Startled, Joe looked over to the other end of the table. His gaze clashed with Rhys’s wide, blue eyes. Joe frowned when Rhys looked down at his plate and began eating. So that was the way the man was going to play this. Joe stared at the top of Rhys’s dark brown head for a moment. When the man didn’t look up, Joe smiled.
He decided to let Rhys be angry and try to ignore him. That would make their reunion that much sweeter. And there would be a reunion. They were both older and now were in the same place physically and hopefully mentally. Joe wanted Rhys, and this time, it would be forever.
“Oh look at that.” Tristen chuckled. “Watch out, Rhys. When a man smiles at you like that, it’s just a matter of time before he catches you.”
Rhys looked up and met Joe’s gaze. The intensity in Rhys’s blue eyes mesmerized Joe.
“Joe decided a long time ago that I wasn’t a keeper,” Rhys said.
Surprise had Joe lifting one eyebrow. So, Rhys thought bringing up his beef with Joe in front of his friends would, what? Keep him safe? Keep things civil? Rhys had a lot to learn about Joe.
“We were two teenagers about to go our separate ways into the military,” Joe pointed out.
“Yeah.” Rhys waved his fork at Joe. “But it would have been nice to know we both had signed up.” Rhys sat back in his chair. “Look, never mind. The past is the past.”
Joe smiled and held Rhys’s gaze. “And the future is the future.”
The whole table erupted into hoots and laughter.
“All right guys, let’s leave Joe and Rhys alone.” Roman’s deep voice of authority caught everyone’s attention. “We better not scare Joe off just yet. Tourist season is starting. We need him to keep the horses in top condition.”
“So you are saying that we can scare him off after the tourists quit being stupid?” Santos teased.
“Nah,” Jimmy piped up. “I’m thinking Joe will have Rhys hog-tied and tattooed by then.”
“Little bit,” Roman warned, frowning down at his husband.
“What?” Jimmy crossed his arms over his chest. “That seems to be the way the alpha men around here operate. It’s a good thing us smaller guys know how to handle you.”
“So you think you’re handling me?” Roman challenged.
Jimmy licked his lips. “Of course.”
“And that just sealed Jimmy’s fate for the afternoon,” Reese commented.
Roman stood and held out his hand. The bond between the two men was so strong Joe could feel it in the air. Amid more laughter and good-natured catcalls, Jimmy placed his hand in Roman’s.
Just before the two men left the room, Jimmy looked over his shoulder and stuck his tongue out at the group around the table, inciting more laughter.
Joe had never seen such a display of two men openly demonstrating their attraction. It was an epic moment. Wow.
“Does this happen often?” he whispered to Styx.
“Wait for it,” Styx murmured.
On the other side of the table, Tristen reached up and traced his thumb over Santos’s lower lip. A look of pure love shown on the striking man’s face. Joe couldn’t tear his gaze away.
“Ah, amorzinho. You tempt the strongest man to your will.” The next moment, Santos had Tristen over his shoulder and was striding out of the room.
The table emptied further when Garrett stood and, without a word, ushered a limping Tolliver away from the table. Joe glanced around and wondered what would happen next.
Isaiah, the deadly weapons expert, put his arm around quiet Carson’s shoulders. “Come on, love. Let’s go take a nap.”
The tenderness on Isaiah’s face as he looked at his scarred husband was astonishing. When Joe had been introduced to Isaiah, he had made a mental note to be careful around such a lethal, hard-edged man. The transformation was phenomenal.
Beside Joe, Styx stood and waited. Joe held back a chuckle when Flyer grabbed another bun and took a last bite of tortilla before he stood and led the way out of the room.
Not sure what to do, Joe looked at the remaining single men. His face must have shown his confusion because Reese laughed, before saying, “Get used to it, my friend. This happens all the time around here.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Joe remarked.
“That’s what makes this place so special,” Parker responded. “We can be who we are.” Joe found the medic a quiet, soft-spoken man.
Joe looked at Rhys. If he played his cards right, he hoped that one day soon he could leave the table with Rhys and enjoy a so-called nap.
“Forget it,” Rhys bit out before he shoved his chair back and stomped out of the room.
A soft click caught Joe’s attention. He looked up to see his bedroom door inching open. Rhys stuck his head into the room. The man was biting his lip, and his gaze skittered around the room, doing his best to avoid the area where Joe was sitting. The man ended up concentrating on the blank wall just above Joe’s shoulder.
“Can I come in?” Rhys asked.
For Joe, the answer was easy. “Always.”
When Rhys stepped into the room, Joe noted he hadn’t changed his clothing from their date except to lose his shoes and socks. The man hovered next to the chest of drawers by the door and shoved his hands into the front pockets of his jeans.
Joe wondered how long Rhys was going to sway back and forth while avoiding looking anywhere near his vicinity. Joe had the urge to wave his arms and yell, “I’m over here.” But he didn’t. He owed Rhys the time to come to terms with his presence back in his life.
Rhys’s gaze lowered and traveled over Joe’s form. Silence stretched out and Joe wasn’t sure what Rhys was thinking as his teeth sank into his bottom lip. Did the man even see his nakedness or was his stump grossing Rhys out?
“I came here to tell you that I’ve decided we should just be friends,” Rhys said.
Joe’s heart sank. Rhys wasn’t willing to take a chance on him. Damn. Razors of slicing pain tore at his gut, making his stomach cramp.
Rhys was still speaking. “…end, I just couldn’t. So, if you are interested in more than a fun time, I’m willing to try, but only for the goal of something long term.”
“Wait. What?” Joe had missed something important.
Rhys lifted his hands, emphasizing his words. “I’m trying to tell you that I’m at a point in my life where I’m only interested in a real relationship. I will not settle for one-night stands or friends with benefits. So if you aren’t willing to commit, then all I have to give you is my friendship.”
Warmth blanketed the cold that had taken a hold of his heart. Rhys’s words matched Joe’s feelings perfectly.
Joe held out his hand with his palm up. Joy blossomed when Rhys immediately placed his hand in his.
“Be prepared, sweetheart,” Joe warned. “I’m not letting you go, even after we’re just two sparkles floating around in heaven.”
Rhys’s big, blue eyes lit up, and a warm smile spread across his handsome face.
Joe tugged on Rhys’s hand until the laughing man fell into his arms. He twisted them around until his naked body pressed along the length of Rhys’s clothed form. He could lie with Rhys and listen to his laughter for the rest of his days. Even if part of him longed for Rhys to lose the clothes.
Their faces were only inches apart, but Joe cupped Rhys’s cheek to make sure he had the man’s complete attention.
“I know it will take time to gain your trust.” Joe kissed the corner of Rhys’s mouth. “I truly believed we needed those ten years to be able to get to this point. I’m sorry I hurt you. Let’s make new, awesome memories to put in the picture book of life.”
“Cowboy, I believe you are a closet romantic at heart.” Rhys touched a fingertip to Joe’s bottom lip.
“If you give me a chance, I’ll be whatever it’s going to take, sweetheart.” Joe swooped down and captured Rhys’s lips.
Rhys broke the kiss with a wet pop. “Just be yourself.”
Joe nodded. In the end, that was all he could be. Just a plain, everyday cowboy.
Using only his mouth, Joe monopolized, caressed, and licked Rhys’s lips. He loved how Rhys’s legs spread apart when he nipped at Rhys’s bottom lip before sucking it into his mouth. Hands began caressing the back of Joe’s head and neck, sending ripples of desire down his spine. Joe let go of Rhys’s bottom lip and deepened the kiss. Kissing Rhys could easily become an obsession.
In a move that surprised the hell out of him, Rhys broke their kiss and pushed Joe onto his back. He looked up to see Rhys sliding over on top of him. Things turned in a great direction when Rhys spread his legs wide, straddled Joe’s belly and reared up onto his knees.
The friction of Rhys’s jean-clad ass rubbing against the naked flesh of his hard-on pulled a deep groan from Joe. Mother of Mercy, the man was driving him insane, and his cock was going to explode if he wasn’t careful. Joe grasped on to anything he could think of to calm his unruly cock. Let’s see, the Yankees won the pennant in…
“Do you have supplies?” Rhys interrupted his chaotic thoughts.
Joe’s mind went blank. Rhys lifted his arms over his head and yanked that white shirt Joe had so admired over his head and sent it sailing to the floor. Acres of golden, tanned skin covering a lean, muscled body was right in front and on top of him. Glory be, sometimes life was wonderful. Pressure built in Joe’s balls as pre-cum welled from the tip of his cock.
Rhys’s sucked in his already flat stomach and opened his pants. Joe’s heart clattered to a painful stop. More skin and a neatly trimmed bush surrounding Rhys’s root peaked out between the open edges of material. Rhys wasn’t wearing anything under those tight jeans. Damn, just damn.
Rhys started shoving his jeans down over his hips but paused. “Supplies, Joe. Do you have any, or should I go get some from my room?”
Joe stared at Rhys for a moment before blinking. Clearing his throat didn’t help with the dryness.
“In the drawer,” he managed to croak out.