When a family friend offers him the job of resident psychologist at Chicago’s GLBT Center, Kyle Michelson jumps at the chance to reinvigorate his career, move on from his recent breakup, and get his life back on track. Kyle hopes returning to the familiar territory of his hometown will do him good, but meeting Emory Brenner at a club changes everything.
Anything but familiar, Emory leaves Kyle breathless from the start. There’s just one problem: Kyle wants more than a one-night stand, Emory doesn’t do relationships, and neither man can resist the other. Luckily for Emory, he never has to see Kyle again. Or so Emory thinks until he runs into him while volunteering at the GLBT Center.
Kyle makes Emory want things he never thought he could have and chips away at secrets Emory has kept locked away for years. On the surface, Emory’s recovered from his past: he has a job at a record store and a roof over his head. But putting his trust in another person, having a relationship, means opening himself to more pain—and that is a risk he can’t take.
EMORY knew he looked good. He could feel more than one pair of eyes on him as he made a slow turn, hips moving to the primal beat of the club music. His jeans hugged his ass perfectly and were low enough that his hipbones showed above the waistband. Beads of sweat ran down his neck as he tilted his head back and raised his arms in the air, fingers dancing through the passing strobe. His tight black tank ended just before his jeans began, exposing a tantalizing sliver of smooth, taut skin.
He smiled to himself as the music pumped through his lithe body, sure he wouldn’t have any trouble finding someone who wanted to take him home that night. Emory didn’t have many rules he lived by, but there were a few he never broke: sex is just sex; if you can help it, don’t spend the night; never sleep with the same person twice; and whatever you do, don’t fall in love. Keeping people at arm’s length made things easier. No muss, no fuss, and absolutely no chance of getting hurt. There were enough beautiful gay men in Chicago, not to mention the ones just passing through, that he’d yet to have a repeat.
He stole sly glances at the mass of writhing bodies near him and around the periphery of the dance floor, taking stock of who was looking. He certainly didn’t mind it when he was pursued, but there was something empowering about taking note of one’s admirers and then choosing the best candidate. It put him in charge, and though he loved nothing better than taking it from some hunk du jour, he certainly knew how to top from the bottom.
Body still moving to the driving electro beat, he surveyed the room.
Off in a corner, at the edge of the bar. Even though he was sitting, Emory could tell the man was lean and long-limbed, and judging by how his oxford shirt stretched across his chest and shoulders, he had just the right amount of muscle for Emory’s taste. His hair was either light brown or dark blond—it was hard to tell in the dark—but it hung a little long, covering the tops of his ears, and had a slight wave to it. It was the wire-rimmed glasses that really tickled Emory’s fancy, though. They gave their owner a sexy-professor vibe. Mr. Sexy Professor smiled and ducked his head, using his index finger to push up his glasses. He knew he’d been caught staring.
A predatory smile broke across Emory’s face as he began to make his way toward his target.
KYLE wasn’t quite sure what he was doing back at Spin. He’d had some good times in this club while attending college at Northwestern. He and his buddies—gay buddies, that is—had made it a ritual senior year to come to Boystown at least a few times a month to partake in the gay nightlife. After seven years in New York, he had forgotten how great the Lakeville neighborhood was. Though it was just five minutes from downtown Chicago, it really did feel like a neighborhood, quaint and friendly, nothing like the impersonal feel of NYC. He thought perhaps now that he was pushing thirty he was past the clubbing phase of his life. But after getting settled into his brand-spanking new loft apartment, he had felt at loose ends, and like a moth to a flame, he had returned to his favored homo-haven from his wayward youth.
He was contemplating whether, after one more glass of liquid courage, he would have the guts to throw himself into the throng of sweaty male bodies and dance, when his eyes landed on one body in particular. With jeans so low and so tight, Kyle wondered what miraculous principles of physics allowed their owner to get them on and keep them in place. Several inches of exposed skin around the man’s middle were bared. Kyle could see his sinewy abs stretch and move to the beat of the music, and his hipbones looked sharp enough to cut glass. Dancing next to the other revelers, he didn’t appear very tall by comparison, but he had thin, shapely legs that seemed to go on for miles. If his body was perfection, his face could literally stop traffic. He had an oval face with high cheekbones worthy of a model, full pouty lips, and jet-black hair artfully cut at an angle so it was longer in front—just brushing his jaw—than in the back, and tousled to perfection. The face was beautifully androgynous except for the strong jaw and bobbing Adam’s apple, which told the viewer the owner of that gorgeous face was most definitely male. If there was any doubt, however, the bulge, which just couldn’t be hidden in jeans that tight, would be a dead giveaway.
As Kyle’s gaze traveled up the mystery man’s body once again and landed on his face, he found the most arresting pair of emerald eyes locked on his. It was no less than extraordinary that Kyle could make out eye color from where he was sitting. The club was dark, and there were crazy lights and strobes flashing all over the place. But as one big light passed over the dance floor and illuminated the man in the middle, Kyle could make out shining green eyes locked on him.
Embarrassed that he had been caught staring, Kyle lowered his head and pressed his glasses farther up his nose. His glasses fit perfectly, but it was a childhood habit he had never been able to break. When he looked up again, the beautiful man was moving toward him through the crowd. Kyle sucked in his breath. His night had just gotten far more interesting than he had anticipated. As the man continued to move toward him like a panther stalking his prey, Kyle began to feel warm and very… hunted.
Kyle knew the man was at least twenty-one, or else he couldn’t have gotten into the club, but he looked young. Vague thoughts about his own age of twenty-nine and the seemingly wide age gap flitted through Kyle’s brain but were quickly pushed aside as the man made it out of the dance-floor jungle and approached the bar area. His smile was one of angelic innocence, but his eyes glinted with naughtiness. It was a completely alluring combination. Unable to look away from those eyes, Kyle studied them uninhibitedly. The more he looked, the more remarkable he found them. Though their owner was young, his eyes told a different story. As beautiful as they were, they also seemed ageless, and perhaps a little weary. If eyes truly were the windows into a person’s soul, Kyle found himself looking at the oldest soul he had ever seen.
“This seat taken?” Somehow the beautiful mystery man made the common pickup line seem shiny, new, and exciting as he brushed past Kyle’s shoulder—most likely on purpose—and perched on the edge of the bar stool. “I’m Emory.”
Kyle shook the proffered hand. “Kyle.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Kyle.” Long, warm fingers slid along his and lingered for a few extra seconds.
“Likewise.” Kyle was convinced electric sparks shot along his palm in the wake of Emory’s fingertips.
“God, it’s so hot out there.” Emory closed his eyes and ran his hands through his hair.
“Sounds like you could use a drink. What can I get you?”
Emory smiled knowingly, as if the ploy worked every time, but Kyle didn’t care. “Vodka tonic. Thanks.”
EMORY shot Kyle a sultry smile. Mr. Sexy Professor was even hotter up close. He had deep-blue eyes, and now that he was closer, Emory determined his hair was indeed light brown, but with natural blond highlights, definitely not from a bottle. He had an angular jaw and a smooth, straight nose. Emory decided he found Kyle terribly handsome, and he was able to detect a strong bicep flexing under his light-blue oxford as he grabbed Emory’s drink and pushed it in his direction. Emory gave another smile in thanks and slowly wrapped his lips around the cocktail straw, his eyes never leaving Kyle’s. Yes, he had definitely hit the jackpot tonight.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you here before.”
“You haven’t. I just moved here a week ago from New York. I grew up right outside of the city and went to college at Northwestern, though, so I’m not exactly new. In fact, I came here all the time when I was in college.”
“Wow, Northwestern. So you’re a smarty pants.” Emory grinned cheekily.
A faint blush tinted Kyle’s cheeks, and he pushed up on his glasses. “I’ve just always worked hard.”
“Uh-huh.” Kyle’s humble modesty wasn’t fooling Emory. “So what made you leave the Big Apple and return to your old college town?” Kyle became distracted as Emory’s pink tongue dared out to latch around the drink straw and pull it back into his mouth.
Emory smiled inwardly as Mr. Sexy Flustered Professor quickly redirected his gaze to his own drink and swirled the remaining whiskey in his glass in an attempt to refocus his thoughts. “Well, after college I went to New York to get my doctorate in psychology at Columbia. I stayed there to do my postdoc and then worked in a private practice for a year, but—” Kyle stopped short, seeming to decide he was talking too much. “I was offered a job here from a family friend and decided it would be nice to come back.” He finished quickly and tossed back the rest of his drink. “That’s enough about me. What about you? What do you do?”
“Wait a minute.” Emory held up his hand, completely ignoring Kyle’s questions. “You’re a shrink?” Mr. Sexy Professor was actually Mr. Sexy Psychologist. Emory couldn’t help the smirk forming on his lips.
Kyle looked down, embarrassed, and pushed absently at his glasses with his index finger. “That would be correct.”
“So, if we keep talking, are you going to psychoanalyze me?”
Kyle chuckled. “No. I promise I’m not trying to extract deep, dark secrets from your brain by asking simple get-to-know-you questions.” His mouth twitched into a grin as well.
“Fair enough.” Emory took another sip of his drink, thinking that the deep, dark secrets in his brain were far better off left there, where no one else could get at them. His eyes flickered down to once again determine the location of his straw. Using his peripherals, he saw Kyle watching intently as he wrapped his lips around it.
“So, I’ll ask again. Tell me something about you.”
Emory shook his head and smirked. “I have one more question for you first.”
“Alright.” Kyle gave Emory an appraising look before signaling to the bartender for another whiskey. “Shoot.”
“Hopefully that will come later.” Kyle’s eyes bugged out of his head, and Emory winked and then lowered his eyes demurely. “My question is this,” Emory continued after he had given Kyle a moment to regroup. “There are a lot of good-looking guys here tonight. Why were you watching me?”
Emory pinned Kyle with his eyes. Maybe the question was unfair, but he often asked it. The responses he received ranged from the typical “you’ve got a hot ass” to the downright dirty “I’d love to see your pretty lips wrapped around my cock.” Their answers never prevented him from going home with any of them. He never expected to do much talking anyways. But it did validate his opinion that picking up a guy in a bar was for sex and sex only. Kyle was already different, though. So far there hadn’t been any games or lame come-ons. In fact, all of the good doctor’s actions and responses seemed completely genuine and honest. Emory guessed there was a first time for everything.
Kyle studied him for a minute before responding, and Emory began to feel ever so slightly uncomfortable under the weight of Kyle’s stare. “I’m sure you are well aware of what you look like,” Kyle began. “And I can only imagine some of the responses you must get if you make it a habit asking that question. So, I was probably looking at you for the same reason as about a dozen other guys in this place.”
Emory glanced away and wasn’t quite sure why he felt a little disappointed in Kyle’s answer.
“But,” Kyle continued, and Emory’s head shot up, “it was your eyes. I think you have the oldest soul I’ve ever seen.”
Well, that was... unexpected. Emory blinked a few times, searching Kyle’s face. He didn’t think Kyle meant it in a bad way. As Kyle’s eyes continued to bore into him, Emory wondered fleetingly if Kyle really could look inside of him. He hoped not. Kyle probably wouldn’t like what he would find. Emory knew people liked what was on the outside. He cultivated that image, creating an alluring, sexy boy toy they could bring home for the evening. They could both get off—hopefully—and neither would have to dig below the surface. Emory didn’t want to know them, and he knew they would only be disappointed with what they found in him. Creating a pretty façade was easier. No muss, no fuss.
KYLE watched as Emory stared at his drink, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth. Emory’s lips seemed several shades darker than average, as if they had been stained with red wine. He also had thick, long black eyelashes that any female would kill for. Though he could have pulled it off with aplomb, Emory didn’t need makeup. His natural features were already defined to the utmost perfection.
Kyle silently cursed himself. He had never been a very good flirt. He was always too honest and forthright.
“I meant that in a good way, y’know.” Kyle allowed his fingers to brush over Emory’s forearm. “Your eyes are beautiful. I just meant they have a depth to them that’s rare. I—” He pressed on the bridge of his glasses. “I just think there’s probably a lot of interesting stuff inside you.”
Oh God. There he went again. Kyle wanted to slap himself. That, or laugh. He was obviously out of practice with the club pickup scene. Instead of flirting casually, he was waxing poetic to someone who was basically a complete stranger. He took a large gulp of whiskey, wincing slightly as it burned a path down his throat, and slowly turned back to face Emory. Kyle half expected him to make an excuse and bolt. Kyle would hardly blame him if he did. Instead he found Emory considering him carefully.
“Thank you.” Emory, for all his sex appeal and bravado, actually blushed. “I don’t think anyone’s ever said anything quite like that to me before.”
Kyle had to laugh. “I imagine not. My mouth tends to run away from me sometimes.”
“I don’t mind. It’s a nice change of pace.” Emory’s smile was easy and almost shy.
Kyle decided Emory was even more stunning when he didn’t come on quite so strong and allowed himself to be a little more real.
“So, what now?”
Emory blinked heavily and smiled. “Well, just so you know, you’ve kind of thrown me off my game. Under normal circumstances I would drag you out onto the dance floor, rub up against you, and try my hardest to drive you crazy.”
Kyle swallowed hard. That mission was already accomplished, whether Emory knew it or not.
“But since nothing about this night seems to be following the usual game plan, perhaps we can skip the dance floor foreplay and I’ll just ask you this.” Emory pinned Kyle with his piercing green eyes. “Do you want to take me home tonight?”
Kyle may not have been much of a flirt, but he had been around the block enough to know where this had all been leading from the moment Emory had singled him out and made his way over. When he had walked through the doors of Spin that night, Kyle thought he would have a drink or two, watch the revelers, and reminisce about the good times he’d had here. Nothing more. The truth was, Kyle wasn’t much of a one-night stand kind of guy. He had always favored relationships. The last time he had had sex with no strings attached was in his early grad school days, not long after he moved to New York. He liked sex to mean something. But he had never been presented with someone as alluring as Emory. Maybe it was being back in the city where he had spent time testing the waters as a young gay man. Maybe it was finally allowing himself to embrace that he was once again single and free to do what he liked. Maybe it was the most astonishing emerald eyes staring back at him. Whatever it was, he knew what his answer would be.