QUINN closed the heavy door behind him and turned the lock. His hands were encased in heavy mittens, but he couldn’t feel his fingers any more. Maybe he should have invested in a new coat this year? Camille had been telling him for years now that his threads were going to fall off his back soon, but he wouldn’t hear of it. The last few years, the winters had been mild—one of the perks of global warming, he always joked—but this year, winter came early and would probably stay around for longer than the years before. Quinn couldn’t wait for spring. Or at the very least, winter sales.
Below-freezing temperatures also meant a guaranteed full house. Not that there were ever any free beds when it was summer either, but Quinn hated turning people away, especially since this year, for some reason, he saw a lot more single dads with young children. Although he’d grown up in homeless shelters and was now working in one, the worst part of the day was when he had to close the door at night and tell all the people still in line where the other shelters were, knowing they’d probably be too late there as well. He knew all too well what it was like to sleep on cold concrete when it was snowing.
Luckily, the heater inside the small front office was roaring and Quinn slowly felt sensation return to his fingers as he held them over the furnace.
“Quinn, darling, your skinny ass is going to crack one day. You’re still wearing the coat I gave you five years ago? I hope you’re not waiting for another father of mine to die?”
Camille managed the shelter’s kitchen, among other things, and was deliciously irreverent of everything and everyone. You always knew where you stood with her, though.
“You know me, Cammie. There are always other people who need it more.”
Camille shook her head, motherly concern in her eyes. “As long as you don’t get sick, darling. Nobody takes care of these people as well as you.”
They both looked up when the clanging chime of the front door bell echoed through the small office.
“I’ll get it,” Camille said. “You warm up first.” A few moments later, she returned. “Damn, it’s cold out!”
“What did they want?” Quinn asked absentmindedly, finally taking his mittens and coat off.
“There’s a man at the door who wants to see you. Handsome,” she remarked teasingly. “Sort of a distinguished older gentleman.”
Quinn’s eyebrows flew up toward his hairline. “Distinguished older gentleman? Don’t think I know any of those. Did he give a name?”
Camille nodded. “Haden Wincott.”
Quinn chuckled. “He’s not old. Don’t you remember him? He worked here for a week during the summer. Did community service for a DUI.”
Camille shook her head. “Must have been during my summer vacation. I would have remembered him.” She flashed a knowing smile. “I better go get dinner ready. He’s waiting for you in the hallway.”
As soon as Camille left, Quinn’s smile disappeared. Why was Haden here? He’d been one of many “volunteers” who had passed through the shelter in the last year. One of their benefactors was a judge who liked to send people convicted of drunk driving to work in the shelter as part of their sentence. He figured that working with the homeless and seeing what alcohol could do to a person was a good way of assuring they wouldn’t do it again. Most of the people were white collar, privileged professionals who came in for a week, did the absolute minimum necessary and disappeared again. Since most of them barely interacted with the shelter’s regulars, Quinn seriously doubted if that week was enough to bring them to their senses. Haden had been no different. He’d swept floors and poured coffee, but Quinn had never seen him sit down with any of the homeless. Like most people, he’d been reluctant to even make eye contact, let alone touch one of the homeless men. Not that most of their patrons wanted that sort of contact either.
Quinn knew their regulars well, but he didn’t know all the particulars of their lives. The men, women and children who didn’t have a roof over their heads were too closed off for that. There was, after all, a reason why they’d ended up on the streets. For some, it was alcohol or drug abuse; others were socially inadequate, unable to function in a group well enough to hold a steady job. A not-so-small percentage simply didn’t have the mental skills to drag themselves out of a slump, and those people would need help for the rest of their lives. Quinn had found peace a long time ago in knowing he could only do so much. Now that he thought about it, he remembered a conversation he’d had with Haden about this. At the time, Haden had found it hard to understand that these people couldn’t be saved and that some didn’t even want to be saved. Quinn wondered if this visit had something to do with that.
Although the only people in the shelter that afternoon were those working to get everything ready for that evening’s residents, Quinn locked the office behind him out of habit before walking towards the hallway, which was also sealed off from the rest of the shelter by a trellis and a lock. Through the fine maze of the separating wall, Quinn could see Haden standing near the entrance door. He was wearing an expensive looking, long woolen coat and leather gloves, his collar turned up. His short, dark hair looked damp and his cheeks were rosy from the change of temperature between the outside air and the hallway.
Quinn unlocked the inside door. “Hi, Haden. What can I do for you?”
Haden looked up and Quinn was pinned into place by the man's ice blue eyes. “I didn’t think you’d recognize me,” Haden answered with a soft smile.
“Camille told me your name. Of course, I remembered you.” There was no need for Quinn to elaborate that Haden was his ideal physical type and that for a short while, he’d entertained a few carefully chosen sexual fantasies about the man. The daydreams had disappeared almost as soon as Haden had, so Quinn preferred to keep them to himself.
Holding the heavy metal door open, Quinn held out his hand and as Haden shook it, the firm handshake brought back all those unrequited feelings. Quinn gripped Haden’s hand just as firmly and mentally willed himself to push the lust to the back of his mind.
“I’ll cut to the chase,” Haden continued confidently. “I have a proposal for you. Can I take you out for coffee or something so we can discuss it?”
His mind racing all over the place, Quinn didn’t know what to think. A proposal? At least his curiosity was sparked. “We open in less than two hours and there’s still a lot of work to do. I can spare a few minutes for coffee if we can take it here,” Quinn suggested, pointing behind him toward the shelter.
“Works for me,” Haden answered. “Don’t suppose your coffee is any better than it used to be?”
“No,” Quinn admitted. “Still the same, I’m afraid, but you can add as much sugar as you like and it’s hot enough to burn your tongue. Just what you need with this blasting cold weather.” He turned around and almost immediately Haden followed close behind him. His hand still against the door, Quinn hesitated opening it farther, savoring the feel of Haden’s hot breath ghosting his neck until he couldn’t stand it anymore and he pushed the door all the way open. With swift steps, he walked inside and to the back of the dining hall without checking whether Haden was following him. He didn’t need to look back. The door locked shut behind them and he could hear the sound of Haden’s expensive leather shoes on the tiles of the dining hall.
“Stealing two cups of coffee from you, Cammie,” Quinn called into the kitchen as he rounded the corner and filled two paper cups. He handed one to Haden, who had entered just behind him, and added three scoops of sugar to his. “Let’s go to the office,” Quinn suggested. “It’s warmer there.” As Quinn circled around Haden, purposely not looking at the other man, he realized he was running away from him. This was ridiculous. Why couldn’t he just look the man in the eye? Haden was just a guy who’d been caught driving while he’d had a bit much to drink. Yes, he was good-looking and had a certain charm, but maybe his gaydar was wrong and this guy was straight. Wouldn’t be the first time Quinn had gotten his knickers in a twist and then found out his wires were crossed. So the guy had a proposition? Maybe he wanted to donate some money, which he obviously had plenty of, judging by his clothes and shoes.
“So what are you proposing?” Quinn asked, forcing himself to look Haden in the eye as he flopped himself down on the beat up couch in his office.
Haden took a deep breath. “I was wondering if you needed an extra pair of hands around for the holidays.”