Linc. Please be there. I need to see you tonight. Will be over in an hour.

It was him. Mr Chocolate. Though it had been some time since I'd spoken to him face to face, the voice was unmistakable. Deep, mellow, utterly smooth with just enough of a soft drawl which brought to mind decadent, sultry Southern nights. It would have made him blush if I'd told him that was exactly how one of his lady friends had once described his voice.

But then again, the man blushed easily - especially when one knew which particular nerve to hit. I should know since I've known him practically forever. The first time I'd met him, he'd been a bad, bad boy and I'd dubbed him Mr Chocolate ever since. Granted he was eight as was I - and not only was he dark in colouring, his happy cheery face was also smeared with chocolate. We clicked since then, made a sacred pact of brotherhood complete with secret handshake in our hidden canyon and stuck together through thick and thin.

Amazingly the nickname for him seemed almost prophetic as it certainly fit him to a T right now. These days, Adam Garcia was the embodiment of chocolate himself - dark, sinful and meltingly irresistible. Different shades of brown characterized the man from his sinfully dark brown eyes, his sleek mahogany hair, his light mocha-latte coloured skin, a hard physique that had graced the covers of fitness magazines and strolled down runways on fashion week.

It was inevitable that I would have a crush on him once I'd grown up and realized that I was far more interested in men's dicks rather than girls. What was there not to like in Adam Garcia? After all, he was a wildly attractive, sexy man and I was a hormonally charged gay man. Add that to his sweet, wonderful personality and you had our Mr Chocolate himself. But the man was hopelessly straight as an arrow. In time, I came to realize that we were much better off as friends and shelved away the early schoolboy crush I had on him, hidden deep in a closet that was never to be opened. It wasn't that I didn't occasionally indulge in secret fantasies of licking hot chocolate off his hard, well-developed pecs but I also knew that it was a harmless fantasy since he hadn't shown any desire to turn over to the dark side so to speak.

For the next few years in school and on to college, we were the terrible duo, the wild-n-woolly fag of the school and the staid, serious quarterback with a penchant for books and a secret addiction for choc bars. On and off he'd give me a stern, no-nonsense lecture on my licentious affairs with men not really worth my while while I'd tease him about his overdeveloped biceps and brainless jock mentality. Of course no one dared question his friendship with the out-of-the closet guy who ran the local Gay and Lesbian Society especially when the man had biceps like a rock. Not to mention a boiling hot temper hidden behind his seemingly placid, unruffled demeanour. Rumours about his sexuality were practically nonexistent as the girls in high school could readily attest to Adam's rampant heterosexuality. Eventhough I was his roommate all through college, I'd certainly never been privy to his bedroom activities - since the man was stubbornly closemouthed about it despite my nagging - but I had nonetheless heard the rumours about his reputation as a veritable tiger in bed. It always seemed ironic to me that such a straight-laced choir boy could turn into some kinda Don Juan in the night.

In the years since then we'd moved apart - in physical distance - but we still managed to keep in touch. It was rare that a week went by without Adam calling me up for a quick chat to catch up. Nowadays with the advent of the Net, he also maintained a regular e-mail correspondence with me that had my colleagues puzzling over the frequent messages from the ultra-mysterious Mr Chocolate.

So while I puzzled over his latest message, I flipped through the other pending messages on my machine. Unsurprisingly, the rest of the messages came from him. One thing Adam was - he was definitely single-minded. What Adam Garcia wants, Adam got. If he wanted to talk to me, I might as well sit tight and wait for him. Thing was, he was right on the other side of the country. Not only would it take hours to get here, it would be insane to come over just for a chat. A simple urge to talk wouldn't have him travelling such a great distance. After playing his message again, the nerves in his voice started making me worried and I started imagining all the things that could happen. Just as I was about to pick up the phone to call his cellphone, the phone rang again.

"Linc!" That deep voice came through over the phone, making me wonder as usual why he hadn't gone on stage with that amazing voice. "God, I'm so glad to get you there."

Sending half a dozen messages wasn't his style and I knew it had to be something important. My mind ran through a few dozen nightmarish incidents that could have happened. Leaving courtesies aside, I cut to the chase. "Why, what's up? What happened? Is everyone okay? Your parents?" I couldn't imagine anything happening to the Garcias. They were the most.. fun parents any kid could ever have when we were younger. Of course, Adam hadn't thought so. A real conservative old soul, my friend - and his ultra-cool hippie parents had probably been as stunned by him as he had been with them. At times I bet they blissfully wondered whether they'd exchanged kids when he was born but they loved him like crazy anyway.

"No, no, they are all alright. Last I heard they were calling me from some treehouse in Northern California. Some kinda protest," he quickly reassured me. "That's not the problem. It's me. I think I need to see you soon. Uhhh.. can I come over tonight?"

"Huh?" His voice held the same sense of urgency as it had earlier and I was puzzled. No bodily injury. No family crises. Just to make sure, I knocked the phone on the table thinking that I had misheard him. The reception must be bad. He couldn't possibly be flying over 500 hundred miles for a talk. "You're 500 hundred miles away."

My dead-pan voice got to him and I could hear the smile in his voice. "Seriously. Trust me on this. I'm at the airport right now."

That stunned me. "Huh?"

"I just arrived back here." He sounded almost breathless like he'd ran all the way instead of flying. "Do you have any plans? I know it's short notice and all but I really need to see you."

"This is some kinda joke, right." Which was very unlike him. Well, he did have a sense of humour, no doubt about that but sudden irrational acts of impulse certainly weren't his style. Some time ago, he'd once told me that it was his parents unconventional upbringing that had made him this way. He was just bound and determined not to be as flaky and nutty as his own parents. Me, I always thought the unconventional Mr and Mrs Garcia were the coolest parents a kid could have. But then I hadn't been brought up in a home where the parents were the ones who pulled weird stunts such as appearing as Carmen Miranda and a matching fruit bowl at their son's birthday parties.

"Uhhh.. no."

"You would have me believe that you flew over here just for a chat when you could have told me over the phone .. unless... Good God, man, you're getting married!" It was the only thing I could come up with that would explain it. Although in his last mail, he hadn't mentioned that he was seeing anyone seriously. For a moment, my heart stuttered at the idea that he was getting married but I shook away that selfish thought. After all, Adam was a wonderful man and he did deserve to be happy. But for form's sake, I just had to damn the lucky bitch. With all that she was getting, she had better appreciate the man or I'd pimp-slap her silly.

He was silent for a moment. "I-I.."

"You are! That's wonderful news! Who is the lucky gal? Damn, she beat my time!" I kidded.

"Well, it's not a marriage. Not exactly but.."

"Not exactly?" Since we were kids, he had always been good at twisting words around which helped in his work but I never did like that about him. Straight to the point, that's me, no beating around the bush.

He cleared his throat as he always did when he got nervous. "Well, I do have plans to enter a committed relationship."

"Lawyer lingo?"

He chuckled softly. "Sorry."

The fact that he'd kept a secret from me made me vindictive and I had to grill him on principle. "Tell me who! And why haven't you told me? Do I need a court order to wring the name from you. Whips? Cuffs?"

"Well, I-

"Keeping this a secret from me for so long. You deserve a hard spanking, Meester Garcia.." Just for the sheer fun of it, I added a trace of campiness into my voice. It wasn't that hard when I thought of that hard, musclebutt. "A long, hard spanking."

"Ouch." He laughed, a soft, deep intimate sound that I'm sure had the women he knew sighing into their pillows. "Are you ever going to give me a chance to speak in edgewise?"

"No," I answered simply.

My simple answer had him laughing again. "Look, you caught me alright. I do have someone in mind but I haven't spoken to the person as yet. So it's still ... up in the air."

It boggled my mind exactly why his wedding had him running back home but Adam's mind had always worked in mysterious ways. Why come back here when he had a girl over there to propose to? It was an unusual way to broach the topic but I shrugged knowing that he would tell me the reason why as soon as he arrived. "You could have saved your cash - though I do know you have tons of it - and sent an e-mail for the wedding."

"Pretty confident of me, huh Linc."

It was easy to answer that. How could anyone possibly say no to him? Not only was he beautiful on the outside, he was beautiful inside too. Loyal, dependable, responsible, occasionally a stick in the mud but then all he needed was the right woman to shake him up a little. Add that to his Mr I'm-Too-Sexy-For-My-Shirt looks and you had a verifiable Stepford Husband inside and a lean, mean testosterone-fueled bad-boy sex machine on the outside. What else could a woman want? Shaking my head vehemently, I answered honestly. "No sane person would refuse you, hunka-burning love!"

"Stop that," he ordered sternly.

The thought of a marriage reminded me of something. "You'd better make sure I'm the best man or I'll stage a protest. Run around telling everyone you knocked me up."

There was a pause of a heartbeat before he replied warmly. "Linc, you will always be my best man."

"Linc! It's been ages."

Dropping his bags, he came straight into the room and launched himself straight into my arms. It wasn't the first time he'd given me a hug but it still surprised me since he usually wasn't the first to initiate any gestures of affection. For a man who looked as he did and practically oozed with sex appeal, Adam was surprisingly conservative. Which essentially brought us back to his unconventional parents who spent their weekends smooching and causing scandals at the local theatre drive-in. I smiled remembering the time he had to bail his parents out for indecent exposure - necking by the interstate highway in their family sedan. Of course that hadn't embarassed him as much as their monthly protests over various social causes - occasionally in the altogether.

But this time, he gave me a spontaneous hug that I could have sworn seriously endangered a few of my ribs. There was no doubt that he'd been working out too. But the hug didn't surprise me as much as my physical response to him. The sudden whiff of his cologne and his scent brought back some secret memories of hot, lonely nights staring at my bedroom ceiling back home and dreaming forbidden fantasies about Adam Garcia. That was a secret door I'd slammed and locked shut a long time ago. My sudden reaction surprised me and I tried to pull away only to have Adam pull me closer.

"Man, I've missed you," Adam whispered softly.

The thrill of having him so close gave me a shock. Hadn't I gotten over this particular crush years ago? Sure it took two nights of solid rationalizing but even then it had taken a few rounds of good bourbon and whisky to forget about him. Gently, I pulled away and held him an arm's length away. "So have I. You don't have to crush my ribs to prove it."

"Sorry about that but I just ... " Giving me a wry grin, he looked almost sheepish. "Linc, there's so much I want to tell you."

It wasn't his first time in my place and I pulled his overnight bag away from him. It was surprisingly heavier than I thought. The shoulder bag came with a huge travelling case. Was he intending to stay a month? What in the world did he pack? Ushering him in, I showed him the way to the closet. "Really? And here I had plans to go for the opera."

In the process of removing his overcoat, he gave me a narrowed look. "Linc."

The familiar look on his face had me chuckling. "Well, since I made the time, you've all the time in the world."

"Thanks a lot!" Following my pointed gestures, Adam neatly folded and hung his overcoat in the closet. And I had my moment to see why the cameras had always loved my best friend. Each time I see him, he seemed to look even better. It was a point of envy for me as I always managed to look terrible next to him no matter how much I primped before the cameras. Standing beside him, I always turned out looking like chopped liver. Some guys were just born lucky - Adam Garcia was luckier than most. Just like the song said, on the day he was born some angel had obviously sprinkled some damned sex god dust on him.

Catching my admiring gaze, he flashed me a quick, disarming grin. "Yeah?"

Standing against the dark frame of my closet, he made quite a picture. The sexy young executive, tall, dark and handsome with a certain charisma that drew the eyes irresistibly. I'd always had a thing for men in suits. Leaning back on the wall, my arms crossed, I nodded. "Just looking at the man described as sex in a suit."

"Ouch." The moniker had him wincing. When he saw that I was about to say more, he reminded me with an evil twinkle in his eye. "You promised."

He was obviously referring to the wager we'd made years ago of not referring to his stellar looks again. It had been the night I'd rescued him from a drunken date who couldn't keep her hands off him despite his protests. So what if I lost the wager and owed him one night. It's not like he'd ever make good on it. "I can't help it. Italian-Latino gods do that to me."

His dark eyes twinkled with humour. "Say another word, slave and I could have you washing my apartment floor with a toothbrush for one night."

"Not much of a chore. I bet you wax and polish almost daily."

Pulling him into my humble abode, I gestured to my living room which as usual looked as if a tornado had just blown in. For a brief moment, he stood there in plain shock. Books, magazines, newspapers, all jumbled together all over the living room. It was in a perpetual state of mess - something obviously totally alien to Adam Garcia but then again he knew me much too well. Cataloguing the mess in his mind and no doubt rearranging it, the man sighed and shook his head. Before he could make another comment, I pounced on him first. "Try to clean up my mess and die."

The idea had been in his head as I had guessed and he laughed, throwing up his hands in defeat. "You noticed I didn't say anything."

Wagging my finger in warning, I shook my head. "I know you, Mr Garcia."

"Yes." He gazed at me quietly with those dark eyes. "That you do."

That unfathomable look in his eyes had me feeling vaguely self-conscious and I wondered at the reason. The man was acting weird all of a sudden, and for that matter, so was I. What the hell had gotten into me? Leaving him in my living room, I dragged his bags to the guest room. I could have sworn that the last time he packed this much was when he'd left home for college. "Any drinks for the New Yorker?"

His voice carried down to the kitchen. "Just plain water will do, please. Thanks."

"Plain and straight for the straight, healthy man. I hear you," I teased him as I walked back to the living room. As always he took his seat on the blue armchair near the side table. That was my Adam - almost as predictable as the sky was blue. There were some who might find it maddening but I ... had grown rather fond of that particular quality. It was nice to have something familiar. Not only did he take the same seat, he had evidently rearranged the junk on the side table into a more acceptable pile of papers.

Giving me a side glance, he grinned, his dark eyes twinkling with amusement. "Why, you think I should have a... cock-tail?"

"Saucy!" The expression on his face made me laugh. It was the first time he'd said anything like that and I had to smile. "Did squeaky clean Adam Garcia just make some kinda dirty sex innuendo?"

Folding his well-muscled arms, he frowned and made a playful complaint. "I don't know why you keep saying that. I am not all that squeaky clean!"

Sitting in what I'd begun to call his chair, he looked as disgruntled as a little boy. Sure, he was all gorgeous male eye-candy now but look from certain angles and you could still see that naughty eight year old, his dark eyes glowing with that flash of mischief. Of course nowadays Mr Chocolate came in a package of male charisma, muscles and zero-fat. Returning his grin, I drew my finger down his hard forearm and playfully licked my fingertip. "Yum. Pure vanilla."

"Asshole." He gave me a gentle shove and wiped his arm in mock anger. Leaning back on the chair, Adam gave me a considering look. "Do I look all that innocent to you?"

"Innocent? That's not the word for it. Babe, you look like a fucking wet dream and you know it. Your ex, Pam said that her uterus contracted in lust when she first met you." Of course that hadn't been the last thing she'd said to me. There were other things such as mention of his generous size which had left me gaping in shock, wonder and increasing lust - and wondering whether it could really be true. Judging by his other attributes, it probably was true. Why else would God skimp on that when he'd been blessed with amazing yum yum eyes, model cheekbones and a body from Men's Fitness? In all the years I'd known him, I realized that I had never seen him in the altogether which was a damned shame. At times, it seemed as if he'd been brought up by strictly religious Mormons rather than parents who had no qualms at joining a nude anti-fur protest. The thought had me smiling. Judging from the elder Mr Garcia - if Adam had followed his family genes, the man was sure to be incredibly well-endowed. Certainly unforgettable.

His face turned red. "Now you're pulling my leg again."

It was easy to get that blush on his face and I delighted at it. He was still the only man I knew who could blush - and still look hot. Don't even get me going on his glasses. "I'm not. My gay pals cream in their pants when you walk by with that absolutely bootylicious bod. Walking orgasm, that's what you are, my friend."

"Linc." He narrowed that dark gaze on me.

"A body made for sin - and a mind made for a monastery," I commented. "What a waste."

His cheekbones were stained red. "Linc."

"You're such an easy target, Adam." Since he was young, mention of his amazing looks had always embarassed him. Ladies - and men - propositioned him in public places, bras and contact numbers were left on his windshield, heads swivelled when he walked by. It certainly was tough being beautiful. "But I really have missed you, Adam. It's not the same writing mail."

This time he smiled, bringing those irresistible dimples to life. "Same for me too. It's been too long."

His earlier drink order had nearly been forgotten. The dictates of being a host meant that I should serve Adam first but I couldn't resist. Thoughts of the unknown phantom lady who had snagged Adam Garcia had plagued my mind all evening as I waited. My imagination had imbued the secretive tramp with the physique of a Playboy centerfold, the sexual charisma of a Indian courtesan and the brains of a nuclear scientist. Flopping on to the couch next to him, I started my interrogation. "So tell me who she is!"

For a moment, he looked thrown. "Who she is?"

The stunned look on his face surprised me. Wasn't that what was on his mind earlier? Surely she couldn't be that forgettable. "Yeah. The girl. The woman. The lady you flew five hundred miles to tell me about. This unknown goddess who has finally conquered Adam Garcia."

"The lady?" Adam enunciated the word clearly, the shadow of a smile quicking up the edge of his lips. "You wanted to hear about my girl? Though I am sure the person would object to being pointed out as my girl."

"Yeah, you mentioned her earlier," I pointed out. Was the man being obtuse on purpose? "Come on, spill all to papa!"

"You're talking about the person I'm in love with?" This time his grin widened and I started getting suspicious.

"Yeah. Do I really need to get out the cuffs? Got them somewhere in my closet. Tell me quick." Giving him a threatening growl, I reached over and held his hand down. "Get it off your lovely overdeveloped chest." That was of course an exaggeration. Like the rest of him, Adam's chest was perfect. Nicely flexed pectorals that pressed against the folds of his cotton shirt, the dark, nickel-sized nipples showing through the faint white of his shirt. Yum. I grinned as I imagined his horrified expression if I were to give in to my impulse and give his nipples a quick bite.

For a moment, he glanced quickly down at our linked hands and his face reddened. "Well, the person -"

Although he delighted in legalese, beating around the bush had never been his style and I started getting suspicious. He seemed to be hiding something and damned if I didn't want to know what it was. Was she eight months pregnant? Was she entrapping him in to marriage? Was she an Afghani rebel leader with a penchant for whips? "Person? Person in question? Is that lawyer lingo again?"

"Please." Seeing my growing impatience, he backed away and held his hands out in front of him in surrender. "Bear with me."

Giving him my best scowl, I gave him fair warning. "Five minutes, counsellor, and make it snappy."

"OK." Leaning forward, he spoke softly, keeping his intent gaze on me. "I just need you to keep calm here. Just listen and promise me you'll keep calm."

"Keep calm?" The implication - and the worried look on his face - had me scowling. Although I had my share of temper - and the occasional wild tantrum, that didn't mean that I wasn't capable of control. Not everyone was born an oversized Ken doll with a lukewarm temper and implacable nerves. "Would that be an insult, sirrah?"

He grinned. "You know about 9/11 I'm sure."

How could I not know? For the past few weeks, it had been in all the papers and the news. My first knee-jerk response had been to place a call straight to his home to see if he was okay. But the previous e-mail had mentioned a seminar in Boston and that hadn't even been close to point zero.

"Well, I don't know how to put this, never been all that good with words when it comes to..... but I was there."

The hasty speech had me staring in shock. "What! You were there! You promised me you were safe in Boston."

"I didn't want you to worry."

"What! You lied.. You.." I simply ran out of words as I imagined what could have happened. Never in a million years could I imagine a life without him in it. Although we weren't exactly living together as we did in college, I couldn't imagine a day without knowing that he was always with reach if I needed him. He was the first I'd run to when I had a problem, the first I'd run to when I'd gotten my promotion. Where would I be without him? "You could have.. you could.."

"I didn't," he answered coolly. "Although I was only less than a block away."

"Oh My God." Determined not to overreact, I fought the urge to run my my hands over him to make sure he was solid and real.

"Forget about that." He easily waved away my concern. Coming out of his seat, he moved to kneel in front of me, resting his arms on my knees. "Look, that's not what I came here to say."


"It was a wake-up call for me. Something that jolted me from my everyday life. As I saw the fire, the smoke, the building coming down on ..." Lost in his thoughts, Adam closed his eyes for a moment. "You see, I realized that if I'd died, I wanted my last moment to be with someone. Someone I'd searched for my whole life. Someone to care for. Someone to love. Someone I never thought I could ever love that much. But I'd never noticed till then that I had already met that someone." Staring down at his hands, he smiled to himself. "Silly of me."

I felt almost like shaking him. "There's a crash and you realize that."

"Yes." He looked up at me then, his eyes surprisingly somber when he replied. "Yes. And I realized that I am in love. Probably have been crazy in love all this time."

It was amazing but it had finally happened. There was a seriousness in his expression, something so calm and sincere that I couldn't help but believe him. Since I'd known him, I'd never seen him like this and I envied the woman he loved. Somehow, I'd always known he had a great big soppy heart deep inside that silent, tough guy image. His father had always said that the Garcias loved deeply only once. "So who is she?"

The serious face changed as he grinned roguishly. "It's not a she."

"It's not?" I gaped in surprise. The obvious answer appeared before me but I just simply couldn't fathom such an idea. "Not a she?"


"No?" It wasn't a woman. No XX chromosomes. What could he possibly mean? Not only had he dropped such a bomb on me, he had to drop two at one go? My mind stalled and jammed at the sudden intrusion of too much information. Before he could give me another heart attack, I stopped him. "Wait, let me try to understand what you're saying here. You're telling me that it's a.. a man?"

It took him a moment to reply and even then, he peeked up almost shyly at me through his lashes. "Uhh.. yes."

If Adam had come in dressed in a frilly pink tutu and told me he'd been headlining a Vegas drag show, I couldn't have been more surprised. A man? What could he possibly be thinking? "Who is it? Should I be jealous?" And I was. Even more than I would have been if it had been a woman. The first thought that had run through my mind was why not me! If he was going to fall in love with a pair of XY chromosomes, why couldn't he have fallen for me? It certainly wasn't because I was carrying some damned torch for him but it would have been nice if he had thought of me first. After all, I was the one who had been with him since the beginning. We'd gone through college together, studied together... heck, I'd gotten him his first condom. I was reasonably good-looking, had all my teeth and hair. Why not me?

"Don't get mad." The quick flash in my eyes hadn't gone unnoticed by him and evidently it pleased him as he couldn't help smiling. Taking my hands in his, he squeezed it tightly. "You don't have to be jealous. It's you."

"Fuck." The quick answer had me laughing in response. Trust him to know exactly what I felt and know exactly the right thing to say. Giving him a quick shove, I told him off. "Yeah, right, asshole. You have been carrying a torch for me since high school. C'mon, tell me who!"

Although I shoved at him, it wasn't easy getting away from him and he held on tightly to my hands. "It is you. I think I love you, Linc."

It wasn't the first time he'd said it but it still gave me a sudden thrill eventhough I knew he'd never mean it the way I would ever want. But it wasn't his fault and I managed a sly grin in response. "Yeah, baby, so do I."

"That's not what I meant." Adam caught my arm just as I moved away. My answer obviously wasn't the one he wanted. "I love you."

For some inexplicable reason that I couldn't fathom, my heart had started beating a mile a minute, my mind whirled around as I absorbed what he had just said. Dazed from the crash, that must be it. Hit his head on a flying piece of debris. Lost his mind. Searching for something to say, I waved him away and tried to stand up. "Hey, man, I got it the first time."

When I tried to pull away, he held on tight and refused to release me. This time he kept his dark gaze on mine. "I love you."

Repeating what he'd said didn't help much. My palpitating heart leapt up to my throat and remained there for a second. "You're insane. Stop kidding around."

"No, I am surprisingly sane for the first time in my life."

My grin faltered. "Look, you don't wake up and decide to be gay, Adam."

Evidently puzzled by my bizarre reaction, Adam released my hands and stood. "Call it what you want. I am not going to put a label to it. Gay or not, I realized that I want to spend my life with you. You are the one constant in my life. I don't know why I never realized it before."

"So did it come to you as a sudden thunderbolt, a blow on your head or a slow realization?" Deciding to humour him, I took a seat on the armchair and waited for his explanation.

As expected he moved back to his chair and took a seat. The obvious sarcasm in my voice didn't unnerve him and he replied warmly, just as affable as ever. "Somewhere in between actually."

He was as insouciant as could be and my eyes narrowed. "This isn't the time for a practical joke."

Leaning back at his ease on the chair, he smiled in reply. "Look, this isn't a joke. Why would I lie to you?" he shrugged.

The calmer he got, the more agitated I was feeling. It was amazing how he could just change the entire dynamics of our relationship and still sit as cool as cucumber on the damned chair. "I don't think you're lying. I-I..."

Leaning forward on his chair, he said calmly. "I have never lied to you before, Linc. Have I ever said anything and not meant it?"

It was true and I couldn't argue with that. Since we were kids, he was the one true blue boy scout that never lied to me - or to anyone else. That had been one of the traits the Garcias had planted in him. "No, you haven't."


"What do you mean so?" As he sat there looking smug, I leapt from my chair and traced a warpath around the room, wearing out my rug. It didn't make sense. Adam Garcia didn't suddenly change his mind like this. "So that worries me like hell when you march in here and tell me all this. All this insane ramblings! Have you been drinking?"

"Hardly insane, I should think." He gave me a sweet smile. "Come on, you can't tell me you haven't thought of us being together before. You've known me for a long time. You're gay. Don't tell me that even in the shortest instance, you have never thought that.. hey, wouldn't it be nice to be with Adam? Live with him? He's a nice, peaceable guy after all."

My reply was automatic, almost instantaneous. It was the only way I could answer. "No."

It was a lie but I would never admit it to him - or even to myself. How many times had I lain awake in bed, watching the bed bunk beside mine with Adam quietly snoring? I had just come out to myself - and to everyone else. The idea of love between men was something new, heady and exciting to me. It was just so easy to imagine the sexy, sweet Adam in my dreams.

It must have been obvious to him that I was lying but he decided to humour me and nodded in understanding. "Really? No? I'm a nice guy. I cook. I clean after myself. I earn a good living. Have all my teeth. Still no? Not a single thought about living with me?"

"No, I haven't," I answered flatly. No way was I going to humiliate myself by admitting that I'd had regular fantasies of having warm, naked showers with him since high school. Running my fingers slowly down the broad expanse of his shoulders, tracing the strong line of his spine to the full, tempting curves of his buttocks. Confirming the rumours that had circulated around college about Adam's generous size.

"Don't lie." My face burned when he leveled his knowing gaze on me. "I've seen you looking at me. Checking out my fine fucking wet dream ass."

Using the same line I'd used before was tantamount to a blasphemy for me. I gave him a glare to kill at ten paces and he only laughed. "I doubt you've thought of us being together."

"If you're talking about sex, no." Shrugging those wide shoulders, he shook his head. "Truth to tell, it scares me a little. I'm new to this after all."

As always, Adam was relentlessly honest though I would have preferred that he wasn't. Was he blind? Stupid? Just the suggestion of sex from him had me imagining the impossible. Sex with Adam Garcia. Hot, hard, heady, fast. That muscular, lithe build writhing and tossing on my sheets. Heck for this deliciously neat stud, I'd change my sheets daily just to have him on them. "See, you're not gay," I pointed out.

"But I'm sure you could teach me, couldn't you?" His eyes turned heavy-lidded, the first time he'd given me one of those heated gazes. For the first time too, I realized that I wasn't surprised that the ladies fell over themselves when he gave them one of those looks. It promised unadulterated, scorching sex and I'm sure the man could deliver. "And I promise you I am a very fast learner."

It didn't surprise me that the ladies found him irresistible. This new sexual predator Adam scared me more than a little and as he moved toward me, I took a hasty step back, almost tripping over a bunch of misplaced books. "Adam, I-I really don't know what.."

His smile turned wolfish, a flash of pure carnal invitation that sent shivers down my spine. "I've started having dreams about you, Linc. Really .. hot dreams."

How could I possibly help it? Helplessly, almost involuntarily my gaze dropped down to his crotch and my breath caught. Whoa mama! Judging by the size of it, I'd have to say that the Garcia blood ran true in him.

Catching the look in my eye, he chuckled. "Hell yeah, you're interested."

"Who wouldn't be? Did you say hell?" Dragging my gaze from the whopper he had down in his pants, I forced myself to meet his amused, dark-eyed gaze. "This is impossible."

"I know it's quite a bomb I'm dropping. But I just couldn't waste another day." As I remained at arm's length, he was quiet for a moment, his dark face serious and emotionless. "Just say you don't love me, you don't ever think you could find it in yourself to love me and I'll go away. Seriously, I won't ever mention it again."

My gaze faltered under his. "I-I don't.."

"Look me in the eye, Linc," he ordered.

"I don't."

"Don't what?" Seeing me waver on the decision only had him coming forward.

Seeing the smug smile on his face was just too much and I shoved him away. "Stop it. This is not a fucking cross-examination."

My answer had him smiling. "I knew it."

"You don't know anything," I retorted stubbornly. Which was actually a lie. Not only had he managed to stun me by appearing here - which rarely happened but he'd managed to do it twice in a day. It had to be some kinda record for him. Since when had my predictable Mr Chocolate become someone ... new and near unrecognizable? Sure, I enjoyed change as much as the next person but this was my one constant and I found that the sudden shift confused me.

As I started to move away, he caught on to me. "Hold on. No, I don't know anything. Not much anyway but I know you. My brother, my best friend, my pal." His deep voice softened even as he ran his fingers lovingly down my cheek. "My best man."

It was what he'd told me when he'd said goodbye earlier. Withdrawing, I moved away from him and stood up. My cheek still burned from the touch of his fingers. "Stop it."

"You know me, Linc." Running his fingers through his dark hair, he gave me a rueful look. "Probably better than I know myself. You know I won't give up."

Which was true. Since I'd known him, I'd never seen Andy Garcia waver from his convictions. Like an overzealous pitbull with his favourite hambone, he never let something go. It was one of his admirable traits but right now it scared me to hell. "I need time, Adam. You don't suddenly drop a bomb.. you don't suddenly.." I stuttered hopelessly, tangled in my thoughts. "You don't fucking do something like that!"

"Fair enough." Nodding in agreement, he leaned back on the chair. "I know what you mean. I'm a patient man. I shall wait."

His words sounded almost ominous and I cringed. "You have to get back to work," I pointed out.

Easy as pie, he replied smoothly. "Not really. I have some time saved up and I took a month sabbatical."

For some reason, the idea horrified me. It sounded as if I was his next project on his list of things to do. Something to be ticked off on his schedule. And a whole month! My depleting strength of will certainly couldn't withstand such an onslaught of Adam Garcia bent on seduction. Only the barest shred of willpower held me away from giving in and jumping the man's sexy bones. "What?"

Sitting forward and edging to the front of his chair, he looked at me and smiled. "I am going to give you romance. I'm going to try my best to give you the starbursts and marble halls you've always looked for. The Godivas and the post-it notes. The works. I am going to make you love me in return."

It was like my biggest nightmare- and my wildest dream - all rolled into one. Years ago in a moment of weakness, I'd spoken of what I wanted in a relationship. As usual, he had listened intently and told me that I would find my prince in time. Little did I know that it would come back to bite me. "No."

Kneeling before me, he took my hand and clasped it in his large, warm ones. "Give me a chance. You've always wanted a man who loved you. I never thought that anyone could possibly fit your criteria - what a perfect ass he'd be - and I definitely can't but I'll try my best. Just give me a chance."

Looking down at my... our joined hands, it was so easy to believe in what he said. I wonder whether he knew that my criteria had been based on a vague idea of my dream man. Which had actually been Adam Garcia. Had he just called himself an ass? "You don't do this, Adam. You don't do this kinda insane stuff. I'm the one who does this. Have you gotten your head checked?"

"Perhaps." It was an admission that had him smiling but the man was undeterred. "Well, I think it's about time I did the unpredictable for once. Guess I'm a crazy Gracia after all."

"You don't love me. You're not gay."

"Stop." My continual denial was starting to annoy him. Releasing my hands, he sighed with some exasperation. "When do you start thinking for me?"

Placing my palm on his chest to keep him away, I tried not to think of the firmness, the solidity of his chest muscles and the heat contained within. His heart beat steadily emanating vibrations through the warmth of his skin. "I am protecting you from your madness. Your insanity."


"I-I.." Exactly why? My night-time fantasies had me creaming all over Adam's sweat-streaked, naked torso but this was cruel reality. Eventhough I wanted my hands on that incredible ass of his didn't mean that I could just toss away our friendship on this sudden change of heart. What happened if he suddenly changed his mind back?

"I've told you." Adam only grinned in reply. "It's simple enough. Just say you don't love me and I'll stop."

It was just that simple and it irritated me that I found that I couldn't do it. Dammit all, was I still crazy in love with the man? Obviously self tehrapy and a drunken binge hadn't cured me of this particular obsession. "Damn it, you know you're an easy man to love. You know just how easy it would be for me to.. for me... to.."

"Love me? I'm hoping you would," he answered simply.

"I would be taking advantage of you if.."

"Go ahead."

Determined to make him see my way, I reminded him again. "Do you know what you're saying?"

"Yes," he answered simply. "Look I am a grown rational man. You know me better than anyone in this world. Have I ever said anything or done anything on a whim? You know me, I have never been a whimsical man. I have thought this through a million times and more. Every question that could possibly come to your mind has gone through mine and still I have only one answer to give." There was a wry smile on his face as he said that.

It was exactly what I'd said before about him. "I-I know."

"I see I have given you quite a surprise." He smiled almost triumphantly to himself. "About time I started doing that."

Before I could even respond, he was standing up and walking to the bedroom. "You're leaving?"

"Haven't you been listening?" My stunned response had him turning around with a smile. "I'm not leaving. The flight took hours. I need some rest, I am going to sleep."

Of all the things he could have said, that was the last I'd have expected. "Sleep?" I gaped in reply. "What? Damn it, you can't just drop a bomb like this on me and then... You can't.."

For a man who had just offered a proposal and been rejected, he took it perfectly calmly. Turning to me, he folded his arms coolly and replied. "I think you need to absorb what I've just told you tonight. Before I would have slowly broken the news to you but I simply couldn't wait that long. Not anymore. But it can definitely wait a day. I am not giving up, Linc. I just think you need the time to think it over."

"Well, good night and..." For a moment, he stood before me as if contemplating his next move. The wily chess player planning his next move. It was a game I'd never won with him. Before I could make a smart comment, Adam pulled me up roughly, his strong hands drawing me up as if I weighed nothing.

Just as I was about to make a faint protest, he effectively silenced me as his lips came down heavily on mine. Just like everything he did, he was second to none. It was no wonder that Adam Garcia had left scores of women heartbroken. Lips, hands, tongue - all combined to simply drive me wild. In his arms, all rational thought fled - chased away by the reality of Adam's warm, muscular arms around me, his firm, tender lips against mine, his hard thigh pressing against mine, the size and urgency of his cock burning on my hips. Involuntarily, my hands drew up to run through his dark curls like I'd always wanted to do.

And just as suddenly, he pulled away and looked at me. "Well, good night."

Still in a daze after the hormone overload, I stared back blankly. "You're going to leave me horny and confused over here."

"Yeah. But you'll know that I'll be next door. Naked. Horny. Available. And the door won't be locked." With a wink and a devil of a smile, he was gone.

Damn. I should have known that too much chocolates was dangerous. Then again, he did say the door was not locked.

The New Year

Big families are great in small doses. Reunions, weddings, funerals, the odd get-together. On a good day, I might even say that I am thankful to have come from a really large family. The grandparents, the occasional crotchety grandaunt, nine aunts and uncles plus the squabbling in-laws, assorted cousins that numbered up to forty at last count and a handful of greatgrandkids making up the number. It was a riotous bunch and I loved the hell out of them, mostly. On days such as today however, I found them a bloody pest. Especially when one of them has managed to find out the secret you've been hiding from the rest of them.

The deafening crash of cymbals, the deep, heart-pounding beat of the drums signalled the arrival of the lions down the driveway of our family home to usher in the New Year. The sound of firecrackers - virtually replicated by my technowhiz cousin June since real-life firecrackers had been banned several years back - filled the air even as my younger cousins squealed with delight. Nearby at a half-moon table in the front hall, my two older aunts chattered on, filling each other with the latest family gossip even as they filled themselves with melon seeds. Eager to escape the neverending questions pelted at me each New Year - mostly on my lack of a suitable mate, I hid myself in a dark alcove off the main hall, a place my grandmother used for her occasional afternoon nap. Fishing out my PDA from my shirt, I started to take down some notes as I lounged on one of the seats around the marble table. Unfortunately, I wasn't the only one with the same idea.

"Hiding in the closet, John?" The voice was deep, velvety, as smooth as chocolate cream - and it belonged to James Sung. Ever since he'd ferreted out my secret, he had been an ever-present pest. My cousin James was the only son of my third aunt. Well, not exactly my third aunt as she had been adopted into the family after her parents - who had been my grandma's best friends - had died in World War II. A far too convoluted story and I certainly had more entangled branches of the family tree to tell.

Let me tell you about James. Not only was he the family scapegrace - falling in and out of scrapes every other week, he also had the distinction of being the best-looking guy in my generation. For the last six months after his latest mishap, he had been sentenced to stay with me. For the most part, even I had to admit that he had settled down somewhat. Although he still pulled some weird stunts once in a while, it was more manageable and far less dangerous to himself. Anyone who cared to ask James would have received a woeful, tearful tale of being torn between two unfit parents who spent their time squabbling, fighting and tossing precious Ming vases at each other. He claims that his parents' disregard for their only son accounted for his lack of self-esteem, an obsessive need for approval and his severely destructive behaviour. It was all too true and a definite reason for sympathy. Unfortunately, James only dragged the pitiful tale out of the closet to endear himself to the fairer sex who found his hurt vulnerability paired with a model-handsome face and a buff body straight out of International Male absolutely irresistible.

Many a time, I tried to tell myself that I wasn't dead envious of his good looks but I couldn't. In comparison with his wilder days, the man was an absolute saint now eschewing all vices but the few years he spent in a drugged, alcohol coma hadn't left a scar on that incredible face at all. Of course that wasn't to say that I looked like something dragged out from the pit but I was more well-known in the family for being the responsible one, the mature one, the guy who constantly rescued the scapegrace, the guy who acted as a sort of deputy sheriff for my grandfather as I went about dispensing his Machiavellian mode of justice. The rest of the family called me Zhan Zhao.

Surprisingly enough, I had started in the lower ranks of the company as a favour for my grandfather - and for the family. Passing out of university, I had every intention of entering the field of medicine but duty called and I submitted easily thinking that I could leave anytime I wanted. Very soon however, I proved almost indispensable according to my grandfather - though I seriously doubted that - and each time I broached the subject of leaving, he would beg me not to leave and once even faked a heart attack. Under severe family pressure, I remained in the family business. Each time I threatened to leave, there was the usual bout of tearful recriminations, a swanky new office and a promotion with an even heftier wage. Looking back, it was a fatal mistake to give in all the time. Not only was I unwillingly conscripted into the family business, apparently I also took on the duties of a deputy, policing the activities of our extended family.

Familial ties had always turned out to be my downfall. About half a year back, when James came to me with his solemn promises to change, I'd accepted it and even offered him a place to stay - following an imperial edict from my grandfather. After all, I lived in the family mansion in the capital, a three-storey mausoleum that had far too many rooms for a single bachelor. The temporary lease had turned out to be somewhat semi-permanent and six months later, he was still sleeping in the room above mine. Unfortunately, one day when I was far too careless, he found my secret. Just two days ago, my snoop of a cousin - who obviously couldn't keep his nose out of people's affairs - came upon my open laptop and decided to pry. Up on the screen was a JPEG that I'd recently downloaded, a tall, sexy hunk dressed in nothing but a smile - and a 12 inch dick from hell. The picture spoke for itself - and of my sexual orientation.

Needless to say, James Sung felt it his duty to be my tormentor and the next day was spent with him teasing me mercilessly. Faced with the spectre of having James plaguing me throughout the plane flight back home, I'd cancelled my flight plans at the last minute and decided to take a slow drive home. Caught at the last moment, he had no choice but to go home by himself and I had to myself a six hour drive to think of a rational, logical explanation that would placate my relatives. After all, logic and rational thinking were my strong points, weren't they? After six hours of Russell Watson blaring out his arias through the stereo, nothing came to mind however. How could I possibly explain away the all too obvious evidence of my homosexuality? Could I blame it on a quirky adolescent phase that I hadn't quite gotten out of? Could I claim that it was an accident, that some evildoer had downloaded the pic to implicate me? Although part of me was relieved to finally have my secret out in the open with someone in the family, there was a tiny part of me that cringed at the very thought of being dragged out of the closet. How would my family react? Even my steel-balled mother would probably faint from such distressing news. Could my grandfather's ailing heart stand the shock? Would I be cast out of the family without a single reference?

A dozen questions and worries nagged at my mind as I spent half my time writing a suitably penitent out-of-the-closet speech for myself and the other half thinking of various methods of torture for James. Oddly enough, my methods for torture always involved James being totally naked, writhing in sweat and chained to some flat surface. Ultimately however, my fears were unfounded as for some obscure, despicable reason of his own, James saw fit to keep the information to himself. Greeting me at the front door of the mansion, he made no mention of the shocking discovery at all and acted as if nothing had happened.

But of course, it didn't mean that he couldn't spend his time tormenting me in private. Caught in my hiding place, he cornered me in my seat with a wicked smile. No doubt, his many female admirers would have creamed at the sight of that smile but I steeled myself. So what if he did look incredible - the warm, smooth gold of his skin that spoke of his Chinese heritage, the thick, black curls that he'd kept military-short this year, the dark, thickly lashed velvety brown eyes that sparkled so often with devilry.

They sparkled in the familiar way now as he blocked my exit. "So, tell me, John, do you find jockstraps hot on guys? Or do you have a decided preference for briefs?"

"Fuck!" It was the third time he had posed such a leading question and each time I'd managed to ignore him but this time I turned to him with a scowl. "James."

"C'mon, have a heart!" Dressed in a slick new suit for the New Year that made the most of his tall, athletic physique, James looked good - and he knew it. Turning around so that I had an excellent view of his impressive back, he asked another question. "Does my new pants make my ass look fat?"

It was a moot point. His back was a masterpiece, broad, well-muscled shoulders tapering down in a perfect V to his trim waist and a firm, perfectly rounded ass that showed how God had intended a man to wear pants. However at that moment, I didn't feel like telling him that nothing could possibly make his tight, sexy behind look fat. Not only would it probably amuse him like hell, it might make his ego implode upon itself. "You're getting on my nerves."

Not content with my curt reply, he took a seat on the marble table, hopping up onto the tabletop. Since he was a kid, he never took the conventional way, always using the table instead of a chair for a seat which drove my grandmother crazy. It also drove me crazy but I didn't think that he needed additional ammunition. "Don't you think the new curtains are absolutely fabulous? I mean the red and the yellow are a bit too much but I think it works, don't you?" He peeked up at me through his preposterously long lashes, grinning at me all the while and I had to restrain the urge to reach out and run my tongue across his soft lower lip. The man had great lips, firm, thick, gently curving at the sides, often coming to a pout that begged for a hard kiss. As he leaned forward, my dick twitched in my pants as I started imagining what else I could do with that mouth.

The sudden lurid image had the effect of a quick splash on the face and I shoved him away with a glare. "James. I am warning you."

"Was that a Village People CD I saw in your car? Streisand?"

"Any more jokes and I'm going to dock your allowance." It was a very real threat. Since his parents had been too busy having their annual knock-down fight to even bother about their son, it was left to my grandfather and later, me to manage him. Since we had both passed the age of majority, I had been left virtually in charge of his trust fund. The demeaning situation frustrated him no end but so far he had made no push to change the situation as it were - as he was also smart enough to know that under my care, his personal fortunes had almost trebled in amount.

"Ouch. You are a hard man," he complained playfully.

As he leaned down again from his perch on the table, my nostrils filled with the heavenly scent of warm, healthy male sweat and I shuddered. It was a tantalizing scent that had haunted me for the past few months and I had rigidly schooled myself to ignore it, no matter how tempting it could be. Keeping him at arm's length, I stood up and pushed him away, trying to get around him. "You got that right. Now, let me pass, you nut."

"A hard man." He ran his finger down my well-toned arm instead. "Really hard. Been working out?"

From any other man, I might have thought it was a come on but from James, it could have been anything. Of late, I had been having distressing sexual dreams with my sexy cousin as the lead actor and it was slowly pushing me off the edge. The both of us had almost nothing in common, he frequently gave me the urge to throttle him and dammit, the bastard liked girls! "James!"

As I took a threatening step forward, he let out a laugh and danced away around the table. "Oh, come on, it has taken years for me to find a flaw. Can't you give me this one?"

Although he laughed, I could see that the smile didn't quite reach his eyes. "You're serious?"

From the safety of his end of the round table, James teased me. "Yeah, the perfect grandson. Spectacular grades, amazing credentials, perfect hair. It is nice to know that you're still human, after all."

The way he spoke of me made me sound like some android devoid of human emotion. For a moment, I wanted to shrug it off, thinking that only James thought of me that way but then, I remembered something Aunt Mary had said before and I wondered. Aunt Mary had talked of me as a clone of my Grandpa - and I didn't think that she had meant that as a compliment. My grandfather was the all-powerful, all-seeing family patriarch who had a penchant for getting his hands on the best deals in the country - and also finding his way into every little family dispute. Although I saw him as the kind, loving man who had guided me personally through some of the worst stages of my life, I knew that there were others in my family who saw him as some terrifying creature of omnipotence. Had I really turned into the old bastard - as we called him? Stunned with the realization, I decided that a seat would be in order and sat back down. The panic in my voice was not obvious however as I countered his statement, "I am not all that perfect."

Taking up his unconventional seat back on the table, James just shrugged. "Go tell that to my mother."

"Tell what?" Somewhat disturbed by his comment, I ran my fingers through my dark hair. "That I'm not perfect. Surely she knows that. I make mistakes more often than I can count."

"Hardly any, John and my mother just can't stop reminding me of it either. Why can't you be more like John? John never does anything wrong." His lips twisted in a sexy sneer. "Perfect Little John."

I looked at him, surprised that he had said that. In recent years, there had been an animosity between the two of us - mostly on James' side - that had culminated in one horrible drag-down fight about a year ago. It was a terrible experience but I believed that we had benefited from it. It still amazed me how easily we had come to blows over such petty, insignificant matters. After all, years back when we were younger - and he hadn't grown that sharp, bristly armour of his, we had been as close as two such different personalities could be. And after our fight, when he had moved in with me, we managed a tolerable relationship, certainly not as close as I would have liked but I assumed that we got along quite well. "Look, you know I am not some robot."

"You aren't?" Dramatically, James let out a gasp and faked a shocked expression. "Does Grandpa know about this?"

My earlier surprise faded away as I turned my glare on him. "James."

"I love it when you give me that stare," he stated fondly, lifting a hand to brush away a stray lock of my hair.

It was a surprisingly intimate move that had me stiffening, his touch sizzled against my skin and I carefully moved his hand away. "That's not the point. You're not supposed to enjoy it. The staff at the office run at the sight of it."

For a moment he looked down at our joined hands but thankfully decided not to comment on it. Instead, he gave my hand a warm squeeze, released it and smiled. "I can easily believe that. But I like it."

"You are incorrigible," I scolded him.

"Yes." We were close enough know that he only needed to lean forward an inch or two - close enough that our noses almost touched, our lips barely a hairsbreadth away. His breath was warm, spiced up with the red wine chicken that he'd taken only this morning and the faint, surprising hint of peppermint. "And you love me all the more for it."

Dare I tell him about last night's sexual dream? It would probably give him fodder to tease me for the rest of my life if he knew how I'd worshipped his hot, naked flesh last night, how I'd spent my time spreading slow, melting kisses down the front of his magnificently built torso. "Yeah... you wish."

For a moment, our gazes met and I wondered what he was thinking about inside those dark, soulful brown eyes. Something different lit up those dark eyes, something darker and warmer. We were close enough that we were almost kissing, he knew that I was gay... I started wondering whether he knew of the licentious thoughts in my head, the thoughts that had me aching to move closer, to draw that handsome head close for a kiss. What would he say if I moved my hand over his powerful thigh, thread upwards towards the tempting juncture of his crotch...

"So tell me, why aren't you involved with anyone?"

The abrupt change in subject - and the quick, efficient way he had of moving surprised me. While the others might regard the man as a lazy good-for-nothing, I could see that the man could move really fast when he wanted to. While I was still in a sexual daze, the man had moved back from the table and onto the chair. I shook myself to regain my bearings. "None of your business."

"It is none of my business," James agreed instantly. Leaning forward onto the table, he shook his dark head. "But you know me well enough that won't stop me asking. I'll just keep on asking till you tell me."

His persistence had always been one of his more irritating traits and I frequently wondered why he had never applied those particular traits into his work. If he'd been only half as dogged... "Look, I work from 9 to 9 for a company that never sleeps, I manage everyone in the family's petty little problems, your parents' divorce and settlements, Aunt Mary's latest bailout, you."

The last word was said pointedly and he flinched accordingly. "Ouch. There goes the fangs again."

"Yes," I replied flatly.

His smile turned devilish. "But baby, you know I love it when you bite."

"Stop it."

Evidently pleased that he had managed to annoy me, James tried for another change of subject. "Did you hear that 8th Aunt is pregnant again?"

The quick changing of subjects had me floundering and it took me a moment as I wondered at the connection between my 8th Aunt and my state of matrimony - or my lack of it. Scrolling through the list of relatives in my head, I pictured a plump, good-natured matron in her late 30s with a brood of kids and the most horrific new year dress. "Good God. They couldn't possibly find another name with a J!"

"Don't underestimate grandma," he replied with a shrug. "I think it's a toss-up between Jeremiah or Joseph if it's a boy and Jessica or Janet if it's a girl." Oddly enough, years back my grandmother had dug up an archaic list of names starting with J and each new member of my generation had been saddled with one. The earlier kids had of course lucked out with a better choice of names.

"There's already a Jessica."

"Hmm.. yeah, you are right. Forgot about the kid. Wouldn't you just know it.. you're always right."

"Stop that." Eyeing him with some disfavour, I demanded an explanation. "What is it with you? Must you always irritate me?"

"Hey, it's my job and you do pay me a pretty good allowance." His grin resurfaced as did those drop-dead gorgeous dimples. "So why isn't a guy like you married to some seven foot hulk with muscles? No Mr Right around the corner?"

My heart did a triple beat and I looked away from his smile, amazed at my reaction. What in the world was happening? While I had always admired James' sinful good looks - and had fantasized more than once about tearing his pants down for a quick slurp, I could always turn my mind in a different direction. This time, it seemed all I could think of was a naked, sweaty James and the nearest flat surface. Was it the wine? What could I possibly have in common with some gorgeous thug with a penchant for driving me crazy? "I don't like muscles."

"Liar," James pointed out. "I saw that jpeg! Muscles bleeding out of the ears, veins popping out in both arms and a whopper of a dick from.."

"Have you no shame?" Shocked, embarassed, I stood up to look around. "Shut up! Grandaunt is just sitting there in the next hall."

"Please!" he laughed. "She wouldn't hear us even if I screamed fuck my ass in her ear."

It was a thought that had occurred to me previously and one that came to my mind now. Bending that perfect young body over the marble table, spreading the cleft of those incredible half-moon cheeks, hearing his cries as I fucked him till we both blew our brains out. A drop of sweat trickled down my spine at the thought and I clenched my fists. Trying to think of a distraction, I imagined my crotchety Grandaunt coming by dressed in nothing which sufficiently dampened my erection. "And the picture wasn't that bad."

James only sneered in return. "It was but you're avoiding the question."

Deciding to go on the offensive for once, I turned the question back to him. "Why are you suddenly so interested in my social life?"

"Maybe I am interested."


"Yeah, I'm interested." His gaze met mine without wavering, those dark eyes somber and serious for once. "Interested in you."

"What?" Stunned at the sudden thrill that ran through my spine, I took a mental step back, far backward. Not only from the surprise that his answer had caused but also from the mind-boggling idea itself. Although I had never considered it as a possibility, I found to my dismay that there was nothing else that I could possibly want more at that moment. Me and James. "That isn't even remotely interesting or funny."

"Nothing funny about it. You're a good-looking, upstanding young man, well-read and travelled, have all your teeth and hair.." Listing off my attributes with aplomb, he steadily counted off the tops of his fingers. "Well, you have a tendency to have some dark humours and mood swings but I think.."

"Mood swings?" The images that had come to my mind, me and James, were nothing compared to the anger that came rolling beside. Alternately, my fingers itched to choke him - and pull him close for a blistering kiss. It was a dangerous feeling and I found that James always managed to drive me a little crazy. "Stuff it, asshole."

His smile turned into a superior smirk. "You'd like to, wouldn't you?"

It was far too close to the truth and my face turned an alarming shade of pink as I blustered through a reply. "God, could you be any more crude... shit. If you don't stop this, I really will stop your allowance this month."

Some weeks back, the threat would have gotten a reaction but this time he just returned my stare with a cool look. "I could get a job."

"You said that six months ago," I pointed out mercilessly. Although I had to admit that he had changed a lot. At least he wasn't bumming around and getting drunk again. Just three weeks ago, I'd caught him going out at night and I could have sworn that he had gone for night classes but he denied it. But why else would a man need a backpack with books in it?

"That was different, it was six months ago. I was a brainless idiot then." This time he replied without a hint of humour, his voice filled with a singular determination that surprised me. "I really will get a job this time. Anyway, just answer the question and I'll keep quiet."

"No, James. I am single and alone." I finally answered his question, frowning all the while. "Now, will you leave me alone?"

He laughed.

His reaction surprised me even more. "What the hell is so funny?" I demanded.

The ferocity in my voice had James smothering his laughter in a barely repressed grin. "Nothing. Jeez, can't a guy just laugh." Even as I continued glowering, he snickered.

Standing up, I leaned forward and stared down at him. Ever since we were kids, I always had the height advantage over him - about an inch or two more. "James Sung, you've got something up your sleeve but I just can't tell what it is."

In reply, James tilted his head to one side and gazed innocently at me. "Well, you're single and I'm single..."

"If that's another gay joke again.."

"Perhaps we might have something."

Giving up, I flung my hands up. "James, if you keep on teasing me about this, I just might thump you."

He gave me a sidelong glance. "Why do you think I am teasing?"

"Get out of here." I told him with a smile.

He laughed again.

After tormenting me for the past ten minutes, we'd both gradually drifted down to the front hall to await the lions' entrance. As usual, my grandparents, my parents and the other elder relatives took their seats near the front entrance while those of the younger generation huddled around the main door, munching on peeled mandarin oranges and pickled dates. Seeing my approach, my grandfather sent me a warm smile and nodded. The red packet was in my shirt pocket and this year, I had been elected to give payment to the lion dancers. Outside the porch, some of my cousins were busy snapping photographs and I declined their offer to join them with a self-deprecating smile.

To keep the kids from getting in the way of the lions, James had corralled the youngest of my cousins into a small group that hung about the door. Crouched down by the front door with the younger children, he was toying with the braids of one of my younger cousins, the chubby five-year-old Joan, as he held her close to his side. Another small boy, Joseph, spent his time happily digging through the pockets on his shirt in search of red packets no doubt. Something the small girl confided in him had the man laughing aloud, flashing two rows of straight white teeth and those irresistible dimples. Damn. James Sung was one sexy bastard and that was something that I could never deny.

Shallow. Utterly shallow to be interested in a man just because he was hard, hot and handsome but I simply couldn't deny it. As I continued my admiring perusal, he turned to me and looked straight at me. His eyes were dark, almost totally black in colour and fringed with the most sinfully thick black lashes that had the cousins complaining daily at the injustice. Those soft lips curled up in a knowing smile that had me turning red. Damned if he didn't know that he looked great.


It was a voice that I recognized and I turned sideways with an easy smile. It was my cousin, June. One of the closest to my age, June was in charge of the fledgling software development branch of the company that was based in Singapore. Almost dainty in size at around 5'2", she reminded one of a little fairy, sloe-eyed, elfin-like features and slim, lithe limbs. Those who crossed her however soon learned why for all her tiny size and gentle voice, even my redoubtable grandfather occasionally cowered before her when she roared which gained her the nickname of Cili Padi, a surprisingly fiery spice that came from an exceedingly small chilli plant. Dolled up in chinoiserie chic all in dazzling red, she looked like the perfect little chinese courtesan - albeit a mini version. "Hey, you look wonderful but then again, you always do."

Always pleased to see me, she pulled me close for a hug. "You are a sweetheart."

"That's me."

"And you look as dashing as ever, trying to outshine us all."

Grinning foolishly at her, I replied. "I try my best."

"Poor guy." Pulling away for a moment, she looked up at me, her dark eyes searching. "Has Jackie been bothering you again? Jonathan? James?"

"Why do you say that?" I asked nervously. Did she smell the almost incestuous lust I had for James on me? Could she tell that moments ago, I was that close to slurping him up like the tall, cool drink that he was? Could she guess that I wanted to press my lips down the front of James' shirt, run my tongue down the hard, smooth expanse of his impressive torso, breathe in that musky scent of his, mized with his tangy sweat and spicy cologne. Almost incestuous since James didn't have any blood ties to any of us but then again with all the entanglements in our family, who knew for sure?

It wasn't what I feared however as June replied with a teasing twinkle in her eyes. "You have that line between your forehead again."

"What? What line?" I said in frantic surprise, turning around in search of a mirror. Sure, I was okay with not being the best-looking but I could have sworn I didn't have a wrinkle on my forehead this morning.

"And here I thought your brother Jonathan was the vain one." Laughing at my reaction, she gave me a fond nudge. "Gotcha, big cousin."

"Hey, a man of my age has to watch out for the wrinkles!" I protested.

"You might act old but I know that you're only three years older which makes you only 27, young man."

"Act old?" It was the second time somewhat had said something like that and since June wasn't one to kid around, I stared back. "I act old?"

"All serious, reserved, conservative.. I bet some of the younger cousins are terrified of you."

The way she said it was so plainly matter-of-fact that it stunned me. As one of the eldest children in the family, it had always fallen on me to take charge, to deal with the responsibilities that came with a large family. Sure, I'd always known that I was a little more serious than I should be but serious enough that the kids were terrified? "What? Tell me you're not serious."

"That's not what I meant. You don't scare the living daylights out of them, John." Surprised at the look on my face, June hastened to reassure me. "You're not a monster to them, John, but it is terrifying to be compared to you. Doing so well in school, always well-behaved, performing like a genius at work. I know you're under a lot of pressure from everyone but it is still intimidating to stand under your awe-inspiring shadow. Believe me, I know."

"Good God, James said almost the same thing." The fact that James had been correct irritated me and I started loking for the perpetrator. Turning to look for him, I was surprised to see Joan standing alone, clapping her hands while James was out of sight. Deciding that he was probably flirting with one of the neighbours, I turned back to June.

"Well, he is right this time," she nodded in agreement. "Lately, he has been doing quite well for himself these past few months. I think you're a great influence on him. It's the first time in years I've seen him at least sober on New Year's Day."

Just as I was about to make my usual acidic comment on James, the lion dance started out in the front hall and the ensuing din silenced our conversation.

Moving to stand at the edge of the room to watch the proceedings, I smiled. Others might call it an unbelievable din, a sudden alarming clang of noise and colour so jarring that many couldn't stand it and yet for me, it has come to symbolize the Chinese New Year. The sudden flash of red and yellow. The clash of the cymbals. The beat of the drums. The laughter of my cousins. Two lions came dancing in, one resplendent in fiery red and gaudy orange and the other in austere shades of black, grey and white. Satisfied with their position, the lions started their intricate steps, moving to the beat of the relentless drums as they played, danced and rolled about in our front hall. In the midst of the revelry, June released the sounds of her firecrackers and though I couldn't see the flash of red that came with the crackers, she made it sound all too real.

Halfway through their routine, I started wondering whether the red-gold lion had a vendetta against me - which worried me since the dancers in the lion seemed to be far more agile and graceful than the other. The red lion managed to weave and leap through the contraptions my cousins had made with seeming ease. Each time it made its rounds around the room however, the head of the lion would turn and send a playful wink towards me with its huge batting lashes. A second time, the lion came close to bump teasingly against me. A quick look around the room confirmed the fact that I was starting to hallucinate since no one seemed in the least bit suspicious of the proceedings. Deciding that it was a figment of my imagination, I received a shock when the lion took a daring leap off the front table and landed in front of me.

Standing against the edge of the room, there was no room for me to run and I took a step backwards only to have the lion come closer. Just as I was imagining getting devoured by a fake lion, the lion batted its lashes at me again and shook its head vigorously before dancing away. As one of my cousins laughed behind me and gave me a clap on the back, I stared back down on the floor and saw a small red packet on the ground.

Satisfied that everyone had kept their eyes on the lion, I leaned down quickly and picked it up. Lifting open the flap, I stared in astonishment. A small scroll written in Chinese. And it asked me out on a date. The writing was as familiar as my own and I stared in shock. What the hell was James up to?

The man remained out of sight as I searched for him in the front hall all the way to his room. As I came back out to the front, I realized that the crowd had dispersed slightly and the lion dancers were outside partaking refreshment. My brother Jonathan and June crowded around the man under the red lion and I wondered why. Calling out to them, I took a step towards them hoping that they would know where James was hiding. "June, have you guys seen James?"

The lion's head came off and I stared. It was James. Sweat dripped down his dark wet locks onto his flushed face. He'd changed his clothes for the performance and perspiration caused his skimpy white T-shirt to cling onto his well-sculpted chest, outlining his hard, solid pecs, slick now with glazed, edible sweat. At the edge of his pecs, two dark, cherry-coloured nipples poked through the expanse of his white tee. The shirt was translucent enough that I could have easily counted his abs with meticulous care. Although his pants were loose and baggy, they came down tight around his crotch, drawing attention to the ample goods within. I could have easily slurped him up with a straw.

My brother clapped him on the back and praised him on the performance as James smiled gratefully. Noticing my approach, Jonathan called out to me. "He was great, don't you think?"

Even June had been impressed by his athletic prowess earlier. "I can't believe you did all those jumps and splits!"

It was something that I couldn't deny as well. "Yes, he's always been good at performances," I replied non-committally.

The tone of my voice remained cool and James turned to look at me, surprise evident in his dark eyes. "Uhh.. glad you liked it, John."

Keeping my voice as calm as I possibly could, I spoke softly. "James, could I have a word?"

As attuned to my feelings as a close brother could be, Jonathan sneaked a look at James and then me. It was easy for him to correctly guess my feelings as he had often been on the receiving end of one of my lectures in his younger days. Unfortunately, his studies in the university hadn't thought him the value of diplomacy. "Uh-oh, James, what did you do to big brother now?"

"Oh, I think I have a very good idea," James told him with a fading smile. Seeing the disgruntled expression on my face, he wiped the sweat off his forehead. "Fine. I can see that you just can't wait so let's go up to the room, I just need to change."

"What is the meaning of this, James." Waving the letter in front of him, I lit into him as soon as he'd dragged me into the safety of his room. At that point, I couldn't pinpoint on the exact reason for my anger, a burning feeling that had come to life when I'd seen his writing on the scroll. Was this one of his pathetic mind games? Had he guessed that I'd fallen in lust for him and now he was trying to play some stupid prank on me? "Tell me, what the hell is this?"

As I'd raged on my own, he'd crossed towards the dresser and retrieved a shirt and a pair of blue jeans. "It means exactly what it says." he replied doggedly. Dropping his clothes on the bed, he sat down to face me.

"If this is another one of your pranks, I.." I was at a loss for words and had to satisfy myself by glaring at him.

James didn't look away, holding my stare instead. "Look, why is it so hard to understand? Don't you get it? I've always .. been interested."

His voice rang with sincerity and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't read any sign of duplicity in him. It boggled my mind as I couldn't find any reason why he was doing this. There was no way in hell he could have always been interested in me as he'd claimed. Why would he make such a claim? Was he high on drugs again? "You've always been... is this one of your jokes? If it is, I don't think it's very funny."

The look on my face had turned from fury to a certain confusion that him smiling. "It isn't. I've always looked up to you, admired you."

Floundering, I tried a new tack. "Have you been drinking again?"

He laughed. "You know I stopped drinking sometime back."

"Well, you sound drunk."

"I'm not." Standing up, he pulled off his T-shirt in one swift motion, tossed it away and walked slowly towards me. His bare chest was just as amazing as I'd imagined, perfectly muscled, smooth as silk, glistening with sweat. My attention came to lie on the swell of his pecs, the darkly tipped nipples riding on the crest. The pants rode low on his waist, baring his midriff - and the sexy trail of black curls that led the way down his taut abdomen.

His lips curved up in a wicked smile. "You like what you see, don't you, John?"

"You're definitely drunk," I told him. Trying to take a step back, I stumbled over the carpet and fell forward onto James as I tried to regain my footing. My hands scrabbled down his naked torso, running down his sweat-soaked muscles as I tried to gain a grip. His strong arm came around my waist to catch ahold of me.

"Always the clumsy one." The devil was in his eyes again as he helped me up. "Always falling for me, John."

"Shut up."

"And I'm not drunk. If I was drunk, we wouldn't be having a rational conversation at all, I'd be tearing that suit off with my teeth and we'd be having wild monkey sex." His words were intoxicating and drew an amazingly clear vision of the both of us tangled in the sheets. The sharp gasp that came from me had James smiling again. His hand came to rest on the lapels of my suit and he looked up at me, looking almost shy for a moment. "Look, it's already difficult enough saying this so don't make it worse. I love you, John."

I stared at him. It was obvious that he was waiting for a reply but I found that my throat had practically closed up and all I could think were James' words. A thousand questions jostled for position in my mind but all I could think of was his cliched phrase. It would be easy enough to give him the same reply but I found that I couldn't. Sure, I lusted for him but did I love him? Surely not, I was already having enough problems dealing with the fact that I wanted desperately to knock him down and fuck him. There was no way I was going to compound my problems my falling in love.

Tired of waiting for a reply, James let out a sigh. "You don't have to give me a reply right now. I know this might come as a surprise to you but I have been attracted to you for.. for a long time, John. I never thought that I'd have a chance with you.. well, not until the other day." As I remained silent without comment, James took his chance and hastily continued. "Look, you know why I changed? It's all because of you - and well, because of how I started looking at myself. For years, I thought that I wanted validation and approval from all the wrong people.. Grandpa, my parents... when all I actually wanted was your approval. Your opinion matters the most to me, John."

"Me?" My voice came out in a squeak and I blushed right to my ears. It had never occurred to me that I held such an important position in his life. So far, I'd always imagined that James thought of me as the marplot, busybody cousin who acted as his warden/guardian.

"Remember about two years ago. You came by my apartment."

My mind flipped through the calendar with ease. It was easy to remember that night since it was the first time we'd both come to blows with each other. "You missed work twice in a row, a job I help you get. You were high on some ecstasy pills, drunk and you had two nameless bimbos squirming around in your lap, Dumb and Dumber with Boobs."

"Mia and Lili. Obviously it has stayed in your mind." Somewhat surprised at how easily I recalled the event, James nodded. "Yes, I remember your face then."

"My face?" Surprised that he could even remember my face through that drunken, drug-induced haze, I started to tell him so but changed my mind. There was no need bringing all those old issues up when it was clear that he had tried his best to change the past.

"Yeah, you looked plain disgusted," he said quietly. Releasing his hold on me, he turned away from me. "And disappointed in me. That was something that had never happened before.. You'd always had faith in me."

"I still do." The admission surprised me as much as it did him. "And I remember that day, you caught me at a bad time that day. I just had to handle your parents' quarrelling again - broke a few things in the house if I remember correctly, getting Jackie out of a jam and then you came along." Of course I didn't feel like telling him that it was from that particular night that I started having lurid dreams about him. He had come to the door, absolutely drunk, in a opiate haze and yet he looked absolutely incredible. And as mad as I was then with the red haze across my eyes, there was this sudden shocking urge to drag the bastard back to my house and fuck him hard. That moment had stunned me - and perhaps had me acting harsher than I would have normally.

The man laughed, a bitter, jarring sound unlike the warm, deep-throated sound that I'd grown used to. "A bunch of fucking screw-ups, huh."

"James." Concerned, I reached out to put my hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently on the firm muscle. "I never thought of any of you as screw-ups - well, except if you'll excuse me for saying so - your mom and Jackie. Never you. Even my mother doesn't think that of you."

Turning his head sideways to glance at me, he posed his question to me. "Really?"

"Yeah." I tried a smile. "Just misguided."

"Much worse than that, I'm afraid."

Imitating his move earlier, I recanted his bad points with my fingers, counting them out one by one. "Perhaps a little spoiled, overly arrogant, desperate for approval.."

Looking at me from under his thick black brows, he glanced at me through narrowed eyes. "You can stop anytime."

"You know something, James." Pleased that he was back to his old self, I ran my hand gently down the curve of his spine - partly for his sake but mostly for mine. As I'd said before, the man had a superior back - and everything else. "I never saw you as that. I always saw you as the guy who got me into scrapes, the guy who taught me how to have fun. The kid who taught me how to cut class, the guy who taught me how to shake my booty in Zouk."

My description had him smiling. "You were always too old for your own age."

"I always had to be." It was the simplest answer - and the truth.

"How true." He laughed. "Well, I've changed.. or well, I'm trying to anyway. I even started taking some courses."

It explained his frequent disappearances in the evening, backpack in hand - something that had puzzled me for the past few weeks ever since I'd caught him coming home one night. At that time, since I'd seen no signs of any excesses upon him, I'd accepted his vague excuses. "You said you hadn't."

"I didn't want to flake out on you again, John."

"Somehow I don't think you will."

"Thanks." The smile on his face was reward enough.

Going back to his clean pants, he dug around the pockets and fished out a wad of notes. With a triumphant sweep, he drew it out and handed it towards me. "And here's the money for the past six months' rent. I counted it according to the rates around the area and -"

"John." For a moment, I stared down at the neatly tied-up stack of notes and back at his face. It was more money than he had probably earned in his whole life. Sure, his hefty allowance could easily cover the cost but James had never been able to budget and save anything. "Where did you get this?"

"You'll think it's stupid." He looked a litle sheepish as he told me the answer. "I've been doing some modelling lately, runway stuff and prints."

"Oh. That's.. that's wonderful." It was an absolutely perfect deal, making money out of that fabulous face and body and I was amazed that we hadn't thought of it before. As I tried to imagine seeing James' first ad on display - and had a lustful thought of a twenty foot billboard of James in his Calvin Kleins, I took a deep breath and shoved the money back. "You know I can't take this, James. I can't charge my own cousin rent."

Since I still made no move to take the money, he tossed it back onto the bed. Turning back to me, he gave a shrug. "Half-cousin at best but well, no point in arguing but... you have to at least give me a chance. You don't love me at all right now but I do know that you do have the hots for my body - and right now, I will take what I can get." Those dark eyes turned warm with appeal, his voice grew heavy with the timbre of sex and I shivered. His large hands reached forward and ran slowly down my face, leaving a delicious trail of heat in their wake. "I had this great plan to seduce you here, to have you giving me the best fuck of my life .. but let's start with dinner instead."

His face was inches away again, his warm breath burning against my cheek. His hands had come down to my shoulders, running deliciously down the lapel of my suit. How could I possibly say no? At this game, the man was a master and I found myself helpless. "Okay, dinner when we get back. And you're paying."

His handsome face was split with a wide smile just before he let out a yell. "Yahoo!" Before I could even make a protest, he silenced me with a warm kiss. Those strong arms pulled me close enough that I could feel his heart pounding through his chest - and his hard cock burning a mark on my thigh. Not one to ever lose an advantage, my hands drew him close and ran down the perfection of his broad back. The warm bed beckoned behind me... the bed in my grandparents' home.

Realization came to me and I shoved him away. "Jamie!"

It was a name that I used to call him when we were younger and he smiled. Although he pulled away, he kept his arms tight around me. "You taste like vanilla, John. Sweet."

"Fuck! Anyone could have seen!"


I could find no reply and just laughed.

He flashed a sinful smile. "Come, Perfect John, let's break a few rules of our own."

Dearest Enemy

"Get out, you faggot!"

It was the last thing I ever heard from my best friend.

Like a bad penny, funny how he always turned up when I least expected it. And when I least wanted him to. At this moment in time, I should have been ecstatic and at the top of the world. Four and a half hours earlier, I had just landed a new account for my firm and been offered a partnership. It was everything I'd worked for the past three years, the reward for all my sweat and tears, all those nights of slogging, worrying and biting my nails raw to reach my deadline. Folowing the tradition in the firm, there had been a quick, impromptu celebration in the new bar downstairs. In between drinks and hors' douevres, dozens of people came over to offer their congratulations, my friends and colleagues came with a smile and a pat on the back, my erstwhile boss and now partner gave me a warm, sincere hug. Although I was surrounded by wellwishers, friends and co-workers, I could have sworn that I'd never felt so lonely in my life.

And it was all because of him. Damn the bastard.

Gulping down my third martini, I decided that it would be my last. Like I'd been saying for the earlier two. My photo album lay open on my coffee table, a picture of my graduation set up proudly on the front page. He'd been there as well, his husky arms around me, both of us grinning away like fools. We'd been friends since... practically forever. And we'd gone on to school and college together. Sure, there'd always been that indefinable tug of attraction beneath the boyish camaraderie. How could I possibly deny that? He was a handsome, attractive guy and in my raging teens, my hormones were practically uncontrollable at that time. Hell, they were still in an uproar right now. But I kept my feelings under wraps and never mentioned anything. After all, he was like the brother I never had.

I'd taught him the finer points of physics and he'd drummed into me the manifold virtues of a carefully made stinkbomb. Secretly, I'd shown him my secret technique of putting a nasty spin to a fastball and he'd confided in me when he'd fallen deeply in lust with Jennifer Briggati's overly generous cleavage. Together, we'd mastered the art of handling a gearshift one dusty evening in the last days of July and ended up mowing the lawn for the better part of a month after denting the fender of his father's truck. My best friend.

My first offer had been an opening in London that I'd coveted for years. It was the night before I left that I decided to tell him my biggest secret, the one thing I'd kept from him for so long. That night, I meant to come out to him - not make a come-on - but that was what had happened. Was it my fault that there was a sudden spark of explosive chemistry between us? That the alcohol we'd both eagerly imbibed that night had loosened our inhibitions, released the one dark desire I'd hidden so deep inside that I didn't even know it existed. A tiny spark that had turned into an inferno as I'd finally realized all the vague, unshaped dreams and fantasies that had troubled my many nights. Visions of dark, handsome strangers with blue eyes and roguish smiles that had coalesced into one beautiful man on that night.

While I certainly hadn't expected sweet, thoughtful words from a man who still found Beavis and Butthead hilarious, his reaction the next morning changed everything between us. The first thing he did was plant his fist in my face. As soon as I'd gotten over the shock - and the foul epithets he'd slapped at me, I'd lashed back in return. In retrospect, it wasn't a particularly wise thing to do since he was almost a head taller even then and at least 30 pounds heavier and more muscular than my own lithe, streamlined frame. But that hadn't stopped me. Then again, I was never one to think first anyway since I usually left the thinking it over to him. Before he could even take another breath, I'd given him a hard sucker punch that staggered him - and a quick blow to his tight midsection. The last I'd seen of him was the stunned look in his blue eyes. And the words he'd said to me then.

Giving him another punch that had knocked him off his feet, I'd stalked out of that apartment. Roughly six hours later, I'd faced his locked door with my luggage all ready and packed. Even now, I could still remember all the things I wanted to say, all the explanations that I'd prepared in advance but I remained silent. I never saw him again after that. Two days later, I was already unpacking my bags in a shiny new apartment in Chelsea, London. Who knows if he'd tried to contact me through all these years. I never wanted to know. But that hadn't kept me from scanning the news about him, getting a pang whenever I read the sports page from the States and saw his name.

No, it was a lie that I never saw him again. After all, I did see him a year ago when I came home for my sister, Cheryl's wedding. Somewhat nostalgic, I'd walked down Main Street for a drink at the local bar, Henry's. Henry made a drink that was strong, bitter, black and tasted like a drop of heaven. But all I saw was him, standing at the corner looking even better if possible, dressed in a white button-down shirt and a pair of sinfully tight blue jeans. The gorgeous quarterback. His blue eyes wide and stunned at the sight of me. He might have said something. I was reasonably sure he'd called out my name. An apology? Another tirade? Who knows. All I did was turn and leave on the next plane. Turns out I never did get that drink.

And then this. A box of letters from him. Something my mom had finally sent to me with a truckload of advice about forgiveness. The first letter was dated almost 6 months after I'd relocated to London. Since I'd gone, I'd expressly forbade any of my friends and family from ever giving my address to him but that hadn't stopped him from writing. Since then, he'd sent a letter regularly every month for the past four years till the last one which was dated two weeks from last Tuesday. The hasty scrawl across the front of the white envelope was as familiar to me as my own writing. Even after all these years, I could still recognise it instinctively. I'd always teased him that he should have been a doctor with that indecipherable writing. Even as I tried vainly to forget him, I occasionally wondered what he'd done with his life though I never tried to find out. Whether he'd achieved all the dreams he'd spoken of those summer days when we'd laze around his father's garage and watched the world go by.

When I'd first moved back to town and my new apartment, there'd been a gift from him on my doorstep. A potted azalea. Amazingly, the man still knew which button to push. The devious old bastard. Knowing that I might toss his housewarming gift down the drain, he knew that I couldn't possibly do such a thing to an innocent plant. Which was why the cheery plant adorned the window sill in the kitchen right now.

It was obvious that my mother had told him of my return. No one else was as insistent as she that we should start talking again. Don't let the sun set upon your anger and all that. It was the reason she'd kept the letters for me. Seeing that familiar scrawl made me sad. Made me feel so alone. And I hated him for that. That one night had given me such hope. It had brought to life feelings that I'd never though existed. Until then, I'd never realized that I could love someone so much, that I secretly yearned to have someone beside me. Absentmindedly, I traced his name which was imprinted on the back of the envelope. Brad McKinley.

The bane of my life. And damn him, I missed him.

A quick rap on the door had my pulse jumping. At this hour of the night, I simply couldn't imagine who would come around knocking at my door. Although I had started dating since I came back, I hadn't had anyone over as yet. The only people who knew my new address was my sister and my mom. It would be just like Cheryl to come knocking without calling first.

Heaving an impatient sigh, I took a quick stretch and stood up. Throwing my shirt on without bothering to button it, I stalked to the door, grumbling all the while. The knocking continued incessantly and I was almost positive that was it Cheryl. No one could possibly be as persistent as her. Oh God, could it be Tom again? Ever since marrying her impossibly perfect husband, she had been trying to find faults with him and found herself getting exasperated when she couldn't find any. Even I found it hard to find anything wrong with the man she married.

"I'm coming. Stop knocking!" Swinging the door open, I closed my eyes and heaved out another sigh. "If you're here to complain about Tom again, I swear-" I never got to finish my thoughts.

"Well, I would love to hear about Tom. But I think we should talk about us first."

My fingers stilled at the doorknob and I felt my knees turn to water. The voice. Deeper, huskier but even without opening my eyes I could recognise it. How could I not? The last time I heard it was exactly four years back. My mind was a blank. All the wicked thoughts of retribution that I once had disappeared faced with the reality. Part of me could only think of running, running as far as I could. Back to London. Where it was dull, boring but utterly safe. The other part ... well I followed the other part and slammed the door in his face.

Well, I tried to slam him out of my life anyway. With the years that had passed, I hadn't counted on the fact that he might have anticipated my reaction and that his reflexes might have improved tremendously. In a flash, he had his right leg through the opening and he'd planted himself bodily as a wedge in my doorway.

"Damn it, Dermot!" he huffed.

For making the mistake of saying my name, I opened my eyes and glared at him. Brad McKinley. Dark hair. Blue eyes. Killer smile. Incredible body. That hadn't changed. Damn.

Two words were foremost in my mind, the same words he'd yelled at me with a twist. "Get out, you breeder."

"Fuck." Squeezed between the doorjamb, he managed a quick gasp. "Dermot. I-"

"Get out."

"Wait." His blue eyes turned wide and pleading, the look which usually got him his way but I knew better. "Give me a chance. I just need -"

"Get out."

"Chanting that line like a mantra isn't going to make me going away." Those eyes flashed a warning and I knew that I had a fight on my hands. Just what I needed to make this a perfectly wonderful day. Earlier, I'd envisioned lying on my couch and just flipping through the channels on the telly. It hadn't occurred to me that I'd be involved in a WWF Wrestling championship.

Just as I was about to make another attempt to get rid of him, he took advantage of my momentary lapse and gave the door a hard shove that had me landing on the floor. Before I could start up to kick him out, he had me pinned down on the floor, my arms clipped to the top of my head. Not only had he become much faster, he was also much stronger. Then again he was always stronger than me. The genes of a gorilla did that to a person. Not to mention hours of football and gym.

Not only did he pin me to the floor, he had the gall to flash me a cocky grin, flashing a row of gleaming white. "Hey, long time no see."

"Get off me," I spat out.

"Not until you hear what I have to say." His jaw tensed in that stubborn manner that I remembered.

My brain hit on a sure method of getting him out of my apartment. Granted, I hated homophobia as much as anyone but I sure liked it right now. Putting on my queeniest voice which I never did even for a gag, I lisped delicately. "You sure you want to lie on a faggot here, McKinley? I might just get excited with your oh-so-hot bod."

His eyes narrowed. "Dermot."

"God, I can feel your hot dick on mine, so big, so thick. I am getting all hot and aroused here." As I rolled around under him, I realized that I really was getting aroused by the situation. Damn. Damn Brad and his pheromones and his perfect pecs. From memory, I could easily sketch out a vision of hard, golden curves of male muscle, smooth, slick with sweat and capped with dark male nipples. Nipples that easily came to life with the proper care. From what I could feel right now through his sweater, they were already responding pretty well. "Like whatcha feelin' stud?"

His only response to my lewd comments was a darker frown. "Can it. Ten minutes. Is that too much to ask?"

Despite all my best intentions, his hard thigh slid between mine and I could feel my dick reacting to the suggestion. Hot man. Hard muscles. Flat surface. My indiscriminate cock simply couldn't handle the barrage of suggestions. The very idea that I could still get aroused by him irritated me. What the hell was wrong with me? It wasn't as if I'd been celibate the past few years. Truth to tell, I'd had plenty of good sex and with plenty of good-looking men. Well, not plenty as in a marine platoon but there were a few. Desperate to get him away before he got wind of my reaction, I hastily agreed. "Yeah. Ten minutes. Just get off me."

His expression told me that he wasn't buying my easy acquiescence. "I know you too well, Dermot. Give me your word on that."

"Okay. Fine. Ten minutes. Asshole."

The moment he let go, I released a punch that knocked him over. It was worth four over years of frustration and packed quite a wallop.

Unfortunately, the man was as tough as ever and he barely winced. "Shit."

"Get out," I said quietly. Rolling up onto my feet, I glared down at him. A face that still haunted me more than I cared to admit. Dark, chiselled planes, an aristocratic nose and a 1000 watt smile came together in a face that would make women weep. Add that amazing face to a body that had been featured in Men's Fitness more times than I could count and you had quite a picture. Even now, his muscles strained against the white turtleneck he was wearing, the material clinging lovingly to the smooth curve of his pecs, the flat planes of his tight abs. It wasn't obvious however how he'd gotten into those skintight blue jeans. It looked as if he'd been poured into it, firm ass and all. All in all, Brad McKinley was one smooth drink of water.

Still seated on the floor, he wiggled his jaw gently. "Damn. You gave your word. That used to mean something."

"I've changed, Brad. Yeah, that's me. Turned into a low-lying, deceitful, oversexed nelly," I spat out that last bit before I turned away. For the past few years, I'd always imagined a meeting with him but I never thought it would feel like this. I'd imagined feeling nothing at all after all these years and I realized how wrong I was. There was a quick, sudden ache in my heart that told me that I still had some time to go before I could totally let go of whatever feelings I had for him.

"You've still got that sneaky left, that's for sure." He was still massaging his jaw. That hard, square jaw wasn't the least bit dented. My hands itched for another go. "Dermot -"

The man still hadn't moved from his spot on my hallway and I leaned back against the wall a few feet away. "What the hell are you doing here?" I said quietly.

He knew me too well. My placid demeanour didn't fool him in the least. Watching me warily as he'd no doubt watch some unpredictable beast, he slowly backed away. "Look, for the sake of our friendship.."

The warnings I frequently had about my temper came back to me but simply counting to ten didn't seem to be working right now. "There is no ... our friendship. Don't you remember? That effectively ended three years ago when I got you drunk, seduced you and forced you into a depraved, licentious lifestyle."

The sarcasm in my voice had him wincing. "Look, you're not even giving me a chance to say I am sorry."

"You missed that particular boat three years ago."

"Fuck. I have been trying for the past four... " He looked as if he wanted to say more but he paused. "Look, I even brought .. well, I cooked chow mein. Thought that would help. You used to like it very much."

That explained the large package lying outside my door. "Thanks. Get out."

"Aren't you at least going to offer me some of that? Remember those days.." he said wistfully.

Those days when we used to hide up in his treehouse and munch on the treats my mother insisted that I bring along. How could I possibly forget? In college, Brad had finally given in and started cooking - which he surprisingly did well. His fried chow mein had become our staple diet most nights when he wasn't experimenting with the spices and ingredients he kept in the small apartment kitchen.

"Then take it and leave."

"You want me to grovel, is that it?" He stared at me, the hurt in his eyes almost palpable. For the past 20 years, that look had worked like a charm. Eventhough I steeled myself against it, I found myself weakening.

"No, I just want you to go." Moving over to the door, I held it open despite my reservations. Eventhough I'd tried to forget the man, I couldn't deny that I'd always hoped that we could have maintained our friendship despite everything that had happened between us. He was the closest friend I'd ever had and shared almost all my childhood memories.

"Wait. I-I just want you to have this." He held it out to me and I stared at it. A friendship bracelet. Blue-green and black. I remembered the time we'd spent trying to figure out the correct knots on a dare from my sister years ago. We'd finally bungled through two bracelets. The fact that Brad had kept it surprised me. He was always the careless one, the one who kept on losing and misplacing things. His mom used to say that he'd lose his head if it wasn't screwed on tight. "Remember that day when we did it. How we laughed when you got your fingers all tangled up. Well, I found it while I was rummaging through my things.. and I thought you should have it back."

Who knew that my heart still could feel a pang at the thought. "One meal and you're out."

Surprise flashed across his dark face before he suppressed the feeling. "Okay."

It was obvious that I had relented but I couldn't help denying it. "This doesn't mean anything, McKinley."

"No, it doesn't," he agreed readily.

"Wipe that smirk off your face." Saying that, I turned back and walked into my kitchen.

During dinner, I tried not to look at him but it was difficult not to with Brad sitting right there in front of me looking absolutely scrumptious. It was really hard not to appreciate a great looking man at my table even if he was the man who had practically spat at me four years ago. Not to mention almost breaking my nose. Although he was an asshole, no one could deny however that he was major male eyecandy. If it was possible, the years had improved him. Years of professional sports had given him the added bulk and muscle that he hadn't had when he was younger, his shoulders were wider, his sculpted biceps strained deliciously at the sleeves.

And the man still did somehing absolutely wonderful with a pack of noodles.

I knew him almost as well as I knew myself - or as well as he knew me. At the moment, he was dead nervous that I might just reach over and bite his head off. Gesturing to the heaping plate of noodles in between us, he tried his best to break the ice. Although he had gotten over the idea that I wouldn't just kick him out, his tone still held an undertone of nerves. "How is it, Dermot?"

"It's fine." In reality it was wonderful especially since I'd been subsisting on take-out for weeks but I certainly wasn't going to let him know that. After all these years, I wasn't about to tell him that I would enjoy feasting on his noodles - and anything else he would like to offer me. The fact that I was still attracted to the gorgeous hunk of meat, this perfect distillation of testosterone and genes irritated me, given the fact that he had literally tossed our friendship into the garbage not too long ago. It certainly wasn't the all-encompassing blinding hate that I envisioned years ago.

The perfection of his smile, the charming dimple bracketing the smile only caused me to glare at him. I didn't even want to risk thinking about the rest of him.

"Uhh.. Dermot. What's wrong?"

"Nothing." Asshole. My sullen response was daunting and he searched valiantly for a topic even as I continued eating. I saw no reason for me to make it easier for him.

Silence reigned for the next few moments as he struggled for something to say. "You never read my letters, did you?"

It was the last thing I'd thought he would have brought up. Silently, without looking up from my plate, I pointed idly at the pile sitting on the table. As if on cue, the pile teetered and slid on the living room table. Wonderful. He messed up my life once - and now he was messing up my table.

"It's here?" His smile was almost wistful when he saw the pile of letters on the table. Standing, he crossed over to the table and rifled through the first stack of letters. Picking a random letter out, he flicked it open and turned to look at me. "You kept my letters?"

The spark of hope in his eyes annoyed me and I kept my answer curt. "My mom kept it. I couldn't stop her."

A quick glance at the rest of the letters confirmed his suspicions. "You never read any of them did you?"

"No. It would have been an insult to my intelligence."

"It wouldn't," he replied coolly. Almost reverently, he shifted the pile back into several neat rows. That was a welcome change from his usual messy behaviour and I wondered blithely how much he had changed in the past few years. That great butt of his certainly hadn't. "But no matter what you think of it, you didn't throw it away," he pointed out with a soft smile.

It was the smile that got to me again. That quick flash of masculine charm, so damnably sexy. All it did to me was make me irrationally nasty - and had me fighting the urge to run my fingers over the soft swell of his lower lip. "The world's forests are disappearing. I was planning on recycling it."


As Brad remained silent rifling through the letters after that exchange, I kept my face trained on the plate instead of his cute ass. What was it about that ass of his? It had been my first real inkling that my sexual proclivities leaned that way - seeing Brad McKinley's tight sixteen-year-old bubble butt wrapped in skintight denims. That amazing ass had not only remained a fucking work of art, it had gotten better. The result of almost a decade of high school and college athletics, it was so hard, muscular that I imagined quarters could certainly bounce off those taut cheeks. So much for the wear and tear of age.

Shaking himself from his private reverie, he looked up to catch me staring - at least three feet down from his face at his butt. My face flushed.

His blue eyes flashed, he grinned. "Like what you see?"

"Shut it. Aren't you gonna eat?" Embarassed at being caught ogling his booty, I turned back to my dinner and realized to my horror that I had almost finished two plates of noodles! Something about Brad always amde me lose control.

"Yeah, I will." Pleased with my reaction, he returned to the dining table, all affable again after managing to yank my chain yet again. "So what have you been doing all this while?"

"Apart from dancing around shiny poles and seducing innocent yet virile college boys?" I replied smoothly.

He gave me a cool glance. "Dermot."

It was easy getting a rise from him. One up for the home team. Taking a quick bite of the noodles, I mumbled resentfully through my food. "Don't tell me you don't already know. Didn't my mom send you regular follow-ups? The Dermot Lee Kincaid Newsletter?"

His ears turned red. "You know about that."

"Yes." It certainly amazed me that he thought I was such an idiot. My own mother, the turncoat was the staunchest supporter of the Brad McKinley Fan Club and she had regular support rallies for him each time I called home. It had become almost a tagline for my mom - rather than a simple hello, it was 'Call Brad'. It had become a persistent pain in the neck - especially after my return and I thought irrationally that he must somehow be behind this wicked scheme to drive me insane. Every week, my mother would keep his memory fresh in my head no matter how much I tried to forget. Back in London in the beginning, I would end each call with a quick escape to the nearest bar in search of a substitute, a dark-haired, blue-eyed stranger. It had been absolutely pathetic.

"And all that time, you didn't say anything." He gave me a searching look, those baby blues trying their best to decipher me. "I am amazed at your restraint."

"Unfortunately, my attorney told me that gagging my mom wasn't in my best interests."

He laughed. "There's that nasty sarcasm that we love."

"Look, chow mein aside, what are you up to? This aw-shucks good-guy mood is making me bloody suspicious." Letting out a sigh, I stared at him. "Why are you here?"

"I told you," Brad said carefully.

Much too carefully for my tastes. The way his eyes wandered got my antenna rearing up. It started making me suspicious. No matter how much he had changed, I doubted that he had managed to change this habit. He could never tell a lie worth a damn while looking at me. "That's not the reason. Don't give me that crap."

"It's not crap." Almost instantaneously, his voice lashed out even as his jaw hardened in response. "Look, that day you walked out, I was an utter idiot. A fool. And you didn't even give me a chance."

"A chance?" A flash of the past came to me and I could feel my hackles rising in response. It was his face I saw again, the face he wore four years ago, the anger, the fury, the utter disgust in those familiar blue eyes. The fist that he raised against me, the sudden flex of that muscular arm. And I could easily remember then, the feelings of betrayal and humiliation that had filled me - so very soon after I thought I'd achieved almost a dream. "A chance for what? To beat me up again? To call me a fucking dickslut? I am sorry but although I am obviously a depraved sex maniac, I'm not much into sado-masochism - at least not that kind anyway."

"Dammit! You never gave me a chance to explain! You just up and left - for bloody London!" In a second, he rose from the table and slammed his hands on the table. The sound stunned me and I looked up into his bright blue eyes. This time, there wasn't the shame, the disgust - only remorse and a whole load of guilt. "That was a mistake. I was stupid that day, Dermot. A fucked up asshole. I didn't know what I was losing then."

My growing irritation surfaced. "A faggot buddy? Somebody to give absolutely fabulous window treatments?"

"Stop that." As I was standing to leave, Brad reached over to catch my hands and though I tried to pull away, he used all his simian strength to hold on. "You're my best fr-"

"No," I replied flatly.

"My best friend. Almost a brother." He repeated forcefully. "The truest friend I've ever had and I lost you over something so trivial. Don't make me pay like that again."

"Having a wild fuck all night wasn't trivial for me." It was anything but trivial. Although it had been marred by the events after, I could still remember that one night. The heat. The skin. The flesh. My hands eagerly unwrapping the perfect gift, tearing the Oxford shirt open, ripping into his cotton pants, letting my hands run over his hard, naked body. The soft moan he released when I turned my lips on that spot beneath his collarbone.

"Trivial?" Seeing the expression on my face, Brad released me and returned to his seat. He looked up at me, his dark, handsome face an unfathomable mask. "No, it certainly wasn't that. Look, I know you hate me."

For the past few weeks, I had been wondering about the same thing. But I realized that the years had changed me somewhat and I could look back on things differently based on my experiences after the incident. It would be so easy to remain convinced that my love for him had turned inexorably to hate but I found that I couldn't. All I could remember was the guy who had held my hand when my grandfather had passed away, the man who cooked and made hot soup when i was feeling under the weather. "I don't. No, I don't hate you, Brad. You hurt me terribly, you right bastard, but I can't find it in myself to hate you. I cannot hate someone who was so much a part of my life before."

"You're a bigger man than I thought, Dermot," he admitted in a soft, subdued voice.

"Oh, I wouldn't say I'm all that big, big boy."

My teasing reply pleased him and he nodded in some relief. "I still want to make it up to you."

I sighed. "Look, you don't have to do that. We might not be able to go back to where we were but I don't hate you. Believe me, I don't spend my time figuring out ways to humiliate you."

"Never?" He smiled ruefully, the edges of his blue eyes crinkling up.

"Well, in the beginning, I did have this nicely set up scenario of your big dick being roasted over an open fire. But I stopped having that pleasant dream years ago." It was actually true since in my recent X-rated dreams I was busy feasting on his hot dick even as he writhed in ecstasy but he certainly didn't have to know that. No doubt he would be stunned at the amount of whipped cream and lashes I'd used in my dreams. No open fire involved though.

He winced. "Nasty."

His expression had me smiling for once as I leaned forward to make my point. "That's me. And you'd do well to remember that."

"I never forgot you. Each time I felt happy, each time I had some news, I always turned to look for you," Brad replied softly, his gaze intent on mine. For some unfathomable reason, I felt uneasy and looked down at my plate, my face flushing. It had almost been the same for me and I found that it surprised me. Since we were kids, I always thought that Brad had a million good buddies and I was just one of the insignificant number. The affable, sociable guy that he was, he seemed to have a throng of friends eager to share some time with him.

"You know, I tried to track you down but your mom stopped me," he said conversationally.

This amazed me as my mom seemed to be pushing us together at every chance she could get. Pleased at the change of topic, I moved my chair closer to hear more. "She did?"

He shrugged. "She said you weren't ready and frankly I was terrified."


"That you'd slam the door on my face."

"And break that pretty nose," I sneered in reply.

"Hey!" His hands lifted to briefly touch his nose. Like everything else about him, it was perfect. The years of college football hadn't left the usual scar on his face which amazed me. "Don't touch the nose. It got me through college."

I smiled. Perhaps later I would tell him that I had managed to keep track of his movements through my mother's calls. "Perhaps several months ago, I would have slammed and locked the door. You caught me in a mellow moment today."


"And I was too damned hungry today."

He smiled. "That too."

That night we talked, settling into a warm camaraderie, still uncertain but there was something. It was amazing how easily we fell back into our old ways, teasing and ribbing each other almost as if nothing had happened between us. Years melted away as he started talking about what he'd been up to. Just as he said, he'd literally used his face to get him through college. Just like a tale from some urban myths, a talent scout had grabbed him as he'd walked down the streets and he'd started his career as a model after college. The money that he earned helped him set up his own little nest-egg as he struggled in the beginning at a career in professional sports. Of course I already knew all that but it was interesting to hear firsthand. It also amazed me considerably to hear that he had dreams of actually becoming a physician as I'd imagined earlier.

As the hours passed, it was as if that night had never happened. Almost. Each time, I saw him turn his head, tilt his head in a certain manner, send me that particular smile with that glimmer in his sexy blue eyes, it still had my heart stuttering. As I slowly rifled through an inventory of my lovers, I wondered whether any of them had managed to draw such an emotion from me and came up with none.

After a moment, he stopped and shook his dark head. Tilting his head to look at me, he flashed me a rueful grin. "God, I've been talking all this while."

"Go on, Brad." Surprisingly, I found that I liked hearing what had happened. Since flying off to London, I had broken off all ties with all my old friends in school and college and it was interesting to find out what had happened to them. Of course none of them had been into as many pursuits as Brad and I seriously wondered how he managed to juggle all his responsibilities. "I don't mind."

"Enough talking about me. Tell me what you've been doing?" Taking a slow sip from his coffee mug, he raised a dark brow. "So you seeing anyone?"

"Sure." I shrugged coolly. "Didn't you see the platoon of hunky marines in the bathroom waiting?"

"Wise ass."

Flinching from the playful punch he aimed at me, I snickered. "No. Still single. Any cute friends?"

"You surprise me."

"Why?" Immediately suspicious, my brows drew closely together. "Just because I had a one night stand with you doesn't mean that I -"

Cutting in before I could continue, Brad retracted his statement quickly. "That's not what I meant. I'm only surprised that you're still alone. A guy like you would make someone a very happy man."

Of course he didn't realize that right now, I'd love to make him happy. There was a part of me that would always remember that amazing night that we shared with a pang of regret but then he didn't have to know that. "No one could compare to you."

Pleased at my compliment, the corners of his lips turned up in a smile. "Thanks."

"Stop. We're getting mushier than Hallmark."

He laughed and caught me in a bear hug.

That was how it was between us for the next few weeks. With the flimsiest of excuses as his platform, Brad would drop by my office to take me out for lunch and it soon became a simple routine for us. As he contemplated leaving sports, he'd started taking premed courses in the college across town in the off-season and he commuted back and forth. It was amazing how easily we fell back into the rhythms and patterns of our old friendship, like a missing piece of my life had finally fallen back into place. And it fit almost perfectly. Unfortunately, the platonic buddy-buddy relationship of the past didn't mesh well with my feelings for the man. Along with our rediscovered friendship, I also realized with some dismay that I had never actually fallen out of love with Mr Brad McKinley. The heavy emotional baggage that I'd carried around for years vanished in almost an instant as I found myself getting to know - and liking the older Brad McKinley.

And anyway it was hard to remain angry with a guy who brought peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast. And looked like he did.

Together with the rosy-tinted glasses of love came an amazingly adult sexual charge that I hadn't felt since I was a perpetually horny, hormonally charged teenager. As physically affectionate as he was, Brad had no qualms about generally driving me crazy and his physical closeness left me in a state of near-orgasmic high. I could feel my hormones churning each time Brad threw his arm around me and pulled me close to whisper in my ear. I know it certainly didn't mean anything to him - heck, he must have thought that I'd outgrown that stupid crush on him - but it drove me secretly insane.

Oblivious to the erection tenting up my pants, Brad leaned from his chair to whisper into my ear, his warm breath heating up my cheek. We were out on a Sunday brunch and he'd dragged me out for some dim sum which I'd always loved. In between steaming plates of dumplings and sweetmeats, he decided to point out the local meat along the way. "Hey, look. What about him?" Brad made the suggestion with a teasing smile. "He's quite the good-looker."

Swivelling around to catch a glimpse of the man walking by, I made a note. Sure, the man he was looking at was great-looking. Nice built, great smile but unfortunately nothing compared to the man by my side. Giving him a quick nudge back to his chair, I whispered fiercely. "Stop it."

His blue eyes twinkled with unholy glee. "Why not? Great shoulders, big arms, nice butt. Isn't that you're looking for?"

"Don't even think about it."

"Surely, you don't expect to have brains and earning power with all that... you can't have everything, you know." He grinned. "But then again, there is one guy I know.."

Unfortunately, it was a line that I'd heard before from many of my well-meaning friends and I could see where this was heading. Turning to him - with my chopsticks aimed threateningly - I said quietly. "McKinley, if you ever dare set me up on a blind date, I will.."

He snickered. "Well, shucks, and here I know this great guy at work who.."


The stern look I turned on him made him laugh even harder. "Okay, before you jab me with that extremely dangerous chopstick, I have something that I know will placate you." Turning back to the gymbag that he'd dumped on the seat next to him, he opened it and started fishing around in the contents.

"Placate?" I echoed in disbelief.

"Yeah?" Giving me a quick glance through his lowered lashes, he grinned. "Don't make fun of my vocabulary now."

"I didn't know you had one."

Tugging out a thick manila envelope from his bag, he shoved it at me. "Here."

For a full moment, I stared down at the envelope and then back at him. Shaking out the contents, I was almost speechless as I looked down at the stark black-and-white photographs inside. These were the first photographs that I'd captured with the simple camera that he'd bought for me years ago. They weren't all that great compared to some of my recent work but it was like finding a long forgotten friend. "My God, where did you find these?"

"Can't really remember.." Thinking back, he drew his hand through his dark curls. "Probably in one of the bags you left behind in our place... you left in a hurry... I knew you'd want to keep these."

Sure, I left in a hurry. After that disastrous morning, I barely had the time to pack all my stuff before I ran stumbling down the stairs. There hadn't been the time to rummage through all my belongings and I'd only grabbed the essentials.

Shifting through a few shots that I'd taken of him, I smiled. Those shots were the easiest since it was simple enough to make Brad look good, the camera adored his striking good looks. These pictures certainly wouldn't be worth anything to the people who went to my exhibitions but these were taken by a young man obviously in the throes of his first love and they mattered very much to me. It amused me to realize that my camera had evidently managed to capture the love I'd felt for him then - even before I'd realized it myself. "Why are you being so nice?"

"Hey I'm always nice," he protested. "Ask anyone."

"Yeah, right." Arranging the pile back into some semblance of order, I placed them carefully back into the envelope. "You weren't all that nice when you dumped Tasha Blake."

"Tasha?" He shrugged. "I was stupid as a kid."

"Can't argue with that."

My quick response had him grinning. "Still stupid right now but I bet I look much better now." Leaning back a little, Brad flexed for me and shot me his best smile. The leather jacket he wore fell open to reveal the blindingly white T-shirt that clung intimately to the perfection of his sculpted torso.

"You wish." I rolled my eyes. Privately I thought that he looked good enough to eat but I figured he didn't need to know that. "Your ego knows no bounds."

Tucking in another piece of dumpling, he shook his dark head. "Can't shake the truth."

His lopsided smile brought to life an irresistible dimple that drew my eye and I wondered how he had remained single till this day. Since the day he'd dropped by my place, he'd managed to avoid the question several times but I was still curious. Though I managed to catch some news of him dating some up-and-coming starlet once in a while, I never seemed to hear of him having a long-term relationship. "Who are you seeing nowadays, Brad?"

"You mean, a girlfriend?" Looking up from his plate, he gave me another nonchalant shrug. "No one."

"Come on, seriously."

"Seriously. No one," he repeated slowly. "Nada. Zilch."

Recalling his prior behaviour, I smiled. "One-night-stands with the groupies then?"


"No one?" I stared in shock. It was simply improbable. A man who looked like him without a date? What was the world coming to? It boggled the mind that a handsome, intelligent man like him wasn't beating off crazy admirers with a stick. If a dish like Brad McKinley even stepped into a gay haunt, the queens would be feasting on his hot bod in seconds.

"Stop looking like that." Giving me a quick punch, Brad laughed. "Come on, I am not some salivating cockhound."

"Yeah. right. You don't want me to recite the names of every girl I made my waffles for, do you?" Regaining my senses, I shook my head in disbelief. Back in college, it seemed as if Brad had a neverending carousel of girlfriends. The names and images of his various girlfriends since Jennifer blurred in my mind and I found that I couldn't even properly place them in their order. And that wasn't even counting the numerous one-nighters that he occasionally brought over, girls I met once over breakfast the morning after and never saw again. "I seem to remember a certain bed creaking every night next door."

He had the sense to blush. "You heard?"

It wasn't all that often that I managed to catch him unawares - and make him blush. His dark face was flushed and I couldn't help poking at him. Confirming his suspicion, I replied smugly. "I sure did. Every silent scream."


"Damn right."

His blue eyes flashed with humour. "You enjoyed every moment, didn't you."

As juvenile as it sounded, I stuck my tongue out.

It made him laugh again and he shoved me back in my chair. "Look, I've dated around some but there's no one that I particularly liked." As he continued, his sexy lips turned up in a sly grin. "No one with a fetish for peanut butter and jelly."

"McKinley." Dropping the chopsticks back on the sand, I eyed him coolly. "That's the lousiest come-on ever. You're lucky you have that pretty face."

"Don't forget the great ass," he reminded me, his blue eyes twinkling.

I snickered.

Munching through another savoury dumpling, he flipped the chopstick about to point at me. "How about you, Kincaid? I don't believe all that crap about you being single."

It was a question that had been posed to me by my parents more than once and even after multiple attempts I found that I still didn't have a proper answer. Although I had done the rounds in London - and God knew, some of the British men with their crisp, upper-crust accents were hot - I still hadn't found the certain connection and chemistry that I expected in someone I planned to be with for the long-term. Perhaps I was a romantic fool with rose-tinted glasses but I had grown up in a home where my parents still cared very much for each other and it surprised me that I had come to expect the same in my own relationship. Sure, I might have chosen a different lifestyle than the one my parents would have wanted for me but it amused me that I still shared the same old-fashioned values that I'd been brought up with.

The truth seemed to be the easiest so I told him. "Actually I have dated a few guys in London but they never worked out. I guess I just haven't met the right guy."

"Someone hot like me?" Brad teased me with a salacious wink at me. "Come on, Dermot, you marry me and I'll treat you like a queen."

Wadding my tissue, I tossed it at him. "You wish, asshole."

Even as he laughed and evaded my missile, I started fearing for my sanity yet again as it had been at the tip of my tongue to reply in the affirmative.

"Shouldn't you be getting home by now?"

"Why?" The man lazing on my couch playing with my remote looked up at me and laughed. "Kicking me out, Kincaid?"

Sure, hot guys in the living room were always an improvement to any decor but Brad McKinley in a old faded tanktop and skintight jeans proved too much of a distraction for me. After his appointment at the gym, he'd dropped by at my place with two six-packs and pizza and I found myself unable to turn away a delivery boy who looked as good as he did. And he looked spectacular. The tanktop was cut low at the front, showing off beautifully sculpted pectorals and his impressive lats. His nipples peeked out around the straps, thick, fleshy points ringed with soft dark hairs. I didn't even have to continue on how great his legs looked, all hard and pumped up in denim.

He'd brought a disc of the latest shoot-em-up but I barely noticed as I kept my attention on the man beside me. It was getting difficult trying to restrain myself as the buzz of the beer clouded my mind. I'd never been a good drinker. A second ago, he'd downed a beer and as a few drops trickled down his chin, I had the image of myself licking the trail left by the beer down his cleft chin down his throat to where it disappeared into the folds of his tanktop. It was when I started imagining nibbling on the nipples crowning the edge of his hard pecs that I decided that it was best that he left before I could make any uncalled for attacks on his virtue.

"It's late. I gotta.. I gotta get some sleep," I ended lamely. It was easy enough to predict that I'd be fantasizing about tearing that tanktop off tonight.

"Dermot, I have something.." He stood up, looked at me for a moment as if he wanted to tell me something but then he just shrugged. "Nah, it's nothing."

"What?" I asked curiously.

Shaking his dark head, Brad just smiled. "Nothing important." Picking up his gym bag in one hand, he headed towards the door.

"Look, Brad.. I..." He was standing at my door and I could picture myself plastered against him on the doorway. Not a very good sign.

Correctly guessing my condition, he grinned, his blue eyes twinkling with mischief. "You're already woozy right now, right?" he teased me.

It had always been a well-known fact that alcohol and Dermot Kincaid didn't mix well. In college, I would have gotten my first taste of sex with one of the nubile co-eds after downing a six-pack if I hadn't heaved up. The man knew me much too well and I laughed. "Just a little. I could never hold my drink all that well."

He reached over and slapped me on the back. "Well, I'll letcha catch your beauty sleep. Looks like you might need it."

"Asshole," I replied fondly.

Opening the door, he stepped out into the hallway for a moment before turning back to me again. "You know," Brad started sheepishly. "I think I forgot something."

It didn't surprise me at all since he was notorious for forgetting things like that. Turning back to my living room, I scanned the area. "What? I don't think you left anything here."

"I forgot to do this," he replied in determination.

There was no moment for retreat, no time for a snappy answer before he came forward and kissed me. The shock of the sudden contact had my lips parting, allowing his tongue to flicker, grazing my teeth on the way down my throat. His hand reached around to cup my neck, holding my face close as our tongues parried and thrust in a frenzied swordsplay.

I pulled back from him, gasping for air. His face was so close, the strong line of his jaw, his soft, sensual lips. This was the man I loved a long time ago and I remembered the way his lips had melted against mine, the way his warm, silky skin felt beneath my fingers, the hard, firm muscles tensed underneath my touch. His scent beguiled me as it had years ago, the spicy scent of his cologne and fresh sweat.

When his lips brushed gently against mine again, I held my hands up to push him away. "What the fuck are you doing?"

"Kissing?" he ventured carefully. "Foreplay?"

As he pressed forward again, I shoved him away. "Stop. You can't do this."


"We don't do this."

His brow creased as if in deep thought before he replied. "As I seem to recall, we did it four years ago." Brad moved down again and his hot tongue slithered across the edge of my ear. "And I think we did it pretty well for a bunch of amateurs even then."

My left hand reached up to clutch his head, tangling in the silky curls of his dark hair - but I didn't know whether to push him away or pull him close. His long legs maneuvered between mine and I could feel the hard, pulsing length of his cock burning against my thigh. The recollection of the sheer size and power of him left me weak in the knees. A sudden wave of sexual desire swept me away, clouding my mind as I tried to reason with him. "Brad, what's all this?"

He turned to me, his face barely an inch away now, his blue eyes looking thoughtfully at mine. "This is what I have been meaning to tell you all these years. If you'd read some of my letters, you'd have known."


"I'm bisexual," he admitted softly.


He growled in reply. "You heard me."

I closed my eyes for a moment. "God, you know I can't resist you and now you drop this bombshell on me?"

"Yeah, is it working?" he asked hopefully even as one of his hands trailed down the curve of my spine to caress my butt.

The idea that he could be interested in guys hit me like a ton of bricks and I couldn't say that I terribly disappointed. "When?" I said in surprise. "What happened?"

His dark brow raised sardonically. "I'm dead horny now and you want to talk?"

As he shifted his hip to press his stiff erection against me again, I realized that any explanations could wait. "You won't go crazy tomorrow," I told him. It was a statement, not a question and I found that I wasn't at all afraid that he would go into another berserker rage.

"Nope." Grinning foolishly, Brad reached behind him and brought my left hand down to his lips. "After all, you have that nasty left hook."


"Look who's talking."