Chapter One

 

MICAH ELLIS was in hell. He was in hell, and there was dirt everywhere. He stood very still in the middle of the automotive repair shop, elbows pressed close to his sides, and took small, shallow breaths so as not to breathe in more filth than absolutely necessary.

Why had his car decided to break down now? Why today, when he had the Adler Headhunting party with Barrett Frye, of all people, who would find a cruelly clever way to twit Micah about his love handles while congratulating himself on keeping his own slim figure?

And why couldn’t the car have had the decency to wait until Micah was close to his usual mechanic, the one who understood how Micah felt about grease and dirt and rust, who kept things neat and tidy and always washed her hands before shaking his?

Worst of all, why was the man working on Micah’s car so damn beautiful? He was covered in engine grease and sweat and, oh God, was that a smear of dirt on his forehead? He was well over six feet tall, which meant he towered above Micah, and very fit, with blue eyes that gleamed bright under tousled brown hair. Next to him, Micah, with his black hair, dark brown eyes, and strong nose from his Indian mother, felt plainer than ever.

The man wiped his jaw, leaving more dirt behind, and Micah swallowed hard. He couldn’t decide whether to be attracted or find a bathroom to wash his hands until they were raw.

He hovered in the middle of the space, and when the mechanic straightened and sauntered toward him holding out one huge—and dirty—hand, Micah took a quick, horrified step back before he could stop himself.

Something flickered over the young man’s face, and he dropped his hand. “Devon Mallory,” he said. “Looks like your car’s decided to take a vacation without you.” He smiled, but Micah just glared up at him.

“Do I look like I’m in the mood for jokes? How fast can you fix it?”

Devon’s eyebrows went up. “Uh… okay. It’s actually a fairly simple fix. It’s a worn-out belt, and it won’t take long to put a replacement on.”

“Fine,” Micah snapped. “Get on with it, then.”

Devon stared at him for a minute and then shrugged. “Be about an hour,” he said, turning away. “You can wait there.” He pointed at a small, glassed-in room.

Micah headed in that direction as quickly as he could. There was no one else in the room, which was thankfully much cleaner than the rest of the shop, and Micah perched on the edge of one of the chairs to wait, nerves jangling and brain buzzing so loudly it was hard for him to think.

After about forty-five minutes, Devon ambled in. He gave Micah an apologetic smile as he pulled a heavy logbook out from under the counter and flipped through it.

“Normally Hope’d be in here to take care of you,” he said, head bent over the book and shaggy brown hair falling in his face, “but she’s out with her little girl today. Measles, I think.”

Micah shuddered before he could stop himself. Devon caught the movement out of the corner of his eye.

“Germophobe?” he inquired, one side of his mouth curving up.

“You could say that,” Micah said, tone clipped. “Will this take much longer?”

“Shouldn’t,” Devon said. “Are you new in town? I’ve never seen you before.”

Micah shifted on the hard plastic chair, willing himself to patience. “I’ve lived in Toronto for ten years and worked for Adler Headhunting for five. The only reason I’m here is because my car broke down on the way to work.”

Devon’s smile slipped, and he turned back to the book. After a few minutes of writing on a receipt, he pulled out a calculator and punched in numbers, tongue caught between his teeth.

Micah sighed and checked his watch.

“I’m working as fast as I can, sir,” Devon said without looking up.

“It’s fine,” Micah said. “I really shouldn’t expect speed from someone who looks like you.”

Devon froze in place and then set his pen down very slowly and straightened, narrowing his eyes. “Would you like to repeat that, sir?” he said, his voice dangerously quiet.

Micah swallowed hard but squared his shoulders and met his gaze. “You heard me,” he said. “You clearly spend more time working out than you do reading. Can I please pay you and get out of here?”

A muscle jumped in Devon’s jaw. “You know what? We’re not so desperate for money that we need your business. Take your car and leave the premises, please.” His words were sharp, but there was very real hurt in his blue eyes.

Micah stood and smoothed his dress pants, fumbling for words. He’d gone too far. He cursed himself. He hadn’t actually meant to hurt the young man who was holding his keys out to him as though Micah were the contaminated one, and yet he couldn’t figure out how to fix it.

“Look,” he began.

Devon cut him off. “Have a nice day, sir.”

Micah accepted the keys and bit his lip. Devon turned away immediately to stalk back into the garage bay.

Micah drove to work in a daze, kicking himself the entire way. The rest of the day was a complete bust. He snapped at his receptionist, sat in his office and stared into space for a while. Then he forgot an important meeting and had to make a run for it through the meandering corridors of the building, only to realize he’d left his paperwork in his office and had to go back. When evening rolled around, he was more than ready to crawl into a hole and never come out.

Of course Barrett was at the party and made straight for him.

“Glad you could make it, Mike,” he said cheerfully, his predatory gray eyes gleaming.

“Don’t call me that,” Micah said, more out of habit than hope that Barrett would comply.

Sure enough Barrett just laughed and slung an arm around Micah’s shoulders. He craned his neck backward, not even subtle about looking at Micah’s ass.

“Packing it on there a bit, aren’t you?”

Micah gritted his teeth. Important client. Don’t piss off the important client.

“It never used to bother you,” he said.

Barrett took a sip of wine and smiled down at him. “Yes, well, more to love and all that.”

Micah smiled back. Barrett didn’t have to know the smile was the result of Micah envisioning the most satisfying way of murdering the copper-haired man whose arm was still around Micah’s shoulders. He took a deep breath and stepped away, straightening his jacket.

“So that new kid you got for my firm,” Barrett said, not seeming to notice, “I have to tell you, Mike, you hit the ball out of the goddamn park with that one. He’s cleared a dozen cases for us, and he’s well on his way to making us all millionaires.”

“I’m glad,” Micah said. “I see Myra over there. I should go say hello.” He escaped before Barrett could respond.

He spent the rest of the evening longingly eyeing the refreshments table and dodging Barrett, who seemed to make a game of boxing him into corners to talk about work-related things. He couldn’t actually eat, not with Barrett hovering nearby, but maybe he could get a drink.

He was halfway there when a hand closed around his bicep and pulled him into an alcove. Barrett loomed over him, his damned eyes nearly aglow in the dim lighting.

Micah stiffened. “Trying to work here,” he said, keeping his tone casual.

“I’ve missed you,” Barrett murmured as he swayed closer to take a deep breath.

Micah leaned to the side and fought down fear. “You’re the one who broke up with me,” he pointed out.

“Maybe I changed my mind,” Barrett said. The rich, heavy scent of his aftershave clogged the back of Micah’s throat.

“Or maybe you’re just bored,” Micah said and tried to sidle away.

Barrett grabbed Micah’s shoulders and shoved him up against the wall with shocking force. Micah gasped and clutched Barrett’s wrists.

“You don’t leave until I say you can leave,” Barrett snarled.

Micah fought the panic that choked him. “I don’t belong to you now,” he managed. His throat was tight, and he tried to clear it. “You can’t… you can’t tell me what to do anymore.”

“And you can’t tell me you don’t miss it too,” Barrett purred. He moved closer until he was pressed up against Micah’s body in a long line of heat. Micah could feel Barrett’s erection through their dress pants, and he turned his head away, squeezing his eyes shut.

“Look at me,” Barrett commanded, and Micah’s eyes snapped up to his. Barrett’s lips curved in satisfaction. “Such a good little sub,” he crooned. “Always so obedient, with your need to be dominated.”

“Fuck you,” Micah managed, but Barrett just huffed a laugh and dropped his head to nose at the crook of Micah’s neck. He was going to be sick, Micah thought with a welling sense of dread.

“Maybe I should put you on your knees,” Barrett said, pulling back enough to meet Micah’s eyes. “Have you suck me off right here. Would you like that?”

Nausea churned in Micah’s stomach, and he was saved by a girl’s voice just outside the alcove. “Micah?”

Barrett let go and stepped back as though he’d been slapped, and Micah took advantage of the opening to dodge out into the hall. A young woman smiled nervously at him.

“Myra sent me,” she said. “She wants to talk to you about something.”

“Of course,” Micah said. “Lead the way.”

He spent fifteen minutes talking to Myra about her ad agency and the need for new blood as he kept his eyes peeled for Barrett, who never reappeared. Finally he was able to make his escape and very nearly ran for his car.

He slid behind the wheel and was out of the parking lot in a matter of seconds. He almost clipped Barrett’s Porsche, which glowed crimson under the parking lot lights, fighting the nausea until he could pull over and press his forehead against the steering wheel.

Finally it receded, and Micah was able to take a shaky breath. He needed to eat something, if there was anywhere still open.

The glowing sign of an IHOP just ahead caught his eye, and Micah pulled into the parking lot before making a conscious decision. Chocolate chip pancakes with whipped cream sounded like just the ticket.

There were only a few cars in the lot. Good. He’d be able to eat in peace and get out quickly.

Looking back, it was probably the universe laughing at him, considering he walked in to see Devon-fucking-Mallory sitting at a table close to the entrance, eating with a single-minded focus.