When Dylan Fletcher kissed me, I knew I had to leave town. If I hadn’t loved him already, that little brush of his mouth on mine would have been no big deal. But I did love him, and I didn’t want him to die. That meant it was over between us before it had a chance to begin.
It started like any other Friday night—me waiting in my office with my feet up on my desk, pretending to work while Dylan finished upgrading a server down the hall. He maintained the hardware at Software Unlimited, and I was the sales guy. Dylan always worked late. And I didn’t mind our boss thinking I liked to work late too.
I snapped my fingers and a small flame leaped up like I had a lighter hidden in my hand. But I didn’t. I blew the fire out and studied the soot marks that never seemed to wash off, though the little flame didn’t hurt. Every time I did the trick at the bar, somebody wanted me to show him how. But I always joked that it was the only magic trick I knew, and a man has to keep his secrets.
I dropped my feet to the floor and walked down the hall to the small, crowded server room. As I’d suspected, Dylan still sat on the floor, hunched halfway under his desk with a server in his lap. The room wasn’t much bigger than a closet, with a stack of dead computers and a rack of servers taking up most of the space. He stretched for a screwdriver, and because he wasn’t looking, I let myself admire the outline of the lean muscles under his thin button-down. I waited until he’d fitted the new hard drive in its slot to knock on the door frame. Like I knew he would, Dylan jerked upright so fast he banged his head on the keyboard tray above him. I’d never managed to interrupt him without scaring him half out of his skin.
“Son of a bitch.” Dylan groped at the keyboard tray, making sure it wasn’t broken before he looked at me. “Oh, hey, Brent. Not you. Not a son of a bitch, I mean.” He cleared his throat. “Were you ready to go?”
“Yeah, it’s almost seven, and I’m getting hungry. Henry went home half an hour ago, so it’s safe to leave.”
He gave me a lopsided grin and turned back to the server, plugging the hard drive into the motherboard. “Some of us just stay because there’s still work to be done.”
“I think that’s just you.”
Dylan snapped the cover on the server. “All right, I’m done. I guess I can test it Monday morning.” He slid the server back into the rack and climbed to his feet, wavering for a moment in the middle of the mess. I caught his elbow, and he tossed me a quick smile as he stepped over a box of spare keyboards.
The heat and humidity hit us like a double punch when we stepped out of the air-conditioned office. I rolled up my sleeves and popped the top button on my shirt, tossing my tie into the open window of my truck as we crossed the parking lot between Software Unlimited and the Woodchuck Bar and Grill. Dylan and I hesitated just inside the door, letting the cool wash of the air conditioner blow over us as our eyes adjusted to the dim interior. Even though it was a country bar, there were a few other guys like us, their ties loosened or hanging out of their pants pockets. There aren’t a whole lot of options for after-work drinks in a town this small.
I smiled at the waitress, who picked up a couple of menus and followed us to our usual table in the back corner. I slid into the booth with my back against the wall and propped one leg up on the seat. It was mostly the usual crowd tonight, maybe a few extras. Dylan sat across from me and didn’t bother looking around. He picked up the beer menu like it might have changed since last Friday when we’d come to the same bar and sat at the same table.
The waitress handed us the menus and waited, knowing it wouldn’t take us long to order. I glanced up with a smile, and she pushed her boobs out a little more. “Mushroom Swiss burger and a Rolling Rock, please.”
“Sure. What’ll you have, Dylan?” Her smile faded a little as she waited for him to order. She knew he was gay and wouldn’t be looking at her boobs. Dylan ordered his usual bacon cheeseburger with onion rings and a Sam Adams and handed his menu over. I let my eyes follow her as she swayed away, because that’s what everyone expected of me.
When I glanced back, Dylan’s eyes slid away from mine, examining the crowd like he was looking for someone in particular. I could guess who.
The waitress set our beers on the table. “Food’ll take a little while, okay? The cook’s out on a smoke break.”
“Sure, no problem.”
It was dark in our corner, so I let myself watch Dylan’s throat bob as he swallowed and his tongue sweep over his lips when he set the beer down. If he noticed my eyes on him, he didn’t say anything. I only liked girls as far as Dylan knew. But it had gotten harder to pretend I wasn’t watching him since his ex stole his Camaro and left town two months ago.
“What about him?” I nodded toward the wall where a slim guy in tight jeans pushed back his cowboy hat and cocked his hip, leaning against the jukebox box and drumming his fingers on the glass.
Dylan looked, but he didn’t look interested. “Never really been into cowboys.”
“Oh well. His loss.” I gave him the smile I’d been practicing for years. Just a friend here, nothing more. Dylan gave me a long look, then jumped when a woman squealed practically in his ear.
“Brent! Have you been hiding from me? I haven’t seen you all week!”
“Hey Lexy, what’s new?” I gave her a small smile. I’d slept with her once, and that had been enough, even if I hadn’t wanted to keep her alive.
“I’ve missed you.” She pouted a little, leaning over our table so I could look down her shirt. She didn’t even glance at Dylan. That irritated me, though he wouldn’t have wanted her attention anyway. Dylan was good-looking, if pretty obviously a geek with his glasses and buzz-cut. I supposed that just because I wanted him, it didn’t mean everyone did.
“Brent! Are you listening to me?”
I pulled my eyes away from Dylan’s profile as he scanned the bar and ignored the woman taking up half our table. “Sorry, Lex, it’s been a long week. What did you say?”
“Dance with me! I’ll wake you up.” She tugged at my hand, bouncing so her breasts jiggled.
I let her drag me to my feet, but my smile was for Dylan. “Be back in a minute. Get me another beer?”
“Sure.” He slid out of the booth and walked to the bar.
Lexy dragged me out to the empty space in the middle of the room where two other couples danced. The cowboy had finally found a song, though I didn’t think it was meant to be danced to. Because I was with a woman, her soft breasts pressed too tight to my chest, I let myself watch Dylan over her head. He’d gone back to our table with two beers. When another one of the regulars claimed me for the next song, Dylan shrugged and drank my beer too. I couldn’t blame him. I was a lousy date. Or I would have been if we’d been on a date. Friday nights at the bar had worked out better when he’d had a boyfriend to keep him occupied. But as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t take Charlie’s place.
When our food came, I managed to convince the woman I was dancing with that one of the businessmen had been checking her out so she didn’t follow me. I dropped into the booth and grabbed the ketchup.
“Damn. I was going to eat your fries.” Dylan sucked an onion out of its ring, and I looked away before he caught me staring at his mouth.
“You can have some if you want.”
He waved an onion ring at me. “I was kidding.”