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2017 Top Ten Gay Romance

Edited by J.M. Snyder

Published by JMS Books LLC at Smashwords

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Copyright 2017 JMS Books LLC

ISBN 9781634865326

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Cover Design: Written Ink Designs |

Image(s) used under a Standard Royalty-Free License.

All rights reserved.

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This book is for ADULT AUDIENCES ONLY. It may contain sexually explicit scenes and graphic language which might be considered offensive by some readers. Please store your files where they cannot be accessed by minors.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Published in the United States of America.

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2017 Top Ten Gay Romance

Edited by J.M. Snyder

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Table of Contents:

Introduction by J.M. Snyder

Enchanted Love by Kris T. Bethke

Wake-up Call by Becky Black

My Best Man by Linn Edwards

An Unconventional Relationship by Casper Graham

Unconditionally by Nell Iris

Gratefully His by Shawn Lane

Tortoise Interruptus by JL Merrow

Strange Fortune by Jessie Pinkham

Beau and the Beast by Rick R. Reed

A-dork-able by J.D. Walker

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Introduction by J.M. Snyder

As JMS Books enters its sixth year of business, there have been ups and downs, but any company weathers its fair share of growing pains. We’ve learned who our audience is and what they like to read, and the stories in this collection reflect their diverse tastes.

Here you’ll find our best-selling gay romance stories of the past year, and I hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

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Enchanted Love by Kris T. Bethke

For Michelle. Because of meatloaf, eclairs, long hair, and infectious smiles.

Chapter 1

I lost my left shoe as I ran around the corner and up the next flight of stairs, but momentum had me halfway up before I could stop. The metal step was cold beneath my bare foot. The staircase in the reclaimed warehouse had been retrofitted when the building was converted into lofts, and the metal fit the whole industrial vibe. Right this moment, I was regretting the choice. The die-cut tread pattern was sharp.

I bit back the groan by huffing out a breath and looked at the canvas bags I gripped in each hand. Getting them balanced enough so I could make one trip had taken some careful shuffling. The thought of setting some down in order to retrieve my shoe didn’t appeal in the least. I would have to, though. I couldn’t leave the flip flop on the landing between flights. I hardly ever took the elevator, but today it was clear I should have.

“Hey, Cinderella!” The voice was a deep rumble and I squeezed my eyes shut at the edge of mocking I heard. Or perhaps it was just amusement. I’d been told more than once I was too sensitive. A lifetime of conditioning meant I reacted a certain way to anything that sounded remotely like jeering.

“You dropped your slipper.” The owner of the voice was closer now. Right behind me. I took a slow breath and opened my eyes, then peered over my shoulder to see who had spoken.

The air I had just inhaled disappeared in an instant when I took in the perfect male specimen before me. He was tall and broad-shouldered. He obviously spent time in the gym if the way his biceps strained the sleeves of his T-shirt was any indication. His eyes were a perfect mix of brown and green, surrounded by lush blond lashes, and the smile he wore made his entire face light up. The Giants cap did little to hide his unruly curls, a shade darker than his lashes, and it seemed a contrast to the red tinge of the scruff on his cheeks and chin. A sheen on his face, and the sweat stains on the neck of his shirt, clued me in that he’d been exercising.

I couldn’t stop staring. He was gorgeous. Like male-model-make-everyone-in-the-world-jealous kind of gorgeous. And exactly my type. My gaze darted everywhere, taking him in. I wanted to drop my groceries and throw myself into his arms.

I swayed toward him, my body wanting to be closer and not caring that my head urged caution.

“Whoa there.” He steadied me by gripping my shoulder. “Are you okay?”

Crap. I was acting like a lovesick teenager instead of a grown man. He probably wouldn’t appreciate the advance anyway. With the way my luck went when it came to men, he was straighter than an arrow and a conservative to boot.

“Yes. I—” I cleared my throat and stood straighter. “Sorry. I was rushing.”

“Yeah, I saw that.” He grinned again, then held up the flip flop. “I picked up your shoe.”

“Thank you.” I tried to smile back. As I lifted a hand to take the shoe from him, I realized the bags still weighed me down. I felt foolish and cleared my throat again. Managing to free a pointer finger, I stuck it out, then looked at him again. “If you’d be so kind.”

“You want some help?” He gave a head-tip to the bags. “Those seem pretty heavy. I could give you a hand.”

I blinked. Then squinted and scrutinized his face. It seemed like a genuine offer. People didn’t usually offer me assistance unless they knew who I was. Then again, maybe he did know who I was. I’d been in the news a lot lately, and if he ever turned on a TV, he’d probably seen my face. I waited another beat, but he just smiled at me and I decided I’d accept.

“That would be great.”

His smile grew wider still, and he placed the flip flop onto the stair by my naked foot. Then he took all the bags as easy as anything. Just slipped his fingers in with mine and relieved me of the entire burden. I wobbled at the sudden absence of weight, and reached out to grip the railing.

“Oh! I didn’t mean you should—”

His one-shouldered shrug cut me off. “No big deal. I can deadlift more than you weigh. This is nothing.”

That huge grin again. Did he ever stop smiling? I wasn’t likely to find out, but I was more than happy to bask in it while I could. I dropped my gaze as I slid my foot into the forgotten shoe, then started the trek up the stairs. My savior kept pace easily up the next three flights and wasn’t even winded when we reached the top floor.

“The penthouse floor. Nice! I should have guessed a pretty man like you would have nothing but the best.”

I squinted again. Was that an insult? Or did he actually think I was pretty? I couldn’t tell. He seemed earnest enough, but I’d been burned too many times to trust someone right now. Especially a man. Especially if he knew who I was. My gut reaction was to go on the defensive, but I bit my tongue as I pushed open the door. I hadn’t gotten as far as I had by making rash decisions. And though my track record with men wasn’t the best, I was much more practical with business. I knew when to keep my mouth shut.

The top floor had two penthouse lofts, one on either side of the hall. Mine was the larger, facing the east so I could watch the sunrise, and didn’t have the elevator taking twenty feet of potential space. It was also the only one that was occupied. The building had been open for occupancy for only six months, and though the rest of the building was full, the second penthouse had yet to be leased.

“This is me.” I gestured to the double doors halfway down the hall on the left. I pulled my fob from my pocket and held it to the RFID reader beside the door. The light turned green, and I pushed open the door.

“The keyless entry is why I moved in here,” my companion said conversationally as I held the door for him to enter behind me. “Very secure. I like feeling safe.”

Pride swelled in my chest. That was the exact reason I’d chosen that method of locks for the building. My contractor had been against it because he thought it was an unnecessary expense. The wiring alone had put things over budget, and he was worried things would go wrong. But I had insisted. A keyless lock was a lot harder to break into than a traditional one, and I wanted the highest security possible. Full-time security staff wasn’t enough.

“I’m Chase, by the way. Chase Prinsen. I just moved in on the second floor about three weeks ago. But man, my place is nothing like yours. This is amazing. And that view…” He whistled out a sound I thought meant he was impressed as he shook his head. Then he shot me another smile as he headed toward the kitchen.

“Thank you,” I responded quietly, glancing around myself. The bulk of the loft was a huge, open concept space. The kitchen flowed right into the dining room, which seamlessly became the living room. I didn’t want walls breaking up the space, especially with the fifteen-foot ceilings. Instead, I’d chosen to delineate the separate “rooms” with furniture. It had taken months and at least twenty meetings with the designer before she’d come up with a concept I liked. I’d added my own touches since, so the place no longer looked like a magazine spread, and instead, felt like home.

I realized Chase was standing in the middle of the kitchen, holding the bags still, and I hurried forward. “Just set them on the counter there. Thank you so much.”

“You’re welcome, uh…” He gave me a pointed look and only then did I realize I’d neglected to introduce myself.

It was a good thing I’d mastered blushes fifteen years ago or one would have heated my face now. I shook my head at my own foolishness. “I’m Eli Brenner.”

“Eli Brenner,” he repeated thoughtfully, putting the bags on the counter. Only when they were fully resting on the marble did he let go of the handles. “Why does your name sound familiar?”

He didn’t know. Somehow that made me feel a lot better. He’d offered help because he wanted to, not because of my wealth or notoriety. When was the last time that had happened to me? I couldn’t even remember.

“Well, um, you’ve probably heard it around. If you ever watch the news. Or pick up a paper. Or read the contract you signed when you moved in.”

Chase stared at me for a moment, his brow furrowed in concentration. And then, all at once, his expression lightened and that big grin I was already in love with blossomed across his lips. He snapped his fingers, then pointed at me.

“You’re the dude that inherited like a billion dollars and bought up a bunch of run-down properties all over the city. You’re turning them into apartments and subsidized housing and centers for queer kids and battered women and stuff!” Chase shook his head, his eyes wide. “That’s like the coolest thing I’ve ever heard. You rock, man!”

I did actually blush then, heat washing over my face. Having Chase’s approval warmed the pit of my stomach.

“It wasn’t quite that much,” I corrected, not knowing exactly how to react to praise coming from this man. What was it about him that gave me butterflies? I stepped around him and started emptying bags. The frozen stuff was in danger of melting. “And it was only a few buildings, besides this one. I wanted safe spaces.”

Chase nodded. “Like I said, that’s why I picked this place to live, even though the rent was a little higher than I wanted to go. I got tired of always having to watch my back, and I didn’t want to worry about bringing someone home if it was a guy instead of girl.”

It took a moment for the statement to register, but when it did, I dropped a block of frozen penne and chicken in a vodka sauce right onto my foot. The pain shocked me and I bit out a curse before jerking back my foot and holding it up.

“Eli! You okay?” Chase grabbed me, supporting me as he looked at the floor. “Shit, I bet that hurt.”

“Yep,” I managed. My eyes watered.

“Sit down.” Chase stuck out a leg and snagged a barstool, using his foot to drag it closer. He helped me ease onto it, then bent to pick up the box of frozen food. He shoved it into the freezer before he turned to me, wide smile back in place. “Just relax and tell me where these things go. Rest that foot. You think it’s broken?”

I shook my head. The pain was already receding. It’d be tender for a while, but I didn’t think any real damage had been done.

Chase put the rest of the frozen food away, but when he reached for the next bag, I stopped him with a hand on his arm. “Don’t worry about the rest. I’ll get it in a little bit. Nothing else will spoil.”

He studied me. “You sure?”

I nodded. “You want a drink or something?” I wasn’t ready for him to leave.

Chase gave that huge grin. “Water would be great! I need to hydrate after my run. But I can get it! Just point me to the glasses.”

I did, then tried hard not to stare as he retrieved one, filled it, and guzzled down the water. The line of his throat as he swallowed, the way his Adam’s apple bobbed, the expanse of corded muscle under his skin, all combined to make me want to lick a swath up his neck. Which reminded me of his statement. I told myself I wasn’t going to ask for clarification. We didn’t know each other and I shouldn’t pry into his personal life with questions about his sexuality.

“So you’re bi?” Dammit.

“Yeah,” he answered with no self-consciousness whatsoever. Only that big, guileless grin and intense stare from his beautiful hazel eyes. “I knew it since I was a kid, but for a long time I couldn’t say it out loud. Not because I didn’t want to, but because of my family. And the dudes I ran with. I grew up on the south side, and it ain’t the safest place, right? Had to always watch my back, you know? But a few years ago, I said ‘fuck it.’ I was like, I gotta be true to me. So I stopped pretending I didn’t want guys as much as I wanted girls and started dating whoever caught my eye. Best decision I ever made.”

“Was there trouble? For you, I mean. You said your friends and family wouldn’t approve.”

In answer, he lifted the hem of his shirt. For a moment, that glorious, leanly muscled torso distracted me. He had a six pack that made my mouth go dry. But then I saw what he was showing me, and my breath caught in my throat. Six inches long, a puckered, jagged white line cut across his ribs on the left side.

“Got jumped when I brought a guy home last year. All we were doing was holding hands as we walked to my door. I managed to hold them off so he could run, call the cops. After that, after I recovered, I cut all the haters out of my life and moved. Started looking for a safe place. Didn’t really feel it until I found this building, though.” Chase dropped his shirt and took a step closer to me. “Thank you, Eli. What you’ve done…it’s amazing.”

“I’m gay,” I whispered. “Nothing that bad has ever happened to me but I know what it’s like to fear. Even though equality has come so far, it’s still…It’s a worry. I wanted places where the victimized, the marginalized…” I blew out a breath. “I wanted to create places where people didn’t have to worry and could just be happy.”

Chase reached out a hand like he was going to touch my cheek, but he apparently thought better of it because he dropped it before making contact. His smile was softer this time, gentler, and he took another step forward.

“I already knew you were beautiful, but that just confirmed it.” He touched my hand, then looked me directly in the eye. “Would you maybe want to go out to dinner with me tonight?”

“Yes.” The word was out of my mouth before I even thought about it. Chase’s trademark grin blinded me.

“Awesome. It won’t be anything too fancy, not like you’re used to, I’m sure, but I know a great place. I’ll be back at, like, six? Does that work?” Chase was already moving toward the door. “I’ll pick you up, okay, Eli?”

I nodded, a little dazed. The click of the door sounded a moment later and still I sat, staring into space. I wasn’t exactly sure what had happened. It took me a minute to realize I’d made a date with the handsome prince who had rescued me on the stairs.

I shook myself and hopped off the stool, barely registering the twinge of pain in my foot. I had just under two hours to kill before I’d see Chase again. And the idea had me positively giddy.

* * * *

Chapter 2

I was a slightly suspicious of the diner to where Chase had brought us. The outside was rundown, derelict even, but I gamely followed him out of the car and let him lead me inside. The glass door boasted a scrawled name, Michelle’s, and stepping over the threshold transported me to a different place.

Not an overly large space, everything was done in dark teal, muted lime, and dark wood with chrome accents. It was warm and homey, the smells emanating from the kitchen made my mouth water, and I felt instantly at ease. Chase noticed the way I was staring, trying to take it all in, and he grinned.

A woman with long, dark hair and a radiant smile peeked out from around the door, and Chase lifted his hand in a wave. Her grin grew impossibly wider, her eyes crinkling at the sides, and she waved back.

“You know the drill, Chase. I’ll be over in a minute.”

“Thanks, Michelle,” he called back.

Before I could even begin to figure out what that was about, Chase put a hand on the small of my back and steered me toward a table tucked in the corner. Only two other tables were occupied, with neither group of patrons paying us any attention.

“Weeknights are my favorite times to come here,” Chase explained as he pulled out my chair for me. I was strangely touched by the gesture, and skimmed my fingers along his arm before I sat. He squeezed my shoulder, then walked around the table to take his own seat. “Weekends, this place is packed from open to close with a line waiting to be seated. But late evening during the week? All but empty. I love it.”

“It’s a great place,” I agreed, once again looking around.

Michelle strolled to the table with a menu and two small glasses of water. She set them down, then gave her attention to Chase. “Going to introduce me to your friend?”

Chase grinned—God, did I love his smile or what?—and nodded. “Michelle, this is Eli. He lives in my building. Or really, I live in his. Anyway, Eli, meet Michelle. As you may have guessed, she owns the place.”

I took the hand she offered, and noted the warm, firm shake suited her perfectly. I also didn’t fail to notice the assessing once-over she gave me. But I wasn’t concerned about it, and took the menu she handed me with a “thank you.” She did not give one to Chase. I lifted my brow at him.

“I know what he wants since he’s here on a Tuesday,” Michelle said, answering my unspoken question. “I’ll give you a few minutes to look over the menu, though. In the meantime, what can I get you to drink?”

I decided to stick with water, but Chase ordered an iced tea. When Michelle walked away, I immediately lifted my gaze from the menu and fixed my attention on Chase. He was staring back, and I couldn’t quite decipher his expression. Wonder and awe and a little bit of lust maybe? All good things to see on a date. I was sure my expression looked much the same. I wanted to take his hand, which was ridiculous, because I never moved that fast. I was especially cautious these days, having had several men try to use me over the past couple of years. With Chase, things seemed different, though, and I had no idea why.

I cleared my throat and dropped my gaze to the menu, though I didn’t really see it. “What’s good on Tuesdays?”

Chase’s chuckle was warm and deep. “Meatloaf.”

Startled, I jerked up my gaze. But Chase, of course, just grinned. “Really?”

“Mmm. With mashed potatoes and gravy.” He moaned a little, then sighed wistfully. “So good. There’s, like, mozzarella cheese or something in the meatloaf, and I have no idea what she does to it, but it’s so good.”

The blissful look on his face made me hot. I could imagine a different situation that would put the same expression on his face, and I had to shift position to make a little more room between my thighs. Seriously, what was wrong with me tonight? I did not behave like this.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Michelle wending her way back to our table, Chase’s tea in hand, so I hastily returned my attention to the menu. It didn’t take me long to decide. As good as Chase had made the meatloaf sound, I wasn’t big on red meat, and the open-faced turkey sandwich on Texas toast with a side of fries sounded the most appealing.

Michelle assured us it wouldn’t be long before our food was ready. Chase thanked her and I echoed it. I turned my attention back to my date, and lifted my glass to my lips without taking my eyes off him. He leaned back in his seat, stretched out his legs, and slid his foot between mine. I pressed my ankle against his so he would know I was aware of what he was doing. Chase just smiled.

“So, can I ask about the money?” he began conversationally. “I mean, tell me to shut up if it’s none of my business. But inheriting that kind of cash? There’s gotta be a story there.”

Normally, I would have shut down at the question. Either done exactly as he suggested and told him it was none of his business, or given the same vague answer I’d repeated to the press for years. I didn’t talk about my personal life with strangers. And I certainly never spoke about Josef Adler.

But as I stared at Chase, the sincerity poured off him. I didn’t know him, yet I found myself wanting to share. To let him in and let him see. My gut told me I could trust him and it wasn’t usually wrong. I sucked in a deep breath and made the decision to take the risk.

“It goes all the way back to high school.” I took a sip of water and let my mind wander back to that time for a moment before refocusing on Chase. “I needed volunteer hours for this program I was in. The Food Bank was full up, and the thought of working with snot-nosed, bratty children made me want to punch something. So I ended up volunteering for the Adopt-a-Grandparent program.”

“That’s where you spend time with old people who don’t have family?”

Chase’s tone held no judgment or censure; it was just an honest and earnest inquiry. I nodded. “Not many of us were willing to do it, though. But it sounded great to me. Spend a few hours a week talking to someone who has lived so much history? I was on board. And the moment I met my adopted ‘grandfather,’ we hit it off. Josef Adler was full of stories, and he loved to talk. I loved to listen. Pretty soon, I was spending more than the required amount of time with him. And after the program was over, I kept going back. Throughout the rest of high school. All through college. After a time, he stopped being ‘Mr. Adler’ and started being ‘Grandpa Joe.’”

I stopped talking when Michelle brought our food. It looked amazing and smelled even better. Chase let out a little moan, and I couldn’t help but laugh. I carefully cut off a bit of my sandwich, then lifted it to my mouth. Flavors exploded on my tongue, the turkey, gravy, and garlic of the bread all mixing together for one fantastic taste. I might have given a little moan myself.

After a couple of minutes and more than a few bites, Chase nudged my foot with his, and when I looked up, he smiled gently. “You were telling me about Mr. Adler.”

I nodded and finished chewing, then picked up a fry and swirled it in the gravy. “He passed away seven years ago. He was ninety-four. And it broke my heart. Because for thirteen years, I saw him several times a week. But it was only after he died that I learned he was rich.

“I mean, I could tell his nursing home was high-class. It was more like assisted living. Mr. Adler had some pretty serious damage to his legs, and he couldn’t get around on his own, or do some things for himself. But he lived modestly. I had no idea that when he said he’d owned a successful investment firm, he meant incredibly successful. And that when he decided to sell it and retire, the transaction netted him almost a half a billion dollars.”

Chase choked on his food. I was halfway out of my chair and reaching for him before he waved me down. He coughed some more, then took several careful sips of tea. A few deep breaths later, and he wiped his watering eyes with his napkin.

“Holy shit, that’s a lot of money. And you didn’t know?”

I shook my head. “He made a lot of donations. But he’d invested it wisely, obviously. He was living off the interest with occasional splurges. But that was Josef. He was so down to earth, and not ostentatious in the least. I think if he’d had a family, it might have been different. He would have spoiled them. But he was on his own.”

“And he left his fortune to you?” Chase hadn’t resumed eating. He stared at me in rapt attention. It made me uncomfortable, and I couldn’t work out if it was because having his attention focused so intently on me turned me on, or if his interest was too much.

“A good chunk of it, yes.” I deliberately took a bite of food and Chase followed suit. As soon as he did, surprise brightened his features as if he’d forgotten it was tasty, and he dug in with gusto and motioned for me to continue.

“He left a great deal to his favorite charities. But the rest came to me. Of course, then he suddenly had family pouring out of the woodwork. Distant relatives claiming they deserved a portion. The estate was tied up in probate for more than five years. But eventually the judge determined the will was valid.”

I shook my head, remembering the drawn-out legal battle that had taken up the better part of my life for five years. I was fortunate to have found an outstanding attorney who knew the law inside out and backward, and was tenacious to boot. It wasn’t so much that I wanted the money for myself as that I wanted to honor Josef’s wishes. He knew of my struggles with myself and with the world at large. And I knew that Josef trusted me to do good things with the money, to help create safe places.

“So, anyway,” I said after I finished my sandwich and pushed the few remaining fries to the side. “That’s what happened. I have a lot of money. Some of it is invested so I will always have an income. Most is going to buying and renovating buildings that can be used to protect people, so they can find their happiness. I quit my job as a marketing exec and now focus solely on the shelters and building projects. And I’m doing my best to live by Josef’s example.”

Chase stared, then smiled, then took my hand. His skin was warm and dry, and when his finger skated over the inside of my palm, I shivered.

“Thank you.” His voice was low and filled with emotion. “Thank you for sharing that with me. And thank you for everything you’re doing. Do you have any idea how amazing you are?”

I averted my gaze. “I’m just doing what’s right.”

Chase squeezed my hand. “Yeah, I know. But, dude, people don’t do what you’ve done. They don’t. And that’s awesome. Don’t downplay it, okay?”

I wasn’t sure how to respond to that. I looked up at him through my lashes. Chase smiled back. That smile was going to be my undoing.

* * * *

Chapter 3

“A cleaning service?”

Chase flashed me a grin as he smoothly downshifted for the turn into the parking garage. I loved the easy way he handled the vehicle, no aggression, just a gentle confidence that made me want his hands on me instead. I swallowed hard and tore my gaze from his profile as he lifted his fob to the RFID reader. The bar lifted, and Chase maneuvered forward.

“Is that so hard to believe?” he asked.

“No. It’s just not something I’d have thought of you doing. What made you decide to open a cleaning service?”

Conversation had been so plentiful during dinner that it surprised me we hadn’t talked about what he did for a living until now. I stared in silence for a good minute as he parked in his designated spot. He turned off the engine, then touched my arm.

“Stay there a sec.”

Without waiting for a response, he pulled the keys from the ignition, then hopped out of the car. He came around and opened my door before I could even work out what was going on. His chivalry touched me, and I took his hand when he offered it. Chase didn’t let go once I stood beside him. Instead, he laced his fingers through mine. His palm was warm and I could feel a callus on the flesh under his pointer finger.

“I worked for one in high school.” Chase’s deep voice sounded out of place in the hush of the garage, and it took me a moment to realize he was answering my earlier question. I leaned into him as we walked toward the entrance to the building and he gave a content rumble before continuing.

“I needed something I could do nights and weekends, you know? And I sure as hell wasn’t cut out for retail or fast food. I’da been fired in a week. So when I found the job cleaning office buildings, it was perfect. Of course, we weren’t treated that great. But I realized I really liked cleaning stuff. Got satisfaction from it, you know?” Chase used his fob, then pulled open the door with his free hand. He managed to usher me in first without letting go of my hand.

“Mr. Brenner, Mr. Prinsen. Good evening.”

“Hi, Sam. How are you tonight?” Chase greeted the front desk security guard with a big grin. “And I’ve told you, you can just call me Chase.”

“I’m doing well. Thanks for asking.” Sam gave Chase a pointed look, but he softened it with the barest hint of a smile. The firm I’d hired to handle the security here and at the shelter and youth center was the best of the best. The respect the guards showed had sealed the deal for me, and I was glad to see it in action.

Sam turned his attention to the monitors in front of him. “Have a great night, sirs.”

Chase opened his mouth to say more, but I tugged him toward the elevator before he could. I liked that he wanted to talk with the guard when so many would have ignored him or treated him like the hired help. But I selfishly wanted all of Chase’s attention tonight and I wasn’t above stealing it from others.

Chase shot me a questioning look, but I didn’t have an answer I was willing to give. Instead, I redirected his attention back to our conversation. “So how did you go from working as a cleaner to opening your own service?” I asked as we entered the elevator and I pushed the button for my floor. I almost always used the stairs, but I wanted to be able to talk with him, and we couldn’t do that if we huffed while climbing flight after flight.

He squinted for a minute, then his expression eased into that perpetual half-smile he always wore. “Well, I had no clue what the fuck I wanted to do with my life. But I knew I could be happy cleaning places, as long as it was done right and the boss didn’t act like an asshole. So I figured I could do it myself. I got my associates degree in business so I’d know what the hell I was doing with the paperwork and shit, hired a couple of people, and started getting contracts.

“It took a couple of years to establish a reputation, but now the business is doing great and our clients are happy. I have fifteen employees, a full-time office manager, and I split my time between the fucking paperwork and a few choice clients. It’s good.”

Hearing the pride in his voice made the same emotion swell in my chest. He’d figured out what he wanted from life and had made it happen. Few could say the same. Hell, it wasn’t even until after I’d received Grandpa Joe’s money that I’d been able to do something worthwhile with my life. Chase, however, had made it happen on his own.

The elevator dinged and the door slid open. I stepped off, suddenly realizing that I’d pushed the button for my floor without considering what Chase would want to do now. The thought made my heart pound. What would happen next? Would our time together end once he saw me to the door? I didn’t want it to end. I would have happily sat and talked with him all night.

Just then, Chase let out a small laugh. When I looked at him, he grinned and shook his head. “Want to hear something weird?”

“Sure,” I said, relieved he was still talking. I moved toward my front door and didn’t bother to remove my fob from my pocket. Leaving it tucked away meant there were still possibilities for the evening.

“Usually it takes me a while to warm up to people, you know? I don’t spill my guts all over a person I just met. But you? Hell, I was telling you I was bi about seven seconds after I met you, and that’s the thing I keep closest. What is it about you that makes me want to tell you everything?”

I froze, just staring at his beautiful face. Hadn’t I thought nearly the same thing? I hardly ever shared my personal life with anyone, never mind someone I just met. But Chase had inspired confidence in me that I couldn’t explain. To know he felt it, too, made my heart pound and my breath catch.


“Same.” The word didn’t make much sense and I could tell from his furrowed brow that Chase didn’t get it either. I managed a rough breath, then another one that came easier. Reaching out, he met me halfway, wrapping his fingers around mine. “What I meant was, I feel the same way. I don’t usually open up either, but then you make me want to.”

Chase’s breath hitched and he took two quick steps into my space. His gaze zeroed in on mine, intense and steady, his pupils dilating. He licked his lips. “That’s gotta be good, right? That we both feel it?”

I nodded, unable to speak, totally caught in those hazel depths.

One more step and Chase stood no more than an inch away. He shifted his hold on my hand, pulling me a fraction closer. He lifted his other hand, and ever so slowly, placed it against the side of my neck. He traced the edge of my jaw with his thumb. I felt the smooth skin and the small callus and didn’t bother to fight the shudder.

His eyes darkened. “Can I kiss you?”

I didn’t answer with words. I threw myself at him, lifting onto my toes to bring my mouth into alignment with his. It was fierce, the pent-up emotion pouring from my lips. Chase seemed to understand, to feel the same, because he gave back as good as he got, pulling me impossibly closer. He fit one thigh in between mine, pushing and pressing, and I rode that friction, whimpering into his mouth.

Chase took control, cupping my head and tilting until he sealed our lips together even tighter. He thrust his tongue inside my mouth as I acquiesced, melting against him and spreading my thighs wider around his. He controlled everything, and I let him take. A wanton whine left my throat when he ground against my balls.

With obvious effort, he suddenly pulled back, and if he hadn’t immediately grabbed my ass and hoisted me up, I would have protested. I wrapped my legs around his waist and pushed my erection into his rock-hard abs. Chase pressed sucking kisses against my neck as he backed me against the door.

“Eli?” His words vibrated against my Adam’s apple, and I shivered. “Baby, I want to come in and fuck you. Will you let me?”

The whimper that escaped me was all lust and made him chuckle. “Yes. God, yes. Please.”

Chase hitched me a little higher and turned me sideways, and for a second, I couldn’t figure out what he was doing. Then he pressed my hip against the wall and I heard the click of the lock disengaging. I laughed even as I rained kisses on his face. He’d gotten the fob in my pocket in front of the reader so we didn’t have to let go of each other to deal with silly things like doors.

Chase gave me a wicked grin, then backed through my front door while I held onto him for all I was worth.

Normally I was cautious and careful, and I never had sex with a guy until I was sure there was trust between us. But with Chase, it was different. I wanted him in my bed, in me, and I didn’t even worry about the rest. Because for reasons I couldn’t even begin to process, I already trusted him. And so I was more than eager to get him into my bedroom.

It wasn’t hard to find my room since the door was standing open, and Chase crossed the threshold without lifting his lips from mine. He made a beeline for the bed, and dropped me onto it, following me down and pressing my body into the mattress with his. He panted, and I could tell it wasn’t just from the frantic kissing.

“You should have let me walk,” I murmured against his throat while he breathed heavily into my ear.

He chuckled, then shook his head. “No way was I putting you down. You feel too good in my arms.”

If he hadn’t already charmed me, that would have done it. I arched up, pressing my lower half into his stomach. I could feel him, hard and eager, and it made me want him more. I grasped his head, pulling his mouth back to mine, needing to kiss him. To devour him. I was so intent on that, so caught up in tasting him, owning his mouth, I didn’t even realize he was slowly and methodically divesting us of our clothes. That his caresses were intermittent because he was undoing snaps and buttons. Only when he pulled away to tug his shirt over his head did I notice my own was undone along the front, and my pants were halfway down my legs.

My wicked grin made him laugh, and I quickly shoved off the rest of my clothes into a heap on the floor. In my three or so seconds of inattention, Chase had gotten naked, too. When I looked at him, my breath caught. He was so insanely gorgeous, from his beautiful, heat-filled smile to his strong shoulders. From his cut abs to his massive thighs. And his cock was so perfect, I could write sonnets about it. Long, straight, and just thick enough, I couldn’t decide if I wanted him in my mouth or ass more.

Chase took the decision out of my hands when he asked on a panting breath, “Lube?”

I reached under the pillow and pulled it out with a flourish. He chuckled, and pounced, once again pinning my body under his. He kissed me, deep and hard, then broke it to trail his lips along my jaw. I lifted my chin up and to the side so he could have all the access he wanted.

“You got a condom hiding under there, too?”

The vibration of his words against my ear made me shiver in the most delicious way, and I wrapped my arms and legs around him, pulling him tighter. “Do we need one?”

Chase went utterly still. For a long minute, I heard only his breathing. I didn’t try to rush him. I knew what I was asking.

He pushed himself up just enough to look in my eyes. “I’ve never done it without one,” he said, his voice low and soft.

“Me, either,” I responded in the same tone. “And I get it if you don’t want to. But…” I took a deep breath to relish the scent of him, all spicy cologne and fresh laundry. “I can show you the results of my last test so you can see I don’t have anything.”

“Me, too. I mean, I can, too.”

I nodded, looking into those hazel depths and fighting not to get lost only because of the serious conversation. “I want you inside me without anything between us. I want to feel your heat and your skin and your cum. I want it all.”

It was Chase’s turn to shiver. He rocked his hips, his slick cock dragging over my stomach. He kissed me, fast and hard, and with his lips against mine, whispered, “Fuck, I want that, too.”

“Then just you and the lube.”

He went still again, then looked at me, checking. “You trust me?”

“I do.”

It was all he needed to hear. His face broke out into a heart-stopping grin, then he found the lube where I’d dropped it. His lube coated fingers were at my hole a moment later, and I held onto him as he stretched me. The burn felt so good. He played with me, rubbing and tugging on my rim, pushing in deep and pressing on my prostate, slicking the way until I begged and whimpered.

When Chase removed his fingers, I actually whined at the loss. His low, wicked chuckle made me moan. He shoved a pillow under my hips, then kissed me long and slow as he moved into position. I was only a few inches shorter than him, so it took only a bit of contorting until his blunt cock touched my hole. I hung onto his shoulders, making sure he didn’t stop kissing me. But he lifted his head anyway so he could see my eyes as he sought entrance into my body.

His first thrust was tentative, but I planted my feet and pushed up as he pressed in on a second pass. He growled my name as I strained to accommodate him. Chase let me get used to his size, seeing both the need and the discomfort on my face. He didn’t rush, even as he fought to keep still.

It was sweet and I appreciated it, but it wasn’t necessary.

I wiggled, then pressed upward. Chase’s eyes went wide and he growled, a dark sound that sent a thrill through my body. He took over then, adjusting his position and setting a steady, hard rhythm. His body pounded into mine and I took it, angling my hips so his cock hit all the best spots.

“You’re so hot and tight,” Chase said, his voice strained. “Fuck, you feel good.”

I nodded. Then I grabbed his head and brought his mouth to mine. I needed his taste on my tongue while he pounded my ass. He certainly knew what he was doing. He had the angle, tempo, and force just right.

“Oh, God,” I groaned after far too short a time. “Oh, God. Chase. I’m gonna come.”

“Fuck, yeah. Do it, baby.”

I shook my head, hanging on so tightly my fingernails pressed into his flesh. I didn’t want to come yet. But his dick banged my sweet spot and my abdomen tightened with my impending release.

Chase didn’t break his rhythm as he shifted his weight onto one arm and grabbed my cock with his free hand. After a few strokes of his talented fingers, coupled with several short slams directed against my prostate, I screamed his name as cum flew from my dick. Chase didn’t stop, didn’t even pause, just kept pounding away as I writhed on his cock. Just as I finished, he pushed in so hard I thought he’d leave bruises on my ass, and his hot cum flooded my passage.

I whimpered again, clutching him tightly, needing him closer.

Chase held me as snugly as physically possible, his cock still lodged in my ass.

A long moment later, when our harsh breathing began to slow, Chase looked me in the eye. “You okay?”

I smiled dreamily. “So, so okay. That was the best thing ever. Don’t pull out, okay?”

“I won’t,” he assured me. He kissed my sweaty temple and sighed contently. He slid his hand down my back so he could touch where we still joined. “This was way fucking hotter than I ever thought. You wanna know why?”

“Why?” I asked automatically, snuggling closer.

“Trust. You trust me. That’s the sexiest thing ever.”

I smiled, then wiggled just a little so I could feel us still connected.

* * * *

Chapter 4

The next morning, I was so happy and sated, I didn’t want to get out of bed. But Chase’s rumbling stomach forced us both to abandon the kissing and get up. I cleaned myself in the bathroom first, then wandered through the loft to the kitchen to see what I had to offer. Chase took a little longer, but soon joined me as I pulled eggs and milk out of the refrigerator.

“What are we making?” he asked on a yawn, then shot me a sleepy grin. “And is there coffee?”

I nodded toward the single-cup brewer on the end of the counter and the deep red mug I’d already set there for his use. His expression turned grateful, and I couldn’t help but lean over and kiss his cheek as I walked by.

“When you’re done making your cup, there’s a waffle iron in that far cabinet. Would you get it please?” I pointed to the cabinet with my elbow, then set things down on the counter. I turned toward the pantry to retrieve the dry goods.

Chase made a yummy noise, and my dick perked up. I resolutely told myself it could have its fun after we were fed and Chase’s stomach no longer interrupted us. It didn’t seem to care about my warning when I turned in time to see Chase reach in the cabinet. He was wearing only his boxers, and as he bent, they stretched tight across his gorgeous ass.

It was my turn to make a noise.

With a salacious, wicked smirk, Chase straightened, then shook his ass as he sauntered closer with the appliance. As soon as he was close enough, I snagged the back of his neck, yanking him in for a kiss. We pulled apart when we started panting, and grinned for a long moment before we went back to our tasks.

After I assembled all the ingredients, I mixed the batter. Chase stood close, watching me and humming along to a song on the radio. I hadn’t realized I’d turned it on, but I must have out of habit. I hated silence, and since it was just me in the big loft, it was often too quiet for my liking, so I almost always had a radio or TV playing in the background.

A faster pop song came on and Chase started dancing, just a motion of his hips to the beat, but I was entranced. When he noticed my attention, he ramped it up, really dancing, and I increased the radio’s volume. He grabbed my hand, playfully kissing it, and I abandoned my batter to let him pull me into his arms. We danced right there in my kitchen, wearing only boxers, and it felt great.

He spun me away from him, then back, and when I was in his arms again, I leaned close. “Want to go to a ball with me?”

Chase threw back his head and laughed, grabbing my hips and pulling me tight against his pelvis. “Sure, Eli. You got it.”

I laughed a little, too, but made sure I could catch his attention. When he viewed the look on my face, he stopped dancing and stepped back so we could properly see each other. He studied me a long moment, and I saw the instant he realized my question had been serious.

“What are you talking about?”

“For the kids at Josef’s House,” I explained, mentioning the LGBTQIA youth center, which had been my first endeavor after receiving my inheritance. Its residence housed twenty-five homeless youths, most who’d been kicked out of their former residences because of their orientation. Another twenty-five or so attended programming in the afternoons and on weekends.

“What about them?” Chase cocked his head to the side, looking so much like a confused puppy I wanted to ruffle his hair.

“It’s an alternative prom. Of sorts. I mean, a lot of them don’t attend regular high school. But even the ones that do, it’s not always safe to bring a date of the same sex. Or wear an outfit that matches the inside and not the outside, you know? Even when the school says it is. So we’ve organized a ball so they can dress up fancy and party like any other teenager.”

“That’s awesome.” Chase grinned widely. “When is it?”

“Three weeks from Friday.” I stepped in close, wrapping my arms around him and swaying to the music when a slower song came on. “So how about it? I’m chaperoning. Will you come with me?”

“Hell fucking yeah.” Then he kissed me.

* * * *

For the third Tuesday in a row, we had dinner at Michelle’s. Chase ordered the meatloaf every time and I didn’t know how he wasn’t sick of it, but he assured me he wasn’t. Tuesday wasn’t the only day of the week I saw Chase—we spent most nights together, and any part of the weekend he wasn’t working—but it was fast becoming my favorite. It was like an unspoken rule that we would eat at the diner, and I liked that we had a “date night.”

Michelle brought out the coffee without even asking, with creamer for me and sugar for Chase. She paused only long enough to find out if we wanted dessert, and even though I was too full, Chase enthusiastically said “yes” this time.

“She didn’t ask you what you wanted,” I commented, watching the petite beauty saunter away.

Hearing Chase laugh always warmed a part of me, but I had no idea why he was doing it now. He casually stretched across the table to take my hand and play with my fingers. “She doesn’t have to ask. She knows I’m going to want whichever cake or confection she’s made. And I mean that literally. She’s a baking genius, and she plays with recipes and makes them her own. It’s great.” He gave a happy sigh.

“I’m sure it is. I’ll have to steal a bite.”

Chase’s smile grew tender. “You don’t have to steal. Whatever I have is yours.”

My breath caught for a second. It was too soon for him to mean that like I thought he did. Really too soon. But Chase was looking at me so intently, his face serious even with the tender smile, that I didn’t know any other way to take it. He lifted my hand to his mouth and kissed my fingertips.

“Just gonna put this out there, okay? The way I feel about you is just so damn intense and…” He floundered for a second. “Deep. So I’m all in. I want to see where this goes.”

“Me, too,” I breathed.

“Good.” Chase sat back, then glanced toward the kitchen and moved his cup out of the way. He didn’t let go of my hand even as Michelle brought over a decadent-looking éclair drizzled with white, dark, and milk chocolate. Only reason my mouth didn’t water at the sight was because I was so full of frittata.

Chase didn’t touch his dessert, though, but just kept staring at me. “So we’re doing this?”

It took me a second to figure out what he was talking about. The éclair had been that distracting. But I smiled at him, making sure to put all my intent and affection into the expression. It must have worked, because he relaxed and gave that huge grin again. I picked up my coffee without breaking his gaze.

“Yes. We’re dating with intent.” I tried for playful and Chase laughed. “I love spending time with you. You make me feel good and safe and happy and horny, and all those amazing things. I want to see where it goes, too.”

Chase’s face lit up, then he stood enough so he could lean across the table and kiss me quickly. I couldn’t get the ridiculous grin off my face. I’d been attracted to him from the moment I saw him, but it had only grown as we spent time together. The expression he was wearing right now was one I lived for.

And then he offered me the first bite of the éclair, and I knew he was truly serious.

* * * *

Chapter 5

I was tempted to throw my phone across the room, but it wasn’t the phone’s fault and it would be unfair to destroy it in a fit. I set it gently on the coffee table instead. Raking my fingers through my hair, pulling a little, I huffed out a breath. I wracked my brains. There had to be somewhere I could call.

When someone knocked at the door, I growled in complete frustration as I stalked across the floor to answer it. I was so preoccupied and upset, I was ready to tear whoever was on the other side a new one. Until I whipped open the door and saw Chase’s smiling face. Just like that, my frustration vanished. I hadn’t realized how badly I’d needed him until he showed up.

Wednesdays were his late night, so I didn’t usually see him until after eight. In the weeks following our first date, we’d become nearly inseparable. That was fine by me. I enjoyed his company more and more with every passing day, and I didn’t feel whole if he wasn’t with me. I hadn’t yet shared my thoughts and feelings with him, but I knew he felt similarly. Soon, I’d be ready to talk about it. But not quite yet.

“What’s wrong, baby?” he asked, stepping in and shutting the door behind him.

I threw myself into his arms and sighed deeply as he hugged me. Just being with him made everything better.

I pulled back and kissed him softly but thoroughly before I pulled out of his embrace. He was still worried, and that he knew me so well, could know that I was upset by just one look at my face, warmed my insides. I took his hand and led him toward the couch.

“The ballroom at the Marriott flooded.”

Chase squinted. “Where the ball is supposed to be? In two days?” When I nodded, he looked horror-stricken. “What are we going to do?”

We. Just that one word made me want to melt. In just a few weeks, we had become a unit. I loved that more than I could say.

But I couldn’t even revel in the feelings. I was so frustrated by the situation, about constantly coming up against a brick wall, that my euphoria quickly vanished. The ball was in two days, and I was having zero luck.

“I don’t know.” I sighed heavily and flopped backward onto the couch, rubbing my hands against my face. “I’ve called every place I can think of. Either they are already booked, they can’t accommodate our numbers, or they just flat out said ‘no.’ I’m at a loss.”

Chase’s brow furrowed, and his gaze focused on the far wall. “How many people are we talking?”

“Around a hundred. Fifty-two teens live at and use services at the center. Everyone said they were coming, and almost everyone has a date. And then ten adults to chaperone. And you. And maybe a few other dates?”

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