Houston

Chapter 1

Houston

 

“Alright. We’re going to get the hard stuff out of the way first. If you’re still interested afterward, I’ll show you around. Because it’s a good-size apartment, and I’m not asking an arm and a leg for the rent.” I hadn’t even given the guy a chance to say anything as I opened the door. I’d just charged right in, doing my best to ignore his big brown eyes and startled expression.

Reminding myself that I did not need to get distracted by the sexy teddy bear of a guy before I even knew how crazy he was, I kept going. “I work from home, so I’m here nearly all the time. I’m a little OCD, so if you’re messy, that’s going to be a problem. I’m gay. So if you’re a homophobe, or something crazy like those morons with the signs, I don’t even want to hear it. I’ve gotten the insanity from a dozen different people over the past week, so keep that shit to yourself.” He hadn’t run screaming like the uptight accountant, or crying like the short guy who’d started losing it because evidently, all the good apartments were gay, so it was a good sign.

Too bad I wasn’t done with the speech. “And there’s a washer and dryer in the unit, so that means you don’t have to schlep things down to the laundromat, but that also means we’re going to see each other’s clothes. Well, I wear women’s underwear, and I don’t plan on panicking every time I do my goddamned laundry. If that’s a problem, you already know the way out of the building.”

His mouth was open, but nothing came out. Had I broken him already? It’d taken six months before the last one lost it. “Hello? You still interested?”

He finally blinked, long eyelashes drawing even more attention to his sexy brown eyes. “You weren’t asking for a security deposit. Just the first month’s rent?”

Not what I was expecting him to say, but okay. “Yup.”

“Then I’d like to see it, please.” His voice came out slightly stiff but even.

Looked like I might have found a keeper.

Well, roommate anyway. Finding anything beyond that would just be ridiculous, considering how hard it was to find a decent roommate. If I couldn’t find a reasonable stranger to ignore what I liked, how could I expect to find a date who would?

“Come on in, and I’ll show you around.” I stepped back from the door, trying to seem a little friendlier. If he wasn’t scared off by everything else, I didn’t want to make him think I was an ogre. I was usually pretty reasonable as long as I didn’t have to deal with day after day of morons and idiots.

There was a reason I worked from home and not with the average customer.

 

The new guy was a short little thing but broad enough that his frame hinted at muscles under his clothes. Not that I was looking. Statistically, he was probably straight, but with the increasing number of people who defined their sexuality on less rigid terms, there were reasonable odds he was at least curious.

Not that it mattered.

“The living room is this way.” The condo actually had a lot of space for a place so close to downtown. The location and size were just some of the reasons I’d grabbed it up. But they were also the reasons I usually had a roommate.

I was financially sound enough in my career that I didn’t need to have someone else to split the mortgage and utilities with, but it made my budget a lot easier. I didn’t have a lot of crazy expenses, but I liked to travel, and having someone around to watch the apartment as well as let me save more worked out perfectly. And with my goal of paying off the mortgage early, it meant I didn’t have to compromise.

Usually.

I hadn’t been so lucky lately.

When I’d first started looking for roommates, I’d ended up with women, and that’d worked out fairly well. Until the last one turned out to be a bit off and didn’t believe I was actually gay. After she’d only been living in the condo a month, I’d found her naked in my bed.

After that, everything had gone downhill. Fast.

I’d finally managed to get her out, but it’d been an awkward couple of months. When I’d started looking for another roommate, I’d ended up with a straight guy who couldn’t manage to understand that every look wasn’t a come-on. I’d never been more grateful when he’d gotten transferred to the Midwest somewhere.

The next one only lasted two days until he found my panties in the laundry. So I wasn’t even sure I could claim him as a roommate. Whoever the hell the new guy was, at least he didn’t seem to be easily fazed.

He simply walked around the living room, calm and curious. “Will I have enough space in the kitchen? My last roommate had issues with giving me a reasonable amount of room. I don’t mind sharing, but one small shelf in the fridge and one in the pantry isn’t enough to cook anything.”

“I don’t mind making as much space as you need. I don’t have a lot of kitchen gadgets, so there’s plenty of empty shelves. I also don’t mind you borrowing stuff as long as you replace it and clean up after yourself.” I gave him a careless shrug and pointed toward the kitchen. “Take a look.”

He nodded and headed toward the archway that separated the two rooms. Looking back at me, he paused and stretched out his hand. “I’m Reece, nice to meet you.”

“Houston. Same.” I wasn’t going to get overly friendly until I knew he was actually staying—and sane.

I waited at the door while Reece walked into the kitchen, opening cabinets and going through it in more detail than anyone else I’d ever had living there. Could he actually cook? I wasn’t bad, but when it was just me, I didn’t always see the point.

I tried to look at the space through his eyes. I remembered the real estate agent talking about the amount of counter space and the upgraded appliances, but I’d tuned it out after making sure it was on par with everything else in the neighborhood.

Kitchens and bathrooms helped with resale value, but beyond that, I didn’t really notice them. Granite counters, well-made cabinets, and a good layout meant I wasn’t going to have to replace much if I decided to sell sooner than I’d planned.

Finally nodding, like it’d gotten his seal of approval, Reece glanced over at me. “Can I see the bedroom?”

“Sure.” I started heading for the back of the condo while he followed. “You have the first bedroom and the hall bath. It’s a decent size, but if you need another space for an office or something, let me know, and we might be able to work something out.”

He glanced in the bathroom, nodding quietly again, then crossed the hall to go in the bedroom. The master and guest bedrooms were both fairly large. There was one small room, but I used that for an office. So I wasn’t surprised when he made a pleased sound and smiled.

“I’ve seen a few lately that were like large closets and that’s it.” He started wandering around the empty room and seemed to be mentally mapping it out, pacing steps and walking in odd patterns. “I’ve never lived in a place where people were so proud of tiny apartments.”

“Have you lived here long?”

“No. I just took a new job. I’m living in temporary corporate housing now, but I want my own space.” He kept wandering around the room, looking in the closet and pacing more steps off. “I think this will work.”

He gave me a long look, those big brown eyes staring me. He was going to have to stop doing that to me. “Any other rules or facts I should be aware of? I’m not a big partier, but I’d like to be able to bring someone home eventually without it causing problems.”

I shrugged. I didn’t care who he fucked as long as they didn’t drive me nuts. “Just keep the noise level down and don’t get naked in the communal spaces, then we’ll be good.”

His face scrunched up, and his head tilted like he didn’t understand what I meant, so I felt the need to explain. “I’ve had some interesting roommates in the last year.”

Reece nodded slowly. “I can promise I’ll keep my clothes on, things fairly clean, and no loud parties.”

“Works for me. I have a contract in the kitchen and a few basic questions about your income. I’ll let you read through it and make sure you don’t have any issues with it.” As we headed back to the other side of the condo, Reece started to talk more.

“The ad I read said moving in right away is fine?” His voice was calm as he studied the space while we walked through. He seemed nothing like the last applicants and nothing like my previous roommates; I could only hope that would be a good thing.

“Sure.” I was saving up for another trip to Europe, so sooner was better than later.

“Good. I talked to the people who are storing my moving POD, and they said getting me worked in wouldn’t be a problem if I found something quickly.” As he wandered into the kitchen, he looked around again. “You have a great kitchen. You’re sure my using it or putting stuff in the cabinets isn’t going to be a problem? My last roommate said he’d clear out space for me, but it wasn’t enough to unpack even one box, so I had to eat out almost constantly.”

I gestured around the room as I walked over to pull out the paperwork from the folder. “No, if it’s empty, go for it. I eat out a lot, so it’s not going to bother me unless you end up leaving it a mess.”

He glanced up at me, and it had to be the short hair making his eyes so noticeable. “Well, I usually end up making too much, so if there are leftovers, feel free to help yourself.”

“Thanks.” I’d learned the hard way not to believe that. I wasn’t going to argue with him, though. “Here you go.”

Taking the papers, he started reading through them. It was a standard rental contract, so I didn’t think he’d find anything odd. After going through a few points, discussing his finances, and writing in the starting and ending date of the lease, we signed, and it was done.

I was relieved to have it over, because finding someone had taken a ridiculous amount of time. But the tension wasn’t going to leave until I figured out his form of crazy. The calm, teddy bear expression was only going to last so long.

He’d said he wasn’t a big partier, but that probably meant he liked to get stoned on his own. Having someone over probably meant he had a revolving door of women in his bedroom. More than likely, I was going to have to listen to some girl scream out how incredible he was every night.

God, that had been a long three months.

I wasn’t sure I could go back to getting that little sleep again. The sleepy pot smoker was starting to sound better and better. “So, you said you’re in IT?”

That had to mean drug screenings, right?

Reece leaned back in the chair, and his shirt stretched across his chest, clearly outlining the muscles under his clothes. I tried not to stare, but unlike the paranoid skinny straight guy who had to have been a closet case, Reece was actually my type.

Shit.

I loved short, stocky guys. Sexy men that could be manhandled without the risk of actually hurting them got me going. I was going to have to be careful. No matter how hot he was, making the guy uncomfortable wasn’t something that I wanted to do.

Reece nodded. “Yes, I generally work with smaller companies that are in the process of growing and are starting to need their own IT department. My new job is with an internet startup that’s finally expanded past what their current staff can handle and needs actual IT help. After their site crashed a few times last month because of the amount of traffic, they realized what they had wasn’t working.”

“Sounds interesting.” Not really, but it was better than the tax guy. And I was in finance, so that was saying something.

Reece’s smile went from pleasant to filled with real pleasure. It was distracting as hell. Maybe I could convince him to wear a mask around the condo. But that image was too distracting, so I pushed it away and tried to listen. “It’s a great opportunity. I’m getting in on the ground floor with them, and I’m going to be in charge of the whole department.”

Then he gave a laugh and shrugged carelessly. “Which only consists of me right now, and a few tech-savvy people in their marketing department, at least some of the time, but they’ve talked about expanding it over the next couple of years. I think it’s going to be a good fit.”

“That’s great. Getting in while a company is still growing can be wonderful in the long run.” Not sure what else to say that wouldn’t turn into a business lecture, I pushed back from the table. “Let me get you a key. When do you think your stuff will get here?”

“Thanks. Two or three days tops, at least according to the manager I talked to yesterday. He said they had a light week, and that if I could find something quickly, I wouldn’t have to wait long to get it delivered.” Reece followed me out to the living room. “I’ll give you a call as soon as I know what the exact timeline looks like. I’m aiming for Friday afternoon, if they can make that work. It’s a tight turnaround for them, but it would give me the whole weekend to get settled.”

“That’s probably best.” Digging around in the side table drawer, I found one of the extra keys. “You probably have a lot to get straightened out at the new job.”

Handing it over, I tried not to notice the way his eyes lit up again as he talked about his work. “Actually, the couple of guys who were doing it before had a good handle on it. There’s just no way they can keep doing two jobs. The pay’s pretty good for a smaller company, and everyone seems friendly. I think it’s going to be interesting.”

After showing him a few more things around the apartment and helping him take some measurements of the room, he was on his way with a promise to call me with the exact time for the movers.

Two days wasn’t a lot of time for them to arrange delivery, but he seemed confident. So I made myself a mental reminder to check my schedule and make sure I didn’t have any meetings planned that day.

I probably should’ve gotten to know him more or offered to take the guy out to lunch, but I just wanted to enjoy my last moments of quiet before the storm hit. He seemed nice, but so had the rest of them at first.

As I closed the door, I started mentally rearranging my finances to see how it would work if I decided not to get another roommate. It would be doable if I cut back on my monthly savings and investment goals and stretched out the time between vacations.

But growing the business was probably a better solution.

I’d worked countless hours through my twenties, burning the candle at both ends, building up my own personal savings and investment portfolio and planning out the best way to work on my own. As much as I loved the stock market, talking to countless people who never listened and answering simple questions over and over wasn’t what I was suited for.

I just didn’t have the patience for it.

However, day trading my own investments and setting up business proposals for new companies was something I was comfortable with. If I took on a few more new clients over the next couple of months, it would give me the flexibility I needed, just in case Reese turned out to be nuts as well.

Looking at the time on my phone, I started heading back to the bedroom. My brain was in too many places at once to settle down to work. I’d done as much as I could on my own trading before Reece had arrived, and I wasn’t set to start on the next business plan for about a week, so it wasn’t a bad day to play hooky. The gym was probably the best bet.

I started stripping off my clothes as I entered the bedroom, taking a moment to close the door. I was going to have to start paying attention to things like that again. Tossing my shirt on the bed, my shoes went next, and I continued on to everything else.

Keeping a strict schedule and dressing for work, even though it was more business casual than Wall Street, made working from home easier. But as I grabbed workout gear and headed into the bathroom in just my underwear, I had to laugh.

Looking in the mirror, I shook my head. How was I the sanest person out of all the roommates I’d had lately? The businessman Dom in the bright pink boy short panties should not have been the first choice for most normal. Not that I was worried about what “normal” was, but still, it was getting ridiculous.

“You need to go to the gym more. Those panties looked much better five pounds ago.” I shook my finger at the man in the mirror. But for someone who sat most of the day, and who had too easy access to the fridge, I wasn’t looking too bad.

I couldn’t help but try to picture what Reece would think.

I’d long ago accepted what I liked and who I was, but I couldn’t help guessing at his reaction. He’d been calm and unfazed when I’d blurted it out, but how would the rest hit him? Doms were supposed to be tough and dressed in all leather, swinging a paddle or a crop, not decked out in satin panties or a lace bodysuit.

I looked damned good in that bodysuit, extra five pounds or not.

“Okay, off to the gym, lazy. You’ll never get that six-pack back looking at yourself in the mirror or thinking about your new roommate.” Of the two, finding the energy to exercise would probably be harder. All I had to do was wait until Reece moved in, and then the shine would fade. There was no way he’d be as perfect as my imagination wanted to make him.

A man who was strong, compact, sexy, not shocked by the whole feminine underwear thing, gay, and submissive wasn’t someone that was just going to show up randomly on my doorstep.

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