To most people who know him, Nick Fontana is the owner of a prestigious advertising agency. To a select few, he’s known as Niko, a man who deals with very sensitive problems no one else can handle.
As a result, Nick has never found a man to love -- because he won't allow it to happen.
Then he meets flirtatious Greg Tyson while out running. He thinks nothing of it until Greg applies for a job at Nick's ad agency.
Greg is exactly what Nick is looking for in an employee. Hiring him, however, might turn out to be the biggest mistake of Nick's life ... or the beginning of something new, if Nick is willing to open himself up and let Greg in. Doing so will require an amount of trust Nick isn’t certain he can give without endangering Greg's life -- and losing his love -- in the process.
It was a beautiful Sunday morning for a run -- bright and sunny with enough of breeze to keep the temperature bearable.
Greg met Nick at the bottom of the trail. They were both in shorts and lightweight, breathable T-shirts, with running belts for their water bottles.
"Ready to test your stamina?" Nick asked.
Greg looked at the trail, which rose at a gentle slope as it entered the trees and smiled in apparent relief. "You bet."
Nick didn't have the heart to tell him it would get steeper and rougher a few yards in. He didn't think Greg would chicken out, but he wasn't willing to take the chance.
"Beat you to the top," Greg called out as he took off.
Nick raced after him, catching up and keeping pace with him as the trail wound through the trees and became increasingly more rugged. To his surprise, Greg showed no signs of slowing down until they were more than half way up. At that point, he began to flag, his breath coming out in short pants -- but he didn't quit running.
Nick was still moving easily and could have continued without any problem. However, he didn't want to Greg to feel as if he was trying to show off -- which he wasn't -- so he slowed his pace, feigning that he was beginning to feel the strain as well. He didn't let Greg win, but he was only a few paces ahead of him when they reached the clearing at the end of the trail. He collapsed against the closest tree, taking deep breaths, while Greg dropped to his knees, gasping.
"You okay?" Nick asked, going to kneel beside him, the concern in his voice very real.
"I ... will be," Greg managed to get out. "Damn ..." He shot Nick a look. "You didn't warn me about ..." He gestured at the steep slope behind them as he eased back until he was sitting and began massaging his calf.
"Here, let me," Nick said sitting cross-legged in front of him. He lifted Greg's leg onto his lap and set to work. "Charlie horse?" he asked when Greg let out a yelp of pain.
"Charlie elephant," Greg replied, biting down on his lip. Nick carefully worked on the knotted muscle until Greg sighed in relief, saying, "You're good. I think I'll keep you around in case it happens again." He winked.
Nick figured he was teasing, and so replied, "I have no problem with that, as long as the pay is adequate."
"I think I can come up with some sort of compensation." The moment the words were out of his mouth, Greg turned red, ducking his head. "Forget I said that," he muttered.
>o?Should I, or do I ...? Nick took a deep breath. "Why? I think you were voicing what maybe we both feel. An attraction, perhaps only physical, perhaps more. Right?"
Greg looked up, nodding. "I know I definitely find you interesting, even though I've only known you a short time, and mostly at work where you're very, well stand-offish is the best way to put it."
"Because it is at work," Nick replied. "I make it a policy not to let any personal feelings, beyond the normal concern for my employee's lives, intervene. It's not good business to do otherwise."
"Yeah. The boss messing around with one of his people would set a bad precedent," Greg said with a rueful smile. "Have you ...? Have there been times when you wished you could break that rule?"
"Not until now," Nick admitted, wondering what the hell he was doing. He's human, Goddammit. Interesting, attractive, sexy ... and human.
"You're not going to do anything about it, though, are you?" Greg said, getting to his feet. He hobbled for a step or two, then with a muttered "I'm fine," waved Nick away when he joined him and offered his arm.
"You didn't give me time to answer," Nick replied. "If we remain strictly businesslike when we're at work, and if you're willing to keep things casual and nothing more ..."
Greg grinned. "The dreaded friends with benefits?"
"Would that be so bad?"
After a moment's thought, Greg shook his head. "It's better than nothing."
"Then let's give it a shot, but not until we get home." Nick chuckled. "Which means you have to make it back down to your car, first." He offered his arm again.
Greg rolled his eyes. "Honestly, I'm quite capable of walking ... and I emphasize walking, down the hill on my own. Running, however ..."
"Got it," Nick said with a grin.