Second Chances: Spotlight on the Characters
We all know what it’s like to lose out in love … but what if you get a second chance at happiness?
Will you grab it, or run?
The Second Chances anthology is a collection of male/male short stories on finding love again.
Non-Negotiable by T. D. Green
Heart of Glass by L. J. Harris
Better Together by DaNay Smith
Dirty Martini by Bette Browne
Non-Negotiable by T. D. Green
Jacob Kerns is due a promotion, but his ambitions are at risk when he learns his next contract will be handled by Alexander Corey, his ex. Jake tries to put personal feelings aside to do his job, but Alex won’t let him. Will they find love again or is the whole thing non-negotiable?
I ran a hand through my hair. “Christ. I’m tired,” I admitted.
“You work too hard. Play too hard, too, I gather.”
I smirked. “Probably, but if you can’t play hard, there’s no point in working hard.” I grew serious after a moment. “You coming around again—”
The waitress interrupted to set our drinks down. “Miss, next time bring two rounds,” Alex said with a wink.
“Sure thing.” She smiled and was gone again.
I reached for my beer and took a long pull, set the bottle down deliberately. “As I was saying, you coming around again is messing with my plans. I’ve worked very hard for this company with an eye constantly upward.”
“What’s that have to do with anything? Whether you’re dealing with me or someone else. Do your job.”
“You’re such a prick,” I said.
He laughed. “So I’ve been told.” He stared directly into my eyes for so long I had to look away. “Unless …” he paused. “Unless it’s because you still love me.”
“Unlikely,” I muttered, still not meeting his gaze.
“I don’t believe you.”
“I had my fill of you six years ago. It’s over. In the past. I’d like to keep it that way.”
“Then why are you so pissed off all the time whenever I’m around?” The smirk was still plastered across his too handsome face.
“Because you piss me off,” I said.
He rocked his bottle back and forth on the table for a moment while contemplating me, took a drink and leaned forward. “And so?”
“That’s what I’m talking about,” I said, my voice lowered to a harsh whisper. “You were cocky in college and you’re cocky now. I’m too busy for this shit. I don’t have time to fuck around …” And have my heart broken again, but I couldn’t finish the sentence. Not out loud. Not to him. I turned to see if I could spot our waitress and the food.
“How long does it take to fix a couple fucking sandwiches?” I muttered.
“Jake,” he said again.
I sighed, smoothed my features, and turned to face him. My heart already tight in my chest from having to sit across from him, talk to him, and hear him speak to me. The memories, long suppressed, blinked in the stilted, jittery way of an old silent film. Alex the beautiful, vivacious, cock-sure youth superimposed over the handsome, refined, arrogant adult.
“What do you really want with me?” I asked. “Cut the bullshit for once.”
His face grew serious, and I wondered if that brief shadow of deep sorrow was a figment of my imagination. “Six years is a long time,” he began, sitting upright once more. “I’ve had a long time to think about our three years together and what caused our break up.” He lowered his gaze, then looked back up at me. “I couldn’t pass up this chance to see you again. I wanted to—”
The waitress I’d wanted to arrive only moment ago cut him off. I mentally cursed her timing.
“Here you go, gentlemen,” she said. “Enjoy your meal.”
“Thank you,” we both said at the same time.
I peered at the huge sandwich on my plate; my appetite had fled after the second beer. I pushed the glop of coleslaw around until it formed a lopsided pyramid while I watched Alex decimate his cheeseburger.
“I’m not paying if you don’t eat that,” he said before taking another bite.
“I’ll get it in a carry-out box. Besides, who asked you to pay?”
“I remember you never would eat before finals because the stress made you sick.”
“This isn’t college, and this isn’t finals week.” I shoved a bite of slaw in my mouth and made a big show of chewing and swallowing, though it tasted like wet straw and hit my stomach like a wad of chewed cud.
Alex lifted a brow, but thankfully said nothing for the rest of his sandwich. I half-heartedly picked at the edges of mine while fending off the waitress, who kept asking if something was wrong with my meal.
By the time the plates were taken away and the remains of my picked over sandwich rested in a foam clamshell, I was ready to strangle someone—that someone mostly being myself for allowing Alex to outmaneuver me.
“You never did answer my question,” I commented. Three empty bottles sat on my side of the table, a fourth a little under half full. I frowned at the lime sloshing around in the golden liquid.
“What are we doing here?”
“Having a few beers.”
I wanted to bash the smile off his face. “I said to cut the bullshit. Christ, Alex, is everything a joke to you?”
The smile disappeared. “No.”
I waited for him to continue, the silence captured in our booth like the quiet before a raging storm, caught in the too tiny space between us that may as well have been as wide as the ocean. Time and gently cultivated pain had done that.
I clenched my sweating bottle. The condensation wept, as I’d not done since that day he’d left, though my heart writhed in agony. The strength I’d meticulously built over the years threatened to buckle under the weight of his presence.
“Jacob?” He touched my wrist. I jerked my hand away, nearly knocking over the empties.
“Don’t touch me!” The heat of his touch seemed like a brand on my skin.
A flicker of hurt danced in his eyes. “I said your name three times.”
“Oh.” I rubbed my wrist. “Sorry.”
He looked at his watch. “It’s late,” he said. “I should be going. I have an important meeting tomorrow.”
I glanced at my watch. Where had all the time gone? The forest of empty glass to my right hinted at it. “Shit.” I glared at him. “I never drink on a work night.”
“There you go scowling at me again.” He flashed his perfect smile. “I apologize and will take it into account at our meeting.”
I finished my beer while Alex took care of the bill, which he insisted upon doing. I lacked the energy and will to fight with him over it. I tossed a tip on the table and made my way through the last of the evening crowd.
The crisp night air invigorated me on the short walk to where I’d parked. I almost relaxed but for Alex shadowing me. At my car, I set the carryout on the roof and turned to face him. The soft glow of city lights put streaks of luminescence in his dark brown hair that matched the embers which seemed to light his eyes. I stood caught in his brilliance, hypnotized. The happy buzz that sang in my veins held me pressed into the side of my car. And then it was Alex that held me there and I was drowning in the intoxication of his kiss.
I lost myself for a moment. It’d been too long since I’d allowed myself the pleasure of this simple intimacy. Alex had his fingers buried in my wavy hair. My hands were under his suit jacket, digging into the firm expanse of his back, broader than I remembered. I groaned into his mouth while our tongues danced the familiar pattern of twinned passions.
Alex broke the kiss and pulled me into a tight embrace. “Jacob.” His breath tickled my neck, sending a shiver down my spine. “I’ve missed you. So goddamned much.”
Self-awareness cut through the alcohol, and repressed emotions threatened to bubble up from where I kept them locked away. “Stop it,” I said and dropped my arms to my sides.
“I should never have let you go,” he continued.
I stiffened. “You didn’t let me go. You left.” My hands balled into fists. “You fucking left me when I needed you the most.”
“I know. I’m sorry.” He sighed. “It was the biggest mistake of my life. Can you ever forgive me?”
Tension drained away, and he released me. I looked up at him. “I forgave you a long time ago.” I saw hope dawn in his eyes and cruelly stomped it out. “But I can’t ever forget.”
“I understand,” he said. “Perhaps you’re right. Seeing you again was a mistake.” He touched my face. “I really am sorry. I’d hoped that … maybe we could start over.”
Regret stabbed me in the guts with all the delight of a mass murderer carving into his latest victim. But the words were already spoken and I couldn’t retrieve them. When I peered back at my life, I couldn’t see a way across the chasm between us.
I took his hand from my face and held it for a moment, reluctant to release it; I still let go. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” I opened the car door.
“Don’t forget your supper,” he said, handing me the foam container.
“Ah.” I set it in the passenger seat. “Thanks.”
“Any time.” He shut the car door, leaned on it for a breath, then walked away.
Heart of Glass by L. J. Harris
When Zack Doherty comes to Australia on a working holiday, he is uncharacteristically forward in pushing Heath Connors, a man he barely knows, for a date. Heath, who has only recently begun to live life his way, wonders if Zack will be the one to mend his heart of glass.
“So, how have you been holding up?” Dad asked as he placed his knife and fork on the plate and picked up his beer. Looking into his concerned, hazel eyes, I knew what was coming, but was tired of going over old ground.
“I’m fine,” I replied with a casual shrug, swallowing the last of my meal before sitting back in my seat.
“I know what it’s like to lose the one you love, but believe me … things will get better with time.”
“So I’ve heard,” I answered a little sarcastically, letting out a grunt of frustration, trying to let him know in my own way I wanted the matter dropped.
“He was crazy to let you go,” he added, deciding to ignore my not-so-subtle hint.
“Dad …” I warned.
“And besides, you never know what’s around the corner. I bet it won’t be long before you meet someone else,” he continued, determined to speak his mind.
“I think you may be right,” I agreed, my lips immediately spreading into a smile as images of him ran rampantly through my head.
Of course, dear old Dad read between the lines right away.
“You’ve got to be kidding! Have you met someone already?” he asked with wide, unblinking eyes.
“I’m not sure, actually.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? You either have, or you haven’t,” he said in an argumentative tone, looking more than a little confused.
“Let’s just say I have my eye on someone, and leave it at that,” I responded cagily. It wasn’t as though I wanted to keep things from my father, but I didn’t want to get his hopes up until I had the chance to make sure what transpired with him wasn’t just a bad case of wishful thinking.
“Oh, okay. Well, that’s good, I guess,” he said, a look of disappointment plainly written across his face. Feeling more than a little guilty about shutting him out, I picked up my beer and downed it quickly before standing to my feet, the need to pee a welcome distraction.
“I’ll be right back. How about you get us another beer and we go shoot some pool?” I asked as I pointed toward the pool tables that we’d passed earlier.
“Great idea,” he answered with a smile, my attempted diversionary tactics seemingly successful.
I turned and headed toward the bathroom just near the reception area, smiling absently at the thought of the man who had captured my interest, and as I pushed the door open, the most beautiful voice I’d ever heard reverberated through the room. My head snapped toward the sweet, melodic sound at the same time I drew in a gasp, for there standing at the sink, humming to himself as he washed his hands, was the man who’d been on my mind non-stop for the last twenty-four hours. He was dressed this time in worn, pale blue jeans, and a white polo shirt; his hair was thick and long, just as I’d pictured, but this time it was smoothed back into a ponytail. As I drew closer, I noticed he smelled of soap—so fresh and clean—and I couldn’t help but laugh nervously as he glanced up and caught my reflection in the mirror, his baby blues widening with shock in response.
“Well, hello again,” I said with a broad grin, positively jumping out of my skin, heart about ready to burst as he slowly turned to face me before he reached for a paper towel.
“Oh … hi,” he whispered, his voice barely audible as he dried his hands and quickly tossed the paper into the trash. His obvious shyness was incredibly endearing, but as he cleared his throat then turned and reached for the door, right away I began to panic. I didn’t want him to go, but it was clear he felt quite uncomfortable, which is why I was shocked by what I did next.
Before he had the chance to walk out of my life, before my head could catch up with my body’s actions, I rushed toward him and grasped his wrist before using my free hand to push the door shut.
“Wh-what are you doing?” he asked with a break in his voice.
“Don’t go,” I begged.
With eyes wide as saucers, he stared at where our skin connected, and just stood there, open-mouthed and beautiful—muscles bunching underneath my touch, his entire body seemingly tight with tension.
I immediately knew I’d pushed him too far.
“I’m sorry if I’m making you feel uncomfortable. Why don’t we start again?”
“Start again?” he repeated in a suspicious voice.
Giving him my best smile, I let him go and took a step back, before offering my hand to him in greeting this time. I gasped as he gripped my hand with his warm, calloused one and shook firmly.
“My name’s Zack Doherty. What’s yours, handsome?” I blurted, wondering where my sudden rush of bravado had come from, my quasi-American accent thickening with every word I spoke.
“It’s … My name’s Heath. Heath Connors,” he answered; his full, kissable lips showing a hint of a smile, his voice deep and rich and entirely sexy.
“So nice to meet you, Heath Connors,” I said sweetly as I reluctantly let go of his hand. His eyes flickered between mine, his brow crinkled, and he had a strange, but thoroughly endearing look of confusion on his face. He studied me carefully, as if he was trying to figure me out, and I hoped … and waited. I didn’t want him to harbour a single doubt about my sexual orientation, or about my intentions towards him, so deciding to continue to push my luck with the whole bravado thing, I took a tentative step toward him and rested my hand on the cream coloured tile above his head, our bodies, chests, and mouths mere inches apart.
“And in case you were wondering … yes, I’m gay … and yes, I find you extremely attractive,” I told him, laying my cards on the table, letting him know in no uncertain terms where I was coming from.
“You … you find me attractive?” he questioned.
Nodding as I committed every little detail of his gorgeous face to memory, I smiled at his awkward innocence, while thoughts of kissing him caused my dick to harden. It was then I noticed his eyes darkened to a deep, cerulean blue, his physical response confirming something special had not only passed between us at that intersection, but that it was being repeated, right here in this very room. I just hoped he felt it as strongly as I did.
“Yes. How about you?” I asked, deliberately leaving the question open.
“I … um … yes … to both,” he confessed with a slow nod as a tiny whimper fell from his lips, his response causing me to smile. Outwardly, I was projecting a façade of confidence, while inside, hundreds of butterflies battered inside my gut.
Though he seemed nervous, there was no mistaking the fire in his deep blue eyes, so I decided to go for broke and whispered in a low, seductive voice, “I know we’ve only just met, but I really want to see you again. Can I get your number?”
“You don’t have to … I … mean, um … I don’t exactly have a number, and I’m sure you have more important things to do than waste your time with someone who can’t even afford to buy their own phone,” he stammered nervously, his prominent Adam’s apple bobbing as he swallowed several times.
I wanted to lick it.
Instead, unable to resist touching him, I ran my hand up the smooth skin of his arm until the tips of my fingers touched the soft skin of his throat, then gently grazed them along the skin of his freshly shaven jaw.
“See, that’s where you’re wrong. I’ve got nothing else to do, and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be than in your company, Heath Connors. So how about I call by your office in the morning and we take it from there?”
“You … want to go out? Wi-with me?” he asked, stumbling over his words, the apples of his cheeks turning a delicious shade of pink.
“I’d love nothing more,” I answered with a smile, my fingers gently caressing his beautiful, flushed face.
“I don’t … I don’t know what to say,” he blurted, his glorious smile almost taking my breath away as his body called to me, and his sweet breath wafted across my face. Without further thought, I leaned in closer until my lips were a hairsbreadth from the shell of his ear.
“Just say yes,” I murmured. Even though he was trembling, he still moved closer and I couldn’t help but moan, our bodies so close to touching it was maddening. Unable to resist, I brushed my lips against his ear, wanting to do so much more, but somehow finding the will to stop.
Better Together by DaNay Smith
Greyson Welles followed Dominic Nash to Baltimore for his dream job, putting his own on hold. Dominic can see that Greyson’s unhappy, but never expects him to turn down his proposal and return to New York. Will Greyson be gone forever or will he decide they’re better together?
“WAKE UP, SLEEPYHEAD,” Dominic smiled, rousing Greyson from his nap and feeling more than a little giddy. Greyson’s eyes remained closed but he did stretch out his long body and yawn loudly.
“What time is it?” Greyson asked, nuzzling his pillow.
Dominic glanced at the clock. “It’s a little after seven,” he replied, smoothing his hand over his lover’s impossibly dark hair. Greyson’s eyes snapped open and locked with Dom’s. There was a happiness shining there that Dominic hadn’t seen in a long time. Greyson sat up and framed Dominic, who was kneeling beside the bed, with his legs.
“You’ve only been gone a couple of hours. You finished studying already?” Greyson asked.
“I decided that studying wasn’t all that important. I wanted to come home and be with you.”
Greyson’s smile grew wider before he leaned in to kiss Dom slowly but deeply. Dominic’s heart was beating wildly in his chest, partly because of the kiss and partly because things were going exactly how he wanted them too. He was filled with excitement and had to concentrate really hard on not squealing like a schoolgirl or something equally ridiculous. When Greyson finally pulled back from the kiss, he pressed his forehead to his partner’s.
“Let’s go out and do something fun! Dancing maybe? We haven’t been out in ages,” Greyson said.
Dominic shook his head and reached for Greyson’s hands. “I have a better idea,” he began. “Why don’t we get married?”
All the excitement Dominic felt suddenly turned into anxiousness as he watched his partner’s face. It wasn’t that Greyson had stopped smiling; the smile just seemed to freeze on Greyson’s face, making it look unnatural and forced.
“I want us to get married, Greyson. I’ve always known that we’d end up married. I love you more than anything. That’s never going to change, so I don’t think we should wait anymore. Will you marry me, Greyson?”
Greyson slowly pulled his hands from Dominic’s and scratched the hair at the nape of his neck in agitation. “Dominic, I just told you I’m moving to New York in two weeks. Why would you think this was the right time to propose something like that?”
“Because you’re unhappy, and I know that’s partly my fault. Moving away isn’t the answer though. I know you think you belong in New York, but we belong together. We just need to take the time to work things out,” Dominic replied.
Greyson hung his head and laughed mirthlessly before moving away from the bed and Dominic. He faced the wall and crossed his arms over his chest before speaking. “If you would just take the time to listen to me, you’d know that my moving to New York is not about you. It’s about me and what I want for my life. I’m stagnating here, Dom. I feel like I’m wasting away, but what’s worse is that you either can’t see it or you just don’t fucking care.”
Dominic stood up but didn’t move closer to Greyson. The tension in his shoulders and the deadly calm of his voice told Dominic that the last thing Greyson wanted was to be touched or crowded. He was left feeling helpless, confused and hurt. Greyson was taking all of this the wrong way, but for the life of him, Dominic didn’t know how to fix it. His one and only solution to everything had been the proposal, and since that had fallen with a resounding thud, he was lost.
“I … I don’t know what you want me to do, Greyson,” Dominic whispered for no other reason than it was the truth.
“I want you to stop being a selfish prick! I never thought I’d end up in Baltimore, but here I am. I came here solely for you, so that we could be together while you lived your dream! But it’s been four fucking years, and I can’t do it anymore. I have to take some time for myself, but all you can think about is how it fucking affects you! You can’t just support me like I’ve always done for you. All you want to do is have your cake and eat it too!”
Dominic shook his head over and over, denying everything Greyson was saying. None of it was true. He wasn’t only thinking of himself, and it was awful that Greyson would even think Dominic possible of discounting the way his lover felt.
“I am thinking of you! I thought this would make you happy. You dumped all of this on me, and everything is just moving so fast. You’ll never understand how grateful I am that you put your life on hold for me, Greyson, but now it just feels like you put a four-year limit on your selflessness. It’s like now that you’ve hit that limit, everything is all about you! You aren’t even willing to discuss this with me and try to come up with a compromise. You want to walk away and destroy everything we’ve built!” Dominic exclaimed.
“Fuck you, Dom! I never once insinuated that my going to New York was the end of our relationship! It never once crossed my mind, and I can’t believe that it crossed yours! I tried to talk to you today! I was ready to discuss everything, but you came up with that bullshit excuse about studying so that you could leave! If you want to blame someone for why things are so fucked up right now, you can blame yourself!” Greyson yelled, pointing his finger in Dom’s face.
Dominic remained silent. Greyson was right, he’d walked away, but he’d never dreamed things would go from bad to worse like this.
“I’m sorry, Greyson. I shouldn’t have walked away, but I’m ready to talk now. I want to talk,” Dominic said, taking a seat on the bed.
“Well, that’s great Dom, but now I don’t,” Greyson spat. He stormed over to the closet and jammed his feet into his shoes.
“Greyson, where are you going?” Dominic asked, beginning to feel exhausted.
“New York. I’m sure I can exchange those tickets for an earlier flight, and if I can’t, I’ll just a buy another.”
Fear like Dominic had never felt crashed over him like a tsunami wave; his palms felt sweaty and it seemed as if his heart was falling in his chest. He shot up from the bed and clamped his hands around Greyson’s biceps.
“What are you talking about? You can’t just leave like this! I said I was sorry! I was scared and didn’t know what to do!”
“I don’t want to hear anymore. I don’t believe for one second you didn’t know what you were doing. You knew I was leaving Baltimore, and you were willing to do whatever it took to keep me here, even though you see how unhappy I am every single day. You say you love me more than anything, but that quite obviously isn’t true. You’ll never love me as much as you love yourself!” Greyson snarled before wrenching his arm out of Dominic’s grip.
Dominic felt as if he’d been punched in the gut. Greyson just wasn’t making any sense. One minute he was saying that he was completely happy with Dominic and the next he was making Dominic out to be the scum of the earth. Dominic felt like his head was spinning and the floor was crumbling beneath his feet. Greyson’s rage was like a force of nature and he was powerless to stop it.
“You’re upset, and you’re not thinking clearly. Please, don’t leave tonight! We just need to calm down—”
Greyson whirled around and Dominic was taken back by the look in his eyes. He looked like he’d given up the fight. Dominic just stood there, unmoving, as Greyson cupped his face in his hands and stared into his eyes, but when the light in his eyes dimmed, Dominic knew that Greyson didn’t find what he’d been searching for.
“I love you, I truly do, but maybe we need this time apart. We both have too many things to focus on for ourselves. You don’t have time for me, and quite frankly, when I get to New York, I won’t have time for you. I’ll call you when I get settled, but that’s the only promise I can keep right now.”
Greyson kissed Dominic one last time before he walked out the door. No matter how many times Dominic called after him, he didn’t look back.
Dirty Martini by Bette Browne
When Daniel Fletcher runs into his ex with the man he caught him in bed with, vodka seems like the answer. Nathan Smith is used to men drowning their sorrows at the bar he tends, so the connection he feels to one is unusual. Will a means to forget turn into something more?
IT HAD BEEN another busy night. Not overly busy considering it was Friday, but enough to have Nate exhausted and desperate for the end of his shift to arrive. Unfortunately, that wasn’t until two am—a couple of hours away.
“Nate, I’m going down to the store room. We need to restock a few of the shelves,” Paul, his partner in crime, called out.
“Sure, buddy. I ain’t goin’ nowhere.” He cringed at his words as he turned and pulled two imported beers from the glass-paneled refrigerator under the rear counter. He’d meant the words in jest and knew Paul wouldn’t even think twice, but an image of his mother’s disapproving face immediately came to mind, correcting him: “‘I’m not going anywhere.’ Please don’t speak like that, Nathan.”
Yes, Momma, he almost said the words out loud. He was so whipped, and the woman lived in another state.
He opened the expensive bottles of beer and placed them, along with two serviettes, on a round server’s tray, ready for the waitress to take them to her customers when she returned to the counter, and then added the drinks to the table’s tab.
“Thanks, Nate,” she said, breezing past and taking the tray in a gust of motion. God, the girl was fast.
“Sure, Jen,” he replied, doubtful that she’d even heard him. Such was this place when they were busy.
He stilled for a moment, combing his fingers through his hair, as he took in a deep breath—he was counting down the minutes tonight.
“I’m glad you ‘ain’t goin’ nowhere’ … Nate.”
Nate’s head snapped around at the voice he vaguely recognized, his eyes opening wide when he realized who it was—the vodka guy from last night. He’d taken a seat close to where he’d been sitting the night before—and he looked a whole lot better than Nate remembered. A whole lot better, and that was saying something. Nate had spent a fair bit of time thinking about him actually.
“Oh … hi,” Nate replied, his mind trying to make sense of what the guy meant. “What can I get for you?” he asked, moving a few steps toward him. He hoped the guy wouldn’t answer that he wanted another Dirty Martini, or even a simple shot of vodka for that matter. He looked much better without a haze of “drunk” hanging all over him.
“A Coors, please.”
“No vodka tonight?”
The guy smiled. It was a good look. His face lit up and his blue eyes shined. “Probably not a good idea.”
Nate grinned. “Probably not.” He paused for a moment and just looked at the guy, wondering why he was back at the bar. “Bottle or tap?”
Nate placed a chilled glass under the tap with the Coors handle and pulled, the amber liquid flowing quickly into the glass. When it was full he shut off the flow and placed it in front of the handsome guy, receiving a nod and another smile in thanks. “What brings you back here tonight? Hoping whoever you were waiting for last night will finally show?”
The man laughed—it was a deep full sound. “No. Wasn’t waiting for anyone last night.” He took a long drink of his beer, leaving a frothy white line along his top lip. Nate had a sudden compulsion to lean over and lick it off. Dan did that for him, swiping his tongue across his rosy top lip—Nate swallowed … hard. When Dan was done wiping his lip, he placed his glass on the counter and held Nate’s eyes. “I did come back to see you though.”
“Oh.” Nate could feel his heart rate speed up. “Why did you want to see me?” Was that what he’d meant by being glad that Nate wasn’t going anywhere? He wondered how the guy could even remember him considering the state he was in the night before.
Deep blue eyes fringed by a dark fan of lashes observed him. “I wanted to apologize. Well, actually, I wanted to find out how much of a dick I made of myself and apologize if I needed to.”
Nate chuckled. “You’re safe. You weren’t too obnoxious.”
The man gritted his teeth together in a pained look.
Nate smiled then mouthed, “Hang on,” and moved down the bar a way to serve another customer. When he was done, he moved back, continuing, “Truly. You were fine. I’ve seen worse.”
“Ouch”—the man held a hand over his heart—“I’m not that hard to look at, am I?”
Nate was sure the guy was flirting with him, but instead of responding immediately, he gave a contemplative look and then walked away again to serve other customers. It was a good ten minutes before he had a break between customers long enough to move back down the bar. During that time, he’d glanced at the man often, at every opportunity, and each time it was to find those blue eyes watching him … assessing him. He wasn’t sure how to react, but he knew what to say.
Nate approached, gesturing silently to the empty beer glass sitting in front of the man and getting a nod in reply. He pulled another beer, removing the dirty glass before placing a new napkin and the fresh beer in front of the man. “You are in no way hard to look at.” He placed his elbows on the bar and leaned forward. “Now why did you really come here?”
The man leaned in—their faces only inches apart. “I came here to see you.”
“I’m not sure, Nate. I actually didn’t intend to.”
Nate was thrown by the use of his name—for the second time tonight—and didn’t give enough thought to the second part of the man’s answer. “You didn’t intend to— Hang on, how do you know my name?”
His reply was a loud laugh. “It doesn’t seem to be a secret.” He looked directly at Nate’s tie, and the pin with his name on it that was clipped over the silky fabric.
Nate was tempted to slap himself in the head. This guy had him on edge.
“Well, now that we’ve established who I am,” Nate’s head tipped slightly to the side as he watched the man, “I think maybe you should tell me who you are?” He knew the question seemed obvious but he didn’t care. He felt the need to get back some control over whatever was happening.
A crooked grin lifted the man’s luscious lips. “I’m Dan, Nate. Daniel Fletcher to be exact.”
Daniel Fletcher—Nate quickly decided he preferred Daniel to Dan—reached out his hand, holding it midair while he waited for Nate to return the gesture. There was no way Nate wasn’t shaking the man’s hand; it was almost like there was a magnetic pull—an irresistible tug—but he held off for a moment, taking the time to look from the hand back to the blue eyes that had him so enraptured. He could remember the feel of Daniel’s hand on his cheek last night, and he knew, with astounding clarity, that once he touched the man again there would be no turning back.
Nate watched as Daniel’s face betrayed a look of uncertainty. Nate knew he’d waited long enough. He smiled, just a small smile, but one he was sure went to his eyes, and was happy when Daniel instantly relaxed, then he reached out, placing his hand in Daniel’s warm palm. Long fingers wrapped around his and the reaction was immediate, an instant connection, a warmth that flooded his whole body, making him want to clear the bar and have Daniel take him, right there, right now, the crowd be damned.
Neither man moved; their hands still locked together, along with their eyes.
“What time do you finish?”
“Yeah. You will.”
The words were determined. There was no alternative. Daniel would wait, and Nate would leave with him.
“Nate!” Paul’s voice broke the spell. “Need you to serve, man.”
Nate stepped back, his hand falling away from Daniel’s. He had to force himself to breathe, to steady his equilibrium. He didn’t say anything to Daniel, just moved away, effortlessly falling back into the routine he knew so well.
The minutes couldn’t pass quickly enough for Nate. He could feel Daniel’s eyes on him nearly the whole time as he worked the busy bar. As was often the case, things got busier just after midnight, and his opportunities to peruse the man waiting for him were limited at best. Nate wasn’t in the habit of leaving the bar with customers; in fact, his conquests over the past twelve months wouldn’t even use up the fingers on one hand, and four of those he’d met through friends. Tonight he was prepared to break his own rule. He was anxious yet eager for the shift to finish. He wanted to continue with whatever it was that had happened in that moment. Their words had been flirtatious and full of innuendo until then, but when Nate touched Daniel’s skin, he’d experienced something he’d never felt before, not even with his previous partner, and they’d been together for years. He didn’t have any delusions about what that meant. He didn’t know the man, and he certainly didn’t want to make some claim on him. But what he did know, was that if the connection he’d felt flowed over into the explosive sex he was sure they were going to have later, then he’d be a very happy man come morning.
Notice to Appear by C. C. Lorenz
Josh Campbell is handed a notice to appear in court for a traffic offence, but his humiliation is complete when he comes face to face with his schoolboy crush, Carter Sullivan, in the court room. Could this be the start of something with Carter now that age is not an issue
JOSH REFLECTED ON how it’d turned out to be the most expensive date he’d ever been on as he climbed the steps into the courthouse. As a student in his last year of college, he didn’t have a lot of disposable cash and already found himself a couple hundred bucks in the hole on this thing, having had to fork out for an annoyingly pricey plane ticket to be here.
He hadn’t even gotten a measly blowjob out of it.
Walking inside, he found the correct room and settled in for a nice, long wait until his name was called. According to the clerk, it could be five minutes, but was more likely to be five hours. Looking around the room, Josh saw people from all walks of life seated around him. If nothing else, he would be in for some very interesting people watching.
It was several hours later when his name was called, along with a few others, to discuss a plea deal with the prosecutor. He listened as the prosecutor laid out the terms for everyone: a five hundred dollar fine, court costs, and probation until the fine was paid.
The same offer had been made to everyone, even though Josh only had an expired license, and everyone else in the group was charged with driving with a suspended license. When he tried to reason with the prosecutor, she just brushed him off, telling him that he could take it or leave it. Luckily, he didn’t have to make a decision until he was called up in court so he had a few minutes to give his dad a quick call.
This was one of the few times it was nice to have a lawyer for a dad. Generally, it was awful because Josh had learned early on that it was nearly impossible to win an argument against someone who argued for a living, but hopefully it would pay off with some brilliant advice in this tough situation.
Josh’s dad quickly picked up the phone. “Hey, kiddo! How’s it all going?”
“Not well, Dad. The prosecutor just offered me a deal to plead guilty.”
“Okay, lay it on me.”
“Fine of five hundred and court costs.”
“Ouch. That’s more than I thought it would be.”
“I know! It’s the same deal that they offered everyone, but they’d all been caught driving on suspended licenses. It’s not fair!”
“Yup. But you should probably take the deal.”
“What?” Josh asked, incredulously.
There was a pause on the other end of the line before his dad spoke again. “Sometimes, kid, you just get screwed.”
“Wow, thanks, Dad.”
“Good luck, Josh. I’ll see you at home later.”
Josh hung up the phone, rolling his eyes before walking back into the courtroom. It didn’t seem possible for the situation to get any worse as he settled back onto the hardwood bench, but in that moment, Josh learned never to question a higher power like that, because yes, things could always get worse.
The door behind him opened and Josh saw someone walk in, followed by a line of pre-teen looking kids.
Oh God. Josh clearly remembered doing this in middle school. They were here to watch court proceedings with their social studies class.
He was going to have to stand up in front of all these kids and announce his guilty plea to the judge. How fucking embarrassing. He hid his face in his hands and slumped in his seat, trying to make himself invisible to the school kids. When the door clattered shut behind the kids, Josh shifted his eyes up to find out where they were sitting and made direct eye contact with one Carter Sullivan. The situation had not only become worse but infinitely more humiliating. What the fuck was he doing here?
Carter Sullivan had played a starring role in Josh’s fantasies starting in the summer following ninth grade. Josh had just started realizing that he liked looking at boys a little more than he cared to look at girls, and Carter was one of the finest male specimens Josh had seen. Josh, who didn’t even particularly like the beach, spent almost every day there with his friends to see the older boy who was working as a lifeguard before leaving for college. Josh remembered ogling the lean muscles he was a long way from developing; his body had been that of a growing boy, while Carter’s had been anything but. Back then, Carter wore his dark blond hair in a closely cropped buzz cut, and his skin was covered in a golden tan from hours spent in the sun working, followed by more hours in the sun surfing.
Josh had even tried to learn how to surf that summer in hopes of somehow ending up out in the water alone with Carter, but that proved to be disastrous, even if it was the only time Josh ever interacted with him directly. His friend Luke had made it sound so simple, just paddle out and stand up, but how was he supposed to know that it was definitely not that easy? Not even close. He found out pretty quickly when he went flying off the board, hitting the water hard and getting caught up in the rolling waves, unsure of which way was up.
Following a few moments of what Josh had thought was imminent death, a strong arm wrapped around his waist and pulled him to the surface.
It was the single most humiliating moment of his life, being hauled out onto the beach by his summer crush as he coughed and sputtered for breath.
Carter laid him down on the sand carefully and brushed the wet strands of hair from his eyes, asking if he was okay. Josh opened his eyes slowly, and remembered very clearly seeing Carter’s concerned blue eyes staring down at him. For just a second, it was everything he had dreamed of, but it only took a moment for him to realize how horrifically embarrassing the situation was.
Josh was sure that this experience was sure to rank a close second and decided that if there was ever a time to turn to a higher power, this was it. He started by praying that the kids wouldn’t stay long, and that he would get called up last. Unfortunately, it seemed that skipping all those Sunday school classes caught up to him in that moment, because his name rang out in the quiet of the courthouse.
He felt the weight of twenty pairs of pre-teen eyes boring down on him when he stood up. Trying to avoid any and all eye contact, he shuffled up to the front with his eyes down. From there, everything happened very quickly.
“You have been charged with driving with an expired driver’s license. Have you corrected the problem and renewed your license?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he told the judge.
“Good. And how do you plead to the charges?”
He felt his cheeks flame up when he answered, “Guilty.”
“You will pay a five hundred dollar fine and court costs. Until the payments are cleared you will technically be on probation. You can pay downstairs.” As soon as she was done speaking, the judge banged the gavel, signifying that she was done with him.
Turning around, Josh headed toward the exit, equal parts relieved that it was over with and frustrated at the outcome. Briefly forgetting the crowd, Josh looked up and glanced around the courtroom one last time.
Of course, his eyes fell directly on Carter. Carter, who was staring at him, his brow furrowed as if he was trying to place Josh.
He felt his cheeks start to burn again and dropped his head back down, trying to hide his face as he sped to the exit. Unfortunately, he didn’t notice that someone’s handbag was peeking out into the aisle and it caught his right foot, causing him to trip.
A chorus of giggles followed him out of the room, followed by a familiar voice saying, “Knock it off, guys.”
It was mortifying. Absolutely mortifying.
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