Chapter One

 

FIVE MORE minutes.

Craig took a sip of his latte and forced himself to lean against the coffee shop wall and stare at his phone screen. If the guy didn’t come in five minutes, he had to leave and get to work.

This was a huge day. That promotion would make the difference in—well, everything. But the guy was his good-luck charm. He really didn’t want to miss him. Maybe the kid would wear that shirt stretched across his lean chest. Craig swallowed hard and sipped the coffee.

Craig looked up as the door opened, then sighed softly when he saw a woman with two kids. The little boy and girl were pulling on her arms and yelling at each other. She got in line and let the two kids go. The boy grabbed for his sister, missed, flew across the store, and smashed into Craig’s legs. Craig grabbed his latte, dropped his phone, coffee splashed, and he jumped back to keep it off his suit. The woman behind him hollered and pushed him as his foot sank down on her toe.

Turning, he came face-to-face with her frown. He mirrored it. “I’m so sorry!”

A scream ricocheted off the walls, Craig looked back to see the kid in a heap on the floor, yelling his lungs out as people stared at Craig like he was a child molester.

The mother rushed over, grabbed the kid up in her arms, and carried him back to the line. No apology, no recognition of Craig’s existence. Jesus, what the hell was he? Invisible? He knew the answer to that one. His father had certainly told him often enough. With a sigh he reached down for his phone. Somehow it wasn’t broken.

He glanced at the door and then at his watch. Damn. Two more minutes.

People in the line chatted as they waited for Ida and Will to serve them. Craig didn’t actually know Ida and Will, but he’d heard him—the kid in the T-shirt—say their names a couple of times.

Thirty seconds. Come on—

The door pushed open. Oh yes, thank you, God. Every time, it was like some commercial on television for perfume or something. Time slowed down. The guy’s long, black-denim-clad leg stretched through the door, the fabric tightening across his thigh muscles. Another step and the jeans cupped his package like a jeweler showing off a diamond. The guy wasn’t real tall. Maybe five foot ten—inches shorter than Craig—but he added up to Craig’s idea of perfection.

That face. Half god, half elf. On the one hand, he had high cheekbones and a nicely shaped jaw. Real architectural. But that was in total contrast to the bright, crinkly eyes, the turned-up nose, and dishwater-blond hair that looked like it had been hacked into submission with a lawnmower—a very sexy lawnmower.

Craig sighed. Above the jeans, the guy wore a windbreaker with the hem of a white polo shirt sticking out. No black T-shirt. No shirt of Craig’s dreams. The shirt that ran through his mind as he sat at his desk working out strategic plans.

The one that said I Would Bottom You So Hard.

The kid had only worn it once that Craig had seen. That was all it took. Sure, he would have noticed this guy no matter what. He was that delicious. But he was also maybe twenty-one or twenty-two, which was at least four or five years too young for Craig. But the shirt. He saw it and the promise seeped right into his heart. His soul.

I would bottom you so hard. Damn, no one ever let Craig top. In thirty-two years of life, he’d never once topped. Even though he was tall, there was just something about him that screamed Shove my feet over my head and fuck me. Hell, he wasn’t complaining exactly. At least he got fucked—sometimes. But nobody thought of him as a top. Anywhere. He wasn’t even sure he bottomed hard.

The kid danced in the line. He didn’t have earbuds in, so he must be dancing to the music in his head. Craig glanced at his watch. He should go, but it was hard to leave that flexing ass. What would it be like to push his cock into that cute crack outlined between the denim pockets?

Whoa! He adjusted his suit coat over his bulge.

The kid’s pretty voice sang out—a little high but still real masculine. “Hey, Ida, babes. Do you have three caramel macchiatos for me, puh-leez?”

The older woman, heavyset, wearing an apron over her jeans and shirt, laughed. “For you, sweetheart, anything.”

Man, that was the truth. This was one of those genetically gifted charmers.

The man he’d heard called Will, who seemed like the owner of the coffee shop, leaned over the other end of the counter and waved. And then he said it. First time Craig had heard it. “Hi, Jesse. How you doin’, kid?”

Jesse. Jesse. Jesse. Perfect name.

“Good, Will. I got a few new students to tutor, so I guess I won’t be starving quite as much this month.”

“Hey, you’ll be out of school and making the big bucks one day soon.”

The kid laughed. Listening to that was a spiritual experience. “Oh yeah. Big bucks as a college teacher. I’ll be paying student loans till I’m fifty.”

Teacher. Students? Tutor? Oh damn, he wanted to stay and listen. This was the most the kid had said on any of his trips to the coffee shop. But Craig had to go. Couldn’t be late for his promotion.

He stepped away from the wall and walked toward the door. So hard to leave. He looked back. Bright eyes met his—and then they crinkled.

 

 

CRAIG GOT up from his desk. The announcement was calling. Might as well get in there and get a seat.

“Hey, buddy.”

Craig turned toward the door of his tiny office. “Hi, Howard.” Now there was guy who would be a top—if he was gay. Tall, handsome, didn’t know a stranger. Howard Landrew had it all.

Landrew smiled. “You got those ideas for the accounts you said you were working on?”

“Yep. Just have to print them out.”

“Could you do that?”

Craig frowned. “The meeting.”

“No problem. I’ll save you a seat.” Howard slapped the door twice and walked off toward the conference room.

“Well, okay.” Damn, he didn’t want to be late. Not for his own promotion. Still, sitting next to Howard would be fun. The big account executive got a lot of attention, so Craig wouldn’t feel like part of the paint. Of course, he’d be included in this meeting. A smile crept over his lips.

He searched his desktop for the folder where he kept new ideas and strategic plans, found the file, and hit Print. He glanced at his email. A new one from that executive search person who sent him job posts asking if Craig knew someone to fill them. He clicked. Always interesting to see what was available. He scanned the post. Wow. A VP marketing job at ClearWater Tech. That was a great position for someone. Such a good company. But they were making a few marketing errors. If someone could change those, they could be huge. Who did he know who could take that job?

The printer stopped, and he walked over and grabbed the pages. Today he’d get his new job. Senior director of strategic planning. That would be great. A new office, twice as big, and more money he could use for his mother’s care. No one else was really a competitor. He excelled at strategy and had been developing most of the plans for the AEs for two years. It would be nice to get the recognition.

He stapled the pages and stepped lively toward the conference room. The big space was crowded. Howard sat flanked by two females, an AE and an admin. No empty chairs. The guy looked up at Craig, shrugged, and called, “Sorry. What could I do?” Then he held out his hands and wiggled his fingers. Well, shit. Craig walked past the people sitting and those standing against the wall and handed the papers to Howard.

The handsome face beamed up at him. “Thanks, buddy.”

Craig stepped back between two people as the CMO came in. Lydia Halls. His idol. She was only forty-two, and the chief marketing officer of InterTech. That’s where he wanted to be in ten years or sooner, and this promotion would put him on track.

She smiled around the room. “We’re having a little party this afternoon to celebrate, so everyone plan on staying. We have a couple of new promotions. First, Dacy Lin is our new account executive for the industrial divisions. Congratulations, Dacy.”

Craig clapped. Wait, that position belonged to Howard. What happened to Howard?

Lydia held up her hand. “And now for a bit of a surprise. While we don’t usually promote our account executives into creative and strategic positions, I’ve decided it’s time to think outside the box. I’m naming Howard Landrew our new senior director of strategic planning. He’s continuously impressed me with his ideas both for his clients and for the other AEs. It’s time he got the recognition he deserves. Congratulations, Howard.”

Craig shook his head. Wait. This couldn’t really be happening. It was too much like a movie. He stepped forward. “But I—”

Howard stood up. “I want to acknowledge the help and assistance of Craig Elson. The guy has been so generous with his sharing and support. Thanks, buddy.”

Everyone clapped. The sound echoed around him like bells in his brain. Someone patted his shoulder. Yeah, because he was such a great support.

Howard held up a hand and picked up the papers that Craig had printed. “Now, just for a treat, let me share a few new strategic plans for the divisions.” He started to read Craig’s ideas.

He could scream. Bashing Howard’s head in sounded better. But what could he do? If he claimed the ideas, Howard would just say they’d worked as a team. No one would believe the new plans came from mild-mannered Craig Elson. The man with the L word stamped on his forehead. Not when they had Howard Landrew instead. Hell, Howard probably believed the ideas were his. After all, he’d asked Craig to come up with them.

Howard kept reading, but Craig could barely breathe. He skirted past the rapt audience, left the conference room, and walked to his office. His head hammered as he sat in his desk chair and stared at the trashcan. This was it. His big hope—gone. Nothing was different. Nothing would ever change. Once again he’d let someone push his legs back and fuck him.

His hand seemed to move by itself as he picked up the phone and dialed.

“HR.”

“Hey, Mrs. Kruger, this is Craig Elson. I’m sorry, but I’ve had an emergency and need to use some vacation days.”

“Just a moment, please.” Music played. Her crisp voice came back on. “You have plenty of time available. You haven’t taken a vacation in years. That’s not company policy, you know.”

“Yes, I know.” He hadn’t had anything more fun to do than work or any money to do it with.

“I hope everything’s okay. Please fill out the paperwork when you get back.”

“Thanks. I will.”

He glanced toward the conference room. Most people were still in there listening to the guy who thought nothing of claiming Craig’s ideas as his own and taking the position that should have been his. Saddest of all was that if he went in and stood up for his ideas, Lydia might not believe him. At the very least, he’d be considered a troublemaker.

He grabbed his laptop, stuffed it into his case and walked fast to the elevator, pushed the button twice, and jumped on it when it opened. Riding down the six floors, he stared at the blank screen in his mind. What am I doing? No idea.

He walked across the parking lot until he got to his car and stopped. Gray sedan. There it was staring him in the face. His gray sedan life. Gay guys were supposed to be so fashionable and flamboyant. Jesus, he needed a drink.