Eli was going to lose his pretty little marbles.
Didn’t I know him?
When Eli started ranting about the UPS guy, it’d never occurred to me that it was the same one who came to the center. My UPS guy was professional to the point of boring, and I wasn’t even sure the guy was gay.
But there he was.
Peeking around the corner of the doorway, he had wide eyes and an achingly curious expression that screamed how desperately he wanted to understand something about the photo shoot. Whereas before when we’d run into each other he’d never even pinged my gaydar, now it was lighting the whole damned place up.
Like rainbow-fireworks-shooting-out-of-everyone’s-asses kind of obvious.
But if he was so curious, why wasn’t he asking them about it?
Why all the sneaking around and driving Eli crazy?
Unfortunately, now wasn’t the time to ask. I’d been invited to the small shoot to see how it looked behind the scenes before we headed out for dinner. Interrupting Eli and the models while they were clearly in their zone wouldn’t be the best way for the UPS guy to endear himself to Eli.
Scooting my way slowly around the room as Roman and Eli nearly had sex, the heat level was so high, I was almost on top of the delivery guy before he realized anyone had noticed he was there. As he saw me, his eyes took on a frantic look and he started shaking his head. Thankfully, he was quiet when he was startled, even if the package did start to shift precariously.
Reaching out quickly, I stabilized the box and brought one finger up to my lips in a quiet hush gesture. Hoping to distract him so he’d lose the deer-in-the-headlight expression, I smiled and whispered, “Aren’t they beautiful together?”
I knew better than to ask if he needed help or if he just wanted a signature. If that were the case, he’d have waited in the lobby until someone noticed him.
Fear and surprise swamped his expression before he started to pull it all back. Not wanting to see him fade back into the boring man who usually came into the center, I smiled encouragingly. “They’re both insane but the pictures come out incredible, and they’re so hot together the building is going to go up in flames one of these days. Don’t you think?”
He looked like he was backed into a corner with man-eating alligators pinning him in place. I probably should feel bad, but I’d seen similar looks on the kids at the center. Hungry for something they thought they couldn’t have but having no idea how to walk away from the need.
Usually it was admitting their sexuality, but I had a feeling that wasn’t the case here.
He was taking in every aspect of my expression, so I kept up the same open, calm look I’d perfected dealing with teenagers. I had a perfect game face honed over years of hearing shocking secrets and crazy confessions. Nothing he said or wanted could surprise me, and even if it came close, he’d never see it on my face.
Finally, he nodded slowly.
That was it.
But it was a start. I leaned against the corner of the wall by the stairs and glanced back at the two maniacs. “I’ve known them both for ages. I thought their insanity would calm down once they got together, but they’re still crazy. Now they just have better ways of making up.”
UPS guy smirked and gave me another faint nod. He’d clearly been watching them as closely as everyone else around the building. “Have you seen the pics on the site? The ones from their last photo shoot were great, but I have an inside source that said Preston walked in on them having sex after the shoot and went off on both of them.”
Of course Eli and Roman were my inside source, but the nervous guy didn’t need to know that. He nodded again, but a smile was starting to peek through as he watched. Eli had always been too much of a drama queen for me to be interested in him personally, but I’d known him long enough to have browsed the site a few times.
“He was always angry for a while.” The whispered words were barely audible. He was looking at Eli, but his statement could have easily described either of them.
“Yes, but now they channel their anger into insanity and sex. It works for them. Personally, I think Eli is attractive, but I’d prefer a more relaxed relationship.” As he glanced over at me, a curious expression on his face, I shrugged and kept going. “I like the lingerie on the guys, but I definitely prefer a sweeter man.”
Like a curious one who spent all his time pretending to be boring until he found something that he couldn’t walk away from. Was it the lingerie? Was it the barely restrained domination and submission that most of the guys radiated one way or another? Was it the modeling?
He was cute enough with his sexy muscles and wide eyes that I knew he’d look good in front of the camera, but was that what he wanted?
He licked his lips nervously and glanced back and forth between me and the models. Guessing that he was curious about why I was there, I grinned. “I’m heading out to dinner with the drama queens as long as they can function after all this sexual tension. It’s tough being the single one hanging out with those two.”
A faint blush spread across his face, but he didn’t seem bothered by my admission that I was single and gay. Being gay wasn’t something I hid, but he’d never looked at me like he actually saw me. Our interactions in the past had always been very fast and very professional.
“Last time we went out, they almost got us kicked out of the restaurant they were heating up the place so bad.” I grinned as he smiled. “And if you’re thinking I’m a glutton for punishment you might be right, but I’m Roman’s cousin, so there’s no way to avoid it.”
His eyebrows went up and his gaze darted back and forth between us. “There’s no resemblance. I’m from the sane side of the family.”
His grin widened as he held back a chuckle, but he still couldn’t keep his eyes off the models and the shoot. From what I’d heard, this was probably the longest he’d gotten to watch without being chased off. If he’d have asked questions, I knew someone would have answered or at least flirted with him.
They were an interesting bunch. All it would have taken was a bit of attention—positive attention—and they would have opened up. But for some reason, he’d peeped and run instead of talking and flirting with the half-naked men.
Before I could figure out a way to get him to open up more…or to at least get more than a single sentence…Eli noticed him. Without Eli even saying a word, the shy man started fumbling with the box and backing away.
Unfortunately, we were so close to the stairs he almost went down them headfirst. As I grabbed his arm, he squeaked and his eyes nearly popped out of his head. When he was steady on his feet, he shoved the box at me and stumbled down the stairs, mumbling a quiet apology.
When he was back in the lobby and heading toward the front of the building, I turned and shot Eli a dirty look. I’d known the drama queen long enough to know when he’d been an ass to someone. “Is there a reason he’s scared of you?”
Eli huffed and stalked over to me. “Is there a reason you’re standing up for him when all he does is peek around corners?”
“You like an audience.” Roman came over and shot us both looks that said he wasn’t pleased. “And you looked like you were having a nice conversation with the stalker.”
“He’s curious.” I rolled my eyes. “If someone had been nice to him, he might have felt comfortable enough to open up.”
Eli snorted. “He’s been doing this since he started showing up here. He never asks questions. He snoops, drops something, and then leaves. Quickly.”
“Because you make him nervous as hell.” I gestured around the room. “This would be overwhelming and new to just about anyone.”
“At what point do we stop being a sideshow to watch and become real people?” Eli was still playing the victim, but I wasn’t buying it. He clearly hadn’t looked into that man’s eyes if he thought he was the one who should be frustrated.
“When you stop playing the drama queen and try being a real person. You wouldn’t have done that to one of the kids at the center, so why do that to him? He can’t be much older than they are. Sure, he doesn’t look young at first glance, but there’s no way he’s even in his mid-twenties. Hell, I’ve seen that look before too many times to miss it in someone. A bit of compassion would be nice.” I just wasn’t sure what his story was.
But there was definitely a story behind those wide, sad eyes.
Eli finally wilted a bit, giving Roman and me a shrug. I’d known him long enough to figure out some of his insecurities, but I wasn’t going to let him get away with it forever. He was definitely the “attack first and then see if someone meant to be an asshole” type of guy.
But that wouldn’t work with someone like the sweet guy who’d nearly fallen down the stairs.
“He’s curious, but you scare the fuck out of him.” I glanced over, still seeing the awestruck look that had been on his face, before turning back to Eli. “Be nice.”
He waved his hand dramatically and popped one hip out. “Fine.”
If he was trying to distract me, it wouldn’t work. For one thing, he was dating my cousin, and for another, I hadn’t been lying to the UPS guy. I dealt with enough angry and high-maintenance people on a regular basis that I liked sweet and tender in my personal life. If they were a bit submissive, that was a plus too.
I wasn’t as into angry sex as Roman seemed to be, but most of the cousins in the family were all kinkier than our parents wanted anyone to admit to. How that repressed, crazy generation gave birth to such interesting people I had no idea.
Roman’s insanity with Eli was just the tip of the iceberg.
“I’m serious, Eli. He could obviously use a friend.” I pushed away the tiny part of my brain that whispered what else the startled UPS guy might need.
“Do you know him?” Roman was watching me like I was a very interesting specimen at the zoo.
“No, not really. He’s my UPS guy. But I’m not even sure what his name is.” He never gave the impression he wanted any kind of random conversation. The most interesting thing I could ever remember talking to him about was when it was raining one time and he was grumbling about the roads being terrible.
I wasn’t usually the one who talked to him, but I’d seen him enough over the past few months I should at least know his name. I was starting to feel the same guilt I’d been trying to aim at Eli. Maybe I should have taken my own advice and gotten to know him at least a little.
Eli shrugged and ran his hands down the sheer nightgown thing he was wearing for the shoot. “I’ll be nicer.”
That was probably as good as I was going to get from Eli.
“If someone could at least get his name that would be great. I can’t keep thinking of him as the UPS guy forever.” Eli started to grin and wiggle like he’d won the lottery. “What?”
“How often have you been thinking of him?”
I rolled my eyes, not willing to answer the question. “You’ve burned too many brain cells under all these lights.”
I made a show of looking around the room for a clock. “I’ve been watching you two with your foreplay for hours. Isn’t it time for dinner?”
Roman snorted, but Eli’s grin widened as he squirmed close to Roman. “If you think that was foreplay, you need to date more.”
“Dinner?” I leaned back against the wall and glanced down at the box I was still holding. “And who does this belong to?”
There was no way I was going to admit how right his sentence was.
Two fruity drinks and a whole plate of wings later, Eli was slightly drunk and still poking at me about the UPS guy. “No, just…you really think he was watching because he’s curious? Is it the panties or something else?”
He was like a fucking dog with a bone.
I was sober enough to know talking to him about it was a bad idea, but just relaxed enough that common sense wasn’t sticking around very long. “I’m not a mind reader. I’ve just seen that look on too many of the kids at the center. They come in with that lost expression when they think no one will ever understand who they are.”
I picked up my beer and took a drink. I kept seeing the way his eyes lit up when he watched the shoot. For a minute he was an entirely different person. “He’s always so professional and quiet when he comes into the center. A few delivery people get snotty because of the kids and the fact that we’re very LGBT. But he’s never said anything. It’s almost like he doesn’t notice.”
The flags had flags in our building. If it was covered in rainbows, it somehow made its way into the center. The kids loved it. It gave them a feeling of ownership. We had a few neighbors who didn’t appreciate it, but for the most part, people were used to us.
The old UPS guy had always copped an attitude, so I could remember being relieved when the new one showed up and he was a complete professional. Maybe that was why I hadn’t noticed anything else? Was that all it took for me to miss someone that confused, a professional attitude and polite smile?
“He is not a project.” Roman’s frustrated voice broke through and I snorted.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He was insane.
He rolled his eyes, looking a little too much like Eli. “I’ve seen that look on your face for years. He’s not a lost puppy or one of the kids who’ve gotten thrown out. He’s a grown adult.”
“I know that.” The erection he’d been sporting as he watched the shoot had made that perfectly clear…not that I’d been trying to check him out. It had just been…noticeable.
“Bullshit.” Roman started jabbing at me with the straw he was playing with. “You’re going to go chasing after him with pity or some shit like that. He’s a grown-ass adult. If he wants to come in and talk, that’s up to him; if not, that’s up to him too.”
Eli’s grin looked positively sinful as he leaned into the table. “Now if you go looking for him because he’s hot and you like that sexy panicked look he gets, that’s another story.”
“You’re both insane.” It was time to get some distance from these two before I said any more. Pushing away from the table, I reached into my wallet and tried to toss down a twenty, but Roman stopped me.
“I’ve got this.”
His finances had been a bit precarious after an ex had cleaned him out and getting fired from Leashes and Lace not long after that, so I knew it made him feel great that he could pick up the check again. Evidently between working with Eli again and the private boudoir photo shoots he was doing, things were looking up.
“Fine, next time it’s on me.”
I laughed as Eli groaned. “It’s like I’m not even here at all.”
Roman snorted and laughed. “I’ll tell you how you can work it off if you want to chip in.”
And that was my cue to leave before they got thrown out of another restaurant.
Spencer’s content with his life.
Sure, he might be a little confused and a bit awkward, but his life isn’t bad. He has a steady job and a wonderful friend in his goldfish Frank. He just has a feeling it could be better if he could clear up a few things, like why the lingerie at Leashes & Lace is so interesting and why dating isn’t really working out.
Devin’s happy with his life.
His work at the LGBT youth center and his growing friendship with the guys at Leashes & Lace keep him busy and his life fulfilling. But when he bumps into a familiar face at a photoshoot, he starts to see what he’s been missing—awkward perfection. The calm, professional UPS driver who stops by the center is nothing like the nervous, uncoordinated man who can’t seem to admit how curious he is about the lingerie…and Devin can’t wait to find out what else the sweet man is longing for.
With Spencer’s fear standing in their way, it will take the love of well-meaning friends and a little timely misfortune to bring them together.
Story Contains: M/m sexual content, BDSM elements, gender-fluid dressing, edging, spanking, and a very uncoordinated UPS man.