Covet

Covet by Yolande Kleinn
eBook ISBN: 
978-1-62649-627-9
eBook release: 
Sep 18, 2017
eBook Formats: 
pdf, mobi, html, epub
Print ISBN: 
978-1-62649-628-6
Print release: 
Sep 18, 2017
Word count: 
~71,000
Page count: 
~268
Type: 
Cover by: 
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Jack Mason—graphic designer and unrepentant player—has never been interested in monogamy. He certainly isn’t looking for romance when he meets Professor Colin Sloan.

Newly single and not looking for anything serious, Colin is intrigued by Jack’s offer of a physical affair with no strings attached. Becoming friends wasn’t part of the plan, but as accidents go, this one’s pretty great.

Peter Mason is Jack’s identical twin. In a long-term relationship himself, Peter tells no one that he’s falling for his brother’s newest favorite, even as the secret creates tension with his girlfriend.

When Peter’s relationship falls apart, he seduces Colin, fully expecting Jack to forgive his transgression. But Jack is keeping secrets too—he hasn't told even Colin that he’s fallen in love. Suddenly the twins are feuding, and Colin is caught in the middle, blindsided by the revelation that he doesn’t want to choose between them.

Now all three must find a way to share, or they’ll tear each other apart.

This title comes with no special warnings.

Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.

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Chapter One

If Jack Mason were a less confident man, he might have felt underdressed.

The Selby University donors’ banquet was an expensive affair, and one Jack wouldn’t attend if the school didn’t insist on trotting out a sampling of employees to charm the guests. He didn’t mind the task—he liked people and knew how to play nice with the university’s snootier patrons—but he also made a point of caring only so much about dressing for the part. Jack didn’t own a tuxedo, and he hadn’t rented one for the occasion.

He’d polished up some just the same, tied back his sun-bleached hair long overdue for a trim. He wore no tie. In the sea of suit coats and dress shoes, Jack cut an informal figure.

The contrast was especially stark at the moment. Peter stood beside him in a black tux, hair styled to irritating perfection. Side by side like this, they made a surreal pair. The family resemblance was impossible to mistake considering Peter was not only Jack’s brother, but his identical twin.

“Mo’s gonna kill you if you don’t shake some hands.” Jack nudged Peter with an elbow. He’d glimpsed Maureen a handful of times since she and Peter had first come through the door. Unlike Peter, who’d been hiding behind Jack all night, Mo was greeting and chatting her way through the room. Networking, as this event required.

Peter never had made any secret of how much he hated networking.

The glare he turned on Jack now was insincere, and Jack gave a remorseless grin in reply. He was selfish enough to appreciate his brother’s company, even if it meant distracting Peter from more professional obligations. Maureen and Peter weren’t here on behalf of the university, but as official guests, invited thanks to the donations Peter made to his alma mater every year. But for a pair of lawyers, an event like this wasn’t merely a social occasion, and Peter would have to do his part soon enough.

Peter’s resigned expression said he was painfully aware of his obligations, but instead of acknowledging Jack’s ribbing, he took a sip of champagne and let his gaze wander the crowd.

Brenner Memorial Banquet Hall was a truly massive room, all high ceilings and arched doors, and tonight it was filled to capacity. From here, on the top floor of the university’s tallest building, Jack could see the spire that topped the library’s clock tower. Spire and roof were backlit by early sunset, silhouetted by scattered clouds threatening snow. Spring had barely arrived, and Jack was confident the weather would take at least one more icy turn before the ground really started to thaw.

Across the room, Jack spotted a familiar face amid a cluster of faculty near the enormous windows. Jack sipped his drink to hide a pleased smile, taking in the real reason he didn’t mind attending this puffed-up shindig.

“Didn’t you tell me you’ve got a new crush attending this thing?” Peter’s question sounded too pointed to be idle curiosity. When Jack turned, he found his brother watching him closely. Peter’s expression was serious, but his eyes were bright.

“He’s not a crush,” Jack retorted without rancor. “He’s just a guy I’d like to get to know a little better.”

“A little more intimately, you mean.”

“That too.” Jack’s gaze cut away from Peter, back toward the windows and the object of his fascinated attention. “That’s him. The professor on the left. Curly hair, green tie.”

Jack probably didn’t need to specify. There was only one real looker in that gaggle, distractingly handsome amid an unassuming crowd. The professor was taller than the others—though not taller than Jack—thin as a cornstalk and smiling blandly. His suit looked expensive, but it sat a little too loose across narrow shoulders. His mess of curly hair gave an air of contained chaos, and even from halfway across the room, there was no missing the sharp intelligence in his eyes.

Even if Jack hadn’t already set his sights, he would have found himself helplessly charmed by the view. As it was, his blood heated, his imagination conjuring a dozen delicious images of things they could do together in private.

“The tall one?” Peter checked. “That’s the guy you’ve been yammering about for the past two weeks?”

Jack couldn’t account for the skepticism in his brother’s voice.

“Don’t you like him?” Jack’s tone, already low, dropped even quieter as he turned his head to murmur in Peter’s ear. “Tell me you wouldn’t fuck him, given the chance.” Peter’s skin visibly flushed, all the agreement necessary. Not that Peter would ever pursue someone when he was in a committed relationship—Jack didn’t have to worry about competition—but there was no point denying an obvious truth.

Despite the warmth written across his face, Peter’s voice stayed light and teasing. “Jack. You know I love you. And it genuinely hurts me to tell you this, but . . .” Peter’s hand clasped Jack’s shoulder, and he leaned conspiratorially close. “He is completely out of your league. He’s gorgeous, he stands like a gentleman, and I’d bet a hard grand he’s too smart for you.”

Jack grunted in protest and glared at Peter sidelong. “I happen to like smart men.”

“But you don’t fuck them,” Peter pointed out, infuriatingly correct. Jack didn’t generally pursue men who could clobber him in a challenge of wits. When Jack didn’t immediately answer, Peter added, “Besides, he’s not your usual type. What’s the deal?”

Peter was right about this too. Jack normally went in for broad shoulders and stocky muscles. Tall and lean weren’t his usual preference.

“It’s the curls.” Jack smirked. “They make him look boyish and charming.”

“They make him look like a nutty professor.” Peter snorted. “But a gorgeous one, anyway. What’s his name?”

“Colin Sloan.” Just saying the name made Jack grin. There was nothing subtle in the way he was staring across the room, but so far no one else had taken notice. Outside, the sky had gone dark purple, barely visible through the glass. “We’ve only met once, and it barely counts. He’s an English professor, teaches clear across campus. You can imagine how hard it is for our paths to cross casually.” Jack didn’t interact much with university faculty. His own gig with the marketing department kept him corralled pretty tightly to his team and office.

“And you’re sure he’s interested in men?”

“Not a clue.” Jack’s grin widened into a sharp-edged thing. “But I plan to find out.”

“Be honest with him.”

Jack turned and blinked at his brother, genuinely surprised at the rebuke. “I’m always honest.” It wasn’t strictly true—and Peter knew it better than most—but Jack still felt the need to protest.

“Sometimes you’re honest. Sometimes you’re a dick.” Fondness softened the censure. “Be honest with this one. He looks like a nice guy.”

Jack grunted noncommittally, but he would almost certainly heed Peter’s warning. He didn’t have to be an asshole to successfully seduce a college professor.

“What’s your move, then?” Peter’s voice fell low beneath the murmur of surrounding conversation. “You can’t play the tortured artist card if you’re going to be up front with him.”

Jack shook his head. “I couldn’t pull it off anyway. We’ve already been introduced.” Given Jack’s occupation—graphic designer with a fancy art degree, overqualified for his position in the marketing department—an air of shadowed moodiness had served him well in the past. But he had no intention of manipulating Colin that way. Even if he had, it wouldn’t work. Colin was too smart. “He knows I’m on the marketing team, and I’m sure he can tell there’s not a tortured bone in my body.”

“Well.” Peter took a thoughtful sip of expensive champagne. “Sounds like a challenge.”

“You don’t have to sound so sure I’ll fail.”

The look Peter gave him was wry and eloquent, as good as words actually spoken. The narrowed eyes, the tic at the corner of his mouth, the barest tilting of his head—all conveyed that no, he didn’t think Jack would fail. They were in perfect agreement, really. If Colin was interested in men, he would accept Jack’s invitation. Not just because of the strong jaw and good looks Jack brought to the table, but because of his stubborn charm. Jack was good with people. Accustomed to getting what he wanted, but willing to back off without rankling at rejection. That confidence carried him into a lot of beds.

Jack arched his eyebrows, and Peter rolled his eyes, exasperated.

“What are you monsters plotting?”

Jack glanced past his brother and saw Maureen approach. Peter’s arm rose immediately, and dropped across Mo’s shoulders as she tucked herself against his side. The two made an alarmingly attractive couple, Peter with his broad shoulders and perfect tux, Mo with her sleek dress and measured smile. Her jumble of curls had been twisted back from her face, leaving the dark line of her jaw bare.

Peter turned and dropped a kiss on his girlfriend’s upturned cheek. “Nothing.”

“Why don’t I believe you?” she retorted, but there was unmistakable affection beneath her dry tone. Jack couldn’t help smiling at the easy way they shared each other’s space. Of all the people his brother had dated, Jack liked Maureen the best.

Instead of answering, Peter brushed his thumb over Mo’s bare shoulder and asked, “Is it time for me to step up?”

She smiled at him, but it was a pointed expression. “There’s a swarm by the refreshments table you should talk to. They’ve got something to do with Third National. I’ll introduce you.”

“She’s right.” Jack’s glass was empty, and he gave it to a passing server, then plucked the unfinished drink from Peter’s hand. “You should go schmooze. I’m sure I can stay out of trouble without you peering over my shoulder all night.”

Peter and Mo give him matching dubious looks, then exchanged an indecipherable glance of their own. A nod from Mo, a clasp of Peter’s hand at Jack’s shoulder, and then they disappeared into the crowd arm in arm.

Jack knew he should do his own circuit of the room now that he was alone. In theory, he was here to sweet-talk donors on behalf of the school. Instead he headed for the wall of windows with single-minded purpose, one aim outshining all others.

By the time he reached the darkening windows, Colin was standing flanked by only two other professors. Jack didn’t recognize either one of them, but as he drew near the cluster, he discovered they sounded exactly as boring as they looked. They were arguing about something that flew straight over Jack’s head—statistics, maybe?—and from the strained politeness written across Colin’s face, he was in exactly the same boat with no way to extricate himself.

So far Jack’s approach had gone unnoticed, and he smiled a small, private smile. Politeness wasn’t something he worried about much himself.

“Professor Sloan?”

Gratitude broke through the trapped look on Colin’s face even before he turned. When his eyes met Jack’s, a different expression rose, a hint of recognition.

Jack didn’t wait for Colin to try—and possibly fail—to remember his name. He nodded briefly to the other two men, then extended a hand into the startled quiet. “Hi, I’m sorry to interrupt. Jack Mason. We met at the staff wellness workshop.” He’d been irritated at the time, having to attend that joke of an event, but his irritation had since faded. It hadn’t been a complete waste if it’d put him on course to make Colin Sloan’s acquaintance.

The recognition on Colin’s face brightened into a pleased smile, and he shook Jack’s hand. “Of course. You work in marketing. The graphic design team?”

“That’s me.” Jack lingered a moment too long over the handshake. By the time he grudgingly released Colin’s hand, the two other men had taken their argument elsewhere, leaving Jack and Colin in relative solitude. “It’s good to meet you properly, Professor.”

“Please, call me Colin.” Colin’s eyes narrowed, an assessing look full of good humor. “How did they con you into attending this thing?”

“The marketing department always sends at least one sacrificial lamb. I drew the short straw.” Jack could usually deal—he’d rubbed his share of elbows for his brother’s sake over the years—and tonight he had more motivation than ever. Thanks to Tasha’s intel about the faculty attendees, Jack had volunteered before the squabbling could start.

“Well. Cheers.” Colin raised his glass in a sardonic toast. “I hope the company’s not too dry.”

Jack laughed, light and careless. “Hell no. The company is perfect.” He let the words hang meaningfully in the air for several seconds, watching Colin’s face. He smiled when faint confusion gave way to a blush as Colin registered the compliment. Then, before the moment could turn awkward, Jack said, “What about you? How did you get wrangled into this if you hate these things so much?” Colin hadn’t actually used the word hate, but he made it easy to read between the lines.

Now, Jack turned his gaze across the banquet hall. He scanned the room, deliberately giving Colin space to breathe, subtly lightening the atmosphere. He knew better than to come on too strong. The last thing he wanted was to make Colin uncomfortable.

Colin sighed and fidgeted with the glass in his hand. “I lost a bet.”

Jack’s attention snapped sharply back, and he stared for a moment before realizing Colin wasn’t joking. A belated huff of laughter escaped him, warming his chest.

Colin’s expression turned wry, a little bit sheepish, and he shrugged. Amusement shone in his eyes.

“You should tell me about it sometime,” Jack said. “Over coffee. Next Tuesday?”

Colin blinked, obviously startled. Discreet as the proposition was, Jack still wondered for a moment if it was too much. He could tell easily enough that he hadn’t offended Colin, but there was plenty of space for refusal between offense and pleasure.

“All right,” Colin said at last. “Tuesday.”

Jack hid a hunter’s grin behind a sip of champagne.

 

Chapter Two

The truth was, Colin didn’t know why he’d agreed to join Jack for coffee.

There had been warmth in the invitation, enough to leave Colin wondering about intentions. If it was a date, that was officially the last thing he needed. Colin had no space in his head (or his heart) right now for that kind of attention, even from a man as amiable and eye-catching as Jack Mason.

But if it was just coffee, he was agonizing for no reason.

Despite his uncertainty, Colin never considered canceling. Not even when he mentioned his plans to his best friend, and Riley Dixon proved just how high her eyebrows could go without leaving her face.

In all honesty, Colin was getting a little sick of the empty quiet in his apartment. He’d been single for three months, and he still tripped too often on how strange it felt. All these empty spaces where his life and possessions were gradually beginning to creep in around the holes Kyle had left in the cluttered apartment. Bookshelves and closets and a kitchen that suddenly belonged to Colin alone. He’d always been a bit of a homebody, more inclined toward a stack of books than a wild party, but home felt different now. Lonely.

Colin grew more accustomed to the quiet with each passing day, but he wasn’t going to turn down an invitation to spend time with a new friend.

He would just have to be on his guard, ready to head any assumptions off at the pass. He’d given the I’m flattered, and I like you, but . . . speech plenty of times before. It wouldn’t kill him to do it again. Besides, Jack seemed like a good man. Even if he was interested in more than just coffee, he didn’t seem the type to take offense if Colin turned him down.

They met at Colin’s favorite coffee shop. Jack’s choice, but probably a coincidence, considering the location. The place was close enough to campus for convenience, but not so near as to be overrun by students. The decor was garish, oversaturated reds and oranges, but the pleasant staff and rumble of other conversations more than made up for it.

Despite Colin’s faint trepidation—despite the fact that Jack insisted on paying for both of them—Colin never needed to deliver his speech. Jack seemed all warmth and interest as they chatted over two steaming cappuccinos, but every nudge to the edge of that invisible line was followed by a subtle retreat. Colin honestly couldn’t tell if he was simply out of practice being single, reading too much meaning beneath Jack’s easy smiles.

“You okay?” Jack asked as he returned from the counter and handed Colin a second cup of coffee. The question was casual, deliberately low-key, but Jack was watching him closely as he settled across the table once more.

“Yes.” Colin blinked in surprise and glanced down at the drink in his hands. He tried not to feel embarrassed at being so transparent. “Sorry. Coffee always makes me a little jittery.” Technically true, but not the entire truth. It was easier than explaining that Jack wasn’t to blame for putting Colin on edge. Colin had always possessed a talent for winding himself up tight around uncertainties and unanswered questions. He shouldn’t have agreed to coffee, but he was glad now that he had come. He enjoyed Jack’s company—Jack’s wry humor and different vantage on the university they both worked for—and no irrational jitters would be enough to make him regret coming today.

“I’m not sure coffee even affects me anymore.” Jack held his cup in both hands as though enjoying the heat against his palms. “Too many years of practically taking my caffeine intravenously.”

“You could always switch to decaf,” Colin deadpanned.

“If I thought you were serious, I’d storm out that door and never look you in the eye again,” Jack retorted with equal poise.

Colin tried to maintain his serious expression, but of course he broke first. Jack met his quiet snort of amusement with a crooked smile.

“Are you free next Thursday?” Jack tucked his smile behind a sip of coffee, but it was still there, a glint in the deep brown of his eyes.

Colin hesitated, not sure how candidly to answer. He’d like to spend more time with Jack, but he still hadn’t banished his fear of leading Jack on. He didn’t want to offer the wrong sort of encouragement.

Before Colin could work out what to say—and blessedly before the moment could turn awkward—Jack continued, “There’s an art crawl at the South Street Lofts, and a couple of my friends are showing work. It’s a cool event, but not much fun to attend alone.”

“An art crawl,” Colin echoed, completely lost. When Jack only nodded, he admitted, “I have no idea what that is.”

Oh.” Jack laughed, but there was no hint of judgment in the sound. “It’s just an arts festival. They set up the apartment building for this stuff. People get to showcase their work, maybe sell some pieces. It’s a yearly thing. Super low-key. No dress code, no art gallery quiet, no price of admission.”

“That sounds fun.” He meant it sincerely, wondering how he’d never heard of such an event. More importantly, it sounded too casual to be a date. Colin could definitely talk himself into this.

“It’s cool if you’d rather not,” Jack said, obviously mistaking his tone for hesitation. “I’ll probably attend either way. But it’d be great to have a buddy along for the ride.”

Definitely not a date. Colin smiled with more assurance. “No, that’s . . . I’d love to go. Truly.”

“Here.” Jack set his coffee down and fished his phone out of a back pocket. He swiped at the screen and handed the phone to Colin. “Give me your number, and I’ll text you the details.”

* * * * * * *

The art crawl was even stranger in person than it had sounded when Jack described it. Colin had never seen anything like it: an entire building full of artists’ lofts and studio apartments, doors thrown wide open with crafts and art of dazzling variety on display. Sculptures, paintings, murals, collages, photographs. Everything for sale, and everything unexpectedly personal for being displayed in homes and private studios.

And through it all there was Jack, jovial at Colin’s side. Sending just enough mixed signals to prevent Colin from settling in his own skin. He caught Jack staring at him more than once, eyes narrowed and a smile on his handsome face. But he also watched Jack flirt blatantly with a broad-shouldered behemoth of a man on the seventeenth floor. From the way the man flirted back, and the way personal space seemed an optional commodity between the two, Colin assumed they knew each other well.

“Come on.” Jack returned to Colin’s side before discomfort could set in—before Colin could begin to feel left out or abandoned—and urged him into the hall, toward the stairs. “We’re almost to Dale and Angie’s studio. Then we can leave if you’re bored. There’s a great deli down the street.”

“I’m not bored.” Colin was, in fact, enjoying the warmth of Jack’s hand on his shoulder. He ignored a faint twinge of regret when the guiding touch fell away. “Are you showing anything at this event?”

Jack snorted dismissively. “Nope.”

“But . . . you’re an artist, aren’t you? Why not display your work?”

Jack paused midstride and leveled a quiet smile at him. “You sound like my brother.”

Colin stopped too, absorbing the information. Jack had a brother. And there was enough audible fondness in the observation to tell Colin that Jack and his brother were close.

“He thinks you should show your art?”

Jack rolled his eyes as he continued forward. He pushed through the door at the end of the hall, into the stairwell. “He thinks I’m squandering my talent. We’ve been arguing about it since we were teenagers.” Jack hesitated, a self-conscious expression on his face, and gave a shrug too deliberate to be careless. “Besides, graphic design is what I do for a living. It’s not the kind of thing that showcases well in a gallery.”

Later, Colin wasn’t surprised when Jack suggested dinner. He was even less surprised to hear himself agree.

There was something pleasantly inevitable in their acquaintance after that. They saw each other frequently, always on the cusp of casual, always leaving Colin wondering if this was the time he would have to explain he wasn’t looking for anything more than friendship.

Jack was clearly attracted to him. Even Colin, with a lifetime of obliviousness to his name, could see it clearly. The man was far too honest to hide what he felt in any given moment. But every time he got too close—every time Colin convinced himself Jack was about to make a move that would require a gentle but emphatic rejection—Jack withdrew just as quickly, putting himself at an appropriate distance.

Colin kept his mouth shut in those moments, and was stubbornly not disappointed.

The more time he spent with Jack, the more he enjoyed Jack’s company. They shared a fondness for good stout and Indiana Jones. They both fiercely despised winter, though for different reasons—Jack on account of the dreary skies and icy roads, Colin because he hated the cold. When Colin admitted to secretly disliking Shakespeare, a confession he usually reserved for his closest friends, Jack sympathized instead of laughing at him.

“My brother is constantly trying to convert me,” Jack said in a conspiratorial tone, “but poetry and plays aren’t really my thing.”

Riley, ever the suspicious best friend, didn’t bother pretending not to be leery of Colin’s attachment to Jack. But she came around quickly enough. The truth, which she didn’t admit but Colin knew anyway, was that she was just relieved to see him socializing. During his first couple of months unexpectedly single, Colin hadn’t been terrific company, but he’d clung to Riley anyway. So many of his other friends were incidental—Kyle’s friends first, and awkward in his absence—and they had disappeared following the split. Riley was obviously thrilled to see him making new connections.

And of course there was Jack—warm, candid, unassuming, but determined in his pursuit of Colin’s time and attention. It was easy. Simple. And by all rights it should have stayed that way.

When the balance shattered, it wasn’t even Jack’s fault. It was Colin, not thinking, not watching himself like he should.

They had plans for Saturday. A normal (boring) Saturday, perfect for a casual night out at Colin’s favorite pub. Time had passed so quickly Colin had barely noticed, and he didn’t realize until Saturday morning exactly what day it was.

March thirtieth. Kyle’s birthday, wherever he was today. Colin’s first instinct on remembering was to reach for his phone. He’d mostly gotten used to not dialing Kyle’s number, but the urge was still there. It took him a moment to set the phone back down, dropping it harder than he meant to on the kitchen table. He wasn’t sure what Kyle would be doing to celebrate today. New job, new city halfway across the country from his family and closest friends. Maybe Colin should call him. Much as he’d ached at Kyle leaving, they had broken things off on friendly terms. Colin still cared, still wanted him to have a happy birthday and a good life. So what if they hadn’t spoken since Kyle left town? What was one awkward phone call in the big, messy scheme of things?

Colin didn’t pick up the phone. He fixed lunch instead—pancakes, because breakfast was always an appropriate choice for lunch—and did his best not to obsess over choices already made.

He knew he should cancel his plans with Jack. It was a thought that came to him more than once over the afternoon. He already felt like hell, and he was sure to be terrible company.

Jack was just trying to be a friend; he didn’t deserve to deal with this heart-sore, sullen version of a man he’d barely known a month.

In the end, Colin made the selfish choice instead. He didn’t cancel, because the truth was, he would rather go out and pretend to have a good time than be alone tonight. Jack was good. Jack was distracting. Maybe time with a friend was exactly what Colin needed to make this day a little less awful.

By the time Jack arrived at his door, Colin had worn himself so thin he barely felt the smile he put on his face.

Jack’s eyes narrowed as he stepped into the apartment, his brow drawing low and scrunching tight. “Everything okay?”

“Yes,” Colin lied, surprisingly convincing. He let the front door swing closed under its own weight, shutting out the sporadically lit hallway outside. “It’s just been a long day.”

Jack nodded, expression clearing. He glanced around Colin’s apartment with unmasked curiosity. It was the first time he’d actually set foot inside, and he was obviously taking in every detail.

Colin blushed at the close scrutiny of his living room, suddenly conscious of the jumbled disarray. It wasn’t that the apartment was dirty—Colin had a compulsive need for cleanliness—but the clutter was pronounced. Colin’s numerous bookshelves were constantly overflowing, stacks of books accumulating in almost every corner. Classic literature mixed indiscriminately with trashy mysteries and trashier science fiction, a sorting project Colin was always putting off for another day. The mess had grown worse since Kyle’s hurried packing and departure. Colin hadn’t gotten around to sorting his own books and possessions into the gaps left behind.

“Sorry about the mess.” Colin reached past Jack to steady a perilous stack of paperbacks.

“It’s fine.” There was an unfamiliar softness in Jack’s voice. When Colin straightened, they were standing closer than he’d realized—closer than they should be—and Jack’s face had gone serious. There was something intimate in the tilt of his head, and in the faint creases at the corners of his eyes. He looked like he was about to ask a question but couldn’t figure out how to phrase it.

He looked gorgeous and inviting and absolutely perfect.

And Colin knew this would play out the same as every other moment that had started this way. Jack would take a backward step so smooth it would seem like he’d intended it all along. He would smile an uncomplicated smile, and ask if Colin had decided on a bar for the evening. He would let the moment dissipate to the exact same nothing as all the rest. Exactly the way it needed to.

Colin suddenly, fiercely hated the idea of Jack retreating. Never mind everything he’d been telling himself about not encouraging Jack, or the mixed signals he’d been trying so hard not to give off. Never mind the faint tug of rational thought telling him to let Jack go.

Colin wasn’t thinking. If he were, he definitely wouldn’t react to the off-balance feelings in his chest by closing the distance and kissing Jack’s soft, startled mouth.

He backpedaled as soon as his brain caught up with the rest of him, and narrowly avoided knocking down a sturdier stack of hardcovers behind him. He was mortified with himself, and he could feel his expression going wide open with shock. As if he were the one with any right to be surprised about the kiss.

“Oh god, I’m so sorry.” He nearly tripped over his own tongue in his haste to apologize. “I can’t believe I just— That was completely out of line, forgive me.”

Colin honestly wasn’t sure what he expected from Jack in response. Affront, maybe? An obvious attraction didn’t mean Jack was interested in more, and Colin had just crossed an unmistakable line. By all rights Jack should be offended. And though Colin had never seen Jack anything but easygoing, he braced himself just the same.

But Jack only grinned, bright and uncomplicated, and reached for Colin. He took loose hold of Colin’s left wrist, then tugged him closer. An instant later there was the warmth of Jack’s palm curving along Colin’s jaw, the brush of fingertips ghosting the edge of his ear. Then Jack’s mouth, somehow both eager and tentative, testing the water. Colin’s pulse kicked fast in his chest, and he curled his fingers tight in the fabric of Jack’s sleeves. Clinging hard. Leaning closer.

Kissing him back.

Jack’s hands shifted, palms pressing to Colin’s spine, and he retreated but held Colin close.

Some faint voice of reason protested at the back of Colin’s skull, even as he felt a smile break across his own face. A rush of heat flooded him, and breathless want expanded in his chest. He needed to let go and extricate himself from Jack’s arms. He needed to walk away before he did something rash. More than anything he needed to stop this and not trample all over Jack’s feelings.

But Colin was giddy and hungry, and Jack was a very (very) good kisser.

“You were saying?” Jack leered brightly.

“I can hardly remember.” Humor and heat mingled in Colin’s voice. And when he claimed a third kiss, there was no way Jack could mistake the invitation in the parted lips and grasping hands.

It was an invitation Jack readily accepted. He crushed Colin against him, tongue darting forward for a taste. Strong fingers twisted in the back of Colin’s shirt, tugging at the fabric and slipping beneath to touch the bare skin of Colin’s back.

Raw pleasure zinged along his nerves at the confidence of Jack’s touch. He didn’t know how he’d gone so quickly from thoughtless action to aching for this—aching for more—and praying Jack would keep right on touching him. Colin’s blood was rushing south, his cock already stirring from initial interest to straining hardness. Jack couldn’t possibly be oblivious to the hard line against his hip, but he only held on tighter.

Then Jack breathed a pleased sound, shifting his body just so, and Colin felt matching arousal nudge at his thigh. One of Jack’s hands slipped down from Colin’s back to cup the swell of his ass, and he used the extra leverage to grind forward.

Colin moaned aloud, the sound muffled by the greedy press of fierce kisses.

Bedroom.” Colin twisted out of Jack’s hold and took his hand, guiding him toward the narrow hall. “This way.”

Jack followed, all meek obedience until they reached Colin’s bedroom, a space that was almost a perfect match for the cluttered living room they’d left behind. The instant the door swung shut, Jack pulled Colin close to taste the skin beneath his jaw. Colin’s pulse sped even faster beneath Jack’s tongue, and he gasped aloud when Jack’s kisses became a teasing nip of teeth. He was overheating in his clothes, restless and impatient. Colin slid his fingers into soft hair, and tugged Jack’s ponytail loose.

Jack pressed a smile into Colin’s skin. “You’re wearing too many clothes.” He retreated suddenly out of reach. “You should do something about that.”

Colin bit back a groan and resisted the powerful instinct to follow. Holding still was torture as Jack circled him slowly—moving with predatory patience—then dropped deliberately onto the edge of Colin’s bed.

Jack leaned back and braced his arms behind him on the mattress. His eyes, bright and hungry, ran appreciatively up and down Colin, and a smug smile spread across his handsome face.

Colin could imagine what he must look like right now. His shirt rumpled, eyes dilated, cheeks flushed. Jack looked much the same, mussed and gorgeous, though somehow more collected than Colin felt.

Jack bit one corner of his lower lip, and the sight jolted straight to Colin’s cock. He forced himself to breathe, willed his eager libido to calm. There was no rush. But impatience sang just beneath his skin, goading him onward. Jack was right. He was wearing too many clothes. They both were. So Colin reached for the buttons of his own shirt. The topmost ones had already come undone, and Colin worked his way downward, keeping his eyes on Jack.

He didn’t put on a show—Colin had never been particularly artful at this sort of thing—but even so Jack’s eyes were ravenous as they tracked the measured, methodical movements baring Colin’s skin.

Colin dropped his shirt to the floor. He dropped the rest of his clothing with equal carelessness in the moments that followed, until he stood completely naked beneath Jack’s roving gaze. The intensity of that look held Colin motionless. Despite his own eagerness, he found himself reluctant to interrupt. A new light glinted in Jack’s dark eyes, and Colin shivered under the weight of such a hungry stare.