Contrary to what he'd told Josie, he'd finished Em's PowerPoint presentation earlier that day and only had to show up the next morning to make his boss happy. That was the problem. He could think of a lot of ways he'd like to make Em happy that had nothing to do with presentations on genetic sequencing. Unlike Josie, his boss gave him a hard-on and a half, and sometimes, when she looked at him, he thought he saw lust in her eyes. Shit. It was probably just wishful thinking.
The sad fact was he didn't want to rock the boat by coming on to her. She'd promoted him from her assistant to her coresearcher. Talk about a coup. The presentation she'd deliver tomorrow morning had his name on it too--Jacob Martin, PhD--which made him, at twenty-five, one of the youngest researchers at the conference. But she was thirty-six and so accomplished that her name was mentioned for a Nobel Prize. What the fuck would she need with a puppy like him? Plus, the way he'd been going, maybe he wouldn't even get off with her.
The bar suited his mood. Dark, a little musty, it looked like the renovations throughout the old Los Angeles hotel hadn't made it this far yet. Candles glowed on the few tables at the back and on the massive horseshoe-shaped bar that dominated the room. He climbed onto a barstool away from the door. From their badges, it looked like a few conference attendees had found the place, but he didn't recognize anyone. Perfect.
"What can I get you?"
The buxom, California-blonde bartender smiled and looked like she might be offering more than a drink. No fucking thank you.
"A dirty martini, two olives." He barely knew what that was, but he'd heard a friend order one and liked the sound of it. Just the way he felt.
Lack of performance. At twenty-five. Not exactly every young man's complaint. In college, he'd been a serious cocksman, banging half the girls he met. He wasn't exactly proud of that, but it was the truth. The last couple years, though, except for his dreams of Em, he just didn't have the enthusiasm. Since his PhD. Since Tom.
The bartender placed the drink carefully in front of him, displaying a rack to make a centerfold weep. He grabbed the martini and took a swallow--
The bartender grinned as his eyes teared. She inconspicuously placed a glass of water in front of him and walked away. He'd definitely failed the finals in macho tonight. Another mouthful, and he let it slip down his throat this time. Was this supposed to be good? Bitter, burning. He'd think of it as penance.
Thinking. There was the rub. Tonight wasn't the first--or even fifth--time he'd been half-cocked with a girl. Maybe it was the studying, writing his dissertation. He knew doctors said that stress could affect a guy's...ability, interest. He'd gone for months without a girl while finishing the doctorate. No problem. But, of course, there'd been Tom. Tom had cared for him. He could admit it now, even though he'd tried to ignore it then. And Jake--shit. He'd been a shit.
The next big swallow of the martini went down real smooth.
"Want another one?"
He startled at her voice. "Sure." 'Cause he felt very, very dirty.
A nice buzz set in. Not much of a drinker. He adjusted his wire rims. Man, he'd never feel the same way about them after tonight. Clark Kent, huh? He liked that.
He looked across the bar through a comfortable little haze. There were a couple of conference nerds, possibly an LA hooker trying to persuade them to view her etchings, some other random business types, and--
Who did that guy think he was, Brad Pitt? A baseball cap and sunglasses in this black hole. How could he see his drink? Jesus, was he drinking champagne? Alone?
The bartender was Johnny-on-the-spot with the next martini, and Jake took another mouthful. Oh yeah, just like silk. He hoped there was a lot of nutrition in an olive, because this sure as fuck was dinner.
He looked up again at the guy across the bar. At least he thought it was a guy. He could see longish hair sticking out from under the cap. And the mouth... From what he could see, those lips would make Angelina Jolie jealous. Maybe a girl?
As he took another swallow, he saw the guy/girl's hand reach out for its flute of bubbly and miss. Only a quick grab saved the glass from tumbling over. Jake could almost feel how pissed the person was. The cap was ripped off by an impatient hand, letting a mane of shining, black, chin-length hair fall free. The creature looked around like it was searching for predators, then pulled off the huge black sunglasses.
Holy fucking Christ.
Gorgeous. He knew this was LA, the land of the genetic celebrities, but this was ridiculous.
Okay, Jake, you're staring. He looked down into his martini and took another slug. But he had to look again.
Peeking up over the edge of his glasses, he watched the guy--it was a guy, he was pretty sure now--take a deep breath, like he was really relieved not to be flailing around in the dark. Cheekbones. That was what you saw first on that face. Architectural masterpieces with perfect hollows beneath. Shit, the guy was looking! Jake looked away fast but was pretty sure the guy had seen him staring. Now that was embarrassing, but he couldn't quite believe what he'd just seen.
He took off his glasses, wiped them on a napkin to kill time, and then put them back on. He sneaked a peek back to find the guy looking down at his champagne, so Jake just stared. The guy was the most beautiful man--person...creature--he could ever remember seeing. Yeah, it was definitely a guy, even though the face was like some kind of idealized being, half female, half male. Large eyes rimmed with heavy lashes and the Angelina lips were offset by a clean, very male jaw and strong, arched brows. His hair looked black, although the candles on the bar picked up a little touch of red, and it was cut in a lazy European style that swept hair onto his forehead and shagged it around his face. As Jake watched, the man pushed his fingers into that hair, pulling it back off his luminous face for a moment, and then released it to fall again in idle perfection. The guy was young, probably younger than Jake.
There was just one problem. If this was a guy, why did Jake suddenly have less room in his suit pants?
Roan stared hard at his glass. Had the guy quit looking? Oh God, he hoped--not. He pushed his hair off his face, a habit he'd nearly broken except when he was nervous. The guy was beautiful. Not that Roan didn't see the most beautiful people in the world every day, but the glimpse he had of this man made his palms sweat. He looked--smart. The wire rims probably helped with that. God, Roan loved smart men. Of course, the gorgeous cheekbones and shaggy golden hair didn't hurt. This guy was half geek, half demigod.
Okay, Black, he told himself, take a deep breath. The guy also looked as straight as Dior's hemlines, and the fact that he was staring at Roan didn't mean shit--everyone stared at Roan. He should just put his hat back on and try to sneak up to his suite. Yeah, fat chance. The paparazzi would be camped outside, and he hated having to bother the hotel security staff to get him to his door. Made him feel like some prima donna. He was probably safe here because the reporters never expected to see him in a bar. His half-finished split of Piper made it obvious why.
He looked across the bar and quickly back at his drink. The guy was staring again. Man, he would really like to know what made this guy tick. It'd been awhile since anybody got Roan this hot and bothered so quickly. Especially some straight professor type. That kind of guy didn't usually go for Roan, figuring he must be dumb.
He couldn't just walk over. The guy was wearing a conference badge, and there might be people who knew him in the bar. Having someone as ostentatious as Roan make an obvious play for him could be embarrassing--to both of them. He pulled his cell phone from his pocket and dumped some bills on the bar.
The beautiful guy was leaving. Funny, Jake felt his stomach clench in disappointment. Well, he figured that was normal. You didn't get to see something that beautiful every day, no matter what sex it was.
"Want another one?"
Jake looked up at the bartender. She looked a little fuzzy. Not a good omen for his sobriety. Yeah, she was definitely flirting. He gave her a big smile. "Sure." No, wait, how many have I had? Oh, what the fuck, he didn't care. He looked around at the now much less interesting group of people, and when he looked back, there was a new drink in front of him. Jeez, that was quick. He took a deep swallow. Maybe it would help him sleep. Sleep, by himself--without Em, without anyone. He wiped a hand across his face. What was wrong with him?
"Is this seat taken?"
He didn't even have to look. That beautiful, low, silky voice had to go with that beautiful silky skin and hair and lips. Damn, give it up, Jake! He turned on his stool, a little wobbly, to find the man who had been across the bar a couple minutes ago now standing beside him. He glanced across the expanse for a moment in muzzy-headed confusion.
The brunet chuckled. "I walked out the back door and came around the bar."
"Thought you'd left." Was he slurring his words?
Dimples flashed. "Glad you noticed."
And amazingly, Jake saw that in the midst of all that perfection, the guy had one tooth that crossed the other in front. It was a charming little joke. Somehow it made him more perfect. "You don't seriously think that any human on the planet wouldn't notice, do you?" He peered up into that face. Way up. Over six feet up. Green. Jesus, his eyes were green. "You are fucking beautiful."
The man looked a little uncomfortable, but he smiled. "Glad you think so. Can I buy you a drink?"
Jake shook his head slowly. It made him dizzy. "I'm rapidly realizing that the one thing I need the least is another drink."
"Can I sit down?"
Jake gestured expansively. Yeah, he was drunk. "It's a free bar, or at least damned reasonable."
The guy winced and then shrugged. "Sorry, I won't bother you." He turned to go, and like it had a mind of its own, Jake's hand shot out and grabbed the guy's arm. Through the soft material of the long-sleeve T-shirt, Jake could feel hard, lean muscle, just like the powerful strength evident in those long denim-covered legs. The denim lovingly cupped a bulge so impressive it almost made Jake gasp. Shit, when did he start noticing some guy's package except maybe for comparison purposes? Composing himself was a losing battle, but he tried.
The beautiful man was standing stock-still, just staring at where Jake gripped his biceps. Jake let him go like his T-shirt was on fire. "I'm sorry, man. I didn't mean to be rude. I just don't drink very well."
Very slowly, the handsome stranger placed a hand carefully on Jake's forearm. Even through his shirt and suit coat, he could feel heat. Then the guy looked straight into Jake's eyes.
"Would you like to go somewhere else?"
The heat flashed to Jake's face and groin simultaneously. "Uh, where? Look, I don't want to give you the wrong impression. I'm not gay or anything."
The man smiled slightly. "Well, I am, more or less, but I'd be very happy to just talk to you, find out why you look so smart and what you're doing at a"--he read the badge--"Genetic Medicine Symposium."
Jake knew he should say no. This guy clearly fell into the category of advanced human relations, and Jake barely had his learner's permit. But there was no way the refusal would come out of his mouth. "Uh, okay. Where?"
The guy looked around. "Chances are, all the public spaces are full of people who know either you or me. My room is being watched. What about yours?"
Watched? "Yeah, okay. I've got some chairs and a couch and stuff. Room 725."
"It's probably best I meet you up there. Is that okay?"
"Uh, okay, yeah."
The black-haired beauty fished a wad of bills from his pocket and threw them on the bar where Jake was sitting. Even with a generous tip, it was way too much. Jake started to object when the man put up two fingers. "By the way, I get the feeling you don't know my name is Roan Black."
"No. I'm Jake. Jake Martin."
"See you in room 725, Jake." And he walked away, slipping the sunglasses and cap back in place.