Early Monday morning, Kelly MacNiel drove past the wrought-iron gates, up the short tree-lined driveway to the large house. He didn’t mind the five-hour drive. He enjoyed the scenery, how the trees stubbornly clung to what leaves they could before they gave up and allowed them to coat the ground in color.
He stopped his SUV alongside an obviously expensive sedan already parked before the main doors. It couldn’t be anyone else’s but the owner of the house. But why was it here in visitor parking? Kelly flipped open the file on the seat beside him. Yep, there it was, a multiple-vehicle carport located around the side. Curious. Also curious was the fact that the house looked hauntingly familiar even though Kelly was sure he had never seen it before.
Kelly glanced at the dashboard clock. He was a few minutes early, so he decided to review the file once more. If there was one thing they taught at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, it was read and reread files. His life at the Bureau seemed a lifetime ago, but old habits were hard to break. He pulled the file onto his lap as he rolled his sore shoulder to relieve the stiffness that had settled into it from the drive. Other than a few items to be donated at the discretion of the owner, the house was to be sold after the contents were auctioned off. Everything had to go, right down to the bare walls. Someone was definitely cleaning house. His job for the next couple of weeks was to organize the auction and make sure the owner got what he wanted.
Simple…and boring. Kelly sighed. This was the sad state of his life now.
Another glance at the clock and he figured he may as well knock. The sun would clear the treetops soon to give him the best natural daylight for the website pictures. He climbed out of his SUV and reached into the back for his bags. One contained his clothing and personal items, the other his equipment and computer.
Kelly automatically examined the front of the house, filing away the locations of entrances, exits, strengths and weaknesses. Old habits did die hard. That odd sense of déjà vu surrounded him once again as he pressed the buzzer located to the right of the doors. Just as one of the doors opened, the sun broke from between the branches. Kelly promptly forgot how to breathe as the man in front of him was wreathed in a golden aura.
He was taller than Kelly by maybe three inches and slender, but definitely not skinny. His expensively tailored suit stretched across broad shoulders that led to ridiculously slim hips. A blue button-down shirt open at the collar allowed a brief glimpse of pale skin at the base of his throat.
Raven hair loosely fell around his head in untidy curls to below his ears, framing a strong jaw and a full, luscious mouth. Long dark lashes that had no business being on a man fringed his large chocolate-hued eyes. The two men stared transfixed at each other for a minute outside of time. Then this gorgeous creature smiled shyly. It was a blow to Kelly’s midsection that would have made his martial arts instructor proud.
The man looked like he had stepped right out of Kelly’s dreams—dreams of the kiss his sixteen-year-old self had shared with another boy that still haunted him. It couldn’t be… Could it?
Kelly gasped as the need for air forced his lungs to drag oxygen past his lips, and took an involuntary step back. The sound broke the spell holding them. The smile fell from the man’s face, replaced by a cool aloofness. What was obviously a well-practiced mask locked firmly in place.
“Can I help you?” he asked Kelly politely, his voice a deep baritone rumble Kelly felt right down to his toes.
He doesn’t remember me, Kelly thought. No wonder the house had felt familiar. He stifled a groan. He needed to remain professional here. Do the job he was hired to do and try not to crush the man into his arms like he wanted to do.
Kelly cleared his throat. “I’m sorry. I’m looking for a Mr. Kirkfield?”
“Dr. Kirkfield, and you’re looking at him.”
“Kelly MacNiel, MacNiel Auction House,” Kelly replied, extending his hand. “Please, call me Kelly.”
“How do you do, Kelly?” Long fingers wrapped around Kelly’s hand, and he barely suppressed the jolt he felt at the contact. He wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised to see sparks fly into the air like fireworks where their skin touched.
NATHAN WASN’T SURE what he had expected an appraiser to look like, but the man standing in front of him was not it. The sun brought out strong red highlights in his sandy-colored hair. Solid muscle beneath tight jeans and a snug T-shirt that more than hinted at the built body beneath. He looked like a supermodel or a walking advertisement for a gym.
But it was the brilliant green eyes that captivated Nathan the most. Had he ever seen eyes like that before? Penetrating emeralds fixed hungrily on him. Nobody had ever looked at him like they wanted to devour him where he stood. A shiver streaked down the length of his body.
The man gasped, straightened, and took a step back. Nathan breathed an involuntary sigh at his foolishness. However, it didn’t stop his dry mouth or his voice dropping a full register lower than normal when he spoke to Kelly.
“I’m Nathan,” he replied before pushing the door wide open and indicating that Kelly should enter. “Do you need any help with your things?”
“No, I’m good, thanks,” Kelly answered. He picked up the bags and brushed a little too close as he passed Nathan and entered the house.
Nathan caught a whiff of the other man’s cologne when Kelly moved past him, the scent reminiscent of a forest after a rainfall. Without thinking, he closed his eyes and breathed in the intoxicating fragrance. He shuddered, flabbergasted by the urge to push up against Kelly, a complete stranger, and bury his face into Kelly’s neck just to smell that mind-numbing essence once more. Nathan couldn’t stop himself from hardening. What was wrong with him? He quickly buttoned his jacket to hide the telltale bulge in his pants.
Kelly paused in the foyer and gave the area a quick once-over. Nathan sighed in relief since Kelly appeared oblivious to the tumult he had caused.
“I’ll show you to your room, and then I guess we should get started if you are up to it,” Nathan quietly said.
“Sounds good. Please lead on.” Kelly’s voice held a faint lilt to it. Irish, probably, but with a name like MacNiel anything was possible. It was a barely there accent, but Nathan knew he could get addicted to the sound of the man’s voice very easily.
Nathan led him up the staircase, and try as he might, he couldn’t stop his rambling commentary on the rooms on each floor. Since when did he suffer from nerves like this? Since a quick glance over his shoulder revealed that the stunning man behind him was staring fixedly at his backside. Kelly licked his lips, and Nathan missed the top step. Strong hands gripped his hips, keeping him upright. Heat flooded Nathan’s body, rising up from the contact. He mumbled his thanks, then awkwardly stepped away, forcing Kelly to lower his hands.
Nathan opened the first door to his right. “This is one of the guest rooms. The linens are fresh, and if you need anything, please let me know. I’m in the bedroom across the hall.” Of course he would have to be nearby to assist Kelly, but why had he felt the need to share that he would be sleeping only a few short feet away? Hopefully Kelly wouldn’t think Nathan was offering an open invitation to join him in bed. “Um. When you’re settled, come downstairs. I’ll be in the kitchen.”
“That works. Just give me five minutes to get my gear sorted out,” Kelly replied.
Unable to look Kelly in the eye, Nathan briskly nodded, turned, and left Kelly to his own devices.
KELLY COULDN’T HELP but stare at Nathan’s lovely ass at his eye level as he they climbed the stairs. He listened to Nathan’s chatter with only half an ear, more interested, at least for now, in the play of Nathan’s shirt across his back and the way his trousers kept pressing tightly against his very fine form as he walked ahead of Kelly. Nathan tripped, and Kelly grabbed his hips to stop him from pitching forward onto the landing. Pink bloomed on Nathan’s skin as he glanced back with a quietly murmured, “Thanks.”
Kelly grinned. An embarrassed Nathan was too cute.
Nathan refused to look at him, then walked quickly away, turning Kelly’s grin into a frown. The man probably would have run if he could have gotten away with it. Kelly shook his head. He entered his room, put the file on the bed along with the laptop and digital camera, then parked himself with a huff beside his gear.
Nathan didn’t remember him, didn’t know who he was. Had Kelly changed so much in twelve years, or was he simply not that memorable? Kelly, on the other hand, would never, could never forget.
Kelly had been suspended from school for a fight—totally not his fault, that time at least—and his da had forced him to come with his uncle and crew to deliver several pieces of furniture. Unable to actually help, Kelly had amused himself by checking out the rest of the place, going sightseeing as it were.
He’d stumbled on the library with its mesmerizing array of books and startled the cute boy curled up in a huge wingback chair, book forgotten on his lap at the sight of Kelly. With a cocky grin, Kelly had flopped into the chair beside him. The boy nervously returned his smile, and before Kelly knew it they had talked for what seemed like hours about anything and everything. Yet, somehow, they never got around to telling each other their names. Kelly had felt drawn to the boy, a tangible connection between them, and he was pretty sure the boy felt it too in the way he leaned his body toward Kelly’s, the way he smiled at him not just with his mouth but his eyes. Beautiful large brown doe eyes looked at Kelly like he was something amazing.
They’d both risen at the sound of Kelly’s uncle’s voice outside. The shy sideways look the boy gave Kelly had gone straight to his chest to hold his heart hostage forever. Kelly had gently gripped the boy’s chin and pressed his lips to the boy’s in a tentative kiss. The boy had slanted his mouth, pushing himself closer with a small sigh, both hands on Kelly’s hips. Kelly had wrapped his arms around the slender body and drawn him flush, chest to chest, hip to hip. They’d both moaned as their bodies came into full contact. Kelly was wider, more muscular than the boy. He’d loved the way he could completely envelop the other boy with his body, and from the way the boy had melted into him, he loved it too. Kelly had captured the boy’s avid lips again, and they’d eagerly explored each other’s mouths with soft kisses, reveling in the touch and taste. So this was what love at first sight felt like, Kelly remembered thinking.
The door abruptly opened, and they’d stood frozen for a second before they broke apart. The boy had lost all color when he saw his father in the doorway, staring at him in cold fury. Kelly’s uncle stood just behind the boy’s father and, after a glance in the other man’s direction, rushed forward to hurriedly shepherd Kelly out of the room. The last thing he heard was the man’s voice raised in anger.
His uncle had hustled him into his truck without a word. Worried for his new love, Kelly tried to get the boy’s phone number from his da and then his uncle. They both refused him, but that didn’t stop him from hounding them for two days. He’d finally snuck into his father’s office when no one was about, taking the information from the filing cabinet. He called, his voice shaking with apprehension, asking to speak to the unknown boy. His answer had been a sharp click as the phone slammed down in his ear. Eight more times over the next three days he’d called. After the eighth time, he was angrily told that no boy lived there. Heartbroken, Kelly finally stopped trying, but he never forgot the boy with the unknown name.
Now, here Kelly was—in the same house, with the same boy, now a man. Nathan hadn’t remembered him. Kelly wasn’t quite sure how he felt about that.
“Aw, Finn, what have you gotten me into?” he cursed his brother with a heavy shake of his head.