HE WAS so screwed.
Ryan Michaels pressed himself even farther into the corner of the room, clutching his glass of orange juice as if his life depended upon it. It did. From his hiding place, Ryan watched as the star of all his wet dreams walked into the room. Nick Driscoll.
Nick graced the cover of every book Ryan had ever written, all fifteen novels, four novellas, and five short stories. Beauty personified, the man was built like a Greek god: six foot three inches of all-over hard toned muscles, lightly tanned skin, dark brown eyes, and short spiky black hair that framed his sharp angular face. Every hero Ryan penned was based in some way on Nick Driscoll and his beauty. He couldn’t seem to help himself as his fingers flew over the laptop keys, his imagination running wild and his private fantasies coming alive. His book reviews told him his stories were bold and raunchy, full of sensual erotica with just the right amount of romance and believable characters; and slap bang in the middle of every story was Ryan’s representation of a gorgeously naked Nick Driscoll making love to a faceless secondary character.
They had only met five times, but Ryan was smitten. He was head over heels in love with someone he didn’t really know except in his vivid imagination but could never have in a million years, no matter how hard he dreamed. So instead of driving himself mad with obsessing over the man, as well as trying to avoid the inevitable disappointment, Ryan had convinced himself Nick was just enjoying the attention. The thought made Ryan frown, knowing deep down he was being unfair. They had talked about his books many times, and not once had Nick given an indication he recognized himself in any of Ryan’s main characters.
Ryan let his head hit the wall behind him. He groaned, wondering what had possessed him to leave the safety of his home after he’d vowed not to come to the regular monthly gatherings ever again. So much for willpower. The fact was, he was torturing himself even more with his stupid teenage crush by being here.
Ryan sighed. Who was he kidding? He knew the reason he was here, putting himself totally out of his comfort zone. The reason was a tall dark one, but Ryan just didn’t want to admit it, even to himself. His stupid lack of willpower when it came to Nick Driscoll, coupled with a bad case of writer’s block, which had his delete key in serious danger of being worn down forever, saw a frustrated Ryan downing two shots of Jack Daniels for courage and donning his best jeans, his only clean shirt, a tie he found in the back of his closet, and his battered leather jacket. Steeling himself before he changed his mind, Ryan had then taken two buses and the subway, arriving at his publishers fifteen minutes early for the monthly authors’ get-together, hoping in equal amounts that Nick would and wouldn’t turn up.
So now here Ryan was, all six foot four inches of him, stooped and squashed into a corner hiding from the object of his desire, wishing he had stayed at home chained to his laptop beating his story into submission. Writer’s block was a bitch even if you secretly knew the cause for it. Ryan banged his head against the wall again. In an attempt to block out his fixation with everything Nick, he had been trying to write a new central character for over week, but he wasn’t Nick, and Ryan hated him with a passion he couldn’t explain. The story was suffering. Hell, he was suffering, and Ryan had decided that pounding his head on the desk over and over wasn’t helping either.
Ryan blew out a frustrated breath, wishing again he had stayed at home. He was comfortable there, despite his writer’s block, surrounded by his books and the organized chaos of his life. His house was safe. This room, surrounded by his lively and enthusiastic fellow authors, was a dangerous place for Ryan, even more so now that Nick had arrived. Ryan groaned again, deciding he was a totally pathetic human being.
Ryan pressed himself deeper into his hiding place. He was tall, but Ryan still managed to be invisible to everybody, a talent perfected over many years. He didn’t want people to see him, so they didn’t. It was that simple. People usually took one look at him before labeling him a geek and therefore boring and uninteresting, passing him by without a second look. Heavy-framed glasses, a mop of dirty blond hair he could never seem to tame, an awkward body which managed to trip over and bump into stuff all the time, topped with an annoying propensity to blush crimson red when he got nervous or was forced to speak to someone other than his cat, Snickers, never seemed to help his cause.
“Don’t look this way. Don’t look this way,” Ryan mumbled as he stared into his glass, absently counting the lumps of orange. After counting twenty lumps, Ryan risked looking up. Nervously, he flicked his gaze around the room, sighing with relief when he couldn’t see the object of all his hidden and secret desires. Ryan sighed again, dragging his traitorous mind away from thoughts of a naked Nick Driscoll. He took a gulp of his orange juice, deciding to give the get-together another ten minutes before sneaking away home to lick his wounds and bang his head on his desk some more.
SOFT drink in hand, Nick Driscoll scanned the room, hoping to see Ryan Michaels again. As one of the regular models used by the publisher for their cover art, Nick always got an invitation to the monthly get-togethers. Living in a hotel for the week every month he was in the city was lonely, so Nick made a point of attending. Nick enjoyed his job, was good at modeling if future bookings and his agent’s enthusiasm were anything to go by, but he was smart enough to know the profession had a very short life span. With that sobering thought in mind, Nick had taken himself back to school, learned a trade, and now was a fully qualified carpenter with a small but growing business.
Nick let his gaze drift around the room. He enjoyed meeting the authors whose book covers he found himself adorning, and he made a conscious effort to read each and every book he appeared on, always amazed at the talent on offer.
Then three months ago he had met Ryan, and the get-togethers suddenly took on a completely different meaning for Nick. They had talked about Ryan’s books, and Nick had flirted, testing the waters. Ryan had stuttered and blushed, and eventually relaxed enough to flirt back on their fourth meeting, but Nick wanted more. The reserved man intrigued him, and he was hoping the attraction was mutual. Tall and geeky-looking with the most incredible blue eyes Nick had ever seen, Ryan’s bold and descriptive writing style didn’t seem to match the vulnerability he exuded up close and personal, or his pseudonym, Isis Mackenzie. Nick decided Ryan looked nothing like an erotic romance author—not that Nick was sure exactly what a typical one looked like, and the clamoring crowd of excited authors around him didn’t give him much of a clue. Nick smiled; this morning while jerking off in the shower to the thought of Ryan’s mouth wrapped around his cock, he had decided to make his move and ask Ryan out for some coffee. But first he had to find him.
Nick took a quick sip of his drink, frowning at the sweetness of the soda, wishing he had taken a cab instead of driving his battered truck to the publishers. Nick started to circulate the room, smiling and talking with people, moving slowly through the crowd of animated authors, fellow models, and publishing staff. He still hunted for Ryan, not able to stop the sting of disappointment as he scanned the room again without success.
Ten minutes later, Nick was good-naturedly trading insults with fellow model Mike Andrews when he glanced up, spying his prize skulking in the corner of the room and looking like he was getting ready to leave. Excitement unexpectedly curled in Nick’s stomach, surprising him a little. Ignoring the feeling, Nick grinned at Mike. “Excuse me,” he said, his gaze still fixed on Ryan. “Have to leave your ugly ass and go meet someone interesting.”
“You wish.” Mike laughed, following Nick’s gaze, and nodded, grinning. “Kind of cute.” Mike smirked. “In a geeky, too-tall, freckled sort of way.”
“Asshole,” Nick said, slapping at Mike’s arm as he started to move toward the corner of the room. Mike chuckled, turning away to find someone else to talk to.
“Ten, eleven… fifteen… eighteen.” Ryan counted in his head, having decided on counting to fifty before leaving to make his way home. “Forty-six.” He cheated, desperate to be gone, to go back to the safety of his house. Head down, Ryan began to edge to the door, placing his glass on an empty table, and walked straight into a solid body. Ryan jerked his head up, an apology on his lips, and found himself staring at Nick Driscoll’s smiling face.
“Hey,” Nick said.
“I was just leaving.” Ryan said the first thing that came into his head as he edged closer to the door.
“You can’t leave now. It’s still early.” Nick glanced down at his watch, not able to mask the disappointment in his voice. “I thought I was going to get another chance to talk to the most interesting person in the room.”
Ryan instinctively looked over his shoulder but found no one else behind or near him. “Me?” Surprised, he turned back to Nick, not really able to believe the other man thought he was interesting or worth talking to.
“Yeah.” Nick smiled. “We could talk some more about your books.”
Ryan shivered, convinced Nick had finally worked out who his main characters were based on. “I don’t know,” he managed to stutter out. “It’s kinda late.”
Nick was confused at Ryan’s reaction to his suggestion, but he pressed on, determined. “I’ve really enjoyed our chats. I kinda thought you had too. And today I was even going to get up the courage to ask you to come for coffee with me.”
Ryan relaxed slightly, relieved when Nick changed the subject away from his books, instead finding himself surprised and a little confused at the offer. “Me?” His own private fantasy Greek god wanted to buy him coffee, and even more puzzling, needed to pluck up courage to ask him out. “Like a date?” he asked, immediately blushing bright red at the stupidity of his question.
“Yeah. Like a date.” Nick nodded, smiling broadly. “I thought we could get to know each other a little better.”
“You did?” Ryan’s head was reeling. Excitement pulsed through his veins, along with a hint of pure panic. He was certain he’d probably make a complete fool of himself, but Ryan craved this, his one small moment with his own private fantasy, a memory he could tuck away and cherish forever.
Nick nodded again. “Yeah. I know this great little place down the street. They do awesome coffees with whipped cream. And their muffins are to die for.” Nick shot Ryan a hopeful look. “So what do you say?”
Stunned into silence by the turn of events, Ryan pushed his glasses farther up his nose and squinted at the other man. Nick’s expression seemed hopeful, but Ryan decided he was probably delusional as well as stupid. Greek gods weren’t attracted to geeks with glasses. Ryan’s blush crept up his neck and he stared down, studying his scuffed boots, still desperately trying to process the situation in his head. Nick Driscoll, sizzling hotness, wanted to take him out for coffee and muffins. He was definitely dreaming.
Nick studied the man in front of him. Head down, freckled cheeks tinged red, and hands shoved into his jacket pockets, Nick could almost feel the anxiety vibrating through Ryan’s body. In Nick’s eyes, Ryan looked totally adorable, almost childlike, and it made him even more determined to succeed with his plan to get to know the other man. Nick decided on positive action. “Dude. For someone who makes a living out of words, you sure do quiet real well.” He couldn’t help teasing gently.
Ryan blinked before looking up and around. Yes. He was still in his publisher’s plush conference room. Nick Driscoll was still standing in front of him radiating sexiness all over the place. No, definitely not a dream. Definitely real. “Oh.” Ryan’s blush deepened as he searched his brain for a witty comeback worthy of his author status. As usual, nothing came instantly to mind, so Ryan settled for a small nervous smile and a half-nod.
Nick smiled back, grasping Ryan’s wrist and steering him out the door. “I’ll take that as a yes, then. Coffee and muffins for two coming up.”