Their drinks arrived, and Lee paid for them before picking up his glass. The dry, desert air had made him thirsty and he took a long swallow. Putting his glass down on the bar, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and said, “My name’s Lee. What’s yours?”
The man hesitated for a second before saying, “Reno.”
Lee smiled. Everyone he’d met since coming to Vegas was from somewhere else, so he figured this guy was no different. “That’s your name, or is that the last town you were in before you came to Vegas?”
“It’s my name, I swear.” Reno laughed, clearly appreciating the sly humor in Lee’s remark, but as he lifted the glass to his wide, sexy mouth, another surge of the same sexual attraction Lee had experienced for the man earlier caught him unawares.
He hadn’t felt this kind of instant, pulse-racing, heart-pounding connection to anyone in a very long time. Not since— If he was completely honest, he couldn’t remember the last time it had happened; at least, not a time when he’d experienced feelings this strong.
He knew, without having to ask, this was the kind of place where a quickie was as much in demand as another beer, but he warned himself to back off and just take it easy. Reno might be every bit as safe and friendly as he appeared. On the other hand, Vegas was full of charming but less-than-sterling characters looking to make a fast buck, and the last thing Lee wanted or needed was to rush into anything he might regret. He wasn’t that desperate for relief.
“So…do you work in one of the casinos?” Lee asked.
“Actually, I’m currently working as a fashion consultant for the menswear shop in the Neapolitan.”
“Very nice,” Lee murmured. Mystery solved! He passed by that particular store every day on his way to work, so he knew the kind of place it was—one that dealt with high-end merchandise and undoubtedly had testers for all the more exclusive men’s products, including the cologne Reno was currently wearing. “The people I work for have their offices in the Neapolitan, so I’ve seen the store. I haven’t had a chance to check it out, though.”
“Maybe you should. We have our annual summer sale starting this weekend. Drop by and see if there’s anything that catches your eye.”
“I’ll keep it in mind.” Even as a small child, Lee had always been heavily in to clothes, and the reason he’d never gone into the men’s store at the Neapolitan was because practically every last thing they put in their windows screamed out for his attention—all the latest designer fashions with price tags that didn’t exactly fit his budget. Still, if he could find something on sale, he might consider giving himself an early birthday present.
“Just don’t wait too long, though. The real bargains go fast.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t.” Lee pushed back the lock of hair that had taken to falling down over his forehead and made a mental note to get a haircut. Thinking about clothes reminded him that most of the things he’d worn in New York were completely unsuitable for the more casual lifestyle of the southwest and Vegas in particular. He needed to buy a couple of lighter weight suits for those times when he needed to impress clients—something like his first designer suit—the charcoal gray summer-weight wool his mom had bought him his last year in college.
Lee smiled in remembrance. An outfit to impress potential employers when he went on job interviews had been her excuse for the extravagance. He’d felt like a million bucks in that outfit, and whenever he’d put it on, he’d strutted around town like he owned the whole damn world.
Reno put down his glass. “Excuse me a minute. I’ll be right back.”
As Reno left, presumably for the washroom, Lee took another long sip of his beer. The last time he’d worn the charcoal suit was shortly before he began working for Trenton. He’d been spending a few days at home, and one night, he’d decided to check out a new gay bar that had recently opened on the outskirts of town in a flourish of media publicity. All kinds of talk and wild threats had been thrown around for weeks before the actual opening, making it clear not all the local residents were happy with a gay bar in their conservative neck of the woods. Most of the older set, people in his parents’ age group, warned there would be trouble sooner or later. Lee had figured it was just talk. This was the twenty-first century and nowadays people were more accepting. In fact, everything had been fine that Friday night until the club closed around two in the morning, and he and the rest of the customers had all left…and walked straight into their absolute worst nightmare.
Lee closed his eyes momentarily and bit down so hard on his bottom lip he tasted blood. Even now, all these years later, the memory still had the power to make him sweat. Halfway between the bar and the parking lot in the next block where most of them had left their vehicles, they’d found themselves face-to-face with a gang of homophobes or vigilantes, or maybe they’d just been a bunch of narrow-minded citizens looking to cause trouble. Whoever they were, they’d appeared out of nowhere, screaming insults—calling them pedophiles and perverts, and wielding baseball bats.
Lee, along with the rest of the bar patrons, hadn’t stopped to argue. They’d taken off in all directions like a bunch of renegade rockets on the Fourth of July. After the first awful, mind-numbing shock of the attack, Lee had been positive the men intended to kill or maim anyone they could get their hands on.
He’d still had a weight problem back then, but that night, fear had lent him wings, and he’d raced across the street with at least two of the attackers in hot pursuit, breathing down his neck and grabbing at his clothes. He’d been hit hard on one side of his head, he never figured out if it was a fist or one of the wicked-looking bats the men had all been carrying, but the blow had been powerful enough to make him trip and fall down. Once he was on the ground, they were on him like a pack of hungry dogs, viciously punching and kicking every inch of his body, to the point where he thought it was game over for sure. He’d ripped his pants and hurt his knee when he fell. He’d also banged his head on something, probably the edge of the curb, because he’d blacked out for a minute. He’d tried to get up and fight back, but then a voice had yelled, “Cops,” someone had grabbed his arm, he’d panicked, and then…
A shudder ran through his body. Whatever happened after his rescuer arrived until he woke up in a strange bed sometime the following day was still fragmented and indistinct in his mind—a collection of blurred memories that still had the power to make him go from feeling icy cold to screaming hot in less than a heartbeat. He vaguely recalled leaving where he’d spent the night, and then the guy whose house it was driving him home. He also remembered his mom fussing over his injuries and his ruined clothes and calling the doctor who’d said, in addition to an impressive array of scrapes and bruises, Lee had suffered a mild concussion.
Despite the doctor’s advice to the contrary, Lee had deliberately and steadfastly refused to go to the hospital for tests, or attempted to recall the exact details of what happened that night. And he didn’t want to start doing it now. In fact, he’d done everything in his power to erase the terrifying incident from his mind and pretend it never happened. It had taken a while before he quit waking up in a sweat, positive it was happening all over again, but eventually he’d succeeded. The only time he thought about it now was if something stupid like thinking about his first designer suit triggered memories…memories he was always quick to suppress before they took hold.
At the time, there had been some talk of going to the cops by a couple of other guys who’d been injured, but with no independent witnesses to verify an attack had actually taken place rather than a drunken brawl amongst the club-goers themselves, there had been no point.
Lee reached again for his drink, but before his hand could make contact with the glass, everything around him disappeared and his mind filled with a series of vivid mental pictures of himself and someone who looked vaguely like a younger version of Reno…two male bodies hot, sweaty, and partially naked, locked together in a tangle of sheets in a room he didn’t recognize. The pictures were unexpected, unsettling, all fuzzy and out of focus, and he had no idea where they’d come from, or even why. It was like a roll of bad film unwinding before his eyes, yet he had a gut feeling this wasn’t his mind playing tricks or projecting possibilities for the future. This was something that had actually happened.
But where had it happened? When? And who the hell was the other guy in the bed?
“Hey, you feeling okay?” Reno asked. “You looked kind of pale and shaky there for a minute. The heat down here getting to you, maybe?”
“Or I drank my beer too fast.” Lee pushed his fingers through his hair. He felt so damn shaky and off balance, he hadn’t even noticed Reno was back. He was also drenched in sweat from head to foot, but he wasn’t about to tell Reno it was the result of bad memories and had absolutely nothing to do with the weather. Needing to get both himself and his thoughts back on track, he shrugged and reached again for his drink. “While you were gone, I was thinking…”
Reno shot him an inquiring glance. “What about?”
“I may be totally off base here, but I have this weird feeling we may have met somewhere before.”