Chapter One

 

MURPHY COULD describe Florida in July in a single word—fuckinghot!

Okay, that was actually two words, but totally appropriate. He’d lived through some intense summer days back in Michigan, but the 100 percent humidity combined with ninety-plus temperature was something he could have lived without ever experiencing. Soaked in sweat, he slumped down on a park bench, wiped at his burning eyes, then slid his sunglasses back on to protect his retinas from being seared by the bright afternoon sun.

“What the hell am I supposed to do now?”

“Excuse me?”

Murphy snapped his head to the right. He’d been so lost in his thoughts he hadn’t even noticed the elderly man sitting at the other end of the bench. “Sorry, was just thinking out loud.”

The old man gave Murphy a disapproving look, grunted, then went back to reading his newspaper.

Murphy hung his head and ran his fingers through his sweat-soaked hair. Great, not only was there no job waiting for him, but the natives didn’t seem to be all that friendly either.

Oh, what big plans he’d had. He was and always had been stubborn. Although that was what other people called him, Murphy wouldn’t necessarily use that term to describe himself. It was more that he simply liked doing things his way. So he’d ignored the well-meant advice from friends and family, sold his truck, and bought an old Ford Focus. He’d also cleaned out his bank account, which hadn’t been much—a whole nine hundred and forty-eight dollars—and hit the road. Probably should have thought about it a bit more thoroughly, but noooooo. Instead, he’d gotten a wild hair up his ass, and the next thing he’d known, he was on the road. Just jumped in with both feet and hoped he landed on them. Unfortunately, things hadn’t gone as he’d planned. Now he was sitting on his ass in what felt like the bowels of hell.

While he might be a little impetuous, he wasn’t a complete idiot. He’d left Michigan with the expectation of having a job when he arrived in Tampa. However, something about a protest, land rights, permits, blah, blah, blah—he’d stopped listening as panic zinged through him when they’d informed him the job was on hold until further notice. The bottom line was he was parked on a bench in the hot sun, ninety dollars less in his pocket, and no job.

Now he had two choices. Drive back to Michigan with his tail between his legs to a chorus of I told you so and beg for his old job back at the factory, or scan the local paper for work. Did he dare take a chance, spend money on a motel room, and hope he found a decent-paying job that would tide him over until when—if—the project resumed?

Choices, choices.

Mom and his siblings had called Murphy crazy. His friends told him he should wait. His recently-turned-ex–boyfriend Dylan had bet Murphy would return within two weeks, pleading with him to take him back. Yeah, when hell freezes over. Whether he returned to Michigan or not, Dylan would not be part of his future. The drama had been exhausting, and high-maintenance men were officially on his list of never again. Keeping men beyond a one-night stand was off the list as well. From now on, it’s all about me, me, me. He’d learned his lesson. He was too young and had far too little patience to have to worry about someone’s feelings full-time. Or whether he used the right cologne, shampoo, and wore matching shoes and belt, or wiped his feet and folded the bedspread back three-quarters of the way before getting in bed. Christ, just thinking about all the crap Dylan had nagged him about, it was surprising they’d lasted as long as they had—a full year and a half.

He pulled a cigarette from his shirt pocket, slid it between his lips, and fired up. He took a deep pull, the smoke burning his dry throat. The elderly man grunted again, waved a hand even though the wind was blowing the smoke away from him, and shuffled away. Murphy supposed he should be guilty for causing the old guy to leave, but he sort of felt vindicated after the man’s rude attitude. Besides, the need for nicotine outweighed any discomfort or guilt, and he took another hit.

Resting his forearms on his denim-clad knees, he rolled the cigarette between his index finger and thumb, watching the smoke swirl upward and dissipate in the heavy air as he contemplated his current situation. Maybe his family was right, but going back seemed even more insane. The thought of spending one more winter shoveling snow and scraping windshields made him feel physically ill.

Dammit, he was supposed to be starting his dream job in two days. He’d spent the last year busting his balls, working at night, going to trade school during the day to get his HVAR certificate. All the sacrifice had seemed worth it when the Barton Marlow Corporation offered him a job working in Florida. Okay, so it wasn’t in his field—he’d be on the construction crew—but he’d have his foot in the door with one of the largest and most prestigious contracting companies in the state. It was a great opportunity to learn some new skills until something became available in heating and cooling.

Murphy took another long draw from his cigarette and held it in, letting the burn and the nicotine ground him as he considered his options. The only thing he got for his troubles was a dull ache in his temples. Wait. Why am I putting all this pressure on myself? He shook his head at his stupidity. He didn’t need to decide at this very moment, and he damn sure didn’t need to be making it after going without sleep for so long.

He finished his smoke and ground it out with the heel of his boot before pushing to his feet. He wasn’t going to find any answers to his questions sitting in the sweltering sun. He could afford a cheap motel room for one night. Maybe after a cool shower, a couple of hours of sleep, and a decent meal, he’d grab a paper and check out the help-wanted ads. Tampa was a bustling town, and it was prime tourist season. Surely he could find something until BWC broke ground on the new condominium project.

Sitting in the driver’s seat of his packed-to-the-gills car—sad that everything he owned fit in such a small space—Murphy started the car, then closed his hands around the steering wheel and instantly jerked them away.

“Ow! That’s hot!” He shook his hands, as if it would actually help. He was going to melt. When he’d left home at the ass crack of dawn, he’d been dressed for the unseasonable cold snap that had made its way across the North and, in his hurry to get to Tampa, hadn’t thought of changing. And just how damn stupid was that? His T-shirt clung to him; sweat trickled down his spine and temples, and he was pretty sure there was a full gallon of it in his boots. Worse, it ran from his brow into his eyes, burning them. He needed to find a room with a kickass air conditioner, and fast. He gritted his teeth, grabbed the wheel, and pulled onto the road. All his other concerns were trivial compared to his need to cool down before he ended up a crispy critter.

He didn’t have far to drive before he spotted a Motel 6. The place was like an oasis: cheap, fairly clean, and air-conditioned. The instant Murphy was safely behind the locked door of his room, he removed his boots, peeled off his sweat-soaked clothes, and flopped onto the lumpy mattress with a sigh. The Tampa newspapers he’d picked up in the lobby would just have to wait a bit longer before he rummaged through the want ads. The excessive heat made him nauseous, and he was so tired his brain was fried, like deep Southern-fried. Sleep, all he needed was….

 

 

MURPHY JERKED awake and, for a few panic-filled seconds, scanned the room, trying to figure out where the hell he was. The ugly plastic chair, banged-up dresser from the seventies, and gold threadbare carpet clued him in quickly enough, and he let out a pent-up breath. He was in a crappy room in an unfamiliar town with no friends, no family, and no job. He flopped back on the mattress and rubbed his eyes. Guess it wasn’t a nightmare.

He folded his arms behind his head. “Alrighty, then, what should we do now?” he inquired of the empty room. Of course, it didn’t answer or even give a single goddamn hint. It mocked him with its silence. “Thanks a lot.”

He continued to stare, not really seeing anything nor finding any answers to his dilemma. He wasn’t going to get anything accomplished lying here. He sluggishly slid from the bed and made his way to the bathroom to take a shower. Maybe he’d head downtown and check out a few of the bars and restaurants. Grab something to eat, have a few cocktails, and see if any of them could use a bartender.

He hadn’t done any bartending since he went to work for Lear Industries a couple of years back, but it had to be like riding a bike. He’d been quite a popular barkeep back in the day, if he did say so himself. He just needed to find a happening club, cash in on some good tips, and chill until he could figure out what he wanted to do next. If said bar served the gay community, or at the very least was gay-friendly, he could make a damn good living. He had charisma, knew how to work a crowd. Hey, and even if they weren’t hiring, maybe he’d get lucky and find a hot, hard body that would make him forget all his woes, if only for the night. It sure as hell would be better than lying there staring up at a ceiling covered in God knows what all night long.

He took a quick shower, giving special attention to certain sensitive areas—it was always good to be prepared—then stood in front of the mirror with a towel secured around his hips.

He ran a critical eye over his reflection. He hadn’t had a haircut in months, and his normally clean-shaven face had a week’s worth of growth—totally sporting the rugged wild-man vibe. He turned his head from side to side and smiled. He liked the new look. Might not be the best for job hunting, but he had to admit it was perfect for man hunting.

“Screw it. I’ll worry about a job tomorrow.” He winked at his reflection. “Time to get laid.”

After a little manscaping, some tight jeans, and an even tighter T-shirt, Murphy slipped into his loafers and headed out the door. The first blast of heat made him gasp and had him rethinking his plans. Eight o’clock at night and it was still hot as hell, and the humidity was out of control. Sweat-soaked and red skin wasn’t the look he’d been going for. Heatstroke is so not sexy. He rushed back into his room for a quick change into a white tank top, bright green board shorts, and flip-flops, then tried again.

Murphy wandered along the sidewalk in the downtown district, the sounds of Jimmy Buffett, Kenny Chesney, and a reggae beat from the various clubs mixing and mingling in the crowded streets. As the sun began to dip below the horizon, the colorful storefronts, restaurants, and bars lit up the night in an array of flashing neon. Everywhere he looked, people were smiling and laughing, some swaying to the music and still others singing. The feel-good vibes floating in the air seeped into him, chasing away the last of his unease, and he found himself whistling and his steps lighter.

They got a whole lot lighter when he rounded the corner and spotted two college-frat-boy-looking guys stepping out of a club hand in hand. Looks like my kind of place. Murphy took a moment to check out the worn whitewashed sign that hung above the open door. A cartoonish pink flamingo on one foot holding a rainbow-colored umbrella stood to each side of the words Flaming Flamingos in a cursive script. It was garish and so ridiculous that Murphy couldn’t help but chuckle. He shook his head and walked inside.

Surprise, surprise, the walls were painted neon pink, and the same gaudy flamingos from the sign were plastered on numerous posters. There was so much pink and glitter Murphy’s jaw ached with how sickly sweet everything was. However, he did like the distressed white tables, exposed whitewashed beams, and ornately carved wood bar—also whitewashed. It was too bad they were lost in the sparklefest.

Techno thumped from hidden speakers, the beat pulsing in sync with the low lights above the dance floor at the back of the large open room. Several men shook, shimmied, and groped to the upbeat rhythm.

Murphy was as far from flamboyant as it got. He didn’t own a single item of pink; no rhinestones, glitter, or ruffles could be found among his collection of T-shirts and jeans. Normally he went for places a little less flashy. His idea of a good time was hanging out at a sports bar, tossing back some craft beer, and enjoying a game or two of pool or darts. He didn’t mind the occasional night out at a dance club. He had moves, especially when the lights dimmed and the music got nice and slow. He also liked his men as he liked his beer: robust, stout, and aged to perfection. A select few within Flaming Flamingos fit the bill, especially the tall, dark, and rugged-looking guy who towered over the other dancers.

Murphy stepped up to the bar, keeping the good-looking stranger in his peripheral vision.

“Hi, sweetie, I’m Rory. What can I get for you?” asked the blond twink tending bar. The way Rory raked his gaze up and down Murphy’s body, he obviously wasn’t talking about just booze.

The words printed across Rory’s chest—I’m Flaming—said it all. Murphy wasn’t the least bit interested in that type of flame. Still, he flashed the man a wide smile. He took a seat on one of the stools, turning it slightly to stare at Mr. Tall, Dark, and Rugged shaking the ass Murphy hoped to be tapping before the sun came up.

“I’ll have a Guinness, Extra Stout, if you got it.”

 

 

THE DANCE mix ended, morphing into a slow sensual tune. Joe swiped the back of his hand over his sweat-dampened brow and turned to head to the bar. Before he could make it two steps, someone grabbed his wrist and jerked him to a halt.

“Where are you going, handsome?”

Joe yanked his hand free. “Sorry, I don’t slow dance.”

“Aww, c’mon, baby, dance with me.”

Joe cringed at the sound of the twink’s high whiny voice and, even worse, the desperation in his eyes. “Sorry….” Shit, the dude had told him his name, but obviously it wasn’t important enough to remember beyond the dance floor. “I gotta hit the john and grab a beer. There are plenty of other guys I’m sure would love to dance with you.” He turned on his heel and slipped around the paired-up dancers before What’s-his-name could start begging.

Normally he enjoyed coming to Flamingos. It was a fun place, the music hopping and the drinks reasonably priced. There used to be a good mix of men, but nowadays it seemed the young, flashy, and flamboyant outnumbered the rest of the patrons five to one. Not that he had a problem with effeminate men. He’d gotten one of the best blow jobs ever from a tiny dude in a floor-length gown and six-inch stilettos. It had been a bitch getting the waxy red lipstick off his nut sac, but it had been worth it. Still, he wanted something different tonight.

He slumped down on a stool at the end of the bar and waved to get Rory’s attention, then yelled out, “Jack and Coke on the rocks.”

Rory smiled a big dimpled grin and nodded.

Joe swiveled his stool and rested his elbows back on the bar, staring out at the dance floor. Being early, the place wasn’t yet crowded, giving the men plenty of room to dance. Joe used the term loosely. It looked more like sex with clothes on. It wasn’t his thing. He wasn’t into public displays of porn, and tonight he wasn’t into twinks, topping, or blow jobs. Tonight he was craving a different kind of delight. He was looking to be manhandled. He wanted someone strong, confident, and able to pound him through the mattress.

“Jack and Coke on the rocks,” Rory announced behind Joe.

Joe turned his stool back around, stopping halfway when he spotted exactly the kind of treat he was looking for. Seated at the opposite end of the bar was a ruggedly good-looking man Joe had never seen before. Not just good-looking, but oh-my-God hot! Without taking his eyes from the vision before him for fear he’d disappear, Joe reached out blindly and grabbed his drink. He wiped the drool from his chin before wetting his suddenly dry throat.

The stranger had a head full of messy chestnut hair and a red tone to the stubble on his masculine jaw. His skin too pale to be local. Even working long hours inside, he’d have at least a bit of color on his face and arms, but he was all creamy, dreamy, and yummy, totally lickable. Joe caught enough of the man’s body to know he was built like a brick shithouse. His tank top was tight against a broad chest and his arms were thick with well-defined muscles.

“Fuck me,” he begged. “Please.”

Kenny, one of the regular slutty boys, was groping the stranger, who looked less than impressed. In fact, he looked like he needed a little rescuing from the persistent little shit. Joe could do knight in shining armor.

Drink in hand, Joe pushed to his feet and strolled toward the man, sending up a little prayer that some of those bulging biceps were formed while doing mattress push-ups.

“Can I get another beer?” the stranger shouted to Rory as Joe approached.

“Put it on my tab,” Joe informed Rory. Joe downed his drink and set the glass on the bar. “And I’ll take another.”

The stranger looked up at Joe with stunning greenish eyes flecked with gold, a slight smile curling his full lip. “Thanks.”

Damn if that husky voice didn’t cause Joe’s toes to curl and his dick to twitch, already in full anticipation mode. “My pleasure.” Joe returned the smile. He held the man’s gaze, weighing his chances of skipping the pleasantries and drinks and heading straight to his king-size bed.

“Hey, mind your own business,” Kenny whined and tried to push in between Joe and the object of his lust. “I was here first.”

“Why don’t you go bother someone else,” Joe suggested without taking his eyes from the stranger. Their gazes locked, and the world seemed to melt away, a strong connection made. Kenny was obviously aware of it, too, or maybe it was the fact that both Joe and the stranger were completely ignoring him. Whatever it was, he must have finally gotten the hint, because he spun around and scurried off without another word.

“Alone at last,” Joe commented with a sultry tone.

“Thanks for the save. I’m Murphy, and you are?” He held out his hand.

Joe shook the offered hand. “Nice to meet you, Murphy. I’m Joe.” He nodded toward the empty stool next to Murphy. “Mind if I join you?”

Murphy raked his eyes up and down Joe’s body. The way he licked his lips when his gaze landed on Joe’s crotch made it glaringly obvious he felt the connection, too, and he liked what he saw.

“Be my guest.”

Joe pulled out the stool and straddled it, making a point to have the bulge in his shorts proudly on display. “You’re not from around here. I’d have remembered you,” he drawled.

“Michigan.”

“A Yank, huh? I hear you Michiganders can be a bit on the frigid side.”

“You heard wrong. The temperature may get below zero, but that just means you have to engage in physical activities that provide warmth.” Murphy’s voice was seductive and telling. “You ever been to the D?”

“Nope, but I’m hoping to get a little D tonight,” Joe said. No point in beating around the bush. He was horny.

Rory set their drinks down. He smiled at Joe, then glared at Murphy before moving down to tend to another customer.

Joe picked up his drink and took a small sip. “It seems you have made an enemy of our little Rory.”

Murphy shrugged. “I didn’t mean to offend him, but I wasn’t interested. He’s not my type.”

“And just what is your type?”

Murphy brought his beer to his lips. “You,” he replied, sounding confident as hell, then took a big gulp of beer.

“I was hoping you’d say that.” Joe palmed his dick.

“Anything in particular you’re looking for?”

Joe squeezed his cock, pushing up into his hand slightly. “I’d have thought that was pretty obvious.”

Murphy took another long pull from his draft, then ran the tip of his finger along the foam on his upper lip. Joe groaned when Murphy sucked that finger into his mouth and pulled it out deliberately.

“Yeah, it’s obvious, all right. I was just figuring we should discuss particulars. No sense wasting each other’s time.”

“Good point. Let’s hear them.”

“I work hard and play even harder. I prefer to top, but I’m not opposed to bottoming once in a while. I don’t do bareback, never have, never will. I also don’t do the awkward morning-after shit, and I don’t cuddle.”

Joe kept his features neutral, acting like he was considering Murphy’s offer, when really what he wanted to do was jump up and down and scream hallelujah.

Unable to hold his excitement back a second longer, he downed his drink and slammed the glass on the bar. “Well, Murphy from Michigan, tonight is your lucky night. Finish your drink.”

Murphy arched a brow. “And what, pray tell, makes me so lucky?”

Joe moved closer until his lips were against Murphy’s ear, getting a whiff of spicy cologne and clean sweat. “Because I’m going to let you ride my ass as hard and fast as you want, and I live a short two-minute walk from here.” He licked the shell of Murphy’s ear, grinning at the shudder it produced. “Now drink up.”

Murphy went to his feet. “Forget the drink, let’s go.”

Joe was out of his seat and pulling Murphy through the growing crowd without another word, feeling the big shit-eating grin spread across his face. He had the sneaking suspicion it wasn’t only Murphy’s lucky night.