Chapter One



“STOP!” JOE Taylor willed his young fellow worker to obey. Joe might only be twenty-eight, but he was in charge at this site, so his instruction would hopefully be followed.

“What?” The young apprentice looked up, his unprotected hands firmly gripping the steel rail he’d been about to help lift from the back of the truck onto the flat cart.

“Please wear your protective gloves, Pete.” Joe always tried to be polite first. He didn’t want to be criticized or yelled at, so he figured other people didn’t like it much either.

“Why? There’s no danger to my hands here.” Pete looked down as he loosened his hold and stroked the smooth edges of the rail, then glanced back up at Joe. “I can work much faster without the gloves. They only make me clumsy.”

“Sorry. Safety is more important than speed. And not just here and now, but whatever you’re working on.” Joe shook his head. Had he ever been that young and irresponsible?

“If you say so.” Pete frowned as he pulled the gloves from his back pocket and put them on. He was sort of cute, all muscles and eager enthusiasm to prove himself to his older teammates. He was probably as straight as they came. Most construction workers were. And trying to find out if they weren’t? Would likely result in a fist to Joe’s face. Not worth taking the risk.

“Ready?” Joe bent down and grabbed his end of the rail, lifting at the same time as Pete on the other side.

Getting the steel rails from the ground-floor delivery ramp over to the elevator shaft they were currently working on wasn’t difficult, but it was backbreaking work. Loading and unloading the heavy parts would give Joe time to assess what type of worker Pete was before they started the riskier stage of bolting the rails to the walls later in the week. Pete’s attempted refusal to wear gloves despite the safety briefing at the beginning of this job didn’t bode well.

Pete didn’t even blink as they loaded the heavy pieces onto the cart. He looked strong as an ox and, unlike Joe, clearly loved handling heavy equipment. Soon they were both covered in a layer of sweat as they found their rhythm of lifting, moving a few steps toward the flat cart, and dropping the rails.

Joe didn’t mind the hard work; it simply wasn’t his favorite part of the job. Not being as tall or strong as many of the guys he usually worked with on sites all over the country, Joe was still strong enough to do the job; ten years of physical labor since leaving high school had shaped his body well. But rather than installing new elevators, he was far more interested in making existing ones work efficiently or troubleshooting and fixing the ones that weren’t.

His boss at Elevators & Escalators, Donald Robinson, had laughed when Joe had mentioned his wishes, and told him he was good at what he did and that the company needed installers to do their jobs, not to think about what else they might like to do. Installing elevators was where the big money was, not in repair and maintenance, and since Donald was all about making the Philadelphia-based, family-owned company even bigger and more profitable than it already was, that ended up being what his employer specialized in.

“That’s enough for one trip.” Joe checked the heavy rails to make sure they were balanced properly so they wouldn’t fall off the cart. It was better to be safe than sorry. Delays and accidents cost time and money and weren’t something Donald appreciated. The human misery that might follow if they weren’t careful wasn’t something Joe appreciated. So he worked hard to avoid mistakes that might lead to irreversible consequences.

Pete helped him tie down the rails as an extra precaution. The ride in the freight elevator to the top level was short. Once they were on the fifth floor, he drove them across the enormous construction site that was going to be a new regional supermall in another six months. Joe knew his way around the place well enough by now, easily avoiding pitfalls such as the corridors waiting to have moving walkways installed.

“This the one?” Pete pointed at the first of two empty shafts.

Several team members milled around in complete disorganization, chatting while pretending to wait for instructions. Joe knew the pattern well. What they should have been doing was setting up the signs guarding the shafts. Other people working around the area, mainly on outfitting the stores, had to be made aware there were gaping holes in the floor.

“Yeah, we’ll start with that one,” Joe ground out, swallowing his anger. He turned to the other men, picking out one at random for his first set of instructions. He made eye contact to ensure they were listening and understood what he was telling them to do. “All right, I need you to clear the area, cordon it off, and set up the warning signs.”

The man nodded and got to work. Slowly.

“You two walk over to last week’s site and retrieve the motorized seats, bolting tools, and other materials we’ll need.” Joe watched them go, then turned to the last man. “You can go pick up the safety equipment so we’re ready for tomorrow.”

He sighed as he turned toward the cart and started loosening the chains holding the rails in place. It was hard being in charge of a group like this. Half of them were cheap temporary workers his boss had hired to save money; their motivation wasn’t exactly stellar. The other half were more experienced but not used to working with each other. He often wished for the chance to have a real team, like the repair and service teams some of the other elevator construction companies employed.

By the time they’d made another trip, getting the metal rails stacked neatly next to the now properly cordoned-off elevator shafts, they were ready for lunch. Since the men didn’t know each other well enough for a shared lunch, they each walked off in different directions to their own preferred spots.

Joe was curious about this new section of the octagonal mall; they’d only started working there this morning. So far, each section seemed different from the others, and he looked forward to exploring this one.

He took the stairs to the ground floor; using them, especially when climbing back up after he finished eating, was good exercise. Joe sat on the lowest step and unwrapped, then started eating his sandwich while he gazed along the corridor, trying to guess what type of store was going to occupy each of the currently empty future shops.

One area in particular drew his attention. Straight ahead from where he was sitting, it was about five times larger than the average retail space, and there was an interior staircase leading up to the second floor. Different from many of the large department stores, it contained no counters or other fixtures. A huge amount of empty space was obviously waiting to be filled with something. Finishing his sandwich and the can of soda he’d brought, Joe started to think about getting back upstairs to continue preparing everything for the next day.

Just when he was ready to get up and leave, a pair of black leather work boots appeared at the top of the store-internal stairs. As the man continued down the steps, the boots were followed by thickly muscled thighs encased in well-worn jeans, a picture sexy enough to make Joe’s mouth water. Narrow hips and a significant package came into his line of sight next, and by the time the T-shirt-covered flat abdomen and equally perfectly muscled broad chest appeared, Joe was ready to get onto his knees to worship the man.

He couldn’t tear away his eyes. The face that followed the drool-worthy body was classically cut with a strong jaw and full lips. Jet-black shoulder-length hair framed it, completing a picture that screamed bad boy. The man stood at least six foot four, and Joe wouldn’t have been surprised to find him in a biker bar. What is he doing here? The stranger held a clipboard while taking notes, looking around as though the space belonged to him.

Finally, the man turned his eyes toward Joe; they were the blue of a mountain lake and just as deep.

Joe blinked.

The stranger lifted his lips in a knowing grin, revealing deep dimples.

It was too much. Joe swallowed as his face, neck, and ears felt impossibly hot and the need to escape the stranger’s scrutiny overwhelmed him. He grabbed the paper bag containing the empty packaging and fled.



THROUGHOUT THE rest of the day, Joe tried to recover from the intensity of that encounter, if that moment in time could even be called that. All the stranger had done was walk down the stairs and smile, and Joe had been about to drool. He’d run, afraid of what the gorgeous guy might do next. Sheesh, the hunk was probably straight anyway. What was he going to do to Joe, especially in a public place? But Joe had bolted, some instinct for survival or need to maintain his sanity taking over. After having been shaken up by a mere smile, focusing on work and the heavy materials they handled was harder than ever. There’d been a couple of embarrassing near misses on his side; luckily he was experienced enough to compensate and avoid squashed or broken fingers and toes.

When the workday finally ended, Joe sighed with relief as he made his way toward his car he’d left in one of the mall’s parking spaces. But the fact he was still so rattled had him worried. Something about the chance encounter with one of the most attractive men he’d ever laid eyes on had touched him deeply. Or was it because he hadn’t gotten laid in more months than he cared to remember? Merely thinking about the stranger on his drive home got him half-hard. He snorted as he opened the door to his apartment and was still smiling as he closed and locked it securely behind him before sinking onto his couch. Getting laid was a relative term. A very occasional short encounter in a gay club was all he allowed himself; being out and proud in his job was not a safe option.

And what would be the point of leaving the closet? It wasn’t as if he wanted to get involved with anyone anyway. Nobody wanted to be around him for any length of time, including his own mother. He’d been rejected too many times—by her, other members of his family, and even some of his friends—to be willing to try again. No, a hot, anonymous encounter with a sexy guy at a club would be all he’d allow himself to forget this stranger and find his balance again. It was all he’d had so far, and he was doing fine, right? Right.

There was this new club south of Philadelphia that he’d wanted to try ever since it opened a few months ago. Explosion was a name that said it all. This weekend would be a good time to go and check it out. The thought of all those hot men made him fully hard in no time. He opened his safety coverall, carefully lowering the zipper past his straining erection. Better. He stroked himself through his briefs, trying to relieve the pressure, but only managed to drive his arousal higher. Time for a shower.

Luckily, the apartment wasn’t very big, so the walk to the bathroom in his current state wouldn’t be too long or painful. He spread his legs wide to give himself enough room to bend down to open and remove his steel-toe work boots without injuring himself. He picked them up and left them next to the entrance door on his way to the bathroom. As soon as he’d made it there in stocking feet, he turned on the shower and took off the rest of his clothes while he waited for the water to warm up.

Joe stood under the spray for a while, letting it massage his muscles. He bent his head forward and let the hot stream caress his nape and flow down his back in deliciously teasing rivulets that made his skin tingle. He spread his legs to open himself up, to let the water caress the sensitive skin between his asscheeks as it spilled down his crack. It was easy to imagine a lover’s fingers there, even though nobody had ever touched him like that.

When the pressure built his need to move and feel more, he started to soap up, distracting himself from caressing his straining cock a little while longer. Once he was done with everything except his groin, he rinsed off and created more lather to wash his cock and balls. The first touch to his tight sac made him moan. He lifted and squeezed his balls, cleaning them thoroughly before giving in and fisting his throbbing erection with a slick, soapy hand.

Too keyed up to enjoy the slow torture he usually craved, Joe closed his eyes only to find images of the man he seemed unable to forget immediately assaulting his imagination. It was as if Mr. Amazing were right there, in his own mind. Suddenly he could feel the stranger’s hands on his cock, driving him toward the edge. He tightened his grip, stroking and tugging his swollen cock almost violently in his need to find release.

He opened his mouth, unable to suppress the moans. Snapping his hips, he fucked his own fist, desperate to come.

The stranger’s face appeared behind his eyelids, his wicked smile and those adorable dimples feeling close and real enough to touch. Joe’s balls drew up, and ecstasy spread through his entire body as spasms of release raced through him.

“Yes!” The sound was inarticulate and strangled as his eyes flew open, and he watched his spunk splash against the white tiles as his hips kept jerking.

Breathing heavily, he squeezed out the last drops, shuddering with the aftershocks as he rinsed his genitals. Exhausted, Joe leaned his forehead against the cool tile and let the water run down his back. All he could focus on were the deepest blue eyes he’d ever come across, and they seemed to stare right into his soul.