Praise for the writing of Stephanie Vaughan
Jumping the Fence
This book is a truly enjoyable read that invites you to see things from a different angle. The characters are true to life, their personalities remarkably well portrayed. The plot balances wonderfully between romance and eroticism, and even though it is a male/male story my guess is that most female readers with an open mind will find this to be a page-turner. -- Karin, Mon Boudoir
Jumping the Fence is a wonderful book about a man who is confused about his sexuality and the partner who is able to open his eyes to the possibilities… I liked the interactions between the two men and wished the book was longer. -- Ann Lee, Just Erotic Romance Reviews I have always enjoyed Ms. Vaughan’s work and this has been no exception. The characters are down to earth with every day problems and the interaction between them is intense. -- Laura, Enchanted in Romance All the emotions conveyed in the story seemed not only real, but vivid and unique to each character…I'll definitely be going back to Jumping the Fence for a few peeks. -- Dani Jacquel, Just Erotic Romance Reviews
Jumping the Fence was a highly erotic, quick-moving story about one man’s discovery of himself and the risks he takes in exploring his fantasies. Ms. Vaughan does a praiseworthy job at showing the guilt, excitement and fears of a man taking a sexual journey to places he’s never been. -- Michelle, Fallen Angel Reviews
Jumping the Fence is now available from Loose Id.
CROSSING THE LINE
Warning This e-book contains sexually explicit scenes and adult language and may be considered offensive to some readers. Loose Id e-books are for sale to adults ONLY, as defined by the laws of the country in which you made your purchase. Please store your files wisely, where they cannot be accessed by under-aged readers.
***** This book is rated:
For explicit sexual content, graphic language, and situations that some readers may find objectionable (homoerotic sex).
Crossing the Line Stephanie Vaughan This e-book is a work of fiction. While reference might be made to actual historical events or existing locations, the names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Published by Loose Id LLC 1802 N Carson Street, Suite 212-29 Carson City NV 89701-1215 www.loose-id.com
Copyright © August 2005 by Stephanie Vaughan Excerpt of Dealing Straight copyright August 2005 by Emily Veinglory All rights reserved. This copy is intended for the purchaser of this e-book ONLY. No part of this e-book may be reproduced or shared in any form, including, but not limited to printing, photocopying, faxing, or emailing without prior written permission from Loose Id LLC.
ISBN 1-59632-163-3 Available in Adobe PDF, HTML, MobiPocket, and MS Reader
Printed in the United States of America
Editor: Linda Kusiolek Cover Artist: April Martinez
“I just want you to know I’m over you.” A faint thump as a clumsy hand fumbled the receiver was followed by a sleepy voice. “Huh?” “I’m totally over you. I hope you and the twink are happy, you selfish fuck.” Silence. Then, “Hold on.” Fainter now and muffled. “Ben, I think it’s for you. I think it’s Jamie.” Shit. The background noise in the nightclub kept Jamie from noticing that it wasn’t Ben who’d picked up. Didn’t it just fucking figure it would be Kevin who answered? In the middle of the night. Twist the goddamn knife some more. “Jamie?” Goddammit, it wasn’t fair. After all this time just the sound of Ben’s voice shouldn’t still do this to him. Shouldn’t wash over him and make him feel like he’d been wrapped in the biggest, warmest blanket ever made. Jesus, why couldn’t he just let go and move on? “Yeah.” Jamie couldn’t hide the bitterness he felt. “I just called to say --” Ben cut him off. “Yeah, I know. It’s one o’clock. Jamie, are you drunk?”
“No.” It wasn’t a lie. A pale, off-white shade of the truth, maybe, but not an outright lie. Because the truth was he couldn’t drink enough to make him forget how he’d felt for those few amazing months when he’d had Ben in his life. “I only had a couple martinis.” “Jamie, you’re drunk. If you want to talk, call me when you’re sober.” The band finished its number and the applause from the club-goers drowned out whatever Ben said next. “Ben, could we just ...” The applause died away and Jamie could hear the dial tone now. The fucker had hung up on him. Fuck. The vodka he’d drunk swirled as Jamie’s stomach rolled over. The same sick feeling he got whenever he let himself think about Ben for too long settled over him. What a dumbass. Why had he come to a jazz club, anyway, if not to torture himself with memories of better times? Times when he and Ben had been together. At the time Jamie hadn’t recognized the feeling for what it was. He’d been too crazy for Ben, and all it had taken was one look from those warm, hazel eyes for Jamie to be hard and ready for him. His hand hurt and Jamie opened his clenched fist to find the cell phone he still clutched digging into his palm. He shoved it into a pocket and leaned his head back against the wall outside the men’s room door. Closing his eyes, Jamie banged it against the wall behind him. He didn’t worry about hurting it. It was too thick for that. Too thick to get much of anything through it. How else could he explain calling Ben in the middle of the night? That fucker Kevin had answered. Pretty little bastard. Jamie still carried a picture in his mind of the night Kevin and Ben had gotten together. He’d been there and watched it happen. Seen the rapt interest in Ben’s eyes that he’d been unable to disguise. Impossible, too, to miss the matching fascination in Kevin’s. And there hadn’t been a damn thing Jamie could do about any of it. Only watch with a sick dread
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building in his gut that told him Ben wasn’t just taking a breather -- he was never coming back. When the hallway leading to the restrooms began to fill with bodies intent on a single mission, Jamie put it together with the rising tide of voices and realized the band must be taking a break. Feeling like a salmon pushing upstream, he fought the flow of traffic and headed back to his table. He still had time for at least one more drink. Maybe then he could bear to let one of the cute young things he’d caught eyeing his Rolex come over and sit down. Hell, he might even let one of them follow him home. With enough Armadale in him it wouldn’t matter what color the eyes looking up at him from behind a mouth full of his cock were. So long as he could close his own and pretend, the details weren’t really important.
***** “Hey, boss. Did the leather come in yet?” Jamie looked up from the stack of paperwork in front of him and tried not to sigh audibly. Manny was a good kid -- sharp, a quick learner with a good eye for detail. All critical qualities in their line of work. But he had a tendency to be a little too linear in his thinking and Jamie worked with him constantly to be more flexible. Things didn’t always happen according to the timetable and the ability to shift priorities and work on what was available at the time was often the last critical link to maintaining sanity. “No, it didn’t.” Reaching for the file he sought among the folder rack of open jobs, Jamie found the one he wanted and opened it. Although he couldn’t seem to keep from carrying most of the information in his head, documentation was important. He scanned the work plan for the job in question. “Why don’t you go ahead and start on the dash?”
“Hijo de tú refregada madre.”
Jamie didn’t take it personally and he couldn’t resist ragging the kid. “You better not be talkin’ about my mama.” “God --” Manny shook his head in disgust and frustration that Jamie not only understood, but shared. “Why do we keep buying from those guys? I swear. I think we get one order a year in on time -- maybe. Chingas tú ...” Although he spoke reasonable Spanish -- it was tough to grow up in Southern California and not learn at least a little -- the rest of Manny’s rant was lost to the sound of a passing motorcycle on the street outside. Not that he was likely to be offended by whatever the kid had to say. More like take the opportunity to brush up his own language skills, his natural affinity for blue language having been honed by a stint in the Marines. “Because they’re the only ones who have the right material and we all know it.” He exchanged an even look with his employee. “They’ve got us by the balls, unfortunately. If I want to do the job right, I have to wait on their convenience. And we get paid what we do because MacPherson’s does it right.” A small shop, the business had been built up slowly. Apprenticing for over six years with one of the top mechanics shops specializing in European cars, Jamie had developed something of a following. People who spent a quarter of a million dollars on an expensive weekend toy were funny about who they wanted working on it. After he’d been able to fix a problem that had been giving a well-known TV personality fits, his reputation had only grown, and the customer had gotten downright superstitious on the subject. After mentioning Jamie by name in a magazine article, the die had been cast. The shop owner’s ego wouldn’t tolerate an employee with a bigger fan base and he’d “encouraged” Jamie to branch out on his own. Life among the beautiful people of L.A. having long since lost its luster, Jamie was more than happy to relocate. Forty miles to the south, Orange County had contained the perfect combination of room to grow and well-heeled customers with the exotic cars and money to spend to keep him busy. He’d been here for nearly four
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years, and MacPherson’s had only grown bigger. Jobs were now made by appointment only, and potential clients came with references in hand. “Shit, I know. It pisses me off, though.” “You and me, both. Nothing we can do about it. Why don’t you grab yourself something to drink? Go have a smoke. And hopefully, I’ll get this crap wrapped up and can come out and help.” The sharp look the young mechanic shot him told Jamie he’d ruffled the younger man’s feathers again. All of twenty-two, Manny had a young man’s prickly ego and didn’t appreciate anything resembling the suggestion that a job existed that he couldn’t handle. “I’m okay. You do what you’ve got to do. I’ll be fine.” “Didn’t say you wouldn’t be.” The aspects of the business dealing with human feelings were always a minefield for Jamie. “But I didn’t go into business because I wanted to do paperwork. Working on that car’s going to be my reward for finishing up this.” He gestured toward the pile of paperwork he had more than half-completed. Manny took a soft drink from the mini-fridge in Jamie’s office and grinned. “Why don’t you help Phil with the Targa?” Knowing he’d found the right tone to soothe Manny’s feelings, Jamie grinned back. “Because I feel like a challenge today and there’s nothing like a Lucas electrical system. And because I’m the boss and I get to pick what I want to work on, pendejo.”
***** “Ryan, can you take table twelve for me? I’m buried. Janelle just double seated me, and I’m already busy with the six-top in the corner.” Nearly finished with his side work -- stocking water glasses at the wait station -- Ryan Van Alstyn glanced up to see Jane, looking stressed enough to give urgency to her plea. He glanced from the tray full of drinks she balanced on one hand to the only table of six
currently seated. High-powered business types. They must be regulars, and good tippers at that, for Jane to be so anxious to please. “I’ll owe you one. Please?” He’d never heard her normally cigarette-raspy voice take on quite that note of desperation before. Inclined to help even without the extra incentive, having the senior waitperson owing him one was the decider. “No problem.” “Thanks, babe. I’ll catch you later.” Time was money, so the older waitress didn’t waste any time after hearing Ryan’s agreement and took off at full speed for the table of six heavy hitters. Taking a quick inventory of the silverware set-ups and napkins, Ryan decided they were stocked up enough to get his section through the rest of the night. Barring unforeseen acts of God and unscheduled hordes of yuppies, that is. Straightening his apron, he headed for the two-top Jane had bequeathed to him. A couple of well-dressed business types. One older man, silver-haired and wearing an expensive suit that looked hand tailored, sat smiling and talking with a younger man. Almost young enough to be a son, but a completely different physical type that precluded a familial relationship. Rugged-looking, but in an equally professional way, the younger man’s more casual dress of Dockers and a long-sleeved shirt, rolled up to reveal strong forearms, oozed casual self-confidence. Ryan approached the table and stood a discreet distance away, waiting for a break in the conversation. The subject was cars and Silver Hair was waxing on at length about the virtues and beauty of his classic ’71 Porsche. He saw all kinds in the restaurant trade, and in the well-heeled community of Newport Beach, it wasn’t unusual to wait on millionaires. Silver Hair wore his status blatantly, with expensive clothes, shoes, and haircut. “Gentlemen, would you like me to give you a few minutes?”
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Silver Hair never even paused to catch a breath. Maybe he’d had training as a singer, because he just kept going, barely glancing Ryan’s way, until Burly Guy cut him off. “No, that’s all right. Could I get an Armadale rocks, please? And ...” He turned to Silver Hair. “Doug, what’ll you have?” The older man looked first to his companion before turning to acknowledge the presence of a mere waiter. He flicked Ryan a dismissive glance before speaking to his companion. “Goose tonic.” Repeating the order to confirm, Ryan made eye contact with Burly Guy. “That’ll be an Armadale vodka rocks for you, sir, and a Grey Goose tonic for the gentleman.” Burly Guy’s gaze flickered over Ryan, lingering a second too long on the curve of his butt before coming to rest on his face. The tingle in his groin told him Burly Guy’s interest was in more than the cut of his pants. “That’s perfect. Thanks.” The accompanying smile was nice. Genuine. “I’ll be right back with those.” “Jamie, what do you think about ...” The older man’s voice picked up the thread of the conversation as though there had been no interruption, and Ryan headed for the bar, savoring the unusual feeling as he swung by the four-top that should be mid-way through their meals by now. His brief “How are you folks doing? Everything okay?” was met with nods all around, allowing Ryan time to place his drink order with the bartender and think about the pleasant little buzz humming through him. It had been a long time. Swiping his key card, Ryan opened a ticket for the mixed bag at table twelve and began keying in their orders on the touch-screen. One of the things he liked best about waiting tables was the cross-section of humanity he saw every day and night. Doug’s type was obvious: he thought his money meant that he was above little things like manners. Wealth put him out of reach of the little people and
only those who had something he wanted were deserving of civility. It never failed to amaze Ryan. Why would anyone want to piss off the person about to handle their food? Didn’t they realize he held total control over their entire gastro-intestinal tract? But it wasn’t Doug that had thrown him the curve. It was the intriguing mix of masculine qualities seated next to him. Jamie. Ryan would have guessed for a long time before pairing up that name with that man. It was probably the energy he felt emanating from the younger man at table twelve that had caught his eye, because he definitely wasn’t Ryan’s usual type. Too solid. A big chest and arms heavy with muscle. Although his lower body was hidden behind the table and tasteful white cloth that hung over, Ryan was willing to bet the man had thighs to match. Still, it had been a long time since that particular tingle had made itself felt inside him. There hadn’t been anyone since Mark. That part of him had shut down, and although the rest of the world had moved on, it had moved on without him. Work had been the thing that had gotten him through. “Order up.” From behind the bar, Rob called to him. A good bartender could make the difference between great tips or no tips for table staff, and Ryan was always happy to see Rob, the king of sarcasm, behind the bar. Both fast and efficient -- a surprisingly rare combination -- Rob was another veteran in the restaurant trade and could be counted on to know the importance of teamwork. “Thanks.” Rob was always a magnet for feminine attention; his collection of women already seated at the bar drew a smile from Ryan. Seeing the smile, Rob only quirked an eyebrow. “It’s good to be king.” A flash of that movie-star grin and the man was back to work. As he gathered the two drinks and placed them carefully on a tray, Ryan peered around the corner to the window on the kitchen. Not seeing either his panéed quail or green redfish
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for table nine, he let his thoughts return to the subject they kept circling back to. Since he was heading to the table, it was practically business anyway, wasn’t it? Ryan let his mind go blank, matching his best waiter’s face, and tested his reaction as he approached table twelve. It had probably been a passing thing. He would deliver the drinks, take their dinner order, and feel nothing -- just like always. That theory lasted all of ten seconds. Eyes lowered, Ryan set Doug’s drink down first. Just like earlier, the older man didn’t look up. Just kept waxing on about what he’d like to have done to his beloved car. Placing the cut glass tumbler in front of Jamie, Ryan let his gaze rise as the weighted base of the glass came to rest on the table. He took a step back, clasping his hands in front of his aproned waist. “Gentlemen, would either of you care to try the chef’s special tonight?” As he went on to describe a rather nice lamb dish, Ryan smiled quietly and tried not to react to the gleam in Jamie’s eye. While he had been fetching the drinks, the two men had relaxed a little, settling back into the upholstered leather of the corner booth they inhabited. A tiny spotlight, placed just so to pick out the greenery behind them, instead picked out the auburn highlights in his ruddy brown hair. He sat sideways, one knee pulled up and resting on the booth’s bench. His short beard lined a square jaw, while the trim moustache focused attention on a pair of well-formed lips. The lips moved, requesting a no-nonsense prime rib, Ryan taking solemn note of the order while pretending not to notice the covert visual inspection he was undergoing. “Excellent choice. And for you, sir?” He turned to Doug, who seemed to only now realize he was in a restaurant and that something was expected of him. Canting his head attentively to one side, Ryan was nevertheless aware of being the object of Jamie’s studiedly casual perusal. He could easily answer Doug’s numerous questions about the menu while watching from the corner of his
eye as strong hands played with a fork, stroking up and down the shaft and handle. Ryan replied to easily a half-dozen questions as blunt fingers toyed with the utensil and brought to mind other, more intimate, activities. No sooner had he tipped his head in acknowledgement of Doug’s order of the chicken
aux gros oignons, given a discreet bow and headed for the kitchen to turn the orders in, did Ryan realize the folly of his earlier generosity. While he’d been preoccupied with the intriguing specimen of masculinity at table twelve, the restaurant had filled up. Le Grande
Lousienne was the reigning hot spot of Newport Coast -- the place to see and be seen. Sixthirty on a Friday night, and just that quickly he was so far in the weeds he might never work his way out. The rest of the evening passed in a blur. He barely had time to breathe between turning tables, taking orders, serving food, then starting over again. It was after nine-thirty that night before Ryan finally had time to do more than chug a quick soda between tables. Counting his tips, he found a business card he had somehow missed earlier. Wrapped inside a twenty-dollar bill, it belonged to one James MacPherson, President of MacPherson European Collectibles. The logo of a sports car on it helped him make the connection -- or maybe Jamie and his rusty brown hair had never gotten very far from his mind. But suddenly the image of a smile in a bearded face was back in his head. An indentation on the card told him something was written on the back. The imprint of a bold hand pressed the letters deep into the cardboard he held in his hand. Turning it over, he found a handwritten phone number and a name.
(949) 555-4612. Jamie. He’d never even liked beards, particularly.
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Tears of Christ, he was thinking about that mouth again. Instead of seeing the inventory sheet on the clipboard he held in his hands, Jamie kept seeing the figures dissolve into a face. Blond hair, blue eyes, a classically straight nose -- all leading to a sinfully voluptuous mouth. Medium-full, with a pouty lower lip that turned a face that could otherwise have graced the cover of a surfing magazine into something else entirely. Poker-straight hair slid down over a high forehead and created a fan for those laserblue eyes to hide behind. Each individual beautiful part contributed to one gorgeous whole, and Jamie wanted it bad. It was that erotic mouth that kept interrupting his sleep last night, though. Dreams of those lush lips being wet by an expert tongue and smiling up at him. Then the eyes would go sensually sleepy -- before closing in rapture as that hungry mouth closed over his aching cock.
God! Jamie groaned and shook his head, willing the vision away.
It was Sunday, the only day MacPherson’s was closed to the public, and Jamie needed to get the inventory completed, or the four hours he’d already put in would be wasted and he’d have to give up and start all over again next Sunday. Squatting to relieve the ache in his back, Jamie reached down and brushed a hand over his burgeoning hard-on. Brushing back harder this time over his cock, the pleasure raced through his body. It wasn’t as though he needed reminding that he and his hand were the most intimacy he’d shared lately. There hadn’t been anyone serious since Ben, and lately even the casual encounters weren’t doing it for him. The wistful thought of what it would be like to be part of a couple came into Jamie’s head. More than just a one-nighter or week-ender; somebody who cared about him. Who knew what he liked and thought enough about him to make it happen. An involuntary snort of derision followed, like it always seemed to. The idea of him and a long-term relationship just didn’t seem to go together. What was it about him that didn’t seem to mesh with even semi-permanent? At thirty-six, he wasn’t getting any younger. He’d never been one for the club scene, and with every year that passed it seemed harder and harder to meet people. Except for the casual, just-looking-for-sex-type contact. No, those were all too easy to come by. Any number of bars and restaurants Jamie knew, he could walk in and have a warm body to take home in under an hour. Fifteen minutes if he wasn’t being particular. But quality people -- the kind of people he could have a decent conversation with, go to a movie or the theatre with -- those were getting harder to find than a ’70s-era Triumph with working taillights and original paint. It wasn’t like he had a biological clock that was ticking down on him, but most of his friends were either married or in committed relationships, and Jamie couldn’t help the twist of envy that he felt whenever he saw any of them together. He couldn’t help wanting that, too.
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Maybe that’s why it hit him so hard when Ben had broken things off. God, he’d been so crazy about Ben, it didn’t seem possible that he hadn’t felt the same way. Jamie’d had more fun with Ben in five months than he’d had with almost anyone else he could think of in his whole life. Ben had introduced him to old school jazz, taken him to nightclubs to hear the music live. They’d watched Spinal Tap so many times they’d hurt themselves laughing. Jamie knew he’d probably never be able to so much as see one of the actors from it without thinking of Ben for the rest of his life. His legs beginning to cramp up, Jamie realized he’d been crouched on the floor in one long, self-pitying stream of reminiscence. Standing, he twisted slowly from side to side, trying to loosen up the stiffness in his lower back. He’d never be the reckless sixteen-yearold who’d rolled his first car again. Just a minor tweak at the time, it hadn’t affected his abilities as far as the Marines were concerned. A grunt and a machine-gunner, he’d done his four years active and four years reserve without incident. Still, the years were creeping up on him, and lately he’d noticed the increased number of times his back seized up on him. Just another sign of his all-toomortal self. What goes around comes around, and thoughts of age and mortality brought him back to the hot young thing who’d waited on his table the other night during his interminable dinner with Doug, the owner of the Porsche he’d just taken on. Jesus, what a moron. Trying to impress him with his money and his influence. The only interest Jamie had in his money was that there was enough of it in the bank to cover the check Doug would be writing to the business for his ’71 Targa’s new engine. Another example of more money than sense, Doug wanted the biggest possible engine he could put in the machine. Screw original, the man wanted nothing to do with authentic. It was about showing his buddies what a big dick he had by flashing his big engine at them. Compensation. That’s all it was.
But what the hell. If he wanted to give someone a chunk of change to replace a perfectly good engine with another perfectly good bigger one, Jamie would happily take his money. Just spare him the “look how much I know about cars” talk over dinner, please. It had been all Jamie could do to feign interest and not go off in search of the so-hot-it-hurt-tolook-at-him Ryan. Fine, fine ass. Not overpoweringly tall, but perfectly proportioned. Nice chest and arms, for all they’d been covered with a long-sleeved shirt and tie. Jamie’d had to fight the natural inclination to feast his eyes, dwelling lingeringly on that body. That face. Holy hell, if the kid was only here now ... He had to be a kid with that smooth face, brow unwrinkled by worry or doubt. If he was here, Jamie would start by taking that face in his hands, sucking that full lower lip into his mouth, drawing him in with slow, lingering kisses. He’d like to run his hands over the fine neck and shoulders he’d detected under the shirt. Unbutton it slowly, one button at a time, until it was completely undone, and shove it off. He’d grip Ryan’s shoulders, urge him downwards to his knees, where Ryan would open that luscious mouth and suck on Jamie’s cock until he exploded. Lapping the salty cum eagerly, not missing a drop. Oh, yeah. Jamie snorted at the fat lot of inventory he was getting counted this way. It might be time to think about making a deal with himself: finish up taking inventory and then reward himself with a late drink at Le Louisienne. After all, whose subconscious didn’t respond to a little creative deal-making?
***** “Is this all right, sir?” Jamie barely glanced at the table, more interested in the table’s location. He’d tipped the young hostess a twenty to seat him in Ryan’s section. Since he was alone tonight, he’d
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brought some work along -- more of the business’s never-ending paperwork -- to preserve the fiction that it was a working dinner. He sat down at the table, tossing a handful of files, a stack of invoices, and the company’s checkbook down, and gazed out the window. One of the draws of the place, besides the great Louisiana-Creole cooking, was the spectacular views. To the south, visible through the windows of the main dining room, was the Pacific Ocean. The beach wasn’t visible from this high up, but the endless water was always a big draw. Always a little off-center, Jamie preferred the view on the opposite side. Located where Jamboree teed into Pacific Coast Highway, the smaller dining room and bar of Le Grande
Louisienne featured big bay windows and a wide-screen view of traffic. Cars hurtled down the busy south county transportation corridor of Jamboree, never failing to make Jamie aware of his mortality. All it would take would be one distracted driver paying too much attention to a cell phone conversation, to send a car slamming through the glass and wood façade of the trendy restaurant. Probably just another sign that he needed therapy, Jamie loved it. There was something hypnotic about watching the cars stream down the highway, invariably making smooth turns either north or south onto PCH. One of these times, though, someone was going to miscalculate, and nothing would ever be the same again. Jamie wondered what the odds were that he’d be there to see it. “How are you doing tonight, sir? Working late? Can I start you off with something to drink? Coffee, soda, another Armadale rocks?” Ryan. Here to take his order. Jamie gazed up at those impassive, perfect features and reminded himself not to lick his lips. He’d like to lick those lips, though, and decided a smile wasn’t out of line. “Great memory.” He was impressed. Jamie could barely manage to remember what he’d eaten for lunch yesterday -- or what day of the week it was, for that matter -- so someone
else’s good memory always amazed him. “Yeah, vodka does sound good. Just one, then. And, could I get a coffee, too?” “Absolutely. I can do that. I’ll be right back.” The rear view was almost as nice as the front. Trim flanks; high, tight butt; shoulders just wide enough to make a V where they tapered in to a slim waist. So different from his own stocky build. Just like his old man, Jamie was built like a fireplug. Maybe that’s why his eye was invariably drawn to a more classically appealing aesthetic. Jamie tucked his tongue back in his mouth and began sorting through the invoices he’d brought with him to the restaurant. “Here you go, sir. Armadale rocks and a coffee. Did you need cream for that tonight?” He was back in less time than Jamie had expected. It was pleasant just watching Ryan’s lips shape words. “Cream” brought a slight smile to his otherwise impassive waiter expression, while “tonight” forced his jaw open just enough to show a brief glimpse of his tongue. Why wasn’t Ryan on the menu? Jamie would like to be able to give the nod that let Ryan know to lead him outside. Those California-beach-boy good looks would look aces down on his knees, sucking him off. And that would just be the appetizer. The full meal would take most of the weekend. Fuck this stupid courting shit. There was something primitive and male that still survived in the ritual of anonymous sex, and there was something to be said for worshiping at that faceless, nameless altar. But hadn’t he been lamenting, just this afternoon, the fact that that was just about the only kind he’d had since ... well, since Ben? Jesus, make up your mind, asshole. No wonder his personal life was so fucked up. Even in the privacy of his own mind, he couldn’t decide what he wanted.
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“No. No cream.” Jamie. The good-looking guy from Friday night was back. And this time he was alone. Ryan would have recognized him instantly, even without the extremely generous gratuity the man had left to make him memorable. “All right. Let me know if I can get you anything else.” It was almost closing time, and traffic at the tables was light. Besides this one, Ryan only had a two-top of seniors lingering over their coffees and shared dessert and the four-top that was shaping up to be the double-date from hell. Knowing he should be getting back to check on them, Ryan turned to go. “Did you get the card I left the other night?” No one worked in a service industry without getting hit on by customers on a near daily basis. This didn’t necessarily have to be that, but Ryan had the feeling it was as he turned back to the table and the brown-eyed handsome man sitting alone there. He thought about lying, but something inside wouldn’t let him. “Yeah, I did.” Dark eyes warmed a bit as they gazed up at him, yet no smile curved the lips behind the beard. “You didn’t use it, though.” Bits of conversation drifted over from the table of daters, and Ryan glanced their way, gauging how much time he had to chitchat before duty called him back. One of the twentysomething males at the table was pretending to drop ice down his date’s blouse while the other couple looked by turns embarrassed and amused. But no one was scanning the room trying to find their waiter. He had a minute or two more to talk, then. No doubt in his mind now -- he was definitely being hit on. The surprise was the flurry of butterflies it triggered in his belly. “No. I didn’t.”
Ryan clasped his hands in front of his belt in a standard waiter’s posture. The problem was his hands reached almost to his crotch and the weight of them resting on the apron and pants made him hyper-aware of his dick. As if he needed reminding. “Any reason why not?” “There’s nothing wrong with my car.” Jamie shifted in his seat, widening the set of his legs to give himself more room. From the corner of his eye Ryan thought that might be a hard-on taking shape beneath the drape of his well-cut pants. “Are you sure? I’d be happy to take a look at it for you.” Trying not to let on that he’d been looking at Jamie’s lap, Ryan felt an answering stir in his own body. A pleasurable tingle called his attention to what was happening behind the fly of his black cotton work pants. As surprised as though he had looked outside and seen snow falling on the coast highway, Ryan stalled a bit, shocked to feel himself responding. “Thanks a lot, but it’s really okay. It’s under warranty.” Sitting up straighter now, Jamie’s gaze sharpened a bit. “How about a drink some time, then? What time do you get off work?” “Call him over, would you?” “Hey, waiter dude!” The clinking sound of glass on silverware and a startled shriek from one of the women yanked Ryan’s attention back to table fourteen. The four-top of yuppie daters exploded in a cacophony of voices and noises. A spilled water glass and the young woman dabbing frantically at her lap with a napkin saw Ryan’s mental forecast take shape, and he couldn’t decide if he felt irritated or relieved. Irritated at the utterly predictable results of the couple’s adolescent attempts at flirtation, or relief that circumstance might save him from giving up the shaky restraint he felt weakening with every second that passed. “You’ll have to excuse me.”
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“Wait, we’re not finished.” Ryan really couldn’t delay any longer. He needed to go. Torn between a sense of duty and the desire to spend just a little more time in this magnetic man’s presence, the last of Ryan’s control crumbled. “Meet me across the street at Coco’s in --” He glanced at his watch. “-- an hour. No, hour and a half.” Catching a nod of assent, Ryan fled to his work station for a handful of napkins before darting back to table fourteen.
***** Nearly two hours later, Ryan finally clocked out at Le Lou and walked the short distance from the employees’ entrance over to the twenty-four-hour coffee shop that stood across the street. It was a holdout from the days before the building boom in south Orange County turned every square inch of soil into a turf war, and Ryan couldn’t understand how it somehow managed to hang on. It seemed like a weekly occurrence to see a favorite old landmark razed to make way for something new, and he couldn’t help a sneaking admiration that the old relic had thus far managed to beat the system. This late on a Sunday the place was near deserted. A couple of high school kids, high on the novel experience of staying out late, were doing their best to look world-weary and sophisticated over their pie and coffee. Two loners at the counter looked to be the only other diners, and Ryan was turning to go, deciding he’d been given a reprieve, when he spotted a mahogany-shot-with-red head that could only be Jamie. Near the back of the restaurant in an isolated booth, he sat -- head bent in concentration -- as he wrote with an old-fashioned number two pencil on a yellow note pad. Even from this distance Ryan could see the strength evident in the forearms revealed by turned-up shirtsleeves. Lips tightly compressed, Jamie appeared deep in concentration as he stopped writing to rub a finger thoughtfully over one brow, before returning to writing.
He should back slowly away and leave. Do it now before Jamie spotted him. Jamie didn’t appear to be watching the door, so he probably hadn’t seen Ryan enter. The walk across the street had been consumed with Ryan’s emotional inner debate: should he show up like he’d said he would? It felt wrong, somehow. Like a betrayal of Mark. That was crazy -- Mark was long gone, and he wasn’t coming back. That still didn’t make it right in Ryan’s eyes, though. In the nearly two hours since the water glass debacle had interrupted his conversation with the surprisingly attractive Jamie, Ryan had had plenty of time to think things over. He wouldn’t show up. That would take care of things with the least amount of anguish all around. After finishing the clean up at the restaurant and getting everything set up for tomorrow’s opening lunch crew, he would go home, see what the cat had thrown up on today, enjoy a glass of wine and watch Letterman. Except his thoughts had repeatedly returned to Jamie, imagined him sitting alone in Coco’s, waiting, and almost without thinking Ryan’s feet had carried him here. He had stepped out the back door of Le Lou and instead of walking to his car, Ryan had removed the necktie that was part of his uniform, rolled it up and stuffed it in his pocket as he walked the short distance to the coffee shop. Standing here now, though, caught between desire and self-preservation, Ryan couldn’t make up his mind. The desire to stay was surprisingly strong. It had been a long time since he’d shared a meal with a stranger, made polite conversation, let himself think, I wonder what he thinks of
me. Is he attracted to me? Because Ryan realized he found Jamie very attractive. What would that wavy hair feel like slipping through his fingers? Those lips that looked supple and surprisingly soft -- what would they feel like? And where the hell had that thought come from?
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Was he really thinking about kissing the man? Good God, what an awful thought. Mark had only been gone ... September would make it two years. Ryan shook his head in disbelief. Some days it felt more like twenty years. Days like today. Jamie looked up, freezing in the act of running the hand holding the pencil through his hair. Their gazes met across the length of the room and Ryan cataloged absently that Jamie was left-handed. Completing the gesture, Jamie brought his hand back to the table, clasping it loosely with his right hand. And waited. His fingers worrying the rolled-up tie in his pocket, Ryan realized the moment to bolt was past. He’d been spotted, and there was nothing to do now but force his legs to carry him the rest of the way.
Mark, I’m sorry. I think I have to do this. Ryan hauled in a deep breath and took the first shaky step toward the table in the back.
Goddammit, but the kid was a looker. Fuck. In between telling himself repeatedly that he’d been stood up, Jamie had been wondering if Ryan could possibly be as good-looking as his memory was saying he was. Oh, yeah, he was. And then some. Fuck. As his economical, athletic gait brought Ryan closer to the table, Jamie was struck with a horrible thought: Christ, what if the kid was underage? He was getting a little past it to be bringing home jail bait. Make that way past it. He should ask. There was something disgusting and predatory about hooking up with a kid. Jamie hadn’t meant the term literally when he’d thought of Ryan that way. He was used to picking up the tab when he went out, and sometimes it took that and a little more to attract the quality eye-candy. It was usually worth it. Instinct told him that Ryan would be more than well worth it. “I didn’t think you’d still be here. Closing took longer than I thought.”
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For the first time Jamie picked up what sounded like a trace of an East Coast accent to Ryan’s speech, albeit overlaid with a lot more California dude. Huh. There was probably a story there. “That’s okay; I had more than enough to keep me occupied. Have a seat.” Reaching one hand out to take a chair, Ryan hesitated. “I can’t stay long.” Something dark twisted in Jamie’s gut. He didn’t like the sound of that. Did Ryan answer to someone? Someone who would ask him why he was late getting home? Jamie didn’t mind picking up the tab but, by God, he wouldn’t pay for someone else’s free ride. “Do you need to call someone? Let them know you’ll be late?” Leaning back, he tapped the pencil on the table, needing an outlet for the restless energy suddenly coursing through him. Already this wasn’t going well. “As many times as I’ve talked to him about it, I can’t seem to get through to the cat the importance of answering the phone. I think he might be screening his calls.” The corners of Ryan’s mouth turned up in a wry smile and Jamie realized he was seeing the personality behind the waiter’s mask for the first time. It was charming; and so completely unexpected that Jamie couldn’t help the bark of laughter that erupted from him. “A cat? I thought cats were supposed to be self-sufficient.” “Not this one. This one is vengeful and controlling. I’ve learned to deal with the vomiting, but he knows my schedule, and if I’m late, he makes me pay. I’d rather not deal with the consequences. Urine is hell to get out of a mattress.” He could talk, too. Good lord, he might have to see about keeping this one around a while. “We’re talking about a cat? If it was me, kitty would be taking a one-way trip in the car as fast as I could round up a cardboard box.”
“You have no idea how many times that exact thought has crossed my mind. There’s a German shepherd down the street that I think might like to help out, too. But I can’t, and the damned cat knows it.” And maybe not so young, after all. There were laugh lines radiating out from those incredible blue eyes, as well as a self-assurance that usually came with living life and dealing with its vagaries. “I could. Just say the word.” Jamie found himself smiling at Ryan’s dry wit. Damn, he was cute. And funny. “Thanks, but I have to hang onto him. I made a promise.” “Consciences can be a real bitch sometimes.” “Yeah.” Ryan’s tone was thoughtful as his gaze slid away, fixing on something beyond the window behind Jamie. He had a beautiful profile, with a long, straight nose -- a touch too long, maybe, but it worked with the rest of his face. His skin was clear, with undertones of pink. The same pink as the lips, only with a slightly deeper hue. The silence stretched out and Jamie searched mentally for something to talk about, something to interest Ryan. He’d anticipated a verbal opening by now, something to indicate that Ryan was open to things happening between them. Instead, he seemed prepared to chat casually all night long, but nothing more. “What do you do when you’re not working? You in school?” That brought Ryan’s attention back and the energy level rose palpably. “No, I’m done with school -- for now. I might go back some day, but I doubt it.” A small smile accompanied the admission, and Jamie wondered why Ryan had dropped out. Looking down at the table, Jamie wondered if Ryan realized that in turning toward the window, he had slid one arm back along the table to support himself. One hand now rested just inches away from Jamie’s. What would Ryan do if he closed the distance, letting their hands touch? Jamie knew his skin would be warm and dry, his fingers strong and capable
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from handling everything from heavy plates and trays to delicate stemware dozens of times each night. He studied Ryan’s hand. Imagined slipping his own fingers in between Ryan’s. The sensation was so strong Jamie could already feel the body heat in the hollows between his fingers. Involuntarily his hand curled closed to grip Ryan’s, only to be brought up short by the feel of cold plastic instead of human flesh and bone. Ryan’s gaze dropped to the table, drawn, no doubt, by the movement. Jamie could see the moment awareness crept into Ryan’s expression. His breathing stilled, and maybe it was all in Jamie’s imagination, but the tension seemed to grow until the muscles in Ryan’s hand and arm nearly vibrated. Lifting his hand, Jamie stretched out his arm. He couldn’t wait another minute to know for sure that he was right. But he hesitated for moment. Poised on the knife-edge of anticipation, Jamie could feel Ryan’s heat, only to see Ryan straighten suddenly in his chair, shoving both hands into his pants pockets. Jamie couldn’t stand any more of the tension; he had to do something. “Listen, do you want to get out of here? Let’s find some place to go. I know a club -ever go to the Blue Note?” Ryan’s eyes widened as he stopped and stared back at Jamie. “Or would you like to see my place?” Goddammit, he couldn’t decipher the expression on Ryan’s face. A little wide-eyed, startled. “I, uh ... I need to get home and check on the cat. Some other time, maybe.” Pulling his hands from his pockets, Ryan shoved himself back from the table and stood up. Something like panic clawed at Jamie’s insides at the thought of Ryan walking away. He stood up, dug in his pockets for some bills to throw on the table and grabbed his notepad. He didn’t believe in chasing anything, least of all potential ass. But Ryan wasn’t just any pretty young thing. Jamie couldn’t say why, but somehow he knew that Ryan was worth a little extra effort and so -- just this once -- he was prepared to pursue.
He followed Ryan through the two sets of glass doors and out into the warm spring night. His walk was smooth and fluid; Jamie’s gaze was captivated. He could already picture the sculpted hollows of the tight, high ass-cheeks he knew lay behind the serviceable work pants Ryan wore. He’d like to put his hands on Ryan’s hips right now, reach around to unzip the fly and reach inside. The aching in his balls reminded him that he’d been half-hard from the minute Ryan had walked into the coffee shop. Earlier than that, really, if he was being honest with himself. Mentally kicking himself for his own weakness, Jamie didn’t have to ask why he was turning himself inside out for something that hadn’t even happened yet. He didn’t have to look any further than the California beach boy a half-step ahead of him. Jamie knew he had a type and Ryan was a perfect ten on his personal hotness scale. His trigger was tripped every time the man so much as breathed in his direction. “Where are you parked?” Jamie had driven his “impress the clients” car -- a brand-new Porsche 911 Carrera -- and had left it at the edge of the lot, next to the concrete barriers that marked the restaurant’s boundary line. “I walked over.” “Let me give you a lift back to your car, then.” Jamie stopped next to the Porsche, where it sat gleaming black under the lot’s halide lamps. Hands back in his pockets again, Ryan stopped and stared, but in the darkness Jamie couldn’t tell if it was the car that had caught his attention or something else. “Is this yours?” Maybe it was the tone of voice, but Jamie sensed a lack of enthusiasm on Ryan’s part. Disapproval, even. Certainly not the naked lust it inspired in most men. “It’s to impress the clients -- let them know their trust is warranted. But you’re not impressed?”
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“It’s ... nice.” Ryan looked up, only one side of his gorgeous face lit by the nearest overhead light. Normally particular about where he left the car, it was a measure of Jamie’s earlier distraction that he hadn’t taken the time to find a better-lit spot and had left it in the first empty space he’d seen. Jamie pulled the remote from his pocket and unlocked the doors. “Hop in.” “Ah, it’s silly. I’m only across the street.” “Forget about it. You’re giving me a chance to show off.” Opening the door cautiously, Ryan looked inside before committing to climbing in. After assuring himself that Ryan wouldn’t bolt, Jamie got in and fired up the big engine. Ryan couldn’t be a car nut, Jamie decided, when he didn’t ask about horsepower or torque or any of the usual questions clients and aficionados would have been peppering him with. Just gave a cursory look around as he located the seat belt and snapped it in place. Jamie wanted to keep Ryan in his car -- or someplace even closer -- as long as he could. Nothing was going the way he’d planned. The coffee shop should have been enough time to determine mutual interest and decide on the place. Instead they’d talked about his cat. The night was slipping away from him with nothing established -- not even a date or time for some future rendezvous. “Just back to your car? I can’t entice you out for a quick drink somewhere?” “Listen, Jamie, I’m just going to be really straight with you. I’m not dating right now.” Fate was conspiring against him, Jamie decided, when the trip across the street took less than a minute. They were already pulling into the deserted lot of the restaurant, two hours past its closing time. Jamie pulled the Porsche in next to the only car left in the lot and let it idle. His expression closed, Ryan’s body language seemed to indicate ambivalence. Hands on his knees, Ryan leaned back against the door frame. “Can I ask why not? Are you ... is there a reason? Because I’m feeling some pretty amazing chemistry and I’d like to see where it goes.”
The waiter’s mask was back and Jamie couldn’t read a thing behind those remarkable eyes. So he did the only thing he could think to do: shut off the car’s engine and wait. Ryan took a deep breath and started in. “My last relationship didn’t end very well. In fact, it ended about as bad as it gets and I ... I just decided to take a break for a while.” Ryan sat up and leaned a forearm on one knee. “Maybe that sounds chickenshit to you, but it’s the only thing that saved my sanity.” Already turned as much as the bucket seats allowed, Jamie reacted to the note of sadness that had crept into Ryan’s voice. “Do you think it might be time to climb back on the horse?” Ryan’s gaze lifted to meet Jamie’s, and Jamie could see thoughts -- memories, maybe -flickering rapidly past. His mouth hung open a fraction, and Jamie caught a glimpse of perfectly straight teeth behind a lush lower lip. Fuck it. He was tired of waiting. Threading one hand into the silky, straight hair that fell from the crown of Ryan’s head, Jamie leaned the rest of the way forward and took Ryan’s mouth in a first tentative kiss.
***** He really was out of practice if he hadn’t seen that coming. Jamie’s tongue stroked his own as Ryan absorbed the flavors and luxuriated in the fleeting sensations. He needed to taste, feel, take it all in at once because he would only participate for a moment. Just a few more seconds, he told himself, and then he’d break it off. He needed to get out of the car and quit flirting with temptation. Firm but tender lips played with his own, drawing the upper lip between Jamie’s own before letting it slide away. Teeth gently dragged on his lower lip, and lips sucked on Ryan’s tongue. Beginning to drift, Ryan needed something to grab hold of. He reached up to hook a
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hand over one powerful biceps and felt a jolt of primitive pleasure at the beefy size of it. His fingers shaped themselves to its broad curve and even dug in a bit, feeling the strength of it. His head swam and his senses were swamped at the overload of sensation. Suddenly ravenous, his tongue plunged deeply into Jamie’s mouth as he sought to devour him. Jamie groaned and clamped a hand over Ryan’s cock. It seemed completely natural that Ryan was already hard, and the greedy fingers that shaped themselves to the rigid shape of him under his pants felt perfect and right. When Jamie began using his thumb to massage the tip of him, Ryan reacted. His hips surged forward and his head jerked back, a helpless moan bubbling up. Jamie followed him back, placing a series of open-mouthed kisses along Ryan’s throat. Working Ryan’s cock, Jamie bit down and held on at the sensitive juncture between neck and shoulder, gripping him for a moment before releasing him to mutter in his ear. “I want to fuck you so bad.” The guttural growl was so far from the urbane man of just minutes ago that it was barely recognizable. Ryan’s cock rose to meet the hard hand that gripped it, but when that same hand began searching for his zipper, an alarm went off inside Ryan’s head and his whole body stiffened. “Jamie, wait.” The ragged croak of his own voice didn’t surprise him. Ryan knew his control was close to snapping. “Fuck. Fucking bucket seats. You’re right. Let’s go to my place.” Sounds of panting filled the car and Ryan knew it wasn’t just Jamie’s he was hearing. His heart was pounding so hard he thought it was just possible that it would beat its way out of his chest, and he could see Jamie’s through the open V of his shirt. The hand that just moments before had hung on to the broad outline of Jamie’s arm now stiffened in resistance. “Jamie, wait.”
The hand on his neck relaxed, no longer gripping, but sifting through his hair down to where it was buzzed short on his neck. A shiver skated up Ryan’s spine as Jamie’s fingers stroked his scalp, and it felt like every hair on his head stood up. “I’m not ready, Jamie.” Brown eyes narrowed a bit at him. “Sure feel ready to me.” The hand over his crotch palmed the length of his cock before rolling slowly upward to tease the head. Ryan fought to keep from thrusting up against it, but he couldn’t stop the involuntary twitch of his dick any more than he could deepen his shallow breathing. “I’m sorry. I’m ... I’m not ready for anything this serious right now.” “Who said anything about serious?” Jamie pulled back his hand and withdrew to his own side of the car. Ryan opened his mouth, but no words came out. He closed it, pressing his lips together and tasted Jamie on them. God, it had been so long. Unable to stop himself, Ryan licked the taste off his lips, savoring the foreign flavors -- so different from Mark. Or what he could still remember of him. “Listen, I’m sorry Jamie. I shouldn’t have come. I’m not looking for anything serious right now and ...” Ryan shook his head against the flood of memories. The bad old days, when all he cared about was getting off, came rushing in faster and stronger than the tide out in Newport Bay. “I can’t do casual any more.” “What’s that mean? Can’t do casual.” The frustration was obvious in Jamie’s voice, and a muscle twitched high on one cheekbone of his handsome face. Passion rolled off him in waves, and Ryan had the feeling that this wasn’t a man he’d want pissed off at him. He would play hard and love harder; friends would get the shirt off his back, and enemies ... Ryan didn’t want to think about how Jamie would deal with anyone who crossed him.
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“I know a lot of people -- and you probably do, too -- that are less concerned with quality than they are with quantity. Tea shops and back rooms and glory holes are still around for a reason.” “And if I do?” Ryan couldn’t tell what Jamie was admitting to. Did he know people who frequented places where anonymous sex was the main draw? Or did he himself partake? “I’m not judging. I’m just saying that it’s not for me. Look, I’m sorry if I gave you the wrong impression. It was nice meeting you.” He reached for the door handle to let himself out of the car, only to realize he couldn’t find it. “Don’t go.” Something in Jamie’s tone of voice got to Ryan. Somehow honest-sounding -straightforward -- it cut through all the layers and got him deep down inside. He stopped searching for the door handle and looked back at Jamie. The darkness within the front seat of the sports car didn’t allow for much reading of facial nuances, and Ryan wasn’t sure what he was seeing there. He knew something about his own features often seemed to give people the wrong impression, so maybe he was being overly sensitive. Ryan knew he looked young. But beyond that, people tended to make assumptions. “Why?” They stared at each other, and Ryan wondered what was going on in Jamie’s head. Jamie was looking for sex, he knew that much, and Ryan had to admit he was tempted mightily. It had been a long time since he’d had more human contact than a casual handshake. He let his eyes discreetly roam a bit, taking in Jamie’s broad shoulders, the snug fit of the tailored broadcloth where it stretched over an impressive pair of shoulders, before dropping briefly to the powerful thighs resting just inches from his own. There was no denying he’d like to investigate that territory further.
“Because there’s something going on here. Or maybe I’m the only one feeling it.” Jamie looked away. Hearing the note of uncertainty, Ryan couldn’t do that to another human being. Let him think he was alone when he wasn’t. He would probably live to regret the unselfish impulse, but he had to be honest. Reaching a hand out, Ryan let it rest on Jamie’s shoulder. “No, it’s not just you.” Jamie looked down at the hand on his shoulder. Looked at it as though weighing alternatives. Then tilted his head while he flexed the shoulder up a bit, so that Ryan’s hand was caught in between and used it to caress his own face. The beard was surprisingly soft and Ryan shifted his hand a bit, until it cupped Jamie’s face. He stroked the border where beard ended and skin began -- felt the rush of blood to his groin as he watched Jamie, eyes closed, revel in his touch. “Come home with me.” Not opening his eyes, Ryan could swear Jamie even held his breath. He pictured himself following Jamie to his home. He would live in Emerald Bay, probably. One of those obscenely expensive places that came with a complimentary yacht club membership as part of the asking price. And then what? Not a glass of wine and witty conversation out on the balcony, watching as the weekend sailors guided their boats in and out of the bay. Not bloody likely. No, they’d have each others’ clothes off in less time than it took to do the set-ups on a four-top for Sunday brunch. Then it would be sex, hot and heavy, two or three times at least. Of course it would be phenomenal. As long as it had been for Ryan, it wouldn’t take much to bring him off. After the sex, though, what then? Maybe they would discover they had nothing in common. Nothing to talk about and no future together. Just another meaningless sexual encounter. Not nameless, anonymous sex. Just almost.
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Or they would find things to talk about, discover areas of common interest, get to know one another, maybe even fall in love. And then one would die, leaving the other heartbroken and alone. What was the point of any of it? It was a lose-lose situation and no matter how attractive he might find Jamie, Ryan didn’t have the strength to go through it again. He saw it all in the blink of an eye. In the time it took for his heart to complete two beats, all the possibilities played out in Ryan’s head with the ease and speed that came from traveling over well-covered ground. “I can’t, Jamie.”
“Son of a ... Bavarian piece of shit, God fu--” Body stretched half in, half out of the old BMW, Jamie swore a long streak at the unfairness of the universe. He’d had a rough night and the day after wasn’t going much better. “What’s the matter, boss? I can tell you’re having a tough day when you start repeating the cuss words.” Pulling his head out from underneath where the glove box would ordinarily be, Jamie shot the recalcitrant unit another look and propped an elbow on the car door. “Piece of ... Fuck it, this thing’s kicking my ass. I should have had this A/C unit out and replaced hours ago. Any idiot who works on their own car without knowing what they’re doing should be shot. Whoever jacked this one up, I have a special punishment in mind for him.” Manny and Bob, MacPherson’s upholstery specialist, were working on the Triumph in the next bay over. The industrial park in Costa Mesa had been ideal for the business’s needs when Jamie had made the decision to set up shop on his own. Beginning with one unit, MacPherson’s had slowly expanded until it now occupied four times the space of the original operation. Manny was his only full-time employee, but Jamie had acquired a loyal staff over
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the years who was willing to work on an as-needed basis. With only two jobs currently going, it was just the three of them working on this particular Monday. If the E-type Jag came in later in the week, things would start to look busy again. “Sorry, boss. If you need some help, I’m done with the Triumph for now. You need an extra pair of hands?” “Yeah? How’s the dash look?” Smiling, Manny grabbed a Coke from the refrigerator Jamie kept stocked with soft drinks and pulled up a folding chair sitting nearby. Settling himself, he popped the can’s top but, eager to talk about the job’s progress, held himself to a quick swig of the soda before launching into his narrative. “Aw, it looks great. Man, I didn’t think we’d ever get the ripples out of the teak, but it cleaned up real good. I guess we’re just lucky it didn’t split. That varnish you got is amazing. Anyway, she’s lookin’ real good. Bob’s going to work on the padding and the stuff around it now, so I’ve got some time if you need a hand.” Throwing Manny his best attempt at a smile, Jamie shook his head. “Nah, that’s okay. I’m not fit to be around today -- better just leave me to my misery. Could I give you some money to go pick up lunch, though? I’ll buy if you fly. Whatever sounds good, I don’t care.” Manny’s nod of agreement accompanied by an outstretched hand was Jamie’s cue. Digging out his wallet, Jamie gave the younger man some bills and watched him go, happy to be alone with his thoughts again. Jamie knew his temper wasn’t at its best. Not known for his patience at the best of times, he’d only gotten about four hours sleep last night and was running on fumes today. The eight-year-old BMW he was working on had been chosen as his project du jour because it looked like something he could do without expending a lot of energy. Jamie had to face it, he didn’t have any to spare today.
After being shot down by Ryan, he’d come home with the worst case of blue balls he could remember this side of adolescence. The moon nearly full, Jamie had lain awake watching the shadows on the wall as the wind blew the trees around -- a perfect night to lay in bed and make slow, thorough love to a cherished lover. But Jamie had had only himself and his hands, so he’d let his imagination run free. Imagined what might have happened if Ryan had said yes instead of no. It might have been Ryan’s hands stroking the warm, taut flesh of his cock. A warm mouth would have been sliding over him instead of his own calloused fingers. Hot. Slick. Deep. Jamie stroked a little harder, caressed his balls and thrust a little with his hips. He knew the shape of Ryan’s mouth now and the exact flavor of the flesh in the sweet spot of his neck where it met his shoulder. Closing his eyes, Jamie recalled the hungry way Ryan’s mouth had met his. The smooth slide of his tongue in Jamie’s mouth. Thought about that same tongue and hot, sweet mouth sucking him deep, working him down. The orgasm came boiling up from the depths of his balls as Jamie pumped hard and thought of that angel’s mouth drinking his cum. The edge of the BMW’s doorframe dug into his back and Jamie realized he’d thought about it so hard he’d gotten himself worked up all over again. The hard-on he’d just given himself pressed against the seam of his work pants and Jamie could count his heartbeats in the throbbing of his cock. This was bullshit. He had to get over this guy. So what if he was hot? Fucking amazingly blazing hot. With a beautiful body and the face of a Renaissance angel. Big deal. He’d seen better. He’d had better. He’d also been around the block enough times to know when it wasn’t going to happen and recognize when it was time to move on. Maybe he should call. Give it another shot. Fuck that. He didn’t chase. Never had because he’d never needed to. “Hey, Jamie! Telephone.”
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Off in his own world, Jamie’d never even heard the ringing. He looked over to the doorway where Bob the upholsterer stood. Small and wiry, the man was a genius with automotive upholstery. From classic European to American muscle cars, Bob could do it all and defy anyone to tell his work from the original. Jamie knew MacPherson’s was lucky to have him. Jamie dragged himself up off the floor and, ignoring the quizzical look on Bob’s face, accepted the proffered phone. The man might be worth his weight in gold to MacPherson’s, but Jamie had a rule about explaining himself -- he didn’t. “Thanks. MacPherson here.” “They don’t call you Mac? I wondered.” Jamie’s stomach dropped to the garage floor when he recognized the voice. “Jamie, it’s Ryan.” Clearing his throat, Jamie dug deep and tried for nonchalant. “Yeah, I know. How’s it going, Ryan?” “It’s going okay. How about you? How’s work?” Without the beach boy good looks in his face, Jamie could focus on the voice. Definitely an east coast quality to the vowels. “It’s kicking my butt. If this sum-bitch car was mine, I’d take it straight out to the compacter.” “Ooh, sorry to hear that. Rough day, huh?” Jamie thought he could hear the distinctive sound of glasses clinking in the background. Was Ryan calling from the restaurant or did he have company? “Yeah, you could say that.” Even through the phone lines Ryan’s indrawn breath was audible, but there was no way Jamie could have predicted what came next. “Hey, so what are you doing tomorrow night? Do you like basketball?” Jamie sat up and banged his head on the headliner, shocking himself when he realized he was sitting in the passenger side of the BMW. He’d picked himself up off the floor to
answer the telephone and must have wandered back to the car as he talked, so focused on the conversation he hadn’t been aware of walking back to the car. Now he was thankful he had something under him. He wasn’t sure he could walk and talk to Ryan at the same time. “Basketball’s okay. Why? Who needs to know?” The laugh in Ryan’s voice made Jamie smile despite his bad mood. “I do. I’ve got tickets to the Laker game tomorrow night. You interested?” Was he interested? Was the Pope Catholic? Jamie closed his eyes and thought about what it had been like, pressing open-mouthed kisses down the long, smooth column of Ryan’s neck. He could almost taste the skin underneath the salt of his sweat and the lingering scent of the kitchen Ryan had been in and out of all evening. Why hadn’t he stayed longer, pushed harder? Wondering what it would have been like to bury his nose in all shiny beach boy blond hair, Jamie shook his head and tried to focus on the question. Suddenly all he could see in his mind’s eye was a picture of Ryan’s face as Jamie laced their fingers together, pinned their joined hands to the bed and eased his cock into Ryan’s ass, inch by gloriously slow inch. “I guess that’s a no. Some other time, maybe.” “No, wait.” To hell with being cool. Jamie ran a hand through his short hair, wanting to yank it in frustration. Did he or didn’t he? “No, that sounds good, Ryan. What time?”
***** “You’re not really much of a basketball fan, are you?” One hand on the wheel, one on the gear shift, Jamie glanced away from the freeway traffic just long enough to make eye contact before returning to the road. His lips kicked up on one side in something that was almost, but not quite, a smile. “What gave me away?”
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“You spent more time celebrity-watching than you did on the actual game. I’m not sure you could even tell me who won.” It wasn’t bad, Ryan had decided, being chauffeured around in a car that cost more than he made in a year. The gray bucket seats were butter-soft in a way that only the most expensive leather was, and he’d always imagined sports cars to be noisier on the inside. This one was so quiet it was no strain to carry on a conversation, even at speed on the freeway. “Sure I can. It was either the Lakers or Sacramento. Definitely one of the two. Besides, I’ve never been that close to Jack Nicholson before. Should I even ask how you got seats that good?” You could tell a lot about someone by how they behaved at a sports event and Jamie had been polite but dispassionate. He’d cheered along with the home fans but usually about a half-beat late, as though he’d needed to be reminded. More than once Ryan had leaned over in a “did you see that?” moment, only to find Jamie people-watching, completely oblivious to the game. Mark had been a total sports nut. He’d bought a forty-two inch plasma TV practically the day they’d gone on the market and every package ESPN sold. He’d loved the Lakers, but hockey had been his true love and Mark had lived and died with the Kings. Tonight was an experiment on more than one level. Ryan had wondered what it would be like to be at a game with someone new. “Yeah, that’s what I figured. One of my regulars at the restaurant has season seats. Once in a while when he can’t use them and he doesn’t have a client he’s schmoozing, he drops them off. He knows I’m a fan.” “Nice perk.” Jamie flicked him another quick glance. Was it paranoia or had there been a question in his eyes? “Some people are grateful. They like to show appreciation for good service.”
“That’s a lot of appreciation.” “He’s a nice guy. It doesn’t cost him anything and he knows it makes me happy. He’d get good service anyway, but it’s still a nice gesture. Goes a long way to make up for some of the assholes.” Checking his mirrors before he down-shifted, Jamie negotiated the transition from the 405 freeway to the I-5. There was something sexy about the confident way Jamie drove; as though the car was an extension of himself. Ryan had been catching hints of a clean, outdoorsy scent all evening and now, in the enclosed space of the Porsche, it was even more noticeable. He took a deep breath and held it for a moment, releasing it slowly as he watched Jamie’s hand relax on the gear shift knob. Jamie had worn another of the long-sleeved business shirts that Ryan had seen him wear in the restaurant, and the sleeves were once again turned back to display strong forearms. Ryan thought about what it would be like to run a finger over the arm that rested negligently across the shifter; to stroke the auburn hairs that showed slightly darker than the tanned skin beneath. “Do you get a lot of jerks?” Ryan wondered if Jamie had caught him checking out his arms and glanced up guiltily. “Oh, yeah. I mean, the system’s practically set up to reward that kind of behavior.” They passed under one of the overhead lights illuminating the road and Ryan looked for the brown he knew Jamie’s eyes to be. He’d been too slow, though, and missed it. “What do you mean reward it?” Shifting in his seat, Ryan leaned back against the door as much as the bucket seats and seatbelt allowed. He was surprised at how much he found himself enjoying just watching Jamie drive. “Think about it. If I go into your work and I’m not happy with the job you do, do I have the right to dock your pay?” “Not pay me? Not if you want your car back.” This was accompanied by an offended snort that was a perfect measure of how unlikely Jamie considered that scenario to be.
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“What about if you’re not done when you promised it because one of your suppliers is backed up and gets the parts to you late? Can I pay you less then?” “Mmm, sorry, but that would be a case of ‘too bad, so sad.’ I don’t promise results in that narrow of a time frame.” Ryan loved the righteous indignation as well as the air of supreme self-confidence Jamie exuded. There wasn’t a doubt in his mind that if Jamie hadn’t needed at least one hand for the steering wheel, he would have crossed his arms over his chest and stuck out his chin. As though daring the imaginary client to mess with him. “Well, that would be the difference between your business and mine. If the chef gets backed up and my order is ten minutes late arriving at the table, my tip gets stiffed. If the customer orders something that’s not on the menu, and I can’t deliver, guess whose tip gets shorted?” They were pulling off the freeway now, back in their own town, and Ryan was glad they were at a stop light because Jamie turned and stared, open-mouthed. “You’re fucking kidding me. People do that?” “Oh, you bet. At least a couple times a day.” Jamie had a good heart if such a commonplace example of man’s inhumanity to man could get him riled. “They remember something we had two years ago that hasn’t been on the menu since the previous administration, but I’m incompetent if I can’t make it happen for them. And my tip gets stiffed.” Ryan had agreed to meet Jamie at his work, and they were just a few blocks away from it now. “Why do you do it, then? Why don’t you ...” It was obvious to the second, when Jamie realized what he was about to say and exactly how it would sound. Suddenly it took all of his concentration to pull into the nearly empty parking lot of MacPherson’s Automotive and find a parking place.
“Why don’t I get a real job?” Jamie switched off the engine and sat looking at his hands on the steering wheel. Finally, he turned, and Ryan could see the clear brown of his eyes, the exact color of good Irish whiskey. “Look, you seem like you’ve got a lot on the ball. And God knows you’re good-looking enough. What about modeling? Have you ever thought of that?” Resisting the urge to snort derisively, Ryan looked back. Took in the arched brows, the nose with its slightly hawkish bump at the bridge, the high cheekbones he could deduce behind the well-trimmed beard that hugged the square jaw. He drew a breath deep into his lungs, savoring the woodsy smell Ryan couldn’t identify as either cologne or soap. Not that it mattered, because either way it was surprisingly seductive. “Yeah, I’ve thought of it. It’s actually suggested with a fair amount of frequency. But, bitching aside, I basically like what I do. I think everybody complains about something about their job, don’t they? I like it that at the end of the day, I haven’t let anybody down. No one’s had to do without because I couldn’t do my job well enough. The worst thing that could possibly happen if I have a bad day at work is that someone’s blackened catfish got a tad too blackened. Maybe they didn’t get extra capers in their eggplant-shrimp beignets, but I didn’t ruin anyone’s life.” They sat motionless for a moment -- his impromptu confession a palpable thing between them -- staring at each other and just breathing. Until Jamie broke the silence. “Okay. Fair enough.” He jerked his head in the direction of the unimpressive warehouselooking building next to them. “So you want to come in and see what I do?” Ryan hadn’t meant to go on like that. Say all that. But once he’d opened his mouth it had all come pouring out in a jumbled stream-ofconsciousness mess. Holy shit. He couldn’t say why, but something about Jamie got to him. Made him want to tell him things. Open up to him.
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Suddenly a nice, safe tour of the building sounded like a great idea, because anything was better than that.
“This is nice. It’s a lot more ... hygienic than I’d imagined.” Ryan was standing in front of a workbench where most of the electrical work was done on the cars that MacPherson’s restored. Electrical was one of the talents that had always come easy to Jamie, for no reason that anyone could explain. He and his brother Matt had both been car crazy from an early age, but it was Jamie that had carried the passion into adulthood. Cars fascinated him, and he couldn’t remember a time when he hadn’t understood almost instinctively everything about them. The electrical aspect was something of a specialty for him, though, so this was the area he spent most of his time in. It pleased him to see it appreciated, even if it was for the wrong reason. “Thanks. I think. Or was that a backhanded compliment that I’m just too dense to pick up on?” “Oh, no. Not at all. I meant that sincerely.” Pulling one hand from the safety of a pocket, Ryan picked up a pair of Amp Super-Champs, holding the serviceable pair of wirestrippers more like a surgical instrument than the mundane tool it was. Turning them over, he examined them carefully before raising his gaze to Jamie’s. “What’s this do? What do the numbers mean?”
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How to describe something so basic? An everyday tool of his trade. Jamie shrugged, suddenly self-conscious. “Just wire-strippers. A basic do-all screw cutter. The numbers are the sizes of the screws, the threads-per-inch. The notches on the end are for crimping.” “Cool. You may have guessed -- I’m not all that mechanical, as it turns out.” The smile Ryan flashed made something turn over inside Jamie and it was all he could do to keep from scuffing a toe in the imaginary dirt at his feet. It was just a stupid compliment; probably the sort of thing Ryan did all the time with his regular customers. It didn’t mean anything. Jamie tried telling himself all of those things, but it still couldn’t squash the warm little glow he felt low in his gut. “You’re easily impressed.” “Hey, you’re talking to a guy who screwed up changing his oil. If you can name even half of these things --” Ryan gestured at the wall of tools behind him. “-- let alone know what to do with them -- then, yeah, I’m impressed.” From the carelessly tousled hair, the crystalline blue eyes that by God sparkled at him, to the pretty mouth with its perfectly symmetrical smile, Jamie couldn’t help but stare. Maybe it was the dimness of the after-hours lighting in the shop, but he was prepared to swear he’d never seen anything more beautiful in his life. “Screwed up an oil change?” Jamie’s mouth had gone dry as he’d stared in wonder at Ryan, and he had to clear his throat before he could continue. “What’d you do, forget to put oil back in?” “You have to promise not to laugh if I tell you.” With a pair of baby blues that gorgeous staring back at him, Jamie would have promised his left nut. At his belated nod, Ryan went on. “I was dumb. I didn’t know any better. I put the wrong kind of oil in a Volkswagen Thing, and it ate all the seals. I had to have the whole thing rebuilt.” The poor guy was so obviously uncomfortable the story couldn’t be made up. It made his heart hurt to see the embarrassment clouding those fine eyes and the rueful half-smile
that curved Ryan’s mouth. Jamie shook his head in sympathy, finally breaking down when Ryan folded his hands across his chest in a defensive posture and looked away. “Oh, Ryan.” How to break it to him? God, it pissed him off to no fucking end the way some places would take advantage of people who didn’t know any better. “Yeah, I know. What can I say? I was trying to save a few bucks. I was stupid.” “That’s not what I meant.” His brow furrowed, Ryan looked back. “What?” “You were scammed. Totally, royally scammed. The oil didn’t eat your seals. It was an old engine that never leaked before, but it did after you put in the new oil. Right?” “Yeah. Exactly.” “The synthetic stuff is just thinner. It’ll make any older engine seem like it’s leaking when it’s just the viscosity of the oil. If you’d gone back to the old brand, you would have been just fine.” Already leaning back on the workbench, Ryan’s shoulder slumped. A lock of hair flopped forward, and when Ryan looked up, it was through a curtain of sleek blondness. “Seriously? You’re not messing with me? I was ripped off?” “’Fraid so, my friend. I’m embarrassed that someone in the brotherhood would be such a prick.” “Oh, God, I hate myself. I am so stupid sometimes.” As he looked up blindly at the ceiling, Ryan’s long neck was gloriously exposed, and Jamie wanted to taste it so bad he had to clench his fists against the desire. Hands braced on the workbench behind, Ryan could have been a pagan sacrifice; throat and entire body offered up to the god of ... what? He was about the farthest thing there was from godlike, but if it was being offered, he sure as hell wasn’t going to say no to some of that.
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Without having to think about it, Jamie crossed the ten feet or so of the warehouse floor until he stood just inches away from Ryan. “Hey, don’t beat yourself up. You can’t know everything.” At his first whispered word, Ryan brought his chin down so that his eyes were level with Jamie’s. This was the first time he’d been this close in any kind of decent lighting, and Jamie was mesmerized by the brilliant blue of Ryan’s eyes. Somewhere between robin’s-egg and French-racing blue, they were gazing back at him with a mix of emotions Jamie was afraid to even guess at. The hunger met up with greed, and Jamie wanted to grab hold and crush Ryan to him. The need to get as close as he possibly could, to throw his arms around Ryan and hold him close until they merged into one rose up, threatening to swamp everything else. But something in Ryan’s eyes stopped him. When he’d been a kid, they’d lived next door to a family that could have starred in commercials for advertising’s idea of the typical American family: good-looking husband; pretty, chirpy wife; two perfect kids and a dog. Only, the dog would never let Jamie get close. He would hang around the outskirts on the rare occasions when the blue-collar MacPhersons had been invited over for a mid-summer barbecue or holiday gathering. Good with animals, Jamie had always wanted to pet the little brown and white mixedbreed, scratch behind his ears or at the base of his stump of a tail. Whenever Jamie got close, though, the little guy would duck his head and melt away. Caught between conflicting desires, the dog couldn’t bring himself to leave entirely, but he couldn’t take that last step to hold still for a pat, either. Jamie saw that same look in Ryan’s eyes now. “What’s wrong?”
“I ... I ...” Ryan shrugged, turning away. Backed up against the workbench with nowhere to go, Ryan turned his back on Jamie completely. Hands braced on the bench, his chin dropped to his chest. “What?” At a loss for what to do, Jamie placed his hands on Ryan’s shoulders as gently as he could make himself. “What is it?” Maybe it was his whispered words on the bare skin of Ryan’s neck, so vulnerablelooking with its elegant curve and closely shaven hair. Something twisted hard inside Jamie at the shiver he felt chase across Ryan. Intensely turned on but suddenly afraid, he froze. His hands cupped Ryan’s shoulders while everything in him strained forward. His chest was millimeters from Ryan’s back, his aching dick pushed hard against the placket of his jeans, and Jamie longed to press closer. The shiver worked like a key, unlocking everything Jamie was feeling. His hands dropped from Ryan’s shoulders to snake around his trim waist, dropping finally to his groin. At the feel of the bulge behind Ryan’s fly, Jamie instinctively cupped it, tracing its shape with his thumb. He sought mindlessly for Ryan’s neck with his mouth, kissing and biting as his free hand fumbled with the snap of Ryan’s jeans. Both hands working in concert now, it was a matter of seconds until Jamie was holding Ryan’s cock in his hands. The taste of sweet skin in his mouth and on his tongue, Jamie inhaled deeply, drawing the scents of warm, aroused man into his lungs. Dear God, nothing else in the world smelled this good. Nothing even came close. Ryan didn’t say a word, but he widened his stance a little, and Jamie took ruthless advantage. He crowded closer. His own cock, still trapped behind layers of cloth, nestled into the crack of Ryan’s ass, grinding rhythmically now. With the warm, velvety head of Ryan’s cock in one hand, the other hefted the sweet weight of his balls, warm and smooth. So good, so fucking good. Jamie used firm strokes on Ryan’s cock, hard and perfect in his hand, down to its base, then back up to the thick,
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mushroom head. He wanted desperately to see and taste, as well. But now with his hands finally on Ryan, no way was he chancing second thoughts on Ryan’s part. He wanted Ryan and he finally had him. Jamie’s only warning was a groan, so soft he felt it more than heard it. Not much more than a whisper, really, it vibrated against his lips, and then Ryan’s hips jerked against his hands. Warm, silky cum slid across his skin and splattered the workbench.
***** Jeez, what an ass. Ryan let the water from the hose spray the hood of his car, wetting it thoroughly. Setting the hose down, he reached for the sponge floating in the pail of soapy water nearby and began washing with sweeping, circular motions. It was a gorgeous, sunny day and he needed something physical to do to take his mind off what a moron he’d been last night. Good freaking God, what an idiot he’d been. All he had to do was think of his behavior the previous night after the basketball game and a hot wave of embarrassment would crash over him. Like the one heating his face now. Embarrassment -- mixed with the distinct heat of desire, though. The car was small, and it wasn’t long before he was done with one half of the Miata’s hood. Walking back to the pail, Ryan dunked the sponge and switched sides. He’d been obsessing since he’d left Jamie last night. Ryan knew he ought to just put it out of his mind and forget about it. He’d done so many things wrong last night it was impossible to count them all. Hard to even know where to start. Why not start with wondering why the hell had he gone inside with Jamie in the first place? He’d known what would happen if he let himself be alone with the man. The evening had already been one long seduction. Just sitting next to Jamie, breathing in the scent of his
aftershave, all green and woodsy, had been working on him all night. The occasional brush of an arm or knee had sent tingles racing up Ryan’s spine, spreading to every corner of his body. Tingles he hadn’t felt in a long, long time. He had been emotionally and physically frozen so long; until Jamie had come along to remind him, it had been hard to even remember what desire felt like. Sitting next to Jamie, even while watching his beloved Lakers, had been an exercise in frustration; one long tease that had gone on and on and on. Besides the physical, there was an emotional quality to the seduction, as well. Ryan felt like the lowest kind of disloyal slut he could imagine when he realized how much he’d enjoyed being with Jamie. Without being obvious, Jamie had nonetheless managed to make him feel ... Ryan searched for the word ... cared for. Jamie was a smart guy, and he knew that public displays of affection in the ultra-macho atmosphere of a professional sporting event would be deadly. But he’d still somehow managed to make Ryan feel special. When Ryan had confessed his tale of abject stupidity relating to cars, which had to sound totally ridiculous to someone as knowledgeable on the subject as Jamie, he’d instead found understanding and sympathy. And it had completely undone him. When he had felt Jamie’s touch on his shoulders, from the very first instant Ryan had melted. It was a good thing Jamie had put his arms around him because otherwise Ryan would have been in danger of sliding into one big puddle on the floor. Being wrapped in those arms had been amazing. Incredible. Heat like a blast furnace had surrounded him, only adding to the fire that had been building inside him all night. When Jamie had reached around, unbuttoned Ryan’s pants, and reached inside ... unbelievable. At that point Ryan could no more have stopped what was happening than he could have stopped the breath in his chest or the beat of his heart. He’d needed Jamie’s hands on him and the only thing that would have made it better would have
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been if they had both been naked in a bed and had the whole night ahead of them for Jamie to fuck him. Another wave of heat rolled over Ryan, just like it had last night and every time he’d thought of it since then. Leaning on the car’s cloth convertible top, Ryan folded his arms and buried his head in the crook of one elbow. He’d felt Jamie’s rock-hard erection pressing into the crack of his ass, and it hadn’t taken much at all to imagine how good it would feel sliding inside him. Shit. Why couldn’t he stop thinking about Jamie’s hands on him? Or how much he wanted more? Opening his eyes, Ryan looked down at the black canvas material beneath his arms, a corner of silver paint from the door of the Miata he’d been washing just visible, and saw yet another reminder. Mark. Guilt and shame washed over Ryan as he remembered coming out of the house that fine morning in June to find a brand-new Mazda Miata sitting in the driveway. Mark had stood watching from the doorway, beaming, as Ryan had circled it in disbelief. Totally unnecessary in Ryan’s eyes, still, he’d been unable to convince Mark to return it. It was a celebration of Ryan’s completing his first master’s degree, Mark had insisted. Not that Ryan couldn’t have afforded it on his own, but it had given Mark so much pleasure that Ryan had finally given in with as much grace as he could muster. Here he stood, yet another tangible reminder of Mark’s love staring him in the face. And what was he doing? Dreaming about someone else. He was ashamed of himself. A shuffling two-step accompanied by a characteristic metallic clink sunk into his consciousness and Ryan knew without looking he was about to be killed with kindness. “Hello, Ryan.” “Hey, Jeanette. What’s shakin’, baby?”
Forcing a smile to his face, Ryan slipped into his public persona as he turned to greet his elderly cane-using neighbor. A little forced cheerfulness never killed anyone. At least, Ryan didn’t think it had. And besides, Jeanette was a nice lady and a good neighbor. She didn’t deserve his bad mood. A dear old thing, she and her husband, Bill, were a couple of artistic types, drawn to Laguna Beach by the artists’ colony that had been here since ... shit, who knew? Since forever, for all Ryan knew. He’d only come here because of Mark. Left up to him, he’d still be living down in funky old Belmont Shore, the gay-friendly, student-filled section of south Long Beach. “Not too much. I finished a painting today, and I’m going to celebrate by making a full spaghetti dinner tonight. Meatballs, garlic bread, a big salad -- the works. I think I’ll go all out and open a bottle of Bordeaux that I’ve been keeping for a special occasion. The French may not be good for much else, but they do make some damn fine wine. Care to join us?” Jeanette smiled at him, her eyes all but disappearing into the folds of her wrinkled, seventy-something skin. She was full of the dignity and grace of a bygone era, but it was her good humor and easy laugh that Ryan appreciated most. He’d been too wrapped up in the wonder of his new life with Mark to get to know the older couple much at first, but in the time since Mark had been gone, Jeanette seemed to have taken Ryan under her wing. Not gone. Gone implied that Mark still existed somewhere else. Call it what it was for once. Mark was dead. “Umm ...” Ryan began his reflexive refusal. Outside of work there was always a kneejerk reaction to shun company. “Now unless you’ve already got a date, I won’t take no for an answer. Even you should know it’s impossible to make a small amount of spaghetti.” “What do you mean even me? Besides, I don’t know if I can. Let’s face it, you’re a bit of a bigot, Jeanette. You should know I’m part French on my mother’s side.” Although he’d
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been smiling when he’d said it, Ryan was half-hoping she’d be offended and that he could get out of it that way. Why was he so anxious to get out of a nice, no pressure dinner, anyway? Maybe an evening with the old folks would distract him from his non-stop thoughts of Jamie and what he’d allowed to happen there. “I mean, you’re single, alone, and as far as I can tell, never seem to eat.” She’d never addressed Mark’s passing directly. It had always remained unspoken between them, and so it caught Ryan unawares -- blindsided him with the pain. Mark was dead, and he was alone again. “I’m sorry, honey.” He’d looked away, so the hand on his arm came as a surprise. “It’s time to move on, don’t you think?”
“Brunet. Two o’clock. Blue shorts.” “Nah. Doesn’t do it for me.” “Since when? He looks just like that guy on General Hospital. Whatshisname ...? Oh, come on. You do too think he’s hot.” “Sorry, babe. Not workin’ for me. Although ... Blond. Bike. To the left.” Jamie tracked the fit young man on the mountain bike, wearing shorts and shoes and nothing else. “The hair’s a little long. Just a shade lighter, a little more Scandinavian-looking, and he would be perf--” Oh, shit. Stopping himself mid-sentence, Jamie realized what he was doing. “What? Go on.” His friend Claire looked away from the blond who was rapidly disappearing from sight and back to Jamie. “You were saying?” From their bench near the boardwalk, they’d been killing time, waiting for Claire’s husband Bobby to get the ice cream he’d been jonesing for the entire ride. Friends since high school, they got together whenever their schedules permitted. Not so frequently these days, it seemed like, so Jamie had cancelled his hot date with the laundry to ride bikes on the boardwalk when Claire had called. “Ah, nothing.” Afraid of Claire’s infamous powers of observation, Jamie looked away.
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“What do you mean, nothing?” Brunette and pretty herself, it occurred to Jamie that a taste for blonds was something they’d always had in common. “Since when do you turn down prime blond hotness, my friend? Methinks I smell romantic developments. You holding out on me all of a sudden?” It was still early enough in the season that the stretch of coast highway near the pier wasn’t wall-to-wall people yet. More rain than was usual for the area had kept people indoors thus far. The sunny, cloudless weekend day had brought people out, though, and rollerbladers wove in and out of the pedestrian traffic, while kids on skateboards rolled defiantly past signs expressly prohibiting their use. Although bare chests weren’t the deep bronze they would be by July or August, they were still adequate, and Jamie hadn’t thought twice about indulging in his and Claire’s perennial favorite pastime of man-watching. Except now it looked like he was about to be outted. “Hold out on you? Would I dare?” Jamie tried for his best “who, me?” smirk, but Claire wasn’t buying. “I wouldn’t have thought so. You never have before.” Her posture was relaxed, with her arms spread expansively along the back of the park bench they occupied. Though she was voluptuous in a way Jamie found charming, he knew that Claire nevertheless thought of herself as overweight; thus, no ice cream for her. But her dark eyes gleamed speculatively at him and she’d stopped scanning the crowd and looked at Jamie questioningly. “Are you seeing anyone right now?” Shrugging, Jamie flicked a glance at Claire to show her he wasn’t afraid of her questions before resuming his people-watching. “What’s with the --” Claire’s exaggerated shrug back at him caught the corner of Jamie’s eye. “I didn’t think that was a tough question. Are you seeing anyone?” “Jesus, Claire, let it go.” Making himself shut up, Jamie caught Bobby’s profile as he emerged triumphant from the ice cream shop.
“Excuse me. Since when are you so touchy?” One of the things he liked about Claire and Bobby was that they’d all been friends so long there was no tippy-toeing around sensitive subjects. Anything and everything was open for discussion and he usually found it refreshing. Today, though, he would have preferred a little polite reticence. “I’m not seeing anyone, okay? That’s the problem.” Across the street, Bobby, cone in hand, waited for the light to change, and Jamie could tell without looking that Claire wasn’t going to let things drop. “Since when do you have problems meeting people? You live in the hot young thing capital of the world. You work around nothing but men. You’re not shy.” A good-looking African-American man skated by and Jamie realized it was the third time he’d seen him. The man, young and lean with legs that looked even longer courtesy of the extra height the skates gave him, executed a sharp one-eighty turn as soon as he realized he’d caught Jamie’s eye and skated slowly backward, stretching out the eye-contact. Besides the requisite short shorts, the young man wore the remains of a denim shirt with the sleeves hacked off, unbuttoned completely to show off a well developed chest and beautifully cut six-pack abs. In an offer that couldn’t have been clearer if he’d held up a sign, the young man made a discreet open-armed gesture, the universal sign for “You like?” Six months ago Jamie would have thrown a “See you later” over his shoulder at Claire and Bobby and followed. All he could do now, though, was look down at his lap and the irrefutable evidence of his lack of interest and give a polite shake of his head. Grabbing his own ass with both hands, the young man arched an eyebrow, flipped another one-eighty and skated away. Jamie knew the exaggerated sway of the hips as he shoved down hard with his skates wasn’t due solely to the mechanics of generating speed on roller-blades. It didn’t take an expert at reading body language to know he was letting Jamie know it was his loss.
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He was turning back to greet Bobby, who had finally made it across the street, when Claire leaned forward to place a motherly hand across his forehead. “Are you all right? You’re not sick, are you?” “Claire! Jesus, enough! Took you long enough, Leighton. Your wife’s getting out of control so rein her in, all right?” As usual, though, Bobby just laughed at Jamie’s demand. “Best of luck with that one, big guy. You figure out the answer to that, you let me know.” By unspoken agreement, Claire and Jamie rose from the bench, and the three of them headed toward the bike rack where they’d rested their bicycles. “She’s prying into my love life and it’s pissing me off.” Jamie tried glaring at the two of them but it did him no good. “After fourteen years of marriage, I’ve learned one thing: just tell her what she wants to know. It’ll be less painful all around.” “I am not dissecting my sex life for your twisted entertainment.” Her bicycler’s helmet back on now, Claire might have looked like a cross between Salma Hayek and Lance Armstrong, but the determination in her eyes was hers alone. “I don’t care about your sex life. We were talking about your love life. Big difference.” “Since when?”
***** This was bullshit. Jamie hung his bicycle from its hook in the garage and held back from pitching his helmet at the wall. He and Ryan were both adults. He was tired of sitting around like a little girl, waiting for the football captain to call her. When grown-ups got together they figured out pretty quickly whether they wanted to fuck or not. Then they acted on it. Or not, depending on the answer. All of this “I want to, but I’m not ready” crap was bullshit.
Kicking off his biking shoes, Jamie left them with the bike and unlocked the door leading from the garage into the house. He walked in through the kitchen, wondering like he always did what kind of moron put the kitchen between the bathroom and garage. He knew, of course. The house was built around the view and in order to give the money shot to the living room, the architect had made all other considerations secondary. Still, he’d always figured that whoever’d had the house before him had finally gotten sick of the funky layout and found something that made more sense. The thirst he’d worked up on the ride kicking his butt, Jamie was just reaching into the fridge for a cold bottled water when his cell phone chirped. He let it ring twice more while he grabbed a water, twisted the cap off and slugged down a quick couple of gulps before he finally flipped it open. “MacPherson here.” “Jamie, it’s Ryan.” Caught trying to chug more water, he was lucky he didn’t startle himself into taking water down the wrong pipe. It was spooky. He’d been thinking so hard about Ryan it felt like he’d made the call happen himself. “Jamie?” “Huh? Yeah, sorry. What’s up, Ryan?” “Not much. Um, I wondered if you were by chance free tomorrow night?” Holy shit. He’d better sit down for this. “I could be. After work, that is. What’d you have in mind?” “I don’t know. Dinner, movie. Whatever you feel like.” Just that quickly, thoughts of what he felt like doing with Ryan were crowding his head so intensely that he missed whatever Ryan said next. Shoving them aside, Jamie tried not to sound like the overeager suitor he felt like. “Why don’t you come over here? We could pick something up to eat. Or I could throw something on the grill. What sounds good?”
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“Fucking you sounds really good. Or you fucking me. Either way.”
***** Ryan took a deep breath and held it for a second before letting it out slowly. His heart was pounding and the butterflies in his stomach had turned suicidal. But it was too late. He’d said the words and there was no going back. The silence from the other end of the phone was starting to scare him, though. “Jamie?” “Huh?” “Did you hear me?” Ryan couldn’t tell what the sounds coming through were. Was he choking or laughing? “Uh, yeah.” Grabbing the remains of his courage with both hands, Ryan pressed on. “And?” “Jesus ... Where are you right now? What are you doing? I’m coming over.” Ryan looked down to where the band of his white cotton underwear showed beneath the half-open zipper of his unbuttoned black work pants. The towel left over from his recent shower lay in a heap on the bed, and his work shirt hung in the open closet door, crisp in its clear plastic dry-cleaning bag. “Getting ready for work.” Just hearing Jamie’s voice, a raspy growl, had Ryan’s blood pumping. Sitting back on his bed, he stuffed a pillow behind his back and leaned against the headboard. “So what are you doing?” A picture of Jamie in dirty shop pants and nothing else came into Ryan’s head. He’d have some tool or other in one hand and the white wife-beater he’d taken off hanging from a back pocket. Ryan visualized the broad shoulders and muscular arms he’d felt under Jamie’s
shirt both that night in the car and after the basketball game. Mentally he stripped him down the rest of the way, picturing a round, muscular ass and powerful legs. “Hmm? Nothing. Give me your address -- I’m coming over.” “Can’t. I’m working tonight.” What would Jamie’s cock look like? Probably broad and meaty, like the rest of him. Ryan would hold it in one hand -- pump it slowly -- while the other caressed Jamie’s face. Kneel down to lick warm head of it. “So call in.” Jamie’s voice, terse and gravelly, was really getting to him. Ryan had to close his eyes and concentrate. His own voice was starting to quiver. “Sorry. I’ve got bills to pay.” “Fuck that. I’ll pay you double whatever. Just come over here instead.” “I can’t. But --” God, it was sounding more and more like a really good idea. “Jamie ... unzip your pants.” He couldn’t be there, but this might be the next best thing. “What?” The chuff that came through the phone told him that Jamie was as excited as he was. “Hold the phone down. I want to hear the zipper.” “What? I can’t. These shorts don’t have a zipper.” The picture Ryan had in his mind changed to align with the new information. He could see the shorts -- and the man in them -- perfectly in his mind’s eye. “Reach your hand inside, then. I want to feel you. Are you hard?” A bark of laughter was the only response. “Are you? Hard for me?” “Fuck. I am now.” Reaching inside his pants, Ryan got a grip on his own rigid cock and ran his thumb back and forth across the head. As he imagined it was Jamie, a sigh of frustration formed, and Ryan didn’t try to stifle it.
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“Yeah. You feel good to me. God. I can barely get one hand around you. And you’re so hard.” “No shit.” “I want to taste you. I want to run my tongue from your balls up to the tip. Your skin is so soft there. I want to taste the drops of cum starting to seep out. Flick my tongue into the little hole.” Ryan smiled at the groan his monologue had elicited. He was only thinking out loud -giving voice to the thoughts that filled his head. “Goddammit.” He waited for Jamie’s response. Something. Anything so he would know that he wasn’t alone out on the limb. “Holy fuck. Get your ass over here so I can fuck it right now.” Smiling a little at the surly tone of Jamie’s voice, Ryan settled back a little more against the headboard and gave his cock another leisurely stroke. “You know I can’t. But tell me how my hand feels on your cock. How’s that?” “Huh? What the ... It’s nothing like the real thing, that’s for sure. Jesus.” Heavy breathing had never sounded sexier to him. “Tell me how that feels, Jamie.” Ryan could picture Jamie, his hand around his cock, glaring at the phone, his frustration building. “This is bullshit. Fuck this. I want you. And you want it, too, or you wouldn’t have called. Why are we wasting time with this stupid fuck game?” “Because I really can’t be there right now. If you’re not enjoying it, then I’ll let you go. We can talk some other time.” “No!” Ryan held his breath and waited. “No, wait. Give me a second.” The silence was absolute and Ryan could only guess what Jamie was doing. Would he play along? Or would he let disappointment win and tell
Ryan to go fuck himself? “Okay. We’ll do it your way. But I gotta tell you -- it’s no substitute. When I do finally get my hands on you ...” A jolt of energy shot through him at the sexual promise in both Jamie’s words and tone. His cock twitched in his hand. Now that he’d made the decision to sleep with Jamie, he couldn’t wait. He was like a kid on Christmas Eve. No one would ever replace Mark in his heart, but he’d realized in the past couple of weeks that his heart and his body were two entirely different creatures. Since meeting Jamie his body had begun making demands. Thinking back to those first weeks and months after Mark died, Ryan remembered having to be reminded to eat. Food lost all appeal and there had been times when he’d had to force himself to eat, only able to do so by thinking of it as fuel for his body. Funny how he’d never noticed the irony before of finding his salvation in going back into food service at a time when he couldn’t have cared less about the subject. Just like his appetite for food had eventually come back, it had taken a while, but other appetites were making their presence known now. “What? What do you want to do, Jamie?” “What do you think?” “I want you to tell me. But first I want to know if your hand is still on your dick.” “What do you think?” “I think you should get a really good grip on it if you haven’t already. You should stroke it, and handle it, and think about me. About how good it’s going to feel.” Ryan smiled as he took his own advice, stroking himself and imagining it was Jamie. “Are you doing it?” Jamie’s response, whatever it was, was inaudible. “Say again. What?” “I said I feel stupid.” “Stupid? Why?” “Because I don’t talk about stuff like this.”
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“Oh.” Well, that just killed his whole fantasy. But, what if ... “Really? I never would have known. ’Cause when you did, it really got to me. Turned me on. Are you absolutely positive you don’t talk about this stuff?” Leaning his head back against the headboard, Ryan closed his eyes and pictured Jamie stroking him. The voice in his ear had been husky. Intimate. The sound went straight to his brain -- by way of his dick. “Turned you on?” “Are you kidding? You’ve got to know you’ve got a great voice. Very manly-man. When you said what you were going to do when you got your hands on me ... God.” “Yeah?” “Oh, yeah. Right now I’m touching myself and pretending it’s you. I’m wondering what it’ll be like with you. What you’ll look like. How you’ll touch me. What you’ll want to do.” Ryan settled into the bed a little more and let his mind wander. With the afternoon sun coming through the windows, the room was warm. It was his favorite time of day to fuck. The sun on his skin, the scents heightened. He ran his fingers up to the head of his cock and brushed them lightly back and forth. What would the first time with Jamie be like? Slow and experimental? Or fast and furious? He was betting on hard and fast. “I want to touch you.” His butterflies came back with a vengeance at Jamie’s starkly uttered words. He felt like a breathless ingénue, nearly choking on his tongue. “How?” “All over. Your chest, your back, your arms. Your dick.” Ryan closed his eyes and let Jamie’s words paint a picture. He could almost feel those calloused fingers cupping his shoulders before slipping around his back. Picturing Jamie unzipping his pants and taking his cock out -- handling him -- had him sighing. “Yeah. That would be nice. What else do you want?”
“I want to hold your ass in both hands while I suck on you. I want to taste you and smell you. I want to swallow you so deep you come harder than you’ve ever come in your life.” “Oh, yeah.” He could almost feel the hot moisture of Jamie’s mouth. The insistent tug of his lips on Ryan’s cock and Jamie’s strong hands holding him still while he worked him over. With the hot words in his ear, he could almost believe Jamie was here with him now, talking dirty to him while they discovered each other. “And then what?” “After I’ve sucked you dry with my mouth, I want to turn you over. I want to lube your ass with my fingers until you’re squirming. ’Til you can’t take any more. I want you up on all fours, so that I can be getting you hard again with my other hand at the same time.” “Oh, fuck, yeah.” From the sound of the choppy breathing, Jamie was as turned on as he was, and Ryan came out of his fantasy long enough to picture Jamie pumping his own cock, just like he was doing. The images Jamie’s words were conjuring were powerful. He knew he was close, but he repeated his mantra again anyway. “Then what?” “I want to grab you by the hips and ease inside. It’s going to be tight, and I’m going to have to work myself in slow. But once I’m in -- all the way in -- it’s gonna be so hot. I’m gonna fuck you so good --” Ryan knew there was more, but whatever else was said was lost as Jamie’s words pushed him over the edge and he came all over his clean work pants.
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Jamie took a last look around the living room for the fourteenth time. It wasn’t that he was nervous. He just wanted things to go well. He wasn’t used to this delayed gratification shit and it was throwing him off his game. The chicken breasts were marinating, the wine was chilled and the salad was ready. Not quite able to suppress a smile of satisfaction, Jamie’s gaze swept the room. The dump looked pretty good if he did say so himself. The view was what caught everyone’s eye first. The view of the Pacific was pretty nice, he had to admit. From the storms in January to the sunsets all summer long, Jamie loved it all. The best part, though, was just the smell. Waking up in the morning to the scent of the salty air, heavy with moisture. Sure, he got tired of the gulls crapping on his deck and ruining any weathervane he tried to put up. Parking was a joke, regardless of the time of year. Maybe it came from growing up in San Pedro near the docks, but he never felt quite comfortable out of sight of the ocean. Somehow he seemed to breathe better. Sleep easier. Casting a dubious eye at his clothes, Jamie weighed his options, still not sure he’d gotten the tone right. For fancy social events he knew how to dress to impress: one of the suits he had custom tailored because nothing off the rack fit his Fred Flintstone shape and
one of the shirt-and-tie combinations he had the guy at Nordstrom pick out for him. Work was a no-brainer because, although he talked to clients daily about cars worth more than some people’s houses, he was still working on cars. Work boots, a shirt with the MacPherson’s logo embroidered over the pocket, a pair of Dickie’s and he was good. It was these in-between occasions that killed him. Dressing up was out of the question. It was just dinner. Only a second date, albeit with a set of seriously high expectations attached. Jeans didn’t seem enough. Trying to decide between a quick trip out to the deck to check on how the coals were coming along and another look at the shirt options hanging in his closet, Jamie took a halfstep in the direction of the deck when the doorbell sounded. No time for either, it seemed. It could only be the pent-up excitement of the fantasies that had sprung up in Jamie’s mind since talking to Ryan yesterday that accounted for the kick in his pulse. As he walked toward the door, his stomach turned over. It almost reminded him of his street-racing days, back when he’d pitted his old Fox-body Mustang against anything on wheels. Except that had been sheer nervousness. Adrenaline mixed with excitement banging around inside him in a combustible mix as he lined up his deceptively mild-looking vehicle against the community’s street warriors. He took a deep breath in through his mouth and let it out through his nose. Then he opened the front door. Ryan looked up from his earnest examination of his shoes to meet Jamie’s gaze. When he did, a smile curved Ryan’s lips, and his brilliant blue eyes warmed. Jamie’s stomach took a nose-dive, and all coherent thoughts fled except one: He’s so fucking beautiful. “Hi. Are you going to let me in, or are we eating out here?” The half-smile twisted a bit and turned wry as Jamie realized he’d been frozen in place. “’Course not. Come on in.” He stood back and watched, his eyes dropping involuntarily to the spectacular view of the snug fit of Ryan’s jeans. He was only a little shorter than Jamie;
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it must be the way he craned his neck checking out the place that made even the area between Ryan’s shoulders and hair seem long and graceful. Good Christ, listen to him. Mooning over the man’s neck. Get a fucking grip,
MacPherson. Yeah, he’d like to get a grip. Did they really have to wait until after dinner? “Nice view.” The house was narrow but deep to take maximum advantage of the view of the Pacific. “Yeah.” The view Ryan was talking about was something he lived with on a daily basis, so the impact was lessened. On the other hand, the view Jamie was presently enjoying owed nothing of its appeal to large expanses of blue-green water or waves slamming up against rocky coastline. Hands shoved deep into his pants pockets, Ryan glanced back over his shoulder at Jamie before looking back at the ocean. Nodding to himself at something Jamie couldn’t begin to guess at, Ryan turned away to take a tour of the room, and Jamie tried to see it as it must look through Ryan’s eyes. The plasma TV and the shelves of DVDs took up most of the east wall, while his desk and computer inhabited the south wall that faced it. It occurred to him how many of the items in it owed their presence to people no longer in his life. Propping one leg on the back of the leather sofa that bisected the room, Jamie half sat as he watched Ryan scan the titles of his DVD collection. Jamie couldn’t tell which were drawing the smiles and which raised the eyebrows in surprise, but he wasn’t much worried about it. He’d reached a point in his life where it didn’t bother him to be kidded about his taste. So what if he had an overwhelming affection for Tom Hanks movies? It wasn’t like he hated Bruce Willis. And he could enjoy special effects, car chases and blowing shit up with the best of them. Especially car chases. He also happened to have a taste for romantic comedies and he didn’t care who knew it.
Ryan picked up one of the brightly painted wooden animal figures he’d picked up in Mexico. Brett had been the real collector of the creatures, acquired during multiple trips to Cabo and Cancún. But when he’d moved out, somehow they’d been left behind, and Jamie had grown too used to them to toss them out. The music playing was courtesy of a CD collection converted to digital and stored on a computer put together by Ben. He’d had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the digital age, but this far after the fact Jamie was ready to admit that it wasn’t bad. Even the electric-blue leather sofa he was currently resting his butt on had been purchased over the protests of his sister Susan. Bemoaning Jamie’s lack of taste everywhere but his mouth, she’d threatened to boycott his house if he went with it over her more traditional choice. As it turned out, she and her new husband hadn’t been over to see the couch once it had been delivered, but that was their choice. The picture hanging over the desk was Jamie’s choice, too, but owed its presence to no one but himself. It showed a car, naturally. He liked it for the loud colors and the classic ’60s pop styling at least as much as he enjoyed knowing it was a one-of-a-kind. Done by Peter Max in his heyday, it was a study done for a series of paintings that never happened. Something about the way Max had caught the energy and appeal of the vintage Corvette spoke to him. He got a childish kick from watching peoples’ eyes go wide when they recognized the signature. Ryan stopped to look at it, smiled and moved on. Completing his turn around the room, Ryan stopped arms’ distance from Jamie. “So what’s for dinner?” Was it his imagination, or was Ryan enjoying a laugh at his expense? That smile looked just a shade too innocent to be believed. Well, two could play at that game. “That depends on you. What sounds good?”
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Ryan met his gaze and Jamie didn’t think it was all on his side, the energy he was feeling. “Just about anything. I’m starving.” Jamie’s smile broadened. “Excellent. Can I get you something to drink first? Beer? Wine? Martini? Water?” “A little wine sounds good.” Nodding, Jamie shoved off from the sofa and headed for the kitchen. “It’s a Chenin Blanc. Is that all right?” Because he couldn’t resist, as he passed Ryan, who stood between him and the kitchen, Jamie let his hand brush Ryan’s. The jolt he felt when Ryan’s fingers reached back went straight to his crotch. He knew he hadn’t been wrong.
***** Now that he’d made the turn in his thinking and both he and the evening were here, Ryan felt oddly calm. He’d thought he’d be a nervous wreck, thoughts jumbled, stomach in a knot. But he couldn’t have felt calmer. He was excited, of course, but he was doing the right thing, and he felt good about it. The butterflies had subsided, Christmas Day was finally here, and he couldn’t wait to open his present. After pouring them each a glass of wine, Jamie had led the way out to the deck where an old-fashioned kettle-style barbecue was going. Ryan held his wineglass up to the late afternoon sunlight, enjoying the pale gold color of it. “I like that you didn’t make a big deal out of the wine. I see it every night at work: people trying too hard to impress each other with how much they know. Especially since that movie came out. No one even thinks about asking for a Merlot anymore.” Laughing, Jamie looked in Ryan’s direction and continued tending the grilling meat. The smell of the hickory chips he’d thrown in added a distinct aroma to the smells wafting his way whenever Jamie lifted the lid on the cooker, like he was doing now. Something
about the combination suggested long, idyllic summer days enjoyed in the company of family and old friends. Not that Ryan would know from any first-hand experience -- which made the sensation odder still. The man himself looked downright edible. The short-sleeved shirt with its abstract print emphasized the broadness of Jamie’s shoulders, while the relaxed-fit cargo shorts looked like they’d been chosen to accommodate his muscular thighs and ass. Ryan heaved a small sigh and took another sip of his wine. He could get used to this. Barbecuing on the deck as the sun set behind the Palos Verdes peninsula while a beautiful hunk of man waited on him. Jamie hadn’t let him do a thing so far and Ryan wondered if it was a conscious reversal of their roles. Somehow he didn’t think so. There was a naturalness to Jamie’s movements that spoke of long habit, and Jamie had always been a thoughtful customer when Ryan had served him at Le Lou. Funny how he hadn’t noticed it before, but maybe it came from seeing Jamie on his home turf. Jamie suddenly struck him as the caretaker type. Cocking his head, Ryan squinted a bit and considered Jamie in this new light. “Do you like to cook? Since you seemed to eat out a lot, I guess I figured you must not.” Occupied with transferring the cooked pieces of chicken to a warming pan, Jamie glanced his way again briefly, but mostly talked over his shoulder. “Nothing very fancy, but I like it the way I like it. Sometimes it’s just easier to do it yourself. You know?” “That’s funny. Thankfully, not everyone thinks like you, or I’d be out of a job.” Task completed, Jamie turned to face him, a thoughtful expression on his rugged face. “Would that be so bad? Do you like what you do?” He seemed like a straight-shooter, so it was easy to meet Jamie’s gaze. But sometimes people’s motives took a while to surface, and Ryan wondered if there might be something else behind the question.
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“Yeah, I do. I like the flexibility of the hours. If I need to take time off, I can usually swing it.” Ryan stopped to try to put into words just what it was he got from waitering. “There’s a satisfaction in making people happy -- bringing them what they want. And believe it or not, the money’s pretty good. But best of all, if you worked hard and did your best, there’s no stress at the end of the day that you’ve let people down.” Jamie scratched his beard before crossing his arms across his broad chest. “Has that happened to you? At some other job?” “Yeah. It did.” Pictures flashed into his head of his job at the county health care agency he’d worked for. The frustration of trying to make inadequate funds go as far as they possibly could; and just how bad it felt when, inevitably, people were short-changed. Adding Mark’s passing on top of it had been the last straw. “Can we talk about that some other time?” Taking another sip of the wine, Ryan rolled it around, enjoying the crisp bite of it on his tongue. Making eye contact, as bold and direct as he knew how, he sat up in the lounge chair he occupied and dropped his feet to either side. “You know what I’d really like?” Jamie’s mouth quirked a bit. “Tell me.” His cock was beginning to throb, the pulse steady and insistent. The ocean breeze kicked up, and Ryan had to shove the hair out of his eyes to read the expression on Jamie’s face. Indicating the space he’d made on the lounger, Ryan beckoned with his hands. “I’d rather show you.” Ryan wasn’t sure what he would have done if Jamie hadn’t responded quite so quickly. Thankfully, though, Jamie didn’t waste any time, seating himself in front of Ryan, straddling the lounger. Once seated, he seemed even larger somehow than he had when he’d been standing five feet away. Suddenly Jamie was all he could see and smell; the scents of soap and wood smoke clinging to him should have clashed, but didn’t. He reached for Jamie, and the second
they touched, Ryan’s brain shut down. He only knew he needed a taste and that he wasn’t nearly close enough. Leaning in, his lips touched Jamie’s, and it was like discovering kissing for the first time. Firm yet soft, lips parted and tongues touched. Sipping and licking, Ryan tilted his head to get closer, only to find himself held captive. Jamie’s hands framed Ryan’s face, fingers spread wide to cover nearly his entire neck, and Jamie’s kiss turned insistent. Grabbing hold of Jamie’s waist as an anchor, Ryan was buffeted as Jamie seized control of the kiss. Mouths open, tongues and teeth clashed, blended, broke apart, only to come back again at a different angle time and again. His cock pressing insistently at his zipper, Ryan dropped his hands to the button of Jamie’s shorts while Jamie’s hands did the same for Ryan’s pants. Maybe the snap of Jamie’s shorts was old, or possibly because Ryan had started first -- he didn’t care which -- Ryan won the race. He reluctantly broke off the kiss, needing to see the pulsing cock he now held in his hands. A little dazed, he’d forgotten it was possible to get so hot, so fast. Panting and out of breath, his pulse pounding, Ryan knew he must be a little wild-eyed. If he could take them off the burly specimen he held in his hands, that is. Wide and beautiful, almost more than he could close a hand around, Jamie’s cock stood up proudly, a single pearled drop of semen clinging to its broad head. Ryan used one finger to trace the big vein running up one side, and he would have smiled at the leap it made if he hadn’t been so awestruck. It wasn’t just big; it was ridiculously large. As though when they’d been handing out dicks, he’d shown up late and all they’d had left was extra-huge. “Wow. Beautiful.” His eyes shifting back and forth between Jamie’s face -- lost in absorbed attention at Ryan’s exploration -- and the monster he’d lucked into. “Stand up.”
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His voice was a whispered croak; it was no wonder he had to repeat himself. “Jamie, stand up.” Ryan recognized the instant comprehension dawned because Jamie, looking as dazed as Ryan felt, pushed himself to his feet. Sliding down the lounger, Ryan gauged the distance and situated himself on his back, legs sprawled. If the lounger had been anything other than sturdy redwood, it probably wouldn’t have worked. As it was, though, Jamie leaned over and grasped the top, with Ryan positioned beneath him at the perfect angle to receive him. Running his hands up Jamie’s legs, Ryan marveled briefly at their size, heavy with muscle and sprinkled liberally with crinkly reddish-brown hair. He grabbed Jamie’s ass with both hands and opened his mouth to the velvety soft head of his cock. Humming appreciatively, Ryan let it fill his mouth. Jamie slid inside, not so much thrusting as letting the weight of his body settle into the welcoming mouth below him. Ryan used his tongue first to cradle Jamie’s cock, before running it lightly around the flared crown, next dipping below to tease the sensitive nerves beneath it. The angle prevented Ryan from taking him very deep, and he tried to make up for it by taking exquisite care of the part he could take in. His head full of the clean, musky scent of Jamie, his mouth stretched wide around his gorgeous fat cock, Ryan lost himself in the cocksucking. So good. So sweet. God, he’d forgotten how good it could be. If only he could get flatter -- take him deeper. He could stay like this forever, lost in the moment. From a million miles overhead, Jamie groaned deep in his chest, and a shudder shook his big body. Beneath Ryan’s hands, Jamie’s ass tautened, and he jerked suddenly, thrusting hard against the back of Ryan’s throat. Pulsing jets of hot, salty cum filled Ryan’s throat and mouth as he gulped and swallowed.
Holy hell. Unbe-fucking-lievable. Shaking loose his shorts and kicking them away, Jamie sat down heavily on the end of the lounger, between Ryan’s loose-limbed sprawl. Jesus Christ and every one of his randy
cousins. All he could manage audibly, though, was “Whoa.” And a weak one, at that. He propped himself up, hands on his knees, and looked at Ryan, still too wiped out to even hold up his head decently. Ryan had the good manners to at least look a little ruffled. Jamie didn’t think he could have stood it if Ryan had acted completely normal; as though nothing new or earthshattering had just happened. Pulling himself up, Ryan moved over, clearly making room for Jamie -- provided he could manage to haul his way-too-relaxed ass up there, that is. Ryan reached out one arm to retrieve his wineglass, and Jamie was pleased to see it waiver a bit. As he took a healthy slug, Ryan’s eyes closed and his smile spread to become positively smug. “Nice. Devin -- that’s our sommelier -- Devin was right. It really does go with everything.” And then he licked his lips.
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“Oh, fuck, you’re going to kill me. You know that.” It was a statement, not a question. Because, just like that, Jamie’s pleasant little glow of satisfaction was now replete with the knowledge that Ryan had been as into it as he was. Holy mother of God, but seeing his dick swallowed up by that choir boy mouth had just about done him in. Then to be sucked off like a Vegas pro, Jesus fuck, it was the icing on the hottest cake he’d ever had done to him. So fucking hot to look down and see all that blond perfection working on him. Jamie wanted to preserve the moment. Savor it. Roll around in it. Because it didn’t get much better than that. Squeezing in next to Ryan, Jamie was struck by the total excess of clothes involved here. He’d bet his Jackie Stewart autographed pit pass that the sweet thing in his arms had a chest worth worshiping and, goddammit, he wanted to see it. Just as soon as he recovered. Fuck. He wanted to lounge. Relish. Glow. At the same time, Jamie’s mind was already turning over idea after idea on how to make tonight happen again on a frequent basis. “Want some?” Ryan held out his half-empty wineglass, and Jamie took it without hesitation. It felt good to share, even something as simple as a drink. To keep himself from grinning like some dopey idiot, Jamie held the glass to his lips and drank. As he did, though, he couldn’t stop watching Ryan over the brim, taking in the classically straight nose and exquisitely carved lips. Closed, those amazing laser-blue eyes were hidden from view, until Ryan stretched his arms overhead, opened them again and smiled lazily. His midriff bared by the stretch, Jamie’s eyes were drawn downward, where he spotted the tip of Ryan’s cock protruding from the half-opened zipper of his jeans.
Oh, yeah. Baby.
Without conscious thought, Jamie reached for the zipper and lowered it the rest of the way. Pushing aside Ryan’s underwear, he took a firm grip on that beautiful, curved cock. Longer than his own, if not as wide, it pulsed with life. Responding to his intimate touch, it quivered and even swelled a bit as Jamie gave it a first experimental pump. “Oh, nice. That’s so nice.” Ryan’s hips flexed up a bit as he cooperated by shoving himself into Jamie’s tight grip. Propping himself up with one arm, Jamie continued to stroke and pet Ryan’s captive cock. He used his unoccupied arm to push himself down the lounger, his mouth already beginning to water at the idea of going down on Ryan. The chirping of his cell phone caught Jamie off guard, and he had to jerk his hand away from its task to catch himself from falling. He could tell from the custom ringtone who it was and glanced apologetically at Ryan. It was Doug the Jerk, and he was going to have to take the call. “Don’t move.” It would have been a lot easier if he hadn’t just kicked his shorts away. As it was, though, he had to snatch them up off the ground and try to catch it before it went to voicemail. “I’ll keep this short, I promise.” Jamie cast a longing look at his interrupted task and flipped open the phone. “MacPherson here.” “Jamie, Doug Roddick. Sorry to bother you at home, but I was calling to check on how my baby’s doing. ” “That’s okay, Doug. I told you to call any time, and I meant it.” It might be a standard line he told all his customers; still, he meant it. Folks were paying him a lot of money, and part of that was for the superior customer service MacPherson’s offered. Part of why people trusted him with their expensive toys was that they could reach him any time, day or night, Saturdays and Sundays included. Jamie didn’t think he’d ever regretted his policy more than he did at this particular moment, though.
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“Hey, that’s great, Jamie. Thanks.” Jamie laughed silently at this last bit of conceit on Doug’s part. The thanks word might have crossed Doug’s lips, but his tone made it plain that he considered it the least Jamie could do. “So how’s she looking? Any chance I’ll have her back by the thirteenth?” Unrealistic requests were part of the game. Even so, Jamie snorted. He did his best to give reasonable estimates up front, but there were a hundred and one variables out of his control, and Jamie made that little bit of reality crystal clear to clients from the get go. He stood up and began to pace. “Of this month? Sorry, Doug, that’s not going to happen. I told you it would probably be mid-September at the earliest. Maybe late August if everything went absolute best case scenario at every possible point. But I’m here to tell you that never happens.” “Really? There’s absolutely no way. You’re sure?” A hint of a whine was beginning to creep into Doug’s voice. He hated it when they whined. Jamie had a waiting list of clients and more work than his shop could handle. If Doug wanted to take his car somewhere else, it would barely cause a blip on MacPherson’s radar. Still, he had his own standards to maintain, and he hated to send back a project unfinished. Stopping to run a hand through his hair, the frustration building, Jamie realized Ryan hadn’t listened to him. He was most definitely moving. Tears of Christ, was he. Ryan was watching Jamie pace from his spot on the lounger, and as he watched, he stroked himself. A small smile playing about his ever-so-slightly averted face, Ryan looked up from beneath eyelids half-lowered in pleasure. One hand was unbuttoning his madras cotton shirt, while the other pumped slow, measured strokes of his erect cock. “Jamie?” Doug must have said something that Jamie missed, because his tone had departed whiney and entered shrill.
“Say again, Doug. I missed that.” The last button undone, Ryan had his shirt all the way open now, displaying a nicely muscled chest and trim waist. The hills and valleys of well-developed abs formed a gorgeous backdrop to the cock that curved so invitingly toward it. “I said, isn’t there something you can do to speed things up a little bit? Throw more people at it?” The hand that had done the unbuttoning, now finished with that task, moved down to cradle his balls. Half-caressing, half-displaying, Ryan squeezed them, and Jamie realized the groan he heard was coming from him. Dragging his concentration back to Doug Roddick’s Porsche, Jamie tried to recall the thread of the conversation. “Doug, you know, I really can’t. There are only a handful of people who know how to do this work right. Besides, the sub-frame assembly we’re waiting on is stuck in Customs. Nothing I can do.” Scrubbing his free hand over his face, Jamie grimly held the phone to one ear. Ryan had dropped his feet to either side of the lounger now and was working his hips in a slow, dreamy rhythm. “Can’t you grease the wheels down at the docks a little? These guys are Teamsters, aren’t they?” “Doug, I’m not sure what you think I can do.” “Don’t you have a contact down there? Someone who can help expedite?” The hand that had been toying with his balls came away to brush the tip of Ryan’s bobbing cock, now well-lubricated with his pre-cum. Ryan rubbed three fingers around the plump, mushroom-shaped head, his eyes closing in what looked to be extreme pleasure. Jamie groaned again at the sacrifice he was making for the sake of his business. Near his breaking point, Jamie struggled to focus on Doug’s voice -- “Jamie, I’m begging you, man.” -- when Ryan held out the fingers, smeared with semen, for Jamie’s inspection.
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“Doug, you’re breaking up.” Two steps and he was at the lounger. “Doug? I’m losing you, man.” Jamie pushed the END button, snapped the phone closed and dropped it without caring where it landed.
***** “C’mere.” At least, that was Ryan’s best guess at translating Jamie’s snarl. Eyes blazing, he grabbed Ryan’s wrist and stared hard at the fingers he’d used to play with himself. Holding Ryan’s gaze, Jamie moved a step closer until their bare legs touched. Then, deliberately, with a calculated slowness, he licked Ryan’s sticky fingers clean. Drew them into his mouth and continued to caress them with his tongue. Closed his lips around them and sucked hard, as though on a surrogate cock until Ryan was the one groaning. He felt the heavy suction in his cock and balls, as though it wasn’t fingers at all that were being toyed with. Swinging one leg over the lounger, Jamie again sat down straddling not just the piece of furniture, but Ryan, too. A hand already on one of Ryan’s knees, Jamie released the arm he’d been holding and shifted both hands until each rested on the taut muscles of his thighs. One eyebrow arched, a wicked smile curved up one side of Jamie’s mouth. “Not so brave now, are you?” Jamie’s powerful chest was heaving, and Ryan was mesmerized by the fire in his eyes. Before this moment, he’d seen them smiling with humor and piercing with determination. Just a few minutes ago they’d been replete with the satisfaction that came from coming and coming hard. But with two burly arms holding his legs apart, his erect cock and balls open and exposed, while a modern day barbarian glared down at him with lust in his eyes ... Ryan hauled in a breath and tried not to swoon. “You’re not mad, are you? I was just -” He tried a shrug. “-- keeping things warmed up. You know, while you talked. On the phone. To your friend.”
Using his own legs as reinforcements, Jamie wedged them between Ryan’s and the sides of the lounger, forcing Ryan’s open just that much more. “Sure you were. Just keeping the old interest up. You say. I say you were teasing me. Trying to see how much I could take.” Strong fingers gripped his legs, thumbs working small circles in the sensitive area inside and above the knees. It almost tickled, but the shiver of excitement that ran through Ryan began at the area of contact and ended in his cock. The hands slid further up his legs until they were just inches away from what Ryan was sure was their ultimate goal. “You know what they say about payback, don’t you?” Only a half-formed idea in his head, Ryan had thought he’d detected a little wild man in Jamie. Always beautifully dressed and immaculately groomed, there was still something untamed and not quite civilized about him. Maybe pushing him this early in the relationship hadn’t been such a good idea, after all. He hadn’t meant to torment the man. Exactly. He’d only intended to keep himself interested. But no sooner had he seen the flare in Jamie’s eyes when he’d caught Ryan stroking himself than Ryan had had to do it again. Cause and effect. Like a primitive remote-control. When he’d touched himself, Ryan had seen the resulting reaction in Jamie. “No. What do they say?” The tension was palpable. Jamie’s gaze held him pinned and Jamie’s lips barely moved when he talked, like it was all he could do to hold himself back. “Payback’s a real cocksucker. You’re going to put your hands behind you -- grab the back of the lounge. You’re going to do it now.” His cock twitching in anticipation, Ryan did as he was told. He’d always been a sucker for that Clint Eastwood stare, everything from Hang ’em High to Unforgiven, and Jamie had it down cold. He’d be killer in a size-too-small cop uniform. Ryan could picture him in a snug blue shirt, mirrored shades, and glossy knee-high boots. Ohmygod.
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“What are you going to do to me?” He’d almost added “Officer” to his question. Ryan didn’t know Jamie well enough yet to know how he’d react to a little role-playing, but there was just enough of an edge to his voice to make things interesting. “Whatever I want, sweet thing. Whatever I want. Now don’t move.” Ryan glanced down to the spot where Jamie’s hands gripped his thighs. He didn’t think they would leave a mark, but he couldn’t be sure. Only time would tell. Jamie released one leg and captured Ryan’s cock. But instead of using his whole hand, he gripped it at its base with just his thumb and forefinger, then sat back to watch. If he hadn’t experienced something similar already, Ryan wouldn’t have thought it was possible to get any harder. To feel any fuller. They both watched, though, as blood continued to flow in and with nowhere to go made his cock swell. Meanwhile, Jamie’s gaze occasionally flicked elsewhere on Ryan’s body. Belly. Nipples. Balls. Maybe it was all in his head, but Ryan imagined he could feel the ocean breeze flowing over the head of his cock as it swelled and slowly turned purple. He wanted relief. To be stroked by firm, no-nonsense hands. The thought of Jamie’s tongue and mouth on him forced a groan from him, and Ryan’s hips flexed involuntarily. “I said. Don’t. Move.” Dark and terse, Jamie’s voice was hot with lust and it washed over Ryan like a flashfire. “Oh, Jamie ... come on.” Jamie’s lips quirked in a small smile. “Yes?” “Jeez, come on. Do something. I wasn’t this mean to you.” His eyes mere slits, Jamie’s smile grew. “Mean is in the eye of the one being teased. Or in this case, in the cock.” His fingers relaxed for a second, flexed, then resumed their grip. “You were having a hell of a lot of fun watching me squirm on the phone. Trying to be professional. How’s it feel to be on the receiving end?”
“Jamie ...” Ryan’s breath caught in his chest as Jamie lowered his head toward his cock. Thank God. He was finally going to -But he only took the smallest of licks across the weeping head before pursing his lips and blowing cool air across the top. Thrashing his head, trying to satisfy the need to move something, Ryan fought the pressure building inside him. “Jamie, please ...” The whispered words hung between them. Jamie took another miniscule lick and opened his mouth wide. Instead of taking Ryan in, though, he made a small huffing noise and this time warm air from his lungs enveloped Ryan’s swollen and exquisitely sensitive cock. “Sorry, couldn’t hear you. What was that?” Jamie wanted begging? Fine. He’d beg. Anything for some relief. “Please, Jamie.” “What? What would you like, Ryan?” “Put your mouth on me. Suck it. Please.” Oh, thank god, he was lowering his head. “So I should take pity, you think? Be easier on you than you were on me?” Something close to a whimper came out when Ryan realized that instead of help, he’d been suckered -- teased a little more. “Please, baby, I’ll never do it again. Please, suck it.” “There. Was that so hard?” At least, that’s what Ryan thought he heard. He was still begging and whimpering, though, so he wasn’t sure. Then suddenly the viselike grip released him, and in its place was a hot, moist mouth. Heat and suction and slippery tongue caressed him. Heaven. It was sheer, fucking heaven. His cock tingled as blood was at last allowed to flow out, but the hot mouth wrapped around his cock was the most beautiful thing he’d ever felt -- until Jamie reached under him and took Ryan’s ass in both of his big hands. Finally free to move, Ryan drove deep. He swore he could feel the back of Jamie’s throat, open and welcoming. Tongue and lips, heat and hands were driving him out of his mind. When fingers strummed down the crack of his
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ass at the same moment he slipped deeper in Jamie’s throat, Ryan began coming. More fingers crowded around, pressing on the sensitive nerves of his back hole, trying to squeeze in, and Ryan exploded in a torrent of hot cum.
***** Dinner was served late. Neither the skill nor the modesty should have surprised Ryan, but Jamie was a damned good cook who had actually blushed and changed the subject when Ryan complimented him. “This is really good.” “It’s no big deal. Any idiot can throw meat on a grill.” Jamie looked down and concentrated an inordinate amount on stabbing greens onto his fork. Nothing was at all elaborate, but it was all top quality, and throw some Cajun spices on it, it wouldn’t have looked out of place on a plate at Le Lou. “Have it your way, then. It’s no big deal. I still say it kicks ass, though. Where’d you learn to cook?” While Jamie finished chewing, he poured them both the last of the Chenin Blanc. After setting the empty bottle back on the table, he took a sip of the wine before answering. “My mom, mostly. They both worked so all of us kids had to learn to fend for ourselves, me especially. Dad was good for hot dogs and the occasional barbecue, but Mom made sure we could all manage the basics.” “Brothers and sisters?” Jamie set down his fork and leaned back in his chair. Nothing fancy or ornate, the furniture still somehow managed to convey money. Everything looked simple but expensive. “One of each, both older. You?” “Nope. Just me”
“Really? Only child? I wouldn’t have guessed. I would have figured that once everyone got a look at you, they would have pumped out a few more.” The last swallow of wine gone, Jamie set his wineglass down and looked at Ryan. Just looked. The weight of his gaze built until Ryan wondered what the fascination was. He knew what he looked like, but people always seemed to read more into it somehow. They developed expectations. “As it turns out, no. One was enough.” The last thing Ryan wanted to talk about was his family and childhood. Tonight was a rare opportunity to put all that out of his mind and just be. Enjoy the moment. Leaning forward in his chair, Jamie folded his arms on the table. “So. What about dessert?”
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Switching from wine to vodka was probably a mistake. He was getting too old to pull it off without consequences in the morning, but right now Jamie didn’t care. He just wanted to get fucked up. Martinis were too much work. All the measuring and squeezing and sugar for the rim. It was just too much hassle when all he wanted was to be able to stop thinking for a while. He’d drunk the last of the O.J. with his breakfast, but there was still a half bottle of cranberry juice. That would work. Pouring the juice into a metal shaker, Jamie eyeballed the amounts - fifty-fifty ought to take care of it. Enough fruit juice to give it some flavor and enough alcohol to get the job done. Fuck the clean-up. It was hard to ignore twenty-plus years of training, but he didn’t feel like dealing with it right now. He tuned out the old man’s voice in his head telling him that he didn’t bust his ass working ten-hour days so that he could come home to a pigsty. Jamie took a long slug of his drink straight from the shaker, his fingers finding the flat spot on the side of his skull from memory. Yeah, Patrick MacPherson hadn’t taken much off it that night, smacking him a little harder than he probably meant to. The cracked skull and concussion had been written off to a clumsy kid, still growing into his feet. Jamie’d just
shrugged and gone along with Big Mac’s story to the E.R. doc and made damn sure he didn’t leave dirty dishes in the sink again. Taking another drink, Jamie stripped off his shirt and shorts and headed naked for the Jacuzzi. He kept his eyes fixed on the ocean out beyond his deck and the intervening sand. Not so much avoiding looking at the lounger as ... oh, screw it -- that was exactly what he was doing. He didn’t want to look at it because if he didn’t, maybe he’d be able to avoid thinking about Ryan. Pulling the lid off the smallish hot tub that had come with the house, Jamie threw one leg over the side, and then another, careful not to spill his drink as he climbed in. Sinking into the hot, bubbling water, Jamie had to laugh at what a dumbass he was. Funny how he’d never realized quite the extent of his masochistic streak. He’d had big plans for Ryan and the hot tub. So what was the first thing he did after crashing and burning? Go drown his sorrows at the scene of what should have been his big triumph. Shit. What the fuck had he done wrong? He could never figure this crap out and it drove him goddamn crazy. The part before dinner had gone great. Better than great. Pretty effing perfect, he’d thought. Dinner was fine. He hadn’t burned the meat and Ryan had seemed ... Jamie leaned his head back and looked up at the night sky. For fucking once the stars weren’t hidden behind a marine layer, shining and ... and goddamn twinkling, for Chrissakes. He stared at them unseeing, as a parade of images rolled through his head. Ryan, smiling at him at his door, asking if they were eating on the porch. Ryan sitting on the lounger, unbuttoning Jamie’s shorts. That sweet mouth giving him a blow-job for the ages. Ryan lying back, hands behind him, eyes wide, asking what Jamie was going to do to him.
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Taking another pull from his drink -- shit, was that really the last of it? He looked inside, then shook it, confirming that indeed he had finished it off -- Jamie rested his outstretched arms along the top of the spa and closed his eyes. If he could just figure out what the hell had gone wrong. If it was all so goddamn wonderful, why hadn’t Ryan wanted to stay? There had been a lot more of the evening left. Not to mention the rest of the night. Why did it always seem like the ones he didn’t give a rat’s ass about wanted to move the hell in after fifteen minutes and dug in their feet like a dog with the best spot on the sofa when he tried to shoo them out? But the ones he wanted to stay ... Jamie lifted his head and shook it. Brett ... Ben ... Jonathan. He had about as much luck attracting lasting love as Johnny Depp. Nah, less. Even Johnny had a steady squeeze these days. He had no fucking clue. One minute they’d been exchanging inanities about their lives and the next Ryan was making excuses and edging toward the door. What was it he’d said? Something about “enjoying the moment.” What the fuck was that supposed to mean? He’d sure as hell been enjoying the moment. He wanted to enjoy a whole hell of a lot more moments, too. How was he going to do that, though, if Ryan took off just when things were getting interesting? And what happened to Mr. I-don’t-do-casual? Huh? Usually he didn’t see changes that fast outside of pit row at Indianapolis. Jamie searched his alcohol-fuzzed memory for what had worked in the past. Brett had liked to travel. They’d gone to Mexico a few times. The Caribbean once. Hawaii. But MacPherson’s was just getting off the ground in those days, and when he’d had to cancel a trip to take care of an important job, that had been the end of Brett. Jonathan had been easy. He was a clothes- and shoe-hound. Although Jon eventually priced himself out of the market, for a while they’d been happy. He had never really found Ben’s price.
Closing his eyes again, Jamie let the water and the bubbles lift him. He concentrated on emptying his mind -- thinking of nothing. But not even the chlorine smell could wipe out the taste and smell of Ryan that were already imprinted on his brain. His tongue reached out to explore the sensitivity that lingered on his lips; lips still tender from their kisses. Jamie floated. Thoughts eventually slowed, until finally they stopped altogether. Gradually the bubbles from the spa jets became hands touching him -- exploring every curve and crevice with exquisite tenderness. Jamie surrendered to the fantasy and let them touch him everywhere.
***** “Hey, boss. We’re going to the cheap burrito place for lunch. You want anything?” Looking up from the accounting spreadsheet displayed on the computer screen, Jamie scrubbed a hand over his face and thought longingly of the days when he’d been just an employee. Manny was grinning, money in his hand and nothing more on his mind than his next meal. God, but he’d never imagined he would look back on those days with a fond nostalgia. “Sounds good. Get me a ...” Jamie scrounged in his pockets for cash while he made up his mind. “Bean and cheese sounds good. Here. This should cover it.” Manny looked doubtful. “You sure? I can front you the difference if you want some meat on that.” Stomach soured by hours thrashing through the accounts, Jamie just longed for comfort food. “No, really. I appreciate the offer, but today, simple is good.” “Okay, you got it, boss. Back in a bit.” Jamie leaned back in the black office chair, ran both hands through his hair and wondered how hellishly uncomfortable he’d be if he hadn’t popped for the ergonomic
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model. One foot was asleep, his back ached, and he was working with the hangover of the century. He was reaping the fruits of his cowardice, no doubt. Earlier, he’d started the day out in the shop. But every time he’d had to go back to the workbench for a different tool, he kept bumping into Ryan’s ghost. He wasn’t working on anything electrical so he hadn’t needed the wire-strippers. What was bothering him most was something relatively small and unobtrusive. Pale enough to get by the casual observer, the old wooden bench had picked up a new mark that had drawn his eye repeatedly. Since Jamie had been there and seen it happen, he was alone in knowing not only of its existence, but its significance. Really, that he not only noticed, but couldn’t stop looking at it was pathetic. What made it border on sick was that it got him hot. Once, after making damn sure no one else was left in the building, he’d even touched it with his fingers. Stroked it. Closing his eyes at the embarrassing wave of heat that rolled over him, Jamie pondered his situation. For maybe the first time in his life, he didn’t know what to do. He’d been in other situations where he’d been baffled, but it was usually something minor like matching clothes or picking out a Christmas gift. When he’d been stumped before on something that truly mattered, he’d always been able to look at it as a challenge and -- either through research or sheer, dogged persistence -- figure it out. The poster of Lance Armstrong and Tyler Hamilton on the wall drew his eye. As much as Jamie loved cycling, Lance had been an idol of his for a lot of years. Lance had conquered obstacles that made Jamie’s look like the small potatoes they were. Surviving cancer and dominating to the point of absurdity the world’s most famous race -- those were achievements to be proud of. How did you make someone care about you, though? He should call Claire. Claire would know.
“Uh, Mom. Hi.” “I guess I should be thankful you still recognize me. I’m told that some children occasionally call their parents just to say hello. This, apparently, hasn’t occurred to my son.” Ryan opened the door wider and tried to look pleased to see his mother. She was his mom, and of course he loved her. But her timing was the worst. He’d been up half the night, reliving every minute he’d spent with Jamie, unable to sleep. Naturally, after he finally had fallen asleep, he’d slept through his alarm and was now rushing to get ready for work. “Mom, I’m sorry. I’m rushing around -- I’m about to leave for work. Can we talk this weekend, maybe?” Dr. Meredith Van Alstyn, Ph.D., stooping to pick up a shirt he’d left on the floor, shot him a glance as she straightened. “You’re so busy you have to pencil me in?” “Ma, look --” Ryan shoved an impatient hand through his hair and drew a calming breath. “You know I’d love to see you guys. You just caught me at a bad time. If you’d called first ...” The same blue eyes he saw in the mirror every day looked back at him with disbelief. “You’d have put me off with some other excuse. Just like you’re doing now.” Taking the three strides needed to reach her, Ryan reached out and hugged her tiny form; partly out of affection, partly because he knew how much it annoyed her. He’d never been able to figure out why she and his dad had even had a child. Or how, for that matter, given her congenital emotional frostiness. Between her work and speaking schedules and his dad’s medical practice, the sheer logistics of the operation must have been a ball-buster. “My work schedule is pretty stable. You know the days I work.” As discreetly as possible, his mother disengaged herself from his hug. It must have killed her not to smooth her hair, but she couldn’t resist straightening the jacket of her trendy tweed suit. “Yes, I do. Weekends included, if memory serves. Which makes me wonder why you would even suggest that for us to get together.”
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Busted. Growing up with a neuroscientist and nationally known expert on mirror neurons had taught Ryan to appreciate the irony in his mother knowing everything there was to know about human emotion from a clinical point of view and virtually nothing from a hands-on point of view. She’d been absolutely no help when he’d found himself emotionally adrift after Mark’s death. Ryan sighed. “You’re right, Mom. I wasn’t thinking.” With one eye on the clock, he ran through his work schedule in his head. “Listen, I can make breakfast either day on the weekend. Or weekdays, for that matter. Monday or Tuesday I can be available pretty much any time.” His mother reached into a purse that he guessed from experience probably cost as much as the car he was driving, and pulled out a PDA. Knowing his mother’s love of gadgets, it probably wasn’t just a PDA, either. More likely it was a PDA-cellphone-voice-and-datarecorder-channel-flicker combo. In fact, he wouldn’t be surprised to find out she could reroute the space shuttle with it. As she deftly manipulated the device’s stylus, Ryan found himself wondering what Jamie would think of his parents. He tried to imagine them in the same room and couldn’t force them together. Jamie was a no bullshit, straight-shooter who he didn’t imagine suffered fools gladly. His parents ... weren’t. Mom positively thrived on politics, both in her research and in governmental politics, where her research findings were increasingly bringing her in contact. Dad would drive the bus to the idiots’ picnic as long as he was paid one hundred percent of billed charges to do it, plus expenses both ways. “How about Saturday, then? Unless you’ve changed completely, I don’t suppose we can get you there much before 9:30 in the morning?” His mother looked from her PDA, eyes narrowed. She’d picked up the habit in the days when she’d still worn reading glasses.
Although LASIK had long since done away with the need for glasses, Ryan thought she probably still found the look useful for dealing with undergrads and recalcitrant corporate donor types. “Sounds aces, Mom. Where? That ten-dollar orange juice place?” “Your father and I will be paying. What do you care how much the orange juice costs?" She had a point. It galled him, though, to have to put up with the place’s inferior service. His mother was still flicking through screen after screen on her PDA, while Ryan glanced again at the clock. “Okay, we’re all settled, then.” Heading toward the door, he somehow wasn’t surprised when his mother didn’t follow along. “What is it?” “As lovely as it will be to see my cherub’s face across the breakfast table again, that really wasn’t why I came by.” Feeling the invisible noose tightening around his neck, Ryan grabbed his tie from where it lay near the corner of the couch, shoved it in a pocket and opened the front door. “Mom, sorry, but that’s all the time I have. Whatever it is, we’ll have to talk about it on Saturday.” “You’ll make time for this, I think.” She was giving him her patented if-you-only-knew-the-things-I-do look. “Mom, got to go. Tell me on the way to the car.” “Ian Reed is getting married next month. Your father and I are going, of course, and we’d like it very much if you came, too.”
***** Salt and pepper shakers all filled, Ryan started on napkin folding. Though it was ordinarily a job that would be delegated to a rookie server, Ryan had volunteered for the mindless task tonight. His mother had been right to think he would be interested in her
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news -- not that he’d ever tip his hand and tell her so -- and he needed some time to decide what it meant to him. Ian Reed. Just the name stirred memories that went back almost as far as his consciousness did. Ian was the son of his mother’s partner in clinical practice, Dr. Janice Reed, M.D. Ryan had known him practically his whole life. They’d grown up in and out of each other’s houses, gone to the same exclusive schools, and of course, the infrequent vacations had been spent together. At the time, it hadn’t seemed at all strange that they discovered sex and each other in nearly the same moment. Ian, besides being incredibly charismatic and bright, had also been that critical six months older than Ryan. It had been Ian who had brought along one of his mother’s medical journals to show Ryan that summer when they’d been thirteen. With only a Salvadorian housekeeper to keep an eye on things and make sure the boys were fed, summers had been a free-for-all. Ryan had discovered his dick all on his own, probably somewhere around ten or so, but it had taken Ian most of their thirteenth summer to convince Ryan that part A really could fit into slot B. What with the combination of medical journals, Ian’s persuasiveness, and a couple of teenage boys’ natural horniness, by the time summer was over and it was time to head back to school, Ryan and Ian had been as inseparable as lovers. Were, in fact, lovers. Not that they’d thought of it that way. Ryan had always suffered from a touch of hero worship when it came to Ian. Taller, smarter, effortlessly charismatic; if Ian suggested it, then it was a given that Ryan would think it was a great idea. Still, Ian had had to work to get Ryan to overcome his fears, wooing him with romantic skills he was honing even then. Neither sex was able to resist Ian at his most charming, although that particular bit of information had yet to be discovered -- by Ryan, anyway.
His pile of folded napkins now well past what would be needed in the course of a normal evening, Ryan smiled to himself as he stocked the wait stations and remembered giving his first blow-job. Words hadn’t been necessary. He and Ian had been lying in the sun behind the pool house, still damp and smelling of chlorine, when Ian had shoved Ryan’s head down. He’d needed to shove it down a second time when Ryan had popped back up. Once Ryan figured out he was serious, though, Ian had lain back like a king receiving his royal due. In retrospect, it hadn’t been much of a blow-job, and Ryan wasn’t sure Ian enjoyed getting it much more than Ryan enjoyed giving it, except maybe in proving once again that he could bend Ryan to his will. Later, though, Ian figured out that giving a little might get him a lot and had reciprocated for Ryan. It was about that time that hormones kicked in in earnest, and the two of them had been like a pair of energetic jackrabbits in springtime. By the time Ian had moved on to a co-ed high school, they had pretty much exhausted their own fledgling imaginations, as well as Ryan’s father’s stash of vintage porn. A lone copy of Blue magazine, left behind by a visiting cousin, had been a treasure trove. He’d been devastated, of course, when Ian discovered his charm worked equally well on both sexes. A few months later, though, Ryan had met Russell Laboskey and formed a relationship that had lasted through high school. His temporary supply of nostalgia depleted, Ryan fast-forwarded to the present. So Ian was getting married, huh? What do you know about that? His parents must be heaving sighs of relief that could be measured on the Richter scale. An energetic slap to the shoulder snapped Ryan awake from his dreamy memory walk. “Hey, big guy. How you doin’?” Rob, with his dark, George Clooney good looks, grinned at him in passing and Ryan couldn’t help grinning back. Ryan realized how far he must have come out of his post-Mark depression when Rob did a double-take before coming to an abrupt stop. “Ryan? You feeling okay?”
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“Yeah. Yeah, I am.”
“What kind of a dumbass question is that?” Annoyance all but oozed from Claire’s pores. She’d barely given his question a nanosecond of consideration before dismissing it, and Jamie didn’t understand why. “Why is it dumbass? It’s a serious question.” She stopped picking through the display of lemons in the grocery store, one arm suspended in mid-air, and shot him a look. “You’re serious?” As he took a deep breath, Jamie’s hands dove for the pockets of his navy twill pants, as if of their own accord. He took his time releasing the breath and waited for his heart to slow down to a reasonable rate. Why should he be so nervous?
Because this is goddamn important, that’s why, fucknuts. “Yeah. I’m serious. How do you get someone to care about you?” After carefully replacing the two lemons she’d been holding, Claire rested one hand on his shoulder and took his chin in the other. Why did she have to be wearing those damn tall shoes? He had to look up to meet her gaze, which only made him feel more like a kid in trouble with the teacher again.
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She stared hard into his eyes for what felt like twenty minutes, but was probably really more like twenty seconds, before muttering something that sounded like “Oh, baby” and throwing her arms around him in a bear hug. Jamie was on shaky ground here, and Claire’s hug was maybe the nicest thing he’d ever experienced that didn’t involve two men naked together. Holding on to him, Claire just hugged him with a hint of a rocking motion. Horribly self-conscious, aware of what they must look like, Jamie nevertheless put his arms around Claire’s waist and hugged her back. “Oh, baby. Baby, are you serious?” She pulled back in his arms, staring down into his eyes again, until suddenly she pulled away entirely, fishing in her pocket for a tissue. She turned away for a moment; when she turned back, her eyes were clear again. “Jamie. I ... I’m sorry, sweetie, I just had no idea. I thought -- God, I feel like such an ass -- I thought you liked it that way.” Bobby was right about women being another species. He didn’t have a freaking clue what Claire was talking about. It must have showed on his face because Claire suddenly turned, grabbing his arm, and began towing him toward the store’s exit. “Come on. Let’s get out of here. I can’t talk about this in the middle of the fruits and vegetables aisle.” Breaking free of her grip, Jamie balked. “Claire, what the hell? I thought you had to make dinner.” He’d tagged along on the shopping trip she’d insisted couldn’t be postponed. “So we order in tonight. This is more important. Are you coming?” She barely glanced in his direction, just kept striding purposefully toward the door. Realizing he was in real danger of having to walk home, Jamie hustled after her. Two minutes later, Claire settled them into a booth in the back of a trendy coffee joint they’d found next to the grocery store. Claire leaned forward, taking one of Jamie’s hands in hers. “Now tell me what’s going on. Why would you ask me a question like that? I mean, why would you have to?”
Intense brown eyes stared back at him until Jamie looked away. “Okay, I know it’s stupid. I know that. But could you help me out here? You’re female. You’re married. I thought you’d know all about this stuff.” “Are you telling me you don’t know?” He wanted to squirm in his seat. Jamie hadn’t faced a grilling this tough since his drill sergeant in the Marines wanted to find out who’d escorted the beautiful tranny girl to the battalion formal dance. Lowering his voice to a whisper, Jamie made sure none of the other patrons were within earshot. He’d eat a plate of raw fish before he’d let any other living person besides Claire hear this. “No. I don’t have a goddamn clue what I’m doing here, Claire. Help me.” “Oh, Jamie.” She sniffled twice, but never let go of his hand, still staring at him hard -as though she could divine his every secret thought. “I wondered why you always seemed to turn up with the worst possible choices in people to get involved with. With you it’s either pretty young things with not a lot going on upstairs, or angst-ridden and needy -- and neither one is any good for you.” He wanted to answer back. Tell her how wrong she was. He made himself keep quiet, though, and listen to what she was saying. Shaking her head the whole time, she went on critiquing his whole life, it seemed like. “Brett ... he didn’t have two brain cells to rub together. Good-looking, though. Who was that one that got so drunk on New Year’s that time? Puked all over your bathroom -- was it David? And Jonathan. What a total waste of time. PYTs, every last one of ’em. Ben ... now he was probably the best of the lot, but still, I could tell he wasn’t that into you.” When she squeezed his hand and fell silent, Jamie figured it might finally be safe to try to get a word in edgewise. “So what am I supposed to do? Stay home by myself every night? Not date at all?”
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The look she gave him was overly patient, like someone talking to a slower-thanaverage six-year-old. “No, honey. You’re supposed to take things a little bit slowly at first. I know this contradicts the guy code that says to get some as soon as possible, as often as possible, but just maybe you could get to know someone a little bit first. Find out if you like more about them than just their choice of personal lubricants. And if they like you for you.” “Oh, yeah, right. There’s a plan guaranteed to get me laid about as often as we change presidents.” “Sweetie, there’s worse things than that, you know.” “Yeah, like what?” “Like being used. I’m not saying this because I care about the money, ’cause I know you’re doing okay in that department. But you shouldn’t let people use you like their personal ATM. That fu--” Claire glanced around, then seemed to think better of it, biting off her original choice of words. “That freaking Jonathan. Jesus, he always had one hand in your pocket -- and not because he was feeling you up. I know you cared about him, honey, but ... you can do better.” Unable to hold her gaze, Jamie looked away. The steady chatter of the employees behind the counter calling orders for lattés and frappuccinos faded into the background as Jamie recalled the people from his past. If he’d had any idea of how closely he and his pitiful attempts at romance were being observed, he might have kept a lower profile. Socialized less. He’d wanted what Claire and Bobby had, though: a solid relationship that lasted through the arguments, the temptations, and even the boredom. Maybe he’d had some half-assed idea about whatever it was that kept the two of them together year in and year out rubbing off on him. He’d never realized just how sad and pathetic he must have looked to his friends. Jesus. “So, what do you think I should do?” He stole a quick glance, only to look away again in the face of Claire’s pity.
“You’re seeing someone now, aren’t you? Someone new.” Smoothing his beard reflexively, Jamie died a little inside. Dammit, he’d had a feeling this was going to be hard. What he’d seriously underestimated, though, was how humiliating it would be to have his most personal moments laid bare like this. He nodded. “Yeah.” His throat was suddenly scratchy. “Tell me about him.” Maybe it wasn’t pity in her eyes. “His name’s Ryan. He’s blond. Blue eyes. Goodlooking. Really good-looking. Maybe five-nine. Great body.” Her body language changed, and Claire now sat back in her chair, arms crossed over her full chest. “Jamie. I’m not fitting him for a suit. I don’t care what he looks like. How does he treat you?” Exasperation filled him. What did he know about this kind of stuff? “I don’t know. Great. We’re great together. He’s ...” “When you say ‘great,’ what do you mean? Great in bed?” Jamie nodded. “Yeah, exactly.” “See? Exactly what you shouldn’t be looking at. Okay, eventually, sure you should. But not as the first thing. If your interests mesh and you like each other, the other stuff should follow. Sure, chemistry’s important. Absolutely. But so’s the other stuff. Is this someone you like hanging out with when you’re not in the sack?” Thinking back to dinner and then the basketball game -- even all the way back to the casual conversations they’d shared at Le Grande Louisienne -- Jamie realized Claire was right. There had been an easy, natural quality to their exchanges. He liked talking to Ryan. He was smart and he had opinions. He felt like an idiot, being lectured in Relationships 101. But, shit ... he had to learn it somewhere. And it wasn’t as if his own method was working all that well. “Yeah. I think so.”
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“What have you done for him so far? Bought him anything?” “I made dinner at the house one night. We went to the Laker game -- he got the tickets.” “That’s it? You haven’t worked on his car for free? No big, expensive dinners out? Haven’t bought him clothes or anything?” “No.” A small smile began to curve Claire’s mouth and her arms slowly began to unfold, until she gripped the table edge with both hands. “Okay. That all sounds pretty good. I want to meet this guy.”
***** “So what’d you think?” “Not bad. I liked it right up until the end.” Ryan watched Jamie out of the corner of his eye, trying not to be too obvious. He looked great in another one of his short-sleeved print shirts hanging loose over a pair of khaki pants. Jamie might think he was downplaying his build with the baggy clothes, but Ryan knew what was underneath them, and he couldn’t stop picturing Jamie out of them. They threaded their way through the crowd of moviegoers. Some, like themselves, were on their way out; while a new batch headed in the opposite direction, preoccupied with finding the right theatre within the huge multiplex. “What didn’t you like about the ending?” They stopped in front of Jamie’s car. Busy fishing keys from his pocket, Jamie had his head turned away, and Ryan didn’t catch the first part of his answer. “-- have to kill off the good guy?” “What? Why’d they kill him off?”
The black Porsche looked sleek and powerful. It looked like the kind of car a man like Jamie would drive. Maybe he had sex on the brain, or maybe it was just sitting in the dark for over two hours, inches away from one-hundred-and-eighty pounds of testosterone, but all Ryan could think of was getting somewhere more private and having it all to himself. Stopped next to his car, Jamie crossed his arms, and Ryan caught a glimpse of the welldeveloped pecs beneath them, bunching and flexing. His gaze crawled helplessly over what he could see of Jamie’s broad chest, visually measuring the width of his shoulders, the bulk of his biceps just visible beneath his sleeves. Jamie nodded. “Yeah. Right up until then it was great. But they killed off my happy ending.” “Sorry. My fault for picking the wrong movie. Can I make it up to you?” It might have been an optical illusion, but Ryan could swear Jamie stopped breathing for a couple of seconds. Jamie’s head dropped just a bit. “What’d you have in mind?” All of Ryan’s senses kicked into overdrive. A hint of popcorn aroma from the theatre drifted his way, and his ears picked out each individual voice that made up the tapestry of background chatter from the crowd passing back and forth. His gaze narrowed until all he could see was Jamie’s face, and Ryan could almost taste him. Almost. “I don’t know. Maybe go over to my place. It’s not far, and you’ve never seen it.” “No.” Ryan’s heart stuttered, and his stomach dropped to his feet. “I haven’t,” Jamie continued, and Ryan’s heart and stomach leveled out. “Okay. So do you want to follow me, then?” They’d met at the open air mall, so they had two cars to deal with. Jamie’s smile was slow in breaking, but it went all the way up to his eyes. His auburn lashes matched his hair, contrasting with the brown of his eyes. “Sounds good. I’ll be right behind you all the way.”
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“You’ve got my cell phone number in case we get separated?” Just a cheesy excuse to find out if Jamie had kept the number when he’d given it to him the night of the basketball game, Ryan couldn’t explain the flash of insecurity that raced through him. Jamie wouldn’t have asked him to meet him if he wasn’t interested; the heat in Jamie’s eyes was another good indicator. Still. He didn’t want to get home and find out Jamie was really only interested in seeing the house. “Don’t worry, you won’t lose me. You couldn’t if you tried.”
***** “You know, this isn’t exactly ghetto.” Parked beside Ryan’s Miata in the driveway, the Porsche’s alarm beeped twice as Jamie absently punched the key ring activator. He was eying the little bungalow suspiciously, as though waiting for it to make a move. Not much danger of that, Ryan could have reassured him. Although the hillsides in Laguna had been known to slide with alarming regularity, Ryan’s house was down in the flats on what he sometimes thought might be the only decently broad avenue the town could lay claim to. “Thanks, I think.” It probably wasn’t what Jamie had been expecting. The waiter gig threw a lot of people off. Jamie took in the big picture windows that gave the house its best view of the wide, tree-lined street. Mark had adored the view and had refused to consider shades of any kind, so nearly the entire front room could be seen from the walk. Instead of the typical Cape Cod style that most of the houses in the neighborhood impersonated, the house Mark had found looked like a changeling. Rather than quaint and charming, the lines were clean and spare, seeming to spring from the ground as though almost an extension of it. Someone must have had it bad for Frank Lloyd Wright to have imitated his style so completely. “How ...?” Ryan unlocked the door for them, and Jamie followed him in. Taking in the hardwood floors and sunken living room to their right, Jamie took a few steps, moving
slowly through the foyer. “Definitely not ghetto. Waiting tables must pay better than I thought.” Completing a visual sweep of the room, Jamie’s gaze came to rest on Ryan. He didn’t say any more; just watched Ryan, one eyebrow raised questioningly. Usually Ryan enjoyed flying under the radar. People looked at what he did for a living and filled in the blanks for themselves. They thought they knew all about him, and they didn’t like having their assumptions challenged. Sometimes they reacted with shock, surprise, even outrage when he told his story, and it was probably past time to fill Jamie in. But that would have to wait a little longer. “Do you really want to talk about my W-9?” He’d been wound up to begin with, after sitting next to Jamie for over two hours, breathing in the scents of his aftershave and soap. Every time their knees or elbows brushed, the hair on Ryan’s neck and scalp would prickle and a shiver of awareness would race through his body. Thank God Jamie hadn’t wanted to discuss the movie in depth because Ryan could barely recall even the basic plot. Driving over, he’d continually checked his rearview mirror, making sure Jamie was still there, taking corners slowly so as not to let Jamie out of his sight. Ryan couldn’t wait another minute. He wanted their clothes off now and Jamie’s hands on him. “I must be a crappier tipper than I thought, because, holy shit ...” Jamie had stepped down into the living room and was doing a slow three-sixty, taking in the walls of built-in shelves filled with books, the handmade replicas of World War II planes that had been Mark’s hobby, and the walnut cabinet that contained a very respectable collection of Japanese netsuke. His running shoes nearly silent on the Persian carpet that covered most of the living room floor, Ryan moved in behind Jamie, placing his open palms along Jamie’s flanks. Sliding them slowly down his magnificent backside, Ryan leaned in close and whispered in Jamie’s ear. “Are you going to stand there admiring the architecture all night or are you going to shut up and fuck me?”
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Rather than spinning in his arms and kissing him ravenously as Ryan had fully expected, Jamie leaned back a little, and took both of Ryan’s hands in his. Bringing them around to his crotch, Jamie placed their linked hands together on an already good-sized hard-on and pressed. Settling in, his hips began moving in a circular motion that managed to be somehow both sensual and deliberate. Widening his stance a little to support the added weight put Jamie’s ear millimeters away from Ryan’s lips now. “Oh, yeah, Daddy. That cock feels wicked big. Are you going to put that thing in me?” Plastered together the way they were, the quivering in Jamie’s body telegraphed itself instantly. “’Cause I’m not sure I can take it all. But I want to. Oh, Daddy, do I want to.” Now Jamie turned, and Ryan had to catch himself a little at the abrupt change. Something between a growl and a groan forced its way out, and Jamie grabbed him by the shoulders, hauling him in for a punishing kiss. Slamming his lips down on Ryan’s, Jamie didn’t ask, he took. Open-mouthed and raw, tongues and teeth thrust and bit, while lower bodies ground against each other. If it hadn’t been precisely what Ryan was hoping for, Jamie’s intensity might have been shocking. But the explosion of passion, the power coming at him, was so exactly what he wanted and needed right now. “Where?” “Where what?” A little dazed, Ryan couldn’t decipher what Jamie was asking. “Where do you want this?”
He didn’t mean ...? Ohhhh. “Bedroom. That way.” Like he’d been there a hundred times before, Jamie headed for the bedroom, already unbuckling his belt. Ryan watched, bemused, for a moment before following.
Jamie was so fucking hard he could explode if Ryan so much as looked at him. There was only one door at the end of the hall, so Jamie wasn’t worried about walking into a linen closet. A half-dozen steps and he was there, found the light switch and flipped it on. The fixture overhead blazed to life and illuminated the room. Whoa. Definitely weird in a retro kind of way. Screw it. It didn’t matter. There was a bed and that was the main thing. Shit, he ought to get a prize for not bending Ryan over the back of a chair and doing him right there in the living room. The bed had a headboard but no nightstand next to it. Jamie strode across the room to what was obviously the bathroom and began rummaging through drawers until he found what he wanted. He’d never heard of it before, but the name was a big fucking clue: Boy Butter. Oh, yeah. “Hey. Wait for me?” Jamie whipped his head around at the sound of Ryan’s voice and nearly came in his pants. Jesus fuck, the man was a walking wet dream. Ryan was pulling his shirt off over his head, slowly revealing a lean, muscled abdomen that was enough to make a grown man weep. As the shirt rose, Jamie’s mouth went dry, and
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he immediately thought of tasting that muscled flesh, inch by glorious inch. Unmarred by any excess hair, it was framed by slanting oblique muscles that seemed to point at what remained hidden by the low-slung jeans that clung precariously to Ryan’s narrow hips. Movement caught Jamie’s eye and made him reluctantly break his rapt enjoyment of Ryan’s stomach. He watched in sheer fucking awe as Ryan crossed his arms to pull the shirt the rest of the way off before letting it fall from careless fingers. He’d seen Ryan’s chest before. The night they’d barbecued on Jamie’s patio. Maybe because Ryan had only unbuttoned his shirt, but left it on -- somehow Jamie hadn’t fully appreciated the fine example of God’s handiwork that stood before him now. Pecs that rose in glorious relief above a cobbled belly that Jamie wanted to trace, first with his hands, to be followed later by his tongue. Two flat, male nipples the color of coffee with cream were pebbled like tiny stones, and all of this glorious male perfection was framed by two sleekly muscled arms that hung relaxed at Ryan’s side. Jamie realized his mouth was hanging open in dumbfounded wonder. Good glorious God, it wasn’t natural. No one human being should be so incredibly blessed. So utterly, flawlessly perfect. Only gradually aware that Ryan had stopped moving, Jamie dragged his gaze over the half-naked feast that stood before him. Hands slowly curled in on themselves. The look in Ryan’s eyes was cautious. Wary, even. “Should I take off the rest?” Nodding slowly, Jamie forced his tongue and brain to work in tandem to form words. “Yeah. Definitely.” Bringing his hands to the fastening of his pants, Ryan popped the snap and lowered the zipper silently. Never taking his gaze off Jamie, Ryan hooked both thumbs in the material, shoved them down and stepped out in a series of graceful movements. Straightening -completely naked now -- Ryan’s erect cock bounced and waved, as though to draw Jamie’s attention.
No worries there. A slow burn deep in his chest reminded Jamie to breathe, and he dragged air into his paralyzed lungs. Holy -- holy -- shit. A picture of masculine grace, Ryan walked toward him, reaching a hand out briefly to touch Jamie’s face before dropping to his knees and going to work on the opening of his pants. In seconds he had Jamie’s cock free, one hand wrapped around it and was millimeters away from it with his mouth when Jamie did one of the hardest things he’d ever done. “Stop.” Jamie dragged another shuddering breath into his quaking body. “Don’t do that.” The look Ryan shot him should have warned Jamie. “Really?” A jerky shake of his head backed up his strangled words. “Not yet.” Looking up with a dangerous glint in his eye, Ryan licked his lips. “So you don’t want me to do ...” And plunged his open mouth over Jamie’s cock until it met the hand still gripping its base, only to immediately pull it off. “... that, you mean?” Jamie’s head dropped back and his eyes closed as a wave of helpless lust rolled over him -- as Ryan teased him almost beyond bearing. Calling on the grit and backbone that had gotten him through four years in the Marines, through Bosnia and Mogadishu at their worst, Jamie opened his eyes and took a half-step backwards. “I said stop that. And get up on the bed. Now.” Summoning memories of the hard-assed drill instructor that had whipped his and the rest of his unit’s butts into fighting shape, Jamie glared as Ryan leaned in and took a surreptitious swipe with his tongue on Jamie’s cock before climbing to his feet and doing as he’d been told. Reaching with one hand for Ryan, Jamie realized belatedly that he’d used his left because his right still gripped the lubricant. Keeping a watchful eye on Ryan, Jamie glanced down at the miniature tub in his hand. About to crack it open, Jamie had a better idea and
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flipped the tub to Ryan. “Put some of this on me.” Fishing a condom from his pocket, he tossed that to Ryan, too. “This first.” He stepped between Ryan’s legs as Ryan sat on the foot of the bed. If Ryan took a little longer rolling the condom on him than was strictly necessary, Jamie didn’t mention it. So what if he rolled the latex on slower than forty-weight oil in a Michigan winter and smoothed wrinkles that weren’t there? His reaction already close to incendiary, it made Jamie even hotter to watch Ryan’s careful hands and hungry gaze moving over him. To see Ryan’s rapt face so close to his cock ... God, it messed with his head to think that, for even an instant, Ryan was that intent over what he had to offer. Fuck, he was beautiful. Jamie had to fight the urge to look over his shoulder and see who was supposed to be here in his place -- the real recipient of all of this dazzling male hotness. All of that naked gorgeousness couldn’t be for him. Well, guess what? Screw that, because he was here, and he was taking it while it lasted. “Ready?” Ryan had finished spreading lube on Jamie’s cock, his tight fist hot and hard even through the latex covering, and was now preparing himself. His gaze flicked away from Jamie’s only long enough to gauge how much lube to use, and then he was massaging the creamy substance into his own back hole. One finger slipped in, up to the second knuckle, and Jamie nearly lost it. A slight smile curved Ryan’s lips as he lay back on the bed, looking up at Jamie from beneath half-closed eyelids. A barely human growl rose from deep in Jamie’s gut as he came after Ryan, climbing up onto the bed, pinning him to the mattress. Ryan groaned back. “Oh, Jamie.” Parted his lips as Jamie kissed him hard. So beautiful. He tasted so fucking good -- so solid and masculine. Hard and ready. Straddling Ryan’s naked body, Jamie ground his body into Ryan’s, the heat of Ryan’s cock like a magnet to his own.
When that wasn’t enough, Jamie reached between them, taking the two cocks in one hand, and let the electricity -- like being touched by live current -- wash over him. He squeezed them against each other, hand sliding in the lube, the sight of the two cocks held tight together doing something to his insides. The next thing he knew he was crouched between Ryan’s legs, his cock pressing eagerly against Ryan’s tight back hole, so thoughtfully prepared for him. Pausing for an instant, Jamie wanted to savor the sight. But Ryan had other ideas and pressed downward, chasing Jamie’s cock with his eager ass. Instinctively Jamie pulled back. They would do this on his timetable. Ryan’s whimper was the sweetest music he’d ever heard, and something dark inside him prodded Jamie to push for more. “What? What do you want? Ask me for it.” Ryan tried to push closer, digging his heels into the bed and using his elbows for leverage. “I want you. In me. Now.” Pinning Ryan’s shoulders to the bed, Jamie teased -- pressing his cock close for a few seconds, then pulling away. It was all show, though, and truthfully, his self-control was hanging by a thread. He’d never been so crazy to be inside anyone in his life, and it was only sheer pig-headedness that kept him from giving Ryan what they both wanted. Ryan’s head thrashed, and he opened his eyes to beg. “Now. Please.” Pressing in earnest, Jamie breached the first ring of muscle at the entrance of Ryan’s ass. He fought the urge to plunge in hard, to be balls-deep in one savage thrust, but he knew he was bigger than average, and it would kill him if he hurt Ryan. He’d met plenty of size queens in his life, and Jamie’d always been proud -- a little vain, even -- about his big cock. But -- oh, Christ -- it was fucking unbelievable how hot it was, edging into Ryan for the first time. A half-inch at a time, he held Ryan by the hips and pressed slowly inward. Ryan’s chest was heaving in small, shallow jerks. Mouth clamped shut over a silent moan, Ryan’s eyes cracked open for an instant before sliding closed again.
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Jamie pressed harder, in nearly all the way now, drinking in Ryan’s wordless “unh” of pleasure. Enflamed by the sight of his cock buried solidly in Ryan’s ass, Jamie resisted the urge to close his own eyes against the bliss of the viselike grip and the way it short-circuited his brain. Shoving the rest of the way in, Jamie wanted to say something, make sure Ryan was okay, but he couldn’t find the words. Not a single word. When Ryan’s lips curved upward into the smallest hint of a smile, Jamie pulled back and let the sensation wash over him. Relaxing his grip on Ryan’s hips, Jamie let his hands inch upward to slide in the light sheen of sweat coating Ryan’s body now. Ripped muscles already drawn taut twitched beneath his lightest touch. He tried to go slowly, but released from Jamie’s grip, Ryan’s hips moved down to meet him, and Jamie gave up the fight. Plunging in with more speed now, both men groaned and shuddered. All Jamie could do was follow his body as it raced for the summit, slamming into Ryan’s, the sounds of flesh slapping a light counterpoint to the guttural sounds coming from their mouths. Ryan’s neck arched as his head rolled back against the pleasure. “Oh, fuck. Yeah, fuck me. Fuck me. Oh, Daddy, please. Harder ...” Jamie snapped, slam-fucking Ryan. Two, three more thrusts was all he lasted before he came hard, his body spurting heavily into Ryan’s.
***** No two ways about it: the man had a righteous ass. And Ryan should know, since he’d viewed and sampled more than he cared to admit to at the ripe old age of twenty-eight. From his vantage point on the bed, Ryan watched Jamie pad naked to the bathroom and couldn’t stop the smile that came to his face. Tight, muscular ass-cheeks, legs like a speed skater’s -- the wide V of his shoulders giving way to broad lats and a trim waist. Not narrow, though. Never that. No one would ever mistake Jamie for girl, or even a lad.
He was all man. One-hundred-percent pure American beef. Business taken care of, Jamie made his way back to the bed, stopping short when he noticed Ryan’s gaze. “What?” “What what?” “What are you looking at?” Ryan couldn’t help his smile. “Why so suspicious? Maybe I’m looking at you.” Casting an appreciative eye in Jamie’s direction, he let his gaze wander from the broad, hairy feet up over hard, muscled legs; stopped long enough for a loving perusal of Jamie’s personal goods before drifting up to the wide, equally muscled chest and shoulders and stopping at Jamie’s rugged, handsome face. “Yeah? Well, there’s nothing to write the boys back home about, so knock it off.” Climbing up onto the bed, Jamie pulled one of the pillows out from under the bed cover, punched it into a ball, and shoved it under his head. Ryan watched, entranced by the play of muscles under skin, running his gaze over Jamie’s powerful physique. “You’re in amazing shape. What do you do to stay fit? That can’t all be from a gym.” “It’s no big deal. I bike some. I like to ride out in the canyons on weekends and mornings, sometimes. After being cooped up in the shop all week, I like getting outdoors whenever I can.” “That explains it.” “Explains what?” God, Ryan knew he had it bad when Jamie’s furrowed brow made his heart turn over. No one that big and physically imposing should ever be called cute but -- dammit -- he was cute; all scrunched-up forehead and quizzical look. “Your ass. It’s killer. I’ve decided I want a replica in bronze for my coffee table. Three-D, though, ’cause I need the front view, too.”
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Ryan watched, fascinated and charmed, as a flush slowly climbed Jamie’s neck until it reached his cheeks and the tips of his ears. “Shut up.” He looked down, his brow clearing, only to look up again, this time with worry in his fine brown eyes. “Speaking of asses, are you all right? I wasn’t exactly ... gentle.” His hesitation before the last word told Ryan that this discussion didn’t come easily to Jamie. He had to give it to the man. Way too many people would have been satisfied with their own pleasure, and Ryan was touched by the thoughtfulness behind the question. It was just another example of the man’s innate decency. “I’m great.” He couldn’t help smiling again. “Although, I’m pretty sure I’ll think of you whenever I sit down for the next day or so.” It was amazing how fast Jamie could move when he wanted to. Between one breath and the next Jamie was on him, over him, one big hand wrapped around the back of Ryan’s skull, holding him still for a kiss. Ryan didn’t even think of fighting him -- just closed his eyes and surrendered. Eyes closed, foreheads touching, Jamie’s murmured words were barely audible. “I am so ... crazy about you. You know that, don’t you?” Ryan pulled back to search Jamie’s gaze. His eyes were such a clear brown, Ryan had the feeling he was seeing all the way down to Jamie’s soul. The man was so nakedly, bravely open -- it was scary. Ryan could see the fear behind the admission. Cupping Jamie’s face with his hand, Ryan smoothed an eyebrow with his thumb. Stroked the soft place where bare skin gave way to Jamie’s auburn beard. “Me, too.” And then he was flat on his back, gasping for air as Jamie kissed him senseless. They kissed and held each other, Ryan’s arms wrapped tightly around Jamie’s neck. Although they’d both been satisfied just minutes ago, the heft of Jamie’s cock was now rubbing against his own, and Ryan rubbed back. It was amazing. Redefined Ryan’s ideas
about his own needs. Not only had had he just come for maybe the second time in his life with no direct stimulation of his cock, but he shouldn’t be interested again so soon. He couldn’t get enough of Jamie. The sensations of Jamie’s solid body pressing him down into the bed, his cock and balls grinding into Jamie’s, the musky scents of sweat and sex filling his head, Jamie in his arms ... At Jamie’s helpless moan against his neck Ryan thrust himself hard against Jamie and shot his load against his belly for the second time that night.
***** “What do you feel like eating? If you don’t mind leftovers, I’ve got some pretty decent pickings.” Ryan had skipped dinner to make the movie time Jamie had picked out, but they’d finally been driven from bed by the rumbling of his stomach. Hand on the refrigerator door, Ryan stuck his head inside and began pulling out an assortment of covered restaurant takeout containers, piling them on the adjacent countertop. He cracked open a lid and peered inside. “What’s this? I’ve got ... oh, yeah. Cajun shrimp over pasta. Here’s some ... Do you eat grits? I’ve got this shrimp and cheese and grits thing that’s pretty good and ... Oh, my God, you’ll want to try this one. It’s, um ... Andouille gnocchi with a tomato sauce that’s amazing.” He’d been so busy pulling out offerings and peeling back covers that Jamie’s perplexed look hadn’t registered. Standing nearby, dressed only in his boxer briefs, Jamie looked at the containers with undisguised suspicion. “You don’t like leftovers? We’re pretty much screwed, then, ’cause I don’t do much of what you probably consider cooking. We catered a big party last night, though, and there was a ton of food left.” He wanted to be a good host the way Jamie had been, and Ryan knew he was babbling, but Jamie’s shell-shocked look was throwing him. “No, no. Leftovers are fine. Do you --” Jamie tried to peer around Ryan’s shoulder into the fridge. “Is there ...?”
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“What?” “There’s nothing but ...” Ryan looked from Jamie’s face to the contents of his refrigerator and back. “You mean that there’s kind of a lot of take-out boxes in there?” Jamie scratched an ear and tilted his head to one side before folding his arms over his chest -- a gesture Ryan was beginning to recognize as characteristic. “Uh, yeah.” “That’s not all. There’s more. I’ve got coffee. And water. And ...” Ryan hadn’t felt this on the spot since his father had done an unannounced spot-check of his biology notebook his senior year in high school. Just water and coffee were lame; he had to have something else.
All right. “I’ve got green olives.” He’d had to bite down hard before the words “so there” could tumble out. Jamie just stood there looking at him. “Poor baby.” Just like that. Two words and Ryan knew he was a goner. This strong, lonely man -- somehow Ryan knew that Jamie didn’t have anyone in his life to give him unconditional love -- was offering him the emotional shirt off his back. Ryan swallowed hard to talk around the lump that suddenly blocked his throat. “I ... I ...” How did this happen? He knew he was stammering like a grammar schooler called to the principal’s office, but he couldn’t help it. This man was braver than he would ever be. Stronger than anyone he’d ever met in his entire life. If Ryan wasn’t in love with him yet, the difference between love and where he was at was so small it wasn’t worth mentioning. “Don’t look at me like that. We came out here to eat, and by God, we’re going to. But you keep looking at me like that, and damn if I’m not going to bend you over that butcher block and have you right here and now. So cut it out and let’s heat some of this stuff up.” How could he have possibly known? That there was someone out there like Jamie waiting for him.
Jamie was so freaking perfect. So everything he’d ever wanted in a man. Strong, ruggedly handsome, honorable. While Ryan stood befuddled and bemused, Jamie loaded food cartons into the microwave until not another Styrofoam container would fit. Ryan watched as Jamie experimented until he found the combination that brought the machine to life and set the food to rotating as it heated. The unflattering kitchen lighting washed out Jamie’s natural redheaded color and made the dusting of freckles over his shoulders stand out in stark relief. Standing, one foot on top of the other, arms braced against the countertop, not even ugly fluorescent lights could dim his appeal. Without conscious thought, Ryan moved in behind Jamie, wrapping his arms around Jamie’s waist. Pressing close against the heat of Jamie’s bare back, Ryan laid his head against Jamie’s back and just listened. Listened to his steady breathing; the beating of his heart. Smelled the essence of clean skin and man. Waves of warmth and contentment flowed through him. His hands began to wander. Drifting down, Ryan cupped Jamie’s heavy balls with one hand, while the other brushed the bulge of his cock that even now was beginning to awaken. Fingers traced its length, flirted lightly with the burgeoning head, pressed the sensitive spot just below. So caught up in Jamie -- whose hips had begun to shift back and forth, in and out of Ryan’s hands -- that it took a moment for Ryan to pinpoint what didn’t belong. The chimes he heard weren’t the microwave. It was the doorbell. What the hell? Jamie’s head snapped up as Ryan’s gaze sought out the clock. Who would be ringing his doorbell? At this time of night? “Expecting someone?” Ryan stepped back and their gazes met. “No. I’ll blow off whoever it is.” Checking the peephole, Ryan could only shake his head bitterly. Fuck. He yanked the door open a little more forcefully than he’d meant to. “Todd. You could have called first.”
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A clean-cut man about his own age stood on the doorstep, looking a lot like his father, and yet possessing none of the qualities that had made Ryan love Mark. “And give you a chance to do something with them? I don’t think so. Officer Lewis is here to make sure that you comply fully with the terms of the judgment.” So focused on the self-righteous mug of the man before him, he hadn’t noticed the imposing presence of the Orange County Sheriff’s officer standing alertly behind him. “Everything okay, Ryan?” Jamie. Riding to his rescue. God, if he didn’t love him already, he would have now. Before he could open his mouth to tell Jamie he had it handled, Todd took a step closer to get a better look at who stood behind Ryan. “Didn’t take you long to replace my dad, I see. Did it, you little faggot?”
“I’m sorry you had to see that.” Sitting on a stool pulled up to the low bar area that overlooked the kitchen, Ryan was picking at the various boxes open between them. Shoulders hunched, he leaned forward on his elbows, taking an occasional desultory taste of something, but not really eating. Whatever had gone down, it was tearing Ryan up inside. Jamie’s own gut was churning, and he hadn’t even been involved. If you didn’t count wanting to rip that smug little bastard’s head off, that is. There hadn’t been much hope of passing off two guys wearing nothing but underwear and hard-ons as just a couple of friends playing poker. Although, the presence of a uniformed sheriff -- all squeaking leather and unsmiling professionalism -- had pretty much killed the hard-ons. “That’s okay.” Jamie really hated to dive in here, but something had to be said. “So, uh, this asshole Todd. You had something of his dad’s? And he went to court to get it back? He really took your cat?” Putting down his fork, Ryan leaned back into the barstool and ran shaking hands through his hair. He grabbed two fistfuls of hair, but Jamie could tell that wasn’t the cause of
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the pained look on his face. Opening his eyes, Ryan shot him an unreadable look. “Yeah, that’s about the gist of it. His dad and I were living together when his dad died. Mark had a will, but the netsuke weren’t mentioned in it. I knew he wanted them to go to a museum, since he’d talked about it. And I know Todd’s just going to sell them for the money. His mom’s a nice lady, so I know it’s coming from Todd. The cat, he took just from pure meanness. He didn’t want him. Todd just knew how much Mark loved that stupid cat and didn’t want me to have it.” Jamie folded his arms and watched Ryan, letting the facts filter down. His already twisted-up insides twisted tighter when Ryan mentioned another lover. He looked around at the quality of the furnishings and the feel of the place. No wonder it skewed a little old for a hot young thing like Ryan. Hell, it felt old to Jamie, and he must have a good ten years on Ryan. “He left you all this?” “Yeah.” Ryan shrugged and slowly surveyed the place. “A lot of it. The house, mainly.” Every word was like a blow. Hearing about Ryan’s life with someone else was brutal. But some poisonous voice in his head kept prodding him to ask questions. Find out more. “So, he had a lot of stuff to leave? Or did he cut out the rest of the family?” Ryan sat on his hands and rocked a little. He looked at the floor, and Jamie could tell he was looking inward. Remembering. “No, there was plenty to go around. Mark had been a successful ophthalmic surgeon for a long time before I met him. He had a good life. Successful practice, wife, two-point-four beautiful kids. He was also gay and fighting it. He’d bury it as long as he could, but every once in a while it had to come out. Nature finds a way, I guess. “Anyway, when I met him, the kids were getting older -- Todd’s only four years younger than me. We met when he came to speak to our class on social philanthropy and giving back to the community. He was amazing. Always taking his summers to go do
charitable work in third world countries.” Ryan looked up, eyes both bitter and sad. “The irony is that if it weren’t for Todd, Mark and I would never have met. Todd was in my class and he was the one who got his dad to come talk to us. I was so impressed that I stayed after to ask him questions. Three of us took him out for coffee afterward, but I was the only one whose interest was as much personal as professional.” “So you two started seeing each other?” Jamie was dying inside. It was like watching through a one-way mirror while Ryan cheated on him. He could watch and listen, but Ryan couldn’t see him. “We met for coffee a couple of times, but I wouldn’t sleep with someone who was married. I think Mark had reached a point in his life where he’d achieved a lot professionally, but he wasn’t happy in his personal life. Meeting me was the catalyst he needed to make changes. I think he would have come out sooner or later, regardless. I was just the ...” Ryan looked up at the ceiling as he searched for the word he wanted. “I was the incentive he needed to do what he wanted to do anyway.” “So he ditched the wife and family to get you to sleep with him? That’s some seriously strong appeal. But then, I should know.” Jamie knew he was just digging the hole deeper, but he couldn’t control it. He had to know just how bad it was. A small, bitter smile twisted Ryan’s beautiful mouth. “I tell myself that he would have done it eventually, one way or the other. Me coming along just sped up the process. Turns out, though, there wasn’t much time left.” “What happened?” “Something Mark always did was donate blood. The test they give now before they let you donate turned up positive. For HIV.” “Oh, shit.” Jamie’s heart clutched tight in fear. For Ryan. Good freaking God. “Yeah. It was bad enough asking his wife for a divorce. But telling her he had HIV was worse.”
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Jamie wanted to take Ryan in his arms and hold him and promise he’d make the pain go away. He knew enough about body language, though, to know that wouldn’t be welcome right now, so he reached out and stroked Ryan’s arm instead. “Oh, no. I’m sorry, baby.” Blue eyes stark with pain lifted to meet his gaze. “There’s more.” Jamie just nodded, breathed, and waited. “His wife tested positive, too.” ”Oh, fuck.” “Yeah. Not long after that, Mark was in a car accident. He didn’t make it.” Ryan covered his mouth with a hand, but he couldn’t hide the tears that filled his eyes, eventually spilling over and running down his face. “Oh, baby. I’m so sorry.” Standing, Jamie pulled Ryan to his feet and folded him into his arms. Hugging and rocking him, Jamie smoothed one hand over Ryan’s shoulder and down his back. Just stroked and soothed and tried to absorb the pain into his own body. It tore him up to see Ryan this way and yet, in a way, it made perfect sense. Everything slid into place, forming a picture that was painful to look at. “Was anyone else hurt?” Ryan sniffed hard and shook his head. “No. Up on Ortega Highway. Single car. No skid marks.” Not even a shirt sleeve to wipe the tears on, Jamie used his thumb, but it was hopeless. Ryan’s tears were flowing now, so Jamie did the only thing he could do and just held Ryan. After a while, when the raw sounds of anguish gave way eventually to sniffs and hiccups, Jamie led Ryan to the sunken living room and the expensive-looking sofa that sat against one wall. Taking Ryan in his arms once again, he held him close and murmured into his hair. “I’m sorry, babe.” “No, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to dump all that on you. I’m sorry.” “’S’okay. Dump away. I can take it.” He was such a fucking liar. Jamie stared at the little walnut cabinet that had held the figurines that the asshole son and his hired cop had taken away, but now stood empty -- door ajar -- and wondered if his shredded guts showed
outwardly. The pain that rushed in to fill the empty place that had held his budding hopes and dreams was towering. But Jamie held on, knowing that Ryan’s pain was so much more. He wanted to do what he could to help, even as he realized he’d never hold a place that special in anyone’s heart. Ryan’s heart. The only one that mattered. “Thanks.” Arms wrapped around Jamie, Ryan ran his hand absently up and down Jamie’s side in a mindless, self-soothing motion. Regardless of the fact that Ryan would never love him the way he’d loved Mark, Jamie’s body still responded, and goose bumps and tingles followed in the wake of Ryan’s touch. Unlike asshole senior Mark, he would never throw away a gift as precious as Ryan’s love. Something that rare was obviously wasted on a selfish, undeserving fuck like Mark, but wasn’t that just life in a nutshell? Some people got more than they could ever possibly use and wasted it, while others fought for the scraps. “It’s, uh, it’s pretty late. You’d probably rather I got out of your hair and ... Uh, I should probably go.” Aw, fuck. He had no idea what to do now. Probably just best to get the hell out of the way and let Ryan mourn. Jamie would go home and do some mourning of his own tonight. What a dope. Like he’d ever really had a shot here. Dumbass. That’s what he got for hoping. “Really? You have to go?” Sitting up, Ryan made a visible effort to pull himself together, wiping his eyes with the backs of his hands and summoned a short laugh. “Yeah, I guess I see your point. I’m not exactly the life of the party. I’d get the hell out, too.”
Slowly. Breathe slowly. In through the nose -- out through the mouth. Jamie closed his eyes and faced the inevitable. “I can stay a while.”
***** God, he was cute.
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And he was still there. Ryan had half-expected Jamie to bolt in the middle of the night. He’d been a sloppy, shaky mess after last night’s reunion from hell with his past, and it wouldn’t have surprised Ryan in the least if Jamie had simply gathered his stuff and slipped away while Ryan slept. He’d stayed, though. Jamie looked adorable, clutching his pillow with one arm, the other outflung across the bed. Even his open-mouthed, blank expression as he slept struck Ryan as adorable. Jamie shifted in his sleep, wrapping the sheet tighter against his legs. Man, he was really something. It was morning, though, and Ryan wanted to do something nice for Jamie. Partly to show his appreciation, but also because Jamie deserved it. What an amazing, incredible soul he had to be able to take what Ryan had thrown at him last night and not run screaming for the hills. Too bad he didn’t have much real food in the house. Not that it would have done him much good if he had, since he couldn’t really cook. Maybe there were still some toaster waffles in the freezer. Nah, it was too embarrassing to admit that a grown man ate frozen waffles marketed to kids. Ouch. After he slipped out of bed as quietly as he could, a closer investigation of his freezer produced only a partial package of the expected waffles and some microwave sausages. Oh, well. He had to feed the man something or risk having him die from malnutrition. Ryan couldn’t remember if Jamie had gotten anything to eat last night before Todd had shown up with his hired muscle. Wasn’t it just absolutely typical of how Todd operated that he wouldn’t trust Ryan to do the right thing? No, he had to come in with the strong-arm tactics without even giving Ryan the benefit of any possible doubt. The little weasel. It was hard for Ryan to believe that a man as good and decent as Mark had turned out such a sorry excuse for a human being as his offspring.
As he filled the toaster with as many waffles as it would hold and nuked the sausage, Ryan let his mind dwell on Mark’s ex-wife. She’d always been decent to him, and Ryan had chalked it up to just another area where Mark had made a smart choice. He leaned against the countertop and watched the coils inside the toaster slowly turn red. Not that you could call making a major goof in his decision about his sexuality a smart choice. When the toaster popped up four only slightly singed waffles, Ryan pulled down a plate from the cabinet overhead and began cutting them into bite-sized sections. He might not know much about cooking, but he knew presentation was fifty-percent of the exercise. After dusting them lightly with powdered sugar, Ryan poured a mug of coffee and took both in to the sleeping Jamie. Feeding them to him by hand turned out to be one of the most sensual, erotic things Ryan had ever done with food. Jamie, of course, had fought it tooth and nail. After summoning his best imitation of his mother’s icy glare -- the one that quelled underperforming grad students and uncooperative politicians alike -- Ryan had placed himself astride Jamie’s thighs, carefully putting each bite in Jamie’s mouth. Fallen specks of powdered sugar were, of course, cleaned away with his tongue, and Ryan had insisted that Jamie reciprocate by cleaning Ryan’s fingers the same way. They’d both had erections while Ryan fed Jamie and -- while neither had mentioned it -- Ryan was glad to see that in the few minutes he’d been gone with the dishes, Jamie’s had subsided a little. Excellent. Because he intended to love Jamie into a quivering, sighing puddle of a man, and he didn’t want Jamie going off prematurely. “What do you think you’re doing with that?” Jamie glared at the bottle Ryan had retrieved from the bathroom, glowing golden brown in the morning sun, now that Ryan had pulled back the blinds. It was a gorgeous day and, although his house didn’t overlook the ocean the way Jamie’s did, it was still close enough to smell the tang of the salt air.
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“Don’t start with me, Jamie. I can tell by the way you’re holding your head that your neck’s stiff. Probably from letting me cry on your shoulder half the night. Whatever. And, quite honestly, I don’t care what the reason is. You’re going to get a back rub and you’re going to lay there and take it. Now turn over on your stomach.” “You don’t have to do that. Just give me a couple of Advil and a shower and I’ll be fine. Real--” Ryan glared. “Turn. Over.” It was hard to hold the glare, though, as Jamie finally turned over, grumbling all the way. His face muffled by the pillow, Ryan only caught about every third word. “Stupid ... don’t need ... asinine ...” Ryan waited until Jamie had settled in to pull back the sheet, baring Jamie to his knees and smacking his ass hard. Based on Jamie’s outraged bellow and the sting in his own hand, Ryan guessed he’d caught just the right degree of force. “Shut up and lie still if you don’t want more where that came from.” A little surprisingly, Jamie lay quietly. Hmm. Interesting. Store that for future reference. Starting at the shoulders, Ryan let the oil drip onto Jamie’s skin. He’d chosen a warming oil, both for its scent and the fact that it felt fantastic on the skin and in-fuckingcredible inside. If you could get past the dopey name -- “Snickerdoodle” -- the vanilla and cinnamon scents combined into something both comforting and erotic. As Ryan began working it into Jamie’s skin, he used his thumbs to massage the strong muscles that ran between Jamie’s neck and shoulders. Even through the filtering effect of the pillow, Jamie’s grunts and groans when Ryan hit a particularly sensitive section still came through. Sitting astride Jamie’s back was a heady experience. All of that power spread out beneath him so trustingly. Touching wasn’t enough, though. He needed to taste. Bending low, Ryan took an inch of Jamie’s shoulder between his teeth and bit down, followed immediately by a soothing kiss. “Mmm, you taste good.”
When Jamie began his reflexive denials, Ryan cut him off. “Do you want another swat? Then don’t start. Your job is to lay there and take it. Got it?” When no protest from Jamie followed, Ryan continued. First rubbing oil into the shoulder he’d bitten, he then switched sides and gave it the same treatment. Bite. Kiss. Tongue. “Nice.” Powerful shoulders gave way to strong arms, bulging with well-developed muscle. Ryan watched enough sports to know bike riders didn’t ordinarily have that much up top, but Jamie must make up for it somehow. It wouldn’t surprise Ryan to find out the man bench pressed car engines, or something equally butch. His body was amazing, and Ryan couldn’t get enough of touching and rubbing and tasting it. Working his way down both arms, Ryan scooted back, now sitting on the apex of Jamie’s magnificent ass. Dripping oil Ryan knew was cool to the skin until the air hit it, he watched Jamie flinch as the oil hit his lower back. He put his weight behind the strokes of his hand, smoothing the oil with the heels of his hands, feeling the tight muscles begin to loosen beneath him. Once Jamie’s back was fully oiled, Ryan lowered himself until he blanketed Jamie with his body, his chest sliding easily over the warm skin now reacting to the heat of the oil. Having had the foresight to begin this little venture naked, Ryan relaxed, trying to cover as much of Jamie’s body as he could manage with his own. Relaxing over him, as warm as the sun, Ryan leaned in close, whispering in Jamie’s ear. “You feel so good. I love the way you make me feel. I know you’re lying there thinking I’m full of shit. But you know what? I don’t care. I know how you make me feel inside, and I want to make you feel that way, too. Sssh. Don’t say anything.” Pushing himself up again, Ryan gave Jamie’s ear a brief kiss before moving on to his true objective. That superlative ass. Backing slowly down Jamie’s body, Ryan slid off as Jamie instinctively made room for him. Excellent. Ryan’s plan to get Jamie truly, deeply relaxed was working. Jamie’s body was
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working with him, even if his mind couldn’t quite accept it. The cinnamon and vanilla scents were having an effect, and Jamie, coated in the stuff, smelled delicious. This time adding the oil to his hands, Ryan took an ass cheek in each hand and worked in the oil with firm, circular sweeps of his hands. He wondered what Jamie’s percentage of body fat must be that so little of the big muscles under his hands moved. The skin moved, but that was about it. It was enough, though. The big muscles under his hands twitched when he took one well-oiled finger and ran it lightly around the tightly-budded opening. Coming closer and closer to his objective as the finger moved in ever smaller circles, spiraling slowly inward. When he finally reached the target, Jamie shuddered and groaned as first one finger, then two, slipped inside. Pressing down, Ryan searched for the magic spot, the one that made grown men cry and strong men beg. Out, then back in, pressing, exploring, Ryan smiled triumphantly when he found it, and Jamie came -- strong muscles clamping down on his fingers, his body jack-knifed in ecstasy, groaning and shouting and speaking in tongues.
He’d move in a minute. Jamie drew in a deep breath, relaxing into the dreamy exhaustion stealing over him and promised himself he’d get up in another minute or two. He sighed as Ryan slipped his fingers gently out of his ass and marveled at the man’s unplumbed depths. Too relaxed to work up even a decent chuckle when he realized it wasn’t Ryan’s depths that had been plumbed. The man had talents, no question. “Don’t you even think about going to sleep on me.” Deciding he kind of liked it when Ryan got all determined on him and took control, Jamie rolled his head over to the other side, pressing his cheek to the coolness of the freshly laundered sheets. He smiled a little at the authority in Ryan’s tone. “Oh, no?” “Oh, no. We’re not done here yet.” Something dark flashed through Jamie’s head when the unmistakable feel of a cock nudging his hole made itself known. It was stupid to even hesitate. But he had to ask. “Ryan? Condom ... right?” Ryan never even paused. “Don’t worry. I got ya covered, babe.” Already oiled and relaxed, Ryan eased inside slowly and Jamie closed his eyes and concentrated on the voluptuous fullness as Ryan flowed into him.
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He took his time and, once in, instead of moving he just ... settled himself. For seconds, minutes maybe, Ryan barely moved, making only the smallest of shifts. Adjusting. At first it was just interesting. A little curious. Usually by the time you were buried deep inside another man’s ass, thrusting was all you could think of -- if you could think at all. The inevitable comparison of deciding which felt better, the in- or the out-stroke. As seconds ticked by, Jamie waited. Catalogued sensations; the warmth of Ryan’s legs wedged inside his own; the warm stickiness of his own spunk drying against his belly; the delicious fullness of Ryan’s dick inside him and his body clutching it close. “Ryan.” “Yeah?” The absent, dreamy tone sent a ripple of pleasure through Jamie, even as it bugged him. “What are you doing?” “Hmm, enjoying. Just kind of ... being.” “‘Being’?” “Yeah. It’s good.” Jamie started to shift himself up onto his arms, but Ryan’s weight shifted forward and came down on him. “Where do you think you’re going?” “Ryan. Goddammit, move.” Jamie knew he wasn’t imagining the hesitation in Ryan’s voice. “Mmm, not yet. You’re not ready.” “I’m not ready?” How humiliating when his outraged bellow, so forceful in his head, came out sounding closer to a whimper. Jamie tried thrusting his ass up and back, onto that divine prick impaling him so perfectly, but he had no leverage, spread as he was beneath Ryan. “Let me in, Jamie.” “In? If you were any more in, your dick would be up in my chest.” “No. Let me in really. All the way in.”
Arms spread on top of Jamie’s, his voice a raspy whisper, Ryan’s words came in through his ear and went directly to his cock. Already hardening again, Ryan’s softly spoken entreaty -- half command, half pleading request -- cut through Jamie’s layers of selfprotection and went straight to his heart. The fear and uncertainty, the knowledge that once Ryan got a real look at who he was underneath it all, he would be gone, all melted away, and Jamie yielded. Just like he’d been from the first moment Jamie had laid eyes on him, Ryan was impossible to resist. He opened himself to the man and the realization that, even though he knew Ryan wasn’t his to keep, he couldn’t fight any more. Was that Ryan nudging him, or just the shifting of his soul in his body? It came again, harder this time, and a pleasure so pure it was blinding rippled through him. Spreading from his center, it flowed up and down his body in waves of satisfaction. Ryan was rocking in and out of him now; flowing out and surging back in like the ocean at high tide. Spread and open beneath him, all Jamie could do was lay there and take him. Slow, measured withdrawals segued seamlessly into voluptuously smooth inward strokes, no less powerful for their deliberate pace. It was perfect. Stroking across his nerve-endings, the warmth of Ryan’s body above him, the scents of the oil and their sweat. “Oh, Jamie ... yeah, yeah, oh, God.” A sharp pain cut through the waves of contentment surrounding him as Ryan’s teeth clamped down on his shoulder. A tortured groan forced its way out as Ryan came in short, powerful jerks. The thought of Ryan filling his ass with hot jets of cum pushed Jamie over the edge, too, and he knew he would be dreaming of that moment for a long, long time.
***** He couldn’t take it anymore. It had killed Jamie to climb out of Ryan’s bed, shower and put on clothes, but he couldn’t survive on the pathetic contents of Ryan’s refrigerator. It was like going back in time to his first crappy apartment at twenty-two years old in East Los.
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He’d thought being the queer son of a hard-nosed ex-sailor had been rough, but he’d had nothing on Alejandro, his Colombian roommate. When it came to machismo, Colombians wrote the book and Alex swaggered with the best of his homeboys while keeping the little fact that he loved dick to himself. Jamie still got a laugh at what an incongruous pair they’d made, but he’d been fresh out of the Marines and in need of cheap digs while he got himself established with a steady income. Jamie hadn’t thought of Alex in a long time, but seeing Ryan’s bare cupboards made him crazy and he’d dragged Ryan’s ass -- Ryan’s exceptionally fine, firm, now-wearing-histeeth-marks ass -- to the whole foods market. “Are you sure about this?” Ryan was holding a jar of capers in one hand and glancing dubiously at the growing pile of items in the grocery cart he was so attractively draped across. The other arm folded across the handle of the cart, his outthrust behind was perfectly decent -- modest, even -covered as it was by a pair of knee-length carpenter’s shorts cut fashionably baggy. It might be all in Jamie’s head that the superb quality beneath those shorts was perfectly obvious, but he didn’t buy that the covetous glances from all and sundry were just in his imagination. “Trust me. You need something to eat besides take-out and we’re going to get you fixed up.” Dropping the jar into the half-full buggy, Ryan straightened, shooting him a challenging glance from beneath half-raised lids. “Says who?” Jamie couldn’t help it if it fired his jets when Ryan looked at him like that, and it was all he could do not to back Ryan up against the racks of canned goods and kiss him silly. Despite the damp hair and recent shave, Ryan still looked exactly like what he was: fresh from bed and well-fucked. His eyes showed dark circles from lack of sleep, his lips were bruised and puffy from Jamie’s kisses, and anyone who cared to look closely could see a faint
bruise from Jamie’s teeth on Ryan’s neck. Fuck. They still had half the store to go, and Jamie was sporting wood already. “Says me. And if you don’t want me to come over there and prove it, you’ll shut up and keep shopping.” Grabbing a few more cans of vegetables, Jamie set them in the cart and closed in on Ryan until only inches separated them, and he could see tiny flecks of green and gray in Ryan’s brilliant blue eyes. The scent of Ryan’s soap filled his lungs as Jamie drew a breath and he fought the powerful urge to take Ryan’s hips in his hands and grind on him. “The sooner we get finished, the sooner we can go home and fuck.” “Jamie?” Hearing his name from behind him while he was so focused on Ryan, it took a moment to shift gears and turn in the direction of the sound. “Ben.” “I thought that was you. I forgot you lived down this way.” Ben looked exactly the same. Same shock of bleached blond hair going off in all directions. Same hazel eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses. Ben’s gaze shifted to Ryan, a cautious smile on his face, before swinging back to Jamie. “Ryan Van Alstyn.” Ryan’s hand shot out in a greeting ritual Jamie would have though too old for him. His corn silk hair, a thousand shades from blond to brown, spilled forward over one eye, and Jamie fixed his gaze on Ryan’s hand as Ben met it with his own. “Ben Durrance. Nice to meet you.” Jamie let his gaze follow Ryan’s hand up past a neat wrist, to a lean forearm and beyond to elegantly curved biceps, trying to see Ryan through Ben’s eyes. Ben was probably as thunderstruck as Jamie was at seeing them together. “You, too.” Ryan stepped back, letting his hand rest on the shopping cart, inches from Jamie’s, and Jamie wondered if it was accidental. His stupid heart hoped it wasn’t, but he didn’t want to get his hopes up. Best keep expectations reasonable so that when it all came to an end, he could pick up the pieces and go on.
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“So, just out doing a little Sunday shopping?” Ben’s eyes twinkled, and Jamie knew a brief twinge when he recalled how those eyes used to affect him. Funny how they didn’t do a thing for him now. “Yeah, we’re out of almost everything.” Let Ben think this was normal for him. Just an average, everyday occurrence, not a fantasy come true that he was riding like it was the last wave of the summer. “I’ll let you get back to it, then. I’m just here for some ...” He consulted a paper in one hand. “... tomatillos? Good meeting you, Ryan.” Ryan gave what could only be called a grunt, and Jamie couldn’t resist a parting shot -letting Ben know he really was over him. “Give my best to Kevin.” Ben smiled. “I will. You take care, Jamie.”
***** God help him, he wouldn’t ask. Ryan knew he was being an irrational asshole, but he’d felt the undercurrents back at the store when Ben Durrance had showed up. Felt them? Christ. He’d seen electrical storms with less atmospherics. Jamie’d been strung tighter than piano wire, and Ryan had watched this Durrance guy smiling his smug little smile ’til he wanted to clock him one. Jesus. Just keep putting the eighteen bags of groceries away. Yeah, like he was going to really use any of this stuff. “’Pardon me.” Jamie reached past him to put away the three -- not two; no, Jamie said they needed three -- different bottles of salad dressing. “Excuse me, you mean.”
Pausing in the midst of emptying another bag, Jamie cocked his head to one side and looked at him with that quizzical look his dog used to get when he’d tried to get her to talk on the phone. “What?” “You said pardon when you meant excuse you. Pardons are for ex-Presidents or convicted criminals -- presuming they’re not the same thing. ‘Excuse me’ is for small things.” Jamie shrugged and went back to his task. “Okay. Whatever.” “I’m sorry, but it pisses me off when people use the wrong word. Like saying imply when they mean infer. It’s just sloppy mental processes.” Lord help him, he’d turned into his father: a pedantic pain-in-the-ass bitching about nothing because he was mad at the world. The refrigerator door in one hand, a container of grated cheese in another, Jamie stopped to look at him. “Okay, if it’s that important to you, I’ll try to remember.” His reasonableness infuriated Ryan. “And don’t put the Parmesan in the fridge, okay? It goes in the cabinet.” Jamie rounded on him, his calm façade gone, and Ryan wondered if he’d pushed him too far. Jamie’s pulse was visible in the hollow of his throat, exposed by yet another of his perfectly tailored white shirts, as his gaze bore into Ryan. “You want to tell me what’s going on here?” “When you put Parmesan cheese in the refrigerator, the condensation makes it clump up. It doesn’t need to be refrigerated. It’s just fine at room temp.” “You know what, Ryan? I don’t give a rat’s ass about the fucking cheese. You can stick it up your ass and keep it at body temp if you want, for all I care. You’ve been bitching ever since we left the store, so what’s your goddamn problem? Am I your problem? You want me to get the hell out? Fine. See ya around.” Slamming the cheese container on the counter, Jamie brushed past him, and Ryan could see the anger and confusion written on his face.
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“Wait! Jamie. Wait.” Jamie paused, one hand on the end of the counter. His back turned, not looking at him -- but at least not walking out. “Look, I know I’m being an asshole. I’m ... I’m pissed about meeting that friend of yours, Ben. Okay?” Jamie’s broad shoulders hunched beneath what Ryan was willing to bet was Egyptian cotton -- three-hundred-thread count, probably. The outline of his thighs showed through the drape of expertly cut olive chinos, and his ass ... Ryan wanted to fall on his knees and beg Jamie not to leave, but a straight-up guy like Jamie wouldn’t cut a whiner any slack. He’d respect honesty; someone who was as up front as he was. So, painful as it was, Ryan sucked it up and confessed what had been eating at him. “I’m jealous, okay? I’m sorry. I know nobody made any promises here. I’m just ... I’m sorry.” How could a big man like Jamie move so quietly? One minute Ryan was leaning against the counter, arms folded defensively, baring his soul. The next he was in Jamie’s arms, and Jamie was kissing him. Tenderly. Sweetly. Ryan’s face cradled in both his big, work-roughened hands, he placed kiss after gentle kiss on Ryan’s lips. Ryan closed his eyes and hung on to Jamie’s forearms, kissing Jamie back; trying to catch Jamie’s lips with his own, but Jamie was having none of it. He held Ryan steady, placing kisses at will, his pattern and timing his own. Until finally, Jamie wrapped his arms around Ryan, folded him even closer and crushed Ryan’s mouth to his in a searing kiss. Jamie pulled back eventually to shake his head at Ryan. ”You’re goddamn nuts, you know that? Certi-fucking-fiable. Jealous? You’ve gotta be shitting me.” Trusting Jamie to catch him, Ryan leaned back against the strength of Jamie’s arms. “Why?” Jamie’s clear brown eyes, like a shot of good Irish whiskey, looked back at him. “Looked in a mirror lately? Who’s the most fucking beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, and who’s just lucky to be here, huh?”
It was the utter sincerity in Jamie’s eyes that broke Ryan’s heart. He truly did think he was just lucky to be there. Reaching up to run his hands through Jamie’s auburn hair, Ryan smoothed it back from Jamie’s forehead, something about the nakedness and vulnerability it suggested touching him unbearably. “You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, and I’m so in love with you.” Ryan pulled Jamie in for a kiss of his own, and Ryan could almost taste the reluctance. “Don’t say that, Ryan. You don’t have to say that. Can we at least be honest with each other?” Now it was Ryan’s turn to be confused. “I am being honest. You think I’m --” “Ryan, don’t bullshit me. I know what I am: I’m good with cars, and I’ve got a big dick. So don’t feed me a line. Okay? You don’t have to. I want to be here with you -- I’d be nuts not to.” They stared at each other, Ryan searching Jamie’s eyes for some sign that he thought more of himself than the stark assessment he’d just delivered and finding nothing. Someone - or, more likely, a string of someones -- had convinced this amazing man of enormous heart and soul that he was nothing more than the sum of his body parts. Ryan staggered under the profound sadness of it. “Oh, Jamie. Love. C’mere.” Ryan slipped his arms around Jamie’s waist, resting his head on one shoulder, and thought about what a blind idiot he’d been. Pieces fell into place, things he’d heard but not registered, as he thought back on what he knew about Jamie. Strong arms closed reluctantly around him, and Ryan realized that Jamie would give ’til he bled, until he had nothing left to give, but he couldn’t take. Wouldn’t accept even the smallest gifts in return because he didn’t think enough of himself to feel like he deserved it. Listening to the steady thump of Jamie’s heart beating, breathing in his clean, manly scent, Ryan wished like hell those mirror scenes in books and movies worked in real life. The ones where the hero shows a heroine her image in a mirror while he catalogs her beauty in
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his eyes. Ryan had taken enough psych classes on the way to his one-and-a-half master’s degrees to know that image problems that deep didn’t heal overnight. Or sometimes ever. So what the hell was he supposed to do now?
Jamie hung up the phone and checked off another task on his lengthy To Do list. He’d let a number of details get away from him, being so caught up in what was happening between him and Ryan. Ryan. Shit. Just letting the name roll around in his head made his pulse jump and his cock twitch. Shaking his head at the helpless feeling that came over him, Jamie let his head fall back against his office chair, his hand going automatically to his crotch. He pressed down hard on the bulge that was beginning to grow now that he’d opened the mental door a crack. Had it only been two weeks? A month, total, from that first night at the coffee shop until now? Freakin’ amazing. His whole life had been turned upside-down, and he’d cooperated every step of the way. He’d dived in head first and chased down every last one of the million little changes. Even knowing it was going to hurt like a sonofabitch when it ended, he couldn’t stop himself from pursuing Ryan with everything he had. Christ, he’d never been so wrapped up in another person. As much as he’d been devastated when Ben had ended things, that was going to look like a minor hiccup compared to what he was going to go through this time around. How were you supposed to prepare for
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something like that, though? Not participate? If someone placed a twelve-course gourmet meal in front of him, was he not supposed to even sample it? Not even a few little bites? The telephone on the desk rang, and Jamie glared at it. It had barely had time to cool off since his last call. Who the hell was calling at -- he glanced at the clock above the door -eleven fifty-nine, anyway?” ”MacPherson here.” Jamie wedged the phone between his shoulder and ear and began sorting through the piles of invoices on his desk. It was bound to be either a supplier or a client. Nobody else called him at work. “Good mornin’, sunshine. Just calling to get my update, since you’re not answering your cell phone and you didn’t call me all weekend. Or Monday or Tuesday. Not that I’m keeping track.” “Hey, doll.” Claire. Just hearing her voice made him smile. He should have been expecting this and mentally kicked himself at not being prepared. After their last conversation, he should have known she’d be on him like a bloodhound on the trail. “By the way, it hasn’t been morning for well over sixty seconds. I think your entire call is now null and void, and I don’t have to answer a damned one of your nosy-ass questions. Speaking of, how was the sex last night with the old man?” If he’d thought to get her off his back by getting her pissed off at him, he should have realized nothing so minor as personal details would derail her, and she shot right back. “Pretty damn good, thanks. He does okay for an old guy. And since you introduced the topic, feel free to share with the rest of the class what you did on your summer vacation.” “D’oh. I should’ve seen that one coming, huh?” Jamie could picture her, characteristic wise-ass grin in place. Not unlike his own. “Uh, yeah. So ...? What’s the scoop? How’s it working out with the new fella?”
“It’s going good. Scary good, if that makes any sense.” Ryan’s face, complete with bedhead hair and a day’s growth of whiskers like he’d been this morning, came into Jamie’s head. “Scary good like ... your bachelor days might be numbered?” “Ha. I wish.” “Oh, really?” The words had just tumbled out, coming from God-knows-where, completely bypassing his brain. But Jamie realized they were true. That he’d love nothing more than to have Ryan to go home to and wake up with every morning. That would be so great.
***** “You definitely have to work the weekend? No way you can get out of it?” Ryan rolled his head back and smiled at him from beneath half-closed eyelids. “Mmm, not really. Well, that’s not exactly true. I could.” Both of them wearing nothing but a pair of shorts, they lay on Jamie’s couch watching Ben Affleck’s latest box office disaster. Firm lips, chiseled and entirely masculine, curved upward slightly and Jamie couldn’t resist. He had to lean down and taste them. Tugging on the bottom one, he sucked it gently into his mouth, licking and teasing it with his tongue. Ryan groaned softly and hooked one arm behind Jamie’s head, pulling him down for more of the kiss. “Do it. Don’t the mountains in summer sound a helluva lot nicer than taking crap off of a bunch of rich bastards and their skinny wives? I got an offer of a friend’s time-share in Big Bear for the weekend. What do you think? You interested?” Claire had offered, and Jamie had jumped at it. Time away from everything with just him and Ryan. It sounded great -- if he could only get Ryan to agree. Scooting down, Ryan rolled as far onto his back as he could -- mere inches from falling off the sofa. Looking up at Jamie, lips slightly parted, blond hair off his face so that his
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model-gorgeous cheekbones were perfectly highlighted, Ryan took his breath away. So fucking gorgeous. Smart. Kind. Come to think of it, what the hell was someone so perfect doing hanging out with him, anyway? Jamie couldn’t figure it out. He knew that a run of luck like he was having couldn’t last forever, though, and he was determined to grab it while it was there to be grabbed. So when Ryan looped both hands behind his neck and tugged, Jamie rolled on top of him and settled between Ryan’s legs, now fallen invitingly open. “I love kissing you. You are so damn hot.” It was whispered so sincerely, Jamie could almost believe him. Wanted to believe him. If it wasn’t so absurdly, completely ridiculous to start with, he would believe it. “First of all, if you’re trying to distract me, you’ve got to start with something I’ll believe. Like, tell me to either lose some weight or stop lying on you ’cause I could crush you.” It was easy to smile when he said it. Smiling made it sound like a joke. He could smile because looking at Ryan always made him happy, and some small part of him hoped Ryan would tell him no, he wasn’t crushing him. He’d give his left nut to be slim and gorgeous for Ryan. To pull off a miracle of that magnitude, he’d have to cut off more than that, though. It was easy to smile because lying between Ryan’s legs, feeling all that warm, smooth skin beneath him, was about the closest to heaven he was ever going to get. Pulling his heels up under his knees, Ryan rolled his hips so that Jamie could feel the rigid cock underneath Ryan’s shorts. “You know what? About the only thing better than feeling you on top of me is feeling you inside me. And I don’t even mind if you don’t believe me, either. ’Cause that just means I get to keep showing you that it’s true. Over and over again.” “Yeah? You want to tell me what you want?” Jamie rocked his hips and shuddered with the jolt of energy he’d come to expect when his dick connected with Ryan’s. “Oh, yeah. Just like that.”
Ryan was tossing his head now, his hips lifting rhythmically up into Jamie’s. After that first night when he’d cooked dinner for Ryan, only to have Ryan duck out early, Jamie had blamed himself for his lack of preparation. If he’d only had condoms and lube ready, he might have lured Ryan into staying with great sex. That had been a hard lesson learned, but Jamie’s solution was that he now had supplies stashed all over the house. He never wanted to miss another opportunity, because who knew when time would run out? “Hold on, babe.” Shoving up onto his knees, Jamie jerked his shorts off and kicked them away. Freed of Jamie’s body weight, Ryan lifted his hips again at Jamie’s first touch so that in less than thirty seconds they were both naked. Reaching behind a sofa cushion, Jamie grabbed one of the condoms and single-shots of lube he’d bought for just that purpose. Another thirty seconds and he was preparing Ryan’s back hole for use. “What do you want, Ry?” Lids so heavy they looked drugged lifted just enough for Jamie to get a glimpse of that sky blue color he loved so much. “Want you, Daddy.” He wasn’t sure what it said about him, but it flipped his switch in a big way when Ryan called him that. Made him feel ... strong. And desired. It got him fucking hot, was what it did. It wasn’t like he hadn’t ever been called Daddy before. But Ryan was the first one that made him really feel that way inside. “Where do you want it, baby?” By way of leading the conversation, Jamie slipped one finger and a liberal amount of lube into Ryan, slowly mimicking what he planned to do shortly with his cock. He rolled his finger over the sensitive bundle of nerves inside and smiled when Ryan’s body arched up and his inner muscles clamped down. “Oh ... fuck, yeah ... want it there.” Ryan didn’t swear much, so Jamie knew his control must be going. Slipping his fingers out, he immediately positioned himself at Ryan’s well-lubed entrance and began to push. Like before, the pleasure caught him off guard. He knew it would feel good. But how good always eluded him; like his mind wasn’t capable of remembering that much happiness.
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He pushed slowly inward, feeling the muscles and slick inner walls part for him. Jamie fought the urge to let his head fall back at the intensity of the sensations. If he did, he knew he’d miss the sight of Ryan’s flesh swallowing him up and, without a doubt, that was the single most erotic thing he’d ever seen in his life. Jamie knew it was wrong, but he was weak. He wanted to hear Ryan moaning and begging, so he teased him, pulling nearly all the way out until only the head of his cock remained inside. “Do you want it?” “Oh, yeah. Fuck, yeah.” “Tell me how much.” “Daddy ...” Ryan’s panting was the most beautiful sound he’d ever heard. “Please. Fuck me.” “Oh, baby, yeah.” Jamie was so hot he slammed inside a little harder than he meant to, but Ryan only moaned and tossed his head. “Oh, yeah. Harder. Please, Daddy.” One hand next to Ryan’s head for balance, he wrapped the other around Ryan’s gorgeous cock. Squeezed and stroked in time with his thrusts. “Ryan. Look at me.” Ryan groaned and opened his eyes a fraction, a dazed look in them when he managed to drag his gaze up to Jamie’s face. The look of him. The scents of clean skin and the faint hint of soap. The hot, tight feel of him as he clamped down on Jamie’s cock. They melded together into an unforgettable combination that was Ryan. But it was the look in his eyes -- like he was looking at Jamie and seeing Paradise -- that sent Jamie over the edge, hurtling off into space.
***** “Ryan, your order’s up.” “Got it, Jane. Thanks.”
Dropping the plates he’d pulled from the four-top in the middle, Ryan dumped the glasses, not bothering to pause to see if he ended up with more pieces than he started with. Between the young couple with two kids under four years old, the family of twelve celebrating Granddad’s birthday, and the two tables of two seniors apiece, Ryan barely had time to breathe. In one of those oddities of the universe no one could explain, they were getting slammed on a Wednesday night. Jane had helped him serve the twelve-top, so Ryan had reciprocated by helping her with a demanding party of four by removing the plates of what had been appetizers, now a messy ruin. Loading his pepper-stuffed turkey, pork and turnips fricassee and two kid’s plates, he measured the plates for balance with a practiced eye before hefting the platter to his shoulder and heading out. With half his brain, he made small-talk with the customers; like a computer program running in the background, the rest of his brain was preoccupied with the problem of Jamie. After he’d lived the last two and a half years emotionally isolated, it was an adjustment to think in terms of someone else’s welfare. He wasn’t the walking wounded anymore. Somehow Jamie had gotten to him. Candles in a peach upside-down cake blown out, presents opened, and birthday celebrated, the party of twelve had gone their way and been replaced by three four-tops. The rest of the evening had passed in a blur of faces and orders, food requested and delivered, meals consumed and tabs paid. It was good to be busy, though, because it kept Ryan from dwelling endlessly on what to do about Jamie. He was in love with the man. It was as simple -- and as terrifying -- as that. There was no point in denying it. Loving him was easy. The hard part was going to be finding a way to get through to Jamie. To make him understand that he was loved and valued -- enough to make him want to stay. Because the idea of having to let him go when he’d only just found him was unthinkable.
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He could see making a life with Jamie. Exchanging rings. Ryan knew a minister who would do it. Kids weren’t even out of the question. True, he hadn’t completely worked out how he felt about them, but if Jamie wanted to, they’d talk about it. Holy shit, would you just look at him? Ryan shook his head as he pulled his tie off and stuffed it in a pocket and laughed at himself. The stupid kid who’d popped Ecstasy like they were Tic-Tacs and had more reckless sex than anyone had a right to and still be alive, was thinking about settling down. For once he wasn’t closing, since the new kid, Philippe, had swapped his short midshift for Ryan’s longer shift closing. He had a nice bottle of wine in the car, and he’d told Jamie he wanted to come over after he got off work. Jamie didn’t know it, but Ryan intended to ask some pretty pointed questions. “You done?” Rob, hands behind his back, untying his bartender’s apron as he walked, gave Ryan a friendly nod as they both headed toward the door. “Yeah. You, too?” “Un-huh. Going over to the Blue Beet. Feel like coming with?” Ryan was tempted to say yes, just to mess with Rob, but he got sidetracked by Rob’s destination. “The Blue Beet? Since when are you into café food?” Flashing the grin that got him more tail than any other three straight men Ryan knew, Rob waggled his eyebrows. “Ah, you didn’t see the talent that put in a hostess application, then, did you?” “Nah, I didn’t. Nice?” “Enough to make you go straight, son. Ta-tas like ...” Rob really was indecently good-looking. Even if Ryan hadn’t been into Jamie, Rob’s brand of charm was just a little too slick for him. Just a little too polished. Ryan preferred
more muscle. More hair. More man. Because he was immune, Ryan could smile back with impunity. “Doubtful. Wrong kinda junk. Thanks for the offer, though.” “Next time.” As Rob held the door to the employee’s exit for Ryan, his gaze latched onto the work schedule posted next to the time clock. “Ooh, look who’s got the whole weekend off. Big plans?” One foot about to step through the open door, Ryan paused to scan the schedule. He’d had the same schedule for nearly six months. One of the things he liked about management at Le Lou’ was that they recognized that staff had lives, too. Schedules were kept reasonably stable and Ryan had owned the second-to-last closer’s spot on Fridays and Saturdays since, roughly, forever. So the hand-written OFF scrawled in bold black marker over his three weekend shifts came as a shock. “Uh, no?” Ryan’s gaze met Rob’s. “Was Teddy still in his office, did you notice? I need to talk to him.” Not waiting for Rob’s answer, Ryan headed back inside, where he found the assistant manager still in his office, the night’s closing paperwork spread in messy piles across the desk. Looking like an extra from a John Waters film, Teddy was obviously not at his best. Tie askew, hair mussed, even his trademark pencil-thin moustache looked blurred somehow. Ryan caught the longing glance Teddy cast an open pack of cigarettes at his elbow before raising his gaze to Ryan’s. “Hey, Teddy, what’s up with my weekend shifts? Since when am I off all three days?” “Since when? Oh, come on, Van. Don’t start with me.” Quivering with nervous energy, the assistant manager looked ready to jump out of his skin. Shaking a cigarette loose, Teddy took it in one hand and tapped it nervously on the desk. “You guys need to get your stories straight, all right?”
Crossing the Line
Trying to make sense of the older man’s words, Ryan thought hard. Nothing. No explanation came to mind, except that ol’ Teddy looked like he might be doing meth, so he asked. “What are you talking about? What stories?” “Your friend. Jamie MacPherson. I guess he talked to Tom. Tells Tom you need the weekend off. It’s not enough he has a big account here, but Tom wants to get his car in there. Into MacPherson’s. I don’t know, but your time must be pretty valuable, ’cause next thing I know, Tom’s making arrangements to take his car in and -- ooh, guess what? -- Ryan’s got the holiday weekend off. Fourth busiest weekend of the year. But don’t worry about us. We’ll be fine. You go have fun, honey.” Ryan just stared. He’d recovered enough that his mouth no longer hung open in shock. Pissed in so many directions at once he couldn’t decide who to go off on first, Ryan just stared at Teddy. This was bad. Jamie had called? And talked to Tom? Tom? The general manager that held the power of hiring and firing over every employee on the payroll? Jamie had called Tom personally and gotten him the weekend off? First his mother sending him plane tickets and now this. Oh, he and Jamie were definitely going to have a talk now. A long one.
***** It didn’t help that Jamie greeted him at the door wearing only a pair of shorts, his broad chest and burly arms fetchingly on display. A fleeting moment of wonder at whether Jamie would be interested in leather crossed Ryan’s mind before Jamie smiled, said, “Hey, babe,” and swept Ryan into his arms. The sweet scent of Jamie’s body fogged Ryan’s brain as he melted into the kiss. Tongues sliding, mouths open, Ryan lost himself in the wonder of Jamie -- so strong, yet so profoundly gentle.
Ryan returned Jamie’s kiss until the bottle of wine he still clutched in one hand slipped. Catching it before it fell by trapping it against Jamie’s hip, Ryan’s heart pounded, as much from Jamie’s kiss as the near miss with the wine. “Sorry about that. But I’ve been thinking about you all night. What do you feel like doing?” Jamie pulled away, maintaining the closeness with one hand resting on Ryan’s waist. “What do I feel like?” Ryan ran his gaze from Jamie’s face, down over his chest. He’d never really been a bear-chaser, still -- something about the hairiness of Jamie’s body struck him as just perfectly right. Not smooth like Ryan’s own hairless chest, but nicely distributed across his pecs, narrowing gradually down to a happy trail that pointed the way to his wonderfully thick cock and furry balls. “I feel like starting here ...” Ryan leaned over to suck the nipple closest to him into his mouth, dragging his teeth over it as he pulled off. “... and tasting my way down. But if I do, then we won’t get to have our talk. So I say we open the wine and move this party out to the spa. That all right with you?” Jamie’s groan all the answer he needed, Ryan slipped away and headed for the kitchen, smiling a bit at the dazed look on Jamie’s face. So responsive. Jamie lit up like a Christmas tree at the slightest encouragement. Oh, cut the man some slack. He did say he’d been thinking about them all night. “Our talk?” Jamie found his voice as Ryan handed him a glass of the Chardonnay he’d brought with him. “Yeah. C’mon.” As Ryan led the way outside, he counseled himself to keep things low key; Jamie’s expression was already apprehensive. Nobody liked emotional conflict, but Ryan sensed Jamie had a lower-than-usual threshold. Best think of him like a skittish horse. Just then, khaki shorts hit the deck and Ryan caught a glimpse of Jamie’s astounding package. Make that stallion, he amended. Sighing in appreciation, Ryan felt no guilt. He knew he didn’t love Jamie for his physical endowments -- still, that didn’t mean he couldn’t appreciate the hell out of them, nonetheless.
Crossing the Line
Ryan waited until they were both settled into the spa, drinks in hand, water bubbling up from jets in the sides to soothe away tensions. “So, I understand I have you to thank for getting the weekend off.”
For a man sitting chest-deep in hot water, the sudden sensation of walking on thin ice was disorienting. As Jamie watched Ryan take another sip of his wine and look at him over the rim of his wineglass, it seemed to Jamie that he needed to place his feet carefully before one or both ended up in his mouth. “Are you happy about it?” He couldn’t tell. Ryan’s face was frustratingly neutral. He couldn’t tell if Ryan was ready to hug him or slug him. Ryan’s tone when he finally spoke didn’t tell him much. “If it means I get to spend it with you, then yeah, I’m happy.” Another sip of wine and the second shoe finally dropped. “I would have been happier if you’d let me handle it through the usual channels, though.” “But would you have? It didn’t look to me like you were going to do anything about it.” Jamie set his wine down on the ledge that ran the circumference of the spa. There was a lump the size of a grapefruit in his chest, and his heart was pounding. Ryan was seriously pissed off, and Jamie was afraid he might throw up.
Crossing the Line
Jamie couldn’t read the expression on Ryan’s averted face. Was that a sigh, or was Ryan gathering steam to really let him have it? Shit. He’d only been trying to help. The only thing he was guilty of was wanting Ryan with him. “Jamie, you can’t call my boss and fix my schedule for me, okay? Teddy couldn’t keep a secret if it meant he got blow-jobs for life. By next week everyone will know, and I’m going to look like your kept boy.” Maybe he had gotten carried away, picturing the two of them at Claire’s place in the mountains. Fuck. He’d blown it big time, and Ryan wasn’t going to want to have a fucking thing to do with him. Maybe if he groveled? “I’m sorry. I ...” A mini-tsunami slammed into Jamie’s chest, preceding Ryan as he waded across the radius of the spa and climbed up to straddle Jamie’s lap. The next thing he knew, Ryan’s wineglass was sitting next to Jamie’s on the ledge, and Ryan’s arms were around his neck. “Sssh. ’S’okay. I don’t mind if people know we’re together.” Ryan’s lips were cool on the surface, but warm underneath. The tang of the wine lent bite to the kiss, and Jamie groaned as he slipped his arms around Ryan’s waist and pulled him closer. His cock slid against Ryan’s, and Jamie arched his hips, chasing the magical feel of Ryan’s flesh against his. Ryan’s arms pillowed his head as his neck arched backward under Ryan’s kiss. “What about you?” The addictive taste of Ryan’s mouth was gone, and Jamie opened his eyes. “Huh?” “What about you? Do you mind if people know we’re together. Are we together?” Oh, his baby looked so intent -- fierce, even -- as he stared Jamie down. Jamie opened his mouth, but a hundred warring thoughts competed for space. Of course he wanted to be with Ryan. “Is that some kind of trick question?”
“Don’t answer a question with a question. Are we?” Ryan upped the ante by grinding his cock down on Jamie’s. Jesus. How was he supposed to think when the man was doing that to him? “What do you want me to say?” “I want you to say yes. ‘Yes, I love you, Ryan, and I want to be with you.’ That’s what I want to hear.” Ryan’s voice dropped to a whisper as he used one arm as an anchor to hold himself up, while the other slipped into the water and snaked between their bodies. He had both dicks in his hand and was squeezing them together, pumping them slowly, in time with the undulations of his body. “Oh, fuck. Don’t stop. Don’t fucking stop.” Jamie was holding on by his fingernails, digging them into rough redwood slats that made up the outside of the spa. Ryan was working him hard and he’d gone from stark, craven fear to ready to blow so fast his head couldn’t keep up. And he was supposed to talk? “Talk to me, Jamie.” On another long stroke Ryan pulled back, then thrust forward, while he rubbed his thumb over the head of Jamie’s engorged cock. “Oh, yeah. Oh, baby, that’s it. More.” The thumb rubbed the opposite direction on the backstroke before pressing down hard on the crown. “Oh, yeah. Baby, anything. Anything you want.” Everything came to a stop. No thumb. No thrusting. Jamie blinked up at Ryan. “I want the words, Jamie.” Jamie’s mouth opened, but nothing came out. “How do you feel about me? Are we together? Or what?” Looking up into Ryan’s eyes, his beautiful mouth bent in a stern line, Jamie was terrified. He’d never said those words. To anyone. Never laid his heart so nakedly on the line before. If he did and Ryan chose to, it could destroy him. Completely and utterly annihilate him. “I ...” Jamie swallowed hard. “I love you, Ry. I want to be with you. Just you.”
Crossing the Line
“Oh, Jamie.” Ryan’s mouth curved into the tenderest of smiles before leaning down to touch his. Jamie opened to Ryan’s kiss, and it felt like Ry was pouring his whole heart and soul into Jamie. He pulled back eventually, resting his forehead against Jamie’s. “Jamie, I love you, too. So much.” “You’re nuts. But I love you, anyway.”
Claire nudged Jamie with her shoulder as they stood in line at Starbucks. “I like this one. Are you going to keep him? Not that you need my approval.” With her hair pulled back into a braid, Claire’s dark eyes were prominent in her small face, the crinkles at the corners emphasizing her happy mood. “Hey, lady, watch who you’re shoving.” Glancing up at the menu behind the counter, Jamie frowned in concentration. “Have you decided what you want?” “Don’t try to distract me, MacPherson, ’cause it won’t work. You’re not leaving here ’til you tell me what I want to know.” She moved to block his progress in line, hands shoved deep in her pockets. The body language was obvious: Claire was making a stand. Jamie knew that look and weighed whether or not he had the endurance to outlast her. “Goddammit, but you’re nosy. Can’t you just relax and let things happen? Move it along, lady -- you’re holding up the line.” With a brief, apologetic nod in the direction of the caffeine-deprived patrons in line behind them, Claire took a couple of shuffling half-steps backward, closing the gap between her and those ahead.
“He seems nice. Smart, too. But you know what I really like? The way he looks at you. Like you’re the best thing that ever happened to him. I think you finally found someone who appreciates you for being you.” “Claire.” The middle-aged woman in line ahead of them looked back and smiled; Jamie tried glaring. He could feel the flush rolling up his neck, and he knew from experience that his ears were as red as his hair. He hadn’t been this embarrassed since the time he’d been all of twelve years old and his brother Matt had asked him in front of company about sprouting hair “down there.” As usual, though, Claire was oblivious. “Jamie. So are you?” His neck itched as the flush receded, so he scratched it and looked back up at the menu. “We’re moving his stuff in next week, okay?” “Oh, Jamie! Honey.” Low-key was impossible with a small but loud woman in biking gear clinging to his side. She tried throwing her arms around him, but the bag of coffee beans in one hand prevented her from getting much of a grip. “That’s so great. Honey, I’m so happy for you.” “Claire, please. You’re drawing a crowd.” Feeling like every eye in the house must be on him, Jamie glanced around. When he found Ryan and Bobby standing just inside the door, something in him eased. Ryan met his gaze and smiled, and Jamie couldn’t help smiling back. He found himself doing that more and more lately -- catching Ryan’s gaze and waiting for the little bloom of heat that burned through him and settled in his chest. It scared him, how much he was coming to count on Ryan being there for him. Already, buying food in larger quantities was automatic. As was thinking about what Ryan would like when making his selections. Jamie was one-hundred-percent, totally committed, head-over-heels in love, and it scared the living piss out of him.
Crossing the Line
It wasn’t like he wasn’t aware of all the little ways Ryan tried to show him he was there to stay. Jamie even repeated it to himself in his head daily that Ryan loved him and wanted him. But old habits died hard, and he couldn’t help that furtive little check when he came home every night that everything was where it had been when he’d left the house that morning. He was admittedly a neat freak; before Ryan, a pair of running shoes next to the couch would have bugged him. Now it reassured him. Previously, magazines left open on the coffee table would have made his fingers itch to close and straighten them, and he would have done so without thinking. Since Ryan, he had to stop and see what had caught Ry’s interest and, often as not, found himself stopping to read whatever it was. No doubt about it, he had it bad. Their orders placed, Jamie and Claire made their way slowly toward the door and Ryan and Bobby. “What do you say we hit the bike shop on the way home?” Ryan’s cycling helmet was cradled to his chest; his hair, sweat-soaked from the ride down the canyon, was beginning to dry. His smile was deceptively mild. “Fine with me. What do you need?” “Nothing for me. But you need new shorts.” “Why?” Jamie glanced down, expecting to find a hole or split seam. His black Lycra cycling shorts weren’t all that old; still, things happened. “Those pants are too loose. I want to be able to see which way you’re hanging from across the room.” What was it with people today? Were they all conspiring to embarrass him to death? “Shut up. They’re comfortable the way they are. Behave yourself or no dessert for you.” “Besides, I like watching the envious looks. I just give ’em one back that says, ‘too bad - so sad. Back off ’cause he’s all mine.’”
The pulsing in his cock that was never very far away when Ryan was around was back, and Jamie knew if he didn’t do something fast, red ears would be the least of his worries. It didn’t matter that he knew Ryan was goading him on purpose. One look at that surfer boy body and knowing smile, and he was a goner. Jamie pulled his own helmet from his head and placed it strategically over the growing bulge in his shorts. “You are so going to get it when we get home.” Later, as they lay in bed, legs entwined, both of them too replete for words, Jamie idly stroked Ryan’s back as he gazed up at the ceiling fan revolving slowly and wondered what he’d done right to deserve this. Nothing he came up with seemed to justify it, and that just reinforced the feeling he had that it couldn’t last. Nothing this good could. Ryan stirred, and his tongue took a tentative lick at Jamie’s neck. “Mmm. So good.” Lips joined the tongue, applying gentle suction. The sting of teeth pinching a fold of skin between them told Jamie he’d be marked, as blatantly as any high school kid. It shouldn’t have given him such a bright burst of pleasure, but it did. Ryan’s hand came down to cup Jamie’s cock and balls, soft and relaxed, in one hand. “Mine.” Even though he knew it bugged Ryan, Jamie couldn’t halt the reflexive snort of disbelief. “You’re nuts.” “About you, maybe.” “Right.” The hand clutching his balls tightened in warning. “Okay, okay. I believe you.” Obviously nuts. But what could he do? Jamie smiled.
Stephanie Vaughan While always naturally artistic, Stephanie Vaughan did not pursue writing until she was challenged by a friend who thought herself ‘too sarcastic and cynical to be a romance heroine.’ Stephanie decided to prove her wrong. The floodgates opened and she found herself bombarded by characters demanding their stories be written. A native southern Californian, Stephanie lists her influences as The Marx Brothers, Suzanne Brockmann, Woody Allen, Linda Howard, Dennis Miller, Angela Knight and Ella Fitzgerald. Stephanie still resides in southern California, where she lives with her husband and son, and indulges her passion for great coffee, “nature’s perfect food.” Stephanie loves to hear from her fans. You can find her on the Web at www.stephanievaughan.com and email her at [email protected]
***** Read on for a tantalizing glimpse of
Dealing Straight by Emily Veinglory Available Now from Loose Id
Dealing Straight The house had a living room and kitchen area, which was cozy but large enough for the purpose. A fire burned in the grate, giving the only light. In its light, everyone's faces seemed to glow with health and life. Richard imagined that even he might seem a true and virtuous son of the soil in such a light and company. The two boys lounged on the sofa, nodding into sleep even as they took advantage of the chance to stay up late. Theresa and her daughter shared a great easy chair, and Sam sat on the floor at her feet. A strangely congruous pose in that he obviously loved his wife deeply in a way that Richard could perceive but barely understand. Richard and Wayne sat upon the bench seat that had been pulled inside for them. Wayne leaned back and rested his back against the high-stacked firewood. Wayne and Sam had whiled the hours away in reminiscence; all stories of the things a band of wild brothers do, growing up on a remote farm. Richard could not help but compare it to his own stifled childhood in lonely rooms and callous private schools. He felt an irrational rage that whilst he had been wasting so many of the apparently few years of his life, these men had been riding horses, hunting, ranging, playing, fighting, and living. As if it were somehow their fault that he had suffered from the blight of urban privilege upon the proper place a child should have in a world that still had some nature in it. At last Theresa rose and rested her hand on the head of her youngest son, now fully surrendered to sleep. “We'd best get these two to bed, and you, too, Mary ...” The girl scowled but made no protest as she helped her mother bundle the two boys off to their beds. Sam watched them go with a fond smile. “We've just the one bed for guests, but I don't reckon you'll mind,” Sam said.
There was a knowing edge to his voice that made Richard look at him sharply. It was not an accusation -- an acknowledgement perhaps, and the last thing Richard would have expected from a man so upright as Samuel Sneddon. Wayne merely smiled as Sam showed them through to a small, clean room with a wide box-bed and a high, narrow window. He set a smoky candle on the mantle and left them alone with conspicuous alacrity. “He knows,” Richard said quietly. “Oh, aye. He knows. We grew up together, and I've always been what I am.” Richard shook his head, quite unable to understand how simple things seemed to be for Wayne. No doubt he was at least as bemused in return, or more so, by the way Richard twisted himself in knots and achieved only unhappiness as a result. Wayne stripped off his clothes, but, perhaps for the first time, he did not seem entirely at ease. Richard kicked off his boots and wondered what the hell was about to happen. “Best not waste the candle,” Wayne said as he pinched it out. Richard stood frozen in the perfect darkness. He heard the soft creak as Wayne got onto the long-promised bed. “Come here,” Wayne said. Richard reached forth tentatively and found the edge of the bed. He set one knee on its low surface. Wayne's hand, groping in the darkness, found Richard's shoulder. It moved slowly to his back and drew him forward. In the darkness, Richard knelt on the soft bed and listened to his own heart beating, and Wayne's breath. Wayne's hands were slow and deft, unbuttoning Richard's shirt and smoothing back the cloth so that it fell from his shoulders and slipped down toward the floor. Richard closed his eyes. He reached forward and fitted his hands around Wayne's waist, the skin warm and surprisingly soft beneath his fingertips. He could feel Wayne's breath upon his face. “Not kissed a man, eh?” Wayne said.
“No.” Richard's voice seemed a little nervous even to his own ears. Wayne cupped Richard's face gently. It was probably the hardest thing Richard had ever done, but he drew back. “No, Wayne. The illness. You shouldn't breathe in the air that I ...” “Shh, we'll talk about that another time.” Wayne's hands moved slowly down Richard's neck. His lips settled upon Richard's throat, trailing kisses down to his shoulder. Richard leaned in, then pulled Wayne toward him, splaying his fingers across broad shoulders. Doubt was slipping away as he heard Wayne's breathing become rapid and harsh. Wayne fumbled with Richard's belt and the metal buttons of his trousers. He broke away from their embrace and laid Richard back onto the mattress. There was a strange lack of urgency in their movements, as if the moment was to be savored, not rushed toward its conclusion. Wayne stripped Richard's clothing from him slowly. His hands lingered briefly here and there. His fingers traced one hipbone, thigh, and shoulder. He straddled Richard's thighs and bent over him. Richard was conscious of the rough stubble on his chin rasping against Wayne's fingers. He was even more aware of the death in his right lung, which might leap from his lips to Wayne's if given the chance. He wondered how his own thin and scruffy form could be of interest to Wayne, no matter how welcome such attention and deft caresses were. He knew the better thing would be to push Wayne away lest he doom his lover in more ways than one. Richard lay at ease on his back as Wayne's mouth pressed down upon his brow. Richard's left hand lay lax atop the covers while his right reached up and twined itself in Wayne's silky hair. It felt as he had always imagined it would -- soft as goose-down. Wayne leaned back so that a palm's width separated their faces in the close darkness.
“I cannot imagine that I was worth the wait,” Richard said softly. He could hear the long-banished Boston lilt edging its way back into his diction. Wayne exhaled with a long, sad sigh. “Sometimes, Rick,” he said. “Sometimes ...” “Sometimes, what?” Wayne's hard cock lay against his thigh. Richard felt a deep pang of desire run down his body and resound in his groin. His back arched as sweet tension ran down his body. He parted his legs, and Wayne moved to kneel between them. Richard placed his hands on Wayne's waist and made his invitation clear.
***** What people are saying about the writing of Emily Veinglory
Eclipse of the Heart The romance is sweet and special and you can feel the strong, loving feelings the two characters have for one another. Eclipse of the Heart is well written and one I highly recommend to others. -- Lisa Lambrecht, In the Library Reviews Ms. Veinglory is a talented writer who depicts same sex relationships in an extremely fascinating manner. Once I started reading I could not put the book down. Eclipse of the Heart is a great story that will remain on my keeper shelf for some time to come. -- Susan White, Just Erotic Romance Reviews Veinglory scores with this richly written, erotic e-book chronicling Lan’s journey to learn who he is and the heartbreaking costs you must sometimes pay to get there. Lan learns that sometimes the unexpected friends you make can be the family you’ve never had. -- Michelle, Fallen Angel Reviews