New year, new relationship?
Dating and Aydin Madison haven't been good friends. He's shy, bookish and would rather be with his set designs than most people. He knows his way around the theater, but his love life is non-existent. He knows whom he'd like to date--Brandon Kidd, the boy du jour of the art school. He'd love to rub Brandon the right way. It's too bad Brandon doesn't seem to know Aydin exists.
When freak circumstances throw these two together, they'll have to decide if the sizzling connection is the key to their happy new year or just a fluke.
Aydin plopped onto his stool at the counter and stared out at the snow falling on the sidewalks in front of the dorm. He hated being one of the last few people on campus. Almost everyone else had gone home for the winter break. Not him. He had nowhere else to go.
He tapped his fingers on the glass shielding the counter. The quad of buildings he was in charge of was empty—save for Xi, the artist-in-residence who hailed from Japan and hadn’t wanted to fly home, and Dorn, the resident assistant who lived permanently in the lone all-male dorm. If Aydin called Dorn and offered to hang out, Dorn would probably accept, but he had a boyfriend, Milo, who wasn’t fond of Aydin. Yeah, a get-together wasn’t going to happen.
Aydin sighed. He hated being alone for the holidays. Hell, he hated being alone during the school year, too. Christmas had been rough. Just Aydin, a pizza and two gifts he’d purchased for himself. Even his best friend, Darcy, wasn’t around. She’d gone home to Oklahoma City for the winter. She said a package was coming for him in the mail, but he hadn’t gotten anything yet. She’d squealed when he’d given her the bracelet he’d made in his jewelry class. Not terribly expensive, but he’d stamped her name on the plate and had woven the links himself.
Sometimes he wished school didn’t break for the holidays or the summer so that he wouldn’t be on his own. At least then he’d have the hustle and bustle of students in and out of the dorm to occupy him. He loved his job at the desk, assisting students who’d locked themselves out of their rooms, writing up parking passes for weekend guests, divvying up the mail and the camaraderie of his coworkers.
Still, he hated being one of the three desk workers who hadn’t gone home for the holidays. Nathan lived off campus, and Morgan was a resident in the upperclassmen dorm, so she didn’t have to leave. Between the three of them, they traded six-hour shifts and left the desk closed from midnight to six in the morning. That didn’t mean his time at the desk wasn’t boring. He’d swiped through the news articles four times and finished organizing the photos on his phone. He’d written out journal entries for the days he’d missed over the semester, too.
God, was he bored. He sorted through his e-mail and stared at the empty box of snail mail. Even the postal worker hadn’t come to visit him. No calls pinged on the main phone or his cell.
He wasn’t sure why he’d thought his mother might call. He was her son, but that didn’t mean much. She hadn’t contacted him in over a year and only then because one of his college bills had gone to her home rather than his on-campus address. His mother claimed none of her sons would be gay, and if one was, she didn’t have a son. His older brother wasn’t gay—he’d married his college sweetheart and they were in the midst of creating a baseball team full of grandkids.
Aydin gritted his teeth. He’d never create children—not that he wanted to. He wasn’t a kid person. The thought of a crying child or a teething baby got on his nerves. He prided himself for admitting he wasn’t a kid person and wouldn’t be a parent. Parenting himself was enough of a challenge.
He groaned and abandoned his cell phone on the shelf beneath the counter. The next few weeks would be so boring. Nathan and Morgan had lives outside of their work and didn’t socialize with him. He liked them just fine, but their social situations didn’t mix. Morgan was all about bridal things and prepping for her wedding. Nathan loved his football games and talking about the college team. Aydin knew nothing about football other than the commentators said kinky things that could be misinterpreted, and the players wore the tightest pants.
He’d love a man in tight pants right about now. Butter-soft jeans molded to his body, and an upper body filled out in the perfect amount of muscle. He had one particular guy in mind, but that man didn’t know Aydin existed. If he did, then he’d done a great job of ignoring Aydin. Not that most other guys were breaking down his door for a date, but Brandon Kidd…now there was a man who could do more than show up at Aydin’s door. He could knock it down and do him flat against the wall, but Brandon was not only taken but also out of Aydin’s league.
A figure walked up to the front doors and entered the building. The coat swallowed the person’s figure, and the boots didn’t appear particularly masculine or feminine. Nathan wouldn’t have come in now. His shift wasn’t for another hour. The person shoved their hood back.
Aydin’s heart skipped a beat. Brandon. Why would the object of his obsession show up now? He’d spoken a few words to Brandon here and there but nothing of substance. Most of the time he tripped over what he’d wanted to say. Electrical zaps ran the length of Aydin’s spine. He wanted to say hi, but the words didn’t come.
Brandon strode up to the counter and knocked the snow off his boots. He moved his black hair off his face and grinned. “Aydin.”
“Hi.” He had no other choice than to speak to Brandon. “You’re on campus.” Oh brother, he sounded so lame. Brandon was handsome, popular and pretty. Everyone knew Brandon’s artwork and his trademark sparkle. Unlike his current outfit, Brandon usually wore a glittery shirt and shoes, sported liner around his dark eyes and had a purple streak in his hair.
“I am stuck on campus for the entire break.” Brandon flattened his hands on the counter. “My plan to stay with my brother, Benson, died when he decided to ask his girlfriend to marry him. She moved in, and I got the boot.”
“Wow.” He hadn’t known Brandon had a brother. “They couldn’t make room?” He hoped he sounded genuinely concerned, not nosy or tongue-tied.
“I’m not sharing a studio apartment with them. I hate listening to other people have sex.” Brandon leaned forward. “I can stay in my studio space, so that’s not a big deal. I just hadn’t planned on sticking around campus.” He paused. “You’re here. Aren’t you with…Daria? Dannie? Why isn’t your significant other here?”
“Yes.” Brandon grinned. “Sorry. I’m horrible with names.”
“She’s in Oklahoma City until January with her boyfriend. Her family lives there.” Aydin shrugged. “We’re not dating or anything.” He almost added, “She’s my hag,” but kept that tidbit to himself.
“Luis is a nice guy. He treats her like a queen.” He grinned. Thinking about his friends together brightened him up a little. Darcy and Luis had the kind of relationship he wanted—commitment, devotion and love. “I’m glad she found him.”
“I am, too, but I don’t know either of them.” Brandon stayed at the desk. “Do you have plans tonight?”
“That lonely?” Aydin blurted.
“What?” Brandon tipped his head. “Say that again.”
He’d stepped in bullshit up to his waist. Fuck. “Sorry. Nothing.”
“No, tell me what you meant.” Brandon unzipped his coat. “I respect honesty.”
Well, if Brandon put things that way…he had no choice but to tell the truth. He respected people who treated him with kindness and courtesy. He should do the same for Brandon. “Are you that lonely you need to talk to one of the few people on campus, to stoop to conversing with me?” He should just get over himself and accept that maybe people wanted to hang out with him because he wasn’t a bad guy, not assume they saw him as a weak man like his mother kept telling him, but Brandon was handsome, popular. He knew people. He was the focus of the parties. Aydin had gone to a couple of the gatherings. Brandon held court.
“Ouch…” Brandon winced and chuckled at the same time. “I should be hurt, wounded.”
Ah…here it comes...the kiss off. He shrugged. Brandon wanted honesty.
“But I’m not,” Brandon said. “I think you’re full of shit.”
“What?” Aydin blurted. He shrank back from the desk. Would Brandon hit him?
“You’re pushing me away and trying to put the brakes on. You do this every time I try to talk to you.” Brandon shook his head. “You think I’m settling for you this time, because you’re here, right?”
“Well, aren’t you?” Wait, had Brandon just said he did this every time? What other times did he mean?
“Nope.” Brandon’s smile widened. “I’m going to blow your mind.”
Already done. “How?”
“I’m here, because I knew you were alone. I knew you wouldn’t be able to avoid me for the hundredth time.” Brandon splayed his hands on the desk. “You’re a hard man to catch, you know that?”
Oh Jesus. “What are you talking about? You never wanted to talk to me.” He’d been to the gallery when Brandon was there and had visited the openings for Brandon’s different exhibits. Two words were usually exchanged…hey and hi. Not the start of some great relationship.
“I’ve tried four times over the last three weeks.” Brandon crooked his eyebrow. “I can’t tell you how many times since the beginning of the semester. I know you’ve visited my exhibitions and were there at the gallery. I can’t always help being the center of attention there, but I can tell you I’ve tried to catch your eye. Remember the party at Madison’s, the spin the bottle debacle?”
He remembered. He’d joined in on the circle, because Brandon had been there. When the bottle stopped on him, instead of looking up to see who would kiss him…he’d left the room and party. He hadn’t been sure he could face the man he’d crushed on.
“Yeah, you abandoned me.” Brandon stuck out his bottom lip. “Prince Charming had no one to kiss.” His hair flopped over his brow, and the purple streak became visible.
Prince Charming… Aydin braced himself. “Sorry. I had to go.” If he said anything else, he’d be lying. He’d gotten the hell out of that party before Brandon told him, “No thank you,” for the kiss.
“Want to come up with a better story?” Brandon laughed.
“Why not?” Brandon ruffled his fingers through his hair. “I want you to come with me to dinner tonight. I’ve got an opening to attend, and I would really like it if you were there. It’s not my exhibition, but I want to stake out the gallery.”
“Ah, you need someone there, so you don’t stick out.” He sounded silly. “Sorry.”
“I’d rather go with someone, yeah. I don’t like being on my own,” Brandon said. “I’m not taking, ‘No,’ for an answer. You and me. I’ll be back here at six. You’re off then, right?”
He fumbled for words. What was happening? Brandon was talking to him, asking him out…mentioning he’d wanted to connect before now? Something wasn’t right. He sank onto the stool. He hadn’t expected Brandon to say any of those things. This had to be a joke. Part of him wanted to argue with Brandon, but the rest of him wanted to crawl across the desk and into Brandon’s jacket.
Brandon tipped his head again. “You’re thinking about it, aren’t you? I told you I’m not taking, “No,” for an answer. It’s the day before New Year’s Eve. What else are you going to do?”
Brandon had a point. All he wanted was a date—someone to come along with him to a gallery. Innocent. Simple. Right? What could go wrong? They’d be in public, and he’d have an out—he could get lost in the crowd at the gallery, if the situation went south…, but what if he didn’t want to lose Brandon? What if he wanted to find out if they could make a go of a potential relationship? He was overthinking. Go with the flow…right? Why were life and dating so hard?