Benjamin “Benji” McGill has always been the runt of the litter. Be it his family or his group of friends, he’s always felt like he was less than, flying under the radar. Unseen.
The fifth wheel.
When Mac moves across the hall from him, he thinks he senses interest… but then, why would a big, buff ex-Marine be interested in him? But every time Benji runs into Mac, he can’t deny the electric tension between them.
Is it all in his head?
Throwing caution to the wind, he asks Mac out on a guys’ night with his group of friends. It’s a safe risk… and maybe he can see if the sparks he feels can turn into an all-out inferno.
“All that hard work… for nothing,” Benji muttered as he stared into the full-length mirror. Sighing, his stare washed over his reflection. He was just as scrawny as he’d ever been. For weeks, he’d been going to the gym obsessively, trying to add some bulk to his too-lean body. He’d increased his food intake and yet—nothing. His buddy Jesse had given him some bulking powders to add to his morning drinks, but all Benji still saw in the mirror was a ninety-pound weakling.
Of course, he wasn’t quite that small, but some days it sure felt like it.
He gave himself another cursory glance, trapped within the swirling disappointment churning in his gut. At least he did see a tiny bit of definition here and there where it hadn’t been before. But when one didn’t have muscles in the first place, there wasn’t much of anything to define.
Benji sighed, curling a bicep and eyeing the muscle… or lack thereof.
After another long sigh, he drew on his track pants and a t-shirt, and then sat on the edge of the bed to pull on his running shoes. He wasn’t going to let the image in the mirror defeat him. Another trip to the gym was the only way to get the results he wanted. As he neared the front door of his apartment, he heard several deep voices on the landing. Peeking through the spyhole, he saw a few muscle-bound guys carrying boxes heading toward the empty apartment across the hall.
“There goes my quiet,” he murmured quietly. The small building only had two apartments per floor. He’d enjoyed nearly two months of peace having a floor to himself, especially after his rowdy neighbor had been kicked out. Now he’d have to share the floor again. Hopefully they’re not as bad as the last one.
Benji checked the guys out, inspecting each one and wondering which one it was. Both his and the other apartment were singles, so he doubted it was all of them. Better not be. Three big, buff guys—built exactly as he hoped he’d one day be—would make a lot of noise.
A hint of jealousy filled him as he stared them over. Their biceps bulged, the sinew and flesh stretched tight.
His gaze roamed over their firm bodies, feeling a little whisper of excitement.
A smile played across his lips as he observed every square inch…
All of them looked military. They had buzzed heads and one even wore camo pants and an army-green T-shirt. He was sure he saw the glint of dog tags in the low light of the hallway. All three of them were hot as hell…
Any one of them would be perfect eye candy.
Benji sighed again.
One of the guys turned suddenly, peering at his door—as if the man sensed Benji stood behind, watching. The guy’s light, golden stare narrowed, and Benji could only feel a tightening in his chest. The guy was gorgeous. Gorgeous. A pair of keys hung from his thick fingers under the box he carried…
Benji’s heart fluttered a bit. He drew away from the door, feeling as if he’d been caught playing voyeur. He was perfectly in his right to check out his new neighbor, so Benji wasn’t sure why he felt so embarrassed. He reached for the knob, but paused.
Guess I can’t leave… not yet, anyway. He didn’t want to walk out and all but shout that he’d indeed been at the door snooping.
Although, I don’t want to wait too long. I should say hello to my new neighbor.
It would be the neighborly thing to do.
Plus, it would give him a chance to ogle the guys a little more.
Benji stepped into the small kitchen and grabbed a glass before filling it from the water dispenser on the fridge. He took a sip, listening in as he heard the men go into the apartment. After washing another sip down his dry throat, he grabbed his gym bag and keys before opening the door.
The big guy who’d caught him was standing in the opposite doorway and spun to face him as soon as he stepped out into the hall.
“Hey,” the guy mumbled with a nod of his head.
“Hey,” Benji mumbled back, trying to give an equally cool nod of his head and sure he failed miserably. My gods, he’s gorgeous. “Ah, I gu-guess you’re my new neighbor?” What the fuck? I haven’t stuttered since middle school. Heat filled his face.
“I am,” the guy answered. He took a step forward and offered a hand. A large hand. “The name’s Mac.”
Benji looked down at the paw and knew it had to be twice the size of his own. And then he realized he was being unintentionally rude and shot his hand out, knocking into the big one and making a total fool of himself. “Sorry,” he mumbled before righting his hand and shaking. “Nice to m-meet you, Mac.”
“Nice to meet you…” he dragged the last word out, raising a brow.
Benji lifted his stare from that hand enveloping his to get caught in an amber stare that nearly took his breath away. His lips parted. His eyes widened. He felt a fluttering feeling in his gut.
“Ahhh… are you going to tell me your name?” Mac asked, frowning.
Benji looked back down, shame filling him as he saw he was still shaking Mac’s hand and hadn’t let go. I don’t wanna let go.
He could feel the heat in that touch. It seeped into him, molecule by molecule. Yet he let go. “Benji. Sorry. N-no. Not Benji. It’s Benjamin… my friends call me Benji… although it sounds like I’m a five-year-old kid… and I’m not… and I hate that nickname, but how do you tell your friends you hate it, you know? So I just let them… I guess…” Stop rambling. You sound like an idiot. He tried to relax, knowing full well he looked anything but relaxed. “Yeah.”
An odd smile crossed Mac’s lips. “How about just Ben? Does that work?”
Benji looked down, knowing his face had to be beet red. “Yeah.” He took a deep breath. “Ben works, too.”
“You lived here long, Ben?”
Benji loved the way Mac said his name. “Here?”
“Yeah, here,” Mac said, humor in his tone.
Benji lifted his head and met those golden eyes. His stare drifted to the wide smile and barely remembered the question he’d just been asked. Did he just move a little closer? Oh god, he smells good. “I’ve lived here for a few months.”
“Another newbie to town, hmm?” Mac asked.
“Oh no, no… I went to Emory. Graduated a few years ago… I’ve lived in the area for nearly a decade now,” Benji answered. He looked up and saw a bit of confusion on Mac’s face. “I thought you meant the building… I’ve been here in the building for a few months.”
“Ah,” Mac said. He grinned and took another half step closer. “I guess I know who to ask about the city, then.”
“Sure, sure,” Benji said, nodding his head. The walls of the hallway seemed to close in around them. All he could see was Mac, big and muscled and gorgeous and smelling amazing and that smile…