Chapter One

 

MY FATHER’S yacht gleamed like a beacon through the blanket of mist over Lake Washington. I’d forgotten about the recent upgrade. Every few years, a newer model came to rest at our family’s personal dock. They were indistinguishable to me—each one appliance-white, each with Morgana in sweeping scarlet letters across the helm, each a little bit bigger than its predecessor. I thought this one was the replacement. Who knew, really? You see one white yacht, you’ve seen them all.

Just looking at the boat inspired revulsion. The shores of Mercer Island were nearly magical, especially with the afternoon sun shimmering over the ripples of the water lapping at the rocks. It wouldn’t seem out of place for a unicorn to step through the mist and dip its head for a drink. It was the perfect setting for me to pull out my camera in an attempt to capture the wonder of it all. Maybe if there were an old canoe from the Duwamish tied up in Morgana’s place…. Even a tugboat. Something with personality. My father’s yacht held no wonder. No mystery. Despite its Arthurian moniker, it just said some rich white guy bought another boat to park at the base of his mansion nestled back in the trees. No reason to pull out the camera for that.

Repositioning myself on the jetty, I looked toward the other shore. I knew boats were there too, even though far enough away to be hidden by the fog.

There. There was mystery. The wonder. No unicorn, but three Canada geese glided through the water, one of them ducking under every so often, seeming to wave its feathered ass at me. A heron, perched on a protruding branch, watched both the geese and me. Yeah. He was a bit of magic.

Despite the mansions, the yachts, and the massive bridge in the distance, this was my favorite place, always had been. The old, refurbished, square-brick boiler room at my back, its tall chimney jutting up to the sky like a makeshift castle. The middle jetty of three shooting out from the dock. Being suspended a few feet over the water, which spread out around me, and bordered by lush Northwest forests—if they could still be called forests when mansions and yachts replaced the unicorns and native tribes.

Regardless of my father’s ever-changing watercraft, I was the only one of my family to take refuge on the water. On this wooden jetty, there were no expectations from the waterfowl, the rocky shores, or the moss-laden trees. Only silence, at least during the good times when other people weren’t infringing on my sacred space. It didn’t matter that I was Randall Franklin Morgan, nor that I was the son of Vincent James Morgan. Here, there was only the lapping waves, the chirping insects, and the creaking wooden planks settling.

 

 

“DARLING, YOU have something on the seat of your pants. Here, stand still.” Without waiting, my mother swatted at my backside with a few flicks of her hand. She narrowed her eyes at the offending particles that fell to the kitchen floor, then let out a long-suffering sigh. “That explains why you were late. Mooning about on the lake. I swear you ruin all your clothes by sitting on that old wood.” She turned from me, raising her voice as she called out over her shoulder, “Pearl, could you please clean this up? Randall made a mess.”

Pearl glanced up, pausing with the cutting board full of chopped onions suspended over a pot. Her flash of irritation was barely discernable and instantly veiled by a subservient nod. “Yes, madam.”

“Mom, let me get it. No need to bother Pearl.”

I bent to pick up the small wood particles, but she caught my elbow and slinked her arm through mine. “Nonsense. Pearl doesn’t mind. That’s what she’s here for.”

I tried to offer Pearl an apologetic grin, but she didn’t look at me as Mom ushered me from the kitchen.

Mom leaned toward me as we stepped into the great room, whispering loud enough to be heard across the room, “Of course, you’re not nearly as late as your sister-in-law. I’m not sure how she can live next door and still never manage to show up to anything on time.”

My brother looked over at us from where he stood with my father at the massive stone fireplace. He took another tug from his Cuban cigar, held it in, and then exhaled before he responded. “Kayla won’t let the maid help get Bailey ready. She insists on doing it herself.” Dustin gave our father a conspiratorial shrug. “Of course, by the time she spends hours on her hair and makeup and picking out which jewelry to wear, it’s time to go, and she hasn’t even gotten Bailey’s clothes yet.”

I tried to keep my tone neutral. “Couldn’t you get her ready while Kayla finishes?”

His eyebrows knitted together, making him and our father look like twins separated by three decades. They both stared at me like I was a different species. “That’s what the maid is for.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter tonight,” Mom cut in before Dustin and I could start bickering like we were twelve instead forty-four and thirty-five. “We don’t have any guests, and Pearl seems to be in slow motion, so dinner will probably be as late as your wife and daughter.” She sat on the closest sofa and motioned for me to sit on the opposite one. She looked up at my dad, her newly Botoxed skin pulling tight over her jaw. “And what are you two planning? Another takeover, or are we talking cars this evening?”

Dad spared Mom a glance and an indulgent but brief smile. “Neither. It seems there’s another petition from the airlines to change their flight patterns.”

A long, agonized groan issued from my mom, so dramatic that anyone not from the island would have thought it fake. Every few years the issue came up and everyone girded their loins for yet another round of fighting. “It’s an attack. I promise you. This should be settled. It’s infringement. We were here first. It’s our way of life they’re threatening. As if any of us will be able to think with planes zooming this way and that over our heads. And what if they crash?”

Another look passed between my father and brother—wives could be so obtuse at times. Dad sighed and gave Mom another quick glance. “The likelihood of planes crashing above us is low, dear. It’s more an issue of noise pollution. Property values will plummet. The quality of life will be impacted.”

“Well, whatever the reason, the issue needs to be over. We don’t need planes flying over our island. We’ve already settled this several times.”

“That’s true, dear. Looks like we must fight once again.”

“And we will defeat them again.” My brother brandished his cigar like a sword. “By wit, money, and—”

The doorbell rang.

Dustin glared toward the entryway.

I rose from the sofa. Before I could make it to the end of the oriental rug, Pearl walked past the double doors of the great room, wiping her hands on her apron.

“I’ve got it, Pearl. No need to—”

“Randall, stop that nonsense,” Mom called out from her reclined position. “Let the woman do what we pay her to do.”

I halted where I stood and took a breath, picturing what the sunset must look like at the moment from my little dock.

Though Pearl’s opening and closing of the front door was silent, the clicking of Kayla’s high heels across the marble floor was not. The clomping got louder as she drew closer until she rounded the corner and stepped onto the plush carpet of the great room. She’d dressed for the occasion, as had we all, but she would’ve managed to halt every movement in the room if there were more than our family. She was movie-star beautiful. Younger than me. Much younger than my brother. Killer Pilates body, with a topping of silicone breasts and platinum-blonde hair spilling over her shoulders, and looking like Jayne Mansfield reincarnate.

“Sorry we’re late, everyone. Bailey and I couldn’t decide which shoes would look best with her dress.”

My seven-year-old niece, as beautiful as her mother, stuck out a ballet-slippered foot from beneath her pink dress, a proud grin causing her cheeks to glow.

I lowered myself to one knee. “Looks like the perfect choice to me, Bailey.”

Her grin widened, and she released her mother’s hand as she moved toward me. She made it a step or two before she skipped and started to run.

“Bailey!” My father’s voice cut through the room, freezing Bailey mere inches from me and erasing her joyful smile. My father didn’t need to say anything else. The message was clear. To both of us. Get control.

Dustin spoke up, mimicking our father’s tone. “Kayla, why don’t you take Bailey—”

“How’s my girl?” I swept Bailey up into my arms and cut off my brother before he could lecture my sister-in-law on how she should have better control of their daughter, or make Bailey sit in time-out in the other room.

Bailey gave me a tentative grin but didn’t say anything, quickly refocusing on her father. Without waiting or looking at Dustin, lest he think it a challenge, I carried Bailey to the sofas and took a seat beside Mom. “Here, show Grandma and me these shoes you picked out.”

Playing her part perfectly, Mom grabbed one of Bailey’s feet, lifted it into the air, and ran her finger over the pink silk shoe, making Bailey smile once more.

Tension filled the room for a moment longer until Dustin, obviously deciding the battle wasn’t worth his time, returned his attention to our father and renewed the subject of flight patterns.

Kayla took a seat next to me, giving my knee a squeeze in thanks as she addressed my mom. “I am sorry we’re late, Maureen. Time got away from me.”

Mom gave her a pointed smile. “Well, if you’d let the maid help you like Dustin suggests, you wouldn’t have to take the time.”

Kayla’s breathy voice was barely audible as she tried to speak without my brother hearing. “Oh, but I can’t. Soon Bailey will be old enough that she won’t want me helping her pick out clothes. I don’t want to miss these years. I’m sure you understand.”

My mother gave her another look, and I nearly laughed but caught myself. She definitely didn’t understand. The maid had dressed me, and by the time I got to the age I wanted to pick out my own clothes, that hadn’t been allowed.

Kayla realized her mistake, though how she continued to misstep after eight years in the family was a mystery. And one of the reasons I loved her. “Well, if you had girls, I’m sure you’d have been the same way. But raising boys. Very different.”

I jumped in before Kayla could dig herself any deeper. “Well, you both look wonderful.” I bumped my forehead against Bailey’s. “Maybe after dinner you can come down to the dock with me. I’ll carry you on my shoulders so we don’t get your shoes dirty. Sound good?”

Bailey nodded, but before she could respond, my mother drew in a quick breath, cutting off all conversation in the room. She reached across Bailey and me and moved her hand toward Kayla’s face, but pulled back before making contact. “What did you do?”

It took me a second to realize what she meant, but Kayla understood instantly; she lifted her right hand and pulled at a strand of hair behind her ear. I couldn’t believe I’d missed it. I’d been too focused on Bailey. “I got it done today.”

Oh dear Lord. I wished she’d called and asked her gay brother-in-law’s opinion. Not that I thought the cotton-candy-pink lock of hair looked bad. It was great, actually. She could have passed for one of the Barbie dolls with hair that changed color. But at the very least, I could have helped her make sure this was a battle she wanted to take on with her mother-in-law.

Her voice trembled slightly. “You don’t like it?”

Mom managed to uncurl her lips before speaking. “You’ll need to get that fixed tomorrow.”

“Oh.” Kayla clutched the strand of hair tighter.

Dustin spoke up, his voice firm as he addressed my mother in a way he wouldn’t have spoken to his own. “Maureen, Kayla does not need to change her hair. All of the actresses and young women are dying their hair bold colors now.”

Dad cleared his throat. “It needs to get fixed,” he said in that tone—the one that made my favorite spot seem not nearly far enough away. He didn’t look at Kayla, but kept his eyes trained on Dustin, leaving no room for challenge. “Your wife is not an actress or in a sorority house. We are Morgans. Kayla is a Morgan.”

There was no other explanation offered or needed.

Dustin didn’t hesitate. He turned his hard gaze on his wife. “Fix it tomorrow.”

 

 

DINNER WAS a fairly simple display of french onion soup, grilled salmon, and flash-fried kale. It was delicious. Mixed emotions battled in me as I watched Bailey grimace with every bite she took. She hated onions, fish, and anything green. A seven-year-old eating kale without complaint was impressive. I too had displayed the same discipline when I was seven, impressive or not, and I knew the other side of that skill was the constant pressure to be a certain way. No questions asked.

“You will be able to make it, correct?” Mom drew my attention back from my niece.

“I’m sorry, what?”

Though she phrased it as a question, there was no disguising the command. “I was asking if you’ll be able to attend my benefit? I assume you don’t have other plans on the Fourth of July this year?”

“No. No plans. I’ll be there.” I did have plans, though stupid of me. Holidays were prime social currency. “Can you remind me what this one is for?”

Mom didn’t have a job. She had lots of money and lots of time, but no job. Therefore, benefits occupied the times between shopping, spas, and plastic surgeons. Though I supposed there were less helpful hobbies than benefits.

The smile she gave me said she’d already explained and I was trying her patience. “For the humane society, Randall. As each plate is five hundred dollars, I’m thinking we should be able to bring in a little over a hundred thousand in donations for them.”

Kayla came to my rescue. “I love that idea, Maureen. There are so many animals that need help. Maybe they could bring some of the dogs that are having a hard time finding a home.”

Mom turned to Kayla, her mouth agape. “To the dinner? You want them to bring dogs to the dinner?”

Kayla started to speak, but Dustin cut her off with a glare.

“No. No animals at the dinner.” Mom turned back to me. “And I’d like you to bring a date, dear. Someone photogenic.” She lifted her fork, but paused as if realizing her near mistake. “And mannered.”

As if to exemplify, Dustin let out an undignified snort. “Looks like you’re finally going to be able to contribute to the family, Randall. Now that gay is in, you might be a useful commodity yet.”

No one disagreed.

Thankfully Bailey spoke up before I could think of a comeback to my brother. Her hazel eyes were bright with hope. “May I pick out a dog?”

Mom grimaced. “Your mother was wrong, dear. There will not be any dogs in attendance.” She gave a warning glance at Kayla. “At least there better not be.”

Bailey turned to Kayla, her voice full of pleading. “Can we still get a dog from somewhere else?”

Dustin cut in before Kayla could reply. “Enough, Bailey. I’ve already told you. No dogs. We are not having pets in the house. You’re going to start getting consequences if you keep asking.”

Bailey’s face fell, and Kayla bit her lip, though I was the only one who noticed, thankfully.

“I nearly forgot. I can’t believe I didn’t tell you, Bailey.”

Bailey looked up at me, eyes sad. “What?”

“I’m getting a dog tomorrow. When you come over to stay with me next week, there’ll be a dog.”

She beamed. “You are? And I can play with it?”

“Of course you can.” I needed to find out if my apartment even allowed dogs. What had I done?

“Randall, you seriously just did that to—”

“Make sure you get it from the Seattle Humane Society,” Mom cut off Dustin. “It will be a good tie-in for the benefit.” Without waiting for a response, she turned away from me. “Kayla, dear….” She waited the brief second it took Kayla to stop her excited whispered conversation with Bailey. “I will need you to show me the style you plan for your hair a week before the benefit. If it’s not up to par, I will happily book you an appointment with my stylist.”

 

 

BY THE time dinner was over, Bailey and I had no time to go down to the lake. The dark waters spread out around me as I drove over the Homer M. Hadley Memorial Bridge toward the twinkling skyscrapers of Seattle. What the hell had I done? There was nothing I wouldn’t do for my niece. Nothing. Including refusing to move away, and allowing my family to have more control of me than I planned. But this was ridiculous. I probably wasn’t even allowed to have a dog. And I didn’t have time for one. Plus, not having a yard meant endless walking and taking the damned thing out in the rain to shit a billion times a day.

My phone rang. I glanced at the screen but let it go to voice mail, giving myself time to make up my mind. Once the phone chirped, I hit Accept and let the voice mail play over the stereo.

“Hi, Randall. It’s Stewart. Been a while. Hey, I know it’s late, and I’m sorry for the short notice, but I wondered if you’d have time for a massage this evening. It’s been a stressful few weeks, and I could really use those magic hands of yours. I don’t care how late it might be when you get this, just let me know.”

I debated for a few minutes before calling him back, though I knew as soon as his name came up that was what I would choose. Never mind I had a photo shoot at dawn or that I apparently now needed to spend the day dog-proofing my apartment. Stewart sounded like the perfect end to the evening.

He was gorgeous, his beautiful skin taut and glistening over endless muscles in the candlelight. Yeah. He was what this day needed. He was never content with a happy ending either. He made sure I was as satisfied as he was.

And I could use the money.

 


Chapter Two

 

THERE WASN’T enough coffee in the world to make the photo shoot worth it. The four-year-old boy wasn’t any happier than I was to be up at the crack of dawn. Granted, I didn’t cry like he did, but I felt like it. The only one who seemed to have a natural caffeine high was the young, rich mother. She was so excited about the photos she seemed to have taken a hit of speed or something before showing up on the rocky beach. She’d picked a location half an hour outside Seattle and insisted the images be captured at sunrise.

Never mind I was the photographer and knew of endless locations that would have achieved the same thing. Forget that her kid was going to be a nightmare because he was spoiled and had woken up at a heinous hour. Mama knew best, it seemed.

The kid wasn’t so bad. Him I could have worked with. He at least followed the directions I gave him with his body, except to stop crying. No matter how I set up the shot, however, mama bear would rush over and rearrange how I positioned her son, or turn his plastic sword a different direction than how I needed it.

Thankfully I’d had more than my share of working with entitled rich people who thought they knew better than anyone else about everything. I knew to simply let her have her way, no matter if it made the process more painful for me and her son. She wanted her kid’s four-year-old picture to be of him on the beach, dressed as a knight, getting ready to slay a sea monster. If the sword were genuine, there might have been actual slayage on the rocky coast.

I needed the money.

I waited until even Mama was looking frazzled, then gave her my best, exaggeratedly gay gasp and turned pleading eyes on her. “Oh, Ms. Wells, I left the diffuser lens in my car. I hate to ask, but if I gave you the keys, would you mind getting it? I don’t want to leave and miss this perfect lighting.”

Ms. Wells looked at her crying son and hesitated, then rushed over and rearranged the pebbles at his feet. Standing once more, she placed her hands on her hips and stared at the scenery, then looked back at me. “Okay. Well, I think things should be good until I’m back. I hate to leave you when you might not know how I want it to look.” She headed back to me and held out her hand for the keys. “I’ll be quick. Is the lens in the glove compartment?”

Another apologetic smile. “You know, I’m not sure. It should be in my bag, but it isn’t. It must have fallen out. Hopefully it didn’t get scratched if it rolled under a seat.”

She took the keys and, after a final glance at her son, headed over the embankment that led to where we’d parked our cars.

Perfect. The walk was a good four minutes each way, and she’d probably spend another four minutes or so looking for the diffuser lens. Gave me a full twelve minutes, maybe more, to get the shot. All I needed.

I rushed over to the kid and knelt in front of him. He seemed to have just noticed his mother had vanished and looked on the verge of a fresh fit. “It’s okay, Reggie. Mommy is coming right back. She needed to get something to help make the pictures better.”

His face continued to get redder, and his bottom lip trembled.

“Do you know what I’m going to do this afternoon?”

A fat tear rolled down his cheek, and he shook his head.

“I’m going to get a dog. That way my niece will have a friend when she comes and stays with me.”

Reggie’s eyes widened, his shaky voice full of wonder. “A puppy?”

Hell no, not a puppy. That was the last thing I needed. “Yeah. A cute little puppy.”

He started telling me about his guinea pig, Pistachio.

Within a minute, the tears stopped. Within three, Reggie was laughing. Within five, I had the shot.

We had maybe six minutes to spare, so we looked for crabs wandering around the small pools on the shore of the beach. I got another shot.

Ms. Wells showed up, out of breath and frazzled. “I’m so sorry. I couldn’t find it. I looked everywhere.”

I gaped at her. “Really? Where in the world could it have gone? I swear I remember….” I let my voice trail off, and I looked down at my camera, then gave a mighty eye roll. “Oh, for crying out loud.” I held the camera out to her. “It’s already on. I guess I should have stopped to get some coffee on the way out. Would have turned on my brain. I’m so sorry I made you take that trek.”

“Oh.” She glared at the camera. “Well, that’s fine, I suppose. That means all the pictures you’ve already taken had the right filter, so that’s good.” She headed over to Reggie, who was poking a stick into a tide pool. “Let me get Reggie situated, and we’ll start again.”

“Actually—” I hit a few buttons until I was back at my favorite frame, then held the camera out to her once more so she could see the screen. “—I took a few pictures while we were waiting. We got the one you’re looking for. Reggie did a great job.”

She narrowed her eyes and leaned closer to the camera. “Hmmm. It does look good. His cheeks are so splotchy, though, all that crying.”

“Oh, that’s not a big deal. I can fix that in a minute. He’ll look great.”

Ms. Wells wasn’t convinced. “I don’t know if I want any of that done. I want it to look natural.”

I tried to keep my eyes from bugging out at her. I think I succeeded. “You do know that I have to digitally put in the sea monster, right?”

“Well, of course.”

I started to say something, then stopped. I had no idea what to say to that.

“Just a few more pictures, then?”

“Sure.” I reminded myself how much I was charging for this photo shoot. “Anything you want.”

Within thirty seconds, Reggie was crying so hard any actual sea monsters in the area were scared away.

 

 

TO MY relief, when I called the landlord, pets were allowed with a hefty pet deposit. Not a big deal. Coverable with a few massages or another photo shoot. And as much as I didn’t want a dog, I had to admit I started to have fun shopping for all the supplies. Who knew there were so many fashion and design aesthetics available for dogs? The matching food dish, water bowl, and corresponding mat to place beneath them were nicer than the place setting I used on my table. I had the dog’s bed, TV cushion, and kennel set up in the apartment before I realized I wasn’t sure what kind of dog I was getting and what size of things I actually needed.

Well, whatever. I took pictures of the purchases with my cell and would simply pick out a dog that would fit.

 

 

I WONDERED if my mother had come by to see the Seattle Humane Society before she decided to make them her charity of the season. I was certain she hadn’t. And if she had, she’d done no more than drive by without stopping.

The building was little more than a one-level, whitewashed, cinderblock structure that sported white siding on the front, with two vertical stripes of thin rock I supposed were meant to look like columns. Not a place my mother would ever step inside. Whether or not my mother might think herself too good to enter places such as this, it looked like it could certainly use the money she would raise.

I paused at the glass doors before walking in. I had seen a cute hamster at the pet store when I bought the dog supplies. It wasn’t too late. Maybe I could get him, name him Dog, and Bailey would be satisfied.

Picturing the joy in her eyes the night before as I promised to get an actual dog, I pushed open the doors and stepped inside.

Nope. Mother definitely wouldn’t come here. It looked like a small warehouse filled with animal products. Giving the space a quick scan, I noticed the dog bed I’d purchased earlier. It was a lot less appealing when smashed between a couple of tackier options.

Maybe my mother wasn’t the only one with snooty tastes.

A young woman emerged from a back room and walked behind the counter before glancing up and giving a little jump as she noticed me. “Oh. Sorry. You startled me. I didn’t hear the chime of you walking in. Sorry. May I help you with anything?”

I walked across the room, closing the distance between us. “Yes, actually. I’m here to adopt a dog.”

She beamed. “Oh, wonderful! Which one were you interested in?”

“Um. I don’t know. I haven’t been here before.”

“You didn’t look at our selection online?”

I shook my head. Already failing at the doggy daddyhood.

The girl’s smile never faltered. “No matter. I can take you back and introduce you to the pups we have.”

“Oh, I don’t want a puppy. An adult, please. One that’s housebroken. And can take itself out on walks.”

Her smile slipped. “Ah….”

“I was kidding about that last part. I know I won’t get a dog that can walk itself, but if you have one that picks up its own poop bag, that would be great.”

“Well, we don’t have puppies in our facility right now, so that’s good. And while there are some who we believe are housetrained, I can’t promise that there won’t be accidents. Moving into a new home can be stressful.”

Okay, then. Either she was very serious, or I wasn’t as funny as I thought. “Well, I’m looking forward to meeting them.”

“Good. Do you have your paperwork with you?”

“Paperwork?” Here we go again.

“Yes. There’s a questionnaire online to help us determine which dog might best fit your lifestyle, and an application that needs to be filled out.”

“Oh.” Yep. Failing. Totally failing. Good thing I wasn’t planning to go the whole kid route. “Didn’t look online. Sorry.”

“That’s okay.” She looked at me quizzically. “How long have you been considering getting a dog?”

I was nearly honest but then stopped myself. Admitting the thought hadn’t crossed my mind even twenty-four hours before probably wouldn’t help the adoption process. Look at me figuring out this doggy daddyhood thing. “Oh, for a long time. I’ve been waiting until everything fell into place.”

Though young, she wasn’t as naive as she looked. With a crease between her brows, she handed me some papers from under the desk, followed by a pen and clipboard. “If you’ll fill these out over there”—she motioned to a row of chairs over by the front door—“I’ll go over them and then take you back to meet the dogs if we have any that might be appropriate for you.”

Taking my spot on one of the uncomfortable plastic chairs, I started in on the forms. She wasn’t kidding. There was a lot of paperwork. I felt like I was buying a car. At least with a car, you didn’t run the risk of getting told no. You got the one you wanted. This was sort of like filling out an online dating profile. All types of opportunities for rejection.

How many hours a day will the dog be home alone?

Have you ever owned a dog before?

What will happen to the dog if you move?

What’s the name and address of your veterinarian?

I started scanning the form for questions about my blood type and sexual history. Didn’t look like there was anything quite that personal. But almost.

Do I want my dog to hunt with me? No. Definitely not.

I was so engrossed in the endless forms, for a while I didn’t notice another person join the girl behind the counter.

And then I did.

The forms suddenly lost all interest for me. I repositioned them so I could appear to be filling them out but kept my gaze focused on the gorgeous male specimen who’d arrived.

Tall, with dark brown hair pulled back into a messy man bun. Heavy brows. Thick, close-cropped beard over an angled jaw. White T-shirt revealing lean muscled arms and a narrow waist. He was all kinds of handsome grunge. Grunge wasn’t typically my thing, but he looked to be a clean grunge, which made things better. And with as handsome as he was, I might make an exception and try out less-clean grunge if need be.

Was there an application to take him home?

As if.

I was never the grunge boys’ type. I was cute, sure. But more boy-next-door kind of cute. Baby-faced, even at thirty-five. Light brown hair and eyes. Decent body. Healthy, but not overly muscled or anything.

This guy would be looking for someone with a little more edge and bite to them. And that was assuming the guy was gay. Could be.

Little chance I could take him home, even if he were gay, application or not. A guy like him might book me for a massage, but not for a date.

That was an idea. Better a massage than nothing.

Maybe I’d leave my card.

I bet he had a hairy chest too, judging from the thickness of his beard and man bun. Hell, I might pay to give that massage.

His dark eyes flashed in my direction.

Shit. Caught me looking. And drooling. Thank God for the clipboard hiding other reactions my body was offering.

The man returned his attention to the woman, then looked back at me again, his eyes narrowed.

Maybe she told him I was definitely an unfit doggy daddy. Or maybe he could tell my mind had strewn his clothes about the room.

I adjusted my gaze and kept it firmly fixed on the forms.

When at home, do I want my dog to stay by my side? Hell if I know.

I heard the footsteps approaching across the tile floor, but didn’t look up until shoes entered my vision, past the edge of the clipboard. Men’s shoes.

Making sure the clipboard stayed where I needed it to be, I looked up into the man’s dark brown eyes.

Holy shit. He was even more beautiful up close. He looked like a gorgeous Jesus. Which was weird.

But hot.

And then he spoke, his voice deep enough to be sexy without being cliché. “Randall?”

It was Jesus. Had to be. He knew my name. He’d just traded a white robe for a white T-shirt and shown up to keep me from lying more on the doggy forms.

“Um. Yeah. I’m….” Who did he say I was? Oh! “Randall.”

Maybe the front desk lady told him my name. Although I didn’t remember exchanging names with her.

He smiled, teeth white and straight between his pink lips. “You don’t remember me, do you?”

I stared at him. Panic rising. I hated this particular guessing game.

No chance we’d hooked up. No matter how many randoms I’d had, no way I’d forget that face.

Never gave him a massage either.

Maybe from the uber-rich crowd I rubbed shoulders with due to my parents? Nah. Not with him dressed like that.

His confident smile widened. “It’s Noah.”

My jaw went slack. I needed no other explanation. I’d thought of him a billion times over the years. Back then he didn’t have a beard and hadn’t yet become a man. But he’d still been beautiful. And his eyes were the same.

I stood, although a bit shakily. “Noah? Noah Carroll?”

Like there was any other.