Three years ago
Nate Jordan finished shaving the last of the stubble from his jaw, studied his pathetic visage in the mirror, and cursed the razor in his hand.
The dark patches of purple around his eye, down his cheek, and across his jaw had started turning yellow and puke green around the edges, indicating the next stage in the healing process. Rather than focus on that, Nate stared at his reflection, and his stomach churned violently.You got rid of the one thing covering some of it up.
Seeing the result of his absolute stupidity in all its glory made Nate sick in more ways than one. He couldn’t help remembering the split second of euphoric joy that had lifted him into the clouds when he’d thought he read attraction in his best friend Grady’s beautiful blue eyes. Then, with one touch of his lips to Grady’s, horror and terror became Nate’s world. Fists flew at his face and rained blows all over his body, leaving him bloody, and bruising him black-and-blue. He’d thought Grady cared about him, but Grady’s actions had proven Nate terribly wrong.You deserved it. You don’t kiss another man out of the blue. No matter how much you thought it looked like he wanted it.
Wetness blurred Nate’s vision. He spun away from the mirror, hating the weakness, and then cursed the fast move as stiffness and soreness throbbed through his bruised body. His heart hurt as much as his body did, reminding him he had lost so much more than his best friend in the last few days.Stop it! Quit being a pussy
. Nate exited the bathroom into an unfamiliar apartment that looked out over a city he didn’t know.
One good thing had come from his beating and subsequent need to leave Minnesota. A new life in Chicago. With a sister he hadn’t spoken to in over a decade.Kasey
. Nate picked up the old stack of letters tied in ribbon, his chest burning with new tightness. I never knew she still loved me when she ran away all those years ago.
Shit, Nate had to laugh. Because he’d thought Kasey had abandoned their family, he’d deliberately not searched for information about her. Until a few days ago—when his mother had finally shared the letters his sister had written to him over the years—he’d had no idea Kasey had become a private investigator, now co-owned a prestigious security firm, and had even married.
Nate wandered around her husband Canin’s apartment, amazed a guy he’d never even met until yesterday now allowed him to temporarily live in his place. Canin treated Nate, a total stranger, decently. Just because.Better than your own father did.
Pulling up short, Nate swore at himself for slipping to a place of self-pity. The past didn’t matter anymore. He had a roof over his head, a fucking nice one too, and he had a chance to get to know his sister again.
A heavy banging on the door suddenly reverberated through the apartment, followed by a rough masculine voice. “Get the fuck up, Quinn, and let me in! It’s Logan! It’s fucking cold, and I don’t want to run by myself.”
As Nate jogged across the apartment, he found himself biting down a smile in response to the surly stranger outside. He swung open the door, and his lips parted to say hello. With one look at the man on the other side, Nate’s voice fled.Sweet mother
. His stomach flipped at the vision of masculinity before him.
“Jesus, Canin, you were supposed…” The dark-haired man in navy sweats and a snug gray sweatshirt braced his weight against the doorjamb. He narrowed his gaze, and it looked like stalks of grass invaded his irises. “You’re not Canin.”
It took a handful of heartbeats for Nate to swallow moisture back into his throat. “I-I’m Nate.” He maintained such a death grip on the door his fingertips hurt. “Canin’s brother-in-law.”
The man quirked up a thick, dark brow. “Oh?”God. Get a grip on yourself, idiot. He’s just a guy.
Nate commanded his fingers to unclench. “Sorry, yeah. Kasey’s my sister, but I just met Canin yesterday. I can tell by the look on your face you’ve never heard of me.” Heat rushed to Nate’s cheeks. “I’m not from here. That’s probably why.”
“Right. Right.” Licking the edge of his lip, the guy nodded. “I forgot Canin moved into Kasey’s place. I haven’t gotten used to the change in his marriage status. My name is Logan Jeffries. I’m a friend of Canin’s. May I come inside for a minute?” With his hand planted on the door frame, Logan leaned over the threshold. “I could use something to drink.”
“Yeah, sure.” Nate automatically stepped aside and allowed Logan entry. “There’s not much in the kitchen right now.” After shutting the door, Nate walked backward, his eyes on Logan. The man circled the open living room, pausing here and there to examine stuff on an end table or bookshelf. “I could get you a glass of water.”
“That would be good,” Logan replied. “May I use the bathroom?” Now at the short hallway leading to the bedrooms and bathroom, Logan paused and looked up at Nate. “I know where it is.”
“Go for it.” Nate plastered a genial smile on his face. Under his breath, he added, “Don’t forget to check my bag while you’re back there.”
Logan poked his head out from around the corner. “What was that?”
“Nothing.” Nate burned with red again; he could feel it. Busying his jittery hands, he grabbed a glass and turned the tap on full blast. “Just talking to myself.”
The guy barely tipped his mouth up at the edge. “Right.” He kept his focus on Nate, past a point that made Nate’s breathing a little uneasy. Then Logan abruptly said, “Be right back,” and disappeared down the hall.
While Logan took care of business—and Nate seriously doubted that included taking a piss—Nate paced the length of the small, high-tech kitchen, mumbling to himself about having been a lot of things in his twenty-five years, well, truthfully, not many things very exciting, but nobody had ever accused him of being a squatter or a thief. This Logan person clearly thought he was.
His ears straining, Nate heard the toilet flush. When Logan reappeared, Nate stood with the man’s water, the glass stretched out in offering.
Once Logan accepted it and took a drink, Nate blurted, “I haven’t stolen anything. I’m allowed to be here.” He rushed into the living room to grab the phone. “You can call Canin to check if you want.”
“No need.” Logan’s even tone, after the casual way he’d cased the joint, kept Nate’s nerves on high alert. “I believe you are Kasey’s brother.” The man took another sip of his water and then lifted the glass in Nate’s direction. “Are you okay?”
“Why?” Nate asked. Then he caught his reflection in the large window behind where Logan stood. “Oh.” His heart sank. Loser. He pities you
. Not only had Logan’s presence temporarily taken Nate’s mind off his bruised face, but he’d also forgotten he wasn’t wearing a shirt. Proof of his beating screamed in reds, purples, greens, and yellows. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Are you sure?” Logan came closer, and he barely had to dip down to put them on eye level. “I work in law enforcement; I’m a homicide detective. I can help you, Nate.”
Openly studying Nate’s injuries, Logan reached out and fingered his jaw. At first contact, Nate flinched and jerked away. Part of his response had been a jolt of awareness at this man’s rough hand on him. But equally, Nate had flashed on a big fist slamming into his face, and his heart had jumped into his throat.
“Sorry,” Nate murmured. For once, he thanked the bruising that might cover at least some of his furious blushing. “I didn’t mean anything by pulling away from you.”
“No, I apologize.” Logan stepped back and raised his hands in surrender. “I know better than to touch someone who has been handled the way you clearly have.”
“It was nothing—just a misunderstanding.” Nate shifted in an attempt to shadow the bulk of the bruising on his face. Not that it mattered. His torso, back, and arms looked like a freak abstract painting too. Without running to the bedroom for a sweater, he couldn’t cover any of it from Logan’s knowing stare. “No need to cause any trouble.”
Logan’s jaw produced a visible tic. “You wouldn’t be starting trouble. You’d be giving me permission to enforce the law.” Nate immediately shook his head again, and Logan finished with, “Canin knows where to find me if you change your mind.”
“I won’t. But thank you.”
“No problem.” Logan set his glass on the bar on his way toward the door. “I have to get going on my run.” Before the man opened the door, he reached his arms toward the ceiling in a stretch. A growl erupted, and his sweatshirt rode up to reveal a hard line of olive-colored stomach. Nate swallowed as he looked. Wow.
Logan dropped his arms, opened the door, and said, “It was good to meet you, Nate.” Something Nate thought resembled a grin—it definitely had lines too hard to call a smile—briefly graced Logan’s lips.
“Um…” Nate waved. “Okay.” His tongue felt like cotton, and he suddenly had no idea what to do with his hands. “Bye.”
Logan paused in the hallway. “And, Nate?” Logan didn’t turn, and he kept his head down.
Nate snapped his gaze up from the floor. “Yeah?”
“I didn’t look in your bag. I really did have to take a piss.” Right before swinging the door closed, Logan added, “Take care. Bye.”Damn it
. Nate stood staring at the closed door, his mouth agape. He heard every snarky thing I mumbled.
Nate wished the floor had opened up and swallowed him whole before he’d ever answered the door. Before I ever heard that rough, raw voice.
Nate didn’t understand his reaction to the man. Logan wasn’t even close to traditionally handsome; he possessed blunt, extreme features most would define as harsh. Nate had immediately thought of the word unforgiving
the second he’d set eyes on Logan Jeffries. Right on top of that, though, Nate’s physical reaction had translated into: He’s so fucking…male. It radiates out of his pores.
Logan had tongue-tied Nate well beyond his normal shyness. In reality, Logan probably only stood an inch taller than Nate, but something in his wider shoulders, stance, and piercing eyes sold intimidation and sent out signals the receiver picked up and perceived as giant. Detective Logan Jeffries was a man
. And Nate had reacted to it on a fundamental level he had not been able to control.Better figure out a way to get over it. Fast.
Phantom sensations of his former best friend beating the crap out of him rushed crushing pain back into Nate’s bruises and made him stumble. Shit. Grady had some stocky weight behind him, but Nate suspected if a person crossed Logan Jeffries in a way that displeased him, he could put the man in the hospital with a couple of precisely aimed punches.
With the lingering soreness from Grady’s attack still so fresh, Nate vowed to put the overwhelmingly sexy detective out of his mind.
And to stay out of his way.
* * *
In the elevator, Logan jabbed the button for the lobby and ordered himself to put Nate Jordan out of his thoughts.
While in the bathroom Logan had made two quick calls, one to Canin, who hadn’t answered, and one to Canin’s brother, Rhone, who had. Rhone had confirmed Nate’s identity for Logan. That call also cleared up Kasey and Canin’s “marriage.” The pair were working a job right now and could not break their covers to share the truth about the sham marriage with Nate.
Logan didn’t laugh at much, but he chuckled in the privacy of the elevator. He’d heard Nate mumbling in that sweetly surly way when the younger man had thought himself alone. Truth was, if Logan hadn’t gotten hold of Canin or Rhone, he damn well would have searched Nate’s bag for evidence of the man’s identity. Christ, the sight of it on the floor in the guest bedroom had severely tempted him anyway, just to see if he could turn up some evidence as to who the hell had beaten the shit out of the guy. Logan’s heart went out to Nate while his blood simultaneously heated righteous fire through his body. Logan could tell just by looking that Nate didn’t have it in him to step on a bug crawling across his floor, let alone defend himself against such a brutal thrashing. Whoever had bruised such a breathtaking body deserved an equal beating.I wouldn’t mind being the one to do it.
As soon as that thought surged through Logan, he cockblocked it and brought it screeching to a halt. He had a good thing going at home right now; he could not let his desire to help a twenty-something-year-old kid with a sweet ass and a heartbreaking story written all over his face mess it up. If Nate eventually wanted help, his “brother-in-law” was more than capable of handling it. Shit, Nate’s sister could fuck the guy up for him too. Probably better than most men.
Still, as Logan pushed outside and hit the pavement for his run, the prettiest, deepest brown eyes he’d ever seen continued to haunt him.
When he got to work, Logan still couldn’t get Nate Jordan out of his mind.Fuck.Copyright © Cameron Dane, 2011
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