Jack Torres has been harboring, zealously nurturing a hidden guilt for three years. This mire of emotions has hardened his heart and his want to reconnect to the living world, keeping him isolated and unapproachable.
Brant Teller is a chance encounter Jack keeps from growing physically violent in a crowded nightclub. Parting ways, Brant doesn't expect to see the brooding, silent officer again. Yet when a domestic violence call brings the surly officer right to his ER, Brant takes a chance. What begins as a Sunday of football has thepossibility to become so much more. If Jack will open himself up enough to release the agony of his own personal nightmare.
Jack followed the gyrating mob of bodies on the dance floor, idly rolling the glass on the table between his fingers in utter indifference, feeling the ice tap at the glass more than hearing it. Some of the crowd were in skintight leather, others in denim or silk. All were men. None appealed to Jack. He hadn’t danced with one, not that many hadn’t asked or plied their way into a hello with a drink. It didn’t matter in the least to him. He wasn’t there to cruise or to be picked up.
He should have been having a good time. He wasn’t.
Thumping bass music vibrated the floor, the plastic seat under his ass, even the air with the lights swinging and sparking to the rhythm. The blaring cacophony was enough to give a person epilepsy. His cousin, Trevi, had dragged him to Slick’s, and he really wished he hadn’t. Turning thirty was total bullshit in his book. Especially when doing it alone.
Hell, Trevi was having a better time than Jack was, dancing, uncaring that his partners were men. His cousin was a party animal. He could find a pack of hyenas and have a good time. He’d kept an eye on his younger cousin, but figured if he wanted to play in this pool for whatever the bounty, then he’d better be prepared to pay at the door. So far, Trevi had managed to avoid any real issues, and Jack was losing interest in keeping tabs on him. Might be why he hadn’t been back to the table in a dog’s age. Maybe Trevi had figured it all out. Maybe. He wasn’t holding his breath.
Jack lifted his glass to slurp down the latest concoction that had been set before him. He hadn’t had to order one drink yet. He’d lost count, and had quit bothering to thank the sharks swimming in ever-tightening circles for their largesse. If they wanted to toss drinks his way, let them. He didn’t have to work for another three days. Jack could get wasted in a swan dive of FUBAR proportions. And he was certainly considering doing just that.
“Damn it, Ryan. I said leave me alone.” Someone jostled his chair, but he ignored the bickering couple.
“But, babe, it was a one-time deal.”
Petulant whining. Yeah, that’s a real man there, folks.
A body slammed into Jack, splashing his drink over his hand. He set it down and stood. Probably something he shouldn’t have done since he was half-lit like a Christmas tree, but no one started shit around him.
At six-three he wasn’t huge—there were bigger men in all ways than him. But woe be to the one who dared to meet and keep his gaze.
“What’s the deal?” His voice was low, yet still easily heard over the pounding of the music.
“None of your business.”
Jack assumed the belligerent ass was Ryan, his counterpart, as of yet, unnamed.
He stared the dickhead square in the eye. “It becomes my business when you start getting physical.”
The man who had obviously been determined to end whatever was going on took Jack by surprise. He wasn’t some little twink, but a specimen of gorgeousness in a dark blue, skin tight t-shirt and ass-hugging denim. And was apparently the one who had plowed into Jack. It was more likely he’d been shoved, taking in their faces.
“Brant, seriously. He didn’t mean shit.”
“Obviously, neither did I if you let him do you.”
“You were late!”
“Don’t fucking pin it on me. You shouldn’t have let the ass suck you off!”
Jack had heard enough and was sure he didn’t need to know more. He was ready to avoid a lover’s spat, but that was when Ryan went a little too far. Thrusting a hand out, he wrapped unforgiving fingers around Brant’s throat, yanking him bodily forward. He wasn’t a lot taller than Brant, but did outweigh him with muscle that looked gifted by barbell.
Ryan gave Jack a smug look. “Sorry for disturbing you.”
Brant growled. “Let me go, you asshole.”
“Sorry. Can’t hear you.” Ryan began to step away, as though this was nothing unusual between the two. But by the flare of anger in Brant’s eyes, it was.
Jack heard his request distintly. He reached into his back pocket, aware Ryan had already dismissed him. Opening his bi-fold in clear view, he calmly but clearly ordered, “Let the man go, Ryan.” The flicker of his badge was unmistakable in the shimmer of the glittering lights.
A small gathering had quieted to watch the drama, but the club patrons were mostly oblivious. For that, Jack was grateful. He wasn’t on the clock and he was halfway to drunk. Just what he needed going on a report.
Slowly, Ryan’s fingers flexed, as he stood nearly eye–to-eye with Jack. Brant was right at six feet at a guess, and sleek as a leopard. Sinewy strength that, at the moment, was held frozen as Ryan debated pushing harder for domination.
Seconds crawled by until he relinquished Brant’s throat. He lifted a snarled lip at Jack, a “this round” silent challenge in his expression. Stepping away, he spun and disappeared into the crowd. Jack waved his hand. “Go,” he mouthed, and like a gun had been shot, the crowd vanished.
Jack slid into his chair, scouring the crowd for Trevi. He was done. Ready to get his ass home and in bed.
“Thank you.” Brant stood at his shoulder.
“Don’t mention it.”
“I don’t want to impose, but can I sit for a minute?”
Jack raised his gaze and noted the other man still looked shaken. “Sure.” He motioned to a chair at his side. “Is he like that all the time?” he asked, once Brant was seated and breathing calmly.
Brant shrugged, leaning on his elbows on the table, avoiding the slopped over liquor of Jack’s drink. “Not sure. We only dated a few weeks.” At least it was clear Brant had no intention of continuing with the jackass.
Glancing at him, Jack had the oddest notion he knew this man. Probably from the too many “whatevers” he’d had to drink. A fresh something slid onto the table, the waiter motioning across the room.
Lifting his eyes, Jack spotted the gift giver; a decent-looking businessman with steel rim glasses and a cute smile. He dipped his head in thanks, but didn’t touch it. “Fuck.”
“Tell me to kiss off if you want, but who pissed in your Cheerios?”
Jack snorted. “Here.” He offered Brant the fresh drink. “Enjoy.” He stood from his seat. “If another black haired mongrel that looks like me shows up, tell him I went home.”
“What’s your name?” Brant asked quickly, green eyes expectantly focused on him.
“And the mongrel?” Brant asked with a light grin.
“My cousin, Trevi.”
“I can do that. And thanks, Jack.”
“No problem.” He gave Brant a final once-over, stumped at the sense of recognition and knowing he was too drunk to really put it together. He walked outside to the cool autumn breeze, inhaling deep to help clear the alcohol fumes in his head. His ears were practically ringing from the insane volume inside. Taking his time, he walked to the side of the building, ready to find a cab.
§ § § §
Brant followed the large cop out of the bar with his gaze. “And Mom said there were no good men left,” he whispered under his breath. Brant had barely walked into the bar when he learned of Ryan’s infidelity. He’d missed the backroom show by only a mere ten minutes. Late my ass. But better now to know Ryan couldn’t be faithful. The violent streak he hadn’t expected, but he wasn’t a wimp. He was a third degree black belt, something he rarely exposed, his ace in the hole. He knew he wasn’t huge, but he didn’t lament the fact. Brant was sure the fuck not a pushover either. The situation just hadn’t left him many options. The bar was packed tighter than sardines, and the gawkers had penned them in like sideshow freaks at a circus. Jack had stepped in before he’d had a chance or the need to defend himself.
He pushed the drink away, not wanting to accept another man’s offering. Now that he and Ryan were done, he didn’t even want to stay. Slick’s wasn’t his kind of hangout; it was a little too wild, a little too loud.
A younger version of Jack bounced into the table. “Hey! Where’s Jack?”
“Went home. Trevi?”
The laughing man with rolling dark eyes just like Jack’s nodded. “Spoilsport. He should have had a better night. You only turn thirty once.”
It was Jack’s birthday? Brant didn’t say anything in reply. The man had definitely not been interested in anything to do with it being his birthday.
“Okay. Well, so long as you know.”
“Yeah, no worries. He’s a grump, thought this would cheer him up.” Trevi leaned in as though to whisper in a conspirator’s way. “He’s gay.”
Brant laughed. “You’re in a gay bar, Trevi.”
“So? Freaking dance fiends!” Someone pulled at the belt at his waist, and Brant burst out with short laughter as Trevi was yanked to the dance floor with a drunken shriek of surprise. Brant hoped he didn’t do something he’d regret in the morning. Namely, go home with a gay man.
Brant shook his head. Trevi looked like a grown man, younger than Jack, but old enough to know what he was getting in to. He slipped from the chair he’d borrowed and apologized as he accidentally bumped into someone.
Ryan’s feral grin met him just as he encircled a wrist and bent one of Brant’s arms behind his back. “Hi, honey. Ready to go home?”
Brant drew a calming breath. His muscles clenched under the strain of the hold on his arm, but he knew he could escape. Ryan was overconfident, expecting Brant to simply follow and obey. He was the greater fool for it.
Brant walked in front of Ryan through the doors into the cool evening. September was brisk at the higher elevations. Closer to the coast, it wouldn’t be so noticeable after the sun set. “Ryan, let me go.” He made the request firm. Ryan didn’t even slow, as though he hadn’t heard, still herding Brant toward the parking lot.
They walked calmly until Brant made his move. He bent his knee, throwing his weight off balance. Using his free elbow to take Ryan off his guard, he then twisted to land a jabbed knee into Ryan’s stomach. Ryan sagged with the wind knocked out of him and Brant punched him on the temple with the broadside of his fist. He went down like a felled log within seconds.
“No, honey, I’m not going anywhere with you,” Brant stated firmly.
Brant spun, unaware they’d had an audience. A smile rose when he recognized Jack. Then Brant realized what he’d just seen. “You’re not going to arrest me, are you? He was trying to take me against my will.”
“I saw him.” Jack’s gaze flicked to the man on the ground, then up to Brant again. “You… That was explosive. You were free before I even said a word.”
Looking at the dark haired man before him, he noted the difference between him and Trevi… Trevi! “Hey, is your cousin safe in there? He does know it’s a gay bar, right?” Sharks could hurt a tender, inexperienced thing like the cute, young man.
“He knows.” Jack’s expression cooled. He grimaced, then, “He’s gay, but hasn’t quite figured it out. He plays too much. One of these days, it’s going to catch up to him.”
Brant cleared the space between them, approaching Jack. “What are you doing out here? Thought you were going home?”
“Waiting for a cab.”
Brant dug his keys out of his front pocket. “Come on. I owe you.”
Ryan moaned, shakily rising to his hands and knees. Jack seemed to debate, maybe considering arresting Ryan instead, then nodded.
Brant waited for Jack to settle in his car to get directions.
“You really didn’t need me earlier,” Jack mumbled, his head resting with his eyes closed.
“Yes and no. I couldn’t have stopped him in the club. I do appreciate you doing that.”
Jack snorted and Brant slid a glance in his direction, careful to pay attention to his driving. “Trevi said it was your birthday.” The radio was off, so the words were soft spoken.
A wide shoulder lifted. “Yeah.” The tone was clear. Don’t want to talk about it.
“So, are you a beat cop, a detective? Vice?”
“Just a regular beat cop.”
And sour persimmons were sweeter than that answer. Jack was a prickled pickle. For some reason, Brant felt drawn to the surly man. He intrigued Brant even if all his efforts were fruitless to learn more. He watched the road, listening as Jack’s breathing evened out to a light doze.
Stealing peeks to his side, he noticed Jack wasn’t bad looking. In fact, if he wasn’t grimacing or snarling, he was very appealing. A masculine jaw, firm lips with a teasing fullness to the bottom one, a slightly sharp nose with a bump on the bridge telling it had been broken at least once, and espresso black eyes he remembered seeing earlier walking with Jack to the car. Not quite onyx but so brown they could fool anyone. The man’s physique was incredible on top of it. Solid abs, thick arms and thighs, and his ass was solid as steel if the view Brant had of Jack’s departure was to be believed. Jack was the kind of man that women sighed over and bemoaned their loss for being gay.
The kind of man Brant hungered for.
He let out a slow breath, concentrating on his driving. No sense in dreaming about this one. Even he recognized the signs of an unattainable heart.