A Right and Wrong Story
Workaholic Nate Erickson is a successful real estate developer who thrives on long hours and stress. When a Los Angeles project prompts him to relocate to Santa Monica, he welcomes the change of scenery. Nate has always considered romantic entanglements trouble, but his sexy next-door neighbor isn’t easy to ignore. Which makes no sense, because Nate is straight… or so he’s always thought.
Alex Reyes is a retired professional soccer player turned West Hollywood business owner with an insatiable lust for life. He loves his family, friends, and work. But there’s one life challenge left to accomplish: coming out publically. Respect for traditional Latino values has kept him in the closet, but Alex begins to think he and his new neighbor might help one another combat their fears. As Alex and Nate forge a strong friendship, they soon realize facing their personal demons will take more courage than either man bargained. The reward is immeasurable… if the timing is right.
2015 Rainbow AwardsThe Bobby Michaels Award for Best Gay Erotic Romance Runner-Up
“Is it really possible to tell someone else what one feels?”
- Leo Tolstoy
THE SWEEPING views of the Pacific from the ninth-floor balcony were impressive. An endless ribbon of golden beach and brilliant blue ocean beyond. It was a different slice of California coastline than the quieter one I was accustomed to in Oxnard. In the off-season, young, hip professionals, and those with Hollywood aspirations frequented the beaches. They knew to take advantage before summertime when the area catered to tourists who visited from far and wide to take in the wonders of the entertainment capital of the world. I didn’t care about being close to the action. My only request was to be near the water. As I gazed out to sea, looking past the traffic on Ocean Boulevard and ignoring the bright lights of the Santa Monica Pier in the distance, I decided the view alone could make this the ideal temporary home for me.
Brandon’s animated conversation pulled me from my reverie. I overheard him pointing out the luxury condo’s state-of-the-art kitchen to his boyfriend and smiled as Jake repeated “that’s cool” for the third time in under two minutes. I took one last gulp of fresh ocean air before joining my friends inside.
“Well? What do you think? I told you it was modern and fabulous. You like?” Brandon stood with his arms outstretched in the middle of the great room like a proud game show host showing a prize to the winning contestant.
“I like it. A lot. It’s a good location. Close enough to my project headquarters but still near the beach.”
“You can walk across the street to surf. And if the waves aren’t big enough, Malibu is close,” Jake added helpfully with a grin.
I nodded and made a show of examining the clean lines of the kitchen at the far end of the spacious room, though in fact, Brandon and Jake had my attention. They were an intriguing couple. A study in opposites.
Jake was a good-looking, unassuming firefighter with dark blond hair, blue eyes, and a muscular physique. He was one of those rare people who shunned pretense in favor of enjoying the simple pleasures in life, like hanging out with his boyfriend and his dog. He didn’t care about fashion, cars, or having the latest and greatest gadgets and gizmos. Life had dealt him a few blows in his youth, which undoubtedly influenced his Spartan outlook on life.
Brandon on the other hand was… ultrafabulous. Personalitywise he was a combination of over-the-top meets down-to-earth. Bran was a mixed-race beauty blessed with runway-model features, a lean, toned physique, and gorgeous hazel eyes that complemented his darker skin. He was the first to admit a weakness for designer goods and fine dining, but he also had a huge heart and was quick to offer assistance to anyone in need. Including a shmuck like me, who hadn’t been as welcoming as I might have been when we were introduced over a year ago. “Kill ’em with kindness” was his motto, and it worked. Sure, he was overly familiar at times, but he was also unfailingly generous, genuine, and compassionate. Perhaps I hadn’t understood the blatant adoration in Jake’s eyes at first, but now I could simply appreciate that Bran made Jake very happy. And that was what mattered.
“If you love, then you should take. Should I tell Alex you’re interested?” Bran raised one brow in query.
“Yes.” I chuckled when he squealed like a kid. “You told him I’d only need it for six months, right? The project I’m working on in LA is slated for completion by February.”
“Yawn, yawn. Yes. I told him, and he was cool with it. This is an investment property he was about to put on the market, so your timing is perfect. He said he’d wait till next year now. Win-win. I’ll tell him to e-mail you the contract, and you can iron out the details with him about when you want to move in, etcetera. Did I tell you he lives next door? And my best friend, Luke, and his boyfriend, Michael, own the upstairs unit. They stay there when they have extended business in LA. Lucky you! You’ll have a built-in set of friends!”
Jake laughed at my pained expression. He knew me well. The last thing I wanted was insta-buddies. I had friends, and I liked my quiet life in Oxnard. This was a temporary arrangement while I was in Los Angeles overseeing a new project development downtown. I was here to do a job. Maybe I’d occasionally see Jake and Bran, but otherwise I was on my own, and that was exactly how I liked it.
Bran shot a look between us but let my less than enthusiastic response slide. Jake wrapped his arm around his boyfriend’s waist and kissed his cheek, then pulled back with a smile before turning to me.
“Are you coming by for dinner?”
“No, thank you. I need to get back.”
Bran tugged at Jake’s hand. “We should probably get home to Mack.”
I smiled at the mention of their fourteen-year-old yellow Lab as I took one last glance around the smartly furnished condo’s interior. It was stunning, with a spacious open great room, contemporary sleek lines, and high ceilings. I had the sudden notion six months away from my usual routine and the specter of heartache was exactly what I needed. A new beginning.
TWO WEEKS later I was completely settled into my new, temporary home. There wasn’t much to bring from Oxnard. I wasn’t selling or renting my own house on the sand, and the condo had come furnished. It was only a matter of packing some clothes and my surfboard. I tended to travel lightly, so I doubted I’d go back other than to occasionally make sure my house was still standing. Thankfully I had friends in the area who could do that for me too.
As I tied my running shoes, I made a mental list of items I wanted to tackle over the weekend. There were spreadsheets and slides to prepare for a meeting with a persnickety architect and an abrasive city official next week. If I concentrated on the numbers and content, I might be able to forget I was dreading the potentially caustic encounter. My tolerance for bullshit was exceptionally low. Knowing I’d have to put up with it to a degree made my skin crawl.
I gave myself a mental smack upside the head. What I really needed was to stop thinking about work at all. It was a beautiful Saturday in early August. The cloudless sky was a gorgeous shade of blue, and the temperature was a perfect seventy-five degrees. Ideal conditions to burn off some excess energy and enjoy the weather before I got back to my computer. I grabbed my cell, tucked my condo key in my black workout shorts, and made my way to the elevator.
I glanced over e-mails as I waited and was about to respond to one particularly annoying one when loud Spanish music spilled into the corridor. It was silenced a moment later, then followed by a slamming door and pieces of a one-sided conversation coming closer. Great. I didn’t feel like sharing an elevator with some idiot talking on a cell phone. I actually didn’t feel like sharing the ride at all. I hit the button again hoping the extra bit of pressure I applied would command the doors to open before the moron rounded the corner and jumped in with me.
No such luck. I was trapped. And the worst part was I’d realized I was going to be meeting my landlord for the first time. The music and now the voice speaking into the phone were Spanish. I knew Alex was Latino, thus my clever deduction. Unfortunately, the selectively social part of me reared its ugly head. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. Certainly not the friend of a friend whom I owed a certain amount of gratitude to for agreeing to let me lease his amazing condo with short notice. I’d have to put on my best friendly face and be… nice. So much for new beginnings, I groused crankily. I was a lone wolf, and it was a joke to think a change of address would make a difference. I took a deep breath and gave my attention back to my e-mails. Where was the fucking elevator?
“Sí, sí. Yeah, okay. Y tú también. Bye.”
I sensed his presence but didn’t look up until I heard a bing. I stepped inside and politely held the door before glancing inquisitively at the man standing outside the car with his dark shaggy head bent over his phone. He had to have heard the sound too. Why wasn’t he getting in? God, I really hoped he wasn’t one of those annoying types who thought the world stopped to wait for them. My neighbor slash landlord might just be the type to bug the shit out of me without me saying two words to the guy. Patience, I warned myself. It was a good thing I was going for a run. My mood was dangerous. Everything had the potential to irritate me.
“You going down?” I was proud of my neutral tone in light of the tension I could feel radiating from my body. I was getting myself worked up over, what? Sharing an elevator? Talking to someone I’d never met? Fuck, I was a head case. I’d already decided I didn’t care for this guy anyway. He was probably a self-absorbed prick, a real jerk—
“Hi there! Sorry about that. My sister can talk like crazy. I’ve been trying to get off the phone for fifteen minutes. I’m Alex, by the way. I live in 910. Whoa. Wait! You’re Bran and Jake’s friend, right?”
All negative thoughts flew out the window the moment he looked up and met my gaze. Alex emanated effusive sincerity with a radiant smile. And the guy was stunningly handsome. His dark hair was longish and curled at his nape and around his ears. He had a wide, generous mouth, even angular features, and twinkling green eyes. He was someone you literally wanted to look at more than once. He stepped into the elevator, put his cell in the pocket of his workout shorts, and extended his right hand.
“I’ve been so busy lately. I apologize for not stopping by to introduce myself. Alex Reyes. Pleased to meet you.”
“Nate Erickson. Nice to meet you too. Thank you for renting your place out to me at short notice. I appreciate it.”
I shook his hand and was immediately struck by an odd sense of awareness. His hand was large, almost the same size as mine, though I was easily four inches taller at six foot four. His skin was hot to the touch too, as though he burned warmer than most. Why I noticed either of those things was a mystery. I gave him a brief smile and pulled my hand away before looking up at the digital display on the elevator panel. I wasn’t good at making small talk. And other than to thank him, I was at a loss.
Alex didn’t have the same concerns. He waved off my thanks with a broad smile and launched into the various amenities offered in the building as the elevator doors opened onto the lush, sunlit lobby with its teak-paneled walls opposite a generous bank of floor-to-ceiling windows bathing the stylish entry in natural light. I listened with half an ear as I observed my landlord.
He was dressed to work out like me in dark running shorts and a snug-fitting white short-sleeved shirt. A tattoo of a cross with some intricate design on his right bicep was partially hidden by the sleeve. I noticed the contrast of his olive skin against the crisp white of his shirt. The juxtaposition of his designer workout duds and running shoes to his moppish curly dark hair and the body ink made him look like a rock star. Or an athlete.
I forgot for a moment Alex was an athlete. A former professional soccer player. Bran had given me a brief bio on the guy, but I wasn’t concerned with the personal angle. I didn’t plan on getting to know him as anyone other than the guy I wrote a check to once a month. However, as the memory of Bran’s colorful description resurfaced, I had to admit he was correct. Alex Reyes was as Bran had put it, “one sexy man.”
“The fitness center has some great equipment, but don’t use it,” he was saying in a mischievous tone.
The sparkle in his eyes begged me to ask him why. I complied with a reluctant smile as I shifted restlessly from one foot to the other, willing myself not to check my watch. I didn’t want to be rude, though I was anxious to get on with my run. Not to mention I was feeling uncomfortable with how ultra-aware of him I seemed to be. His looks, the way he was dressed… that shit never registered with me. I couldn’t begin to contemplate why I noticed now.
“Because mine is better. Come by, and check it out sometime. I’ll give you the friend of a friend discount.” He winked as he moved toward the glass doors.
Alex stopped by one of the large topiaries outside the building and pulled his leg behind him to stretch his quads. I stood like an idiot watching him for a moment before mirroring his pose. Fuck. It looked like he was going running too.
“A friend discount for what? A gym?” I asked, carrying on the topic he’d abandoned in the lobby.
“Yeah. I own a gym in West Hollywood near Bran’s store on Melrose. It’s been open for about a year, and it’s been awesome. Kind of surprised me it took off so well in a way because the one thing WeHo has no shortage of is places to work out.”
“That’s probably the case in most of Southern California, right?”
Alex chuckled good-naturedly before changing his stretch to a lunge position. He gazed up at me and seemed to give me a longer look as if really noticing me for the first time. I caught our reflections in the glass windows and almost laughed at how we were dressed similarly but couldn’t look any different if we tried. I was tall and lean with brown hair, fair skin, and yeah, glasses. The ones I currently wore were prescription sunglasses. However, my Prada eyewear wasn’t worn for vanity purposes. The truth was my world was hopelessly out of focus without them. I knew I was considered good-looking, but I certainly didn’t have rock star sex appeal. I probably had something closer to professorial geek appeal. If there was such a thing.
“Yeah, there are no shortages of places to work out. Most gyms offer a lot of choices or they specialize in one thing.” His dark eyes twinkled again. It was clear I had been cued once again to ask a question.
“What do you specialize in?” I felt my smile widen in response to his contagious grin. He was really kind of… cute.
It was weird to associate that adjective with a man, but it fit. Alex was engaging, charming, and really cute. Obviously I needed to get laid. It had been way too long since I’d been with a woman if I was nonchalantly sizing up a guy, I thought as I adjusted my baseball cap.
“Hard-core workouts for athletes or those who want to push their physical limit and see if they can keep up with intense strength training. Which way are you heading? Venice Beach is this way. Come on.” He pointed left and stepped out to cross the street to make his way toward the boardwalk.
I considered his retreating back for a couple seconds. This wasn’t what I’d had in mind. I never ran with a partner. Ever. I preferred my solitude in most daily activities, but it was unreasonable to hope to be left alone in business, so I genuinely looked forward to a little quiet when I exercised. But there was something about Alex. I couldn’t begin to explain why I followed him instead of making an excuse so I could get on with my run in peace, but I did.
“Do you run often? There are a ton of great trails around here. One of my favorites is a six-mile trek up to Will Rogers Beach. I’m only going a couple miles today ’cause I need to get back to work. Running on a treadmill is just not the same as being in the great outdoors, you know?”
I picked up my pace and jogged alongside him. “I like to run, but I do it for the cardio rather than because I love it. And yes, I agree. I’d rather run by the beach than at a gym. Today I figured I’d head south and go as far as I could before turning around. I’ll stop at Venice and see how I feel.”
“Great! Well tell me about yourself while we run. What do you do for a living? Do you have a wife, girlfriend, kids, dog? Nate. Is that short for Nathaniel?”
I grimaced at the flood of personal questions but reminded myself it wouldn’t hurt to be friendly.
“I own a real estate development company based in Oxnard. I’m divorced, no girlfriend, no kids, no dog and—” I paused for a breath. “—Nate is short for Nathan.”
Alex burst into a fit of bubbly sounding laughter beside me. I could feel my forehead crease in question as I observed him. He’d put a pair of dark sunglasses on that accentuated his high cheekbones. With his tousled hair blowing in the gentle summer breeze, he looked like a fitness model. I swallowed hard and turned my gaze out to sea.
“You sound like you’re reading a bio for The Newlywed Game.” Alex chuckled again, and this time I joined in.
“Sorry. I tend to… never mind. What about you?”
“Um well, I’m from Redondo Beach, and I’m single for the time being. Never married.” He flashed me a winning smile and waggled his eyebrows when he continued. “And Alex is short for Alejandro. You know, like the Lady Gaga song.”
I knew the song, but in case I’d forgotten, Alex sang loudly to remind me and perhaps to entertain a few beachgoers making their way to the sand. A couple of young girls in “barely there” bikinis whistled at his antics and blew him a kiss as we passed. I was half afraid he’d be tempted to stop and ask for their numbers. I wasn’t interested in flirting with girls who probably were close to half my age. Alex returned their air kisses with a grin but picked up his pace slightly.
“Yeah, yeah. I know the song,” I said in a tone that clearly stated my ambivalence.
“What’s the matter? You don’t like it? It’s catchy and fun to dance to.”
“I’ll take your word for it.”
“Please do. So what kind of music do you like?”
“I’m not really into—”
“What? Who says that? Music is life! It’s the pulse, the beat. It’s everything! You must like music. C’mon. Classical, country?”
I shot him a quick glance, wondering why my answer seemed important to him. He sounded so intense suddenly.
“I love classical. What’s your favorite?”
Alex shook his head in disbelief and lengthened his stride.
“I can’t even begin to answer that question. Hmm. I like Latin music, traditional, and dance. I like pop, jazz, funk, punk, reggae.”
“In other words, you like it all.”
“Yeah. Except classical.” His teasing grin let me know he was playing with me.
We jogged on in silence for a short time. Surprisingly it was a comfortable lull. I found my breathing and took in the vibrant beach scene. It was tourist central. People whizzed by on tandem bikes and rollerblades while others stood in the middle of the boardwalk blocking traffic as they took selfies to commemorate their trip to Santa Monica.
“So you’re in real estate, eh? You sound more like a professor.” His smile was warm, a lighthearted counterbalance to his mocking tone.
I snorted. “Definitely not. I don’t have the patience required for that job. No one would benefit from me as a mentor, I assure you. There is one brilliant woman who happily runs interference between my employees and me. Trust me, everyone likes the arrangement.”
“Is she hot?”
“What? Who?” I looked toward the sand, thinking he was pointing out a pretty woman.
Alex shook his head theatrically at my misunderstanding. “Aye yai yai, hombre! You said there’s a brilliant woman.”
“If you say so. Is she hot?”
“Well, I suppose. But she’s my ex-wife, so I don’t really—no offence, but she’s remarried.”
He barked a quick laugh and held up his hands in surrender. “I’m not in the market. All your exes are safe!”
“So you weren’t interested in those girls whistling at you back there?”
“Not my type.”
His response sounded clipped and vaguely evasive, which intrigued me. He’d been so open and friendly, I expected a straightforward reply, not a cagey half answer.
“How come? Too young?”
“Definitely!” He chuckled and made a turn-around signal before we approached the overcrowded hub of Venice Beach, with its brightly colored buildings on our left.
“If they’re still there, I’ll be your wingman while you introduce yourself,” he said with a grin, picking up the pace.
“Huh?” Oh the underage girls. Yeah right. “No thanks. They’re too young for me too, and they’d go for you anyway.”
Alex chuckled merrily. “What makes you think that? Girls dig hot guys with glasses too, you know.”
My brow furrowed. Hot guys with glasses? I glanced over at Alex, unsure this time if he was making fun of me. I could have sworn he actually blushed. It wasn’t easy to tell because of his darker skin tone, but he looked surprised he’d spoken aloud.
“What do you me—” I began.
Alex cut me off with a different question. “How old are you anyway? Obviously I didn’t pay attention to the rental paperwork since you’re Bran and Jake’s friend. For some reason I pictured you differently.”
“I’m thirty-six, and what do you mean? How did you picture me?”
“Bran said you were tall, on the thin side, and wore glasses. And even though he mentioned you were good-looking, for some reason I imagined you’d be kinda skinny and nerdy. You’re not. That’s all.” He shrugged nonchalantly, though once again I had a feeling he was blushing. Interesting.
“Um, thanks?” My reply was a touch awkward, but it made Alex laugh. I decided to ignore the backhanded compliment and concentrate on the melodic sound. It was joyful and infectious. I found myself smiling for absolutely no reason at all. Odd.
We spent the remainder of our run covering fairly innocent topics ranging from summertime crowds at the beach to him issuing a warning about a man-eater who lived on the fourth floor. My grin was wide as I listened to what had to be an overembellished description.
“You think I’m joking, don’t you? You’ll see. Her name is Cyndie with a y and an ie,” he supplied, pulling his glasses down his nose so I could witness his theatric eye roll. “She’s a pretty blonde in her thirties with a tiny waist and the biggest set of fake boobs ever. Serious floatation devices. She’s got this thing about rubbing them against you that’s a little….”
“Suggestive?” I supplied with a grin.
I laughed aloud at his pained expression and assured him I’d beware of large-breasted women looking to trap me into conversation.
“Yeah, well, I don’t think it’s conversation she’s after. She wants dick, but she’s not gettin’ mine. Maybe Cyndie with a y and ie is your type. If so, disregard my advice. What do I know?” His mischievous smile made me chuckle.
“I’m not in the market either. At least not with someone I could potentially run into repeatedly if it went south. And those things usually do.”
“Ain’t that the truth? Well, this is where I leave you.” Alex gestured toward the main street with a wide grin. “It was great meeting you, Nate. If you need anything, don’t hesitate to knock on my door. And come by the gym sometime. See ya!”
He took off before I had a chance to do anything more than wave a weak good-bye at his retreating back. My cell phone vibrated in my pocket and saved me from staring after him like an idiot. I glanced quickly at the display and hesitated before answering. I gave in because I knew this particular caller was nothing if not persistent.
“Hi, handsome. Whatcha doing? Or should I ask who you’re doing?”
Innuendo was Julie’s forte, so her offhanded query shouldn’t have made me blink, but it did.
“You sound like you’ve been running a marathon or you’re trying to catch your breath after an incredible orgasm.”
“I went for a run, Jules. That’s all.” I took a quick look around and decided to walk along the boardwalk in the opposite direction for a few minutes to cool down.
“Oh good! I like knowing there’s still a chance for me and you, baby.”
I let out a rush of air and braced myself for the wave of discomfort those silly throwaway lines usually incited. Was she joking? It was harder to tell than it should have been. I wondered when this uncomfortable undercurrent between us would finally go away. Sometimes I thought we were there and other days, not so much.
In some ways, it was a mystery. Julie was a pretty, petite blonde with curly hair, a great sense of style, and a quirky, fun personality. But we had zero physical chemistry. She had a similar build as my ex-wife, but that didn’t mean anything other than maybe I wasn’t really as attracted to petite blondes as I thought. Or maybe I had no clue what my type was. I pulled my baseball cap off my head and refocused on the conversation.
“How’re things in Oxnard?”
“Lovely. But I miss you. Terribly. In fact, I miss you so much I’m coming to visit.” Her tone was laced with sarcasm, which immediately set me at ease. Good. A teasing Julie I could trade playful barbs with made me a hell of a lot more comfortable than the wistful woman who occasionally surfaced.
“Oh? So soon?”
“Fuck you, Nate. You know you miss me, but even if you don’t, Jake and Bran do. We’re having dinner at their house this coming Friday. You guys can fight over whose sofa I sleep on. Please win, Nate. I don’t want to be woken up to a round of ‘fuck me harder, Jake’ in the middle of the night again. The last time I stayed with them I got so wound up, and yes, that means horny, that I actually went on three consecutive online dates. All duds. My fragile psyche needs a break.”
I chuckled at her over-the-top griping. It set me at ease, though the idea of her spending the night freaked me out. After last summer’s fiasco, I was leery of sharing a cozy space with Julie, but her “I know we’re only friends” delivery made a difference. If we were ever going to get back to normal, I had to try too.
“I didn’t hear anything about dinner, but sure, you can stay here.” I tried for neutral but friendly, but Julie’s loud guffaw clearly told me I failed.
“Thanks, Nate. I accept your kind invitation,” she snarked. “Toodles. I’ll text Bran for details, but I think he said seven o’clock on Friday. I’m driving down in the early afternoon to avoid traffic. Can I come over then, or should I shop in the city until you’re done at work?”
“Uh. I—yeah. I’ll try to take off early, but I’ll leave your name with the concierge just in case.”
“Wonderful. See you soon, honey!”
I set my cap back on my head with a sigh before beginning my trek back to the condo. I firmly pushed aside thoughts of her impending visit. It had “potential disaster” written all over it. I stopped at the corner across from my building and waited for the light to turn green as I mulled over going into the office for a few hours. Conversations with Julie were still so awkward, and I didn’t want to sit around on a beautiful Saturday worrying about past mistakes. Work would get my head back into a neutral zone. I stepped into the street as the light changed and stopped in the middle of the crosswalk. There he was again.
Alex was talking on his cell with his head bent, walking purposefully toward a waiting car. His damp hair curled around his neck and ears like he’d just showered. He looked like he’d changed from one set of workout clothes to another. Black shorts and this time, a black T-shirt that clung to his fit abs. I gulped, wondering what the fuck was wrong with me. Why was I noticing this stuff? It wasn’t like me. At all.
This story was captivating from cover to cover, I love this author's style and the way she grabs your attention and holds it! The characters are so multi layered you feel like you know them inside and out!
Nate works too hard, and it seems that he thrives on it. When he moves to Santa Monica the last thing Nate thinks will happen is that someone will catch and hold his attention, he doesn't do long term, and he is really confused because the next door neighbor he is lusting after is a man!
Alex is a sweetheart, so talented and close to those he loves, the only problem is he can't really be who he is fully until he comes out of the closet. When he meets his new neighbor, the sparks fly and it becomes almost impossible not to follow his heart.
Will these two throw caution in the wind and be able to be together? If they can, they still have the past to deal with, and for one of these men dealing with the past will be heartbreaking.
You will love this book, but grab your tissues and cue up your Beethoven for this one! Thanks Lane, for a beautiful book that invokes so many different emotions!
This is a great story. I love the dynamic between Nate and Alex since the beginning.
Nate and Alex complement each other and their time together is a beautiful thing to read.
Both needed to trust and learn how to love and move forward.
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