The booming voice made Alex Hayes jerk out of his light doze. Blinking, he noted they were in front of his house. Alex focused back on the driver from Bishop Car Service—the car service he regularly used.
“Thanks, Ryan.” He yawned widely and reached for the door handle.
“Hunt mentioned that you won’t be using our services as often.” Ryan Bishop turned in the seat, glancing at him.
Alex paused with his hand on the handle. “I won’t be going to Rhode Island as often as I have for the past two years.”
“I’ll miss driving you to and from the airport.” Ryan smiled. “But maybe now you’ll take me up on my offer for a drink.”
Alex sat back against the seat and stared, then chuckled, shaking his head. “God, I’m dense. I did wonder why you, one of the co-owners of the car service, would be driving me, but didn’t think to ask.” He smiled gently. “My trips aren’t the reason I won’t go for a drink with you, Ryan.”
“You said the same thing when I asked you when you did the marketing for our company. So why is it you won’t go out with me?” Ryan asked.
Alex studied the sexy man before him. Ryan and his brother Hunt were the first new clients he’d added to his roster after he moved to Mapson, California. Alex had initially convinced himself the move to Mapson was because many of his bigger clients were here.
You know that’s a lie. You wanted to get away from the memories that, even after three years, haven’t seemed to get any easier.
Since he realized how big a lie it was, he’d stopped using that excuse. Even moving cross-country hadn’t helped fade the memories. He decided they would always be with him, no matter where he lived. Before the trip he’d made to his old hometown, Alex had already given up on his search for his friend and her son. In hindsight he regretted not realizing they were losing contact with each other, since now he wasn’t able to find her. But after searching for her for over a year, he had to face the facts. She didn’t want to be found, and he figured her reasons were like his own—to get over what had happened. Those reasons were why Alex would not be going out for drinks with Ryan.
“I’m a bad bet for a relationship,” Alex stated.
“Who said anything about a relationship? It’s just drinks, Alex.”
“If it was Hunt asking, I would think it’s just drinks, with the possibility of no-strings-attached sex. From you, I don’t believe that.” Alex leaned forward and touched Ryan’s forearm, which rested on the lowered partition between them.
Ryan studied him with that intense stare that always made Alex feel as if Ryan could see right through him. His next words confirmed how astute Ryan was.
“Even if it was Hunt asking, I have a feeling your answer to him would be no too.”
“Probably.” Alex shrugged. “But I do know of someone I could introduce you to.”
“Are you trying to set me up?”
“Just an introduction,” Alex said.
“I don’t need help getting a date.” Ryan smiled, and his dimples appeared.
“Okay.” Alex ran a finger down the dimples on each side of Ryan's mouth. “He’s a sucker for dimples, though, and he’d enjoy this adorable dent in your chin.” He touched Ryan there. “But most of all, he’d have fun matching wits with you. If you change your mind, let me know, and I’ll invite you over for some boxing.” Alex lowered his hand.
“He and his brothers box with me. It’s good exercise, and they cheat, so it’s fun and gets a little bloody sometimes.” Alex laughed.
“You’re talking about one of the Berkus brothers.”
Alex nodded. While working with the Bishop brothers, they’d talked about things other than business. Since Ryan had been driving him, they’d shared even more.
“Now you have me curious about which one…. The antisocial one, the reclusive one, or the shy one.” Ryan cocked his head to the side.
Alex stifled a smile. He knew that when Ryan was thinking, he tended to strike the pose and didn’t realize it.
Ryan shook his head. “I don’t want to know. I can meet my own men.” Ryan pursed his lips and then his expression cleared. “When are you going to come surfing with Hunt and me?”
Alex sighed. “I don’t know how, and the idea of being on an itty-bitty board in an ocean, trying to stand on it, makes no sense to me.”
“I would keep that opinion to yourself when you come to surf with us.” Ryan laughed, then sobered. “The same excuse as always. We’ll teach you. Come on. I bet when you get into those waves, you’ll get over it.”
“Fine. I’ll take that bet. What are the stakes?” Alex said.
“Wait. Did you just say yes?”
“Yes. I can’t pass up a bet.”
“I’ll be damned. All we had to do was make it a bet to get you to agree?” Ryan frowned. “Why didn’t you just tell us so?”
“Now what fun would that be?” Alex laughed.
“Fun indeed. The stakes.” Ryan tapped his finger on his lip, then snapped his fingers. “Fishing. If we win, you come for a weekend of fishing with us.”
“Is this your way of trying to get me to go out with you?” Alex narrowed his eyes.
“Now, why’d you have to go and offend me? If I didn’t like you, I would be offended, then punch you in the nose.”
“Just being sure. I can accept fishing.” Alex hid a smile. “When I win, you all will come dirt bike racing with me.”
“Dirt bike racing? I didn’t think you would be into something like that.” Ryan shook his head.
Ryan looked at him pointedly. Alex glanced down at his impeccable suit, then back at him.
“Don’t let my clothing fool you. This is for working. But when I’m at play, I like to be as comfortable as possible. Hell, I’ve been told some of my clothing should be burned.” He smiled.
“Interesting. The more I know about you, the more intrigued I am about who the real Alex Hayes is.”
“Not much to figure out. I’m just me.” He shrugged. “I love fishing, by the way.”
“That’s good. So at least the stakes for the bet are something we’d both enjoy. So, when will we go surfing so I can win?”
“A moment ago it was ‘if’.”
“It was, but I noticed you were arrogant enough to say ‘when’, so I’m determined to win this bet. And I know Hunt will be too when I tell him you’re really sure you will hate surfing.” Ryan rubbed his hands together.
“You and Hunt better prepare for the racing, because I will win. I’ll call you about a date for the surfing.” Alex reached for the handle again and opened the door. “’Night, Ryan.”
“’Night, Alex. If you wait too long to call, we’ll come find you,” Ryan warned.
Alex nodded and pulled his carry-on bag with him as he got out of the car. Alex closed the door and tapped the top of the car. Ryan honked the horn and pulled away from the curb. Alex rubbed the back of his neck, feeling once again the tiredness weighing on him. He turned and headed up the stone mosaic walkway. Absently he noted that his flowers were blooming. He stopped in front of a peach rose bush already in full bloom. The plant hadn’t been there when he left on his trip, but it fit in with the landscaping he already had. Alex already knew it had been planted by either Tomas Rodriguez or his brother Malik. They had created his gardens both in front and out back, as well as the oasis that was his solarium, close to the master bedroom. Alex stroked the petal of one of the roses. He hadn’t asked Tomas and Malik to plant anything new, but that didn’t matter. The men did as they wanted, since they saw him as family. He had met them through his best friend, Robert Berkus, and now he was part of a big group of people who considered themselves all family. Being part of that family meant Alex had to get used to them doing things for him, just because.
Alex glanced over the gardens and noted they looked different, which probably meant they had added some other things. He was too tired to explore it now, but he would. It was always an adventure, figuring out what they’d added. The brothers did that with various family members, then tested you to see how observant you were of their additions. Alex continued up his walkway, staring at the house he had renovated. It had taken him longer than planned, since he had been going to Rhode Island so often. His home was finally the way he wanted it. His two-story bungalow with a wraparound porch sat on a lot with space on either side of the house, as did all the homes in this area. The house had been abandoned and in need of TLC, which he had gladly given it. He’d had the front of the house covered with a stone design, which only added to its beauty. It had taken him over a year and half to get the house how he wanted it, but now that he had, in his opinion, it was one of the best homes in his neighborhood. Alex pulled out his keys from his pocket but paused in front of the three steps that led to the porch, then went right, toward the garage.
He pushed the small black box on his key chain and the garage door opened. It slid up without a sound. Entering the garage, Alex glanced at the other garage door that led to the backyard, then lowered his head and studied the lime-green ’70 Hemi Clone. If he ever got the car restoration completed, he planned to have it painted black with gold lines along the side. He hadn’t gotten much done on the car, and he was coming to realize what everyone said to him was true: he didn’t know enough about car restoration to do what needed to be done. Before he could change his mind, Alex put his bag on the floor, then pulled out his cell and scrolled through the contacts until he got to the entry for Maestro. He pressed it and lifted the phone to his ear. Alex leaned on the car and waited.
“Who is this?” A deep masculine voice came over the line.
Alex frowned, then said, “I’m looking for Maestro.”
“This is he. Now answer my question. I don’t recognize your voice, so who are you, and how did you get this number?” The tone was unfriendly.
Alex gritted his teeth, then stated calmly, “I was given your number by Miguel. My name is Alex—”
Maestro cut him off. “Ah… the infamous Alex Hayes, who bought a car and thinks he can fix it himself by reading a book.”
Alex didn’t appreciate the mocking tone. “Are you usually such an asshole?”
“When it comes to know-it-alls who don’t know shit about cars, much less how to fix a ’70 Hemi Clone, I am,” Maestro retorted. “I’ll be by to retrieve the car before you do any more damage to it.”
“No, you won’t. I thought about it, but after speaking with you, forget it. Me and my book will be fine on our own, Maestro. What the hell kind of name is Maestro, anyway?” Alex demanded.
“One I earned, since I’m a virtuoso of cars.”
“And arrogant about it. I think it’s all hype, and people have made you believe your own self-importance, Maestro… or whatever the hell your name is.” Alex gripped the cell phone harder.
“Probably. But I’m good at what I do, and I take it seriously. I’ve been meaning to set up a meeting to discuss some marketing for my garage,” Maestro said.
Alex’s eyes narrowed at the change in conversation. “After being so rude, you really want to talk to me about marketing?”Alex couldn’t believe this guy.
“Yes. So when can we meet?”
Alex shook his head, then stopped when he realized Maestro couldn’t see him since they were on the phone. “Not we. You can meet with my partner, if you wish.”
“Why not we?”
“I don’t work with people I don’t like.” Alex enunciated his words sharply.
Maestro laughed, a booming that echoed in Alex’s ear. Alex’s breath caught at the joyous sound.
Maestro’s laughter calmed, and then he spoke. “We haven’t even met, so you don’t know if you like me or not.”
“From talking with you, I know I won’t, so we have no reason to ever meet. Let’s keep it as it has been.”
“Isn’t it weird? We have the same circle of friends who do a lot of stuff together, yet we have never met.”
“It’s been fate we haven’t. And from this conversation, they sure had it right to keep us out of each other’s vicinity.” Alex clenched his fist.
“Because if I saw you, I might give in to this urge to deck you.” Alex bared his teeth.
Maestro laughed again, then spoke. “I have that effect on people.”
“Maybe if you were polite instead of an arrogant prick, then people would be nicer to you,” Alex suggested.
“I’m always polite.” Maestro sounded offended.
“No need to be snide, Alex. If I wanted to, I could come take the Clone from your garage.”
“How do you know it’s in a garage?”
“From what Robert has said about the way you feel about the car, it’s in the garage. And I’m sure your Toyota Matrix is under the overhang on the other side of your house.” Maestro sounded very sure of his information.
Alex walked to the opening of the garage and looked out at the area that was darkening as night descended. “There is no way you could know that… unless… you’ve been to my house.”
“Nope. I’ve passed by your house on my way to Miguel and Robert’s place,” Maestro replied.
“Oh. Well, you can’t take my car. I don’t need or want your help,” Alex said firmly.
“You’re the one who called me.”
“Which I regret doing.”
“Too late.” Maestro’s cheerful voice irritated him.
“It’s my car.”
“And it will stay that way, once I get it fixed, then return it to you.”
“If you take my car, I will….” Alex breathed in and out to calm down.
“Do what? Call the cops.” The man had the gall to laugh. “Go ahead. But I’d talk to Del about what calling the cops on me gets you.”
“Huh. What do you mean?”
“You missed the fun when we set up the furniture at his house last week. I thought I would finally get to meet you when we did. Where did you go, anyway?”
“I had business out of town,” Alex answered automatically before he realized he had. “You’re very aggravating to talk to.”
“I’m easy to talk to. You’re just tired and cranky.” Maestro’s voice softened. “I figure you just returned to Mapson, and before even going inside, you checked on your car. Then you called me, since you know you were useless at fixing it yourself. That was a smart thing to do. Now, go inside and get something to eat, then get some rest. Once you’re not so cranky, you’ll see my taking the car is for your own good.”
“My garage has security. You’re not moving it anywhere out of my garage. I don’t need your help. Goodbye, Maestro. It was not a pleasure talking with you.”
“Security is a smart thing to have. When you get your car back, it will be restored,” Maestro stated.
“Are you deaf?”
“Nope. But I’m determined. I get my way when I set my mind to it. I’m going to save your car the damage your amateur work will do to it.”
Alex rubbed along the bridge of his nose. “I’m too tired to even know how to reply to that.”
“There’s nothing to say. Get some rest.” He gave the order and hung up.
Alex stared at the phone, then glanced back at his car. “Maestro might be determined, but he hasn’t dealt with me before.”
Alex clicked the box on the key chain to close the garage door, picked up his bag, and went around the car to the door leading into the house.
“ROBIN, he had the gall to laugh, like my calling the cops was a joke. I shouldn’t have listened to any of you about calling this Maestro joker. He’s annoying.” Alex slapped the steering wheel with his right hand.
From his spot in the passenger seat, Robert Berkus laughed. “Del learned the hard way that it’s useless calling the cops.”
“I’m not finding any of this funny.” Alex glared at him, then returned his attention to the road. “Maestro said something about Del, but I didn’t know what he meant.”
“Well, let me enlighten you.” Robert proceeded to tell the story.
In disbelief, Alex listened as Robert filled him in on what had happened last Sunday. He glanced at Robert again. Robert was laughing so much as he told the story of Maestro blatantly taking all of Del’s vehicles and dismantling his Escalade that he was crying and his nose was snotty.
Alex interrupted him. “And you all went along with this?” He couldn’t understand how they would.
“He didn’t plan to keep them, and he was going to put the Escalade back together. Harper even told Del so.” Robert chuckled, making a snorting noise.
“Like that mattered. What did Del say to that?”
“He still insisted he would call the cops and went inside to do exactly that. Del was muttering to himself too. He was loud enough that we heard him in the dining room. Ramirez told Harper that Del had lost it, and asked if Harper wanted him to get Del. But Harper told him to leave him alone, he was calling the police. And Ramirez screamed he was the police. We all laughed our asses off then, even Del.”
“You all are a bunch of lunatics.”
“That’s what Del said.”
“Which way do I turn?” Robert gestured to the right and Alex made the turn, then asked, “So did Del call the cops?”
“He did, and they came. The chief of police himself came. Spoke with Del.”
From Robert’s tone, Alex knew that there was something more. “For the love of God, tell me the story already. You know I hate it when you make me pull it out of you.”
“And that’s why I do it.” Robert laughed, then said, “I’ll stop dragging out the stories I tell if you stop calling me Robin. You know that irritates me.”
“But Robin… I like irritating you.” Alex glanced at him briefly again. “You know what I want you to do to stop me from calling you Robin.”
“Not this again. You’ve been bugging me since you moved here. Just give up already.” Robert crossed his arms over his chest.
“Never. I’m going to wear you down,” Alex promised.
“Humph. That isn’t happening.” He paused. “But I’ll make you a deal. You convince my brother, and I’ll do it.”
“That’s not fair. You know Aristotle won’t agree. I was hoping once I got you on board, we could work on him together.” Alex scowled. “That’s not fair, Robin, if I have to tackle Aristotle.”
“I know.” Robert sounded smug. “If you’re able to get him to agree, we’ll do it in front of the poker crew at one of the Saturday games.”
“Fine. I’ll accept that.” Alex glanced at him, noting that grin, as if Robert knew he’d never get what he wanted. “Your lack of faith in my persuasive abilities is insulting.”
“I have all the faith in you. Faith that no matter how charming you are, it won’t work on my brother.”
“It might. Aristotle likes me.” Alex thought of the man in question, then sighed. “But he hates people. Why couldn’t you pick one of your other brothers?”
“He doesn’t hate people. He just prefers solitude. It wouldn’t have mattered if I chose Dante or Lawrence. They wouldn’t have done it either. But I picked Aristotle so that when we do our kickboxing, he’ll make you pay for every time you bug him about it.”
“You’re a mean man, Robin.” Alex pouted. “It’s your fault I even know about you all.”
“We did it for you fifteen years ago on your birthday. You would think you’d have forgotten about it by now.”
“It was the best gift I ever received.” Alex smiled, remembering the performance that made him start calling Robert “Robin” in the first place. “It’s not every day a guy gets serenaded for his nineteenth birthday. I wish I had thought to tape it.” Alex paused. “Then again, your brothers would have probably confiscated it.”
“I was young, foolish, and thought I was in love. Not to mention enamored by the sex.” Robert laughed.
“We had good times.” Alex put his hand on the seat between them, and moments later, Robert gripped his hand. “And we came to our senses and realized we made better friends than lovers.”
“Best friends for over fifteen years. We’ve been through a lot.” Robert squeezed his hand. “But before you moved to Mapson, for the last few years you’ve been distant. Something was going on in Rhode Island, and you didn’t tell me or any of my family.”
Alex removed his hand and gripped the wheel between both hands. “You all have been talking about me.” Robert had hinted about wondering what was wrong with him, but never came right out and said anything.
“We’re worried about you. You’ve changed, Alex.”
“For the better!” he snapped.
“Not in our opinion.” Robert touched Alex’s arm. “You’ve become closed off. Aristotle even commented on your lack of dating. According to him, there’s a limit to how many weirdos are allowed in a group.”
Alex snorted. “He really shouldn’t talk that way about himself, Lawrence, or Dante. Although there are a few more adjectives I’d add.” Alex released his grip on the steering wheel. “My dating is not your business.”
“We care about you, Alex. I know you don’t believe in commitment, but—”
“Let it go, Robert,” he said harshly.
Robert went silent, then squeezed his arm before releasing it. The tone and the use of his name seemed to convince him Alex was through talking about it. Robert’s small gesture almost undid Alex. There was so much he could say, but just as he hadn’t been able to find the words then, he couldn’t now.
He doesn’t know. You never told him or anyone.
Robert’s voice brought Alex’s attention back to him as he went back to their original subject. “Do you want to hear the rest of the story or not?”
Alex gratefully went with it. “Fine. So, did the police arrest Maestro?” He smiled at the thought.
“No. Del didn’t listen when Maestro—actually, we call him Les or Leslie when he’s not in his Maestro mode.”
“I’m afraid to even ask what his Maestro mode is.” Alex shook his head. Leslie, or Maestro, seemed to be a bossy, overbearing know-it-all.
“It’s when he’s working on his cars, and he gets grumbly and irate when someone is acting stupid about it. He says it’s his responsibility to ensure the cars he’s in charge of are treated correctly. They can’t speak for themselves, so he does. That is exactly what the chief of police said when he refused Del’s request to arrest Maestro for stealing his cars and wrecking his Escalade. He even explained to Del that it would be running so much better if he let Maestro have his way. Told Del to keep out of his way. Del looked like he was going to explode when they told him.” Robert started laughing again.
“He has you all swallowing a load of shit.”
“Del should have listened to Harper. Maestro helps out with the police motor pool, and he really is a genius with anything on wheels,” Robert stated.
“He might be a genius, but he needs to work on his people skills. He’s a rude know-it-all.”
“He’s that too. Turn left here.” Robert shifted in his seat.
“I’m glad I’ve never met him, because I swear, Robin, I would be tempted to deck him.”
Robert studied him before he spoke. “He really has you rattled. Why?”
Alex knew Robert was right. Usually he was even tempered, and it took a lot to push him over the edge. “I don’t know. Just something in his tone.” Alex looked out the windshield and realized they were in a part of town he hadn’t been before. “I don’t recognize this place. Where the heck is poker being held today?”
He appreciated the beauty of the houses they passed as he drove. The area they were driving through had comfortable, larger homes that were older and in various architectural styles. So far, the ones he had seen were well maintained, from the lovely landscaping—each house sat on at least one acre of land—to the outside structures that he could see.
“Pull in here.”
Alex did as Robert said, pulling into a long driveway already filled with vehicles he recognized as belonging to some of the poker crew. Alex studied the house he’d parked in front of. The gardens he could see around the house were immaculate and eye-catching. The house was a split-level ranch and had a stone façade. From what he knew of the people in the family, Alex figured it was the work of L&R Construction, the same company that had done his. The company was owned by a few of the Rodriguez cousins and some of the Longoria family.
“You’re finally going to get to meet Maestro face-to-face. Try not to deck him.”
Alex turned as Robert spoke. He glanced back at the house, then noticed that, a little distance away from the main structure, two buildings flanked either end of the house and went out of view beyond it. He focused back on Robert.
“This is Maestro’s place?”
“Yep. You always seem to be out of town when we play here. I’ve been waiting for you to see his house. It’ll make the renovator in you perk up. It’s as beautiful inside as out, but knowing you, you’ll see things to improve on.”
“Probably. You know me too well, Robin,” Alex said.
Alex exited the car, putting his arms on the top of the doorframe. Moments later, he heard the other door open and close. When Robert joined him, they walked toward the house. Alex was busy studying the area around the house and trying to see everything at once. He went up the steps and stopped before the tri-part wood door with a beveled glass design.
“Has Aristotle seen this?” Alex asked. Aristotle designed furniture and other items.
“Not in person, but Leslie let me come by and take pictures of this and inside the house. He was amused by my enthusiasm. I warned him Aristotle will probably pop in one day and invite himself on a tour. I don’t think Aristotle has looked at the pictures yet.”
“He’s been busy with the new orders he’s been getting since he moved to Mapson. Once he gets to see the pictures, he’ll be coming here, and knowing your brother, he’ll be dragging us and your other brothers along with him.” Alex touched the door. It was a work of art. Whoever made it was an artisan, and he would have to meet them.
“I already mentioned that. It only made Leslie laugh. Maybe you can be nice to him, and he’ll give you a tour,” Robert said.
“Humph. His house won’t stop me from telling him to his face how I didn’t appreciate being called an idiot because he doesn’t think I can fix my own car. If he doesn’t give me a tour, I can show my own self around,” Alex stated.
He reached for the knob and opened the door. It turned as he expected. On poker day, whoever was hosting left the door open until everyone arrived. It saved them from having to keep answering the door. Alex stepped inside and looked around, and he and Robert headed toward the sound of voices. Alex stopped at the entrance to the sunken living room, glancing up at the high ceiling. It gave a feeling of space, and the rich brown tone made it seem welcoming.
“Did you see…?” Alex lowered his head and met amused, dark-green eyes. “Robin, is that Maestro standing between Hector and Miguel?”
Alex cut him off. “I know him. And I can’t believe you didn’t warn me who he is.”
Alex couldn’t take his gaze off the man who had haunted his dreams for over two years. His shoulder-length, jet-black hair with red-tipped edges looked as it had the first time Alex saw him. It was all waves and in sexy disarray around his carved features, which balanced out the feminine nature of his haircut. The lip, nose, and left eyebrow piercings gave him a rebellious edge, but it was the look in his eyes, which seemed to sparkle with wicked intentions, that gave him a bad-as-you-want-to-be look that told you he was trouble and knew it. That look had haunted Alex for a long time and made him wonder what would have happened if he had accepted the invitation in those compelling eyes.
“How do you know him? Wait. What do you mean, warn you?”
Alex turned his head to Robert. “I can’t believe you don’t remember. We saw him at Bacchus Sloan the first day we met there for lunch.”
Realization dawned on Robert’s face, and he looked at Maestro, then back at Alex. “I’ll be damned. He was the waiter. The one you couldn’t keep your eyes off.”
“That’s not true. I was paying attention to you,” Alex protested.
“But you were paying equal attention to him.” Robert shook his head. “I didn’t even realize. But then again, I was distracted by meeting Miguel.”
Alex nodded in understanding. On the day he was referring to, Robert had met Miguel when Miguel stopped to help Robert change a tire. Alex turned his head, and Leslie… Maestro… was still watching him. That same day, he had met Maestro and hadn’t realized it. Alex remembered the conversation he’d had another time they ate at Bacchus Sloan, with another waiter who mentioned Leslie was the brother of the owner of Bacchus Sloan. Mackenzie strolled over and joined the other men. Alex had met a few of Mackenzie’s family, but never that green-eyed waiter. He’d been tempted but never asked Mackenzie about his brother.
The reasons you stayed away from him have not changed. At the thought, Alex stiffened and refused to look at him again.
“Now you have a second chance to act on the attraction you denied back then.”
“I’m not going to say a word to him.”
“Why?” Robert sounded confused.
Alex couldn’t resist another peek. Leslie’s smile widened, and then he winked. Before he could think about it, Alex was heading across the room.
LESLIE Hannigan straightened as the tall, lean man stopped in the doorway and tilted his head back, studying the ceiling. Robert was standing next to him, and Leslie glanced at him briefly before turning back toward the man who’d been on his mind far too often since he first saw him years ago. He hadn’t known Alex Hayes was the man he had served when he’d subbed for his cousin. Even in jeans and a T-shirt, Alex carried himself like he was dressed in an expensive suit. “Classy” and “sharp-witted” came to mind when he thought of him. From their conversation, and seeing him now, it was still the same way. Alex’s angular face was framed by slightly curly, auburn hair. Alex lowered his head, saying something Leslie was too far away to hear. The smile on Alex’s face made the dimples bracketing his mouth appear. Pale-gray eyes met his, and the startled look in them made Leslie smile. He also saw the recognition in Alex’s gaze.
“You’re not paying attention, Leslie.” Hector poked him in the shoulder.
“No. I’m staring at Alex.” Leslie continued his study.
“Robert is finally here.” Miguel moved.
Leslie touched his arm to stop him from going to Robert. “Let them come to us.”
“I know that tone. What are you up to, Leslie?” Mackenzie joined them.
Leslie pushed Mackenzie to the side so he could have an unobstructed view of Alex. He wasn’t watching Leslie anymore. Leslie leaned against the wall, sliding his hands into the front pockets of his jeans. He knew Alex would look their way again and he’d get him to come over.
“Why are you staring at Robert?” Miguel demanded.
“Chill, Miguel. He already said he’s staring at Alex. He’s probably in awe at meeting him for the first time. Alex is a handsome man,” Hector said.
“He is,” added Simon, Hector’s partner.
“Looks don’t mean shit to Leslie,” Mackenzie retorted.
“We know that. But he sure seems to be taken with Alex’s looks,” Simon teased.
“It’s not his looks I’m taken with. It’s his sharp tongue.”
The men around him laughed. He’d already filled them in on their conversation the night before. Alex glanced at him again, and Leslie winked. He lifted his beer, and took a sip to cover his smile as Alex headed toward him. Robert trailed after him, looking amused. Alex stopped directly in front of him.
“If you take my car, I won’t call the cops. I’ll deal with you myself.” Alex narrowed his eyes.
Leslie glanced down at Alex’s clenched fist, then reached out for it. He moved slowly enough that Alex could have moved if he didn’t want Leslie to touch him. Alex stood still. Leslie lifted Alex’s hand, uncurling his fingers, then shook it.
“Nice to see you, Alex.”
“I’ve met you before.”
“I know. That’s why I said nice to see you,” Leslie replied.
“I’ve seen you and I still want to deck you.” Alex frowned.
Leslie studied him. “That’s not all you want to do.”
Alex stiffened and tried to pull his hand away. Leslie held it, rubbing his thumb along the top of Alex’s.
“When did they meet before?” Hector asked.
“At Bacchus Sloan, the day I met Miguel. Leslie was our waiter,” Robert said.
“Is this the one…?” Mackenzie began, and Leslie turned his gaze to his brother.
“Yes.” He glanced at the other men around him and stated firmly, “Leave it.” Then he focused back on Alex.
“The one what?” Alex demanded.
Leslie studied the rigid way Alex held himself, then shrugged. “You’re not ready to hear it yet.”
Alex jerked his hand away. “That urge is getting stronger.”
“They say aggression is a way of acting out your sexual frustrations,” Leslie replied.
The others around them chuckled. They were used to his blunt ways.
“Maybe. But then again, it could just be your presence makes people prone to violence.” Alex’s eyes crinkled at the corners.
“I’ve been told that a few times.” Leslie laughed and Alex joined in.
“I completely understand why. And if you think you’re going to pull on me what you did to Del, don’t try. I’m meaner and I don’t mind spending time in jail,” Alex warned.
“When I saw you, I decided not to take your car.”
Alex looked surprised, then suspicious. “So you were going to steal it.”
“He doesn’t steal it. He borrows it, then gives it back! Or, supposedly that’s what he does,” Del called from where he sat, playing a hand of poker.
Leslie’s smiled widened. Del didn’t believe that for a minute and was still trying to work out ways to get him arrested.
“As Del said, I was going to borrow it, but I’ve changed my mind.”
“Okay. That’s a good thing. My car is not leaving my garage,” Alex sounded adamant.
“It won’t,” he assured Alex.
“Your mouth is saying you won’t, but your eyes are saying you’re up to something. I can already tell, you’re going to be trouble.”
“I could say so many things about your noticing my mouth, but I’ll resist.” Leslie winked. “And I am trouble, but of the very best kind. I keep my word. Your car won’t leave your garage.”
Alex lowered his lids and he licked his lips, but he still wore the suspicious expression. “Wh—”
“Come play, Alex!” Bernie called.
Alex glared at Leslie, then turned and went to join the game. The other men followed, except for Mackenzie, but Leslie could see they were curious. But they wouldn’t push yet, since he’d told them to butt out.
“This time you’re not going to be stupid enough to let him walk away.” Mackenzie paraphrased what Leslie had told him on more than one occasion.
He’d told Mackenzie enough times about his lost opportunity with Alex, and each time Leslie promised what he would do if he got another chance: ask him out.
Although it was not a question, Leslie replied anyway: “No.”
“He’s going to resist getting involved. As far as I know, he hasn’t dated anyone since moving to Mapson.”
“You know me when my mind is set. I don’t give up.” Leslie continued to watch Alex. “I don’t plan to just date him. I’m going to convince Alex Hayes to be mine.”
Mackenzie laughed loudly. Alex lifted his head, and Leslie smiled his best “I’m harmless and innocent” smile as he walked over to sit beside him.
“Trouble,” Alex muttered.
“Proud of it.” Leslie leaned back, already plotting the ways he would entice the stubborn man by his side to let him into his life.