When Steven helps his neighbor Devon move into the studio apartment upstairs, he can't help but drool. And that's all. Devon is straight and totally off limits. Knowing, though, doesn't stop the desire Steven fights every time the two men are together, which is a lot since Steven has decided to take Devon under his wing until the young man can get his life together.
This story was part of the HOT COMFORT anthology previously published.
The spoon in Steven's hand slipped from his fingers, clattering to the table and spattering alfredo sauce. "What the...?"
"Watch it." Patty stood, hands out to steady the pot in his hands.
Setting the pot down, he dropped the potholder beside it and rushed to the front door toward the sound, trusting Patty to clean up the small mess behind him.
Opening the door, he nearly stumbled over a basketball that came rolling into his apartment. Instinctively picking it up, he stuck his head out into the hallway to see where it had come from. To his left, the staircase leading up to the four studio apartments on the floor above his was strewn with personal effects, including a photo album that had spilled dozens of loose photographs over the worn cement slats. At the bottom of the stairs, a man with short, dark hair, dressed in a blue t-shirt and knee-length cut-off shorts, knelt over what looked to be a shattered glass object, muttering as he carefully picked up pieces.
"Hey." Steven stepped into the hall, tucking the basketball underneath his arm. "You need help with that?"
The man looked up, and Steven was stunned to behold the face of an angel. Okay, maybe not an angel, but a damned beautiful male specimen, just the same. The hair was deep chestnut, cut short around his ears, mostly straight and glossy but with a little bit of a curl at the ends. A stray curl of said hair brushed dark, heavy brows that shielded the biggest, most amazing brown eyes Steven had ever seen, ringed with ridiculously long black lashes. A scattering of faint freckles dotted a patrician nose with a tip that listed slightly to the left, both it and the cheekbones sloping down toward a generous, kissable mouth perched right atop a small brown poet's beard. That mouth was currently dropped open in surprise. The eyes were almost as wide as the mouth, and two telltale tears tracked down smooth cheeks the color of dark butterscotch.
Caught looking, Steven couldn't help but take another step forward.
His movement seemed to break the immobility of the younger man. Quickly, he shook his head. "Uh, no. Uh, thanks." He turned to look down at the glass at his feet, quickly swiping a sleeve over his cheek. "No, I, uh...I'm fine. I just..." He gestured at the glass. "Broke...something."
Glancing down, Steven saw the remains of what might once have been a very pretty glass sculpture. He caught the elegant curve of a horse's neck and a larger hunk of perhaps a carriage. "I'm sorry."
The young man shrugged. Although the hair hid his face, Steven heard a small sniff. "My fault. I didn't pack it right." He shrugged again.
Steven put two and two together. "Are you the new tenant?"
The chestnut hair swayed in a nod.
"Well, hey, welcome to the building. Can I help you with some boxes or something?"
"Oh, no, that's...nice of you, but no. I'll have it done in..." A panicked look at the spilled personal effects around him, then another shrug. "I'll get it done."
"No worries." Steven stepped past him and righted the box that lay over a few of the bottom stairs. "Let's just get this stuff back in here. I've got a dust pan we can use to clean up the glass." He kept his tone brisk, guessing that the glass figure had meant something special to the young man and not wanting to make him uncomfortable by noticing. Carefully, he picked up the picture album, trying not to spill any more loose photographs.
"You don't have to..."
Steven stopped, a photo in his hand of the young man with a comely young woman, and looked over his shoulder to face Patty, who stood in his doorway, arms crossed over her considerable bosom. "Oh, hey!" He ignored her pointed look and dropped the album and photo into the box. "Patty, you go ahead and eat. I'm going to help out..." He looked down at the man kneeling beside him. "What's your name?"
The man looked at Patty, no doubt noticing her impatient look. "What? Oh, Devon. Uh, hey, you don't have to --"
"Devon." Gorgeous name. Suited him. Too bad many of the pictures Steven spied spilling from the album were of him with girls. Which meant he was almost definitely straight. Too bad. Steven smiled up at Patty. "I'm going to help Devon here move the last of his stuff up to his place. He's our new neighbor."
Predictably, she wasn't impressed, although some of the pique melted from her face as she finally got a good, hard look at Devon. Patty was even more susceptible to the helpless puppy look than he was, and this kid had the look down pat with the mannerisms to match. "Don't be silly. I'll put it back on the stove and cover it. Then I'll come out and help you."
"Wait!" Devon climbed to his feet, hand out toward her, but she'd already turned back inside. He couldn't know that mere words wouldn't stop Patty.
Because Devon was looking the other way, Steven took a look at him standing tall. "Tall" being the operative word. Steven was a respectable five foot ten, but the boy overshot him by at least half a foot, putting Steven eye-level with the gently curved jaw and the soft scruff of beard at the tip of Devon's chin. Resisting the urge to reach out and test the strength in the broad shoulders within that worn t-shirt, Steven turned and knelt to continue picking stuff off the stairs.
A hand on his arm made him pause, although he didn't look up. Not good to ogle the new guy too much.
"You don't have to do this. You were just about to eat, and your wife's waiting for you."
Steven had to grin. "No worries. She's not my wife, and it'll wait." He dumped a few more things into the box. "Besides --" He picked up the box and finally looked back at Devon. "-- this way you can join us. You eaten yet?"
Indecisiveness twisted that gorgeous mouth to the side. "Well, no..."
"I thought not. Let's get your stuff upstairs, and I'll welcome you to the building by feeding you. You've got to be hungry."
"No. That's nice of you but..." Despite Devon's protests, his belly took that moment to growl its own opinion.
Steven smiled. Bracing the box underneath one arm, he reached out and finally took a squeeze of one of those arms. Very nice. Strong and firm, with good tone. "No protesting, my man. We're neighbors now. You've got to give Patty and me a chance to get to know you."
Maybe his smile did it. Steven didn't know, but whatever he did, Devon finally smiled. Sweet Jesus, the boy had a gorgeous smile. Steven had to send urgent messages to his crotch to keep it from filling at the mere sight.
Devon nodded. "Okay. Thanks."
Steven held out his hand for a shake. "Steven Connolly."
Devon took it and gave it a good shake. "Devon Pavenic."