Chapter One

 

 

ALEX NOBLE stared out his windshield as he pulled around to the back of the center and frowned. He hated not having help for deliveries like this, but since this was a personal donation, not a work-related one, he had to get along without. Of course, if his employer knew what he did every Saturday, Alex was certain he would support him, if not actually assist in some way. However, this was his gift to the center—a place he wished had existed when he was younger. Despite prejudice and the threat of limited funds, he hoped the center Cynthia Jazz and Kyle Corbin fought to build would make it.

Alex hopped out of the van, noting the teens over on the court playing three-on-three. Deciding not to interrupt their game, he opened the van’s sliding side door and started unloading items for the kitchen in the shelter part of the center. On his third trip, he was startled when a police cruiser pulled up next to his van. He hadn’t noticed any commotion, so he wondered what a cop was doing there, especially on an otherwise quiet Saturday morning.

With a shrug, Alex decided to brush off the cop’s presence and finish moving his supplies into the kitchen. Then he would begin the colossal task of creating a “home-cooked meal” for all the teens, young adults, and adults that would flow into the dining hall later that day. Gathering up the last few bags, Alex turned and shoved the sliding door shut with a nudge of one slender hip.

Again hip checking the button that would open the door without the use of his hands, Alex heard the thud and jingling of someone running up behind him. Tensing—the instinctive fear of who it was and what they wanted unnerving him completely—Alex spun around to confront the unknown person coming up on him fast. Instead of an attacker or one of the teens he had seen playing ball, it was the most gorgeous man, cop, Alex had ever laid eyes on. The stranger came to a halt in front of him.

Alex gasped, both frightened and entranced. His heart raced as he tried not to stare or shrink back. Neither option seemed wise right then.

The handsome man took a quick step backward, though, raising his hands up in a gesture Alex assumed was meant to calm. A small smile touched his lips, and what luscious lips they were. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you, but I think you’re who I’m supposed to be meeting here today.”

Alex tilted his head to the side as he took in the man before him. The sea-green eyes held such sincerity that he was intrigued, though the beefy arms, nearly half a foot in height he had on Alex, dark auburn hair, and adorable freckles dusted across his nose and upper cheeks nearly distracted him from what the man said.

“Why are you hunting for me?” Alex straightened up, trying not to let his lust show through in tone or stance. He knew most male cops were not appreciative of being hit on by other men, and he didn’t need any problems, though he was sure he could just stand there and stare for days and not get tired of gazing at the one before him.

“Are you Alex?”

An odd look passed over the cop’s chiseled face as he continued to stare. “Um, Alexander James Noble?”

“Yes, but I don’t know why I need a cop,” Alex snapped. Being rude usually wasn’t his thing, but cops worried him. In his experience, they always seemed to back the wrong people. Unbidden, his thoughts flashed back to the last time he was attacked for being gay—they let the attackers go and took him in instead. They’d released him immediately, but still….

“My name is Dal Sayer, and Mrs. Jazz wanted me to speak with you about the big dance next month. My brother and I are volunteering as security. She said you had keys and could show me the layout and such,” the cop explained, his words rushing out, his cheeks flushing lightly. Too freaking adorable!

“Oh, um, sure. Here, let me set this stuff down inside, and I’ll show you around a little.”

Alex turned and led Dal into the large stainless steel kitchen. “Cops as security? Here? What is she thinking?” he groused under his breath as he sat the last of the bags on one of the long wooden counters.

“Take it you don’t like cops much,” Dal said, an odd note in his deep, yet gentle, voice. He almost sounded sad, or maybe disappointed.

“Sorry,” Alex said, hating how easily his face flushed. Being a light-skinned black person meant it was always very obvious. “I. It. Um, never mind. Please forget I said that.” Giving Dal his best smile, he cleared his throat and tried again. “I’m glad they’re going to have security for the dance. Chaperones are great, but someone a little more butch and beefy might do well to stop any potential problems before they can even start.”

Dal’s booming laugh startled him out of his daydreams of winning such a man’s interest.

Alex realized that not only was he flirting, but he had been staring again. Quickly averting his eyes, he focused on where the keys sat and on not stumbling.

“Give me a min, ’kay?” He put the cold things away in the large industrial fridge before wiping his hands down the thighs of his dark jeans as he fought a serious case of nerves. Alex looked back up to face Dal, swallowing hard as he struggled to keep his voice even and firm. “Officer, let me show you the main areas, and then I’ll leave you to do whatever it is you need to do for party planning and security things while I get ready for later.”

“Dal, please. I’m not here in an official capacity.” The gentle curve of his sensual lips drew Alex’s eyes and held him captive until Dal cleared his throat.

“Dal.”

“Thanks, Alex.”

He simply nodded, not trusting himself not to make a fool of himself right then.

Showing Dal around didn’t take long. The large gym area they intended to use for the dance already held some of the decorations—they were all set to one side. The area had wood floors and high ceilings. Once decorated and with the music going, Alex was certain the kids would have a blast.

“The restrooms are down the hall here. You might have issues with smoking and, well, kids getting a little too friendly in there or out back. All the side rooms will be locked, so you won’t have to worry about those. Cynthia and Kyle are very strict about the kids respecting not only each other, but themselves too, so I doubt you should have too much trouble to handle.”

“Yes, she explained that, but something as simple as an ex trying to interfere with a new relationship can cause more than just hurt feelings. But don’t worry, we’re not here to cause problems or pass judgment. Rhys and I will only step in if it’s truly needed. All right?”

Alex nodded slowly. “Oh, okay.”

“I’ll have a look around and stop back by on my way out, if that works for you.”

“Cool. I’ll be, um, cooking. Bye.” Alex fled back to the kitchen, desperate to calm his heart and steady his nerves.

Once he put in his favorite mix and turned on the CD player, he got to work. Cooking always calmed him. Alex pulled out the pots, pans, and trays he would need. Setting the large mixing bowls down in his chosen baking area, he started measuring the ingredients for both cheddar-garlic biscuits and the crusty herbed garlic bread to go with the salad, pork and pot roasts, and various veggie dishes he planned for the day’s meal. After placing the tea towels over the bowls and setting them aside to rise, Alex cleaned up and headed toward the fridge to pull out the roasts. Each one got a dry rub before he put them back in the refrigerator to wait. He then danced over to the sink, washing his hands again, before heading for the baskets of fresh carrots, asparagus, onions, potatoes, greens, apples, and portabellas he’d brought.

A deep chuckle brought Alex out of his dancing and chopping. He spun around with a soft gasp, dropping the knife on the counter in the process, to find Dal, arms folded across his chest, resting against the doorframe, smirking at him. “Oh, no-no. Please don’t hold back on my account!”

Confused by the mix of lust and mortification running through him, Alex gaped at Dal. Snapping his mouth shut, he squinted his eyes, hands going to his slender hips. He huffed. “It’s my kitchen, and I can dance if I wanna.”

“Yes, you certainly may.” Dal winked and chuckled again. “I didn’t mean to disturb you. Just wanted to let you know I was done and heading out.”

“Oh,” Alex sighed, completely captivated by the sweet smile Dal was giving him. “Thank you. Did you find everything you needed?” Alex smiled, hoping it appeared flirtatious instead of nervous.

“I think I just might have,” Dal replied, voice deepening, eyes not moving from Alex’s.

Somehow the heat in that green stare made Alex wonder if there might be more to the simple statement than the specific words implied.

“Good. I’m glad, Officer.”

“Dal, please. And thank you, Alex.”

“Dal,” he barely got out. It sounded more like a whisper than anything. “You, you’re welcome.”

Dal opened his mouth to speak again, but the radio on his shoulder crackled to life, effectively cutting him off. He motioned Alex to keep quiet while he answered. Alex watched, fascinated at the change from shy, possibly flirting man to towering powerhouse as Dal became Officer Sayer in front of him. Alex bit his bottom lip, thinking unsexy thoughts to try to stave off his erection thanks to how hot Dal, both as a sexy man and delicious officer, made him.

Pulled out of his thoughts when Dal cleared this throat, Alex watched the sexy cop again. “I’ve got to go for now, Alex, but thanks for the tour. I hope to see you again. Soon,” Dal called to Alex as he looked back at him before hustling out the door.

Alex stood there staring at the spot where his fantasy man had just been, wishing he knew the man better or had some way to know how to run into him again.

Well, he thought, there’s always the dance….

 

 

“DAMMIT, DAL, what’s up with you today?” Rhys snapped at him. “You’ve lost count. Again.”

They were at the gym, and he knew he was supposed to be counting his reps while his big brother spotted him, but the most beautiful amber—flecked with small chips of gold and green—eyes he’d ever seen kept floating in front of him. Dal had always liked guys that were shorter, though he didn’t usually go for the more waif-like twinks like his brother. But then, he liked the delicate curves of a woman too—something his brother had never been interested in. Still, he needed to concentrate!

“Sorry. Maybe we should move on. I’m just not feeling it today.”

Rhys stared at him for a long moment. Dal knew he was being examined, but there was no way, he hoped, Rhys could know who had his mind and libido so distracted.

“How ’bout we call it a day and go grab a couple a beers?”

“Sure.” He flashed a grin as he sat up, grabbed his towel, and began wiping down the bench before standing and heading to clean up and change.

“Then you can tell me who’s got you all in a twist,” Rhys added once they were in the shower area, smirking as he dodged the towel Dal snapped at him.

“You know, you’re worse than mom with the gossip and busybody routine.” Dal grabbed his shower kit and walked off before Rhys could retaliate, as he was apt to do.

Once both men were clean and dressed, they headed to where their bikes were parked. Rhys’s black and chrome Harley Softail and his red Ducati Diavel stood out in a sea of generic cars and trucks in the parking lot.

“Meet me at Flanagan’s?”

Dal knew this was going to be unpleasant, but nodded and dutifully straddled his bike before heading out to their favorite pub on this side of town—probably in the entire metro area if he were honest.

By the time he arrived and got up the courage to go inside, Rhys had already grabbed two mugs of beer—Guinness for himself and a Murphy’s Stout for Dal—and snagged a corner booth. The grin he flashed told Dal just how serious his brother was about him spilling what was on his mind. He rolled his eyes, making sure Rhys saw him, and huffed as he flopped down on the other side of the booth.

“So dignified, Dal,” Rhys grumbled but smiled. “Now, take a couple a good pulls on your beer and tell me what’s got you so out of sorts. I haven’t seen you like this since….” Rhys bit the cuticle of his right thumb, seemingly lost in thought.

Taking a hearty gulp of his stout, Dal tried to think of a way to distract Rhys. “Ha, you just want to play yenta since your love life is so wonky right now. How is Chase, anyhow?”

Rhys’s green slit-eyed stare landed on him with a near-physical push. “I have no idea how Chase is. He works for me. Period.” Flexing his left hand repeatedly, Rhys stared down at his drink with what Dal knew was confusion and hurt.

He shouldn’t have asked that. He knew better. “Sorry, Rhys. That was low, even for me.”

Rhys looked up. His eyes seemed to clear as a small smile tugged at his lips. “It’s okay. But seriously. What’s really going on with you? Who is she? Or is it a he?” The last question came out so softly Dal barely heard it over the noise of the other patrons.

Dal looked his brother over a moment but decided that fighting with him over it wasn’t worth the headache, and well, he could use some advice. Maybe.

Dal lowered his gaze to the tabletop and breathed a deep sigh before he met Rhys’s eyes again. “His name is Alex. We’ve had roughly five minutes worth of conversation, most of which was about the upcoming dance you and I offered to bounce for. He’s, well, I don’t know what he is to the center. He was cooking when I was there, so I guess a cook or chef of some kind.”

“And by the soft tone of your voice and the glassy eyes, I’d say you’re smitten with him.” Rhys waited until Dal gave one tight nod to continue. “So, do you know anything about him? What’s he like? Do you want me to check him out?”

Dal’s head snapped up, glowering, or he hoped it was a death glare anyway. “You have enough man trouble, don’t you dare go hitting on Alex.” Dal could hear the growl in his voice but couldn’t care less. “He’s sweet and shy and has the most captivating amber eyes I’ve ever seen. His skin is so smooth it begs to be touched and is the most beautiful creamy cappuccino-like color.”

One side of Rhys’s lips turned up into a smirk. “So, he’s a pretty boy?”

“Yes. No. Ugh! Yes, he’s pretty, almost feminine in a way, yet all man at the same time. He’s the kind of person who would be beautiful and sexy either way, but he’s not like the kind of guys you usually go for and, just, you leave him alone.”

At that, Rhys let out a belly laugh the likes of which Dal hadn’t heard from his brother in a while. Not in a year or more, probably. “Don’t worry, I would never try to poach. You know better than that, little brother. But, what are you going to do about this Alex of yours?”

Dal couldn’t tell whether Rhys’s tone or the Cheshire cat grin plastered across his face annoyed him more, but he had no freakin’ clue what to do, so he settled for scowling at his brother. Not that it seemed to have any effect. Criminals, troubled teens, guys sitting in interrogation…. Sure, his “look” worked fine on them, but his brother? Nope! Besides, he hated the self-righteous look he was getting right then.

Finally, Rhys stopped grinning at him. “Fine, Dal, but I haven’t seen you interested in much of anyone in a long time. Not girl or guy, so yeah, if this guy is able to bring out your protective side like this after only five minutes, I’m going to say ‘hell yeah,’ go for it!”

“Rhys, I know nothing about him. I don’t think he likes cops much, considering he was initially hostile. I think that was more fear than anything, though, really, but no—” he grabbed Rhys’s free hand “—I do not want you to investigate him. Promise me, Rhys.”

Rhys waited a moment before grumbling but nodded his agreement.