Dayton Sharpe wasn't looking for a relationship when he went out for a run, but when he's forced off the road, he finds the person missing from his life--Nicholas. Will he realize the man of his dreams isn't out of his reach, but right beside him?
Nicholas Malone likes his privacy and his seclusion. He writes for the local paper, online magazines and novels. He has everything he needs--his cat and his writing. But he's lonely. When Dayton, the hunky jock next door ends up at his doorstep, he has to decide if he wants to be alone for the rest of his life or if it's time to break his norms to find love.
"Men..." Dayton sat on the front stoop of his apartment building and tied his running shoes. He'd exercise himself ragged if he wasn't careful. Did he care? No. He had to get his ex-boyfriend out of his head. The man hadn't been good for him. He'd cheated on Dayton. But for some reason known only to God, he still loved his ex, Lesley. Well, he thought he did. Love meant reciprocal feelings, trust, care, and a bunch of other shit. Right? He'd given the good and Lesley the bad.
Dayton sighed. If he didn't stop thinking about Lesley, he'd invite the good-for-nothing jerk back into his bed. He spotted Aydin and Brandon by the car the pair owned. He shouldn't be eavesdropping, but he couldn't help himself. Ever since he'd met Aydin, he liked him. According to Lesley, Aydin had been the reason they'd split. Lesley swore Dayton had cheated with Aydin. Sure, Dayton might have slept with Aydin, but he wasn't given the chance. Aydin wasn't available, but Lesley's jealousy had spurred Dayton to move on.
What was worse, he was friends with both Aydin and Brandon. He'd shared an English course with Aydin and a math class with Brandon. They were nice guys. Why hate a decent guy?
Because he wanted to be the one with Aydin.
Part of Dayton wished Brandon would disappear. He didn't dislike him, but what if he could love Aydin better than Brandon? The rest of him knew Brandon and Aydin were perfect for each other. He couldn't break that kind of love up. He'd rather have a love like they shared instead.
But with who? There weren't guys lining up to date him.
Carlson came to mind, but he liked to club too much. Then there was Devin. Not bad, but a little hairy for his taste. Michelson? Nah, he wasn't big on lots of tattoos or tatted knuckles. He glanced over at the next apartment. Nicholas. Now there was a handsome guy. Quiet, shy, seemingly unassuming...but was he gay? Dayton wasn't sure.
He tucked his earbuds into his ears, then switched his music on. He ran through his battery of prerun stretches. His muscles would ache when he finished, but he'd feel better. Running always cleared his mind and awakened his senses. The ten-miler would be tough, but no more than any other day.
He continued to stretch until Aydin and Brandon were gone. He should be strung up for ogling Aydin's ass, but oh well. He glanced to his right in search of the creaking sound. Nicholas strolled out of his apartment.
"Hi." Nicholas waved. "How's the run today?"
"I haven't left yet." He stood and turned his music off. "Just stretching. What's up with you this morning?"
"I'm writing." Nicholas leaned his shoulder against the privacy fence. The slats provided some privacy, but not much. "Actually, no, I'm stuck." He laughed. "The ideas and characters are there, but nothing is gelling. Maybe if I go for a run, I can clear my head." He shook his head. "It's already hot, and I'm not in the mood to go for another run. I don't like to do extra miles in the summer--at least not when it's steamy out."
He didn't know Nicholas well--like that he was a runner--but he did know the man was a writer. What he wrote, well, that was a good question. He wasn't even positive Nicholas was a college student. "I hate when the muse goes into hiding."
"Yeah," Nicholas said. "It'll come back."
"Sure." He swept his gaze over Nicholas. Not bad. Tall, thin, pale, despite being naturally tan. Curly black hair and piercing brown eyes. Could he be good boyfriend material? No idea, but what would it hurt to ask him on a date? He'd have to find out if he was single and gay, but minor details. "I should head out. See you. Hope that muse comes back."
"Have a good workout, and I'll let you know." Nicholas waved again.
"I will." He did a warm-up lap around the apartment complex parking lot, then headed out to the path alongside the road. He focused on his stride and pacing. The songs swirled in his ears, and he powered forward. Something roared behind him. He glanced back, then pressed on. Mechanized vehicles weren't permitted on the path. He looked over his shoulder again. A truck thundered toward him.
What the hell? Dayton inched to the edge of the path. "It's not a road," he shouted. He waved. "Go onto the road." As he waved, he lost balance. Dayton wobbled before stumbling on the uneven edge. He tried to catch himself, but after two more steps, he landed in the gravel. A scream ripped from his throat. His knee popped. God damn it. Fear gripped him. The rocks bit into his skin, and he scrambled to sit up. Where was he? He spotted the apartment complex.
"Are you kidding?" He cried out again, then grasped his knee. "I'm five hundred fucking yards from the damn apartment." He dusted his legs off and attempted to stand. The pain in his knee increased. He landed in the gravel a second time. His scream burned in his chest.
Someone hated him--fate, karma...God. Someone. He punched the gravel, then blew out a ragged breath. He should call the police, but what would he say? A truck tried to hit me. What color? Hell if I know. What make? No clue. Yeah, the cops wouldn't be able to do much. He needed a second to regroup and figure out what to do next. Blood darkened his knees and wrist. The seam of his running shorts was torn. Dirt and gravel marred his clothing and skin. Shit.
"Are you okay?" Nicholas knelt beside him. He held his phone. "Do you need me to call 911?"
"Help me out of the ditch." He held out his hands. "I fucked up my knee."
Nicholas slid his arms around Dayton. "How fucked up is fucked up? Like broken? Torn? Sprained?"
"I twisted my knee and I'm scratched up, but I'll live." With Nicholas holding him up, he limped out of the ditch. "Damn." He ached all over.
"I'll take you to quick care. Even if it's just a heavy sprain, they can assess your knee best without the doctor visit." Nicholas urged Dayton back to the parking lot. "Do you have an insurance card?"
"Yeah, in my wallet." He groaned. "And that's in my apartment on the table." He was in no position to argue. He allowed Nicholas to put him into the front seat. "Here." He offered up his key. "You can't miss the table. Just lock up, and I'll wait here."
"Deal." Nicholas left him and darted into Dayton's apartment.
Embarrassment washed over Dayton. He hated being clumsy. Ever since he was a kid and tripped over his own feet in front of Mr. Howard in fifth grade, he vowed to have grace. He was supposed to be training for 10Ks, not tripping and colliding with the ground. He wasn't supposed to be knocked off the road by people in trucks. Jesus. He assessed himself. There were cuts on his arms and legs, probably from the gravel, but nothing seemed to be broken. He could handle dirty and messed up, but not completely damaged.
Nicholas hurried back out to the car. "I checked the quick care while I was in your apartment--on my phone--and the wait is ten minutes. I've added your name to the list so when we get there, the wait should be shorter. Good thing it's summer and not the academic year. The place would be packed."
"Thanks." Nicholas didn't have to be so nice. They barely knew each other, but he appreciated the help. He sighed and stretched his good leg. He'd be so achy once the adrenaline wore off.
"Sorry I got ahead of myself, but I wanted to see how long we'd have to wait." Nicholas sped to the quick care building just off campus. "Your knee is purple."
"Yes, it is." He hadn't noticed until now. "Well, shit."
"Once the doctor sees you, he'll determine if it's too bad or what to do next." Nicholas offered his hand. "You'll be okay."
"Thanks." He blew out another breath. "Was my wallet hard to find?"
"No, but I wanted to make sure you could get into the clinic." Nicholas blushed. "Sorry."
"It's okay. I'll survive." Always did. He slumped in his seat. "Thanks for coming to my rescue. I'd be limping home at this rate. How'd you know to come running?"
"I heard the ear-splitting scream." He drove through campus to the quick care clinic. "My windows are open, and it's quiet since most of the student traffic isn't around. You can hear a lot of things when you're quiet."
"I see." Another wave of fear hit. What exactly had Nicholas heard? All the arguments on the other side of the wall? The times he'd been lunged at and collided with the furniture? The cursing and name-calling? Fuck. What a way to make an impression.
"The walls of the complex are thin, and we're in the front units," Nicholas said. "I stand in my living room, and I know what's going on. If I'm outside on the stoop and in my privacy porch, I know everything."
"And you like to eavesdrop?" Dayton asked. He should've kept his mouth shut. It wasn't his business if Nicholas was nosy.
"Not really, but I do enjoy people watching." Nicholas shrugged and pulled into the clinic parking lot. "I'm a writer. We observe what's around us and most likely use it in a book."
"Ah." How many of his arguments with Lesley ended up in Nicholas's books? Hopefully none.
"I've been working on a lot of magazine and newspaper articles, so I haven't really had time to weave in my observations on the average citizen in the street. Writing for the paper and magazines isn't as creative as I'd like, but it's steady money."
"Now that I understand. I'll be shit out of luck if I'm really hurt." Fuck. He'd have to miss work at the restaurant and during his basketball miniclinics. He'd be worthless during the open gym hours at the community center, too. At least he had Nicholas to help. He'd rather be in Nicholas's car than beside the road or limping home. Thank God for nosy neighbors.
Nicholas flexed his hands on the wheel. There were so many things he wanted to say to Dayton, but he wasn't sure how. He'd shown up so fast. Dayton probably thought he was a stalker or pervert. He'd been at the right place at the right time. Would Dayton understand? He'd done his best to explain, but still, Dayton didn't seem convinced.
"I'm glad you heard me." Dayton sagged in the seat. "I have no idea who tried to run me over." He paused. "It wasn't you, was it?"
"No." He parked in the first empty spot. "I was at my desk."
"I figured." Dayton groaned. "You came quick."
"I heard you scream." He turned off the engine. "It could've been you or anyone else, and I would've tried to help."
"I'm glad you're brave," Dayton said. "Thanks."
"I'm not brave." He left the car and rounded the hood. He opened Dayton's door. Most of the time, he was the timid guy. He shied away from physical drama. He'd rather write drama. But he couldn't ignore the scream. He held the door for Dayton and offered his arm. "Ready?"
"Yeah." He huddled against Nicholas as they went into the quick care clinic. "I'm sorry," Dayton said. "I hate being a pain in the ass."
"Huh?" Nicholas guided Dayton to a seat. "You're fine."
A nurse approached with a tablet. "Fill this out. Did you check in?"
Nicholas handed Dayton the wallet. "We did." He wasn't sure how to help.
"Yeah." Dayton accepted the tablet. He dug his insurance card from his wallet. "Dayton Sharpe."
"Yes. You're third in line." She nodded. "We have a forty-dollar co-pay. Input your information, and I'll make a copy of your card and license. Bring the tablet and payment up to me when you're done. If you're not mobile, your boyfriend can do it for you."
Dayton handed over the needed items. "Thanks." He paused. "Boyfriend? No."
"Brother?" she asked.
"Friend," Nicholas offered. He wanted to hide. Boyfriend? Not likely. Dayton tended to date blonds, and his hair would never work as a blond.
"I'll bring it over." Dayton nodded. "Thank you." Once the nurse had left, Dayton mumbled, "I hate hospitals and clinics."
"You're hurt. You have to be here." Nicholas folded his arms. He wasn't sure what to do next.
"Maybe." Dayton sighed and fiddled with the tablet. "I'm sorry I'm being a pain in the ass."
"You've apologized already, and no, you're not being one. You were nearly run over," Nicholas said. "You're always on the go. Let yourself have time to heal and rest."
"I appreciate you giving me a ride."
"I was there for a reason." He still felt a tad pushy, but oh well.
"I'm glad," Dayton said. "I doubt I would've made much progress crawling home without your save." He grasped Nicholas's hand. "Thanks."
"Welcome." Tingles shot from Nicholas's fingers to his heart. He'd wanted Dayton's attention for so long. He could have it if things were different. Right now, Dayton needed him, but not for more than a ride. He hated and loved himself for making such a fuss over Dayton. They were barely friends, but now they could be more. He wanted to date Dayton--not be his taxi driver. Would that be possible? Christ. He had to stop overthinking. He was just helping the guy holding his hand. Nothing big. Right?
"I'm going to take this up." Dayton struggled but managed to stand, then hobble over to the desk.
Nicholas waited in his seat. A woman approached him. "Nic?"
He froze. He'd met plenty of people, but names tended to escape him. "Hi?"
"Nic." She grinned, and her red hair slid over her shoulder. "It's Lexie." She sat next to him. "You forgot me, didn't you?"
"If I said yes, would you be pissed?" He couldn't place where he'd met her.
"A little." Her eyes sparkled. "I worked with you at Pride. I was in the accounting department, but we used to have lunch together. Remember? We shared that sweet little picnic table and used to talk for hours about fashion."
"Sure." Nope. Still wasn't coming to him, but he could play along. "It's good to see you." The more he looked at her, the more he wondered if she had him mixed up with Aziz. Now that guy could talk and schmooze.
"Are you still seeing Mia and Greg?" Lexie asked. "You were the threesome of the paper."
Yep. She had him confused. "It's Nicholas, not Aziz." He hated when anyone called him Nic unless he'd given permission first. Nic seemed so cushy and informal. Only a lover or his family could refer to him by such a pet name. Certainly not Lexie.
She frowned. "I know."
"I've never dated a woman." She must not have been there during confessionals when he admitted he'd come out at fifteen and never touched a pussy in his life. Didn't want to, either.
"Are you sure?" Her frown deepened, marring her California beach appearance. "I could've sworn... Aziz was with them?"
"Until three months ago. They split when Aziz threw a fit because Mia and Greg wanted to get married." He shrugged. "Last I knew, Aziz had moved on to a guy named...Alec? I think," he said. "Alex? Tall, dark-haired kid. Skinny and always has his hands in his pockets."
"Oh." She sagged in her seat. "Then I never talked to you about fashion, did I?"
"Nope," he said. "Actually, I tried to join that bull session and was shooed away." Not that he minded, but theirs had been the only table with an empty seat.
"Well, I'm sorry. Not just because I got you mixed up, but because I was a lousy friend." She touched his arm. There weren't the same tingles like with Dayton. No thrill or even consideration from below the belt.
He smiled. "It's okay." Not really, but he wasn't in the mood to argue.
"Why are you here at the quick care?" She swept her gaze over him. "You look perfectly fine." She paused. "Better than fine."
"I'm not the injured one. Dayton fell when he was out for his morning run," Nicholas said. "I heard him scream and made sure he got checked out."
"You're a good boyfriend." She hugged him. "Hope Dayton is okay and you're ready to nurse him back to health." She winked. "See you, and don't be shy. I won't bite or embarrass you, but I will work harder on being friendly."
"Sure." He tried to hide his discomfort. He'd dated a guy named Ryan who claimed he was too high-maintenance. All the tenseness and stiff reactions had bothered Ryan. He needed someone who could cuddle. Maybe he was screwed up, like Ryan had said. When Lexie had hugged him, he froze. All he could think of was getting the hell out of there. But when Dayton had clung to him, he wanted those touches. Hell, he wanted more. Because he liked Dayton? He'd thought he liked Ryan.
Dayton limped back to the chair Lexie had vacated. "She's pretty."
"Huh?" He practically jumped out of his skin. "What?"
"Your girl. She's pretty." Dayton settled beside him. "Things must've ended well if she's still talking to you."
"You've got it all wrong." He turned to face Dayton. "Lexie and I weren't...like that."
"Could've fooled me." Dayton crooked one eyebrow. "I've seen friendly exes, and that was friendly."
"She's not my ex."
"She's a friend." Sort of. "But we've never dated."
"Right. She just strolled over here to chat because she's sweet." Dayton rolled his eyes.
"She did, but why are you getting so envious?"
"Jealous? Ha." Dayton folded his hands on his taut belly and rested his foot on the coffee table. "The last thing I am is being attacked by the green-eyed monster."
"Dayton Sharpe?" A nurse made her way over to them. "Are you Dayton Sharpe?"
"Yes, I am." Dayton left the chair. He said nothing as he limped through the doorway to the examination rooms.
Nicholas rested his head in his hands and willed his lunch to stay down. Things seemed so promising with Dayton, and now because of a misunderstanding, he'd have to start all over. Damn his luck.