The voice from the backseat was quiet and flat. Not rude, not demanding, but not all that friendly either. Which was fine—people called the company for a cab, not conversation.
I didn’t move, though. Tapping my thumbs on the wheel, I looked in the rearview. I couldn’t see him very well; he’d taken the seat directly behind mine, and he was staring out the window toward the strip mall across the street. What little of his face made it to the mirror was heavily shadowed thanks to the bright lights from the hotel’s reception area.
“Um.” I cleared my throat. “I need an address. Or the name of a place.” I glanced at the screen with the message from dispatch. My passenger had specifically requested someone with base access. “Do you want to go to the base?”
He released a long breath, and clothes and upholstery rustled as he shifted behind me. “You get paid by time or distance?”
Dude, what the hell? You want to go somewhere or not?
“Distance. Unless I’m waiting for you.”
He turned toward me. Shadows slipped far enough off his face to give me a glimpse of tired eyes and prominent, angular features. “Whatever the meter says at the end of the night, I’ll double it.” He faced the window again. “Just drive.”
I bit back my frustration. “Where?”
“Anywhere.” He seemed to be focused on something outside. All I could see was the outline of the back of his head and neck, and the top of his jacket collar. In a voice so low I wondered if he was speaking to me or himself, he added, “I’m not ready to go home, and I sure as fuck can’t stay here.”
I glanced at the hotel he’d come out of. Message received. I put the car in drive, pulled out of the reception area, and turned onto the road. Maybe he’d be more willing to cough up a destination once this place had disappeared into the rearview.
Suit yourself, dude. I’m holding you to that double fare.
Admittedly, I was curious. If this was a walk of shame, he wouldn’t be the first. I’d picked up plenty of people who were slinking out after a one-night stand they obviously regretted, and a few who needed to make a quick exit before they were busted by a partner who wouldn’t be pleased. Then there were the people who’d obviously had an amazing night—maybe with a stranger, maybe not—and grinned all the way back to their own places. Hotel pickups in this town were nothing if not interesting.
This guy hadn’t been carrying a bag when he’d come out. Eyes down, hands in his jacket pockets, he’d walked like he was on autopilot. Maybe he’d been kicked out by someone who was still in a room with his luggage? Or he and someone else had rented a room for a short time, and things hadn’t gone as planned?
I wasn’t clairvoyant, so I wasn’t going to figure it out.
For a solid ten minutes, the only sounds in my car were the AC and the road noise as I followed the gritty highway toward town. I didn’t even have the radio on—I never did when I had a passenger—but I was tempted right then to find some music. With my luck, though, I’d probably put on some song that would annoy him, or would strike some nerve. Like the time a guy had gotten into my car and, when a particularly sad country song came on, started bawling about the woman who’d just dumped him. That had been one long, awkward ride.
So yeah. Radio off.
I subtly tapped my thumbs on the wheel, keeping the beat of the song that had been stuck in my head all night. It was something to do, anyway.
From time to time, I caught a glimpse of pale light hinting at his features. He must’ve been doing something on his phone. Maybe a few texts to get in the last word with whoever he’d left in that hotel room or something. I had no idea. He stayed silent, which most passengers did, but for some reason, that silence made me twitch. Probably because I still had no idea where the hell he wanted to go.
We were getting close to downtown now. There weren’t a lot of options for directions, but if I got on the highway and headed north or south, there were some stretches where we could go five or ten miles with no place to turn around.
“So, um.” I hesitated. I sucked at small talk, and it didn’t seem welcome anyway, but I did need some more information from him. “Any, uh, particular direction?”
My passenger was silent for about half a block. “Maybe down by the water.”
I bit back an impatient sigh. This was a Navy town, hugging the strip of land between a national forest and the Pacific Ocean. There was no such thing as not down by the water.
Dude, where down by the water?
Well, whatever. As long as he didn’t get annoyed with me for lacking the psychic abilities to know where he wanted to go.
I made a left and headed toward the pier at the south edge of town, and hoped that would satisfy him. Most of the shops and restaurants on the pier and the boardwalk would be closed this time of night, but if he didn’t like it, he could give me something more specific.
Then, he broke the silence. “You get a lot of business in a small town like this?”
“That depends.” I glanced in the rearview. “You looking to become a driver?”
He laughed quietly, and I caught a hint of smoke in his voice as he said, “No. No. Just making conversation.”
“Oh.” I hadn’t expected him to want conversation, but okay. “Business is all right. It’s only a part-time gig for me. During the week is kind of quiet, but the weekends, I scrape up all the Sailors stumbling out of bars.”
Another laugh. I decided I liked the way he laughed. Probably because it was better than uncomfortable silence.
“Somebody’s got to do it, right?” he mused.
“Yeah.” I wasn’t sure what else to say, and silence fell again.
The pier was coming up fast, and I was ready for this ride to be over, but then he leaned forward and gestured up ahead. “There’s a 7-Eleven on the left. Could you stop there?”
“Yeah. Sure.” I pulled into the parking lot.
“I’ll be right back.” He unbuckled his seat belt and opened the door, but paused. “Do you want anything?”
I looked at him in the rearview. “What?”
His reflection’s eyes met mine. Wow, they were blue. “I was going to get something to drink. You want anything?”
“Um.” I glanced down at the water bottle that had been empty in my cup holder for a while now. “You don’t . . . you don’t have to—”
“I’ll feel less guilty about making you drive me all over town.”
Oh hell. Why not? “I could go for some water. Thanks.”
He smiled, crinkling the corners of his eyes, and yeah, I needed some water. Something cold, anyway. Jesus.
“All right. I’ll be back.”
With that, he was out of the car, and I exhaled hard, sagging against my seat. I didn’t dislike the guy, and he’d been perfectly polite since I’d picked him up, but I had to admit it was nice to have a short break from that weird silence. I also turned on the radio, but kept the volume way, way down. It was loud enough I’d be able to hear it, but soft enough that, if he noticed it at all, he might believe it had been on the entire time. Why did I care, anyway? We were in my car. We weren’t talking. Let me listen to some goddamned music.
Through the 7-Eleven’s windows, I finally got a good look at him as he paid the cashier. He was vaguely familiar too, but the fact that he needed to get on base explained that—I drove people on and off post all the time, and I went there myself because my dad was stationed there. It was entirely possible I’d seen this guy at the commissary, in a parking lot, at the gym. The base wasn’t as big as Norfolk or San Diego—not by a long shot—so paths crossed on a regular basis.
He didn’t have a high-and-tight like the NCOs on the base. His light-brown hair was still short and neat, if not as severe as it was in the younger guys under my dad’s command. Even though his fatigue was visible from here—tired eyes, slightly downturned shoulders—he still carried himself like someone who’d worn a uniform for the better part of his life. He stood straight, and if he walked that fast when he was obviously exhausted, he must’ve been impossible to keep up with the rest of the time. Obviously military, but that was no shock in this town.
After he’d paid, he came back to the car, and he sat on the passenger side of the backseat this time. When I twisted around to take the water bottle he’d brought for me, we made real eye contact for the first time. He also held that eye contact like someone who flinched away from nobody.
“Here you go.” He handed a water bottle over the seat.
“Thanks.” I glanced at the one he was uncapping. It was the same brand of water as mine. “I figured you were getting a drink.”
He glanced at the bottle in his hand and shrugged. “Nah. I’m going to feel shitty enough tomorrow. No point in adding to it.”
He took a deep swallow and leaned back against the seat. I drank a bit too. I was still watching him the whole time, which was much easier now that he wasn’t directly behind me. And, God, the light spilling out from the 7-Eleven made him much easier to see too, and up close, he was smoking hot. He was definitely older than me—he had a few lines, and I could make out a few grays too. That didn’t necessarily mean much. The military had a habit of aging people prematurely. All the guys I knew looked at least five years older than they were. Ten if they’d been to combat.
So I couldn’t tell how old he was, only that he definitely wasn’t twenty anymore. Older guys weren’t really my thing, but time had been kind to him, and I hoped my heart wasn’t beating as loudly as it seemed to be. Of course he wouldn’t be able to hear it, but rational thought had gone MIA right then.
When he’d spoken earlier, there’d been a distinctive hint of gravel in his voice, and he had the same creases at the edges of his mouth that both my parents did. If he wasn’t a smoker now, he had been at one point in his life. Considering he hadn’t stopped outside the 7-Eleven for a smoke, and I couldn’t smell any on him, he must’ve quit.
And why was I so interested in him? Half the time I forgot what my passengers looked like five minutes after they left my car, but this guy needed to be memorized for some reason.
He took another drink, drawing my attention to his slim lips, his jaw, his neck . . .
I turned back around, nearly unloading my own drink into my lap before I managed to swallow a gulp. Meeting his gaze again—this time in the safety of the rearview—I said, “So, you want to keep driving around?”
He nodded. “Yeah. I still don’t know where I want to go.”
So I drove. With the road to hold my attention, at least I wasn’t staring at him anymore. Even with the radio playing softly in the background, the lack of conversation was more unnerving now that I’d let myself shamelessly check him out. It was one thing to have a weirdly silent passenger. It was another to have a smoking-hot one, especially when I was a few months into the dry spell from hell.
Note to self—don’t check out passengers if you haven’t gotten laid recently.
I fidgeted as subtly as I could. Thank God for the darkness, so my very attractive and very quiet passenger couldn’t see me surreptitiously adjusting myself. Not that he’d have noticed—he was playing on his phone again.
Out of nowhere, he broke the silence. “Christ, I’m such an idiot.”
I tapped the wheel. What was I supposed to say to that?
He let his head fall back against the headrest. “You ever wonder why perfectly functional adults turn into utter morons when they’re in relationships?”
“Um.” I cleared my throat. “Happens to all of us, I think.”
“Yeah.” He laughed bitterly. “Maybe one of these days I’ll learn.”
“You’d be the first.”
“Probably.” He scrubbed a hand over his face and exhaled. “I just . . . I mean, the worst part is when you invest so much time and energy into a relationship even when you know it’s over, and then feel like a moron when it is over.”
Oh, that explained it. A hotel room breakup. I wondered if he’d gone there expecting to spend a more pleasant evening with his girlfriend, and then found himself single and in the back of my car. Poor dude.
“Sorry to hear it,” I said.
“My own damn fault for not putting on the brakes months ago.” He muttered something I didn’t understand, and shook his head as he looked out the window again. “Didn’t have the balls I guess. Can’t even be mad that—” He paused and cleared his throat. “Well, I wasn’t going to do it. Guess I should be grateful someone finally dropped the hammer.”
He went on, mostly rambling about breakups and doomed relationships that seem to go on forever until someone finally works up the courage to call it off. I wasn’t sure exactly what he was trying to rationalize, but God knew I’d been there—searching every angle of a breakup to find silver linings and explanations so it wouldn’t hurt quite as much.
As he talked, I listened. It was usually my drunk passengers who did this—talking to the window like they didn’t even need to be heard as much as they needed to get it out of their system—but he seemed pretty sober. Sober enough to know he was in a car with a stranger. I couldn’t help feeling bad for him. This town wasn’t huge, but the only person he could find to unload all this shit on was me?
Jesus, man. How lonely are you?
Though it was a Navy town. People came and went. Loneliness was par for the course. Didn’t I know it?
“Anyway.” He blew out a breath. “I’m sorry. You probably didn’t get this job to listen to people whine about their boyfriends.”
“It’s okay. I’ve been—” Wait, did he say boyfriends? I muffled a cough. “I’ve been there, believe me.”
“Sorry to hear it.”
For a few seconds, silence. Then, “Well, that’s what I get for trying to maintain a relationship in the military. All it takes is a change of assignment, and . . .”
I sighed. “The Navy giveth, and the Navy taketh away.”
“Yes. Yes, it does.” He ran a hand through his hair. “It most definitely does.”
And for the hundredth time tonight, I had no idea what to say. He didn’t speak either, and I kept driving.
A sign caught my eye. Somehow, I’d circled back toward the pier where we’d been heading earlier.
“Why don’t you go ahead and park up there?” he said. “I could stand to get some fresh air, I think.”
“Sure.” I parked in front of the weathered driftwood fence at the end of the pier.
“I think I might go walk for a while.” He unbuckled his seat belt. “You don’t have to wait. I can, um, call another driver.”
“It’s all right. I’m already here.” I paused. “I can turn off the meter too.”
His eyebrows rose. “You don’t have to do that.”
I shrugged. “Seems like you could use a little time to clear your head.” I switched off the meter. “Won’t do you any good if it’s costing you by the minute.”
My passenger exhaled slowly. “That’s . . . I really appreciate that. Are you sure, though?”
I nodded. “It’s fine.”
“Okay. Uh, thanks.” He opened the door, then paused again. “You want to join me?”
Yes. Yes, I do. I have no idea why, but I do.
I shook my head, though, and killed the engine. “I’ll stay here. Take as much time as you need.”
He hesitated again, holding my gaze in the mirror. I thought he might say something else, but all he did was mutter something about being back in a little while, and got out.
The door shut, and it was just me, the barely audible radio, and my thumping heart. Sweaty hands on the wheel, I watched him walk toward the pier, then out onto it. He stopped a short ways down, at the far edge of a streetlight’s wide circle, and rested his forearms on the railing. He gazed out at something, and I gazed out at him.
He was impossible to read, especially from this far away, but I could empathize. I knew what overdue breakups were like. Even if they were a long time coming, they still sucked, and there were still pieces to pick up.
My stomach tightened. I’d been there. God, I’d been there. And the worst part of my last breakup had been being alone. Completely alone. Dad had been deployed. It was back before we’d moved in with his girlfriend, so I’d been holding down the fort by myself. We’d only been in this town a few months by then, and everyone I could talk to had been scattered all over both coasts and various places overseas. I could text, call, email, but at the end of the day I’d been alone, and stayed that way, and I’d hated it.
I watched my passenger, who still watched something in the distance. Maybe that was why he’d asked me to just drive him around instead of taking him straight home. Maybe it was why he’d invited me to join him while he walked around out there.
Maybe he knew as well as I did how lonely a guy could be in a town of forty thousand.
To hell with it.
I got out of the car, locked it, and started after him.
From where I stood on that empty wooden pier, the glow of the base was more than visible—it was unavoidable. This part of town was fairly dark, but a few miles up the coast, warm light swelled from behind the hills. Before the base, Anchor Point had probably been one of those places that would get so dark, you could see stars people in major cities didn’t know existed. Not anymore.
A peninsula stuck out far enough to block any view of the actual base or the brightly lit pier. Fine. I knew it all by heart. The razor-wire-topped fences. The armed sentries patrolling under spotlights that belonged over a prison yard. The ships with their white hull numbers lit up. Rows of drab utilitarian buildings. Slate-gray metal and white painted stripes and stern Restricted Area signs everywhere. All the places where dock workers and Sailors took their smoke breaks. That one stretch between the aircraft carrier and the supply ship where the seagulls were so aggressive, nobody dared walk through with a visible bag from Subway or Burger King. I couldn’t see any of it from here, but it was clear as day in my mind. Six months in that place and I already knew it like the back of my hand.
Tonight, NAS Adams was the last place I wanted to be. Well, second to last. The Sand Dollar Motel definitely topped the list, at least until Jayson checked out tomorrow and left town, probably never to return.
Releasing a breath, I shifted my gaze to the water below me. It was barely visible—only a few flecks of light picked out the gently rolling waves as the tide lapped at the pylons—but it was something to look at besides the glow of the base.
Bases like NAS Adams had been my life for the last twenty-four years. They would be for the next . . . well, until I retired. And for the most part, I was okay with that. I loved the Navy. I loved my job. I’d worked my ass off, and I was proud of where I was.
But my relationship with Jayson wasn’t the first casualty of my career. An instructor at the Academy had once told me that I was married to the Navy, and anyone else who came along would be one more in a string of mistresses who’d be gone as soon as the novelty wore off. Back then, he’d sounded so cynical and jaded, especially to a cocky teenager with stars in his eyes. Specifically, the embroidered stars on an admiral’s shoulders.
Twenty-four years, two wedding rings, and too many breakups later, as yet another “mistress” disappeared over the horizon, I decided that instructor might’ve been onto something after all.
I probably had as much to do with it as the Navy, too. Looking at my track record, a happy, lasting relationship seemed about as attainable as my next rank—I couldn’t make things work with a partner any more than I could apparently persuade the Navy to put me in command of a ship, and without commanding a ship, I could kiss that promotion to admiral good-bye.
I really am a fucking shipwreck, aren’t I?
And I decided that walking out of the 7-Eleven without that pack of Marlboros had been a really bad idea. I hadn’t smoked in eight years, but God, I wanted to start again tonight. Just one cigarette. Maybe two. Something to settle my goddamned nerves. Something in my mouth, damn it.
I could always have the driver take me to Flatstick. Good a time as any to check out the local scenery.
From what I’d heard, Flatstick had several gay bars, and even though this was a Wednesday night, the places would be packed with single men. Probably wouldn’t take much to find some horny guy to help get my mind off Jayson. Maybe it wasn’t the healthiest outlet, but it was probably better than giving in to that latent nicotine craving. It’d keep my mouth busy too.
Scrubbing a hand over my face, I sighed. God, I was pathetic.
Well, at least it was over. Jayson and I weren’t playing chicken anymore. After too many months, he’d finally blinked, and after a short, painful conversation, we’d wished each other the best, shared a long hug—I hadn’t dared kiss him or I’d never have made it out the door—and now we could get on with our lives. God knew I had enough practice at moving on after shit like this. I should’ve been good at it by now.
And I supposed I was. Especially since I’d seen this coming a mile away. If anything, I was just getting used to the idea that the inevitable had finally happened, and after months of anticipating, obsessing, losing sleep, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself.
All I needed to do was suck it up, maybe go out and get laid, and get over it. Then I could get on—
Footsteps snapped me out of my thoughts.
I turned my head as the streetlight illuminated my cab driver. My pulse jumped. “Oh. Hey.” I glanced at my watch. “Did you need to—”
“I decided to take you up on the offer.” He slipped his hands into his pockets and avoided my eyes. “If it’s still open, I mean. To join you.”
Pretending my heart hadn’t shifted into overdrive, I nodded. “Yeah. Sure.” I cleared my throat and mirrored him, putting my hands in my own pockets as I faced him. “You don’t mind wandering around with a stranger?”
He chuckled, which did weird things to my blood pressure. “I like walking on the wild side sometimes.”
“Can’t promise it’ll be all that wild, hanging around with an old guy who needs some fresh air.”
He gave me a quick and almost subtle down-up. With a shrug, he said, “More exciting than letting the radio put me to sleep in the car.”
I laughed. “Fair enough.”
We stood in silence for a moment. Then I gestured toward the end of the pier, and we started walking.
It was kind of weird to be out here with no one else in sight. During the day, especially during the summer, this pier would be teeming with people. It reminded me a little of Santa Monica. Or at least, a place that desperately wanted to be Santa Monica. It was half carnival, half beach, with people fishing, boating, playing fairway games, drinking. The smell of seawater would be almost completely masked by the heavy scents of funnel cakes, popcorn, and elephant ears.
Tonight, though, it was just us. Just me and this cab driver who didn’t seem to mind strolling along a deserted pier with some idiot he’d picked up from a hotel. Up ahead, I thought I saw the vague shadow of someone fishing over the railing. There were some muffled voices in the distance too, though I couldn’t tell if they were coming from farther down the pier or back on land. But for the most part, it was us, the smell of the ocean, and the gentle sloshing of the tide.
We moved between light and shadow, in and out of the milky beams of overhead streetlights. In some places, I couldn’t even see the boards beneath our feet. A few steps later, everything was visible, from the rusty bolts holding it all together to the spackle of seagull shit and petrified chewing gum that foot traffic had pounded down into the aging wood.
About halfway down the pier, the driver slowed a little and took in a deep breath through his nose. “Man, I love it down here. Especially when it’s practically empty.”
“Yeah, it’s nice.” No Sailors, no ships—what wasn’t to love? “You come here a lot?”
“Yeah.” He stared up ahead at the light-shadow-light of the empty pier. “My ex loved this place.” He paused, swallowed, and added in a barely audible whisper, “This was always his favorite spot to fish.”
He turned slightly, as if glancing at me to see if I’d caught that pronoun.
Oh, yes. I caught it. Don’t you worry.
Blood pounded in my ears. Maybe he didn’t need to drive me down to Flatstick after all.
I shook myself and shoved that thought out of my mind. He was probably half my age, and even if he had taken me up on my offer to join me out here, that didn’t mean he wanted to hook up. I was being an idiot. A desperate, freshly dumped idiot who couldn’t tell a nicotine craving from a hard-on, and would probably be better off picking up a pack of Marlboros before going home to feel sorry for myself while I let him get on with his shift.
Though as we strolled down the pier and I stole a few glances at him, I had to admit he was walking temptation if I’d ever seen it. His jaw had a fine dusting of five-o’clock shadow, and every time his dark eyes darted my way, my whole body tingled. As soon as I’d snapped out of my haze in the car and actually looked at him, I’d noticed his dyed-black hair, but now the streetlights picked out some cobalt highlights. Why did that make my body temperature rise? Wild colors didn’t usually do it for me, but something about the blue and black was perfect on him.
He was a little shorter than me, and from his straight back and set shoulders, he was no stranger to the gym. The thought of him lifting made my knees weak.
Anytime you need a spotter, do give me a call.
I shook myself again. What the hell? He was a kid, for god’s sake. He couldn’t have been older than twenty-five, and I doubted he was even that old. Unbearably hot? Absolutely. Someone I had any business checking out? Not even a little.
And I knew damn well it wasn’t him screwing with my senses. He was gorgeous, but I knew me, and I knew why I was looking at him this way. I had half a mind to go back to the car and tell him to take me to Flatstick. Grieving a relationship happened in very predictable stages for me, and I was already past the first stage: berating myself for whatever I’d done to screw things up. Not an hour later, I was well into stage two: needing to get screwed until I couldn’t think and couldn’t walk. Hell, I’d already reinstalled Grindr while in the backseat of the cab. A little effort and a few messages, and I could be on my way into another man’s bed before too long.
But I stayed out here on this pier with the cute young cab driver who’d declined, then accepted, my offer to join me.
That didn’t mean it was his bed I should be trying to get into, though. He was working, not clubbing or prowling around in search of another desperate, horny guy like I was.
He slowed his gait again and glanced at me. “So, um. I didn’t catch your name.”
“Sean.” Silence tried to work its way in again, but he cleared his throat. “I guess there are worse places to hang out when you’re having a rough night, right?” He cringed, grimacing like the words had sounded better in his head than in the air.
“Well, it’s either this or a bar.” I shrugged. “And I didn’t really feel like drinking tonight.”
“Yeah, that’s what you said. About not wanting to feel like shit tomorrow.”
“No shittier than I already do,” I muttered.
“Sorry to hear it.”
“Eh, it is what it is.” I fixed my gaze on the water. What I could see of it, anyway. “Long-distance relationships are hard. You spend most of your time wishing you were together, and then when you are together, you spend the whole time dreading the day he has to leave. Without any light at the end of the tunnel, knowing you might have to move and end up even farther apart makes it really hard.” I paused, realizing a little too late that I’d been running off at the mouth. “I’m sorry. You . . . probably didn’t come out here to—”
“It’s okay.” He glanced at me, and his shy smile settled my nerves. “I’ve been there. I get it.”
Sean nodded. “Yeah. I was dating a guy when I moved here last year.” Sighing, he looked out at the water. “That was over in a hurry.”
“Yeah. But like you said—it is what it is.” He rolled his shoulders beneath his jacket. “Probably wouldn’t have lasted much longer anyway.” He didn’t sound bitter or angry. A little resigned, maybe, but not like it was a raw nerve or an open wound. “Long-distance relationships can work, but they’re fucking hard.”
“They really are.” I paused. “It’s a shame yours didn’t work out.”
“Nah.” He gestured dismissively and kept his gaze fixed on the dark water. “It probably sped up the inevitable. Me coming out here, I mean.”
I nodded. “Sometimes it does.” I exhaled. “I, uh . . . Sorry to be a bit of a downer.”
“No, it’s okay.” He turned toward me, and his faint, shy smile made my breath catch. “Seemed like you could use some company. So . . .”
I swallowed, facing forward again. “Much appreciated. Kind of, um, seems like going above and beyond for your customers. I hope I’m not asking too—”
“No, not at all. Not, um . . . not at all.”
We exchanged glances, then kept walking in silence.
After a while, we stopped by the railing. I wasn’t even sure why. Or who initiated it. We just . . . stopped. For a minute or two, neither of us said anything. I couldn’t think of anything that wouldn’t sound weird, stupid, or plain old desperate, and I was somewhat afraid that if I opened my mouth, something really awkward would tumble out. Something to the effect of I could definitely use some company or I’m pretty sure that motel still has rooms available. I didn’t even know if it was him, or if it was my near-desperate need to fuck Jayson out of my system.
As subtly as I could, I looked him up and down in the blanched light. Yeah, he would definitely be on my radar even if I hadn’t been dumped tonight. A little young for anything more than a roll in the hay—what the hell would a good-looking twentysomething want with a cynical burnt-out bastard in his forties?—but attractive as fuck, especially now that I knew we played for the same team.
Seemingly oblivious to how much work it was taking for me to not hit on him, Sean folded his arms on the railing and leaned over them. “By the way, I hope I wasn’t out of line earlier. Thinking you’d gone in for a drink instead of . . .”
I laughed. “No, it’s okay. I thought about it, actually.”
“Okay. I . . .” He sighed, shaking his head. “Sometimes the mouth moves before the brain does.”
“I’d like to tell you that gets better with age, but if I’m any indication, it doesn’t.”
Sean chuckled and turned to me, the overhead light catching his eyes and sending a tingle up my spine. “So if I don’t have an internal censor now, I don’t have to have one?”
“Well, I don’t know if I’d advise against trying to develop one, but don’t hold your breath.”
He laughed again. “I’ll keep that in mind.” He held my gaze, and I wasn’t sure I could’ve looked away if I’d wanted to. Mostly because I didn’t want to, so it was kind of a moot point. Jesus, he had beautiful eyes. And humor had quirked his lips in a way that made me wonder—
I cleared my throat and looked out at the water. Beside me, he shifted, but I didn’t dare glance at him because those comments about company and motel vacancies were back at the tip of my tongue.
Sean drummed his fingers on the railing. “So have—”
“Excuse me, gentlemen.”
We spun around, and my heart dropped into my feet. The glint of light off a badge sent that all too familiar panic through me—getting caught out with a man was bad, bad, career-threatening bad.
Except we weren’t doing anything. Literally just walking and talking.
“Can we, uh, help you, Officer?” I asked.
The cop gestured over his shoulder with his thumb. “You’re on private property. I’m gonna need you to leave.”
“Oh.” I cleared my throat. “Sorry. I . . . didn’t realize . . .”
“It’s all right.” The cop smiled, but motioned again for us to get out. “A lot of people make that mistake.”
Sean and I exchanged glances, then headed back toward his car. The cop continued down the pier, probably searching for other trespassers.
While we walked, my pulse slowly returned to normal.
As subtly as I could, I took a few deep breaths to calm myself the rest of the way down. It had been a long time since being gay, or having someone suspect I was gay, could hurt my career. Hell, I’d been fully out since two years after DADT was lifted. The paranoia was still there, though. I knew damn well I was no longer in danger of losing my career if someone caught me with a man, but it was a habit as ingrained as saluting superiors and taking off my cover when I went indoors. Apparently it was deep-seated enough that merely being alone with a good-looking man could trigger it.
Especially when I was horny as hell and wouldn’t have said no to being more than just alone with this particular good-looking man.
I quickly tamped down that thought. Sean was being polite, not flirting. He was working, and probably not even aware he was being leered at by the much older stranger he most likely wanted to butter up for a better tip.
As we passed the entrance to the pier, Sean glanced over his shoulder, then shook his head. “You’d think they would mark this as private property if they wanted people to keep off.”
I glanced back too. “I’m sure they did. Somewhere.”
“In size ten font, right?”
I laughed. “Wouldn’t surprise me in the least.” I slid my hands back into my pockets. “Well, it was nice while it lasted.”
“Yeah, it was.” He turned toward me, and his shy smile nearly made me trip over my own feet. “Thanks again for inviting me out with you. It was a nice switch from sitting in the car.”
“Don’t mention it. Thanks for the company.”
We held each other’s gaze for a moment, then kept walking toward the car. It was a sedan of some sort. Not an actual marked cab, but I hadn’t expected one. The company he worked for was Anchor Point’s local competition for Uber, so most of the drivers used their personal cars.
He paused at the driver’s side. “You can, uh, sit up here if you want to.”
“Yeah.” He laughed. “Unless you like talking to the back of my head.”
I blinked. Did he just go there? “Talking to the—”
From the backseat, idiot.
Heat rushed into my cheeks. “Right. Sure. Front seat.”
He unlocked the doors, and we both took our seats. Sean drove us about a block from the pier, so we were well away from the private property we’d apparently been trespassing on. At a stoplight, he put both hands on the wheel and turned toward me. “So. Where to?”
Oh, I could think of a few places. Especially after that comment about talking to the back of your head.
Christ. Maybe I did need a drink tonight. And a cigarette.
I drummed my fingers on the armrest. “I suppose I should have you drop me off at home. I’m sure you need to pick up other people and . . .”
A faint smile formed on Sean’s lips. “I’m not in a big hurry, to be honest.”
“But you’re working.”
“I know. But I . . .” He paused, and if I wasn’t mistaken, his eyes flicked toward my lips. “I really don’t mind.”
We locked eyes, and I wondered if I was imagining the glint in his. My heart sped up. Wishful thinking. Had to be wishful thinking. I needed to get my mind off Jayson, and I was in a car with an attractive—hello, understatement—guy.
Sean tilted his head slightly. “Should I be in a hurry to drop you off?”
Probably, yes. “Depends.”
I swallowed. “What you think will happen if you don’t drop me off.”
“Maybe I’m curious.”
“Isn’t much to be curious about.” I hoped I didn’t sound as nervous as I suddenly felt. “You’re in a car with a guy who just broke up with someone.”
“Uh-huh.” He didn’t break eye contact.
“Now might be a good time for you to know you’re in a car with a guy who thinks the best way to get over a breakup is to dive headlong into bed with someone new.”
Sean gulped, but still didn’t look away. “Good to know.”
I swept my tongue across my lips. “You’re here to do your job, though. I don’t . . . I don’t want to take advantage of that. The customer isn’t always right.”
Sean reached for the dashboard and pressed a button. The timer on the meter froze. “Now I’m off the clock.” In the turquoise glow of the car’s gauges, he met my eyes again. “Your move.”
Well, if you’re gonna put it like that . . .
I unbuckled my seat belt. When I inched closer to him, he tensed. One hand came off the wheel, disappeared into the shadows, and materialized on my thigh.
I closed my eyes and pulled in a sharp breath. No amount of nicotine or alcohol would satisfy this craving. And no strangers from gay bars in Flatstick. As he slid his hand a little higher, stopping just shy of my growing erection, I met his gaze. Oh yes, this particular stranger was exactly what I needed tonight.
I put a hand on his leg and leaned in a little closer, anticipation tingling along every nerve ending as my heart thumped against my ribs. Sean mirrored me, leaning in as much as the console between us allowed, and tilted his head, and—
The goddamned car behind us honked.
L.A. Witt is an abnormal M/M romance writer who has finally been released from the purgatorial corn maze of Omaha, Nebraska, and now spends her time on the southwestern coast of Spain. In between wondering how she didn’t lose her mind in Omaha, she explores the country with her husband, several clairvoyant hamsters, and an ever-growing herd of rabid plot bunnies. She also has substantially more time on her hands these days, as she has recruited a small army of mercenaries to search South America for her nemesis, romance author Lauren Gallagher, but don’t tell Lauren. And definitely don’t tell Lori A. Witt or Ann Gallagher. Neither of those twits can keep their mouths shut . . .
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