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  • If you are like me, you will enjoy the story even more the second time around.
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  • I love an author that can give you such a good plot and delivery in a book that isn't novel length, this is a rare talent indeed!
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  • Lena @ Rainbow Book Reviews
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  • Lena @ Rainbow Book Reviews
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Loving Vicente (Men of Riverside 6)

Loving Vicente (Men of Riverside 6)
Release Date: 26 September 2011
Description:

William loves Vicente with all his heart, but can he give him the life he deserves, free from financial worries and danger, without making Vicente lose his self-respect?

William Fortin is a forensic scientist who has returned to Riverside after six years for his first job. He wants a social life and to settle down, and when he runs into his old crush from high school, Vicente Vasquez, he knows he has found the man of his dreams.

Vicente is a shy Mexican American who works hard so he can pay for the medical care his wheelchair bound father needs. He is a courier by day and a bartender by night, just to try to make ends meet. Dating the man who was his science tutor in high school is a dream come true.

But how can they possibly be partners when Vicente is struggling just to keep the creditors at bay and his traditional family can't possibly find out he's gay?

 


Pages: 90
Words: 32,144
Heat Index:Heat Index
Cover Artist: Posh Gosh
Book Type: EBook

Chapter One

Riverside, Texas
Saturday, June 3, 2006

"Shit!" Vicente Vasquez hated golf with a vengeance.

Trying to mutter the curses under his breath so his father wouldn't hear, he followed the damn ball into the small wooded area to the right of the seventh hole. He'd never understand why the hell they made golf courses so huge and the stupid balls so tiny. Why grown men wasted their weekends playing the game, calling it a good business networking opportunity, also eluded him. And the worst thing? The fact they'd been here this morning for a seven-thirty tee-off. Sleeping in hadn't even been an option.

"You got it?" His father sounded impatient as he threw anxious glances at the two older business contacts he was trying to impress.

"Yes, Papá." Vicente bit his tongue to stop the anger from spilling over.

"About time. You're holding everyone up." His father glared at him, trying to look imposing.

At five-feet-eight, that wasn't an easy job. But old habits, based on years of verbal abuse, died hard. Even though Vicente had been a good two inches taller than his father ever since he turned seventeen two years ago, his first instinct was still to give in. So he ducked his head and walked back to the group. He'd already been three over par when the stupid ball went wide, so he was just going to take the quadruple bogey and deal with it. He almost felt sorry for his father for having to play the game with him as a partner, but, then again, this nonsense was his father's choice of how to spend a Saturday morning, not his.

He'd never been good enough for his father, and probably never would be. Even going to college to study business, rather than becoming a car mechanic like he'd wanted, hadn't helped. His father still thought he was useless, telling him at every conceivable occasion how much better he could do if he really applied himself, and what a great example his elder brother, Felipe, was. Vicente snorted. If his dad knew how Felipe came by his money, he'd have a heart attack.

"Sorry about that." His father shook his head and refocused on picking the perfect club for his next turn.
The embarrassed apology to the two idiots playing with them increased Vicente's anger further. It made him feel as if his father was sorry for Vicente's entire existence. He wasn't even sure the two men cared about the status of their game that much. They were deep into discussing some new commercial venture involving some real estate deals in the area just south of the Riverside inner city.

When the game was finally over almost three hours later, Vicente heaved a sigh of relief. Without asking or waiting for his father's approval, he made his excuses and left. He'd pay for it later, he was sure, but staying for an exceedingly boring lunch wouldn't make a difference. His father would just find some other excuse for dressing him down.

Getting into his car and making it to his friend's house so they could go fishing this afternoon was the only thing on his mind. It was the one time this week he'd have to himself, and he wanted to share it with Steve Jacobi. He'd been his best friend all the way through high school, and even though Steve had decided to be a window washer rather than attempting college after graduation, they'd managed to stay in touch. Friday nights were usually theirs to go and have a beer, but last night hadn't worked out because his mother had required him to attend his uncle's birthday party.

Steve's apartment was west of downtown in an area just this side of acceptable. His friend had only moved here last month, after finally having saved enough money to be able to afford a place of his own. Vicente parked his pretentious car, the BMW 328i his father had insisted he drive, hoping it would still be there when he returned. He rang the bell and waited for Steve's tinny voice to ask who was there. The loudspeaker system was in urgent need of an overhaul, but Vicente wasn't going to hold his breath.

He sighed, making his way up to the third floor via the stairs. No way was he getting into an elevator looking as ancient and rickety as that one. According to Steve, it spent more time out of service than working. Apartment three-oh-seven was towards the end of the long, dilapidated hallway and door was pulled open before he had a chance to knock.

"Hey, you trying to starve me?" Steve grinned, making sure it sounded like ribbing, not an accusation. His friend was as tall and broad-shouldered as Vicente was slim. His dark curly hair always looked slightly chaotic and today was no exception.

"Hello to you too. Sorry about the delay, but apparently my game was even worse than usual and I held everyone up." Vicente rolled his eyes. "My father didn't even notice one of his ‘buddies' was just as bad."

"No problem, I know what it's like." Steve waved him inside then closed the door behind them. "Have a seat for a moment while I get my stuff. I was hoping we could hit some drive-through on our way out of town so we don't lose any valuable fishing time."

"Sure, I'm pretty hungry as well." Vicente walked through the tiny hallway, past the kitchen to his left and the bedroom to his right, straight into the living room.

The only thing in there was an old TV sitting on a crate. Steve was saving up for a bed next then might get around to buying a couch. So far, he was making do with two chairs bought at a garage sale just before he'd moved in. Vicente shook his head. He would have been happy to loan Steve some money, but his friend was stubborn and wouldn't hear of it. He was determined to make his own way.

Minutes later, Steve was back with their fishing rods. He'd also changed into a pair of jeans and a green T-shirt that set off his brown skin. Vicente had deposited his gear here a few days ago so he wouldn't have it in his trunk for his father to discover. He never knew how the man might react when Vicente developed a new hobby.

He was quiet during most of the drive. The fast food was quickly eaten, but he still didn't know how to bring up the one thing he'd been thinking about for weeks. By the time they were at their destination and had set up everything the way they wanted in their usual well-hidden fishing spot on the lake's shore, he was ready to forget about it.

"Are you going to tell me what's wrong with you or would you prefer to mope for the rest of the afternoon?" Steve cast his line and settled into his Sherpa chair.

"I'm not moping." Well, not much.

Steve just raised an eyebrow. They knew each other well enough to go without words on occasions like this.
"Okay, maybe I was a little quiet."

"Ha!" Steve shook his head. "Just spit it out."

"Do you remember the guy who helped me with my math and science work in high school?" Vicente didn't think Steve would. God, he'd had such a crush on the cute nerd, it was ridiculous. The worst thing was that he still hadn't forgotten him three years later.

"Oh, you mean William-what was his last name?-something with an F?"

"Yeah, him, William Fortin." Vicente cleared his throat, trying to bring his voice back to a more normal timbre. "Can't believe you still remember him."

"Well, he was the biggest nerd in all of Riverside High."Steve tilted his head. "All three years he was there, I believe. Shit, he was so clever, it only took him three years to graduate and then he went off to Harvard or somewhere, right?"

"Yeah, that was him." Except he'd also been well built and muscular, a champion-level rower and popular with the girls even though he never dated. How many nerds were able to put that on their CV?

"What about him?" Steve lowered his fishing rod and stared at Vicente. "Don't tell me you've followed what he's been up to?"

"Um...yes?"

"No!" Steve's eyes widened. "Isn't that like being a stalker?"

"Well, maybe. But I wanted to see how he was doing and I found out he's graduating next week." And he so wanted to go!

"But it's only been three years since he left." Steve laughed. "Well, of course he'd breeze through a four-year program in only three."

"The thing is, I want to go to his graduation." He'd been thinking about it for a few months, ever since he'd found out about William's progress.

"What?" Steve's eyebrows shot upwards. "Why?"

"I don't know." Well, he did. He missed William something awful. They hadn't just talked about math and science during their mentoring sessions-they'd pretty much talked about everything. He'd thought they'd become pretty good friends, but once William had left for college, Vicente hadn't heard from him again. Not once in three years. It still hurt, but he wasn't going to admit that, not even to his best friend.

"You don't know." Steve dropped all pretence of trying to get some fishing done. "I have a hard time believing that."

"He did help me pass my science class."

"That can't possibly be the only reason, can it?" Steve shook his head. "Just think about the long cross country trip. It would take you days to get from here all the way to Boston."

"I know. I checked." Vicente sighed. It would have all been worth it. "But you don't have to worry, it's not going to happen."

"Why not? When is this event taking place anyway?" Steve shifted in his chair, probably trying to find a more comfortable position.

"The ceremony is next Thursday, in the middle of the week. I'd have to figure out a way to explain my absence to my dad, but that's not the only problem." He'd face pretty much anything to be able to go. "The real problem is that, according to their special website, you need tickets to attend. And those are severely limited. I'm sure William's family has taken up his contingent."

"I'm sure they have." Steve scratched his head. "But I still don't see why it would even matter. It's not like William is a friend or like he's even that important to you. Is he?"

"You're right." Vicente meant the ticket situation, not that William wasn't a friend.

To him, in his own mind, William was a lot more important than he could ever explain without causing some very obvious questions. Questions he couldn't afford to answer-to his parents or anyone else. After all, being interested in another man would mean he was gay. And even though he'd known for a while-in fact ever since William-that he was anything but straight, his family would never accept it.

Not being able to be who he was sucked. But what options did he have?

* * * *

Riverside, Texas
Monday, October 6, 2008

Vicente couldn't wait to see Steve. Ever since his friend had bought a car two months ago, he'd started spending a lot of time with Jason-interestingly William's younger brother, of all people. Since then, he'd only managed to turn up for their Friday night round of drinks once. It was the one luxury Vicente still allowed himself since his life had changed so drastically, and he'd missed it.

He went into the Front Porch and looked for a table. Being at the bar on a Monday night instead of their usual Fridays was a little strange, but he'd take any time Steve was willing to spend with him. Spotting free seats in their favourite booth was lucky, and he went over to claim it. He'd wait with ordering a drink until Steve got here. It wasn't as if he had money to throw around, after all. Not anymore.

Sitting there with nothing to do but wait gave him time to think-something he usually tried to avoid at all costs. He'd thought not being able to go to William's first graduation was bad, but that was before Vicente's parents had been in their horrible car accident a few months later. It had taken his mother's life and had put his father into a wheelchair. The guilty driver had died on impact, hadn't been insured, and all the medical bills had grown to unmanageable amounts much faster than he could have made money with a part-time job. He'd had to leave college, and he'd worked as a courier ever since.

He sighed, wishing he'd ordered a drink after all. Sometimes it was all too much. A year ago his father had suffered a stroke and he'd needed more money, so he'd become a bartender at night. The money was pretty good, but it was exhausting. And no matter how hard he worked, he didn't seem to be able to make so much as a dent into the massive debt they'd amassed.

Finally, Steve walked in. Vicente had to look twice to make sure it was him. He'd only spoken to his friend on the phone a couple of times since their last actual meeting in early September, so he was shocked when he saw Steve limp a little. The bruises on his face may have been almost gone, but they were still pretty obvious.

"What the hell happened?" Shit, he'd spoken before switching on his brain.

Steve flinched and sat down opposite him.

"Sorry, that wasn't what I meant."

"Yeah it was." Steve grinned, and suddenly his old friend was back. "They still look pretty bad, huh?"

"They're kinda obvious, if that's what you mean." He tried not to stare, but it wasn't easy. There were healing bruises all over Steve's face. "Who did this to you?"

"Long story. Let's order some drinks first." Steve waived at the waiter.

Drinks orders dealt with, Vicente leaned back and waited for Steve to figure out where to start. By the time the whole sordid tale about Steve's co-workers beating him up because they suspected him to be gay was done, Vicente's jaw had dropped. Once Steve had added the story about him and Jason getting back together just this last weekend, he was ready to cheer for his friend.

"Good for you!" He lifted his glass and had a sip.

"Yeah?" Steve tilted his head.

"Sure. You deserve to be in a relationship and I sort of suspected you wanted Jason to be more than just friends, as much time as you suddenly started spending with him."

"True. That did sort of give things away." Steve chuckled. "So you're not upset that I'm with a guy?"

"Why should I be?" Briefly, he debated the wisdom of admitting his own leanings. But this was Steve, his best friend, who had just come out to him. There was no reason to hide anything from him. "I've wanted that for a long time."

"You have?" Steve's eyebrows rose.

Vicente nodded, definitely embarrassed now.

"Oh, wait." Steve frowned. "There was that guy whose graduation you wanted to go to...let me think..."

Vicente sat still, waiting for the penny to drop the rest of the way. He half-hoped Steve wouldn't figure it out so his crush could remain hidden. On the other hand, he was dying to find out what William was planning now that he must have got the Master's degree he'd started right after Harvard. And who better to find out the details from than the man who was apparently in a relationship with William's younger brother?

"William!" Steve's eyes widened. "It was Jason's brother William you were interested in, wasn't it?"

Vicente nodded, relieved Steve had figured it out himself.

"And you're still interested two years later?" Steve grinned, showing off his brilliant white teeth. "Well, six years after you last saw him."

"Ridiculous, isn't it?"

"Naw, I think it's kinda cute." Steve winked.

"Cute?" He was horrified. Who the hell wanted to be called cute? He looked around, trying to see if anyone had overheard, but nobody seemed to pay them any attention. "I'll give you cute."

"Hey, don't worry about it." Steve reached over the table and briefly squeezed his hand. "It's not a problem. I think it's amazing you're this loyal. Must be some crush if it's lasted this long. I won't tell anyone, okay? Well, not unless you tell me to."

"No way!" Vicente would dig a whole and vanish into it if William ever found out.

"Okay, so what are you going to do about it?"

"Do about it?"

"Yeah, as in-are you going to try and see if the feelings are mutual, or could at least become mutual?" Steve finished his drink and waved at their waiter as the young girl tried to rush past them. "We're ready for another round, Miss."

"Two more Buds?" She looked harried. No wonder-it was pretty busy for a Monday.

"Please." Steve nodded and sent her on her way, returning his attention to Vicente as soon as she was gone.

"I don't even know where he's at or what he's up to." And wasn't that a depressing thought? Working two jobs to try to keep up with the bills didn't leave a lot of time, or energy, to do research into William's whereabouts. Never mind that the intelligent and successful older man wouldn't even look at a loser like Vicente.

"That doesn't matter because that's what you've got me for now." Steve's smile was mischievous.

"It is?" He couldn't resist the grin spreading his lips.

"Yep." Steve leant back to let the waitress put their new beers onto the table then collect the old before she hurried towards the next groups clamouring for her attention. "So, what do you want to know?"

"You're enjoying this just a little too much." But he didn't really mind. Steve was his friend and he was desperate to find out what William was up to. They'd hopefully work something out.

"Maybe." Steve stopped grinning. "I don't want to make this difficult for you, but I have no idea if William is even gay."

"I know." The thought had tormented him forever. "I guess I'm sort of hoping it runs in the family."

Steve laughed. "You have a point. With Zeke finally admitting he's in love with his friend, Ben, and now Jason and me..."

Vicente suppressed his sigh. It probably was wishful thinking to hope the third brother was gay as well. Did that even happen? Probably not.

"Nothing wrong with trying, though. He might be bisexual, like Zeke. In which case, at least you stand a chance." Steve took a big swig of his second beer, wiped his mouth in an exaggerated way and leaned back against the booth seat's backrest. "So, where do we start?"

"Start? We?" Vicente was sure he looked like a deer in the headlights. He hadn't expected Steve to take such an active interest.

"Sure, we. You don't think I'll leave you to do this on your own?" Steve's eyebrows rose.

"Well, um, I hadn't thought about it, but I didn't think you'd want to be involved." He wasn't even sure he wanted his friend's help.

"Of course I do. You're my friend, and we're talking about my boyfriend's brother, so it's a family thing as well." Steve briefly leant forwards to pat Vicente's hand. "Now, what I do know is that William graduated from Boston University, getting his Master's of Forensic Science in June. According to Jason he's been travelling and has just returned to Riverside to start a job at the Harris County Center of Forensic Science as a medical examiner."

"His dream came true then." Vicente had no idea what was so fascinating about being a forensic scientist, but William had wanted to be one ever since they'd talked about what they wanted to be when they grew up all those years ago in high school.

"Both dreams, apparently." Steve smiled. "He's got the job he wanted and he'll be able to work right here in Riverside. Jason says he's never seen his ‘serious brother' so happy."

Vicente just nodded. It would make trying to find a way to see his old crush even more tempting.

"The really good news is that the family has planned a welcome back party all day this Friday, to which Jason and I are invited. I assume you'd like to come as well?" Steve winked.

Would I ever! He nodded before he'd switched on his brain. He couldn't even speak, he was so excited. Seeing William again after such a long time would be amazing. Suddenly, he sobered. It was also scary as hell. What if William didn't like him? Didn't remember him? Worse, what if he did? Shit, this was a lot tougher than he'd imagined in his daydreams.

"Relax, it's just a party." Steve must have seen the panic in his face.

"Yes, but it's also a Friday night. Shit!" His boss at the gay bar he'd just started working at as a bartender wasn't going to like him not turning up.

His normal drink dates with Steve were early enough not to interfere, but he wanted to have the whole evening available for William's party. He'd also miss the additional income from the tips, but that couldn't be helped. He was so far into debt that he'd never be able to pay it all off anyway, so an extra few hundred dollars wouldn't matter.

"You got something better planned?"

"No, but I have to work." Unless he could find a replacement.

"That's right, you started working at George's Corner, didn't you?" Steve's eyes lit up. "That is one hot club, by the way. Jason mentioned how much he wants to go there now that we're out."

"It is pretty hot." Temptation personified, in fact, with all those young gay men coming in to show off their best assets on the dance floor...or wherever they felt like it, really. He'd only worked there a few evenings so far, but it had been fun.

"They must be big enough to have a few more bartenders? Surely one of them wouldn't mind the tips an extra Friday night would get them?" Steve looked pretty determined to make this work for Vicente.

"My thoughts exactly. I'll just ask Nina. She works there as well and always seems keen on any extra money she can make. The best part is that she's my homophobic brother Filipe's girlfriend."

"He's homophobic and knows she works in a gay bar?" Steve's eyebrows rose to his hairline. "That's either pretty big of him or he has no clue."

"Oh, he has a clue, all right." Vicente laughed when he remembered how Felipe had grudgingly agreed for Nina to work there. "He's not just homophobic but pretty possessive as well. His logic is that she'd have to face constant advances at a straight bar, but a gay bar, on the other hand, is a pretty safe place for her to be."

Steve's facial expression said it all. Yep, that was his brother Felipe. Pretty warped mind, and that was just knowing his attitude towards women and gays.

"You think you can get her to cover for you on a Friday night?" Steve looked doubtful.

"I'm pretty sure. She's always after some additional money-and believe me, I don't want to know what she uses it for. Felipe is usually with his biker friends anyway on Fridays, so I'm sure he won't miss her too much." Well, he could hope.

He needed to be at that party-to see William again-no matter what!

* * * *

Riverside, Texas
Friday, October 10, 2008

William surveyed his garden, which had been turned from a peaceful oasis with a view of the grain fields northeast of Riverside into a bustling centre of pre-party excitement. The seven people brought in by the catering company his mother had insisted they hire were running around like demented chickens. They distributed all kinds of equipment from three vans now parked in his driveway into the garden, well equipped kitchen and living room. Despite the chaos, they'd actually been amazingly efficient at getting everything set up in under an hour.

Thank God they were staying for the cleanup as well. They'd assured him everything was going to look as if no party had taken place at all by the time they were done, which was exactly what he'd wanted to hear. He liked his solitary existence. It was one of the reasons he'd bought a house at the very edge of the city, in an area that was a very sparsely populated. While he could still see his closest neighbours, they were far enough away for him not to feel closed in.

The ranch style house was ideal for partying, or so the real estate agent had said. The open plan living-dining room and the large kitchen were apparently as much part of that as the extra-large garden with a built-in barbecue area, enough lawn space to pitch a few large tents, and a covered all-round porch that would serve him well in rainy weather. Or, more likely, in the summer when there was more sunshine than he was used to after spending six years in Boston.

"Are you sure this is such a good idea?" William was only half serious. His family really wanted to give him this welcome-back party, and they'd all worked very hard to make the house he'd recently bought look festive and welcoming. He just wasn't very good with people, never felt really comfortable around them, and when they came in big groups all he wanted to do was run and hide. Preferably in the closest laboratory he could find.

They'd just finished putting up the decorations and now sat in the living room to enjoy the brief half hour of quiet before the storm of the first guests arriving. His eldest brother, Zeke, just raised an eyebrow. His now-boyfriend, Ben, who'd been his best friend ever since William could remember, grinned and shook his head. They'd both come over early to help set everything up, saying you never knew with these catering companies. Jason and Steve were here as well, and he was sure his parents would come as soon as their busy lives as owners of a major real estate company would allow.

"Yes, I'm sure." His mother had walked in unnoticed and he got up to greet her. "There are a lot of people who are very happy that you're back. Lots of nice young ladies for you to meet as well."

"Mom!" He rolled his eyes at her in an exaggerated way that made her laugh.

The thought of him having to meet young ladies, nice or not, was more than enough reason to cancel the party as far as he was concerned. He wasn't sure how to tell his parents, but there was no way he was going to get married to a woman. He'd seen the misery his eldest brother, Zeke, had put himself through by getting engaged to that harpy, Claudia, just to make it look as if he was straight. William had no intention of repeating that mistake. One per family was enough.

An hour later all of that was forgotten, and the party was in full swing. Friends of his parents and distant relatives he hardly remembered had greeted him with as much enthusiasm as some of his old buddies. Most of them he hardly remembered since he hadn't seen them in six years...and hadn't stayed in touch, either. It wasn't as if he'd been very popular in high school, so there weren't too many people he even remembered.

The man who walked in just after seven o'clock-glancing around him shyly and a little lost, as if he didn't really know what he was doing here-was a different matter. William stood stock-still and stared at the apparition of the best looking guy he'd ever seen.

Vicente was hot-it was as simple as that. The six additional years he now carried looked good on him. He'd gained a little height but was still about four inches shorter than William's own six-one. Vicente's shoulders were broader and his body was slim but well-toned. His milk chocolate skin and Latino looks were emphasised by the white shirt he wore open at the neck. His tight jeans encased legs that looked long for his height, and a butt that William wanted to get his hands on as soon as possible, if not before.

He didn't even think about what he did next. All the usual shyness was forgotten in the face of the man he'd had a crush on for so long, the man he'd missed so much while he'd been away. He just walked up to him, ignoring the glances he got as he crossed the living room along the line that was the shortest connection between where he'd been standing and the front door. He looked straight into the smouldering black eyes which had him as fascinated as ever.

"Hi, Vicente." William's voice sounded husky and he cleared his throat.

"William." Vicente's smile revealed pearly white teeth and a pink tongue.

What the hell was he going to say next? All he wanted to do was take Vicente into his arms and kiss him until they both forgot their names. Unfortunately, with all these people here, that wasn't an option. Not being good at small talk-or any talk at all, for that matter-wasn't going to help him convince Vicente that spending time with him was a good idea.

"I like your house." Vicente flinched as if he'd said something inappropriate.

"Thank you." He was just glad to have something to respond to. His brain wasn't working at full capacity right now.

"I hope it's okay for me to be here?" Vicente looked around the room again, resting his gaze on Steve for a moment.

Aha, that was how he found out about the party. He'd have to remember to thank Steve for being considerate enough to invite his best friend.

"More than okay. I'm really happy you made it." William wasn't sure how much more he could say without giving himself completely away. The intensity of his feelings surprised him, but he was pretty sure mentioning such deep emotions would be inappropriate conversation material for a reunion after such a long time.

"Good." Vicente looked at the floor.

"Would you like a drink?" William wanted those big black eyes looking at him again. Their beauty was wasted anywhere else.

"Please?" Vicente looked up and a shy smile parted his lips.

It made William want to kiss him right then and there. He suppressed his need to take him by the hand and drag him into his bedroom for a private session, and instead pointed towards the open French doors leading onto the porch.

"The bar's outside. I'll come with you since I need a refill." He let Vicente precede him so he could surreptitiously sneak a glance at the man's jeans-clad butt. It was absolutely stunning. Just like the rest of him.

Once they both had drinks, he steered them towards a relatively quiet corner and two unoccupied canvas chairs under his cherry tree. They'd have a view of the other guests, but enough privacy to talk without being overheard. He wasn't sure what they'd discuss, but he was hoping it would require privacy. At the very least being out of earshot of his other guests would allow him to focus better.

Right now, all he could think about was the gorgeous man sitting down next to him, carefully balancing the fruit juice he'd asked for. All he wanted to do was pounce on him to find out what it would be like to kiss him.

 

©Serena Yates, 2011
All Rights Reserved

 

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