TULLY WAS partway through drafting a memorandum when his phone buzzed. It was Su-ji, the weekend day concierge. Mr. Filling is here to see you.
Tully stared at the text in confusion for a moment, wondering why Carrie was here and when Su-ji had become so careless in her texting. Then he remembered the discussion at the bar.
Send him up, please.
Really, Tully wanted to order Su-ji to send the guy away. But Tully wasn’t the type to back out of an agreement, even if it was only a handshake deal. And definitely not when it was a promise to a friend.
He didn’t have to be happy about it, though. When his doorbell chimed less than a minute later, Tully walked over and opened it with a scowl.
Sage appeared to be somewhere in his early to mid thirties—around the same age as Tully. He was as tall as Tully too but heavier. Neither fat nor musclebound, but… substantial. His sandy-colored hair was bleached lemon yellow near the tips and arranged in a neat, short cut. Stubble darkened his jawline and upper lip, and his eyes were a warm hazel. He wore jeans, and a T-shirt with a faded Coors logo. A battered suitcase and khaki duffel bag lay at his booted feet. Sage was handsome, dammit, which Tully hadn’t expected.
“Uh, did I come at a bad time?”
Realizing he’d been staring like an idiot, Tully shook his head. “No. Sorry.” He stuck out his hand. “Bradford Tolliver. Tully.”
Sage had big hands, rough with calluses. “Sage Filling. Obviously.” He smiled uneasily and, as soon as their handshake ended, rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m just gonna—”
“Come on in.” Tully picked up the suitcase, waited for Sage to enter with the duffel, and then shut the door.
But Sage stopped in the small entryway. “Are you sure this is okay? Carrie can come on awful strong. It’s real hard to say no to her.”
“I’ve noticed. Was she always like that, or was it law school that ruined her?”
Sage had one of those crooked, boyish grins that never failed to make Tully a little weak in the knees. Tully had once spent time staring into a mirror, trying to cultivate a similar smile. But he ended up looking either demented or evil, so he gave it up. He had the feeling Sage came by his grin naturally.
“Carrie’s always been bossy,” Sage said. “When we were little, she ended up in charge of everyone at the kids’ table. She was class president every year too. I’m five years younger, and the teachers were still talking about her when I came along.”
“I’m not surprised.”
“Yeah. So, y’know, if she strong-armed you into this, I can figure something else out.”
Something else like what? Tully wanted to ask. If Sage had to pay Portland-area rent, he wouldn’t have any money left to send home to Hair Shaker. Tully didn’t want to be responsible for ruining the guy’s life.
“It’s fine. Really. I don’t mind. My place is pretty big.” Then he realized that it wasn’t exactly welcoming to have this conversation while huddled in the foyer, so he led the way into the living room. He waved his free arm. “See? It’s too big for one person, actually.”
Duffel still over his shoulder, Sage clomped to the windows and whistled when he got there. “Holy cow. Hell of a view.”
“Carrie and Leah have a good view too.” Their house was perched on stilts, which always made Tully slightly nervous. People kept saying that one of these days a big quake was going to hit the Pacific Northwest. Of course, he didn’t know if his building was any more tremorproof than their house, but at least the high-rise looked substantial.
Sage was still gazing through the glass. “Yeah. But yours is more close up to city stuff. Up in the hills, sometimes I could almost forget I was in a city. The view’s almost like a painting, you know? It’s real here. I can make out the model of every car going over those bridges.”
“Is that a good thing?”
“Dunno.” Sage turned his head to look at Tully, then turned back. “Your apartment’s closer to work. I can walk from here. Saves me gas money. Uh, Carrie said to ask you about parking.”
“Where are you parked now?”
“Metered spot down the street.”
“Well, let’s finish the tour and get you settled before you get a ticket. I have a space downstairs you can use.”
“It won’t put you out?”
His condo had originally been two smaller units. Someone had torn down the wall and made one big unit, which meant Tully got double the space, plus double the parking and double the storage in the basement. “No, it’s fine. I have an extra.”
There was that grin again. “Thanks, man.”
The condo had three bedrooms. Tully slept in the biggest one. The second one was, at least nominally, an office, although he preferred to work on the living room couch. The office contained a large expensive desk and several bookcases but no bed. That left the third bedroom for Sage. Tully called it the guest room even though no guest had used it yet. It was at the opposite end of the condo from the master bedroom, which was probably good for both privacy and peace.
“You have your own bathroom,” Tully said as he set the suitcase on the floor beside the bed. “Not much in the way of furniture, though.”
Sage looked around and shrugged. “All I need is a bed and a place for my clothes. This is great.”
“Okay, good. Want to see the rest of the place?”
They almost bumped into each other when they reached the doorway, which led to a slightly awkward shuffle. Sage finally stopped the dance with a hand on Tully’s arm and a wave toward the door. “After you,” he said, smiling.
They both gaped in surprise at Tully’s abrupt—and wholly unintentional—announcement. Then Tully winced and broke the silence. “Did Carrie mention that? It’s not going to be a problem, is it?”
“I didn’t have a problem with Carrie and Leah being gay.”
“Yeah, but they’re women. I’m, um, not.”
Sober-faced, Sage shook his head. “We’ve heard of gay men in Hair Shaker. Might even have a few. I don’t think I’ll be too scandalized to function.”
Tully felt like an asshole for seeming to imply that Sage was too much of a hick to be open-minded. Yet he blundered onward. “I might have guys over sometimes. For sex.” Which was a bit of an exaggeration since he didn’t hook up often, and when he did, he didn’t bring his dates home. And it was also one of the most idiotic declarations he’d ever made.
The corners of Sage’s mouth twitched. “If you’re planning to do any kinky shit in the middle of the living room, leave a sock on the apartment doorknob and I’ll go away for a couple hours, okay?”
“I’m not into kinky,” Tully mumbled.
“Well, all right, then.” Sage sighed. “Look, it’s your home and you’re doing me a huge favor. Your sex life is none of my business. Besides, I work nights, so I’ll probably never be around when you’re… getting busy.”
Tully nodded, then led them out of the bedroom and down the hall. He quickly showed Sage the office, the master bedroom, the half bath near the living room, and the laundry room. They ended up in the kitchen, where Sage gave another impressed whistle. “You could run a decent little restaurant from here.” He ran a hand over the granite countertop with the same reverence another man might stroke a sports car. “And Gaggenau appliances. Nice.”
“The condo came with them. I don’t really use them.”
Sage scrutinized him for a moment, then walked over to inspect the cooktop. “Carrie said you don’t cook much.”
After glancing at Tully as if asking for permission, Sage opened the refrigerator doors. “Man, you’ve got an eight-thousand-dollar fridge, and it’s empty.”
“There’s beer,” Tully responded, feeling defensive. “And condiments.”
“If you consider a bottle of yellow mustard a condiment, yeah.” Sage closed the doors and leaned back against a counter. “Maybe we oughtta be clear on the rules. What you do and don’t want me to do.”
Terms and conditions. Excellent. Tully was good at those. “Do you want me to write them down? An oral agreement’s usually not used for real estate transactions, but I think we can just—”
“You can just tell me.”
“Okay. Um, the bedroom and bathroom are all yours. Treat the rest of the condo as your home too, except my bedroom. I’ll get you a key and make sure the concierges know you live here. We’ll arrange parking. Oh, and there’s an access code for the gym and pool. Remind me to get that to you.”
“Pool?” Sage asked with a slight shake of his head.
“Yeah. It’s next to the gym. I think they keep the chlorine levels a little too high, but goggles can help if you’re sensitive.”
“Not much of a swimmer. But what do you want from me?” Sage sounded wary, as if he thought Tully might expect something unreasonable.
“I don’t know. Um, keep the noise down late at night. Maybe warn me if a girlfriend’s going to spend the night.”
Sage snorted. “No worries about that. I don’t have a girlfriend.”
Tully shrugged. “Maybe you’ll find one. You’re a good-looking guy.” Oops. He hadn’t meant to say that. He forced a chuckle, as if he’d been making a joke, but Sage clearly didn’t buy it. He gave Tully a long considering look before glancing away.
“How do you want me to earn my keep?” Sage asked.
“You could do some light cleaning, I guess. I have a maid service, but they’re just once a month.”
“I can do that. Doesn’t look like you need it much, though.”
This time Tully’s laugh was genuine. “I’m a little neater than Carrie and Leah. But things still get dusty.”
“Got it. I’m your houseboy. You want me to cook too? That was supposed to be my deal with Carrie.”
“You wouldn’t mind? I mean, you cook at work, and—”
“I don’t mind. It’s what I love. Besides, I’m kinda jonesing to be set loose in your kitchen. I want to see what these babies can do.” He patted the stovetop fondly.
“Then it’s all yours.”
Sage looked delighted. “Perfect.”