Chapter 1

 

THE FIRST time Julian met Zachary, he was hungover. Julian was. Not Zachary. Zachary stood at Julian’s door, holding a box of legal files, beaming like the sun itself.

Julian had been hungover before, but this was different. Well, okay, it was the same, just… a whole lot worse. He felt like poop on whole wheat. No, worse than that. Like microwaved poop on stale sourdough. Road-kill skunk lined his mouth, and he wrinkled his nose, refusing to experience what he smelled like. Julian’s brain was booting up slowly. The man on his front step kept staring. More than that, his gold, brown, blue—whatever-the-fuck-color eyes—looked Julian over with a raised brow.

Retreating from the bright light pouring through the doorway, Julian ran a hand raggedly through his hair. Something crusty embedded under his nail and he lowered his hand in disgust. Julian grabbed the doorframe as the world spun, and he struggled to focus on the box in the man’s hands with the law firm’s imprint on the side. Must be a messenger. Although why he was standing at the door to Julian’s apartment at fuck all too early on a Sunday to drop off files was beyond him.

He took a step back and mumbled, “Okay. Bring ’em in.”

The man walked up the last two stairs with a lively step. Julian rubbed the inches of crud covering his eyes.

Oh. The guy was as tall as an oak tree. Built like one too. Julian took in the wide shoulders, thick biceps, muscled torso narrowing down to slim hips. And miles of legs swishing past him.

Instinctively, Julian pulled his T-shirt down straighter. He wished he could surreptitiously poke his nose under his arm to see how horrid he smelled, but there likely wasn’t a smooth way to do that. Instead, he closed his eyes with a sigh. Maybe if he didn’t see the other man, the other man wouldn’t see him?

A very loud thump made his eardrums vibrate. The messenger had placed the box on his kitchen counter. Why couldn’t absurdly toned strangers deliver things on days Julian was part of the human race? Another boom pulsated throughout the room. Was the guy practicing marching?

That’s when Julian noticed that the messenger had pushed the counter stool out of the way to make room for the large box. Note to self: buy those felt pads to put under the chair feet so they skim across the hardwood. Gliding was a lovely sound.

“This okay?” Julian flinched at the sudden deep voice. It sounded way too loud and was competing with the jackhammer currently crushing his skull. Dark, floppy, too long bangs framed a chiseled gold-bronze face. Julian fought a grimace and nodded that the placement of the box was fine.

The returning smile was even shinier than the one he’d gotten at the door.

And, fuck. Dimples.

After walking toward the admittedly quite lovely human tree in his living room, Julian opened the box to see what the hell couldn’t wait until tomorrow. The Peterson case. Dammit, he should have guessed this was Brian Fowler’s prized class action suit. The senior partner was obsessed with winning, and days of the week meant nothing in pursuit of his goal.

As Julian inhaled, his own intake of air roared like a wind machine to his poor ears. A pad with scribbled notes sat atop the stacks of paperwork, and he poked at it, dreading how many hours of his precious Sunday he’d have to give up.

Being a paralegal was causing a serious crimp in Julian’s real life. Yeah, the goddamn sixty hours a week he gave the bastards didn’t leave a whole lot of time for his music.

Same old bitch. Day job and eating or writing songs and starving…. Food and shelter coming out on top for a while now. So let’s face it, Julian. This. Is your real life.

“I’m Zachary Fierro.” The beanstalk held out a hand, startling Julian away from his inner monologue. “Brian Fowler wants us to work together on this case.”

Fuck. What? The messenger was assigned to the firm’s largest case?

“I thought… you were just delivering the files? You’re a messenger?”

Zachary tilted his head, looking Julian over lazily before smirking bemusedly. “Yes. I am delivering files, but I’m not a messenger.” He spoke slowly, like he wanted to ensure he was understood. Worse, like he was very aware of Julian’s mentally compromised state. “I’m Brian’s new paralegal.”

What?

When did that happen? Julian was Brian’s paralegal. Well, most of the time because the other senior partners would also pull him into their cases. Truth was, Julian wasn’t even really certified as a paralegal. His incredible organization skills, elephant-scale memory and, oddly, the way you think, made the senior lawyers appreciate him. Whatever. It didn’t really matter to Julian; it was just a job. It wasn’t like his music. His songs were his life.

Yes, the law firm job was necessary to pay the bills. So what did it mean that Brian had hired this new guy? Now he had to worry about keeping a job he didn’t even really want but had to have. Zachary coughed, the sound bouncing around the living room until Julian’s head felt like it was crushed between two stones.

Fuck, my life sucks so very much right now.

Zachary chose that moment to smile again, showing off straight white teeth. Julian ran his tongue across his own furry-feeling teeth and fought nausea at the taste again. Crap, he was such a muddled mess. Imagine the impression he was making. No, best not to think on that at all. It would lead down a very bad rabbit hole of mind-crushing despair. Best to find out if the tall guy was replacing him at Harrison, Kim, and Fowler. Get the bad news over with.

But before Julian could ask anything further, Zachary took a short step toward Julian and extended his hand. “We were never introduced. I started last week. Zachary Fierro.”

Julian blinked. Hadn’t Zachary already said his name? It took yet another few seconds of standing stock-still, fighting back the queasiness, and realizing that when someone put their hand out, it usually meant something.

Christ, could I get any more pathetic? He shook Zachary’s hand, saying lamely, “Julian Wallace.”

“Julian,” Zachary said slowly, like he was twirling Julian’s name around his tongue.

Zachary’s grip was firm, but not obnoxiously so. And given how huge his hand was, Julian had no doubt crushing was not beyond his ability.

Zachary flexed his hand, and Julian realized he’d forgotten to let go of Zachary’s palm, but then thought maybe it was just not to fall flat on his face because, really, his legs were starting to get wobbly all over again.

“You look like you could use an aspirin. Or four. Rough night?”

“I guess. Don’t remember all that—” Something hit his slipper. Fuck. Was that dried vomit on his T-shirt? Christ, he was an abysmal disaster. Looking down he confirmed that, yes, he was wearing pajama bottoms. Although, they, too, were… well, it was too vile to contemplate. This wasn’t his usual style. Not that he had a particular style of pajamas. Although he did own one lovely pair in dove-gray silk. But no. He was digressing again. If he ever spoke with Gabe again, he was going to tear him a new one for getting him in this state.

Brief interlude of semicoherency passing, Julian wondered what he was supposed to do with the handsome coworker standing in his living room.

“Dude, maybe you should go grab a shower. I can get us some breakfast in the interim?”

“I stink.”

Zachary laughed at the profoundness of Julian’s statement. “Yeah. You really do.”

Was this funny? Ugh. Had Zachary mentioned food? Nononono. Food evil. Coffee good.

“I’ll get us some coffee too.”

Mind reading? Julian was open-minded about superpowers. After all, there were more things between heaven and earth than you can sneeze at or whatever it was Shakespeare penned.

“Dude, you asked for coffee. Aloud. I’m not reading your mind. You really need a shower. Go. I’ll be back.”

“Back where?”

“What?”

“What what?”

Zachary’s lips curved. “Never mind, Julian. Get yourself together. I’ll see you soon.”

The tree disappeared out the door with a small head shake.

 

 

JULIAN DOWNED three aspirin on the way into the shower. The second the water touched his discombobulated body, he started to feel slightly less amphibian. By the time he’d finished lathering and rinsing his hair, he’d worked up the evolutionary scale all the way to small mammal.

He remembered tequila. And his best friend, Gabe, vaguely. Nick had been there as well. They’d been playing music. Shit. He really hoped he hadn’t gotten vomit on his guitar. He might have to off himself if he did that and then hide the body because he’d be too ashamed to let anyone attend the funeral.

It took two scrubbings, but eventually whatever had plastered to his skin peeled off. He brushed his teeth again because it seemed like a good idea. Mouthwash came next, and after swishing his tongue around his mouth and sensing only minty coolness, he arrived back to nearly human on the food chain—if you didn’t count the electric drill in his skull. An improvement from jackhammer, but still a pretty effective reminder of his idiocy.

Slipping on sweats and an old but mercifully clean T-shirt, he eyed his disheveled bed with revulsion. It was rank, with regurgitated bits of yesterday’s meal making his stomach heave dangerously. Thankfully, the blanket seemed uncontaminated, and he shoved it to the floor. He pulled off the sheets and scrunched them up tight. Holding the bundle up by the tips of his fingers, he threw his clothes from last night into the pile. Weren’t worth washing. Too gross. He popped into the kitchen for a garbage bag, tied the mess up, then dumped everything into the garbage can outside.

Donning thick plastic gloves, Julian got down to work, quickly wiping down the bathroom with his favorite homemade cleaning mixture of water and vinegar, then tackled the few speckles of brown on his white grout with an old toothbrush despite his having gone over it the day before during his weekly Saturday bathroom scouring. You couldn’t keep it gleaming without concerted effort.

The doorbell rang, and Julian stopped halfway through fluffing the pillows on his newly made bed.

Now what? Sundays were made for newspapers and coffee. Which he hadn’t even had a chance to make yet!

Oh shit, he’d forgotten—Zachary stood holding another box of legal files upon which he balanced a large paper bag and two cardboard cups. A curious head tilt met Julian’s openmouthed stare. He was struggling to form a coherent sentence when his nose took over.

“Coffee?”

Grin widening, Zachary replied, “Guess you could still use some, eh?” He walked in, put the file box on the kitchen counter next to its twin, then held out a lidded coffee cup. “Didn’t know how you took it—got creamers and sugar in the bag.”

“Black,” Julian said, grabbing it from Zachary’s hands.

Zachary did the slow glance thing again. “You clean up good.”

Julian’s face warmed. If his brain was totally operational, he might think that was a flirt.

Coffee. It would all make sense postcaffeination. A long, slow sip later he heard some sort of moaning noise coming out of him. Didn’t care. Fuck, he needed this.

Two more swallows later, he looked up as Zachary pulled his own cup away from his mouth, smirk in place. “Don’t think I ever pleased anyone as much without touching them.” Then as if realizing what he’d said, Zachary looked down bashfully.

Okay. That was definitely a flirt, albeit a little awkward. His nose started twitching again. Now that his own stench wasn’t in the way, he realized the living room smelled good, like coffee and… whatever scent Zachary was wearing. Alarm bells rang because Julian definitely should not be noticing Zachary’s scent. He shook his head in a manner he hoped didn’t look like a dog coming out of the rain and uttered, “I, um, more files?”

Zachary nodded. “There’s more in my car.”

“Crap.”

“They finally sent the email records. Brian wants us to categorize, sort, and give him anything pertinent.”

“Five years’ worth?” Julian asked, not quite comprehending Zachary’s perkiness at this request.

“Yeah. I was hoping you could help me bring up the rest. Now that you seem able to stand, that is.” A twitch lifted Zachary’s cheek.

Julian nodded but then noticed the bag Zachary had placed on the counter, and it stole his thoughts away from emails. Was it from his favorite bakery? Zachary saw where he was staring.

“I didn’t know what you liked, so I bought one of each.” He held the bag open for Julian to peer inside.

Wow. The sweet smell of still warm muffins assaulted him, and his mouth watered. He caught Zachary looking at him. The light had shifted in the room, and Zachary’s eyes appeared darker now yet still a soft shade. Teddy-bear brown. Okay, Julian was officially losing it. Lingering hangover insanity. What else could explain this? Stop staring, he told himself.

Except it appeared his words weren’t as silent as Julian had imagined. “I’m sorry,” Zachary said earnestly.

Shit.

“I didn’t mean—” He yanked open a cupboard, pulled out some paper plates for the muffins, and handed one to Zachary. Nabbing an oversized cranberry muffin for himself, he plopped onto the sofa, normal decorum abandoned on account of yesterday’s tequila insanity. Zachary followed hesitantly, perched as primly as his large stature allowed.

Julian took a bite, remembering to swallow before speaking. “I’m sorry, dude. I’m not running on all cylinders yet today. You weren’t staring. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.” Zachary laughed, but it sounded uncharacteristically nervous. Which was nuts because he didn’t know Zachary and couldn’t possibly know what characteristic meant for him. “I tend to do that sometimes. You’re not the only one to tell me to stop it.”

“You stare at people?”

Zachary broke eye contact. “Sometimes.”

Julian sensed embarrassment. There wasn’t anything to say to that. “Thanks for breakfast,” he blurted, finally remembering his manners. “What do I owe you?”

“Nothing. It’s on me. You can get it next time.” With the change in subject, the dimples reappeared. “So, how long have you been with Harrison, Kim, and Fowler?”

“Almost a year. Work’s tedious, but the pay is steady. Was a great gig till they assigned me to the Peterson case. Brian’s the youngest person ever to become senior partner. Guy’s a machine. Never stops.”

Zachary chuckled. “Yeah, I hear you. But I love his enthusiasm. All the folks I’ve met so far, for that matter, are just so dedicated. ’S what makes them good, y’know?”

“I prefer their enthusiasm Monday through Friday and not Sunday morning.” He stopped and turned a puzzled glance toward Zachary, something about the way he’d slurred “you know” making his heart ache in familiarity. “Texas?”

“San Antonio,” Zachary confirmed, voice rising in surprise. “Why?”

“Dallas born and bred. Family’s still there.”

“Mine’s still in Texas too, man. I couldn’t hear it in you. Usually I can. How long have you been in DC?”

“A year. Lived in Los Angeles before that. And Portland before that. And Idaho before that. But that was a mistake.”

“Idaho?”

“Long story. Not even a funny story. Just long. How about yourself?”

“I’m boring compared to you. I lived at home, and now I live here.”

“What brought you here?”

“Law school. Georgetown U.”

Whoa. Top school. Dude must be crazy smart. Well, it explained his snappy attitude over having to work on a Sunday. Great, now aside from overzealous Brian and the rest of the partners, Julian would have to deal with this huge, overgrown puppy getting high over a bunch of stupid emails. Couldn’t he have been paired up with a schlub just doing a job like himself?

Zachary frowned. “You seem disappointed.”

“What? No. That’s great. It’s a great school. Good—good for you.” Dammit, was he always this fucking transparent with everyone? No wonder his only friends were semi-alcoholics.

“Is it the legal profession in general, then, that you have issue with?”

“No. Lawyers are great, make this town run and keep me fed. Can’t complain.”

A soft spring breeze ruffled the curtains, and the shadows painted a pinkish swatch across the apartment’s white walls. The sunlight filtering into the room turned Zachary’s eyes golden. It was neat how they matched his complexion now.

Zachary pulled his hair back with a quick swipe. Nervous habit, maybe. Or he could have felt warm. It was getting hotter. The gesture was futile, as Zachary’s long bangs just fell forward again and framed his angular cheekbones. He had a really nice face.

“We should go get the rest of the boxes.”

The words broke through Julian’s fog. Christ. He’d been staring. Ogling. This wasn’t… no way. The last fucking thing he needed was to fall for someone. Nononono.

The accompanying headshake clearly gave Julian away because Zachary asked innocently, “You don’t want to get them now?”

He was so screwed.

 

 

GABE EYED him doubtfully. “Nobody is as tall as a tree. Are we talking basketball player?”

“I don’t know. No. I guess not that tall—doesn’t matter. You’re missing the point.”

After Zachary had finally left Sunday evening, Julian immediately begged Gabe to come over, needing to talk this through. Because the staring. Hadn’t stopped.

“You sorted emails through a hangover. I feel for you, dude, I do. That’s no way to fight a headache. But it’s not the end of the world either.”

Gabe rose to grab a beer from the fridge and rummaged in the upper kitchen cabinets for a snack. There wasn’t much. Eventually he settled on Cap’n Crunch cereal and plopped back down on the sofa, popping handfuls into his mouth straight from the box.

“I stared.”

“Excuse me?” Gabe sputtered, spraying cereal bits.

“I stared. You know it always starts that way. And I smelled him.”

Gabe twisted his face in disgust. “Too much sharing, dude.”

“No. I didn’t mean it like that…. We didn’t. See, it’s happening. It always starts this way. I’m getting incoherent. Soon I’ll make no fucking sense at all, and then—you gotta save me, man.”

“Save you?”

“You can’t let me fall for him.”

“And how am I supposed to do that?” Gabe stopped eating cereal long enough to pull a band off his wrist and tie his long hair back. He regarded Julian with sympathetic humor, lips twitching.

“I….” Julian had no idea. All he knew for certain was that this—crush, flirtation, all-consuming volcanic-level desire—had all the makings of an epic romance. Only it would not end well. And he really didn’t feel like moving. Again.

“Julie, you’re tying yourself in knots for no reason. How do you even know he’s into you? Maybe he’s straight.”

Julian merely stared at his friend.

“Oh, right. The ‘gaydar’ thing.”

“It works. I’m almost always right.”

“Freak.”

Julian moaned. Gabe meant well, but he wasn’t helping solve the problem.

“Just screw around and lose his number. Doesn’t have to turn into anything with musical swells.”

“Gabe. You’re forgetting something. This isn’t just a bar pickup. I work with the guy. If we…. Not that we are. No way. But if…. I’d have to see him. Every day.”

It played like a film in his mind. The initial whisper of a kiss. A fantastic first date with a fine meal, steak or maybe perfectly cooked burgers shared in a wood-drenched pub. Delightful conversation and time passing in that way that was at once a blink and all of eternity. Months of dating bliss. And then. Boom. Sorry, Julian, it’s not you, it’s me. How would he stand it? He’d have to quit the firm and move away. Dammit, he was tired of starting over. What if Gabe didn’t come along next time? He’d followed Julian three times already. And Gabe and Nick, their band, The Last Cowboys, were doing well here playing the bars. Shit.

Zachary was trouble. Smart and funny and gorgeous. Lethal. Julian absolutely couldn’t fall for him.

Gabe was looking at him oddly. Like he was reading his mind. Could everyone read his mind?

“Make yourself unwantable.”

“Not sure if that’s possible.” Gabe raised one eyebrow at that. Julian scoffed. “No. I don’t mean I’m God’s gift to men or anything. It’s just that this morning, I looked like death, warmed over, dumped in hell, and regurgitated. And Zachary still showed, um, interest.”

Letting out a hearty chuckle, Gabe said, “Your boy doesn’t sound too picky.” He slapped Julian’s knee. “Maybe if he thought you were unavailable, he’d back off.”

Could work. Zachary had that Texas honorable thing going on, was part of the charm. He wouldn’t go after Julian if he thought Julian was taken. Julian was suddenly certain of that.

But there was no one. Other than the occasional one-nighter, Julian had avoided any real relationship since moving here from Los Angeles. Because his LA entanglement had worked out so well.

“How would I make him believe I’m seeing someone when there’s no one….” Julian locked eyes with Gabe. His gaze lingered a long while, growing from puzzling to begging.

“No. No fucking way.”

“Gabe. Please. We wouldn’t have to do anything. Maybe just hold hands or something.”

“You’re out of your fucking mind. I do girls, remember? Different team.”

“I like it here, Gabe. I want to stay. Write my songs. Have you sing my songs. I don’t want—it always goes to hell if I get romantically involved with someone. You know that. How many times have you picked up what was left of me? I’m not cut out for these things. I get too close and then….”

Gabe took a long swig of his beer. “This is ridiculous. You’ve known this guy one day. So you stared at him. Big fucking deal.”

“He stared back.”

Gabe snorted. “Yeah. No kidding. What gay guy wouldn’t stare at you? Fuck. Half the straight guys do too. You’re freak-of-nature pretty, Jules. It don’t mean nothin’. You’re letting your imagination go wild. Calm down. Play it cool around him. Like you’re not interested. He’ll back off.”

Julian tried to absorb Gabe’s words. It sounded simple, but it wasn’t. Not for Julian. Some people went their whole lives never connecting with anyone. That wasn’t Julian’s problem. He attached easily, fell hard and fast and deep. Same way every time, with the same disastrous results. They said they loved him back. Until they didn’t.

“Okay. But if I need you, would you at least consider it?”

“You really want me to play gay for you?”

Julian nodded. Gabe was his best friend. Had been forever. And yeah, this was the craziest thing he’d ever asked of him. But it was self-preservation at its purest.

Fuck,” Gabe drawled. And Julian knew that at least he had a way out of ruin if his instinct about Zachary proved true.

 

 

“GREAT WORK, guys! This is fantastic. We’re gonna bury those bastards.” Brian pressed his lips together, edges rising like a jackal’s. He rose from the desk chair of his spacious office to pace the length of it, his reflection moving like a stalking twin within the dark open expanse of the window. The offices were emptying out as the evening grew late. Julian and Zachary had spent the last several hours in Brian’s office, poring over the emails they’d flagged for the Peterson Pharmaceutical class action case, showcasing those that were especially damaging to the other side. The sun had long set, and the streetlamps created gilded swaths across the side of the office building. The light changed Zachary’s eyes to highlight the blue in his irises, the pupils disappearing in their depths in a captivating manner.

Julian forced his attention back to his boss. He knew Brian would like the emails they’d uncovered. All of him ached from the late nights they’d spent reviewing the discovery paperwork. Hadn’t left him time for anything else. He rubbed his neck, working out the stiffness till he heard a disturbing pop. Man, he needed to sleep for a month.

“Fucking great!” Brian cried. “We’re gonna crucify them.” Julian considered Brian—a lean, African-American man with cut-glass cheekbones, broad shoulders, and a disarming smile, Brian was about as tall as Zachary, not quite, but about. Zachary sat on the opposite chair from Julian. In an office typically dominated by a highly successful, good-looking man, Zachary stood out like a candle in the black of night.

He just lit up the damn room.

Their eyes met, and Zachary’s lips quirked up in a small smirk at Brian’s naked killer instincts. Look away. Look away. Look away. Zachary’s skin had this warm golden tone that bespoke his Hispanic heritage, and there were these faint moles on his face that….

“…schedule the depositions starting next week.” Brian stopped his pacing and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Peterson Pharmaceutical’s got that big-gun firm on their side. Probably isn’t a big pharma they don’t represent. So, I don’t want to give them the home court advantage when we depose their employees. Our offices just aren’t going to impress—let’s book a suite at the Ritz. Neutral ground. And of course, record everything. Julian? You got that?”

Crap, he’d been staring at Zachary. Again. Dammit. “Um—”

“Yeah. We’ll take care of it.” Zachary rescued him.

Julian mouthed a quick thanks, but Zachary’s attention was still on Brian.

“Set the suite up as a command center for the duration. We’ll need transcripts after each interview. Zach, I’ll need you for brief prep. Jules, I want you on research. They’re lying. Those people got sick after taking that drug, and we’ve got the start of evidence that they knew more than they were letting on. Now let’s prove it. I’m shifting some projects around so Kat is at your disposal as well. Jack too, if you need him. Harrison really wants these guys. So let’s get to work.” Brian glanced at his watch. “Damn. I’m late for an appointment.” He looked at the two of them. “You don’t mind cleaning up on your own?”

Julian could only agree amicably as Brian walked out with a quick thanks, and Julian was left with a desk full of sorted emails, some with bright red flags, and six-foot-four inches of pure attraction. He shook his head slightly. He was stronger than this. He’d turned down lots of pretty faces. This was just another one.

Maybe Gabe was right. Maybe Zachary wasn’t even into him at all and this was just a silly one-way crush that would lead to nothing.

“So, looks like we’ll be joined at the hip for a while.”

You know, it wasn’t the words. Anybody could say that and it could come out whining, could sound matter-of-fact, maybe even bored. However, Zachary said it like he just found out Santa Claus was real.

His eyes locked back on Julian, moving slowly over his body, doing that not-sure-where-to-land-first thing, and Julian felt the heat first in his face and then considerably lower. “Um. Yeah. Looks like.”

“Hey. Don’t look so sad. Could be fun.”

Julian’s mouth instinctively twisted. “Working 24-7. Sure. Loads.”

Zachary’s voice deepened, smooth like honey pouring into tea. “Hey, what’s wrong?”

Releasing a soft sigh, Julian admitted, “I haven’t been able to get to anything except work and now, well, it’ll just be impossible. It’s frustrating because I was right in the middle of working something out.”

“Working something out?” Zachary questioned.

“Yeah, a song.”

Zachary crossed one leg over the other and rested his elbow on his thigh, leaning his cheek against his hand. “Tell me about your song.”

Julian’s facial muscles relaxed as his lips curved up involuntarily. “It was soft. Remember the rain about three weeks ago? Well. No. You probably don’t because who would remember a random rain shower from weeks ago. But. It fell real soft that Saturday, and I was walking. That’s when I saw it.”

“What?”

“What what?”

“What did you see?” Zachary studied him intently, peering into Julian as if he was made of glass. Before Julian could reply, Zachary inexplicably already knew the answer. “You see music.”

Julian blinked in surprise. “Yeah. It’s… how I work.” He ducked his head and colored slightly. “Know it sounds odd.”

“So you’re a songwriter. And you’re a musician too?”

“I play guitar. Sometimes I perform with my friends.”

Zachary startled at that. “Yeah?”

“I… um… I sing my songs.”

Lighting up like a Christmas tree was the only expression Julian had for what was happening to Zachary’s face. “Wow. I—you think maybe I could come hear you one day?”

“What?”

Zachary almost fell into it but caught himself in time, lips twitching. “I’d love to come see you perform. Let me know next time, please?” Zachary’s gaze didn’t waver, twinkling like a lily pond on a moonlit night. “I want to hear what the rain showed you.”

Internal alarms sounded like a cat’s paws against glass. This was exactly how it started: Julian’s stupid unrestricted sharing. Then the other person seemed like he cared. And that led to the caring back and the mind-blowing sex, and it was all unbearably good. Until whatever it was about Julian kicked in that made the other person want to stomp on his heart until it lay pulverized on the ground.

He was so very royally screwed.