“I don’t know about this.” Milo Santiago peered around the edge of the servers’ station and stole a peek at the enigmatic brunet seated at table four. “What if I hit on the dude and he’s a raging, homophobic prick who complains to the manager? This job sucks ass, but I don’t want to lose it over something stupid.” His older brother, Dante, would skin him alive if he was fired. Ever since Milo had moved in the previous April, Dante seemed to feel like it was his life’s mission to make sure Milo was walking a straight and narrow path -- however that translated for a bent eighteen-year-old.
Fellow waiter Danny Noonan shook the foam off the rim of a glass of soda he was pouring from the drink fountain and grinned at Milo. “The dude’s a pillow biter; I’d bet my ass on it.”
Milo let his gaze travel down to Danny’s khaki-covered ass, then gave his coworker the best sleazy leer he could manage. “Oh you would, would you?”
“Shut up.” Danny used his free hand to lightly shove Milo’s shoulder. “You know what I mean.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Milo rolled his eyes. Just because Danny was straight didn’t mean Milo had to quit dreaming. With his spiky blond hair and pretty cornflower blue eyes, Danny would have made the perfect little twink. If only he was willing to bend over...
“All right.” Milo leaned against the counter and crossed his arms over his chest. “If I go over there and make an ass of myself, what’s in it for me?”
“How about pride and a sense of accomplishment? Or a hot date -- not that I actually think you’ll manage to get anywhere.”
Milo snorted. The guy sitting alone at table four was so far out of his league. It wasn’t as if Milo didn’t know his own worth -- after all, he was young, fit, and hung. However, he was also bright enough to recognize money, whether it was folded in his pocket or striding in the door of the little mom-and-pop-style restaurant where he slung drinks and chow for minimum wage plus tips. Milo’s entire wardrobe, from birth until that very moment, probably hadn’t cost as much as the swanky clothes on the customer’s back. Heads had turned when the man entered the restaurant, but Milo felt sure none of them were as captivated by the man as he was.
Dressed in solid black, the stranger exuded poise and grace in a way Milo feared he’d never be able to pull off without looking like a little kid trying to play grown-up. The cut of his shirt and slacks was impeccable; the black dress shirt gaped open at the man’s throat and hung just right off his wide shoulders, while the slacks hugged trim hips and thick thighs like they were made specifically for him.
For all Milo knew, they had been.
He might not have been able to name a single designer label, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t recognize quality when he saw it.
Danny filled a second glass with clear, fizzy liquid and set it on a serving tray. “So what do you want?”
Milo peeked around the corner again, watched Mr. Moneybags sip his sweet tea, then returned his attention to Danny. Why would such a handsome man have to dine alone? Milo would have remembered someone so attractive if he’d seen him before. Surely the man was either new in town or just passing through. Given Milo’s luck, it was probably the latter. For the last six months, it had seemed as if everything he wanted was just out of his reach.
He glanced back at Danny. “I’ll take a fifth.”
“Of the good stuff,” Milo clarified. There was no way he was doing this for some nasty, cheap-ass liquor.
“You’ve got it.” Danny paused. “If he says yes...”
“No problem.” Milo scratched his head where the plain plastic band held his thick, shoulder-length hair secure at the base of his neck. This wasn’t going to be as easy as he thought. Maybe if he got really lucky, the hot brunet would not only be bent, but in the mood to go slumming as well. Stranger things had been known to happen.
Danny’s lips twisted into a wicked, lopsided smile. “Go on then, hotshot. Show me what you’ve got. In fact” -- he waved table four’s check under Milo’s nose and then set it on the counter -- “you can deliver the guy’s check for me. In the meantime, I need to deliver these drinks to table six.” He picked up his tray, carefully balancing the weight of all four glasses.
“Go on.” Milo grabbed the bill and waved Danny ahead of him. “I’m right behind you.” He might get his ass handed to him, but he wasn’t going to back down. The worst Mr. Moneybags could do was say no, right? Sure, rejection probably wasn’t the most horrible thing that could happen, but Milo wasn’t going to dwell on what might
If he was the sort of person who cowered in fear of the unknown, he’d still be back home, hiding his sexuality and pretending he liked girls in order to make his papa proud of him. Instead he’d manned up, come out to his parents when they’d confronted him about his sexuality, and been kicked to the curb for his efforts. Thank goodness Dante had taken him in, even if his older brother was an overbearing pain in the ass more often than not; otherwise, Milo would probably be sleeping on the street and hustling for his dinner like some misfortunate character out of an after-school special.
Now, however, wasn’t the time to dwell on the negative. Men could smell fear approaching from a mile away.
In the last few months since he’d moved in with Dante and begun to explore his sexuality, Milo had discovered the trick to picking up men was to pretend like you were doing them
a favor. Confidence with a little touch of arrogance thrown in for good measure would usually do the job, unless the person he was hitting on really wasn’t attracted to him.
Contrary to what Milo had let Danny believe, he was
interested in the man dining alone at table four. From the moment he’d entered the restaurant, Milo’s gaze had been drawn to the stranger again and again, as if invisible filaments connected them. Although he’d been tempted to beg Danny to swap tables with him so he could wait on the man, he’d chosen to keep quiet and observe first.
He hadn’t expected Danny to catch him gawking, much less dare him to hit on the stranger. However, if he got shot down, the dare might allow Milo to save a little face. Maybe.
With that thought in mind, Milo headed for table four with a little extra swagger in his step. Not a single doubt crept into his mind as he approached his target. He wouldn’t allow it. The fact that he’d scored with younger men who were twice as good-looking boosted his confidence. Landing a phone number from this dude would be a piece of cake.
Milo could be charming when the situation called for it. There was no reason to believe he couldn’t get exactly what he wanted, whether it was scoring digits or sweet-talking cops out of speeding tickets.
A little voice that sounded suspiciously like his father whispered through his mind. “You’re worthless, muchacho. A dirty little queer like you isn’t going to amount to a hill of beans.”
Milo’s steps faltered.
Rather than second-guess himself, he shook off the contrary thought and kept walking, his head held high. His old man was wrong -- dead wrong -- and Milo would prove it. All he needed was a little time. School took money. Something he didn’t have at the moment. Otherwise he wouldn’t be busting his ass waiting tables.
Someday soon, I’m going to prove him wrong about me. I’m going to show him that I didn’t need his help or his damn approval to make something of myself. Then he’ll have to eat every fucking word he said about me.
Danny gave Milo a wink as he walked by on his way back to the servers’ station. Milo swallowed down a smile, his gaze casually taking in the nearly empty dining room. Only three of the twenty-four tables were occupied, including the gentleman at table four. Even for a Thursday night, they were slow. Milo’s three-to-nine shift was already halfway over, and he’d barely earned more than his hourly wage.
Fuck, I really need a different job. If only Cody had been able to talk his uncle into hiring me at the club.
God knew Dante wasn’t going to budge an inch about hiring Milo to shake his ass for all the rich old men who frequented the Casbah, the private men’s club Dante managed for Cody’s uncle, Beau.
As he moved closer, tiny details about the man grew clearer, things Milo hadn’t noticed from across the room. The other occupants in the restaurant, as well as the chintzy, down-home decor, faded in comparison to the man’s potent allure. The noise of silverware tinkling and low conversation dimmed beneath Milo’s pulse racing in his ears. A heady mixture of lust and nervous energy streamed through him, strengthening his resolve to strike up a rapport with the gentleman dining alone at a booth meant for four.
The check crinkled in Milo’s hand as he stepped up to the table. He took in the man’s appearance, trying hard not to stare. Beneath the lights, a red tint clung to the thick and wavy hair brushed away from the man’s high forehead. The auburn hue deepened closer to the sides and back, where the hair was shorn close to the scalp. His skin was clear and reminded Milo of sweet summer peaches dipped into heavy cream.
Milo’s mouth watered, wondering if the man’s skin would taste nearly as satisfying.
He laid the check facedown. “Here’s your check, sir. Is there anything else you need this evening?”
“No. I’m good. Thank you.”
“All right.” Feeling brash, Milo slid into the seat opposite the man. If he didn’t take his chances and hit on the guy now, he might never get the chance. “In that case, maybe there’s something else I can do for you.”
A smirk twisted the man’s full lips. “Oh really?” the man asked in a deep baritone that flipped every one of Milo’s triggers. “What exactly do you think you can do for me?”
Milo leaned forward, resting his forearms on the table, and beckoned the man closer with a come-hither motion. He waited, not saying anything as the man reacted just as Milo had hoped, moving in closer over the red linen-covered tabletop. Seeing his opening, Milo grinned and whispered, “Well, I just made you come with one finger; imagine what I could do with the rest of my body.”
Rather than the laugh Milo expected, the man’s patrician features remained impassive. If anything, his cool green eyes hardened. The guy sat back against the padded booth, his intense gaze never wavering from Milo’s face. “Is that your idea of a good come-on?”
Milo’s facial muscles relaxed, the grin slowly sliding downward. “Maybe.” Really, what the fuck am I supposed say in response to
“I thought so.” The stranger shook his head and slid out of the booth. He stood at the head of the table and looked down his long, straight nose at Milo. “Listen, you’re a cute kid, but contrary to popular belief, I don’t do innocent little boys. Why don’t you look me up once you’ve grown some hair on your balls?”
“Excuse me?” Flustered and unable to come up with a suitable reply, Milo could only sit and stare as the older man dropped a twenty on the table and then strode out of the restaurant without a backward glance.
To put the icing on the cake, the late shift’s team leader, Jack, hustled by carrying a tray laden with food for one of Milo’s neglected tables and winked at Milo as if he’d overheard every single word.
Humiliated, Milo rose to his feet and hastily made his way back to the servers’ station. His skin prickled as if everyone in the restaurant had overheard the man’s snarky reply and was suddenly staring at him.
Danny stood in the doorway between the servers’ station and the kitchen, curiosity written all over his face. He broke away from Lynette, the dishwasher with funky white blonde dreads and a big rack, who he’d been trying to score with for over a month, and approached Milo. “How’d it go?”
Milo shook his head. “You don’t want to know.”
* * * * *
Any hope Milo had about keeping his rejection on the down low was shot to hell by closing time. The hour between when the restaurant closed and when he was actually able to punch out -- during which time the remaining waitstaff did their side work for the next day and the kitchen staff cleaned up -- was spent being tormented by his coworkers about how badly he’d struck out.
Danny might have been too busy trying to hit on Lynette to overhear the shameful way Mr. High-and-Mighty had put Milo in his place, but Jack had not. As Milo had feared, the creepy little bastard had overheard it all and gleefully repeated it to anyone willing to stand still and listen, which was pretty much everyone. Rather than giving Milo a lecture on decorum in the workplace, Jack had spread the news, while Milo tried his best to salvage what little pride he had left. In the presence of the others, Milo pretended to laugh it off, accusing the man who’d rejected him of being a homophobe and anything else he could think of at the spur of the moment. Fortunately he’d only been working at the restaurant for a few months, so he seriously doubted any of his coworkers were able to see through his act.
By the time Milo clocked out and climbed into his beat-up old Jeep, his nerves were stretched to the breaking point. Rather than go home and listen to his brother get laid through the thin walls separating their bedrooms, Milo decided to take a detour and swing by the Blue Bell Inn.
Jonathan Brown, a friend of a friend and someone Milo had traded blowjobs with one night when he was a little too blazed, worked the counter at night and allowed him to sneak into the heated indoor pool after hours and take a dip whenever the urge struck him. Tonight seemed like the perfect evening to go swimming and work off some of his aggravation. There was nothing like a little physical activity to clear the mind. Hopefully when he crawled into the twin bed in Dante’s spare room, he would be too tired to let his thoughts keep him awake.
After parking his car in the visitor’s lot, Milo grabbed the duffel bag containing his swim trunks and a clean white towel out of the back and sauntered into the hotel as if he belonged there. Although it was unlikely, he didn’t want to get his friend in trouble on the off chance the guy’s boss was still hanging around. Just because it hadn’t happened yet didn’t mean it wouldn’t. Pretending to be a guest protected both their asses.
Milo strode through the quaint blue and cream lobby and up to the desk. He tapped his finger against the customer-service bell three times in quick succession, then grinned as Jonathan came hustling out of the back room.
The smile on Jonathan’s face rapidly deflated into a disgruntled moue as he spotted Milo. “Oh, it’s you.”
“Yep. It’s me.” Milo leaned against the counter. “Nice to see you too, ole buddy, ole pal.”
“Whatever. You here to use the pool?”
“Yeah, as long as the coast is clear tonight.”
“It is. The general manager is long gone for the night.”
“Sweet. You guys very crowded tonight? The parking lot looks dead.”
“Nah. It’s been a slow week. There’s only a half a dozen or so rooms occupied tonight.” Jonathan glanced down at the monitors behind the desk. “The pool’s empty, so you should be good to go.”
“Thanks. I shouldn’t be long. I just need to work off a little steam.”
Jonathan met Milo’s gaze head-on. “I can think of a better way to get rid of tension.”
“I bet you can.” Milo chuckled. “As much as I appreciate the offer, I doubt I’d be good company for anyone tonight.”
“In that case, I’m going to go back and finish my dinner before it gets cold.” With a wave, Jonathan disappeared into the room behind the desk.
Milo continued on to the pool, his mind lost to the events of earlier. He still couldn’t get over the conceited bastard at the restaurant. How hard would it have been for the man to just say he wasn’t interested? He didn’t have to go out of his way to be an asshole.
Some people are just dickheads.
After a quick stop by the restroom to slip into his trunks, Milo pushed through the glass door leading to the indoor pool. A line of patio tables clung to the right wall like silent sentinels, waiting for someone to come and make use of them. Milo dropped his bag on the table closest to the door and approached the deep end of the pool. Stopping at the edge, he glanced down at his own reflection in the glassy surface. The whirlpool on the other side of the room burbled quietly, trying to lure him into its turbulent depths.
Milo dived into the cool, invigorating water. It lapped at his skin, licking his face and shoulders as he bobbed to the surface and then immediately set up a languorous breaststroke that carried him back and forth across the length of the pool. Slicing through the water, he lost count of the laps, forgot everything but the tense and pull of his muscles working and the smooth drag of the liquid coasting over his flesh.
There was something about swimming he’d always enjoyed, even more so than pumping iron or running, both of which he used to do when he lived at home and didn’t have a pool at his disposal. He loved that he could give all his muscles a workout and walk away wiped out without chancing pulled tendons or twisted ankles. He’d face-planted into the rutted gravel road leading to and from the family farm more than once while running.
Not that I need to worry about traveling that road again. Papa made it more than clear I wasn’t welcome back.
Milo sped up his pace, his arms cutting through the water while his legs lashed out faster, sending him soaring through the pool. He didn’t want to think about his parents, his sisters, or any of his nieces and nephews. They didn’t give a shit about him anymore, so he wasn’t going to spend a single second worrying about them. To do so was senselessness. Dante had warned him as much. If their family had never come around and accepted Dante in all the years he’d been gone, then any hope of Milo’s being welcomed back into the fold was a waste of time.
Milo’s tempo slowed, his anger draining away along with the last of his energy. He met the wall on the shallow end of the pool and pulled himself up against the lip. He rested his head on his forearms and gulped in air as he tried to catch his breath.
The door slapped open and then closed, bringing a rush of cool air along with it. Milo looked up and inwardly swore at the man who entered the room.
“Well, well, well...” Milo lifted his upper body farther out of the water. “If it isn’t Mr. High-and-Mighty.”