomach rebelled at the thought. He shook his head slowly.
“You’re welcome to shower. I’ll go to the lobby and get us some coffee.” He tossed his towel onto a chair and reached for a sweatshirt.
Max watched him smoothly shove his arms into the shirtsleeves, his torso disappearing beneath the bulky shirt. His head popped through the neck hole, hair already springing into curls. He caught Max watching him, and his lips twisted into a sardonic smile.
Max stood, let his body adjust to the change, and stumbled toward the bathroom. He made the mistake of looking in the mirror. He brushed a hand through his close-cropped brown hair. His eyes, usually his best feature, were so bloodshot they looked more red than brown. Tawny, that was what a guy in California had called them. Max snorted. Right now, they looked more like bloody shit. He turned on the water and stepped out of his boxers. Boxers. And he wasn’t sore anywhere. Maybe nothing had happened. Good. He hated to think he’d finally gotten lucky in Christchurch and couldn’t remember a thing. And that long, tall drink of whatever was something he was sure he’d hate to forget.
He turned the faucet to as hot as he could stand and stepped in. Jets of water stung his chest. The cascade of warmth felt good, not like that pathetic excuse for a shower at the place he’d been sharing with the guys for the last month while they trained and waited on the weather. He ran a hand over the stiff bristle of stubble on his chin. No razor, no toothbrush, and he felt like shit. Hooyah. He plunged his head into the spray, filled his mouth with hot water, swished it around to dislodge the sweaters on his teeth, and spit. The hotel soap felt tiny in his hand, but he lathered up the best he could, scrubbing from balls to bald as his old man used to say.
By the time he stepped out of the shower he felt human again, even if his head still ached and it would be a while before he wanted to eat. He pictured that sleek torso, those mariner eyes. Maybe he’d get lucky after all.
He looked for his jeans, which he was pretty sure he would have left in a heap on the floor. They hung neatly across the back of a chair. He was shrugging on his tee when The Guy returned carrying coffees.
He handed one to Max and produced creamers and sugar packets from the pocket of his sweats. He held them out. “I didn’t know how you like your coffee, or what passes for coffee here.”
Max shook his head. “Thanks. Black’s fine.”
The Guy shrugged with an elegant lift of his shoulders. He placed his own coffee on the desk and began opening sugar packets. “It’s all piss water anyway.”
Max watched long fingers tear another sugar packet and cleared his throat. “Look, I…um…”
Blue eyes shone from beneath incredibly long lashes. The man shook his head and focused again on his coffee. “You don’t remember anything from last night?”
Max started to protest, but what did it matter? He had to meet Smitty and Bones soon, and weather permitting, the plane would finally leave for McMurdo early the next morning. The best he could hope for from this particular encounter would be a quick fuck, after which he’d never see The Guy again. Not that Max ever kept in touch anyway. Love-’em-and-leave-’em worked for lovers, for family, for the whole fucking waste of humanity.
Max shrugged. “Sorry. I must have had one too many last night.”