Jonah straightened his tie, grimacing as he fought the urge to rip it off his neck. He tore his gaze down from the bathroom mirror, hating the hardness in his face that made people look at him twice and then steer away from his path. Made them think he was an animal without any feelings too, which, in general, he didn’t let bother him too much. It served him well in his line of work, and he’d never really cared enough about any one person to point out that he had no control over the face and body his good-for-nothing parents had given him.
He cared what Christian thought.
Jonah cared the damn kid could sense how much Jonah loved and valued Marisol Ramirez, even if she hadn’t been able to keep him out of trouble. Jonah laughed and shook his head, taking another look at the cynical man in the mirror. “He’s not such a kid anymore, Roberts. Stop trying to pretend you didn’t notice it right away.”
Damn thing was, Jonah didn’t understand why he had taken notice of Christian’s face and body. Years ago, when he seriously started thinking about sex, he had never given much consideration to being straight or gay or even bi. Jonah didn’t emotionally connect to anybody
and so simply relieved the urge to fuck where the opportunities presented themselves. That had consisted of a handful of women over the years, a guy who sucked his cock as a form of payment for fixing his Harley, and one other exchange of blowjobs with a neighbor, just because they’d both been horny. Other than that, fixing bikes and custom cars occupied most of Jonah’s waking hours, and he didn’t let the lack of a real connection in his life worry him.
For the most part anyway.
On those nights when sleep wouldn’t come, Jonah often looked back on the time he spent in Marisol’s home and the absolutely pushy kindness she showed him, no matter how big an attitude he threw her way. Then there was his roommate, inquisitive Christian…Jonah’s shadow. Jonah thought about Christian during those darkest hours of the night and often let his mind wander to the man he must have become under Marisol’s loving care.
In those moments, Jonah’s cock stirred, and he fantasized about being able to connect with someone in a deeper, more real way than he had been able to achieve thus far. He thought about connecting with dark-eyed Christian, and what it would feel like to kiss him as a man.
Jonah’s prick pushed against his dress pants, disgusting him. Christ, maybe he really didn’t have any feelings in him at all. A woman was being buried today, for fuck’s sake, and here he stood, getting a hard-on.
A sharp rap of knuckles hit the bathroom door. “Come on, man.” Christian’s smooth, deep voice reached through the wood and settled a shiver over Jonah. “I have to get going to the funeral home. So unless you want to ride your bike…”
Jonah growled at his reflection one last time. Running his hands down the expensive suit that felt so, so wrong on him, he turned in the small bathroom and whipped open the door. “No” -- he white-knuckled the wood, his heart suddenly racing at what he would face today -- “you know I don’t want to arrive on my bike. I don’t want to disrespect Marisol like that.”
Some of the visible tightness left Christian’s body, and his stance relaxed. Jonah tried not to notice how handsome Christian looked in his tan suit and pale blue tie. “You know she wouldn’t care about that, Jonah.”
“Maybe not.” Jonah’s words came across as a censure or a command, but he had long ago given up trying to figure out how to soften his voice. It sounded like bricks in a cement mixer, and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do to change it. “But I would.”
Christian’s lips blanched and narrowed to a thin line. “Right. If you’re ready” -- he glanced toward the front of the house -- “we really need to go.”
Jesus, Jonah had never formally mourned a person’s passing before. “Guess we can’t put it off any longer.” He pushed past Christian, suddenly uncomfortable with having the man see him. Clenching his fists as he walked through the small house to Christian’s truck, Jonah psyched himself up for the spectacle of a funeral.
* * * * *
Jonah stood a little back and to the left of Christian, confused as he watched people filling the church annex, mingling and going to the table of food as if they attended a party. He understood the concept
of people gathering after the death of a family member or friend, but he didn’t see how it actually helped the grieving process for those closest to the dead.
As he watched Christian shake the hand of person after person and say thank you a thousand times, it was clear to Jonah that the strain only grew in Christian, not the other way around. The younger man took no strength in hearing strangers say how much they loved Marisol -- at least not right now. Maybe in a month or two or six, he would welcome stories about how many lives Marisol had changed for the better, but not today. Today, Christian barely looked like he was breathing.
Looking at Christian’s back, a funny itching sensation tingled over Jonah’s palms, making him want to touch Christian in some way; to offer comfort, even though he didn’t have any idea how in the hell to do it. If these people who’d known Christian and Marisol for all these years couldn’t ease Christian’s pain, Jonah didn’t see how in the hell he was supposed to do it. Still, Jonah moved in and reached out to rest his hand against the widest part of Christian’s back --
“Jonah Roberts” -- a female voice reached Jonah’s ears, and he snatched his hand back -- “is that you?”
This time, a hand touched his
back, and Jonah stiffened at the contact before turning. A tall woman with flaming red hair, porcelain skin, and pure blue eyes stood in front of him. Familiarity whispered across Jonah’s senses, but a name or a place eluded him. He couldn’t think much beyond Christian standing some six feet away from him, as he heard another scratchy “thank you for your kindness” leave the man’s lips.
“You have a unique face, and I would never forget it.” Before Jonah could take offense or speak a word, the woman broke out into a smile and held out her hand. “But you don’t have any idea who I am, do you?”
“Your eyes look familiar.” Jonah slipped his hand into hers and got a good hard shake in response. “But a name or place isn’t coming to me. Sorry.” He’d gotten used to apologizing for things that he thought
might hurt someone else’s feelings, rather than feeling any true sense of regret for the slight. “I have my mind on other things today.”
“Of course.” She blinked fast a few times as she nodded. “Mari was the best. I’m Abby. I went into Mari’s care maybe two or three weeks before you” -- a blush stole over her face, flaming the pale skin red -- “left.”
“Before I was arrested, you mean.” Damn it
. Jonah wanted to steal back the words as soon as they left his mouth. That was not an appropriate thing to say at a funeral. Even he knew that much. “Sorry again.” He studied the young woman and tried to peel back the layers of age. The picture of a small body scampering across the living room into a corner filled his mind. “Right. I remember you now. You liked to hide. You were eight, maybe?”
“Eleven, actually. Hadn’t had my growth spurt yet. And yeah, that was me.” She laughed, but Jonah thought it had a nervous quality to it. “I didn’t last very long at Mari’s” -- right then, clouds washed across her eyes -- “but hers was by far the best home out of all the places I lived. Christian was always very sweet to me, and we somehow managed to stay friends.” Lifting on the tiptoes of her heels, she looked around Jonah’s shoulder. Immediately, her brow furrowed. “I wanted to see how he was doing. I guess I missed him.”
Jonah spun around and found the space next to Father Abel filled by another foster child of Marisol’s. Christian had introduced the man as Rodrigo.
.” Jonah thought he’d kept the curse under his breath until Abby widened her eyes in his direction. “Sorry -- for a third time.” Jonah kicked himself for not watching more closely and missing Christian’s escape. “Will you excuse me?” He didn’t wait for her answer. He pumped her hand again quickly. “It was good to see you. Thanks.”
Leaving Abby standing by herself, Jonah strode across the big hall, searching for the exits. He discarded the front double doors as too obvious and moved for the kitchenette instead. Jonah sidestepped small groups of mourners, none of whom seemed particularly mournful. Yet again, an understanding of these types of social situations -- that as a thirty-one-year-old man should be old hat to him by now -- eluded him. Fuck, Jonah just wanted to get the hell out of this place and start the updates to Marisol’s home.
But not until I find Christian.
Jonah reached the kitchenette and, as expected, found a back door. Easing it open, Jonah scanned the small parking area and open lot beyond. Empty. He slumped his shoulder against the doorjamb, deflating as he accepted that he had incorrectly guessed Christian’s whereabouts. Logically, it seemed so much less likely Christian would have gone out the front. He would have encountered more people who wanted to talk to him about Marisol, and it really seemed to Jonah like Christian needed out of that grind of forced politeness for a while.
Right. Just goes to show how fucking little you know about anything that doesn’t involve a motorcycle engine -- particularly in regard to people, but most especially about Christian Sanchez.
Jonah shifted his weight off where he leaned and started to close the door. As he did, the scuffle of gravel and a furious whisper of voices reached his ears.
“I already told you” -- that voice definitely belonged to Christian, and it sounded very tight-lipped to Jonah -- “I don’t need your help. I just want five minutes of peace away from everybody. That includes you.”
“And I already told you I was sorry about how everything went down,” the other voice, another man, said. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t care about you or want to help you during this time. God, man, you loved her. I know you’re hurting.”
Trapped, Jonah stayed stock-still, unsure what to do. A simmer bubbled just beneath the surface, one that urged him to show himself and grab Christian away from this other person. Clearly, Christian did not want this guy’s help. On the other hand, if Jonah stepped out of the shadows, Christian might think he had been spying, and Jonah didn’t want that. He could step back, but the door would creak and give him away. Maybe when it did, Jonah could pretend he was just popping outside for some fresh air.
“Whatever I am,” Christian went on, “is no business of yours. Not anymore. Now leave me alone.”
“I can’t. I still want us --”
“Get” -- a cutting edge took over Christian’s voice -- “your hands off me.”
“Give me a chance.”
“Let go.” Ice. Christian was pure ice. “Now.”
Okay. No, the fuck, way.
“Excuse me.” Jonah moved out of the shadows and quickly took in a blond man holding Christian by the upper arms. The guy was bigger than Christian, but nowhere near the size of Jonah. Heat at the picture Jonah witnessed hit him full force. “You need to get your hands the hell off Christian before I put a fist in your face.”