AMAZING what a weekend away will do for you, Jesse thought.
He stretched out his legs and sighed, settling lower into the deck chair’s thick cushions, eyes half-lidded as he gazed out over the stillness of the lake. A light fog drifted across the water in the morning air, filtering the sunlight as it spread slowly from the horizon.
Jesse wasn’t a morning person. Never had been. But the mountain air had surrounded him as he’d stepped from his car the evening before, and he’d barely had the energy to haul his suitcase inside and slip out of his clothes before falling into bed and into sleep. He’d awakened ten hours later, just before seven, feeling more refreshed and well-rested than he had in months. A half-hour later, he’d settled into a seat under the canopy covering the half of the deck closest to the building, and he watched the sunrise for the first time in years.
He lifted his coffee mug, thankful that the cabin had been stocked with a few basic supplies to get him started, and drank deeply, letting the warmth work its way through his body. His jeans and sweatshirt held off the chill, but it was mid-October in the Smoky Mountains, and the weather was a far cry from the Indian summer heat he’d left behind in Atlanta.
The cabin he’d rented billed itself as “The Cabin on the Hill,” and it fit the description perfectly. It sat on a small rise above the surrounding terrain, giving a bird’s eye view of the gorgeous scenery. As the early morning light gradually brightened, the trees, painted in shades of gold and orange, grew ever more vivid against the backdrop of the evergreens. Jesse might not see many sunrises, but he couldn’t imagine one more beautiful than this.
A soft noise caught his attention, and he turned his head in time to see another man stepping out onto the wide deck. The cabin was divided in half, the two sides sharing only a wall and this open space overlooking the lake. Jesse lifted his mug in a small salute of greeting, and the other man did the same with his before moving toward the chairs on his side of the deck.
Jesse tried not to stare, but he was only human, and the other man was quite a specimen: dark, wavy hair, a chiseled jaw with a cleft in his chin, and a long, lean body not even the oversized sweatshirt he wore could disguise. Jesse felt stubby by comparison, even though he knew he really had nothing to be ashamed of. Five-eleven wasn’t exactly short, and though he’d never really been all that satisfied with his pale skin, freckles, or strawberry blond hair, he’d never had any complaints about either his body or his face.
You ain’t a beauty, but hey, you’re all right, he thought, grinning at himself.
Maybe he’d listened to the Boss a few times too many on the trip up.
“Looks like a beautiful day.”
Jesse’s head jerked up in surprise to find the other man looking at him, a small smile on his face. His voice fit him perfectly, low and smooth and sexy as all hell, and Jesse took a breath to calm himself. A friendly greeting isn’t a pickup line, he told himself.
He smiled back. “It’s always beautiful up here,” he said. “Have you been here before?”
“No, first time,” the man said. “A friend of a friend recommended it. Needed to get away from the city for a few days.”
Jesse laughed softly. “Boy, do I ever know that feeling,” he said. “I love Atlanta, but I come up here to recharge at least once a year. Been doing it for almost a decade now.” He smiled. “You live in Atlanta, too?”
The man nodded. “Live and work in town,” he said. “You?”
“Midtown,” Jesse replied. “Oh hey, I’m Jesse, by the way. Jesse Cutler. Guess if we’re going to be sharing space for the weekend, it’d be good to know who we’re yelling at when we get annoyed.”
The man laughed, a full, deep belly laugh that sent tingles down Jesse’s spine. “Good point,” he said. “Eli Gordon. Pleasure to make your acquaintance. And I’ll try to keep from driving you too crazy.”
You already are, Jesse thought, biting back a grin. “Likewise,” he said out loud. “Are you up here just to relax, or did you have specific plans?”
Eli shrugged, resting his coffee mug on his thigh. “Nothing specific, but I know there are some good hiking trails around here, and a few waterfalls,” he said. “Thought I might check that out. You?”
Jesse nodded. “Yeah, I usually mix in a few hikes with a lot of being lazy,” he said with a cheeky grin. “Too hard to stop doing anything at all when you’re used to the pace of the city.”
Eli smiled again, a slow-burner that hit Jesse in all the right places. “Maybe I can enlist you as my guide, seeing as you’ve been here before,” he said. “Trade for dinner?” He nodded at the charcoal grill built into the railing at the center of the deck. “I brought stuff for steaks.”
A question hid behind Eli’s eyes, and the warmth Jesse had been feeling since Eli first stepped outside spread throughout his body. “Sounds like a good deal to me,” he said, meeting Eli’s smile. Meeting his gaze.
Question asked and answered.