GOD, HE was tired.
Way’ra finished his shift with the broom and waved to Dalton, the nice night manager sitting at the counter at the front of the Iron Eagle Gym. “Bye, man. I’m going to check the bathrooms, and then I’ll be out of your hair.”
“Have a good night, Way. Don’t party too hard.”
Right. Because he remembered parties. The last four months had been the longest of his young life. He’d been outed, thrown out of his conservative religious college and out of his house without anything more than the clothes on his back and his wallet.
No phone. No laptop. No cash. No shoes. He’d managed to pull two hundred dollars from the ATM before his dad froze the account.
Still, he’d done it, hadn’t he? He had a job cleaning here at the Eagle, and in a month he’d have enough saved to rent a room. All he had to do was wait it out.
Well, wait it out and pray that no one noticed that someone was sleeping in one of the third-floor broom closets. So far he’d been doing it for a few months and no one was the wiser. He’d tried staying in the park, but between the snow and the cold, it had been so nasty. He’d been hoping spring would be different, but there’d been so much rain. He only had the one pair of jeans; he couldn’t show up to work with them wet.
When he’d discovered the tiny broom closet with a layer of dust on the floor, it had felt like magic, like it was meant to be. He wasn’t hurting anything. No one was staying there, and he was super careful to sneak out before one of the day managers saw him in the morning, grab his one meal of coffee and a doughnut, and hang out for a couple of hours before he showed back up to work.
He was headed up the back stairs, quiet as a mouse, when a gorgeous stud suddenly appeared at his side. The guy was tall, close to a foot bigger than him, and with the best muscles. He was wearing a pair of sweats and a T-shirt, gym bag slung over one shoulder.
“Headed up too?” Even the guy’s voice was studly—deep and growly.
“Uh. Uh-huh. Just checking supplies.” He kept his head down, his gaze forward. This man was twice his size, easily, and he wasn’t interested in a confrontation.
“Oh right, you work here. I thought I recognized you. Do you like it?” The guy was taking the stairs two at a time, but doing it slowly enough that they stayed level.
“Yes, sir. It’s a good job.” No one asked questions. No one bothered him. No one noticed him. He didn’t exist, and that was just like he wanted it.
“Good, good. This is a good place. It’s nice to know everyone is family.” It looked like this guy was going all the way up, just like he was.
“Yes, sir.” Dammit. He needed to slip into his closet. He had a dog-eared paperback he’d found in the lost-and-found and a cold Coke.
“Do you work out here too?”
God, this guy was Chatty McChatterson.
“No, sir.” Did he look like he worked out? Ever?
“You look like you could use a few sessions. Oh fuck, that was rude, I’m sorry.”
“No worries. I’ll mop harder tomorrow. Have a good evening.” Go away.
The guy gave him a sharp look. “I didn’t say I thought you were doing a bad job.”
“Yes, sir. I’m sorry. I left my… cleanser. I mean, my pad downstairs. Excuse me.”
The guy stopped and put a hand on his arm. “I’ve upset you now. I didn’t mean to. How about I buy you a cup of coffee by way of an apology?”
“Me? I’m the janitor. You don’t have to apologize.”
“I don’t believe in classes. In fact, without you, my enjoyment here at the gym would be so much less.”
The words were dear and made his cheeks heat. “Thank you. I appreciate it. Honestly.”
“Then let me buy you a coffee. There’s a shop around the corner that’s still open. You’ll be saving me from a lonely evening too.” The guy took his bag off his shoulder. “I’m stuck here for the night. They found asbestos in our building, and we’ve all been kicked out.”
“Oh no. I’m so sorry. Someone’s letting you spend the night here? That’s very cool.”
“That’s what the bunks upstairs are for. Anyone who needs the space.” The guy shouldered his bag again. “You wanna meet down at the main doors in, say, a half hour? Does that work for you?”
“I suppose so. Yes. Thank you.” He could use a cup of coffee, one with lots of sugar and cream.
The guy looked pleased. “Perfect.” Then he held out his hand. “I’m Neal.”
“Yes. It’s tribal. Just call me Way.”
Neal shouldered open the door from the hall and leaned against it. “I like it. What does it mean?”
“A gust of wind.”
Neal looked him over and grinned. “You look like a good gust of wind would knock you right over.”
“You’re not the first person to say that to me.”
“And here I thought I was being all original and suave.” Neal chuckled. “I look forward to our coffee and doing a better job of it.”
“Yes, sir. Thanks for the invitation.” He headed back downstairs, not sure whether to hide out in one of the bathrooms for a little while or what.
He couldn’t believe he was seriously considering this, having coffee with a perfect stranger. More than that—a stranger from the gym.
Neal had been kind, though. Nice. With warm eyes. Plus the guy was hot.
Stop it, Way. You’re a skinny homeless idiot with absolutely no future. You don’t get to date hot guys.
He was going to get the coffee, though. Because it would be stupid to turn down anything free. He would have to keep reminding himself that it wasn’t a date.
It was a free cup of coffee with a whole lot of sugar.
NEAL GOT himself set up in one of the beds and sat to read for fifteen minutes. Then he put his wallet in his back pocket and headed downstairs to meet up with Way.
The kid was cute, all long limbs and big eyes. Neal thought Way could use a sandwich or five hundred, but he knew being skinny was a thing, and he wouldn’t judge. He was, however, getting the guy something to go with that coffee.
If Way showed. He wasn’t a hundred percent sure Way would. Of course that was a part of the appeal, wasn’t it? Most boys would have bent over backward for him. It was too easy. Way couldn’t even meet his eyes, didn’t seem to care about his muscles, his reputation. It was intriguing.
Neal hadn’t been intrigued in far too long.
He made his way down to the front of the gym. Would Way be there? He certainly hoped so.
“Can I help you, Master Neal?” Dalton was one of those who fawned over him, eyes trailing over his muscles.
“I’m looking for Way.”
Dalton gave him a blank look, clearly having no idea who he was talking about.
“The janitor,” he clarified.
“Way’ra. Right. I think he went home for the day about an hour ago?”
No. It had only been half an hour since they’d spoken.
“It’s okay, I’ll find him. Thanks anyway.” He gave the kid a tight smile and went to the door, looking out in case Way was waiting outside.
Way stood out in the late spring evening, hiding from the rain under the awning. Pleasure rushed through Neal, and he stepped out, joining Way in the relative cover of the overhang.
“Hello. Are you sure you want coffee, still?” Way asked.
“I might actually go for a hot chocolate or some decaf so I can sleep, but yeah, I’d like something warm and something sweet, and I’d like it with you.”
He looped their arms together, not giving Way a chance to argue, and headed down the street to the late-night café. Way walked along beside him, not a bit of meat on his bones. It made Neal wonder if that was by choice.
“So where are you from?” he asked as an opening gambit.
“Nowhere important.” Near black eyes peeked at him from a shock of sleek black hair. “How about you?”
“I’m originally from up north. Sudbury. But there’s not a lot of job opportunities up there.”
“Well, that’s why everyone comes here, isn’t it? The city of opportunity.”
“Yeah, and it certainly gave me the opportunity to meet you.” He smiled over at Way, then opened the door to the café, holding it for him.
“Thank you.” Way stood carefully, like he was afraid to touch anything for fear of breaking it.
“You want to get us a booth while I get the coffees?” He wasn’t going to say no to goodies along with the coffee, and it would be easier if Way wasn’t right next to him actually saying no.
“Sure. Thank you again. That’s very nice.”
“How do you want your brew?” he asked before they parted ways.
“I’m easy. Whatever you’re having.”
“Okay.” He gave Way a smile before going to the counter to order. “I’d like two mocha lattes, a slice of coffee cake, and a slice of cranberry flan, please.” The lattes would go better with dessert than hot chocolate would, and making them mocha was a nice compromise. He hoped Way was into sharing so they could each taste both desserts.
He chuckled to himself, because he was the king of instant attraction, wasn’t he? He believed it was chemistry, all the way to the bone. So here he was, wooing Way, both feet in.
Neal searched the place while waiting for the treats and coffees. Once he had them, he smiled, heading for Way’ra. “Coffee and cake for two.”
“Oh. Oh, you didn’t have to. I can’t afford to repay you right now.”
“I asked you out, Way. There’s no need to repay me. I wanted to treat you.” He touched Way’s arm, smiling warmly.
“That’s very nice of you. Thanks.” Way wrapped his hand around the coffee cup and breathed deeply. “Oh, chocolate.”
He nodded. “Mocha lattes, and I thought we could share the sweets, unless you don’t like one of them?” He pushed the plates in front of Way.
“Oh, I….” The look was starving, quick and desperate, needy.
“Coffee cake and cranberry flan—I did good, right?” He knew damn well he had. Of course he hadn’t quite expected that Way would be literally starving, but that made him doubly glad he’d picked up the food.
“Sounds like heaven. Yes. You did well. Very. That was very generous.”
“Sweets for the sweet.” He winked, knowing that had been bad but wanting to charm this boy.
“I’m not very sweet, I don’t think. Maybe more tart.” Was Way flirting with him?
He flirted right back. “The cranberry was a good choice, then. I’ll have to take an extra big bite.”
Way hid his face in his coffee, and then he drank deep, obviously enjoying it.
“So do you like working at the gym?”
“It’s a good job.” Now that was a nonanswer answer.
“I’m not going to be upset if you say no,” Neal pointed out.
“I clean up. It’s hard work, but not taxing.”
“Doesn’t sound very exciting, though, hmm? What’s your dream job?”
Way looked up at him, utterly confused. “I don’t guess I know. What do you do?”
“I make jewelry. Leather and stones.”
“Oh, that’s cool. I’ve never met anyone who could do that.”
“Yeah. I’m a freak. A big giant jewelry geek.” He winked, totally teasing.
“That’s neat, to be an artist. Did you go to school for it?”
Neal shook his head. “I learned from a master jeweler. It was pretty cool.”
“I bet it was. Are you in catalogs?”
“I have an agent. She takes care of all that. I just make my pieces.” It kind of rocked.
“Wow.” Way offered him a smile, quiet and gentle. “You must be proud.”
“I… I’m happy.” He was doing what he loved and getting paid for it. It didn’t get much better than that.
“Good. People should be happy.”
“I agree. Are you happy, Way?”
Again, those black eyes shifted away as Way lied. “Of course.”
He didn’t believe the beautiful boy. The question now was how to work the truth out of Way. How to win Way’s trust and see what he could do to make his words true.
Way was so quiet, so small, so still, Neal wanted to shake him a little, get a reaction.
“Would it make you happy if I kissed you?” he asked, giving Way an intense look.
Way blinked at him like he’d spoken a foreign language. He didn’t push, but he did hold Way’s gaze. He did want to kiss Way, after all.
“How is your coffee?”