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."

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