“I’m glad you made it. I was beginning to worry we wouldn’t get the approval we need to open on time.” Austin whirled around to find a very handsome stranger coming toward him.
The sexy stranger stepped toward him with a clipboard in his hand. He looked like he belonged, but that just couldn’t be. The only person who should be there was Charles Robert, and this definitely wasn’t Charles Robert. Charles Robert was very much like his brother, Rory Alan, with a nearly shaved head that was indicative of some of the backwards men who seem to believe that having a longer hairstyle like this man did was unmanly.
Not to mention, this man wore a friendly smile that seemed to brighten the already sunny day. Then there were the sexy bedroom eyes that had Austin wanting to see what they would look like in the morning after a long night of pleasure.
“Earth to Austin.” The man waved his hand in front of Austin’s face as if to wake him out of the stupor he seemed to find himself in.
“Huh?” Austin tried to get his brain to come back online but he was having a bit of difficulty with the ripped body he couldn’t stop staring at.
The man gave him a very sexy grin that had Austin drooling. “Is there anything you need for me to get started?”
“Is that really you, Charles Robert?” A light blush stained those chiseled cheeks. “I like the new hairdo.”
Charles Robert gave an aww-shucks look by dipping his head slightly and scuffing the toe of his shoe against the pavement. “Thanks. I’m hoping a new look will help with some of the preconceived opinions people have about me in Cedar Falls.”
Austin wasn’t quite sure changing his looks was all that would be required. “Well, it definitely couldn’t hurt, although I think if you apologize it would go a long way, if convincing others that you’ve changed is what you really want.”
“Hey, Austin.” Cole jogged over to where they were talking. “You ready to get this over with?”
“Sure. You remember Charles Robert,” Austin said to Cole.
“Charles,” Charles Robert said.
Austin wasn’t quite sure what he meant and stared at him oddly.
That cute little blush appeared once more on his on his face. “I’m going by Charles now, not Charles Robert. Just another small way to help people think differently about me.”
Cole snorted. “If you want people to think of you differently, try not being such a bigot.”
A scowl appeared on Charles’s face but he didn’t try to defend himself, instead he just looked down at his feet. “I guess I’ll just leave you to it.”
As Charles walked away, Austin wanted to go after him but he held back. He had a job to do, and he wasn’t really sure he wanted to get involved with somebody like Charles. Maybe he really was trying to change, but the man had proven himself to be a bully in the past. Austin had had enough of bullies in his lifetime. As a paramedic, he had seen a lot of damage that they had done when they became physical. Austin may be able to take care of himself, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to associate with someone like Charles.
Then again, it had been a while since Austin was instantly attracted to anyone. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d been on a date. Not that he had much time. Still, someone like Charles Robert, or “Charles” as he wanted to be called now, wasn’t necessarily his best choice to start dating again. He needed someone a little more sure of who he was. Considering Charles had often joined his brother, Rory Alan, in picking on gay men, it was doubtful Charles would appreciate being hit on by Austin. Which was a shame because Charles was hot.
“What a jerk,” Cole said as they started walking around the farmer’s market. “He can try and pretend that he’s changed, but a cheetah doesn’t change his spots.”
“I don’t know,” Austin said. “It seemed like he was trying to me. I think he deserves a chance.”
Cole scoffed. “Oh please, guys like that never change. He’s just acting nice in order to keep a job. From what I understand, no one in this town will hire him. I can’t imagine why Jesse decided to give him a chance, especially after what he did at the casino.”
“Come on,” Austin said. “That was a couple years ago. Don’t you think it’s possible he’s changed since then?”
“Not likely.” Cole grabbed the equipment from Austin. “Either way, I don’t really care to find out.”
Cole was right. Sure, there was a chance that Charles had changed, but then again, it could just as easily be an act. As sexy as Charles had become, Austin still wasn’t about to take a chance and end up being ridiculed by Charles and his band of bigoted friends. It was better just to stay far away from him.
Austin had to bite back a groan when his gaze landed on Charles once more. That would be so much easier if Charles’s body wasn’t chiseled perfection.
Austin breathed deeply as he and Charles walked along a path in the Cherokee Forest, just west of Cedar Falls. They had chosen the national park for its breathtaking views and Austin had to admit it felt good to get away from town, even if it was only a half hour.
He’d been working so much lately that he’d needed this break. The fact that he was there with Charles only made it that much sweeter. “Wow.” His voice was reverent as they came upon a rock formation that overlooked a view that absolutely took his breath away.
Charles reached out and took his hand. “I’m so glad you’re here to see this with me.”
Austin felt his heart soar at the honest emotions from Charles. He’d seen glimpses now and again, but there were other times when Charles still pulled away from him, especially when others were around. That was one of the reasons Austin had chosen a hike, to get Charles away from the pressure to be anyone but himself.
He gave Charles’s hand a gentle squeeze. “Me, too.” Not wanting to lose this moment, or the awe-inspiring view, Austin asked, “Would you like to take a break here? Maybe eat lunch?”
Charles nodded eagerly. “That would be perfect. I can’t believe something like this exists and we actually get to experience it.” They took off their backpacks and sat on one of the large rocks that was slightly back from the edge, yet still allowed them to take in the gorgeous scene before them.
Taking out their sandwiches and the container of fruit they had packed along with bottles of water, Austin and Charles slowly ate without taking their gazes off what lay before them. Lush green trees were laid out, not only in the valley below them, but on the side of the mountains that were in the distance.
Charles pointed off to the side of the valley. “There’s a waterfall over there.”
Austin’s breath caught in his throat at what he saw. It wasn’t the waterfall, but the expression of sheer delight on Charles’s face. His eyes were dancing with glee and the smile he wore was a work of art that Austin would gladly study for the rest of his life if given the chance.
Unable to help himself, Austin leaned over and kissed Charles to catch that happiness for himself. Without any hesitation, Charles sank into the kiss, putting one hand on Austin’s shoulder then sliding it to the nape of his neck, drawing him even closer.
The last bite of sandwich Austin had been holding dropped to the ground as he reached over to wrap his arms around Charles. There was nothing better than having this man in his arms, pressed up against his body.
Heat flared between them, igniting the passion that had been smoldering there each time they were together. Austin twisted his body in order to align himself with Charles to fully press their chests together. The only way it could be better would be to feel Charles’s impressive bulge against his own, but Austin didn’t want to push his luck by moving too fast.
This kiss was enough, for now. He lapped along the seam of Charles’s mouth until he heard a soft moan and felt Charles’s lips part, letting Austin in. It took more control than Austin would have thought not to just dive inside and devour every inch of this amazing man.
Slowly, he twined their tongues together, drawing Charles’s into his own mouth and lightly sucking on the appendage. He forced himself to keep from fucking that sweet mouth in imitation of what he wanted to do with Charles’s body.
It became nearly impossible to keep his sanity when Charles ran his tongue along Austin’s teeth, then going even further to explore. He never imagined Charles would be so open and free this quickly. Then again, Charles was constantly surprising him.
Austin’s cock hardened impossibly more in his shorts, making him extremely uncomfortable. There was nothing sweet and innocent about their lip lock. It was erotic as hell. As much as he didn’t want to stop, Austin feared he’d end up coming like some inexperienced teenager if he didn’t find a modicum of control. That would never happen if they continued to kiss as they were.
With a groan of dismay, he pulled back, panting heavily as he pressed his forehead to Charles’. “I hate saying this, but I think we need to stop.”
He could see the denial in Charles’s eyes, but Austin knew he needed to put an end to what they were doing. “You aren’t ready for the next step.” This time Charles actually opened his mouth to refute Austin’s claim, but he put his hand against those lips he’d just been kissing and said, “Until you’re ready to admit to the world that you and I are dating, I don’t think we should take things any further.”
There was disappointment in those brown eyes, but Charles nodded. “You’re right.”
They both turned to stare at the view once more, this time a little less breathtaking than before as they struggled with emotions that were swirling around them.