Prologue

 

“I’LL MISS you so much.” Ian wrapped his arms tighter around Rico’s neck. Don’t care who’s staring. Passengers rushed past them, and one giggled.

“I’ll miss you too.” The dark circles under Rico’s beautiful brown eyes testified to his worry. He usually laughed and joked. Mr. Lighthearted.

Ian held his arms. “You’ll call me as soon as you get there? Let me know how your dad is, okay?”

“I will. I promise.” Rico kissed Ian’s nose. “I’m so glad you’re here. I’ll just keep thinking about you waiting for me, and it’ll make everything bearable. Maybe when I get back, we can find that place to move in together.”

Ian’s heart leaped. After three years. Finally. “I’d love that. Should I start looking?”

Rico smiled sadly. “Sure. That’ll help me think happy thoughts.”

“Oh, baby, I wish you didn’t have to go through this.”

“Me too.” He glanced at his watch, then at the board showing departures and arrivals. The Mexico City flight said On Time. “I better go. Remember I love you.”

“I love you too.”

They hugged once more. Then Rico ran to the security line—and was gone.

 

 


Chapter One

 

IAN CARNEY stared at the computer screen, adjusted the spaces to fit maximum parking in the commercial structure, glanced at his phone, stared back at the parking plan, glanced at his phone—shit! Rico had said he’d confirm the arrival time of his flight from Mexico City. He should be in the air by now. Why hadn’t he texted?

“Hey, Ian, did you calculate the parking spaces?” Max Flynn stuck his bald head around the corner of Ian’s cubicle.

“Almost.” He leaned closer to the screen. Come on, Carney. Think! If Max asked for the plan, it meant Braden Lord needed it. Parking calcs could make or break the profitability of a project. Make the big boss happy.

“You have to be at school today?”

“No. No classes until tomorrow, but I’m supposed to pick someone up at the airport.”

“Orange County?”

“No. LAX.”

Max glanced at his watch. “Man, you’re gonna run into some shitty traffic. You better get going.”

“I’m, uh, waiting for a text to tell me the flight number and time.”

“Good luck. Just get me those calcs ASAP. Braden’s meeting with the client in an hour.”

“Okay, yeah. I’m on it.”

Max turned away, then looked back over his shoulder. “By the way, Carney, your skill with CAD hasn’t escaped anyone’s notice around here. We’re getting more than our money’s worth with you as an intern.”

Ian grinned. “Thanks, but getting your money’s worth wouldn’t be hard.” He held up a hand. “Just joking.”

“Okay, wiseass.” He snorted. “That minimalistic paycheck can be improved.” His smile got sly. “After all, we wouldn’t want some other firm to appreciate your skills more than we do.” He slapped the cubicle wall. “Get me those numbers and hit the freeway.”

“Right away.” Ian’s fingers flew across the keyboard, but not as fast as his heart beat. Getting an employment offer from Lord and Kendrick even before he graduated would mean—everything. One of the top-rated architectural firms in southern California. What a way to start a career. Rico would dance for joy.

Rico. Damn. Ian forced his brain to finish the parking layout. When he finally pushed Print, he let himself look at the phone. Oh. A text.

So sorry. Father taken turn for the worse. Can’t leave yet. Will let you know.

Ian’s mouth opened and closed. Disappointment tightened his throat. Three weeks. Rico’s been gone three weeks and now—longer. Okay, damn, selfish much? Hell, Rico’s dad might be dying. He stared at the text again. Still, Rico hadn’t even said “Love.” Heat pressed behind Ian’s eyes. I so wanted to tell him about the apartments I found. He took a breath. Come on, he’s got heavy shit on his mind. Grow up. Ian grabbed the papers from the printer and headed down the hall.

Smiling at some of the designers and project managers at their high-tech workstations, Ian approached Max’s office and stuck his head in. Nobody. Hayley, Max’s admin, waved from her desk and put her hand over the speaker of the phone she was talking into. “He’s down in Lord’s office, Ian. Are those the calcs they need?”

He nodded.

“Would you mind running them down?” She waggled the phone.

“No problem.” He sure as shit didn’t have anything better to do.

Everybody in the firm—all hundred and twenty-five—knew Braden Lord pretty much kept his office door open, and anyone who needed to go in did. Although lately the office had been closed a lot more, and the boss looked stressed. Rumors said his D-I-V-O-R-C-E, as the old song said, was shredding both his nerves and his bank account.

Ian stopped at the half-open door and knocked.

“Come in.”

Ian pushed the door open. Max sat on one side of Lord’s conference table and Braden Lord on the other, both leaning over a set of renderings. Ian got that little breath hitch and groin tingle that seemed to accompany any Braden sighting. Migh-ty fine. The dude might be past thirty-five, but he rocked sex on the hoof. Dark, auburn-tinged brown hair that never seemed to get cut with any regularity. A tall, slim body that wore clothes idly, like he never thought about what he had on. But the seat of the sex appeal centered inside that brain. Vision, innovation, an almost shocking grasp of three-dimensional space, and a take on the world Ian wanted to eat with ice cream. Lord’s business partner, Doug Kendrick, brought the economic sense and contract negotiation skills, but the heart of what clients from across the world bought lived in that handsome, oddly naïve head.

Lord glanced up, his eyes unfocused, his consciousness probably still focused on that site plan. But like mist clearing on the mountains, he seemed to home in on Ian. He cocked his head, and his tongue slowly wet his lips.

Ian shivered.

Max smiled. “Hey, Ian, thanks a lot, buddy. You’re just in time to save our bacon. Did you get it parked?”

“Yes, sir. Five cars per thousand, like you asked.”

Max nodded and looked toward Lord, but Lord still stared at Ian. “Braden?”

Lord blinked and turned to Max, his eyes trailing a little behind. “That’s great. Perfect. Thank you.”

“Braden, you’ve met Ian Carney, right? Our intern?”

Lord blinked again. “Oh, yes. Ian.”

Ian smiled and extended his hand. Lord took it and for a second just held it, then shook. After a hard swallow, Ian laughed. “Ian Carney and Braden Lord. We sound like we’re trying out for a Highlander remake.”

Lord looked blank for a second, then barked a laugh. “Yes, if we count in Dougall Kendrick, we’ve got the whole cast.”

Max pointed out something to Lord on the printouts, and Ian tried not to stare at Braden. C’mon, man, you’ve got a boyfriend. No drooling over the nice architect. Besides, if Ian’s brother Jim thought Rico was too old for him, this dude would qualify as ancient—and he was straight. Although Ian had heard rumors—

Max looked up at Ian. “Really nice work, Carney. You better take off for the airport.”

“Oh, thanks, but, uh, my pickup got canceled. I mean, I don’t have to pick him up anymore. He had to stay in Mexico City.”

“Well, hell, man, he didn’t exactly give you a lot of notice. What if you’d cancelled a hot date or something?” Max laughed.

Ian shuffled his feet. Awkward much? “Not likely. He’s my boyfriend. I mean, his dad is real sick, and I guess he took a turn for the worse.”

“Oh hell, I’m sorry.” Max glanced at Lord. “Hey, a bunch of us are going over to Antonio’s for drinks in about an hour with some clients. Why don’t you join us?”

Lord’s eyes widened, but not more than Ian’s.

Holy shit! “Uh, thanks a lot, but I’m afraid Antonio’s is a little rich for my scholarship budget. I really appreciate being asked, though.”

“The company would pay, Ian. Why don’t you come? I’m sure the client would like to see the kind of talent we’re nurturing at Lord and Kendrick.”

“Wow.” He sucked wind, then laughed. “Well, that was plain uncool. Sorry. Uh, thank you. I’d love to.” He looked down at his jeans, T-shirt and sports coat. “Am I—?”

Max waved. “You’re fine. You’ll fit right in.”

“Thank you. Thank you so much.”

“Meet us in the lobby in an hour.”

“I will. Thanks again.” He practically genuflected on his way out the door. Talk about scared shitless! But man, what an opportunity. He hurried back to his desk without actually running and flopped in his chair. Pulling out his phone, he texted Just got asked to drinks with the clients by the big bosses. Cool shit. So very sorry about your dad. Hope he recovers fast. Miss you terrible. Love.