Chapter One


REX was alone in the empty bar, sweeping the floor after closing, when he heard a rap on the door. Shaking his head, he stepped over to peer through the glass and inform whomever it was that the bar was closed for the night.

“Sorry, closed!” he shouted, pointing to his watch.

He recognized the kid on the other side of the glass. His heart skipped a beat, in fact, because the young blond was the very same customer who’d caught his eye earlier in the night. He had bright blue eyes and a gorgeous smile. It was just too bad Rex had promised himself not to get involved with another guy like that.

The kid was saying something, still trying to get Rex’s attention. He used a hand signal, holding his thumb and pinky finger up to the side of his head like a telephone. Rex unbolted the door and opened it. The kid froze and then smiled broadly.

“Oh man, I’m so sorry!” he gushed. “My phone—I think I might have left it here earlier.”

Rex nodded knowingly. “Yup,” he said. “I put it behind the bar. Figured someone would be back for it but didn’t think it’d be at three in the morning.”

The kid heaved a sigh of relief. “Man, I’m so sorry. I got almost home and realized I didn’t have my phone. I came back hoping I could catch you.”

Rex pulled the door open wider and stepped aside, inviting the kid in. “No problem,” he said. “Let me grab it.”

Instead of stepping behind the bar to retrieve the phone as he’d planned, Rex just stood there, feeling a bit as if he had lead in his boots. It was almost a feeling of déjà vu as he stared into those bright blue eyes. They were like the ocean, and as Rex looked into them, they seemed to grow wider. The kid’s grin broadened.

“Thanks,” he offered sincerely. “Hey. Um, are you all right?”

Rex shook it off, smiling a bit to himself, and quickly looked away. He crossed the room and stepped behind the bar, retrieving the phone he had earlier placed on the back counter. “Yeah,” he acknowledged. “Guess it’d be a shame to lose one of these high-tech phones. Expensive, huh?”

The kid shrugged. “Nowadays they come pretty cheap. They’re part of the package deal when you sign a contract, but ya know, it’s like my whole life is in that phone. Crazy how we’ve become so dependent on technology. Seems we’re always texting and emailing and connected with one another 24/7, and when I’m without my phone, well… um, it’s like I feel naked or something.”

The young man stopped talking abruptly, apparently aware all of a sudden that he was rambling. It was almost as if he were nervous or something. Oddly, Rex was feeling some anxiety himself. Butterflies. It was one of those moments when there did not seem to be anything appropriate to say. No matter what came out of his mouth, he’d sound stupid. He simply nodded.

As he stepped back over to the kid, extending his arm to hand him the phone, Rex noticed the redness in the young man’s cheeks. He was flushed, embarrassed perhaps. “I guess I just kind of get slaphappy this time of night. I don’t seem to know when to shut up.”

“You’re all right,” Rex said, smiling. As he placed the phone in the kid’s outstretched hand, his fingertips brushed against the kid’s palm. “This is the first time I’ve seen you in here,” Rex said. “And I wouldn’t want you feeling naked on your first visit.”

The redness in those cheeks intensified as the blond laughed. “Oh man,” he said. He turned away, burying his face briefly in the palm of his hand, stifling yet another burst of laughter. “I could say something… but I won’t.”

“Well, how ’bout you tell me your name anyway?” Rex suggested.

“Josh,” the kid said, quickly stepping forward and extending his hand. “Sorry. Guess I forget my manners sometimes, and I already know who you are. Rex, right?”

“Do I really have that much of a reputation?” Rex asked, smiling in spite of himself.

“Oh, nah. It’s just, well, when I was in here earlier, I asked someone about you. One of the other guys. He told me your name. Said you owned this place.”

“Yeah, guess everyone knows me here.” Rex was a bit flattered to realize the kid had noticed him and had even gone so far as to ask about him. “This bar’s been in my family for years. Been running it myself for the past six years, after my daddy passed.”

“Oh,” Josh said. “I’m sorry.”

“Life goes on.” Rex shrugged.

“Well, you don’t look old enough. I mean, not old enough to have been doing this for six years.”

“Twenty-eight,” Rex confessed. “And thanks.”

There was so much more that could have been said in that moment. Logically it would seem that Josh would offer some details about himself. Perhaps divulge his age, or maybe explain how he’d managed to make his way into this country bar in the middle of the week. It would have made perfect sense for him to start rambling again. Words seemed to just naturally fall from his lips.

Josh didn’t say anything, though, and neither did Rex. They just stood there, staring at one another. Rex took him in, every inch of the clean-cut young man. He was preppy and casual, wearing khakis and a polo shirt. The shirt was tight-fitting, stretching snugly across his defined pecs. Honestly, Josh didn’t seem to be the type of guy you’d find hanging out in a laid-back country tavern.

Rex was aware of the contrast between this kid and himself. Rex was a creature of habit. He dressed the same every night, wearing a tight-fitting pair of jeans, cowboy boots, and his Stetson. He wore one of five western shirts over the top of a plain white T-shirt, and usually at some point during his shift, he would strip off the outer garment. Tonight had been an exception. He wasn’t that busy and had barely broken a sweat. Oddly, he was feeling a little warm now, though. Even warmer as the kid stepped closer to him.

The strains of the country music on the jukebox seemed to envelop them. In a moment that seemed almost surreal, their surroundings all but vanished, and it was only the two of them. The cell phone was forgotten. Rex’s broom had fallen to the floor. In what seemed like slow motion, the two moved toward each other. The heat of Josh’s body pressed against Rex as Josh’s arms wrapped around him. Rex pulled him into his chest, and without words they simply clung to one another.

As the music surrounded them, they began to sway slightly, and within seconds they were slow dancing. As the song continued to play, they held each other close, and nothing on earth seemed to matter. Rex breathed in his scent, ran his hand slowly up and down the young man’s back. He felt the firmness of the kid’s smooth chest pressing against his own. And finally as the slow ballad wound down, Rex leaned in and found Josh’s soft lips, pressing his mouth against them, tasting him for the first time.

It was shocking to Rex, and very confusing. As quickly as it had begun, it was suddenly over. The kid was stammering, stepping away from him. He quickly pocketed his phone. “I… uh, I’ve got to go. I’m sorry. I, um—”

And then he was gone, and Rex was alone in the bar, wondering if it had really even happened, if he’d really just danced with a young man who looked strikingly like his Andrew.