An online date as a favor to a friend is about to change Kyle Ballantine's life--in ways he never dreamed possible.
Kyle Ballantine is not looking forward to Valentine's Day. Even though he's been invited to a party, he feels intimidated as he'll have to go on his own. He's been dateless for the past six months, so when his best friend Paul, asks him to go on an online date with a man he'd arranged to meet but now can't because of a family commitment, Kyle figures he has nothing to lose, but time.
Meeting someone as gorgeous as Erik Kelemen was not what Kyle expected, nor the whirlwind romance that follows. Kyle and Erik seem like the perfect match, but there's something different about Erik, something Kyle can't quite put his finger on-- until a stranger arrives at Kyle's apartment with a revelation that has him questioning the man's sanity.
But if the stranger is telling the truth, then Kyle and Erik's future together is doomed, along with Kyle's dream of finding that perfect, but elusive, Valentine.
I'm generally not the panicky type, but the realization that I was twenty-five, gay, and without a date for Valentine's Day--which was just a week away--most definitely sent a frisson of something akin to dread down my spine. Not only that, I hadn't had a real date in over six months. My friends tell me I'm too darned picky, but honestly there is something to be said for being able to separate the wheat from the chaff. I don't have outlandish expectations. It would be nice if a prospective boyfriend wasn't troll-like and had a sense of humor. Surely it's not asking too much that he'd be able to string a couple of sensible sentences together, and preferably not while chowing down on a pizza or a burger. There's nothing quite so disconcerting as watching food being masticated in an open mouth...and then there's the spray.
I still shuddered at the memory of my last blind date with Brett--or was it Brad?--who had tried to regale me with the details of his latest real estate listing while rapidly chewing on something or other. He would pause now and then so he could use his finger nail to dislodge some errant piece of meat from between his teeth. Any hope he had of ending the date with a goodnight kiss went out the window as far as I was concerned. I'm not in the habit of carrying dental floss around with me...but maybe I should. "Hey, Brad/Brett, use this. It's good and minty."
The chiming of my cell phone distracted me from my morbid thoughts, and I smiled when I saw it was my best friend, Paul, calling.
"Hey, Paul, what's up?"
"You got anything planned for tonight?"
With anyone but Paul, I might have hesitated to make it appear as if I had to think about it. But Paul knew my social calendar, or lack of it, as well as I did. "Not a thing, why?"
"I made a big mistake, Kyle."
Uh oh... "Mistake?"
"Yeah, I accepted this online date from a guy I've been chatting with for a coupla nights, and I completely forgot Janet asked me to babysit Joel. She just called to remind me."
"You want me to babysit Joel?"
He laughed. "No, I wouldn't inflict my nephew on my worst enemy, never mind my best bud. What I'd like for you to do is meet up with Erik."
"Erik, the guy I met online. He spells it with a 'k' on the end instead of a 'c'. Think he's Scandinavian or something."
"But doesn't he know what you look like?"
"No. We haven't exchanged pics as of yet. Honestly, Kyle, I know you'll call me a slut, but I was online with a couple of other guys at the same time as him."
I snorted out a laugh. "You are too much. I don't know how you do it."
"I don't know how you don't do it," he retorted. "You complain you don't have a date, but you don't do anything about it. Mr. Right isn't gonna come flying through your bedroom window you know."
"Paul, I'm not any good at blind dates. The last time--"
"Yeah, yeah, you told me all about it--several times. Just take a chance and please do this for me. I hate being a no-show, and he might be really nice."
"Maybe he's not into blond guys," I said, weakening slightly.
"Or maybe he is," Paul countered immediately. "But you won't know until you meet him. Listen, if he looks like the Hunchback of Notre Dame or the Penguin, just shoot the breeze for a few minutes then get a headache and say you have to go. No big deal. No one really expects to meet their soul mate on these online dates."
"So what's the point?"
"The point is it'll get you out of your apartment for the night, or at least for an hour or so. You are becoming a recluse. Everyone says so. And who knows? You might really hit it off. Please, Kyle..."
"Who is everyone?" I demanded.
"Your friends. Alan, for one, who invited you to his Valentine's Day party. He told me you said no. Honestly, Kyle, you need to get out more. You're a good-looking dude, and you shouldn't be hiding from all the potential husbands out there. Maybe there'll be someone at Alan's party you can hook up with."
"Going to a Valentine's party without a date is admitting you're a loser," I said, knowing I sounded whiny.
"What crap. You can go with me and whoever I decide to take. Okay, we'll argue about this later. Will you please meet Erik tonight?"
I sighed. "What time, and where?"
"Eight o'clock, at the Abbey. I always insist on a place where there are tons of people, just in case. Thank you, Kyle. You are still my best friend. And who knows? You might be thanking me, after tonight."
"Wait, how do I know what he looks like? The Abbey will be packed with guys."
"Oh yeah, he said he's tall, has dark hair, and he'll have a red rose in his lapel."
I laughed. "Wow, how clichÃ©d." And kinda romantic...
"Call me when you get home and let me know how it went."
"Will do--and you owe me."
Chuckling, he said 'bye' and hung up.
* * * *
True to form, West Hollywood's favorite gay meeting place was filled with a lively and diverse crowd all engaged in conversation despite the noise of the blaring music surrounding them. I wound my way through the jostling crowd, eyes peeled for a tall dark stranger sporting a red rose in his lapel. 'Lapel' made me think he'd be wearing a coat of some kind, a bit much in the warmth of the bar. I had opted for black skinny jeans and a burgundy colored sweater over a white T-shirt. In February, the nights can get chilly even in Southern California. If it got too warm in the bar I could safely slip out of the sweater. I scanned the crowd but couldn't see a red rose anywhere.
Oh well... Maybe Paul's reluctance to be a no-show wasn't shared by his online buddy. I managed to get to the bar and ordered a glass of Cabernet. I was driving so I intended on taking it easy drink-wise. The hot bartender gave me a big smile and a wink as he poured my wine. I knew he was just being a good, friendly bartender, but it did help make me feel less out of place, alone in this seething crowd. I was just about to ask how he was doin' when a touch on my shoulder made me jump and turn around. Just as well I hadn't yet sipped the wine for I'm pretty sure I would've gulped it down with surprise and most likely choked on the stuff.
"Kyle?" the vision of sheer masculine perfection standing in front of me asked.
"Uh... Y-yes," I stammered, my wide eyes taking in the red rose on his lapel. "Erik?"
He smiled and took my hand in his, his grip cool and strong, and sensuous enough to send a shiver down my spine. "Erik Kelemen."
"K-Kyle Ballantine. Pleased to meet you." I couldn't quite believe how incredibly good-looking he was. He'd told Paul he had dark hair, but it was such a rich darkness, almost black, and his eyes, a glittering dark green under feathered brows were mesmerizing. And ridiculous as it sounded even to me, he looked familiar. But where in hell would someone like me ever meet someone like him? "C-can I buy you a drink?"
He glanced at the glass in my hand. "Please... I think what you are having would suit me too."
There was a hint of an accent in his softly spoken words. European, I guessed. I turned back to look for the friendly bartender and found him right there staring at Erik as if he too was hypnotized by the man's striking looks.
"Uh, another Cabernet," I said, finally getting his attention.
"Right," he muttered and rushed off to fill the order.
"How did you know my name?" I asked Erik.
"Paul emailed me and told me he could not meet with me, but he sent his best friend, Kyle, in his place." He smiled showing white even teeth behind lush lips. "He also told me I would not be disappointed in you, that you were very handsome, and a sweet guy."
I felt my cheeks warm, not so much from his words, but from the way he was gazing at me, as if he would lean forward and kiss me at any moment. And, without a doubt, I would let him and kiss him right back, and maybe even let him have his way with me, right here, in front of everyone, and--Jesus, get a grip!
The sound of a cough behind me had me tearing my eyes from Erik and staring instead at the bartender who was holding out the glass of wine I'd ordered.
"Thanks," I mumbled, passing him a twenty.
"Welcome." He stared at Erik for so long, I think if he could have hopped over the bar and joined us without jeopardizing his job, he would have.
I passed the glass to Erik who accepted it with a slight bow. Wow, manners maketh the man. I thought I'd heard that somewhere or other, and it certainly applied to him.
"There is a small vacant table over there," he said, pointing out one in the corner. "Would you care to sit?"
How did that happen? I wondered as we walked toward it. There wasn't one other available in the entire place, and no one seemed to be making a mad dash for it. Erik put his hand on the small of my back as if to steer me safely to the table. I was very aware of his touch and the ripple of pleasure that coursed through me. He indicated that I should sit first then he slipped off the leather coat he was wearing and sat next to me. Our thighs brushed together and again I felt that shiver plus a stirring in my groin that brought heat to my face again. God, Kyle, pull yourself together. You've just met the man... Yeah, well try telling your cock that.
"Have you been here before?" I asked him after taking a sip of my wine.
He nodded and a lock of his dark hair fell over his forehead. My hand itched to ease it back but I controlled the urge, barely. "Once or twice. It's a little too busy for my taste. I prefer a more intimate place for meeting someone for the first time, but I understand the online dating safety measures. Safety in numbers, yes?"
"That's what they say." I didn't add that I would have met him anywhere he suggested, but maybe I'd save that for the next time, which I found I was sincerely hoping would happen. "Where are you from, Erik?"
"Hungary. A little town outside Budapest I'm afraid you would not have heard of. And you... Are you a native Angelino?"
I chuckled. "'Fraid not. Omaha, Nebraska is my hometown. Paul's too. We both came to L.A. at the same time."
"No, just as friends. We've known each other since elementary school. Paul would come stay over at my house a lot."
"Because his parents were not very nice?"
"How'd you know that? Are you a mind reader?"
"A lucky guess. Or not so lucky, I suppose. Paul's young life was not very happy."
"Oh, he told you that?"
"Reading between the lines, yes."
I sighed. "Yeah, his dad was rough on him, 'specially when he found out Paul was gay, is gay, I mean. My folks were less judgmental, so he'd spend time with us..." I wondered if I was babbling a bit. I mean, who wants to hear sad stories on a first date? But he did ask. "Were your parents okay about you being gay?"
"They never knew, and they passed away many years ago."
"Oh, I'm sorry. You must've been just a kid."
He smiled. "Something like that, yes." His eyes held mine, and once again I felt that sensual tingle, and he wasn't even touching me. Then he was. He put his hand over mine, and the tingle became almost like an electric pulse. I found I couldn't tear my gaze away from his.
"You guys like another drink?" The voice, pitched loud enough to overcome the music's blare made me jump. I looked away from Erik at the young, cute waiter watching us expectantly. "Sorry, didn't mean to interrupt. I'm Andy. Another two?"
"Yes, please." Erik placed a credit card on the guy's tray. "Two Cabernets, thank you." He waited until Andy had rushed off then he leaned closer to me. "I would like to kiss you. Is that permissible?"
Is that permissible? Who talks like that anymore? Maybe in Hungary... "Completely permissible," I said, throwing all caution to the wind. Paul would be proud of me... maybe.
His lips were soft, cool at first, and I shivered yet again. Then warmth spread through me, and my cock which had been semi-rigid the entire time we'd been sitting together, sprang completely to attention, and I shifted uncomfortably on the bench. His tongue traced the seam between my lips, I parted them for him, letting his tongue enter my mouth--and I saw stars. I gasped from the effect and spontaneously wrapped my arms around him.
How long that kiss went on I have no idea. It almost felt as if I were having an out of the body experience and, crazily, as if he and I had done this before. Where the hell did that thought come from? When he leaned back taking his mouth away from mine, I wanted to grab him and do it all over again.
"Here we are, guys." Andy the waiter's perky voice broke the spell I was under, and I reluctantly sat back so that Erik could sign the check and Andy could set the glasses down in front of us.
Erik raised his glass to me. "Salud," he said, softly, and maybe it was my imagination, but in that one word, I could swear I heard the echo of some kind of promise.
* * * *