Chris Katsaros set down his cell phone after the call from Josh and quickly did an Internet search on Graham Winter’s name. Holy shit.
The guy’s company owned Gossipy!
—the worst of the worst rumor-mill rags in the country.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
Maybe he should call Josh to sit in on the meeting. Tact was not one of Chris’s strong points, and he’d need backup in dealing with Winter.
All thirty cabins were rented until five days from now. Thankfully Josh had had the foresight to call the Coastal Pines and reserve a room. In all the years he’d been running Secretus, he’d never had this problem. Now he had to contend with an angry guest who was huffing and puffing toward his office. This major clusterfuck should never have happened. He’d have to call Honda Bergen as soon as he finished with Graham Winter. Good thing Chris’s best friend gave him 24-7 on-call tech service.
Before the bull came storming in, Chris clicked on the images, his brows knitting as pictures of Winter came into view. Good-looking in a GQ sort of way, Graham Winter wore his brown hair slightly longer than the usual short-cropped business style. A few of the photos showed him at society events with his mother
Other pictures had him coupled with beautiful women. One caption read “America’s most eligible bachelor.” So this eligible bachelor was a closeted fuck?
Chris detested successful gay men who didn’t have the balls to be themselves in public. His dads fought for gay rights and instilled in Chris the need to speak out against injustices. Not hide behind fake girlfriends and one’s mother.
Chris’s head snapped toward the door when Graham Winter strode in, the screen door slamming behind him. Heat spiked in Chris’s chest. Fucking Jesus. Good-looking
was not enough of an adjective to describe the man. The chiseled jawline and intense green eyes made Chris’s mouth dry. Not a hair out of place, an expensive-looking watch on his right wrist… The man’s image screamed wealthy, arrogant SOB.
Those shapely lips thinned when he glared at Chris.
Sweet lips. And fuck, stop.
This man would eat Chris for breakfast if he weren’t careful.
At least Mr. Winter kept his gaze steady even when he took in Chris’s scarred face down to his scarred hands.
Got to give the guy a gold star for not flinching.
Running his hand along his stubble, Chris felt like one of the homeless who hitched rides along the coast highway. He slipped into his worn sandals. When he brushed back his hair, his fingernail caught in one of his curls, and he winced. Grim amusement glittered in the man’s eyes.
Why did those judgmental eyes have to be such an awesome green?
Chris cleared his throat and motioned toward the only chair in his office not covered by files. “Mr. Winter, please have a seat.”
Mr. Winter took in the room in one glance. When he met Chris’s gaze, his expression soured further. “You’re the owner?”
The disbelief in his grave voice made Chris’s hair rise on his nape. His heartbeat pumped a tad too fast from the anger roiling in his stomach. So what if he dressed in shorts and a T-shirt? His private office was not some corporate boardroom. He forced a smile. Josh had taught him a few tricks in dealing with irritable guests, but Chris never mastered the fake smile.
Mr. Winter sat in a chair, his back mimicking the straight backrest. “Call me Graham. My father was Mr. Winter. Now, do you have room for me or not?”
“Unfortunately our system double booked your cabin. It won’t be available for a few days. My manager called the Coastal Pines, and they can set you up in their penthouse suite. It’s a five-star hotel, and of course, we’ll pay for all the room charges and your meals while you stay there.”
That should satisfy the asshole.
“I’m not going to be shuffled back and forth like a piece of luggage. I like it here. If I wanted to spend time in a pretentious hotel, I’d have stayed in New York.” Graham drummed his fingernails on his thigh. He eyed the doorway leading to the hall. “Do you live here alone?”
Chris’s jaw twitched. “I don’t see how that relates to the situation.”
“This must place must be what, three, four bedrooms?”
“Three, but I—”
“You married? Boyfriend living with you?”
Chris clutched the papers on his desk, crumpling the edges. “That’s none of your business.”
“Just as I thought. You live alone. Then I’ll stay here until a room opens. Perfect solution.”
Chris’s mouth opened, but he was too stunned to speak. Already his head was buzzing. The last thing he wanted was a stranger lodging in his home. Not that he’d ever be interested in this guest. The man had the power of the media to bully people. Most likely Graham abused this kind of power to get what he desired.
Chris cleared his throat. “No resort in Big Sur is stuffy. You’ll be comfortable at Coastal Pines.”
Chris’s ire rose at the shark-like expression. Graham reminded him of the boys who used to bully him in school. Taunts of faggot, pretty boy,
echoed in his memories. Buffering against the predator smile, Chris repeated, “As I’ve said, we’ll pick up the tab for your stay. It will only be for a few days. We’ll make sure the transition is seamless. You will not be inconvenienced.”
“I already am.”
“If you don’t like the arrangements I’ve made, then I’m sorry, but this is my home. I don’t open it up to guests. We’ll arrange for your airfare back home or a hotel if you decide to stay in the area. That’s my final offer.”
Graham sat forward, his hands casually in his lap. “I won’t be inconvenienced if you let me stay here until a room opens up. You said it’d only be a few days. Keep in mind that bad press is not always better than no press.”
Shit. Just as he’d thought, the guy used his power of media over him. Chris ran his hand through his hair. He licked his lips, tasting the big NO. If Gossipy!
got a hold of this fiasco, they’d have a field day at the expense of Secretus’s reputation, not to mention blowing the anonymity that he coveted. The social-media sharks would pick up the story and twist the facts with fake news.
Better to take it on the chin.
“Well, what’s your decision, Mr. Katsaros? Do I stay or go?”
Chris could hide out in his office. They wouldn’t have to see much of each other. His most experienced concierge could serve as Graham’s private valet. Henri was one of the more mature staff and would be able to handle this asshole. Yeah. It’d be cool. Chris could do this without disturbing his routine.
Counting under this breath to ten, he squashed his pride. “You can stay through the weekend, and then you’ll need to either move to another room or a hotel if a cabin doesn’t become available.”
“Okay. That’s fair.”
“I’ll have your luggage delivered to your room.” Chris stood. “Come with me.”
Chris ignored Graham’s triumphant smile as he led him down the hallway. As Graham passed, Chris caught a whiff of cologne. The scent smelled a warm vanilla with a hint of sandalwood. Chris once had a crush on a guy who wore the same brand.
Avoiding eye contact, Chris stared ahead. He’d put Graham in the second bedroom overlooking the ocean. It was next to his room, but the third bedroom back of the hall would not be a wise decision. Freshly painted, the room stood empty. Not only that, but it was one of the darkest rooms in the house, positioned on the side of the forest. A sly grin rose as he pictured stuffing Graham into that postage-stamp bedroom and locking him inside. Oh, yeah, that would be sweet justice.
Chris opened the door to the bedroom and stepped inside. The room was furnished with a nightstand and dresser, the king-size bed made up and ready for guests. Not that many visitors stayed overnight. He never brought home a guy, preferring a bed where he could be the one to leave before morning.
Graham walked the perimeter and took in the high ceiling, ran his hand over the curved redwood wall, and then beelined to the glass sliding doors and stepped onto the balcony. He whistled through his teeth while taking in the panoramic ocean view.
A sense of pride swelled in Chris. This home was all his, built to his specifications. The sea shimmered in the sunlight. The air carried the scent of pines and saltwater. The coastal view and fresh air were Chris’s meditation. He couldn’t imagine living anyplace else, and that was why he never moved far from home.
“Now this is a million-dollar view.”
Graham’s genuine smile caused Chris’s heart to take a flying leap off the balcony. He had no idea that such an arrogant guy could look so boyish.
Not sure if he should stay or go, Chris stuttered, “Ah…lunch. You missed it.”
“I caught a bite on the road.”
“Dial star-twelve for room service if you get hungry. Dinner is served from five thirty to ten thirty. Do you have a car?”
“You can park at the back of the house. Josh will let you know about our services, and he’ll have your luggage sent to your room.”
Graham flopped on the bed and bounced a few times. “Ah, great mattress. This day is looking up.”
Chris momentarily lost his train of thought as he stared at Graham sprawled on the bed. His skin flushed as he pictured Graham naked. Muscles bulged under the man’s dress shirt. Chris steeled his mind to stay focused on the situation.
Graham lifted up on his elbows. “Please make dinner reservations for seven thirty. I’ll expect you to join me for dinner.”
Did Graham just ask him out? The agreement had been for Chris to give Graham a room, but that didn’t include being a dinner companion.
“I rarely dine out,” he mumbled while struggling to get his head around being asked out. As a rule, he only dated gay men who were out. Being the president of Equality Acceptance Now, he had a reputation to maintain. Another black check against Graham was that he was a guest.
Graham’s gaze swept over Chris, and he licked his lips.
Was that interest in those green eyes? Graham’s gaze seemed softer, more human and less like a man-eating shark’s. Having this conversation in the bedroom with those sexy eyes peering at Chris didn’t help his treacherous thoughts.
Nah. Don’t even think it. This is a fucking closet case.
“Graham.” Chris tried the name out and found it easily rolled off his tongue. “Like I said, I don’t go out for dinner.”
“Then it’ll be a treat for both of us.” Graham’s tone brooked no argument. “Since you’re the only man I know here, you’ll do.”
Chris’s stomach tightened at the backhanded compliment. “Now look here—”
“Hey, you agreed to my terms. And I read in your brochure that each guest has a personal valet. To see to your guest’s needs? I don’t like to dine alone.”
“I’ll assign you a valet.”
Chris gritted his teeth. Who the fuck would want to date this guy?
“I don’t run an escort service. If you want companionship, you should go back to San Francisco, where there’s plenty of action.”
“I’m not asking to fuck you. Just dinner.”
Chris’s cock jumped at the mere suggestion, invoking an image of Graham fucking him in the ass. Chris’s visualization of this scenario made the situation even more treacherous.
Resigned to babysitting this guy, he sighed. “I’ll make the arrangements.”
Graham bounced from the bed and strode up to Chris with a big grin. “Great.”
Chris stepped back. The sheer magnetism oozing off Graham bothered him. Their gazes locked. Chris was tall, but he had to look up at Graham. He should have looked away, but the warmth in Graham’s eyes zapped his resolve to remain indifferent.
Beautiful color. Warm.
Graham swept his bangs off his forehead, and then his hair fell back into its proper place. “I’ll see you around quarter after seven, then. Meet in the living room?”
“Yeah. Sure.” Chris looked away first. “I need to get back to work.”
As he steadied his gait, going for nonchalance, he headed out, hearing Graham call out thanks. The guy could say thank-you. What a surprise.
Once inside his office, Chris locked the door and leaned against it, catching his breath. Winter was arrogant and pushy. Chris wiped his brow. His shorts were uncomfortably tight. The moment he’d laid eyes on Graham, his knees went weak and his groin got that achy, pleasant sensation.
The back door to the garden was still open, and he locked that too. No matter that he hid in his bolt hole, he sensed Graham in the bedroom doing fuck knew what, and well, shit, Chris tried to stay focused on his tasks.