Nested Hearts: Book One
Neither James nor Gabe has ever had a real relationship. They might make a connection if they can get past their differences—and their fears.
At age fourteen, James Maron decided to prove he wasn’t gay despite vast evidence to the contrary. Now at thirty-two, he’s getting ready to send his son to college and wondering what he’s supposed to do next. Outside his son, his life consists of an IT job he hates and watching telenovelas with the women in his apartment building.
Gabriel Juarez is the CFO of a technology giant. He has looks, charm, fantastic wealth, a workaholic personality, and a string of boyfriends who only stick around because he’s too busy to tell them to leave.
A bad laptop/projector interface causes James and Gabe’s paths to cross. Friends, family, and coworkers jump to match Gabe with a nice guy, and James with anyone. But are they too different? Everyone will have to tread very carefully to keep things from ending before they start.
January 13, 2011
N 46° 03’ 36.0”, W 150° 55’ 48.0”
GABE JUAREZ wanted to die. No, he was sure he was dying. It was impossible to feel the way he did and come out the other end alive. The hum of the Gulfstream engines felt like a dentist’s drill somehow pressed into every tooth simultaneously. He scraped his fingers through his black hair and felt the crunch of day-old hair gel. He wanted to be sick, but he’d already done that; now he was curled up in a ball, praying for death to come quickly. If it wasn’t for the fact that he loved his PA, he’d pray for the plane to drop out of the sky and vanish into the Pacific.
“Frank wants to talk to you,” Tamyra said from across the narrow cabin.
“Tell him to fuck off.” He felt too wretched to put any effort into speaking with his overly perky business partner.
“Not an option.”
He crawled away from the toilet. His company logo, woven in rows across the carpet, swam inches from his face until he squeezed his eyes shut. He found a workstation seat from memory and leveraged himself up into it while Tamyra held out the phone and watched. Some days he quietly hated her in much the same way he’d hated his mother when he was fourteen.
Gabe grabbed the phone. “Frank, fuck off.”
“A little hungover?”
He could hear Frank laughing under the words. “I’m never going to Japan again, I swear. Send anyone else—I don’t care who. I am never going back.”
“It’s a major account.” Frank was still laughing.
“I know exactly how major this account is down to the last yen. I know this entire deal ten times better than you do, and I don’t give a shit.” Gabe didn’t care if he sounded on the verge of tears. “Sake does bad, bad things to me, and you know it.”
“Tell you what, next time we can bring them out here, and you can introduce them all to tequila.”
Gabe’s stomach lurched at the word, but he filed the idea away. He knew he could handle tequila. “I am going to hold you to that.”
“I’ll bet. Now, I’m going to put you on speakerphone with the rest of the gang, and I want to hear the good word straight from your mouth.”
He pressed his cheek to the table in front of him and was thankful for its blessed coolness. “Half the school children of Japan under the age of fifteen will be using the TechPrim 9Plus hardware/software bundle within the next three to five years, with a ten-year support and rolling upgrade accounts.”
Gabe held the phone away from his ear as whoops echoed down the line. It might as well have been gunfire for the way it made his head feel like it was splitting open.
“Frank, I’m going to hang up now before I’m sick again.”
“Not a problem. Try to get some sleep.”
Gabe didn’t even answer that, just hung up.
Tamyra took the phone from his hand and replaced it with a glass of soda water. “Try to keep that down. It’ll settle your stomach.”
He squinted up at her, not raising his head from the table. She looked immaculate, but then she always did, with her tailor-made business suits and subtle red-gold jewelry lying perfectly against her dark honey skin. “Why aren’t you hungover? You went out too.”
“I’m not hungover because I talked the girls into taking me to one of those all-night malls. By the way, you bought me my birthday present last night.”
“Your birthday isn’t until July.”
“And I’ve seen your schedule between now and July. Besides, you got me exactly what I wanted. You have excellent taste in jewelry.”
Gabe gave her a thumbs-up. “Good to know. Now can you please kill me? Please?”
She dropped a couple of shiny white pills onto the table. “Sorry, but you’ve got that presentation as soon as we’re back. We’re landing in Oakland and going straight from the airport.”
He tried to sit up, but his head began to spin. He dropped it back to the table with a clunk. “Oakland?” He could think of nothing he needed to do anywhere near Oakland. “What fucking presentation?”
“The UC Berkeley Future Hispanic Business Leaders Group.”
“Oh God, those start today?” He hated giving those talks. They were formulaic—any executive on the planet could give an identical one—and he always felt insincere, even when speaking the absolute truth. The fact that the talks were almost always arranged by the PR Department didn’t help. “You give the talks. You know my job better than I do, and you’ve got a better tan.”
“You know I could sue you for that comment.”
Gabe reached into his pocket and shoved his keys across the table. “If it means I never have to drink sake again, you can have it all.”
“You wish you were that lucky.”
He groaned and redoubled his prayers for death.
“Come on. I’ve got your notes and a clean suit. You can grab a shower before we land.”
He slowly pushed himself upright, taking deep breaths while trying to ignore his twisting stomach. Tamyra was actually looking a little sympathetic. “What am I going to do when you realize you are so amazingly overqualified for this job?”
“I don’t know, but let’s hope you don’t have to find out anytime soon.”
THE FOG had briefly scrubbed the air clean, and in the late morning sun, San Francisco sparkled, the Bay looked blue, and even the mudflats were hidden under a rolling high tide. Gabe wondered where his sunglasses were. The traffic whizzed by on the I-880. The one time he was praying for a three-hour backup, the traffic gods laughed and removed every possible obstacle. He chugged another bottle of water and tried to look at himself in the little mirror conveniently placed on the back of the driver’s seat. He looked like he’d been in a fight. He might have washed and shaved, but there were still dark circles under his eyes, not helped by the capillaries that had burst while he was being sick.
Tamyra flipped the mirror shut. “You look fine.”
“I look like hell.”
“We’ve seen you look worse,” Jared, his driver, called from the front.
“That’s not the same as looking fine.”
Gabe sipped at another bottle of water.
Jared navigated the surface streets of Berkeley before pulling to a halt in a probably illegal spot, but anything that looked like a parking spot in Berkeley was probably illegal.
Tamyra dragged Gabe out of the backseat and shoved his briefcase into his hand. “Do you need me to walk you to the lecture hall?”
“I am the CFO of a technological giant.”
“Do you need me to walk you to the lecture hall?”
“No. Thank you. I’ll find it.”
“I’ll come find you when you’re done.”
Tamyra got back into the car, which sped off before a ticket could magically appear under a wiper blade. Gabe stretched his legs as he made his way across the campus. Students rushed past him, engrossed in debates on topics they knew nothing about. A few lounged on benches and bits of grass, taking in the sun before the fog crept back in. And as the breeze shifted, he caught a whiff of a controlled substance. Not for the first time in the last week did he wish he was back in college. He wondered if he could steal a hoodie from somewhere and simply vanish into the student population.
A grinning kid who didn’t look nearly old enough to be in college ran up to him. “Mr. Juarez?”
“It’s Gabe.” He held out his hand.
The kid took it eagerly. “David Garcia. It’s really an honor to meet you.”
“Thank you.” Gabe yanked his hand away. The kid was never going to make it in business if he didn’t work on his handshake. He made a mental note to add that somewhere in the lecture.
“If you’ll follow me? We’ve got you all set up.”
The lecture hall was one of the older ones with pull-down chalkboards and seats upholstered in ’80s avocado green. A few posters on the wall announced it was part of the English Department. That made sense. Business departments usually had better-outfitted classrooms. Luckily, there was a projector. There were also five dozen eager young faces watching his every move. He’d once had that look.
Someone had arranged a campus Tech Services guy to be on hand to help set up the presentation. Gabe might have been at the top of a technology giant, but he was glad for the assistance. He could never get his laptop to talk to projectors. They seemed to hate him. While that was being dealt with, he did a quick mental review of his lecture, deciding to put in a bit about handshakes at the beginning of the networking segment.
“Your system’s ready to go.”
“Thank you.” Gabe looked over the Tech Services guy. He always tried to remember something about everyone he met, even in passing, in case they became important one day. White, thirtyish, brown hair, average height—nothing particularly exotic but pleasant-looking, and Gabe’s laptop was talking to the projector in record time.
He settled himself at the lectern and cleared his throat. “Good afternoon, everyone. Please forgive my appearance. I just got off a plane from Japan. And here’s a word of advice right off the bat. Whenever you can, get the Japanese to come to you instead of you going there. The local sake is an absolute killer, and you will be expected to drink it for the honor of your company. All night long.”
That got a laugh. Lesson two, Gabe thought, always start with a laugh.
Gabe clapped his hands together. “Now, thank you for coming. My name is Gabriel Juarez, and this is everything I know about business.”
GABE HAD glanced over his notes on the drive from the airport. It was a three-lecture series, all standard stuff about continuing education, and getting internships and feet in doors. It was a talk he could give in his sleep and possibly had been until his mouse froze. He wiggled it a few times, then poked a couple keys. Projectors hated him.
“And this is why I’m on the money side and not the tech side.” That got a chuckle.
The Tech Services guy came down from one of the back rows. “The projector in here has a habit of locking up every kind of laptop,” he said quietly. “It’s not just yours.” He pushed a few buttons in sequence, first on the laptop keyboard, then on the projector’s control panel. There was a beep, a whorl, and then everything was back to normal.
“No problem.” The Tech Services guy went back to his seat, presumably to wait for another lockup. Luckily, when that lockup came, it was on the last graphic. The Tech Services guy came back down and worked his magic again. Gabe wrapped up his talk, fielded some questions, shook some hands, then waited for the room to clear out.
“And you have no idea why it does that?” Gabe asked. His laptop had already been shut down, disconnected, and slipped back into its case.
Gabe looked up. The logo on the underside of the ceiling-mounted projector belonged to his company, but it was from a decade earlier. At that age it was well out of warranty, past any service contract, and almost certainly hadn’t had any kind of software upgrade in years.
“I’ll send out an e-mail to someone in hardware support. If it’s a known bug, there might be a patch. Though I may get the response in Klingon.”
The support guy laughed.
“I’m not surprised.”
Gabe held out his hand. “Gabe, by the way.”
“James.” James had a good handshake, strong but not overly so.
“James. Thanks for the rescue.”
James’s face twitched into a quick, polite smile. “Part of the job.”
“Are you going to be around next week?”
“Most likely, unless the server room catches on fire.”
Tamyra discreetly slid up to Gabe’s side. “James, this is the world’s finest PA, Tamyra Dorsey. Tam, this is James… um.”
“Maron.” James held out his hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“James saved my bacon today by magically unfreezing my laptop.”
There was another flash of a polite smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “Not magic, just practice.”
“Yes. I will write a memo about that.” Gabe turned to Tamyra. “I take it we need to get going?”
“Sorry. Work and four o’clock traffic beckons.”
JAMES SURVEYED his domain. A dozen computer workstations, threadbare carpets, no windows, and a lot of Dilbert cartoons. He looked over his team, consisting of the people who just happened to get thrown at him because they wanted to work certain days of the week and would likely not be around for more than a year or two because they still had real futures ahead of them. Except maybe for Dave. Everyone was present, and everything was quiet. He figured he had about a minute before a phone rang again. He unclenched his jaw and took a long deep breath, letting it out slowly, trying to prevent extreme irritation from bursting into full-out anger.
“Hey!” he barked. “Everyone look at me for sixty seconds. Dave!” He raised his voice. “Music off!”
Dave pulled out his earbuds.
James lifted an e-mail printout, crumpled from where he had been gripping it too hard, and tried to focus on remaining calm. “There have been complaints coming down from up high and landing on my desk recently. Apparently this team has an attitude problem.” There was much groaning and rolling of eyes. “And there it is. I fully understand that the faculty and staff we service are occasionally morons, despite having alphabet soup after their names. And I know many of the students are intellectual snobs and spoiled brats. However, the faculty and staff have the power to make our lives difficult, and student tuition is what pays our salaries.”
There was a fresh collection of groaning and eye rolling.
“Enough!” James snapped, crumpling the paper again. “I let all of you get away with a shitload in here. I let you sneak off-shift early when you have to be somewhere. I turn a blind eye to longer-than-standard lunch breaks. I let you burn university bandwidth on YouTube because I do it too. Hell, I haven’t even fired Dave yet.”
“Why would I be fired?” Dave asked through a mouthful of something sticky.
James ignored him. “But out there, you need to start behaving a little better. I’m not saying you have to kiss ass or lick boots. I’m not even talking about service with a smile, but at the end of the day, they are the Upstairs and we are the Downstairs, so let’s cut back on the raw sarcasm. Can everyone do that for me? Please?”
Everyone nodded and mumbled assurances, though no one looked pleased.
“Thank you.” James dropped the printout in the nearby recycling. “Now get on to whatever you were doing while pretending to work.”
GABE’S ONLY desire was to go home and sleep in his own bed for at least twelve hours. Instead he was at his desk, still feeling the aftereffects of the sake. There was a quick knock at his office door, and Frank popped his head in, his mass of red hair leading by almost a second.
“Hey, there. Feeling better?”
Frank’s face split into the large grin Gabe had long ago learned to fear. “Well, I’ve got something that’ll cheer you up.”
“Why do I doubt that?”
Frank dropped a glossy local industry magazine on the desk. There was a publicity still of Gabe on the front, but it was the five words under it that terrified him. Silicon Valley’s Most Eligible Bachelors.
His gut dropped. “No.”
Frank yanked it away before Gabe could throw it across the room. “And guess who’s number one this year.”
The whine that came from Gabe’s throat made him sound like an overtired toddler. He sincerely wished he could throw a tantrum, then take a nap.
Frank flipped open the magazine, the giant grin not leaving his face. “Gabriel Juarez. CFO. Makes shitloads of money. Oh look, they lied about your age. Took off a good five years. Too bad they couldn’t take it off your face!”
Gabe grabbed for Frank, but he danced out of the way. “You love the outdoors. You cook. You can cook?”
“I can fry an egg,” he snapped.
“And you’re looking for someone special.”
Gabe put his hands together as if in prayer and squeezed his eyes shut. “Tell me. Please, Frank, please for the love of God, is the word ‘gay’ anywhere in there? Or queer? Or ‘is really not interested in boobs, so please don’t send pictures of yourself in a low-cut dress with your résumé’?”
Gabe slumped back in his chair. It was bad enough he had made the list the last five years; being at the top just made him feel pathetic. The fact that he would now have to spend a month fighting off half the eligible women in the industry was not improving his overall mood.
“I have got to get off that list.”
“Speaking of getting off—”
“No,” Gabe said instantly.
“You haven’t even heard what I’m going to say.”
“Answer is still no.” He’d learned the hard way, when it came to Frank, it was best to start with no, then listen to what he had to say.
“My second ex-wife’s second cousin. Nice guy. Good-looking. Young but not too young.”
“Remember what happened the last time you set me up with someone?”
“That was a freak accident.”
“So they keep saying.”
“Come on. You need to get out of your condo. Celebrate a little.”
“Do you know how much work I have?” He grabbed a random folder and flipped it open, hoping Frank would get the point and leave him alone.
“Do you know how large a team you have? Delegate a little. Relax.”
“I am fine.”
Frank placed his hands flat on the desk and leaned in. His breath smelled like ham and cheese Hot Pockets. “You are one of my oldest friends, and I’m saying this as a friend. I worry about you dying alone in the Old Executives’ Home. Everyone needs someone, and since you are incapable of finding a nice guy, I will find one for you.”
Gabe wondered how Frank’s third marriage was going, because he only seemed to get interested in Gabe’s love life when his own was falling apart. And Gabe really wasn’t in the mood to hear it. Not with the evil sake still rotting in his bloodstream.
“I am perfectly capable of finding a nice guy.”
“I mean a real nice guy. Not your idea of a nice guy, which is easy, pretty, and possessing the personality depth of a damp washcloth. Or, you know, a complete asshole.”
A jolt of anxiety and anger shot threw Gabe. His heart began to race, and the edges of the folder crumpled under his grip. Frank usually had better taste than to bring up that particular ex or any part of that entire situation for any reason.
“And what do you suggest I look for?” Gabe all but snarled.
“Someone who’s not an asshole, for one. Someone who might look at you instead of your bank account. Someone who is independently functional and willing to call you on your shit. Someone you might consider taking a day off for. Sane, balanced, responsible, nice to you, not an asshole. I think I mentioned that last one.”
“And your second ex-wife’s second cousin meets all these qualifications?”
“Hell no. But he’s pretty, will certainly put out, and until we get you someone nice, we should at least get you laid. Puts you in a way better mood.”
There was a point in nearly every conversation with Frank where Gabe had simply had enough and threw him out. This was it.
“Out.” He pointed at his door.
“Just think about it.”
KEYS RATTLED in the apartment door as James pulled the tuna casserole out of the oven.
“I’m home,” Dylan called out.
He heard the thump of baseball gear and schoolbooks hit the floor by the door. “How was practice?” he asked as soon as Dylan got into the kitchen.
“Fine.” Dylan reached over James’s shoulder and tried to pull a bit of the crusty edge off the casserole dish, burning his fingers a little. James had long ago accepted the fact that his son would tower over him. And he would revel in the classic blond-and-blue looks inherited from his mother. At least the towering strength would put him through college.
“How was work?”
“Mostly had to sit through a special business lecture because the projector keeps locking up laptops.”
“Interesting lecture?” Dylan set a couple of old plastic plates on the two-person table that took up nearly half the kitchen.
“Wasn’t really paying attention.” He’d spent most of the lecture on his phone, trying to beat his personal best in Nibbles.
He stabbed a large serving spoon into the casserole and moved it to the table. Dylan inhaled about half of it without much more conversation. As much as James was worrying himself sick over sending his son off to university come September, it would do wonders for the grocery bill.
“So,” Dylan started as he scraped the last of the noodles from his plate. “Remember that conversation we were having about the new AP English teacher?”
“If you pull a piece of paper out of your pocket right now, I will never forgive you.”
Dylan grinned and pulled a tightly folded piece of paper from his pocket. “Saturday after next, if you want, you have a date.”
James was pretty sure teenagers were not supposed to be as hung up on their father’s love life as Dylan was. “No. No, I do not.”
Dylan pushed over a printout from his school’s faculty webpage. There was a phone number handwritten at the bottom. “Thirty-five, no kids. He likes music.” Dylan had highlighted that line. “You like music, he likes music. When I talked to him, he said he’d love to take you to see a band he likes.”
“Goddammit, Dylan! I do not need you setting me up with strangers.”
“He’s not a stranger, he’s the school’s AP English teacher, and I wouldn’t have to if you’d get out of the house once in a while. Seriously, Dad, I’m out of here in less than a year. I don’t want you moping around this place alone. You do that enough as is, and I worry about you turning into a crazy old cat lady.”
James gathered the dishes and dropped them in the sink with a little more force than necessary. Luckily they were the plastic ones he’d had since Dylan was ten. “Maybe you should head to your room right now.”
“Sure, I have homework.”
“You better believe you do.”
“Just consider it. Please. For me?”
“Go to your room. We’ll talk about this later.”
Dylan slunk away from the kitchen, and James tried to relax. Dylan had been trying to set him up with various men since he was seven. He’d never appreciated that his father might have other priorities, like trying to keep food on the table, a roof over their heads, and saving enough to get Dylan through school in case his scholarships fell through.
James picked up the printout. The guy did have a nice enough smile, and in his profile, he emphasized a love of music. The occasional small concert was his one, tiny, very rare indulgence once he’d started making enough to risk having indulgences.
There was a number penciled at the bottom with a note to call any time after seven. James checked the kitchen clock with its bent second hand that stuttered every five seconds. It was 7:14. He supposed it wouldn’t hurt. He certainly didn’t need to see anyone, but a concert might be nice, and it would get Dylan off his back for at least a few weeks. He picked up the phone and made the call.
This is my first book by this author, and I love her style and depth of character, you see the many levels of these two men, and it is amazing when an author can do that.
James feels like he is floundering, he is about to send his son off to college, and he knows he needs something more (as Dylan reminds him :P), but life revolved around his son for so long that at 32, he has no idea how to begin to live his life based on what he wants.
Gabriel works way to hard, but it is his passion, and his life. Men come and go, once he can be bothered to tell them to split and that is the way he wants it, isn't it? He thinks so, until he meets James.
Can these two men from totally different worlds make it work, as much as everyone around them can see they belong together, will old habits die too hard to make a go at a relationship?
You have to read this one friends, I am eagerly awaiting book 2! Thank you Ada, for making my first book of yours such a pleasure to read!
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